Mugshots: The Ouroboros

Little beyond what he allows is known about the one they call “The Ouroboros.” The costumed vigilante is a consummate showman, having earned his start as a carnie performer through the Depression; he now stalks the streets in order to preserve truth, honor and justice!

Not really. The truth is, he’s in it to entertain the masses (also, himself), and hobnob with celebrities. He’s been romantically linked to a handful of burlesque entertainers, even more lounge singers and countless other celebrities.

This attitude often brings him into conflict with other heroes as he’s not inclined to “save the day” just because it needs doing, but only if it benefits himself, even if it’s at the expense of all around him. He’s also keen to sidestep action, or postpone it until the paparazzi can arrive…that is, if he hadn’t already brought his own paparazzi with him. He’ll do anything to preserve the melodrama of the situation, just like his beloved silent films.

He is constantly found in some overly dramatic pose, ready for his closeup.

His glamourous lifestyle was only made more grand when in 1955, he dropped his domino mask in order to take the title role in “The King of Handcuffs Versus The Nazi Terror!” An overly dramatic account of Houdini’s possible spy life. Upon all accounts the film was utter garbage (penned by the step-brother of Julie Lovegood; The Ouroboros’ fiance at the time) but following the “de-mask” hysteria, and Lovegood – just off her Oscar win in a co-star role – the film was wildly successful.

The public were not too kind to The Ouroboros either, who had taken the name “Nell Conried” for the film. Of course, the physical feats (all performed by “Conried”) were fantastic (even if shot poorly) but without the mask, the once dashing Ouroboros was seen as pallid, sullen and dramatically weaselly. One critic remarked about his deep set, heavy eyes, sunken cheek bones and well manicured handlebar moustache as “downright villainous.”

Because of that (and the dissolved engagement to Lovegood) Conried was never again seen on screen and The Ouroboros returned to fighting crime.

The Ouroboros took his name, not in honor of the rebirth Greek symbol association, but almost a defiant jest about his own abilities as a contortionist, escapist; as if he were so flexible “he might swallow his own tail.”

Because of his skills in contortionism, escape and locksmithing as well as amateur invention, The Ouroboros is a both a wonderful asset and particularly…elusive foe. There is hardly a place he cannot infiltrate, a trap he cannot difuse or a spot he cannot get in or out of.

To accomodate his skills, The Ouroboros wears very little as a hero/vigilante; a domino mask and a full body black nylon suit. On his chest is a lime green Ouroboros symbol.

Pushin’ Product: “The Man Who Couldn’t Be Stopped”

A quaint little story (“The Man Who Couldn’t Be Stopped“) of mine recently went up at Artifice Comics. The site ran a mini-challenge wherein writers were given a week to write 1,000 (or shamefully – in my case – way over) words about what drives a hero to take a stand; to fight.

I chose to highlight The Conductor and Trainwreck and what drove those two to take up a costume and defend a city. It’s a rather enjoyable story (as much as one only 2200 words can be). It’s in a style I hardly ever go for…rather Golden Age and not in any way absurd. I think it may show I have a heart, though. In case you were wondering.

Alas, if my name alone isn’t enough to sway you, there are five other tales by fellow Wreckingballroomer Jacob Milnestein, the very talented Ed Ainsworth, Brent Lambert and Jae Lizhini while also having a wonderful (and nostalgic) tale from Aaron Baugh.

Besides, what the hell else are you gonna do? Go read some words.

AIGA 50/50 Covers

Not really related to anything in particular to me, or, you. However, AIGA has posted the winners of their 50/50 Book Cover Archive which means there’s a pile of really well designed book covers. This is important because I know there are many writers whom either self-publish, or, wish to be published and I cannot stress how important having a GOOD book cover is to the success of a book. There’s a saying “don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” which applied to other things means we’re shallow. However, that’s exactly what people tend to do with books themselves.

So, feast, eyes, feast.

Mugshots: The Conductor

For nearly two and a half decades, the citizens of Seattle need not fear, for they were under the vigilant watch of “The Human Locomotive,” “The Man Who Couldn’t be Stopped,” The Conductor.

In those years, Seattle’s crime rate was tenth lowest in the country, and dropped a total of 144%; the Conductor thwarted several bank robberies, hostage situations and prevented the Space Needle from being blown up twice within the first five. Despite his “unstoppable” abilities, the Conductor was sure to create very little collateral damage.

In this time, he became a beloved member of the community and a local celebrity. He did not shy away from his adoring public, and even attended numerous charity events. When asked to clarify exactly what his “powers” were, he jokingly said “to have captured the heart of my city.”

In truth, his powers could be called “resistance to resistance.” The Conductor takes any resistance (e.g: gravity, or brick walls) and regenerates it as a strength. The greater the resistance, the stronger he becomes. Due to constant gravitational resistance, the Conductor is seemingly impervious to harm, extremely strong (though not superhuman) and extremely fast (the bounds of which have never been tested). This is most commonly demonstrated in his trademark move “The Runaway Train” (as dubbed by local rags): a shoulder block performed at blinding speeds.

After years of beloved service, and following Science Riots in Los Angeles which resulted in an obscene amount of casualties, Hampton Means rode science hero/villain hysteria to a mayoral victory. He called for the Conductor’s head, and his identity. The city held a Retirement Gala which the Conductor never attended. He was never seen again. Many believed he left the city for work in other cities.

In truth, Eli Dean January, could not bare to leave his beloved city, and stayed a shut in near the market working as a mediocre SF comic book writer. One of his characters, “Bullet Man” was nearly a spitting image of the Conductor, in make believe Rain City.

Eventually, Eli met a young boy who recognised him as the Conductor and they quickly became good friends, kindred spirits. In a twist of ugly fate, the boy came down with powers of his own: able to turn his flesh into a dense, impregnable steel. This is something the boy struggled with, but, Eli realised that there was something that could help. He handed down the old Conductor costume as well as the mantle. After some training, the boy eventually became Conductor II: Trainwreck.

Eli is still in Seattle, writing cheesy comic books to pay the rent while occasionally acting as a guide to Trainwreck. Though, being a shut-in, he doesn’t have much exposure to the youth’s exploits. That’s fine by him. The city has changed and so must it’s Conductor.

Be on the lookout for the exploits of The Conductor in an anthology @ Artifice Comics coming soon.

Neville and the Argonauts

Let’s talk inspirations, shall we?

One of my perhaps more hidden away inspirations (but of no lesser importance) has always been the great story of Jason and the Argonauts. And why not? It’s probably one of the most magnificent hero tales every described. A young man, destined to be king embarks on a widespread journey for a mythical (and maybe non existent) artifact to undo even death itself. Along side him for these trials are a who’s who of Greece’s pantheon, myths and heroes.

It has endured for countless centuries and has found itself buried in a plethora of other stories. It is a story that is the predecessor to many others and is culpable for inspiring many more. Any ensemble “quest book” has got some Jason in them. Compare Jason and the Argonauts to The Hobbit, Fantastic Four, Moby Dick, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and you’ll find the them there.

I’d even suggest that, in a way, something like Justice League shows shades of the Argonauts. Just think, if Justice League were a comic book in Ancient Greece, who might be in that comic? Herakles, the half man, half-god adventurer; Achilles, the nigh invincible warrior; Atalanta, a fierce huntress raised by bears; one of the most powerful enchantresses in Medea; Sons of Zeus, Castor and Pollux (just to name a few). All people whom countless stories were told and all of them served as crew on the Argos.

So, what all is the relevance of this?

I’m announcing that I am scripting (though in my traditionally slow manner) not one but two books related to the Argonauts. In a way, I suppose. One of which you have already seen parts of…

Evening Tea Soceiety was a veiled working title for what is really going to be Tesla and the Argonauts. What does that mean exactly? Well, it might give you a few clues (while equally taking as many away). There will be a wondrous ship unlike one that has ever been created before. What kind of ship will it be? Is Tesla the creator of this ship, or is he the Captain, as Jason was? Like the Argos, it will have a crew large and varied, filled with larger than life contemporaries to Tesla, but who will it be and how many? We’ve met two, Tesla and Boilermaker (with another being heavily hinted). It will be an adventure quest, but for what? What could Tesla covet so much that he would assemble these legends? The Golden Fleece, perhaps? Is it even under his own desires that Tesla and the Argonauts make sail?

Second concept, I’m tentatively calling Argonauts: Remix, which would chronicle the tales of the original Argos and her crew. However, with that little Neville cross-fader and scratch. I’m basically gonna take the idea (search for the Golden Fleece) and the crew (while adding my own, of course) and husking the rest. The crew will embark on all new adventures across a Greece that, well, won’t be too familiar to anyone.

Mad Tinkerer!

So with my pension for tinkering and my machinations to bleach dialogue of importance and furthermore remove it from my writing all together I might try something new with my creative process in yet another upcoming project. So what’s this hairbrained scheme? There’s two possibilites:

  1. Leave all dialogue blank and then fill it in with a collection of lines from spam email/comments.
  2. Fashion an entire plot around spam email/comments.

So what was the inspiration for this?

“Could we shave the girl fuzz?”

Figuratively speaking, of course.

[Bits of] Grotesk: The Substitution Trunk

If your right hand is causing you pain
Cut it off, cut it off
If your colors have started to run
Let them all run, run away from you
“Flux,” Bloc Party

The Substitution Trunk
H.H Neville


Amsterdam, 1863:

It was a particularly dreary evening in the city. A gluttonous moon slung heavy and low, fat from a winter’s feast of bright, juvenile stars. Tonight would be much the same. The moon glowered green with envy; a hunger unsated.

A willing accomplice, crooked, vile clouds weaved together in patchwork, gently persuading coming acts of murder in a warm, welcoming quilt.

The voracious predator ate; smatterings of flesh dabbed his cheeks, spilled from his agape lips with each mouthful. Some of the frightened little things cried out, attempted to run, streaking across the sky. All in vain. The insatiable beast would not relent.

At last, when the moon had gorged himself fully, the clouds split, showing a sky dead and lonely, forfeit of stars. From between bursted seams dropped remains of the slaughter: stars’ blood – porcelain white and cold – flittered down. The earth’s skin shivered under each gentle touch.

Under the chilly blood shed the mood was no less expectantly bleak. Troves of human chess pieces – pawns, several appointed knights, a spare bishop, even a king – braved the dawning snow and prickly winds in front of the repurposed opium den; The Bird of Paradise.

In a former life she milled grain. Now, the past windmill which loomed above all other edifices in the city helped attain greater highs. Accustomed to helping the ignoble nobles and fortunate unfortunates in their pursuits of slaying boredom and their sanity, today she held court for a more fantastic spectacle: execution…perhaps. The Bird sparkled in gay accordance of the occasion. Her tawny tower of cobble and mortar stretched out like a proud neck, stilted and high. A sparkly necklace of freshly detailed white boardwalk wrapped itself high around; a place for her patrons to exit and enjoy the romantic skyline. At the head of such a fine construct where a crown ought site were the four mill blades, fashioned after its namesake’s petals, vividly painted orange to match. They proudly lapped the air.

Inside the double citrine doors, the walls and air lacked its customary sour, wanton perfume and the hookahs remained dry, unlit. Instead, should the daft watchmen at Whitehall have their way, the floors would run red with the blood of a witch.

Were a woman accused of being a witch and her subsequent execution not spectacle enough, several queer facts made it more so. Unconcerned with their own duties, the Dutch government left the crimes of a national to be levied on English soil. For circumstances undiscovered, her execution was being carried out in Netherlands, not England.

Furthermore, the accused was an infamous illusionist throughout Europe. Heralded by most as a showman and entertainer, playing at but not realising the magick she claimed to control. Her skills at such never more evident than in death. Through the newspapers she issued a challenge:

“I offer my public a most astounding performance.  I promise to circumvent the English at their game of death. Never shall an escape performed by me or any other be more triumphant than the escape from certain death. If I am a witch as the English claim, let them draw my head from my shoulders and then let me rise thereafter, free my deathly binds. Should they be wrong, I will have escaped under the most improbable and fantastic illusions.”

Nary a soul dared miss such a promissory defiance. Some held to morbid fantasy; hoped to see a woman evade death. Some carried national arrogance; hoped to see the Dutch make a mockery of the English. Some simply wanted to watch a foolish woman die. All expected the most sublime entertainment of their lives.

At noon, a constable dressed in funeral black trudged through the crowd with a dull stride. A solitary key at his waist slide loosely around the rim of a large ring fastened to his belt. Each time the key rolled toward twelve o’clock and then sunk back to six it made a haunting clap, like the fall of the guillotine. With each empty step forward, the key tick-tocked ever closer toward death. The constable dipped below street level as he descended into the narrow stairwell; hardly wide enough for a man of his modest size to fit shoulder to shoulder. The assembled crowd peeked anxiously over as the constable’s human form drowned in the thick, black inkwell of shadows.

The jingle of key ceased at the bottom step and a thin blade of light sliced through the dark. The wound grew direr and light spilled out, quickly filling the staircase.

“The execution will begin in an hour. We’ll be seating now,” the constable  gave a permissive crease of the fingers before crossing into the den himself.
The masses sunk beneath the cobblestone lane one at a time, down the steps and into The Bird of Paradise. First, royalty and important men of religion, who entered and then immediately peeled in either direction, taking up residence at the back of the room, keeping a delicate distance between them and the carnage. Following them were the affluent members  of society in their finest powdered wigs and long flowing velvet coats. Each grade of humanity passed through until finally, the bloodthirsty rabble stood near the stage in what little cramped spaces they could find, with a winning chance of being painted in blood.

Occasionally The Bird of Paradise held entertainment – oftentimes lewd, one act plays performed by harlots and fools – and as such, was outfitted with a meager, but capable stage. Above her blistered and wrinkled floorboards, loose or missing nails at her joints hung a tattered red curtain made of corduroy and patched with contrast cheesecloth. Painted sloppily in the center of the curtain, bright, enchanting tendrils snaked toward the heavens like a flame. Petals of the flower from which the den took its name. This pathetic stage would serve – through death or deceit – as musician to a swan-song; the final resting place of Daphne Grotesk.

The tired boards of the stage agonised as silhouettes began to take shape behind the curtain. Air in the den grew sparse as the audience collectively took in one final breath and held to it tightly.

Moments later a portly man in matching constable attire – but whose legs disappeared into his boots, whose torso hid behind a roomy jacket, whose neck sunk into his shoulders and whose face barely peeked from his cap – limboed comfortably to the front of the stage and began to heave the curtains open.
Meek house lights retired, leaving the stage to blaze arrogantly. At the center of attention was the smiling guillotine, bespectacled and proud. As light glanced the blade, it beamed.  At stage left stood two men unconcerned and concentrated. Their costumes were different than those of the constables, but their appearances were far too officious for them not to be lawmen.

At their shoulder was, unmistakably, the executioner. He had the same important uniform and coat as the other two, but at contrast, was his thick  black veil which concealed any human features.

As the stout, piles of clothes in human form moved to stage right, the stage revealed the statue of Daphne Grotesk. Bonded at both the wrists and ankles, she stood unmoving and inattentive, her eyes locked on the pattern of birthmarks on the boards between her feet. An anxious applause rose from the audience.

Grotesk acknowledged nothing. An unsettled eternity found comfort in an instant.

Then it was time.

The officers stalked behind the guillotine toward Grotesk. One of them clasped hands upon her shoulders and nudged her toward the other. She promptly gave the other her wrists, underside up. The officer took her arms and worked on unlocking her manacles. There was a pithy discourse this caused in the crowd. Many of them had seen – on many occasions – Daphne Grotesk free herself from much more complicated cuffs. They felt cheated, both then and now; anticipation of miracles diluted into a very lucid realisation of having been grifted, past and present.

As the officer freed her wrists, the other behind her asked her for a final request.

“Do you have any last wish before we put you to death today, at the guillotine’s jaws?”

For the first time since the spectacle began, Grotesk’s eyes lifted from the stage. They came to rest wearily on the sensationalist masses beyond her.
A thin pocket of air filled her cheeks before she softly let it out.

The den joined her in the gesture, exhaling impatiently.

“Do not blink,” she whispered.

They set her prone along the guillotine and refastened this time through a ring on the belly of the instrument. By the nature of the posture, she was pulled taut, her arms splayed forward and her legs anchored behind; her neck cooed to rest, ready to come in two.

The Bird of Paradise, was befallen in silence save for the soft patter of last rites being chanted from somewhere in her belly.

The blade crashed down. A crack sounded like a shot of thunder.  Wood splintered, spraying the stage with confetti. Head ripped free of spine and rolled from the guillotine, smacking moistly to the stage, then the floor.

A corpse lay deadly still; testament to failure. A woman, not a witch had been put to death; a woman tethered to a fate no magician could escape.

My Philosophy of Writing

Derrick posted his here and thus, being the ult-lemming that I am, figgered I’d give you mine. Not that it really is mine (or whatever that means). See, my philosophy of writing is something I stumbled across many moons ago as a fan of Tank Girl. It’s a quote from Tank Girl scribe Alan Martin:

“Never start with a clear idea of storyline. Instead, commence blindly, with a vague notion of trying to include a reference to your favourite band, gift shop, or chocolate bar.”

Yep, that’s about how I take writing. Which isn’t to say I don’t take it seriously, but some writers just try too damn hard.

An Interesting Exploration of Steampunk Themes


And it’s all entirely valid. Steampunk by in-large tends to be entirely secular and where entire sections of actual history are obfuscated for the benefit of others. It is, by-and-large built on the crux of “Shiny!” And that’s vile.

But are we to care? Is it not the prerogative of the writer to approach their story in whichever way they want? I’m not usually one to say a writer “should” or “should” not do something. The truth is, who’s to say with the artificial enhances based around mechanical invention that other sciences and sociopolitical pitfalls haven’t been narrowed or closed all together? Who’s to say they haven’t been replaced by others?

There are however, things that I will not do. As an oftentimes writer of steampunk and alternate history, these are concepts, morals and actual facts that I struggle with and against. I will not, in anyway, write an actual place as a genre-true “Dark Land” wherein there are beasts and crazed natives and such. Such folly, I feel is completely ignorant of history. I’m not for eradicating such explorative tales as they are cruxes of pulp SF/F, but, I think there are more tactful ways of doing it (a Land of the Lost kind of thing springs to mind, though, not sure if that’s apt). I will not gloss over the demons of society and public health just to focus on a forward shift of mechanical invention. Sure, zepplins are cool, but at the expense of these other things, not so much. If I am to explore such a reimagined Victorian society, I personally feel a duty to be cognisant of these other things to a point where it’s not a distraction to my central themes.

I think that’s why, at least for most of alternate history -punk work, I don’t make huge scientific advances in an entire society for the sake of my protagonists. I make huge scientific advances in my protagonists for the sake of an entire society. Which is to say, I am more insular in my scope. My protagonist is usually one of a very select few people in that universe that has made such large leaps. Then, if using their invention for the sake of heroing is their perrogative, then they’re free to do so; that’s their onus. Society moves on, pretty much undisturbed around them.

Not to tip my hand so much, but, since I’ve already unveiled his presence, these are concepts I will play with in Evening Tea Society, primarily through Nikola Tesla. In my 19xx, he is, without a doubt, the most brilliant mind in the world, and there will be societal leaps ahead of contemporary history, but, most of the technology that Tesla will employ in the book will be for his benefit only. In fact, I make it a point down the line for him to engage a discussion about Wardencylffe Tower (which I’ve hinted at already). His colleagues in the Tea Society will believe – like most did – that the Tower was an abysmal failure, victim to a madman’s dreams. He’ll explain that the Tower does work, but that the complications it would inflict on society at this time are far too dire.

I’m also taking the group to Alaska. While painting Alaska at this point as a beridden with snow “Dark Land” with savage natives would certainly fit a Verneian scope, I can’t in good faith do that. It’s important to me to recognise that in the first decade of the 1900s (in which 19xx is modeled) Alaska is under military-rule, is full of gold rushing white folks whitewashing that natives, and a crime spree that–while minimized–could be similar to that of the Midwest rumrunners. Moreso than ignoring that, to me its important to embrace that, and build tradition -punk concepts into that.

I’ve been rambling for far too long, and while I have my personal ideas of what -punk should encompass, I’m sure there’s a lot of varying opinion…let’s hear ‘em, shall we?