Worldcon 2015: Kevin J. Anderson Goes the Extra Mile for Fans

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

Kevin J. Anderson is one of the most prolific science fiction novelists of our day, with more than 50 bestsellers to his credit, an average of five to six full-length novels a year, and the ability to write 756 pages in just six short weeks. Part of what allows Anderson to produce such an amazing volume of premium work is his method of writing, which does not, in fact, include any typing at all on his part.

Anderson explained in an exclusive SVN interview at Worldcon, “I write by hiking and dictating. I have trained myself to be an oral story teller, so I am telling the story, but I outline my stories very, very carefully. It’s like I want to do a blueprint before I build a house … The Dark Between the Stars is 128 chapters long, or something like that, with 34 different viewpoint characters. So, I outlined it in very great detail, chapter by chapter by chapter, and organized it.

“I will take the notes for a couple of chapters, chapters five through nine or something like that, and then I will go out [on a hike]. We live in Colorado, so there’s lots of national forests and national parks, and I will just go out hiking, and I will know what happens in Chapter Five, and I will dictate it … In my mind, it’s several steps shorter than doing all of the process [of typing the manuscript out]. Then, I have someone transcribe it, and then I edit it online to polish it up … The novel I just finished was 750 pages, and 132 chapters, and I wrote the whole thing in about six weeks. I go out hiking every single day, write three or four chapters, then hand it off to the typist who then lets her fingers get worn down because I am dictating faster than she can even transcribe.”

Anderson said of his unorthodox method of writing, “I get inspired by the mountains and waterfalls and canyons … beautiful scenery, and I get to go out and hike all day long, and I get to write, so it’s not choosing one or the other. I get away from the distractions … sometimes I go up where there’s no cell service … I don’t get the doorbell ringing, or the phone ringing, or anything else. I just get to walk and concentrate on my story and get immersed in it.”

Whether he’s working on a Dune novel, one of The Saga of Shadows or Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. series, or one of his many other projects, Anderson is obviously very passionate about his writing, and is lucky to have found a way to combine his two loves. “When I was writing, and I would come up with a difficulty in my story, whether I didn’t feel I knew the characters well enough, or I didn’t know what was going to happen next, I liked to go out for walks. Like, some people get inspired in the shower, I just like to go out walking and letting my mind wander. Sure enough, I would be a mile away from home and come up with these brilliant, complicated solutions, and by then I would run home to start writing it all down, I would have forgotten most of the details. So, I started taking a digital recorder, actually it was a micro-cassette recorder at the time … just so I could dictate notes. It became so useful. If I’m creating a character, I’ll just walk for a mile and talk about who his parents are, what his interests are, what his hobby is, and what the name of his favorite pet when he was a kid was, just sort of free-associate, and I would gather all those things onto the recorder. I got more and more detailed as I practiced it, and I realized I was sort of writing first drafts. Then, I really did write firsts drafts, but now, I am so well trained in it that what comes off of my recorder is really fairly clean … If you play my original recording it’s like I’m doing a reading of the story. It’s a lot of practice.”

Although this skill may require a lot of practice to master, Anderson has had plenty of time to do so. He has been writing since he was eight, and wrote his first story, “Injection.” He has moved on to bigger and better things since then, publishing more than 125 books. He’s also hiked all 500 miles of the Colorado Trail, and climbed all 54 of Colorado’s mountain peaks higher than 14,000 feet in elevation! Some of his success may be due, not only to his personal style of writing, but to his ability to finish a book without letting other ideas distract him. “I’m a very focused and goal-oriented person. Especially if you have a deadline for your novel coming up, you don’t get distracted, you just finish it.”

Anyone who has ever dreamed of seeing Anderson’s work played out on the big screen should know that they are not alone. “I would love to have it happen.” Anderson has one small stipulation however, “I would love to see it happen, but it has to be the right studio. I’ve had lots of my stuff optioned, or treatments [done], but there are so many complicated steps to go through to get a movie made, and there’s so much money involved, hundreds of millions of dollars of budget, that they don’t just make [movies] lightly. They spend a lot of time with them. I’m hoping, maybe one of these days.”

Having a book adapted into a movie is a lot harder than many people realize: “The author is the low person on the totem-pole. All we ever do is write the story that they make the movie of. Once the studio takes it, then they’ve got their own director, their own script writer, their own casting people, and if, say, John Travolta wants to play a character in one of my books, then they write the whole thing around John Travolta, even if that wasn’t the main character in the book, because he would be the big star in it. I’m okay with that, because the more people that see the movie will turn around and buy the book, and that’s the one that I can by proud of.”

Anderson’s books are set — in fine sci-fi tradition — in altered dimensions. They may kind of resemble our own universe, but never enough to make any definite bridges between them. When asked if he would like to live in the reality that he has created for any of his characters, he responded, “Definitely not. I do terrible things to my characters. You don’t write a story that says, ‘and they lived in a wonderful world and everybody was happy and content. The end.’ That doesn’t happen in a story. Things go wrong in stories. They had a perfect world, but something went wrong, or Godzilla showed up, or the asteroid hit the earth, or the survivors of the zombie apocalypse had to make their way across the world. Characters in books don’t always have peaceful, uneventful lives. I think I would rather live in my own universe, and just commute to some of my other universes that I’ve created.”

Although he may feel sorry for a character that he likes, that won’t earn the character any favor from Anderson. “I’m a huge, complicated plotter, and there are things you [do to] set all the wheels in motion, and this is what happens. There are a lot of tragedies that happen, a lot of romances go wrong, or lots of miscommunications. It all tells a good story, but I feel, when I’m crafting a story, all of the plot lines, characters and settings and everything, when it all comes together, just perfectly, it’s like all of the Tetris pieces falling into place. That’s a real rush for me. Its like, ‘Ah! That’s exactly where that was supposed to go, and that’s exactly who was supposed to do this, and that’s the perfect twist for the ending!’ Sometimes it feels like this accidental winning of the lottery, when everything comes together right. I’ve been working hard for decades writing books, so now I kind of see the Tetris pieces and know how they can all come together right, and that’s what I really enjoy. It’s never like I’m making it up and hoping that it works out at the end. I’m very good at the plotting and the world building, so that it all comes together right, and that’s what I enjoy.”

He may be a master plot builder and weaver, but even a master needs a little grounding sometimes. “[The outline] is my blueprint of the house, and I need to have the blueprint to refer to where the wall goes, and where the electrical outlets go. When you’re writing a 700-page novel, there’s a lot of little tiny details. It’s not just this sequence of events: There are tons of little connecting tissues, and background details, and everything in chapter 110 has to be consistent with chapter seven … It’s like an orchestra conductor, trying to make sure that those instruments play together at the right time. It’s not just a street performer with a flute.”

When he is not busy plotting the demise of your favorite character, hiking and dictating at the same time, or enjoying the sheer bliss that comes from successfully twisting all the different plot threads into a beautiful ball of yarn, Anderson is busy meeting face-to-face with his many fans. “We do a lot of Emerald City Comicon, Denver Comic Con, Dallas Comic Con, these huge fifty- to seventy-thousand-people conventions, and they come up to our table, and they see my Star Wars books, or my X-Files books, or the Dune books … there is something for everybody, and the fans will come up, and I just love seeing their expressions … I’ve had many people say that they’ve learned to read reading my books, or they first got interested from reading the Star Wars Young Adult books, or that the first book that they ever bought was one of my X-Files books, and it’s kind of neat to see that influence that you have on a whole group of fans, and they still remember it. It’s very gratifying.”

Life with fans isn’t all peaches and cream though. People who used to idolize an author can turn against him for doing harm to a character that they liked. Sometimes, the fans get out of hand and do something that is not appreciated, or sometimes they just love the work to much and want to see more of it.

Anderson reports his progress on the newest installment in the hit series, Dan Shamble: Zombie P.I., “Well, I’ve got a lot of fans who are after it. I’ve got the outline written, and the title will be Tastes Like Chicken. I just published a collection of all the Dan Shamble short stories, but then I’ve written two more stories since then. I had to write a Dan Shamble Christmas story, and then Jim Butcher asked me to write one for an urban fantasy anthology that he’s doing. I’ve got the outlines on it, I just have to find the time for it because these are books that I do for myself. I mean, I don’t have a big contract for them that I have to turn it in, so I have to fit it in between my other books. We are looking at maybe Kickstarting the next one to see how that works. I’ve never done that before, but I know I’ve got a hug fanbase for this character, so, we’ll see. I like writing books where I can just sort of be goofy and funny instead of gigantic, serious, end of the universe type of books.”

Any writing at all seems to suit Anderson just fine, and he keeps plugging away at the growing list of demands his fans pile on. Sometimes it is fun just to write for the sake of writing, however, and it is a nice change to see his humor shine through in full force, when his funny bone elbows its way to the surface. Whatever the story though, Kevin J. Anderson is always on top of his game and ready to throw us off of ours with a surprise plot twist. We can’t wait to see what this mastermind will have in store for us next!


Oracle of the Cosmic Order: A Practical Guide to Mayhem by the Stars 8/31-9/06

by Agent Amanda Grefski (a.k.a. Madame Helleveeg)

August 31-September 6, 2015, Horoscope:

Do you feel like you’re in a perpetual Wes Craven movie (may he rest in peace)? This week you’re constantly overthinking your moves, re-thinking your course of action, and waiting for that mouth-breather phone call asking, “What’s your favorite scary movie?” Are you worried that there are cannibalistic children under the stairs? Ride it out, villains! It’s just the last hurrah of Venus’s retrograde.

So, until the end of the retrograde on September 6, it’s best if you gear down a bit. Like paring down from an All Terrain Armored Vehicle to juuuust a light saber — your well-being depends on it. It might mean the difference between hanging back with a butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron or a long-term bed at St. Mungos.

Aries  (3/21 – 4/19):

Aries villain, watch your back this week. No one can be trusted in your circle of villains, except for a select few. So how do you test who’s loyal and who to throw in the oubliette? Well, don’t go reaching for the fava beans and chianti just yet; your loyal subjects will reveal themselves before you have to go all Hannibal on the scene. If you don’t make a move and wait it out, you’ll find your enemies served up with a side of foie gras…or as a side of foie gras, your choice.

Taurus (4/20 – 5/20):

Taurus villain, watch your health this week. You’ll have a tendency to run yourself down, and when that happens, you’ll inevitably get sick. So check yourself, before you push through a job and wear yourself out … you don’t want to land yourself in a bed in St. Mungo’s. And unless you take care of yourself, there’s only so much wizarding and muggle medicine can do for you!

Gemini (5/21 – 6/21):

Gemini villain, it may take several times for you to complete a task this week, and this may seem a Sisyphus-like madness to you, but it must be done to accomplish your goals. So, if your alarm constantly plays “I’ve Got You Babe” on a perpetual February 2 in Pennsylvania, Phil, go with the flow. Word is that if you do, there’s a lesson to be learned and you may come out wiser in the end … or at least that’s what the script says.

Cancer (6/22 – 7/22):

Cancer villain, your progeny are a bit on the unruly side this week … whether they be human babies, fur babies, your significant other, or all of the above. You have to put your foot down, which is always hard for the hard-on-the-outside/soft-on-the-inside Cancer. But there is no Mary Poppins, Nanny McPhee, or Mrs. Doubtfire coming to your rescue. You will need to assess the situation and dole out what is necessary. Make sure you check your actions with someone you trust; this is the last week Venus will be in retrograde, and it may skew your perception.

Leo (7/23 – 8/22):

Leo villain, your emotions may get the better of you this week, and which end of that spectrum do you feel the most pointedly? I’ll give you a hint … it’s big, it’s green, and it’s not Bruce Banner’s alter ego who can’t use the verb “to be.” Jealousy is such a destructive emotion, and yet it seems to get you every time, especially if someone decides to flaunt their prize. And what’s your response? Get a bigger, better, flashier and more expensive toy to show them up. However, this may leave your wallet emptier than Eddie’s post-Rocky operation.

Virgo (8/23 – 9/22):

Virgo villain, be very wary of strangers this week, because there may be a traitor in your midst. And I’m not talking someone who spoils the season premiere of Downton Abbey for you; more like Plankton’s insidious takeover of the Krusty Krab — pure, premeditated manipulation. Now, on average you’re a little savvier than Sponge Bob, but these folks have done their homework, so beware, be aware and hang onto that Krabby Patty recipe for dear life.

Libra (9/23 – 10/22):

Libra Villain, you may feel like you’re walking on eggshells … radioactive, nitroglycerine-laced eggshells, but eggshells nonetheless. This is retrograde Venus’ last shebang, which adds to the volatility. So, you need to take special care when you communicate with other villains, because you’re likely to be misunderstood. You may feel like the McManus brothers, constantly reminding those around you that, despite your unorthodox approach, you are indeed on their side. About that unorthodox approach, you might get better reception if you gear down a bit. Like paring down from an All Terrain Armored Vehicle to juuuust a light saber.

Scorpio (10/23 – 11/21):

Scorpio villain, do you feel like you’re in a perpetual Wes Craven movie (may he rest in peace)? This week you’re constantly overthinking your moves, rethinking your course of action and waiting for that mouth-breather phone call asking, “What’s your favorite scary movie?” Are you worried that there are cannibalistic children under the stairs? This is all a manifestation of Venus in retrograde having it’s last hurrah and while it may seem real for the moment, it will seem more like a dream than a nightmare after September 6.

Sagittarius (11/22 – 12/21):

Sag villain, your mind is especially flexible this week, so use this mental agility to your advantage — especially considering how your enemy may still be clouded and blurred by Venus’ retrograde. Should you use this unfair advantage to strike on your enemy and potentially take over the known universe? Ummm … ABSOLUTELY. You’re a super villain, aren’t you? That’s what we do. You can offer indemnity if they agree to your megalomaniacal plan, if you’re feeling especially neighborly.

Capricorn (12/22 – 1/19):

You are uncharacteristically emotional this week, Capricorn villain, which puts you in situations you usually do not have to navigate. Normally, you’re Mr. or Ms. Cool-as-cabbage, but lately your cabbage has turned to kim-chi and this has become, at least mildly, problematic in your communications with others. The problem is, people are used to your usual Drax the Destroyer stoicism, but this week they’re getting Pinkie Pie warm-and-fuzzies, and it throws them off. But, if friendship is truly magic, they will eventually get over the change and accept that even stoic Capricorn villains have “I love you, man!” moments like the rest of us.

Aquarius (1/20 – 2/18):

You’re a simple kind of man (or woman), “someone you love and understand” (sing it, Jensen Ackles). You are, in essence, a simple man or woman, Aquarius villain — you have your proclivities, your habits, and your friends, and you want to keep things that way. You are a fixed sign, so this makes perfect sense. This week you’re urged to go with the flow, keep with your little weekly rituals, and don’t deviate if you can help it. They’ll bring you comfort if you’re faced with a supernatural crisis like leviathan stealing human souls, Crowley taking over hell, finding your sibling’s immortal soul in jeopardy again, you know … the usual.

Pisces (2/19 -3/20):

Pisces villain, this last week of Venus’ retrograde may do a number on you, so be mindful of who you communicate with and how you communicate. You may feel like a Martian as you go through your daily routines and your daily communications, as if you’re saying one thing and everyone is hearing another — like the parents sound in a Peanuts special. The bright side? Once the retrograde subsides at the end of the week, your “wa wah wa wah” communication will sound like words again, which is good news for all of the Linuses and Lucys you talk with throughout the day.



‘Defiance’ Season Three Finale: Hope in the Face of Purple Vampire Demons!

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror) 

Well, here we are at the far-too-soon season three finale of Syfy’s popular show, Defiance! It’s been one hell of a ride, what with purple alien vampire demons invading the town and the violent Votanis Collective to deal with, so let’s see how those living under the arch are faring!

I should say, under the blown-up half-arch that’s left. The show clearly demonstrates, repeatedly almost to the point that it loses its original meaning, that the Tarr parents are willing to do literally anything to keep their son and grandchild alive. Stahma’s over there acting as a concubine to the Omec Patriarch T’evgin and pissing off his daughter Kindzi in the process, consenting to blow up the arch when the Votanis Collective (VC) demand it, and oh yeah, we can’t ever forget that in the beginning she killed Christie.

Or did she? It’s just a fan theory to toss out there, but I never thought Stahma was skilled in the art of single-slice execution, plus the blade she used could’ve instantly cauterized whatever cut she did make. The VC and everyone else left the slaughterhouse that was castle McCawley (they did slaughter three McCawleys in the season three premiere, after all) and when the house was residenced by Alak and Andina much later, all the bodies were gone. I’m just saying it could be possible. Odder things have happened in the Defiance-verse.

And what is our favorite albino sociopath up to? Datak Tarr rather pathetically submitted himself for the purported honor of dying in the most shameful way possible according to Castithan tradition, only to be given a chance to die a different way and take out the entire VC vanguard preparing to invade Defiance instead. What did Datak do? Something entirely unexpected, that’s what! He cut off his own arm with barely a scream and ran away from the big boom, only to show up later in Defiance to try and help with the VC crackdown and the crazy invading purple-gold vampires too.

What about those purple vampire demon things called Omec? T’evgin is convingly portrayed by Conrad Coates, as the Omec leader struggles to balance his blood-lusting daughter, his own alien prejudices (everything Votanis or human is considered beneath them, as food), and the will to make sure that if nothing else, his people survive. Kindzi’s jealousy of Stahma as her fathers lover is a palpable thing, especially when we the audience are informed that father Omec and daughter are that, but also lovers as well – it hammers home the alien part of the Omec really hard. Nichole Galicia as Kindzi is the walking embodiment of absolutely no restraint and a powerful lust for everything – the blood and flesh of the other inferior races, the ascension of her people and the conquering of earth, but especially to get Nolan as her pet.

Nolan has quite a few problems of his own. They manage to get the ark-tech out of his and Irisa’s heads, more or less, but the lingering affects are causing issues. Nolan’s seeing things, remembering his own father, and he struggles to understand how his violent upbringing of his adopted Irathient daughter Irisa actually affected her a lot more than he’d ever thought. Him mistakenly executing the peaceful VC envoy didn’t help either. Irisa struggles too, with her desire to protect those she cares about and the citizens of Defiance, but also with her objections to harming other living people, especially when innocents suffer as a result.

But really, guys. Really? You love that alien girl enough to send yourself and the rest of the Omec into exile in some random corner of the universe, supposedly never ever to see earth again, as opposed to blowing the shtako out of that Omec ship? All right, I’ll buy it. A very good underlying theme running through season three of Defiance is the coming together of these key characters, and the forgiving if not forgetting of past wrongs, in the face of collective destruction. That is after all how the town of Defiance got its name – when the gates were being stormed by the Enemy, all the townsfolk regardless of race came together and defied them, to the last man, woman and alien other.

I hope, because that is another thing Defiance is known for – hope in the face of overwhelming sci-fi odds – that this isn’t the last we see of Nolan, and the crazy android Doc Yewll. The town of Defiance needs them, Mayor Amanda needs them too, and we need the next season of Defiance to do a time warp and be here already!

Worldcon 2015: Phil and Kaja Foglio Interview

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

Some people find it hard to work well with others, and others find it nearly impossible. That is what is so unique about Phil and Kaja Foglio; they have written the entire Girl Genius series — both in comics and in books — together. Phil Foglio says, “The comics came first, and then, you know, we worked from the comics and wrote the novels, which is different from how it usually goes.” Both their books and comics about the exploits of young Ms. Heterodyne have a fandom that is quite large, but they are lucky to have fans that are content and just happy to get new material.

Although they may not have screaming fans who devote entire YouTube channels to following their cars (looking at you, George R.R. Martin), they still run into fans who have the ingenuity to recreate some of their character’s designs. Phil remarks, “Oh, that’s wonderful! It’s nice to see people in costumes [from our books] … I feel pretty confident in my costumes, because I took four years of fashion illustration in art school, so I have a lot of costumers who come up and go, ‘I can actually make your stuff! This is awesome!’ Well that’s because I had teachers who pretty much drummed it into me that … you have to design stuff that people can actually wear.”

Their fans aren’t the only ones who get to fantasize about sumptuous garments. Phil explained what garment he would bring back into fashion from the Victorian era, “If there was something I could bring back? I don’t think men wear enough hats … A gentleman looks good in a hat … It’s an extra little flip of style.” He may not have enough physical hats, but metaphorically he is a man of many.

The series that he has written with wife Kaja, Girl Genius, is published in hard-copy book format and as a free online web-comic. When asked about the unique challenges of writing both, Phil was able to give a unique answer, “Writing is more difficult because there is that old adage, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ … I think that is pretty much why I was more of an illustrator for so long, because I’m a really lazy guy, so I would just draw a lot … but as we started working on the Girl Genius novels, and I’ve done other novels in the past … There are things that you can do with language that you can’t, at least I can’t, do with art alone … Art is easier, but good writing is more evocative.”

Phil and Kaja have a very synergistic approach when it comes to the clothing that their characters wear. Kaja Foglio remarks, “We do a lot of scribbling back and forth,” with regard to their joint ideas for outfits. While Phil studied fashion illustration, Kaja was involved in the costuming of many theatrical productions. She says, “It [fashion illustration] teaches you a lot about how clothing hangs and where the folds go, and so when you’re drawing a garment, you actually have an idea of its construction. I, in college, took a lot of costuming and I did some theater work … and so I have more of an idea of how it goes together, and he has more of an idea of how to draw it. Sometimes when he draws it, it makes me crazy because I’m like, ‘You have no idea how that’s actually supposed to be constructed, do you?’ But, we found that even in the theater, the theater illustrators would draw something, and then they’d hand it to us and they’d be like, ‘Make that,’ and we’d say, ‘Yeah … okay, sure. We’ll do a thing like that … They would draw a beautiful piece of art, and it may or may not have actually worked.”

Although there may be a difference between fanciful and functional in the clothing, there is little difference when it comes to actually sitting down and creating both the Girl Genius books and comics: they are markedly similar. Phil explains, “They are both writing creative things. One is a little more visually oriented, but … I think being visually oriented, as both Ki [Kaja] and I are, makes our writing as visual as it is.”

When asked who he would love to collaborate with, living or dead, Phil let out a big sigh as he pondered this question, “Living or dead? I’d say Terry Pratchett of course, geez. The man was awesome! We learned an awful lot just by reading his stuff.”

Kaja has a slightly more realistic dream, “So, I would have said Tom Kidd, who does beautiful airships and has done beautiful airship drawings … and magical cities for a long time, but … actually, on the novels here, he’s the artist that our publisher got for us for the cover art. So, that was very nice. It was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t even have to ask, and he’s the person I would have suggested … Gosh, there are definitely a lot of people out there that I would love to have [work with].

“I have sort of a fantasy project that I would love to do, where I would hire a number of different fantasy artists to do their own take on the Girl Genius universe. For instance, do me a picture of the character, a cover, or something like that … then put it together in a big art book. I’ve seen this done for various manga series and anime series that I like. I have this fantastic book from Japan where they collected all this different art from Hatsune Miku and the other characters [Vocaloid characters] and some of it is manga, and some of it’s album covers, and it’s just all these different styles, all these different works, based around those characters. It’s amazing, so I keep this as one of my little treasures up near my desk, like, ‘I want this, but for Girl Genius.’ I would love to do this. To go to all of the artists that I admire and say, ‘I want to hire you to do a picture for us, for this book.’… It’s kind of a fantasy project that I would love to do.” Given a few years, Kaja’s dream may very well become a reality, and that would be a feat to be seen.

Working with another person on something as personal as art can cause tension and dissension, but Phil says that he and his wife have a great solution. “We talk it out. It’s just kind of like, ‘Okay … explain yourself, why do you think this?’ … it’s kind of like a D&D [Dungeons and Dragons] game … you have to say, ‘This would happen.’

“‘Ah, no, but this person would do this.’

“‘I guess they would.’

“‘Alright, then this would happen.’

“‘Uh, no, I don’t thing that would happen because this guy died two pages ago.’

“‘Yes he did!’

“Like I said, we just talk it out.”

They may not have much difficulty when it comes to problem solving, but they have found an unexpected challenge when they write the voice for one special character. The Hetrodyne Castle. “The castle is one person … but because it’s generally a computerized person, we’re able to have separate entities that … well, if you hooked it back up, it would all flow together, and then the castle would know everything that both of them knew, but they’re separate. Like the train … is like a peeled-off bit of the castle that was sent out and was experiencing things, and maybe eventually come back and add that data or that knowledge … It would come back and add that data to the greater mind, but at the moment it’s still its own little thing, and at the moment it’s still kind of got its own little way of speaking and it’s very angry, and very …’Well, you’re all idiots! Argh!’

“So writing those different voices, they’re … all the same person but they all have different experiences and have slightly different knowledge bases. The little bit of it that they [the main characters] have just met in Paris, that’s part of the castle, but it’s not currently part of the main castle, but it still thinks of itself as part of the castle, and if they hooked it back up, it would be like, ‘Hey I suddenly know all of the maps of Paris, and I know all the stuff that happened in Mechanicsburg, and the one in Mechanicsburg doesn’t currently have the knowledge of Paris that the other one has. If you put it all together, it’s like pouring water into a glass, and then it’s like, ‘Ha, now you’re all here,’ and that’s a weird … way of thinking that really kind of runs counter to our own human individualist idea of me and you as separate entities and individuals.” This certainly would be quite a task to write, and try and get all the little nuances across without making it too blatant.

Every good writer (and yes, even the great ones too), has to start by reading up on whatever it is that grabs his or her interest. In the case of Phil Foglio, it was comics. Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, by Gilbert Shelton turned out to be his favorite. He added, “Underground comic … from the seventies. About a bunch of … reprobates. They are certainly well-known.” The strip was first printed in an underground newspaper in Austin, Texas, around 1968. It starred three guys, although not brothers, who sported quite a bit of hair. The first was Freewheelin’ Franklin Freek, whose red hair flowed behind him as he moved from hi-jink to escapade. Next was Phineas Phreek, who has the biggest and most unruliest bush of black hair. Lastly came the most obese of the trio, the aptly named Fat Freddy Freekowtski, whose blond mop cascaded perfectly from his head.

The Foglios like to hide some Easter eggs into their comic. They will probably not be understood by anyone outside of the Foglio family, however. Kaja shares one such joke, “Occasionally we’ll use the name of a friend, or throw a joke in there that came from some place … private. Like, at one point, when Tarvek is babbling, he says, ‘Imagine everything is made of pigs!’ Which is nonsense, but it’s actually an old joke between Phil and me because he once, long ago, woke up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea for a story. It was just an amazing idea, and he was so excited about it, so he wrote it down and went back to sleep. When he woke up in the morning, the paper said, ‘Imagine everything is made of pigs.’ and he was like, ‘Okay then.’ That was apparently a really weird dream, and we’ve laughed about that ever since … I guess the idea was to imagine that all of the electrons in an atom were little pigs, and they get all excited, and they run around a lot, or something. So, that’s just a thing that makes us laugh, and we throw it in there and it makes us laugh even more … Or, the occasional science joke that Phil will throw in there from something he heard from his friends at Fermilab years ago, or some weird historical thing that I’ve read about somewhere. I’ll throw things like that in. A lot of times, there is usually someone who gets it, in that case, and then they have the fun of explaining it to their friends.”

The Foglios incorporate witty banter, inside jokes, hat-tips to friends, and just plain old science jokes, to give their stories that little bit of umph makes them so entrancing and keeps the readers coming back in droves. They make personable and believable characters with fantastical, yet satisfyingly functional, designs and they take off to explore a world of their own creation with each posting of web-comic and chapter of their books. They have taken the steampunk genre by storm, and they are still going full speed ahead.


‘Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist’

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror) 

In a dystopian future where Peace Makers monitor everyone for lewd content, the female terrorist known as Blue Snow is determined to use her naughty organization, SOX, to guerilla-educate the young of the elite public morals schools in porn and sexuality!

So, Tanukichi Okuma is a new student at the best public morals high school in the country, trying to forget the fact that his father was an infamous dirty-joke terrorist who was arrested after trying to spread condoms around the Diet building. He’s at a new school and wants nothing more than to keep his head down and reunite with his old school crush, Anna Nishikinomiya, the Student Council President. The Vice President of the Student Council is Ayame Kajou, straight-laced and proper, until she gets Tanukichi alone and the gloves come off!

Because it turns out, Ayame is on a mission, a very important mission, to bring sexual education and freedom of sexual expression to these desperate high school kids. As the perverted terrorist Blue Snow, Ayame wears little other than panties on her face as her bandit mask, delightedly dispenses pornographic and hentai-like pamphlets and magazines, shouts dirty jokes in defiance of the law, and in general, makes an absolute nuisance of herself while narrowly avoiding being caught by the authorities.

Tanukichi, torn between actually wanting to explore his own budding sexuality and remaining, in theory, prim and proper so he can be with Anna, nevertheless goes along with SOX and several times gets Ayame out of serious jams, so she may continue to fight the good perverted fight another day!

Anna herself isn’t the most stable of leaders, determining somehow that her inexplicable yandere attraction to Tanukichi can only be furthered if she does “good” works by capturing the criminal Blue Snow and tightening the public morals of her school even harder. And see, right there is the potential for a dirty joke already, which Blue Snow would not fail to exploit to the fullest!

Ayame recruits other pervy warriors to her SOX cause: Art prodigy Otome Saotome, who immediately begins making hentai-like drawings for SOX distribution; Kosuri Onigashira, a fangirl of SOX already who’s posing as Tanukichi’s sister to allay Anna’s suspicions; and Hyouka Fuwa, budding scientist and classmate of everyone, obsessed with getting Tanukichi to tell her how babies are made. These ero-terrorists are all against the high and mighty moral authority that wants to further tighten the noose around all the schools in Japan, and Ayame and SOX devises one plan after another to get away with all the dirty jokes and pornography they can get their hands on!

Okay, so yes, there are plenty of pornographic references, gestures, words, and actions. Every last one of them is cleverly censored, with a cute little .gif to cover that naughty gesture Ayame just made, or those pixel blurs Japan is famous for, and the mischievous words used are edited in the subtitles and overlaid with a funny noise when Ayame inevitably says them! While Ayame and SOX does take an admittedly perverted pleasure in the words, pictures and actions associated with sex, the underlying meaning of what she’s trying to do is something genuinely worth lauding – if people are uninformed about sexual matters, they will experiment on their own, with usually disastrous results. Why not educate everyone and have a teensy bit of roguish fun in the process?

Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist can be found on Funimation!

Dark Whispers: Visit Mother in the Sanitarium

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror) 

Welcome to Dark Whispers, the horror corner of the Super Villain Network – speak intently, break the rules, and may all your nightmares come true.

This week Pandora’s dark little box takes you to the Sanitarium to visit Mother; gifts a concerto for zombies and a return to bloodletting music of the best kind; and finally we go to Hell and Back!

His music makes the score

In much the same way as Danny Elfman does every single score and soundtrack for Tim Burton’s films, Angelo Badalamenti is a mainstay for the music of David Lynch’s films. Coming right on the heels of the news that filming for the new Showtime continuation of Twin Peaks will begin next month, is the glorious news that Badalamenti has returned to lend his haunting scores to the new show! We are indeed blessed, horror fans, because we all know that our darkness just isn’t complete without nightmare music to cling to!

‘The Walking Dead’ gets the classical treatment

So hopefully you fan-atics out there are at least somewhat familiar with Sonya Belousova’s piano covers of various geekeries – Disney, Doctor Who and Game of Thrones comes immediately to mind. Recently Belousova took back to the piano, accompanied by a zombie violinist no less, to cover the jagged Walking Dead theme. There’s even a video that all you zombie freaks out there should enjoy!

Visit Mother in the sanitarium

It’s been quite a long time since Robert Bloch graced us with the infamous 1959 book, Psycho, that led to what is arguably Hitchcock’s magnum opus film. In 1982, Bloch brought back our beloved Norman, having escaped from a sanitarium disguised as a nun and murdering his way into Hollywood, 20 years after the original Psycho events. Bloch wrote Psycho House in 1990, and while the novel is set in the Bates-verse, Norman isn’t in it, I’m grieved to report.

Now, author Chet Williamson is taking on the world of Psycho all on his lonesome. A new novel, aptly titled Psycho: Sanitarium, deals with the missing period of time between the first two Psycho novels, a period of twenty years, and what happened to Norman and Mother in the sanitarium. This is the first novel with Norman Bates as the main character in over 30 years! The new novel starring our favorite murdering cross-dresser comes out March 1, 2016!

To ‘Hell and Back’

Who needs an R-rated stop motion comedy about a gang of friends who travel to Hell to free one of their own and get to hang out and deal with a slew of misfit demons, tired Greek legends and the Devil himself? We all need this!

A star-studded cast – Nick Swardson, Mila Kunis, Danny McBride, Susan Sarandon, Bob Odenkirk, and more – plus a bunch of writers and directors who all worked on Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken, has me salivating over the very idea! Check out the seriously NSFW trailer below!

Worldcon 2015: Rolf Nelson on ‘The Stars Came Back’

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

Well groomed and impeccably dressed, Rolf Nelson is every inch the impressive writer. Because of his book, The Stars Came Back, Nelson was nominated for the John W. Campbell for Best New Science Fiction Writer this year. This was not his first nomination for an award however, he was nominated for the Prometheus Award this year as well and ran against such people as Sean Gabb, M.D. Waters, and the eventual winner, Daniel Suarez.

Nelson’s book was written in a controversial manner, incorporating the writing style of a screenplay, but having none of the visual presentation. This has evoked a strong response from the reading community. Some seem to love it, and applaud its unique writing style. Others dislike it, saying that the screenplay style is too foreign and that they can’t adapt. He doesn’t seem to mind the negative reviews, “If they don’t like the style, that’s okay.” He has a rating of 4.2 out of five stars on Amazon, so his supporters obviously outweigh his haters, and this is helpful when it comes to keeping an open mind to new types of literature.

Not only is Nelson a writer, but he also teaches sixth grade math and science. “Writing kind of came as an accident.” He remarked.

Nelson noticed that there was little contemporary science fiction that was appropriate for his 12-year-old daughter’s age group to read. He set out to write a story for her that she was old enough to read. What he ended up with was a 165,000-word story that is still just a little to mature for her. His work deals with questions of morality, the necessity of violence in certain situations, and the fact that power itself isn’t good or bad, it’s the people who wield it.

He thinks that the themes contained within are too complex for his daughter right now, but that it would make a good piece to be dissected by a high school class. There are timeless ideas such as honor, loyalty, and truth, but also more complex thoughts layered one on top of the other, and it may just be one sentence in the story that hints at what lies beneath.

Nelson has a unique writing style; he likes to write while he walks. So far he has logged almost 6,000 miles while creating his works. His fans will be glad to know that Nelson has already written a prequel, a sequel, and a novella, all set in the same universe, along with a “normal prose” version of The Stars Came Back, all forthcoming! Nelson has obviously put a lot of thought and planning into his books, and it shows in the way he intertwines his plots, and a plan — not only for the future of his characters — but for their past.

He is very ambitious, and perhaps we shall see him up on the stage getting his own Hugo in the future, or maybe even as a line of text giving him credit in the middle of the lists of names that play at the end of a movie based on his books.


Worldcon 2015: SFWA President Cat Rambo

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

With her fun, muli-toned hair and youthful exuberance, Cat Rambo would not fit the stereotypical image of an organizational president, but is a role she fills very well. She is president of the nonprofit organization Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, or SFWA for short.

Rambo is a little over a year into her two-year term, and she was vice president of SFWA before her newest election. Her election marks a milestone in SFWA history. This is the first time there has been a female president and vice president in office at the same time. She is excited to be a part of the growing changes in the writing field that is making science fiction and fantasy truly as inclusive as its content. One of her goals is to, “get independently published folks thoroughly incorporated into the organization.”

She launched her writing career in 2005, and has grown in leaps and bounds. Prior to 2005, she worked for Microsoft, but realized that her true passion lay in writing. She quit her job and relied on her husband for financial support while she attended a six-week writing course at Clarion West, during which she got her first short story published and became a bone fide author.

Rambo has come a long way since her first work, and has published over 200 short stories and even a novel since then. She is a prolific writer, due in part to the fact that that she strives to write at least 2,000 words a day. She has not only written tons of stories, she has written them in a way that they mesh together. She has even started selling them to subscribers through Patreon. People who subscribe to this receive two original Cat Rambo stories a month, as well as the right to say they are a devoted fan and supporter of the illustrious Cat Rambo.

One of her books, Near+Far is a collection of short stories that she has written, and it has been happily received by the science fiction community. The way the story is laid out, the front cover is the near future, and all the stories are from that period. The rear cover is actually a front cover in itself, all you have to do is flip it over. This unique format has been widely loved, and has been polled at 4.9 stars on Amazon.

Although her recent book, Beasts of Tabat, is her first novel, she has collaborated with several other authors since then. She says that her short stories, “made writing the book easier,” and that they let her focus on on a given place more intensely that you would get to do in an ordinary book. Not only is she a writer and president of SFWA, she is also co-editor of the new SFWA cookbook. It was a group effort, with contributions from all sorts of authors such as Connie Willis and C.J. Cherryh. It features some recipes from the contributors’ books, and some that the authors just think need to be shared with the world. All proceeds from the cookbook sales go to SFWA’s Legal Fund, which was established to create loans for eligible member writers who have writing-related court costs and other related legal expenses.

Like most authors, Rambo has done many things in her life, in her case, working for Microsoft as a tech writer before becoming a well-known author. One thing that she has done that sets her apart from most authors is her additional work as an editor. She been a guest editor for the Women Destroying Fantasy edition of Fantasy Magazine. It is worth mentioning that her story, Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain, from the book Near+Far was nominated for a Nebula award in 2012 in the Short Story category.

Rambo has many irons in the metaphorical fire, and one of those was the SFWA Charity Auction. She said that they had one item up for sale that was intangible, but valuable, nonetheless. For the price of the winning bid, you could pay to have Neil Gaiman send you a personal insult by the social medium of your choosing. This auction was held at the 2015 WorldCon, and the winners were lucky indeed.

Rambo has put much time and effort into SFWA as a whole, and says that is one of the reasons she was able to advance through the ranks so quickly. She is dedicated and hard-working, as well as truly believing in the good that SFWA is doing. She could be found at WorldCon, sitting behind the SFWA booth and pitching in to help out with everyone else. Rambo remarked, “The sci-fi community is a kind and wonderful group, and I wish they would remember that.” She added that she wished the community would rise above what happened with the Hugos, have better communication, and end old — some of them really old. Writers can really hold a grudge — feuds. We are all sci-fi.

Although the role of President of SWFA has been a bit more than she originally bargained for, Rambo was willing to give it her best shot, and she has definitely succeeded in her goal. She says it, “was more work than I thought it would be-but it’s really cool to be part of it.”

Charity auctions aren’t the only things that SFWA does to benefit its members. It also has the very beneficial Grief Committee. This handles the complaints of disgruntled authors, and helps them to straighten things out when needed. Rambo says that some shady publishers she has met with will start to sing a different tune with the mere mention of bringing in the Grief Committee. The Grief Committee isn’t the only advantage availed to troubled writers. SFWA also runs the “Writer Beware” list, which lists all of the people who have tried to pull the wool over naive writers’ eyes. This list compiles a list of complaints against different publishing houses and various others that try to scam aspiring writers. This can involve having the writer sign over the rights to a book, and then never take their manuscript to print, or trying to get the authors to pay up front for printing and other costs that a legitimate publisher should cover with their share of the book’s revenue. As long as people have been making money, there have been people waiting to relieve them of it. Rambo says that SFWA is, “putting together a freelance database available to members online,” that should prove very useful in the future.

Cat Rambo has managed some great feats in the short time since she has switched from software to the world of writing. She has published more than 200 short stories and a uniquely formatted novel, as well as being a teacher in an online science fiction and fantasy writing class. She has come this far in only ten short years, and who knows what more time will add to this cocktail of experience, hard work, and perseverance.


Not a Solo Mission: ‘Legacy of the Force’ Opens Sep. 3

by Agent Amanda Grefski (a.k.a. Madame Helleveeg)

The force is strong within Leia and Han Solo’s children, Jaina and Jacen, but, sadly, so is the propensity for succumbing to the dark side. Legacy of the Force is an epic journey of courage, sacrifice, and the corruption that comes with a fixation on a singular goal, even if that goal is originally meant for the greater good. Full of complex, relatable characters, Legacy of the Force promises us an action-packed, roaring roller coaster filled with mind-bending light saber duels as well as the edge-of-your-seat story lines we know and love from this universe.

Based on the Star Wars novel, Invincible, by Troy Denning, Legacy of the Force stars Jaci Twiss as Jaina Solo and Tye Nelson as Jacen Solo, Leia and Han Solo’s twins. In a decided divergence from the original trilogy, Jaina Solo is called the Sword of the Jedi and she, not the prominent male characters, is the hero and rescuer in this film. This is a definite plus for all of us lady Jedi out there and for the blossoming Jedi girls of the next generation. Jaina is a gritty, tough, smart character who is forced to make extraordinary sacrifices and beat even more extraordinary odds. She is a fighter, a tactician, but also a loving sister. She possesses all of the depth and complexity of the leading male Jedi characters, with just the right dose of bad-ass. And Jacen, not your typical villain either, is the leader of the Galactic Alliance, blinded by what he thinks is right: a drive that transforms him into the Sith lord, Darth Caedus. This makes him, as a character, both dangerous and relatable, because he isn’t blinded by love or loss, but by what he thinks will help the future of the Galactic Alliance. But it’s ultimately single-mindedness that draws him to the dark side.

But the Solos are not the only legendary progeny in this cast; Julia Fae Sanders portrays Mirta Gev, granddaughter of Boba Fett, both of whom are mentors to the Sword of the Jedi, Jaina. Mirta Gev has the unique position of being both a mentor and “frenemy” of Jaina, which adds both tension and a pinch of dark humor to the already rich storyline and cast. Legacy of the Force also stars Tom J. Post as Prince Isolder, former ruler of Hapes and father to Tenel-Ka, Jacen Solo’s secret love. Ironically a once courtier to Princess Leia Organa Solo, he is now a prisoner to Darth Caedus. Through Isolder, we see Jacen/Caedus’ eventual struggle between his heart and his will, a struggle that will define his future and those in his midst.

Legacy of the Force will be released on YouTube on September 3, 2015. Between the amazing cast and riveting storyline, it is sure to please even the most hardcore Star Wars fans, as well as fans who are new to the Force. Why? Because ultimately, the cast, Windstorm Entertainment, and James Brothers Studio are fans, just like we are. Okay, so they’re fans that are an incredibly talented group of actors, directors, writers, camera people, and set designers, but it’s their fandom that makes them love and respect this universe as much as we do. And it’s this love that is poured into every detail of this incredible fan film. So, from Jedi, to Jedi; stay tuned on September 3 for Legacy of the Force.


For more on Star Wars Legends: Legacy of the Force, check out our exclusive interview with Tye Nelson: one of the film’s producers and lead actors!




To Serve Man: To Really Serve Man!

A census taker tried to quantify me, once.  I ate his liver with some fava beans and a big Amarone.  Go back to school, little starling. — Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris


by Agent Chef Jack Butler (a.k.a. The Evil Overlord) 

The hard truth about cannibalism is this: People have been eating other people since the dawn of time.  Seriously, cannibalism has been a thing since the days when we were all walking naked and afraid on the plains of Africa, with brains just powerful enough to bang two rocks together to get a rough knife’s edge.

And for just as long, acts of cannibalism have generated feelings of frission in most people. The very idea of cannibalism brings on a disgust and revulsion that other horrific acts just don’t. Most people generally associate the practice of eating other people with savagery.

Most people associate it in that fashion, that is.

This is why Hannibal Lecter strikes such a chord with so many people as a character. The man is certainly capable of savagery – all you have to do is rewatch the “Ready when you are, Sergeant Pembry” scene in the film version of Silence of the Lambs, wherein Anthony Hopkins beats Charles Napier to death with his own nightstick, to the lilting sounds of Mozart, to know that. But, covering this bloody and animalistic nature is a veneer of civility, poise, and rationality. He even says it to Clarice Starling: “Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly.” Sure, he’ll carve you up like a turkey – though to be honest, humans are better dismembered if carved up like pigs, not turkeys – but he won’t ever be rude to you.

But Hannibal is certainly the exception. In most popular media, cannibals fall into one of several categories:  primitive tribesmen like the members of the Pelegosto Tribe in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest; inhuman and violent brutes like Fenris Greyback from the Harry Potter novels; wildly insane madmen like the mutant family from The Hills Have Eyes; and desperate survivors who resort to cannibalism because this is the only way they can possibly survive, as The Hunters did in The Walking Dead.

Oh, occasionally people will become cannibals unwittingly, due to the actions of a murderer, such as the nice folk of Bridgewater, Florida, in the Criminal Minds episode, “Lucky.”  They were fed chili made by serial killer Floyd Ferell, who included a “secret ingredient” in the meal just to make things fun. But they are by far a more rare occurrence.

Since I’m not a cannibal myself, all of the recipes below sub out either pork or veal – two meats that real-life cannibals swear up and down come closest to the taste of the real thing – for human meat, despite the fact that cannibalism is actually legal in the United States and Canada. (Modern cannibals are generally convicted of murder, having killed the person before eating them, or else they’re charged with crimes like desecrating a corpse or something similar).

If you do decide to give human meat a try (I don’t want to know if you do – seriously), make sure the meat is from a healthy person who isn’t morbidly obese. Medical professionals have determined that the best bet is to eat muscle tissue from the lower body. Specifically, the gluteus maximus: That’s right, folks, your ass meat is the most nutritious part of you. Generally avoid the organs, especially the brain, as they generally are swimming in things you just don’t want to eat. Eating human brains, for example, brings on the possibility of catching a prion disease like kuru (the human equivalent of mad cow disease).

Traditional Polynesian Roast Long Pig

from ‘Long John Silver’ and countless other pirate stories

“Long pig” is a slang term used for centuries in the South Seas for human meat prepared as food. The term comes from the fact that, as noted earlier, human flesh supposedly tastes a lot like pork and can be cooked in identical fashion using identical methods as you’d use to cook a pig. (I’ve also heard it tastes like veal; as I am in no hurry to find out for sure, I’m going to leave it up in the air.)

Cooking in this manner is hard work. Really, really hard work, and it’s expensive. (Don’t worry, I’ve got more, less expensive, recipes later on in the article.) But hey, hard work and cash outlay is the price of enjoying some amazingly well-cooked food.

You’ll need the following ingredients and components:

  • One 200 – 250 lb. human be… PIG! I meant a pig, of course! I definitely didn’t mean “human being.” because that would be atrociously wrong. Anyway, one whole pig, professionally butchered and de-haired. Tell the butcher that its for a pig roast and they’ll know how to get it ready for you. The pig shouldn’t cost you more than $2 a pound.
  • 25 feet of burlap. Hit up a sewing store. You’ll want to cut the burlap into strips 2 feet wide by 4 feet long, or as close to that as you can get.
  • 50 to 75 banana leaves. Your local friendly Asian grocery store should have more than enough of them. In fact, you might as well just clear the store out. Leave them with exactly zero banana leaves. Do not pay more than $1.50 a lb for these leaves, though.
  • 15 heads of iceberg lettuce.
  • Round river rocks. Contact your local landscaping supplier, Lowes, or Home Depot, and tell them you’re looking for 4” to 8” Montana Round River Rocks. The key to these rocks is that they have to be round, they must never have touched salt water, and that they do not crack easily. My advice is to steal one of these rocks from the store before you buy them. Ahem, ask for a sample. Test the stolen rock in your outside barbecue grill before you use them: if you heat them up to the grill’s maximum temperature and it doesn’t explode and kill you, go back to the store and buy a lot more of them. And thank them for the sample.
  • A cord of hard firewood. The key here is that the wood has to burn long and burn hot.
  • Tree bark. You can get it from gardening stores, and you’re going to need lots of it.
  • A 12-foot by 12-foot square plastic tarp. Get the thick kind that’s usually silver, and not that see-through green crap.
  • A rectangle of chicken wire that measures at least 8 feet long by 5 feet wide. Your hardware store should be able to help you with this.
  • Heavy-duty wire twist-ties. Get these from your hardware store. Tell the guy at the store you need to tie chicken wire closed and he’ll know the kind you’re talking about.
  • Several gallons of charcoal lighter fluid.
  • 1 quart of your favorite soy sauce
  • 1 quart of your favorite brandy
  • 5 lbs rock salt
  • A water hose on tap just in case the pyrotechnics get out of hand.

Dig a big, big hole in your back yard. The hole should be about 2 ½ feet wide by 6 feet long by 2 feet deep. Start digging a couple of weeks ahead of your planned pig roast – you’re going to want the extra time in case you run into things like rocks or chunks of cement or rocks, or gravel, or a layer of thick clay and such.

Cover the bottom of your hole with the tree bark, and then fill the hole with the firewood. Soak your burlap in several buckets of water while you’re doing this. (The water in the buckets also serve as backup fire control.)

Stack the rocks on top of the wood pile. You should have enough rocks so that they cover the firewood completely with a bunch of cracks in between them all. Once the rocks are stacked, pour all of your lighter fluid in through the cracks, soaking the wood all the way down to the bottom. Very carefully, standing as far away from the pile as you can humanly manage and still be able to light the stupid thing, light a match and set the whole thing on fire. Let it burn down for a good 2 to 3 hours. (This will give someone in your neighborhood enough time to see the smoke and call the fire department, who will come by to check out why you’ve set your back yard on fire).

While you’re waiting for the fire to burn down, and after you’ve made sure the fire pit isn’t going to get out of control and burn your place to the ground, prep the pig. Place the chicken wire down on your table all spread out flat. Place a double-layer of banana leaves on top of that, then set the pig down – on its back, mind you, not its side or stomach – on top of the leaves. Coat the inside of the pig with soy sauce, brandy, and rock salt. Then line the inside of the pig with more banana leaves.

Once the fire has died down and the rocks are glowing white hot (and if they aren’t glowing white hot, you need to add more wood and let the fire burn longer) use a long pole to pull out big chunks of charcoal and spread the coals and the rocks out until they are flat.

Have some brave soul use a shovel to pull some of the glowing hot rocks out of the fire and drop them onto the banana leaves in the pig’s body cavity. The pig should start steaming out of pretty much all of the pig’s orifices at this point, just like in a cartoon, so be careful handling the animal at this point.

Wrap the chicken wire/banana leaf bundle around the pig like a blanket and tie it closed with metal wire ties. While you’re doing this, have someone very carefully spread a thin layer of banana leaves over the bed of coals and rocks. You want just enough to cover it.

Move the bundled-up pig to the pit and lower him gently onto the bed of leaves, rocks, and coals. Cover the whole thing with more banana leaves until you run out of banana leaves. Then lay your water-soaked burlap in strips over the leaf-covered pig bundle. Try your best to cover up any holes from which steam is escaping.

Unfold and re-fold your tarp until it is folded in half, then lay it over the pig and the hole. Shovel dirt around the edges of the tarp, sealing the hole. No steam or smoke should be escaping, though the tarp will probably balloon up slightly.

Let the thing cook for 8 to 16 hours. Once the time has passed, sweep the dirt away, pull the tarp up, remove the burlap and the leaves, and pull the now-cooked pig bundle up off the fire. Haul it onto a table, cut open the chicken wire with some wire-cutters, peel away the banana leaves, and bask in the glory that is a whole roast pig.

Crispy Lemon Liver

from ‘Hannibal’

In the Hannibal episode “Sorbet,” Hannibal Lecter (expertly played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who is one of my personal favorites when it comes to, “Hey, It’s That Guy!”) is seen rifling through his personal recipe box in search of the perfect dish to prepare for a small, intimate dinner party, and he stops on this recipe specifically. Luckily, the director spent enough time on the recipe card that the ingredients list can be read clearly by anyone who is quick enough on the pause button draw.

The actual preparation of the dish can’t be seen, but liver is a fairly simple protein to work with, and putting together the production wasn’t that much of a chore.

The ingredients list from the episode read as follows:

  • 6 slices bacon
  • 1 lb Liver d’Elizabeth calf’s liver, sliced into inch-thick strips
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tsp dried dill
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp marjoram
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 brown paper bag.

On medium-high heat, cook the bacon in a skillet until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon from the pan and allow to drain on a paper town-covered plate. Drain the accumulated bacon fat until only 2 to 3 tablespoons remain. When the bacon is mostly dry, crumble it to small pieces.

Add the flour, dill, marjoram, half the lemon zest, salt, and pepper to the brown paper bag. Add the sliced liver and shake to coat the meat. Remove the liver and shake off the excess flour.

Return the bacon fat to heat and increase to high. Fry the liver in the bacon fat for four to six minutes, until it is crisp along the edges and still moist on the interior. Remove the liver from the skillet to a warming plate and discard the bacon fat from the skillet (do not scrape the bottom of the pan.)

Melt the butter over medium heat in the bacon pan, scraping up the brown bits of liver and bacon from the bottom as you do so. Stir in the lemon juice, marjoram, and the crumbled bacon until well combined.

Return the liver to the pan and sprinkle with the remaining lemon zest and cook for one minute.


Floyd’s Famous Chili

from ‘Criminal Minds’

In the Criminal Minds episode “Lucky,” serial killer Floyd Ferrell ran a barbecue joint in the small town of Bridgewater, Florida. His barbecue was highly popular among the people of Bridgewater, and while he was seen as a bit of an odd duck, none of his neighbors ever thought that he was kidnapping and killing (and eating) young girls. And they certainly never suspected that one of the secret ingredients in the food he sold at his restaurant was the young girls he was killing.

Personally, I think the high mark of this episode was the reveal that Ferrell had killed and cooked the missing girl into chili, then fed the chili to the very search party organized to look for her. That, my friends, is a sure stroke of evil genius.

You’ll need the following ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 4 1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided
  • 3 lbs Sheryl Timmons boneless pork ribs, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil, divided
  • 9 medium tomatillos, diced
  • 3 cups chopped poblano peppers
  • 2 cups vidalia onion, diced
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 tsbp dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 tbsp chili powder
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 15-oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tbsp corn meal.

In a large bowl, stir together the first three ingredients along with 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Add the pork and toss until the pork is well-covered.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until hot. Saute half the pork for 10 minutes or until well-browned.  When done, transfer the meat to a 7-quart slow cooker. Repeat this procedure with the remaining oil and pork.

Stir the tomatillos and the next seven ingredients, along with the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt, into the pork mixture in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low heat for 8 hours.

Uncover, stir in the corn meal, recover, and cook on low heat for 1 additional hour.

Serve. Enjoy.