Blind Alley Blues

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Blind Alley Blues blasts off from where The Lost Crew of the Volya IX ended.

Join Meteor Mags and her criminal crew on a suicide mission to Ceres, and help them steal the biggest guns in the Solar System!

Bang your head as the Psycho 78s play their most nefarious concert of all time, and find out how the band originally got together!

Run for your life in the tornado that terrifies an entire asteroid! And grab all the ammo you can carry, because you are rocking the Asteroid Belt with Meteor Mags and Patches—at a more brutal volume than ever before!

Available in paperback from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Also for Kindle, iBook, and Nook Book. See more ebook formats.

21,000 words. 102-page paperback includes black & white ink drawings.

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She wasn’t pretty like a model,
not the kind of beauty who disappeared
when the makeup and designer labels
came off. She was something else,

a song that gets better year after year,
one you appreciate on new levels
the deeper you go.

You didn’t need to know the names of
her musicians to understand her song.
You could even get the words wrong.
It only mattered that you listened.

 

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death on the web

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Many human endeavors can be understood as an urge to conquer death by creating something that will live on after we’re gone, and blogging is no exception. We put things up and hope they will last. But despite the internet’s ubiquity and massive storage capacity, it has an ephemeral, ever-changing quality. Things die on the web.

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I thought about that last week while subjecting this blog to a couple tools to check for dead links. What sort of things had died here on Mars? Many were links to (and pingbacks from) pages I have taken down due to the evolving nature of my artistic concerns. Some were links to other sites whose owners no longer have them hosted, or pages they took down. Some were links to products and product searches at retailers which, for some reason, were no longer generating valid results. And at least one was just a dumb typo I made in a URL!

It took the better part of a morning to scrub 3000 pages here and repair or delete between 100 and 300 dead links. Hopefully the efforts will keep this site fresh and vibrant for search-engine indexing, and reward people discovering it for the first time with links that actually go somewhere, rather than into the dreaded 404 Error dead zone. I sacrificed a few pages that were so problematic it seemed easier to burn them clean instead of re-doing them. They weren’t getting hits anyway, and the dead links were probably part of their problem.

Mars has always been my little garden of inspirations, and I hope clearing out the dead wood will help it remain a thriving one. Do you have a favorite tool for checking broken links? Drop a line in the comments section here and let me know!

painted abstracts make unique backgrounds

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I’ve been experimenting with a new method of creating colorful, visually interesting backgrounds for things like book covers, business cards, and blog headers. It begins with painting 8 x 11 canvasses which are mounted on a board instead of a frame. They fit nicely on my scanner, so I can digitally manipulate the images later.  This one began as a collage of pages torn from a proof copy of my new poetry book. It ended up as the cover to a new book.

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Throw a filter and text on it, and it comes out like this:

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It looks pretty awesome in print with a matte finish. Once I get a few good scans, the canvases can be recycled by adding layers of different materials to create cracks, swirls, and other interesting textures. Below is the same canvas as above, but in the process of getting a new, messy layer of krackle over it.

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Here’s one I haven’t used for any backgrounds yet, a basic color wash with acrylics.

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I had some old acrylic varnish and played around with pouring it and liquid paint at the same time, splashing water on them while they were drying, and mixing them together before pouring.

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It isn’t going to hang in a museum or anything, but it’s a fun way to get unique backgrounds and textures. I sampled a section of the image for the current header on this blog. The image’s right half is simply a section of the canvas with its colors inverted.

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legend of the frozen coast

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library of female pirates 10: bêlit

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The Library of Female Pirates has thus far focused on historical accounts of real people. But today, let’s have a look at one of my favorite pirate stories: Queen of the Black Coast, by Robert E. Howard, featuring Conan’s brief and ill-fated romance with Bêlit.

The following pages are excerpted from The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, Random House 2002, compiled by Patrice Louinet, editor, and illustrated by Mark Schultz. It presents the first thirteen Conan stories in their original versions, in the order Howard wrote them. My only criticism is the exceedingly small font size for the text, with letters so thin they practically disappear into the page. The book’s completeness and Schultz’s beautiful artwork make this a worthy paperback anyway, and I suppose you could buy the Kindle version instead of investing in a magnifying glass for the print edition.

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In his Foreword, Schultz calls Queen of the Black Coast one of the “indisputable classics of fantastic short fiction, richly deserving recognition and appreciation outside the genre.” You can also appreciate it outside the printed page by listening to a reading of the entire tale, free of charge, at Librivox: Conan and the Queen of the Black Coast. (You have the options to either stream it or download the audio files so you have your own copy.)

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Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan have taken on a modern comic book adaptation of Queen of the Black Coast for Darkhorse in recent years. It is not the tale’s first appearance in comics, either. The good folks at Longbox Graveyard have reviewed the Marvel Comics adaptation at Queen of the Black Coast. The review includes covers and panels like this glorious Buscema rendering of the final, tragic scene:

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What is it about this story that has earned such widespread admiration? Howard’s prose certainly deserves the credit. With a plot that could easily be presented as pulp silliness, Queen of the Black Coast sings like a literary masterpiece under Howard’s pen. The world of masculine power fantasy and adventure take on an urgent, brutal, and even philosophic reality through the author’s use of language.

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But what of the character of Bêlit? She is as full of the drive for savage conquest as Conan, and does not fall into the “damsel in distress” role. She is tough, and she is in charge, and her dialogue reveals a sharp mind. This makes the scene of her mating dance a bit hard to swallow, where this incredibly powerful woman suddenly throws herself at Conan’s feet and begs him to take her. This may be the one out-of-tune note in an otherwise brilliantly composed symphony of female piracy.

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But Bêlit is no shrinking violet who tumbles passively into the barbarian’s arms. After an all-too brief narration summarizing what must have been an epic season of seafaring mayhem for them, she takes her brawny adventurer on a truly suicidal mission. “We fear nothing,” she says to him boldly. “Let us go and sack that city.” It’s easy to see why Conan loves her!

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Other reviewers of this tale have pointed out that Bêlit is a Shemite, which is Howard’s version of Semite, and that Howard borders on ethnic stereotyping by having a Jewish character whose main love is riches and jewels. But I find this avarice very much in character with what we would expect from a pirate, regardless of ethnicity, and we should keep in mind that Howard used all kinds of warrior races as models for his imaginary civilizations. It seems far more odd that Bêlit is described as having pure white skin, despite spending her life in the blazing sun on the decks of her ships!

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Bêlit has a dialogue with Conan in which they discuss their philosophies, and she makes her pledge that she would come back from the grave to save him, so powerful is their love. Along with her dance, these are her major character scenes. After a scene in which she directs her crew in the plunder of some hidden jewels, even heartlessly sacrficing a few of them to do it, Bêlit meets a tragic end off-camera. She dies while the reader joins Conan in the jungle getting his psychedelic trip on thanks to the touch of a nasty plant called the black lotus. That Bêlit should become such a memorable character and bear so much narrative expansion in later adaptations is a testament to the way she commands attention in her brief but intense screen time.

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Conan’s final scene is poignant. The sea means nothing to him without her. It only mattered to him because it mattered to her, and its music is no longer a siren song for him but a lonely requiem. Not even jewels mean anything to him, as he evidences by including them on her boat with her body, which he sends out to the ocean in a blaze. Howard writes it believably, but the depth of Conan’s emotion tells us that he and his pirate love had bonded with an intensity that perhaps the short story did not have the time to fully explore. Still, it is a beautiful monument to the passion and romance female pirates can stir within us, and the loss we feel when they must take that final, fiery voyage back to the seas they loved so much.

Fair winds and following seas, Bêlit.

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painter

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I haven’t painted in two years. But I recently rewrote a couple old memoirs as a poem about painting, and it felt like time to take some pretty colors and make a big splashy mess in the kitchen again. The blank canvases in my office aren’t going to paint themselves, after all. The working title for the painting-in-progress is The Legend of the Frozen Coast, partially in tribute to the Frozen Coast painting I sold on Craigslist a few years back.

I don’t know what other painters think about when they paint, but I have been imagining The Legend of the Frozen Coast as a pirate adventure story starring Meteor Mags’ great-grandmother and read on a radio program. Explore Nordic debauchery in the icy wastelands! Witness the fate of a ferocious kraken frozen in a glacier for 10,000 years! Set fire to a fleet of brigands and mercenaries! Throw in some insults and salty language from The Pirate Primer that arrived this week, and the tale almost writes itself.

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A storm hammers the forest.
The wind rips down his tent.
He can’t make any sense of it in the dark.

The painter drags his sleeping bag to a rock ledge.
It gives no shelter but is clear of the trees.
Electricity tears the sky to shreds.

The rain carries out its assault
not in drops but one continuous torrent.
He huddles in the soaked bag for nine hours,
powerless and small.

Stillness, yet never-ending motion.
The calm shadows of trees on a lake
draw lace stockings on a nightmare.
The struggle for life rages below the surface.

A bee caresses a flower intimately.
He cares nothing for the coming storm.
He is within her and she is within him.
They are one and the same.

Step away from industry. Obliterate
the underlying colors and textures
even when they persist. Use an avalanche.

Give them landslides. Drench them in
thunderstorms of black and broken skies
until they recede. The painter and the canvas
are the cyclone and the shore.

You don’t need to paint this canvas at all.
Do what comes naturally. The painting
will take care of itself.

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