Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bugs, Poems, and Waxings, Though Not In That Order.

Fig. 1: The author's new haircut. Does it make my thorax look fat?
First things first -- the new Mug and Meralda book, All the Turns of Light, is done. No more pronouncements of 'nearly done' or 'almost finished' or 'surely this week, it will wind up.' The first draft is in the can. The new book weighs in at eighty thousand words, which is a perfect length for a novel as long as most of those 80,000 words are the right words. But only time, a couple of editors, and readers can determine that.

Now that All the The Turns of Light is done, I've picked up the new Markhat book I finished a few months ago. I'll give The Darker Carnival another long hard look, and when it's ready to strike out on its own I'll send it on the good folks at Samhain Publishing, who will then decide whether A) it's a worthy addition to the series or B) Frank has finally jumped the shark and needs to take up knitting. 

I hope to have The Darker Carnival out in a couple of weeks. Then I'll give All the Turns of Light its turn under the harsh, unforgiving light of editorial scrutiny, and then it'll be shipped off to my beta readers, who will return their own judgment regarding sharks, jumping of, or going on to the next step.

Then, it will be time to start a new book -- either the next Markhat, or a new Wistril the Wizard, I haven't decided which yet. Those are my next two books. Just not sure of the order at the moment.

The image at the top of the page is a bug. I took it through my new microscope a few minutes ago, because who among us doesn't love magnified views of big bug heads? Oh? Really? That many?

Sorry. You'll be happy to know he's a nice bug, and that I put him under some bark after I made his portraits. 


I wasn't the least bit surprised to find him coated in pollen. Everything is coated in pollen around here. Most particularly my nostrils, but don't worry, I will not be posting any images of those.

Below is a thistle, which blew away before I completed half a dozen photos. Even the flying thistle-bits have pollen all over them.


Nature is, if I'm any judge, far too amused with pollen.

In Which I Wax Poetic

Someone asked me recently if I wrote poetry.

Nay, quoth I, for poetry is the language of the soul, filled with, er, what are those things called? Feels? You know, the source of tearful eyes and quivering lips -- emotions, yes, feelings, those sorts of things, and I don't have any, so there.

But it later occurred to me that I have in fact written the odd bit of doggerel, strictly in the service of a story. 

For instance, here are the opening lines from The Harper's Lament, sung by Jere the castaway harper at the opening of my short story The Harper at Sea.

I am a luckless vagabond,
bereft of land or country,
Unchained, unbound by love or law,
unhomed till death does take me.

Jere was a recurring character back in my early short-story days. I think my favorite story of his was The Truth About Arphon and The Apple Farmer's Daughter. Without giving too much away, Jere finds himself trapped in a shadow world, with only a numberless horde of ravenous ghosts for company. He remembers a tale told by the legendary harper Arphon, who claims he held a mob of ghosts at bay with wholesome, cheerful songs of summer and daylight. Naturally, Jere tries this approach, beginning with a merry dance tune, Vival's Dance. 

I wander fields, I wander woods,
I wander sky and sea,
I wander lone beneath the stars
Come wander, lass, with me.

The ghosts are not impressed. Neither do they appear amused by any of the other songs Jere plays. Despairing, and nearly frozen solid by the press of the ghosts and their frosty exhalations, Jere's magical harp moves its own strings, and Jere sings along, not realizing at first just what song it is he's beginning to sing...

The apple farmer's daughter
was all alone one day,
When Og the mighty hunter happened by the way...

As the song progresses, Jere sings along, horrified but unable to silence his harp. 

Mighty Og spied lovely daughter,
and his blood did right quick boil...

I'm not going to post the whole thing here, because Jere and I share a similar respect for decorum.

The daughter grinned and fanned her skirts, 
and mighty Og did shout....

At this point, Jere begins to suspect the legendary Arphon lied about a thing or two concerning his encounter with ghosts.

Mighty Og began to weep, and lovely daughter laughed,
I'll not be shamed, the hunter roared, one boot upon one foot...

As the last note of the infamous Apple Farmer's Daughter song dies, his harp selects even worse songs, including Queen Mavan Tames the Dragon, The Happy Donkey Song, and, worst of all, Lords Love Ladies. 

I won't tell you how the story ends. If you're curious, it's here in my The Far Corners anthology.



I believe there's a single nursery rhyme in All the Paths of Shadow, a rhyme that sticks in heroine Meralda's head as she winds her way up the Tower's long, dark stairs. It went like this:

The old, old wizard goes round and round the stair,
The old, old wizard goes sneaking everywhere,
The old, old wizard goes where you cannot see,
The old, old wizard is sneaking up on me!


The Markhat books also feature songs, now and then. Brown River Queen is set aboard a lavish gambling riverboat, and part of the floor show includes a black blues singer named Miss Rondalee. Miss Rondalee, like Mama Hog, commands a magic uniquely her own, in that Miss Rondalee's songs are touched with power. For instance, no two people will hear them quite the same way, because no two people need to hear the very same song. Here's an excerpt from Brown River Queen, in which Miss Rondalee's lyrics foreshadow things to come...

From Brown River Queen:

The music faded away, and the spotlight flared to life, and a tall black woman in a long white gown took the stage as the musicians tapped out a rhythm and began to play. 

The Queen lurched—just a bit, but enough to cause the remaining pair of formal dancers to stumble and lose their place. The lights even flickered.

And then it was over. The sounds of dice clattering and wheels spinning and gamblers shouting and cheering never faltered, not even for an instant.

“Did you see that?”

“I did.” I felt Darla’s heart beat faster. “Trouble?”

“Don’t know.” We kept dancing. The black lady introduced herself as Lady Rondalee of Bel Loit and dedicated her first song to ‘all the lovers out there.’

“Trouble,” she sang. “Trouble, bad trouble, been dogging me all my days...”

“Well that’s comforting,” whispered Darla. 

“Ain’t no comfort, ain’t no comfort, no comfort ever comin’ my ways...”

“I think she can hear you,” I said. 

“I hear you, I hear you sayin’, sayin’ I needs to be changin’ my ways...”

Darla stopped swaying. “You don’t think—”

“I don’t. Coincidence. We’re on edge, that’s all. It’s just a song.”

A waiter pushed his way through the crowd. His starched white shirt was stretched to near bursting by his muscular physique. A scar ran all the way down the right side of his face. Something under his black dinner jacket bulged, and I didn't think it was a salt shaker.

He bore down on us, mindful to keep his hands visible and open, palms toward me.

He stopped a few paces short of us, and waited until I gently disengaged from Darla and moved to stand in front of her.

He nodded, reached slowly in his jacket, and came out with a note. He held it up and I took it from him, and he vanished into the crowd—doubtlessly to employ those muscles in the precise pouring of any one of Rannit's finer wines.

I unfolded the note, just halfway, to make sure it didn't bear hex signs. Instead, I recognized Gertriss's tall plain hand, and I opened it all the way.

BOSS, it read. BY THE PORT STAIR. COME QUICK. IT’S BAD.

Darla gasped, reading over my shoulder.

“Don’t suppose I could convince you to wait here?” I said.

“Waste of time trying, dear.” 

And we were off, weaving through the dancers, plowing through the drunks and the gamblers and their noisy entourages.

I caught one more stanza of Lady Rondalee’s song, before the din drowned her out.

“One day soon, one day soon, trouble gonna be the death of me...”

“Not tonight, I hope,” I muttered. Darla didn't hear.

I put my shoulder to the mob and charged toward the stairs.

Brown River Queen, available now!

Is Miss Rondalee due to make a second appearance in the Markhat series?

Yes she is, because she's a powerful lady with a fascinating talent. I suspect Miss Rondalee and Mama Hog will be up to shenanigans, at the very least. Oh, and by the way -- Markhat's hometown of Rannit is based (loosely) on Memphis, Tennessee. Just south of Rannit, down the Brown River, lies Bel Loit, Miss Rondalee's home. Bel Loit is my version of New Orleans.

Final Words: Did Something Actually Go Bump?

I lack a clever segue for this segment of the post, so I'll just be blunt -- for the first time ever, I got absolutely spooked at a graveyard yesterday as I attempted to capture another EVP sample.

Eerie headstone pic of gentleman who is an ancestor of mine. Note epic 'stache.


Yesterday, I returned to Midway Cemetery, where I've actually collected a few good EVP recordings.

It was a bright, warm day. Hardly a cloud in the sky. Seventy-nine degrees. In short, the day couldn't have been less conducive to spookiness had it been accompanied by a brass band and a parade.

I've been to Midway Cemetery dozens of times. Half of the plots are occupied by relatives. I have no fear of the place, or its denizens.

But when I pulled up to the cemetery gates yesterday, for an instant I was sure a man was standing at the very back, at the edge of the trees.

Let me set the scene. Midway lies at the dead (ha) end of a gravel road traveled only by cemetery workers digging the once-a-decade grave, family members going to lay out flowers and pay their respects, and mildly-deranged ghost hunters intent of waving mics about in the hopes of recording a spectral word or two.

On the way there, I saw no tell-tell traces of recent traffic ahead of me. There is no parking lot. The road simply ends at the gate. No other vehicles were in sight.

But for a split second, I was sure I saw an upright figure, featureless and dark, standing at the very rear of the cemetery. I blinked, and it was gone.

Below is a picture noting the approximate location of the figure I probably didn't see:


Part of me was suddenly reminded of pressing appointments elsewhere, and moved to table the EVP session, citing an urgent need to watch re-runs of 'Stargate SG1' at a location many miles from the cemetery.

But I made of sterner stuff (mostly sausage, cakes, and steak) so I entered the cemetery and conducted my EVP session as planned.

I wish I could report I captured half a dozen ghostly voices imparting mystical wisdom, but the truth is that I got nothing. Not a faint whisper, not a muttered monosyllable, not s single anomalous exhalation.

I walked through the headstones and stood in the very spot I didn't see whatever it was that wasn't there. Again, no EVP hits.

I took about 60 photos while I was there. Two of them show what I'm pretty sure is blurring caused by wind-induced leaf motion. It is odd that only two photos were thus affected, and both of them were taken in the spot my dark figure (aka Mr. Trick of the Light) made his brief and undoubtedly imaginary appearance.

But here are the photos, for your amusement.


The blur effect is hard to see in reduced-sized images. It's plain when I inspect the full-sized pics on my big monitor. 

In the first image, start at the lower left corner of the pic and travel about a third of the way to the right. Then look up, about three-quarters of the way to the top. Subtle but weird blur. Wind? Yeah, probably.

In the second picture, just find the tallest grave marker (can't miss it, right side, little bell-shaped thing on top) and look left of the bell-shaped ornament. 

Like I said, probably wind. I spooked myself so naturally I'm seeing things that aren't really there.

Back to Work!

Okay, it's time to get editing. Have a good week people!





Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mad Science, Creepy Crawly Edition!

Today, we journey not into the realm of the supernatural or the paranormal, but of the very small.

Earlier this week, I was helping my Dad look for some papers at his house when I came across a set of 60 prepared microscope slides I got as a kid. Because, yes, I was that big of a nerd, even back in 1973. The box of slides is pictured below.



The slide set appeared to be in good shape. My old microscope, though, was nowhere to be found.

Having the slides but no microscope presented something of an annoyance to me. True, I have neither seen nor thought about this set of microscope slides in 40 years, but now that I've found the slides, I feel the urgent and entirely unreasonable urge to view them, because how often do you get a chance to see a perfectly preserved specimen of Rhizobium Radicicola, or Mycrobacterium Ranae, whatever the heck they might be?

Now, at this point I really should have just started trying to find a decent old microscope on eBay, or even a modest new one from Edmunds or Amazon. But why do the reasonable thing when you can dive into your surplus parts pile and spend an hour or two building your own gadget?

Aha, quoth I. I will build my very own scanning electron microscope. It will be huge and imposing. Sparks will fly. Thunder will crash. The lights in four adjoining counties will dim, and I'll finally get to wear my snazzy new safety goggles and my 1930s-style side-buttoning lab coat.

But a quick check of the bank account revealed the lack of 80 million dollars in discretionary funds, so I was forced back into the realm of the merely optical, and with only such parts as I might already have lying around at my disposal. I did wear my side-buttoning lab coat when I finally did start construction, but without the sparks and the strong sudden smell of freshly-minted ozone it's just not the same.

But I did build a microscope, for about $14, and it actually works, and below is the proof!



That, ladies and gentlemen, is the rear leg of the common honey bee, photographed with the new microscope. The bee leg was part of the old Sears prepared slide set. Not too bad for 14 bucks!

Below is the rig itself:


Okay. I'm cheating a bit by using my iPhone as the primary optical device -- put the phone on the rig, placing the phone's lens carefully over the rig's primary lens. All that is contained in the top layer of cheap clear acrylic sheet, which is held up and steady by the bolts. The base is a scrap piece of oak, and I countersunk the bolt heads on the bottom so it would sit flat.

Below the top layer and the phone and the lens is the staging layer. See the wing nut in the photo above? There are two of them, and by spinning them you bring the staging layer up or down. And since you sit the specimen on the staging layer, it moves up or down until it is in focus.


Here it is with the phone removed. The lens is between the two bolts on the top. It is held in place by a steel washer.

There's nothing special about the lens. Okay, it is glass, and not plastic, because plastic lenses are worthless. Seriously. I spit on them. I cast aspersions on them. Bah! Plastic lenses are an abomination and I have no truck with them!

I got a dozen cheap glass lenses from American Science and Surplus for a couple of bucks years ago when I was messing with telescopes. I selected one at random, cleaned it, made sure the raised rounded side faced up, and glued it in place. Why select at random?

Because when you have that many buttons to fasten on your starched white lab coat, you don't have TIME for complex calculations of focal length and diopter! This is MAD SCIENCE! If you don't finish quickly the villagers will reach the castle gates, and we all know how that ends. Honestly, it's a wonder I ever a single monstrous body fully reanimated.

Yes, it's a quick and dirty rig that costs almost nothing, but the results are actually impressive. Below are a few photos I took right after completing the device.


Close-up of dandelion bloom (smaller than my thumb). Look at the stamen and the pistils, and all that lovely pollen. I didn't even notice the two ants aboard when I picked it. By the way, they were released into the wild when I was done.


Even more pollen.




Next up, a penny. Here's the whole penny:


And here's a close-up of Abe:


Salt crystals? You betcha!



Below is a burned-out tail light from my father's Toyota. Note the defective filament!



Below is a close-up of the author's skin. Note to self: Inquire about various lotions and healing balms soon.


Nah, that's not really my skin, that'ts tree bark. Here's me:


I took a fingertip image, and then I thought 'Hey idiot, do you REALLY want to post a hi-res magnified image of your fingerprint on the internet? Is that a good idea? Really?' so this is below the first knuckle.

Here's a common NPN transistor, which I'm sure you've all been dying to see magnified:


And below is rust on an iron band.


Ever wondered what dog food looks like magnified 100X? Well wonder no more...


Yeah, I wasn't exactly thrilled either.

For next week, if you can think of something you'd like to see magnified, email me (franktuttle at franktuttle dot com) or post your request in the comments below! If I can make it fit on the rig, I'll give it a shot.

Mama Hog Revealed?

I've made mention several times in this blog that Mama Hog, a recurring character in my Markhat series, is based on my grandmother on my father's side.

Her real name was Beatrice, but we called her Grammaw Bee. Not 'grandmother' or even 'grandmaw,' because I grew up in rural Mississippi, and thus she was Grammaw Bee.

Mama's Hog's speech patterns and even some of her appearance were inspired by Grammaw Bee. For a while now, I've tried to find a photo of my grandparents, and I finally located one.

It's a tiny 3 by 4 photo, and it's in terrible shape. I scanned it, enlarged it, and did all I could to enhance the focus and remove the worst of the scratches and pits. It's still not very good, but it's all I've got.


On the left is Grammaw Bee; on the right, my grandfather Henry and his ever-present cigar. Also note the presence of the commanding Tuttle nose, which I inherited. Small children often take refuge in its shade.

Picture the lady with her hair all wild. Remove her glasses. Hand her a stir-stick and a black iron pot, boiling in the yard, and that's Mama Hog.

She was a nice lady. She cooked for an army and knew all kinds of natural cures and neither of my grandparents ever knew an idle day, but they were happy, and I suppose that's all that really counts.

Mug and Meralda News - Is the new book done?

Well, is it?

By the time you read this, yes. I'm posting this early so I can settle into what will be the final writing session for the first draft of All the Turns of Light.

Length? A little over 80 thousand words. Do Mug and Meralda ever leave the Laboratory, this time around?

Oh yes. Whereas the first book in the series (All the Paths of Shadow, available from Amazon) was a sort of anti-quest novel in that Meralda never went more than a few blocks from home, this one takes the gang on a long journey across the Great Sea. There are airships and sea monsters and storms and magical menaces. I believe people will like this book even better than the first one!

By the way, there will be two more Mug and Meralda books after All the Paths of Shadow and All the Turns of Light. When all four books are put together on a shelf in the proper order, the titles will form a poem. And no, I'm not telling what the next two titles are.

So, on that note, I will take my leave, and get back to work. 

But I will leave you with a final image, which I discovered when I downloaded the pics from my iphone. It's not a good picture. It's out of focus and it's dark. But that really doesn't matter.

Below are our dogs Max and Fletcher. Fletcher on on the right. He's old and blind and diabetic, but he still takes care of Max. Some would say dogs are incapable of love; I heave asparagus at such people, and then mock them for their silliness, because dogs do indeed love.

Okay, off to finish the book, wish me luck!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Bonus Monday Blog: Tax Tips for Writers!

(Originally posted 4/12/2012)

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 waterfowl.

But even a dedicated indoorsman such as myself can observe the anguished 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 a full-on single-sitting read of Snooki's 'A Shore Thing.'

And even I know what these grim 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 his brow and the set of his jaw. Equally sacred to the American governing psyche is the ideal that they get a 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!'

And 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 them 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 involves 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 73 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 6, 2014

All the Turns of Light update!


That's Meralda, from All the Paths of Shadow. But Frank, you ask -- why does she look so smug?

Possibly because her new book, All the Turns of Light, is darned near finished. That's right -- I am this close (insert graphic here of fingertips almost coming together) to wrapping this book up.

Of course, that's only the first part of the book's journey -- but it is the most important part, because until the first draft gets written, there's no book.

So, on behalf of Mug and Meralda and the crew of the airship Intrepid, thanks for waiting so patiently, and rest assured the sequel to All the Turns of Light won't be so long in the making.

Things Going Bump in the Night

A news story caught my eye, about a very strange trail camera image captured near Jackson, Mississippi, in February of this year.


The deer is looking at -- what, exactly? Two light sources, suspended above the ground. And this wasn't the only image recorded that night. Here's a link to the full story -- http://m.wlox.com/#!/newsDetail/25156516.

What did the camera record? I have no idea. There really isn't enough detail to make anything out, at least as far as I can see. Could it be a night hunter wearing an illuminated cap? I suppose, but there's no way anyone is going to walk up on a deer that knows it's being stalked. 

More than one image of the lights was captured. I still have no idea what was captured.

We keep a trail cam active on our property, just in case Bigfoot ever decides to take a midnight stroll through Yocona. We have hundreds of images, none of which show anything overtly anomalous. Rest assured if we capture anything interesting I'll post the image!

Wolfie reminds you to lock your doors tight!
Okay, short entry this week, but I'm dying to get back to work. Take care all! See you next week -- until then, pleasant dreams!



Monday, March 31, 2014

Bonus Monday Blog: My Angry Body

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I'm nearing completion on the long-overdue sequel to All the Paths of Shadow.

Tonight, I had a genuine breakthrough. It was one of those rare moments when the story took hold and tore up my outline and Meralda stamped right off the page and bloody well told me what happens next.

I got it all down, too. Every word. I know where the story goes. I know why it goes there. It's good. Really good. I pushed sweet gentle Meralda too far, and she's had enough, and if she met Rick Grimes in a dark alley right now he'd be the one who turned and dived for cover.

Such moments are rare.

I hastily made four pages of careful notes. I saved that file, and then I turned back to the book file and plowed right in.

Achoo.

Bless you. I barely noticed the sneeze. My fingers hammered away, stabbing the keys of my long-suffering Saitek Eclipse II keyboard like fat, determined sausages.

Achoo.

Hah. I forged ahead, heedless of the growing pressure in my aquiline nostrils, or the tell-tale hints of burning and tearing in my bleary eyes.

ACHOO.

And then it began in earnest -- a full-blown, five-alarm, no-holds-barred Festival of Expelled Mucous which scared Hell out of my assembled Writing Dogs and necessitated an emergency cleaning of my monitors.

My eyes joined the fun, puffing up and streaming tears. I cried more than the front row at a Twilight screening. Tears ran down my cheeks and soaked my beard, and that's never happened before, although I will certainly use it in a book sometime, because having a beard soaked with salty tears is a unique visceral experience.

My nose, not to be outdone, redoubled its efforts. The Writing Dogs exited the study en masse, seeking shelter behind the toolshed and peeking out briefly to see if I'd exploded yet.

My sinuses are, I discovered, unbound by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that neither matter nor energy is ever created or destroyed. Because I created matter, buckets of the stuff, and physicists don't believe me fine, just stand right there.

Then things got really bad.

I sprayed a considerable quantity of something called Flonase up my nose. Look, I'm a writer. But I'm not a famous one, so I still have a day job. I don't have many hours in the day to write. I don't have time for all this sneezy/coughy/teary body function jazz. And this nasal spray seemed confident it could help, or at least provide me with numerous amusing side effect options (may cause uncontrollable hypothermia. Some users report being transformed into werewolves. Occasional hyperdimensionality or time travel may result).

It helped, if by 'help' we mean 'take a bad situation and elevate it to truly epic tragic status.' The dogs have abandoned the toolshed and have placed ads on Craigslist which read FREE TO A GOOD HOME HURRY WE THINK HE WILL SOON BLOW UP.

I've used an entire roll of Bounty paper towels. No, you don't want any details.

My nose, my nasal passages, my traitorous running eyes have turned on me, in the hour of my greatest need.

How? If you took a blood sample from me, my blood type would register as ALLEGRA. I'm careful to avoid the outdoors. I haven't even seen the sun, or natural ground, since briefly emerging from my lair last November to inspect my otter-drawn sleigh.

This is killing me. I shall now concoct a devil's brew of powerful anti-allergens and hope it provides sufficient relief to continue with the book.

In the meantime, here is a repeat post from 5/30, in which I opine about all maters bodily and physical. Please wish me luck in recovering. I do NOT need this now!

WHERE IS MY ROBOT BODY?

REPOST from 5/30


Your body is either a wondrous living engine powered by a spark of the divine or a ludicrous assemblage of evolutionary short-cuts, depending on your point of view.

Having seen myself naked (police video enhancement techniques have shown a marked improvement in recent months), I know where I stand on the whole wondrous construction / meat-based Rube Goldberg contraption controversy.

An injury to my back last week left me thinking about the fleeting and fragile notion of health. Since the injury also left me in a crumpled heap on the floor, I had plenty of time to ponder my attitudes toward wellness in between bouts of cursing and attempts to raise myself by climbing a nearby window-frame.

So, with a renewed appreciation for the simple things I took for granted -- walking, standing, crouching to hide from store detectives, lifting liquor bottles or barrels filled with deep-fried hamburgers -- I'd like to offer a few thoughts on our bodies, and how to keep them healthy.

Your body is a biological machine, powered by food and air, which will give you many years of trouble-free use if you perform regular maintenance, especially routine oil changes. Wait. I got my body mixed up with my riding lawn mower. Let me start over.

Your body is a wildly inefficient hodge-podge of finicky, unreliable chemical processes and damage-prone tissue structures. Even with the best of luck, it's going to start failing faster than a Russian-built sports car after forty years, and probably well before that.

Let's take a look at the major structures and systems that make up the human body:

Might as well pick out a plot....
1) THE SKELETAL SYSTEM. Beneath your skin is an appalling volume of gooey wet stuff.  Hidden inside this gelatinous mass of goo are your bones. Each bone connects to another via muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cleverly-hidden wires. This complex arrangement of jointed bones and opposing muscles allows you to wave awkwardly at strangers who you thought waved to you, but were in fact waving at their friend behind you. Too, whereas the lowly ant can only lift a mass fifty times its own body weight, your skeletal system grants you the ability to beg for help opening a jar of mayonnaise. Maybe that stranger has a stronger grip than you do, from all that bloody waving.

The most common skeletal problem is that of having to endure a skeleton in the first place. Face it, used  skeletons wind up wired in humorous poses by bored medical students or spend decades popping out of doors in carnival spook-houses, and even then the things are prone to make a lot of clattering noises and require frequent repairs. Many commercial and medical establishments have switched to sturdy plastic skeletons these days, which is a move you should check into as well.

The human brain.
2) THE NERVOUS SYSTEM. Your nervous system conveys the brain's instructions to your muscles via a series of nerves. Given the poorly thought-out nature of most of your brain's instructions, this crude and error-prone delivery system is probably a blessing in disguise, since it gives you time to reconsider flipping off the burly, tattooed Neanderthal who just bumped you in a checkout line.

Humans share virtually all of their nervous system chemistry and neurobiology with the graceful soaring hawk and the surefooted mountain goat, but you'd never suspect that after watching the average person put on a drunken rendition of the 'Mashed Potato' dance at a karaoke bar. Honestly, half the population is likely to suffer minor injury just playing 'Rock, Paper, Scissors' and the other half couldn't walk across a foot-wide plank without falling if their lives depended on it.

Nerves are composed of neurons, glial cells, and quite a number of other microscopic structures which are wasting their time and effort on a species that still hasn't quite mastered the rhythmic finger-snap.

3) THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM. Your body requires proper nutrition to function at its best. A quick appraisal of your body's so-called 'best' clearly explains the shelves lined with Cheetos and the presence of a McDonalds drive-thru every sixty feet in the developed West.

You can spend forty years nibbling on nothing but free-ranch kelp and gluten-free naturally-occurring whole-grain tofu and still wind up diagnosed with the exact same terminal diseases as the 400-pound trucker who has eaten nothing but tobacco-soaked gas station burritos since 1987.

Still, you might improve your odds a tiny bit if you maintain a body that conforms to the following simple formula:

Height > Maximum girth.

Thus, if your waist measurement is six feet, remember to maintain a height of AT LEAST six feet. Seven would be better. Eight is just showing off.

Choose a height and stick with it. Your digestive system will seek to undermine your efforts at every turn, but  if you can ignore the aching constant hunger and nearly-irresistible urges to consume the entire Sarah Lee display in a single sitting, you can at least maintain a healthy weight. This ensures your last words can be smug ones.

A healthy heart is a bloated misshapen heart!
4) THE CARDIOPULMONARY SYSTEM. Your heart and lungs comprise your cardiopulmonary system. The heart pumps the blood, which passes through the lungs. In the lungs, the blood releases carbon dioxide, absorbs oxygen, and craves tobacco just like it's done day after tiresome day since Prince released his breakout '1999' album.

Much ado is made by physicians and the media concerning blood pressure and the importance of keeping one's blood pressure within certain clear limits.

Regardless of your age, general health, or activity level, doctors have determined that your blood pressure is well beyond both the upper and lower safe limits and you will soon expire unless you:
  • Switch to a healthy diet by removing all food from your diet.
  • Pester harried waiters with demands that your tablecloth and silverware be certified gluten-free.
  • Lecture everyone you know about the benefits of a Vegan lifestyle.
  • Reduce your body mass by no less than 67% between now and the next celebration of Earth Day.
  • Stop using bacon as both dental floss and chewing gum.
By taking care of your heart, you will ensure that Cyborg Dick Cheney has a steady supply of cardiac tissue for at least the next half-century.

Fig. 3, the anterior brachiostatic excretory array. Eww.
5) THE BRACHIOSTATIC - ARTERIOPEDIOTIC SYSTEM. All the squishy things not covered by topics 1 through 4 above. Feet, nose hair follicles, ear wax glands, etc. Basically, all the squirming bits of this and ropy parts of that which ancient Egyptian mummy-makers hurriedly sealed up in jars. Because, yuck.

If something goes wrong here -- and it will -- odds are you'll first learn of it in that brief moment between floating above your motionless body and being pulled into The Light. Early symptoms of a sudden demise from brachiostatic complications include itching, sneezing, feelings of calm or well-being, anxiety, hunger, thirst, any sensations of fullness, sounds or vocalizations from the mouth, blinking, yawning, skin, or regular bouts with sleep.

There is a way to keep your complex brachiostatic system in perfect function by consuming a half teaspoon of a certain Greek plant pollen per day, but this same pollen causes rapid, irreversible heart failure. Who says Nature doesn't have a sense of humor?

Really, the best you can do is keep those toenails trimmed so the morgue attendants won't snicker and post awful pics on Instagram.

HEALTH CONCERNS: AGING

From the moment you are born, your body begins to renew itself.

Sadly, your body is no better at this renewal business than it is at regenerating limbs or developing acute night vision. Now, if you cut a starfish in two pieces, each piece will heal and become a really pissed-off starfish, and no one will ever leave you alone with their pets or small children.

But cut off the tip of your pinky finger, and aside from profuse bleeding all that happens is a rapid realization that your Blue Cross insurance coverage is woefully inadequate.

Aging is merely a slow-motion fatal car crash into a rather solid stone wall. You are placed in the doomed car at birth, the doors are locked tight, and the steering wheel and brakes don't work. But take heart; each year, advances in medical science bring us closer to a truly lifelike embalming process.

We really, REALLY mean it this year.
HEALTH CONCERNS: DISEASE PREVENTION

Not a flu season passes without dire warnings from the CDC that the current strain of bird flu will wipe all of humanity from the tortured face of the soon-to-be-barren Earth. We are bombarded with media instructions to get flu shots, wear breath masks, and refrain from huffing the missing CDC canisters of experimental bird flu viruses.

This year will be no different, and the outcome will be the same. The worldwide death toll from the latest incurable superflu will be dwarfed by the sum total of all Nerf-related injury deaths suffered while riding atop a rhinoceros at noon on Arbor Day. If this is pointed out, CDC spokesmen will mutter under their breath and hint that next year the Great Unwashed are really gonna get trashed.

The only way to prevent disease is by avoiding childbirth, especially your own. Once you're here, disease is both inevitable and a vital component of our thriving Health Care and Mortuary industries.

You've got to really *feel* the burn.
HEALTH CONCERNS: EXERCISE

Use it or lose it, they say. They also say five times five is thirty-six and London is the capital of China, so listening to them is a complete waste of time.

Another complete waste of time is exercise. You can run, you can lift weights, you can practice Yoga every hour of every day for your entire life, but your body will still direct its energies toward devising ways to undermine your efforts. If you run, you will ruin your knees. If you lift weights, you will tear things with cryptic names such as the 'ACLU' or the 'Isles of Langerhams.'

You may forestall this inevitable decay by injecting steroids directly into your muscles, which will make you  stronger, faster, and easily capable of swinging that blood-soaked claw hammer for hours on end while a SWAT team peppers you with rubber bullets.

An alternative to this is low impact aerobic exercise, which consists of rapid-fire channel surfing while seated at an athletic and unyielding 46 degree angle. Additional motion may be added to the workout session by incorporating the chip-dip arm action, or by walking briskly to the refrigerator at regular intervals for another Coors Lite.

Marathons, triathlons, paragons, pentagons, and the Running of the Bulls are best left to the obsessive-compulsive, the rabidly insane, and the Spanish.

Grab your ankles, sailor.

HEALTH CONCERNS: YOUR DOCTOR - PATIENT RELATIONSHIP

Finding a competent, caring physician is an important step in maintaining wellness and a healthy lifestyle. However, you could achieve the same results by engaging in a quest for solid physical evidence of Bigfoot. In fact, that's altogether the better idea.

The modern physician left medical school only to find him or her self buried under a veritable mountain of debt. The only way to ever hope to pay it off is to run patients through their practices at speeds normally reserved for slaughterhouse cattle-chutes. Pharmaceutical reps help out by pushing thousands of pills and saving the poor beleaguered doctor the time of actually listening to his patients, who are by nature a whiny complaining lot anyway.

The modern doctor-patient relationship works like this -- you, the patient, are presented with a bill. You pay the bill. If the bleeding resumes return for another rapid-fire office visit, receive another bill, and this time, a blue pill.

Repeat until wellness or a body temperature equaling that of the ambient air is achieved.

It's just not that hard, people.

The spiders tell me to dance!
HEALTH CONCERNS: MENTAL AND SPIRITUAL HEALTH

Many mental health care providers recommend quiet introspection and frequent self-examination as part of a health-conscious lifestyle. These health care providers recommend these practices because that BMW 328i with the 36 speaker Bose sound system and the heated leather seats isn't going to pay for itself, and the usual reaction to any interval of honest self-appraisal is panic followed by weekends in Vegas spent mainlining pure grain alcohol.

An important first step to achieving true mental health is learning to distinguish between the voices of friends and family, the voice of Grolog, Dark Lord of the Underworld, and the voice of Mark, who will be your server for this evening. Honestly, if you can refuse to loan your cousin Theo money, ignore Grolog's suggestions that you emulate the dietary practices of Hannibal Lecter, and convey to Mark your wishes for iced tea, the turkey club, and a side of spicy fries, then you're already in better shape than 75% of the other diners in Chili's.

Spiritual health is best achieved by waiting to become a disembodied spirit yourself, and if you keep ordering the spicy fries, you won't be waiting long, Mr. Unchecked Hypertension.

I intended to end this section on health and wellness with an audio recording of the noises my back now makes when I stand, but the FCC stepped in and I'll either have to skip that altogether or move to and post from Singapore, where the rules are more relaxed.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

MidSouthCon 32 Photo Roundup, Herding Bees, and Sundry Other Diverse Ruminations

They're pretty nice guys, when they're not defending the evil Galactic Empire.

MidSouthCon32 pics!

As promised, I'll shortly post the best of my MidSouthCon photos. There were some great cosplayers in attendance this year, and just wandering the halls watching people was great fun.


Fans of the show Supernatural will recognize the tan raincoat immediately. Yes, that's Castiel! Which shows what power a simple prop can take on, when it becomes associated with a compelling fictional character. It didn't matter that Castiel is male -- when one dons the tan raincoat and the loose tie, one becomes Castiel, to anyone familiar with the show.


Fans of Archer will recognize the ISIS crew, including Pam with her trademark shark puppet! Archer wasn't with them this trip -- maybe next year.



The dauntless members of Expedition Unknown! This photograph is unusual in that the Stay Puft figure was not visible to the naked eye when the photo was taken. Or maybe it was, and what were my eyes doing running around naked anyway?


Not all the attendees were human. I could never get this fellow to talk, but he was rather deft at delivering small packages.


Just say 'Arrrr..."


Steampunk cosplay was popular this year!


Sir Coors of Light, defender of domestic beverages!


And not a single dwarf-tossing joke was made...




















The image above is the lineup for next year! I'll get to rub elbows with the likes of Cory Doctorow and Melissa Gay, which means I've got all year to work myself into a mumbling star-struck tizzy.

MidSouthCons are truly a blast. You meet great people. I always come away energized and ready to plunge back into writing with recharged batteries and renewed zeal. Not renewed veal. I still have awful dreams about that particular incident.

More Pics 

I thought I'd close today with a few images of spring for my winter-weary northern readers.

Our pear trees are in full bloom. I took the camera outside and discovered the bees are already hard at work, and I managed to capture a few images of them. If you're still locked in by cold and snow, I hope this brightens your day.




Look closely at the sky, and you'll see bees in flight. No, I wasn't stung; they paid no attention to me at all.



Spring is here, and soon all the grey dark days and snowstorms will just be memories.

Meralda and Mug Update

The new Mug and Meralda book is still underway at a breakneck pace. I'm going to estimate its final word count at around 80 thousand words, which means I will be finishing it up in a couple of weeks. 

First draft, that is. My plan for the next month or two looks like this:

1) Finish All the Turns of Light.
2) Put it aside. Dive back into the new Markhat book I just finished, The Darker Carnival. Get it whipped into shape and submitted to Samhain. 
3) As soon as The Darker Carnival is submitted, pick up All the Turns of Light and get it ready for submission. I'm still not sure where I'll sub the new Mug and Meralda. Samhain doesn't do YA, so I'll be considering this question carefully in the next few weeks. 
4) As soon as Turns and Carnival are out, start on a new book. My goal for 2014 is to write and submit at least three full-blown novels. 

Will the third book be the long-delayed Wistril novel, entitled Wistril Ascendant? Or will it be something new entirely?

No idea yet. I'm sure something will occur to me when the time is right.

One last thing -- Brown River Queen could use a few more reviews. If you've read it and liked it, please consider visiting the book's Amazon page and dropping a few stars for me!