All posts by Mike

Adventures and mishaps in science fiction, fantasy, and mystery

Quote of the day

By Marian Wood Kolisch, Oregon State University – Ursula Le Guin, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=89862997

“A fantasy is a journey. It is a journey into the unconscious mind, just as psychoanalysis is. Like psychoanalysis, it can be dangerous; and it will change you.”

Ursula Le Guin, from her magnificent essay From Elfland to Poughkeepsie

Quote of the day

Who’s there?

“The work of art is an intricate interplay between concealment and un-concealment, secrets and exposure, and invisibility and visibility.”

Louis Cheng

In his article, The Arts as an Area of Knowledge, Louis Cheng explores Martin Heidegger’s thoughts on art as a means to know the world around us. It’s a two-way street of mutual discovery, one beneficial to both the artist and the audience. As Flannery O’Connor famously put it, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

Of course, step one is to get your audience’s attention. Withholding information triggers the imagination, and the reason this works is central to our nature. We’ve always been attracted to the interplay of the revealed and the hidden. Mystery fascinates us because it ignites the primal need to know what comes next — a basic survival skill. That’s why story tellers withhold certain details from readers, who must turn the next page to find out what happens next.

To quote from Flannery O’Connor again, “You have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”

Once your reader confronts those large and startling figures, they’re open to what you have to say. That’s when the real journey begins.

Hooked on Crime(ucopia)

The prolific and talented John M. Floyd has a great post on the Crimeucopia series over at the SleuthSayers blog. Says John:

It’s not often that a publisher produces crime anthologies one after the other in a very short period of time. One did, though, this year: John Connor, at the England-based Murderous Ink Press.  … many of my writer friends besides Eve and Michael have been published there as well (or soon will be), including Jim Doherty, Adam Meyer, Joan Leotta, Judy Penz Sheluk, Robert Petyo, Bern Sy Moss, M. C. Tuggle, Jan Christensen, Brandon Barrows, and Wil A. Emerson.

I quite agree with Floyd’s comments about John Connor, one of the most professional and easy-going editors I’ve ever worked with.

The “I’s” Have it

The I’s Have It is the latest anthology in the imaginative and lively Crimeucopia series from Murderous Ink Press.

This spellbinding collection includes mystery sub-genres from cozies to hardboiled, with settings ranging from the traditional country home to the high-tech home office. But every story focuses on the investigators — the “I’s” — who must match wits with the criminals, uncover the facts, and let justice be done.

Of course, the fun is in watching the investigator tackle what seems like impossible odds. (My favorite twist is when it’s not obvious that a crime has been committed.)

My contribution, “The Tell-Tale Armadillo,” was inspired by a near-disaster for me and my wife. A natural gas explosion in an adjacent subdivision blasted a two-million-dollar house into scrap and rattled several nearby neighborhoods. Debris flew over a half-mile away.

Sure, it was terrifying at the time, but you know the old saying — nothing bad ever happens to a writer — it’s all inspiration. And, yes, the title is a riff on a couple of Edgar Allan Poe stories.

I’m honored to be part of this gorgeous and captivating anthology. Joe Giordano, Michele Bazan Reed, and John M. Floyd are just a few of the featured authors. Wow.

The I’s Have It is now available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Check it out!

Eyes of Tammy Faye

My wife Julie had a speaking role in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, a new movie based on the story of Jim and Tammy Bakker. We caught the premiere last night in Charlotte. Here, Julie is posing outside the theater. (The picture above, by the way, was made by Ken Garfield, the former religion editor of the Charlotte Observer.)

I thoroughly enjoyed it — and not just because my wife had a scene with Jessica Chastain, who delivered an honest portrayal of the one-of-a-kind Tammy Bakker. The movie is not a parody, but a tribute to a flawed optimist who somehow survived scandal, Jim Bakker, and copious amounts of diet Coke and Ativan.

It’s touching, funny, and dazzling — as this review in USA Today notes:

One of the Ten Commandments states, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Considering her knockout, praise-all-her-glory performance in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” however, it’s going to be tough not to worship at the altar of Jessica Chastain throughout this Oscar season.

The movie was selected for special presentation by the Toronto Film Festival, and Jessica Chastain received the Festival’s Tribute Actor Award for her performance. And no wonder — Chastain is powerful and believable in this role. Check it out.

The Ancient One

The Ancient One mask

Lovecraft aficionados will appreciate this mask and its backstory. I snapped the image this weekend at the Seattle Art Museum. It was so delightfully gruesome that I couldn’t pass it by, and when I saw its name — “The Ancient One” — I knew I had to sneak a picture.

The mask is an artifact of the Ivory Coast. It’s a striking example of a “gela” mask, a disguise that supposedly transforms its wearer. The peoples of the Ivory Coast and Liberia believe a gela mask has the power to create a new being composed of the mask, the person wearing the mask, and the costume. The name of the mask, “The Ancient One,” suggests it’s a traditional design dating back many centuries. And no wonder — almost every culture recognizes a shadowy, shifting realm linking the human and animal worlds. This mask is a vivid and imaginative variant of that tradition.

The mask, made of wood, cloth, teeth, horn, feathers, hair, shells, mud, and natural pigments, deliberately combines human and animal features. It’s believed to have the power to absorb the feral passions in a community and redirect them back into the wild — where they belong.

Or so they say.

Quote of the day

Image by Andrew Lih

“Aim for the stars. Keep grinning. Be bloody-minded. Argue with the world. And never forget that writing is as close as we get to keeping a hold on the thousand and one things—childhood, certainties, cities, doubts, dreams, instants, phrases, parents, loves—that go on slipping, like sand, through our fingers.”

Salman Rushdie

The Magic of Indian Artifacts

Grooved ax
Grooved stone ax

It’s a steamy July in the summer I turn eleven. The hot sun is beating down on a broad field of sandy soil, where I tramp down a quarter-mile-long row of green tobacco plants, cutting off the secondary stems from each plant so the main leaves can grow.

There’s a cold watermelon waiting for the field workers at the end of the row. I plod toward it and continue to lop off the suckers, as we call the unwanted stems.

Then I see it, a thin, wedge-shaped piece of blue flint. An arrowhead. When I pick it up and wipe away the dried dirt, I can’t help but gaze in wonder at the craftsmanship, or to imagine its story. Who made it? Who used it?

Being the bookish sort, the relic means much more to me than just a neat-looking curiosity. At the first opportunity, I locate books on Indian artifacts at the High Point Public Library.

Many people think the Indian artifacts they stumble upon in farms, gardens, and construction sites are a few hundred years old. In fact, the Palmer point I found was over 8,000 years old, a testament to the enduring legacy of the first North American inhabitants.

Over the years, I continued to search for relics and accumulated a sizable collection. What began as an escape from drudgery turned into a lifetime hobby that not only taught me a lot of history, but also introduced me to primitive weapons. More important, it gave me an appreciation for both Native American culture and fine craftsmanship.

Disc scraper and Kirk Serrated point

For example, the grooved ax in the first image was a formidable weapon and vital tool. The disc scraper shown immediately above required a great deal of pressure flaking from a skilled hand. The Kirk Serrated point beside it may have functioned as a saw. Running my finger over its barbs, I can’t help but appreciate its usefulness and beauty. It reveals the patient work of an experienced artisan, a product of a long tradition of craftsmanship.

Lesson learned: Every landscape conceals hidden wonders, not to mention forgotten stories waiting to be discovered.

My Favorite Golem

(c) Marvel Entertainment – Fair Use

Over at The Philosophical Fighter, Joshua Clements has posted a thought-provoking piece on teaching martial arts. However, his observations also apply to coaching and even classroom teaching.

Clements uses the metaphor of the golem to make his argument that teachers play a vital role in shaping students. In Hebrew folklore, the golem was a creature formed from clay, given life and purpose by its creator, normally a rabbi. Like a rabbi, a teacher imparts much more than rote knowledge to his students. As Clements puts it:

“As teachers and coaches, we also have the opportunity to sow truth and life into our students. We help inscribe emet [Truth] on their minds while simultaneously breathing life into their dreams, their passions, and their growth.”

The golem myth reflects the Genesis account of the creation of Adam, who was also formed from clay. That same myth inspired one of the most complex and beloved Marvel Comics characters, Benjamin J. Grimm, aka, The Thing, whose powerful body appeared to be made of rocks.

As Thing, Benjamin J. Grimm often clashed with the serious, logical Reed Richards (aka, Mr. Fantastic). In contrast to Richards, Thing was emotional, a little crude at times, and haunted by guilt and self-loathing. While Richards the scientist approached problems objectively and dispassionately, Thing was ready to clobber them. Fans often sided with Thing, the down-to-earth (!) everyman, against Richards, the highbrow academic.

The inevitable conflicts among the team sparked some memorable stories. Their personalities reflected one of the four classical elements they represented: Air (Invisible Girl), Fire (Human Torch), Water (Mr. Fantastic), and Earth (Thing). Despite their dissimilar temperaments, they managed to unite and overcome their challenges.

Yet another lesson we can learn from the golem.