Flash Fiction: The Fire in Song

“Your daughter’s a natural at smithing,” old Bart told Samantha, “Just like her mother.”
The girl was barely in her teens, her sweaty read hair glowing in the light of the forge like strands of fire as her arms, wiry and taut, held a glowing red filigree of ornate ironwork in the blazing, dancing flame.
Samantha smiled at Bart, who was well-known to be a gossip and the general font from which all stories flowed in the village. He knew every tale, whether one wanted him to know it or not. Samantha decided to repay the content with his customary currency.
“Gregor’s illness forced my hand,” Samantha said, thinking of her deceased husband, a bear of a man who started as the town smith. “I learned all I know about fire and metal under his guiding hand. But you’re right, Elle’s talents are a bit…unusual.”
“Elle was your typical young girl, all flowers and bows, until she was about five. Gregor took her to Thunder Spring caves, figuring she’d enjoy looking for sparklies, what she used to call the fancy minerals he’d bring back from an expedition looking for exotic metals.”
“I noticed one day after that she was unusually quiet. She was always singing before that. Songs we used to sing to her as she was growing up, songs she learned at the town feasts, even songs she just made up. I tried to get her to sing something and she just…didn’t notice. I asked Gregor if he noticed anything different, but he just grunted at me and shook his head. We had a lot of work back then, and his illness had already started so he tended to get lost in his work when he wasn’t sleeping.”
Bart said, “You took her to see Meg, didn’t you?”
“If anyone would have a cure, the old lady would. Or so I thought. She looked at her, ran some trinkets around in front of her, but couldn’t even get her to smile. And she said, this isn’t your daughter, and she tapped her on the head and it was like knocking on the wall of the church. And she scratched her face with an awl and rock dust fell from it. She was a changeling.”
“I brought her home. Or it, I guess. What was I to do with this thing? How was I supposed to raise something that barely knew me.”
“I asked Bart again, one night before he collapsed into sleep again, and he swore nothing special happened. I thought about explaining to him what I knew, what Meg had told me, but had no faith in the old beliefs, just iron. When I asked him enough times, he did own up to being separated for a bit, when Elle wandered off on her own, but it was just for a few moments. And that’s when I knew it was true, that my beautiful daughter had been dragged off into Faerie and I had been left with this…this scarecrow.”
“You taught her to work with iron?” Bart asked.
Samantha laughed. “I could not have taught her much. She spent most of her day staring into space, or piling rocks in the yard. But I couldn’t live like that. I talked to Meg again, and tried the various spells of location she provided, to no avail. I even went to the caves, called for her, but nothing. Then I had an inspiration.”
“I spent weeks working with Gregor, more than I ever had before, learning the secrets of taming fine metal, turning it like a spider turns silk. And I took the thing…”
And here she felt the tiny, hot pin-pricks of tears in the corner of her eyes. “I spun her the most beautiful hair, more beautiful than Elle’s right now in the light of the flame. I sprinkled it with dust from the shinies Gregor had found. I made her gems for eyes, all opal and sapphire, and I created the most beautiful creature that my horrible new talents could stand to create. She was beautiful and sparkling and almost not of this world.”
“I took her back to the caves, as deep as I could, always going down, deeper, deeper, into the red hot guts of the world. And in the deepest, hottest cave I could find, in the red-hot light of the earth on fire, I had her sing. I had taught her the most beautiful song I knew. And she sang it with the voice I had given her, carved from a stone that was like the bones of the earth. And it rang out into the cave and shook the world.”
“It worked. From the walls all around stepped tiny men, no bigger than human babes, but made of brown and black and grey stone, some pure, some mottled. They had beards of iron filings and eyes of the darkest gems.”
“What is this?” They looked on my creation with delight. “We must have this beautiful thing.”
“And I stepped out of the shadows, my pickax on my shoulder, and I demanded to see my daughter.”
“The darkest of them, a little man with a beard down to his toes, came forward, frowning.”
“What is it yer doing in the land of the Gnomes,” he asked, with a voice like a rock slide.
“You took my daughter, and you gave me this. And I made it better. I want to trade.”
“Yer daughter is one of us now,” the Gnome said.
“And he took my hand and led me straight up to the wall and through it. It was the most marvelous, fearsome thing. Like the first time my mother took me into the ocean and she held me with her under the waves. I could see stones and bones and worms and the trapped shapes of iron and copper and sparkling gems like stars across the sky. And he led me out into another room with a pit of fire in the center, surrounded by humans, boys and girls, men and women, all working metal into ornate shapes and careful jewelry studded with gems.”
“We owe much to the Fey King, so we sometimes need to employ help.”
“He gestured to the scene before me, and then I saw her, my daughter, working iron just like her father, with hammer and tong, her eyes burning in the reflection of the fire. And I saw the beauty of the thing she had created, an ornately turned metal glove, speckled with the stardust of gems.”
“You have made her better,” I conceded, “As I have made this one better.”
“And I gestured, and the metal girl next to me began to sing.”
“You gave her the breath of life,” I said to the Gnome, “But I have made the breath of life useful.”
“And his eyes turned upwards in a smile at the beauty of the song, and the workers began to beat along with it.”
“It has been too long since there has been song here,” the Gnome agreed.
“And that’s how you got her back,” Bart watched the girl take the filigree of iron from the fire in a hand covered in a gauntlet speckled in stardust and carefully bend and form the thing in her bare hands.
“Remarkable,” the old man breathed softly.

World Poetry Day – Baseball Simile

Safe Training BaseballI’m like a rookie coming to the plate
Two out, the bottom of the ninth, no score
Should close my eyes and leave it up to Fate
Full count, it’s far from Springtime anymore
She’s like a pitcher with her steely eyes
Considering her possible designs
A hanging curve? A fastball blowing by?
I never got the hang of reading signs
I swagger to the box and take my place
With steady Karmic breath my fear relieve
But my percentage chance to get on base
Crowd roaring in my head just can’t believe
The stretch, the wind-up, and the ball takes wing
“Hey, batter! Open up your eyes and swing!”

Reading: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely loved this book. Neil Gaiman is so skilled at crafting a fantasy story and giving his reader just enough of the details via such beautiful, literary language that you manage to sustain a sense of wonder throughout even through the ending. The mysteries in the book didn’t leave me wanting more explanation, but rather made me think about the themes in the novel — growing up, the subjective view each individual has of the world, and more.

The book reminded me a bit of the Discworld “witches” novels of Terry Pratchett, or some of the fantastic-realism novels of Tim Powers.

One of my favorite quotes from the novel:
“Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”

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Reading: “Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You”

Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About YouSnoop: What Your Stuff Says About You by Sam Gosling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is meant to teach you how to learn about people from snooping through their rooms, but it’s also a bounty for social media marketers or writers.

If your job is in social media, in reading the tea leaves of activity people leave on their profiles, this will give you a handy framework for knowing what’s relevant and how to place a particular piece of detail you learn about someone.

Fiction writers can use the book in reverse — learning how to apply the psychological principles presented to craft an interesting, realistic character. The proof is in the details, and this book will help you understand how to create the layers of detail and description that make up a real person.

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‘Star Wars 1313′ Is The Live Action Series

I was watching a presentation at Star Wars Celebration VI about the new Star Wars game, Star Wars 1313. It was a pretty impressive tech demo. The game is rendering the world in real time, so that, during the demo where the ship is falling towards the lower levels of Coruscant, they could pause the game and zoom in to the freckles on a character’s face in amazing detail. The game renders, at least on the PC hardware they were running it on (which they wouldn’t reveal) at least as good as most CG in movies today.

The presenters also showed a video about how this game came about as a collaboration between ILM and LucasArts — the idea being that movie animators could create a method to render a movie scene in a video game. No complicated animation that needed to be rendered out overnight via a small city of servers. Just create your objects and let the engine (in this case a highly modified version of the Unreal 3 engine) churn out the action.

That’s when it hit me. This is the holy grail, right? This is the economy of scale that George Lucas is looking for to produce the live-action Star Wars series we’ve all been waiting for.

Then, with that clarity you have when all the edge pieces of a puzzle have been filled in, I began to see the similarities to the rumored Underworld TV series. Star Wars 1313 and Star Wars: Underworld started to sound astoundingly similar. They even mentioned on the panel that the player character in the demo was a placeholder for the main character who they weren’t ready to reveal yet.

My credits are on this game being some incarnation of the TV series, and the TV series being the same story line.

Carbon Freeze Me!

This will be one of my last blog entries as my days of jetting around the galaxy smuggling Jar Jar action figures to France finally caught up with me today as I was captured, accused of crimes against the Empire, and frozen in carbonite.

Against all odds, the carbon freezing facility is located at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

My wife has thoughtfully recorded some pictures of the freezing process, as well as a video of the final results to share with you all. At some point, when they drop the slab…errr…me off, she’ll be able to post a photo of that, too. Hopefully I’ll get unfrozen in 200 years or so for good behavior, although when I don’t have much to do, my mind does tend to wander to thoughts of Twi’lek dancing girls and Slave Leias.

See the photos on Google+

Keith in the carbon freezing chamber.

Video of the final results of my carbon freeze.

Edit 07/09/2012:

You can see pics of the final result in the Google+ album. It’s actually a very nice resemblance. The slab itself was pretty dusty, though. Going to have to give it a nice soft brush off.

Oh my! They’ve encased me in carbonite. I should be quite well protected…if I survived the freezing process.

Reading: How We Decide

It’s that inevitable moment in the car, again. My wife and I are sitting there, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, just a little past the peak of hunger, and I am about to turn the key. We both know what’s going to happen, but the question is who is going to ask it first.

“Where shall we have lunch?”

Why is that question so vexing? A million thoughts come to mind, and some are even delicious. But…I can’t settle on one. This one is a little expensive. That one’s a little too far. Do we have coupons for that other place?

How We DecideHow We Decide may very well help me with my dilemma. The author, Jonah Lehrer, provides vivid examples of the decision-making process, from why people take out a sub-prime loan to how airline pilots land a plane they can no longer steer, and explains the neuroscience behind good decisions and bad ones. I feel more capable of investing in the stock market thanks to this book, which is more than I can say for most finance books I’ve read. The book makes me think about thinking, and that can be a very good thing.

I most enjoyed reading about the rational brain versus the emotional brain. I tend to try to be a rational decider. Before I bought a dishwasher, I spent hours poring over the interactive charts on consumer sites. I read endless reviews. I compared prices. This had to be the best way to make a decision. And yet, in the end, I still struggled with which dishwasher to buy.

How We Decide points out something I had missed. We humans are emotional deciders. The grandest circuitry in our brain is tied tightly with our emotional state. I should have learned this from years of watching Star Trek certainly — Kirk would get the technobabble details from Spock, but in the end, he’d go with his gut. That’s not to put down the value of the rational mind, the scientific approach; it’s a necessary and powerful tool in the decision-making process, especially when you’re making an emotion-wrought decision. As Lehrer says,“The rational brain can’t silence emotions, but it can help figure out which ones should be followed.”

Best of all, there’s a final chapter that outlines how to use the tools at your disposal to make decisions, a fantastic guide to what you should take from the book.

So, if you find yourself sitting in the driveway, trying to decide where to have lunch, go to the bookstore instead.

 

Diablo 3 Beta

Played just a bit of the Diablo 3 open beta this weekend.

It’s Diablo 2, except prettier and more interactive. I like it. I don’t really expect to play it much, because I’m too busy with Star Wars: The Old Republic. But if you liked Diablo 2, it’s worth a look.

Diablo 3 Beta

 

Kindle Touch – Unable To Start Application

Had an issue with my Kindle Touch today where anytime I tried to activate certain applications (like, for instance, the Special Offers app), I’d receive an error message that said “Unable to Start Application”. Since there was an awesome deal to get an award-winning book from a selection of books for $1, I spent some Google-juice figuring out how to fix it.

Keith and his beloved Kindle Touch
Oh, Kindle....why are you tasking me?

Turns out, there’s a way to reboot the Kindle Touch beyond holding the power button down till it blinks (which evidently is a fake reboot).

To hard reboot the Kindle Touch:

Press the Menu button. Press Settings. After the Settings menu appears, press the Menu button again. Then press Restart.

If your Kindle is particularly depressed and you can’t get to the Menu, try holding down the power button to fake reboot, then try again. You could also try resetting to factory default — although it always pains me greatly to have to do that to a device.

Hopefully, this is just a firmware problem that will be fixed in the next go-round.

 

Top 7 of 2011

A quick recap of my highlights of 2011, in no particular order…

New Yard

We blew the big bucks from savings, tore up the weeds that had been pretending to be a lawn and had a landscaper (EWG Dirt Cheap) come in and create something native, environmentally responsible, and easier to take care of. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

  

 

Losing Weight

This is another case where the pics could speak for themselves, but I want to add that Gary Taubes Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It and Good Calories, Bad Calories were a huge inspiration to me, since they talked loud science over the chattering of all the weight-loss pundits trying to sell me cardboard shakes and awkward spring-loaded pulley machines.

 

I feel better and I find it easier to control what I eat. More, I learned to skip the health article headlines and dig deeper into the results to figure out what the latest scientific study is really trying to tell me.

Disney Anniversary Party

My wife, Natasha, celebrated her 20th anniversary of working for Disney this year. We’ve been to a few of the big anniversary parties over the years as guests of my parents, and they were lavish affairs with great food, but they always felt kind of big-company stodgy.

This year’s party seemed to be created entirely with us in mind. Apologies to the rest of you that had to attend our destiny. Held in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (nee Disney-MGM Studios), our “home” park over the years. The triumphant return of the blisteringly brilliant Adventurers Club cast (as well as the rest of the Pleasure Island cast). A massive fireworks show. Free drinks, colonel! It took me back to the heady, Eisnerized Disney Decade around the time we started.

 

Ultimately, Natasha had a wonderful time and I was happy to come along for the ride highlighting the best of our time there. I’m hoping for a similar experience when I turn 20 in mouse years next year.

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue

I would have been excited about the reboot of the Star Wars ride at Disney regardless, but it came with so many bonus prizes! My buddy, Bree Starlighter, made it big as the intergalactic PR princess for the Star Tours company.

Star Wars Weekends, which I had been worrying would go the way of every Death Star, absolutely jumped to hyperspace this year.

Anthony Daniels performed a heartfelt one man/one droid show about the wonderful blessing it is to be See-Threepio.

James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan from The Clone Wars) rocked his own stage show that managed not only to show off his own incredible talent but to inspire the audience to find its own.

 

All that, and did I mention the attraction is awesome, too?

(Side note: if you’re not watching The Clone Wars and you say you’re a Star Wars fan, you’re not…really…)

Ships and Dip 4

You know it’s going to be an absolutely incredible cruise when you get back from the lifeboat drill and there are spaces in the front row of the sail-away concert just waiting for you.

It only got better when I got stopped by Mike Evin, who recognized me from my Facebook page and wanted to thank me for all the nice posts about him. (Seriously, if you’re not listening to Mike’s music, you’re missing out. And definitely get the chance to see a live show – Mike is an awesome performer whose musical passion just reaches out and grabs the audience.) If only I would have remembered to get my picture taken with him! I guess I was a little bit star-struck.

Now, when do I sign up for the next one?

Being Part-time

Back in August of 2010, after much personal deliberation and discussion with Natasha (which, for her part, was mostly, “Really, you need to do this”) I decided to go part-time at my “real” job and spend some time rediscovering bits and pieces of myself that had been missing for a while, subsumed by corporate culture and technology. I started work on a novel. I stopped working on said novel to struggle through a short story. I completed a draft of possibly the worst science fiction novel ever written during National Novel Writing Month. I rediscovered the joy of making things in my brain, and I keep learning every day about the things that hold me back and how to kick them to the curb. I am so lucky to be able to do this, and I am looking forward to my future.

Great wishes for all of you! Hope you have a wonderful 2012 and find all the things you’re looking for…