Friends in Masks

city of masksA friend of mine from the land of Oz, and fellow-fantasy writer, Ashley Capes, has an epic fantasy series called The Bone Mask Trilogy out on Amazon and the various other ebook sites. His books feature a young thief as one of the main characters, just like Jute in my Tormay trilogy. Anyway, the first book in the series, City of Masks, is going to be free on April 4, so check it out if you get a chance.

In other news, I’ve decided to lay claim to Mars as my ancestral home. Just need to find a good lawyer who specializes in that sort of thing. Mars sounds pretty peaceful these days in comparison to all the nonsense going on in these parts!


The Hobbit and Kardashian marketing

I must say I’m not that enthused about Peter Jackson spinning out The Hobbit into three parts. He’s taken quite a few liberties with Mr. Tolkien’s untouchable tale, some of them rather benign and some of them (girl elf-Fili, or Kili, whatever, love story) reprehensible. Jackson should have his beard shaved off for that one in the manner of the king’s emissaries who were humiliated at the court of Edom (or wherever).

At any rate, it’s galling that Sir Jackson (Sir Jackson? that’s what people get knighted for these days, as opposed to fighting the Moslems at the battle of Tours?) has gone the route of Kim Kardashian marketing with the good Professor’s wit. Spin it out, enlarge it, hash and dash it and repackage it with something shiny.

Yes, I’m going to go see the movie. Even though I’ll gnash my teeth from time to time (sans popcorn, as it doesn’t seem to agree with my health — little agrees with my health these days; save me, Jonathan Gruber!, or at least let me know when I’m supposed to die so I can schedule my dry cleaning accordingly).

And, yes, I’m almost ready to publish the latest Tormay story. Hopefully before my dry cleaning’s date with destiny. Wait. Am I talking about clothes or closure?

And, yes, winter is coming, and that has nothing to do with George Martin. It’s simply winter, a much more profound and persistent entity than any Stark.


Heinlein’s Rules for Writing

1. You must write. 
2. You must finish what you write. 
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order. 
4. You must put the work on the market. 
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

That’s from an essay Robert Heinlein wrote in 1947. All I can add is: Amen. Also, try to write good stories. Stories that aren’t going to make the ghost of my deceased grandmother rise up from her grave and haunt you until you run screaming off a cliff.

Or something like that.


Rare Interview of Master Criminal Greg Downs

I first met Greg Downs when I was serving in the French Foreign Legion in Namibia. We were taking fire from a heavy platoon of British tourists. Ladies, mostly named Hortense or Mabel, elderly and wearing those  tight compression stockings that assist in varicose-vein sublimation. They had the usual assortment of mortars and 6-inch recoilless rifles and RPGs. Plus, they had a sniper the Namibians called the Suet Death Pudding who could shoot the cigar out of your mouth from three miles out. We were pinned down, outgunned, out-womaned, and in need of backup. I remember Greg well because he had the foresight to bring a cooler of pastrami and stone-ground mustard sandwiches on a nice marbled rye, and a few bottles of cold beer. He was a good man. We lost touch, however, when he went to work for the Chinese Tongs in Macau. Mostly smuggling guns and pharmaceuticals and misfortune cookies into Belgium.

Anyway, I ran into him recently at a performance of Swan Lake at Carnegie Hall. Mikhal Gorbachev was dancing lead, along with Al Gore as the Prince. It was a hard thing to watch, but that’s why I always bring along a flask of the even harder stuff. We got to talking during the intermission, while people were running out, screaming about the end of the world and hollering stuff and looking nauseated.

While I know Greg, I’ll pretend I don’t, for your educational sake.

So, while I know you, for the sake of discussion, who are you?

My name is Greg, but who I am is rather difficult. I think the answer has to do with writing, at least somewhat, or I wouldn’t be here, would I? It started in highschool, when I wrote and published some short books on Kindle, my Song of the Aura series, which is when I met Mister Christopher here.

To date, I have published three books: one, a collection of novellas and short stories, two, a novel reimagining King Arthur’s world through the eyes of the (guy you thought was the) villain, and three, a big hulking fantasy epic compiled from that series I mentioned. Nowadays I mostly just doodle, write poetry, blog a little, and go to college.

One day I’ll know who I am, too. Then I’ll tell you.

Speaking of King Arthur, what are your thoughts on modern education and its role in either encouraging or stifling creativity?

I just read Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, where the kids are given more and more information in school, are schooled earlier and earlier, and learn less and less of what will actually give them meaningful lives. I think we’re on the threshold of that. Creativity is not killed by modern education, not judging by all the creative public-schoolers I’ve met, but it’s giving it its best try.

Ray Bradbury was a good man. I have fond memories of that evening he shot up a Taliban bar in Kabul. Good times. Speaking of the Taliban, what are your thoughts on the self-pubbing/indie movement?

I think it’s a great way to encourage people to write more, read more, and generally get involved. It does have a tendency to create a swamp of various amateur books, but I think 50 Shades shows us that everywhere is a swamp nowadays. So really, we have a lot to gain by people taking their writing and their careers in writing into their own hands.

I’m with you there. 50 Shades is to books as Robespierre is to democratic rule. I’ve even heard that those geniuses in Hollywood are in pre-production on a film version. Do you think Hollywood is maintaining its creative edge or losing it?

I think a lot has been lost from a thematic point of view, but a lot has been gained in a visual sense. We have a lot of really good ways to portray events and characters that we didn’t have before… but we don’t use a lot of that potential. Instead we just blow more things up. And then more. I am watching less and less contemporary film nowadays so I think I’ll stop there.

Contemporary film seems to be all about the big name actors and actresses who, frankly, seem to be mostly several noodles short of a bowl of Vietnamese pho. Lately, that’s exemplified by Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling” end of their marriage. The subtext in that is they are crazier than mercury-addicted loons. Speaking of marriage, do you think marriage should be arranged by the State?

No. See 1984 for details.

Ah, yes. 1984. Every year is 1984 these days. So, what is creativity and how do we access it and are we truly individual with it?

Got to admit this is my favorite question and I was waiting for it the whole time. So naturally instead of answering it directly I want to go on a tangent. Plato, in his Ion, reckons creativity as a sort of inspiration that begins in a Divine Source (the gods), and proceeds down in a chain from the gods themselves, to the poets and artists, to the performers of poetry. I find that idea a lot more interesting than calling creativity a mush mix of social/political/historical/psychological sources that kind of bubbles up from us every time we put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it now were). Think about it. What if creativity was not brainwaves, but a Divine Light we could tap into? What if our creativity, what you might call our artistic self, is like a crystal that the light shines through? When we hone our artistic craft, we chisel at, refine, and polish the crystal. We determine its shape by the life experiences and art experiences we have, and this shape, whatever it is, will reflect the Divine Light in a different way. So if this were true (I don’t know if it is, but it’s worth thinking about), then creativity is something beyond us, which we nevertheless have a good amount of individual control over. So, yes and no, as the elves say.

Very wise of you to retreat to the elves. I’ve always admired their thought processes, but not their sartorial sense. Too many tight pants. Speaking of tight pants, do you think the government is hiding information from us on things like extra-terrestrials, etc?

I could answer that question, but then I would have to kill you to protect my employers.

I trust they’re paying you well! Thanks, Greg, for taking the time to come on by and chat. If anyone wants to learn more about Greg Downs–the man, the writer, the cheese expert–stop on by his blog and spend some quality time.


Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories

If you write fantasy or if you read fantasy, if you’re a Tolkien fan or if you wonder about the limits of reality versus the limits of the imagination, you must read Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories.

If you enjoy spicy chicken wings or drinking merlot, or if you’re a fan of Kevin Costner or Justin Bieber (well…I might have to draw the line with him), or if you participate in synchronized swimming or throw pots (either on a wheel or out of pique), then you should read Tolkien’s essay.

If your name is Jim or Katherine or Herbert or some other name, you should read it.

What I’m attempting to make clear is that you should read it.


This Land is Your Land? Their Land? Nobody’s Land?

Prodded by a friend (you’re guilty, Jamie Wilson), I took a stab at recreating Woody Guthrie’s old standby, but with different lyrics, courtesy of America’s main undocumented immigrant, Mark Steyn. So here it is. Music by Guthrie, lyrics by Steyn, execution (in more ways than one) by Bunn.

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A Pius Man…

No, you read that correctly. It might be your lack of Latin kicking in. Or your lack of Babylon 5. Whichsomever the case, I’d like to introduce you to Declan Finn, the man, the author (pius or pious or not), the taxpayer. So, without further ado (does anyone still drink Mountain Dew, or is my mind feebly reaching toward a confluence of soda and hair styles?), here he is. I, of course, have questions. He has answers.

Thank you, Mr. Finn, for stopping on by today. By the way, who are you?

DECLAN FINN PHOTOIf I were truly snarky, I would answer “Who do you say that I am,” but I don’t have quite that much chutzpa.  I am Declan Finn, author of A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller, and co-author of Codename: Winterborn.  I’d be tempted to answer “a Madman with a box” or “Don Quixote,” but the voices in my head tell me that it’s not a good idea, people might get the wrong impression. Yes, that is a joke, though my characters do talk to me from time to time.  I’m also a lifelong Catholic/Conservative/New Yorker, trained in hand-to-hand combat, with degrees in history and philosophy. Which means that I know just enough about everything to be really interesting at dinner parties.

Ah, dinner parties. I once attended a dinner party in Addis Ababa where I encountered a rather sautéed cockroach on my plate. I suppose he had a few relatives in New York, but I neglected to inquire. I also digress. Back to you. Why do you write instead of weaving baskets, growing heirloom tomatoes, or invading small countries with negligible armed forces?

I write mainly because I have to. I feel compelled to. This compulsion hits especially hard when I wake up in the middle of the night and I have to run to the nearest notebook (by my nightstand) in order to take down everything I just thought of before I forget it all. Heck, no one with an ounce of sense should go into professional writing unless there is nothing else for them. By that I mean that most writers I’ve come across all seem compelled to write professionally. We almost all lay in bed in the middle of the night and keep a notebook close at hand so we can write down ideas before we forget them. Or we start writing a simple amusing fact and suddenly fill the page with an outline for a novel. Writing is our drug. Our addiction. A neurotic, uncontrollable impulse. We would go insane if we didn’t write… Or merely more insane.

In the case of A Pius Man, I wrote it because I realized that more people probably learned “history” from novels than they ever did in grammar school. And there were plenty of novelists who were quite willing to lie about Pope Pius XII in order to sell a story. I wasn’t. So, A Pius Man.

True. I learned no history at all in grammar school, other than certain details about the modern drug trade in California. That was more experiential knowledge than academic. Speaking of experience, what is your personal philosophy of life and how does that affect what you write?

My philosophy of life?  I’m trying to figure out if that means my belief system or if that means how I approach life.  If it’s the former, my belief system is natural law as viewed via my Catholic faith.  Politically, that translates as something conservative/libertarian, depending on how one looks at it.

If you mean how I approach life… I usually try to sneak around life, flanking it, then running at it with a hammer. Patience is a good and noble virtue, but being blunt has its virtues.  I’m not entirely certain I answered the question, but it’s the best I have right now.

Being blunt certainly does have its virtues. As Churchill said, speak softly and carry a big battleship. What are your thoughts on the idea that authors (artists) have (or do not have) a moral obligation to their readers in terms of doing no harm, bettering them, ennobling their views of life, etc?

At the very least, art – or at least fiction – has to be edifying. It should build people up, not break them down.  If I read a book, I want to come away feeling like something has been added to my life, not taken away from it. Watching Die Hard doesn’t add much to my life, but it will at least give me some entertainment. Reading Dan Brown makes me lose brain cells.

I’ve often wondered (well, at least twice) if there really is no Dan Brown, but that his books were simply cultivated in petri dishes. Lab-grown kidneys gone wrong. Speaking of kidneys, what are your thoughts on modern pop culture?

Modern popular culture? Well, if you go by the bestseller lists – James Rollins, Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child, etc – the popularity of smart writing is most encouraging.  If you go by “reality television,” celebutards being called in on political panels, and the amount of air time dedicated to the media lynching George Zimmerman, then I think we’re all doomed.

Yes, we are all doomed. No doubt about that. My parents were fond of telling us that when we were small, despite sunny weather and blue skies. Speaking of skies…I think Blue Sky Studio was inadvertently prophetic when they wrote that charming little scene into Ice Age of the dodo birds chanting “Doom on you! Doom on you!” Not exactly Isaiah, but good enough for our times. Now, onto your books. Can you give us a run-down on your latest story?

APiusManA Pius Man: A Holy Thriller starts with a visitor to the papal archives being assassinated, and his assassin being blown out of a window, landing face-first into a car windshield. The car belongs to the head of Vatican security. In short order, they discover that people going into the Vatican archives on Pope Pius XII – aka: “Hitler’s Pope” – are dying. It has a nice collection of suspects, including the Pope himself.  Like all other fiction involving the Catholic church, it has decades-long conspiracies, sinister-looking priests, and even the Pope is a suspect.  However, there are two big differences between A Pius Man and the others.  One, all of the history in this book is real – seriously, it started out as a graduate paper.  Second, I take great joy in using every single cliché about the Catholic church, and turning them upside down and inside out.

What are a few books you’ve read lately that you greatly admire and recommend?

Any of James Rollins’ Sigma novels – his most recent is The Eye of God, but I’m not certain if anyone could track it without reading the prior novels. If you want a thriller where technology and history meet, you want to read Rollins – who has been writing before anyone ever heard of Dan Brown. I recently tripped over an author named Jeff Abbott, and his Sam Capra novels are fun.

Thanks for those recommendations. Finding good books is always a bit of a chore these days. Now, as we draw this interview to a close, to its little death, let me inquire about your own (not that I’m particularly morbid, but, well…death is part of life, and vice versa). What would you like to be remembered for after you die?

What would I like to be remembered for? I would like to be remembered as that guy who started out self-publishing his books with  A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller, sold millions of copies of his entire trilogy, and made every wannabe-historian thriller writer obsolete.

But, being real… Seven or eight years ago, I gave my friend and co-author, Allan, a novel – Good Omens by Prachett and Gaiman. When he put that down as “What I’m reading” on a dating site, someone saw it and said hello.  They are now married, all because I gave him a book.  I’ll settle for that.

Great story. Books do draw people together, either for reading or burning. Best of luck (though, I don’t believe in luck) to you with your writing, paying of taxes, and other pursuits!

 You can visit Declan Finn at his blog and his author site. A Pius Man is available in print, for Kindle, and on Barnes & Noble. His other book, Codename: Winterborn, is also available online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.


Dragons, Neo-Nazis and Faeries

What do dragons, neo-Nazis and faeries have in common? If your answer is the amazingly delicious combination of peanut butter and chocolate (or Al Gore as a close second), then you’re somewhat correct, but that wasn’t the answer I was looking for. I was actually referring to Karina Fabian’s new book Greater Treasures. Karina is a friend of mine from an online writers group that has enriched my life with a great deal of discussion on culture, books, politics, art, how to make moose meat taste less gamey, and many other things.

But, enough of that. I’m going to post an excerpt from Greater Treasures below. If it piques your curiosity, head on over to the DragonEye site for other tales.

Greater-Treasures-EbookGiven the day I was having, it came as no surprise that when I got home, I found the dogs sprawled in a drugged sleep and the sounds of things being overturned from within the warehouse. I decided not to bother with subtlety, but I did resist the urge to burst in with flames going full-blast. I had questions first.

Naturally, I walked straight in to find an automatic weapon—yep, a bona fide black-market AK-47—and I thought only Faerie lived their clichés—and six other weapons of various types pointed at me. I didn’t stop, just closed the door with my tail while I strolled in slow and placid-like. My visitors had shaved heads, faces painted white with clown paint, and black t-shirts with swastikas in white circles.

“If you’re the housekeeping service, you’re fired.”

“You stay right there, or we gonna fire you!” said one guy from the sidelines as he held his nunchucks at the ready.

What’d he think he would do—whack me on the nose? I turned to the one holding the assault rifle. “Scraping the bottom of the barrel with that one, weren’t you?”

“He’s right. You just stay still while we search the place.”

“The place” was a ten-thousand square foot warehouse with offices on the upper floor. Boxes I still hadn’t opened line the walls and made a maze in the second warehouse room. I settled myself on the floor and rested my head on my crossed arms. “Go ahead. I get half of anything you find.”

They stared at me, unbelieving. I smiled back. Mr. Cooperation, that’s me. Finally, Big Gun snarled for the others to get to work. As he turned his back on me, Nunchucks muttered, “I got your half. Don’t think I don’t.” Guess he learned such witty repartee in Hitler Youth Summer Camp.

I watched and listened and waited. With eight teenage skinheads trashing my place, it was only a matter of time.

“I wouldn’t go in there if I were you,” I suggested as Nunchucks made a grab for the doorknob to Grace’s workshop.

“You gonna stop me?” He turned the knob.

“Nope,” I said as I closed my ears and my eyes. Even so, I saw the otherworldly light and heard the harmonious roar of Divine Vengeance followed by Mundane screams.

“The Heavenly Host on the other hand…”

I waited until the screams died down to whimpers before opening my eyes and rising.

Four of the skinheads were unconscious. Three may as well have been; they were curled up in the fetal position, whimpering. Nunchucks was actually crying for his mommy. Big Guns had collapsed to the floor as well, the gun thrown away from him. He was sitting and rocking and making high-pitched keening through the roof of his mouth.

I’d tell Grace to tone down her wards some, except that the effect is directly proportional to the evilness of the intent. Suddenly, I was feeling a little shaky about my earlier entrance.

Knights out of the armor now. I went around, collecting weapons in the office trash can and poking through pockets. I found the usual stuff—driver’s licenses, credit cards, petty cash… One kid had a condom; wishful thinking on his part, I knew. Another had a report card. MLK High. Wonder if he was the one beating up Faerie kids? Honor roll grades, too. Of all the years I’ve battled evil, there were still some things I didn’t understand.

As I was returning Big Guns’ (aka Rick Matherston’s) wallet back into his jacket pocket, he blinked and focused on me.

“What was that?”

“Angels, kid.” Actually a kind of magical shadow of the real thing, but close enough.
“But I thought angels were—”

“There’s a reason why their first words are usually ‘Fear not!’ whenever they meet a human.”

His eyes returned to their unfocused stare. I almost felt sorry for him. Then I noticed the letters FARISLAR tattooed on his knuckles. Faerie slayer.

Karina FabianThe winner of the 2010 INDIE for best Fantasy (Magic, Mensa and Mayhem), Karina Fabian has imagination that takes quirky twists that keep her–and her fans–amused. Nuns working in space, a down-and-out Faerie dragon working off a geas from St. George, zombie exterminators—there’s always a surprise in Fabian’s worlds. Mrs. Fabian teaches writing and book marketing seminars, but mostly is concerned with supporting her husband, Rob Fabian as he makes the exciting leap from military officer to civilian executive, getting her kids through high school and college, and surviving daily circuit torture…er, circuit training.  Read about her adventures at http://fabianspace.com.

Website: http://fabianspace.com, http://dragoneyepi.net
Blog:  http://fabianspace.blogspot.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/karina.fabian
Twitter:  http://twitter.com/#!/KarinaFabian
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Fabrication vs. Reality

Recently, I stumbled across a comment by Damien Walter, a writing teacher and book columnist at the Guardian, stating that conservatives cannot write fiction as well as liberals. I’m not sure what station his logic train departed from, but I suspect he doesn’t have a lot of cars coupled together.

I would honestly like to hear this idea explained. I have my own guesses, but they are only guesses. I’m a conservative myself and I believe that writers who possess a worldview of absolutes have the capability of writing the best fiction. Moral choice can only properly stem from absolutes. By absolutes, I refer to concepts like courage, redemption, sin, honor, love, sacrifice, greed, envy, etc. Sidney Carton’s self-sacrifice in Tale of Two Cities has little meaning in a world without absolutes. There’s no reason to make such a choice; at least, I cannot think of a reason.

Characters that exist in a relative moral world, a world in which each individual fabricates their own moral scheme, end up having little to no distinctions between antagonists and protagonists. Choices start to lose their meanings, other than the simple, animalistic outcomes of everyday life (eat, sleep, procreate, stay alive, etc).

One quick way to understand this sort of thing is to examine the classics. What kind of story would Anna Karenina or The Count of Monte Cristo be if written from a relativist perspective? I suspect, if written today by one of the brave graduates of the modern writing school, Anna Karenina would be a story about sex and power and the dysfunction of the modern family. In other words, a yawn-fest.