Musical orbits: Beck

Prince was a massive talent, no doubt. That he was producing and selling music somewhere in the range of forty years or so, makes his presence on the scene both formidable and legendary. Just like millions of other fans, I’ll miss his music, but his death has me reflecting on others with similar work ethic and, occasionally, producing songs that somehow channel the spirit of Prince.

Beck is up first. He’s been in the public eye since the release of his first album, Odelay, in 1999. (Appropriate year, no?) Beck is a multi-instrumentalist and musical chameleon with influences all over the map. Despite those beneficial similarities to Prince, and the worthiness of checking out Beck’s oeuvre, I want to focus on the one album of Beck’s that stunned me as a sort of artistic homage to Prince: Midnight Vultures. Beck considers his fourth album to be more R&B than anything else, based on some interviews I’ve read. As far as I’m concerned, it may as well be a Prince album produced by Beck. Track after track match the offbeat R&B that Prince performed so well—even the falsetto vocals. Except it’s all filtered through the Becktionary, a cultural mash-up machine he uses as a brain. Since Beck’s background starts about twenty years removed from Prince and on the west coast, he has incorporated hip-hop and Latin stylings from the region into his repertoire. If you haven’t yet heard the album and you’re a fan of Prince, you won’t be disappointed. Check it out.

http://amzn.to/1YrxYdn

Beck,  Midnight Vultures

Beck, Midnight Vultures

Next time, we visit Emerald City. ;-)

Prince, 1958–2016

My last post on this blog was in March. I didn’t intend it to be that way. Life got hard, as it does, and Prince died. Life ≠ Prince, but Prince's music was a significant part of my life. Rather than lament life’s twists and turns, I’ll just tell my Prince story and get on with doing the creative things as often as possible.

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when music became a serious interest. I’d have to guess I was around thirteen, just getting used to the idea of high school, completely ignorant of the oncoming problem of after high school. Up until that moment, I’d been using my mom’s cassette-tape recorder, pressed up against an old radio (on top of my grandmother’s old black and white television, in my room, naturally) to record songs I liked. It was the kind of recorder that lays flat and you had to push two buttons for it to record.

Like this thing, but so much cooler.

Like this thing, but so much cooler.

This was during a time when there were multiple radio stations playing songs by people who were actually musicians rather than this handful of corporations who own radio stations all over the country. It was a bit tricky to hear the songs you wanted because there was so much on the radio and not nearly as much repetition as there is today. I don’t recall recording any Prince tunes, but I do remember begging my dad for a record player. It was a Yorx turntable with external speakers from Lechmere or Sears. Silver motif, smoked cover, it’d be considered “vintage” today. It was crap. I loved it.

My Yorx was something like this low-grade beast. I didn't have an eight-track player in mine, however.

My Yorx was something like this low-grade beast. I didn't have an eight-track player in mine, however.

My next task was to beg for cash so that I could buy an album. This, of course, led to Prince. The very first album I ever bought was his double-LP, 1999. (The second was Vanity 6, but that’s another story.) I played that album to death, wore grooves into it with my cheap needle and heavy turntable arm. That made it difficult for any other turntable to play it. Which was fine, because everyone had their own copy.

The title track for 1999 tore up radio stations in Boston, whether they were pop or R&B. Based on that single alone, expectations for the album were set, and anyone who’d been aware of Prince to-date was in for a surprise. 1999 feels like a logical progression from Controversy, which followed Dirty Mind. His first two albums, Prince and For You, are cut from a different cloth entirely. And the experience of a Prince album is always a mixed and ever-evolving bag. One minute it’s a funky, danceable, big beat and radio-friendly track like “1999.” The next is something like “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” or “All The Critics Love U In New York.” Like a new friend, every Prince album took time to understand, to enjoy, to relax with. And since I was an aspiring artist, it led to stuff like this.

Prince, circa 1984. Anyone who was cool looked like this. So, no one was cool. (Except Prince, he was cool.)

Prince, circa 1984. Anyone who was cool looked like this. So, no one was cool. (Except Prince, he was cool.)

Like all the other kids in my neighborhood, I was steeped in R&B, Funk, and Hip-Hop. That meant Rock, New Wave, Punk and other genres of music went unheard or—to our detriment—culturally scorned. I remember a phase of life where everyone seemed to be of the mind that any music featuring guitar was “white” music and being associated with anything “white” was a capital offense. Absurd and historically ignorant. Prince wandered into the musical corner we’d somehow painted ourselves into and swung that guitar like Thor’s hammer, scattered people all over the musical map, forcing an exploration to understand this sound that he was developing in plain sight. Prince was a musical genius, no doubt, and delving into his influences is a bridge too far for me. But I am going to take a crack at those influenced by Prince, musicians who come from the same circles or have, in some ways, adopted the musical journeyman ethic that Prince embodied. 

Stay tuned…

Primitive Art

Since opening the tee shirt shop online, I've been poking around my hard drive looking for past dalliances that I might repurpose for tee shirt artwork. I started flipping through my daughters' artwork that I'd scanned for safekeeping when I came across this one. (My eldest really enjoys art.) They were studying "primitive art" in her fourth grade art class and she painted this postcard-sized, black and white design which I have since colored and touched up. Primitive is now available in the tee shop, I am quite proud to announce. The first of several upcoming collaborations with my daughter, I hope!

Tee shirt designs now live!

Here's something I've always wanted to do and never quite got around to it. Well, that's over! There's a pile of designs on my list, but I've put together some of my favorites and they're available in my brand spankin' new Artist Shop on Threadless! I'm honestly excited to start getting these out of my head and into print. More to come, as I have time.

Another service I'm developing is providing design for authors to promote their work in a profit-sharing, print-on-demand environment. Rather than have boxes of product in storage, the Threadless system—much like Amazon—can keep stock available for as long or as short as needed. Ideally, elements from the author's book cover can be used (or the book cover itself), and design/production fees as low as a $10 set-up fee are possible with profit share.

Turbo Kid

Get it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1YiuGJK

The year the world devolves into water-starved wastelands? 1997. And a superhero shall emerge. Well, maybe, sort of. The film follows the adventures of The Kid, an orphaned boy in the “Wastelands,” an alternate future where water is scarce. A mysterious girl, Apple, who befriends The Kid, turns out to be something other than what she appears. She is the catalyst that puts the Turbo Rider-obsessed boy on a path to becoming Turbo Kid. What's a superhero without a personal villain, someone who has done irreparable damage to the hero's life? Enter Zeus, and assorted henchpersons, the baddest of which is the mute Skeletron. The film’s antagonist is played by the ever antagonistic actor, Michael Ironsides, who provides a fitting foil to everyone—but especially The Kid. Fortunately The Kid has another ally, besides Apple, in the grizzled, Aussie, cowboy, arm-wrestler Frederic. These are just a few of the inspired, go-for-it characters populating the mad, apocalyptic, and violent future where clean water is scarce and you need a bicycle to get around.

This movie is a fine addition for aficionados of the golden garbage heap that was 80s post-apocalyptic films. From the likes of Metalstorm to Parasite to Steel Dawn and the boundary breaking Mad Max; Turbo Kid steps in and ups the gory ante without trying to be too complex about it. Funny, bloody, and sincere. There is just something special about modern films that use tried and true practical effects, a simple story, and committed acting to make it all come together in low-budget nirvana. This is one of those flicks.

Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden

Buy it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1p5Yrlm

There are more than a few skin-crawling moments in this book about doppelgängers showing up in the worst possible way. Rather than a double who wants to quietly live their own life, these are mysterious others on a punishing timetable who are desperate to take over the lives of their counterparts, for better or worse. The addition of dangerous consequences to both duplicates and originals ups the ante. A big part of the tension in the story comes from how and why of the situation. Combined with the strained, interpersonal connections of the characters and the speedy prose, it’s as much about horror as the thrills of being confronted with something they think they can escape. Some of the scenes in this book are terrifying, they bring to life certain fears involving personal invasion and loss of family, the very human struggle against someone hellbent on altering the course of another’s life. The suspense builds slowly, just long enough to want to “shout at the screen” to warn the protagonists. Which brings us to the real strength of the book: the characters and their diverse presentation. Golden doesn’t burn word count sketching out inane details, he skillfully weaves the characterization through their actions and interactions with friends and relatives. When one reacts strongly to another, it’s understandable and this is what allows the story to flow. Even when it’s clear where the duplicates are from and why they are present, it doesn’t hamper the forward progress of the story. When the reader has that mystery revealed, it doesn’t distract from the narrative. In fact, the background surrounding the protagonists and the antagonists drops a seed of interest to cover not only the characters’ pasts, but the past of the… You’ll have to read the book to know what I mean. You won’t be disappointed as fears you never knew you had are brought to the surface.

Boskone 53

I'm both excited and nervous to be a part of the program at Boskone this year. It was an honor to have been asked and I'm on several panels. I also have the privilege of participating on a panel with one of my favorite authors—one I never thought I'd have the opportunity to meet. I will not disclose the name here, because if we end up in a knife fight or something, I might have to change my tune.

Join me at Boskone (February 19-21, 2016) in Boston, Massachusetts, for New England's longest running science fiction and fantasy convention. It's going to be a fun weekend filled with books, film, art, music, gaming, and more. For more information about Boskone, start with the web site or jump right to the program schedule.

 

Diversity in Illustration For Fantastic Fiction/Comics/Graphic Novels

Friday 19:00 - 19:50, Harbor III (Westin)

Illustration powerfully shapes your sense of a story. A character's skin tone, build, beauty, age, socioeconomic status — writers may leave them up to the reader, but illustrators must make conscious decisions about all these matters, and more. How sensitive are you to whether (or how) an artist portrays diversity? In genre art, which titles and creators do diversity well? In general, do you think illustration makes a genre story more vivid, or limits its imagination? 

Robert Howard (M), Thomas Kidd, Sheeba Maya, Errick Nunnally, Brianna Spacekat Wu

 

Noir at the Bar Special Edition Boskone

Friday 21:00 - 22:20, Galleria-Stage (Westin)

Noir at the Bar comes to Boskone for a special night of reading and fun with our noir, crime, mystery, and horror writers. Hosted by Chris Irvin and Errick Nunnally.

Chris Irvin (M) , Errick Nunnally (M), Dana Cameron, Christopher Golden, John Langan, Sarah Langan, James Moore, Melinda Snodgrass, Paul G. Tremblay

 

Marvel Films vs. Marvel Comics

Saturday 13:00 - 13:50, Harbor II (Westin)

Marvel’s film and comics divisions are now under separate management. But differences have been apparent from the first as they expanded the mix of characters and story arcs. From Blade to Iron Man and X-Men to The Avengers — from Pepper Potts to Peter Parker, and Ben Grimm to the galaxy’s most motley "Guardians" — how have your favorites made the transition from panel to pixel, or back again? What elements of the comics should be retained, mixed in, or discarded? How true are they staying to the original source material? And most importantly, for you, which genre is the most pure fun?

Gillian Daniels (M), James Bacon, Robert Howard, Errick Nunnally, Lauren Roy

 

Kaffeeklatsch 2: Errick Nunnally

Saturday 16:00 - 16:50, Harbor I-Kaffeeklatsch 2 (Westin)

 

Fight vs. Flight: Great Action Scenes

Saturday 17:00 - 17:50, Harbor III (Westin)

Climbing the Cliffs of Insanity, sword fighting with Inigo Montoya, and wrestling Fezzik: all action scenes are not the same. Describing them so that the reader sees them in her mind's eye and holds her breath for the outcome — that's the art of writing action scenes. But what does it take to pull it off?

Craig Shaw Gardner (M), Wesley Chu, Tom Easton, Flourish Klink, Errick Nunnally

 

Writing: The Value (and Pitfalls) of Oft-Given Advice

Sunday 12:00 - 12:50, Marina 3 (Westin)

In fantasy, should you write what you know — or something that no one has even imagined? Received wisdom isn't always correct. But flout its conventions at your peril ... or listen to our panelists to find out what today's writers really think about yesterday's best advice.

F. Brett Cox (M), Errick Nunnally, Walter Jon Williams, E. Lily Yu, David Gerrold

 

The Changing Landscape of Comics

Sunday 14:00 - 14:50, Marina 3 (Westin)

Comic books have seen many changes since the first big boom of the 1930s. From the superheroes of the Golden Age to the romance comics of the 1950s and 1960s to today's darker, more complex characters and stories, the landscape always alters and shifts. We've moved away from the Comics Code; indie and web comic publishers flourish. What roles have TV and film played in putting comics on the map worldwide? What's coming next? Can comics maintain the momentum? 

Brenda Noiseux (M), Gillian Daniels, Grady Hendrix, Robert Howard, Errick Nunnally

The Magical Negro

"It is not easy to pinpoint the reason why Magical Negroes exist, for no one can truly say where stories come from, not even the authors."

I tend to think they're a result of a "white" author trying to reconcile the continuing shockwaves from the "peculiar institution" and the authors not having the up-close, personal experience to pull it off. The result is another caricature, an inauthentic but wonderful and mysterious creature whose benefits are unknown until their usually tragic end. Not to apologize for the tendency, but certain kinds of help are just not needed.

http://strangehorizons.com/2004/20041025/kinga.shtml

#ConversationsWithLeon

Tea

“How many more o’ these we gotta do?”

“Just a couple more, Leon.”

Holden released the results of their last session into the machine tracking the Voight-Kampff test. The detective still couldn’t tell if Leon was the cagiest person he’d ever met or just had the mental acrobatic ability of a rock. He had two more scenarios to run and it didn’t seem like his man was going to make it through even one more. Still, that was the assignment. Leon had to know that.

“Really? A couple? Two more?”

“Yes, Leon. I thought your supervisor had filled you in.”

“Well, yeah, but she just said it’d be a few questions not all this fairy tale stuff.”

“You think this is fairy tale stuff. Huh?”

“Yeah. You’re just makin’ stories up and puttin’ me in ‘em.”

“Fair enough, but it’s just two more. Okay? Then we’re done.”

“…”

"I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you, Leon."

"I said: Fine."

“Okay." Holden took a deep breath. "Here’s the scenario: you’re making tea—”

“Tea?”

Holden looked directly into Leon’s eyes. “Yes, tea. You’ve had tea before?”

“Naw. Never had no tea.”

“But you know what it is?”

“O’ course, I’m not stupid. I know people drink it.”

“Right.” Holden held the bigger man’s glare for a few seconds before moving on. “You’re making tea, you’ve got a friend over, and you ask them, ‘would you like some tea?’”

“I do?”

“Sure, you’re being polite.”

“Okay, yeah, I’m polite. That’s good.”

“It is, Leon, absolutely.”

“Thanks.”

“Now, they answer: they don’t want tea. You’ve made enough for two, but they don’t want any. What do you do?”

“Whaddyou mean? They don’t want any? Why not? I made it for ‘em. Right?”

“I don’t know, Leon, they just don’t. The important part here is what do you do?”

Leon leaned back in his chair and folded his thick arms. “What do you think I’ll do?”

“This isn’t about me, Leon, it’s about your decisions.”

“My decision.”

“That’s right.”

“I don’t do nothin’ then.”

“You don’t ask again?”

“No.” He sat up and unfolded his arms, anxiety plain on his face. “Why? Should I ask ‘em again, would that be polite?”

“You tell me.”

The crease between Leon’s brows deepened and his eyes darted left and right. He chewed his lip and said, “It wouldn’t be polite to bother my friend.”

“Wouldn’t it? Maybe they want tea and they don’t want to impose.”

“What?” Leon stood up. “That don’t make no sense. Maybe you’re the rude one.”

Detective Holden raise his hands, but other than that made no sudden moves. He wasn’t going to lie to himself, the big man made him nervous. “Okay, Leon, it’s no problem at all. You gave your answer, it was a good one. And you were honest. Right?”

“Yeah. O’ course I was honest. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Right, sure thing. Could you sit down, Leon? The machine can’t record your responses properly if you’re not sitting and looking at it.”

Leon took a deep breath and unclenched his aching fingers. Then he sank slowly into his chair.

“Good, thanks, Leon, there’s just one more scenario to go through. Remember?”

“Just one more?”

“That’s right, just one more and we’re done.”

“Good, ‘cause I wanna get back to work, I got stuff I gotta finish.”

“Of course you do, I understand. Okay, in this next one, you’re in the desert and there’s a turtle…”

#ConversationsWithLeon

Traffic

Officer Holden tweaked a setting on the device tracking the Voight-Kampff test before taking a slow drag on his cigarette. Leon waited with the impatience of a twelve-year old boy, eyeing the detective with a toxic mix of confusion and malice.

“Okay, Leon, just keep looking into the device here. I just have a few more questions.”

“More questions?”

“Yeah, just a few more scenarios.”

“Why? I already answered some questions.”

“You did, Leon, thank you. We want to be sure everything’s squared away so you can head on home. Is that okay?”

“Yeah, sure, I guess.”

“Okay, great. Here we go. You’re driving on a two-lane road—”

“I ain’t got a driver’s license.”

“That’s fine. This is just a hypothetical.”

“What’s a ‘hypothetical’? Is that like a ‘hypodermic’?”

“No, Leon, it’s a hypothetical situation, meaning it’s a—”

“I know what that means. What you said made it seem like a thing, a—what’s it—a noun.”

“Right. Sorry. So, you’re driving on a two-lane road—”

“What about my license? ‘Cause I ain’t got one and if I get pulled over, the cops—.”

“You don’t need a license, don’t worry.” Holden sat back and regarded Leon for a moment, wondering at the big man’s answers, letting the machine click into the silence. He leaned back in and continued. “There’s two lanes and your lane is moving quickly, there’s traffic, but it’s going right along.”

“Where am I going?”

“Excuse me?”

“Where. Am. I. Going?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It does to me.”

“Fine. You’re going to work. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“There’s traffic in both lanes, but yours is going fast. The other lane’s all stopped. They’re waiting for a truck. It’s stopped with the blinker on, it wants to make a left turn, across your lane.”

“And no one’s letting him go?”

“That’s right, Leon. No one’s letting the truck driver make the turn.”

“That’s being a dick, right there.”

“Yes, it is.”

“I’d let the guy go. Gotta make a living. Right? I mean, he’s probably got a job like mine. What is my job, anyway?”

“Let’s not get into that detail right now. Okay? You said you’d let him turn?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“But if you do, you’re going to be late to work.”

“I’d still let him turn.”

“Even if you’d been chronically late and one more time you get fired?”

“Well… Yeah. ‘Cause I’m not a dick.”

Holden took a few more notes and a few more drags off of his cigarette. Leon watched.

“Is that the right answer?” Leon asked.

“There are no right or wrong answers, Leon.”

“Then what the fuck kind of test is this?”

“It’s just to determine—”

“This is bullshit. How can I pass the test if there’s no right or wrong?”

“Just calm down, Leon, we’ll be done soon.”

“Then I can go?”

“Yes, then you’ll be able to go.”

Leon didn’t believe the cop at all. There was right and wrong and it wasn’t fair to ask him questions that didn’t have answers.

Dear White People

I recently watched this movie by writer/director Justin Simien. It takes place at a fictional ivy league school where tensions are on the rise between black and white students and faculty. For a first-time director, Simien wrings lovely visuals out of his film, frames great shots, and gets excellent performances out of most of the actors. Its most impressive aspect, I found, was that the narrative packs in all the personalities, situations, and the subsequent friction in between that American culture at-large has to deal with. To paraphrase the director, 'it's about people who are navigating a culture that has largely defined them before they have even had the opportunity to define themselves.'  There are some great comedic moments and examples of every situation that the United States struggles with every day.

See it, pay attention to every side of the equation, ask questions of your friends and yourselves. There's a lot on display here and it goes a long way towards explaining what is causing so many "interracial" problems around us.

Influences

An influence map is the current trend making the round amongst authors. I was "tagged" by James A. Moore to share one. The request only demands two influences, but when I looked into it—and having seen some of the maps my friends put together—I decided to go full Monty. In doing so, the map took a different road. My early, formative years weren't spent around other people with similar interests. As a result, I didn't have a network of people offering up new or different books and authors to check out. Whatever I came across became my influence and that included everything from books to comics, to movies and toys.

Here's the key:

  1. Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451 was the first Bradbury book I'd read, for a school assignment, but it was The Illustrated Man that really opened my eyes. As a collection, it opened my eyes to the power of speculative fiction, to how many places a story can go. I still have a copy of the book, borrowed from a library that no long exists.
  2. David Gerrold - There used to be a bookstore of questionable origins beneath the elevated tracks of the Orange Line train in Boston, the Dover stop. It was near my father's job, so I got familiar with it along the way and when I was able to ride the MBTA on my own, I'd stop in whenever I could. It was there that I picked up a coverless copy of A Day For Damnation, the third in the War Against The Chtorr series. At the time, I had no idea why so many books and comics in the store were bereft of covers. After that moment, however, I went on a Gerrold bender, reading everything I could get my hands on (purchased legally) and I eventually picked up a copy of his book on writing, Worlds of Wonder before finishing my first novel.
  3. Isaac Asimov - the definitive author of all things robot and more. I read the Foundation Series and loved it, but it was The Caves of Steel that really blew my mind. I was of the same mind as Asimov's colleague, John Campbell, who believed that there could be no mysteries set in science fiction. These books and more proved that thought way, way wrong. And introduced a couple of wonderful protagonists. I'd love to see these books—and I, Robot—adapted accurately to the big (or little) screen.
  4. John Buscema - This guy's work was some of the definitive style I absorbed from Marvel. His early run on Spider-Man, subsequent Avengers and Conan runs—they were, and remain, amazing, dynamic, and inspirational. I believe I got How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way as a Christmas gift, one year. I wore that book completely out through high school and had to pick up a newer addition sometime before art school.
  5. Aboriginal Science Fiction - For about a decade, I was subscribed to this spec-fic mag and the parade of sci-fi magnificence they published raged on until the publication folded in '91. I learned a lot from that lot.
  6. Randall Robinson - Lawyer, activist, and author. Robinson founded TransAfrica, an organization dedicated to influencing U.S. policy with regard to all countries from the African diaspora and had been an influential and outspoken adversary of apartheid. His books, The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to Each OtherThe Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, and Defending the Spirit, were all key in my personal education about America and the world.
  7. Bill Watterson - I love comics. Comic strips too. As long as I can remember, I would voraciously read the funny pages and even comb the newspaper for editorial comics—even though I didn't understand them. If I'd had some kind of guidance at the time, I might've spent my life trying to become a comic-strip cartoonist instead of trying it on for a little while. When Watterson came along with Calvin & Hobbes, he embodied not only the best writing and artistic talents of the past and present, he had an artistic integrity that was unassailable. My very favorite quote from Watterson, adapted by Zen Pencils, is something I've tried to adjust my life to match.
  8. Jack Kirby - My mom used to read comics to me when I was a child, a major contribution to my flaws today. Fantastic Four and Thor. Both big Kirby vehicles. After that, I followed his work wherever I could, Kamandi, Devil Dinosaur, OMAC, Black Panther, Captain America, The Avengers, The Hulk, never having a clue the kind of influence he was having on the comics industry as a whole or the stories I was reading.
  9. Micronauts - Before it was a comic book and a failed movie property, the Micronauts were an open narrative toy set. A bunch of characters that could be anything a kid wanted. They had vehicles, they had weapons, and they didn't just have cities. They had cities you could build any way you wanted. There was nothing that made me happier as long as I had them. Toys without narratives attached. I miss them...
  10. Prince - When I started listening to music, 1999 was the first album I ever bought. I know that album frontwards and backwards, every line of the LP sleeve memorized. (I was rather surprised to find that penis in the title.) This turned into a long and varied decent into Prince's musical catalog. What I found was a unique approached to music and a guy who could turn the usual love song into something entertaining.
  11. Robert A. Heinlein - I've read several of Heinlein's books, but Stranger In A Strange Land and Starship Troopers are the ones that really warped my brain. Not only had Heinlein introduced new or popularized words into the English language, he coined the phrase "speculative fiction." His sociopolitical approach to sci-fi were most influential to me.
  12. Malcolm X - The arc of Malcolm's life, his involvement in the civil rights movement, everything about his evolution to his death prompts thought. Which leads to influence.
  13. Star Wars - 1977, this movie blew my mind. Eleven times. It's such a basic story, in hindsight, it just cobbles together aspects from all kinds of established movies, fairy tales, and what have you. None of which I was aware of when I was nine-years old. The SFX, the sound, the menagerie of aliens. Even the technique of starting a story somewhere in the middle. All of that was defined for me by Star Wars.

Winning

Contest entered and won. With Corvid Design, makers of amazing and compelling book covers. I'm really looking forward to taking advantage of this opportunity to work with them. Below is the winning entry and the premade book cover that inspired it:

Since the event horizon at Sagittarius A reversed and began pushing matter into our part of the universe instead of sucking it out, there have been inconceivable anomalies occurring on Earth and other planets in the solar system. Some appear to be benign, like the mostly immaterial aerozoans that now roam the atmosphere sending out an incomprehensible song in the low hertz. While other effects have rendered entire continents of people mute or raised new islands in the middle of the ocean.
Ashleigh had been on track to reclaim a normal life until the black hole at the center of the the Milky Way reversed itself. She never missed a check-in with her parole officer and  earned an associate’s degree in business studies at the local community college. She was looking forward to a shift from the high-stakes and low-return lifestyle she’d just crashed and burned, to something more stable. Now she’s certain that she can understand the song of the aerozoans and it may mean an end to the Earth itself unless she can convince the right people in the world to listen and prepare for what’s coming next from the other side of the universe.

And I really like the idea. Jeez, now I gotta write the damn book...

Watson & Holmes: A Study In Black

I’ve read several of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories featuring the gifted and influential detective, Sherlock Holmes, and his trustworthy partner, Dr. John Watson. More than a few years ago, I had the idea to create my own version—as many others have—only mine would be African-American and muddling through state college. At some point, I mentioned this to a friend and they pointed me at the graphic novels, Watson & Holmes, featuring black protagonists. Curses, foiled again! 

Recently, I picked up the first in the series at my local library. (Much love to my local library, they help me with my comic book problems.) What follows is strictly my aesthetic opinion and hardly an honest critique. Since I started reading comics, it was the artwork that always attracted me first. Eventually, I would follow series mostly for the artists and I found that the better the art, the more likely the story followed suit.

The art in Watson & Holmes: A Study In Black was serviceable, it got the job done and displayed the story with professional competence. And I didn’t like it. Rick Leonardi illustrated the bulk of the book and he employed a “rough hewn” style which I rarely enjoy. It creates a look that appears unfinished, to me, as if the storyboards were fleshed out and dry-inked in a hurry. Also, I find Leonardi better suited to drawing over-the-top superheroes than detectives on the street. The cover is lovely, however. Karl Bollers’ script was also serviceable, it got the job done, moved Holmes along to meet up with Watson and off they go. But Holmes’ logic in this story seemed less logic and more leaps of fantasy involving either chance or precognition. The introduction of Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, seemed rushed and disjointed. Where the character was visually authentic to the original, the character himself was a slapdash hodgepodge of “classic” Mycroft and black cultural stereotypes. There were typesetting errors as well. It may be idiosyncratic of me, but type that’s crushed up against word bubbles and, especially, typos, really throw me off the story in a comic book. The last quarter of the book, a sort of self-contained short related to the initial story arc, is illustrated by Larry Stroman. I have largely enjoyed Stroman’s work, but over the years I’ve gotten a sense of when he’s cranking work out in a hurry. This appears to be one of those occasions where his character design and layouts fall into his familiar rut. Overall, as an adaptation of a popular subject, it succeeds. In that Holmes and Watson are iconic but new characters, this graphic novel series is a nice direction to go for the characters.

All-in-all, I’ll give the next book a go to see how matters have been adjusted. Volume 2 features three new writers and two new illustrators. In the meantime, this has hardly dissuaded me from pursuing my own version, seeing that the only similarities in adaptation would be skin color.

A smattering of constrictions

I often wonder at how our language binds us. English is often a very blunt language, very direct, which explains why it has become both the world’s preferred language of business as well as it’s preferred military language among pilots and others. The words we use to describe each other, the incidental boxes and all the baggage that comes with trying to read between the lines while using a language that offers precious little space between those lines for understanding. Not much for vagary, English, as it’s practiced in America, almost forces us to box things up, put a label on, be concise. In some matters, this is helpful, in others, however, I’m not so sure. Here’s something that happened the other night. It’s here twice. One accounting omits the precision that American English sometimes demands, the other does not.

A young woman with long dark hair and very pale skin, hauled a wheeled suitcase onto the sidewalk near me. She wore a pink sweatsuit with gold highlights and white flip-flops that had yellow trim. Frankly, she stood out in the light, evening crowds. It was a cool, winter night, and people were moving quickly, they had places to be. This woman, however, seemed lost. You know the look: head on a swivel, a little nervous, indecisive footsteps. I looked at her, she looked through me. I’d gone invisible, no doubt, it happens sometimes.

“Esuse me?” 

The woman she’d spoken to continued walking, ignoring the polite interruption. Other people flowed around her, drinks to have, shows to see, trains to catch. My train was going to leave the station at 5:40, I had about ten minutes of speed-walking to go in order to catch it. The early nightfall didn’t help. It tended to color the end of the day with a little desperation, time has been struck from our universe and we want to reclaim it. During the long winter months, the feeling of being late comes early every day.

She glanced around a bit more.

It is a pet peeve of mine when someone is asking for help and being ignored. Despite the perception that I had been passed over as someone worthy of providing aid, I stopped and turned. I hoped a smile and “can I help you?” written on my face would change her mind.

She took a few hesitating steps, trying to see if there was anyone else she might ask, then she went ahead in her thick accent, “Tassee?”

I struggled both with the word and not looking too confused. I tried the word out on my tongue, hoping to dope out what she was asking. “‘Tassee’?”

“Yes, I nee tassee.”

Ah, taxi. There was a hotel not a half a block in front of us. I pointed and smiled. “Taxi.”

She thanked me and headed for the cab, beating a straight path through the dark to what I thought could be her evening’s salvation.


And once more:

A young, Chinese woman with long dark hair and very pale skin, hauled a wheeled suitcase onto the sidewalk near me. She wore a pink sweatsuit with gold highlights and white flip-flops that had yellow trim. Frankly, she stood out in the light, evening crowds. It was a cool, winter night, and people were moving quickly, they had places to be. This woman, however, seemed lost. You know the look: head on a swivel, a little nervous, indecisive footsteps. I looked at her, she looked through me. I’d gone invisible, no doubt, it happens sometimes to black people.

“Esuse me?” 

The white woman she’d spoken to continued walking, ignoring the polite interruption, an air of indestructibility her armor as she left her offices somewhere in the financial behemoth we’d all found ourselves in front of. Other people flowed around her, drinks to have, shows to see, trains to catch. My train was going to leave the station at 5:40, I had about ten minutes of speed-walking to go in order to catch it. The early nightfall didn’t help. It tended to color the end of the day with a little desperation, time has been struck from our universe and we want to reclaim it. During the long winter months, the feeling of being late comes early every day.

She glanced around a bit more, maybe wondering what a six-foot tall, bearded and brown stranger might do to her.

It is a pet peeve of mine when someone is asking for help and being ignored. Being ignored, however, when offering help is just as grating. Despite the perception that I had been passed over as someone worthy of providing aid, I stopped and turned. I hoped a smile and “can I help you?” written on my face would change her mind.

She took a few hesitating steps, trying to see if there was anyone else she might ask, then she went ahead in her thick accent, “Tassee?”

I struggled both with the word and not looking too confused. Feeling put off by her tacit dismissal and otherness, I tried the word out on my tongue, hoping to dope out what she was asking, trying to be a better person and dismiss the popular opinion that told me she had it in for me because of my skin color. “‘Tassee’?”

“Yes, I nee tassee.”

Ah, taxi. There was a hotel not a half a block in front of us. I pointed and smiled. “Taxi.”

She thanked me and headed for the cab, beating a straight path through the dark to what I thought could be her evening’s salvation.


Is one recounting more honest than the other, more precise? Does it matter? How and why? What got me here? Will I ever not be here, will we, will our children?

Rhode Island Author Expo

On December 5, 2015, it happened. At the Lincoln Mall, in a space next to Five Below, I had a table set up right near the front. It was exciting to be participating in this event. There were upwards of one-hundred Rhode Island authors and other artists, each with their own table. Not nearly as tight as I expected and surprising-not-surprising there are so many authors in this tiny state—in any state, really. As much as popular opinion seems to believe that reading (and writing) are somehow dying, the desire to be an author—and to read—don’t appear to be going away anytime soon. 

This was my first rodeo with the Association of Rhode Island Authors (ARIA) and I’m told there were several hundred attendees at last year’s event. This year, more were expected. Ads had run in local papers, all the appropriate promotional outlets had been notified, and there it was. At this point, I have no idea how many people attended. Despite being at the front of the long venue, I can’t even begin to estimate how many people entered and walked the loop perusing four rows of original content. I did sell a few books, so that was cool.

Alias: Jessica Jones

As this is likely the millionth post regarding the Netflix show “Jessica Jones,” I’ll try to keep it brief. Here’s the synopsis: if you care about such things and are unaware, then you’re some kind of paranoid conspiracy theorist who’s been living in an underground bunker for the last two years. No one’s talking to you. When “Alias” (the comic) was first released as the flagship title of Marvel’s MAX line of comics, I was hooked. Brian Michael Bendis’s story blew me away and Michael Gaydos’s art was well and surely up to the task of rendering this street-level character’s day to day life. 

I’ve always enjoyed such characters in the Marvel U. because they were seeing the situation from an entirely different—and more accessible—perspective. While the Avengers and Fantastic Four were dealing with the next cosmic, world-slamming event, all the other heroes were fighting to keep order in their own cities or neighborhoods. Jessica Jones’s story is the direct descendant of those heroes (and anti-heroes) that came before her, struggling to keep the innocent safe. Luke Cage, Shang Chi, Iron Fist, White Tiger, Moon Knight, Daredevil, and others only get better over time when their stories are mired in normal, human matters, as it were, and inextricably mixed with the sort of crimes we read about in the news everyday, albeit with a comic-book twist. Perfect for adaptation to a serialized television format. Which is why I can’t wait for “Luke Cage” or the next season of “Daredevil.”


—SPOILER ALERT, nerds. Read no further if you haven’t watched the series yet.—


I enjoyed a lot about the show. From go, because comics are a visual medium, I wasn’t entirely convinced with Krysten Ritter’s appearance as Jones—though I am glad she didn't smoke, I think she has enough vices. I got over that pretty quickly. She did a great job emotionally as physically as the sardonic and acerbic P.I. As her best friend, Patsy Walker, Rachael Taylor proves that in our wildest comic-book nerd dreams she might be able to pull off Hellcat—but I seriously doubt that will happen. Mike Colter left me a little cold as Luke, but I expect he’ll have more to do in his own series. But he sure looks the part! David Tennant was wonderful as Purple Man—Kilgrave—a completely delusional, sociopathic, narcissistic stain on humanity who can control people’s minds. In fact, the reinvention of the Purple Man character in the Alias comic was an example of how these “lesser” characters can be used in street-level antics. There’s so many of them that have been tossed off over the years, I know there’s a horde of writers and artists out there who’d love to work with the B catalog of characters. (Hell, even the C catalog!) Kilgrave’s depravity is what’s eating Jessica Jones in both the comic and on the television series. In fact, that depravity is also used to highlight the disconnect between the regular Avengers-types and what the innocent are dealing with when it comes to these sorts of super-villains.  I thought the wrap-up of that story line was more satisfying in the comic than on the TV show, but it couldn’t have ended any other way in the more pragmatic Marvel Cinematic Universe. Otherwise it wouldn’t have ever ended and that would start to suck real quick.

Anyhow, here’s a list of what filled me with inexplicable joy during the show:

  1. Luke Cage says, “Sweet Christmas.” Twice!
  2. Patsy Walker has red hair. The actress is currently blond. Then it’s explained. And she studies Krav Maga. #winning
  3. Name drop: Angela Del Toro. She was one of my favorites and, as a character, has been treated rather poorly in the comics I’ve read.
  4. Purple Man! Not purple, but that’s cool, he needed to be more inconspicuous in the MCU. He does wear purple, however, and get all purple-veiny under duress.
  5. The “Jewel” costume and mask! Rightfully ridiculed.
  6. Frank Simpson. “Nuke.” Almost unbearable in comics, mostly unbearable on television. I can’t imagine how that asshole is going to factor back in. Oh, yes I can; the mysterious organization that created him and possibly Jones. Is that connection going to stink up season 2? I’m fifty-fifty on that prospect. Epic fight in Jones’s office/apartment, though, dug that, and Walker stepped up! Will the pills have a lasting effect or the taste of that adrenaline rush mess with her brain?
  7. The idea of trying to operate on a patient with steel-hard skin who has a brain injury? Priceless. Nurse Clair Temple’s solution? Most excellent.
  8. Speaking of Claire; yes, the Night Nurse, turns up. Who can deny Rosario Dawson? Not this guy. Besides, I like seeing all these brown people on the screen, the more the merrier.
  9. Speaking of Cage, I do like how his and Jones’s relationship is stumbling along. It worked in the comics and it’s working here. In the original comic, their relationship is complicated until the two of them can make some other changes in their lives. (I’m not a fan of the pregnancy, however, there’s no turning back from that.) Is Jones going to show up on Cage’s show? I hope so.
  10. The only thing that initially bugged me was the connection between Jones and Cage, the death of his wife at her hands under Purple Man’s control. I thought they were going to royally screw Cage’s origin story, but the story is redeemed near the end of the series with a brief conversation. So we’re seeing the comics-adapted Cage on Jessica Jones somewhere just before the middle of his life, the part I expect to see on his show. Okay, panic averted.

Rhode Island Author Expo

On December 5, 2015, at the Lincoln Mall, this is happening. I’m excited to be participating in this event. There will be upwards of one-hundred Rhode Island authors, each with their own table. Tight, sure, and surprising-not-surprising there are so many authors in this tiny state—in any state, really. As much as popular opinion seems to believe that reading (and writing) are somehow dying, the desire to become an author—and to read—don’t appear to be going away anytime soon. This is my first rodeo with the Association of Rhode Island Authors (ARIA) and I’m told there were several hundred attendees at last year’s event. This year, they expect more. Ads have run in local papers, all the appropriate promotional outlets have been notified, and here we go!

I'll have a few books for sale, namely these: