The Name Game

Lately, I’ve been catching up on past episodes of the FX series, Archer. For those of you who don’t know it, its an animated series centered around the agents and a few other lackeys of a private spy agency. The show’s full of obnoxious and crude humor that’s not for everyone, but I enjoy its absurdity. In particular the namesake of the show, Sterling Archer.

Anyway, the name of the agency in the show is the same as a nefarioius terrorist state that’s been causing havoc in the world as of late. To be fair, Archer came out long before the terrorists appeared on the world stage. This left the creators and the network with a problem, do they change the name of the fictional agency, and how?

In the end the creators dropped the name of the fictional agency but chose not to address it in their show. The only sign of change is a rather brief scene with maintaince workers removing the old sign and a brief subplot of a change over in owner of the agency so that its now part of the CIA. There was some feedback from fans saying that they shouldn’t change the name of the agency or even address the terrorists directly through the show a la more topical shows like The Simpsons or South Park. However the creators chose not to do so because Archer has never done topical humor and it exist soley in its own world. It would be completely out of character if the show did address the actual situation. Although the name of the agency is changed in the newer seasons, they chose not to go back and change it or remove it from their archived seasons.

Personally, I agree with the choice that they made and how the handled it. I think any other way would’ve drawn attention to the terrorist state as well as ruin the immersion and suspension of disbelief that I have while watching it. I don’t watch the show to be reminded of today’s issues around the world. I watch it to laugh my ass off.

The whole thing got me to thinking, what would I do if somehow something I created had a name similar or the same as a terrorist state, or something else nefarious. I ‘m not a fan of censorship or bowing down to political correctness, in particular when it come to Art. But I believe that I would change it for similar reasons as the creators of Archer did. Plus, I would not want to be associated, even if unintentionally with a group like that.

 

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Way of the Samurai

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My favorite piece in the show. 

Last weekend my family and I went to an exhibit of samurai at our local art museum downtown. I’ve long had a fascination with the samurai culture and their armor/weapons so I was excited to go. It was a great show with an extensive amount of items in the collection which was on special loan from a private collector. I don’t remember all the details, but they have one of the largest personal collections. Some of the pieces there can’t be found anywhere else.

It was one of those shows where you had to buy a ticket for a time slot. My wife got us tickets for the earliest time available and we were literally standing by the door when they opened. This allowed us to have the place almost to ourselves for a while with the exception of a handful of others. This was great because it wasn’t crowded and we could take our time and enjoy the exhibit. I don’t like crowds, especially in a place like a museum, so it was great to be able to go at our own pace and not have to dodge out of the way of random kids scurrying about or grandma with her walker.

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The amount of detail that went into the armor and weapons was pretty amazing. The level of craftsmanship is incredible and being able to walk around the pieces, most of which were in free standing glass cases, was great. I think that the most impressive display was the one where they had samuri mounted on horse back. It gave a great perspective of what it must’ve been like to see them charging across the battlefield at you.

The other thing that surprised me was the suit of child’s armor. It was made for a 12 year old boy. It makes sense that they started training at the age of six. I think  that the child’s armor said a lot about their culture. How many six year olds do you know today that would have the ability to endure the discipline and training of becoming a samurai?

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The show also included a free audio tour which I normally don’t like, but it was well done. In particular I liked the fact that they had a ‘family’ verision and a ‘serious’ verision. Personally, I thought that the ‘family’ one was a lot of fun with the sound effects and the narrator’s style. Plus, it was informative and engaging.

The end of the show leads you straight into the gift shop (of course!). I ended up buying the book Samurai & Ninja by Anthony Cummins. It’s a nonfiction book that seperates the Hollywood/American myth of the warriors from the historical truth. I’ve only begun reading it but it is a great read. What I like is that Cummins takes on some very complex issues (the samurai existed for a thousand years) and presents it in a manner that’s entertaining and educational. If you have an interest in that type of history I’d suggest checking it out.

Below are a few photos I took during the show. Enjoy!

 

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Excerpt: Brothers and Bullets (The Callahan Files #2)

The following is an excerpt from a novella length work that I’m currently in the process of editing/rewriting. I hope to put the entire thing out this Fall. It is the second story in the The Callahan Files. 

 

Sheriff Sean Callahan strolled through Mica Park and passed the families picknicking among the cottonwood trees that grew along side Lonesome creek. Peels of laughter and boisterous shouts of children playing among the boulders strewn across the park’s grounds drifted through the air crisp Spring air. Amongst a grove of aspens, a fiddler and banjo player performed a jaunty tune while a few folks danced amongst the Columbine and Indian Paintbrush wildflowers. After a long winter in the Colorado Rockies everyone in the town of Silvervale and the surrounding valley had come to celebrate Founder’s Day, the unofficial first day of Spring. Given the brilliant blue sky and blazing sun it seemed like an ideal to afternoon. The kind of day where a man could forget his troubles and relax, but Sean wasn’t that kind of man. His mind remained sharp and his eyes searched for any sign of trouble while hands laid ready to draw his twin Remmington revolvers in a flash.
A piercing scream shattered the serenity of the day. Sean spotted Amelia Larkspur, the youngest daughter of Silvervale’s blacksmith, on the rocky banks of Lonesome creek a dozen yards away. Her voice cracked as she screamed again. Tears streamed down the young girl’s blanched face and her lower lip trembled. A man’s foot stook out from under a patch of scrub brush beside her.
Amelia’s mother rushed passed him, her face twisted with fear, as he approached the girl. She swept Amelia into her arms and held her close.
Sean glanced at them while approaching the man under the brush. “Is she okay?”
Mrs. Larkspur glared at him while wiping her daughter’s tears away. “She’s fine, no thanks to you and that negro deputy of your’s. You two are suppose to be protecting us. What if that man under there had a weapon and tried to harm my baby?”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Larkspur,” he said in a gravely voice. “We checked the area this morning but-”
“But nothing! You may’ve been a hero during Mr. Lincoln’s War but that was five years ago, maybe you ain’t as sharp as you were back then.”
Sean grimaced. “Why don’t you take your daughter back to your family and let me handle this.”
Mrs. Larkspur shot a heat glance at him before walking off. “See that you do, Sheriff.”
Sean cursed himself for letting down his guard. He knew Mrs. Larkspur was right, they should’ve found this man before anyone else did. He wondered how this man had got passed them. Sean shook the thoughts from his head and parted the branches of the brush. A middle-aged man in a tattered monk’s robe lay on his back. His left hand clutched a filthy carpet bag. Sean grabbed the man’s leg and shook it, but the man didnt stir.
Sean saw no sign of wounds on the man, but it wasn’t uncommon for folks to get washed away by Lonesome creek’s swift current and wash up further down stream. But his clothes were dry, if he’d come out of the creek he’d be soaked to the bone. Had he followed the creek into town and collapsed?
A scrawny old man in a black sack suit and weathered top hat approached Sean. “Let me guess, Rufus passed out from one too many bottles of bug juice, again?”
“No,” Sean said. “I don’t know who he is, but he might need your help.”
The old man blanched.
“What is it, Dr. Schwartz?”
“I-I don’t believe it! Ezekiel? Is that you? Is that really you?”
Sean’s brow furrowed. “Who?”
Dr. Schwartz pushed Sean aside and knelt down beside the man and pressed his bony index finger against the man’s neck. “He’s my brother! We must get him back to my office!”
“Brother? You’ve never mentioned you had a brother before or that he was a monk.”
“That hardly matters now, his pulse is very weak. You must help me, your question can wait.”
Sean nodded.“Fetch your wagon then.”
Dr. Schwartz grunted and rushed off toward the far side of the park.
While he waited, Sean searched the man. His brown robes were embroidered with peculiar black spiral and angular shapes that were unlike anything Sean had seen before. The rest of his search turned up nothing, but his carpet bag contained a wooden container the size of a cigar box. Despite its size, it had a hefty weight to it like a handful of bricks. It had a keyhole on one side and when Sean tried to lift the lid held tight. Sean wondered why the man would carry such a heavy burden and not even have the key.
As Sean searched, a lanky black man, barely out of his boyhood, approached him from behind.
Sean glanced over his shoulder. “You going to stand there all day, Joseph, or are you going to help me investigate?”
Joseph fidgeted with his royal blue pin-striped frock suit. “I ain’t dressed for rollin’ ‘round in the dirt.”
“You’re still my deputy. Go deal with the crowd and make sure Doc Schwartz can get his wagon through here.”
Joseph nodded and turned to the crowd of onlookers that stood a few yards away. Their murmuring conversations filled the air like the buzzing of bees.
“Go on now,” Joseph said. “There ain’t nothin’ to see here. Just go on to your picnics and let us help this fella.”
“Who is he?” a pock-faced man in the crowd said. “Why he dressed like that?”
“We ain’t sayin’nothin’right now,” Joseph said.
“Is he dead?” another man asked.
“No, he ain’t dead, Doc Schwartz gonna see to him.”
A few men grumbled and the women whispered to one another as they headed back to their picnic spots. The sole expection was a rail thin man in a black frock suit and a matching top hat. He jabbed his ebony walking stick into the hard ground with each limping step he took toward the scene. As he drew closer a scowl ethched itself into his milk-white face and his murky grey eyes narrowed into thin slits.
“Do you have any idea how much time and money was spent on this year’s festivities?” the man said. “I shall not allow it to be ruined by … by this … mess.”
Sean locked eyes with him. “This man isn’t a piece of trash you can sweep away, Mayor Little.”
“You know very well the importance of my speech today, I cannot have half the town distracted because of this … this-”
“Crime scene?” Sean asked.
Mayor Little clutched his walking stick with a white knuckle grip. “The railroad will be a boon to the town-”
Sean brushed his hands on his canvas trousers. “And your pocket book since you’re the majority stock holder in the company.”
“I am bringing civilization to these people, Sheriff. They need to know about the railroad.”
“You need to recruit men to lay track, that’s why you’re making the announcement today.”
“Just dispose of this quickly,” Mayor Little waved his hand at the body.
Sean’s pale blue eyes narrowed. “Go make your speech and let me do my job.”
The mayor waddled off toward the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen! Please stay and enjoy yourselves on this fine Founders’ Day. We have refreshments and entertainment! I have an announcement you will all want to hear…”
Sean shook his head as he watched the mayor. “I swear that man would give a speech to the dead if he thought he could make a dime off it.”
Joseph removed his Bowler hat and wiped his brow with a stained handkerchief. “He try to get them to dig their own graves, too.”
Sean smirked. “Come on, give me a hand with the body. Dr. Schwartz is coming with his wagon.”
“Do you have any idea how much this suit cost me? I ain’t soilin’ it by carryin’ some filthy body.”
Sean peered at him. “You paid someone for that? You look like a dandy.”
Joseph frowned. “Founders’ Day is one of the few days I get dress up. Mr. Anderson done told me that this style is all the rage back East when I bought it-”
“What good are those clothes if you can’t do anything while you’re wearing them?”
“Now look here-”
The clip-clop of the quarter horse and the rattling of the buckboard wagon drowned out Joseph’s words. Dr. Schwartz pulled back on the reins and applied the brake before hopping off.
“Sorry it took so long, gentlemen,” Dr. Schwartz said, his eyes darting between them.
Sean patted him on the shoulder. “Let’s get him loaded.”
Joseph slipped his jacket off and rolled up his sleeves. “Can you hold this for me, Doc?”
“Come on, grab his legs,” Sean said, “and be careful.”
The two men carried Ezekiel over to the wagon and laid him in the back of it. He remained motionless the whole time as if in a sound slumber.
“What we gonna do now?” Joseph said, slipping his jacket back on.
“I’ll go back with Dr. Schwartz and lend a hand. Amelia Larkspur found him, why don’t you see if she knows anything?”
“Okay, I do that. But what you think happen?”
Sean scratched his scruffy chin. “I guess we’ll have to wait for him to wake up before we get any answers.”

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The Last Exit (A flash fiction story)

The Last Exit

by

Kevin Hurtack

Copyright 2016

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I never expected to meet a beauty like her while scrounging around town for supplies. I found her in what used to be a rich folks’ neighborhood. She was slate blue and had curves that would’ve put Marilyn Monroe to shame. Finding a car was rare, but a 1966 Ford Mustang in cherry condition was manna from Heaven.

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Maybe the car was God’s way of apologizing for making my life shit. All those countless days I’d spent barricaded in that dank mountain cabin with only canned cat food for my meals.

After I hot-wired her she roared like a grizzly bear waking up from hibernation. I lit a cigarette and buckled up. As I threw her into gear I caught a glimpse of my gaunt face in the rear view mirror. My toothy grin seemed out of place, I couldn’t recall the last time I’d felt happiness.

With a full tank of gas and a V8 under the hood, I could get outta here. Head up to Denver, things had to be better there. At least that’s what my girl had said on the phone before the cell phones and land lines went dead months ago.

I stomped on the gas pedal and flew past the vacant houses wrapped with yellow caution tape. I raced by the boarded-up buildings plastered with quarantine signs. The Mustang wove through the abandoned barricades and checkpoints with ease. Her engine rumbled as I drove around the National Guards’ trucks that lay scattered and tipped over like discarded toys.

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I headed for the highway, confident that I’d finally caught a break, until a scurrying sound came from the backseat.

My mind reeled in terror when I saw it in the rear view mirror. The fiend’s kidney bean shaped body wasn’t any bigger than a Chihuahua and it crept on spider-like legs. It stared at me with its bulbous black eyes that gleamed with a malicious intelligence that was beyond my understanding. Worst of all was the fiend’s cavernous mouth that was filled with a double row of serrated teeth.

I death-gripped the steering wheel and screamed. After countless days of trying to avoid them, I’d ended up with one as a stow away. I guess God had a sick sense of humor.

The fiend crouched like a cat ready to pounce. I tried to remember what the government had said to do in case of an attack. My muddled memory didn’t offer any answers. My heart pounded in my ears and sweat trickled down my face.

An ear-piercing screech erupted from the fiend as it leapt. I ducked. It landed on the back of my head with the force of a baseball bat. Splotches floated in my vision and my head swam. I struggled to keep the car under control.

The fiend wrapped its legs around my head, and the tiny barbs that covered them burrowed into me like ticks on a hound. Then the fiend wretched, like a cat hacking up a fur ball, and spewed lime-green vomit all over my head.

It reeked like rotted fish guts and I almost upchucked myself. My eyes watered and my nose burned. I wiped my face off and yanked on its legs, but it was like trying to uproot a tree. The fiend hissed like a feral cat and tightened its grip.

My heart pounded like a bass drum and my entire body trembled. My vomit covered head felt numb as did the hand I’d used to wipe my face. Was I poisoned? I remembered a website said the vomit paralyzed people. But there were a lot of rumors online during the early days of the infestation. Maybe that’s why the government shut the internet down.

Whether it was dumb luck or instinct, I jerked the wheel and crashed into a light pole. The crunching metal and shattering glass accompanied the bone-jarring collision. Oblivion flooded my vision.

I woke up with my head on the steering wheel and jabbing pain in my ribs. I was alive, and the fiend was gone. The Chihuahua sized hole in the windshield suggested that it had been ejected violently during the crash.

Laughter sputtered from my lips as I realized I’d avoided getting my brain sucked out by the fiend. A lot of folks hadn’t been as lucky as me thanks to the government messing with that meteor. I didn’t know why I was still alive, but I wasn’t gonna waste my second chance.

Steam billowed from the Mustang’s crumbled hood. A pity to wreck her, but she had saved me. I fumbled with the seat-belt and flung the door open. Nothing was on the tree-lined highway. The car’s flickering headlights revealed the fiend’s splattered carcass a few feet away.

I got out and spit at it. “Goddamn brain-sucking cockroach.”

My triumph was cut short by their screeching. The headlights illuminated more fiends in the trees. The noise of the crash must have caught their attention.

A half dozen of them circled the Mustang and hissed like alley cats. I tore off a shirt sleeve and ran to the end of the car. A fiend jumped onto the hood. I removed the gas cap and shoved the sleeve inside. I pulled out my lighter. They drew closer. I lit the sleeve.

Adrenaline fueled my frantic flight. The screeching of the pursuing fiends filled my ears. The bone rattling explosion threw me to the ground. Scorching heat swept overhead. Debris rained down.

I looked up. The car was a twisted hunk of scorched metal. The trees were torches. Sizzling carcasses littered the asphalt. I howled with laughter. My tears washed my soot-covered face. 

I staggered passed a sign that marked the last exit out of town. I ignored the numbness seeping into my limbs. Maybe it was just shock or perhaps the fiend was venomous after all. Either way, I’d made it out of town and that was more than most had managed.

                                                                  The End.

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Say my name … Say It!

 

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Both as a reader and a writer I think that the names of characters can really make or break them. Names seem pretty simple at first glance, but honestly its something that can take a lot of time to come up with a name that fits a character. Personally, when I start writing a story I rarely keep the original name that I come up with for a character. I want something that isn’t generic but isn’t so wildly weird that no one can pronounce it or even I can’t spell right half the time.

One thing that bugs me as a reader about names is in particular in fantasy where the characters have similiar sounding names. One fault I find with Tolkein’s work is that he often did this, a father would have a name and his son’s name would simply have a few letters changed or added on. Now, before you get out your soap box and start preaching to me, I know that Tolkein was fixated on developing a language/culture and studied linguistics and yada yada yada. That’s all well and good, but what’s the excuse for more contemporary writers out there that do the same? I don’t know, I just find it off putting when everyone has similiar sounding names. Seriously, how often do you run into that every day? So, why does everyone in elf-land gotta be that way? It happens in other genres, but I find it mostly in fantasy, which isn’t a knock against the genre – just a bit of a pet peeve is all.

Some times a character’s name doesn’t have to be overly complicated. In fact some of the great villians of all time, in my opinion, have ridiculously simple names. Stephen King’s notorious monster/villian called It. Sweet baby Jesus, that character is scary as shit yet the name is simple. The name fits the character well if you’ve read the book or suffered through the godawful movie.

Another would be The Thing from John Carpenter’s movie of the same title. It’s simple  and primordial and abstract, much like fear the characters experience themselves. The Thing represents the unknown and the undescribable. The very basics of fear itself. The name The Thing resonates with me because of those reasons.

Despite what I said about Tolkein before, he does have some great names in the Lord of the Rings books. In particular Gandalf and Strider and etc. A lot of the characters feel familiar yet ancient like something from myths of our collective past, which was part of Tolkein’s goal.

A good name fits the time period and culture that the story is set in. Buffy is a totally ridiuclous name for a vampire slayer but when you set that story in the ‘valley’ of California and make said slayer a former high school cheerleader then it does work. The name Buffy woudln’t work if it were a fantasy story set in the Roman empire. A good name is all about the context of the story.

So, what about you? Are there some names that really threw you out of the story you read and left you wondering what the author was smoking when she came up with the name? Or are there names that still resonate with  you after reading a story/novel? Feel free to share in the comments below.

 

 

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Free Ebook – A Lurker Among The Dead

You can now get a copy of my short story A Lurker Among The Dead for free in ebook format from Barnes and Noble, iTunes, and a few other places online. I have posted the links below. If you enjoy the story, I really appreciate it if you review it where you bought it. Thanks and enjoy.

Missing Corpses.  A stranger lurking outside the morgue.  Bizarre symbols scrawled in blood.

The remote mining town of Silvervalle has seen its share of trouble, but no one ever imagined a body snatcher would come to the Colorado territory. It’s up to the hard-nosed Civil War veteran Sheriff Sean Callahan and the steadfast Deputy Washington to sort through the macabre clues.

Who is the body snatcher? What is his motive for these ghastly crimes? Through the dusty streets and frigid Rocky mountains, Sheriff Callahan and Deputy Washington will stop at nothing to find their man.  But will the trail of clues lead them to the body snatcher or will he slip away like a fleeting shadow?

A Lurker Among The Dead is the first story in a planned series of tales featuring Sean Callahan, the sheriff of  Raven County, Colorado.

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1084263542

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/a-lurker-among-the-dead

Scibd: https://www.scribd.com/book/299287714/A-Lurker-Among-The-Dead-The-Callahan-Files-1

 

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The End Is Nigh?

 

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A lot of people talk a lot (perhaps too much) about hooking your reader/viewer very early on in your story so that they’re invested enough to read the whole damn thing. But what about the ending? I think the most disppointing thing is to be emotionally invested in a story only to have it drop the ball at the end. I’m not a fan of happily ever after endings to horror/dark fantasy stories. Save that syrupy goodness for romantic comedies. When it comes to horror/dark fantasy I prefer an ending that isn’t so happy. Whether its an ending where ‘evil’ wins the day or the protagonist pays a heavy price for surviving is what I like.

Stephen King’s early work did this very well, especially Pet Semetary and the novellas in Five Past Midnight. HP Lovecraft’s writings never had a happy ending, the majority of his characters went bat crap crazy.

I think an ending that isn’t all sunshine and bunny rabbits reinforces the terror and horror of the evil. It reminds us that the ideas we have about reality and the control we believe we have over our lives are merely illusions. That we are not superior or important. That we are not at the top of the cosmic food chain. When evil wins in a piece of fiction it is more powerful and impactful to me than the ‘good’ guy winning, again. Evil winning in the end is unsettling and terrifying. But evil winning at the end can become a cliche. Hollywood is to thank for this fact. I don’t know how many slasher flicks I’ve seen where the crazed killer is supposedly killed off at the end by the twiggy damsel in distress, only to rise up from his grave or ‘mysteriously’ not be found when the authorities arrive on the scene.

One of my favorite endings in movies is John Carpenter’s The Thing. The ending essentially is two characters left alive in the ruins of their research base in Antartica. Both are exhausted and paranoid that the other is actually The Thing. They have no way out. There’s no escape. There’s no help coming around the corner. It’s an ambigous ending and its unsettling. My imagination tends wonder about the possibilities of what could happen to them. I’m not just a passive viewer in that ending, it engages my curisoity and imagination. I love that kind of ending, too. I don’t need the movie to hold my hand and explain everything out to me every time.

In a lot of ways, endings are just as important as hooking the reader in the begining. A well written ending can stick with me for a long time and encourage me to return to read/view more of that person’s work.

 

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X Marks The Spot …

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Maps have long been a source of fascination for me, especially when it comes to the genre of fantasy. My first experience with fantastical maps was with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. For me Middle-Earth was a far cry from the tedium of where I grew up, but since I lived in a rural area I could relate in some small way to the Mirkwood forest and such.

What I liked best about that map and fantasy maps in particular is that it allows my imagination to wander around that world. It sparks my curiosity about what certain cities, town, or geographical areas are like that the author doesn’t explore in his work.

Of course maps are a way to track where the characters are within a story, and help establish the context of the fictional world that the story takes place in, but for me maps are much more than a plot device.

When I was a teenager I started playing Dungeons & Dragons and other table top ‘pencil and dice’ role playing games. Yes, I am that old. A big part of those games was maps. Not just the glorious full colored maps of stuff like the Forgotten Realms or Ravenloft but a big part of game required players to map out the dungeon or haunted castle they were exploring. I often was the ‘dungeon master’ of the games and would hand draw a map for the campaign I was running at the time. A big part of the fun was simply drawing/designing the map itself. I think a big reason was that making a map of something that existed solely in my imagination made it feel much more tangible. It was no longer merely daydreams and ideas. They were places you could journey to, albeit in an imaginary way, and required the basic use of navigation.

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Rough draft of a hand drawn map for my weird western series of stories/novellas.

 

 

I often make maps while writing my own stories, in particular if it is going to be an ongoing series, or my current weird western novel, or a dark fantasy novella I’m working on, too. I think it helps me stay on track as far as where everything is and what lays between points A and B. A map also helps spark new ideas and plots. Geography and climate plays a big part on the development of cultures in real life and it also applies to fictional worlds. So I think that it’s important to know what/how those are in a fictional world while developing a kingdom, clan, or etc.

My maps tend to be hand drawn. I feel much more comfortable doing it that way. I’ve seen some digitally rendered ones that are impressive but for me pencil and pen is the way to do it. I have messed around with using GIMP (a freeware program similar to Photoshop) to digitally color the maps and do the lettering. I’m fairly pleased with the results and it’s a big time saver for doing that type of work.

So, let me know in the comments below, are you a fan of maps in novels? As a reader do you pay attention to them or do you skip that page? If you’re a writer, do you draw up a map for your own use while working on a project?

 

 

 

 

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Guest Blog: Tom G.H. Adams

Today’s blog post is written by Tom Adams. I first met Tom online on the writer’s workshop site Scribophile.com. I’ve enjoyed Tom’s fiction, which delves into the horror/dark fantasy genre as well as his own blog tomghadams.uk  where you can get a free ebook copy of his horror story collection Defiled Earth. I encourage you to check out Tom’s blog, he always has some great content up there.

Don’t Hold Back Your Curiosity

Being a teacher as I am, one of the rewards is witnessing the unbridled curiosity of youngsters when it’s triggered by something I’ve said or a resource I’ve used. Science is my specialism and I couldn’t be luckier in terms of having a subject that lends itself to wonder and speculation. Every day there’s a new breakthrough in scientific research, or a new planet discovered. Sometimes it’s a new idea that turns previous ideas on their heads. So, there’s no shortage of excitement.
It’s usually in my lower school classes that some bright young spark will put up their hand and ask such questions as: What if you were born colour blind and were taught that a colour you saw as grey was really green? You’d never know what colour green was. Or: What if you biotechnologically engineered a clone of yourself? You could steal the Crown Jewels and blame it on the clone. Or you could harvest its organs in case you needed a liver or kidney transplant. Young people overflow with curiosity.

I’m quite a fan of Internet memes. Curiosity sends me drifting from one digital outpost to another, collecting cool or humorous sayings.

image001One of my favourites is the character, Morpheus from the Matrix films. These memes always begin with ‘What if I told you ….’ In fact he never actually says this, either in the blue/red pill scene or elsewhere. But these things sprout legs and start running until they’re light years ahead of the truth. Morpheus memes serve to poke fun at trending fads and fashions. For example, ‘What if I told you that you don’t have to dump ice on your head to donate to charity?’ (Remember the Ice bucket challenge anyone?)

Stephen King’s usual answer to the perennial ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ is what if …’ The origins of his vampire novel, Salem’s Lot lie in a dinner conversation he had with friends. The scenario of Dracula returning in the late 20th Century came up. King thought that if Dracula appeared in modern times he would be quickly discovered by the FBI. One friend, however, thought Dracula could go virtually unnoticed in a rural setting. King said: There are so many small towns in Maine, towns which remain so isolated that almost anything could happen there. People could drop out of sight, disappear, perhaps even come back as the living dead. I began to turn the idea over in my mind, and it began to coalesce into a possible novel.
The idea for my first novel, The Psychonaut, began with the premise: What if a sceptical atheist actually possessed a paranormal power, but was in denial about it? I think I experienced something of King’s coalescing when the notion ballooned into a dark fantasy novel.
A skill common to science and storytelling, is that of observation. Sir Isaac Newton is described as someone who saw what everyone saw, yet thought what no one had hitherto thought. The same could be said of authors. One day, when writing in a Carlisle coffee shop (a city in the northern UK kingdom of Middleland), I noticed a woman walking down the middle of the pedestrianised zone with five huskies. She cut a swathe through the crowds as they took the strain on their harnesses and pulled her onward. I thought to myself Those dogs look very obedient, but what if something possessed them, caused them to turn on her? Thankfully, the unsuspecting lady had no idea of the doom I was plotting for her fictional counterpart, but it formed the basis for a chapter in my third novel (as yet incomplete), Mycophoria.

image003
It was a sad day last year when we said good-buy to Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld books. But every lead balloon has its lustre, and I came across a real doozie when I read a Pratchett tribute by Neil Gaiman. He recalled passing many an hour talking with the master of comedy-fantasy about Brewer’s dictionary of phrase and fable. I’d never heard of the book, but the more I read about it, the more interested I became. I had an Amazon voucher spare, so I took a punt and ordered the latest edition. What a treasure trove it turned out to be. It’s not quite a dictionary and not quite an encyclopaedia, but the result of research spanning decades by a certain Reverend Brewer. Fuelled by his simple curiosity, the book contains a myriad of obscure but linked subjects. For example, I opened the book randomly on an entry about peculiar British place names and their origins in the ancient Celtic, Viking and Saxon languages. One such place was Crackpot. Not an epithet for a lunatic, but old English for Crow’s hole. It got me thinking about the sort of place that would be inhabited by masses of corvids – another story, or at least its title, was born. If you want to see more of my interest in crows, ravens and other obsidian-winged birds, then you need look no further than the January postings on my Facebook page.
Brewer was a man obviously obsessed, yet the fruits of his passion have directly or indirectly enriched the lives of thousands, if not millions.

Curiosity, you see, that’s what I blame it on. The oldest story of all (supposedly) features this most heinous of sins – that of Adam and Eve. The first woman gave in to her curiosity and ate of the tree of life. She wanted to know the difference between good and evil, and in so doing cursed the whole human race – curiosity killed the cat indeed. Maybe every writer is cursed in this respect.

Tom Adams sometimes swims in the clean, fresh rills of wholesome, life-affirming authors. But most of the time he can be found in the gloopy, silt-laden waters of that dark lake called horror. He’s down there with the pike, the rat-tailed maggot and the water louse. They may be scuzzballs but they’re his friends.

Check out Tom’s blog, ‘Writing in Starlight’ at http://tomghadams.uk and receive a free download of horror tales entitled ‘Defiled Earth.’
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/tomghadams/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/moteridgerider

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Flash Me!

flasher

 

 

 

No, not that type of flashing. I’m talking about flash fiction, so keep your pants on. Flash fiction, a piece a thousand words or less, has always been a tricky type of writing for me. A lot of the time my ideas go way beyond that word count limit before I get passed page one. But I apparently struck gold a few weeks ago when I managed not only to write a flash fiction piece shy of the 1000 word limit. I wrote it for an upcoming flash fiction contest run by Dark Chapter Press. If I don’t place it there then I’ll submiting it somewhere else or put it up here.

The story is about a man trying to escape from an infested city. Along the way he finds  something that will either be his saving grace or his doom. It has a sci-fi/horror slant to it.

I’m not sure if I’ll write more flash fiction, but I did enjoy writing it. I am pleased that I took on the challenge and conquered it. If nothing else it was a good exercise in sentence structure and word choice. All that grimy and gritty mechanical/technical aspects of writing that always need a good polishing once in awhile.  In some ways it reminded me of the old proverb passed down by art professors when I was in college, ‘Less is more’. Both in writing and painting/drawing/etc its not always easy to know when or how to do more with less.   A stricter budget of words caused me to use potent words rather than diluted ones.  It may not be ‘sexy’ or ‘cool’ but word choice and sentence structure is the equivalent of learning the proper chords and practicing scales for a musician or stretching and strength training is to a professional athlete.

It’s easy to fill a page with copious amounts of ‘purple’ prose and exposition, but the end result would just be a meandering mess that no one would want to read. I think that it’s important to challenge myself as a writer rather than do the same old same old. A major reason for self-expression is to push the boundaries and I can’t do that if I’m always treading the same worn path.

 

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