Monthly Archives: February 2013

Life Unplugged

Broken Controller

Two months ago, I quit playing video games cold turkey.

Someone near and dear to me let me know that my escapism habits had become unhealthy. I was constantly stressed about not having enough time for the things I wanted to do–writing fiction, keeping up with the blog, taking my girls hiking or to the movies–and the things I needed to do–teaching, grading, running a theatre program, and sundry household duties. So in order to “balance” all this and keep up with my gaming habits, which I’ve always viewed as a gateway to inspiration (look at Descarta, for example), I began getting up early in the morning to play games. I then stayed up late gaming after I had accomplished whatever I had managed to that day, which in retrospect, was probably not much.


This would have been different, mind you, if I had actually been playing new and exciting games instead of replaying Dark Souls for the umpteenth time (my goal was hitting level 712 without cheating!) and trying to stay ahead of teenagers in the Urr Dragon battle in Dragon’s Dogma. Prior to the new DLC, I had done everything there was to do in Skyrim as well.

Hey, I was murdering evil, right? True. But I was also murdering time, my health, and personal relationships. In the meantime, I was writing virtually nothing. My weight was back up to the pregnancy sympathy pounds stage, and I was junking up on energy drinks just to function. I had zero motivation–and this depressed me to no end.

This surprised me. I mean, you’d think with the anthology’s release date nearing and me sitting on Winter Break at the time, I would have been bouncing off the walls. Instead, I was a wreck. Success doth not ensure happiness, especially in the mind of an English major.

This is why I maintain the axiom that all artists–real artists–are either drug addicts or insane. Just like Nicolas Cage.

Nicolas Cage Nuts

This should keep me safe from the bees!

I remember following a much more successful (no hyperbole) blogger/web comic years ago who managed to land a book deal with Harper Collins. After everything seemed like it was going her way, she lapsed into depression. Her last post was about how this had unexpectedly happened to her, and as of this writing, she hasn’t released any new material (other than an interview on reddit explaining her situation to her many fans). I remember being extremely disappointed in her for just falling off the world like that.

Now, to some extent, I understand.

So the games, and indeed my entire outlook, had to go. The trouble is that you can take the gamer out of the game, but you can’t take the game out of the gamer. I’ve been gaming since the Atari 2600, after all. Two of my three books are about gaming in a Sci-Fi sense (the other, perhaps paradoxically, is about technology destroying everything that was once sacred in the world). It took me a few weeks just to stop seeing facets of reality in terms of video game analogies, which I’d found to be comforting in times past. I mean, I was the great knight errant on a quest to redeem the kingdom. An overweight English teacher with a penchant for the dramatic can fall on his face and fail miserably at life, but a knight? Never.

Knight Templar

It’s not that I don’t know the different between reality and fantasy; it’s merely that fantasy–stories, ideas, even romance–help us cope with a reality where things seldom make sense.

What happens when you try to take the game out of the gamer? The gamer will inevitably apply what gaming has taught him/her to reality. Take grinding, for example. Grinding is the practice of leveling up your character before a boss fight to ensure that you survive the encounter. I’ve still been grinding. I’ve just been doing it in a gym. Now that I’ve beaten off the sinus infection that was holding me back, I plan to grind a lot more. I’ve also eliminated my dependency on energy drinks. Taken together, these two changes have helped me cut about 20 pounds so far.

Instead of tailoring a fictional character to my tastes, I’ve been working on myself. After all, this is my story, and I have to deal with all these “cut scenes” of me now. I might as well be a protagonist I can be proud of, right?

I’ve also noticed in the past few weeks that I haven’t been camping my iPhone as much. For awhile, it had become like the One Ring. There was a moment about a month ago when I deliberately tried to walk out the door without it, and the damn thing was already in my coat pocket.


My Own! My Apps! My Precious!!!

I believe that, at least in my case, fixating on my spiffy little handheld computer with all its apps and checking my blog stats and Facebook every few minutes is linked to my gamer mentality. I might be more out of touch with the world than I was two months ago, but maybe that’s a good thing for my own sanity. I don’t need to become Gollum to write speculative fiction, after all.

New stories will happen because they must. My old Royal typewriter was recently repaired, and that shall be the mechanism of delivery for the time being. I’m sure I’ll be keeping all kinds of people up at night with its sweet cacophony of keys and bells, but to hell with it. Enough is enough.

What does my current cynical attitude regarding technology mean for this blog? Honestly, I wouldn’t worry too much, dear reader. Sans the video games and with all this energy from running on the treadmill, I’ve realized that I have much, much more of one thing than I had previously thought–and that is time.


Filed under Family, My Writing, Rants, Reading, Science Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing

RealLies Contest and Updates from the Writing Universe

RealLies Full Cover

I swear it exists!

RealLies launched on February 1st–officially. Today is Valentine’s Day, and I still don’t have a copy! I do have author copies on the way, but as I am impatient, I’ve tried the route. Temporarily unavailable. Barnes & Noble’s website was the same story. Out of stock. I was expecting (dreading) reviews by now. Instead, I’ve been watching sales numbers bounce around, but nary a comment to be had. Wondering if anyone has gotten their hands on this book, I checked Zharmae’s Facebook and found the above image. I’m grateful that Descarta made the back cover–I just wish I had a physical copy!

What? I’m old-fashioned. Didn’t notice all the references to the Middle Ages on this blog?

My publisher has also tweeted a Valentine’s Day, 1,000-word flash fiction contest with the prize being a free eARC copy of RealLies. (I assume this means they’re working on the electronic edition now.) Stories must be Sci-Fi themed and address the question, “Who’s your Valentine?” Entries must be e-mailed directly to travis @ zharmae. com (no spaces) by the end of the day Pacific Time, so fire up your word processors and get moving if you want free stuff!

For those of you camping this blog for Harper Voyager unagented submissions news, Harper gave a press release February 1st stating that the editors have rejected about half of the submissions already. If you’ve yet to receive a rejection, this means you’re either one of the 543 set aside for further reading or one of the 1,800 that still need to be read. Only one new author, Katherine Harbour, has been announced so far.

I received a rejection for one of the two books I sent to Harper. The trouble is that all the rejections are coming as form e-mails (typical) without the title of the book (not typical). At this point, I don’t know for certain which of my novels is still in the running and which one got the ugly ax. (I can guess, though.) Good luck to everyone who’s still in this with me.

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

Warrior: The Most Biased Film Review Ever


Reviewing movies isn’t normally something I do on this blog. After watching Warrior about 15 times in the last month, however, I’m willing to make an exception. One of my friends from Sci Fi and Sushi recommended it to me back in January, and I figured I’m give it a shot because I’m shaping up to be a Tom Hardy fan. Why? Besides his solid acting, he’s a celebrity that actually looks like a guy–he’s a throwback to the 80’s action heroes I grew up with, a modern monument to the entire decrepit cast of The Expendables.

I’m sorry, but we need more guys like Tom Hardy in cinema after this two-decade parade of Depps and Blooms if only to make mainstream women interested in men again.


…yeah. I don’t even have to say anything here.

So I got into this movie expecting it to be like Never Back Down–somewhat shotty writing, but with the kind of martial arts action that makes you want to pump iron and turn off your brain. I was okay with that. I hadn’t heard about Nick Nolte’s Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor, which I feel was entirely deserved. I also didn’t know a thing about Joel Edgerton despite his portrayal of Uncle Owen in Revenge of the Sith.

When you have kids, these things slip by you. I haven’t gotten out to see a “grown up” movie since Prometheus, and before that, I think it was Avatar. Seriously.

To say that Warrior exceeded my expectations would be a gross understatement, but as the title of this post states, I’m extremely biased. Let’s look at why.

While Warrior does contain the kind of hype one would expect from a movie about MMA fighting, it has a solid script that centers around a very believeable broken family. Paddy Conlon (Nolte), a retired Vietnam war vet and recovering alcoholic, comes home to find his estranged son, Tommy (Hardy), sitting on the steps. The acting and dialogue in these first scenes between Hardy and Nolte sucked me in. I was no longer concerned about the MMA backdrop for the script; I wanted to know exactly what had happened to make Tommy and his mother leave and what had happened since that time. I wanted to know what remained between Tommy and his older brother, Brendan, who Paddy goes on to explain is a high school teacher with a wife and two “beautiful little girls”.

Then it hit me:

I have a younger brother named Tommy who, without getting into details, has been troubled most of his adult life. I also happen to be a high school teacher with two little girls. And just like the brothers in this film, and I assume all brothers since the beginning of time, we once fought a bitter war for our father’s love.

After that dawned on me, I was hooked. Viewing my brother and I as allegories for these characters (whatever, we all do this) now made it difficult for me to root for Tom Hardy, but I still wanted to see his side of the story unfold as well.

Cut to the scene of Brendan having his face painted by his two girls and his wife, Tess (Jennifer Morrison) bantering with him about their financial situation. At this point, I was on Brendan’s side. The similarities kept pouring in. Here was a suspended teacher (been there) trying to stave off bankruptcy and keep a roof over his family’s head. I could relate. It’s no secret how defunct the education system is here in Arizona, and as I’ve griped about before, I haven’t had a raise in five years. In fact, I recently went through two horrible garnishments and a half a dozen settlements to avoid bankruptcy.

When faced with foreclosure, Brendan Conlon’s response to the possibility of bankruptcy was the same as mine: “That’s not how I do things.”

We also meet Brendan’s students, who are almost as awesome and supportive as mine.

While Brendan’s situation was tugging on my heart strings, Tommy’s story satisfied my need for good ol’ manly kick-ass-ness. I mean, here’s a guy who wipes the floor with seasoned MMA fighters in practice and rips the doors off tanks. If my brother, who is physically much more imposing than I am at this point, ever became an MMA fighter, his style would be this brutal. I, on the other hand, have been in martial arts since I was knee high to a grasshopper (pun intended), and would probably sport Brendan’s more tactical approach.

Truth be told, I’m more of a puncher, though. Now my older brother, who is a black belt in jiu jitsu…

Both brothers need trainers for the mega-tournament at the end of the flick, of course. Tommy bunks up with his estranged father, who was his trainer when he was a junior Olympic gold medalist in wrestling. Brendan, after a tear-jerking scene in which his father tries to reconcile with him, instead reconnects with his former trainer (with whom he had a rad bromance?), Frank Campana (Frank Grillo).

Now, the character of Frank Campana is about 99% like one of my best friends and former martial arts trainer, who I have recently begun to associate with again as well. He has the same philosophies, unorthodox training methods, and love of good music.

At this point, watching this movie was getting kind of eerie. Seriously strange.

Cut to a training montage with a manly version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. I wasn’t a fan of this part the first time I watched it, but it’s grown on me after multiple viewings. At least this montage was different from your typical Rocky ripoff.

Of course, both brothers end up qualifying for the mega-tournament. While naming the tournament “Sparta” and writing in a massive, undefeated Russian combatant (Rocky IV much?) seemed easy, I was okay with both of these choices. I’m hooked at this point, remember? And I’m the target audience.


Bring on the martial arts action and commentary from two men who have never been in a fight in their life! The brawls were satisfyingly brutal, and the choreographer managed to make jiu jitsu look like more than two Neanderthals humping on the ground. Unlike most real MMA fighting (my opinion), these bouts were actually exciting to watch.

At the same time, the family redemption story supercedes all this. Brendan and Tommy meeting in Atlantic City after not seeing each other for a decade and blaming each other for the loss of their mother was heart breaking. Learning exactly what happened to Tommy during his tour of duty in Iraq was both believeable and disturbing. The crowning performance, of course, was Nick Nolte’s drunken Captain Ahab scene, which quite honestly makes me bawl no matter how many times I see it.

No wonder they nominated him for an Oscar.

Of course, the two brothers end up fighting at the end. Brutality vs. technique. Rage vs. strategy. And just when I thought things couldn’t get any more epic and hauntingly familiar, Brendan dislocates Tommy’s shoulder. Tommy refuses to tap and goes the last two rounds with one arm. Standing between Brendan and saving his family–not just his house at this point, but his family–is his honor.


Ever wonder if a movie or a book was written specifically with you in mind? It’s narcissistic, I suppose, but that doesn’t really change how I feel.

The prevailing theme in Warrior is not some shallow, macho message, but that family will always find a way to reconcile. Maybe that’s the thing I find the most comforting about it. That I even can apply adjectives like “comforting” to a brutal MMA flick probably demonstrates better than my biased musings just how different and underrated this movie is.

That said, I sincerely hope they don’t ruin it with a sequel.


Filed under Family, Rants, Reading, Writing