Down to Ride

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I have heard it said that “cautious optimism” is something of a mental illness out here in the Zone, considering all the misery and danger that get heaped on every poor soul still breathing. Most folks suffer from this illness from time to time, usually when they’ve got full bellies, a decent place to sleep, and maybe somebody else to cozy up with until morning. Generally these fits of madness don’t last long, because sooner or later you’ll be hungry again, far from shelter, and on your own. That’s when you’ll return to a more sane and nihilistic outlook, where survival is the only thing. You’ll remember that the world ain’t getting better at all, it’s still the same hazardous ruin of a place as it ever was. It’s a vicious cycle of perspective and most of us are stuck in it, soaring with the highs of safety and abundance while riding out the lows of danger and scarcity, our states of mind pretty much dependent upon what we think we have.

I heard someone say once that a wastelander’s fate was to endure life in the constant grip of paranoia and hardship, towards no purpose but survival. Pretty dark stuff, and likely whoever said that had probably experienced the unique sensation of waking up from a restful slumber to the harsh reality of being slowly digested by a sentient cactus. That sort of thing can give a person the bleaker sort of outlook on life, the end of optimism, bottle caps having two sides and whatnot. At least that’s how I felt when it happened to me, like it would anyone else, then again, there’s always the exception to the rule, and that exception is Bart Rover.

As you are laying there, with your arms bound up in thorny pedals, watching your right leg dissolve thanks to the secretions seeping onto it from the cactus blossoms poised above your body, there’s a moment where one might insist that yes, optimism is for crazy people. To hear Bart tell it, the sight of his flesh slowly melting off the bone gave him a sudden and deep appreciation for the tenacity of life. In this scorched turd of a world here was a life form that had not just adapted, but found a way to thrive. As he looked up from his mess of a leg Bart could see that the endless barren miles of desert were obscured by dozens of large cactus plants that seemingly had appeared overnight. Needless to say it was something of a chilling sight.

Bart had been attempting to cross a particularly rugged part of the Zone on his range cycle, which wasn’t much more than a glorified dirt bike with a few pieces of armor over the gears and an extended rack for additional saddlebags. There was a salvage job waiting for him in a border settlement called Crystal Lake, which overlooked a deep and dry lakebed of the same name. Apparently some Prospector was crewing up and looking for a driver who could handle a wind skiff, presumably so that they could sail out into the lakebed and scrap one of the many beached ships from the old world. The silt was easily ten to twenty feet deep in most places, so skilled drivers who could pilot the skiffs were in high demand.

According to Bart he actually grew up in Crystal Lake, and before leaving town to explore his better fortunes he’d been quite the skiffer. Crystal Lake was deep Zone, and the border settlement was generally pretty isolated because of how long it took to get there from just about anywhere, and only a few dozen folk were ever living there at one time. If you were coming from the metropoli, or even frontier towns like Pump Station 8 or Tannerville, you had to take a long broken road, left over from the ancient world, which ran in a wide arc around the desert flats. That road, its name forgotten, connected many frontier towns and specifically the metropolis of New Anchor, which for all intents and purposes was on the other side of the world. Anybody who didn’t want to spend the better part of several weeks pushing their way across that lonely road, not to mention surviving the likely predations of banditos, mutants, dieselpunk gangs, or worse, had to move across the Zone’s brutal desert.

Our man Bart Rover didn’t get his last name for nothing, and figured he could make the run on his range cycle, packing light and watching his fuel expenditure. The first two days went without a hitch, just mile after sun-baked mile of flat desert floor and the occasional rock or tumbleweed. On the third night, just thirty or so miles out from Crystal Lake, Bart was too tired to keep driving, so he made camp. Which brings us to the part where he awoke to discover that overnight dozens of giant cactus predators had crept up on him and were in the process of liquefying his body and drinking him right up. There he was, in mortal peril, and he found himself overcome with how totally relentless and badass these plants had become. They weren’t the usual water-starved and sedentary plants he’d seen plenty of times in the wasteland, these cacti were healthy, hearty, and had progressed beyond meager survival. They were flourishing, I recall was the word he used, and in that moment he saw how a wastelander could truly live, assuming he didn’t die messy and end up cactus food.

Something I should have said about Bart at the beginning was that he’s not only one of the nicest people I know, but he’s also one of the most dangerous. That guy could kill a room full of people with his hands tied behind his back and his eyes closed. Not because he has more guns and hustle than the next guy, but because he’s got patience and the will to do what needs to be done. He and the cactus have that in common. Instead of thrashing about and getting more wounded by the thorns, further sapping his strength, which is what most of us would do, Bart just laid there nice and calm. He watched as more and more of the cactus closed in on him, and still he waited. His leg was in pain, but more that dull achy kind and not the stinging white-hot pain you’d imagine, must have been something in the goo coming from the blossoms that was numbing him.

The thing is that Bart had nearly lost his right foot in a pretty nasty auto collision, the bone was sheered in half at a sharp angle, though enough meat had hung on that he’d been able to keep the foot. Now wasteland medicine being what it is, the bone never quite re-attached all the way, even though his muscle and skin grew back over the wound like it should have. He had trouble putting much weight on it, and walked with a cane, but he got around ok. As he waited more and more of his leg was dissolved until finally all the flesh connecting his leg to his foot had fallen away. That’s when Bart made his move, and yanked hard with his leg, detaching himself from the sticky mess that used to be his foot. Now Bart had a gleaming white bone spike that he used to slice and stab at the cactus. I’m not making this up, I swear. It didn’t take long for him to be covered in the pulp and juices of the nearest cacti, and pretty soon the rest of them started backing off. They’re predators after all, not fighters, and they weren’t about to risk getting wounded and losing precious fluids and vitality. Bart knew that they’d just hang back until he was weak enough to be overtaken again, and he wasn’t about to give them that chance.

Bart reached Crystal Lake not long after, leaving the cacti in the dust, having jammed his stump into the gas pedal so he could keep the engine going, all the while still marveling at their adaptive advantages. If a dumbass plant could find a way to thrive out here, then dammit he could to. He’d had enough of just surviving, and to hear him tell it that’s what got him started on the bus.

The bus is the thing isn’t it?

I figured you’d recognize that particular tall tale. Yessir the Bart Rover of this story is The Rover you’ve heard about, maybe seen in the distance, the crazy old bastard who drives the armored bus across the Zone. When Bart got to Crystal Lake he wasn’t about to let a liquefied leg stop him, and so he bartered his way into a leg-rig that would let him use his bone peg to pilot the skiff, and he took the Prospector’s salvage job. They got lucky out there on the dead lake, and instead of suffocating in ten foot deep silt drifts or falling victim to wind stalkers they found a ship that hadn’t been picked over yet. I don’t know what they found, Bart never told me, but whatever they scored was prize enough that he was able to buy a mountain of parts and several junkers which he cobbled together to make that armored bus of his.

Bart figured that if the folks of the wasteland were gonna thrive one of the first steps would be reliable public transportation. So he started making passenger runs, starting with Crystal Lake to Tannerville, then as word spread he started moving bodies from Pump Station 8, and these days you can ride all the way out to New Anchor. It’s dangerous work, sure as sure, considering that he’ll give a seat to anyone who can pay the fare, but somehow it works. Ask most anyone and they’d say that trying to operate a public bus in the Zone is closer to having a death wish than a grand idea about making life a little bit better in the wasteland. People often place bets on how long the Rover will last until someone takes him out, but the thing is, despite the occasional marauder gang or bandito that tries and dies, it’s actually a pretty safe way to travel. All things considered, the Rover is, in his own small way, making wastelanders more connected to each other. He and his bus are bridging that gap of distance and danger as they ferry people away from trouble they might not have otherwise been able to escape or towards opportunities they might not otherwise have been able to seek.

Cautious optimism is most definitely a mental illness, and when things are at their worst may we all be gifted with such madness.

*More like this available in Wasteland Survival Guide

Once Upon a Time… in the Zone

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Wastelanders are a lot like throwbacks to ancient times, in that our tradition is an oral one. No you pervert, not that, I mean “oral tradition”, in that we are tellers of stories. The Art of Storytelling is something that most all people who live our kind of life have some skill with, even the most odious scavenger has enough awareness to tell you what nefarious deeds he was up to last week. According to Julie stories are our primary method of culture transmission, for those of us with a less fancy vocabulary storytelling is our way of getting information and entertainment at the same time. Wherever two or more people are gathered, and they aren’t busy trying to kill each other at that particular moment, then stories get told. Whether you’re taking a load off around a campfire, bellying up to the bar, or just riding shotgun, its just what you do. All we are is stories.

After Julie and I started printing and circulating the WASTELAND SURVIVAL GUIDE folks reacted, most of em liked what we had to say, the rest just laughed or put a bounty on my head just to be assholes, and only a handful tried to kill me outright.

After awhile folks started seeking me out if they laid eyes on my sorry self in one place or another. I’d get a few free drinks and people would tell me their stories, and pretty soon I started to realize I should start writing them down. The problem with an oral tradition is that if everyone who knows the story dies or disappears, then that story is gone forever, and folks die or disappear in the Zone all the time. So Julie got it in her head that I should re-tell her the stories and we’d write them down, print em up so that they wouldn’t be lost if me or the storyteller took a dirt nap. Over the next couple of months I’m going to be posting up a collection of the craziest and weirdest stories I’ve heard out there, some of them are my own, most of them were told to me by the people who lived through them. Its presented in my words, cuz dammit I’m the one telling the story, so its got my own twist and sizzle, but all in all these are the stories as they were told to me, and most of them, especially the weirder ones, I know to be true.

So be sure to check back here at least once a week and warm your hands or char some zone meat at the burn barrel while I tell you a tale, in the meantime, check out the Wasteland Survival Guide and get yourself prepared for the strangest of futures.

Risky Fiction

Honorable men, well, they die hard, but they still die.” — Nicola (the film Bunraku)

As an author I want to create a sense for the reader that, once the series is firmly established, anyone could die.


I have approached my scifi military series ‘Necrospace‘ with this in mind. I know that for the most part (unless I surprise myself at some point) my main protagonist Samuel Hyst is going to survive any given book so that he can be around for the next installment, because though we may visit some subplots, this series is his story.

Until it isn’t.

Do I plan on killing off my main character?

Not really, but I’m open to it, which is why I’m building up all the supporting characters. I don’t know who is going to get killed in this book or that book, because I’m following this story only a few steps ahead of my readers (keeps it fun to write!). Maybe there will come a point in the series where its time for Samuel to meet his end and for one of the other characters to step onto the main stage. In the first book ‘Salvage Marines‘ all of the supporting characters began on equal footing as far as development, though as we go into the second book ‘Dead Worlds‘ not all of the supporting characters survived the first story, and now new ones are taking their place in book two, though a core group of supporting cast have now managed to survive not only one but two installments. They are growing as characters, and while not to the degree of the protagonist, I am confident that I could, if I wanted to, kill off Samuel Hyst and pass the protagonist torch to a supporting character who is ready to take the lead.

As an author I like having that option, and as a reader that is exactly what I want out of a series. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Dresden Files, but I know that Wizard Harry Dresden is never going to die, at least until the author decides to write one last novel and call it quits (because final installments all bets are off!). I want to create a story where we have multitudes of characters who can take center stage when a protagonist bites the big one. I’m not writing from so many perspectives as George RR Martin or anythying, though I am certainly taking a page from his style and continuing in my Necrospace series without the certainty that it will always be “The Samuel Hyst Show”, and that he might die or disappear and someone else could take the helm.

I’ll miss Samuel, if he goes, the same way I miss several of the supporting characters in Necrospace who have already come and gone, but that is what I like about what I’ll call ‘risky fiction’, the fact that after the setting and the characters are established the crosshairs of mortality could come to rest on anyone, even the protagonist of an on-going series.

That’s the great thing about stories… those characters that you loved and hated can rise and fall over and over again, in all their glory.

“I live. I die. I live again!” — Nux (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Gold and Glory

“There is time enough for civilization when we are at war” — Wargir proverb

I love space marines.

Whether they are the genetically engineered super-soldiers of the Warhammer 40k universe, the Terran marines of the Starcraft games, the seminal warriors of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, or the hundreds of other incarnations of these future soldiers throughout sci-fi fiction, films, comics, and video games… I think they are awesome, and I have been meaning to contribute to this genre myself for a long time.

And so I give you the first installment of the Necrospace series … SALVAGE MARINES


The synopsis:

It is the Age of The Corporation. The common man toils under the watchful eye of the elite and their enforcers. The rules of law have long been replaced by the politics of profit. The dark ages of feudalism have returned with capitalistic ferocity. There is no peace among the stars of mapped space and business is booming. Samuel Hyst is an indentured worker who seeks to better his fortunes by joining the ranks of a militarized deep space salvage operation as a hired soldier. The young man’s hope is to earn enough hazard wages to pay off his debts and expatriate his growing family away from the totalitarian industrial society ruled by Grotto Corporation. To reach his goals he must survive a grueling tour of duty in Necrospace, a name given to the abandoned scrapyard quadrants of a war-torn universe.

This is a novel that I have had simmering in the back of my mind for several years, and it finally clawed its way to the top of my list of writing priorities during the 2014 National Novel Writing Month. I worked with my favorite editor Terry Bland and we got this thing polished and ready for press as of last week. I’ve decided to set this book up for an Amazon Pre-Order, with the title being available on March 1st. If you pre-order then the ebook will be loaded to your Kindle/Cloud on March 1st. It will be DRM free so even if you don’t have a kindle device you can read it on your computer, and the print edition will be available on that same day.

Why a pre-order?

You aren’t a famous author OR even in brick & mortar bookstores, so why bother?

My answer is Reader Awareness.

I’ve been writing and publishing for some time now, and before that I was making movies and distributing them. One key element that I’ve never fully managed was a ‘proper release’ of any book or film. By the time a book gets finished I’m already moving on to the next project, and I haven’t given enough time and effort to promoting the book. Usually that shows in the sales numbers, and at the end of the day the sales numbers are just as important as the story… because if people are buying the book (or borrowing through Kindle Unlimited) then that means the Story Is Being Told. That’s right, I’ve realized that being an author, or more specifically being a storyteller, is just as much about the ‘gold’ you get from sales as it is the ‘glory’ you get from telling a good story.

The purpose of a story is to be told (in this case read) and the more people who read this story the more that purpose is realized, and as a storyteller that feeds my soul. What puts food in my belly (and my family’s) is that the people who read this story paid to read it. I know it sounds hilarious to even say it, but honestly it has taken me this long to see that increasing Reader Awareness in what drives sales, which feeds my soul and my belly. By giving myself a few weeks to promote the book before it is released gives me a chance to make sales, which boosts sales rank, which raises visibility on the Holy Grail of publishing (Amazon Top 100 in genre). As such here I am, working on a blog that I hope gives a bit more insight into the novel, to entice you to pre-order and experience the story in depth.

It feels Good to tell people about this story, because I think this one is worth sharing, especially in these troubled times. We live in a world not dissimilar to that of Samuel Hyst and his comrades, and we can see our own struggles reflected on the page (or kindle screen), even if in a more dramatic science fiction action kind of way. I see myself in this story, at various moments, behind the eyes of several of the characters, as I see other people I’ve known in my life. I imagine that you will too.

Space marine stories are generally rather grim, and this tale is no different, though it does have a unique element that sets it apart from most space marine genre fiction. Samuel Hyst has a choice. He is not defending earth from alien invaders, nor is he fighting the forces of some galactic evil. Samuel’s situation hits us closer to home because he is a debt-slave, and only marginally more dramatically than what we see reflected in our own modern world. Our protagonist chooses the life of a mercenary, a salaried corporate soldier to be exact. At any point in his troubled journey he can ‘opt out’ and return to his civilian life, unlike the average space marine protagonist in the greater genre. Samuel Hyst explicitly fights for money, that is his ‘gold’. He tells himself that he will use the money to escape the corporate world and find a new life, that is his ‘glory’. We must struggle alongside him to reconcile his dubious occupation with his humanity, his goals more elusive than he ever imagined, knowing that we don’t get the ‘easy out’ of saying that we are ‘defending earth’ or ‘fighting evil’. In many ways, the excerpt below illustrates the struggles, of both mind and body, that Samuel must endure as the story unfolds.

“The wargir waved an invitation to Samuel and the marine trudged up the dune hill to join the mercenary in surveying the battlefield. The fighting was all but finished, and for the first time that day Samuel began to feel confident about the mission.

“Well, uh,” Samuel wracked his brain for the other man’s name. Imago. “Imago. Looks like we won,” said Samuel off handedly as he sat down next to the mercenary, “Good day for Grotto and bad day for Helion. Can’t say it feels all that victorious though, a lot of bodies out there that belong to us.”

“Hyst Samgir,” the mercenary said, “you must understand that when war is stripped of ideology, all that remains is the simple reality that it is nothing more, and nothing less, than the violent redistribution of wealth.” He cocked his head at Samuel as they sat perched upon the burned out hull of a Helion battle tank. “Anyone who says differently is just trying to lower your pay rate.”

As a defense logistics contractor and a self-published author, in many ways I feel as if I’m right there alongside our protagonist while I work to balance the Businessman and the Storyteller during my own quest for Gold and Glory.

Strange Works

There are the books we read, and we enjoy most of them… they entertain, they titillate, they inspire… but there are other, stranger works, that delve into the dirty business of living as a conscious entity in this ad-hoc physical realm, burdened as we are by our varying degrees of spiritual and intellectual awareness. Like the shopkeeper in The Neverending Story says, these books are not safe…

With this short entry I wish to discuss two ‘strange works’ as a way of recommending them to some or all seekers of such things as exist (or are imagined) beyond our immediate kenning.


THE FORGOTTEN GODS OF JOZI – For a moment, imagine that the Gods are borne out of human and animal imagination, a need to reconcile the unforgiving natural world through storytelling, manifested quite solidly in the perceivable realm as beings of vast powers, desires, and hungers. Gods of knowledge and portent. Gods of sex and lust. Gods of blood and gold. This novella takes the reader into the minds, histories, and hearts of gods who have been ‘forgotten’ in name, though remembered and ‘fed’ in deed, and play out their continuing drama of agendas and violence against the backdrop of modern Johannesburg, South Africa. This book is on amazon, as a kindle ebook, for $0.99 and is worth far more. In short, it will Cost you more to read it than the $0.99 you spend on it. I urge anyone who enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s book AMERICAN GODS to take this journey, because while the former is a seminal work of mythic genius, it is ‘safe’, and the Forgotten Gods of Jozi is most certainly not.


THE EMERALD BURRITO OF OZ – If there was ever a book of fiction that I would consider both an excellent novel-of-entertainment and a grimoire-of-living-magick, this would be it. If everyone on the planet could read this book, in their native tongue with culture-appropriate iconic references, the world would be a better, even if no less violent or sober, place to experience this darkly humorous cosmic farce we call LIFE. This is a bizzaro tale that is best described by the book’s own synopsis: ZOMBIE MUNCHKINS! TURD-FLINGING FLATHEADS! EVIL CORPORATE CONSPIRACIES! DELICIOUS MEXICAN FOOD! OZ IS REAL! Magic is real! The gate is really in Kansas! And America is finally allowing Earth tourists to visit this weird-ass, mysterious land. But when Gene of Los Angeles heads off for summer vacation in the Emerald City, little does he know that a war is brewing…a war that could destroy both worlds! This loving Bizarro tribute to the great L. Frank Baum is an action-packed, whimsically ultraviolent adventure, featuring your favorite Oz characters as you’ve never seen ’em before. Let super-hot warrior sweetheart Aurora Quixote Jones take you on a guided tour of surrealist laffs, joy, and mayhem, with more severed heads than Apocalypse Now and more fun than a barrel of piss-drunk winged monkeys!

I urge you, as someone who totally loves you, to purchase both of these books and read the heck out of them. If you are more of a cynical and sarcastic kinda person, then start with Burrito and work your way towards Jozi, if you are more of an optimist and positive thinking kinda person then get yourself to Jozi first and heal that hurt with a tasty Burrito.

Get these books, read them, and I promise your life will be more awesome.

Myths in the Making

As a storyteller my mind often grasps upon small ideas and builds worlds around them, weaving tales out of whatever twigs and straw might be laying around. This is especially applicable when it comes to raising my son, as his little mind is like a sponge and it is my job to ensure that his inner world is richly populated with history, song, color, and story. When he was first born I would often speak to him, as most parents do, in baby-talk, with a variety of nonsense words. One that I used more often than most was ‘aki-pati’, and he responded to it with smiles and grabbing my finger most of the time. One day my lady asked me what it meant, and challenged me to tell the story behind the word. What you see below is a rough draft of the story that fell from the tip of my tongue, one day to be polished and added to a growing stack of stories I will be telling him when he is older to help shape him as a compassionate and courageous human being.



Aki-Pati was a young man who lived on a remote island in the center of a vast ocean. The waters around the island had been over-fished by the villagers of his small community, and a giant shark begun terrorizing the villagers and driving away all the rest of the sea life. The people were not only starving, but trapped on the island, for when they tried to flee in their boats the shark would attack. Aki-Pati was a brave young boy, and had looked into the shark’s eyes during one of the attacks, barely surviving as the great beast shattered their oars and nearly sank the boat. He began to have dreams about a deep wind that blew from the ocean up to the top of the mountain, pushing him along as it drove him from the coast inland. Eventually he’d had enough and one night followed the wind in his waking life through a dangerous climb to the top of the mountain. When he reached the peak the wind told him about the shark god Kaiku, and that the god was blinded by rage at the villagers for taking so much from the ocean without regard, and so was punishing them for their disrespect. The deep wind told Aki-Pati that he could calm Kaiku’s rage by making him swallow a lava rock taken from the ancient volcano on mountaintop. The boy was afraid, yet knew that if he did nothing the village would remained trapped and starve, so he did as the wind instructed. Aki-Pati descended the mountain and went alone into the ocean, his path lit by the full moon in a cloudless sky. He made the difficult swim through the surf with a lava rock in his hand and a sharp knife in the other. He cut himself three times across his chest and the swirling blood offering brought Kaiku up from the depths, his teeth glinting in the moonlight as he came. Aki-Pati dove down to meet the god and when Kaiku opened his great maw Aki-Pati plunged his hand into the shark’s mouth, making it swallow the stone. Aki-Pati’s arm was taken as the shark closed its jaws and disappeared into the dark depths. The boy struggled to remain awake as he swam to shore, and as he did the deep wind called out to the villagers to rescue him and bring bindings for his wounds. When the sun rose Kaiku’s rage had ceased, his deadly fin no longer seen lurking in the crashing waves of the surf. The fish began to return to the waters, and the great shark allowed the people harvest them once again. Aki-Pati had risked his life and sacrificed his arm to save the villagers, ease the god’s rage, and restore balance to the sea. Long after Aki-Pati had lived his life and passed on to the next world, young boys and girls who were ready to make the transition into adulthood had to wait in silence by the sea until they heard the elders beat the drums, and then would climb the mountain. Once they reached the peak the elders would tattoo a ring of shark tooth marks around their left arm, just above the elbow, to remind them the cost of taking too much from the world, and to listen when the deep wind blows.

Fable: A Cinematic Sucker Punch

WARNING: This post is meant to be entertaining. I hope you can laugh along with me.

As the director, a producer, a contributing writer, and overall core storyteller of the film I am duty-bound to take responsibility for the final product. Actors lacking good direction, a confusing script, shoddy post-production, all of these are on my shoulders. As a filmmaker I have been through some bad reviews in my time, and no film of mine has been so vilified as Fable, and no film so deserving of it as Fable.

The reviewer, Derek the Bard, made a scathing-yet-hilarious video review for his web-series “Chasing the Muse” about a year ago, and recently shared it with me. He got in touch and wanted to create a second review after reading my book “As Above So Below: And Other Unborn Cinema”, where I delve into the making of Fable in several chapters appropriately titled “Anatomy of a Trainwreck”. Using the book and some of our discussions he created a second, equally brutal and equally entertaining review, which I would like to share. 

He is merciless, and you’ll be holding your sides laughing as much as you’ll be covering your mouth in shock at the film-ripping he puts on my movie, but after this review you’ll be loving to hate Fable: Teeth of Beasts along with the rest of us.

Consequently… you can shoot yourself in the cinema-face with the purchase of Fable from Amazon by visiting the “Tragedy” section of this blog, and you can check out the Unborn Cinema book in print or ebook Right Here

Enjoy the review!

Hero Cult

A dark adventure story that may one day be a film. 

In a savage world of warring kingdoms and primeval forests two ex-heroes struggle with their dark past as a demigod of chaos hatches a daring plot to unleash the apocalyptic battle of Ragnarok in order to return the ancient magic of the mythica to a gray land long purged of terror and wonder.

Read the whole script HERE. 

Antiheroes and the Hard Six

SPOILER ALERT: Walking Dead Season 3, Man on Fire, Voodoo Cowboys, and 300


Classically a ‘hero’ is a dead man, venerated because of wide fame, the compounding of great deeds, a particularly epic death, or some combination therein. I’ve always thought of myself as a fan of the ‘antihero’, that being someone who fills the role of the protagonist, though exemplifies more villainous qualities than traditionally heroic ones. Recently I have been watching the zombie drama series ‘The Walking Dead’ and like most fans I really liked Daryl Dixon, and I had a soft-spot for his older brother Merle Dixon, because those guys were rough around the edges and reminded me a bit of growing up in the south. 

In the final episodes of Season 3 of the Walking Dead there is a scene where Merle has left one group of survivors and joined another, only to find that he doesn’t fit in there either.  His final act is to launch a one man assault against a vastly superior force, and dies in the process. I found myself deeply moved by the character’s arc, and that after several seasons of him being a somewhat reviled character he has his moment of heroism. Upon watching this I started to think about the classical definition of heroes, and thinking back to other heroes I’ve felt a connection with who went out in a similar fashion. 

As I sift through the list I begin to see a pattern, in which I find a particular interest in characters who  lay everything on the line for one perfect moment. It brought me back to Battlestar Galactica, where Captain Adama talks about how “sometimes you just have to roll the hard six”. Its a gambling phrase, about beating the dreadful odds against and coming out with a victory. When I apply that hard six idea with heroes, I start to see some interesting beliefs that I apparently hold to in my own fictional works. 

In the comic & film ‘300’ King Leonidas brings his Spartan warriors out into the open, instead of retreating into the hot gates where he can still fight, so that he can lure Xerxes within range of a well-thrown spear. When the trap is sprung all of the Spartans are killed, and though Leonidas wounds Xerxes, he fails to roll the hard six. Leonidas dies, but in such a heroic way his story is inspirational regardless of his failure. 

In the Walking Dead Merle Dixon leads a horde of zombies into an ambush laid by the Governor, and under cover of the zombie attack Merle manages to shoot down eight of the Governor’s men before he is killed. For a brief moment Merle has the Governor in his sights, and fires, only to hit a man who crosses in front of the Governor at the last moment. Merle dies, having also failed to roll the hard six, but damn what a way to go. 

In Man on Fire John Creasy is waging a war on the drug cartels in Mexico City, and is severely wounded early in the film. He fights his way through the film, all the while struggling with the increasingly debilitating wound. Somewhere deep down you as a viewer know he’s not going to survive, and you are ok with that, because he is too, so long as he can “do this one last thing”, which is save the little girl. Ultimately he rolls the hard six, and successfully trades his life for the little girl, managing to die before his captors can do anything worse. 

In my own film Voodoo Cowboys, a spell-slinger named Doctor John barely survives a battle with shaman-sorcerer Duvalier in which his comrades (Shaner and Reese) were killed. In order to gain the power with which to defeat Duvalier the slinger must make a magical bargain with a bloodthirsty god, exchanging his own vital life energy for the god’s favor in battle. Doctor John faces off high noon style with Duvalier and kills the shaman, then pays the price for his chance to roll the hard six and dies himself as he walks towards the setting sun. 

In the third Star Wars film Darth Vader sees his son being tortured to death by Emperor Palpatine, and decides to intervene. After years of serving as the dark champion for the Empire Darth Vader chooses to abandon his duties and attack the Emperor, though doing so would surely mean his death. Vader fights through the deadly lighting coming from the Emperor and manages to kill Palpatine before succumbing to his own wounds. Then, to top it off, he survives long enough to tell his son “you were right about me”, and that there was some good still left in him, before dying. To me that sounds like the gold standard of hitting the hard six. 

These are generally dark tales, with grim endings and hard choices, and I do love them so. One of my friends told me, after reading several of my stories, that I seem to kill all of the protagonists by the end of the story, and now perhaps I am beginning to understand why he was right. At the end of it all the way I see it is that whatever a person is, it’s that act of making the attempt to roll a hard six that makes you a hero, and the outcome, whatever it is, isn’t your concern, because you’ll most likely be dead anyway. 

First World Problems

Warning… this post gets a little preachy… but fear not… we will return to our regularly scheduled Argo geek blog shortly…


Like any other American I sometimes get stressed about money, my physique, the opinions of others, and the state of my nation & the world. What I don’t do is worry about being the victim of ethnic cleansing, being put up on legal charges for blasphemy, or being starved out of my village by men with guns. My problems are First World, and I wanted to write a post today in thanks of that fact, because I know that this freedom didn’t come for free. 

I enjoyed the life of a nomadic filmmaker for roughly five years, and it was glorious. I moved from city to city, bouncing from project to project as I followed a haphazard path through the film industry. I never really had any money of my own, yet I never lacked for food, shelter, adventure, and companionship. Through it all I worked hard, earning my stripes and paying my dues in the trenches of the independent film world. I didn’t have much to show for my labors, perpetually broke and holding half-finished films in my hands, and there was always the allure of going back to that desk job. For me it was the choice between being a white-collar office drone or a vagabond artist. When I look at the state of affairs in many other nations of this world I realize that while I was worrying about where to go next or how I was going to get there others cannot stand up long enough under the weight of their grinding poverty or political oppression to even consider such a choice. I live in a country where someone can decide to be an artist, and I can make films or write books or make music about whatever I want without fear of censorship or interference as long as I don’t hurt or exploit anyone in the process. First World Problems. 

These days I’ve shifted from nomadic bachelor to family man. I work for the military roughly 4 months out of the year, then spend the rest of the year working on my films, books, and being a stay-at-home dad. My biggest concerns day to day are things like running out of laundry detergent, forgetting to put out the recycling, or changing out the diaper bin. When I worry about money its not a question of whether or not I can provide food, clothing, and shelter for my family, its more like picking 3 day shipping on an Amazon purchase instead of overnight, or whether to take a vacation now or later when there’s a bit more cash on hand. First World Problems. 

For me a big creative outlet is cooking, and I like to experiment about ninety percent of the time. Unlike other art forms, like filmmaking for instance, cooking allows one to have an idea, prepare the ingredients, add the heat, and serve the meal all in one burst of energy. I enjoy going to the grocery store without a plan and just buying a cart full of assorted ingredients that I’ll find combinations for later. I don’t worry about the money most of the time, and the few times when I do its more a question of variety instead of quantity. Not once in my life have I ever worried about where my next meal is coming from or if it will be enough. My biggest concern when it comes to food is the variety of what I consume, not the quantity, because there is always enough. First World Problems. 

Right now the United States of America is a First World Nation, and for that I am thankful. Though it is important to acknowledge that not everyone in America experiences this country as a First World Nation. There are many here who struggle with financial problems that are dramatically more dire than being able to afford hobbies or vacations, and their education/employment situations are dire to the point that my own dilemmas seem silly to be stressed about. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, my only point is that most of us are truly enjoying the Good Life, and we should be thankful for it. My lady and I are starting a non-profit soon, in the spirit of putting our money where our mouths are. Which brings me to my real point (I know I’ve meandered, bear with me)…. being thankful is literally the least you can do. Being thankful is our biggest First World Problem, because to be thankful you’ve got to be looking at the other guy and realizing how good you’ve got it by comparison.

Turn that thankfulness into First World Action, because its the job of the folks who’ve got it good to pay it forward. We don’t all have to go become full-time activists or start feeling guilty for the success we’ve achieved. Just give a little back. Maybe volunteer one day a month. Donate some of your luxury cash to a charity, or fund non-commercial science (we all need to know more about hippos, and those researchers need that sweet grant money). Whether we realize it or not having First World Problems is a blessing, and we earn it by helping others, however we can.