The Longevity Thesis Book Video

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Casshern - The Guardian Spirit of Humanity

When it comes to visual storytelling (among other things) the Japanese have got style. Casshern (2004) is a live action retelling of an anime (big surprise) originally released in 1973.

Basic Premise:

In a near-future dystopia, the world has been torn ragged by war. For some reason, the Japanese are living in Russia, and have just finished a major battle with Europa, who fought them with a massive robotic army, which now lies dormant. They are still battling with the denizens of Zone 7, which at the outset of the movie is shrouded in mystery, however these people are thought to be freaks and outcasts. The Zone 7ers are later revealed to be the "original humans" and the only ones who possess "neo cells" which can alleviate the spread of radiation-based sickness which is slowly killing the Japanese Russians. These "neo cells" sound a lot like stem cells, with profound regenerative abilities and can differentiate into any body part you like. The ruling council, influenced by the military, reluctantly overcome their prejudices and agree to allow research on neo cells from Zone 7, as they are in desperate need of replacement body parts. The movie becomes unintentionally funny at this point, especially when one considers recent advances in stem cell research, because the science is still back in 1973 and goes to LegoLand in a big way when the cultured body parts are shown. Anyway, the son of the lead scientist had gone to the front lines and died while the organ culture systems were being set up, and his body had just been returned to his father in a casket, followed by his largely unseen ghost. The presence of Tetsuya's ghost acts as a catalysts for some sort of weird techno lightning strike, and the body parts in the culture tanks suddenly pull together into Frankensteiny people covered in grey goop who get up and walk out of the tanks. The army freaks out and decides to get rid of these newly born "Neosapiens", and forces them to flee towards the Zone 7 border. Tetsuya's body is dunked in the neo cell tank by his father, which resurrects him, but of course, the process gives him superpowers. The Neosapiens don't handle rejection well, and revive the robot army of Europa to exact revenge. Tetsuya stands between them and the annihilation of the human race. Mayhem ensues.

The not so good:

The opening of the movie is rather ponderous, and the story is a bit clichéd. However, considering when it was written, that's forgivable. If I had a deeper understanding and appreciation of Japanese culture and symbolism, I would probably find a lot of hidden meaning in the opening sequences. But I rented the movie because I wanted a slick action film and wasn't really in the mood to look or think very hard. At certain points in the movie, it seemed that having the story make sense was not important – like the stuff with the stop-motion little guy in heaven. I didn't get that at all.

The really good:

The colour and costumes are fantastic. The European robot army brought back fond memories of Terminator, and the voices of the actors are wonderfully reminiscent of anime voice acting. So are the poses taken on by the actors during the endless dramatic sequences and during the fight scenes. When they story moves, it moves fast, and the viewer is treated to a plethora of how-many-cool-images-can-we-stuff-into-a-two-second-interval of artistic eye candy sequences worthy of some of the best mecha anime around. There are a lot of explosions, some katanas, funky spaceships and motorbikes, and the soundtrack kicks butt. On the DVD case, the movie is compared to The Matrix, but I don't agree, aside from some of the robots having red bug-eyes. I'd say it's more like Flash Gordon, and some of the shots of Tetsuya jumping up into the sky during an attack reminded me of Bleach, and the gratuitous techno stuff was a teensy bit like Hellsing or Tank Police. Some of the soundtrack is exactly the same as Bleach and the non-speaking guy is rather Wonderwice-esque. And in case you're wondering about half-way through the movie, the ending does come together nicely and make a lot of sense.

Overall:

Definitely worth watching, but maybe rent it first instead of buying it right away.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Hope

Despite this being an incredibly sad story, I found it profoundly reassuring that true love really is possible:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/ravenandjason

It also confirms for me that every life has value, and that if pain has any spiritual purpose, it's to sharply enhance joy.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Playin' with the graphics tablet.



I think I gotta figure out how to do shading with the airbrush tool a lot better. And pick better colours.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Seven Weird & Random Facts about Jennifer Rahn

OK, seems it's meme time. Nina Munteanu over at The Alien Next Door has tagged me with this little game. I'm not very blogosaavy, so I had to look this one up.

Meme:
Leftist pseudo-intellectualese or linguistic affectation, generally used in the pejorative, employed to designate a commonly held position, thought or expression as worthy of or susceptible to attack or denigration by superior leftist "critical thought" which the employer possesses in abundance.
www.theacru.org/blog/2007/04/a_dictionary_to_educate_the_politically_incorrect/

Er, no. I don't think that's it.

a cultural unit (an idea or value or pattern of behavior) that is passed from one generation to another by non-genetic means (as by imitation); "memes are the cultural counterpart of genes"
wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

Hmm. Sort of.

an idea, project, statement or even a question that is posted by one blog and responded to by other blogs. ...
www.fzelders.nl/weblog/

Oh, OK. That must be it.

So anyway, from Nina's blog, her seven weird facts are:

"Okay...well, here are seven (and only seven; I could write a book!) strange and weird facts about ME:
1. I'm an author and I can't spell
2. I speak five languages (none of them very well: English, French, Romanian, German, Swedish)
3. I failed First Year University Chemistry
4. I don't watch TV
5. My high school career assessment concluded that I was best suited to be a sargent in the army (writer was way down the list)
6. I opted out of Grade 11 biology to take typing (then had to challenge the exam when I decided to pursue a science degree at university)
7. I was chased off the Serengeti Plain by a horde of biting soldier ants."

Like Nina, I've got way more than seven tucked away, but the weirdest I shall keep to myself, thanks.

Weird stuff about Jen:
1. My fingernails are so soft that they can be bent around my fingers, no problem.
2. My left ankle pronates so badly that it interferes with the act of skipping by constantly catching the rope.
3. I was named after Jennifer Jones, who acted as Dr. Han Suyin in the 1955 movie Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.
4. I can swear in five languages, but only speak two (and the second one not very well).
5. The lowest grade on my transcript is in undergraduate cell biology.
6. I lost the Canada Scholarship because I refused to change my major from pharmacology and because my GPA was 0.2 points too low.
7. I am an F1 cross and therefore heterozygous at pretty much every phenotypic gene locus there is.

OK, now I'm supposed to tag some people with this. I choose:

J.Y.T. Kennedy
Sigrid Macdonald

. . . and I'll have to think about the rest . . .

Who's weird around here? More than me or Nina, that is . . .

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

What Happens After You Write the Book: Perspectives.

I had an earlier post addressing this, which didn't really answer the question, but was more a rambling speculation on what might happen. Now that my mini book tour is all said and done, I can comment more thoroughly. Also, I have been repeatedly asked what the time line was like for getting the book published.

So here it is, in what I hope is easy to digest format:

1990: I wanted to write this really cool story, but I didn't know the first thing about writing a novel. I started making up characters and jotting down some intense scenes that didn't quite hook up.

1996: I decided I wanted this thing done before I turned 30 and made a colossal effort to weave together all my disjointed scenes.

1999: I finished the first draft of what was then called "The Divine Prerogative." It was horrible. Parts of it had extreme coolness, parts of it were unspeakably stupid. All together, it was barf-inducing. But I did not know this. I submitted the book to a publisher, who liked my query + three chapters, foolishly asked to see the whole thing, and was very kind to actually read the whole thing (I know, because there were chocolate fingerprints on the pages right to the end when the manuscript was returned to me). The manuscript was politely refused.

2000 - 2003: I joined the Critters on-line critiquing group. With their help, I rewrote the novel 3 times. Big, huge thank-you to J.D. Williams for a tonne of help. The final rewrite I did on my own, after reading about "storyboarding" in Crawford Kilian's book, and hearing about J.K. Rowling's "grid thing" from a friend. The plot was massively straightened out and the POV characters were cut down to 1/5 of how many there were originally. I queried a few agents who told me they weren't accepting new clients unless they already had a book contract. I gave up with that approach pretty quickly.

Sept. 2003: I submitted "The Longevity Thesis" to Tor, who chucked it inside of two weeks. At least they didn't make me wait.

Dec. 2003: I submitted the query + 3 chapters to Dragon Moon Press.

Oct. 2004: DMP asked to see the whole thing.

Feb. 2006: DMP took it! Contract was signed.

2006 -2007: With a lot of help from friends, I got the webpage up and running, started blogging, got some promotional freebies made up (my infamous bookmarks and fridge magnets), got a promo book trailer made, started posting stuff all over the internet (amazon, myspace, blogger, facebook), arranged for a newspaper interview in my hometown, got an article published on DMP in a local newspaper, did some extra artwork for the PDF version of the book. Started asking other authors for cross-promotion activities (cross-interviews, passing out each other's freebie promo materials in our respective cities, plugs in blogs and podcasts, etc). Started attending conventions -- not as a panelist, just to see what goes on, and how other authors do promo. Passed out a couple freebies while I was there. Worked with the editor and cover artist supplied by DMP to get the manuscript into its final format.

Sept. 2007: The book was released!

Oct. - Nov. 2007: I teamed up with another author from my hometown and we got a second interview in the same newspaper and arranged to do a reading at the local library. I unexpectedly got a truck-load of help from EDGE, who had merged with DMP in August. They set me up for a mini-book tour all over Calgary (author signings in bookstores, and a couple of readings at an official book launch for LT and a group book launch for all the fall titles). EDGE and DMP's distributors did God-only-knows-what, and I saw The Longevity Thesis pop up in book catalogues all over the world in an amazing number of countries. I unexpectedly landed interviews with the organising committee for World Fantasy 2008 and a globally distributed Chinese language newspaper. That's been phenomenal exposure.

Dec 2007: Whew! Now what? Well, I have some new artwork I want to get out of my head and digitized for the webpage (my brother gave me a graphics tablet for my birthday -- it's awesome! No more pencil-crayony crap from me!), and I want to kick my butt into gear and get the prequel finished. I also want to do promo art for that as well.

And now it's today! Anybody have any other questions? I'm obviously no expert, but I can share what's happened for me.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Hot Off the Press Party with Dragon Moon Press and EDGE

Last night was the Fall Release Book Launch for the new titles from Tesseracts/EDGE/Dragon Moon Press. It was at Calgary's Historic Fire Hall #6 (currently called The Outdoor Resource Centre) in the hip Kensington area. It's a nice brick structure with the former fire truck bays converted into meeting rooms -- the party was held in one of these.


This is where the fire trucks used to drive out of --->





The evening started off with some munchies and live music, then we heard readings from Randy McCharles and Susan Forest, both of whom have their work published in Tesseracts Eleven, which was clearly one of the best selling titles. I picked one up myself and got it signed. Randy's story was a humorous piece called "Vampires of the Rockies", which he did not read to completion, leaving us wondering how it would end, and Susan read her short called "Tomorrow and Tomorrow", which was a near future examination of being practical in the face of adversity. The ending was a real gut-kicker.

I read last, opting for an abridged version of Chapter 5 from The Longevity Thesis, and managed not to screw it up. I tried to incorporate advice given to me from my last reading, keeping it light, short, not too much intro, starting off with a bio of myself so people knew who they were listening to and trying to work the "tease factor". As Randy explained to me, the whole point of doing a reading is not to explain what you wrote, but to get people to wonder what the rest of the story is, so that they go looking to read the book. I think I got it right. At least I extracted a few laughs from the crowd during the intro.

There were a couple of big names there, including Robert Sawyer and his imprint editor/publisher Kirsten Morrell, as well as Dr. Rebbecca Bradley and the man himself, Brian Hades. I also got to hang out with some friends, my kick-boxing buddy Laura, editor/publisher buddy Tim Reynolds (who finally introduced me to his partner Sue!), Ron from IFWA, who I'd met at ConVersion this year, Brian's vivacious wife Anita, Janice Shoults also from EDGE, and of course Justyn Perry, who was the organiser of this shindig. Nerves aside, I had a pretty good time.

Robert Sawyer and the lovely Kirsten Morrell.~~~~~I get to sign a book for Susan Forest!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Imagine My Surprise.


Surprise? About what?

Well, The Longevity Thesis has been out for round about two months now, some people have read it and have been giving me their thoughts and impressions of the novel.

Some people have hit the nail on the head.

Some people have left me startled. These people felt disappointed that the story did not meet their expectations of what they thought it would be about. Thus, I feel I must blog.

The Longevity Thesis is NOT (or ever intended to be):

1) A story about how youngish women have to struggle against their families to find a good marriage.
2) About a Fountain of Youth.
3) About my former Ph.D. supervisors.
4) A story with a single "linear" plot and no subplots.
5) Erotica.
6) Tolkien.
7) Not accurately described on the back cover.
8) Wallowing in endless depression with no hope of redemption.
9) A Christmas story.
10) Tongue-in-cheek.

The Longevity Thesis IS:

1) Intended to examine the ability of the characters to accurately perceive themselves, the other characters, and the situations they find themselves in.
2) Supposed to mess with the notion of first impressions and the natural inclination to pass judgment after a cursory glance.
3) An illustration of the debilitating effect of low self-esteem (ties in to the examination of accurate perception of self).
4) An exploration the possibility of escaping fear through forced growth.
5) A presentation of the notion that love is weird, and can come to a person in a myriad of unexpected ways.
6) Intended to loosely parallel fragments of Dante's Inferno.
7) Intended to loosely embrace selected Buddhist concepts.
8) An exploration how far a character can go in the direction of using evil to fight evil, and still be a good person.
9) A presentation of the notion that controlling people and restricting their freedom is one of the worst forms of cruelty.
10) An examination of how inaccurate perception of self can really mess up a person's life.

I'll comment further on the plot and how it was charted in a later post.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Book Signing #5

Yep, I'm still at it. Today I was at Coles in Market Mall, promoting The Longevity Thesis. I was joined by EDGE Marketing Manager, Justyn Perry, and was visited by many of my friends, since this location was closest to the varsity area. We passed out freebie bookmarks, EDGE/Dragon Moon Press Catalogues, and fridge magnets. (Yeah, I know. It's weird, but why not?)

It was a low key afternoon, but I'd like to send out my heartfelt thanks to my buddies for stopping by or just saying hello in passing: Maggie, Laura, Vivian, Tessa, Chris, Zoe, Tom, Phil, Beichen, Kate, and Melanie.

Also, thank you to Coles and their staff for hosting me, and to all the friendly people who stopped to chat, whether or not they decided to pick up the book. (It's much nicer to at least chat rather than just sitting there.)

Well, this was the second last stop for the fall season. Next I'll be doing a short reading at the EDGE/Dragon Moon Press Hot Off the Presses Party, at the Historic Fire Hall on Memorial Drive. It's at 7:00pm on November 30th. Susan Forest and Randy McCharles will also be reading their works. For those of you interested in attending World Fantasy 2008 in Calgary next year, Randy is one of the organisers, so this would be a good opportunity to get more information.

In other news, EDGE is having a sale on Fall Release titles: 20% off everything published in late 2007. And keep an eye out for a Chinese language news article to be published in The Epoch Times! There will be news about the book, book tour as well as an interview with Justyn Perry.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

D'Amour Road -- Sigrid Macdonald


D'Amour Road
Sigrid Macdonald
Lulu Enterprises, Inc. 2005
ISBN 1-4116-2872-1
$17.00 USD

This is an important book. Emotionally, it's not an easy read, as it stirs up several complicated emotions at once: fear of violence, fear of being unacceptable, fear of losing something one has yet to even grasp, fear of being alone after shedding an uncomfortable, yet familiar existence. All this, served up with a side order of harsh reality and a dash of denial.

As I read this book, the details of the everyday life of an ordinary woman had the effect of placing me firmly in the main character's shoes. Tara Richards is inherently known by every woman who has gotten up in the morning and looked in the mirror. Her unremarkable life was contrasted with the abrasive pain of having maybe lost a close friend in the worst way possible, and the confounding mental haze that comes with not actually knowing. It's a strange experience, reaching for normalcy, trying to deal with the mundane, while something so shocking has happened that it pokes holes in a person's integrity, letting so many emotions slowly bleed out, perhaps leading to actions a person might not normally have undertook, and ultimately to recoiling from the inevitable slap of reality when the consequences of those actions comes.

As I read about Tara Richards' struggle to find her missing, and possibly murdered best friend, I wondered if enough had been done. Or if Tara had hesitated for too long. Or if Tara had failed because she had tried to promote fairness at the expense of pure instinct. Or if she had been selfish, allowing herself to be distracted from her crusade by things that might have been the manifestations of denial. Yet after reading the novel, it's fully apparent that without being psychic, there was not much else she could have done.

In the epilogue, the author makes a few statements that helped my mind settle after I had finished the story:

"This book is not a mystery; it is not a whodunit. It is a story about what people experience when they go through the shock of losing someone, and the helplessness, rage, and fear that they feel knowing that they may never see that person again . . . How do we maintain the presumption of innocence without putting ourselves in danger by bonding with a killer?"

The book is dedicated to Louise Ellis, murdered April 1995.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Back Home to Sherwood Park

Last weekend I headed home for my Mum's birthday and I also snuck in a reading at the local library while I was at it. This was a joint venture with fantasy author J.Y.T. Kennedy, who is also with Dragon Moon Press, and lives just outside of my hometown.

J.K.'s novel Dominion, was released in 2005. The protagonist of this story is a woman called Gilna, who completes her training as a perfumer just before her village is ravaged first by plague, then by an unstoppable invading army bent on conquering everything in their path. Gilna's skills allow her to administer medicines through scents, and alternately, deadly poisons. As a healer and survivor of the plague, Gilna is deemed useful by the invading Kurathk, and is kept as a servant to the tribal leaders. Her need to survive within her captive state battles with her guilt over assisting her peoples' sworn enemy, until she determines a way to use the power and influence she garners from her new position to manipulate the Kurathk. Although she is terrified of the dreamworld, help comes from that ethereal dimension, as Gilna plots to destroy the Kurathk through their growing dependency on her.

Although many people had told us they'd seen the article about the event published in the Nov 2nd edition of Strathcona County This Week, there was a small turnout. The atmosphere was pleasantly relaxed, where the audience munched on home baked goodies (and my store bought cookies) along with some tea or coffee. Some of my friends from elementary and high school turned out, as well as some of J.K.'s writer group buddies. I finally got J.K. to sign my copy of her book, and had the chance to sign a few of my own. That was the nice thing about this set up; everyone who showed up had a genuine interest in the books.


Friday, November 9, 2007

Reading with J.Y.T. Kennedy -- Nov 12th

It's back on the book circuit next week! Jennifer Kennedy, author of Dominion, and I will be at the Strathcona County Library, doing a joint reading and Q & A session for all interested. If you happen to be in the Edmonton area, we'd love to see you there. (Cookies will be provided -- come for the cookies, leave with the books!!)

The WebMaster for my site decided to entertain me with this photo montage. I got a kick out of it:

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Interesting . . .

Well, the first independent review for LT has appeared on the internet. "Independent" as in, I don't have any association with this person whatsoever. I found it on dondammassa.com.

"This is apparently a first novel and it suffers from some of the usual awkwardness associated with first novels, but the premise and background are actually rather interesting. It's a very atypical fantasy world that almost but doesn't quite come to life, set in a vast underground civilization. The protagonist, Antronos, was born on the surface, which makes him a kind of second class citizen. He perseveres, graduates from college, and begins to work with a man who is studying ways to prolong human life. The problem is that his new boss is making use of a corrupt nobleman with psychic powers to steal the life force from others. Antronos gets caught, not exactly in the middle, and it's not clear whether he will become an involuntary life donor, a co-conspirator, or the man who saves the nobleman from being exploited by the evil scientist. The narrative portions are generally well written, but the dialogue is often quite artificial and awkward. I'd call this one an interesting misfire, and hope that the author develops the writing skill to match her obviously creative imagination. 10/27/07"

I kinda like the term "interesting misfire". That's very unique.

Anyway, I'm reposting this because I'm curious about reader feedback for this sort of review. What's your reaction to it? Would it make you look for other reviews or turn you off the book altogether?

(Thanks in advance to anyone who cares to comment!)

I'm not too discouraged by this one review, because some very nice people have emailed me directly with the following comments:

"I think your book is very interesting. I think the desert is almost like consciousness in that you don't know what will arise. I was intrigued."

"
. . . the opening scene with the dust storm and the rescue of Antronos by his mother has me intrigued . . . if I enjoy this book as much as the opening scene, I will be looking for anything else you write."

"
I had to take a moment to let you know that I am 60 pages into the PDF version of your novel and I really am enjoying it! I love fantas[ies] that do not rely on the 'standard' themes, characters and settings and your work is definitely forging it's own original path."

So what does it all mean? Am I headed towards a niche audience? I know it's unrealistic to expect universal appeal, but every little piece of feedback does get filed away as I go along. So thank you to everyone who has taken time to write something, good or bad, and know that you are not wasting your time, because all of it is being taken into consideration.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Book Signing #3: The Official Launch

(Reading at The Sentry Box -- Look at all 'em books!)
Many, many thanks to Justyn from EDGE and The Sentry Box for hosting the official launch of The Longevity Thesis! This was my very first public reading from the novel. Most of the audience were "in the industry" and some of them had helpful comments for me afterwards.

I was pretty nervous going in, and I think my voice shook a bit at the beginning, but after a few moments, I hit my stride and got lost in the story, which really helped. Other writers have told me it gets easier with time. They also gave me a few pointers on giving public readings, which I'll try to incorporate the next time I do this. It's great to plan things, but I found once I was up there, so much of my attention went into not falling over or otherwise doing something dumb, that it was hard to do much else. Regardless, I learned how to write a novel from other writers, and I think they remain a valuable resource for learning other things, like how to publicly speak. Turns out, reading fantasy is quite a bit different from giving a lecture on tumour biology! (Gee, who would have thought?)

(Here I am signing a copy for Randy McCharles, one of the World Fantasy 2008 organizers.)


I met a few new people, most I had connected with previously, especially at ConVersion 23, which I had attended in August. It was nice to see them again.

I was also interviewed afterwards by some of the organizers of World Fantasy 2008. They intend to air the podcast of the interview and my reading next Sunday. I hope I don't sound too dorky. I'm not fond of my voice.

Brian Hades, the EDGE publisher, also told me that 50 copies of The Longevity Thesis had been sent out for review. I was floored. This is all really happening, and it's hard to believe. Not so long ago, just getting published seemed so far away.

I also had a Twilight Zone moment, as we accidentally photographed some "orbs" when figuring out the camera settings. Some people believe that these funny little things are conscious beings from alternate dimensions that can act as guides or angels. I'm not kidding. Try doing a Google search on them. Anyway, I can only hope that was a good sign for the book.

(Yeah, I know, it just looks like a camera glitch, but it's more fun to think they were cute little aliens or something.)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Book Signing #2

(I just love the sign in the background.)

Well, this time it wasn't so exciting. I took the C-Train downtown to the lower level Coles store in the T.D. Square shopping complex, and spent and extended lunch hour there, watching the world go by. Once again, the store manager and staff were very nice, professional, polite people, and I thank them for having me.

While I did get to meet several interesting folks, many of them writers themselves, nobody seemed to be in a buying mood. It was still a nice session, and I swapped a few myspace addys with fellow wordsmiths.

Here are transcripts (as I remember them) of a couple interesting conversations I had:

Cute little 4 year old girl: "Hi!"
Me: "Hi. How are you?"
Cutie: "I'm fine. What are you doing?"
Me: "I'm signing books."
Cutie: "Can I have one?" (Mother calling her away.)
Me: "Well, how about I give you a bookmark?"
Cutie: "Thanks!" (She runs off, bookmark held aloft in triumph. Mother relieved.)

For the record, I gave her the Alaindra bookmark, which was the least creepy one I had.

Chinese Gentleman: "You wrote this book?"
Me: "Yes. I did."
CG: "You?"
Me: "Yes. It was me."
CG: "You are Jennifer? How do you say your last name? Ruan?"
Me: "It's Rahn."
CG: "Ah?"
Me: "My Dad is German. It's a German name."
CG: "How is that?"
Me: "My Mum is Chinese."
CG: "Ooooohhhh. Now you make sense!"

And that was my lunchtime adventure.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

My First Book Signing!

I started today off with a coffee-bag-related injury. How, Jen, you may ask, does one sustain a coffee-bag-related injury? Unfortunately, I can't tell you since I was half asleep when I did it, and I don't actually know. A coffee can would make sense, but somehow I managed this with a half empty bag. The only reason this is of note, is because it happened on the index finger of my right hand, almost exactly where my finger might rest on the paper when I am writing. For a time there, I was afraid all my books would be signed in blood. Well, that was the only unpleasant thing that happened today, thank goodness.

I spent the afternoon at Chapters in Calgary's Chinook Centre. I have to say, the staff and manager there were fantastic. They are all, without exception, nice, helpful people. My thanks go out to them for being so great.

I was somewhat worried that no one would talk to me, however, within half an hour of being there a gentleman called Layton asked me to sign a book! My hand was shaking so much I made the worst signature I've ever done in my life, and misspelled "reading". (As in "happy reading!") I was surprised and encouraged that most of the people who were interested in the book were my age or more, when I was expecting more the early university crowd. I do hope they won't be disappointed. I also had a few conversations with people who were in the business and wanted to know what my publishing experience was like. On two separate occasions, a little girl came by and snatched up a copy and asked her parents to buy it. Of course one look at the cover, and their parents said "no". One of them pleaded, "but the skeletons are cool!" I signed six books in all, which is nowhere near comparable to J.K. Rowling, but amazingly good for me. The manager of the store told me that was pretty much average for a new author. The last book I signed was bought by a fellow named Doug (who's already emailed me to ask about the book!) and the session ended on a positive note.

The questions I got asked most frequently were if the book was part of a series and if it was any good. It had occurred to me that morning to print up a copy of the reviews I had from other authors, since the book was virtually unknown, so those came in handy for letting people know what some other readers thought.

And of course, I have to give a big thank you to my friends Laura and Mary who came out to give me some support.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Enter: Proteomics

If you keep up on nerd news, you might have heard the bewildering reports on what James Watson has said about race and genetics. Apparently, 'He was quoted in the Oct. 14 issue of The Sunday Times saying he feels "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" since "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really."'

This is a case of someone believing their own hype.

Assuming he did say this, I can't help but think that James Watson knows piddly squat. First of all, the completed sequence of the human genome doesn't tell us much. So we know the code. Big deal. There are approximately 25 - 35000 genes, but guess what? There are >500000 proteins that are encoded by these genes (the sum of which are referred to as the human proteome) and an unestimated number of possible metabolites produced from the enzymes within the proteome, to form the human metabolome. All of these factors put together can impact the performance, health and abilities of a human being. Genetics are the tip of the iceberg, and really don't tell you much about the end product, which is the person. There are at least two higher orders of complexity to a human being. Maybe more.

Point number two: What you're born with is merely the starting material. Just as none of us are born with rippling muscles, if any of us care to put in the time and work to get the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger, we most likely can. The same thing goes for the human brain. Learning requires time and work. Anyone who plays video games knows that with practice and constantly challenging a current skill level, pattern recognition abilities and the rapidity of problem solving increase. It's the same when you go through grad studies and get your Ph.D. Looking back, I was so hopelessly green and, quite frankly, not very smart when I finished undergrad, which was one of the reasons why I left after a Masters; I knew I didn't have what it took to be a scientist. However, not being one chaffed, and so I went back, did the work, put in the time, and developed what it took to do the job. I most certainly was not born with the abilities I have now.

Genetics and/or race determines intellectual ability? That view is painfully simplistic.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mini Book Tour







Thanks to Justyn, the marketing manager at Dragon Moon Press' new partner EDGE Science Fiction & Fantasy, I've got a little book tour set up. The official book launch will be at Calgary's Gamer Central -- The Sentry Box, on October 27th. However, there are two signings before that at Chapters and Coles on the 20th and 26th. The specific dates,times and locations are listed on Booktour.com (check out the widget off to the right).

I'm looking forward to seeing The Longevity Thesis in print form for the very first time! Hope to see you there!

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P.S. If you're an online shopper, Amazon and Chapters have both dropped their prices.

$10.85 on Amazon.com
$12.37 on Amazon.ca
$12.88 on Chapters.indigo.ca

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Michael Leadingham, cover artist for The Longevity Thesis


Michael Leadingham is a freelance artist based in Las Vegas, who specialises in illustrations for fantasy publications. He is also the founder of the online gallery called Painters Block.







We've all heard the cliché, "never judge a book by its cover" and we all know that's exactly what we do. Cover art is not only essential to the completion of a book, but it's the first thing anyone sees, and thus, must have a significant impact on a potential reader.When it came time to find an artist for The Longevity Thesis, Dragon Moon Press publisher Gwen Gades asked me how I felt about having Michael Leadingham paint the cover. She referred me to the painting Michael had done for Connie Ward's book, The Gryphon Highlord, to see if I liked it. I thought it was fantastic, and enthusiastically agreed. When presented with the draft of the cover, there were very few changes that I requested (different eye colour, slightly longer hair, and some dust around the skeletons' feet) and then . . . it was perfect!





Aside from promoting his own work online, Michael also tries to help his peers, by posting their work collectively on a site called Painters Block. When asked about it, Michael says, "Heh well, that's my new baby. Painters Block is an artists' community dedicated to promoting up and coming illustrators. We have a juried gallery with 3 editors that critique submitted art. We of course accept only the best works. When we do reject a piece we of course explain in detail to the artists why it wasn't accepted. Our hopes are that the rejection critiques will help the artist grow and reach their fullest potential. Our hopes are that Painters Block becomes a respected community where new and upcoming artists will be able to grow and give back in the form of teaching others. That's a real goal is teaching others, and bringing them business prospects."

"Concrete Jungle" by Michael Leadingham.

Michael himself studied illustrating technique on his own, building up his abilities ever "since [he] could hold a pencil". True to his vision of Painters Block, he got most of his professional training through critiques and advice given by other artists, and by studying their methods. He lists Keith Parkinson, Todd Lockwood, J.P. Targete, Frank Frazzetta, and Michael Whelan as major inspirational influences, and was also impressed enough by the movie "300" to consider picking up Frank Miller's graphic novel version.When painting with traditional media, Michael prefers watercolour, however most of his professional work is now done digitally. "I actually use a PC for most of my work, but recently I have been exploring the idea of using a Mac. Mostly I use Windows because for the longest time that was the only operating system that offered the paint programs I use (Photoshop and Corel Painter). A Mac is definitely better for artwork though, as far as power [goes]," he said. "I use a Wacom tablet with an Intous stylus. It's the best I have found so far. Works particularly well with Painter."

"Castle Falls" by Michael Leadingham.

The biggest challenge facing artists today is being taken for granted. Michael says, "Many people feel artists are merely hobbyists, and should give artwork away for free. Once upon a time artists were revered much like movie stars of today. Not anymore though. The competition is so fierce, and instant gratification has become the norm. Hard work, time taken
to complete real works of art is no longer respected I'm afraid." Looking at his paintings, it seems hard to not appreciate the skill and effort required to produce such images. How many of us would be able to generate our own book covers with the speed and accuracy provided by a professional artist? It's a task that certainly any author would find intimidating.

Michael's actual hobbies include building model ships, "especially the Pirateology series of games and models", and he is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction. His interest in all things oceanic extends to an unfulfilled wish to become a marine biologist . . . if only it weren't for the required math! When not painting book covers, he also illustrates for posters and magazines. "Right now I'm working on a commission for a custom truck builder who wants to show his truck at a truck show. It will be called 'First Knight' so he wants a King Arthur theme painted on the truck. I am also the Senior Artist for Virtual Tales Publishing."

So there you have it, the man behind the cover painting for The Longevity Thesis. Michael Leadingham's paintings appear on the Conceptual Design Works webpage, as well as on Painters Block. Inspiration for All!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Small press, big heart

(This is a repost of an article that appeared in the University of Calgary Alumni Newspaper, On Campus.)

Being a science fiction and fantasy publisher was—literally—a dream of University of Calgary alumna Gwen Gades. Now, with her upstart imprint Dragon Moon Press, she’s making that dream a reality.

It used to be that serious Canadian science fiction and fantasy authors had very few choices for getting into print. For years, the only noticeable Alberta publication was Edmonton’s On-Spec magazine.

Since the early -’90s, however, the genre is finding a home out west, with Edmonton’s Tessaract Books merging with Calgary publisher EDGE, and Canadian science fiction guru Robert Sawyer choosing this province for his own imprint—Robert J. Sawyer Books—in collaboration with Red Deer Press. Thus, Gades now finds herself in good company.

Dragon Moon Press came into being in 1993, when Gades opted against law school after finishing her BA in history. At the suggestion of one of her professors, she decided to incorporate her love for science fiction and fantasy into a career as a publisher.

The name for her publishing company came in a dream. Gades recalls being struck by inspiration in the middle of the night, by the image of a dragon—an archetype of fantasy—and the moon—a standard of science fiction—coming together as one.

She started off by attending a publishing workshop at the Banff Centre for the Arts and it was then that she realized Calgary had little employment to offer a fledgling publisher. While developing the Dragon Moon vision, she paid the bills and honed her management skills by progressing from a clerk at an independent bookstore, to one at a chain bookstore. She worked her way up from being an assistant manager, to a manager and then a regional buyer.

Eventually, Gades found herself buying books and magazines for a national chain and thus developing a very clear idea of what was popular in the current market.

Things really took off when, after printing some book covers at Two Printers, she was offered an opportunity to help them get into the short-run book printing business.

Together, they started Blitzprint, which provides Gades with the printing expertise and facilities she needs, in return for her knowledge on how to publish a really fantastic book. She refers to their synergy as “a form of divine intervention.”

The next big boost for Dragon Moon Press was the arrival of author Tee Morris on the scene. Gades refers to him as one of the best things that has happened to Dragon Moon since it was launched.

Morris has authored three of Dragon Moon’s 19 novels, including MOREVI, Legacy of Morevi, and Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Singing Sword. He has also co-authored Dragon Moon’s The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy, and The Fantasy Writer’s Companion.

“He’s been a nagging—I mean, driving—force behind Dragon Moon Press since he came on board,” Gades laughs. “He brings energy, talent and a determination that makes him an unstoppable force of nature.”

Morris refers to Gades as a woman bent on world domination. Gades says her goal is somewhat smaller—to capture enough of the market to expand to a mid-sized press. Finances remain one of her biggest challenges.

In the short term, “I’d like to walk into any bookstore and find our books on the shelves, have a few breakout authors make the leap to big presses and be able to say ‘Oh, I discovered him/her’!” she says. As for the future, Gades remains realistic.

“Some of the things we have going on right now, I think may help us to make becoming a larger press a reality. We’ve teamed up with Lumos Publishing to release a whole line of Dragon Moon Audio Productions.

“We’ve got one of the strongest lineups of podcasting authors. We are looking at some foreign right sales and are starting to feel like we’re being noticed. We don’t really need to be a big press, just a small press with a big heart.”


Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Game (An Interview with Jeff)

I needed some distraction in the worst way, so I called my bud Nina and had her drop me off at The Texan Lounge on the Karnellian Lunar Base. Nina's usually pretty busy, what with saving the Earth and all, but she's the only person I know in Canada who has a spaceship, and as always, she was happy to oblige.

Once past the decontam lock, I was very relieved to be able to shuck my space suit and pull in a few lungfuls of recycled air. They weren't bad at the Texan. Their filters were changed regularly, and they put a hint of mesquite in the atmosphere. At any rate, it was way better than what the suit could offer me. They also scan you on the way in, eliminating passport checks and the rest of it.

The other thing I really liked about the Texan was the way they had the place lit, so that the lighting didn't interfere with the spectacular view of the Shoshuma Nebula that slowly spiralled 30 million light years outside the transplex windows of the lounge. They had the outfit the main structure with metal reinforcements, all grey and pocked with rivets, but otherwise the joint was decorated with wooden siding and bull skulls complete with horns. The staff all wore their long hair in ponytails, strutted about in jeans, sometimes under chaps, and white shirts with string ties. Guillaume, the bartender, doesn't really fit in a Texan bar, but he knows how to make just about any drink you can imagine, so they hired him anyway. He already had a lime margarita waiting for me when I walked in.

"Salut, Chérie," he greeted me. "Ça va?"

"Hey Guillaume. Not bad. You?"

"Ah, tout va bien. Comme toujours. Hé, there is a – comment dit on? A sheark, here. Maybe you want to play against 'im? I've watched 'im win the last 9 games 'e's played. You like a challenge, non?"

I turned to follow Guillaume's line of sight, and saw a figure sitting in a dusky corner of the lounge, wearing a long, brown coat with a shoulder cape, his face covered by the wide brim of a Stetson, and a Jack and Coke in one hand. No one was in a game with him now. I noticed that Daniel Craig was sitting at a different table, taking in some other suckers. I guessed the "sheark" was too much even for him.

"Who is he?" I asked.

"All dat I know, is 'e is called 'Jeff'. 'E says 'e is from San Diego, but 'e talks like 'e is from New York." Guillaume grinned at me and pushed a set of cards and chips across the bar. He knew I couldn’t resist a good round of Hold 'Em. "Apparently, 'e is also a member of dat writers' group you used to be with. Creeters."

"Oh, Critters? Cool. Thanks, Guillaume." I picked up the card set and walked over to the table.

"Hi!" I said when I reached where he sat. "You Jeff?"

Dude looked up and a slow grin stretched across his face when he saw the silver case of chips. He kicked out a chair for me.

"Have a seat," he said. "You can deal first."

The tables at the Texan automatically link your bank account to the chips you toss onto the surface. Depending on how much you have, the chips change colour. If you're out of cash, they remain clear. My chips started staying clear alarmingly quickly. I tried to discretely scoop half of them back into the case, checking to see if Jeff had noticed. Of course he had. I pretended not to care and counted out an equal number for him. All his remained coloured. We threw in the ante, and he posted a blind as I dealt and put down the flop.

"So I hear you're with Critters," I began conversationally.

"Yeah," said Jeff. So far he seemed like a pretty relaxed guy. "I'm just in the process of shopping short stories around now, so there's nothing that I can really promote just yet. I do have – what I've been told by my readers – a twisted, little fairy tale called 'Prodigy' that I'm shopping around. Another, 'Flashpoint', is currently in edit."

"Awesome." My hand sucked, but I didn't want to let on this early, so I matched his bet and dealt the turn. "Any novels in the works?"

"I really like creating something that someone can enjoy in a short amount of time. I have more than a few novels in me, but for now I'm focused on shorter works."

Things were looking up with the turn. I matched again and put down the river. "Any super deep messages in your stuff?"

"I write to entertain. There are times when the topics are heavier, but if someone says of my work: 'that was great/fun/scary/thought provoking/etc.' then I've done my job. I'm not out to write something clever just for the sake of being clever."

Split pot. I was nervous, but at least I was still in the game. I discretely wiped my hands on my jeans as Jeff collected the cards.

"Kinda sounds like you're more into fantasy than SF."

"Yeah, dark fantasy. I really enjoy starting out with something grounded in reality and then taking it a bit off center. The 'dark' part comes in why people make the easy decision instead of the right one. I'm doing some research on a science fiction novel that has been chasing around in my brain for a while, but I'll let you know once I get to the writing on that one." He looked up and winked.

As Jeff shuffled, Daniel Craig's cell phone rang and I flinched. It was the James Bond theme. While he was talking, two more of his phones sounded off. Man, the guy had, like, five cell phones. All at once, his cell phones seemed to feed back into each other and two of them blew up, setting Daniel's white suit on fire.

Jeff laughed. "Here's to a world without cell phones!" he crowed. "You know, I tried to win those off him, just so I could smash them, but he got all offended and walked off."

The next hand proceeded. Things were looking pretty good for me after the flop, so I raised the bet. Jeff eyed me speculatively, then said, "You know, I see you haven't got much cash, but I'm sure we can make this more interesting. How 'bout I throw in the best car in the universe? My Ford Mustang."

I gave a tell when my fingers started tapping the table. I pretended I was sizing him up, when I already knew he was, how did Guillaume say? A shark. I tried to pry some information out of him, and ended up asking a really stupid question.

"A Mustang, huh? You got some kind of superpowers to go along with that?"

"Sure," said Jeff. "The ability to find a path to the best possible outcome in all situations. Nothing too big, just the sort of thing that makes people smack their head and say 'Damn, why didn't I think of that?' Just call me Captain Obvious."

Geez, this guy was good. He wasn't giving anything away.

"Well, I haven't got a fancy car. How about a really good character. Those are always useful to a writer."

Jeff shrugged. "Depends what it is."

"What kind of D&D character would you prefer?"

"One of my favorites was a hunchback thief who used to work in the circus and used to get in trouble for sticking up for the underdog."

"Uh, haven't got one of those. How about a villain?"

"It would have to be cross between Donald Trump and Bill Clinton. Neither are villains, but a driven, charming, uncle/mentor character that has dreams of world domination and a rubber chicken fetish. That and a monkey henchman – Henchmonkey? – that he's always admonishing for smoking."

"Huh. Haven't got one of those either."

"How about an extra publishing contract?" countered Jeff. "I'd like to be with Simon & Shuster. I've got Stef Penney's 'Tenderness of Wolves' sitting right next to me. This is her first novel and they've done a great job at getting the word out and producing it."

"I wish. Nope, haven't got that either. I do have a small moon out in the Toopa System. Haven't seen it yet, but the agent told me it has terellium deposits."

Jeff considered. "OK," he finally said, and the turn was tossed on the table. It was not good. Jeff was calm and relaxed. Smiling slightly. I bet he had a straight. I tried to distract him.

"So which authors are you into the most?"

"Oh, I like Richard Matheson, Stephen King, Joe Lansdale, Raymond Chandler, and James Morrow. Although the book that impressed me the most in my life was 'The Big Sleep' by Raymond Chandler. Great characters, awesome plot, and plenty of sharp dialog. He had me at: 'dead men are heavier than broken hearts.'"

"Wow. That does sound good."

"So does this," said Jeff as the river hit the table. Maybe good for him. I was one card short of a flush and didn't even have a pair. There went my moon. I stood up.

"Hey, no hard feelings?" asked Jeff. He held out his hand. He really was an OK guy.

"No, of course not. I'm just cleaned out. Good luck with the writing, eh?" I shook his hand.

As I walked out, Guillaume gave me a commiserating smile and said, "Dommage, Chérie. Meilleur chance la prochaine fois!"


You can visit Jeff (and maybe test his poker skills) at his MySpace page.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Free e-books! Good ones!


Gwen Gades, publisher of Dragon Moon Press, has released electronic copies of several novels, including The Longevity Thesis, for free. That's right, nada.

If you'd like a free copy of The Longevity Thesis, skip on over to Gwen's blog:

http://dragonmoonpress.blogspot.com/

The hard copy version of the novel is due to ship out from the printers on Sept 25th.

Thanks and happy reading!



*The photo is taken from an article about Gwen, originally printed by The University of Calgary Alumni Association.

Monday, September 10, 2007

An Interview with Horror Novelist Mike Bennett

I was trying to write late one afternoon, and it was like walking through wet concrete, right before it hardened. Finally admitting defeat, at least for now, I pushed my keyboard back on my desk and stood up, thinking that perhaps a slice of cake and some coffee might help. Or maybe a few new CDs in the drive might get me going. As I walked into the kitchen, the loose end of a small gold chain dangling off the counter top caught my eye. The clasp at the end of it had been wrenched open, and my muse was gone.

"@#$*!" I muttered, and went to rummage through the usual places, looking in the pantry, the compost and finally in the fireplace. It was nowhere to be seen.

"Great. I've got a deadline, Sid, and now's the time when you decide to take off." I took a broom and began poking under the furniture, trying to find out where it had gone. I knew it had been pouting lately, so I'd bought some Miracle-Gro, thinking that might perk it up. Perhaps I'd given it too much, and now it had thoughts of independence! My worries deepened when I finally found its pot discarded by the back door, with the soil and pebbles strewn over the tiles and rooty little footprints leading to the outside.

"Oh, boy." This had never happened before. Did Sid just up and decide that now it wanted to be a tree in some forest? I had promised I'd get another plant soon, really I was going to. Could it not just wait until I had some time?

I pulled on my shoes and ran out after it. "Sid!" I called. "Come back here right now!"

It hadn't left a very definite trail, but I did catch sight of flattened grass and the odd exotic leaf that didn't belong with the rest of the foliage outside. I didn't really know where the trail was leading, but I figured that a tiny little plant running on roots couldn't have gotten far.

Or perhaps it could have.

"I don't believe this," I said, as I approached an old-fashioned stone well, which I was absolutely sure hadn't been there before. On the cross beam of the well a strange symbol had been etched:


"Just when I was not in the mood for creepiness," I complained, but there was no help for it, so I took a deep breath, and swung my legs over the edge of the well.

I will never understand bungee jumpers. Freefall is the most unpleasant sensation in the world. Never mind the world, in the entire history of creation. Since the start of the universe. Or even before that, but I digress.

Landing is equally unpleasant, especially after falling through the dark and into a mucky bog, which you were hoping would be there to break your fall, but then hoping it wouldn't be there to soak into your clothes along with an ungodly smell. I was not at all surprised that there was a bank for me to crawl out onto, having jumped down what I was fairly certain had been a magical well. As I stood there, shaking off the mud and in a very bad mood, I gradually became aware that someone was walking towards me through the surrounding trees. He was a well groomed man, wearing a strange black suit with white piping around the tailored collar, and a circular white badge with the number 6 on it.

"Hello," he said in an English accent. "Welcome to the Land of Inspiration." He pulled out some sort of ray gun, and before I could protest, shot me with it. I suddenly felt much more comfortable, and realized all he had done was zap away the muck. "Not bad," he said, looking me over. "Hasn't been working that well for a while, but seems to be all right now." He turned around and started walking back the way he had come.

"Excuse me," I called after him. "Who are you?" He slowed down a bit so that I could fall into step with him, then held out his hand.

"Mike Bennett. University of Brighton, BA. Hons. Media and Information Studies. Currently, I teach English." I shook his hand, somewhat dumbfounded.

"It's nice to meet you."

"And you," he replied.

"May I ask what this place is, and what you're doing here?"

"It's a place where artistic types come to think and get unstuck. Much the same as you, I'd imagine." He winked and flicked his collar. "We engage in a bit of cosplay, get the creative wit flowing. You don't recognize the outfit, do you?"

I shook my head.

"It's the official garb of Number 6, the character played by Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner. If you've got time, I'd recommend you have a look. When they make the movie of my life, it's McGoohan I'd want playing me."

"I see. You're an actor then?"

"Me? No, no. When I was very young, I wanted to be a stunt man in the movies. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a rock star or a writer. I used to sing in a band, no spandex for me, mind you, but the writerly ambition's the one that won out. I'd still like to be on stage though. Perhaps someday, but then I'd also like to be able to fly. We can't have everything."

"That's very interesting. Any books out?"

"One Among the Sleepless was my first. It's also a podcast novel. Ever been disturbed by noisy neighbours? Wondered which one of them it was and what you'd do when you found out? It's like that, along with a few mysterious disappearances.

"Then there's Hall of Mirrors. It's a collection of stories that draws on a variety of genres, from horror and the grotesque to contemporary fiction. I wrote 90% of the stories about nine or ten years ago when I was doing a lot of temp work: hotel portering, garbage man, grounds maintenance and grave digging etc. It was while working in these jobs that I started to see the stories that weren’t being told by anyone else, and I thought, ‘Ah-ha, now there’s a horrible situation.’"

"They sound like they might be funny."

"I suppose. However, I'd say they're more inspired by the macabre. Humour just sort of happens, rising naturally out of the situations. Often the more desperate or unpleasant the situation, the better the chances are for finding something to laugh at."

"Why did you have to come here? Are you not writing now?"
"Nothing right now. I may write a few more stories for Hall of Mirrors. Then I’ll think about starting my second novel. I kind of got out of the writing habit about seven years ago and I’m finding it hard organising my life in such a way as I can start up again."

"I suppose that's why Sid came. I must have been putting too much pressure on it. Expecting more than it could give."

"Was that the little green runt I saw running by? Your muse, was it?"

"Did you see it? Where did it go?"

"Probably where they all go. To see him. Come on, then. Let's go find your plant."

"This is starting to sound creepy. Are you sure it's safe?" Mike laughed.

"The only thing I'm afraid of is bureaucracy. And well, if I get knocked off, I'll be happy so long as they remember to play the theme from The Black Hole by John Barry at my funeral. Can't be worse than doing hospital laundry. I hated that job."

"Well, let's not get ahead of things. I just want to collect Sid and leave. None of this dying stuff. And who is this him person?"

We had left the murky forest we had been walking through, and were now traversing a dark street, where the odd wraith passed us by, and if there were strangers that shared it with us, they stayed in the shadows, not giving me a clear view of whether or not their feet touched the ground. With a grin and a flourish, Mike pulled a card of some sort out of thin air and showed it to me. It bore the same symbol as the cross beam of the well.

"He's a strange one, he is. Aliester Crowley, founder of the Argenteum Astrum. Member of the Golden Dawn, Freemasons and the Ordo Templi Orientis. For a time in Britain, he was known as The Wickedest Man in the World. If you're going to write anything in the horror genre, Jen, you might want to sit in on one of his talks. He was *the* philosopher and mystic of his time."

"What do you mean, 'his time'?"

"Oh, well, he's dead now, isn't he?"

"Hmm, well, I sort of write dark fantasy, but it's not really horror. This guy sounds rather beyond me. I'm not so sure I want to meet him."

"I wouldn't mind being related to him. All of my real relatives are all very normal."

"Mine aren't, but the ones I associate with are all still very much alive."

"Ah yes, the joy of being alive. But that's what we write for isn't it? We describe the dark to enhance the contrast of all that's best in life. Like my wife, the people who contact me and tell me that what I do entertains them. These demons we meet here will never leave the page, so not to worry. I think some of my favourite authors must have sojourned here. Philip K. Dick, Richard Brautigan, P.G. Wodehouse, Ian Fleming, Sarah Waters. Even if we don’t all write horror, we still need to struggle against the elements of the dark, or there is no story."

"Ah-huh." We had approached an imposing temple made of tarnished metal that rose up against a restless sky, silhouetted against black clouds swarming through a red night. The strange symbol again appeared at the apex of the roof, and inscribe across the entry way were the words: "All Ye Who Enter Here Shall Follow The Book of the Law, the central sacred text of Thelema."

"Sid!" I saw my little muse sitting on an overturned milk carton, munching on a leafful of nitrogen pellets. I ran over to it, scooped it up and tucked it into my sweater.

"Well, Mike. Thank you for helping me find my plant. I'll leave you to your visit with Mr. Crowley. Um, I just go back the way we came, right?"

"Yes, of course. Just make sure you watch out for the Chess Men. They tend to climb out of the ground and walk around at this time of night."

"Right. Thanks! Bye!"

I turned around and ran.

You can visit Mike Bennett at http://oneamongthesleepless.com/ or http://oneamongthesleepless.com/hallofmirrors.htm and http://myspace.com/themikebennett.

Get home safely!

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Post Script: I've just emerged from the Hall of Mirrors podcast. Despite what Mike says, he is an actor, and quite a mesmerising one. It's really crrrrreeepy. And not for children. Just in time for Hallowe'en.

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Post Post Script: Sid (on the right) finally got a new friend. I've decided to call it Bennett.