Monday, February 27, 2012

Joey HiFi cover for "Mockingbird" by Chuck Wendig

Miriam is trying to keep her ability – her curse – in check.But when Miriam touches a woman in line at the supermarket, she sees that the woman will be killed here, now.She reacts, and begins a new chapter in her life – one which can never be expected to go well.

The cover: Joey HiFi delivers another stunner of cover art. I certainly hope that Chuck Wendig never finishes his Urban Fantasy series, because that would mean that HiFi would have to supply us with the most progressive cover art I have seen. The incorporation of smaller images to create a larger silhouette is certainly not a new technique. In the hands of an amateur the results would repel the eye, especially if somehow bright colors get involved. But with black and white and a strategic splash of crimson, the cover is a looker. I have to say that this cover will catch my eye among many brightly colored images. Impressive considering how deliciously monochrome the image is.

Tell me what you think of this darling! What makes your cover senses tingle?

Mood: Rather cranky 
Coffee Cups Chugged: Three, but I had lots of Coke, so I guess… more? 
Song Selection: “Katy on a Mission” by Katy B [classy dubstep] 
TV Show: The Walking Dead 
Book: “Solaris Rising” edited by Ian Whates 
Movie Last Seen: Margaret Cho’s standup DVD “Beautiful” 
Current Writing Project: “The Tracks that Tower over Forgotten Valleys” 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"The New Hero" Anthology by Stone Skin Press

Book I want: “The New Hero” anthology to be released by Stone Skin Press

Cover: The cover art has been provided by Gene Ha, who will haunt my aesthetic wet dreams from now until I pass into a better place. What is there not to like here. The cover incorporates a very classical Ancient Greek fresco with anachronistic images to convey the meaning of the title. I honestly crave this book because of the cover.     

Ezekiel Saw the Wheel, Julia Bond Ellingboe
Better Off Not Knowing, Jeff Tidball
Warrior of the Sunrise, Maurice Broaddus
The Midnight Knight, Ed Greenwood
The Thirty-Ninth Labor of Reb Palache, Richard Dansky
On Her Majesty’s Deep Space Service, Jonny Nexus
Cursebreaker: The Jikininki and the Japanese Jurist, Kyla Ward
Against the Air Pirates, Graeme Davis
Fangs and Formaldehyde, Monica Valentinelli
Bad Beat for Aaron Burr, Kenneth Hite
Charcuterie, Chuck Wendig
Sundown in Sorrow’s Hollow, Monte Cook
A Man of Vice, Peter Freeman
The Captain, Adam Marek

Mood: The “what do I do with myself?” variety of energetic.   
Coffee Cups Chugged: The magic number three.
Song Selection: “Push” by Garbage
TV Show: RuPaul’s Drag Race  
Book: “Solaris Rising” edited by Ian Whates
Movie Last Seen: The Iron Lady – kind of a drag, but Meryl Streep is gorgeous, so you have to watch it.
Current Writing Project: “The Tracks that Tower over Forgotten Valleys”   

PS: I was totally inspired by Monica Valentinelli to adopt this bullet point presentation. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

[February 24th, Culture of Bulgaria] The Bulgarian Bus Conductor

Riding the bus in Bulgaria is one of the unique daily activities, which you will probably not have the chance to experience anywhere else in the world, except maybe in other Eastern European countries. I'm a fan of bus rides so I don't mind the ceaseless waiting for one. It's all part of the thrill I get from the chase and prowl. 

Buses being late is not an uncommon event, but Bulgarian bus drivers take it upon themselves to elevate lateness to an art form. If you take it upon yourselves to visit Bulgaria, you don't need to read a single time table, because even the bus drivers have no idea when they will arrive. 

Now once this is out of the way, I'll talk about the Bulgarian bus 'conductor'. When you think of a conductor, you picture an opera hall. However, in Bulgarian, a conductor is the person, who sells tickets in the bus. Now, in most countries to the West and I'm certain in some to the East, this job has long since been handed over to our future overlords, the machines. Here, not so much. 

The conductor is low-paid, has one of the most unappealing job descriptions in the world and conversations with them are rather dull. These grannies or aunties [yes, the most unappealing job positions in Bulgaria are all reserved for the ladies; feel special] have probably suffered quite a bit to end up on this end of the employment spectrum. I don't expect them to care that I don't know which stop is which [still happens to me] or that the bus has come half an hour late [while outside is -20 C], but the way these women look at you oozes accusation. 

It's as if every passenger is personally responsible for their predicament. They don't want you to talk to them and they don't want to talk to you. They frown, if you give them a bill larger than 5 BGN. They shout, if you ask them why the bus is late, and they never ever seem to know anything. So basically the bonuses of having live-human interaction with conductor are non-existent. 

What you do get out of the whole thing is a ticket and a mild case of emotional abuse.   

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

[February 22nd ] Weird Wednesday, Project Hiatus & Blogging Changes

I hope this sets the tone nicely
There’s been no Weird Wednesday for awhile. Oh, you noticed? How nice! I feel special and cuddly just by thinking about you guys. First, there were exams. Then, there was fatigue and chronic lack of sleep. Now, a very nasty back pain is responsible for the delays in updates in the Weird Wednesday feature.

Well, since we have gone down this thorny road, why not get with the program and expect to see something [anything really] by the mid-goddamn-summer. Cause guess what? Weird Wednesday is going in a wee bit of a hiatus, until after June. Why, you might ask?

The question is a rather simple one to answer. Because my university runs on a campaign of complete misinformation, I had to receive primary information through the rumor mill about what I as a student had to do in order to apply to work on a thesis. Mind you, I already knew what I would be writing about and have it all worked out.

However, the university set the bar higher for those, who want to apply, from 4.50 overall grade to 5.25. Of course, I’m not a straight A [6.00 in Bulgaria] student, but a firm B student [meaning my overall grade sits at 5.00 firmly]. This means that I’m not qualified to apply for thesis, which is the considerably easier way to go about graduating. The rumor mill had been going Charlie Sheen crazy about what the new qualifications were going to be. The university conveniently leaked no information about any of the guidelines for thesis, which should be so high on their priority list. The consensus among everyone is that the new head appointed in our department wants to read a lot less than previous years. It suits him to give out as less as possible information and ruin it even for those, who are eligible to apply.   

Anyway, I finally had to check for myself, whether the rumor mill was correct and honestly, since I’ve found no official information on the website, I hoped that it was all nonsense. Well, it wasn’t. So now, I’m going to be one of the misfortunate ones revising material from two years ago. I have confirmed nine disciplines I’ll have to freshen up on and five, which I’m not that sure of.

So you see why I can’t really continue with my regular, big projects, but instead of complete hiatus and going off the grid, I will just blog shorter. More snippy, snappy comments and less snore-fests of posts.

Well, dearies. Let the torturous study begin.        

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

[Tuesday 21st February] Asa - "The Way I Feel"

I've had a long day at work and I've been on around for hours of sleep, so my brain's capable only of browsing naughty words and processing pretty moving images. Fortunately, I have the latest of "RuPaul's Drag Race" and "Smash" to get me through the night.

Because I love you, here is the wonderful Asa with "The Way I Feel". Have a Happy Pancake Day to all in the UK.

Monday, February 20, 2012

[Monday February 20th] 8 Things I Learned About Deadlines

Who wins now? EH!
It’s been a month and I’ve nearly forgotten how to blog, which is funny, cause these days you can’t make me shut up. Work has been a bit crazy and my fingers ache from the constant tap, tap, tapping on the keyboard. Then I had to bounce around doctors for awhile, which further added unnecessary stress [nothing too serious with me] and then came news from the frontier to the West, where mother is working right now. In between all of this I’ve been pretty silent, because I’ve been chasing deadlines.

What advice about deadlines will tell is that you have to stick to them. What advice neglects to say is that you have to be extremely realistic about the number of deadlines or at least I’ve missed the guidebook to deadlines some way along the way. If there is a copy somewhere that no one needs, my e-mail is in my bio [just saying]. The gist of this post right now is that I’ve been an incredibly naughty boy and expected unrealistic things from myself.

As you might suspect already, I want to be on top of everything and it’s not been happening as planned. I edit for Tales to Terrify, I write and I review [though I thought I had stopped for good] and then I have several other big as hell blog initiatives, which more or less have fallen in the background. Top that with a full time job and university and you have yourself a basic recipe for chasing deadlines all the time. Here are the lessons I learned chasing deadlines and failing some times:

1] Write down everything connected to your project and deadlines. Most of the time, you will work in tiny bites of time. Managing fiction for a podcast has taught me that a big project is a clockwork robot rather than a brontosaurus, meaning that it’s a ticking organism with so many parts that take minutes separately, but letting them slip through the cracks of your mind will come back to bite you. This can easily apply to writing, which I learned after forgetting a few stunningly beautiful ways I could have employed in my latest story.

2] Newsflash: Life’s unpredictable, so you’d better learn to predict situations that will suck your time and be beyond your mortal control. Although doing what you love may offset the depression of having a job that suffocates you or [insert anything unpleasant you have to deal with every goddamn day], you have a real life with real people and other real things. Real life doesn’t like to be ignored. Hell to the no, girlfriend. Real life’s like a kitty cat, a bad kitty of imminent doom that poops on your head for no good reason.

If I hadn’t spent two weeks with intense pain, because of a bad back, I’d probably be on time with most of my deadlines. Plans mean nothing, when you are an unwilling component of this sick algorithm that is life. It’s a crucial skill to know how many projects you can undertake, which you are sure you will bring to fruition even if your life crashes in pretty painted flames of devastation.

3] You are not a time table. As much as I’d want to conquer the Internet and have hot men throw their jockstraps at me, I discovered that I can’t do everything. This is the basic mistake that I do time and time again. I assume that just because I have a free slot in my schedule and yes, I do have a schedule, I can put something in there.

So what happens, when you realize that your schedule has tasks that have you type and read for what feels like eternity and your brain says, enough is enough. Naturally, you crave some sort of outlet, be it skimpy books in pink covers [I stopped reading those, when I discovered that the skimpy pink books came only in female fantasy editions rather than gay fantasy ones] or reality TV [either classy and/or campy for me, please] coupled with as many TV series as I can watch. Maybe you are one of those weird people that go outside and talk to people, fleshy bits to fleshy bits. In translation, work will not be done. Work that needs to be done and you can’t complete, because you are exhausted. Plan activities that will allow you to recharge your batteries or I tell you that you’ve got a first class ticket to Burnout Land. PS: It will not be pretty. It never is and it’s the fastest way to hate something with burning passion.

4] You are responsible for your guilt. If you assign yourself too many deadlines, you don’t meet, because you sought to take a rest, you get your high and then what. Guilt that is what. The wrist-slitting guilt that has you all tossing and turning at night, accusing you that your careless ways are what will always separate you from those that have succeeded in their career. So unless you want to flirt with a sharp set of razor blades and set yourself for low self-esteem and failure, why not cut yourself some slack and what you are realistically able to complete as projects.

5] A deadline does not mean waiting for the last possible moment. The Internet is full of memes, where students consider their teacher’s deadline a challenge to see how late they can start with their paper. Don’t be that douche that purposefully starts at the last minute possible. I’ve done this stunt a couple of times and I’m far from proud with myself. Plus, apart from the inevitable guilt you will generate, your work will be sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. So do yourself a favor and start as early as possible.  

6] Don’t expect people you’ve put on a deadline to remember their deadline. Through my work at Tales to Terrify, I learned the hard way that delegating tasks and expecting them to be done isn’t as innocent as it seems. I did that. I trusted the powers that be that everything will be honky-dory and forgot about the deadline. Guess what. This came back to bite me, cause shit happens to the people you collaborate with. They get sick. They get involved in some sort of life conspiracy and the last thing on your collaborator’s mind is your deadline.

7] Talk with your collaborators about updates. If you want to avoid feeling like an idiot, negotiate with your collaborator how you as the one with the request will proceed in regards to the deadline. Set a few check point dates that will ensure that you get all the updates needed without coming off as a panicked, desperate ninny. You also get the bonus of psychologically engaging your collaborator so that even if suddenly something comes up that will cause delays, your collaborator is way more likely to warn you, even though in the greater scale of things your deadline matters. Of course, I’m referring to all the projects that run on good will rather than money. When money is involved, people tend to be a lot more organized.

8] Content first, publication later. To continue my thread, I’ve always started projects even before my involvement with Tales to Terrify, where I relied on people’s content. A normal person would be cautious enough to arrange the deadlines for the contributors long before they are needed. It’s way easier to schedule something that you have rather than something that you have promised to have. I, on the other hand, assume that everything runs on fairy magic, so I had a few close calls, but lesson has been learned. Everything can happen and a good deadline chaser knows that time is a stretchy, gooey thing that runs through the fingers.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

[February 1st, Weird Wednesday] “The Screaming Skull” by F. Marion Crawford

As with Alfred Kubin, I have no prior experience with the author other than seeing Crawford and “The Screaming Skull” pop up in some conversations on Twitter. I think the premise to be interesting, though the execution is peculiar enough to interrupt my reading and throw me out of the story. Therefore, I’m left with a bittersweet aftertaste.

“The Screaming Skull” is at its core a very simple story, perhaps unsettling at best, though far removed from horror. Retired captain Charles Braddock has inherited the estate of his late and dear cousin Luke and his wife, Mrs. Pratt. However, Braddock learns of a rather unusual and quite vocal resident, a smooth human skull, which engages in nightly screaming sessions. The story encapsules Braddock’s coexistence with this screaming skull to an unidentified friend of the captain, starting from the early signs of habitation and catching up to now.  

Crawford presents this story of denied habitation [for Braddock vehemently rejects the idea of ghosts and vengeful spirits] as a one-sided dialogue. As soon as I got through the first page it was evident that Braddock conversed with someone, though I had access to Braddock’s words only. Although Crawford is a silver-tongued storyteller and I enjoyed Braddock’s voice as a narrator and a person, I encountered several difficulties as I read “The Screaming Skull”. The shifts from first person point of view to second person and back demanded I shift gears as to how I perceived the world inside the story. Was I to act as Braddock’s collocutor or was I to hide in his head and hear his thoughts?

At times, Braddock steers the narration off course to recount stories connected to his servants or his past as a captain. I think it’s clever how Crawford used the story-within-the-story to add substance to the world of “The Screaming Skull”. Braddock and his wordy descriptions also help flesh out the surrounding, adding texture to a monologue, which borders on a stream of consciousness narrative style. This narrative technique’s main drawback manifests, when you look at the overall structure of the story. The main story concerns the skull and Braddock, but at the same time you focus on these interludes to make sense of background. My need to shift from one POV to another coupled with the story’s demand to switch focus from the interludes to the overall story arc complicated my reading process.   

Two overall themes dominate “The Screaming Skull”, disbelief and guilt. Braddock struggles to rationalize the skull’s nature and why it screams. There is a strong rejection towards all that not known and metaphysical, which borders to blind and desperate ignorance of what the skull is and why it screams. Through denial of the obvious truth [as to the identity of the skull, then about the cause of its owner’s death] Braddock seeks to absolve his guilt towards Mrs. Pratt [I will not comment any further on the connection between those two; that is for you the reader to discover]. Guilt makes sense of the story.

Guilt explains why the captain talks as fast as he does and why he launches into these mini-stories, to escape talking about the skull. The guilt is evident in Braddock’s emotional attachment and interaction with the skull. He tries to please the spirit inside, despite his failure to name it as such. He enters a state of contradiction with himself, both trying to humor the skull and appease through his care and manners. Since Braddock rationalizes every event connected with the skull, he overlooks the true danger of his predicament. In this well-mannered panic “The Screaming Skull” resembles Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart” as both of the stories share the motif of the narrator’s guilty conscious as a means to their demise. While Poe straddles the gothic genre tropes, Crawford head off to uncharted waters and leaves a lot open for discussion.

In the end, I consider “The Screaming Skull” a peculiar story. It possesses rich texture, but is a spoken monologue distilled from a conversation. The buildup doesn’t surprise or frighten, but the promised resolution is quite satisfactory to keep going, until you reach the ending.