I am interviewed by Scott Cole

I ramble about Old Buildings, New Wave, Borrowed Concepts, and Blue Movies on the Castalia House blog.

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Welcome To My Nightmare

Okay, so I am closing on 40,000 words of Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts and I’d really like to get some feedback on the story so far–what works, what doesn’t, how the pacing feels, is the worldbuilding consistent, are the characters likable, that sort of thing.  If you’d be interested in looking over what I have, which I’m estimating is about half of the final novel, drop me a line via my contact page with your prefered format and I’ll send you a file once I finish the current chapter (probably the middle of next week.)

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Wow. I got nominated for a Hugo.

2017 Hugo Awards Nominations – http://wp.me/p6fZEi-pk

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Raiding the Giant’s Horde

A cute story with some truth to it.

Davetopia

100 Words of Speculation written over a background of fountain pen and printed text

Jaspar Fuzzy-Breeks, Jarl of Sofar, Chare, and the Boxen Isles, stretched. Winter had come to Ut-Garden, bringing cold and damp to the very sill of his hall. And, as they did every year, the thumb-giants had failed to drive it back.

Una the Deep Meowing counselled yowling at the winter, but Jaspar favoured a different course. He would sleep until the thumb-giants opened the door of Nom. Then he would feast and fight until the hour when the thumb-giants settled back onto their resting places.

The moment they did, he would steal the thumb-giant’s heat.

And then sleep some more.

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Lord Grimm Of Nivose

I’ll admit it, I enjoy writing bad guys more than I enjoy writing good guys.  In fact, my works have very few truly “good” characters, and those are usually the ones that I kill off. Maybe it’s a reflection of my own character–I don’t really understand altruism in the abstract.  I can relate much more to characters who have their own selfish agendas and are willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve their goals.

Whatever the reason, I have a new big bad that I am enjoying bringing to life. The following is a snippet from Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts.  Without further ado, let me introduce you to the Grimm, the Hunger Wolf, Eldest Lord of Nightmare and Master of Nivose, the Empty Lands.

***

There was a different pair of guards on the door, both big, furry, and armed with axes. The one that moved to bar our way had a face like a bear, but a voice that surprisingly soft and clear.

“May I help you gentlemen?” she asked.

“I’m Samhaim Jackknife of Messidor,” I told her. “I would like to speak to Lord Grimm.”

She gave me a nod, “Of course, Sir.” She stepped to the side and pointed with her ax. “Straight ahead, Sir.”

I went on in, Jake trailing nervously behind me into the antechamber. Today there were torches lighting the central hallway and the others were dark. I took the hint.

He awaited us on a pile of furs, lying lazily on it like a great cat. One paw rested on huge skull that looked ape-like, but was as high as a truck tire.

“Samhain Jackknife,” said the deep, rich voice of Lord Grimm. “Well met, my nephew. You know, I was just thinking about you.”

Jake had turned pale. He recovered, though, and bowed low, “Greetings, Lord of Nightmare.”

Lord Grimm nodded. “Jakob Jorge Karnes,” he said warmly. “I haven’t seen you since you were a child. Tell me, did you ever get that train you wanted?”

Jake stared, wide-eyed, confused.

“You were,” the huge beast said slowly, “seven years old, I believe. Yes, it was seven, about to be eight. There was an electric train set that you wanted for your birthday. I recall it quite vividly. Did you ever get it?”

“I…” Jake shook his head, then laughed. “I did, actually. Not that year, but later, when I was in university. I had a job fixing appliances, and I bought it for myself one summer.”

Lord Grimm’s lips pulled back from his teeth in what might have been a smile. “Excellent. Your desire was so sweet. I am pleased that you fulfilled it.”

Lord Grimm turned his attention to the giant ape skull, idly rolling it with his paw. Without looking up he continued speaking. “I can feel your desire now, Jakob. Your hunger. Yet I would hear it from your lips. Tell me why you have come here, Jakob.”

“There is a human woman named Karin Zverocovitch, Lord,” Jake said. “I have reason to believe that she is within your domain. I have come here to speak with her and to convey her back to the Midworld, if she desires to return.”

“Indeed,” said the Lord.

“What must I do to win her freedom, Lord Grimm?” Jake asked simply.

The Grimm looked up. “That is an excellent question, and most politely put,” he observed. “A question, in fact, which has been vexing me as well.”

Those great black eyes turned suddenly to me. “Envoy Jackknife,” the deep voice purred, “do you come bearing a petition from the Primate of Messidor?”

I shook my head quickly. “No, Lord Grimm. My father makes no petition in this matter. My presence here is simply as a friend to Engineer Karnes, not as an Envoy.”

The Grimm nodded, looking contemplative. “I had not thought that my brother would intervene,” he said judiciously. “My judgments then will have no internecine complications. This allows for somewhat more… latitude in my actions.”

He lapsed into silence again. In repose he looked like an enormous house cat.

“Lord Grimm,” Jake asked slowly, “would you allow me to purchase her oath from you?”

Lord Grimm’s eyes widened, as if surprised. “Would you…?” he mused. “Would you, truly, do such a thing, if you knew all that the transaction entailed? Perhaps you might. In any event, I could not allow it. You are signatory to the Mayor’s accords, and his law prevents a human from owning a human soul—quite wisely, I might add.”

“You bought her oath from a human,” Jake shot back. His voice was tightly controlled, but his anger was evident.

“I can see why my sister Agni is so taken with you,” Lord Grimm observed mildly. Then, “I was no party to the original binding, Jakob, nor did I ‘purchase’ it in the sense that you mean. There is no accord to prevent me from taking such an oath upon myself. Once taken, however, propriety must be observed.”

The Grimm looked back at me. “Envoy Jackknife,” he said formally, “am I to understand that your remark that you are here only as a private citizen was meant to imply that you are not acting on behalf of the Lord Mayor?”

I glanced at Jake, who was frowning at me. Well, it couldn’t be helped. I’d explain later. “No,” I answered, “I am not acting as Envoy of the Lord Mayor.”

Technically that was true. His Honor had asked me to pursue it unofficially, which meant that I was not acting under his diplomatic sanction.

The Grimm nodded. “Then I believe that we can leave the original binding oath as an internal matter for the Midworld authorities.”

He paused, going back to toying with the skull. We waited. Then he continued, “I own the young woman. I cannot sell her oath to you, nor could you purchase it. I am afraid that you will simply have to steal her.”

Jake stood staring at Lord Grimm. “Steal her?” he asked at last.

Lord Grimm turned back to gaze at us. “Yes. Steal her. Not an ideal solution, perhaps, but as you are here in the flesh the laws of the Midworld do not apply. You, Jakob, unaided. My nephew Samhain would be subject to the judgments of Messidor, and I would not put my younger brother in an awkward position.”

Jake took a long moment to consider that. “How would I steal her?” he asked at last.

The Grimm’s eyes widened again. “You are asking me to advise you on larceny?” A deep rumbling chuckle. “With a maximum of daring, I would suggest. Bold action, decisive, and perhaps some violence.”

Deliberately the Grimm placed one great paw on the ape skull and pressed down. It cracked with a sound like a gunshot. We both jumped.

A moment later, like an echo, a second loud crack sounded, then a third. They were coming from much closer and I looked down at the ground in front of our feet. The bones that made up the floor were breaking, snapping like twigs. There was a third report, a fourth, a fifth, and then they were coming like a roll of thunder. I stepped back away from the affected area of the floor. Bits of bone were falling, revealing a vertical shaft. In a few moments it was perhaps four feet across, edged with jagged bits of bone.

The Grimm glanced at it, and batted one of the fragments of the broken skull, which slid across the floor and dropped into the hole. I could hear it clattering down, bouncing from wall to wall.

“It is my understanding that haste is preferable in matters of criminal enterprise,” he observed, as if to himself.

Jake gave the huge beast a long hard look, then carefully crouched at the edge of the hole. He dug into one of his pockets and came up with a compact flashlight, which he shown down into the dimness. What he saw must have satisfied him because he snapped it off, stowed it, then clambered over the edge, climbing quickly down the irregular wall of bone.

While I was staring after him the Grimm spoke to me.

“Kin of my kin,” he said, “How fares your father?”

“He is well, Lord,” I said. “I spoke with him yesterday, in fact.”

“And your mother?” he asked.

“She is doing fine, so far as I know,” I said, looking down into the pit. I could hear the sound of Jake climbing down, but he was out of sight.

The Lord saw where I was looking and said sharply, “As far as you know, Samhain? Did you not speak with her as well?”

I looked back at him. “No, she was not in attendance with my father, and I did not take the time to seek her out.”

“You should take the time,” the Grimm said thoughtfully. “One’s parents are worthy of respect.”

I risked another glance at the hole. The sound of Jake’s passage was growing faint.

“All of one’s elder relatives are worthy of respect,” the Grimm said, an edge in his voice.

I looked quickly back to him. “I am sorry, Uncle Grimm. I am concerned about my friend.”

Those bottomless black eyes held my gaze. “Your loyalty does you credit. Yet I fear that you may lose sight of your true priorities.”

“I was raised by humans in the Midworld, Uncle Grimm,” I said. “I am a stranger to Nightmare.”

“Such a pity to hear that,” the Grimm said, his voice gentle. “I do hope in time you will acquaint yourself with your true home. You are always welcome in my domain, and I feel confident the same is true of all of us.” He cocked his head, considering. “Well, perhaps not Mistigris. He has never gotten along well with your father. And the twins can be… capricious. Still, this is your home. You cannot deny your heritage.”

I took a step closer to the hole in the floor. The shaft curved as it descended, and I couldn’t see more than about twenty feet. Jake was out of sight. “Neither can I deny my responsibilities. I gave my word that I would see Karin returned to the Midworld.”

The Grimm nodded, stretched, and settled down, laying his head on his paws and closing his eyes. With his eyes closed he said, a bit sadly, “Ah, yes, conflicted loyalties. The heart of every great opera.”

He gave out a heavy sigh. I could feel the cold breeze of his breath from where I stood. “Apologies, nephew, but it would appear that I am urgently required elsewhere,” he said, eyes still closed. “I trust you can see your own way out?”

“Yes, I—” I was talking to myself. The Grimm was gone. I looked around. I was alone in the chamber with the pile of furs, the bits of shattered skull, and the shaft leading to the depths below the Bone Fortress.

“Don’t be a stranger, Samhain!”

I started, nearly jumped out of my skin. The Grimm’s voice seemed to come from a great distance, but was very clear. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“You know, Uncle,” I muttered, “this kind of thing is exactly why I don’t visit more often.”

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How the ctrl-Left drove me away from American liberalism

Essentially my own story, but better told.

Brad R. Torgersen

A good friend of mine, who also happens to be an outstanding author, once quipped, “If I am forced to choose a side, I choose the side which is not forcing me to choose sides.”

Seldom have I ever encountered phrasing more apt. Because that’s precisely how I feel. I’ve been feeling that way, for years now. It was not a sudden thing. It was a gradual realization. The slow clarity of an underlying sentiment, incrementally surfacing.

To make the picture more specific, let me lay out some background details. This is a bit wordy, so bear with me:

When I first met my wife in 1992, we were both volunteering at community radio station KRCL-FM in Salt Lake City, Utah. Back then, KRCL was something of a tentpole organization for folk who styled themselves as counter-culture. It was staffed with an oddball assortment of old-school Hippies, new-school progressives, the…

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Crossing the sea of dreams

This is a followup to my post on Getting Around. After a great deal of rewriting I think I have a mechanism for getting from the Midworld to Nightmare that is both vivid and clear, while being different than most descriptions of world-hopping.

From Chapter Four of Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts. 

Human dreamstate, as near as I can figure it, is like being blind, staggering drunk. Something is very wrong with human minds—and I don’t mean any insult by that. I assume that’s because they have to sleep and usually they only leave their bodies when they are helpless. They get all tangled up in their own thoughts and memories, manifesting constructs without any real solidity, just wandering through a fog of their own making and waking up with only fragmentary memories of where they have been and what they’ve been doing.

It takes a lot of talent and a lot of training for humans to manifest enough of a coherent spirit form to project themselves beyond the Midworld in a conscious state.

Oneiroi, on the other hand, don’t sleep. We can’t become unconscious. Leaving my body is a deliberate act of will, not really much different than lying on the bed had been. With my body’s eyes closed I opened my invisible eye wide.
I was still lying on Karin’s bed. Jake was getting a wooden chair and pulling it into the little screened alcove. I couldn’t see where Marji had gone.

I didn’t bother with any pretense of falling asleep. I just lay there and said, “If I don’t get up after two hours or so, shake my shoulder. I’ll feel that.”

Very carefully I stood. I felt heavy, like I was wearing a suit of lead, but I knew that feeling would fade quickly. It was just my nervous system’s reaction to my moving my somatic body without my physical body. It lay on the bed, breathing but otherwise motionless. I could feel it, distantly, but I wouldn’t be able to move it until I was fully back inside it.
I got up and moved around Jake. He didn’t notice me, since I was a spirit now, a ghost. Mages who focused on me would be able to see me, and many of the non-humans who shared the Midworld were able to see spirit bodies, but I would be invisible to nearly all humans.

The Jake that I saw with my unseen eye wasn’t exactly the Jake that I saw with my flesh eyes. I was able to look upon his spirit. I could see the strength in him, and his deep concern, his aura was tinged with the shades of worry. I looked away before I saw too deeply, respecting his privacy.

The main area of the studio was walled with flame. What I had felt vaguely in the flesh glowed now, the images of Karin’s art dripping with magic. I glanced at the one that had been used to anchor the gateway that had been opened from Nivose and I nearly went blind. The afterimage of the spell was a throbbing blackness. I looked away, my head swimming.

Marji was laid bare to my vision. I had known her deeply, not just physically but spiritually. She glowed like a filament, achingly beautiful, terrible in her passion. I kept moving, on to the door.

It wasn’t the physical brick and steel that kept me from walking through the walls, it was the spiritual echo of those materials. Those walls had been designed to keep things out, and that intention was solid to my spirit body. I could have forced my way through it, probably, but the door offered no such barrier—doors were intended as openings. I walked through the wood easily.

The hallway was empty. I went through the brass gates as easily as I had passed through the door to the loft. I was moving fast now, quicker than my body would have gone. I was down the stairs and across the lobby, through the door out into the street in a heartbeat.

Around me the City was brilliant with spiritual life. The buildings shown with an inner light, the lives and passions of the humans who had lived and loved and dreamed within them left their marks. Even the gray and dirt of Pickmantown was transformed into a place of strange and savage beauty.

I stepped to the curb and called out silently. There were spirits still haunting the land that were older than the human occupation. I could feel one close by, swimming through the air above the buildings, riding the currents that rose up from the living earth below the empty streets.

I called to it and it came, eeling through the warm summer air. In form it looked like a sea creature, a long sleek body covered with sharklike skin in a rippling pattern of black and blue, with wide wings like a manta ray. It had no mouth, the front of its head covered with a dozen wide golden eyes. Like me, it would have been invisible to human sight.

I spoke to it softly for a few moments, gaining its trust. Such spirits weren’t very intelligent—as bright as dog or a horse, usually—but it would respond to my will. I reached to stroke its back and it settled down, hovering a few inches above the street. Carefully I got onto its back. Its flesh, immaterial as my own, felt warm and solid under me. I whispered my desire and it rose into the air, bore me with it into the sky. We headed swiftly over the tops of the buildings, following the river and out to sea. I was perched just in front of its great wings, gripping its barrel body with my thighs.

We passed by the lights of a loft where a party was going on and the music that came to me resonated in my spirit ears with the desire and joy of the revelers. Below a single car motored slowly down the street and its headlights were tinged with a bruised reddish color from an argument going on in the front seat.

My golden-eyed steed accelerated to such a pace that I would have been torn off its back by the wind of our passage, had either of us had a physical form. We left the City behind and raced out over the open sea. Behind us the lights of the harbor faded away. We were headed over a deeper sea with stranger tides than the human ships behind us ever sailed.

The mist that rose around us would have been transparent to waking eyes. It grew thicker as we left the purely physical sea. The dream sea coalesced around us, a spiritual realm that rolled in endless waves between worlds, timeless and vast, without the intrusion of the hard and alien shores of solid ground. One could sail these depths forever—in fact, some did. Human mages sometimes never found their way back to their bodies, leaving breathing but dead husks behind them as their spirits searched for some shore until their bodies, carefully curated in some sanitarium, withered away and died.

I did not fear that fate. I could feel the pull of my home realm, Messidor, and I followed it, urging the spirit beast I rode to greater speed. Soon the mist above my head reddened, and below me I could catch glimpses of the gunmetal gray of Messidor’s ocean.

Once again I was a ghost in the material world.

The sky was the color of sunset, roiling red-gold clouds from horizon to horizon. The water below us was thick and leaden, gleaming with reflected light. Before me was The City Of Dreadful Joy, my father’s capitol. The docks thronged with the bone-pale ships of Messidor’s merchant fleet, dreamships that sailed to all of the realms of Nightmare. My fathers people, the norns, excelled at the construction of fabrics and tapestries woven from fragments of human dreams and the fields beyond the city yielded grains that grew nowhere else. This was traded for other goods—elixirs from Pluvoise, metal goods from Ferose, mind-warping vapors and powders from Nivose, silks from Ventose.

I grounded the spirit beast just past the docks in the warehouse district that the locals called the Tannery. I could have compelled it to take me farther, but I could sense that it was weary and longed to return to the Midworld, so I released it from my will. I could travel the rest of the way on foot.

The Tannery district, like Pickmantown, had seen better days. Better times, I should say. Day and night had no place in Messidor, it was always dusk. The buildings around me were white stone, like all of my father’s city, but these were grimy and cracks ran through the stone, furred with the clinging vines that looked black in the reddish light.

The norns who moved silently through the twisting streets were of the lower castes, their wrappings cheap cloth, often dirty, and tied in simple knots rather than the elaborate twisting displays of the aristocracy.

Their eyeless heads tracked me as I walked the narrow streets that snaked between the asymmetrically angled buildings. They could perceive me and my spirit form appeared human, though obviously not a projection from a sleeping mind. Probably they took for a human mage—I had no desire to be recognized as the son of their liege. In theory I could command their obedience, but in this neighborhood I had no desire to draw attention to draw attention to myself. Even within his own dominion my father had his enemies, and the Tannery seemed like the place to find them.

I moved fast, my feet skimming the cracked marble streets and my eyes scanning the mad skyline for landmarks. Messidor, like all of Nightmare, was the Midword seen through a shattered mirror. The logic behind the layout of the buildings and thoroughfares was not human logic.

There was an order to it, though, and as a child I had played with my father’s subjects, the guides and the watchers and the harvesters, around the great rendering vats where human ectoplasm was separated into its essential ichors, during those hours when my human parents thought that I slept. I recognized the Way Of Black Mirrors and headed towards it. It led into the City’s center and my father’s palace.

I saw norns leading human spirits through the city, speaking to them softly those words of voiceless comfort that no human remembered upon awakening. My father’s subjects sought out the fever dreamers, the plague-ridden, those who slept in the shadow of death. The dreams of the sick, the wounded, and the dying had a particular essence, and it was that spiritual essence that formed the backbone of Messidor’s industry.

The heart of my father’s city was a dark forest of thorn trees, and in the center of it was the Citadel of the Fellmonger, my father’s house.

Even though I was incorporeal the thorns would have the power to tear at my spirit body, to torment my soul, so I kept carefully to the center of the paths. They formed a twisting, branching maze, but it was a maze I knew by heart. Close by, I knew was a deep black pool and a faceless guardian.

The Pool of Unmemory. When human souls reached the clearing—and some did, although not often, and almost never without aid—the guardian would allow them to drink from the pool. One sip, and all of the past was washed away. The human would awake from sleep a blank slate, with no memory of anything that he had done or had been done to him.

Some humans would pay a very great price to be guided through the forest to those waters.

Above the forest of woe, I saw the vast block of white marble, nearly a cube, ablaze with windows. The light from the windows was a harsh white, and the trees cast sharp edged shadows. I did not.

I slowed as I reached it and regarded the door of my father’s house.

If you jacked up a three story townhouse and put wheels on it, you could have rolled it comfortably through that door. It was parquet, made from what must have been hundreds of slabs of polished wood, and it hung on hinges thicker than my body. An enormous knocker, brass and cast in the shape of a grinning face, hung thirty feet above my head.

I walked up to the door itself and knocked. Being insubstantial, I couldn’t feel it under my knuckles and there was no sound. That didn’t matter. My intention would be signal enough.

And sure enough, the ponderous door swung back a few feet and I was face to face with an ape dressed in a white jacket and his own sleek fur, banded in purple and green. He bowed to me.

“Master Samhain,” he said, smiling. “A most unexpected pleasure.”

I bowed back. “Good to see you, Timtomtim. You’re looking well. Is my father available?”

“I shall inquire.” He gestured me inside. “If you will come in?”

I bowed again and followed the majordomo inside. The front hall of my father’s citadel is a six story atrium, the walls studded with dozens of small balconies. Doors led off the ground floor in all directions, and in all shapes and sizes. The floor is tiled in slabs of black and white, like a huge chessboard, and in the center of the hall is a large irregularly shaped pool, surrounded by palm trees, like a desert oasis.

I waited while Timtomtim hurried off to one of the smaller doors. He ducked his head to go through it and I waited some more. I looked around the room. It had been years since I had been here, and it looked strange to me. I was seeing it through Midworld eyes, I realized.

Human built structures have an inevitable symmetry. Human minds look for regularity, for patterns, and make patterns where they don’t occur naturally. Oneiroi don’t process information the same way, probably because Nightmare doesn’t have the same kind of regularity as the Midworld—no pattern of day and night, no seasons, no natural law that can’t be overridden by the whim of the Lords. They don’t expect regularity from their environment, and so they don’t create it.

They? We? Looking around my father’s house I realized that I had learned to think like a human. I thought of myself as human, most of the time. I was able to see the dreamworlds clearly, in a way that only very rare and talented humans could, but I did not feel at home in my father’s house.

Eventually Timtomtim came back and waved for me. I rose up and floated quickly to meet him.

“Your father will receive you in the vivisectorium, Master Samhain,” he said, opening one of the doors.

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