Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book of the Week: The Screwtape Letters

This week's book is The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

Characters who love this book: Stan from Ghostly Mostly (#1 - Chicago Scream) and Robert from the Undead Bar Association (#3 - Binding Deceit).


Robert: Do I start? Okay. The Screwtape Letters is a book of conversations between two demons.

Stan: Yes. Two demons talk about how to claim a human's soul for hell.

Robert: The best thing about the book, the reason it resonates, is the way it's written. The author, C.S. Lewis, starts with a preface in which he sets the scene. He makes it seem like the letters in the book are real, and he somehow got his hands on them but won't reveal how.

Stan: (smiling) How do you know they're not real?

Robert:  (laughing) Okay, okay.

Stan: I'm kind of joking but not really. I think if demons are real, they are having conversations like the ones in this book.

Robert: And I say it's the author's choice of the epistolary writing style that makes it seem so real that you and I can easily believe in it. So Stan, what's your favorite part?

Stan: Trying to figure out the lead demon, Screwtape. There's some stuff he says that I don't think even he believes. It's like he's getting orders from someone above him that he needs to pass on to his underling, and he knows if the underling knows the real truth then work won't get done, so he lies.

Robert: Yeah, Screwtape is definitely manipulating Wormwood.

Stan: So what's your favorite part?

Robert: My favorite part of the Screwtape Letters is technically not part of the Screwtape Letters, but it is in this addition of the book. Look in the back, at the preface to "Screwtape Proposes a Toast".

Stan: (picks up book and flips to the end). I've never read this part before. Guess I just assumed it was an afterward and skipped it.

Robert: I think that for men like us who face the supernatural everyday, that part of the book is the most important. It's almost like a missive of hope. Lewis talks about the balance between good and evil. He even suggests that he disliked his own book for being unbalanced, but that he couldn't have balanced the letters of evil with letters of good because he wasn't equal to the task of writing pure light.

Stan: (reading from book): Mere advice would be no good; every sentence would have to smell of Heaven.

Robert: Exactly. Lewis, one of the greatest writers of the modern age, felt unequal to writing from the perspective of angels. The best he could do was write like a demon.

Stan: How is that a message of hope for men like us?

Robert: If your job with the ghost hunting squad is anything like what I do, you're in the muck and darkness a lot. I sometimes feel like I've forgotten what truth and goodness look like. Maybe I haven't forgotten it, maybe I'm really fighting for it, and it's just my limits as a human that make it so hard for me to talk about good things.

Stan: (shakes his head) I see good everyday. I see it from every member of the Ghostly Mostly team. Sometimes I even see it from the ghosts. I'm surprised you don't feel the same way, after all, you're on a good team. You work with Maryanne.

Robert: You want to know what it's like working with Maryanne? Here, give me that book.

(Stan passes Robert the book).

Robert: (reads) The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp. The world into which I had to project myself was all dust, grit, thirst and itch.

Stan: Wow.

Robert: She doesn't see any good in herself anymore, I swear, and it's beginning to feel contagious.

Stan: That's no good, especially since I hear you too are going to be put in serious danger together in Book 4.

Robert: I can't handle her alone. I know she's supposed to be the heroine, but she's starting to behave like an anti-hero.

Stan: So call for backup.

Robert: Who?

Stan: Matt or Damian, I think.

Robert: It'll have to be Matt. I can't ask anyone on the Ghostly Mostly team for help until the cross-over book, and we're volumes away from that.

Stan: Mmm-hmm.

Robert: What. What's bugging you?

Stan: I'm just surprised to hear all this about Maryanne. Damian's said some really nice things about her, from when they were in high school together, and I could have sworn he said The Screwtape Letters was one of her favorite books.

(Stan looks around). What are the rules here, Robert?

Robert: What do you mean?

Stan: In this Book of the Week thing, where characters from different series can talk to each other, what are the limits? Like, can I talk to the Author?

Robert: I don't know. You could try.

Stan: Hey, Author!

Author: (steps out from behind the ficus in the corner) Uh, hi. I'm here. I was trying to pretend like I wasn't, but oh well. What's up?

Stan: Who's right about Maryanne?

Author: No one's wrong about her, because everyone's entitled to their own opinion.

Robert: Well that's a load of crap.

Stan: Yeah. Either Damian's right and Maryanne's just a step below the angels, or Robert's right and being around her is a horrible strain.

Author: I'm not convinced Maryanne's ever been a mere step below the angels.

Stan: So Damian's wrong about Maryanne.

Author: No! He might exaggerate things, but he's not wrong, per se. Neither is Robert. You can't see Maryanne as being all good or all bad. Believe me, I tried. I wrote her to be perfect in the original blog stories, and the readers hated it. So, I made changes. I let Maryanne be human.

Robert: That's what's going on? Humanity?

Author: It's like Lewis says in the Screwtape Letters. Some people are called closer to the true and pure things when they're in the troughs of life, not the peaks. Some in particular go through longer and deeper troughs than others. So maybe someone used to be sweet and good, and now they're not, but that doesn't mean that person is bad. Maybe they're in a low point in life, a trough, and maybe there's a reason for it.

Robert: You mean Maryanne's character is being tested?

Author: I'm not saying that. I'm giving you hypotheticals.

Stan: (laughs) Right, you're a lawyer too. I'd forgotten it but now we're living with 'hypotheticals'.

Author: I will say one thing that's definite and real. Robert, after listening to you today I'm worried about the strain being put on your moral fiber by the atmosphere you're in and the company you keep. I'll tell you what. For book 4 of the Undead Bar Association, I'll send Matt Hawthorne with you.

Stan: Poor Matt.

Author: Matt may be stronger and more capable than you think. He may be more capable than I think. We'll find out.

Robert: What about Maryanne? If the Screwtape Letters is her favorite book ...

Author: It is.

Robert: Then why isn't she here?

Author. I don't know, but I'll try to find out.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Book of the Week: Dracula

Today I'm starting something new on the blog. Once a week, I'll introduce a book and share information about which characters - Undead Bar Association, Ghostly Mostly, Heart's Trilogy - love it.
This week's book is Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Who Loves It: Charlotte and Matt Hawthorne (Undead Bar Association), Kat Pojim and Damian Rook (Ghostly Mostly).

Charlotte Hawthorne: OMG. This book is so sexy, with all the vampires seducing people and stuff. And the mesmerism is delicious creepy, like when the female vampires are after Jonathan Harker...fabulous. So fun to think about Victorian women, pretending to be all proper, reading this book in secret.

Matt Hawthorne: (rolls his eyes at Charlotte). Think you're missing the point, sis. The book's about good versus evil.

Damian Rook: Exactly right.

Charlotte (pouting). It's sexy.

Damian: The sexuality in the book is misdirected and unhealthy, as the author intended. It's an example of the evil the heroes must destroy.

Matt: It's all about the battle. The men are willing to die to save the virtue of the women.

Kat: Ugh. Chauvinist much, Hawthorne? Don't forget that the men couldn't even find Dracula to fight him if it wasn't for Mina risking her life. She's just as much a hero as they are, and if you look at literature inspired by Dracula that came later, she's the most popular character. It's not like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were all hoping Lord Godalming or Seward would join them. The League wanted Mina.

Damian: (glaring) Did you just drag a comic book into this conversation? We're supposed to discuss an iconic piece of literature.

Kat: Graphic novels, not comic books, and whatever.

Matt: (looks around) Where's Maryanne? I was sure this had to be one of her favorite books.

Charlotte: (groans) Are you kidding? Never ever ever bring up the book Dracula around Maryanne Wells.

Kat: Not unless you want a four hour history lecture.

Charlotte: I know, right? I mean, the only thing about the novel she even remotely likes is Stoker's description of the Transylvania area, and she only concedes that because it lets her go all "oh, I've been there." Then she'll talk your ear off telling you everything wrong with people's perception of the book.

Kat: To be fair, I did learn some stuff from Maryanne about those misconceptions. Like, it's not the first vampire novel published in English, and Stoker took inspiration from at least two Romanian nobles for his vampire character, Vlad the Impaler and Countess Bathory.

Charlotte: But real stuff is so boring.

Kat: Did you make it to end of Maryanne's lecture? When I did, she gave me a recommendation for a great book to read next.

Charlotte: Seriously?

Kat: (nods). The Man, by Bram Stoker. It's an honest to God love story, no supernatural or anything, and it's damn hot in places.

Charlotte: Really?

Kat: Oh yeah. Maryanne says she's read everything Stoker, and The Man is by far her favorite. And it's so cool, because everyone's heard of Dracula, but not many know about The Man, so you're in a whole new class of fandom if you get it.

Damian: Very disappointing.

Kat: What?

Damian: Learning that Maryanne can be swayed by romance and sentimentality in a book. I thought better of her.

Matt: So deep down she's a woman, just like any other. So what?

Damian: (shakes his head) Terribly disappointing.

Matt: Sometimes I wonder if you're even human.

Damian: I'm not a vampire or other undead, so by definition I must be human. It's really very simple, isn't it?

Charlotte: (stares at Damian) Creepy.

Kat: Watch the name calling, Miss Priss. You don't want to challenge Damian. Believe me.

Damian: (glaring at Charlotte) I think I'll start with "vapid".

Charlotte: (looks to her brother) Was that an insult?

Matt: You really don't know?

Charlotte: (whispers to Matt) I don't know what vapid means.
 
 
Charlotte and Matt Hawthorne first appeared in Binding Deceit, Undead Bar Association #3. Matt will return in Undead Bar Association #4, and both the Hawthornes will be appear in Undead Bar Association #5.
 
Kat Pojim and Damian Rook are co-hosts of the ghost hunting team at the heart of the Ghostly Mostly teen series. They were both introduced in the adventure Chicago Screams.



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Writer and the Coffee Cup

An interesting article appeared today discussing the connection between genetics and coffee drinking. I think this means I can blame my coffee addiction on my parents. Certainly there's a fight for the coffee pot every holiday morning, when we all come together in one kitchen.

Even if it's not really my parents' fault there's no denying the truth: I'm addicted to coffee.

This may not seem unusual for a writer, especially a writer who is also a professor and attorney, but I still think that in some ways I take it to extremes.

I rescued this painting from a dumpster in Amarillo, Texas, because it features a full cup of coffee, and hung it in my kitchen.

Coffee painting in kitchen -MMWells

By the way, anyone know anything about the artist? The most I can learn is that the painting used to hang in a bakery, and after the people leasing the space abandoned the business the unclaimed art was thrown away.






Maybe rescuing a painting doesn't seem too extreme, but I went further. I used the colors to inspire the palate for other kitchen decorations.
Kitchen d├ęcor -MMWells






Then combined the idea of coffee, my love of puns, and my collection of lion head photos into the creation of this:
Lions, coffee and puns...oh my! MMWells

Burlap canvas from Hobby Lobby; lion and letter stencils were foam stickers from Dollar Tree.

Perhaps the greatest display of coffee love is the Maryanne Wells character in the Undead Bar Association books. In particular, there's a scene in Binding Deceit where the character's java love is on full display. Even ghosts know better than to bother Maryanne until she's had her second round of java. 

What is it about coffee that makes it so darn lovable? Hard to choose. The smell of the beans, the sound of brewing, the smell and taste of a fresh cup, the way it can stand alone or act as a palate for other flavors … there are so many great things about it.

Maybe the best thing about coffee is the way it demands choice. In this it stands in contrast to so much of the world around us. You see, the more complex people make our simple world, the more the need and strive to describe it in shades of gray. Not coffee. There's no middle ground with the java. You can drink it at one of two temperature extremes, iced or hot, and it tastes divine. At any temperature in between the extremes, it's crap. So the rest of the world pleads for you to find a middle ground, but coffee refutes it. Coffee demands you choose an extreme.

Oh, one more thing about my coffee obsession. I have a large collection of coffee mugs, but my favorite may be this one from Dollar Tree:
Favorite Mug - MMWells





If that's not a portrait of this coffee addicted writer, I don't know what is.

Friday, September 19, 2014

International Talk Like A Pirate Day 2014 - ITLAPD

Argh, it be that time o' year again, when the rum flows and the sea winds blow.

I always mark this day with piratical pride, posting a new poem or story. Been doing it that way for years, aye, every since Cap'n Trail introduced me self and a bunch of other landlubbers to the holiday back in law school.

This year I be adding the poem Alyssa to the pirate repertoire. It be a prize winner from a live steampunk poetry slam, guaranteed to shiver your timbers.

Alyssa be hiding her sultry smiles in Pirate Pearls. Ye can find it on Amazon and fer yer Kindle type devices. Second link be the Kindle:





And some day soon, if the winds blow a right, we'll be bringin ye the audio version too. Aye, that's right. Dramatic readins of everything in Pirate Pearls, even a drunk soundin pirate choir brining to life the shanty Ghostly Seas.

*I be owing ye an apology, as it were meant for the audio book to publish today. It ain't done, and I be sorry. Aye. That product were meant to journey to ye on a ship that went and sprung a leak. Tried to fix the craft, but twere no avail. It sank. A new craft were purchased and the product launched, only for the whole thing to disappear in a supernatural mist most peculiar. I pray the ship be sighted soon and the cargo found to be unharmed. When that day comes, you will be the first to know, aye.

A happy ITLAPD to all, and to all a good rum!


*Translation - My publisher's computer system died, hard. Fortunately the audio book was saved on an external hard drive. Publisher got a new computer, we loaded the audio book for purchase ... and we've got nothing. The audio book could be available tomorrow or not for two weeks. We have no idea what's going on inside the vendor's storm.

This is the first audio book for me and the publisher, and we're still learning.

We're learning that we need more rum.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

It Must Be Autumn

You know autumn's arrived in the Texas Panhandle when you see the first signs for the Tri-State Fair & Rodeo pop up around town. That's quickly followed by a rainy day (it ALWAYS rains fair week) and then...the parade!!

Normally the fair feature I most look forward to is food, specifically a smoked turkey leg big as my head. I don't know where the giant turkeys come from year after year, but they keep coming and I keep eating their lower extremities.

This year, however, I had a different fair feature to look forward to. This year I judged the parade!

Let me tell you, the view from the judges' stand is fantastic. The pressure of making a decision is not as nice, but the category I judged was thankfully a three judge category. Overall I had a great time. It was a fabulous parade; I heard many people say they thought if was one of the best yet.

And there's a chance I'll get to judge again next year! 

Hmm. Wonder if I can work the Tri-State Fair and Rodeo into a future Undead Bar Association book.

Maybe. For now, I want my turkey leg.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Actor, the Elopus, and the Queen

Have you heard of the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen? If so, you're probably one of those cool people who call it GISHWHES. Maybe you're even a past participant, in which case you're super cool and refer to yourself and teammates as GISHERs.

Until a couple of weeks ago, I'd never heard of this event. Then I received a peculiar request via Facebook.

Would I, a published science fiction writer, be willing to write a story for charity?

Maybe, I said. Tell me more.

The charity is Random Acts of Kindness. It was started by actor Misha Collins. Each year, there's an international scavenger hunt organized and run online, to raise money for the charity. One of the items on the 2014 list is a particular kind of story, to be written by a published science fiction writer. Was I still interested?

Yeah, sure. What are the story requirements?

Write a story, 140 words or less, with the following characters: Misha Collins, an Elopus (head of an elephant, body of octopus ... it's the GISHWHES mascot), and the Queen of England. Oh, and you have 48 hours.

At that point, I slammed on the mental breaks. It wasn't the cast of characters that gave me pause. It was the word limit. 140 words. That's WORDS, not pages, not paragraphs, not lines ... words.

Writing short short stories is an art form, one in which I am not proficient, and there sure as heck wasn't enough time to become proficient.

I almost said no.

Almost.

Three things made me decide to go ahead and say yes. One, the person requesting I write the story is the wife of a man who inspired a character in my published science fiction novel, The Heart's Fire (did you know that, Sarah? True. I'm not telling you which character. No worries, your J.P. is a total hero.).



Two, at the time of the request I was fresh from my win at the AMA-Con 2014 Steampunk Poetry slam contest, and feeling pretty good about my ability to write under pressure.

And three, I just love a challenge.

The scavenger hunt has concluded, so I'm now allowed to release my 140 word effort to the public! I hope you enjoy:



Protector Beyond the Seas
 
A blood bead smacked the floor. Embarrassed, Misha Collins murmured, “My apologies, Your Majesty.”
 
“We told you to expect difficulties,” Queen Elizabeth serenely replied.
 
Misha tugged his sleeve over the wound. Quickly, he pulled a hefty copper disk from his satchel.
 
“Why the octopus symbol,” Misha wondered, gesturing at the disk.
 
“Kraken,” Queen Elizabeth corrected. “It's for identification.”
 
“I thought Kraken were mythical.”
 
Queen Elizabeth shook her head. “Our friend Frederick owned one, once.”

On cue, an Elopus heaved into the room, slapping and surging across the floor. It's elephantine head bobbed atop writhing tentacles.

“Frederick, Mr. Collins located the tag from Kraky's collar,” Queen Elizabeth informed the Elopus.

Awestruck Misha stared at Frederick and gasped.

Smiling, Queen Elizabeth proceeded, “You've prospered our adventure, Mr. Collins. Now, meet the untold.”

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Joy of Writing

The request I received was unexpected. The challenge, exacting.

By the time it was over, I realized I wouldn't have it any other way. This kind of challenge, strict and time-pressured, seems to be where I thrive. Heck, it's the second thing like this in a month! See details of the July steampunk poetry contest here.

What am I talking about this time? In short, I wrote for charity. The request was part of an international scavenger hunt.

That's all the details I'll give about the challenge for now. When the scavenger hunt results are released, I'll tell you everything. I'll even release the short story. Stay tuned!