Monday, October 30, 2017

THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN: A Bad Movie I've Watched Many, Many, MANY Times


Getting to the movie itself, Helen Slater plays the titular Billy Jean, a girl whose righteousness is matched only by her stupidity. I’m serious, she is not smart at all. This movie’s entire plot is centered on her stupid choices.

Let’s talk about Helen Slater, an actress whose career peaked with her second movie, The Legend of Billie Jean.  Helen Slater, who had lead roles in her first two movie, started with the atrocious Supergirl, and followed it up with this, where she really tries to show that she can act. After this, she had romantic interest roles in Ruthless People and Secret of My Success, and then more or less slipped off the cultural radar completely. She didn’t have another significant role until four years later, where in City Slickers she only exists to keep the cattle-drive portion of the movie from being a complete sausage fest. Beyond that, she spent much of the nineties doing straight-to-video and tv movies, such as the not-Groundhog Day Jonathan Silverman vehicle 12:01. The 2000s were spent doing the sort of guest-star roles on TV shows that needed a recognizable face that won’t overshadow the actual stars. You know, like the killer, victim or key witness in SVU, or a Significant Patient in Grey’s Anatomy.
Legend-of-Billie-Jean-the-legend-of-billie-jean-2973229-353-250My point is, she never again reached the level she had with Legend of Billie Jean, which should have been her chance to get as much work as possible. Instead, we have this as her signature role. Rest assured, when Helen Slater’s obituary is eventually written, this and Supergirl are the movies that will get the key mention. And that’s a shame for Helen, because neither one is a good movie.
In fact, when Pat Benatar plays the central theme song, “Invincible”, in concert, she prefaces the song with, “This is from the worst movie ever made”.

I don’t think Ms. Benatar is entirely right with that claim, but lord, it isn’t good.

Anyway, she’s a teenage girl who lives in a small Texas town with her brother, and no apparent parental figures, and a vaguely incestuous relationship. I mean, really, she rides on the back of her brother’s bike, legs wrapped around him and says, “Don’t you get tired of vanilla?” Then they lounge around by the lake in their underwear. It’s the kind of town that 80s movies love, where a group of boys can blatantly sexually harass girls, and then beat up said girl’s brother (Christian Slater, no relation), steal his motorbike, and then suffer no consequences. But it should be noted they suffer no consequences because Billie Jean and her brother Binx (SERIOUSLY?) are STUPID. So is everyone else in this movie.
Pictured: Perfectly Normal Sibling Behavior

Billie Jean's particular stupid is shown when when they go to the cops after said beating and theft, but somehow can’t manage to express “these boys beat up my brother and stole his motorbike” in a way that gets Detective Peter Coyote to take “assault and grand theft” seriously. I mean, if you want to spot where this movie goes off the rails, this is it, right off the bat. The ENTIRE PLOT hinges on cops just shrugging off serious crimes, which forces Billie Jean to take matters into her own hands.

Of course, that’s the kind of small town it is: boys assault someone and steal his motorbike, and the cops are all, “Eh, boys will be boys.”
Which is exactly how the lead boy’s dad—Mr. Pyatt--reacts when Billie Jean goes to him to get him to pay up for the damage his son caused. He decides that, rather than take responsibility for the actions of his son, this is the prime time to attempt statutory rape and coerce a young girl into prostitution, but failing in that, actual rape. However, while he’s attempting to molest Billie Jean in the back of his store, Binx finds his gun in the front of the store. Binx, with the man’s gun in hand, opts for waving it in vaguely at Pyatt until he shoots the man in the shoulder. This was after Pyatt told him it wasn’t loaded.


So Billie Jean, Binx, and their two friends, Dumb Girl and Lisa Simpson, go on the run, since they shot a man. I don’t know why, since the cops in their town would clearly treat it as “wacky misunderstanding”, but they do. After some time as fugitives, with Pyatt talking them up on the news as “armed and dangerous”, they decide to hide in what they presume in an empty mansion. But it turns out it isn’t empty, it’s got some bored rich kid who loves video cameras. He thinks it’s cool that she’s on the run, but tells her she needs to control her side of the message. This more or less makes him the least stupid person in the movie, which is a low bar to clear. So he sets up a camera for her to record her side of the story—namely that Pyatt and his son are both assholes, and they only want the $608 dollars to repair the bike—but first she’s inspired by watching a Joan of Arc movie. So she cuts off her hair, which is apparently a radical act in small town Texas in 1985. Seriously, everyone is all, “A GIRL WITH SHORT HAIR?”

Someone, somewhere, apparently
thinks this is what badasses look like.
So she sends her message out to the news stations, and they all drive off, the rich kid joining in as their “hostage”. They go on the run some more, and in the meantime Billie Jean becomes an icon to all the stupid teenagers in Texas. So much so, Pyatt starts making a killing selling Billie Jean t-shirts and other merchandise. THIS IS HOW STUPID THESE KIDS ARE: Pyatt is LITERALLY the bad guy that Billie Jean EXPLICITLY NAMES in her video, and the kids who are looking up to her GIVE HIM THEIR MONEY.

Life on the run isn’t easy, so Billie Jean explicitly ditches Dumb Girl and Lisa Simpson to save them.  She turns them in.  That just gets them brought to their mom, who slaps Lisa Simpson in the face. Lisa Simpson responds by grabbing a pair of scissors and gives herself a Billie Jean cut.
After further life on the run splits Billie Jean from her brother and the rich boy, she gets picked up by some strange girl sporting her same haircut. This girl is part of a whole network of kids who help move Billie Jean around from place-to-place, so she can be everywhere and nowhere at once.
You know… a LEGEND.

After a bit of this, she finds her brother and rich boy again, and they come up with a terrible plan to turn themselves in and get the $608 from Pyatt. It becomes a whole beach party, and things go badly, ending up with Binx getting shot in the shoulder. Finally Billie Jean gets a public confrontation with Pyatt, and he admits to being a horrible human being—or at least he admits to doing all the things Billie Jean claims, though he thinks he’s still awesome. So, all the Billie Jean followers burn their Pyatt merchandise. She slips off into the night, and then she and her brother are both fine, living in Vermont.

Because $608 is all it takes to live off the land up there in winter.

Also, Dean Stockwell shows up here somewhere. Honestly, I forget what he does, but Dean Stockwell is always cool.

But everyone else is STUPID.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

World Fantasy Con

Briefly: I will be at World Fantasy Con next week (since it is in San Antonio, practically next door).  I've got plenty on my plate right now, but in the meantime, here's my schedule:

Signature Event
Friday Nov 03   08:00 PM to 10:00 PM (2 hours)
Sometimes called the Autograph Reception, sometimes the Mass Autographing, there is only one autograph session at a World Fantasy Convention.  Every convention member is invited to come to the Fiesta Pavilion, pick up their name plate and choose a seat at the autographing tables. This is a reception; hors d'oeuvres will be served.

Urban Fantasy Detectives: Mystery and Detective is a Genre for a reason.
Saturday Nov 04   05:00 PM to 06:00 PM (1 hour)
The proliferation of urban fantasy with mystery and detective story elements is creating its own subgenre. If vampires, ghosts or werewolves have always existed or if magic works, then the effect on society could be extensive. What elements of detective fiction make for satisfying urban fantasy? What elements of urban fantasy make for satisfying mysteries? Does justice prevail? Is this a subgenre for short fiction as well? (Joe R Lansdale Bill Crider Marshall Ryan Maresca Carole Nelson Douglas)

If you're coming to WFC, I'll see you there.  If not, then maybe I'll see you at OryCon in a few weeks.

Monday, October 23, 2017

FAST FORWARD: A Bad Movie I’ve Watched Many, Many, MANY Times

I swear, every once in a while I’ll remember one of the Many Many Times movies film and think, “All right, THIS movie is the apex (or perhaps ‘nadir’) of 80s-ness. No movie can be more 80s than this.” And then I realize that it’s a false bottom, and there is something EVEN 80s-er than that.

I think Fast Forward is truly the bottom. It is as 80s as possible. But maybe there is something more 80s. And that frightens  me.

Forward is directed by Hollywood giant Sidney Poitier. Yes. Sidney Poitier, acting powerhouse. He is not noted for is directing. This movie gives you a good idea why.

So, we start with eight kids in Sandusky, Ohio, a town whose major industry is making kids who’ve got one shot to get out of this place, and they pretty much sort-of-secret rehearse a dance number. I say sort-of-secret because there’s a whole sense that they’re being clandestine about it—they sneak into the abandoned warehouse to do it, the radio is hidden under things… but then they blast music and sing and dance, so… what’s with the sneaking?

Anyhow, these crazy kids have a dream of going to New York and winning a contest to show that they’ve GOT WHAT IT TAKES. About these eight kids— the Amazing Eight—two guys, who I’ll just call Manager Guy and Dancer Guy, and six girls who are multiracial but largely interchangeable. I mean, I think two of them are explicit girlfriends of the two guys, but… eh, doesn’t matter.  As characters the six girls are The Six Girls.

The group has an in to this contest, in that the head of the record company came through town, and the two guys dressed like waiters and snuck into his hotel room. Despite annoying the everloving piss out of this guy, they still got his card. He agreed to help them out when they come to New York. Unfortunately, in between then and now, he died, and the New Jerk In Charge isn’t that interested in these kids. Plus the actual contest isn’t for three weeks, so, come back later.

That last part is strange. I don’t mean that it’s three weeks away, but given that it is three weeks away, you would think the line-up would already be locked down.  Or maybe it is locked down, but the guy doesn’t confirm that. Instead he talks numbers of how many will be in the finals (ten), and how many can win (one), and thus these hick kids from Ohio should just go home.

Disparaged but not defeated, they decide they need to prove that THEY CAN MAKE IT IN THIS TOWN, if they just have gumption. And they have gumption in spades. So they pool their money together (wouldn’t they have done this part already?) and find an apartment to share. Which makes me ask: in Plan A, where were they planning on sleeping that night? I mean, did they think the record label would put them up for the three weeks?

The apartment they rent is an absurd hole of a place. I mean, let alone that it has three designated harassers out front, but it’s in comically bad condition. Rot, mold, nastiness and shambles. What makes the rental sequence into art, though, is how the landlady shows it to them with cliché big-city cynicism. Not an ounce of shame as she shows them just how crappy the whole thing is. She even looks genuinely shocked that they’ll take it, because who would dare live in such a horror show?

Except, of course, its badness is mostly cosmetic, since a montage of scrubbing, painting and low-cost furniture acquisition ends with it looking perfectly serviceable. (Though, paint’s not free. How they could buy that and not just find money for a less horrible place, I don’t know.) But then they have to solve the next problem: eating. (This is despite the fact that they even SAY they’ve been cleaning for three days.) So Manager Guy HAS A PLAN.

The plan is basically to crash a fancy hotel restaurant. I swear, Manager Guy is sitting alone at a table, wearing what must be his only decent jacket and looking utterly out of place. After a bit of looking around suspiciously, he reaches under the table and turns a boombox on. Music blares, and everyone who works the restaurant just looks confused. Like, I swear to God, the guy at the piano looks perplexed at his own hands, like he’s thinking, “WHAT? WHERE IS THIS NON-PIANO MUSIC COMING FROM?” Then the dancers all show up LITERALLY OUT OF NOWHERE on the convenient dance floor. Seriously, seven people in bright, skin-tight leotards just show up, one-by-one, and they did not exist in the restaurant before appearing to dance. These kids really should have listed “teleportation” on their resume.

Once the dance number is done, while the restaurant people have their collective panties in a bunch, the crowd applauds, but Manager Guy plays the game Obvious Ringer Is Obvious, where he insists on putting all the money in his pocket into their hat, and then tells others to do the same. So they make decent money, but the restaurant people are mad at them. Little is made of it: it smash cuts from the maître d’ saying, “I want to talk to THAT GUY!” to the group laughing and eating steak in their apartment, everything cool even though Manager Guy clearly had a long conversation with hotel staff.  So, no consequences.

Next, they take to street dancing, and seem to do fine enough. They make some money, pass out cards, and the Designated Rich Girl Love Interest sees Manager Guy and eye-fucks the living hell out of him. But she’s an 80s-movie Rich Girl, so she has a disapproving mother telling her to come along to the car.  All 80s-movie Rich Girls have a disapproving mother.

The kids adjust to varying degrees to living in the city, whether it’s avoiding the Neighborhood Rapists, or hanging out with the Rich Girl Love Interest, or making sad, wordless phone calls to mom and dad in Sandusky. They also attract some negative attention by a SERIOUS Street Dance Gang, and they have to go to some club to defend their honor.

So there’s a dance-fight against the world’s only Vibe Cosplayer and his gang of dancers, and I have to give the movie credit here that they clearly show our heroes getting TROUNCED. Like, they have solid form and technique, but they can’t hold a candle to the raw energy the other group is putting out. This depresses our heroes, but they also double down and decide they have to get their street skills together before they are in any real competition. So they watch other street dancers and learn new moves.

Meanwhile there’s a few subplots. Rich Girl Love Interest (who, of course, refers to her mother as “Mother”) gets involved, in that she’s wanting to set up a gig for them to work a party at her estate, so Manager Guy meets with her. This apparently annoys everyone else, like he’s getting too big for the group because he’s... meeting with someone who wants to hire them.  Mind you, he doesn’t act like he’s now too important to rehearse or deal with them—they just give him crap because he’s interacting with the Rich Girl at all. Well, and some making-out.

Also the Neighborhood Rapists need to make quota for the month, so they up their game. When one such attack—which the two girls involved do a damn fine job of fighting off—brings the cops, the girls get brought down to the station, and the cops call their parents in Ohio. AS IF THIS WAS A THING THAT WOULD HAPPEN. (Mind you, I’m not sure why the girls try to run away when the cops show up.) Angry Ohio Dads show up, and glower, but decide to trust these kids to give it a shot.

The Rich Girl subplot culminates with Manager Guy getting caught in the kissing, which irritates the one of the Six Girls who is his nominal girlfriend, and she wants to quit and go home. Until she doesn’t, but for the sake of the group, not Manager Guy. Drinking may have been involved in the resolution of this one.

Subplots over and new moves learned, they go back to the club and school their previous schoolers, which earns them respect or something. Now nothing can stop them from winning that competition!

Well, except for the small fact that they aren’t actually in that competition. Partly because Manager Guy pissed off Rich Girl’s Mother and Boyfriend, so the record exec isn’t going to give them a shot. So it’s time for a long shot: going straight to the widow of the former executive of the record company. She also calls Rich Girl’s Mother, but when Rich Girl’s Mother trashes them, that convinces the Widow—who actually doesn’t like Rich Girl’s Mother—that they must be worth a shot.

However, the actual Executive in Charge isn’t taking the Widow’s advice. He’s Big Business! He has a New Way of Doing Things! Time to make money instead of “keeping promises”. So they aren’t in.

Except the Widow is too old for that shit. She decides FUCK EVERYTHING and she’s going to help them. This involves her dressing up like a punk old lady and using the people in the company who are still loyal to her to sneak the Eight into the competition.
Now, there’s a whole thing that the New Exec has his favorite band in there, and he’s sort of rigging things for their sake so he can sign them up. And that’s bad. As opposed to the Widow, who is rigging things for the group she likes. Because that’s good!

But, honestly, couldn’t the exec just sign the band he likes without the contest? Or the Old Lady sign the kids? I’m saying the contest is a needless hurdle given they already have the support of people in the company.

Of course,  our heroes win because that’s what happens in these movies. Let’s ignore the fact that this for a recording contract, and everyone else in the competition is a band, you know, with instruments, and the Eight are dancers who also sing to canned music.
But they win! And Manager Guy and Nominal Girlfriend make up, because of course they do! Widow is taking her company back from New Exec because she says so, and that’s that! Everything will be awesome now!


There’s half an idea here about how these kids are the real deal because of their hard work and dedication, while the band the exec wants is just empty flash, but.... that’s kind of garbage.

I’m just saying, if the part of the message of the movie is for the winners to be people with heart and realness over flash and spectacle, because they worked so damn hard, then maybe it shouldn’t be that the winners we follow are more flash and spectacle than, you know, actual music.

Or perhaps not have the endgame of the movie involve dancers winning a battle of the bands.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Trigger Warnings and Controversy

I tend not to write things that would warrant a trigger warning.  Yes, I have action and violence, but I tend to keep it on the literary equivalent of a PG-13 movie.   Nothing too problematic. 

But, even though I don't write anything that warrants a warning, I'm not a big believer in censoring anything that a writer thinks is the right way to tell their story.  Just because it's not what I write doesn't mean I think it shouldn't be written.

BUT, if you do write that sort of thing, then I also think it's common courtesy to give some kind of content warning.  I think that's no different from the movie rating system, and it's a generally good idea to give your audience an idea what to expect.

Now, that doesn't mean giving away your surprises.  I think every good book should have a moment or two that might just tear your reader's heart out.  I think The Imposters of Aventil does that quite nicely. 

As will Lady Henterman's Wardrobe and A Parliament of Bodies.

And the rest of what's to come.

Just a reminder, that I do have a mailing list, which I send news to about once a month.  So you can get all the news on Maradaine and everything else going on with me.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Future of Maradaine

So, now that The Imposters of Aventil is out in the world, it's time to look further ahead.  Fortunately, I have a good idea what that's going to look like.

First off, next March we have the second book in the Streets of Maradaine series, Lady Henterman's Wardrobe.  This is a rollicking adventure with Asti and Verci Rynax and the rest of the North Seleth Crew, as their quest for vengeance takes them WELL out of their comfort zone...
Mixing high fantasy and urban fantasy, the second novel of the Streets of Maradaine series follows the Rynax brothers’ crew of outlaws as they attempt their biggest heist yet and restore justice to the common people. 
The neighborhood of North Seleth has suffered–and not just the Holver Alley Fire. Poverty and marginalization are forcing people out of the neighborhood, and violence on the streets is getting worse. Only the Rynax brothers–Asti and Verci–and their Holver Alley Crew are fighting for the common people. They’ve taken care of the people who actually burned down Holver Alley, but they’re still looking for the moneyed interests behind the fire. 
The trail of breadcrumbs leads the crew to Lord Henterman, and they plan to infiltrate the noble’s house on the other side of the city. While the crew tries to penetrate the heart of the house, the worst elements of North Seleth seem to be uniting under a mysterious new leader. With the crew’s attention divided, Asti discovers that the secrets behind the fire, including ones from his past, might be found in Lady Henterman’s wardrobe.
Following that, later in 2018 will see the release of A Parliament of Bodies, the third Maradaine Constabulary novel.  Inspectors Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling investigate a series of gruesome murders, leading them to a horrific situation on the very floor of the Druth Parliament, where the only ally they have is a member of the elite Tarian Order, who believes he's crossed paths with the deranged mind behind the murders.

And then what's next?

I will be telling you very soon.  But rest assured: more will be coming.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Short-term, Long-term Juggling Act

Writing the Maradaine books takes a certain degree of juggling.  Fortunately, that's something I learned to do back in the stage-acting days.*

Fundamentally, each book has to serve three masters, in order of importance:
  1. Tell its own exciting, interesting and complete story.
  2. Seed/move forward plot points for the arc of its series.
  3. Seed/move forward plot points for the larger arc of Maradaine as a whole.
Early on, numbers 2 and 3 were very minor, but as the needs of each series arc and the larger Maradaine arc has increased, they've needed to take more precedence.  Imposters of Aventil and the upcoming Lady Henterman's Wardrobe and A Parliament of Bodies all have this challenge, and it's only going to grow as I move past that. 

What's the trick to pulling it off?  How do you keep serving the second and third goals from being too much of a distraction?  For me, the big thing is making sure every scene in the book still fulfills the first goal, regardless of the other factors.  For example, all three of those books have scenes near the end that are largely about the greater Maradaine arc.  But they still also serve as epilogue for the story of the book they are in. 

Hopefully, that series-arc and Maradaine-arc seeding has its hooks in you, and you want to know more about what comes next.  There's going to be an announcement pretty soon, so watch this space.

*- A circus-themed production of Brecht's The Life of Galileo, in which I not only had to learn to juggle, but do knife-spinning tricks, and a host of mild acrobatics.  I could even walk on my hands back then.  Now I am old and creaky.

Monday, October 9, 2017

THE LAST DRAGON: A Bad Movie I've Watched Many, Many, MANY Times

I should say, for the point of accuracy, that the actual title of this movie is Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon. Berry Gordy, of course, was the legendary record producer, songwriter and founder of Motown records. He is a giant of the music industry.

He was not a giant in the film industry. Mind you, his earlier forays into filmmaking are not lacking in prestige. Lady Sings the Blues and The Wiz are solid works. The Last Dragon was, to date, his last time in the movie producer’s chair, and it’s somewhat infamous in its absurdity.

The story is… well… it’s essentially “Kung Fu Fighting”, dramatized.

We start with Leroy, a young African-American boy in Harlem who has somehow trained in martial arts from the kind of wizened old master who only exists in kung-fu or Tarantino movies. This is not karate classes at the YMCA.  This is an old dude is shooting arrows at Leroy.  That's the kind of martial arts we're talking about.

So, old dude shoots arrows at Leroy,  which he blocks adeptly, until he catches one. The right one. How did he know it was the one? He just knew, in that kung-fu movie way that all martial arts are magic. So the master is like, “Yup, you’re done. Can’t teach you any more.” Which, fair point. Once you’re catching arrows mid-flight, you’ve really moved past “student”.
Despite this, Leroy is convinced he has something to learn, so his teacher begs him off to finding a secret master somewhere in Chinatown who will teach him “the Glow”. And now to the plots!

There are essentially two plots in this movie, and by all rights they should have NOTHING to do with one another. The first involves Leroy seeking this mastter, while his neighborhood and friends are terrorized by a local kung-fu street gang led by “Sho’Nuff”, who is possibly THE GREATEST VILLAIN EVER COMMITTED TO THE MEDIUM OF FILM. He literally walks into a pizza parlor, has his flunkies shout his name, and then breaks shit because NO ONE WILL STOP HIM. Including Leroy for some mumble-mumble-be-peaceful reason. Which makes NO SENSE if you consider that Leroy has no qualms beating people up in the other plot. But Sho’Nuff’s entire goal is “fight Leroy”. That’s all he wants. But Leroy won't fight him, because reasons.
Why do things like this not still happen?  We need more of this.
 Why do things like this not still happen? We need more of this.

Other plot involves a pseudo-Soul Train show hosted by Vanity and a two-bit record producer who is trying to get his talentless girlfriend’s video on the show. Vanity refuses because Integrity, and the producer counters her Integrity with Armed Mooks. Because, why react when you can overreact? However, Leroy becomes aware of this and rescues her from the armed mooks by playing Superhero Ninja.

Leroy and Vanity start something resembling a tepid romance, in which she plays him Bruce Lee videos in her studio, and he worries because girls are strange and mysterious creatures. Seriously, his main concern is the fact that, despite being a superhero ninja, he doesn’t have any “moves” for the ladies.

Leroy also seeks out the secret master, but: spoiler: it’s a wild goose chase. He’s literally led to a fortune cookie factory, and some guys try and keep him out, but it’s all just a waste of time. His teacher pretty much tells him: there’s no master, because you don’t need one. Because, seriously: YOU CAN CATCH ARROWS MID-AIR.

Things finally come to a head when the producer and Sho’Nuff decide to team up for evil. How and why this happens is something of a mystery, but it is a good match: the producer wants someone to beat up Leroy, and Sho’Nuff wants to beat up Leroy. How can they lose?
vanityWell, they lose because they’re crazy, and because Leroy’s kung-fu class all shows up to help. But what matters is the Big Fight between Leroy and Sho’Nuff, where first Sho’Nuff taunts Leroy with videos. Then he smacks Leroy around, showing his superior skills and THE GLOW.  For reasons never adequately explored, Sho'Nuff actually has THE GLOW.  I kind of want the movie that tells us Sho'Nuff's origin story.  

Come on, Hollywood Industry: you're already giving us reboots and prequels of everything else from the 80s.

After playing with his food a bit, Sho’Nuff stuffs Leroy’s face in a convenient water tank and screams “WHO IS THE MASTER?” a few times, and being drowned gives Leroy a chance to reflect on the lessons his old teacher was trying to impart. And with additional help from the soundtrack-- because this is a movie from a record producer, so it's all about the soundtrack-- Leroy figures out the answer to Sho’Nuff’s question.

“I am.”
Yeah, who didn’t see that coming?

So Leroy beats Sho’Nuff, saves the girl, and everything is awesome.

Except he still needs some “moves”.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

On Shorts and Anthologies

I'm not much of a short fiction writer.  That's OK.  I have a few novella-length things set in the larger world of Maradaine that are cooking away in the back of my skull, but on the whole, I don't think in Short Fiction.

So when the question is asked, "Who would you want to be in an anthology with?" my brain kind of grinds its gears.  I mean, I don't usually think about that, because I don't tend to write the sort of thing that ends up in anthologies.

Unless, of course, you count my first pro sale, which is a short story in pretty cool anthology of Texas writers, Rayguns Over Texas.  And it's got a few big names in there: Michael Moorcock, Joe Lansdale, an introduction by Bruce Sterling.  Plus (in addition to myself), there's great stories by Stina Leicht, Nicky Drayden, Chris Brown and many more.

Plus, I'm pretty proud of this short, Jump the Black.  It's a tight four thousand words that does a lot in a small amount of story.  I occasionally will get an email asking if I'm ever going to do a full novel-length version of it.'s in there, cooking away in my skull.  It'll come out when it's ready.

Monday, October 2, 2017


Folks, it's finally here: the release date for THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL is tomorrow, and I'm just thrilled we're here at this milestone Maradaine crossover event of a book.  I'm super excited, especially since Locus Magazine says it's "a fun, fast-paced adventure with lots of disguises, secrets, tragic romance, humor, goofy sports, and a big hint of bad things to come."

So what more do you need?  Another excerpt to entice you?  All right, if you demand it.

Delmin Sarren didn’t even have to look in Almers Hall to know that Veranix wasn’t there. Not that he had expected him to be there, but he needed to at least make the appearance that he was looking.
More to the point, Delmin realized that he didn’t, in fact, need to look. His magical senses had always been his strongest asset as a student—Professor Alimen had even said that Delmin was one of the most gifted he had ever taught in that regard—but over the course of the summer he had grown even more adept with understanding what those senses were telling him.
Specifically, he had learned Veranix’s unique flavor—that seemed the best word to Delmin—to the point where Delmin could sense whenever Veranix was nearby. That might have been due to the incident at the end of the semester with Cuse Jensett’s numinic batteries, fueled with Veranix’s magic. Delmin had been so inundated with Veranix’s numinic flavor he couldn’t help but notice even a hint of it.
Not unlike how a scent would trigger a memory of nausea.
Now Delmin was thinking of Veranix as Aunt Iasta’s mushroom soup, instead of doing the thing he actually needed to do, which was find Veranix before the Grand Tournament opening ceremony began.
A glance around Almers and the other dorms—just looking at the buildings themselves—told Delmin all he needed to know.
Delmin ran down the walkway toward Bolingwood Tower, and more importantly, the carriage house. If Veranix was anywhere on campus—besides where he was actually supposed to be, which was the opening ceremonies—he would be at the carriage house. But there was no sign that he was currently there.
Delmin felt the faintest whispers that he had been there recently, and the tendrils from those whispers—delicate smoke of numinic traces—left the carriage house and went off to the campus wall. Delmin could barely sense them, but if he really needed to, he could probably follow them along whatever route Veranix took once he left the carriage house.
If nothing else, this had convinced Delmin that his numinic senses were, in fact, more sensitive and finely honed than any other mage on campus—student or otherwise—including Professor Alimen. If the professor could sense Veranix with this much detail, he would have long ago figured out about Vee’s secret life as the Thorn and put a stop to it.
Delmin ran back to the Haveldale Center. Veranix knew where he needed to be, and when he needed to be there. Even though “when” was ten minutes ago, there was nothing more Delmin could reasonably do.
He was capable of tracing Vee through the streets of Aventil and Dentonhill, following himinto whatever dangerholes See decided to jump into in his quest to stop every effitte dealer in town. But actually doing that, going there—that was not something Delmin was emotionally prepared to do. Twice he had put himself in danger, and that was two times too many.
What he could do was report back to the opening ceremonies and honestly say that he couldn’t find him, and hope that Veranix wasn’t bleeding in a ditch somewhere.
Crowds were still filing into Haveldale Center, but they were all using the main entrances, not heading to the loading entrance that led underneath. That was where Delmin needed to get to. Just as he was approaching the wagon-sized tunnel, he felt the sharp, distinctive taste of Veranix suddenly come up on him, strong and hard.
A moment later Veranix Calbert was standing in front of him, as if he had flown in with the wind.
“Saints almighty!” Delmin shouted. “How— what— why in the blazes—”
“Sorry,” Veranix said. “Didn’t realize how late it was, had to cheat a bit to make it.”
“Cheat?” Delmin asked. He noted that Veranix was, if nothing else, dressed appropriately for the ceremonies, in his University of Maradaine uniform, with gray-and-red striped scarf and hat, fourth-year pips on his collar. All just like Delmin was himself. But something seemed off about Veranix’s appearance.
“I’ve got to be honest, I don’t fully understand what I’m doing when I do it. Am I making myself fast, or everything else slow, or am I changing how time works around me? I don’t know.”
Delmin didn’t even have the words. Changing time? Could magic do that? Could Vee do that? And so casually to not even realize? It sickened Delmin to think, yes, if anyone could be so skilled yet so careless, it would be Vee.
“The point is, I ran here, really fast. I don’t recommend doing it often.”
Delmin grabbed Veranix’s arm and pulled him into the entrance. “Vee, do I have to remind you that we actually have to perform magically in about five minutes? I’m kind of counting on you not to make me look like an idiot up there.”
“I’ll be fine,” Veranix said. “This is showmanship, not real magic.”
Something was off in Veranix’s numina flow. Delmin was surprised he didn’t notice it at first. “Vee,” he said quietly. “Are you wearing it?”
“Do you mean—”
“Yes.” Delmin’s annoyance was surely coming through in his clipped tones.
“I did say I to rush to get here on time.”
“You said you had to cheat.”
“And I’m not going to take it off while doing delicate and powerful time-changing magic,” Veranix said. “That would be crazy.”
Sometimes Delmin wondered if anything worked properly in that addled skull of Veranix’s. That Veranix even owned a smuggled, Poasian-made cloak woven with napranium, the incredibly rare numina-drawing metal that fueled him with incredibly powerful levels of magic when he was being “the Thorn”—that alone made Delmin deeply uncomfortable. Delmin didn’t even want to think about its intended owners and the original intent behind making it. The idea that Vee was about to wear it—this thing that in no way he should be in possession of in the first place—in front of a crowd of thousands was enough to make Delmin want to scream.
“Fine,” Delmin said. “I mean it’s not like if something goes wrong, you’re dressed as the Thorn under all that.”
“Of course you are. You probably even have your weapons.”
“I’m not losing another bow—”
“What am I—”
“There you two are!”
Madam Irianne Castilane was an official from either the College of Protocol or the Office of Intercollegiate Relations—or possibly both—but she missed her true life’s calling as a parade sergeant. The opening ceremonies were her orchestration, planned in meticulous detail. And part of that detail involved a display of spectacle and wonder performed by the two fourth-year magic students she was informed were Professor Alimen’s best students.
And she utterly refused to listen to any argument regarding how Delmin and Veranix were Alimen’s “best students” in completely different, perhaps even contradictory, ways. She did not care for one moment that Delmin was not her man to perform a display of spectacle and wonder.
Delmin had pleaded to Professor Alimen,, who merely suggested this was an excellent opportunity for him to test his practical skills.
“I managed to find him,” Delmin said meekly.
“Madam Castilane, I deeply apologize—”
“Spare me, Mister Calbert,” she snarled. “You missed nearly every rehearsal, so I’m not interested in hearing your apologies. What I want is you up on that platform ten minutes ago.”
“Yes, of course,” Veranix said. “Delmin, do you think I could do that?”
“What?” Delmin asked.
“Get there ten minutes ago.”
Delmin bit his lip to keep from screaming in horror. “Sweet saints above, don’t even joke about things like that.”
They hustled through the tunnels to the backstage area, where a myriad of random performers from the University of Maradaine were all gathered—athletes of some sort, some army cadets with drums, and the Girls’ School Ovation Squad. Delmin had a hard time believing that the last thing was something that actually existed.
“You’re late,” Vellia Sansar, captain of the Ovation Squad said with a sneer.
“Impossible,” Veranix said, matching her sneer with a smile. “We can’t start without us.”
Vellia Sansar was definitely not a mage, because her gaze would have set Veranix on fire.
Veranix clapped his hands and looked around the gathered group. “All right, let’s do this! University of Maradaine! U of M! U of M!”
Vellia’s sneer melted away, turning to the rest of the Ovation Squad. “U of M! U of M!”
The squad, athletes, and cadets all joined in. Delmin started doing the same, despite himself.
Veranix was still going strong, and there wasn’t any sign on his face that he was doing this as a facade or joke. Right now, in this moment, he was giving his full energy to the performance, the ceremony.
He kept clapping as the athletes ran up the steps to the stage, followed by the Ovation Squad.
Veranix pulled Delmin closer to him. “All right, Del. Like we practiced. Track me and follow the energy, use that to guide you.”
“I know that,” Delmin said.
“Good.” He looked out at the stage as the athletes did a series of acrobatic maneuvers across it. There was something in his expression that was almost wistful. Then he turned back to Delmin. “One of us is supposed to be on the other side of the stage, right?”
“Yes,” Delmin said. “It’s you.”
“Right. And it’s blue, blue, white, fire, blue, white, blue, lightning, and then the big finish?”
“Switch the lightning and the fire,” Delmin said. “Like every single other time you asked.”
“I’m telling you, it’s dramatically better—”
“Vee! The drums are starting! Other side!”
A buzz of numina wrapped around him, and then he was gone. For half a moment, that signature flavor of Veranix’s magic was a solid wall of energy stretching to the other side of the stage.
“All right,” Delmin said to no one in particular. “Blue, blue, white, lightning. You can do this.” He almost believed it as he stepped up to the stage.
* * *
Even from her place high up in the topmost level of Haveldale Center’s seats, Kaiana Nell found the opening ceremony performances awe-inspiring. She had never seen its like, and from the sounds of the packed audience, many of them felt the same way. Bodies flipped and bounded in unison, as the Ovation Squad leaped from one part of the stage to the other, clapping and chanting. The drumbeats punctuated each moment, each stop of a foot, and each one hit Kaiana deep in the center of her body.
And then there was the real show.
Veranix and Delmin had refused to talk about what they were assigned to do. Veranix had refused out of his love for drama, milking the surprise out of it. Delmin, on the other hand, had kept quiet out of sheer terror.
The two of them took their places at opposite sides of the stage—from her vantage, two tiny figures in school uniforms—and then the stage lit up.
Of course, a series of oil lamps, lenses, and mirrors were already lighting the stage, but it changed completely when Vee and Del took their places.
An arc of blue light stretched between the two of them, which then pulsed and burst into a bright blast of blue that shot out over the crowd. Shouts and shrieks pierced the air as the blue light flew over their heads.
Then again with a white light, and then blue again, and then a blast of lightning that danced over the performers and the crowd.
A tap came on her shoulder. “Miss Nell?”
She turned to see Ebbily, one of the new young men on the campus grounds crew. A good forty more people were hired just for the games, and they were going to need every one of them to keep the playing fields and the rest of the campus in shape.
And once the games were over, most of them would be out of work.
“What is it, Ebbily?”
“We, uh, found something that requires your attention. At least, I was told it did.”
Kaiana sighed. “Requires your attention” was the game the old hands on the staff were playing on her. Most of them resented her promotion to grounds supervisor, second to Master Bretten. Bretten, of course, had been grounds supervisor when Master Jolen was killed, but Kaiana had almost never interacted with him.  Jolen had made a point of keeping her isolated from the rest of the staff.  Now she was dealing with all of them.
The staff all hated and resented Kaiana’s promotion—the Napa girl living in the carriage house, the new supervisor? But the school administration wasn’t hearing any of that. Kaiana, as far as they were concerned, had saved the whole university from Cuse Jensett, and the promotion was her due.
So the game: she was the supervisor, so any and every annoyance or problem “required her attention”. They were all going to make sure she never got a moment’s peace again. Pulling her away from the opening ceremonies was more of that.
“All right,” she said, getting up from her seat. She slipped her way down the back stairs of the grand auditorium to one of the service exits, and then followed Ebbily to the problem.
Down on the lawn outside the Haveldale Center two of the old hands—Lash and Rennie—were standing around, leaning on their tools, smug expressions on their face.
“Sorry to disturb you, Miss Nell,” Lash said. “It’s just, we’re cleaning up the mess these kids made—”
“Yes, of course,” Kaiana said, striding over and glaring at him with everything she had. Her eyes were the one weapon she knew she had—she was going to lock on to the gaze of every damn one of these men and hold it until they broke and stared at the ground. They wanted to intimidate her, but she’d fought Red Rabbits and Jensett. These guys weren’t going to scare her one bit. “What’s the situation?”
“Well,” Rennie said, “we’re used to the regular junk and mess they all make. But we found something different, and thought maybe you should take a look at it.”
This had to be a joke, she thought. Someone threw up in the bushes, or a student passed out, or some other absurdity.
“All right,” she said. “What is it?”
“Right here,” Lash said, pointing to the ground at his feet. “These.”
Kaiana crouched down, keeping her eye on him. She wouldn’t put it past him to do something crude. As soon as she down all the way, she looked at where he had pointed.
Even in the moonlit night, it was clear what she was looking at. Three glass vials.
She grabbed one and stood up, holding it up to the light of the moon to get a better look at it. A thin film of fluid lined the inside of it.
Effitte. Here on the campus.
She crouched down and grabbed the other two vials. “Thank you, this is very important, indeed. I appreciate you bringing it to my attention.”
“You do?” Rennie asked. He wasn’t sure what to make of it.
“Yes. In fact, if any more of these are found, I want to know about it immediately. Am I clear?”
“Yes, Miss Nell,” Ebbily said.
“Well, sure,” Lash said. “We’ll let you know. You going to stop it, Miss Nell?”
“Maybe she’s the Thorn,” Rennie said, laughing.
“That true, Miss Nell?” Lash added. “You been out there, killing gang boys?”
“Pardon?” Kaiana asked. That was unexpected.
“You didn’t hear about that?” Lash asked. “Yeah, everyone was talking about it. The Thorn killed some gang boy, and the sticks are going All-Eyes on him.”
“When?” Kaiana asked, not bothering to hide her interest. “This was tonight?”
“Why do you care?” Rennie asked.
“Because I like to pay attention to what’s going on, Rennie,” she said. “That’s how you stop trouble before it happens. Now you must excuse me.”
Holding back her anger, she walked as quickly as she could until she was confident she was out of their sight, and then broke into a run around the Haveldale Center to the service entrance. Veranix should be done with the performance by now. He needed to know about the effitte, and she needed to know who he killed and why.
The performance had ended by the time Kaiana reached the backstage area. Veranix was engaged in animated conversation with no fewer than four members of the Ovation Squad, who all fawned over every word he said. Delmin hung about a few feet away, clearly intimidated by everything around him. He spotted Kaiana and came straight over.
“Did you see it?” he asked.
“A bit,” Kaiana said. Seeing his face drop, she added, “What I saw, you did wonderfully. I got pulled away. The usual game.”
He nodded. “Sorry about that.”
“This time it actually was important.” She glanced back over to Veranix. She was not catching his eye, which she could understand, him being engulfed by Ovation like that. All four of them, traditional Druth beauties, with fair skin and light brown or honey blond hair. Kaiana would have stuck out standing with them, with her tawny complexion and dark black hair.
Not that Veranix really cared about things like that. He just loved an audience, no matter who it was.
She gave a sharp whistle, and he immediately took notice. With a polite word, he extracted himself from the quartet and came over.
“Did you see it?”
“You were fine,” Kaiana said. “We have a situation.”
He nodded and kept walking, until the three of them were out of eavesdropping distance from the rest of folk backstage.
“What’s up?”
“Two things,” she said. She opened her hand to show him the vials. “These were found on campus.”
His eyes hardened, and for a moment his entire appearance seemed to ripple. “When?”
“Just now,” she said. “There’s more, though. You’re going to have to be careful—”
“I’m always careful, Kai . . .”
She declined to remind him of the incident two months ago where she had to rescue him from Cuse’s device.
“Apparently the Aventil Constabulary has called an All-Eyes out for you tonight.”
“They have?” A look crossed his face that seemed both perplexed and proud. “I wonder what that’s about.”
“I hear it’s about the person they think you killed.”
Now his face was just confusion. After a moment of stammer, he finally said, “Tonight?”
Delmin looked uncomfortable. “You were just out there, Vee. I mean, maybe someone—”
“No, that’s not right,” Veranix said. “I didn’t kill—I didn’t even fight—anyone out there tonight. Blazes, I wasn’t even in Aventil.”
He looked back and forth at Kai and Delmin, as if he needed to find reassurance from the both of them.
“I swear, whatever it is that happened . . . it wasn’t me.”

Summer and the Grand Tournament of High Colleges have come to the University of Maradaine. If the heat and the crowds weren’t enough to bring the campus and the neighborhood of Aventil to a boiling point, rumors that The Thorn is on the warpath—killing the last of the Red Rabbits—is enough to tip all of Maradaine into the fire.

Except Veranix Calbert, magic student at the University, is The Thorn, and he’s not the one viciously hunting the Red Rabbits. Veranix has his hands full with his share of responsibilities for the Tournament, and as The Thorn he’s been trying to find the source of the mind-destroying effitte being sold on campus. He’s as confused as anyone about the rumors.

When The Thorn imposter publicly attacks the local Aventil constables, the Constabulary bring in their own special investigators: Inspectors Minox Welling and Satrine Rainey from the Maradaine Grand Inspectors Unit. Can Veranix find out who the imposter is and stop him before Welling and Rainey arrest him for the imposter’s crimes?

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