Friday, December 30, 2022

Things That Made Me Happy

Another year is winding down, and it's time to reflect. Personally, I found a lot of enjoyment in writing. I've been writing here for a full year now, and it's been a lot of fun sharing my thoughts with you. It's also led to me writing on other blogs, and I had a blast writing reviews and doing recaps of the new dragon show over on

There was a lot of stuff that made me happy this year that I personally had nothing to do with! Imagine! Rather than do a “Best of” list, I’m just going to run down some of the things that have made me happy over the last twelve months. I hope you enjoy them too!

Peacemaker Opening Credits

The year started off with a bang with James Gunn’s series about the loser vigilante Peacemaker. I didn’t have high expectations going in, since I was pretty meh about Gunn’s The Suicide Squad movie and the Peacemaker’s role in it, but this was an extremely compelling show about people trying to change their station in life and fending off an alien invasion at the same time. And the dazzling credit sequence let you know you were in for a ride. I dare you to hit “Skip Intro” on this. 

Alan Ritchson as Reacher

I already wrote at length about how much I enjoyed Reacher on Amazon Prime this year. However, the show would not work at all if it were not for the affable hulk in the starring role. Ritchson brings charm and charisma and ass-whuppin’ skills to a character that is really only described as “big” in the novels. I literally cannot imagine anyone else doing this part and having it work even a tenth as well. As a fan of the novels, Ritchson is the perfect Reacher. Let's have another 20 seasons of him wandering across the country and curb stomping fools.

Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree

This is a charming and unassuming novel that I can’t stop thinking about months later. An Orc barbarian is tired of adventuring, so she decides to open a coffee shop. And she makes a bunch of new friends. And that’s it. And it’s delightful. I sincerely hope this becomes a series and the biggest conflict in the book is something like “there’s a cinnamon shortage, so they can't make the rolls.” 

Matilda’s Musical Numbers

A late entry. I watched this with my wife and mom at Christmas and we were all utterly delighted. We’ve all seen the stage version, and we all loved the movie version. Matthew Warchus’ direction, the production design, and the choreography are all first rate and all show off Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics at their best. They do what a movie musical should, expand the world of the show to something that cannot be captured on a stage. The School Song (which works in the alphabet in very creative wordplay) and Revolting Children (with its dynamic choreography) are highlights, but they’re all great.

“I Do Not Like Hijinks”

Strange New Worlds has just been killing it this year. A fantastic throwback to the classic Trek of the 1960s, this is much more episodic and loose and just plain fun than most of the Treks of the last two decades. As a reviewer in Esquire put it, hijinks are an integral part of Star Trek’s DNA. For all of their messages about racism and ideals about equality, there’s always room for Spock to mind-meld with a lasagna monster or for an avalanche of Tribbles to fall on Kirk or for Scotty to get rip-roaring drunk on Romulan Ale. 

Likewise, SNW finds time to have the characters get transported into a medieval story book and have Spock switch bodies with his fiancé. Trek is such fun when it embraces some of the inherent goofiness in the concept. (Are you listening, Discovery?)

Benoit Blanc’s Bathing Costume and Zoom Call

All of Glass Onion is fantastic, especially the sharp writing and its takedown of techbro culture and billionaire personality cults (timely!). But really, what’s better than peeking in on Blanc’s zoom call with his buddies Angela Lansbury, Stephen Sondheim, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Natasha Lyonne? 

And this bathing suit has pretty much guaranteed them a nomination for Best Costumes. 

Andor Monologues

Star Wars has never been known for its monologues.Which makes it all the more impressive that you can say “What a fantastic monologue in Andor, right?” and the response will be “Which one?” Luthen, explaining what he sacrificed? Marva, encouraging rebellion from beyond the grave? Kino Loy telling his fellow prisoners there’s only “One way out?” Or Nemik, reading his manifesto? Pick one, they’re all great and Tony Gilroy needs to direct the next trilogy. 

Bheem Crashes the Governor's Ball in RRR

If you haven't seen RRR yet, do yourself a favor. Don't let the three hour run time deter you. Try watching the first 15 minutes or so. I guarantee you'll be saying "Ok, just 15 more minutes" until the whole thing is finished. Nothing made me fist pump this year quite like seeing one of the stars burst into the English governor's ball to rescue a member of his clan. 

That’s a few of the things that I enjoyed and found comfort in this last year. I hope you have a similarly long list and find wonderful new things to enjoy in 2023.

Victor Catano lives in New York City with his wonderful wife, Kim, and his adorable pughuaua, Danerys. When not writing, he works in live theater as a stage manager, production manager, and chaos coordinator. His hobbies include coffee, Broadway musicals, and complaining about the NY Mets and Philadelphia Eagles. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @vgcatano and find his books on Amazon

Monday, December 26, 2022

Interview with Xtina Marie from Hell Bound Books Publishing

This month one of my best friends in the book world released a new collection! I recently had the opportunity to sit down with her and pick her brain about her new release and also about what it's like to be an author who works within her own publishing company. 

 Xtina Marie is an avid horror and fiction genre reader who became an editor and published poet. She is also the CEO of Hell Bound Books Publishing with her co-host on The Panic Room Radio Show, James H. Longmore. 

Q. Hey Xtina! Thanks so much for being able to join me today to discuss your newest release Where The Dirt Road Leads. As you know I've had the pleasure of obtaining an advanced reader copy compliments of Hell Bound Books and I can't say enough how wonderful this collection is. Can you tell me a little about your inspiration to write this and what your favorite poems were to write? 

A. Hi, Sam! Good to talk to you outside of working on the show! Let’s see… Poetry is something I discovered as an angst-ridden teen experiencing my first heartbreak. Good thing I didn’t know witchcraft, or he would have been turned into a toad! Anyway, I learned that I could get the hurt out onto paper and after that, I would feel better. It became an outlet for me. That was a lifetime ago, and I’ve been writing ever since. 

My inspirations for this collection were life. The things that make me feel- anything. I find inspiration all around me. Favorite poems. That’s an interesting thing to think of and I love learning what other people liked best, they hardly ever match up with my favorites. I think I love my dark pieces more. They definitely make me feel. And that is the key ingredient I look for when I read or when I am writing. I want to make you feel. So, I loved Infected, …and Again for those reasons. Tourist and Ashes were also a lot of fun to write.  

Q. That cover is absolutely STUNNING! Luke Spooner does a fantastic job when it comes to his designs and delivery. I see you've used him as your cover artist for all of your collections, what about his work speaks to you? Do you give Luke an idea of what you're wanting for your covers or do you let him have free reign to create his own piece for you? 

A. I just love Luke Spooner’s work! Dark Musings and Lights Musings previously had different covers and it was very important to me to get them redone in Spooner’s style. There is just something dark and whimsical about his art that really calls to me. I hope he will continue to draw my covers for years to come. 

Q. As an avid fan of your writing I'm aware this new release of yours isn't your first publication. Could you tell us about your other collections and which piece of your own work you are most proud of? 

A. This is a great question! Dark Musings will always be a favorite of mine. I was going through a very dark time in my life when I wrote it and anytime I pick it up, I am reminded of just how far I have come in my journey. As soon as I release a book, it becomes my favorite! I wrote 3 collections that were rhyming poetry, and then I decided to try my hand at free verse, so when I released Without the Confines I was over the moon. This poetry was so different from what I had written before and I was so in love with it. And with every collection since then I have felt such a growth in my writing that I am very proud of. But right at this moment, I think I will say that I love Where the Dirt Road Leads just a little bit more than the others. But promise you won’t let them know! 

Q. It's no secret to those that know you that you do so much more than writing. You've created your own press and podcast show as well. Can you tell us a little bit about your press Hell Bound Books and The Panic Room Radio Show? Where did the inspiration for them come from? 

A. That’s a fun story! James Longmore and I were both signed with the same publisher. His book The Erotic Odyssey of Colton Forshay and Dark Musings were both published by a small horror company in 2016. The owner of that press decided to also do a podcast with author interviews and I was one of the hosts. The show was just a mess! It was truly dreadful. James Longmore was a guest on our third episode, and him and I just clicked. We had real chemistry. He became a co-host on the show and it wasn’t long before the other host expressed her displeasure at the changes and improvements James and I were wanting to make. I have to say, I am so glad those first few months of shows are lost somewhere out there on the interwebs. So embarrassing! 

As for HellBound, James and I were not happy with a lot of things that had happened to us at the small press we were published with, and after we learned that the company was really nothing more than a scam, we put our heads together and decided to open a publishing house where our authors were the focus. Where we give our authors the treatment we had wished we’d received. And I do believe we have accomplished that! 

Q. What's your favorite book that you've published through Hell Bound Books? Who was your favorite guest on The Panic Room Radio Show? 

A. You know that’s like picking a favorite child, right? One of the first books I was tasked with editing and then managing the audiobook for, was Blood in the Woods by J.P. Willie, and it will always be a favorite of mine. But I have been blessed to be able to work on so many great books it’s hard to pick favorites. Some of the ones that come to mind that I enjoyed the most are: Tenebrion, by James Longmore, A Touch of Happy by Andrew Kanago, Skin Dreams by Bret McCormick, The Amityville Murder House by Andy Rausch, South of the Mason Dixon by Sam Kench, Highway Twenty by Michael J. Moore and The Children of Hydesville by Jeff C. Stevenson. Not to mention the amazing anthologies we have published over the years!

Q. Do you prefer writing to publishing or do you enjoy the life of publishing more? 

A. It’s interesting you ask that. When I stop to think about it, the answer is surprising. While I do miss writing, the publishing side of the spectrum is so rewarding. I get to be a part of every aspect of a novel- from reading through submissions, to editing and talking to the authors about cover art. And then there is the audiobook. I get to help pick out the perfect voice and be privy to adjustments and listening in as the project is being created. By the time the book is published, it feels like my book baby as well, and when I get to hold the paperback in my hand, I feel such pride. So I would say that in no way at all have I sacrificed my own dream for other writers, but the dream shifted into something I never expected, but get just as much satisfaction from. 

Q. Last but not least Xtina, we often discuss on The Panic Room Radio show how there just never seems to be enough hours in the day. How do you balance all of your obligations in your life while being a writer and also running your press/podcast? 

A. Well, if you ask my business partner, James Longmore, I don’t. LOL. Every single year so far, I say I want to become a little more organized, but so far, it hasn’t happened. I procrastinate dangerously, but for the most part, am able to get everything completed on time. Thank goodness. Maybe this year will be my year! 

Q. Thank you so much for your time and joining me today Xtina! If you wouldn't mind before we sign off, can you let us know where people can find your work? 

A. Sure! I am addicted to Facebook, unfortunately, so that is a sure place to find me. 

My profile: 

My author page: 

The Panic Room page:

Also, if you're interested in publishing with Hell Bound Books or being a welcomed guest on The Panic Room Radio Show you can find that information located below:

The HellBound website:

The Panic Room website: 

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Google Search: Being Generous
 There are only three more sleeps left until Christmas Day, and this will be the last post from ATB until after the holiday, so I thought it would be a good idea to do something "Christmasy." But it was also time for me to do one of ATB's regular features, which is a "Google Search". These are the basic directions for a Google Search post:

  • Start a random search string in Google (or could be from one of your previous searches) 
  • Choose one of Google’s suggestions
  • Write up a post (or some flash fiction if you’re feeling really creative)

 I really did want to write about something that went along with this special season, but I was kind of drawing a blank until I clicked the "I feel Lucky" search box on Google's main search page, and it suggested a bunch of results relating to "I feel Generous."


Granted there are only a few days left for gift giving, but giving really is what this time of year is all about.  

The first result in the Google suggestion results for "I feel Generous" were various links to support citizens of Ukraine during this time of war with invading forces from Russia.  This link includes legitimate ways to give to refugees and displaced families:

The donation would be especially timely considering Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit to Capitol Hill last night specifically to ask for additional aid from the U.S.

Ukrainian Flag

The "I feel Generous" link also made me think of some local organizations near and dear to my heart. I'll post them here, but I encourage you to find local counterparts in your neighborhood.

Most of us do not spend a lot of time thinking about diapers. But if you are a parent, grandparent, or caregiver without enough of them, they can become a major source of stress, guilt, and desperation. Public safety net programs such as The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as Food Stamps) do not cover the purchase of diapers, often leaving families with a difficult decision between buying diapers and other necessities with their limited funds. For families in need, something as small as a diaper can have a significant impact.

The Diaper Bank also provides menstruation products to folks in need. I believe in this organization because they are all about preserving people's dignity and providing help in real and immediate ways.
Consider donating, buying items from their Amazon wishlist (which will be shipped straight to their door) or finding if your state or city has it's own local Diaper Bank.

Here's a link to the NC Diaper Bank for donation information:
Here is their Amazon Wishlist: (make sure to choose their address as the shipping address when checking out)

When you're a kid, what is Christmas without toys? It's not a luxury. Toys are crucial to childhood development. Play-time feeds a kid's heart, mind, and soul. The agency I work for in my day-job is a big Toys for Tots supporter, and it's my understanding that Toys for Tots is running a little low on donations this year. 

If, somehow, you've never heard of Toys for Tots, here is some information straight from their website

FOUNDATION MISSION: The mission of the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation is to assist the U. S. Marine Corps in providing a tangible sign of hope to economically disadvantaged children at Christmas. This assistance includes providing day-to-day leadership and oversight of the Program, raising funds to provide toys to supplement the collections of local Toys for Tots Campaigns, to provide promotional and support material and defray the costs of conducting annual Toys for Tots Campaigns. Other Foundation support includes providing administrative, advisory, financial, logistic and promotional support to local Toys for Tots Coordinators; managing funds raised and monies donated based on the use of Toys for Tots name or logo; providing other support the Marine Corps, as a federal agency, cannot provide; and conducting public education and information programs about Toys for Tots that call the general public to action in support of this patriotic community action program.

FOUNDATION OBJECTIVES: The objectives of the Foundation are to help less fortunate children throughout the United States experience the joy of Christmas; to play an active role in the development of one of our nation’s most valuable resources – our children; to unite all members of local communities in a common cause for three months each year during the annual toy collection and distribution campaign; and to contribute to improving communities in the future.

There are multiple ways to donate. You can give actual physical toys, money to purchase toys, and time to help organize and deliver the toys. Find out more here:!/donation/checkout

I'll end my post with this last charity, which is very local to me, but similar agencies exist all over the country. As you're probably aware, most of the US is experiencing an arctic cold snap. It's VERY cold almost everywhere right now, which means it's an especially difficult for people without warm homes to protect them from the cold. One local organization in my home town helps meet the needs of the homeless.

From their website:

Stability, then transformation. Implementing true change takes time. We’re dedicated to assisting those willing to commit to the task of achieving self-sufficiency. We work diligently with our clients to prepare them to re-enter the workforce, earn a living wage, and build the skills for a fulfilling life. Our end goal is for those who come to us homeless to eventually move into their own rental housing, and then purchase their own home. We do this by providing:
  •  Life skills training
  • Vocational training
  • Financial coaching
  • Transportation to and from work
  • Purchase of automobile
  • Childcare
  • Transitional housing
  • Permanent housing
Our New Life Plan gives our Clients a 6-phase process that guides them through this transformation.

Link to donate:!/donation/checkout 

Monday, December 19, 2022


Another quality post brought to you by Steve! 

A shiver ran down Donna’s spine and, even though it was the dead of summer, her breath came out in an icy puff as she exhaled.

“Dammit, Kyle!” Donna shouted, smacking over her shoulder at the ghostly apparition of her brother, who had snuck up behind her. “What are you doing?”

“Just rubbing your shoulders,” he replied, exasperated. As he removed his ethereal fingers, her back warmed up again instantly. “You need to relax more, Red.”


What if ghosts were real? What if they were a part of everyday life? What if they were, in fact, kind of banal? Could you still tell a horror story about them?

We like to think so. In fact, we wrote an entire novel about it. And now we’re inviting all of you to scare our pants off with your short stories set in the world of THE PERFECTLY FINE HOUSE.

French Press is delighted to be opening up to our first open call ever, for THE PERFECTLY FINE NEIGHBORHOOD. This open call will round out the entries from our invited authors, modern horror maestros Jeff Strand, Brian Keene, and Candace Nola. We hope to hear from you and all your friends, so please share widely!

The Perfectly Fine Rules:

- Please submit your manuscript between 12:01 am EST on December 19, 2022 and 11:59 pm EST on July 1, 2023.

- Stories should be between roughly 2,500 and 6,000 words.

- Payment will be $0.03 per word.

- Please format all manuscripts in 12 pt Times New Roman font, double spaced, with standard industry headers, etc. When in doubt, follow William Shunn’s Modern Manuscript Format.

- Stories must be reasonably classified as horror. Elements of other genres (i.e. dark fantasy, thriller, erotica, etc.) are fine, but explicit pornography and proselytizing religious tracts will not be accepted.

- All stories must take place in the world of THE PERFECTLY FINE HOUSE. This is an alternate reality where the following rules apply:

    1. Ghosts are real.

    2. Everything that dies, animal or human, leaves behind a ghost which persists eternally. Yes, that means a character could chill out with Julius Caesar and Jimi Hendrix if so desired.

    3. Everyone can see ghosts and knows ghosts are real.

    4. Only a total crackpot along the lines of a flat earth conspiracy theorist or anti-vaxxer in our own reality would deny the reality of an afterlife.

    5. To not see ghosts would be considered a handicap akin to blindness, a lack of sixth sense.

    6. Those are the basic, unbreakable rules for this anthology. But for more information on this world, you can read THE PERFECTLY FINE HOUSE.

- We are actively encouraging members of groups who have been traditionally marginalized in publishing to submit to this open call. However, simply being a member of such a group does not guarantee you a slot. Stories will be evaluated solely based on the quality of the writing.

- Our decision about your story will not be affected if you contributed to the Kickstarter for THE PERFECTLY FINE NEIGHBORHOOD. We appreciate your support, but it would be unethical to weigh submissions from backers differently from non-backers.

- This anthology’s editors are Kayleigh Marie Edwards, Stephen Kozeniewski, and Wile E. Young. Please address your query e-mail to whichever editor you think would most enjoy your story. Alternatively, you can roll a six-sided die and choose Kayleigh upon a 1 or 2, Stephen upon a 3 or 4, or Wile E. upon a 5 or 6.

- Please format your submission query e-mail in roughly this manner:

To: frenchpresspub (at) hotmail (dot) com

Subj: TPFN – Carnacki – “The Perfectly Fine House on the Borderland”

Dear Kayleigh, Stephen, or Wile E.,

Please see attached my story “The Perfectly Fine House on the Borderland,” complete at 4,000 words, for consideration for inclusion in THE PERFECTLY FINE NEIGHBORHOOD.

If I am a member of a group traditionally underrepresented in publishing, here is a little information about that.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Very Respectfully,

William Hope Hodgson (writing as Thomas Carnacki)
Phone Number
Mailing Address

- Please do not respond if you are rejected. As we juggle hundreds (thousands?) of submissions, even a kindly thank you note will quickly become a nuisance. And if you have something more negative to say than “thanks for your consideration,” it’s best to save that up and unleash it on an unsuspecting volunteer umpire at your child’s next pee wee sporting event.

- Remember the most important part of writing: have fun! And thank you for considering submitting to us.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Growing Up with Mariah Carey: All I Want for Christmas Is You, The Never Ending Story Edition

There are a few things that you can count on with yearly certainty. 

People will surprise you. The government will collect its taxes. And Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas is You" will play, incessantly, this holiday season. 

It's every retail holiday worker's bane of existence on repeat. This call for wanton consumerism during Christmas. A decorum, Holiday-themed, of polite seasons greetings dressed in hues of red, green, and gold. The synonymous colors of December's incentivization to spend money. The void of consumption asking to be filled with presents, candy cane-flavored schnapps, and the decking of some halls with holly.

Six. I was six years old when Mariah first bellowed her first invocation. Her call for Christmas and Holiday cheer. An event now repeated every decade with timeless Grammy awards and sudden comeback playlists of the top 100. Despite the fact that somehow, this many years later, "All I Want for Christmas" is now 28 years old. Yet still breaking the airwave records.

Why this is, should be most concerning. How despite the present offerings, stocking, and threats of mistletoe, the very weapon that took down the invulnerable Balder himself, Mariah arises. Like a Phoenix not of Ash... but of Snow. Singing. Celebrating. Waiting. Asking you for one thing and one thing alone. 

Has it ever occurred to anyone to ask the question? Have you ever wondered why it was that all she wanted for Christmas was... 

Well, it was clear to me back in 2004. Ten years after its first debut. There was a chance that 'All I want for Christmas' is a siren's song. Clear signs, that to me anyway, how despite a decade having past, the ravenous beast was still hungry... 

Mariah emerges. Like her predecessor, Pennywise. To beckon her next unsuspecting victim. How despite the bribery with boundless presents. Nothing will stop her from attaining her goal this holiday season:


I loved this song when it first debuted. Though I always found it strange how it lived on the decade after. Then the nearly almost decade after that. 

I think. That until she gets what she wants... the song shall forever continue.

Mariah Carey, in the never-ending story, written by Christian Angeles, edition...

Will never be satisfied until she consumes us all.

Monday, December 12, 2022

My Top Christmas Horror Villain

It's December, which means it's finally here! The Christmas season is upon us, Santa is packing that sleigh, the reindeer are carb-loading ready for the big night, the elves are on the shelves, and those in the know are locking their kitchens up so the mogwais can't go on a post-midnight munch. I'm Kayleigh and I like Christmas just a little bit. On that note, there's no better time to enthuse (almost endlessly) about my favourite seasonal horror villain.

It can only be Charlie Manx from Joe Hill's N0S4A2 (or N0S4R2, depending on where you are in the world).

N0S4R2 is a spine-tingling novel of supernatural suspense from master of horror Joe Hill, the New York Times bestselling author of Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it's across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the N0S4R2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing - and terrifying - playground of amusements he calls "Christmasland".

Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble - and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx's unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He's on the road again and he's picked up a new passenger: Vic's own son.

I think this is one hell of a great Christmas read. I read the hardback at home and got so invested I also listened to the audiobook when driving/cleaning/cooking, etc. I just never wanted to go a minute without being in the story. Vic is a great protagonist, and the premise was so spooky and fun, but man, that Charlie Manx is what got me hooked.

The best villains are always the ones that think they're doing the right thing. The thing about Manx is that I got the feeling that he thinks he is - at worst - a grey character, but he really isn't. This dude is as evil as they come. He "rescues" (kidnaps) children from homes that he believes are unfit, and whisks them off to Christmasland - a magical, frosted, snowglobe-worthy place, built of pure imagination. However, the cost for the kids who end up there is pretty high, and of course it's a nightmare for the loved-ones they leave behind.

Charlie is cunning, crafty, and apparently devoid of empathy unless he's dealing with kids, and even then his idea of "helping" is severely twisted. He's narcissistic and manipulative, and vengeful and cruel. He has a riveting back-story and sometimes his motivations have you nodding along with him, and then you remember he's awful. All of this would make for a compelling antagonist, but the thing that puts him over the edge for me is the way he perverts Christmas - the jolliest of holidays.

Promising children a never-ending festive wonderland is one thing, but actually creating it is another. What started as a safe place for one particular child turns into what he considers a haven for all the others, when actually it's a freezing, dark, lonely place with no care-givers. He thinks that tossing the spectacle of lights and candy canes at these kids should be fulfilling, but he constantly abandons them. He just steals them from their homes - places of neglect or abuse, he believes - and takes them to another place in which they'll be neglected. And they can never leave. They're the Lost Boys from Peter Pan, but without all the fun and frivolity.

On the outside world, for our hero Vic, Christmassy things become omens or PTSD triggers. Manx might have the excuse of not knowing the loneliness and neglect that his kids might come to associate with gingerbread men and tree ornaments, but he sure knows the effect that his Santa-fakery has on Vic.

Perhaps it's because I was fortunate enough to have a parent that put EVERYTHING she had into making Christmas a magical time for me as a kid. We didn't have rich people money for lavish gifts or anything, but she was thoughtful enough that I'd almost be throwing up with excitement the second I saw a glimpse of wrapping paper. I went nuts when I woke up on Christmas morning to find crumbs and an empty glass where I had left a glass of wine (my mum said Santa preferred wine) and a mince pie the night before. I can't even describe to you how I reacted when I noticed the carrot I'd left out for Rudolph was not just eaten, but the top had NIBBLY LITTLE TEETH MARKS ON IT. If that wasn't proof of Santa, nothing was.

My sweet, wonderful mum managed to convince us there were reindeer on the roof once - not sure how she did that, I think she got the next-door neighbour to bang around in his attic to emulate hooves. Even after I'd hit the age where all my friends were talking about the lie that is Santa, I refused to accept it. I still worshipped that jolly old dude for a couple of years after. I still get prickly at the mere suggestion that he's fictional.

I know that not everyone loves or celebrates Christmas, but for me, a villain that turns the entire holiday into a nightmare fuel is definitely one I love to hate.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 8, 2022

A.I. Art Generators and What it Means for Artists


There's been a new trend all over social media lately, A.I. generated art. If you're not familiar with it, basically there are several new apps available that allow you to create artwork by typing out what you want to see, selecting the style and medium you want to see it in, and having the internet do the rest. Several programs have become available over the last year or so, and the results of people's imaginations have been...well, interesting. I have been playing around with one called Starryai for inspiration for creatures and characters for my writing. Although it's fun, I have seen a lot of concern from the artistic community. Artist are afraid that this new technology will essentially put them out of a job. But can computer generated artwork really cause the collapse of the human element?

There are a couple of problems with this.

For one, you have to know exactly what to write and what styles to choose in order to get a decent image. The picture in this article is an example of one I did. The prompt I used was "writing with a demon." It heralded a bunch of oddball, twisted monstrosities that didn't make a lot of sense visually. The picture I chose here was the best one out of all of them. Though it looks kind of neat, it was not what I was expecting when I chose that prompt. It takes a lot of trial and error to get what you're looking for, and if you don't want to pay for credits, you're not going to be able to do too much.

Secondly, you have the legal aspect of it. Copyrighting such an image is kind of tricky. A human didn't actually create anything, the computer did. Copyright laws were created to protect people and their work. If one creates an image on an app like Starryai and wishes to use it commercially, there is nothing that will stop someone else from also using that art, as it is not protected. You can also run into issues where you are accused of using someone else's art. A.I. technology is still based on images and creations from all over the web, and there is no guarantee the art you generated is totally original. In fact, it's pretty much a guarantee that someone out there has used similar prompts and come up with similar images. 

So no, I don't think A.I. art generators are anywhere near advanced enough to replace flesh and blood artists. I think of them as more of a tool for inspiration, something you can fiddle with to get an idea in your head about what you want the piece to look like before you present it to an actual artist. A.I. generated art may look great, but there are far too many gray areas involved to rely on it.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Some books just want to be written

Happy December, everyone! For those who participated in National Novel Writing Month, officially or unofficially, congrats on no longer having to think about your unfinished manuscript every damn day. I have a feeling most of y'all are taking a well deserved break and don't want to think about writing until after the holidays.

Unless you're me.

So I'm not a traditional NaNo-er. I think I might have used the website, like, once or twice. But I do use it as motivation and a self-imposed deadline. Sometimes, the challenge is for me to write the first half of a novel since, as a regular writer of 100k-word tomes, the NaNo goal of 50k is just that. Sometimes, the challenge is to finish revising something. This year, it was to complete a manuscript I started in September.

It was a tall order, since I had a lot going on in November between performing in an aerial recital and traveling to Tucson for a convention... and getting knocked flat by con crud for a solid week. I wasn't sure I was going to make it, but I picked up steam toward the latter half of the month. Oh, the manuscript was a struggle bus for sure, but by golly I was going to get to that last chapter.

Then on Wednesday, November 23, around 1:20pm, something happened that nearly derailed it: I got home from a noon kickboxing class, hopped into the shower, and got a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant idea for a new book.

Okay, so it's not really that brilliant. But it is exciting.

Even though all I had was a concept, I was so excited, I immediately hopped onto Facebook chat and started going on about it to some writer friends. And as I was going on, ideas started tumbling out unprompted (thank you, very patient friends, for putting up with the torrent). I so, so wanted to just start clattering away at this shiny new project right away.

But I was one week away from my goal. I had a whole plan to reach it if I wrote a chapter a day, two on weekends, for my existing work-in-progress. And this was a literal shower thought... it seemed silly to throw aside months of work for something that might not pan out to anything.

So I made myself a deal: I would wait a week. Finish November and my existing manuscript. Then, if the idea still seemed as brilliant as it did in the shower, I'd write it.

Thanksgiving weekend rolled around and I ended up writing way, way faster than I anticipated. I finished the manuscript early, on Sunday. I thought I'd need a few days to recover from the mad dash to the finish line.

On Monday, the shower thought book kept banging at my skull, until finally I created a Scrivener file and started typing out the ideas.

On Tuesday, a whole outline and first chapter poured out.

It's now Monday again, exactly one week since I started brainstorming, 12 days since the fateful shower thought occurred. I have 21,500 words in the new manuscript - 9 out of 28 planned chapters. I never write this fast... Usually, it takes me weeks, if not months, to even figure out my outline. But this book just wants to be written.

Will this keep up? Who knows. Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow and go, "Well, that idea was silly. I should set it aside for a bit." But for now, I'm enjoying the ride.

What's the book, about? Still not ready to talk about it publicly (mostly because I'm afraid I'll decide suddenly that I hate it) but I'll give you a hint...

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Trying is Doing

 If you know me, then you know I am deeply into Star Wars. My first ever appearance on this blog was discussing the virtual Star Wars movie marathon that Mary Fan,  Karissa Laurel and I watched during the pandemic.  

So it will come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of the latest live action Star Wars show on Disney+, Andor. The show has been justly heralded as a thrilling look at how the average person in the Star Wars universe becomes radicalized against the Empire. It’s a ground level view of the birth of the rebellion. It follows Cassian Andor, one of the protagonists from the Rogue One movie, and his journey from aimless, small time criminal to becoming an active member of the resistance. It is the most mature work Star Wars has produced, something more akin to a political thriller than the space opera adventures we grew up loving. 

There isn’t a single lightsaber or mention of the force or the Jedi, and it’s an absolutely amazing work. 

(Warning: Some spoilers for Andor Season 1 will follow here)

One of the most rousing and inspiring moments in a series full of them (seriously, go take 12 hours and watch Andor if you haven’t already done so) happens in the finale. Cassian joins a group about to launch a raid on an Imperial garrison in order to steal the payroll and use it to fund the rebellion. Several of the party die in the effort, including the idealistic Nemik, who has been writing a manifesto for the cause. Before he dies, he gives his book to Cassian. 

Andor is all about how far people can be pushed before they break and rebel. Cassian got sent to a prison for a few episodes, and most of the prisoners were reluctant to consider an escape attempt, at least until they found out that anyone who got “released” was merely transferred to a different facility. The people of Cassian’s planet, Ferrix, had an uneasy pact with the Empire and their corporate arms, but then the Empire occupied them and tightened down on their freedoms. And the series is pretty open about how many people are pretty enthusiastic about supporting the fascism of the Empire,so long as it means personal advancement. The Empire is shown to be omnipresent, with its Stasi-like Imperial Security Bureau spying on and interrogating citizens everywhere. As a result, the rebellion seems insignificant, hiding in shadows, striking in secret, and taking whatever small victories they can get before the boot of the Empire crushes any dissent. 

All those issues are surely on Cassian’s mind as he reads Nemik’s book at the start of the final episode. 

The passage, read aloud in the series by Nemik, reminds the reader that though things may seem overwhelming and the odds may seem impossible, it is important to carry on. Throughout the galaxy, people are fighting and resisting, unaware of each other’s actions, and one day it will become too much for the Empire to contain. 

“And know this, the day will come when all these skirmishes and battles, these moments of defiance will have flooded the banks of the Empire's authority and then there will be one too many. One single thing will break the siege. 

Remember this. Try.”

It’s a flashpoint for Cassian, and the people of Ferrix begin to fight back during the funeral of Cassian’s mother, Malva. It is an act of open defiance against the occupiers, with the everyday people fighting back against the Empire’s troops. 

It is also a stark contrast to some of the other messages in Star Wars. You probably know that one of the most quotable lines in the original trilogy comes from Jedi Master Yoda. During their training session in the swamps of Dagobah, Yoda challenges Luke to use the Force to pull his X-Wing out of the muck. Luke balks, having never moved something that big before, but says he’ll try. 

Yoda is not having it. “No. Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”

This is an oft-quoted line, used as an example of the Jedi mentality. And I saw more than a few people contrast that with the hopeful message of Nerik’s manifesto. “See how out of touch the Jedi are? No concept of the real world. People have to try and try until they get results.” Now, Yoda has long been one of my favorite characters so I feel the need to defend my 900 year old friend from slanders. 

The thing is, these two concepts - “Try” and “There is no try.” aren’t contradictory. They can be read as two halves of a whole. 

In other words,  trying is doing. 

When Yoda tells Luke “Do or do not,” he does not mean “succeed or fail.” He means “You either use your powers and grow and improve, or you do nothing.” In this context, “try” does not mean “attempt success.” “Do” means do something, “do not” means do nothing. Even if the attempt is unsuccessful, it is an opportunity to learn and to grow. The only failure is not trying. 

One of the most famous quotes in sports history comes from hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. (I grew up in Canada, so I am legally required to mention hockey every so often.) Namely, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Each shot is a “do.” Each hesitation is a “do not.” 

Likewise in Andor, “try” means do something, anything you can to fight the fascists. Each attempt is a shot on goal. Each attempt brings your X-Wing closer to the surface. The next brick thrown could be the one that breaks the line of stormtroopers. “Do or do not” does not mean “overthrow the Empire or you have failed.” “Do or do not” means participate or be a bystander. There is no try. You are either a part of the rebellion or you are tacitly endorsing the Empire. 

Remember this: Do or do not. 

And also remember this: watch Andor.

On a personal note, this post marks my one year anniversary of writing on this blog! It's been a lot of fun, and I'm glad that to have an audience that tolerates my musings on Stephen Sondheim, Star Wars, and my little doggy. Thanks for reading!

Victor Catano lives in New York City with his wonderful wife, Kim, and his adorable pughuaua, Danerys. When not writing, he works in live theater as a stage manager, production manager, and chaos coordinator. His hobbies include coffee, Broadway musicals, and complaining about the NY Mets and Philadelphia Eagles. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @vgcatano and find his books on Amazon.
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