Thank You (Yes, You!)

You're incredible. And your support gives me strength.

Alternate Cover, Art by Pandamusk.

Writing my second story, The Maiden of Sea Sky, took about seven months. That was just the writing process. Adjusting, refining, and editing the piece took even longer. If you noticed my foreword, I began the project in April of last year. And it was finally published just a few short days ago. That's almost a year, total.

As far as personal projects go, this was definitely the most involved, most taxing, and most rewarding thing I've ever had the good fortune to work on. Though I know it's riddled with flaws, I'm just so happy that I was able to see it through, and share it with the world. Which is the purpose of this note. Thank you to everyone that helped me craft this simple story of a young, traveling singer, and thank you to those that felt it worthy of a purchase.

Writing fills me with immense joy. And it helps me feel connected to the historic minds that came before me, though I will forever pale in comparison. Being able to share that joy through these humble creations makes all the work absolutely worth it. And your loving barrage of kind words and positive critiques has been nothing short of astonishing. Though, as ever, I welcome constructive criticism as well. It's as vital as breath.

If you've yet to pick up my second published story, you can buy it for three bucks on Amazon. Please consider leaving a review when you're done. Good or bad, I cherish your feedback.

And to all of you who have supported Eras from its inception: may it do justice to your unrelenting good spirit.

Cheers!

The Maiden of Sea Sky Coming March 1st

The Maiden of Sea Sky promotional poster, by Pandamusk.

A traveler, singer, and runaway, Meeka Towers is no stranger to chance encounters. Her supple voice and skill with a sword are much needed constants in her journey through Calden. They have kept her safe and well fed, yet have not fulfilled her long-ago vow of winning a proper bard's title.

Upon learning of a singers' tourney in the cerulean port of Sea Sky, the brash young woman decides to test her mettle against the greatest bards in the South. But within the warm and crowded halls of the Quarrelling Sailors, Meeka will face immense danger, strange secrets, golden ale, and an opponent that could change the course of her life forever.

The Second Story of Eras. Be part of a growing realm of new fantasy, written in tribute to the great minds and pens that have come before.


It's with supreme pleasure that I reveal my latest story to you all, and announce that the Second Story of Eras will go on sale March 1st, 2014. Finally.

It took about seven months to write The Maiden of Sea Sky, making it the most involved fiction I've ever worked on. Throughout the ups and downs of the process, I've always looked forward to the moment when I can share it with a larger audience than my own imagination. It's so great to pull the curtain back. I wish I could better describe this feeling.

Special thanks to my best friend and partner Neethi for her incredible support; my mother for her thoughts on the first draft; the amazing Pandamusk for his exquisite art; Danny for he knows why; and DVS for continuing our college tradition of creativity and critique.

I have lots more to reveal leading up to the release date, so stay tuned. Until then, why not pass the time with a handy little FAQ?

What's the title of your next story, good sir?

The Maiden of Sea Sky.

Where can I find this fiercely anticipated tale of passion and song?

It will launch on Amazon on March 1st, 2014, as an e-book (or e-novella).

How much coin must I spend?

Unsure, though I'm hoping no more than three dollars.

I have not this trinket known as a Kindle. Whatever do I do?

That's okay! It seems like many people don't realize that you can read Amazon's books on a free Kindle app for iPhone/iPad, and also right in your browser via a cloud reader. Easy, right?

How long is this novella of yours?

Approximately 30,000 words. Longer than a short story, shorter than a novel. If it's any comparison, my first story (Ferius Foxfur) was only ~6,700 words.

Do I need to read your first work? I hear it was an amateur's dribble, at best.

Fortunately for you, imaginary inquisitor, you don't need to read the first story. They take place in the same world (Eras), but follow different characters.

Might my child also read this little story?

That depends -- The Maiden of Sea Sky includes graphic descriptions of violence and sexuality. I would recommend a mature readership.

I've no interest in the writing, but the art is magnificent. I must have more.

You should look into Pandamusk's Twitter account. He's quite the artist. And oh-so-huggable.

Do you recall that series of events were you asked out the same young woman half a dozen times and were rejected each and every time? How delightfully comical.

To be fair, none of us had any idea what we were doing in high school.

Review: Brian Altano's Misanthrope

Misanthrope, by Brian Altano.

Editor's Note: the author thinks it wise to point out that he and Altano are not only former coworkers, but close friends. He has admitted that he loves Altano on more than one occasion, making this, clearly, the most unbiased "review" ever written.

Brian Altano’s latest indie instrumental effort, Misanthrope, doesn’t belong in current musical canon. It’s better served as the soundtrack to life on the sky streets of Neo San Francisco IV. Each piece on this ten-track record cuts a hole in time and gives the listener a glimpse of a city not yet born.

Glittering skyscrapers, droid hotels, and dirty streets are the norm here in this exquisite walk through a rainy memory in Altano’s head. Not only is each track a perfect visualization of these sci-fi set pieces, but a reflection of Altano’s own experiences. You can just about feel the lurch of subways, the smell of metal, and the taste of vodka with each stuttered beat.

A killer logo for a killer album.

The album opens with the title track Misanthrope, which introduces the listener to the sci-fi concept, along with the permeating dual between aggressive beats and gentle piano melodies. Altano and his producers layer the rhythm, vocal samples, and other ambient effects with supreme confidence. If this track is a conceptual unveiling, then it’s the wide, establishing shot of a cityscape rife with flying cars and holo-billboards.

One after another the tracks that follow give the listener a new image to ponder. The fourth track, Misery Loves Companies, enhances the sense of urgency, with a stuttered rhythm that’s just barely held in check after another old-time, sci-fi drama mutters to us through the speakers.

Fittingly, the middle track Break You Down provides a reprieve from the pacing of the record’s first half. A superb piano sample is later joined by a more structured, simple beat.

The second half of Misanthrope once again builds up speed during Let’s Try This Again, with a sensual tempo and ambience befitting a club teeming with bodies and laser effects. Altano displays his flexibility here by creating vastly different moods with similar sounds, all wrapped up with that same, sci-fi concept.

The next three tracks enjoy phenomenal guitar work by Altano’s friend Thomas Rakowitz. The trio of tunes, which opens with One a.M., reminds us at last of Altano’s life-long passion with gaming. An excellent mix of synth and Rakowitz’s guitar paint yet another perfect picture of our futuristic skyline.

But the highlight of Misanthrope’s latter half comes in the form of Silver Shank. It appropriately opens with another old-timey sound bite – a voice warns us of a “distress signal,” before a string of filthy cymbals sets the stage for Rakowitz. The guitarist shreds down a dark alley rising with sewer steam. Time periods bleed together as Altano and Rakowitz chase the listener down the very setting they've created.

Might as well be Neo San Francisco IV. Credit.

Fortunately, the high-stakes album sticks a perfect landing with Take It All. The final track repeats the phrase “the whole world is yours” over a thrilling drum and unnerving piano pairing. Is it a promise? A threat? Either way, the listener is escorted out of Altano’s imagination and back into reality, which is left much duller after the prior 35 minutes spent in another time. Another place.

Needless to say, Altano kills it with Misanthrope, which provides a perfect backdrop for train rides, night drives, or just chill afternoons in front of your stereo. Take a trip through Neo San Francisco IV and pick this record up. No question.

Happy (Gaming) New Year!

The best part of 2013.

Oh! Hi! How are you? Please, come in. It’s really good to see you again! It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Yeah. Wow, three months? That’s... that’s embarrassing. Yeah, I’ve just been really busy and stuff. You know how it is, right? Goodness. We should catch up more often.

(awkward)

Hello my friends, and welcome back. Happy New Year to all of you! I know it’s been a terribly long time since I wrote a post, so I apologize for the immense delay. The past few months have been quite productive, as I pushed myself to finish the first draft of my latest story by year’s end... and I did it! Unfortunately, my regular blog writing slipped a bit as a result. C’est la vie!

Neethi.

Now that the new year is upon us, I wanted to take a moment and update the vast internet public with my dealings and reflections. Last year brought tremendous change into my life when I changed jobs (twice) and fell into supremely good fortune by joining the PlayStation team. I also got married to my best buddy who has supported me for years. She’s super cool.

But not all was bright. My family faced (and continues to face) a number of health issues that would test the mettle of the strongest among us. They weather it with grace and determination, inspiring me to view life’s hardships in a different way. I’ll keep doing my best to provide support to them. Rarely do you find such incredible, resilient people like my mother and stepfather. I wish them the best, always. Here’s a cool picture of them at my wedding.

Look at these classy parents.

This coming year looks promising, though, for both my family and me. Work on my next story continues; it’s currently undergoing edits by family members and close friends (Panda and Danny included, bless their hearts). I hope for many fruitful collaborations between us this year, and I continue to marvel at their talents along the way. As I’ve said before, I’m lucky to know them.

You can expect my next story early this year. As in, within a month or two, hopefully. Once my plans solidify, I’ll provide a more defined publish date. And we’ll rejoice long into the night.

My buddy, the Fighter.

Then there’s gaming! For those interested parties, yes, I’m still playing Dragon’s Crown. Yes, really. Whenever I have a free few minutes, I try and sneak some time in on my Vita. Those few-minute clumps have coalesced into about 45 hours! And I’ve only ever used the Fighter! I can’t recommend this game enough -- it has superb replay value and such a wealth of small surprises.

In fact, one of my favorite elements to its equation is how lovingly it renders familiar fantasy tropes and archetypes, from locations to characters. And the amount of effort the team at Vanillaware put into the art takes my breath away. Even the collectible gems and trinkets scattered around the world have a certain sparkle.

So I expect to play that game long into the new year!

And with that, I’ll take my leave. Thank you for your invincible support last year as I made huge transitions in life, and thank you to those of you who have interest in my Eras stories. I write for you, to you, so that I might ignite your imagination. If only for a moment.

Here’s to an amazing 2014! Cheers!

Dragon's Crown, by Vanillaware.

Inside Eras, Part I: First Copyright

As Dr. Kleiner once said, "this is a red letter day." 

After months and months of waiting, I finally received my official certificate in the mail for Ferius Foxfur. That's right, dear friends! Ferius has been formally registered with the Copyright Office and now resides somewhere within the hallowed halls of the Library of Congress. I think. I'm actually not sure how that works, but at least I have the certificate now! Having a formal document from the United States government about my own work makes it feel all the more special. I feel truly blessed that I had the time and means to publish it in April. 

 

 My first certificate of copyright.

If you haven't yet read my first short story, a completely amateur soiree into fiction, you can find it exclusively on Amazon's Kindle store, to be read on all manner of devices. Including Kindles! Looking back, I can see how much I've grown as a writer, even through the course of this year. And my next story, I can assure you, will be much better, and -- I hope -- more deserving of your time. 

Alternate cover art by the always incredible Pandamusk

In truth, I'm not terribly proud of Ferius. I consider the story an excellent learning experience, but it was too rushed and too short. Missteps I hope to straighten out in future works. Ferius clocked in at about 6,700 words, which is brief by all accounts. The draft of my next story is already happily sitting at 10,000 words, and I'm only half done, at best. 

As you can see, I had a longer, more complex story to tell. One that I hope you deem worthy of purchase. 

This new story follows a young, traveling singer as she competes in a famous tournament for bards. It plays on my almost embarrassing love of tavern scenes in fantasy films and books, and also allows me to practice at poetry and song once again. I wrote quite a bit of poetry when I was in school, but haven't kept up with it until recently.  Spoiler alert: I'm an awful poet.

With all that said, I'm hoping to publish this next work as soon as I'm able. Changing jobs (twice) and wedding Neethi (delightful) dominated a substantial amount of my time these past months, so I haven't written as much as I would have liked. But the past few weeks have given me opportunity to force the gears back into motion, and I'm writing every weekend, as planned. 

Hopefully at this pace I'll be able to publish my second story before the end of the year. I think that's a realistic deadline, but my priority is making it as excellent as my petty skill allows. I suddenly realize how wonderful the mantra "it's ready when it's ready" can be, as used by so many of the best video game developers out there... 

If you have any questions about my second story, please feel free to leave them below, or email them to me. You can find all sorts of helpful links on the Contact section of my site. 

With that, I'll get back to more writing, and see you all soon. Thank you for reading. 

Cheers.

The Fall of Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online, at its finest.

Note: the text below contains spoilers of every sort, from both the first and second seasons of Sword Art Online. Viewer discretion is advised.

The first season of Sword Art Online (SAO) starts with a few stumbles, lurches forward into a steady trot, and soon sprints towards greatness with the same wide-eyed determination that protagonist Kirito exhibits when leaping into battle. It tackles a variety of fascinating issues, and introduces us to a surprisingly unique pair of lovers -- especially when compared to the greater pantheon of anime heroes.

And in fourteen episodes, Sword Art Online has reached a level of tension and drama that few anime could ever claim to achieve.

But then it all comes crashing down, and we're berated with eleven more episodes that assault us with so many troubling stereotypes, I have to wonder if Director Tomohiko Ito and his writers were coerced into changing the direction of the series midway through (or perhaps were unfairly bound by the source material). Sword Art Online is the most disappointing anime I've ever seen, and I do not write those words lightly.

 

Kirito.

But let's take a few steps back. This is the first anime series that Neethi (my wife) and I watched together. We've seen plenty of shows before, of course, but usually I've already screened them, and I select ones that I think she might enjoy with me. With Sword Art Online, we both went in blind, based on the recommendation of an anime-watching friend (Hi Alisa! I don't blame you!). I originally planned to watch it myself, but Neethi asked if she could join in just for fun, and we ended up sticking it out together.

This made the first season of Sword Art rather special for us. As a newly-wed couple, we were treated to a story of two young people falling in love, despite the many troubles around them. It clicked with us at once.  This is in large part due to the strength of Kirito and Asuna as characters, who both shine as examples of "new age" anime heroes that defy the tired stereotypes we all know and love/dread.

Kirito is a brooding loner, yes -- that much we've seen before. But we witness his transformation much earlier than we might expect, and his growing love for Asuna is adorable and delightful in almost every way. It's devoid of the common sexual perversions found in anime, and it’s also mutually respectful. Their love blossoms from their partnership in battle -- a respect and honor that you rarely see in young couples. And instead of Asuna acting as the helpless damsel that needs saving, we see both she and Kirito protect each other. Seeing them fight side-by-side is such a thrill, as their love underlies their awe-inspiring coordination. They attack together, they defend together.

Yuuki Asuna.

Speaking of Asuna... Oh Asuna, a legend of our time! Here we have a female character so notable, so incredible, that I was shocked to see her in an anime at all. She's introduced with immense modesty, a cloak wrapped around her to hide her sex and beauty in a predominately male environment. I found this almost chillingly realistic, seeing as how so many female gamers feel compelled to hide their identity online in order to avoid abuse. A very real, very sad fact.

But soon she makes herself known. And her skill, authority, and courage rocket to the heavens. And, despite a slightly impractical skirt for battle, she achieves these feats with an attire most befitting a warrior! It's effeminate, but not (overly) sexualized. In fact, the most intimate moment we have with Asuna is not when she undresses in front of Kirito due to a delightful misunderstanding, but when she's lying next to him in bed much later, her back made bare by her nightclothes. This simple moment, shot from an unassuming angle, speaks volumes to the character and integrity of the Sword Art Online staff. It’s romantic, sweet, but never disrespectful to Asuna’s character.

(Not to say the first season is immune to its anime clichés. Most of the other female characters aren't nearly as noteworthy as Asuna, but we must celebrate our victories where we can.)

Together.

These strong character dynamics make Sword Art Online more than notable on their own, but the series' grasp on our collective fear of death, and how that fear influences our behavior, makes the story even more special. Even though everything in the first season is "virtual," the danger always feels real, and my fingers would tighten around Neethi's hand whenever our beloved heroes would enter a boss room or face a saboteur.

But all too suddenly, Kirito, Asuna, and the rest of the SAO players are freed from their long, long imprisonment. The beautiful world around them crumbles in a burst of sunlit color, and Kirito and Asuna enjoy one last moment together, side by side, as they watch their lives change.

And then Kirito wakes. And stumbles down the hospital hallway in search for the wife that he never truly met. It's sudden, perhaps premature, but utterly exhilarating.

Then season two starts. And Sword Art Online regresses into an almost infantile state, shedding any and all socially progressive thoughts in favor of an overtly sexualized female lead, embarrassing animation, and a once-great heroine reduced to the damsel in distress.

First, the most problematic of the issues above: Kirigaya Suguha. Kirito's sister, who previously was an unseen motivation and driving force in Kirito's exploits, emerges as a sexualized cliché with incestuous tendencies. Such tendencies aren't exactly groundbreaking in anime, as we all know. I'm, sadly, quite used to them. But to see them here, and in this way, is heartbreaking.

 

Sugu. Why this angle? I wonder...

The writers try and wave any dangers of this away by quickly explaining that she and Kirito aren't real siblings -- only cousins. But that's not much better, right? At least from our current understanding of family and biology, this is still an extremely troubling situation. So most of the entire season awkwardly attempts to both justify and exploit Sugu's feelings for her brother. And all the while we sit back and shield our eyes as close-ups of her chest and panties are peppered into almost every episode. It’s almost depressing, to see the series resort to such things.

This plot twist could have been so easily avoided, too! We learn that Kirito and Sugu had a pained relationship early on. Use that! Why not build on their friendship inside ALO? As they fight and fail to understand each other in the real world, they bond and connect inside a game. And the revelation of their identities helps heal their once strained relationship.

But no. Sugu has to be in love with her cousin. Because why not?

Meanwhile, the incredible Asuna is placed in a literal birdcage, given a more revealing outfit, and faced with an omnipresent threat of sexual violence. She is stripped of her power, groped by a slime creature, and only has a handful of spoken lines for the entire season.

What... what happened?

Where did strong characters go? What happened to the thrill of real-world death in a virtual space? Why remove Asuna from the equation? Why thrust Sugu into such an old and perverse plotline, with very little care as to how it’s handled?

Fond memories.

Neethi echoes most of my concerns with the second season. She loved Asuna and Kirito as I did, and was disgusted by the sudden shift between seasons. I had to urge her to keep an open mind, as she considered stopping partway through. And even though we soldiered on together, both of us were thoroughly puzzled. We would sit in silence after each episode, shaking our heads in disbelief.

How could it fall so fast, and so far?

No matter the reason, it's easy for me to point to Sword Art Online as the biggest disappointment in my long experience with anime. I'm so thankful to have watched the first season with Neethi. And I almost wish, just a little bit, we would have stopped earlier. Before the heart-pounding battle with Heathcliff. Before the confrontation with the Skull Reaper. Before they escaped the bittersweet confines of Aincrad. So we could forever remember Kirito and Asuna's precious few moments in their lakeside cabin, enjoying a simple and quiet love together, 'till the end of their days.

Cheers. 

Attack on Titan: Early Thoughts

Lo! where the Giant on the mountain stands,
His blood-red tresses deep’ning in the sun,
With death-shot glowing in his fiery hands,
And eye that scorcheth all it glares upon.
— Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812-18) canto 1, st. 39

 Facing off at last.

I'm only on episode 6. Please no spoilers! Similarly, if you haven't watched the first few episodes, skip this blog until you do! 

After watching the first episode of Attack on Titan, I was greeted with two polarizing emotions. In one instant, I was instantly smitten with the whole thing, especially considering my affinity for giant, fantasy walls.

(Not even joking. Just look at my obsession with The Old Kingdom series and A Song of Ice and Fire. I guess I really like walls)

So, in the shocking first few seconds of the series, a massive, steaming hand grasps the top of humanity's last wall of defense, and a horrifying face glares down on all of mankind. It's one of the finest openings of an anime I've seen in a while, and I was taken with it at once.

But then... in a scene later in the episode, we see scouts/soldiers returning from an expedition into Titan territory. Their unit is completely decimated, and wounded men glare broodingly at the ground, bloodied and beaten. An old woman shoulders through the crowd asking for her son Moses. The commander hands her a shroud, with Moses' arm inside. And then the yelling starts, complete with traditional anime speed lines, as I call them. 

I almost laughed. 

Despite the gravity of the situation, the radical approach to this scene left me baffled. The woman's pained sobs would have been more than enough to convey the tragedy, but the commander loses his sh*t and freaks out, screaming on and on. The emotional escalation here is simply too sudden to feel at all plausible, and I immediately questioned if I could take the rest of the show seriously. 

But, for better or worse, I soon realized that Attack on Titan is almost comically serious. In fact, certain scenes tease the characters for having such emotional reactions, like Eren's gaunt facial expressions when he's surprised or disappointed by something. Attack on Titan embraces this abundance of emotion and overreaction. And it even plays it up as a gag when the mood's right. Once you get past this, the series is much more enjoyable. 

 Eren, being a badass.

And there's actually a lot to enjoy. Like a great deal of anime out there, the quality of the animation is terribly inconsistent. Some scenes have a skeletal level of detail, with stiff character animations and precious few frames of motion. And yet, I suspect this is to clear the way for the combat scenes, which go far beyond the limits of action.

All hail the 3D Maneuver Gear! When our heroes careen through trees and over rooftops, the world a wash of color around them, Attack on Titan truly shines. Rarely does an anime capture that sense of speed and urgency better than what you see in this show. I almost suck in my breath as Eren and his fellow members of the Survey Corps whip up and around the Titans with swords glinting.

Mikasa, an amazing character.

But I'd like to make a special note about one of the best characters in the series: Mikasa Ackerman.  What a fine example of a female character in Japanese animation. Not only is she graceful, courageous, and beautiful, but she also manages to be strong -- without sacrificing her femininity. More importantly, she wears the same clothing as the male characters, and doesn't show extra skin by default! How refreshing.

I also appreciate her relationship with Eren. She vows to protect him, not the other way around. She keeps him grounded. She loves him completely, and that fuels her drive to fight. Assuming her character doesn't change radically in the episodes I've yet to watch, she seems like the kind of hero that women could look up to. At the very least, I look up to her very much.

Lastly, the plot twist. I, unfortunately, spoiled Eren's upcoming changes for myself while browsing the internet. I haven't actually seen this happen yet in the series, but I know it's coming. And it remains my biggest concern with the show as a whole. I fear that Attack on Titan could have been so much more if it kept that element out of the plot. The action is more thrilling when the heroes are so dwarfed by the Titans. They're vulnerable. And I loathe that this intentional imbalance is about to change in their favor.

But I still need to see it first. Perhaps it's handled in a great way. Only time, and a few hours of viewing, will tell! 

Until then, I'll leave you with one of the greatest parody videos ever created. 

Cheers.