Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Face of Evil

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Looks cute, doesn’t he? Just look at that satisfied smirk. But what you see before you is the face of evil, and his rise to infernal glory has everything to do with the power of naming.

I never imagined that one act of kindness would allow the Antichrist a permanent place in my home. One night after work, Em came home with a basket (okay, a cat carrier) of kittens and their mother. Apparently someone just had thrown the babies over the gate at the animal shelter where she works, and they were so little and ill that they needed constant care.

Em did that thing that she does where she curls her lower lip and makes a sad face. It isn’t exactly cute (it’s like a super model transforming into a guppy before your very eyes), and it doesn’t exactly work on me (lies, lies, lies), but what kind of douchehammer refuses to take in a brood of sick, helpless kitties?

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Do you see my dilemma? Even the receiving blanket was Breast Cancer Awareness themed. My nice guy status was in danger. I was stuck. So I graciously accepted these little guys into my home on one condition: I would be the one to name them.

Big mistake.

The mama kitty (who we still call “Mama Kitty” anyway) I named Artemis because of her pristine white coat with woodland camouflage on her butt–pretty appropriate for a goddess of the moon and hunt, right? The sweet, long haired calico was little Hebe, the feisty calico was Hecate, and the orange tabby with an attitude was Ares. This left a sickly little runt of a black cat who perpetually looked like a pirate with his one eye crudded up due to an upper respiratory infection.

Black cat, Greek theme… I named him Hades.

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It took weeks of antibiotics, holding them down and cleaning their eyes, and eventually weening them from Artemis and bottle feeding them just to get rid of the infection the kitties were carrying. Fostering is difficult because you get really attached to the animals, especially babies like these. You watch their personalities and quirks develop. You watch them take their first steps. Their crying keeps you up at night. Think of having a child and dealing with its stages over a protracted period of time.

So when the time came to hand them back over to the shelter, there was quite a discussion about keeping some of them. Originally, I just wanted to keep Artemis, but Hebe was sweet, Hecate was hilarious, and Ares was amusing in that he always looked like a pissed off lion–as if he didn’t realize he was just a few months old, and a house cat to boot.

Hades was not on my list.

“He’s the one we need to keep,” Em explained. “He’s a black cat, and no one really adopts black cats.”

It was three weeks before Halloween. I was sure some Wiccan would want him or something. I expressed this.

“Dan, we have a program at the shelter right now called ‘me and my shadow’. Basically, if you adopt a kitten of a different color, you get a black kitten free. That’s how bad it is.”

Stupid kitty racism.

It wasn’t that I didn’t try to like Hades, but he was already getting so bad that this was his own mother’s reaction to him:

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Em made that weird face again, but I tried to hold my ground. I mean, this was the cat that crapped anywhere but the litter box and then kicked up the sand for good measure. This was the little demonic cat that would hide under your sheets and wait for you to get into bed, then pounce and tear out your Achilles’ tendon. This was the little demonic shit of a cat who climbed into the refrigerator and the dryer and tried to poop in both. This was the little demonic monster shit of a cat who expressed his opinions about literature by vomiting on book covers.

Then there was the time he tried to steal food from our 100 lb. Golden Retriever, Mr. Gram, who chased him out of the kitchen. Hades retaliated by ninja running up a baby gate, leaping onto his back, and riding him like a tawny, slobbering surfboard all over the house. He next decided it was a good idea to shred every scrap of paper in the house, giving our floor a second carpet all in two-ply, an early white Christmas Charmin style. Further compounding his crimes, he decided it would be a good idea to try and use our Chow-Chow’s wagging tail as a speed bag. (Good thing the bag hit him more than he hit the bag…)

He beat up his mother and sisters. He drank milk out of our cereal bowl dishes. He ate all the bread in the house. He found a bag of catnip stashed in a container, somehow opened the container, stole the weed, scaled the refrigerator, and proceeded to get stoned up there while harassing the dogs by dropping empty cereal boxes on their heads. He slashed open the dog’s food bag, tripping me with the wasted kibble all 30’s slapstick style. (I say wasted because the dogs don’t eat it if it hits the floor.)

Em made that face again. I really wanted her to stop, so I conceded. We officially adopted the devil.

He thanked me by making the laundry basket his personal throne. I can expect either black hairs or the occasion spot of cat urine whenever I change clothes.

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Then, just the other day, he used his arcane kitty arts to summon a demon. I’ve attached the summoning ritual–watch him go through his little dance (na-muh, na-muh, na-muh), pause and smile in anticipation, and then the scream…

So… anybody want a cat? Free to a good home… -.-

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Filed under Family, My Writing, Rants

7 Fantasy Clichés That Need to Disappear (For the Good of All)

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Right, I get it. Fantasy is a genre comprised of clichés that have transcended myth and legend just to end up being serialized in books or regurgitated on the big screen for our collective entertainment. Still, there’s a difference between an archetype and…

7. The Loyal Follower Eager to Sell his Life Dearly for a Person he/she Has Just Met

Novelists and filmmakers alike make the mistake of forgetting that the centaur or elfish thing or whatever expendable ugly is on the chopping block this time has just made the protagonist’s acquaintance in Act III. Writers often get away with this because the audience has been privy to the hero’s trials and tribulations from the start of the novel or film and thus take for granted that Loyal Sycophant Number 7, who is about to go all Mohammed Jihad on the bad guys, has never even had a conversation with said hero. (The excuse, of course, is always some vague prophecy we must assume this expendable creature fervently believes in.) The effect is something like this:

Hero

Hey, I just met you!

And this is crazy!

But I’m your savior—

So die for me, maybe?

Loyal Sycophant Number 7

Before you came into my life…

I missed you so bad.

Now other than in American politics (and pop music), where would we see such blind devotion to a largely unknown and doubtlessly misunderstood cause?

6. The All Powerful Technique/Magical Item/Elixir of Great Bullshit

This persistent literary ultimatum that stretches out plots and invites snores from fans and haters alike is really just a thinly veiled reiteration of the Grail quest.  Only in Fantasy is it impossible to heal the land and put the villain in his grave without first obtaining Ye Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

This works both ways, of course—the evil sorcerer cannot raise the Lord of Nothingness from his bier without a cookbook’s recipe worth of made up shit. He must then scour the land in an attempt to obtain the ingredients whilst cleverly evading the story’s hero at every turn, only to finally complete said ritual and have the hero defeat him anyway using the same bullshit iterated above.

 Lord of Nothingness

But how can this be!

I am the Lord… of Nothingness!

Hero

What the hell does that even mean?

(throws matter at him—in the form of a spoon)

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Lord of Nothingness

Bah! My only weakness!

Villain

Well, shit. Next time, I’ll try the

Lord of Magical Realism…

(This last bit was inspired by Joe Erickson of http://scifiandsushi.com/, who has been hating on nothingness since the 10th grade.)

I mean, if you think about it, even Excalibur is really just the metaphorical equivalent of a steel erection, and most All Powerful Weapons of Great Bullshit are allegories for Excalibur.

Maybe your hero shouldn’t need Viagra just to get the job done?

And I digress, but do you know what was really great about Kung Fu Panda? Po obtains a Magical Item of Great Bullshit in the form of the Dragon Scroll, and it doesn’t do a blessed thing but help him understand that there is no secret ingredient to badassery. (Badassery. Is that a word? Well, it is now.)

5. Evil Wizards with Portmanteau Names

A portmanteau—unless we’re talking suitcases—is a (sometimes nonsense) word created by blending other, familiar words together. The idea is that the reader will carry the connotations of the original words into the new, smashed up version. Portmanteaus can be as simple and universally understood as “smog” or as complex and nonsensical as those that comprise the majority of Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky”.

So where do we see this in Fantasy? Frickin’ everywhere. They range in quality from Darth Vader (Dark Invader) to Darth Sidious (Dark Insidious) to Darken Rahl (cringe).

(Note to Trolls: According to George Lucas in the book he wrote about creating Anakin Skywalker and the many drafts the original Star Wars went through, it is “Dark Invader”, not “Dark Father”. Lucas didn’t even know that Darth Vader would turn out to be Luke’s father when A New Hope was released in 1977. Do your research, trolls.)

Here’s a spot of logic—if your villains exist in a galaxy far, far away or an alternate universe, they don’t speak our language, and their names certainly wouldn’t be silly portmanteaus of our contemporary tongue. Their names, like ours, would probably stem from the dead languages of their ancient civilizations. (As long as you’re not feeding us long, unpronounceable names with meaningless apostrophes.) Only in YA Fantasy stories like the Harry Potter series can a writer get away with portmanteaus like Voldemort.

Don’t just write a name that you think sounds evil. Write a character that makes his or her name evil though action. Most Fantasy readers are quite intelligent and may be insulted when they figure out your process. The rift can grow even wider if it takes them a few years.

I mean, it’s almost as insulting as having a G.I. Joe villain named Cesspool.

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I slept with that action figure under my pillow. I’m laughing now at 30, Hasbro. You guys are dicks.

4. Orlando Bloom

Who decided this guy looked like a hero?

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Other than those eyebrows (apparently Tolkien’s elves have bad dye jobs that don’t include ye olde forehead caterpillars), I could grow more hair on my knuckles than this pansy will ever legitimately grow on his face. Russell Crowe could pick his teeth with this guy. Gerard Butler could Sparta kick him down the pit from Mortal Kombat wherein some intense acupuncture action would ensue, and that embarrassingly stupid skateboard stunt he pulled with a shield in Two Towers wouldn’t save him. And Arnold, well, even in his current deteriorated ex-governator state, Arnold could sail over him with the flabby windsocks of his arms all flying squirrel style and then take him out with a mere one liner.

Arnold

Krom is not amused, bitch!

You know what would have made Kingdom of Heaven (historical fiction, but close enough) the best movie in the known universe? Swapping out Orlando Bloom, who brought nothing to that role or that cast, for Heath Ledger.

We miss you, Heath. The world needs more protectors of Italian virginity.

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3. Heroes That Are Only Heroes Because Daddy Was a Hero

And A Knight’s Tale, another historical fiction flick starring the late great Heath Ledger, really brings me to my next point.

I’ve seen a rise in Fantasy stories wherein the reasoning behind the hero’s badassery or legitimacy is directly linked to his or her lineage. Essentially, one cannot be a hero unless his/her bloodline dictates this is so, and usually with a prophecy thrown in for good measure. It’s ironic that primogeniture, which is argued against in many of the works of the middle ages that serve as the superstructure on which the current Fantasy genre is built, seems to have resurfaced in the modern writing of “democratic” nations that claim to have abolished the idea of an aristocracy.

As Chaucer tells us, just because your ancestors possessed virtues that caused the people of their time to call them “noble” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any better than a guttersnipe in Cheapside.

“But will himself do naught of noble deeds/ Nor follow him to his name he succeeds/ He is not gentle, be he Duke or Earl/ For acting churlish makes a man a churl/ Gentility is not just the renown/ Of ancestors who have some greatness shown/ Of which you have no portion of your own” (Chaucer, The Wife of Bath’s Tale, 299-304).

I don’t know about you, but I’m not all that much like my parents. There’s the genetics argument of course, but here we are discussing Fantasy, and you just threw in the s-word–science.

Some writers have caught onto this, but rather than creating characters that fight tooth and nail for what they get in life, they have instead spawned an entire generation of whiny protagonists with daddy issues. Or worse, they cheat the whole process by giving you a character who “appears to be of humble origins” but you find out was really a king or prince the damn whole time (e.g. Aragorn from Lord of the Rings, Taran from the Lloyd Alexander books, etc.).

I like my heroes with a little dirt in their teeth, a little grit. Most of us do. Unless your prince-with-daddy-issue’s name is Zuko, and he’s got scars signifying he’s been through some serious shit, I’m probably going to root for the commoner selling turnips on the street corner to pay for his broadsword lessons with the local guards.

Image Where’s your stigma, Prince Charming? Reason number one this movie flopped.

2. Helpful Dragons

I think we all know who is to blame for inspiring the recent influx of rotten stories regarding dragons that want to be ridden into battle by heroes too weak to settle their own scores with our aforementioned portmanteau villains. Do a little research. A real dragon, as supported by thousands of years of lore, would rip your face off just as soon as look at you. Then he’d loot your corpse, make off with your virgins, and take a flaming shit on your kingdom.

Read a little further, and you might notice dragons murdering gods (say Thor, for instance) and gnawing upon the Tree of Life itself. The Great Wyrm doesn’t aid men in their petty squabbles. He ends them, and everything else.

I once had a bumper sticker that depicted dragons far better than many bestselling novels and blockbuster films. It read: “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and go good with ketchup.”

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1. Cute Things That Overpower Fell Creatures by Virtue of Being Cute

This lunacy takes many forms. It’s gotten to the point where it isn’t even ironic or funny anymore—it’s insulting to the fans that take a moment to think about it. If trained soldiers or armed bandits happen upon the young princess in the woods, she beats the snot out of them in what used to be this whole women’s lib/gender role reversal thing, but now, after so many times through the wash cycle, has faded to a form of reverse sexism.

Then there are cute short things that raze the homes of unsuspecting goblins and trolls, who were doing nothing more nefarious than lurking there in the dark when the vanilla folk broke into their vermin infested, underground biers, where they probably live because they are misunderstood.

Then there are the wiggly, jiggly, squiggly things of the nine realms that defy comprehension. They beat up an entire legion of the Emperor’s best troops in Return of the Jedi. They slay proud knights in the final round of Super Smash Bros. tournaments at co-ed baby showers through sheer button mashing. They embolden this evil cat who for the last fifteen minutes has fearlessly been trying to eat my biscuits without regard for the fact that I am 200 pounds of hurting machine (and 30 or so more of wiggly, jiggly, squiggly…)

For my part, I hope Star Wars 2015 contains a fifteen-minute scene in which a storm trooper mercilessly beats the Muppet out of a captive Ewok with a wiffle ball bat until he is ultimately forced to reveal the location of the Rebel base. Once we get there, of course, Leia will doubtless beat the Fett out of said storm trooper with a frying pan, anyway.

And women and children wonder why hubby/daddy would rather play video games than spend $40 to take them to the movies. This is why. Female editors wonder why male writers don’t read as much new material as their shapelier counterparts. This is why. The only legendary man allowed to kick ass anymore is… Santa Claus?

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(Face palm!)

Here’s a preview of topics I plan on handling in the future:

6. The soldier that avoided being a douchehammer by way of heroic death (No really, it’s not just Borromir!)

5. Too much detail (Come on, do we really need 50 pages about a feast just to get that it represents communion/a rite of passage? And there’s no sex in your book, but here’s your main character shitting in the woods!)

4. The heroic friend left for dead that returns to save the day at the very last second (usually accompanied by a horribly cheesy line).

3. Horse in a can (Wow, look at all these horses on the battlefield! Where were these when I was WALKING ACROSS THE WORLD?!)

2. Forced metaphors for your religion that keep your mediocre book selling.

1. Vampires.

Please leave a comment with the cliché that’s driving you crazy. I know I have merely scratched the surface here…

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Filed under Fantasy, My Writing, Publishing, Rants, Reading, Science Fiction, Writing

Creepsgiving

Em and I being in the same place at the same time for Thanksgiving, and thinking ahead towards Christmas, were looking for gifts for the girls when we stumbled across this old gem…

OMG Creepy…

I don’t know what’s creepier–the doll, or the little girls’ reactions. This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my daughter’s dental hygiene and toys that aren’t reminiscent of The Exorcist.

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