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Read an e-Book Week


It’s that time of year, again. Desperate to pump a little neural activity through our freezing brains, the Powers That Be have created, “Read an E-Book Week.” You may gasp, if you wish. It’s a concept that so simple, so inspired, and so very quiet that you may wonder how you ever thought you could get through the winter without it. Well, you don’t have to wonder any longer.

In order to promote this event, a number of sites such as Smashwords are running specials or sales on e-Books. Here’s the idea. During this week, browse the selection and fill your virtual squeaky-wheeled shopping cart with all of the e-Books you can grab. Many of those listed this week are either free or substantially discounted, so you can horde to your heart’s content.

During this week only, my novel, Reality Challenged, will be available at Smashwords for 50% off. Use the coupon code, RAE50 when checking out to get the discount. While you’re at it, you might want to grab a couple of free short stories, The Imaginary Invasion and Humanity Was Delicious as well.

There are a lot of great books available on this site as well as on many others. Whatever e-Books you decide to download, I hope they keep your brain warm throughout the cold nights ahead. I recommend stockpiling a healthy supply of them. After all, thanks to a rather unstable groundhog, we have six extra weeks of winter this year. On an unrelated note, I suspect that you might find a larger number of cookbooks featuring groundhog recipes this year. If you decide to cook one of them, try to keep the squealing to a minimum. I’m reading. Thanks.

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Time Travel & Brains

To be or not to be is not the question. Instead, the question might be more like, “To be, not be, to have been but have ceased to exist, to never have existed until only recently long ago, to soon never have not been except when one wasn’t, or to not mis-unbe sometimes?” Let’s face it. Time travel is twisty and it injures verb tenses. There’s a simple reason for that. Our brains have difficulty bending in certain awkward poses in order to reach those neurons.

When I think of writing a story with a time travel element, my brain ties itself in knots trying to decide which theory of time travel the characters will encounter. Will they travel back to change the future only to discover that the attempt to alter the past is the very thing that ensured the development of the future they sought to avoid? Is time fluid, so that the future is always in flux and the slightest deviation can have massive impacts? Is the timeline tamper resistant, ensuring that the same outcome will occur even if past events are modified? Do deviations in the timeline create multiple universes? Can my future self travel back and unwittingly trigger a series of events that prevents me from existing, thereby erasing himself? Is there such a thing as a “present” inside a time machine? Would future civilizations use time travel as the ultimate prison by sending convicts into ancient hostile territory to be eaten by dinosaurs? What are the ethics of time travel? Is it morally right to change the past in order to “fix” the future when doing so might negatively impact other people? If it is decided that altering the timeline is wrong, how would we know that someone else hasn’t already messed it up? Would a future Dystopian society poach on the past, snatching victims and bringing them to a terrifying future, thereby causing the collapse of their own civilization by time-napping a pivotal person from their time? When someone travels in time, is the “present” the time the traveler left or is it the time in which he ends up in the past? We always think of the past as fixed and the future as being unknown, but what if the future was set and there were nearly infinite numbers of possible pasts that would all resolve into the single fixed and unchangeable future?

It doesn’t take long before my brain falls off the couch in an undignified manner and needs to spend the rest of the afternoon resting. The English language is no help, either. Attempting to express these ideas leads to impossibly twisted sentences that eat their own tails in self-defense. Villains will offer threats like, “Soon, you never will have existed,” or , “Someday, I will always have gotten away with it, too, since it soon will not have been for those darn kids.” It’s hard not to trip over those lines. After a paragraph full of them, the mind has a tendency to wander off to see what is on TV.

This is why Zombie stories are (almost) always set in the future. The Zombie Apocalypse is never set in the past because deep down, we know better. I mean, the challenge of time travel is the brain bending mental gymnastics one must perform in order to make sense of it all. What is it that zombies crave? Brains. Is that a coincidence? I don’t think so. Why don’t we see time travelers running around changing the timeline now? Perhaps it’s because they’re all in the future, shuffling aimlessly in search of brains. If I’m wrong about this, someone from the future will come back and correct me before I post this.

I rest my case.

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A Practical Use for Jazz Hands

Is there one? I mean, what possible practical, pragmatic function do Jazz Hands serve? You know what I’m talking about, right? In all of those musicals, dance routines, and somewhat embarrassing “Bring your Parent’s to School” days, someone inevitably whips their arms out and shakes their outstretched hands while emoting a horrific fake grin. What’s with that?

I was thinking about practical uses for artistic skills when my brain tossed Jazz Hands at me. Thought Process Derailed. Could it be used as a defensive mechanism? I don’t think so. Striking a pose in front of a tiger and shaking your fingers is universally seen by all predators as saying, “Eating this one poses no risk to you whatsoever.” Could you use it to signal for a cab? You wouldn’t do so twice, that’s for sure. It’s well known that Jazz Hands are considered one of the legal exceptions to the prohibition against running people over on the sidewalk. Bagpipes are another one. Who could get away with using Jazz Hands in the normal course of their day? Wrestlers? That would not end well. Construction workers? Prepare to set that “Accident Free Days” counter back to zero. Physicists? Some think that black holes sprang into existence just to erase all traces of this behavior. Politicians? Ok, that’s one career where Jazz Hands would make no difference whatsoever.

The point is that there is no possible positive use for this activity. It makes no sense. It doesn’t produce anything, convey information, or provide meaningful directions to the nearest rodeo. So, why does it exist? In our pragmatic and utilitarian society, why does this silly, campy, whimsical and utterly pointless exercise still remain? Why hasn’t it vanished from our collective consciousness into the distant past like buggy whips, smoke signals, and basic math skills? Taking this a bit further, is there any reason at all to allow such a nonsensical and impractical waste of energy like the Arts to exist in today’s culture?

I mean, is there another reason besides the fact that silly artistic expressions make us more human? Okay, they can also produce laughter, expand our minds, and brighten the world around us. Other than that, however, is there any point? Alright, if we disregard the part about how the Arts define, unify, motivate, warn, encourage, inspire, and liberate us, why keep them around? If we completely ignore the fact that the Arts encompass the full range of humanity’s expression of what it truly means to exist…

I guess Jazz Hands have a use after all.

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Get a (Fictional) Job

People have stuff. That guy over there has stuff. The woman in the SUV has her own stuff. Kids staring through the classroom windows have stuff. Sometimes, you look around and wonder, “How did this happen?” You might even ask, “How can I get stuff?”

If there’s one thing we learn in this world, it’s that getting stuff requires some amount of effort. Some people may need to expend more energy than others, but that’s the Law of Stuff. No, that’s not fair and equal. It’s not always fun or entertaining. It may not fulfill one’s personhood. In order to get stuff, one needs to get a job.

Hey, even fictional characters are subject to the Law of Stuff. Somebody has to blow up the massive space station before it can destroy the rebel base. Someone has to guide those furry footed characters through the wilderness in an attempt to destroy some special jewelry. When everything is falling apart, the enemy is closing, and almost all hope is gone, somebody has to give the captain a wee bit more power out of those engines. That blue box isn’t going to fly itself, you know. Being the lord of the jungle is not all fun and games. Somebody has to escort this guy through the zombie horde. I’m sorry, but somebody has to wear the red shirt in this landing party.

Just like real people, some fictional characters are defined by their careers. It might be difficult to picture them doing anything else but their “proper” job. What if that barbarian decides that a career as a mid level manager in an insurance company might be more fulfilling? A starship pilot might dream of someday owning his own ostrich ranch. A mad scientist may tire of blowing up his lab and decide to abandon world conquest in favor of working at a phone kiosk at the mall. If these characters change what they do, will it change who they are? (My characters hate it when I start asking those questions because it usually means that they’re about to get a call from HR.)

So, when fictional folks start complaining about their lot in life, I just remind them that we are all subject to these pressures. I empathize with them and assure them that I understand. I help them analyze their feelings on the matter. I offer the best advice I can give. In the end, I wish them well, and tell them to go get a (fictional) job. It’s the Law of Stuff, you understand. That’s how it works.

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People say that they love surprises. I’m not so sure. I think it depends on the nature of the surprise.

Many years ago, when I was in my teens, our community was foolish enough to allow my friends and I to create a “haunted house” for a Fall Festival. More accurately, it was a Barn of Surprises. Now, we lived in a rural area and we had an intimate knowledge of barns. While none of us was into Halloween gore, we loved practical jokes. The best jokes always included a surprise element, something that no one would see coming.

We didn’t have any budget for this event, so we used materials readily on-hand, including a local farmer’s barn. This particular barn featured several empty stalls and small rooms around the periphery and a 2-story stack of hay bales in the middle. It was perfect. We created scenes for each room and stall, with a path that would lead “guests” through the barn. Since we were all adept at stacking bales, we created an elaborate tunnel through the stack. There was enough room to crawl, single-file, through a narrow tunnel made of 60 pound bales. After a couple of turns, one would have to explore the tunnel completely blind. That’s where we planned a surprise.

Night fell and guests arrived. We waited until we had enough people to begin the tour. Our victims were led inside, where they were treated to a few rather obvious “scary” elements. People laughed and relaxed, thinking this would be pretty tame. In a room in one corner of the barn, we had placed an old tub filled with red water and a willing volunteer. She kept her eyes closed and lay still, with water up to her neck. We kept the walls clear around the tub so that people would walk around her to get to the door on the other side of the room. Along each wall, there was an open window. Everyone expected the tub-girl to lunge or splash them, so they slowly backed up against the wall and stepped sideways to get around her.

That’s where I came in. I was waiting outside a window until several people had passed by. A few young girls slowly crossed in front of the window. Everyone in the room was fixated on the tub, expecting the inevitable lame attempt to startle the unwary, so no one saw me. I selected one in the middle of the pack, reached in, grabbed her around the waist, and yanked her out of the window.

The screaming inside the barn lasted for several minutes. My victim thought it was hilarious and I brought her back so she could catch up to her friends. After another couple of rooms, the guests were informed that the only way out of the barn from that point, was to enter The Tunnel. We explained that we had created a path through the hay bales they could crawl through and that it was perfectly safe. We could hardly contain ourselves as they lined up and crawled inside.

Everything had led up to this moment. You see, one of my friends had come up with an idea to add a little something extra to the tunnel. He had rigged up several thin strips of raw liver (yes, liver) on strings to hang across the tunnel. We had placed these slices of joy deep within the darkest part of the tunnel.

So, when you’re crawling on your hands and knees through an enclosed mass of hay, there’s no room to turn or let someone else go ahead of you. You can’t stand up because there are dozens of bales over your head. You can’t back up because there are people in your way. When you crawl through a tunnel and encounter an obstacle, such as strips of slimy liver hanging in mid-air in the darkness, you hit it with your face. Oh. Yes.

We knew when the first person encountered our surprise from the screams. Each face that enjoyed it added screams of their own. One by one, our guests fled the tunnel, pausing only to wipe their faces and shudder. When we told them later what that substance was that had slid across their exposed faces, the screams were deafening.

My friends and I enjoyed our little surprise immensely, but our guests did not appear to love it as much as you might think. In hindsight, it would appear that one’s enjoyment of a surprise depends largely on one’s perspective. Oddly enough, we were not invited to participate in the festival in subsequent years.

I know. We were surprised, too.

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A Glimpse into the Future

I’ve posted a draft of Chapter One of Blithering Genius, the sequel to Reality Challenged on Wattpad. A number of people have been patiently waiting for the new book, so I thought I’d give a sneak peek at the future.

As any time traveler will tell you, the future can be changed. Well, that’s not entirely true. Some time travelers claim that the past is malleable and the future is fixed, but I never know if they’re just messing with me. Anyway, the point is that the book is not yet finished, so some changes are possible. At least, from the perspective of this current point in time that’s accurate, unless you hold with the B Theory of time. In that case, I suspect that you would say that the book will have always been finished and all of the possible changes will have always continuously been made. I would also guess that you spend a great deal of time arguing with yourself.

…But I digress (will always have digressed?).  Blithering Genius continues the story of a horde of trans-universal travelers who have been scattered in strange new universes. There are psionic fish, doppelgangers, tiny spiders, dungeons, and paranoid computers. To make matters worse, there’s a problem with some hair. To be more accurate, the hair is a genius. Well, it’s an evil genius, and it’s responsible for the breakdown of Time. Time, as you might guess, is not amused.

For those who have wanted to see what’s going to happen next, I’m happy to present the first chapter. Feel free to let me know what you think.


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Duh Matter

It’s not often that I venture into solving physics problems. Well, it’s rather rare. To be more specific, this would be the first time. Many physicists would argue that it still has not happened. Some who support multi-universal theories may disagree and say that if I have actually solved this issue, the universe that contained that possibility would break off from the multiverse, fold in upon itself until it could be expressed in zero dimensions, and hide in shame. I appreciate their support.

Here’s the issue. Physicists will argue themselves silly over the proof (or lack thereof) of Dark Matter. You see, dark matter is a theoretical “thing” that is inferred by observations of this undetectable mass’ gravitational effects on recognizable things like visible matter, radiation, and the universe itself. Some cosmologists theorize that dark matter plus dark energy comprise more than 95% of the total content of the universe. (Critics say that this is what happens when scientists take practical jokes too far.) Theories about dark matter and dark energy arose based upon observations of something that could not be observed directly. Instead, we have observed how top scientists from around the world have beaten their extremely impressive brains against the very fabric of the universe (which they would say may be approximately 95% dark matter/energy) in an attempt to observe the effects of the thing that cannot be observed.

In their attempt to peer into the furthest reaches of the universe for the answer, they forgot to look right here. No, I mean here on Earth. You know how you feel when you search everywhere and finally ask for help to find your glasses and then you find them on your head? It’s a bit like that.

So, here’s where I think they went wrong. They forgot to factor into their calculations the impact of humanity on the universe. I call this impact, “Duh Matter.” According to my observations, individual human beings give off massive amounts of Duh Energy. When humans congregate in large numbers, the output of duh energy increases exponentially. Some Bubbas speculate that duh energy would need to have a strong negative pressure in order to explain why the rest of the universe is so anxious to get away. Duh matter, on the other hand, is an attractive force with a strong positive pressure. This would explain why certain pastimes enjoy such popularity. As large numbers of humans gather to enjoy this brainless fare, massive amounts of matter are converted to duh energy, thereby forcing the universe to expand out of a sense of self-preservation and self-respect. The combination of duh energy and duh matter produce the observable gravitational effects which used to be attributed to dark matter.

I know. It’s a little embarrassing. I mean, it was so obvious. I’m sure that someone else would have figured it out eventually. If I didn’t know better, I might think that claims by certain scientists that my theory clearly demonstrates the power of “Duh” may not be an endorsement.


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Humanity Was Delicious

Well, it was. Sorry.

I should probably start at the beginning. On second thought, I don’t think we have enough time for that. Ok, here’s what you need to know. A group of independent science fiction/fantasy authors came together on the Goodreads website to produce an anthology of short stories. They called their creation, Wyrd Worlds and then someone ate all of the bacon. A few months ago, a strange fog descended over the group and they decided to fry up more bacon and write a sequel. Well, some of them focused on the bacon. In a flash of creative genius, they named the second anthology, Wyrd Worlds II.

Here’s where the carnage comes in. I was minding my own business, writing about a farmer who confronts aliens, when another story crawled out of my subconscious mind. It demanded to be written. More accurately, it described how I might taste if I declined. It turns out, I’d have a hickory smoked bacon flavor. After careful consideration, I decided that the original story could be postponed. Instead, I found myself writing the story of the werewolf who ate the last human on Earth. It would have been easier without a lycanthrope trying to read over my shoulder. The warm breath behind my ear didn’t help my concentration.

Anyway, I contributed Humanity Was Delicious to the Wyrd Worlds II anthology primarily out of self-interest and the desire to avoid hearing the details of more recipes. For the record, if any exceptionally furry person ever offers you a scoop of ice cream filled with liver slivers, you are at the wrong ice cream truck.

Wyrd Worlds II is available now on the Smashwords web site for free. It’s an excellent opportunity to discover new authors and fantastic tales. Within the next few days and weeks, Wyrd Worlds II will be available for free on other eBook sites as well. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to enjoy last year’s collection, Wyrd Worlds is also free on all the normal eBook sites.

For those who download and read these books, I’d love to hear your feedback. Oh, and there’s a certain werewolf who would appreciate it if we would all eat a lot more bacon. I’m already on it.

Wyrd Worlds II is available at: iBookstore Scribd Smashwords Txtr

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Time Spiders

Einstein meant to include this in his Theory of Relativity. He had it all worked out. He spent countless hours diagramming the complex physics and simplifying the concepts for ordinary mortals. Unfortunately, someone cleaned his chalkboard and the proof vanished into chalkdust. Some reports say that when he walked in and saw the bare chalkboard, he had a screaming fit, scribbled, E = mc2, and yelled, “Fine! This is close enough!”

What he meant to say was that time also slows as one approaches a spider web. Oh, you may not notice the effect with those wispy thin cobwebs. On the other hand, test subjects have reported a substantial time dilation effect when walking face first into massive, sticky, high tension webs. To an outside observer, the subject’s hysterical flailing (usually accompanied by a high pitched squeal of terror) appears to move very quickly. In many cases, the event may be documented and posted on the Internet before the subject’s breathing has returned to normal. From inside the web, however, the experience is somewhat different. The extent of the time dilation varies depending on the amount of web that ends up in the test subject’s nasal cavities.

There’s a very simple reason for this phenomenon. Spiders are Time’s minions. Time can’t be expected to do everything herself, you know. To save time, she’s outsourced some of the menial tasks to arachnids. “Why does it have to be spiders,” you ask? I’d like to say that the answer is philosophically profound or meaningful. The fact is that they also are uniquely talented as back-scratchers.

You know how much you love a good back-scratch? Yeah. Just imagine having hundreds or even thousands of tiny spiders crawling all over and scritching away…

You’re welcome.

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Preparing for an Alien Abduction

We prepare in advance for all sorts of things. We may take an umbrella on cloudy days. Filling up the tank before running out of gas seems like a good idea. Before pulling out onto the highway, we will sometimes have an idea of where we are heading. We check our insurance coverage before going to Spain to run with the bulls. Before sitting down to that big holiday feast, we wear the pants with the stretchy waistband. We call this type of thoughtful planning “Common Sense.”

By that logic, it only makes sense to prepare for an alien abduction. Sure, the likelihood of such an event may be rather remote, but that fact may not be reassuring once you’re in the mothership. So, how would you prepare? What would you pack?

Do you attempt to arm yourself? How effective do you think human weapons may be against an advanced civilization with sufficient technology to leap across the void of space to bag you? Would they disregard your attempt at self-defense, or would you provoke a hostile response?

Would you pack some water and snacks? I mean, convincing them to pull over at the next fast food joint on their way back to Flerbnit 7 may be difficult. I’m sure they may think that Quinvarbigum Fire Slugs are a fine delicacy, but I’d rather have a bacon cheeseburger.

Do you load up with electronic copies of the finest artistic and scientific achievements of the human race? Would aliens prefer Beethoven or Mozart,  Da Vinci or Picasso, ballet or contemporary, Hawking or Einstein? I have a sneaking suspicion they’ll love mime.

I think that loading up with books and movies about repelling alien invasions might be considered unfriendly. Likewise, tales of friendly aliens coming to help humanity might be viewed as wacky comedies. In addition, providing aliens with all of our best ideas for how to deal with an alien invasion could be tantamount to treason.

That’s why I am stocking up on tales of fantasy. Watch their eyes curl as they try to make sense of Alice in Wonderland.  I’ll sport rings on every finger while they read Tolkien. That should blow their toenails. I’ll try not to giggle when their faces turn inside out after studying Edgar Allen Poe. Top off the evening with an episode of  BooBah, and they’ll beam me home with a polite apology before fleeing back to the safety of the nearest civilized star system.

So far, the plan is working splendidly.

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