Wednesday, December 23, 2009

That sounds like a lot of words.

There's still a week left in the year, but I want to knock this out while it's in my head.

This is how I spent my writing year (words-on-page, not including revisions):
  • 150k words on what would (or may, someday) be novels (including my WIP, which should be finished by the end of the month)
  • 5k words on short stories & poems
  • 3k non-fiction (journalism-ism)
  • 20k blogging (assuming 250 words per post, includes family blog)
  • 18k tweeting (assuming 5 characters per word, 130 characters per tweet...man, that adds up fast. That's like six chapters.)
Just focusing on novels, shorts, poetry, and non-fiction articles, that puts me at about 432 words logged per calendar day on average--that's much higher than I would have estimated. Still, I need to do more.


My work towards a novel accounts for 95% of my creative writing. That was damn close to where I had estimated it to be.

I submitted work eleven times--six pieces of work in all--and had two accepted. That's 18% submit-to-sale, or 33% work-to-sale. My average wait time on those stories was 78 days.

My writing income for the year was $40. $15 of that went back to Duotrope.

My reading wasn't so hot--I think I read maybe fifteen novels, which sucks. That's all about time management. I'll do better.

Coming soon: 2010 writing goals.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

WIPPER Day


Happy belated WIP Wednesday (we'll call it Thought I posted this Yesterday Thursday).

Great night of writing...I locked myself in the bedroom and pounded out 2,000 words (plus about 100 words on a short story over lunch), which, after not writing a damn thing worth their collective electrons for over a week, felt nice. If I can do that a few more times before I go on vacation, plus spend some vacation days away from home at the library with headphones and blinders on, I may just finish this book by month end.

In the course of the day, I made bad things happen to good people, turned the tides of fortune toward the morally ambivalent, and sent something horrible toward the citizens of a small town in the Rocky Mountains. It's good to rule your own imaginary worlds, but not always good to be a member of one of them.
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This puts me on schedule to do some short stories in January, and start edits thereafter.

Which raises a question I have of all of you:

Crit groups. I've never done one. I've done some one-off crits for friends, but I've never had my work gone over. Everything I've heard says it adds value, especially at my level.

So:

Do you do them? If so, do you do them in person, or distant?

Stephen King (pause for angelic harmonies) says not to let anyone into your first draft, but let your trusted critics tear your second draft to shreds. Thoughts? Does anyone find value in crits on D1?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Small Market Roundup 2009

Early in the year, a lot of us committed to doing more to support small market press--you know, the guys who pay to publish the stories we write, and who publish the stories we love.

I could have done better. In my defense, I spent most of 2009 waiting to get handed a pink slip from DayJob™ and was counting every dime (that has been delayed a little bit longer, if you're curious). But I did take advantage of a lot of the specials out there, and did my utmost to pimp small market magazines, anthos, and novels.

But, without further ado, the list of small market materials for the year (to the best of my cluttered memory):

  • Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy: this started good, but my dog tore it to shreds before I finished.
  • Cemetery Dance #59: Great Keene story at the beginning of this one.
  • Douglas Clegg "Afterlife": I think this was a Cemetery Dance pub, too. I paid an obscene amount for this book to support CD sometime early in the year (might have been late 2008, come to think about it), and felt dumb afterward because the dialogue irritated me and I had to stop reading. I'll try again in 2010.
  • GUD Magazine #2, #3, #4: at least one of these I got for free, I think
  • Robert Swartwood "The Silver Ring": I don't think Robert got an ISBN for this, but I did pay a buck directly to the author, so I get karma for that one.
  • Catherine Gardner "The Sour Aftertaste of Olive Lemon"
  • Barry Napier "Debris": this is next on my reading list
  • Aaron Polson (ed) "Tainted": on order from Amazon, should be in my hands before the holidays
There were a lot more that I wanted, but once we really tightened our belts, it just wasn't happening...so, my apologies if you read my blog and wrote something that I didn't buy this year. I'll try to do better next year.


I have a ton of PDF magazines that I got free...I don't get points for not paying for them, but maybe if I give them some love here, it'll give them a half of a half of a fraction of a Google ranking:

  • Niteblade Dec 2008
  • James Moore: Home for the Holidays
  • Macabre Cadaver #3
  • Arkham Tales #2, #5
  • Crazy Horse #74
  • Ruthless Peoples Magazine March 2009
Definitely a scary year for small and large market press, and it goes without saying that the more we (read: I) can do in 2010, the better the odds that these guys will survive to end up on our 2010 year end roundup lists, too.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

John Cleese is Pinin' for the Fjords

I wasn't planning on posting this morning (only got 700 words in last night and need to make up for it), but I wanted to hit this while it's rattling around in the dusty, moldy-cheese-laden hamster maze that I carry around on my neck. So, I'll make it quick (yeah, right).

My thesis:

Surviving as a Producer of Popular Consumer Products in the New Economy; or: How Not to Use the Internet to Make Fans and Friends.

Some folks have it figured out; some are clueless; most of us are trying to get there, I think.

Amanda Palmer has it figured out. She tweets regularly. Not just tweets in a PR-heavy buy-my-shit kind of way, but really makes an effort to connect to fans. She has over 272k followers on Twitter, but actually talks to people who tweet her questions, comments, fan art, etc. She has responded to my lowly questions at least twice. She holds impromptu get-togethers before many of her shows and appearances, planned and announced sometimes an hour prior, always via Twitter--it's a little reward system for her followers. She tweets and blogs about her life, her problems, her victories. Zits on her ass (unfortunately, that's a true story). She helps her fans feel engaged, and part of her team, not just consumers of her products. She uses what often borders on over-communication to help her fans feel like they are truly integral in her successes and failures--the same behaviors you would find in highly successful managers at companies like Google.


Neil Gaiman has it figured out. Neil, who just happens to be making the two-back beast with Ms. Palmer, is a good Twit and blogger as well, but tends to be a little more private than Amanda--but that probably has as much to do with his British sensibilities as it does the sheer size of his following and respect for his own family. But, nonetheless, he keeps fans engaged at a good level, and it helps him stay at the head of his pack. Of note with Gaiman is that he was a relatively early adopter of this model--he started blogging his adventures while writing American Gods, sometime in 2000 I think.

Some other front-runners: Brian Keene, Adam Savage, Weird Al Yankovich, Cory Doctorow, Marian Call. They all seem to have their sea legs on the internet, for many of the same reasons as Palmer and Gaiman. You have to engage your fans, bring them into your circle (just decide which band of your circle to let them into), make it known that you recognize that your success requires a new kind of--to use the legal term--consideration. Quid quo pro. Tit-for-tat. This isn't the sheltered world of only seeing your heroes in magazines and TV. The wall is now paper-thin. Connect regularly and effectively, or get left behind.

John Cleese doesn't have it figured out. He tweets very rarely. In fact, there is strong evidence that John Cleese doesn't tweet, or at least pretends that it's not him behind the keyboard. He gets one point for trying, but the only time you hear from John's Tweetbox is either a random blip that makes no sense, or, more often, it's a direct and intrusive shill for a t-shirt. It doesn't work because he isn't taking the time to re-connect with his legions of fans, nor to open himself up to kids too young to remember Python, Fawlty, Wanda, or any of the other brilliant things he's done over the years. Cleese is the reason for this post, in fact--I just got a tweet from him asking me to click over and see what he's been up to. Well, he has been up to hiring a webguy to build a form on his website to capture my personal info so he can send me spam from third-party advertisers, as well as more t-shirt shills from his camp. Again, that's OK, but make it worth my while to continue to be a fan and give up my info--my time and patience aren't endless, and they certainly aren't free. Don't rely on your decades-old work to coerce me to open my wallet to buy a t-shirt.

Poppy Z Brite gets it, but she doesn't care. She has a good-sized following, she tweets regularly, connects with her followers, answers questions--but she isn't writing anymore and doesn't talk about writing much, and most of her tweets are either grouchy, angry, angry-grouchy, moody, or about football. But, such is genius, sometimes. I guess.


Danny Devito...Jesus, I don't even know what to say about this guy. I can't decide if he's a brilliant Twit, or just freaky-wrong. His tweets are random and often nonsensical (every time I read one of his wackier posts, I think about his drunken morning TV interview earlier this year, and the fact that almost every twipic he posts has a bottle or glass full or booze in it). Almost every post has a reference to his feet. It borders very closely on creepy. 90% of Devitos's tweets are like being drunk-dialed over the internet. But, goddamit, I can't bring myself to unfollow him, because he regularly tweets, he reveals details about his personal life (more in picture form than sentences that make sense--him and his wife in Paris, him behind the scenes at some play he's producing, him at the Venetian gondolas this morning). It works, I think, because it's intimate, it's voyeuristic, and it's like watching a slow-motion train wreck. I guess that counts as a win.

So, here's the challenge to all of you writers and new-media folks: after the books are written and the songs are recorded, what lessons will you take from these folks to help take your hobby and make it a career that actually pays the light bill?

Because your odds of getting that big book/record deal are getting slimmer every year.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Nook Review Time

I got my greasy little typing sticks on a Nook last night at the Barnes & Noble by UNLV.

Summary review: daddy want.

Detailed review: when I picked it up from the display stand (to which it was bound with a white cable that, presumably, would reveal itself to be an iPod cable-white Coral snake if I made a run for it), I thought it was a mockup unit, like the cell phones with pictures of functional interfaces adhered to the screen that are actually hollow and once used to smuggle cocaine from, oh, let's say Tijuana.

The reason I thought it was fake was that the image on the screen--a hedcut image of Mark Twain--was obviously not a sticker, but obviously not a digital image. I asked the guy at the information desk if he had a real one, and he reached over coyly and hit the power button. Mark Twain dissolved in a black mist of e-ink, and was replaced by text.

I was impressed already.

Seriously, it looks that real: e-ink is absolutely indistinguishable from paper, albeit paper under a thin layer of glass-like screen material.

If you haven't seen the pictures, here's the layout: a smallish e-ink screen above--about the size of a hardcover book page--and a color LCD below. The LCD is used to navigate: scroll through your books, change settings, buy books, etc. Both screens look brilliant.

Positive:
  • E-ink is awesome, and, IMHO, the only acceptable way to read anything longer than a blog post on an electronic device. Remember that little voice in your head that eighteen years ago suggested that going to see Ratt and Winger concerts with no ear protection was probably a bad idea? That's the same voice in your head telling you not to read The Lost Symbol on your iPhone. (What's that? Couldn't hear you.) I said, don't read novels on your iPhone, you old goofball! Geez...
  • It's very small. Look around the room for a 5x7 picture in a small frame. It's about that big, maybe a little longer. It does not, however, have an image of you and your fabulous 80s haircut--but it does display pictures in black and white e-ink, so you could do that, if you wanted to...I guess.
  • It plays MP3s, which seems like a totally worthless feature to me, but somebody probably wants that. Ever read Skymall catalogs? There are toilet paper dispensers that play MP3s now. No kidding. Christ.
  • It supports ePub and PDF, so you can read those magazines you've been collecting in the internet for the past three years, as well as the large collection of third party books published in ePub, which seems to be the standard ebook format. Many, I believe, are free.
  • It runs the Android operating system, which means it is probably going to be more hacker-friendly than the Kindle. I'm sure someone has already modified a nook to do something related to porn, funny cats, Warcraft, or porn. My hope for this feature is that third parties will release modules and hacks to open it up to other formats, like Kindle books and Word docs.
  • If you're at a B&N store, you can read one book per day free via the wireless connection.

Negative:
  • The wireless function can use any WiFi connection, but can only be used to buy more book from B&N, or, if you're in a B&N store, read a book from their library. To read your own non-B&N books, you have to transfer them over manually via USB or a memory card. Which seems like a waste, but you don't really want to be surfing the internet on this thing, because...
  • E-ink is great for text or lineart/hedcut images, but anything more than that and it blows. Pictures look grainy, and the refresh rate is extremely slow. The time to flip pages in a book is about 2-3 seconds. I wonder if that would be distracting, or if you'd get used to it after a few pages.
  • For how small it is, it's heavier than it seems like it would be. I guess it has all of that electronic junk inside, but it's Bible-heavy--not a little tiny Gideon Bible, but not quite the leather-bound kind hand-written by Franciscan monks that came with a free deerhide bookmark and a hunchback named Eoderic to carry it around for you, either. But a big, solid hardcover Bible.
  • The interface in the LCD seems slow and bit clunky, but I can deal with that. After all, you're buying it to read books, not flip through settings screens. If taking ten more seconds to find your bookmark is the worst thing that happens to you all day, things are going much better for you than you probably know.


In all, I think the Nook is a winner. The only thing stopping me from buying it is that my physical, non-electronic TBR pile is immense thanks to Paperbackswap, and it would probably be a good six months before I read anything but PDF magazines on it. Not that that's a bad thing, but I just have to decide if that's worth $260.

The other thing worth mentioning is that there will be a lot of competition coming out in e-readers this year, and that always spurs innovation (no fewer than 4 major newspaper/magazine publishers are proposing their own proprietary readers, including Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and ESPN). Can someone else do it better? Maybe. Probably. Will they do it in a reasonable timeframe, and at a decent price, and not have it locked down to their sandbox with proprietary formats and binding subscription agreements? Probably not.

I'll decide in the next week or so--no rush, since I won't be able to get one shipped until likely late January. I am strongly leaning toward getting one, though, primarily so I can get through the 50MB of PDF magazines I have sitting unread on my computer.

That, and I want to see what it's like listening to Winger's "She's Only Seventeen" while reading New Moon. Creepy, I suspect.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Film Noir

I sat down to write some insightful and/or funny post on some topic that I had not yet decided on when my wife pinged me on Messenger. It was horrible news:

"The Road" was not released to any theaters in Las Vegas.

A small tragedy, indeed--I slipped through all five phases of grief within about ninety seconds, all expressed in tweet form. Heartbreaking. Well, OK, not heartbreaking. But a bummer. I was looking forward to seeing it more than any movie this year since probably Order of the Phoenix.It was supposed to be the movie that balanced against Wolverine on my internal movie karma scale.

And if the hype holds up, this would have probably been the first time I had actually seen a movie nominated for an Oscar before the actual award ceremony.

I checked a few movie sites. I searched a few random zip codes on Fandango--nothing. I checked movietickets.com--they had the word "Limited" right by the release date. Jeremy Kelly tweeted that it wasn't in Atlanta, either.

Bummer.

I blame myself. And you. I blame you, too. I blame us.

Last summer, I took the kids to see Pixar's "Up". In line to buy tickets, they saw the poster for the Will Ferrell live action poo sculpture "Land of the Lost". They wanted to switch movies. We debated. They won. It cost me $25 plus a few ounces of my ever-dwindling soul.

In the Spring, we saw Wolverine. I literally can't remember a single plot point or interesting bit of dialogue. I think there was a talking beaver and an evil ice queen in the beginning; the ending is just as hazy, but I'm pretty sure the little boy--young Logan, I presume--found his golden train ticket in enough time to save Christmas for Cory Feldman and the kid from Malcolm in the Middle.

It seems like I wait to see the good movies until they come out on DVD. Mostly because of the kids, I guess.

And I now you're there with me--well, some of you. It's our fault. We are the market. We pay to watch schlock with Nicholas Cage and John Travolta and anybody from Saturday Night Live and the bald guy from Moonlighting.

The good news, I guess, is that it makes books even more attractive.

A few years back, my wife and I discovered the splendor of Netflix. One of the biggest criticisms of Netflix has always been that they don't carry many popular movies, and are overstacked with TV shows, classics, and independent movies that nobody has heard of. We aren't big TV watchers, but we have gotten brave enough to check out some of the independent flicks on there (via mailed DVDs and, our absolute favorite distribution system in the universe, Watch It Now). Now, the heavy catalog of unpopular fare has become, for us, the greatest part of Netflix.

Here are a few good ones we've found...feel free to add your own:

Adam's Æbler (Adam's Apple). My wife spent several months going through the Danish-language catalog, mostly because of Danish superstar Mads Mikkelsen (of Casino Royale fame). The Danes have a national film board that produces many (all?) of their movies, so you find a lot of the same actors working together. They really put out some good ones, and Mads seems to have been in every one. Anyway, Adam's Apple was my favorite--the story of a pre-release convict trying hard not to be reformed while he watches the people around him contort under their own emotional loads. Very well done, and the subtitles are not as distracting as you may think.

Primer. I found this movie in a reference in an xkcd comic. It  was good--not fantastic, but I defy you to find a solid, well-written sci-fi movie with fewer (or no) special effects that is half as believable. It's a time-travel movie that is more thought-provocation than action, but that's good. It's a movie for people who like to think. It's also cool to see all of the credits fit on one or two pages, and only like five names, including the catering, which was probably someone's mom. Be prepared to watch it several times, or take notes. See the xkcd comic for details on that.

Run, Lola, Run. This was an artsy movie. My wife loved it, I thought it was pretty good--a very refreshing alternative to what we usually see. I think we liked it for different reasons--she liked the story, I liked the arsty-fartsy quality, how the characters and scenarios were kind of caricatures of reality. German with subtitles.

Idiocracy. From the creative team behind Office Space, a horrifyingly prophetic look at the future of mankind. A little bit ha-ha funny, but mostly oh-my-god funny.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. A Jimmy Stewart classic featuring an amazing performance by Jean Arthur. Frank Capra obviously doesn't qualify as indie, but if you're looking for a good rental, don't neglect the oldies (my wife now almost exclusively watches B&W movies).

I am far from a film snob, I guess I just don't like being played to like I was a high-fiving, spiky-haired, bluetooth-headset rube. I don't mind being made to think a little bit for my entertainment, as, I suspect, doesn't most of the world. But, as always, the only way to change it is to vote with your pocketbook. Or make your own movies.

In any case, I will be protesting this year by not wearing my best clothes to watch the Oscars on TV. In fact, I may not even wear pants. That'll show 'em.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Turkey Shoot

Back to reality from a lo-o-o-ong Thanksgiving break. The time off was nice...I didn't get  a single line of writing done, but the break was much-needed.

Living in Vegas, Thanksgiving with out of town guests is different that what I've experienced in most cities I've lived in. We spent most days all together in our tiny house, but the last two days we split up--girls did shopping and girl-oriented shows, and the guys shot automatic weapons and did boy stuff. Most of the time was spent with the kids--we did a Renaissance-style show at the Excalibur, a movie, and some time in a massive underground video arcade.

And, of course, way too much food and drink and not enough going to the gym.
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I mostly focus on long-form stories, which is why I have so few credits to-date...but, every once in a while, I sneak in a short story between failed attempts at finishing a 70k manuscript that is worth revising.

And...as I mentioned a couple of months ago, I recently wrote a poem (yak, that even looks weird written down). Like I've said, I'm not a poet; most poetry to me is as abstract and hard to understand as Pollock paintings. Sometimes I "get" the cadence or emotional outflow, but a lot of the time it's just stuff.

But, apparently that isn't enough to keep me from writing one.

The Woodsman's Son, published up at New Myths today, started out as a short story that was heavily inspired by the Dresden Dolls song The Gardener. Whereas, I think, the Dolls saw their tale as more of a co-dependent, love/hate story, mine went more in a hero-worship, misplaced trust direction. As I wrote it, it took on a natural staggered cadence that kind of reminded me of Poe's The Raven (not in quality, per se, but in rhythm), so I decided to re-do it as a poem over a couple of months last winter.

Anyway, it's different. It was fun. I'm very curious to see if people who read it interpret it the same way I do. I suspect the reactions will be mixed.

Enjoy. And, congrats to everyone who finished NaNoWriMo! Now go take naps.


Friday, November 20, 2009

The Happy Couple

Packing up the scary goods from Halloween, I decided that the full-size coffin I built was a perfect place to store everything. The first two things I put in were JerkyBoy and his girlfriend, the Bone Collector. I thought they made a cute couple all snuggled up in the casket, and had to share the love.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"It's Your One-Way Ticket to Midnight..."

I loved Heavy Metal Magazine when I was little. Really, really loved it.

It was the early 80s. The radio was filled with the likes of Sammy Hagar, Blue Oyster Cult, and Pat Benetar. I was in an awkward post-Star Wars, post-Dr. Who stage at about age 10 or 11, and I started picking up the copies of magazines that my stepfather--an avid reader whose match in sheer volume of yearly book consumptions I am yet to see--left laying around. National Lampoon, Discover, and Heavy Metal were my favorites. Between those three magazines, my mind was expanded, my horizons set farther, my childhood stuffed into a pipe and smoked like so much hash.

If, in your mind, you just calculated the equation of "10 year old" + "National Lampoon Drug Jokes" + "Heavy Metal Cartoon Boobies" = "Parenting Fail", you need to chill. This was the early 80s. Life was different, people seemed to have a firmer grasp on reality vs fantasy. My parents were progressive and pragmatic enough to realize that me reading jokes about smoking pot and seeing cartoons of alien women with 48FF knockers wasn't going to turn me into a pervert or a junkie. I'm only 36, but I seem to be OK so far.

When I first discovered HM, I was hooked. I think it was Rock Opera that first pulled me in, but over time, they introduced some really great stories and fantastic artwork. Boris Vallejo, whose airbrushed fantasy works are recognized worldwide, appeared in just about every issue, and he illustrated some really fun stories in addition to his artwork layouts (although for the life of me I can't remember any names). HR Giger did some work for them, too, off and on, as did R Crumb.

One of my favorites (at least that I remember, there were so many stories that only lasted a month or two) was RanXerox, the story of a buff, taxi-driving, ghetto-bound cyborg-punk and his 14 year old girlfriend. The artwork was incredible, and the storylines were hard-edged, gritty, and brutal. Like Sin City meets Blade Runner, but throw in a lot more blood, drugs, and sex. A lot more.

Another was Texarcana. From what I remember, it was the unfurling story of a witch, a cattle rustler, and two beings from another dimension--one who looks like a chicken-lizard man, and one that is a cross between Grimace from McDonalds and a mushroom. I was really hooked on Texarcana, and waiting for my stepfather to finish reading the latest copy of HM so I could get my mits on it would drive me crazy.

Once I got hooked into the storylines, I started doing jobs around the house to earn enough money to buy the backissues. At one point I think I had every single issue from 1977 to 1988; I tore off all of the covers and cut out the best artwork, and covered every single wall (and ceiling) in my bedroom. That was about the time my hormones shifted, and my attentions turned from comics to...well, the things that teenagers occupy themselves with. The HM art came down, and I haven't read it since.

HM was on my mind today because I saw some random R Crumb picture, and a quick Google chase led me to find that the entire run of Texarcana is online. Check it out...it's a cool and weird story, and I look forward to reading it again, now, what, twenty-three years later?

I guess part of it is just being a kid with little else to worry about, but I do miss the anticipation of waiting for the next issue, the excitement of opening each magazine for the first time, the countless hours spent reading and re-reading each story, studying the fine lines of the artwork. It's honestly one of the few things about childhood that I miss.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This is my lawn. You know what to do.

Is it a sure sign that I'm getting old when I blog more about crotchety-old-man topics than anything else? I need to get out more. Maybe I need to join a band (again) and, you know, leave the house, interact with adults. Stuff like that. Or I can put on my headphones and write more.
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First off in Old Man JD's craw today: changes in the TSA's rules of security theater.

A few months back, a guy who works for the Campaign for Liberty (formerly the Ron Paul presidential campaign) was trying to get through airport security when he was stopped, sequestered, harassed, threatened and, eventually, let go. The reason? He was carrying a lot of cash (which just happened to be campaign contributions, but that was none of the TSA's business). This type of thing, I'm sure, happens a lot since 9/11--the TSA was made into a pseudo Federal police force with no oversight. The reason it made news this time was that:
  1. Being part of the Campaign for Liberty, this guy takes his constitutional rights seriously, and asserted them repeatedly, much to the TSA agents' confusion; and
  2. He turned on his iPhone audio recording app once he was taken aside, and posted the entire 30 minute ordeal on the internet. Priceless.
Anyway, the ACLU filed suit on his behalf, and the TSA admitted that they did not have the right to engage in search and seizure outside of their duties to keep dangerous materials off of planes. A small win for liberty, but these days you have to take what you can get.
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The longer I live in Las Vegas, the more it seem like a big wasteland. I think I have a full article to write on that topic, but here is my Vegas Rant of the Day™:

I'm walking my dog, and notice that the street near my house--a typical Las Vegas road with 8 foot high block walls on either side--had a lot of new graffiti. Across the street was a man of about 50 going to town with a spray can, painting squiggles, squares, and random marks. It was white paint--same color as the graffiti, and definitely not the original color of the wall. I crossed the street to confront him.

I came up behind him and asked "What the fuck are you doing?" It's important to note here that I've spent my entire life being a socially awkward numb nut, and I see no signs of that trend abating. For some reason, he didn't take to that very kindly to my greeting. I can't imagine why.

In a thick accent that seemed to be Eastern European, he replied: "What the hell does it look like?" He puffed up, walked over, and looked, for a moment, like he wanted to square off with me. Not that I look intimidating, but he apparently decided that fisticuffs in the middle of the street with a 215 lb jackass and a 70 lb Malamute didn't sound productive, and he went back to work. "I'm covering up graffiti," he continued. "Are you trying to be a smartass?"

I took a step back to re-assess his work. It just looked like a bunch of squiggles. But, I decided, it was possible--probable even--that there was more graffiti underneath and that he was doing exactly what he said he was. It looked like shit, and was obviously intended to spite the taggers more than to mask the graffiti itself, but, I figured, at least he's trying (I've done the same on my street, but I, at least, tried to match the goddamn color of the painted surface). I bit my tongue as hard as I could and continued my walk. I even wrote his license number down, but decided later that reporting him to the graffiti hotline would be nothing more than Old Man JD being vindictive and petty, just because we had a misunderstanding.

I guess what I did there was I delineated graffiti-as-vandalism from graffiti-as-reclamation. And, apparently, I've decided that the latter is OK. I'm still not totally sure about all of that, but I guess that can be filed under "picking your battles".

In my mind, it all just adds to the large-scale ghetto vibe of Las Vegas. The kids tag the neighborhood, the "good guys" (there aren't quotation marks big enough to contain my sarcasm) almost come to blows over it, and I'm unsure if I'm part of the problem, the solution, or just standing around watching it all go to hell.

Like I said, I have a whole bag of rant about Las Vegas...more on that another day.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wise Man Says: A Finger In the Nose is Not the Nose

I'm just shy of 40k on my WIP, working title of "Amity". I'm procrastinating starting writing for the night, because I have to get up from my chair in about 10 minutes and make dinner. Just enough time to blog.

This story is different than anything I've written, and different than anything I've read. It looks at a subversive community--a real community, mind you--and, as such, uses a lot of the extremely non-PC, offensive language of this group. My fear--other than it will never see the light of day because it sucks--is that it doesn't suck entirely but nobody will publish it because of said offensive language. I've also considered that it will get published, and that the people that this group mocks make a big deal out of it. It's not the worst thing published, by any means--think of, maybe, American History X or Brokeback Mountain, and the language that an antagonist would need to use to develop the persona of a, well, a hateful prick. It's that kind of colloquial banter. I'm wondering about potentially alienating an audience right out of the starting gate. But, that's definitely cart-before-horse. I need to finish the damn thing first.

Does it seem obvious that the writing is not the writer, or do you just draw that connection automatically that, for example, based only on the works and not interviews, etc, that Annie Proulx is sympathetic to gays, or Chuck Palahniuk is an anarchist, or Ayn Rand is hyper-conservative, or Dan Brown is an iconoclast, or Hunter Thompston was, well, whatever the fuck Hunter Thompson was?
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My copy of Barry Napier's Debris just arrived. I have been very neglectful of my reading and still need to knock out my current book, but I'll probably put that one next on the pile.
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Thursday, November 5, 2009

"...cast vicariously as both victim and villain... "

    Remember, remember the fifth of November,
    The gunpowder treason and plot,
    I know of no reason
    Why the gunpowder treason
    Should ever be forgot.

Today, of course, is the Night of Bonfires in Britain.

Maybe those in the UK understand it more, but I think that most Americans have culled their knowledge of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot from the comic and later movie "V for Vendetta". It strikes me that for most people, at least outside of the UK and Ireland, the ongoing battle between Protestants and Catholics doesn't get much spin time in the front part of the mind.

The reason Guy Fawkes day is so romanticized, I suspect, is the same as for Bastille Day in France and the commemoration of the Boston Tea Party (and, of course, Independence Day) in the states: the religious connotation is secondary--if even that--to the idea of throwing off ones oppressors, aggregating as a people and sticking it to the overlords. It's the reason people show up to Presidential town hall meetings with Colt .45s strapped to their legs, why hordes of anonymous protesters can coordinate via the internet with no clear leadership structure and show up en masse to call attention to some perceived (or real) injustice, and, in a more groupthink but subtle manner, the reason why every other (or third) election cycle brings in the opposition party--we're sick of "their" shit and want to give the underdogs a chance (we tend to forget that once someone is elected, they automatically and without exception become "them").

So, even though it has nothing to do with my country, per se, and that I couldn't possibly be any more against justifying violence in the name of religion, tonight I will raise a glass of some kind of viscous alcoholic beverage in salute to our friends across the Atlantic, and to those across the globe and within our borders who continually remind us that an unchecked government is a corrupt government.

Here's to the Night of Bonfires.



Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween 2009 Pic Dump

Not much to say on this that readers of this blog don't already know...yesterday was a crazy Halloween adventure. It took me 2 full days to set up the garage haunt, and I'm sure it will take me most of today to clean it up (if I can stop procrastinating and get out there). We didn't count but I'm sure we had at least 300 visitors, maybe 350. It was fun...everything worked, no props failed. The only real disappointments were the Pepper's Ghost (it is sooo hard to get that illusion right...maybe next year), I ran out of red dye for the fountain (which also leaked, but not until we were ready to close shop) and my costume. As usual, I threw it together at the last minute after working in the garage all day, and it kind of sucked. Also, not to self: when you have a complex, somewhat fragile haunt to manage in the dark, don't wear a prosthetic that covers one of your eyes. That was just dumb. I kept knocking stuff over lurking around behind the scenes to adjust the fogger, manage cords, etc.

So, without further ado, a photo and video dump:

"Lobby" of the garage (daytime)


Hanging Pepper's Ghost (notice the ghost image and my reflection in the glass)



Notice the Bone Collector over my shoulder in mid-lightning flash


This one reminds of of Silence of the Lambs






Kind of a cool minimilast shot of the skull from Pepper's Ghost floating through the air


And two vids: the first one is standard def with normal lighting, so it's kind of hard to see everything


Second is a full walkthrough with my HD camerca, once in daytime, once in infrared (I think you can click on the video to see it in HD).

Garage Haunt Walkthrough from Jeremy D Brooks on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fright Dome

Less than one week until Halloween--Hallowe'-en, short for All Hallows Evening, the celebration of the night before the old Pagan celebration of All Saints' Day (later co-opted by Pope Gregory III, who, in Papal tradition, sought to divert attention to his deity by moving the Catholic All Saints' Day from May to November 1); also known as Samhain, from the Gaelic word for summer's end--a celebration of the end of the light, fruitful days of summer, and the beginning of the lonely, scarce days of winter's darkness.

Last night there was a zombie walk down on Fremont Street; I unfortunately had to take a pass on that, but I'm very anxious to hear how it went (I suspect Mercedes will blog it). The reason I missed was entrapment--my daughters got caught in the kind of dramatic turmoil of which only school age kids are capable; and, long story short, I should know better than to let schoolkids coordinate events without close oversight, and the only way for me to keep my weeks-old promise to my daughters to make sure they get to Fright Dome this year was to take them myself.

So...anyway, the thing I really wanted to talk about was Fright Dome. If you've ever been to Las Vegas, Fright Dome is built inside of the Adventure Dome at Circus Circus. (note: I couldn't find any good pictures of FrightDome in action...I suspect the fog makes photography almost impossible).

If you've never been to Las Vegas, let me 'splain what this is, so you can get an idea of the coolness of this thing: imagine a glass-shrouded dome about the size of a small football stadium. Inside of the dome is an amusement park, including a roller coaster, water ride (a la Disney's Splash Mountain), 6 or 7 big carny-style rides, a midway, video games, kiddie rides, concessions, and sideshows, all anchored in the center by a massive faux-stone mountain.

Every October, that park takes on a new life as Fright Dome, a massive haunted village that is only open at night. The Circus Circus takes that amusement park and turns off all of the lights, fills it with thick fog, adds lightning/thunder generators, laser light shows, stobes, and high-end Halloween decorations: pneumatic monsters, flying demons, echoing screams filling the dome. That alone is pretty cool, but that's just the beginning.

They close down a few areas, like the laser tag maze and some of the winding caverns underneath the mountain, and construct five large, elaborate haunted houses. This year they did a licensing deal with the producers of Saw, and had a haunt called Jigsaw's Revenge, complete with live actors and electronic/pneumatic props acting out torture scenes from the movies. Very cool. There was also a hillbilly maze, a haunted hospital, and a couple others.

Roaming the haunts and the hallways in between are dozens of actors in makeup, whose sole purpose is to scare the hell out of guests. The overall theme is evil clowns, but they also had hooded hillbillys with chainsaws (real, but no chain attached), mad scientists, popular baddies like Jason, Mike Meyers, etc, flying monkeys from Wizard of Oz, and dozens of generally weird characters.

In all it was fun--I loved the creepy ambiance of seeing big rides like Chaos and The Inverter running in the dark, their signage lights barely visible through the fog, and the packs of kids running and screaming while being chased by a green-haired clown with a chainsaw. The waits were killer, though...about 40-50 minutes on some haunts, which wasn't fun. Also, I was probably amongst the seven oldest people in the building, security guards included.

As much as it sucked missing the Zombie Walk, the kids had a good time, and I can say that I've done the Fright Dome. Finally.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Poltergeist IV: Cable Guy

In keeping with our (well, OK...my) October tradition, my Netflix queue is stacked with horror movies. Last night was the BluRay release of Poltergeist. I gotta say, that movie really stands up well. I'm sure they did some remastering for BluRay, but it looked great, the story was good, and it was just a well-built movie.

I haven't seen it since the theatrical release (I was in 3rd grade, I think), and I remember not sleeping well for the next 3 days. Poltergeist, I think, is responsible for my propensity to put scary-ass clowns in my stories. It's interesting how different parts of a movie resonate with you as an adult, as opposed to the same movie watched as a child, how the family and children become more your concern than the safety of the adults--especially since Carol Anne was a dead-ringer for my oldest daughter when she was five.

Also, watching Craig T Nelson smoke pot while reading a book about Reagan's greatness was funny.

I'm a data fiend, and after I watch a movie I will almost always hit the IMDB to see what the actors have done recently, where they got started, and useless trivia about the movie. I knew that the little girl who played Carol Anne died during the third Poltergeist (mis-diagnosed medical condition), but I didn't realize that the actress who played the older sister was murdered by her boyfriend right after the movie was finished. Tragic. The guy served I think 6.5 years. Also tragic. Both of them are interred near each other in the same cemetery.

Anyway, I think my wife gets the next movie in the queue, and then I get one more scary flick before Halloween: Creepshow.
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No idea why, but this My Chemical Romance song (Helena) has been stuck in my head for days. I had to track down the video. If you've never seen it, take a look. The song is very hooky and over-produced, but it tells kind of a catchy story. Also, the video is stunning.

My Chemical Romance "Helena" from Cinelicious on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Free Speech, Protected Actions

I don't want to use this blog as a political platform, per se. My primary purpose here is to connect with writers and readers and those who appreciate literature in all genres, be it Faulkner's immersive southern plantations or Tolkein's hobbit-holes and dead marshes or Herbert's spice-scented political landscapes, or even Sam Harris' biting secular lectures or the DT Suzuki's wonderful insights into Zen Buddhism.

The topic of anti-blasphemy legislation and special protections for religious groups has been coming up quite a bit recently, and, regardless of where I stand on that topic philosophically, it can--and will--impact literature sooner or later. Hence this essay.

Caitlin Kiernan tweeted this article earlier today, and I RT'd it in kind. It is an Op/Ed from USA Today columnist Jonathan Turley (also, a more measured analysis from The Desmoines Register) that gives an overview of a UN resolution co-authored by the US and Egypt regarding religious protection: "...the Obama administration supported the effort of largely Muslim nations in the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any "negative racial and religious stereotyping.") Read that last part again and see if your head has exploded: Egypt, not exactly known for human rights or religious tolerence, has co-authored a resolution with the U.S. (home of Larry Flynt, Scientology, and adopted homeland of Ayn Rand) to define the international stance on free speech and religious protections. And it doesn't seem to be a let's-synthesize-our-ideas thing, it looks to be more of a concession on behalf of the US for whatever political reason.

The resolution, as I understand it, doesn't really have teeth, in that it carries no punitive measures and no body of enforcement (if I'm incorrect, please tell me). But, this has to be taken into context; in the last few years, we've seen violence, murder, and attempts of both done in the name of religion (the fatwah against author Salman Rushdie, the UK riots against Denmark for cartoon depictions of Muhammad, parents who refuse their sick children healthcare because their religion prohibits it, child marriage and abuse in the name of a person claiming they have been appointed as a diety's representative on earth). And that doesn't even take into consideration the "sanctioned" violence in the name of religion: Pakistan v India, Israel v Palestine, Ireland v N Ireland). If you take away people's ability to discuss the hows and whys of bad things like violence and war and crime within context, you kill the discussion before it has even started and you, to some extent, legitimize the activities.

I am not positing that violence is the domain of religion, nor that there is necessarily causation therein. I will say, though, that history has shown that a person or group with the inclination to violence or general nefas often have no problem doing it under the flag of piety. And the reason they do that, I submit, is that religion is given special protections against things that would often be seen as illegal, immoral, or objectionable if done outside of the realm of those protections.

There are oh-so-many reasons that giving religions--any religion--international standing as protected from derision or criticism is a horrible, horrible idea. Not the least of which is the potential for abuse of the "privilege", iterations of which I'm sure any of you could conjure up in horrifying detail.

But, let's take the very American (I can't profess to speak for my friends in the UK, Australia, Candada, etc) staple: Freedom of Speech--the very cornerstone of the Constitution, the first amendment added to the Bill of Rights in 1791. How can the concepts of "not criticizing religion" be synthesized with the Bill of Rights? I submit that it can't, not without outright destroying that document and all it stands for.

Criticize a Christ Scientist for letting their child die because insulin is not allowed? Out.
Protest a Scientology office? Out.
Make a joke about the Pope's funny hat collection? Out.
Debate creationism vs evolution? Out.

All horrible things to lose the ability to do. Not reduced privileges--eliminated rights.

Now, take that into consideration how this affects you, the author/reader. For this, I employ gross O'Reilly/Olbermann-style hyperbole. Why? Because it drives home the point of where this, unchecked, leads.

First of all, put Dan Brown's ass in jail, tout de suite. Salman Rushdie must be extradited to the U.S. and turned over to his accusers. Neil Gaiman, who is in China this month, may just want to stay there (between American Gods, Anansi Boys, and Good Omens, he may only be facing 10-15 if he behaves). Rand is lucky that she's already passed, she'd be first against the wall.

/End hyperbole.

If you care, what can you do? I don't know. I'm not an activist. But, a few places to start may be the Comic Book Defense Fund, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and American Civil Liberties Union...I'm sure there are plenty more places out there you can talk to. I'm not sure what they can/would do, but harrassing your Congresscritters is ALWAYS a good idea. Do NOT let these folks off easy (not just on this topic--ANY topic).

Most importantly, I think, is for all of us to be aware of the discussions that are taking place, and how they affect all of us, and make sure that the people around you are aware as well. It isn't enough to just say "hate speech should be prohibited". If the PATRIOT act and DMCA taught us anything, it is that overly general laws can, and will, be abused by somebody to violate existing law and rule. And such laws tear through skin and attach their sucking tendrils at the bone, and will not be removed.

So, that's my rant. Apologies to anyone offended or bored, but that's what is on my mind today.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Governor Called, Something About a Stay of Elocution?

I think I'd mentioned a while ago that my employer (-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named) was planning on sacking me (and a good sized group of my friends) sometime in Q1 pursuant to a business venture with another company. I've been sitting on nickels and dimes, putting of critical house upgrades (missing sections of roofing, carpet the dog tore out...pretty important stuff) until I could find something steady, which, in a city approaching 14% unemployment, wasn't looking good. Anyway, they just announced today that we have an 18 month reprieve, which at the same time takes a huge weight off of my shoulders, while making me want to slam my head in a car door and curse in Yiddish. If I was still writing for The Examiner, I would be typing up an article called Demoralizing the Masses: How Not to Fire People.

So, anyway, there it is. Not quite a microfiber swaddling cloth and a solid oak crib, but it gives me some breathing room to patch the damned roof and not put every spare dime in savings. Well, not as many dimes, anyway.
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I'm sitting at about 26k on another story. One of these days I'll finish one of the damn things. I think the problem is that I learn so much about writing each time I work on a project that by the time I get to 50k or so, I start to doubt myself and want to apply those lessons to something new. I need to get over that and stay on task.

So, needless to say, I won't be doing NaNoWriMo this year. I ought to be close to 35k on this story by then, I don't want to lose momentum (with Halloween coming up, AND a conference I have to attend for work, I won't get much done between next Tuesday and Nov 1). I'm fighting the short story bug tooth and nail. I also have a story that I did about 20k on and put aside that I thought would make a great comic, I may draft a script and see if any drawers are interested this winter.
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In keeping with holiday tradition, we're renting a few scary/monster flicks this month (rare for us) to set the mood. My oldest daughter and I plowed through the 3+ hour DVD of It last week, which I'd never seen. The ending was weak, but Tim Curry was awesome as Pennywise. He is really an underrated actor, that guy...I loved him in Clue, too. He ends up in hammy roles and doing audio for cartoons too often. I'd like to see him in some killer dramatic role someday.

I think Poltergeist is next in the queue. Every kid should watch Poltergeist before bed at least once, right?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Halloween Props Part IV

(continued from yesterday)

In which I put nasty things in a box, and the true extent of my sickness is revealed.

One of the projects I had planned was a half of a zombie sticking up out of the ground, preferably with a motorized 3-axis skull on top and a grunty voice track. Due to budget constraints, the motorized skull was out. The natural solution to what to put in the toe pincher was to combine these two projects, and have a zombie peeking out of the coffin.

A big part of what I really wanted to do with the zombie was "corpsing"...taking a dry skeleton and making it look all meaty and greasy and rotten.

First step: a skull and a couple of skeleton hands.You can find these at a lot of Halloween supply shops, or buy direct from the Anatomical Chart Company, who I think makes them. They are designed primarily for lab/MD office/school use, but ones that are of lower quality (missing parts, discolored, etc) they sell cheap. They are perfect for this project.

Next: I pulled out a few of his teeth, removed outward-facing hardware (clasps that hold on the skullcap, etc, but not the springs that hold the jaw on...different tactic there). There are a lot of parts that come off for inspection (the entire faceplate from mid-eye to lower nose comes off so you can see the sinusus). Those got glued in place as well as a couple of bits that had broken off in shipping, and rough, machined edges got sanded.

While skull-shopping, I also picked up a liter bottle of liquid latex. This stuff is awesome. You can do fun stuff with it. I had heard that you can paint it directly on your skin to make kind of faux-clothing (go ahead and google that, but you may want to wait until you get home from work...), and my daughters and I played around with making gloves out of it. Really fun stuff.

Anyway, here comes the fun part, in handy instruction list form:

1. Lay down paper. This stuff is messy. Do not wear latex gloves--latex sticks to latex, and you'll have five pound hands before too long.

2. Unroll a cotton ball. Betcha didn't know cotton balls are actually rolls, did you? Me neither. Look closely, you'll see the spiral pattern. Find a gap and unroll...very easy.

3. Soak the cotton with latex and slather it on the skull. It really is that simple. It's messy and kind of unwieldy, but once you get it stuck to the skull, you can smear it down and smooth it, shape it, do all kinds of cool things. Some people put plastic eyeballs in the skull, I chose to go more corpse-realistic and took some of the dried latex that stuck to my fingers and jammed it in the eye sockets and nose hole to look like dried skin and cartilage. I really wish I would have filmed this part. Next year, I'll do a full video tutorial if I do another one. Try to stick with how muscle and sinew naturally lay on the body--how an eyelid pulls across the socket, how the jaw muscle goes behind the outer edge of the eye socket. Be sure to cover up the springs with latex (conveniently, I think that's where a muscle or tendon or something is, it looks very natural covered up)

Same procedure with the hands, with one exception: they have to be posed first, as this stuff dries hard. I had to climb into the casket holding the skeleton hands and pose in the way that I thought my actor would be--climbing out, reaching for the next victim (or, if you have a more optimistic viewpoint, a senior citizen asking for help from the nice young folks visiting). So: pose them where you want them, and apply the latex cotton. You can apply as much or as little as you want...my goal was to show meat and facial structure as well as exposed bone.

4. Let it dry overnight. Even at this stage, it looks pretty damned impressive, I think. A few years back, Amy and I drove to L.A. to see the BodyWorlds exhibit (they have a similar show here in Vegas now, I think at the Luxor), where plastinated corpses are displayed in various poses. This stuff looks just like that--very much like un-dyed turkey jerky.

5. Paint. There are a lot of ways to go with this. Some folks use dark wood stain, some use diluted black or brown or green paint, some hand paint the whole thing in detail. I wanted to use materials I had around the house to get the right texture and color, and ended up mixing black paint and cherrywood stain, about 1:3 I guess. The two didn't mix well, but it gave it a nice splotchy, uneven look. The only thing I didn't like was that 1. toward the bottom of the paint cup it got dark and gloopy without warning, and 2. the end result was shiny (which looks wet, so it isn't too bad, I guess, just not how a 20 year dead corpse would look)

6. Body. This part was pretty easy: pick up 12 feet of 1" PVC and some 45°, 90°, and H connectors and put them together in the rough shape you want. Add thrift store clothes. Once you get the forearms the correct length, cut notches in the pipe and slip the hand in, attach with a bolt. Apply more latex cotton and stain just like with the skull and hands to cover the pipe (same with the neck). I used a little bit of stain on the cuffs and collar to make it look like decaying corpse juice soaked into the fabric.

7. Sound. An old set of computer speakers, an iPod, and some zombie sounds from the internet, cleaned up and gapped for consistency. I also added some lights in the casket for highlights and ambience (red, but I may switch to green).

And there we are: Jerkyboy. The video clip is my first live test with him done with lighting (hard to see on the vid) and the lightning box running in the background.



There are a couple more projects that I may or may not have time for...if so, of course I'll post. Otherwise, I'll get some good HD video and more pix of the big day up after Halloween. Hope you've enjoyed so far, with you could be here to help scare the pants off of the neighbors.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Halloween Props Part III


This is the post where I was supposed to lay out my killer project...well, this is half of it. The post got pretty long so I decided to split it into the two distinct phases of the project.

This is the project I had been looking forward to building for months.

I knew I wanted to do something with a coffin. I didn't know what, but I had always wanted to build an old-style toe pincher coffin. Some quick size estimates in hand, I ran down to the hardware store and picked up a stack of 6" fencing slats (cheapest I could find was $2 a board...wood fencing is pretty rare in the desert). I'm not a carpenter by any stretch of the imagination, so I was kind of making this part up as I went--as you all with any kind of wood skills will quickly see.

My strategy was as simple as it gets: lay the boards out, draw the lid to fit around an adult, snap a chalk line, cut, and screw together. Lay the lid across antother section of boards, outline, cut, screw. Figure out how deep to make it, cut some boards, screw them together. Dead simple and inelegant (and it shows in the quality, but I wasn't concerned...the rougher it looked the better the illusion, I figured. I wouldn't repeat that strategy for something I was going to sell or display in the house). The end result looked passable and seemed fairly sturdy.

Next question was: what to put in it? I had wanted to do some kind of automation, possibly either a skull kit with movement on 3 axes (as pretty much mastered by the guys over at graveyardskulls.com), or possibly a Monster In a Box (where a closed box shakes or the lid moves or some other movement that alludes to something nasty inside that wants out). The big problem ended up being that due to the tenuous state of my employment, I had to cut my budget wa-a-ay back for this Halloween. So, the three axis skull was out. Maybe next year.

Short version of the MIAB: I went too cheap, experimented, and failed miserably. My plan was to rig a motor and gear--a hand held drill, fairly commonly used for these I was told--and a motion detector so that once a guest approached, the motor would spin and the lid would open and close. And oh, did it ever. Holy crap.


Lesson 1: if you use a drill from a pawn shop, spend the extra $5 for variable speed. My mechanism worked great in testing, but the problem was that the motor spun so fast that it literally started to tear the coffin apart within seconds. Even after more reinforcing with cross braces, gorilla glue, and more screws and brackets, the result was the same. It wasn't going to last more than a few minutes before falling apart.

Lesson 2: a drill isn't the best solution for this, variable speed or not (I hooked an off the shelf rheostat--the kind you would use to dim your house lights with a rotary switch--onto the power cable, and it wouldn't even turn on). I asked some of the very cool folks at halloweenforum.com for help, and many of the responses said that a wiper motor was the way to go; a drill is going to have trouble with that kind of weight load, and at slower speeds loses a lot of it's power, meaning less strength to open the lid and more potential problems. You can buy a speed regulator (kind of like a rheostat but designed for power tools like drills and routers), but they start at about $20.

So, then, the question became: spend more money on a power regulator and hope that it would still be able to lift the heavy lid, buy and mount a wiper motor and 12V converter along with the proper gears and levers, or go cheap and pull together a sufficiently disturbing static prop. Finances being tight, I opted for the latter.

All was not lost. I combined two projects into one and made something that I think it pretty cool for a static prop.

To be continued...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wink Wink Nudge Nudge Saynomore

We inturrupt the Halloween prop gore-fest for a couple of literary announcements:

  1. I learned last night that I've been accepted into the Hint Fiction anthology! Woo Hoo! Very excited about that. I've seen some other folks announce, and being in the company of people like Barry Napier and Mercedes Yardley, not to mention Pulitzer nominee Joyce Carol Oates, makes me smell way smarter than I really am. sniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiffffffff....ahhh...that's good fiction.
  2. Secondly, it occurred to me that during my last blog hiatus, I sold a poem and failed to post about it (although I think I did tweet it). So, in December my poem The Woodsman's Son will be up with New Myths. Very excited for that as well, particularly because 1. it was my first poem and 2. I don't know beans about poetry. It's not the smart-sounding kind of poetry with blocks of words that seem arbitrarily sewn together to invoke an emotion--it's the other kind, the kind that rhymes and tells a story and that nobody seems to write anymore. So, that is very exciting and although I admit I still don't really "get" poetry, I am content to call myself a poet--because that, too, makes me smell smart.
So that's the day's news. I'll be throwing up a post (HORK!) detailing part III of my 2009 props soon.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Halloween Props Part II




This was a smaller project, but it solved a problem I've been thinking about for a while: how do you make ribs?

In a few years of playing with store-bought and homemade Halloween props, I've decided that the reason it's so hard to find a somewhat realistic skeleton at most Halloween stores is that ribs, spines, shoulders, and hips are probably hard to cast and even harder to ship and display without breaking. You can get a 4th quality bucky skeleton on Amazon for just over $100, but my budget wouldn't allow for that this year, and I really wanted a full size skeleton.

Last year I picked up a ground-breaker: a semi-realistic set of complete skeleton arms, hands, legs, feet, and a head that you're supposed to position so it looks like it's popping up out of a grave, still half-buried--but, no midsection. I bound them together last year with aluminum scraps and wire coat hangers and set up a Pepper's Ghost illusion (where the object is lighted and displayed reflected in a pane of glass, creating the illusion of a floating ghost). The lack of shape and the metal guts weren't a problem then, as the image was so faint in the glass that nobody would know the difference. This year, however, I decided to recycle the parts into a prop that would be displayed fully, and I needed more support in the body.

There are a few tutorials on the internet for making skeleton ribs, but nothing really great: expanding foam, plastic buckets, paper mache. All different ways to tackle the problem, but I wanted something less messy and dead simple. So, using thick guage wire, plastic tubing for a sternum, duct tape, and anatomical pictures from google, I threw together a passable frame, knowing that it would be covered in some kind of cloth. But, of course, I built it while it was still hot out, and once it reached about 100 in the garage, the duct tape failed and I was left with a pile of goopy tape and loose wires. One more try with industrial glue, and viola...insta-ribs.

This creepy little creature is going to be hanging from the ceiling under a blacklight with a fan blowing up onto her shroud, so it kind of looks like a flying ghost. It will be dark enough that you won't be able to see her metal parts, but the added bulk in the chest should help sell the illusion a bit more. The 200W lightning flashes will be right behind her, and there will be branches from my poor dead elm tree framing her, aiding in the flying-above-the-graveyard thing.

Next project: a nasty creature who goes by the nickname Jerkyboy.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Halloween Props Part I

I've been holding off on this for a while (and this may partially account for my absence from the web for a while, this has been in play for a couple of months), but I'm at a point where I have some pictures to share. As you may remember from last year, I'm kind of a wacko for Halloween. This year the wacko-ness took a precipitous plunge into insanity.

I have three or four major projects that will make up the garage haunt this year, and I'm going o journal the making-of here (I started journaling at a depreciated blog, but I thought one blog is easier to neglect than two). May be more info than some of you want, but it has been damn fun and a lot of work and, in keeping in the wonderful, cooperative spirit of all of my internet literary friends, I thought there may be some gems in here you can use to scare the piss out of your neighbor kids, too.

I'm here to help.
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Project one was a lightning machine. If you follow the link to my old blog, you'll find some info there. This post is about project two: Skull Fountain.

This is an outset of an idea from last year. I had two styrofoam skulls from walmart and an old desktop fountain pump--so, needless to say, I built a fountain to spew blood that dripped down the skull-faces. It was nice, but a couple of problems: 1. the red-dyed water stained the skulls pink and 2. I needed a Monster Mud project, and this one screamed upgrade.

Step one: I took a cheap plastic bowl and draped some mesh screen around the base, and a rough wire frame around the top. I had no idea what the end result was going to look like, but as Monster Mud gives a faux-stone result, I thought just a rough carved fountain was a good place to start. I'm not an artist, so I wasn't too stressed about making it extremely balanced (which was good, because it wasn't). If you look at the crest of the arch over the top skull, you'll see a yellow-ish tube--that is a T I made in the hose leading from the pump in the basin. I cut holes in the top of the T, so that when the water turns on, it will (theoretically) drip menacingly across the faces of the skulls.

Step two: drape screen across the rest of the wire frame.

Step three: make Monster Mud. If you've never worked with MM, you're in for a treat. This stuff is messy and difficult to work with and generally just a lot of fun. It's the kind of material that, once you see what it can do, will make you want to just keep making new things with it. MM is simple to make: take drywall joint compound and dark paint (I used black), and mix to the consistency you need. Slather on with abandon. Tip 1: it's messy. Tip 2: it gets heavy fast--over-build your underlying structures.

The next steps basically involved slathering on layers (five total), dusting lightly with white spray paint to lighten it up a bit (I thought the original color would be too dark to see the dripping blood), and about six coats of grout sealer.

Below is the final result. I've tested it with water and the drip mechanism did actually work (glory be to Zeus), but I'm waiting until Halloween to use dyed water, just in case it gets past the grout sealer and stains. As with all of these projects, I'll have final action shots and videos posted early in November.

Next project: Flying Witch Ghost.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Ballad of IP Freely

Having just watched Steal This Movie II on Youtube yesterday and also having recently read an essay by Cory Doctorow on open and free information sharing, intellectual property has been on my mind, for sure.

This is a tough topic, and the discussion ain't going away soon, Molly. The problem is, I think, is less that people are afraid of losing control of their creations, as it is that they are afraid of someone else making money off of their labor. For example: what painter wouldn't love to see their work glide by on the side of a bus for the entire city to see--as long as they got paid for it.

And that's not a small thing, that is a very big thing. In this age, the end of 2009, when the economy is teetering on collapse and the bulk of artistic content (music, pictures, movies, writing) is controlled by a handful of gatekeeper organizations, it is getting much harder for emerging artists (writers included) to make any kind of living at their craft. Here are a few insightful posts on the subject of money and IP from AFP, Zoe Keating, and pretty much anything from Cory Doctorow.

So, that being said, I've been watching (and participating a little bit) in the revealing, chasing, and, hopefully soon, unmasking of a plagiarizing fiend who goes by the possibly-pseudonymous handle Richard Ridyard. Ridyard was caught absolutely red-fucking-handed ripping off the works of many authors and passing them off as his own. Much of the credit in this seems to belong to Angel Zapata, who, on seeing work from Ridyard that looked awfully familiar, did a hell of a lot of research to put together the pieces showing without a doubt that Ridyard had not only ripped him off, but many other authors as well. At about the same time, not knowing about the research that Angel had undertaken, Ken, Mercedes, and the gang at Shock Totem discovered that Ridyard had submitted a story to them that copied--almost verbatim--large sections of a short story written years ago by a guy named Stephen Motherfucking King. Obviously, Ridyard is a criminal mastermind.

As you can see from the post on Angel's blog (and Mercedes', and Aaron Polson's, and probably just about any of us small market writers today), news spread quickly, and it seems like dozens of these counterfeits have been revealed in the last 24 hours.

As much as I hate giving this tool any more press than he deserves (which is none), he duped some of my friends and he is damaging the industry in which I hope to make a living one day, and I want to make sure the name Richard Ridyard, as well as the probable alias RM Valentine, and his "publishing company" Valentine Publishing (now mysteriously vanished from the internet, I won't grace them with a link), get burned into Google's memory as shams and frauds. Ridyard's partners in the publishing business have also been disappearing from the web rather quickly as well. I suspect they just needed to take some time off of Facebook to help Ridyard clear his good name. Luckily, their names are forever captured in Google's caching system, which effectively means that unless they were to publicly disavow Ridyard and spill the beans, so to speak, they would be forever associated with him and Valentine Publishing. And that would suck, I'm sure.

Anyway, to link the tale of Ridyard together with Cory Doctorow's concept of Creative Commons: information may want to be free, but artists want to get paid.