Snippet from a Work in Progress

On the way back to the hotel my phone I received a text.  A quick glance at the display showed Ware’s number.  I pulled over to the side of the road and hit the flashers then unlocked the phone and opened the text.

*Meeting with the mayor.  Pick you up tomorrow morning to continue?*

I started to text back when the phone rang.  Ware again.  I answered.

“Herzeg. I was just reading your text.”

“Yeah,” Ware said. “Turns out I was left alone for a bit right after I sent it.  Have you had any further thoughts that can help find this cult?”

“I take it you can’t speak freely?” I said.

“Door’s open, people just outside, so we may want to make this quick.”

“Okay,” I said. “I encountered one of the vampires.  Unfortunately, he ran before I could get close to him.  Can we get together after your meeting?”

“I’d love to join you for dinner.  Meet at the same Restaurant?”

“Sure and…”

“One minute, somebody just brought me a courier envelope.”

I waited.

“Shit.” The voice sounded faint, like he’d set the phone down.

“Detective?” I asked.

“I’ve got to go.” Again, Ware’s voice was faint.

“You will sit right there and wait for the Mayor,” another voice said.

“You don’t understand. I…”

“Sit, detective.”

“James!” I shouted.

A scraping noise, as of the phone sliding on a hard surface then Ware spoke. “I just got a picture of my daughter.  There’s a red marker slash on her throat.”

“What’s the address?” I asked.

“Look, I can get the Captain to send…”

“To send people who aren’t prepared to deal with vampires?  What’s the address?”

He gave the address.  I punched it into the GPS.  Estimated time, fifteen minutes.

“Got it,” I said. “I’m on my way.  I may need you to fix a few tickets later.”

The humor felt flat in my own ears as I checked traffic before pulling out.

“Just get my little girl safe,” Ware said. “I’ll pay the fines myself if I have to.”

I sped down the street.

Ware’s daughter.  He had a daughter.  And a daughter meant a mother–a wife or lover.

I shook my head.  Stupid thought to be having.  An innocent threatened by vampires.  That should be my only thought.

That, and killing the vampires, was my only concern.


I broke just about every traffic law on the books.  The GPS estimated fifteen minutes.  I made it in twelve.  Sheer chance protected me from encountering any police on the way.  A gamble that had been.  Being stopped would have lost more time than any I gained from speed.

I knew before I reached the house that I was too late.  The sense of vampire hit me as I turned down the last street.

I screeched to a halt in the street in front of the house and burst out of the car running.  The door was open and the sense of vampire was still strong.  It was still here.  I pulled the gun as I sprinted up the walkway.

I paused for a moment at the doorway, gun at low ready, eyes closed to give them the moment I needed to adjust to the dark.  I lunged sideways into the door, hard, so that it would fly back and slam into anyone standing behind it.

I swept the room with my gaze.  There, in the far corner I could see the vampire.  He held a girl, quick guess was somewhere between ten and thirteen years of age.  He turned to face me, holding the girl in front of him.  One hand held her throat just under the jaw, the other wrapped around her waist.

The hand on the girl’s throat only held, not squeezed.  The girl screamed.  I raised the gun, taking careful aim.  I held my breath.  Without a chance to sight in the gun I could not be confident to hit the vampire and not the girl.

“Put the girl, down.”

The vampire shifted the girl in it’s grip.  My target area had just gotten smaller.

“I don’t think so, dhampyre.”

“If the girl is harmed, you don’t walk out of here.” I pulled back the hammer.  While I could not trust my aim, the vampire need not know that.

“I know you.” the vampire opened his mouth in a fangy snarl. “If I let her go, I don’t walk out of here either.  We…”  He looked at the girl in irritation as she continued to scream.

“Be silent.” His hand tightened.

The girl’s screams ceased.  Her mouth still worked and she continued to struggle in his grasp.

I breathed a quick sigh of relief.  He had only cut off her wind, not broken her neck.  Still, that would not matter if we did not end this soon.

“We are at an impasse,” he said.

I smiled. “Perhaps.”

I lowered the gun.

“Perhaps,” I said again. “But you don’t want the girl, not when there’s much more succulent blood available.”

I slowly squatted and set the gun on the floor.

“There is no blood so sweet as dhampyre blood.” I stood.  I pulled the stake from my left arm, feeling the rubber bands snap back against my skin.  I tossed the stake aside.

“You’d much rather have me.” I pulled free the other stake and tossed it aside.  I held my arms up and to the sides.

“You fool, I can have you both.” He tossed the girl aside.  She hit a couch and rolled over it to land out of sight.

I could not spend any time on her, the vampire lunged in my direction.

I swung my left hand in a circle before me, knocking the vampire’s grasping hand aside.  Vampires are stronger than I am.  I turned and shifted, inside the grab of its other hand.  They are faster than I am.  My left hand twisted, snagging the vampire’s arm at the wrist.  My right hand drove up and forward, catching the vampire just under the jaw.

Vampires don’t need to breath.  There is no point in choking them.  I continued to turn, driving my hip into the vampire and bending him over me.  More turn and the vampire’s feet flew upwards.  He crashed flat on his back on the floor.  Vampires, however, are too arrogant to train.

I followed him down, landing on his chest.  A quick lift and swing of leg and I was astride him.  I release his wrist and drove my left hand up under his jaw, bouncing his head off the floor.

Such a blow would leave a human dazed or unconscious.  It would only give a vampire a moment’s pause.  But I only needed a moment.  I reached back with my right hand and grabbed the hilt of the knife between my shoulder blades.  I pulled it free and brought it down in a chopping swing against the vampire’s throat.

The damn blade broke.

I swore.  I had managed to cut deep, but the vampire’s spine had defeated the cheap steel of the decorative bowie.  Even with the silver filling the blades decorative engraving to slow things, I had seconds before the vampire regenerated enough to resume its attack.

I dove across the room to where I had tossed one of the stakes.  My hands closed on it and I rolled to my feet.

The vampire was starting to rise.  I sprang, drawing back then shoving forward with the stake.  Into the stomach, just below the breastbone, in and up.  I hit the heart.

The vampire went down.  I sagged to my knees, watching it lay, immobile.  My breath came in deep gasps.

“Is it…is it dead?” The girl peered at me from over the couch, her eyes wide.

Keeping the Active Writer Healthy.

I’ve written on this subject before but things have changed so this is by way of an update.

Some years ago, I started keeping a food diary, just listing everything I ate in a day and the amounts.  I didn’t make any deliberate changes to my diet, just recorded it.  Of course, there would be some changes simply from the fact that recording what I ate, and how much, enforced a degree of portion control.  When I started that, I weighed about 260 lbs.  Over the next three months, my weight dropped to about 230 lbs.

Outstanding! I thought.  No going hungry.  No denying myself foods I loved.  Just recording what I ate and I dropped thirty lbs.  Now, according to various height/weight charts and BMI, I was still very much overweight, but according to a home body fat test (making measurements of various body part dimensions) I was running 20-22 percent.  Not great, but not terrible either (note:  the more measurements involved in a single “test” the better I did–those that just measure a couple of things tended to report a higher body fat than those that measured more parts of the body).

Unfortunately, shortly after I dipped a bit below 230, my weight started creeping up again.  No change to the diet.  I had the record to prove it.  When my weight was back up to 250 I abandoned the food diary.

Some time after that, I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes.  In addition to the medication, I also started aggressively reducing net carbs and especially sugars from my diet.  Once again, my weight started coming down.  Once again over the course of three months or so, it dropped to around 230.  This time it wasn’t so pleasant.  The carb cravings were bad.  But, eventually, I got over them. (And this is why I’m so adamant to avoid anything with a lot of net carbs–by itself and in moderation it won’t hurt me, but it brings back those highly unpleasant cravings).

Once again, I got a bit below 230 and, again with no change in diet (no diary this time, but trust me) my weight started creeping up again.  It was a slow climb, over the course of several years, but again it went back to about 260 lbs.

This was, as you might imagine, very frustrating.

Along the way, I tried adding exercise programs, but…they seemed to be cursed.  For a while, there was a Gold’s Gym not to far from here.  It had plenty of weights, plus a pool for lap-swimming for a nice, low-impact (my knees are in pretty sad shape) aerobic workout.  They also had a place to leave young kids where they can play while parents work out.

Naturally, before too long, they close.  In fact, I looked around and could not find any good gym within a convenient distance to where I lived.  Nope, all I could find is Planet Fitness.  So I sigh, and say “well, better than nothing.”

Only time became an issue.  Every time I’d get started on some workout program, something would come up and interfere.  I’d fall out of the habit and…I’d be back where I started.

In time, a friend of mine who’s also a trainer helped me develop a workout program that fit my goals–overall fitness and staving off the debilities of age as much as possible–that worked with my time constraints and my desire to have something I could do along my daughter both to help her with her own strength and endurance building goals.  Oh, and could be done with the gear available at Planet Fitness.  It’s a six day a week program–three at PF, three doable at home.  The workouts at PF alternate between two sets of exercises that work somewhat different muscle groups.

Once again issues arose.  Some of those became really big issues.  And among other things, my daughter started ballet so she wanted a somewhat different exercise routine.  And again, I fell out of the habit of going.

Eventually, I kicked myself in the rear and realized at least as far as cardio, I had the internet.  I had YouTube.  I could find a cardio routine that I could work along with at home that wouldn’t require any equipment or any trips to the gym.  So, I found just that, a routine that’s just over a half hour (including warm-up and cool-down), that’s the beginning of a series so that I can move to more intense exercises as appropriate.  In fact, I did move up one.  But then, I got straightened out on the latest interference (my daughter and I taking turns being ill) and was able to work out a schedule to get back to the gym.

This time I backed it off a bit.  Instead of three times a week, I dropped it to two, one each of the two sets of exercises.  I also backed off the cardio temporarily from the “stage 2” to “stage 1” since I was adding the weight training in.

That’s where I am now.  Fingers crossed this time.

I will say this, the guy leading the routine in the “Cardio Starter” workout’s incessant chatter helps.  It gives me something to focus on to help pass the time through the exercise.  I have no idea what the reputation of this “body project” is, but it seems to do that job of keeping me motivated to get up, get my heart rate up, and maybe burn a few calories.

Shouting “Fire” in a Crowded Theater: A Blast from the Past

“You can’t shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” (Actually, the original quote, which Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. used to justify ruling that a ban on anti-draft protests was Constitutional, was falselyshouting “Fire” in a crowded theater.)

This argument gets raised again and again and again to claim that all rights are “limited” in some way.  Especially, when it comes to RKBA, people say “Of course we can restrict/ban X.  All rights are limited.  After all, you can’t shout fire in a crowded theater.”

However, the analogy completely fails.

A right is something that others are not permitted to prevent you from doing or having (not something that others are required to provide for you–but that’s another discourse for another day).  When you go into a theater, nobody takes away your ability to shout “fire.” Nobody gags you, disables your vocal cords, neutralizes the speech center of your brain or anything remotely like that.  Now, if you do exercise that right and use it in such a way as to cause harm, say by shouting “fire” with there not, in fact, being a fire, you may be held accountable for the harm caused by that exercise.  But nobody takes away your voice because “the right is limited.”

We already have, and always have had, equivalent “restrictions” on gun rights.  In Colonial days and for Fifty years after the ratification of the Constitution any free citizen could own and possess any weapon they wished.  Muskets?  Of course.  Rifles?  No problem.  Pistols?  No sweat.  Revolvers (invented as flintlock in 1814 and with percussion caps in 1836).  Legal.

Then Georgia passed a ban on knives of “offensive or defensive purpose”, and on the sale of pistols and requiring that all owned pistols be worn openly (banning concealed carry).  This occurred in 1837.  It took about eight years for that to be challenged in the Georgia Supreme Court where it was ruled unconstitutional.

And after that.  Other laws have been passed by Georgia and elsewhere, but still… Repeating rifles?  Legal.  Gatling guns?  Legal.  Breechloading artillery?  Legal.  The Maxim gun (early crew served automatic weapon)?  Legal.  Congreve and other bombardment rockets?  Legal.  Automatic rifles?  Legal.  Submachine guns?  Legal.  Handguns and rifles with detachable magazines (some of which went up to 50 rounds or more)?  Legal.  Only in the 20th century did that change.

But through all that, there was one constant.  The same “no shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” “restriction was in place.  If you used the guns to cause harm you were criminally or civilly liable for that harm.

That’s what “you can’t shout fire in a crowded theater” really means.  You can’t use your right to “free speech” to directly, immediately, and provably cause harm without being responsible for the harm caused.  And that’s what the same thing means when it comes to guns.

But we don’t need gun control for that.  We already have that restriction.  Use a gun to cause harm and you are already legally responsible for that use.

So the parallel case already exists, and always has.  You already have the “no shouting fire in a crowded theater” restriction on “gun rights” and have had it since before there was a Constitution to guarantee any of the rights we hold.

Going beyond that, however, is no longer parallel and the analogy, thus, fails.

Cultural Appropriation vs. Hybrid Vigor

“Cultural appropriation”.  That seems to be the big thing these days to prove that people who aren’t fully in lockstep with the far left are really “racists” and other forms of badthinkers.

Wear a hairstyle that someone claims as being from their ancestry (even if yours had it too)?  Cultural appropriation.

Jewelry that someone of a particular ethnicity claims as “theirs” (even if others wore similar jewelry in the past)?  Cultural appropriation.

Want to cook something from a culture other than your own, especially if you mix in elements not original to that cultures cuisine (never mind that the culture’s cuisine itself started as a fusion of cultural elements)?  Cultural appropriation.

In days past we considered the enforced separation of ethnicities and cultures to be segregation and a bad thing.  Today it’s encourages in the name of avoiding “cultural appropriation.”

This is a very foolish approach indeed.

In biology there is a concept called “Heterosis”, more colloquially known as “Hybrid Vigor”.  In biology it’s the case where a cross-breed is stronger, fitter, or otherwise superior to either of the parent lines.  It’s why seed companies sell hybrid corn.  Indeed, the whole field of selective breeding relies on it–two lines, each with their own particular strengths, brought together to produce a hybrid that combines the strengths of both.

And cultures work the same way.  Only the most isolated of cultures on the planet, tucked away in little pockets of the world, are not the result of absorbing and adapting ideas from other cultures.  And even then, we can’t be sure since these isolated cultures tend to lack any written history and oral histories become unreliable with remarkable rapidity.  We don’t know how they originated or what other cultures might have influenced them.

Every culture has adopted elements of other cultures whether progenitors or neighbors.  The phonetic alphabet of the Phoenicians made it’s way, in modified form to the Greeks, from there to the Romans, and from there throughout Europe.  By reading this, you are engaging in Cultural Appropriation from the Phoenicians.

Many people figured out the idea of using gold and silver as a medium of trade but had its weaknesses–ensuring the purity of the metal and the accuracy of the weights being chief among them.  Then the idea of taking pieces of metal of known weight and known purity and stamping them with imprints making the first coins.  This happened in Anatolia (modern Turkey); ancient writers credit the invention of both coins and retail shops with a fixed location to the ancient Kingdom of Lydia.  This quickly spread around the Mediterranean and East along the Silk Road to eastern Asia.  Every time you exchange coins, or shop in a store with a fixed address, you are Culturally Appropriating from the Kingdom of Lydia (or modern Turkey, if you prefer).

Rome was the undisputed king of adopting anything and everything that made them stronger.  Whether religion and the alphabet from the Greeks, later another religion from the folks in the Levant, cavalry from Germanic tribes (and many of the Germanic people as well), and armored cataphracts from the Persians, anything and everything was grist for the mill.  You might say they were the original melting pot.  And the result of that?  Rome lasted as a continuous civilization from its founding in 753 BC (according to myth and archeological evidence suggests mid 8th century BC so it’s in the rough ballpark) to the final fall of the Byzantine Empire (itself a continuation of the Roman Empire in the East) which we can date as the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD.  That’s 2106 years of continuity.  There was a reason that Charlemagne was crowned “Emperor of the Romans”, why later nations would style themselves after the Roman Empire.  Rome was the supreme example they had of not only strength but longevity–and it achieved that by adopting everything it could use from the cultures around it and throwing away the things it could not.  This constant growing, constant changing, constant adopting new ways, both internally developed and from others is why The Byzantines of 1400 AD would have been unrecognizable to the Latins of 800 BC, but that’s the secret.  That’s why it lasted 2100 years.  Continuous, ongoing, hybrid vigor.

Any civilization that is healthy and growing is going to do the same thing.  To do otherwise is to fall into stagnation and decline.  This is the inescapable lesson of history.  This is why the Aztecs fell to Cortez–a handful of Europeans with a handful of gunpowder weapons and a supply line that stretched back across the ocean in a tenuous Age of Sail line, would never have been enough had not the Aztec strength been a brittle strength after long ossification and a lack of new vigor.

Hybrid vigor, what some people criticize as “cultural appropriation” is what makes a culture strong and vibrant.

So why are people trying to stifle it?  Is the stagnation and decline of our own culture their goal?

The State is Still Mother. The State is Still Father. All Hail the State.

Last July, I wrote about the case of little Charlie Gard, and how when the UK’s National Health Service had given up on him, his parents had raised a considerable sum of money to seek an alternative, admittedly highly experimental, treatment to prolong his life.  The NHS refused to allow that and the UK government backed them up, basically running out the clock on Charlie Gard’s life.

Now they’re doing it again.  This time it’s a toddler named Alfie Evans who is fighting for his life in a hospital in the UK.  He was (was!) on life support, but the hospital “pulled the plug”, yet as of this writing he continues to hang in.

The hospital basically threw up its hands at trying to save him.  The parents looked elsewhere.  Pope Francis stepped in and offered care to little Alfie in Italy.

The hospital said “no.”

They had given up and yet they refused to let him go elsewhere where someone else was at least willing to try to save the boy.  And how were they able to prevent the parents from taking him elsewhere?  Why, because of the British Courts, which ruled that Alfie was too ill to travel.

What?  They’ve taken him off support to let him die but they’re afraid of the risk of travel?  Will the travel make him more dead than the not treating him at all that they’re doing now?

In what universe is this even a sane decision?

The parents appealed to a higher court, which rejected the appeal and confirmed the lower court’s ruling.

And it gets better.  The sane people who are hearing about this case are understandably upset.  Many have spoken in anger about it.  So what do the Merseyside police say? (Link saved via–what happens on the Internet, stays on the Internet).

We’ve issued the following statement following reports of social media posts being made in relation to Alder Hey Hospital and the ongoing situation with Alfie Evans:

Chief Inspector Chris Gibson said: “Merseyside Police has been made aware of a number of social media posts which have been made with reference to Alder Hey Hospital and the ongoing situation involving Alfie Evans.

“I would like to make people aware that these posts are being monitored and remind social media users that any offences including malicious communications and threatening behaviour will be investigated and where necessary will be acted upon.”

Yep, that’s right.  Speaking out against this terrible crime is going to be investigated.

This is an outrage.  This is what happens when you give the government too much power over individuals.  Any power that can be abused will be abused.  And any power can be abused.

Private insurance can, at worst, refuse to pay.  It doesn’t stop you from raising funds elsewhere or seeking alternatives.  Only government, with its license to use force, can do that.

How many more Charlie Gards?  How many more Alfie Evans?

This has to stop.


Coming Soon: Alchemy of Shadows (Cover reveal)

Mostly the mechanics of getting it up on Amazon and Createspace.

I was born in the year 1215 in a small town in Westphalia.  As a boy, my parents apprenticed me to the famed alchemist Albertus Magnus. Under his tutelage I grew to adulthood and learned the mystical secrets of alchemy including the manufacture of the Elixir of Life. I have gone by many names through the centuries.

I was already centuries old when I encountered the creatures of darkness made manifest that I know only as Shadows. They have chased me down through the years for reasons I have never understood.

Light was the only weapon I had against these Shadows, light that could drive them back but not harm them. And so I ran. Every time the Shadows caught up with me I fled to a new identity, a new life, until inevitably they found me again. At long last, with nowhere left to run, I had to find some way to fight the Shadows, not just for myself, but for the people I had come to care about.

My name is Adrian Jaeger. This is my story.

alchemy of shadows ebook

Feeding the Active Writer: Spicy Garlic Chicken Strips/wings

This is a recipe I’ve been experimenting with.  It’s got what for me is a comfortable level lf “heat”.  Most of the heat comes from the cayenne and the hot sauce.  You can adjust those to get the desired heat level.  Also, if you use sugar rather than sweetener, you might want to use somewhat less since, while sucralose is less affected than most others, most sweeteners become less sweet from cooking and I use enough to compensate for that loss.

This can either be done with wing pieces or chicken meat cut into strips.


  • 4-5 lbs chicken wing pieces or chicken meat cut into strips.
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup hot sauce, I use Cholula original
  • 1/2 cup finely minced garlic (I buy it in jars pre-minced and scoop it out with a fork to let it drain before adding to the measuring cup)
  • 1/2 cup Splenda brand sweetener (the powdered kind which measures like sugar) or equivalent
  • 2 Tbsp ground paprika
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves

Cook the chicken in a skillet until done or nearly so.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Beat the eggs into a medium mixing bowl.  Add and beat in the other ingredients until well mixed.

Put the cooked chicken into a large mixing bowl and pour in some of the sauce mixture.  Mix together.  Add in some more of the sauce and mix.  repeat until the chicken is well coated with the sauce.

Arrange the chicken in a baking pan.  Ideally the pieces will not touch (may require several batches depending on the size of your pan).  Bake for about 5 minutes at 450.


Note that this recipe made a lot more sauce than necessary to coat the chicken I used.  Next time, I’ll either have a lot more chicken (it keeps well for reheating–one of the things I look for in a “feeding the active writer” recipe) or half the sauce recipe.

Also, because of the risk of contamination from uncooked eggs, I would not recommend using the sauce uncooked.  Thus the baking after coating.


Taxation is Theft?

That “taxation is theft” is a common statement of anarcho-capitalists.  And while, from a certain perspective, that has an appeal, in the real world it doesn’t work so well.  A complete lack of government (defined here as some form of organization with the license to use, and initiate, force) simply does not last.  We have seen many governments break down throughout history and in no case has anything resembling the lack of system that extreme anarcho-capitalists dream of come from it.  When existing governments break down you almost immediately end up with a collection of rival “warlords”–each one being a despotism.  Some “strong man” imposes his will on those around him.  He gathers followers willing to be loyal to the “strong man” in return for the privilege of lording it over the others (basically license to steal, kill, and rape within whatever generally broad limits the warlord/despot sets).   What you end up with is pretty much the exact opposite of what the anarcho-capitalists propose.

Complete anarchy is simply too unstable to exist “in the wild” for more than a fleeting instant.  People are people and some of them are venal, grasping individuals who upset the applecart as it were.

But then government, any government, also tends toward totalitarianism.  Any government will seek to aggregate to itself more and more power until, left unchecked (we’ll get to this shortly) it will itself become a despotism wielding absolute power over the people within its reach.

Some people will say establish a limited government in order to preserve liberty but once established such government immediately begins to push at the limits, to seek avenues past them, and to grow beyond the original bounds.  Depending on the limits initially established and the checks placed against them, the process may be slowed, but it cannot be stopped.  All “limited” governments eventually, if not forcibly stopped, break past their limits and head toward despotism.

Anarchists look at this and say “see, any government eventually ends in despotism.  There is no government where the rights of the people are safe.”

Others look at where governments collapse and invariably turn into collections of despotisms and say “see, getting rid of government ends in despotism so only with government are the rights of the people safe.”

They are both right.  And they are both wrong.

Neither philosophy leads to liberty as both end in despotism.  It is only in the conflict between the two that liberty is found:  the interplay between those seeking to tear down government and those seeking to expand it.  This interplay is not stable.  You rarely get the two forces in balance, and never for long.  In short order, one obtains ascendance and government moves in the direction of that “side”.  Historically, the side to obtain ascendance has almost always been that of the “government growth.” There have been exceptions but that has been the general trend.

So, the wise man who wishes to have and benefit from a free society must look both at where we stand and where we are going.  Once one has made the determination of which direction society and government need to go, look for those who are going the same way and make common cause with them.  It matters less whether you agree with how far one should, or should not go, only that they are going in the “right” direction.

It’s like the game on the computer where you try to “balance a ball” by using the right and left arrow keys.  You have to keep watch of not just where the ball is but which way it’s moving and try to move it back toward the center without going too far or so fast that you cannot recover before it goes off the other end.  Perilous, difficult, requiring constant attention.  And you can never rest.

One might almost say “Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty.”

I need a Hero: A musical interlude

In moments of dark humor I will sometimes snark that unlike Jim Kirk, I do believe in the no-win scenario.  However, I also believe in heroes, those who stand against the overwhelming odds and sometimes even manage to pull victory out of the no-win scenario.

So let’s go sing of heroes.

On the lighter side, Heroes come in all shapes and sizes:

And bringing it around full circle, we have the group Van Canto, who style themselves as “Hero Metal” with Holding out for a Hero:

Scary stories

The late Kenneth Macgowan in “A Primer on Playwriting” said “We go to the theatre to worry.” This is true of all sorts of fiction, whether novels, short stories, movies, TV shows, or plays.  We read/watch/listen to these things in order to worry.  We worry about whether boy will get girl (or boy get boy, or girl get girl, or human get alien or…).  We worry about whether the “caper” will come off.  We worry about whether the hero will defeat the villain.  We worry if the unspeakable terror will devour the young ingenue.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the genres of “scary stories”–horror, thrillers, what have you.  For the space of our involvement with that fiction we can experience our fears, in a safe environment, and come out at the end safe and hale, having vicariously overcome them.  It can be remarkably cathartic.

I like scary stories, tales of ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggedty beasties and things that go bump in the night.  Unfortunately, so much of what I’ve seen misses the mark.  There are several common things that drive me away from a story, that get me to put the book down or turn off the program or even walk out of the theater.  They just…bleah.

So, here are my big pet peeves.  They are my  pet peeves, no one else’s.  Your mileage, as always, may vary.

First, “jump scares”. I don’t mind them used sparingly.  At the right point, they can be quite effective.  But, frankly, they’re easy.  Look, I have a strong “startle” reflex.  I don’t go a week without at least one good “jump scare” in my daily life.  In fiction?  They come across to me as cheap, lazy writing.  They’re easy building suspense through immersion is a challenge.  Having the monster, or just a cat, jump out of nowhere without warning?  Easy.

Second, over reliance of blood and dismembered body parts.  Make a big mess with fake blood, coils of intestines scattered about, various implements cutting/stabbing/drilling into people’s bodies?  Rotting corpses shambling across the scenery.  An easy “shock” scare.   The problem, of course, is that people soon become inured to any given level of blood and gore so you have to ramp it up.  More blood.  More body parts.  More graphic and violent deaths.  All to get the same effect.

Third, idiot plots.  When the plot requires that the characters be idiots for the plot to work just turn me off (and are likely to get me rooting for the monster). Any variation on “let’s split up” (however disguised).  Walls bleeding and disembodied voices saying “get out”?  I’m out of there.  Any place where you scream at the characters saying “don’t do that!” If you, as a reader/viewer can think they shouldn’t do that, then they should be able to figure that out too.  Oh, sure, you can finesse it a bit when the reader/viewer knows things that the character doesn’t.  An example would come from Brahm Stoker’s novel “Dracula”.  After Johnathan Harker hook up with Van Helsing and Company his new wife Mina is dismissed from their counsels in how to defeat the vampire.  By modern standards that would be a major faux pas, but in the setting of the novel and when it was written, that would be normal and expected.  We, unlike Johnathan, have seen what happened to Lucy.  So when the same things start happening to Mina, we know what they portend.  Johnathan, not having seen what happened to Lucy, reasonably does not.  And Van Helsing and company, aren’t seeing what is happening to Mina so they aren’t aware.  A mistake, but not a stupid one on the characters’ parts.  Very little turns me off a story more than stupid characters.

Fourth excess nihilism.  I hate stories where the situation is utterly hopeless.  The key is worry.  That requires the interplay between hope and fear.  And the hope has to be a rel one, not a “he only thought he had a chance.”  It’s one thing for themain character to lose because of mistakes he or she made(so long as they are not stupid mistakes; see above).  It’s another when they were going to lose no matter what they did.  Where there’s no hope, there’s no worry.  Where there’s no chance, there’s no catharsis.  There’s a reason that tragedies traditionally are built around the main character’s “tragic flaw.” Had they overcome their flaw (Hamlet’s indecisiveness, Macbeth’s ambition, Othello’s anger management issues, etc.) and chosen differently, they would not have reached that tragic end.  The same with a victorious ending.  Whatever ending has to come from the choices the character makes with the very real possibility that different choices would have led to a different end.

Now, maybe you like those things.  Maybe you like stories about idiots wandering through a hopeless situation filled with bloody violence and jump scares.  More power to you.  This is what turns me off a scary story, stories in general for that matter, but “horror” and “thrillers” seem to be particularly prone to them.

But when you have intelligent, capable characters, involved in situations where their actions matter and they have some control over their destiny, some agency, and you rely on craft to build suspense and tension rather than cheap theatrics, you can make magic happen.  You get results like Brahm Stoker’s Dracula or John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There.”

You get stories that can send a delightful shiver up the spine time and time again.