Post-amusement park breakdown, with red wine accompaniment

Mia hamming it up in front of the palace.
So we’re back. We spent yesterday at Disney World and today at Universal Studios. I’m sitting up late listening to Ani DiFranco (yeah, you heard me, pal) and drinking my second glass of red wine. I’m also dead tired, though my brain has yet to understand this, so this post may devolve into stream of consciousness.


What struck me about Disney World — aside from the almost military rigidity with which everyone smiles and wishes you “a magical day!” — was that it has not changed one bit from the last time I was there. Which was over 25 years ago. While that means it retains a certain nostalgic appeal to people my age, it also means that kids like my daughter feel slightly underwhelmed by the quaintness of some of the rides. I was talking up the virtues of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Haunted Mansion” for a good week before we finally got here. And although I still enjoyed them both — particularly the mansion, which had some pretty sweet looking ghosts — Mia was clearly less than impressed.  I could acknowledge the fact that perhaps 10 years old is beyond the sweet spot for these rides, and that maybe I should have taken her two or three years ago, but that would be admitting to some personal responsibility for this situation, which is counter to the purpose of my post, so I’ll leave that part out.

I did get her to go on Space Mountain, though, which wound up being her favorite, and scaring the bejesus out of me. Not knowing where you’re going on a rollercoaster makes all the difference. I am too old and frail of mind for that kind of nonsense.

The view from our hotel balcony. That's the Magic Kingdom on the left and Space Mountain on the right. You see that clear blue sky, Northern readers? That's what January looks like in Florida.
We stayed in a hotel on the grounds. We had a 14th floor room with a fantastic view. She got to go to sleep staring at the Magic Kingdom, all lit up in purple and blue, which is a pretty big deal for a 1o year old girl. She was deeply impressed by the room, and the view it afforded her. I told her it was because we were fancy people, which she accepted as a logical explanation; henceforth we were careful to announce our approach to the great clots of unwashed humanity blocking our lanes of passage: “Stand aside! Fancy people coming through!” I was only punched four times.


Universal Studios was a lot more fun. Some of the “rides” were ridiculously cheesy, though. For example, the Terminator ride starts out promisingly enough, with real terminator robots rising from the floor in clouds of steam and actors dressed as security personnel running around in feigned panic. But it devolves into a static, hackneyed confrontation between Schwarzenegger and John Connor stand-ins against the new terminator model, T-1,000,000 (yes, I’m afraid so). Still, it petrified my kid, who clutched my sleeve and pleaded with me to remove her from danger, while I laughed with callous disdain. That’s a win in my book!

Nevertheless, the attractions at Universal were livelier and far more engaging. Even the actors, who normally irritate the hell out of me at these sorts of things, were very good. The Harry Potter section was pretty spectacular. (Yes, I like Harry Potter. I know, I have to turn in my Real Writer Card now. I don’t even care. It’s fun, damn you. Bear in mind I would not admit to this if I hadn’t had two glasses of wine.) Hogsmeade was rendered with wonderful specificity; I even took Mia into Honeydukes sweets shop where she bought those jellybeans with the bewildering assortment of flavors. She gave me the earwax jellybean on the drive home; after I bit into it, it was ejected from the car with extreme prejudice.

We actually ran out of time before we got to do everything we wanted to. I had to walk through the Marvel Superhero village without stopping at any of the stores. That hurt my heart.

Her favorite attraction was Twister, which replicated the experience of watching a pickup truck slide into a gas line in some unnamed town in Kansas. There was fire. There was rain. There was a flying cow.

Sadly, Mia did not survive the experience.

I’ll go again when I make a new kid.

Was it worth it? Yes. Yes it was.


Waiting for takeoff in Charlotte
Today Mia and I headed down to Florida to visit my dad. The last time I took her to Florida was back in 2004; she was four years old. This time we’re going to do it right: Disney World tomorrow, followed by a night at the hotel there, and the Universal Studios Theme Park the following day. Saturday I’ll take her down to the docks, so she can feed some pelicans and I can show her the old Vinoy Hotel, which I believed was haunted when I was her age. This is the first real vacation I’ve taken with her in years, and I think I might be as excited about it as she is.

It started off on a sour note: the airport called first thing in the morning and informed me that the first leg of our flight — from Asheville to Charlotte — had been cancelled. While I never received an official word as to why, it’s clear to me that the threat of snow panicked somebody in the airport hierarchy. Asheville is famous for this; earlier this week school was cancelled because of the possibility that there might be some snow. It ended up being a bright, wet day with temperatures in the mid-forties.

Anyway, I just drove to the Charlotte airport and we took what would have been our connecting flight to Tampa. She hadn’t been on an airplane since our last trip down, and everything was new to her. She ran to the big terminal windows and exclaimed at everything she saw. She pointed to every plane we passed: “Is that ours, Dad? Is that one ours?”

It reminded me of how she was when she was years younger. It lit me up.

Once on the plane, though — after the initial thrill of being aboard, and before taking off and watching the world fall away below us — she was all business. That’s right: she busted out three days’ worth of math homework and did it all.

My girl is hardcore.
Now she’s asleep in her grandfather’s house, and tomorrow she gets to go to Disney World for the first time.

Sometimes you remember what life is for.

A New Orleans memory: the shapeshifter

The Avenue Pub, where I worked for seven great years

It was a weeknight at the Avenue Pub. I was behind the bar and the usual crowd was there: Monte, Maura, Neal, Jim, and a few servers from Bravo and Houston’s, the restaurants across the street. Not to mention the standard flotsam of the city, strangers and stragglers who wash ashore onto any barstool on any given night. The tv was muted and tuned to ESPN, and the jukebox was cranked up loud. People were playing pool. It wasn’t busy, but it was steady, like any good weeknight in the Lower Garden District. It was around 10 pm; I had a good four hours left before Darren came in to relieve me for the graveyard shift.

The way the Pub is set up is kind of strange. The bar itself is on the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Polymnia Street, but the parking lot is about a quarter of a block down. You had to walk a little ways in the dark to get there, and that was sometimes a risky proposition. Not often, but muggings had been known to happen. Most people parked along the street right outside, or used cabs or the streetcar, but sometimes it couldn’t be helped.

So when one of the waitresses from across the street came back in only minutes after having paid her tab and left, saying there was someone weird out in the parking lot, we all paid attention.

“Have you seen him in here before?” I said, walking around the bar.

“No. He’s some old dude. He’s standing out in the open and he’s got a big stick.”

Well, hooray.

I have this thing — it probably would have gotten me killed eventually, if I had stayed a bartender — but I rarely feel fear. At least, not from physical confrontation. I’ve found that most people will back down when directly confronted.  Nobody wants to get hit. I’m a peaceful guy, but I remember I used to look forward to stuff like this. Something in me wanted the confrontation. But the idea of being brained with a stick managed to dampen my enthusiasm.

Monte and the waitress came behind me (I wish I could remember her name). The night was warm, but not hot. It must have been early spring. Clouds scudded across the sky: a cloudless night in New Orleans is a rare thing. We walked down to the parking lot and sure enough, there was this old guy, clearly homeless, standing in the middle of the parking area with the massive branch he’d yanked from some luckless tree. He was peering into some bushes with his back to us.

“Hey!” I said, walking toward him. “What’s going on?”

I stopped outside of the reach of his stick. He turned to look at me, squinted for a minute. “You’re not one of them,” he said.

I’m pretty good at speaking Crazy. I’ve spent a lot of time around it. (Which was a lucky thing, because my experts in the dialect — Sunbeam, Naked Mary, the lady who lit fires to magazines and warned of the robot uprising, or any of the others — were not there that night to be consulted.) I intuited right away that not being One of Them was a favorable condition in which to find oneself. “No, I’m not,” I said. “You can’t be out here, man. You’re freaking people out.”

He ignored me. “Do you see it?” He gestured to the bushes with his stick. “It’s a shapeshifter.”

“I don’t see anything.”

“Well it was there a second ago.”

“He probably ran away when he saw that big-ass stick.”

“You’re not one of them,” he said. He looked back towards where the parking lot met the street, where Monte waited beside the waitress. “She might be though.”

“She’s not. She’s my friend. I can vouch for her.”

He nodded. “Okay then,” he said.

“If you stay here, someone’s going to call the police,” I said. “You’re scaring people.”

“Okay. I don’t want to bother anybody.”

“Can I have that stick in case it comes back?”

He handed it over. “Be careful, brother,” he said.

“I will.”

He ambled off into the night. The waitress got back into her car and drove home, and Monte and I went back inside and knocked down some Jameson’s. I would say normal life resumed, but it was never really interrupted.

New Orleans is brimming with deranged people. Often, there’s nowhere for them to go. A lot of them are homeless, and are just trying to survive in whatever strange manifestation of the world their illness presents to them. As with most people who are on the edge of doing something stupid, talking to them with a hint of reason and respect will sometimes bring them back down.

I guess it was just dumb luck that he didn’t think I was a shapeshifter and try to brain me with that great big tree branch of his. But it was probably little more than dumb luck that allowed him to stand there in the night, white-bearded and stout, holding the monsters at bay with nothing more than a stick in his hand and a vigilant heart.

Father Geek

I don’t think Mia realizes what I’m doing to her. That’s probably a good thing. By the time she does, she’ll be too wrapped up in the latest Fantasy Flight boardgame or the newest Marvel comics crossover event to be too angry with me. (At least, that’s what I’m counting on.)

I’m turning her into a geek. Not on purpose. It’s just the atmosphere of our lives. She has no choice but to breathe it in.

I started, of course, with my writing. When she was very little she would ask me what I was writing about. When I told her I wrote fantasy stories, she started writing and illustrating her own. She would even fold the papers in half so that they looked like books. There were stories about lonely aliens and robots who ate people and then felt bad about it afterwards. I still have these. They’re brilliant.

It didn’t really catch fire, though, until I started turning Sundays into game days. We’ve had a revolving roster of players, but the stalwarts have been Jeremy and Alexa Duncan. (Alexa, by the way, has begun selling regularly to F&SF under her full name — Alexandra Duncan — and has already caught the attention of people like Ursula K. LeGuin. Click the link to her blog on the sidebar over there.) We played role playing games for a long time, and she would listen in rapt attention as her dad and his friends started telling a sort of story, bursting with a fascinating roster of characters and surprising predicaments. It occurred to me at the time that this pastime — which has been unfortunately stigmatized by popular culture as the hobby of social misfits and unwashed, basement-dwelling freaks — was being introduced to her as a completely natural way to spend an afternoon. It was defined by friends getting together, sharing breakfast, laughing, talking about books and language and history and, best of all, telling a communal, evolving story.

Later we set that aside for a while and moved on to board games, of which there is an amazing variety. The first grown-up game she sat in for was Talisman. Oh my God, did she love Talisman. It’s a quest game, where each person plays a standard fantasy character — dwarf, sorcerer, ghoul — and struggles to gain the power necessary to grab the Crown of Command, which will grant dominion over the world. Silly stuff. But the game is great fun, and Mia took to it like a shark to a kiddie wading pool. She was ruthless.

(She still is. The four of us recently sat down to a game of Mag-Blast, a card game about space warfare, and she announced her intention of reducing us all to flinders. Knowing her bloodthirsty nature, we took her seriously and attempted to beat her back. Whereupon she calmly and systematically annihilated each and every one of us in turn. It was brutal and beautiful.)

Then she started eyeballing my comic books. I have quite a collection. I don’t go for the single issue nonsense; I like big collections, so I can read a full story. And because I’m a book nut, I like nice hardbound copies if I can get them. So I took a few down to break her in. I gave her Ultimate Spider-Man, so she could read about him from the beginning. I gave her The Incredible Hulk, since she liked the movie so much. Then Mark Waid’s run on The Fantastic Four. She was okay with them, but she didn’t really get excited until she discovered Black Widow, the Russian assassin and occasional Avenger. Once she did, she had to read everything about her.

And then — my crowning achievement and the true hallmark of her descent into geekdom — came Lovecraft. She was already familiar with the aesthetic of the Cthulhu mythos because, well, because I’m her dad and I don’t know if a week goes by that I don’t reference it somehow. When she was eight she made me a Christmas card of Cthulhu wearing a Santa hat. Shit was tight. Last year, she asked if she could read him, and we went to Barnes and Noble and shared a very profound moment between father and child: the purchasing of her very first H.P. Lovecraft anthology. It the same one I started with, lo those long years ago: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre: The Best of H.P. Lovecraft, with that nightmarish cover by Michael Whalen.

She went home that night and read “The Music of Erich Zann.” It’s not the one I would have chosen for her to start with, but she devoured it. And she raved about it. She couldn’t stop talking about it for days.

A few days later, sitting over dinner, she said, “Daddy, I memorized a poem.”

“Oh? Let me hear it.” I was expecting something from school. Maybe a short one by Robert Frost or William Carlos Williams.

She said, “That is not dead which can eternal lie/ And with strange eons, even death may die.”

I shed a small tear. I kissed her sweetly on the forehead.

She got a second helping of ice cream that night.

Writing around the heart

The problem with writing about raw emotion is that feelings keep getting in the way.

A couple weeks ago, Lucius Shepard posted this question to his Facebook profile: “I rarely write about stuff that’s going on in my head at the time–it seems to take around ten years for life to manifest in stories and my protagonists are often a decade younger than I. There are exceptions provoked by extreme emotion, but this is the general rule. What’s your lag time…or do you have one?”

It provoked a thread of 60 responses. I found the question particularly interesting, especially his clause about extreme emotion. Because that’s precisely where I differ. I need time to pass before I can get enough perspective and clarity on an emotionally charged issue to write about it effectively. I if I write from a place of high feeling, the writing gets too heated. It’s as though I’m trying to convince the reader of something and I just won’t shut up about it. I have to throw in every last detail of how I felt or why I felt it so that the reader can understand it, and justify everything I’m saying. Justify me. It becomes an exercise in validation, which — in my case at least — does not make for good writing.

Last year I went through an experience that so filled my head — my thoughts, my imagination, the way I thought about the world — that I found it impossible to write about anything else. When I tell you what happened it will sound laughably mundane: I fell in love and it didn’t work out. It happens to everyone. And really, the emotional fallout from it was way out of proportion to how long things lasted. And that’s a great topic to write about. I knew it at the time, and I made a few attempts. But each time my heart would start swinging through my chest like a wrecking ball, just demolishing everything in there, and I’d stall out.

The reason was that the story is not simple. It would take time and, above all, clarity to write about truly and honestly. There were so many factors that went into it, and that went into my profound reaction to its failure. I could write a book. And, now that time has passed and I have achieved that clarity, I probably will.

Going further back, there are other moments of high emotion that are quite easy for me to write about, now that I’ve established emotional distance. Family drama from when I was a kid; my first few love affairs; events in the bar I worked at in New Orleans in which I was afforded a glimpse into both the strengths and weaknesses of my character, when I confronted real fear and am now able to study my own reactions to it. There are essays and blog posts aplenty about my New Orleans experience alone, let me tell you.

But if I had tried to write about any of it at the time, it would have been a feverish mess. I know, because I did try, and I’ve seen the results.

I wish I could be one of those people who can throw things down on the page in the high crest of emotion and have something beautiful come out of it. I think of the Romantic poets and I imagine that’s how they did it. (I have no idea if this is actually true.) I’m reminded of songwriters like Citizen Cope and Glen Hansard, who seem to be able to tap all that passion and tumult and turn it directly into art. Who aim their hearts at you like cannons.

But for all I know it took Hansard a month to get that song just right.

In any case, it takes me a while to settle down. It takes me some time to find a place I can look back from and see an event completely. And I can’t write about it the way I need to until that happens. I wonder sometimes if I’m more like a teenager than a grown man. I appear calm on the outside, but inside it’s all wind and high seas.

Guilty Pleasures: The Warhammer 40K fiction of Dan Abnett

They come in big, bulky paperback collections, each one about as thick as a Manhattan phonebook, each one containing three or four novels and sometimes a smattering of short stories. The covers are garish and bold: striding soldiers wearing ornate uniforms, jaws clenched and firing baroque autorifles directly at your face. You cannot carry one of these books around with you and pretend that it is anything other than what it is: balls-out war fiction.

These are not the books I take with me when I expect to be seen by friends or coworkers. I have an image as an uptight, emotionless bastard to uphold, for God’s sake. What would people think if they knew I liked reading about vat-grown space marines blowing the christ out of each other?

But I do. Oh God, I do. Especially if Dan Abnett is doing the writing. Let me try to explain.

I don’t remember now why I picked up Eisenhorn, Dan Abnett’s trilogy about an Inquisitor in the Warhammer 40K universe. The setting itself appealed to the wide-eyed little boy in me: enormous spaceships which looked more like Gothic cathedrals than the sleek bullet-shaped vessels I’d grown accustomed to; a dead god-emperor whose residual psychic energy acted as the compass that made interstellar travel possible; the human race as a guttering candle as it finally confronted its own unavoidable extinction. But I knew better than to dive headlong into the world of licensed fiction. Didn’t I? Well … I guess I was just desperate for something new.

Eisenhorn begins with the eponymous character landing on a frozen world, pursuing the recidivist Murdin Eyclone through precincts of the hibernation tombs, where the elite members of that planet sleep through the long winter, “dreaming in crypts of aching ice.” Custodians patrol the grounds with lighted poles and heat-gowns. “Above, star patterns twinkled in the curious, permanent night.” This was not clumsy writing. The setting was enticing and I immediately recognized an easy facility with the language, a sense of rhythm and elegance — not at all what I was expecting to find. As he closes in on his quarry he starts to find the bodies. “A few metres insides, another custodian lay dead in a stiffening mirror of blood.” Gorgeous.

The action starts, quickly and precisely paced. And then, this bit of joy: Eisenhorn must communicate tactics to his pilot, waiting for him outside in his ship. He knows Eyclone is monitoring communication, so he employs Glossia, a shorthand vocabulary he invented, unique to his crew. In this segment Eisenhorn is communicating news of the death of one of their crew to the pilot, and offering instructions. Listen:

“Thorn wishes aegis, rapturous beasts below.”

“Aegis, arising, the colours of space,” Betancore responded, immediately and correctly.

“Rose thorn, abundant, by flame light crescent.”

A pause. “By flame light crescent? Confirm.”


“Razor delphus pathway! Pattern ivory!”

“Pattern denied. Pattern crucible.”

“Aegis, arising.”

In simple, beautiful language, consisting of nothing more than symbols, you get everything you need: the death explained, the shock and anger of the pilot receiving the news, the urge to fly in with guns blazing, and Eisenhorn’s insistence on discipline.

Abnett is best know for a series of books called Gaunt’s Ghosts, about an army of soldiers whose home planet fell to the enemy on the day of their founding. Each book in the series depicts a sustained military campaign. Writing compelling action is not as easy as it might seem, but Abnett rarely falters. Necropolis, a novel about a city under siege, is one of the most claustrophobic, harrowing novels I’ve read in years. I actually felt physically tired after finishing it.

Abnett’s strength is two-fold: he has an intimate knowledge of how a military operation functions and is able to communicate that effectively to a layman like me; and, more importantly, he understands that the strength of any story — particularly a war story, where life is at its most tenuous — is found not in the action but in its characters. None of these people receive short shrift. His quick, sure strokes in defining a sympathetic supporting cast rivals Patrick O’Brian’s in the Aubrey-Maturin series. From Rawne, the capable but murderously jealous major; to Brin Milo, the only civilian rescued from the army’s home planet, who becomes a symbol of what was lost; to Mad Larkin, whose psychology is so fractured that he can only apprehend the world clearly when he’s looking through the scope of his sniper rifle; these are characters that crackle with life.

What I’m telling you is, these books are the real deal. Dan Abnett is one of the best, most exciting writers in science fiction. And not enough people know it, because he writes licensed fiction.

At the risk trying your patience with the length of this post, I’ll close with this passage from the opening pages of First and Only, the very first book in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series. Abnett’s writing is, after all, its own best advocate. Here, a soldier named Colm Corbec is walking through a network of trenches in the morning as the sun rises, “heavy and red, like a rotten, roasted fruit.” He’s surveying the state of the men as they await the order to engage the enemy.

The dark stealth capes of the picket sentries, the distinctive uniform of the Tanith First and Only, were lank and stiff with dried mud. Their replacements at the picket, bleary eyed and puffy, slapped them on the arms as they passed, exchanging jokes and cigarettes. The night sentries, though, were too weary to be forthcoming.

They were ghosts, returning to their graves, Corbec thought. As are we all.

In a hollow under the trench wall, Mad Larkin, the first squad’s wiry sniper, was cooking up something that approximated caffeine in a battered tin tray over a fusion burner. The acrid stink hooked Corbec by the nostrils.

“Give me some of that, Larks,” the colonel said, squelching across the trench.

Larkin was a skinny, stringy, unhealthily pale man in his fifties with three silver hoops through his left ear and a purple-blue spiral-wyrm tattoo on his sunken right cheek. He offered up a misshapen metal cup. There was a fragile look, of fatigue and fear, in his wrinkled eyes. “This morning, do you reckon? This morning?”

Corbec pursed his lips, enjoying the warmth of the cup in his hefty paw. “Who knows … ” His voice trailed off.

High in the orange troposphere, a matched pair of Imperial fighters shrieked over, curved around the lines and plumed away north. Fire smoke lifted from Adeptus Mechanicus work-temples on the horizon, great cathedrals of industry, now burning from within. A second later, the dry wind brought the crump of detonations.

Corbec watched the fighters go and sipped his drink. It was almost unbearably disgusting. “Good stuff,” he muttered to Larkin.

Damn right it is.

Leviathan 5 is coming

Jeff and Ann VanderMeer are gearing up for the fifth volume in the astonishing Leviathan series of anthologies. All four volumes occupy a position of pride on my shelves. It is through these books that I first encountered the beautiful and exciting work of writers like Stepan Chapman, Michael Cisco, Rikki Ducornet, Ursula Pflug, and Rhys Hughes. They are like nothing else I’ve read, and I believe they were instrumental in kicking open a lot of doors in our corner of the fantasy genre. Although they never received as much press, I remain convinced that they were as influential on the tenor of the field as Dangerous Visions, although their influence was more subtle, seeping into the groundwater and changing not just how we want to write imaginative fiction, but how we define it.

Jeff and Ann have decided to focus the fifth volume on newer writers, “probably defined as writers with two or fewer books published in English.”

Note that last clause. To wit:

“We are going to do something fairly unprecedented in the history of genre and have between 15 and 20 associate/foreign language editors in other countries so that many writers who do not write in English would be able to submit. Up to 30,000 words of the 100,000 words might be fiction newly translated for Leviathan 5.”

To help fund this endeavor, Jeff is diverting all royalties from his short story collection The Third Bear and his forthcoming nonfiction collection Monstrous Creatures to the project.

One of the things I have always admired about Jeff and Ann is their full commitment to their ideals. This is a perfect illustration. This anthology is deserving of your full attention.

Direct donations are also possible. Go here to get all the details you’ll need.

The Cannibal Priests of New England, part one

1. Tortuga, 1662

Palm trees heaved in the night wind. Between them he made out a heavy layer of stars, like a crust of salt on heaven’s hull.  A briny stink filled the air, reminding him of how very far from home he was. The sea was calm tonight and the waves made a steady hush against the shore.

Behind him the small port town gabbled excitedly to itself: fiddles and croaking voices lifted in song like a chorus of crows, voices raised in anger or friendship, the calling and the crying of girls and women. It sounded like life, he supposed. No wonder it made him ill.

A shape lurched toward him from town: a man, fat and stumbling, a rag-wrapped something in his left hand. He navigated the sand with difficulty. The smell of rum blew from him like a wind.

“Martin,” Fat Gully said. His voice was thick. “What’re you.”

“Are you attempting to speak?” said Martin. “I’m taking some air. Please go away.”

“Nonono,” Gully said, his words sliding together and colliding. “No you don’t. No you fucking don’t.”

Martin controlled his voice. “No I don’t what.”

Fat Gully crashed down onto his butt, his fall cushioned by the sand. The thing in his hand looked bloody. “No you don’t take on no high-born airs with me, you fancy bastard. I’ll peel you standing, fat purse or fucking not.”

Martin wore his rapier, but he had seen Gully and his wicked little knife in action and was not eager to test him, even in his diminished state. Instead he turned his gaze to the gory rag in Gully’s hand, which had begun to leak a thin black drizzle onto the sand. “What in God’s name do you have there?”

Gully smiled and climbed slowly to his feet. The lights of the town behind him cast him in shadow as he extended his arm and opened his hand; he looked like a thing crawled from hell.

Martin inclined his head forward to see, raising an eyebrow. It took him a moment to make sense of it.

“I know what you’re about,” Gully said, a dull smile moving across his face. “I want a seat at the table.”

“I don’t know what you mean by showing that to me, but I assure you I have no use for it. Get rid of it.”

“You’ll learn not to bark orders at me, Mister Dunwood,” Gully said, rewrapping his dreadful trophy and securing it in some mysterious inner sanctum of his jacket. He did not seem in the least disappointed by Martin’s dismissal. If anything it, he appeared cheered by it. “Oh yes you will. We’ll see what it means once we get there, won’t we?”

For the first time in a long week Martin felt something inside him lighten. “‘Once we get there.’ Have you found us passage then, Mr. Gully?”

“I have indeed,” said Gully, smiling again. He turned about and made his tentative way back to town. A pistol cracked in some ill-lit alley and a cry of pain rose above the cacophony of voices like a flushed bird. Gully lurched in its direction, his purpose steady. “Come and meet our new benefactors, Mr. Dunwood. We ship with the tide.”

A brief introduction to the cannibal priests

I’m going to try an experiment. I’m going to write a serial on this blog.

I tend to be a very methodical writer. I revise as I write, which can make the completion of a story a slow process. I like to polish my sentences and harmonize my themes as much as reasonably possible before I send a story out into the world. Generally I think the finished product is worth the extra time. The downside of this, though, is that there is always a risk of getting so bogged down in the minutiae of a paragraph or a scene that work stalls. Sitting down to work on it can become a chore, when it ought to be fun.

I’m working on three projects concurrently right now. The past few days they’ve all come to a place where careful thought and hard labor are required to move them along. That’s fine — it’s nothing new. But rather than not write for a few days or a week, which is what I would have done before, I’m going to try something different.

I’m going to start up another work, altogether different in style, setting, character — just about everything. I’m going to write in quick bursts, probably no more than a few hundreds words in a sitting. I will not revise and, most importantly, I will not plan ahead. This is going to be a blind charge into darkness. I’m not allowed to fret over this. The whole purpose is to keep my mind fresh and to keep myself limber while I work on bigger projects.

So. I picked a title that’s been sitting in my head for a couple of years but never managed to find a story: “The Cannibal Priests of New England.” I picked a setting that sounds romantic and fun: Tortuga in the 17th Century, in the golden age of pirates. That’s all. Everything else I will make up as I go along.

I’ll post a new installment at least once a week. More, if I feel a strong need — but once a week at the very least. You’ll notice a new page linked at the top. I’ll post the updates here, in the main body of the blog, and archive the posts on that page so they’ll be easy to find. Because the point of this is to write freely and quickly, I will not make any effort to censor myself. It will be written for grown-ups.

This may turn out to be embarrassing; I’ve never thrown first draft material out into the world like this before. I’ll probably write myself into corners more than once. But that’s okay. It’s not meant for posterity. It’s a self-imposed high wire act, meant to keep me honest and to keep me working. With luck, we’ll both enjoy it.


Today has been a slog. I’m throwing words down and hoping they make sense. I’m not sure they do. This post, for example, is comprehensible to me as I write it, but I’m not entirely convinced it won’t appear to everyone else as something along the lines of fjshej jqkjdmwj 277bnfjuf df jjd.

I know, of course, that this is part of the process. That the trick is to write the gibberish anyway and not let it chase you away from the work. The trick is to not fall in love with the delete button. That button will be there tomorrow, and if the words do prove to be nonsense I can erase them then.

I have to remind myself of this. I have to remind myself to keep laying down words and sentences like railroad ties, and if I forget what it is that I’m doing or why I’m doing it, to trust in muscle memory to see me through. Trust that I’m building a path that leads somewhere I want to go.

I don’t want to write this weird little post. I’m doing it because I have to. Because I think it matters that I do it. If only to me. The work matters. The simple action of it.

Writing is an act of faith.  I’m not an atheist anymore.