Welcome to the world of Brian Koscienski and Chris Pisano

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Just the Good Ol’ Boys

Wow! It has been way too long since our last post! Well, we’re pretty sure that we’re not the only ones affected by the circumstances of the world. Speaking of the circumstances happening within the world … for some reason we thought about a story that we had written many, many years ago which ended up being published in Issue #3 of Encounters Magazine back in 2010. Encounters was a beautiful magazine – perfect bound, 8”x10”, and filled with well over 100 pages of speculative fiction short stories. Alas, Encounters no longer exists, having gone the way of so many print magazines. Since it has been so long since the story in question had seen the light of day and it may or may not look sideways at the apocalypse, we decided to share it with this post. We hope you enjoy!


Just the Good Ol’ Boys

Brian Koscienski & Chris Pisano


             Michael hated this assignment. He hated the walking, but that limitation was part of the assignment. As well as dressing his best, but that he did not mind. Grousing as he walked, he stepped with precision in an attempt to keep the filth of the dirt road from marring the sheen of his black shoes. Every minute or so he ran his right hand over his suit jacket to shoo away potential wrinkles, his left hand gripping an attaché. Despite his professional attire, he refused to keep his hair short, his flaxen locks glowed from the noon sun while his ponytail reached the middle of his back.

            The road snaked through the forest, wide enough to keep the treetops from forming a canopy, and led to a cabin as dirty as the road. Around the ramshackle structure lay accoutrements once meaningful, but now rusted and useless: a dilapidated push mower sans engine, a refrigerator with no door on the crusty hinges, a couch with springs poking from the seat like the hairs of a dying man’s head. Michael noticed a primer gray car as well, but cared very little if it worked or not. He had no affinity for vehicles either.

            But there was one useful piece of furniture outside the cabin – a picnic table – and seated on its bench was a bald man, neck as thick as a leg, with muscular arms powering out of a sleeveless flannel shirt. Tattoos of religious symbols:  crosses, stars (five-pointed, six-pointed, nine-pointed), an ichthys, a kalmia, an omkar, an ankh, a triskele, a menorah, a khanda, and other symbols of luck and blessing, covered his arms. This monster of a man was one of the individuals Michael needed to see.

            Michael approached the picnic table, trying not to think about how crunching through the leaves and twigs scuffed his shoes. The man at the table stared at a little brown cup next to a large brown jug. The veins in his scalp seemed to push his forehead downward, a scowl that cut ravines into his face, ruddy from ire. Hand quivering, he reached for the cup and lifted it only a few inches. The trembling spread through his entire arm, the shaking forced him to yield and place the cup back on the picnic table. Michael wondered how an arm large enough to throw a person could not lift a tiny cup. Then the scowling hulk looked up. And smiled. “Never thought I’d be happy to see you, Michael. Looks like you can help me out here.”

            “Greetings, Warren. Should we—” Michael cut himself short due to the shotgun pointing at him.

            “Drink what’s in the cup,” Warren said, his voice deep and aggressive, his finger on the trigger.

            Michael sighed and rolled his eyes. “Warren—”

            “Oh, high and mighty Michael, you know I ain’t got no qualms ‘bout pullin’ the trigger. And it ain’t gonna be pleasant. Now drink.”

            Sighing again, Michael placed his attaché on the table then ran both hands over his suit jacket. With great trepidation, he reached for the cup and brought it to his lips. Pausing, he inhaled, trying to determine the concoction. Alcohol wafted through his nostrils and he smiled, remembering the immaturity of the cabin’s inhabitants. Throwing his head back, he swallowed the liquid in one gulp. He wanted to die, even though that was an impossibility.

            A conflagration exploded within him as his ivory wings burst from his back, tearing his suit jacket to shreds. The bind that held his ponytail snapped, his hair frizzing, struck by invisible lightning. Tears mixed with sweat as Michael fought with gravity to remain standing all the while screaming, “OH GOD!”

            Warren howled with laughter. By the time he calmed himself Michael finished gesticulating. Stray feathers floated from his still twitching wings.  His shirt and tie remained on his body, but sweat discolored the whiteness of his shirt. Still trying to catch his breath, he panted, “What … was … that?”

            “Just a batch of moonshine we whipped up. Here, my turn,” Warren said as he handed the shotgun to Michael.

            “What?” Michael asked.

            “I ain’t gonna drink it unless I gotta. And what’s in that gun is special. Can hurt angels like you and creatures like me. Now point it at me!”

            Raising the gun at Warren, Michael contemplated pulling the trigger no matter what happened. But the large man poured a splash of moonshine from the jug into the cup and slugged it back. He clenched his meaty fists and held his breath, his skin reddening past the point of burgundy. Veins rippled their way across his muscles. Even his tattoos looked ready to peel from his skin. With one eruption of fury, Warren let loose a roar that rumbled the ground and shook the forest. Branches and leaves rained about the cabin.

            Panting, Warren wiped away a tear and laughed. “Now, that’s some good stuff! Roscoe sure knows what he’s doin’!”

            As if scripted, the cabin door opened and two scruffy men meandered out, hooting and cheering. One man, sickly and gaunt except for a bulbous bulge from his midsection that looked more like a boil ready for popping than a belly, sidled up to the picnic table and plopped down next to Warren. “Good stuff in there, yeah?”

            “Damn, Roscoe!” Warren yelled, still chuckling. “You sure got a way with the hooch!”

            “Second favorite thing I invented. After these bad boys, of course,” Roscoe cackled, pointing to his trucker cap that displayed a logo of a cigarette company, and tugged at his ratty tee shirt, adorned by an advertisement for another cigarette company. His teeth yellow and brown, his gums blood red with hints of pus.

            Michael grimaced at the man’s visage and sat down on the picnic table’s other bench. Fetching his attaché, he procured a pencil and notepad from it. Old fashioned, but he felt more comfortable with these means than any other technology throughout the years. “Sure are proud of yourself, Roscoe.”

            “Ehhhh. Those ain’t the true disease, though.”

            “No?” Michael asked.

            “Neh. The pestilence is from within. In a man’s heart, his soul. Make him do all kiiiiiiiiiiiinds of crazy things.”

            “You had nothing to do with that?”

            “Nope. Most I can do is toss a couple germs about. Science kills half and ‘education’ prevents the spread of the other half.”

            “So, what about the pestilence from within?”

            “That? That’s what man is born with, Michael. Addiction. They all got it. A few can control it. But they allllllllllllllll got it!” Roscoe cackled again. “The best part is if they ain’t addicted to what I got, then they addicted to what Enos got!”

            Michael frowned. He turned to Enos and did a double take. Every one hundred years Michael performed this visit and took notes from these interviews. When the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, Enos was the skinniest of the bunch, but now … “Enos? You’re … you’re … fat?”

            Sitting on the couch, bowing it in center from the prodigious girth, Enos smiled. His thick lips were shimmering from the grease of the fast-food burgers piled on the plate he held. The stained tee shirt, advertising the very burgers he ate, did nothing to stop his imperialistic belly from hiding his lap. Ham hands and sausage fingers picked a burger from the pile and he unwrapped it. His chuckle resembled a gurgle as he said, “Yep.”

            “But … but … you’re … you…”

            “Ain’t like the ol’ days, Michael,” Enos said in between bites of his burger. “New kinda famine.”

            “How? You’re … I’m sorry, Enos, but you’re the opposite of ‘famine’ now.”

            “Just ‘cause I’s fat? You thinkin’ too old, Michael.”

            Michael slapped his pencil down from frustration. He crossed his arms and frowned. Even his wings angled forward. “Oh, this has to be good. Please enlighten me.”

            “Famine don’t mean ‘no food’ no more. It mean ‘no nourishment.’ It mean ‘always hungry,’ Michael.”

            Michael leaned forward a bit, now interested in what the obese man had to say. “Go on.”

            Enos slurped the grease from his fingers and grabbed another burger from the pile. Holding it in his bloated palm, he showed it to Michael. “This ain’t go no nutrition. Got nuthin’ good for the body. No vitamins. Processed wheat, processed meat. Man killed whatever was good in the pieces parts to make these here burgers. You eat these and you belly fill. But you body starvin’!”

            His brows knitting, Michael leaned back. “Now wait a minute, Enos—”

            “And then you belly never full! You eat these, and you never satisfied. You eat more, ‘cause you need more.”

            Roscoe cackled again. “Ain’t that a hoot, Michael? In the old days, man was scared that one of us would come along and then be followed by the other one of us. We thought that too! But man, he’s combined us! He now got an addiction to neeeeeeeever being satisfied.”

            “Man outsmart ol’ Enos. I always thought to take food from man. Ha! To make man hunger, I shoulda give him more food!”

            “Don’t you know it!” Roscoe howled. “Mosta the diseases man gets, he gets from food – ‘cause he wants mooooooooooore food and he tries to grow in places it shouldn’t! Swine Flu! Mad Cow! Great stuff!”

            Michael stared, trying to take in what he just heard. “You two are trying to tell me you had nothing to do with that?”

            “Nope,” Roscoe and Enos said in unison.

            Skeptical, Michael continued with his interview, and asked Warren. “How about you? Those tattoos are new. Religious symbols? Doesn’t seem your style?”

            Warren grinned and leaned back, crossing his arms in front of his chest, flexing to show off the topic of conversation. “Yeah? Why not?”

            Michael snorted and shook his head, amazed at the gall. “Well … how about most of them promote peace?”

            Warren laughed, shaking the whole picnic table. “They can promote all they want, but the only thing they’re good for is what I promote. I’m their biggest fan.”

            “Warren, that’s—”

            “Frighteningly accurate? Think about it. Name one recent war that wasn’t about religion?”

            “That’s ridiculous. Just recently—”

            “It’s not about territory or freedom or resources like the old days. Just recently the good ol’ U. S. of A. went over to the Middle East. And ‘won.’ Did they take territory? No. They didn’t even take the resources that they said they were gonna take.”

            Michael frowned. “Are you saying that you had nothing to do with any of these recent wars?”

            Warren laughed again. “I love startin’ me a good war. I really do, but I never thought to start one by sayin’, ‘My peace lovin’ god is better than your peace lovin’ god.’ That’s just brilliant!”

            “I’m not buying any of this from you three. Where’s Dean?”

            On cue, the cabin door opened again, giving way to a thin, pale figure wearing a faded overalls over a faded tee shirt and a faded trucker cap. “Hey, Michael.”

            “Dean,” Michael moaned his salutation.

            Dean strode from the door, carrying a six-pack of beer. He moved like a ghost through a graveyard on his way to the picnic table and tossed a can to each of his friends. With one final saunter he sat directly across from Michael. “What are you doing here Michael?”

            “The same thing I do every one hundred years. I’m sent to check up on you four. Make sure you’re behaving yourselves until the appropriate time.”

            Dean sipped his beer and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “We been. Nuthin’ more wild than making moonshine.”

            “I don’t believe you, Dean. Especially with your likes. Both Heaven and Hell have been getting more souls the past hundred years.”

            A raspy chuckle. A sip of beer. “The average life span of man increased by more than a decade between the turn of last century and the turn of this century. Technologies have been growing by leaps and bounds. Longer lives. Greater prosperity. More and more people on this planet means more and more souls. More lives means more deaths.”

            “How convenient.”

            “Michael, Michael, Michael. Man is very convenient. The four of us were chompin’ at the bit the moment these monkeys became ‘man’ to get a piece of them. To inflict our ways on them. Little did we know all we hadda do was be patient. They say they fear us, but their actions say they love us!”

            “I don’t believe this.”

            Another swig of beer. “Look around, Michael. Do you see the steeds?”

            Not noticing until now, Michael took a moment to peek around. No steeds. Setting his jaw firm, he looked back to Dean. “No.”

            “Don’t you find it odd that the Four Horseman don’t have horses?”

            Wings twitching, Michael steeled his gaze at Dean.

            Dean continued, “We let them go. We hadn’t needed them for ‘bout fifty years now. We fire up that car now and again to go to town for supplies. That’s it. We’re just good ol’ boys now. You can protect man from us, Michael, but you can’t protect man from man.”

            Frustrated, Michael slouched and ran his hands through his hair, searching for answers. Realizing one thing, he sat back up and sighed. “Well, there’s still one saving grace.”

            Dean smirked, taking a slow drag from his beer while glancing at his comrades. Turning back to Michael, he asked, “What’s that?”

            “The mark of the Beast.”

            Chuckling, Dean replied, “Come again?”

            “The End of Days. There will be no End of Days until the Mark of the Beast is on everything.”

            Laughing, Dean turned his beer can to show Michael the bar code. Warren, Roscoe and Enos followed suit, displaying the bar codes.

            Jaw dropped, Michael could only whisper, “The Mark of the Beast?”

            Dean answered, “Ain’t many products left without it. How long before man puts it on himself?”

            “No,” Michael mumbled, dejected. Even his wings sagged. “It’s not time for the Apocalypse to come.”

            “The Apocalypse ain’t comin’, Michael.” Dean’s voice hollowed, an icy breeze across a tombstone. “It’s already here.”

            Michael sat for minutes, unable to move, processing all he had heard. Finally he sat straight, fluttered his wings, and ran his hands over his shirt in an attempt to smooth the wrinkles. Once satisfied, he reached for the jug, filled the cup and threw back a swig….


Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Deconstructing the Novel, Part 4 – Fearful Symmetry


“So, where do we go from here?”

That was what Chris and I said to each other, probably at the same time, probably at a bar, when we sat down to talk about Fearful Symmetry, book 2 of the “Shattered World” series. Okay, it was very likely we said it at the same time, because the person who asks the question first doesn’t have to bear the burden of answering it, and we were most definitely at a bar, because that’s where we do our best thinking. Yes, I said thinking. The good news is we already had a bit of a blue print going into this. Believe it or not, we planned ahead while we were working on book 1, The Shattered Visage Lies.

Chris and I knew we wanted this to be a book series. Waking up with super powers is something that should be explored in depth. Comic books have been exploring super powers for over eight decades now, and we wanted to spend more time than just one book looking at what regular people would do if they were gifted these extraordinary abilities. Book 1 was a journey of discovery where we looked at a diverse group of people with different backgrounds at various stages in their lives. We wanted to factor in different religious beliefs and socioeconomic lifestyles and how those forces would impact an individual’s motivations. Without creating too many spoilers, we came to the conclusion that people would use these abilities to be self-serving. We’re not saying that everyone would be selfish, and we certainly know that there are many selfless people willing to risk their lives for others on a regular basis, but we believe there are very few people who would immediately change their morality or emotional status quo if they were suddenly bequeathed with superhuman abilities. Yes, people change, but that usually happens at a much slower pace, and that was how we wanted to handle things with book 2.

All too often, stories rush to get to a certain point and sometimes that point gets lost along the way. I’ve discussed how this happens in comic books “back in the day” when there was a new villain every month, one whose origin story takes place within one page. The hero didn’t care about the villain’s motivations, because they were never really fleshed out. Instead, it was just a different super power that the hero had to overcome. The hero was the focus of the story and the villain was just a conduit to get to the hero. The downside to that is desensitization. The hero experiences the same two-dimensional villain over and over again. We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen in “The Shattered World” series. Some of the super powers our characters have may be powers that other characters from comic books, television, and movies have, but we wanted to make sure we explored how our characters perceive these abilities, what they do with them, and how their lives change as a result.

With Fearful Symmetry, we wanted to take our time to really examine the toll these abilities would take on people. Not just the powers, but the experiences the characters had to go through. In The Shattered Visage Lies, we sent our characters on some pretty wild adventures to gain the knowledge of how they got these abilities. Many of them kept secrets, some even had to lie, and a few had to make substantial sacrifices. In Fearful Symmetry we wanted to explore the consequences of those secrets and lies, especially when those characters unravel the secrets of others. Don’t forget, if you’re keeping secrets and telling lies to other, then others are probably keeping secrets and telling lies to you.

In an effort to really maintain the “start small and then expand” idea throughout the series, we set book 1 in Pennsylvania. Even if the reader doesn’t know that it’s 5-6 hours of driving time from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, they will at least recognize that all of the settings are within the same state and, relatively speaking, close to each other. In book 2, we start to expand from that, taking our characters out of state, having them question how truly big of an area is affected by what’s happening, and wonder how many people have these new, powerful abilities. Another way we wanted to tackle the idea of growing from a single point is with our “big bad” of book 2, Ethan. With him we … You know what? Let’s talk about him later….


            One of the things that Brian and I agreed on early in the planning stages of the book was that we wanted this to book to be a horror novel. From that starting point we began to truly delve into the realm of horror and examine some of the key elements of the genre, some of which are rather subjective, so we both sat and thought about what horror really meant to both of us. While my mind often touches on Lovecraftian ideas at times like these, I was reminded of something far more unsettling than fantastic places and alien forces – reality. In college I read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and have often thought of a singular phrase from that book: man’s inhumanity to man. Over the years I have revisited that phrase many times and it has led me to explore works by Robert Burns and Samuel von Pufendorf. The more that Brian and I discussed the notes that I had written about these pieces the more excited we got about trying to incorporate them into the novel.
            Man’s inhumanity to man infests every period in history and manifests itself in so many ways and we wanted to try to incorporate the notion in several ways. The easiest and most recognizable form is violence. I’m not much of one for spoilers, but I don’t think there is any damage done by me saying that this is a book of violence. And why not? It’s easy to work with. It’s as real as every day. It’s identifiable. And quite frankly, when people want to be seen as powerful it seems to come quite naturally.
            Greed and obsession also come to mind. Manipulation and control. Excess and denial. All of these can be exploited for the background that Brian and I were looking to create. And all of them followed with our desire to create horror through man’s inhumanity to man, sometimes these kinds of thoughts don’t even start out as intentionally cruel, but observation of the cause and effect leads one to realize just how devastating the effects can be. Perfectly horrory.
            And then there’s fear – always unreasonable and irrational, a voice whispering words of doubt and insecurity. For instance, there’s the fear of change. Sometimes it’s mild and we simply ignore any possible benefits that might come our way, because we are secure in doing what we know. Sometimes it’s much more self-destructive. And the fear of losing comfort. We take for granted our convenience and our technology. But how irritating and unnerving it is to go back to doing things the old fashioned way or the absolute umbrage of being denied comfortable shoes, running water, premade meals … things that are small and inconsequential, perhaps, but things that we have enjoyed for so long that we take for granted their availability. Now perhaps neither of those two fears lead directly to doling out misery upon others, but fear is a powerful motivator and it often leads to anger – the key ingredients to brew up a powerfully horrific concoction. Until next time…

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Deconstructing the Stories, Part 6


People often ask us if there is anything autobiographical in the Drunk Comic Book Monkey series. The answer is absolutely yes. After all, the series is a collection of short stories where Chris and I are the main characters, so it stands to reason that there would be plenty of experiences to draw from. Now, some of what we’ve experienced in the books, aside from going toe-to-toe with monsters and aliens, happened to us only in the fictional world, such as waking up in a Tijuana jail cell, waking up in a Canadian jail cell, waking up on a deserted beach, but we’ve sprinkled some bits of real life throughout. One story that comes to mind is “The Day the Drunken Comic Book Monkeys Stood Still” in The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Sciencey Tales of Science Fiction. 

In this story, Chris and I are the ambassadors for Earth. Yep. You read correctly. He and I represent Earth and all the people on it to a techno logically advanced alien race. As with most situations in our lives (both real and fictional) we just happen to stumble upon the roles the way most individuals step on sidewalk gum during a hundred degree day. The results are about the same, too, being sticky and unwelcomed. As the title implies, the story is a spoof of The Day the Earth Stood Still, including large, unstoppable alien robot. The aforementioned large, unstoppable alien robot is called down from the celestial heavens because Chris and I accidentally sidestepped yet another of Jeff’s attempts to kill us. The alien being wonders if he should annihilate Earth, and thusly uses Chris and me and measuring sticks for all of humanity. Obviously, Chris and I decide to show the alien the best humanity has to offer, so we take him to Las Vegas.

This story contains the most autobiographical material. The first, and most obvious, is that Jeff is way cooler than we are. We have a great deal of respect for him and a super great deal of fear of him, as mentioned repeatedly throughout the story. The next snippet that we’ve included from real life is Chris’s inability to consume an Irish Car Bomb (the adult beverage) without creating a sloppy disaster. Yes, I have literally seen remnants drip from his forehead after placing the empty glass on the bar top. More than once. Finally, this one should surprise no one, we have offended strippers. Again, by pure accident. Much like the story, we went to a club and we knew very well that we simply should not interact with the outside world or any of its denizens, but we just couldn’t help ourselves. Conversations were started and then somewhere along the way, we spoke and soured the mood. That’s our mutant super power – souring the mood through discourse. Now, we have yet to place the entire planet in peril by interacting with any lifeforms from outer space. That is pure fiction. Should there ever … oh, hey! Look at those blinking lights in the sky…

… Sorry. Just a firefly. Where was I? Oh, yes, I remember now. Another story that has quite a bit of autobiographical influence is “Jeff vs. The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys and Their Clones and the Alternate Universe Drunken Comic Book Monkeys with Little to No Help from Drunkenstein.” Just from seeing how needlessly long the title is, one could assume some real life spilled into this fiction. Throughout the book other versions of us pop up. We are cloned. Alternate dimension versions of us find their way into this world. And Jeff is stuck taking all six Drunken Comic Book Monkeys through a fast food drive thru. Hijinks ensue. Although there isn’t one specific thing that happened in the story that came from the real world, some of the arguments between the multiple Brians and the many Chrises are pretty spot on to actual discussions we’ve had. And, on more than one occasion, Jeff has taken toys from us because we were annoying him.


            Drunken Comic Book Monkeys? Never heard of them. And I never drank anything alcoholic during the making of any stories. And I’m not drinking anything alcoholic right now. But if I had an alter ego, he might be writing me into a story at this very moment and that could lead to some pretty heavy alcoholic consumption, so here we are.
            In terms of The Drunken Comic Book Monkey stories, one of the things that Brian and I tried to do, in very different fashions, is maintain some sort of link to the original, beautiful stories that we went on to ruin. Oh, you certainly have some stories that are simply trope concerned, such as Vampires and Drunkenstein where we used some very familiar aspects of wonderful novels, because, well, short stories are, in fact, short. One doesn’t have a great deal of space to flesh out a detailed background, so we chose stories that mean a great deal to us, personally, but are also literary classics so that readers would already have a good sense of the background details. It’s for certain that we sullied both Dracula and Frankenstein with our efforts, but both are examples of us having fun touching something that clearly should have been off limits to us. Fortunately, we recognize no such barriers as “good taste.”
            Another good example of the trope methodically destroyed was “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs. Werewolves.” It’s a much less well known example of literary goodness, not to mention, a much less wordy example than Dracula or Frankenstein, but I have always found it to be constructed with equal care. Brian and I attempting to become werewolves ourselves goes against the very principle of every other take on the subject with which I am familiar, so, of course, that’s exactly what we had to do. And that led to some very interesting characterization (or is it technically half characterization and half personification?) of the main baddies. I still chuckle a little bit (when no one is listening, of course) when I read the story.
            On the other end of the spectrum, though, are the stories where we tried to contain our mayhem within the confines of the original masterpiece. For example, the original Wendigo story in Scary Tales of Scariness was an attempt to pay homage to the story by Algernon Blackwood, containing several of the same themes and elements found therein. “The Island of Dr. Merlot” from Sciency Tales of Science Fiction also uses this same idea to some extent, except that the good doctor has no interest in vivisection, but instead focuses on viticulture. And in the story of “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs the Moon” one may find some similarity of theme and setting to Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Brian and I found it to be a great organizational tool, as well as providing us with the opportunity to write in a slightly different voice by using the classics in this fashion versus just playing with the tropes a little bit.
            Oh, wait … a knock on the door … hello? No! I said “playing with the tropes!” Yes, we put them back when we were done! Excuse me … this could get messy …

Follow us on social media: 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Deconstructing the Sci-Fi Novel, Part 1 – The Biggest Bounty


Have you read The Biggest Bounty yet? If you would like to, you can grab a copy via this link here and then the rest of the blog entry will make sense. Now that you’ve read it I’m sure you noticed that it’s a swashbuckling science fiction with action, adventure, intrigue, milk, and a little bit of comedy thrown in for good measure. This is book 1 of the “Zeus and the Pink Flower” saga where the two protagonists had just recently met and started working together. Chris and I wanted to start at the beginning and follow these two throughout their careers. As such, there were two things he and I wanted to touch upon with this book.

One thing that always makes me roll my eyes is the “I know a guy” story-telling device. This plot device transcends genre, and can be found in television, movies, books, plays, comic books, and haiku. The protagonist has a minor mystery that needs to be solved to help further him or her along with the larger mystery. This minor mystery is solved by going to a character never mentioned before and then never mentioned again. I think what aggravates me the most about this device is how these characters know each other. Let’s say Character Protagonist has an item that he knows nothing about, so he takes it to I-Know-A-Guy for information about it. This kind of implies that two characters have different backgrounds, because if they had similar backgrounds then Character Protagonist would have a pretty good idea of what the item in question is. That also implies that I-Know-A-Guy has a different background than everyone in the supporting cast around Character Protagonist, or else one of the supporting characters would know what the item is. The story has now introduced another mystery of how Character Protagonist knows I-Know-A-Guy, a character with a completely different background than Character Protagonist and the supporting characters. They obviously have a past together, but something must have happened or else I-Know-A-Guy would be a member of the supporting cast. Suddenly, I find myself wanting to know that story far more than the story that has been presented to me. With the “Zeus and the Pink Flower” saga, Chris and I wanted to start at the beginning with Zeus and Fiore so we can tell the stories of how they met these helpful I-Know-A-Guys when they meet them later on as well as follow our protagonists through a much bigger story.

Over explaining. I just finished reading a techno-thriller about a virus capable of rewriting the genetic code of men. The author spent waaaaay too long explaining how viruses work, how those who study viruses work with them, and how his theories could work in the real world. It was so much information. I was born right around the Age of Aquarius and spent all of my teen years in the 80s with a remote control in my hand and a love of microwaves – instant gratification isn’t fast enough. I appreciated that the author had clearly done his homework, but with so many info dumps, I found it very easy to put the book down. I’m not saying that I would have been satisfied with a technowizard waving a magic keyboard and saying, “Because science,” as the only form of explanation, but I thought that over explaining was detrimental to the overall work. For The Biggest Bounty, Chris and I used technologies that we’ve all seen plenty of times before so we didn’t have to explain anything, let alone over explain. None of our technologies are new. We have laser guns and cybernetic body parts and handheld computers and jump-ports and flying cars. We know that science is an integral part of science-fiction, but we just didn’t want it to get in the way of the story.


So, have we established that you have read The Biggest Bounty yet? The book was something of a departure from the comfortable feel of writing fantasy or horror for us. Clearly, this is not hard science fiction (quite on purpose). There’s often a clunkiness involved with starting a new project. It sets in somewhere between the half-conceived plot of the story and the outlining of the chapters. Brian and I were both nervous about the project, but decided that we wanted to push ourselves. Ultimately, we opted to add some swashbuckling to our science fiction, some humor to our seriousness, and some current world issues to our off-world adventure. And we can state our reasons in one word: familiarity.

We decided to add in elements with which we were familiar. Sure, it resulted in a hybrid genre of sorts, but our goal was to come up with something entertaining, not something that adhered to the rules … except that we both know one big detraction from a science fiction story, whether it’s hard science fiction or not – the writer may not know the science involved in a daring getaway or how to apply the Pythogorean Theorem to an alien spaceship for the purpose of maximum propulsion, but there’s always at least one reader who does! Moreover, there’s always at least one reader who knows the scientific failure and is more than willing to share it with thousands (ok! Since you are that reader with a mathematically gifted background, then read that word as “dozens”) of other readers. That is the imaginary line that neither Brian, nor I, wanted to cross. We both knew that no matter where this adventure took place and no matter where our characters roamed, it wasn’t going to happen because of our poorly constructed theory or space travel or time continuums or anything else of that nature. Simple. Straight forward. Easy does it. Like flipping a page. Until you get to The End…

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Deconstructing the Anthology, Part 1 – TV Gods


“Are we sure we want to do this?” I asked.

Chris exhaled, slowly trying to blow doubt and insecurity out of his body. His eyes shimmered with the start of tears. “I think so?”

“Oh… oh, God… no…,” Christine muttered, realization crawling up her spine like ants.

“What are we talking about?” Jeff asked.

“Jeff, run. Run, run now, run fast, Jeff, just run,” Christine whispered.

Knowing Christine well enough, Jeff heeded her warning without question. He jumped from the couch, knocking the tray table over, and stepped on the cat’s tail as he sprinted for the door. Fingertips fractions of an inch from the doorknob, Chris and I thwarted his escape by yelling in unison, “We’re going to publish an anthology and you’re going to be the editor!!”

Jeff fell to the floor and writhed, screaming, “It burns! IT BURNS!”

“Are we sure we’re ready for this next step?” I asked.

“Well, we’ve published one anthology already, as well as three story collections, and dozens of magazines,” Chris answered. “It’s the next logical step.”


“So, what’s the anthology going to be?” Christine asked.


I shrugged my shoulders. “How about we call it ‘TV Gods’? We’ll ask the writers to take their favorite TV shows and their favorite mythologies and mash them together.”

“BURNING ME! IT BURRRRRR… wait… that’s not a bad idea,” Jeff replied as he sat up and grabbed his mead, the aloe rub for his soul. “I think I even have a story idea already.”

Thus, TV Gods was born. The reality of how it came to be was not all that far off from the above anecdote. As we had mentioned in previous blogs, the “Drunken Comic Book Monkeys” series was an experiment. We wanted to see what it took to publish a book; a full, perfect bound, trade paperback sized book with stories and illustrations. And we did it. It was not without its pains, but we did it and it was fairly successful. People we didn’t know purchased it and liked it. It ended up on the shelves of a few book stores. Everyone involved was very proud of the finished product. So, after about ten years of being a publishing company, we decided to take a more hands-on approach to publishing an anthology where there would be more writers involved than just Chris and me. And through divine intervention, we procured a wonderful editor almost immediately. We were all but finished! Okay, maybe it wasn’t that easy….


Fortress Publishing Inc. events are pretty simple, by and large. For instance, one of us states that a day off work is approaching and asks if there is interest in going to the lunch buffet until we are asked to leave. All hands raise in lieu of a more formal RSVP and we’re done. That’s how stories get done. But an anthology? Well suddenly it goes from “Dude, are you free on Friday?” to “Contact fifteen to twenty of your closest work associates.” Now it’s more like a daunting task. Where to begin?

Fortunately, Brian and I are quasi-likeable guys. More fortunately, we’ve been invited to participate in anthologies as contributors. First step: pull out copies of those anthologies. We learned a great deal by looking through those books, from formatting to layout to estimated page counts.

We had so much fun working with Danielle McPhail and her editorial team on the “Bad Ass Faeries” anthologies. Flipping through the pages of the actual book was a bit of a trip down memory lane for us. Brian and I have our own series of editorial steps that we use when we are working on a story, but we were able to add our experience of having gone through the editorial process that they used for “Bad Ass Faeries.” Big bonus.

More recently, Brian and I had also been in the anthology, Coven, edited by Andi O’Connor. Again, it was a completely different process, including a virtual chat room that was set up for the day of the book release. Contributors could check into the “room” and answer questions posed by potential readers. We had a great deal of fun with that as well.

Now where to find contributors. Well, we had a good beginning spot by looking through the table of contents for “Bad Ass Faeries” and Coven as well as other anthologies that we’ve been in. But, over the years, Brian and I have done a fair number of public appearances and conventions. If we could bide our time, we reasoned, we’d be seeing some likely candidates and decided that we could corner a few of the less intimidating ones in the hallways or at a convention table. There was also our most valuable resource: the bar! Brian and I have been known to hang out there for extended periods of time in order to change a non-committal answer into “Yes, if it will make you leave!”

But what to do with the more intimidating folks? Hmmmm. We went to our usual thinking place. We did our usual thinking tasks. We ate pizza rolls by the box. We drank beer by the pitcher. And then it came to us like a power surge on an otherwise dreary day: Jeff! We’d get Jeff to do it!!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Journey: Struggle

In our previous installment of The Journey, we learned about different business types. We also learned that the world loves it when Brian gets laryngitis. Let’s see what else we can learn when it finally comes time to form the business….

The Journey

With most endeavors in life, there are two ways you can do things – either the cheap and difficult way or the expensive and easy way. Walking to work is very very cheap, but probably not the easiest thing to do. Driving to work will save your sanity, but cost your wallet dearly. Starting a corporation is no different. Since both Chris and I are college graduates and my alter ego is an accountant (my superhero identity, of course, being “Sasquatch: Devourer of Mass Quantities of Food!”), we thought we could take the cheaper way to start a corporation. We’re no strangers to research and/or a little hard work, and I don’t seem to have the same phobia as most of society toward paper work (another super power, perhaps?), so we decided to roll up our sleeves, show some American spirit, and do it ourselves! Well, it was a good idea at least.

The biggest problem we faced was where to begin. We were ready to fill out any and every form we could find. But which ones? And in what order? Of course, federal forms and state forms are different animals. That are untamable. With sharp, pointy teeth. We went to our state’s website, but that only helped to a certain extent. It listed all kinds of forms, but it told us neither the specific forms we needed nor the proper order in which to file them with the state. And the federal government? Fahgedaboudit!

We did manage to figure out how to file for a fictitious name, though. Filled out the form, wrote out the check and off it went. The interesting thing about that was our lawyer later told us that the procedure wasn’t in place to protect us, but it instead protected the public FROM us, letting the good citizens know that we would be operating business under the name Fortress Publishing, Inc. A piece of paper and a small ad in the local newspaper were supposed to protect the public from Chris and me? The comedy just writes itself: Two bald men went on a rampage in south, central Pennsylvania, drinking all the beer and eating all the hot wings the region had, but before all hope was lost, they were thwarted by… an official government document!

As you can probably surmise by now, Chris and I caved in and took the easy, but expensive, way out. We hired a lawyer to create, and file with the state and federal governments, the Articles of Incorporation, the agenda for the initial Board of Directors meeting, and corporate by-laws. We then had an accountant friend of ours help us get our tax ID number, sales tax numbers, and “S” Corporation status elections, for both state and fed. It was certainly a lot of paperwork considering we live in a paperless society. However, we did find solace in knowing that we had experts involved. Certainly, we would have overlooked a form or two or filed them in improper order, undoubtedly creating a scenario very similar to Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.”

In the meantime, our third partner decided not to participate in the corporation. Of course, his money wasn’t going to participate in the corporation either. The true beauty of the situation was he decided to tell us AFTER we put his name on the Articles of Incorporation, elected him to the Board of Directors, and made him an Officer. So, for our first official Board of Directors meeting, we had to un-elect him from all of the above. Remember, as a corporation there are certain rules you need to follow, including the occasional Board of Directors meeting with legible minutes, election of officers, issuing stock, yadda yadda yadda. However, we hold all our business meetings at the local Hooters, so they aren’t quite as boring as they may sound. Before you ask – yes, the local Hooters is very conducive to conducting official business. We may now be CEOs and Presidents and all kinds of official sounding titles, but we’re still writers at heart and we find the environment very emotionally stirring.

One of the more exciting (and I use that term very loosely) things about becoming a corporation is the “corporate kit.” Chris and I are men, so when we heard the word “kit” we immediately translated it to “cool toy.” Tools come in kits. When you buy a grill, it comes in a kit-like box – and there are very few toys cooler than a grill. So, we were pretty amped up when it came. It was basically a large notebook with a sheath. There was a section for minutes, record keeping and the corporation’s stock certificates were located in the kit as well. SWEET! There were only twenty certificates, so we decided to use only two (one for Chris, one for me) and not all twenty. There was one item that caused the clouds to part and a ray of light to shine from Heaven upon it – the corporate seal. It looks like any standard paper crimper that any Notary Public would have. But it was OUR corporate seal! We paid for this! There was a certain sense of pride we had discovered in following through with the creation of a corporation. We showed that pride by putting our mark on any piece of paper we could fit between the plates. Every scrap paper in my office, every one of my son’s pieces of artwork on the fridge, every receipt I could find. I was so maniacal with it the dogs ran and hid in any room I wasn’t.

Even though it was quite a struggle (that we eventually solved with our checkbook), starting our own corporation was kind of a rush. We get to honestly say we own our own publishing company. And no matter how hardcore “down with the institution” you are, you can’t help but have an extra swagger in your step knowing you are legitimately a President or VP of a corporation. So, now what…?

Next Issue: “Foundation.”

Post Script: This article was originally written well over a decade ago about events that occurred even farther back in time. The commonwealth of Pennsylvania has made significant strides in making information about starting a small business readily available, especially with their recent website, business.pa.gov.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Deconstructing the Second Novel, Part 2 – The Devil’s Grasp


I have four Red Sonja statues and two posters in my house. I once knew the real names of all the female American Gladiators. Don’t bring up Tonya Knight or Cory Everson around Chris unless you have a few hours to listen to exultation. He and I would watch Xena while wearing giant foam fingers that read: “#1 Warrior Princess.” We both like strong women – physically strong women – so there was no way we would write a high fantasy novel without having one. In The Devil’s Grasp, we have Dearborn Stillheart. 

Dearborn is the Sergeant in the king’s special band of soldiers called the Elite Troop. As the daughter of a blacksmith who lost his wife, Dearborn gained muscle very early in life, and after an accident in her father’s shop left him struggling for money, she decided to join the army where she could use her size to her advantage. Being taller and more muscular than many of the men, she climbed through the ranks until she found herself second in command of the Elite Troop. She’s great at what she does, and that makes her feel uncomfortable.

With Dearborn, we wanted to explore some more modern issues that many of us, especially women, feel in our day-to-day lives. We all have our talents, special skills that come to us a little easier than to others, and sometimes we feel uncomfortable about that, maybe even a little guilty. Dearborn has great success as both a fighter and a tactician, skills that she seems to be blessed with. As a modest individual, she doesn’t like to better the men in her Elite Troop, but she will if she has to.

Another modern concept that we explore with her is career versus family. Most modern adults face this dilemma, one particularly affecting many women. All of us try to balance the two, but inevitably there are times when we feel like we have to sacrifice one for the other. With Dearborn, career is thrust upon her, because she feels she has no other option, no chance at family. She’s beautiful, but she is physically larger than most potential suitors. Even though she has the ability to better any man she meets, she lacks the confidence that a man would be able to look beyond warrior façade and see her for who she is.

Dearborn may be a warrior woman in a high fantasy novel, but she has plenty of qualities to make her many readers favorite character. How does it turn out for her by the end of the book? Well, we certainly aren’t going to tell you that here!


I love to read. In fact, I have always loved to read. My educational background is a hodge-podge of various literary styles and traditions, timeframes and points of origin, but my earliest and longest running love of reading is rooted in fantasy and science fiction. By sixth grade I had discovered role playing games, a burgeoning love affair that continued to blossom long after college had ended. It should probably come as no surprise then that the paths of my early life led me to discover Robert E Howard, Fritz Leiber, Ursula K LeGuin, and Michael Moorcock, with the later additions of Raymond E Feist and David Eddings. All of these writers drew upon the strength of a central core of strong characters (usually human characters), but they also created wonderful support with their use of non-human characters.

Bale Pinkeye is an ogre. He is also a bumbler of great proportions, not just in terms of his physical size, but in relation to his bumblings, as well. He and his band of compatriots provide an excellent foil (and sometimes motivational point) to a group of ne’er-do-well thieves even as they provide us with some comic relief, not all of which is intentional on their part.

Bale isn’t exactly the brightest of fellows, so we needed to find a suitable motivation for him to stay involved with the proceedings of the book. Nevin and his friends provide that. Bale can’t stand to see the group of thieves “one up” the ogre and his little group, so he is constantly trying to think up ways to get one over on the elf, Nevin, and his human friends. Brian and I wanted their spatting back and forth to be fun and light-hearted, but as the thieves become more embroiled in the happenings of the book, then Bale, too, had to remain integral to the plot for more than just a mispronunciation of a word here and a stepped in road apple disaster there.

In order to do that, we created a character that was, at his core, meant to be likeable. He’s not formally educated, but does have some gems of “a priori” ogrishly wisdom that he occasionally shares with us anecdotally. He’s not a kind hearted sap, but he’s very content to keep his competitiveness non-lethal. If anything, he admires Nevin and his group and yearns to be more like them. And, as we learn throughout the book, despite his often gruff manner, he cares very deeply for his friends and displays an unwavering loyalty to them.

When it comes to throwing around his weight, Bale isn’t opposed to dishing out a backhand slap or breaking a limb or two. Intimidation is ultimately not his strong suit, though, and so he usually abandons the strong arm tactic in favor of something less suited to his physical attributes, which we hope lends itself to more fun for the readers. Occasionally he finds himself in the right place at the right time, though he’s usually standing on the wrong foot when he does. How does this all work out for him? Well, as the ogrish philosopher, Liber Praelectio, was fond of saying, “If you want to know how a book starts, read the beginning. If you want to know how a book ends, skip to the end. Those who actually want to learn something between the beginning and the end of the book read the middle.”