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keep-calm-and-sing-christmas-songs-3( Here’s a seasonal flash fiction piece I’m posting here as a gift. Well, it’s either that or a letter from the near future. You decide. )

Invasions come in two speeds: fast and slow. Fast invasions rely on surprise and a massive use of force. Think Normandy or presidential campaigns. Slow invasions rely on stealth and subversion. The opponent doesn’t notice until it’s too late. The Kringles, as I call them, chose the latter approach.

In the halcyon age of my parents’ youth, you didn’t hear “Jingle Bells” or see so much as a strand of tinsel until December 1st. Then it was the day after Thanksgiving, a day ominously dubbed Black Friday. Then it was mid-October while the Halloween rush was still in full swing. Then September right alongside the start of the Halloween season and two decisive fronts emerged. First, national department store chains added dedicated, year-round Christmas sections. Second, dedicated Christmas stores (or, more cleverly, ’boutiques’) popped up both as brick and mortar locations and online. Soon after that, Christmas in July parties became commonplace.

Even those who did notice the expansion of Christmas thought nothing of it. Capitalism had invaded first. Steadily growing revenues and entrepreneurial efforts were to be applauded, not feared. Nobody cared that the popular hues of paint and clothing colors all came from the Christmas palette. Nobody cared that people were humming “Here Comes Santa Claus” in May, in April, in March. Easter fell with little resistance because Christianity had run its course and fruit cake still seemed fresh that early in the year. Valentine’s Day was an even easier conquest because it shared the themes of love and over spending and sweets. It even dressed in red.

The Kringles were patient and devious. It was many years before Santa Claus served as Grand Marshall in the 4th of July parades and longer still before elves wearing red and white camo marched alongside his reindeer driven sleigh on Memorial Day. Thanksgiving, of course, had belonged to them for as long as anyone could remember.

I think the worst of it all, the most terrible thing, is that nobody seems to care. We just change the ornaments on our plastic trees, swap the strings of lights on the shrubs for a different color, and wrap the next round of gifts we can’t afford. We like not having quite so many colors to choose from. (Who has time for dozens of shades of white? Snow is beautiful.) We don’t care that our delivery people all wear pointed hats and shoes. We don’t worry that the most common boys name for years has been Chris and the most common name for girls is Kristine. People say it’s just a trend. But trends don’t last decades.

How did this happen? I think the answer is right there in the lyrics and the stories. We sing our conviction that Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year” and Scrooge inspires us to “try to keep it all the year.” The lights, the parties, the joy, the smiles, the gifts, the food…we adore it all. The Kringles, whoever they really are, planned their campaign well. They found a weakness and exploited it. We handed our lives over without a shot.

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Followers of this blog know what my family and friends do: the Lord of the Rings films are some of my favorites and it is certainly my favorite trilogy of films. (Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is second by a healthy distance.) I had high hopes and expectations for The Hobbit trilogy. Hopes and expectations that had nothing to do with box office performance. I liked the idea of the scripts being developed primarily from Tolkien’s prelude to The Lord of the Rings, but also from the appendices and from lesser known materials with a dash (or three) of original additions. I wanted to see the parts that happen off stage in The Hobbit. I was eager for Jackson & Co’s broader scope approach.

And I was disappointed. So very disappointed. I found last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to be a bloated, poorly paced, and ultimately very pedestrian film. It doesn’t even look as good onscreen as its predecessors, whether it’s the HFR shooting process or the distraction of 3D or the quality of the CGI work or something else. At its worst it is just outright silly and bad. I exited the theater with zero interest in watching it again, much less owning it, and I’m someone who not only owns the prior films, I own the Special Extended Edition of the prior films and house them in a collector’s case.

So it has been with a lot less anticipation that I’ve been waiting for the release date for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug to roll around. I’ve always planned to see it, but I had much lower expectations. Nothing I’d seen in the trailers or the TV spots gave me any reason to think otherwise. If anything, much of what I saw reinforced my assumption that this installment would be just more of the same.

Then I watched this today:

Now…it’s a trailer. Trailers lie. They are something close to an art form unto themselves and sometimes bear only a distant cousin sort of resemblance to the product they are advertising. But at least it feels to me like there’s a story with a bit of depth being told here. The characters have more substance, a whiff of history to them. Fate has come knocking and there are serious choices to be made with equally serious consequences attached.

Damn it. Now I have to worry about being let down again.

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Available now:

Innder Demons Out Front CoverMy story, “Unknown Caller” is available in Anthology Year Two: Inner Demons Out, edited by jOhnny Morse and published by Four Horsemen. The book is stuffed with stories, poems, and art created by attendees of the second AnthoCon conference. Most of us call New England home, but not all. Writers and artists come from across the US, Canada, and Richard Wright came all the way from India in 2012.

Contributors to Inner Demons Out include Michael Bailey, Tracy L. Carbone, Scott Christian Carr, Stacey Longo, Kevin Lucia, Bracken MacLeod, Holly Newstein, K. Allen Wood, Richard Wright, and many, many more.

Available from Amazon.

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MiseryLoves - Small CoverMeanwhile, I have released an eBook edition of my comic/contemporary fantasy story “Misery Loves” through Whistling Kettle Press. The story was first published in Aeon Speculative Fiction and received some kind words.

“Patton makes his fantasy world glimmer…A well-told, unaffected tale…”
– The Fix

You can purchase the eBook edition from these online retailers:

amazon

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MiseryLoves - Small CoverI’m pleased to announce that the second release from Whistling Kettle Press is an eBook edition of my story, “Misery Loves.” When Misery’s roof is damaged by a storm she is forced to seek help from her unusual neighbors. Honesty advises her to approach the person she understands the least – Love.

“Patton makes his fantasy world glimmer…A well-told, unaffected tale…” – The Fix

“Misery Loves” is available for most reading devices. You can purchase it on Amazon or directly from Whistling Kettle Press via PayPal. More locations coming soon.

A bit of background. The story was originally published in Aeon Speculative Fiction #13 and is one of my personal favorites. It’s funny (sez me). It’s quirky (sez me). It’s quite different from most of my work. It was also a pure spontaneous joy to write.

I think most stories are labors of love with the emphasis on labor. Writers write because we must  and sometimes the work is painful and slow. But every once in a while a story comes along that reminds the writer that they are merely a conduit, a vessel, a voice for something greater and only partly understood. The story pours through them and out into our world. So it was for me with this tale. As I wrote in the introduction:

This story surprised me first by ambushing me, the first lines popping into my head from wherever they had been before. I had an immediate image of what Misery looked and sounded like. The fun, and the surprise, came from going along with her as she sought help from her unusual neighbors.

I’m delighted to have had the chance to work with Bridget McKenna at Zone1Design on this edition. She did great work designing the cover and interior art, formatting the layout, producing the final files and, most importantly, listening to my many comments, questions, and ideas. She cared about the story and how the final product served it. I would happily work with her again.

I hope you enjoy the eBook edition of “Misery Loves.”

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TheMostInterestingManInTheWorld_1426I often drink beer…but when I do I don’t prefer Dos Equis. That said, I like the whole “Most Interesting Man in the World” ad campaign. I heard the current Halloween ad in the car yesterday and thought it was pretty funny. Can’t seem to find a video or audio file of it on short notice, so here is the script that precedes the standard ending. Stay thirsty my friends.

Even out of costume, he’s still the most mysterious person at the masquerade ball.
He has successfully grown candy corn.
His scarecrow also works on tax collectors and traveling salesmen.
The last time he bobbed for apples, he got a three pound lobster.
He can also scare the pants back on to you.
When he watches the cauldron, it boils faster.
His tricks are also treats.

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I’m having a fairly normal year for me, writing wise. In January, I was bursting with creativity and words were flying out of my fingers. I wrote more in a month than I did in half of 2012. Then February came. Illness and school vacation and competing agendas slowed my creative engine to a sputter. But then March arrived with improved health and a couple of submission deadlines I wanted to meet. End result: a second good month where I met all of my goals. And then….

Right. April has been lousy so far. For two weeks I was hopelessly sidetracked by a marketing project for my church. It’s good work to do, but it consumed far more of my time and spirit than I had anticipated. Add in the Little League season starting up along with a couple of projects for the school my sons attend and I’ve been getting almost nothing done on the writing front. (Including posting here. Twitter, by design, is easier to keep going even when busy.)

But April isn’t over. Heck, there’s more than half to go. So, I’ve plenty of time to restore order and regenerate momentum.

I just wish I was wired a little differently. I wish I had enough endurance and could parse my brain space sufficiently to do it all. And sometimes I have the demoralizing sensation that if I just did less for other people, I’d be a more accomplished and successful writer. Lots of great artists are renowned for their selfishness and/or chemical dependencies. So, maybe if I turned my back on my family and became an alcoholic….

But that’s not me. And most of the time I love doing all of the volunteer projects and other work that I do. I certainly don’t know how to parent any differently. I have always poured massive amounts of time into being a dad. The results of my approach are pretty darn good, as the most recent set of parent/teacher conferences reaffirmed this week. (And, yes, I know I’m not solely responsible by any stretch, but I like to think I have something to do with their development.)

So what I’m left with is a writing life that takes place in fits and spurts, ebbs and flows. The rest of the time I’m busy with other parts of my life, all of which informs my writing in the end. And the artist in me always reasserts itself. That’s how I started this journey to begin with. I hadn’t written fiction for years until I woke up one day and had to and wrote what became my first published story. Having figured out that I am an artist and that writing is my primary form of expression, I know what’s wrong when I am busy for too long with other things and start to get bitter and depressed. I’m not taking care of myself. I’m not feeding the artist.

My family and I are traveling to Tucson to visit one of my sister-in-laws for a week. I’m leaving behind church marketing and youth baseball and Scouting and school art projects and the rest. But I am bringing my journal and my pens and my Kindle.

Time to feed the artist.

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I had never watched Doctor Who before last fall. Lately we’re spending our scattered bits of television viewing time watching nothing else. I’m firmly a fan and just dropped a Doctor Who reference into the story I’m working on. Ran across this video by Greg Kumparak, who used to be the mobile editor at TechCrunch. He just up and made a TARDIS model from scratch one day. Looks pretty good. Certainly better than anything I could do. I’ve never been any good at building models. But then he decided it needed to be cooler and…wow. Take a look. “What?” “Brilliant.”

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