A Bit of Music

War of the Worlds: Classic Album Remake

One of my favorite books, the classic H.G. Wells novel War of the Worlds, was adapted as a musical prog-rock album in 1978 by Jeff Wayne.

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I’ve listened to Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of the Worlds hundreds of times. Richard Burton narrated. A dedicated ensemble of string and other musicians gave the score a very steampunkish rock-orchestra sound.

Two of the tracks became minor classics after the album’s release. Forever Autumn and Thunder Child still receive some airplay, and deservedly so. The album still sells, to this day, and there is even a stage production.

Weeks ago, I learned the War of the Worlds album had been remade with ‘The New Generation’ added to the title. This time, Liam Neeson performs as the narrator, and the music has been rescored.

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I ordered the new album — but not without some trepidation.

Remakes are a tricky business. If you retain most of the original work’s character and detail, making only minor tweaks, well, what’s the point? From a technical standpoint, the audio quality of the original Jeff Wayne version can’t really be improved on. If anything, technical standards for music reproduction today are far inferior than they were in the 1970s. The market has shifted to emphasize casual listening — i.e., ear-buds and Bluetooth speakers with the dynamic range of half-thawed trout.

On the other hand, anyone daring to take significant liberties with an established classic is sure to face the irrational wrath of, um, me. I love the original, and I’m well aware my knee-jerk reaction to change is likely to be a mixture of ‘Hey, that’s not the way I remember it’ and ‘How DARE YOU DESECRATE THIS TIMELESS CLASSIC YOU RUFFIAN!’

Thus, before the new work even sounds a note, it’s got baggage to contend with.

Prior to sitting down for my first listen, I had a long talk with myself about the value of remaining objective About being open to a fresh interpretation of a beloved old standard.

Unfortunately, I wandered off while I was talking and grabbed a beer, so I missed most of that lecture.

Before I dive into the music and narration itself, a word about how I listened. I bought a CD, because the vinyl version isn’t out yet (and may never be). I don’t use downloads for serious listening, because I’m old and I have actual hair in my ears and music deserves a physical medium of some sort you whipper-snappers.

I have a 5-speaker setup with a Yamaha amp. I like it loud. I set the soundstage for Hall, with minimal echoes and reflections, and I pressed play.

Liam Neeson opened with the familiar monologue, which goes like this:

No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched by intelligences which inhabited the timeless worlds of space. No one could have dreamed that we were being scrutinized, as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few men even considered the possibility of life on other planets and yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this Earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely, they drew their plans against us.

The music swells, and off we go.

The big question — does Neeson fit the role as Wells’s un-named journalist?

My reply? Yes. Yes he does. Of course Liam Neeson is not Richard Burton. But Richard Burton is no Liam Neeson, either, and I found Neeson’s performance just as engaging and convincing.

The words lost none of their power. For me, this new journalist’s recounting of mankind being pushed to the brink of extinction by the merciless Martians is every bit as chilling as was Burton’s.

So, if the narration was as good or better than the original, what about the music?

My biggest fear was that the majestic, sweeping orchestral feel of the original would be replaced by some wretched attempt at ‘updating’ the score by transforming it into something contemporary. I do not want a metal version of War of the Worlds. I do not want a countrified twang included, or hip-hop, or pop. One of the things I loved best about the original was the album’s clever ruse of using 19th century musical sensibilities to create a prog-rock sound. It was akin to listening to Nicola Tesla use the instruments of his day to throw down with some Pink Floyd.

Did the new album maintain this practice?

Yes. I loved the music, which honored the original, but incorporated some new elements. There is some great guitar work. A faster pace. The grand sweeps are still there, but with just enough funk added to make it fresh and exciting all over again.

Now, anyone out there reading this who is also a fanatic about the original work has one question at this point — what does the new version do with the Martian’s exultant battle cry, the much-maligned ‘ulla?’

I know people who truly hated the ‘ulla’ sound the Martians made during a battle. I liked it, myself. They were Martians. It sounded alien. But hey, art is subjective.

I waited for the first battle cry on the new album with curiosity. The moment came and went, and there was no ‘ulla.’

I can’t argue with the decision to shelve the battle cry. The lack of it doesn’t hurt the new work, and keeping the original wouldn’t have fit this new sound anyway. Creating a new one would have been risky too. And maybe the cry was a flaw in the original, so highlighting that flaw just isn’t a good idea.

The next pair of touchstones arrives with Forever Autumn, which is followed immediately by Thunder Child.

In Forever Autumn, our heroic journalist makes his way to London in search of his fiancee. He fights his way through the packed crowds fleeing the besieged city, only to find Carrie’s house empty. She is gone, perhaps dead, and all hope seems lost. That is the part of the story carried by Forever Autumn.

Thunder Child finds the journalist amid a panicked mob trying to board the last steamships departing England. He doesn’t make it onto a boat — but he does see Carrie on the packed deck, just as three Martian walking machines stride out to sea, cutting off the steamboat’s only path to safety.

But the steamboats aren’t the only craft in the harbor. A single ironclad warship, the Thunder Child, confronts the Martians, and in a moment of good fortune the Thunder Child’s cannon manage to bring down a Martian war machine.

That moment in the song is powerful. There’s been so much loss, so much destruction — but finally, a victory. Cheers and shouting rise up from the mob still assembled at the dock. For a moment, there is hope. Humanity has hit back, and hit back hard.

Then the remaining Martians turn their heat rays on the valiant ironclad and send the glowing remains to the bottom. The steamboat escapes, and Carrie with it, but as the last warship sinks, it’s obvious humanity has lost not just the battle, but the war.

That is the song Thunder Child.

I’m happy to report that the new versions are every bit as powerful as the Jeff Wayne originals.

Once that moment passed, I was able to settle back and simply enjoy the new album.

There are a couple of chances taken by the producers that may emerge as the new ‘ulla’ cry. For example, at one point, the narrator dives into a stream to hide from the rampaging Martians and their heat rays. As he plunges in, the music becomes muffled, distorted precisely as it would be if the listener were suddenly submerged. My initial reaction was ‘sheesh, what’s wrong with my amp?’ but I’ve actually liked the moment on subsequent listenings.

If you’re a fan of the 1978 version, the new one is a worthy successor. If you’ve never heard of either, they’re both well worth the time.

Here are links to both versions:

The original 1978 War of the Worlds

The updated War of the Worlds: The New Generation


WILD WILD WEB

Here’s tonight’s Wild Wild Web link. Enjoy!

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Introducing Three Mean Streets, the audiobook!

It’s out!

Three Mean Streets, the first title in the Markhat Files series, is now on sale in audiobook format.

You can get a copy from Audible or iTunes. The links are below, because I’m a helpful sort.

Three Mean Streets from Audible

Three Mean Streets from iTunes

The book comes in just shy of six hours. The narrator, Conner Goff, did a fantastic job reading as Markhat. I really believe you’ll enjoy it.

And here’s the cover, so you’ll know what to look for.

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Finally, as a gift for everyone who comes here and listens to me rant every Sunday, I’m going to post yet another link below. The publisher made 25 copies of the audiobook available for free — so if you get to the link in time, you can pay nothing for Three Mean Streets.

Free copies of Three Mean Streets

Oh, and if you do get a copy, and like the book? Please consider leaving a review. Books live or die by reviews.

Thanks to Conner Goff and Archieboy studios for giving Markhat and the gang voices!

WILD WILD WEB

Here’s your Wild Wild Web link for the week. Enjoy!

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Audiobook News and Darla First Look

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The audiobook version of Three Mean Streets will go live any day now.

I'll post a special blog when I get word it's on sale. It'll be on Amazon's Audible and iTunes. I don't know the retail price yet, but I do know you'll be getting a solid six and a half hours of narration with this title.

Editing an audiobook is a lot like doing the final proof of a text book. I listened to each chapter as it was completed, and there was some back-and-forth concerning pronunciations and the like. Since the book's text was also edited (and edited, and edited) this process wasn't nearly as painful as the written version. 

Connor, the voice actor, did a marvelous job of capturing Markhat's dry, cynical wit. The supporting characters came across just as well. I honestly believe you're going to have a blast listening to this.

So stay tuned for the big announcement, which I guess will be forthcoming early this week.

Work is also coming along on the audio version of Every Wind of Change. It's a much longer book, with quite a few supporting characters, so that's going to take some time -- but it is in progress, and the voices are incredible.

DARLA REVEALED

At last, I have a couple of very rough images of Darla from the Markhat Files. These are preliminary, and will change -- but here's her basic look, which yes, needs a lot of tweaking. She's all dressed up for a night of dancing on the Brown River Queen. Markhat is taking the picture, so he's not shown yet.

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Wild Wild Web

Here's your Wild Wild Web link for the week. It's a favorite of mine, and I hope you find it both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Wild Wild Web

 

Living With The Living Dead

I was a huge fan of The Walking Dead when the show started.

It had zombies. My first exposure to zombies occurred when one of the two TV channels we got showed the original Romero classic Night of The Living Dead one rainy Saturday afternoon. I was way too young to be watching such a thing, and it scared the absolute crap out of me.

 The walking dead, or Walmart shoppers? Hard to tell, some days...

The walking dead, or Walmart shoppers? Hard to tell, some days...

So naturally, decades later, I was an instant fan of The Walking Dead.

I still watch, even though I've sworn off the show twice in the last couple of years. The episode in which Carol was shot multiple times and savagely beaten -- that was over the line for me. Never again, quoth I.

But next week, there I was.

When the zombies swarmed over King Ezekiel's loyal tiger -- no more, I said. What a cheap way to sneak in an emotional punch. One minute the tiger is an unstoppable killing machine, and the next a dozen withered, stumbling corpses manage to pin down a thousand pounds of claws and fangs.

But I came back. 

And I'll be there in October, when Rick and crew make their next appearance. But my enthusiasm for the show is dimmed considerably, in part because of the inconsistency of the underlying science and technical aspects of the show.

Here are the flaws that bother me the most. I give the walking corpses a pass, because I'm willing to suspend disbelief on one point, and that's it, impossible though it is.

1) Cars, trucks, and other vehicles that still run. We're years into the apocalypse. The show made it plain that civilization lasted about a month once the rise of the dead began. But somehow, our grimy heroes manage to start cars that have been sitting idle for the whole time. 

I've got two issues with this.

Batteries, for one. 

Go leave a car outside for two or three years. Then hop in and turn the key. You'll be lucky if you get a few faint clicks. That battery is long gone, and without it, you're not going to just throw it in drive and speed away from the ravening horde.

But let's say you know how to drive a stick, and you've roll-started a car before. If you're skilled, and the car has a manual transmission and is facing a downward incline, you can put it in first, stand on the clutch, and let the car roll till it builds up speed. Then you pop the clutch at just the right moment.

If you're lucky, the car will start, sans battery. You won't have headlights and it's going to die the moment you stop, but you could maybe get away from a few dozen shuffling corpses.

But you won't, because gasoline is a volatile chemical compound, and if it's been sitting in a tank for a couple of years it might be good for starting campfires but it isn't going to power a vehicle anymore. Too, everything in the fuel lines is gummed. The jets won't spray. Pistons won't budge.

You're going to be a zombie's lunch. Forget cars, and helicopters? Please.

2) There's been so much gunplay in the series that everyone would be deaf, or nearly so, by now. Nobody wears ear protection. They often have running gun battles in tiny confined spaces.

Here's what actual dialog after all that shooting should look like:

RICK: We've got a herd of walkers closing in.

MICHONNE: We've bought a head of Faulkners dozing sin?

RICK, louder: WE'VE GOT A HERD OF WALKERS CLOSING IN.

MICHONNE: I've never heard of cousin Walter selling tin!

3) Walkie-talkies have magical 500 mile ranges, and everyone is always on the same frequency and listening at the same time when someone else wants to talk. Why do we even bother with cell phones? 

4) Our heroes spend half their time walking around covered in zombie goo and the other half rolling around on rocks and broken glass, but nobody ever gets an infection from it. Look. In a world without antibiotics or even much in the way of first aid, all those dramatic looking flesh wounds are going to kill you. Dead. Quickly. Take a bath, people! Soap would be nearly as valuable as food, in that setting.

5) Nobody rides bicycles. Seriously, if you need to get around quietly and quickly in a world without cars, the bike is the way to go. It's faster than the zombie shuffle. It's quiet. You can pick it up and walk around the ever-present downed trees or collapsed bridges. No fuel needed. Grab a manual air pump and a tiny tire patch kit and a bike will last for years -- but not once has anyone realized this. I know Daryl's chopper motorcycle is cool, but anything that loud would draw walkers for miles. 

6) Zombie skulls. Apparently, zombie bones undergo some strange metamorphosis into softness as they age. Morgan carries a long stick. One end of it is pointed, sort of, in a blunt kind of way -- but when he pokes a walker in the head, the blunt wooden tip slides through bone like it was warm butter. That's not how bones work. Even dead bones retain their hardness for quite a few years. Other characters use knives for the head-stabs, and the knives slide in easily and never get stuck. 

If I did that in a book, I'd hope an editor would say 'Frank, you have seen a bone, right?"

7) Everyone is out to slaughter everyone else and take their stuff. Okay. That's great for dramatic tension, but historically, people have tended to pull together during vast natural disasters. There's far more benefit in trading with other bands of survivors, even helping them out to combine assets. Going to war just means casualties and depletion of existing resources, with no guarantee of success. Sure, there will be looters and thugs and opportunists -- but I think they'd be in the minority, rather than being everyone you run into. 

But I'll keep watching anyway, because Romero put the fear into me all those years ago.

If you have other gripes to add, or another show that you feel the same about, let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

Here Be Dragons

As a kid, I was attracted to strange books.

I still have most of my favorites. Among them is In The Wake of The Sea-Serpents by Bernard Heuvelmans. Mine is a Hill and Wang edition, published in 1969.

The dust jacket is long gone, which is a pity, because the book is considered rare now. Even so, I wouldn't sell it because it holds too many memories and it's still a great source for building fictional sea monsters.

For a kid, this book was a treasure trove of sea monster stories. Heuvelmans took entries from old sailing ship logs, from eyewitness testimony and accounts, from newspaper articles the world over. It's a matter-of-fact, scholarly presentation of written evidence for sea monsters, and as such it's a dry read. But kid me reveled in every detailed description, in every black-and-white drawing contained within the pages.

It still makes for fascinating reading. I'm sure that many of the sightings were mis-identification of perfectly ordinary creatures, but -- hey, the oceans are deep and vast. 

One thing nine-year-old me didn't have was the internet. But if I'd had it, I'd certainly have been watching a YouTube series called Bedtime Stories.

My friend Terry emailed me and suggested I take a look at Bedtime Stories. I did, and now I'm passing the link on to you. If you share my fascination for the strange, the unexplained, and the Fortean, I think you'll enjoy BedTime Stories too.

Each episode presents an incident, phenomena, or subject with a mysterious or paranormal bent. What sets Bedtime Stories apart from other similar sites is the inclusion of skepticism. They don't shy away from debunking their own stories. 

I'm sure you've probably heard of 'the Bloop.' If not, the Bloop is the loud undersea sound recorded by NOAA a while back. At first, people -- some scientists included -- suggested the Bloop was created by some enormous but unknown sea creature. The volume of the Bloop, which was recorded by microphones 3000 miles from the source, suggested a creature of truly monstrous size.

Subsequent research into the Bloop later determined that the sound was made by melting methane ice, deep in the ocean. The ice shifted and hit the bottom and the scraping, with the gas release, made the sound. No kraken were involved.

Most of the 'paranormal' sites list the Bloop, to this day, as evidence of some gargantuan sea creature. Bedtime Stories is the first I've seen to accurately correct that assertion.

If you're interested, click the link below to head to Bedtime Stories. I suggest you start with the episode on sea monsters. It's a fascinating presentation. I knew about the German U-boat incident and several of the others from my old book -- but kid me would have loved this web series. Adult me certainly does.

BEDTIME STORIES LINK

SUNDRY WRITING UPDATES

Just this week, I've nearly completed the audio review for Three Mean Streets, and have also reviewed the first four chapters of Every Wind of Change. 

Both sound amazing. I've never really appreciated the extent of a voice actor's work until now. They're not just reading the books while a microphone records. They're doing different voices. Adding anger or terror or sadness to the words. I suppose I've sat at a keyboard and watched words crawl across a screen for so long I've forgotten that words are more than letters and the spaces that separate them. 

So they're not 'merely' narrating. They're acting. It's a dimension I've just not seen associated with my books.

Three Mean Streets will be released first. Every Wind of Change, which weighs in nearly twice the length of Mean Streets, will take longer, but it's coming!

PULP MAGAZINE COVER

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WILD WILD WEB

I've got something a bit different for this week's Wild Wild Web entry. 

This gentleman, Patrick A Bartmess, makes musical instruments and devices. They're unique and creative, and here's one of them playing with an accompaniment of cicadas. Enjoy!

Wild Wild Web

 

Meralda in Motion

I had hoped to open this weeks's blog with a short animation of Meralda waving hello.

Sadly, that's not going to happen. My career as a 3D animator is off to a rocky start. So far, her animated movements resemble those of a crash-test dummy dropped into an industrial shredding machine. 

I believe Meralda herself has emerged from the multiverse -- I did get her to take a few steps, but her right hand formed a certain rude gesture involving a raised middle finger. I can neither explain nor remove the gesture. I do believe it was her comment on my skills as an animator.

Work on the audiobooks is progressing nicely. The voice actor for Three Mean Streets has a great Markhat voice, and his Mama Hog is wonderful. Mug and the gang from Every Wind of Change are a delight, and I really believe both sets of books will be a genuine pleasure to listen to.

Meanwhile, I ran into a snag with the new Markhat, The Devil's Horn. I was cruising along at speed until I realized I'd missed a major plot hole. I'm sure you've heard it asked why Gandalf didn't just ask Gwaihir and the eagles to fly Frodo to Mount Doom so he could destroy the Ring without traipsing all the way into the heart of Mordor? 

Yeah, I had a moment like that. So a chapter or two needs to be re-written, because I can't expect Tolkien's luck in having my version of that little problem remain undiscussed for fifty years.

Improved Pulp Covers

Here are a few altered pulp covers, for your amusement...

     

 

 

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Wild Wild Web

Finally, here's this week's Wild Wild Web link. Fans of Ghostbusters and Supernatural should love this one. Enjoy!

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Big news for The Markhat Files and The Paths of Light series

It's official -- both The Markhat Files and Mug and Meralda's adventures are coming to audiobook format.

The first book in the Markhat Files, Three Mean Streets, will be appearing on both Audible and iTunes in September. The new Paths of Light book, Every Wind of Change, will be released to the same markets shortly thereafter.

The rest of the titles will follow. 

And to answer the first most obvious question -- no, none of them will be narrated by me. Three Mean Streets is being produced by Archieboy Studios. I've heard and signed off on the first 15 minutes. It's amazing what a talented voice actor with the right audio equipment can create. Connor, the voice actor, nailed Markhat's sardonic with, and brought Mama Hog to grumpy life as well.

The Paths of Light books are being narrated and produced by another gifted voice actor, Nila Hagood. I loved her Mug on the audition tape, and her Meralda captures just that hint of perpetual exasperation I was looking for. 

I never thought I'd hear an audiobook of my own titles. But fortune smiled -- by mistake, I assume -- and contracts have been signed. Work is underway. 

I'm a grey-headed dinosaur, so I still do my reading by text. But after hearing someone read a book aloud, I understand the appeal of an audiobook. You can just close your eyes and relax, free from every distraction as you focus on the book. Unless you're driving. Then you need to watch the road. The Mississippi Highway Patrol was most emphatic on this point. Sorry about those gas pumps, guys.

If you're an author (my deepest sympathy) and you'd like to know more about how all this came about, email me at franktuttle at franktuttle.com. It's an option I should have explored a long time ago. Keep in mind I have the usual author's production budget of three corroded pennies and an old Bic pen filled with ink that dried in 1992. That doesn't matter; I'm not paying for this gig. 

So that's my big news. I am of course still working on the new Markhat, The Devil's Horn, and Darla keeps telling me to hurry so I can get back to work on her book. 

And now for something completely different.

DOGS AND COTTONFIELDS

My paternal grandparents, Henry and Beatrice Tuttle, moved from Chicago to this plot of land in Mississippi in 1939. They started farming cotton in the same fields that surround my house. I grew up on a cotton farm, which meant working the farm every summer.

We chopped the cotton fields by hand. Chopping cotton involves taking a hoe and cutting down anything that isn't cotton. Morning glories, cockleburs, Johnson grass -- those were the adversaries of my childhood. It's hot work, and it never really ends. Oh, you've finished chopping all the fields? Time to start over, because everything you cut down came back, with friends.

Did I mention it was hot? There's no shade in a cotton field. The sun blazes down, relentless and untiring. 

We stopped growing cotton in the late 1970s. The fields have laid fallow since then, until the last couple of years. We lease the land to a neighbor, who has this year planted cotton in this dirt for the first time in 40 years.

Here's a photo of the front field:

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It's chest-high on me and already starting to bloom. You can see a rain building to the south, and that will suit the thirsty cotton just fine.

If you've ever wondered what the first stages of cotton look like, here is a new bloom, just showing the first hint of the fiber most of us are wearing now.

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That bright white clump in the center is an embryonic tuft of cotton fiber. Soon, the plant will be covered in blooms, and soon after that the cotton will fill them. 

No one chopped this cotton. Chemicals control (mostly) other plant growth. A machine will pick the cotton, roll it into enormous round bales. Human hands won't touch it. 

I, for one, am relieved I won't be involved. That was hard work.

Dogs! I promised you dogs, and here are two of our resident canine staff. First up is Lou Ann, our elder shepherd mix.

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Lou had a rough start. She was a stray in Memphis who wound up at a shelter in Southaven. A friend of ours who fosters dogs told us about her, and we got her. She's enjoyed the country life ever since.

Lou's been a good watchdog. She's currently napping a few feet away, her feet moving as she runs in some doggy dream. I hope it's a good one.

And here is Daimos, our (relatively) new dog. We've had him since last summer, and he hasn't stopped moving since. According to the DNA test, he's a mix of Dachsund, border collie, and a few other breeds too. He's with me too, destroying a plastic water bottle and emitting potent odors. 

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WILD WILD WEB

Time for this week's Wild Wild Web link!

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Summer of Monsters

I want to open with a wave and a grin to my new friends in Canada. 

Sales of the Markhat Files via Kobo are picking up, and Canadians are leading the pack. I hope you all enjoy the books, and welcome to the blog.

I visited Canada once. It was a brief visit, but I loved the place. 

MARKHAT NEWS

The new Markhat book is chugging along. So far, I've thrown Rannit into chaos, as the Summer of Monsters sees every kind of supernatural beast imaginable wandering the streets by night. 

Of course, the Rannites are enduring this onslaught in traditional Rannite style by greeting the new arrivals with determined mayhem. Then they go about their business by day, because most of them simply don't have the option to leave. The Churches are in a frenzy, the Watch is outnumbered and close to collapse, and the Army has been assigned to defend the wealthy neighborhoods while the poor are left to stave off werewolves with butter-knives.

All of which may or may not reflect certain situations close to home. But that's irrelevant -- it's going to be a good book.

Here's an excerpt from Chapter One. It doesn't contain any spoilers the title doesn't already hint at. Hope you enjoy it!

THE DEVIL'S HORN

I sent Slim off with a cab to accompany Darla home. Slim travels these days with a steel club in his furry right hand and a shiny black scattergun strapped across his back. The new arrivals to Rannit’s streets and alleys give an armed Troll wide berth no matter how many teeth or claws they themselves have.

I took another cab back to Cambrit.

The street outside my office was empty, save for a few people hurrying home. Even Mr. Bull was tucked safely inside, though I did see him peek out at me as I arrived. Someone had slipped half a dozen letters under my door. Each was sealed with red wax and the imprint of a fancy ring.

I threw them all out in the street.

Three Leg greeted me with a brief glance and a switch of his crooked tail. There was a note from Gertriss on my desk asking what I’d done to anger so many priests.

I put my hat in easy reach and settled into my chair, curious as to what the masks at Wherthmore might try next. Thunder grumbled, distant but filled with threat.

An hour passed, and full dark fell, before a soft polite knock sounded at my door.

“Mr. Markhat,” said a familiar voice. “Might I have a moment of your time?”

I was so surprised I forgot to put on my hat.

Standing out there in the dark was old Father Wickens, the aging priest who’d married Darla and I when we thought the world was ending.

He was alone. No carriage waited at the curb. No Church bullies loitered at his heels.

“Father Wickens,” I said. I flung open my door. “Come in.”

He did, with the careful gait of the old.

Wickens was the only priest I’d ever known who eschewed the mask of the Church. He needed a walking stick but didn’t carry one of those, either, and I wondered if it was because he didn’t want a stick confused with a church man’s staff.

He’d seen a few years since my wedding. His back was stooped a bit lower, his forehead lined with a few more wrinkles. But his blue eyes were bright and sharp.

“Thank you,” he said, smiling and crossing to my client’s chair. He didn’t sit immediately, instead turning to face me as I latched my door.

“I must first offer my apologies, as a man of peace,” he said. “My brethren were arrogant and rude. I am sorry for that.”

I bade him to sit. It was dawning on me the man had walked the whole way from Wherthmore.

“You aren’t responsible for their actions,” I said, sitting. “I was no model of decorum myself.”

He guffawed. “So I hear. I’ve never liked Father Chide, Mr. Markhat. Goodness, no. So I suppose we have that sin in common.” His eyes twinkled. “Sadly, though, I find myself bent upon completing the very same task as the unfortunate Father Chide.”

I nodded. “You’re here to hire me?”

“I am. On a matter both urgent and dire.” He sighed, slumping in my chair. “I am torn, my son. Ordered by my superiors to engage you in this task. But directed by my conscience to suggest that you refuse it. I believe even hearing my plea may place you in grave peril.”

I’d have laughed at anyone else for saying that. But not the slight old gentleman before me.

“You came a long way to talk to me, Father. You’re the only priest I’ll listen to. If I refuse, they’ll just keep sending you. Spill it.”

He sighed. “I feared as much.” Thunder rolled again, closer this time. I lit a pair of lamps as the storm waded in, bearing who knows what new terrors in its skirts.

“It all began in the catacombs,” said Father Wickens. “The excavations beneath Wherthmore,” he added.

“I didn’t know we had any,” I said.

“Nor did I, until today,” replied the Father. “They’ve been kept secret for the better part of a thousand years. The digging never ceases.” He shuddered. It wasn’t cold.

“Father, I realize I’ll probably go to ten or twelve Hells just for saying this, but can I pour you a drink?”

“Damned right you can,” replied the Father. Even Three Leg looked up, his slitted yellow eyes suddenly alert. “Not one for a nervous old priest, either. Pour me a man’s drink. A frightened man’s drink.”

I did just that. Whiskey, dark and strong. He gulped it down without blinking, and waited a moment for it to get settled in his gut.

The storm lit up my door’s glass with flashes. Thunder followed, lingering and ominous. Something with hooves ran past in the street, gibbering and hooting. I hoped Slim and Darla were safely aboard Dasher, with Cornbread curled up at their feet.

“You know the Book, do you not?” he asked, in a pause of the storm. “The story of Creation?”

I nodded, took a companionable sip of my own whiskey. “God and the Devil create Heaven, the world, and Hell, then get into a slug-match over who did the best job,” I said. “When the dust settles, God and the Devil are both dead. Only Angels and lesser devils survived.”

“I was never a literalist,” replied Father Wickens. “I maintained, privately of course, that the stories were mere allegory. Told to teach, to reveal wisdom.” He pondered his empty glass. I helped him avoid the sin of asking for more by pouring it unbidden. He didn’t argue, but he did drink it down.

“They’re just that, Father,” I said. “Stories. Maybe there’s wisdom there. I don’t know. But talking snakes? Flaming swords?” I shook my head. “Just stories.”

The old priest regarded me solemnly in the lamplight. “I have seen things today that cause me to wonder,” he said, at last. “Do you know why Wherthmore, and the other four Church mainholds, chose to build where they did?”

I shrugged. Mom had dragged all us Markhats to Wherthmore twice a week, but I’d spent more time pondering what lay beneath lady Angel’s robes than I had listening to the priests drone on. “Cheap land?” I said.

He barked out a single dry snort of laughter. “No, Mr. Markhat. Each site was chosen because each Church was sure they were building directly atop the spot where the final battle of Creation took place.”

Something bumped my door. I hadn’t heard footsteps. Didn’t see anything through the thick glass. But outside, claws began to scratch at the oak, and something began to breathe heavily from its exertions, the sound of it wet and eager.

I put my revolver down on my desk with a thump. Father Wickens offered up a quick prayer.

“That door has stopped Trolls, and worse,” I said. “Whatever is out there isn’t getting in. Go on.”

“The excavations began immediately, of course,” said the Father. “I am told the first finds were discovered by Wherthmore some seven hundred years ago.”

“The first finds,” I said, keeping my voice steady, though I felt the tickle of magic crawl up and down my spine. “Seven hundred years ago.”

He nodded. “Bones. They were not human, Mr. Markhat. Not even remotely. Some were human sized, more or less, oh yes. Some were gargantuan. I saw –”

The thing outside began pounding at my door. It screeched, more birdlike than lupine or canine.

“Beat it,” I yelled. “We’re closed.”

Damned if it didn’t emit a short piercing screech, as if struck, before scrambling quickly away.

The good Father regarded me warily.

“There are rumors you have been soiled with sorcery,” he said.

“There are rumors I’m everything from a vampire to the Regent’s illegitimate son,” I snapped. “I’ve made a lot of enemies. People love to talk. You were talking about bones, of the gargantuan variety.”

He nodded. His hand shook. More whiskey found its way to his glass.

“Today, I saw a skull,” he said, wiping his lips. “I tell you this true, Mr. Markhat. I saw a single skull, three stories high.”

“Whoah there, Father.” I corked the whiskey bottle. “Let’s maybe take a minute to clear our heads.”

That pissed him off. He slammed both his bony hands down on my desk and shot to his feet.

“As the Angel Maria, patron of lovers and fools is my witness, finder, I saw a skull three stories tall,” he shouted. “I know it sounds insane. I would not have believed it either, had I not descended. Had I not seen.” He slumped back down in his chair, his hands on his face. “Oh, would that I had not seen.”

I let him catch his breath. It took a few minutes. One thing I’ve learned, from watching people relive horrors while seated in in my chair.

You don’t push. You don’t rush.

“The excavation has cleared approximately four hundred acres of battleground,” he said, at last. “Some three thousand sets of skeletal remains have been revealed.”

“Devils?” I asked, softly. “Angels?”

He shook his head. “Both, they believe. Alongside creatures we cannot begin to name. It’s all true, Markhat. The battle. The Fall. God slain, the Adversary dead. Creation left adrift. All of it.”

He cried then.

I sipped whiskey.

The storm raged on, unperturbed by gods or devils or sad old priests.

“I’m still not clear on what all this has to do with hiring a finder,” I said, after a time. “Sounds like the Church, at least the high levels, has known about this since the rise of the Old Kingdom. Even if it is news to you and me.”

“Oh, it was news to me, Mr. Markhat. I’ve spent my life in the Church. I had no idea. None at all.” He blinked, trying to clear his head, I guessed. “They told me only because they believed you might speak to me.”

“I’m sorry for that,” I said. “So. You believe the Church has located the buried remains of the Creation Battle. The Church wants to hire me – to do what? Go down there and come trotting back up with God’s Own Sword? What?”

He shook his head. “Twenty years ago, Mr. Markhat, archeologists began work on revealing the occupant of parcel nine-ninety-four,” he said. He bit his lip for a moment. “Heaven help me, Mr. Markhat, but they unearthed the remains of the Devil himself. Not a devil. The devil. The Horned One. The Adversary.”

I bit back whatever I was about to say.

“I know it sounds incredible. Especially to man outside the faith. But Mr. Markhat, I have reason to believe it is fact. The Devil’s remains were discovered.”

“Horns and pitchfork and barbed tail too?”

“The fork was reduced to a molten puddle.”

I leaned back.

“I know full well the struggle to believe a word I’ve said, Mr. Markhat. I didn’t believe it either, when I was summoned to the Primate’s chambers.” He shook his head. “I didn’t begin to believe until I saw it all for myself, just a few hours ago. Which is why I’ve come to fetch you. To accompany you, into the deep chambers. Show you the excavations. The remains. All of it.”

“So far you’ve told me what you’ve found,” I said. “Now quit stalling, Father. Tell me what you’ve lost.”

“The Devil’s horn,” he said, without hesitation. The words came spilling out. “The left was missing, just as the Book said, crushed by God with his final blow. The right horn was intact, when the remains were discovered. It has been removed, by parties unknown.” Thunder blasted, and the old man jumped.

“So. The Church found what appears to be the actual site of some battle from the Book. Including Old Scratch’s bones. And now one of them is missing.”

“This is no mere bone, Mr. Markhat. The horn retained a shadow – perhaps more – of the power of Hell. The Church was preparing to move it to a place of safety, where its influence would never be felt in our world, where it would never be rediscovered, or fall into the wrong hands.”

I whistled, imagining the scuffle that would result if any of our nut-case sorcerers from the arcane side of town got wind of a devil’s horn for the taking.

“Someone stole it?”

Father Wickens nodded a yes. “Stole it. Slaughtered the entire company of soldiers and priests guarding it. Murdered forty-six excavators and an equal number of scholars, all in the space of a single hour. All our divine protections negated. Every physical and magical safeguard circumvented or destroyed. Whomever stole the horn commanded resources that rival, or perhaps exceed, those of the Church itself.”

That shiver made another circuit up and down my spine.

“Another Church, then.”

“No. I do not believe so. Our misguided brethren of the other Churches would not act with such wanton disregard for life.”

I snorted. Father Wickens scowled. “We are not all of us Father Chide,” he retorted.

“Sorry, Father. You’re right. But tell me this – why would anyone outside the Churches or a sorcerer want the horn? You said it retained some power. What kind of power?”

“The power to command the infernal. Finder, you know the story, do you not? That the chief minions of Hell fell beside their stricken master, with the survivors being entombed far below the surface?”

“I know it. You telling me that part is real too?”

He gestured toward my door. “What everyone is calling the Summer of Monsters began a few days after the theft of the horn,” he said. “You tell me, finder. Has not Hell been loosed upon us? Does not evil walk now, in numbers that swell each night?”

“Can’t argue with that.” I could, of course. My knowledge of the magical seasons told me the rise of wild magic was no more related to devils or horns than was the weather. But revealing that would also reveal my tainting by sorcery, and I decided the good Father had endured enough surprises for one stormy evening.

“We must locate the horn, finder. Our own efforts have failed. The Church spent months pouring every resource at its disposal into the search. We have learned nothing. Now, Hell is opening beneath us, only a crack now, but soon a chasm. We fear a flood of devils, one that will wash across the lands and leave nothing living in its wake.”

“So tell all this to the Regent. If you’re right, he might be the only creature alive capable of actually laying hands on the horn. I’m just a man, Father Wickens. I’ve got an impressive collection of hats and I can hit what I shoot at about half the time, but if the Church can’t throw enough money and people at finding this old bone, what makes you think I can?”

He froze.

I’ve seen that look before. It’s the look people get when I ask them that one question they simply aren’t willing to answer with anything except a bald-faced lie.

Bless dear old Father Wickens, though. He was so unskilled at deceit he didn’t know what to do or say next.

“Father. Last I heard, lying is a sin. As is lying by omission,” I said. “So whatever it is you’re trying to avoid telling me is probably the very thing you ought to tell. Spill it. Let’s not ruin a wonderful friendship.”

“We went to the Regent,” he said, his voice pitched so low I could barely hear him over the storm. “Yes. The Church is just that desperate.”

“And the Regent turned you down?”

“I am told he had only two words to offer the Primate,” replied the Father.

“I can guess what they were,” I said.

The old priest shook his head. “No. You can’t. Because what he said was ‘Hire Markhat.’”

It was my turn to freeze.

END EXCERPT

I will get this book out by Fall. I'm typing as fast as I can...

IMPROVED BOOK COVERS

Here are a few more improved book covers for your amusement. People seem to like these, so I'll keep desecrating timeless works of literature. 

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And now for the customary Wild Wild Web closing link. Crank up your speakers and enjoy!

WILD WILD WEB

 

THE MANSPLAINERS

First of all, a heartfelt thanks to everyone who bought Every Wind of Change. A special thanks also goes out to everyone who left a review on Amazon. Reviews are a major factor in determining how well a book sells, so on behalf of Meralda, Mug, Donchen, and the whole crew, thanks!

I'm also happy to report the Markhat Files books are once again picking up steam. I'm offering them on Kobo now, and so far I've seen sales in India, Nigeria, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Italy, Portugal, and a host of other far-flung nations that I never reached via Amazon. 

If anyone is reading this blog after purchasing a Kobo edition, welcome aboard! And thank you too.

I got involved in working on the new Markhat book and let creating a print edition of Every Wind of Change slide. I will resume work on that this week -- and then I need to do the same work nine more times to get the Markhat Files out in print as well.

That's a bit of a complicated process, but it needs to be done. 

Which means I've spent a couple of hours improving some old pulp covers. I hope you get a chuckle out of these too. 

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I doubt the image above needs much explanation, especially for my lady readers. 

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Those old Man's Life covers crack me up. Apparently, the sum of the male experience in the 1950s consisted of fatal encounters with every fanged, clawed, or venomous creature on Earth. 

These violent confrontations usually occurred in the company of a woman who for reasons unknown chose a wildly inappropriate wardrobe for the day's activities. I know these choices were made by the cover artist, and I'm also dead sure not a single woman was consulted during the drafting of the rough image. 

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I did very little to this cover. I just added the title and a single line of text. I still have no idea what Vitamin E might have to do with a crazed man surrounded by buzzards, and upon further reflection I have no wish to know.

Time for me to get back to work. I leave you with this week's installment of Wild Wild Web. Link below!

WILD WILD WEB

Click here for your WWW of the week!

 

 

 

Wild Wild Web

It's been a rough week. 

I thought some of you, like me, could use a laugh. So I improved a few old pulp-era book covers. I hope you enjoy them.

First up we have a classic from 1954!

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This book had everything. Murder. Mystery. Wardrobe malfunctions. Heated exchanges with Louis, the guy working the paint section that fateful Sunday. Banned in 1956 for its bold use of the term 'torso.' 

Next, a comic book from 1935, in which a world-weary homicide detective asks the tough questions.

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They don't write them like that anymore. 

Here's a little-known gem of men's fiction. 

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Dancin' Randy went on to appear in the 1939 RKO Pictures adventure epic Dancin' Randy and the Amazon Women Have A Nice Afternoon Without All Your Displays of Machismo, Steve. 

Here's another comic entry, from the classic Turok series.

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This issue debuted Turok's now-famous catch-phrase, "Cluck cluck, mother*****."

Crime noir has always been a favorite of mine. 

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Okay, so half the book's text consists of "Bang! bang bang bang, bang!" but it's a quick read. Universal picked up the film rights, releasing My Gun Is Quick And I Have Significant Hearing Loss in 1941.

Finally, I offer you the salacious 'adult' title Swamp Nymph. Published by the notorious Kozy Books, this title skirted 1940s decency laws by focusing on the mating habits of Anaxyrus americanus, the American Toad. Reader response was lackluster at best; one reviewer famously wrote 'Can we please go back to badgers on shore leave?'

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Hope you liked the covers!

Here's a new installment I'll be closing with each week from now on. I'm going to call it "Wild Wild Web,' and it will feature a short video which conforms to the following rules:

1) Is funny.

2) Is apolitical.

3) Contains no violence, sad animals, or anything that might be a bummer.

So click without apprehension. I won't pick anything longer than 2 or three minutes. 

Here's the first one!

WILD WILD WEB #1

Oh, by the way -- buy a book

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Martians Again, With Music

Every now and then, you run across something amazing on the web. 

Today I'm linking to a 3-minute video clip taken from a Canadian/BBC mocumentary called 'The Great Martian War, 1913-1917.' It's a film that takes the HG Wells classic 'War of the Worlds' and moves it to World War 1. 

Still image from the mockumentary

The images are grim but stunning. Set just before the actual war broke out, Germany joins the Allies, and everyone comes together to stave off the merciless Martian war machines. 

The effects are beautiful. If you've got three minutes to spare, please give this a watch. 

THE GREAT MARTIAN WAR

Thanks, Mr. Wells, for the books.

 HG Wells, courtesy of Wikipedia, of course.

HG Wells, courtesy of Wikipedia, of course.

Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of the War of the Worlds

No mention of derivative works based on War of the Worlds would be complete without praise for the 1978 album Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of the War of the Worlds

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I cannot begin to estimate the number of times I replayed both discs. Richard Burton narrates while the music is performed by a massive orchestra. The style retains its Edwardian roots, but there are hints of prog-rock there. If I had to choose one work to take to a deserted island this might well be it.

Despite being released in 1978, it's still popular today. You can stream it, you can buy it, you can get it pretty much anywhere music is sold. If you've never heard this, give it a try. You won't be sorry.

I just stumbled across good news while writing this blog -- there is a NEW version available now, with Liam Neeson as the narrator! The music has also been remastered, and additional sounds effects have been added. I clicked the order button before I finished reading the description. That is the power of this work. 

Here's a link to the new version, for my friends who are also fans:

Jeff Wayne's War of the World New Version

I can't stream this -- my home internet service is composed of two elderly hamsters and a roll of aluminum foil -- but I will be hearing it soon!

OTHER FANTASY AND SF MUSICAL WORKS

A few of my other favorite fantasy/horror/SF musical works are these:

1) Tales of Mystery and Imagination, the Alan Parsons Project

2) I Robot, The Alan Parsons Project

3) The Mission, Styx

4) Anything by Abney Park (a steampunk band)

If you've never heard any Abney Park, well, let me introduce you. Here's one of my favorites, 'The Casbah.'

Here's another one, 'Airship Pirates.'

And why not a third, which is my favorite of all -- 'Tribal Nomad.'

Finally, there's 'I'm Fine,' performed by the brilliant Whitney Avalon. Based on the Rick and Morty cartoon series. Rick is the most intelligent being in the multiverse -- but he's also an alcoholic sociopath who maintains a strained relationship with his daughter Beth. You don't have to be a fan of the show to like the song, although it's full of in-jokes and references. 

Hope you enjoyed them! If you have any favorite fantasy/SF/horror bands or albums, please share them in the comments. I'm always looking for something new.

 

The Devil's Horn

In the new Markhat Files book, The Devil's Horn, the world seems to be falling apart.

Monsters walk the streets. Each night brings new terrors, and each dawn reveals a fresh crop of corpses. The dead wagons have all the cargo they can bear, and then some. 

Still, life goes on. The people of Rannit have bills to pay, businesses to run, lives to get on with. A numb acceptance of the new normal spreads. Even as the dead wagons rattle past in increasing numbers, people retain their routines, falling back on the familiar in some unspoken and irrational hope that if they just keep living as they always have, the monsters will simply go away.

Sound at all familiar?

I don't want to scare you away from the book. Yes, there's trouble on the home front -- but Markhat and Darla made their decision to stay and fight at the end of Way Out West. 

So stay and fight they will.

The book will be out as soon as I can finish it. Until then, here's the rough draft of the opening to The Devil's Horn. I thought a few Markhat fans might enjoy reading it. 

 

THE DEVIL’S HORN

Father Chide was a bastard.

He kept his red priest’s mask close to his face as he spoke, but his eyes showed. They were rheumy and narrow and mean. His thin bloodless lips were also visible, set in a permanent scowl, hiding crooked yellow teeth that looked loose and diseased, the perfect lair for a lying priest’s tongue.

“Have you listened to a word I’ve said?” barked Father Chide, using his best frighten-the- flock pulpit baritone.

I shrugged. Three-leg Cat sauntered in the office and, with the unerring ability cats have to draw close to people that loathe them, Three-leg leaped atop my desk and settled right in front of Father Chide’s gold-trimmed mask.

“A few,” I said, as his brow knotted in anger. “But like everybody else these days, I stopped listening when you started preaching.”

He sputtered and nearly stood up. I’d hit a sore spot. As what the papers were calling the Summer of Monsters entered its third month, the Churches had failed to slow the flow of supernatural beasties taking to Rannit’s streets. The faithful were deserting Rannit’s five Church mainholds in droves. I imagined Father Chide wasn’t any too happy about that, and a petty part of me decided to twist the dagger a little more.

“So tell me again, Father. Without the religious commentary, this time. What brings you, a mighty priest favored by the Host itself, to seek out the likes of me?”

“We have sent six letters,” he replied. “Two were formal summonses, affixed with the Holy Seal of the Holy Primate himself.”

I nodded agreeably. “On a fine grade of paper, too. They lit up like a treat, and burned with an exceptionally pure flame. I commend your taste in stationery.”

“You burned them.” It wasn’t a question. He forgot to hide his face from the sinful world by letting his mask of office dip.

“I did,” I said. “Send more, and I’ll burn them too. Let’s get something straight, Father Chide. There are maybe three people in all of creation who can summon me. My wife, Mama Hog, and the proprietor of any middling good brewery. But not you, and not His Holy Whatshisname, and not every painted angel in every holy book. I don’t recognize any authority you claim to exert. So knock it off. Speak plain, or get out.”

“Twenty thousand crowns.” He remembered to raise his mask.

“That’s plain enough. Now what is it you want, for twenty thousand crowns, plus expenses?”

He turned his mask slightly this way and that, inspecting my tiny office for big-eared sinners, I suppose. Then he lowered his voice to a whisper.

“That will not be discussed here. Ever. You will accompany me to Wherthmore. My carriage awaits.”

I leaned forward, matched his whisper.

“Nothing doing, you sour old goat.” I’d once ridden a stolen horse up Wherthmore’s steps and right down the middle of the Grand Chamber itself. For all I knew this was some bizarre attempt at chastisement. “You want to try and hire me, fine. I can put my personal distaste for you and yours aside. But I do my business my way, and that means we discuss business right here, right now.”

Father Chide gave Three-leg Cat a savage shove when Three-leg sniffed his mask.

Three-leg whirled and let the bastard have a good hard swipe with his remaining front paw. Father Chide yelped and raised his staff to strike and if I wasn’t bound for Hell before that moment I am now because I took his holy stick away from him, broke it over my knee, and then threw him out into the street by the neck of his greasy red robe.

His attendants, a foursome of armored Church soldiers who’d been napping atop the carriage, were caught off guard. I managed to plant a kick on Father Chide’s backside and beat a hasty retreat through my heavy door before they could clamber awkwardly down.

I threw the bolt just as the first blows landed. I spent the next hour idling with Three-leg, who kept a murderous glare aimed at the door while he licked his forepaw in feline triumph.

With a final barrage of threats and curses, Father Chide and his corpulent honor guard departed. I waited a bit before stepping outside, wary of crossbows bolts or sermons.

Neither manifested. Old Mr. Bull cackled and waved from across the street. An ogre hurried past, pulling a sausage cart, pursued by crows and stray cats. The Father’s gaudy Church carriage, festooned with gingerbread-house trim and flying a dozen flags, was nowhere in sight.

“Throwed him out on his ass!” yelled Mr. Bull. He slapped his knee in delight. “You in trouble now, sonny!”

“I’m seldom out of trouble,” I said, tipping my hat. “How goes it?”

Mr. Bull spat. “Some damn imps or other tried to slip through my window last night,” he said. “Third time this week.”

That gave me pause. Cambrit had been spared the worst of the recent supernatural invasion’s traffic, but now that Mama Hog was away inspecting her orphanage out west I wondered if we’d start seeing our share of things that go bump as well.

“Give you any trouble?” I asked.

The old man guffawed, jerked his head toward the alley beside him. “I strung up their heads,” he said. “Ain’t much to ‘em. A few whacks with my stick and they quit trying to bite.”

“Need me to look at your window?”

He spat. “That’s kind of ye, but I seen to it myself. What you better do is make yourself scarce. You know they’re coming back. Won’t be for tea, neither.”

Mr. Bull had a point.

I developed a sudden irresistible urge for one of Eddie’s sandwiches, so I set sail for his place a couple blocks north.

Two dead wagons passed me, their pale burdens shifting bonelessly beneath the tarps that hid them from the early morning sun. Before the Summer of Monsters, the halfdead had been Rannit’s apex predators, but even during the worst of their nightly predations I hadn’t seen a dead wagon packed past the high side-rails. Certainly not a pair of wagons in tandem.

“Bring out your dead,” chorused the drivers, in bored monotones. “Mister, seen anything we need to pick up in any alleys you passed?”

“Not a thing,” I said, and I hadn’t.

The wagons rattled on, making for the crematoriums that line the Brown River. I added a block to my walk, but I took a right on Sorrow Street just so I’d not have to ponder the movement of the tarps all the way to Eddie’s.

Taking that detour saved me from another Church carriage, one bigger and grander than Father Chide’s. I caught a glimpse of a toad of a priest through a window as it passed. His mask was down, and his fierce expression suggested he was en route to deliver some first-class hellfire and industrial-strength damnation to the kinds of unrepentant sinners that might have the temerity to toss lesser priests out by their robes.

I pulled my hat down and set a leisurely pace. Eddie welcomed me with a grunt and a wave of his ever-present bar rag.

I stayed all morning. Had two sandwiches, two coffees, and a glass of milk. Eddie didn’t say two words, but that suited me just fine. Father Chide had talked enough to fill any three mornings.

Darla and I had lunch in the park. I dropped her off at her shop, had the cab take me past my office without stopping. Two fancy carriages were camped outside it, manned by a trio of red masks and a bevy of grumpy Church soldiers idling on the sidewalk.

Someone high up in Wherthmore must be in deep, I decided. The Church itself must be teetering on the edge of ruin, to provoke the offer of twenty thousand crowns to unrepentant ne’er-do-wells such as I.

Spurred on by that thought, I rounded up Slim, my runt Troll deckhand, and we took Dasher a couple of miles upriver, cast our hooks in the muddy waters, and enjoyed an afternoon of fishing.

Between us, we pulled half a dozen fat catfish from the turgid waters of the Brown River.

“Hard work,” opined Slim, who is quickly mastering not just Kingdom but the fine art of sarcasm. “Deserve raise.”

“How about an increase in rank instead?” I replied. “Effective immediately, you’re now an admiral. Take the fleet home, if you please.” I pulled the brim of my hat down over my eyes. “Wake me when we’re tied off at the slip.”

Slim chuckled. Dasher’s pistons thumped, and we raised a noisy wake.

“Storms tonight,” Slim said, as he steered. I didn’t look, but I’d seen the thunderheads building far off in the west.

“Good. That should keep the priests indoors.”

“Is that a humorous euphemism for rain?” Slim asked.

“Nope. I’ve been pestered by priests all day. But they won’t go out in a storm.”

“Why do holy men seek you out?” Slim gave Dasher’s wheel a nudge. A fisherman cussed as we threw up a wake.

“They seek my wise spiritual counsel,” I replied. “The purity of my soul is the stuff of legends.”

Slim boomed out Trollish laughter, and Dasher churned towards home.

END EXCERPT

That's all I'll say about the book, for now. The writing is going well, and I hope to have the book out by October.

I'm trying to build a digital model for Darla (and one for Markhat too), but that's taking a little longer than expected. I can't use the same model for Darla that I did for Meralda. The Meralda model is too young, and doesn't look at all like Darla, so I'm starting from scratch.

Darla and Markhat have a more 1940s film noir look than Meralda's Victorian style. I love the 1940s, and often wish we still dressed that way. Even portly fiftysomething gentlemen such as myself can still look good in a suit and a hat.

MARKHAT and DARLA

In case you're curious, here are some images that represent the Darla and Markhat in my head. We'll start with Darla. 

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You may recognize her -- this is a photo of silent film actress Louise Brooks. Those are Darla's eyes, and her guarded expression. She is clearly not a woman to be, as Mama Hog would say, "Trifled with, nor put upon. She won't hesitate to return in kind, and you won't see it comin' and you won't walk right for a month if'n ye walks away at all."

Here's Darla at a fancy party. The face and hair is all wrong, but the gown is about right. She could hide plenty of small but lethal surprises under all that lace.

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Now for Markhat. He's easy, because I've always seen him as film noir actor Robert Mitchum.

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The lady seated beside him could be Gertriss. It certainly isn't Mama Hog.

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Mitchum is the right age. He has a face that looks a little tired, a little jaded -- but not so much that he's bitter. 

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Finally, that's Markhat and Darla sharing a tender moment after Darla empties her revolver into something or someone so incautious as to incur her wrath.

Those are the looks I'm going for. 

If you haven't read any Markhat Files books, I suggest reading them in this order:

1) THREE MEAN STREETS. Markhat's first adventures. 

2) HOLD THE DARK. Markhat meets Darla.

3) THE BANSHEE'S WALK. Something ancient lurks the forest...

4) THE BROKEN BELL. Weddings can be deadly.

5) BROWN RIVER QUEEN. A cruise on a vampire riverboat -- what could go wrong?

6) THE FIVE FACES. How can you defeat a killer who knows the future?

7) THE DARKER CARNIVAL. Death stalks the carnival midway.

8) WAY OUT WEST. All aboard a train bound for Hell...

9) THE DEVIL's HORN. Coming soon!

Time to get back to work. Have a good week, everyone.

And be careful out there.

 

 

Things to Come

Now that the new Mug and Meralda book is out, I've been looking at other projects.

First up is completing the new Markhat book, The Devil's Horn. I'm 25 thousand words into it, so that's the obvious choice for top of the 'finish me' pile.

Then there's the Darla novel, A Gun For Sorcerer. Ever wonder what Darla gets up to while Markhat is out on his cases? Sure, she designs clothes and keeps the books at her dress shop. She also runs a marina right off the Brown River, and occasionally shoots bad guys in the face without warning. But that's hardly all she does, because if you've been reading the books, you know she isn't a stranger to magic herself. Too, she's not the only member of the Markhat household keeping secrets...

I've also written the first chapter of a book I'll call Ghost Queen. In this book, a ghost escapes her magical bottle just as her prison burns. She has no memory of who she was, and no knowledge of how to be a ghost. Accompanied by a sarcastic kitchen imp named Pickles, who gleefully confesses she started the fire, the ghost sets out to discover her past. Pickles and the ghost quickly learn that they've been locked away in the tower for a long time. The world they knew is ashes and dust -- but it's never too late for a bit of vengeance, is it?

And of course there's the fourth Mug and Meralda book. I won't give any clues as to what it's about yet. But there are some hints in the end of the new book, Every Wind of Change.

So I'll be busy. As a way to relax but also stay plugged into the writing, I'm planning on showing some Darla and Markhat images in the next few weeks, using the same digital modeling software that brought Meralda to life. 

OBLIGATORY BEGGING FOR REVIEWS SECTION

If you've bought Every Wind of Change, thank you! I do hope you enjoyed it. If you did (or even if you didn't), might I drop to my knees and beg for a quick review on Amazon?

Even a quick "I liked it" helps. To those of you who left a review, thanks! Amazon promotes books based in part on the number of reviews. I know it's a bit of a pain, but I'm also not above asking, obviously.

Same thing goes for the Markhat Files books. I lost quite a few reviews after Samhain shut down and the books were re-issued.  The ways of Amazon are mysterious, and not always in a good way.

Pestering mode off. 

EQUALLY OBLIGATORY MERALDA IMAGE

Here's a (very rough) image of Meralda working in the new Void Corps laboratory. Smudges are hard to do; that's grease on her face, although it looks a bit like she's smoking a cigar.

I think perhaps Meralda's willingness to get dirty is why people identify with her character. She's a bit of an unlikely heroine, in that she doesn't carve enemies up with swords or blast away with spells. She's more Doctor (from Doctor Who) than action hero. All she really wants is to be left alone to tinker in her laboratory. Saving the world just gets in the way of her work.

She still wants to thank you all for joining her on her adventures. There are more to come!

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Every Wind of Change -- on sale now!

I said Wednesday June 27 was the release date for the new Mug and Meralda book. 

As is so often the case, I was wrong. Every Wind of Change is live now on Amazon and Kobo in ebook format. 

Here are the links:

Every Wind of Change on Amazon

Every Wind of Change on Kobo

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That moment when a new book goes live is both terrible and wonderful. Wonderful because the book is finished. I've raised it from a pup, done the best I could by it, put it in new shoes and a hat and sent it out into the wide world to fend for itself.

Terrible because I can no longer pretend it's a sure-fire best-seller that will be optioned for a movie by sundown. This is the moment reality looks daydreaming squarely in the eye and says 'You wanna see something REALLY scary?"

I'm taking some chances with this one. The cover, for instance -- conventional wisdom says 'don't use a digital model on your cover.' I'm using a digital model. I also put touches of science fiction in my fantasy novel. And I added a new character to the mix -- Meralda's estranged mother.

I have plans for a fourth book. Look at the titles for the Mug and Meralda novels thus far:

All the Paths of Shadow,

Every Turn of Light,

Every Wind of Change,

Something Something Night.

Yeah. The titles, when arranged in order, are meant to form a short poem. Because that's the kind of harebrained idea you consider a good one when you're young and stupid, as I was when I first conceived the series back in the prehistoric days of 1995. I thought the arrangement would look good on a bookshelf. I also thought my rattletrap red Ford Mustang made me look cool. Ah, youth.

Here's my post-release plan:

1) Check Amazon rankings every 13 seconds until Google Chrome refuses to comply.

2) Ask Alexa for my rankings until she says 'Give it a rest, dude' and redirects all my web searches to cat pictures.

3) Scream in anguish over the prospect of negative reviews (8:00 AM until lunch).

4) Vow to stay off the net for a full day. Four minutes into vow, spontaneously combust.

5) Resume work on new Markhat book.

I should probably skip straight to #5 and get back to work.

I do hope you like the new book. If you do, please, we live by reviews!

 

 

Release Date for the new Mug and Meralda book!

The new Mug and Meralda book, Every Wind of Change, will be released on Wednesday, June 27.

The first release will be for the ebook on Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. The print release will be soon after (probably the first week of July). 

I know it's been a long time coming, and I hope fans of the Mug and Meralda series will forgive the wait. 

I thank you all for your help during the cover teases. I do have a final cover, but I'll save it for the release.

I hope you'll like this entry into the series. It's a bit of a departure from the others in several respects. Mug has a job as a newspaper columnist. Meralda has grown into her position as Royal Thaumaturge. The Realms are still at peace -- until a message from the sky upends everything.

There's a major new character as well. If you've ever wondered about Meralda's childhood, well, those questions will be answered. 

Mainly, I hope it's a lot of fun to read. My Markhat books go into some dark places. I try to keep a lighter tone in the Mug and Meralda books, although this one steps into shadows from time to time as well.

Every Wind of Change will be priced at $2.99. I think that's a fair price for a full-length novel if one is not Stephen King, and despite my numerous attempts at crossroads bargains with Faustian devils I am still not Stephen King. 

With Every Wind of Change done, I'll resume work on the new Markhat immediately. Since it's well underway, I should be announcing a release date for it too about the time the summer heat takes on a hint of autumn.

And now -- rejected tag lines for Every Wind of Change!

1) In space, no one can hear your dialog tags.

2) We're going to need a bigger steam-powered airship.

3) To boldly go where no one has made tea and argued over waistcoats before.

4) Almost entirely dissimilar to The Return of the King.

5) Nominated for five Academy Awards and recipient of the AutoZone 'Windshield Wiper of the Year' award.

So that's the news! Spread the word. Paint it on a subway train. Proclaim it from the highest tower, or at the Customer Service desk at Target. I'm not picky. 

 

Another Turn Round the Sun

I was born on this day in 1963. 

To quote Douglas Adams, 'This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.'

Adamas was talking about the creation of the universe, but I think the same sentiment applies here.

I've learned many things in the last 55 years. A surprising portion of these learned things involve restaurants or avoiding interactions with the police, but I'm sure that's just a statistical anomaly. 

It's bewildering to realize that, just a few centuries ago, I'd now be regarded as a wise and revered elder. Youngsters would gather at my gnarled and probably unhygienic feet. There, in the light of a flickering campfire, I would be expected to guide them toward the path of wisdom.

I believe just such an event, in a past life, may be responsible for the practice adopted by some tribes in which they abandon their elders on ice floes. I can only imagine the kind of advice I might have offered.

"Avoid bears. When strangers throw pointy sticks at you, run away. When the chief instructs you to throw pointy sticks at strangers, run away. You there, with the bone through your nose. Go invent me a recliner. The rest of you shut up if you're not fermenting something."

In these modern times, surpassing the half-century mark is no great accomplishment. No one seeks your counsel. You get called 'sir' at restaurants. The young view you with mild disdain while they wait for you to misuse the latest slang or keel over dead. And if you nod off in a Starbucks, that shake to your shoulder isn't so much to wake you but to confirm that the coroner should be called.

Still, age has its perks. 

Oh. It doesn't, really, unless you are a health care provider billing persons of my age. Then aging is a bonanza, because even the most casual inspection of a 55-year-old body reveals a financial cornucopia of latent or emerging maladies. I have no idea what half my organs are supposed to be doing, but I am assured they are doing it badly, if at all, and are leaking transmission fluid the whole time.

But, here I am. I still have my hair, although I suspect it is thinning in places the mirror can't show. I still retain sufficient dexterity to wield a knife and fork. My ability to go from deep sleep to complete waking in a mere three and a quarter hours remains as sharp as ever.

Thanks for all the birthday wishes. And I still mean the bit about pointy sticks and bears. No good ever comes of dabbling with either.

ANOTHER COVER

Below is a new cover for Every Wind of Change. I reversed the background image so I could add lights from the model's left and avoid the problems caused by the magical stuff casting shadows on her face.

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Expressions are difficult. Still working on that, but I'm pleased with the rest of the image. Would love to know what you think!

Time to go put the gobble on some birthday cake. Have a great week!

 

 

 

 

 

Cover Art, Pantaloons, and Shenanigans

I'll kick things off with a new pair of rough-draft cover images for the new Mug and Meralda book.

First up we have a cover using the Oranienbaum font:

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If you're wondering where Mer's glasses are, well, so was I. I took them off to adjust the reflectivity of the glass, and just as I do with my own glasses, I forgot to put them back on. 

Moving on, here is the same cover with the text rendered in Optimus Princeps:

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Any preference between the two? I'm leaning toward the second cover, myself. Also, the size of the text. Too big? I can reduce it, but the small-text covers look -- well, weak and indecisive.

I also changed Mer's clothes from the brown outfit of previous images to this more colorful one. It's a good thing I'm married and was able to seek advice concerning color schemes, or poor Mer might have wound up wearing this:

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Well, *I* thought it was festive. Too, the book might involve a circus, but maybe the cover is better off leaving that small Easter egg alone.

The ball of magic she is holding took hours to perfect. The version above looked fine, until I started lighting the scene. It was then I realized all the magic bubbles cast shadows on her face, giving Meralda a bad case of arcane chicken pox. 

I have yet to try a full-scale rendering of the final step, which will turn the digital image into an oil painting. I may save that for the actual cover and the book's publishing.

Which should be in a week or so. I've been editing, but that's nearly done.

Free Stuff

I've got a couple of short titles up for free today. One is a short story that appeared in Weird Tales (issue 319). The other is a guide to writing, based on the material I used when I taught a fiction writing class at the local library. 

Click here for Passing the Narrows

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Editing Tips

Science Fiction author Isaac Asimov, who wrote more books than there are stars in the observable universe, seldom edited his first drafts. Somehow, he got things right, most of the time, the first time around.

I'm not Isaac Asimov. I wish I were, because even though I'd be dead now I'd never have to edit anything again. 

My advice for struggling through the edits on a longish book is this -- drink a lot while the writer you kidnapped does the work. Your disheveled appearance and sunken, hollow eyes will make everyone think you've been working. Throw a rug over the trap door to your editing cell, and you'll get through all this just fine. Play loud death metal music to mask the screams of anguish from below.

Editing reveals just how incompetent you truly are. Your editor knows the extent of your clumsiness. You know it. The trick is to stamp out all the missteps so no one else catches on.

None of my Markhat books required such a deep dive into their structure or contents. Which leads me to the inevitable conclusion that my fictional character Markhat is a better writer than I am. 

Here are a few things this episode has taught me:

1) When writing third person, I use too many dialog tags. From now on, I'll be conscious of that.

2) Overuse of the words 'this' and 'that.' Most of the time they need to be deleted or replaced with something more specific.

3) This is a lot of work for a projected 0.0002 cents per word. Sorry. Writing is a lot of work for a projected 0.0002 cents per word. See how specificity improved that sentence?

4) Never let the dog write pivotal scenes, no matter how many classic works of literature the pup has ingested. The entirety of Chapter 4 consisted of pleas for walkies and a long rant about the vet's office. 

5) Set aside plenty of time for edits. I'm 55, which means I have enough years left to edit maybe one more Mug and Meralda book after this one. Expected release date: Sometime in 2048. 

Let me know what you think of the covers in the comments or via email (franktuttle at franktuttle.com). I'd better get back to work. Have a good week!

 

Our Stupid Bodies: A Guide to Health

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 versus meat-based Rube Goldberg contraption controversy.

An injury to my back not long ago 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:

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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. 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 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.

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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.

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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 cake display in a single sitting, you can at least maintain a healthy weight. This ensures your last words can be smug ones.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Images from Dreamstime: IDs are 24673902, 14360972, 26163982, 23416939

The World According to Mama Hog

Mama Hog, Rannit's oldest and most powerful witch, claims to be a hundred and twenty-five years old. She's seen it all, done it all, and she's not shy about sharing her opinions concerning this messy tangle of circumstance we call life.

For years, I've kept a file of Mama Hog's witticisms. A few found their way into the Markhat books, but most still languish, waiting for the right time to grace a page. 

Today is the day, and this is the page. So, in no particular order, here are some select Mama quotes, on subjects various and sundry.

Mama's Guide to Life and Love and Such

Mama on money:

"You come into this world without a copper and you're goin' out the same way. It don't make no sense to believe otherwise. If you got coin sufficient for a roof and a bite of supper, you're better off than most, so quit your whinin'. That said, I charges for my services. If you ain't payin', that's my door, and you'll be wanting to take your leave through it, thank ye very much."

Mama on heartbreak:

"Fallin' in love is akin to putting the gobble on mushrooms plucked in the dark. You'll see bright colors and hear Angels playin' harps and your heart is gonna race and leap like a young goat in a sun-dappled meadow, oh yes it is. That's the first bit. Now, only time will tell whether you got a good mushroom or a bad one. The good ones is rare. The bad ones is plentiful and at best you're gonna regret bitin' into one pretty damned soon. At worst, it'll kill you dead as a door-nail. But you ain't dead, so sit up straight, quit your bawlin', and have a cup of tea. Life don't need to stop because you ett the wrong fungus."

Mama on kinfolk:

"Kinfolk is to be treasured. Hallowed. Revered. They is your family. Ain't no bond stronger. That's why I lives in Rannit when my kin is all in Pot Lockney. I can do my treasuring and hallowing and such better from a couple hundred miles away. Up close, my kin is a ragged bunch of ne'er-do-wells, and I ain't got patience for 'em."

Mama on poor folks:

"You can get that pointy nose down out of the clouds, Mister Fancy Pants. Only difference 'tween you and that there beggar is the name you was born to. If'n you had been hatched in some mean alley and wrapped in rags till you was old enough to steal or beg, I reckon you wouldn't smell none too fragrant either. Does ye want the other shin kicked too?"

Mama regarding magic:

"I sees things. Hidden things. Secret things. What I don't do is poke my nose into the dark places where haints and devils and all them twisted spirits hide. Cause boy, I tell you this plain -- them dark ones takes twiced what they gives. There ain't no fair dealin' with the dark. They sets their claws in you from the first, and if you keep goin' back, you'll wind up in the dark with 'em, scratching and scrabbling and hungry till Doomsday."

Mama on strong drink:

"Now I knows ye sets a high regard on your beer. I ain't opposed to such myself, in what they calls moderation, but when ye come stumbling in here with eyes like day-old bacon and clothes smellin' of a brewery, I reckon you needs to stumble your ass back home. Take yourself a bath and ponder your wicked ways for a mite. Then scrub up and come back sober we'll talk sense."

Mama on marriage:

"Gettin' married ain't all bouquets and carriage rides, boy. You got to be set in your mind for the long haul, and you damn well better know that there's times you'll be carrying her and times she'll be carrying you. If you ain't ready to bear her, or you're too proud to be borne, all them high-sounding vows ain't worth a beggar's butt-rag."

Mama on gender equality:

"Does I look like some frail damn petunia? I've buried a husband, I have. Took down a bear with a fireplace poker. I've delivered stillborn babes and looked the mother right in the eye in that deathly silence. I've shivered in the cold. Baked in the sun. Seen the dead stir, heard them whisper. I've walked the deep forest on many a moonless night, naught in my hand but a stick. I was young, you toothy bastard, and now I done got old. But you think 'cause I'm a woman I'm gonna go on my knees and beg for mercy and suchlike? I ought to gut ye just for that, and now that I thinks about it, I reckon I will."

Mama on ghosts:

"I don't give a tinker's damn what you think, boy. Ghosts is real. They got their business to tend, and we got ours. Sometimes paths cross. Best thing to do when that happens is be polite and mindful of your manners and let them do what they come to do. A vengeful ghost ain't to be trifled with, cause if being dead don't stop them, odds are you won't either."

Mama on foreigners:

"We's all foreigners. Some of us just has a longer walk home than others. Now if you was to wake up where everybody is talking some foreign tongue and eatin' strange critters, wouldn't you appreciate somebody takin' a little while to let you know what's what and how to go about things? I won't have no discourtesy about outlanders in my earshot. If I hears it again, somebody's hair is gonna commence to fallin' out. With a quickness."

Mama on violence:

"Ain't never a good reason for bloodshed. Ain't a good reason for whirlwinds or house-fires, neither, but they happens. The world don't make sense sometimes, which is why I carries a good sharp cleaver. If there's going to be bloodshed, I aims to be the last one standing, and no mistake."

MORE COVERS

I'm still playing with cover graphics. Here are a few of the new works-in-progress:

covertest1.jpg

And a variation, with a close up instead of a full-figure pose.

new2.jpg

 

I've also been experimenting with some post-production work. 

You don't see many digital models used on book covers. There's the problem of the 'uncanny valley,' which means figures that are nearly, but not perfectly lifelike can make the viewer feel uncomfortable. The uncanny valley effect rendered the big-budget CGI film 'The Polar Express' a flop despite boasting Tom Hanks as the lead.

The characters were good, especially for the technology of the time. But they landed squarely in that unfortunate space between 'obvious computer generated human' and 'this looks real.' 

We don't mind cartoons, or painted scenes, because we know instantly they're not attempts to accurately depict reality. 

That's why hiring artists to paint or otherwise illustrate book covers hasn't been supplanted (yet) by computer-generated scenes. Viewers will forgive, and better still love, a painted scene. They might recoil from a CGI rendering even if, from a technical viewpoint, the CGI is more accurate. 

So here is a crude first pass at turning my CGI rendered scenes into paintings. It needs a lot more work, obviously, but I think the process shows promise. Do you agree?

Mermagicpaint.jpg