Hijinx Hollow – Fight Day

I am pleased to announce that Hijinx Hollow Episode Two, Fight Day is live now on Amazon.   Go to Amazon

The citizens of Hijinx Hollow are at it again in another zany adventure. What is an isolated village to do when there is a threat of warlords in the hills? Emma, Junai, and Sheriff Glynn all have very different ideas about how to prepare the people. Grab your pitchforks and frying pans and join in the fun.

 

Hijinx Hollow 2 Fight Day

 

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The Yule Hog

A short story that I wrote for Yule this year.

 

The Yule Hog

Henry was a very large pig. Pigs can be sizeable, but Henry had a glandular issue that made him keep growing. He was only a piglet but was already enormous. The farmer looked at him as if measuring for a Holiday dinner. The other pigs warned him. If he didn’t lose weight, the farmer might choose him to eat.

Henry started to exercise and ate less than the other pigs, but still continued to grow. He was only a year old but was now being called a Hog. He wanted to do something besides eating, sleeping, and rolling in the mud. Henry wanted to be useful and he understood what fate awaited him if he stayed at the farm. He dreamed of running away and finding his place in the world.

He was snuffling around the window near the farmhouse when he overheard a girl asking about the yule log. The mother told her that a yule log is used to keep loved ones warm during the winter cold.

That’s silly, thought Henry. A log keeps nobody warm. I must have heard her wrong. She must have meant a yule hog. I would be excellent at keeping things warm.

“That’s it,” he said. “That is my purpose. I will be a yule hog and keep things warm. I wonder what sort of training you should go through to become a yule hog? I will ask the dog. She seems to understand more than the rest of the animals about the humans.“

He waited for the dog to come outside and when she raced onto the lawn, he approached her.

“Hello Dog.” Said Henry. “I am hoping to become a yule hog. Do you know about yule hogs or do you remember somebody who might?”

“I don’t know any yule hogs, Henry. You could check with the Raven. She lives nearby and sees much from the sky. If yule hog training existed, she would know it.”

The dog gave Henry directions and then began digging a hole. Henry thanked her and gave her a bone. He took a few bites of food and walked into the forest to begin his mission. He was determined to find the wise raven, but it was getting dark. He found a pleasant clearing with proper grass and leaves for bedding. He shuffled around several times, calling out to any creatures that might be underground. He listened carefully before settling in for the night.

He woke later to a soft sniffling. He opened one eye and found a small field mouse leaning against his side. It looked so tiny it must be a child.

 

“Why are you crying little mouse, and where are your parents?”  The mouse jumped. He thought he was leaning against a giant, bristly, rock. He relaxed when he saw that Henry did not want to eat him.

“I lost my family and I am so cold. The forest is dangerous for mice. I might be eaten by owls, snakes or foxes. I’m shaking with fear and I want to hide for the night. I am afraid if I do, I might freeze.”

“I am on a quest to become a yule hog,” said Henry. “I will keep you warm and safe throughout the night.”

He brushed grass and twigs into the curve of one of his legs and nodded to the mouse.

“Don’t be afraid little mouse. I am a very warm hog and I am too big to be afraid of owls, snakes or even foxes. You will be safe with me. In the morning, you can find your family.“

The mouse climbed into the brush and was soon snoring.

The moon was overhead when soft footsteps crept nearby.

“Who is there?” Asked, Henry.

“I am a mere squirrel.” said a voice to the side of him. “You need not trouble with me. I am old and may not survive the night. A fox found my burrow and may catch me soon. I am too tired to build a new home, but if I stop without a burrow, I will freeze.”

“I’m not afraid of a fox, owl or snake,” said Henry. “Would you care to hide with me? I am in training to become a yule hog.”

“What is a yule hog?” Asked the squirrel.

“A yule hog keeps their friends and family warm and safe throughout the night.”

“That sounds wonderful.” Said the old squirrel.

“You can sleep next to my stomach, by my back legs. Why don’t you bring some of those leaves over to cover you?”

“Thank you, I will.” Said the squirrel. “You are kind and generous.”

Soon the squirrel was sleeping against Henry. It was not long though before he became aware of sniffing and the careful tread of something larger. Henry sniffed and caught a musky odor he recognized.

“Is that you, fox?”

“It is, and you are a pig. Shouldn’t you be sleeping in a barn?”

“I am a hog,” said Henry. “A yule hog in training”.

The fox did not like admitting that he didn’t understand and replied.

“I wish you luck. Have you seen a thin old squirrel? It came this way.”

“I cannot remember.” Lied Henry.  “If I had, I would be obligated to give shelter, warmth, and protection. As a yule hog, I would be cross with any creature that tried to harm it.”

The fox sniffed the air, looked put upon, and left. Henry was huge, even for a hog and the fox was not a foolish animal.

The moon was low in the sky when Henry woke again. He heard the small cries of two field mice calling out in the darkness.

“Shhh,” said Henry. “Creatures are sleeping here. There is also a fox nearby and you sound like you are just the right size morsel for him.”

“We are searching for our son.” Said the taller of the mice.

“He separated from us earlier. We were avoiding a snake and he ran.” The smaller of the mice shook a little as she spoke to Henry.

“We are so scared for him. He could be in great danger.”

“I met a mouse child earlier tonight. If you’ll promise to be quiet, you can check to see if he is yours. You can sleep the rest of the night at my side. I will keep you warm and safe, for I am training to be a yule hog.”

“What type of training do you need to be a yule hog?”

“I am not certain,” said Henry. “I must ask the raven when I find her.”

The mice crept to Henry’s side and checked on the child.  They squeaked with joy to find it was their boy. They settled in next to him and slept in a ball together under the twigs.

Henry woke in the morning, careful not to move any of his legs or to roll. His guests for the evening had left. He wished he had said goodbye to them. When he stood to leave, he noticed they had left several gifts for him. His favorite was a small piece of bark with a hole and a vine wrapped through it. On the bark was a crude picture of a pig with heat coming from him. Henry placed the vine around his neck and gathered the other gifts.

He never found the raven. Each night he slept where the creatures of the forest might wander. He made his bed there and sheltered any who needed it. Each morning he moved to a different location. When he came upon farms, he spoke to the hogs who seemed discontent. He taught them the responsibility of having a large, warm body. He showed them how they could become yule hogs themselves.

Henry spent the rest of his life performing the duties of yule hog. His warmth finally ran out on a snowy evening. He opened his eyes to find that his spirit had left his body. He squealed to see that his favorite necklace was still around his neck as a spirit. He had worn it since his first day as a yule hog. He looked up and noticed a man with the antlers of a giant stag kneeling before him.

“I am Cerrunnos, Lord of the Forest. You have spent your life looking after my smallest creatures and you have taught others to do the same. You were the first yule hog, and you will ever be first among yule hogs. Follow me and look after those who need warmth and protection forever more.”

Henry felt such a serenity and kindness from this being that he followed without question. Henry grew larger and larger with each step. When he arrived at the Glade of Cerrunnos, he was a giant boar with dangerous tusks and a huge warm body. He stayed in the glade and looked after the creatures of the forest. It is said even today when the first snows fall, the creatures of the forest pay homage to the great yule hog.

Law of Escalation

I have always known about the Law of Escalation. In my time talking about it, I’ve come to realize that it might not be a law at all. I have found precious few people who will admit to experiencing this in their lives. The Law, or Principle of Escalation states that any activity done more than three times requires a negative modification of its safety rating in order to be engaged in the fourth time.

This principle was demonstrated nearly every day of my childhood.  We once sat in a sandbox with my brothers and a few friends. For some reason, probably because it was there and we hadn’t done it before, decided to start tossing a brick around the circle.  A few rotations of that later, we started to choose a direction randomly. A few minutes later, we added diagonals to the options and not long after that, the speed increased. That is how a benign game of pass the brick, became a deadly game of think fast. It is also how my little sister ended up in the hospital getting stitches in her head, but that is a different story.

I was sledding once and that led to racing, which led to building a ramp, which led to seeing how far we could jump off the ramp. That led to trick jumping, which culminated in dodging sleds thrown at the participant while they were doing their trick. This ended with me taking a sled to the face from Norman Shaw while I was in the middle of what would surely be the greatest trick of the day. My face split like a ripe melon and my brother chased after me as I ran home. His concern was not that my face had a second mouth in it, but that I might tell mom.

On another day, we invented a game called kick the shoes off, where you loosened your laces and tried to kick your shoes off without touching them. I feel like I should pause here to remind people that the internet and video games had not yet been invented and we didn’t have a TV. That game became an accuracy challenge and later we used to stand up stuffed animals to see if we could knock them down. One day my brother escalated this to a “think fast” version and I got a boot to the face, breaking a couple of teeth. I ran to the bathroom to inspect the damage and stem the tide of blood from my mouth. My brother followed with the too common refrain of “shush, shush, don’t tell mom.”

I know it seems like I took a lot of the damage from these escalations but they were pretty spread out. I can’t remember a repetitive game that didn’t conform to this principle. We all knew it was happening but we never spoke of it. We all wondered where it would go and who would be the first to invent a reason they could leave without being called out. Otherwise, the games continued escalating until we got called for supper, got bored, or somebody got hurt.

My wife looks at me like I have two heads when I tell these stories. She has an excellent method of preventing events just such as these. I have to grudgingly admit that nobody has had an escalation related trip to the ER since she forced us to do it. Whenever an event that has any chance of danger or property damage starts to happen, she asks, “what happens next?” Seems simple doesn’t it? It works strangely well at getting us to acknowledge that what we are about to engage in will end poorly. It’s much harder to engage in that behavior when you’ve had to acknowledge it. Sometimes I long for the days of pass the brick, dart tag or blindfolded pinata. I guess it’s only fair since we have video games and TV these days.

Married To An Intelligent Woman.

I like to tell my wife that I married for brains and sense of humor and I just happened to luck out that she was also gorgeous. There is a good bit of truth in that though. I wanted to be able to laugh with her and have conversations about a wide variety of weird topics. I wanted somebody to argue with about who would win if the national monuments came to life and fought. I wanted to ponder which jobs animals would have if they suddenly became intelligent and joined our society. I wanted to sometimes wonder if she wasn’t just a bit smarter than me. Be careful what you wish for. I never have to wonder if she is smarter than me, I know for a fact she is. If it wasn’t for topics that hold absolutely no interest for her, I’d be at a disadvantage everytime we talked.

Being with an intelligent person does have its perils. Early in our relationship, I noticed her wincing and catching herself after she started to say something when I spoke. I asked what was happening. She replied in a way that was equal parts polite and condescending.

I’ve noticed that everywhere I’ve lived has its own dialect and sometimes you say things that I think might be part of your local dialect. Some of your word choices seem wrong to me. I don’t know if you want me to bring your attention to them or not. I don’t mind myself, of course. I’m concerned that you work in sales and deal with people from many different regions. You might run into people who confuse that with being stupid.”

She had appealed to my intelligence and pride and of course I didn’t want to look stupid. I hastily agreed.

Of course,” I said. “I’m sure it doesn’t happen often, so if you notice it, please tell me.”

Just like that, a demonic contract appeared in the air in front of me. It had a burning pentagram and smelled suspiciously of brimstone. I have since come to regret that decision. I’m proud of my vocabulary and my language skills, but years of neglect have blunted those a bit. She never misses a trick and I have the worst defense mechanism for this in the world. Well, I guess it’s not the worst, no stabbings are involved, but I do look like an ass. It starts a bit like this.

I will use a word incorrectly.

She will say, ”Did you mean to say this word?”

Now it should be said that at this point, I know full well that I used the word incorrectly. I could and should admit it readily. Instead, I reply, “No, I’m pretty sure this works.”

It doesn’t seem to fit the context much does it?”

It would if I meant it this way though, wouldn’t it?”

Did you mean it that way, Dan?”

No, I was just saying it could have been right, not that it was right.”

Oh, well then, I guess you would have been correct if that had been the case, but since it wasn’t, what were you actually?”

Fine, I was wrong, you were right.”

Why does it always take so long to come to that?”

Because one day I’ll be right, and then it will be my turn, and I will dance such a victory dance as has never been seen. I will live in that day for eternity.” I might think about this stuff too much.

I feel like a contract of my own should show up at that point maybe written on old pizza boxes, but it hasn’t happened yet.

I’m not sure where I learned to equate the possibility of being right with the actuality of being correct. I guess it was when I used to climb to the upper cabinet where the forbidden cookie jar was kept. I learned to argue that the possession of said forbidden cookies did not amount to the intention of eating those cookies. I might have been counting the cookies before asking politely if we might share them. I might have been checking whether somebody else had stolen them and the person who was confronting me about it might have been trying to protect their own crime from being discovered.

So what I’m saying is that being married to an intelligent woman today, caused me to steal cookies when I was a child. It’s all there and perfectly logical if you look at it the right way.

Earning Your Dream

When I first decided that I would try to get better at writing, I, of course, told my wife. My days were filled with work and my nights with my family and I would need to steal part of that time to pursue this dream. She was supportive, but not excited and I was a little put out. After all, this was my “dream” didn’t that mean there was some kind of contractual obligation of full throated support?

When it was time to write, I got distracted, didn’t really know what I wanted to do and often came at it unprepared. An hour became two hours and almost all of it was unproductive. It became a bit of a strain on our relationship. I listened to an audiobook that held a bit of advice that turned things around for us.

The audiobook reminded me that my dream was not my family’s dream. Their dream might well be spending the limited amount of time they had doing fun things with me. Why was I making them suffer for my dream? Why wasn’t I suffering for my dream? I thought about it. I could write in the evenings or mornings but I got tired in the evenings and my mind was crap in the mornings. Those were also my moments where I was largely the only one awake and I coveted that time.

So in pursuit of my dream, I was stealing the prime time from my family so that I wouldn’t have to give up my own prime time. The book also had another bit of advice. It said that you can’t expect your family to get behind a dream you haven’t gotten behind yourself. Don’t ask them to make sacrifices you aren’t willing to make. That advice turned things around for me.

I started waking up early to write and wrote in the evenings after everybody had gone to bed. I had to find ways to be alert and more often than not, I fell asleep at my keyboard but I kept at it. It wasn’t long before my wife noticed that I wasn’t stopping and tried to find ways to make it easier for me. Eventually, she would set aside time during our prime time for me to write and even joined me on exercises.

 

The day she decided to do Nanowrimo shocked me. She didn’t like writing, but had an idea for a book and finished Nanowrimo that year with a full novel first drafted. She went on to edit that novel and publish it. She published two books before I got my first one finished. She still doesn’t like writing, editing, doing her social media or any part of the process, but she’s become very good at all of it. Whenever I write, she writes and instead of it being me stealing time from her, it’s a precious gift from her of how we spend our time.

We’re writing a series together now and I am in heaven. I earned my dream but she made it so much better with her gift.

 

Killing Your Darlings, and Some Dreams #mondayblogs

I come from a generation that was taught to pursue their dreams. I’m not sure if it is because we were the first generation that generally earned less than our parents or because we found ourselves in our thirties, settling for whatever we ended up with. We are a generation that created the glut in motivational speakers and we are the ones that filled that need by pretending we had something to share.

So what’s the harm in that? Dreams give us drive and help us to strive to achieve more, right? The problem is those same motivational speakers. They have told us never to give up, that never quitting is somehow virtuous and that if we ever want to achieve our dream we have to have an unwavering belief in that dream.

That’s cult shit and one of the most harmful things to our generation. That’s one of the reasons people spend their whole life trying to get a game company to pick up their version of Candyland with celebrity pieces or keep pouring their time and money into a business that failed years ago. Motivational speakers and books have taught them that all of these are just hurdles in their way, that any dream is worth whatever sacrifice needs to be made. Bullshit!

Somewhere along the way, we lost our ability to critically evaluate dreams and judge their worthiness. Probably around the same time we started to give our kids participation ribbons and accepted math answers that were wrong because we didn’t want to discourage the kids. Well, dreams MUST be evaluated and re-evaluated constantly. There is a cost/reward ratio that needs to be continuously monitored and when the cost is no longer worth the payoff, the dream must be put on a shelf. Dreams are not some divine exception to critical thought, and you don’t just get one of them. Open your mind to new opportunities and you’ll find dozens and one of them might even be a good fit.

I’m not saying that we should ignore dreams and aspirations, but we should demystify them. Take away their protective coatings and see if they can stand up to rational analysis. If they can, great. If they can’t, then take that dream off life support. A dream that can’t stand on its own will only drag you down with it.

One of the rules of writing is to “Kill your darlings”. That rule should apply to dreams as well. If it doesn’t fit the context of your life, put it away until it does.

Girl Genius #mondayblogs

This is a bit off-topic, but as writers, what we consume is important to what we output. I’ve read dozens of web comics through the years, but there is one that has stood the test of time and won boatloads of awards.  Girl Genius is hands down the best web comic I’ve ever had the experience of reading. It hits on all the levels. The story is amazing, the artwork is amazing and in a world that is often ruled by just good enough, this series consistently takes it to another level.

Girl GeniusGirl Genius

 

God Shuffle Available in Kindle Format

My first novel in the God Shuffle series landed early this morning in e-reader format.  I’ll be wrestling with paperback formatting this week. I hope you’ll check it out.

The God Shuffle is just one year away and the Nation of Hesterwind is in an uproar. The Gods are not happy to be working for humanity and none of them like having their jobs changed. Will this be the year that they bring humanity back under their thumb or will the great peace abide?

An event that happens only once in fifty years can make or break the careers of everybody involved. A grisly murder could destroy this anniversary and five hundred years of peace. If the Watch doesn’t solve this crime soon, the Gods themselves will be looking for blood.