Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Strange Night Air


I thought'd present you with something different this afternoon.

Once upon a time, I made what's called a 'Tesla Radio' because I thought it would be cool to listen in on thunderstorms with it. I have yet to capture a recording of an actual thunderstorm on the rig, mainly because I hide under the couch with my dogs when it thunders, but I did take the radio outside late last night and record a brief snippet of eerie random AM radio broadcasts.


There's really nothing to this device. A capacitor, a germanium diode, some wires. The complete schematics are featured in my original Tesla radio blog published on 06-08-2014, linked here.

I did add an audio amplifier (the box on the left in the photo is a pre-amp, and the box on the right is a simple 1 watt amp, nothing fancy about either of them) so I could listen in real time, rather than recording straight to my Zoom field recorder.

Why did I build this thing at all?

Because late one night, many years ago, hard-luck genius Nikola Tesla built one similar to it, and sat up all hours wondering what the heck he was hearing. He describes booming unintelligible voices. He was convinced, it seems, that he was witness to actual communication in some strange tongue by parties unknown.

Now, keep in mind Tesla's world early 20th century was unlike ours. There were no radio stations, no TV stations. No cop on the corner with radar. No weather radars, no Wifi, no commercial RF noise of any kind.

So what was he hearing?

Beats me. If I had to guess, I'd say it was a combination of noise generated by his own laboratory devices and a distant thunderstorm.

And what do I hear when I fire up my home-made device?

Well, listen for yourself.

If you've ever driven cross-country and searched for radio stations you'll be familiar with the sounds. It's the wash of faint voices between the stronger signals. Voices all speaking at once, drowned under the crackle and hiss, most of their words lost in the frenzy of noise.

A few words escape, now and then. Sin is perhaps the most popular, with hellfire and damnation close behind. I'm not sure when the preacher from Stephen King's "Children of the Corn" bought up all the failing AM radio stations across the world, but it sure sounds like he has.

Anyway, late last night I took my rig out on the patio, leaned my mic by the speaker, and had a listen.

It's a short recording. Around a minute in we get dueling nutcase preachers who sound like they're yelling at each other. The British gentleman speaking in the clipped tones of high society is at least calm. Ghostly bits of music wander through, disembodied songs in search of a stage.

I can recall driving alone, late in the night, fiddling with the radio while these same faint voices whispered and shouted and raged. It's an eerie feeling, being suspended in the open space between Here and There, with nothing but angry ghosts for company.



Ever felt that? Felt that you'd driven right past the walls of the waking world, and into some vast flat nightmare?

If so, can you remember the feeling of urgent relief you experienced when you saw lights at last? Even the lights of a run-down gas station blazed like cathedral windows, because electric light meant you'd left the ghosts behind at last.

Enjoy, if you dare. And remember -- the ghosts are always out there haunting the empty in-betweens, even when we're not listening. Because that's what ghosts do...


Click here to join the ghosts! Late night Tesla radio...




Sunday, May 17, 2015

Scrivener or Word?

Tim Gatewood, Notary Public par excellence and a tireless supporter of all things science fiction and fantasy, posted an interesting question to me on Facebook yesterday.

Here's what Tim asked:

"Have you used Scrivener? If so, would you recommend it? What are the good and the bad features?

Is there a way to index the finished product (the book) in it?

If you don't use Scrivener for your writing, what program do you use? What are the good and bad features of it?

Do you use a free-standing indexing program?"

It's a good set of questions. I myself asked me of some writer friends not long ago, and I even downloaded and tried the 30-day free trial of Scrivener.

Before I offer my own experience, I suppose I should clarify a few things.

First of all, what the heck is Scrivener?

Scrivener is a word processor. In that it is performing the same functions as Word or Word Perfect or Open Office or any of the other text wrangling software packages out there. We writers pound away at our keyboards and Word or Scrivener or what-have-you patiently takes the words and wraps them in a format and spits out a perfectly formatted document which the writer then regards with deep disgust before starting all over.

Scrivener, in my opinion, takes things a step further than that. It was designed not as a generic document processor, but as a tool for novelists and authors.

Let me explain why I think that.

Scrivener lets you base your organization around chapters, not pages. Which may seem like a trivial feature at first, but most of the writers I know organize their books and outlines around chapters, not pages. There are characters and story arcs that takes place across chapters. By basing the package on that structure, Scrivener scored a major point with me.

Why? Because it builds an outline for you as you go. At the start of each new chapter, you enter a brief summary of the events and turning points that comprise the chapter. Then you dive in and start writing. Oh, you can also stick images and notes and clippings of any sort related to that chapter on a corkboard, as reminders or reference materials that you no longer have to scramble and hunt for.

Want to make a major change, and rearrange the events in the book?

No problem. Just use a simple control interface to move your chapters around. The notes and corkboards and internal outlines all adjust themselves automatically.

Can Scrivener's biggest competitor, Microsoft Word, do any of that?

Nope. Not that I know of, anyway. Word does let you start out by choosing from a bewildering and vast array of pre-formatted templates. You can write a novel or draft a will or print up flyers for a yard sale or an amateur performance of 'Othello.' But you aren't going to effortlessly build your novel around chapters.

Word can save documents in many formats -- as web pages, as pdf files, and raw text, you name it.

Scrivener can too, and it can even save your final product as a Word file.

Seems like from what I've said I'd be using Scrivener, right?

I'm not. And I don't see myself switching, for one reason -- for all its brilliant design, Scrivener's ability to create workable Word files is far from perfect.

The publishing industry is built on Word. Like it or not, that's a reality.

Here's how it works. I write a book and send the Word document off to my publisher. If the book is bought, my editor takes the Word doc and we begin the back-and-forth editing process. She makes comments using a Word feature. She makes changes that are highlighted for me to see and approve or reject using a Word feature. Then the FLE (first line editor) gets it and the process repeats until everyone is happy.

That's the process.

And none of it works with the so-called 'Word' file produced by Scrivener.

Now, there is an elaborate procedure to 'fix' the Scrivener files using various converters and so forth. I don't know the details, because I'm not going to go there. In my experience, what worked as a kludge fix just last February very well might not work this June, and I don't have time to fiddle with software in hopes of producing something that might or might not work.

Yes, there are some authors who use Scrivener, despite this. I can assure you they are authors who exceed my stature in the industry much like Godzilla towers over Bambi. Steven King could submit his books printed out in old dot-matrix on the backs of grocery store receipts.

But the rest of us had jolly well better submit nice clean usable Word files.

And I don't blame the editors, either. It's not part of anyone's job to fiddle with files until the basic functions are viable. Even trying makes me go a little grayer with each effort. No thanks.

So that's why, despite my appreciation for Scrivener, I buy up the latest version of Word as soon as it's available.

I do wish Microsoft would whip up a Word release aimed at writers.

Then I reflect upon how much we writers tend to make, and I get back to work.

But Frank, you say, in triumph. What if I plan to self-publish? Doesn't Scrivener have the ability to produce a very clean Kindle/Nook/Kobo ready e-book format?

I hear that it does. If you plan on self-publishing, Scrivener is probably a good choice.

But for now, for me, it's not an option.

Still curious? Here's the link for Scrivener...

SCRIVENER


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Building Mister Mug, Part 1: The Creeping Eye!


In last week's blog, I (perhaps foolishly) said I'd build an animated Mug, the enchanted houseplant from my Paths of Shadow series. Mug sports 29 eyes, each independently mobile and affixed to a moving stalk.

That's what I get for drinking shoe polish. Building a full-scale, completely functional Harrier jump-jet in my garage might actually be easier. But a project is a project, so I set about tackling the moving stalks that support each of Mug's eyes.

At first glance, the basic mobile eye-stalk doesn't seem all that difficult to build. I took a length of flexible plastic tubing (fuel line, I believe, available from any hardware store for about 30 cents a foot). That formed my flexible spine.

Here's a photo of the parts before assembly:




To move the spine, I needed something analogous to muscles. 30-pound monofilament line seemed to be a good fit for that. I added vertebrae to the spine by drilling four holes, equally spaced abut the outer perimeter, to ten hard nylon washers with a central hole that just happened to fit over my flexible-tubing spine.

A series of spacers cut from a slightly larger diameter fuel line kept the nylon washer vertebra apart.


Next, I wove the monofilament line through the holes in the nylon washers and tied off each at the 'eye' end.

It became obvious at this point that the thing wasn't going to work. When I pulled on any of the lines, the washers managed to rotate on the tubing so that whatever line I was pulling became the bottom. I had to fix each washer in place on the spine, preventing any rotation, so I drilled through each washer with a 1/16 inch bit and fixed it in place with a pin made out of straight steel wire.

That solved the rotation issue, and I could see that the 'stalk' responded well to being manipulated using the four control cables.

Next I added the eye -- a ping-pong ball hastily decorated with pupil and iris. That done, I mounted the whole works to a sturdy base, and tied each free end of the control cables to an improvised puppeteer's cross.

Well, Frank, did it work?

See for yourself. I posted a short video of the eye in operation, along with a few comments.



With all that in mind, what does the future hold for the Mug model?

Changes, obviously. I'm not giving up, just changing course a bit. Note to Self: Limit the number of organs and appendages of future characters to single digits, please. Or lay off the shoe polish, sheesh, you don't see Muppets with more than two eyes, do you? No? Think there might be a reason for that, chief?

Other News

Work continues on the new Mug and Meralda book, Every Wind of Change. I will drop this single hint -- Mug has his own weekly newspaper column in the Tirlin Times. His column is entitled 'Mr. Mug's Musings,' and I include them between chapters, much as I did the excerpts from his private journal in All the Turns of Light. They've been lots of fun to write.


I'm not forgetting Markhat and Darla, either! Speaking of which, they'd appreciate a quick review on Amazon, if you read the latest book and enjoyed it. A helpful link is below.


The Darker Carnival at Amazon! <Doffs battered newsboy hat and shuffles nervously> Just a quick review, eh, Guv? Nothing to fancy, a few stars, a kind word 'er two, thankee very much Guv!

And with that bit of shameless begging, I drop the mic, grab my eye-stalk, and exit stage left...


Sunday, May 3, 2015

CosPlaying Meralda


As soon as I finished the steampunk ghostbuster's backpack I built to wear to MidSouthCon 33, I decided I'd take a break from building props.



It's a time consuming hobby. Often a frustrating one as well, when your clever ideas fail to translate easily into the rough-and-tumble real world.

My resolution to put aside the Dremel and let my propane torch lay idle lasted a full month.

Now I'm ready to take a stab at something new.

I have two projects in mind, both taken from Meralda's world. I thought I'd put both ideas out there and let you guys chime in, and I also decided to sweeten the pot by offering the completed prop item to anyone willing to use it in a cosplay of Meralda at a con or other fantasy-related event.

I'd d the cosplay myself, but as you might have noticed, I bear no resemblance to Meralda, I'm not female, and all my skirts are too short anyway.

But before we get into that, here are the choices for the prop item.

OPTION ONE: THE DELIGHTER

If you've read All the Turns of Light, you know that a certain hidden weapon pops up toward the end of the book. It's a directed lightning gun, made hundreds of years before Meralda's time and then disassembled and hidden by its creator, to await that fateful day when the risk of introducing such a fearsome weapon was justified by some new threat.

In the book, I describe the Delighter thusly:

Excerpt from All the Turns of Light:

Meralda recognized the peculiar shuffle of Modwap’s Helpful Automaton before it emerged from the Shelves, an unfamiliar bulk cradled in its four spindly arms.

“My cursory investigation suggests it is a means to direct and then instigate extremely powerful electrical discharges,” said Tower. “I believe Amorp called it the Delighter. The observable spellwork indicates the device was built to be used only by persons with Second Sight.”

Meralda turned in her chair as the Automaton bore Amorp’s hidden device to her.

The beams of her eye-lights fell upon the contrivance, illuminating it in a flash of crimson. It was thick, composed of short fat tubes, all banded by copper and fitted with hoses and coils and intricate protrusions of quartz.

At one end the tubes opened, each terminated by a series of silver rings. At the other, a stock, like that of a crossbow, was fitted to the tubes. The dark wood stock was decorated with a Tirlish flag, inlaid in silver.

“Just how powerful are these discharges?” asked Meralda, as the pounding in her chest began to subside.

“At least four orders of magnitude more energetic than the most powerful single lightning discharge which has struck me in the last seven centuries,” replied Tower. “There appears to be a mechanism which controls the release intensity. It is set to low by default. The energy output of the highest setting is incalculable.”

So. A wooden stock, fat copper tubes, silver rings, hoses, lots of copper. To save time, I'd omit the internal mechanisms that actually cause lightning to leap from the maw of the weapon. I would probably do some internal lighting, maybe add a sound effect or two.

Probable completion time: 3 or 4 months. This is a very basic project, but the result would be sweet.

OPTION TWO: MISTER MUG

Yep. That's right. Take a big sturdy birdcage. Put a flower pot in it, add a lush artificial plant, and you've got Mug, Meralda's wise-cracking sidekick -- 

What's that? Mug's eyes? All 29 of them? 

Wow, that certainly complicated things. But okay. I like a challenge now and then. I'll add the eyes.

In fact, I'll do one better -- I'll animate Mug, with motors hidden in the flower pot, which move the eyes about.

 

That's Mug. Put him in the birdcage, animate his eyes -- that would be an awesome cosplay prop.

Going as Meralda would be simple.Anything Victorian would be fine -- a long skirt, with a high neck-blouse. Meralda isn't one of your barely-there 'skintight armor that somehow manages to expose all the vital organs' kind of chick.  In fact, she's furious when Tirlish newspapers depict her with her skirts flying up about her knees.

So what do you lot think? Build the Delighter, or an animated Mug? Keep in mind I stand by my offer to provide the completed prop to anyone willing to actually cosplay with it.

Why? Because I'm simply that generous. Really. And if you are at a Con and someones asks you 'Hey, who are you cosplaying?' I'd also give you a stack of handy cards to give out. Self-promotion? No, I operate, as always, from a deep-seated desire to help out. Heh. Heh heh heh.

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Leave your comments below.

Oh, and buy the new Markhat book! If you have bought it and read it, a review on Amazon only takes a moment and really helps sell the book. Thanks!


Click here for The Darker Carnival!


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Step Right Up -- THE DARKER CARNIVAL is on sale!


The Darker Carnival, Markhat's new adventure, is out!

Due to the magic of ARCs (Advance Review Copies), you can see what's been said about the book. Without giving away too much, this reviewer gave it four stars out of five, which I'll take all day any day.

to see the review at Forevermore, click your clicky little finger below:

Link to review of The Darker Carnival at Forevermore.

Here's a partial text from the review.


So that's one thumbs up already. Like any author, I'm thrilled at seeing that many stars.

For a look at the complete series, click here to go to my publisher's website. They carry books in every format -- Amazon, B&N Nook, Kobo, pdf, you name it.

Or click my Amazon page, which gives you all my Amazon titles.

Finally, here's a direct link to the book itself -- The Darker Carnival.

I'd like to close with a single brief excerpt from the Forevermore review.

"One of the things I enjoy about the series is the playfulness of the writing. To integrate humor and yet achieve the edges of fear and horror, such as when Markhat deals with the Dark Carnival, is one of the reasons I keep reading this series."
-- Forevermore review of The Darker Carnival



Sunday, April 26, 2015

Who Needs Pants Anyway?


As I'm sure you're aware by now, the new Markhat book will be released Tuesday (the 28th).

In case you're one of the remaining six Amazon hunters who somehow escaped my one-man media blitz, here's the link to Amazon"

THE DARKER CARNIVAL

And I promise that's the last bit of self-promotion I'll indulge in today.

Which is a relief to you and, perhaps surprisingly, a relief to me as well.

I'm not comfortable hawking my books over and over. I feel obligated to, but it's not a part of the job I enjoy. My preferred method of marketing is to write the book and (hopefully) sell it to a publisher and then start writing another book, with occasional glances at the sales numbers followed by bouts of inconsolable weeping.

But of course that flies in the face of conventional publishing wisdom, which states 'FLOG THAT BOOK SON FLOG IT OVER AND OVER AND THEN SOME MORE AND WHY ARE YOU SLEEPING?"

But I'm tired of that. First, because I'm not sure self-promotion does anything but annoy people, and second, because I'm quite sure self-promo bloody well annoys me.

I'll probably post a gentle reminder when the book actually goes live on the various markets, and of course when the print version hits the stands, but that's all.

It's the noise. Last time I checked, Amazon along adds something like 30,000 new fiction titles to their catalog every month. Thirty thousand new books.

Thirty thousand new books each being held aloft by another desperate author, each trying, it seems, to out-shout the other 29,999 bellowing hopefuls.

Everyone's words are lost in the cacaphony. It;s just a dull roar now, like distant thunder. "Buymybookbuymybook."

Thunder is loud, and it can wake you from a deep sleep, but as a marketing vehicle it's useless.

If you do buy the book, I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

And that's my marketing pitch for the day, the week, the month, and the year.

HATS

I have decided to bring back hats.

Why?

Because, as the good Doctor once noted, hats are cool.

To me, hats evoke a bygone era in which people got dressed. Not just for special occasions, but because it mattered how you presented yourself to the world. A gentleman, even a working man, had standards. Not just for dress, but for decorum as well. I miss those days. And yes, I am about three months from the day I begin to shake my fist and yell "You kids get off my lawn!"

I have a John Bull top hat. But you, gentle readers, get to help me decide which style of hat I get next, by voting on the comments section. Here are your choices:

1) The Fedora.

Why a fedora? Because it's a fedora. Markhat wears a fedora. Sam Spade wore a fedora. It's a timeless classic, which debuted much earlier than the 1930s it has come to symbolize.



2) The Derby.

If you were suddenly transported to the frontier Wild West, you'd see the cowboys wearing derby hats, because the ten-gallon cowboy hat is largely a Hollywood invention. I still think they're cool, and they go with everything from modern styles to full-on steampunk cosplay.


3) The Ivy Cap.

Less formal than either of the hats above, this is a good autumn cap. I just like it, I have no idea why.



So, those are the choices! Vote below, and pretty soon I'll post pics of the winning hat being worn on my very own Standard Default head.

Take care, everyone!


Monday, April 20, 2015

The Darker Carnival


April 28, boys and girls -- that's the day the new Markhat hits the virtual stands!

I'm really stoked about The Darker Carnival. I know I probably say this with every book, but this one is the best in the series.

As you can probably guess from the cover (another beauty by Kanaxa) and the title, this one is set in a traveling carnival. Is it an evil traveling carnival?

Hmm. Maybe.

But there's a lot going on in this book. Markhat's world will never be quite the same -- heck, Markhat will never be quite the same. Life is change, after all, like it or not (and I don't). But evolution is inevitable.

All your old favorites are there, and a couple of new faces get added to the mix as well. I'm eager to hear what people think abut this book. So eager I wish the 28th would hurry up and arrive.

You can pre-order now, if you want, and the book will be delivered to your device within moments of release. The print version will be along in a few months, too, so if you prefer paper don't despair!

Here's just a taste of what to expect, as Markhat wanders the carnival, pretending to be a newspaper man:

I learned a lot about circus folk, that day.
First of all, they drink, and drink hard. Especially the side-show wonders. I met the Man of Bones when he stumbled out of his tent, went down on all fours at my feet, and vomited between my boots. I was amazed at the volume of liquid he expelled, given the emaciated state of his spindly frame.
The circus master kicked the Man of Bones unceremoniously in his gut. "And here we find the Man of Bones, who has terrified audiences from the Sea to the Wastes," said Thorkel, as he sent the scuttling wretch away with a second kick squarely on his backside. "A living skeleton, whose grinning skull will haunt your dreams forever."
I nodded and scribbled in my notebook. It didn't seem polite to point out that the Man of Bones was still entirely covered in skin.
We met the Queen of the Elves next. She wore a moth-eaten flannel gown over her spider-webs. A pair of mis-matched work boots adorned her dainty feet. She puffed on an enormous cigar between swigs of dark brown liquid gulped from a dirty jar.
"Go to Hell," she opined, before sprawling lengthwise on a bench.
"Men have traveled the world to pay homage to the Queen of the Elves," said Thorkel. The Queen responded with a raised middle finger. "Her beauty and charm are unmatched in all the mortal world."
"She wears flannel as only an Elf could," I added. Thorkel's brow furrowed beneath his immaculate top-hat.
"That is to say, her ethereal beauty blinds, so dazzling is she to gaze upon," I said, quickly. Thorkel rewarded me with a humorless jackal's grin.
We passed a stage, upon which a bleary-eyed thin man in an old-fashioned long-tailed coat and fancy high-heeled gentleman's boots waved a short black wand over a yawning young woman.
"Two, three, raise the cloth," said the man. The young lady raised a dirty bed sheet up over her head, and the magician snapped his fingers.
The cloth dropped, revealing an empty stage. I heard a distinct thud from beneath it, and a muffled feminine curse.
"You forgot the damned mat again," shouted the young woman.
The magician cussed and yelled for a runner.
"Here we have Malus the Magnificent, master of magic," said Thorkel, with a flourish. "Prepare to be amazed as he confounds and mystifies!"
A section of the stage floor lifted and the young woman emerged. "Bruised is all I'm getting lately," she said. "Malus needs to lay off the hooch."
"An accomplished illusionist, Malus the Magnificent fills audiences with delight," I said. "Performing perilous feats of magic unseen since the days of the Kingdom."
"I see my coin is not wasted," said Thorkel. He smiled, his perfect white teeth wet and gleaming.
"You do have a remarkable cast of performers," I said. "Not at all what I expected."
We passed Gogor the Troll, who snored peacefully beneath a pile of hay.
"And what were you expecting, Mr. Bustman?" asked Thorkel, idly swinging his cane as we walked.
"Well, the old stories. They described carnivals as more...salacious. Carnal, if you will."
Thorkel nodded. "Dancing girls, side-shows of a decidedly immoral nature? Gambling, fighting, that sort of thing?"
"So the old stories say."
"Perhaps, in the old days, other carnivals catered to a less refined audience. But Dark's Diverse Delights is clean, wholesome enjoyment, for the whole family." Thorkel graced me with another smile. "Especially the children. We love children, you see. Love them."
I nodded amiably as I scribbled. "Sounds wonderful, Mr. Thorkel. Just what Rannit needs, these days."
He reached into his waistcoat and withdrew a pair of bright red tickets. "Come and see," he said, as I took them. "Bring your wife. Bring a friend. I promise you will never forget your time with us." Someone called his name, and he tipped his hat to me. "I have neglected my duties long enough. Pray wander as you will, speak to whom you would. Good day, sir."
He withdrew.
I wandered as I willed, spoke to whom I would. I saw no signs advertising the presence of a living dead girl. I didn't ask about her by name. If anything the Ordwalds told me was true, asking was more likely to earn me a beating, or worse.
Halfway down the midway, on the right, was a long narrow tent festooned with wind-chimes fashioned from wire and bones. HALL OF HORRORS, read the placard over the entrance. NO ADMITTANCE TO PERSONS OF MEEK CONSTITUTION.
A clown snored by the ticket box. I passed by him, meek constitution and all, and ducked inside.
They hadn't lit the candles. But enough light leaked into reveal two rows of stuffed and mounted monstrosities. A DRAGON, read the first marker to my right. Behind the sign lurked a ten-foot-tall assemblage of bones tied together with wire. The dragon's fore claws were raised in menace, its head hanging over me, its jaws opened wide for a killing bite. It was only after my eyes adjusted to the dark that I saw the cracked plaster holding the beast's spine together and recognized carved wooden bones wired in with the rest.
Even less impressive was the mottled grey cemetery ghoul chained to the wall. Yes, its rotten limbs twitched in a feeble effort to escape, but the loud ticking of the clockwork mechanism behind the body robbed the display of any real menace. Every twenty-two seconds, the ghoul turned its head and extruded its long, slimy tongue before resuming its original posture and starting to twitch all over again.
Maria the Snake Headed Woman might well be a display of a large woman's corpse and a dozen long dead serpents, but none of the various parties had met until an indifferent taxidermist's needle stitched them all together. I daresay Egan the Crocodile Boy and Engorgia, Mistress of the Dark were the products of the same method, if not the same taxidermist. Too, the unfortunate Engorgia's horns were held in place by means of a rather obvious pair of nails.
There was a unicorn. I suspected more than a hint of donkey in its recent lineage. A coiled grey bulk labeled Serpentia, Terror of the Sea floated in a great tub of old beer. Toward the back was a towering thing of coils and wires which claimed to deliver 'Powerfulle Jolts of Life giving Spirit Essence.'
A peek behind the machine revealed a hidden hand-turned crank and a stool for a clown. I gave the crank a whirl, and blue sparks arced from the machine's whirling innards. If they imparted me with any life giving spirit essence, powerful or not, I didn't feel it.
Magog the Were-Bear, Slithins the Snake with a Man's Head, Carabel the Wood Sprite – all bore the same sad signs of being hauled and patched and painted, year after year, mile after hard carnival mile.
I slipped out the Hall or Horrors through the back way, stepping over one of the trunk-like limbs of the Ravenous Cave Hydra, which was bleeding tufts of sooty cotton from a foot-long gash down its mottled side.
I returned to the midway and watched as Malus the Magnificent gobbled down a sandwich. At that, he was surpassingly proficient.
When next I passed the Queen of the Elves, she'd rolled off her bench and was face-down in the hay-covered mud. I paused to spread her tattered robe over her hindquarters and drew a warning growl from a passing Ogre.
"I'll quote you on that," I said, and then I hurried away.

New to the Markhat series? No problem,. Helpful soul that I am, here's a list of the titles, in the order I suggest for reading. Each link takes you to my webpage's book page, and beside each cover there are buttons for Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Samhain, so you can pick whatever format you prefer (Samhain provides EVERYTHING).

Dead Man's Rain

The Cadaver Client

The Mister Trophy

The Markhat Files (print only, contains Dead Man's Rain, The Cadaver Client, and The Mister Trophy)

Hold the Dark

The Banshee's Walk

The Broken Bell

Brown River Queen

The Five Faces

The Darker Carnival

(coming soon -- Way Out West)



Sunday, April 12, 2015

Signings, Readings, and Bookstock!

Most of the time, the job (and it is a job) of being a writer involves sitting in front of a keyboard while gritting one's teeth against the siren song of the Internet, but every once in a while we get asked to come out and meet the readers.

The author, his appearance noticeably enhanced by copious amounts of hair gel.
That hardly ever happens to me, because -- well, look my pictures. Frankly, unless there's an inexplicable need for a sweaty Hobbit, most venues quickly move on to more photogenic authors.

But even I get lucky sometimes, and this next week is proof of that. I have three, count them, three book events in a single seven-day period.

All take place in and around Memphis, Tennessee, so if you're in the area and you've never seen a Hobbit stop by.

First up, I have a signing and reading event at the Southwind Country Club in Collierville. This event is hosted by a book club, and I'll be appearing beside such luminaries as author Steve Bradshaw, of 'The Bell Trilogy' fame. This takes place Wednesday morning, April 15, from 10 until 2.

Saturday the 18th is Bookstock! I will be just one of the authors participating from 10:30am-3:30pm at the Benjamin L Hooks Central Library.

Here's a flyer for the event:

So if you're anywhere in Memphis Saturday, stop by and say hello!

Finally, next Wednesday, April 22, I'll be in Collierville at the Morton Museum as part of the Meet the Authors luncheon.

This event is hosted by Southern Writers Magazine, and promises to be a blast!

I'm still writing, of course. The new Mug and Meralda book is well underway. I'm writing as fast as I can!

Which reminds me, time to get back to work. Take care all! See you next week!


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bonus Wednesday Blog Entry -- Tax Tips for Writers!

Certain eldritch signs portend various significant turnings of the year. Birds fly south. Or maybe north. Frankly I don't spend much time outdoors with a compass charting the movements of indecisive waterfowl.

But even a dedicated indoorsman such as myself can observe the anguished human faces on the street, and hear the plaintive cries of agony borne on the night wind (and no, I don't know from which direction the bloody wind is blowing, let's leave that to the meteorologists, shall we?).

Even I can see the chalk outlines left by those poor unfortunates who at last cried 'No more, enough!' before shuffling off their mortal coils by way of extreme over-tanning or actually eating a truck-stop pickled egg.

Even I know what dread event these signs portend -- tax time.

That's right, gentle readers, if you are a citizen of the US, it's that time of year when Uncle Sam takes you fondly by your ankles and shakes you until every last cent you've seen in the last year falls out of your pockets, because let's face it, war ain't cheap.

Now, if you've made any money off your writing in the last year, I'm here to help. Because if there's anything the US government holds dear, it's the idea that every American is free to earn a profit by the sweat of her brow and the set of his jaw. Equally sacred to the American governing psyche is the idea that they've got dibs on the first and biggest slice of that sweet free enterprise pie.

The first thing writers need to know about filing their writing income is this -- FILE IT. That story you sold to Ominous Bathroom Squeaks and Eldritch Attic Squeals Monthly for 15 bucks? That pair of flash-fiction entries you pawned off on Public Transit Funnies, a Bus Station Free Magazine for three bucks and a coupon for $2.00 off any foot-long club at Subway?

Maybe you're thinking 'Hey, why bother reporting that, nobody knows about those!'

How wrong you are, Grasshopper.

They know. Maybe it's the Carnivore communication surveillance system. Maybe the CIA has an Obscure Small Press Reporting Division. Maybe that mean-eyed old lady down the street is on the phone with the IRS every day, after she goes through your mail and steams open all the envelopes -- it doesn't matter how, but believe me, they know.

So, the first thing?

Report it.

Now if you've made any serious coin you've been sent a 1099-MISC from the publisher(s). You should keep up with these things. I used to put them in a folder and then lose the folder and then move to Mississippi and assume a new identity as Frank Tuttle when I realized I'd lost them all, but then I got married and she keeps important papers in a brilliant thing called a drawer. I'll bet you have some of these drawers  in your place too. Open them up and put stuff in them, it's an amazing time-saver compared to identity theft.

At the end of the year, you take all these 1099 forms, wipe the tears from your face, and enter them in the boxes according to the helpful prompts on the TurboTax software. When the crying diminishes to a bearable level, proceed.

Next, let's consider deductions. The word deductions comes from the Latin dede, which means 'not for,' and uction, which means 'you.' In tax parlance, deductions are money amounts which everyone but you can subtract from the taxes they owe.

For instance, I write on a PC. I built this PC myself, from components I purchased separately, for the sole purpose of writing.  Now, if I were anyone else, I could deduct the total cost of the machine from my taxes owed, since it's a business expense -- but since I am demonstrably me, this deduction does not apply, and, notes TurboTax, 'ha ha ha.'

See how that works? It truly simplifies filing.

Let's look at some other deductions which you, as a writer, cannot claim:
  •  Home Office Deductions. Oh, you have an office, in which you write? Well, let's have a look. It can't be attached to your house. It can't house a TV or other casual entertainment device. It can't possibly, under any circumstances, be even remotely suited for any purpose other than writing, and it can't be very good at that. So you have a detached office which contains nothing but a chair, a desk, and a PC running nothing but Word? But it has a roof?  'Ha ha ha,' intones TurboTax. 'Trying to pull a fast one, are you? DENIED.'
  • Office Expense Deductions.  You're a writer, and even the IRS grudgingly concedes that the act of writing might in some way involve putting down words on some medium, be it electronic or paper. Okay, this looks promising. You bought a printer to print out manuscripts. You pay for internet service because 1950 was 65 years ago. These seem to be legitimate deductions, so let's investigate further BUZZ HA HA HA NOT SO FAST, TAXPAYER! Those deductions are only valid in years  where acceptable total solar eclipses occur in northern Peru (see Schedule 117863-E, 'Solar Interruptions, South American Totality Table 167-75E, lines 46 through 78), and guess what pal, this ain't it.
  • Other Deductions. Mitt Romney has a 376 page embossed-leather-bound acid-free paper book with gold-gilt edges filled with 'Other Deductions.' Are you Mitt Romney? Didn't think so. Move along.
Sadly, that about covers it. You've toiled over every word, you've poured over ever sentence, you've labored long into that good night trying to illuminate a single tiny facet of the flawed jewel that is the human condition.

Or, in other words, you've earned slightly more than minimum wage. 

Bon appetite, my friends!

And for the love of all that is holy, don't miss the filing deadline. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

187.5

Something very strange is going on out there, in the dark void beyond our galaxy.

Image via New Scientist

Odds are, you haven't even heard of it. Mainly because the mainstream media is obsessed with celebrity divorces or the latest political nonsense. But also because the story involves a lot of technical jargon.

But this may  -- and I say 'may' -- be actual evidence of an artificial (i.e., non-natural) radio signal, one created by entities unknown for purposes we simply can't yet fathom.

But let's back up a bit, all the way to 2001.

In 2001, astronomers first discovered a phenomena they would label 'Fast Radio Bursts,' or FRBs. These FRBs were very brief, quite intense bursts of unique radio noise that seem to originate from the deep dark between galaxies.

At first, they were considered a natural oddity. Analysis of the initial data suggested the source would be a small body (probably no more than a few hundred kilometers across) that somehow managed to emit brief bursts of radio waves with an energy equivalent to a month of our Sun's total energetic output.

What could do that?

No one knew. Theories abounded.

By 2014, nine of these FRBs had been intercepted and recorded. The tenth FRB was caught live by an Australian radio telescope, and that's when the mystery got suddenly much deeper.

Analysis of this tenth signal revealed something utterly unique -- there is a clear pattern embedded in the signal itself. You can read the article I linked below for the particulars, but aspects of the signal appear to be arranged so that the delay between the first waves of the signal and the last ones occurs on precise intervals which are ALWAYS a multiple of the number 187.5.

Think about that for a moment. Yes, we've seen other celestial bodies which appear to emit cyclic radio emission. Pulsars, for instance. But the deal with pulsars is this -- they only appear to be cyclic because they're spinning. Say some kids leave a laser pointer on a merry go round, and you're at the far end of the park. You might see a flash of light every second or so, and think someone is turning the laser pointer on and off. Actually, you're only seeing the beam when it turns to point at you. It stays on all the time, and only the motion of the merry-go-round grants the beam the illusion of a cycle. There's no one on the switch in the middle of a pulsar, so to speak.

We know that now.

But the FRBs aren't spinning. Something may -- and I'm saying may again -- have designed the FRB sources so that this mathematical ratio is maintained within the signal, for anyone with the technology and brains to figure it out.

Which would a monumental discovery. We would, for the first time, know that something somewhere was shaping radio signals.

Is that the case here?

It's way too soon to tell. People thought the first pulsar might be an alien radio beacon too, until closer observation revealed a massive stream of radio energy spewed out of a rotating magnetic field around an exotic celestial body.

But we don't know of any body that might produce FRBs. Heck, we don't know of any physical model that might account for FRBs and their odd mathematical qualities.

But it's exciting, because it might represent the beginning of a fundamental change in the way we perceive the universe.

Who knows what else might be hidden in that brief burst of radio noise? Maybe 187.5 is just a 'Hey, look here' tag, and the real meat of the message is encoded in what might at first appear to be nothing but noise.

I would love that. And I'm glad people are digging into this, even now.

Read the New Scientist article here.