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Tales of the Darksome Thorn: The Dead Forsworn
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Friday, July 13, 2018

Review of Cobb and Co.'s The Three Musketeers

I don't normally drive eight hours to see a play, but after watching Cobb and Co.'s latest showing of Three Musketeers at Angelus Theater in Provo, I might have to make a habit of it. Cobb and Co. is a theater production company spearheaded by John and Ruth Cobb, writer and director respectively, who excel at producing fun, original works for the stage. It's a family business full of talent (think Surviving the Applewhites meets Little Women) and a passion for making audiences ROTFLOL. There really isn't a better word to describe my personal reaction.

Shenanigans and swordplay abound in this comical, musical adaptation of Alexander Dumas's classic The Three Musketeers.

It feels odd to observe, regarding a play titled The Three Musketeers, that the Three Musketeers stole the show. But they kinda did. D'Artagnan is a delightfully fascinating character, likable in every way and yet designed to deliver a painful character arc through all the laughter. When his idols come on stage, though, the orchestrated chaos that ensues is nothing short of gleeful. At least half of the most sizzling dialogue in the play comes from their witty banter, delivered during fun and energetic swordplay that makes you wonder how they can keep enough breath to continue singing at full volume. But they do. It's a talented act, and the songs are a huge part of the appeal.

The songs, written by John Cobb and composed by Karol Cobb, have more than enough range to round out a play of this length and depth. Between melancholy love songs, rousing Broadway-style numbers, and powerful reflective pieces (I'm looking at you "White is Blanc and Black is Noir"), I really wish they were selling CDs at the entrance to the theater. I'm no music critic, so I can't speak for the technical achievements and performative prowess of the singers and composers... wait, yes I can. Gimme more!!!

My favorite moments in the story include the rendezvous between D'Artagnan and Constance, a blessedly clueless romantic pair who stumble around each other with delightful, but poorly aimed sincerity. It's like a first date, in fact it is a first date, just... more so. The masquerade much later in the play has a very different tone, alternating layers of intrigue and ludicrousness as D'Artagnan dances/bumbles his way around spies and traitors. It thickens the plot, it adds nuance to the conflict in D'Artagnan's developing character, and it presents a beautiful spectacle. After that, choosing a favorite action scene is just impossible. The choreography is tight but never confusing, with a liberal dose of whimsy to remind us that the actors are having just as much fun as we are.

There is always a danger with well-written comedy that the performance will undercut the actual story. Thankfully, none of the actors have that problem. They can play for laughs, it's true, and you will be laughing at the antics and the slapstick and the snappy dialogue, but the character portrayals are as sincere as you'll ever find on the stage. There's a purity in the story that warms the heart, even as you're watching the Musketeers and the Cardinal's guards chase each other across the stage and down each aisle of the theater. Is it fun? Yes. Is it engaging and entertaining? Double yes. Does it betray an encouraging sensibility that's both humane and edifying at the same time? Why yes. Yes it does.

Come see it.

The next Cobb and Co. production is an original adaption of Prince and the Pauper in August at the Utah Renaissance Fair. If you want to know when The Three Musketeers will be back, or what other productions the Cobb and Co. Theater company are working on, go check their website:

Saturday, March 24, 2018

In this latest interview with Alicia Dean, I tease some details about the book I'm working on, Tales of the Darksome Thorn: The Dead Forsworn. Come check it out!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Monday, January 29, 2018

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Interview with Robb White

Please welcome to Nifty Newly our newest Class Act Books author, Robb White!

Under the names Terry White, Robert White, and Robb T. White, Robert White has published dozens of crime, noir, and hardboiled short stories, and three hardboiled private-eye novels.  A lifelong reader of crime fiction, he published his first story in Gary Lovisi's Hardboiled magazine. Since then, he has published several dozen crime stories, and a collection of mainstream stories in 2013. An ebook crime novel, "Special Collections," won the New Rivers Electronic Book Competition in 2014.

White was born, raised, and continues to live in Ashtabula, Ohio.

Hi Robb! Let's get started...

If you got a catapult for your birthday, what's the first object you would launch with it? 

This question really appeals to my darker nature.  I think of plague-riddled corpses launched over medieval battlements in a siege. I do have two or three personal candidates I’d love to see strapped into such a device, but I’ll let my better angel dictate a different answer. A pumpkin.

When did you first discover you were a writer? 

I know it smacks of false humility to say I don’t consider myself a writer, but the truth is I’m reluctant to attach that honorific to my name. I don’t deserve it.  When I think of the writers I have read and admired deeply over many years, I cannot put myself in their company. For a while, I had an agent in New York City who valued my writing—or at least a couple of the characters in a thriller manuscript I’d sent her, and she embarrassed me by calling me a writer. I’m happy to be considered a producer of “entertainments,” and if my novels are liked, that’s all very nice. But real writers are another breed altogether. I’m not obsessive about my writing and that should disqualify me. 

If you crawled into a chrysalis today and began to metamorphose, who or what would you be when the chrysalis opened?

You might guess I’d say “writer” after that prior response, but the truth is I’d be the quarterback that would finally save the Cleveland Browns.

What invention do you most appreciate? 

The remote. The inventor should be given a Nobel Prize.

If you were a superhero, what would be your weakness? Your personal kryptonite? You can tell us what your powers would be too. :-)

I grew up on Superman comics and sat glued to the tube when George Reeves played him. I would possess all his powers except X-ray vision—who needs that? But boring through mountains with my fist, grabbing twenty-foot crocodiles on the Zambia River just when they go to snatch a zebra, that’s my idea of a great time. Sorry to say, I’d allow humanity to continue its backstroke in the cesspool, which is all we seem able to do as a species. I wouldn’t hurt those crocs, by the way. I’d swing them by the tails and skip them like stones gently across the surface.  I would fly all over the world, mostly avoiding people and cities. I’d see every place in 501 Must-Visit Destinations. My kryptonite would be my self-confidence: when would my magical powers fail? What if they failed at the moment I grabbed one of those killer crocs by the tail or just as I was about to chest-bump a hippo? Besides, I’m afraid of plane travel. I could never feel secure flying at 30,000.  Self-doubt’s a weakness Superman never had.

Let's talk about your new book! 

When did you first start working on Dangerous Women

It never occurred to me at first to write stories specifically for a collection like this from a woman’s point of view. Most of my characters are male since I began writing in 2011.  But if you’re thinking of crimes as plotlines for your characters, how do you not have women involved, and not for mere “relationship” purposes?  I grew up with five sisters, so I have no illusions about women. Take away the biological differences, maybe a small subset of genetic differences—for example, spatial perception which favors males or early communications skills which favors females—and we’re the same in our beings. The long and short is two years ago I realized I had enough stories for a collection and so I decided to shop them and was fortunate to find Anita York of Class Act Books.

What sort of books and other media have influenced your writing and storytelling? 

At two different times in my life I was influenced by specific kinds of novels—mainly, the novels of Dostoevsky.  The Possessed even more than Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov had a great influence on me as far as portraying evil goes.  Stavrogin and Svidrigailov are two of my all-time favorite amoral characters.  The other belongs to a certain summer when I came under the influence of the existentialists, especially Camus. The Stranger is a work that doesn’t age even though existentialism as a philosophy belongs to another time.  As for other media, I’m a devoted crimedog when it comes to shows like 48 Hours, Dateline, or the programs on Investigation ID. I like to observe the mannerisms and speech habits of real cops.

Do you have a favorite character in Dangerous Women

Regina Frontanetta in the first story is a prizefighter and private eye, two occupations I admire and could personally never have succeeded in. First, her courage is self-evident; most people in life think they have a certain amount of it, but in fact few people do.  We’re mostly sheep when it comes to risking life and limb. Getting hit in the face takes a special kind of person and she’s very smart, which is a quality I also admire. A close second is Natalie Sparks in the final story “Huffer Girl,” but she’s young and facing her first real test of courage.

What character would you consider most like you? 

I hate to say it but some of the male characters in my stories who wind up getting their butts handed to them by women or their own stupid decisions are most like me.  I’ll pick one.  The clueless narrator in “Diana’s Perfect Patsy” will do.

Writing a book is a big accomplishment. What do you like most about this book? What drew you to write it? 

I like the idea that my female characters can be as greedy, carnal, and interesting as males, and I hope I portrayed some of those characteristics throughout the stories. What drew me to write it is, in part, a desire to balance the opposites in my own nature. My “good” female character first appeared in some of my hardboiled stories alongside Thomas Haftmann, my series private eye.  Annie Cheng, an FBI agent from an earlier work, is a “good” character, as is Jade Hui, a protagonist from a forthcoming novel. I took the former’s name from a young woman in China who had impressed me when I was visiting Beijing in 1999, and I meant her to be good, intelligent, resilient. I wanted to balance the Annie/Jade type with some other types who were not so good and a few who were corrupt or downright evil.

Thank you so much for your time! 

My thanks, Jeremy.

Blurb for Dangerous Women

Weaker sex?  Not hardly!

The female is definitely deadlier than the male.  Short stories about ladies who can hold their own.


Be careful what you wish for, Regina.
Her mother’s words. Sometimes she could hear her mother’s voice in the house.
The Vindicator piece on Bodycomb’s death was two paragraphs.
He was found floating in Lake Milton, a popular summer resort area for fishermen seventeen miles east of Austintown just off the Interstate 80 overpass. Shot by a small-caliber weapon in the back of the head. The important information was in the second paragraph: Bodycomb, it noted, was running a dog-fighting network among three states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia for a loose-knit West Virginia crime family connected to the Pittsburgh LaRizzo family.
Damn you, Leo.
She was blowing through caution lights, ignoring the honking of cars, as she beelined for the office on Market.
Like a script from a cheap thriller, he was there, wearing the same clothes and unshaven, big jowls dark with stubble, pong of body odor in the overheated single room.
“You promised me full disclosure, total honesty,” she said.
She threw the paper across his desk.
“Here it is in case you missed it.”
Be calm, Regina, she told herself. She wasn’t going to lose her temper and a new job in that order.
“I did and I meant it, Baby,” Leo said.
He glanced at the paper sideways and pushed it back to her. He’d obviously read it.
“You asked me—no, you demanded I call somebody. I did,” he said.
He disgusted her with those wagging jowls and big stomach. She noticed his belt was undone and a patch of curly belly hair exposed.
“I suppose you’ll tell me when the mood strikes.”
“I meant the second case—your next case,” Leo said. “Full disclosure, just like you want.”
Her indignation petered out at the prospect. “So tell me about it,” she said.
Bodycomb was moving in on Donnie Bracca’s territory with his dog-fighting, Leo said.
“He can kill all the dogs he wants in West Virginia,” Leo said. “But Donnie B. controls gambling around here.”
“Donnie Bracca was your real client all the time,” Baby said.
“It’s like this, kid. They don’t blow each other up in cars no more. Gentlemen’s agreements, all nice and polite. But rules have to be followed. Bodycomb went rogue.”
She bit back a retort: You mean, like your own father?
Leo went on, waxing large, a hopeless Mafioso lover, although a real mafia man, a made man, could see Leo couldn’t be trusted. But even the Aryan Brotherhood used outside associates to get things done. Leo could be useful if you couldn’t buy a cop or scare off an investigative reporter snooping in shady politics or business deals.
She didn’t feel bad about Bodycomb’s death. After all, she'd wanted to kill the guy herself.
“Damn it, Leo,” she said. “You should have told me this in the beginning.”
Baby moved in the direction Bodycomb’s vehicle had taken. After a couple hundred yards through meadow grass up to her knees, she stopped and listened. Moving on, she dodged stunted bushes that popped up out of nowhere to snag her clothing. The foliage grew less dense. She found the parallel ruts of the Road Runner’s tracks and kept moving, straining her eyes to see light ahead. If Bodycomb was hiding assets from his soon-to-be ex-wife, he was taking a lot of trouble over it.
After five minutes of faster walking in the grooves, she heard barking coming from the right. She saw the first glimmer of light in the distance. The terrain was sparse but small slopes refracted the light source so it appeared and disappeared with every rise of the ground. A single dog barking became two, then three and finally a pack. Beneath their howls, men’s voices.
When she got close enough to make out words, she lay flat on her belly and put the binoculars on a cluster of men beside a ramshackle barn surrounded by cages of dogs in the beds of trucks beside a squared string of light bulbs a dozen feet from the ground. It looked like a crude boxing ring for backyard brawlers.
Its purpose became clear in the next few minutes. It was a dog-fighting pit.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

My sisters wrote and performed this piece! Happy Halloween!

It might interest you to know that in the world of Duskain, the god of death is named Heem. He sends fiery snakes to gather the souls of the dead who are unwilling to go east to Haven and face judgement.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

If you've ever played Dwarf Fortress, you're familiar with the crazy things that can happen when you let loose a team of dwarves in a randomly generated fantasy world. The goal of the game is to establish and maintain a fortress, keeping it alive, healthy, and wealthy for as long as possible. The simulation of the world around and inside your fortress is intensely detailed, even insanely so. To get an idea, just keep reading. My first experience with Dwarf Fortress was an exercise in wonder, and I'd like to share it.

Also, please keep in mind the one motto that all Dwarf Fortress players eventually learn: "Losing is fun."

Part 1: The Reign of SenseSaint the Giraffe

RoastedTreaties was my first fortress. It was built in a hot jungle climate, with stagnant surface water and a lot of fruit trees. I tried to follow the wiki's suggestions for a first fortress closely, and things went quietly for the first several seasons. So quietly, in fact, that when I first started engraving tombs for my dwarves, one of the first carvings was of a legendary meal that the cook had made the previous winter. My engraver had exquisite taste.

Another interesting side-effect of following the wiki, though perhaps it was just a quirk of my own luck, was the way dwarf children were born in RoastedTreaties. Almost every baby was born while his mother was climbing the long central staircase that connected every level of the fortress. The baby would inevitably fall down the flight of stairs to the very bottom floor, and the dwarf mother would have to go chasing after him.

I was inexperienced with the game, so when a dwarven teenager went into a fey mood and took over a workshop I was confused and uncertain. What was I supposed to do about that? I let him work for a while, and built a second workshop so my other dwarves could continue crafting mugs and bracelets to trade with. I finally looked up what was going on, and was shocked to learn that if the fey dwarf didn't get all the materials he needed he would go insane. I checked the workshop. He wanted glass? How do you make glass? I scrambled to get the right materials, but I was too late. The teenager went insane, and started wandering the fortress, harmlessly babbling to himself. I felt bad, so I tried to make sure there was always sufficient food and drink for him. It didn't matter. He died of dehydration a month or so later, all while sitting at a dining table next to dwarves who were eating and drinking to their hearts' content.

This whole time the fortress was under a sort of siege by giraffes. They were not being violent or anything, but I had a number of dwarves gathering plants who would run away the moment they saw one. My inexperienced hunters would shoot off a couple bolts in their general direction, invariably missing, and then run for their lives. The big, brooding ungulates were distracting and unnerving everyone.

Everyone, that is, except for one ambitious farmer. Apparently he was sick of planting plump helmets. So, one day he threw away his shovel and picked up a tin crossbow, ready to catch him some giraffe for dinner. I don't remember this dwarf's name, but the battle that followed was certainly unforgettable. I read the report at length. After shooting, and missing, the farmer threw down his crossbow and began punching, kicking, and biting the giraffe. He beat the poor thing until it was a mess of bruises. After three days of endless punishment, the giraffe finally snapped. It vomited all over the dwarf, coating him thoroughly, and then kicked him three times. The farmer died immediately, his chest a gory mess.

The giraffe, however, went on a rampage. Three kills later, he had earned himself the name of SenseSaint, and RoastedTreaties truly was under siege. Dwarves could not go outside without SenseSaint trying to run them down and trample them to death. Though food stores were plentiful for now, I knew this could not continue indefinitely. I trained up a military, with the sole purpose of tracking down and killing SenseSaint the Giraffe.

I decided to err on the side of overwhelming force, and trained up ten marksdwarves. The result was a bit anticlimactic. They shot at SenseSaint from a safe distance as the beleaguered giraffe ran for his life. Sure enough, not a single bolt hit. I think one might have grazed the animal's cheek. He ran off the board and never returned, so I sent the dwarves back to train until their archery skills improved.

Part 2: Attack of the Pristine Bean

With this crisis ended, another began. The mother of the dwarven teenager who had died, a cook named Mosus, fell under a similar spell of obsession. She took over a workshop, and this time I made sure to check on her and get all the materials she needed. I like to imagine she continued the work where her son had left off, though she ended up needing very different materials. The result of her efforts was a wooden bracelet named StilledTattooed. At first I was excited to see my dwarves' first artifact. Then I saw the engraving. A large, sleeping forgotten beast.

To this day I'm unsure whether the game mechanics actually include prophetic warnings, but I took this as one. I trained up the military some more, preparing for invasion. Sure enough, not a year after the prophecy of Mosus was given, an enormous one-eyed lizard Titan showed up on the edge of the map.

By this point I had built an enclosing wall around my fortress, complete with mechanical drawbridges at each of the cardinal points. I sent a dwarf right away to push the lever in the dining room that would lift the bridges and secure the fortress, but he was too slow. The Titan was within the walls of the fortress, slowly plodding around, as if looking for prey.

Well, I hadn't trained up this military for nothing. I mustered the troops. The first bolt actually hit! And then chaos broke loose.

For some weird reason, this Titan could spit spider webs. He could also run really, really fast. My troops were overwhelmed, and quickly slaughtered. There was so much blood that a bystander named Ingus Sterusfikod turned vampire and made her first kill in the middle of the fray. In front of ten witnesses.

The battle raged from the surface down to the third floor. Citizen dwarves rushed from the dining room to join the fight, including the cook, Mosus, who it turns out was quite handy with a mace. Finally, after the stairwell was literally rolling with severed pieces of dwarf, a lucky dwarf landed the final blow. Bostu Berrydives the Pristine Bean (that's what the dwarves named him) shuddered, took his last breath, and died.

Part 3: Mayor Vampire

The death count was around 30, about half the fortress's population, and cleanup was complicated by depression, a shortage of coffins, and the spiderwebs clogging up the stairway. The new mayor had fallen prey to a cage trap, and when he finally went insane (I never could convince the dwarves to free him), Ingus Sterusfikod became the next mayor. She was killing a dwarf every couple months at this point, and though I made sure she was convicted for every kill, even the ones without witnesses, the worst punishment she ever received was a beating. Thinking her political influence was preventing her from being executed (I've since learned that dwarven justice requires a prison and a hammerer), I replaced her as mayor and assigned her to the military.

I had smelted a lot of gold at this point. I was making toys out of the stuff, for the thirty or so children to play with. I knew that sooner or later goblins would come, so I carved fortifications into the walls and prepared for the assault.

I was not disappointed. Unfortunately for my plan to get rid of Ingus, she had fallen into a trance a month or so before the invasion, and was still finishing up as the first goblins climbed over the walls. My soldiers performed admirably, though I was shocked to discover my walls were not keeping them out very well. I determined I needed to improve my defenses. I decided to build a moat.

The problem with the moat was that my fortress was much bigger underground than it was on the surface. The moat penetrated the first level at several points, so I dug it deeper so any goblin trying to jump in would fall to his death. It was not a foolproof plan, but I didn't know how to undig a moat. By the second invasion the moat was ready (or so I thought), and my tenacious vampire friend Ingus was on the front lines (or so I thought).

The discovery of the weak point in my defenses was quite comical, looking back. Just before the goblins made it to the walls, I found a miner stuck in the moat and instructed him to dig his way out and head inside. He did, and then went straight inside through an entrance I hadn't known existed. The moat had exposed a ramp, straight down into the training rooms on the first level, and I had completely missed it. I scrambled to move my armies in that direction, but the goblins were not so courteous as to attack in one place. They split up and attacked from multiple directions, some climbing down the deep pits to the second level, some climbing over the southern wall, and the largest contingent going straight for the unnoticed ramp after my homeward bound miner.

Ingus Sterusfikod ended up seeing very little of the battle that followed. She stuck around the southern wall, killed one goblin, and then stopped fighting in horror at the blood she had spilled. Why this disturbed her so much I'll never know, as she had already drained the blood out of enough dwarves to make Snow White a single woman, but her delicacy probably saved her by keeping her on the surface. The bloodiest part of the battle took place on the first and second floors, with dwarves who had no business being involved. My population of 150 dropped down to about 70, 40 of whom were children.

Roastedtreaties was winding down. I doubted they could survive another invasion of that magnitude. I built a wall to block off the ramp into the training room, and constructed a platform along the wall with ballistae. Ingus kept working with wood when she wasn't training with the rest of the militia, and for the time being she wasn't killing anyone. I knew it couldn't last, but I was grateful for the reprieve. If she survived another invasion, maybe I would give her a chance, find some way to isolate her from the rest of the dwarves so she could keep working on the things she loved.

The next invasion came like clockwork.The drawbridges went up. My militia deployed. The ballistae were loaded. Though all the preparations were in place, I had little hope for my fortress. I had only twenty half-decent troops against an army of at least 80 goblins, trolls, and beak dogs. The fortifications would not hold.

In the end, they didn't have to. Possessed by a sudden and unexpected battle lust, Ingus ran up the ramp to the ballista platform and leapt off into the midst of the goblin army. The fight that ensued was the stuff of nightmares. The report describes her biting into the heads of trolls and shaking them until their spines snapped, then tossing them aside. She fought like a tiger, destroying well over a third of the goblin army, including all the captains, all by herself. She finally collapsed on top of her own personal pile of corpses, unconscious, and bleeding from every single part of her body. The vampire had turned mayor, then soldier, than craftsdwarf, and now, finally, into a war hero.

The rest of the goblins who managed to infiltrate the fortress were picked off by the remaining militia, the traps, and some tavern-goers who happened to have their weapons with them. After I'd organized a quick civilian militia to pick off a couple stragglers still loose in the fortress, I went to check on Ingus. Miraculously, she was still alive. I deliberated over helping the dwarves find her. I had been trying to kill her, after all. My better side won out in the end, and I sent the doctor to go rescue her.

Part 4: The End of Roastedtreaties

Unfortunately, the battle did not turn things around. My fortress was just as vulnerable as ever, and more goblins would be coming soon. Ingus was lying in a hospital bed, attended to by dwarves who had no thread or soap with which to help her (my bad; it has taken me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what sheep are for in this game). The walls of the hospital were quickly covered in blood and pus from ruptured infections, then vomit from unprepared visitors, then miasma from the decaying bodies of those who didn't make it, and for whom I could never build coffins fast enough. Ghosts of the unburied wandered the halls. When Ingus died a few days later though, a crippled mess of wounds and infection, I made sure there was a coffin open for her burial.

There were only fifteen or so adult dwarves left, a small squadron of survivors. The forty children played with their gold toys, running back and forth among the rows upon rows of filled coffins on the fifth level. Perhaps I could have fended off one more invasion, for their sake, if it hadn't been for the werelizard.

I'd never seen, or even heard about werebeasts in Dwarf Fortress. I worried I was facing another titanic monster like Bostu, so I quickly threw up the drawbridges when I saw him enter the map. I mustered the military, in case he decided to attack the fortress. He didn't, though. Instead, he found two dwarf children playing in the only pool of water left on the map, far outside the city walls. He killed them mercilessly, and though they fought him tooth and nail and injured him severely, the end result was unavoidable.

I was mad. I'd seen enough misery among my dwarves already. I threw open the drawbridges and sent my militia out to face this child-killing freak. My dwarves wrestled him to the ground as he bit and tore at their arms, and then they crushed his skull with their fists. The injuries (on their part) were minor. I imagined I was ready for the next invasion.

I was so blind.

The next invasion came, and with it, the full moon. Two of the dwarves who had been bitten turned into werelizards themselves, just after I had mustered the militia to the surface. With all the soldiers busy fighting monsters among their own ranks, the fortress stood no chance. The goblins rushed in and laid waste. Unwilling to watch all those children die, I ordered the survivors to abandon Roastedtreaties and flee into the wild.

I decided I would build another fortress, a safer one. One that wouldn't rely on external fortifications, spaced out so far as to be indefensible. One with multiple stairways, so my dwarves would never be stuck in the lower levels because of spiderwebs or monsters. One with a proper hospital, so dwarves could be healed properly after bloody battles with the enemy.

And, preferably, one without any giraffes.