Friday, September 14, 2012

The World's Tallest Dwarf



My life as a Six Foot Seven Dwarf, Part I

One of my writing techniques is using my personal life as means to underscore my fictional naratives or to add salient details to a particular scene.  So I felt it would be fun to share with all of you an aspect of my past which I feel helps me have a little understanding of what it means to be a dwarf and why I write about them almost exclusively.

It's not easy to understand.  I'm a big fellow.  A tall man. In fact, I was the tallest member of the Offenive line at University.  My parents were large and my kids are huge. I even married a large woman. Even before puberty, I wasn't just big. I was huge.  I was the biggest kid on the high school football team, and that was when I was just in eighth grade.  (yea, they allowed that... it was a different age, an age we called the nineteen eighties...)  I was so large that people assumed I was two to three years older than I actually was anyway.  By the time I was a senior, people would clap at anything I did because they thought I was slow, having been in high school for seven years. The fact that I had a full beard only added to the perception.

As you may be aware, however, young men love to rumble.  You'd think that boys would be pretty kind-hearted when faced with a fellow that can literally pick them up and throw them.  (During summer in my formative years, I used to play a little game called "Keep Away", which basically involved people trying to get to a ball and me throwing them away from it.)  No sir.  This was not the case.  Young dudes have one mission in life, and that mission is to prove themselves.  And of course what better way to do that than to take on the big dude.

Thus I was kind of drafted into an early version of fight club.  Whether at the car wash, behind the 7-11, or right on the school grounds, hardly a week passed when my teenage bearded self didn't see a tussle or two.  The idea was that the smaller kids kids would try and beat me up so that they could stroll around as king for a day.  (A quick aside – I am not a violent man.  I am still bearded, still large, still given to a gruff outburst or two, but the fighting... well that wasn't my idea, you see.  Never was.) 

The lesson here?  The less you appear like someone that people would want to tangle with, the more the sons of bitches want to tangle with you!  I understand why dwarves have such a gruff demeanor.  They look tough!   They don't want to fight... they have to... Humans, trolls and goblins won't leave them alone!



My life as a Six Foot Seven Dwarf, Part II

You'd think being huge was so self-apparent that no one would feel compelled to point out how big you are.  I'm shaking my head as I write this.... I mean, my height became an issue to me because it appeared to be a big issue to everyone else. And while I understood that I was going to be teased by many of the other kids, I was not prepared for the same to be done by the adults.

You see, I assumed that the adults were supposed to be on my side.  I was the polite one, thanking my friends' mothers whenever they prepared sandwiches for us.  I was the smart one, never bringing home less than a B.  Weren't the folks in charge supposed to help me? Aren't the adults supposed to act like adults? Well, one would think. They seemed to find my height as funny as everyone else. Somehow picking on height doesn't get special harassment status. I mean, really, would these same adults pick on the fat kid? (Maybe they would – it just saddens me that kids can't rely on the adults to act maturely.)

But the worst of all of the adult tormenting was saved for a special evening.  My first dance competition. It was the hula.  I think it was sixth grade (puberty had long since had its way with me). To bring everyone up to speed that doesn't remember sixth grade dance competions, it's a bit removed from what you might think of as a competion. (As I'm an old fogey, this might have completely changed, but this was how it was back in the day.) You didn't get to choose your partner, nor did you get to practice, and, in general, the adults feel a great need to make it enjoyable tfor them

The competion was started by having a single couple dance all by themselves. Who, might you ask? Why the following entertaining couple: the largest boy and the tiniest girl. Yes, how better to start a dance than by embarrassing two people who were already socially uncomfortable. I did it because, well, I was told to and I wasn't what you would call a rebel. And as I was dancing with a girl that came up to my waist, I remember fuming. Not becuase Christie started crying.  (I wasn't a rebel, but I wasn't exactly gallant either.)  I was mad as hell because it was bad enough to hear the things about my size.... but to be forced to do soomething because of my size.  I dunno.  It didn't seem right.

Not that this helps me relate to dwarves that much.  But it does help me understand them.  At least, I understand why they're not that social... 

They all be forced to dance with amazon women.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Farmer Giles, Where Art Thou?

I've got this new obsession, which is basically spending all day wondering what would happen if the Coen Brothers directed a movie like The Hobbit.  No - I've got no problem with Peter Jackson.  I've been wondering it since No Country For Old Men, and last night, after watching True Grit, I dunno, I just can't get it out of my head. 

As far back as Fargo, I've always wanted to add their quirky realism to my novels.  I love that they make a story play out between the action scenes... and it's people's reactions in thier films that, to my mind, make them so irrisistable. 

There's also something about them that renders certainty and archetypes absurd - like the way the 14 year old is the schoolmarm of the film, and all the adults have to measure up against her.  Man.  That's just brilliant. 

There also seems to be an exploration of the defining characteristics of heroism.  The intrpid civil servants of Fargo and No Country left me with a feeling that I have yet been able to describe.  It's their fumbling, human-scale efforts that add tension, I think, and I can't decide if that makes the protagonists more of a hero or not. So maybe a movie like The Hobbit would be a bit much - though I am certain that I would personally loveit.  Maybe they could start off with one of his smaller works, sort of a Farmer Giles, Where Art Thou kind of thing.  Or Leaf by Barton Fink.  


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dragons in history?

Doing a little research on my next novel (which I'm going to try to have ready in September), I stumbled on this tasty little piece of "historia" by a certain St. John Damascene, as translated by a Russian reverand.

I have no idea exactly why I am drawn to this sort of thing.  I must confess that during my long quest for truth I have been truly enriched by the fruits of the constructive work of many scientists, and by the spiritual endeavour of many mystics and esotericists, and also by the moral example of many human beings of good will -- and though I owe nothing to polemics or polemicists, I have at times learnt much through them, if not from them

For instance, I owe nothing to early Christian authors who attack paganism, nor again to pagan authors who attack Christianity.  But in their vitriol they have still given me a lot in the way of objects of knowledge.

So while in the below, it can be construed that the goodly saint was exercising a mocking tone, hey, it's still pretty damn interesting...  

"I am not telling you, after all, that there are no dragons; dragons exist but they are serpents borne of other serpents. Being just born and young, they are small; but when they grow up and get mature, they become big and fat so that exceed the other serpents in length and size. It is said they grow up more than thirty cubits; as for their thickness, they get as thick as a big log. Dio the Roman (ab. 155 - ab. 236) who wrote the history of Roman empire and republic, reports the following: one day, when Regulus, a Roman consul, was fighting against Carthage, a dragon suddenly crept up and settled behind the wall of the Roman army. The Romans killed it by order of Regulus, excoriated it and sent the hide to the Roman senate. When the dragon's hide, as Dio says, was measured up by order of the senate, it happened to be, amazing, one hundred and twenty feet long, and the thickness was fitting to the length."

       "There is one more kind of dragons; those have wide head, goldish eyes and horny protuberances on the back of the head. They also have a beard [protruding] out of the throat; this kind of dragons is called "agaphodemons" and it is said they have no faces. This dragon is a sort of beasts, like the rest of the animals, for it has a beard, like a goat, and horn at the back of its head. Its eyes are big and goldish. These dragons can be both big and small. All serpent kinds are poisonous, except dragons, for they do not emit poison."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Phantom Rascal

A few years ago, I was watching a documentary on PBS about Joseph Campbell.  As they spoke about the myths and themes about Star Wars, I had a strange feeling.  It wasn’t as though I felt that I had been duped, but somehow there was a part of me that felt a bit… bamboozled when I found out that Lucas was plunking age-old archetypes into a futuristic setting:  Kenobi was just the mage?

Solo, my personal hero, was just another renegade, rogue figure? 

Oh, George.  You rascal.  

Then, as I watched the 3D version of The Phantom Menace with my nephews—both roughly the same age and pluckiness of young Anakin—a realization sunk into my brain.  Actually, I should say I spent most of my time watching my nephews watch The Phantom Menace.  Anyway the realization was this:  It doesn't matter whether or not Darth Vader’s helmet was just a death mask…

What matters is that my nephews were enthralled. 

By Star Wars! 

They were terrified by Darth Maul, and they cheered when Anakin won the pod race.  And as the credits began to roll, they applauded. 

Did they get enthralled by Star Wars as much as I did when I was their age?  Will they keep Luke’s perseverance against the Dark Side in mind as they travel through life?  Will they value the lessons so much that they one day bring their nephews to watch the films, only to watch them watch the films?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But that I still get a kick out the movies, and I can talk about them with my second grade nephews, well that's pretty good stuff, friends.  It may be some of the best stuff there is.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How My Mom Defeated Conan the Barbarian

I had no idea who Robert Howard was. I had never seen the Conan the Barbarian movie. I had never read the Conan the Barbarian novels. But I loved that Cimmerian. Still do.

Have for 33 years.

You see, my father left us when I was five, and my mom had no time to get remarried because once we moved back to America from Holland) she worked seventy hours a week providing for me and my little brother. And if she worked as hard as two people, she loved us as much as five.

Still, with all of her hard work, and lavishing us with the kind of love that only a mother can, we fell on some hard times. She managed a gas station, and despite how much time she had to spend there, the pay was abysmal. When I became a teenager, I was able to help, but in those years in between we had to live in various hotels. Sometimes in our car.

Being 9 and going to school, and sleeping in an Oldsmobile may sound like hell on Earth, but my mom was a born and bred Brooklynite, tough as a stone. We had little worries. And we still got a couple of dollars a week for allowance—because, as she put it, “Life doesn’t have to end just because it puts its heels on you.” Another saving grace is that there was a comic shop nearby. I remember going in and BOOM, immediately, there he was. The Savage Sword of Conan.  May. 1980. He was holding aloft some sort of head dress, along with a bloody sword. And the woman on the cover was covering her boobs!

If you Google The Savage Sword of Conan, you will learn that it's "a black-and-white magazine-format
comic book series published beginning in 1974 by Curtis Magazines, an imprint of Marvel Comics, and then later by Marvel itself.  Savage Sword of Conan starred Robert E. Howard's most famous creation, Conan the Barbarian, and has the distinction of being the longest-surviving title of the short-lived Curtis imprint..."

That, of course, is complete nonsense. It was magic. Nothing less. My mother saw the cover and laughed.

“It’s good to have a hero,” she said.

I just shrugged and said I didn’t consider Conan the Barbarian my hero.

But maybe he was. I began following Conan, and over the years gained enormous respect for the artists and writers who pulled me from that low and uncomfortable time in my life. Conan reinforced the lessons I’d learned from my mother about strength, honor, and tenacity. I highlighted many of those lessons in the books I write.  

Over the years I watched Conan morph. He’s had enormous success, and with his latest release, a few setbacks. Conan the Barbarian is still out there. And his core is the same: Still stomping arse, getting drunk, and still rescuing women who have to cover their boobs.

And I watched my mom’s circumstances change. With the boyfriend she eventually fell in love with, she’d lived in million dollar homes and in rusted out vans—until her health, weakened by a lifetime of exhaustive work, finally failed her. She passed away this spring, but I know she’s still out there. And at her core she will always be the same. Tougher than any barbarian. Ever loving, ever caring.

And, by damn, my hero.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Long Shadow of Little Shire-folk

You may have heard me mention what a rabid Conan the Barbarian fan I was growing up.  How I discovered him in the comic shop near where I lived.  How, later, rummaging in one of Portland, Oregon's many used book stores, I discovered something so fantastically amazing, so utterly, breathtakingly bizarre that I'm sure my 11 year old brain flipped inside my head.  In fact I'm pretty sure the world spun:  There was a whole section of sword and sorcery books (conveniently placed nearby "Conan's novels") that did not star my favorite barbarian.  They were called fantasy novels.

What in... THE HELL????  Where did all these come from?

Well, I was hooked.  And soon thereafter I discovered my new hero - actually it was a family of heroic little guys that went by the name of Baggins - Again, soon thereafter, my little twelve year old imagination began to wonder what went into making a world like that.  I began to draw maps, and make up hero names.  Not like Baggins or Brandybuck.  More like Kickbutticus MacSwordbreaker.  And I begain to wonder:  is it possible to write a story like that?  I doubted it.  I mean, I went to the bookstore and the shelves were all full.  Just stuffed end to end.  It didn't seem like they needed any more books.  I even asked the guy at the register - which turned into an embarassing scene that ended in my running home and telling my mother, "I don't want to talk about it, mom!"

Still my mind returned to the notion:  could my boook ever be up there next to The Hobbit? 

The answer would eventually be yes.  Sort of, lol.  This morning... I could not believe it.  Seriously.  I had to refresh the page - imagine my heart-numbing shock when I woke to find Mandragon ranked right under The Hobbit.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Uncle Tolkien

Imagine knowing Tolkien.  Personally.  Not  the affable old pipe-smoking Oxford Don, his accent so think he is barely comprehensible, scribbling about holes in the ground wherein live hobbits.  Let’s just start with the young, scholarly roughneck, i.e., a guy named Ronald who has alread kicked his share of both mental and literal ass.  A rugby player throughout his school years, by the time got his scholarship to Oxford, he had broken his nose, cut off a chunk of his tongue, and gained a firm, well-deserved reputation as the wrong dude to mess with.

And yet, when he got there, he and his friends translated nursery rhymes into Anglo Saxon.

It would boggle the mind.  We'd probably laugh, and in our meaner moods, talk about him behind his back:  

That guy is nuts.  Who does that?  That’s just insane, lol. 

And he did this while already regularly smoking his pipe… which he would later in life fill with a special cocktail of tobacco and opium.

And from there, it just gets more bizarre:   

He disliked Shakespeare.  With a passion.   And anything French.  The language.  The cooking.  All of it.  He was the one who converted C.S. Lewis back to Christianity.  And he and his wife are buried in the same grave… below a tombstone inscribed "Beren" and "LĂșthien," in honor of two characters from The Silmarillion.

… and have you read The Silmarillion?...  Good googly moogly.

So how on Earth did he describe us so well?... What I mean to say is that, while almost none of us consider ourselves very Tolkienesque, we can all find ourselves a bit hobbitish from time to time, can't we?  His heroes are chubby, for God's sake!  How fantastic is that?  They love to eat, just like us.  They want to drink a bit, dance a bit, and get into just a little bit of trouble... 

And yet, there he sits, Tolkien.  Off in a corner of our mind, war hero, eccentric, perched there like some uncle we will never fully understand but always love.   He taught many of us our love of language and made a simple, green life far less hippy-ish and political.

It boggles the mind beyond boggling....