A Helluva Tale

Welcome Coffin Hoppers and other friends! I’m excited to announce that the e-book for my dark humor short story Hell Hole is now available for sale.

Strike that. The Hell Hole e-book is available for free! For the next three days! (After which, the price will be 99 cents (or your country’s equivalent).)

Here’s the blurb.

Whoever said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” probably shouldn’t have said it to Dent Bergman. For twenty years, he’s been trying to beat Peter Gaston—at golf, women, anything. Peter always wins. But today, that streak is about to end. Or is it? 

As a special bonus, I’ve included JW Manus’s short The Devil His Due, plus a sample of my dark urban fantasy thriller, Valknut: The Binding. (I’m still trying to figure out how to hyphenate “dark urban fantasy thriller,” or whether I even should. Opinions?)

Hell Hole first appeared in The Anthology from Hell, edited by Julia S. Mandala. The guidelines for this anthology said submitted stories were to have hell clichés for titles. I chose Hell Hole because I felt had loads of potential.

And then I got brain lock.

I tried writing stories about a kid’s messy bedroom, a disreputable bar, an outhouse…. I even tried to write one about mole hills, which were sprouting up in our yard at the time. All attempts died timely and well-deserved deaths.

The deadline grew near. I grew desperate.

“I don’t know what to do,” I told my husband. “Coma patients have more imagination than I have. What is this story about?!”

“It’s a golf story,” he said.

Dope slap.

My first draft was finished in about two days.

Now go forth and hop for Coffin Hop 2013!

***

Special thanks go to JW Manus, without whom this e-book might not have been built until the year 2020. She is a meticulous and creative builder of e-books. Check out her website, where she gives great advice for building better e-books. You can also hire her services, if you don’t want to get your hands dirty with all that HTML.

My thanks also go to Glenn Sixbury, who encouraged me to write a story for Anthology from Hell: Humorous Stories from WAY Down Under, and to Julia Mandala, who bought my story for the anthology. If you enjoy a bit of dark humor by people like Mike Resnick, Robert Sheckley, Spider Robinson, and Lawrence Watt-Evans (…and me), you can pick up the Anthology from Hell e-book from Amazon or Smashwords. Or you can order a print version from Yard Dog Press or Amazon.

***

Leave a comment any time by the end of Halloween and you’ll be entered in the weeks’s grand prize drawing for the TESSpecFic Pack of five e-books, pictured here, plus e-books of my short stories Rose in Winter and Hell Hole. If you want to know more about Coffin Hop, click here.

The Corridors of the Dead, by Jonathan Allen
Stolen Climates, by Aniko Carmean
100 unfortunate Days, by Penelope Crowe
The Imaginings, by Paul D. Dail
Valknut: The Binding, by Marie Loughin (Me!!)

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Posted in Blog Hops, Books, Coffin Hop 2012, humor, Marie's Fiction | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

The Unbinding of Fenrir (or…”He’s baaaack!”)

In honor of Halloween and Coffin Hop 2012, I’ve decided to share an excerpt from my dark urban fantasy, Valknut: The Binding. Since the first chapter is available for free at Amazon, it makes sense to share something else. Something fitting for the season.

(But no spoilers.)

First, a little background. Valknut: The Binding is set in current times, but several scenes flash back decades before protagonist Lennie Cook was born. I think I can share one of these flashback scenes with you without giving too much away.

So, for your Halloween pleasure, I’ve selected an excerpt sliced from the middle of a scene set in 1893. It stars William “Red” Galloway and Angus Cook, two railroad employees laying track in the Big Horn Mountains. The two men have inadvertently caused a landslide. Their “Bossman” has given them the task of clearing the rubble. But Red and Angus find much more than rocks in the debris….

Red planted his shovel where he had found the bone and began to dig. Angus watched for a moment, then put the cigarette away and joined in with his hands. They found more bone fragments, but nothing conclusive until Red found part of a jaw. Looked human. He held it up to the light for a better look. Angus kept digging.

“Whoa, I think I got somethin’, Red. Somethin’ big!” Angus stood over a patch of white that gleamed through the dirt. “And hooo-wee—it sure smells bad.”

It didn’t look like bone from where Red stood. Too big. He hunkered down next to Angus to help dig. After a few minutes’ work, they had uncovered something as large as a horse and wound in white string. Dirt-crusted tufts of dark fur poked through the bindings.

“Maybe it’s some kinda art-ee-fact,” Red said. “I hear them collectors pay good money for old Indian crap.”

Angus shook his head. “Nah, that string looks too clean to be that old. And it smells deader’n a skunk in a beaver trap.” He waved a hand in front of his face. “Phew! Maybe we should let it alone.”

“Don’t go all knock-kneed on me, Angus. Whatever it is, it might be worth somethin’ to someone.” Red glanced nervously at the wagons, half-expecting to see the Bossman coming toward them. “Let’s have a look. We can always hide it and come back for it later.”

Red tugged at the string, trying to break it. It felt flimsy and soft, but it held firm. He braced himself and pulled harder. The string bit through his skin and pain shot up his arm. He swore and let go, staring at his bleeding finger. “What the hell?”

“Here, let me.” Angus dug in his pocket and came up with a buck knife. He opened it and slid the blade under a few strands. They parted easily. Angus grinned. “I guess my knife’s a mite sharper’n yer finger. Now, lessee if —”

He paused, eyes large in surprise. Red leaned forward to see what was wrong. The cut ends of the string hissed and crackled, shriveling away. The sight chilled him, though he couldn’t say why. He touched one end and jerked his hand back in pain. A blister formed instantly on his fingertip.

Not shriveling—burning. Like a lit fuse. How could a steel blade do that? He staggered back, shouting a warning to Angus. The thing didn’t explode, but the ground shook and a roaring filled Red’s ears as the remaining string loosened and fell away. Before him, in a slaughterhouse reek, stood a gigantic wolf, its head on level with his own. Its jaws gaped wide, propped open by a black-handled knife with a long, bronze blade. Its eyes glowed yellow in the sun. Red cried out, backing away. He tripped and sprawled on the ground under its cancerous gaze.

Through his fear, he heard Angus laugh. “Why, it ain’t nothin’ but an ol’ statue.”

Red watched in horror as Angus stepped closer to the wolf and slapped it on the flank. He grinned. “Whaddaya so scared of?”

The wolf swung its head around and fixed Angus with its yellow eyes. Angus froze, bug-eyed and open mouthed.

“Run!” Red shouted, forgetting his own danger. “Run, you stupid bastard!”

But Angus didn’t move. The wolf braced its paw against the bronze knife’s hilt and pushed downward. The blade came out with the sound of a shoe sucking free of mud and clattered on the rocky ground.

The Bossman’s furious voice shouted at Red from behind. “What the hell is going on here?”

Afraid to move, Red tried to whisper a warning. The Bossman ignored him. Flushed, neck veins throbbing visibly, he stumped over to Angus and began yelling as if this were just another regular day of work. “What’s the matter with you? The snow’s already flying in Montana and you’re just standing around. And as for you, Red, I see you over there taking a nap. If you think I won’t dock your pay, you’re sadly mistaken—”

The wolf uttered a growl so low Red couldn’t hear it. But he felt it through the rocks under his back. The Bossman felt it, too. He turned, his mouth still flapping, and his words became screams. The wolf leaped and buried its muzzle into the Bossman’s neck, ending his life as he lived it—mouth wide open and making noise.

Red stared, unbelieving, as the Bossman’s twitching body hit the ground. He knew he should run, but didn’t want to leave Angus. Besides, he wasn’t sure he had enough strength to stand.

The wolf turned back to Angus. Its mouth hung open in an obscene parody of a smile, tongue lolling out over its teeth. Angus still hadn’t moved or even changed his expression. The wolf licked the blood-soaked fur around its mouth and stepped closer. Red found he could stand after all. He picked up his shovel, uncertain whether to attack or run while the wolf’s attention was on Angus. Not liking either option, he screamed at the other workers for help.

The wolf looked at him. They will not hear you.

Red heard the words in his fear-crazed mind and screamed again, waving the shovel in the air, but the workers unloaded ties as though nothing were amiss.

The wolf’s head swung back to Angus. You, I shall not kill.

As though to make a lie of its words, the wolf’s mouth opened wide. To Red’s fear-crazed mind, it seemed as though its upper jaw touched the sky and its lower jaw scraped the ground. It engulfed Angus, swallowing him whole.

This, thought Red, would be a good time to run.

But before he could move, the wolf sat on its haunches and began to howl. The sound rose in the air so thick and full that Red could almost see it. And as it howled, the wolf began to shrink. Fur sloughed from it in great handfuls, disappearing before it hit the ground. Its muzzle shortened. Its ears turned inside out and flattened to its skull, the points becoming rounded, tufts of fur thinning to a few wiry strands. Its body thickened in some places, shrank in others, reshaping itself, until the wolf was gone. In its place crouched Angus, naked and feral.

Exhausted by fear, unable to accept what he had just seen, Red wanted to believe the man before him was Angus, that it had all been a dream or a bad joke. But the lifeless body of the Bossman told him otherwise. And so did the rim of blood matting the beard around Angus’s mouth.

The wolf who was now Angus examined its new body, flexing muscles, working the joints. Then it picked up the sledgehammer and turned on Red.

Nothing of Angus remained in its eyes.

***

As you might guess, things continue to go poorly for ol’ Red through the rest of the scene. But perhaps not in ways you might expect… 

You can find the Valknut: The Binding e-book at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and most other online outlets.

Leave a comment any time this week and you’ll be entered in the weeks’s grand prize drawing for the TESSpecFic pack of five e-books, pictured here, plus e-books of my short stories Rose in Winter and Hell Hole (coming soon). If you want to know more about Coffin Hop, click here.

The Corridors of the Dead, by Jonathan Allen
Stolen Climates, by Aniko Carmean
100 unfortunate Days, by Penelope Crowe
The Imaginings, by Paul D. Dail
Valknut: The Binding, by Marie Loughin (Me!!)

Posted in Blog Hops, Books, Coffin Hop 2012, Marie's Fiction, Myth in fiction, Urban Fantasy | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

And the story continues… (Coffin Hop 2012)

Not everyone wants visitors on Halloween…

In my world, Halloween begins today. If I had more talent, I would write a song. It would be called “The Eight Days of Halloween,” and it would go something like this:

On the first day of Halloween
My blog will bring to you
A spooky shared story
And a prize…

Obviously, I’m not that talented. Besides, I’d be hard pressed to come up with 36 prizes to give away over the next week.

But, like the song says, I bring to you a shared story. And a prize.

I’ve included the opening lines of the story below and am inviting all of you to add up to three sentences in the comments. The comments will be sorted oldest to newest. Read what everyone else has written and add your sentences to the end. Feel free to come back each day and add another 1-3 sentences. Only one addition per day per person, please. That means each person can add to the story up to seven times.

The comments for this post will close on October 30th, at which time I will write the ending of the story in five sentences or less. The resulting mess—er, story will be posted on Thursday, November 1. (I reserve the right to omit from the story any comments that do not make sense. And keep it friendly for the PG13 audience.)

About those prizes: I will be giving away a hardback edition of my favorite Halloween read, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, plus an e-book edition of my dark Urban Fantasy, Valknut: The Binding.  Each addition to the story counts as one entry for the prize (up to 7 entries per person).  Any story additions added to the comments by the time I go to bed tonight (around 11:00pm Vancouver (Pacific) Time) will be entered for both today’s prize and the grand prize (which will be explained in my next post because this post is getting far too complicated).

And now, here is the story’s opening. Go forth and write!

David Garley watched the tree shadows dance on wall above his bed and prayed for the darkness to end. He was supposed to be asleep. Tomorrow was Halloween and a school day, so his mom had sent him to bed before nine o’clock to “stock up on sleep” for the big night ahead.

Sleep. Ha. As if he’d ever be able to get to sleep early. He might not sleep at all. He’d lain awake past midnight every night for the last two weeks. But this had nothing to do with the excitement of Halloween.

 It had more to do with the dread.

 

NOTE: This post is part of Coffin Hop 2012. If you don’t know what that means, read here.  Some terrific authors are offering stories, games, and prizes for your digital Halloween goody bags. If you want to knock on their doors, click on anything on my site that says Coffin Hop to find their links.

Posted in Blog Hops, Books, Coffin Hop 2012, Urban Fantasy | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

The anticipation…the drama…the horror!

Ah, October, when leaves fall and trees reach their bony fingers to the sky, when I think of Snoopy and the Red Baron and candy sorted into little piles on my bedroom floor.

How sad to be all grown up, denied the races across darkened lawns. Nevermore to shriek in delighted terror when Freddy or Jason or Frankenstein pops from the neighbor’s bushes.

But wait! There’s still a way for us all-grown-uppers to share in Halloween thrills. It’s Coffin Hopping we will go. Trick-or-treating at digital doors, where writers of horror will open their bags of goodies to share with those who dare to stop by.

And don’t be afraid to stop back for seconds…or thirds…or even sevenths. In our neighborhood, Halloween lasts seven days.

The fun starts tomorrow (October 24) and continues through Halloween. I’ll be posting several times during the next week with Halloween thoughts, reviews, and possibly some new fiction.

Oh, and prizes, so be sure to say “trick-or-treat”!

 

Posted in Blog Hops, Coffin Hop 2012 | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Ruminations on Clashing Myths and Movies

Quick note: Halloween quickly approaches, my favorite time of year. To celebrate, I will be participating in Coffin Hop next week. This is an event sponsored by writers of horror and dark fiction. To be honest, I don’t totally understand how a blog hop works, but I will be (hopefully) posting a piece of flash fiction, announcing publication of a short story e-book, and giving away some books. You’ll also be able to explore the work of other talented horror and genre writers. So stop by (a few times) and help me celebrate Halloween. 🙂

And now, back to my irregularly scheduled program…

A couple of days ago, in need of some light action-adventure, I watched Clash of the Titans (2010). I was saving this movie on my DVR for this very purpose. I had forgotten that I’d already seen the movie.

It seems odd that I would forget a movie that I had probably seen within the last year.  Especially when it’s full of monsters and magic and men in short skirts – like just the sort of thing I should like.  So why did it take a full ten minutes of film time for me to realize I’d seen it before?

Aside from the obvious reason (I had another birthday last week – dang things just keep piling up), I suspect I forgot the movie because it is, well, completely forgettable. And I don’t just mean the acting. It would be delusionally optimistic to expect good acting in a movie featuring giant god figures, sea monsters, scorpions as big as Greyhound busses, and humanoids that appear to be made of wood. I don’t watch such movies for the acting. Nor do I expect brilliant plotting, so that can’t be the problem, either.

But I do expect the plot to be coherent, and that is where the disappointment begins.

The story of Perseus from Greek mythology is convoluted and full of interesting characters. It is a quest story, in which Perseus completes a series of strange and dangerous tasks, slaying the sea monster and winning the hand Andromeda along the way. The story presents a moviemaker with lots of appealing material to work with.

Unfortunately, these moviemakers didn’t make coherent use of it.

Let’s start with the sea monster. In the following clip, Zeus delivers what has become the movie’s most immortal line.

*

Pretty scary, eh? As CGA monsters go, this one is pretty good. Except that a Kraken is a Norse sea monster from the cold waters of the Norwegian Sea. And a Kraken is a giant squid. No clawed hands attached.

It’s hard to imagine why the moviemakers didn’t use the Greek name Cetos (or Ketos) for the monster. That would totally end-around the squid confusion. I suspect it’s because they didn’t know how to pronounce Cetos. (Note: In Ovid, the sea monster is called the “Draco,” which means “dragon” in Latin. There is a Draco in this movie, but he’s human. And he’s working with Perseus to defeat the Kraken. Irony abounds.)

While we are on the subject of misplaced creatures, take another look at the film clip. What’s that stirring in the background behind the Almighty Zeus? Why, it’s a bald eagle, best known as an American national symbol. Because is found only in North America! Don’t the Mediterranean Islands have eagles of their own?

And then there’s the addition of the bark-faced people during the battle with the giant scorpions. I can let the scorpions ride. At least scorpions do live in Greece. But those bark-faced people turn out to be Djinn. Which, last time I checked, were part of Persian mythology. What exactly does the inclusion of a Persian Djinn person to Perseus’s troupe add to the story? I mean, besides another character available to die at the right time? If that’s all they needed, why not use something Greek, like a centaur or minotaur?

These foreign creatures were not the only instances where the moviemakers needlessly altered the mythology. At the start of Perseus’s quest, he is told he must go to Norn Mountain to seek answers from Stygian witches. These witches are indeed from Greek mythology. (They are called the Graeae, but I can hardly blame the moviemakers for changing their name to “Stygian witches.” I’m not sure even the Greeks know how to pronounce Graeae.)

But Norn Mountain? Norn? Really? Maybe I just didn’t hear that right.

Enough nitpicking. None of these deviations actually ruined the movie for me. I’m easily entertained. Monsters and magic and men in short skirts, remember? No, for me, the deathblow for this film’s credibility was the fiasco that passes as a love story between Perseus and Io. This deviation is so wrong and awkward that I can’t even find a good analogy to express myself.

You see, it would be awfully hard for Io to have adventures with Perseus when she spends most of her time disguised as a cow. (No, really – read it here. )

Why on earth did the moviemakers choose to throw Io into the mix when they had a perfectly good love interest in Andromeda? If They wanted a strong female character to join Perseus’s quest party, how about some random Amazon? How about making her an equal with the other warriors in his crew, rather than a weak love interest? If the addition of Io is a deflection of the “rescue the maiden” story, why not instead make Andromeda a strong enough character to withstand accusations of sexism?

What were this movie’s writers thinking?!

<*Pant, pant.*>

Clearly I’m making too much of this (especially since the movie was released two years ago). Bad movies have been made before. Mythology has been abused before. It’s just…WHY?  The story was practically written for them. Why did they have to make it worse?

Will no one ever make a decent movie using Greek mythology?

(Feel free to make suggestions in the comments, if you know of a good Greek mythology movie that I’ve missed.)

Posted in Myth in fiction, Ruminations | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments

Of zombies, Poseidon, and tidal waves

Okay, so I’ve been MIA from my blog for far too long. We won’t even talk about that New Years Goal that shall be buried in the graveyard of laughable promises. I have many excuses, but none of them are particularly interesting. So instead, I will share this video by my new YouTube love, storyteller Olan Rogers.

Even his name conjures happiness.

Olan. Yessss.

Brought to me by Daughter the Second.

Posted in humor, Life | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

About boats and glinting sunshine

Sorry to be quiet so long. First there were life events, and then Daughter1.0 and I tagged along with my husband to a work-related convention.

The nice thing about going to work-related conventions is that you often get to stay in wonderful and interesting places.

The nice thing about being the spouse of someone going to a convention is that you get to stay in wonderful and interesting places without having to go to all those pesky talks and meetings. Places like San Diego. Which is where I’ve been for the last few days. Which is why all thoughts of traditional versus indie publication, genre definitions, and other writing-related issues have been wiped from my brain and replaced with, well, boats.

That can happen when the view from your hotel pool looks like this.

The iPhone does interesting things when you shoot pictures into the sun.

To be fair and honest, if I were to sit in a different poolside chair, my view would have been this.

You may think I’m weird, but I didn’t mind that view, either. I’ve developed a philosophy that anything new and different is interesting, and I have never watched a cargo ship unload before.

The ship arrived sometime in the night, fully loaded with containers of pineapple or bananas or some other Dole-ish products. It was so large that it seemed immovable. I stared when I first saw it, wondering if it had been there all along, then decided that even I couldn’t mistake something that big for a warehouse. I believe the arms sticking up from the middle of the deck are cranes that slide on tracks as they lift the containers and lower them over the side to an awaiting train. I can’t be sure about that because they never moved when I was looking. But, since containers morphed into gaping holes throughout the day, I feel safe making the assumption.

The ship disappeared sometime during the next night, replaced by an enormous tugboat. Sorry, no picture.

The water and boats and sunshine gave me the urge to go sailing, something I’ve only done a handful of times, many years ago. Daughter1.0 has never sailed at all.  So we hired a sailboat for a three-hour tour. And a captain, because I certainly didn’t want to drive the boat myself, especially with the Gilligan’s Island theme song cycling through my brain.

I sat aft with my butt hanging over the side a bit. Daughter1.0 lay on the bow like an iguana  a mermaid basking in the sun.

I remember sailing as a restful, almost meditative activity, especially if you’re not doing the driving. You lie in the boat, watching air filling the sails and sun glinting off of waves. You become hyperaware of water lapping the sides, the flap of canvass, and the occasional shrieking seagull.

Either my memory is bad or sailing San Diego Bay in a 30-foot boat is a different experience than riding on a two-person catamaran on a lake. (Probably both.)

Yes, I watched sails filling with air and sun glinting on water. But the meditative sounds of waves lapping and canvass flapping were largely lost in a cacophony of engine noise. Because it turns out that the US Navy owns large chunks of San Diego’s bay front property, where they keep really big boats. And submarines. And helicopters. And fighter planes.

And they use them all—a lot. Especially the helicopters, which like to hover over seemingly uninteresting spots in the ocean for long periods of time.

My meditation was so disrupted that I switched mental gears into “anything new and different is interesting” mode and watched the commotion with interest.

A more meditative experience took place later, while we were on shore. Note that we did not participate in the meditative activity, which would have been more frustrating than restful.

Posted in Life | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Invasion of the Cosplayers

Last week, I wrote about the Summer Night Market, where I ate interesting things, bought interesting things, and saw interesting people. In particular, I saw people in interesting clothes, with hair color not usually seen on humans.

In fact, I saw a lot of them.

For those who don’t recognize the style, these people are cosplayers. According to Wikipedia, cosplay (short for “costume play”) is a type of performance art where the participants wear costumes representing characters from media such as comic books, movies, and computer games.

Being a bit of a geek, I’ve been at plenty of non-Halloween events where people dress up in costume. Science fiction conventions, for example. And Renaissance festivals. I’ve never worn a costume, though. (Except the time I dressed as a belly dancer. But that was only because I lost a bet. Long story.) I’m not a costume kind of person. I’m much too…what’s the right word? Dignified? Reserved? Conservative?

Chicken?

Yeah, that’s the word. Chicken. And possibly lazy.

Anyway, I may not be a costume wearer but I have observed. At the SF conventions I attended a few years back, costume wearing was almost exclusively restricted to the masquerade on Saturday night. True, an occasional revealing bodice or incarnation of the Doctor might have shown up during the day. And there was that one person who started out the morning as a guy and slowly morphed into a girl as the day went along. But the full-blown costumes showed up only when it was time to parade across the stage and possibly win a prize. (I desperately want to work the phrase “prosthetic forehead” into this paragraph, but I just can’t make it fit gracefully.)

Renaissance festivals are more costume-centric than SF conventions. The attendees are supposed to immerse themselves in imagined times gone by. They actually blend in better if they wear a costume and talk funny. Most people dress as archetypes, like wenches, pirates, and fairies, rather than trying to perfectly mimic a character out of history or fiction.

Despite the costumes, I have not heard the word “cosplay” applied to what goes on at SF conventions or Renaissance festivals. The word seems to be reserved for those who dress as manga or anime characters of Japanese or Korean origins.

Cosplay goes beyond the simple wearing of costumes. The more avid cosplayers adopt their character’s mannerisms and say the things the character might say. They strive to perfect their costume down to the last detail, in essence becoming their chosen character (albeit without the superpowers and other specialized abilities).

Their motivations are varied. Some are fans of their characters and want to walk in their character’s shoes for a day. Others may enjoy the attention. At the Night Market, I saw people getting their pictures taken with Sailor Moon, Senkaku Mei, and other characters.

“You get addicted to it,” one cosplayer told me.  “Once you perfect a costume, you want to build another. And then another. They can get pretty elaborate.”

For her, cosplay is an art form. Even one missed detail and the costume is a fail.

No matter their reasons for dressing up, cosplayers don’t seem to fear standing out in the mundane 21st century world of Chevrolets and mini-donuts.

The photos were taken by an anonymous cosplayer. The cosplayers in the photos are participating in a cosplay fashion show for Anime Revolution.

Posted in Books, Life | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

Night Market (through a psychedelic lens)

When I first heard rumors of the Vancouver Night Market, images from Neil Gaiman’s floating market of London Below came to mind. A night market should be a little weird, a little gritty, and full of eccentric individuals. I should be able to buy roof maps or rooks, or maybe a few fresh dreams. And lost property—surely someone would be selling some properly lost property. And the place should be lit up with Christmas lights and oil lanterns. Filkers and medieval jugglers should busk between stalls full of hard-to-find wares, and the eccentric people should look that way all the time, not just a couple weekends of the year.

That’s the way my night market would be, anyway.

It’s important not to build up expectations. We found that out when we arrived at the tent village wedged between a warehouse and an arm of the  Fraser River. Right off, we were met by Chevrolet pushers who invited us to apply colored sharpies to the color-by-number car stationed near the entrance. My hopes for a Gaimanesque evening were killed before we started.

“Look, Ma! I’m coloring a car with indelible ink!”
(I’m fairly sure that the car was shrink wrapped in clear, peel-away plastic. Even so.)

Still, coloring a brand-new, white car with indelible ink does have its appeals.

The Night Market is located in a predominantly Asian part of the Vancouver area, so it was no surprise that the sales tents were predominantly full of Asian goods—largely directed at teenage girls: cute cartoon-decorated socks (8 pairs for $10), clothes, jewelry, hair ornaments, stuffies based on anime films…and Hello Kitty. Lots and lots of Hello Kitty.

No, we don’t know what it is. But it’s cute.

Daughter #2 and I perused the tables in search of treasure while my husband paced behind us. (I could feel vibrations from his grinding teeth through the pavement under my feet.) The prices were surprisingly reasonable and we bought some stuff.

To understand my delight at finding the robot necklace, you need to watch the video below.

Robots need love, too.

Stay with it to the end.

Feeling peckish, we moved our explorations to the food section of the market. And oh, my throbbing taste buds!

Even if you’re not into buying Hello Kitty or colored contacts, the food alone is worth the visit to the Vancouver Night Market. This was not your usual carnival fare (though they did have the ever-present mini-donuts and corn on the cob). The food was (predictably) predominantly Asian. Faced with a vast array of dim sum, noodles, and bubble tea, as well as edibles I’ve never seen anywhere else, we ate our way up and down the lanes. I probably did not need that last custard-filled wheel cake.

As we browsed and ate, the crowd began to thicken.  Sellers shouted out their wares, sometimes in English, sometimes not. Oddly dressed folks began to appear; some deliberately odd and others stumbling into oddness by instinct. The market began to feel like I imagined an outdoor market should feel. Not quite London Below, but charged with energy and a touch of the exotic nevertheless.

Twilight approached and more oddly dressed folk began to emerge. I started to think maybe my criteria for a night market were not so far off, after all. Maybe the true spirit of night market was merely waiting for dark to fall.

Senkaku Mei kisses Darth Vador. Maybe Darth Vador needs love too.

Posted in Books, Life | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Melancholy Elephants and Copyright

Cover of "Melancholy Elephants"

Cover of Melancholy Elephants

Twenty-five years ago, I read a science fiction short story called Melancholy Elephants by Spider Robinson. And for twenty-five years, this story has popped into my head whenever I hear news of lawsuits for copyright infringement.

Melancholy Elephants is a good story. It won the Hugo in 1983. But more than that, it is an eloquent argument that copyright duration should be limited, not for the benefit of those who wish to exploit the work of others, but for the long-term good of the artistic community.

The story concerns a battle over a bill that would extend copyright forever. The protagonist is the wife of a deceased musical composer. As such, she has a literal investment in her husband’s work. Yet she is a passionate opponent of this bill. Here is the heart of her argument:

Don’t you see what perpetual copyright implies? It is perpetual racial memory! That bill will give the human race an elephant’s memory. Have you ever seen a cheerful elephant?

She explains that even though it seems there are infinitely many combinations of notes, key signatures, rhythms, colors, textures, shapes, and words, there are in fact limits. Here’s my favorite quotation from the story:

“…it comes down to a kind of innate failure of mathematical intuition, common to most humans. We tend to confuse any sufficiently high number with infinity.”

Melancholy Elephantsis set in a future where humankind has spilled out of the planet and spread through the solar system. With so many people, enough music is being written that composers struggle to write pieces that can be considered original. The protagonist argues that perpetual copyright would amount to cultural suicide.

Today’s publishing industry is in a state of flux. Publishers, agents, and authors battle for rights, hoping to lock up them up for as long as possible. I’ve even heard rumblings of reexamining copyright laws, perhaps extending them “in perpetuity.” Might today’s artistic community inadvertently undermine the community of the future? Already, it’s hard to create original work that will not be sneered at for being “derivative.”

This all sounds farfetched, I know. And besides, the crisis (if there is one) will peak in the future. It probably won’t affect us personally.

Or will it? There’s another side to the copyright issue.

Page from booklet of Woody Guthrie sheet music...

Page from booklet of Woody Guthrie sheet music and lyrics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wanted to infuse my novel with a sense of traditional hobo culture. Since Woody Guthrie is the quintessential hobo poet, it seemed natural to include snippets of his lyrics in appropriate places (with attribution, of course). I didn’t worry about copyright. My publisher would take care of that for me. Then I decided to go indie, and I became the publisher. I looked up the copyright status of Guthrie’s lyrics and found a form for licensing lyrics.

I’m not a copyright expert and didn’t want to pay to hire one. The way I saw it, I could (1) file a request to license the lyrics, risking a long wait for an answer that might include a request for payment for their use, (2) use the lyrics without licensing and risk a lawsuit, or (3) drop the lyrics altogether. The safest route was to drop the lyrics and that is what I did.

It didn’t really hurt my novel. But it might have hurt Woody Guthrie.

Suppose I included the lyrics and my book went viral. Thousands of people would be exposed to samples of Woody Guthrie’s work. Folks who’d never heard of him might be intrigued and look him up. They might buy his recordings and sheet music, maybe even perform his music for others. He might become known to a new generation of fans—without costing Woody Guthrie Publications (Woody’s been dead 45 years) a penny.

Instead, my readers will see only his name in a blink line.

My daughter is a singer. So far, she performs the work of others, but she cannot record their music for sale unless she pays for licensing. In Canada, laws are being made that will prevent her from performing copyrighted music in any public setting unless she pays a fee. She’s fourteen. If she had a real gig, she might get $50. Guess what—she’s now learning to write her own music instead of perpetuating the work of people like Jewel, U2, and Florence and the Machine.

This doesn’t really hurt my daughter. But I would argue that it hurts the others—if only a tiny bit. The older and more obscure the copyrighted music the more it hurts the original composition to not be performed.

As much as the idea of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies makes me cringe, might this book inspire people to read Jane Austen’s original book? Might Peter and the Starcatchers inspire kids to read the original Peter Pan?

I asked my daughter, “Would you rather have your songs locked up with copyright for decades after your death so only people with money can record them, or do you want them spread as wide as possible?”

“Spread as wide as possible,” she said in a tone that called me an idiot for asking.

No artist wants to be forgotten.

Elephants

Elephants (Photo credit: Stuart Gibson)

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