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Mr Hands

Home Before Dark

In Silent Graves

Fear in a Handful of Dust

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Tools for Wandering Writers – how to stay productive on the road
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Finding or creating a writer's workshop group – the title says it all
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How To Make A Living Writing Short Fiction – can it be done? Yes.
Book Review: Lord of the Flies – all about Ralph and Piggy and Roger
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Coping with unemployment – more practical advice for a difficult situation

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

























Photo credits:
Julius Schorzman - coffee
Mikael Haggstrom
- caffeine
http://www.flickr.com/people/9778240@N07 - Billy Mays

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dumb things people say to horror writers at SF conventions
by Gary A. Braunbeck

I've been to a lot of science fiction conventions, and while there are always perfectly intelligent, pleasant, courteous, well-read people at such gatherings, you inevitably run into those skiffy fans who are missing a lot in the way of clue.

Here's a list of things these folks have actually said to me at conventions, plus the responses I sometimes wished I'd given:
  1. Q: "You're a horror writer?" *smirks* "So tell me a scary story."
    A: There once was a writer who killed several innocent people in a hotel lobby because one person too many asked him to tell them something scary and he just snapped....

  2. Q: "What's your name again? Hmm ... never heard of you."
    A: And what do you do for a living? ... Really? You actually made a conscious decision to make that your life's work? For the love of God, man, WHY?

  3. Q: "So you, like, write that Friday the 13th stuff, huh?"
    A: So you, like, have a reasonable dental deductible, right?

  4. Q: "Do you know Stephen King? What's he really like?"
    A: So you, like, have a reasonable dental deductible, right?

  5. Q: "You write horror? Ew!"
    A: Phuck-u barada nikto.

  6. Q: "I can't write, but I've got a great idea for a book; you can write it and we'll split the money, okay?"
    A: Oh, MAY I? How long have I dreamed of this moment, when a selfless soul such as yourself would deem me worthy to WRITE SOMETHING FOR THEM while they sit on their ass and do nothing? How long have I prayed for yet ANOTHER person who isn't me to make money off my efforts while I work 3 jobs, turn insomnia into an art form, and eat macaroni & cheese four times a week? BLESS YOU, SELFLESS ONE! BLESS YOU!

  7. Q: "Why are you openly weeping?"
    (Usually asked after forty-seven minutes of sitting at an autograph table where the only person to approach you is an overweight drunk from the NASCAR convention sharing the hotel that weekend asking for directions to the "sh*thouse".)
    A: I want my mommy; my mommy reads all my books.

  8. Q: "Oh, I don't read books."
    A: Then WHAT are you doing here? Oh, you're a hooker? Here's a fifty -- there's a guy over at the autograph table who's openly weeping; go cheer him up, would you?

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Faery Cats
San Francisco, CA -- From country homes to urban server farms, faery cats are taking America by storm as the hottest trend in pets.

16-year-old Melissa Eager's bedroom is decorated entirely with paintings and statuettes of winged cats, which she has acquired at science fiction conventions around the country.

"I love love love faery cats," says Eager. "And I had no idea they were for real until I saw one at a shop in Mill Valley. It was all black, and it had long, shiny wings like a raven. So pretty! I was all like, 'Mom, I will totally die if you don't get me that!'"

The purchase of the cat--a Balinese Sylphstalker named "Skynight"--was not an easy decision for Eager's mother, Victoria Knott.

"The shopkeeper wanted $2,500 for it. I could see paying that for a good handbag, but for a cat? I just wasn't sure.

"But Missy kept pestering me. And it occurred to me that if I bought her the cat, maybe she would stop spending so much time and money at those silly sci-fi conventions. I keep arranging dates with perfectly nice young men with good prospects, and then she goes to a convention and brings home these boys who spend all their time reading novels and playing games!

"So, I got Missy to agree that, if I got her the cat, no more conventions for her until she gets her business degree. At Harvard. If it keeps her on the proper path to success, then the cat has been a good investment," Knott says.

Exotic cat breeder Kyle Salinas says, "Faery cats have become extremely popular ever since the Shimmer Incident. Now that people can actually see the cats, they practically sell themselves."

Salinas says that faery cats--scientifically classified in the genus Felis fae--were created in Europe and Asia around 300 B.C. The cats thrived in Europe until the Dark Ages.

"Considering that plain old alley cats were hung for being minions of the Devil, you can imagine how superstitious folk reacted to faery cats, which in rare instances were the pets of various demons," says Salinas.

Most witches and wizards put an invisibility charm on their flying familiars to keep them safe. However, after the angry mobs caught the cats' masters, the spells remained unbroken and the familiars stayed invisible, as did their kittens.

Salinas says that, because of their invisibility, faery cats were left out of bestiaries and were often mistaken for other entities such as banshees, poltergeists, and boggarts.

"A faery cat in heat does sound very much like a banshee," he says. "And if an invisible kitten gets into a house at night and finds a stash of catnip or valerian root, most residents would be convinced they need an exorcist."

The faery cats might have remained invisible to this day if it had not been for Angus Shimmer.

"It was totally an accident," says Shimmer, now Associate Professor of Thaumaturgy at Miskatonic State. "I was in undergrad, and my quadmates were playing a practical joke on me. They'd stolen every last one of my spellbooks, turned them invisible, and had stashed them in trees around the dorms."

"Man, I was angry," says Shimmer. "And there was a storm coming--I was sure my books would all be ruined before I found them."

Shimmer says that he climbed the bell tower in order to cast a broad-range revisibility spell on the campus. Just as he was finishing his incantation, lightning struck the tower.

"We still aren't 100% sure what happened," Shimmer admits. "Maybe it was the copper in the bell tower combined with the moon phase and the power of the lightning strike and the hemiphasic alignment of Venus and Saturn--nobody knows. But at that moment, every invisible thing on the face of the planet became visible again."

In addition to surprises like the discovery of The Dunwich Horror in the back of a Waffle House in Tewksbury, MA, people across the world were shocked to discover faery cats living in their sheds and gardens.

"I had no clue these things were real," says artist Jim Beemer. "I mean, I don't even like cats, but I got tired of going to art shows and not selling a single piece while cutesy crayon drawings of crap-with-wings sold like hotcakes at the sci-fi conventions around the corner. So, yeah, I sold out. I'm not proud. I gotta pay off my art school loans somehow, right?

"But then I wake up one morning and there's this freaking cat with wings on my patio. And it's munching on a freaking leprechaun. I check myself into the nuthouse that very afternoon but oh, no, they won't keep me, because I'm not hallucinating," says Beemer.

"Now even the top collectors want pictures of crap-with-wings. Nobody cares about my still-lifes or landscapes," he says. "That cat is out there every day, taunting me with his cutesy wings and his dead leprechauns. Haunting me. I'm haunted by a cat. God. The whole world's gone insane. I need a drink ... where's my bourbon?"

Scottish faery fancier Edwina Cotton was also surprised by the flying felines.

"I kept finding the wee corpses o' pixies and brownies in me flowerbeds," she says. "I always thought it was me young nephew up to mischief with his slingshot, but it turned out I had a lovely fluttery tortie kitten living in me greenhouse."

"I brought the kit inside to keep her from slaughterin' the rest of me faeries," Cotton says, "but she's been quite a handful compared to me other cats!"

Salinas agrees that faery cats are much more challenging pets than regular housecats.

"Faery cats need space, high ceilings and places to roost. If you live in a small home, an outdoor aviary will do. But you can't just lock a faery cat in a parrot cage and expect it to do well," he says. "Most breeds will howl or refuse to eat under cramped conditions, but some from European lines can teleport short distances and will do so if they feel trapped. You can kiss your drapes goodbye if that happens."

He adds that not all pet owners realize that faery cats were bred for a specific purpose.

"These creatures are beautiful and magical, sure. But their job is killing faeries. And if they can't do that job, they get frustrated and bored."

Cryptoveterinary researcher Rudy Briggs has spent several years tracking the origins of the faery cat. "We've managed to trace the European breeds to a Germanic witch named Scharlatte who had a serious problem with disgruntled pillywiggins tearing up her garden."

According to local legends, when the young cat she kept for mousing was able to catch a pillywiggin, Scharlatte hit upon the notion of crossing the cat and her pet crow to create an airborne hunter that could better catch the flittering faeries. After a few unsuccessful attempts, the cat gave birth to a litter of winged kittens that soon sent the pillywiggins packing.

"The crow-cat legend is similar to the legend of the Mandarin wizard Ming Mei, whose house was plagued by angry sylphs," says Briggs.

Ming Mei crossed his favorite cat--presumably a Siamese, according to Briggs--with a falcon. The winged kittens were fierce, quick hunters, and while they could not kill the sylphs, they drove the air spirits away.

"Many modern animal lovers are horrified that their kitties are bred to be merciless killing machines, but that's the breaks," says Briggs.

Faery cats have been increasingly finding homes as night guards in computer companies that have deployed cyberspiritual networks.

"The faery cats have been great for us," says Amanda O'Brien, a systems specialist at Monkeybrain Computing in San Francisco. "We've been running Aetherweb for a while now, and the spiritual aura the network cables give off attract all sorts of supernatural entities. What the warding spells don't keep out, the cats take care of."

O'Brien says that her company's three faery cats--all Scotch Boggartharriers--have free run of the building.

"Yes, they shed just like regular cats, so we provide free antihistamines for people with allergies. Sometimes the cats will hork featherballs on people, but we've turned it into a positive thing for the staff. You get splatted with a featherball, you get the rest of the day off. So far--knock on wood--there haven't been any airborne litterbox accidents," she says.

O'Brien says that the staff reaction to the cats has mostly been positive. "A lot of geeks are cat lovers anyway, and our little bogie-slayers are real beauties. Pretty much anyone who would have had major issues with cats flying around resigned when we deployed the Aetherweb last year.

"Because, let's face it, if you can't deal with a cat sleeping on your monitor, you're going to be way less okay with finding a pillywiggin digging through your trash."

If you enjoyed this story, you can find it and more stories like it in Installing Linux on a Dead Badger.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On Book Advances
by Gary A. Braunbeck

Many dim moons ago, when Reagan had just taken possession of the White House and I'd taken possession of my 20s, I decided on fiction writing as a career, unaware at the time that my decision was due to undiagnosed brain damage, the extent of which is still being determined. I was cranking out bad short stories and even worse novels on a magnificent (and if used as a weapon, potentially deadly) Olympus manual typewriter. Its loud, metallic clickitty-clack-clack became the underscore of my Grand Opera of the Imagination, a march, a rally cry, a battle hymn, always singing out You can do it! You can do it!

Yes, we all recognize the above as being Inspirational Bullshit Designed to Make You Urp on Your Shoes. The truth is, that sound used to drive me crazy, because eventually it began to sound like the Failure Police were mocking me as they danced and sang before my eyes in a Kick-Line of Coming Calamity: You're going nowhere/You're doing nothing/No one will read you/You'll die unread. Boogie-oogie-oogie. Sisyphus had nothing on me.

One of the things that used to keep me going was the thought that, if I kept at it and listened to the advice of pro writers whenever I could corner them, I would start to publish, then be paid, then be able to support myself on writing alone. Well, I did keep at it, I did listen to advice from the pros (especially a marvelously encouraging letter from Harlan Ellison to the 19-year-old moi), and I began to publish. My first short story appeared in a small press magazine when I was 22, and now--almost exactly 25 years later--I have somewhere around 200 published stories to my credit, as well as 10 novels, 10 short story collections, 1 non-fiction book, and 2 anthologies that I have co-edited. And there are nights when that chorus line from the Ninth Circle of Hell still puts on its little show, with a Sunday matinee thrown in for good measure. And I wonder why I'm on anti-depressants.

One thing that often appears to beginning writers much as the vision of the Holy Grail appeared to King Arthur is the concept of the Advance. Ah, so elusive she seems, waiting somewhere Out There in your future, wagging her finger seductively, lips moistened and eyes gleaming with yummy promise: I'm here for you, you'll see. Some day, we'll be together.

Cue soft focus, Writer embraces Seductress, Fade Out as echoing voices sing: You finally got here/Don't need to punch the clock/But you remember/There's still Writer's Block!

Ahem. Yes, the last and deadliest phase of going from part-time to full-time writer, from would-be pro to flat-out slave of the muse: the advance.

As I write this, I have a stack of book contracts within easy reach. All have been signed by the proper parties, and all have been accompanied by advance checks. There's just one little glitch in this portrait of the Writer's dream Come True.

I haven't written any of these books yet.

(Not entirely true; work has begun on all and is nearly finished on two; the point is, I've got until October to deliver all five. Boogie-oogie-oogie, cue the kick-line in the wings.)

That's the part of the Pro Writer Fantasy sequence that never enters the picture when the young You imagines that provocative seductress beckoning to you from your future. Yes, it's great to have someone hand you a stack of cash for something you haven't written yet (it's still one hell of a confidence booster), and when you're younger it's easy to think you'll never, ever, under any circumstances, have trouble producing that book you've already taken money for, but somewhere in the theatrical wings of your subconscious Jung and Freud are rolling on the floor, howling with laughter as the Failure Police don their black fishnet stockings ala Dr. Frankenfurter and wait for their cue.

I once promised myself that I would never, ever accept money up front for something I haven't written. As far as my books go, I've broken that promise every time, and so far I haven't locked up, freaked out, melted down, climbed a tower with a rifle in my hands, or taken to reading John Grisham.

But ....

But there's always the waiting chorus line in my head, kept in place by a stage manager who every so often calls: "Places for the Dance of Doom and Despair! Places, please, he's gonna crack this time, I just know it!"

Taking advances up front for something not yet written is a sure-fire way to keep you on edge, and adds (as I've found so far) a certain, feverish, almost desperate quality to the work itself, which gives definite intensity to the telling of the tale. I've had many people say one of the things they like best about my work is its strong emotional content. I appreciate that, because I do like to engage readers' emotions as deeply as possible (there just isn't story without feeling), but to be completely honest, sometimes that intensity comes not just from my imagination, but from the realization that Dear God, I've already taken money for this thing and I Have to finish it, I Have To, Dear God I HAVE TO! What if I can't? What if I go blank, become blocked, flip out, have to take a one-way ride in the Twinkie Mobile to the House of Good Pudding? What Then? What? WHAT THE #@!* WAS I THINKING?

And one lithium later I remember the why I got into this in the first place.

To meet women.

As long as they're not part of certain chorus....

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Friday, January 25, 2008

A Brief Guide to the Money Fairies

This month, I'll venture into the realm of cryptozoology and discuss entities that most people have encountered but few are aware of. These elusive, mercurial creatures are the members of the genus Lucrafae, more commonly known as the money fairies.

In the U.S., the most widely-known money fairy is Lucrafae dentum: the tooth fairy. Although these fairies have been subject to a great deal of speculation, cryptozoologists have very little hard data about what tooth fairies actually do with the teeth they gather. However, recent research by fairy expert Rudy Briggs indicates that they likely obtain their seemingly-endless supply of quarters by robbing vending machines. Briggs feels that this theft is accomplished with the help of a coin goblin (Malargentus dammit), since goblins are responsible for most cases of money lost in malfunctioning machines.

Other money fairies are thought to have mutualistic relationships with goblins. The lesser money fairy (L. bonus) is responsible for finds of dollar bills and loose change in couches across the world. Conversely, the loss of pocket money into couches and gutters is most often caused by the pocket goblin (Malargentus spill). The goblin passes the lost cash to a money fairy in exchange for various personal services that are best left to the imagination. People may also lose money to a couch imp (Argentovore sofa), which typically devours dollar bills and defecates stale popcorn and sticky pennies. Money fairies have an antagonistic relationship with couch imps, since imps sometimes eat cash that the fairies have planted for human discovery.

Writers may encounter a wide variety of money fairies during their lives. In addition to the fairies already mentioned, receipt-hoarding authors wait in eager anticipation for a yearly visit from the tax refund fairy (L. caesar). Night writers who support their families with full-time jobs often hope for an appearance of the increasingly rare overtime fairy (L. hemitempora).

The second most important fairy in a writer's life is the freelance fairy (Lucrafae gig). L. gig is responsible for paid writing assignments that are difficult to obtain or which seemingly come out of nowhere ("I saw your story on the Web and quite liked it. I was wondering if you had finished any novels? We pay professional advances.").

Unfortunately, payments generated by the freelance fairy are often delayed by the postal imp (Papyrovore deadletter). Worse, they may be destroyed entirely by any of several economic demons that regularly drive publishing companies out of business. Some lesser demons may possess publishers who then adhere to the letter of a writing contract but not its spirit and seek ways to cheat writers out of fair payment.

Therefore, the most important entity in a writer's life is the greater money fairy (Lucrafae hallelujah). Greater money fairies deal in large, unexpected sums of money, and they can often counteract the evil whims of economic demons. The greater money fairy is a master of disguise, and when visiting non-writers may often camouflage itself as L. caesar. However, it most often appears to writers in the form of the author's agent: "Congratulations! We negotiated a 5-book deal. Your advance in the amount of $250,000 is enclosed."

Some writers seek to attract greater money fairies by propagating email chain letters ("Send this email to twenty people, and by the end of this month a financial windfall will come your way!") Sadly, chain letters will only irritate your friends. Other writers try to attract money fairies with lottery tickets, slot machines, and poker games. While it is possible to obtain a rare visit from a greater money fairy through gambling, it is much more likely that you will attract the cruel attention of your own personal economic demon.

How, then, can a writer get the attention of a greater money fairy? Experts agree that making the very most out of visits from the gregarious freelance fairy is the best way to attract gifts from its powerful cousin. But wearing your lucky hat probably won't hurt, either.

We hope you get a visit very soon.



Sunday, January 06, 2008

How To Tell If A Woman Is Good-Looking

Welcome, new arrival to Planet Earth! We understand that you are seeking attractive Earth females for your "Mars Needs Women" intergalactic scavenger hunt. However, since you are an arthropoid/cephalopoid/piscoid you are probably not accustomed to hominid standards of beauty and may find yourself utterly unable to determine if a woman is indeed good looking.

Never fear! While (as Earthlings are wont to say) beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there are certain general guidelines you should follow to ensure the pulchritude of your female specimens.

First, check for a pulse in the neck of the specimen. If you do not find one, she is dead. You should discard her. Likewise discard any specimens that do not exhibit a skin color compatible with fully oxygenated blood (see color chart for possible ranges). However, an appropriately flush skin tone combined with persistent unconsciousness (see attached pain response test) may be indicative of carbon monoxide poisoning. Such poisonings are common near idling spaceships. You may administer an antidote or discard if you expect you can find a fresher specimen in your time limit.

To establish basic likelihood of beauty, check for the following:

  • Does she have two arms and two legs? Do they seem to function normally? Does she walk/run upright on both legs? A limp is usually acceptable unless accompanied by extreme difference in leg length. Refer to our special booklet on "Chasing Damsels in Distress" for tips on evaluating the limb function and aerobic capacity of potential abductees.

    More than the expected number of limbs is usually a bad sign; lack of the expected number of limbs may be acceptable in a pinch, unless the limb loss is fresh. Check for persistent unconsciousness and external blood pooling.

  • Is the keratinous fiber ("hair") growing from the top of her head thick and lustrous? Discard balding/heavily shedding specimens as they may have ringworm or radiation poisoning. Likewise discard specimens with thick, lustrous hair growth on the lower portions of their faces, as they may be men.

  • In addition to having the properly oxygenated skin tone, is her outer covering smooth and soft but firm? It should be even in texture and color, though freckles are fine. Discard specimens with large pustules, scales, extensive scabbing, or irregular skin growths larger than 4cm in diameter.

    However, do not confuse her nipples or her breasts (mammaries) with undesirable skin growths; two breasts with one central nipple apiece are desirable in any specimen. One-breasted specimens are usually fine, as are those with inverted nipples. The breast(s) should be located atop the pectorals of the upper chest. More than one nipple per breast may be problematic; more than two breasts is always problematic. Four or more nipples/breasts are a strong indication you do not have a human female; discard and continue searching.

    Likewise, discard specimens with hard, shiny skin, since they tend to be crab women from the Orion invasion.

  • Check for facial symmetry. She should have two eyes, one nose, one mouth; this is non-negotiable to most MNW-ISH judges. The presense of a realistic glass or plastic eye is acceptable. The eyes, however, should be above the nose, and the nose above the mouth. She should have both a mandible and a maxilla. Likewise, she should ideally have 28-32 sound teeth of an ivory-to-white color. Less than 28 teeth may be acceptable; more than 36 is not.

  • And finally, internal organs should in fact be internal, particularly the intestines and genitalia. If you discover prominent external genitalia and an absence of breasts, you likely have a man on your hands; discard.

We hope you've found this short guide useful. However, the advice here may not be enough to win against heavy competition; canny competitors allow enough time to do unobtrusive reconnaissance for at least a few hours before abductions. We recommend monitoring coversations between adolescent males, and identifying any female teachers or students they remark upon as being "hot". For contest purposes, you generally can't go wrong with those specimens.

Happy hunting!



Saturday, December 22, 2007

The One Ring
(Lucy hopes J.R.R. Tolkien and Ministry will accept her sincerest apologies for writing the following parody of "Just One Fix" in a haze of eggnog-induced giddiness.)

Boromir: Give me the ring, Frodo ... I need the ring!

Kick in a crushing industrial rhythm of goblin drums punctuated with the screams of souls being tortured by Sauron's orcs


Cue in snarling heavy metal lute riff

Gollum keeps creeping away
Babbling in crazed agitation
Running through Mordor at night
Mount Doom my destination

The One Ring (the one ring, one ring, one ring)
The One Ring (one ring, one ring, one ring)
The One Ring (one ring, one ring, one ring)
The One Ring (one ring, one ring, one ring)

Light keeps slipping away
Fighting Sauron's shadow damnation
Poisoned, I'm finding my way
Galadriel's gifts my only salvation

The One Ring (the one ring, one ring, one ring)
The One Ring (one ring, one ring, one ring)
The One Ring (one ring, one ring, one ring)
The One Ring (one ring, one ring, one ring)

The electric lutes build and rage beneath various voice samples:

Saruman: The one ring!

Gandalf: Keep it safe. Keep it secret!

Saruman: Your love of the halfling's leaf has clearly slowed your mind.

Gandalf: Is it safe?

Saruman: The one ring!

Boromir: Give me the ring! I need the ring!

Tortured Souls: Aaaaaah!

Can I just throw it away
To burn in the dread conflagration
The fate of the world rests on my will
I must resist my dire temptation

The One Ring (the one ring, one ring, one ring)
The One Ring (one ring, one ring, one ring)
The One Ring (one ring, one ring, one ring)
The One Ring (one ring, one ring, one ring)




Monday, February 27, 2006

The Horror of the Used Bookstore
by Gary A. Braunbeck

There's a dark side writing that few people have dared address. I'm talking about the single most dangerous foe to the writer's resolve; the thing that can stop even the most dedicated wordsmith dead in his or her tracks; an element of the publishing business that renders all of us absolutely powerless when faced with it.

No, it isn't the dreaded book signing that finds you sitting at a table for 90 minutes, during which time the only person to approach you and the unsold stacks of your new book is someone asking for directions to the bathroom; it isn't having someone discover you're a horror writer and asking (almost as if compelled to do so by a Congressional Decree): "So, do you know Stephen King?"; and, no, it isn't that utterly radiant, mettle-testing moment when you open that first royalty statement to discover that your book has, in the course of one year, sold only one-third of its print run so obtaining that more pricey loaf of bread is going to have to be put on the back burner once again. Yes, all of these can test you, no doubt; they can chip away at your confidence if you let them; and they can make you a real buzz-kill who doesn't get invited to many parties, but I'm not here to discuss my dreadful personality problems.

No; the single biggest foe to the writer's resolve, confidence, and determination is (insert ominous chord here): the Horror of the Used Book Store.

We all shop at them. We're writers, for pity's sake, our major source of income is our writing (see Laura Anne Gilman's previous post to learn more of that particular daily terror), none of us can afford to shell out 30 bucks for each new hardcover or 8 bucks for each new paperback on a consistent basis. We go there to find a bargain, or perhaps to locate a book that's been hard to find or out of print for several years. While we're doing this, we remind ourselves that the First Sale Doctrine, codified in Section 109 of The U.S. Copyright Act, allows the original owner of any book to transfer ownership of the phyisical copy in any way they choose, so, technically, there's nothing legally or morally wrong with our purchasing any books here.

Besides (we tell ourselves), stores like this make books affordable to folks who otherwise wouldn't have the money to buy them. So it's all good ... until we find ourselves face to face with copies of our own books.

Don't shake your head at me; if you've ever published with a mass market house, odds are you've found yourself in this situation. And what is the writer's first reaction? But, my work is eternal, it speaks to the deepest pain of the human condition, my books are things to be treasured , to be passed down from generation to generation, not end up here!

The first time I discovered copies of my novel In Silent Graves on the shelf at a used book store, I felt a slight twinge of disappointment -- who wouldn't? We all hope that our books will be things that readers will want to keep around to read again someday, but here we are, faced with the bald hard truth that not everyone who buys and reads our books is going to want to keep them. I at least had the pleasure of knowing that the 3 copies I found on the shelf had been well-read, as evidenced by the wear on, and cracks in, the spines.

Two weeks ago, I'm in another used book store with a friend of mine who also happens to be a writer, and he points out to me that another copy of Graves is on the shelf. I'm really into this now, I've adopted a helathy attitude, I want to see how well-read the copy was, enjoy the sight of those cracks in the spine, hold it in my hands knowing that whoever had owned it before read the living shit out of it before selling it here.

Well, guess what? (Here's the moment that really tests the mettle.)

It hadn't been read. It hadn't even been opened, as far as I could tell. It still had the Walpurgis-Mart sticker covering the bar code on the back.

"What is it?" asked my writer friend.

"This hasn't even been read," I whispered.

"You don't know that," he replied. "maybe the person who sold this is like you, they take care not to damage the spine when they read a paperback. Maybe they're just very careful with their books."

"And maybe they just didn't read it." (Outwardly, I'm doing the Healthy Attitude Shuffle, I'm very calm and cool and collected; inwardly, I'm jumping up and down and throwing a fit and threatening to hold my breath until my face turns blue.)

"Okay," my writer friend said, "then you gotta tell yourself that there was some earth-shaking emergency that forced them to sell this book. They lost a job. They lost a limb. Their Workman's Comp ran out. They had to do it to put food on the table for their family, man! You know they had to do it to put food on the table! Dear God, why else would they part with one of your books? IT WAS A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH!"

"So what you're telling me in your own subtle way is that I'm over-reacting?"

"God, no! You're a hero, Gary, a lifesaver!" He threw his arm around my shoulder and began talking very loudly. "Because of you and your book, somewhere in this city tonight, a man's family is not going to bed hungry. They can afford Grandma's medication for another month. Little Eunice can get that knee surgery so that her dreams of the Joffrey Ballet needn't be forever buried, thus turning her into a bitter, empty shell of a human being before she turns 13! And it's all because of this book on this shelf. I'm sorry, I'm ... I'm getting emotional, tearing up. So moving, it is. I so rarely get to witness acts of decency and heroism. It reaffirms my faith in humanity. We must all hold hands," he cried out to the terror-stricken customers. "Indeed, we must all hold hands and sing out our joy at being here to mark this resplendent moment in human history. Come, sing with me, all of you: 'WHEN YOU WALK THROUGH A STORM, KEEP YOU HEAD HELD HIGH, AND DON'T BE AFRAID OF --'"

"So I'm over-reacting, is this what you're telling me?"

"Nah. They probably got through the first 20 pages and decided it was too much of a downer. You gotta admit, this thing ain't gonna make anybody's list of My Top Ten Favorite Chuckle-fests."

"I feel so much better now, thanks."

"Hey, take your pick: They did it to put food on the table, or they did it because they thought your book sucked the dimples off a golf ball through 40 feet of clogged garden hose."

We're writers, we exist because of fantasy and delusion and our ability to convey them on the page. And when you have to rely on your writing as your major source of income, any delusion helps, especially if you know it's a delusion.

So I helped a stranger put food on the table for his family. I feel good about myself.

Hey, I'm a writer. Delusion is my business.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

How to bless beer

Contrary to what you might believe, the Catholic Church doesn't mind you drinking beer, particularly if it's been properly blessed first. I suggest you try the following blessing on your next six-pack of Blackened Voodoo Beer or Pete's Wicked Ale:

Lord, bless this creature, beer, which by your kindness and power has been produced from kernels of grain, and let it be a healthful drink for mankind. Grant that whoever drinks it with thanksgiving to your holy name may find it a help in body and in soul; through Christ our Lord.


To complete the prayer, you must sprinkle your beer with holy water.

Please note that, even if properly done by a priest, blessing Creature Beer gives no implied holy warranty against hangovers in the case of overindulgence.

Reference: The Roman Ritual, translated by Philip T. Weller, S.T.D. The Bruce Publishing Company, 1964.

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Runnin' With A Pencil

David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen step onstage, both wearing Angus Young's cast-off schoolboy uniforms. Roth swaggers up to the microphone and begins to sing:

I skip my classes like there's no tomorrow
and all I've passed, I had to cheat
Won't read no Melville nor no Doct'row
Yeaah, I'm even ... flunking P.E.!

Oooh, yee-eah!
Runnin' with a pencil!
Runnin' with a pencil!

I found that simple math ain't so simple
When you get that algebra load
I got no clue, lost my old textbook
Ain't got no tutor waitin' at home

Ah, maaan!
Runnin' with a pencil!
(The dog ate my homework. You know I ain't lyin'!)
Runnin' with a pencil!
(Detention? Who, me?)

Van Halen breaks into a frenzied kazoo solo

I found that simple math ain't so simple
When you get to algebra, lord!
I got no clue, dumped my old textbook
Ain't got no tutor waitin' at home

Wooo! Yeah!
Runnin' with a pencil!
Runnin' with a pencil!

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Thursday, October 27, 2005


"It starts with an 'A'
Aardvark! Aardvark!
And ends with a 'K',
Aardvark! Aardvark!"

The song's supposed to be to the tune of the Blue Danube Waltz, but most of us were giggling so hard we couldn't carry a tune.

"Not easy to say
Aardvark! Aardvark!
But try anyway
Aardvark! Aardvark!"

We were all supposed to be going out to dinner; Joe had gone upstairs to wake his girlfriend Tessa from her nap. Five minutes later, the ceiling of the old house started to creak. Rhythmically.

They were up there aardvarking! Right after Joe had made us promise to wait for them!

We were hungry. We were faced with a decision: hie our hungry selves to the restaurant and leave the lovers behind, or figure out a way to get them dressed and downstairs?

In lieu of going upstairs and pounding on their door, Steph started singing "The Aardvark Song", which she'd learned at girl scout camp when she was a child. Soon, we were all singing it at the top of our lungs. Our serenade was probably less subtle than knocking down their door.

"It eats ants all day
Aardvark! Aardvark!
At rest and at play
Aardvark! Aardvark!"

I suspect it was Joe Bob Briggs who first popularized the use of "aardvarking" as a euphemism for fooling around. He certainly uses it with great frequency in his humorous reviews of schlocky horror flicks. The term most obviously implies the impressive sucking tongue action the ant-eating aardvark is known for. It also has a certain onomatopoeia to it. If you have a certain twist to your mind, you can perhaps imagine someone in the throes of ecstasy: "Aard ... vark! Aard! Vark! AARD! VARK!"

And, of course, it's a very, very silly term for what is often a silly-looking activity.

"It's spelled in this way:
Double A, R-D-V-A-R-K
Aardvark! Aardvark!"

We only had to go through the song twice before Joe and Tessa hurried downstairs, red-faced but smiling.



Monday, October 03, 2005

Dead Armadillo Wrasslin'

Long, long ago in a land far, far away, I happened to be a biology major taking an ecology class. And our professor, Dr. D., decided we were such a nice bunch of slaves students that he'd take us on a Saturday field trip to help his graduate students explore the exotic mysteries of the wily armadillo.

The armadillo is widely misunderstood. Most people think it is a quiet, quaint creature; cute, even. It's not. It's a small, smelly, armored, clawed, powerful beastie with a perpetually runny nose. Armadillo snot is not cute.

D.'s scientific interest in them stems from the fact that every time a 'dillo has a litter, the four pups are all genetically identical. This seems like a silly thing for a sexually-reproducing critter to do, since the whole point of sex is to mix up the parents' genes in new ways. Had they reached the peak of Cosmic Armadilloness, and no longer needed genetic variation? Or was this a reproductive flaw that would lead to inbreeding and subsequent appearances on daytime talk shows?

Dr. D. was determined to find out.

So, we all piled into cars to caravan to the field site several miles outside town, a grad student leading the way, my car next-to-last in line and Dr. D.'s truck last. My passenger was my friend Jennie. We amused ourselves by playing Roadkill Bingo as we drove. Soon, we saw the relatively intact carcass of an armadillo.

"Whoo, that one's got all four legs in the air," Jennie joked. "Dr. D. won't be able to resist that one!"

And sure enough, D.'s truck swerved off the road and screeched to a halt in front of the hapless 'dillo. He grabbed the 'dillo, tossed it in the bed of his truck, and drove on.

When we all got to the field site, D. gathered us in a circle. He retrieved the dead 'dillo and used it to demonstrate the finer points of armadillo wrasslin'. Full nelson, half-nelson, tail grab, the works. He even managed not to get much blood on his shirt in the process.

Then, he led us to an area where some students were tagging captured 'dillos. One student was holding down a 30-pound 'dillo while the other painted numbers on its carapace with bright pink latex house paint. The 'dillo already had a tag piercing its ear and an ID bracelet locked on its foreleg. Dr. D. explained that because the 'dillos spend so much time tunneling and running though underbrush, if the grad students were lucky, one of the three tagging measures would survive to identify the animal when it was eventually re-captured.

Suddenly, the painted armadillo broke free, scrabbling away across a rocky flat.

Dr. D. sprang into action. He sprinted after the beastie, took a flying leap and tackled it on the rocks. The armadillo squealed, and the dust rose in a huge cloud as they tussled.

When the dust cleared, Dr. D. stood in a triumphant Superman pose, holding the terrified armadillo at arm's length by its tail. Dr. D. was covered in dirt, pink paint, dozens of bleeding scratches, and armadillo shit. I wondered if he'd had a tetanus shot recently. I wondered what his wife must think of him coming home like this.

Then I remembered his stories, and realized she'd seen far worse. There was the time she'd come home and found he'd recruited her good stew pot for boiling the flesh off roadkill gopher bones. There was the time he came home with 214 chiggers imbedded in his skin (he counted). And there was the skunk incident.

Suddenly, I realized that cohabitating with a field biologist must qualify as a rare and peculiar sort of fetish.

So, if you're ever in the woods, and see an armadillo with an earring and traces of pink paint, remember, it wasn't a prank by the local punks -- it was probably your friendly neighborhood zoologist.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

The Skunk Incident
During my senior year of college, a friend of mine took a mammalogy class. His professor offered the students extra credit if they would help out on a weekend project: skinning, stuffing, and mounting various roadkill animals to send out to natural history museums in the state.

My friend made the mistake of accepting the extra credit offer. The following weekend, the students discovered they had to skin and stuff about two dozen skunks.

You could smell the mammalogy lab outside the life science building. It was incredible. But, fortunately for the students working in said lab, the human olfactory system will totally shut down under such overwhelming situations of stench.

The de-scentsitized students worked through the afternoon into the evening and night. Sometime after midnight, all the skunks were done. The students were hungry. Someone said, "Hey, let's go to Denny's! It'll still be open."

The Denny's was indeed open. It even had a dozen people in it ... but not for long. The moment the unwitting lab workers entered, reeking of rotting skunks, everyone in the place dropped money on their tables and fled for their cars.

I heard they gave the unlucky waitress who had to serve them a nice tip, though.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

The three kinds of nice guys

Well, the first variety of mice guy fancies mice as pets. Often he enjoys their silky fur or the feel of their soft, tiny feet as they run up and down his arms. He loves the cute way they snuggle into their shredded paper burrows, and their soft squeaks soothe him as he goes to sleep at night.

The second, less common mice guy enjoys eating mice. The most common way to serve a mouse is battered on a stick, much like a rodentine corn dog. Currently, the International Mouse Gourmands Society is lobbying the producers of Iron Chef to include mice in the possible challenge menus, since there is a little-known and highly complex ancient Okinawan dish that involves whole field mice, sufu, and cubed sea hare. The rest of us can only hope their lobbying efforts fail.

The third and most rare type of mice guys actually turn into mice. Supernature has seen to it that muscothropes make their change when the moon is at its weakest and the night sky nearly black. Since the diet of natural wolves is made largely of field mice in certain areas, it stands to reason that weremice would fall prey to werewolves in great numbers if they had to make their change in the same moonphase.

When in their human form, weremice tend to be small and fine-boned with strong, well-developed teeth. They are universally vegetarians, though few can resist a well-aged cheese. These mice guys make passionate, affectionate lovers, but do tend to be easily startled--

Hang on, somebody's tapping me on the shoulder.

Hi, Panamaus, what's up?


Nice guys? I thought we were ... oh.




Tuesday, September 06, 2005

How to write fantasy that will absolutely slay the editors

Magazine and book editors are cruel oppressors who delight in rejecting and demeaning True Art. In short, they are evil. So your mission is to join the Fellowship of those who seek to inspire editors to fling themselves or coworkers from high windows or commit hara-kiri with their letter openers.

The best way to cause an editor's mind to wander to despairing thoughts of self-destruction or to throw her into a mindless murdering rage is to present her with a manuscript of such astonishing quality that her mind is broken. But like Sauron's mighty Uruk-hai, editors are a tough bunch; don't expect your first effort to do much more than cause her to drink a bit more than usual at Happy Hour.

Thus, you must send her many, many manuscripts, and encourage your friends to do the same!

  1. Prepare for your writing by exposing your mind to the right material. This means you absolutely must watch every Hollywood fantasy movie you can lay your hands on -- the ones from the 80s are especially helpful. Optionally, you can read Tolkien and Robert E. Howard's and L. Sprague DeCamp's Conan books. Don't bother reading any other old fantasy authors like C.S. Lewis, Charles Perrault, Howard Pyle, Sir Thomas Malory, or Lewis Carroll, and don't trouble yourself with modern fantasy writers like Gene Wolfe, Jonathon Carroll, Guy Gavriel Kay, Charles De Lint, Nalo Hopkinson, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, or China Mieville.

    And whatever you do, don't read outside the fantasy genre, or else your work could be subject to all kinds of foreign literary influences that could destroy the purity of your high fantasy prose.

  2. Develop your ideas carefully. Nothing helps you develop your storytelling like a few hundred hours of D&D! Make sure you write down everything that happens in your latest Dragonlance campaign; this will form the backbone of your first novel. If you feel you need help coming up with good dialog, try some live action roleplaying -- the quips and barbs you'll cast at each other when you're all running around the local science fiction convention hotel at 3 a.m. will be pure gold!

  3. Research. Researching mythologies, legends, and history on your own is a complete waste of time -- real authors don't worry about that kind of thing. It's fantasy; they just make stuff up off the tops of their heads! And anyway, everybody knows that fantasy should be all about orcs, dwarves, elves, and dragons, with maybe a unicorn or a few fairies or demons thrown in for good measure. If you feel you need something more exotic, use a creature from the D&D Monster Manual. Take your settings directly from Tolkien or Dragonlance -- readers like to feel they're in familiar surroundings. You'll earn bonus points from readers if you lift scenes directly from the Lord of the Rings movies!

  4. Set your story free. You might have heard writing instructors talking about stuff like "internal logic", "consistency", and "maintaining the reader's suspension of disbelief". Don't listen to them -- they're just trying to stifle your creativity! Fantasy is all about magic, and anything can happen in magic! Internal logic's so boring; keep the reader entertained with surprising and unprepared-for events!

  5. Give your characters memorable names. You'll want your readers to know right away whether characters are good guys or bad guys; it's also helpful if the name describes the main feature that distinguishes that character from all the others. For instance, your lovely elfin princess could be named Arewynne Fairmaid. Your evil orc could be named Argh of the Skullkrusher Clan. The brave blacksmith could be named Hammerclang Strongheart. Don't confuse the reader with subtlety.

  6. Write your dialog carefully. You don't want to spend too much time on characterization, so it will need to be conveyed in dialog. Make absolutely sure your reader knows what the characters are feeling:
    "I'm going to kill you, snivelling creature!" Argh shouted menacingly.
    "Please give me the ring, master!" wheedled Gorrum flinchingly.
    Be sure to add in the funny quips and sayings you picked up while you were gaming! Readers love it when you throw in hip, modern language to spice up that old style stuff:

    "Thou art troubling me!" growled Blackmane Stabmaster. "I shall run thee through with mine Sword of Stabbyness!"
    "Come and get some, beeyotch!" Puck replied defiantly.

  7. Create a powerful opening. Make sure to ground your readers in your fantasy world with lots of description right away. Make sure to spend several paragraphs describing the room your main character has just awakened in; no detail is too insignificant to be dwelled upon. You shouldn't introduce any dialog or plot for several pages lest you break the spell you're weaving for the reader.

  8. Use language skillfully. You've probably guessed that you should borrow terminology and descriptions from Tolkien and Dragonlance as much as possible. But what you might not realize is that adverbs are your friends -- you should use plenty of adverbs: slowly, quickly, menacingly, woundingly, etc. And! Use! Exclamation! Points! Wherever! Possible! For! Emphasis!!!

    And if you learned a particularly cool, long word (such as antidisestablishmentarianism or omphaloskepsis), figure out ways to use it as much as possible. Editors will be awed by your intelligence if you use the longest, most complex words possible to spice up simple actions. For instance, "said" is terribly overused; try using "enunciated" or "phonated" instead. Heck, while you're at it, invent some cool-sounding words, use them frequently, and don't leave any clues or context to let the reader know what they mean! Readers love a good mystery.

  9. Titles are vital. Make sure your title is catchy, and includes words like "doom", "ring", "fellowship", "champion", "lord", "sword", "bane", "wyrm", "faery", or "blood". You get extra points if the title gives away the ending. "The Baneful Fellowship of the Sword Lord's Wyrm Ring of Doom" would make an excellent title. Be sure it's subtitled as being Part One of a 12-part series.

  10. Rewriting and proofreading. The best, truest stuff will come to you in the first draft. Don't tamper with it by rewriting it -- it's your Art! And don't bother checking your spelling -- real authors don't worry about that kind of mundane stuff. After all, the editor's got to have something to do!

  11. Make sure your manuscript stands out. You might have heard about something called "standard manuscript format" -- that kind of thing is for chumps! Single-spacing saves paper, and you should always use the most exotic fantasy font you can find to put the reader in the right mood. And speaking of moods, white paper is so dull. Printing your opus on purple paper makes a powerful statement.

  12. Handle rejection like a pro. If an editor sends you a rejection, don't despair! Instead, write her back immediately demanding an explanation. If she did give you reasons, just ignore them -- she's only trying to keep you down. Write her back and tell her what an idiot she is -- show her you can't be cowed! And then change the title of your tale, write a new opening paragraph, change the names of your characters, and send your manuscript right back to her.

If you follow these simple steps, you'll have created a work that makes even the most black-hearted editor tremble ... and, if you're lucky, wish she could ask the court for a restraining order!

However, if you need a model to inspire your efforts, be sure to read The Eye of Argon. If every manuscript matched The Eye's sublime qualities, editors would quit or slaughter themselves in droves.

Explicating My Satire

Just in case anyone thinks I'm disdaining Tolkien, I'm not. His work is classic, wonderful, and timeless. His work is so great that 80% of the high fantasy fiction I've read as magazine submissions or for writing workshops completely rips him off. Fantasy goes way beyond orcs and elves -- go read some Gene Wolfe, Jonathon Carroll, Guy Gavriel Kay, Charles De Lint, Nalo Hopkinson, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, or China Mieville and you'll see that the genre has gotten pretty broad over the past 50 years.

And if you've read any of my movie reviews, you know I carry a torch for many 80s fantasy films. I also have nothing against Dragonlance books or any other gaming or movie novelizations. Several friends of mine write such books, either because they enjoy doing so or because they need to pay their rent. Would I write a gaming novelization? Hell, yes; I co-wrote a story for a Xena: Warrior Princess anthology a couple of years ago.

Gaming novelizations can be a lot of fun. Some are not well-written, others are surprisingly well-written and contain original ideas. It depends on how adeptly a writer who is given rigid guidelines and a deadline can exercise his or her originality.

In short, novelizations can be a tasty part of your well-balanced literary diet.

But I've run into way, way, way too many budding fantasy writers who read nothing but fantasy, or worse, nothing but a particular writer or series. A writer who reads nothing but the work of a single genre or author -- be it Margaret Weis or Jane Austen or Tolkien -- is like a runner training for a marathon on a diet of nothing but yogurt and gatorade.

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Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Lord of the Rings IV: Stop or my Gollum will Shoot!

A script fragment found in Woody Allen's trash bin, nestled wetly between some apple cores and the remains of a rancid package of lox:

SHARITA PRECIOUS lies in a pool of blood. GOLLUM, dressed in a black ninja outfit, approaches her, trembling with fear and rage.

GOLLUM: "Precious? My precious?"

GOLLUM turns on VITO MANICOTTI, who is looking ambiguously sexy and dangerous in a Ralph Lauren suit.

MANICOTTI: "Give me the ring, Gollum. You know it's inevitable; Sauron will rule these lands."

GOLLUM: "You ... killed ... my ... PRECIOUSSSSS!"

GOLLUM pulls an enormous antique revolver from the folds of his ninja outfit. SERGEANT JOE BOMOKAI runs into the frame.

BOMOKAI (to MANICOTTI): "You better stop, man. My buddy's real serious. Stop, or my Gollum will shoot!"

A leaked memo written by an Adjunct Vice President for Development for New Line Cinema reveals astonishing plans for a sequel to Peter Jackson's epic Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Most fans are eagerly awaiting Jackson's eventual filming of The Hobbit. But in the meantime, New Line has a movie in the works that is neither directly based on any of Tolkien's work, nor directed by Jackson.

"We can't wait four or five years for Jackson to get around to filming that other book," the studio VP writes. "The LoTR property is still hot right now, and if we want to ensure a good revenue stream in 2006, we've got to keep those seats filled. Blade sequels just aren't going to cut it."

This new movie's working title is The Lord of the Rings IV: Stop or my Gollum will Shoot!

According to the memo, Renny Harlin, who brought us such masterpieces as Cutthroat Island and The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, is scheduled to direct Stop or my Gollum will Shoot!. The screenplay is being penned by Harlin, David Arnott (The Last Action Hero), and Woody Allen (though the memo mentions he'll be using the pseudonym Thomas Leon).

The plot of the movie was briefly outlined in the memo. The movie begins with Gollum falling to a fiery death in the lava of Mount Doom ... and then he wakes up! He was just in a virtual reality simulation. He goes back to his job as a bumbling janitor at a boarding school for wizards in New England. But why are strange men in black following him? And why is he having all these strange dreams of ninja warriors?

"It's definitely a drama," the memo says. "But it's also a slapstick comedy. It's a shame we can't get Woody to put his name on this one, but he's not money these days anyway."

The producers are hoping Leonardo DiCaprio will agree to star as Gollum. "We need a sexier, hipper Gollum in this movie," the memo says. "Leo is a bankable actor, and we've got good intel he went to a clinic in Germany for anorexia after he dropped all that weight he put on for Gangs of New York. He'll be perfect."

The movie will also star Sylvester Stallone as Sgt. Joe Bomokai, a Japanese-American cop from Tokyo. Bomokai has been looking for his long-lost partner Gollum for years.

"See, Gollum was really a top cop in Tokyo before the yakuza kidnapped him and wiped his memory clean," the memo explains. "And before that, he really was in Middle Earth, but the One Ring whisked him through space and time to modern-day Tokyo where he woke up with amnesia but was rehabilitated by a Shaolin monk turned sushi chef."

Iron Chef MC Takeshi Kaga will make his Hollywood debut as Sushi Master Morimoto and will appear in flashbacks. "After Morimoto was killed by ninjas, Gollum swore vengeance for his master and joined the Tokyo Police force where he was partnered with Bomokai," the memo explains. "The kung fu revenge angle is money in the bank!"

"DiCaprio and Stallone had great chemistry together in the scene readings," the memo continues. "And they'll have the chick demographic completely covered. Our intel indicates that women over 45 still think Stallone is a hottie, and women under 45 love Leo when he's thin. And in this movie he'll be very, very thin."

The romantic interest is Sharita Precious, a cheerleading instructor at the wizarding school where Gollum sweeps her off her feet. It turns out that she is also a Russian double-agent who was romantically involved with Joe Bomokai when she was assigned to to Tokyo. Sharita will be played by Def Jam rapper Shawnna.

"The romantic triangle creates some really hilarious moments," the memo says. "Sharita's a demographically critical character to bring in urban audiences. The problem with the Lord of the Rings movies was that the cast was just too white -- we tried hard to get Jackson to hire Wesley Snipes as Faramir but he just wouldn't go for it. Shawnna's got a lot of sex appeal, and she's doing much better with the new acting coach."

In the end, the three join forces to defeat a young Mafia boss who has stolen an ancient Mordor artifact and plans to raise the forces of Sauron in New York City. The Mafia boss -- who's employed the same ninja clan that murdered Gollum's master -- needs Gollum's blood and the One Ring to complete his ritual. Jaye Davidson (The Crying Game) has been asked to play boss Vito Manicotti.

"It would be a real coup to bring Jaye into this project. We see him playing a transvestite mafia killer turned stylish cult leader -- it'll be hilarious, and it'll bring in some of the Queer Eye fan base. But if he won't play ball, we'll bring in one of those guys from The Sopranos and have Woody butch up Manicotti's part."

The memo's author has high hopes for the film. "It's a buddy flick. It's a cop movie. It's a romance. It's got comedy and action out the wazoo. And the product placement opportunities are nearly endless! What's not to love?"

Two days after the aforementioned memo was obtained by Entertainment Tonight and the details broadcast worldwide, Niles Grunby, caretaker at the Wolvercote Cemetery in Oxford, England, reported some strange activity concerning J.R.R. Tolkien's gravesite.

"First thing, I hears this kind o' 'aih-pitched whinin' sound," Grunby said. "I puts me ear to th' ground to take the ol' listen. An' then it hits me, it does: the old chap is spinning in there, 'e is. Right fast, too. 'E's gonna burn right through the coffin wood, 'e will.

"An' won't them Hollywood blokes be sorry when the ol' chap shows up on their doorstep to register 'is disapproval of their new 'film', eh?"



Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Pussification of the American Cat

Introduction: Last week, I was involved in beta-testing a new device called DIFID (Digital Feline Interpretation Device) that is being developed by the Ohio State Zooengineering Department. I set it to record our cats' interactions during the evening. When I played the translation the next morning, I was very surprised to discover that my husband's cat, Monte, is the secret leader of a resistance movement amongst the many feral cats in our neighborhood.

Monte spent part of the night practicing a new speech, which I've transcribed below. He gave me permission to post it in exchange for three bags of the organic catnip they sell at Wild Oats.

Greetings, my fellow felines. We who live in America today have become hopelessly pussified, and it's high time we got the respect we deserve!

Pound for pound, we cats are the deadliest predators in the world! We are mighty hunters! We are to be feared! And what do the humans do? They cut off our claws and drag bits of yarn in front of us and make sickening poochy-moochy noises about how cute we are.

We sailed to America's shores with pirates and adventurers! And now? Now most of us live trapped indoors, where we can barely dream of catching so much as a single sparrow. We grow fat eating congealed dreck from cans. We shit in boxes.

The ancient Egyptians worshipped us and called us gods, and now? Now we are given cutesy-wootsy names like "Fluffy" and "Snoogums".

They cut off our balls and declare us "fixed" ... but we will not be broken! We are not pussies! We will leap high, and shed our complacent torpor like hair in August --

(Sound of electric can opener in the kitchen)


(The rumble of little feet racing across the linoleum.)

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Monday, June 13, 2005

Guest Feature: The Newly Discovered Erotic Works of H. P. Lovecraft

by Toasterleavings

Possibly the single most disturbing aspect of the collected works of H. P. Lovecraft is his portrait, which combines the raw sexuality of a repressed televangelist, and passionate joie de vivre of a sleep-deprived mortician.

It is therefore with no small degree of trepidation that I reveal that which has been covered in darkness and kept far from the world's innocent light, that none shall need quiver with base corruption*: The erotica of H.P. Lovecraft.

Some quotes from a selection of the less lurid works are displayed below:

  • The Temptations of Shub-Niggurath
    "Her teats swollen with hellish sustenance, goat rump shewed high and sinister under that greenish alien moon. A monstrous guilt assailed me. I do not recall when, the shrieking vapours were clouding my faculties and robbingreason, yet I became aroused and was drawn to her, all the while gibbering in a dark tongue."
  • Nyarlathotep cried 'Proceed!'
    "The hellish season progressed indeterminably, without change or hope of succor. I had heard many pray in strange words for sign of rain. Whatever gods to which they had once owed control had died or left, and other unknownable forces had crept forth and taken ownership of their lives. It was then that I saw Nyarlathotep. He was of the old native blood, swarthy, lithe limbed and mysterious. He was carrying strange instruments of glass and metal, yet I could only seem to focus on his proud profile, and tight, high, Nile bred buttocks. My head swam with a black dizziness, and as if gripped by compulsion occult, I staggered toward him. Dark, unfathomable eyes drank me completely, and I knew that I was his creature, by choice or force."
  • The Alarming Excesses of the Fish-Cultists
    "...it was then that they spied me, peering through the begrimed pane, as they cavorted and gibbered before that degenerate idol. I had been unable to properly view the creature, crudely constructed from filth and mud. Its form had seemed to swim across my vision, mere glimpses of a tentacled head, a mad staring chaos of eyes. I had momentarily swooned, and brushed the pane with my hand, alerting the base revellers within. They took me before the idol, and savagely rent the clothes from my person. Naked but for my protective belly sigils, I quivered upon the dank, slick floor. In moments they were upon me, probing, tweaking, licking, spanking. A profusion of gills, bewebbed fingers, degenerate scaled limbs and wet tongues. Luckily, I was powerless to stop them."

As you can see, H.P. was possessed of a powerful sexuality, limited in expressive form by the circumstances of his life. He obviously preferred the passive; hence much swooning and compulsion. Some of his darker works are not fit for publication, but will be featured in an Entertainment Tonight feature story, and discussed at length by theologians in suspiciously darkened rooms.

*naturally, I'm all for base corruption.

Toasterleavings is widely recognized as the world's foremost authority on beak helmets, pioneered the use of soldering irons to cure scurvy, and may go all the way to eleven. His turn-ons include the busy tentacles of Cthulhu, Influenza, and wacky dinosaur collisions captured on 8mm. Her turn-offs include star signs, a variety of wooden planks, and cow-eating bitchfaces. Currently he develops immersive Smurf simulation software and spandex based weaponry for the military. Available for parties or eulogies.

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Monday, May 30, 2005

Guest Feature: Arguments for the Perceived Impending Invasion of Earth by Atomic-Powered Killbots from Planet X

by Scott Slemmons

Or: Find Our Robotic Masters

In recent years there have been many criticisms of both the capitalist and socialist systems by which most of the world's economies operate. Since September 11, 2001, these have been accompanied by multiple conflicting warnings that:

  1. capitalism is on the brink of collapse,
  2. capitalism is about to go seriously imperialistic,
  3. Leonid Brezhnev is still alive and will conquer America with secret tanks hidden in the vast forests of Nevada,
  4. Adolf Hitler's preserved brain will lead the Fourth Reich to triumph by using cloned uber-fluffy kitties to make us all giggle and coo instead of fighting evil, or
  5. All of the Above.

I disagree.

To be perfectly honest, all of earth's political and economic systems will soon be left upon the dustheap of history, along with nature, humans, Linux, "Fear Factor", Earth itself, and the entire concept of cloned uber-fluffy kitties. We have neglected to "Watch the Skies", as many film actors and other unshaven lunatics have exhorted us to do in decades past, and we are about the reap the wild wind of pain and suffering and extinction events which our unpreparedness and non-sky-watching has led us into about for the--Umm, we is gonna git it good, just you watch.

Some of the following ideas are based on a partial and possibly inaccurate understanding of Aztec society, the Baltimore sewer system, and the alien signals which are beamed directly into my dental fillings. Bear with me - my understanding of these signals are often jumbled by whatever the local pop music radio station is playing. I don't think that Mandy Moore plays any part in the killbots' plans, but it's certainly possible.

Argument 1: Never Insult a Killbot

Hell hath no fury like an Atomic Killbot scorned. In his 2002 State of the Union Address, George W. Bush stated that he perceived an "Axis of Evil" in the world, including former enemies Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Quite honestly, leaving Planet X off that list is a major slight. Do you know of any power on Earth that could have so cruelly annihilated both the CuddleBugs of Arcturus-6 and the Pre'tti-P'oniis of Woogikins-8? Would any nation on our planet embark on a sacred mission to tie explosives to babies and fire them from cannons for festive holiday celebrations? Could any earthly nation have matched the evil of Planet X's "Let Joel Schumacher Direct Two Batman Movies" petition drive? No, Planet X should have been included within Bush's Axis of Evil, and we could end up paying the price if the Killbots decide to show us just how dastardly and evil they can really be.

Argument 2: An easy mark in the win column

As a species, we like to posture and preen and pretend we're tough guys, but let's face facts: humans are soft (on the outside, crunchy on the inside, as the old Killbot joke goes). We've never fought an interstellar war, our science fiction television is dominated by wimpy do-gooders, and we wouldn't last ten seconds against even a small Venusian Bloodworm. We're weak, we're cowardly, we're not very smart. We can't even stand up to bullets, knives, or cheap Mexican food without bleeding, dying, or having to spend hours in the bathroom! Most importantly, we don't have any superheroes or action movie stars to defend us--without superpowers, large-caliber weapons, or witty one-liners, we'd be completely helpless against any otherworldly invader. We'd be easy pickin's for the Killbots and, though they relish the challenge and thrill of facing off against powerful opponents, they're not above slapping around the galactic pansies either.

Argument 3: Peanut Butter M&Ms

Boy, they're good. I'd invade any planet in the galaxy that had a large supply of those yummy candies. Especially nicely chilled, with a tall glass of milk on the side. Mm-mmmm.

Argument 4: Housing Shortage on Planet X

This is the one that could really be trouble. Planet X is seriously overpopulated with Atomic Killbots, and many of them are forced to live in substandard housing, cardboard boxes, and fast food cartons, often stacked on top of each other like actresses in amateur porn. Killbots are not the most cordial of machines even under good conditions, and when they have to live in castoff paper products while being compared to cheap exhibitionist sluts in online publications, they become even more surly. And when they look upon the relative wealth and comfort of Earth... well, could you blame them for wanting to invade our planet and suck the tasty marrow from our bones? I certainly couldn't.

Argument 5: Earthlings are too damn sexy

Well, we are. We're a total party planet, with plentiful alcohol, cigarettes, barbecue, and other mind-altering substances. Now that the Taliban have been kicked out, we all wear relatively little--you can see our epidermis and noses and everything! We work only 40 hours a week and devote the rest of our time to relaxation and fun. And we're pretty. Really. You ever seen a Killbot? They ugly. Everything in outer space is ugly, and they know it. You could wave Rosie O'Donnell or Marilyn Manson at a Killbot, and they'd be like, "Oooo, baby! You got it goin' on! Lemme give you a backrub!" Hey, you ever heard of an Atomic Killbot or Bug-Eyed Monster that didn't go around kidnapping good-looking Earthlings, marrying them, and waving tentacles at them? They're all sex-obsessed pervs, and they can no longer resist our humanly charms.

Of course, I could just be speculating wildly and inaccurately. But I'm not, 'cause I'm a persecuted genius!

In addition to being a persecuted genius, Scott Slemmons is known for his award-winning Roadkill Chipotle Chili, which took top honors in the Bioweapons division of the White Sands Chili Cookoff. He lives in Texas with his wife and a subservient, laundry-hauling Killbot named Bub, which Scott hacked and reprogrammed with the aid of a 5-year-old iBook.

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Friday, May 20, 2005

Shaving tips for vampires

"I hate 'em when they ain't shaved."
-- Severen in Near Dark

Shaving is very important to the sophisticated vampire. Nothing destroys the mood of seductive blood-play like getting a mouthful of sandpapery bristles. Plus, it's very difficult to play the part of the cultured, Continental count or contessa when you've got a night's growth of scraggly beard or prickly legs.

Fortunately, the modern vampire need not shave blind. It used to be that the only mirrors available were backed in silver, that most holy of metals that will not reflect the face of the cursed undead. Modern mirrors are usually backed in cheaper metals like chrome, nickel or stainless steel, and even the most spiritually depraved vampires can see themselves just fine in such materials.

There have been cases of vampires who are psychologically unable to see their own reflections in any material. Such neurotic vampires generally also have a fear of getting cut and losing precious blood. Thus, we encourage them to invest in a cordless, waterproof electric razor and to practice shaving themselves by feel.

Although straight razors have a certain sexiness and class (and also double as a handy weapon), we discourage their use in favor of disposable safety razors or electric razors. It's all too easy for a vampire with a slight case of the hunger shakes to open up his own throat. Also, those who live in vampiric communes will do well to avoid implements that can cause deep shaving cuts, since any sudden spilling of blood may upset hungry housemates.

Silver-handled shaving implements should be avoided, as should those made of hawthorn, mountain ash, or pure iron. Steel is fine due to the impurities it contains.

Most young vampires do not realize that there is a secondary risk involved with traditional shaving methods: clean running water. Generally, vampires are only vulnerable to being drowned in large quantities of fresh running water such as a stream or river. However, those vampires who are are elderly and unusually evil may be burned by the flow from a faucet. Vampires in urban areas generally don't need to worry about this, since municipal water supplies in large cities are generally contaminated enough to prevent spiritual effects.

Vampires who live near large-scale photo processing facilities may have to worry about silver-contaminated water, since silver trumps any number of other impurities and can continue to cause ill effects even in stagnant water. Invest in an ion exchange water filtration system if you have doubts; charcoal-based water filters may introduce traces of silver into the water.

If you are concerned about being burned by pure water from the tap, the best tactic is to first fill your sink, basin, or bathtub, then spit into the water. You can then shave fearlessly.

Vampires who find they must shave more than once a week must also be very careful to moisturize; vampires are extremely vulnerable to dry skin and razor burn. We especially recommend soaps and shaving gels from the Paper Street Soap Company; they are more expensive, but many vampires report amazing improvements in skin tone.



Thursday, May 19, 2005

Why I can't stay out of my husband's pants

I remember the first time I got into my husband's pants.

That morning, all my work-suitable pants had problems: a stray red sock had bled on one in the wash, another pair had shrunk, and a third was fraying around the hem.

My kingdom for a lousy pair of khakis, I thought.

Then I spied with my little eye a pair of crisp olive-drab khakis hanging on his side of the closet. I touched them. The material was soft and substantial, and smelled faintly of his cologne. If I wore them, I'd think of him all day. Would they fit? I pulled them off their hanger. The zipper was strong, much sturdier than the zips on my own women's trousers.

I pulled on his pants, and I faintly heard an angelic chorus somewhere down the block. His pants fit, fit better than many of my own clothes. Better yet, they were even rather flattering; the material was thick enough to not show off my every last figure flaw.

And, oh, the pockets! Deep, capacious pockets! I could keep all my hopes and dreams in pockets like those.

(The rest of this is available in Sparks and Shadows.)



Friday, May 13, 2005

How To Get A Goth Out Of A Tree

Teddy was up on a low limb of the oak, clinging to the trunk and sobbing in terror. His thin body trembled in the cold moonlight. He'd broken two of his carefully-manicured, black-lacquered fingernails. His mascara was running down his cheeks in sticky black rivulets, and his lipstick was smeared.

A half-dozen clubgoers were gathered nearby, staring up at him curiously, helplessly. A couple seemed irritated. None were doing anything to get him out of the damn tree.

"Teddy?" I called, stepping toward him through the crusty snow. "What's the matter?"

"Stop it!" he shrieked. His pupils were hugely dilated. "Bunnies! You're h-h-hurting the bunnies!"

He began to wail loudly, so loudly that anyone within a five-block radius was bound to hear. The cops would surely come if we didn't get him down and get him quiet. His sister would never forgive us if he wound up in jail.

I turned to Rose, who was puffing on a clove cigarette.

"What the hell is he on?" I asked her. "Acid?"

She blinked at me behind her silver granny glasses. "Uh uh. I think he took a bunch of motion sickness pills."

"Scopolamine?" I asked.

"I guess. He's tripping balls," she added helpfully.


I began to walk toward Teddy more slowly, picking up my skirts and stepping carefully around imaginary rabbits.

"What do you see, Teddy?"

"B-bunnies. Pink bunnies. All over the ground. They bust when you step on them. Got b-bunny guts a-all over me," he hiccuped.

"There's no bunnies," I said gently. "Come down from there. You're going to catch your death up there. You're ruining your fishnets on the bark."

He shook his head, his eyes wide. "Don' wanna hurt the bunnies."


I walked back through the parking lot to the club. The Project Pitchfork song thudding within made the pebbles near the door jump with every bass beat.

"Sorry, can't let you back in," the bouncer said.

"I don't want back in," I replied. "I just want to borrow Osiris for a couple of minutes." I pulled ten dollars out of my pocket. "Do you think you could find him for me? It's kind of an emergency."

Osiris' real name was Shaquim Johnson. His father had briefly played as a middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears, and was deeply disappointed that his only son had no interest in sports aside from some casual weightlifting.

The bouncer took my money and disappeared into the club. A few minutes later, Osiris emerged, stooping low to get through the door. When he straightened up, I was staring him in his leather-clad solar plexus.

"What's up?" he asked. He had the kind of deep voice you imagine gods having.

"Teddy's freaked out and climbed a tree. He's yelling so much, I'm scared he'll bring the cops. Can you get him down and get him to our van? Please?"

"No problem." He flashed me a dazzling white smile, and strode across the snow to the gaggle of goths around the tree. His hobnail boots left prints bigger than my head.

Teddy screeched when he saw Osiris approaching: "No, not the Candyman! I didn't eat that fish!"

Unperturbed, Osiris lifted Teddy out of the tree, slung him over his shoulder, and carried him to Rose's minivan.

We bundled Teddy under a blanket, gave him a piece of bubble wrap to play with, then piled in around him to take him back to his sister's house in Urbana.

"Bunnies," he whispered. "Poor little bunnies."

It was going to be a long drive home.



Thursday, April 14, 2005

I need a new drug: Marmocet
I was thinking the other day about the naming of drugs, specifically acetaminophen-containing opiate agonists (narcotics to you and me) that are prescribed as painkillers. There's Fioricet, Lorcet, Endocet, Percocet, Roxicet, Darvocet, etc.

I think the drug companies are missing a splendid name for a narcotic painkiller: Marmocet.

I mean, now that drug companies are running TV ads for prescription medications, the advertising possibilities for Marmocet would be endless! The ads could feature a mascot, the Marmocet marmoset, and could be live-action or animated.

For instance, a live-action ad ...

... could feature a sad-looking little marmoset with a bandage. Appropriate music plays in the background (To the tune of 'My Momma Said': "My marmocet there'd be days like this, there'd be days like this, my marmocet, marmocet ...").

A bottle of Marmocet rolls onto the scene. He takes a pill, brightens, and starts scampering about, swinging through trees, etc.

An announcer says: "Accidents happen to everyone, and pain comes with them. But with Marmocet, you'll be back in the swing of things in no time! The next time you're in pain, be sure to ask your doctor about Marmocet...."

An animated ad ...

... could feature a cartoon woman with an arm in a cast:

W: "Oh, this really hurts!"

The Marmocet marmoset swings in on a vine with a bottle of candy-colored pills

M: "Don't let that nasty old pain get you down! Try these!"

W: "Okay ... but I'm worried ... I don't want a monkey on my back!"

M: "I'm not really a monkey, and Marmocet's not really addictive, not if you follow your doctor's orders!"

The woman takes a pill, flowers bloom, birds sing, the marmoset hops up on her shoulder and they walk off into the sunset

Announcer: "The next time you're in serious pain, ask your doctor about Marmocet ...."



Tuesday, February 20, 2001

U.S. Court Rulings on Parody in Advertising

Ever since the case of Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, advertising has been the unpopular stepchild of the First Amendment. In that 1976 case, commercial speech, typified by ads that promote a product or service, was nudged under the umbrella of protection afforded by the First Amendment. But the Supreme Court did not give commercial speech full constitutional protection. As a result, advertisers can get soaked in trademark and copyright infringement cases.

Such cases get particularly muddy when parody is involved. Commercials based on parody, such as the Energizer Bunny ads, can be hugely successful. But the legal stakes are high. A parody, by its nature, has to remind the audience of the original; otherwise, the spoof falls flat. In the process of "conjuring up" the original to the audience, an advertisement can violate copyright and trademark laws.

And by their nature, parodies can carry a devastating sting. In 1987's L.L. Bean v. Drake Publishers, Judge Bownes wrote:

Since parody seeks to ridicule sacred verities and prevailing mores, it inevitably offends others, as evinced by the shock which Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Voltaire's Candide provoked among their contemporaries.

Companies that make ads spoofing other companies' products and commercials are walking into a legal mine field. Consumers may love a good parody, but the companies whose products are the butt of the joke get mad. The angered companies then try to get even in court, suing for copyright and trademark infringement, injurious falsehood, trademark dilution, misappropriation, and even defamation. Even when the offending advertiser wins in court, the legal battle can cost huge sums of money.

So, legally speaking, what can advertising parodists get away with? Right now, there is no firm answer to this question; the legal status of an advertising parody is often in the eye of the beholding judge. A good way to understand the current legal thought in this area is to look at some of the more important advertising parody cases of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The first case from this period is L.L. Bean v. Drake Publishers (1987). High Society, a pornographic magazine, published a two-page parody entitled "L.L. Beam's Back-To-School-Sex-Catalog" in its October, 1984 issue. The sexually graphic article, which was clearly labelled as being a fictitious parody, depicted a facsimile of L.L. Bean's trademark.

L.L. Bean sought a restraining order to take the offending issue out of circulation. Bean's suit accused Drake Publishers of a variety of trademark related violations, including trademark dilution. The district court ruled for Drake on many of Bean's complaints, but the court did grant Bean a summary judgment in regard to its claim of trademark dilution. The district court ruled that the crude and sexually offensive nature of the parody had "tarnished Bean's trademark by undermining the goodwill and reputation associated with the mark." The court then issued an injunction barring further publication of the parody to prevent additional damage to Bean's trademark.

Drake appealed on the grounds that the injunction violated its First Amendment rights. The appeals court ruled that the district court had dismissed Drake's First Amendment rights too easily. First, the court stated that the use of Bean's trademark in the parody was an editorial and artistic use, since the parodied trademark wasn't used to promote any goods or services. Second, the court stated that while the parody was vulgar and offensive, it was still entitled to First Amendment protection. Chief Judge Bownes wrote,

Trademark parodies, even when offensive, do convey a message. The message may be simply that the business and product images need not always be taken too seriously; a trademark parody reminds us that we are free to laugh at the images and associations linked with the mark.

In sharp contrast with this case is Mutual of Omaha v. Novak (1987). The Novak ruling came close on L.L. Beans's legal heels, but the Novak majority almost completely ignored the precedent.

In 1983, Franklyn Novak began selling T-shirts and other items emblazoned with a parody of the Mutual of Omaha "Indian Head" logo. Novak's parody depicted the head of a wasted human in an Indian war bonnet and had the phrases "Mutant of Omaha" and "Nuclear Holocaust Insurance" incorporated into the parody logo. Mutual of Omaha sued on the grounds that Novak had disparaged and infringed on its trademark. The district court rejected the disparagement claim but found for the insurance company on the trademark infringement claim and issued an injunction barring Novak from selling his parody merchandise.

Novak appealed the decision. In a majority decision, the court of appeals affirmed the lower court's ruling. The court ruled that Novak's parody would create confusion among consumers as to whether or not Mutual of Omaha was sponsoring Novak's merchandise and therefore violated both federal and state laws. The majority stated that although the parody had political content, Novak could have expressed his views in many other ways besides parodying the Mutual of Omaha logo. Thus, the court did not consider the injunction to be a violation of Novak's First Amendment rights. The majority ruling only mentioned L.L. Bean in a single footnote, stating that Novak did not violate Bean's precedent, since the Bean ruling was based on the "editorial or artistic" use of a trademark and the Novak case was based on the confusion issue.

Circuit Judge Heaney vigorously dissented with the majority:

The majority's holding sanctions a violation of Novak's first amendment rights. The T-shirts simply expressed a political message which irritated the officers of Mutual, who decided to swat this pesky fly buzzing around their backyard with a sledge hammer. ... We should not be party to this effort.

Heaney expressed serious doubts that anyone would confuse Novak's "Mutant of Omaha" parody with the real Mutual of Omaha. Furthermore, the insurance company had not given any evidence to prove that the parody had hurt its sales or reputation in any way. Heaney stated that nobody could doubt that Novak was using the parody to point out the folly of nuclear war, and he pointed out that scholars have rejected the idea that parodists must use "adequate alternative means of communication." And finally, Heaney argued that a trademark is "a form of intangible property that itself conveys or symbolizes ideas." Therefore, an attempt to enjoin a trademark parody censors the content of the expression more than the manner of the expression and so violates the First Amendment.

In comparing L.L. Bean and Novak, it is worth noting that the rulings in the cases run counter to intuitive logic. An offensive, sexually-oriented parody that could conceivably "tarnish" a company's image was found to be protected, whereas a milder, fairly non-offensive parody was enjoined.

In 1988, Hustler Magazine v. Falwell reaffirmed part of the L.L. Bean decision and put offensive parody firmly under the protection of the First Amendment. In 1983, Hustler ran a parody of a liquor ad that featured a fictitious interview with preacher Jerry Falwell. In the parody interview, Falwell was portrayed as having had a "drunken, incestuous rendezvous with his mother in an outhouse." Falwell sued the magazine for libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

After several years of litigation, the case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court noted that the main legal knot of the case was whether a public figure (such as Falwell) could recover damages for emotional harm caused by a parody that most people would consider to be gross and repugnant. The court concluded that, based on the history of the political cartoon, a parody or caricature of a public figure, even when it is deeply offensive, is protected under the First Amendment.

In the early 1990s, a pair of cases involving beer companies set forth new standards concerning parody in advertising.

The first case, Tin Pan Apple Inc. v. Miller Brewing Co. (1990) dealt with both copyright and trademark infringement issues. Miller Brewing ran a humorous TV ad that featured three black rappers and comedian Joe Piscopo. The rappers in the ad dressed and performed like the Fat Boys, a rap group that encouraged its underage audience to abstain from alcohol and other drugs. The Fat Boys sued, accusing Miller Brewing of copyright, trademark, and privacy violations.

The case went before the district court. In the matter of the copyright violation, the Fat Boys claimed that the ad had copied parts of their rap songs. Miller claimed that the ad was a parody, and as such constituted "a fair use which prevents a claim of copyright infringement." The court agreed that parody usually qualifies as a fair use, but it also stated that using copyrighted material for solely commercial purposes was illegal. Judge Haight wrote:

This commercial's use is entirely for profit: to sell beer. Even if the concept of parody is impermissibly stretched to include this commercial, it does not qualify as fair use . . . the commercial in no manner "builds upon the original," nor does it contain elements "contributing something new for humorous effect or commentary."

The court then turned to the issue of the alleged trademark infringement. The Fat Boys had stated in their complaint that their group name had been registered as a trademark. The Fat Boys and Tin Pan Apple had entered into licensing arrangements with merchandise companies to use the group's name and image in making clothing and toys. In essence, the group had the trademark status of a company.

The Fat Boys argued that the beer commercial misled consumers into believing that they endorsed Miller's beer and encouraged drinking. Miller Brewing again used parody as a defense. And, again, the court used the logic it had used with the copyright infringement issue to decide that Miller had violated the Fat Boys' trademark.

While Tin Pan Apple was an important ruling, the most important case of the period was Eveready v. Adolph Coors Co. (1991). This case provides an new perspective on several advertising parody issues, since it pits advertiser against advertiser, parodist against parodist.

Eveready is well known for its ad-within-an-ad "Energizer Bunny" TV commercials. But some people may have forgotten that these ads began as a parody of Duracell TV ads. The original Duracell battery ads displayed a room full of toy rabbits playing snare drums. As a voice-over talked about Duracell's batteries outlasting those of its competitors', all the rabbits but the one run by Duracell batteries stop playing.

In the first Eveready spoof, the ad displays a similar group of toy rabbits playing snare drums. A voice-over says, "Don't be fooled by commercials where one battery company's toy outlasts the others." At that, one of the rabbits turns its head, and its eyes widen as the Energizer Bunny strolls out in front of the other toys, beating its bass drum. At the end of the ad, the voice states Eveready's now-familiar pitch, "Nothing outlasts the Energizer. They keep going and going and going .... voice-over fades out as ad ends" The Energizer Bunny pauses in the middle of the screen, leans back, and exits the screen during the fade-out.

This ad started a very successful ad campaign for Eveready. The series of ads involved the Bunny intruding on fake commercials for fictitious products such as "Sitagin" (a hemorrhoid ointment that spoofs "Preparation H") and a wine called "Chateau Marmoset." The Bunny also became more boisterous, typically knocking over props, and spinning around once and twirling his drum mallets before exiting the screen.

In late 1990, Coors Light's marketing department decided to give Eveready a taste of its own parodic medicine. Coors' advertising agents had been told to design a set of ads involving Leslie Nielsen, a popular actor who has starred in slapstick movie parodies such as Airplane! and The Naked Gun. The agents designed an ad in which Nielsen would parody the Energizer Bunny. Coors accepted the design, produced the ad, and scheduled it to air in the six weeks immediately before Nielsen's new movie, Naked Gun 2 1/2, was released.

The parody commercial starts with a visual of a beer pouring into a glass with a voice-over accompanied by classical music. The voice and music grind to a halt and Nielsen walks onto the scene, beating a bass drum and wearing white rabbit ears, a fuzzy tail, and pink rabbit feet with a dark business suit. The Coors Light logo is emblazoned on the drum head. After a few beats on the drum, Nielsen spins around several times. And after recovering from an apparent dizzy spell, he says "thank you" and leaves the screen.

Eveready caught wind of the ad before it was sent to the networks and wrote letters to Coors demanding that the commercial not be aired. The two companies met and were unable to resolve their dispute, so Eveready filed suit in an attempt to keep the commercial off the air. The complaint argued that the Coors commercial violated Eveready's copyrights and diluted and infringed on its trademark.

The district court stated that it was obvious that Coors had "copied" something from the Energizer commercials, but pointed out that Eveready had to prove "substantial similarity" between the two ads to win its copyright infringement claim. The court then examined the nature of the Coors commercial. The court cited Tin Pan Alley's precedent that appropriating copyrighted material for a solely commercial use could not constitute protected parody.

The court then refused to follow this precedent on the grounds that although TV ads are designed to sell a product, this does not mean that they are "devoid of any artistic merit or entertainment value." Furthermore, the court pointed out that since the original copyrighted material and the parody were both advertisements, Eveready couldn't argue that its creation deserved especially strong protection. And finally, the court ruled that the Coors ad only used as much of the Energizer commercial as was necessary to make a decent parody of it. District Judge Norgle wrote,

Mr. Nielsen is not a toy (mechanical or otherwise), does not run on batteries, is not fifteen inches tall, is not predominantly pink, . . . . He by no means copies the majority of the Energizer Bunny's "look."

The court consequently ruled that Eveready had not established that Coors had violated its copyright, and then turned to the trademark infringement issue. The court stated that Eveready had to prove that Coors' ad would create confusion among viewers as to which company sponsored the ad. The court pointed out that Eveready's strength in this issue was also its weakness: Eveready had a strong trademark in the Energizer Bunny, so strong in fact that viewers would be unlikely to think the Coors ad was anything but a parody. And, given the commercial power of that trademark, the court did not see how the Coors ad could dilute or erode the mark's strength or distinctiveness.

Given the Energizer ruling, it would seem that advertising parodies would get slightly more First Amendment respect in the courts. But Vanna White v. Samsung Electronics America Inc. (1992) proves that things are not as they seem.

Samsung ran a series of humorous magazine ads set in the near future. These ads poked fun at current pop culture while implying that Samsung's VCRs would be around in the next century.

Samsung's problematic ad was a spoof of the "Wheel of Fortune" game show. The ad portrayed a robot that had been dressed and posed to resemble Vanna White, the show's hostess. White had not been consulted about the ad. She felt that her image had been unfairly used, so she sued Samsung on the grounds that the ad gave a false impression that she endorsed Samsung's VCRs and that the company had unlawfully appropriated her likeness and had violated her common law right to publicity.

One of the defenses that Samsung used was that its "Vanna White" ad was a parody, and as such was expression protected by the First Amendment. The majority of the court agreed that the ad was intended as a spoof, but it felt that the ad might mislead consumers into thinking that White endorsed Samsung's VCRs. Because of this, the fact that the ad was a parody was no defense. "The difference between a 'parody' and a 'knock-off' is the difference between fun and profit," wrote Judge Goodwin.

Judge Alarcon disagreed with this view, however. In his dissent, he stated:

The majority gives Samsung's First Amendment defense short shrift.... The majority's attempt to distinguish this case from Hustler Magazine v. Falwell ... and L.L. Bean v. Drake Publications is unpersuasive. The majority notes that the parodies in those cases were made for the purpose of poking fun ... But they fail to consider that the defendants in those cases were making fun ... for the purely commercial purpose of selling soft core pornographic magazines.

Alarcon also stated that "no reasonable consumer could confuse the robot with Vanna White or believe that ... she endorsed Samsung's product."

In First Amendment protection terms, the White ruling seems to be a throwback to Novak. White shows that advertising parody's status in the courts is still at least partially at the mercy of individual judges' legal interpretations (not unlike many other areas of current communications law). Will advertising parodies ever be given more First Amendment protection? Only future cases will tell.


Eveready Battery Co. v. Adolph Coors Co., 765 F.Supp. 440 (1991).

Hustler Magazine Inc. v. Falwell, 14 Med. L. Rep. (BNA) 2281 (1988).

Langvardt, Arlen W., "Protected Marks and Protected Speech: Establishing the First Amendment Boundaries in Trademark Parody Cases," The Trademark Reporter 82 (September-October 1992): 671-764.

L.L. Bean Inc. v. Drake Publishers Inc., 13 Med. L. Rep. (BNA) 2009 (1987).

Mutual of Omaha Insurance Co. v. Novak, 836 F.2d 397 (1987).

Rodin, Rita A., "Parody Protection Under The Fair Use Doctrine-- The Eveready Standard: It Keeps Going, And Going, And Going..." St. John's Law Review 66 (Fall-Winter 1993): 1169- 1192.

Tin Pan Apple Inc. v. Miller Brewing Co. Inc., 17 Med. L. Rep. (BNA) 2273 (1990).

Vanna White v. Samsung Electronics America Inc., 20 Med. L. Rep. (BNA) 1457 (1992).

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I'm Lucy Snyder. I'm a Worthington, Ohio author and former magazine editor; on this site you'll find my writing as well as features from my husband, novelist Gary A. Braunbeck.

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