Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gratuitous Music Video


I happened to notice that an artist I much admire, Lindsey Stirling, a violinist, has a brand new music video out, this one with a sort of Inception-esque dreamscape thingy going on, so I thought I might as well share it.

I note in passing that Stirling, like many talented artists of the present day, is Mormon. When the Mormon missionaries came by, I should have let them know that their arguments would have been much more persuasive if they'd brought along Lindsey Stirling. In fact, if they stop by again, I might tell them that: s end Lindsey Stirling first, and then we'll talk.

Friday, March 20, 2015

An Evening with the Mormon Missionaries.


So I had the Mormon missionaries over this evening.  It is my humble opinion that when the Catholic finds the proselytizers of another sect at his door, the polite and Christian thing to do is to show them all courtesy.  Hospitality demands it, and it is an opportunity to witness to the Gospel.  Besides, I've done similar work (I've cold-called, and I've gone door to door offering paint jobs), and it is decidedly miserable, so I thought the deserved a break in the form of a guy who doesn't slam a door in their faces.

I've known others who've been unable ever to get rid of Mormon missionaries after inviting them in.  If such misfortune befalls in this case, I may have to explain, perhaps even brusquely, that the welcome has been overstayed, but I see nothing wrong with allowing them to make a few visits, within reason.

When the two elders, both younger than I, arrived, I sat them down and asked them if they were allowed to drink herbal tea.  They said they were, so I made them each a cup.  Then I started with some philosophical matters, first asking if it were true that the Mormon Church teaches that the universe is made from uncreated matter, and that God the Father was originally a man.  They said that was correct, so I explained that contingent, material beings logically require a first cause that is not contingent, and that this first cause is ordinarily called God, and must be the greatest being since an effect cannot be greater than its cause, and therefore the one they worship, though he might be a great saint or a god with a lowercase g, could not be God properly so-called.

This might have gone over their heads.  I'm not sure.  Later in the conversation, one of them said God was the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and that he was the source of all truth.  I replied that if he did not originate all things, he could not be the source of all truth, and that if he was once a man, then he was not the same yesterday, regardless of what he might be today or tomorrow.  At that point, the fellow hedged and said the belief that God was once a man was speculation and not doctrine, so I dropped the subject.

They described, as I expected, Joseph Smith's first vision, which is supposed to have occurred when various churches were undergoing revivals and Smith was confused about which to join.  Regardless of whether Smith actually experienced the discouragement and consternation during the Second Great Awakening in the Burned-Out District that he claimed to, it makes for a good story; anyone who has ever asked like Pilate, "What is truth?" can relate to it.  I told them I had a similar experience of disheartenment on account of the schismatical tendencies of Protestant sects, and that like Smith I came to recognize the need for an authoritative Magisterium to prevent the constant division caused by the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, but that I found that Magisterium in the Catholic Church rather than creating it myself.

I told them also that many others besides Joseph Smith have claimed that the Church committed a Great Apostasy and that they have restored true and sound doctrine, and I asked them specifically why I should prefer Smith and the Book of Mormon to Muhammad and the Quran, since Muhammad made the same claims and also came with a book.  They dodged that without answering it.

I told them flatly that I think the Book of Mormon, with its skin color obsession and its speculation about an Israelitish origin of the Mound Builders, looks like a text written in the Nineteenth Century in America by someone with a King James Bible and an imagination, and that it was probably Rigdon's creation based on Spaulding's unpublished novel.

One of the guys was rather meek and quiet.  The other was zealous but clearly didn't like to deviate from his memorized lecture, and I had him by the end retreating to giving his testimony, by which I mean he affirmed that he knows, by private confirmation from God, that the Book of Mormon is true.  That of course is wholly subjective and thus can't be argued—which is the point.

This segued into an emotional appeal, the request that I find God through the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I ended with an emotional appeal of my own, telling them that Catholics, Mormons, and Evangelicals are allies, not enemies, in the culture wars, and that we must circle the wagons together, but that the best way to present a united front would be under the banner of the Catholic Church, which alone is wide enough in her embrace to take all of us.  As an example of this, I contrasted the Mormons and their high view of marriage with the Shakers and their celibacy, and said that there is room in the Catholic Church for both forms of spirituality.

(I thought the Shakers originated at the same time and in the same place as the Mormons, but upon looking them up, I find I'm mistaken, or rather, it's a little more complicated than that, but no matter.)

They of course asked me to read the Book of Mormon, and I said I would do so if they would read the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  They agreed, and we exchanged books.  I do not intend to press them to find out if they will keep their end of the bargain, but I must keep mine, so I have some reading to do once Lent ends.

I was hoping for vigorous but friendly debate.  Instead, I think it was more like my debating interrupting their canned spiel.  I don't fault them for this, as these elders are both kids.  But I found it to be a pleasant evening, and I hope they did as well.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

'Rag & Muffin' Sneak Peek


I haven't posted much lately because I'm in the field right now, but also because I am working on Rag & Muffin, my magical girl novel, and am not good for much else at the moment.  I expect to have the book in final draft form by end of the summer, at which point I'll start my rejection slip collection while I work on the second volume, which is currently under the working title of Rag Dolls, and will feature Miss Rags teaming up with her evil but gentlemanly yet decidedly foppish mad scientist pediatrician.

Rag & Muffin has taken me a long time to produce, largely because my vision of it has changed drastically since I started (it was originally so lurid and gruesome that I can hardly stand to look at the earliest drafts), and also because the amount of research necessary has intensified since I decided firmly on a more "real-world" setting (it takes place in a heavily fictionalized version of the British Raj).  Also, as a new writer, I had to, as they say, "get the suck out" and write loads and loads of amateurish junk before I could produce something of professional grade.  But in spite of the struggle, I have stuck with this particular story for years, because more than anything else I've written or tried to write, I believe in Rag & Muffin.

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter, showing the condition the story is in now.  This guy Heatfreak is one of three characters in the story who exist mostly for the purpose of getting their clocks cleaned, and as with most of the characters in this book, I knew Heatfreak's name before I knew why he had that name.  Only as I was rewriting this sequence did I realize it was a nickname he received on account of the tapas generated by his Yogic exercises.

Anyway, in addition to being a fight scene, this introduces two of the R&M universe's three forms of magic.



The young soldier in the runeship was Simon Achilles Palmeiro, and he was a zealot. An idealist in love with the romantic vision of a world stripped of barbarism and united in a single civilization, he had eagerly enlisted in the Elysian army at the age of sixteen. Not long after, he had embarked on his first tour of duty in Godtown. Once he arrived in the holy city, he quickly became intrigued by the mendicants he saw seated blissfully on their mats in the dark corners of parks and courtyards: their peacefulness and self-mastery stirred something in him—yet, at the same time, their apparent passivity repulsed him.

For a long while, he could not sort out these feelings, but everything became clear when for the first time he saw a demonstration of Sastravidya. On a broad ghat beside the Ganga, under the noonday sun, he had gaped as two thickly muscled marjaras, stripped to the waist, drove at each other and fought with a combination of open-handed strikes and acrobatic grappling. They swung their arms in wide, showy arcs and flipped their bodies through the air, yet they never lost control or let down their guard.

Simon decided then and there that he wanted to learn their techniques. He found a guru, and soon he was spending every spare minute in meditation and breathing exercises, focusing his mind and learning to control the prana flowing through his body. He went through rigorous and painful exercises, balancing for hours on one foot or on one hand. He gave up meat, and he gave up booze. He even gave up women. In time, his ascetic disciplines generated so much tapas that he often returned to the barracks at night with a searing heat radiating from his body, and thus he earned his nickname—Heatfreak.

As he gained steadily in power, he found yet another master who could teach him to focus his prana and turn it into a weapon, for Heatfreak in his yogic meditations sought neither to cleanse his karma nor to realize Brahman. Heatfreak wanted to fight.

And now, as the runeship lifted, he saw on the roof below him a worthy enemy on whom he could demonstrate his skills. It was against orders. He was risking a court martial.

But he didn’t care.


He glanced over his shoulder at Darcangelo, who leaned over the sickly little girl to check the IV attached to her arm. “You’ll make it to the hospital okay, Doc,” Heatfreak said. “I’m gonna take care of the witch.”

Darcangelo snapped his head up and reached out to grab him, but Heatfreak slipped from his grasp and, with a laugh, leapt from the runeship’s door. After landing lithely, he doffed his helmet, ripped open his flak jacket, and tossed both to the ground. Raising his fists, he called a challenge across the rooftop: “Hey, little girl, you wanna play with me?”

With rapid chain punches, Rags was pummeling one of Heatfreak’s squad mates. She paused, looked up, and tossed her victim aside like a rag doll.

“Okay,” she said, “but I play rough!”

Her pink dress flared as she ran at him.


Heatfreak launched himself forward, slid across the roof, moved into a crouch, and aimed a sweep for Rags’s legs. She leapt and kicked for his head, but he blocked with a raised forearm. She twisted in the air, landed on her hands, flipped to her feet, and went into a hook kick. He blocked with a cross-kick and then spun around into a hook kick of his own. Rags ducked it, jumped onto her hands again, and shot her feet back and over her head toward Heatfreak’s torso, catching him in the side. He slid backwards and grabbed his ribs where she’d struck him.

It stung. He winced.

“How does a girl your size get that strong?”

Rags pushed a loose strand of auburn hair behind one ear. “I work out.”


Crossing his legs, he dropped into a basic resting stance. “You’re a cheeky little thing. Didn’t your mum ever teach you any manners?”

“Didn’t your mum ever teach you not to hit girls?”

“She said I could hit naughty girls who are out past their bedtime.”

A grin spread Rags’s lips, exposing canine teeth just a little too pointy to be human. “Funny. I do the same thing to naughty boys.”

He made hooks with his hands and closed again, hoping that with the Eagle Claw technique, he could incapacitate her with a few dislocations or pressure point strikes. His limbs were longer than hers, but after she landed the first blow, he realized how seriously she had him at a disadvantage: a Sastravidya practitioner learned always to watch his opponent’s eyes, but Rags was a hybrid, so Heatfreak didn’t dare. Hybrids could do strange things with their eyes—more than once in their first engagement, her bright green eyes had begun to draw him in, and he had to check himself. That slowed him down.

Besides, in spite of his love of fighting, he found he couldn’t bring himself to go all out. She was an infamous criminal, tough as a tank and with a punch like a sledgehammer, but she was still a little girl. Maybe if it weren’t for her curly hair, her bright voice, and her nancy outfit, he could have made himself hit her as hard as he wanted.

Maybe.

Now he wished he’d stayed in the runeship. He wanted this fight over with quickly, and he figured the best way was to move in close, avoid her eyes, and break a couple of her limbs.

But she clearly knew what he was doing. Keeping her body loose and fluid, she slid out of his grasp and slapped aside his every attempted strike, giggling like a child petting a dog. She was toying with him.


He felt a faint twinge of panic, so he changed his technique again and moved into a rapid series of punches and chops. Once he had her fighting more vigorously, he took the chance to draw in close. Twice she tried to kick, but he counter-kicked to keep her feet on the ground.

It didn’t work. She slipped through his defenses, smashed her right fist into his gut, and doubled him over. She tried to plant an uppercut on his chin as well, but he blocked that and recovered.

He now had an idea of her preferred methods. In particular, the move she had used early in the fight to land her first blow had been an extravagant one. Such a move she had no doubt practiced until it was almost automatic.

He feinted with a roundhouse kick, and, as he expected, Rags dove onto her hands again to duck his foot. Arresting his kick midway, he twisted his hips and drove his heel hard into her back, sending her sprawling face-first into the roof. Her little top hat came unpinned from her bangs and rolled away.

#

The fight had lasted less than a minute, and the runeship was still making its silent lift-off, though it now hovered a hundred feet in the air. While Juliet saw to the patient, Darcangelo, with his thin lips womanishly pursed, stared out the open door. At last, he sucked in his breath and slapped a hand against his knee.

“Nurse,” he said, “take over. I’ll join you later.”

“Doctor,” Juliet cried, “what about the serum?”

Darcangelo gave her a weary shrug. “I’m sorry, but there are some things a gentleman cannot witness without making reply, and one them is the sight of a lady being struck.”

He tipped his hat before pulling it down firmly over his ears, snatched up his medical bag and umbrella cane, and dove out the door.

“Doctor!” Juliet shrieked.

Being in a hurry, Darcangelo didn’t bother to make use of the flying technique, which could have slowed his descent and allowed for a graceful landing. Instead, he merely raised his prana and counted on his hardened body to absorb the impact. He fell swiftly, trench coat fluttering, and cracked the rooftop when he struck.

But he had miscalculated: the blow drove the wind from his lungs, and, with a faint groan, he slumped.

#

Rags raised her head. She wiped a hand across her nose as tears gathered in her eyes. Her lip protruded in a pout.

Heatfreak stood over her. “You lose, Ragamuffin. Now come quietly or a bad little girl’s going to get punished.”

Her tears glistened in the reddish light, the light caught his attention, and then his eyes met hers.

He had only the briefest moment to realize his mistake. He tried to twist his head and look away, but her green eyes flashed and arrested his gaze as if his neck were locked in a vice.

Then her Sammohana overwhelmed him.

His thoughts ceased. The little girl lying on the rooftop evaporated into the air. In her place arose a goddess, tall and stately and clothed in flaming red, terrible and beautiful beyond any concept he had previously had of terror or beauty. Her shapely lips were pressed together in a stern but silent rebuke, and her eyes pierced through to his heart. Seven of her eight hands held the symbols of her office as well as her weapons—the conch, lotus, bow, chakran, sword, trident, and thunderbolt—but the eighth hand pointed an accusing finger.


He sank to his knees. Like a hammer blow, the realization struck him that all his ablutions and rigors had been mere child’s play, mere dabbling. He had struggled, he had denied himself so that he might have power, but now he knew his ascesis was empty. It was not enough for the goddess. Nothing he could do was enough.

Towering above him, her incomparable face impassive and severe, she spoke to him a single word of command, and he had no choice but to obey.

#

Rags could sense the gland in the base of her skull squeezing tight as it pumped Heaven Seed up into her brain. She could feel power and heat radiating from her eyes, flowing out from her and into Heatfreak. His own eyes wide and flowing with tears, his body shaking, he dropped to the roof and mumbled to himself like a halfwit.

She had him now. She could make him do whatever she wanted.

She climbed to her feet, brushed her hands down the front of her dress, and told him to beat his head on the rooftop until he passed out. Then she crossed her arms and watched, bored, while he completed the task.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

'Rag and Muffin' Update


The eyecatch image up there is actually from the light novel series Gosick, which was adapted into one of my favorite anime shows (and which I just found out is no longer free online . . . curses!).  Anyway, I thought it made an appropriate header because Victorique and Kujo look vaguely like how I picture Miss Rags and Nicky from my novel in progress, Rag & Muffin.

I have just spent the day editing and rewriting chapter eight of twenty.  It's coming along.  I'll go over it with a red pen and then go on to chapter nine.  Once I get through all twenty chapters one-by-one, I'll give the whole thing one more go-through, and then it's time to start my rejection slip collection.

It's gonna happen.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Recently, I tested the first few chapters on a fresh reader who doesn't normally read science fiction or fantasy.  Her response was quite positive.  Most importantly, and the main reason I wanted her to try it out, she wasn't put off by all the Hindi and Sanskrit words, which she thought she could understand in context.  That was a relief.

This book has taken an enormous amount of research, which probably took longer than it had to because I'm both pedantic and disorganized.  Much of the editing process has been fact-checking.  Last week, I was reading all about sniping or watching videos on the same.  The week before that, I was reading about airsoft because I decided to make one of the kids an airsoft player; this gives me a crazier yet somehow more plausible explanation than I had originally for how he falls in with the story's anti-heroes, since he doesn't realize until he's already in neck-deep that the other kids' guns aren't replicas.  Probably a bit of Full Metal Panic! influence in there, which I'm okay with, since as a test reader said of an earlier version, the story is "manga up to its bowtie."

Then I spent three hours on Friday evening just deciding how one of the sidekick characters, the upper-class British schoolgirl with diplomatic immunity, would sling her assault rifle.

Aaaand I actually spent most of the day yesterday trying to figure out the correct word for my heroine's underwear.  Great googly moogly, I knew Nineteenth Century fashion was complicated, but that was insane.  That was a rabbit hole I was not prepared to go down; I was just sort of like, "Are these bloomers or pantelettes?"  And it turns out that's a really complex question.  I eventually found some sources that appeared to know what they were talking about, though they didn't entirely agree with one another.  Also, steampunk cosplayers don't know crap.

Today, I actually got a lot of writing done, but then I was back to double-checking some of the medical stuff.  I think I've got a handle on the medical technology for this alternate universe:  I didn't want MRIs or CT scans because that seemed too tech-y, so I had them checking a girl for brain tumors with a cerebral angiogram.  I hope that makes sense.

Whew.  Next chapter, I can get back to the parts where they shoot people and break things.  Got a scene involving magical transforming mecha and demon-possessed powered armor coming up.  I look forward to that.