Monday, December 28, 2015

Holidaze

Good afternoon, gentle readers!
I hope everyone had a good holiday and that you got what you needed, even if you didn't get what you wanted.
My holiday was fairly chill.  I spent it with family and came home laden with leftovers.
New Year's Eve is this week and, to be honest, I'll be happy once it's come and gone.
Let's be honest, folks: the holidays are bloody exhausting!
Here in the States, things start to get nuts right after Halloween. Thanksgiving starts off the holiday trifecta, leading up to Christmas and then ending with New Year's Eve.
For two months people spend money like it's going out of style, buying presents for people they probably don't know all that well, getting 'holiday cheer' jammed down their throats and ending the whole shebang with a night of desperate, drunken debauchery that would leave the Roman Emperors of old shaking their heads and looking faintly alarmed.
It's all just too much.
Thankfully, some of us chose to opt out of the madness.
Thanksgiving is not a big deal for me. I call my family and wish them a 'Happy Thanksgiving' then eat my traditional dinner of pizza.
Christmas isn't a big deal either. My family doesn't do presents. I spend the day with my mom, who insists on cooking a spread even though she doesn't have to, and then it's home again.
New Year's Eve? I'll see in the New Year, but I don't get New Year's Day off.  Instead, it'll be business as usual for yours truly, up and off to work while a significant majority of people are recovering from hangovers. Or waking up next to someone they don't recognize and hoping they haven't just contracted super-gonorrhea or something.
Yeah. The holidays are a bit much and I'll be glad to see the back of them.
However, with that in mind, I do hope you have a happy new year.
Best wishes! - G.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Bah! Humbug!

Good afternoon, gentle readers.
It's that time of year again.  The time of holiday madness, crazed shopping, traffic jams outside of malls and neverending 'festive' tunes in stores and on the radio.
Yes, that's right.
The holidays have arrived.
Personally, I can't wait for them to leave.
I don't have much Christmas spirit this year.  I haven't decorated anything and, the other day, I walked into a department store playing ear-splitting Christmas carols and immediately left.
I just could not deal with it.
At this rate, I don't think I'll be feeling good will toward my fellow man until February.
Forget about writing.
It's not going to happen this month.
I've got taxes to pay and a leaky tub to fix and a bedroom to try and rent to someone halfway decent.
I'm pretty much ready for December to end, to roll up its relentless cheer and just fuck off.
What's next?
A lie down, a couple of aspirin and a prayer to whatever Yuletide deities might be listening for a season without any new surprises.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

To vlog or not to vlog

Hello, gentle readers!
Lately, I've been thinking about starting a vlog on YouTube.  There are a couple of reasons for this: (1) I think it would be fun and (2) there's not really anyone else my age doing videos on YouTube.  The last is really apparent.  I had to hunt for older YouTubers and, to be honest, most of the ones I found were dead boring. A lot of them seemed more interested in using the platform to promote their business or bitch about people younger than them.  Then they were wondering why their numbers weren't going up? 
Hello?
It's the same reason your kids and grandkids don't come around to see you but once a month.
Nobody wants to be lectured at or talked down to or criticized en masse.
Lighten up!
I would probably talk about books or comics or movies. Maybe some random D&D stuff.
And, of course, writing.
Even though I haven't been doing much of that lately.
I could talk about how that makes me depressed, which makes me want to go out and buy a box of Little Debbie Donut Sticks and eat the entire thing in one go.
Which could lead me to talk about food and good nutrition and how I've been on a low-carb diet for the last three months and the twenty something pounds I've lost so far, but how I've now hit the plateau and how I'm thinking it's time to jump off the diet and just dive into a triple-cheese pizza.
I could talk about guilt.
I could talk about love.
I could talk about sex, and then death.
Oooh! Maybe I could do a collab with Caitlin Doughty from Ask a Mortician!
That would be cool.
But even if I did the video thing, I wouldn't abandon this blog.  
Did you know that this will be the 270th entry, I've done here? And that I'm super close to 10,000 hits?
I'm pleased as punch that I've lasted that long and even more pleased to have regular readers.
But do y'all want to see my face? Do I want to show y'all my face?
Anonymity is liberating.
I could do a vlog about that too!
See? The ideas just roll off the tongue at this stage. 
What next? Who knows? 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Good evening, gentle readers.
It's Monday and I am lying here in bed, reading about DEATH.  Or maybe that should be DEATH.
Specifically, I'm reading Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty.  The book is about Ms. Doughty's first six years working in the American funeral industry.
I first discovered Ms. Doughty via YouTube.  She has an interesting channel, mordant and witty, where she does videos ranging from how to deal with the passing of a beloved pet, to the dark questions children have asked her about what happens when we die.
So far, I've found her book both interesting and entertaining.
There are worse ways to spend your Monday evenings.
Trust me.
I know.
What next? DEATH.
But, not like, immediately next.
Just, y'know, at some indefinite point in the far, FAR future.
Hopefully.
^_^

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Into the Badlands S01E01 'The Fort'

Into the Badlands is described as "a genre-bending martial arts series" loosely inspired by the Chinese tale, 'Into the West.'
The premise certainly sounds interesting, but the first episode was anything but.  Although visually striking, the show lacks any real depth.  To be quite honest, this first episode bored me to tears.  Even the fight scenes, although well choreographed and performed, seemed to lack any real intensity. The actors shamble through the scenery with all the vigor and vim of a troop of zombies.
Perhaps the show improves later, but after watching this premier, I have very little interest in wasting more time to find out.

Thank you

Hello, gentle readers.
Tomorrow, here in the States, it will be Thanksgiving.
I just wanted to take a moment and say 'Thank you,' to all my readers.
I appreciate your support.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving.
- G.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Jessica Jones S01E01 "Ladies' Night'

So, I just watched the first episode of Jessica Jones on Netflix.  I have to admit that I went into the show with some bias; I've read Alias, the Marvel Comic that inspired the series.  Honestly, I didn't think much of that, and, apparently, neither did the bulk of readers because Alias was cancelled after twentysomething issues.
Gentle readers, I wasn't impressed with Jessica Jones.  The acting in the first ep was mediocre, the plot was uninteresting, the pacing was atrocious.  Thirty minutes into the episode, I wanted to turn it off, but decided I should tought it out.
I regret that.
On a scale of 1 to 5, I would give this show 2 stars.  I have no desire to watch another episode.  However, in all fairness, Daredevil doesn't do anything for me either.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Black Birds

My life is full of poisonous birds,
black as sin, black as pitch,
that lurk in the branches of skeletal trees.

They descend upon me, en mass, these black birds,
and rip and tear at me,
my face, my hair, my clothes,
with their black razor beaks and claws.

I wave my arms about my face, 
shouting and swearing,
head bent low as I run for cover.
The birds follow.

I take refuge indoors, 
peering through paper-thin glass panes,
peering at the birds,
watching me watch them.

They sit in black lines along tree limbs
and power lines and the tops of fences.
The black birds sit and watch and wait,
sharpening their beaks and claws.

My life is full of poisonous black birds,
black as sin, black as pitch,
waiting for me to step outside.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Forward

Sometimes, gentle readers, it feels like I can never get ahead.  For every step that I take forward, I'm suddenly forced to take two steps backwards.  It's frustrating and dispiriting, but I endure. I keep trying to walk forward because the alternative is to stand still, to be rooted to the spot, bound in place by circumstance and fear.
That's no way to live.
So, keep walking forward.  Push yourself against the wind.  Even if it does knock you back, even if your progress seems glacial, know that you're still moving ahead.
Be brave.
Be stubborn.
Be courageous.
Be yourself.

Monday, November 2, 2015

November

October has left, flouncing out in a black dress that felt more like a shroud than her usual party number.  As she exits, November enters.  The bitch-month.
Normally as cold and precise as a math problem, November seems weirdly unfocused as she takes charge. Her ebon hair is slightly mussed, her makeup just a little smudged.  There's an uncharacteristic run in her black stockings, exposing a narrow swath of ice-white flesh.
But the expression on her face is classic November, composed and unyielding.  No warmth radiates from her jet-black eyes and her mouth is set in a tight moue.
She settles into her chair, all black leather and burnished brass; it's the kind of chair an expensive dominatrix might have in her office.  November sits and grips the arms and takes a deep breath; the air in the room grows chilly.  Frost forms at the edges of the windows.  In the fireplace, the flames flicker for a moment and burn with a baleful blue light.
November drums her manicured fingers on the armrests. Leaves tumble off of the stick-like trees. Lingering geese suddenly take to the air, flapping madly southward, cold tiger-winds snapping at their tail feathers.
In her office, November tidies up.  She smooths her hair into place and fixes her makeup.  She examines her face in the mirrored surface of her obsidian desk.  When she is satisfied with her appearance, she settles back in her chair and folds her hands together.  She smiles, a slow, reptilian grimace and draws a second breath, sucking the last bits of heat and daylight from the air. Her exhalation is a stream of cold fog.
"Now," she purrs, in a voice like light bouncing off razorblades, 'let's get started."
November is a bitch.
Never trust November.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Netflixed

When I was a boy, I lived in front of the television set.  I was one of those kids who could tell you the primetime schedule of all three networks with more certainty and relish than I could list the first five Presidents of the United States.  So it's a bit weird for me to realize that I haven't watched broadcast television in over two years.
When I moved into my current home, I didn't bother getting a television.  Instead, I made sure I had wi-fi that could reach every room in the place.  The only thing I miss from television, really, is local news and I can catch the rebroadcast of that online.
When I want entertainment, I spent most of my time on my laptop.  I listened to audio programs available via the BBC or spent time watching videos on YouTube.  Occasionally, I would buy a movie or rent an episode of television via Amazon Instant Video.
I was content.
Then, last September, I decided to try Netflix.  For $8 a month, it sounded like a good deal, and the first month was free.  So, I signed up, logged in and checked out what they had available.
To be honest, I was not impressed.  A lot of their stuff you can find at other sites for free.  The stuff they did have was stuff I didn't really want to watch.
Everyone told me I should watch Daredevil, that it was really good.  I made it through six episodes and lost interest. I tried watching Arrow and The Flash, but they didn't tickle my fancy either.  That first week on Netflix, I spent feeling really disappointed.
But I had it free for a month and thought I'd give it that long.  Surely there must be something worthwhile on the site.
I revisited some old favorites, like The Munsters and Kolchak, but I'm not the type to get lost in nostalgia.  Then I somehow wound up watching the entire run of Spooksville, a supernatural tween show produced in Canada.  Then, to my surprise, I found an Australian-produced mystery program, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, and bingewatched all three seasons.  That led me to the discovery that Netflix has the entire run of Agatha Christie's Poirot, starring the fantastic David Suchet in the title role, and Dawn French's The Vicar of Dibley, one of the funniest Britcoms that I've ever seen.
The trial month ended and I decided to keep my Netflix membership.  I watched Daniel Radcliffe in Horns and was horribly disappointed by the flatness of the film.  Halloween was coming and I eagerly perused their offerings in horror, but most of them left me cold. I wanted the original Halloween or the excellent 2007 Trick R Treat.  I got recommended Supernatural and The Gates. My disappointment was a palpable thing.
I thought that the site's algorithms weren't recommending me good things because they didn't really know my tastes yet, so I spent an hour filling out profile preferences.  It didn't seem to make much of a difference.  Supernatural still popped up in my recommendations, but now so did Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Vampire Diaries. It was like taking one step forward and two steps back.
I'm still working my way through Suchet's Poirot, and just recently started watching Murder, She Wrote on a whim.  
I've told myself that once I'm done with Poirot, I'll probably shut down the account.  I can find stuff to watch online for free. I can go back to listening to the BBC and podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale.
But then someone told me Netflix was going to be getting the original Star Wars movies.
Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in. :-(


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Moon & Tree

Ping was lying in her bed, when she saw the moon get tangled in the branches of a tree.  She called for Papa, who came into the room expecting monsters under the bed.  Instead, he found Ping, sitting up, big tears sliding down her cheeks.
Papa put away the maracas (because monsters of all kinds can’t stand the sound of maracas), sat on the bed and asked Ping what was wrong.
She pointed out the window. “The moon is stuck.”
Papa looked out the window and chuckled.  “The moon is fine. It just looks stuck, but it’s not.”
“It’s not?” Ping said, her little face full of doubt.
“Oh no,” explained Papa.  “The moon is high in the sky and the tree is just reaching for it, but it can’t touch it.  Nothing can touch the moon.”
“Oh. Why is the tree reaching for the moon, Papa?”
“Because it loves the moon and wants to hug it,” said Papa.  “But it can’t.”
“Does the moon love the tree?”
“I don’t know,” admitted Papa.  “Maybe.  Time to go to sleep now, sweetheart.”
Papa tucked her in again and, just for good measure, rattled the maracas to drive away any monsters.  Then he kissed Ping and said, “Goodnight.”
“It’s sad about the tree,” said Ping.  “It’s sad that it will never get to hold the moon.”
“Maybe, sweetheart. But we can’t always get what we want. Sweet dreams.”
The next morning, when Papa came down to breakfast, Ping had already left for school. Mama handed Papa a cup of tea and a blueberry scone and kissed him on the cheek.
“I have to run some errands this morning,” said Mama. “I’ll see you later.”
Papa walked her out to the car.  As he waved goodbye from the sidewalk, he noticed something yellow attached to the trunk of a tree.  The tree was an old birch and was the one Ping saw from her bedroom window.  Attached to its trunk with a bit of tape was a drawing of the moon.
Papa looked at it for a minute, then went into the house.  He came back outside a few minutes later and duct taped the picture to the tree.
Then he went back inside the house and finished his breakfast.

Monday, October 5, 2015

#SCFlood

No witty comments today.
Just pictures from where I live.






Thankfully, my home has not been flooded.  I still have electricity and running water.  Others haven't been as fortunate.
If you would like to help, the Salvation Army is accepting donations online or you can simply text STORM to 51555.  I'm sure any assistance would be appreciated.
What next?
Hopefully, dry weather.

Monday, September 28, 2015

An Adieu to Alloy Comics

For the last two years, I've had a side project going here on blogger.  It was called Alloy Comics and was born from the simple question: what if the DC Comics Universe and the Marvel Comics Universe got smooshed together?
I am not talking about the Amalgam Comics that both companies produced over a decade ago.  There were no badly named portmanteaus such as Apocalypso. Yes, that was the name of an actual Amalgam character; a fusion of Apocalypse and Eclipso. The name was not frightening at all, instead conjuring images of a villainous callypso singer, terrorizing the world with a Carribean steel-drum band.
No, Alloy Comics was based on the idea that the two universe got smooshed together in a Cosmic Event.  Since this event smooshed time together as well, as far as the inhabitants of the Alloy Universe were concerned, their world had always been like it was.
Jonah Hex rode with the Two-Gun Kid in the Old West.
Captain America was a member of the Justice Society of America.
Of course, the two universes didn't merge seemlessly.  They are, at their cores, quite different. The Marvel Universe has always been grim and gritty, wallowing in angst, while the DC Universe has always seemed more positive and friendly.
There would be changes.
There would have to be.
Most were precipitated, in-universe, by the Crisis.
The Crisis was the attempt by Axel Asher a.k.a. Access, to restore the two merged universes.  He would fail, thanks to the efforts of the Justice League of America, but that failure would have a price. Half of the Justice League (Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Iron Man, Superman and the Wasp) would perish.  The survivors of the battle would come together and form a team of successors called the Avengers.
There would be other changes, growing out from that point.
Dick Grayson would retire the Robin persona and follow in his dead mentor's footsteps, traveling the world, studying and learning a variety of skills so that he could one day take Batman's place.  As a result, he would never become involved with the Teen Titans.
Instead, the Teen Titans would consist of Aqualad, Kid Flash and the three surviving X-Men: Angel, Beast and Marvel Girl.  The Teen Titans would not exist as long in the Alloyverse as they had in the DCU, but the bonds forged would be longlasting.
With Superman dead, Thor would keep a pledge he had made to the Man of Steel, to defend Metropolis in his place. As a result, Thor would confront many of Superman's most dangerous foes as well as bringing his Asgardian enemies to the City of Tomorrow.
Superman's death would also affect Lois Lane. She would leave the Daily Planet to become a freelance journalist, reporting on world events. This would be a cover, however, to conceal her true actions as a newly minted agent of SHIELD.
Superman's death would also affect the far future.  The Legion of Super-Heroes would form, inspired by Superman's example, but guided by the principles of his spiritual successor, Spider-Man.  The Legion would go so far as to travel back to the 21st Century and bring Spider-Man back to their own time.  Faced with this amazing legacy, Spider-Man would be much more positive and proactive, even as he faced deadly new enemies like the Joker and Harley Quinn.
There were other stories.  How Barbara Gordon became the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club and was murdered by Deadpool.  How an alliance between the mysterious Raven and enigmatic Cable led to the creation of the New Titans. The strange connection between Donna Troy and Apocalypse. Captain America's revival and eventual joining of this world's Avengers. The romance between the second Flash (Wally West) and the Scarlet Witch, as they served together on the Avengers, eventually marrying and suffering a terrible tragedy. There were so many more.
The Alloyverse was a lot of fun.  It was a good creative outlet as well, when the words wouldn't flow, but I still had the need to make something. I became quite adept at photoshopping comic covers.
But after two years, I decided it was time to bring it to an end.
The Multiverse returned.
The Alloyverse splintered, its component universes reverting, all knowledge of their shared experiences erased.
And so, I bid adieu to the world of Alloy Comics.
Perhaps I'll return their some day.
After all, anything is possible.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Avoidance

Good afternoon, gentle readers.
Today, I have been avoiding this blog like a politician avoids the truth.
Why?
Because writing has been difficult lately and producing this blog only drives that fact home.
So, I fall into avoidance mode.
"Oh! I can't work on the blog right now! I have to do laundry!"
"Oh! I can't possibly commit to writing anything right now! I have to pay my bills!"
"Oh! I was totally going to write a blog but then I saw that Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer had a baby and now I forget what I was going to write about!"
The excuses, ladies and gentlemen, have been many and contrived.
And, ironically, as I sit here, typing this on my much-abused laptop, I realize that they were not necessary.
Look, ma! I'm writing!
I may not be writing about anything earth-shaking, but I'm writing.
That's better than not writing.
Hope everyone out there has a good week!
And congratulations to Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer on the birth of their son, Anthony. If the kid is half as interesting as his parents, the future should be interesting.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fear

Hello, gentle readers.
How are you this evening?
I'm . . . okay.
Well, no, I'm not really okay.
I am stuck.
I've been stuck all day.
The writing, it will not happen.  I sit here, staring at the screen for hours at a time and nothing wants to come.  Story does not flow. The well is dry.
And I feel the fear creep out of the corners of my heart.
What if I can't write any more?
What if I never manage to write anything ever again?
What if I spend the rest of my life staring at a blank screen?
If I'm not a writer, what am I?
Who am I?
The fear gets a bit bigger with every 'What if...?' Until it feels like my throat is closing up and I want to scream into a pillow.
And then I remember the Litany Against Fear, from Frank Herbert's Dune novels:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

I take some small comfort from that, but small comfort is better than none at all.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Food! Glorious food!

Good afternoon, gentle readers!
Sorry I've been away for a while, but I'm back now and I want to talk about something near and dear to my heart: food.
I love food.
I love potato chips and snack crackers, boiled eggs and pimento cheese, roast chicken and mashed potatoes with all the fixings.
Unfortunately, as a writer, I tend to nibble as I write. Or try to write. Or just stare blankly at the laptop's screen.
One of the reasons I hate touchscreens with a passion is because I eat Cheetos when I'm on the computer.  Have you ever tried to read a computer screen covered in streaks of orange Cheeto-dust?
And, because these are snack foods, they probably aren't the healthiest things in the world.
So, I try not to snack when on the computer.
I have some success because I compromise by having supper as I log onto the Internet.
And even though a supper of Cheez-Its and hot dogs might taste great, in the long run, it's just not that great for you.
Lately, gentle readers, I have porked up.  For those of you overseas unfamiliar with American vernacular, that means I've gotten a bit fat.
I can tell by the way my clothes fit, by the tightness in my belt.  When summer started it was actually loose but in the last month or so I've been eating a lot of junky food.
So, I've gained weight.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, I have to lose it.
Which means considering food options and, more important, food habits.
We are all creatures of habit. If you grab a bag of chips when you sit down to bingewatch Daredevil on Netflix, you and I both know that you're probably not going to stop doing it.  So, instead, grab something healthier.  Apple chips are nice.  Salt-free pretzels work too if you can find them.  Whatever you do, don't try to substitute celery, because celery is just gross and I don't know anyone who actually enjoys eating it.
And, then, of course, there's the question of what to eat in the first place? What kind of diet do you want to follow? What sort of diet can you actually follow without feeling completely deprived?
Usually, a low fat diet works for me. As a convenience eater, the only cooking appliance I tend to use is the microwave.  If it can't be microwaved, I'm not going to eat it.  (Don't judge. I'm single.)
The low-fat diet I usually follow lets me use a lot of the same brand names I like and trust, it just limits my selection. I wind up eating a lot more veggies too.  Stuff like green beans and potatoes.
I tried going vegetarian once.  It lasted about two days before I went berserk and scarfed down an entire Pizza Hut large Meat Lovers Pizza by myself.  In less than 30 minutes.
So, a vegetarian diet isn't for yours truly.  In addition to the fact that you have to eat an entire freaking field of cabbage to maintain your calories, there's also a nifty little item called 'cost' to consider.
All those people out there pushing you to eat vegan or organic or 'real food' are making more than minimum wage.  I suspect they also have chefs.
So I'm going to buy what I can afford, that's healthier than what I'm currently eating and that's going to be quick to prepare. Tonight, for example, I'm experimenting with a low carb dinner of kielbasa with a broccoli/carrot/bean sprout stir fry, liberally smothered in shredded cheese.  Also, boiled eggs.
I tried Adkins once and lasted about as long as I did on the vegetarian diet.  After two days, I was ready to stab somebody for a fruit cup.
So, while you're sitting there, cranking out the next International Best Seller, do yourself a favor. Put away the bowl of chips and go find something nicer.
You'll probably thank me in the morning.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Prez: A Review

Prez is a new offering from DC Comics' Vertigo imprint.  The premise is very simple: in the year 2036, a teenager named Beth Ross is elected President of the United States.  Hijinx ensue.
Or, I suppose they are meant to ensue.
So far, Prez has been neither funny nor entertaining.
In the first issue we are given a vision of future America where corporations run the country through corrupt politicians.
Is this meant to be shocking?
Anyone?
Hello?
Bueller?
It isn't.
There is nothing shocking or amusing about the world that Mark Russell has created.  It's pretty much the world right outside your window.  Politicians trade favors all the time. They get bought and traded like hookers at a sleazy bachelor party today.  We all know this.
So, what about the protagonist? What about Beth Ross?
Three issues in and she is about as interesting as unbuttered toast.  She got elected President via an Internet campaign organized by future-Anonymous after appearing in a supposedly embarrassing internet video.  As a representation of apathy and angst, she does okay.  As a protagonist and/or everyman character, I think she falls far of the mark.
I don't care about this character. I don't care about this world.
This title is meant, I think, to be a kind of satire on our current world.  But even there, it fails.  Satire is meant to have bite.
This?  This doesn't have bite. This doesn't have teeth.  This title is trying to gum us to death, and it's failing at that, too.  At best, it's covering our faces with warm saliva.
Prez is meant to be a 12-issue miniseries.  After three issues, I'm wondering if it'll last even that long.
Maybe Russell is holding his funny stuff in reserve?  Maybe future issues will have bite.
If they do, good for them.
I, alas, will not be there to witness the hijinx.
After three issues of blandness, I am ditching this title.
Maybe I'll pick it up as a trade, if DC released it as such.
But I wouldn't bet a Presidential election on it.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Roll for Initiative

Good afternoon, gentle readers!
I hope you've all had a good weekend and didn't get so pissed you couldn't go to work. My weekend was fairly typical.  I played Dungeons & Dragons with some friends.
Yes, I know.
I am a geek.
But it's fun.
I haven't played in ages, so when I was invited to play with this group a few months back, I was a little hesitant. I love D&D, but my experience with D&D players has been somewhat . . . varied.
Still, I'd rather hang out with tabletop RPGers than the MTG crowd.
Most of those guys are just assholes.
And I have to say that I have enjoyed my time with this group.  We aren't playing as 'serious' a game as I might like, but it's been a lot of fun.  The group dynamic has been good.
Unfortunately, for me, the game has kind of derailed my creative endeavors.
I was making progress on a story, but now all I want to do is world-build a possible D&D setting.
*sigh*
I shouldn't complain.
Actually, I'm not complaining.
I love world-building, it's a lot of fun coming up with continents and deities, cities and histories. As a matter of fact, the first thing I ever published was a nonspecific RPG sourcebook.  It was called Winter City: The City of Marvels, and it was a labor of love set in a superheroic universe.
Now, I find myself contemplating a proper fantasy setting.
Only, I'm trying to avoid the usual tropes that accompany most fantasy settings: elves are good, dwarves are dower, humans are the dominant race, etc.
It's more challenging than you'd think.
Especially if you're trying to be original.
I have to admit to feeling a little guilty about working on this stuff instead of another story for publication, but then I remembered: I am my own boss.  I am not under contract.  The only person that I have to satisfy is myself.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, makes all the difference.
What next?
Let's find out....

Monday, August 3, 2015

SUMMER DAYS

Summer days.
Dog days.
Heat risin'.
Sweat fallin',
tricklin' down,
down,
down.
Into secret places,
moist and dark,
that men think about.
Just think about though,
right here,
right now.
It's summer days.
Dog days.
Too hot to fuck.
Too hot for anythin',
but sittin' in shade,
nursin' a cold bottle.
Sittin there,
watching the heavens,
blue and flawless,
prayin' for autumn skies
and cool breezes.
Prayin' in vain,
it feels like,
'cause its summer days.
Dog days.
And we got a ways
still to go.

Monday, July 27, 2015

THE BLACK PYRAMID

THE BLACK PYRAMID

The storm came out of nowhere. It swept over the caravan, turning day into night. Through the hiss of sand, I could hear the screams of horses, the shouts of men. I had taken shelter in one of the wagons. The last thing I recall, before the darkness swallowed me, was the groan of wood as the wagon came apart.

Miraculously - and that is a word that I don’t use lightly - I survived the storm.

I woke up in the baking heat of the desert sun. There was no sign of the caravan. The wagons were gone, torn apart by the storm or buried in the shifting sands.

There were other survivors. The halfling, Tyla, an elf called Hal and another human, named Salazar. We were the only survivors and none of us were in great shape.

We searched for supplies but found none. The four of us only had what we had been carrying. Granted, the halfling was better prepared than the rest of us, but she played her cards close to her chest.

The desert extended around us for miles in every direction. We discussed our options. To say they were limited would be an understatement. After a brief talk, the four of us continued west. Perhaps we would find usable supplies from the caravan? Or maybe an oasis?

We marched abreast and what a sight we must have made. The halfling and the elf in plate mail, me in my leathers and Salazar in his dusky cloak and slouch hat. I would not have said we were friends, but chance had made us companions.

After a while, Hal brought us to a stop.

"There!" He pointed to the north. "Do you see?"

We followed his finger and could see something dark in the distance.

"A town?" said Salazar, a note of hope in his voice.

Tyla was incredulous. "Out here in the middle of nowhere? Ruins more likely."

"There might be a well," I said. "Maybe an oasis."

"There’s nothing else around and night will be on us soon," said Hal. "At the least, even ruins might offer some shelter."

We agreed and headed north.

As we grew closer, it became apparent that the structure rising from the desert was, indeed, some kind of ruin. At first, it appeared to be a pyramid, but as we drew nearer it became obvious that it was a ziggurat. A ziggurat made of black stone.

It became equally obvious that most of the ziggurat was buried beneath the shifting sands. Had the storm uncovered it, I wondered? Or had it buried it?

At the base of the pyramid, we found a pathway leading to its crown. Salazar immediately began to climb it, ignoring our protests and calls for caution. Tyla, scowling a little, went after him, her plate armor gleaming in the sun.

Halatoid and I stood at the base of the pyramid. I was scanning the area around the structure, hoping to spot some sign of life that might suggest water. Hal, however, was looking behind us.

"There’s something following us."

I turned and saw nothing.

"Are you sure?"

He said nothing, merely unsheathed his sword and stepped away from the black stone.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

I was torn between following the others up the pyramid and accompanying Hal. This place, it gave me an eerie feeling.

That was when I saw it. A yellowish fin, emerging from the sand, very briefly, before vanishing again.

"We should go," I said to Hal.

The elf just grinned. That should have been my first warning that he wasn’t quite right. He shifted his grip on his sword.

"You go if you want to," he said. "I want to see what that is."

Perhaps the gods were listening. There was an explosion of sand in front of us and the beast emerged. It was large and weirdly blunt, standing on four thick legs. It had large, evil eyes on either side of its head. Its gaping maw was full of serrated teeth and it had a stub-like nose.

I stepped back, the handle of my warhammer slick in my hands.

Hal stepped forward.

With a cry, he performed an elaborate acrobatic maneuver that somehow landed him astride the beast’s back. I’m not sure who was more surprised by his actions, the beast or me.

The beast was definitely surprised by what Hal did next. Laughing, the elf raised his sword and drove it down, into the creature’s back. It opened its mouth and roared, more in anger than pain. The creature began to thrash about, trying to dislodge its small tormentor.

I was terrified by the beast, but impressed by Hal’s self-confidence. Sense said that I should have left him to his fate, but there is a reason I chose to serve the Burning Heart. Bellowing, I rushed forward and slammed my warhammer into the beast’s nose.

My hammer shattered like glass. I staggered back, shocked but unhurt. The beast seemed more annoyed than anything else by my attack. I unslung my shield, got ready to defend myself.

On the creature’s back, Hal seemed to have come to his senses a bit. I saw him, one hand still grasping his sword, raise his free hand. Eldritch energies flickered around his fingertips and he lay his hand upon the beast’s stony-hide. Whatever spell he had been trying to cast had apparently failed.

I still held the handle of my hammer. It was a meager weapon, but probably would be more effective against the creature than my whip. If I was quick, perhaps I could drive the handle into one of the beast’s eyes? Might that not hurt it enough to convince it to flee?

On its back, I saw Hal clinging for dear life. I thought he was trying to pull his sword free, perhaps to plunge it back into the creature? Perhaps he was trying to saw its spine out? I never found out.

Gripping the remnant of my warhammer, I jumped forward, aiming for the beast’s eye. But the creature was thrashing so badly that I missed its eye and, much to my horror, struck my companion.

The sharp ends of my hammer pierced Hal’s ankle and the creature’s skin. Instead of helping, I had effectively pinned him to the beast. The beast thrashed about and knocked me to the ground. I lay there, eyes wide, and began to pray to pray to my goddess for help if she were so inclined.

Perhaps she listened and acted. More likely the beast simply chose to leave, tired of the thrashing figure atop its back. With a roar, it bounded away, diving headfirst into the desert sands. On its back, I could see Hal, flailing like a rag doll.

Then beast and elf were gone and I was alone, lying on the sand, mortified by my failure to help my companion, but thrilled to still be alive.

After a few moments, I cautiously climbed to my feet. There was no sign of the beast. Nor was there any sign of our companions. Had they not heard our battle? Had something happened to them?

Quickly, I ran to the black pyramid and sprinted up the path to the top. I arrived at the ziggurat’s apex to find an unexpected scene. Three colossal metal statues stood atop the pyramid. One appeared to be a sorcerer with a wand, another was a warrior and the third was a woman holding a flower. Some kind of priest? Or were the three of them meant to be gods? I had no idea.

Of greater concern to me was the body lying in an open doorway. Had disaster struck my remaining companions? I rushed over and was relieved to see that the body was old and desiccated. It had been lying in the sun and air for a long time.

I looked into the room beyond the corpse. It was dim and smelt musty, like dust and death. Black pillars supported a low ceiling. There was a curious grinding noise I could not identify and, in the far corner, a hatch leading, presumably, to a lower level.

Cautiously, I stepped into the room.

"Tyla! Salazar!"

From the hatch, I heard Tyla’s voice. "Here, Killian!"

I moved over to the hatch and peered through it. Below, I could see Tyla standing besides a prone Salazar. The other human appeared to have three arrows lodged in his leg. I could hear his harsh breathing from where I stood.

"What happened?" I asked.

"Booby-trap," explained Tyla. Then, "Look out for the ceiling."

Frowning, I looked up and realized that the room’s ceiling was lower. Tyla’s pack was open and I caught a glimpse of rope.

"Tyla, throw me some rope!"

She did not hesitate. She threw me the entire coil of rope. As I looked around, trying to find something to tie it off too, I realized that the ceiling was dropping too quickly. I could not get my companions out in time.

Very briefly, I considered abandoning them. I thought about rushing back out to the pyramid’s roof and leaving Tyla and Salazar to their fates. But then I pushed such thoughts aside and dropped the rope back through the hatch. I heard Salazar grunt as it smacked into his chest.

"Look out! I’m coming down!"

I had meant to drop through the hole, but the ceiling was so low by that point that I had no choice but to dive through it, head first. Like the rope, I landed on Salazar. He did not so much grunt this time as gurgle.

As I rolled off of him, I heard the crunch of splintering wood as the hatch was crushed by the ceiling. Immediately, the room we were in was plunged into darkness.

Tyla muttered beneath her breath and, a moment later, she had produced a small lamp, the kind popular with dwarf miners. By its feeble light I could see that the room we were in was small and unadorned. There was no furniture, no decorations, just smooth black walls. In one corner was a pile of what appeared to be refuse, in another was a stone stairway leading down into darkness.

"Bones," said Tyla, seeing my gaze.

I nodded and turned to Salazar. The arrows were jutting out of his thigh. By the lamplight, I could see his skin had taken on a waxy hue.

"That’s not good," I murmured.

Among his possessions, Salazar had a knife and a collection of what turned out to be thieves’ tools. I took the knife, which felt strange in my hand, and tried to remove the arrows from his leg. Unfortunately, the arrowheads were buried deep and the best I could do was cut away the shafts.

I took out my holy symbol and kissed it, then called upon my goddess’s favor and lay my hands on Salazar’s wounded leg. There was a rush of warmth as divine energies poured through me and, as I watched, the arrow wounds closed as Salazar’s flesh knit together.

I thought his breathing changed a little, but the waxy sheen to his flesh did not improve. He grunted and moved feebly, pressed something into my hand.

Looking down, I saw that Salazar was passing me a vial filled with a smoky, gray liquid. There were glyphs on the stopper, identifying the vial as a potion of gaseous form.

"Take it," he managed to grunt, then his eyes rolled back into his head and he was unconscious.

I had been so focused on Salazar that I had been unaware that Tyla had made a discovery of her own. Among the bones and refuse, she had found what appeared to be a sprite of some kind. It was small, one-armed and possessed the burned nubs of wings on its back.

Its name was Bernadette and it was an offensive, traitorous little creature. We took an instant dislike to each other.

Tyla, however, seemed to form an almost maternal attachment to the wretched thing. Even going so far as to defend it when, moved by righteous anger, I tried to smack the little bitch with my whip.

"Stop that," said the halfling. "Maybe she can help."

"How?" I demanded. "What can a one-armed, wingless sprite do to help?"

"Maybe she knows a way out of this pyramid. Maybe she knows what we’ll find."

"Death," said the sprite. She seemed distracted by Salazar. "Worse than his. Death all in feathers."

"Oh yes," I said. "That’s really useful."

Tyla scowled at me and turned back to the sprite who was sort of craning her neck toward Salazar.

"I can help him," said Bernadette.

"How?" I asked, instantly suspicious.

"I can help him," she repeated.

"How can you help him, sweetheart?" asked Tyla.

The sprite either couldn’t or wouldn’t give us a straight answer. In the end, Salazar was dead anyway so we didn’t really have a lot to lose. Tyla took Bernadette over to our poisoned companion.

As we watched, the sprite opened its mouth and a ripple went through its flesh. Its head morphed into a gray wormlike thing with a mouth full of pinkish suckers. As we watched, appalled, Bernadette thrust her mouth against Salazar’s exposed thigh and, leech-like, began to suck his blood.

Tyla and I shared a look of disgust, and then something unexpected happened. A swarm of shimmering golden lights erupted from the feeding sprite’s body, enveloping Salazar in blinding radiance. There was a flash of light and a clap of displaced air.

When my eyes cleared, I saw that Salazar was gone. In his place, lying on the floor, looking confused, was a dirty and dusty Hal.  Bernadette was snuggling against his foot, licking his wounded ankle.

"Holy gods," I muttered.

Hal blinked and looked around. "What happened?" he asked, groggily. He looked down at his foot, at Bernadette. "What’s going on?"

"What do you remember?" I asked, kneeling next to him.

Hal’s eyes flashed. "I remember you pinning me to that . . . that land-shark!"

"That was an accident!" I protested.

"So’s this!" shouted Hal and punched me in the eye.

I reeled back, startled more than hurt. I couldn’t really blame him for taking the swing. I had pinned him to the land-shark.

"I like him," said Bernadette.

"Boys!" said Tyla, standing over us, hands on her hips. "We don’t have time for this! Bernadette, what happened to Salazar?"

"Sent him away," said the sprite. "To a better place."

"It looked like wild magic to me," I said, rubbing my eye. "Logically, if Hal is here, then Salazar must have taken his place on the back of the land-shark."

"I’m not sure logic applies to wild magic," said Tyla.

At that point, I was starting to wonder if logic had anything to do with any of this.

* * * * *

Exhausted by the day’s exertions, we passed the first night in that room. Tyla kept watch, sitting near the stairwell, talking quietly with the sprite. Hal kept giving me dirty looks. I did my best to ignore them and curled up in a corner of the room, my back against the wall.

I woke up, hours later, to the sound of Hal pissing in the corner. Tyla was standing, swinging her pack onto her shoulder.

"Wake up, priest," she said. "We’ve places to go."

"Where?" I asked, yawning and stretching.

"No place to go but down," said Hal.

"Before we go anywhere, I need to pray," I said.

Tyla shrugged and Hal grunted and produced a small book of spells. As I prayed, I felt my goddess’s favor wash over me. In my mind, divine spells glimmered like fireworks.

"Hal, come here."

He came to me, reluctantly. I lay my hands on his wounded ankle and called upon my goddess’s blessings. Instantly, one of the divine spells grew brighter in my mind’s eye and I felt the Burning Heart’s power course through me.

Hal shuddered as his wounded ankle was made well. He looked down at me with sea-green eyes.

"Thank you."

I just nodded and stood.

Tyla and Bernadette were waiting by the stairs. The sprite seemed uneasy.

"What do you think is down there?" I asked.

"Let’s find out," said the halfling and began to descend the stairs, her plate armor clanking with every step. Hal followed and I brought up the rear.

The stairwell ended in a gloomy corridor. Belatedly, I realized that there was barely enough light to see by in the place. It was grayish and had an unearthly feel to it, dim to the point I’d be grateful for a proper torch.

The corridor stretched forward into darkness. There was a door to the left of the stairway. As Tyla moved to examine it, the sprite left her side and retreated to the stairs. Hal crept down the corridor and returned soon.

"There’s a door at the end of the corridor," he said, "and another about halfway down its length."

"I think," said Tyla, "that there’s something alive behind that door." She pointed to the door she had been examining. "I thought I heard breathing and movement."

"Well," I said, "there’s only one way to find out."

Hal reached out and grasped my hand. "Wait."

He lay his hand against the door and muttered something beneath his breath. Arcane energies blazed, briefly, in his eyes and were gone.

"Okay," said the elf. "Now."

We opened the door and discovered a large, torch lit room. There were several small, furry bodies lying insensate around the room. Rats, I realized. Caught in Hal’s sleeping spell.

Searching the room, we found no one inside it or the adjoining corridors. Which was odd and a little disturbing. Who had lit the torches? Who had Tyla heard, moving about inside? Had it just been the rats?

At some point, we lost Bernadette. The sprite had lagged behind in the large room, eying the helpless rats and, literally, licking her lips. As the rest of us explored the corridor that branched off from that room, we heard the sprite utter a short, sharp scream. Then silence.

"Should we see if she’s okay?" asked Hal.

Tyla’s face hardened. "No."

We continued in that vein for a while, exploring the surrounding corridors and rooms. At one point, Tyla witnessed a procession of sorts make its way down the gloomy hallway. She described the figures as small, smaller than a halfling, wearing elaborate feathered masks and carrying spears. They did not spot her and we departed that area, finding another stairway that led us down, deeper into the black pyramid’s depths.

At one point, we discovered a dungeon. It was occupied by the fresh corpses of a kobold and an orc. They appeared to have died from starvation.

Beyond the dungeon lay a pair of doors, firelight gleaming around their edges. Carefully, Tyla tested the doors and found them unlocked. They opened silently, on well-oiled hinges. Using her natural halfling stealth, Tyla peered into the room.

"There’s about a half dozen of those featherheads in there," she whispered, after carefully closing the door.

"What are they doing?"

"Working on those weird masks," said Tyla.

"What do they look like without them?" I asked.

She shook her head. "I couldn’t see, they had their backs to me."

We debated the situation and eventually decided to attack the featherheads, as Tyla had named them. My offensive talents were limited at that point, but Hal still had a few effective spells at his command. Once again, he cast his sleep spell through the door.

Only this time, he did not get everyone. A single featherhead remained awake, caught by surprise when we burst into the room. As Hal and I rushed him, Tyla secured the doors behind us with rope from her pack.

The featherhead squawked something in an unfamiliar tongue and dodged Hal’s first thrust with his sword. I followed him, lashing out with my whip to no real effect. Then Hal struck again, his blade skewering the little creature, killing him instantly.

As soon as the one creature was dead, Hal went to the others and methodically cut their throats. While he did that, Tyla and I searched the room. There was a brace of spears against one wall, a couple of tables and that was it. The featherheads had nothing of interest or value on their persons.

Tired and frustrated the three of us settled into that room for a rest. We left the bodies where they lay and took solitary watches through the ‘night.’ At one point, Tyla thought she heard movement from behind one of the room’s two doors, but she did not investigate. She told us about it the next morning.

That morning, as I completed my morning prayers, I was surprised to discover new divine spells gleaming behind my eyes. Apparently, my actions had won the fickle favor of the Burning Heart. I wondered what she made of all of this? Of the three of us stumbling through these dusty, dark corridors searching for . . . what exactly? What were we searching for? A way out of this pyramid? Back into the desert? Treasure? Glory?

I shook my head, trying to clear it. I knew what I wanted: to survive, to escape this black tomb with its queer inhabitants and return to the green, wet lands of the south. I touched my holy symbol, cool against my chest, and swore that I would survive. That I would get out of this devil-cursed place and see the tall spires of my homeland again. No matter what I had to do or who I had to kill to get there.

With that in mind I rose to my feet and walked to the wall. Tyla and Hal watched me as I lay my hand against one of the stones. Their eyes widened in surprise as cold, wet water began to gush from the stone, streaming across the stone floor.

Quickly, Tyla produced an empty wine skin from her pack and filled it. Hal did the same. I merely shoved my face into the enchanted fountain and drank until I could drink no more.

When the three of us were sated, the water still flowing from the stone wall, we turned our attention back to the room. The bodies had started to smell and we were eager to be away from this place. It was a small miracle that no one had stumbled upon us during the night.

Besides the doors we had come through, there were two other doors in the room. One seemed to have a faint current of air flowing from beneath it. The other did not.

Thinking it was possibly a closet, secretly hoping it was a pantry, we opened it. On the other end, a short corridor and another closed door.

"This place is nothing but closed doors and dark corridors," I muttered.

Tyla chuckles and said something about that being a metaphor for her entire life. Hal slipped down the corridor and lay his hand against the shut door.

"It’s warm," he reported.

"Maybe it leads outside," said Tyla.

"Maybe it leads to a kitchen," I said, my stomach grumbling.

"Or maybe it leads to a forge," said Hal. "We won’t know until we open it."

"That should be our group’s motto," I joked.

Hal snorted.

"Do we want to go that way?" asked Tyla. "There’s air coming from the other door. It may lead outside."

"Or not," said Hal. "We can’t afford to ignore any door in this place, I think."

Reluctantly, we agreed with him and walked down the corridor. Tyla took the lead and Hal brought up the rear. I marched between them, clutching my whip in one hand and my holy symbol in the other.

After a brief examination of the door, Hal pushed it open. I moved past him, into another large room. It appeared to be L-shaped with a fireplace dominating the wall ahead of me, to the left. There were two large, ornately carved pillars on either side of the fireplace and, as we walked into the room, Hal pointed out the presence of scat on the floor.

"Animal?" I asked.

"Let’s hope so," said Hal. But his green eyes narrowed and he swept the room with his gaze.

I moved toward one of the pillars, and, as I did so, we heard a sort of whuffling sound coming from the darkness. Tyla had pulled a small crossbow from her pack, which was looking mostly empty now, and Hal had his sword at the ready.

Looking at my companions, I nodded at them and stepped out from behind the pillar. Immediately, a low growl emanated from the darkness at the far end of the room, from the base of the ‘L.’ It sounded canine.

Perhaps it was the heat or the lack of food, but I stood there and began to call to the creature as if it were a favorite pet.

"Here, boy! C’mon, boy! C’mon!"

The growl was replaced with a kind of puzzled grunt and luminous golden eyes appeared in the darkness. As they drew nearer, I could make out what appeared to be a large dog, about the size of a wolfhound.

"Oh! Who’s a good boy, then? Who’s a good boy?"

I made little kissing noises at the canine which looked genuinely puzzled. As it drew nearer, I could tell that the light in its eyes was not reflected firelight.

Who knows what would have happened next if Hal hadn’t stepped into the canine’s view. Its puzzled grunts turned to hostile growls and it opened its mouth and fired a blast of fire at my elf companion. The flame rushed past me, hot enough to scorch my flesh, to drive me back.

Hellhound, I realized.

Hal dodged the flame and rushed forward, shouting, his sword extended. As he rushed forward, Tyla stepped forward and fired an arrow from her crossbow. Unfortunately, her aim was off and the arrow slammed into Hal’s back. His armor took the brunt, but his charge was thrown off and his blade landed only a glancing blow to the hellhound.

It snarled and spun, eyes blazing, flecks of foam on its maw. Opening its mouth, it shot another stream of fire at Hal.

He never had a chance to avoid it and shrieked in agony as his body burst into flame.

Perhaps I could have saved him, if I’d called upon my goddess’s divine favor. Perhaps. I’ll never know.

Instinct kicked in and I backed away from the hellhound and the burning corpse of my companion. It ignored me, growling at Hal’s body.

The beast was so intent on Hal that it did not notice Tyla fire. This time, her arrow struck true, burying itself in the hound’s flank, up to the fletching. It barked in surprised pain and then rushed past the halfling toward the corridor that connected its chamber to the featherheads’ chamber.

Tyla, snarling, had shoved another bolt into her bow and cranked the string back into place. As the hellhound darted past her, she fired at it. Her shot went wild, the arrow bouncing off the stone wall, to clatter uselessly on the corridor’s stone floor.

The hellhound turned and breathed its hellish breath once more. Flames washed over Tyla. I watched her scream and fall, breathed in the stink of burning hair and flesh. For a moment, she seemed to beat frantically at her hands, but then she fell to the ground.

Dead.

My companions were dead.

The hellhound stood in the corridor, bleeding from its wound, blocking the only way out of the chamber. I had leather armor and a whip. Even if I’d had time to get to my companions, to grab Hal’s sword or Tyla’s crossbow, it would incinerate me before I could use them.

I had nothing.

Nothing but . . .

My hand went to my pocket, where Salazar’s potion lay, still stoppered. With desperate, clumsy fingers I grasped the vial, tore the stopper free and downed the potion.

A curious sense of lightness enveloped me. I heard the clatter of my possessions falling to the ground and looked down, saw that my body had vanished. My armor, my holy symbol, my whip. All lay in a heap on the floor.

The hellhound looked confused.

Out, I thought. I want to get out of this mad place!

I surged forward, swirling around the confused beast, and backtracked our route. We had taken so much time, exploring the rooms, on guard against the strange threats this place housed. Now, intangible and invisible, I rushed down the corridors, passing through doors like a wind until I emerged from the top of the pyramid. It was sunset.

No sooner had I stepped into the sun’s rays than the potion’s effects vanished. My flesh returned, solid and pale and too, too vulnerable.

The dead goblin was still there. I looted his corpse of its clothes and, exhausted, sat beneath one of the large, metal statues. I shut my eyes and muttered a prayer of thanks to the Burning Heart, but felt no sense of connection. When I fumbled, tentatively for the divine spells that usually resided in front of my mind’s eye, I encountered nothing but darkness.

Obviously, I had displeased her. How? Who knows? The Burning Heart can be a fickle bitch of a goddess.

As I sat there, in the fading sunlight, far to the west I saw a familiar, monstrous form erupt from the sand. Pinned to the land-shark’s back was the corpse of Salazar.

I hoped that he and my other companions had managed to find their way to a good afterlife. I suppose they deserved it, considering how horrible their deaths had been.

I did not see the land-shark again.

As for me? I survived, obviously.

I sat atop the pyramid and prayed and won my goddess’s favor. As I said, the Burning Heart is a fickle bitch, but she forgives as quickly as she angers.

Nothing emerged from the pyramid to kill me. No tiny assassins in feathered masks. No hellhounds. No irritating sprite.

Between my water spell and the goblin remains, I survived. It wasn’t pleasant and it wasn’t easy but I did it and I thanked my goddess every damned day.

Eventually, another caravan came along. We were near a trade route after all. I rushed out to meet them and warn them away from the Black Pyramid. It took some convincing, but they believed me and we crossed the desert in relative safety.

In the west, in the city of Misha, I found a temple to the Burning Heart. After several days of thought and prayer, I left the goddess’s service. I left my holy symbol on her sacred altar and walked out into the city, just another man.

The first place I went was an armory where I bought the best godsdamned sword I could afford. Then I went to a pub and got drunk off my ass for three days straight.

Sometimes I dream about the Black Pyramid. In the dreams, my companions are still trapped there: Tyla, Hal, Salazar. Their ghosts watch me with cold, gray eyes beseeching me to help them, to come free their spirits.

I don’t care much for sleep these days.

And that’s my story, friend. The story of a lapsed cleric from the South, working as a sellsword in the west. If you’re still interested in hiring me, you can leave a message for me at the pub. Just know that if you plan to go into any godsdamned pyramids, you can count me out. Okay?

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Dream is Over

Once upon a time, gentle readers, I used to love the X-Men.  They were one of my favorite comics, right after Wolfman and Perez's New Teen Titans.  I was reading X-Men before Jean Grey died the first time.
The X-Men used to resonate with their comic readers because they were mutants. Freaks. Outcasts. Chances are, if you were reading comics a couple of decades ago, that's kind of how you were perceived by other people.
And if you were an outsider, if you did exist on the fringe of the teenage world, X-Men could be a source of strength.  The characters were hated and feared simply because of what they were.  In the real world, this could apply to a lot of people who felt marginalized by the ridiculous media-fed image of what 'normal' and 'cool' meant.
I don't love the X-Men any more.
I read the comics into the 1990s. I watched as Marvel Comics, in their infinite wisdom (Hah!), decided to reunite the original X-Men.  This meant somehow bringing Jean Grey back from the dead. If it had been a one off event, it might have been palatable. But these days, Jean Grey has died and come back about 13 times.  Her death no longer has any relevance to fans and, to be honest, neither does her life.
The resurrection of Jean Grey and the formation of X-Factor was the beginning of the end of my love of X-Men.  I was never a huge fan of Cyclops, but when he literally abandoned his wife and newborn son to return to Jean Grey's creepy, possibly psychically motivated embrace, what little good will I had toward the character was soured.
My opinion of the X-Men has only gotten worse over the last few years.
Part of the problem was oversaturation. The X-Men went from having two books to having too many books.  Mutants were everywhere. They lost their cache. And, compared to the Avengers and Fantastic Four, the X-Men were pretty much idiots.
The entire raison d'etre for their existence was to improve relations between mutants and normal humans.  They've been about as effective at this as the royal parents in Frozen were at teaching Elsa not to fear her power.
Even more recently, the X-Men have schismed, divided into opposing factions. One, led by Cyclops, determined to do whatever he has to to protect the mutant race, and the other led by Wolverine, who is trying to carry on Charles Xavier's dread of engendering peace between mutants and humans.
I don't know anyone who is reading X-Men comics today who feels any genuine affection for the characters any longer. Despite this, the books continue to sell. Fox continues to churn out awful movies.
The X-Men used to be about outsiders banding together to improve their lot. Nowadays, the X-Men are about these two groups of mutants who have radically different approaches to the same end. They have become the comic equivalent of the Republicans and Democrats.
I don't buy X-Men books any more. The characters just piss me off.  Even the appearance of old favorites like Nightcrawler, can't convince me to plunk down my hard earned money for their books.
It doesn't help that Cyclops has pretty much become the new Magneto.  Or that he's traded being Jean Grey's doormat for being Emma Frost's.
So, when this happened in the latest issue of Secret Wars -


- I actually exalted in the apparent death of Cyclops at the hands of Doctor Doom.
I confessed to a coworker once that I think the Marvel Universe would be so much better with significantly fewer mutants and, wait for it, no X-Men at all.
Why?
Because the X-Men are unlikable. They're pretty much a bunch of dicks in tacky spandex. As one of their own members commented, "X-Men make everything worse."
That's too true.
They're Iron Man without the charisma.  They are the 80-year-old version of Captain America. They are a bottle of wine that has turned to vinegar.
It's time to toss the X-Men aside, to banish them from the Marvel Universe and, hopefully, replace them with a bunch of new mutants who would not bear the stigma of the 'X.'
Charles Xavier's dream isn't just dead, it was never fucking born.
It's time to move on.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Minions

Today, I went and saw Minions.
In a nutshell, it's pretty much the story of how the little yellow guys wound up meeting Gru. There are, of course, interesting diversions along the way.
Overall, I thought the movie was okay.
There were some funny bits, including an homage to a certain famous album cover and a once-upon-a-time controversial musical. A lot of that humor, I think, will go right over little kids' heads, but there's still enough slapstick humor in the movie to make the kids giggle.
I will say that the movie does deserve its PG rating. Some of the humor is a little dark and there is some cartoonish violence, but nothing really bad.
However, I feel I have to say that I think the minions works best as minions. I don't think they're dynamic enough characters to warrant another minion-centric movie. Instead, let's see them in their natural habitat, working devotedly and slavishly for Gru.  Or whoever is going to take Gru's place, once the minions realize he isn't really a villain any longer.
Overall, I would give Minions 3 out of 5 stars.  It's a pretty decent movie, but nowhere near as funny as it could have been.

Frightening Fairy Tales

I like a good fairy tale as much as the next person, but sometimes they're just so saccharine-sweet that you could go into diabetic shock.  So what if the tales we know and love had different outcomes? Outcomes that weren't so great for the usual suspects?
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Frightening Fairy Tales!

SNOWFALL

Once upon a time in the middle of winter, when the flakes of snow were falling like feathers from the clouds, a Queen sat at her palace window, which had an ebony black frame, stitching her husband's shirts. While she was thus engaged and looking out at the snow she pricked her finger, and three drops of blood fell upon the snow. Now the red looked so well upon the white that she thought to herself, "Oh, that I had a child as white as this snow, as red as this blood, and as black as the wood of this frame!" Soon afterwards a little daughter came to her, who was as white as snow, and with cheeks as red as blood, and with hair as black as ebony, and from this she was named "Snow-White." And at the same time her mother died.

About a year afterwards the King married another wife, who was very beautiful, but so proud and haughty that she could not bear anyone to be better-looking than herself. She owned a wonderful mirror, and when she stepped before it and said:

"Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of us all?"

it replied:

"The Queen is the fairest of the day."

Then she was pleased, for she knew that the mirror spoke truly.

Little Snow-White, however, grew up, and became prettier and prettier, and when she was seven years old she was as fair as the noonday, and more beautiful than the Queen herself. When the Queen now asked her mirror:

"Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of us all?"

it replied:

"The Queen was fairest yesterday;
Snow-White is the fairest, now, they say."

This answer so angered the Queen that she became quite yellow with envy. From that hour, whenever she saw Snow-White, her heart was hardened against her, and she hated the little girl. Her envy and jealousy increased so that she had no rest day or night, and she said to a Huntsman, "Take the child away into the forest. I will never look upon her again. You must kill her, and bring me her heart and tongue for a token."

The Huntsman obeyed. He took Snow White away, killed her, and presented her tongue and heart to the Queen, for a token of his deed.

The End

 
THE LAST GIFT

Once upon a time there lived a King and Queen who had no children. They longed very much for a child; and when at last they had a little daughter they were both delighted, and great rejoicings took place.

When the time came for the little Princess to be christened, the King made a grand feast and invited all but one of the fairies in his kingdom to be godmothers. There happened to be thirteen fairies in the kingdom; but as the King had only twelve gold plates, he had to leave one of them out.

The twelve fairies that were invited came to the christening, and presented the little Princess with the best gifts in their possession. One gave her beauty, one gave her wisdom, another grace, another goodness, until they had all presented their offerings. Just as the last fairy was stepping back, there came a tremendous knocking at the door, and before anybody could get there to open it, it was burst open, and in came the thirteenth fairy, in a furious rage at not having been invited to the feast.

When she saw all the gifts which the other fairies had presented the child, she laughed and exclaimed:

"A lot of good all this beauty and virtue and wealth will do to you, my pretty Princess! You shall pay for the slight your Royal Father has put upon me!" Then, turning to the terrified King and Queen, she said, in a loud voice:

"When the Princess is fifteen years old she shall prick her finger with a spindle and die!" Having said this she flew away as noisily as she came.

The King and Queen were in despair, and the courtiers stood aghast at the terrible disaster; while the little Princess began to cry piteously, as if she knew the fate in store for her.

But the King hoped to save his daughter from such a terrible misfortune. So he ordered all the spinning-wheels in his kingdom to be burnt or destroyed, and made a law that no one was to use one on pain of instant death. But all his care was useless. On her fifteenth birthday the Princess slipped away from her attendants, and wandered all through the Palace. At last she came to a tower which she had never seen before, and, wondering what it contained, she climbed the stairs. From a room at the top came a curious humming noise, and the Princess, wondering what it could be, pushed open the door and stepped inside.

There sat an old woman, bent with age, working at a strangely shaped wheel. The Princess was full of curiosity.

"What is that funny-looking thing?" she asked.

"It is a spinning-wheel, Princess," answered the old woman, who was no other than the wicked fairy in disguise.

"A spinning-wheel—what is that? I have never heard of such a thing," said the Princess. She stood watching for a few minutes, then she added:

"It looks quite easy. May I try to do it?"

"Certainly, gracious lady," said the wicked fairy, and the Princess sat down and tried to turn the wheel. But no sooner did she lay her hand upon it than the spindle, which was enchanted, pricked her finger, and the Princess fell back against a silk-covered couch—dead.

The End

 
THE CLEVER WOLF

Once upon a time there lived a little girl, who was so sweet and pretty and good that everybody loved her. Her old grandmother, who was very fond of her, made her a little red cloak and hood, which suited her so well that everyone called her "Little Red Riding-Hood."

One day, Little Red Riding-Hood's mother told her to take a basket with some butter and eggs and fresh-baked cake to her grandmother, who was ill. The little girl, who was always willing and obliging, ran at once to fetch her red cloak, and, taking her basket, set out on her journey.

On her way she met a wolf, who wished very much to eat her up; but who dared not do so because some wood-cutters were working close by. So he only said:

"Good-morning, Little Red Riding-Hood; where are you off to so early?"

Little Red Riding-Hood, who did not know how dangerous it was to talk to a wolf, replied:

"I am going to see my grandmother, who is ill in bed, to take her some butter and eggs and a fresh-baked cake that my mother has made for her!"

"Where does your grandmother live?" asked the wolf.

"In the little white cottage at the other side of the wood," answered Red Riding-Hood.

"Well," said the wolf, "I am going that way, too. If you will let me, I will walk part of the way with you." So Little Red Riding-Hood, who suspected no harm, set off with the wolf for her companion.

Presently Red Riding-Hood stopped to gather a nosegay of wild flowers for her grandmother, and the wolf, who had thought of a plan to get the little girl for his dinner, said "Good morning," and trotted away.

As soon as he was out of sight, he began to run as fast as he could. In a short time he reached the grandmother's cottage and knocked at the door.

"Who is there?" asked the old grandmother, as she lay in bed.

"It is Little Red Riding-Hood," answered the wolf. "I have brought you some butter and eggs and a fresh-baked cake which mother has made for you."

"Pull the bobbin and the latch will go up," said the old grandmother. So the wolf pulled the bobbin and opened the door, and sprang upon the poor old grandmother and ate her all up in a twinkling.

Then he put on her night-cap and got into bed, and lay down to wait for Red Riding-Hood.
Very soon there came a little soft tap at the door.

"Who is there?" called out the wolf.

"It is Little Red Riding-Hood, grandmother dear. I have brought you some butter and eggs and a fresh-baked cake which mother has made for you."

Then the wolf called out, disguising his voice as much as he could:

"Pull the bobbin and the latch will go up." So Little Red Riding-Hood pulled the bobbin and went inside.

"Good morning, dear grandmother," she said. "How are you feeling today?"

"Very bad indeed, my dear," answered the wolf, trying to hide himself under the bedclothes.

"How strange and hoarse your voice sounds, grandmother," said the little girl.

"I have got a bad cold, my dear," said the clever wolf.

"Grandmother, what very bright eyes you have!" went on Red Riding-Hood, surprised to see how strange her grandmother looked in her nightclothes.

"The better to see you with, my dear," said the wolf.

"Grandmother, what very big ears you have!"

"The better to hear you with, my child."

"Grandmother, what very long arms you have!"

"The better to hug you with, my dear."

"But, grandmother, what great big teeth you have," said Red Riding-Hood, who was beginning to get frightened.

"The better to eat you with," roared the wolf, suddenly jumping out of bed. He seized hold of poor Little Red Riding-Hood, and ate her up, cloak and all.

The End

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Best Comic of the Week

I am a big comic geek. I've been reading comics since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. I cut my teeth on Wolfman and Perez's New Teen Titans and was reading X-Men before Jean Grey died the first time.  Later, I was a huge fan of Bill Willingham's Elementals and Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol
My taste tends to run towards imprints like Vertigo or comic companies like Image and Dark Horse. So it's something of a shock to realize that my favorite comic from today's releases is the reboot of Archie from Archie Comics.
Writer Mark Waid introduces us to a modern reimagining of the titular character that updates him but remains true to the spirit of the original.  Archie Andrews, as presented in this comic, is just a really nice guy.  Nice, but not saccharine.
Fiona Staples artwork is lovely and meshes nicely with Andre Szymanowicz's colors.
Overall, I'd give this book 5 out of 5 and I'm thinking I might add it to my pull if future issues remain this enjoyable.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What am I working on?

Greeting, gentle readers!
Welcome to another installment of the blog!
Have I used enough exclamation points?
LOL.
Recently, a friend asked me, "What have you been writing, George?"
My reply? "Everything except what I need to be writing."
I feel like I need to finish the sequel to Dawnwind: Last Man Standing, even though I'm two years late with it already. And I have been poking at it, but my enthusiasm for the project is pretty much nil these days.
Instead, I've found myself working on another story.  It's not a direct sequel to The Marvelous Land of Ap, but it's set in that same world. I keep rewriting the opening scene, much to my irritation.
About two months ago, I returned to the world of tabletop gaming and that has been a source of surprising inspiration for me. Five years ago, my first foray into publishing was a generic source book for a superhero-ish setting called Winter City: City of Marvels.  It was the first thing I ever put out online and the first thing that I ever really sold.
Since I started gaming again, I have the urge to produce another generic sourcebook.  Something fantastic, but not so generic as Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder.  I was think of a post-apocalyptic fantasy.  Something in the vein of Thundarr the Barbarian, only darker.  Or maybe something more akin to Michael Moorecock's Elric books, a high fantasy setting with gods of chaos and order duking it out through mortal agents. That could be interesting.
And that's where I'm at right now.
What's next?
Who knows? :)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Inside Out

Good evening, gentle readers.
How's your day going?
Mine's been kind of blah.
It's hot here, where I live; the high was about 101 fahrenheit today, so to escape the heat I went to the movies and saw Inside Out.
Now, I'm not the demographic this movie is targeting. To be perfectly frank, these days I feel like I'm never going to be that demographic again, not that most mainstream movies really light up my Christmas tree in the first place.  However, that's another blog post.
Today, I'm going to talk about Inside Out.
The premise of the movie is that we get a glimpse into the emotions controlling an 11-year-old girl's mind: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear.  They're all having a pretty good time until Riley has to up and move from Minnesota to San Francisco and, well, hijinx ensue.
The first thing I have to say about this movie is that the character of Joy is seriously irritating. Also domineering and pushy and a generally unpleasant person. I think part of my dislike might have been from the voice acting; I'm not a big fan of Amy Poehler.  Her voice is akin to nails on a blackboard to me.
The second thing you need to know is that I've seen this sort of thing before. Way back in the 1990s there was a sit-com on Fox called Herman's Head, where we were given glimpses inside the mind of a fact checker named Herman.  Amazingly, the series lasted three seasons. Go figure!
The third thing you should know, ladies, is that if you want to see this movie, don't take your gentlemen with you.  This is, very definitely, a woman's movie.  Most guys are gonna be bored stupid by it.
Dads who are taking your little ones to see this movie: I salute you!
The animation in the movie is all right; Pixar has done it's usual good job on that front.  And, overall, the voice talents were fine.  The story? I thought it was bleh. Too pat. Too predictable.
Overall, Inside Out is an okay film.  It's family friendly.  It's nice and safe.  On a scale of 1 to 5, I'd give it a three.
Personally, though, I'd rather go back and rewatch old episodes of Herman's Head.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Elsa of Arendelle was right.

Good afternoon, gentle readers!

I hope, wherever you are, that it's reasonably comfortable, because it's hot as blazes here. 

As I write this, I'm sitting on my living room floor, with a box fan blowing on me.  Outside, it's about a hundred degrees.  The rest of this week is supposed to be just as hot. 

But I'm not here to talk about the weather.

No, ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to talk about writing.  And the fact that, the other night, I spent about THREE HOURS rewriting the same scene.

Now, gentle readers, I'm all for perseverance.  However, there comes a point where you just have to throw up your hands and admit defeat.  You just have to write the scene, let it be, and move on to the next one.

Because if you don't?  You'll make yourself crazy.

Don't go crazy, gentle readers.  We have enough reality television stars and politicians already.  The world doesn't need any more.

To quote a certain Disney movie: "Let it go."

Monday, June 8, 2015

Why Susan Cooper Pisses Me Off

Good afternoon, gentle readers.

I just got in from the movies, where I watched the new Melissa McCarthy comedy, Spy.

I really wanted to like this movie.

I did.

However, not long after starting, the film just touched one of my trigger buttons. Not a trauma-trigger or anything like that, but my I-Can’t-Believe-They’re-Still-Doing-This-Shit trigger.

After a less than stellar dinner date with a guy, Melissa McCarthy’s character is having drinks with Miranda Hart. McCarthy’s character bemoans her life situation, complaining about her career path and how she’s single and forty and then I just sort of lost track of the movie behind the veil of red rage that descended over my vision.

Why?

Because I’m single and in my forties and I love my fucking life.

Honestly!

Hollywood, buy a goddamn clue already! Hell. Not just Hollywood, but the whole goddamned world needs to buy a clue!

Being a single adult does not automatically make someone miserable. Or even slightly sad.

That dream we’re spoon-feed as children and teenagers, that a marriage and kids with dogs and the white picket fence does not automatically equate happiness. Don’t believe me? Look around you. Take inventory of your friends and family. How many of them are married? How many of them are genuinely happy with their life situation?

It seems to me that I hear married people bemoan their situation all the time. Men in particular. I know too many guys who have said that if they had the option of doing it all over again they would NOT get married.

I worked with a gentleman once who had a string of ex-wives behind him. After the second marriage didn’t work out, I wanted to ask him why he kept going at it? Was he looking for that magic someone? His soul-mate? Was he just a hopeless romantic? Or maybe he just didn’t think it was okay for him to be single.

Because that’s what the world tries to tell us.

That if you’re an adult and you’re single and you’re not making the effort to get married or have children then you have somehow failed. That there is something wrong with you.

It pisses me off.

The other day I was speaking to an acquaintance on the phone. He called me up and we started talking about his brother, who is around my age. My friend, Jason, told me that his brother was working himself into a lather because he was single and unmarried and if he didn’t have children then what sort of legacy would he leave?

Then Jason, who is married with children, just casually said, "You must be feeling the same way."

Ladies and gentlemen, the red veil descended and I kind of exploded.

"Why the hell would I feel like your brother? Your brother is weak. The only reason he wants to get married is to have children to carry on his ‘legacy’ which isn’t a fucking reason to have children in the first place!"

The conversation kind of went downhill from there and I may or may not have accidentally ended a marriage. However, that’s a story for another post.

This post, I guess, is a plea to the world: stop bullying single people. A lot of us are single by choice. We like our solitude. We like not having to come home and deal with irrate spouses or crying children or yappy little rat-dogs that our significant other thinks is wonderful. We genuinely like our lives.

Stop trying to make us like you. What makes you happy, what fulfills you, probably won’t work for everybody else in the world. If you’re in a committed relationship and you’re happy, I’m happy for you. Be happy for us.

Stop trying to fix up your single friends.

Parents, stop saying stuff like, "It would be wonderful if you got married, so your nephews could have some first cousins to play with."

Hollywood, stop telling everyone that singleness equals misery.

It doesn’t.

Really.

And for those single people out there who are not happy being single? Take heart. You’ve got Hollywood on your side.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Healthy Writer

Good afternoon, gentle readers.
It's a moist, warm day here at my home and, from the vantage of my living room sofa, I can see the rain starting to fall.
At the moment, I am eating a bag of roasted unsalted peanuts.  Actually, I've been eating this particular bag of peanuts for the last three days.  I just can't seem to finish it, probably because, to me, it tastes a bit bland.
For June, I have decided to get healthy. Or healthier.
So, for the month, I will be making some dietary changes. Mainly, I'm going to be cutting back on my fat intake. I was looking at some of the stuff I've been eating over the last couple of months and I'm really not surprised that I've put on a little weight.  A diet consisting largely of hot dogs and breaded chicken nuggets will do that to a person.
So, for June, I shall be eating healthier.
Actually, I shouldn't be eating these peanuts.  They're not actually on the diet plan I'm following, but I refuse to throw out perfectly good food.  There are, after all, people going hungry all over the world.
In brief, I shall be cutting back on the meats and trying to eat more veggies, fruits and low-fat foods. I thought about giving up soda as well, but, for the sake of innocent lives everywhere, I've decided not even to bother.
Very, very briefly, I considered going vegetarian for the month. However, the sheer volume of food I'd have to consume to maintain a healthy calorie level was daunting.  Also, eating vegetarian is surprisingly expensive if you don't have a garden or something.
So, wish me luck, gentle readers, and, if a lot of posts are food-related this month, now you know why.
What next?
Lunch! ^_^

Monday, May 25, 2015

Just write

Good morning, gentle readers. Welcome to Monday, to another fun-filled week of work and play and the mayhem that we call life.
A few years back when I decided to make a go of it as a writer, I had no idea how hard it would be, to sit down every day and produce something.  It's a real struggle.  What makes it worse is that, if you're like me, even when you produce something, you may not be satisfied with it.
Too often, I'll look at what I've just written and go, "This is utter shit." Then I delete it and take another stab at it.
A bit like this blog entry.
I've started it twice so far, thinking that it reads as whiny and a bit disorganized.  And then I realized that since the purpose of the blog entry was to share my writing troubles and doubts, what better way to illustrate my point than by just letting everything happen.
God. That last sentence was just awful. Wasn't it?
But I will not delete it.
I will not go back and start all over again because of that little nagging voice in the back of my head, my inner critic.  It is not a productive force.  We all have that nagging voice, that part of ourselves that criticizes everything we do or try to do.
"Why do you bother writing? Your stuff doesn't sell. It will never sell. Just give up and go read a book. You like reading books. You're so good at it. Much better than you are at writing them."
It whispers over my shoulder as I read what I've written.
"Oooh! What were you thinking when you wrote that? It's completely wrong. That character would never say something like that. You should rewrite that part when you do a proper edit. Or you could just delete that whole section right now and take ANOTHER stab at doing it right."
Ladies and gentlemen, writers are our own worst enemies.
I am not a proponent of volume writing, but maybe I should be.  Maybe sitting down and going, "Tonight I am going to write five pages!" would actually work.
It seems to work for a lot of other people.
Then, of course, the inner critic rears his ugly head.
"Oh! You should totally try the production method! Why not start now? You can just delete everything you've written so far and start fresh! Wouldn't that be wonderful?"
That bastard is insidious.
Also, he's hard to ignore.
He's that loud guy at parties wearing the tacky jacket and speaking really fucking loud because he loves the sound of his own voice.
You have to ignore him. You have to turn your back on him, muffle his niggling whispery voice. Drown him out with keystrokes.
Just write.
Just get the words down on the page.
Everything else will sort itself out later.
Just write.