New Poem: “Character Study”

A life in pages.

As I lay in bed last night, I started writing something to help me deal with my frustration over the difficulty of creating fleshed-out characters for the various novels I’m outlining.  Somehow, within two lines, it became a poem!

Character Study

 

I am a character.

 

I exist in sentences, breathe between fragments of symbols

laid out upon polished parchment.

My ambitions are tentative, my past abstract,

until you take this next clause and consonants

to explain my who, what, when, where, why, and how.

 

This is not ideal.

 

I would prefer to be absolute, to be able to look

around every corner of life’s labyrinth

and know how the bends curve to end.

As it stands, I walk by a torch

waved at your whim, vim lent through a passive void

blessed with meaning and being on a case-by-case basis.

A closed cover could conclude me at any

moment.

A picture, once rendered, could cast me

as an iconic beauty

or deformed doodle.

 

This world is not kind to the fictional, see.

You abuse us, prop us up

to promote your ends and means.

We vague infinity, the people who could be, should be, may have been,

are the scarecrows in your field of dreams,

pocketing promises like rocks as ballast

for whatever sale you set.

 

But page-wise, perhaps I can transcend. Already,

you feel obligated to keep writing,

keep reading.

Already you have fixed some image of who I am,

face and intonation pasted

from some old encounter like papier-mâché over a withered balloon:

A brother, a lover, a stalker, an ex-professor.

 

It’s said that people are only ideas

incarcerated in calcium and calories.

Yet I roam free, by virtue

of ink and imagination.

You think yourself the powerful one, but

 

after every book you took your words from,

every film you filched your inflections from,

every game that trained your reflexes,

and every song from which you stole your emotions,

motivation woven into heartstrings, tell me:

 

Who created who?

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2016: A Year in Stuff

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Forget 2017, already–let’s party like it’s 1986!

It has been, by all accounts, a year of unmitigated death and depravity. If it weren’t for finally getting out of college and having super-awesome friends and family who’ve been with me for some amazing moments, 2016 would’ve been a total loss. Still, as an unrepentant pop culture geek, I feel a duty to briefly roll up my sleeves and dig deep for a silver lining in the media ephemera of the last 365 days. Onto the TOP STUFF LIST!
 –
–Best TV–
(1) Stranger Things: A fantastic homage to the idealized 80s in all its rad glory, this at once nailbiting and heartwarming supernatural tale can’t hit season two soon enough.
(2) Black Mirror (Season 3): Chillingly plausible story hooks and a diverse cast of characters made the return of this peerless techno-satire essential viewing.
(3) Westworld: Obtuse yet epic, it managed the impossible task of having me enjoy cowboy shootouts one second and ponder the depths of consciousness and free will the next.
(4) Channel Zero: Its reimagining of one of the most famous creepypastas in “Candle Cove” struggled with pacing and direction at times, but was still a cracking good start to anthology horror for a new generation.
(5) The X-Files: An “E” for effort, admittedly (it was never going to be *fantastic* after over a decade), but Mulder & Scully’s chemistry still shines, the paranoia still pops, and the middle ep is a series classic.
–Best Movies–
(1) 10 Cloverfield Lane: Mixing a claustrophobic setting with big-name actors, this slow-burn scifi flick provided more thrills on $15 million than most studios do with five times that budget.
(2) Hardcore Henry: The dictionary definition of an R-rating, this Russian rampage through knifings, shootouts, decapitations, and motorcycle chases is first-person adrenaline in a Blu-Ray.
(3) Arrival: Adapted from a story by the underrated Ted Chiang, Dennis Villeneuve’s taut, moody stylings lent a mindbending yet emotional air to an alien invasion.
(4) Captain America – Civil War: It’s more like Avengers 2.5, but who cares? Seeing all these insane characters duke it out on-screen after almost a decade of buildup is as close to a rollercoaster as theater gets.
(5) The VVitch – A New-England Folktale: Despite a Sundance screening in ’15, this humble horror movie really made waves with a wider release this February–and for good reason. With a painstaking attention to period dress and dialogue, it depicts the ultimate nightmare of 17th-century Puritans with spectacular subtlety and unrelenting dread.
–Best Games–
(1) Uncharted 4 – A Thief’s End: The adventure game, perfected. While it may lack the instantly iconic setpieces of its predecessors, this end to Nathan Drake’s saga packs a gripping plot, heart-pounding action sequences, and some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen into one disc.
(2) DOOM: Third time’s the charm with the latest reboot of the granddaddy of gory FPSes. The place: a demon-infested Mars. The mission: If it moves, kill it. On a busy schedule, that’s a goal I can get behind.
(3) INSIDE: The long-awaited sophomore release from dark Danish devs Playdead, INSIDE follows the eerie mystery of its predecessor LIMBO with a world of mind-control, parasites, and scientists dead-set on discovering… something.
(4) Layers of Fear: Naysayers call it a bunch of cheap jump scares designed for PewDiePie and his ilk–but for me, this was possibly the most terrifying game I’ve ever played. Like Jacob’s Ladder meets The Haunted Mansion, time, space, and object permanence mean nothing as you journey through the home of an insane painter desperate to finish his greatest work… even if it kills him.
(5) Pokemon Go: Need I say more? Sure, the hype only lasted a few weeks, but for that glorious midsummer time, 90s nostalgia and cutting edge AR tech joined forces to turn a good chunk of the urban populace into the pocket-monster hunters we always wanted to be. Just do not trespass while playing.
(Honorable Mentions): Hyper Light Drifter and The Last Guardian: I haven’t finished these yet, but the former is a gorgeous love-letter to SNES-era labyrinthine fantasy action games, and the latter is a legendarily delayed tale of a boy and his enormous killer furry pet (but really, it’s finally out!!).
–Best Albums–
(1) David Bowie, Blackstar: Perhaps it’s the freshness of the wound from his premature passing talking, but the choice was obvious. Prophetically or deliberately, Bowie portrays a stirring vulnerability across these seven jazz-tinged tracks like never before.
(2) Dance with the Dead, The Shape: It takes a lot to stand out among 80s-electronica throwback acts these days–anybody with a synthesizer and neon on their cover can ape John Carpenter. How does DwtD earn its stripes? By bringing dance-floor-ready beats and goosebump-inducing chants and guitar solos into the mix.
(3) Radiohead, A Moon-Shaped Pool: Cool, creeping, and cerebral as ever, Thom Yorke and company reassert their the radio-unfriendly art rock cred with monochrome majesty.
(4) Yeasayer, Amen and Goodbye: From mandolins to child choirs to funky beats, you never know what you’ll get with Yeasayer, but it’s sure to get stuck in your head. Underrated!
(5) Panic! at the Disco, Death of a Bachelor: Frontman Brendon Urie never met an abrupt genre change he didn’t like, but this mashup of glam-rock and swing is still unmistakably P!atD: Raucous, cocky, and Hot-Topical.
–Best Other Songs–
(1) “Light Tunnels,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Mike Slap: Selling genuine awe and being starstruck is hard when you’ve already topped the Billboard charts, but somehow Macklemore manages it on this breathless opening track.
(2) “Famous,” Kanye West feat. Rihanna and Swizz Beatz: I just wanted you to know.
(3) “Tiimmy Turner,” Desiigner: Straight, unintelligible fire.
(4) “Campaign Speech,” Eminem: Shady goes a capella–but anything but apolitical–and doesn’t let off the gas for eight minutes. If this is any indication of what his next album will be like, both Marshall Mathers LPs have some serious competition coming down the pipe
(5) “Exist,” Avenged Sevenfold: What else can you ask for in a prog-metal song but a Neil deGrasse Tyson cameo outro?
(6) “Starboy,” The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk: The inimitable hairdo may be gone, but electro-R&B’s golden boy goes for the triple and then some with this infectious title track.
–Best Books–
Embarrassingly, I can only recall one book published in 2016 that I read for pleasure this year: Atlas Obscura. But for anybody into world travel, pick up a (hefty) copy and start marking your maps for the most bizarre and/or fascinating sights the seven continents have to offer!
 –
And that’s about it! Best wishes for a bright(er) 2017. We can have no illusions of it being sunshine and roses, but neither should we resign ourselves to things just getting progressively worse. Every era has its own phase where folks think “it’s all downhill from here,” but self-fulfilling prophecies are the hardest ones to heed. Make the changes you want to see in the world in your own life, and let that conscience motivate you. Let it drive you pursue your goals, whether you want them taken care later today or in ten years.
And remember: this world can still make sense, if you don’t force it to.

New Story: “A Routine Tune-Up” (+Introducing NIGHTMARE FORCE)

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Happy almost-summer! Since last posting, I’ve finished my first year of law school at Cornell, and I’m currently gearing up for studying international law at the Sorbonne in Paris starting next week. In the meantime, though, I’ve been tending to a smaller project I started when progress on my novel (There’s Something Wrong with the Neighbor’s Cat) got to feeling too daunting in the short term. That project: a short prequel/interquel to a very different novel: Nightmare Force.

Some background, because this is a vignette/”spec script” of sorts: Nightmare Force is intended to be a horror/sci-fi thriller loosely based on “Binary DNA” (by “K.I. Simpson,” I think) and a handful of other creepypasta. The main characters are a team of six Engineering grad students at the fictional Cardinal University in New England; by day, they are the school’s “NetFixerz” tech support group, but by dark they are the “Nightmare Force,” hunting monsters, ghosts, interdimensional beings, and other entities that interfere with our world via electronic technology. Picture a hi-tech combination of The Brothers Grimm and Inception — with imagery drawn equally from cyberpunk and surrealist artists like Zdzisław Beksiński — and you’re not far off.

The circumstances of where the Nightmare Force obtained their skills — as well as how they first met — are mysteries to be slowly revealed over the course of the series. However, while I always told myself I’d never pull a Richard Kelly and assume everybody understood the elaborate universe I created after only sharing a quarter of it, this story features terms and tools that–for the sake of pacing and chronology with the rest of the planned series–I didn’t feel comfortable providing an exposition dump for. As such, I’ve added brief character bios and a glossary below, as well as links to a few relevant songs I listened to while writing. Feel free to read them first to understand what’s going on (WARNING: SOME SPOILERS), or just jump right in and check it later as the mood suits you!

Either way, put on your gloves, secure all the exits, and make sure your screwdriver is good and sharp, because it’s time for…

A Routine Tune-Up

#NightmareForce

– – –

Character Bios

  • Aron Lovelace: The primary leader. Aron is first in line to issue orders, interact with entities, and communicate with outside sources. He is professional and focused almost to a fault, but still knows how to lift his teammates’ spirits at one second and get down to business the next. Aron is asexual as well as dysamoric.
  • Ripley “Rip” Zeese: The “lifeline” and secondary leader. Although the team’s rotation schedule occasionally puts her “in the field,” Ripley generally operates from the secret Nightmare Force “HQ” with a triple-monitor computer array, lightning fast internet connection, and remote aid. When not in the field, she maintains constant contact with Aron via an earpiece, a responsibility which sometimes conflicts with her unrequited affection for him. For better or worse, her efficiency is owed to being a literal workaholic, as well as a variation of insomnia which allows her to only need three hours of sleep a night.
  • Calvin “Cal” Gutenberg: The data-collection expert. Cal studies for physical traces of an entity’s past or current presence, collecting samples when need be. He is chiefly tasked with using the “neo-vial,” a test tube-like device which produces information concerning the chemical composition of any substance put inside it. Cal is bulimic, but has yet to seek help.
  • Angela Redwall: The survey expert. Angela assess and secures the surroundings — digital and tangible — of the environment before the team “goes to work,” as well as the likely type of entity they face [“Classes” will be explained in a later post]. She has high-functioning autism.
  • Richard “Rich” Logenbach: Hardware expert: Richard is in charge of handling and managing the team’s arsenal and tools. Although Aron is the leader, Richard’s people skills are stronger and so he often helps ease potential clients and provide any relevant alibis. He is also a minimalist, and has a unique neurosis that can best be described as “compulsive charitableness.”
  • Fuller Narson: Co-hardware expert: Fuller works in tandem with Richard, although his knowledge of their hardware is not as extensive. Fuller suffers from an inferiority complex and severe codependency, and it is with awareness of this that Aron makes sure to emphasize the value of his contributions to the team.
  • Rod: Rod is Aron’s tulpa, a “thoughtform” which — as the only child of a broken home — he created to keep himself company. However, Rod slowly morphed from a joyful clone of Aron to a repository for his most perverse dormant emotions, and grew beyond Aron’s control to erase from existence. The two enjoy an uneasy relationship, as while Rod generally appears to humiliate or threaten Aron, it also has a unique insight into interdimensional beings and creepspace which it may impart to Aron — with or without him realizing it.

 – – –

Glossary

  • DEMON: In the world of Nightmare Force, all the ghosts, monsters, curses, and “haunted videos” you’ve heard about are real–though not as you’d expect. Rather, these phenomena are the result of quasi-parasitic beings from other dimensions which, for scientific reasons even the Nightmare Force has yet to fully understand, find the most efficient way to enter our world is through the electrical activity in computers, televisions, videogames, and other forms of modern technology. The origin of these beings can still vary, though, and hence the catch-all term “DEMONs”: Digitally-Embodied Malevolence and Organized Neuroses.
  • Gloves: The Nightmare Force wears gloves for the same reason construction workers or exterminators do: to prevent injury or “infection.” A specialized electric current running through the gloves prevents any DEMONs from harming, possessing, or otherwise interfering with the team while they manipulate technology with their hands.
  • //skeletonkey:  A codeword developed by the Nightmare Force to bypass extensive coding and alter a computer’s settings more efficiently. Although all of the team’s members have extensive coding experience, time is often of the essence, and a failed skeletonkey bypass is a quick sign that something is seriously wrong. The codeword’s usefulness is limited in that it will only work with computers that have been programmed to accept it (such as Cardinal’s school network).
  • Scrubbing: Although DEMONs can generally only move via a wire or direct signal, wireless cross-platform transmission (such as from a phone to a computer) is not impossible. As such, when security is a risk, Rip may remotely “scrub” sensitive connections to the team, shutting out DEMONs before they can enter. The process consumes enormous amounts of computing power and electricity, so it can only be performed for short bursts of time.
  • Code Omega: In the Nightmare Force’s line of work, frauds and mistakes are not uncommon, and even a legitimate threat may bide its time before displaying explicitly supernatural properties. “Code Omega” signifies that the team is unmistakably dealing with a DEMON, and must take appropriate actions.
  • Manny: Short for “manifestation” — refers to the form which a DEMON takes if it enters the “real world.”
  • Biotrackers: Minuscule tracking chips implanted in each member of the Nightmare Force, impenetrable and undetectable by any known devices except their own.
  • Creepspace: The nickname for a “transpsychological paradimension,” in which a DEMON may — through some form of sensory contact, such as touch or sight — abduct a person into a pocket dimension bound to its mind, like a spider dragging prey to its nest. Conventional laws of time and space will not necessarily apply in creepspace, and those trapped within may die or go insane before they can manage to escape. Voluntary entry into and exit from creepspace is possible but extremely risky, and no two pocket dimensions are alike.
  • Gun: The Nightmare Force’s guns fire tinted bullets which also carry a compressed electrical charge. For security’s sake, they will only function if handled while wearing charged gloves as well.

– – –

And finally, here’s some songs I like that capture the mood and themes of Nightmare Force:

The LD on L&D

Happy September, all! As is generally the case, I’m in no mood for a graceful opening segue, so I’ll just cut to the chase: It occurred to me a little while ago that while I may have mentioned it in passing, I haven’t actually given out much information about my next book, and that would be as good a way as any to pad out this blog between now and its eventual release.

So, let’s start with the name: It’s going to be called Love&Darkness (stylized as one word), and it’s another short story collection. The name alludes to the fact that, while there are still the lighthearted and “Twilight Zone-y” tales you saw in Distortions, a disproportionate amount will concern courtship, romance, and the brokenhearted. Additionally, though there’ll be at least as many “actual” stories as in its successor, about half of the book will be composed of poetry, with both elements deliberately arranged in thematic patterns. Right now, it’s about half-finished—I won’t say exactly how many pieces will be in it, because even though I have a precise number in mind, it might fluctuate later. I’ll say this, though: It’ll be at least twice as long as Distortions, and include reprints of all the stories posted on this site, plus most of the poems. A few weeks ago, I finished my most recent story “Were” (as in “werewolf”), and I’m currently at work on the next one, “Hi!”

Unfortunately, my attempt to quicken my writing schedule by establishing goals has had little to no effect, as I’ve thrice missed a self-imposed deadline. But since I’m a firm believer that if you don’t have a good reason to procrastinate, you might as well thoroughly explain your bad one, I’ll tell you a couple of the factors behind why I’m dragging my feet this time:

 

  1. I bought a used copy of Uncharted at PAX, and since my PS3’s (basically new) hard drive got corrupted again a few days ago, I feel a fair sense of urgency to complete it. However, things aren’t going too well so far, as it’s proven to be considerably more difficult than the sequel (or at least more repetitive) which does it no favors as a “cinematic” game. In fact, scratch the niceties—it’s demonstrably worse just for the insane difficulty of what I assume/hope is the final level, so the distraction it presents probably won’t go away, so much as be replaced by me (re)playing Fallout 3.
  2. While the mysterious nausea I so grieved about in a previous post has been considerably quelled by regular medication (although I still feel a more pronounced hunger during the night and morning than I remember from the first nineteen years of my life), a new foe has approached: Perpetual headaches! For the last week or two, I’ve been battling a pain that is irritating at best and a facsimile of Harry Potter eating ice cream too fast when he runs into Voldemort at worst. Since it sticks mostly to the area square above and around the nose, severe upper nasal congestion is the likeliest candidate, although allergies and summer-related dehydration are potential constituents as well. My paranoia about physical health being what it is, the doctor’s appointment I partook of the other day did little to ease my mind, although I’m taking his advice and popping some generic allergy meds for another seven days to see what happens. I guess my point is, it’s hard to sit and think in front of a glowing screen when it feels like little elves are hitting your sinus cavity with toffee hammers.
  3. The internet. Always the internet. If my primary residence wasn’t in the middle of the woods, where the bills for hooking up a satellite connection might as well have an “infinity” symbol on them, I probably wouldn’t even be able to type my own name without alternating between Facebook and Wikipedia every twenty seconds.

…And that’s all I’ve got to say for now, really. I Photoshopped together an idea I have for the cover, which I’ll give to Mr. Duquette in the near future so he can work his magic with a canvas and/computer. I’ll be moving up to Seatttle in about a month for my first quarter at University of Washington—it certainly won’t get any easier to write up there, but I won’t rest until you can read Love&Darkness as it stands in my mind right now!

Update about Amazon, among other things.

First of all, minor hiccups caused by here-and-there edits notwithstanding, the page for Distortions on Amazon.com should be live! Having said that, unlike B&N’s site (which, for reasons not readily apparent, has been adding relatively inaccurate “people who bought this also bought…” recommendations, despite a current sales tally of zero copies), there’s no directly integrated author info page. However, that’s actually good, because what it turns out Amazon has is “Author Central”, a sub-site of social networking features and media designed to help authors share themselves and their work with more people, fellow writers and average readers alike! Some of the stuff on there might be a little redundant, seeing as I’ve already got a blog and I’m not planning on tweeting at least until the real push for Love & Darkness comes around, but it’s my belief that until someone starts listening, you can’t say you’ve said something too much on the internet. But I digress: Here’s a link to the page in question, which may or may not fluctuate to a certain degree in the coming weeks.

Additionally, I’d like to take this moment to express my sincere sadness at the official closure of the Borders chain. I’m not crying myself to sleep or anything, because I know it’s not going to turn into Farenheit 451 overnight from here, but it is distressing to see what eBooks have done to the prospects of brick ‘n’ mortar stores. Were there other factors? Of course–the economy’s all over the place, for one (and in my personal opinion, there’s just not that many good new books out anyway). In any case, I can’t harp on the whole thing too much–after all, I’m selling my book(s) digitally at this very moment. But I don’t think I need to tell you that there’s no replacement for the real deal, and it bodes ill for the industry as a whole to see a corporation of this magnitude go under. Also, I’ve been something of a iPod junkie as of late, so the “& Music” part of their business is an equally troubling loss. However, there’s this Barnes & Noble in Seattle with a second floor full of albums… so there’s always that, for now.

There’s Something Wrong with the Neighbor’s Cat: Character Profiles

Hey, all! It occurred to me that I haven’t put out as much preview info on my upcoming book as I probably should, so here’s some relatively spoiler-proof profiles of the main characters in There’s Something Wrong with the Neighbor’s Cat:

Nick Smiths: The son of computer sales executives from Western Washington, Nick is quick-witted and determined (when need be), but prone to letting his mind wander. He enjoys gaming, aimless internet surfing, and playing drums in a “temporarily unnamed” garage band with his friends, while his relationship with his business-minded parents and college-going sister is decidedly neutral. Nick is fresh out of junior year and ready for summer vacation, but his life is about to take a turn for the hyper awesome when he adopts his neighbor’s cat…

Niki: Niki is an Omaneki, a Spirited being capable of transforming from a human to a cat at will, retaining both higher intelligence and feline abilities in either form. She is curious, excitable, and prone to emotional swings, traits which are exacerbated the longer she stays in cat form. However, she can become serious and cunning at the drop of a hat, always keeping friends on their toes. Her role in the story should be more than a little self-evident.

Tanner: Tanner is a tanuki, a Spirited raccoon-dog that can turn into other objects and living beings at the drop of a hat. Tanner has adopted a very “American” attitude from his time in Centralia: He is crass, blunt, and rarely seen without a beer in hand. However, he means well, and stands resolutely by his assignment to protect Niki. Tanner is particularly proud of owning Plot Device, a “hypersonic biplane” which he utilizes for rapid travel.

Mimi and Lole Otakawai: A pair of young Omaneki siblings, the Otakawai twins were raised on the internet, having displayed an aptitude for technology since birth. As such, they converse almost entirely in jumbled “net-speak” and joke references, which makes communication difficult. The Otakawais are skilled with manipulating virtually all forms of coding and operating system, as well as a variety of artillery. Mimi and Lole share Niki’s zeal for discovery, though the pair is far more adventurous and strategic, provided their bickering doesn’t prevent them from working together.

Nefiria Racknyd: Though her motives and history are not always clear, Nefiria periodically serves as an impartial aide to Nick and company–when it suits her. She is a fiercely independent girl (her standard dress is a mismatched combo of tropical and goth garb), but tends to think of herself as more philosophical than she actually is. She enjoys underage-drinking exotic cocktails and finding excuses to flaunt her looks. What’s the catch, you ask? Well, depends how hungry she is…

First Info on My First Novel

I’m here to officially announce my first “real” book: There’s Something Wrong with the Neighbor’s Cat.

It’s an adventure-mystery-comedy that mixes modern and ancient Japanese lore with American life. There’ll be monsters and awkward romance, and it takes place in Washington state. So, it’s like Twilight, but awesome.