Apr 24, 2012


Running a nice little promotion over on Amazon today for one of the sections of the dark fantasy anthology "Into the Dust" that I co-wrote with Kiri Callaghan. For today and tomorrow (April 24th and 25th), "Avast" will be absolutely free as a download for Kindle, right here:


"Into the Dust" is a 10-episode serial retelling the Peter Pan story as a dark fantasy. It's also the prequel to another novel currently in production and due out later this year. But for now, it's a great chance to take a look at a different sort of Neverland.

Take a peek and see what you think. It only costs a single happy thought - what have you got to lose?

Addendum to my last post

In all the excitement about chronocling the recent conversation between my daughter and I, I completely neglected one of the funniest bits. Shame on me!

As we were driving away from the UW campus, we both remarked on how hungry we were, and ran through a quick list of the nearby foodstuffs in the area. We sped through a variety of world cuisine, and we came up on Dick's Drive In - great burgers, if you've been there you know.

I said, "oh, hey, we can go there, to Dick's Burgers."

Jillie started giggling uncontrollably.

"What's so funny?" I asked innocently. "Is 'Burgers' a funny word?"

Her: "No." *giggle*

Me: "Oh, 'Dicks'? Is the word 'Dicks' funny?"

Her: *giggling hysterically*

I'm sure this threatens to revoke any Dad Cred I might have earned, but I don't care. I totally love that my daughter laughs at things like that. It's like she's 12 or something.


Apr 21, 2012

Leveling Up

Yesterday was a field trip. No, that's not code for playing hooky from work, I volunteered at my daughter's fifth grade field trip to UW's college of Engineering "Discovery Days". It's sort of an open house, where many of the students display some of the more vibrant and dynamic projects in which they are engaged. She was excited about it, and insisted I take a day off from work so we could hang out at a college.

Seriously, who could say no to an invitation like that? Not this dad.

So in spite of some rain - yes, this is Seattle, so what did we expect? - it was a great few hours at the event. We saw an actual wind tunnel, a human powered submarine, and - my personal highlight of the day - met Monty Reed, inventor of the pneumatic-driven lifesuit. Dude is Tony Stark, only thus far Robert Downey Jr isn't playing him in any movies. But it's still early.

Jillie had her iPod handy, snapping pictures of the architecture of the school, and remarking frequently to me how much she loved interesting buildings. We talked about going to England someday so we can look at actual old buildings. Science and innovation was everywhere, floating around the air like cherry blossoms.

Since I'd driven down, we decided to hang out a bit longer at the event, and then take a nice drive around the city. Since we live about a half hour out, we don't usually get the chance, so now that the rain had gone away, it seemed a perfect time to do so. We drove around aimlessly in the downtown streets, Jillie pointing at this building or that, and I even pointed out a few buildings I've been considering for inclusion in an upcoming novel. As most of our downtown trips require, we swung by Uwajimaya's and picked up a few new manga (which catches her up on Soul Eater) and some treats for us to share later as a family. You know the drill - pocky, Ramune, all the basics. A short lunch later and we were back on the road.

Now, ever since Jillie was a wee thing, we've tried to be open and honest with her, and tried to encourage an air of sharing between us. Frequent readers of this blog or my Middle Age books will no doubt recognize
this pattern. It does, on occasion, lead us into potentially awkward situations (such as being asked to help her shop for bras a few months back), but every time I've come away being more and more impressed by this wonderfully intelligent child that I somehow have been granted the opportunity to help raise and be a father to.

Our drive back home provided the perfect backdrop to a new series of conversations. It started with a reflection on the Discovery Days, and with both of us wondering aloud just what Jillian might be when she grows up. The choices are out there, broad in scope, with no real demand for a decision as yet. For now, Jillie is enjoying writing stories and drawing. She's not far off from how I was at her age. Dungeons and Dragons, video games, friends, comic books and music. Pretty standard fare, yes?

We talked about life wishes, and I confessed that Neil Gaiman has stepped up to share the top spot with Sting on my list of people I'd love to hang out with someday over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. We both agreed that Yoko Kanno would also be extremely cool to meet, and she started thinking of a list like that of her own.

This conversation led naturally into one about growing up in general - exploring the world, learning everything, and yet Jillie insists that she will always live near us, calling or visiting us every day to share in the joy of new discoveries and celebrating new successes of dreams realized and boundaries broken. I can think of no greater way to spend a life, really.

I laughed when I told her that one of the things that worried Lizz and I was the general tendency of teenagers to rebel against the constraints of their parents. I admitted that although it wasn't like we just let her go insane on the world, we tried to apply logic and wisdom to every restriction we applied to her life - and even then, it isn't like there are many of them. We try to help her learn from every rule - why it exists as a rule and what we hope she will gain from it. In the end, we want her to be able to be the master of her own life.

It went from there into a brief conversation about her shaving her head and getting tattoos - by which I mean to say she made the cartoon gagging face at my implication that she'd ever do either. I told her it was at some point going to be her choice, and that like so many choices she would face in life, there would come a time where Lizz and I were not going to be in the room when she had to make them.

One of the things that I carried with me from my youth was the idea of making your decision before you ever had to make a stand - to decide what you wanted to do in certain situations long before you found yourself in a place where you were being asked to decide it.  I told her, also, that things like drinking (before you're 21) and smoking, doing drugs, and having sex were all things that, in the moment, may no longer seem like such bad things. Almost as if they're good things. People might like you. They might like you more. They might not make fun of you. In that moment, it's almost too late to decide what you want to do.

At this point, we'd gotten home, but she asked if we could stay in the car and just talk - that way the dogs wouldn't interrupt.

Drinking, smoking, doing drugs - those were all clear issues for her. But when we listed off sex, she made a horrified and confused expression. "Oh my god, why would I want to do that ever? I'm not having sex until, like, at least two or three years after I get MARRIED!"

My laughter surprised her, so I had to explain. (author's note: I asked her before I decided to write this for her permission - she thought it might help other dads feel more comfortable talking to their daughters about sex, so told me to go ahead with her blessing)

Me: "You mean, you're not going to try and have babies until two or three years after you get married, right?"

Her: "Right. So I can wait and have sex, then."

Me: (after a healthy pause) "Well, you know sex isn't ONLY for making babies."

She looked at me like I was a crazy man. "But it's GROSS!"

Me: "Okay, let's be honest about it. Sex might seem gross to you, but it can be a pretty wonderful thing that two people who truly love each other and love being with each other can do. It's like kissing, only thousands of times better - it's like kissing, hugging, riding a roller coaster, eating a bite of the best chocolate ever made, laughing, tickling - it's one of the truly best feelings two people can ever share. But, yes, it's also a way that people can try and make babies. But it's not JUST for that."

We'd talked a bit earlier about Darwinism, and about how his theory suggests that (for example) only the tall giraffes could eat, so the short giraffes all died, leaving only tall giraffes. I added that people felt good having sex so that they'd do it a lot - because if people didn't make babies, then the people were all gonna die.

"But also," I added, "when you're with somebody you really really like, you're gonna kiss them (No, Jillie, stop making the yuck face, it's going to happen and it's okay. It'll happen). But when you do, you're going to feel all kinds of tingly, and your body is going to start thinking it's time to go further than just kissing. It's going to feel like it's okay to do more."

Her: "So you kiss and then you have sex?"

Me: "Well, no, there's a few steps between one and the other."

Her: "Oh, like people touching your...."

Me: "Your 'privacy bits', yes."

Her: "Well, that's OFF LIMITS."

Me: "But as you get older, and when you start to really kiss a person you really like, that part might not feel like it wants to be off limits."

Her: "Well, I'm just gonna tell them no. And if they try it, I'm gonna punch them in the face."

Me: "I'd rather there was no punching, but if you say no and they don't listen, then do what you have to do, yes."

Her: "If a boy doesn't listen when I say no, then I'm not going to be friends with them."

Me: "If a boy doesn't listen when you say no, then he's already not friends with you."

Her: "And he better not punch back."

Me: "Better not."

Her: "So that's why I'm going to wait."

Me: "Well, I just think it's best that you take any of those steps one at a time, and give yourself a chance to make each choice with a clear head. And THAT's the decision you have to make before you even find yourself kissing someone."

She pondered this for a moment, and nodded thoughtfully. And what she said next made me feel like I was somehow witness to the greatest realization of the universe.

"I think it's like in a video game. You have to start playing by learning how to fight little stuff, and then when you level up, you can fight more powerful stuff. But you have to level up and get cool weapons and equipment first, and level your party up, too. And sex is like...the BOSS. If you try to fight him before you're ready, he just KILLS YOU."

So there it was. My 11 year old daughter just explained sex with a metaphor as playing video games. Leveling up.

We laughed about that for a few minutes - I admitted that I couldn't have imagined a better metaphor to use for that entire conversation, and we decided it was a good point to wrap it up, go on inside and watch a bit of television and relax. Meanwhile, I sat there and pondered the fact that my daughter is simply amazing.

Twelve years ago, I was terrified. I felt - no, I was certain - that I was unfit to the task. I didn't think my experiences or knowledge were anywhere close to being adequate to the responsibility of being a father. There are still days I feel that sting of life-applied humility. But yesterday... I felt like I'd kind of leveled up in the Dad video game. Or at least, she leveled up as my little girl. She's just awesome. Eleven years old, and already making analogies like an old pro.

So, yeah, college is still a few years off, and no, I'm really not in any hurry to see my little girl going off into the world - - but I definitely feel a lot better about her ability to do so in a grand way.

Hear that, world? Get ready.

Apr 11, 2012

Emerald City ComiCon 2012

I spent a weekend at the 2012 Emerald City ComiCon, and I'd meant to jot down my thoughts on it sooner, but...well, I'm still filtering bits of it into my conscious mind. It was a fun and satisfying venture. A nice little write up can be found over on the Talaria Press site - go check it out here if you have the inclination.

But I also got to hang with some great folks - new and old friends alike - and got to deal with a nice little case of laryngitis, so clearly I was doing a monster bit of chatting.

Some of the particular folks I got to hang with were (in no particular order):

Joe Benitez - who drew a fantastic sketch of my daughter, cosplayed as Rom from the Aesirium books. He's also giving me some great advice on further ways to expand the books into a few other mediums, but this is a larger project I'll tell you more about later.

Emonic - he and Chemix are some amazingly cool cats, and if you haven't at least met them, then no wonder you've been feeling like your life's just not been complete. Wish these guys lived closer, we'd totally hang out more.

Alexis Cruz - okay, don't look at me like I just started name dropping. Alexis and I go back years, but I'll be damned if the man didn't just walk up randomly to my table. That was just an awesome moment.

Sometimes, crossing paths with certain people can be viewed as a simple happenstance, but I choose to see this creatively delicious convergence as an indicator that things are truly moving in the direction I've been trying to get them to go. Something about just sitting on the other side of the table all weekend long, talking to hundreds of total strangers - at one point talking to THOUSANDS of total strangers - reminded me exactly why I love this business. Telling stories, sharing the creative bent of my fractured brain; it's just a wonderful experience - - talking with others who share a similar path was a great way to reassure my little 7 year old boy shadow that things are gonna be just fine.

Writing is a wonderful experience. Totes worth the effort, worth the occasional self-doubt and the struggles it's taken to get things lifting off. And the best part is that it's just starting.
Speaking of which, we're now in the 4th month of 2012, and I still have 3 novels to finish this year, PLUS a lot more short stories.

But "Into the Dust" is finally up, in both ebook and paperback - - which was shockingly easy to produce. It's made me re-examine a lot of the production processes that have served as "common knowledge" thus far.

Literally, the entire project took a bit more than one month, start to finish. The sales have been spectacular, and, because of that, I've changed the timeline for the novel for which this collection serves as a prequel. But that just means I'll be working on potentially all three novels simultaneously.

I'm a madman.

Thankfully, one of those novels will be co-written with another author, so it won't be as brutal of a process, and both this and the third novel are already mostly structurally built out. But just know that though blogging might dwindle a bit, I'll try and post updates either here or over on Twitter or on Facebook. So, yeah, you're not rid of me yet, by any stretch.

Ah crap. And there's the anthology of children's stories I'm doing with my daughter. And the next Talaria Press anthology. Hrm. Okay, no, don't worry. I can juggle it.  It'll be another adventure. :)

Anyway, thanks again to Jim Demonakos and his team of convention staff and volunteers - - with an extra shout out to Joe Parrington, who is pretty much an all-around awesome person.

Choose Your Own Adventure

A couple weeks back, the most ridiculous idea for the most ridiculous publishing concept came up in a half-joking conversation: a do-it-yourself choose your own adventure. Basically, all the page numbers were filled in, and every couple of pages or so would be capped off with “if you choose to do one thing, turn to page 37; if you do something else, turn to page 61, and if you choose to do nothing at all, turn to page 114.” And then, random pages would be covered in endings, such as “You have died” or “You won!” or whatever. Everything else would be blank. I don’t know why somebody hasn’t done that already.

I really loved the “choose your own adventure” books – they were, to my mind, the ancestors of the RPG (though I wonder if they didn’t actually come out later), in that you, the reader, had some say in how the book turned out. There’ve definitely been a lot of books and movies I would love to have had the opportunity to choose my own ending, that’s for sure. Is that arrogance on my part? I don’t know. It’s not so much that I think I can do it better, but I would love a chance to have done it differently. For example, I agree with Joss Whedon when he said that he’d have done Return of the Jedi where Luke and Leia were not actually siblings, but the “other Skywalker” would’ve been a female jedi who totally kicked ass. Tell me that wouldn’t have been awesome.

But those CYOA books just fell in line with my youthful ambitions to tell stories, create my own endings to whatever tale I was reading. Even when I get the occasional moment to play video games, the parts I enjoy most are the storyline elements. The gameplay, sure, it’s fun, it’s dynamic, totally. But give me a cool story that I get to help define as my characters level up, and you’ve got me in the palms of your hands. Most of all when you surprise me in a good way. Tell me a story I haven’t heard before; or tell it in a really interesting way. Don’t just tell me the story that tested well in development or that mirrors the narrative arc that did so well in the theaters last year. Don’t just find a new way to retell Titanic, don’t just reboot dwindling franchises, don’t just do cover songs that sound a lot like the original (though I admit, I kinda liked Pseudo Echo's version of that, much to my deep and abiding shame).

As I was watching a recent episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he had a guest on there – Elon Musk, entrepreneur made wealthy for his involvement in PayPal who is now developing a private company dedicated to developing space travel. One of the first statements the man said in response to the question “how do you go from PayPal to Space Travel?” was quite illuminating and inspiring. He said “when I was in college, I believed that there were three things which would revolutionize the whole world: the internet, sustainable energy and space travel.” I completely agree, and for the very same reasons that he stated. He explained that the whole problem with the world right now is that we’ve to a very large part abandoned the spirit of exploration. We’ve stopped boldly going; we’ve begun to shift in many ways into a process of just trying to monetize the things we do – rather than following JFK’s indication that "we choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills; because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win ...", we do things only if they are easy and we can get paid for them. Granted, sure, I understand the idea of wanting to have a comfortable lifestyle, but also… we need to keep an eye on the adventures we have not yet dreamed up. Life cannot just be about problem solving. It has to be about dreaming up a world we haven’t yet built and saying “why not?”

Jon’s parting words to Musk were ones I could feel echoed in my own mind: “Take me with you.”

Because come on, what’s happened to us? Last night, my 11 year old daughter was asking me about current technology – a conversation that came out of the innocent question “What’s a Walkman?” – and I pointed out that not 25 years ago in Star Trek, they had datapads, which, at the time, seemed to help place the show physically in the realm of Science Fiction. These conceptual future computers in turn inspired the iPads that now pretty much everyone either has, has seen, or desperately wants. I myself fall into the last two categories, but only for the short term. Sad Ren, huh? I’m still waiting for the flying cars that the movie industry has promised me – though I’d be happy with the maglev cars seen in Minority Report, just so we’re clear. But I’m concerned by the perception that we appear to be catching up with our imaginations a little bit. At least… at least it has SEEMED that way.

I personally do not believe this to be the case. I think it’s a matter of time, really, before things punch through to a new level of imagination and comprehension.

I see it like this: until the world’s explorers fir circumnavigated the globe, there was not yet definitive belief or understanding that the earth was truly round. But discovering that – proving that – forced us to universally update our perceptions. Currently, we have the perceptions of things we publicly indicate to be unchanging and unwavering principles – things like the theory of relativity, for example, which we’ve decided are going to be unshakeable truths.

Things can’t travel faster than the speed of light? Well, who knows? We used to think things couldn’t travel faster than the speed of sound, and we eventually learned that wasn’t the case, either. And if we proceed with the notion that perhaps things CAN exist in a structure of believe not aligned with what we have traditionally accepted, what will that do to the thousand other possibilities that exist?

In a series of observations woven into the classic postapocalyptic novel “Earth Abides”, one that always stuck with me was the notion that the past does not define the future. Just because you’ve never broken your arm does not mean it is unbreakable. Just as the fact that you have not yet died does not mean you are immortal. Things can happen – sometimes radically – to utterly devastate previous dogmas. Sometimes, the world does it to you. Sometimes you go looking for it.

But these new observations do not happen on the roads which lay so paved and neat, tramped down by generations of travelers. You have to take that path less travelled – or maybe take no path at all, forging ahead into the dark wilderness that yawns wide before us.

Our family tries to take an adventure every year. Sometimes it’s a simple journey, like to Disneyland or whatnot, but other times we have simply jumped into the car and headed out, following our noses. Those are the vacations I love the most – though they’re often quite complex and not always easy. They recharge me, showing me parts of the world I’ve never seen, feeding into the hungry Pit of Carkoon that exists at the center of my creative process. Feed the maw, I say.

Find your own maw, and see what it craves. Feed it. Explore. Experience. Choose your own adventure.

And then come back and share your stories.