The Power of the Mask, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Be A Rock Star

Bristol Faire Front GateI started going to renaissance faires shortly after I got out of the Navy, after I met my wife. She’s been going to them since she was a child and was a regular performer at some of the ones in California for quite some time, going all the way back to the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

There tend to be three types of people you find at a renn faire:

  1. The Tourist: The Tourist is a regular joe. He shows up in regular clothes and wanders around spending money, eating giant turkey legs, seeing the shows, and taking pictures. The vast majority of people at a renn faire are Tourists.
  2. The Costumed Tourist: The CT shows up in costume, but they’re not really in character. They’ve dressed up to show off or perhaps to just fit in a little better, but they’re still carrying their bottles of Bud Light and wearing sunglasses.
  3. The Rennie: Rennies are into it. They’ve got the costume, they say things like “thee” and “good day sir” and “milady, if it please you” with an appropriate accent, carry themselves like the urchin or fairy or cavalier they’re dressed as, and in general act a part in the theme of the faire. These are the folks that have spent hundreds of hours (and dollars!) to tweak and perfect their costume.

The line between #2 and #3 is a pretty blurry one. At a faire you might see ninjas, monsters, knights in armor, Stormtroopers from the 501st, fairies, and a steampunk pirate gang. Some folks dress up in period-correct costuming but are just slumming, while those Stormtroopers are walking with weapons at the ready like they’re patrolling Mos Eisley. When I met my wife, she had a trunk full of costumes and a handful of personas she liked to play. I, on the other hand, was just a guy who liked to watch girls in corsets and chainmail bikinis. She tried to get me into it but I didn’t grow up with the faires like she did. Those periods of history never really interested me; we discussed character ideas and such but nothing ever really caught my interest. Eventually we ended up with matching costumes and she would turn the persona up to 11 while I would stand nearby with a stupid grin and manage a “thank thee” when I was handed change from a purchase.

There are three renn faires that are close enough for us to attend: Sherwood Forest Faire, Scarborough Renaissance Festival, and Texas Renaissance Festival (the nation’s largest faire). One of the things we like to do is browse the artists and shops. There are some people who sell cheapo gaudy blades from BudK and crappy Chinese-made kitsch but the majority of vendors are some seriously talented people, handcrafting everything from clothing to soap and perfumes to jewelry. A few months ago, during the opening weekend of TRF, I happened across the Artsmyths shop and found the Mask.

The Mask, rear quarter viewThe Mask, front viewThe Mask, front quarter view

They had a lot of masks at the shop but this one caught my eye from yards away. It was a unicorn but it wasn’t the usual sort of frilly white unicorn most people associate with fairies and rainbows. It was black with silver highlights, serious and masculine, staring down at me from a mannequin head. I’m always on the lookout for the unique and this practically had neon arrows pointing at it. I bought it on the spot.

foxes

Alphonse on the left, another costumer on the right. — picture courtesy of eschipul, on Flickr

I didn’t have any plans for it beyond displaying it at home, but my wife quickly pointed out that it’d be a pretty good basis for a costume. I’d long admired the costume of “Alphonse,” one of the “fox guys” who frequents the local renn faires. It’s a different sort of headpiece from the unicorn mask, a bit more realistic where my mask is more stylized, but the general idea was the same: dress up like a humanoid critter. I had the head, so why not give it a whirl and see what happens?

Tynan costume, version 1.0

Tynan costume, version 1.0

I put together a costume from assorted pieces I’d collected over the years, making sure to cover all my exposed skin to preserve the illusion. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. I couldn’t wear my glasses with the mask on, so anything past a few feet would be varying degrees of blurry. What would it be like to walk around like that all day? Would I get a headache after a few hours or could I go all day without a problem? A big slab of leather covering my face would reduce my voice to mumbles, so I decided to just stay silent and act out anything I wanted to get across. I decided going in that, just for laughs, I’d keep track of how many people wanted to take my picture that day, just as a fun way to “keep score.”

I quit counting after 100. I felt like a goddamned rock star.

Tynan costume, version 1.0

Tynan costume, version 1.0

Little kids would come running up to me. People would stop me to get their picture taken with me and a crowd would gather. Guys would high-five me. Some people asked me questions like I worked at the faire. Someone dressed up like some kind of nature spirit came up to me and started peering at me, in character, so I peered back until he “got scared” and ran off. At one point a gaggle of middle-school-aged girls surrounded me and started bombarding me with questions: Did unicorns live forever? Was I magic? Was it hot under my mask? (A lot of people asked me that, actually. No, it wasn’t.) As the day went on I had five requests to touch my horn and one request to dance Gangnam Style, all of which I politely refused.

It was crazy fun and surprisingly empowering. Where I was self-conscious before when confronted with someone else acting in character, now I could be bold, respond, play along, even be the one who started things with others. The Mask gave me the protection of anonymity, letting me play without fear of being judged, while it presented my persona to everyone else. I had more (and better) interactions and more fun in that one eight-hour period than in all the other times I’ve gone to renn faires in the last decade, combined.

So, my little experiment was a fantastic success. Every character deserves a name and I’ve picked “Tynan,” which the internet tells me is a Gaelic name that means “dark.” Seems a fitting name for a black unicorn. Plans are in the works to flesh out the rest of the costume over the next several months with hooves, a tail, and some more appropriate clothes. Sherwood Faire got underway last weekend and I’ll be going as Tynan this Sunday. Fun times ahead!

+12 Years And Still Waiting – 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey (film)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had the good fortune to catch “2001: A Space Odyssey” in the theater a few weeks ago. I’d gone to see “The Hobbit” and they just so happened to be showing “2001″ in XD Digital projection as a special one-day engagement. I’ve seen it before, of course. I think most nerds my age have. But it was always on cable, or VHS, or DVD, never in an actual theater. Cinemark‘s XD Digital presentations are pretty good, so switching movies wasn’t a hard decision to make. “The Hobbit” wasn’t going anywhere.

It was really something else to see Kubrick’s vision of the future again. The movie was released in 1968, a year before we’d put a man on the Moon, and here it was presenting a world where space travel was common enough that airlines (Pan Am, which doesn’t even exist anymore) had their own spaceplanes and hotel chains (a Hilton in the movie) were on space stations. It was all the more striking given the current state of spaceflight. The Space Shuttle, the “space truck” that was supposed to herald a bold new future of cheap space travel, is history now. There’s only been a handful of space stations since Apollo and certainly nothing that had anything like a Hilton onboard. With the demise of the shuttle program we’re going back to capsules with Orion. We’re still a long, long way from moonbuses.

Kubrick went to great lengths to make it as realistic as possible, but of course it’s all based on what was thought possible in the 60′s. Again, this is really interesting to see today because, in a way, this is a bit of a time capsule. We were going to the Moon and nothing was going to stop us! We had high hopes and high expectations; it was this mindset that prompted an integrated space plan that would culminate with a man on Mars by 1982 (it was in fact this plan that helped shepherd in the Space Shuttle). Heady times indeed.

Arguably the most successful space endeavor right now is Space X, an entirely private company, and it’s looking more and more likely that serious future space exploration will be primarily driven by private enterprise. There are companies with designs on mining near-Earth asteroids and more than one company that’s talking about putting people on Mars. Maybe, in this sense, Kubrick got it right. He was just a few decades early.

2001's Discovery miniature

2001′s “Discovery One,” shown launching a workpod. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was great to see Discovery One sailing past, thirty feet long on the big screen and stark white against the blackness of space, and to hear Also sprach Zarathustra thundering in true surround sound. There’s a reason “2001″ is on so many “best movies of all time” lists. Kubrick went the extra mile with its special effects, with some taking more than a year to execute on film. The results can still stand toe-to-toe with some of the CGI effects of today, over 40 years later.

It’s a movie you experience as much as watch. There are long stretches at the beginning and end where there’s no dialogue at all, where we’re watching things happen in front of us without anyone talking or even (except in two cases) any sort of musical accompaniment to tell us how to feel. We’re dropped into this story with very little background and things are presented as status quo. Travel to the Moon for a meeting is as remarkable as catching a flight from New York to Miami, with in-flight meals and a movie. And once you’re there everyone’s wearing regular clothes, suits and ties, having a regular meeting where a guy stands at a podium to address people. Kubrick didn’t want flashy spaceships and uniforms and all the sci-fi trappings that were common in movies back then. He didn’t want to make fun of the future. He wanted to show it for what it was, or what it could be. Maybe people really will visit Jupiter one day. “2001″ is still a great movie, but with the passage of time its sense of “what could be” has turned into “what could have been,” and that makes it a little bittersweet for me.

WHEN THE VILLAIN COMES HOME Roundup!

I’m very happy to announce that WHEN THE VILLAIN COMES HOME is now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle ebook format (other formats and purchasing venues are coming soon) and already has its first review on Goodreads, courtesy of Kris Ramsey! Thanks Kris!

Gabrielle Harbowy is running a series of blog interviews with the various authors in VILLAIN and the first three sets are available now on her blog:

WHEN THE VILLAIN COMES HOME is the follow-on anthology to last year’s award-nominated WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME [ Amazon | Goodreads ], both by Dragon Moon Press and edited by Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood.

Heroes can save the world, but villains can change it. We’ve assembled a great mix of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. Come with us while we explore villains of all stripes — sons and daughters, lovers and fighters, minions and masterminds, in this giant volume of thirty great stories by award winners, rising stars, and bold new voices. With masterful tales by:

Camille Alexa – Pinktastic and the End of the World
Erik Scott de Bie – Hunger of the Blood Reaver
Chaz Brenchley – Villainelle
Eugie Foster – Oranges, Lemons, and Thou Beside Me
David Sakmyster – Prometheus Found
Marie Bilodeau – Happily Ever After
Richard Lee Byers – Little Things
K.D. McEntire – Heels
Peadar Ó Guilín – The Sunshine Baron
Jim C. Hines – Daddy’s Little Girl
Ari Marmell - Than to Serve in Heaven
Karin Lowachee – The Bleach
Jay Lake – The Woman Who Shattered the Moon
Julie Czerneda – Charity
J.M. Frey – Maddening Science
Clint Talbert – Birthright
Rachel Swirsky – Broken Clouds
Tony Pi – The Miscible Imp
Leah Petersen – Manmade
J.P. Moore – Lord of the Southern Sky
Ryan McFadden – Back in the Day
Todd McCaffrey – Robin Redbreast
Erik Buchanan – Cycle of Revenge
Gregory A. Wilson – The Presuil’s Call
Rosemary Jones – The Man With Looking-Glass Eyes
Gabrielle Harbowy – Starkeep
Ed Greenwood – A Lot of Sly Work Ahead
Mercedes Lackey / Larry Dixon – Heir Apparent
Chris A. Jackson – Home Again, Home Again
Steve Bornstein – The Best Laid Plans

…and another fantastic cover by Scott Purdy.

Announcing WHEN THE VILLAIN COMES HOME anthology!

I’m extremely happy to announce I have a story in the coming sequel to the award-nominated anthology WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME, titled WHEN THE VILLAIN COMES HOME. Congrats to all my fellow authors! Details below!

From Gabrielle Harbowy’s blog:

Ed Greenwood and I are also pleased to announce the table of contents for our follow-up anthology, WHEN THE VILLAIN COMES HOME – forthcoming August 1, 2012 from Dragon Moon Press.

Heroes can save the world, but villains can change it.

We’ve assembled a great mix of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. Come with us while we explore villains of all stripes — sons and daughters, lovers and fighters, minions and masterminds, in this giant volume of thirty great stories by award winners, rising stars, and bold new voices.

Camille Alexa – Pinktastic and the End of the World
Erik Scott de Bie – Hunger of the Blood Reaver
Chaz Brenchley – Villainelle
Eugie Foster – Oranges, Lemons, and Thou Beside Me
David Sakmyster – Prometheus Found
Marie Bilodeau – Happily Ever After
Richard Lee Byers – Little Things
K.D. McEntire – Heels
Peadar Ó Guilín – The Sunshine Baron
Jim C. Hines – Daddy’s Little Girl
Ari Marmell - Than to Serve in Heaven
Karin Lowachee – The Bleach
Jay Lake – The Woman Who Shattered the Moon
Julie Czerneda – Charity
J.M. Frey – Maddening Science
Clint Talbert – Birthright
Rachel Swirsky – Broken Clouds
Tony Pi – The Miscible Imp
Leah Petersen – Manmade
J.P. Moore – Lord of the Southern Sky
Ryan McFadden – Back in the Day
Todd McCaffrey – Robin Redbreast
Erik Buchanan – Cycle of Revenge
Gregory A. Wilson – The Presuil’s Call
Rosemary Jones – The Man With Looking-Glass Eyes
Gabrielle Harbowy – Starkeep
Ed Greenwood – A Lot of Sly Work Ahead
Mercedes Lackey / Larry Dixon – Heir Apparent
Chris A. Jackson – Home Again, Home Again
Steve Bornstein – The Best Laid Plans

…and another fantastic cover by Scott Purdy.

Preorder information will be available soon on the Dragon Moon Press website.

WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME up for ForeWord Book Of The Year!

WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME, co-edited by Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood, is a finalist for ForeWord Book Of The Year in the Anthologies category! Congrats to all my fellow authors!

HEROES come in a thousand guises, and so do stories about them. The only survivor of a war struggles to return to a home that doesn’t exist anymore. A rebel leader loses everything she fought for and must start from scratch. A hero who has fought for her village her whole life must retire into obscurity without ever being known for her deeds. A starship returns to an Earth that is much changed, yet too much the same. A soldier is haunted by the very thing that saved his life. And King Arthur returns in Albion’s hour of need. Dark fantasy. Urban fantasy. Political intrigue. Science fiction. From the horrific to the heartwarming. Introducing 19 pulse-pounding tales, by luminaries and great new voices. Co-edited by Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood. Featuring an introduction by Susan J. Morris. Stories by Marie Bilodeau, Steve Bornstein, Xander Briggs, Erik Buchanan, Brian Cortijo, Erik Scott de Bie, J.M. Frey, Ed Greenwood, Gabrielle Harbowy, Jim C. Hines, Chris A. Jackson, Rosemary Jones, Julie Kagawa, Jay Lake, Todd McCaffrey, J.P. Moore, Peadar Ó Guilín, Shannon Page, Tony Pi, Phil Rossi

 

Good luck everyone!

Reflections and Projections

It’s been far too long since I got in here. 2011 was a pretty good year for me, all told. I lost 30 pounds and got down to my target weight. I sold my first story. I got a nice promotion at work. I finally went to Gencon after years of wanting to go. I got to know a lot of great people in writing and publishing. When the year began, almost none of that was on the radar. Hell, most of it was squarely in the “wouldn’t it be cool if…” box. There were downsides too, of course, but I think I can safely say that 2011 was the best year I’ve had in quite a while.

So as 2012 begins (I know, I know, we’re already 2 months into it…), I have to wonder what life has in store for me. I’m not resting on my laurels, though. I sold one story last year; this year I’m going to try for at least two sales. I’ve already got my tickets for Gencon. And I’m sure as hell not about to gain back the weight I lost. :)

Giving Thanks

I’m on the rig for Thanksgiving this year. It happens. I missed both Thanksgiving and Xmas in 2009, was home for them both last year, and this year it’s Thanksgiving again. It’s always a drag being away from home for a major holiday, especially a family oriented one, but the catering crew always does a great job. This year the menu was:

Assorted Fruit, Vegetable Tray, Deviled Eggs, Hot Crab Dip, Cocktail Smokies, Cocktail Meatballs, Chicken Salad Sandwiches, Cold Cut Tray, Cheese Tray, Shrimp Cocktail, Crackers, Mixed Nuts, Egg Nog, Broiled Lobster Tails and Steamed Crab Legs with Drawn Butter, Glazed Ham, Baked Turducken, Duck Tasso Gumbo, Dressing, Gravy, Mac and Cheese, Rice, Green Bean Casserole, Candied Yams, Holiday Cake, Fruit Cake, Candies, Carrot Cake, Assorted Cheesecakes, Cookies, Fudge, Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Pie, Chocolate Covered Strawberries, Banana Pudding, Strawberry Shortcake, and Pralines.

So yeah, we weren’t hurting for good food. :)

Work doesn’t stop on the rig, of course, but only the essential work continues. The guys on the rig floor have to keep drilling, but for us guys down in the technical and maintenance jobs, we pretty much just kick back unless there’s essential repairs needed somewhere. Today I had one little thing to take care of the first hour of my 12-hour shift, so I spent the other 11 hours eating food and playing through Mass Effect on my laptop. Good times.

It also gave me some time to relax and reflect on the past year. So, in the spirit of the holiday…

I’m thankful for my health. I turned 42 this year. There are a couple of things I’m still working on, and there are mornings when I’m a little more stiff than I’d like, but by and large I’m in excellent health. I’ve lost over 30 pounds this year (only ten more pounds to my “ideal weight”); thanks to that and my work on the rig, I can confidently say that I’m in the best shape of my life.

I’m thankful for my job. There were times when I was working for Applied when I despaired of ever getting out of the hand-to-mouth financial plan. I loved working there when I started, but the work environment steadily worsened until it was just grinding me down. In the end, I worked there because I needed the money and that was it. When I took their buyout, it was more out of desperation than anything else. What I got into was better than I could have ever guessed. Working on the rig is tough, don’t get me wrong. Being away from my friends and family for three weeks at a time isn’t fun, it’s a pretty rough environment to work in much less live in, and it’s not like I can run out to a movie or something to take a break from it all. But it’s interesting, it’s challenging, the pay is great, and I only work six months out of the year. I can’t think of any other job I’d rather have.

I’m thankful for the reception my writing has received. I’ve written for years, but this year I was finally published and got some pretty good reviews. It’s been a wonderful introduction to a world I’ve only looked at from the sidelines. Half the fun of it’s been just getting to know people and make new friends. The other half is writing more. :)

I’m thankful for my family and friends, the close and extended relationships I have that keep me going. It may seem counterintuitive, but working on the rig has actually strengthened those bonds. When I’m home I have the free time to do the things I want without having to worry about work the next day or deal with an on-call phone, so I can consciously spend time with the people important to me rather than trying to fit them into the cracks of time between work and sleep. I can go to movies in the middle of the week. I can get together for gaming all day Saturday without having to fret over using my only day off for two weeks. They support me, share in my successes, and tolerate my oddities. I’m so much more relaxed and happy now than I ever was before, and I have them all to thank for it.

Yeah, it’s been a pretty good year, and I’m thankful for it.