Halloween Haunt 2013

As I’ve mentioned before in a previous post, Halloween is one of my favorite times of year, and pretty much all of October has become a way for me to experience it. I’m surprised I hadn’t written a post earlier in the month, after I had gotten a chance to watch the classic silent film “Nosferatu” in a historic cemetery, accompanied by a live band. Or how I co-wrote and helped shoot a short comedy-horror film about a haunted garage.

Nope, apparently I had to wait ’til All Hallows’ Eve itself to write this, because that’s how much I care. And really, I might have had a tough time getting to a post last night as I had planned, because I ended up facing and overcoming one of my fears.

I’ve always been fairly apprehensive, nervous about handling things I don’t know. And I startle easily, often not handling surprises very well if they’re sudden. So never in a hundred years did I think I’d find myself at the Knott’s Berry Farms Halloween Haunt, wandering through the fog-thick streets of an authentic old ghost town or stumbling through mazes while ghouls and monsters leaped at me from the shadows; despite my curiosity over these events, I always thought thought I’d look on from a distance, content to hear my friends talk about the scares.

But I went last night. And I had a blast!

Moment's later, I was eviscerated by the ghoul behind me,

Me and my good friend Sam, about to venture into a witch’s house.

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by this, but I was. Still am, actually. I spent so long dreading the effect jump scares and loud noises would have on me in this environment that I felt relieved when it wasn’t as bad as I’d made it out to be; so relieved, in fact, that it seemed to liberate me and made the whole night more enjoyable for it. Let that be a lesson to you, kids: the anticipation is almost always worse than the thing itself.

So now you know I had a good time, so I bet you’re wondering: what did I do, exactly? And what did I think of it overall?

Well rather than break down my night event-by-event, I’m going to present my opinion as the ever-popular “Top X” list, from least to most. In this case, I want to list my thoughts on the offered mazes in this format, since that was what I came to see. But I also attended a show or two, and I’ll relate my experience with those at the end.

THE MAZES

First, I should mention two mazes will not be on this list: Delirium and Uncle Willy’s Slaughter House. I opted not go go into either of these, though I’m sure they’re both good in their own way. With Delirium, I don’t much care for the grisly and grotesque themes put in there, since the maze relies on unnerving and often disgusting things to frighten, and I’m not a gore hound; similarly, the Slaughterhouse is representative of the cannibal hillbilly theme, which I find tired and uninteresting, and not very evocative of Halloween. If you’ve been to Haunt and like these two mazes, then more power to you. I just happened to skip out on them.

I did manage to get into every other maze at least once (and sometimes twice) throughout the night, and my opinion of them is as follows:

8) Endgames

A post-apocalyptic trek through blood-spattered corridors, complete with chain-link fences, weird mutants, and death metal pounding in the background. The idea is that you’re making your way to an arena while dodging the attacks of your fellow combatants, in this case a cast of ghoulish gladiators. I didn’t get a chance to really take this maze in, partly because it’s appropriately stark for the setting, and partly because the cast was really good at keeping my attention on them: one woman kept stalking me through the arena, and I was so focused on her that I barely noticed the huge monster that was supposed to dominate the center of the ring. Again, great cast, good atmosphere, but not my favorite theme. I would have liked to revisit this one if just to see more of it.

7) Pinocchio Unstrung

I knew I was in for something twisted when Pinocchio’s narration played over the queue called the Blue Fairy “that blue bitch.” Apparently, the little puppet’s been denied his wish to be a real boy, and has decided to get the flesh he wants through other means. This is a macabre jaunt through classic scenes in the story of Pinocchio, from Gepetto’s shop to the marionette theater, Pleasure Island and the belly of the sea monster (which was a really cool looking angler fish-like thing on the outside), revisited by a bunch of evil puppets and the occasional donkey-headed man. Scares were good here, and I liked the theme, though it always bothers me when there’s an air blast in a maze (the giant Mr. Punch heads that flank the entrance to Pleasure Island shoot air at you as you pass), which feels cheap and annoying. Not sure why we never saw the Blue Fairy either, who I heard was in the maze last year.

6) Dominion of the Damned

I can’t fault this one for itself, and I would have liked to visit it again when I felt like I wasn’t being rushed through it. This is a very elegant maze, Gothic in tone, filled with classic vampires. It was too dark in places to really admire the detail, but some places I was impressed by the work done to make it feel like one was traveling through some sort of art gallery or museum run by the undead. I might have placed this higher had I had chance to revisit it and take in more, but it got really packed later on that night, so as it stands this is based on my first impressions.

5) The Gunslinger’s Grave

The Red Hand Gang made a big mistake when they tried to kill a legendary Gunslinger. They didn’t do a thorough enough job, and so he’s come back to wreak is vengeance on the town that harbored them. There’s no real ghouls or ghosts in this maze, only gunmen and townsfolk either pleading for help or looking to fight. While the initial story is set up well, I get confused about who’s who and what’s what in this maze – I don’t think its very clearly conveyed which of these characters is the Gunslinger, not even at the end. To this maze’s credit, the actors try to interact with guests, being ornery and threatening, but its hard to hear them over the blaring music. I think this is one where they could tone the noise down and it could be improved.

4) Forevermore

Of all the mazes, this is the one that genuinely spooked me the most. You follow the trail of the Forevermore Killer, who tortures and kills his victims in methods based on stories of Poe. There are a lot of eerie, elaborate sets that evoke Poe’s work, the most impressive of which is a giant swinging pendulum and a pit filled with water. The atmosphere is genuinely unsettling, and because I was so taken looking at the setups and being reminded of the work of Poe, I got caught off-guard all too often by plague doctor-looking maniacs – minions of the killer, I guess. One room is frustrating in that it plays a really obnoxious screeching sound over the whole thing, nails-on-a-chalkboard level of cringe-worthy, but it dawned on me that its a reference the light-and-sound sensitivity suffered Roderick Usher from “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Nice touch.

3) Mirror, Mirror

This was actually the first maze I went into, a way to wet my feet with the Haunt experience, and I think it was the perfect way to start my evening. For one, its literally a maze: a seemingly endless array of mirrors and arched doorways that look like mirrors. One gets disoriented and lost very quickly, and soon enough silent specters with gold harlequin masks loom out of nowhere, eerie but ever outright threatening. I later learned that the walls in the maze get moved around, and that you actually cannot leave until the time is right, at which point the specters point the way through the maze and guide you out, perhaps before you too are trapped like the,. The maze is the smallest in terms of space, but it feels massive in scope. I love it.

2) Black Magic

I’m a sucker for a cool setup, and this one is fantastic: Harry Houdini’s ghost has finally been contacted in a seance, held in an Art Deco theater on Halloween night. But he’s none too happy about his rest being disturbed, and he brings a posse of dead magicians and performers with him to torment the living. From the outset, this maze is well done in all faucets. The tropes of stage magic and illusion run rampant through the maze, from a knife-throwing act gone wrong to a set of spiked walls closing in; and the cast for it is top-notch and always in character – many of whom show obvious signs of how their failed stunts killed them. One woman in a Venetian long-nosed mask seemed to take great delight in playing with me, and actually followed me outside to continue threatening/poking fun at me with a knife, which I repaid in kind by interacting with her. Fantastically done, and I hope it returns next year.

1) Trick or Treat

This is the epitome of what I want in a Halloween maze, and it delivers. The premise is simple: Halloween night, you ring the doorbell of a witch’s house and step inside. And once inside, I was blown away by the staggering amount of scenic detail. The front room of the house alone is a feast for the eyes, with its multitudes of glowing jack-o’-lanterns sitting on the staircase and the hall running past an open closet, stuffed with shirts and coats, where you just know something is going to jump out at you. This one is a bit lite on scares (though I mean no disrespect to the Tricksters, the witch’s minions that add to the fun with their undead faces hid behind dime store Halloween masks, who never failed to make me jump) but that doesn’t bother me, because the immersion is so superb. It really feels like you’ve stepped into a haunted house on Halloween, and that in itself is key; to me, it evokes the spirit of All Hallows that is so often missing from other events. It captures the fear and the delight, the magic and terror, of the night when the veil between worlds is thin. Easily my favorite maze, hands down.

In addition to the mazes above, I also got to see a show or two. Elvira’s Sinema Seance had all the camp you’d expect from the Mistress of the Dark, and it’s good to finally see the woman herself live on stage, a great performer who puts on a grand show.

Speaking of performances, Blood Drums got me pumped. Excellent percussion on seemingly simple objects, and a good use of sanders and sparks to add character.

Me, my sister, and the Blood Drummers themselves. What a wild bunch!

Finally, I ended my night with Carny Trash at the historic Birdcage Theater. This was a small show, put on by one talented old barker with a curled mustache that would put Dustin Hoffman’s fuzz in Hook to shame. I ended up being a volunteer from the audience, and for the whole show he performed all sorts of fun sideshow-style tricks with me as one of his sucke– I mean, helpers.

Kids, don't try this at home.

In the end, I already look forward to next year’s Haunt, and am glad I faced my fears head-on and discovered how fun and exciting such an event can be. But alas, I must go. Halloween night is coming, and I’ve got a party to run.

Happy Samhain, everyone!

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Sigh. Really? There’s more? Fine…

Here’s a couple of shameless plugs for you. For one, one of my short stories has been accepted and presented today on Creepypasta.com. The story is called “Fangs,” and is very much a Halloween tale, so feel please check it out if you can! You can find it here.

Also, I’ve begun a series of radio plays that are adaptations of Creepypasta stories. The pilot episode, based on the classic so-bad-it’s-good pasta “WHO WAS PHONE?” is all up and ready for your listening pleasure. Check it out below, and if you’re feeling generous, like it and perhaps share it with others? Please?

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Taking On Comic-Con (Again)

So it’s been nearly three months since my last trip to San Diego to attend the geekstorm that is Comic-Con, and here I go attempting to relate my experience there. While I should have gotten to this while it was fresh in mind, it’s better late than never, right?

Discord on a train again.

NEEEERRRRD!!

But instead of simply recounting my entire con experience, I’m going to do what I said I might last year: a small guide to con survival, based on my own experiences and recollections after four years of Comic-Con forays. It’s by no means a definitive list of what ensures maximum enjoyability; just fast facts that will hopefully hold some merit if you find yourself attending this beautiful madhouse of a convention.

So, based on four years experience, here’s 4 facts that I find helpful:

1 – If you want to go cheap, prepare to use the trolleys

Let’s face it: hotels in the area are going to ramp up their rates hugely when Comic-Con is in town, and why not? People will pay premium to stay within walking distance of the Convention Center, and that’s fine… if you’re willing to spend the buku bucks to snag a room at the Hilton or Marriott.

I, on the other hand, am willing to forgo the convenience for the sake of my wallet, and with careful planning it doesn’t have to be a detriment. For the last four years, me and my group have stayed in hotels near Old Town, and until last year have been in walking distance of the excellent trolley system that goes right by the convention center. A 15-20 minute trip either way is a small price to pay, and often you meet other con-goers on the trolley.

Death of the Endless. Photo by Katie Fleming.

Sometimes, though, you meet Death. This may or may not be a good thing.

This might not be the way to go if you’re claustrophobic, or simply don’t feel you have the patience to deal. These trains can and will get jam-packed with people, all coming and going from the con. There’s an atmosphere of anticipation and fun that I really enjoy, however, and it spreads the convention beyond the vicinity of the con itself. I’ve often struck up conversations with total strangers simply because we’re all there for the same thing, and just this last year – in a remarkable coincidence – I ran into two old college friends I hadn’t seen since graduation, simply because I was standing near the door when it opened at a station and they were standing in front of it.

(Also, as a subtip: pack lunches! Food around the con is expensive, and if you’re trying to keep the costs down, bring your own lunchbox with you. It might not be terribly glamorous, but surviving on homemade PB&J sandwiches and containers of yogurt is better than spending nearly $10 on a corn dog, in my opinion.)

2 – Disappointment is Inevitable (but it doesn’t have to ruin everything!)

This seems like a pessimistic mantra, but its wise to keep it in mind. Everyone’s got their own agenda at Comic-Con, and unfortunately many hundreds – or even thousands – of them may have the same goal you do. There’s only so much space, and with the Fire Marshall’s presence looming over everything, that space is a premium. People can, and do, get turned away after standing in line for hours because the event filled up. There’s a very good chance that something you want to do at Comic Con won’t happen, especially if it’s a high-profile event or rare collector’s item being sold in the Exhibit Hall.

This is never truer than with the dreaded Hall H. This is where the biggest and showiest events happen, usually associated with big-budget movies or popular TV shows: just this last year, Breaking Bad had a presentation that was immediately followed by Doctor Who, as an example of what goes on. Because Comic-Con does not clear the rooms between panels, people can sit through other panels while waiting for the one they want, turning things into a first-come, first-served nightmare – yours truly got up at 4 in the morning to try and get a good spot in line in anticipation for Doctor Who, only to find it snaking around behind the convention center into the marina (and the panel was scheduled for around 1 PM).

This is actually the historic sailing ship, the Star of India, dressed up like Edward Kenway's pirate vessel from Assassin's Creed 4 - even boats can cosplay! Photo by Katie Fleming.

At least the view was nice. It’s not often you see a pirate ship at dawn.

Those hours spent in line were not worth getting into the panel only for the last 10 minutes, which was my biggest disappointment of the con. Yet in the back of my mind, I was prepared for something like this, and risked it anyway.

My advice is to weigh your options carefully. If you’re willing to camp overnight to see something you’re a diehard fan of, then by all means. However, if that seems ludicrous to you, then it might be better to pass on something you really love and find joy in doing other, less-strenuous things. Odds are you’ll stumble across something unexpected and wondrous that will make for a much better story later than saying you saw Bryan Cranston from the back of a massive hall over a sea of screaming fans.

Speaking of which…

3 – Take time to explore

Just because Comic-Con is a noteworthy place to see what’s new in the big panels, doesn’t mean that’s the only thing to do. If you go poking around the various corners of the Exhibit Hall, wander over to the nearby hotels or investigate things outside in the Gaslamp District, you’ll often find interesting distractions and enjoyable opportunities. The Exhibit Hall alone can provide hours of entertainment if you wander from end to end; beyond the crowded and noisy middle sections their massive franchise displays, you’ll find individual booths for artists, writers, webcomic folk and voice actors, many of whom are more than happy to welcome you and show you what they’re offering, or even just to chat about the convention. The south portion of the hall houses an Artists Alley with a lot of original material; head northward and you’ll experience something akin to the Comic-Con of the past, where comic collectors get together, trade, buy and sell their collections – a sobering reminder of how much the con has grown from a gathering of humble lovers of comics to a gargantuan media expo.

It’s surprising how often some of my best experiences each have been just walking around and meeting people rather than in panels: during my first year at the con, I met Dino Andrade (head of SoulGeek.com and professional voice actor, most notable for me as the voice of the Scarecrow in Batman: Arkham Asylum) because he happened to notice my Groundskeeper costume and turned out to have a mutual love of Disney’s Haunted Mansion. I make an effort to track him down every year and say hello.

Even visiting some of the smaller panels can be more fun than hanging around Hall H all day. There’s more liveliness, more character, and generally more fun at these, and you often have more of a chance to take part in the Q&A and talk candidly to those involved. One my best experiences this last year was sitting in for the Axe Cop panel and watching my sister (in her Hellhound costume) do a “cosplay battle” with a little girl dressed as Ranma, directed by both the Nicolle brothers.

The Hellhound, the real Axe Cop, and Ralph Wrinkles. Photo by Katie Fleming.

Malachai Nicolle and his deadly dogs!

4 – If all else fails, make your own fun

Above all else, unless you’ve got intensely high expectations, the hardest thing to do at Comic Con is not to have fun. Worst case scenario, you don’t make it into anything… Unlikely as that is, so what? You’re never far from something entertaining.

The cosplay alone is enough to turn heads sometimes, and at Comic Con, people really outdo themselves. You can be entertained simply by interacting with cosplayers, and seeing which crazy character is going to round the next bend in the hall.

Bilbo Baggins, there and back again. Photo by Katie Fleming.

The Headless Horseman, sans horse! Photo by Katie Fleming.

Doug Rattman and his faithful Companion Cube. Photo by Katie Fleming.

Myself as the Groundskeeper and Teysa Karlov, the Orzhov Grand Envoy. Photo by Katie Fleming.

Two Doctors. The one on the left reminds me of Pogo. Photo by Katie Fleming.

Dr. Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance. Photo by Katie Fleming.

Discworld, anyone? Photo by Katie Fleming.

Loki, the God of Chaos, suave as ever. Photo by Katie Fleming.

The Weasley Twins show off their wares. Photo by Katie Fleming.

I think I’ve made my point. Hopefully, should you ever find yourself at Comic-Con, some of what I posted might be useful. If you can go, go at least once. You won’t regret it.

Until next time!

(All photos were courtesy of the lovely and talented Katie Fleming, who did a splendid job!)

What Would You Burn?

And nearly a year later, I remember I have one of these. Huh. So much for my keeping this blog regularly updated. My poor circus.

For the sake of time, I won’t go into all the details. Suffice to say, it’s been a very busy year since the last time I wrote here. I’ve graduated from CSULB as a Creative Writing major, Magna Cum Laude (not that I like to brag, but I certainly feel accomplished), and have since begun taking slow but steady steps toward proper adulthood, which is both a thrilling and terrifying prospect for someone who feels so unfamiliar with the wider world. I’m likewise in the process of writing a novel, and its taking me longer to get done than I would like. I hammer away at it regardless, and with any luck I’ll have it finished by the time the summer is done.

That brings me to the meat of this post: the novel. It’s a pretty big undertaking to try to write something like that, and just as often an ordeal as it is an experience to work on. It happens way more than it should that I put it off or find something to distract me rather than knuckle under and just do it, and this is true of a lot of things in my life – this blog itself is a prime example of how I’ve been neglecting the things I should be doing.

What prompts this post – and actually got me to get the circus up and running again – is a request put up by my good friend and confidant Elana K. Arnold. As a fellow writer, I’m a big fan of her work; her recently published first novel, “SACRED,” is definitely a good read, and one I would recommend wholeheartedly (though I personally believe its yet-to-be published sequel is even better… But I can’t talk about that now). Her next novel, “BURNING,” launches very soon, and she asked me to consider a surprisingly deep question: what would you burn?

No, this isn’t the story of a girl with a J.J. Abrams’ lens flare for a face. Don’t judge books by their covers!

When asked a question like this, there’s a lot to consider on my part. Had I been asked this a few years ago, I probably would have produced a laundry list of things, small insecurities and petty ideas scrawled all over it. It’s only recently that I think I’ve narrowed it down to two things, and ultimately those things connect in a ankle-high roadblock that seems to be constantly set in front of me.

I’d burn my hesitation and procrastination.

Hesitation is not always a bad thing, I know. There’s a point where its better to reconsider, reevaluate and otherwise not throw caution to the wind. On the other hand, I’m of the habit of hesitating too much. I look at my looming adulthood and the numerous responsibilities,  challenges, and things expected of me – jobs, taxes, insurance, the daily grind – and I just want to curl back up in my childhood where I’m safe. I won’t deny that the future genuinely frightens me, and that I’m only making it worse by stopping myself; my brain somehow goes to that worst-case-scenario thought and I hit the brakes. I don’t want this Peter Pan complex, yet I still struggle to look at the future with major optimism.

First one into the fire, then. Boom. Look at it sizzle!

I’m also a serial procrastinator – I’m sure it happens to the best of us, but I’ve gotten quite good at it, much to my dismay. It frustrates me, this apathetic stance on things. If this blog is any evidence, I’ve started so many things with the best of intentions, only to lose sight of my goals midway through. I keep putting things off, shoving them to the side as I let distractions take over. It should not take the exertion it does for me to keep focused on one task until its done, and coupled with the hesitation and fear, serves only to keep me from getting what I want.

In that goes too. I imagine it erupts and bursts as it heats up, like popcorn: pop, pop, pop!

If only it were that easy, for me and for everyone else, to take their troubles and ills and incinerate them, watch them go up in smoke. But even the act of looking for things to burn burns in its own way. I recognize the things that hinder me, and I can take steps to fight them. I can let them go, put them to the metaphorical torch and let their ashes get carried away.

Eloquence aside, my thanks to Elana for presenting a prompt that not only got me dwelling on these things, but got me off my lazy butt to look at this blog again. Expect more from me more often by this point, as I start getting the circus back in gear.

Goodbye for now, and remember: don’t play with fire, use it to your advantage!

Taking on Comic Con 2012

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m a nerd. Heck, you read this blog, so you already know I’m a nerd. There’s pretty much no denying it.

Choas on a Train

NEEEERRRRRD!!

But we live in a day and age where it’s more acceptable, even cool, to be a geek, nerd or oddball, or so I like to think. We of the fun-loving, fanboy and fangirl generation (although one must be careful not to be come too much of a fanboy or girl for something, because then it can get a little weird) are slowly but surely taking over the world, and San Diego Comic Con seems to be proof of that; to paraphrase Kevin Murphy of RiffTrax at their recent live panel, “If the world was more like Comic Con, the world would be a better place.”

It would probably be, although there would be a lot more lines.

I was lucky enough to procure a badge for all four days, considering how quickly they sold out.  To compare, for Comic Con 2010 the badges were there a few months before the con; for 2011, the badges sold out in a matter of hours; and this year’s badges disappeared within 40 minutes of registration opening! If there’s any more telling sign that the con is growing at an alarming rate, I’ve yet to see it.

Oh wait. Except the crowds. Seriously. Do you like your personal space? Sorry, not much of that happening there. Comic Con has the potential to be a claustrophobic nightmare, and if you don’t like crowds this isn’t the venue for you. Lines are one thing, but trying to move from one end of the show floor to the other can be a daunting task in itself if you don’t know how to avoid the major attention magnets. They don’t clear rooms between panels, so oftentimes people will go and camp in one room and sit through other panels for one they’ve been waiting for, leaving others who only wanted to go to that one panel outside, stuck in a long line, often with no chance of getting in as the room fills to capacity – the Fire Marshal breaths down everyone’s neck at this convention. Even simply leaving the convention can be tough at certain times; I often found myself stuck in giant unmoving crowds as I attempted to get on a trolley back across town to my hotel.

But I don’t want this post to be a survival guide – maybe that’s something I’ll do next year. Despite everything, I still had an amazing time, getting into most of the panels I wanted and meeting lots of really nice people! San Diego Comic Con is an event I’ve been eagerly looking forward to each year for the last three years. By this point I would be surprised if someone didn’t know what Comic Con was, considering how much media coverage it has. What was once a small gathering place for lovers of comic books has become a Mecca for those of a geek persuasion (much to the chagrin, from what I understand, of those that once attended those smaller, comics-focused conventions – to those forerunners, my apologies and sympathies for contributing to the swelling masses). For four days in mid-July, that part of San Diego becomes a festival space, full of hectic crowds and rampant energy. People come out and proudly display their fandom on their sleeves – or in their costumes, as is often the case. And believe me, there were a lot of cool costumes.

I could go on with costume pictures, but that seems like a good sampling. If I get the photographer’s permission (extra big thanks to Katie for snapping most of these, by the way), I’ll do a post with a lot more.

It wasn’t hard to stop people for a photo, and everyone I met there was incredibly gracious and friendly, though maybe a bit frazzled at various times. I struck up conversations with complete strangers while waiting in lines, and would find myself chatting amiably about some shared interest or another. There was no need for an introduction: we were all in this together, and the badges are sure sign enough that we’re somehow comrades in this shared journey.

And it wasn’t just with the normal folks either! I encountered some “big names” while on my four-day escapade, just walking the halls. Besides having briefly spoken to and shaken hands with Dave McKean, Kate Beaton and the entire panel from Magic: The Gathering, I got to personally thank one of Mass Effect’s writers – Sylvia Feketekuty, who graciously came out to talk to us while we stood in line for a Mass Effect panel we couldn’t get in – for the amazing narrative of the game that has proven to be a bonding experience for me and my girlfriend, and later I passed MythBuster Adam Savage in hallway while he was dressed as the Rocketeer.

Scarecrow and Scarecrow: the one on the left is me, hanging out with voice actor Dino Andrade, the voice of Dr. Johnathan Crane in Batman: Arkham Asylum! As you can see, the resemblance is uncanny.

To me, the above illustrates how much I love Comic Con. Here’s a place where everyone there is just trying to have a good time and be completely honest with themselves. There’s no judgment and no raised eyebrows at this convention, apart from the obnoxious Christian sign-wavers outside. Within the borders of the convention…No, within the confines of San Diego itself, there’s a permeable feeling of acceptance and jubilation, one that grows and grows the closer one draws to the convention center.

It made me sad to go, to know that this area that had contained so much frustration and wonder would soon become a normal part of town for another whole year. But then, there’s always next year, right? Considering how hard it was to get in this year, I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed…

Until next time!

 

Bad News and Good News

Oh. Hey…A blog. Yeah…Those exist, right? This one seems pretty dusty.

Alright. Kidding aside, I realize it’s been a good 5 months since I last posted an update of some sort here in the circus, and I think most of the carnies are pretty ticked with me right now. They have every right to be, of course, as do you – the three or four people that read my blog have been hammering at my portcullis with pitchforks and torches.

I won’t bother to make excuses, except to say that the spring semester had me writing away a good chunk of my free time, though I did dabble in a poetry workshop and continued to take other workshops on fiction. It’s the literary academia courses and the work they entail that bog me down, but  I’ve already ranted about that, so need to go on about it again, right?

That’s not the only reason, though. Perhaps you’ve noticed my title promising good news and bad news, so let’s start with the bad: around February, my laptop keeled over and died; that is to say, it froze and started making weird clicking noises, and the diagnostic result was that I had suffered a hard drive head crash. It was fried but good, and I lost pretty much everything.

Considering my laptop was one of the primary storage centers for my creative endeavors, that’s a lot of projects and such lost. I had backed it up awhile ago, but it wasn’t completely up to date.  Needless to say, the entire situation was incredibly disheartening, but I’ve learned something from this: back everything up. Regularly. It was soul-crushing how much I lost, for awhile there. Plus a few terms papers I was working on were lost midway through.

Ugh.

But now that the semester is done and the temperature steadily increases each day. I feel the pull of summer and its freedoms, and I ow myself a blog post. And a bit of good news is in order after that ugly business of failed technology.

I am pleased and amazed to say that I am now a published author.

Live Life: The Daydreamer's Journal

Yep! It’s not saying much, but recently one of my stories got featured in the above anthology, put out by Stout Optimists and the University of Wisconsin. It’s a fantastic collection of fiction, featuring dozens of breakout writers and a few well-known ones as well. If the above cover is any evidence, it holds the world record for “Most Artists Contributing To The Cover of A Published Anthology.” And what’s more, all the proceeds from this book are donated to the American Cancer Society. How neat is that!

I’m not going to see a dime for this book, but I don’t care: it’s just cool to be featured in something printed, not to mention something as big as this. My story, “The Library Plot,” can be found pretty early on, under my moniker of David Rockford. But it’s also cool to be featured among so many other fantastic people, and I highly encourage my readers to take a look at it. You can find info on the anthology here, and should you get the book, I will love you forever. Seriously.

I’m not going to lie, this was a boost I needed after my laptop’s untimely death. I didn’t actively seek out this anthology, but rather the anthology sought me out. Sir Ricky McGentleman (with his exceptional penname) contacted me and asked if I wanted “The Library Plot” featured. This is important to me because not only is it fun to be published, but it confirms that this is what I want to do, that not only do I tell stories but that people enjoy them. I want writing to be my profession, and this is a good sign that I haven’t misguided myself on trying to be one.

I’m feeling pretty good right now.

Anyway, before I sign out, I thought it might be fun to share with y’all some footage I got from the recent Maker Faire that happened in the Bay area a few weeks ago, yet another reason I didn’t update sooner. If you don’t know, the Maker Faire is an annual convention showcasing cool custom stuff, all manner of gizmos and gadgets, robotics, crafts, computer programming, vehicles and just fun artsy stuff. I could go on and on about some of the stuff I saw, but instead I’ll just leave you with this video montage. Until next time, good readers!

Apathy vs. D.H. Lawrence

Is college more detrimental to me as a writer than it is beneficial?

I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately, especially during the last few weeks of the fall semester. I actually started writing this post in November, but could not finish, partially due to the piles of homework I has to dig through. I wanted to pen some short stories, or work on my draft of my novel, or continue polishing a finished screenplay I’ve had on the back burner for some time.

But alas, my time and energy had to go into critical analysis and evaluation of a lot of old dead people’s writing (and the writing of some living people that is so lifeless it makes me wonder).

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve made some good friends through college, and I wouldn’t say it is without its benefits. One of best classes I ever took as a screenwriting course – I took it three times – and I’ve had the good fortune of having likeable professors 95% of the time, regardless of the subject. But what grinds my gears is that, as a Creative Writing major, there’s hardly any creative writing incentives offered. A few workshop courses, maybe, but most of it is analysis and learning to write like they want you to write – crisp, clean, concise, and utterly soulless. One class I took this last semester was so lamentably devoid of anything creatively valuable that I found that I hated it more than the Math classes I took; an ENGLISH class I hated more than Math. And I hate Math!

The workshop experience is not much better. Call me elitist if you will, but I don’t feel like I’m getting anything out of reading a lot of the half-assed, pointless, clearly slapped-together-at-the-last-minute fiction some of my fellow students had brought in, and then receiving feedback from those students for my own work, who clearly don’t know what they’re talking about. I actually put something called effort into my work, thank you very much. And I can’t take your opinion of my fiction seriously when your story has sentences that end “like this!!!!!!!!”

…OK. Granted, I might be a little harsh there. But I’ve always felt that going into a workshop like that – and this isn’t the intro one, mind, but the real deal – you should really sincerely try to write, to take things seriously. I’m glad that there were at least two or three people in that workshop that were not only good writers, but offered sound critiques as well, and to them I am grateful (an extra shout out goes to my brother in solidarity, T. Bone – he knows who he is). But some people obviously wrote their story the night before and expected us to accept it. Some were poorly formatted, some had plots that went nowhere, and some were so pretentious that they were nigh unreadable.

Perhaps I was overly optimistic when I claimed this major; I had thought these classes would genuinely improve my craft, show me how to improve as a writer and steer toward publishing potential. But now it seems like they just tacked on the workshop angle to a standard English plan, and said “Do this. Think our way. Write our way, but do it creatively.”

Now, sitting in the midst of winter break as I am, the emotions of the last semester now put behind me, I still ponder my question: is college more detrimental to my writing than it is beneficial? I was certain then, when I had started this post, that it was. I’ve barely had time to write for myself, with the exception of a couple short pieces for my workshop course, and now that I’m done, there’s an apathy lurking in the back of my mind.

Why bother? it whispers. Don’t write. You’ve been doing that all semester, writing. Take a break. Do something mindless. Look, you haven’t even finished Skyrim yet! Your lesbian werewolf orc is probably getting lonely. You know she can’t marry her housecarl because of a bug, yeah? Think of her.

And yet I know I should write: that’s why I came back to write this, after all. It’s a step in the right direction, and I can now force myself to do what needs to be done. It’s a lot easier than it seems…I just need to convince myself of that.

And what about Skyward Sword? You’ve only played a couple hours of it so far. You want to show up that bastard with the pompadour, that guy clearly ripping off Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, don’t you?

Yes, thank you. I get it. But I’ve got to put my own projects first. I know I’m better than the mental italics, and I will do this while I can. I want, more than anything else, to tell my own stories, and share them with others. That should take precedence over everything else…Yes, even the amazing video games I mentioned above…

Which brings me to D. H. Lawrence.

See, when at my lowest point during the semester – looming assignments, lots of tedious reading, and a bad chest cold – I happened to be assigned to read some of Lawrence’s work. Not expecting anything, I breezed through his short story “The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter” and thought it was an alright read. Nothing special, but fun. Then I moved on to his essay “Why The Novel Matters…”

What went through my mind afterward.

OK. I might be over-exaggerating a little here, but bear with me.

This essay shook me out of my doldrums. It was…refreshing! After being assigned reading after reading of indecipherable and verbous windbags that talked only about theory, here was D. H. Lawrence writing a fun, humorous and downright insightful essay about why writing is so important, and why it affects people. And I loved it. Why can’t all theorists write like this guy?

Because they try to break literature and fiction down, force it into a box, make it meet scientific parameters. They analyze from every angle in order to try and find one concrete and absolute meaning, and empirical truth. That is why the class I mentioned earlier, the one that I hated more than Math, made me so angry – it was all about critical modes and the over-analysis in a laboratory fashion. I’ve heard it said that it’s like dissecting a frog; you learn how the thing works, but you kill the frog.

As for the scientist, he has absolutely no use for me so long as I am man alive. To the scientist, I am dead. He puts under the microscope a bit of dead me, and calls it me. He takes me to pieces, and says first one piece, and then another piece, is me. My heart, my liver, my stomach have all been scientifically me, according to the scientist; and nowadays I am either a brain, or nerves, or glands, or something more up-to-date in the tissue line.

That idea is against my religion as a writer, a storyteller, and speculator. Fiction has meaning, to be sure, but it’s ambiguous. Fluid. No person reads a story or sees a film the same way. Everyone’s going to take something different from it. They might see it exactly as the story’s creator meant, or they might not. What does it matter?

We should ask for no absolutes, or absolute. Once and for all and for ever, let us have done with the ugly imperialism of any absolute.

There is no absolute good, there is nothing absolutely right. All things flow and change, and even change is not absolute. The whole is a strange assembly of apparently incongruous parts, slipping past one another.

I think I might have a small crush on this man. Too bad he’s yet another dead writer.

Anyway, me throwing out block quotes of his won’t do it justice, and I recommend you read this thing for yourself. A transcript of it can be found here. It’s fairly short, and I’d say well worth your time.

Anyway, if you don’t see me in here for a little while, it hopefully won’t be because I’m engrossed in some video game or wasting time on the internet. I intend to get some serious personal work done, and I’ll be holding myself accountable.

Until next time, folks!

Why I’m glad I didn’t quit Martial Arts

Been awhile since I’ve posted anything worthwhile. Halloween slowly fades into memory, and around me decorations are already shifting from pumpkins and spooks to snow, bells and wreaths. I’d prefer people at least waited until after Thanksgiving but…Well, what are you going to do, eh?

Thinking about Thanksgiving reminds me to consider what I’ve been thankful for, even this early in the month. And at the moment, I’m thankful that I never gave up on my martial arts training.

Yes, you heard me right. Your humble blogger here also has a background in the art of Kyin Kung Fu San Soo, and is quite proud of it. I don’t know if I would be where I am today without some of the lessons I received from this discipline, and the friends I’ve made during my training.

Let me begin at the beginning: I was never a very athletic kid. I had no interest in sports, let alone going outside to play. I was one of those poor souls sucked into the television of the day (back when, in my opinion, the best cartoons were on TV). Then I discovered video games, and that was another thing altogether. Needless to say, my mother needed to force me to do something to exercise regularly, despite the fact that I thought it was the most boring thing in the world. I was presented at that time with an ultimatum, to pick any sort of athletic activity I wanted – anything but refusal. I opted for martial arts.

Little did I know at the time the fatefulness of that decision.

I signed up with American Tiger Martial Arts (then under the name American Tiger Karate, despite it being a Kung Fu school), and was almost scared out the first day. I felt nervous and small, and had no idea what I was doing. When the Master Instructor of the school suddenly loomed over me during one of drills with a large foam bat raised over his head, I ran crying back to my parents. I begged them not to make me do this, but again I was presented with the ultimatum: this or something else, but I had to do something – my “no exercise” policy was not an option. So I went back, fared much better my second class, and slowly got into the swing of things. It turned out Master Gregoire was a nice guy, though intimidating when he wanted to be. And with effort, I started to get into things.

As time went on, I worked my way through the belt ranks and kept at it. It was tough, undoubtedly, and there were times I simply wanted to give up, go back to being lethargic and careless. But I either drummed up my own motivation or had my parents to back me up, insisting that even when things got hard, or I became jaded with the classes, that I should keep going, make progress, continue to work at it.

That was me when I was seven, maybe eight years old. And here I am now:

Mr. King

Sorry ladies, I'm taken!

Yours truly, dressed in the school’s instructor-blue uniform. I earned my Black Belt rank at age 11, and actually started teaching there in 2006. While my college schedule as interfered with my ability to work what is essentially my first job, I’ve managed to use my technical knowledge to help promote the school – if you clicked the link above, the trailer on the front page was shot and edited by me. I’ve done many such projects for the school, and I’m happy to do it.

Besides this, Kung Fu has affected me in a positive way both physically and mentally. Other than the obvious skills that come from learning unarmed strikes, blocks and maneuvers that could very well save my life one day, I gained some much needed self-confidence and self-discipline through my training. I can kick myself into gear and become motivated whenever I really need to, something I make use of constantly as a writer. I’ve pushed through obstacles because of the diligence instilled by the training. I’ve made friends through this program that I still have strong ties with, and would not trade those friends for the world. And most importantly, I carry the merits of that training with me into my everyday life.

Like I said earlier, the impact going to this school has had on my life is profound. I am incredibly glad that I didn’t go with my weaker judgement and quit my training. I cannot express enough how important it was that I hung in there and made it all count. It might have been tough, or dull, or aggravating at times, but it all proved worthwhile in the end. And even though I’m not actively training right now, I will never forget how this school and the people in it helped prepare me for life in the world – focus, patience, self-esteem and restraint.

So yes, I’m thankful for that.

How My Grandfather Scared His Little Brother

I like to think I come from a long line of storytellers, and my grandfather on my mother’s side (whom I call Papa) helps me confirm this. When I was younger, he and I would make up stories together; we were the famous detectives, solving all sorts of crazy mysteries that my child-mind concocted. They didn’t make much sense, but what do you expect from a little kid? And I had fun regardless.

I also enjoy hearing stories about his own youth, and I thought today I’d share one of my favorites: the story of how my grandfather scared the living daylights out of his little brother, my great-uncle. I’ll try to relate it as best I can, but it really is his story, and I know I can’t do it enough justice; it’s best to hear it from the man himself.

One night, when Jack and I were kids, we had gone down to the movie theater to catch a show. The picture we saw was “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man,” and I’ll tell you, it was pretty scary.

The movie poster
Terror incarnate on the silver screen in 1943

The theater wasn’t very far from the house where we lived, so when we got out and started back, I started running to get ahead. Jack couldn’t keep up, he kept yelling “Chuck! Chuck! Slow down!” But I kept on going, and got way ahead of him.

Now, our house had an arbor that you walked under to get into the front yard, and when I got there I climbed up on top of the arbor and laid low, so you couldn’t see me from the street, and waited for Jack to get there. Sure enough he comes running up to the house, and he’s real nervous, and right when he starts to walk under the arbor…I jump down in front of him and yell “Rarr!”

And poor Jack, he practically fainted!

My mother and dad were not happy with me about that, but I thought it was hilarious.

The funny thing is, I asked if he would tell the story again, but with my great-uncle present. It was great hearing both of their perspectives. And though they laugh about it now, uncle Jack says he’s never forgiven my Papa for scaring him.

Ascending Into Darkness

October has come. Tonight there was a crescent moon creating a glittering white sheen on the sea, and when the waves broke on the shore they sometimes glowed a mysterious blue color – a phenomena known as algal bloom, or more commonly as red tide.

Red Tide

That's the bluest red I've ever seen!

I find this fitting. October has long been a month I look forward too, as I count down the days ’til All Hallows Eve. I try to get myself in the spooky mood throughout the month, which is not difficult to do with the internet at my fingertips. I’m not much into the horror genre or modern scary movies (too much wanton violence and gore for my taste), but I do love a good eerie atmosphere. There’s a certain magical, nostalgic feeling I get as the 31st gets closer, and I’ll touch on that again as we get further into the month.

Meanwhile, I’ll be digging through the loads of Magic: The Gathering cards I’ve collected during the last couple days. It should come as no surprise that I am an avid casual player of the world’s oldest trading card game. The Innistrad set just came out, and after swearing myself off the game for a few years I’ve caved and went to the launch party. The main selling point for me was that the entire set is themed around Gothic horror – vampires, werewolves, geists, etc. – and not since the Ravnica block have been so pulled to a Magic set solely based on its fluff. Innistrad does this nicely, with Magic blending art and flavor with the rules to make cards that play and feel like the belong in a Gothic setting. I’m pleased to say I did well in the in-store tournament (for those of you that play the game, I drafted red/white) and got into the finals, and today was spent with friends drafting even more cards (this time ending up with blue/black). It was all good fun, but now I feel a touch exhausted and look forward to getting some shuteye.

On a final note, I’ll leave you with a video I took roughly around the same time last year. Much like tonight, it was a natural spectacle I felt signaled the start of October.

Until next time, folks!

Introductions and Shameless Plugs

Today is one of those rare California days when the sky is gray, the kind of day that puts me in a contemplative mood. It’s probably just marine layer, but I can’t help but feel relaxed on a day like this. To me, it’s a sure sign that autumn is upon me.

I find it easier to write things on gray days, for some reason. It’s always been that way. With that in mind, I’ve sat down to write this post and finally offer a substantial introduction. I’m sure the only people who are reading this right now are my close friends (some of who have blogs listed on the side there), so it may seem redundant to go into a bit of detail about myself. But, well, just in case…

I am a 22-year-old student, as of this writing, and going for my BA in Creative Writing at CSULB. I would say I’m solely a writer, but that would be lying; I suppose aspiring creator would more fitting, if perhaps a little presumptuous. I chiefly want to tell stories and entertain people, but the medium through which I can do this can vary. I’ve dabbled in fiction writing, screenwriting, comic scripts, video-editing and voice-acting; I build models with LEGOs and theme parks with Roller Coaster Tycoon 3; I actively play tabeltop roleplaying games like Pathfinder and GURPS, and enjoy being both a player character and a Game Master (the latter being a vehicle for my world-building aspirations and yet another creative outlet).

Not that I want to play to the stereotype, but it’s pretty obvious from the above that I am the classic geek, albeit a considerably handsome open-ended one. And did I mention I was humble to boot?

Joking aside, my hope is to simply create, and to share my creations with the world. One of the reasons I finally started this blog was because I was seeking an outlet to put my ramblings, musings, opinions and thoughts as I continue to explore different creative outlets. In essence, this blog is going to be a place for me to just “let go” and post, to write about what I will and see what other might have to say, and a place for me to hammer words out on a keyboard when I’m not doing anything else. It is my hope that I remain consistent, stay honest, and above all have fun with this. That being said, don’t be surprised if the posts come as a mixed bag of things; one day I might be sharing a ton of pointless videos, another might be me writing something topical, and a third might be some short fiction or notes on my various creative projects. The act always changes: hence, why this place is a circus of Intriguing Things. Just little odds and ends that I feel like sharing.

I am mainly doing this for my own sake, but I do appreciate getting feedback and such, and I welcome responses and hope that, for as long as you remain at my circus, that you enjoy the show.

Now, with that said, I’d like to share a couple links to a couple of my existing venues of stuff. I’ll link back to them in future posts, but for now here are examples of where most of the internet stuff I’ve crafted exists.

My YouTube Channel is one of those, and practically everyone has one of these. Nevertheless, like this blog it is where I upload video (and some audio) projects that don’t follow any real theme. Check it out if you like!

Meanwhile, my deviantArt page is the current public source of my fiction. It’s more of a recent addition, as a certain someone took the liberty of creating the account for me. If you stumble through here and want to read some of my stories, this is where I’d advise you to go.

Anyway, I think I’ll go for a walk outside. Gray being more of an anomaly here in southern California, I’m certain it won’t be long until this sun comes out, and I want to enjoy this while I can.

Until next time, kids!