Monday, October 31, 2011

What Is Steampunk? (The Clockwork Dark)

I'm reading The Nine Pound Hammer by John Claude Bemis, and finding it noteworthy.  Here's my note.

This is the first book in a middle reader series that markets itself as steampunk (the series title is The Clockwork Dark, "clockwork" being a very common steampunk flag-word), and it's a little 'punky, in the person of its villain.

But it's only secondarily steampunk.  Primarily, it's one of those middle reader series (like the Percy Jackson books) in which the protagonist's adventures involve him in existing mythology.  Only here, the existing mythology is the folk lore, tall tales and traditional legendary characters of North America.  Which makes this book, on a high concept level, Percy Jackson adventuring inside the Uncle Remus Tales, with a steampunk twist and -- for extra goodness -- a side of Carnivale.

Very cool, and pretty strong for a debut novel.  I recommend it.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy Halloween I


My eight year old son has three favorite Oingo Boingo songs.  This is one of them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Playing the Bones: I

This post is not about writing, but it is about music, and it is about Americana.  In three short videos over three days, I'd like to show you a very cool, very old percussion instrument: the bones.

(I buy my bones at Elderly Instruments.  The search there for "bones" brings up pages of guitars, unless you're searching percussion instruments.)

video

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Is Steampunk? (Modded Stuff)

Cool images I've seen on the Internet (Google+, actually) in the last couple of days.




Monday, October 24, 2011

Essential Classics: The Popol Vuh

The Popol Vuh is the mythological book of the Quiche Mayan people of Guatemala.  It was recorded by the 18th century Dominican friar Francisco Ximenez and is one of few accounts of the mythology of Central America to have survived the excesses of the Conquistadors.  It includes a creation story and the exploits of various heroes, and it's wild.  Ball games, severed heads that are planted and grow into trees, heroes that become constellations and skulls that impregnate women by spitting into their hands.  Read it because it's trippy and fun, and read it to break out of your Greco-Romano-Germanic shell.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tom Lehrer

It's come to my attention that not all of today's youth are familiar with the work of Tom Lehrer.  That's not right.  Here are two classics.


Friday, October 21, 2011

I Am the Egyptian

“We profoundly regret to tell you one more thing,” Cannon continued, “but we feel that we must.”  His voice echoed loud and brassy from the ceiling cones.  “The man who shot President Young has been identified.  His name is Samuel Clemens.”
As if this news had freed him, the Dane backed away.  He glared one last time at Poe, uncocked his pistol and returned to his station.  Further around the base of the stage, other guards, whose attention had been briefly caught, now looked away.  The crowd above appeared not to have noticed.
Poe sighed with relief and adjusted his glasses.
Cannon wasn’t finished.  “Mr. Clemens is an agent in the pay of the United States government.”
He paused.
If a silence could be thunderingly loud, Poe thought, this was it.
“Come on,” Pratt whispered, and grabbed Poe by the sleeve.  He dragged the younger man down a plascrete hallway that cut underneath the lower tiers of seating, the entrance by which the Apostles had all come into the building.  “Say it again,” he said.  There was an excited light in his eyes, like he was thrilled.
Poe didn’t feel thrilled.  He felt off-balance.  Could Sam Clemens really have shot Brigham Young?  What would have been the point of that?  If the American government assassinated the President of the Kingdom on the eve of the outbreak of hostilities, what could that do but precipitate Deseret into the war, and on the side of the seceding southern states?  “What?” he asked.  It made no sense.
“Start over,” the Madman insisted.  “Who are you?”
Are we playing a game? Poe thought, but he complied.  “I am the Egyptian,” he repeated.  “I come seeking the knowledge of the air.”
The old man beamed.  “I am the Seer, keeper of the knowledge of the air.  By what token shall I know thee, Boatman?”
“Boatman?” Poe asked.  What?
“I mean, Egyptian.  By what token shall I know thee, Egyptian?”  Pratt blushed.
Who was the Boatman?  What kind of double game was going on here?  “You shall know me by the four sons of Horus, which I bear,” he answered, according to the script.
“Very good.”  The Madman quivered with excitement.  “Do you have them here?”
Poe nodded.  “Do you want them now?”  What had the Boatman brought, or what was he supposed to bring—were there more mysterious canopic jars out there?
“Yes!” Pratt hissed.  “Give them to me.”  He held out his hands, which trembled like the hands of a drunkard with a bad case of the shakes. 
“And now,” George Cannon finished, “I will cede the pulpit to better speakers than I am.  Most of you, I suppose, know Brother John Lee, especially those of you from the southern valleys.  I know that all of you know who he is.”
Poe shrugged out of his heavy coat and handed it over to Orson Pratt.  The Apostle grinned to feel the weight in his hands and positively danced into the garment, smiling from ear to ear.  “Thank you,” he said, patting down the bulky pockets and visibly counting them one-two-three-four.  “Thanks to your Mr. Jefferson Davis, and to your Mr. Robert Lee, Colonel Lee, that is, and especially to your Mr. Horace Hunley!”
Oh, Robert, Poe thought.  What insanity have you gotten me involved in?  Who is this Madman Pratt, and what is he up to?
And what infernal devices did Hunley’s boys build for him?
“You will not have forgotten that you owe me some papers as well,” he reminded Pratt.
“Schematics!” snapped the Apostle.  “Of course I haven’t forgotten.”  He looked around him as if suspecting eavesdroppers, then leaned in close to whisper into Poe’s ear.  “Tomorrow morning at eight,” he said.  “Come to the north entrance to this building.  You’ll get what’s coming to you then.”
He turned to go and Poe grabbed his lapel.  “You’ll understand, sir, that this makes me nervous.  I expected you to give me the books today.”
“And I expected you,” Pratt grunted fiercely, “at the water station!  Do you imagine that I carry around airship plans in my pockets at all times, waiting for tardy secret agents, dressed all to catch the eye like Harlequin in some Italian comedy?  Ha!”  He snorted like a horse, shook himself free of Poe’s grasp, and shuffled away, back down the hallway and out of the Tabernacle.
Poe leaned against the cool plascrete wall, wondering what was next.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Welcoming Committee

 When the dust settled, Sam tugged his scarf down, shaking out the red-brown sand it had collected.  “O’Shaughnessy!” he roared, and then he saw the man waiting on the gravel at the foot of the ladder.
“What do you want, Sam Clemens, you bloody son of a bitch, you?” O’Shaughnessy roared back, stomping up out the stairwell, but when he saw Sam frozen, staring down at the ground, he shut up.  From ten feet away, Sam could smell the liquor on the Irishman.
“Good morning,” Sam called to the stranger.  “Can I help you?”
The man wasn’t tall, but he was stocky and he gave the impression of physical power.  His hair and beard were long and streaked with gray, and his body, the body of the horse he rode and the body of the packhorse he led all bristled with guns and knives.  He wore buckskins and furs and so did the animals.  Sam peeled away his goggles for a more unobstructed view of this genuine western curiosity.
“You’re headed into Deseret!” the man growled.
O’Shaughnessy crept across the deck, avian head low, and pulled out a gun.  Sam glanced, not meaning to, and noticed that the pistol was unfamiliar and odd-looking, with a big metal bulb on the end of its muzzle and another where the cylinder should be.  Did it shoot gas? Sam wondered.  Where did O’Shaughnessy get such a thing?
Sam took another sip of coffee out of habit and then spat the red mud out onto the deck.  “Dammit!” he cursed, and poured the rest out to avoid repeating the mistake.  “Is that some business of yours, mister?”
“Will it make you feel better about my intentions if I let your friend get the drop on me?” the mountain man called.  “Hell, if I’d wanted you dead, you gotta figger, I’d a killed you in the night.”
“I suppose I should count my lucky stars you’re such a good neighbor, then,” Sam countered, but he nodded to O’Shaughnessy and the Irishman stood upright and showed his head.  He kept the strange gun at his side, though, Sam noticed, and therefore out of sight.
“You aren’t a Pinkerton, are you?” O’Shaughnessy asked.
“No!” The grizzled stranger barked a noise that might have been a laugh.  “I’m a Deseret Marshal, though, if you’re looking for a lawman.  Name’s Rockwell.”
“Mostly, Mr. Rockwell,” the Irishman said, smirking at Sam, “it’s the lawmen that come looking for me.”
Idiot didn’t know when to shut his mouth.  “What can we do for you, Mr. Rockwell?” Sam asked.
The mountain man hawked up a gob of phlegm and spat it into the dust settling around his horse’s hocks.  “You can turn this pretty little steam-truck of yours around and go home,” he said gruffly.  “It ain’t safe for you in the Kingdom.”
Sam ruminated on this communication for several long moments, but couldn’t figure out what the fellow was up to.  “This is a strange way to deliver a threat, sir,” he finally called.  “We outnumber you and we have the higher ground.”
“That’s ’cause it ain’t a threat,” Rockwell objected.  “I’m just stating a fact.  I’m telling you that I am the law in the Great Salt Lake City, and I can’t guarantee your safety.”
Sam scratched his head, a gesture that turned into a vigorous brushing off of dust.  “Well, Mr. Rockwell,” he finally said.  “We haven’t broken any laws of the Kingdom of Deseret, nor do we intend to.  We have lawful business there, official business even, and as far as I can see, there’s no reason we can’t carry it out.  Your dark intimations are very dramatic, and I think you yourself would cut a fine buccaneerish figure on the stage, but I have things to do, and I estimate that the curtain is about to close upon our conversation here.”
“You ain’t listening to me!” Rockwell snapped, and swung down from his horse.  He reached for the Jim Smiley’s ladder, but as his hand grasped the first rung, O’Shaughnessy tsk, tsked at him, and Sam looked over to see his associate aiming the bulb-gun at the mountaineer.
“We’ll stay better friends, Mr. Deseret Marshal,” the Irishman smiled, “if you stay off our fookin’ vessel.”
Rockwell spat again, stared at both men like a hungry hawk, and then swung back into the saddle.  “When you’re lying on the red rock,” he bellowed at them, “holding your guts in your hands and weeping out the last seconds of your lives, you remember this!  You wanna call for your mama in that moment, you can.  You wanna call for Jesus, go right ahead.  Just don’t waste your damn time calling for Orrin Porter Rockwell!”
            With a snort of indignation, Rockwell turned his horse’s head and trotted towards Fort Bridger’s westward-facing maw.
“Bloody hell, I hate these people already,” O’Shaughnessy griped, holstering his fancy gun.  The holster, Sam thought, reminded him of the ones he had seen tied to the Pinkertons’ hips.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Sam disagreed, watching Rockwell turn north off the road into the sagebrush and scrub grass.  “I kind of like a place that sends out a welcoming committee.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Snow Faeries Don't Wear Pants

Storymonkey Platte Clark's debut, Max Spencer and the Codex of Infinite Knowability, is still over a year from hitting your local Barnes & Noble.  When it does hit, you should buy it, because it's hilarious.

In the meantime, the three-tiered world of the adventures of young Max Spencer is already inspiring me to write my favorite kind of filk -- in-world documents, disguised as songs.  Here is a traditional Frobit piece, taunting their great species enemy, the Snow Faeries.

video


Snow Faeries Don’t Wear Pants
© 2011 Itchy McFrobisher

Snow Faeries like their diamond slippers
When they go out to dance
Snow Faeries like their knee-length tunics
’Cause Snow Faeries don’t wear pants
No pants
Snow Faeries don’t wear pants

Snow Faeries fight with walrus chariots
With harpoon and the lance
Snow Faeries wear that fish scale armor
But Snow Faeries don’t wear pants
No pants
Snow Faeries don’t wear pants

            Hey you kids, get off my lawn!
            Come morning, I want this trash gone!

Snow Faeries need their dads and brothers
Their uncles and their aunts
Snow Faeries hide behind their cousins
’Cause Snow Faeries don’t wear pants
No pants
Snow Faeries don’t wear pants

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How to Get Unstuck at Work

I read a performance book over the weekend.  This is not my usual fare, nor have I ever blogged on such a thing.  It was a good book, though, Change Anything.  And when I read a bit in a chapter entitled "How to Get Unstuck at Work", it struck me as being highly applicable to this being-a-novelist enterprise.

So here it is.  I'll omit quotation marks and ellipses, but these are all taken from two consecutive pages in a single chapter of the book.  I'll let you make the application to your own writing efforts.  I'm certainly making the application to mine.

*   *   *

1.  Know Your Stuff.  Top performers put regular effort into ensuring that they are good at the technical aspects of their jobs.  They work hard at honing their craft.

2.  Focus on the Right Stuff.  Top performers contribute to tasks that are essential to the organization's success.  They are intensely interested in understanding where the organization is going (with emphasis on the key challenges).  They equip themselves to make their best and highest contribution to the core elements of where their company is going.

3.  Build a Reputation for Being Helpful.  People describe them as experts who are generous with their time.  Taking time to help their co-workers puts top performers at the hub of important networks.  Top performers are widely known and respected by others not because of their frequent contact, charm or likability, but because they help others solve their problems.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fair

Google+ Writing Circle Project

Word: Fair

Genre: Blackpowder Fantasy



SERPENTSPAWN DEPREDATIONS

~ The Pacification of the Ohio Continues ~

CahokiaGood men and true in the service of HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY, THE EMPEROR THOMAS PENN, are murderedHonest men have died with their throats cut in their sleep!!  their bodies torn as if by Animals!!  Insurgents ~ such as the Much Despised Ophidian Knights ~ claim that the crimes are the acts of feral Beast-Kind, who have recently been very Agitated, but loyal citizens are not fooled, & HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY is said to be sending further troops from Free Imperial Youngstown & from Pittsburgh to Reinforce the Forces of order & good administration.

            Obadiah frowned, puzzled.  Why was this at stake?  He thought they pursued Sarah because she was some relative of Thomas Penn, and maybe intended to make a play for the throne.  That was what the Blues whispered around the campfire, anyway, and it made sense of the journey so far.
            Was she an Ophidian?
            And what did that say about the Emperor if she was?
            Obadiah’s horse clopped onto the Pike.  The next Toll Gate was miles away (the Emperor’s men would be waved through, but others would be charged a toll for any traffic other than those traveling strictly on foot, and Imperial Foresters patrolling the woods and hills to either side would make evading the tolls more costly than paying them), so Obadiah had time to think.
            He thought about Sarah all the time.  He missed her.  He thought constantly of his night on Calhoun Mountain, when he had kidnapped her and then fallen in love.  He knew he had been hexed, of course, but the effects of the hex were long gone, had dissipated when Father Angleton had pressed a silver coin into his forehead that same night.
            What remained, what haunted his journey along the Jackson Pike and kept him awake at night, was love.  It had to be love.  Obadiah’s heart was cold and rusty in love’s ways, but he knew how he had felt with her.  He knew that he wanted that feeling back.  He cringed inside, thinking that she must hate him, but he dared to dream that he could persuade her of his worth.  And even if he couldn’t (and probably he couldn’t), now his life had meaning.  For the first time in years, Obadiah cared about something beyond his simple appetites.
            For the first time, really, since Peg had broken his heart.
He drank less now, limiting himself mostly to water.  He ate less, too, though that was mostly a matter of his being distracted by thoughts of Sarah constantly, and not feeling able to eat.  Still, he was becoming thinner.  He wanted some other method of self-improvement and found he had none to hand, so he turned to his Bible.
It was an old book, and not much read.  Obadiah’s father had been a Christian, one of the dwindling and secretive minority in England under the Spencers, and he had wordlessly given Obadiah the book as a gift, the day Obadiah had gone off to Woolwich.  Obadiah hadn’t read it at the Academy, and hadn’t read it since, carrying it around in his personal belongings like a memento rather than a book.  But Obadiah furtively read his father’s Bible now, though he found he had to separate some pages with his knife.  He read in the morning, while the Blues struck camp, and in the evenings, while he stirred the pot in the cooking duty that inevitably fell to him.  He tried to be discreet about his reading, but in a camp this small, others were bound to notice and talk, and they did. 
Even Father Angleton had noticed, he now knew.
            Obadiah read the Psalms and the Gospels, because he knew Father Angleton quoted from them a lot.  He tried to read the Old Testament, too, which was much harder.  Genesis was interesting, with lots of women in tents, and Obadiah lay in his own small tent, when he wasn’t in some flea-bitten ordinary’s cot, and shivered at the thoughts that came to him.  Exodus was full of storm and drama, with its plagues and God appearing in the mountains, but then there were long hard stretches that Obadiah couldn’t bring himself to look at.
            The part Obadiah found with astonishment and then kept coming back to was the Canticles.  Her eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, he read, washed with milk, and fitly set, and he thought of Sarah. 
Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me, he read, and he remembered her standing by the Charlotte Pike Gate in Nashville in her purple shawl with gold suns, looking at him with her blessed eye, challenging him to open his heart. 
Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Elliott Smith

You've heard this song before... on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack.  Tragically, Smith is no longer with us, but he left some great, melodic pop rock songs.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Essential Classics: The Hero with a Thousand Faces

You should only read this book if you either write stories or read them.

Joseph Campbell explains why all stories and all heroes are really the same hero in the same story.  Gilgamesh is Frodo Baggins is Odysseus is Luke Skywalker.  Essential reading for people.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Crows and Sheep

            Cal shook his head.  “Well, then what is it?  I mean, if Luther’s wrong, then what is the ‘burst of energy’ that pops outta the Firstborn when they die?”
            Thalanes shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I don’t think anyone really does.  I don’t think anyone really can.”
            “The Memphites think that a person has five parts,” Sarah said.  She was happy for every opportunity to show that she knew what she was talking about, as much as the monk did.  “There’s the body, and the shadow, and the name, and two things that don’t make a lot of sense from a Christian perspective, the ka and the ba.”
            “Crows and sheep,” Cal muttered.  “What’s a ka and a ba?”
            “It’s hard to say,” Sarah said, hiding her ignorance behind a claim of difficulty.  “They’re both kind of like the soul, as we know it.”
            “Two souls?” Cal asked.  “You’re right, that don’t sound Christian.”
            “No?” Thalanes pushed.  “But Paul says to the Thessalonians ‘I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless.’  That’s psyche and pneuma in Greek, two different things.  He uses the same words again in chapter four of the Epistle to the Hebrews, psyche and pneuma, ‘the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow.’  St. Jerome translates them as spiritus and anima.  Doesn’t that sound to you like a person has two invisible parts, a soul and a spirit?  Do you think Paul wasn’t a good Christian?”
            “You’re askin’ the wrong feller,” Calvin said, retreating into a shrug.  “I’m jest a poor cattle rustler, and I don’t have the answers.”
            “I’m just a poor monk,” Thalanes agreed, “and I don’t have any of the answers, either.  But I hope that St. Paul is right, and that you’re right, too, Cal.  I hope that when I die, my ka or my pneuma will explode in a burst of energy, and my psyche or my ba will go to Heaven.”
            “What if you’re wrong?” Sarah asked him.  “Aren’t you kind of gambling your salvation on a guess?”
            “Don’t we all do that, all the time?” Thalanes countered.  “Do we have any other choice?”

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Base Twelve

            “Well, that explains all the crazy acorn nonsense,” Andy mused in his antsy way.  “I always heard the Kings of Cahokia was wizards, and they don’t know how to count to eleven.”
“Thirteen, you mean,” Sarah told him.
“Do I?” Young Andy was confused.  “All I recollect is as they count in twelves, not in tens.”
“That don’t seem right,” Calvin said.  “A man’s got twelve fingers, in Nashville and in the Ohio both.”
“True,” Thalanes admitted.  “The question is, because man has ten fingers, should he look around him and force everything else into systems counted by ten?  Or should he look for order in the world around him, and number things as God has numbered them in the cosmos… for instance, by twelves?”
“It’s man as has dominion over the beasts,” Sarah grumbled.  “If horses could count, I reckon maybe they’d do it by fours.”
“Twelve houses of the zodiac,” the monk pointed out.  “Twelve points of the compass.  Twelve months of the year.”
“Months are made up,” Sarah said.  “They could jest as easily be ten, or thirty, or two, or no months at all.  Same for points of the compass.”
“Twelve cycles of the moon to each cycle of the sun, then.”
“Not exactly.”
“Anyway, that ain’t the way I heard the story,” Cal observed.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Vision of Death

            The worm succumbed first, shriveling and fallen from the apple to be lost on the garden floor.  As the worm died, the apple was already rotting away, and Ezekiel thought he could actually smell the pungent cidery odor of the withering fruit.  That odor thickened and darkened, and Ezekiel was assailed all about by the cloying stench of decay.  The green leaves of the trees in the Garden turned red, yellow and brown, and the whole scene was suddenly autumnal and tinged blue with a chilly wind, harbinger of a bad winter.
            “Stop this,” Ezekiel muttered. 
            There was no answer.
“Please,” he pleaded again.  “I know what happens.”
Eve-Lucy and Adam-Ezekiel went together.  His nose and ears grew longer in a bearded face, his chest sank and became hollow, his belly bulged out and fell, the fine muscles of his arms and legs died to nothing.  Her breasts withered and drooped, the flesh around her eyes sank and became dark; Ezekiel whimpered to see the change.  Both lost their teeth and their hair and the gleam in their eyes.
            “Stop this, I beg you,” Ezekiel said, louder this time.  His own years weighed heavy on him and he felt death approaching him inexorably on the road, a dark presence growing darker and closer by the moment, but Lucy’s rose above and behind him black and furious, a great inexorable angel of destruction and loss.  He tried to turn his head to look at his merciless instructor, to learn who would want to pierce his soul with such withering knowledge and memories, but his gaze was transfixed to the pictures, and he could not move.
            Green had returned to the leaves in the Garden, and then autumn again, and then spring, and Adam-Ezekiel and Eve-Lucy still aged.  Eve-Lucy succumbed first, but only by a hair’s breadth, and both the first parents of mankind died in the same horrible way under Ezekiel’s unwilling, flinching gaze; they shrank and shriveled and the flesh fell from their bones until they collapsed, dead puddles of bone and corruption in a garden that flashed repeatedly from green to orange and back again.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Jorma Kaukonen

Isn't dead.  But like Jansch, he's a great songwriter and a fingerpicker.  Here he is with his classic "Genesis", from his debut solo album Quah.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Websterism

            “I’ve been meaning to ask you,” he said to Roxie, pointing to the row of squiggles over the top of the bay door.  “What language is that?  It’s everywhere in this Kingdom, but I haven’t heard a language spoken other than English and Mexican.”
            She chuckled slyly.  “Why, Dick,” she said, “I’m surprised to see you so easily stumped.  That’s perfectly good English.  It says Koyle Mining Corporation.”
            Burton squinted at the letters.  “It’s a cipher, then,” he guessed.  “You’ve taken as a nation to writing in code.  It’s like the tangled streets of a medieval city, a deliberate device to keep outsiders out.”
            “On the contrary,” she told him, “it’s a system to make writing the English language simpler.”
            “Simpler!” he snorted.  “Some of us find the Latin characters simple enough.”
            “Yes?” she asked innocently.  “How do you write the sound fffff?”
            “Eff,” he retorted, then caught himself.  “Or pee-aitch.”
            “Or?”
            He thought, feeling that he was being baited.  “Double-eff.”
            “And what sound does gee-aitch make?” she pressed him.
            “Dammit, woman,” he rumbled, “what’s your point?”
            “The point,” she explained, gesturing at the row of characters that allegedly identified the owners of the mine, “is that those characters are the Deseret Alphabet.  They are used to write English, in a manner that is simple, logical and consistent.”
            “Once you know the damned code,” Burton growled.
            “Yes,” she agreed, “once you know the alphabet.”
            “I did not know you Mormons went in for Websterism,” Burton rumbled.
            The steam-truck rumbled up out of the trees and clattered to a puffing halt in front of the big door.
            “Oh, we are reformers, all right,” she told him.  “But that is the least of our surprises.”

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Writer's Block

Nice blog post on the subject here.

Jesus Is My Loa

What foot traffic there was in the warm afternoon saw Bad Bill coming and steered well clear, other than a wizened, coffee-colored crone, head tightly wrapped in bright silk and shawl bouncing wildly about her shoulders as she trotted up to Bill and pressed him with a handful of assorted objects.
            “Luck, sir?” she offered, shoving a pink string-doll into his face.  “Love?  Protection?”  She fanned a handful of the little dolls in his direction, wound together of different-colored yarn but each with pins for eyes and tucked into a tiny shift of rough cotton fabric.
            “No, ma’am,” Bill declined, trying in vain to step around her.  Vodun was not his brand of superstition, though it was common enough in New Orleans that he’d become accustomed to seeing it.
            “Beybey?” she changed propositions, scooping all the dolls into one gnarled hand and using the other to show a strand of leather on her shoulder bearing a series of brass medallions, like a thin belt threaded with multiple buckles.  The medallions were elaborately cut with the loops and lines that Bill recognized as the holy symbols of various Loas.  “Legba, he bring you luck.  Agw√© for a sea journey, or if you a fisherman.”
            “I am not a fisherman, ma’am,” Bill objected mildly, “and I try very hard to avoid ever setting foot on any ship.”
            She looked him up and down, spying his pistols and his saber.  “You a fighter, ah?  A fightin’ man?  Fine, you want Ogoun, he swing the big machete, he watch over fightin’ men!”  She showed him the beybey of Ogoun, a web of triangles and asterisks framed by scrollwork.  “You want?  Ogoun, he a real bargain, big mojo Loa!”
            “Jesus is my Loa,” Bill turned the medallion down.  Bill was not a devout man, not a theologian, but he was a Christian, baptized and married as such, and he counted on God taking notice of the fact.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Book's Cover

Help me understand this, because I can't.

Are we supposed to understand that Anakin left Tatooine as a young lad (true) and Luke came back as an adult (false)?

Are we to understand that these two men, father and son, turned their backs on each other (false)?

Are we to understand that these movies are movies about Tatooine (false, but getting closer)?

Are we to understand that Anakin is alive but Luke is a ghost (backward)?

Are we to understand that this cover struck George Lucas's fancy even though it is nonsensical, and he went with it, because he's George Lucas and he can do whatever he wants?

Yes, I think that's it.

Readers: when you have the chance, give input into your (book) covers.  They shouldn't be irrelevant gibberish.

Mr. Lucas: are you done crapping on the greatest franchise of my youth yet?  Please say yes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Essential Classics: The Uncle Remus Tales

Joel Chandler Harris was a printer's devil for four years on the Turnwold Plantation in Georgia during the Civil War.

Later, as a writer for the Atlanta Constitution, he published in serial form a collection of stories he claimed to have heard in the slave quarters on the Turnwold Plantation, which were collected and published in 1880 as Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings.

Some people have found these stories controversial, and I don't really want to get into the controversy.  I will say this: I have read them, and I don't believe that Joel Chandler Harris made these stories up.  And if the stories are the genuine folk tales of nineteenth century black Americans, then quashing them because you dislike their presentation or because you find them disagreeable for political reasons silences the voices of those black Americans.

Besides, the stories are really, really funny.  The Tar Baby is the single most repeated bedtime story request my kids make.

I own two editions, and like them both.  This one is a straight reprint.  This one had been updated in its grammar and some of its references, making the collection more accessible to modern kids, without, I think, bowdlerizing it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Family Is Complicated

            “You can,” Thalanes agreed, and he lay down on the roof of the cabin.  “It gives me great comfort to know that I’m traveling with such a powerful visionary.  So much comfort that I’m not afraid of a couple of old English men, just because they have a bit of grave-mold on them.”
            “I thought that Lucky John’s men killed them in Putney,” Sarah said.  “Wasn’t that the whole point of the Silver Lancers, John Churchill’s special squad with silver bullets and silver-headed pikes?  I read that equipping those men sucked the coffers of William of Orange dry.  All that, and they failed?”
“All that and they won,” the monk reminded her.  “They drove the Necromancer out of England, along with Black Tom and the sorcerer Hooke.”
“And sent ’em on over here to the New World so’s they could chase after me.  I jest git luckier by the day.”
Thalanes waited a moment.  “Are you frightened?” he asked.
            “Hell yes,” Sarah shot back.  She could feel her pulse racing and her breath was short. 
            “Would it help you to think of them as tragic figures?” Thalanes asked.
            “I don’t reckon it would,” she guessed.
            “Tom Fairfax was a rebel,” Thalanes said.  “He rebelled against his king, and then when he realized Cromwell was worse than what he’d replaced, he rebelled against Cromwell, too.  Cromwell crushed the Rising of York, and his punishment for poor Black Tom was cruel.”
            “Black Tom killed a lot of people with his knife, before and after he was dead.  I reckon that was cruel, too.”
            “Yes,” Thalanes agreed.  “And then his old friend Cromwell killed him with his own knife, and bound Tom into Cromwell’s service, forcing him to wield that same knife in the service of the man he hated, eternally.”
            “Cry me a river,” Sarah sniffed.  She gestured beyong the boat.  “Cry me the damn Mississippi.”
            “And Hooke asked to become what Cromwell made him.”
            “What?” Sarah was startled.  “Why in Hell would anybody ever want to become a walking corpse?”
            “To live forever,” Thalanes explained.  “Hooke was a great wizard, practical and theoretical, just like Sir Isaac.  When the only thing that drives you is curiosity, the thing you want most is time.”
            “And then what?  They all jest came to the New World and hid for a hundred years, waitin’ to jump out and grab me?”
            “No one knows quite what happened to Cromwell,” Thalanes said.  “There are persistent rumors that William Penn sheltered him in Pennsland.”
            “My grandfather?” Sarah was shocked at the revelation, but in context it was almost a minor surprise.  She was beginning to regain control of herself, and her accent.  “Why would he have done anything so stupid?”
            “Great-great-grandfather, actually.  Cromwell gave him his original land grant.  That’s where your great family estates come from, Sarah… they were bestowed by the Necromancer.  And after he’d been driven out, the Penns were established and King John had his hands full of other matters and no one was in any position to do much about it.  Besides, people liked William Penn.  He was a good man.”
            “Who made a deal with Hell.”
            “Maybe.  Or maybe he didn’t shelter Cromwell, and those rumors are just the baseless gossip of your family’s enemies.”
            “Dammit,” Sarah complained, “life is complicated.”

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pink Moon

And this one is not traditional.  "Pink Moon", by the elusive Nick Drake

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Horse Named Bill

A couple of songs with abstract and maybe nonsensical lyrics this weekend.  I think this first one is traditional, and the recording here is by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman.  This is actually the CD that was playing in the room when my son was born.