Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Snippet #3: Project: Darkbelly – A Short Story

Merry Christmas and/or Joyous Greetings of Whatever Season You Celebrate. Here’s a little gift from me to you. A third snippet from “Project Darkbelly,” so named because the working title is “Into the Dark Belly.”


Continued from Snippet #2.



He didn’t understand the words at first, and then they slowly seeped into his oozing awareness, along with underlying smells of smoke and earth and wood.

“Yes. Fetch their chief. And bring fresh water.”

It was some form of crude Gurtham dialect that bled into his cultivated Fahani ears and rearranged themselves to make sense.

Barely in the world of the living, Tisarian frowned. Was he a prisoner? He struggled to move, his limbs leaden. His spirit seemed to have journeyed from some faraway place to come back to a dim gray semblance of life. He had the will to rise, but not the strength. In due time however, his faculties cleared and he managed, at last, to turn his head toward the light.

A long moment passed as Tisarian blinked to clear his vision. He realized eyes were watching him. Intense. Thoughtful. Reflecting tongues of flame. He grasped at reality and stared back at a woman. She sat close by, orchid-cheeked, her crimson skin flickering in a red and orange glow, studying him with her chin resting in a slender woad-swirled hand as her kohl-rimmed eyes reflected firelight. Her hair was loose and dark as shadow.

The female’s arm suddenly moved over his head and plumes of amber, of earthy roots, and a sweet animal-musky scent floated out, swirling over him. It was intoxicating.

He heard soft liquid sounds, trickling. Droplets fell on his face and he blinked. She placed something cool on his forehead.

Tisarian reached up and took hold of her hand. Warm. Flesh. Not some delusion of undulating scarlet and bronze. Her soft skin in the flickering firelight, her earthy animal scent, it stirred him, even in his worn out state.

“Do not move,” she spoke in the common Trade tongue of the Eastern Kingdoms. Her accent was heavy, clipped. She withdrew her hand.

The woman emanated confidence, as one inclined to issuing orders and having them obeyed without question. “You are still quite ill,” she said.

Tisarian tried to speak. Discovered he could not. Sensing this, the woman said, “You will have water soon. Just rest.”

And so his thoughts turned back to what he could last recall.

The enemy at the walls of Varna Sestus. An ominous ocean of shields and spears and steel; primal war-bellows from thousands of bestial throats echoing in the pass, rending the skies. He threw his magic at them, but it was not enough. The sestus fell, and he lay, completely spent, in the snowy rubble, waiting for death.

Then there was Marcus, scooping him up, and all this running and the occasional pause as his friend issued a roar and Tisarian would hear the Iridian blade’s subtle hum—a sound only his skein[1]-trained ears could hear—followed by yells of pain.

They fled into the wild.

Days came and went. More fighting. More running. He recovered for a while and used his magic against the enemy warbands that dogged them, but then came something dark, something comprised of Drear and evil intent. It visited his dreams at first, tickling him like spiders against his flesh, but then it sent out much sharper tendrils, and they came not at night but during his waking hours. When he tried to send back his own magical feelers to discern the source of this troublesome thing, he was struck terribly ill.

But he was quite certain he had discerned something, out there, in the cold and gloom. Something dire…and horrific…to behold…something…

Daylight fell across Tisarian’s face and he squinted up into it. The light was cut off by a dark shadow that stood in the doorway, and then he saw the familiar face of his friend.

Marcus Grivna was extraordinarily tall among his people, owing to his father, a former knight born of Valhaldar, who, in his twilight years, had married a young and beautiful Fahani noblewoman. Marcus was gifted with the long and powerful frame of his father’s people, as well as the hair, eyebrows, and downy beard, pale almost to whiteness, and large blue eyes that gleamed like twinset gems. But rather than the coarse features, blunt nose, and convex brow that marked most of the Valhaldi, Marcus possessed the fine features, the straight nose, high forehead, and sensual grace that were markedly Fahani.

Still, the travails of their journey had taken its own toll on the young knight, albeit a lesser one than it had on Tisarian. Marcus’s long unbraided hair hung down in wisps around his face, which was cadaverous, sunken-eyed, and melancholy.

“How is he?” said Marcus in the Trade tongue. He handed the woman a clay pitcher.

The woman looked at him, then at Marcus, and shrugged her narrow shoulders. She took the pitcher and poured fresh water from it into a bowl.

Marcus frowned, but waited as the woman emptied more of the pitcher’s contents into a small cup, then she looked up at the knight. “Maybe we should speak outside?” she said.

He made a grim expression and nodded.

As the woman went to dab Tisarian’s forehead with the wet cloth, the sickly skeinwielder weakly grasped her hand and nudged it away. He tried to speak, but once again found he could not. He coughed softly, letting go of her hand, and pointed at the cup.

The woman nodded and placed it against his lips. He took a long sip. The water was cold and eased the itchy dryness in his throat. Tisarian rasped faint words. “Evil. Much evil…here. We must…”

“I know, Ri. Let me speak with Nagala outside and then we’ll figure out what to do.”

Tisarian shook his head. “N-no…you need me.”

“No doubt we do, so just be still and regain your strength.”

Tisarian clenched his fist and slammed it down on the side of the bed. His arm—his entire body actually—felt as heavy as lead and it was fairly all he could do to raise it. Part of his fist struck the bowl in the woman named Nagala’s hand and water splashed all over them both.

Marcus stepped forward. “Tisarian—” he said, reaching out.

“You dumb ox! Get me…up…or I’ll, by the Pillar…I’ll ignite this whole—!”

Nagala had backed away, making room for Marcus to kneel down by Tisarian. She seemed to be watching with a mixed expression of stupor and amusement.

“Very well! Just…wait.” Marcus put a reassuring hand on Tisarian’s bare shoulder. He then looked over his friend and noticed his nudity beneath the blankets. “Light, Tisarian,” he said. “First, let’s at least get you dressed.”


[1] The skein is the energy that binds all of existence together. It is used by practitioners throughout Khaladune to wield magical forces, for good or for ill.

All fiction and snippets contained herein are © 2009-2010 J.M. Martin. Do not copy or distribute. All rights reserved.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Movie Review: Avatar

Avatar-Teaser-Poster“I see you.”

If you are a native of Pandora, one of The People called Na’vi, then those three words—“I see you”—mean a lot more than what they actually say. To tell someone “I see you” is to say something deeply spiritual, basically “I know who you are on the inside, in your heart and spirit.”

I don’t know filmmaker James Cameron, but he has given us all something very special. Before today, he gave us The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, True Lies, and yes, even Titanic, among others. I grew up with these movies. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen Aliens over the years. Thirty perhaps? It’s such a timeless film, and Sigourney Weaver is just so darn cool in it!

Yes, over the decades, Cameron has shared his unsurpassed imagination in brilliant, enduring, and even award-winning ways. But on December 18th, 2009, he gave us his everything. He gave us what I perceive will be applauded as the finest performance of a true master filmmaker’s career. He gave us Avatar.

“Everything is backwards now, like out there is the true world and in here is the dream.”

To me, James Cameron is more than a director, more than a filmmaker. He is a visionary. He had to wait 10 years before he felt confident that digital rendering of photo-realistic CGI technology was up to the challenge of the film he had in mind. Much due to Peter Jackson and the WETA crew for their rendition of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films, Cameron has been noted as saying he knew at long last he was going to be able to make Avatar. The result is nothing short of magnificent. If you know everything or nothing of the technology of film, it makes no difference. It won’t even occur to you whether you’re viewing live action or CGI, because the integration is perfectly seamless.

Suffice it to say, the rendering of the extremely biodiverse scenery and characters of Pandora are breathtaking. I’m not going to go into the film’s story. It’s just too redundant, and countless other Web sites have already done that part perfectly fine. But I will say that Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña shine as the romantically paired Jake Sully, a paraplegic Marine, and Neytiri, the “princess” of the  Na’vi Omaticaya clan, who are destined as soulmates. The chemistry between these two is so pure, so well-acted, and so believable, that you will completely forget you’re watching CGI versions of real life actors. Personally, I fell in love with Neytiri, meaning Saldaña was so good that my heart was captured by a 10-foot-tall blue alien. That’s sort of saying something right there.

Avatar's Neytiri as played by Zoe Saldana
Avatar's Neytiri (Saldana) ready for action
Avatar's Neytiri (Saldana) and Jake Sully (Worthington)
Layer on top of Worthington and Saldaña the stellar performances of Sigourney Weaver (Dr. Grace Augustine), Joel David Moore (Norm Spellman), Michelle Rodriguez (Trudy Chacon), CCH Pounder (Mo’at), and the bastardly Stephen Lang (Col. Miles Quaritch)—sorry, I can’t think of a better word!—and we are surprisingly treated to one of the finest casting assemblies since the aforementioned The Lord of the Rings. These aren’t the only memorable characters, either, but I’ll forego typing out the entire cast and crew of this film. It’s worth mentioning, too, that it’s very cool how the three Avatars whose bodies are created for their human counterparts to inhabit actually look like the humans. Every time I looked at Sigourney Weaver as a Na’vi, there was no mistaking it. That’s Sigourney Weaver.
“You’re not the only one with a gun, bitch!”

If it seems like I’m gushing, I am. As we departed the cinema, my wife asked me what I thought. I said, “I’m still on a high, but I’ll go ahead and say it. That film was probably the greatest movie ever made. It was perfect.” So, yes, I’m gushing a little bit. And by saying it was perfect, I meant it was perfect FOR ME. Not everyone’s a huge fantasy nerd like myself, so while my wife’s initial comment was merely, “It was much better than I was expecting,” mine was “Perfect! James Cameron is unequivocally the best filmmaker ever.”

Not only that, but Cameron’s environmental message is clear. While the humans prey on this new-found world, the native race consort with the nature of Pandora to fight back. James Cameron 2009

In a December 11th Associated Press release, Cameron says, “There's a sense of entitlement [in the film]: We're here, we're big, we've got the guns, we've got the technology, we've got the brains, we therefore are entitled to every damn thing on this planet. That's not how it works, and we're going to find out the hard way if we don't wise up and start seeking a life that's in balance with the natural cycles of life on earth.”

Very well said. The fact that the year of the film is 2154 A.D., and mankind is in desperate need of new resources—a character says about Earth in the film “There’s nothing green back there"…”—means that Cameron feels, as I do, that we really need to start taking better care of our planet, and soon!

So, yes indeed, Avatar is topical, and it’s also an epic masterpiece, from the emotional scenes of Jake’s and Neytiri’s bonding, to the majestic heights as we soar through the treetops or on the backs of ikran, to the edge-of-seat turbulence of the battle sequences. I honestly feel that Avatar, not Titanic, will be remembered as James Cameron’s magnum opus.

Go see it. I plan to, again, and next time I’ll check out some of that newfangled 3D technology.



View the trailer for Avatar below.


Visit: Official Avatar Movie


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Nobody Home? The Streak Has Ended

I use Google Analytics to track visitors to my blog. Don’t worry. It doesn’t give me your e-mail address or bank account pin number, but I can track where you’re from, when you visited, what pages you visited, and even what pages sent you here. I can tell your browser, your connection speed, and even the keywords you typed into the search engine that brought you here. For example, some poor sap typed in “martial arts film jade princess” and ended up reading my snippet and probably thought, “Where’s all the dang kung fu?” Sorry, buddy.

But, it’s pretty awesome. I know I’ve entertained American visitors from Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky (of course), Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and California. I’ve also somehow reached overseas, with visitors from Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Taiwan, and even Vietnam (Hi, Brian). This even breaks down to the city. Hey there, Saginaw, MI. How’s it hanging, Provo, UT? Round Rock, TX, I hear you got it going on! And how about you, Oslo, Norway? Can I come hang out for a week or two? Ah, well, that’s very nice of you, Ho Chi Minh City, to offer up your pad. I think I just might.

Silliness aside (which is hard for me sometimes), the reason I’m writing is because I guess I’m a little bummed. You see, on December 15th my site had zero visitors. Nunca. Zilch. None. That breaks a streak of 42 days where someone either purposely visited, or at least some hapless “fassbender hicox review” seeking Web surfer from Prospect, Pennsylvania somehow managed to find themselves on the ol’ Ranting and Raven blog.

Maybe this is the start of a new streak, though. One can dream.

Persian exclaims, "My arm." Stelios says, "It's not yours anymore."

“Then we shall fight in the shade.”

More to come…

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Project Skeincrafter: An Expert on the Case

I’m elated to have found someone who knows their crossbows! I came across DW (aka Dirtwitch) yesterday while perusing George R. R. Martin’s blog. She’d posted a link to her Flickr photostream and right away I jumped at the opportunity to drop her a line. DW was willing to let me run some snippets by her—from one of my projects called “Project Skeincrafter,” which is about 130 pages of fantasy fiction set in Khaladune—and I’m already feeling infinitely better about getting my terminology right. A good example is how DW pointed out details on arming the weapon, saying: “You SPAN a bow, and LOAD a bolt! Spanning being the act of pulling the string up...” As someone who has never used a crossbow in his life, but wants to write about them like he has, this kind of stuff is really good to know.

My concern started because a main protagonist in Project Skeincrafter heavily uses his military crossbow, “a 34-inch utterly black death-dealer of oak and steel,” and I’ve been trying to find someone to set me straight on the nuances of various parts and pieces and pull weights… It’s more info than I probably need, but it’s better to have more info and not need it than to need it and not have it (and come off looking like a total ig-no-ra-moose, which I do well enough on my own). So, as luck would have it, my love of GRRM’s work led me to DW.

Note: George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” is some of the greatest fantasy ever written and is a consistent New York Times Best Seller. Currently, the Game of Thrones pilot just wrapped filming for HBO (which is why I’ll be picking HBO back up in the future; I’d canceled it after Rome ended). They’ll know in March, 2010, if the series will be picked up. I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed.

The full cast of the pilot for A Game of Thrones:

If you haven’t read any of it, here’s where to begin:

  • A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book I) on

And, of course, to check out some of DW’s beautiful crossbow handiwork:

  • Click here to visit her Flickr photostream


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Project Darkbelly: A Few Notes

“Project Darkbelly” is the codename for a short story I’m working on, since its tentative (placeholder) title is “Into the Dark Belly.” This is subject to change, and it probably will. I’ve found my stories usually don’t find their rightful title until I’ve written them. This one isn’t proving to be any different in that respect.

I need to give credit where it’s due, though. This story features a pair of characters created in a small group of friends who come together ever so often to game or just hang out and play video games, drink beer, shoot the proverbial bull, what-have-you. Tisarian was created by my friend, Eric Wolfe. And Ser Marcus Viridius Grivna is my own character.

The game itself is run in a world created collaboratively between Tony “Tone” Parsons and myself. The world is called Khaladune. We started coming up with various maps and concepts a long time ago. Honestly, Khaladune’s world building process has been a long evolution spanning years. Tone has been content over this time to toss out ideas during our brainstorm sessions and to archive various e-mails and other world building documents, though I believe his most important additions have come while running our game sessions.

I, on the other hand, am a writer at heart, so my contribution has always been in composing fiction. It seems I’m not satisfied unless I have at least two or three running projects, and in 2007 I was fortuitous enough to capture the notice of one William H. Horner, the publisher at Fantasist Enterprises, who accepted the submission of “Tisarian’s Treasure” and published it in the pages of Sails & Sorcery: Tales of Nautical Fantasy. The good news here is that William so enjoyed “Tisarian’s Treasure” that he’s offered his editorial services for Project Darkbelly, which means the snippets posted on my blog are by no means the final rendition of this particular tale.

As you might have noticed (if you’ve read the snippets), I’ve peppered footnotes throughout the story, which I’m planning to carry over into print if this tale should find a publisher. Among the primary comments I receive from alpha readers, most of which are not your typical fantasy fans, is the unfamiliar terminology. I think footnotes go a long way in helping ease readers through the tale, so I’m fairly convinced they’re essential to the story.

I should be wrapping Project Darkbelly soon. School tends to get in the way of my writing progress sometimes, alas. And then, of course, my own darn inability to write anything of less than epic proportions. I went over the word count with “Tisarian’s treasure,” but William liked it enough to still include it in his anthology. I also set out to keep Project Darkbelly around 6,500 words and it’s now over 9,000…so, when I have it closed off to my satisfaction (hopefully no more than 12,000 words), it will be crossing William’s desk shortly thereafter. He’s a fantastic editor, so I have every confidence that his suggestions will take it from a rather good yarn to an absolutely stellarific one! Just you wait and see, by gum!

Now I’m off to grab some shuteye (and I still haven’t passed this damnable kidney stone, so a trip to the loo is my first necessity!).


If you’re interested in reading some of “Tisarian’s Treasure,” I have several snippets posted on my Goodreads profile.

Snippet #2: Project Darkbelly – A Short Story

Continued from Snippet #1.


“HAIL, SIRE, AND GOOD MORROW,” said Ser Lasrien Falcor, the last remaining son of House Falcor. The Lord Marcher Falcor and his other son, Lasrien’s elder brother, Lukas, lay on the ice-rimed slopes of Mount Riva, roughly twenty leagues[1] away. They lay twice-dead, his father now headless, and his brother tossed from the cliffs into the ice-cold sea.

For a young man who had slain his family less than four days ago, Lasrien seemed rather lively.

“Good?” said Marcus.

“Yes. Every day we serve the Light is a good day, Avin[2] Willing.”

Where is Avin now?, Marcus asked himself. The thought caused him to grimace. After all, he wore the black and white tabard of the Avinon Order[3], emblazoned with the six-pointed golden estoile[4]—the symbol of the Dayseer. As a matter of fact, they were often called the Knights of the Harbinger, as if they hailed from the Golden Gate[5] itself.

Young Ser Falcor—Marcus thought it funny to think of Lasrien as young, since he was actually a year his senior—was a knight of another order, from the rank and file of the Luminary Knights[6], typically placed in command positions within the legion.

In spite of the past few days of running and fighting, Lasrien still cut a dashing figure. He was trim and graceful. His helm, tucked in the crook of one elbow, exposed a handsome face with lean masculine features and tired, red-rimmed eyes beneath close-clipped black hair. Lasrien wore his panoply of plate armor well, the breastplate fitted with a gold and silver image of the Bestia Lumina, the Illuminated Beast, a golden phoenix encircled in a halo of light. His tattered blue cloak also bore the same symbol embroidered in gold and silver thread.

It was said the Beast represented a rebirth of men’s souls. Marcus used to consider this concept a wondrous thing. But upon witnessing all that he had seen in Gurthkam, a rebirth of the soul had taken on an entirely new meaning for him—a marred and grotesque one.

He glowered at Lasrien until the knight blanched.

“Sire?” The knight looked at Marcus with a questioning glance. “Have I offended you?”

“No.” Marcus hadn’t realized his brooding thoughts were etched on his face. “No, good ser,” he repeated. “I was just lost in thought.”

“Very well, sire. The Gurtham scout, Sidgur, has informed me the way forward into yonder vale is clear, but it seems trails of smoke rise up from the woods beyond. He says he thinks it’s the Volgawud. What are your orders, sire? Shall we delve further?”

Marcus glanced over to where his friend and companion sat on the edge of a large boulder. Tisarian was wrapped in a tattered brown cloak with the hood drawn up, hiding his face except for his beardless chin. Dark green trousers and black boots were his only other apparent garb.

“Just tell everyone to stay put,” Marcus said to Lasrien. He didn’t wait for the knight to reply or salute, but rather walked toward his friend. Tisarian had his cloak tight about him and was visibly shivering. His head hung low. It was more than just the cold of the Forsaken Lands. He had evidently taken ill.

“How are you feeling, Ri?”

Tisarian’s head rose quickly, surprised by Marcus’s sudden presence. “Eh?”

“I asked how you’re feeling. Are you well enough yet to move on?”

Tisarian knuckled one eye and suppressed a yawn. He stood up and gave Marcus a faint smile. “Ready,” he said.

Marcus gripped Tisarian’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “We have to keep moving. Every moment we delay—”

“Is another moment Ekron’s forces get nearer to Falahan’s borders. Yes, I know,” said Tisarian. “Let’s move on, then.”

Marcus’s concern grew and he hesitated. Tisarian had always been slender, but now he looked perfectly frail. His body took on a stooped posture as he pulled his cloak tighter around him. The hood pulled away from his face and Marcus could see his blue lips. In addition, Tisarian’s skin was pallid, nearly gray. His eyes looked tired, the whites a sickly pink hue, the lids drowsy.

Tisarian took a few steps and turned to see Marcus standing in place, watching him. “Well? Are we going? Or are you just going to stand there imitating a—oh, I don’t know—a Cathedral goon[7]?”

Marcus’s eyes narrowed. “That’s the best you can do? Something must truly be wrong.”

“I’m not necessarily on top of my game today, Gray. A wee bit cold and tired.” Gray was Tisarian’s childhood nickname for Marcus, which he once explained was derived as a combination of the surname Grivna and Marcus’s tendency to lack ‘color’ and ‘dimension.’ He added one time, during an uproarious bout of barroom camaraderie among soldiers, ‘quite honestly, he’s a bit of an oaf, which has nothing to do with color or dimension, but he is one nonetheless.’ Said in jest, of course. In social gatherings, Tisarian’s incessant need for attention had his friend often playing the harlequin.

Marcus started moving again, stepping toward Tisarian. “Truly, Ri. Is something wrong?”

“Oh, no, I’m as fierce as a famished wolf, hardy as an oak. Can’t you tell? Or is it because I look like I’ve been dragged through nine icy, wind-blasted hells by the Carrion King’s own bung-sniffing cart driver?”

“Uh, well—”

“Because that’s how I feel right now. But let’s not mull it over. We need to keep moving, so please let’s do.” Tisarian waved his hand, gesturing Marcus to walk ahead of him.

“You’re not yourself.”

“By the Pillar, would you leave off?” Tisarian took two steps and stumbled.

Marcus barely managed to catch him before he hit the frozen ground.

[1] A league is measured as the distance a person can walk in one hour, commonly about three English miles; hence, 20 leagues approximates to roughly 60 miles.

[2] Avin is the greatest and most popular champion of the Illumination. He is referred to as a paladin, wizard, and priest, who wrote the Inspiratum and established the Church of the Illumination. He ascended into the heavens at the celestial point of his life, and the path of his ascendancy is still evident in the city of Veranda, where a great beam of light, called the Prophet’s Pillar, still shines bright to this very day. He is most commonly referred to as the Champion of the Light and the Shining Prophet.

[3] Avinon Knights, also called the Harbinger Knights, are charged with guarding the faith against the corruption of Drear.

[4] In terms of heraldry, an estoile is a six-pointed star with wave-like rays. The Avinon Order uses a golden estoile, representing the Dayseer (the sun), as well as the Six Points of the Sacred Covenant, per the Inspiratum.

[5] The Golden Gate is represented by the sun, which is the portal through which all the souls of the departed must journey.

[6] Luminary Knights are the highest position of officers in the Luminary Legion and are considered the regulars among the rank and file of all Fahani knights.

[7] Cathedral Knights, also called Temple Knights, are charged with the defense of large churches and places or relics considered sacred in the eyes of the Church.

Read Snippet #1 here.

All fiction and snippets contained herein are © 2009-2010 J.M. Martin. Do not copy or distribute. All rights reserved.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Like some junky cosmonaut…

Dag-gone. Yesterday was a new experience. You see, I ended up in the ER.

It started innocently enough, while sitting in class, listening to our new teacher go over the syllabus for our Intervention in Neurological Rehabilitation class. About 30 minutes into class I began having spasms in my lower back, posterior ribs, and bladder area. At first I thought it was just a muscle cramp. I tried straightening my posture, shifting positions, and finally I stepped out of class back into the lab to stretch it out.

But it kept getting worse. I couldn’t find a comfortable position. Within minutes I was seriously teetering on the brink of dialing 911. It was bad. Something was definitely wrong with me. I decided to seek out Dr. Craig, one of our on-site docs who happened to have also been my anatomy teacher. He stepped out into the hall with me and I told him what was going on. Needless to say, his diagnosis ended up being spot-on. He’s good.

But going back, the spasms started around 9 am. They ramped up to where they were hitting once a minute every minute. The pain sometimes spiked up to a 9 out of 10. I’d grit my teeth, hunch over, breathe deep, say things like, “Dag-gone!” Dr. Craig took my BP and it was around 200. My heart rate was over 100. So I pretty much knew I couldn’t drive, and my wife was already at work. Luckily, my dad was able to come to school and take me to The Christ Hospital of Cincinnati’s emergency room.

They got me back relatively quickly. Thankfully, the ER wasn’t very busy. By 11 am I had seen the doc and the nice nurse had IV'd me to administer pain meds (toradol) and shot me up with a muscle relaxant (norflex). They took a urinalysis and whisked me back for a C/T scan. The meds really did the job, man. I was so happy! The spasms had finally subsided. That was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life. No joke. I felt kind of like a pansy telling people this, but it was true.

The C/T results showed a kidney stone lodged in my right ureter, and more stones were just sitting in my right kidney, lurking, waiting for their turn to strike. I remained in the hospital on a saline drip, as I was seriously dehydrated, before I finally got to go home around 4:30 pm. Overall, I was hospitalized about five to six hours.

Today, I'm on a regimen of vicodin and lots of water, still trying to pass the lodged stone. At least the spasms are gone. I wouldn’t wish them on anyone…well…maybe some people…like on terrorists and rapists. But, dude, I have an even greater respect for women in labor—and that respect level was already super high having witnessed my wife go through it twice. A nurse at the hospital told me she’s experienced natural childbirth and she’s also had kidney stones, and she said if she had to choose between one or the other, she’d have another baby.

I guess I’m not a total pansy, then. My pain’s legit.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

November’s Been a Whole Lotta Fun

I have to admit I was hoping my membership drive would have netted more followers, but I’m confident more will flock to me in time. I guess it didn’t help that I switched to a new Web address right in the middle of the whole follow-my-blog-and-get-a-free-book thing.

Here we are, however. Standing yet again upon the precipice of another Harvest Festival Day (Happy Thanksgiving to all my fellow Amerikaners, and to any of you Canucks who like to join in). It’s been a month since my last post, so I’d better get hep to the jive.

First, I’ve been really active this past month with school stuff, which is one reason why the blog suffered most of November. The first week of the month I had clinicals—those of you in healthcare will recognize the term “Level I Fieldwork”—in which I did a quick 30-hour home health rotation for a company called Amedisys. I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I would have never thought going to people’s houses to administer therapy would be my bag but, hey, turns out it sorta is. It never struck me before, but enabling a client to be functional in their own lives (the goal of occupational therapy) translates to the-bubonic-plaguegetting things done AT HOME. Duh, right? There’s no better way to dole out a little OT than to have access to a client in their own environment with their own “stuff!” So after this rotation I’m seriously considering digging into this field right after I graduate (boy, that June 2010 date is starting to loom large).

Second, everyone in my family has contracted the Bubonic Plague.

Okay, well, it feels like it.

Actually we’ve all just taken turns being miserable with the recent cold epidemic, which was a whole lotta fun, especially for my three-year-old boy and nine-month-old girl…though, come to think of it, my other thirty-something-year-old girl hasn’t been having a blast with it, either. There’s just something about your babies getting sick, though.

Getting on to it, I did promise a chance at some free books to some of you—a copy of the fantasy anthology by Fantasist Enterprises called Sails & Sorcery: Tales of Nautical Fantasy, to be precise. I’d like you all to know I had my son pick your name from his Iron Man cup, and the three of you who won will be getting an e-mail from me asking if you actually want the book and where do ya want it? If you’re willing, I’ll also post your name and a hyperlink of your choice right here on the ol’ Ranting and Raven blogspot.

Alrighty, I think that’s enough for this update. I’ll try not to let another month go in-between updates, though. In fact, I’ll post another Project: Darkbelly snippet very soon. I’ve actually had a couple folks ask for it (no lie!), and I’m feeling particularly gracious so, hey, stay tuned and stuff.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Burgers & Windows: Two great tastes that taste great together.

windows_7_whopper THE KING AND BILL GATES want you to “Have It Your Way.” As I understand it, in Japanese, “yurwā” translates to “massive grease-induced coronary.” Read on…


By Mail Foreign Service
Last updated at 11:37 AM on 23rd October 2009

Burger King has released a gut-busting seven-patty Whopper to mark the release of Windows 7. In what may be the most bizarre cross-promotional campaign ever, Microsoft linked up with the fast-food chain to create the 'Windows 7 Whopper.

Read more:

Testing My New Bullets Plug-in and Contest Details


Looks like they work.

Okay, so if you decide to follow my blog (which I hope you do), here’s a link to the contest details. Read and decide for yourself.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Random Quotes for the Evening (by people I know)

“If a man can learn to appreciate good art, he may live a thousand lives in one lifetime. Sometimes three or four in one night!”

--Alex Christman (2009)

“Our days are numbered when wakes are more common than showers.”

--J.M. Martin (2009)


And a personal favorite…

“You’re about to get a windshield full of Frankenstein.”

--Jamie Rockwell (2007)

Snippet #1: Project Darkbelly – A Short Story

337 A.E.

In the Year of the Ascension of the Prophet, Avin

WAR CHANGES A MAN. Especially when the enemy’s rank and file in said war is comprised mainly of reanimated dead. People whose lives consisted of nothing more than toil and trouble, rather than rest in their graves, now made up the legions of a dark lord called the Carrion King. Tens of thousands of gruesome golems[1]. One-time fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters.

Yes, war changes a man. A year of campaign. A year of black blood in a black land. It changed young Marcus Viridius Grivna both outwardly and within. To see him on that day in the year 367 of the Ascendancy of the Prophet of the Light, or A.E., one would cast their gaze upon a thin, sunken-eyed, hollow-cheeked scarecrow of his former self, braced in dented and scratched plate armor, dirty blond hair plastered to his skull, his flesh a ghostly pallor. It was a mirror image of how he felt inside; faith-tested, his nightmares no worse than his day-to-day reality.

He had arrived beneath the rocky cliffs of the fortress called Varna Sestus[2] before the cold season, when the ice floes filled the seas and made it impractical for ships to navigate the Mist Coast. He came bright-eyed, clean-shaven, with a quick step and a firm sense of right and wrong, of what was good and what was evil. The things he had seen, that which he had partaken in, bore testament to the extremes of Light, of Drear, and of those gray border realms between. Just not the outcome. Good was supposed to prevail. Evil fall away. Not so.

When the Gurtham armies came and tore down the walls of the sestus, they destroyed what remained of the Luminary Legion and their allies in the lost northern realm. Their success was attained through overwhelming numbers, and a willingness to throw themselves heedlessly at the enemy with no regard for their own deaths. A beleaguered few of the defenders made it past the disordered rearguard and escaped into the wild, into the Forsaken Lands[3].

Marcus and his company were among those who fled. That’s when his faith first wavered.

Over the next several days, haphazard attacks by more enemy warbands and swarms of slavering revenants reduced his company to a handful. That’s when his hope of ever returning home, much less winning the war, began to unravel.

He did things he’d never foreseen ever doing. He struck down his risen comrades. He hacked the limbs and heads and torsos of undead women and children. That’s when what was left of his innocence melted away forever.

Though the meaning of it all was rather rough-hewn, Marcus never lost what it was that drove him on. He cut a jagged line into the heart of Gurthkam, refusing to lose sight of what lay behind this cursed crusade; in this deep cold season, reinforcements weren’t coming anytime soon. What was once fueled by faith in the Light, now took sustenance from anything but.

Darkness. Rage. Hatred.

These were the emotions that blanketed Marcus, kept him thrusting into the belly of this dark, bleak domain. Indignation and rage ushered him onward, a frozen grimace on his face, the wire-wrapped hilt of his Iridian blade gripped hard in two gauntleted fists. The only way he knew justice would ultimately be served upon such a dire and unrelenting foe was to never relent himself.

Nay. Never.

Not one damned bit.

[1] Revenants, technically.

[2] The sestuses—or sestii—of Varna, Bara, and Daggio were a string of fastnesses, or fortresses, which once guarded Falahan’s far northern borders. Bara (The Broken Fortress) and Daggio (The Desecrated Fortress) have long since fallen into ruin. Varna Sestus was the last to remain garrisoned.

[3] The Forsaken Lands were once the northernmost regions of the nation of Falahan, but were given up for lost in drawn out wars against Gurtham armies of men and darkindim in 116 A.E., some 220 years before this story takes place.

All fiction and snippets contained herein are © 2009-2010 J.M. Martin. Do not copy or distribute. All rights reserved.


Friday, October 16, 2009

“…They Use My Bathroom”

A30524931255662881A YOU HAVE TO SCRATCH YOUR HEAD at the absurdity sometimes. I know I do.

Imagine you call a local justice of the peace to get married and he asks you, “Are you an interracial couple?” Well, you happen to be, so you answer yes. Then he proceeds to tell you he won’t marry you. His reason? It’s out of concern for any children you may have. He doesn’t want the child to suffer, you know, because the offspring of such mixed races are generally not accepted.

Obviously, Mr. Keith Bardwell, a justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, doesn’t pay much attention to national news. Nobel Peace prize…U.S. President…hmmm? Ring a bell? No? Perhaps Mr. Bardwell just doesn’t get out much.

Maybe this justice of the peace isn’t aware it’s post-1967, when the United States Supreme Court had a little something to say on this matter.

To top it off, I love this statement the good ol’ boy makes to the Associated Press:

"I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way," said Bardwell. "I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else."

I sure hope they wash up before they leave. We wouldn’t want to pick up any “intellectually-inferior, sports-dominating” cooties now, would we?

Oh, hello, Mr. Bardwell, thank you for coming. I’d like you to meet Mr. Rush Limbaugh. Why don’t you two just have a seat over there? I can tell you have a lot to talk about…


Original AP article from our darling state of the downtrodden and deluged: AP News Link

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Book Review: A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

dirty_job_pb_lg I HAVE FOUND A NEW AUTHOR to add to my list of favorite writers. Christopher Moore has been recommended to me more than once over the past few years and I finally got around to picking up one of his best-sellers, A Dirty Job: The Novel.

Charlie Asher owns a building in San Francisco from which he runs a secondhand store. He's what Moore refers to as a Beta Male; Alpha Males have all the looks and the brawn, but Beta Males are those who have been blessed (or cursed?) with a big imagination. Charlie proves time and again that he’s no slacker, at least when it comes to being imaginative. And he has plenty of opportunity, too, for, you see, Charlie has become Death. Well, technically not The Big Death (who evidently has been in absentia for several millennia), but something his friend Minty Fresh—yes, Minty Fresh is his real name—has coined as a "Death Merchant." A Death Merchant’s job is to gather souls in order to help usher the dead on to the next life.

That's all the spoiler I'm going to delve into. The rest is up to you, O Gentle Reader, to get your bunions to the bookstore of your choice, or your local library, to pick up a copy of this smart, hilarious, and action-packed book. A Dirty Job’s banter is witty. The characters are colorful. The atmosphere is brilliant (note: Moore truly immersed me into the San Francisco urban scene). The plot is absolute fun. And the villains are not only heinous but downright bad ass. I could barely put this book down, and now I'm a total nut for Christopher Moore!

My wife also read this book, and we both agree that if Hollywood isn't looking to make a movie of A Dirty Job, then a lot of agency-slash-producer-type-folks are really missing the boat! This story perfectly lends itself to film. In fact, my wife and I would not be surprised if Moore didn't have Samuel L. Jackson in mind when he created Minty Fresh, or "the fresh one," as he's sometimes referred to in the book. My wife would like to see Zach Braff (Scrubs, Garden State) in the role of Charlie Asher, but that would be my second choice. I think Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Star Trek) was made for this role…or maybe this role was made for Pegg? Nevertheless, I think Pegg is a hilarious and brilliant actor who would have no trouble losing his accent to play Charlie Asher.

In fact, as nerds like myself are wont to do (in addition to using words like “wont”), here’s my casting wish list for A Dirty Job: The Movie:

  • Charlie Asher: Simon Pegg (sans British accent)
  • Minty Fresh: Samuel L. Jackson
  • Lily Severo: Thora Birch
  • Ray Macy: Dylan Moran (sans Irish accent)
  • Inspector Alphonse Rivera: Andy Garcia
  • The Emperor: Robin Williams
  • Audrey: Zooey Deschanel
  • Jane Asher: Portia de Rossi

I give A Dirty Job five stars (or five skulls or perhaps five out of five glowing red secondhand thrift store items, if you will). It’s really a quick and amazing read and a definite keeper for your bookshelf.


Finally! I Figured Out How to Embed Videos

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Membership Drive: My Blog Needs Followers!

I WANT FOLLOWERS. And I’m not above bribery to get them. In order to entice people to follow my blog, rather than simply unashamedly asking, I’m going a step further and making a little contest of it. As some of you know, I wrote a short story that appeared in a mass market trade fantasy anthology by Fantasist Enterprises called Sails & Sorcery: Tales of Nautical Fantasy. This is a hefty book. It’s 456 pages of several best-selling authors (Paul Kemp, Elaine Cunningham, James Ward, etc.) presenting 28 short stories accented beautifully with 42 wonderful illustrations by Julie Dillon.

The contest is simple: Visit my blog and become a follower. The “followers” widget is in the righthand column ----->.

At the end of October, I will randomly draw THREE (3) followers who will receive a FREE signed copy of Sails & Sorcery. We’re talking about a high quality 6” x 9” paperback priced at $23 (ISBN: 0-9713608-9-8). So, how’s that for value? Easy enough, huh?

If you need further enticement, you can read some snippets of my Sails & Sorcery story, “Tisarian’s Treasure,” at

So, go forth, my friends, and CLICK FOLLOW!


Comic Review: Catwoman Dies by Will Pfeifer

catwoman_dies I've never read any Catwoman comics before, but Catwoman Vol. 7: Catwoman Dies was readily available at the local library so I picked it up, and I have to say I'm very happy I did. The first issue or so of this collected edition seems like I came into the series somewhere in the middle—which I did—but writer Will Pfeifer does an excellent job of drawing in the reader regardless of not knowing any backstory. You can pick up this edition and enjoy it from the get-go. By the time I closed the book, I was actually sad for Catwoman and now I want to know more. If I have the opportunity to pick up more issues, I most certainly will.

Some cool positives:

*Catwoman's on hiatus in the beginning, so a friend of hers named Holly is filling the "role." Holly finds she's in way over her head. Luckily, Selina Kyle (the original Catwoman) shows up soon enough to resume her leathers and cat'o'nine tails (translation: whip), pulling Holly's butt out of the proverbial fire.

*We're talking downright vicious villains, Blitzkrieg, an Amazon splinter group called The Bana, and especially killers-for-hire Hammer and Sickle. Talk about mean. None of these villains have any of what us regular folks call "redeeming qualities."

catwoman_dies_lopez_art*Catwoman's a mommy. The main thrust of this graphic novel is how Selina is adjusting to life as a mother, and when her identity is compromised, the baddies make it personal by coming after the only family she has, forcing Selina to get personal-er. I know, it sounds a lot like every Steven Seagal movie but, trust me, this is some great cinematic stuff here by artists David and Alvaro Lopez (Lopez art of Blitzkrieg, left).

*Batman. Yes, of course, ol' Bats makes a couple appearances. But Pfeifer does a good job of maintaining that this is Catwoman's title, not Batman's...although I did notice Selina leans on Bruce (and Alfred) quite a bit(Alfred basically ends up as a babysitter through quite a bit of the novel). Gotta say, there's an amazing gentleness about seeing the Caped Crusader cuddling a cooing six-month-old baby. Pfeifer includes an excellent scene to note: Selina is looking on as a smiling Bruce/Batman has his cowl pulled back and is holding her baby. It's 3 am as he stands in Selina's barren apartment, comforting her child, who's little hand is touching his chin. Selina narrates:

"See, here's the thing people don't get about Bruce. They think he's all about beating up badguys or striking terror into the hearts of the underworld. But that's not it. That's not it at all.

"When you get right down to it, when you take away the cape and the cowl and the capital 'T" in 'The Batman'...He's all about protecting the innocent."

Ultimately, Catwoman Dies is a story of sacrifice, and illustrates that Selina will stop at absolutely NOTHING to protect her baby girl. Let's just say it's a good thing the baby is too young to remember some of the stuff that went on around her while she was ga-ga-ing in her crib.

Highly recommended! I give it four stars. Or four cat’s paws. A MUCH better read than Frank Miller's All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder, which is absolute trash (see my review on

  • GoodReads link
  • Amazon link


  • Friday, September 11, 2009

    Book Review: The Satan Factory by Tom Sniegoski

    51qYf7OE8bLLET ME MAKE IT CLEAR that I am a huge HUGE fan of writer R.E. Howard (1906-1936), and I have a deep fascination with all the pulp fiction of the '20s-'50s Weird Tales variety. This includes the works of Ashton-Smith, Leiber, Bradbury, C.L. Moore (Lovecraft not so much).

    That said, regarding Tom Sniegoski's work on Lobster Johnson: The Satan Factory, I have to say "wow!" Allow me to repeat: "WOW!" Mr. Sniegoski had me hooked from the get-go, opening up right away with a doctor by the name of Chapel who's on the lamb, hiding out in a Mexican cantina from his erstwhile mobster boss employer, drinking away his doldrums when suddenly the chase begins when some mob goons track Chapel down. It doesn't stop until page 203, which is the last page of this book's epilogue. Non-stop action, weird creatures, hard-knuckled fistacuffs, blazing .45's and Tommy guns, weird creatures, cloaks and goggles, chase scenes (on foot and in cars and trucks), and did I mention weird creatures (Sniegoski even uses the word "grotesquery," which happens to be a favorite of mine)?

    Lobster Johnson himself -- a creation by legendary comic book auteur Mike Mignola (Hellboy) -- is a man of legend himself, a mysterious crime fighter hell-bent on stamping out evil in all its forms. The story focuses mainly on a member of his team of secret agents, an ex-cop by the name of Jake Hurley, who has wallowed in his own misery far too long and has been given a chance by the Lobster for redemption. Hurley moves through the underbelly of NYC, keeping his eyes and ears open for the Lobster. And boy-oh-boy does he uncover the real action.

    Now, I will admit, technically, this book is more of a 4.5 than a true 5 for me, but I'm feeling generous so I'm rounding up. The only place the story really falls short, for me, is that there's no real explanation for who the Lobster is, or at least why he is the way he is. I realize he's been in a few comics in Mignola's Hellboy/B.P.R.D. universe, but not having read those I would have liked to have known more about the inscrutable Lobster, and I think a few pages dedicated to this wouldn't have been wasted on the uninitiated reader. So, in a way, he's one tough hombre, but a rather flat character in comparison to Hurley, mob bosses Fazzina and Red O'Neill, the main bad guy who I won't name (no spoilers here), or even the malformed little Mexican boy, Paco. In this story the Lobster is kinda like Batman without the angst.

    That having been said (well... written actually), Sniegoski's Lobster Johnson: The Satan Factory, perfectly apes the “Weird Tales” pulp era. This is a ripping good yarn that Howard himself would have loved. And that's about the highest praise I can give it. So 4.5 out of 5 stars. A great read and highly recommended!


    Addendum 09/12/09: Mr. Sniegoski actually wrote to thank me for the review and I asked permission to reprint part of his e-mail. Here it is:

    “. . . in regard to your one complaint about not knowing the Lobster's backstory . . . he doesn't have one. Mike [Mignola] hasn't come up with it yet, and wants to be the one who tells it so basically I had to keep him completely mysterious . . . a force of nature so to speak. . .

    “. . . It's no secret that Mike wants to keep the Lobster a mystery until he's ready to reveal more. . .

    “. . . thanks so much for your kind words, and look forward to hearing what you have to say about some of my other stuff.”

    Monday, September 7, 2009

    Some Good Readin’

    There’s a Web site I’m digging lately. It’s called GoodReads. It’s basically, at least from my perspective, kind of like a social site like Facebook’s “Living Social” and a professional writer’s network/database deal like FiledBy got together one night, had a few too many drinks, ended up back at one or the other’s apartment, put on some Al Green, and nine months later stood beaming at the handsome little devil they’d somehow spawned.

    1209ec2 If you have a few free minutes, I suggest you check it out. I’ll start you off by sending you to my profile page. If you like what you see, shoot me a friend request. Then we’ll know what each other’s readin’ and writin’ all the time! Woo-hoo! Isn’t that a kick?

    Oh yeah, as a writer I especially like it because it let’s you (or me, actually) put up stories and/or samples of your (or my) work. Here’s a link to a snippet I put up from my short story that appeared in Fantasist Enterprises’ Sails & Sorcery: Tales of Nautical Fantasy.

    Friday, September 4, 2009

    Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds

    YEAH, OKAY, IT’S BEEN TWO MONTHS since my last post. Told you I’d be posting more frequently! Better than six months between posts, wouldn’t you agree?

    I have been busy, though. I managed to get through a couple more classes at school (Therapeutic Media and Functional Anatomy I) and pulled out another couple A’s out of them, so that’s something to be happy about. Family’s doing great. One kid’s vocabulary and reasoning skills are taking leaps and bounds everyday and he’s starting preschool next week (to my amazement and a little trepidation), and the other one is cutting teeth, sitting up, and learning to crawl. Life is good.

    My wife and I had a date night last week. That was a rare event, I can tell you. We ended up at the local IKEA, of all places, and walked around getting ideas for the kids’ rooms for about an hour, then hit the cafeteria. You can’t beat the Swedish Meatballs with Cream Sauce and Lingonberry Jam for $4.99. No way, no how, and darn tasty, too. Then we went over to the Rave cinema and took in a show: Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

    You gotta realize going into a QT film what to expect. He’s going to give you skid-loads of crazy action, a winding storyline, snappy dialogue, irreverent characters, and lots and lots of gratuitous gore. And boy, did he deliver! My wife asked me as we were leaving if I liked it. I hesitated. She loved it, of course (anything with Brad Pitt in it and she’s on board), but I told her I’d have to let it “sink in a little.” I needed to let it gel on my brain for a while.

    On the drive home I told her it was a little tough for me to get past the gratuitous scenes (which I won’t spoil here), and I felt it would have been a stronger film without them. But that’s Tarantino’s bag. Which is probably why the Academy has him on some secret, unspoken blacklist, I’m sure. The guy’s completely unconventional. Too unconventional for the tastes of many of Hollywood’s elite. And maybe even for myself, a little bit. I respect him as an artist. I respect his love of all the old pulps, and martial arts movies, and grind house films. But I just can’t seem to take the guy too seriously. Then again, maybe that’s what he wants.

    inglourious_basterds_xl_07--film-AI certainly can’t take a film like Inglourious Basterds too seriously. I enjoyed Brad Pitt’s performance and two other standouts: Christoph Waltz, who was brilliant as Col. Hans Landa (this guy basically stole the movie), and Michael Fassbender as Lt. Archie Hicox (see left -- who wasn’t in the film enough, in my opinion, and who you may recognize from another film). There were other notable performances in the film, but no one else I’d mention by name save one: Mike Myers. You know, Austin Powers/Dr. Evil/Wayne/etc. What the hell was he doing in this film? His part was bit and weird and just out-of-place. Very unnecessary to cast him in the role of Gen. Ed Fenech. You or I could have played it. He was probably reading directly from the script, since his character had a dossier in his hands the entire three minutes he was actually on screen. Definitely not a credit-worthy cameo, certainly not like Tom Cruise in the outrageous un-Cruise-like role of Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder (which I won’t link to in case my mom reads this blog).

    So if you haven’t seen Inglourious Basterds, should you? Yes. Just be ready for your pulse to race as you anticipate what sort of psychological cinematic torture Tarantino’s about to heap up on you. It’s purely an exercise in extreme epicaricacy, and I’ll suggest it’s worth a matinee, maybe even full price, as long as you understand that it IS a Tarantino film you’re going to see. I think that was something I forgot until the “Bear Jew” emerged (at long last) from a dark tunnel with a baseball bat, feverish eyes, and an unthinkable “love for the game.” Oh, then I remembered real quick.


    Friday, July 3, 2009

    Content to Follow Along [TJP snippet]

    850 words tonight after the kiddos and wifey-poo were off to bed. I’m feeling stoked about that. In previous posts I called my project “The Jade Princess.” That’s more or less my working title, and I’m almost 99 percent certain that will change. For now, however, the story is fairly writing itself and I’m content to follow along. I’m not worried about the title. The real one will reveal itself in time. When it does, I’ll let you know!

    So right now I essentially have 110 pages written in mass market paperback format. I like writing in that format because it gives me a visual on the form the story is taking. For whatever reason I can appreciate the way the words weave a tapestry of page breaks, scene breaks, and paragraph breaks. I know. I’m weird. But this visual method of writing this project—any project really—gives me a sense of real accomplishment. 850 words, after all, is three-and-a-half paperback pages.

    I’m thinking about whenever I blog about the The Jade Princess (I’m going to call it TJP from now on), I should include a small snippet. I’m slightly paranoid about someone lifting it as their own, but that doesn’t outweigh my desire to share it with you.

    So, without further ado, here’s a snippet of a scene from (the current) Chapter One:


    Begin snippet.


    HOT WINDS KICKED UP DUST IN PLUMES painted red by the haze of the sun. A long drought rendered the Karsharo crescent stark and barren. The Urg tribes of the region had combed from it every last bit of scrub.

    Well women walked by Gariel's cell every day, covering their faces with their shoals from the blowing dust. He watched them with a reproachful glare. He had no such protection from the stinging winds. Gariel's bruised body was cloaked in a veneer of sand. Granules caked his eyes and scraped his tongue and teeth, abrading his throat whenever he dared to swallow.

    Nine nights ago, they seized him. Or was it eight? Ten perhaps? He was already losing track. He passed the time by reliving memories of his past, a past already filled with enough suffering and heartache for a lifetime, despite barely being through his second decade.

    As the Sky King sent sulfurous shafts of sunlight down upon him, Gariel recalled a time when he was nearly as miserable. He recalled a bleak and dousing downpour, in a place long leagues from the Crescent; a place he now wished for more than anything. And so his mind retreated to that place, to a day twelve, perhaps thirteen years ago.

    It was nigh dusk. The louring black clouds had changed the skies over Pendara as black as midnight. A storm rolled down the highlands from the Laurion Mountains, announced by a cold wind, which cut meanly through the avenues of the city and forced the lamplighters to abandon their daily rounds. The lamps on Cask Street danced unlit on their posts. Beneath one of these posts, two figures huddled, clutching one another as the rain fell.

    “Don’t fret, Gare. We may be all we’ve got, but I won’t let anything hurt you. I promise.”

    Her voice, whispering in his ear over the soft roll of thunder and patter of rain on the wooden slats above them, was somewhat reassuring. Amleth was all he had, that was true. And Gariel knew he was everything to her, as well.

    She tried to keep him warm at the expense of her own soaked body, but they were both shivering. It was a cold night and Amleth cradled Gariel in her arms, vainly keeping him covered in the threadbare cloak they both shared.

    “My stomach hurts.”

    “I know, Gare. Tomorrow I’ll find us something to eat.”

    They sat hunched together in the corner of a board-and-batten wall and the entrance of some unmarked tumbledown building. Someone was inside. They could see the flicker of light under the gap of the door and could almost feel the warmth of the hearth fire on the other side of it. As if the occupant could sense their thoughts, the door opened and a large, balding man in a bloody apron scowled down at them. In his hand was a bludgeon.

    “I thought we heard voices out here. Away with you!”

    “Please, sir!” Amleth clutched her brother to her. “We only seek a little shelter.”

    “I want no worthless street rats on me doorstep! Now, go! Away with you, I said!”

    “But sir, please! The rain and wind are bitter cold. My brother will catch ill—“

    “I care not for you or your whelp!”

    The bludgeon came cracking down and Amleth pulled her brother in tight, offering her back as the only target. Gariel heard her grimace in pain. The large man brought the heavy stick down three or four times on his sister’s back and shoulders, and then sent them both hurtling with the heel of his boot. Only street sludge cushioned their landing, and Amleth ended face first in an inches-deep puddle of near-freezing rainwater.

    It was not the first time they’d been sent reeling into the mud, but unlike the last, Amleth did not lay there sobbing; instead, she got to her feet and helped her brother stand. “Come along, Gare. We’ll find somewhere better.”

    The boy let his sister lead him along, her arm around his shoulders. She pushed his dark wet hair away from his green eyes and he looked up at her as they wandered along. At twelve or thirteen Amleth was little more than a waterlogged bag of bones, with no hint yet of feminine curves. Her hair was as dark and straight as his, but longer, and plastered to the stretched-tight skin of her broad forehead, pale face, and long scraggy neck. She forced a tiny smile, thinking it would comfort him and, although he was only seven years old, he knew the smile was a lie. The rain couldn’t hide his sister’s tears.

    They left Cask Street and walked the sparsely populated avenues toward the fringes of the Sea View Quadrant. Occasionally, a person or two would hurry past them, hoods drawn or cloaks pulled high, their feet sometimes sending a spray of water from the runnels that flowed in the streets.

    They came to an intersection and Amleth turned them onto Hood Street, an even darker version of Cask. They stepped up on a cobbled walkway where rivulets cascaded from the corners of eaves and awnings. Amleth led them under a slanted roof and paused, pulling her brother in against the wall of a shop that appeared closed. This smidgen of shelter harbored them from the rain if not the wind.

    Amleth peered down the street at several high-pitched shops that hunkered and teetered along the avenue; some of these were of an unsavory nature, others merely incapable of paying the higher rents of Whitegate Market. Dim light flickered in a few windows, but most were dark.

    Amleth drew a long shuddering breath and Gariel realized his sister was weeping. He felt like crying, too. He didn’t understand why the gods had left them to fend for themselves. After their mother and other siblings died, they took what little coin they found in the family coffers and caught on with a caravansary for a couple of weeks, until they reached the sprawling port city of Pendara.

    But by then the money was gone, so the two of them inhabited breezeways and back porches, stealing food from the open market or picking through refuse. For a while they desperately wandered the city inquiring on the whereabouts of their mercenary father, but turned up nothing save for a beating Amleth suffered at the hands of some miscreants in the alleys below Town Hill Square.

    I won’t let anything hurt you…I promise.

    Gariel was just a boy, but he was beginning to understand something: his sister couldn’t protect herself, so how could she make promises to protect him? The first few weeks he’d been so frightened, but Amleth would hug him and assure him that things would be all right, and he could do nothing but nod and force himself to believe her. Now, his faith in the world was fleeting. Gariel was more afraid than not, and always, always downhearted and empty-bellied. He realized his teeth were clicking. He hugged himself.

    Amleth reached out and put her arms around him. “I know. You’re cold. Me, too. I think I see a place that looks empty. Come on.”

    The storm was intensifying.

    As they stepped into an alley, a flash of lightning momentarily lit it and they very nearly walked right into a man who had been standing there in the dark. He displayed a frightening visage, a thin smile fixed on wan lips, with pale eyes and unruly sideburns that bestowed a lupine appearance. Those eyes looked straight down at the boy and burned into him as a thunderclap echoed down the street and off the city walls.

    Both of them gasped, taken aback by the man’s sudden appearance. Amleth pulled Gariel away from him and they stepped out of the alley. The man, garbed mostly in black but with a red sash and red scarf, stood there a moment longer, smiling at them, and then turned and walked into the darkness.


    End snippet.

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    Friday, June 26, 2009

    I know. What a jerk.

    I realize I’ve ignored you, O blog of linear cheesiness. It’s the timing, you see. There was this little thing that happened. I call it Norah Jane.
    Norah Jane 020809
    Yes, I realize people who have kids manage to find the time to blog, too. I admit I allowed you to slip. A newborn. School. Work. Yadda yadda yadda. I let you slip. For five months I let you slip. I know it’s not fair but “it is what it is…” ah, and that’s one of the greatest sayings (i.e., clichés) known to man! In fact, you could say “i.e. what it is,” since i.e. can be translated to mean “it is.”
    So…it is what it is. What is it? “The condition of state of the present that has to be accepted.” Thank you, Urban Dictionary. It is what it is. Uttered down the lines of history from Cleopatra to Napoleon (Bonaparte, not Dynamite) to the great Kobe Bryant.
    So this, my friends, is what IT is. An excuse-laden apology. And a renewed commitment! To what, you ask? To at least post a blog update no longer than—oh—say, a month or two apart.

    --R.I.P. Shout Outs to:--
    Michael Jackson King of Pop
    Farrah Fawcett Blonde Angel
    Ed McMahon Ultimate Host
    David Carradine Grasshopper Kung Fu
    Michael Jackson

    Farrah Fawcett

    Ed McMahon

    David Carradine


    Friday, January 30, 2009

    I Need an Intervention

    THE MOST OBVIOUS CHOICE, you’d think, would be my computer. Some people who think they know me say I wouldn’t be able to survive without access to one, especially without Internet. That’s not true. I’ve tested myself. I've gone days at a stretch without cracking open my laptop or sneaking off to the library to access some random lag-cheerleaderladen PC. I purposely didn’t touch a computer during the last two family vacations, and one of those was for two whole weeks.

    Nope. What I need is a chocolate intervention. If there’s one thing I can’t do without, it’s chocolate. It’s my drug, gotta admit it. There is a God and His name is Hershey.

    Oh wait, I just thought of another possibility. My driving need to stalk cheerleaders. Talk about inconvenient! It’s really becoming quite a ridiculous addiction of mine. I must have a collection of at least 40 of them in the hole under my garage.

    Thursday, January 29, 2009

    Math's Not Important

    Maybe this is why the economical plight in America is so dire. I was looking at one of my son's toys today and something grabbed my attention. I'm the last to say I'm a wiz with numbers, but I seem to recall some math basics. For example, I can still argue that if Garen has a basket of 19 peaches and he gives seven of them to his little sister, Nora Jane, then the generous young fella will find that he still has how many peaches? Twelve, right? Sounds about right to me.

    But not according to the manufacturers* of Foam Letters 'n Numbers (see pic). I wonder if several of our "heads" of State and government, our enlightened policymakers who fill the seats in the House and Senate, played with toys such as this when they were wee lads and lassies. I'm convinced most central bankers and business elite did.


    *I have to add a little disclaimer. I poke fun at our country's educational/economical values with tongue-in-cheek. The Verdes Toys Corp. actually produced this product in China (of all places!).

    Monday, January 26, 2009

    Let's Play: Am I a Martyr or am I Mad?

    I used to be a happy, go-lucky sort of guy. I didn't ever wanna hurt nobody. Look, I'm just a regular fella trying to make a buck in these hard times, just like anybody, you know? I've tried to set a good example. I don't understand why everyone thinks I'm such a bad guy. But, for whatever reason, they're all gunning for me. They want to see me go down.

    That chilly morning in December, when the men came for me and dragged me out of my bedroom, I was stunned. At first, I thought, Where are my kids? I hope my kids are okay. And then, as they put the cuffs on and led me from my home, I peered up into the Chicago sky, its cloud cover layering any hint of a sunrise in a veneer of gray and gloom, and I thought about Mandela, Dr. King, and Gandhi, and I tried to put some perspective to all this.

    I will embody the nobility of Nelson Mandela. I will project my vision like the great Dr. Martin Luther King. I will endure the suffering as did the gentle Mahatma Gandhi.

    I am Blagojevich.

    Monday, January 19, 2009

    Wanna download some comics?

    23215 No? Well, in case you ever do, then how about some of mine? You see, I just found a link where 17 issues of a comic series I wrote in the '90s is available for download. It's called Legendlore. Ever hear of it? No? It was a spinoff of another series called The Realm, which started at Arrow Comics in the late '80s; the bulk of the 40+ issues were published by Caliber Comics. Fellas like Vincent Locke (Deadworld, A History of Violence) , Guy Davis (Baker Street, Hellblazer, B.P.R.D.), David Mack (Kabuki, Daredevil), and Brian Michael Bendis (Spider-Man, Avengers, Alias, Powers) cut their teeth on The Realm.

    In recent years, Caliber publisher Gary Reed had been backing my efforts to find a publishing house for a new series of The Realm. Joe Pruett (Desperado/Image Comics) had shown interest, but then Mark Smylie entered the game and made a tentative offer to publish it under his Archaia Studios Press banner. Unfortunately, this never got off the ground, partly because the art team I initially had on board ended up doing some X-Men work for Marvel and their per-page asking price jumped up considerably. So, I've basically been sitting on scripts for the first two issues for, oh, a few years now.

    I'm going on a bit longer than I intended, though. This was supposed to be a little snippet of an entry with a link to the downloadable Legendlore issues at If you're so inclined, check it out. And if you're not, well, I guess we just can't be friends anymore.

    Wednesday, January 14, 2009

    The Last Man on Earth

    abandoned_1 I FOUND IT FUNNY. Now that the sounds of men were long gone, the natural world reclaimed the noises of the world. In truth, it was much quieter, but it was far from silent. Or perhaps it was merely a different kind of silence. The constant breezes, how they poured and billowed across the overgrown fields, swaying the grasses, or sluiced across the broken pavement between buildings.

    Daytime was more quiet than night. That’s when the hunters roved the land, solitary like the large cats and the grumbling bears, or in packs like the wolves and wild dogs. They growled and roared, barked and howled, rejoicing over their kills and announcing their dominance over the world.

    I alone remained to represent mankind, as far as I knew. The panic was no longer there, it had long since assuaged, giving way to a miasma of routine and wearisome habits. I stayed as near to the abandoned upper story apartment as possible, rarely venturing far, but now, as I was down to the last of my canned goods and bottled water, I was forced to consider my options.

    I sat in the dark, the blinds drawn, scratching at my beard. It reached my stomach, my beard did, which told me I had been alone quite a long time. My body was gaunt, my hands skeletal. In truth, I avoided mirrors. They only depressed me.

    I rubbed my thumb along the over-barrel of my sawed-off Browning. I preferred to call her Tracy. My only constant companion. She'd saved me a few times, once from a pack of wild dogs, another time from a brown bear I'd nearly walked right into, stepping carelessly into a shadowy alleyway, both of us scavengers on the hunt.

    Now I wonder if it would have been better if Tracy hadn’t been with me that day. I often thought back to then, and how this all could have so easily been finished, me in the belly of that bear.

    I caressed her under-barrel with my fingertips.

    I fingered her safety, flicked it.

    I lifted her weight. Touched her lips to mine.

    I softly inserted my thumb, wrapping it around the trigger.


    I stopped. Listened.

    Bzzzzt! Bzzzzt!

    Was that the doorbell? How? Power was long gone. It was impossible for me to be hearing that damned doorbell!


    “Let me in! Please!”

    A female voice on the other side of the door. My imagination, surely.

    Thud-thud-thud-thud! Bzzzzt! Bzzzzt! Thud-thud-thud!

    Frantic beating on the door. My heart racing. Cold gun barrels against my mouth.

    Hope was an emotion I’d quenched long ago. I couldn’t go back there.

    “You’ve got to let me in!”

    I choke down a sob...

    Press the trigger.