Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Halloween Treat: What to Read at The Witching Hour

What better reading material for Halloween than witches, vampires, werewolves, and demons? Now is the perfect time to start reading my Halos and Horns saga, before the final volume in the four-book arc is published in 2013. The story takes place in a magic-filled, supernatural reality and is told in episodic fiction. Each chapter is a complete tale, like a TV episode, but read in context with the other chapters, a larger story unfolds, making each book like a TV show season. The first four books form a complete story arc, introducing readers to the "Halos & Horns" universe.

Book One, Paved With Good Intentions, introduces some of the main characters: Gabriel, an archangel; Lucifer, a trickster demon; Samantha Twitch, a secretary and witch; Mordred, a warlock and illegitimate son of Morgana le Fay and King Arthur; Detective Mordecai, a hardboiled Las Vegas cop; Kennedy, a hooker with a heart; Sharon, a Jewish vampire (crosses don't bother her) and her vampiric entourage: scatterbrained BFF Pandora; claustrophobic and clumsy Claude, who eschews coffins as too confining; eternally 10-year-old vampire Artemus; and cold-blooded ex-KGB operative Valentina. We wrap up with a "Who's your daddy?" cliffhanger.

Book Two, And A Child Shall Lead Them, unveils the secret existence of the Dark Gods and their ominous plans to return to our realm. Heaven and Hell must join forces in an attempt to prevent the Dark Gods' return. One result of the Dark Gods creating a breach between our dimension and theirs is the release of Lilith, a powerful, child-killing demoness. Along the way, we meet Kita, a kitsune (Japanese fox spirit), several hypnalises (women who turn into man-eating snakes); and visit a lot of unusual places: the Dreamscape (a realm of dreams); Thenesia (an ancient land of barbarians, wizards, and kings); the 1940s; England, Japan, the Middle East, and even Heaven. We wrap up with the most shocking cliffhanger ever written. Really.

Book Three, To Hell In A Handbasket, delves into the backgrounds of some of the major characters. We meet Samantha's sisters, two witches who share a secret connection with her; see Gabriel and Lucifer's unlikely career changes; discover a startling secret about the Mordecai family; follow the adventures of two strange little girls in Japan, one a despicable changeling and the other a hypnalis; attend a trial by a tribe of Gypsy werewolves; learn the untold origin of the sorceress Morgana le Fay; embark on the prelude to a war between the Light and Dark Fae; meet Paige Turner, author of the dreadful "Nightfall" vampire novels, who has been targeted by the savage Empusae, flame-haired vampiric demons and, apparently, pissed off literary critics who complain "Real Vampires Don't Twinkle"; follow Lucifer's political ascension and Gabriel's moral ascension through Hell; and watch Detective Mordecai confronted with an impossible choice. We wrap up with a murder, a kidnapping, a bloodthirsty rebellion, and a shocking ending (admittedly, nothing could match Book Two's cliffhanger, but this comes close).

Book Four, The Witches' Cauldron, begins with the death of a major character, and ties up subplots involving those strange little girls in Japan; the deadly Empusae; the Mordecai family and its secrets; the dysfunctional Twitch sisters and their secret; Morgana's journey from innocent little girl to Fae and sorceress, to Dark Fae, and finally to evil mistress of malevolence; teen witch Emma's arrival in 17th century Salem; Gabriel and Asmodeus' showdown with the demon usurper Baphomet’s legions; Lucifer's judgment by a tribunal of the Fates; a funeral and a wedding; and the fates of Morgana le Fay, Damien, Emma, Samantha, Drusilla, Calliope, Lucifer, and Gabriel. Hint: some of them aren't going to make it to the next arc.

In 2014, it's on to "Fangs & Fur", the second arc, which delves deeper into our world of vampires and werewolves. The first tale focuses on ditzy vamp Pandora, revealing her origins and the truth behind her "psychic bond" with Sharon (disclosed way back in Paved With Good Intentions). It's all connected; each arc is part of one big universe and each chapter of this episodic fiction is a jigsaw piece of the puzzle. The series is, at times, humorous, poignant, adventurous, dramatic, and action-filled. The first three books are available in softcover and on Kindle.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Banned Words for 2012

I realize we must all endure certain annoyances during the campaign season -- robocalls, ugly yard signs, and a mailbox stuffed with unwanted campaign flyers -- but I must draw the line at the butchery of our language. As a wordsmith, words are my bread and butter, so I can only react with horror at some of the new words and phrases spawned by the 2012 campaign. What's most jarring is commentators insist on repeating and overusing these words, ad nauseum. For example:

"Unpack":  (verb)  Used to refer to the dissection or analysis of a political plan. Unless there is a suitcase in the same room, do not use this word.

"Optics": (noun)  Used to refer to the way a candidate or his surroundings look on television. This word should only be use when discussing the branch of physics that studies the physical properties of light.

"Litigate" (verb)  Used to refer to a discussion or argument of a political point. Unless this argument is taking place in a courtroom, do not use this word.

"Etch-A-Sketch moment" used to refer to a candidate flip-flopping on a position. Do not use this phrase unless you are holding an Etch-A-Sketch.

Attention all Republicans: "Democrat" is a noun (i.e., a thing), meaning a person belonging to the Democratic Party. If used to describe a party or policy, the word is "Democratic", an adjective (i.e., a word that describes things). Notice how every Republican insists on saying "the Democrat party". This goes back to 2000, when they used the word in subliminal advertising, focusing on the "rat" ending, in an attempt to turn voters off DemocRATS.

"Percent": Enough already with the "one percent", the "99 percent", the "47 percent"...  we all know Americans are bad at math, anyway.

"Game Changer":  An event that affects the momentum of a political race, based on the book "Game Change", about the Palin pick for the McCain ticket in 2008. Note to political pundits: Not every event is a "game changer".

"Throw someone under the bus":  meaning to sacrifice someone else to save oneself. This cliche has gotten old really fast. Besides, political betrayal is a daily occurrence in Washington. We're lucky the political parties haven't both adopted the Greyhound as their mascot.

"Job creator" and "Class warfare" are two more clichéd phrases that can also be swept into the dustbin.

"Man cave":  (noun) used to refer to a room designated to be used as a man's personal area for hobbies and leisure activities. Admittedly, this word has no relevance to politics, but it still irks me, as it connotes a derogatory caveman stereotype toward males.

"Romnesia":  O.K., this one's kind of cute. On the stump, Obama said: "If you come down with a case of Romnesia, and you can't seem to remember the policies that are still on your website or the promises you have made over the six years you have been running for president, here is the good news: ObamaCare covers pre-existing conditions. We can fix you up. We've got a cure." But beware: Romnesia is an FTD -- a Fox Transmitted Disease. You can catch it by viewing the Fox News Channel.

"Binders full of women":  Seriously, Mitt Romney still uses binders? You might recall, at the second debate, Romney told how he tried to bring women into his cabinet while governor of Massachusetts: "I went to a number of women's groups and said, 'Can you help us find folks?' And they brought us whole binders full of women."

And don't even ask me about the new word "vajazzle" -- I won't go there!

(And yes, I've deliberately inserted clichés in this post).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

On the Warpath

A Native American website is trying to stir up controversy over a t-shirt marketed by apparel retailer The Gap that bears two words: "Manifest Destiny." These Indians are on the warpath over the shirt, denouncing it as emblematic of racism and genocide, suggesting the Gap release a "Final Solution" shirt, as well. The article is accompanied by an image of a shirt with the phrase and a picture of what looks like Prussian soldiers posing by a mass grave (presumably meant to be the US Army burying Indians). Further down in the article, the author admits this is not the actual Gap T-shirt, but rather, "something i made to show what i see" (sic), quoting Steven Paul Judd, who had placed the image on his Facebook page. The real shirt has no images, only two words.

While I have been a lifelong defender of American Indians, long before it was politically correct to do so, I think this is, in Joe Biden's words, a bunch of malarkey. It's a classic example of the liberal spin machine going into overdrive in an attempt to redefine history in the name of political correctness. Every schoolchild read American history textbooks with a chapter on Manifest Destiny, of which PBS says: "No nation ever existed without some sense of national destiny or purpose. Manifest Destiny — a phrase used by leaders and politicians in the 1840s to explain continental expansion by the United States — revitalized a sense of 'mission' or national destiny for many Americans."

Without a sense of Manifest Destiny, American pioneers would not have ventured forth into horrible conditions, across deserts and swamps in nothing more than tarp covered wagons and hope of building a new life in a new land. Without Manifest Destiny, America would not exist. The United States would not have claimed Oregon, annexed Texas or spread west to California. We might still be a nation of 13 colonies had we ignored Horace Greeley's advice to "Go West, young man".

American expansion led to conflict with indigenous Indian tribes and there was brutality on both sides. The U.S. government broke every treaty it made with the tribes and legislation such as the Indian Removal Act of 1830 was reprehensible. President Andrew Jackson's defiance of the Supreme Court's decision in Worcester v. Georgia is as inexcusable as it is was illegal, and the deaths resulting from "The Trail of Tears" following the Act were tragic. But the myth of the "Noble Savage" has been overblown by Hollywood and the liberal media. Many Indian tribes were equally savage, attacking and slaughtering innocent settlers and pioneers. There was plenty of blood spilled and inhumanity exhibited by both sides. The fact the white man ultimately won does not absolve the Indians of their share of the carnage.

Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Monroe "it is impossible not to look forward to distant times when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits, and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent". Historian Robert Johannsen cited Abraham Lincoln's interpretation of the Civil War as a struggle to determine if any nation with democratic ideals could survive, "the most enduring statement of America's Manifest Destiny and mission". To reinterpret the phrase "Manifest Destiny" through a politically correct, revisionist lens is disingenuous, to publish a photograph of an offensive shirt that was not the one marketed by the retailer but was merely "what their shirt means to me" is not only disingenuous but misleading, and to compare Manifest Destiny to the Holocaust shows a lack of understanding of either, and is more offensive than anything written on a Gap T-shirt.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Bravest Girl in the World

Today, I want to tell you about the bravest girl in the world. She doesn't fight demons or slay dragons. Fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai fights for ideas like freedom and education. She doesn't hate school like many American kids; she fought to be allowed to go to school. For years, the Taliban controlled her village of Swat Valley in Pakistan and strictly forbade girls from attending school... under penalty of death.

Malala Yousufzai, in 2009, aged 11: "I don't mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I'm afraid of no one."
When she was 11, Malala wrote a diary, reminiscent of Anne Frank's, about Taliban atrocities. She wrote pseudonymously and the BBC published her blog. The Taliban had announced a ban on girls' education and destroyed 150 schools. Malala wrote she was "afraid going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools."  More than half of her classmates dropped out, a few relocating with their families to other regions. The Pakistani Taliban continued to bomb hundreds of schools, mostly for girls, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where Malala lived.

When the Taliban was routed from the region in 2009 by a major military operation, Malala was able to reveal her true identity as the blogger who had told the world about the Taliban's imposition of harsh Islamic law on her village, as seen through a child's eyes. A Dutch organization named her as an International Children’s Peace Prize finalist for "her bravery in standing up for girls’ education rights amid rising fundamentalism when few others in Pakistan would do so." The girl whose blog promoted literacy and peace was honored by the Pakistani government with a national peace prize.

When she began her diary, Malala wanted to go to school to become a doctor; three years later, she had changed her mind. She now wants to become a politician when she grows up, to help lead her people into a better society.

Yesterday, Taliban gunmen boarded her school bus. They asked which girl was Malala Yousafzai. The students pointed her out. They watched, as a gunman aimed his pistol at her head and fired.

Across Pakistan, school children are holding prayer vigils for Malala, who at this moment lies in critical condition. Many Pakistanis, including political leaders, have expressed outrage over the assassination attempt on the ninth grader, but their religious leaders are silent. Clerics seldom criticize such attacks for fear of alienating their conservative followers or provoking reprisal from the Taliban. Citing Malala's words, a Taliban spokesman said, "She considers President Obama as her ideal leader. Malala is the symbol of the infidels and obscenity.” He added, chillingly, if she survived, the Taliban would try to  kill her again.

Malala Yousafzai knew this was her reality, the world she lived in, the world in which she was growing up, and the childhood that would shape her life. Yet, she spoke out -- bravely, loudly, and clearly. This is the world around you. There are things happening in places you've never heard of, from the Congo and Haiti, to Pakistan. Unimaginable things. Freedom isn't free; it's earned -- over and over again. This 14-year-old girl was lauded for her bravery in standing up for the right of girls to receive an education, amid rising fundamentalism, when few Pakistani adults would do so; as a result, the Taliban shot her on her school bus to send a clear message of intimidation. But we can never allow ourselves to be intimidated. Speaking out may cause you to become alienated, lose some friends, or possibly your life. But remaining silent in the face of evil leads to worse consequences. As Edmund Burke said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." So speak up when you see something wrong. Speak loudly and clearly. Post it. Share it. Spread the word. That's why I write blogs like this one. First, you must inform people before you can rally them to act. Malala Yousafzai is a model for us all.

Malala Yousafzai

UPDATE #1: Malala remains in intensive care at a military hospital in Peshawar, recovering from surgery to remove a bullet lodged near her shoulder, where it had moved after entering her head. Doctors describe her condition as critical and the next 48 hours as crucial. Although preparations were made to fly her abroad, a military source reported she was unfit to travel.

"In attacking Malala, the terrorist has failed to grasp that she is not only an individual, but an icon of courage and hope who vindicates the great sacrifices that the people of Swat and the nation gave, for wresting the valley from the scourge of terrorism," Pakistan's top military officer, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said.

President Barack Obama called the attack as "barbaric" and offered air ambulance services. White House press secretary Jay Carney said U.S. forces stand  ready to offer transport and treatment to Malala Yousafzai.

More news, photos, and video.

UPDATE #2: Malala was flown to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England.  On October 19, her doctors said she can now stand for the first time since the attack and is communicating by writing. A tube in her trachea prevents her from speaking, at present. She wanted the photo below to be published. She is aware of the worldwide attention her shooting has received and wanted to thank people for their support.

The bullet did not penetrate her skull. Instead, it entered her head near her left eyebrow, then traveled under the skin surface  down the side of her head and neck. Shock waves from the bullet shattered a bone in her skull, and fragments were driven into her brain. She will need reconstructive surgery to repair the damaged part of her skull and possibly her jaw.

Her doctor said, "She seems to be able to understand; she has some memory.... She's able to stand. She's got motor control, so she's able to write."

The Taliban still insists it will kill Malala. They fear a 14-year-old girl because she dares to speak out and write. In contrast, Malala, the bravest girl in the world, continues to write, even from her hospital bed, unintimidated by these murderous scum.

Now, I will warn the Taliban: If you are successful in your promise to kill Malala, the civilized world -- from which you have removed yourselves by this and previous actions -- will not rest until the Taliban itself is eradicated from the face of the Earth. You have not silenced the truth; you have unleashed it.