The Joker Movie Laughs at Forecasts of Violence

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Hi! October has arrived, and I like to celebrate not only the cooling-down effect of Fall, but also the scarier things in life with Halloween being right around the corner. Each post made in October will feature either a subject tied to the month, Fall in general, or fear. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Fear October Banner

Joker Left SideAre you scared of clowns? Personally, I remain only slightly unsettled by them after years of horror movies (namely the original adaptation of Stephen King’s “It”), the recent ruse of public scary clown depravity, and a general distrust of anybody trying to convince me they smile that big all the time.

But, the outcry against the Todd Philips-directed, Joaquin Phoenix-starring title movie The Joker, seems to have little to do with a fear of clowns. Instead the fear seems to circle around how this fictional character, whom started existence in comics back in 1940, will inspire fanboys to execute violence in his name. Specifically, white men are being targeted with this particular fear. The likelihood is high that even CNN is only looking for hate-clicks by bringing forward this narrative, but it managed to cause a call for the movie to be banned from US theatres.

CNN Tweet
via @CNN on Twitter

The other side of the argument is that we’ve seen similar villains in movies for years. Hannibal Lecter, Jigsaw from the Saw movies, and Alex de Large of A Clockwork Orange fame are just a few off the top of my head. The idea that a bunch of white dudes will suddenly turn violent because of a reportedly slow-moving Joker film is laughable, and if someone DOES get inspired, well…

The Other Argument
via @JoeySalads on Twitter

The hate clicks didn’t cause a ban of the movie however. Instead, The Joker laughed atJoker Right Side early low-earning calls by grossing $234M worldwide, ahead of last year’s off-comic movie Venom. People wanted to see this movie despite loud warnings of nigh inevitable violence in movie theatres upon its release.

Movies are an art form that can, and do, inspire people. Much like music, paintings, prose, and poetry. They’re supposed to. Why we would look at this movie and cluck about how it might inspire violence, rather than ask why or how the movie is relevant to today, is beyond me. This movie showcases mental illness at, possibly, its worst. Not because mental illness itself is bad. Rather, it showcases how the rest of us are villainous by ignoring it, and in some sectors we’ve proven the movie’s hypothesis.Joker Full Face

Instead of looking at it for what it is, people are supposedly trembling in fear of a non-existent white-man clown laughing as they die. No. The rest of us are laughing cause it’s not going to happen, especially because of a movie whose title character has been on the big screen several times before.

Blood and Blade New SwordThanks for reading! James’ dark-fantasy novel, Of Blood and Blade, is available on Amazon. Of course, face paint is also available, so there’s that.

WFGC Hotel Online Anthology: The Machine

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Accomplishment is a big word. Not just the number of letters required to spell it, but also the number of actions required to reach it. To accomplish something, in Martin Graine’s eyes, means putting up a supreme effort. Therefore, you do not accomplish making a cup of coffee or checking your mail. You may do these things, and succeed, but they are not items of accomplishment. It’s too strong a word.

No. Accomplishment takes time. Martin was extraordinarily proud of his hotel. He owned it. Built it from the ground up. The original building took twenty-eight years to complete. So many bodies used to lace together timber, glass, concrete, and metal. So many telling him the tens of thousands in debt he’d given himself, at the age of seventy-one, was a fool’s errand. He’d been sure they were right. But, when he opened those expensive front doors for the first time in 1968, he knew the truth.

He’d accomplished something great.

The Great Depression ended some years before, technically if not officially. Only the most mediocre families were experiencing its lingering effects in 1969. America was on the rise. Because of this, Graine’s hotel saw millions of visitors within its foundational years. Graine’s debts turned into profit, allowing Martin a rare accomplishment: nigh complete freedom. The American Dream lived, and it was his.

Martin Graine spent his money, used his freedom, but not without the wisdom of years. Rather than buy a house, he furnished the uppermost floor of the hotel and called it home. He got a nice car, but not one to race. Hired a chauffeur and a chef, but cleaned up after himself. Made sure his daughter went to college, and his ex-wife would never have to work again. He had the attention of powerful men throughout the world; and they all wanted some of his admittedly limited time.

He kept an open ear to the first hundred men he spoke too, but soon became bored of their limited scopes and dreary plans for freedom. Mostly, he noted, because he’d already reached the level they wanted to reach. Quickly he learned to use the word no. It became his opening line and his closer. Many a man left his hotel angry at his snubs. He did not care. He didn’t have to.

Instead, the men he listened to were those who had esoteric ideas. Those who wanted to build churches, or have a backer in order for them to search out some evangelical mystery. Over time, fewer of these men were looking for God. Some searched for nirvana, others merely wanted an excuse to get high. Martin shoveled out money for most of these men because ultimately, what they wanted was simple: a chance at freedom. Who was he to deny them?

Underneath his philanthropy, a darker motive lurked. Martin was now an old man in his early nineties. His health faded along with his weight. He had more money than he could spend, surely he could find a way to live longer. Right? But the years counted swift and fell behind him.

The hotel continued strong. Martin was beginning to realize it would live and breathe long after he had gone. He also saw that one day, his name may no longer be associated with his greatest creation. This caused him immense pain. He’d put his life into the hotel, to lose it in any capacity felt unacceptable. Death though, ended all things, and none of his explorers brought anything to him which could stop his unequivocal end.

He found himself spending more and more time in the lower reaches of the hotel with the many stored artifacts his philanthropy produced. He would stare at one for hours, begging internally for an answer. Never did they offer one, or even a consoling word. They were, after all, just things.

His prayers did little, he just couldn’t hear God anymore. How had he believed in such a creature in his younger years? All knowing? Seeing everything? Caring? No. If there was a God, he watched you age and laughed at your incontinence. At your ineffective attempts to beleaguer a system set up against you. And he certainly didn’t care how much any of it hurt.

It was during one of these sessions that Martin noticed he wasn’t alone. In a moment of clarity, understanding of God opened up in his mind, an epiphany which settled his soul and quieted the angrier spirits within him.

Yet in the quiet, he heard whispers. They surrounded him like ghosts humming in the early moments of twilight. When they converged as a physical thing out of that twilight, it was a man of many years Martin’s junior who stepped out.

Despite the aging face, the man was dapper. Proper. His black suit melded with the shadows cast by machinery Martin himself hardly understood. A smile remained plastered on the newcomer’s face, even as he spoke. The hint of an old London accent surprised Martin.

“Good day to you, Mr. Graine. Strange time to be down to the nethers.”

Martin shivered. The words didn’t seem spoken, more like they were rippling out from the man, striking his flesh. Each syllable crawled along his arms and face toward his ears.

“I uh, suppose it is. Mr.?”

“You may call me Kel. Full name Kellufer DeStrange. And I’ve something you migh’nt be interested in. If I may be up front however, tis’nt a free proposal.”

“I’m not interested. I don’t do business with men who give me false names.”

“Hmm. You caught me to the name. But you do want what I have to offer. Shall I take due time to explain my deal? Would you listen, or wave me off like the other sack-skins you deal with?”

The stench of fear wafted up from Martin, and he wondered if his dreadful companion cared. He disliked this man. Never before had he been afraid inside his own building. His creation. His stamp on the world. How dare this popper take that away from him? He needed to put up a show of strength, even if every muscle screamed to run.

“I need to know your name before I listen to a word more.”

The stranger lowered his head. Martin wasn’t sure if he was showing annoyance, or acquiescing. Seconds passed before he raised his head back up. The wolf grin remained, but a hint of respect shined in his eyes.

“Right then. I am Miles Baker. And I may save your life, but it will cost you nigh everything.”

“My life is over. I have done what I am going to do. My hotel is my legacy, until it too falls by the winds of time. Nobody gets to be immortal, Mr. Baker.”

“That’s just it, yeah? We were taught from birth that death is the only logical outcome. Then we try to fight as it nears. Then, we come to terms. Accept the story as it’s told. We stop asking questions. Might I ask you something: do you believe I’m of the world as you know it?”

Martin put thought into his answer. About the creepy-crawlers from the man’s voice. How he formed out of, essentially, solidified whispers. Men did not do this, no. These were abilities left to angels…or demons.

“No. No, I am led to believe you are not born of this world. What are you? Demon? That’s my guess. I shouldn’t be talking to you, that much is clear. You cloud my mind with hope of the impossible.”

“Are you so short-sighted? You have given men the money of kings to search for answers beyond what logic dictates. I needn’t have your money, but I do require your soul. The Machine demands it.”

“So you are a demon.”

“Fine. I’m a demon. In my world, I am not. I’m called an engineer. In others, a sorcerer. In still others, I am named a god. In all of them, I haven’t but done the same thing I wish to do here.”

“Which is?”

“Save the world. And you are in a place and point that match my own goals.”

“Speak plainly, demon, or leave.”

Fear-sweat poured from Martin’s face as he said the words. Any moment the figure calling itself Baker would sprout claws and wings and eradicate Martin Graine from the earth, leaving little more than blood and bits of bone, surely. But he hoped keeping the creature talking would allow him an avenue of escape.

“I built The Machine by accident. As a Guardian, my job was to search for new truths to mathematics and/or magic, and create tools for the higher members of society. One equation kept slipping my fingers for years. My Pandora’s Box. Have you one, here? Some haven’t yet discovered it.”

“The story of Pandora’s Box is well known, but it is merely a parable.”

“Right,” Baker grunted, “a parable. When I touched that elusive equation, I found myself transported. At first I thought I was merely portaled to the past of my world. Turns out, much of the plant life never existed in my world. Ever.”

“What do you mean, touched an equation?”

“A man of your stature, Mr. Graine, surely knows the touch of something very few people have even dreamt.”

Martin nodded, “Freedom. I know freedom like few others.”

“Yes! Exactly. I hold knowledge few, if any, ever held. Maybe your God holds it. I don’t know. When I touch that knowledge, it takes me to somewhere else. I call it ‘Slipping.’ More like hopping, really. Right, you don’t care. What you do care about is this: the equation led to the creation of The Machine, which was built to house every possible world within it. Now, that comes with a lot of power, holding such a machine. Powerful people, the most powerful people, will come for it. I need to hide it.”

Martin tried to take stock of the story Baker told. An equation, a machine, and innumerable worlds in one place? It seemed impossible. Yet, he found himself not ready to be rid of the popper just yet. But one question made all of Baker’s claims ridiculous.

“All of that, and you think it will be safe in a hotel? I can promise you, it will be found. Probably by accident.”

“No. I don’t wish to hide it in your hotel, Mr. Graine. I want to have your hotel part of The Machine. In doing so, it will have infinite spaces throughout every realm to hide itself. Which means, of course, your hotel becomes part of every single instance of every single world. And don’t worry, the machine will fill in its creation and backstory. Here’s the big reveal though.”

Martin furrowed his brow at Baker, “There’s more?”

“So much more. I’m chasing my own ghosts. You’ve put yours to bed. You’re free, as you spoke it. I’d have you to watch over these instances, run the hotels, so to speak.”

“Mr. Baker, as you can plainly see, I am nearing death. Five years, were I a lucky man.”

“Not if you enter The Machine. Your body is old, but your soul is still wide and deep as the ocean. The Machine would place you at the center nexus of all worlds, and rebuild the hotel around you, but in all worlds. I cannot promise the décor would remain the same, or even work the same as it does in your world. But it would be there, and you would always be there watching over it. Your one expectation from me being keeping all the powerful beings from finding The Machine. You, and your hotel, would live forever, everywhere.”

Martin rubbed his hands slowly, unconsciously. He licked his lips. The deal was on the table. Leaving it there meant accepting the cycle of life and death. Taking the deal required a supreme amount of trust on Martin’s part, something he’d been in short supply of these past years. But, it also meant a chance to see beyond the veil. A chance to accomplish one last thing: immortality. He’d nearly made up his mind when a thought propelled him to ask Baker a question.

“If I say yes. If I do this…I lose all the freedom I’ve built up throughout my life. Isn’t that right? I’m stuck, in the hotel, in countless worlds, but I won’t be able to explore those worlds? That’s why you don’t do it, isn’t it?”

Baker looked like he was about to reject the idea, but nodded instead.

“Yes. That would be true. Your position as a ward would prevent you from seeing…everything. I refuse to be stuck. I honestly believe this would give you what you want. Isn’t losing a little freedom worth it to see your hotel in every possible timeline, every world, and you be at the center of it?”

“I want to say yes. I have a lot of pride thanks to this hotel. But it stands as a testimony to something larger. That freedom I have? It goes beyond money. I get to say no, or yes, to whomever I wish. And I don’t have to come up with an excuse either way. I escaped a system men created to control those below them. Re-entering servitude is not an accomplishment. Rather, it’s a failure.”

“Tell me,” Baker asked, “What are you doing with that freedom now? Do you really use it outside of the hotel? This is where you’ve spent the latter part of your life. This is where you make those yes-or-no decisions. Always in the hotel. Your place. Your power. It’s all centered here. And while you may lose the ability to leave if you say yes, you must realize that you don’t leave now. This is not a criticism. I’m merely stating a fact. Taking my offer allows you to continue doing what you’ve always done, from where you’ve always done it. What do you say, Mr. Graine?”

“No.”

Martin stared deep into Miles’ eyes. No hint of uncertainty exuded from the older man’s frame. A slight shudder visibly shook through Miles. Martin offered him a warm smile.

“I’m afraid that isn’t going to work for me,” Miles softly replied.

Martin saw a flash of silver as pain bit into his left side and tore upward till it hit bone. He managed to remain standing for mere moments before dropping heavily to his knees. They cracked violently, but the resounding thud sounded soft in the quiet. Martin barely noticed these things. Heat roared in his ears as blood cooled in his hands.

“Why? I was nearly dead already,” Martin rasped.

“Time is a touchable resource innit, and I’m not rich enough to be giving it away,” Miles kneeled down next to Martin, “but I cannot kill you. If that holds any meaning to you in your afterlife.”

Miles stood. Martin’s head shot up to look at him, and caught a slight tilt of the chin not aimed towards him. Martin tried to turn his head in the direction of Miles’ nod, but pain flared into his side and forced him to stare at the ground, little more than the wounded animal he’d become.

Two seconds later, a gunshot went off and a thump landed between his right ear and eye. His pain disappeared. Moments after that, Martin fell over. Miles checked the old man’s pulse. He stayed until it dissipated. Time for a new plan. Whispers surrounded him, solidified into smoke, and when it disappeared, he too was gone.

********

The Hotel bustled with people moving through their personal hells and heavens. Of course Rebecca hoped the majority found their heaven here, but she knew all about putting on a false smile in public. Her father died forty-four years ago and she still cried in the office that used to be his. When she discovered he’d left the Hotel to her, she almost sold the building. Forty plus years later, despite the pain, imagining doing so seemed impossible.

Walking through the halls, Rebecca noticed the strange familiars. The Goat, which came out of room 107 one day chewing a cigar, and never left. The strange bellhop with no name strutted by, a smile plastered on his face underneath the undeniably fake mustache and a top hat. She wondered what his next disguise would be. Phoebe the Maid’s curvy silhouette shadowed the inside of another room, her smile lit up the room when she turned and waved. Rebecca threw a timid hand up in return. Shuffling forward, Rebecca was forced to dodge the colorful, if unwashed, ponytail that is Veronica Nowak. If anybody held more social reservations than Rebecca, it would be the younger girl brushing past her now. The biggest surprise today turned out to be a pizza-delivery boy with dark mangy hair covered with a hat which spelled out Milo’s Sicilian Pizzeria. He looked to be hunting for someone, but not for delivering a pizza to them.

Her office door stood cracked opened. Whispers reached out to her, caressing the hairs raising on the back of her neck. Only one person held the capability to scare her beyond reason…and she made a deal with him shortly after taking over control of the Hotel. Switching from a shuffle to bustling, Rebecca headed directly into her office.

The whispers rushed by her as she did, the feeling changing from a caress to a slick crawl over her skin. Somehow, they felt stronger than when she first met Miles Baker.

He lay sprawled on her father’s desk, a tan trench coat covering a slate-colored suit. Rebecca gasped. The man on her desk was certainly Miles Baker, but years younger than he had been forty years ago. Shaking her head, Rebecca stormed up to him and slammed her hand next to his right ear.

“Stop disrespecting my father’s desk.”

A slow, southern drawl came out of his smiling face, “Aw c’mon now. Ain’t no way to greet an old friend, is it? Besides, this ain’t your father’s desk no more.”

“Off. Now.”

Miles drew up to a sitting position and put his hands up in mock apology, “Okay, alright. But hey, there’s a few things we need to work out.”

“No.”

“Rebecca. I warned you the deal would have to be re-signed. Time’s come, an’ I don’t have a lot of it.”

Miles drew an envelope out from inside his coat and extended his arm to Rebecca. She tore the yellow folder from his grasp, all but spitting as she did. He wasn’t lying. He’d come fifteen years ago warning that the day would come. She’d huffed at him then, but knew damn well she’d have to pithy up or lose the Hotel completely. The proof, it seemed, was in the wording of the contract she signed originally. Of course, fifteen years ago, he’d been much nicer about it all.

“What happened to you Mr. Baker? Last time we met, you were a full forty years or more aged.”

“Aw, the timestream is a wild ride. It does funny things when you slip through it sometimes. Guess I just got lucky.”

The whispers, she noted, grew in loudness.

“Yes, you did. Meanwhile, I get older. When does my immortality kick in?”

“What? Regretting your choice already? Your father made a bad decision once.”

Rebecca long suspected Miles Baker killed her father, but never before had it been so explicitly stated. She stared hard at the man before her. No, not man, demon, she reminded herself.

“You told me he refused your offer. I wish to God he hadn’t. I wish he could still be here. But he was far more proud of his accomplishment than I could ever understand. How could this damn Hotel be more important to him than seeing his children grow up? Not that you care, this is a rhetorical question. I don’t require your snide interjections.”

Picking up her letter opener, she sliced open the envelope in one practiced motion. Looking over the papers, she nodded and clucked in her throat at random intervals. When she finished reading, Baker moved as though he’d read her mind. Picking up the letter opener again, she cut her index finger with another precise swipe. Blood swelled up to the small cut. It welled on the tip, but did not overflow. She leaned over the contract.

Whispers crawled over her skin, even felt as though they were picking at her hair this time. Looking up, she watches the whispers coalesce into smoke, and from the smoke, a man appeared. The whispers die ddown as the smoke dissipates, and a duplicate Miles Baker stepped out.

A strong London accent flowed from his mouth, “Don’t sign that contract, Ms. Graine.”

The well of blood on the tip of her finger finally decided to go over and created a small river, down to her knuckle. A single drop splashed on papers below her, and young Miles Baker snatched them up.

“Too late old man. A deal in blood is a deal.”

“Hmm. Innit though? Ms. Graine, you may think to have made a deal with the devil, but this posh only pretends. Mr. Garrus, you know well that lying about details such as your true name turns a contract void. Give it to me, thank you.”

Fear ran across the younger man’s eyes, behind rage. Shaking, the younger man passed over the contract, then darted his gaze over to Rebecca. A snarl bent his lips and nose, “I am you, asshole,” then he ran out of the office.

Rebecca moved to push a button under her desk for security, but the remaining Miles gently laid a hand over hers.

“They willn’t find him, I’m afraid. He’s not the devil, but clever? That he is.”

“And you?”

“I’m dangerous. And the man you made a deal with. A forever deal. An infinitum deal. There’s nothing to sign for me ever again.”

“Then why am I aging?”

“Because you wish to, m’dear. When you decide to stop, you shall. It was in the contract. I caught wind of my lesser part in the stream, The Machine picked up on him. Even so, I barely caught him in time. You would do well to be more careful in your long, illustrious future.”

Miles Baker tore the bloodstained contract into bits. Despite his own age, he seemed overly capable, Rebecca noted. The torn bits snowed down from his hands into the wastebasket, seemingly held in partial suspension as they fell. Surely though, her imagination played tricks on her. Right?

“So the blood, the contract, it’s not a problem?” she asks.

“No. You are the original model, so long as you sign nothing, he cannit fool any other version of you across time and space. Which is why you must remain vigilant. Forty years without any major slip-ups, you’re doing a fine job, Ms. Graine.”

“Did…”

“Go ahead, ask.”

“You killed my father, didn’t you?”

“I had to, Ms. Graine.”

“Why?”

“He refused my offer. The Machine needed the Hotel. The Hotel’s original owner refused. That necessitated a new owner quickly. You proved much more lenient in its usage. I was not surprised. Somebody creates something beautiful, and they are wary of giving, or even sharing, that creation’s fundamental rights of existence with anybody. However, when the rights of that creation move to someone else, in this case inherited, the second generation owner does not feel that pull nearly so strongly.”

“You used me.”

“Yes. I did. Did you not receive benefit?”

“Yes, but it seems to me I should have known about my father’s wishes, and fate, beforehand.”

“You should have asked. I bid thee adieu, Ms. Graine. Time waits on no man.”

The whispers, and the smoke, rose up and engulfed Miles Baker. In mere moments, he was gone. Rebecca frowned. Her appreciation for surprise visits filled, she murmured a prayer not to see Mr. Baker for at least another forty years. Four centuries would prove even better.

Rebecca sighed and sat in her father’s chair. From here, she could best feel the infinite versions of herself, and most easily watch over the infinite versions of the Hotel. And sometimes, in some versions of reality, she sat not in the chair, but in her father’s lap as he whispered in her ear the secrets to freedom.

 

Did You Enjoy This Story?

Please consider reading more stories from authors I collaborated with over the past two months. Several authors (19!) came together to make this blog-hop/anthology happen. To find a complete list of our stories, visit the official WFGC blog here. And, normally I don’t ask, but please share this story or the list with your friends and followers, our authors put in a lot of extra work on a tight deadline to bring these stories to you!

I Stand With New Zealand, All of Her

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*Quick note from author:

This blog post is in a raw, highly unedited form. I considered editing it, then considered not posting it at all. My final decision is based on one ideal: silence is complicity. I will not comply with fear.

This post is sporadic. It’s not journalistic. It is highly opinionated. By posting it I am doing what I can to stand with ALL the people of New Zealand, and fighting fear. I don’t care if you don’t agree with me. I don’t want you to follow, care about, or read me if you agree with the murderous bastards who destroyed so much in so little time.

 

Kiwi Heart Banner Small
In an era of mass shootings, New Zealand suddenly has to ask the question: Why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

49 dead

40 wounded

Sounds like a standard headline for the United States these days. Not surprising. Everybody’s sorry and now let’s talk about guns. Except:

This isn’t in the United States. This is in New Zealand. Paradise. Where the nicest people I know on the internet live. They call each other Kiwis, and I don’t know anything cuter in this world.

A good friend of mine who wasn’t directly affected by the actual violence is crying today because she never expected to have to explain something like this to her son. Violence like the Christchurch mass shooting terrorist attack was supposed to happen in places far away- places like the USA.

The attack was purposeful, built and planned to spread across social media. Built and planned to show the world blood. Built and planned to turn your phone into an instrument that spread violence like the fucking plague. And by and large, you did exactly what was expected. The plan worked. Video of the shooting hit social media and people gorged on it, shared it, and expected likes on their posts about it.

One thing I am proud of. The shooter’s name isn’t being amplified much. He doesn’t get all the infamy he’d hoped for.

This was an attack on unity. New Zealand is different from the USA. They’ve already figured out how to live together. Atheists, Catholics, Muslims, and more live in far more relative peace together than in my country, where it seems we’ll never even get over the color wars. And that’s why this attack is so egregious.

Some white guy wanted to break up the unity of a peaceful country because his race, and his beliefs, are better than yours. Better than mine. Better than the Muslim mosque he murdered his way through.

I’m all for protecting your home. Protecting your people on your property. With violence if necessary. This attack protected nothing. Not even the shooter’s ideals. The only way to show your ideals are better than another’s is to allow them to live beside you and live the better life.

Murdering them is grotesque. Murder en masse is masturbatory evil. It proved nothing but how little humanity the shooter had to start with.

So yeah, shooter. You’ve made me angry. You succeeded. What you probably didn’t expect is that, because of you, I’m rethinking everything. I’m thinking about how I can unite with the many people of my country and the world.

I am aware I hold little stake in this tragedy. I didn’t lose family. I didn’t lose friends. But that’s not the point, is it?

The point is, I stand with New Zealand, and all her people. We’re going to fight you. We’re going to fight your kind. We’re going to learn, we’re going to lead, and ultimately Mr. Murder, we’re going to win. That’s the only legacy you left.

If you’re reading this, and agree with the shooter. Fight me. @ me. Say your hateful comments about me, my children, my race, my convictions, my ideals, say I’m weak, say I’m stupid. I stand against you.

I promise you, there’s a much larger army around me, than you.

Kiwi Heart

Lessons from the WFGC Hotel Blog-Hop Anthology: Part II

HOTEL Anthology logo

Hello! This is Part II of What I Learned from the WFGC Hotel Blog-Hop Project.

If you haven’t read Part I yet, I highly suggest you read it first.

 

In April of 2019, my friends and I from the WFGC released the Hotel Blog-Hop Anthology. As a spearhead of that project, I learned several lessons about people, leading, and what goes into creating a project. This is Part II of What I Learned. Have a laugh at my expense and, just maybe, avoid some of our mistakes. If you haven’t read the anthology yet, links to all the stories are on the WFGC website.

“Not Everyone is Going to Finish”Finish Line

When the second round of people dropped out of the project, I was getting discouraged. Brian Buhl had a conversation that turned things around for me. He told me to make sure, when people asked if they could do Thing A or Thing B, that I make every effort to say Yes instead of no. He reminded me this was not a professional contest, nor a book. We didn’t want to turn people away over silly rules that were not necessary.

He also explained that some people are always going to quit. They get excited initially, but either don’t have the wherewithal to complete it, or more likely, life gets in the way. Don’t get me wrong, I was still put out some, but it made sense. I extrapolated from this that it would be true with any contest/anthology/blog-hop, but it isn’t visible to contestants. Brian also helped ensure I didn’t hold any animosity towards those who quit by making sure I realized they were human…just like me.

What I learned about losing people on a project:

Everyone is human, and I must remember this always.

Your project may be your baby, but that doesn’t make it important to everybody else.

Everybody faces obstacles in life, and they have the right to decide what they want to take on. There’s no point in taking their decision personally.

 

Marketing NumbersMarketing is NOT My Strongpoint

Towards the end of the project, deadlines loomed over everybody. In a week, we were all supposed to be hitting Publish on our awesome Hotel stories, yet not many people outside the WFGC knew anything about it. And I had no plans save putting the links all over the Twittersphere the day of.

In swooped Chris Henderson Bauer wanting to know the plan. Discovering there is none, she took it upon herself to get our collective asses in gear. My words, not hers.  She also developed a tweet template for all involved authors to use for pre-published marketing. In short, Chris saved us from complete and utter anonymity after all this work.

What I learned about marketing:

A “day-of” plan is not good enough if you want to garner attention outside of those who already know what you’re doing.

If you can, allow an entity larger than yourself to help spread the word. In most cases, this probably involves money, but not always.

Marketing is one of the most important aspects of any project- having eyes on it and interest built up before release day is not going to hurt you. However, that means having a plan and enacting it an appropriate amount of time before the official release.

 

Hitting “Publish”

You can probably imagine that we had less than a perfect launch day. Imperfect (and in some case zero) systems in place, less information given out than usual, and unfinished stories all led to confusion on launch. I failed my responsibility for having systems and information in place, and it could be said I should have pushed those with unfinished stories to finish up faster.

Some might say I’m being too hard on myself. Maybe, but having a history of managing people, I think more could have been done on my part. I fell into a trap of “nobody will far apart if it’s not perfect” thinking, which I should have known better after that first week’s trials.

Regardless, the team managed to put out all the fires one by one, and by the thirteenth, every story was officially out in the world. I don’t know how much attention each individual author received from the Hotel project, and I hope it wasn’t so underwhelming that they wouldn’t consider doing something similar again.

What I learned from launch day:

If you’re leading a project, your job is not over until everybody else’s is, and you’d better be in the trenches or you’re not leading.

Having systems in place that work and are being actively used will help save you from putting out fires at the end of a project.

A “it doesn’t have to be perfect” mindset is a surefire way to ensure the end product is not as satisfying as it should be.

 

It may sound, at this point, like I did not enjoy the process of the WFGC Hotel Blog Hop Project. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I learned some hard lessons, sure, but a fairly large group of friends joined me in creating something cool in under three months. Sure, the process was harder than it needed to be at times. Those rough spots are behind us, the pain of them all but forgotten. The results are still live, and something all of us are proud to call our own. I’m proud of everybody who crossed the finish line with me, and even those who didn’t.

This was a project. I didn’t do it on my own, and I learned (in some cases, re-learned) excellent lessons. There’s really only one last question I have:

 

When are we doing it again???

Serious CircleHi! I’m James Neal, author of dark fantasy available on Amazon.

Granted, so is pizza. Mmmm…pizza.

Lessons from the WFGC Hotel Blog-Hop Anthology: Part I

HOTEL Anthology logo

In April of 2019, my friends and I from the WFGC released the Hotel Blog-Hop Anthology. As a spearhead of that project, I learned several lessons about people, leading, and what goes into creating a project. This is Part I of What I Learned. Have a laugh at my expense and, just maybe, avoid some of our mistakes.

What is the WFGC Hotel Project?

The WFGC Hotel Project is a blog-hop/ anthology of stories which was unleashed upon the world on April 10, 2019. The story however, begins in February. As you might expect, the theme of the project is a hotel. What is WFGC you ask? It stands for Write Fight Gif Club, a group of writers on Twitter who support each other. Often, we help with writing questions. Sometimes, if you prefer, we also provide procrastination.

If you haven’t read the anthology yet, links to all the stories are on the WFGC website.

Office Man

My Role

I sparked the idea of the project by having a short story that I didn’t know what to do with. When I asked WFGC members what I should do, talk of publishing a group anthology started heating up. The reality of the idea set in eventually, but many (including myself) were already excited. We decided to do a free blog-hop instead of publishing a paid anthology that would require contracts, rights, the whole nine yards.

I became the de facto “leader” of the project. I was to be the one to keep these forty or so interested writers invested in the project, follow through on commitments, and ensure the project came to fruition. Which it did, with a grand total of 18 stories!

I did not do it alone.

I did not do it alone. Fellow WFGC’rs Rhiannon Amberfyre and L.C. Marblewood handled damn near all of the registries and people tracking required for this project. Brian C. E. Buhl developed the timetable which we worked, almost exclusively, off of. Chris Henderson Bauer actioned our very short (not her fault) marketing campaign. What did I do? I answered questions, developed the Blog-Hop logo, wrote the project’s Survival Guide (with live updates as they happened), and created the projects website which is, essentially, a blog.

So what did I learn from this role?

People will lose the fervor of the initial idea and leave the project.

If you’re doing this for the first time, you have no idea what you’re doing.

Eventually, you must solidify ideas the group can work with, and this often includes compromise from your original vision.

 

Compromise

My initial idea for the project was simple: every story takes place in the same hotel, but within each room, absolutely anything can happen. It was even going to have the tagline: Every room tells a story. Why could absolutely anything happen? Because we wanted our authors to have room to write in any genre, and allow anything to happen, so long as the hotel as a whole wasn’t destroyed in the process.

Ultimately, it was decided that this vision was too limiting. Many people wanted to be able to exit the room and still have events happen. Several wished to have their characters meet with other author’s characters to create a sense of unity. Some people wanted to write stories outside of a singular hotel. All good ideas, and my initial vision did not support them.

We managed to make all of things possible, though it did steer my own story in a specific direction…the hotel needed to be a quantum, metaphysical space, and my story allowed that to happen…at least canonically.

This is what I learned about compromise:

The initial idea is not always best for the group.

I need to better my ability at persuasion.

Most times, it’s better to say yes, than no.

 

Everyone Needs to Understand What’s What. What?

Question Mark

The first three days after deciding we were actually going to do this were hectic. No, that’s an understatement. It was chaos. Forty people were throwing out ideas, nobody wanted to say no to anybody, and there was no plan of action. Attempting to answer those questions without a roadmap was pointless, but I was trying anyway (along with Rhi and L.C.).

We knew we didn’t want to limit genres pretty much from the get-go, but nobody understood how that was going to work if we kept to a single hotel. Many questions revolved around due dates, and on that we had absolutely no clue until we were almost a week out. We lost several people during this time. Not that I blame them. People are busy, have lives. If you cannot give them a simple piece of information such as “when do you expect me to get this to you,” they are not going to commit.

Rhiannon and L.C. came up with the idea of allowing people to “register into the hotel,” by assigning them a room number within our theoretical hotel. This worked wonders. People knew they were being kept track of, and would receive information as it came about.

I then created the Hotel Project Survival Guide, which put all known information in one place. I put that on Google Drive and allowed all interested parties to download it. It occurred to me soon after that the Guide would need to be updated regularly, and that is when I decided to create a website for the project. I’d never created a private one before, but thankfully, the process did not prove all that difficult.

This is what I learned about organization:

People need a clear plan of action, and it will be easier on everybody if that plan is already established.

When people do not have an actionable timetable, they will not commit b/c real life is hectic already and they don’t need to add stress to their life.

Simple systems which insure people will be informed and up to date create a sense of safety and take much of a project’s stress off your people.

This is Part I of What I Learned from the WFGC Hotel Project. Part II is also available. Thanks for reading!

 

Serious CircleHi! I’m James Neal, dark fantasy author with a novel on Amazon.

Granted, toilet paper is on there too…

A Son of San Antonio: A True Story

I’ve debated over a month whether I would write this particular blog post. Ultimately, my decision to do so feels selfish, because I want to know I am not alone in how lost I am about how to feel. To protect my family, I am withholding many details and being purposefully vague.

Full Header

The Incident

It’s night time, dusk an hour gone. The kids are in bed. I am playing a videogame at my computer. Another quiet evening with the sounds of swords clanging and ambient music in my headphones.

My lady of the house touches my shoulder. She saw something strange outside while smoking a cigarette. Several sounds, which to her sounded like small fireworks, just went off, and then a person sprinted like hell through our apartment complex and disappeared. Weird right? I agree, but then, sometimes people do stupid things.

She asks me to come check it out with her. A short squabble about minding our own business later, I am following her outside into the rain and darkness. She stops, giving me a look that says “please don’t make me go first,” so I take the lead.

The minute we get downstairs, we know something isn’t right. A vehicle is running, lights dimmed, and the passenger door is open. The indoor light isn’t working, but we can see a person is inside. We approach, and hear the person snoring. I ask if he’s okay, but he only responds with a snort.

I turn to my lady, shrug, and start heading back to the house. Sorry, but dealing with you being drunk in public is not in my job description. The lady gives me one of her oh-no-you-don’t looks, and tells me to go check on him.

I didn’t bring my phone. It’s raining and I’m expecting a couple of kids set off some fireworks, not an open car. Worried about touching anything, I bring out my own lighter, reach inside the vehicle, and flick it on.

Now I can see the man is leaning against his window. I’ve seen this before. He’s drunk. Passed out before he can even turn off the ignition. Maybe the lady heard him running into the wall in front of him, albeit slowly. Nothing else looks wrong, and my lighter isn’t going to get any brighter, so I let it die and pull my arm out of the vehicle. We head back to our place.

 

The Weirdest Police Call

During that walk back, we discuss what we should do. Ultimately, the lady is not convinced that it’s just some drunk guy that hit the wall while trying to stop. The other guy, the runner, wanted to get away fast. So, she makes one of the weirdest calls to police I’ve ever heard, much less been a part of. Weird because she starts the call off with “I don’t know if this is an emergency or not, but something happened…”

She calls the police station, not 911, because we decided that might be bad if it turned out not to be an emergency and was, after all, just a drunk guy snoring. The lady on the other side of the line seems to understand, and indeed sounds interested in the sprinting man, and says my lady made the right decision calling them. They come out and look at the vehicle, but when they get here, the vehicle was closed up and the lights off. There’s nothing they can do.

Full Header Reversed

The Aftermath/Following Morning

The police ended coming back in the early morning. A woman had called 911. Her son hadn’t come home that night. Using a phone tracking app, she found him in the vehicle the lady and I had checked out the night before. He’d been shot, and by the time she got there, he was long since dead. The lady and I had to make statement to a detective, who let us know that he knew about our call the night before, and that honestly, the victim was too far gone even then for us to have saved him- even if we’d called 911 and gotten an ambulance there. I know this was supposed to settle us but…

 

I am Unsettled

You need to understand one thing: I really believed the man in this vehicle was snoring, sleeping off a night of excessive drinking. Or a drug-high. Whatever. What I absolutely did not think was possible is that I could miss the blood of a man shot twice. That I could mistake a man’s last breaths with snoring. That I could not recognize death less than a foot from my own body. Yet that’s exactly what happened. I don’t blame myself for the boy’s death. I mourn for him, but I don’t think I am in any way responsible for what happened to him.

I do think that I should have been able to see the situation for what it was. I’m worried that I was so scared of the reality, I made up hearing snoring. I’m worried that I didn’t see any blood in the flame of my lighter for the same reason. Fear.

In a world where this violence can happen, I cannot afford to disengage with reality and make up things in my head to better cope with it. I need to see things as they are. And on this particular night, I can’t be sure whether I truly didn’t see the blood, and truly didn’t recognize the sound of sobbing, inhaling last breaths for what they were- or if I made up an alternate reality so I didn’t have to look at it.

And if the latter is true, I do feel unsettled, and guilty, for not being strong enough to face reality.

#PhotoStoryPrompt: Army in the Dust

Every Thursday, Radina Valova (@RadinaValova on Twitter) posts a photograph from her amazing collection. Along with the photo, she gives one or two rules, and sets anybody to write a story based on both the photograph and said rules. It’s really fun, and helps keep the creative juices flowing. If you’re interested, just search #PhotoStoryPrompt on Thursdays to join in, or just read the stories put up by authors.

Today’s photo immediately sparked a side story for my current Work in Progress: Mjolnir. Please enjoy!

Radina's Photo
Radina Valova’s photo

Stepping into the cool morning, the first thing that catches Mateus’ eye is the beauty of the mountains behind his home. Ever there, part of his heart. The second thing to catch his eye is the un-solid wall wafting across the entirety of the plains in front of the mountain. The dust reaches taller than a titan’s ass cheek and just as noisy. Mateus grimaces. The courier had not been wrong. War is coming.

He can hear the multitudes marching behind the dust. Mechanical steps hitting the ground in unison. Unwavering. Quaking against the earth with gods only know what intentions. Would they stomp his home to the ground? Burn it? Him? He steps inside and looks at his wife and two boys. The boys look back up at him, questions burning in their eyes. He doesn’t have the answers, and he can tell they see that too. His wife, Ayna, hands him his sword.

“We will protect our land,” she says.

“Yes, but we will fall doing so.”

“Then kiss me before we step outside.”

Mateus grabs Ayna with his free arm, pulling her close, and kisses her hard. A tinge of guilt passes through him as he realizes how little attention he’s paid this amazing woman. So he kisses her longer, deeper, with all his love and passion. She would not die before knowing she consumes his heart.

When their lips slip from contact, Mateus turns straight around and heads outside. The boys follow him, Ayna bringing up the back. Mateus watches her take one last look inside. He’d wanted to do the same, but couldn’t bear to think about all they were about to lose. It isn’t much insofar as materials, but the memories here are strong. Just like Ayna. Just like their boys.

The sky is clear and even the clouds run from the coming army. Mateus’ faith is faltering. He wants to run. He wants his boys to live. They’re still miles ahead of the army. He looks at Ayna. She looks at the boys, then back at him. He nods. Placing his sword against his shoulder, Mateus begins walking down the dirt road.

Two steps in, a deafening shriek of thunder falls over his ears, physically knocking him to the ground. The sound sweeps over the land, bending blades of grass and even halting the mechanical steps of the army beyond the great dust wall. Mateus’ heart fills with boldness, steeling him for the fight to come. Clouds sweep into view from nowhere. Rain pours over Mateus as though baptizing him. Lightning crashes across the sky, creating a wave heading towards the army. When it passes through the dust wall, screams interrupt the blast of thunder.

Could it be? Ragnarok passed ages ago. Thor died in that mighty final battle. Midgard was born anew. Who could possibly wield his hammer now?

“Back to the house! We will protect our home regardless of the outcome. Come boys! Come Ayna!” Mateus hollers across howling wind and rain.

Photo-Story Challenge: Alice’s Revenge

 

Alice leans against the wall, pain sprouting from her elbow where she smacked against the wall. Looking down, she sees a whelp turning black and blue just below her elbow. Maybe it’s just a shadow, she tells herself. Fighting back tears and a curse, she stares back into the living room where Dwayne is already playing some stupid game. How can he do that? Ignore the loud impact and put on that headset that takes him away from her?

Looking at the back of his head, Alice can still see his face in her mind. His not quite even mustache, hazel eyes, grizzled beard…and anger squelching all of his beautiful features into a tight knot which never loosens. She sees the near empty beer bottle on his computer desk and remembers when it was a bottle of soda, before the accident.

She remembers falling in love. Like so many girls, she used her heart instead of her head when Dwayne asked her out. A nerdy boy, his glasses made his eyes look huge as he stuttered through his proposal to take her to a movie. Nancy, her bestie at the time, laughed at him. The two girls would never have so heated a fight than that day, all because of a boy. This boy. Dwayne. Alice accepted his proposal, and delighted in the grin which took up his entire face. Before the movie ended, Alice would kiss this cute, nerdy boy. She enjoyed forcing him to endure an intimate moment in a public, though dark, space. Surprising herself, she found the taste of his lips intoxicating. She wanted to kiss those lips forever; and so Alice and Dwayne became “a thing.”

Photo-Story Challenge, Alice's Revenge, jamesnealbooks, james neal,

All this came before the anger. Alice and Dwayne only got three years together before the accident that shattered his left leg and the lower half of his right one. Alice thought she’d lost him when she got the call from the hospital. When she arrived, she got the news that he survived, but might never walk again.

Worse, he’d just gotten a promotion as a head architect, with his own team, a week prior. A week later, his company let him go, saying the decision was regrettable, but necessary.

Dwayne spent a long time in recovery and rehabilitation. When he got to come home, the two of them had to get used to living with each other again. Dwayne’s sodas became beers, and that ugly knot of anger soon settled permanently into his face. Life is supposed to get better after the hospital. It didn’t.

The two of them argue, a lot. Sometimes, things fly. Once, fists. Alice let Dwayne know that if that ever happened again, even once, he’d never see her again. He’d be alone. It’s the meanest thing she’s ever said to him; but she meant it. Since then, he spends his time on the computer, headset on, lost in whatever world lets him escape his personal hell. Alice goes to work, makes dinner, and sleeps. There is no romance. No intimacy. At least, not with each other. He romances his games, and she romances the relationships on her TV shows.

When they do talk, the conversation is short and curt. Like strangers side-stepping on the street, they both move past each other with as little friction as possible. She’s terrified of making a wrong move.

Today, she made the wrong move.

Standing up, light hits her arm and she can see there’s no shadow on her elbow. This bruise is gonna need ice. Looking towards Dwayne, she decides he’s due for an apology. Of sorts. Wincing at the throbbing in her arm, she steps up to his chair and taps him on the shoulder.

“What?” he asks with dismissiveness.

“That hurt.”

“What did?”

“Slamming into the wall, jerk!”

Dwayne turns away from the screen. It feels like the first time in ages he’s looked at her with anything but disdain.

“Why did you slam into the wall?”

“Does it matter? I want you to get me some ice. Sit with me on the couch. Make it better.”

She puts on her best pout, and thinks just maybe that knot of anger in his face loosens a bit.

“Is that all? Lemme see that.”

Dwayne is careful not to let his wheelchair smack her legs as he turns to face her. Gentle hands cradle her arm as he looks over the damage. A whistle escapes his pursed lips, making his beard wiggle. Gingerly, he kisses her bruise.

“How?” he asks.

“I was trying not to smack your chair on my way to the bathroom, and somehow managed to trip on one of your cords. It’s so stupid, but I couldn’t get my balance back and flew all the way through the doorway into the other wall.”

He laughs. A full, hearty laugh that contains no hint of meanness. Alice giggles back at him, enjoying the various movements of his body and the metallic clicks of his wheelchair complaining. Dwayne puts his arms around her, and she lets him. He’s so warm. So loveable. Her cute nerdy boy is happy, and so is she.

“I tell you what. If I go get stuff to make that feel better, are you willing to help me onto the couch? That’s still really hard on me, even with the metal poles in my legs. We’ll chill there for the night. You can even make me watch one of those silly shows you like.”

“Yes. I can get your bony butt on the couch.”

“Hey honey?”

“What my love?”

“Next time, just ask. You shouldn’t have to fly into walls to get my attention. I’m sorry I let myself get caught up in my stupid crap.”

“I know it’s a process, but I hate feeling we’re avoiding each other. It gets lonely.”

“You shouldn’t ever be lonely.”

“No, I shouldn’t mister. You’d best be remembering that from now on.”

She smiles wider, no longer fighting back her tears. She lets them spill, and leans into Dwayne’s palms to make sure he can catch them.

On Dwayne’s computer screen, red flashes demand his agency. Ignored, his character falls over, dead.

Bullying, WriteFightGifClub, and Letting Children Flounder

Social media is supposed to be a place where you create a network and keep in contact with friends and/or like-minded people. Sometimes I worry I’m one of those people who spends too much time on various platforms. The events of last Wednesday didn’t absolve me of that worry; but it did show me that, on Twitter, I’ve found my tribe.

Bullying WriteFightGifClub and Letting Children Flounder, jamesnealbooks, james neal,The Setup:

It’s Wednesday night, and my eight year old son is supposed to be going to bed. To be fair, he tries. Unfortunately, he’s upset and wailing and I can’t get him to tell me what is going on. I’m thinking he stubbed his toe until he says this:

“I don’t want to go to school anymore. I just know my class is going to bully me all day again, every day, for the rest of the year.”

If you’re a parent, you already know how chilling and desperate that sounds. My son is only in second grade and loves to socialize. How could he not want to go to school? Who is bullying him? Why?

Oh fuck. The whys. Why didn’t I know this is happening? Why isn’t his teacher doing something about this? Why did these other kids choose mine? Why am I so useless?Bullying WriteFightGifClub and Letting Children Flounder

Why am I so fucking useless right now?

His crying lessens with lots of big hugs and telling him he’s just the coolest. He doesn’t believe he’s the coolest. If he is the coolest, why is he the one getting picked on? Pretty deep thinking for an eight year old.

I don’t know how to deal with bullying. I was bullied, my self-esteem is still affected by being bullied. How am I supposed to tell my son everything is going to be okay?

WriteFightGifClub

Yeah, I wish this was something I came up with to help my son. The reality is it’s a hashtag I came across a couple months back on Twitter. It’s a group of writers, started by two people who were slogging through Nanowrimo last November and needed a place to blow off steam. It’s still a fairly tight-knit group, but growing thanks to the founders’ creativity and the sheer number of gifs posted daily. In #WriteFightGifClub, it’s not a surprise when a thread is thousands of posts long.

If you have no idea what Nanowrimo is, that’s okay. The point here is that WriteFightGifClub is my tribe. A group of people I’ve been creating relationships with for the past two months. When I didn’t know what to do, I turned to them for help. That may sound like a strange place to go, but I needed help. NOW. And I knew somebody would be there.

Schooled By a Teacher

Lucky for me, one of the members that is online at this moment is a teacher in New Zealand. Clementine sees my post about my son being bullied, and immediately jumps into the conversation with not only practical advice, but also book recommendations for my son to read. How cool is this lady? She’s awesome. The coolest.

Clementine is telling me to visit the principal and make sure they are aware of what’s happening. It turns out a principal cares a lot about school reputation, and if you’re going to make it public that they won’t help your child, well, that’s not good in the community’s eye. Generally speaking, they don’t want a negative public view.

She also tells me to keep giving my son love and reassurance despite him not accepting it at the moment. Right now, it all hurts too much, but when he’s at school or lying in bed he’ll remember me saying those words and know I meant them.

Several other members are present for the conversation. If they don’t have anything to add to the conversation per se, they still give condolences, one even offers to kick the bullies’ asses. That makes my boy smile.

This is my tribe. The type of people I want around me. The type of person I want to be. None of them had to respond to my tweet. Not one. But so many did, and they helped me help my son. Those are real friends in my book (author pun intended).

The Takeaway

Bullying is hard on the victims. It forces them to question their worth. It forces their loved ones to question if they love well enough. I’m not an expert. I don’t have a happy ending. My boy is still going to school; and he’ll likely be called names again today. When I pick him up, I’m going to give him a big hug and tell him he’s the coolest. I’ll do it every day until he doesn’t need me to anymore.

If you’re a parent, that’s about all you can do. The bottom line is, your child has to find their own way through it. Life sucks that way. Just make sure they know you love them, especially when they flounder through the dark places.

 

Thanks for reading.

Interested in my stories? Links can be found here.

 

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