Monday, September 16, 2013

The joy of laughing out loud

I laughed out loud at least twice this weekend. It was a good weekend.

One LOL came during the Saturday night news when the news reader breathlessly reported, "Green Bay police are looking for three men after robbing a man at gunpoint last night." From the context I understand that three men held up a man Friday night, and police hope to arrest them, but (tears of laughter streaming down my face), that's not what she said.

The other LOL has to be heard to be appreciated, so without further ado, click here:

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The New Adventures of Myke Phoenix

“The universe shifted, and something dark burst from a yawning crack in the nature of being.” And with those words, the adventures of Myke Phoenix began.

A bit of an homage to all of the tropes and formats that have kept me spellbound for decades – comic books, pulp heroes, TV, movies, science fiction, superhero tales – Myke is a crusading journalist in his day job who occasionally swaps bodies with a super-powered ancient warrior named Mychus in order to battle the more challenging challenges facing Astor City, a growing metropolis. We’re not talking challenges like urban sprawl or budget restraints, of course; we’re talking giant spiders and alien invasions and a talking dinosaur bent on world domination, the kind of challenges not easily addressed by a stern editorial.

Myke Phoenix first came to me around 1990 and urged me to share his stories in a regular (monthly?) magazine, comic-book-length stories but told in text form like the old Shadow and Doc Savage stories. I completed four stories and started several others, but self-publishing was an expensive and complicated process in those days, and the stories and the idea sat on the shelf until 2008, when I finally printed The Adventures of Myke Phoenix.

The start-and-stop process of continuing those adventures finally bore fruit earlier this year with the release of The Song of the Serial Kisser and Firespiders, which pick up our story 18 years later in present-day Astor City. I am now in a position to unveil to the world that those are the first two installments of a 12-story arc full of adventures the likes of which, I hope, will
thrill and delight not only those who have been thrilled and delighted by our story thus far but a new generation of enthused Mykelings.

As these breathless words are written, I have a general map of the journey Myke and his friends will be making over these 12 stories and a plan to commit them to words over a specific time frame. The plan involves resuming the story in January with the terrifying Invasion of the Body Borrowers, followed not long afterward by the suspenseful Night of the Superstorm, and then the surprising Duck Man of Astor City, and after that by the long-awaited and near-legendary story called – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

As the story proceeds, we’ll also be following along with audio editions of each episode, for those of you who’d rather listen to stories than stare at your Kindle all day. I plan to release the first two audiobooks in early November and early December, respectively. Then watch for the simultaneous release of the ebook and audio versions of Invasion of the Body Borrowers and subsequent episodes.

Also coming this fall will be a new print edition of the original Adventures of Myke Phoenix, which is currently available only for Kindle. The new edition will include the first appearance in print anywhere of Song of the Serial Kisser as a preview for the new adventures.

If you want to keep updated on the progress of these projects, just send me a note to with the words “Myke Phoenix” in the subject line. I’ll be starting a conversation and sending out occasional emails chronicling the adventure of preparing these adventures, including early alerts when firm release dates are set. (P.S. I won’t share your email or anything about you with anyone else. The only purpose here is to keep you informed about this endeavor.) I'm also relaunching the Myke Phoenix Facebook page for more frequent updates.

I am excited to be diving back into the amazing world of Mychus the Warrior and his friends. You may not be quite as excited as I am, but you will be. You will be!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Coffee and conversation go a long way

I sat across the table the other day from a friend with whom it turns out I disagree regarding the solutions to national and world problems. We each had a cup of good coffee in our hands, and that was the beginning of an agreement.

I have found that our disagreements are over the solutions to the challenges we face, not in our core values. The tea partier and the socialist agree that it is bad for people to go hungry, that it is bad for people to do harm to others or to themselves, that it is bad to lie and cheat and steal and murder.

One side doesn’t trust big government. One side doesn’t trust big corporations. Me, I think they’re both right: I just don’t trust “big” anything.

Big loses sight of the individual. Big attempts to find solutions that are one-size-fits-all and misses our wonderful differences. Big pushes masses of snow aside and rarely notices that each snowflake is completely different from every other snowflake.

The answers to our troubles are local, specific and individual. But most of all they involve recognizing that we share the same values of common decency.

When you buy into the myths that you believe about tea partiers or socialists or Republicans or Democrats, you blind yourself to the reality that we’re all in this together. When I look past my prejudices, I find people who share the same ideals that I have, even within the ranks of big government and big corporations. The important thing is to get to know the individuals rather than make assumptions about them based on the myths.

It saddens me that a group of local folks find it necessary to establish something called The Civility Project. It ought to be common sense that we find solutions by working together in harmony rather than dismissing each other on the basis of political philosophy or religion or skin color or some other dividing factor. It ought to be common sense that understanding and accepting our differences is a key to finding common ground.

But they’re right: We have become so accustomed to being rude and angry with one another – believing that those who view life differently are not just wrong, but evil – making sport of belittling each other like playground bullies – that a refresher course in getting along can be valuable.

For what it’s worth, the next offering of this basic training in civility is scheduled 6:30-8:30 p.m. Sept. 17 in the Washington Island School Commons. If that time and place don’t work, you can learn more by visiting

 But before then, take time to listen past the talking points and the sound bites, take time to consider what it is that the other person believes, what basic problem the other person wants to solve. You may notice that you share the same objectives even if you disagree about the solution.

I’m fairly confident you’ll find you have more in common than appreciation for a good cup of coffee.

Cross-posted to Door County Advocate

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Every day we choose to create or to destroy

It’s the morning after an audience of more than 150 people came to the great mansion now called Ellison Bay Manor to enjoy a concert of chamber music, savor hors d’oerves and wine, and tour the building and grounds. I played a very small role in that event, handing out programs and pouring wine.

And this morning, I consider all of the human effort that must come together to form a single event such as this.

First a huge contingent of artisans and craftsmen must come together to build a house large enough to hold several hundred people – no, before that they must cut the trees, mine the iron, quarry the stone, carve a space out of the wilderness to set the home, then assemble the home.

Three talented men need to compose patterns of music that are pleasing to the ear. Five musicians must study and practice, each of them for years, to gain the ability to interpret a fragment of those patterns and blend their efforts to recreate the sounds that the composers heard. Food must be grown – plants and animals – shipped from miles away, processed and prepared in a way that is pleasing to the palate.

Transportation must be arranged to bring people to the door, because this was built as a home and the driveway has limited parking space – wait! A team must build each of the machines that transport us all, each machine itself comprised of many parts, each of which had to be crafted.

Thousands of people working in consort, and each contributing the talent and effort of their years of experience, to do their bit to bring a bit of beauty to the world, a bit of happiness to other people’s lives.

You might say it’s a miracle to bring that many people together to accomplish all this, or you might say it’s simply (simply! This great complicated organism cannot be described simply) the nature of humanity to work together on tasks that a single one of us could not achieve on their own, but to which each of us can contribute a unique, essential piece.

I consider the years and years that each and every one of the hundreds of people in that house brought to their contribution – and how that scene is repeated daily in thousands of place, thousands of events, individuals and teams creating beauty and utility and service for thousands of others, building something special with every breath –

And then I emerge from that place and hear the talk of poison gases and measured conversations about how many bombs are appropriate to be dropped in retaliation for the retaliation against the retaliation that began with the retaliation, and I am shocked and confused that this near-miraculous everyday creation of beauty and service is interrupted so often by similar forces marshalled to tear it all back to pieces.

Why? What leads men and women capable of building great works to tear down instead? Minds and hands work together to create unspeakable beauty. Similar minds and hands work together to wreak unspeakable horror.

We choose each day to work to create or to destroy, to encourage or to disparage. We must find a way to promote and protect the creators and to keep the destroyers in check.

Cross posted to Door County Advocate