Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The night George Bailey saved my life

It was Christmas Eve and I was alone. I knew I deserved to be alone, but I was miserable anyway. My life was not turning out the way I’d planned it.

Dec. 24, 1984, was a miserable day. Oh, I don’t remember the particulars. I just knew I was going to be alone while the rest of the world celebrated Christmas. I was miserable.

I did have a job, and a modest but nice place to live in Green Bay, and a good dog and a cat. That was a start, but I had no human to share the season with. And I was mostly broke. I knew it was my fault and my choices that made it so, but that only made the holiday more miserable.

You might say I was so miserable, I wished I’d never been born.

So I sat down to turn off my brain with whatever dreck the television had to offer. The choices were limited; this was 30 years ago.

Public TV was offering some movie called “It’s A Wonderful Life” with lots of fanfare. They even called it something like “the beloved holiday classic.” Hmmph. I’d never heard of it. How could it be a beloved classic if I’d never heard of it? (Ah, the arrogance of the 31-year-old soul.)

Well, at least it had Jimmy Stewart in the lead. He was a pretty good actor. And there was nothing else on that looked interesting, so I settled my miserable soul down to watch it.

Two hours and a smidge later, everything was different.

The story is as transformative as the Scrooge story, except that George Bailey was not a miserly old curmudgeon. George was a normal, decent guy with big dreams who found himself constantly trading his dreams because people needed his help and he was hard-wired to take care of others. His life was not turning out the way he’d planned it.

Like Scrooge, though, George gets a chance to see what the world would look like if he wasn’t there anymore. As the story approaches its climax, George is so miserable he wishes he’d never been born.

“All right, George, you got your wish. You’ve never been born.”

It turns out the world without George Bailey would have been a nightmare for a lot of people. He was living a wonderful life, after all.

And I could see, with the little attitude adjustment that the movie provided, that so was I.

I was still deservedly alone on a Christmas. I was still mostly broke. But Frank Capra’s amazing fairy tale showed me how we’re never as alone as we think, and we each have the power to make the world a better place.

I hugged the dog and the cat. I called my family on Christmas Day and cherished them. I was Ebeneezer waking up to a fresh, joyful outlook. I was George Bailey finding Zuzu’s petals back in his pocket where they belonged. What do you know about that? Merry Christmas!

I wish I could say I stopped making bad decisions after that Christmas Eve, but I’m human, after all. Still, I’ve never again felt as alone and miserable as I did before I sat down to watch that film.

If all looks bleak and miserable this holiday season, hang on. You never know when things will turn around and get better, but they will. Your life may not be turning out the way you planned it, but you’ll see — it’s a wonderful life, after all.

Cross-posted to Door County Advocate

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Goosebumps: The people take action

© Veraseven | Dreamstime.com
My latest for the Door County Advocate ...

I’m starting to get the invitations for my 40th college reunion next summer, which means that next spring I will be completing my fourth decade of doing this “first draft of history” thing.

Some of it doesn’t get old. I still get goosebumps whenever I witness the First Amendment in action, and specifically the part about the right of the people “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

I like working in small towns because it’s here where you see this rite of democracy in its purest form. There’s no more basic expression of the First Amendment than the room full of unhappy citizens letting their local government know why they’re unhappy.

The local government, which is comprised of our friends and neighbors who chose to get themselves elected, usually responds in one of two ways: They listen and change their minds, or they wait out the storm of public opinion and then go ahead and do what they wanted to do anyway. The latter course sometimes has repercussions in the next election.

This week we’re about to bear witness to two such moments. Shortly after typing these breathless words, I’ll be driving to Fish Creek to watch a crowd express themselves to the Gibraltar School Board. And Wednesday night, another crowd will march to Sturgeon Bay City Hall to present petitions to the Plan Commission.

In each case they actually won’t be “heard” in a literal sense. Neither body is likely to take testimony from their spectators. In Gibraltar, the agenda calls for a closed session to discuss the circumstances of Secondary Principal Kirk Knutson’s departure last week. The crowd’s sole purpose is to make a quiet statement of support for Knutson.

It actually has been anything but “quiet” in Northern Door since, by several accounts, Knutson emerged from a meeting with Superintendent Tina Van Meer and an attorney and walked out of the building. The School Board voted to accept his resignation a few hours later. Nearly 1,000 residents and students have joined Facebook pages and sent letters to the board demanding a better explanation than has been given so far.

In Sturgeon Bay, the testimony was taken last week, and it was largely disapproving of the plans for a five-story hotel where the West Side Waterfront Plan originally featured a year-round farmers market and festival area built around the historic grain elevator. Another local commentator calls it “bait and switch,” and it sure appears that way, with all due respect to the folks who have been working on the plans.

In most cases that bring out a crowd, people feel caught by surprise and want more transparency. Very often the surprise is partially our own fault; some people said they had never heard of the waterfront plan until now, even though it’s been the subject of more than one front-page story in this publication, for example.

But very often, too, officials have worked quietly with a sense of urgency that almost suggests a desire to get something done before too many people can get a good look and object – sort of like the football team that wants to snap the ball before anyone takes a careful look at the replay.

I don’t really have a dog in either fight (what an awful expression), except of course for the watchdog – the Wisconsin tradition that assumes the affairs of government by the people must be conducted out in the open where the people can watch if they so choose.

And that’s why moments like these give me goosebumps. Usually the government doesn’t have much of an audience. It’s thrilling when people actually do choose to watch and make their presence known.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

So what's next?

Where to?

The most important thing for a writer-type person is to be writing. When a big project is finished, the first big question is what to write next.

So where do I go from here, now that the Myke Phoenix: Year of the Dinosaur dodecology is completed? Oh, I know generally where the Myke Phoenix story goes from here, but should I keep writing about Myke and his friends or take a break?

I’m looking over two of my earlier books, Refuse to be Afraid and The Imaginary Revolution, to see if they can be revised and expanded in new editions.

But what direction should my next new work go?

More superhero adventures?

More efforts to inspire people to stop worrying and follow their dreams?

More space opera? Short stories?

Should I write more in the vein of “The definition of a peacable revolution,” far and away the most-read blog post I’ve ever written?

Or something altogether new?

This is a fun moment in the writer’s life – the pause to reflect and move on.

What do you think? What should I be writing? Leave me a comment with your thoughts, please!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Black Friday special: Duck Man Walking Free

This Friday, Nov. 28, is your opportunity to use the immortal "Duck Man Walking" as your gateway into the Myke Phoenix universe - Free! Free! Free!

How do you trust a guy after he’s tried to kill you a few times? That’s the dilemma facing Myke Phoenix, superhero extraordinaire, in “Duck Man Walking.”

One of Myke Phoenix’s most impossible foes, the half-man-half-duck Quincy Quackenbos, is released from prison. Rumor has it that after years of trying he cracked the code and has developed the formula that can kill Myke Phoenix.

Are the rumors true? Or is Quackenbos telling the truth when he claims he’s turned his back on his criminal past? Find the answers mere moments from now in “Duck Man Walking,” just a click away.

BONUS: Two stories for the price of one. This special double-sized ebook also contains the chronicle of the very first time these two adversaries met, “The Strange Ultimatum of Quincy Quackenbos.” There’s no better time to introduce yourself to the Adventures of Myke Phoenix!

This is a pivotal episode in the wild dodecology Myke Phoenix: Year of the Dinosaur. Ask your Kindle app if Myke Phoenix is right for you: Claim your Black Friday freebie of "Duck Man Walking."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Benjamin R. Tucker's words about imaginary revolution

It is because peaceful agitation and passive resistance are, in Liberty’s hands, weapons more deadly to tyranny than any others that I uphold them, and it is because brute force strengthens tyranny that I condemn it.

War and authority are companions; peace and liberty are companions.

The methods and necessities of war involve arbitrary discipline and dictatorship. So-called “war measures” are almost always violations of rights.

Even war for liberty is sure to breed the spirit of authority, with aftereffects unforeseen and incalculable.



Benjamin R. Tucker

Liberty, Vol. IV, No. 7

July 31, 1886


Monday, November 24, 2014

Free entry into Myke Phoenix universe

There are now several ways to sample the world of Myke Phoenix without risking your hard-earned Federal Reserve Notes. You have always, for example, been able to sample Our Best Hope: The Origin of Myke Phoenix by joining my mailing list, which also entitles you to regular updates from Astor City chock full of valuable clues to upcoming adventures. You can do that here.

But now you can download the first three breathless stories in the Year of the Dinosaur dodecology via Kobo, for free. Yeppers, hard to believe, but now you can have The Song of the Serial Kisser, Firespiders and Invasion of the Body Borrowers on your Nook or iPad or Aura or other .epub reader for the breathtaking price of zero dollars. You risk the chance you will have so much fun you'll invest your hard-earned pennies on other Myke Phoenix material, but that's all. Here's a link to all of the available Myke Phoenix material on Kobo.

(At some point Amazon's vaunted price-matching system will kick in and Kindle app users will have the same opportunity, but as of this writing this is an offer exclusive to Kobo.)

You can also follow these first three stories via Wattpad, if you don't want to download the stories.

Of course, my fondest hope is that you'll be motivated to spend the $4.99 to download Myke Phoenix: Year of the Dinosaur for Kindle or Kobo, or perhaps even to buy the massive 572-page paperback from Lulu or (coming very soon) Amazon/CreateSpace. But first you might want to see if it piques your fancy, and that's the point of this permanent-free offer. Go check out one or more of the first three stories in this 12-story arc, on me. I hope you like them! Thanx.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Your fears are lying to you

"You'll shoot your eye out, kid!"
What are you afraid of? How could you not be?

It seems that every commercial, every politician, every news story begins with an appeal to our deepest darkest fears. As a society we’re obsessed with the latest disease, the latest threat to our environment, the latest threat to our personal and collective security, the latest threat to our freedom, the latest threat to our very way of life.

I’ve been writing about confronting and overcoming fear for years, and the threats and rumors of threats just keep on coming.

You know what? You’re probably not going to die of Ebola. The country is not going to dissolve into chaos because of the election results. You’re probably not going to be killed in a terrorist attack. You’re probably not going to get cancer or poison yourself or have a four-hour erection anytime soon.

Yes: You could die of Ebola. The country might dissolve into chaos. You might be killed in a terrorist attack. You might get cancer or poison yourself or get a four-hour erection.

But those things probably won’t happen. In fact, I all but guarantee it.

At least the odds are so good that you will live through today, and tomorrow, that your best bet is to quit worrying and focus on living.

Sometimes the most fabulous, incredible stuff comes out of nowhere and smacks you upside the head with delight if you keep yourself open to the possibilities instead of the fears.

That happened to me about 20 years ago, the first time I listened to the wonderful Tom Petty album called Wildflowers. There, in the middle of a song called “Crawling Back to You,” Tom hit me between the eyes with a simple, life-affirming truth:

“Most things I worry about never happen anyway.”

Don’t let them scare you. You’re going to live. Do you hear me? You’re going to live!

Whatever is frightening you, you’re going to live through it. Whatever you think is about to defeat you, you’re going to live through it, and you will live to fight another day.

Now, I did say I “all but” guarantee it. We all die of something. But you gain nothing by worrying about it: Most things you worry about never happen anyway.

The key to freedom, the key to realizing your dreams, is to spit in the eye of your fear. Sure you’re afraid; work with that. Take the nervous energy you waste worrying and convert it into the triumphant energy of doing something great today.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Launch day - Myke Phoenix: Year of the Dinosaur

For nearly two decades Myke Phoenix has protected the people of Astor City from the forces of evil in the world, battling crime bosses and costumed villains and strange creatures who want to rule the universe. But lately it’s been quiet in the old town – almost … TOO quiet!

“Lately it’s just been everyday crooks and the occasional mobster,” Paul Phillips (Myke’s everyday alter ego) says one night. “It just seems like we don’t need Myke Phoenix anymore.”

But then —

A bizarre lunatic starts kissing the women of Astor City at random. A fire-breathing spider the size of an elephant wreaks havoc downtown. Aliens land in a hill outside town and start borrowing people’s bodies. An old familiar villain returns and holds Paul’s wife, Dana, hostage on a dark and stormy night. Another old familiar villain, half man half duck Quincy Quackenbos, goes straight and is kidnapped after being released from prison.

Suddenly Myke Phoenix was working overtime. Could it be the work of his old nemesis, the evil talking dinosaur, Deinonychus?

In a story that evolves over the course of 12 episodes – mainly because your humble narrator liked the sound of the word “dodecology” – the protector of Astor City fights the fight of his life with a growing cadre of strange and wonderful new friends. By the time the story rumbles to its jarring conclusion, the lives of Paul and Dana Phillips have been changed forever – nor will Astor City and their world ever be the same again.

This massive volume collects the 12-part series that rebooted the story first told in “The Adventures of Myke Phoenix,” with a special bonus story (“A Myke Phoenix Christmas”), author’s notes and other fun content.

If you like superhero stories that don’t take themselves too seriously, if you like your adventures told with a dash of whimsy, you’ve come to the right place. Join the Myke Phoenix revolution with this baker’s dozen power pack.

Click here to download it for Kindle apps. Here is one version of the paperback. Wait a few days for other options.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Who is this guy anyway?

The completion of a project gives a guy a chance to stop and take a deep breath. As the world awaits Tuesday's release of the Myke Phoenix compilation Year of the Dinosaur, I find myself taking a deep breath and contemplating what the bibliography so far means.

Since I was 10 years old and found a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #4 at the old IGA in Milton, Vermont, I have enjoyed superhero stories. Well, even before that - I do remember enjoying a Legion of Super-Heroes story or two before the summer of 1963 - but Spider-Man and Marvel Comics made me a fan. A few years later I heard about a series of 1930s pulp hero reprints of a superhero named Doc Savage, and Cold Death started me on the path that would lead me to Myke Phoenix.

My Myke stories are designed to take you about an hour to read, approximating the comic book experience or perhaps a TV show. Year of the Dinosaur collects the 12 stories I've written in the past year or so, with a bonus short called "A Myke Phoenix Christmas."

I first conceived of Myke when I was a late-30s radio news reporter. I finished four stories and started several others, but the lack of a practical outlet to share them with the world led me to set the project aside. The indie publishing movement provided that outlet, and those earlier stories have been available since 2008 as The Adventures of Myke Phoenix.

But of course, my world view goes beyond the confines of the superhero adventure. (That is not to say we couldn't have a lengthy conversation about the superiority of Marvel's The Avengers to any Superman or Batman movie ever made.)

I've always thought war was stupid, and I've come to think of states as counterproductive to individual human endeavor. That led me to write The Imaginary Revolution, the memoirs of the man who led the planet Sirius IV to independence from Earth and beyond to a commonwealth that had no state government apparatus. As discussion raged over what form of government to establish for the newly free world, protagonist, Ray Kaliber, asked the simple question, "Why do we need a government at all?"

The story is a sequel of sorts, or at least set in the same universe, as The Imaginary Bomb, a space opera perhaps best known as a series of podcasts I voiced in 2006. The universe is based sometime in the future from now, when humanity has discovered how to tap the power of the imagination as an energy source. As too often happens with new technology, someone has considered the implications of weaponized imaginary power, and my interplanetary truck drivers get tangled up in stopping the imaginary bomb before it hurts someone.

I also have a collection of short stories, Wildflower Man, anchored by the story that has gained quite a following in its podcast form, if I may say so. I haven't transferred that book to digital form because, to be honest, I wish it was a little longer. I keep meaning to write a few more short stories to pad it out. One of these days.

I've also collected some of my essays on a couple of themes. Refuse to be Afraid is about empowering yourself to battle through the fears and impulses that keep us from the greatness we could accomplish: Refuse to be afraid. Free yourself. Dream.

And A Scream of Consciousness discusses ways to fight past the distractions of everyday life and concentrate on the needs of this moment, right now. These two books, and the "What I Believe" section of The Imaginary Revolution, probably sum up what I might pretentiously describe as my life philosophy.

So there are seven books, five fiction and two non-fiction, that hopefully will entertain you, perhaps could change your life, and at least will tell you a bit about who this guy is anyway.

If you're reading this on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014, the day I wrote this, you have until tonight to get a free download of Firespiders Unleashed, the pivotal Myke Phoenix story that opens the trilogy that also includes March of the Alien Dead, Claws of Death and Talons of Justice. Yes, it's a four-part trilogy. I blame Hollywood. Or perhaps Douglas Adams.

Starting Saturday I'll be devoting most of my shameless self-promotion to the collection that climaxes with those four stories, Year of the Dinosaur. But I really do like the way the saga ends, so if you want to cut to the chase and save a couple of bucks, buying the individual stories is a pretty good investment.

In any case, those are the motivations that drove the bookshelf of my stuff to date. So now you know.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The daughter of Mychus

Back in the second story in my Myke Phoenix magnum opus that is about to become Year of the Dinosaur, I introduced a father-daughter scientist team, Jacob and Terri Travers, who were based rather obviously on the characters played by Edmund Gwenn and Joan Weldon in the 1954 giant-monster thriller Them! More than one Easter egg await in that original story, Firespiders.

I also inserted a bit of intentionally heavy-handed foreshadowing as we introduced them and Dr. Jacob Travers sang the praises of his brilliant arachnologist daughter:

"Stop it, Dad, he's going to think I'm Wonder Woman or something," his daughter said. (If you think this is not a throwaway line but a foreshadowing of a plot element that I'm tucking away for years from now, you may be right. But it works as a throwaway line, too.)

Here in the ninth episode, Firespiders Unleashed (available through Friday for FREE at Amazon.com - free, free, free, download it now, limited time only, act now!), we get the payoff on that line as we discover Mychus had a daughter.

Mychus, of course, is the ancient warrior with amazing powers whose body Paul Phillips borrows when he goes into action as Myke Phoenix, as the Phoenix and the Soulkeeper of Kiribati have explained over the years. What they never got around to mentioning was that there was another ancient body available in case the forces of evil in the world got too much for one superhero to handle alone.

Dr. Terri Travers would be aghast if I referred to her alter ego as Myke Phoenix's sidekick, but it is safe to say that in Firespiders Unleashed we complete the little team that will work together to combat the great menaces that face Astor City in the concluding episodes of Year of the Dinosaur: March of the Alien Dead, Claws of Death, and Talons of Justice.

I'd love to entertain you with these four stories, and even more so with the entire 12-story arc that will be collected next week, but first things first: Get a taste for the adventure for free this week by downloading Firespiders Unleashed at Amazon.com. We can talk after you finish reading.





Monday, November 10, 2014

What a Year of the Dinosaur it has been

And so it is finished. My 12-story Myke Phoenix series -- quantity-wise the most ambitious writing project I've ever undertaken -- is out there ready to be consumed in small bites or in one ginormous collection.

For those of you who've been waiting for an enticement to get on the Myke Phoenix bandwagon, now through Friday you can sample Firespiders Unleashed, Chapter 9 of the dodecology, for free. My hope, of course, is that you will be sufficiently motivated to jump into chapters 10-12 for a breathtaking 99 cents each, but even if you don't, I hope you'll take advantage of this chance to check it out for nada.

It's all collected in Year of the Dinosaur, which you can pre-order now for download into your Kindle app on Nov. 18. The $4.99 cover price is less than half what you'd pay for all 12 episodes separately, plus you get the short-short story "A Myke Phoenix Christmas" and some other DVD extras. The downside is you have to wait an extra week, and the big finale is here now.

Paul Phillips, Quincy Quackenbos and the denizens of Astor City have been wandering around in my mind for 25 years, and the indie publishing revolution allowed me to bring those early stories to the rest of the world in 2008. It has been a hoot expanding that little universe over the past year or so, and though the wheels fell off my "write a new adventure every month" goal last spring, I did manage to make my "in your Kindle for the Christmas 2014 shopping season" deadline.

The writer breathes a sigh of relief, releases his work to the world, and thinks, what next?

The market will decide if the hints of future fun that I've sprinkled through the denouement of this project are sufficient to warrant another round of Myke Phoenix Adventures. In the meantime I have other things on my mind, stories and projects and observations that have settled on the back burner while I have put Myke and his friends through their paces. I am Ray Bradbury at the beginning of his TV episodes, looking around the cluttered attic to decide what story to tell next.

In the meantime I hope you'll take advantage of this opportunity to sample the Myke Phoenix phenomenon risk-free (ends after Friday, Nov. 14). My whimsical soul believes you'll have a good time, but only you can answer that question. Bon appetit!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

I have been busy

... It only appears that I have not, since the only change to this blog in the last three weeks has been that the deadline dates for Myke Phoenix #10-12 keep moving back.
Here are two of the three covers, plus a pledge: Firespiders Unleashed will be available for free during the first five days of November, and at least these two stories – and probably the third – will arrive then, too.

My, what an interesting year it has been!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The new covers #1: The Song of the Serial Kisser

I’ve redone the covers of the first five episodes of our current Myke Phoenix saga. Here’s The Song of the Serial Kisser.

I admit this is a weird story to begin a new series. As the pilot episode of a quirky, whimsical superhero adventure, it’s an epic fail. It’s a sometimes dark tale that parodies a classic film about the search for a serial killer, and the superhero doesn’t appear until the final act.

If you’re looking to start with a story that is more of a “normal” episode, you’re better off reading Duck Man Walking or Firespiders or Invasion of the Body Borrowers.

But this is the story that came out first, after about 20 years of trying to advance the story I first set down in The Adventures of Myke Phoenix. I moved the timeline forward 18 years and caught up with Paul Phillips and Dana Dunsmore as they grappled with a serial kisser. I also planted some seeds that grew over 11 more episodes to become The Year of the Dinosaur, a dodecology.

In addition to the new cover, this edition of Serial Kisser is restructured and tweaked in minor ways to follow the four-act format that the rest of the series follows.

I tried to make each episode stand alone, so you can join at any point. But if you want to experience the adventures in the order I wrote them, this is the place to start.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The futility of war as a solution

My latest for the Door County Advocate

The “Traveling Back” columns that run in our pages and online have had a grim undercurrent lately. Bob Johnson, who combs through back issues of the Door County Advocate to compile the column, was the first to notice.

Back in the very earliest days of the Advocate, we were keeping an eye on what became known as the Civil War. Joseph Harris Sr. in part founded this paper so that he could keep his neighbors informed about what he viewed as a criminal rebellion and drum up support for the war effort.

In 1864, 150 years ago, the Advocate is currently following the progress of local boys who enlisted in the war effort and reporting on General Sherman’s march to Atlanta. By April, Johnny will come marching home and the nation will mourn President Lincoln.

In 1914, 100 years ago, the Advocate is reporting from afar about war and rumors of war across the ocean in Europe, which was in the beginning throes of what would become known as The Great War, the War to End All Wars.

Seventy-five years ago in 1939, the Advocate is again keeping a watchful eye on Europe again, as Germany invaded Poland and was threatening the rest of the continent.

It’s a little disconcerting to know that in the not-too-distant future, the “50 Years Ago” section of the column will begin reflecting the effects of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution of August 1964, which brought the U.S. into yet another war, this time in distant Vietnam.

And while 1989 – 25 Years Ago – is best known as the year the Berlin Wall fell, ending the Cold War, within two years we were enmeshed in the Persian Gulf War.

What does it all mean? Is mankind fated to go to war every quarter century in some sort of natural cycle, like the tides or the highs and lows of the water levels on the Great Lakes? Lord knows the news from overseas is again full of saber rattling, death and destruction.

I’ve always thought war was a stupid way to settle differences. You disagree with someone, or covet their territory, and the solution is to kill as many of your opponents as possible and lay waste to the land? A less sensible solution can hardly be imagined.

Is it “human nature” to wage war? I think not. Most people I know are content to live their lives and resolve any differences far short of murder and mayhem. Traditionally Americans especially have been reluctant to take up arms except to defend themselves.

President Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell address in 1961, warned against what he dubbed “the military industrial complex,” an unholy alliance of warriors and war-machine manufacturers who profit from keeping us in a constant state of war and preparation for war. It does sometimes seem as if someone is moving chess pieces to ensure that those manufacturers continue to move product.

I don’t know how to stop this cycle, if it is one, except to appeal to our better angels. If it is human nature to wage war – I don’t really buy that, but if it is – people resist and conquer human nature every day, when we choose to engage in commerce rather than slug the retailer and steal what we want, for example.

At the height of the Vietnam War, there was a popular meme that went, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” I still wonder what might happen if two states huffed and puffed and called on their citizens to kill each other, and if those citizens looked at each other and replied, “I have no quarrel with you. Let’s let the huffers and puffers sort it out among themselves.”

I know this is naive. I know there are very misguided people who still think women are property and believe it’s noble to strap a bomb to yourself and explode it in a crowded marketplace, or fly commercial airliners into buildings full of innocents. And somehow those folks need to be stopped.

I just hope we come up with a better solution sometime in the next 25 years.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

W.B. at the Movies: Godzilla

Well, now. THIS is how you tell the story of a creature massive enough to level cities who encounters and battles other massive creatures that are in the process of leveling cities.

Godzilla, which arrives for Blueray and DVD on Tuesday, is the most fun I’ve ever had watching the big lizard on the big screen, and I daresay it’s the second-best Godzilla movie ever created. The first one, of course, will always be the greatest.

I confess that is faint praise from me. I have been unimpressed by the vast majority of Godzilla movies, which too often treat the giant monster as some sort of campy superhero. After the dark awe with which he is treated in the original Gojira, it’s been like watching the 1960s Batman TV show after experiencing the Dark Knight in his greatest graphic novels.

No more. In this film, at least, Godzilla the terrifying force of nature is back.

And the moment of the big reveal is the best Godzilla moment ever, bar none. After building the suspense and introducing the “bad” monsters, the scene where director Gareth Edwards first introduces the title character is an incredible thrill. That’s quite a trick – we all know Godzilla is going to show up eventually, but Edwards manipulates his audience to the point where I found myself poking Red like the excited little kid I felt like and saying, “Here he comes!! It’s Godzilla! Godzilla’s here!!!”

I don’t totally buy Edwards’ shtick that Godzilla is some sort of godlike being passing judgment on us all, and I will always prefer the magnificent Ishiro Honda version best. But for what it is – a high-budget retelling of the monster versus monsters shtick – it’s incredibly good.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Grass" - Carl Sandburg (1918)

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
                                          I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
                                          What place is this?
                                          Where are we now?

                                          I am the grass.
                                          Let me work.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Firespiders Unleashed



The firespiders are back in Astor City. Months ago an elephant-sized spider the size of, well, an elephant terrorized the downtown area and wreaked havoc on the arachnophobia of thousands. The new wave of fire-breathing, eight-legged creatures is not as large but far more plentiful.

When a cluster of dozens of spiders overwhelms a wedding party, the situation calls for superpowered intervention. Meanwhile, Dr. Terri Travers, badly injured in the first spider attack, samples a cure that her biologist father believes could repair her crippled hand – and (as usually happens when science meets superhero fable) something goes terribly wrong.

For years Myke Phoenix has been fighting the forces of evil in the world alone, commissioned by a mysterious mythical bird and endowed with the body and powers of an ancient super-warrior. Almost nothing can penetrate his skin and he has strength and speed beyond those of mere mortals, but when a college campus is overrun, even he can’t stop the menace by himself. The solution will surprise and delight.

Got an hour? Dive into the world of Myke Phoenix, and come back every month for more.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Let the seasons come

Fall sunset over the bay of Green Bay
The future is always uncertain, so quit worrying about it. Prepare as best you can for what may come, but then meet what does come with cheer.

No one can say the end will come today, but endings are in the wind, like the promise of fall, and winter afterward. In every ending is (for most of us) another beginning – the promise of spring – but first the cold, and so we gather fuel and food and shelter.

So: What provisions do you need, in case this is indeed the first day of fall, or the beginning of winter? And how are you living to make the most of the summer?

Your soul has been placed in a body that is essentially a time bomb that one day will go off, or a windup toy that will run down and stop. What will you do before then? Let your words and actions comfort and encourage and feed.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

W.B.’s Book Report: Life is short and so is this Book

… and this will be a short book review. This is one of those little books that condenses the wisdom of the ages into a very small package. And it does this very well.

Just the table of contents – the names of the 10 chapters – comprises a good philosophy of life: Create space. Try not to worry. Don’t do really dumb things. Build character and make friends. Care for yourself and others. Laugh. Do what you love. Embrace change. Learn from experience. Have dreams and work toward them.

Peter Atkins’ little book is worth reading and re-reading – it will reward you every time.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

3 things to know about the next Myke Phoenix adventure

OK, four – it's got an awesome cover, as people who subscribe to the Astor City Beacon already know.

1. This is the beginning of a saga within a saga that leads into the next Myke Phoenix saga.

2. The original Firespiders had two giant spiders that breathe fire. This one has several more, as you read in the prologue excerpt the other day.

3. The most important plot twist does not involve the firespiders. Well, it does, but not directly. Well, maybe directly. (Why does the cover feature a woman's silhouette?)

I believe you'll find this one will be worth the extra month's wait.

Monday, August 4, 2014

I always thought war was stupid

Happenings around the world always remind me of the opening lines of my little  anti-war anarchist novel The Imaginary Revolution, which I was merrily writing along a couple of summers ago about now.

This was the first fragment I wrote on the ImagRev blog, and it never got dislodged as the book's introduction:

I always thought war was stupid.
I mean, think about it. You and your adversary disagree about something, and the solution is to send your citizens to fight each other to the death?
You’re never going to succeed in killing each and every one of your adversary’s citizens, so even if you win, there are thousands of people who still believe in whatever it was you were trying to obliterate.
You can’t kill an idea.
The book was told in the first person by the main character, Ray Kaliber, but on this point (among a few others) the author and his character are in complete agreement.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Firespiders Unleashed: (Part of) the Prologue

The next episode in the Myke Phoenix saga is officially one month late, but I have it on good authority that it will definitely arrive less than two months late. Because you've been so patient (or don't care to the point where you still haven't even sampled these wonderful tales), here is a significant chunk (but not all) of the prologue to Firespiders Unleashed:

. . .

Arnie Rogers was still getting used to being the sheriff of Astor County. He had been perfectly happy being chief deputy and letting his old boss Rod Skjorte handle all the administrative stuff, but then Rod had to get himself killed when aliens invaded town. That fact in itself was very difficult to accept.

It had been a weird year anyway, starting with that nutbag who walked around kissing women. That goofy superhero had to break up a fight when a bunch of angry boyfriends and husbands surrounded the guy. That was nothing next to the giant spiders that spit fire, the aliens, the big storm, the bridge collapse – what was happening to his sleepy little town?

When the phone rang in the middle of the night, it was never a good sign.

“Rogers,” he muttered into the phone, hanging onto the last shreds of a dream where he was on a Hawaiian beach with his wife 25 years ago, when they both were young and lean.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

W.B.’s Book Report: The Beam, Season Two

A mere 83 years from now, nanobots in your bloodstream can help you live young and vibrant well past your 100th birthday, and immersive computer technology can deposit you into a reality so real you can’t tell if it is. Ri-ight.

Well, why not? Eighty-three years ago in 1931, movies barely knew how to talk and the most advanced electronic device in most homes was a radio. How far we’ve come – and how far we are going.

But the vision of the future and its toys are not what makes good science fiction. It’s the stories about the people who live in that vision and play with its toys. Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant are great storytellers.

What they have created is a world where, much like today, the devices are more advanced than ever but the same old barbarism lurks in the human heart. We never manage to keep up. Humanity is still divided between those who want to earn their living and those who want the good life handed to them as a right. In the Beam World there are still those who believe they know better and deign to manipulate us into shape, with tools more capable than ever of making it so, while keeping the best of the good life for themselves. And in 2097 the manipulators still offer us a non-choice of two parties that appear, after scratching not too far below the surface, to be not as different from each other after all.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

We celebrate the spirit of independence

My Door County Advocate column for July 2, 2014:

It was Patrick O’Donahue, that fiercely proud American who was also fiercely proud of his Irish heritage, who first drilled into me the name of the holiday we celebrate this Friday.

“The Fourth of July is just a date,” said Pat, the locquacious fellow who wrote so well for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. “This is Independence Day.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

World peace begins with a giggle

We're all just too serious – too angry.

Stop that.

"I have never yet seen or heard anything serious that was not ridiculous," Horace Walpole said.

Find the silliness.

Learn to laugh at ourselves, and the anger goes away.

If you're not ready to laugh at yourself, find something that makes you laugh.

If you're not ready to laugh, find something that makes you smile.

If you're not ready to smile – well, find a way to get ready.

Our lives depend on it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The accidental book cover



Willow and Dejah were wrestling, as dogs and puppies are wont to do, and I grabbed the camera to see if I could get them in action. For the most part, the session was a failure. They wouldn’t turn their faces toward me, and just as I clicked the photo they would move. Wrestling dogs don’t pause to pose.

When I looked at the dismal results of the session, however, one shot popped out at me – the puppy, caught in mid-snarl in a blur. It was not long after she’d had emergency surgery, and she still was wearing the cone that protected her stitches. Through the blur you could see her eyes, wide with the frustration of wanting to get to Willow through the cone.

I knew I would be writing a story about a man who makes the transition from one life to the next and becomes a puppy trying to solve his own murder. And an ebook cover was born.

Sometimes artwork is the result of painstaking planning and careful thought. Sometimes you get lucky.


The Puppy Cried ‘Murder’ is available now at an ebook distributor near you.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

It's time I tried to say this


(My Door County Advocate column for June 11.)

It’s odd to have let eight years go by. My mother passed away on June 6, 2006, and with all of the writing I have done since then, I have never written about her death. Not directly, at least.

Hilda Elwell was born Dec. 14, 1923, youngest of three children. Her brother Henry Jr. was a ham radio enthusiast, interested in the new technology that was growing up with them.

One day she encountered one of her brother’s radio friends, a handsome, lanky young man her age named Dick Bluhm. They began to see each other; actually, she was a bit of a looker herself, and several young men were interested.

But, she would tell her three sons, one day she heard that you should marry someone you can’t live without. She thought about these young men who sought her and realized one by one that they were all people she could live without if she had to – all except one.

“I thought oh, if I had to live without Richard, I don’t think I could do that,” she told us. They were married Dec. 3, 1944, and moved the next year to California, where the Army transferred him in those waning days of the war.

Anyone asked to raise three sons is a saint. We were a handful, the three of us fussing and watching the world from the back seat of the 1954 Studebaker Commander. 

I remember someone who loved to laugh, who tried to be cheerful and optimistic in all things, countering angry or discouraging words with a chorus from “South Pacific”: “Happy talk, keep talking happy talk …” 

I remember peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a generous additional dab of butter, and at Christmastime I remember magic bars, those marvelous treats layered with chocolate, coconut and condensed milk with a graham-cracker-crumb base.

Her mind began to fail her in later years. In every phone call to New Jersey, I would tell her we had seven cats, and she was amazed  and surprised every time. 

I remember once she responded to one of my comments with a sly remark like she used to, and it was my turn to be surprised. She was still in there after all, at least from time to time. It was comforting, but I mourned for the lady she was.

On the morning of June 5, 2006, she woke up and told my dad she had a terrible headache, and she stayed in bed for a while. When he came back to check on her a little while later, she wouldn’t wake up. 

I was called that night and asked to come right away. I drove through the night and all day, and the three of us gathered with Dad around the hospital bed. They took her off life support, and Dad held her hand.

She didn’t move the whole time. Only the monitors told us when she was gone. Her heart kept beating longer than I expected. I remember saying, “She always did have a good heart.”

Then I collapsed from exhaustion. That was damn embarrassing. After the doctors made sure I was OK, Dad and my younger brother and I went out for a pizza. Long her caregiver, Dad hadn’t left her side much that last day.

These words seem inadequate. Maybe that’s why I haven’t written about it for eight years: How do you properly explain my mom? How does anyone?

I had a good talk on the phone with my dad on Friday, June 6; we didn’t mention the reason I decided to call that particular day. Not directly, at least. 

Sunday afternoon I made magic bars. After they came out of the oven, I took a bite and thought, “Hi, Mom. Merry Christmas.”




Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Never give up

Dejah collapses in exhaustion on the floor, frustrated that she can't seem to find her big sister Willow anywhere.


Friday, May 30, 2014

The inevitable tail of the delayed book

I should have known this would happen. I just should have known. Curse me for a worse than senseless fool.

"I will write the story," she said. "You just write the prologue and the epilogue, and I will do the rest. Everyone will love it! It will be a delightful change of pace, and you can take the month off and concentrate on future stories."

The idea was so tempting. I had been devoting all of my spare time to writing Myke Phoenix stories all year. What could possibly go wrong?

The time came for her to deliver her chapters so that we could get on with publishing the book.

"Where is the story, puppy?" I asked with an eager smile. She returned my eager smile with an eager smile. And she sat there panting like, well, like a dog.

The expression on her face was loving and happy and – and blank. Whatever spark of intelligence was there had been replaced by plain old dogness. Well, nothing is plain or old about this dog, but it became painfully clear that she was not going to deliver the goods as she promised.

All was not lost. Just the deadline. She left her partially completed manuscript, and she did tell me the whole sordid and unbelievable story. I should be able to piece it all together and recreate what she was going to create in a matter, if not days, of weeks, and you will be able to read the astonishing tail – err, tale – by the end of June. Just not June 2.

I can, at least, share the cover with you. Pretty cool, huh?

She is a nice dog. At least she's trying to be. It's hard to be a puppy, because there's so much to learn. And when you are distracted by bad dreams that turn out to be fading memories of your past life, a life that ended prematurely because you were murdered – well, being a puppy is that much more complicated.

Watch for the next installment in my Myke Phoenix dodecalogy when you least expect it, certainly sometime between now and the end of June. After all, I have another installment due in July ... and another in August ... and ... oh dear.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Be a gardener

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. 

“It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The good, the bad and the puppy

She brought me my slippers. OK, she brought one of my slippers into the room and dropped it about 10 feet from where I was sitting. All right, a few minutes later she brought the other slipper and dropped it about 8 feet over in the other direction.

Close enough. At least she didn’t chew them to shreds. That’s progress.

Dejah, named after a Martian princess, has so far lived up to her name as some kind of alien beast. At 9 months, she is already the same size as her 5-year-old housemate, Willow, and twice the handful.

• The good: The summer season came so soon after the end of winter this year, it almost came as a surprise. It seemed like one week it was 35 degrees, and the next week the highways were filled with visitors. Oh wait, that’s exactly what happened.

Driving to our Southern Door home as the Memorial Day crowd drove north Friday, I noticed more bass boats than ever coming to town. The secret’s out, now that Bassmaster magazine has placed the area on top of its list of the 100 Best Bass Lakes.

• The bad: We spent the three-day weekend puttering around the yard, moving dirt, pulling weeds, and still didn’t get seeds in the garden. Most years by the first of June, it’s almost time to start consuming fresh radishes. That was one brutal winter.

• The puppy: The early and late winter meant from the age of 2 months to 8 months, cabin fever was a fact of life for this young and rambunctious thing. One guy at puppy class said he’ll never again bring a new dog into the house in the fall. Seconded!

• The good: What winter? At the beginning of the weekend some of the trees were still in no apparent hurry to grow leaves this year. As of Tuesday morning we have a canopy.

• The bad: We stay in Wisconsin because of the four seasons. Four! When it’s 35 degrees at the end of April and 80-something at the end of May, the old body hasn’t had time to adjust. I think I have a couple of toes that are still thawing out while my brain is overheating.

• The puppy: The fastest my heart raced this weekend was when I closed the garden gate and then let the dogs out to run in the yard. In my heat-induced stupor Monday afternoon, I forgot we have two gates to the back yard. Dejah was halfway to Illinois before I realized the other gate was open.

Fortunately, Red is one smart cookie. She sent Willow to chase after both of us. The big sister ran a circle around the younger one, who got into the game and chased her. The two of them were back in the house long before I limped breathlessly into the yard and closed the other gate.

• The good: Over the years they’ve made about 30 movies about the giant monster known in America as Godzilla. Only two of them qualify as anything more than guilty pleasures: the first one in 1954 (the original, not the U.S. mix with Raymond Burr) and the one that’s currently in the theaters. My, oh, my.

• The bad: Spurred by the Robert Redford Oscar nomination, we sat down to watch the one-man show “All is Lost” over the weekend. It’s a great performance if you enjoy watching a character you barely know slowly drown for two hours that you will never get back. The title gives away the ending.

• The good: We’ve reached that time of year where so much stuff is happening in Door County, there’s no need to turn on the TV anyway.

• The bad: How do you choose? How do you choose? There are so many wonderful choices!

• I turned around to see what Dejah was chewing while I wrote this column and found her surrounded by piles and piles of stuffing she had removed from a plush toy. Yep, it’s a puppy.

From the Door County Advocate, May 28, 2014

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The real 'Penny Lane'

When the Beatles came out with a new song, it was a happening. When "Penny Lane" came out, it was a revelation. This little story song was an amazing piece of music, from the way they launched right into the vocal without introduction to the lilting piccolo trumpet wafting over the feedback after the final chord.

But something, um, very strange happened after a couple of weeks. Someone edited out the lilting piccolo trumpet wafting over the feedback after the final chord. It was like giving the Mona Lisa a haircut.

When the song came over the radio, instead of those perfect final seven notes, the song ended with a piano crash and the inevitable feedback, but the trumpet player no longer chimed in. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. When I bought the single, some of the labels said 2:57 and some of them said 3:00. I bought one that said 3:00 figuring the trumpet conclusion must run three seconds. But it was the wrong version. No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

So powerful was the original ending that I took to humming the trumpet part when the song ended. Thirteen long years I heard those phantom notes in my mind when I heard the song.

Then, in 1980, they came out with an album called "Beatles Rarities," and the long nightmare ended. The real "Penny Lane" was available again.

I've never understood why they decided to truncate the original version. Maybe they thought the feedback was cool and they wanted to emphasize it. But for darn near a half-century now, this is the only version of "Penny Lane" I can tolerate.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I drive me crazy


I went looking for an old folder in the basement boxes the other day, and I found a note to myself that looked very familiar.

It had a plan to get out of debt by a certain date. It had a goal to write a certain amount of creative content every day. It had a list of stuff that needed to be done around the house. It had a target weight goal. And it had a strong exhortation: “DO THIS!”

Except for the specific details, I could have written the note yesterday.

The date on the note was October 1989.

Today, I’m not out of debt, I still have goals for creative content and household contributions, and I still from time to time slap myself upside the head and say “WHY AREN’T YOU DOING THIS?”

I’m no slouch. I meet content goals every day at the day job, and nobody has to kick me in the ass to get that stuff done, not even myself. But the personal stuff? The dream of making a living with my creativity? The desire to be a better mate? Doing something about the extra chin and the beer belly? So reliable, I am not. (A belated little nod to Star Wars Day, there.)

That’s why I went into full panic mode a month ago when it looked like I was going to miss deadline on The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur. For at least a quarter century I have hectored myself to take my dreams and personal life more seriously. And lately I finally feel like a grownup because so far I’ve met the goal I set at the beginning of the year – write a 10,000 word Myke Phoenix story and release it on the first Monday of the month – and I like feeling like a grownup.

(Well, OK, I acknowledge I prefer feeling like a big kid, but grownups have to fulfill their commitments, not only to others but to themselves.)

So releasing the talking dinosaur story on April 7 was a big deal, and I was pleased with myself that I released another story a little more quietly on May 5, and I’m excited about my plans for June 2.

I think I’m not the only guy who ever let the quotidian of everyday life get in the way of his hopes and desires. So I feel like maybe if I keep making this monthly deadline, I can be an example you can pin your hopes on, too: If the guy with the 50-60 hour a week editor’s job can carve out time to write his version of the Great American Novel, maybe you can, too. So I have to make that goal so I don’t let you down, either. 

It’s easy to be the brand I’ve earned over the years – the guy who promises a sequel to his novel or a weekly podcast, gets started and then peters out. Time for a new brand, the author of the monthly Myke Phoenix adventures, and maybe some other stuff down the pike.

I don’t care if the ebooks don’t sell and I make 5 bucks a quarter in royalties, because that’s not the point at this stage. If you want to try out the stories, I sure won’t object. But as a wiser kid than I once said, the journey is the reward, and my joy for now is in staying on the path.

Monday, May 5, 2014

It's he-ere: The Second Warrior

a k a Myke Phoenix #7, the latest in my current dodecalogy. Slowly but surely behind the scenes, the plot is thickening.

Load up your Kindle here.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Coming Monday: The Second Warrior (Myke Phoenix #7)

Available Monday at Amazon and Kobo, the latest in this year's Myke Phoenix dodecalogy. A brief excerpt:


“And what are you, then, telling me all this?”
“I am the Second Soulkeeper, and you shall be the Second Warrior, fighting side by side with Myke Phoenix.”
“What?”
“Mychus had a powerful ally named Coronius. All these years while Mychus has walked the Earth again, the powers that formed this miracle have been preparing the second ancient for this moment, the moment when evil in the world is becoming palpable and a worthy holder is needed to bear Coronius’ standard.”


Read the rest of the excerpt here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

W.B.'s Book Report: The Book Thief


And there it was, as the Kindle told me I was passing 95%, a rare and welcome surge of sadness, not because the book is coming to a sad ending, but simply because it is coming to an ending. The author earns the tears with his characters and storytelling, but the tears are also from the ache of a beloved journey reaching its destination.

The lyricism of Markus Zusak’s words, and the turns of his remarkable story, are hard to let go. Zusak pulls us gently into the story of Liesel Meminger and makes us love her, along with her adopted and extended family. The Book Thief, I suspect, will be remembered as one of the greatest works of early 21st-century literature, but if my suspicions are wrong, it will still be a book that lingers with me personally until its narrator comes to visit me.

I watched the wonderful film that has been made of The Book Thief after I’d finished about a quarter of the novel, and I was struck by how well the movie honors the book while ably transforming the story from one medium to another. Inevitably, the book is a deeper and richer experience, but the film is worth the investment of time as well.

The decision to buy and read this book came after a reader I respect said she would rank it with To Kill A Mockingbird among the best she’d ever read – the highest of praise. I knew little more about the story, and for those who want to discover the book as I did, I’ll leave it at that. Highly, highly recommended. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"Every Breathe You Take" by Alex Preston


There's completely misinterpreting the meaning of a song, and then there's purposefully reinventing a song in a way that forces you to hear it again anew. Alex Preston accomplished the latter Wednesday night, and my mind is still boggling.