2013 in review

Posted: December 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,600 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 60 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

30 ain’t exactly a peach

Posted: November 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

This isn’t a Writer’s Block, it’s a Writer’s Fortress covered in barbed wire and turrets with missile launchers. And it’s on the other side of a moat. And a desert. And a minefield.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Last Wednesday–the day before my 30th birthday–I opened up my current writing project to find 3 pages missing. 3 pages. 3 pages that took nearly 6 hours to write. Nothing crucial, or so I thought.

The pages hadn’t saved, even though I saved and double-saved them. Not only were they gone, but it’s like they never existed. My computer claimed I hadn’t touched the file for days, which I knew to be untrue.

I know I wrote those pages. But, apparently, I have no way to prove it.

Whatever, I told myself. I’ll deal with it after I’m 30. I moved on with my day, partied hardy for my b-day, read, watched The Office, did everything to clear my head and get positive. Come back to the whole thing with a fresh outlook.

I have been trying to ‘deal with it’ for 3 days now. I have rewritten and re-rewritten this scene and it’s not coming out the way it was. Which I thought I could accept. Everybody remembers that moment in college when they didn’t save an essay and had to rewrite it on the fly. Somehow it always came out shorter, didn’t it? Just a paraphrase of all those great ideas you had in the original, just enough to get it turned in on time.

Like I said, I thought I could accept that. I told myself a billion times it’s never going to be the same.

I never thought it would completely derail me like this.

I go to the coffee shop and stare at an empty word document for an hour before going home. In the morning, I lay in bed and replay the sentences, the turns of phrase, in my head. I have all the pieces, I just for the life of me can’t remember how the puzzle goes together.

It’s heartbreaking. I feel like I had this really delicate ornament, one of a kind, and I dropped it from the Space Needle. And now I need to replace it before I can move on with my writing career.

I realize I sound like the world’s biggest diapey baby. It’s just a scene. It’s three f**king pages. Get it together. But it starts to get existential. This isn’t the first time this has happened. I seem to lose a crucial chunk of every story I get really into. The thing that keeps me up at night is it a ‘higher power’ issue–something cosmic or fated that says I can’t finish a book? Or is it worse? Is my subconscious keeping me from succeeding? Deep down do I want to be a failure for the rest of my life so my goddamn hand didn’t click save?

Am I not meant to be a writer?

It’s scary where the mind goes. The leaps it takes. But this is where I’m at. The characters sicken me, the plot makes me roll my eyes. I…I just don’t care all of a sudden. And I want to. I want desperately to want to give a shit again. I pray every night that I’ll wake up so motivated that a tank couldn’t stop me from writing. But it certainly hasn’t happened the last few days. I wrote 3 paragraphs in 3 days, and deleted the whole thing. I moved onto the next chapter and got 3 sentences deep before writing this blog.

How? How do I beat this? Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing–that’s the usual equation. Keep at’er and eventually the training wheels will fly off and you’ll just be pedaling on your own. But everyday it just feels so forced. Like I’m writing with a pen that’s out of ink, but I still need to make the words show up.

Have I forgotten how to ride the bike?

This is how it goes, right? Irony. I have all the time in the world to write right now. I’m on Day 3 of a 4-day break from work, something I’ve begged the Universe for. I was going to get so much done. I have 3 f**king sentences. Pretty soon I’ll be back to work 5 6 7 8 days a week and I’ll have all these great ideas and no time. It’s a cruel joke, man.

Or is it a sign to give up?

And then one day, the boy woke up and thought, My God…I’m 30.

30. 30. Tomorrow, I’m going to be 30.

Stories aside, that might be the scariest thing I’ve ever written.  Today is the last day of my 20s.

In years past, I’ve done a reflection On My Last Day of Being such-and-such age. Sort of a time capsule of where I was at that point in my life. There wasn’t much difference between them–reading the same books, watching the same movies, eating the same pizza–but that’s usually how it goes, isn’t it? Day to day, year to year feels like a lateral move, not getting older.

But 30? That’s a milestone, man. A major highway marker on the road of life. People younger than you give you that Wow-You’re-Old look, and people older than you give you that You’re-Supposed-to-be-an-Adult look.

When I was young, 30 seemed ancient. In the Wild West, it was ancient. You were weathered at 30. Seasoned. Seen it all.

Now…I don’t know. 30 is still young, isn’t it? Maybe. But that number still whispers things to me.

You’re not going back to college.

You need a real job.

You don’t want to be a server at 30, do you?

Get your act together.

How’s your savings account looking?

Now that I think about it, 30 sounds a lot like my dad. I was 5 when he was 30. He worked a tough job everyday, and so did his wife, so they could pay for their house and son.

Last week I decided I was going to buy myself the Star Wars saga on Blu Ray. Then I checked my bank account. I decided to pay my rent instead, and have some pizza and beer with my girlfriend.

To be fair, it was really good pizza.

A couple days ago, I read Joe Meno’s The Great Perhaps. It was about one month in a family’s life where things seem like they might fall apart. Near the end of the book, Jonathan, the father, says:

Did you ever think, when you were younger, that your life would be so hard? Didn’t you think things would make sense? That it would somehow be easier the older you got?

It’s just sometimes hard to get a hold on everything. Do you know what I mean? It’s like a million things all coming at you. It’s hard to know where to look sometimes.

There’s a reason I don’t usually read the realistic existential fiction stuff. But Joe Meno is easily one of the greatest writers on the planet right now. He will flip your switch.

But, after that one, it’s back to wizard books for me.  I made it a point to start reading Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear before my birthday, since it was my birthday present last year. It’s a sequel and everyone waited years and years for it. Then I get it for a present and I nearly put off reading it for an entire year. “Put off” isn’t the right term. Saving it, like the plates you have for when the president comes to dinner. Or that bottle of wine for when you get your next book deal.

29 wasn’t the worst year of my life, by far. (That was 2009, if I’m not mistaken.) I became a published author. I started (and ended) a podcast. I moved into a great apartment with a very wonderful–and very understanding–girlfriend. I started eating kale. I put together a resume I’m actually proud of. I submitted another manuscript to a publisher. I kept up on my blog (3 of’em, if you want to get technical). I paid my bills on time. I took my dad to the State Fair. I saw him and my grandma more times than I have in any other year. I did my laundry and paid my taxes.

Tomorrow, I’ll be having a nice dinner and some Irish Car Bombs. My hair’s thinner and I definitely need glasses. I find myself muttering I’m too old for this shit more often. My reliance on coffee is at an all-time high (and I actually like the taste of it). I doublethink everything I write. Or, more specifically, ask myself should I have written it. Should I write this? Should I write this?

Should I write?

So…I’m 30. Tomorrow. I’m older, not old. I wonder if there is such a thing.






Posted: November 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

November 1st. All Hallows. Arguably spookier than its eve.

Meh, not really. That’s something I delude myself into thinking so that I can try to stretch out the magic of Halloween, but it never really works. My friend and I used to get up early to see if we could see any spirits returning to their graves after a late night out, but this morning I just slept in.

There is a sort of gloomy funk that settles in the day after Halloween. You take down the decorations. You put away your copy of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. You look at the leftover candy bowl, gulp loudly, and think, Uh-oh.

It’s the Dehalloweenification Process. Happens every year. But this year I can’t really complain. I had a pretty fulfilling October.

For starters, Kate got the decorations up right on the 1st, so I had an entire month of eerie, all-out Halloween decor.

I gorged myself on pumpkin-everything, as planned. Check, check, and double-check!

Probably for the first time ever I watched ALL the Halloween movies I wanted to watch–

  • ParaNorman
  • Frankenweenie
  • Hocus Pocus
  • It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
  • The American Scream
  • Spooky Buddies
  • Trick’r Treat (a Halloween night tradition)

–not to mention I watched all The Office Halloween specials, a good chunk of Supernatural, and a little Long Island Medium, just for a good cry. Plus as I cooked Halloween dinner, I caught up on The Goldbergs‘ Halloween episode. That show is perfect.

What was Halloween dinner you ask? Spooky tacos, of course. I did spooky pizzas last year, but…I really wanted tacos. What made them spooky? Well, nothing really, although I was a little disturbed at how few leftovers there were.

Dinner ended up a little cold as Kate and I put our last-second decorations. The excitement that we might actually have Trick-or-Treaters this year really caught fire. Last year, we were out in the middle of nowhere. No Trick-or-Treaters…no ‘neighborhood’ for that matter.


So although the grub wasn’t piping hot, and Trick’r Treat was being constantly interrupted by our just-delivered-in-time wireless doorbell, it was nice to actually hand out candy to costumed kids. Hadn’t done that in years. If I haven’t made it clear: I love living in town.

Grand Marais really comes alive for Halloween. Initially, the town seemed devoid of decor, but out of nowhere, the town was little up with creepy displays. Screams and giggles echoed all through the neighborhood.

After the movie concluded, we hightailed it down to the Fosters’ Mustache Bash for some healthy snacks, a lot of laughs, and an…interesting photo shoot.


No comment.

Then I did something I haven’t done on Halloween ever. I went to the pub for a pint. Between having to work, not having the funds, or living too far away, that was something I’ve never been able to do. And even though it wasn’t the 1920s speakeasy of costumes and debauchery I expected it was, it was nice to cram another tradition into the last hour of Halloween.


Long story short, the Dehalloweenification isn’t as as bitter this year. I tackled all my old traditions, and started some new ones. I spent it with people. I spent it on the North Shore. I spent it alive.

So, I guess the only really scary thing about November 1st is that I’ll be 30 in less than a week.


Hell is: dreaming the real-time plot of a fifth Indiana Jones film (Starring both Harrison Ford and  Morgan Freeman) only to be woken up by your significant other’s tooth grinding. Grrrrrrrrr………..

So what am I doing up before 7 a.m. you ask?  Why, I’m outlining the movie of course. Luckily I have an outlet for these creative impulses. I knew I started this blog for a reason!

So, here we go.  My “treatment” for…


[working title]


Ext–Day–Australia, circa 1900ish

We open on a strange missionary church, built into cliffs along the ocean. This is Australia at the turn of the century. Inside the church, three missionaries–two women and a man–are unpacking boxes and making themselves at home in this rudimentary building. Lizards, snakes, large spiders; pretty much every poisonous denizen of Australia has come out to welcome the settlers.  As they try to clear the church of cobwebs and creatures, one of the women comes across a ragged doll with a bronze head. Thinking it may be worth something (and therefore required to be put into a fund for the church) she sets it aside for her next trip to town. The man, with a dubious look, snatches the doll, tears off the head, and examines it later under the scrutiny of candlelight.

The head is really a skull (like a Mayan version of C-3PO) and seems to whisper to the man. He pulls out a piece of parchment containing the name of a ship, a time, a strange brand, and directions to where the ship is docked. He takes leave of the church and dashes along the cliffs as stormy waters crash below, but not before he is discovered by one of the women.  She wakes the other and they both go after him.

The terrain becomes more treacherous, the waves more angry. Thunder rumbles in the distance. Desperate, the man ascends a steep rockface with the women on his tail. He is close to his rendezvous with the ship. As he reaches the last ledge, the skull starts to whisper to him. He takes it from his pocket. The women scream his name. The whispers grow louder. With a solemn nod to the tiny skull, he pockets the relic, takes a deep breath, and lets go of the ledge. In his fall, he clips the women, bringing all three of them to their doom.

Did they fall into the ocean? No. As the camera pulls away, lightning crashes, igniting a small island where their crumpled bodies landed. An island that looks oddly like the tiny skull…

Present Day–well, 1962–INT: Australian Pub

We find Henry “Mutt” Williams bellied up to the bar with his pal, Jesse.  Who’s Mutt you ask? Oh, come on. It’s Shia LaBeouf’s character from Crystal Skull, aka Indy’s illegitimate son. Sheesh.


This will be the biggest obstacle in getting this movie made. We’ve all heard Shia’s little tirade badmouthing Crystal Skull and how Harrison told him to shut his mouth. But if IJ5 is going to happen, we have to work with the source material, which means bringing back Indy’s son. Granted, he’s a little older, wiser, and hopefully going by “Henry” or at least “Hank” by now.

Seems Henry/Hank/Mutt has followed in his old man’s footsteps and is now a grad student externing in the field of archaeology, which is why he finds himself in Australia having a drink with his new pal, Jesse, a local also involved in a prestigious program.

(For the record, I think Jesse should be played by Bruno Mars.)

Singer Bruno Mars poses in the press roo

Okay, so the two boys have had a few and are trying to work up the courage to approach one of their fellow students–the very blond, very sexy Cara Inglebrook (who happens to be a bit of a Brit, doesn’t she? Brilliant! Unless you get me Rachael Taylor, then we’ll make her a local too).

After a few more rounds of boy talk, and Jesse saying, “If you don’t go, I will,” Mutt is finally feeling brave enough to approach Cara. He uses that inherent Jones charm to win Cara over, but neglects to tell her who he is–or rather, who is father is. Mostly because through talking to Cara, he finds out she is wildly intelligent, passionate about archaeology…and totally obsessed with the legendary Dr. Jones to the point where she bites her lower lip whenever he’s mentioned.

Cara and Mutt head back to the student housing. The student dormitories are built into the same cliffs as the old church, though nothing remains of the missionaries or their brief home. On the way back, they see something glinting in the moonlight beneath the water. Hoping to impress Cara, Mutt dives in to retrieve the metallic object. It’s a tiny bronze skull. He brings it up, gives it to Cara, and she brings him back to her place to dry his clothes and offer him a nightcap. While in her room, Mutt realizes how obsessed she is with the little relic, hoping its discovery will escalate her career. She elaborates about how much she wants to be a famous archaeologist like the Indiana Jones, how he inspired her, blah blah blah blah….

While Cara fetches his newly dried clothes, Mutt fingers the skull. He isn’t too impressed with it, nor does he recognize its origin. He squints at it, begins to hear a sound like a whisper, then quickly pockets it as Cara returns.

His plan? Make some imprints of the skull, send them to his father, let him solve the mystery of its origin, and use the factoid to impress Cara with his archaeological knowledge–without letting her know that he literally “got it from his old man.”

The next day, Mutt makes the relative notes and imprints and addresses them to Dr. Henry Jones, care of the University of California-Berkeley. Before he heads to the post office, Cara calls him. She sounds worried, she’s made a discovery about the tiny skull, only to find out that it’s missing! Feeling guilty and not wanting to ruin things with Cara over petty theft, he agrees to meet Cara at the pub where he’ll return the skull and explain the whole thing–including coming clean about who his dad really is.

When he gets to the pub, Mutt finds Cara being dragged into the back of a car. Seeing Mutt approach, she smartly codes her desperate pleas, not letting her assailants know that she’s actually giving Mutt secret instructions not to try anything and just run.

Mutt fights his fighter instincts. Cara is taken with a black bag cinched over her head.

Angry, scared, but not without his wits, Mutt first continues to the post office before he moves on to planning Cara’s rescue. But instead of just mailing the notes, he mails the whole bronze skull to his father.

Nearly back to the dormitories, right around the pub where Cara was nabbed, a frantic Mutt runs into Jesse. Mutt tries to explain what’s happening, but is not sure himself. He sounds like a demented conspiracy theorist. Jesse tries to calm his friend down with soothing tones. Mutt finally does calm down, takes a deep breath, and looks down the street to the post office. Then stares helplessly down the alley where Cara was kidnapped.

That’s when Jesse produces a black bag and cinches it over Mutt’s head with a furious grin.

Fade to black.

University of California, Berkeley–1962

Finally, we get to our titular character: Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones is now a tenured professor at UC-Berkeley. We see that he is surprisingly content in the role of “aging mentor.” His wild oats sowed, Dr. Jones new adventures are in the classroom, in the hallways, in chair meetings, and in his office in the Dept. of Archaeology. We see him in said office, finishing up advising a student. As the student leaves, he asks the professor about the dying nature of the industry, the fact that archaeology as Dr. Jones knows it is falling to the wayside. All the treasures have been discovered, all the temples have been mapped–what role could archaeology possibly play in the future?

Dr. Jones response is cut short by a snide answer from Dr. Elijah Hodges (enter Morgan Freeman), a fellow professor of Archaeology who explains that “if what Dr. Jones does can be called archaeology, then the field has been in trouble for a long, long time.”

As Jones grits his teeth in classic Harrison Ford fashion, he reaches for his desk drawer, revealing a glimpse of his infamous whip. He decides against a fight. All the while Hodges elaborates on the future of archaeology lying in technology, and “archaeologists” like Dr. Jones will just have to hang up their proverbial hat–or fedora?–and take their proper place in history books.

In this moment, we see Indy’s new arena: soviets and Nazis aside, Hodges and the politics of the department are Indy’s new enemy.

The student exits and the showdown between Hodges and Jones is cut short by Hodges explaining he just dropped by because some of Dr. Jones’ mail wound up in the wrong box. Hodges produces the package sent hastily by Mutt. Though no return address, it has clearly been opened.

Jones glares at Hodges.

Hodges says, “Oops.”

The argument reignites, but is quickly doused by Hodges telling Jones to just have a look at what’s inside. Jones examines the tiny bronze skull, turning it over in his hands. He rubs his thumb in a small notch at its base.

Hodges goes on: “The craftsmanship–the bronze–doesn’t fit the origin.”

Jones: “What’s the origin?”

Hodges: “Oceanic Aboriginal.”

Hodges’ career emphasis. How convenient. Annoyed, Jones digs out the notes Mutt included in the package, and for the first time he realizes it’s from his son. He reads over the basic notes and diagrams, then notices something strange written at the bottom of the page in a different ink and in a shakier handwriting.

Please hurry.

This is unusual. Jones’ relationship with his son has been strained to say the least–what could possibly warrant a message like that? Jones dismisses Hodges, and makes some phone calls, finally learning that his son is studying archaeology in Australia. He tries to make the arrangements for the trip, but finds that between his duties and his dry funds, he cannot make it happen.

Enter Hodges (again). We learn that the rivalry between the two stems from a grant that Jones recently lost to Hodges. A grant that Hodges agrees to split with Jones if he’ll take him with to Australia to uncover the mystery of the tiny skull. Jones feels like it’s a slap in the face, but finds it the only way to discover what is going on with his son.

Dr. Jones agrees to Hodges’ terms and becomes Indy once again.

Queue the music, show the plane with the red trail spanning the ocean, and bam! There’s your intro for a new Indy flick.

Yada, yada, yada. Fill in the blanks.

Indy and Hodges play off each other charmingly, reminiscent of Ford and Connery in Indy III, or the infamous Willis/Jackson team-up in third Die Hard. Their search for clues surrounding the skull takes place in the relatively small city of Port Hedland, gloomy and dreary, and is more detective-like than Indy’s previous adventures. But there is no shortage of danger, gunplay, and car chases–especially as Indy realizes his son has been kidnapped. All the clues point to a city completely owned by a mysterious corporation known as Cold Core. Everything from meatpacking to the cab services seems to be a division of Cold Core Inc, led by a handsome entrepreneur. We’ll call him Devlin.

(And, if you’ve been paying attention, the Cold Core insignia is strangely reminiscent of a certain emblem scrawled on a piece of parchment shown earlier in the film.)

The gist? The little bronze skull is a key, so to speak. It is part of a larger device–located among the ruins of the coast–that mills human bone into powder. It is an ancient machine for human sacrificing, used for centuries by early aborigines, although its true origin is unknown. What’s so special about the temple-sized machine, besides its mysterious origin? Maybe nothing.

But the belief is that a series of crystals and prisms seals the spirit of the sacrifice into the bones as the body is processed. Thus, the bone meal produced is the essence of life, and can be ingested by others to ensure power, stamina, and near immortality.

And, as we all know, with immortality comes great wealth.

How does Devlin fit in? Well, even though the device was used for centuries by the aborigines, the Bone Mill was taken over by the first British convicts brought to Australia in the 1700s. Why? To gain power over the primal aborigines there, giving them the chance to thrive, and colonize the wilds of Oceania.

Of course, the key to the device–the skull–was lost for centuries.

Perhaps the spirits want the device lost to the white man.  Could that be why all the self-sacrificing whispers lead to its hiding? Hmmm.

Devlin, however, doesn’t have time for all that superstition. He is a descendant of the original convicts and desperately wants to utilize the device for gain over the “contemporary savages,” ie, the rise in businesses owned and operated by aboriginal descendants that have become more popular with Aussies in recent years.

Long story short, it’s all a trap.

Devlin–and his young apprentice, Jesse–have devised a plan. Not to discover the skull, of course–they already found that. They just had to plant it where a certain thick-headed son would find it so that a certain famous father would get involved. And with the surprise involvement of Dr. Hodges, Devlin now has two of the most brilliant archaeologists in the world working towards finding the long lost location of the Bone Mill.

The deal? Jones and Hodges find the Mill and Devlin spares his hostages: Mutt and Cara.

The mystery, the search, and the deception all bottlenecks at the Bone Mill temple, an ancient system of gears and cogs that has been activated by Devlin. His first sacrifices? Mutt and Cara. Why make good on his word when he can try out his new toy instantly? While the device has been initiated, Devlin must still reach a point at the top of the Mill in order to activate the crystals and prisms. The final lever, so to speak, which also needs the tiny skull key.

So as Indy races Devlin to the top, via a series of swashbuckling ups and downs, Hodges tries to convince Jesse to turn against his boss. Yes, Hodges knows Jesse shares aboriginal blood and deep down, he knows the young man doesn’t want to see Devlin rise to the top of his people using the ways meant for his ancestors. Plus, you know, human sacrifices are just wrong, dude.

Jesse is convinced, frees Mutt and Cara and intercepts Devlin at the top, seizing the skull and knocking Devlin out cold. Time to escape. But Jesse turns back, intending to throw the proverbial switch anyway.


Jesse apologizes, and warns the others they better start running.  Indy, Hodges, Mutt, and Cara do exactly that.

That last we see of Jesse is him staring at the skull with a solemn nod. He hears the whispers too. Instead of attaching the skull to the lever that aligns the crystals and prisms, he attaches it to a different lever–the self destruct, if you will. The whole place is comin’ down.

Now the escape has really become an escape, as the others struggle to leave the temple alive.

They do of course, and all is well. Including the estranged relationship between Indy and Mutt. But so many questions remain, including who built the strange device so far ahead of its time.

Who are the real Guardians of the Bone Mill?


And more importantly, why do I dream in full movie plots?!

Obviously, this isn’t a real project (as much was we all want it to be) and all rights belong to Paramount. Or Lucasfilm. Or Disney. Just not me. Somebody else. I was just dabbling in their world.

But, Mr. Spielberg? Mr. Lucas? I’m more than willing to throw you a bone on this one.

What do you think, Indy fans?

a halloween warm-up

Posted: October 21, 2013 in Uncategorized


That was me dusting off this blog. Sheesh, you think you just worked on this thing yesterday and it turns out the last thing you wrote about was the State Fair and how hot it was?! Pathetic.

In my defense, I’ve been busy. This month has been busier than any this whole summer at my restaurant, thanks in no small part to the North Shore’s beautiful fall colors–and the fact that they actually stuck around this year. In years past, I would joke about the “leaf lookers” but this year they were a blessing. After a summer of monstrous families sweeping through the restaurant like a hurricane onto the next activity, it’s nice to serve people that are so relaxed sometimes I’m not sure they’re still breathing. But then they order another glass of wine and we’re back in business!

When I wasn’t serving my pants off–that…didn’t come out right–I was polishing up a piece for submission to Strange Chemistry.

It’s been tough, man. Fun and tough. From a purely technical standpoint, I’ve been combatting this habit I have of putting two spaces after a period. When did that become a thing anyway? As far as content, this story, in its complexity, is pretty far out of my wheelhouse. Whereas Mage was so far in my wheelhouse, it was scary.

Except that it’s about dragons. And I know dragons. But the third-person perspective, the alternating character POVs, and the setup/knockdown twists that are staples of mystery writing take time to navigate.

Oh, yeah, it’s a mystery, by the way. And a thriller. And a comedy. And urban fantasy. With dragons. About college. And loss. And sex.

Try to make a tagline for that one, right?

But, anyway, I got it submitted in time. And then this email came back:



And all of a sudden it was real. Really real. No more proofreads, no more touch-ups. If it’s not perfect, it’s game over. And if it is…well, then, I gotta cough up a full manuscript. Gamechanger.

So cross all your fingers, send good vibes, use the Force…whatever it takes. This is the big one, folks.

Long story short: all that writing, coupled with business, multiplied by my need to ‘get off the grid’ a bit took me out of the blog game.

Then something brought me back.

As I walked down to the coffee shop today, a crisp chill bit at my neck, causing me to tighten up my hood. Parched, yellow leaves skittered across the street, following me like an army of spider legs. A house groaned in the wind.

15951_642000204841_5454645_nIt’s October, baby! The greatest month of the whole year. All spooky, all the time–leading up to the greatest holiday of the year, Halloween. Even without presents, it still takes the proverbial cake. I remember the thrill of trick-or-treating around my hometown, visiting the haunted house that my 4th grade teacher would put up every year, and racing back home so that I could still hand out some candy at my grandparents’ place.

By the way, everyone should watch The American Scream on Netflix. If you’re not in Halloween mode yet, you will be after this.

Anyway, what a realized is that I haven’t been going as Grapenuts about this season as I have in years prior. For example, I usually get it in my head to write a scary Halloween story, walk around outlining it in my head, then never get around to it. This year I toyed with the idea of a “blog anthology” where all my favorite writer pals would spend the month crafting a short story that takes place on Halloween night, with my blog serving as the index.

Remind me that’s an awesome idea next year around the end of September, will you?

(PS, Writer Pals, I’m still game if you are. A li’l flash fiction action? Just sayin’!)

In a pinch, I suppose I do have my spookiest tale available online. If you haven’t read my novella The Plate in the Attic, this is a great time of year. Plus, your Kindle screen will act as a nightlight if when you get scared!

Another thing that jarred my October instincts, was working on my other blog–Oh yeah, I guess I was busy with that tooVoice of the Mountain. Last week, I wrote about all the best pumpkin-flavored things.

OHMIGOD I LOVE PUMPKIN!!1! I just spend October bingeing on pumpkin stuff to dangerous levels, then I spend 11 months trying to avoid the sight of it. It’s my greatest tradition.

This week, however, no more fun, games, treatsies, cakesies, or piesies. This week, on VotM, I’ll be turning the spooky dial up to 11. I’ve been collecting local stories of ghosts. As in, from the locals. These ain’t no souvenir t-shirt ghosts either. These are the real-deal-from-the-horse’s-mouth tales of bizarre supernatural goings-on.

I’m pumped. These are my roots, man. Ghost hunting, paranormal investigation. My true calling. Next week marks the 8th anniversary of the infamous Haunted Hall Stakeout where my best buds and I spent the night in the supposedly haunted building on campus to report our findings for an epic story for the college newspaper.

And to paraphrase Kell’s ominous phone call to his girlfriend that night: we got results.

It feels a little like destiny that Kell is visiting the North Shore this weekend, especially since I have my sights set on a new haunted building here in town. Perhaps a paranormal reunion is in order?

So that’s what I’ve got on my plate. What’s on yours? Any Halloween traditions you’re gearing up for? Movies you just have to watch? What is it you people do?!?!



a day in the sun

Posted: August 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

Where was I?  My hometown.  That’s right, queue it up:

I’ll be blunt: my job in the summer is a bitch.  You start to see large families as nests of newly-hatched birds.  Open mouths screeching for a worm split too many ways.  When that happens, it’s time for a break.  I make not a king’s ransom, so my reprieves from the endless waves of dining guests are few and far between.  But there is one tradition I try to keep burning, no matter the timing, no matter the burden on my wallet.

The Great Minnesota Get-Together.


It used to be our thing, me and my dad.  I’m not sure how many times in a row we actually did the State Fair, but it felt like something we always did.  So it pained me when I couldn’t afford to take the time off work, or didn’t have a vehicle to make the trip.  Last year, I decided that would never be the case again.

I can safely say, I stuck to this tradition for another year.  Yesterday, during a small pocket of vacation between shifts, I went to the State Fair with my dad.

Spoiler alert: it was awesome.  As always.  We showed up at the same time, parked in the same spot, hit up Machinery Hill first like we always do so my dad could explain how farming used to be done.  We downed some Nordeast just after noon.  We tried the best Coconut Macaroons I’ve ever eaten.  That’s what the poster said…and they weren’t lying.  We stuffed our faces with smoked turkey before perusing the mysterious oddities for sale in the Bazaar.  We sampled more Minnesota craft beers in the Agriculture building and had a lively conversation with a beer connoisseur where my dad learned more about beer than he had in his entire life.


This remains the one time a year my dad tries craft beers.

We ate gator meat and relished in the mist showers.  It was high 90s and heat warnings were all the rage.

We explored the 4H building and marveled at Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” made entirely out of seeds.

I watched 10 years carve away from my dad’s face.  For the first time in years, I think he needed this trip more than I did.  So, even though I didn’t eat anything on a stick, it was definitely worth the trip.  That, plus the Coconut Macaroons were breathtaking.

After a day in rainforest-grade humidity (without the shade), you’d think I’d be pretty beat.  Well, you’re right.  But I sucked it up so that I could kill another bird while I was in the Cities:  see a movie.  And not just any movie, I was on a mission to see The World’s End.


I wanted a funny movie.  I wanted to laugh to the point of tears.  And while I did have several good chuckles at the classic Wright/Frost/Pegg team-up project, it struck too close to home to send me completely into fits.  True, it’s a sci-fi comedy, but it’s also the story of a group of straight-laced friends being reunited by their black sheep buddy for one last night on the town.

The World's End

As I am often that guy in my group of friends, I related a little too much.  Pegg’s performance as an aging, down-on-his-luck party dude stuck trying to relive his glory days was both poignant and endearing.  I get it, man, I really do.

I saw the movie with Brett, an old pal that I see far too little.  He almost never sees movies, and catching him on the fly is next to impossible, but the stars aligned and I got to see my friend.  Exhausted and short, the post-movie chat was worth its weight in gold.  In an empty parking lot, overhead lights flickering amber, we talked about our lives, and our plans.  It was the same thing I’d been saying to other people for weeks, but I felt like I was finally banking it off the right backboard.

Then that was it.  My grandma sent me on my way with a full stomach and a prayer.  24 hours in the “big city” and I was roaring back to the North Shore.  I was in no hurry.  Maybe my foot was even stalling a little bit on the gas.

It felt good to get home.  In the usual way, I suppose, a return to normalcy.  A shelf for all your things.  Rather humdrum.

Nothing a Sister’s Place burger, a jar of wine, and good book can’t fix.  Belly full (again), I stopped at the post office, just for the ordinariness of it all.  And that’s when I found the package.

I knew what it was instantly.  I’d forgotten it was on its way.  My heart got fluttery, but it was nothing compared to the tears on my face when I opened up the box when I got home.

Two original G1 Transformers from the 80s.  Grimlock and Camshaft.


Yeah, it’s a little silly to get emotional over toys.  But these are Transformers.  You know me and Transformers.  And these are originals.  Crazy as it sounds, I don’t own any Generation 1 Transformers toys.  I had a few smaller ones back in the day, but those have all disappeared in my many moves over the years.  And I never owned Grimlock, king of the Dinobots.

I’m telling you: you haven’t felt anything until you’ve felt the striking cold of diecast metal on a toy for the first time in 20+ years.  Pure bliss.

I dunno, maybe it was the movie, seeing my family (that includes Brett), or just trudging up childhood memories, I felt like I sort of ‘woke up’ yesterday.  I’ve been on a pretty piss-poor spiral of doom-and-gloom lately.  Maybe I need to look on the bright side.

At the very least there’s always Transformers.




pop mythology

Posted: August 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

I’ll never forget my neighbor Lance telling me that he was learning Greek mythology in his 8th grade English class.  I was in 7th grade at the time.  Unfair.  As “cool kid” as he was, even he and his “cool kid” buddies couldn’t help but buzzing about the Greek gods and goddesses.  From the back of the bus, whispers of Zeus and Ares reached my ears.  I instantly became obsessed with Hephaestus, god of the forge.  The first Vulcan, Lance called him.

And I was very into Star Trek in the 7th grade.

I could hardly wait for the 8th grade and my turn to learn about the Pantheon, but by that time I was already a self-appointed expert in all things Greek mythology.  I even picked up a “Dictionary of Mythology” at a garage sale with my grandma–and I was surprised to learn that the Greek gods and goddesses weren’t the only deities out there.

Since then, my obsession for the gods has cooled a bit, although if I close my eyes, I can still see the burn of Hephaestus’ forge, hear the clank of his hammer against a fiery red coil of metal.  Thus, it doesn’t take much to reignite my passion for mythology.

It’s fascinating, isn’t it?  The role that mythology plays in early civilization?  And, just as interesting, the role it plays in current civilization.  Specifically, it’s rebirth in pop culture, books, and film.

Rather than explore this theme academically–this is a blog, not a term paper, folks–I figured I’d put together a Top 5 list of my favorite myths brought to life in pop culture.  And just so I don’t seem completely vain, I’ve decided to bank my choices off the favorites of another “Pop Mythology” expert.

Kelly Hashway, author of many books for a full spectrum of ages, recently released book #2 in her Touch of Death series, an adventure that draws heavily–and refreshingly–from the Medusa mythology.  Having just finished book #1, I can safely say Kelly is a Pop Mythology pro.

13326795Touch of Death is all about Jodi Marshall, a seemingly normal (and, dare I say, klutzy) high school girl that has a few firsts going on in her life: first public school, first boyfriend, first stalker, and first time raising the dead.

And Jodi’s not just ‘raising’ the dead either.  She’s making the dead too.  See, Jodi’s got some Gorgon blood in her, having descended from the bloodlines of Medusa, making her an Ophi–a natural necromancer born under the 13th sign of the Zodiac, Ophiuchus.

Clearly Kelly knows a thing or two about mythology in pop culture.  So here’s her list of Pop Mythology faves.  Click on the blurbs to find out a little more about each book–and maybe even a little about the inspiration behind Kelly Hashway’s Touch of Death series!







































Who doesn’t like the Percy Jackson movies?  I can’t wait to see Sea of Monsters…and I know for a fact that Kelly celebrated the release of Stalked by Death by hitting up that flick.

So I’m totally on board with Kelly’s picks.  If I had to throw my two cents in the ring, I’d say if you want to be a Pop Mythology master, you have to check out Eric Nylund’s Mortal Coils and the sequel, Everything That Lives Must Die.  Trust me, you’ve never seen gods and goddesses come together like this.  But in a close second comes K.A. Applegate’s Everworld series and that episode of Gargoyles titled “The New Olympians.”

In conclusion–okay, maybe this is a little bit term papery–I think mythology plays an important role in pop culture because of how essential it is to “worldbuilding.”  I mean, myths literally built society, and all the best books play off those myths–or invent their own!  As a writer, if you understand the building blocks of the world you’re creating, your setting will be all the richer.

Okay, students, so for the next class, make sure you pick up the required texts, Touch of Death and Stalked by Death by Kelly Hashway, and give her a follow on Twitter because she’s a hoot!



My other venture. Very proud of the tangent in Segment 4.

Originally posted on 2 Dudes in the Woods:

ep 8

Click to download this episode!

The Dudes knuckle up as the Fisherman’s Picnic descends upon the quiet little town of Grand Marais.  Neither mutants nor robots NOR old people NOR ‘Sconnies could stop this episode from packing an audio punch!  Cowabunga!

  • Dude Brews – A very special sampler pack from across the border in New Glarus, WI.
  • Fish Pic! What the Dudes are looking forward to (and fearing, in some cases) about the biggest Grand Marais event of the summer.  Even bigger than Wally’s birthday.  (Shocker!)
  • Wally News – now with even MORE penis news.
  • D2-5 – The premiere of a new segment turns into an in-depth discussion of all things Ninja: Turtles, weapons, hopes, and dreams.

Download “2DITW_ep8″


Simply Divine

Much like the Dudes this episode....

Much like the Dudes this episode….

Lookin' Good, MKA Studios

Lookin’ Good, MKA Studios

On the docket.

On the docket.


Striking resemblance

Mikel’s Radical Show Notes:

View original 42 more words

Though I’ve pondered this before, I always come back to the same question:  what is the human fascination with Mars?  Countless books and movies are set there, Earth receives their fictional visitors at least once a summer blockbuster, and real life missions are slated and scrapped, slated and scrapped–what is it about Mars that holds our imaginations more than Jupiter, Neptune, and Venus ever could?!

Well, needless to say, I share this obsession.  I seek out the Martian landscape whenever I can, scrounging up every piece of entertainment, hit or miss.  Luckily I struck on a hit with Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon.


When I first heard about this novel, I thought, A veterinarian in space? Awesome!  I’d been itching for a good YA sci-fi book for years, something that captured the youthful ‘galactic magic’ like Bruce Coville back in the day, but also gave me what I was really craving: aliens.

This book delivered all of the above, no question.  But I never expected the story I found on those pages.  And I’m still reeling.

On the outside, Zenn Scarlett is the story of a young heroine of the same name.  Zenn has all the usual struggles of a 17-year-old girl: homework, boys, and growing up too fast.

But then there’s that whole Working-with-Giant-Alien-Creatures thing.

Zenn’s training to be an exovet at a Martian cloister–basically an animal hospital for some of the bigger lifeforms populating the galaxy.  Headed by her uncle–who also happens to be her biggest critic/guardian pro tempore–the cloister has become Zenn’s housing, school, job, and hobby.  And thanks to growing civil unrest both galactic and domestic, lapses in the cloister’s containment units, and Zenn’s unusual “spells” during important operations, it hasn’t exactly been business as usual.  Something’s up.  Tensions have reached their boiling points.  And time is running out.

On paper, it might sound like a lot of tools, tech, and jargon.  But in practice, Zenn Scarlett is basically Little House on the Martian Prairie.  With a dash of Heinlein’s Red Planet and twist of Whedon’s Firefly, Christian Schoon still manages to present a unique version of Mars, complete with history and mythology, but with a toned-down take.  I was amazed by the subtlety of what could have been a textbook for Alien Anatomy 101.  Instead of heavy scientific expository, I was treated to gentle tugs at my heartstrings.  One of the most beautiful things about this book is that Zenn’s past is an absolute tragedy, but she never lets herself know it.  She takes everything in stride and checks her emotional baggage at the door of every operation she performs; the definition of courage.

Miyazaki, if you’re listening: this is your next animated adventure.  Zenn deserves a place among Sen, Arrietty, Nausicaa, and Kiki.  Everything about this book screams vivid watercolors.

I knew from the minute I read the back cover blurb, I had to see who was behind the mind of Zenn Scarlett.  Luckily, I managed to wrangle up the author himself, Christian Schoon, to talk a little shop, a little science, and perhaps finally get to the bottom of this Mars obsession…


Mikel Andrews: The man of the hour–Christian Schoon!  First of all, thanks so much for the opportunity to chat about your very epic debut novel, Zenn Scarlett.

Christian Schoon: It’s my pleasure, Mikel – being an author yourself you know it’s not that tough to get a writer to talk about his/her book (we’re all easy that way). So, thanks for letting me drop by and hang out at your blog-lair to ramble on a bit about Zenn, her world and how the process of writing the novel went.

MA: Anytime. Right off the bat, the first thing that drew me to Zenn Scarlett was the emphasis on the anatomy of alien creatures.  With how believably these creatures were depicted, I have to wonder if you have a background in biology, or veterinary tech–or was it all research?  And, on the writer side, how’d you handle that fine line between explaining and info-dumping these complex extraterrestrial critters?

CS: Bottom line re: the creature development is that I’ve been a science/biology/ evolution geek since jr. high – and a sci fi geek since about the 3rd grade (I think Rusty’s Space Ship by Lampman was where my addiction started). Plus, I wrote for a med school paper when I was in college, and I’ve been deeply involved with equine and exotic animal rescue organizations for the past decade or so, so I’ve interacted with a number of great veterinarians dealing with a wide range of mammals, reptiles and avians. I’ve also always been fascinated by the incredible complexity and engineering of living things. It’s stunning what a few billion years of trial-and-error augmented by natural selection can achieve, from socially advanced mammals like humans, primates and cetaceans right on down through the simplest viruses. As far as info-dumping goes, I just attempted to layer in the explanatory bits in digest-able hunks, and also let dialogue carry some of that weight. For instance, Hamish, the eight-foot-tall sentient insectoid sexton at the cloister, was a noob on Mars, so he became a natural conduit for Zenn to explain things.

MA: You definitely found a way to endear me to all of Zenn’s alien patients, but do you personally have a favorite species?

CS: Well, as far as the species in the book, I fall prey to the usual authorial position of “I love ALL my kids.” But I had a lot fun creating the rikkasets since they’re like little raccoons or tarsiers but with dexterous paws that give them the ability to communicate in sign language. And sunkillers are cool since they grow to an adult wingspan of 1,500 feet and have entire sky-villages and palaces built on their backs. And of course, the “stonehorses,” or lithohippus indrae, the immense, vacuum-dwelling creatures who’ve evolved to be able to tunnel through the space-time continuum and, because of that, are harnessed by humans and others to propel vast starliners between the planets of the Local Systems Accord. I guess a big part of making these critters credible is by getting fairly specific as I sketched out bits of their evolutionary history and the environmental niches that they evolved to fill. It doesn’t take a lot of technical detail to achieve this, more like dropping hints that clue the reader in to the fact that they aren’t “monsters” or just random animals, but that they have this ecological/planetary history behind their development and that there are good reasons for them to have the forms and characteristics that they have.

MA: I was a big fan of “Rasputin.”  In that terrifying nightmare kind of way….

CS: Yes, he was a later addition to the story when it became clear that Zenn needed an additional obstacle to overcome near the end of the book. So, a 30-foot predatory centipede topped by a tarantula-like fore-body with venom-dripping mandibles seemed like a good idea.

MA: So after the aliens, the second big draw of Zenn for me was the setting–Mars–although, I must say, I found your version of Mars to be really unique.  Do you agree that there’s just something about Mars that captures human interest like no other when it comes to Sci-Fi?  Do you have any favorite Mars books or movies that inspired you to set the book on the Red Planet?

CS: Yes, I think it’s safe to say Mars has a hefty grip on Earthly imaginations, dating back to the Babylonians, Greeks and then Romans, and their early identification of the red planet with blood, violence and war. Then, closer to our own time, as soon as we understood Mars was something like Earth, we instantly started to populate it with all manner of races and tech, some benign, some not so much. My own early bookish explorations of the planet came from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars swashbucklers, and to a lessor extent, Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles (though his conception of Martians was always a little nebulous for my literalist taste…). My own take on the planetary environment led me to propose an alternate approach to terraforming the place. So, my colonists live only down in the deeper valleys, like the Valles Marineris. Using barymetric ion generators, they “roof over” their valleys with a thin, translucent layer of ionized molecules that seals in a breathable atmosphere; this lets sunlight through, but retains the necessary air and humidity to allow them to live on and farm the valley floors.

MA: What’s your “Mars Movie Guiltiest Pleasure?”  It’s Total Recall, isn’t it?

CS: I did like both versions of Total Recall (even Arnold’s) but as you might have picked up on from the last question, I have to make a stand and say I think John Carter was a much better film than the critical sniping it endured. It was a popcorn flick, after all, and I was fine with that. But my very favorite film on the subject is a great old 1964 classic called Robinson Crusoe on Mars. Features an astronaut and his spider monkey Mona stranded on the planet and being forced to survive. When I was a kid, I wanted to be that guy… Hell, if Mars was like they set it up in the movie, I’d still like to be him. (and maybe Mona is the prototype for Zenn’s rikkaset Katie).

MA: John Carter definitely got a bad rap! Definitely with you there! That’s not all we have in common though–we both grew up in a small Minnesota towns. Small world!  How did that setting for you play into the vast setting for Zenn?  Or into you being a writer in general?

CS: Archetypal Midwestern small-town Luverne, MN, was really a solid place for a kid to come of age. A nice balance of town vs rural pursuits, and a school that was small enough that I could be a geek, plus play sports, plus play in a rock band, plus be a class officer, plus act in school plays; so, not limited to just one clique, etc. And my mom taught English at the high school (tho I never had her as a teacher), so I had an early influence in my life telling me to appreciate books and writing and language. Then, for my senior year of high school I was a foreign exchange student. Spent that year in a town outside Stockholm, Sweden, so that also figures in as far as widening of horizons. (I basically left Luverne a Republican but came back a hard-core anti-war hippie. Ch-ch-ch-chaaaanges…)

MA:  Full disclosure, I’d really like to see an art book for Zenn Scarlett.  Any plans for something like that?  You could call it The Art of Zenn!  Boom!

CS: I love the idea, and the title. Or maybe: Zenn and the Art of Megafauna Maintenance. Perhaps this is a project for a little further down the line…

MA: I’d even take some high-quality napkin sketches at this point.  Those creatures were so awesome–I’d love to see how you see them!

CS: I used to do some sketching, drew advertising illustrations for a semester, did the poster art for the bands I was in, but never really pursued it. Still, I agree that it would be fun to get some images on paper. If I do, I’ll route them in your direction!

MA: Excellent! Cleverly-named art book aside, can you give us a hint of what’s next?  After finishing the book–and having it take a turn I didn’t see coming, by the way–I at least need to know we haven’t heard the last of Zenn Scarlett!

CS: Well, fortunately, when Angry Robot’s YA imprint Strange Chemistry signed me, it was a two-book deal. So, Zenn’s adventures will continue in the follow-up novel, titled Zenn Scarlett: Under Nameless Stars. I’m tweaking it now. Should be out first part of next year. I’ll be sure and have my editor check in w/ you if we do a blog tour!

MA: That would be amazing! Well, thanks again for shooting the breeze about your girl Zenn, Christian.  Really can’t wait for your next project, whatever it may be.

CS: As I said above, always more than willing to talk about the red-head who showed up in my imagination one day clad in oversized coveralls and perched on the snout of a very large marine predator. Thanks again for letting me stop in – cheers to you & your readers!

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