The Middle Ages aren’t that long ago. If you look hard enough, you can still see them in the rear view mirror. What’s even worse is that we’ve driven in a circle and we’re right back in the middle of serfdom. The view in your rear view mirror is the same scene you’re seeing through your windshield. The only difference is that we aren’t peasants; we’re technopeasants.

I’m not a Luddite by any stretch of the elastic imagination, but modern technology has minced us fine, mixed us well, rolled us flat, and then stamped us out into cookie cutter serfs, bumbling about with our iPhones and wifi and recycled lives. Our words and thoughts are second-hand, bought and sold by the pop-culture ragmen who collect their pennies and then trot off to the castle to pay their dues. Diversity is mandatory and tolerance will be strictly enforced by the royal executioner. Joy and happiness have been traded in for fleeting pleasure.

The main difference between a peasant and a technopeasant is speed. The peasant couldn’t read. He didn’t have a microwave. And he probably had to go milk his own goat for his breakfast gruel. The technopeasant can read, but he reads microwavable disposable stories. He gets his milk out of carton and wouldn’t know what to do with a goat if it kicked him in the stomach.

The technoaristrocrats are a mix of business lords and government bishops, colluding and collaborating and grown fat on their schemes of style, regulatory indulgences, convenient spectacles.

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The Offense (and Pain) of Joy

No, this is not a post about Fifty Shades of Grey. Far from it. And I mean extremely far from it. As far as the east is from the west, both in navigational and theological approaches.

I recently wrote a piece about joy for a friend’s blog. Misha Thompson runs a site dedicated to joy and all the different aspects of what that entails. Before you start thinking of bunnies and small unicorns frolicking on hills of candy, let me set you straight. Joy has nothing to do with happiness. They’re different beasts. One is as insubstantial as the average politician’s code of ethics. The other is ponderous and powerful and reaches through time to other places.

I wasn’t too happy (there’s that blasted word) about writing on joy, because I had a sinking feeling about where the essay would take me. Anyway, hop on over to Misha’s blog and give it a read. Joy and happiness both have a great deal of influence over how people write. And what people write. More on that some other day.

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Ranger Filming Finished

elves and rangers

Elves and rangers

The Rangers wrapped up filming out in Virginia. The footage is looking great! The locations were mostly in Rappahannock County, which provided some gorgeous, pristine scenery. The cast and crew numbered somewhere north of 60, in addition to a lot of kind support from local businesses and the Culpeper Chamber of Commerce.

Anyway, now it’s time for post-production: color correction, sound design, any necessary dubbing, editing, etc. Ron Newcomb, the director, is hoping to have things wrapped up by the end of the year.

elves on the skyline

Elves hunting orcs

The Star Exponent, out of Culpeper, had a very nice write-up about the project. Among other things, the article touches on the angle of community involvment. Local business owner Rick Combs summed up the perspective of the locals on the film project:

“It’s an excitement being brought to Culpeper,” he said, “and it’s a nice movie about good triumphing over evil in the end. If they want to make more movies here in the future, there is a business community that will support them.”



Just as a quick aside, there’s no reason why films need to be primarily made in the Southern California area. That’s an outdated concept. With the substantially decreased costs in necessary technology, the willingness of talent to travel, and welcoming communities as evidenced by Combs’ comments, I bet that indie film will be flourishing even more in the years to come.

Our hope with The Rangers project is that we can use this initial film to spur more interest and development of further stories in that fantasy world. There’s quite a market for that genre and, as a writer, it’s a fantastic genre to create in. If you’re a finance person and interested, get in touch with me.

The Rangers cast and crew

Rangers cast and crew

Fantasy has certain unique attributes that are not easily available in other genres. For one thing (and I think this is key and dreadfully important), you can deal with the subject of joy. Not joy in terms of happiness, but joy in terms of the knowledge that the world is broken and it shall one day be made whole. More on that idea later, as it has wide and deep-reaching ramifications. Both Tolkien and Lewis dealt with it in their fantasies, as did George MacDonald. I hope to re-enter the Rangers world very soon and, amidst the orcs and elves and rangers dealing death and fighting the darkness, find the heartbreak of joy.

By the way, thanks to Jessica Mellow, Sebrina Scott and others for the use of the photos. If I missed someone to attribute for a photo, please let me know!

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Rangers in full-swing of production

director and elves

Elves, director and makeup.

The Rangers, the latest indie film I wrote (with Ron Newcomb and Scott Mathias) is currently shooting in Virginia. Thankfully, I’m out here in California, hidden away and safe from the lunacy that usually comprises a set. Having worked for several years in television (all location dramas and documentaries for the BBC, ITV, etc), I have scars… Anyway, here are a few pictures I’ve culled from various Facebook posts from the cast and crew.

In all honesty, I’m actually torn. My introvertish self loves that I’m miles away…yet, I do love location projects. Yes, they can be tedious, but there’s a certain fascination seeing how a shot comes together, seeing how a director and actors interpret a scene, seeing how a location colors a scene.


“Bring out the Bieber so we may put him in our dinner stewpot!”

One of the main things that interests me about indie film is the control aspect. Typically, a writer has zero control over their script, once it gets sold. They’re often not even welcome on set. With indie film, however, some amount of control is maintained (stress on “some amount”). Not all, of course, unless you want to go the Robert Rodriguez route (too much work for me–that guy must be insane). The Rangers is my second indie film to go into production, and it is whetting my appetite for a third.

With the combination of film and novel, nowadays, one can create a property in novel form and then bring it to film afterward. If the budget is kept low (see: minimize locations, minimal to zero special effects, contentment with B-list actors and locals, crowdfunding), it is legitimately possible to pull off a decent project.

Kulta Blackhand

Kulta Blackhand

And then sell it? Yes, of course. You’re not necessarily going to end up in theaters, but you can certainly get it on foreign television, Netflix, iTunes, video-on-demand.

Anyway, like I said, despite my oysterish nature, I’m starting to think more and more about producing my own projects, instead of just writing scripts. Heck, if Robert Rodriguez can do it…

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New Project: Ford F5

Ford F5My new project. Restoring this old Ford F5. It’s somewhere between a 1947 and a 1952. I’m not doing the actual restoration, but I’m overseeing the various people working on it: one to cut away the superstructure and lines on the back and build a metal frame for a flatbed, another to sandblast and paint, one to build the wooden flatbed, another to stencil, glass and rubber, reupholster, a few missing parts to be replaced (headlights, some chrome work), mechanic to check the engine (decent chance it’ll run; if not, it’ll become a static decorative piece at our farm). Should be fun…

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Danger and Dreams and Draft Beer

Oddly enough, we live in a world of danger. Quite enough danger, thank you very much, so why is it that a great deal of books written these days devote themselves to danger and death (and the occasional draft beer)? Is it sublimation? A way for the unconscious to articulate and corral the actual dangers of our world into something controllable (that can be burned, in the case of a paperback, or thrown across the room, in the case of a kindle, nook, etc)?

Who knows?

Who cares?

At any rate, it’s intriguing to consider the dangers that abound. A plethora of dangers. You could easily die in a car accident, pretty much any day of the week (unless you live in a place like the inner Sahara, where there are few cars, but where you will probably die of dehydration, quicksand, raging Bedouins, viper bite, camel stampede, invasion by neighboring dictator, Ebola, etc–so I don’t think you, in that situation, need to be much concerned about car accidents). That’s the easy one.

Or, you could die from a black widow spider bite. Or a brown recluse bite. Or a puff adder, rattlesnake, pit viper, black mamba, asp, adder. Or a crazed meth-addict who, hallucinating, mistakes you for a yeti and, concurrently, believes there’s a hot market for yeti pelts in Hong Kong. Or a tiny asteroid falling to Earth that has your name on it. Or a stout man, preoccupied and texting his girlfriend as he drives his golf cart (while you are sunbathing on the 6th green of the local golf course–you really should sunbathe at home, in your back yard, or at the beach).

Or you could die due to the sudden application of a concrete garden gnome that Mrs. Melba Schwartzenbaum throws out of her ninth story apartment window, under the mistaken belief that it is actually a diminutive house-breaker wishing to steal her silver spoons (the gnome, of course, falls on your head while you’re walking on the sidewalk below–you should’ve driven to work [sometimes being green does not pay]). Or you could die of boredom while waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Or, your plane could get shot down by Russian-backed Vermont separatists. Or, attending a Justin Bieber concert due to losing a bet, you could be crushed under the stiletto-heeled hooves of a stampede of shrieking females (you have my sympathies–to die with such a soundtrack playing in the background would be doubly crushing). Or you could choke on a morsel of tender, succulent lobster, an insignificant portion of a larger meal served with crusty garlic bread, boiled new potatoes in mint sauce, scallops, and a cold draft beer (you see, beer does show up at peculiar times, such as in monasteries during the Dark Ages).

Or, depending on your mental prowess (or lack thereof), you could die after converting your beach chair into a flying contraption by attaching several hundred helium balloons to it, bringing along a canister of Slim Jims, a bottle of water, and the latest John Grisham book, after which you float up into the sky, soaring up and up and up, toward the heavens, only to have a significant number of your balloons attacked by a murder of crows, thus sending you plummeting into the smoke stacks of your local electric power plant (there are certain, small advantages to solar, I suppose).

I hope you have the point by now. Life has plenty of danger on its own. All the more reason to read P. G. Wodehouse, rather than the latest shoot-em-up. All the more reason to consider carefully why you are not living in Mosul, rather than Mr. G. Ibrahim (late, of Mosul). All the more reason to be rather thankful.

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The Rangers ready to start filming


Woodland location for The Rangers

The Rangers will start filming on August 15. I have to admit, it is much more peaceful to just write scripts and let other people film them. I get to lounge around in California while Ron Newcomb (director) and Scott Mathias (producer) and their teeming minions do all the hard work out in Virginia. I’m already feeling tired just thinking about their shooting schedule.

Anyway, like I said, they’re going to start filming on August 15 and will be filming for 9 absolutely packed days. Two crews, four cameras, breakneck speed. Quite a large cast, lots of extras, actors flying in from quite far away (Scandinavia, for some of the elves, I think). What’s more, this is a period piece.

The dwarf Tiberius from The Ranger

The dwarf Tiberius from The Ranger

Yep. Period piece. The Rangers is not specifically a spin-off of The Lord of the Rings, but it comes close in look and feel. Medievalish setting. Elves. Orcs. Rangers. Wizards. Lots of weaponry. Fighting. Magic. A dragon makes a brief appearance. Definitely a period piece (those are much harder to pull off in terms of sets, costumes, etc, in case you’re wondering why I mentioned it).

Like I said, I’m lounging in California while they’re doing the heavy lifting. Filming, if you’re not getting the hint, is not glamorous. It’s a lot of work. Hard work. There’s a great deal of time that’s already gone into the pre-production phase: scouting, casting, a great deal of armor, weaponry and clothing had to be constructed, script development (I’m about to finalize the 9th draft), securing crew, finances…

Anyway, like I parentheticalized above, I’m about to finalize the 9th draft of the script. After that? Onto the next script. I’ve got a fairly goofy idea for a romantic comedy. If I can’t get Ron and Scott to go for it, I think I’ll shoot it myself out here in California. Which means I’ll be doing all the hard work…

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Advice on Writing and Publishing

booksBeing an author can be a job just like any other job: raking leaves, coding software, flipping pancakes, working as a mercenary in the Golden Triangle, you name it. I say “can be” because many writers choose not to treat writing stories as a job, but consider it a hobby or something of a similar nature. That’s fine. Both approaches are equally valid. However, I’d like to address the writing-as-job approach.

A recent post by Michael Bunker, author of Amish science fiction and other works, makes the assertion that one shouldn’t ask other authors for advice. I tend to agree with him due to two reasons: first, most authors don’t know what the heck they’re talking about (as most authors don’t sell many books), and, second, the modern publishing industry is such an apparently chaotic and random world that anyone claiming to have a comprehensive theory of how to deal with it is essentially whistling in the wind (or a huckster).

Don’t get me wrong. Individual authors do sometimes achieve partial enlightenment, just like certain restaurants can successfully cook certain items on their menus. Author Jones might figure out a bit of wisdom in relation to pricing. Author Garcia might stumble on a clever way to secure reviews. Author Xianjing might discover the path to serial pacing. However, like I said before, nobody has the comprehensive theory. In fact, most advice is poorly thought out and written mainly to draw tangential attention to that particular author’s books.

Therefore, if you do want advice but are wisely reluctant to ask other authors who either can’t write their way out of a paper bag, or aren’t selling enough books to support their mocha habit, where do you find advice?

Here’s my advice (ironic, isn’t it, that I’m offering advice as an author after saying you should steer clear of advice from authors?): given the seemingly chaotic nature of publishing, seek advice from people who have absolutely nothing to do with publishing.

Go ask your plumber or your banker or your local swami what their advice is. It might not make any sense. It might make a lot of sense. It might make a great deal of sense simply from the perspective that people are people, entertainment is entertainment, and money is money. Ask your newspaper delivery boy (does such a thing even exist anymore?), your hair stylist, your stock broker, your local politicians.

You might be surprised at what you hear.

And if your swami says something inscrutable, such as, “the bullfrog of wisdom hops onto the lilypad of Marxism,” well, there just might be something in that. True, you’ll have to spend some time unpacking his utterance, and it might result in a brain aneurysm, but you might end up with the key to Jeff Bezos’ mind.

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Seal Whistle almost done

The Seal Whistle is almost done. I’m wrestling with the main ending scene. Tying loose strings together into one coherent finish. I find that the dramatic end of a story is quite different, can be quite different, from the personal end of the story for the characters. Which is why I wrote the end of A Storm in Tormay the way I did. It ended with what happened to the characters after the ending climactic scene. After, mind you. That’s the way I see stories ending (I’m writing primarily for myself). Not with a bang and a flourish and a crash of cymbals, but with the long, smooth legato of violins and the sun setting as smoothly and serenely as it always does.

Because that’s who I want to be. And how I want to die. Of course.

I have to bring up death in this context. A great deal of the fairytales, the genuine ones, have to do with death and endings and partings. Things changing irrevocably. The adventure over, the marriage begun, the evil vanquished, the wicked stepmother nailed into a barrel and rolled down into the sea (whatever happened to her next?). That’s exactly what Tolkien did at the end of The Return of the King. He was writing about death and dreadfully solemn endings to life. Things fading away with as much serenity as a ship sailing over the horizon from the Grey Havens. Because those things were even more important than the fall of Sauron.

But, in that, there is joy.

Not for the George R. R. Martins and Abercrombies and Patrick Rothfuss minions of the world. Nope. They’ve thought themselves into a box that is defined, described, bordered (up, down, top and sides) by human self. The style is well done–I won’t fault them on that–but the substance runs dry of hope. Which is logical. The human creature cannot find hope in and of himself.

Which is why you cannot will not will never can never find Tolkien’s eucatastrophe in any of their stories. For me, it’s like deliberately painting in black and white and steadfastly ignoring the dazzling panoply of color patiently waiting on the palette. Waiting and never used. Like going about with a blue plastic umbrella always over your head and thinking, this is my sky. This blue plastic curve is my sky, and that’s it.

And refusing to listen to the crash of thunder and the wind and the lightning and the rain and the sunset splashing down in more shades of purple and red and orange you could every find words to describe. All that true sky happening outside and above your umbrella, and you’re still steadfastly muttering “this blue plastic curve two inches above my head is my sky, the sky, the only sky.”

For me, that’s epic fantasy without eucatastrophe. Without joy.

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song sketch Life or Yes, Death is Fairly Imminent

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More musical psychotherapy. This one has the rather bland name of Life. I was going to call it something a bit more snappy, such as Yes, Death is Fairly Imminent For You (yes, you there), but that doesn’t have a real musical ring to it. So, it’ll be Life for now, but I reserve the right to change the title.

I was going to do more with this song, but my computer started choking on the file. This one has multiple layers of guitars and even more of voice. I think there’s a five-part harmony on the very last vocal line. Bit overboard there, but that’s psychology for you (or psychotherapy is–what’s the difference between those two?).

Anyway, you’ll be pleased to know that I worked the IRS, Pakistan, the Russians, drugs, drinking, pets, and the contemplation of mortality into this one.

In other mildly related news (related in that it has to do with music), I did a little impromptu song and dance for my two-year-old this evening. In the kitchen, of course, because that’s where we bond (over food). He stared at me for a puzzled moment, and then started imitating me. So, there is hope.

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