Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Real Life Hero



That was the scene in my front yard last February. I post it here because I'm tired of the relentless Mississippi heat, and it's a reminder that the stifling muggy days of summer will soon give way to autumn.

Of course autumn here generally means a quarter of an hour of cool, crisp weather followed by weeks of rain, but the temps do dip down below those required to bake a cake, and I for one will welcome the change.

 Of course, it could be worse. Much worse. Not too far south of here, a storm dumped three feet of water as it passed over the Baton Rouge. I saw one parish sheriff report that most of the residents of his parish, some 155,000 of them, had lost their homes and most of their possessions to flooding. People were trapped on tiny hills along I-55 for days, with nothing but rising water on all sides. 

Out of all this, the so-called 'Cajun Navy' took shape, as commercial fishermen and anyone with a boat took to the water, rescuing trapped residents when no one else could. I was heartened to the people out in boats going after trapped and starving animals, too. There are still kind and brave souls among us, who risk life and limb simply because it's the right thing to do.

An Instagram user named Troy Green took this photo. Here's what heroes look like:

  https://www.instagram.com/p/BJG7vdvgbaF/

Amid all the ugliness and violence we see every day, just remember -- there are still good people in the world. People who will brave flood waters to rescue strangers. People who will pull exhausted dogs and cats and even horses and cows from the flood. People who do good.

Black and white red and yellow, I think this picture says it better than I ever could -- we're all quite literally in the same boat.

MARKHAT NEWS

The new Markhat book, WAY OUT WEST, has finished its last editing pass. The final manuscript is now off to the formatters, where it will be magically changed from a Word document to a ebook-friendly file. And a print version file. This will take a few weeks, but after that, it'll be ready for release. I'll announce a release date right here in the blog, so keep watching!

A week before the release, I'll also reveal the new cover. I've seen it, and it's beautiful. Darla joins Markhat on this cover, and I think it may be the best one yet.

MUG AND MERALDA NEWS

The new Mug and Meralda book, EVERY WIND OF CHANGE, is now halfway complete! 

A few readers have noted that we know nothing of Meralda's life before she became Mage. This book will address that gap, and introduce a new character rumored, by me right here, to be Meralda's mother. It's not a happy reunion. But it's way too eraly to be posting spoilers, so I'll shut up now.

In fact, I'd better get writing, or the book will never get finished. Take care out there, everyone!


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Let the Games Begin



I'm riveted by the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Riveted to the precise same degree and to the exact extent that I am riveted by State Farm commercials. Actually, that isn't a fair statement. I might actually watch a State Farm commercial, whereas I can't be bothered to even glance at a screen displaying anything Olympic-related.

I know, that's a terrible, awful, unpatriotic thing to say. These athletes have spent their entire lives preparing for this event.  Nations have put aside their differences to participate. Fortunes have been spent preparing for the games. I stifle a small yawn.

Sorry, but for me, the Games are just a vast waste of time and resources. But keep in mind I'd make the same claim about most sporting events, all of which ultimately boil down to people chasing balls around. I just don't care who scores the most touchdowns during a tennis match, or which team manages the most home runs during the Super Bowl. American football has cheerleaders, which is nice, but the camera keeps cutting away from them to show the game. 

I understand I'm in the minority in this regard. I don't begrudge people who do enjoy sports, although during football season everyone assumes I love them too, which leads to a lot of one-sided conversations about this quarterback's throwing ability or that defense's overall strategy. My neck gets sore from making the 'knowing nod' I've perfected over the years. I've tried politely saying "I don't follow football,' but that phrase is always met with a moment of confusion followed by the same 45 minute diatribe on football I always get. 

The Olympics might be more interesting if the sports featured were more in line with the current geopolitical situation. Here are a few events I'd like to suggest.

1) SCAVENGER HUNT. Ignoring the filth and pollution of Rio's waterways is the wrong choice. Instead, embrace the environment! Instead of swimming and kayaking through the pestilence-ridden sludge, assign each team a list of items they must retrieve from the murky waters. Human body parts, dead animals, cast-off furniture, specific bacterial pathogens -- imagine the thrill of watching swimmers drag limbless torsos toward the finish line while their rivals struggle to push an old Barcalounger ahead. Now that's a dramatic finish.

2) RUSSIAN ROPE-A-DOPE. If there's anything the Russian teams enjoy more than vodka, it's a solid regimen of performance-enhancing chemicals carefully designed to maximize physical prowess and evade detection by pesky drug tests. Let's make a sport of that by allowing rival teams to simply beef up with good old-fashioned crystal meth before a special one-on-one matchup. Play Benny Hill background music during the meets. 

3) MIXED MEDIA. Let's add the element of surprise to the Games by randomly assigning each athlete to a different team before the contests take place. Watch sprinters try to dive. See hockey players compete in bicycle races. Strap ice skates on weightlifters and fire up the Celine Dion tunes. I might even watch that.

4) MINEFIELD AND TRACK. I think the name says it all. Pole vaulting is a lot more fun to watch when explosions are involved. They needn't be lethal explosions, just ones designed to finally give these guys some real altitude. 

5) URBAN ENDURANCE RUNNING. Forget the boring oval track -- send the runners right through Rio, after strapping belts filled with cash around their waists. What is it the Olympic ads always say? "Records will be set. And broken." Darn right they will.

6) ROCKET ASSISTED LUGE. Sleds sliding down an icy track. Boring! Rocket-powered sleds blazing up the icy track from the bottom before being launched into the sky? Now that's athletic. All right, all right. Give the teams parachutes. Way to take the fun out of everything, Captain Buzzkill.

7) DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS. A table, some dice, pens and paper. Just play D&D the way it was meant to be played, but with dramatic lighting and a John Williams musical score. Still better than curling, which is just bloody silly. 

8) CALVINBALL. From the comic strip 'Calvin and Hobbes,' a game in which the players make up the rules as they play. Ghost bases! Invisible runners! Opposite zones! Scores of eleven hundred and sixty to blue. Listen, if people can get so excited about a game they'll actually sit still for three hours of soccer, Calvinball will take the world by storm. At least the inevitable post-game riots will be amusing to watch as furious crowds fight over whether a Phantom Double-Secret Fire Goal is valid if scored inside a five-point Silent Spy Zone. 

9) FASHION FOOTBALL. Play soccer -- but play it dressed in the formal attire of each nation, right down to the dress shoes and the corsages. Play must be executed while weddings, funerals, and other somber events take place on the playing field. Include the players in these events as ushers, caterers, even celebrants. Seeing pall-bearers defend their goal while carrying a coffin would add drama to the match. Huddle up, bridesmaids!

10) ARMS RACE. This will really shake things up. Before each Olympics, a single nation must agree to surrender a randomly chosen military asset as the prize in this bout. Athletes might be competing for a North Korean rowboat fitted with an antique SCUD missile, or they might be vying for a US-built Casablanca class aircraft carrier -- but they won't know until after the winner is announced. Great fun, especially as the cameras zoom in on the faces of horrified diplomats as they realize they must now deal with a nuclear-capable People's Free And Very Much Yes Democratic Republic of Lower Violencestan. 

You're welcome, International Olympic Committee. Please use any of these suggestions as you see fit, and as you have time to consider them amid the press of fraud scandals and bribe-laundering.



Sunday, July 31, 2016

Frank's Handy Guide to Living in the Wasteland, Part 1

Regardless of where you fall (or more likely crash-land) on the political spectrum, one thing seems certain, at least according to every single internet comments section I've read -- we're doomed.


This is it, boys and girls, cry the naysayers. Western civilization is about to grind to a halt, topple over, and leave us all standing bewildered in a smoking, acrid ruin.

I don't believe that. But, just in case my cheerful optimism turns out to be wrong, there are things we all need to know about living in a Mad Max dystopia. As usual, I'm here to help.

So gather round! I'll start a fire in this rusty oil drum (cast-off oil drums are, of course, a staple of post-apocalypse settings), and we can discuss how to best survive once the Rule of Law goes the way of the dodo, the VHS tape, and people who sat quietly in movie theaters.

BANDIT FASHION

The first thing you'll need to learn is how to maraud properly. There is an etiquette to the practice, and perhaps just as importantly, a style. Take a quick look at what you're wearing, right now. Then, after putting on pants, (and I'm truly sorry I remotely activated your laptop's camera), think about how your outfit will hold up while you roll around on the parched dessert sand wrestling for the Earth's last intact box of chocolate fudge Pop-Tarts.

Not going to work, is it? Forget the Dockers, the thin cotton Beatles tee, the flimsy deck shoes. No, you're going to want leather, and lots of it. Leather pants. A leather jacket. Biker boots with extra-stompy heels and soles. I'm just assuming leather underwear also comes into play. 

Too hot, you say?

Well, buttercup, get used to sweating, because the Wasteland doesn't have any patience with your pre-apocalypse ideas about air conditioning or comfort. In fact, start each day by rubbing the slightly radioactive soil right in your face. First, it makes your skin less reflective, and therefore less of a target for the mutant snipers hiding in the ruins of that Costco you're planning to raid. Second, grunge is the new squeaky-clean, and if you think your social life is lacking now just you wait. 

Look the part, people. Get dirty and stay that way. Super-Glue your hair into spikes. Paint your face with whatever will serve as a pigment. You want to look fierce, because you aren't the only one out there scavenging for gasoline. 

POST-APOCALYPSE TRANSPORTATION

Speaking of gasoline, you'll want some. All you can get, because your heavily-armored Toyota Corolla won't run on radioactive rainwater.

What? You haven't started welding spikes to the hood of your car yet?

Sigh. Yes, I know what that will do to the resale value -- but we're talking the End Times here. Start strapping armor to your car RIGHT NOW. If you don't have a car, okay, use whatever you've got, but don't come whining to me when you try facing down rival gangs on your militarized Craftsman riding lawn mower only to face a barrage of hurtful sarcasm. 

Motorcycles are another favored form of transportation in the Wasteland. You'll look good, speeding down the eerily quiet streets, and you'll be glad you're wearing all that leather when you get knocked over by the nice lady who used to run your book club. Of course now she calls herself Queen of Fifth Street and she's aiming a bazooka at your head, but due to your cat-like reflexes and the fact that she's pointing the thing backwards, you've got time to compliment her hair spikes before making your getaway on foot.

Vehicles to avoid, even in the Mutant Badlands, include tricycles, those bloody stupid hoverboards, and of course Jeep Wranglers.

IMPROVISED WEAPONS

I'm sure you've heard someone say 'anything can be used as a weapon.' Which may be true, at least figuratively, but the guy wielding the salad tongs is unlikely to emerge victorious no matter how well-executed his face paint might be.

No, you'll want guns. One on each hip, a rifle slung across your back, a snub-nosed .38 stuck down your right boot, and a second small handgun secreted down the back of your leather pants. If you lack such an arsenal, well, do the best you can. Comically large hammers look imposing. Swords too, although if the blade falls off the hilt every time you draw it the effect is certainly lessened. 

Look around your garage. There's probably a golf club or two out there. Maybe a hockey stick, or a baseball bat. Do NOT yell 'Fore!' before you swing the golf club. A muttered 'Batter up!' is acceptable when employing a baseball bat. 

Every kitchen has an assortment of knives. Decorate the handles and blades with permanent markers. Skulls are a favored motif. Avoid the depiction of smiley faces or motivational poster messages. This is the Wasteland, and nobody wants to be reminded that 'Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.' 

NAMING YOURSELF

There are no Mr. Joneses or Miss Twilleys in the Wasteland.

Start referring to yourself as 'Cruncher' or 'Crazy Teeth.' Everyone in the Wastes has a catchy new name. It needs to be vaguely threatening but also contain just the right touch of gallows humor. Don't lay it on too thick; calling yourself 'Lord Deathstrike, Emperor of Lower Duluth' invites both scorn and small arms fire. Stick with one or two words. Forget what you did before it all fell apart -- Larry the Accountant is not a suitable moniker when you're competing socially against a mad-eyed cannibal named Crazy Teeth.

YOUR GANG

There is no "I" in Apocalypse, unless your face-paint is so toxic you can't remember how to spell. In any case, you'll need a tightly-woven gang of at least a half-dozen fellow survivors to have any chance at keeping the desperate hordes at bay.

The people you'll need most will be a mechanic, a doctor, a demolition expert, a Mafia assassin, and a taciturn sword-wielding Ninja. The people you'll have will be a copier repairman, Betty from Payroll, a homeless guy who hasn't even noticed the world just ended, the real estate salesperson you found hiding in your closet, and the shady dude who used to operate the kiosk at the parking garage. 

Still, that's what you've got. Maybe if you maraud mostly at night no one will notice shady guy's pot belly or Betty's insistence that everyone stop what they are doing and look for a functional expresso machine. 

YOUR LAIR

You'll need a place to store your looted snack foods. You'll need somewhere to shelter from the roving bands of bikers angered by the sudden widespread adoption of their preferred wardrobe style. Your tidy two-story faux-Tudor house simply won't do, and anyway that half of town burned to the ground during the first night of rioting. 

Instead, locate an underground missile silo with foot-thick steel doors and concrete barricades blocking the gate. If you can't find one, okay, I guess a derelict Subway sandwich shop will do. Reinforce the doors, avoid showing any lights at night, and ignore the real estate person's endless lectures on how the property is sadly undervalued in today's bullet-based economy.

ESTABLISH TRADE

When the last checkout lane in the last Walmart shuts down, you'll find that toilet paper is the new gold, and dented cans of Van Camps Beenie Weenies command the sort of economic clout huge wads of cash did in the Old Days. Sure, money is no more, but homeless guy's shopping cart full of dollar-store tuna is now worth more than an old world yacht.

Be smart with your meager supplies. Your gang has tuna and one-ply. The gang down the street has ammunition and a vending machine filled with Snickers bars. Establish a dialog, after a polite exchange of gunfire. An exchange rate will work itself out, and if you play your cards right, you'll be dining on chocolate by the light of a flickering trash fire. That's a good day, in the Wasteland.

FINAL WORDS

In between all the running and shooting and arguing over who is mutating faster, don't forget to have some fun, now and then. 

Prank rival gangs by egging their makeshift tanks. Restore an old radio station, and then play nothing but the same Nickelback song. Exceed the recommended daily allowance of carbohydrates. It's the Apocalypse, you guys. Nothing is going on your permanent record. You don't have to file taxes, or set the alarm for six, or even change your leather underwear twice a week. It's a Nihilist free-for-all, at least until the alien attack armada arrives, but that's a different TV show.

Look me up, after the dust settles. I'll be known as 'Frank,' since nicknames just don't stick on me. I'll be the pale guy tugging at his itchy leather pants and still pissed that he never binge-watched 'Game of Thrones' when he had the chance.


Now start hoarding Charmin, folks. We don't have much time.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Fun Link Roundup

This week, I'm setting aside my banal ramblings to introduce you to a few links I think are funny. Some of you may already be familiar with some of them, but maybe you'll find something you didn't know about in the mix. 
BAD COVERS
Go browsing through Amazon's bookstore, and as soon as you get out of the best-sellers you'll start seeing covers so awful you'll sometimes stop to take a second look because, you think, surely no one intentionally saddled a poor innocent book with such a cringe-inducing cover.
But the truth is, the place is littered with hilariously awful cover art. 
I found a site that catalogs such covers. It's worth a look, if you're bored and you have a strong stomach. Consider it a crash-course in how NOT to make a cover.
BAD PRINCESSES
The premise sounds strange, but give it a chance. The folks make hilarious 'rap battles' between fantasy princesses. There are quite a few, but here are a couple of links to get you started.
Ariel versus Snow White: click here.
Hermione Granger versus Katniss Everdeen:  click here.
EPIC BATTLES
Tolkien versus George R. R. Martin, and a host of others. You'll love these.
Tolkien Versus Martin: click here.
THE HILLYWOOD SHOW
The Hillywoods do parody videos, and they do them RIGHT. My favorite is the one I'm linking to, which is a musical Dr. Who number set, of course, to 'Let's do the Time Warp Again.' Brilliant stuff -- the Walking Dead entry is hilarious too.
Do the Time Warp: Click here.
MORE ART
Hope you enjoy the links above!
I've been working hard on the new Mug and Meralda this week. Made a lot of progress. I also started a new Meralda art project, and while it's a long way from being done, here are a couple of test renders.
Meralda is seated at the controls of a huge clunky walking engine. Here's a render of her atop it.

And here's another test shot, of her taking the engine on a stroll through Tirlin's famous park.

I'll be refining these as I have time. But the actual book takes first priority.
In Markhat news, I've started on the second round edits for WAY OUT WEST. Which means a release isn't far off. I also have a cover, which I'll be revealing here as soon as this round of edits is done.
That's it for this week! Take care, people. Smile at someone. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words

There are few worse things to befall a writer than the discovery of a new addiction.

Last week I posted a few images of Meralda Ovis, and indicated I might post more from time to time.

I didn't expect to spend so much time making more of them so soon, but I did. Oh, I wrote too; I haven't abandoned the new Mug and Meralda book, which is coming along (finally) at a good pace.

I've found that making these images helps me stay focused on the book. Creating them is time-consuming and tedious, yes, but it also lets me explore my characters in an entirely new way. 

I think you'll find these new pictures are a good bit more detailed and realistic than the first offerings. I've been playing with lighting and posing -- if none of that interests you, by all means just scroll down to the pics. 

But if you're curious about how the pictures were made, here's a behind-the-scenes look.

First, posing. 

Every 3D default character available has an internal skeleton, right down to the small bones in the fingers and the toes. You select your bone, and then you can move it left to right, up or down, or with a twist. The trick is to select one of the pre-shaped poses and tweak it to your needs. For these pictures that will follow, I selected a sitting pose, took the come-hither aspect of it down several thousand notches, and then put her hand on her chin. Then you wrestle with clothes, because they don't just automatically fit your figure's body (well, sleeves do, and the top, more or less, but shirts? No way).

Add a Victorian settee and a room with appropriate wallpaper, and you've got yourself a scene.

Here's the first render I took, which was a close up of Meralda's face.


It's not bad. Her fingers are perfectly positioned. She stands out from the dark background. There are realistic shadows.

But it lacks drama. I used the classic 3-point lighting system, which consists of a bright spotlight close to her face, just above her head, positioned not directly in front of her but at about 45 degrees to the right of her. That's called a 'key' light.

To keep the left side of her face from being lost in shadow, I added a second light, the so-called 'fill' light. It was close to the floor, not quite as bright as the key light, and aimed up at her face.

Finally, I added a third light, right behind her, aimed at the back of her head. This is the 'kicker' light, and it serves to put a highlight around her silhouette, so she doesn't get vanish against the dark background.

The lights worked, more or less.

But I wanted a touch of shadow on her face. Too, her eyes -- I wanted to try and have her looking at the camera, and thus you, the viewer.

A word about messing with eyes. You have to adjust them one at a time, which means you can easily come up with some truly bizarre pictures while you're adjusting them. It's also possible to accidentally pull them right out of their sockets. But don't worry, I quickly put them back in.

You can't really see what you're doing except in the most basic, cartoonish way while you're doing it. Until you render the scene, which takes 3 or 4 hours each for the images presented here, you can't be sure what you're going to get. You can spot-render small areas, which I did, but that too is an iffy proposition. My kicker light kept spilling onto her ear lobes and cheek, resulting in weird white patches that ruined every one of those full renders.


So I changed things around, and came up with a new image. Same pose, but with changes to her eyes, camera angle, and intensity of all the scene lights.


That's a little better. But I still didn't get the shadows I was looking for. So I tried again, knocking the lumens down on every light by nearly half.


After some tweaking in PaintShop, I wound up with the image above. It's my best portrait so far. 


I've got one other Meralda image to show. This one isn't a portrait; she's outside, in one of the Palace gardens, dressed in her Laboratory work clothes.


Hope you enjoyed the pics! There will be more. One day I'll manage to create a convincing Mug, but that day is not here. A 3D model of a plant with 29 eyes is going to take more skill than I've got at the moment.

And now, a small rant about the clothing usually depicted for fantasy females.

Look, no one, barbarian warrior queen or powerful spell-hurling sorceress, can go around fighting in a handful of straps, a thong, and high heels. I know, book covers sell books, and sex sells -- well, anything, but sheesh. A little realism wouldn't hurt, now and then. And though I'm not a woman, would most women go to their closets and say "You know what? I think I'll head into some deadly conflict wearing this Victoria's Secret lingerie. Yes, that is certainly the right choice. And these six-inch stiletto heels. Maybe a single brass bracer on my left arm, just in case things get rough. Oh, and Spandex panties. Yeah, that's the ticket."

I doubt it. I have nothing against the female form. Quite the contrary. But maybe it's time we stopped using women as marketing tools 24/7. Rant over.


I'll leave you with two final images. First, another of Darla, from The Markhat Files.


And now for something completely different.


Ever wonder where toads hide during the day? Well, in our case, they take refuge from the sun inside concrete cinder blocks. I give you four friendly toads lounging in the cool shade. Have a good week, folks! Be careful out there.



Sunday, July 10, 2016

Rendering Meralda

I've written here before concerning my status as a talentless and therefore frustrated graphic artist.

Pens, pencils, brushes -- I wield them all with the same skill and artistic flair as would last October's Halloween pumpkin. In fact the jack-o-lantern, despite its lack of appendages, would probably produce better art than me about half the time simply by rolling its mushy decaying bulk over the blank pages.

I'm that bad.

But I do know my way around a mouse and a keyboard, and at long last, I've found software I can use to actually create images worth looking at.

The software, DAZ 3D Studio 4.9, is free. You can download it yourself, if you have a desire to try your hand at 3D graphic imaging. I did so last week, and after watching the tutorial videos, I set out to create Meralda Ovis, the heroine of All the Paths of Shadow and All The Turns of Light.

If you haven't read the books, Meralda is a bookish, shy genius who single-handedly revolutionizes flight on her world while saving it. The setting is vaguely Victorian, though Meralda's home isn't on the Earth we know. I've described her as having reddish-brown hair and brown eyes, but I always had a picture in my mind of what she looks like.

Now you can see that very same picture. So, without further adieu, I give you Meralda Ovis, Royal Thaumaturge to the Kingdom of Tirlin.


The image above may be my favorite one of the bunch. I love her expression; she's clearly up to something. I think I made her hair just the right amount of messy -- she's got better things to do than sit in front of a dressing mirror all day.



More of the coat in this image. Yes, I know her brooch vanished. Mainly because this is an earlier render, and I realized it was gone and replaced it in the first image.


But the detail is pretty amazing, considering my machine is hardly ideal for use as a graphics engine. I believe this picture took at least two hours to 'render,' which is a term describing the processing that takes place between the cartoonish first image and the final product.


Different placement, noonday lighting. I also changed her expression slightly. These are the clothes I tried to describe in the books -- long skirts, coat, sleeves, all that. Meralda as quite clear on several points, one being that if she was EVER dressed in a leather mini-skirt (as cover art fantasy females are often portrayed) I might find myself with the head of a duck. One does not meddle with Thaumaturges if one values one's human appearance.



Another version. I liked it, but the eye makeup was a bit overly dramatic when it rendered. I can't see her wearing that to the Laboratory, knowing she'd need to touch it up half a dozen times during the day.

If you're curious, setting up each of these images takes me a couple of hours. Posing is the hardest part, at least for me. Each model has a fully articulated internal skeleton, and you move the subject by selecting the bones and adjusting them. It's not a speedy process. There are stock poses, of course, but even those require tweaking so clothes fit correctly.

Meralda against a plain white background, with a different expression. Yes, she has long fingers. And the shoulder ruffles of her coat need work, but overall I was pleased.


A close-up. There is a flaw in this image; a stray reflection from her right earring splashed light on her cheek, and I don't have time to move my lights in the scene and render a new image for today's blog. The rendering process is insanely detailed -- every object reflects or absorbs light as a real physical object would, and individual rays are traced and wind up in the final scene. I've had to learn a lot of lighting and real-world studio photography to produce faces that aren't washed out on one side and hidden in shadow on the other.

So, tell me what you think in the comments! If you've read the books, does this image match yours? I'm curious to see how my image compares to yours.


One last note -- I'm still offering fantasy-based diplomas for sale, so if you'd like a degree in Applied Thaumaturgy to hang on your wall, click your way toward my fantasydiplomas site.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Top of Your Class

Self-publishing, done right, ain't cheap. 

Yes, I know the correct phrase is self-publishing, done right, isn't cheap. But the use of ain't adds folksy emphasis. Perhaps it is even endearing. Pardon me while I look down at the worn toes of my battered shoes and mutter 'Aw, shucks.'

Now that the initial embarrassing moment is out of the way, I'd like to announce a new business venture aimed squarely at defraying some of the costs of bringing the new Markhat book to market. 

No, it's not a Kickstarter or a GoFundMe. You actually get something, for your 5 hard-earned bucks. 

You get an ornate, custom-designed diploma, printed on good heavy paper, suitable for framing. A diploma from a wholly fictional school, created entirely by me, customized with your name and your desired degree. Suitable for framing (I'll even send you a link to a seven dollar frame that works perfectly with the document). 

Curious? Then click your eager little clicky fingers on the URL below, and have a look at the offerings. All designed and executed by me. Website hand coded (obviously) by me. 

CLICK HERE FOR FANTASY DIPLOMAS DOT COM

There's a diploma, signed by Mama Hog herself, from Mama Hog's School of Divination and Potions and Hexing. There's also one from Meralda's alma mater, the Tirlin College of Science and Thaumaturgy. And several others as well, so go have a look!


ART FOR ART'S SAKE

The Universe often plays mean tricks on its inhabitants.

Take me, for instance. I've always wanted to draw, or paint. While I've painted many a wall, badly, and drawn quite a few circuit diagrams or plans for sheds or roofs, I couldn't draw a marginally-convincing stick figure if you dangled a sack of money over the page.

I just don't have any talent in that area. No, that's not right.

I have a lack of talent so profound it's actually a negative talent in that area.

Which hasn't stopped me from trying. Most of my pen-and-paper efforts simply experience spontaneous combustion well before they are complete, presumably out of shame. 

My digital efforts were no more successful. I tried Poser 10, a well-regarded character creation program, until it started returning error codes that read 'Look, can't you find ANYTHING else to do?' and 'Seriously, dude, go outside and enjoy some sunlight.'

But hope springs eternal. 

I don't have Photoshop, because that bag of money I mentioned earlier was snatched away as soon as I tried to draw a stick-man's stick foot. But I do have two fairly powerful graphics programs, that I use to create images for this website, and just for fun. They are:

Corel Paint Shop Pro X8  (about 79 dollars new, for the Ulimate Pro edition)

Corel Painter Essentials 5 (20 dollars)

I play with them when I'm stuck writing. Now, from time to time, I'll post some of the images I've created using them here, in case any other hamfisted artist wannabees are curious.

The one below is of Darla, from The Markhat Files. In the new book, Darla and Markhat spend some time in Bel Loit, and go out dancing at a night club called Tall Thin Louie's. In the image below, Darla is passing in front of one of Bel Loit's many tumbledown cemeteries, in her evening gown.


Bel Loit, unlike Rannit, doesn't have a halfdead population (well, they do, but it's very small, and fiercely secretive). So no crematoriums, no dead wagons. Just graveyards. Which may or may not be peaceful places, after dark...


Markhat isn't pictured because he still looks like a crack-crazed Gumby and that's no fun for anyone. 

Coming up -- Meralda, Mama Hog, Slim, Evis, and anyone else I can manage. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Markhat News


It is with emotion bordering on giddiness that I announce my Markhat series titles will NOT be fading into oblivion in the wake of February's announcement that Samhain Publishing was shutting down.

After restructuring, Samhain has decided to remain in business. Which means my existing Markhat titles will remain on sale, in both print and ebook formats, just as they've been for the last several years.

Better still, the new Markhat book, WAY OUT WEST, may hit the stands in the next couple of months. 

And the new Markhat book, tentatively entitled THE DEVIL'S HORN, is already underway.

I know, that's a surprising turn of events. But that's publishing -- change is the only constant.

To those of you who sent emails and messages of encouragement, thanks. You will never know much your words meant to me. I'm not ashamed to say that news of Samhain's shutdown gutted me. 

So, Markhat and Darla live on. With any luck, you'll be able to join them on a new adventure before the weather even cools off.

So what's in store for the series, from here out?

I can't reveal everything you know. But there are changes afoot. Big ones. 

No, no, I'm not talking about killing off Darla or anything daft such as that. I'm not George R. R. Martin (just look at our sales rankings, that will prove it). I'm not saying what Martin does is wrong or bad -- I'm just saying I don't want anyone finishing one of my books feeling like they just got punched in the face with chunks of a still-warm corpse. 

I think there's plenty of room for both styles of storytelling. Which doesn't mean every recurring character in my series is safe -- no, Markhat's world is a dangerous one. But I am stating that when I say 'changes,' I don't mean what so many of us have come to expect, i.e., killing off a bunch of series favorites.

I've had enough of that myself. My enthusiasm for The Walking Dead has even begun to dim, because frankly I'm weary of watching the characters I've come to care about get shoved into meat-grinders week after week. Okay, we get it, the show isn't afraid to eat its babies. Hurrah for them.

But that doesn't mean I will continue to sacrifice an hour a week to watch what to me is becoming blatant torture-porn. 

I grew up reading fiction from a different era, I suppose. Take the Nero Wolfe detective series, all seventy-some books of it. There was a sort of unspoken contract between the reader and Rex Stout, author of the books.

Stout would give us Archie and Nero and the brownstone. There'd be banter and a look inside the complex friendship between the gregarious, outspoken Archie and the reclusive, taciturn Wolfe. We readers would be presented with an intricate clockwork mystery. The clues would be right there in the open. We'd always fail to see them, until Wolfe recounted them at the end. Each tidy resolution was a blast.

But would Lily, Archie's lady friend, wind up slaughtered with a butcher knife? Would Cramer catch a bullet to the back of his thick New York cop head?

No. That was part of the implied contract. You came back again and again to enjoy the company of certain characters. 

Killing them off for shock, to wrench an easy emotional reaction from a fan -- that just wasn't done.

And I won't do it either. 

Which isn't to say what's on the horizon for Markhat and Darla isn't profound. It is -- but I'm trying for something more subtle than grief.

I think we've all had enough grief lately.

So that's my big news of the week. 

Now, I need to ask a favor. 

If you've read a Markhat book, and liked it, and left a review on Amazon, thanks. 

If you haven't left a review yet, please, click the link below, then find the book, and leave a review. 

It's important, now more than ever, and I'll tell you why.

Books with more than 25 reviews, I understand, get picked up by Amazon's 'bots and those are the books that get pushed in the 'You Might Also Like' emails and such. Which sells more books. Simple as that.

So here's the link to click. Markhat and Darla would really appreciate it -- they've got a houseboat to maintain, after all...

CLICK HERE TO FIND THE MARKHAT BOOKS AND LEAVE A REVIEW

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Ghostbusters

There are a lot of terrible jobs out there. At this very moment, some poor soul is hosing out a porta-john after a chili festival. Elsewhere, someone is struggling to maintain a smile while some rage-fueled diner demands a full refund because the steak they just ordered and consumed contained (gasp) meat. 
But my vote for Worst Job of the Week goes to whomever administers the Facebook page for the new Ghostbusters movie.
You guys and girls know me. I'm a hard-core Ghostbusters fan. I've built my own proton pack, cosplayed a steampunk Ghostbuster. I love the films, I own all the animated episodes, I watch the movies whenever I can. 
I'll never forget how much fun I had watching Ghostbusters for the first time. It was the perfect blend of humor, science, comedy, and good storytelling. I knew it was a classic within the first three minutes. It was obvious that the right cast met the right script at the right time, and the fusion was sheer magic.
That was 1984. There was a second film, perhaps not as exciting as the first, but still quite good.
After the second movie, we fans endured years of silence, broken only by the occasional rumor that the fabled GB 3 might finally happen.
It didn't. The feud between Ramis and Murphy, changes in the industry, any number of factors doomed the continuation of the series.
So when I heard about an all-new Ghostbusters reboot, I was thrilled. When I later heard the leads were going to be an all-girl crew composed of SNL alums, I was ecstatic. Who better, I thought, to pick up the mantle and re-tell the story with a fresh new twist?
But this news of a female GB crew wasn't so well received by everyone.
The backlash on the net was immediate. Purists snarled. Hordes of naysayers emerged, quickly dismissing the film as an abomination before the first trailer aired.
It got ugly. Really ugly. YouTube comments section ugly. The ire spread to Twitter and Facebook and everywhere else, even following the actresses and the director and finally to Ghostbusters grand-master Dan Aykroyd himself, who was viciously attacked for daring to defend the new movie.
Now, most of the detractors will huff and puff and claim misogyny has nothing to do with their palpable hatred of a movie none of them have seen.
Riiiight. I've read the comments, and even the ones that are careful to avoid the appearance of misogyny can't avoid being tainted by its ugly stain.
Ghostbusters was a boys' club, and a very vocal segment of fandom isn't happy about letting girls in. Unless of course they serve as romantic interests or comic relief.  
I'll probably get hate mail for even saying that. But it's okay, because I'll NEVER be forced to deal with the kind of nastiness I've seen directed at the movie via the Ghostbusters Facebook page.
If anyone posts anything enthusiastic or positive about the film, they are quickly shouted down by the detractors. 
I can imagine the posts we don't see. The ones that have to be removed.
I truly feel sympathy for the person behind that page. The one who has to read all that hateful spew, all day every day. 
It's got to be hard on the cast and crew as well. You pour your time and effort, your heart and soul, into a project that is, after all, meant to be fun. It's entertainment, but that doesn't make bringing it to life easier.`
So you do all that work, and instead of the usual friendly buzz and anticipation, you get a steaming bucket of hateful bile thrown in your face. 
That's got to hurt -- and all because there are women in the lead roles?
What the hell is wrong with people lately?
I know, I know, it's just a movie. But I think sometimes this undercurrent of irrational rage is a symptom of something far worse, lurking just beneath society's surface like some hungry crocodile. The scary part is this -- we can't see under the water, and we don't know where the crocodile is going to strike next. Maybe it's a movie. Maybe it's a real person, or real people, somewhere. We've seen that too.
There's just too much hate in the air. 
Maybe hate starts small. Maybe all those furious online rants are akin to a single miniscule droplet of water, part of a growing dark cloud. 
But when enough of those tiny drops come together, we get storms. 
Bad storms, that leave wreckage and horror in their wake. 
Am I claiming that online nastiness directed at a movie is somehow a driving cause in mass murders?
No. Not directly. But I am offering up the proposition that our current environment of vicious online exchanges and the exercise of anonymous fury as the new normal is slowly -- or not so slowly -- desensitizing some people to violence. 
It's just a thought. I'm sure someone will be quick to point out what a deeply flawed and wholly ridiculous thought it is. And it may well be.
But is there any real defense for such rampant outright mean-ness directed toward strangers on a continual, even relentless basis?
If there is, I don't see it.
Now, I know many of the people who read this blog. You're nice folks. You've been nothing but friendly and supportive to me, and I am deeply appreciative for that.
In fact, it's you guys who led me to try and say something positive somewhere online every chance I get. To bite my figurative tongue when I feel the urge to show off my sarcasm arm. 
So I'd like to encourage all of you to do the same. Go say something nice to a stranger. Heck, go to the Ghostbuster's Facebook page and just tell them you liked a trailer. 
Somewhere out there, you might make a weary admin smile. Better still, the dark clouds that hang over us now might shrink, just a tiny bit.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Behold the Mighty Pear

I'm back!

Before I dive, or more precisely slide carefully into, the blog, let me invite you all to tune into a special live talk show tonight, where I'll the guest of host Renee on her weekly radio show, 'Renee LIVE!'


Renee is a great host, and a fascinating person, and as long as I keep my trap shut and let her talk it'll be a great show! That's 9 PM Eastern or 8 PM Central, tonight, June 5th. I'll slap some links below:

Listen live via the internet by clicking me at 9 PM EST / 8 PM CST from TVM Cafe Radio!

Listen live via the internet by clicking me at 9 PM EST / 8 PM CST from Diversity Broadcasting!

Just browse to either place, then click the 'listen now' or 'play' buttons, and you're there. No fees, so signups. 

What will we be talking about? The usual plugs for my books, which I will keep to a minimum, and lots of paranormal / unusual stuff. It ought to be lots of fun. 

So tune in! I've showered, had coffee, shaved my legs. See you there!

WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN, FRANK?

Good question. For years, I've been a fanatic about weekly blog postings. But last month, I only made two entries.

My reasons are twofold. 

First, I pulled back from the net for a while. Look, I try to keep things positive and upbeat here. There's enough negativity out there for any five planets, and to be perfectly honest, I got got overwhelmed.

I don't have to tell you, especially if you live in the US, how downright mean it's gotten online. Nothing and no one is safe, even people and topics well removed from politics. 

New Ghostbusters movie? Misogyny firestorm. I got actual hate mail for posting something enthusiastic on the Ghostbusters movie Facebook page. Which means a stranger was so incensed by my comment 'Looks great, I can hardly wait to see it' that they took the time to describe, in detail, what a terrible stupid person I am.

Which, by the way, made me chuckle as I hit delete. I'm a writer. My skin is rhinoceros hide covered in Kevlar and topped with a fashionable adamantium sweater vest. I've been savaged by editors, people. Lesser beings don't even leave dents.

But not everyone is so well armored. I got so sick of seeing the vicious back-and-forth exchanges online I just said 'enough' and spent more time with books and music, which are always good company.

It's not just online. You can't watch the news without being smacked in the face with nastiness either. Once upon a time, the phrase 'if it bleeds, it leads' was a joke among journalists.

Now, it's a business model. 

That's Reason One for my temporary social media pullback.

Reason Two is a lot more down-to-earth. Karen and I have been involved in a massive home improvement project. A project of such scope and measure that a crew of four to six really should have been involved, but since there's just us and our band of loyal but thumbless dogs, we've done all the work. 

It's nearly killed us both. 

The last three Saturdays have been intense 12-hour slugfests outdoors in the infamous Mississippi heat. My back isn't what it once was, which means Karen has done most of the heavy labor. We go out. We work until we simply can't move. We come back in, shower, and then spend Sundays communicating in moans and hand-gestures ('More painkillers, dear?' usually followed by 'Why are we doing this again?'). I tried to write a blog last Sunday, and got as far as 'T' and 'h' before my hands clenched back into fists and I was forced to lie on the floor and cuss for six straight hours.

Good times. But the project is winding down -- another Saturday, maybe two -- and we'll be done, at least until the next one.

I do miss the days when I could have done everything by myself and laughed about it without so much as a wince. But years of office work have rendered me, to put it kindly, pear-shaped, and also possessed of the pear's legendary strength and physical prowess. 

But it's getting done, nevertheless. Even lowly fruits can dig 300 foot trenches and haul 100 pound panels long distances by hand, if they must, and in this case, they must. 

In other news, the new Markhat book, Way Out West, is still looking at a summer release.

Oh, and I ran over my beloved laptop. We won't go into the details, since they involve a lot of absent-mindedness on my part, but I do have to give a shout-out to Lenovo. The laptop in question was run over by a Toyota RAV-4, and despite all expectations, it lives. The screen is wrecked, sure, but that's being replaced. The keyboard, hard drives, motherboard, and case all survived intact. Not too shabby, in my opinion.

Don't forget the radio show, and tune if if you can! Both hosts have chat rooms (TMV works best if you have IE), so you can talk along with us, if you want.

See you tonight, and again next week!

Now go hug a puppy or something. Life isn't as horribly vicious as the net might make it seem.