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Monday, March 31, 2008


Hurray! Bernie Hou has resumed regular updates of Alien Loves Predator!

Why is this such a noteworthy cause for celebration? Too many reasons to explain, that's why! I think I'll let today's comic stand as an example of what I mean.

See? Yeah, really. I know. Yeah. Just... yeah.

Anyway, Bernie, if you're reading this, thanks a whole whole whole whole bunch, and I now forgive you for not naming the twins Boris and Zeev. (And if you're not, well, congratulations, you've officially placed yourself in ranks of just about everyone else on the planet. Sucks to be... my blog.)


Friday, March 28, 2008


Well, I might as well admit that it doesn't look like I'll be keeping this blog regularly updated for the foreseeable future. The crisis won out over the confidence -- I'm just not that into it when I know so few people are reading it. Internally, I can't find the emotional justification for taking that much time every day.

On the other side of things, I will say that part of the reason why my output for this blog has waned is because I've been allotting most of my creative thinking time (and most of my actual writing time) developing Hard Core Heroes. I've got all of the major characters (i.e. the team) developed, including significant backstory and motivation, as well as part of the general world situation. I've also sketched out a dozen or so scenes in my head, and written 499 words of the first chapter. (To add to that word count, I've also got 1370 words of notes written down.)

So, thanks to anyone who actually read any of this stuff -- sorry to disappoint you if you were expecting more. If you care to check back periodically, there will likely be other posts as inspiration strikes me. Also, if, by some bizarre whim of the Internet, I see my viewing statistic start to rise dramatically, I will definitely be inclined to resume my regular blogging. That's kind of taking the Field of Dreams thing in reverse: "If they come, I will build it."

As a bonus, I will include the first 499 words of Hard Core Heroes, chapter 1 (as they stand right now). Enjoy.


It was cool for spring, but sunny. Ulrich stood in the patch of sunlight beside the desk, ignoring the visitor's chair, his black skin soaking up the warmth. The occupant of this office was absent -- late, in fact -- but Ulrich could wait. He was good at waiting.

At exactly seven minutes after one, Lieutenant Colonel Cowan entered his office, blowing on a mug of coffee. He sat down at his desk, carefully placing his drink away from the folders arrayed on the blotter, and straightened his tie. Only then did he look up at Ulrich, his glance flickering over the open trenchcoat, the grey fedora, and the glossy black leather of size fourteen shoes.

"If you'd care to sit, I can have a better chair brought in."

Ulrich shook his head. "That's alright. I can stand."

The officer held Ulrich's gaze for a moment, trying to penetrate the matte black eyes.

"You may have heard rumours, Captain Stevenson, about-"

"Please. I resigned my commission a long time ago."

Cowan cleared his throat. "Mr. Stevenson, then? Fine. The rumours, then, are true."

Ulrich's voice rumbled through the room. "It's about time."

"My thoughts exactly. And the Senator's also."

The coffee in Cowan's mug quivered with dark rings as Ulrich crossed deliberately over to the window. He stared out at the Sherman tank preserved in the square below. He remembered those big metal beasts. Riding on the back, straight into enemy fire, army greens torn all to hell.

"And you want me on the team." It was a statement, plain and simple -- not a question, not a challenge.

"Actually, we want you to lead the team." Ulrich could hear the smile in the Lieutenant Colonel's voice.

He cocked his head. Sunlight barely glinted off his cheek. Turning to look back over his shoulder, he carefully appraised this desk jockey officer. The guy had probably never seen real combat. Of course, he was probably good at his job, or he wouldn't be an Lt.C. Not reporting to the Senator, anyway.

"What's the catch."

Cowan opened a folder on his desk. He tapped at the papers for a moment, and then slid across the blotter toward Ulrich.

"We reinstate you. With a promotion."

"Major Stevenson, hmmm? What if I say no?"

Ulrich watched Cowan's smile grow wider, and a sly twinkle grew in his eye.

"Then you don't get to choose who's on the team...."

* * *

"This is your whole list?"

Ulrich leaned forward across the long steel table, resting his elbows on the painted green surface. With his jacket hung on the tree in the corner, and his sleeves rolled up, the table clanked audibly with the contact. Across from him, Cowan and his aide, a young flunky lieutenant named Washburn, sat uncomfortably on the steel bench that flanked the table.

Comfort and discomfort had long stopped having any meaning to Ulrich. What was important to him was the durability of his furniture, and heavy gauge steel was the way to go.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Taking one for the company

Did I say on St. Patrick's Day? I meant after.

Heh. Heh.

It was an interesting "vacation", I must say. I didn't go anywhere, just did things around the house that needed to get done. I had to take the days off, or my employer was going to take them from me. It's funny how that works: "Oh, hey, you get so many days off, but they have an expiry date." Gee, thanks.

Y'know, they've outlawed that practice with gift cards and gift certificates.

From the company's perspective, though, I can understand where they're coming from. (Ooops -- I ended that with a preposition. Good thing it's conversational, otherwise I'd've had to say, "I can understand from where they're coming." Wow, does that sound awkward?) Aside from trying to prevent burnout by insisting that people take vacations, using the only leverage they legally have (use it or lose it), it could also suck big-time if an employee banked up a couple of months of vacation days, and then said, "Hey, I'm going to cycle around Australia -- see you in September!" Not only is there potential for impact in the company's bottom line, but there's also the long-term extra load for the errant employee's coworkers, who have to pick up the slack for an extended period. (I'm sure the snarky, "wish you were here" postcards wouldn't help either.)

Wait, what? Who cares about the company's bottom line? You should, that's who. It really doesn't matter how big you think your company is, the only good company to work for is a successful company. Anything else is like working as a deck-hand on the Titanic (or the SS-92, for those of you who remember their campfire songs). Go ahead. Ask any Bear Stearns employees how they're feeling right now. (Oh yeah, and be sure to ask the ones who still have vacation days left how smart they feel about having hoarded them.)

In any case, I used my vacation days, rather than lost them. (Darn that past tense inconsistency for stealing my rhyme!) I don't think taking those days off did anything to reduce my proximity to the burnout threshold, but at least I know my coworkers will be happier, and I'll still have a job next week. Really, I was doing it for my company!

...As opposed to being stubborn about not giving up what is rightfully mine, even though I had no good use for it. Of course. It had nothing to do with that. And I'm really a Vulcan: green blood, pointy ears, expressive eyebrows and all.


Monday, March 10, 2008

On Vacation

No posts this week. I'm on vacation. See all y'all on Saint Paddy's Day!


Friday, March 07, 2008

Fiction Fridays: Shouldn't Have Ducked

The long coat dropped carelessly on the bar stool beside him. A moment later, the owner sat down on top, expensive wool pants crushing seams into the Burberry lining. Joel looked up from his contemplation of nothing. Atop shoulders draped in an Armani jacket, the dark-haired man sported a spitcurl on his forehead.

Joel blinked. His new neighbour didn't seem to have noticed him.

"What'll it be?" the bartender asked.

"Whatever's on draft." The man paused for a second, not quite considering. "And a shot of Tequila."

"One boilermaker, coming up."

Finally, the richly dressed man looked over at Joel. He clearly wasn't noticing Joel for the first time.

Joel blinked again. He was favoured with a smirk, the kind that seemed to be laughing at you, but not in a bad way.

"Mind if I sit here?"

Joel looked around the pub. Most of the tables were full. The booths all looked too big for just one person. The bar itself was more than half empty, but from where he sat, Joel had the best view of the TV behind the bartender.

Joel shrugged.

The smirk waggled at him again, this time with less friendliness.

"Don't talk much, do you?"

Joel shrugged again. "I talk when I need to."

The man slapped a ten on the bar as the bartender brought his order with a double clunk-clunk of glass on polished oak.

"Keep it," he said, reaching for the shot glass. A quick jerk dropped the contents down his throat, and the man followed up with a long swig from the frosty mug. Then he turned to face Joel again.

"An economy of words, huh? I wish I heard more of that at meetings. Know what I mean?"

The man chuckled to himself, then took a quick appraisal of Joel's dusty canvass jacket, faded jeans, worn leather boots.

"No, maybe not," he said quietly. Then he smiled at Joel again, pulled at his draft with a sharp slurp, and turned to watch the sports news on the TV.

After a minute, he turned back. Joel sighed. Clearly, this guy wanted to talk.

Joel gave him a raised eyebrow. It wasn't much of an invitation, but if the guy was looking for someone to jabber at, it wouldn't take much to get him going. He didn't really see the point of making the guy wait any longer.

The eyebrow was all the man needed.

"Y'ever get the feeling you missed something?"

Joel kept his eyebrow raised.

"Like you've dodged the bullet of destiny? No? Maybe?"

Joel took a sip from his rye and Coke.

"Like the other day, I was at the bank, and I had this strange feeling, like maybe something was supposed to happen... and I was there to do something about it."

Joel cleared his throat. "That's pretty vague."

"Yeah, but it was, y'know? Nothing specific. No details. And then it was gone, and I was stuck waiting in line again."

Joel shifted slightly on his stool, getting comfortable.

"And twice now, I've had this urge to, uh, go into phone booths."

Joel raised the eyebrow again. "Phone booths?"

"Yeah, I know what you're thinking. But not like that. There was nothing else, just the feeling I should go into one. And then it was gone."


"Yeah, I know."

Joel finished off his drink, and signalled to the bartender for another.

"Hmm. Ever stood on the top of a tall building? Just stared into the clouds, watched the seagulls soar, and wondered about it?"

"What? No." The man seemed shocked. "I'm not crazy. I wouldn't... I'd never be a jumper."

Joel shook his head. "Not what I meant."

The man struggled to hide his embarassment. "Oh, heh, yeah, sure."

Joel shrugged, took a sip of his fresh glass. The Coke fizz tickled his nose.


The two of them sat in silence for another moment, one sipping rye, the other finishing his draft beer.

"I had a dream about it once. About being on top of a building, and there were clouds all around. It was a really high building, and I could feel the wind on my face. It whistled past my ears."

Joel took another sip.

Abruptly, the man got up, shaking the wrinkles out of his coat, looking at his watch. Rolex, Joel noticed.

"Whoops, got another meeting in ten minutes." He smirked. "I wish they all talked as much as you did."

Joel looked up at him.

"What'd you say your name was?"

"Clarkson. Kent Clarkson."

Joel held out a hand.

"Joel Schuster."

Kent shook his hand. "Nice to meet you, Joel. Nice talking to you."

Joel watched as Kent pushed the pub door open, and stepped out into the grey afternoon. Without hesitation, the man turned, heading back to his office. Just before the door closed to block his view, Joel saw the man's hand reach up to his face, absently twisting the lock of hair on his forehead.



Thursday, March 06, 2008

Hard Core Heroes

I like mainstream comics -- I really do. I can totally dig some of the stuff that Superman deals with. The X-books rarely disappoint me completely. Spider-man, of course, almost always has some depth to it.

(I don't, however, actually buy comics anymore. Since I'm satisfied with the Big Two, and since I don't need to read an entire series to figure out the plot and enjoy the individual episodes, I make do with reading a selection of mags off the rack at any of the local big-box bookstores. Easier on the pocketbook, and no one at the stores ever seems to mind.)

In a recent X-book -- I don't remember the title, since it doesn't really matter -- I read the culminating chapter in the current X-tinction Agenda story line. The story itself was okay (and the ending a little confusing -- how/why Professor X disappeared, and why the greatest telepath on the planet couldn't notice the fact that someone was about to shoot him in the head are both mysteries that probably weren't meant as such), but what really struck me was the action involving Wolverine's X-Force group.

For those who don't know or haven't been following, Cyclops put Wolverine in charge of a sub-group of the toughest, nastiest and mostly sharply-armed of X-men, reusing the name originally taken by the New Mutants while under the tutelage/influence of Cable. This special team consists of (aside from the aforementioned Canuck) Warpath, Mlle. Hepzibah, X-23, and Wolfsbane. (At least, I think that's the roster, but I'm not 100% certain of it. Those who want to know can, of course, look it up.)

Now, in the middle of all the other frenzy going on in this issue, there was also a mutant-eating, regenerating, big-toothed grey beast called Predator X running rampant. (Oh yeah, and it grows bigger with every genetically-enhanced meal.) Wolverine and his crew are sent to deal with this big nasty, and discover quickly that their claws and knives (and space-grenades) aren't hurting the darn thing any faster than it can heal the damage. Being the team leader, and the best there is at what he does, our hero Wolvie climbs up onto some sort of promontory above the beasty's head, and then yells to get its attention. When the beast looks up, Wolverine jumps at its head. What happens next? What else? Predator X opens wide, and swallows the ol' Canucklehead whole. Of course the whole team freaks out, but I'd already guessed at this point what was going to happen -- I've seen Men In Black, too.

So, what does happen when you swallow an regenerating berserker with unbreakable bones and foot-long claws sticking out of each fist? Yep, you guessed it: a terminal case of heartburn. Wolverine very handily disembowels Predator X from the inside, and crawls out of the corpse, covered in yuck, but triumphant.

Okay, so if you're anything like me, you immediately see the humour in this. This move is so over-the-top, it's so blatantly, fanboyishly hard-core, that you can't help but chuckle at the audacity. At the same time, though, the long-time comic-reader in me thinks: "Hey, that was pretty cool. Good thinking, Wolvie."

In fact, I liked it so much, I've been inspired to write a series in the same vein. Call it "Hard Core Heroes". It's about a team called Hero Force, made up of the toughest of the tough, the heroes that are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, and do it hard core. I figure as long as I take it seriously enough that the characters believe in themselves (and therefore the readers do, too), while avoiding the tongue-in-cheek camp, then it'll be cool and funny at the same time.

I already have some of the characters sketched out. I think people will really like it. I know I do -- but then again, I'm the one who's writing it.



Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A crisis of conviction

I must admit, I'm having a crisis of conviction with regard to my blog. I've been blogging for a couple of months now -- 53 blog entries in my blog-every-weekday initiative -- and I can see that my readership is bordering on non-existent. Heck, my site counter shows (down there at the bottom of the page) only 62 visitors since I started counting (which was about the same time I started blogging steadily). Numbers like that certainly include the possibility that there are blog entries that nobody has read.

Feedback, too, is sparse. I've had a total of five comments since I started, and three of them were from Frank Byrns -- thanks, Frank. The lack of comments suggests I am failing to engage my readers at the level to which I aspire. Either that, or my prose is so tight, my arguments so compelling, I've left them all speechless. Honestly, I hold no illusions about what the truth is.

Seriously, the apathy of readership on the Internet is astounding. Not that I can blame anyone. There's so much out there, so much to read, so much to look at, so much to watch and listen to, that even if every person on the planet was randomly browsing the Internet at the same time, the odds of even one person reading my blog are stacked against me.

So, what should I do? Should I carry on, doggedly relying on scant word-of-mouth and the "Field of Dreams" theory? Should I just let it go, chalk the whole thing up as practice sessions and therapeutic catharsis? Being the eternal optimist, I have a hard time seriously considering the latter, even though the former is ludicrously hopeful.

I don't really want to stop -- I have a hard time quitting something I've put time and effort into, unless the arguments for doing so are concrete and sound. Yet I was certainly feeling discouraged today when considering what to write about. (Ironically, having felt this way, I was inspired to write about it, and thus feel far more encouraged by the experience.)

I guess I've decided to keep going, at least for the near future. The problem thus becomes, not a decision about continuance, but development of a strategy for increasing readership. My first thought, earlier on, was go to Project Wonderful, and buy some advertising on sites where the cost is still zero. I figure, if I do enough of them, then I'll snag a decent amount of incidental coverage, all for free. Unfortunately, PW has a policy whereby falsifying information in their registration is grounds for immediate removal from the program -- and since I'm churlish with my identity, this poses a significant obstacle. I even posted a query about it through their FAQ system, but no one has got back to me on that yet.

If I could get a credit card ascribed to my pseudonym, then my anonymity would be pretty much secure -- banks in Canada are highly protective (as regulated by law) of their client information. Unfortunately, I don't know whether that possible, and the logistics around keeping its existence secret from the people in my real-world life could be problematic, and prone to discovery. I'm just not sure it would work.

I suppose what I need is an agent, an Internet friend that doesn't know me anywhere else, but is willing to accept money transfers from me to pay off my advertising costs. Hmmm, I'll have to think about this.

In any case, it looks like my blog will live to see another post. This anonymity thing can be a bit of a pain, though. I wonder if Saki would have had this much problem with it, had he had the opportunity to cruise the ol' Information Superhighway....


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

R.I.P. Gary Gygax

Well, it had to happen eventually. The Man Who Started It All, Gary Gygax, died today at the age of 69. He failed his Save vs. Death, and no amount of screaming, bribing or rules-lawyering is going to convince his DM to let him re-roll.

It's funny, because I mentioned role-playing games in yesterday's blog, and here he ends up dying the next day. Some might call that spooky. I think spooky would have been if I'd received a call from him out of the blue, and it turned out he'd dialed the wrong number. And then died. While talking to me. That would've been spooky.

Still, as every other obit piece has already said, Mr. Gygax (Can I call him Gary? Sure I can.) provided the genesis for a significant portion of today's popular culture. Personally, I can draw a pretty solid line between my early influences from role-playing games and my creative products today.

In the course of role-playing, I learned a lot about characterization. It didn't take me long to realize that playing Dungeons & Dragons was about a heck of a lot more than hack n' slash and fireballs -- although that's still some pretty fun stuff. Heck, I even won an award once at a gaming convention for the best-played characterization, and that wasn't even for a character I'd created.

Of course, every good author knows that characterization is one of the essential elements of a good story (the others being plot, setting or mood, and theme). Imagine what Star Wars would have been like without characters that seemed to leap off the screen, even when they were just standing still. Yeah, see what I mean? B-movie. Totally.

When I write, I usually have a good enough understanding of the characters that I can pretty much let them write themselves. I don't need to think too long about how a character would react to a certain situation -- in fact, if I do, re-reading tends to show me wooden characters with exaggerated or unbelievable responses, behaviours, and dialogue.

Conversely, when I find I'm stuck on what a character would do, it usually means I don't understand the character enough. In such a case, I'll step away from the story (or at least that part of it), and ruminate on the characterization for a while (sometimes months) in a background sort of way, thinking about it at odd moments in the course of otherwise unrelated mental activities. Later, I'll go back to where I left off, and the problem will have disappeared, seemingly of its own accord. In fact, what it really means is that I 'get' the character enough that I can write without overthinking.

I'm also seeing a parallel in real life: if I'm stuck on what to do in a particular situation, it usually means I don't know enough about it to make a decision with which I'll be comfortable. Just another example of life imitating art, perhaps.

Unlike our departed friend, Gary, for whom art imitated what he did with his life. I'm guessing he understood what he wanted to accomplish rather well, to have been so successful at it.

So, like so many others have blogged or will blog today, thanks, Gary. Happy gaming.


Monday, March 03, 2008

It's good for you. It builds characters.

Blogging about Play-Doh the other day got me thinking about the kind of creating I like to do. I wrote about how I liked to make new creatures with the venerable modelling compound, and further reflection reminded me of other times in my youth when I mined similar veins.

Playing with Lego as a kid, I had a set of five spacemen -- each of which was a different colour or had a distinctive decal on the chest. I gave each one a name, and different abilities, and each had his own distinct tool/weapon. (Hmmmm, sounds a bit like the kids from Battle of the Planets, of which I admit I was a devoted watcher.) I had a leader, a driver, a scientist, a strong guy, and a weapons expert. Of course, I built all sorts of different vehicles and bases for them over the years, and countless foes and competitors, both robotic and alien -- but the team stayed constant, five distinct and distinctive individuals.

Back when I participated in role-playing games, character creation was one of my favourite parts. I'm quite certain that, over the years, I rolled up ten times as many characters as I played. Heck, I even took up GM-ing so I could have an excuse to create new bad guys and other NPCs. (For the non-geeks who might be reading this, a GM is a Game Master, the person who builds and runs the story in which the other players run their characters. An NPC is a non-player character, which means anyone/thing in the game story that isn't controlled by a character. And if you need more explanation than that, I suggest you try visiting a gaming or fantasy convention -- he says, cackling madly and rubbing his hands together.)

Of course, one of my favourite RPGs (that's Role-Playing Games, not Rocket-Propelled Grenades, for you non-gamers) was Marvel Super Heroes. Character creation was a snap, with all sorts of powers and combinations available. Heck, I could roll off a character in a couple of minutes, and then spend the next half hour blissfully immersed in creating backstory and identity: name, age, gender, origin of powers, visual manifestation of powers, life before powers, costume and logo, enemies, friends, allies, family. If I really liked the character, I would spend my spare time filling out the hero's identity, deciding what he or she was like, how they reacted to certain situations, how they would handle specific villains, even their favourite foods and what music they liked.

Now that I'm a writer (yeah, I know, it's kind of stretching things to identify myself as "a writer", but I do write stuff), character creation is still my favourite part. Characters come easily to me, and the slightest spark of an idea, spawned by a name, or a phrase, or some bit of visual, can set me off on a character-creation frenzy. (Well, it's a frenzy inside my head -- although, how that's different from any other time is really a question of kind, not intensity.) I imagine scenes with the character as I walk down the street, and cook up bits of dialogue while preparing dinner. I can't really say I obsess on the characters, since I rarely stick to one topic for long, but I definitely devote a significant portion of my spare braintime to thoughts about characters I've dreamed up.

You could say I've got a bit of a God complex, creating and defining other lives for fun. That could be, but the difference between God and myself, in this regard, is largely a matter of intensity, not kind.

I'm no god. I'm just a writer.

Well, a writer who needs to spend more braintime on plot. But at least I know where my strengths lie.