If you’re wondering what happened to my once-glorious site, the short answer is that Shannonniggans are to blame. Back in mid-December, I tried to install a new instance of WordPress for a new site I was designing, and I’ll spare you the techno-jargon, but a mistake on my part (combined with woefully inadequate documentation on my web host’s part) resulted in the destruction of HereticScribe.com.
I didn’t realize the site was FUBARed until nearly a month later, because I’ve been a bad web admin and left my site to wither on its vine. Once I figured it out, I tried to fix it, but the best efforts of my web host resulted in a site that looked like the old hereticsquest, but I couldn’t access it administratively to respond to comments or post new content.
Therefore, I had to deactivate the theme and plugins I was using in order to reset the site to defaults and regain access to the admin area. That’s why the site looks like a bag of ass right now.
Now that I have regained my admin super powers, I will not repair this site. I will destroy it and rebuild it better, faster, more focused, and sexier than ever before. I am also diversifying content into three sites rather than one, using premium word-press optimized hosting, a content distribution network, premium themes, and professionally written plugins.
The details of the content split have already been posted on the HereticScribe FaceBook page, in case you’re interested to see what’s coming. (I’m not regurgitating it here, because i hate to duplicate information.)
I’ve been in a low place for a little over three years now. There have been some high points, but
deaths in my family,
severe health problems,
the end of a five-year and intensely passionate relationship,
soul-wilting issues at my previous day job,
two near-fatal accidents,
rapid weight gain, and
have all contributed to a very dark period, during which I have neither written nor otherwise created much of anything.
I am mostly healed from my physical wounds, and I also see definite signs of recovery for the mental, emotional, and spiritual injuries. I have a new job that suits me much better than the old one, and I have remembered how to enjoy a single, solitary lifestyle.
In the wake of chaotic and entropic darkness, I have finally regained enough strength to reorganize and rebuild. I feel better. My muse has returned to me.
But she hasn’t whispered words of prose or poetry into my ears. Not yet. Instead, she has given me visions of real, three dimensional objects that I must craft to re-earn her respect and adoration. If I build these objects and build them well, she promises the words will flow once again.
I don’t know how many objects she will require me to build. I have already built three – a custom cane, a cargo conversion kit for my truck, and a free-standing pegboard backdrop for my work bench. There are at least four more:
a custom I-pad stylus
a set of drawer/shelves that will convert the defunct firewood box into a shoe organizer beside my fireplace
a Priorities Jar, and
a one-man camper conversion kit for the bed of my truck (but she already told me that she’ll let me wait until spring to build the camper.)
I think, when I have completed these tasks, the first new words will be those I need to describe how I built these things. Writing those articles will lead my attention to my abandoned website and Facebook page, both of which I will resurrect and revitalize.
Once they are rebuilt, I will write Heretic’s Quest short stories for the website and design memes for the Facebook page, which will focus my mind on the fantasy world where it needs to be so that words for the third novel may come.
She woke, her face full of wonder and confusion as she regained bearing and understanding of the wakeful world.
He watched questions and conclusions cross her face until her eyes widened with the realization that she’d slept with her head against his shoulder, this stranger she’d met barely an hour earlier when she boarded the plane in Miami.
Her hands were still scrunched up to her chin, twin fists under the shirt she used as a blanket. They formed the bottom edge of a frame, with the other three sides comprised of chaotic black curls tossed about the lovely contours of her face. Her smile was sheepishly apologetic and innocently mischievous. Its light reached all the way to her gold-brown eyes and set them on fire.
He had intended to tease her by telling her that she had drooled on his shirt, but in that moment, the vision of her stole his words and muted his voice. It was a sight that could inspire a man to great love, or enslave him forever.
Under their circumstances – two strangers sharing space in a small metal tube seven miles above the Earth, with destinations on opposite sides of the continent – it was neither the time nor place for empowering or enslaving. It was a moment that must be savored and then allowed to pass.
Unable to speak, he simply smiled back, marveling at the magnificence of her beauty and thanking the gods that, if she understood the power that she could have over him, she chose not to use it.
The moment passed, and she fell back asleep with her head a respectable distance away from his shoulder. He tilted the brim of his fedora over his eyes, crossed his arms, and rested his chin on his chest. Once the plane unloaded in Atlanta, he would never see her again, but he would remember her eyes and smile until the day he died. Grateful that the Fates had deemed him worthy of this memory, he smiled and fell asleep beside her.
Jen Lasko, my good friend and Heretic Legionnaire, made two drinking cups for me. They are green and purple, like the Warlock’s eyes, with the symbol of the Elemental Way carved into their sides. I’ve already broken both of them in with a few pints of Woodchuck Apple Cider and Killian’s Irish Red. They work great! Thanks Jen!!
The road that passes my house is too narrow for two cars to pass each other when one (or both) of them is a huge SUV or heavy-duty truck (which my neighbors need for all the off-road terrain and dangerous conditions they must navigate in TOWN.) When two of these over priced road hogs meet on my road, one of them must get out of the way so the other can pass. I have a concrete car pad that joins the pavement, but some of my neighbors are too self-absorbed, in too much of a hurry, or just too fucking stupid to drive onto the concrete, choosing instead to drive into my yard, digging a muddy rut and destroying my grass when they pull their Abrams tank back onto the road.
To address this issue, I decided to retrieve some cut stones from the rubble that used to be the foundation of my family home (before it burned down,) and use them to build a classy, stone edifice at the end of my car pad. The plan is that it will help herd the sheeple in my neighborhood away from my grass, since none of them would do anything to put a scratch on their humongous gas-guzzlers.
I brought the rocks home and spent a few hours on Sunday with a water hose, mason hammer, and steel brush – cleaning the moss, dirt, and old mortar from the stone. While I worked, three of my neighbors commented as they passed. One said “That looks too much like work. Wanna borrow my pressure washer?” I said, “Thanks, but I want to do this by hand.” He rolled his eyes and drove on to his house, obviously thinking I am an idiot. The other two walked by and said something along the lines of “That looks like the hard way to do something!” The first time I said ” Yeah, but it’s the fun way.” I didn’t acknowledge the second one.
I’m not mad at them, especially not the one who offered his pressure washer. He was just trying to be a good neighbor – and show off the pressure washer that he has and I don’t. No, I am not mad at them, but I do pity them. Like so many Americans, they’ve come to equate “faster, easier, and more expensive” with “good, better, and best.” They don’t understand that, by cleaning these rocks by hand, I was accomplishing so much more than the obvious task at hand.
I was getting to know the stones, learning their colors, textures, cracks, knobs, edges, and facets. I was reconnecting with memories of childhood, when a much younger me cleaned rocks for his father, because I wanted to help build the house but was too small to do anything else except clean the rocks and strip bark from the trees. I was taking stones that belonged to my father and my father’s house, and making them mine while I thought about the boy who was and the man who is.
When I was a boy, I thought my father was a god because he could lift and place rocks that I couldn’t even budge. Now I can lift and place them too. I did not feel like a god, but as I sat there with dirt under my fingernails, ants crawling up my arms, and moss stuck in my eyebrows, I felt a sliver of what my father must have felt when he built his fortress with the strength of his own two hands. My neighbors do not understand this. Many Americans will never understand this.
See me here, a silhouette clad in
old grief and pessimisms
like blackened steel armor
barbed with cynical razors.
Behold me and you will know:
to touch me is to bleed.
Unstoppable and immovable;
hollow and terrible –
more a shadow than a man –
I was not always so.
Once I beheld a goddess in all her glory.
I did not know my heart still lived
within my chest until she
commanded it to beat.
Her memory whispers still, Redemption is ever at hand.
Love and light are all around,
if you will only come out of
yourself to see.
She is the evening star,
too bright for me to hold.
With a mere glance or word she
might burn my wings to ash,
and I have no wish to play
Icarus again. The fall is too far.
I soar higher nonetheless,
Eyes upturned, arms outstretched.
When I plummet to earth,
flaring brighter and hotter
than even Lucifer blazed,
when I slam headlong into
solid rock bottom for the final
time, how silly and worthless
my fancy dark armor will be.
When I was a little boy, my favorite breakfast was homemade buttermilk biscuits and chocolate syrup. Mom had a PhD in biscuit making; her biscuits were light brown and crispy-crunchy on the outside, but fluffy and yummy as cotton candy on the inside. She made chocolate syrup which was dark, rich, and almost as thin as strongly brewed coffee. We tore the biscuits into small pieces and poured the syrup all over them. The biscuits soaked up the syrup like little sponges, and PRESTO: unbelievably decadent and irresistibly delicious diabetes-for-breakfast.
She let me help make the biscuits, but I was NOT allowed to touch the syrup. She started with a few cups of water, which she heated, and then dumped (what seemed like) ten pounds of sugar and cocoa into it. When she stirred it, she was always very careful to never touch the bottom or sides of the pot with her spoon, and she said that was the reason I wasn’t allowed to help; I was too small and uncoordinated to not touch the sides. She said if I did that, the syrup would be gritty and unfit to eat. I asked her why, but she didn’t know how to explain it. She said, “It just is. If you scrape the sides, the syrup is ruined. So I have to do it.”
Years later I learned the science behind the syrup. Mom was creating a supersaturated solution of sugar and water, where she used heat to dissolve much more sugar into the water than would have been possible at normal temperatures. When one has a supersaturated solution, the dissolved solid (sugar in our case) will readily separate from the solution if solid particles (seeds) are introduced into the solution.
Some of the sugar will unavoidably solidify on the sides and bottom of the pot, but because these crystals are attached to pot, they won’t ruin the syrup – as long as an overeager and clumsy kid doesn’t scrape the solid parts off with a stirring spoon. If the solid sugar is released from the side of the pot and stirred into the solution, dissolved sugar will instantly attach to the free-floating debris and solidify into crystalline structures, to which more sugar will attach, making larger crystals, until enough sugar has separated to return the solution to an equalized state (where it is saturated with dissolved sugar, but no longer super saturated.) In the kitchen, this means you have grainy, gritty, nasty chocolate syrup.
Obviously, no one wants that. However, what is bad for syrup can be beneficial for the modern, hectic lives that so many of us lead.
Just as water can be supersaturated with sugar, our lives can become supersaturated with our jobs, families, hobbies, exercise, continuing education, kids’ activities, and the incessant deluge of information that is blasted at us in every imaginable medium 24/7/365. In this environment of constant activity and unrelenting pressure, our lives easily become supersaturated to the point where we don’t know what to do next, or lose track of what we’re doing now. We miss important events, or forget to do important tasks. We become overwhelmed, and often there seems to be no way to regain control or perspective.
If we introduce a seed into chocolate syrup, sugar will solidify around that seed, forming crystalline structures. From the unbalanced chaos of the supersaturated solution, ordered, predictable, stable crystalline structures form, which in turn become anchor points for additional crystalline structures to form until the solution is once again in equilibrium.
We can do the same thing in our lives. We can introduce seeds which will become anchors for other events and aspects of our lives to attach and form orderly structures. I’ll use my own life as an example:
Over the past three years, my life has descended into utter chaos. Family concerns, internal organ failures, a near-death bicycle accident, intense procedural upheavals at my day job, unstable romantic relationships, a failed web design business, writing two books, promoting and marketing two books, necessary home repair projects, attempts to control my weight, finding time to do things I enjoy, and all the daily chores (house cleaning, grocery shopping, paying bills, etc.) had combined into an unmanageable pot-luck stew of miserable failure. I felt like I was completely out of control; I couldn’t focus on any one task long enough to finish it before I was yanked away to attend to something more urgent.
Nothing was being accomplished. No goals were being met. There were never enough hours in a day. Folks talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees. Well, I was right in the middle of that forest, and the trees were taking turns beating the hell out of me.
Then, one night as I sat on the couch and drooled on myself, I remembered Mom’s chocolate syrup. I decided to seed my life with anchors and see if I could force ordered structures to condensate out of the supersaturated solution my life had become.
I started by setting a bed time and a wake-up time. Then I made myself go to bed and get out of bed at those times every damned day, even on weekends. I didn’t get there instantaneously. I spent many nights lying awake in bed, and many mornings oversleeping because I hadn’t fallen asleep early enough the night before. But eventually I got there: seven hours of sleep a night, like clockwork.
Once I established a sleep schedule, it became easier to arrive at work at the same time every day. My employer uses a technique called “flex time” or “flexi-schedule” which means I have an established start time, but on any given day I can arrive an hour earlier or an hour later than that time, without supervisory approval. It’s a great perk, but over time it had allowed even more variation and instability to creep into my life, so I resolved to not use it unless uncontrollable circumstances (flat tire, icy roads, etc.) forced me to. I decided the time I wanted to arrive at work, and made it so. Again, it didn’t happen right away. I failed numerous times, but within a few weeks I walked into the office at the exact same time every morning.
Once my sleep and work schedules were stabilized, over half of my day was spoken for. I knew exactly which seven hours would be dedicated to sleeping, and precisely which eight hours were reserved for my day job. That left a half hour for my lunch break, and 8.5 hours per day which were still supersaturated chaos. On a weekly schedule that equated to 63 hours per week that still had no form or order, but these were also the same hours during which I needed to do every other task that was important to me. There are dozens of items on that to-do list, and all of them want to be top priority. I tried to organize it all, but it was still too much. The solution was still too saturated. So I created another anchor.
I decided to return to the gym. As soon as I woke up every morning, I ate a small, quick breakfast and drove to the gym. Some days I exercised. Some days I arrived, did a donut in parking lot and drove back home. Some days I overslept and didn’t go at all. But in time I reached a point where I went six days a week and actually exercised all six times. I developed routines and exercise schedules over time, until I knew exactly what exercises I would do on any given day, and how long it would take for me to finish.
Combining breakfast, travel times, exercise time, and cleanup, my morning routine requires about 2.5 hours a day, but while I fix breakfast, I also lay out everything I need for my lunch and dinner (I eat both of those meals at my day job, which is helping with my weight loss, since I can only eat the food I take with me.) In times past, I’d sometimes forget my lunch on the table, or pack a can of soup but forget the bowl I needed to eat it. Now I rarely forget anything. I get it all ready and packed as I am preparing my second breakfast (which is a vital meal, as all hobbits and weightlifters will attest.)
It takes about 20 minutes to bake the chicken I typically eat as part of my dinner. In times past I forgot to bake it at all, or forgot it in the oven and burnt it into charcoal while I did something else, or took it out in time but left the oven on all day long while I was at work. Now I use that 20 minutes to spit shine my boots. Every day, no matter what else is going on, I put the chicken in the oven, set a timer on my phone, sit down, and polish my boots. Shined boots makes me feel better and more confident about my appearance on a daily basis, and prevents me from getting distracted by other activities until the chicken is ready.
I also get my hair cut every seven days. I get a “high and tight” like I was required to wear when I was in the Rangers. This also helps my confidence in my appearance, but the haircut and boot shining are more significant than they appear, because these simple activities remind me of a time when my entire life was very structured, I was in excellent physical condition, and most of my life made sense. These simple nostalgic acts help me return to that mind set and motivate me to continue exercising so that I can look and feel as good as I used to.
I still have approximately 48 hours within a week which are uncontrolled chaos, and I still am not accomplishing everything that I want to do. But now that I have whittled the time down to 48 hours, I can see that I simply am not going to get everything done all at once. There truly is not enough time in a week to dedicate minutes to every task on my list. However, I can now prioritize and plan the rest of my time. I’ve formed enough anchors, and enough of my schedule has crystalized into predicable structures, that I can manage the rest dynamically as immediate priorities dictate.
The “solution” that is my life is no longer supersaturated. Instead of a swirling mess of uncontrollable and unpredictable events and factors, I now have (mostly) organized and optimized patterns that allow me to make the most of my finite lifespan. Whether I’m working, playing, or sleeping, I feel like I am making the most of every minute of every day. I still have many things to accomplish. The to-do list is still growing about as fast as I am completing tasks, but it’s OK. I finally understand that it’s alright if I never get everything done.
If you understand how it feels to be overwhelmed and out of control of your life, I urge you to create some anchors of your own and see if order condensates out of the chaos. Try to desaturate your life. Pick one thing that you want to do every day, and pick a time that you want to do it. Then do it. Make it the highest priority of your day. Make everything else move around such that you accomplish that one thing every day. Once you’ve gotten that one task established in a daily routine, pick one more thing and work until you’re doing it and the first thing every day. Then pick one thing you want to accomplish every week.
Keep picking these things, one task at a time, and you will start to see them like a game of Tetris. Every task in your life has a “time foot print.” When you look at all the other pieces that are already in place, you will be able to decide the best place to position the new piece based on the time it requires and the time spaces you have available. It takes time and effort, but every time a piece locks into place, you will feel a sense of accomplishment and empowerment that is even more satisfying than Mom’s chocolate syrup and biscuits.
Back then we didn’t concern ourselves with training heart rates or any that pesky “science” stuff. We pushed the limit until we nearly collapsed, and then we pushed even harder, faster, and farther the next day. We might not have been particularly smart, but we were some tough, hard sumbitches.
I had a personal internal indicator that let me know when I was approaching my limit. I called it the White Dot of Death. It started as a slowly pulsing “ghost” that I saw right between my eyes if I closed my eyelids. If you want a better idea of how it appeared, stare for a few seconds at a 100 watt light bulb. Then turn off the light and sit in the dark. You’ll probably see a fuzzy “ghost light” for a few seconds. That’s what the White Dot of Death looks like.
If I pushed harder after it appeared, it pulsed faster and got brighter until I could see it with my eyes open, like a ghostly strobing overlay on top of my field of vision. If I pushed even harder, became a solid image (no longer strobing.) If I kept going after that, I collapsed in a heaving, shitting, snotting, pissing, puking heap of muscle spasms, and I felt like I was going to die. Hence, the name.
Needless to say, when that Dot showed up in my field of vision, I slacked off to a slower pace and caught my breath, unless some seriously wicked shit was going down.
Years later, that Dot still serves as my internal Geiger counter to let me know when I’m pushing too hard (although it shows up now at the point where I was just getting warmed up 20 years and 80 pounds ago.) I’ve wondered what causes it, and over the years I’ve developed a theory that it’s caused by my pulse and/or blood pressure. Rods and cones in the human eye can only respond to stimuli by sending signals to the brain which are interpreted into images. Normally the rods and cones are stimulated by light that has entered the eye, but if my blood pressure and/or pulse were high enough, that could agitate the fluid in my eye or the actual rods and cones. Either event would physically stimulate the rods and cones, resulting in the appearance of a light which wasn’t really there.
If my theory is correct, that means the White Dot of Death indicates a heart rate, pulse, and blood pressure that are dangerously high. This realization made me research maximum heart rates, training zones, and other “pussy science” that my fellow Rangers and I never worried about back in the day.
I found different numbers depending on the source I read, but the general consensus seems to be that a man’s maximum training heart rate is 220 minus his age. The aerobic fat burning and/or training zone is 70% to 80% of this number. Your body switches to anaerobic activity between 80% and 90% of this number (that means less fat is burnt, and more energy comes from glycogen already stored in the muscle.) The “Red Line” zone is 90% to 100% of your training heart rate. (Yes, I read about factoring in the resting heart rate and calculating the “reserve,” but I don’t want this article to turn into a math exercise.)
I’ll save you the boredom of exact numbers and calculations and get to the bottom line. I mounted a treadmill with a built-in heart rate monitor, and started a slow jog. I increased the speed until I hit that old familiar sweet spot where I felt like I could run forever without losing my wind. When I was in the Rangers, that spot equated to a 7.5 minute mile. At that pace I could run until my feet bled. In this experiment, it was much slower than that, but it was still the same old gliding, nearly effortless feeling, and I really enjoyed it even if I was doing an airborne shuffle.
I ran at that pace for a few minutes just to make sure I had truly evened out and gotten into the groove. I was breathing hard; I wouldn’t have been able to carry on a conversation with anyone, but my pace and breathing were steady. The White Dot of Death was nowhere to be seen, and I figured I was somewhere between 60% and 70% of my maximum training heart rate. I grabbed the heart monitor contacts and kept running. I felt great. I read the heart rate and made a mental note of it. Then I increased the speed. Then I increased it again, and again, until I was running as fast as I thought could maintain for a few minutes. I continued that pace until the White Dot appeared. Then I went another 30 seconds, just to get another heart rate reading and to even out the sprinting run-time to an even five minutes. The Dot was pulsing faster when I slacked off, but wasn’t yet visible to the open eye.
I went home with the numbers I’d gathered, and plugged them into a spreadsheet to see how they matched up to the training zones I’d read about. The results were very surprising! Remember that sweet spot I talked about, the pace where I felt like I was between 60 and 70 percent? At that point I was at 91% of my maximum training heart rate! The White Dot of Death appeared at 125%. These numbers confused me, especially the results that placed me in the 90% “Red Zone” range when I really didn’t feel like I was working that hard at all.
Part of it may be attributed to the Ranger mentality; I’ve noticed many, many times over the years that my idea of “difficult” greatly exceeds civilian expectations, and my idea of “pushing the limit” often equates to “impossible” in civilian terms.
Part of it may be attributed to my heart being in better shape than the typical person. Even though I’ve gained a lot of weight, I’ve always remained active and kept my heart in good shape. Even though I’m pushing three hundred pounds right now, I can backpack or cycle all day long. My resting heart rate averages in the mid fifties, and my blood pressure is perfect. I mention this because I read some info that suggested people with a history of cardiovascular training throw off the “220-age” formula, and should have higher maximum training heart rates. Regardless of the particulars or the explanations, I think I have three important lessons from the experiment.
1) I shouldn’t conjure the White Dot of Death anymore, because I’m sixty-some pounds overweight and pushing 40 years old, so that Dot might actually live up to its name if I push too hard.
2) To ensure I’m in the aerobic range and maximizing fat-burn (my primary goal for now,) I probably should dial it back a bit and aim for a heart rate in the 145 – 155 range.
3) After I reach my target weight, I should go to a doctor or sports medicine clinic and have the medics run a test to accurately determine my level of fitness and my true maximum training heart rate.
I know many of my readers and friends are physically active and train for events. As I am new to the concept of training heart rates, I welcome any stories, observations, pointers, or best practices you have. Please let me know here or on Face Book!
The door to Madness has opened.
I have been invited.
Peace and unity are promised
to this mind so angry and divided.
Through the door, on the other side,
all of hell’s Madness extends before me.
In the land of lies I can live the truth;
I am myself, the monster only I can see.
Leave me alone, God. Get out of my life.
You made a world I cannot know.
Unworthy of the Son, I leave to
carve my kingdom from flames below.
Reality sifts through my fingers,
my scarred, ugly, useless fingers.
Like everything else important slips,
Sanity is gone, and only its shadow lingers.
Last year I went on a quest for new boots. I wanted a balance of comfort, protection, durability, stability, affordability, appearance, and convenience. That’s asking a lot out of single pair of boots, but I was confident I could find something that would suit me if I looked long and hard enough.
I didn’t want to buy online since I would likely be buying a pair that I had never worn before, and I didn’t want to deal with the likely hassle of returning mail-ordered merchandise that didn’t fit. Therefore, I searched every shoe store, outdoors store, and military surplus store from Parkersburg to Columbus. I found a few pair that I loved, but none of them fit, or they were too heavy, or they were way too expensive.
I eventually settled for a pair of Rocky Alphas. They have a distinct military/tactical look and a thick sole that adds nearly an inch to my height. The tread is well suited to various terrains, including ice, snow, rock, and mud. To borrow a term used by an old friend of mine, these boots look like a “fine pair of shit kickers.”
When I first wore them, the boots chewed up my heels until the blisters had blisters. At first I thought it was just a matter of my feet getting soft after years of easy living, but I finally figured out that the insole was the issue. Rocky calls it an “Air-Port cushion footbed.” It was very thick under the heel, but it compressed nearly flat under the weight of my step, such that my heel had nearly an inch of room to rise and fall against the seams in the heel of the boot. I removed the “footbed,” and since then the boots have fit better than a pair of socks. The outsoles are thick enough for the boots to be comfortable without insoles, so it’s worked out very well. The boots are very light despite their bulky badass appearance. I own tennis shoes that weigh more than my Alphas.
The boots offer great ankle support, but I dislike the zipper up the side. I know this is a popular trend in boots nowadays, but I hate it, and I don’t trust it to hold when I need the support the most. That being said, I’ve put my pair through hell and back, and the heavy duty zipper hasn’t failed yet. The boots have a “tongue” that snaps over the zipper to keep it from jangling or working loose. This system works well, but I discovered the hard way that the zipper-tongue can’t be used to pull the boot onto my feet. It tore right off when I tugged too hard.
Rocky claims the boots are 100% water proof, and they are – at first. The waterproofing is accomplished with a plastic liner that is fitted between the boot’s exterior and the cloth that lines the inner part of the boot. It worked great for a couple of weeks, but it didn’t take long for my feet to wear a hole in the plastic. After that, the boots took on water like a submarine with a screen door. The liner also clings to my foot when I try to take the boot off. After I’ve gotten a few more miles out of them, I’m removing the liners to see if it ruins the boots or makes them cooler and lighter. During winter the liner makes the boots much warmer than I expected. In the summer I had to wear them untied and loosely laced to keep my feet from cooking, but the boots were still supportive and comfortable despite being untied.
Speaking of untying, I would have preferred boot laces and grommets that were designed to fast-lace, but I guess Rocky decided they didn’t need such things since they added a zipper to the side. However, thanks to that damned clingy rubber liner, I still need to untie and unlace the boots to get my feet out, even with the side unzipped.
This model of Alphas has a composite plastic toe. I have not had an opportunity to truly test the protective qualities of the plastic, but it held up well enough a few weeks ago when I kicked in the tail light and the side panel of a Nissan Titan. I didn’t feel a thing, but that truck looked like it had pissed off a bull moose. (Don’t ask, I can’t divulge any additional details without incriminating myself.) Best of all, the plastic toe doesn’t set off the metal detectors at work, allowing me to pass through without getting a security wand stuck up my crotch.
The top rim of the boot is padded for additional support and comfort, but I wish it wasn’t, because the padding makes it impossible to clip a knife or spare mag in the boot. If an item relies on a clip to stay in place, that padding always allows it to work loose and fall out of the boot.
I haven’t gone on an extended hike in the boots, but I expect they would fare well. I walk over a half mile every morning and evening without getting a ghost of a hotspot.
I had hoped the boots would be good candidates for spit polishing in case I wanted to wear them during formal occasions. The toes do shine up very nicely but the finish is easily scuffed or nicked because the plastic toe doesn’t allow the leather to give in when I hit something with my toe. out of the box, the boots were covered in some sort of factory coating that took much elbow grease, a green scratch pad, and rubbing alcohol to strip off. I had to strip it because the coating wouldn’t hold polish. It just flaked off like onyx glitter. Even after I stripped them, much of the leather parts are positioned in areas that flex, so a spit shine still flakes off all over the place. Last of all, the heel has an additional strip of leather with the Rocky logo right in the center, making it impossible to get a good shine on the heel. So I ended up with a pair of boots that have a great shine on the toe, but the rest is brush shined. Meh.
In summary, Rocky Alphas are a good boot for the price. They look good and wear well. They are lightweight, sturdy, and supportive. They are effective in various types of terrain, and the plastic toes won’t set off alarms while still providing significant protection. The waterproofing is great (while it lasts,) but the bulky design makes it very difficult to carry extra ammo, a knife, or anything else in the boot, and the waterproof liner is more of a nuisance than it’s worth, especially after holes are worn through it.
All things considered, I have enjoyed these boots and will wear them until they fall off my feet, but when the time comes to purchase new ones, I think I’ll try something else. I’ll write an update when that time comes. Has anyone else tried these? Please share your experiences in the comments.
I’ve always been fat. Even when I wasn’t fat, I was still fat (read on to see how that’s possible.)
In elementary school kids teased me because I couldn’t run fast enough to catch them. They’d run up and smack me or knock my books out of my hands, and then run away laughing, because they knew I couldn’t catch them. I was naturally strong and patient; I knew how to wait and catch them days after they’d forgotten the fun they’d had at my expense, and once I had them in my grip, I could tear their asses up. However, I rarely did so because my Dad had taught me to restrain my strength and not hurt people smaller than me.
But he also berated and humiliated me every year when I was fitted for school clothes, and my waistline had gone up another size (or two.) Looking back on it, I think “Fuck you, Dad. You’re the one who decided what I ate for the first thirteen years of my life, and you made fun of me for eating food that you made available?” I guess that sort of thinking doesn’t help anyone, and it doesn’t matter much 30 years after the fact.
In sixth grade I weighed 180 pounds, but by then all of my grade school classmates either liked me or had grown tired of teasing me, so life was all right. Seventh and eighth grade were pure hell, because I had left my elementary school and gone to junior high, where new bullies from all over the county converged to find fresh sport in harassing me. It turned me inside out. I was already shy and self-conscious, and the new humiliations ensured that I was buried so deep inside my shell that it would take decades for me to find my way out.
When I returned to school in ninth grade, I was still heavy, but I’d hit a growth spurt over the summer and discovered that many of the bullies left me alone now that I was two inches taller than them. I didn’t really understand how big I’d become. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw the same ball of flab I had always been, and I didn’t allow anyone to take my picture. If I had been less camera shy, maybe I’d have seen in photos that I was twice as big as almost everyone I knew.
After the growth spurt launched me into the “hulking brute” category, school life was OK; I didn’t get teased or harassed except for the occasional jeer from a knuckle dragger or jock who couldn’t think of any other way to take a jab at me. But it didn’t really matter. My self-esteem was nonexistent. I didn’t date girls. I didn’t go to dances. I went ballistic if anyone took my picture. I was so convinced that I was fat and ugly that I did not believe anyone who tried to convince me otherwise.
All of that might have turned around if I had been active in sports, but we lived so far away from the school that it was impossible for my parents to drive me to/from practice, and by the time I had reached high school, I wasn’t a team player. I’d spent most of my childhood alone in my head, and I loathed most of the jocks who would have been my teammates. Instead of teaching me how to clean cleats, throw a football, and date girls, my dad taught me how to sharpen a knife, shoot with anything that had a trigger, and resist police interrogation (skills which didn’t help much in high-school, but served me much better in the long run. Thanks, Dad!)
I hoped to reinvent myself in college, where virtually no one knew me. I started lifting weights, which made me even stronger and bigger, but I didn’t lose any weight, and I didn’t build any self-esteem. I was as big as a horse on the outside, but on the inside I was still the same backwards little introvert I had always been.
I weighed 230 pounds when I dropped out of college and shipped off to the Army. Six months later I had completed all of my training and reported to my final duty station: Charlie Company, First Battalion, 75th Airborne Ranger Battalion. I was in good shape, but I was still soft compared to the weapon into which I would be forged.
A year later I weighed 205 pounds, and I was finally a good runner! I ran one mile in 4 minutes and 50 seconds. I ran two miles in 11 minutes and 47 seconds. I ran 6 miles in 36 minutes. If I “slowed down” to a 7.5 minute mile, I could run practically forever. (I once ran 20 miles at a 7.5 minute pace and quit only because I was bored and my feet hurt.) On the obstacle course I had one of the best times in the battalion. I could hump an 80 pound ruck sack for 30 miles on Monday (with no insoles or socks in my boots) and run five miles on Tuesday despite bleeding feet. I bench pressed 315 pounds and did push-ups all day long. I had a beautiful wife who thoroughly enjoyed my stamina and strength whenever I was home long enough for us to have some “quality time.”
But I was STILL FAT. You see, most of my comrades in arms were average-sized guys, with washboard abs and road maps of veins across their arms. I’m guessing they averaged 10-11% body fat (or less.) But I averaged 15-17% body fat, and never saw my abs underneath the “gut” I carried around. Most of them wore size 30 or 32 jeans (or smaller,) but it was all I could do to squeeze my “huge ass” into size 34. I weighed 205, but the Army BMI charts claimed I shouldn’t weigh more than 195, and that meant that I had to get “taped” every time we weighed in (it was a very inaccurate way to calculate body fat, by measuring neck and waist size.) The medics always joked about putting me in “fat camp.”
Back then, all that mattered was how fast/far you could run, how well you did push-ups and sit-ups, how much weight you could hump in a ruck sack, how much alcohol you could drink, and how well you could shoot. We all shot well, so that category didn’t count in terms of competing with each other. As far as running, push/sit-ups, rucking, and drinking went, I trumped most of the guys on some combination of three out of the four, so I didn’t get teased much after the first year. But I was surrounded by dudes with chiseled physiques, and every time a team leader or squad leader wanted to fuck with me, the “ugly fat boy” card got played.
There was one NCO who loved to make fun of my gut. If I took my BDU top off when he was around, he couldn’t resist the chance to make fun of me and also throw insults at my squad leader for not exercising me enough. I would’ve let it go if he’d only fucked with me; I was accustomed to weathering the insults, but he used me to take jabs at my chain of command, and that was unacceptable. I always got back at him by waiting until the night before a battalion five-mile run, when I would drink his stupid ass under the table. The next morning, around mile three of the run, he’d be puking, gagging, and falling out of formation, and I’d be laughing at him while I sprinted laps around the company, holding our guide-on high. Don’t get me wrong – the effort took everything I had – and I was DYING on the inside, but I’d be damned before I let him see it.
Looking back on it, I realize I was a demi-god with physical abilities that Achilles would have envied, and I’d kill to be back in that shape now, but at the time I was still getting called the same fat boy names and still enduring the same fat boy jokes. I felt like I was a soggy bag of shit.
Two years after I left the Army, my wife had divorced me. I was two years into a 4-year college degree that I didn’t want, drowning in debt, and sleeping on a couch at a friend’s house. I’d stress-eaten my way into the 270 pound range. I started fighting it, and got down to 240. I bounced back and forth after that, losing and regaining, while I settled into a desk job and became more sedentary than I had ever been before. The weight piled on.
I started tracking my diet and weight in October 2010. In January 2011 I hit an all-time high of 312 pounds, and I knew it was past time that I did something about it. By September 2011 I had dropped down to 257 pounds, with nothing to stop me from reaching my goal of 235. Then I had some personal family troubles in September that ripped me out of my lifestyle, stopped all plans, and destroyed all motivation I had to accomplish anything. It also required many long road trips, which led to numerous meals at McWendy King and KenTaco Hut.
By July 2012 I was up to a new “high score” at 315 pounds. I started fighting it again, and bounced back and forth for months between 290 and 310, until I finally got my shit together in April 2013 and started losing steadily again. By July I was down to 270 and doing very well. I felt certain I would reach 235 by the end of the year. Then I wrecked my bicycle, broke my back, dislocated my shoulder, shattered my teeth, and ripped off half of my face. All exercise stopped. My diet fell back into old unhealthy habits.
So here we are in March 2014. I hit 305 again in December 2013, and I’ve managed to get down to 295. Every time I start to really get back into the groove, a winter storm makes it unsafe to drive to the gym, work picks up and requires overtime, or I pull one muscle or another. It’s so damned hard to lose a half-pound, and I can gain two just by thinking about beer or hotwings. It pisses me off!
So, I’m still a fat ass. I wear it well; most folks guess me at 250 or less. I’m still strong; I can take six months away from the gym and still bench press 280 pounds anytime I want, and I can still bicycle or swim for hours. I can still hump an 80 pound pack, just not as fast or as far. My heart is still in good shape; I have no blood pressure or cholesterol issues.
I’ve finally realized that I am not ugly, and even if I were, I have many good qualities that have nothing to do with my appearance. I’m successful in my current day job; I’ve written and published two good novels; I have a loving family and trusted friends close around me, and a legion of casual friends and acquaintances. I rarely have a problem acquiring female companionship when I desire it.
I’m happy and healthy, but I feel every pound with every step I take. I miss being light and quick on my feet. Bicycling, swimming, and hiking are cool, but I miss running. I can’t run, though. I’m so heavy that even a light jog makes my knees and hips ache for days, and if I run for more than 20 minutes, I aggravate an old injury in my right calf so that I need a cane or crutches for three weeks afterwards.
I have goals, and a plan to reach them. I want to be down to 280 by the end of April, and down to 235-240 by the end of August. If I can hit 240, that should put me around 12% body fat, and I doubt my taste for beer will allow me to maintain anything lower than that. It’s an aggressive schedule, but it’s doable, if the weather and my work will stabilize and if I can avoid additional injury. Once I reach my goal, the trick will be maintaining the weight, but I’ll worry about that when the time comes. I have to lose the weight first, and that’s a challenge I’ve been unable to complete in three years of trying. Maybe this year will be the time I get it right.
I look ahead to a time when I’m leaner and lighter. I want to get there for the sake of my health and longevity, but I wonder if it will matter at all in terms of self-concept, self-esteem, and self-confidence. I’ve seen myself as a fat-ass for my entire life, and I don’t know what it would take to counter that ingrained view. My inner-Ranger has ruthless standards that I doubt I will ever meet. But I’ll keep trying, and find motivation in the small victories I have along the way.
I was fourteen when I asked Dad about his beard.
I wanted to know why it was already so grey.
He said, “I have one for every worry, hurt, and fear.
Listen a minute, and I’ll tell you how it got this way:
“I spent two years killing gooks for Lyndon.
The shrink said I was sane, according to the law.
The priest said not to worry, that I was forgiven,
but they never did what I did or saw what I saw.
Your mom kept me sober when she could,
but I don’t remember the 70’s very well.
I fought and drank and was just no good.
It didn’t matter; I’d already been to hell.
“I stopped drinking in 1980, sat down and cried
when Led Zeppelin buried Bonham and disbanded.
In ‘81 I nearly smiled when the Liar nearly died,
but he lived, and they had Hinckley red-handed.
In ’82 the Feds immortalized my fears
with a shiny long wall in Washington D.C.
I had flashbacks and nightmares for over a year,
until well after we took Grenada in ’83.
“Union Carbide killed thousands of Indians in ‘84
while vats of the same poison sat 200 miles from us.
In ’85 the Cola I loved changed forevermore.
I switched to coffee rather than drink that puss.
I’ve gotten plenty of grey hairs, and quite a few
whites, thanks to you and your three brothers.
Your mom has her name on plenty of them too,
but I don’t mind any of them like I do the others.
“And there’s been more reasons for these hairs, boy.
You’ll never know all the things your daddy’s done,
but I’ve fought hard to win every moment of joy.
The scars and grey hairs have just piled up one by one.
Some day you’ll step back and ponder
on how surviving got in the way of living.
You’ll look around, and you’ll wonder
at all the sweat and time you’re giving.”
Dad paused and stared at his miner’s belt.
He looked at me, and then at his hands.
I asked him then what he thought, what he felt.
He said, “Some day you’ll understand.
There are terrible dragons in this world, son,
and no matter how you try, they can’t be beaten.
Be smarter than me. Learn to ride them. Hold on
for dear life and do your best not to get eaten.”
That day I was too young and too dumb to listen or care,
but now I think back often to that day and what he said
when I look at my reflection at night and count the grey hairs
that pile up way too early all over my head.
I’m here alone in my head, trying to purge my regret, asking why I never kissed you. I’m here alone in my bed, trying so hard to forget. Do you know how much I miss you? I saw the signs. I knew the breed. I heard the lies. I felt your need. But I was busy, baby, and you never said the word. Or maybe you did, baby, and my heart just never heard.
Days are dimmer without you. I feel I’m so out of touch but I’m in the dark without your glow. So many things I can do, and I taught you so much but not the things you needed to know. If you had fought you’d be alive. I should have taught you to survive. But I was busy, baby, and you never said the word. Or maybe you did, baby, and my heart just never heard.
I’ll lie here and wait for dawn. I’ll remember all that was even if it really wasn’t. All my friends say life goes on. I’m pretending like it does even though it really doesn’t. Walked my own way, down my own path. Left you to face his hate and wrath. But I was busy, baby, and you never said the word. Or maybe you did, baby, and my heart just never heard.
(I ache.) I wish I had stayed. (I need.) I wish you were near. (I break.) I wish we could trade. (I bleed.) I wish you were here.
I recently strained a tendon in my lower left arm while doing a set of seated rows. Not realizing the extent of the injury, I aggravated it with additional exercise until my entire lower arm and hand were rendered useless.
I rested and treated it for a week, but it didn’t improve enough to allow continuation of my upper body workouts. Unwilling to slow my momentum any further, I purchased Crown Gear’s Weight Lifting Hooks. I had seen similar devices used by others, but had never bought or tried them myself.
The edges of the Velcro straps didn’t thread through the buckle very easily. Multiple layers of Velcro and fabric splayed at the edges and made it very difficult to route the strap where it needed to go. I eventually used a pair of pliers to bow out the buckle to allow the strap to pass through.
Once I arranged the straps to my liking, the hooks worked well. The rubber coating on the hooks prevented them from damaging gym equipment and allowed the hooks to hold to the bars without slipping. I did three sets of seated rows with 280 pounds and three sets of shoulder shrugs with 405 pounds, and the hooks never creaked, bent, or slipped.
The neoprene padding was sufficient to ensure my comfort for the warm up and cool down sets, but the straps rode up and bit into my wrists and heel of my hand on the heavier sets. If I used them often or for long, I worry they’d do damage to my tendons and ligaments. All the padding in the world can’t prevent this; it’s an issue with the overall design of the product. Crown Gear needs to borrow a page from a good sexual bondage manual and design their products more like suspension cuffs. This would prevent any damage to the wrists and hands.
All in all, I am pleased with the hooks. Despite some minor design flaws, they withstood the loads I needed to lift, and they allowed me to exercise without doing additional damage to my arm. I don’t think I would want to use them long-term, but they’ll do well as a (hopefully) short term fix while my arm heals.
Deciding the contents of my daily bag was a challenge because I work in a geographical area with unpredictable and rapidly changing weather patterns. It may be clear and warm in the morning, and cold and raining by the time I leave work.
Speaking of work, my occupation also presents packing challenges and constraints because every morning I must carry that bag through metal detectors and scanners, which prevents me from packing some gear I would normally never leave home without. It also means that I must use a bag that looks like it belongs in an office rather than on a black op, because I get enough grief for looking scary in the office. I don’t need to give the sheeple more reasons to stampede.
I chose a Piel black leather backpack with two front compartments and a large center compartment. It matches the leather coat I usually wear, is unobtrusive, and large enough to carry what I need. The straps and carry-loop are sturdy and stitched well, and the large top flap provides rain/snow/mist resistance.
In one of the front pockets, I keep an Otterbox hard plastic waterproof container that fits perfectly in the pocket. This box serves as a carrier for my phone and wallet when the weather is terrible. It allows me to stow and retrieve these important items in seconds, and keeps them safe even if the bag is dropped or completely submerged in water.
The other front pocket holds a super bright LED flashlight with a ruggedized aluminum casing, letterman multi-tool, 20’ of paracord, 2 glow sticks, and neon green duct tape.
I carry the flashlight in my pocket until I get to work or the car, because it’s often dark when I’m in transit, and I walk a long ways through some isolated parts of town. Thanks to the “safety” rules of my office, I can’t carry a gun or knife (of any significant length,) but the flashlight is bright enough to severely blind an attacker, and the aluminum casing is hard enough to really hurt someone if I hit them with a hammer fist to the temple, eye, throat, solar plexus, etc. It isn’t what I’d prefer to have in knife or a gun fight, but it’s better than nothing, and it will get through the thrice-damned metal detector without raising an alarm. Combined with the hard plastic composite toes in my boots, I’m as protected as I can be without getting tasered when I walk through the door at the office.
The glow sticks are lightweight, long lasting light sources that often come in handy for multiple projects, jury rigs, signaling needs, etc. Likewise, the paracord and duct tape come in handy more often than you might guess, and the neon green color of the tape makes it a good signaling method if I need to get someone’s attention (like when my car was buried in a ditch with its ass blocking half the road in a blind curve.)
The letterman tool has a knife blade that will pass the length restrictions at the office and also has a screwdriver and other simple tools that are good to have available so I don’t have to call maintenance to fix a loose keyboard drawer or call IT if I’m moving my computer and cant loosen the cables on my monitor.
The main compartment of the backpack holds a waterproof ruck sack liner (aka “wet weather bag,”) basic first aid kit, and small waterproof river bag. In a small interior pocket I also carry an emergency blanket and poncho.
I carry the first aid kit because I used to be a “first aider” at work, but I didn’t renew my certification one year and they took my officially sanctioned kit from me. Rather than bother with their rules and restrictions, I now carry my own kit, which contains much better gear than theirs. And now I have it with me at all times instead of it being locked in my desk at work.
The ruck sack liner serves two purposes. The first is to keep gear dry, but the packing list varies. In the winter, the gear consists mostly of extra cold weather clothes, which comes in handy when you’re stranded on your way home one night and have to walk two miles in an ice storm because none of your neighbors will offer you a ride. During summer months, the bag is empty most of the time unless I’m carrying a book or other item that I want to keep dry. Regardless of the contents, I keep the bag sealed with some air in it, so the entire backpack can also serve as a floatation device. That may seem unnecessary, but many roads in our area cross water, and flooding happens throughout the year. It’s best to be prepared.
The small river bag is the exact right size for my tablet, Bluetooth keyboard spare earphones, and chargers required for all of my gadgets. On my breaks and during lunch I often use the tablet to read books, play games, work on my websites, or write. Keeping it in the river bag ensures it remains dry and makes it easy to swap between my work bag, gym bag, and going-home-to-see-mom bag.
As I said in the beginning, there is some gear I’d really like to pack, but I can’t because of work restrictions. Even so, I’ve found a balance that allows me to be prepared for numerous scenarios and to improvise solutions for others. Best of all, there’s still room in the bag for the most important cargo: my lunch!
Green eyes dark, almost to black,
In the ebbing dusk of evening light.
Naughty smile and laugh as you lay back,
Enshrouded with the ether of night.
Demon or saint, I know not which,
Though I never believed in salvation.
Kiss your throat, taste it twitch,
Savor the exquisite gyration.
Lay out my praises and prayers.
Lavish them onto your skin; relish your sighs
as your softest secrets are laid bare.
I kneel to whisper between your thighs…
And afterwards, living a waking dream
With you asleep in my arms in my bed,
Wondering at how perfect life can seem
While the scent of your skin swirls in my head.
Since I learned the words to ask the question, I have wondered why I exist. As a child I imagined I was intended for something great, some awesome destiny. The feeling persisted into adolescence and adulthood, though by the time I was grown I had put it aside with other childish things. But the questions remained: Why am I here? What am I meant to do?
Pain taught me that it is wrong to live for another, to expect them to magically instill happiness and dispel all woes, but the same pain made me believe in the existence of soul mates. I realized that a woman exists out there somewhere who I can love better than anyone else, a woman who will never be whole without me just as I cannot be whole without her, and to find her, to complete us both – well, that would truly be a great and wonderful destiny.
And so that is my answer to the question.
Why do I exist? I exist because you exist.
Since the day I was born, I have carried and protected a piece of your spirit within me, just as you have part of me inside your heart. It must be this way because we both have our moats, walls, and traps to keep the world at bay. The part of me that is in you will open your heart from the inside, just as your spirit in me will allow you to walk through my walls. I have no defenses against you, no protection, but I do not fear you because to hurt me is to hurt yourself.
I have a puncture in my heart that flares with pain like an angry sun. It is a hole without bottom, a gaping maw that can drink oceans and still thirst, devour planets and still hunger. You are the only one who can mend it. You have the missing piece. I know you understand me. I know you have emptiness in you as well. You must, because I have the missing shard right here with me.
You will know me when you find me.
I am the one who holds peace in my hands.
In the darkest night, you are safe in my arms. No shadow will have you while I breathe.
I am the one who knows you are still a child inside, and I love you for it.
I am the one who will accept you, never judge you.
I am the one who will give you wings to fly.
I am the mountain that will protect you when you tire of flying.
I know how to touch you before you even know yourself.
I can give your body everything it craves.
I can cherish everything your body can offer.
I am the scent that lingers in your mind as you wake.
I am the voice you hear as you drift into sleep.
I am the reason you sometimes smile or laugh without knowing why.
I am the bird in the cage of your heart, always singing, never letting you abandon your search for me.
I am the one you see when you stand before the mirror and look into your own eyes.
I am your friend and your lover, your knight and your fool, your angel and your demon, your master and your slave.
Winter is coming, so the Winds say,
as they whisper out of a Sky of fading blue.
i kiss a Leaf now at the end of the Day,
and close my eyes to remember you.
the Sun drags low in the sky, bleeding
its hues of gold and red across the Clouds.
an aching place in my heart is needing
you. into the Night i speak your Name aloud,
as if it were a charm or chant or spell
that could summon you to this place.
in its sound, as i whisper it, i can still smell
your Hair; in its tune i can still see your Face.
while we breathe, these words have no end.
while we live, our bond will never die .
i’ll wait here for your Kiss on the Wind,
alone and cold under this autumn Sky.
* * *
Folks who have read my novels might recognize this poem from Heretic. It was converted into song lyrics for the following scene:
After many, many steins of ale, Tristan stumbled onto the stage.
“Lay off, you bunch of tone deaf bastards!” he yelled over their music. “Lay off, I say! Damned thick-fingered buggers. Pick your noses and leave those strings be! Gods be damned!”
As the music died, the room fell silent and all eyes turned to the intoxicated man who struggled to stand without swaying. He faced the crowd. Mary, who wasn’t nearly as drunk as her sparring partner, saw his posture shift as a subtle change overtook him. His posture relaxed, as if the muscles throughout his body had unwound from a state of constant tension. His face expressed comfortable satisfaction, as if he has just slipped into a favorite chair that fit him just right.
Then, in a clear, resonating, beautiful baritone voice, he sang:
Winter is coming, so the winds say, As they whisper out of the sky so blue. I kiss a leaf at the end of the day, And close my eyes to remember you.
Oh my lovely! Oh my dear one! Where oh where did you go? Can’t you see how I miss you? Why oh why have you gone? Come tell me, ‘cause I don’t know What I’m supposed to do.
The sun drags low in the sky, bleeding hues of gold and red across the clouds. A dark place in my heart is needing You. Alone I speak your name aloud, As if it were a charm, chant or spell That could summon you to this place. As I whisper it I can still smell your hair and I can still see your face.
Oh my lovely! Oh my dear one! Where oh where did you go? Can’t you see how I miss you? Why oh why have you gone? Come tell me, ‘cause I don’t know What I’m supposed to do.
While we breathe these words have no end. While we live our bond will never die. I’ll wait here for your kiss on the wind, Alone and cold under this autumn sky.
Why oh why have you gone? Come tell me, ‘cause I don’t know What I’m supposed to dooooooooooo…
The crowd remained silent for a moment as he drug out the last soul-wrenching note. Then the room broke out in a mixture of cheers, claps, and sobs.
Mary teetered on the edge of her bar stool. She had leaned as close as she could, intent on hearing every word, feeling every note of his voice wash over her skin. Too surprised to know how to react, she rocked back into the stool and simply watched the thief soak up the whistles and cries of approval.
Tristan bowed low enough to touch his forehead to his knees, and then, as if just remembering he was drunk, he staggered off the stage and crawled up the steps toward the bedrooms.
Mary followed after and found him lying outside his door, passed out with his key in his hand and fresh tears on his face. She opened his door, hoisted him onto her shoulder, and laid him on his bed. She removed his tunic and boots and rolled him on his side.
The next afternoon, between the clacking impacts of wooden long swords, she said, “You seemed at very at home on the stage last night, and your voice is beautiful. Did you write that song yourself?”
Instantly furious, Tristan snarled and attacked her so fiercely, she had no hope of defending herself. In the blink of an eye she found herself on the ground looking up into his raging eyes. His wooden training sword was gone. The cold steel of his daggers tickled her throat. His arms trembled. His jaw clenched as he gnashed his teeth, and his neck bulged as he tried to swallow.
He’s going to kill me, she thought.
The blades raised a fraction of an inch. His voice cracked and crumbled with rage and pain. “Never again. We speak of this never again.”
Sam did not know how to describe the smell. The more he thought about it, the more frustrated he became. After much trying and many crumpled sheets of paper, he was no closer to achieving his goal. For all of his effort, he had learned only one thing. The only way to describe a scent was to associate it with other smells. A strange flower might smell like roses or lilacs. A permanent marker might smell like paint, and lasagna could smell like pizza, but if a scent smelled like nothing else, it was damn near impossible to explain or convey the sensation in any medium to anyone. A scent was not like a face or a brick. Smells could not be described in terms of shape or color or texture. Without a reference, all Sam knew to say about a smell was whether he thought it smelled good or thought it stank.
He knew that he had to describe it. The scent persisted in his clothes and sheets, even after a dozen washings. It caressed and lived on his skin, even after three dozen showers and two bars of soap. Sam knew the smell wasn’t really there. It wasn’t physical anymore. It was a haunt that teased his sleeping dreams. It was a wisp that lingered in his waking mind and tingled on the edges of his perceptions, like a phantom limb that still twitched long after the true flesh and bone were severed and gone.
Because it was ethereal, because it was such an insistent haunt, Sam knew solid understanding was required. If he could get his hands on it and his mind wrapped around its concept, it could be dispelled, and then perhaps he would know sleep again.
Sam chewed on the mangled end of a cheap Bic ballpoint for a few seconds before he spat it out in disgust. Massaging the bridge of his nose with his left hand, he reached for the pickle jar of Jack and Coke with his right. He downed half the glass, using his teeth to catch the ice and keep it in the jar. He filled it back to the threads with straight whiskey, swirled the melting ice cubes with his finger and squinted at the stark white sheet of paper under the halogen desk lamp. The same ten words that had been written on the previous thirty pages stared back at him:
It is a perfume called “Beautiful.”
It smells like Sarah.
And that was the core of the problem. It did not smell like paint or flowers or lasagna. It did not tickle his nose like pepper or repulse him like the paper mill. It smelled so fine… too damn fine. It smelled like Sarah.
Sam took another deep gulp, barely noticing the much harsher taste of his new mix. His head was light for a moment as the alcohol hit his gums and throat, and then the sensation dwindled.
The brims of the pits in his soul flared with malignant heat, threatened to scorch him hollow with their intensity. He screamed at the page until his voice broke. He threw his hands out blindly, feeling for something to throw, to tear, to break, anything to get the hurt out of him, but he had already thrown or torn everything else that had occupied the desktop. His hand found the battered, slobbery Bic.
Sam bellowed a raspy, triumphant roar as he swung the pen over his head and brought it crashing down in a powerful arc, stabbing the sheet of paper. Miraculously, the Bic buckled, but did not break. Sam began writing without any care or comprehension of what he composed. He pushed the pen to the paper with such force that the paper tore in places, but he continued without pause:
It is the scent of her flashing red hair and her soft, smooth, pale skin. It is the sharp twinge of incense and short, fat candles that always burn in her room. It is the cheap spice smell of the Ramen noodles that she survives on during finals week. It is her laundry detergent and fabric softener, the strawberry wine coolers that she drinks in the evenings before she takes a shower. It is the aroma of strong, bitter-sweet dark chocolate she eats when she is depressed. It is her breath in my ears when she kisses my neck and her fragrance in my nose when I hold her and watch her sleeping face on my chest. It is her passion when she looks at me with those ravenous green eyes that thrill and tantalize and terrify me all at once. It is her gentle caress. It is her giggles and rolling laughter. It is the rough upholstery of her third-hand couch that we snuggle on as we watch TV when the weather is bad. It is rain pattering on the window and thunder ozone thick in the air.
It was the cool evening breeze the first time we made love, at my camp on the river. It was the rough oak planks of my deck under our blanket and the musty sawdust between the cracks. It was Gauly River purling under the deck. It was a sky full of summer stars caught in the surface of the calm water, dancing on random ripples. It was the Doors on the radio singing just for us.
Sam looked at the rapid, raw, barely legible writing that he had etched into the tattered sheet of paper. He picked the words up with trembling hands, and he realized maybe he had managed the trick after all. He read the words over and over, purging his agony a little at a time as he relived his mistakes again and again. A tear ran down his nose and fell onto the paper, blotching some of the ink. He wiped the damp away from his face with his finger and held it under his nose as he inhaled deeply. It smelled like salt and pain. It smelled like Sarah.
She lay under him,
lithe curves vibrant
against the blanket’s dark lines.
Beauty stole his voice,
Left him in muted awe
watching his hands explore
her exquisite form.
Candles writhed in the night,
and wept waxen tears,
jealous of the couple’s touch,
the warmth of their skin,
their souls’ celestial light.
Outside, the sky was
a brooding god mumbling thunder,
its breath laden
with rain and lightning
as it gusted through the window,
chilling the sweat beaded
across the lovers’ flesh.
He lay under her,
marveling at interwoven arms,
At the crossroads
of Fate and Chance
their spirits kissed.
He sat around her,
clung to her with lonely desperation.
She huddled deeper into his arms and legs
and pressed against his body.
He was her shield against the world.
She was his savior from himself.
The chill wind flung their hair
into impossible puzzle-tangles.
with her shivers.
the sky with water colors.
Rains poured down,
blurred the line between dark granite
and brooding horizon.
She needed him
while sky hammered earth,
but the lashing torrents had to end sometime.
Was her trembling all that shook his body?
Was the rain all that flooded his features
before he pulled her even closer
and buried his face in her hair?
He never told, and
she never knew,
while rain battered their flesh
and winter winds brushed
the pastel sky painted by God.
Michael looked into Ruth’s
dark, soulful eyes
and almost regained
faith in Jesus.
he wanted her,
but didn’t know how to ask.
“my whole existence is flawed.”
she danced with her man,
an oxygen thief.
stupid. fragile. soft.
their bodies melded,
welded as they
gyrated to primal rock.
naked feet stomped
in time to the beat.
her ass ground his crotch.
his hands clutched her hips.
“you get me closer to God.”
Michael left the party,
joined Solitude and Darkness
in the november night.
no coat, no shirt, no peace.
the Moon transmuted
snow and ice into ivory fire.
no shadow dared conceal
Hell’s lust in his eyes.
steam rolled like smoke
off his shoulders and neck
as he strode up the mountain.
not caring that his inner
demon had manifested,
he walked the ten miles home,
each step a contemplation
of Cain’s fury and sin.
After buying a new desk for myself, I had the computer armoire sitting in the office with no purpose. Anticipating that I would be in the office more often and for longer periods, I thought it would be nice if my girlfriend could spend time in there with me, but my writing and research are solitary endeavors. She likes to make crafts, and work on scrapbooks, and other similar hobbies, so I decided to convert the armoire into a crafts desk for her to use, with the idea that we could work on our own projects but still be with each other.
I realize that this is potentially a tragic mistake – giving a woman a foothold in my man cave, but I love her and like to have her near me. Also, she already had an equal say in the room’s color and helped me paint it, so I’m hoping no “redecorating” suggestions will be forthcoming. The room is painted a very masculine slate-blue, but I used as much red in the project as possible, because it’s Tasha’s favorite color. I went with dark crimson, because I can tolerate red as long as it isn’t too bright.
I cleared out the final remnants of my junk from the armoire, dusted it, and wiped it down with Clorox wipes. The subject of my little re purposing project has a large open top shelf, a large open area in the main compartment, small adjustable shelving on the right side, a desktop that extends out from underneath the main compartment, a extendable keyboard drawer, an extendable printer shelf, and some storage space in the bottom.
I don’t know what she’ll use the large top shelf for. I have a red felt milk crate and speakers in there for now. The speakers have a control console that’s mounted in the main compartment, where she can plug in her phone to play her music and control the volume.
I installed twin light strips inside the main compartment, and put red felt drawers in two of the three shelves. The bottom one has a power strip mounted so she she has easy access to power for Dremel tools, glue guns, phone charger, or whatever else might require some juice.
I may install a shelf in the back of the main compartment, if she wants something to break up the space back there.
I left the extendable desktop alone, figuring she may need the extra real estate and elbow room while working on bigger projects.
I bought some drawer organizers and screwed them into the keyboard drawer so she’ll have plenty of places to stash small bits and pieces and trinkets.
I put a trash can on the bottom right and some extra drawers on the bottom left. There’s some 2×4 pieces behind the drawers to keep them from from sliding too far back under the printer shelf.
I put right-angle brackets on the printer shelf and used them to hold a heavy-duty plastic box in place. This box has rails to allow it to be used as a filing drawer, if she wants, but the main reason I set this up is that she often takes her crafts materials to her sister’s or friend’s house where they work on things together. This box has a solid lid that locks in place once it’s closed. The front brackets on the shelf swivel to the sides, allowing the entire box to slide free of the shelf. This should allow her to pack whatever she needs in the box, close it up, and go.
I mounted a dry erase board to the left door and a cork board to the right. The door knobs have little patches of Velcro on them that mate up with patches on the sides of the armoire, so that the doors will stay open and folded out of the way if she desires.
And finally, I mounted a little lock hasp so she can lock up the cabinet and keep the contents safely stowed away from the youngins. (And prevent me from commandeering her supplies when I need scissors, tape, or a screw driver.)
The final phase of Project: Heimdal involves file consolidation, sharing, and protection. After it is completed, I am spring boarding immediately into Project: Baldur. Like Heimdal, this project will have multiple phases. However, I am not numbering the phases because most of these can be completed concurrently (as time permits.)
Heimdal’s purpose was to get me back into my office on a regular basis. Even though it hasn’t completed, the project has already succeeded. Since Phase 3 completed, I’ve spent most of my free time in the office, and I expect the trend to continue.
Project: Baldur is intended to resurrect my defunct writing career. Over the last two years, I have become a writer who doesn’t write, and I need to change that. Project Heimdal gave me the tools and space I require to work. Project: Baldur will put those resources to use. It is intended to motivate me by clearly identifying the work that needs to be done and breaking it up into less daunting components (rather than the insurmountable mountain it appears to be when considered all at once.) It also identifies the challenges and obstacles that I must overcome or mitigate if I intend to move forward.
Some of the following components are ongoing cycles, without clearly defined end-states. Therefore, overall project completion and success are not measured in terms of completed phases. The ultimate goals of this project are to make me write every day and to move my career forward. The first goal will be easily measured in terms of hours per week spent on writing. The second goal will be measured in terms of book sales, product exposure, and reader interactions (both in person and online.)
Project Components: Cracking the Mountain
The website needs some work, because it has become a ghost town. It needs updates, and I’m going to strip out most of the extra functionality provided by plugins, because they’re slowing down the site but no one is using them. Lean and mean, that’s show this site will roll. I also need to start writing, scheduling, and posting new content.
Revisions and Plans for Published Books
I need to load Warlock’s Wake into pressbooks and reformat it into larger dimensions. I need to collaborate with my artist to redesign it’s cover. Once that is complete, I need to get it and Heretic into all the local stores I can get to deal with me.
Marketing and Promoting
I’ve identified the proper educational resources. Now I just need to use them to learn how to properly leverage this website and social media to promote my novels. I need to establish my online persona in other writer’s blogs and forums and become an active, recognizable member of the online writer’s community (groan.) I need to identify contests to enter and schedule book signings.
I’ve thought about it for a long time, and I think I want to initiate a kickstarter or similar service to see if I can raise money for the expenses involved with book publishing. I can’t rely on this money, and I can’t wait around to see if it will come through, so it can’t be Plan A. However, if I can succeed with it, I could have the money to hire PR and marketing firms, and maybe a part-time assistant to help me with the administrivia that I loathe so much.
SeralSoft is a separate venture, of which I am an equal partner with a few other gentlemen. I can’t divulge many details until we launch our product, but I can say that it is going to evolve into an opportunity for me to do considerable writing and editing. It won’t be geared towards my novels, but it will be writing, which is all I really care about right now.
Other Writing Jobs
The government has numerous jobs for writers. I am constantly on the lookout for writer jobs at my salary which allow me to work from home. They exist. I just haven’t found one yet.
New Books (Works in Progress)
I am in the planning and initial writing phases of two new books. One is the third book in the Heretic’s Quest series. The second is something… completely different. I simply need to devote more time to the actual writing of these manuscripts.
Project Obstacles: Time Hogs and Bad Attitudes
The day job is a necessary tribulation. It chews up nearly 25% of my life, (draining me of vitality and dulling my creativity in the process,) but the bills must be paid, and my work ethic won’t allow me to half-ass my performance in order to reserve some brain juice for writing and other things that really matter. SeralSoft will soon lead to exciting writing and learning opportunities (and hopefully to significant profits,) but right now it draws on my time and concentration without yielding any tangible benefits. There is no easy fix for this obstacle. Working pays the bills, but devours time I could spend on marketing an promotions, which prevents me from selling more books, which requires me to continue working a day job. It never ends, but I think SeralSoft is going to be the way I finally break the cycle. If it works out half as well as I expect, it will be my ticket to more funding and more time.
The same computer that allows me to write also allows me to play video games. The open-ended games I play can take hundreds of hours to complete, with new content being made daily. These game modifications are the true danger, because I can MAKE content for these games. I can create stories, places, and characters that people can experience and play in these games. It’s like crack cocaine for creative types like me. If I spend 100 hours playing a game, I can easily spend 200 making new content for it. (I’ve toyed with the idea of creating the world of Heretic’s Quest as a game add-on for Skyrim, but a project of that scope would be a full-time job unto itself.) Mitigating this obstacle is merely a matter of self-discipline. I must make myself turn off the game so I can write.
I need to be in better shape and better health. Once I get down to my target weight, I can cut back on the exercise, but until then, I need to be active at least 90 minutes a day and sleep at least seven hours a night. These time requirements add up very quickly. I’ll stick with it, and remain on my diet, so that I can reach the point where some of this time can be dedicated to other pursuits.
I love to write, and I love to meet my readers and talk with them. But I hate all the business-related bullshit and legwork that needs to happen behind the scenes. I hate spending time on attempts to optimize the website and figure out technical issues. I hate calling around trying to organize book signings and then trying to keep track of it all. I hate trying to track which book stores carry my books, if they need more copies, and if they owe me money. I hate spending time on forums and other online outlets hoping to build a following and get noticed. I could be writing, reading, gaming, biking, swimming, cooking, fucking, or sleeping instead – which means I rarely get around to doing the things that will actually make my books sell. I’ve finally admitted to myself that this attitude isn’t going to change. The only viable solution is to hire people to do the things I don’t want to do. Until that happens, my time is better spent on writing, so I will have more products to sell and promote once I get the resources to do so.
For years I have been using very weak laptops for writing/work purposes, and using Xbox gaming consoles for recreation. As a result, work has become increasingly cumbersome to accomplish, and I have gravitated to the living room couch to play Xbox. My office has become a bleak and desolate space where over time junk and dust have combined into a sort of post-apocalyptic landscape.
Recently I decided it has been much too long since I used the office and I needed to reclaim the space, revive my work projects, and more thoroughly enjoy the time dedicated to recreation. It was time to abandon laptops and gaming consoles, and finally build a new desktop computer. Thus, Project Heimdal was devised and launched.
The project has four phases:
Convert my current laptop to a media player and internet device for the living room.
Upgrade the wireless network in the house to a faster technology.
Build a new workstation that will be equally suited to writing, web research, web mastering, and gaming.
Implement encrypted file sharing between the workstation, laptop, mobile devices, and off-site cloud storage.
Phase One: Laptop Conversion
This required a new 120 gigabyte solid state drive, Windows 7, and a Logitech K400 Wireless Touch Keyboard (with Built-In Multi-Touch Touchpad.) This phase is now complete. I can use the laptop for all media and internet needs in the living room and can also use it for presentations when my SeralSoft business partners convene for our monthly meetings.
Phase 2: Wireless Upgrade
This required an Intel WiFi Link 5300 802.11n Wireless LAN Half Size Mini PCI-E Wlan Card for the laptop and an ASUS RT-N66U Dual-Band Wireless-N900 Gigabit Router for the living room. This phase is now complete.
Phase 3: Building Heimdal
This required my current 27” monitor, a new 27” monitor, all new components for the actual PC, and a tremendous amount of patience. The final PC build is comprised of the following:
Corsair CC600TWM-WHT Special Edition Graphite Series 600T
I bought this case for its internal cable management system and minimalist look. It has a cool fan control knob on the front as well, but I didn’t end up using it. It had plenty of room for everything I needed, and then some!
Corsair Professional Series AX 850 Watt ATX/EPS Modular 80 PLUS Gold.
Asus Z87-Deluxe DDR3 1600 LGA 1150 Motherboard
This motherboard has a number of features that are supposed to help sync mobile devices (which I hope will be beneficial in Phase 4 of this project,) and it has numerous utilities for overclocking, which is something I will investigate later.
Intel Core i7-4770K Quad-Core Desktop Processor 3.5 GHZ 8 MB Cache
There are more powerful processors, and others better suited to gaming, but this one was at a decent price, has enough ass to run the system, and will help with various productivity software in addition to games. And I’ve already overclocked it (temporarily) to 4.2 GHZ.
CPU Cooler :
Corsair Hydro Series Extreme Performance Liquid CPU Cooler H100i
I bought this because I’d never used water cooling before and figured it might come in handy when I delve seriously into overclocking adventures.
Corsair Dominator Platinum 32Gigabytes (4x8GB) DDR3 1600 MHz (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory
This should be enough memory to hold me over for the foreseeable future. (LOL)
EVGA GeForce GTX780 SuperClocked w/EVGA ACX Cooler 3GB GDDR5 384bit
Gaming PC-building enthusiasts will argue for hours over which graphic card is the best. I am not an enthusiast. I just want something that will work, and this card will push more than enough pixels for the foreseeable future. In a couple of years I can buy another one and expand my muscle with SLI.
Samsung Electronics 840 Pro Series 2.5-Inch 128 Gigabyte SATA 6GB/s Solid State Drive
Samsung Electronics 840 Pro Series 2.5-Inch 256 Gigabyte SATA 6GB/s Solid State Drive
Western Digital Bare Drives 3Terabyte WD Black SATA III 7200 RPM 64 MB Cache
Asus 24xDVD-RW Serial ATA Internal
(I refuse to migrate to blu-ray)
Windows 8 64-bit
I still need to install some software, but for all intents and purposes, Phase 3 is basically done.
Phase Four: File Sharing
This is an ongoing endeavor. I’ve made some progress but still haven’t devised a solution that entirely suits me. When it’s all said and done, I expect to have a solution that will allow me to store all files in a central location within my house such that all data is encrypted but shared among numerous devices. Important data will also be backed up in real-time to an encrypted cloud storage provider, granting me peace of mind that irreplaceable data will not be destroyed in the event of fire or other catastrophe.
John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” I never cared for Lennon much, and I never understood the quasi-prophetic stature he has attained for some folks, but I can relate to his quote. It’s so odd to think that my last post on this site was April 10th. I swear it was just the other day when I wrote it and clicked “submit.”
I’ve kept my day job and made great progress in a separate business endeavor that may soon free me forever from my 4′x4′ cell in the Cubicle Dungeon. I’ve lost 45 pounds. I’ve gained a girlfriend and lost some emotional baggage. I’ve added facial scars and lost teeth. I’ve gained readers and lost friends. My laptop died and was revived. I perfected my file storing solution. I kicked a lot of ass in Skyrim. In these ways, it has been a hectic, busy time.
Except for numerous FaceBook posts and a little bit of work on a sci-fi short story, I have done no writing. No work on this website. No work on the published novels’ promotions. No work on the two books currently in progress. In these ways, I have accomplished nothing that matters.
I wrecked a bicycle on July 6th, and I’ve spent most of the time since then, laying on my ass and staring at the ceiling or at the Xbox games on my TV. I also had long stretches of silence and solitude, during which I conducted a candid self appraisal. I realized in many ways I am totally full of shit.
I tell myself I’m a fighter, but I don’t fight. I tell myself I’m a shooter, but I don’t shoot. I tell myself that I’m an outdoors adventurer, but I still weigh 270 pounds and have no traces of a tan. I say I am educated, but I never read or learn anything new anymore. I say I want my books to succeed, but I do almost nothing to promote them. I say I am a writer, but I don’t write.
I recently spent a sizable chunk of money on myself. A fitness buff would have spent it on hiking, camping, biking, and exercise gear. A gun enthusiast would have spent it on guns, ammo, gunsmithing tools, and optics. A student of life would have spent it on books and travelling. A published author would have spent it on PR and marketing campaigns for his books.
I bought a cheap desk and an expensive computer. When I walked into my office to see where I would put the desk and computer, I found a room that was so cluttered with junk that I couldn’t see the floor in most places. Dust was layered on top of everything. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been in there. I found a sheet of paper with notes on website articles I had intended to write. I had completely forgotten that I had ever planned to write them. It looks like I had plans to start a Kickstarter too. Such grand plans, buried under dust and gobs of cat hair.
I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I’ve decided that there is never a good reason or a valid excuse to lie. Not one. Honesty and candor are the only true roads to freedom and peace, and I have committed myself to these ideals. That means I also must stop bullshitting myself. It’s time to come clean.
Yes, I enjoy guns, survivalist training, camping, hiking, and hand-to-hand combat. But I don’t enjoy them enough to memorize ballistic tables, stockpile ammo, or have a bunker. I do well to shoot two or three times a year. I would like to know more about it, and I would like to have the time and means to shoot and train more, but they aren’t high enough priorities for me to devote much time or money to them. I occasionally get in the mood to brawl, but 99% of the time I’d rather just be left alone and live in peace. I’ll avoid trouble when I can and talk my way out of it when I can’t. But I won ‘t run or bow down, either.
Yes, I enjoy lifting weights, biking, running, and swimming, but I will probably never be in really great shape again. I like to be healthy and look good, but sleeping late, eating pop tarts, and drinking beer are more important to me than having a six-pack of abs or shaving seconds off my run time.
I love to read, but I read so much with my current job that I don’t expect I’ll read much on my own time in the near future. I wish it were otherwise, but that’s just how it is. I used to read to immerse myself in another world and escape his one for awhile. Now I get the same escape from video games. Books don’t scratch my itch like they used to, which probably makes me something of a hypocrite, considering that I expect people to buy and read my books.
I need to promote my published books, and I love the actual book signings and other events, but arranging them seems so much like work – calling and scheduling and negotiating and keeping track of all that shit – I won’t be doing much of it. It should be a priority, and it should be on my radar, but it isn’t. If all goes well with my other business venture, I will soon have the money to hire people to take care of this for me. If things don’t go well with the other business venture, I will eventually get tired of the books selling poorly, and then I’ll get off my ass and make it happen.
I need to write more, because it fills holes in my soul that cannot be otherwise mended. I need to write more because it is the only activity that makes me smile all the way down to my core. I am going to write more. I’ve cleaned, reorganized, and revived my office. I’m building the new computer to play video games, but at least it will have me in front of monitors and a keyboard instead of the TV. As soon as the new system is built, I will write no less than one hour per night. I have articles to write for this website. I have two books I am supposed to be writing. There’s entirely too many words swirling around in my head for me to be a writer who doesn’t write.
I’m nearly 40 years old, but I don’t feel like I should be. Depending on the day, I either feel like I’m still 20, or I feel like I’m at least 400. My life has been easier than some, and harder than others, more exciting than some, and blander than others. I’ve seen wonders that made me thank the gods I was alive. I’ve seen horrors that made me wish our entire species had never existed. I have performed heroic acts that deserve medals. I have committed atrocities that deserve lethal injection. I have been the unstoppable force, and I have been the immovable object. I have lived my life to the fullest extent possible, always trying to live even better tomorrow to make up for the little pieces of myself that I had to sacrifice so I could survive today. I’ve been living fast and dying slowly since the day I was old enough to choose my own path.
I’ve touched the lives of many people. Some of them will tell you I am a saint. Others will tell you I’m a demon. Some swear I am a genius. Many think I’m an idiot. They’re all wrong. Some claim that I was born with an old soul, and that my experiences in this life have made me wiser still. They’re wrong too, because most days I feel like a fool, and I don’t need to look far or long to find reasons to be humble. But I do know this:
Humans are easy to kill, but can be nearly impossible to break. If you want to break a person, you must give them hope – make them feel its warmth in their heart, make them believe it in the darkest corners of their mind. Give them a feasible reason to believe that tomorrow really could be better than today. Hope is a seed, planted down deep, and you’ll know it has taken root when people’s eyes brighten when they should cry, when smiles erupt like delicate flowers blooming impossibly in the blackest of nights. Let a man become Icarus, and believe that he really can touch the sun if he strives hard enough. Let him work for it. Let him sacrifice. Let him reach for his prize.
Then snatch his hope away and laugh when he falls, knowing that death would have been easier, quicker, and kinder. Let him see that it was all a lie, simply an illusion, and he was a fool to try. Let him take stock of what he has lost in his quest, and understand that it was all for nothing. This is how one breaks a man, or a woman – young or old.
Many of these broken souls lie on the rocks, dead in spirit years before their bodies follow suit. However, some will find the strength to gather their shards and rebuild themselves. They rise from their bellies to their knees to their feet, and then they stand again, even stronger than they were before their fall.
Such a rebirth demands a price and also leaves a mark. Any poet can tell you that Charon levies a fee for his services. But few know that he also brands those who ride his ferry. No one comes back the same as they were. They have parts missing, that had to be filled in with something else.
The first 25 copies of Heretic arrived today, hot off the presses! If you’d like a signed copy, stop by and see me this Saturday, during the Second Annual Meet the Authors event in Belpre, Ohio.
I reconned the site today, and discovered that it will be held in the gymnasium of the William R. Stone Elementary School. If you type the name of the school along with “Belpre Ohio” into Google maps, it can get you there.
If all else fails, you’ll see the building if you can get to the corner of Rockland and Middle Streets.
I visited my brother, Seth, in Chicago for an extended weekend during St. Patrick’s Day. I worked all day Friday and drove that night, arriving sometime around 12:30 am.
The next morning we went downtown to see the festivities, but the crowd was already getting stupid, and the weather was terrible. We took a couple of pictures and headed back home. Before we left, a drunk guy behind us was talking to his buddies. His voice dripping with contempt and disgust, he said, “Goddamned buttresses.” I had never actually heard someone use “buttress” in a conversation before, much less curse them. It became a running joke between Seth and me for the remainder of the trip.
Somewhere along the line we ate at a bar called the Rocking Horse. It was a dark, quiet place, and the food was pretty good. I had a pulled pork BBQ sandwich, and it was the best I’ve had in recent memory. It was here that I realized I had no idea what kind of beer to order. They had pages of beer to choose from, and I hadn’t heard of any of them. I felt like I was in France, trying to pick out a wine. It became a common problem everywhere we went, so I started ordering whatever my brother was having, at which point I learned that we have dissimilar tastes in beer. But it was good to be humbled while also having my horizons expanded.
That night we ate sushi at Wasabi. It was good, but nothing spectacular. Afterwards we went to a house party hosted by a woman Seth works with. It started out cool enough, but somewhere along the line I think I drank something that was spiked, because I wasn’t drinking heavily, but I blacked out pretty early. To add fuel to the fire, some guys upstairs were selling crack pipes to raise money for a buddy who had just had a baby, and they were stealing beer from our party. The hostess asked Seth and I to watch out for them, and I guess it must have put me in a feisty mood which eventually led to Seth grappling with me on the porch, and I left the party in a huff.
The problem was that I headed north, while Seth lived miles south. I had also unknowingly left my phone at the party, and I had no idea where I was or how to get home. There are 4-5 hours that are totally unaccounted for, and I don’t know how I accomplished it, but I found my way back to Seth’s as it was getting daylight on Sunday.
Neither of us felt like doing much the next day. I used my Ipad to track down my phone, but we laid around the house most of the day and that night, rehydrating, watching comedy shows on Netflix, and sleeping. I think that’s the night we ate Mexican at Lazo’s. Like the sushi, it was good, but nothing extraordinary.
Feeling rested and ready to stretch our legs, we hit the streets and tracked down numerous army/outdoor supply stores, just to see what was available in town. Most of it was standard stuff, but we did find some gladiator helmets and used riot shields. I REALLY wanted the riot shield, but wasn’t willing to pay $100 for it. I did pick up a pair of very warm gloves that allowed me to use my Iphone while still wearing the gloves, and I picked up a pair of stainless steel knuckles. When Seth saw me eyeballing them, he said, “You have no need for those.” I said, “We’ll leave it to Fate. If they fit this massive bear paw of mine, I’m taking it as a sign that they were meant for me.” They fit.
We bought a Chicago deep dish pizza at the Art of Pizza. It was my first, and it has ruined all other pizza for me. Nothing else will ever compare to this pizza. I couldn’t eat two full pieces at the restaurant. Seth laughed at me and called me a lightweight. That pizza fed us both for two days afterwards.
That night we met up with some of Seth’s friends at the Northdown Cafe and Taproom, where we ate supper and had a few beers. Seth and I left and hopped bars for a couple of hours. The wind was cold and sharp enough to shear the tits off of a brass boar, so we’d get to a bar, drink a beer, and get warmed up. If we didn’t like the place, we’d head out into the cold and walk to the next spot, where we had another beer and warmed up again. We did this until we linked back up with his friends at Christina’s Place. It was a small place with one pool table and a juke box. The bartender was an Irish fellla named Rory. It was a good place, with a good vibe, and we drank and talked and laughed until the place closed at 4:00.
Tuesday morning the weather and wind were still freezing, but the sky was crystal clear. We went downtown and walked around awhile, seeing the architecture (and those goddamned buttresses.) We fought the crowd and got into the observatory at the top of the Sears Tower. It was cool, if you like having your stomach flopping from being up so damned high. The observatory has plexiglass viewing booths that extend four feet out from the side of the tower. All sides, including the floor, are transparent. We got out there and looked around, but it took some willpower to step onto the plexiglass.
We walked across downtown to the Hancock building, which isn’t as high as the Sears tower, but its observatory was much less crowded, and the view was better. There’s also a section where the windows are open, allowing you to feel the insane wind that is whipping around the tops of those skyscrapers.
We at a sandwich shop downtown. I think it was called Bon Au Pair, and it wasn’t so great. I’ve had better food at Subway. We went home and napped until it was time to launch our final night out on the town. I also lost one of my new gloves, the day after I bought the damned things.
Tuesday Night Dinner
Seth took me to an English tavern called Owen and Engine. We were directed upstairs where we were seated on a classy antique-looking leather couch beside a huge gas log fireplace. There was a coffee table in front of us, and I felt like I should be wearing a smoking jacket, puffing on a big pipe, and talking to Winston Churchill. I took Seth’s advice and ordered the house special, which was a hamburger, a beer, and a shot of bourbon. The drinks weren’t anything special, but the hamburger…
… the hamburger redefined my understanding of what a hamburger should be. It was the only hamburger I have ever eaten that made me want to cry when it was all gone. I am not exaggerating. It was that good. Seth said they get the cuts of meat fresh every morning, and the burger is some custom blend they grind in-house, a mixture of sirloin, rib-eye, brisket, and chuck. It was amazing.
Dinner wrapped earlier than we expected, so we went back home, where I packed my gear and gathered up all my stuff in preparation for my departure Wednesday morning.
Tuesday Night Party
We got to Rosa’s Lounge around 9:30, and the band was already a couple of songs into their set. We were going to see the Pete Galanis Band Featuring Nate Manos. Pete was out of town due to other obligations, but Nate was on stage, and he, Art, Neal, and Turbo sounded great. Seth knew Nate pretty well, and he introduced us. He’s a cool guy, (which I guess is to be expected of a blues singer.)
Rosa’s is a dark, narrow bar with brick walls and stained wooden floors. There are pictures all over the place of musicians who have played there over the years, and the history of the building seeps into your bones as you listen to the music. The crowd was sparse, probably not more than ten people, and Seth and I were the only two people in the place that couldn’t play an instrument or sing.
As the show progressed, folks from the audience came up and played and sang. Since he wasn’t singing or playing in every song, Nate hung out with Seth and me while we all enjoyed the music, drank beer, and did shots. The music was amazing! I thought Nate and the guys did a fantastic job on their own, but then Linsey “Hoochie Man” Alexander took the stage. The Hootchie Man knew how to make that guitar scream, and I think I was so mesmerized that I forgot to drink while he played. He was followed by Matthew Skoller, a Grammy nominated harmonica player who did things I didn’t know were possible with a mouth harp. Then he was joined by Linda Valori, an Italian singer who belted out her songs with a power and grace. I was pretty drunk by that point; I had to go back and watch her again on the webcast archive later to fully appreciate her performance. The band took a break. When they came back, they were headed up by Fabrizio Rodio, another Italian blues singer. He finished up the show, and that should have been the end of the night.
But it wasn’t.
Nate invited Seth and me to another bar where all the musicians go after their gigs. We rounded up Neal (the keyboardist) and we got to this place. I think Seth, Nate, Neal, and I were the only white guys in the joint. I wouldn’t have gone into the place uninvited, but when we got there, hands were shook, fists were bumped, intros were made, and everything was cool. The music there was just as amazing as the show at Rosa’s, with singers and musicians swapping out. I was wasted by this point, but I can still remember the music washing over me and through me. Someone said the guitarist used to play with Clinton and the P-funk. I remember meeting a drummer named Dana who has just finished playing at the House of Blues. I got into a literary discussion with Neal, where we realized we were both Bukowski and H.S. Thompson fans. And some HUGE dude who looked (and dressed) like Shaft (Richard Roundtree version) told me “You a cool cat, for a cracka.” That’s all I remember clearly. The bar closed and we grabbed a cab, but one of us pissed him off somehow, and he dropped us off before we got home. Yet again I found myself wandering the streets of Chicago, but we found our way home eventually. I laid down around 7:30 and the alarm woke me up at 10:00. I got cleaned up, packed my car, ate the last of the pizza for breakfast, said goodbye to Seth, and was on the road by 11:00.
I stopped in Dayton to see an old friend I hadn’t visited in a few years, and then pressed on until I got home around 2:00 AM Thursday. I got to bed around 4:00, got up at 7:00, and went to work. It was a rough first day back in the office, but it was worth it.
I’m still drying out and trying to get my sleep schedule reset to “normal” hours, but I am so relaxed and feel so great. Thanks to Seth for hosting me, to all of his friends who visited with me even after the house party fiasco, and to all of the musicians who made my final night a memory I will keep for the rest of my life.
If you like the blues, you should check it out. Even though Pete wasn’t in attendance, Nate and the band did an excellent job. If I ever pass though Chicago again, I will adjust my plans to ensure I can see them play.
Brian Allen of Flyland Designs has done more outstanding work to expand Heretic‘s cover for paperback publication. I’ve received the final draft of the cover and submitted it to the publisher for verification. If the typesetting that I did with Pressbooks.com works as well as advertised, the paperback will be available by the end of the month!
For those of you who enjoy a fine cup of Tea, Valerie has created “The Scribe” and “Blessings of the Serene” for your consideration and sipping enjoyment. Also, the teas are now available in very cool customizes tins. I don’t drink tea, but as soon as I have the money, I’m going to buy them all just to have the tins!
I ran a promotional event during February where folks could get a free copy of Warlock’s Wake – signed, personalized, and mailed to their front door – if they took the time to write a review on Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com. The promotion has ended, and four folks were kind enough to participate:
If I haven’t gotten your mailing info yet, I’ll send a request shorty, and i hope to mail out all of the books at once early next week. Thanks to everyone who participated or helped spread the word!
When I started writing, I had to do it by hand, in a notebook, with a pen. Then I typed it. This was a tedious process, and as word processors matured, I taught myself to type directly onto the screen and cut out the middle medium. I lost over 300 hand-written poems to fire before I learned this lesson. If they had been on a hard drive or floppy disk, I would have been able to reprint them, but they were lost forever. Most of them were terrible high school poetry and probably deserved to be burnt, but that isn’t the point.
Sometime in 1993, I began typing my work and storing it digitally, but this alone did not insure me against lost work. I had to maintain separate digital copies in separate physical locations. This in turn created four new problems:
How did I keep the copies synchronized?
How did I fix it if I copied over a current file with an older version?
How did I ensure I had access whenever and wherever I needed it?
How did I keep all data secure from unauthorized access? (I wasn’t worried about data piracy at the time. I was worried about my three younger brothers getting into my journals and mining for blackmail material.)
Over the last two decades I have struggled with these problems, implementing various solutions, adapting them, abandoning them, and becoming a data hoarding pack rat. No scheme ever addressed the issues completely. There were always one or more problems that were not resolved to my satisfaction, but I am happy to say that I think technology has evolved and matured to a point where a complete solution is finally possible.
To make this work, you will need three things: a host device, cloud data storage, and encryption software. It might sound complicated already, but I promise you that it is not! Read on, as I describe each piece, the role it plays, and the benefits of the combined system. I believe you will agree that it is a solid solution that offers impressive capabilities. Best of all, if your storage requirements are small enough, it’s free.
This is whatever device you use to write. It can be a PC, laptop, tablet, mini tablet, smartphone, or any combination of these, as long as it can connect to the Internet and has some sort of software that allows you to write.
“Cloud storage” is a term that refers to a service on the Internet that stores files for you. There are a variety of providers, such as DropBox, Google Drive, Apple I-Cloud, and Microsoft Skydrive. It is beyond the scope of this article to compare these providers. For our purposes, you need to know that this is where your files are saved on the Internet. All of them are relatively secure, most offer free accounts with 2-5 gigabytes of storage, and they all have backup strategies and redundant hardware that ensure your data cannot be lost or become unavailable except under the most extreme emergency conditions (zombie apocalypse, alien invasion, hell breaks loose, etc.)
Most of them work in a similar fashion: You can access the storage with a web browser and upload or download files that way. However, most offer an application that allows you to place files in a folder on your computer, and any time these files are altered, moved, or deleted on your computer, the same changes are automatically made on the same files saved in the cloud storage.
Most providers offer applications for multiple vendors and types of hardware, allowing you to access and edit your files from different devices, but keep one synchronized copy of your files that is accessed by all of them. The accounts are quick and easy to set up.
This piece isn’t essential, but I recommend it. As I said above, the cloud storage providers offer secure services, but why take risks? If your data is encrypted when it is transferred to the cloud storage, it can’t be used by anyone except you even if it is acquired by unauthorized parties.
My host devices are a Dell laptop with MS Word 2007, an I-phone, and an I-Pad. Both I-devices are running a word processor called Pages, because I like its functionality and its ability to support MS Word’s tracked changes.
My cloud storage provider is DropBox, because I like the interface, it offers applications for all of my devices, I am satisfied with their security, and its revision tracking allows me to recover any version of any file I’ve deleted within the last 30 days. Also, a number of my business partners use it, which makes project collaboration much simpler.
My choice of encryption is a program called Boxcrytor. I chose this program because it offers very strong encryption and it’s free for personal use. Some encryption programs create a safe “container” where all files are stored and then encrypted when the container is closed. This method prevents DropBox from synching the files until I close the encryption container. Boxcryptor encrypts individual files so that they can be synched as soon as I am done with them. Boxcryptor also has applications for all of my devices so the encryption doesn’t prevent me from accessing the data on my phone or tablet.
Tell Me in English, Why I Care
This set-up allows me to start a story or article on my laptop (or on any of my devices, but for sake of argument, I’ll use my laptop.) This article is stored on my laptop, and it is encrypted so that only I can access it. It is also automatically stored in the DropBox cloud, where it is also encrypted and safe.
Later that day, I have some time at lunch, so I get out my I-pad and work on the article. Any changes I make are encrypted and saved to the cloud, which are then saved to the local copy on my laptop at home, so that evening I can open the laptop and start writing where I left off with the I-Pad at lunch.
The next evening I meet my cousin at the mall to visit him and his kids while his wife shops. While I wait on them to arrive, I work on the article a little more, using my phone. I get it finished just as he arrives. A few minutes later, his son accidentally deletes most of it while trying to start Angry Birds on my phone, but I’m not paying attention and don’t realize the damage has been done.
When I get home and try to put the article on my website, I realize it is mostly gone. I use a web browser to log into DropBox.com, where I use their revision history to recover the version that I saved before Junior fat-fingered my phone. And thus, all is right in my world.
I have identified only four minor drawbacks at this point.
I need more space than any provider offers for free, so I am paying DropBox $10 per month for 100 gigabytes of storage.
Dropbox doesn’t automatically save copies of files to mobile devices such as tablets and phones. This means I must access the file and cache a copy of it on the device if I want to access it without an Internet connection. Changes will be synched to DropBox after I regain my cellular signal. I can modify all the files I want on the laptop, since all of them are stored locally, but I must have an Internet connection to synch changes to DropBox.
Pages doesn’t natively support access to DropBox (yet.) This means I must take a couple of extra steps when accessing and saving files with my phone and tablet, but it only amounts to three or four extra finger taps/swipes.
Since I am using the free version of Boxcrypt, I can’t encrypt files that I am using in collaborative ventures with other creative professionals, because they can’t read them. This doesn’t concern me too much, because DropBox’s security is very decent these days, and we rarely leave collaborative data on the cloud for long. We generally use it as an actual drop box where we place files that are too big for email.
I get unrestricted access to my writing, from anywhere I might find myself. I have the data saved on my computer and in a redundant server array that I can access 24/7/365 from any computer on the Internet. But the data is secure, and I also have protection against accidental deletions.
How well does it work? This article you are reading served as the basis for the scenario I related above. I wrote it in multiple sessions on my laptop, I-pad, and I-phone. I wrote from home, work, the mall, a doctor’s office, and my car. It was deleted during the final stages of editing, but I recovered it and posted to my website for you to read.
The results speak (or read, in this case) for themselves. I am pleased with the solution, and I hope it enables me to be even more productive in the future.
Today I ask my readers to focus past the dozens of arguments for or against gun control because I suspect this debate is a symptom of something much deeper, and to understand it, we must examine our current leaders and the nation’s formative years. Forget about magazine capacities and definitions of “assault weapons” for a few moments, and walk with me as I try to examine where we are and how we arrived here.
Our nation is split on a number of fundamental issues. There are so many variations and so many people screaming about them that it’s difficult to see through the smoke and chaff to get at the truth. I think the majority of the issues – gay marriage, gun control, abortion, government surveillance, the war on terror, the war on drugs – it all boils down to the balance of power between the Federal government the individual. This is not a new problem. We’ve dealt with it since the very beginning.
The American colonies were populated by criminals, religious outcasts, philosophical rebels, political pariahs, and hardheaded entrepreneurs. From Day One, our base stock was a hodge-podge mixture of odd balls who came to the New World because they had no place in the Old. We fought a war for independence because we would not be ruled by the laws of an oppressive government that did not understand us or our way of life. We won that war, and the United States was born.
After we won the Revolution, it took some time for us to come into our own as an established, stable country, but we made it eventually. It didn’t take long for many folks to get comfortable with the way things were. They liked civilization and the relative safety found in the cultural and political hubs of the era. They saw no reason to risk their lives and fortunes, because they were content with the laws of the land and the authority that was exercised over them. There was no dishonor or shame in this; it was what many of them had come to America to find. They had achieved their dream and were content to put down roots.
However, there were others who saw things differently. Some renounced the rule and power of any man or government. Some held out hope for finding their fortunes in the wilderness. Some simply had to know what lay beyond the horizon. These men and women lived and died in places that had no name and were not on the map. For the first century of our country’s existence, if a man (or woman) didn’t like the way rules applied to him, he could live on – or beyond – the edge of civilization where government held little sway. These were rugged and hardy individuals who traded comfort and safety for the utmost freedom that they could attain. They paved the way for all others to follow, and for a while the country worked like that: The settlers settled and got comfortable. The explorers continued to push the edge, and for the most part the two groups had little need to interact except on that ambiguous, ever-shifting line that was known as the American Frontier.
But then the explorers found the Pacific Ocean and could go no farther. A few decades later, civilization and law caught up, and America’s frontier experience ended with the turn of the 19th century.
In the 113 years since that time, settlers and explorers have all co-existed together, but our natures haven’t changed. A rift has been growing under the surface, and it will continue to grow until it is properly addressed, or until the system collapses.
Some things change, but some stay the same. We wear different clothes, cut our hair different ways, and drive cars instead of riding horses, but America is still made of the same basic types that were here in 1775.
Those who want to be comfortable (the Settlers)
Settlers just want to live their lives, maybe have some kids, be safe, enjoy life, and someday die in peace and dignity. They aren’t concerned with “big” government or government oversight as long as it doesn’t make them less comfortable or less safe. You want to tap their phones without a warrant? Go ahead, because they have nothing to hide. You want to take away guns? Go ahead, because that’s what the police are for. You want to implant an RFID chip in their arm? That’s cool, especially if it helps them get through a toll booth or grocery store faster. They tend to be indifferent to most regulations, and some even consider the government to be a watchful friend or provider. Settlers generally think the Explorers are paranoid, delusional, or dangerous, and should be controlled before they can threaten the status quo.
Those who want to be free (The Explorers)
Explorers also want to live their lives, maybe have some kids, be safe, enjoy life, and someday die in peace and dignity. But they want to do it on their terms, in their own way. They don’t want government involved with their lives unless it is absolutely necessary. They will take care of their own safety and happiness, without the aid or oversight. They are slow to trust authority and are therefore very skeptical of government. Some consider the government to be an enemy. They generally think the Settlers are weak, naïve, or soft, and they need a wakeup call before they let the government take control of everything.
I need to point out that the two previous classifications are oversimplified extremes, but some Americans actually do fit completely into one category or another. On one hand there are people who are perfectly content to live and raise their families completely on welfare and government entitlements. On the other hand, there’s Ted Nugent. Most folks fit somewhere in between. Everyone has a point where the government has overreached its welcome, but that point is different with every person. That’s part of what makes it such a tough problem.
Those Who Govern (Our Leaders)
From the beginning, our leaders were rich and powerful men, just like they are today. However, early American life was difficult and dangerous, even for those who had wealth and means, and the leaders had all dealt with the same trials as the people they governed. They understood the dangers and uncertainties of colonial life because they had experienced them as well.
In modern times, our leaders in Congress and the White House have lost touch with those that they govern. Few (if any) of our leaders have needed to rely on unemployment, welfare, or disability programs. Few of them have worked three minimum wage jobs just to feed their kids. Few of them have ever needed to ride a subway alone at 3:00 am. Few of them have needed to decide which bills aren’t getting paid this month. On an ideological level, they are just as out of touch with the American people as the British Parliament was in 1774.
In many significant ways, the Federal government has become much like the government our forefathers fought against. If you disagree, ask yourself this question: What would happen to the Sons of Liberty if they attempted a modern version of the Boston Tea Party today? Where would they be if they attacked a target of value to Uncle Sam? What would happen if a group of citizens refused to acknowledge Federal authority or pay Federal taxes? They would be declared terrorists and would be killed by drone attack or captured and water boarded in Guantanamo Bay. The government that our ancestors founded would execute or torture them today for the same actions they took to create the country.
My point is this: the American people are divided on numerous issues, and as a country, we are in a lot of trouble. We cannot fix these problems while we have leaders who don’t understand their people or their concerns. They must understand and accept the limits of their power. They must understand the nature of the government in which they serve.
I want to smack politicians every time they talk about our great democracy. We have a republic, and the two are NOT the same. A Congressman talking about a democracy is like the safety officer of a nuclear power plant talking about the big microwave he gets to use.
I am a stalwart supporter of our system of government. Our forefathers formed a Constitution that offers the best hope and promise that humans can live in harmony with each other and be justly governed while also being free. It is a carefully balanced, self-healing, and adaptive system that has never known an equal. However, I am not a fan of those who are currently charged with the execution of that system, regardless of what branch or political party they populate.
The forefathers weren’t precognitive, but they understood the nature of men, the nature of power, and the nature of government. Some modern politicians claim the Constitution is outdated and shouldn’t be interpreted literally because it was written by a bunch of colonials with quill pens, hide parchment, and oil lanterns. They claim the world has changed to the point where the Constitution no longer applies.
I disagree. The Constitution was not written to address concerns of any particular era. It was written to provide structure while curtailing the corrupting effects that power has on ambitious people. These corrupting effects have not changed. They will never change, and a politician who says he should be free of the Constitution is akin to a wild tiger who says it should be free of its chain simply because it has changed its stripes.
The American people have lived without true political oppression for so long that they have forgotten to fear it. Consequently, some argue that the Constitution is archaic and ineffectual because it is designed to prevent evils that have never happened. I contend that the evils have not happened because the Constitution’s checks and balances have prevented it. But the system is breaking down. When Senators don’t know the difference between a democracy and a republic, Representatives have never read the Constitution, and Presidents can’t definitively prove their citizenship – the ship is listing badly. When Congress cannot pass a budget to fund the country, and the President issues executive orders like he’s writing an advice column – the ship is sinking. When one President can be impeached for getting a blow job but another one isn’t stopped when he kills American citizens in cold blood, the ship is burning as it is sinking. We’re on that ship right now, bailing water out of its flooding hold to quell the blazing sails and masts.
The Silver Lining
There is some good news. Our country can be saved. We, the people, have the power to do it if we desire to do so. It requires compromise, but that is something Americans used to be very good at doing. If you study colonial history, the Revolution, and the establishment of the Constitution, you understand how many compromises were required to make it happen. It was never an easy task, and it certainly was never a guarenteed victory, but our founding fathers made it happen through diplomacy, tact, understanding the concerns of their constituents, and compromising.
Yes, there are Settlers who will suckle the Federal tit for their entire lives, just as there are Explorers who will go down in a hail of gunfire rather than agree to universal background checks for firearm purchases. There are leaders in government who will readily sell all of us into modern slavery if it means they become more powerful or wealthy as a result. There are leaders in government who want to help and are trying, but they just don’t understand the probelms of those they are trying to help. America cannot and will not be saved by any of these people.
America’s saviors – if they come at all – will come from the middle, from where most of us reside. We all want to live our lives, maybe have some kids, be safe, enjoy life, and someday die in peace and dignity. We want to pursue happiness and acquire as much of it as we can. But we need to perk up, pay attention, and stop the decay. We need to tell the Senator Feinsteins and Ted Nugents to sit down, shut up, and let sensible, balanced adults figure out the best way to proceed. We need to stop endorsing news media that push sensationalist agendas. We need to ensure we elect leaders who will honor the Constitution and play by the rules, because those rules were written by men who knew what they were doing. Those rules were written to protect you and me, and every one of our elected officials needs to revere the limitations placed on them by that Document. We need to use the Internet and unbiased media sources to educate ourselves on the issues of our time. We need to leverage modern communications to talk to our elected officials and help them understand our fears and trials. We need to speak with our political adversaries and find our common ground. We need to understand and accept that no one is going to get everything they want, but no one needs to walk away from the table feeling as if they have lost. In a true compromise, both sides lose a little, but both sides also win a little.
My father told me many times that he was glad he would not live to see the end of America, and he was sorry for me, because he felt that I would bear witness to it in my lifetime. I always thought he was crazy, but now I pause to wonder and worry. On a daily basis I see the schism widening. I see the Federal government girding its forces to counter civil unrest as it blatantly disregards the rules it doesn’t want to follow. Instead of talking, citizens are walking around with their hands over their ears, screaming ultimatums at each other.
It is up to us, because our current leaders have proven they can’t get it right. We need to test the system to make sure it still works. We need to purge Washington. New leadership needs to rise – educated, sensible, hardworking common men and women – need to answer the call to lead. The rest of us need to cast our votes to ensure they get the chance to set things right. If we try to do this and are foiled by the system we’re trying to fix, then we’ll know the government is broken. I don’t know what will happen. I just know that time is running out, and we need to try something new, because the old ways and old thinking are going to kill our nation if we don’t close the rifts widening between us.
I recently stumbled across a free online service called PressBooks.com. I’m still experimenting with it, but so far it appears to be an incredible resource for self-publishing authors. If you’re familiar with WordPress, it’s an even better dream come true, because the entire service is based on the WordPress platform. I’ve used WordPress since 2005-ish, so this is like a second home to me, but the platform is laid out so well that anyone can get the hang of it almost immediately.
What Does Pressbooks Do?
Once you have the book organized to your liking, Pressbooks allows you to export the file in numerous formats, including the formats required to set up your book on Kindle, Nook, or a paperback publisher! It was so easy to do that I worried I’d missed some steps.
How Well Does Pressbooks Work?
I used the service to create the files for the Kindle and Nook versions ofHeretic, and I am very pleased with the results. I could have done the job just as well without the service, but it would have taken me hours to manually format the files.
I’m still in the process of printing the paperback, so I can’t give a full review of this option yet. So far it appears that the typeset file matches the margins, bleeds, and other formatting criteria of my publisher, but I’m running into an issue with image resolution. My publisher expects images to be at least 300 dots per inch, but the conversion process degraded my images to 96 dpi. I’m working with the Pressbooks admins to see if there is a workaround.
This system has also has a subtle, but very awesome feature: it allows me to have one version of the manuscript. With Warlock’s Wake, I have three versions: the paperback manuscript, the HTML file for Kindle, and the HTML file for Nook. If I want to make a change, I have to make it in three places, which means I also must track three separate revision histories. I have dozens of files cluttering up my hard drive.
However, using the Pressbooks system, I have one master document, and each section of the book automatically maintains a revision history that allows me to track every change I make and revert to previous versions as needed.
What’s the Catch?
Assuming the paperback format works as well as I expect, I can’t identify any major drawbacks to this service. At the moment, the available formats are somewhat limited. There are only three basic font/page choices, and not all industry standard paperback dimensions are supported. However, additional formats are being developed, and the three available formats look great.
Being a former IT security guru, I have a lot of paranoia concerning my intellectual property. I don’t like the idea of having it on Pressbook servers, where I have no visibility or control of the security. However, there will soon be a fix for this as well. Pressbooks is releasing their software as a WordPress plugin, which will allow anyone to convert a wordpress installation into their own instance of pressbooks. Being the paranoid control freak that I am, I’ll probably use wampserver to run the instance locally, just to keep the files completely off the Internet.
Clutch makes some very interesting music that often has lyrics packed with archaic phrases and references to various mythologies. Sometimes I think their lyrics are not intended to mean anything (“10001110101” for example,) but many times there is a deeper meaning if one can unravel the symbolism.
Two of my favorite Clutch songs are “Eulogy for a Ghost” and “The Regulator” from Blast Tyrant. Most fans agree that the two songs are linked, but after doing some research on various forums and lyrics websites, I haven’t seen any interpretation that adequately explains the lyrics of each song or how they are connected. Therefore, I humbly present my two cents’ worth:
The leather soles go shufflin’ in
Stinking of smoke and ten cent gin
Now who will toast our noble host who has this mornin’ given up the ghost?
The wooden coffer hand to hand
Kind words are offered, silent prayers
But she is satisfied the most while stabbing madly at the roast
The rib of Adam, the eyes of Eve
The sons of Cain receive no reprieve
The rib of Adam, the eyes of Eve
The sons of Cain receive no reprieve
The creditor rides with his men
The death of debtors, he won’t forgive
They repossess his silver eyes
Now in the potter’s field, he lies
Waitin’ for a dead man’s shoes
Have you heard the latest news?
Lazarus is back from the dead
Lookin’ as one would expect
Drippin’ with the waters of Sheol
Babblin’ about body and soul
And then he found his wife in their bed
Buck naked and already wed
The tax collector beneath his sheets
The door swings open, floorboards creak
Now who will toast our noble host who has this mornin’ given up the ghost?
The style of music and vocabulary of this song convey a “Wild American West” feel. I imagine it happening in a small, isolated town like the ones that rose up overnight around a silver mine, and then died off when the silver was gone.
The first verse paints a picture of a funeral/wake. Common people are coming into a church in the morning, hungover and stinking from drinking the previous night. They pass around the coffer to collect money, and people try to console the widow, who is hysterical. “Stabbing madly at the roast” hints the deceased died violently, and perhaps the widow had a hand in it. The dead man isn’t named, but for clarity’s sake I’ll call him the Husband.
The Chorus is saying that murderers receive no mercy. Specifically it is drawing a line of origin, saying that Eve was created from Adam, and Cain was created from Eve. Cain was the first murderer, and “sons of Cain” refers to all other murders that followed in their “father’s” footsteps.
Before the Husband is buried, the people place silver coins on his eyes, to pay the ferryman to take the man’s soul to the spirit world. But the Husband owed money, and the debt collector took the money off of the body before it was buried. Calling the burial sight the “potter’s filed” indicates that it was a poor man’s cemetery, or some other other undignified place.
“Waiting for a dead man’s shoes” is an old phrase that means a person cannot advance into a new/better position until the current holder of the position dies. This hints at why the Husband was killed; someone wanted his wife – or perhaps she wanted someone else. But then the Husband comes back from the dead (maybe because he didn’t have the money to pay Charon?) and he discovers that his wife has already married another man. “Waters of Sheol” is a reference to the afterword. It’s from the Old Testament, and as nears as I can tell, is a Hebrew concept that is more similar to Hades than to Hell.
The tax collector is lying in the Husband’s bed, when he hears the floor boards creak under someone’s weight. The bedroom door opens… and the next day the town is having a funeral for the murdered tax collector (and probably the wife too.)
I’m unsure if the “creditor” in verse two is the tax collector in verse four, but it doesn’t really matter. The point is, a man and woman conspire and kill her husband so they can be wed instead, but then the dead man comes back to life and gets vengeance.
“Ghost” tells the overall story. “The Regulator” fits into the tale between verses three and four of “Ghost,” right before the tax collector is murdered. “The Regulator” is part of the story told from the resurrected Husband’s point of view.
I see that lantern trimmed low burning in our home
And though I feel like crying I swear tonight, I’ll cry no more
How many times have I prayed that I would get lost along the way?
Dream with the feathers of angels
Stuffed beneath your head
The regulator’s swinging pendulum
Come with me and walk the longest mile
Is his wallet leather?
Is his wallet fat?
For not a year later it’s got you lying on your back
You should have closed your windows and got another dog
You should have chained up all the doors and switched up all the locks
And how many times have I prayed the angels would speed me away?
Dream with the feathers of angels
Stuffed beneath your head
The regulator’s swinging pendulum
Come with me and walk the longest mile
The Husband has returned from the dead, heard that his wife is already married again, and he wants revenge. In verse one, he’s outside his old house after dark, looking into the window. He has mixed emotions about what he’s about to do, probably because he still loves her. He says that tonight he’ll cry no more, so he’s resolved to kill her and the tax collector, but he still wishes he’d gotten lost and not found the house. Part of him doesn’t want to do it.
The chorus references the regulator’s swinging pendulum. This is a mechanism in clocks that allows them to keep time. I think “Feathers of angels” is an indicator of wealth and extravagance, as in “They’re so rich they stuff their pillows with angel feathers.” The “longest mile” refers to the last mile to the gallows or guillotine. It has also been used romantically as a way of saying “we’ll be together until the end.” Therefore, the chorus is speaking to the wife, saying, “Sleep in comfort while you can, because your time is running out. Tonight I’m making sure we’re together until ‘by death do us part.’”
The second verse describes what’s going through the Husband’s head as he sits outside the house and works up the rage he needs to kill. Inside his head, he’s talking to his wife, saying, “Did you kill me for money? He must be rich, because I haven’t even been dead a year, and you’re already fucking him for his money. You should have closed your windows. You should have gotten a dog that wouldn’t recognize me and wouldn’t let me into the house without barking. You should have chained the doors, and switched locks so my key wouldn’t fit. I’ve prayed to just be dead again, but my prayers haven’t been answered, so I am doing this. Sleep in comfort while you can, because your time is running out. I’m taking you with me.”
I’ve added a section to the sidebar to allow visitors to the “real” site to Like the FaceBook incarnation. If you see this update on your FB news feed, please give me a Like to let me know I have this figured out.
Valerie, a stalwart member of the Heretic Legions, has created numerous flavors of tea based on characters and places in the Heretic’s Quest. I do not drink tea, but this inspired creation has me very excited nonetheless, because it isn’t something I would have thought of. This is the sort of thing I hope other readers will do – take their own talents and show me what my stories mean to them. Because these stories aren’t exclusively mine anymore. They are touching many people, and every time someone sends me information on something like this, the Heretic’s world gets a little bigger. It is an amazing feeling. So please, show me what you can do!
If you enjoy tea, please consider one of these flavors:
The Scribe: tiger eye, rooibos vanilla chai, and cream, blended with black tea, rooibos tea, cinnamon bark, ginger root, cloves, orange peels, cardamom pods, natural creme flavor, natural vanilla flavor, natural caramel flavor, cocoa nibs, and natural chocolate flavor, accented with cinnamon and cocoa nibs
Blessings of the Serene: spiced apple chai, honeybush vanilla, almond, blended with black tea, cinnamon bark, ginger root, honeybush tea, cardamom pods, cloves, orange peels, natural almond flavor, apple pieces, natural apple flavor, natural vanilla flavor, natural cinnamon flavor, accented with apple pieces and cinnamon
Mary’s Melange: lapsang souchong, rooibos cocomint, chocolate; blended with rooibos tea, lapsang souchong, black tea, cocoa nibs, natural chocolate mint flavor, peppermint leaves, natural chocolate flavor; accented with cocoa nibs
Tincture of Tristan Cole:rooibos earl grey, christmas, snowbud; blended with rooibos tea, black tea, snowbud, orange peels, cinnamon bark, blue cornflowers, natural bergamot flavor, natural spice flavor, cardamom pods, cloves, ginger root, natural ginger flavor, natural cinnamon flavor; accented with orange peels and rose hips
Heretic Brew: rooibos almond, cinnamon, ginger; blended with rooibos tea, black tea, natural almond flavor, ginger root, cinnamon bark, natural ginger flavor, natural cinnamon flavor; accented with orange peels
Warlock’s Wake:masala chai, chocolate chai, caramel; blended with black tea, ginger root, cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon bark, natural cinnamon flavor, natural chocolate flavor, natural caramel flavor; accented with cocoa nibs
Libation of BANE: blood orange, spiced mate, masala chai; blended with toasted mate tea, orange peels, hibiscus flowers, rose hips, black tea, ginger root, cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon bark, natural spice flavor, natural orange flavor, natural cinnamon flavor
The Prophet’s Potion:guanabana, mango melange, passionfruit; blended with black tea, hibiscus flowers, rose hips, apple pieces, marigold flowers, natural soursop flavor, mango pieces, natural mango flavor, natural passionfruit flavor, strawberries, pineapple pieces
Mist of the Mirrored Mountains:pina colada, white tropics; blended with white tea, rose hips, hibiscus flowers, apple pieces, natural pineapple flavor, natural coconut flavor, rose petals, dried coconut, pineapple pieces; accented with hibiscus
Check out this cool animated trailer for my first book. Frank Panucci and Aubrey Young did a fantastic job! I hope it will inspire other artists and musicians to send me any images or music they see or hear while reading my stories!
I paid Michael to draw many of the illustrations in this gallery, but he went above and beyond on many of them. He also included numerous sketches and additional drawings that I didn’t request. I think he did an outstanding job, and I hope his work will inspire others to send me their drawings and interpretations of the characters! (It takes a few seconds of all images to load, but they’re worth the wait!)
All images are copyrighted. Please email me if you wish to use them.
I’ve clocked some insane hours to make it happen, but Heretic is officially on its way to you. I just uploaded the files to Amazon and Barnes&Noble for review and approval. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the Kindle version will be available within the next 12-24 hours. The Nook version will be available in 12-72 hours.
I’m going out for pizza and booze, coming home, watching movies, getting drunk, and going to sleep. Tomorrow I’ll figure out what comes next.
I am exhausted, but the sense of accomplishment and validation defies description.
“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” Thomas Mann (1875 – 1955)
I owe a great debt of gratitude to Sandy Tritt and her team a at Inspiration for Writers, Inc. (www.Inspirationforwriters.com). They are all intimately familiar with the truth of Thomas Mann’s quote, and I am so thankful for their time and expertise.
Warlock’s Wake and Hereticwere good stories when I finished the rough drafts, but Sandy read them, worked her magic, and helped me transform good stories into great stories. She proofread them and fixed the easy errors such as spelling, punctuation, indentation, etc. She also identified weak or confusing prose and made suggestions on how to strengthen or untangle the language. She had an amazing way of making simple suggestions that didn’t change the plot, pacing or tone of the story, but made the scenes so much more powerful and memorable.
I never would have made it this far without her help, support, and motivation.
Brian Allen worked with me to illustrate the cover of Heretic. He worked very well from the written descriptions I provided, and he was patient with me through multiple revisions. He went well above the call of duty in regards to the products and deliverables I specified in the project parameters.
I’ve worked with a number of freelance artists over the years and have learned to prize three qualities: willingness to adjust their work to my tastes, readiness to communicate in a timely manner, and ability to meet my deadlines. Brian excelled in all three areas.
He does exceptional work, and has a diverse style that applies well to dark or light illustrations, logos, web design, and more. Check out his portfolio at http://www.flylanddesigns.com.
Juanita Dix created the front cover, spine, and back cover for Warlock’s Wake. She did an outstanding job, and I didn’t make it easy because I had no idea of what I wanted. She provided everything I needed, and much more. Before we were done, she made book markers, business cards, letter head, and high resolution banners. She also did highly professional typesetting that was the final step in making the first book a reality.
I hired Frank Panucci to create the animated trailer for Warlock’s Wake. He was a true professional in every respect. I was impressed by his timeliness and willingness to keep me informed at every step of the process, but he didn’t distract me with unnecessary questions or details. I don’t expect to make additional trailers, but he will be the first person I call if I do need animation. Frame for frame, he gave me exceptional craftsmanship.
I’ve avoided the announcement of an official release date for Heretic, because I wasn’t sure how much time would be involved with Nook distribution. I’ve been saying “the end of January” until I got everything figured out.
While doing the (supposedly) final round of edits, I realized I needed to write one more chapter to set up events for Book 3. I am writing it now, and I’ll submit it to my editor hopefully no later than Wednesday. I am unsure how long she’ll have it, but she’s assured me the turnaround time will be short. While she has it, I will be formatting the completed 99% for Kindle and Nook, so that only the new section will require formatting once she is finished.
So, this is the long-winded way of saying I will not have time to post much (if any) new content to this website until the novel is released. More importantly, I am setting Heretic’s official release date. It will be available in Kindle and Nook format on Monday, February 11. I could probably release it earlier, but I want to give myself an extra week just to make sure I have everything wrapped up properly.
This recipe was inspired by an appetizer at Abrio’s Brick Oven, an Italian restaurant in Athens, Ohio. I liked it so well that I decided to create my own version of it. It’s easy and fast to make, and it tastes like something out of a gourmet chef’s kitchen. It’s a rich, hearty finger food that serves as a great appetizer or as a meal in its own right.
1 small loaf of bread
8 oz cream cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 packet Italian dressing mix
1 oz sun-dried tomatoes
6 oz jar of marinated artichoke hearts
4 oz smoked salmon
Notes on Ingredients
Bread: I use an Ecce Panis Roasted Garlic Italian Demi-loaf. I have no idea what a “demi-loaf” is, or how to pronounce “ecce panis” (I call it “easy penis” bread.) But it is delicious and has a great texture. However, any bread or crackers would work just as well.
Sun-dried Tomatoes: I don’t have a preference for brand, but I try to buy “julienne cut” because it makes it easier to dice them into smaller pieces.
Artichoke Hearts: You’ll usually find these with canned vegetables, not with the pickles, canned peppers, and such. Abrio’s uses capers, and I’ll bet black olives would be good too. I just like artichoke hearts.
Smoked Salmon: Sam’s club often sells packs of smoked salmon that are already sliced into thin disks. These would be perfect for the recipe, but I don’t have a membership anymore. I made do with what I could get.
Other Stuff: I don’t have a preference for brands or specific flavors of ingredients. They’re just what I had on hand or could find at the first grocery store I checked.
1 chopping board
1 bowl (2-4 cups)
1 pot (2-4 cups)
1 chopping knife
1 bread knife
¼ cup measuring cup
1 9×13 (or larger) baking pan (You don’t need this if you aren’t toasting the bread)
Turn on the oven to preheat to 350 degrees.
Heat 2 cups of water until they are hot, but not boiling. Place the sun-dried tomatoes in the water for 15-20 minutes to soften.
While the oven is heating and tomatoes are softening, slice the bread into thin slices and place them on the baking sheet. I get 12 slices out of one loaf, and save the heels for taste testing.
Pull out 6 or 7 quartered artichoke hearts and separate them into individual “petals.”
Put the cream cheese into the bowl and microwave it for 20-30 seconds to soften it.
By now the oven is probably heated, and the tomatoes are softened.
Put the bread in the oven for 8-10 minutes (depending on how crunchy you like your garlic toast.)
Drain the water off of the tomatoes and pat dry with a paper towel.
Dice the tomatoes.
Mix up the cream cheese, ensuring it is soft and smooth.
Stir in the Parmesan cheese and Italian dressing mix. Be careful with the mix! Some people like the massive flavor created by a whole packet. I recommend that you start with half of the packet, and use the bread heels to taste test it, adding more of the flavor packet to suit your tastes.
Stir in the sun-dried tomatoes.
Slice the smoked salmon into 12 strips.
When the bread is toasted, spread on about a tablespoon of the cream cheese mix onto each slice.
The Nook version of Warlock’s Wake is ready and waiting for readers to partake of the Heretic’s world. I’m hoping to launch it in style with a few reader reviews, and I’d love to see some new reviews on the Amazon version (Kindle and paperback.)
So I’m going to mail a signed and personalized paperback copy of Warlock’s Wake to the next five people who post reviews to the Nook version, and to the next five people who post reviews for either Amazon version. The review doesn’t need to say a lot or sound like an English professor wrote it, but it must be relevant. Nonsense reviews (or those written by someone who obviously hasn’t read the book) are ineligible. Favorable reviews would be nice, but to prove I am not trying to “buy” good reviews, I’ll honor the deal even if you rip the book to shreds.
Here’s how to play:
FIRST: Use this email form to send me the review you’re posting, the username I can expect to see it from, and a valid email address. (This allows me to validate the true writers of the reviews and learn where they want their prize mailed.)
SECOND: Post the review to the site of your choice and give the book the number of stars you think it deserves. If you’re one of the winners, I’ll email you within 48 hours of the time your review posts, and we’ll work out the particulars of how you want it personalized and delivered. I will run this contest until all ten winners are identified,, or until February 28th, whichever happens first.
THIRD: Please share the contest on twitter, facebook, google +, etc. Help me spread the word! (You should post your review before you share it!)
While I ate lunch last week, I saw a commercial for Campell’s Soup that advertised its green bean casserole. I’ve never eaten it, but I gather from the commercial that it requires green beans, some flavor of Cambell’s soup, is made around Christmas time, and is delicious.
It is so delicious, in fact, that when placed beside a window, a hungry pine tree was compelled to open the window, produce a metal spoon (from somewhere?) and shovel into the casserole for a huge bite of it. It might have actually taken two bites.
I was appalled at what I considered to be a commercial that promoted cannibalism. Imagine that: a tree eating beans! I strode out of the lunch room, thinking about how I could write an article about the Cambell’s Cannibal Christmas Conifer Commercial. (OK, I admit that I wasn’t really appalled. I thought it was hilarious.)
At some point I realized that I was in the wrong for two reasons. First, I was judging that poor pine tree for eating beans. Who am I to judge it? As long as it isn’t trying to eat me or my green beans, why should I care what it wants to eat? Second, a pine tree eating green beans is virtually the same thing as me eating steak or bacon. I was applying a double standard against that pine tree and against all of its kind. I knew I’d never find that specific tree, so I apologized to another one in my neighborhood, Now the pine trees and I are good. We’re tight, yo.
Judge, Jury, and Executioner
All joking aside, in the past I’ve said that I never judge people and never apply double standards to anyone. But I do. We all do, to some extent. The example above is inconsequential, because it doesn’t even involve a real tree, let alone a human being, but it proves a point. Despite our best intentions and diligence, we can judge others or apply double standards and without realizing it. Maybe that doesn’t matter to you, but it does to me, and I strive to find ways to avoid both.
I’m teaching myself to perk up and pay attention any time I have a negative reaction to something. If I think “That’s horrible/ that’s disgusting/ that’s wrong,” I am trying to stop and examine it, because I have judged. I ask myself,
“Am I qualified to judge this?”
“Can I logically and rationally prove that this is incorrect or undesirable?”
“Do I have a valid, identifiable reason for judging in this way?”
If the answer to any of those questions is “No,” I abandon the judgment, because it isn’t fair, and isn’t my place to judge.
I am training myself to watch for expectations placed on people. When I realize that I am expecting someone to behave – or NOT behave – in a certain way, I ask myself,
“Do I have a logical or otherwise valid reason to expect this behavior?”
“Is it a standard that I’m willing to apply to myself?”
“Is it a standard that I am capable of attaining?”
If the answer to any of those questions is “No,” I abandon the expectation because it is a double standard.
What do you think? Do you care one way or the other? How do you watch for these sorts of things in your own life?
After numerous reported issues with the online vendor I was using to sell and ship my paperbacks, I have chosen to sell them through Amazon.com, in the hopes that they will prove to be more reliable than the service I was using. However, Amazon takes a hefty cut to be the middle man, and if I had kept the list price at $8.99, I would have made $0.13 per sale. Therefore, I was forced to raise the price to $10.49, which gets me about a dollar per sale. The list price hasn’t updated on Amazon’s site yet, but it will increase within the next day or two.
It took longer than I expected, but I have revised the Kindle version of Warlock’s Wake to include a “coming soon” page for Heretic, a revised promo for this website at the end of the book, and I added italics to text so that it matches the paperback copy. They’re minor edits, but they’ve needed to be done for ages, and I am glad to finally have them available.
Nook Version Is Coming
I uploaded the files to Pubit.com a few hours ago, so Warlock’s Wake will soon be available on the Barnes and Noble Nook devices. As I type this, I realize there is one embarrassing error at the end of the book that will tell B&N customers to log on to Amazon.com if they want to review the book. I’ll have to fix that and re-upload the files, so the release date will be towards the end of the week now, thanks to my chronic case of head-up-the-ass-itis.
I am proud to unveil the front cover of Heretic, the upcoming (and long awaited) sequel to The Warlock’s Wake. This cover was designed and created by Brian Allen of Flyland Designs. Now that I can show off his work.
Please let me know what you think, and PLEASE help me pass the word! The sequel is almost here!
Tristan Cole is a member of an underground rebel group called the Free Blades. He’s a thief and an assassin who loves to rob and kill members of the Serene. He’s 5’ 11” tall, and shaved bald, but has a mustache and short beard. He has hazel eyes and is 32 years old. He’s lean and wiry, and very nimble and graceful.
Originally an orphan from Carthos Landing, Tristan’s past is unknown, but it’s clear that something terrible must have happened to him at some point, something that involved the Serene, because he hates them and kills them with inhuman zeal.
Some say he used to sing songs and draw quite a crowd in Carthos Landing, but in all the years he’s spent in the north with the Free Blades in the First City, none have ever heard him sing a single note. He needs no musician’s muse to have his way with the ladies, however. His handsome face, deep eyes, and charming wit can open a pair of legs as fast as his picks open locks and his daggers open throats.
Some also say Tristan used to be a good man, an honorable man of courage and integrity. None know how he became an incorrigible thief and cutthroat, but no one dares to ask.
Ferris Magellen is an old man with a mind of gears and pulleys. With pipe in mouth and bushy eyebrows furrowed in fathomless concentration, his spidery fingers draw precise plans and schematics for the inventions that spawn from his mind.
As Grandmaster of the Barriers, Ferris leads the only group that enjoys immunity from Serene doctrine and oversight. Like his organization, Ferris remains neutral in all political matters, choosing to follow his predecessor’s footsteps as he steers his group clear of any entangling alliances with the Crown or the Sanctuary.
As far as Grandmaster go, Ferris isn’t the most inspired or innovative leader, but he very well may be the most thorough and methodical man to ever lead the Barriers. His memory and attention to details are unparalleled.
Since his brother and father died of plague, Ferris has been absent more and more from the lower levels of the Barrier Tower. As he approaches his final years and finds himself without heir or kin, Ferris is content to oversee operations from his cozy study. He leaves the workshops and forges for men with stronger fingers and better eyes.
His life and his plans are secure, productive, and uncomplicated, until he’s visited by a dark stranger with flaming red eyes.
Killjoy is an old war dog, long of tooth and grey of hair. His long grey mane is often braided into a single thick braid that runs the length of his back, reaching almost to his knees. He sometimes ties a spiked steel ball into the end of the braid, and he can use his massive neck muscles to whip the makeshift flail around with enough force to crush a man’s skull.
His beard and mustache are also long and grey, and his beard is usually braided to match his hair, minus the spiked ball. He favors light buckskin clothing, a huge two-handed cleaver, and a long bow. He’s a master hunter and tracker, and a very effective leader and teacher.
The Bandit King is old, but still very dangerous. From his hidden lair deep in the Mirrored Mountains, he leads and trains a group of skilled woodsmen-bandits called the Wraiths, who have preyed on caravans between North Reach and Elmek for years. He has no mercy in his heart for anyone, and no tolerance for incompetence, disobedience, or failure. Few of his men live more than five or six years after joining the Wraiths. If they don’t die on a raid, Killjoy eventually kills them for one reason or another.
His loyalty is only to himself, but his services and men are available for any manner of dirty work, if the price is right.
During lunch yesterday, I met a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, and we caught up on past events of the last couple of years. After I told her about my misadventures of 2011 and 2012, she said, “Well, hopefully 2013 will be your year. If anyone deserves to be happy, it’s you.” I appreciated the kind thought and support, and thanked her for both.
No One Owes You
But the truth is that I do not deserve to happy. No one does. It is unbelievably arrogant to say I deserve to be happy, because it infers that I have done something so wonderful, or that I am such a good person, that my mere existence qualifies me for unconditional happiness.
To say that I deserve to be happy is to diminish the accomplishment when I do manage to be happy. If I get my finances in order, make my writing career profitable, meet a nice woman, get a dog, fix my car, take care of my family, lose weight, spend time with my friends, and generally accomplish things that contribute to my happiness, it is because I worked my ass off to MAKE it happen, not because I was granted peace and serenity simply because I deserve it.
You Owe No One
The converse of is also true. No one deserves to be unhappy. (Folks say “I don’t deserve to be happy,” which is another way of saying, “I deserve to be unhappy.”) They convince themselves that they have wronged the gods or pissed off karma. They think they have done or become something that precludes them from being happy. It is arrogant and presumptuous for anyone to assume they are significant enough for the gods to notice them at all, let alone single them out and condemn them to be unhappy. In a Universe where stars explode and destroy entire solar systems – on a planet where powerful men kill other people by the millions and industrial tycoons cause the extinction of entire species – what have you done that is so terrible that any higher power has even noticed you?
When a person says they don’t deserve to be happy, it’s just a bullshit excuse to cover up the fact that they don’t have the intestinal fortitude or work ethic required to strive for something more. It’s easier on the ego to say, “I don’t deserve to be happy,” than it is to say “I’ve given up on myself. I quit.”
A Mixed Bag of News
Bad News: You do not deserve to be happy. Good News: You do not deserve to be unhappy. Bad News: You have to work at it if you want to be happy. Good News: When you achieve happiness, it is worth the effort. Bad News: There is a high probability that you are are totally inconsequential to the Universe. Good News: It doesn’t matter that you don’t matter. So find what you need to be happy, do what you must to achieve it, and hold onto it for as long as you can, because we can’t know how long we have in this life or what (if anything) comes after.
Anthony Reeves is a fat old man with round, ruddy cheeks and triple chins. His crown is glossy bald, and but he has a full, thick, white beard and moustache. He laughs often and loudly, and his good mood is extremely contagious.
At a glance, he seems to be the jovial, fatherly proprietor of the Happy Hearth Tavern and Brothel, an old family business in the heart of Elmek. To his credit, he is as he seems, but he’s also much more than that. In truth, ol’ Tony is a man with many hats, some more reputable than others.
In years past, he served as a friend and mentor to Alistar Keirnan, Alexi’s father. He also tried to take young Alexi under his wing, but Alexi was too brash and impudent to see the value of Tony’s assistance. If he had listened to the innkeeper, Alexi may have avoided the doom that befell him.
Palmroy is Alexi’s nephew and squire. After the boy’s father died in Alexi’s service, the House Father took Palmroy under his wing in an attempt to undo the pampering his sister had rendered. However, Palmroy’s taste for luxury and soft living could not be rooted out. When the story begins, Alexi can barely tolerate his nephew, and Palmroy hates his uncle. Both would gladly be rid of the other, but the Fates have something else in mind.
James Casteel is a small, frail man with bony, hawkish features, an indomitable will, and infinite ambition. He serves as the Emperor’s Sentinel, the head priest of the Empire’s only sanctioned religion. He’s tied with Alexi as the second-most powerful man in their country. Vast numbers of clergy, healers, and militant Templars wait for his command, eager to do their god’s will as decreed from Casteel’s mouth.
Casteel hated Alexi’s father, and tried to have him convicted of heresy, but his animosity apparently died with Alistar when the senior Keirnan fell to a cave bear in the Pass of Elmek. Since Alexi assumed the mantle of House Father, Casteel has bore no ill will towards him. In fact, it’s a modern legend, a tale told again and again in taverns across the realm, of how Casteel favored Alexi with a powerful blessing to protect him from Strogan magic. This ward from the Prophet allows Alexi to survive magical attacks that often kill men to his left and right.
In this way, Casteel has united forces with Alexi; the Sanctuary and the military are joined together to do the Prophet’s will and ensure the Emperor’s word is taught and enforced across the land.
At least, that’s the story Casteel has his Serene mentors teach to the masses during their holy services.
The Warlock doesn’t appear often or for long in The Warlock’s Wake, but as the novel’s name suggests, he accomplishes more and sets more events into motion with a few simple words and actions than some people can do in a lifetime.
No matter how old, wise, or practiced a mage may be, all spell slingers have a finite amount of power. Certain things simply cannot be done. For example, no mage in history has ever been able to truly fly. Even Bane, with all of his power and skill, is bound by these mortal limits.
The Warlock is not. His power has no apparent limits. He is ageless and timeless. He was old when the Prophet yet walked the earth as a mortal man. Shrouded in a cloak of living shadow-fire, the tangible manifestation of chaos and entropy, the Warlock does whatever he wants, because none have the power to stop him.
His existence is not common knowledge in the Sarveki Empire. The tale of the Warlock is a Strogun legend not often told outside of the clan fire circles. Sometimes he isn’t seen for generations, and then he appears. He’s started wars and ended them. He’s saved entire towns from certain doom and slaughtered innocents by the hundreds. Most believe he’s insane. Others say his actions follow rhyme and reason, and it all fits a grand scheme, but not one that a mere mortal can understand, because human lives and memories are too short.
Alexi meets the source of the stories without ever knowing of the legends. Had he known something of the tales, perhaps events would have transpired differently.
But then, had that been the case, there would be no tale to tell. Hate the warlock if you wish. Fear him, or respect him, or idolize him, as you desire, but be sure to thank him. If it were not for him and his actions, none of this would exist. There would be no book, no story, no website.
Many, many villages, towns, and cities pepper the landscape of the Sarveki Empire, but there are eleven cities which are larger, busier, and more important than all the rest. Known as the Holy Cities, these sprawling urban areas are the seats of power for the Emperor and the Noble Houses. Each was founded by Carthos Sarvek during his years of conquest and unification. A number of these cities aren’t featured or explored in the two current novels, but this section includes all the notes I have on them at this time.
As its name implies, this is the first city founded by Carthos Sarvek, but it’s not counted as one of the ten holy cities. Think of it as “city 0.” Built on a solitary mountain in the middle of a massive plain, it is the place where Carthos began his battle to unify the warring tribes that eventually became his empire.
The top of the mountain splits into three spires that branch out like spokes from the center of the mountain, each roughly aligned 120 degrees apart. These three miniature mountains are named Crown Spire, Shield Spire, and Blade Spire. A fortress sits atop each. Crown Spire houses the Imperial family. Shield Spire houses the Sentinel and his chosen followers. Blade Spire houses the Hand of the Emperor and his men.
At the base of the three spires, where they converge in the center, the Prophet’s First Temple sits. All previous Emperors and the Empire’s greatest heroes are entombed within. It is also the site of all important Serene ceremonies conducted by the Sentinel, and it serves as the public court for the Emperor.
The rest of the city lies underneath this crown of stone and gold. Carved right out of the black rock of the mountain, the city is divided into twelve concentric rings. The pinnacle, where the First Temple resides, is the First Ring. From there, each ring is numbered in sequential order. Each lower ring actually sits further down the mountain, below the ring above it. The rings increase in circumference as they descend down the mountain.
Starting on the second ring, traffic travels clockwise around the mountain. Traffic on the third ring travels counter-clockwise. The pattern continues up through all rings.
Rings thirteen through five are connected by stone ramps at each cardinal point of the compass. Pedestrians and mounted riders may use any ramp to go up or down the mountain. Carriages, wagons, and carts may go up the mountain on north and south ramps. They may go down on east and west ramps. Starting on the fifth ring, vertical lifts are used to access the upper rings. These lifts are also located on compass points. Each lift location has a light lift and a heavy lift. The light lifts operate relatively quickly and are intended for pedestrians and light mounts. Heavy lifts operate slower than light lifts, but can be used for wagons, carts, carriages, teams of horses, etc. As with the ramps, north and south lifts raise traffic up. East and west lifts lower traffic down. To gain access to a higher ring, one must live on the higher ring or have a pass granting them access. Passes may be purchased from merchants called “spire scouts.” Of course, passes cost more, based on how high they allow a person to travel.
The second ring is reserved for the embassies occupied by the Noble Houses and their servants. The third ring holds city buildings and the homes of city officials. The fourth ring is home to the wealthiest citizens and most exclusive shops in the city. The fifth ring is gardens and parks. The sixth ring is more residences and barracks for the guards and workers who serve on the upper rings. The seventh ring is warehouses and businesses. The eighth ring is residences. The ninth ring is residences and barracks for guards and city workers. The north and south quadrant of the tenth ring are gardens. The east and west quadrants are businesses. The eleventh ring is residences. The twelfth ring is home to the city market. The thirteenth ring is an erratic mix of barracks, warehouses, residences, shops, brothels, and taverns.
In general, the living conditions and the quality of goods or services deteriorate as one descends the mountain. The thirteenth ring is a very tough place to live.
Serene Sanctuaries and land holdings are found on all rings. The Barriers have at least one vault on each ring. They have three on the twelfth ring and two on rings two, three, and four.
The city has only one entrance: a draw bridge in the southwest sector of the thirteenth ring that spans a great ravine that drops thousands of feet all the way into the Darkness Under the Mountain.
Carthos Landing isn’t a featured city in Warlock’s Wake or Heretic, so many details remain ambiguous or unknown at this time. It’s the first holy city and home to House Lauren. It’s also the birthplace of Carthos Sarvek. It presides over the Crib Gulf, guarding the southern tip of the Empire against a Drake Rider flank attack. It’s also home of massive shipyards that produce many of the ships used by the navy, fishermen and merchants. It acts as a waypoint for ships sailing to or from Blood Cape. Its economy relies on shipping lumber and raw materials from the Flintback Mountains to Star Sky, Winstram, and Blood Cape. Carthos Landing has an ancient rivalry with Kelbarn. Both cities produce similar exports, have competing shipyards, and compete fiercely for the business of the cities along the east coast.
Legend holds that the world was dark and consumed by chaos before Carthos Sarvek fell from the sky, leading a caravan of blazing light that carried all good things. The caravan crashed into the land, shattering the earth and leaving a great hole that quickly filled in with water from the sea. Before it flooded, the light and goodness that had been in the caravan scattered across the land. An infant pulled himself from the flooded crater and then crawled across the land. Within ten feet he had grown into a boy. Ten steps later he had become a man. From there he began his war on the darkness and chaos and he did not stop until he had brought order and light to every corner of the continent east of the Mirrored Mountains.
Blood Cape isn’t a featured city in Warlock’s Wake or Heretic, so many details remain ambiguous or unknown at this time. It’s the second holy city and home to House Furgeson. It’s located on the east coast, at the southern reaches of the Crimson Sea, on the tip of the Horn of Storms. Blood Cape serves a very important defensive and economical role. It’s the primary southern port for the Imperial naval forces that patrol the Crimson Sea, and because it sits at the narrowest point between the Empire and the drake riders’ domain, Blood Cape is often the first line of defense against drake rider invasions. When times are peaceful, the city is a thriving port city where goods are shipped to and received from Kelbarn and other cities along the coast.
The city and the peninsula it rests on are protected by a tremendous wall called the Scale Shroud. It was built to protect the city from the horrible storms and flooding that blow off of the ocean, and also to help defend against drake rider invasions. The wall is hundreds of miles long and over 100 feet thick in some places. Construction never stops.
Winstram isn’t a featured city in Warlock’s Wake or Heretic, so many details remain ambiguous or unknown at this time. It’s the third holy city and home to House Cromwell. It rests on the southern coast, at the head of the Gulf of Stylon, almost due south of the First City. It serves primarily as a travel nexus, since a number of roads converge there and the Meander River dumps into the Gulf there. The city boasts very successful shipping, whaling, and fishing fleets and is home of an imperial mint.Stone Pike is the fourth holy city. The city surrounds Comb’s Keep, a massive rock comb that was modified to become a fortress that guarded a pass through the Mirrored Mountains. Five hundred years ago, the pass was mostly collapsed by retreating Strogan forces who fled from the Battle of Thunder Ridge.
Since that time, the fortress and the city have found new purpose. One spire of the comb still holds Imperial garrisons. The second spire serves as home to House Clarion. The third spire is the home of a secretive brotherhood of engineers and inventors known as the Barriers.
Once a massive wasteland of mass graves, tombs, and mausoleums, Stonepike reinvented itself in the wake of Thunder Ridge. The city became the cultural heart of the Empire, a place where the most talented musicians, artists, sculptors, chefs, and writers study, perform, and teach. Amazing gardens lay like quiltwork under the Keep, striving for every ray of sunlight that manages to bypass Mount Aerinon. The city also houses one of three imperial mints.
Elmek is the fifth holy city and home of House Lenmark. It’s name is derived from a word in the Old Tongue that means “gate guardian.”
Elmek is a city of scholars and learning. It houses the Sanctuary’s Divine Archives, the largest collection of written knowledge in the entire Empire. It also boasts the Library of Strogan Lore, the Imperial War College, and a number of universities where learned men conduct all manner of experiments under the watchful and critical eye of the Serene. Scholars who stray too far from the Prophet’s teachings are quickly imprisoned or executed for heresy.
The city also serves as guardian of the Northern Pass, and as the interpreter between Sarveki and Strogan cultures. It is a place where two different worlds share a tenuous connection, where an extraordinarily diverse selection of goods and services trade hands every day, where spies and philosophers alike peddle information and ideas.
The military and the Sanctuary mass incredible force in the city. The military fears an invasion of Strogan armies. The Serene fear an invasion of Strogan ideas. The resulting paradoxes make Elmek unique. It is the most heavily patrolled and policed city in the Empire and simultaneously the most diverse, free, and enlightened place east of the Mirrored Mountains. Elmek is a city of holymen, patriots, and scholars living side by side with heretics, anarchists, and madmen.
Fire Well is the sixth holy city and home of House Rutherford. It is distinguished by a tremendous level of geo-thermal activity. Hot springs and natural gas geysers are common place. These traits have drawn legions of metal workers, brick makers, and healers.
Fire Well is famous for its masonry and metal craft. While some local mining does exist, most of the iron and other raw materials come from other cities along the Mountain Road. Its economy relies on the markets in Star Sky, South Gap, Elmek, and the First City. All four cities require the products produced in Fire Well but lack sufficient materials or craftsmen to create the products themselves. The city also furnishes most of the arms and armor used by the Imperial military. Local businesses rely on the revenue brought in by family, friends, and supporters of the sick or injured that come from all over the Empire in hopes of being healed at the Sanctuary’s school for healers. The Sanctuary claims the hot springs have healing properties, but most people wonder if the choice for the school’s location was based more on the ready supply of injuries produced by the forges and kilns.
Star Sky isn’t a featured city in Warlock’s Wake or Heretic, so many details remain ambiguous or unknown at this time. It’s the seventh holy city and home to House Tamara. It has a few exports of note, mainly pearls and shark skin. Otherwise, Star Sky is a navy town. It’s the sole port for the entire Imperial fleet that patrols the Strogan Sea. The majority of the town exists to service and supply the fleet.
The city also boasts the second greatest Barrier Tower in the Empire, second only to the brotherhood’s headquarters in Comb’s Keep at Stone Pike. This tower houses telescopes and astronomers. The Barriers use their observations for many undisclosed purposes, but they also use the stars to keep accurate records of time as they fulfill their duty of maintaining the imperial calendar.
South Gap isn’t a featured city in Warlock’s Wake or Heretic, so many details remain ambiguous or unknown at this time. It’s the eighth holy city and home to House Benile. It has no exports or industry to speak of. It exists solely to defend the Southern Gap, the widest pass through the Mirrored Mountains. Situated on a high plateau, the city has survived countless Strogan sieges. Unlike Elmek, which has initiated trade with the Strogans during the current truce, deeply entrenched xenophobia prevents any civilized recourse from forming between the neighboring realms at South Gap. The city has been the location where every peace treaty with the Stroguns has been signed, but it’s also the first city to pay the price when promises are broken, regardless of who breaks them first. The infantry and cavalry maintain tremendous forces to patrol the pass, protect border villages that stand deeper inside the pass, and also work in conjunction with the naval forces out of Star Sky to secure the eastern coast of the Strogan Sea.
Kelbarn isn’t a featured city in Warlock’s Wake or Heretic, so many details remain ambiguous or unknown at this time. It’s the ninth holy city and home to House Gershon. It’s the northernmost port along the coast of the Crimson Sea and the first line of defense against any Drake Rider attacks that come from the north. It also houses an imperial mint. The city boasts extensive ship yards and exports lumber, putting it in direct competition with Carthos Landing.
North Reach is the tenth holy city and home to House Keirnan. The city’s primary claim to fame is its precious metals and gem stone mines. Elmek and Stone Pike have mines as well, and many smaller towns along the Mountain Road are exclusively mining communities, but all of these produce copper, iron, coal, bronze, silver, and some gold. The North Reach mines, combined with the other Keirnan mines in the Northern Wastes, produce the majority of the gold used throughout the Empire, and they account for almost all gemstone production, especially diamonds.
The city is described in Warlock’s Wake as follows:
North Reach sprawled below her in the early morning sun. The city lay on the southeastern shore of Star Lake. Strong southern winds blew the mist over the water ahead of the fishing boats that already sailed out for the day. From the ridge their sails seemed only rippling dark triangles on the sun-mirrored water.
Breakfast smells rose with smoke from morning fires. Mary closed her eyes and saw the scene in her memory: women walked among the stalls of the market plaza, searching for the freshest fish and vegetables; farmers and shore-fishers haggled with ice merchants while keeping an eye out for early shoppers; butchers stood on their door steps, smoking sage weed and sharpening their knives; apprentices brought coal and worked the bellows to waken the forges while their masters took stock of the day’s work. Mary opened her eyes. It was always so good to come home.
Her smile thinned as the mist blew far enough north to reveal the East Bridge, a floating, wooden structure that stretched five hundred yards out into the lake, connecting the city to the Crucible, a flat, low island still obscured by the morning fog. The island was her second home, the place where all Keirnan forces trained and resided.
South Bridge launched off the southern tip of the Crucible and ran three hundred yards to a sleek sharp spire of black granite called the Pylon. Alexi Keirnan’s castle sat at the top of the miniature mountain. At its base, Star Lake rushed in thundering torrents over the edge of the cliff, falling thousands of feet to the valley floor below where it swirled and churned in the great frothing pool that powered the water wheels of Millertown. The turbulent water then became the mouth of the great Meander River and raged south towards the First City.
I have not finished researching the Nook submission process, but my initial findings indicate that they have streamlined it so that it is similar to the Kindle process. The Nook will be my primary focus next week, as I learn how to submit content and prepare Warlock’s Wakefor release on that platform. I have already formatted Warlock’s Wake for a Kindle re-release which will include minor edits and administrative additions (such as an updated website address and an “also available” page for Heretic.)
A number of things could still go wrong to postpone the release date, but I intend to release the updated version of Warlock’s Wake in Kindle and Nook format on January 19th.
I’ve nearly completed the final edits to Heretic. I’ve been adding a thematic element throughout the text and tweaking some dialogue for one character in particular, but I’m nearly done. I intend to have the final edits in place no later than tomorrow evening so I can print it for a final review conducted by a couple of test readers and myself. I’m very happy with the way the manuscript is shaping up. I am still undecided about the addition of a few scenes, but I think I will not include them in favor of keeping my schedule. I may write them later as short stories on the website.
Barring unforeseen complications, Heretic will be available on Kindle and Nook by February 1.
I will get the manuscript updated for the paperback version of Warlock’s Wake, hopefully before the end of February.
I have decided to continue releasing The Heretic’s Quest series in paperback, but each novel will be released in electronic format first. I don’t have a release date for Heretic in paperback, but I intend to make it happen within the next six months.
Kickstarter and Other Endeavors
If I can get Heretic e-published on schedule, I am making February a month for administrative tasks. I will work on the website (that work never ends,) take care of some legal filing, research ways to promote e-books, and get a fundraising project launched on Kickstarter.com.
On the Horizon
Knowing how easily and readily my plans fall apart, I hesitate to plan too far in advance. However, i have a number of projects lined up to start in March.
I will be writing and adding short stories to the website. These stories will take place in the Heretic’s world and will tell pieces of the overall story that I didn’t write into the novels for one editorial reason or another. They will give fans of the series more content, and hopefully they’ll win over visitors who haven’t read the novels.
I want to start posting a video blog once a week or so. I haven’t given much thought to it yet, but if I can devise a way to create interesting video content, I’m going to do it to diversify the website.
I plan to write a compilation of short stories, poetry, and humorous observations. The short stories will be based on events of my life, but some will be embellished so much that I can’t call the work autobiographical. If I succeed in this endeavor, the combined writings will make you laugh, cuss, and cry. Unless I find time to learn typesetting, this will released as an e-book only.
The Heretic’s Quest, Part 3
I have the major plot points of the next novel established, with key characters and scenes firmly envisioned in my mind. I will begin writing the novel in March, with the challenge of having it written, edited, revised, and published no less than a year after I write the first word. I don’t know if that is feasible, but I’m going to try as hard as I can, just to prove to myself that I can do it.
The Heretic’s world is not our own. It’s close to ours – maybe the one right next door – and it shares many similarities. Time is one of these similarities. The Heretic’s world takes 365.25 days to revolve around its sun. It takes 24 hours to rotate once about its axis.
Most people in the Sarveki Empire don’t know that. The vast majority of the population must use their fingers to count to ten. There are very, very few paper or parchment calendars in the empire, but people have devised a workable system for telling the passage time.
The Barriers are charged with tracking time accurately. Their astronomers can use mathematics, constellations and planetary motions to accurately track time, map lunar phases, calculate length of days, and predict solar/lunar eclipses. At the beginning of every new year, they release information concerning the seasons and time periods of the new year. This information is disseminated across the empire for all to use.
One year is sometimes called a year, but may also be called a gyre, due to the circular chain design of the Barrier calendar.
One year spans four seasons:
Spring is called Planting. The first day of the season is also the Sarveki New Year.
Summer is called Fire-seed.
Fall is called Reaping.
Winter is called Ice-seed.
While the seasons technically start on equinoxes and solstices, the Barriers usually move them to the nearest full, new, or half moon to make it easier for people to keep track.
A year spans twelve months. Months are are named for the Emperor, the First City, and the ten holy cities:
April: Mountain (First City)
May: Crib (Carthos’ Landing)
June: Drake (Blood Cape)
July: Gulf (Winstram)
August: Comb (Stone Pike)
October: Smoke (Fire Well)
November: Star (Star Sky)
December: Scar (South Gap)
January: Sea (Kelbarn)
February: Thunder (North Reach)
A month always starts on a new moon. Some people refer to a month as an “arc” because it is represented by an arc of a circle on the chain calendar.
Weeks are marked by moon phases. Some people refer to the different weeks by number. Some refer to them by old slang for the moon phases. Some use the moon phases interchangeably as the name of the weeks:
This method results in some weeks being longer than others, since the moon phases can span six to eight days. In general, when not referenced to a moon phase, a week is widely considered to be seven days. For instance, if someone said “We’ll meet here two days past the Guardian’s second week,” they mean a specific day that’s two days past the first half-moon in the Guardian’s month. (Most people would say “Two days past the waxing Guardian.”)
Suppose someone said “We’ll meet back here in two weeks.” If it happens to be on the exact day of a moon phase (new moon, for example,) the speaker probably means to meet again on the day of the full moon, even if it’s 14,15, or 16 days away. However, if they were a few days into a week with no exact moon phase to reference, and someone said, “meet me here in two weeks,” they would probably mean fourteen days.
Sarveki’s track days in terms of moon phases, and a week can have a variable number of days. Therefore, they don’t have much need for names of individual days.
The Barriers have clockworks that can tell accurate time down to the nearest second, but most common people use the sun to mark the passing of the day (dawn, morning, mid-morning, midday, evening, dusk, etc.)
To mark time at night, most folks watch a constellation known as the Dancer. It’s a group of stars that appear to revolve around a central star named the Tower. The Tower is analogous to the North Star in our world.
The Chain Calendar
A Barrier calendar is a great chain with 365 black links, connected end-to-end to form a continuous circle. Thirteen chains radiate from the center of the circle. Twelve of these are painted red. One is painted gold. The twelve red chains are bolted to a link along the circle that corresponds to the first day of a month. The “twelve o’clock” position always indicates the beginning of the Emperor, the first month of the year. The gold chain is bolted from the center to the link corresponding to the current day. Silver and black plates indicating moon phases are bolted to links to indicate the different weeks in a month. Other Important days may likewise have markers in their respective links.
These calendars are found in Barrier vaults and Sanctuary temples throughout the empire. Well-to-do merchants and shop keepers may have them as well.
Speaking the Date and Time
If someone asks for the date, they’ll likely ask, “What day is it?” or “What’s the link?” A common response might sound like this: “We’re three days past full.” This response assumes the person who asked the question knows the current month. A more complete answer would be, “We’re three days past full Thunder.” If it’s closer to the upcoming moon phase, it’s common practice to reference it instead: “It’s two days before Thunder’s waning.” People don’t ask for the time because almost no one has means to measure hours, and everyone gauges by the sky. If someone were imprisoned or otherwise unable to see the sky, and they asked “What time is it?” They would be told an approximation like “It’s a little past dawn,” or “It’s midmorning.”
I the original draft I referred to months, weeks, and days as arcs, spans, and links. The idea was that people would call them after names derived from the chain calendar. I used them in dialogue and narration. Then I decided it was too distracting and removed them from narration. But then it seemed out of place to have it in dialogue only, so I removed them all together.
The entire length of Dae Aerinon is split from north to south by the Mirrored Mountains. Only three passes connect the west to the east: The Pass of Elmek, the collapsed pass at Stone Pike, and the Southern Gap. The Sarveki Empire dominates the eastern side. The western side is home to the Strogun Clans.
These clans once occupied much of the northern and southern continent east of the Mirrored Mountains, but have been forced back a little at a time over the years until the Sarvekis pushed them behind the mountain passes, where the Stroguns have mounted an effective defense and held their ground for centuries.
In their own tongue, “strogur” simply means “clan.” It is a fitting name for their culture since it’s based on a clan structure. Each clan is named after an animal that serves as their totem, spirit guide, and symbol. There are a multitude of small clans that have few members and very little influence, but there are eleven clans that have enough power to warrant special mention: Wolf, Eagle, Condor, Thunderhoof (buffalo,) Bear, Panther, Shark, Elk, Turtle, Wolverine, and Fox.
These clans once fought among themselves in much the same way as the Sarveki Noble Houses, but centuries of conflict with the Sarvekis have fused the clans into a solid and unified nation where internal conflict is quickly resolved.
Each clan has a Totem, a Chief, and a Totem Avatar. While the duties, powers, and titles vary from clan to clan, in general, each position works as follows:
The Totem is the animal the clan as a whole identifies as their spiritual animal. They respect the animal’s qualities and behaviors and try to mimic them as much as possible. They wear clothing adorned with body parts of the animal, or with designs and other decorations honoring the animal. Their fighting styles often mimic attacks and tactics used by the animal.
The Chief is the leader of his clan, and he rules with the help of the Elder Council. A clan’s territory is split into smaller districts (each clan calls these districts by different names, but they all serve the same purpose.) Each district appoints its own council from among its wisest and bravest men. They in turn vote and appoint one among them to serve on the Clan’s Elder Council. The Elder Council then elects one among them to serve as Chief. Once elected, a man is Chief for life. The Chief governs all matters within his clan and serves as his clan’s representative on the Circle of Chiefs, the ruling council that decides any matters that involve more than one clan.
The Totem Avatar is the man or woman who serves as a clan’s primary link to their totem animal. The Avatar always possesses significant magical power and skill. If a clan is large enough, they may have additional magic users, called “totem voices.” These individuals are found, trained, and commanded by the Totem Avatar. Totem Avatars have their own council, called the Circle of Spirits. They work to ensure all people of all clans are healthy and productive. They plan seasonal rituals and holidays. They advise the Circle of Chiefs on all decisions, but the Chiefs are free to disregard the advice, UNLESS an issue affects all clans – such as war declarations, peace treaties, famine, or plague. In these situations, any decision made by the Circle of Chiefs must also be approved by the Circle of Spirits. If it is not, the decision cannot be issued.
Clans govern their own people and territories with their own laws, similar to the way individual states govern in the United States. They police themselves and their borders. Members of different clans are free to travel into other territories and conduct commerce with other clans, but inter-clan marriage or mating is strictly prohibited. If a child is born of two different clans, it is killed.
It is very common for young hunters and leaders to spend time in service to other clans as part of their education. This practice fosters camaraderie and understanding among the Clans and helps to promote peace. Veteran hunters may pass through another clan’s territory if the are simply passing through. To remain in the territory, they must gain a sponsor within the hosting clan who will issue a writ of passage and accept responsibility for the visitors’ actions while they remain within the territory.
In times of war with the Sarvekis, the Circle of Chiefs picks one among them to serve as the War Chief. It is usually the Chief who rules the territory being threatened or invaded. Each clan supplies troops and supplies, which fall under the command of the War Chief or his subordinates.
Culture & Religion
Strogun society is as evolved and sophisticated as that of their Sarveki neighbors. They foster many forms of art, history, and music. Their methods of producing items are at least equal to Sarveki technology, and may be better, depending on the clan. Stroguns all speak the same root language, and an official version exists, called “Chiefs’ Speak,” but most clans use a distinct dialect during day-to-day business.
In addition to their Totems, Stroguns respect the Five Fundamental Truths of the Elemental Way and rejoice in the Five Fundamental Pleasures (which are described in more detail in the novels.) Stroguns embrace diversity. All people are required to respect and honor the Totems, but no one is persecuted for practicing their faith in their own way or for holding additional or different beliefs from the norm.
A Racial Slur
Sarveki’s commonly group all of the Clans together by using the word “strog,” which is an old Sarveki word for “beast.” The term is highly offensive to all Stroguns.
Carthos Sarvek unified over fifty fiercely independent tribes to create his initial empire. His technique was simple and effective; he defeated them in battle, killed the chieftain, and then sired a son with the chieftain’s closest female relative, which then became the leader of the tribe. While the sons matured, the tribe was then controlled by a steward who was a blood relative to Carthos.
From these tribes the Noble Houses were created. Over the centuries, some of the original tribes combined through marriage or conquest. Others split. Others disappeared completely.
In current times, only ten Noble Houses exist, and each has claimed one holy city as its own:
As indicated in the table, each house has a ranking. This rank indicates the political, economic, and military power of the House in relation to the others. Higher ranking Houses also have more land and more favor with the Emperor.
When the Houses first became prominent powers unto themselves, they often fought each other in open combat to gain higher stature and more territory, but these wars were stopped by Emperor Percy Sarvek. Since then, Houses must rely on the House Games, prowess in Imperial wars, and the benevolence of the Crown to increase their ranking.
The House Games are held every five years in the plains below the First City. They last an entire month and commemorate the birthday of Carthos Sarvek. Many fairs, shows, and spectacles can be seen and enjoyed during the games, but the core events are always the competitions between the Houses. Events vary from year to year, but commonly include jousting, archery, wrestling, horse racing, gladiator combat, siege engines, and a grand melee. These events usually have very obvious winners. The Emperor and his family judge other events where there’s no way to easily determine a victor. These events commonly include music, poetry, plays, new inventions, and riddling. Each House earns points in every event based on how well they fare against the others. When all competitions are finished, the winners are granted money, prestige, livestock, and other resources. If the rankings experience any major changes – for example, if the eighth-ranked House won first place in the games – then district borders may also be redrawn, taking land from some Houses and granting it to others.
Houses may also gain land, wealth, and prominence during wartime. The Emperor often rewards Houses that distinguish themselves with uncommon courage or resourcefulness that furthers the war effort.
Houses still clash, but not openly. Some Houses employ wrathnar, mercenaries who conduct covert attacks against a target, providing the price is right. These attacks cannot help a House directly, but may provide many subtle advantages. For instance, if House Clarion used wrathnar to harass House Keirnan supply lines during a war, the Keirnans would have to devote more troops to protecting their supply lines and pay more money to replace the destroyed supplies, thus hampering their contribution to the war effort and creating an opportunity for House Clarion to shine all the brighter.
Houses go to great lengths to protect the identities of the warriors who fight for them during the games, because their families will become targets for wrathnar kidnapping or assassination attempts if the warrior’s identity is discovered.
A Note Concerning Names
It may seem that everyone in the Empire would have one of ten possible last names, but this isn’t the case. Most of the people who live within a House’s territory have no blood relation to the House. A multitude of people, all with different names and ancestry, occupy land within a House’s borders, and they’re considered to be “from” that specific House as long as they’re on the land that’s under a House’s protection. A stranger on the road may introduce himself as “Stanley Cosner, of House Lenmark.”
If a common person marries a blood-member of a Noble House, the commoner must change their last name to that of the House, regardless of gender. If two people are blood-members of different Houses, they must choose who will change the name and leave their House to join the other. The House elders often have much influence in these cases. Once a person is married into House blood, they are referred to as house-kin. Many variations of this term exist, such as house-son/daughter, house-husband/wife, and house-kin.
People directly related through house blood refer to each other as blood-kin.
Since Carthos Sarvek died, the Serene have controlled access and interpretation of his writings and teachings. In a country where most people cannot read and books are a rich man’s luxury, the Sanctuary wields tremendous power over the masses, who look to their spiritual leaders for guidance, trusting them to interpret and teach the words of their god. For good or ill, the Sanctuary has used this power to ensure their monopoly on divine writings and interpretations continues.
But now those days are over, destroyed forever by the emergence of the “New Prophets.”
In all eleven holy cities, eleven separate people – most of them of the Sanctuary, but otherwise unconnected to each other – all discovered long hidden stone tablets inscribed with the exact same ancient prophesy. All of them swore dreams sent from the Prophet led them to find the tablets. Some escaped capture. Others were imprisoned by Templars, but were rescued by unknown agents. Now all of them are free among the people, spreading the new words and promise of a new way.
What does the prophesy say? What is their new message? Who ensures these prophets remain free? Find the answers in The Heretic’s Quest!
No fantasy story would be complete without some monsters to challenge the hero, and The Heretic’s Quest has a few horrendous critters that will thrill and terrorize readers.
While these creatures all serve vital roles in the story, there aren’t as many monsters or fantastic enemies as are found in many other fantasy stories. I chose to write the story without including other typical fantasy races (dwarves, elves, orcs, etc.) and without a legion of monsters, because The Heretic’s Quest is a story about humanity, the good we can do, and the evil we can create.
Therefore, most of the antagonists are human, or once were, and after you’ve read the story, you’ll likely agree that these “bad guys” are monstrous enough to preclude any need for fantastic horrors. Just to be on the safe side, a few nasty ghosts, critters, and demons have been included for good measure.
No specific information concerning the beasties of the series will be posted here. I want to preserve a few secrets, but here’s a peek:
I have content scheduled up through January 19th. This run of content will finally get all of my notes uploaded to the new site, including explanations of the calendar, Noble Houses, Beast Clans, and Holy Cities. It also includes the rest of the characters from Warlock’s Wake. The final five days of this scheduled content will include four brand new characters from Heretic, and the final day will unveil Heretic’s cover art!
It seems the Sarvek Empire is cluttered with so many big power players – the Emperor, the military, the Sanctuary, the Noble Houses – but there are also a number of groups that care nothing for the old ways or the old rules. Each group has different motivations, but all upset the status quo. The following list isn’t complete, but it does provide details for the biggest and most disruptive groups.
Over the years, deadly mercenary bands – deniable assets – have formed and offer their services to whatever Noble House bids highest. These men, collectively known as the wrathnar (an old word that means “illusion” or “what is there but not there,”) are commissioned by the Noble Houses to conduct caravan raids, kidnappings, assassinations, sabotage, espionage, blackmail, and all other manner of terrible deeds against rival Houses. No House or Crown official will ever admit the wrathnar exist and operate throughout the Empire, but no one doubts it, either.
Most of these groups use a legitimate mercenary front, hiring soldiers to Houses to serve in their standing forces, but the real money is generated by the secret operations that happen behind the scenes.
While any rogue with a sword and an attitude can call himself a wrathnar, only four groups have any real assets or present any appreciable threat. Each has its own style of working, fighting, and dressing, but all cater to the Houses’ covert operation needs. Their company names are: the Blood Dire, the Jesters, the Blood Brotherhood, and the Black Flags. Encountering these men is a great way to get murdered and never found.
In recent years, a new force has gained considerable clout. An underground rebel group has drawn members and organized operations in the First City and all ten holy cities. They call themselves the Free Blades, but their agenda isn’t clear, because they sometimes attack Imperial military targets – defying the Emperor openly and damaging his assets – but at other times they attack only Serene targets and claim to have no ill will towards the Crown. The Sanctuary denounces them as threats to the crown when the rebels attack an Imperial target, but little is said when the Sanctuary is the victim. The common people are divided in their opinions. Some say the Free Blades are just wrathnar in need of paying contracts. Others swear they’re honorable warriors fighting the injustices and excesses they see corrupting the Crown and the Serene.
Each major city has a local chapter of Free Blades, led by a proctor. The individual chapters maintain very loose ties to neighboring chapters, with the idea that the obliteration of one chapter will not jeopardize the rest. Each chapter maintains a secret base of operations where they can plan, rest, and refit in relative safety.
In some cities, the Free Blades are extremely successful. Their ranks swell as their presence is embraced by the common folk and tolerated by the Noble Houses. In other cities, the chapter operates with a starving skeleton crew that barely manages to survive.
The Wraiths are raiders, kidnappers, and rapists. They operate out of a hidden fortress deep in the northern reaches of the Mirrored Mountains, where they can slaughter caravans with impunity. They’ve been know to commission their skills and talent to certain organizations, leading some people to see them as wrathnar, but they’re really just well-trained bandits and woodsmen who respect and fear only one thing: their leader, Killjoy.
Pirates & Smugglers & Slavers, oh my!
The Crimson Sea is plagued with pirates that prey on merchant and transport ships traveling between the northern and southern Sarveki cities. They’ll take just about anything as loot, and all survivors are taken as slaves. Some loot winds up on the Sarveki black market. The rest is kept by the pirates or used to pay the tithes required by the Drake Riders, who allow the pirates to dock in safety on Dragon Island. Slaves are also traded to the Drake Riders. These unfortunates are used for work, combat, sex, and as food for the drakes.
As with the wrathnar, anyone with a ship and a crew of cutthroats can call himself a pirate captain, but a few wily rogues are living legends. In every coastal town along the shores of the Crimson Sea, mothers frighten their children with stories of Jason the Bald, Calvin of Kelbarn, and old Commodore Sharky.
On the southern coast, in the Strogan Sea, pirates are not nearly as much of a problem, because they have no safe haven on either side of the Sea. However, smugglers are a common nuisance. They ship black market goods and slaves between Sarvek and Strogur. While slavery is outlawed by both nations, a thriving underground market and high demand makes slavery a lucrative venture. Likewise, an illegal market has developed for weapons, armor, spices, and other items that can be found in one country but not the other.
Few smugglers or slavers live long enough to make a name for themselves, but one slaver in particular is known feared equally by all who live on the shores of the Gulf. Known as the Octopus, he heads an organized slaving organization that fears no authority and respects no title. They snatch any homeless or vagrant they can find in the alleys and urban recesses. They take travelers out of their tavern beds. They strike inland and capture entire families of shore fishermen and farmers. They’ve even raided caravans and stolen blood kin of the Noble Houses. Strogun Totem Voices and Sarveki Serene are especially valuable prizes.
Despite the substantial bounty on his head, the Octopus has never been caught. Even though his ships have been taken and boarded many times, he always escapes. Some say he can actually turn himself into an octopus and swim into the safety of the dark depths of the Gulf.
The Serene began as a humble order of monks who protected Emperor Carthos Sarvek and helped spread his teachings to his subjects. Carthos was their Emperor, their teacher, and their friend.
That was hundreds of years ago.
In current times, the Serene have grown into a colossal order, with thousands of members across the Empire. They are a major power, dwarfing the forces mustered by any one Noble House and rivaling the combined might of the Imperial military.
These notes and definitions are offered as a glimpse into this religious order:
Archon: a member of the Serene who leads all Sanctuary operations within one of the ten holy cities. Archons report directly to the Sentinel. All Archons must be able to dream walk. Archons are always well trained and capable magic users. While the Sanctuary is above petty House politics, effort is made to ensure the Archon of a holy city is also of the same House that is hosted in that city. This is not always possible. For instance, Darian Cromwell is currently Archon of North Reach, home of House Keirnan.
Blessings: A number of the Serene can form and channel magical power. These spells are called “blessings,” even if the particular spell is one that burns people to death. (In those cases, it is often said the target was “blessed with holy, cleansing fire/lightning/pain/death.”) Most magic-capable Serene manifest their talents in the form of protective or healing magic. Those few spell slingers with more offensive tendencies become Templar mages. Regardless of their placement within the Sanctuary’s organization, the magic is seen as a gift from the Prophet, power bestowed in reward for piety, loyalty, and discipline. Only the Serene and the Emperor may receive these blessings; therefore, anyone else who practices magic must receive their powers from a source other than the Prophet. The Dark Son is the only other recognized immortal, which means anyone else who practices magic is assumed to be in league with the Prophet’s adversary. Those who practice magic without belonging to the Serene are converted and assimilated into the order, or they’re killed as heretics, without exception or mercy.
The Dark Son: Carthos’ first-born son, whose true name was intentionally forgotten. He tried to kill his father and failed. Carthos cast him into the dark pits under the Mountain, where it’s said he did not die, but fell in league with demons who taught him the secret of immortality, and he now fights his father in the god realms and within the heart of every living being.
Dream Walking: This is a powerful telepathic manifestation of magical ability that allows the mage to leave his body while he sleeps. His dream-self can travel distances very quickly and pass through solid objects. He can see and hear events that are happening in real time wherever his dream-self is at, but he can’t interact with the wakeful world in any way.
A dream walker may communicate directly with another dream walker, providing one acts as a host. In this situation, one mage must invite others into his mind, allowing one or more dream walkers to enter his dream space where they can converse and interact. The host is in no danger; while the meeting takes place, the host is in total control of the dream reality the other walkers experience. The host chooses the appearance of the dream space and all other aspects of the experience. While the meeting lasts, the host is the god of his own mental domain, and all in attendance are subject to his whim. A mage of tremendous power and skill is required to host a dream meeting with more than one or two participants. Mages can also fight in dream space, which is a very dangerous affair. Any damage done to a dream walker in dream space is manifested in their physical bodies. Death in dream space causes death in the real world.
A dream walker may also communicate with regular people by invading their dreams. This is not as effective as communicating with other dream walkers or dream talkers, because all communications are altered by the host’s mind. The invading walker must conform to whatever scenario or conditions are established by the host’s dreaming mind. This often requires the walker to communicate through images or signals that can be misinterpreted or ignored by the sleeper upon waking. Only the most powerful and practiced mages can invade a sleeper’s mind and wrestle control of his dreams from him.
Dream Talkers are those who can receive and communicate with dream walkers but lack the power or skill to actually leave their bodies. They can call for dream walkers in dream space, and they can interact perfectly with any dream walker that comes to them or provides the talker with a pathway into the walker’s mind (called a dream line,) but a dream talker cannot otherwise leave his body.
It may seem paradoxical, but dream walking is an exhausting activity. It must be done while sleeping, because it requires energy and focus that cannot be mustered while a mage is awake. Most dream walkers won’t take a dream trip unless they know they can sleep the majority of the following day.
While “dream meetings” are an excellent way to share information and devise plans, it can be very difficult to coordinate all participants so that all are sleeping at the same time. This becomes especially difficult in a country the size of the Sarveki Empire.
Doctrine: Sanctuary doctrine and teaching are based on the Holy Writings of Carthos Sarvek, which have been passed down through the ages. These writings span hundreds of scrolls. Few bound book copies exist, so they’re taught and passed on verbally. Through fables and parables of the First Emperor’s adventures, these writing provide a moral code that stresses obedience to the Emperor and to the Sanctuary. Compliance with the code ensures a person will feast forever at the Prophet’s Table. Deviance ensures a person will fall into the Final Darkness when they die.
Elder Mentor:A sanctuary leader of any large town or city that isn’t one of the ten holy cities. Elder Mentors may report to the Sentinel directly, but most report to the Archon assigned to their district, called a prayershire. They do not have to be capable of dream walking, but they must be able to dream talk. Elder Mentors are usually capable of using magic, but they’re rarely as powerful or as skilled as Archons.
The Final Darkness: a reference to the afterlife that waits for those who are wicked or ignore the Prophet’s teachings. When a person dies and makes their way to the Mountain, they either ascend to the top or fall into the darkness underneath, depending on how they lived their lives. Those who fall either join the Dark Son’s armies or are devoured by the Dark Son to extend his own life.
Mentor: The lowest class of full-fledged Serene. Mentors are battlefield healers, burial chamber custodians, research assistants, and the head of sanctuaries or teachers in remote villages or small towns. When in a leadership position, they always report to the Archon or Elder Mentor of their prayershire. Mentors may use some minor magic, usually healing and curing spells, or minor protection spells. Many do not use any magic at all.
Neophyte: A mentor in training. Neophytes are basically slaves, paying their dues with service while they’re totally indoctrinated with Sanctuary doctrine, dogma, and discipline. They have no rights and no assurances. They must do as they’re told, learn all they can, and hope it is enough to please their masters enough to someday earn them the rank of mentor. Very few neophytes can use any magic, and even if they can, it’s prohibited except under the strictest supervision.
Obedience: All members of the Serene – whether they’re healers, Templars, neophytes, or Archons – are all infallibly loyal to the Sentinel, who they believe speaks for the Emperor, who in turn is the voice of the Prophet. It is said that the Serene are so loyal to the Sentinel that he need only command any of his brethren to die, and they’ll instantly will their own life to end, and they’ll die on the spot. The Serene do not question the Sentinel’s directives. They’re taught to do, not to question. Asking questions is a good way to earn a spiritual “cleansing” at the hands of less confused members. These cleansings involve terrible physical and mental tortures which often kill the subject. When such a cleansing must take place, all Serene within a day’s travel are required to watch the procedure until it’s concluded.
The Prophet on the Mountain: Carthos Sarvek, the First Emperor. The Writings left by Carthos teach that he battled chaos to bring order and light to the land, and once he’d accomplished all he could for his people in the mortal world, he ascended to the god realms so he could prepare a place for all loyal subjects who follow after him. The “mountain” refers to the afterworld and also to the literal mountain where Carthos built the First City.
The Prophet’s Sigil: this symbol is used by many as a holy symbol. While very elaborate, decorated forms exist, in it’s simplest representation, the Sigil is a circular disk with a triangle etched inside such that all three corners of the triangle touch the circle. An eye is etched inside the triangle.
The Prophet’s Table: A reference to the afterlife that waits for those who follow the Prophet’s teachings and serve his will. All worthy subjects travel to the Mountain when they die and sit with the Prophet at his table in the god realms, where they feast and revel for eternity. It is a dire and vile offense to bury or burn some one without their head, because they cannot find their way to the Mountain if they have no head. It is believed that these unfortunate spirits wander the land forever, caught in a limbo from which there is no escape.
The Sanctuary: While many use this term interchangeably with Serene, the two are actually different concepts. The Sanctuary refers to the entire institution, the entire organization – the men, the land holdings, the buildings, the political influence, the doctrine, the ceremonies…everything. It also refers to an individual temple of worship within a town or district.
The Sentinel: the leader of the Sanctuary and the Voice of the Emperor. The Emperor is the blood and body of the Prophet. The Emperor’s words are the Prophet’s words. These are spoken to the Sentinel, and it is his charge to ensure the word is spread and taught across the land. The Sentinel controls every operation and aspect of the Sanctuary. Since the Sanctuary has undeniable influence over the common person’s moods, opinions and education, the Sentinel is a very powerful man.
The Serene: This term refers to the nonmilitant branches of the Sanctuary- the healers, scholars, and teachers.
Templar: Templars are the militant branch of the Sanctuary. They spread the teachings of Carthos by sword and fire, and ensure the Sarveki people follow Imperial and Sanctuary decrees… or else. They are holy protectors and enforcers, respected by many and feared by all. They train with weapons with even more zeal than the Imperial military, and some Templars have the added benefit of magical training. In general, a Templar is almost always better trained, better equipped, and far deadlier than any soldier with equal time in the Imperial army.
Their rank structure is relatively simple. Regular soldiers are called “Templars.” When they travel and fight in groups of five or less, they will always have a leader, who is called a cleric. Captains lead up to four clerics and their teams. Guardians may be body guards for members of the Serene, and they can lead up to five captains and their men. Avengers are the battlefield leaders of the Templars, usually commanding 400-500 Templars. A Templar Fury leads up to 2000 men. There is usually one Fury in each prayershire, even if the prayershire has only 400 Templars. The Wrath is the leader of all Templars and Templar mages in the entire Sanctuary. He is also the personal bodyguard of the Sentinel. Templar ranks are indicated by the number of horizontal bars on their left breast.
A Templar who can use magic is ranked differently, based on his power and skill. The ranks, from lowest to highest, are: conflict mage, combat mage, battle mage, war mage, and death mage. (Diviners and Hunters are special ranks. If you want to know about them, you’ll have to read the book.)
A Final Note on Ranks: While the individual branches employ simple ranking systems, the hierarchy becomes more complicated when the Serene, Templar mages, and Templar soldiers are combined. The chain of command is based on branches and classes.
If every rank of every branch were assigned a numeric value, it would look like this:
Elder Mentor: 5
Death Mage: 5
War Mage: 4
Battle Mage: 3
Combat Mage: 2
Conflict Mage: 1
The Wrath: 6
Templar Fury: 5
Templar Avenger: 4
Templar Guardian: 3
Templar Captain: 2
Templar Cleric: 1
Templar Soldier: 0
A member may command any rank of any branch that has a lower numeric value. If a man has conflicting orders from equal ranks of different branches, the orders of a Templar mage trump the orders of a Templar soldier. The orders of the Serene trump the orders of a Templar mage. If a man has conflicting orders from equal ranks of the same branch, he follows the orders of the man who is in his chain of command. If neither commanding officer is in the flunky’s chain of command, the poor slob follows the orders of the commander with the most time in rank.
When I published Warlock’s Wake, I decided that I would use paperbacks as my primary method of publishing, and rely on electronic readers such as the Kindle and Nook as a secondary outlet. I then had to decide if I wanted to use a Print on Demand (POD) publisher or pay to have a publishing house print a full run of books and have a substantial inventory. There were pros and cons for each method, but I finally decided to go with POD publishing for four reasons:
I didn’t have the money to purchase an inventory up front.
I didn’t have any place to to store an inventory (or money to lease storage space and insure an inventory.)
I didn’t have time to devote to taking and mailing orders to customers.
I didn’t have an outlet to sell an inventory.
Then I had to decide which POD publisher to use. I finally chose Create Space because they were owned by Amazon, which made it simple to get my book into their catalog and also coordinate revenue from Kindle sales. I didn’t pursue e-publishing for the Nook because at that time the submission process was a cumbersome, clunky, and confusing pain in the ass.
Eighteen Months Later
As I prepare to publish Heretic, my second novel, I pause to consider if I should shift my paradigm to exclusive e-publishing. I have reasons to make the shift, and I have reasons to keep things the way they are. Maybe I can reach a compromise. I’m looking for ideas, insights, and possible solutions, but first allow me to lay out the pros and cons as I understand them.
Reasons to Abandon Paperback Publishing
The e-market thrives.
E-books are here to stay. Millions of people read books and magazines on Kindle, Nook, and other e-readers every day, and they are only getting more popular. The audience and market are sufficient to sustain me without needing to cater to the folks who prefer real books. Numerous authors are making wads of cash and have never had a single page of their work printed on paper.
E-publishing is simple.
There are fewer moving pieces with e-publishing. I need an editor for the manuscript. I need an artist to design the front cover. I need a copyright and a few minutes of formatting/file converting, and I can handle these pieces on my own. Then I upload the file and it is ready in 48-72 hours.
For a paperback book, I still need the copyright, manuscript, editor, cover, and artist. But I also need a design for the book spine and back cover. I need someone to typeset the manuscript because I haven’t found time to learn how to do it myself. I need an ISBN number. I must find people and places willing to stock and sell the book. It adds up to dozens of middlemen and hours of extra work.
E-publishing is cheaper for me.
With e-publishing, I pay an artist less because he draws/designs less. I don’t pay a typesetter at all. I don’t purchase an ISBN number. I don’t spend man-hours trying to find vendors. Most vendors sell the paperback on consignment terms, which means I pay for the book to be printed and delivered, and only recoup the cost if the book sells (and I can manage to keep track of the vendor to ensure he is paying me.)
E-publishing is cheaper and faster for my readers.
E-book readers owners can find Warlock’s Wake 24/7/365 anywhere in the world, as long as they have an Internet connection. The book costs $2.99, and they can have it on their reader, phone, tablet, or computer in less than a 60 seconds.
The same customer will pay $10.00-13.00 for the same story in paperback form. They will need to find it at one of a very few stores, buy it directly from me, or order it online and wait for days until it arrives.
E-publishing makes more money for me.
I make 70% of the royalties on a Kindle sale and 65% of the royalties of a Nook sale. I make 10% of the paperback sales made through Amazon.com. For all intents and purposes, I make no money on paperbacks sold in stores. After I factor in the cost of my own time and fees sometimes charged by hosting businesses, I make 10% or less on paperbacks I sell at promotional events. Therefore, even though the paperback costs three to four times as much, I make significantly more money on each e-book sale. The math is compelling.
E-publishing is dynamic.
In this section I am speaking for Kindle publishing only. I am unsure how much of this is true for the Nook, because I am still researching the devices, capabilities, and processes. If my \website address changes, or have I a new book coming out, or if a reader emails me and points out a typo that the editor and I missed, I can make changes and additions as needed, upload the new file to the server, and in a day or two it is available for readers to buy the updated version. Owners of the previous version get an update notice on their Kindle and can download it in a few seconds.
With paperbacks, I have to send any changes to the typesetter who may or may not charge me, may or may not have time to make the changes promptly, and may or may not wait until payment is received to release the edits to me. Then I upload it, and new customers get the new version, but extant customers still have the outdated book.
Reasons to Continue Paperback Publishing
I grew up with books and libraries. I remember card catalogs, looking for hour through all the books and picking out a pile of them to skim through until I found the ones I wanted to read next. I love the feel and smell of paper and ink. I love to see books on my shelf, like old friends that I can take down and visit whenever I have time. I am proud to see my book bearing my name on a shelf. Paper books have been around for hundreds of years, and I am confident that they will remain a part of our lives for years to come. I don’t want to abandon them.
Many of my current fans are also old-fashioned.
My current fan base is not that large, and I don’t want to lose any of them. But I will, if I move exclusively to e-publishing. Some will grudgingly pick up an e-reader or download an app for their phone or laptop, but I don’t expect most of them will. They’ll just write me off and find something else to read, and I don’t blame them. I would probably do the same.
I don’t know how to promote e-books
I know how to talk to a bookstore owner and schedule a book signing event. I know how to promote that event and how to talk to the people who attend it. I love these events, because it’s a chance to meet people who enjoy reading (and perhaps writing,) and it’s an honest, open process. Either they have bought the book and want to meet me and talk about it, or they are a new customer, and they know when they walk up to me that I am going to try to sell them something. Either way, the physical book is at the center of it. Readers can give me their copy to be signed. I can hand a copy to customers for them to look at (and hopefully buy it.) People get to meet me, and then go tell others about what a great guy (or what an asshole) I am. Word spreads. I understand how it works, why it works, and how to make it happen.
In contrast, I don’t have any idea how to work an analogous event for electronic books. There are online chat rooms, Google+ hangouts, etc. where I could do virtual “meet the author” events, but I’m not sure it is as effective or as engaging as face-to-face relations. I could do lectures and workshops on e-publishing, and plug my books as I go, but there are fewer venues for that sort of event, and it seems a little sleazy to offer to teach something when my real goal is to sell e-books. I could buy a bunch of merchandise like bookmarks, pens, refrigerator magnets, etc, and give them away at face-to-face events, but that is going to get expensive very quickly, and I don’t know where I’d host it. Books stores aren’t going to allow me to do it, since there are no physical books being sold and no profit going to them. If I could figure out a way to give vouchers that people could use online, I could track who bought the book with a voucher I used at a specific event, and give the store a portion of the profit – but I don’t know if that is even technically possible.
I could continue to publish paperbacks until the Heretic’s Quest is complete. I could release all of the books in the series in e-format first, and then follow up with a paperback release within six months. All other unrelated books would be e-published only.
Most of my reasons to continue with paperback publishing are emotional in nature. From a purely financial and logistical perspective, the only drawback I have to exclusive e-publishing is that I don’t know how to meet the readers, expand the fan base, and sell the book.
I want to know what my readers think about this problem. What is your preference – paper or plastic? If you’re a fan of e-readers, what sorts of events would prompt you to participate? What other thoughts do you have on the matter? Please let me know.
Warlock’s Wake has been available for months on the Amazon Kindle, and I’m ringing in the new year by finally making it available on the Barnes & Noble Nook. I don’t have the exact launch date set as of this writing, but it will be before the end of this month, hopefully within the next seven days. I will announce the launch on this site, Facebook, and Twitter. If you have a Nook, please keep your eyes peeled! (If you have neither a Kindle nor a Nook, you can still read the book on your PC, laptop, tablet, or phone with the help of a free app. You don’t need the actual e-reader devices!)
Heretic Is Almost Ready
Heretic, the long awaited sequel to Warlock’s Wake, will be available on Kindle and Nook before the end of January. Pricing and the exact launch date are still being determined, but you will soon be able to know Alexi’s fate, experience Mary’s next adventure, learn Bane’s next move, and meet numerous new characters along the way. If you thought Warlock’s Wake was intense, you haven’t seen anything yet!
Paperback Copies Delayed, Possibly Discontinued
I’ve wished from the beginning that I had stuck to electronic publishing and not got into the paperback business at all. I told myself that I would finish the Heretic’s Quest in paperback, but all new endeavors would be electronic only. Now I’m wondering if it’s worth the expense and time required to finish the Heretic’s Quest in paperback. Switching to a purely digital operation is the easiest, fastest, most versatile, and cheapest method available to me. It is superior to paper publishing in almost every respect. However, I know a significant number of my current readers have not switched to e-readers, and it’s difficult to plan social events when there is no physical product to sell or discuss.
I’m still undecided, but one thing is certain: I don’t have the resources to produce Heretic in paperback form at this time. Until I decide for or against paperback production, every dime I make from electronic sales will be squirrelled away to finance the paperback version. Please leave a comment and share any insights or opinions you have on the issue.
The Drake Riders of Dragon Island aren’t a featured group in The Heretic’s Quest, but they are mentioned many times and may become prominent in future novels. Therefore, notes on this culture are included here.
The Drake Riders dominate the mountainous, inhospitable continent that lies east of Dae Aerinon, on the other side of the Crimson Sea. Named Dragon Island, no Sarveki has ever set foot on its shores and lived to tell the tale.
The riders live in a symbiotic relationship with large reptiles called drakes. The drakes rely on their human counterparts for survival. Dragon Island is overrun with small vermin and insects that prey on drake eggs, and the reptiles are ill-equipped to address the problem. Certain types of parasites target the adult drakes instead of the eggs, and if they’re not stopped, enough parasites can attach to a drake to kill it. The humans care for the drake eggs and ensure the adults remain free of parasites, and in tough times, they sacrifice themselves to bolster the drake food supply. In return, the humans receive the protection and strength the drakes can offer, and when a drake dies, it’s entire body is used for one thing or another. Drake skin makes phenomenal armor, and the strutters’ bones and claws are so dense that they can be used to form weapons that will puncture steel armor.
Three varieties of drake exist: divers, strutters, and flyers. All three varieties are intelligent (for animals.) Most are smarter than dolphins. Some exceptional specimens are nearly as intelligent as humans, but these are very rare. All three types live 60-70 years and are strictly carnivorous.
Divers resemble the classic limbless sea serpent. They have large triangular heads, with mouths that can open wide enough to swallow two men at once. Their long sinewy bodies can reach lengths of seventy feet and are covered in chitinous scales. Barbed dorsal plates run the entire length of the creature’s body. Its bite isn’t poisonous, but its tail stinger is. Capable of eviscerating a man in heavy plate armor, even a grazing flesh wound is deadly thanks to the venomous secretions that coat the bone barb. Divers rarely leave the lakes and seas, but they can be coerced to come onto land long enough to secure a foothold on beaches. They also return to land to mate and lay eggs. They are most commonly used to push the large flat boats the Drake Riders use to cross the Crimson Sea. They can also be used in naval warfare against Sarveki ships, but they’re vulnerable when they must surface for air, and the creatures are too rare to risk in open combat unless circumstances are dire. Divers are the least common of the drakes. They reproduce once every five years, and the lay only one egg, which may or may not hatch. Divers rarely have riders in the same sense as other drakes, but they often recognize a “caller” who can prompt them to perform tasks for the Riders.
Strutters are large, wingless, four-legged reptiles that resemble small, wingless dragons. The smallest adult specimens are the size of a pony. The largest can exceed the mass of the largest Clydesdale. A stutter runs on all fours, at speeds up to sixty miles per hour in short sprints. Using its powerful clawed feet, it can run straight up wooden and soft stone fortifications. Strutters are nightmares in combat. Their hide is nearly as resilient as steel armor. Their jaws can cut a man in half. Their bite is also poisonous. A tail swipe can knock down and entire wedge of soldiers in one swing. If pressed, the creature can also stand on three, two, or even one leg and use the others to attack, all while bearing a rider who can also make attacks. Strutters are the most common of drakes, but are below the flyers in the “pecking order” the two subspecies have devised.
Flyers resemble miniature European or “western” dragons. The smallest adult specimens are about the same size as a Siberian tiger. The largest come closer to the size of a pony. Wingspans vary, but commonly reach widths of 30-40 feet. Flyers cannot breathe fire, but they can spit corrosive salvia that will ruin armor and weapons or melt flesh. They aren’t very graceful or fast flyers, but they can fly higher than most bows can shoot. Most flyers can carry a rider, but only if they’re small and light, which is why all flyer riders are women. Flyers rarely join in melee battle, but their riders can still use the power of flight as an excellent edge. They can gather reconnaissance. Using bows and fire bombs, they can strike fortifications, supply lines, and raid civilian targets behind enemy lines. If they must fight near or on the ground, a flyer will target enemy faces with its spit, use its tail as a flail, bite, claw with its rear legs, and buffet opponents with its wings.
Flyers and strutters are mixed breeds. A flyer and strutter can mate and produce an egg, which will be the same type as the mother. The reptiles live as a collective, working together as efficiently as a hive of bees or a hill of ants, and they also have a queen, which is always a flyer. Other females are allowed to exist and mate, but all fit within a hierarchy that the drakes establish through combat.
When a clutch of drake eggs hatch, human children are present, and the hatchlings pick a child to be their rider. From that moment on, they are raised together until they’re adults, at which time they can participate in the ritual combat used to establish their place within the tribe.
Since flyers always choose women, and flyers are superior to strutters, the human society has evolved into a matriarchal model, with the human queen being identified as the rider of the drake queen. Men are respected for their strength and fighting prowess, but are the first to go without when times get tough. If food supplies run low enough, men may be sacrificed to feed the drakes, starting with the oldest or the sick. Women are never sacrificed in this manner.
The humans worship the Great Dragon, a true dragon that they believe sleeps far beneath Dragon Island. They consider the drakes as children or messengers of the Great Dragon and treat the animals with reverent respect. No one knows if a dragon truly sleeps under the island. Most Sarveki scholars laugh at the notion. Dragons were exceedingly rare when the Prophet walked, and he killed the last known dragon during his campaign to conquer Stone Pike. In all the time since then, no trace or hint of a true dragon has ever been found.
The humans speak a savage, simple language which mimics the growls, hisses, and roars made by the drakes. They have highly developed fighting styles, numerous rituals, and a number of highly refined skills. Singers are common as well, but their few musical instruments are percussion types. All of their history and knowledge is passed vocally from one generation to the next.
The drakes and their riders live in caves in the mountains that surround Scale Lake, a large lake in the center of Dragon Island. For a tithe, they permit pirates and smugglers to use the many bays and inlets their coast offers. Any Sarveki naval ships that pursue too close are attacked by flyers and divers. As long as the pirates and smugglers pay their dues, they have a safe haven on Dragon Island.
Before Carthos Sarvek waged his unifying war, the Drake Riders occupied much of the continent’s east coast, especially in the area where Blood Cape now stands. They’ve started a number of wars trying to regain the territory. All have failed. The Sarveki historians will claim victory came as a result of superior tactics, superior warriors, superior equipment, and superior numbers. The truth is that the Drake Riders have never devised an effective way to maintain reliable supply lines from Drake Island, and they’ve never managed to adequately protect the supplies they’ve brought with the initial assault. Many Sarveki military planners worry when they see the Drake Riders offering sanctuary to pirates and smugglers. If a true alliance formed between the two groups, it could lead to the first successful Rider campaign to reclaim Blood Cape.
Drake Riders are ruthless and efficient warriors. They prefer to use hit and run guerrilla tactics in close quarters where the stutters can use their size to segment forces and prevent an organized counter attack. When they must fight a pitched battle, they commonly initiate with flyers, who use poisoned arrows and fire bombs to target enemy archers and artillery. The stutters and their riders then charge, targeting cavalry and commanders. The foot soldiers follow through, picking off survivors before they can reorganize. All drake warriors use poisoned weapons, which they will use on themselves before they’re taken prisoner. They won’t destroy buildings or slow down an offensive just to loot, but they will kill any who resist and enslave the rest.
When planning to repel a Drake Rider assault, Sarveki commanders must calculate how many men they’ll need. One flyer can typically kill thirty to forty ground troops before it’s brought down. A strutter is worth ten cavalry or forty infantry. An unmounted drake warrior is worth two cavalry or six infantry. A diver requires two battle ships.
The Sarvek Empire uses standard coins as a medium of exchange. These coins are designed and minted by the Barriers, and have equal value across the empire. Commerce in large cities relies heavily on these coins. They are used in rural areas as well, but bartering becomes more prevalent as one travels further away from urban areas.
The following list specifies the major coins of the realm and an approximate conversion to US dollars. I used these conversions to maintain a consistent sense of pricing and commerce without needing to invent an entirely new economic system.
1 half-iron = ($0.05)
2 half-irons = 1 iron dullard = ($0.1) (Often called a dullard.)
5 iron dullards = 1 half-copper = ($0.5)
10 iron dullards = 1 copper dullard = ($1) (Often called a copper.)
5 copper dullards = 1 half-silver = ($5)
10 copper dullards = 1 silver gleamer = ($10) (Often called a beamer.)
5 silver gleamers = 1 half-gold = ($50)
10 silver gleamers = 1 gold gleamer = ($100) (Often called a gleamer.)
10 gold gleamers = 1 spire = ($1000)
10 peaks = 1 twice-spire = ($10,000)
10 twice-spires = 1 thrice-spire = ($100,000)
Iron, copper, silver, and gold money all have the Prophet’s Sigil embossed on the front of the coin – with the edge of the coin forming the ring around the triangle. Dullards and gleamers are embossed on both sides and are an inch in diameter. Half-irons/coppers/silvers/golds are embossed on one side and are a half-inch in diameter.
Spires are 1.5 inches in diameter. The coins are gold, with one, two, or three silver mountains inlaid on both sides of the coin.
All coins are one-eighth of an inch in thickness, with regular tick marks around the edges to dissuade people from shaving filaments off of their coins.
The Imperial Army is formed of soldiers from each of the Noble Houses. While each House is free to train and outfit its men as it sees fit, there is a standard Imperial uniform that must be worn. The dominating color of the uniform can be the primary color of the soldier’s House, but the actual design of the uniform and basic equipment of the uniform cannot be altered. The rank system and basic unit structure is also universal among the Houses, but they are free to designate the composition of their units to suit their local needs.
The military training schools have standardized weapon training for every weapon employed by the Sarveki military, from the bare hand to the catapult. Each weapon has seven levels of skill. A man’s rank is determined by his skill with weaponry. A man trained at the first level with a sword would be a Swordsman, First-class. The rank is called “class” until the sixth level, which is called “Master.” Seventh level is “Grandmaster.” A man may be trained with many weapons. Anyone who is first-class in three or more weapons is called a “Man-at-Arms.” He maintains each individual rank in each of his weapons, but his official rank as a man-at-arms only increases when all of his weapon skills are at the sought rank. A man with first-class training in five or more weapons is called a “Man-at-War.”
Individual House uniforms may bear any sort of rank insignia or decorations; however, while in the Imperial forces, standardized patches are worn for each weapon. Each consists of a black silhouette of the weapon, with one stripe for each class achieved, sown underneath the weapon. Masters have only a silver silhouette of the weapon. Grandmasters have a gold silhouette. Men-at-arms receive a black three-pronged star on their right shoulder, which may also have stripes, be silver, or gold. Men-at-war wear a five-pronged star. These patches are sown onto the left breast of the tunic and are only worn in parades, on city garrison duty in peacetime, or at court. In times of war, they are not worn at all to prevent the enemy any opportunity of assessing the force’s capabilities.
When asked to identify himself, a soldier will include his highest weapon rank in his reply, unless he is a man-at-arms or man-at-war, in which case he only states his overall rank.
The basic unit of the infantry is called a line. A line consists of four men and a line leader, called a frontman. A line cannot be of mixed primary weaponry, meaning all four men will use the same weapons and will be outfitted with the same gear. The frontman is the man with the highest class of training in the line’s weapon, or the man with the most time in service in the event that all members are equally trained. In most cases, the frontman is at least one class ahead of his men.
Two lines combined with an extra man to lead them are called a wedge. The leader of the Wedge is called a pointman. A pointman must be at least one class ahead of both of his frontmen and must have previously spent at least six months as a frontman. A wedge may be made from two lines that use different weaponry, but this is rarely done. If it is, the pointman still must have a higher class in both weapons than each of his frontmen and must have been a frontman for six months in a line that used each weapon. If the pointman is killed or too badly wounded to perform his duty, the senior frontman assumes command of the wedge. Note that two wedges are required to operate a battering ram, one wedge is required to man a catapult or trebuchet, but a single line can man most ballista.
Four wedges combined with a man to lead them make one wave. The leader of a wave is called a proctor. A proctor must be at least a third class man-at arms. One of his weapons must be a ranged weapon, usually the longbow or crossbow. Additionally, a proctor must have served as a pointman in a wedge that used each of his trained weapons for at least six months in each wedge. The weapons actually used by each wedge under his command may vary from his chosen weapons, but effort is made to ensure the wedges are trained to use the same weapons as the proctor. The four wedges may use any mix of weaponry deemed appropriate by the head of the House, but generally, there is a wedge of archers in leather or chain armor, a wedge of swordsman and a wedge of macemen in chain or light plate with shields, and a wedge in heavy armor using polearms or two handed heavy weapons such as the greatsword or battle maul. The only thing that is not mixed in a wave is footmen and cavalry. A wave will be entirely mounted on horses or entirely on foot.
Four to five waves combine with a lieutenant commander to form a column. A lieutenant commander is most often a cousin or uncle of the House Father. In theory, any man with the proper training can become a lieutenant commander, but House Nobles most often occupy these positions because they are usually the only ones with the time and access to facilities to attain the required level of weapons training. Even so, many lieutenant commanders were once sons of farmers or masons before being called to service. A lieutenant commander must be at least a fourth class man-at-war. His weapons must cover light, medium, and heavy melee weapons, a ranged weapon, and a siege weapon such as a catapult. He must have served at least a year as a proctor of a wave of cavalry, a year as a proctor of a wave of infantry, and a year as a proctor of a wave of siege engines.
Four to five columns form under a major commander to form a regiment. Many Houses have fewer troops than a full regiment, but more than three columns. In these cases, the force is still called a regiment, and the House Father is the major commander. In houses that have more than one true regiment, the major commanders are appointed directly by the House Father. Brothers and sons, or life long friends of the House Father are the usual choices, and there are no set training or leadership requirements, although it is very common for them to be fifth class men-at-war and a grandmaster of at least one weapon. Most are seasoned veterans with years of leadership experience.
In times of Imperial warfare, the House Fathers answer to the Hand of the Emperor, the overall commander of the entire combined military force. The Hand of The Emperor must be a House Father, but the size and overall strength of his House is not directly an issue. The House Father with the most powerful house may not be the most qualified military leader among the House Fathers.
Every Noble House must send soldiers from their personal forces to serve in the Imperial army and navy. In theory, these troops are neutral in regards to house politics. Troops from House Gershon could be commanded by a proctor from House Lenmark. Men from House Clarion could serve side by side with men from House Keirnan, despite their Houses’ long rivalry.
In practice, this is rarely done, because most men aren’t disciplined enough to rise above their differences. House allegiances and rivalries are ingrained deep within their minds, and cannot be easily overcome.
While it varies from House to House, due to the size and composition of a House’s forces, a soldier can expect to serve every third year in the Imperial forces, and might be stationed anywhere in the Empire during that year.
The Sarvek Empire was established hundreds of years ago, by a man named Carthos Sarvek. He waged a unifying war across the plains of the western continent until he stood at the head of a baby Empire. He spent the last years of his life ensuring his work would not be undone. He rebuilt cities, ensuring schools and temples were included in reclamation efforts everywhere. He forced his people to band together and help one another as they repelled raiding barbarians year after year.
The last years of his rule were a time of growth and safety for most of his lands, marred only by one attempt by his oldest son to overthrow his rule. The coup failed, the son was cast into darkness, and life went on.
Carthos formed a brotherhood of monks to protect him and help spread his teachings to all his people. When Carthos died, his second son assumed the crown and continued his father’s work, securing the foundations within his borders before reaching out to conquer more of the continent. He officially named the brotherhood the “Serene” and charged them with the task of maintaining safe sanctuaries of faith across the empire. With the blessing of the new Emperor, the Serene named Carthos as the one true Prophet, the only god of all true Sarvekis. The living Emperor gained demi-god status in the eyes of his people, and the new country continued as Carthos had intended, for a time.
Eight generations later, the political landscape had deteriorated nearly to the breaking point. Many factors contributed to the social entropy. Years of war on multiple fronts had eroded the morale of the common people and the military. Trevor and Ralin, the sixth and seventh Emperors, were weak men, who welcomed the power of their positions but avoided the responsibility that came with it. During their impotent reigns, Noble Houses – families with blood relation to the Crown – were given more responsibility to defend and govern their own lands, and many House Fathers welcomed the responsibility because they understood that power came with it. While the Emperor indulged his every fancy within his private chambers, Houses waged mini wars on each other in bids for more land and resources they needed to maintain their larger campaigns against the Strogans and Drake Riders that threatened all borders.
The Serene also grew in power, influence, and prestige, as the broken populace turned to their spiritual leaders for solace in the dark times. As their members learned to commune with the Prophet and channel his power to form healing and protective blessings, the people relied on them and trusted them more with each passing year. As the Serene grew in number, they split into multiple disciplines and created their own internal structure, naming one man to lead them. This leader, called the Sentinel, became the Voice of the Emperor when the true Emperor couldn’t be bothered to appear in person to make degrees and judgments. Perhaps it was coincidence, but in those years, through the Sentinel, both Emperors made many decrees that benefited the Serene.
Percy Sarvek was the eighth emperor, and he had more of Carthos in him than all of the previous Emperors combined, but by the time he inherited the Crown, some damage could not be undone. The old ways could not be brought back. The Serene had too much power to be curtailed. The Noble Houses wielded too much clout to be returned to nothing.
Percy saw a new order had to be formed before all fell to ruin. He started with the Serene. In one night, the Sentinel, every Archon, and most of the Elder Mentors disappeared. The public was told all of them had been called to the Prophet’s Table to help him wage a war in the other world. When they were replaced with men loyal only to Percy, no one questioned it.
The Emperor then turned his attention to the Noble Houses and his military. He approached the House Fathers diplomatically at first, partially out of a sincere desire to compromise without shedding blood, but also to give him time to determine loyalties and to gather forces, should the diplomacy fail.
When the discussions erupted into outright violence, Percy personally killed the Fathers of Houses Vinar, Seran, and Pilus in mortal combat before the melee was broken by the Imperial guards. Fathers Rutherford and Gershon were imprisoned. Percy lost his left hand in the battle. The Serene could have blessed him and restored his flesh, but he declined the gift, saying it was his penance to pay for failing to find a peaceful solution.
Percy issued a decree, demanding all Noble Houses stand down. Enraged at the deaths of their Fathers, Houses Vinar, Seran, and Pilus launched a revolution. Had they banded together instead of acting separately, they very well may have won, but acting individually, they had no chance. Within six months, every man, woman, child and animal of all three Houses had been utterly destroyed. No mercy was granted to anyone. The Houses ceased to be. Merely uttering their names earned ten lashes. As the dust settled and the blood dried, the remaining Houses fell in line.
The Emperor allowed them to retain their self-governing powers and the right to form their own military forces, but he required them to send troops to serve him, and he forbade them to fight one another under any circumstances. He devised the annual House Games to give them all a fair and relatively painless chance to advance their stature and power. He also began the custom of awarding Houses who distinguished themselves with service to the Crown, whether it was through war or cultural development. He created the a position called the “Hand of the Emperor” to lead all Imperial forces, and he rewrote the Imperial judicial laws to include the four sources of Sarveki strength: the People, the Crown, the Serene, and the Military.
Percy was the first Emperor in history to cede territory to the Strogans, a perceived failure that won him few supporters, but even that failing served a purpose. He used the land to buy peace with their bloodthirsty neighbor, which in turn bought the Empire time to heal and regain its strength. Percy ruled in peace for the remainder of his days. When he died, the Empire was strong once again, and his system worked well enough to survive unchanged down through history to the current day.
In current times, the Sarveki Empire dominates the western two-thirds of Dae Arinon, from the Frozen North to the Gulf of Stylon, from the Crimson sea in the east to the Mirrored Mountains in the west. The Strogan beast clans hold all land west of the Mirrored Mountains, and the Drake Riders live unchallenged on Dragon Island to the east.
The Sarvekis have warred with both cultures for centuries, with few years of peace in between. At this time, an official truce has been declared with the beast clans. The borders are watched very closely by both sides, but limited trade is permitted between the two countries. Many powerful people on both sides of the mountains want the peace to fail, because war is profitable, but thus far the truce has held.
No truce exists with the Drake Riders. The Sarveki navy remains in the Crimson sea, trying to thwart the pirates that prey on trading lanes and then escape to sanctuary on Dragon Island. They also watch for the great flat war galleys the Riders use to cross the sea when they decide to raid the Empire’s east coast. No one ever says “If the Riders attack.” It’s only a question of when.
The Noble Houses comply with the Imperial Peace Decree issued by Percy Sarvek. There has been no open conflict since the decree was made centuries ago, but they still battle each other in secret, using wrathnar to strike with impunity.
In theory, the Emperor rules the entire country, with the Sentinel acting as his Voice, and the Hand of the Emperor acting as his… well, as his hands. The Noble Houses are supposed to have no effect on Imperial policy or actions.
Reality is somewhat more complicated, as House allegiances commonly overflow into the ranks of the Serene and the military. The result is an ever-changing and incredibly intricate web of political power plays where knowledge and favors are the only currency that matter. Kalin, the current Emperor, is adept at assessing his subjects’ true loyalties and ensuring his key leaders have his best interests in mind. The only exception is James Casteel, the current Sentinel, who was appointed by his predecessor according to their custom. Kalin did not want it to happen, but he was a prince at the time and couldn’t convince his father to intervene. He has few worries however, because his truest and oldest friend serves as his Hands. As long as Alexi Keirnan controls the military, the Emperor has no need to worry.
The Barriers are a brotherhood of bankers, engineers, inventors, machinists, locksmiths, armorers, blacksmiths, and weapon smiths. They’re a relatively young player in Sarveki politics, having been recognized for only 250 years or so. The brotherhood was thrust into the spotlight when they used gold to purchase the largest spire of Combs Keep in Stone Pike. Emperor Xavier Sarvek desperately needed money to pay for defenses against the Drake Riders who plagued the east coast, and the Barriers produced a tremendous, but secret, amount of money.
Their timely war contribution bought them what became known as Barrier Tower. It also purchased them the exclusive right to lend money and charge usury throughout the Empire. They were commissioned to build and operate three imperial mints and to ensure a standardized money system was used throughout the Empire. They were also charged with the keeping of time. They designed the chain calendar that is still used to this day, and they are the sky watchers who ensure everyone remains true to time. Last of all, but most importantly, they were granted immunity from Sanctuary decrees and Serene investigators. The Barriers answer to no man except the Emperor.
They declared themselves a neutral and pacifistic party, and have successfully remained clear of all Imperial, Sanctuary, and House struggles since they were established. Anyone can commission them to design and build vaults, tombs, or special devices. They’ve been hired by every House, rich merchants, the Sanctuary, and the Imperial Family. Hundreds of honored dead and untold riches lay in secret vaults bearing the Barrier standard.
The Barriers converted the lower levels of Barrier Tower into vaults that could be rented by anyone. The renter was assured confidentiality and absolute security. Over time, they built branches in many cities, where anyone could store property for a fee or deposit money. Receipts for deposited money could then be cashed in at another city, providing a secure way to travel without fear of losing one’s money to brigands.
Some whisper that the Barriers know the secret arts required to make fierce golems. Though none of these magical creatures have ever been found, taverns across Stone Pike are filled with tales of sightings. Some say these golems can punch through solid stone. Others can throw rocks harder than the most powerful bow can cast an arrow, and some supposedly have magical blades that can make a man’s guts explode.
But these are only tales. In truth, no one really knows what goes on in the upper half of Barrier Tower. The security is impenetrable. The brothers guard their secrets with their lives.
My first post regarding assault weapon bans was clear cut and thoughtfully written. My second post had tinges of emotion, was not as logical, and it muddied the waters a bit. Since I wrote it, I have had further discussions with friends which have helped me refine my position, and I have also been asked numerous times, “Why would anyone want or need to own an assault weapon that can fire 30 (or more) rounds without reloading?” I write this in an attempt to answer that question, and to clarify my position.
Question: Why would any civilian need an assault weapon?
Answer: No civilian needs one, for any rational reason. Popular gun fanatic reasons include, “If cops and Uncle Sam have them, I want them too, for when the revolution starts.” Or, “If bad guys have them, so will I.” While I actually agree with both reasons on a purely theoretical level, I also realize that, if a revolution broke out, rebels would have a much harder time with Uncle Sam’s spy satellites, drones, fighter jets, tanks, heavy machine guns, mini-guns, rocket pods, helicopters, cruise missiles, and naval artillery than the infantry’s assault weapons. I also don’t hear much about criminals using assault rifles (unless you live in Mexican drug cartel country.)
There are valid reasons to want one. The first two that come to mind are 1) they’re a hell of a lot of fun to shoot, and 2) the low recoil of some versions (The M-16 variants in particular) make them great guns for teaching marksmanship to children and adults with smaller frames.
Of course, there is also the issue of zombies. If you’ve seen The Walking Dead, you know that a single-shot shotgun just isn’t going to cut it when a herd of Walkers comes shuffling through your back door.
Why Do I Own One?
First of all, I don’t. I own a LAR-15, which is a semi-automatic rifle that, in practice, is no different from any other semi-automatic .223 hunting rifle. It just happens to look and operate like M-4 carbine, which is an actual assault rifle capable of fully automatic fire.
I spent a number of years in US special ops as an Airborne Ranger, and during that time I learned to use an M-4 carbine as if it were an extension of my own body. I spent thousands of hours firing hundreds of thousands of rounds through one of these rifles. I shot it until my trigger finger literally bled, and then I switched hands and kept firing.
I bought a semi-automatic variant of the same rifle when I became a civilian because I am more effective, better trained, and safer with that rifle than any other. It isn’t the best caliber for all game, and I don’t hunt that often these days, but when I decide to go, I am good enough with this rifle to hunt anything from squirrels to deer with it.
I know how to take it apart, how to fix it, and how to modify it to suit a variety of situations. The rifle is lightweight and accurate. It is compact enough to move well through brush, and ammo is relatively affordable. I have a few 30-round magazines I brought with me when I left the Army, but I almost never use them. They are a safety hazard on the range because it’s too convenient to lock and load a full clip, not shoot all of it, and then leave the rifle loaded while I go down range. The longer magazines also catch the brush when I get in a patch of mountain laurel, green briers, or wild roses. So I usually load it with a ten-round magazine. I keep the 30-rounders loaded and in reserve, for the zombies.
On the sentimental side, I own one because it feels like a very old and trusted friend to me, and I sorely missed it when I was a civilian and too poor to purchase one. Also, considering the extreme conditions and hardships I endured while using one of these rifles to defend my country, I feel I deserve to continue carrying and using one if I choose to do so. In my more romantic (foolish?) moods, I sometimes think of myself as a retired knight or samurai, and my rifle is akin to my sword that I was allowed to keep as an honor for impeccable service. I certainly treat it with the same respect that samurais afforded their blades, and it’s fine if anyone thinks I’m foolish for entertaining such notions; that simply means they haven’t been where I’ve been, seen what I’ve seen,. or done what I’ve done.
Why Do I Support Gun Control?
I support gun control because some people have no business owning or operating them. They lack the maturity, intelligence, or emotional stability to possess firearms, a fact which has been made evident over and over again by the horrific shootings that have happened over the years. Many gun owners truly are as clueless as this guy is pretending to be.
So yes, I support gun control, but it must be control which addresses the real problems: the people buying the guns, and the people selling the guns. We should call it “People Control.” I will support any law that prevents inappropriate people from owning firearms, as long as it does not limit the choices of individuals who are capable of making mature and responsible choices for themselves. I realize that such laws will not stop all violence, and criminals will still find ways to obtain the weapons, but if even one killer is thwarted by the law, it is worth enacting it – as long as it doesn’t deny choices to others who are capable of owning firearms responsibly.
Why Do I Oppose Gun Bans?
A gun ban limits everyone’s choices. A gun ban is the result of a group of people saying “We know what is good for you, better than you know yourself.” I find this idea insulting and repulsive, that someone else has the arrogance to believe they have the right to dictate my choices to me. No one would seriously consider a ban on sports cars, anti-freeze, or Christmas lights, even though all of those things have probably been used to kill people this year.
What would happen if you walked up to a guy and said, “You don’t know how to eat right. I know better than you do, and so I’m passing a law that bans all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants.” Most people would either laugh at you or tell you to go fuck yourself. Opponents of the ban would argue that the buffet offers healthy choices, and it isn’t the buffet’s fault that people are having heart attacks. It’s the people’s fault for eating six plates of ribs instead of trying the salad bar. Therefore, everyone should not be denied buffet-style dining due to some people’s lack of restraint.
I feel the same way about guns. I cannot accept the idea that anyone has the right to tell me what I can or can’t do, when I have nineteen years of rational, responsible behavior to indicate that I am perfectly capable of making my decisions for myself. I am not arguing for the right to own an assault rifle. I am arguing for the right to CHOOSE to own one. Effective gun control takes that choice away from people who are not capable of responsibly owning the weapon. A gun ban removes that choice from everyone, and it isn’t right or just to do that. It’s a tyrannical, over exaggerated response to an emotional stimulus.
That being said, I would still be inclined to support a ban, if it would make the country a significantly safer place to live. But it won’t. The guns are out there, and will remain out there even if no new ones are sold legally. It’s simple economics: supply and demand. As long as there are people with money who want something, there will be other people who find a way to provide it. If you think that’s crazy talk, study up on Prohibition or the War on Drugs. The exact same economics applies to guns. Therefore, I am unwilling to accept a limit on my choices when it will not have a significant impact on my safety, and I have a very difficult time understanding or respecting anyone who refuses to acknowledge this basic concept.
Why Do I Oppose Anti-Gun Extremists?
I have spoken to people who believe that no civilian should own any guns, but we should have more police and entrust our safety entirely to the government. There are thousands of people begging the government to ban weapons, impose draconian laws, and generally rape the shit out of the Constitution, just to make them feel safe again. These are the people I referred to as “sheep” in my “True Americans” post. I did not mean to imply that every proponent of gun control is a sheep or a coward. I was speaking only about the extremists who want the government to handle the entire mess and ban guns. I realize some families have chosen not to have guns in their homes for reasons of child safety or marital harmony. I am not calling these people cowards. I am referring to the people who say, “I will not own a gun because I do not need to protect myself. In fact, no one needs a gun to protect themselves. That is why we have police.”
I try to walk a mile in the shoes of people who oppose my views. I am usually intelligent enough and creative enough to understand their point of view, but I can’t rewire my brain enough to figure out where these folks are coming from. I also try very hard to not judge people. I try to live and let live, and not draw a line in the sand where I must say, “I am right, and you are wrong.” I am unable to avoid judgment in this case, because my way of life is being judged. I cannot live and let live, because I am not being afforded the same courtesy.
I see anti-gun extremists as cowards. They are unwilling to raise a finger to defend themselves or their families from harm. They would prefer to rely on police and choose to be victims rather than take the steps needed to be prepared when violence enters their lives.
I see anti-gun extremists as meddlers and manipulators. They aren’t content to be the only ones who are helpless. They have the arrogant audacity to attempt to dictate and limit my choices and behavior so that I am as helpless as they are whether I want to be or not. The opposite is not true; I am not trying to tell them “YOU MUST OWN A GUN.” I don’t care what they do; it’s their business. I just want the same courtesy. Leave me alone and do not attempt to restrict the freedom I need to make the choices that are right for me, my family, and our circumstances.
I see anti-gun extremists as hypocrites. I hear much rhetoric about how they are peaceful and passive, and on the moral high ground – but they’re perfectly willing to let police do the shooting for them, if need be. They’re happy as long as they don’t have to get their hands dirty.
Why Do I Oppose Pro-Gun Extremists?
Pro-gun extremists would have us believe that danger is lurking behind every corner, and the government is going to swoop in at any moment and lock us all into prison camps unless we have adequate firepower to fight back. They justify their position with fear, doomsday scenarios, paranoia, and the premise that violence prevents violence. In a best-case scenario, they come across as assholes who had their sense of humor shot off (like some of the commentators in the video I linked above.) More often, they come across as half-crazed Rambos or violence mongering vigilantes. They counter their own pro-gun message with the way they present it. I’ve lost sleep after speaking with some of them, because now I know they’re out there, and they are armed. In their fervor, they do more harm than good for their cause, making it easy for the media and government types to make all gun owners look like maniacs that are in dire need of some restraint. I wish there was a way to just make them shut up and go back into their bunkers, before they cause enough harm, sow enough hate, and spread enough fear to ensure our gun ownership rights really are stripped away.
Where Do I Stand?
I once led a violent life, but I left that life behind. These days, I may talk some tough shit once in awhile, but I am a pacifist at heart. I have absolutely no desire to harm anyone in any way. I enjoy a peaceful, boring life. I avoid trouble anytime I am able to see it coming. When I can’t avoid it, I try to talk my way out of it, or at least stall for time until the cops can show up. I sincerely hope with all of my heart that I never need to raise my hand in violence against another person for the rest of my life.
However, I also understand that there are violent people in the world. There are people who would harm me or my family for their own personal gain, or simply because they can. These types of people cannot be talked to or reasoned with. They cannot be bought, bribed, or intimidated. Running, hiding, or waiting for police intervention are not always viable options. If you have the misfortune to cross paths with these human wolves, it comes down to two choices: stop them, or be their prey. If you do not have the means to stop them, then you don’t really have a choice.
If you have never had personal dealings with these sorts of people, I believe that you have no right to support gun control or gun bans in any form, because you don’t truly understand why guns can be necessary. I don’t care what you believe or what you think you know; until you have been placed in a violent situation where your life is threatened by another human being, you have no accurate frame of reference to argue against gun ownership, and I have no respect for anything you have to say in favor of gun control or gun bans. If you have faced a dangerous situation, and still feel that gun should be restricted or banned, then we can talk, and I will truly listen to you.
I’m getting off my point. I was talking about dangerous people. These villains are not everywhere. Actually, they’re relatively scarce, constituting a very small percentage of the population. But the point is that I don’t know where they are, or when they may become a threat to me or my family. Therefore, I choose to carry a gun, and be well-trained in its use, because I feel it is my responsibility to be able to protect myself and my family as well as possible, in as many situations as possible. I feel I would be remiss in my duty as a provider and protector of my family if I were not as prepared as possible. I understand that everyone does not feel this way, and as far as I am concerned, that’s their choice and their problem – until they start pushing for bans and sweeping regulations that infringe on my choices and my ability to make what I deem to be necessary preparations for my family’s safety.
I will be the first in line to support a law that creates processes or controls which prevent violent, emotionally unstable, or irresponsible people from owning firearms. If the legislation targets the people behind the guns, and not the guns themselves, I will carry the bill to Washington DC myself. But if it is a sweeping ban, or ridiculously overbearing constraints on all gun owners – if it is written by clueless individuals who have never had to protect themselves or never faced any significant danger - I will oppose it with every brain cell in my skull, every word in my vocabulary, and every breath in my lungs.
This morning I discovered a petition filed on We The People that demands Obama do something to limit access to guns. As of this writing, it has 176,356 signatures, 144,000 of which were gained in the first 48 hours after it was posted, making it the most popular petition in the website’s history.
What happened to “America the Brave?”
What happened to the steel in our spines that allowed us to revolt against the English government and win our independence? What happened to the strength and willpower we needed to survive on the frontier? Where are the fearless men and women who found their way through the Rocky Mountains? What happened to the unwavering support and unstoppable force we brought to bear both at home and abroad during the World Wars? Where are the people that the entire world once revered and respected?
We once were a people who took pride in our ability to personally overcome adversity. The nation was powerful because it was comprised of self-sufficient individuals. If things got really bad and we needed help, we turned first to our families, then to our neighbors, and finally to our community. We didn’t need the government to help us in our daily lives and struggles. We didn’t want government in our daily business because we were perfectly capable of handling it ourselves.
Our Founding Fathers understood the roots of what would become American Character. They also understood the dangers posed by both men and governments. They understood the essential need for men and women to be able to defend themselves by any means necessary. If our Founding Fathers were alive today, their revolutionary actions would make them terrorists. They would be in shackles, sitting in prison at Guantanamo Bay, trying to understand how America could have fallen so far and so completely lost its way. They would ask the same thing I am asking: When did we become lapdogs, incapable of helping ourselves, crying to our government “Save us! Do whatever it takes! Just save us!”
I saw a glimpse of our former courage and strength on September 11, 2001, when passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 refused to be helpless sheep and stopped their attackers, even though it led to their own deaths. I was horror-stricken by the tragedy, but I was proud of us as a people, for showing the world that we still had the fire in our bellies and ice in our nerves that made America great.
My pride in my countrymen dwindled and died on April 17th, 2007, when I read an account of the VA Tech shooting. Professor Liviu Librescu, a 76-year-old holocaust survivor, remained in his classroom to block the shooter’s advance, while every single one of his students jumped from windows to save their own lives. It’s impossible to say what would have happened if any of them had remained; maybe they could have stopped the shooter. Maybe they could have held the door, barricaded the window with text books, and saved their professor. Maybe not. We’ll never know, because every one of them fled and left the old man to die alone. I often wondered what happened to those students, if any of them felt guilty for stampeding like frightened sheep in a thunder storm. I wonder how many of them signed the petition for gun control, when Cho might have been stopped seconds into his rampage if teachers and students had been allowed to carry guns on campus.
As an Airborne Ranger, I risked my health and life to defend America. I did it because I believed in this country, its people, and our potential, but I have nearly reached a point where I am ashamed to call myself an American. True Americans remain, but we are surrounded by pitiful, bleating sheep who demand for the government to make them safe, no matter the cost or repercussions. The sheep might get their way, even though additional laws and regulation will do no good.
Government has tried to control illegal drugs for decades, and has failed. Government has tried to balance its budget for decades, and has failed. Government has tried to control illegal immigration, and has failed. Government has tried to bail out the economy, and has failed. Government has tried to protect its computer networks and secrets from the foreign powers, and has failed. Government has tried to keep public schools competitive with other nations’ systems, and has failed. Government has tried to control gun violence in Chicago, Washington DC, New York City, and nationwide, and has failed.
In fact, the government has done only two things well during my lifetime. It has crippled this country with debt, and it has convinced the majority of its people that it has the answers and can be trusted to take care of everyone’s business, despite the fact that it is totally incapable of taking care of its own business. And yet, millions of people blindly place their faith, freedoms, and lives in Big Brother’s hands.
My grandmother used to tell me, “The Devil’s best trick was convincing Man that he doesn’t exist.” Likewise, I think Government’s best trick was convincing so many of us that it is competent and has our best interests in mind. As children, we’re told stories about the wolf in sheep’s clothing, when we should be taught to fear the wolf in shepherd’s clothing, for he is the greater danger by far.
To the mindless slobbering herd, I say this:
If additional gun controls are enacted, I expect as a result the economy will suffer, prisons will become even more over crowded, violent crime rates will rise, and gun-related mass murders will continue to happen, but we may see worse murders committed with home-made poisons and explosives. You deserve every evil thing that comes as a result of your pleas for deliverance. I do not pity you, and I will not mourn your demise when the laws fail to keep the wolves at bay.
To the True Americans, I say this:
There are more of us than the media would lead you to believe. Don’t buy the hype, and don’t let the numbers fool you. 176,356 signatures do not indicate we’re in the minority. It indicates that the sheep have more time to bleat and cry than we do. Band together when and where you can, and stand your ground. We are not wrong. We are not crazy. We are not villains. We are what America once was. We are what America still needs. We are the last remnants of the Proud and the Brave, and we will survive, because that’s what we do. We endure. We persevere. Regardless of the odds, we find a way.
Before the chaos has even begun to dissipate, politicians are seizing the horrific Newtown school shooting and using it as ammunition for gun control agendas. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California is already discussing another gun control law that will be introduced in January. The news stations, news websites, and Internet at large are exploding with outcries to “fix” the American gun control problem. The basic argument maintains that these sorts of atrocities could not happen if we had the right laws in place – laws that would limit civilian ownership of “assault weapons.” They say stricter laws would have prevented this shooting, as well as the Virginia Tech shooting and the Columbine shooting. I argue that guns are not the problem. Gun laws and sensationalist media coverage are the problems.
News Media Provides the Motivation
In many of these mass shootings, the aggressors are not hardened criminals. They are, by many standards, average American citizens. They are quiet and unexceptional in any regard. They are nobodies. They all have different reasons for going on their shooting sprees, but part of the motivation is to be recognized, to be heard, to be remembered. They know they will go down in history if they can create a high enough body count, and they will be discussed for days in every household in America, thanks to the inexhaustible media attention their act will receive. They will be superstars, and for a brief time, they will be more popular on every channel and every internet search than Paris Hilton, Barack Obama, American Idol, or Peyton Manning. Simply put, the promise of national 24/7 media exposure is a powerful incentive to the would-be mass murderer.
Current Gun Control Laws Provide the Opportunity
It is not an accident that many mass shootings happen at schools. Schools are chosen for two reasons. The killer knows dead kids makes for bigger headlines than dead adults. The killer also knows that current gun laws prevent teachers and other adults from possessing fire arms on school property. Schools are the prefect target, because child victims create resounding emotional responses, and it is virtually guaranteed that resistance will be minimal. These mass murderers are cowards at their core. If they had reason to suspect significant resistance, they would not target a school, but they know the laws prevent any of their victims from having guns. If the school has armed guards, that just means they must be the first to die. Then it’s time to shoot the fish in the barrel.
Gun control advocates shout “This couldn’t have happened if stricter laws were in place!” There is no way to retroactively predict what stricter gun control laws may or may not have prevented. To do so is as ineffectual as trying to predict winning lottery numbers. However, I can play the same game by asking, “What might have happened if there had been no law preventing teachers from carrying firearms?” If the shooters at Columbine, VA Tech, and Newtown knew that any of the teachers and support personnel could be carrying firearms, would they have attacked? If they had attacked, how much sooner may the violence have stopped if a teacher had returned fire and killed or disabled the attacker? It is impossible to say. I’m simply pointing out that there is no merit to saying “More control could have prevented this,” because it’s just as valid to speculate “Less control could have prevented this.”
Current Laws Don’t Work. Stricter Laws Won’t Work, Either.
As I said above, most of the shooters were able to appear normal on paper, so they were sold the firearms without any flags being raised. In other cases, they stole the weapons from people who had obtained them legally. Proponents of gun laws will use this fact to argue more stringent laws and penalties should be put in place or, at the very least, “assault weapons” should be banned. Some argue that gun owners should be required to pass psychiatric evaluations. None of these are feasible solutions, and here is why:
Criminals Don’t Care About the Law
Laws keep guns out of the hands of people who respect the law – like the teachers at Columbine, VA Tech, and Newtown. They don’t prevent mass murderers, gang members, drug dealers, or other criminals from having guns, because these people are criminals. By definition, criminals are people who break the law. An assault weapon ban may prevent the purchase/sale/transfer of any weapons in the future, but hundreds of thousands of these weapons are already available. Factor in the tough economic times, and it is pure naivety to think criminals will not continue to have access to these weapons. For instance, I am a law abiding citizen, and I own an AR-15. I have no intentions of selling it, and would definitely not plan to sell it if a law were passed that prevented the sale. However, I’d be very tempted to sell it if I lost my job, needed to buy groceries, and knew a guy who would pay cash. Lots of other gun owners would be tempted as well. Or, suppose I have decided I am going to shoot up a school and know a guy who has a number of pre-ban weapons. I only have to kill him and take his guns.
Regardless of the scenario, the law will not prevent criminals from having dangerous weapons. It may make it more difficult for a while, but eventually underground channels will be established, and the law may actually make it harder to track who owns which firearms. That’s right: stricter gun control could make it even more dangerous out there in the real world, where people have to live with the consequences of the laws our leaders concoct in their guarded ivory towers.
While we’re discussing unpredictable consequences, does anyone have any projections on the impact a suppressed gun market will have on our economy? Does anyone have any idea how much money and how many jobs will be lost due to a ban on “assault weapons” and their accessories? Here’s another consideration: Our prisons are already overcrowded. How many more people will we cram into them if we enact tougher laws and penalties? How can a ban on “assault weapons” be considered a remedy if it causes more problems than it fixes?
Stop Picking on “Assault Weapons.”
You may have noticed that I place “assault weapons” in quotes. That’s because the government never accurately defined the term, not even in the law that banned them in 1994. Basically, if a weapon looked scary or looked like something that a soldier might use, it was banned. Here’s the problem: these weapons are not any more or less dangerous than any other semi-automatic weapon, especially when the victims can’t shoot back. If AR-15′s and AK-47’s are banned, shooters will use semi-automatic hunting rifles, semi-automatic pistols, and pump shot guns. In close quarters where targets are closely grouped, any shotgun or semi-automatic weapon is going to guarantee a huge body count, regardless of how scary it looks. Anyone who thinks a ban on “assault weapons” will help anything, clearly does not have a firm understanding of how firearms work or the tactics involved with target acquisition and engagement. That’s a nice way of saying they don’t know what they’re talking about, and certainly have no business proposing or passing laws on the subject.
I’m a HUGE Supporter of Psych Evals…
As long as EVERYONE who uses a firearm is subject to the same evaluation. Suppose a law is passed that requires me to pass a psychiatric evaluation every six months to be able to legally purchase and use firearms. Personally, I think it’s a digusting infringement on my rights and privacy, but I’ll support it, providing that every cop, soldier, body guard, private investigator, FBI agent, Secret Service agent, etc. is required to pass the exact same test every six months in order to carry a firearm while on duty. I’ll pay for mine, but I think the tax payer should foot the bill for the tests of the men in women in uniform. I make two predictions: 1) The cost of the testing will reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars. 2) If the test is designed to allow cops and soldiers to pass, it will allow civilian nut jobs to buy guns. But that is how it has to be. NO DOUBLE STANDARDS.
The Real Problems, and Possible Real Solutions
There are two possible solutions to gun violence in America: Either we fix it so that no one owns a gun, or we fix it so that everyone owns a gun. Since neither option is likely to occur, we need to arrive at a compromise that mitigates the damage while protecting individual rights, and we need to accept that gun violence is part of being an American. We are a violent people. We always have been, and we always will be. Taking guns won’t end violence. It will simply force people to use cars, knives, poison, explosives, or something else.
I’m unsure of where to strike the balance, but I do know that additional legislation is not going to fix the problem unless it addresses the true nature of the problem. The availability of “assault weapons” is not the problem. The problem is news media turning killers into superstars, current gun laws that provide killers with extremely easy targets, and our current inability to identify mentally disturbed people who should not own firearms.
I have no idea what to do with the media, because they are simply peddling a product that sells. Americans devour violence. Every time we tune into the news coverage on TV, or read a news story on the Internet, we are provoking the media to continue the coverage and to do everything it can to up the ante the next time another shooting occurs. This in turn provides even more incentive to would-be killers. In this regard, we all help it happen, and I don’t know how (or if) we can fix it.
Gun Free Zones
I think current gun laws should be amended to limit “gun free” zones to federal and state properties that are already adequately protected by armed personnel. Teachers should be able to carry guns on school property. I should be able to carry a gun into a post office. Killers should know that schools and other current gun free zones are not gun free. They should know that any secretary or janitor in their line of sight could be the one who produces a pistol and ends their insignificant, sad little excuse for a life.
No Guns to Psychos
Gun buyers are already subjected to back ground checks, and they cannot buy hand guns in states where they are not legal residents. Perhaps a law should be passed which would require a gun buyer to present two character witnesses to vouch for him, if he hasn’t purchased a firearm in the past year. These witnesses would also be subject to back ground checks and would be given opportunity to privately decline their endorsement without the applicant knowing. I realize there are holes in this idea, but the point is that it is attempting to address the real issue: the mental stability of the buyer, not the gun he is trying to buy.
We have a problem, and it must be addressed. Perhaps additional legislation is the only feasible solution. However, it must be legislation that is designed by people who actually understand the problem, and it must be legislation that is designed to address the actual roots of the problem. To use a medical metaphor, an “assault weapon” ban proposed by a California Senator as a solution to gun violence is akin to civil engineer using a wash cloth to mop up arterial bleeding. Both are solutions devised by people who have no idea of how to actually fix the damage, so they are treating the symptoms, not the underlying cause. If you do not agree with the answers proposed by our leaders, then the time has come to propose your own. Send your ideas to your representatives. Post them on your social media and blog outlets. If you think our leaders are going to figure it out on their own, well… perhaps Senator Mark Pryor said it best, when he told Bill Maher, “You don’t have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate.”
This rule was placed because we were playing a magic-intensive campaign and it made the rules a little more friendly for Shadowrun Magic Users. It also made the book keeping easier.
If a character has more Essence than Magic, their Magic attribute isn’t decreased until Essence equals Magic. For instance, a mage with Magic 4 and Essence 6 could lose 2 points of Essence to cyber or bioware without losing any Magic. However, a loss in Essence also lowers the characters racial maximum for the Magic attribute.
This is a house rule modification to the Shadowrun Adept Ability “Elemental Strike” which makes it more powerful, but was created to make the power work more like the Elemental Aura spell effect.
Elemental Strike is a simple action, requiring a Magic+Willpower (2) test to muster the power and concentration required to activate the power. Note any successes above the threshold, as these are added to the power of unarmed attacks.
Like something right our of a gladiator tridshow, pit gauntlets encase the lower arms and hands in a sheath of spiked, deadly steel. A character wearing pit gauntlets does (STR/2+2)P damage with unarmed attacks. This is cumulative with damage bonuses from bone lacing, martial arts, and adept abilities. The gauntlets also provide + 1 impact armor and + 1 die to melee block tests. Pit gauntlets are not compatible with PPPS forearm guards or forearm snap blades. Full body armor such as riot, SWAT, or military armor may have their forearm sections modified to serve as pit gauntlets.
I got the idea for this magic tradition from underlying principles of the virtual reality universe of the Matrix movies (not to be confused with the Matrix VR of Shadowrun.) In the virtual world, hackers could make themselves and objects behave in ways the deified the laws of physics, by altering the underlying code, and the entire reality was designed by an AI known as the Architect. I just took the same concept and used it as a rationale for a magic tradition. It is a very versatile tradition that fits very well into the sci-fi Shadowrun Universe.
Like Chaos mages, life hackers believe that mana and the Astral plane comprise the “machine code” that is the “program of reality.” They also believe that magic is a force that can be used to alter or hack the code. Unlike Chaos mages, life hackers believe that reality has a master programmer, a mentor spirit they call the “Source.”
The Source is the ultimate coder, the master programmer that writes all of the “scripts” that define reality. Communion and contact with the Source allows life hackers to perceive, decipher, and alter this underlying “machine” code, creating alternate effects in reality in the forms of spells and spirits. The Source requires little of its followers. It expects them to learn at every opportunity, to constantly use their skills to test the strength and validity of its code. Every time a life hacker casts a spell or conjures a spirit, he is using hermetic techniques to hack the Source’s work. This does not anger the Source, who actually takes pride in those followers who are able to devise new ways to hack (new spells, metamagic, spirits, foci, ect,) or those who can pull off more extravagant hacks to achieve greater effects (more powerful spells, spirts, foci, etc.) without succumbing to “biofeedback” (drain) that always accompanies any hack attempt.
Mentor Spirit Bonuses
Since the Source is responsible for everything in existence, his followers must focus their time and skills in some areas while neglecting others, but it is up to an individual to decide how to direct their own studies. In game terms, at character creation, a life hacker chooses to get 2 points of bonuses to spell casting and to conjuring, and 2 points of penalties to each. One character may have +2 to combat spells, -2 to illusion spells, +2 to task spirits, and -2 to Guidance spirits. Another character may have +1 to combat spells, +1 to health spells, -1 to illusion spells, -1 to manipulation spells, +1 to guardian spirits, +1 to water spirits, -1 to guidance spirits and -1 to task spirits. Yet another character may have +1 bonus to two types or spells and -2 penalty to one other while having +2 bonus to one spirit type and -1 to 2 others. The only restrictions are that the points must balance out, they cannot be changed after character creation, and penalties cannot be assigned to spirits outside of the tradition (such as fire spirits.)
Astral Space and Spell Casting
Life hackers consider Astral Space and metaplanes to be the natural equivalent to the Matrix virtual reality. They use hermetic symbols and equations as the “programming language” that allows them to “hack” the underlying code that comprises all life and reality. If one were to listen to two life hackers discussing their magic, it would sound like a haphazard compilation of arcane magical terms and tech-speak jargon. “I used Gargnak runes and a destiny table to hack his central processor and install my own persona program” is life hacker jargon for “I cast a control thoughts spell on him.”
This perception extends to spirits as well. A life hacker recognizes a free spirit as an independent sentient entity akin to an artificial intelligence in the Matrix. However, they regard the spirits they summon and bind to be more akin to semi-autonomous software like an agent or IC which they can use to augment their own bodies or to change/control the world around them. To a life hacker, a summoned spirit is a deep hack, a persistent rift in the Source Code which the hacker may direct and utilize for a time to indirectly affect the world around him. In practice, this means that life hacker spirits use Possession instead of Materialization.
Since these “spirit programs” are “written” to affect certain types of objects, spirits summoned by life hackers can only possess certain types of objects. In the mind of a life hacker, “code” that is written to “hack” a metahuman will not work to “hack” a dog or a car. There is one exception to this rule: a life hacker may possess himself with any spirit he summons, regardless of its type.
Items or beings possessed by a life hacker spirit may display lines of arcane runes running over their bodies, and their eyes may glow, depending on the force of the possessing spirit. (See “Spotting Spirits, pg 95, Street Magic.)
Combat: Guardian – living or dead metahumans, weapons, armor, homunculi
Detection: Guidance – vehicles, scrying homunculi (crystal balls, ouija boards, mirrors, etc.)
Health: Plants – plants, alive or dead
Illusion: Beasts – Animals, alive or dead, animal homunculi
Manipulation: Task – living metahumans, drones, homunculi
Watchers – dead animals or metahumans, homunculi
Warning: The following contains some plot spoilers if you have not finished reading Warlock’s Wake.
Deep within the belly of Shield Spire, muffled by countless yards of solid stone, Dillon screamed in anguish. At first, he had roared curses and bellowed with rage. As the evening progressed, he cried and sobbed. But now he screamed. It wasn’t the sound of a man simply in pain. It was the screech of a soul trying to rip free of its own body because the agony was just too much to endure.
His voice cracked and failed him. After a moment of silence, a quiet, soothing voice said, “You have suffered greatly, Dillon. You have proven your honor and survived this purification. The Prophet forgives you of your transgressions. If you will only answer this young man’s questions, I will personally bestow the blessings required to make you whole. This pain can end. Just answer the questions.”
Dillon tried to appraise the damage they’d done to his body. The beating hadn’t been anything special. He’d received worse during his days as a trainee at the Crucible. But then all of his fingernails and toenails had been pried off. His fingers and toes were shattered one knuckle at a time. They whipped him until his ribs showed through his back. They burnt and carved on his chest. They’d pulled or broken most of his teeth, and burnt out one eye. The lid of his remaining eye had been stitched open against his brow.
He found the strength to raise his head once more. He was a Keirnan, and he was determined to die like one. Directly in front of him, Sentinel Casteel sat in a cushioned chair and sipped on ice water. Nathan Chambers, the Wrath of the Prophet, stood on the Sentinel’s right side. Palmroy Nash stood on his left. Chambers had shown Palmroy how to hurt Dillon, and the whelp had relished in the torture.
Palmroy spoke. Dillon could barely hear him, as if he was a hundred miles away, but it didn’t matter, because he already knew the questions. They were the same questions he’d been asked since he was arrested and brought to Shield Spire that morning.
“Who among our House would know how to find my uncle’s hidden sanctuary? Where has he hidden the House ax and signet ring? Who has them?”
Dillon did not know the answers to any of the questions. His two fellow soldiers hadn’t known either, and they had died slowly. Palmroy castrated one of them and let him bleed out. The other man had his guts stirred by a glowing hot poker crammed up his arse. Dillon saw the bloody knife on the table and the pokers in the fire. His time was near. They would cut him or rape him with fiery steel and then watch him die, promising all the while to save his life if he would answer their questions.
He wanted to curse them again, but didn’t know if he could form the words without his teeth. Instead, he stared into the Sentinel’s eyes and used the last of his strength to shake his head. He’d be damned if they made him scream again. He silently swore to deny them the satisfaction.
Casteel motioned to Palmroy, who pulled on thick gloves and walked to the fireplace.
Despite Dillon’s resolve, they made him scream again. And again. And again.
* * * * *
After Dillon’s corpse had been taken away, the Sentinel dismissed Chambers and Palmroy with a flick of his hand. The interrogations had thus far been total failures, but he was still in a fine mood. Alexi Keirnan was rotting in the dungeons. Convicted of heresy, the man would die in the morning. His position as commander of the Imperial military would go to Lord Clarion, the leader of Casteel’s noble house.
Furthermore, Alexi had been defeated by the Warlock, an ancient and powerful being that Casteel knew very little about, and Alexi’s battle had provided much insight while simultaneously destroying the elite of Keirnan’s military, including all three of his brothers. That, in turn, made room for Palmroy to take command of the noble house, which meant that Casteel had command of it. Only two puzzles marred an otherwise perfect day.
Alexi’s father had built a secret library to hold information that could lead Casteel and his Templars to hundreds of men and women who practiced magic without the sanction or guidance of the Serene. Casteel wanted these people destroyed, and the hidden library was the key. Only Alexi knew the secret to finding it.
The secretive lord had also hidden his family’s ax and signet ring. Both were symbols of leadership and power in his noble house. Without them, Palmroy had no hope of ever being recognized as the legitimate ruler of his family.
Casteel rose and made his way towards his bed chamber. He wanted to be well rested, because in the morning he would grant Alexi such exquisite agonies. He would break his body just as they’d broken Dillon and his friends, and then Casteel would use his power to break Alexi’s mind. Before the fallen lord felt the ax man’s mercy, Casteel would tear all of his secrets out of his skull.
It was going to be a fantastic day, one to be remembered and savored for centuries to come.
I published Warlock’s Wake in June, 2011. I had so momentum, and high hopes, but I lost both and fell mostly out of sight for months. I had valid reasons, but they pertain to family and health issues, and I’m not going to discuss them publicly. I am back in the saddle again (I hear Steven Tyler singing every time I hear that phrase.) I’m moving with massive momentum now, and Big Things are coming, folks.
Improved Website, More Face Book and Twitter Activity
I’m working to expand my online presence through HereticScribe.com, Face Book, and Twitter. I’ve redesigned my website’s content structure, and I have a new content strategy that should bring more visitors and more interaction to the site. I’m hoping to draw even more visitors with Face Book and Twitter campaigns. I’ve long dreamed of having a thriving community based around this website, and I finally have a plan to make it happen. I will be posting content at least three times a week, so I encourage you to sign up for email updates, join me on Face Book, or follow me on Twitter.
What would you like to see here? What would prompt you to visit more often, stay longer, and drop a comment or two?
Warlock’s Wake Coming to Nook
I’m still figuring out how to make this happen, but I intend to have Warlock’s Wake on the Barnes and Noble Nook as soon as possible. If you own a Nook, please stay tuned. It’s already available on the Amazon Kindle, which has free apps for virtually all laptops, tablets, and smart phones.
Heretic Is Coming Soon
Heretic, the sequel to Warlock’s Wake, will be available on Kindle (and hopefully Nook) by February 2013. The paperback may be ready at that time as well, but March is more likely, due to additional production and overhead required for hard copy.
Kickstarter and Personal Assistants
I am going to start a funding project on Kickstarter.com, in hopes of gathering the funds I need to promote the first two novels and produce the third. I am also hoping to hire an assistant part time to help me schedule promotional events and keep on top of everything.
One way or another, I will have multiple promotional events this year, focused mostly in the West Virginia/Ohio region. I already have an event calendar on the website. The poor thing is empty right now, but that will change soon.
Kris Kristofferson and Sissy Spacek bring some experience and class to the screen, but their parts are too small to help the movie much.
The action scenes are few and far between, but they are well done. A car crash made me cringe and yell “Damn!” The fight scenes are fast, brief, visceral, and believable.
You get to glimpse Charlie Hunnam’s naked butt, if you’re into that sort of thing.
You get to glimpse Olivia Wilde’s naked chest, if you’re into that sort of thing.
I normally enjoy Eric Bana’s work, but in this movie he is a cookie-cut psycho with the most annoying accent I’ve heard since Nicholas Cage’s southern drawl in Con Air.
Olivia Wilde is pretty to look at, but if she has acting talent, it isn’t given opportunity to shine in this role. Like Eric, her character lacks any depth at all. She is stereotypically helpless and lost in the big bad world.
Charlie Hunnam thinks he’s still on the set of Sons of Anarchy, except in this movie he has neither bike nor beard, so his typical angry-eyed whining and bitching are even less impressive than usual.
The plot is predictable, and it doesn’t flow very fast. Have you ever watched a three-hour movie that was paced so well that it felt like only an hour had passed while you watched? This movie is the opposite of that. The characters are bogged down in a blizzard, and so is the plot. It’s the slowest-paced “thriller” I’ve seen in recent memory. Even the love scenes are stale and unmemorable.
Olivia and Eric play brother and sister, and the incestuous sexual innuendos that pass between them are creepy and gross.
Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5
I wouldn’t call Dead Fall a waste of time. I don’t regret watching it, but I am glad I watched it in the comfort of my own home instead of braving the holiday crowds to see it in a theater. It is not on my “watch again someday” list. It’s a movie I would recommend as a rental on a rainy day when there’s nothing better to watch.
This is a map of the continent of Dae Arinon, from the Heretic’s Quest Series. Clicking the pic will load a much larger version of this map, but it may take a few seconds to load, as the file size is around 1.5 meg.
Valerie is a founding member of the Heretic Legions. She is one of the few people I trust to test-read my novels before publication, and she has done more to spread word and interest in my novels than anyone else I know (outside of my immediate family.) She has designed t-shirts and car window stickers. She has spread word about my book at every opportunity, re-tweeted my posts, and shared updates on Facebook. She has been a sounding board for new plot ideas and has been an excellent source of advice when I was conflicted about a character trait or other issue. She has kicked me in the ass and inspired me to write when I would rather play Xbox and sleep. In many ways, she has worked harder than I have to make my books successful.
I do not use any illegal drugs. I don’t even like to use legal ones unless it’s a matter of life and death. I don’t smoke cigarettes. I do not condone the use of recreational drugs, except for alcohol, and even that should be in moderation. I drank excessively in my youth, but these days a six pack of beer will last me two weeks. Despite the fact that I am not a drug user, I fully endorse and condone the legalization of drugs. I base my decision on consideration of historical trends and our present reality. I don’t think anyone can deny America is in a drug crisis, but we’ve been here before, with alcohol. Prior to Prohibition, alcohol production was taxed, but its sale was mostly unregulated. Underage drinking, domestic violence, poverty, and alcohol related deaths were daily realities that touched Americans everywhere. Prohibitionists tried for years to outlaw alcohol, but the laws never had a chance because a massive chunk of the Federal budget came from alcohol taxes.
Then the Sixteenth Amendment passed – due in part to Prohibitionist support and action. In case you’re rusty on your Constitutional history, that’s the amendment that legalized the income tax. That’s right, hatred of alcohol helped pave the way and push through legislation that is responsible for leeching away your hard-earned money every pay day.
Once Uncle Sam was assured that his budget wouldn’t take a hit, Prohibition passed a few years later. Proponents heralded it as a victory of modern civilization and the beginning of a new golden age. These people did not understand that you cannot save people from themselves. Simply illegalizing alcohol did not make people stop drinking. It just made it harder to get. Since it was harder to get, it got more expensive. Since it was expensive and illegal, it was natural that criminals would step in. Bootleggers like Al Capone made fortunes from illegal booze while cops and innocent civilians died in the gang wars, power struggles, and general violence that surrounded the illegal production and distribution of alcohol. People tried to cash in on the craze or avoid paying bootlegger prices by making their own booze. Most of them didn’t know what they were doing, and since there was no quality control, people died by the hundreds from poison that they thought was whiskey or moon shine.
(Does any of this sound familiar? The violence? The corruption? The dangerous drugs made in someone’s basement? )
When prohibition was appealed, and alcohol became legal again, the bootleggers had to abandon booze and look for other vices to peddle because there wasn’t any money in it for them anymore. Laws were passed to regulate drinking age, when alcohol could be sold, hours of operation for saloons, and what alcohol content a beverage could have. Quality control and safety standards were implemented. Were there still alcoholics? Sure. Were lives still ruined by alcohol? Sure.
But the situation was an improvement over the unregulated pre-Prohibition days and also better than Prohibition. America went from a period of no regulation to a period of total regulation, and found that neither worked as well as a compromise in the middle, where alcohol was legal, but regulated and monitored.
On a side note, since the production and sale of alcohol was no longer on the black market, the government was able to tax it again and use the revenue to help pull the country out of the Great Depression.
OK, enough history. Even if none of that ever happened, our present circumstances speak loudly enough for the legalization of recreational drugs.
Simply put: We’ve tried to make them go away by making them illegal, and the effort isn’t working. The so-called “War on Drugs” is the biggest farce since Prohibition. If people want to use drugs, they are going to get them and use them, and modern-day Al Capone’s are going to provide them. You can outlaw a drug, but you can’t outlaw basic human nature or basic economics. If people are willing to pay any price to get something, someone else will ALWAYS be willing to provide it. Some estimates put the current cost of the War on Drugs over 11 billion dollars. I couldn’t find a way to tabulate the number of casualties caused by this “war” because there is no way to track all of the people who have died from poisonous homemade drugs, innocents killed during drug turf violence, innocents killed in crimes committed to get money to buy drugs, cops killed in the line of duty, STD related deaths from sharing needles, and drug overdoses.
And don’t forget the cost of imprisoning all the drug offenders. Our prisons are over populated, and tax payer money goes to the upkeep of every prisoner behind bars, even if his only offense was owning an ounce of marijuana. The laws don’t work. The penalties don’t work. The drug war is a failure. It simply does not work, no matter how you try to measure it – unless you count all the ways Congressmen can use the funds in their voting districts to help constituents with extra cash and make it look like they are tough on drugs while not actually doing anything at all.
If it doesn’t work, then it’s time to admit it and try something else. We’ve tried banning them, and it seems obvious that totally eliminating all regulation is a bad idea. That only leaves one option left to try: Legalization and regulation.
People use drugs as a recreation and an escape. Most of them do not want to die, and most of them do not want to hurt people or commit crimes to support their addiction. But drugs are illegal, and therefore can get very expensive. The user is addicted, and therefore does whatever he must to feed the monkey on his back, even if that means he has to break into someone’s home, mug someone, rob a pharmacy, buy drugs cooked in someone’s basement, or give blow jobs in the alley. Most people don’t want to do those things.
If they could go to Rite-Aid or CVS or Walgreens and buy the drugs they wanted off the shelf, they would be less expensive, would not require a life of crime or sordid sex acts to procure, and would be a guaranteed, consistent dosage with no fear of additives. When the big money dried up from the previously illegal drug trade, drug related crime and violence would likely diminish. The government could tax the sales the same way they tax every other thing under the sun, which would help get us out of this recession and balance the budget.
Let’s also look at why people start using drugs to begin with. Reasons vary, but in most cases it’s a combination of ignorance and lack of options. I grew up in a rural area that has been in economic decline for decades. As futures became bleaker and options for local employment or entertainment dwindled, drug use increased. We could take the billions of dollars that are currently wasted on the War on Drugs, plus some of the revenue from drug taxes, and invest in communities – revitalize areas with jobs, entertainment, education, and rehabilitation options. Some people will always choose to take drugs. No law, no amount of money, no number of policemen, and no mortal power will ever change that fact. However, if people felt they had other options, and if they received valid and pertinent education, fewer people would turn to drugs as a means of escape.
What would change if we offered people a reward instead of a punishment? We now tell kids, “If you do drugs, you’re going to jail.” What if we instead told them “As long as you test clean, you can hang out in this brand new rec center, eat good food twice a day for free, and participate in programs that will make you eligible for college scholarships so you can get out of this terrible neighborhood and do something with your life”? If we legalized drugs, I firmly believe that, in time, we would reach a point where fewer people would use the drugs due to the availability of better options and education. The numbers of hard corps users would dwindle as they either rehabilitated or died off. Drug related violence and crime would sharply decrease. Prisons would get some breathing room. Cops could focus their time and resources on other issues. The government would get a cash infusion. The problem would not go away entirely, but it would be less of an issue and would be easier to monitor and control.
Still not convinced? Well, I wasn’t either, at first. But then I studied the primary arguments of the folks who think drugs should remain illegal:
1) Drugs should be illegal because they are bad.
I’m not even sure what to make of this. If by “bad” you mean they are often addictive and will likely cause debilitating health issues after prolonged use, then I agree they are bad. However, cigarettes, alcohol, gambling (and some say even sex and video games) are addictive and dangerous if used excessively, but none of those are illegal. It is not illegal to use those substances or engage in those behaviors because they are the results of personal choices.
As long as the use does not negatively affect someone else, you can do what you want. It isn’t illegal to get drunk. It is illegal to get drunk, beat your wife, get in a car, and run over a kid. There is no reason other drugs cannot be likewise legalized. If you want to smoke crack or lick a tab of acid, that’s fine. But if you hurt someone else while you’re under the influence, you’re going to jail.
2) Drug violence won’t decrease, because drugs make people violent.
Violence WILL decrease because the drugs will be affordable, meaning less crime will be committed to obtain them, and the drug lords will have to find something else to be lords over. However, I agree that drugs can make people violent. I’ve been around people who were high on various cocktails and were like rampaging bulls. This ties into to argument from above. If a person wants to take a drug that makes him flip out and put his fist through his own TV, then he should have that choice, as long as he doesn’t hurt anyone else. It all comes down to responsible versus irresponsible drug use. Responsible use should not be illegal.
3) But some drugs are so addictive and so powerful that they cannot be used responsibly.
I totally agree. However, people are going to choose to use these drugs whether they are illegal or not. Since people are going to use these dangerous drugs regardless, I contend that it is preferable to make the drugs legal, make it easier and cheaper for the users to get them, and also make it easier to track and monitor the users. We could implement something similar to the sex offender list to keep track of habitual users of powerful violence-inducing drugs while educating people and giving them other, better options to prevent people from turning to these drugs in the first place.
4) Drugs are evil, so they should be illegal.
This is similar to the subjective “drugs are bad” argument, except with a religious connotation added into the mix. I cannot accept this argument simply because of the inherent hypocrisy. How can I take a Congressman seriously when he says, “I won’t legalize drugs because I’m a Christian and drugs are evil,” and then he votes in favor of going to war with Iraq and Afghanistan? What happened to “Thou shat not kill?” What happened to the separation of church and state? Do NOT use the law to impose your religious views on me. Laws should be based on reason, logic, and justice, not emotionally charged and religiously biased ethics.
As near as I can tell, everyone who is fighting to keep drugs illegal are doing so
For financial reasons (a lot of people lose money if the War on Drugs ends,) or
they are making a moral/religious stand without stopping to consider reality, or
they have been negatively impacted by drug culture such that they have a personal interest in drug illegalization, or
they have been raised to believe drugs are just plain bad and should remain illegal “just because.”
In summary, I think it is clear that past experience with Prohibition shows us that the War on Drugs will never succeed, and legalizing drugs is the only way we will ever mitigate the negative ramifications that are created by drug use. This hypothesis is strengthened by current trends that clearly show the War on Drugs has not stopped drug production, use, or violence. And finally, I have been unable to find any logically sound argument in favor of drug illegalization.
If one removes the emotional and political static and looks at the problem from a purely logical standpoint, it distills down to three choices.
A compromise of the two, where drugs are legal and regulated.
We didn’t try Option 1 because no one thinks it will work. We’ve been trying Option 2, and time has proven that it doesn’t work either. It is past time that we tried Option 3.
It is unclear if Bane is even human. He’s shaped like a man, but he’s over seven feet tall, and no one knows what he looks like. In every encounter, his body and face are always totally concealed by clothing or armor. He favors black steel armor with very thick plates on his shins and forearms, which he uses to block attacks in battle. He carries no shield or weapons, and bears no standard. His eyes are made of crimson fire, and his body often glows with magical golden light.
Many characters in Heretic have mysterious pasts, but Bane is a total mystery. No one knows from whence he came or what he plans to do, but his apparent agenda seems to involve waging and winning a war against the Serene.
The New Prophets have uncovered unknown prophecies that seem to foretell the arrival of a new champion, the cleaning of the existing order, and the dawn of a new age.
Bane is the self-proclaimed champion of that prophesy. He wields powerful magic as easily as most men breathe. He has no equal in battle, despite his lack of weapons. He knows secrets and forgotten lore that no living man could possibly know.
At every turn, he uses knowledge or force to bind others to his cause, but no one really knows if he speaks true or not. Perhaps he does intend to overthrow the Serene. Perhaps he has another less blatant agenda. Only Bane knows for sure.
Aubrey Young is an amazing composer and sound designer, as well as a true professional. He created all of the music and sound design for the Warlock’s Wake Trailer that is viewable on the home page of this site. He understood the darker, gritter tone I was trying to achieve with this story, and he was able to bring it to life through music.
I highly recommend his talents to anyone in need of such services. Assuming he is available, I intend to commission him for any similar work I have in the future.
A “Bugout Bag” is some type of container that holds all the items you think you’d need if something happened and you needed to evacuate quickly (bug out.) Most “experts” agree that it should contain enough supplies to sustain you for a minimum of 72 hours, but there must be a balance between being prepared and being mobile. A bugout bag does you no good if it’s so heavy that you can’t move with it!
I wrote “experts” in quotes because so many people have opinions on the optimal loadout for a bugout bag – ranging from desk jockeys who never see wilderness except for on TV, to the hard corps survivalist psychos who are dead certain that the revolution is coming and we’d all better stockpile weapons and ammo for the war. I fall somewhere in between these two extremes. I will say that the following paragraphs describe the optimal loadout for me. If you asked for my advice, I’d recommend a few things that I think everyone should have, but for the most part, you need to assess your situation, your needs, and your abilities when you pack your own bugout bag. It should be tailored to you. For instance, I don’t need any prescription medication, and I’m an ox. That means my bag will be different than that of a 90-pound woman on prescription meds. My vision sucks, so I’ll have glasses and contacts to pack where a guy with 20/20 vision (lucky bastard) won’t have to worry about that.
I want to note that bugout bags aren’t just for militia nut jobs . I keep mine packed so I can travel on a moment’s notice. It’s my compromise. As I get older, I see myself slowing down and getting predictable. I have a 40-hour-per-week job. I’m buying a house. I often spend my Friday or Saturday nights doing laundry and dishes. Whether I like to admit it or not, I’m putting down roots. But I can leave at a moment’s notice when the whim strikes me as long as that bag is packed. I can hit the road and see my brothers or go wherever I want, and I know I have everything I need. It has the added benefit of ensuring I have what I need to survive if an emergency would occur, and one just never knows what might happen in these troubled times. It never hurts to be prepared.
A word on equipment choice:
I’m using a large Army ruck sack (ALICE) and load bearing equipment (LBE.)Before anyone makes fun of me for using Vietnam-era Army gear I want to tell you that, yes, I know there are better packs out there, and yes, I know internal frames are much more comfortable.I’m using Army gear for a number of calculated reasons:
The gear is durable.
The gear is cheap (compared to civilian counterparts.)
I am familiar with the way the gear packs, the way it works, and how it wears on my body. I can find whatever I need, even in pitch dark.
I don’t like the high, narrow design that most civilian packs have.(I’m broad enough through the shoulders and chest that I’m wider than a full Army pack.If I can fit through a spot, I know the pack will fit too.)
I’m trying to harden up a little bit, and this gear is good for that.
I really hate the bright color schemes that seem to dominate the civilian backpack market.
How long can I go?
I’ve broken down the contents into specific lists below, but let me tell you the bottom line now: This rig contains enough food to sustain me for six days of hard marching, or about ten if I’m mostly stationary. It contains 228 ounces (approximately 1.75 gallons) of water, which goes quick when one is marching cross country. However, the rig also contains everything I need to resupply my water, and it contains multiple means to resupply my food when I finish the food I’m carrying. The rig contains the materials I need to make shelter and survive outdoors. It has a well-stocked medical kit. I am completely confident that I could walk into the national forest with nothing but this bag and disappear for at least six weeks, maybe longer.
THE RUCK – OUTSIDE
On the left side I have a
folding “e-tool” shovel: heavy and bulky, but I kept it because it’s very handy.It can serve as a shovel, a hammer, an ax, a hoe, a rake, and a toilet seat.
From left to right, the three top compartments contain the following:
8 green chemical lights – if I’m not being tactical, these are great sources of light that last hours.
Tabasco sauce (spices are one of the few luxuries I allow myself)
5 Slimfast Optima bars.
You can find more potent “power” bars, but I think these offer a suitable balance of protein, fiber, and calories, and they taste much better than other brands I’ve tried.
Katadyn water filter with a charcoal attachment
microstove: I don’t use the stove much, but it’s nice to have the ability to boil water, and it’s one hell of a fire starter!
The center bottom packet contains
The smaller tarp is to rain-proof the pack if I need to in a hurry. Combined with the bungee cords I have wound around the base of the ruck frame, I can use the large tarp to set up a shelter in ten minutes or less.
The right bottom pocket contains
fuel for the microstove
three 12′ rolls of tubular nylon
extra cinch straps with quick-release buckles.
The zip ties and straps are handy for attaching other gear to the pack.The tubular nylon can be used to rig rappelling or rescue harnesses, or can do any duty that a strong rope can do, but takes a quarter of the space.
The right side of the ruck has a
2 SAW ammo pouches
attached to the side.The top SAW pouch holds a waterproof and shatter-resistant box that I use to protect my cell phone, camera, MP3 player, wallet and extra batteries.The bottom pouch holds another of these boxes, which in turn contains
extra butane for my lighter
water purification tablets
cleaning supplies for my firearms
The top flap pouch of the ruck sack contains
100 feet of parachute cord
ziplock bags (quart and gallon-sized)
topographical US atlas, and any localized maps I may be carrying with me for a specific trip.
THE RUCK – INSIDE
The main compartment is divided into a large internal area and a smaller radio pouch that sits at the top, against the frame-side of the pack. The radio pouch holds
eye glasses (in an old grenade canister – this also holds a water-proofed thumb drive that contains all of my writing and other crucial data)
waterproof compression bag
camelbak cleaning kit
1 sealable bag of beef jerky
4 loaded 30-round magazines for my AR-15 (I take these out if I’m not taking my AR with me on a trip)
extra pistol ammo. If I’m carrying my .45, I take 50 rounds of .45 ACP. If I’m taking my Judge, I take an assortment of .410 #6 shot, .410 000 buckshot, and .45 long colt.
hammock – rarely used – takes too long to hang, and it kills my back to sleep in it, but it’s better than sleeping in mud or in a tree if the weather or snakes are bad.
light fleece sleeping bag (in summer) or a medium weight sleeping bag (in winter)
combat life saver medic bag – first aid kit on steroids
Carmex lip balm
NO explode drink powder
Pain patches (non narcotic)
70 SPF sunblock
Purell hand sanitizer
Anti-bacterial soap bar
Assorted bandaids and other adhesive bandages
I keep a 100 oz. camel bak on hand that I usually strap on top of the ruck, and I have another compression bag with 12 more stripped MREs that I can grab if I need to. I usually take the camel bak, but I generally don’t take the extra food on non-emergency trips.
The load bearing equipment consists of a belt, suspenders, and an assortment of attachments. I’ve removed the meat-hooks and replaced them with parachute cord tie-downs. The entire rig is adjusted to ride high – almost up to my chest. It looks a little funny, but it keeps the pouches off of my hips. It also keeps the belt from getting pinched between my back and the ruck’s kidney pad. It also gives me a very comfortable place to rest my arms while walking over easy terrain.
On the right side (as you’re wearing it,) from the buckle to the back, I have a
M-16 ammo pouch (sans the grenade pouches)
ammo for the pistol I’m carrying
an AR-15 magazine (if I have the rifle with me)
Buck camping knife
a pistol holster
a canteen carrier.
steel canteen cup
I usually carry a Taurus Judge, chambered for 3″ magnums. I load it with two .410 #6 shot, two .45 long colt, and one .410 000 buckshot, with the #6 shot lined up first. However, that pistol is in the shop right now so I’m carrying a Ruger P90 .45
One the left side of the belt, from the buckle to the back, I have
200-round SAW pouch
digital camera (unless it’s raining)
two slimfast bars
ziplock bag of beef jerky
M-16 ammo pouch (sans the grenade pouches)
hobo tool (fork and spoon)
diamond knife sharpener
vaseline (monkeybutt prevention)
M-16 ammo pouch (sans the grenade pouches)
water-proof canister that contains LED clip-on light and wind-proof butane lighter
20′ parachute cord
1 one-quart canteen
Sum of the parts
The LBE, with a full load of water and ammo, weighs approximately 20 pounds.
The pack, with a full load of ammo and water (including the camel bak) weighs aproximately 80 pounds.
TOTAL WEIGHT: approximately 100 pounds
On a road or trail I can walk between 3.5 and 4 miles per hour, for about five hours before I need an extended break. (In my glory days I could only go about 8 hours, and I was 60 pounds lighter back then, so I don’t feel so out of shape when I think about it like that!) I can’t make as good time cross-country, but I can navigate bad terrain, even clear-cuts littered with tree tops, stumps, washouts, and sink holes.
I’ve considered a GPS system, but I think I’d rather stick to my compass and map. There’s no substitute for map reading, compass navigation, and terrain association.
The medic bag is heavy and bulky, and I could definitely strip it down some, but I’ll accept it as it is because I’d rather have it and not need it. I don’t cut corners on first-aid.
I have two major omissions:
I don’t have any wet-weather gear. This is mainly because I sweat so much that it does me little good. Even so, I should have a poncho or rain coat or something.
I don’t have spare boots. It’s on the list. I just haven’t bought them yet.
I’d like to have some sort of emergency signaling device. A flare gun is too much of a fire hazard. Signal beacons and satellite phones are too expensive. I mean, I’m packing enough light and other equipment that I could rig something in an emergency, but I’d like to know for sure that I’m not going to end up like these guys that walk off into the woods for an afternoon hike and are never found again.
I’d like to get solar battery recharger so I don’t have to worry about powering the few electronics I do carry. I’ve looked at a number of options, and just haven’t decided yet. Ideally, I’d like to get a charger that can power or recharge a laptop, because I have my eyes on a Panasonic Toughbook that would be awesome to take with me to write while I’m on my (non emergency) trips. Along the same lines, I’d like to get one of those flashlighst that don’t require batteries; you charge them up with a crank or other mechanical motion.
I’ve seen a fixed-blade knife that doubles as a spear head. I may buy one and see if they’re worth anything, because a sturdy spear would be very valuable if I ran out of ammo and needed to trap and kill bigger game like a deer or a boar. Along the same lines, I’ve considered getting a good sling shot. I think with some practice I could kill (or at least stun) small game, and I’d have ammo as long as I could get river rocks. I’d just need a spare band in case the main one broke. I don’t know if it would work or not, but it’s a thought.
Mary Keirnan is a scout in Alexi’s witch-hunting party. She has straight blond hair and brown eyes. Her hair comes to her shoulders when it’s down, but she usually has it pulled up into a knot to keep it out of her way. She’s twenty-four years old. She’s 5’ 4” tall and petite. Her facial features are lean and sharp. She’s attractive, but not a stunning beauty.
She wears leather armor that offers light, full body protection, but it doesn’t have any tassels or decorations to dangle and get caught as she stalks through the woods. Her armor also doesn’t accentuate her feminine form. In fact, it actually subdues her curves to the point where she can pass as a man if she has her hair up and her helmet on. She carries a long sword across her back, twin short swords on each hip, hung from cross-slung belts, and two daggers on the same belts that hold her short swords.
Mary is a woman caught in a man’s world. Lord Keirnan is the only commander who allows women to fight in his House forces, and when Mary is among those forces, she’s a valued and respected warrior. Unfortunately, she quickly finds herself alone in her world and society, and many times her life would be easier if she could swing her hips and flirt as skillfully as she swings a sword and bashes skulls, but she does the best she can.
Somewhere, under the armor and scars, a sensual woman exists behind the gruff soldier exterior she must always show the world. Sometimes her femininity is buried so far inside that she has trouble finding it. Most days Mary doesn’t even pause to consider or miss the life she might have led, had she picked up a butter churn or loom instead of a sword and crossbow, but sometimes, just sometimes, her skin longs to wear silk dresses instead of leather armor. Her hands wish to comb her hair instead of sharpening her sword. Unfortunately, her problem is not that she’s forgotten how to indulge her softer side; she never learned how.
Have you ever heard of a finite state machine (FSM)? It’s a term that gets thrown around when folks discuss mathematical models, digital circuits, or computer science. You’ll also see it occasionally in data networking (EIGRP uses the DUAL FSM to determine favorable routes.)
You might be wondering, “What is an FSM?” More likely, you may wonder, “Why is he telling us this?”
Perhaps it’s an oversimplification, but an FSM is basically a logical device used to compute results based on a set of conditions. They can be used to program computers to sort through a diverse array of data and arrive at pertinent conclusions or predictions. They’re called finite state machines because any given FSM can accept only the preset conditions it’s designed to consider, and those preset conditions can only be subjected to a limited number of state transitions.
I’m talking about it because people sometimes ask me questions like, “How do you come up with your plots? How do you keep character behavior consistent? How do you decide what the characters will do next? How do you keep it all straight?”
I like to tell them, “I use an infinite state machine.” Then I laugh when they look at me like I’m nuts. Despite all of the cool things I’ve done (the Rangers, bouncing, etc) I am – and I always have been – a total geek at heart. If someone wants to understand how I write, they need to understand the concept of FSMs, because I don’t believe that I decide what the characters do next. I don’t have to make an effort to keep their behavior consistent. I don’t decide what happens next. The infinite state machine does all of the work.
It goes back to the days when I game mastered pen and paper role-playing games like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons or Shadowrun. (I never really liked AD&D, but I mention it because people recognize it more than some of the obscure games I preferred.) A game master can run his game in one of two ways. He can script out the entire session and railroad players into doing what he wants so that it conforms to what he has planned, but this frustrates players because they don’t feel like they have any choice. Alternately, he can just sit back and let the players do what ever they want, but this puts a tremendous workload on the game master to improvise everything on the fly, and players often need some guidance to prevent them from being overwhelmed by the possibilities.
I used a hybrid approach. I planned a basic plotline of what I wanted to happen. I’d plan Plot Point A, B, C, and so on. I’d plan details for those specific points. I’d get the players started at Point A and then turn them loose. I’d let them do whatever they chose, and then play the session accordingly, even if it meant I had to shift the world around a little bit to make it all work out. I always thought, “They’re at Point A. They have to get to Point B eventually, but I have no idea of how they’re going to do that.”
Consider this example:
I start the game in a large city. The characters are walking back to their inn after watching a jousting tournament when they see a woman being attacked by three men. This is Point A and the start up of the infinite state machine. The players can help her or not. If they do help, there’s no guarantee that they can fight off the men. If they help her, and if they defeat the men, the woman will provide the plot hook that points them to Plot Point B. If they don’t help her, I have to come up with a new way to point them in the right direction. If they help but get their asses kicked, I have to decide if I’m going to let them get killed or if I’ll throw in some city guards to help them out. But what if they do save her, and she tells them to meet her in a tavern, but they decide to go to a brothel instead? Then I still have to come up with some way to make sure the story progresses.
The key here is to notice that I had no control over what the players did. I had the power to alter the world if I thought it would enhance the story, but I had no obligation to do so, and I could not change the details of the present moment without the players noticing. I could only affect the possible futures. Suppose the players decided to help the woman and were defeating her attackers more easily than I had anticipated. I could allow it to continue and let them enjoy their moment of badassery, or I could decide that tougher reinforcements were on the way, just to raise the tension. However, I could not make those specific attackers tougher in the middle of that specific fight without the players knowing I was messing with them. Assuming the players don’t kill them, I could allow the attackers to come back later, and be tougher at that time, but I couldn’t buff them up in the middle of the current fight.
From these gaming examples, we start to see the basic rules I use when I write:
I know the characters get from Point A to Point B, but I don’t know how they do it, and I don’t know what condition they’ll be in once they arrive at Point B.
I cannot control what the characters do or say. I only control how the world reacts to them.
I cannot change the past or the present. Once it is written, it is done, but I can change the unwritten future.
I cannot alter the outcome of an encounter to favor a character unless it is absolutely necessary to ensure the story continues.
Any changes I make must be plausible and transparent to the reader.
(At this point I want to point out that rules are made to be broken, and these are no exception. I have broken them before and will do so again, but hopefully I’ve committed my transgressions with enough guile and skill that no one will see where I’ve cheated.)
I write stories like I mastered games, except my characters are my players. I know my characters’ personalities, strengths, weaknesses, fears, dreams, desires, education, and skills. I know the status of the world – everything from economy, politics, and weather to geography, gravity, and the limitations of magic. All of this knowledge comprises the starting conditions of my infinite state machine. I throw the characters into it, and they react in accordance with their natures. I’m not really a writer; I’m more like a man watching rats in a huge maze, and I just write down what I observe. I don’t always like what the rats do, and I sometimes wish they acted differently, but I can’t directly manipulate them without ruining the experiment. I can change the aspects of the maze and record what happens. That’s it.
Granted, the “rats” are my characters; the “maze” is my fictional world, and both are contained within my mind. Readers might think that I can do whatever I want, and I should be able to make the character do what I want, but that simply isn’t true.
Have you ever read a story where something improbable and nearly unbelievable happens just so the characters can survive or progress to the next plot point? It happens in fantasy fiction, usually through the use of magic, but it can also be found in contemporary fiction. The Davinci Code comes to mind. I lost track of how many times the plot progressed just because the main character had a flash of insight and figured out what to do next. Dan Brown might as well have written “Robert figured it out… just because.” I can forgive a single use of this, but I have a problem when it becomes a repetitive plot-driving device. What happens when you read that sort of thing? I don’t know about you, but I feel cheated. I want to call ol’ Dan and yell “Bullshit!”
Have you ever read a story where a character does or says something that seems contrary to your concept of them, but it has to be done or said in order for the story to continue? Does it confuse you? I know it confuses me, and again, I want to call the author and say “Get your shit straight!”
These jarring quirks in writing can be avoided if a writer follows my rules. Here’s one more example:
I have a character that’s between Plot Point A and Plot Point B. Point A was a remote lumberjack town where someone was supposed to know the identity of the assassin who’s tracking our hero. Point B is the confrontation with the assassin. I know that, when my character arrives at Point B, he’s probably going to get into a fight with the assassin. I know that the hero will need a sword and armor if he’s to have any chance of winning the fight.
However, I’ve let our hero run around inside my infinite state machine since he arrived at Point A, and now he’s gotten into more trouble that I anticipated. I didn’t plan for it to happen, but here he is, on the edge of a cliff, with the river below, and an angry pack of werewolves coming up from behind.
If I want the story to progress, he must survive. The river is his only chance. If I write that he jumps into the river in full plate armor and manages to swim to safety, any reader with an ounce of common sense will call me and yell “Bullshit!”
Therefore, he must lose the armor, and probably the sword too. So he takes it all off and jumps into the river, just in time to avoid the ravenous werewolf pack. I had originally envisioned the assassin would fight him in a large city, but I need to get the story back on track, so I decide the assassin will track him and the fight will happen after our hero pulls his water logged ass out of the river.
BUT, the hero has no weapon and no armor. I can’t make the assassin easier to fight because the readers have already seen him in action and know he’s a master in the arts of badassery.
At this point I look back through my notes to see what, if anything, I’ve previously established about this river and the surrounding area. I see that in an earlier dialogue it was mentioned that marauders prey on all traffic through this section of the river.
Therefore, it makes sense that our hero would be captured by them, because he’s unarmed and half-drowned. The marauders fish him out of the river, thinking they’ll ransom him or sell him to slavers. Our hero takes a day or two to regain his strength and to watch for an opportunity to escape. (This also gives the assassin time to find his trail and catch up.)
When the opportunity comes, our hero makes his move. Being a badass in his own right, he manages to defeat his two guards despite his disadvantages. This is plausible since the guards are just river rats with swords and armor. They aren’t trained soldiers or seasoned killers, and they aren’t watching our hero as closely as they would if they knew his identity.
This is another junction where it can’t be too obvious that I’m stepping in to save the hero. First of all, no matter how awesome he is, he’s fighting two armed and armored men at the same time, while he has no weapon or protection.
Chances are very slim that he’ll win without a scratch. Furthermore, chances are likewise slim that the weapons will be of the best quality or that his opponent’s armor will fit him perfectly. I could write that he kills his foes without getting hurt, the armor fits him like a second skin, and one of the river rats was carrying Excelsior (Excalibur’s brother.) If I do that, I’ll get more bullshit calls, and I’d deserve them, too.
When it’s all said and done, he has two swords. Both are poorly forged out of shoddy steel. Between the two marauders he managed to scrape together a full suit of armor that fits him well enough to protect him but his range of motion is restricted, and neither helmet fit him. Last of all, he has a slash on his right thigh, from his fight with the marauders. It isn’t deep, and it won’t pose a risk if he can get it cleaned and properly treated, but it definitely slows him down. Our hero doesn’t know it, but the assassin is close, and closing fast.
Now the stage is set for Plot Point B. Sure, it isn’t anything like I envisioned, and our hero is going to have a really tough fight when the assassin shows up, but at least it’s plausible that the good guy might win, and the reader’s suspense is even higher than it would have been had everything gone as I intended. Best of all, it doesn’t seem like I’ve stepped in to protect the hero, so I know the reader will be happy. As the author, I can look forward to more challenges since it now seems likely that our hero exit Point B in a totally different condition than expected, which will really make things interesting when I throw him into the infinite state machine to see how he gets from Point B to Point C.
When it’s all written, published, and on the book shelf, I’ll have one more choice to make. When someone asks me, “How do you think all of that stuff up? Did you have all of that planned from the beginning?” I can lie and say, “Why, yes. Yes, I planned it that way from the start, because I’m just that damn good.” Or I can try to explain the infinite state machine and laugh when they look at me as if they’ve just realized they’re in arms’ reach of an unrestrained mental patient.
For a moment, try to forget everything you know about working, cashing paychecks, paying taxes, saving for vacation, buying groceries, applying for car loans, and all other matters of financing. Put it all out of your mind, and open your imagination. Pretend that on your eighteenth birthday, you are given a credit card, and you are told, “There is no way for you to check the balance of available credit on this card. You will never know how much money you have available, but whatever that amount may be, it is all the money you will ever have for the rest of your life. You must use only this account to pay for everything from now on. While market conditions may cause the account to collapse without warning, if you are lucky and frugal, you should be able to maintain some sort of lifestyle for the next 60-70 years. Good luck!”
Imagine how that would feel, if you had one account from which you were required to make all purchases for the rest of your life, but you never knew how much money you had, or when it would run out. How would that change your spending habits? What would be different?
For starters, I expect you wouldn’t waste a penny of it. You would choose all purchases based on necessity and value. You would allocate funds to purchases for the things you needed to survive, and if you made nonessential purchases (a big screen TV, for example) you would ensure that you got the best deal possible, and that you got the utmost enjoyment possible from the purchase.
Every single cent that left your possession would be carefully considered, and every time you spent money, you’d feel anxiety, worrying that you’d discover the account had run dry. It is likely that you would also become very angry very quickly with anyone or any circumstance that made you waste any of your money for any reason.
Perhaps, as the money was consistently available throughout your life, your attitude would relax as you made payment after payment, and the account never closed no matter how bad the markets fluctuated. Perhaps the years would dim your memory of the warning you were given with the card, and you would spend more freely or at least no longer feel anxiety and anger when someone wasted your money.
Perhaps you would convince yourself that you could find other options for money when yours ran out – you could convince yourself that the end of your money couldn’t really be the end, that there must be some other options for financing even after your account was empty.
You wouldn’t know for sure. You couldn’t know for sure. But you would be comforted by years of purchasing history and by your belief that you would be able to find other monies when your account finally failed. You would lapse into decadent habits, spending freely without regard for the waste, without enjoying the purchases as much as you once did.
Alternately, you may never forget the warning you were given. You may reach a point where you no longer agonize over every expenditure, but you never forget the possibility that the money may run at any time, and you won’t allow yourself to believe more money will be available. No matter how many thousands, millions, or billions of dollars clear your account, you waste not one cent if it can be avoided, and you remain quick to anger at anyone who wastes your money in any fashion.
Maybe you would get miserly and grumpy as you got older and older, believing that the money must be close to running out. Maybe you’d be more mature and peaceful, looking back on a life of smart purchases, wonderful adventures, and money well-spent, and you would not fear the day when the card was rejected due to lack of funds, because when that day came, you would be confident that you had already bought everything you needed or wanted.
OK, you can stop pretending now, but understand that there is little difference between the real world and our make-believe world. They are almost exactly the same, except instead of cents on a credit card, we have seconds in our lifespans.
We have a finite amount of time, and we can never know when it will run out. Time is the most crucial and valuable nonrenewable, nontransferable resource that any of us have. Are you wasting your allotted amount? Are you wasting someone else’s? Is someone wasting yours for you?
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