We Are Mused.

There’s always been this legend, mythology, or wishful thinking even, around The Muses. Fathered by Zeus and born of the personification of memory, there were nine Muses in the ancient Greek version of pop-culture.

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The Muses were goddesses and water nymphs. Some ancient Greeks (ancient Geeks?) considered them to be primordial deities – children of Titans (Uranus and Gaea).

The nine Muses delivered inspiration like hot pizza. They covered all the creative bases,  literature, art, music, science, mathematics, geography, and like totally drama.

Poets like Homer invoked them at the beginning of epic poems. Later epic poets like Samuel Taylor Coleridge invoked opium.

Homer’s contemporary, Hesiod, said there were nine Muses. Mostly focused on poetry (I wonder why a poet came to that conclusion?) According to the Roman scholar, Varro, there were only three; Melete (Practice), Mneme (memory), and Aoide (song).

Varro sounds like a straight-talking guy, even if he was a miserable sod.

The number of guests at dinner should not be less than the number of the Graces nor exceed that of the Muses, i.e., it should begin with three and stop at nine.

~ Varro.

If nothing else, this quote indicates that Varro didn’t have more than 3 friends and therefore changed the number of Muses to make his soul-destroying dinner parties less awkward.

It is also said that King Pierus of Macedon named his nine daughters after the Muses. Because in ancient stories, kings are known for doing things that piss-gods-off. Seriously, you never hear of an ancient Greek farmer calling his kids Zeus, Apollo, and Uranus (still the funniest word the Greeks ever gave us).

The princesses were turned into magpies. No I don’t know why magpies as opposed to say, swallows. Gods move in mysterious ways.

In true visual movie style – we now cut to Present Day.

Goddesses are harder to come by these days (unlike opiates). So, finding someone to fill in the role of Muse can be challenging. Unless you are living the tortured artist trope, you probably have at least one person who loves your poetry, your Twilight fan-fiction, your finger-paintings, and that song you wrote about how your love is like a tea-towel.

If you have a Muse in your life. Treasure that person. I hit the jackpot, because I married my muse. Damaris is hard to explain. I mean, she’s a perfectly normal and wonderful human being – obviously. The hard to explain bit is a bit…. hard to explain.

Damaris generates whimsy. She has a sense of humour that often leaves me gasping for air having laughed so hard I almost collapse.

She also has a sharp mind. She is good at puzzles, and at their core, most stories are puzzles. You are presented with a situation where questions are asked. Conflict arises and drives the plot – questions are resolved by the end and everyone feels smug for having worked it out by page 120 (that’s position 2347 of 4693 for you Kindle users who have never read an actual book with page numbers).

Sometimes I find myself with an idea, that has a blockage. It’s an obstacle that is locking a story down. I can’t write it because it’s just not hanging right. It’s the creative equivalent of being OCD and trying to hang a picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa straight on the wall.

At times like that, I go to Damaris and I say, “Hon, this is the scenario. This is the problem.”

She immediately tells me the solution. It can be as simple as two words. Like, “He’s married.” Or, “Corn chips.” Sometimes she asks the right questions, like; “Why is the secret agent wearing lingerie to the PTA meeting?”

I love Damaris. She’s as close as an atheist like me can come to worshiping anything and as a Muse, she is the best.

BETA NOT

BETA THAN YOU

BETA ROUND THE BUSH

BETA THE DEVIL YOU KNOW

BETA, MISTREATA

BETA NOT

For a blog post on beta readers it seems appropriate to have a range of options for the title. It’s the sort of thing that a beta reader might have an opinion on.

Which is the entire crux [nub, heart, essence, most important point, central point, main point, essential part, core, centre, nucleus, kernel, bottom line] of beta readers.  Opinions.

Opinions are what beta readers provide. Somewhat humorously there are people who charge for this service. I don’t know what they offer that unpaid beta readers don’t provide, because I have never felt the urge to pay anyone for a second opinion (unless they are a doctor and that rash is just not healing).

Opinions are the core of what beta readers provide – hence the collective noun, an Asshole of Beta Readers.

Editors, formatters, book cover designers, these are services I expect to pay for if I am self-publishing (or the publisher will pay for). But why not beta reading?

It comes down to what I am getting for my money; expertise is the main thing.

I expect that an editor, a cover designer, or anyone else being paid for a service in relation to a book, is doing something that I cannot do myself. More importantly, I expect that they will add value to the project. They will do some sorcery with Photoshop. They understand the subtle nuances of grammar and know their prepositions from their propositions. They can make a book layout work in any device.

These are all things that are worthy of payment due to expertise and a saleable service.

Beta readers on the other hand read books and give opinions. I’ve had beta readers say the kinds of things about my books that I would normally expect from my mum (not, “Oh God, you gave me nightmares!”) but the “I’m very proud of you, well done!” variety of response.

I’ve had other beta readers who completely missed the point of a key element of a character. Things that were pretty clearly laid out and while I could have included a handy diagram and bullet point list – to really make it clear, this writing thing is about suggestion, implication and not giving all the details because when a reader reads, they put their own perception goggles on and view the story through their filters.

The result is I am left wondering if they were on the kind of medication that has a warning on the label advising you not to operate machinery, drive or beta read while under its effects.

Because their output is opinions, beta readers are not objective. An editor may not give a monkey’s pancreas that your main character is a gender-fluid, nihilist philosopher alien who is in love with a trombone. There are simply there to make sure you make words good.

A beta reader will either enjoy the story or they will reject it because it doesn’t fit with their gender-static, life-affirming, brass instrument phobic world view.

Mostly, I don’t bother with beta readers. Sometimes a publisher will use them, which is their prerogative. The bit that grates like bone dust in my synovial fluid, is when the opinion of a beta reader is taken as so important that the story must be changed to change the bits that they did not like.

On the flipside of this is the creepy reader who reads a horror novel and sends you fan mail about an implied act of sexual assault from a scene in the book. While you wrote it as a ‘most-goddamned-awful-thing-I-can-imagine’ they write to tell you about how much they liked it. I mean, really liked it.

At least the creepy fan with a rape fantasy paid to read the book.

Tankbread 4: Black Snow

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Tankbread 4: Black Snow

Tomorrow the fourth and final book in the Tankbread series is released by Permuted Press.

I was reminded of this through the power of Google Alerts. Which (as the name suggests) alert you when key words appear on the Internet.

I have alerts for the usual key words, Paul Mannering, Tankbread, Engines of Empathy, Cross-dressing Gnomes with bangle fetishes.

The most common alert I get is for Tankbread, and it’s always a link to the latest site offering pirated copies of the book. Which is why I was reminded by Google Alerts that Tankbread 4: Black Snow is out tomorrow.

The pirate sites have it on offer already – or at least they have the page waiting for it to be on offer tomorrow. You can download it in mobi or PDF format.

If you do, you can also go and fuck yourself with a rusty chainsaw.

There have been screeds written on the issue of online piracy. You can probably download all the literature for free from pirate sites.

It’s a difficult issue – you can’t control it. You can’t stop it. You also can’t ignore it.

Responses from content creators (the Millennial term for people who make stuff that people click on to generate advertising revenue for websites) ranges from Pulp Fiction style Biblical rage (And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger…) to the rather quaint idea that all information should be free.

Some will say, “They weren’t going to buy it anyway.”

I’m not going to buy a new Mercedes either, but it doesn’t give me the right to fucking steal one from the local European car dealership.

Others will say, “It’s not really stealing, because it’s copying.”

Yes, it is copying – but I get paid for the thousands of hours I put into writing these books by selling copies. Every time you acquire a copy without paying for it – I don’t get my return on the investment. If you don’t want to buy a copy, don’t fucking read it.

This is like raging at the ocean because a wave came up the beach and made your shoes wet. It doesn’t change anything and just leaves you feeling frustrated, powerless, with wet shoes.

Publishers have to take the losses into account – which is nearly impossible because (the downloaders weren’t going to buy it anyway) so you can’t easily put a value on the lost income.

The only way to be sure would be to say, “If offered the choice, would you buy this book or download it from a pirate site?”

Anyone who says yes to the pirate download, you can quote Ezekiel at them and eat their burger.

Wizards (1977)

Wizards (1977)  Director/Screenplay/Producer – Ralph Bakshi,

An illuminating history bearing on the everlasting struggle for world supremacy between the powers of Technology and Magic.

PLOT: It is two million years after civilisation has been devastated by a nuclear holocaust. The radiation has caused races of elves, dwarves and fairies to mutate. In the elvish kingdom of Morganthar, a queen gives birth to two sons who are psychic opposites of one another – the charming Avatar and the vile Blackwolf. Both become powerful wizards. Avatar becomes the ruler of Morganthar but Blackwolf reviles his name and chooses self-exile in the kingdom of Scortch, a nuclear wasteland. There he rallies the mutants and demons of the underworld under him, although they lack the volition and unison to be an army. However, after researching into history, Blackwolf discovers all about weapons of war and finds that he can unite the troops together around old film footage of Adolf Hitler. Wizards

Voices:

Bob Holt – Avatar, an old but powerful wizard

Jesse Welles – Elinore, Avatar’s love interest

Richard Romanus – Weehawk, a noble elf warrior

David Proval – Necron 99/Peace, Blackwolf’s former minion. He is renamed Peace by Avatar.

Steve Gravers – Blackwolf, Avatar’s evil brother

James Connell – President

Mark Hamill – Sean, king of the mountain fairies

Susan Tyrrell – Narrator (uncredited)

Ralph Bakshi – Fritz/Lardbottom/Stormtrooper (uncredited)

Angelo Grisanti – Larry the Lizard (uncredited)

 

Ralph Bakshi is one of cinema history’s most tragic figures. Certainly the most tragic in animation. By which I mean that the financial success of his films fell short of his vision and genius for storytelling.

With grand vision hampered by a far less grand execution, projects like his Lord of the Rings film remain as cult-classics because of the vastness of the vison (and the vastness of the vision of the source material) that trying to make one film to encompass it all was impossible. Sir Peter Jackson made 6 films to tell the same story.

For me, Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards (1977) remains as the pinnacle of his creativity. An original story, a fantastic mashup of fantasy, science fiction, post-apocalyptic adventure and ultimately, a war film.

The film opens with Susan Tyrell’s droning voice over. She was so unimpressed with the project that she asked to not be included on the film’s credits. However, her timelessly aged voice has always been one of the great features of the film and she has regretted her request ever since.

Some reviewers speak ill of Ms Tyrell’s voice over. To me it encompasses everything that the film is about. It’s a voice of an ancient Gaia – the Mother Earth spirit. A world that has been torn and burned and ravaged. Has been engulfed in an epic firestorm of nuclear weapons and has healed over millions of years. A world with scars and the weight of billions of years. That is the voice of Susan Tyrell. It is eerie, and ancient and spine-tinglingly good.

The soundtrack varies from 70’s guitar wa-waah to haunting electronic synth. It feels like a 1970’s rock opera overture through most of it. The overall sense of the music is a lyrical jazz, experimental rock n’ roll fusion.

Fox Studios refused Bakshi’s request for further funding, and the DIY nature of much of the animation is part of its unique charm. The rotoscoped battle scenes from classic films looked really good, so Bakshi decided there was no need to animate them further. He paid for the additional footage and animation out of his own pocket when the studio money ran out. George Lucas also asked for more money for Star Wars around the same time (they refused his request too).

Famous artists like Ian Miller contributed backdrop scenes, particularly for Black Wolf’s city and the more pastoral Montegar.

Historical allegory is the most important theme of this film. Twenty-five minutes in and the stage has been set with a direct metaphor for Nazi Germany’s rise in Nationalism and rebuilding of their war-machine in the 1930’s.

The chilling part is the scene where the elf veteran of the previous wars is chuckling about what useless troops Blackwolf has. His confidence is matched by his fellow troops, though the young soldier who has no experience is less than convinced. The scene that follows is one of the grimmest ever put to animation. It cements Wizards position as an adult animated film, not a family-friendly movie that you could let your kids watch.

Wizards has rightly become a cult classic. The initial box-office taking was small, but this is a film that is just as relevant now as it was 25 years ago.

Rating: #3 in my Top Five Films of All Time

 

 

 

Meanwhile across town…

In an experiment to reduce speeding in a town, a consultant put up signs that advised motorists that each month, a random driver recorded as driving at the speed limit would receive a $500 cash prize. The average speed of the road users dropped to the posted speed limit overnight.

The message there is that we respond better to positive reinforcement and incentives.

So while things are irritating in one aspect, other things are far more positive.

Paper Road Press – the publisher of Engines of Empathy, is having a giveaway of the book later this week on Goodreads.

They are also keen to support the new graphic novel project I am working on in conjunction with KC Bailey – artist extraordinaire. Given the workload for Paper Road right now, publishing a graphic novel is not within their capacity.

The other exciting news around the graphic novel project is that we may have a publisher who will take on the publishing side of things (as publishers do). That will mean book store distribution, full colour copies of the graphic novel and other delightful things.

No guarantees on that yet of course. But it’s looking like it might possibly could happen.

Severed Press have contracted me to write two marine thriller novellas.

I’m working on a kid’s book project with another company.

I’ve got some short stories out now, or coming out this year.

My new job is good.

Mad Max: Fury Road starts on Thursday. I shall see it. Several times.

Max To The Max

The Nightrider. That is his name… the Nightrider… Remember him when you look at the night sky!

~ Toecutter “Mad Max”

HPL

HP Lovecraft was plagued by aggressive lint on his suit jackets.

In the small town where I was born and raised, on a dark and mountainous coast that would have made H.P. Lovecraft uneasy, we had one movie theatre, The Mayfair. Films were shown on Fridays and Saturdays each week, by the next week, it would be something else.

The place was old with leather seats and sculpted plaster sconces that spoke of a grander time.

The old theatre was my favourite place in the entire world. We didn’t have a TV, so films were a speedball directly into my eyeball and fevered imagination. It was here I walked out of The Wizard Of Oz and it stands as the one film I have never seen, and never will. Here’s why.

In August, 1977 we were living on a small farm, under the shadow of a mountain range, between the mountains and the sea. It was an alluvial flood plain, which meant that if there was a market for river smoothed grey rocks, we would have lived like kings. Most of the paddocks were more rocks than dirt and I remember spending many long hours loading them onto the tractor trailer and dumping them along a fenceline.

Our farm looked like this – but with more grass

 

Early one morning that August, we were hit by a storm. Due to the shape of the land the wind would come down off the mountain like an X-Games skateboarder and we were at the bottom of the slope. Gusts would come through and tear roofs of houses, rip trees out of the ground, and 7 years later another storm of the same variety it tied 1 inch thick angle iron into knots.

Our car was crushed, trees came down on the house, and we spent weeks clearing fallen trees. I was five years old and it was my first experience with what we would now call PTSD.

A year or so later, we went to see The Wizard of Oz at the local movie theatre. They often played kids movies in matinee sessions. I vaguely remember getting to the bit where the tornado hit, and then I was outside. I have no idea what the rest of the film is about. I know there was a girl and red-shoes and witches and a road. I still can’t watch it.

The only other film that freaked me out as a child was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – and that was just the scene where they put the bug in Chekov’s ear. I went to the bathroom for that bit and then loved the rest of the movie.

The idea of restricted films was of course something we were in awe of as kids. R13 – cool… R16 ooohh… R18? What the hell could qualify for an R18 rating? Discussion suggested in a movie with an R18 rating, people actually died.

The gave this movie an R18 rating because people died in it!

Along with the usual kids fare, I saw all three Star Wars movies in that theatre. The resounding shock I felt when Luke Skywalker’s parentage was announced resonates with me still. One of the great frustrations was when we were away the one weekend that the Mayfair was showing Battletruck, the Kiwi version of a Mad Max dystopian action movie.

My love affair with all things apocalyptic really started with that film. Having missed it the first time around, I got into see Mad Max instead. Then Mad Max 2 and later, in a much larger movie house in Christchurch, Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome.

What is it about the Mad Max franchise that completes me? I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps it is the fact that Max was never a good man. He was a driven, angry, killer. In D&D terms, his alignment was Chaotic Neutral. He looked out for himself and did what he had to, just to survive.

The insurance excess on this is going to be killer…

 

Sometimes he would do good, other times he would do evil – always looking out for number one and always surviving. I guess I felt a connection with his sheer grit and grimness. This was a man who knew pain. He knew misery and he kept going.

It’s not some boyish hero fantasy, I had shit going on that left me with an intense feeling of connection with the tortured soul of Max.

With Mad Max: Fury Road finally coming to theatres in 9 days’ time, I feel that I’m in a different place now. Calmer, less tortured and still completely mad for post-apocalyptic fiction. George Miller has an eye for the grand. His visions of barbaric wastelands have always been unlike anyone else.

The epic scale of the madness of the land and the people who have become savage and primitive in it, has always required a character like Max. If you fight fire with fire, you fight insanity with madness.