New Fantasy Anthology: Swords of Steel

A friend of mine in Chicago named Dave Ritzlin is putting together a paperback anthology series of Sword & Sorcery stories in the tradition of olde. We’re talking Howard, Smith, Wagner, Lovecraft, Leiber, Anderson, Haggard, etc etc. It’s due out early 2015.

Here’s the gimmick: These are stories written by Heavy Metal musicians.

 Here’s the lineup thus far. I believe DMR Book is still accepting submissions.

-Varg Vikernes (Burzum)

-E.C. Hellwell (Hellwell, Manilla Road)

-Howie Bentley (Cauldron Born, Briton Rites)

-Byron Roberts (Bal-Sagoth)

-Scott Waldrop (Twisted Tower Dire, Walpyrgus)

-Jean-Pierre Abboud (Funeral Circle, Borrowed Time)
-Jeff Black (Gatekeeper) (Me, woo-hoo!)
-Logon Saton (Demon Bitch)
-Jason Tarpey (Eternal Champion, Graven Rite)

None of these are household names by any stretch, though fans of the underground (specifically in the Epic Metal style) might recognize a handful of these groups. Howie Bentley has written a few articles on Sword & Sorcery for the Cimmerian, if I recall. I’m really hoping that this goes well and the idea takes off. Hopefully in subsequent volumes we will get to see some bigger bands contributing.

Check out DMR Books on Faceplant:

And a recent interview:



“You have HOW many cassettes?”

So today, Sunday, my only day off, I spent my time organizing my cassette collection. Yeah, tapes. With, like, music on them. I organized them alphabetically and then priced them out based on condition and rarity. ‘Cause that’s how I roll. I think I have close to 300 right now. One for every Spartan at Thermopylae, baby.

This is some of them

These are some of them

I love tapes. Just love ’em to goddamn death. I know they are flawed; I’m all too familiar with the ear-raking screams, the background hiss and purr, the terror of prying them apart to put the pads or the tape itself back into place (about as stressful as open-heart surgery). My Dio Last in Line cassette modulates in and out of key every 11 seconds due to the back-breaking strain I’ve put it through since I purchased it from some backwater record shop in Red Deer, AB.

Despite all this, I’ve found myself drawn to tapes, ever since I was a little guy. I’m now in my mid-20’s. I like looking at them. There’s something occult about them. I treat tapes the same way I’d treat the emerald tablets of Atlantean gods placed under my care. The shape of them, the size. The holes. I want to do terrible things to cassette holes. When I hunt through flea markets for new tape acquisitions, I feel like I’m Indiana Jones or El Borak, stalking through temples older than the seas in search of antediluvian artifacts. When I find a cassette from my want list, I get a chill when I slide it into my tape deck for the first time.

The other thing I love about tapes is the sheer DIY, underground quality of them. When I go see a band play live and they put their album or demo out on tape format, I buy it even if I hated their music. There’s this vibrant, raw energy that surrounds these dinky little chunks of plastic. I think this stems from the fact that recording music on tape represented a sort of paradigm shift in the music business, where all of a sudden, you didn’t have to be independently wealthy (or injured in a car accident) in order to afford to record your album. With the advent of tapes came the advent of home recording and the do-it-yourself mentality running in the veins of the punk and heavy metal movements. Vinyl records were the goal, the big leagues, the ivory towers, and tapes represented the stepping stones to get there.

I also love tapes because of the material you tend to find on them. Many bands released their full-length albums on tape format, but eldritch demos and obscure live performances are my bread and butter. I love listening to a recording and feeling as though the band is right there in front of me. The sound from the amplifiers is blowing my hair back and I’m surrounded by other crazy rockers in club where there’s sweat practically dripping from the walls. The drums sound like they were recorded in the bat cave and the singer’s mic punctuates the riffs with keens of feedback.

Ugh. It just rocks my world.

So anyways, that’s what I did with my Sunday Funday. I’m a goddamned nerd.

Reality TV is Bullshit


But you knew that already right?

Last weekend I attended a cast party for a musical production I was involved in. As the evening crept into the dark of night and the beer/wine/liquor diminished, the power went out. What do you do when the power goes out in a group of Theater Folk? Hot tub! Once we were settled in, we went swapped stories. Upon her turn, one of the actresses (who I shall refer to as “Shannon”) delivered a harrowing tale of being a guest on the show Dr. Phil.

Shannon had struggled with weight issues and dealt with bullying and had serious problems with self-esteem. She had just conquered Bulimia when she applied to the show, mainly because she’d heard that guests would be given access to professional help for their struggles.

To her amazement, she was contacted by the producers of the show and invited to appear in an episode. It would be an all-expenses-paid trip to Hollywood for her and her family. After a serious discussion with her parents, Shannon decided to go through with it. She was living in a smaller town at the time, so this trip took place in secret, because anyone who has lived in a small town knows how quickly information can spread and become infected.

Shannon and her family hopped on a plane and flew into L.A., where they were picked up in a sexy and sleek limo and taken to a high-end hotel where they were doted upon hand/foot. In a short while, they were carted to the set of Dr. Phil via limo where the first day of shooting would begin. Backstage, Shannon encountered the rest of the folks who would be on the show: One overweight girl, a dangerously anorexic young woman, plus a beautiful, curvalicious lady who, thanks to abusive boyfriends, was totally convinced that she was obese.

Shannon started out with an interview conducted by Dr. Phil’s son, Jaw McGraw, a seriously hunkified slab of Hollywood stardom. He was on the show because he had just released his new book (The Ultimate Weight Solution for Teens, perhaps) She was naturally a little nervous, being a scared 15-year-old sitting next to a human Ken Doll. One of the other producers, an intelligent younger lady sat down with her to wrap up the interview. Shannon rather liked this other lady: She was down-to-earth and actually had some great insight.

During the interview, Shannon was asked “Do you hate your life?”

The answer: “No, I don’t.”

The day’s shooting carried on with Shannon having to do a few scene where some of the crew members pretend to bully her which will go on her intro clip that gets played before Dr. Phil’s guests appear on screen (if you’ve seen an episode of Operah or Doc Phil then you’ll know what I’m talking about) and that was that. Shannon and her family spent the rest of the day touring around Hollywood and seeing the sights. It was a jolt of high-voltage culture shock but so far, so good, right?

When Shannon + family arrived for the second day of shooting with Phil himself, things got weird.

When she arrived on set, one of the producers gave her a look. “Is that what you’re wearing?” she asked. She took her backstage and gave her a new wardrobe, putting her into clothes that Shannon would have never worn in her life. Shannon was called to the stage for her interview with the Doc himself, along with Jay. Before Phil kicked things off, they played the intro clip that they’d shot with Shannon the night before.

Everything was wrong.

Shannon stared, dumbfounded. Her interviews the previous day had been torn apart and stitched back together together to form a horrific sob story of an overweight girl who had no friends, no hope, and who hated herself and everything about her life. Shannon was shocked.

Dr. Phil and Jaw started their interview. Shannon felt so trampled that she could barely answer the questions. She described it as “I just said ‘yes’ to whatever they asked, I felt like I’d stepped outside of my own body. Like I was just floating away.”

The interview eventually ended and Shannon sat back down in the front row of the audience as the rest of the guests went onstage for their portions of the show.

Dr. Phil had some nutritional advice for the teens and young adults. Dr. Phil opened to floor to questions of comments from the audience. Shannon’s father, a high-school basketball coach who works with teens on a regular basis had some disagreements with Phil’s advice and the two of them had a respectful back-and-forth about it.

At the end of the show, when Shannon had been hoping to be put in touch with a weight-control specialist or counseling of some kind, Phil said “Our guests today will receive a copy of Jay’s book!”

At that point, Shannon knew: She was being used. She was a tool to sell a product.

And that was that. The shooting ended, and the guests were rushed from the set like stray animals. As Shannon left the building, head spinning, she passed Jaw McGraw. Their eyes met, and he mouthed the words “I’m sorry.”

They were piled into the limo and set immediately to the airport. Shannon exploded into a fit a of tears and her father dialed up the show and had an A+ fit of rage against the people who had embarrassed his daughter.

When the episode aired, Shannon appeared on it for less than two minutes, likely because her father threatened to sue. The Dr. Phil website had a forum where viewers could discuss the episode, and when Shannon logged on and saw people talking about her and getting all these wrong impressions, Shannon made a few posts to try and set the record straight. The topic was deleted.

Shannon described it as “The worst experience of her life.”

Being a performer, I’ve had a few friends try out for competitions such as Canada’s Got Talent, Canadian Idol etc etc. Every single one of them found it fishy.

Several talented and trained singer friends of mine auditioned for Idol, and were told to leave when the producers realized that they were dealing with people who had actual voice training. The reason is because the vocals coaches of Idol are going to tell you what to sing, regardless of your range or what is good for your voice.

Two average-looking people with incredible voices would be turned away in favor of a hot, terrible-sounding singer (who would be told by the producers “you’re amazing! You’re Idol material!”) because the viewers at home will get a laugh out of someone going ape-shit on national television after being told the truth by the celebrity judges.

A wonderful singer that I know auditioned for Canada’s Got Talent. Before she could see the celebrity judges, the producers had outfitted her with a whole new gothy wardrobe and gave her a dark, tragic backstory to match.

Everyone loves a sob-story. Everyone loves an underdog.

The point: Reality TV ain’t reality. These are not good people. They are not trying to help struggling teens work through their issues. They are not trying to develop long-lasting talent.

These are sharks looking to make a quick buck.

These are people who will stand on the heads of the unfortunate and the confused (and occasionally the deluded or truly talented) in order to catch ratings, fluttering like elusive fireflies overhead.

Hollywood is a dream land. And I don’t mean that in a fun, “dreams come true” way.

It’s fake. It has that dark veneer of reality, but it’s about as legitimate as the WWE.

Don’t go to dream land to deal with your problems. Talk to the people you care about. Go see a real professional. Take your music career to the next level by joining a band and hitting the touring trenches and recording albums and getting your hands dirty.

It’s all bullshit, and it’s bad for ya.”

– George Carlin

Sign of the Raven by Poul Anderson

I know this review was a couple months ago but god damn it this series RULED. Poul Anderson writes the best viking material, period. If you’re looking for a historical trilogy starring one of Norway’s most colorful characters (and there are a metric fuck-ton of those) including , chest-swelling victory, brutal defeat, revenge, love, betrayal, lust, burning ambition and the bloody end of the Viking Age, you could do a lot worse, kiddo.

Be Water, my Friend

One Sunday June 1st, my piano students had their summer recitals.

I’ve been teaching for five years now and we do our recitals twice a year. However, this time was special because at the end of the summer, I’ll be leaving dirty ol’ Edmonton behind and shacking up in Vancouver to finish my degree. It was the last recital I’d ever get to do with these kids. Some of them have been taking lessons with me since day one, some of them since month one. Some of them have only been with me for a few months, and it was their first recital ever. Some of them aced their pieces, others had trouble. Some were playing “Turkish March” and “Maple Leaf Rag”, others were playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Hot Cross Buns”.

I was so proud of every single one of them.

It’s not easy to get up onstage in front of your family and peers and a pile of strangers you’ve never seen before in your life. We had a pretty good crowd, probably around 100 people. For many kids, going up and playing in front of other piano players who might be better than them is terrifying. So regardless of “how well” they played, my heart leaped for joy and I had a big shit-eating grin plastered on my mug as soon as they ascended the stage and planted their buns on that piano bench. I tell all my students that being a little nervous isn’t a bad thing, because it means you really want to do a good job. Nerves should be the sparks to your passion-gasoline, or some bullshit.

After the performances I was asked to say a few words to the crowd. A sort of “sending-off” for everyone, even though I’m still going to be teaching until the end of August. So I went up, cracked a few goofy jokes, told everyone how hard the students had worked and how much courage it took to get up there and jam. I think I might’ve actually said “The piano bench is like a trench, man” and somehow I got a laugh. I’m an idiot, but for some reason, it works.

Partway through my little spiel, I noticed something is wrong. One of the ladies in the front row, Nicholas’s mother looks very confused. I’ve never made a speech at previous recitals. What’s the deal? When I mention my move to Vancouver, she burst into tears and had to leave the studio. I saw Nicholas in the crowd and gave him a Look. He mouthed “oh, crap.” He’d forgotten to tell his mom that I was moving away. I’d told him and his dad, but the news hadn’t reached his mom for some reason. Nicholas and I have been working together for four years now, since he was barely taller than my knees. We get along really well and his parents told me that having a young adult influence in his life has done wonders for his social anxiety and self-esteem. Nicholas is into Lord of the Rings, Batman, Elder Scrolls and Black Sabbath so he’s like the little brother I wish I had sometimes.

Anyways, the incident got me thinking a little bit. About my roles as a teacher and the impact that I might have on some of these kids, and in turn, on the parents as well.

I fucking love teaching piano. I love working with kids on a one-on-one level. I love seeing the light bulbs go blinkity-blink in a student’s eyes when a difficult concept comes to life in their mind and fingers. It’s a rush, and it’s stronger and more rewarding than any drug. I work six days a week in my studio, but I don’t even call it “work”. when about it to people. I mean, I sit on my arse and help young people make music and their parents give me money, are you even kidding me right now? Awesomeness. And yet, I’m a total idiot goofball dorkus-malorkus duncykins in the studio. When I’m not teaching kids how to play their major scales and “Let it Go”, I’m quoting Bruce Lee and telling kids to think about dead spiders when they curl their fingers and making fart jokes (usually following an actual fart, I swear to Oden it ain’t me, most of the time) and yet, moms are bursting into torrents of grief in public because I’m leaving? Man. That’s a kick in the big ol’ heart-of-hearts-of-fockin’HEARTS, dude.

I’m gonna miss these kids. Every single one of them.

Even little Marty who (for real) punched me in the dick last month.

That little bastard rocked the shit out of a Bach minuet on Sunday.

Anyways, that’s all I got. Teaching rules, kids are fun, I’m an idiot who worships Bruce Lee and Tony Iommi. I’ll leave you all with one of my favorite quotes that I use on all my students. It’s great for all aspects of life, not just kicking ass or playing Beethoven Sonatas.

“You must be formless, shapeless. Like water. When you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. When you put water into a teacup, it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or drip, or creep, and crash. Be water, my friend.”


‘Til next time, Dragons.

Books + Brekky

This is how I start my Tuesday

This is how I start my Tuesday

Breakfast of semi-scrambled eggs (which is what I get when I fuck up sunny side up eggs) seasoned in Garam Masala, plus banana, strawberries and toast w/honey peanut butter.

Yesterday I started reading Imaro by Charles R. Saunders. Really fun sword and sorcery with an African setting. The stories were originally published across the 70’s and 80’s, this is the first of three books. Imaro is often compared to Robert E. Howard’s Conan. Howard is an obvious influence on Saunders, but where Conan is an adventurer with lofty aspirations who does pretty much whatever the hell he wants, Imaro is a troubled young warrior, hated by his kinsfolk for something his estranged mother did. Saunders, being of African descent himself, injects tribal warfare and a vivid re-imagining of the Dark Continent (Called “Nyumbani” in the books) with a character who is an outcast among his own people. Shit, there’s even a prophecy involved! The prose is fifty shades of fockin’ purple and there’s enough adverbs to give pause to a herd of stampeding gazelle, but so far the stories are a grand time in the Schoole of Olde.

I’m working on a fantasy novel and series of short stories about a mercenary captain and his ship, so I picked up Scourge of the Seas for a little research on buccaneering history to help myself out with ship anatomy, battles on the high seas, naval politics, period dress, life on the water and all that fun stuff. This is a great, high-quality book that works through The Golden Age of Piracy, providing historical background and dispelling some of our favorite sea-faring myths along the way. Isn’t learning fun?

What’chu reading on this glorious Tuesday?