Looking for your input!

I’ve had an idea – or part of an idea knocking around in my head for a while now. It’s an idea that hasn’t gone away, so I figure I should write about it. The problem is – I’m not sure how to approach the topic (or multiple topics) this would cover.

Let me explain.

One of the struggles a lot of modern writers face is the dread “day job”. As it turns out, I really like what I do during my day job. I work in the architecture field. I get to draw buildings all day, figure out challenging three dimensional puzzles, resolve health, safety and welfare code conflicts, and a bunch of other stuff that essentially would sound like ‘details’ to most folks outside the industry. It’s creative and challenging work.

I really want to write (and possibly present a talk on ~ say for a convention) a couple of topics relating to the field of architecture, but just saying “architecture” is such a broad statement I don’t know where to start.

Some of the things I’ve thought of digging into (in no particular order) are:


Current building trends (smart building, green building, urban trends… what trend?)

The influence and art of architecture in the movies

The real problem here is even those 3 topics have huge swaths of ground they cover.

Articles like this one on current structures that look like they’re right out of science fiction are cool and inspirational, but do you want more than that? Less than that? Different than that?

So – if you have a thought or opinion on what you might like to hear about from that list leave me a comment (or drop a comment on my Facebook link where this article shows up) I’d really like to hear from you.

Man And Machine!

Man and MachineMan and Machine by Mike McPhail
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Right up front – one of my stories is in here. I *might* be biased in my rating.

I really did enjoy the stories in this book. There are some really good stories and very talented writers in there and I’m very happy to have the chance to share the pages with them.

I won’t give any spoilers, but there is a punch to the feelings at the end.

Go, get a copy!

View all my reviews

Your Protest May Vary

This is a republish of my article from the March issue of Watch The Skies Fanzine.

“The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“Protesting” by pouring thousands of words onto your blog or into your Facebook driven slactavism has become so knee jerk reactionary most people don’t give it any thought. I can’t stand it. I have outrage fatigue. The number of things I see raging across my screen on a daily basis is exhausting. Instant calls to action for the slightest affront. Demands that I join your current bandwagon, even it it’s nothing I’m interested in talking about. Boycotts for things I wouldn’t buy anyway. Petitions wanting my signature despite being something I have no experience with or connection to. It’s a bit like the tiny print that flashes past at the bottom of a car commercial, you see it, but you don’t read or understand it. You go for the flashy picture and the punchy lines. If you noticed the small print or actually stopped it and read the words it would undermine the whole commercial. That’s similar to how I feel about these new, first world, so called protests. The best description I’ve ever heard for this is “The burning of the library of Alexandria by way of the Hot Topic t-shirt printing press”. Grab the easy slogan and go with it. Make a t-shirt and ‘tag’ your friends.

I’m betting that within my first couple of lines here you’ve worked up a comment or two. You’ll soon discover a reason that I am wrong then the venomous words will slide out. By the time you reach the fourth paragraph someone will be trying to figure out what I look like so that I can be burned in effigy. Ready?

There must be both accountability and separation when discussing creators and the things they make. The creation can and should be judged separately from the creator. The creator should be accountable if they take their views public, but their creations can and must be considered apart from the creator. Long, important, creative and scientific endeavors can be brought crashing down in mere moments, potentially without hearing more than a slogan. Don’t believe me? Ask Tim Hunt. Think I’m totally wrong already? Point to Milo Yiannopoulos. Both really interesting examples to discuss.

What does this mean for me? I might go and pick up (or watch or listen to) things created by people who hold political or religious views I don’t agree with when and if I find them worthy of my entertainment dollar. I think Orson Scott Card works best as my personal example. I can’t totally back away from a man so totally intertwined with science fiction as I know it. Do I want to support him? No, I really don’t. For anyone that doesn’t know, Mr. Card is a very well known author. His writing, one of his stories in particular, is the basis for the relatively recent movie Ender’s Game. His list of accomplishments is many and varied. He’s famous. He’s also directly politically opposed to certain views I hold. Personal, important things to me are the opposite of what he wants. When the movie was announced a large and vocal group of people denounced his work based on his personal views. I couldn’t say they were wrong.

In all honesty I’m still trying to figure out where the line is that separates the creator and the work. I realize my personal example is old and out of date now when it comes to protests, but the principle remains. There are no easy answers when it comes to supporting what you believe in and laying out your hard earned money to buy something you enjoy. It absolutely matters, but everyone must consider these things in their own way. The current political climate makes this an even more dangerous place to tread. There have been lots of people smarter, more creative and far more famous than I am that have covered variations on this topic. Oscar Wilde went to jail. George Orwell tried to come to grips with it. I’d rather go with a much more personal example to me because that’s how I think each person should handle their choices.

Here goes –

I am lucky to have a handful of my works published and by way of those publications get invited to attend science fiction conventions. That was actually one of my earliest stated goals as a writer. I wanted to publish enough that I would land on the guest list rather than paying my way in (thus saving me a not insignificant amount of money along the way). In achieving that goal I also learned a great deal about the nature of the industry behind the genre I love that I have taken small, faltering steps into.

I was scheduled to be part of a panel at one of the first conventions I was ever invited to be a guest at. I had very little experience sitting on the presenter side of the table. I had done some research but I was anxious about the topic being presented. I was nervous about being an unknown person sitting before a room full of people interested enough to pick this panel over another. What reason did anyone in the audience have for caring what I had to say about anything, let alone the matter at hand? The panel got rolling and the moderator kept things on a steady path. He had bounced different questions around to the other panel members, then did something I totally didn’t expect. He asked me a direct question based on what he knew of me and what he’d read about me in the convention program. I was stunned. I almost dropped the ball on answering the question because I hadn’t expected anyone to know who I was or care why I was there. I managed to use words and form complete thoughts, but I can’t for the life of me remember what the topic was. I was just blown away.

It was a vital lesson in convention panel attendance. Know who you’re going to be working with when you’re up there in front of people. I had to go and ask somebody who he was when we were done because I’d been so wrapped up in the panel topic I hadn’t remembered I was there to share things with other fans. I had forgotten how many well known people started off as fans and convention attendees. I had no idea who I was sitting with.

Turns out that person was part of the editorial staff for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Somebody working in the industry and in a position to work with writers far better known than I am took the time to look me up and know something about me. He took the time and made the effort when others I’ve met have not. He was unfalteringly polite when we all got a chance to shake hands and chat at little at the end of the panel. It was moving to know he bothered. What I found out later was that he was working directly with OSC at the time. OSC is the publisher and executive editor of Intergalactic Medicine Show. Direct connection to somebody I didn’t want to like or like anything connected to him.

I don’t want to support views directly opposed to something important to me. If I lay out my hard earned money and the person directly benefitting from that uses the money to oppose me am I implicitly helping? My problem is multifaceted. I have never personally met the man. I have heard from many others that have met him and worked with him that he is generous and helpful. I’ve enjoyed his work in the past and often refer to parts of it in discussion with my friends. My direct experience with somebody on his staff was more than positive. Going out of your way to work with somebody that doesn’t directly benefit you is a good thing – and I have since continued to encounter folks directly connected to his organization who have been unfailingly polite, helpful and welcoming. They have always been good to me. Where is the line? This is my dilemma, but it also points to the bigger picture.

I am not a scholar of history by any means but it seems to me an inverted symmetry to have OSC trashed so completely in the same manner as Oscar Wilde more than 100 years ago. Wilde was put on trial and jailed for being against the moral character of society at the time and OSC has been attacked (if not properly tried) for being the diametric opposite of Wilde. The issue remains the same – the artist is not separate from his art. The problem as I see it now is that many folks don’t look beyond that flashy image or the catchy phrase they believe states their position so clearly. Hit the like and share buttons and move on. Mission accomplished. Trial by public opinion – no facts needed.

Much like Lord Henry living vicariously through Dorian’s hedonism most people don’t really commit themselves. They rely on the voyeuristic nature of the internet to maintain a safe distance all the while denouncing everything they watch. They add a virtual voice without any personal stake.

It’s beyond time for people to take a step back and pause before launching the latest barrage of indignation at the world. Did it truly affect you? Do you have direct experience with the subject? The consequences have become much more significant these days for even the smallest missteps. The current atmosphere will kill creativity and expression and discourage others from reaching out and making a learning connection if we are not significantly more cautious. Get out from behind your screen and go talk to people. Meet some folks that aren’t your normal circle. Stretch and learn and try to see things from a new point of view.

Today the pen clearly kills more than the sword. As for me, I’m going to keep working, keep writing and continue trying to find that line separating the artist from the art. I’m going to hope I can convince people to learn to trust and see value in differences. I want people to connect and I particularly hope they do so through the filter of science fiction. I suggest everyone take a serious look at things before denouncing them. Seek out articles and opinions from many sources, not just those that agree with you. Take your time. Do your homework. Step back and consider your reaction before you launch your words out there. Remember to read the small print; your protest may vary.


The creator’s work, judged without his name attached seemed to do OK – see File 770.

Random Bits and It Could Have Been Worse

I’ve made a sincere attempt to pare down the number of things going on in my life lately. I really want (and need) to get into more of my personal projects. I need to get more writing done. I’ve got a couple of year and a half old art projects that I’m desperate to finish. I’m working on it.

Little things keep cropping up. Thankfully all of these things land in the “it could have been worse” category. There are some that I won’t post here – stuff that won’t be public knowledge – but here are a couple of examples:

Just found out today that the washing machine needed a new pump. Why would it need a new pump? Because a sock go sucked into the impeller and jammed the whole thing tight of course. So – it’s 150 bucks, but it could have been a lot worse. I can tell you that we were able to cover that repair bill AND we don’t have to go shopping for a new and far more costly washing machine that likely doesn’t work the way we want. Happy with paying that money out? Not exactly, but it beats 500.


Yesterday I got a call from my lovely wife that she had been in a car accident. That’s the sort of thing that immediately sets my world on “wobble” and I start to not think clearly. Fortunately it was an extremely minor fender bender – from her point of view. Somebody hit the car behind her really hard (hard enough for that guy to head to the hospital to get checked out) and that car bumped into hers. Loud bang, no real damage. What it cost was some time standing around waiting for the police to show up and get everything written up. Again – could have been significantly worse. I’m SUPER thankful that’s all it was. There’s a spot to buff out on the back of the car and a phone call to clear up some paperwork. I’ll take it.

I suspect most people wouldn’t land these in the “good” category, but I do. I’d much rather the lesser of the choices. What it has done is made a week when I had nothing really going on and was planning to write bunches much less hospitable to writing time. I suspect I’m going to squeeze some in while I’m catching up on laundry…

That’s where I am right now. I’m going to get some reviews done and posted to try to catch up as well – I’ve actually got a few to write up. I’ve got some promotional stuff I NEED to get posted as well.

Most of all I just need to get some creative stuff out there. Watch out – here it comes!

Get Out

Writing is a solitary business. You and your chosen method of applying words to paper (virtual or otherwise). It can be difficult, draining and many other words that don’t have very positive connotations. There is something you can do that is a tremendous help.

You can get out.

Yes, get up and move. Stretch in the way that makes that spot between your shoulder blades grind and sort of pop. Focus beyond the meager couple of feet between you and your screen and walk out the door.

I tell you this because an “adventure” doesn’t have to be a big deal. You probably won’t travel through the mines of Moria, nor are you likely to slip into London below. You might however find that one street you hadn’t noticed before. It’s turned at just such an angle that the noise from the busy streets at either end of the block doesn’t carry to the middle. There are concrete stoops with unusual plants. Delicate fairy lights dangle in a miniature garden between two houses just before you see a sign for a shop you never knew was there. It could be better lit, but something about it draws you in anyway. Just a trio of steps off the street, with the jingle of dainty bells and suddenly you’re very far away.

It could be anywhere. Down the street, across town or into that restaurant you’ve been meaning to try. You’ll be shocked at just how much little differences can make when you’ve been stuck in the same place for too long. My travels this evening were fruitful. I netted a free book at an author appearance, learned of a particular author I may need to cyber-stalk and came home with at least 3 new story ideas.

Get out. There’s a world out there filled with interesting new places and people. When you’ve had enough, rush back to your key board and finish that story. I think you’ll find a little adventure might just be exactly what you need.

Writer’s Fuel

Being sick doesn’t have a lot of advantages, it’s mostly terrible with a strong amount of wishing to get better. One of the things being sick can do for you is give you fuel for your writing.

I couldn’t say if it was the self administered ‘cough medicine’ I had before bed combined with vapor rub fumes or not, but last night landed in a very weird place. That was terrible for getting some sleep and the rest needed to get better, but it was really great as writer’s fuel.

My dreams (nightmares?) took place in an expanded haunted house combination version of the place I grew up in Maine and my grandmother’s house. An old house with hidden storage under the eaves between closets where the walls didn’t get constructed all the way to the roof. I was hearing something that I couldn’t define, like I kept trying to tune in a fading radio station that was saying something important or something sinister and I couldn’t quite put a finger on it. The whole thing would fade when I got closer to being awake and then pick up just as I was really drifting off. Hazy, woozy and scrambling forward without being able to make any progress. I don’t really remember the details but the feeling was queasy and panicked. Not a great combination for rest, but just the sort of thing to put one in the right frame of mind for writing something moody.

What sort of fuel do you use for your writing?


A Passing Moment

I saw something depressing yesterday. It was a very small thing that likely wouldn’t have struck many other people the way it did me. I was in a store when I came across a used book that almost jumped off the shelf into my hand. I had to stop and look at it. It’s an old book that sent me down amnesia lane looking into the foggy memories of my childhood. It was in fantastic condition. It had to have been well cared for and held in high regard. I flipped it over assessing the spine and looking for damage. There was a white sticker slapped haphazardly across the back with the current shop’s price. That price was about forty percent of the original hardcover cost. That was disappointing. Being older, in fine shape and potentially more unusual (though, not particularly rare I suppose) I had somehow hoped it would have been taken as more valuable. That in and of itself wouldn’t have been bad but then I flipped the cover open. On the inside I could see the faint imprint of a name that had been erased. A name of somebody I knew.

This person, or somebody related to this person had taken something I believe had to be tied firmly in the past, very carefully attempted to erase their imprint and sold off a chunk of childhood.

Like I said, a small thing. The chance I would be in that store on a day when I would see that particular book, pick it up, open the cover and discover the name of somebody I recognized had to be diminishingly small. I probably should have bought a lottery ticket. It just made me a little sad to know that this person had let go of this book.

Clearly I was projecting. I have no idea if the book was as deeply meaningful to that person as it would be to me. I don’t think I would ever give up my copy. I suspect I will have my copy as long as I live (and if my daughter is interested it may stay in the family longer). I couldn’t imagine taking a part of my childhood and selling it off for a couple of bucks. The object holds value to me. Memories only have value to the people that keep them and they are not a commodity. The little steps we take each day with small choices can move us further and further down a path that may one day make us willing to part with a touchstone of childhood are easy to miss. It’s part of why I suspect people are surprised at certain parts of their life and have those times others label as ‘crisis’ when they suddenly try to retrace those steps and move back to a time when they wouldn’t have sold that book off. I hope that we all are able to retain that sense of wonder that a child has and never be willing to sell it off for a few bucks.

Longer than I thought

I’ve seen a of folks out there posting about the new year. A number of them spent time talking about how much 2015 wasn’t great (some I know personally and they’ve got reasons I agree with). A lot of folks were all about goal setting and calendar year based stuff (that I’ve posted about before). Some folks looked back and discussed anniversaries of things.

It struck me that I didn’t know how long I’ve been writing The Pretend Blog. It’s not something I ever expected to go anywhere or mean anything to folks other than me (and maybe my wife) so I never tracked it.

As it turns out I started right about this time of year (my first two posts being December 28 and January 7) back in 2008. That means I’ve been at it for 8 years. That’s actually a shocking number to me. I didn’t realize I’d been at it that long. The funniest part? I may have grown and changed in some ways, but a number of things really haven’t changed at all. Blimps are still pretty pimp, and the ultimate showdown still amuses me to no end.

Here’s what I posted 8 years ago:

The Pretend Blog. Being the anal-retentive (with a hyphen, not a colon – thank you John) type that I am, I naturally didn’t want to jump into this until I had a better handle on what I would be doing and where it would all be going and what the potential legal ramifications would be etc., etc.. In November of 2006 I started a Word document and called it The Pretend Blog. It was my way of actually writing stuff down and ‘getting started’ rather than just jumping in cold and trying stuff out.

More than a year later – here it is. I kept the name and put it out there. There are maybe three people that actually care about this other than me. It seems a little pretentious to think that there will ever be a day when a whole crowd of people will be interested in what I might have to say here.

I went back and looked at the rambling stuff I wrote over the past year (about a page worth or more per month). Most of it is annoying and angst ridden – so I chucked it. This journal is my stream of consciousness stuff that’s for me. I’ll probably post a bunch of stuff I like and not worry about all the other pretentious, whiny stuff that worried me before. Besides, how else would I get these things stuck in other peoples’ heads?

Blimps are pretty pimp

Ultimate Showdown Good guys, bad guys and explosions. Thank you Lemon Demon.

Good guys, bad guys and explosions!

Good guys, bad guys and explosions!

Fearless or Embarrassing?

Once, I was fearless. There was a time when I would just put words or art or actions out there and just let them be what they would be. I had an art instructor tell me once as she held up an old painting of mine, “I liked this painter better. You didn’t have fear. Look at these bold colors…”

It’s not easy to get past that. It seems to be getting worse as I get older, not better. Yes, I’ve moved toward positions of greater responsibility in my day job and in my community activities. Yes, people are starting to look at me and say things like, “Oh, yeah… I thought you looked familiar.” It’s almost like I’m right at the edge of…

That’s just it. The edge of what exactly?

I had the opportunity to do yet another thing that was outside my comfort zone yesterday. I took the chance and I think things turned out well. I have told people in a quasi anonymous way that I am an old school role player but I have not given that claim much agency lately. Well, I busted out the books and dusted off some old notes and for the first time in many years ran a D&D game yesterday. It was a slow starter. It was a very small group (made even smaller by the fact that one of the invited came down sick). Two of the players had never played before, nor had they had any real exposure to the game outside of what showed up on Community or Big Bang Theory. I’ll admit – this was way outside my comfort zone. I’m at a loss to figure out why, but I was not at all confident – and that’s just silly. I’ve been playing longer than either of the new players has been alive. Maybe that was it? Maybe all this discomfort lately is my stupid, weird version of a mid-life crisis? At least I won’t be trying to buy a Porsche I guess.

I fumbled, but didn’t roll a 1, so we made it through the game. I think I could have done some things better or some things differently but nobody ran screaming… well at least not from the living room. Their characters on the other hand, let’s just say it was refreshing to get the reactions I did. Hopefully we’ll get to do it again.

As for me – I think doing something and not totally failing has added to my willingness to step out and do stuff again. Perhaps I’ll be more proactive and get things done. It’s worth a shot – even if I do critical fumble, at least I’m doing the stuff I think is fun.