Retro Inspiration

Video games are a part of modern culture. Whether you like it or not, they are here to stay.

I know I've written about the downsides of gaming in the past. But I've also written about the creative aspects and how, at least in my mind, they really are a type of art, particularly in the music department. But what I haven't talked about much is that, while I'm definitely a casual gamer these days, how much I love what are now called "retrogames."

Seriously. If I'm going to fire up a game, it's going to be an old NES, SNES, Genesis, or PC title from the 80s/90s. There are some PlayStation 1 and 2 games I have a fondness for, the PS2 being the last system I was really in to. I got a Wii as a gift, and do own a DS, but aside from a handful of games on each, I haven't touched them in years.

But a funny thing happened on the way to adulthood: Many of these games remain an inspiration. 

Especially in my writing.

I've made no secret that I'm an aspiring author. I'm serializing my short novel Reset, chapter-by-chapter, on this blog every Sunday, and I've shared the first chapter of my soon-to-be-published novel The Rust Man. I'm also working on a new novel as we speak, and have a previously finished one I want to clean up.

What I haven't talked too much about is my inspiration for these things. I do consider myself peripherally attached to both the Pulp Revolution and the Superversive movements, though both represent ideas that I found myself holding long before the movements came into being.

On the PulpRev side, while I haven't read that many of the Appendix N, the ideals behind the "old" stuff appeal to me, as does the sense of fun, adventure, and "anything goes," unconstrained by genre labels or conventions and served with a healthy slice of heroism and goodness.

And as far as Superversive, let's just say that I'm not a fan of nihilism. At all.

So where do video games come in? Continue reading “Retro Inspiration”

Reset: Chapter Seven: Saturday, September 1, 2001 (4)


Zeta Zeta Nu was a madhouse, though tamer than Joe’s assumptions about frat parties had led him to believe, tinged as they were by movies and TV. He had never been invited to any in college, of course. He wasn’t a partier the way Nick was, but even Nick didn’t start his carousing until law school.

A Snoop Dogg song Joe hadn’t heard in years blared from unseen speakers, making him feel ancient as he bounced like a pinball among the bodies of beautiful young people. Jonesy and Carlos were lost to him; Nick’s shaggy head, towering over most partiers, served as his beacon, leading Joe to a staircase near the back of the house.

Someone shoved a red plastic cup into Joe’s hands. He brought it reflexively to his lips, the scent of cheap beer filling his nostrils. Technically, he was underage, but given the absurd impossibility of the situation he drank it down.

“Thanks!” he told no one in particular as a belch escaped him. He should have been more careful, he knew, as stories of date-rape drugs in drinks flashed through his mind. But the responsible adult part of his brain was on the fritz, and he really didn’t think the kind of person who would spike a drink would be looking to drug a guy like him. And even if they were, well, maybe the drugs would help him forget everything.

He tossed the empty cup aside as he caught up to Nick, who was delicately maneuvering his long legs to avoid stepping on a boy and a girl passionately making out on the steps. “Leave room for the Holy Ghost!” he said, pulling the boy’s head back and cackling as he walked upstairs.

“Excuse my friend,” said Joe, almost stepping on the confused girl’s fingers. “He was conceived at a frat party. Makes him kind of sensitive.”

“Are you drunk?” drawled the boy.

“No. Just annoyed.”

Snoop Dogg gave way to OutKast as Joe reached the second-floor landing. He knew he was still old at heart because he found himself admiring the house’s architectural beauty instead of the female beauty around him, wondering what it would look like cleared out and cleaned up. And then he thought, since when are the mid-thirties considered old? Deep in these thoughts, Joe walked face-first into a tall blonde’s bosom.

He felt a wetness on his head that spilled down his forehead and into his eyes, and for a heart-stopping moment feared he was bleeding. The smell and taste of beer as it dripped into his mouth provided some relief. But it wasn’t the beer shampoo that worried him.

He sputtered apologies as he backed up, getting a good look at the victim of his unintentional collision. She must have been a basketball or volleyball player, towering over him by about a foot. And she did not look happy.

“Thanks a lot, jerk!” she snarled, shoving Joe aside with a sweep of her arm. He bumped into a knot of people, sincerely hoping they didn’t notice.

They noticed. “Yo, what’s going on?” said one very tall, very fit specimen of young man in yellow wind pants, a ZZN tank top, sunglasses, and a dopey visor on his head. His face was flushed, but he seemed steady on his feet.

“This guy spilled my drink,” said the Amazon.

Joe’s heart sped, not looking forward to a pummeling his first day as a college man reborn. But the guy just looked at Joe and shrugged. “Get her another one, dude!”

“Right,” said Joe, assuring the girl he’d be right back with another drink. He dove back into the crowd, swimming through it towards where Nick stood by a table where two boys wearing backwards Red Sox caps played beer pong.


Someone grabbed his arm. “You alright?”

Joe turned and saw Carlos. “Yeah. Just trying to find the roof deck.”

Carlos jerked a thumb behind him. “The stairs are that way.”

“Thanks. Let me get Nick.” Carlos nodded.

Joe was about to call to Nick but the words dissipated when he saw whom Nick was talking to. Amy Pappas.

Joe had never met her, of course. But he recognized her from the news, where she had become a reporter and then an anchor for a television station in Boston.

She looked the part, even back then. Or now, Joe corrected himself. She was tall and slender with curves in all the right places, with a long neck and big brown eyes. Her hair was dyed some unflattering shade of blonde that had been fashionable when they were in college, her eyebrows betraying the true color of her hair. Joe never really understood Nick’s fascination with her: the Greek part or the tall part.

Whichever part, Nick had abandoned their heroes’ quest to correct what he viewed as a grave past injustice.

“Son of a bitch,” he whispered.

“Who?” said Carlos.

“Look at this guy,” said Joe, trying to sound more animated. “All this talk about the roof deck and he starts talking to the first pretty girl he sees.”

“He’s got to get that number, right?” said Carlos.

“I see a lot of pretty girls here,” said Jonesy, who had found them amongst the mass of partiers.

Carlos shrugged. “Good for him. He’s got balls. Me, I could use some fresh air.”

Big balls,” said Jonesy. He looked at Nick like a teenage girl staring at the heartthrob du jour. Which, at this time, had been the Backstreet Boys. Or N*Sync. Was Joe really doomed to relive the boy band craze?

Joe grabbed Jonesy by the shoulders and pointed him towards the towering blonde who stood waving her empty hands while talking to a friend. “Tell you what, Scott: go get that girl a drink and strike up a conversation.”

“You think? What drink?”

“Beer,” said Joe.

“What kind?”

“Cheap.” He gave Jonesy a push. “Tell her you saw some asshole spill hers and thought she might like a new one.”

“Okay. Hey, how’d you know my name?!”

“You told me,” said Joe.

“I did?”

“Just go get that number. Go!”

Jonesy sailed into the crowd, his small body bouncing around but staying upright. Joe smiled as he saw him grab a cup from somewhere, walk over to the angry girl and offer her the drink. The girl’s glower turned to a smile as she accepted it. Jonesy started talking and pointed back at Joe. The girl laughed and ruffled Jonesy’s hair like he was a small child. Which he was, come to think of it.

“Wow,” said Carlos. “I didn’t think he had it in him.”

Joe looked at Nick, deep in conversation with Amy. “You’d be surprised.”

* * *

The roof deck was rather nice after the clutter and commotion of the house, commanding a view of downtown Hollister and the forests beyond. The town felt secluded despite its proximity to larger cities like Dover and Portsmouth and the sea; if you stood on Main Street and looked in any direction, all you saw were brick buildings, old houses, and trees.

A few stars were visible, the music softer, and Joe could almost call the atmosphere relaxing if it weren’t for a boisterous crew of football players and ZZN brothers standing in one corner. Joe knew they were football players because he saw him. Zack Henderson, beer bottle in hand, smiling and nodding at what a friend had said.

Zack was a big, solid black guy, about six-foot-two and covered in muscle. He was slated to play running back for the NHU Lions. He had a shaved head and an easy smile, standing with his free hand against the railing. Two crates of Keystone Light were on the ground by his feet.

A cheer arose from the group. They clinked bottles and drank. One of the guys busied himself getting another beer. Joe’s heart lurched as he saw Zack sway, steadying himself against the railing.

“Nice up here, huh?” said Carlos. Joe didn’t respond. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Fine,” said Joe. He kept his eyes on Zack, planning his next move.

“You’re sweating, man. You sick or something? Let’s go. It was stupid to come here anyway.”

“No,” said Joe, grasping Carlos by the shirt. “No, I need . . .”

“Take it easy! Need what?”

Joe let his hand drop, feeling strangely numb. He blinked away the sweat that dripped into his eyes. What time was it? What time did it happen?

Zack staggered again to more cheers and someone yelling, “Drink up, boys!” Joe walked towards the group.

“You know those guys?” said Carlos after him.

Joe’s focus sharpened; he became hyperaware of every sensation. Each footfall echoed like the steps of a giant. Each breath sounded like a dragon’s growl. Yet he seemed no closer to the drinking, smiling Zack Henderson, tilting his bottle back as he edged closer to the railing, closer . . .

He heard Nick’s booming voice. “Hey, there you are! Guys! I’d like you to meet someone!”

“Nick,” said Joe, quickening his pace across the roof deck. “Nick, get over here!”

He was running. Dimly, he realized Nick ran with him. Zack leaned back to drain his bottle. One of his laughing, smiling friends stepped back, elbowing Zack in the stomach. Spitting beer, Zack bumped into the crates at his feet, losing his balance and tipping over into empty air.

Joe leapt and somehow, miraculously, caught Zack by his arm. But Zack was bigger and heavier, and Joe felt himself pulled towards the edge, his thighs bumping into the railing, ready to be tipped into the void. So this is how it ends, he thought, death by good deed.

And then his forward momentum halted because Nick had has arms around Joe’s waist and his feet braced against the railing. Joe’s shoulder was nearly pulled out of his socket, but he held onto Zack’s arm and pulled with one hand on the railing for balance.

Black and white hands.jpg

Somehow they pulled Zack high enough for him to grab the railing and hoist himself back onto the deck. Awareness of the near-catastrophe dawned on his inebriated friends, a collective gasp rising into the night like a burst of flame. Carlos and the others ran over to see what had happened. One of those people was Amy Pappas.

Zack’s friends crowded around where they knelt, thanking Joe and Nick profusely, patting them on their backs and shoulders and heads like they had completed some daring play. Zack Henderson breathed heavily, sweat pouring down his face and his eyes cartoonishly wide. He was shaking and looked about to cry.

“You’re alright, you’re alright,” Joe kept saying, patting the bigger man on the chest. “It’s alright, we got you.”

“Saved my life,” said Zack, nearly hyperventilating. “Saved my life. Saved my life.”

“Nice catch,” said Nick, patting Joe on the shoulder. “Football joke, get it?” He turned and smiled at Amy, giving her a thumbs up. She beamed back at him, and Joe understood why Nick had really wanted to come here. Saving Zack Henderson’s life was just a bonus, a means to the end of winning the girl of his dreams. Joe thought deeply and seriously about throwing Nick over the edge instead.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7

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Reset: Chapter Six: Saturday, September 1, 2001 (3)


As Joe looked up at the grand Victorian that served as ZZN’s base of operations, he began to have mixed feelings about partying with a bunch of college kids. Though he was in his college-aged body, his mind was firmly planted in his depressive, disillusioned mid-thirties.

Revelers crammed the house, girls clad only in bikini tops raising their red plastic cups as they drifted in and out amongst the sea of brothers and pledges. One particularly well-endowed young lady leaned towards them from the wrap-around porch and beckoned them to come inside.

“Wonder what her father would think of this,” Joe muttered.

“Don’t know, don’t care.” said Nick. “All I know is that I think we made the right choice.”

“Absolutely,” said Jonesy.

Joe knew why Nick had chosen ZZN, of course. They discussed it as they set up their dorm room in Paxton Hall before heading out with Carlos and Jonesy. The two of them had still ended up roomies, the head of housing honoring their long-shot request. Thank God Nick had set The Machine to deposit them back here after their parents had left for Lowell; he wasn’t ready to see his family. Not like this.

“Are you sure we aren’t dreaming?” he had said to Nick as they bunked their beds. “I had a dream kind of like this tonight, the first time we were in college. I woke up and instead of being a freshman here I was a freshman in high school again. It was horrifying. Maybe The Machine knocked us out. Maybe you’re not really here and I’m talking to myself. Maybe–”

“Maybe you’re babbling,” said Nick. “We’re here, this is real, and we’ve just got to get used to it. Now shut up and lift.”

“Do you think this has ever happened before? Besides the tests, I mean? What if this wasn’t the first time The Machine had been built, or used? If it affects the whole world, how many shifts have there been? What if time never progressed past ours?”

“I guess we’ll find out if we end up back at ChronoCorp a dozen or so years from now,” said Nick. “Less talk, more bunkbeds.”

They got the beds together, Nick almost getting a finger smashed between them, and proceeded to secure the beds tight.

When we end up back at ChronoCorp,” said Joe, tightening a bolt.

“Joe. Joe, listen to me. The idea of this is to change things. What part of that don’t you understand?”

“I don’t want to change things, Nick.” He held back the tears, always close by. “I want my son back. I don’t know why you don’t understand this.”

Nick put his wrench on one of the dressers and sat down on the bare mattress, patting a spot next to him. “Take a seat. Listen: There’s nothing that says doing everything step-by-step like we did before is going to lead to the exact same outcome. There are a million variables between now and the birth of your son. A billion. Let’s say you marry Sandra again. Who’s to say that your firstborn will be Jason?”

Nick was right, of course, but that didn’t stop Joe’s heart from being torn apart. He put his head in his hands and began to cry.

“I’m sorry, Joe,” said Nick softly. “I’ve gotten you into a pretty big mess. But I promise you we’ll make the best of it. Some good will come out of this. I know it will.”

Joe straightened up. He had no choice. Why cry about it?  With a few last sniffles, he said: “Zeta Zeta Nu, right?”

“Right. And we can do more. Look at Carlos and Jonesy. They were like us: Full of dreams that went nowhere. We can help them, Joe. We can help a lot of people.”

“But what if things turned out the way they did for a reason?”

Nick stood up, almost bonking his head on the upper bed. “What about free will, right? God gave us free will for a reason. Things aren’t fated, Joe. Things don’t just happen ‘for a reason.’ It’s up to us.”

“It sure feels like we’re the ones playing God. I don’t recall the Almighty ever turning back time.”

Nick raised a finger, a passionate advocate making his closing argument to the jury. “But He could! And who’s to say He hasn’t? We wouldn’t know.”

Maddeningly, like usual, Nick had a point. Continue reading Reset: Chapter Six: Saturday, September 1, 2001 (3)”

Book Review: The Secret Kings (Soul Cycle Book III) by Brian Niemeier

Brian Niemeier sure knows how to start a story off with a bang.

The third installment of his Soul Cycle trilogy (as of now) brings back one of Book I's best characters: Teg Cross! And he's as badass as ever.

What begins as a mission for survivors of the galaxy-shattering cataclysm turns into a battle against the forces of the Void intent on remaking the world in its image.

If you watched Star Wars and thought, "Not enough magic or monsters"; if you're into horror and ask yourself, "Where are the spaceships?"; and if you're into Dune and keep wondering "Where are all the good books?", then the Soul Cycle series is right in your wheelhouse.

Teg isn't the only returning character from the first book here, and allies and enemies from Book II also feature prominently. And of course, new friends and foes appear and make their impact felt. To say anymore would spoil things, but just let's say that the interaction between these disparate personalities is great.

It also helps that Brian can write, keeping the action fast-paced, keeping the danger right at the protagonists' heels, and giving few respites from the (almost exhausting) breakneck pace.

Oh, and we get to see more cool planets.

As I try to do in my book reviews, let's highlight a few key things that really made The Secret Kings work, and discuss why.

Characters and Conflict:

It's great seeing characters like Teg and Xander, Astlin and Nakvin, and Jaren and Tefler cross paths…and deal with villains like Kelgrun, Fallon, and Vaun Mordechai.

These interactions feel natural, and friendships and friction created when they all meet is completely in-character; nothing seems out of place. Brian gives the sense that, were these characters real and sitting in a room together, this is how they would act.

The newcomers, like Izlaril, Lykaon, Gein, Anris, the Anomians, and Celwen are welcome additions to the cast.

And the conflict! Not always armed hostility, but even the good guys don't always get along.

In screenwriting, there's a principle that also applies to novels, that every scene needs conflict, or at least a goal. You can broadly call this a reason for existing: Does it further the story? Does it reveal something about a character? Could you cut it out and lose nothing of the story? Continue reading “Book Review: The Secret Kings (Soul Cycle Book III) by Brian Niemeier”

Reset: Chapter Five: Saturday, September 1, 2001 (2)


“Whoa. You guys are pretty cool,” said Jonesy.

“I know,” said Nick, smiling at the smaller boy as he picked gooey cheese off of a breadstick.

Jonesy was short and slight with shaggy brown hair and a round cherub’s face, looking like an overgrown toddler. He’d eventually start to look somewhat more grown-up, but Scott Jones would never lose that boyish roundness.

So far, the day and their conversation was progressing as it had all those years ago as they sat at the Hollister House of Pizza in downtown Hollister, New Hampshire, home of New Hampshire University, the Granite State’s finest, largest, and most expensive institute of higher learning.

They ate as they spoke in a cautiously open manner, the two pairs of friends feeling each other out. Joe felt more like an outside observer than an actual participant, the words and actions coming unbidden. He had no way of remembering verbatim what had been said over a dozen years ago, yet he somehow knew that this was it.

“So you guys went to high school together?” asked Carlos. He was taller than Jonesy, with an angular face and a tight-lipped set to his jaw. His hair, shaved nearly to the scalp, would progressively grow longer and puffier as the years went by.

“Yeah. And law school too,” said Joe, before the realization hit him that this was not a part of the original conversation.

Carlos and Jonesy looked at him like he was having a stroke or something, but there was no cosmic jolt, no tolling of a divine bell marking his anachronistic error.

Going to go to law school,” said Nick, poking Joe with his elbow. “We’re going to law school. That’s the plan. Right?”

“Right,” said Joe. He took a hasty gulp of soda.

“Wait a minute,” Carlos said to Nick.

“Didn’t you just say you were into computers?”

“Yeah? So? Ever heard of a patent attorney?” said Nick.

Carlos said nothing. He picked up a slice of pizza and took a desultory bite.

“My brother’s in law school,” said Jonesy.

“Let me guess: he hates it,” said Nick.

“How’d you know?”

“Magic.” He took a swig of soda. “Everybody hates being a lawyer.”

“Then why do you want to go to law school?” asked Carlos.

“Good question,” said Nick. “Joe?”

“I don’t know,” he said. He wanted to get up and leave. But Jonesy and Carlos were good guys and for some reason he wanted to make sure they all still became friends. Acting like things were normal helped keep him from thinking about the enormity of his situation. “I guess I never really thought about it.”

“Which is pretty stupid for people who want to be lawyers,” said Nick, “but I digress.”

“Well I know what I’m going to do,” said Carlos. “And I know why I’m going to do it. I’m going to be a composer.”

“Yeah, for video game music,” said Jonesy. “Games I’m going to design.”

Joe, who knew that Jonesy ended up writing business software and that Carlos would soon switch his major to business and become a major player on Wall Street, said nothing.

But not Nick. Nick was always one step ahead of everybody. “Then let’s make sure that happens! Maybe we’ll join you and found a company together. You’ll need lawyers. What do you say, Joe?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

“Joe’s an idea guy,” said Nick. “He likes to write. Right?”

“Right,” said Joe flatly.

“Cool,” said Jonesy. “So why’d you guys come to NHU?”

Nicked shrugged. “The weather. The beaches. The bar scene. The same reasons everybody comes here.”

“I’m serious. You guys are from Mass. In-state tuition’s high enough in New Hampshire. Out-of-state must be crazy.”

“We just really wanted to get out of Lowell,” said Nick. “Everybody we went to high school goes to UMass. We needed a change of scenery.”

“Yeah,” said Joe. He was getting annoyed with Nick’s upbeat unconcern. Nick was normally glib, but he had been high as of late. Now, completely sober and fully aware of things, he acted like just as much of a dilettante. It was highly annoying and honestly quite shocking.

“Well, I’m from Hollister, and I still went here,” said Jonesy. “It’s a cool place. I think you’ll like it.”

“I’m from Manchester,” said Carlos. “Half of my high school ends up here. My sister too, but she loved it.”

“Then I guess we’re one big happy family,” said Nick. He elbowed Joe playfully. “Joe’s the mom. Continue reading Reset: Chapter Five: Saturday, September 1, 2001 (2)”

Letting Things Breathe: The Power of Rhythm 


I move fast.

It’s just how I am. My natural inclination is to make quick, precise, sometimes jerky movements designed to do what I need to get done as quickly and efficiently as possible. My wife likens it to a bird, which isn’t necessarily the best animal to be compared to, unless it’s a hawk or falcon or other kick-ass bird of prey.

“Enough about birds!” you might be saying now. “I didn’t think this was an ornithology blog!”

And it’s not. Not yet, at least. But birds do have their own sense of rhythm.

“Rhythm!” you’re saying now. “I like rhythm! Music, right?”


My natural rhythm, the tendency to be make quick movements, spills over into other aspects of my life: I walk fast. I talk fast. And I tend to think fast.

Thinking fast sounds good, right? But you’d be surprised–reaching a conclusion quickly, perhaps quicker than other people, sometimes means that you’re not thinking things through.

Slow down . . . breathe . . . 

This is where the idea of rhythm comes in. Think about music. If the drummer or the guitar player is doing a solo the entire time, it would get kind of boring, wouldn’t it?

Or a movie that’s 90 minutes of bloody action. It sounds cool, sure. But it works far better in theory than in practice.

But I like the music anaolgy better, because so much of life resembles music.

So much can resemble a bloody action movie too, but I digress. Back to music.

One of my favorite drummers of all time is the late John Bonham of Led Zeppelin.

John Bonham

I know, I know, everyone loves Bonzo. But I’ll tell you why, among other reasons, he’s in my drummer top three:

He didn’t overplay. He could, but he didn’t. Continue reading “Letting Things Breathe: The Power of Rhythm “

Why Pulp Revolution is Perfect Response to 24/7 Politics: Guest Post on Hollywood in Toto

Some of you might realize that politics has invaded all of your entertainment. Over on one of my favorite websites, Hollywood in Toto, I take a look at an antidote to the intrusion of heavy handed political messages in your fiction of choose: the Pulp Revolution.

Or #PulpRev, if you're hip:

Few people want to spend time with hectoring scolds in their everyday lives. But much of our arts have turned into moral crusaders telling you that, if you disagree with The Message then there must be something wrong with you.

Stories are methods of communication, but they should above all else be enjoyable.

Thanks to the power of the Internet, I have found such stories. There is a movement that does not care about writing message fiction. And what’s even more exciting is that it has no rules, no set guidelines or genre-definers, and most importantly, no political litmus test dictating what stories can and cannot contain.

It’s called the Pulp Revolution.

All that the Pulp Revolution—PulpRev for short—cares about is telling amazing stories based on timeless human principles. The purpose? Have fun without alienating half of its potential audience.

But what is the Pulp Revolution? To answer this, it’s helpful to talk about what it isn’t.

Read the whole thing at Hollywood in Toto. I've been a fan of Christian Toto since he was writing at Big Hollywood, and it's an honor to have written something for his excellent site.

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