I hope everyone reading this is on the course to some financial, medical, and mental stability, and I wish them well. Of course, hopes and wishes are nearly as worthless as thoughts and prayers, so I’m sorry for that. Isn’t it sad that this simple sentiment — a hope and a wish for your well being — as worthless as it is, is already more empathy than what our president can summon?
I’m so sick of that rotting orange in the White House, and I’m sick of reading about how he has and continues to screw over this country during the pandemic. As early as January, when intelligence agencies warned him this was coming, he played round after round of golf at our expense when he should have been asking us to shore up supplies of PPE and ventilators. In fact, he could have started on that a couple years earlier, when he was warned such supplies were dangerously low, rather than spend his time firing the pandemic task force.
It’s obvious that his sole concern right now is not our health and safety but his re-election, and the key to that is the economy. He wants governors to reopen schools this spring because schools are a vital part of the economic engine — the health and safety of our children be damned. He’s so desperate for us to get back to work that he wants us to inject household cleaners and UV lights into our bodies, and failing that to take an anti-malarial drug, an unproven and dangerous treatment for COVID-19, which he happens to have a financial interest in.
I am not yet sick from the corona, but I am sick of him.
It’s been a busy week!
Deena and I were guests at Boskone 57 in Boston, MA, where we talked about website design (such as our redesign of NESFA.org) and Deena played the wildest game of “Pictionary with the Pros” I’ve ever seen. I also talking-headed on a number of panel discussions about the business and craft of writing. For any con-goers reading this, here’s a link to a subject I talked about: Why to Register Copyright for Unpublished Works.
Yesterday, the Rotary Club of Mechanicsville, VA, asked me to speak at their weekly breakfast. While I had books there for sale, my topic was more oriented to business writing: the art of email communication. It turns out that no matter the profession, we all have the same pet peeves, such as unclear subject lines, unwanted “reply all”s, and failure to specify clear calls to action. As a project manager and web designer for First Arriving, in addition to my work with Deena, written communication is something I do every day. As a bonus, my mother’s cousin Sharon came to see me! Here are a couple photos:
Whew! That might be it for a while as I catch up on some writing.
All hope is not lost, friends. We can still find common ground.
The owner of my martial arts school and I are political polar opposites. He’s a MAGA Trump supporter. I’m a liberal Democrat. We have only two things in common, but it’s enough to sustain one of my best friendships.
1. We’re both family men.
2. We both love Brazilian jiu-jitusu.
Joining a school community like this is absolutely a reason to give it a try, and in today’s divisive (and warming) climate, we need things that bond us together. Give it a try.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
Pete at the Roaming Rolls blog just came out with a terrific post titled “6 Things To Consider Before Starting Jiujitsu.” Here is a summary of his subtitles and my favorite excerpts, but I urge you to click through and read the whole thing for yourself.
Jiujitsu Involves Touching
I’m talking about a form of touching that is completely void of emotion and creepiness, but stems from calm intent. There are many different forms of touch, and though jiujitsu is one of the less caring forms, it still harbors familiarity with touching, this inevitably makes you more invested and engaged with people.
Jiujitsu Takes Time To Get Good At
The very nature of jiujitsu breeds honesty.
Most people won’t even have their purple belts in the time it takes for the average Karate practitioner to receive their black belts. […] Like with anything you should be in it for the sheer enjoyment of the game. This also makes the jiujitsu black belt as legit as they come.
Jiujitsu Eats up your Week
With so many techniques to learn, and so many subtleties within those techniques, along with an inability to bullshit your way up the ranks, having to dedicate all this time comes as no surprise.
It’s Generally a Solo Venture
From the outside, jiujitsu doesn’t only look strange, confusing and somewhat homoerotic, but it’s also a martial art. That factor brings an element of fear to people on the outside.
You Will Get Injuries
Bear in mind that you’re just as likely to sustain injuries at a similar frequency in sports like tennis, football and even more so in skateboarding.
The Journey Never Ends
There are simply too many techniques, and differences in subtitles to each of them.
This is part of what makes jiujitsu so appealing and addictive. It’s the prospect of (like in science) exploring infinity forever. Constantly learning and growing, and enjoying it for that process alone.
Following is the letter I just sent to my U.S. Senator. Here is the article about Rep. Demings’s statement.
Dear Sen. Kaine:
When you visited the Staunton Public Library, I stood at the back of that packed meeting room and listened to you. I shook your hand afterward. I believe in you. This is why you, as my representative in the U.S. Senate, are my only hope.
Sen. Mitch McConnell stated on FOX News that he is in coordination with the White House concerning the coming Senate trial. Congresswoman Val Demings makes a compelling argument that Sen. McConnell must therefore recuse himself under Chapter IV, Paragraph 5 and Chapter XXV of the Senate Rules, plus the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 3. I would go further to suggest that any senator who communicates with the executive in this way must therefore recuse him/herself. The Republicans love to argue how these proceedings are a sham and hoax. And yet, by trashing their own impartiality even before a formal impeachment vote, they dive head-first into a cesspool of hypocrisy. Imagine if this were a regular court proceeding and a prospective jury foreman said he was already in contact with the defendant’s attorney; that would be intolerable.
Therefore, as my Senator, I request you do something about this. Please make a motion that Sen. McConnell and those like him recuse themselves. Of course they won’t do it — but this hypocrisy must nevertheless be put on the record. In judicial proceedings, motions that are wrongly denied by a judge may be the basis of an appeal to a higher authority. While there is no impeachment-related appellate authority after the Senate trial, you’re on notice that there are still the higher authorities of the voters you serve and the history you make. I want my 8 and 10-year-old boys to look back on these days and know that somebody had a spine during these dark days. Will it be Senator Tim Kaine?
It’s beyond rich that President Donald Trump claims his appeals to Ukraine and China are actually about his concern over corruption — and not about politics at all.
Really? Come on. How stupid do you think we are? Pretty stupid, I suppose, since you continue to lie, day in and day out, about your motives, oh thou of your great and unmatched wisdom and stable genius.
What I find sad, though, is not just that the electorate, in a fit of pique over Hillary Clinton, allowed this wannabe dictator into the White House. It’s that the Republican Party, a party I used to identify with and vote for, aids and abets him. I’m so disgusted with Mitch McConnell, who raises money on the promise of protecting the president.
There’s a cancer on the presidency, as John Dean said to Nixon five days before I was born. But it’s worse than that now. There’s a cancer on the legislative branch, and its name is the Republican Senate. There’s a cancer on the judicial branch, and its face is Brett Kavanaugh.
Meanwhile, this country that’s my home continues to run up a trillion dollars of additional debt every year. And a young and brave and eloquent climate activist is unfairly excoriated by someone I once admired.
My children will inherit a morally and financially bankrupt nation in a world unfit for human habitation. All so that people like Donald Trump can hold onto their power and money.
So, here’s my call to action. Here’s my prayer:
Remove the corruption from our government. Pass sensible legislation to safeguard our future.
Let’s live up to our reputation.
All this week, I’m highlighting interesting things about Empire of the Goddess. Check out the new editions.
Here are some images that inspired me while writing the novel. Enjoy!
From the book’s opening scene:
The day he disappeared, my four-year-old son, Walter, asked to mow the yard with scissors.
“Sure. Just stay clear of the lawn mower when I come around, okay?” As I spoke, I finished a pass across the back yard of our Virginia home. I turned my push mower around for the next one. …
Squealing, Walter unlocked the gate on his way to the front yard.
This is simply an image of the back gate at my house here in Staunton. It’s taken from where I imagine Thomas Dylan stood during that scene, his hand on the lawnmower, as Walter opened the gate on his way to the front. I’ve always found this sight to be somehow sad and final without knowing why. Thomas knows why.
“Have you seen my son? Little boy with blond hair?” I held a hand level with my stomach to show how tall he was.
Here’s a picture of my son Owen at age four, so precious it makes my heart break just to look at him.
I looked in that direction and saw the distortion of a heat mirage. The same as before. It moved down the street like a giant ocean wave.
Except it couldn’t be a heat mirage. It was only seventy-five degrees outside. I lived on Star Trek episodes once upon a time, and this bulge in the air reminded me of the passage of a cloaked spaceship.
Maybe it was a cloaked van—the one responsible for snatching my little boy.
This video by Jay Haynes dramatizes what this scene might look like. The heat distortion moves down Ritchie Road toward the woods that are the Border Between Worlds.
I crossed the vacant lot’s weeds and piles of gravel and entered the woods. … The brush gave way to a wide trail that ran up and over a rise. I didn’t remember the trail, but that didn’t matter now. … Clover covered the ground. I didn’t normally pay attention to such things, but its thickness seemed strange. When I stooped to look, I figured out why.
At the end of Ritchie Road sits the vacant lot that sparked my attention on that long-ago day of woolgathering. The kids like to visit it during family walks, calling it “the jungle.” Through that trail entrance pictured here, you access a trail beneath old phone lines that go up and over that hill, seemingly to another world. In Thomas Dylan’s Staunton, it really does lead to another world.
Having grown up in the D.C. suburbs, I recognized the Washington Monument immediately. The monolith of white stone, built in the 19th Century, stood over five hundred fifty feet tall.
This one was at least twice that height.
Lit by red flood lights, it rose like a magnificent, bloody finger into the night. Unlike the Monument I remembered, this one stood upon a square building of white stone and Corinthian columns. It was the lower half of the Masonic Temple from nearby Alexandria, Virginia—except larger.
This is a cleaned-up version of the Photoshop sketch I created for my own reference while writing this passage. It’s simply an image of the Washington Monument planted upon the Masonic Temple in Alexandria. In the novel, this is the Washington Temple in Washington, DC, residence of the emperor and high priest to the Goddess of Evolution and where abducted people are taken for sacrifice.
Flagpoles circled the Monument, just as I remembered, except the flags were also different. Each had a large, white hangman’s noose in the blue field instead of fifty stars.
Here’s a scan of a painting Deena made in the course of creating the hardback’s cover art. Given the current state of America, I don’t find this flag to be so far-fetched.
The Memorial’s stone pillars, each about twenty feet tall, partially surrounded a pond with two spraying fountains. That part looked normal. But those weren’t wreaths hanging from the pillars like I remembered. Hangman’s nooses—with actual corpses—dangled from the sides instead. … I wondered if that meant they were slowly strangled instead of suffering the quick, clean neck breaks nooses were designed for. … A couple of the victims hung by their ankles instead of their necks. That was worse. Death would take longer.
The WW2 Memorial is in a perfect location and with a perfect design for the public gallows of my story. As you know, in ancient Rome, state criminals were also executed in a slow-acting, exhibitory manner.
I drove four hours south to Linville, North Carolina—a beautiful, mountainous resort area I remembered from family trips growing up. On a sunny spring day, I hiked up to the Flat Rock Overlook, at an elevation of nearly four thousand feet. And it was here, so high above the world that the rolling hills of forest were like green hair follicles growing to the sky, that I hit my low point.
Here’s Owen again, a bit older than the previous picture, during a visit to Flat Rock. As described later in the book, the Lutheran ministers from Camp Linn Haven like to take Family Week attendees there for evening devotions. There are plenty of rocks to sit on, but the sun always finds the perfect angle to dagger into your eyes. Flat Rock was a suitable location for some of the novel’s major scenes, one of which is depicted on the new cover.
That’s all I have for now. Do you have any photos or artwork you would like to contribute? (I hear Pinterest is good for that, but I’m surprisingly out of touch for someone who daylights as a website designer.)
Do you own a professional sound isolation booth? You do? What time can I come over?
That’s what I’ll be asking everyone the next time I narrate my own audiobook. It would go far more quickly and involve far less swearing at my pets. Of course, you wouldn’t then have nearly as much fun learning about the hell I went through with Cursed by Christ and Empire of the Goddess, now would you?
All this week, I’m highlighting interesting things about Empire of the Goddess. Check out the new editions.
Aha, I can’t fool you! You found me out. Your astute eye has detected an abnormality. In the back of your mind, Sesame Street is singing, “One of these things is not like the others.”
Let’s see: horror, horror, and what the hell is that. *
Two covers for the same novel? Just who am I trying to fool? Well, no one, actually. Empire of the Goddess is what you call a “cross-genre” novel. It has elements of both the horror and fantasy genres, and so I admit, in my Machiavellian calculations, that in my requests to the cover artist, I tried to appeal to both readerships. All I can say in my defense, Your Honor, is that both covers are truthful, and in fact they depict different scenes from the same story. They are not misleading.
That’s the what. Now let’s talk about the why.
I first sold Empire to a bona fide publisher who was not myself: my old friends at Thunderstorm Books. It’s always been important to me to acquire that external validation of quality from a gatekeeper, if possible. Thunderstorm, as usual, put out a great product: 52 hardcover copies, autographed by me and the artist they hired, Deena Warner, printed on the kind of paper that will probably outlive me.
Thunderstorm caters to horror collectors, and I knew they would like the novel, what with its elements such as human sacrifice and that really awful thing that happens to Thomas in chapter 3. So its cover, depicting the World War II memorial in Washington being used as a gallows, is something that appeals to them. (Thanks to Norman Prentiss for the cover art idea.)
But, like with Cursed by Christ, I wanted to perform the story, and Thunderstorm doesn’t sell audio. Hence the new self-published editions this summer. The fantasy-esque cover, depicting a pivotal scene at the Flat Rock Overlook in North Carolina, is only an effort to broaden the audience. I also edited the cover copy to better match it. I wish there was a more sinister motivation I could now confess to you for the change, but unfortunately, I only play at being sinister. I’m really just a geeky, middle-aged white dude.
However, you will be interested to learn that this time, instead of just an audio edition (yes, 10 hours of me blathering at you) and necessary eBook, I went whole hog by adding a paperback. The paperback presented a new challenge that went beyond ensuring each new chapter begins on a right-hand page: I needed a publisher’s logo for the bottom of the spine.
Of course, the publisher this time is me, so I’m trading as MW Publications. (Get it? The M is for Matthew, and the . . . yeah.) Deena and I discussed various logo ideas, and I liked those that entwined the letters M and W in interesting ways. I suggested putting the M over the W like mirrored mountain ranges, as a tribute to the Blue Ridge Mountains near our home. Deena came up with something better.
It’s still an M and W, but they’re entwined — as if they’re grappling. As if they’re Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners like our hero Thomas Dylan.
So if you see that logo up in your browser’s tab as you read this blog post, that’s why. Maybe one day, I’ll have it engraved on my tombstone and throw a Pharaoh party like my friend Keith Minnion.
Currently, MW Publications only carries my own titles, Empire of the Goddess, Cursed by Christ, and the new eBook editions of Dominoes in Time and Blood Born, but that may change down the road. Who knows? Only the Goddess Darwin.
* Yes, there are three covers here, and the title says “Two.” Verily, I am fucking with you.
Also see: Inspiration for Empire of the Goddess
All this week, I’m highlighting interesting things about Empire of the Goddess. Check out the new editions.
There’s rarely a single source of inspiration for any story I write. Empire of the Goddess had three: parasites, religious myth, and my sons.
One day, as I raised my invisible antennae to detect inspiration, I took a long walk around the neighborhood. My part of Staunton, Virginia, resembles the DC suburb I grew up in, with its single-family homes and trees. In the middle of the work day, with folks away at their jobs, it can feel like a ghost town. The familiar becomes quiet and sinister. I noticed odd details that I dutifully dictated into my handheld voice recorder. A squawking bird flew by with strange, mechanical motions. A puddle in a rain gutter concealed a bottomless pit. But what really caught my attention was the empty lot at the end of the street.
Beyond a gravelly area that marked a future road extension, a line of woods opened into another world. The trees formed a corridor into a forest of unnatural overgrowth. It felt like peering down the maw of some planetary vampire, sucking life out of the world. What if one of my boys, then aged 3 and 5, were lured into that throat? I would have to go after them.
From that visceral feeling came my main character, Thomas Dylan, whose young son, Walter, is abducted through a portal to parallel world — a world that feeds off ours.
But what kind of planet would do that? What kind of society would steal our children?
At the time, I was reading Reza Aslan’s terrific book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Aslan describes a first-century Palestine teeming with itinerant holy men performing faith healings and exorcisms. They sometimes called themselves messiahs and made resistance to the Roman Empire a religious duty. In such a time, to preach about an empire of god rather than man was a capital offense.
I reasoned that a fantasy world structured similarly would seek to keep its populace under an iron fist of control. With disease and sin entwined caduceus-like in meaning, a theocratic imperium would ensure it alone dispensed healing and its deity’s forgiveness. Imagining the most dramatic mechanism I could for such oppression, I followed this garden path of thought back to the forested portal at the end of my street.
Why would this parallel world want to kidnap people from ours, casting a net into which Thomas Dylan’s son falls? The answer: to sacrifice him as part of a long-running parasitism on our world by a state religion and political power dating back to Columbus.
Make that world a dystopian version of contemporary America, set rules that allow for actual magic, and mix in some romance and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and Thomas Dylan is off on the most transformative adventure of his life.
Perhaps some part of you will feel the same.
The Washington Post and The Denver Post yesterday reported on 18-year-old Brendan Johnston’s quandry when faced with the prospect of facing Jaslynn Gallegos for a high school wrestling bout. The competition would have brought him one step closer to a Colorado state wrestling championship, but instead, he decided to forfeit. Johnston cited unspecified religious beliefs for his decision and also a reluctance to show physical aggression toward a female. He’s done this with other female wrestlers, too, and been praised for it. As the news outlets detail, this is emblematic of a larger debate about the 17,000 girls nationwide in scholastic wrestling.
Speaking as a former two-year high school wrestler and now a six-year Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner, I have problems with his decision on many levels.
On the personal level, it dishonors both wrestlers. It makes us wonder if Johnston’s real reason was that he was a coward, afraid of losing to — and therefore feeling emasculated by — a girl. And by robbing the girl of her chance to compete, it leaves her — and us — to doubt the legitimacy of any subsequent victory; i.e., the only reason she can now step closer to the championship is because someone gave her a “bye.”
On the gender-relations level, it dishonors men through guilt by association. In this context, men are once again choosing for a women what she may or may not do with her body. If a female chooses to use her body in a grappling sport — or any sport — then who are you to take that away? Johnston said he doesn’t want to show physical aggression toward a female off the mat; fair enough. But on the mat? That’s the nature of the sport, and girls who wrestle have made that choice.
And on the commonsense level, the decision is illogical. The online comments to the above news articles give at least two main points to unpack.
Scholastic grappling, in fact, further reduces the possibility of unfair physical advantage because wrestlers have to compete within narrow weight classes. Johnston and Gallegos are theoretically evenly matched because they weigh the same.
But don’t take my word for it. Go observe a martial arts class or a wrestling practice. Talk to the women you see there. And for bonus points, put your own butt out there on the mat and experience it for yourself.