Last night, I rewatched Gladiator (2000), starring Russell Crowe, and heard a number of lines I thought apropos to current events. I’m copying them over from Screenplays for You without further comment:
COMMODUS: But these senators, they scheme and squabble and flatter and deceive.
LUCILLA: They care about the greatness of Rome.
COMMODUS: Greatness of Rome? But what is that?
LUCILLA: It’s an idea, greatness. Greatness is a vision.
GRACCHUS: Fear and wonder. A powerful combination.
GAIUS: Will the people really be seduced by that?
GRACCHUS: I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. He will conjure magic for them and they will be distracted. He will take away their freedom, and still they will roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble floor of the Senate; it is the sand of the Colosseum. He will give them death, and they will love him for it.
PROXIMO: He knows too well how to manipulate a mob.
MAXIMUS: Marcus Aurelius had a dream that was Rome, Proximo. This is not it. This is not it!
MAXIMUS: The time for honoring yourself will soon be at an end, Highness.
MAXIMUS: Time for half measures and talk is over.
COMMODUS: Now the people want to know how the story ends.
MAXIMUS: There was once a dream that was Rome; it shall be realized.
Empire of the Goddess includes a chapter in which Thomas, my main character, encounters the government’s dubious eminent domain efforts to clear the way for a gas pipeline. I was doing a one-off concerning the real-world Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Dominion Energy’s prospective construction of which farmers and local governments have resisted for years. It’s easy to spot all the “No Pipeline!” yard signs in my town.
On the parallel world of Terra, its prospective pipeline won’t channel natural gas but oil created from pig manure. The “pig shit oil” pipeline, the farmers call it. The government’s solution to eminent domain is to send fire engines to farms in the pipeline’s way. Instead of spraying barns with water, however, they spray structures with napalm. This leads to a really exciting chapter where Thomas rescues a . . . hey, have I mentioned you should read Empire of the Goddess?
Anyway, imagine my shock this week when I saw headlines about real-world pig shit electricity, like this one in today’s paper: “Dominion and Smithfield Foods plan to convert pig poop to power”
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The world’s largest pork company is teaming up with a major energy company to turn pig manure into renewable natural gas.
Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy announced a joint venture partnership Tuesday to trap methane from hog waste and convert it into power for heating homes and generating electricity.
The article goes on to say the gas will be recovered from waste-treatment pits and “channeled to processing centers.” So that’s the part I want to know more about: channeled how? And will there be another eminent domain fight? . . . And how much napalm can a fire truck actually hold? Can Dominion give me royalties for the pig shit power idea?
So, my children had a little photo shoot yesterday for Total Defense Martial Arts. (Click to follow link:)
Here’s a Larry King-esque collection of thoughts for today:
— The Traipse/WQSV Treasure Hunt begins in Staunton again next week. Last year, my family spent a lot of blood & sweat to win. (Writeup) Of course, we plan to win again this year. It was a lot of fun, and I hope fellow Stauntonites will give us some friendly competition.
— Cursed by Christ is doing surprisingly good sales-wise, despite it being my first self-published title. I’ll be a guest speaker at Rockbridge County High School on on Oct. 19, where I’ll share what I’ve learned about audiobook production. Do ya think Empire of the Goddess has a similar destiny?
— Brazilian Jiujitsu continues to teach me virtue in addition to the ability to choke someone unconscious. Recently, gratitude and humility have been on my mind. For instance, when someone beats you at something, it’s okay to congratulate your opponent on their success and ask them to teach you. “Ow, ow–tap! That was awesome! How did you do that?” All in the same breath, even. (Maybe without the “ow, ow” next time.) I offer this wisdom not only to fellow martial artists but to anyone in any context. Politicians, particularly.
And if you’ve ever had a good teacher, it’s okay to tell that person so. It’s okay to recognize they’ve enriched your life in some way. Teachers, on the other side of the table, can make that connection easier by not humiliating the person who has already humbled himself. The proper answer to, “Your support has meant so much to me,” or to any expression of friendship, is, “Thank you.” Nothing else.
J.L. Gribble’s new book releases today from Raw Dog Screaming Press, so I thought I’d amplify the signal. Here’s the info:
This week, book 4 of the Steel Empires urban fantasy/alternate series is released! In a world with vampires, warrior-mages, weredragons, and sarcastic violin players, time travel seems like the obvious next step. Read on for more information about Steel Time, by J.L. Gribble
You’re never too young or too old to experience a paradigm shift.
Toria Connor is 25 when tripping over an artifact in the ruins of Nacostina thrusts her a century into the past, before the city is destroyed during the Last War. Now, she finds herself alone. Adrift in a time where she must hide everything important to her, from her mercenary career to her true magical ability.
Victory is over eight centuries old when she follows her adopted daughter. She has seen empires rise and fall, but never anything like this. She must survive alone in a city inhospitable to vampires, dodging friends and foes from her past alike.
Both of them know the clock is ticking down to the moment when the city is wiped off the map. Now, they’re in a race against time. To find each other. To escape the past. And to save the future.
Currently available from:
ABOUT THE SERIES
It is possible to read Steel Time as a stand-alone book, but don’t miss out on Toria and Victory’s previous adventures!
By day, J. L. Gribble is a professional medical editor. By night, she does freelance fiction editing in all genres, along with reading, playing video games, and occasionally even writing. She is currently working on the Steel Empires series for Dog Star Books, the science-fiction/adventure imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press. Previously, she was an editor for the Far Worlds anthology.
Gribble studied English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She received her Master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where her debut novel Steel Victory was her thesis for the program.
She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats.
Find her online at:
It takes a certain amount of psychological robustness to prepare for one’s own demise.
If you give a crap about your family, it’s worth it to write your will and purchase life insurance. Bonus points if you also leave a document at home, “Things to Do If I Die,” with plain-English instructions on finding your computer passwords and buttoning up the mundane details of your life, complete with the contact information of your accountant and lawyer.
Because, let’s face it: no one wants to admit they’ll die one day. And then to spend money preparing for it, the fruits of which you won’t be able to enjoy? Are you kidding? No, unfortunately I’m not. It’s part of what we call “adulting.”
Which is why my hat is off especially for my friend Keith Minnion. Keith not only went the extra mile, he went back and ran it twice. He purchased his own graveyard plot at a local cemetery and then designed his own tombstone and had it installed. All that it awaits is a death date and an occupant.
No, Keith isn’t sick. Just retired.
He did this for the same reason he has a will: to save his family the trouble of worrying about it.
We all gathered Saturday at the newly installed plot for an informal dedication ceremony. As you know, the trend these days is to re-label somber funerals as “celebrations of life,” complete with Hawaiian shirts and the attempt at happy thoughts. Why not have one, celebrating that person, while he’s still alive? And why not have it graveside?
Without the pressure of an actual expected demise, it helps prepare family and friends for the fact all of us will be gone one day. I believe it helped Keith accept this fact most of all as he stood on the platform of where, one day, he would like his train to stop.
We had a good time. Elizabeth Massie presented a hilarious poem she wrote about the grave, “Ode to a Tombstone,” every bit as good as “The Worms Crawl In,” and worthy of the same fame. Other friends presented poetic and musical tributes, and David Simms and I performed “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. Then we all went out to eat.
It was great. It was fun. It was macabre. It was touching and poignant. And when I’m retired and planning my third act, I hope I’ll have friends and family who love me enough to do the same for me.
Did the Pharaoh Khufu hold a celebration like this at the foot of his Great Pyramid? So I present to you this proposal for a new — but old — tradition. The Pharaoh Party. It’s something we should all do. Before it’s too late.
Recording an audiobook ain’t easy! Here are bloopers from making the audiobook of CURSED BY CHRIST.
One cool thing about being a dad is that I can roll out cliches like, “You’ll poke your eye out!” and “Eat your food; don’t you know kids are starving in Africa?” and they’re hearing these hoary old lines for the first time. These tidbits of intellectual lint come out of me like effervescent bubbles of genius, as far as they know.
So why not roll out classic movies from the 1980s as well? I’m talking stuff like The Thing and Iceman and the Star Trek films. And yes, The Karate Kid — the original one with Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita.
The Karate Kid is now all the more interesting to me as a storyteller and a martial artist. It’s in this second capacity that I approach you today in my mission to promote all things Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
I know — there ain’t no BJJ in The Karate Kid, right? That’s what you think.
There’s this one scene we watched last night before it was time for the nightly rounds of teeth brushing, jammies, and oh-my-god-look-at-this-pigsty-of-a-room.
In the “soccer fight scene,” one of the bullies from the Cobra Kai school slide-tackles Daniel during an after-school soccer game. Here it is from about 1:35 – 1:47.
I’m calling this the most realistic fight because that’s how most street fights go down. Forget about the crane stance at the All-Valley Karate Tournament at the story’s climax; attempting that in the real world will only get your own ass kicked when you fail to time the snap kick perfectly and when your attacker blocks your foot. The soccer fight immediately went to the ground, which is where most fights in the real world land.
Am I speaking from some experience with real world fights? Unfortunately, yes. Am I speaking with the authority of a sick fascination with street fight Youtube videos? Also yes. Am I basing this also on the opinions of my betters in the martial arts world? Yes.
Watch the clip from The Karate Kid again. Side aside for the moment whether Daniel was in the right to lose his cool after the slide tackle, and let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that he was protecting himself from an assailant. Because what he did — if this had been a self-defense situation — was exactly right. Daniel rushed straight in, getting inside his opponent’s punching range, and executed a tackle somewhere between a double-leg and a leghook takedown. Cobra Kai guy (CKG) reacted at first with a guillotine hold before sweeping Daniel to a mount position. Daniel sweeps him in turn, and when CKG neglects to close his guard and hug Daniel close, Daniel postures up and nails him with a right cross. CKG momentarily traps Daniel’s extended right arm in an arm-drag position and appears ready to come up on top of Daniel’s back before onlookers break them up.
Elapsed time: 11 seconds. Also realistic. This stuff happens fast. There isn’t time to think.
So, I’ll just leave that there for you to contemplate when you’re done admiring the fight choreography of this scene. How would you react in a rapidly developing situation like this? Crane kicking is the wrong answer.
Anyway, I enjoy spotting BJJ moves on screen now that I know what to look for. Click below for a Facebook gallery I made a few years ago. See if you can guess the movie before clicking on each picture for a detailed description of the fighting techniques.
The Traipse WQSV Treasure Hunt was not officially a letterboxing or geocaching activity, but it certainly felt close enough, and we were hooked. A treasure, hidden somewhere here in Staunton, VA? Worth actual money?
The folks who’d developed a self-guided walking tour app called Traipse partnered with local radio station WQSV to hide this thing, and they’d given the public roughly six weeks to find it. We had few clues where or what it was. The official rules suggested it would be in a weatherproof container and consist of instructions on how to claim over $500 of cash and prizes. But by the time my family sunk in over 20 hours searching for it, we no longer cared what the treasure was. It could have been a little gold sticker that said “you won.” By that point, we just wanted to find it.
Here’s Deena’s description of how it worked:
Every hour, the radio station WQSV gave out a clue on-air. Other clues could be gathered by following Traipse’s social media. Other clues were revealed once you went on mini scavenger hunts using the Traipse app around Staunton. There were ciphers, clues in semaphore, word puzzles, and tons of other things to solve. Each clue related to a specific location in Staunton. As time went on, clues were more and more specific, honing in on specific pacing and square feet. We needed to find a spot on a specific trail a certain number of paces from the road next to a particularly described tree.
Yeah, the semaphore one was a bitch. We got it by finding clue #86, nothing more than a URL that went to an animation.
After sequencing out the frames in Photoshop and deciphering them at a semaphore website, we learned the message is, “It’s not at the.”
It’s not at the what?
Clue #88, when we finally found it, was no help. “Ahoy!” it said. “There’s a system that sailors use to communicate using flags.”
Well, no kidding. But where is the treasure “not at”? I’m not sure we ever found the rest of the message. Several of the clues were like that: either we never found the other half of them, or we found tantalizing messages about where the treasure was “not”: it was not were you’d see a triple-double; it was not where you’d catch the Cardinal train; it was not where you’d get a Master’s or Bachelor’s degree.
Other messages, however, were found in their entirety. One Traipse location, once we solved its puzzle (which might have been to count the triangles in the rails of a downtown hotel, or to read the graffiti engraved in the sidewalk near a Mary Baldwin University office building) revealed clue #80, a bizarre series of letters: ABAAB ABBBA AABBB ABBAB AABBB ABBBA BABBA AABAA ABBBB AABAA BBAAA BAABB ABBBA ABBAB. Clue #81, at another location, added, “Sir Francis Bacon discovered a way to hide messages in plain sight.” And from that, we learned about the Baconian cipher. We deciphered the message, which read, “John Howe Peyton” — the 19th century lawyer who built Montgomery Hall, the mansion and estate that would one day become the basis of Montgomery Hall Park.
Clues like that inevitably led us to believe the Traipse treasure, whatever it was, had been hidden in Montgomery Hall Park.
Pieces of the picture of a bird, discovered in other clues, made us home in on a hiking trail on the western side of the park named after a noted ornithologist, Yulee Larner. We eagerly scoured the mile-long trail but couldn’t find much except the occasional broken beer bottle. The brush surrounding the trail proved impenetrable. Wondering if the treasure might be something tiny in the crook of a tree, my family frequently tromped off-trail through thorny vines and brambles. Owen cut his foot, I tore my shirt, and one day a stick in my eye nearly caused me to need a cornea transplant like Paul Taylor in The Organ Donor.
We would be out of town on the last day of the treasure hunt, Nov. 11. We worried if we didn’t find it, then on that day the organizers would give out clues so transparent that anyone could find it.
Indeed, the clues did become more specific as the date neared, as Deena pointed out. Clue #73 on Traipse’s Instagram feed said, “The treasure is about 1100 Ft from the nearest ‘home'” and included a picture of a baseball diamond. Another clue said it was 1750 feet from a train track. Using Deena’s Photoshop wizardry, we overlaid a Montgomery Hall Park trail map onto a Google Map, and drew red scale circles around the park’s three baseball home plates and black lines paralleling the train track 1750 feet away:
Yellow Xs represented where those lines intersected the Yulee Larner trail. You can see we were homing in on the trail heads nearest the soccer field in the southwest (thanks also to a clue that spelled SOCCER).
Despite all that, we still couldn’t find it. Not until the day I was out of town on a business trip and saw this clue on Facebook:
I called Deena, who at that moment was searching the Yulee trail with her mom. She immediately realized the U was a map, and the star showed the treasure’s location. The nearest U-shaped trail, however, was called the Walking Trail, not the Yulee trail — however it was still colored green on the official park map. Could this be what the WQSV on-air clue, “A place of green is sure to hold the treasure in between” referred to? Or did the “place of green” phrase merely refer to the park’s dense growth? Deena and her mom went to the Walking Trail to find out.
Flipping the U upside down in their heads, they started at the northern trail head. The Traipse “treasure map” flyer, below, contained vertical fold lines, and when joined together the boldfaced words on top and bottom spelled out EIGHTY PACES. Clue #70, from social media, said one of the map’s embedded clues would tell us how many steps to walk from a road to the treasure.
So Deena and her mom walked eighty paces from the road at the northern trail head.
And there it was, in a camouflaged tackle box:
The prize was a $750 check, a gift certificate to a night at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel, a $50 gift certificate to the Baja Bean restaurant, and miscellaneous swag. Our our boys’ urging, we’re giving some of it to the Wildlife Center of Virginia — and some to them to buy credits on the Monster Legends video game. The rest goes to pay for health insurance.
Traipse says they’re going to repeat the treasure hunt next year, and we’ll be ready. In the meantime, we’ll continue using their cool app for self-guided walking tours and mini treasure hunts and listening to WQSV.