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The Cheap Joke

In editing my latest manuscript, my agent, though overall very positive about the book, had this to say (I will paraphrase):

This book is fun, but perhaps too much fun. You are telling jokes at the expense of plot – cut some of it back. Don’t go for the cheap line.

Now, first off, if you’ve read any of the Saga of the Redeemed, you know that I enjoy banter. It works its way into a lot of my writing, honestly. I want the reader to have fun. I want them to laugh, I want them to be on the edge of their seat, I want them to cry sometimes – I want the entire emotional smorgasbord to be in there.

But mostly I want them to laugh.

This is one of the reasons I loved Guardians of the Galaxy and, indeed, why I think the MCU has been beating the pants off of the rather wretched DC Universe on the big screen of late. The Marvel movies are fun, even the deadly serious ones. There’s Cap, getting his face punched in, and he just rolls his shoulders, puts up his dukes, and say “I can do this all day.” There’s Loki, presiding over the destruction of New York, and in comes Hulk: “Puny god.”

Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 do this to a level far, far greater than their fellows, though. I loved it in Guardians 1, but in 2, seeing it as I did quick on the heels of my agent’s commentary, made me wonder: do we need all these quips? All this banter? Like (mild spoilers) when Yondu comes down saying “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!” it was funny, yeah. But was it needed?

How much is too much?

Like most things in writing, I think there aren’t precisely hard and fast rules so much as a kind of spectrum we’re seeking to describe. On the one hand is a story where a bunch of adventurers sit in space-dock (or what have you) and spend the entire time playing practical jokes on each other. Long on fun, and maybe even on character, but nothing really happens – no plot. At the other end, we’ve got a joyless, tightly-paced thrill ride of nothing but stern looks and, perhaps, the occasional grimace or maniacal laugh (some of the Bourne movies come to mind). You read/watch those and you want to yell “loosen up, you clowns!”

Finding precisely where the line is requires a keen understanding, I think, of how your book is coming across to your target audience. This is famously difficult to determine, of course, since how an author views his or her own work and how the audience encounters it are often totally different things. What you find funny falls flat with them, and what they latch on to are things you never imagined being important. This is why writing is as much an art form as it is a craft – we are assembling something in a black box of sorts, and while we have a good idea of what’s going to come out the other end and present itself to readers, we can never been 100% sure.

In the end, I think my agent is right about that last book. Perhaps a bit too much banter, perhaps a bit too much going for the cheap joke. I took out a lot of the extraneous stuff and left in the things that built character or illuminated personal conflict. Looking back on it, as much as I enjoyed GotG 2, I think they probably could have done the same and wound up with a movie that was less of a mess. I mean, again, I liked it, but a little too much of that movie wasn’t so much plot, as it was this:

Tip: Don’t let your book be this guy.

 

 

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A Very Special Offer From Your Local FOUL Affiliate

Dear Duke Lothario,

Le Chat Mauve is so mysterious, this is literally the best idea we have of his appearance. It isn't a very good one.

Le Chat Mauve is so mysterious, this is literally the best idea we have of his appearance. It isn’t a very good one.

If you are receiving this correspondence, it is because you have successfully stolen Degas’s The Bellelli Family from Musee D’Orsay in Paris and have found our note taped to the back of the canvas. Congratulations, monsieur, on your successful heist and be assured that our fence, Madame Noir, shall be by tomorrow at midnight to take possession. This note, however, will be stolen off your person by tomorrow morning by the one and only Chat Mauve. Do not try to stop him; you will only embarrass yourself.

Why have we gone to such lengths? It is to inform you of an unparalleled opportunity developing in the United States of America. As you may have heard, inveterate fool and consummate imbecile Donald Trump has managed to achieve the White House (thanks, in no small part, to our meddling, we assure you – your service fees at work!), and now, friends, our true work begins. A golden age of kleptocracy is about to begin in the US of A, and we would love for you to be part of it!

Let it be known that we are contacting every hustler, grifter, sneak-thief, footpad, brigand, con-man, cat burglar, extortion artist, cutpurse, second-story man, bandit, robber, and pickpocket in our network that, once Trump takes office, we are declaring open-season on any and all American goods, artifacts, or government assets. We are buying military equipment, real-estate, physical assets (e.g. gold), and artifacts. Grab all you can carry – we are absolutely certain that the FBI, NSA, and CIA will be entirely too worried tracking down Hispanic farm workers with unpaid parking tickets to bother stopping you from filching weapons-grade plutonium from a government lab. Their eyes will be so fixated on signing unassuming Muslims up on some fascist database that not a single person will notice if the Washington Monument goes missing. Trump isn’t even living in the White House, so the whole damned place is basically unoccupied except by those glorified rent-a-cops in the Secret Service and, let’s face it, you are just three or four high-end strippers away from having the run of the place!

Imagining what even the silverware will fetch? We know--consult our pricing catalogue.

Imagining what even the silverware will fetch? We know – consult our pricing catalogue.

Just to give you a taste of the things we’re looking to purchase off the ambitious villains willing to pull it off, here is an incomplete list:

  • The US Constitution (an easy grab, since we doubt it will be seeing much use)
  • The Declaration of Independence (note: do not look for any secret treasure maps)
  • Lincoln’s Head from the Lincoln Memorial (rest of statue optional)
  • The VA Hospital system (the whole thing–no partial buys)
  • A Commissioned Aircraft Carrier (deliverable to our offices in Arkhangelsk, Russia)
  • Minuteman missiles (for our mad-scientist clients–demand is high, so prices are too!)
  • Trump’s Toupee (careful–it might bite)
  • Mount Vernon and/or Monticello
  • The US Interstate Highway System (suffering from some disrepair, so be delicate)
  • Mount Rushmore (Teddy Roosevelt only)

And on and on and on…

Friend, the possibilities here are literally endless, but act quickly – Trump’s minions are going to be pawning a lot of this stuff off soon, so supplies are more limited than you think!

Good luck, Duke Lothario! Remember: your success is our success!

Sincerely,

Financial Operations and Underwriting Limited (FOUL)

Vrokthar Is Thankful For Your Weakness and Misery

Wretched Wetlanders, Weakling Half-Men of the Fat South, heed the words of Vrokthar the Skull-feaster, on this, the eve of your pathetic day of thanks.

By the decrees of this loyal ensorcelled word-slate, it has become clear to Vrokthar that soon thou shalt feast. This strikes Vrokthar as redundant, as he cannot think of a time when you miserable cowards do not stuff thy obese faces with innumerable decadent confections. How canst thou tell the difference between a feast and thy regular obnoxious gluttony? But no matter.

Truly, a grand time shall be had by all.

Truly, a grand time shall be had by all.

Vrokthar, too, intends to celebrate this coming day. Yes, a feast of true proportions is being prepared by mine own slaves even as I etch my words into the ether. There shall be wolf liver boiled in blood! Goat brain! Many different confections of the boiled entrails of various venomous beasts! And, of course, a great platter of the finest man-bacon, cured from enemies slain by Vrokthar’s own hand.

And then, when the feasting has complete, Vrokthar and his thanes shall recline in his longhouse and boast and drink until the winter sun has risen again. This, by my count, ought to be four and a half days.

During this time, opportunity for contemplation will unfortunately arise. I realize thou must wonder, in your abject terror, what thoughts graces the unstoppable mind of Vrokthar. Does he contemplate razing your pathetic city to ash? Does he have designs upon your cattle and your children to increase he already vast wealth?

The answer is YES! Vrokthar shall take what he pleases, and what pleases him is vast and uncountable. That, however, is not where this conversation is going, you unspeakable toad-people. Think of others for a change!

No, Vrokthar, in those moments of drunken introspection, shall think instead of those things he is grateful for about your miserable, ill-begotten “culture.”

To begin with, Vrokthar is please you have deigned to crown the Trump as thy king. This makes him a worthy foe, and my armies will take great pleasure in setting fire to his golden tower and dragging him away in my battle sledge, there to serve me as a hairless, mewling slave. That is, of course, assuming his orangeness is not a sign of divine protection, in which case Vrokthar will have him skinned and mounted upon his best shield, so that I might be invincible in battle. It goes without saying that the pelt he wears upon his head will join my trophy case or, if it proves large enough (which is doubtful), I may fashion it into a loincloth for formal occasions.

Also, Vrokthar is inordinately pleased this year that many of your most odious and cacophonous musicians have, at long last, saw fit to die and leave mine ears in peace. This has been a most glorious year in that regard, for all wetlander music is decadent and depraved. All Vrokthar wishes to hear is the laments of his enemies and the wails of his suffering servants, and it is good to see that this is becoming the norm. Lo, but thy wails of grief have coddled Vrokthar in this trying time!

Finally, let it be known that Vrokthar is most grateful that the Chicago Cubs have at last won the World Series, and thereby lifted the century-long enchantment that hath protected the City of Wind from my wrath and the wrath of my ancestors. Truly, a great reaping is at hand! The city of Chicago shall weep beneath my heavy boots, and many skulls shall adorn my wall, complete with their Cubs-related paraphernalia (though any doubles shall be sold on EBay – keep an eye on my auction page).

Oh, yes, and of course I am thankful for skulls (and their innumerable uses in home decor and housewares), massive axes, mighty blades, and the howling arctic winds of the vast north, so cold that they might flense the flesh from the weak and give girth and succor to the mighty.

Though, now that I think about it, it is getting unusually warm up here lately, and the ice floes are paltry shadows of their former selves. Do you fools have anything to do with that? What black sorcery have you been devising?

Hmmm…

I may have to come down there. But first, I feast.

5 Things Life Would Be Better Without

This is me today.

This is me today.

Feel like complaining, but not to the level where I need to awaken Vrokthar. I’m having one of those days that isn’t bad, exactly, but it is annoying. So, after I stepped in dog poop and tripped getting onto the train and had autocorrect try very hard to make me look like a fool and so on, I’m going to tell you about 5 things the world does not need and would be better without. You may or may not agree – I don’t really care that much.

Pictured: me failing to get my touchscreen to do things.

Pictured: me failing to get my touchscreen to do things.

#5: Touchscreens

Let me start with an unpopular choice. Was there something wrong with buttons I was unaware of? Because I felt like buttons worked just fine. They reacted to your touch, they always depressed when you hit them, and they were pretty functional. But no, some jackhole had to go invent the buttonless objects that now pervade my daily existence.

Perhaps I’m a vampire, but touchscreens refuse to consistently acknowledge my touch. I find myself jabbing at a flat sheet of graphene (or whatever they’re made out of) over and over and nothing happens. At least with buttons, I could isolate the root of the problem fairly quickly – if the button was going in, the problem wasn’t with the button – but with touchscreens, who knows? Also, who knows if you’re hitting the right one? They make the damned icons so small that my enormous fingers are constantly doing the wrong thing. I legitimately have to pivot my fingers sideways so I can swipe with the narrow band of flesh alongside my fingernails to get things to work. That is assuming it agrees to acknowledge my existence, which it does not.

Additionally, there is no reason buttons couldn’t work! Put a control cross and two buttons and a scroll wheel or such on the bottom edge of a phone and bam–it would work fine! Keyboards could fold off the back, just like they did in days of old.

Either that, or somebody invent a goddamned touchscreen that reacts to my touch. Unlike now, where they just react to my screams.

#4: DVD Menu Intro Sequences

JUST START THE MOVIE ALREADY OH MY GOD!

JUST START THE MOVIE ALREADY OH MY GOD!

I don’t know about you, but when I put a DVD into a DVD player, I want the movie to begin. Like, right away. Sure, sure – I’m willing to tolerate the existence of previews and such (movie studios have to make their money somehow), but why in hell’s name do I have to watch a five minute sequence of Zazu flying across the damned Pridelands just to start the stupid movie? Is anybody under the illusion that this crap is entertaining? Yeah, sure, a menu ought to exist, but we shouldn’t have to see it unless we want to (by pushing the menu *button*). The idea that somebody, somewhere, spent a boatload of money and wasted hours and hours and hours of labor to create a video animation sequence that NO ONE WANTS TO SEE AT ALL makes me wonder for the sanity of the human race.

Of course, maybe all you hip folks out there haven’t watched a DVD in some years and don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore. Me? I’ve got kids who like to watch DVDs, and Disney is one of the worst offenders for this nonsense.

#3: Autocorrect

This is an old one – been around since we were afflicted by smartphones – but just to reiterate: COMPUTERS SUCK AT GUESSING WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY!

Generally I disapprove of all minion-themed memes. This is an exception.

Generally I disapprove of all minion-themed memes. This is an exception.

Look, I know how to spell, dammit. And, even if I don’t, I’d rather be occasionally bad at spelling than constantly not making sense. My phone’s autocorrect feature is constantly changing the weirdest things – like, not even nouns, but adjectives and articles and stuff. And WHY? Seriously, why? What, people can’t learn to spell anymore? And even if they can’t, it isn’t like autocorrect actively improves anybody’s spelling. C’mon, we’ve all got that one relative in our social media feed who is a living reminder of how spellcheck and autocorrect do NOTHING to help you if your grasp of English is tenuous!

I’m a writer. It drives me bonkers when I make a grammatical or spelling error. The only thing, though, that drives me even more bonkers is when some stupid machine dips into my own writing and makes the mistakes on its own and then passes off such mistakes as mine! Arrrggghhh!

If you gave me a time machine and told me I had to go back in time and kill one person, the person who invented spellcheck would be it.

#2: Movies on TV with “Hosts”

Again, showing my age here a bit, but I still watch things on actual television. Sometimes I’ll catch a movie I haven’t seen yet. And sometimes, for reasons that baffle the sane mind, those movies are “hosted” by people. People who waste time before and after commercials talking to me about nonsense.

STOP TALKING AND PUT TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES BACK ON!

STOP TALKING AND PUT TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES BACK ON!

WHY IS THIS A THING?

Like, this never made sense. Not ever. Not even in the 1970s. The idea that TV networks are still doing this today, 40 years later, is absolutely mind-blowing. Who the hell tunes into Thor: The Dark World on FX and wants to see two smiling, vacuous twits banter artificially on a set somewhere? I just don’t get it. I don’t understand where they find these people. I don’t understand what these people think their job entails. I don’t understand how anybody justifies paying these people money to do this. IT’S A MOVIE! IT DOES NOT NEED A HOST!

You don’t need a concierge to make you appreciate the Godfather movies. You don’t need a spirit guide to take you through the complexities of Kung Fu Panda.

Or, what, maybe people do? Maybe there’s some old lady out there who would be completely lost in the twists and turns of Roadhouse were it not for that smiling couple trying to cook “Roadhouse Hash” while the movie is on? I mean, assuming this is true, here’s my first thought: maybe this person shouldn’t be allowed to watch television unsupervised. Maybe this is the kind of person who turns on Fox News, thinks it’s all true, and votes for Trump. Maybe – just maybe – the tiny demographic who craves or needs or enjoys hosted movies on television are the reason why life is awful and everything is terrible and we’re all going to die of global climate change.

You know, maybe.

It's probably bulletproof. You know, just because.

It’s probably bulletproof. You know, just because.

#1: Hard Plastic Packaging Material

So, Vrokthar has complained about this before, and he says it much more eloquently than I. That said, who the hell thought we wanted to purchase objects so irrevocably sealed into their little plastic containers that neither man nor beast could liberate them? Why do I need to break out a knife to open these things? Seriously – not even scissors is enough. I need a sharp knife, a vice, and time to get my flash drive free. Hell, just yesterday my wife got a package of birthday invitations that were sealed in two separate layers of thick plastic so durable, it would not tear. I needed to cut them out.

I can see the rationale to prevent theft here, I guess – expensive, small objects that can be easily ripped from packaging can get stolen. But is somebody willing to tear open a cardboard box in public like some kind of rabid racoon really going to have a hard time stuffing a slightly larger plastic package into their underwear?

And then how do you explain the packages inside other packages. Like, seriously, the flavoring packages in discount Macaroni and Cheese are build to withstand the strength of five men. Ever try to gracefully open the plastic bag inside a box of Cheerios? What the fuck, Corporate America? Is this some kind of elaborate prank? Is it just funny to you?

One of the most amusing things in movies is the speed with which somebody can purchase an item at an electronics store and then open it to use it. You see this especially often with pay-as-you-go cell phones. They buy one and bam – it’s in their hand. Meanwhile, actual people are asking their friends if they have a hacksaw in their garage because they’ve got to call their mom.

Anyway, I’ve complained enough. If you’d like to add to the list, feel free to comment. Enjoy your Monday.

Important Notification Re: Your Hero Insurance

Dear Doctor Monstrosity,

This is an important notice regarding your Hero liability coverage in your FOUL Insurance Policy. You must read this document immediately and in its entirety, or our coven of witches currently on retainer will place a hex upon you that will result in you no longer being able to absorb fluid without vomiting, which means a painful and grotesque death by dehydration will await you. Feel free to take notes. Please eat the message when you are done, as that will guard against the curse. As usual, please understand this is meant as a safety measure to ensure your privacy, our privacy, and the privacy of our other customers.

Notification of Policy Change

As of this writing, FOUL will no longer cover the costs of heroic interventions against your operation that are perpetrated by orphans of your former enemies.

Furthermore, any pre-existing coverage offered for orphans created by accident or negligence are likewise null and void.

FOUL will also be increasing premiums by 50% on any liability coverage for heroic acts of revenge stemming from the loss of even ONE parent to your actions.

Finally, FOUL will disallow any further coverage against liability as a result of actions by those persons who believed they were orphans until they discovered you were, in fact, their only surviving parent.

Statistics have shown that those who have left the progeny of their foes to live have a 65% greater chance of being undone by those self-same offspring, even after an intervening period of apparent calm for decades. It seems apparent that the loss of parents is in some way traumatic (we are as surprised as you) and stands to create a kind of manic obsession with revenge which has proven costly. The claims FOUL has been forced to bear as a result of our clients’ own sloppiness has seriously tested our financial security as an organization.

So, some quick do’s and don’ts:

-DO NOT abandon your enemies’ offspring in a wasteland or in the midst of a storm and expect them to perish.

This ends poorly.

This ends poorly.

-DO NOT expect the power of love to crumble before your overwhelming might and grandeur.

Statistics prove that Love Conquers All, and we don't cover it.

Statistics prove that Love Conquers All, and we don’t cover it.

-DO NOT, under any circumstances, sell your victims’ progeny into slavery of any kind.

We know this is an excellent financial opportunity for you, but trust us that it never works out.

We know this is an excellent financial opportunity for you, but trust us that it never works out.

-DO NOT gloat over the child of an enemy or underling or endeavor to teach them any kind of lesson whatsoever.

They have a tendency to remember your face.

They have a tendency to remember your face.

-DO encourage your underlings to bring any and all errant children to you for re-education.

Though try not to electrocute them in front of their parents.

Though try not to electrocute them in front of their parents.

We at FOUL are happy to serve you for any of your evil financial needs and hope to do business with you in the future. Just try not to create orphans anymore.

It’s Not a Joke If No One Gets It

Hi, everyone – sorry I’ve been away for so long. I’ve been a mixture of sick and busy and just haven’t been able to get back. Hopefully you’ve all had time now to read my story in Perihelion. Right?

Hello?

satire

For those of you taking notes, this is neither satire nor parody. This is farce.

Anyway, for today’s topic, I’d like to discuss satire a bit. It’s on my mind lately largely because it is becoming more and more prevalent in my social media feeds of late and, like most things, I have definite opinions about it I want to voice, and as this is my blog, well, you know the rest.

Satire, technically speaking, is a style of art that exaggerates something in society (usually people or customs) to the point of absurdity for the purpose of critique. While it is often humorous, it doesn’t need to be. Ostensibly, its purpose is to effect social change or draw attention to social problems, which is broadly what distinguishes it from parody, which is primarily intended to entertain and, indeed, satire can use parody, but in the end it often isn’t very funny.

The thing about satire is that it can be done very well (e.g. The Onion or The Borowitz Report) or it can be done very poorly (The Daily Currant comes to mind, though it has gotten a lot better in recent years). The difference, to me, is this: if you, a reasonably intelligent person, read a satirical article and cannot actually tell whether or not it is satirical or not, this is bad satire. If you find yourself googling whether or not the thing described actually happened, it has failed as a piece of satirical writing.

Let me explain: Satire is the art of exaggeration for the purpose of creating an effect. It is a kind of reductio ad absurdum: “If political figure A is like this, it basically means they could also be like this absurd thing, which is stupid.” However, if your satirical piece comes across as merely “extreme but plausible,” then the “satire” part hasn’t hit home. People who already agree with the critique the satire was intending are merely outraged and the people who disagree with the critique don’t notice that a critique has been made. You haven’t actually satirized, you’ve just made something up.

Granted, lots of people get confused by good satire, too. The Onion frequently gets angry e-mails from people who thought their articles were factual. Some folks out there thought the “Stephen Colbert” of The Colbert Report was actually a conservative. Obviously, satire is not for the dull-witted. However, satire needs to wink at the audience at some point. They need to realize that this isn’t real, but is making a point through absurdity. Any reasonably well-informed person should be able to tell the difference, even if at first they are confounded.

I’ve been seeing lots of bad satire lately. Saw a piece the other day claiming Mike Pence didn’t want to use the word “vice” in Vice President because of religious grounds. The article barely had any indication that this was false, and even though it seemed extreme, it wasn’t so extreme that it was impossible. The article included links to actual events, which merely obfuscated things further. It was by a Journalism professor. The winks to the audience, such as they were, were so subtle as to fail to qualify. It was only after looking at the author’s other publications on the Huffington Post that you could see the pattern – this guy is a satirist. Just a bad one.

Part of the trouble, I fear, is because our current political climate is pretty absurd to begin with. It’s hard to get crazier than Trump, and satire is a challenging business in any event. Nevertheless, now is the time for satirists to shine, and shine they must. If they don’t, nobody will know they were there until Snopes posts a declaration, and by then their message will have been lost in the scramble. As E.B White once said:

Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better, but the frog dies in the process.

Vrokthar Crushes Your Online Learning Tools!

Behold, wretched wetlanders, it is I, Vrokthar the Skull-feaster, Scourge of the Northern Wastes, once more compelled to visit my mighty displeasure upon thee and thy incontinent civilization. Oft in the past have I commanded this ensorcelled word-slate to convey my curses to your soft pink ears, but this time is different. Indeed, your fetid customs, while usually merely despicable and foolish in equal measure, have this time done Vrokthar true injury. Such injuries will be answered by your howls of pain. So have I decreed, and so shall it be. But before Vrokthar visits his meteoric wrath upon your flat, sweaty lands, let him first regale you with the story of the fatal errors that hath led thee to this bloody destiny.

As chieftain of a mighty tribe of marauders, it falls to Vrokthar to educate the youth in the art of violence and rapacity. These young ones flock to Vrokthar’s longhouse and squat by the side of his throne of skulls. By the firelight, I speak to them of mighty deeds and teach them the best way to flay a man whilst he lives. Woe betide the foolish boy who does not heed Vrokthar’s weighty musings, for it his he that we practice upon. The screams echo into the night, and we feast and sleep well.

Or so it once was. No more.

BEHOLD VROKTHAR'S MIGHTY PEDAGOGY!

BEHOLD VROKTHAR’S MIGHTY PEDAGOGY!

In our raids, very many of my tribe have wrested magical treasures from the twisted hands of thy wetlander countrymen. These “computors” and “celled phones” have proven their worth to my people many times. No more shall we be forced to wander endlessly the vast tundras of my land in search of prey. No, the oracle GOOGLE now betrays thy settlements to us, and we pillage at will. The many sacrifices we have burned in for the honor of the GOOGLE are great. Their clever logos also bring much amusement to my warriors.

But these gifts have cost my people more dearly than you know. Now my young charges wish to use the spirit world of the INTORNOT to aid in their learning. Indeed, there are surprisingly many learning packages for the young barbarian, purchasable for reasonable fees. We, of course, do not buy – we take – and many educational software companies have perished beneath Vrokthar’s heavy boots. I now command a flexible and versatile platform of interactive lessons meant to occupy my students, meant to free Vrokthar’s precious time for more butchery and razing of wetlander settlements.

But it is not so. Vrokthar is BETRAYED!

The learning software has failed to function. My foolish students cannot manage to log on. The structure of the program is as dense and mysterious as the Labyrinth of Gloom. Vrokthar has not saved himself time at all! Indeed, I am now forced to poke and prod at mine own word-slate to goad the sluggard programs to load. I am forced to prostrate myself before mine sworn enemies, Tech Support, and grovel for aid. Hours have become days, days have become weeks, and my students are as stupid now as when they began. Worst of all is this: the screams that echo into the night are my own, as I curse and flail impotently at the educational software’s inferior User Interface.

I now ask myself: what was ever amiss with my mighty axe and my booming voice? Where did I go wrong? I answer the question thusly: You fools have done this to me. This is thy vengeance – this is how you seek to destroy the mighty Vrokthar, by denying his heirs his weighty wisdom.

It shall not stand.

Beware, mewling wetlander scum! Vrokthar the Skull-feaster hath ferreted out thy cowardly plot, and now he shall unroot thee. He shall strike from the frigid north like a thunderbolt, dashing down your mirrored castles in thy sedate office parks. Then, when you have been dragged a hundred miles on your knees, eating nothing but the flesh of your fallen compatriots, THEN shall you grovel at the foot of Vrokthar for your very lives. And THEN Vrokthar will show mercy to any who can manage to log in to their wretched INTORNOT portal on the first try. Those who succeed shall become my slaves. Those who fail shall learn new ways to scream as they become an educational message for all their ilk, their entrails shipped to their competitors in small FedEx envelopes for months to come.

So sayeth Vrokthar. So it shall be.

Our Interdimensional Gateway: Rules and Regulations

gate3Hello, and welcome to the Sudden Valley Interdimensional Gateway Facility. Assuming you made it through security, you are reading this document while under the watchful eye of our armed guards. Please don’t be alarmed – they will only kill you if you show any signs of being an alien. So just remember to act totally normal. Easy, right?

Now, here are the basic rules:

  • No animal or plant matter (beside yourselves) is to pass through the portal in either direction. No matter how human they look, we will shoot any people you rescue from alien overlords, so don’t even bother.
  • Always send a robot through first. If you can’t get a good picture from a robot, spend some time building a better robot before sending through a person. Yes, even Gary.
  • The scientist who designed the portal is never, ever, ever allowed to go through it, no matter how much she wants to. Do not give Marcia the access codes no matter how much she begs you. We’re serious.
  • Do not operate the portal while drunk. We would say that you could be shot for attempting this, but no drunken lush has ever lived long enough for us to do so, so…
  • If you dream about the portal “calling you,” please report to the nearest armed guard and say “Code Purple.” They know what to do next. We promise you’ll be fine. Honest.
  • If something comes through the portal on its own, it has to die. We don’t care if it looks like your grandmother or dead girlfriend or long-lost father or whatever. Shoot first, questions later.
  • After returning through the portal, please report to “Proccessing.” Remember to act totally normal.
  • If the portal throws you forwards or backwards in time, remember not to cause any paradoxes. Assuming such paradoxes are possible, which they might not be, since they’ve never happened. Or maybe they did and we don’t know. Anyway, be careful. Remember: if confronted by security, remember to act totally normal.
  • In the case of a time loop, we have a chess set set up in the break room at all times to help you signal to yourself that you’re in a time loop. Always remember to act totally normal.
  • The alien species you may or may not encounter might end up being really cool. One of them might even be a seven foot tall blue cat chick who introduces you to her people’s ways. We do not care at all–keep her world’s problems on her world, dammit. We’ve got enough crazy shit going down on Earth. Stay out of it.
  • In case of emergency, we have this facility rigged to the warhead of a hydrogen bomb. It is wired to the Big Red Button. Do not push the Big Red Button unless absolutely necessary.
  • If you return under mind control, we will kill you. Sorry, but it clearly violates the totally normal statute.
  • If you return with super-powers, but are in all other ways Totally Normal, we reserve the right to rent your services to the government so we can pay for our facility. We know, we know – that sounds dystopian and mean, but you get to be a superhero now, so shut up.

Good rule of thumb: expanding the knowledge of the human race is good and all, but let’s try to do that without blowing up the Earth.

Have fun, and happy adventuring!

Going Off-Grid for Next Week

Hey there, Space Cadets!

Just dropping a note here to let everybody know that I’ll be taking a blogging break next week. Expect to see my usual hijinx reappear round about the 18th of July. To tide you over, I leave you with this compilation of dogs being terrible at dog things:

It’s the video America needs right now, though probably not the one it wants.

Be talking to you all soon!

Where My Ideas Come From: The Definitive List

A bit late in the week for a new post, but I’ve had a hell of a week and my writing is off-pace so screw it, I’m only writing 2000 words today and am going to finish up with a blog post instead.

I’m wrapping up a blog tour today (check out my post on The Dark Phantom Review!) and I’ve done a few interviews (most of which, for some reason, didn’t surface on the internet – go figure). Anytime I do an interview, one question usually crops up:

Where do you get your ideas?

It has it’s variants, too: “What inspires you?” or “where do you look for inspiration?” and stuff like that. It’s a perfectly reasonable question, too – lots of people would like to know where an author gets his or her ideas. Seems pertinent, interesting, and so on.

How I feel answering that question.

How I feel answering that question.

Except it’s totally unanswerable. I mean, sure, there are rare occasions where I can trace an idea back to a particular moment in time, but the vast, vast majority of my “inspiration” is ineffable. It is the particulate matter filtered from the substrate of my life and experiences. Asking somebody (anybody!) where they get their ideas is kinda like asking “why do you like grapes?” Jesus – hell if I know! Why do you like grapes? Did you take a grape aptitude test? Is enthusiasm for grapes a genetic trait shared with your extended family? Did you, on March 17th 1985, eat a grape and then, from that moment on, grapes and you were best buddies? Or was it just, you know, that article in The New Yorker you read last year that talked about how good grapes taste?

Now, I usually try not to answer that question that way because it’s a bit rude and the interviewer is nice enough to do me this favor of interviewing me and I don’t want to be a jerk. But the answers I furnish (I read history; I’ve worked a lot of odd jobs; I loved book X which inspired me to riff off the concept of Y) are half-truths and abstractions. Inspiration is not a mechanical process or a simply understood one. Our ideas are synthesized from the full range of our experiences and combine in odd and unpredictable ways and I can’t tell you how it works because it isn’t a thing that I can explain. It’s a frustrating question, therefore, no matter how reasonable it is.

Seeing as my standard reaction to frustration is sarcasm, and seeing how I’m feeling frustated today, here is the definitive list of things I wish I could say as an answer to “where do you get your ideas,” but never will because they are mean and I’m not Tyvian Reldamar:

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

  • From a box buried in my yard. There are lots of ideas in there scribbled on paper. I don’t know how it got there.
  • God. Duh.
  • All of my ideas come exclusively from the crawl at the bottom of MSNBC.
  • I play Bananagrams long enough that, by random chance, whole plots are formed in the random scatter of letters.
  • Your mom.
  • I steal my ideas at gunpoint from local “creatives.” Then I make them sign a non-compete.
  • I have no ideas. Ideas are an illusion. We are all an illusion. Nothing really matters.
  • MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF PEYOTE!
  • At night, I throw off my human husk and feed off the dreams of neighborhood children with my single, jawless mouth.
  • All ideas come from the American Idea Book, Tenth Edition, available at exclusive bookstores nationwide. There are no ideas anywhere else. This is the secret that all the writers have been keeping from y… (silenced gunshot) (dull thump) (silence)
  • I trapped a leprechaun once and made a wish.
  • If you stare at Twitter long enough, ideas are formed in your brain like tumors. Then you have to remove them through your nose with a long, pointed hook before they become malignant and turn into pop songs or commercial jingles. This is, incidentally, why pop songs and jingles get stuck in your head – you had an idea, but didn’t remove it in time to save it.
  • I keep my eyes open when I yawn, and then I see the ideas the gods tried to hide from me.
  • This guy named Leon. No, not that Leon – you don’t know him. If you did, you’d have the same ideas I do, and then we’d have to have a duel to the death like in that show Highlander. No, not the movie, the show.
  • I gained access to my permanent record from elementary school, wherein I discovered that all my creative ideas were siphoned out by my teachers during recess and stored for a later date.
  • You need to get an Idea License. There’s a course you take down at the city annex and a twenty question true/false exam. Costs like $40 or something.