Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Scarecrow Harvest Festival!

After a year of hard work, my picture book is finally finished! It's pretty great seeing all my art and words in print. Putting this thing together really taught me a ton about layout and design. I even created my own font for the cover here.

As I designed each scarecrow character for the book, I wrote a few notes of background for each. I'd really like to flesh them out more and put them together in their own book in the style of The Goblin Companion by Brian Froud and Terry Jones. 

I'm actively looking into agents and publishers for The Scarecrow Harvest Festival, but in the meantime, you can get your own copy on Amazon. It's great for any kid (or adult, of course) who loves autumn and the harvest season.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Review: Voices From Below by E. A. Rappaport

Voices From Below is the tale of ex-thief Halia and her companion, ax-wielding warrior Xarun, as they try to rescue their deceased friend, the wizard Minaras, from the underworld. 

The protagonists are more moral than many fantasy characters cast from a similar mold. Halia was once a thief (justified since she grew up scrounging on the streets), and Xarun has a history of cruelty and tyranny, but both are working hard to grow beyond their pasts and actively help others as their friend Minaras once did.

Paralleling their quest is the story of Oswynn, an apprentice mage who suddenly finds himself without a master and with access to powerful transmutation spells. Oswynn knows he is working with dangerous magic, but the allure of its power is too strong and he will have to face severe consequences for his actions

Also paralleling Halia and Xarun’s adventure is the revenge quest of Inar, a woodcarver who lost his brother to a wizard’s magic. Much of Inar’s plot is driven by his own deep-seated prejudice, and while the leaps of logic he makes may seem ludicrous at times, his delusional thinking is all too disturbingly realistic.

Voices is the seventh of nine books that form an “interlocking matrix” of several series which all share books between them but emphasize different characters and themes from each volume. Despite being in the middle of the series, Voices contains enough references to previous events for a reader to easily piece together what has gone before. It is a big credit to Rapapport’s storytelling that he can make this tale stand on its own reasonably well, though it will definitely help to read the other books in the matrix.

My biggest critique of Voices is that the characters’ emotional reactions often seem dulled and stilted. Characters never seem to be truly sad or angry, even if their words suggest it. Dialogue can also be too expository and matter-of-fact at times. While thankfully no one ever uses the dreaded “as you know”, their call-backs to previous books can swerve dangerously close at times.

Despite their often flat emotions, the characters themselves are interesting and believable. The world has plenty of creativity with lots of story potential. It’s not a perfect read, but fans of fantasy adventure- especially of fast-paced, quest-based plots like the Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons shared-world novels- will enjoy it.

You can get a copy of Voices From Below on Amazon or at the author's web site, Owl King Publishing, LLC

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Review: Rogues of Merth by Robert Zoltan

Rogues of Merth is a collection of tales grown by author Robert Zoltan from the thorny, often carnivorous garden of classic Pulp sword and sorcery. The heroes of these tales are the poet-swordsman Dareon Vin and his companion, the warrior Blue- the latter so nicknamed because of the cerulean tattoos that cover his body (only the people of his culture may know his true name, however). Each man comes from the extremes of civilization and bears their indelible marks: Dareon possesses the culture, craftiness and decadence of the cities, while Blue has the instinct and openness- and sometimes naivete- of one who wanders the open plains and forests.

Their home, Merth, is a porous world with myriad realities weaving in and out of its fabric. Indeed, Dareon and Blue can’t seem to go more than a few weeks without stumbling into another plane of existence or accidentally unleashing a relic from the ancient world. There are hints that a higher power may be tugging the duo along in their adventures. Whether it be Fate, the unnamed gods of Merth, or Dareon’s supposedly imaginary Lady Luck pulling the strings, one cannot say. Along the way they meet and must contend with numerous supernatural oddities: time sailors, demonic diptera, curse-flinging ghosts, laughing gods, serpent goddesses both malignant and benevolent, and even stranger entities.

If there is anything to critique in these tales, it is that at times Dareon and Blue seem a bit too passive about their strange adventures, drifting along wherever the unknown powers take them, escaping dangers and fighting monsters as they come. I would have liked to see a little more agency on their part. But that is a minor point

I would highly recommend Rogues of Merth to readers looking for stories of classic sword and sorcery infused with the adventuresome blood of Leiber’s Lahnkmar mixed with the weird, alien ichor of Moorcock’s ancient Melnibon√©.

You can get a copy of Rogues of Merth on Amazon.  

And check out Robert Zoltan's site Dream Tower Media to see his other work and listen to episodes of the fantastic Literary Wonder & Adventure Show podcast, which I've talked about before.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A Creepy Tunnel

While planning out my scarecrow picture book, I took a lot of outdoor photos to get ideas for illustrations. Originally I had intended to use these pictures as direct references, but they ended up being more like aesthetic inspirations.

There was one place, though, that I did try to draw directly. Near my house is a road that has this odd tunnel running underneath it made from a corrugated metal tube. It’s not a long tunnel- only about 20 feet- and it leads right into a pleasant neighborhood. But there’s something very eerie about it.  Even if it’s too short to hide a monster clown or a slender man, it definitely seems like a place that would be haunted.

Approaching the tunnel. Yep, definitely not haunted.

It's not a very long tunnel. Just long and dark enough to MAYBE hide one boogeyman if he crouched down really small.

Walking through the tunnel.

I did a few versions of the tunnel for my scarecrow book, and while I’m not completely satisfied with the end result, I think it fits the aesthetic of the book.

I definitely want to take another crack at illustrating this tunnel and evoking that creepy feeling it gives me. Keep a look out for it in future artwork!

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Review: I Know Very Well How I Got My Name by Elliot Deline

This novella, a prequel to  Deline’s book Refuse,  takes us through the early life of Dean, a young transman growing up in Syracuse in the late 90s and early 2000s. The earliest parts of Dean’s story are disjointed vignettes- as our earliest childhood memories so often are when we look back from adulthood. But, as in real life, the memories Dean hold onto tell us much about who he is now, even though he himself may not be aware of how they have sculpted him.

Dean grows up a time when transgender people are barely even a concept on the cultural radar. Dean, as a result, grows up without the vocabulary to articulate who he is and without role models to look to. He only knows that “something” doesn’t feel right. Something never feels right. He may look like a girl to others,  but he has no idea what it’s like to actually be a girl. As a child Dean often pretends he’s someone else, perhaps to escape the role he is regularly and unconsciously forced to portray every day.

Many of Dean’s experiences as he tries to understand himself are relatable to people both trans and cis, though his struggles are made more difficult because he cannot put a name to exactly what is off in his life.

Helping Dean along the way is his friend Amy- sometimes friend with benefits, never quite a girlfriend. Dean’s relationship with Amy is an odd, uncomfortable dynamic that I think many of us have lived through at some point in our lives. She helps him in some deep ways- most importantly in finally giving a name to the feeling he’s carried around for so long and, as the title says, giving him his new, true name (Dean’s deadname- his name before transition- is deliberately never given). But their relationship is deeply toxic and Amy has her own damage to deal with.

While the scenes of Dean’s youth may seem disjointed at times and not appeal to all readers, the novella as a whole is an engaging coming-of-age story from a perspective that deserves much more attention in literature. The story can be dark and intense- there are scenes of attempted suicide, sexual assault, and characters expressing casual homophobia, transphobia, and other microaggressions. But this intensity is important for understanding Dean’s development, and these glimpses ring true as experiences that many trans folk have had to struggle through.

You can get a copy of I Know Very Well How I Got My Name on Smashwords or Amazon

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Two Sentence Winter(?) Horror Stories

I really enjoy crafting these little two-sentence snippets of horror. It's quite the mental exercise. Like my previous horror post, these stories were inspired by autumn-themed pictures I'd taken. Technically autumn is over, but it doesn't feel like winter since there's barely been any snow. So this is Extended Autumn, I suppose.

Granville, MA 7:34 AM
Now that its season has passed, this nameless, peripatetic phantasm must vacate its jack-o-lantern host. With an oozing, languid crawl, it emerges to begin its annual migratory circuit through the cellars, attics, closets, and crawlspaces of the sleeping town. 


Pomfret Center, CT 5:46 PM
A murmuration of starlings swarmed over my head, undulating like a formless aerial titan, and descended upon the Burlap Man that had been following me. There was a ragged gurgling and when the birds flew away, all that remained of my pursuer was a pile of sticky leaves and a shred of sackcloth bearing a red, crayon-drawn eye.


Hartford, CT 1:05 PM
When the townsfolk finally caught the vampire, they cut him in half lengthwise- as was the custom at that time- and buried his still screaming body under the road. They did not understand his final curse until the trees on the side of the road facing his open wound began to bleed.


Woodstock Valley, CT 9:46 PM
It was the first full moon after we buried the werewolf’s skin under that gnarled, tumorous maple on the edge of the bog. As the corpse-white orb rose through the trees’ skeletal branches, I clasped Eurydice’s hand and listened to the sound of pustules popping on its bark, followed by dozens of faint, wet howls.


Wassaic, NY 5:21 PM
I could only stand frozen with fear as the Skinless Man floated out of the tunnel and placed something in my hand. When he finally evaporated, I looked down to find I was holding a doll's eye with a single white worm writhing in the hazel-gray sclera.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Review: Tales From the Magician's Skull

Tales From The Magician’s Skull is a magazine of sword and sorcery fiction drawing deep from the vein of classic pulps like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories. For those unfamiliar with the term, sword and sorcery is a darker, more personal brand of fantasy. In contrast to Tolkien-inspired high fantasy with its epic heroes performing feats of great magic amid world-shaking plots, Sword and Sorcery concerns heroes of often gray morality just trying to survive in a dangerous world where magic, if it exists, is usually dangerous and mistrusted. This is not to say there is no heroism in sword and sorcery, just that it is on a smaller, individual scale.

In addition to classic pulps, Tales From The Magician’s Skull (or just The Magician’s Skull for short) also takes artistic and literary influence from mass-market paperback fantasies of the 70s and 80s, and also with that most quintessential of fantasy creations- Dungeons and Dragons (and other role-playing games of a similar theme). The magazine fully embraces this connection by providing gaming statistics for monsters, spells and magical items featured in each story, all of them formatted for Dungeon Crawl Classics, the flagship RPG from the magazine’s publisher, Goodman Games. DCC, as it’s abbreviated, emulates the style of classic 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons from the late 70s and early 80s.

D&D itself was heavily by influenced sword and sorcery fiction. The original edition of the game included Appendix N, a list of the literary works that had inspired its main creator, Gary Gygax. Appendix N includes most of the classic authors you’d expect, such as Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, J. R. R. Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Michael Moorcock. But there are also more diverse and unusual writers such as Fletcher Pratt, Sterling Lanier, and John Belloir. The Magician’s Skull reprints this short but seminal list at the back of the magazine so readers can follow their own literary journeys. 

Another excellent inclusion in The Magician’s Skull is an extensive appendix of used bookstores from all over the US where readers can find those Appendix N classics along with other bibliophilic treasures. I’m pleased to see that the Dawn Treader from my own hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan is in there. Though, sadly, no sign of the Book Barn from Niantic in my current state of Connecticut (I’ll have to have them rectify that in a future issue).

An example of the extensive illustrations found throughout TFTMS. Drawn by Brad McDevitt

 Lastly, The Magician’s Skull also features a directory of “Kindred Souls”- groups, gaming and otherwise, from around the world who share the editors’ tastes in classic sword and sorcery. 

The authors featured in this first outing are all old hands at sword and sorcery. Several of the stories are but single episodes in the long careers of established characters, though you don’t need to have read their other adventures to enjoy these tales.

The magazine is abundantly illustrated throughout with full-page drawings for each tale along with architectural plans for some of the tombs, towers, and other buildings.

As to the stories themselves:

What Lies in Ice
By Chris Willrich

A tale in the long-running adventures of Willrich’s rogues Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone. Whilst on a ship sailing through ice-choked polar waters, the heroes and their shipmates find themselves trapped behind a cursed black tower sealed in an iceberg. Deciding they should meet the tower’s horrors head on rather than wait to be their prey, the crew enters the structure to uncover its secrets. 

Floor plan of the iceberg-locked tower by Doug Kovacs 

The Guild of Silent Men
By James Enge

A murder mystery featuring Enge’s crooked-backed wanderer and master of strange magicks, Morlock Ambrosius.
The Silent Men is a guild for those who have no friends. A place of belonging for those who do not belong. Naturally, of course,  they’re hated and mistrusted by all the other city guilds and treated little better than vermin. So when the dual leaders of the Silent Men are murdered, no one outside the guild is interested in investigating. No one except Morlock, who knows what it is like to be hated and mistrusted. 

Beneath the Bay of Black Waters
By Bill Ward

The Fish-Gutter Gang has been spreading their deadly drug, Black Pearl, throughout the city of Long He. After an extensive investigation, Imperial Commissioner Shan Wu-Tsi and General Bai Guan have finally tracked down the source of this man-made plague. A source that is far worse than they expected, for rooting out this evil will lead them to the lair of the demonic fish-beings hiding beneath the surface of the city’s harbor.

The monsters from beneath the bay, illustrated by Ian Miller

 Beyond the Block
By Aeryn Rudel

This story begins with the death of the protagonist. But as you’ll find in many tales of sword and sorcery, death is far from the end. 

Crypt of Stars
By Howard Andrew Jones

The war is over and the Volani people have lost, crushed under the expanding onslaught of the Dervani. Now the conquerors ransack the ancient island-tombs of the Volani, determined to uncover the riches they believe lie within. To this end they have tortured and enslaved the Volani, forcing them to hunt for the resting places of their honored dead. The captured people have little hope of escape, until the day a hero whom every thought dead turns up unexpectedly alive.

There Was An Old Fat Spider
By C.L. Werner

Karl Rohlfs has been shunned and brutalized by everyone in town. Just to survive he must debase and degrade himself daily. Then comes the day he enters the twisted, dark woods on the king’s land and finds the spider. It is old, weak and barely surviving. But it is enormous, and- when it actually does manage to catch prey- it is deadly. In this creature, Karl finds a kindred spirit. And a way to avenge himself on his tormentors 

The Crystal Sickle’s Harvest
By John C. Hocking

Someone has been robbing royal tombs and Benhus- who some call the King’s Hand- along with his assistant Thratos have been ordered to investigate. 
It does not take them long to find the culprits, but in the process they also discover that aristocratic tombs are sometimes guarded by far worse than mundane locks and magical wards.