“Summer Of The Stranger”

When I first pitched Small Worlds to Cirsova, and we decided to go ahead with that project, the editor asked if I would be interested in working with them on another project.

“The Mighty Sons of Hercules anthology / anthology series is planned as an homage to the classic peplum Sword & Sandal film genre of the 50s & 60s.”

I was hesitant at first–not sure if I could do it justice. They made it very clear that they weren’t interested in a cynical “reimaging” or “deconstruction” of the concept, but a genuine tale of heroism, a man of legendary strength who uses his power to fight against evil and support the downtrodden.

I played around with several ideas before settling on the concept of viewing the hero through the eyes of a boy on the edge of manhood.

Thus was born, “Summer Of The Stranger”. I was able to return to an earlier era in my own life, when the world was more magical, or perhaps I was less cynical. I am very happy with the story, it pushed me in a new direction, and I think the readers will appreciate my narrator’s story of the stranger who changed his life.

I was aiming for a Coming Of Age story, drawing inspiration from Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island and Mattie Ross from True Grit. But I also wanted to put my own spin on it, revisiting the Ashkenazi inspired setting I created for “Conessa’s Sword” and “Through Dry Places” in my Dark Fantasies collection. Makheist, son of Herakles, finds himself in conflict not only with the bandits who menace the narrator’s tiny village, but the pacifistic response of the villagers.

I believe that I captured the spirit of The Mighty Sons Of Hercules, action, adventure, and strength in defense of weakness, not “might makes right” but “might doing what is right”.

The Mighty Sons Of Hercules Kickstarter campaign begins 6/30/23

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What’s Going On? Update for Early June


The Small Worlds Kickstarter was a success! We’ll begin fulfilling as soon as the funds clear. This is a major win for us before our open submissions period in August. We’ll have this up for retail as soon as we get the book out to everyone who pre-ordered it. Additionally, once we send out the digital rewards, the audiobook for An Atlas of Bad Roads will be going live on ACX.

The next immediate big thing is the Summer Issue, which will be out 6/15. We’ll devote an entire post to it in the next couple of days, but the eBook is available for pre-order.

The Mighty Sons of Hercules is about to go up on Kickstarter for pre-order. I’ll post a link and a full post as soon as it’s approved.

We’ll be open for submissions in August. Things are still really crazy, and we’ll need more funding…

View original post 177 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

After Action Report: Small Worlds

My latest Kickstarter with Cirsova wrapped up yesterday. The ending numbers are interesting. It had the most backers of anything I’ve ever done–135, barely edging out An Atlas Of Bad Roads at 133.

The dollar total was somewhat less than Atlas, though, which leads me to suspect that fewer backers were getting add-ons. This could be because fewer people were adding on my earlier collections because they already own them. I’m sure that our current economic slump was also a factor–folks just have less money to spend of non-necessities.

The campaign started out strong, which I expected, breaking the goal on the second day. Then things dropped off some, which I also expected. What I didn’t expect was an ending surge, with the last few days bringing us to a very strong close.

I did four podcast appearances to promote Small World, Superversive Sunday, A Drink With Crazy, Critical Blast, and Geek Gab. I assume that they all helped drive traffic and backers to the Kickstarter, but I wasn’t watching close enough to draw any direct inferences.

I do enjoy doing those (and I am open to being a guest even when I don’t have anything specific to promote, if anyone wants me on their show) but I find them emotionally exhausting.

As I remarked to one of my hosts after the show, I seem to have two settings, Silent Wallflower and Evil Overlord Rant, with very little in between. I’ve never really mastered the art of conversation, like Dr. Brian O’Blivion, the monologue is my preferred means of discourse.

All told, a good promotion and I am confident the backers will be satisfied with the finished book.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Session Report: Long Florida ACKS

The Setting:

We have been playing in The Mixed GM’s ACKS game for between three and four years at this point. {EDIT: I have been informed that it has been over four years now} During this time we have moved settings several times, as PCs have found magic portals, spaceships, or just got really lost and ended up in a new world.

We have also gone through a large number of PCs in that time, due to death, being rendered unplayable by wounds, or a player just got bored with a particular PC and wanted a change.

At the moment, we are in The Great Empire Of Long Florida (see map, above.) The PCs, through a combination of diplomacy, treachery, and chutzpa, have managed to break the dominion of the Emperor Jimmithy Buffett III, which has left the individual sovereign city states struggling to forge new alliances.

The Current Crop of PCs:

Character creation is 3d6 in order, player classes from the original ACKS book or the Player’s Companion. Consequently, there is no such thing as “party balance”–we play what the dice give us. Our current party is less of an Adventuring Team and more of an Ecumenical Council.

Fighter: Pierre Delacroix, the latest from the fecund but sadly ill-favored Delecroix family. The line boasts many fallen heroes, cousin Phillipe, who is currently serving as The Sheriff of Pensacola and cousin Bawdy (cf below).

Pierre is first level and wields a +2 two handed sword, with a weapon specialization in two handed weapons.

Mage: Yuko the Fortunate. 4th level. Favors Lawn Dart as her weapon of choice.

The Clerics:

Father Blagfacho. 4th level Priest (a male version of the Priestess Class, house-ruled in). Follower of the Great Nic Mac (Niccolò Machiavelli). Once human, he was transformed into a Crystalline Creature as the only way to repair a severe spinal injury.

Clerici. 4th level cleric. NPC. Cleric of The Whey, an order devoted to bodybuilding as the path to holiness. (Originally the religion was called The Way, and based on the 1970s translation of the bible by that name, but we decided that The Whey was cooler.)

Grysug Trosik. 3rd level Priest. Father Blagfacho’s apprentice.

Baudelaire “Bawdy” Delacroix, 3rd level Antiquarian Witch, with a specialization in healing proficiencies. Makes a really good Gumbo. Along with the rest of the Delacroix family, she is in search for their ancestral home, the Lost City Of Nawlins.

The Situation:

Travelling the length of Long Florida as Carpetbaggers Freelance Goodwill Ambassadors of King Deathstalker Pendragon and Queen Kandi Desantis of Swampton Castle, we came to the City State of Seashell Palace, in Mexican Florida.

We met with the Satrap of Seashell Palace, who has an uneasy alliance with The Rain King and his consort, the Cyber-Succubus.

The Satrap told us that he was having problems with a local bandit chieftain called Montezuma who was allied with the dread Judicious Ecstasy Bringer, an ancient lich who has raised up a cult to try to take Long Florida for himself. JEBite Cultists have been causing problems throughout Long Florida, usually mixed groups of fanatic humans and undead minions, filling the air with the dread sound of clapping and the ominous smell of Unholy Guacamole.

We agreed to seek out Montezuma’s camp, which turned out to be located in a cave complex originally inhabited by Crawfish Men. We found and befriended some of the surviving Crawfish Men (neglecting to mention that we had also killed several of them earlier in the week). In exchange for our promise to drive the disgusting soft-skins out and not settle in ourselves, they gave us valuable intel on the complex.

The Battle:

We navigated through the tunnels to find a door behind which we heard clapping and cries of “JEB, JEB!” Anticipating a group of cultists, we readied flasks of military oil and Yuko’s Web Spell. Then Pierre kicked open the door without checking first to see if it was locked (it wasn’t) and we saw that, yes, there was a group of cultists in there.

But there was also a Coked-Up Feral Hog and, in the back of the room, THE DREAD LICH JEB HIMSELF!

Well. That was unexpected.

Recovering quickly, we threw flaming oil on the Feral Hog, with Pierre rushing forward to deliver the coup de luau. Yuko changed spells and cast Sleep on the cultists, rolling really well and getting all of them.

Bawdy started up with a Protection From Evil.

JEB cast charm on Clerici, who then tried and failed to attack Pierre.

Then Pierre (who is, you recall, a first level fighter) charged the lich.

The players were fully expecting a TPK at this point, but we had a few tricks up our sleeve. With the Feral Hog (who we were fortunately able to take down before it managed to go into Coke Frenzy) and the JEBites taken out, Pierre was able to close with JEB and prevent him from casting spells.

Then Bawdy, Blagfacho, and Grysug all cast Protection From Evil together (singing “May The Circle Be Unbroken”) giving Clerici a +3 on a new save to recover from the charm.

Our strategy was then for Pierre to engage JEB (and he landed an awesome blow at the beginning of the combat) while Clerici, under the protection of the rest of the clerics, healed Pierre every time he was poked by JEB’s Bony Finger, while Yuko peppered JEB with her remaining spells from the back of the room.

This went on long enough that JEB broke into a Villain Speech, promising the party riches and power if they would fall down and worship him. However (aside from Pierre asking if he could have a pony) the party was unmoved. Then JEB announced “I will be back!” and his undead body dissolved into dust and ash.

We won!

I mean, obviously, we didn’t defeat JEB for all time, but we did drive him away and get through the encounter without losing any PCs.

Next up, we will travel to town and Level Up! The GM pre-rolled our wilderness encounters along the way, so we can start the next session in Seashell Palace, preparing to go back and drive off Montezuma, now that his dread protector has been banished.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Little Fuzzy

The word “classic” gets thrown around a lot by genre publishers, but in this case I think it’s earned.

Published in 1962, and nominated for the Hugo award in 1963 (it lost to The Man In The High Castle) Little Fuzzy is a delightful novel that works on several levels simultaneously.

I recently treated myself to the audiobook, read by Peter Ganim. The narration is very good, and the reader handles a variety of characters with disparate accents naturally, without ever slipping into stereotyping or parody.

Jack Holloway is a prospector on a frontier planet. He is a solitary man, who has chosen lonely life for reasons that are hinted at, but never directly stated.

He lives on Zarathustra, a world without any native sapient species, that is wholly owned by the Zarathustra Company.

Everything changes when Holloway encounters a small, furry creature that he calls “Little Fuzzy”. Little Fuzzy is adorable, and clever, and might just be a native intelligent species–which would invalidate the Zarathustra Company’s exclusive charter and bring the planet under the authority of the military until such time as a planetary government can be established.

The lines are quickly drawn in a court case–a company employee kills one of the Fuzzies. But is it murder, or simply the killing of an animal? Determining the status of the creatures will also determine the fate of the Zarathustra Company, which stands to lose everything that it has invested in developing the planet.

The characters are handled with nuance–even the “bad guys” are shown sympathetically. The question of what, exactly, is sapience is at the forefront. It is a tricky subject to nail down–how do we know that anything or anyone is actually thinking? What separates a conditioned reflex or a learned response from conscious thought?

What saves this novel from being just an intellectual exercise is the character of Jack Holloway, who simply and uncritically loves his small furry friends. A simple man, he doesn’t try to define what it means to be self-aware. All he knows is that Little Fuzzy is a person, not an animal, and he could care less what it means for the world outside his patch of jungle.

Highly recommended.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I learned the truth at seventeen

I learned the truth at 17
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At 17 I learned the truth

It can be very hard not to be bitter, sometimes.

If we look at the situation reasonably and logically, I should be grateful.

And I am. Honestly. I love that there are 62 people (as of this moment) who believe in me to the extent of being willing to spend their hard earned money on a bunch of stories that I wrote.

And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone

Who called to say, “Come dance with me”
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn’t all it seems

At 17

And yet…

I see projects that are gathering ten or twenty times the amount that Small Worlds has been able to generate, and I have to ask myself, “Is this book ten or twenty times as good as mine?”

I don’t think so.

I am hard on my own work. I tend to minimize compliments and maximize criticism from others, but even so, I am my own harshest critic. I agonize over every word. The reason that my output is–comparatively speaking–fairly low is that I try to never settle for “good enough”.

I expect nothing short of wonderous from myself, and I usually beat myself up over it until I give up and decide that, come Hell or high water, this particular arrangement of words is as good as I can get it. For now.

The next one will be better will be my epitaph.

A brown eyed girl in hand-me-downs
Whose name I never could pronounce
Said, “Pity please the ones who serve
They only get what they deserve”

And the rich relationed hometown queen
Marries into what she needs
With a guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly

I don’t know. Maybe that striving for perfection is what is holding me back. There is a vocal element in writer’s circles that advocates for quantity over quality. Pulp Speed and Ninety Day Novels and A Million Words Every Year.

Maybe, just maybe, those people are right. They certainly are making more money than I am.

I am haunted by the thought that maybe I’m just not that good. That’s certainly the message delivered, loud and very fucking clear, by the Hugely Successful Authors who occasionally slum in the on-line communities I favor.

“If you were really any good, and if you worked the job the way that I work the job, you, too would be able to make a fabulous living writing books.”

But then, I suppose I’d have to write the kind of books they write, wouldn’t I?

Remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
In debentures of quality
And dubious integrity

Their small-town eyes will gape at you
In dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received
At 17

Good Enough Books. Popcorn Books. Books That Are Just Like Every Other Book In The Chronicles Of Whatever.

Books that are so predictable and derivative that I can’t finish reading them. How the Hell am I supposed to write them?

No, I’m trying not to be bitter. There is no percentage in impugning the quality of another author’s work, or complaining when that work sells better than mine. That’s petty and small minded and I really don’t want to be that guy.

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
And dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me

I should be satisfied. I should be happy with my fans–and I am, really, I do love you all. I just… wish that there were more of you. I wish I could make money doing this. I don’t need to be rich. I don’t need to buy a mountain with an underground firing range.

Just… enough money that I didn’t have to struggle. Enough money so that an unexpected car repair wouldn’t mean a serious crisis. Maybe even enough money that I could quit my day job. It would be nice to not have to jump up and drive across town every time the phone rings.

We all play the game, and when we dare
To cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown
That call and say, “Come dance with me”
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me
At 17

Janis Ian, “At Seventeen”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Killing Every Puppy In The Galaxy!

This past weekend my roommate and I saw Guardians Of The Galaxy 3.

I suppose I shouldn’t have expected much, given the general level of recent Marvel films, but even so it was extremely disappointing. I had really enjoyed the first two films.

And usually I don’t like to discuss media I don’t like on my blog, but I want to spend a moment talking about what, in my opinion, was wrong with this particular film.

In short, the movie was written backwards. I don’t mean chronologically backwards, like Memento, I mean it put the cart before the horse.

The audience is subjected to a series of emotionally charged images, which are assembled into a number of scenes, and the scenes are narrated with some descriptive dialogue intended to provide a rationale for going on to the next scene.

If it felt more intentional I would call it Dadaist or Surrealist, but I suspect that the philosophy involved was simple contempt of reason.

One of the cornerstones of my own philosophy of fiction is that image follows thought, it doesn’t lead it. This may not be evident to my readers since I also believe in a minimalist approach to setting a scene, but the two principles actually work hand in hand.

I do a lot of deep structure when I write, and the final product is the most surface layer of the process. Essentially, I decide first what is really going on, then I figure out what part of what is going on would be evident to an observer/recorder of the events, and then I abstract the sensory data into images–hopefully clear, easily graspable images.

Then I trust my readers to de-engineer the process. If I’ve done my work correctly, the reader will apprehend the implications of what I am showing and fill in the gaps. The impact of the work comes when the audience assembles the pieces and sees the picture that the media can’t portray.

To my way of thinking, Guardians Of The Galaxy 3 did it bass-ackwards. We see cute animals being tortured, and sexy women in tight outfits, and cute kids in cages, and weird biological structures, and things blowing up, things bashing other things with laserbolts, and space everywhere! and none of it means a goddamned thing.

Because there isn’t any reason for any of it. Yes, there is, theoretically, a plot. One of the characters is dying and the other characters have to hunt down some McGuffin to fix him. And there is an evil character who is doing evil evilness that involves torturing cute animals.

But it is so transparently absurd that it might as well not even be there. Rationally, there is no narrative progression. There is nothing to de-engineer, no underlying structure to the film. Just a flow of images.

They are arresting images, and many of them are beautiful or moving in some way. But the whole resists analysis. One can discuss this or that scene, dissect the visual effect of the various color palettes, hold up the pictures to the light and look them over, but there’s no there there.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Gaming & Fiction

I can remember very clearly the first moment I encountered Dungeons & Dragons.

It was early in the semester of my 7th grade year, when I was an event held in the Multi-Purpose Room of Cherokee Junior High School on the outskirts of Springfield, Missouri. This would have been the late 1970s.

There were tables set up all around the edges of the room with different student clubs showing off what they were and how to join.

I wasn’t a joiner. I was a very troubled child, for a number of reasons. But we were all herded into the room to wander around and see what the older students had to offer. I didn’t expect to see anything I liked.

But then I saw a table where a couple of boys had a kind of diorama set up. There were strips of balsa wood that had been ruled into one inch squares and set up on them was a collection of metal painted figures. A group of warriors and wizards faced off against a beautifully painted dragon.

The rest, as they say, was history. I was there at the very next meeting of the D&D Club, struggling to learn the rules of a game that was far more complicated than anything I had ever played before. My first character was a Magic User, and it died in the first combat. I think I made four or five characters before I managed to get one to survive long enough to reach second level.

But I didn’t care. It was the game that fascinated me. I wasn’t even all that interested in Fantasy as a genre (and when I ran my first game it was Metamorphosis Alpha, not D&D). The idea of a mechanical system for simulating one on one combat had me hooked–and fifty years later I am still hooked.

In my own mind there is an uneasy relationship between Roll Playing Games and writing Fiction. They seem to be two different ways to scratch the same itch. Ways that are, on some level, entirely incompatible.

Which is strange, because on the surface they seem like they should mesh so well. Attempts have been made, from Andre Norton’s 1978 Quag Keep and through various officially licensed series set in D&D settings to the current LitRPG works.

I have tried to explore the intersection of RPGs and Fiction in several of the stories in Small Worlds, from a couple of different perspectives. And while I think they all work as stories (I wouldn’t have included them if I didn’t) I have still not been able to capture the feel of playing an RPG.

The closest I have come, I think, is Johnny And The Nightmare Machine, which is about an on-line RPG and how virtual places, once abandoned, might also become haunted by virtual ghosts.

I also had a great deal of fun with My Grandfather’s Grandfather Balled Goddesses, a romp through the gonzo RPG world of Cha’alt.

Is there more to be explored in the intersection of RPGs and Fiction? Absolutely. Right now I don’t have any projects in that realm in the works, but it is an idea that I keep circling back around to, and maybe one day I’ll get there.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

So far so good, but not far enough and could be better

Closing in on the first week of the Kickstarter for Small Worlds, and it is gratifying that we reached the goal so quickly.

There are a lot of people who are willing to put down their hard-earned cash for a book with my name on it as soon as it becomes available.

I honestly can’t tell you how wonderful that makes me feel.

However, I can’t shake the feeling that everyone who knows who I am has already signed up and I don’t know how to reach new readers.

I am trying. I was on Superversive Sunday just before the project launched, and I have guest appearances lined up for Iron Age Media, Critical Blast, and Geek Gab.

I’m not sure what else I can do. I’m not good at networking, and it makes me really uncomfortable to promote myself.

I do believe in this project. I think I’ve got a good bunch of stories here, one that I think a lot of readers would appreciate. If I could just figure out how to reach them.

And I believe in Cirsova. That small press has achieved great things in the decade or so since the first issue, and has got more in the works. This is a small business that has a real shot at giving the big tradpubs a run for their money by consistently publishing quality work at a decent price.

I just wish more readers knew what treasures are contained in the pages of those gorgeous books.

How do we do it? How do we, as independent writers, reach all those readers who don’t know what they are missing? That’s the bottleneck.

One final note–my earlier collection, An Atlas Of Bad Roads, is in the running for the Independent Fiction Alliance’s Chinaski Award. The are holding the vote on Twitter. It would be fun to win an award (and right now I’m in the lead, imagine that) but more importantly this is the kind of indies promoting indies that we need to support if we’re going to break through to a wider audience.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Misha Burnett’s An Atlas of Bad Roads a Finalist for the Chinaski Awards


Each year, the Independent Fiction Alliance hosts an Award, named in honor of Charles Bukowski’s alter ego “Hank Chinaski,” which is given annually to one of a selection of books that embrace the spirit of independence. 

Misha Burnett’s An Atlas of Bad Roads is a nominee this year! If you are on twitter, you can vote for it here.

The forthcoming audiobook for An Atlas of Bad Roads is being offered at early-bird price [only $10 for an 8-hour DRM-free audiobook!] and access through the Small Worlds Kickstarter. Be sure to back today!

View original post

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment