The Wall of Cards

In the film “My Cousin Vinnie” – a comedy classic with a well-deserved reputation – there is a scene in the second half of the movie where Vinnie’s cousin is on the verge of dropping him from the case. Vinnie is defending him from a murder rap, and so far Vinnie’s been caught flat-footed the entire time.

To convince him that he knows what he’s doing, Vinnie uses an analogy: The case built against his cousin might look like a wall of bricks, but it’s not, because he’s innocent. Look at it from the right angle and you realize it’s a wall of cards, ready to topple over at the slightest push.

I’d like to suggest that there’s an analogy here that applies to much of modern media. Continue reading

Grimdark vs. Noblebright

From the Noblebright website:

By Karen   


The words grimdark and noblebright arose as technical terms in the gaming world. There’s a certain amount of dispute about the exact definitions there, with a tendency to paint them in black and white terms (such as the slur that noblebright is all about rainbows and unicorns and flawless heroes).

In fiction, by contrast, especially adventure fiction (in which I class things like Westerns and Fantasy) they have come to be used to reflect two different and opposed styles of story. Since there is some dispute about the definitions, it behooves me to offer my own.

GRIMDARK

The notion that the actions of one person can do little to improve this world in decline, that the forces of evil and inertia and temptation will ensure that all of us are doomed. The best we can hope for is a little struggle with morally ambiguous heroes to oppose danger and maybe rescue for a brief time a few others.

NOBLEBRIGHT

The notion that the actions of one person can make a difference, that even if the person is flawed and opposed by strong forces, he can (and wants to) rise to heroic actions that, even if they may cost him his life, improve the lives of others.

Let me explain why I am firmly in the noblebright camp.

Read more….

What Is Fan Fic?

What Is Fan Fiction?:
How to tell it from the other stuff

Approximately where I was standing,
when I described the fortress filling the horizon.

Here at the Wright Household, this article is legendary.

This is in part because I’ve been talking about writing it for at least a year and a half. It is more, however, because of my now-famous speech—in which I laid out for two of our sons the main points I wished to cover in such an essay.

It was December of 2015, and we stood on the ramparts at Bear’s Den in the Blue Ridge Mountains, looking out upon miles of countryside. As we halted atop the rocks, where the Appalachian Trail passes, I spread my arm, gesturing toward the open valley stretching beneath us and exclaimed:

“Imagine an immense black fortress, stretching as far as the eyes can see. The vast bulk rises up over the Blue Ridges, dominating the landscape. It is made of solid basalt, and it stretches for miles and miles. It has smooth sides with no handholds, crisply-cut crenulations along the top, and looming towers, from which a lookout could spot anyone approaching from any direction.

 “Now, imagine this fortress represents the personality and qualities of impressive characters, such as Dr. Doom, Spock, Snape, or Batman. Pick your favorite.

 “Each ‘stone’ of the fortress wall represents a quality about that character. Each was carefully hand-placed by the creators—writers, artists, actors, etc.—who helped shape the character. Together, these blocks of character developing, backstory, speech patterns, appearance, and actions form, in the mind of the audience, the titanic, solid edifice that make up our favorite characters.

 “Now imagine that in all that vast, impenetrable, solidness, there exists only one window. It is a round window, the size of a porthole.

“On one occasion, once, a candle passed by this window.

“This flicker of light, seen through the tiny window, represents the emotions displayed by our character, a brief glimpse of suffering or hope or love in an otherwise impassive character.

 “Fan fiction narrows the focus of the camera to that window. Sometimes, maybe, it shows a little bit of the basalt surrounding it. Instead of one flicker of candlelight, it fills the window with flames and fireworks.

 “It then relies on the fan to imagine that the fortress is still present, even though the enormous mile-long basalt bulk of the rest of it is never so much as glimpsed.”

And, this, folks, is—in a nutshell—the difference between fan fiction and the other stuff.

*

Before we continue, let us pause for some definitions:

Professional – a writer who gets paid.

Amateur – a writer who does not get paid.

Well-Crafted Writing – solid writing and storytelling.

Fan Fiction or Fanfic – what we are talking about in this essay.

For the purpose of this article, the term fan fiction has nothing to do with getting paid. Both professional writers and amateur writers can write solidly-crafted fiction or fan fiction.

*

Note: Just because fan fiction, as defined, is not well-crafted does not mean that it is wicked or stupid. It can be great fun to write, and millions of fans love reading it. Some fiction written by fans for fans is well-crafted and does not fit the definition of fanfic used in this article. However, even the badly-written stuff can be great fun.

If you love writing or reading fan fiction, don’t let me or anyone else interfere with your joy!

*

That being said, let us look at our fundamental question: How do you tell well-crafted fiction from fan fiction?

Some people today try to use sardonically apply the term fan fiction to anything that takes place in another writer’s background.

Using characters and locations from earlier works in one’s fiction, however, is an age old tradition. Writers in ages past were expected to build on what had come before them. If it were the case that anything written using someone else’s characters or setting was automatically fan fiction, we would have to refer to Mid-Summer’s Night Dream by Shakespeare as “Huor of Bordeux fan fiction.”

Or label every episode of Batman or Superman that was not written by the original creator of the character as fanfic.

Both of these things would just be silly.

I first started wondering about this subject when I saw someone refer to my husband (author John C. Wright)’s novel Awake in the Nightland as “Nightland fanfic.” I remember frowning and thinking, “Something’s not right about that.”

I doubly thought this when I heard Andy Robertson’s story of discovering John’s Nightland tales when Mr. Robertson was running the Nightland website. He described how he and a few other writers were playing at writing Nightland stories, basically writing Nightland fan fiction…and then, John, this writer he had never heard of submitted the real thing.

Andy Robertson recognized that there was a difference between fan fiction and what John had submitted.

This subject reared its head again with the publication of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The script was approved by the author. Thousands have seen the play, and, yet, the debate rages on: Is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child fan fiction?

The fact that a serious debate can take place on this subject regardless of the original author’s support shows that there is more to the issue than just ownership of the character.

What finally pushed me over the edge, however, was a brief, unpleasant foray into modern Marvel comics.

Marvel has replaced all the original heroes we love with new heroes of the same name who are different. This might not too bad, if the characters were noble and heroic, but they are not. The new set of characters emote. They stand around while others admire or adore them, and they do easily tasks that the real heroes found difficult.

There was something familiar about this kind of writing. I had seen it before. But it took thinking about it for a bit before I sat up and exclaimed, “Oh, I get it! They’re writing Marvel fanfic!”

For all I know, they actually hired fan fiction writers to be their current writers. If so, that would explain a lot!

So what is fanfic?

The key to understanding the difference between well-crafted writing and fan fiction is to remember the fortress and the window.

You can write about the fortress without mentioning the window. But, you can’t write about the window without depending on the reader to be picturing the fortress. Because the whole point of showing flames and fireworks in the porthole is to give the impression that these are the true passions secretly raging in the heart of the otherwise impassive character.

If the audience is not picturing an impassive character, the fanfic doesn’t work.

Fan fiction, by nature, is parasitical. Like mistletoe growing on oak, it cannot succeed without a host story, the work of the original creator, to prop them up. In this case, the oak is the “fortress”—i.e., the work done by the original creator/series/etc. to establish the character.

No one is amazed when Spock falls for Mary Sue—unless they believe the person doing the falling is the one true Spock, the emotionless Vulcan.

Because winning the heart of a Vulcan is exciting.

Winning the heart of Joe, an overly-emotional guy?

Not so much.

No one is amazed Dr. Doom is beaten by Gary Stu, unless they are picturing the character being beaten as the most impressive villain of them all, the tyrant ruler of Latvaria with his vast armies of robot Dooms. Actually being able to finally defeat Dr. Doom, at least without the use of squirrels, would be truly exciting.

But if Gary Stu merely beats Steve the Thug?

Not so much.

Basically, well-crafted fiction tells a story that is true to the characters and setting. Fan fiction puts the personal desires of the writer and the fans above the needs of the story.

Jason Rennie, publisher of Superversive Press, described it: “The bad stuff feels wrong because it is forcing characters and a universe into a direction it won’t naturally go. You need to do violence to the universe like some incompetent interventionist god to make it bend the way you want.

But the good stuff, like the [Monster Hunter International] add-on stories work because they fit in the universe and don’t do violence too it. They feel like they belong.

Lady Thor and Black Chick Ironman do violence to the universe to fit, as does Mary Sue etc.

But good “fan fic” like Star Trek Continues doesn’t do that.”

 Mr. Rennie defines fan fiction as “doing violence to the [fictional] universe.” What does he mean by that? What is the kind of violence that is usually done?

The first kind of violence is emotional.

I mentioned the tiny porthole through which a single candle passes as an analogy for the emotions showed by some stalwart characters. They act out of duty or purpose and do not let their emotions come between them and their goal.   Only rarely, at moments of high tension, do they occasionally reveal the single crack in their fortress-armor.

Fan fiction rips open that crack and makes the whole story about emotions—emotions that the character would never ordinarily express.

After prohibition ended in America, it became popular to have movies that glorified drinking, such as Philadelphia Story, where partway through the story, the dignified main characters would drink too much and suddenly blurt out what they were really thinking.

Or they would kiss someone that they would never otherwise have kissed.

Emotional fanfic treats the our characters as if they are perpetually drunk…or worse…so that they act without inhibitions, saying or doing things that the real character—the one that has to live with the consequences of their actions and who, usually, has some modicum of dignity—would never do.

Fanfic characters blurt out their loves, hates, romantic longings, and fears…personal things most characters would never reveal come pouring out of their mouths. Even worse than never reveal, things they would never feel come gushing out.

Other types of violence include:

Talking about nothing real—conversation limited to things like relationships, how awesome they are, and other simplistic conversations

Overly simplistic relationships: everyone is so buddy buddy, without the real differences of personality that every human relationship faces.

Super-cool wow wonder—a lot of time is spent on how much other people admire the character.

The ability to easily beat anything…quickly.

Years ago, John and I used to watch Star Trek: Next Gen, which we, for the most part, enjoyed very much. But they had one tendency that used to drive me crazy. In order to show how tough an enemy was, they would have the enemy beat Worf the Klingon.

Only, they never spent any time building the fortress that is Worf—ie, showing him using his great fighting prowess to win the day. They merely traded on the viewers knowledge that Klingons were tough in order to demonstrate how much tougher others were.

This went on for a while, with Worf being tossed around in a number of shows in a row. Then one day, emotional counselor Deanna Troy was possessed by an evil power, and—to show how EVIL the power was—she picked up and tossed…Worf.

And I jumped up from where I sat on the couch beside John and shouted at the TV: “That’s not Worf! That’s a Worf-shaped balloon!”

 And that is what happens in fanfic. It’s not Snape who falls in love with Hermione, it’s a Snape-shaped balloon. It’s not Sabertooth—the baddy who used to beat Wolverine to a pulp—that Wolverine’s adopted daughter beats up with one punch, it’s a Sabertooth balloon. (Wish that was fanfic. That one was Marvel.)

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with most fan fiction pieces. Sooner or later the reader looks up from the porthole where all these wild emotions are happening and exclaims, “This isn’t a fortress! It’s just a fortress-shaped balloon!”

Essayist extraordinaire Tom Simon offers both a historical perspective and additional terms that could be useful to future discussions on this topic: “Puts me in mind of the flap between Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding. Richardson more or less invented the epistolary novel with Pamela, which was a shamelessly sentimental and long-winded tear-jerker that even most aficionados of eighteenth-century novels now find unreadable. Henry Fielding wrote Joseph Andrews, a novel ostensibly about Pamela’s brother, but in a completely different tone – lighthearted, humorous, and salted with picaresque adventure. Richardson was furious, and called Joseph Andrews a ‘lewd and ungenerous engraftment’ on his own novel.

 “In the same way, we could fairly call 50 Shades a lewd and ungenerous engraftment on Twilight; lewd, especially. Wicked is an engraftment on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Fan fiction of the Mary Sue or slash types could be generally described as engraftments; whereas a genuine contribution to a canon grows organically from the characters and situations already developed.

“Perhaps we could reverse-engineer a terminology for this. The original source material would be root stories; sequels and prequels and shared-world stuff, if done competently and with respect for the root, would be branches; stuff that really does not belong, but is forced on out of fan-service, moneygrubbing, or sheer self-indulgence, we can call by Richardson’s term –  engraftments.

“This not only takes the pro-vs.-amateur question out of the equation, it is also independent of the authorized-vs.-unauthorized issue. For instance, The Phantom Menace may have been an authorized part of the Star Wars canon, but it is so different in tone and intention, and does such shameless violence to the previous canon, that we may fairly call it an engraftment on Star Wars – even though it was done by the same writer and director.”

 An author of well-crafted fiction is the servant of his muse. He listens to the words and wisdom the Divine Muse sends. He writes a story that honors the characters, plots, and themes he has been given.

A fan fiction author expects the plot and characters to perform for him. He, as we heard above, does violence to the source material. Or, at the very least, he leans on the source material for the force of his story, without himself adding to the “fortress.”

You have heard of people who are tone deaf.

Fan fiction is muse-deaf.

 

Superversive vs. PulpRev

Paladin vs Antipaladin

This past weekend I had the pleasure of meeting a few of my readers for dinner and lively conversation. We talked for hours on a wide range of subjects, which as you’d expect of SFF fans getting some personal time with an author whose work they enjoy, included several hot button issues of the current publishing industry.

Even now, when digital age necessities like hustling on social media, building email lists, and gaming Amazon’s algorithm have largely made signings, convention appearances, and book tours obsolete, it still behooves authors to get out and talk to their audiences in meatspace. After all, the biggest change ushered in by the digital publishing revolution has been to once again make the reader king.

Below, in no particular order, I’ve listed some of the topics that my readers brought up. The sample size was admittedly small, but the fact that the sample came from out of town to chat with me about these items tends to suggest something about their overall importance.
The Superversive Movement vs. The Pulp Revolution

Though my work doesn’t meet the ideal of either literary movement, I’m sympathetic to and have friends in both camps.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Superversives and the #PulpRev, the former seek to overturn the rampant nihilism in contemporary SFF from above with stories informed by genuine virtue, while the latter identify post-World War II Campbellian sci-fi as the point where the genre went off the rails. The PulpRev revisits the classic pulps for the inspiration to make science fiction and fantasy–which are really the same genre–fun, heroic, and truly romantic again.

  • A brief rundown of my readers’ opinions on both movements:
  • The Superversives have more high profile authors.
  • The #PulpRev has a far bigger cultural footprint–due to their greater willingness to interact with the public on social media.
  • The Superversives lag behind in terms of marketing their ideas.
  • On the whole, the #PulpRev has the upper hand–though the two movements aren’t exactly in direct competition. There’s a high degree of overlap.

To any Superversives who feel inclined to take umbrage: don’t shoot the messenger! This is just what I heard.

Luckily, my readers did have actionable advice to help the Superversive movement catch up:

  1. Your membership is too private and insular. Discuss what’s going on in the movement out in the open more often. Conversations about upcoming projects, new members, superversive philosophy, etc. should be had in public to raise awareness and build interest.
  2. The Superversive Roundtables are too long. Try keeping the ordinary shows to one hour, tops. Your audience will give you a little longer for special events.
  3. Sci-Phi Journal, Forbidden Thoughts, and Astounding Frontiers are good. But there’s always room for improvement. Superversive magazines and anthologies should have a stronger editorial voice, and the story selections should show greater intentionality.
    Considering the raw brand power at the Superversives’ disposal, they should be able to quickly gain ground if these suggestions are implemented. They sound simple–and they are–but they’ll require discipline to succeed.

Castalia House

Lead Editor Vox Day has publicly stated on numerous occasions that he expects Castalia House to surpass Tor Books as the #1 publisher of science fiction and fantasy. This small, upstart house is off to a strong start, boasting 100% growth three years in a row and a blog that has already become a force to be reckoned with under the able editorship of Appendix N mastermind and #PulpRev guru Jeffro Johnson.

Of course, there’s still plenty of room to grow. Here’s a sampling of what my readers had to say about Castalia House:

  • CH’s nonfiction selection is superb. Whether it’s venerable military historian Martin van Creveld, ninja Ivan Throne, or the Supreme Dark Lord himself, Day has assembled a deep bench of world-class scholars. Oh, and lest we forget, gardeners.
  • Grandmasters like John C. Wright and best sellers like David VanDyke exemplify the strong brands to be found among CH’s biggest fiction authors.
  • However, one of my interlocutors noted that all of CH’s name fiction authors already had strong brands before they signed on. Castalia has yet to take a sci-fi author from the slush pile to the A list.
  • It was also pointed out that CH’s catalog is rather heavy on nonfiction for a house that aspires to the top spot in science fiction publishing. One reader opined that they need more authors.

That said, it should be mentioned that Castalia House has only been in business for three years. They’ve accomplished a tremendous amount in that short span, and their stable of authors will naturally fill out in time. I have it on good authority that the company’s leadership is keenly interested in building up unknown authors from scratch, and they’re devising strategies to make that happen. Recent experiments to this effect show promise.
On a personal note…

It was super cool hearing firsthand what my readers think about my books. One especially awesome guy asked how The Hymn of the Pearl is doing sales-wise (it’s doing well, but as I said above, there’s always room to do better). He even brought a paperback copy of The Secret Kings for me to sign. Looks like I spoke too soon about signings being obsolete.

Apparently people are excited about my next book. Don’t worry. I won’t draw out the suspense any longer than necessary.

Thanks to all of my awesome readers. You are why I do what I do!

@BrianNiemeier

Pius Rules for Writers

I was recently asked what rules, as I reader, I wish writers would follow. I came up with a few.

Rule #1: Don’t preach at me. Tell the damn story…

I think this is self explanatory. Heck, even Star Trek IV, which is straight up “save the whales,” did a fairly good job of this. It was mostly a character driven comedy: let’s take all of our characters as fish and through them so far out of the water they’re in a different planet, and watch the fun start. Even the whales that must be saved for the sake of all of Earth are little more than MacGuffin devices, there for the story to happen.

But 2012? Or The Day After Tomorrow? Or Avatar? Kill me now.

Serious, I went out of my way to make A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller about the history of a Church, complete with philosophy, and it somehow still managed to be less preachy than any of these “climate change” films.

Rule #2: Don’t make up your own history, claim that you’ve done your research, and then NOT share your research.

You are not Dan Brown. I don’t tolerate it FROM Dan Brown, and I will waterboard the next schmuck who does that. Anyone want to test that threat? I’m a freaking historian. I know when you’re lying, you morons!!!!!

No, seriously, there was a novel that spent most of the time dealing with a question of “Did Pontius Pilot fake the resurrection???? Gasp!”  The answer was no. But at the end of a book where I wanted to feed it through a paper shredder because of how crappy the history was, his conclusion? “I did my homework. But I won’t tell you what I made up, so do your own homework.”

NO. That is NOT how this works, you douche bag. At least give us a list of authors where you got your BS history, because the only thing I saw in that novel that was even remotely historically accurate was that there was a Roman Empire, and a Pontius Pilate.

Heck, I took my own works cited page for my own novelinto an entire post on my own blog, not to mention making it a five page author note at the back of the book. It’s not hard, people. Really, it’s not.

Rule #3: If you have an action sequence, HAVE an action sequence.

I don’t need a blow-by-blow fight, but I need something. If your concept of a “fight” is “they fell to the roof and struggled with each other until they fell off,” I will hurt you. Jack Higgins did that, and after that, I knew his Sean Dillion series was doomed. I was writing like that when I was 16, for God’s sake. And I think I did it better then. I do it much better now. It was just lazy.

In fact, how about details, hmm? A page that is nothing but dialogue — and most of that a few words a sentence — is boring and hard to track. At least give me a sense of what they’re doing. Give me dialogue tags. Pretend that we might want to know who’s saying what to whom.

Granted, I tend to go overboard in the other direction, what what do I know?

Rule #4: If you have a chapter, it has to be more than a paragraph long.

If you only have snippets from a mad serial killer, we might forgive you if this is done for a handful of chapters. If it’s your entire novel, you should be beaten to death with the hard copy…. I’m looking at you, James Patterson, your books are twice as long as they need to be because the chapter number is half a page, you put a little text under it, and do it again for the next chapter. STOP. IT.

Rule #5: Vampires only sparkle IF THEY’RE ON FIRE.

I shouldn’t need to explain this by now. And if I have to … here, read my books. You’re welcome.

Rule #6: Fantasy authors, please, for the love of God, if you’re going to have a system of magic set in a modern environment, please explain where magic comes from.

Ahem: Dear Madam Rowling, where do wizards get their powers FROM? Why do they actually need wands? Why can some spells not require any wands?  A paragraph over your 7 novels would have been fine to explain any of this. I’m certain that no one would have minded if you stole a few lines of dialogue from Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire.

Rule #7: Stop giving me stupid villains. Just stop. Please.

Rule #7b: Stop giving me insipid heroes. Just … don’t.

Rule #7c: In fact, Stephen King, just stop writing entirely.

Rule #8: While we’re at it, SOMEONE HAVE AN ORIGINAL IDEA.

I don’t care if you’ve been a bestseller for 20 years, stop pumping out books like they’re an obligation. I’m looking at you King … Higgins … Patterson … Pat Cornwell … I mean, please, Nora Roberts does consistently better and original ideas than you twits, and she’s a ROMANCE NOVELIST.  Gah!

Rule #9: Stop with the utterly dark nonsense.

I’m tired of the same dystopian universes, the same miserable outlooks on humanity, and the same anti-heroes. Snake Plisskin only works once. Twice if you make him into a Metal Gear character. After that I’M BORED. You can give me an anti-hero if he’s well-developed, likable, smart. You can stop giving me the same depressing, dark, amoral character who actually HAS no character development.  Even my book Codename: Winterborn, which has been compared to Escape from New York, went out of its way to describe how society works, how people live, how there’s an economy. I never want to see another Escape from New York or Terminator universe unless they’re in the Escape from New York or the Terminator universe.

Rule #10: Stop, stop STOP making professional soldiers into sociopathic Redshirt canon fodder while the plucky hero WITH ZERO COMBAT EXPERIENCE gets out alive.

Thank you.

Attacking Allies

This has been a very strange week for me, but probably not for the reasons you think. This blog isn’t even in reference to any one thing in particular, but a common theme that I’ve noticed over the past seven to eight months. It’s become a trend to attack people on one’s own side. Yes, for those of you keeping score at home, you can include attacks on me if you like, but that’s only a fraction of an overall picture that I have yet to mentally grasp.For the record, yes, I am aware that there is a post that apparently goes after me. I have not read that post. I will not read that post. I’ve read small slivers that have been excerpted by my defenders. So, on advice of council, Mr. Finn is not available for comment, nor will he be. Thank you. Moving on.

But, yeah, it’s strange to see people who are theoretically on each other’s side to tear each other apart. I saw Superversive Science Fiction and the Pulp Revolution people go after each other for several weeks, if not several months, and I’m still trying to figure out where the hate was coming from in the comments (I must stress the comments). Hell, I’m still lost with where the disagreements were coming from. In Appendix N, I saw enough overlap between Superversive fiction and Pulp that I thought that Pulp could easily be labeled the action-packed variety of Superversive. The authors themselves had no animosity towards one another, but wow, the comments on those parts were just a little angry.

So, this has been going on for a while, spread out over multiple places on the internet, and I still don’t get it.

There is the usual “X is not us, I must distance myself from X.” Though I don’t think that Pulp or Superversive ever really had a lot of declarations that one is the other. I see a lot of overlap between the two, but I see few others who do. So I’m strange. Big flipping shock. There is the Sad vs. Rabid debate … but that was so clear, I did a blog post on it that was fairly short. Granted, the post at the time is hilarious in retrospect, but that’s another story. The point is, that the differences were so plain and clear that anyone who couldn’t see the difference was either ignorant or lying. I can’t even say “stupid,” because I think even the moronic could see the difference.

You can even go into politics and see this. You have Republicans spending more time attacking the “Alt-Right” while you have Leftist psychopaths running around burning books, rioting, assaulting anyone who supports the first amendment, all while calling themselves “anti-fascist”… talk about irony … and shooting republicans.  But what are some right wingers spending their time discussing? Two protesters show up and disrupt the “Let’s kill Trump” Julius Cesar play in the park for two minutes, and that’s what’s getting a lot of ink. And, again, it’s right after a nutcase shot up a bunch of GOP politicians during baseball practice … but somehow, the important thing is that they focus on two people who interrupted a play for two minutes. Huh.

I’m a historian. There is a history where wars of independence are usually followed by civil wars. America was lucky in that we managed to hold off on our civil war for over 80 years — luck and a lot of quality politicians who never died (It felt like Clay and Calhoun lived forever). World War II saw the alliance of three people who were at each other’s throats just twenty years before….yes, there was a bit of shooting between Russia and the remaining allies post-revolution. The point is that the US, the UK, and Russia all looked at Germany, and eventually all joined forces to crush Hitler. THEN they spent the next 50 years going after each other.

The counter example to this is the Chinese Civil War. If you remember, the Pacific end of World War II had Japan invading China during their civil war. The communists were, at least, smart enough to fight the Japanese, while their opponents were trying to fight both the civil war and the Japanese. The “People’s Republic” shows you who ultimately won that. The opponents currently run Taiwan.

In the wider case of the GOP, I look at the decision to treat folks who are not against them as the enemy, while there are people THROWING MOLOTOV COCKTAILS AND SHOOTING AT THEM, I have to scratch my head.  Seriously, people, is there a widespread issue of being unable to have the self preservation instincts of Joseph flipping Stalin? When there are people actively shooting at you, deal with them, THEN deal with whatever internal problems there are between you.

That’s why one of the smartest things I’ve seen over the past few months was the end of the Superversive v Pulp debate — Jeffro and Anthony Marchetta saw that the comments were becoming angry, and they shut it down before things got out of hand. Again, there was no true animosity between them. The debate was a debate. They disagreed on things. It helped with blog hits. When it starting going negative, it stopped. The end.

So, yeah, 2017 has been strange. I don’t quite get why those who are technically on the same side go after each other. I don’t get it, I never will get it, and I just wish I could. Hell, even my own personal experience lately is confusing, even to me. Hell, if I can’t even figure out how to quell the storm I’m in the center of, comprehending the logic of the other situations is far beyond me.

Though, to end this on a more positive note, the post title, “Attacking Allies” in this case means two different things. One, attacking your friends. Two, allies who attack on your behalf.

In my own little circle, it has been made strange not by blog posts attacking me, but by people who have extracted their own conclusions from people defending me. Erroneous conclusions. But they are made even more strange by who is throwing these additional accusations. In one case, it is a Facebook friend who I’ve actually done things for out of friendship. He had a kickstarter, and I used time on my podcast to bandy his wares. He was unfairly attacked in a Facebook group by a psychotic harpy, and I had a choice to become a moderator of the group, or defend someone I liked and respected. I chose the latter. He has reciprocated over the last few months by becoming increasingly hostile while interacting with me less and less.

So … huh?

I mention all of this because the confusing thing about it is that, at the end of the day, I actually don’t care about this turnaround. One of the more vociferous voices against me, who I thought was a just and honorable man, turns out to be merely angry. I am actually surprised my my own reaction. Usually, I would expect to be shocked about this sudden but (apparently) inevitable betrayal. But, again, much to my own surprise, I realize that if this is how one goes about treating one’s allies, who needs them? It is time to focus on something else. If an “ally” attacks you … then the “ally” is no longer worthy of your attention. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune are annoying, but when someone is throwing a Molotov cocktail at your head, some things are a little more important.

In my case?I have a novel out. So if someone would like to attack me, go ahead, you have free reign, because I really do have better things to do. I’m busy, damn it. I hope to have seven books out by the end of the year. But I do suggest you watch out for my friends… some of whom I didn’t even know I had.

Once upon a time, I blogged about an incident in high school where everything had fallen to crap. The strange thing then, as now, is that I had people rallying to my defense who didn’t know me. Or, people who had been paying attention to me well enough to realize how much BS was going on around me.

Now it happens once again. Where people who I though barely knew of my existence have rallied to my defense against people who I thought knew me. It’s been a great comfort just knowing that there are people out there who actually don’t think ill of me. Where there are people looking at the same situation that I am, and coming to similar conclusions: the conclusion being to tilt one’s head and go “What the Hell?”

And these are people who have jumped to my defense.

I hate trite sayings. I hate cliche. I hate overused fortune cookie wisdom. But it really is true: those who stand by you don’t need evidence, and those who stand against you won’t accept it. Several month ago, I have offered several of my detractors evidence and conversation to prove that rumors about me were untrue– they rejected even looking at it. When several people who came to my aid wanted to back me, I offered to show them the same evidence — they didn’t need it, they just believed me. And of those people who have come to either my aid, my defense, or just comfort, not a single one has asked me to justify their faith in me. Not a single one.  It’s embarrassing to realize that I’m not certain that I would be that good a friend.

When my publisher, Russell, first jumped into the fray, I made some sort of comment that boiled down to “Ah, yes, this sort of thing with an author damages the brand.” His response was a quick and easy, “Nah. I’d do this even if you weren’t one of my authors.”

When things like that happens, it’s difficult to be a cynic. I actually have faith in humanity again.

So, thanks should be made to Dawn WitzkeJim Fear, Russell Newquist, Injustice Gamer Alfred Genneson, JD Cowan, Jon del Arroz, Jeffro Johnson, Cirsova Magazine, the Puppy of the Month Book Club, Mr. Oghma, as well as the moral support I’ve gotten from authors at SuperversiveSF. And, as always, His Tankness, Tom Knighton, whose brief exchange helped more than he could know.

In some cases, it’s nice to look out over the lynching party and seeing the people who haven’t joined in. Even if they don’t jump in and try to stop it, it’s reassuring to know who isn’t party to it.

Anyway, I know I’m leaving some people out, but after the first dozen, I lose track. It became a bit of a furball on Twitter after a while. The hash tag was amusing though. If I haven’t mentioned you, it’s just because there were so many. And I thank you all.

It’s good to know that the ones who hate my guts are actually in the minority. Just loud.

Illegitimi non carborundum

Anyway, if you’re interested, A Pius Man might just be your cup of tea.

And, if you’ve done that….

The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and I have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already  have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.

A Pius Man, Chapter 1: A Pious Cop

Yes, you’re reading this right. You’re about to get a look at the first, redone chapter of A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller (The Pius Trilogy) (Volume 1).

You might remember that I pulled this one from the shelves when I signed with Silver Empire Publishing.

And right now, it’s up for order from Amazon.And if you have no idea what A Pius Man is … wow, you have to be new here. It ate up ten years of my life, and the best use I have ever gotten out of my Masters in History…. okay, that, and writing the biographies of older vampires.

But here you go, here’s the first chapter. When you’re hooked, order it. Or preorder it. Or something.

Anyway, there will be more to come on A Pius Man in the coming days. You have been warned.

Chapter I:

A Pious Cop

Giovanni Figlia stood in the lobby of Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport in a solid black polo shirt and a black suit jacket. The color scheme made him seem shorter than his 5’9” height. His hand ached for his Beretta to reassure himself that he was still armed, but instead he ran his fingers through his thick dark hair.

It must be something about Americans that brings out the Clint Eastwood in people.

He scanned the crowd for his target, comparing each face with the photograph he had memorized down to the dots on the color printout: hazel eyes, brown hair, Germanic cheekbones, not bad-looking. Wilhelmina Goldberg, a former member of the Americans’ National Security Agency, with degrees in esoteric languages and mathematics, had transferred into her current profession some time ago, and was supposed to be good at it.

Now all I have to do is hunt her down.

Looking for me?”

Figlia looked down. Three feet away from him stood a woman just under five feet tall. He recognized her as Goldberg; she wore black jeans and a tight-fitting, long-sleeved turtleneck. Over one shoulder she carried a duffel bag as large as she was. She also dragged a wheeled suitcase as big as Figlia.

Io ho pensato che Lei ha…supposed to be in formal attire,” he said in his own combination of Italian and English. He glanced at her. “Not attracting attention.”

She replied in crisp, formal Italian. “On the former, you thought wrong. As for the latter…” she looked down at her chest and shot him a look. “If 28B passes for attention-getting in Italy, you people need to open a Playboy, pop a Viagra, and get a life.”

Giovanni Figlia stepped to one side. “This way?”

You lead. I don’t want you stepping on my equipment. You want this job done, we’ll need this intact.”

He led. Goldberg moved forward. “You’re Gianni, right?”

Mi chiamo Figlia, si.” I’m Figlia, yes.

I’m surprised,” she told him. “You’re the head of this outfit; why would you meet me?”

Figlia shrugged. “Because I like to get out of the office every once in a while. And we’ll be working together for a while. We might as well get used to each other, starting now.”

Done. Where’s our first stop?”

The Vatican.” Figlia stepped around more passengers just getting in and made his way to the automatic doors. It was still dark outside, despite the fact that it was 6:30 in the morning.

What are you packing?” she asked.

Figlia blinked. “This is Italy. What do you think?”

Wilhelmina Goldberg rolled her eyes. “Beretta, then.” She looked around before answering. “I just got on a plane from Spain with security that’s a joke. I’m carrying a Sig and they didn’t even notice. Forgive me for wondering about Europeans.” She pronounced it Euro-peons. “We’re not exactly in a safe business.”

When Giovanni Figlia stopped at a four-door silver Jetta, Goldberg shrugged. “Not a bad little toy. You own it?”

Depends on my wife.” He smiled. “Come on, I’ll load the bags.”

Goldberg laughed. “No way in hell, buddy. I’ll manage. You just start this thing up.”

Once she loaded herself into the passenger seat, he sped away.

You know, I’m halfway surprised that you carry outside of your target area.”

Figlia glanced at her briefly. “You expected me to live on a hundred-acre leash? Check my gun at the colonnade?”

Given your line of work, I’m surprised they allow you to have a gun.”

Don’t worry, we’re allowed to shoot back. There are some situations where force is required. Mind if I ask you something?”

She shrugged. “Whatever.”

What’s your religion?”

I’m Jewish…Orthodox,” she added as an afterthought. “My parents say an Orthodox Jew is a ‘real Jew’ … you don’t want to hear what they have to say about the others.” Goldberg shrugged. “So, tell me a little bit about what you do here.”

They continued to discuss their mutual professions, the conversation punctuated long enough for her to look out at the city and take an occasional photo with her iPhone. He began to decelerate as he followed the Tiber River and hung a right onto the Via della Conciliazione, making a right in front of the colonnade, onto Via Ottaviano.

It led right to their target, the Vatican.

At that moment, one of the buildings exploded in a massive fireball, dropping glass, brick and debris down upon their car in a shower of destruction. A moment later, another object smashed into the hood of Figlia’s car, smashing the windshield, and denting the hood in front of him.

Giovanni Figlia instinctively swerved away from the explosion, and braked hard. The object on his windshield stayed there.

After a few seconds, Goldberg and Figlia got out of the car and studied the scene, wondering if it was safe to go check the damage. She bounced up on her toes to check what had killed Figlia’s car. It was the body of a young-looking, olive-skinned male…without a face.

Between 25 and 35?” Figlia asked.

…Sounds like a serial-killer profile,” she answered.

Figlia grunted and again wanted to reach for his gun. He glanced at the short, pixie-like woman and muttered, “Damn Americans. Here for fifteen minutes and Dante’s Inferno rises to surface level.”

The only carabinieri in the area ran to the scene, leaving his motorcycle behind. He let out a small string of curses, ran back to his vehicle, and immediately radioed for help.

The police were the first responders, followed immediately by the fire department. The firemen quickly moved to douse the flames with the fire hose. Giovanni Figlia tackled the main man on the hose, grabbing him before he could attach the hose to its water supply.

What are you doing?” the fireman shouted. He tried to fight back, but Figlia had already locked one arm into place, totally immobilizing him.

You’re going to wash away all evidence of the bomb,” Figlia growled. “Use a fire extinguisher or buckets.”

The other firefighters didn’t know what to make of him. He was an utterly unremarkable fellow in basic black. With the addition of a white collar, he could have been wearing a priest’s uniform … if the material were better. He wasn’t even that big, but held the burliest member of their team immobile with minimal effort.

Figlia shoved the firefighter aside, and reached into his inner jacket pocket before someone shot up. He pulled out a wallet and flashed his identification, as well as his badge. “Commandatore Giovanni Figlia, Vatican’s Central Office of Vigilance. That body over there is dead, and not only is my car a secondary crime scene, do you see that line?” He pointed to a white painted line on the cobblestone street. “Sixty years ago, the Nazis put that line down to clearly mark the territory. This side, right now, is Rome.” He sidestepped to in front of his car and pointed toward the colonnade of St. Peter’s Basilica. “Where I’m standing now is Vatican City.”

Wilhelmina Goldberg laughed. “Now you see why American cops call firemen the evidence destruction unit.”

The fireman scowled at her. She was short, so she wasn’t a member of Figlia’s security force. Her dye job was obvious and ugly, so she wasn’t working for the Vatican. Her accent sounded more like American actors trying too hard to sound like she was from New York City, and so became a self-parody. “And what are you? His puttana?”

She shook her head, unconcerned as she reached into her pocket. “First of all, you’re thinking more like a Calabrese.” She pulled out a leather wallet of her own and flipped it open. “Second, I’m a consultant: Wilhelmina Goldberg of the United States Secret Service.”

Giovanni Figlia looked around frantically, hoping no one else would try to wash away the evidence. A shiny silver object caught his attention, and he narrowed his eyes, focusing on…the cover for a hotel serving tray?

And,” he continued, “the explosion radius extends into my jurisdiction. I have a body and half a crime scene over here—you only have half a crime scene, I win. I’ll head up there myself, if you don’t mind…and if you do, too bad. Frankly, if you’d like to do something useful, secure the street!”

Figlia caught a familiar sight at the edge of his peripheral vision. The black cassock of a priest was more than enough to identify him as such from thirty yards away. It looked like the priest gave the crowd more attention than he had given the scene of the crime, which was odd—most of the time, far too many people wanted to look at the destruction. At that distance, the only other detail he could make out was the man’s silver hair.

Padre! Venga, per favore!”

The priest looked up, then left, then right, and finally, he shrugged and stepped forward cautiously, eyeing the building as though he wanted to make sure it wouldn’t collapse.

What’s with the priest?” she asked, sotto voce.

He might be able to provide a barricade between you and the polizia when they arrive. Have him standing by ready to give the corpse last rites, while you snap photos of the body. I suspect we won’t get another chance for pictures after this.”

Goldberg gave him a look as though he had sprouted three heads. “You want a murder case?”

He flashed a Casanova grin. “I’m going to check the room. Stay close to the priest.”

She raised an eyebrow. Before she could make a scathing remark, Figlia bolted into the damaged hotel and flew up the stairs.

*

Wilhelmina Goldberg looked over her shoulder at the body-covered car, absentmindedly tapping her iPhone for photos. “And I thought this would be a nice, quiet little trip—some consulting, audit security, but no, I get the one cop on the planet who makes Hoover look mildly sane,” she muttered in English.

Excuse me,” came a gentle voice from right next to her, also speaking in English.

She adjusted her line of sight to the priest, only a foot away from her, and tried not to jump. Do priests in Rome get ninja training?

The priest was … odd. He had a piercing set of violet eyes. And while his hair was solid silver, there were only a few lines on his face, so he couldn’t have been older than forty. If she were sending out an APB or a BOLO for him, she would have actually said he was only about 5’6” – maybe 5’8”, she was looking up at him, and his shoulders were slumped.

Goldberg bunched her lips, trying to figure out how to speak to a priest over a corpse. “Uh. Hello …Father … could you wait a moment while I take a few pictures of this poor schlub?”

He nodded. “Of course. Are you a friend of Gianni’s?”

She shrugged and turned to the corpse. Goldberg twisted her lip and stepped around the priest to get back into the car. She slid onto the seat and clicked at the corpse through the windshield, getting every possible angle with her phone.

Click. “I’m a consultant.”

From … New York, I presume by the accent.” Click. There was another flash from the phone flash. “I grew up there … briefly. It’s an odd story.”

Click. “I don’t doubt it.” You’ve decided to spend the rest of your life without sex, so you must be odd somehow.

So what kind of consultant work do you do?”

Click. She checked the quality of the photos, and then slid out of the car. “Security.”

I’d ask how you know Figlia, she thought. But he called you Father without using a name, so I’m guessing he only knows you because of the outfit, and you only know of him because he’s papal security.

*

Ah. Of course,” the priest answered.

Commander Figlia wouldn’t hire out some lone American gun-toting security hack, he thought. You’re Secret Service, aren’t you? Not very talkative, either.

They turned the body over once she had taken all of the photos she needed.

The priest knew exactly who this man was, and knew him well—his entire life story, in fact. He had been raised as a red-diaper baby in a family loyal to the brigate rosso, the Italian Red Army.

He performed the last rites over the body, blessing him as he went on into the next world. Rest in peace, you schmuck.

*

Giovanni Figlia walked into what was left of the hotel room, and he took it in with a sweep of his eyes. On the floor was another dead man, a hole clearly visible under his chin. This second corpse—Gerrity, according to the hotel people he passed on his way up here—was on its back, hands out like a crucified martyr. Furniture had been scattered across the room, thrown against the wall, much of it shattered.

Figlia rubbed the back of his neck. “Benone, a double cross.”

One of the hotel staff in the hall raised a brow. “Scusi, signore? Non capisco.”

Figlia waved at the room. “The spherical pattern of the bomb suggests a normal explosive, not plastique—plastique tends to be directional. Besides, you can smell the black powder, si? Maybe homemade.”

He looked into the ceiling, and saw silver forks embedded like shrapnel, surrounded by other pieces of metal. I wonder if it matches the tray lid that landed outside. Below the forks were wheels, separated by a flat metal sheet pressed into the carpet.

Serving cart,” Figlia muttered.

Che?” a bellboy asked. What?

He carefully stepped around the body and pointed at the sheet of metal. “The lower level of the serving tray, beneath the forks.” His eyes flickered across the room as though they were tracking a soccer ball. “Not to mention the silverware in the walls, the bed, the floor, as well as the plate fragments—either he had a grand celebration with an American fraternity, or they came from a full room-service cart that exploded.”

He pointed out the shattered window. “Our amico on the street wore a busboy’s white coat; assume the cart was his. The cart is in the center of the room; too far inside if he was lugging dirty place settings all over the hallway. He would have stayed outside in the hall and collected them. This person on the floor is dead from the nice neat bullet hole under his chin. Given the position of the cart, it had to have been pulled around this man’s body—the poor fool probably opened up for his killer.” He made brief eye contact with the men out in the hall. “That killer is, by the way, the one who ruined my car.” He waved at Gerrity’s corpse. “At least this man’s killer. Who killed the busboy is another quandary. He was killed with the explosion from his own cart, so it is either stupidity on the busboy’s part, or murder on someone else’s.”

Figlia walked over to the window, and shouted out, in English, “Signora Goldberg, look around for a pistol! I’ll check up here!”

He stepped back from the window, looking back as he did so. He opened up his cellular phone and hit autodial. “Veronica, bella, could you please bring the team down to the hotel?”

Veronica Fisher smiled; he could hear it in her voice. “Which hotel?”

Outside the colonnade,” Figlia told her. “Follow the smoke; we have a bomb, black powder composition.”

Some priest playing with leftover fireworks?”

A double homicide.”

Fisher paused a moment. “Gianni, isn’t the hotel outside our jurisdiction?”

The body isn’t. You’ll also have to process what’s left of our car.”

Fisher, who was Figlia’s forensics expert as well as his wife, paused a moment. “The bomb destroyed the Jetta?”

No, the corpse did it.” Figlia paused for a moment, wondering if that was a double entendre, as the corpse had done both the first murder and the destruction to the car. Perhaps in American English. “I’ll have the locals secure the crime scene.”

You sound like the FBI back home.”

Heaven forbid. A più tardi. I won’t be here when you arrive, I have a guest.”

You picked him up?” Fisher asked.

Figlia furrowed his brow. “Him?”

There was some light laughter. “You weren’t sent to pick up Hashim Abasi? Remember, the Egyptian coordinating with you about Josh’s visit … what am I, your secretary?”

Figlia felt like the dead man had it easy. “I’ll get him as soon as possible.”

*

The Secret Service agent, Goldberg, leaned against the door of the dead car, glancing at the priest. “When did he start thinking he was a homicide detective?”

The priest said, “You should ask him about it sometime.”

Commander Figlia dashed out of the hotel and waved at Goldberg to follow him. She offered the priest her hand. “It’s been nice talking with you, Father…?”

Francis Williams, of the Compania.”

Ah, a Jesuit.”

The priest smiled. “Just call me Frank.”

So, have enough fun yet? Just click here, and you can order it.

And, if you’ve done that….

The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and I have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already  have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.

The Love at First Bite series.