Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Coup d'état

People, and the press, are looking the wrong way when it comes to the imminent Trump cabinet. Yeah, there is a bunch of billionaire executives. That was to be expected. Some are not billionaires, though. I’m more interested in that other half.

The junta:

Ryan Zinke, ex- Navy Seal Commander
James Mattis, Ret. Marine Corps General
John Kelly, Ret. Marine Corps General
Michael Flynn, Ret. US Army General
Mike Pompeo, first in his class at West Point. Jeff Session, Capt. Army Reserve
Rick Perry, former Air Force Pilot

That’s about half of the cabinet posts, and we’re not done. Who knows, maybe a quiet, bloodless take-over of the American government by the military is good thing. Or at least on honest thing. If we, as a nation, are spending 57% of discretionary spending on the military - $602 billion dollars a year – we should probably have those numbers represented up-front, at the table.

And we should be thankful there were no beheadings. These ‘strokes against the state’ don’t always go so smoothly.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Milkman comes from McDonalds

I love this article by George Monbiot about McDonalds, globalization and the decline of democracy. It reminds me that I may not, in fact, be a total Chicken McNugget Little for writing The Milkman. Some smart people think the rule of corporations is less far-fetched than aliens, killer robots and self-lacing sneakers. (OK, not so much on that last one.)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Connecting a Dot

I’m buying a six-pack of Amazon Echo Dots today. If you are unfamiliar with them, allow me: You plug these hockey puck things into a stereo or a lamp or whatever you like that’s got a plug and then you can tell the Dot to perform that thing's function. Like a Clapper that understands words. You can make your house listen to you. In my case, that means at least something is listening to me.

The wife and kids hear slightly less than a third of what I say, regardless of volume or topic. Which can be very unproductive. I make an announcement like, "I’m going to the store for milk and eggs" and hear back "What the hell is a milk egg? And why do you store them?" Now this could mean I’m terribly boring two out of three times, but that’s no excuse. There could just as easily be a real pearl in there amongst the bivalve, if you get through the goo. I want someone – something, at least – to listen. Always.

So I’m putting a Dot in every room. When I say things like, "Maybe the press is wrong about vampires, too?" or "I'm going to write a short-story about a meatloaf that runs for an open Senate seat" I’ll know, on some level, I’ve been heard.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Milkman comes to the Whitehouse

There has never been a president with no experience outside of the business world. From Washington to Obama, every president served in either public office or the military, a good portion did both. The business world was never considered a solely acceptable preamble for heading the executive branch of the government. Until now.

I’m not making a judgement call here, though I’m tempted. I am saying the corporatization of America has been steady, relentless and increasingly overt. We have taken one more step towards U.S.Inc. The steps are getting close together and hopping much more quickly.

Which is great if you write books about it. As to whether it’s great for anything else? It’s a matter of point-of-view. Like when you’re in a human pyramid. The view is awesome from the top.

Monday, November 7, 2016

If you dont' feel like listening to election returns:
Just Joshing Episode 63 with the graet  is live!   

Friday, November 4, 2016

Bud Writing Lesson

A commercial for Bud Light comes on the TV, showing cans with different football teams. I laugh and say out loud that there’s nothing they can put on a Bud Light that would make me want to drink it.

Nina the daughter says, “Really? Nothing?” and disappears. She returns a few minutes later with a picture showing a penguin, on a bus, writing on his Mackerel laptop.

So, aspiring writers, be careful with absolutes, as in ‘nothing would keep me from downing that penguin Bud’ or ‘I’m always wrong’ or ‘never give writing advice.’

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Milkman is coming . . . with apples

Canada is about to sign a trade agreement with the European Union. Don’t stop reading. Really. This is the economic equivalent of hearing a creak from your attic on a stormy night. You need to grab a candelabra and investigate. Climb those stairs with me. Climb on.

Most people do not ever care about international trade deals. And they shouldn’t because they are confusing to the point of being boring. Trying to prove they either worked or didn’t is like finding the causative link between cell phone use and quinoa consumption. (They’ve both been rising over the same time period. There’s got to be a connection!) The fact is, there are too many factors in play at any given time to clearly assess these vast agreements.

The North American Free Trade Act, Trans-Pacific Partnership, Canada’s Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, the US version – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership all have one thing in common: They slide power from governments to multinational corporations. If farmers from Poland want to sell apples over here, the agreement says fine. No more pesky regulations and tariffs. Let the market decide who has the tastiest Gala for the tastiest price. They give the market more control of markets.

The control is taken from governments. Whether that’s good or bad is for you to decide. I can tell you for sure it makes governments less relevant. It puts a few squares ahead on the Chutes and Ladders of human history, closer to the free world of The Milkman, on sale wherever finer books are sold.

Reduced government, lower consumer costs, more market sensitivity – it’s all gift. Like a Polish apple. From a witch.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Run With Me

I’m kicking around an idea for new novel: The plot is full of political intrigue. Two presidential candidates make a secret pact to get one of them elected. One positions himself as the alpha-male leader of America’s right wing, the other slides left. They agree that after the alpha male has solidified his leadership, he will throw the campaign, leaving no time for the right to recover and his old friend can more easily walk into the presidency.

The protagonists have agency. They are smart, make plans and carry them out. They are not billiard balls waiting for the next knock, hoping it finally puts the other down a hole.

You know, a fantasy utopian novel. There hasn’t been much of market for that kind of thing lately, but I’m thinking that might change. I’m calling it Run With Me. There might be more than few people looking for a little escape.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

When Words Collide

Off to Calgary next week for When Words Collide, my favorite writing conference. It brings together writers from different genres – mystery, thriller, horror, romance, fantasy and of course, science fiction, the weird cousin of all genres.

I’ll be doing panels on . . .

Privacy in Science Fiction – which is tricky as science fiction writers like to be private and then open themselves up to the whole world.

Writing about horrible things – as opposed to just horrible writing, either of which I may claim some expertise.

Is theme overrated – quick answer, yes. Everything is, aside from The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll, which far too few people have read.

Mystery and speculative fiction crossover – this is how I spend my spare time. I actually drive a crossover now, that’s how far into it I am.

Is there a place for optimism in science fiction – as if it matters, psychic AI bacteria are going to kill us all anyway. ‘mater-o-time.

Science fiction noir classics – I want to go so I can nominate some of my work. I’m not classy, but my books are.

Friday, July 15, 2016

What science fiction does best

Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer doesn’t need another great review. It’s got plenty of those and I don’t really review books, so much as trumpet those I’ve come across that deserve a solo.

Predicting the future is not the job of science fiction. It’s a parlor trick. It can be used to garner attention from outside the SF bubble, but it’s really not the genre’s most valuable contribution to society. Changing perspective, getting people to adjust their view, look at things in a different way and maybe get them to change their respective headings – that is what separates a decent science fiction novel from a Bazooka Joe comic. In terms of changing the way you view the world, Quantum Night is better than going to the optometrist.

The hook of the book is this hypothetical: Humanity is divided into Quicks (thinkers with a conscience), Psychopaths (thinkers sans a conscience) and P-zeds, who lack an internal voice.

Robert makes this scenario very, very plausible. The first gift of the book. Regardless of the science, he pushes you to look at the problems in the real world through this three-fractured lens. It makes you think about how we sort people, whether it’s fare and would we take it further if we had the tools. It’s jarring, relevant (extremely relevant lately) and the second gift of the book.

The third gift is more for writers than readers and goes like this: There are guidelines for writing a novel, things you tell authors who’ve been foolish enough to start trying to help them along the way. Things like “don’t use first person”, “don’t change point-of-view”, “maintain the time line.” Robert ignores each of these. It is a testament to his craftsmanship that he can stray so far from common narrative norms and keep the narrative force. Don’t try this at home.

Of course, most books don’t have a reason to play with the POV and timelines. This one does. All writing is a mind game and this book is about how different people play it. Having the actual bones of the book hold up the theme is more than gift. Gifts are frequently something you asked for or expected - this a complete surprise. Not the people jumping out of the darkness and yelling at you kind. It’s the good kind.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Listen Up

Far Fetched Fables produced an audio version of one of my short stories, a favorite really. From the Urban Green Man collection.  For me, it's great hearing a fantastic voice actress interpret the story. For you, a really fun listen. Especially - but not exclusively - if you're commuting through a big city.

Catherine Logan reads the story, but 'reads' is not the right word. She performs a small one-woman show and does the impossible - she makes one of my stories better. I didn't think that could be done.

Give it try.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Here's to a long run

So I’m sobbing as I run. This is not normal for me. I’m actually not much of a crier at all. Still, I’m running on Whitehaven Road. The same road Brian Castner mentions in his first book. It is a desolate road, not because the road is unpopulated, because that can be cool, but because it's sparsely populated, with cars whizzing passed, driven by people you can’t see, and houses set back, inhabited by people. Possibly.

Anyway, I’m listening to the end Hamilton soundtrack. It is stunning. Absolutely stunning. I’ve got tears coming down both sides of my face for the first time since I was like eight, right.

And here comes another early morning runner. Big, tan guy. I press my lips together so hard my chin makes a deep ‘n’ shape. The guy looks at me and nods. He must think I’m on mile 20, pounding out the hard run.

As opposed to, I don't know, mile two. Which is fine with me.

Hamilton, by the way, is even better than whatever hype you’ve heard.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Want to write faster?

I have a new trick for writing faster. These cufflinks were a gift from my brother-in-law. They are control rod nuts from an Aston Martin that raced at Le Mans. 600 hp, baby. They make me get into paragraphs faster, handle awkward sentences like I'm on rails and push the apex of every scene. 

Highly recommended. It pays to accessorize, people.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Dessert (not desert) Game

More of the same. And that’s a good thing. I loved J.A McLachlan’s last book, The Occasional Diamond Thief. It was fun and touching and always kept you off guard. The Salarian Desert Game is the second book featuring Kia the diamond thief, and I enjoyed it just as much.

Well, almost as much. My favorite parts of the last book had Kia and her friend Agatha together. Playing off each other. Opposites that become friends are fascinating people, and make for fascinating reads. I wanted them to be together more in this book, but I don’t want to that portray as a negative. It makes the scenes they do share all the better.

The book does a wonderful job showing the awkward manner in which new friendships can form. Especially under dire circumstances. Thematically, it shows Kia’s continued social evolution. The exotic location, in way, makes making friends feel all the more real. And pertinent.

So now I’m hoping this book turns out to be the second course, rather than the finish.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Trump wins me over

Last night Donald Trump spoke at a huge rally in my beloved Buffalo. I had some skepticism going in, but he won me over. Now some of these phrases he used are ‘dog whistles’, veiled comments directed at only some people in the audience. So let me clear them up for you. Here is what I heard –

- If Trump wins, my next novel is going to be a best seller. I’m going to have a best seller so big, I’ll be like Donald, please, I can’t even have a best seller selling this big.

- If Trump wins, my children will no longer be mouthy. They will say ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir’ and ‘gosh, that was insightful’ as they finish their peas every night. If they don’t, they will be sent to work on the wall.

- If Trump wins, my hair will grow back. He has an inordinate amount of hair for his age and I can too, if I vote for turning back the clock, to a time when I had to have my bangs trimmed every Saturday morning I wouldn’t be able to see getting out of the pool.

America, this is going to be great. Again.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Book Review:

I picked up Hellmaw: Soul Larcenist because the author, Suzanne Church, is a riot to read. And I use that uncareful word carefully. Like an actual riot, Suzanne’s stories can be loud, fast, funny, full, purposeful and end with a lot of broken glass and blood. Her novel length work is no different. This book moves and moves and moves. I enjoyed the blending of genres and moods - gritty procedural, shadowy horror and a hint (only a hint, I actually wanted more) of rom-com just to throw you off. She is a skillful writer. You can sit back, read and relax, knowing that she will continuously entertain.

Friday, March 4, 2016

What to do when a comicbook villain attacks

You’d think after more than 75 years America would know how to handle a comicbook villain. Yet here we are, watching one take over the Republic party and we all seem helpless to stop him.

Don’t feel bad. When Lex Luthor became president in the DC Comics world (circa 2001), Superman and Batman were stymied. Of course, that Earth has a bunch of superheroes. All we’ve got is a sensible electorate?

Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap. Not even a freakin’ Hawkgirl? Seriously?

OK, it’s up to us. The people. What have we got? When you’re a comicbook writer, you constantly examine strengths and weaknesses. That’s how you make stories. In this case, we start with Trump. An excellent character name. In various card games, trump is the suit that beats all the others. Were I writing this story, I might find that a little too contrived – a power suit making a run at the presidency? – but I ain’t writing this plot line. No one is. Michael Bay would be doing a better job that this.

Trump’s powers are formidable. He’s more like the Parasite than Luthor. He sucks in all the energy that’s thrown at him, growing stronger from what should be devastating attacks. Racism, misogyny, or what I incorrectly announced would be the coup de grâce of his campaign: Stating John McCain was no war hero. This should have pushed him to the sidelines with the gung-ho crowd. Everything he says should push him off somebody’s list. Yet he continues to gain and gain and gain.

Those of you familiar with the energy sucking creature trope know we’ve got two options. (1) We feed him more and more until he finally can’t contain himself and explodes. I’m not a fan of this as the US only has like 330 million people and I think the Donald can handle that much attention. (2) Total isolation. This is how Superman usually defeats the Parasite. If he can’t touch anything, if he is totally alienated, then he shrivels into irrelevance.

If the Republican Party is as ballsy as it always claims to be, this is the play. No more debates, no more discussions, no more mentions of the name. He gets the full Lord Voldemort treatment.

There is no other way.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

None of the below

There is a petition at asking that “None of the Above” be added to ballots. As of this writing, its got close to 100,000 signatures. I’m guessing these people are fed up with the system and think the easiest possible solution – saying a two-letter, one-syllable word – might help.

Sorry. You’ve got to pick someone. You. If all you’ve got to choose from is tripe and cottage cheese, you can’t say “I’ll starve to death.”

The perception, this being a request to the White House and all, seems to be that the problem is at the top. It’s not. Our is a government by the people. Yes, money and special interests and shadowy organizations have lots of power and influence. But not all of it. Not any of it, in the end. If we all decided to vote for Kanye West he’d win. It would not matter how much money the Koch brothers have, if Wall Street approved or if it was a good idea. That’s the real power. And it’s at the bottom. Us.

Each of the current candidates, and most of those that have dropped out in the last few months (Carly Fiorina being the exception) have had plenty of support in order to make it to the national stage. Donald Trump has never been elected to office, but he’s sold millions of books and hosted a television show for years.

We, as a collective, have done this to ourselves. To complain when discomfort reaches the highest office in the land is to complain too late. To complain at all pales in comparison to voting. Our political process starts locally. That is where attention, outrage and activity needs to be applied.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


So I meet this guy about my age, with two young children, who has a career very, very similar to mine: Lots of writing and producing and strategizing for a big non-profit. We both try to find meaning and purpose pursuing art and integrity in a commercial world. We fight the uninterested, the unenthused and the unimaginative. I could tell by talking to him that we both struggle with our internal periscopes, poked up from the depths of practical compliance into creative air much easier to view than to breach. We live in the same environment, physically and metaphorically. I probably have more in common with this person than anyone I’ve ever met.

I couldn’t stand the guy. It is interesting to meet someone so like you and not like them. I didn’t hate him. There was no revulsion. But if I never see him again, that would be cool. He bugged me and I’m not entirely certain why.

He had more hair than me. That might be it.

Luckily, I know he won’t read this. He’s too self-involved. I know that because I can’t remember his name. Tim? Tom? Tucker?


Monday, February 1, 2016

The Wrong Channel. Second Edition

The new cover the The Wrong Channel, the second book of The Misspellers trilogy. It is another fantastic piece of art by Linda Shenk - Etsy shop here. I like that it is spooky without being too obvious about it.  Of course I would, right? It's something I try so hard to achieve in my everyday life.

Try and not quite succeed. On either front. I'm about as spooky as the My Little Pony Halloween Special and more obvious than Donald Trump.  I wonder if that's why I appreciate Linda's painting so much? Admiration for qualities I don't possess.  Like Harry Styles' hair.  Mmmm. . . .

Not Trump's.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Decoding The Rosetta Man

Claire McCague’s The Rosetta Man is so lovable I’m not sure I can give it a fair review. There are literary missteps I could mark off like potholes in the spring, but it would be more to show you I’m not a pushover, than to inform you about your chances of enjoying this ride. And your chances are good.

The central character, Estlin Hume, is a plausible, 21st century, and highly reluctant, Dr. Doolittle. The opening scene, with the squirrels, is enough to propel me into the novel. Hume becomes embroiled in a first-contact, political thriller – that never loses its sense of humor. It is one of the reasons the book is so fun to read.

Reasons 2: Aliens. Creatures from another planet that are really, truly alien. They don’t look like us, communicate like us, or think like us. They are so fascinating and imaginative, you can read the book for them alone.

But you wouldn’t. Clair’s fictionalized science is deep but approachable, spanning physics, biology and psychology. Her mechanisms for interstellar travel and seemingly telepathic communication are particularly delightful.

The book has perhaps too many characters, but that’s me wanting to spend all my time with Hume and the aliens. Which I hope to do in the next book, which I’m thinking reviews like this one will help move along.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Misspellers. Second Edition.

Here is the new cover for the second edition of The Misspellers. It's been 14 years since the first one. Books create a weird time anomaly in my memory, as in this book feels like it came out last year and a life-time ago.

The new cover is by Linda Shenk, who has an amazing Etsy shop here.  Her art is cool, fluid and mysterious and I hope some of it rubs off on my book.

The cover also fits with the other two in the series, The Wrong Channel and the soon to be released, The Misremembered.

There is also a new Misspellers Web site, which is pretty, again thanks to Linda.