Thursday, January 31, 2013

New review for This Creature Fair

The paperback edition of This Creature Fair prompted a great, well-thought out review. You can see it at:

The entire text of it follows...

book review: this creature fair

Disclosure: The author is a friend of mine. I’d considered not reviewing the book, due to my obvious bias, but here’s the thing: I’ve also studied literature for about ten years, and been a librarian for ten more, so I think I can give you a working guide to this book without descending (too far) into fangirl squee.
Photo by Marcel Lamont Walker, all rights reserved.
Photo by Marcel Lamont Walker, all rights reserved.
Title: This Creature Fair
Author: Wayne Wise
Genre: Literary urban fantasy
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services (Kindle edition) and CreateSpace (print edition)
Length: 397 pages.
Challenge: Embarrassment of Riches TBR Challenge, Platinum level
Summary: An unexpected encounter with celebrity changes the course of one fan’s life, and an entire city’s heartbeat.
There are two broad strains of community structure in contemporary urban fantasy. One consists of a divided kingdom, a world in which there are supernatural creatures and/or an organized system of magic, a world that coexists with a mundane reality that is blissfully unaware of the other community’s existence, even though both are anchored in the same physical geography. Then there’s the community in which some “mundane” folks are aware of the fantasy community, but interact with it uneasily, forever conscious that there are two worlds that don’t play nicely together, but, of necessity, sometimes overlap. In the former kind of book, the narrative relies on the fantasy community preventing a threat within its ranks that could ripple over into the mundane community, to the ruin of both. In the latter kind, the mundane and fantasy communities work to lay aside their differences and resolve a problem, for the mutual benefit of both.
This Creature Fair is singular in that it takes neither of these roads, forging instead a middle path that opens up a new way to think about both fantasy and community in urban settings, which makes it the kind of book you read and think about, and discuss with your genre-fiction-loving friends.
The plot revolves around Nick, a serious music fan, who travels to Washington D.C. to see the enigmatic Morrigan Blue perform. Morrigan takes a liking to Nick on sight, and they strike up a rock star/groupie relationship. Unbeknownst to Nick, however, Morrigan is actually one of the leanan sidhe, a fae creature who can only exist in our world by feeding on human artistic energy; in Morrigan’s case, that energy is musical, which makes Nick, who has steeped himself in sound all his life, the equivalent of a three-course meal at a five-star Michelin restaurant. Having almost exhausted her previous energy supply, Morrigan insinuates herself into Nick’s life and invites herself to Pittsburgh so she can more easily feed off of him.
So far, so normal, for a fantasy yarn. But it’s when we get to Pittsburgh that things get interesting. Nick may be the nominal hero of the tale, but Pittsburgh is its great lady, and the novel’s excellence rests heavily on its author’s ability to bring the city to life, as if it were a separate character. The city, and the people who live in it, are painted with loving, detailed brushstrokes by a person who has clearly lived in it a long time, and knows how to make it sing–if you’ll pardon the pun–for people who’ve never been here. Morrigan can tell, almost instantly, that feeding off of Nick will be more difficult than she’d bargained for, as Nick is one very important strand woven into a tapestry of people–both family and fictive kin–who care for each other deeply, and won’t let evil win without a fight.
This, of course, brings us to the problem of evil in the novel, which is not so much a problem as it is an interesting twist, in Wise’s hands. Morrigan is not evil, as the Big Bad of the typical urban fantasy might be: she’s simply a creature whose needs conflict with her environment, forcing her to do things she wouldn’t have to do back home. Alas, she cannot go home, the door to faeryland having been closed to her by a tragedy not of her own making. And so, as the body count starts to mount, you find yourself in the curious position of having sympathy for the “devil,” who, at heart, just wants her homeland back, and kills only to survive in a world that, ultimately, cannot be other than hostile to her and her kind.
Another element that makes This Creature Fair a dark horse in the urban fantasy pack is its approach to magic. No fireballs or incantations here: in Wise’s world, magic is something all humans have, a fact of which they are rarely cognizant. Some of Nick’s friends–characters who also appear in Wise’s other novels–have had interactions with other worlds in which magic operates differently, and are aware (as much as any human can be) of both their own magic and that of other realms. It is they who first realize something is wrong with Nick, and subsequently figure out a way to save him, and Pittsburgh, from Morrigan. And while this particular strain of magic is steeped in sound, you could also argue–as I think Wise is, here–that love is the greatest magic. Not the cardboard hearts and pink candies kind, but true love: the kind that’s rooted in blood, sex, arguments, candor, and–most importantly–time.
The book’s other appeal factors make it difficult to compare to other books, or peg into a neat little genre box. Like much literary fiction, the pacing is slow and deliberate, with a heavy emphasis on characterization and relationships, making the best author comparisons Jonathan Carroll (overall) and Charles de Lint (pacing, attention to detail, characterization). However, the language choices are clear, simple, and precise, which will appeal to those who are reading more for fun than for lit analysis. Readers who like psychological fiction will, on the whole, appreciate the emphasis on introspection and reflection, while those who enjoy naturalistic fiction will appreciate Wise’s ability to communicate really complicated things in very simple–but not simplistic–ways.This Creature Fair is, in short, a tale well-told, for the kind of reader who either seeks out unusual tales in the first place, or is open to an author doing something differently with established tropes.
So, please: try this. Report back. Call me on my bias, and point out things I missed. And then try King of Summer, Bedivere, Scratch, etc.
Recommended for: The fantasy reader who’s read everything else, avid readers open to a singular experience, Pittsburghers hoping to recognize themselves or people/places they know, people who believe in magic, and people who secretly want to.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

KISS Dynasty

Writing my last post spurred some nostalgia for my teen fanaticism for the band KISS. I've written on this topic before. When the original band reunited and put the makeup back on in the late 90's I wrote a fairly lengthy article for In Pittsburgh about being a fan. I can't find an archive of that article anywhere online and while I'm pretty sure I have a copy it currently resides in some unopened box where I packed it in a move a couple of years ago. I don't want to rewrite all of that, but I do want to recount some things I discovered about the 1979 Dynasty tour.

The night I first met Chiharu (see my last post), June 15, 1979, was the opening night of the tour in Lakeland, Florida. I had seen KISS the year before in Pittsburgh on the Alive II tour (January 13, 1978). In the interim they had released their four solo albums, followed by Dynasty. It was an expensive year to be a KISS fan. Dynasty was met with mixed reviews and reactions from the fans. The single I Was Made For Loving You was widely decried as a sell-out disco song, but for all of the naysayers it ended up being one of their best-selling singles ever. I liked it. For the most part I liked the whole album. After the success of Ace's solo album his songs and voice were more of a presence on Dynasty than on any previous album, which I thought was a good thing.

I now know that this time period was the beginning of the end of the original band. Ace and Peter were overindulging in the Rock and Roll lifestyle and having trouble keeping up. Some members of the band weren't speaking to others. At the end of the tour Peter left the band (or was fired, depending on the source you read).

On June 15th we didn't know any of this. In public KISS maintained the illusion of being one big happy family. I will say that we all felt that this was the album where we were more aware of the members individually than as a band. The solo albums contributed to that perception. When Dynasty came out I thought of the tracks as “This is a Paul song... Oh, this is an Ace song,) rather than listening to the whole as KISS songs. I now see this as evidence of the fracturing of the band.

There was a lot of anticipation leading up to the show. There was going to be an all new stage set. More importantly, they were going to reveal all new costumes. I remember a lot of press and secrecy about this at the time. It was rumored they were adding color to their outfits for the first time, branching out from the straight black and silver we had seen up until then. They had introduced character specific color themes on their solo albums, so we expected this to be part of it. To build mystique and suspense they refused to release pictures of the new costumes before the first show. We were going to see the big reveal.

These were the days of Festival seating, which basically meant first come, first serve, no assigned seats. Mark, Scott, Chiharu and I arrived at the Lakeland Civic Center and found some seats. This was Chiharu's first concert and being a fairly small woman she had some understandable concerns about braving the crowd down by the stage. Mark and I were pretty pumped for getting closer than we had been in Pittsburgh. Scott and Chiharu stayed in their seats while Mark and I pushed our way through the mass of people on the floor to a space about ten feet from center stage (yeah, I was smitten by Chiharu, love at first sight and all that... this was a chance to see KISS's new costumes up close. I regret nothing).

The opening band was a group called Nantucket and if not for this show I would never have heard of them either.

The lights went down. The famous opening line from the show echoed from the speakers; “You wanted the best. You got the best. The hottest band in the world... KISS!!!” Fog rolled out over the crowd, spotlights hit the stage and the four members of the band rose up out of the stage in all of their glory.

I'm probably in the minority of KISS fans here, but I have to say these are my favorite of their many costumes. They are colorful, ridiculous and completely over the top and that's what I love about them. Gene's armor looked like the skin of some giant Godzilla-like monster. Ace was covered in mirrors so that when spotlights hit him it looked like lights were shooting out of his body. Paul's purple tunic called to mind some fantasy world, the garb of Rock and Roll royalty, the King of the Night Time World (the song they launched into after the lights dimmed again and they took their places on stage).

I've known since that night that I was one of the first people in the world to see those costumes, but I discovered a few other firsts from that night I didn't know until a couple of weeks ago. Ace's smoking guitar was already legendary, but this was the first time his guitar levitated into the rafters after his solo. He then shot it down with a rocket from another guitar. This was great, but there was an even more significant addition to the show, a special effect that continues to this day. Gene had been doing the blood-spitting and fire-breathing pretty much from the beginning of their career, but this was the first time he flew. We weren't expecting it at all. Gene did his blood-spitting bit and then the lights dimmed. As close as we were we didn't see the stage hands hooking up the cables to his flying rig. Suddenly a spotlight hit Gene and the crowd roared. Then he simply levitated before our eyes, shooting thirty feet straight up to a platform over our heads. Once there he launched into God of Thunder and we kind of lost our minds.

I found some pictures online from the Lakeland show. These were credited to Jerry Bennett. Based on his perspective we were about ten to fifteen feet to his right.

A little over a month later Scott, Mark and I saw them again in Pittsburgh. It would be the last time until the reunion tour in Pittsburgh in 1996.

I discovered that there is a bootleg floating around online of their entire rehearsal for the Lakeland show. This was recorded at the same venue a night or two before. Apparently it has outtakes of the band shouting instructions to the lighting guys and by the end you can hear some of the tension between band members come out. This isn't exactly the concert I attended, but a neat artifact anyway.

For the completists out there here's the 1979 tour setlist (from Wikipedia)

  1. King of the Night Time World (Paul Stanley)
  2. Radioactive (Gene Simmons)
  3. Move On (Paul Stanley)
  4. Calling Dr. Love (Gene Simmons)
  5. Firehouse (Gene Simmons Firebreathing) (Paul Stanley)
  6. New York Groove (Ace Frehley) (lighted guitar)
  7. I Was Made for Lovin' You (Paul Stanley)
  8. Love Gun (Paul Stanley)
  9. 2,000 Man (Ace Frehley Guitar-Solo,smoking guitar,flying guitar,rocket shooting guitar)
  10. Tossin' and Turnin' (Peter Criss)
  11. God of Thunder (Gene Simmons Bass-Solo, Bloodspitting and Flying-Stunt, Peter Criss Drum-Solo) (Gene Simmons)
  12. Shout It Out Loud (Gene Simmons/Paul Stanley)
  13. Black Diamond (Peter Criss, intro by Paul Stanley)
  14. Detroit Rock City (Paul Stanley)
  15. Beth (Peter Criss)
  16. Rock and Roll All Nite (Gene Simmons)

Radioactive and Tossin' and Turnin' were dropped from the list after a few shows. Let Me Go, Rock 'n' Roll and Christine Sixteen took their places.

While I was in Florida a chain of convenience stores called
Magik Market were selling frozen soft drinks in these plastic cups.
They were released two per week. I was there for three weeks
so I never got the last two.

This was probably the height of my KISS fandom. By 1979 I was already starting to move on, echoing the whole of KISS fandom, apparently. I was getting into other music, other bands, other sounds. I had turned onto Cheap Trick and Blondie by this time, and was starting to flirt with some new sounds by bands like The Ramones and The Runaways. I picked up the next couple of KISS albums (and didn't HATE Music From the Elder the way most people did), but I just didn't care as much. By the time the makeup came off on Lick It Up both Peter and Ace were gone and for the most part, so was I. I kept a vague awareness of the band through the 80's but I just wasn't very interested. I wrote my In Pittsburgh article for the reunion show but I honestly didn't plan on going to the show. When they added a second night at the Civic Arena I caved and bought a ticket. It was an amazing recreation of the Alive II era, the first show I ever saw, so I ended up having a lot of fun, fully aware that it was more nostalgia than anything else.

I've seen them again in the last couple of years with Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer playing the parts of the Catman and the SpaceAce. I have mixed feelings. They still put on a great show. The spectacle of the concert experience remains pretty true to the original. I've had a great time at both shows and saw some younger fans really enjoying a recreation of something they never had the chance to see. I know a lot of older fans just can't accept the new version. Maybe I've seen comic book superheroes recast with new people under the masks often enough that this doesn't really bother me that much. I miss Peter and Ace but then I miss being eighteen years old as well. Some things can just never be repeated.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

1000 Beautiful Skies Over A High Ridge

I think of myself as a pretty open book with the people I know and love. I don't really hesitate to share personal stories with friends. It has come to my attention recently that in spite of this self-image the truth is I'm really pretty private, at least in the social networking forum of the internet. I'm open, but I guess I'm choosey about who I'm really open with. The problem is that all of my stories are also someone else's story as well and I'm not always comfortable sharing their lives. My recent post about my years as Santa was more personal, but it was seasonally appropriate and hopefully spoke to some universal experiences. But even then I asked permission from my friend Dar and my Godkids before mentioning them in such a public way.

I don't often get caught up in nostalgia. Most of the reminiscing I've done here was in service of talking about my history in comics and writing.

That's about to change. What follows is a story I've told many people over the years. It's a nostalgic reminiscence filled with the glory of youth. If you have a low tolerance for maudlin sentimentality you might want to bail now.

I graduated high school on Sunday, June 10, 1979. As a graduation present to myself I took a vacation in Florida right after to visit Scott and Mark, brothers who were two of my closest friends at the time.
One of the few pictures I have of the
three of us together, taken at
Disney World. That's Scott in the
middle and Mark on his left.
They had moved from southwestern PA the previous year, severely interrupting the teenage adventures we had been having up to that point (some of which I would tell some friends about, but many are not for public consumption). Originally they had planned to drive to PA that summer to visit and then I was going to go back to Florida with them later in the summer. We switched the plans around when we discovered that the rock band KISS was kicking off a tour in support of their album Dynasty in Lakeland, just up the road from where my friends lived. Now KISS was a huge part of my teen years and big part of my friendship with these guys, so on Thursday, June 14 I flew for the first time and landed in Tampa for my first real trip away from home.

(I was going to just touch on the KISS concert here, but this afternoon as I was thinking about this whole trip I realized that has to be a separate blog. Coming soon.)

Anyway, I arrived in Bartow, Florida expecting a great concert, time at a beach, Disney World, going out to bars (I was going to turn 18 while I was there, and guess what the legal drinking age in Florida was at that time), and all kinds of other fun summer activities for young men with no responsibilities. We did all of that, and it was great. But something more important took place for me over the course of those three weeks.

I want to tell you about a girl.

Chiharu Takahashi was a Japanese foreign exchange student going to college in Florida. Her host family included the minister at the church my friends went to in Bartow, where she had met them. They had told me a little about her of course, and I knew she would be hanging out with us some.

We went to the minister's house on June 15 to pick her up so she could go to see KISS with us. This was going to be her first concert (I was a veteran at this time with three big shows under my belt, KISS and Ted Nugent in '78 and Rush earlier in '79). We walked into the house and I was introduced to the minister and his wife. And then I turned and saw Chiharu.

At my current age I realize the whole “love at first sight” thing is a Romantic ideal and rarely holds up to the rigors of a genuine relationship. Whatever. At that moment I was smitten. Knocked over. Stunned. Completely in love in the way only a seventeen year old dreamer like myself can be. She was beautiful! Though accented, her English was very good. She was really smart and had a great sense of humor and fit in really well with the three of us. Surprisingly, I wasn't a tongue-tied buffoon in her presence. We crammed into the car and went to the show.

Now, we all know I'm a comic book geek. That's not only how I organize my life, it's what people expect of me. So this next shouldn't be a surprise. The previous winter in the pages of X-Men #118 (my favorite book at the time), the character Wolverine had met a beautiful Japanese woman named Mariko Yoshida. The coincidence of this with what was happening in my own life was not lost on me at the time.

I felt just like this at the time, even though neither
Chiharu or I were wearing costumes.

Back to real life... I don't think I saw her every day, but we spent a lot of time together, always the four of us. Chiharu and I didn't get a chance to “date” in any regular way. She was one of the guys. But like I said, I was smitten, and I thought, in my inexperienced way, that she liked me too. You know... Liked me liked me.

That Sunday we went to the beach and I saw the ocean for the first time. Well, the Gulf of Mexico actually, but it was still pretty darn impressive to this country boy. We swam, we played in the sand, we ate, we drank enough wine that I fell asleep in the sun and burned my pasty pale skin really badly.

This was before my skin got baked.
Oh yeah... tell me she's not checking out my rock-hard abs.

Poor B'rer Bear probably doesn't
have a job now that Song of the
 isn't shown any more.

We went to Disney World and rode all of the rides and ate all of the food and saw Mice and Princesses, Presidents and Country Bears, Tiki Birds and singing little people. It was a remarkably full day, but two events stand out; two that convinced me that Chiharu Liked me liked me.


We went on Space Mountain, a giant roller coaster in the dark. Chiharu had never been on a coaster before, so she was excited and scared. We paired off and she rode with me. At the time (maybe still...I haven't been there in ages), the seats were arranged so that one person sat in the rear of a car and the second person sat directly in front of and leaned back against the first. So I sat down and then Chiharu planted herself between my knees and leaned back. We had hugged by this time, but this was the most intimate position we had experienced yet. We weren't up the first rise before she started whimpering. Then we dropped over the first fall. Gravity and inertia pressed her against me. Her head leaned back on my shoulder and all I could hear were her tiny sighs and squeaks of fear and excitement.

Best roller coaster ride ever.

By the time we got off the ride she was trembling, almost hyperventilating. I held her arm as she attempted to get her land legs back. I jokingly asked if she was ready to go again. She looked at me, eyes wide, nodded her head and said, “Yes!”

The other event of the day that stands out took place as we were leaving the park. It was really late and we were among the last people to leave, squeezing the most out of our day. We were walking through the courtyard of Cinderella's Castle. It was night, so the castle was lit with magnificent color. Music played from hidden speakers. I don't remember the song, but it was an instrumental piece from one of their films. As we were walking along I stopped, took Chiharu by the hand and asked her to dance. We slow danced around the courtyard until the end of the song, bowed to each other when it was over, hugged and then broke out into laughter as we all made our way back to the car and the real world.

It was one of the most spontaneously romantic moments of my life.

Eventually I left Florida. Scott, Mark and I drove back to PA, my first extended road trip. My last day there was a Sunday. We went to church and there, after the service we took pictures and I said goodbye to Chiharu. She cried. Pretty sure I wanted to. She gave me a going away present. She had placed two Japanese coins on a chain for me to wear to remind me of her. I wore them for years.

I still have them.

We stayed in touch. We wrote letters. We actually wrote a lot of letters. Occasionally we called each other for short talks. Long Distance phone calls were expensive in those days. 

During that year she transferred to a different school in Florida and moved away from Bartow. I went back for a visit the following summer and she made 
the trip to see me. We all hung out one single afternoon, had a great time and took some pictures. Then she was gone.

Two years went by. We still wrote regularly. She started seeing some guy in Tallahassee. I had my first serious relationship (and though that romance didn't last a year I'm happy to say I maintain a good friendship with that beautiful, wonderful woman. She commented on a picture of me on Facebook while I was writing this).

I turned 21 in the summer of 1982 and returned to Florida for what would prove to be my last visit there. My friend Peggy and I went to a three day comic book convention in Pittsburgh then on Monday flew to Florida for ten days. These were two of the best and weirdest weeks of my life, filled with many of the stories I tell most often (most of which I'll never relate online, for the protection of the not-so-innocent... we nearly sank a boat). As sort of a comic book bookend to this story, this was the year the first Wolverine mini-series came out. Set in Japan. Dealing with his relationship with Mariko. We read the concluding issue while we were there. Once again, the coincidence with my life did not escape me.

I had made arrangements to see Chiharu during the trip. Peggy served as wingman for me and convinced Scott and Mark to let me have a night with Chiharu alone. She picked me up in her car for what I guess was a date. We went to see E.T. By the end of the movie I heard her crying. I tentatively put an arm around her (remember, we had never, in all of our correspondence, mentioned anything about a relationship between us. There were simply too many miles for that to happen). To my relief she crumbled into me and let me hold her until the end of the movie. We left and went someplace for dinner, Pizza Hut if memory serves.

We drove back to Scott and Mark's house. They were still out with Peggy and some other friends but their parents were home and apparently in bed. We sat in the car and talked. About many things. During this chat she told me about some of the terrible things her boyfriend had done to her. Abusive things. She cried again, embarrassed but relieved to tell someone. She wanted to break up with him but was afraid. I was livid. I sat there in the dark, not knowing what to say or do, feeling helpless and angry and very, very much in love. It may not have been appropriate, it might not have been what she needed to hear right then, but in that moment, with everything extreme I was feeling, I had to say something. So I did.

You know I'm love with you, don't you?” I said. “I have been since the moment we met.”

She nodded and said, “Me too.”

I held her then. Nothing more. We didn't even speak. At some point my friends came home. They had been partying and were a little wound up. Scott came to our car and started telling us about all the great stuff they had gotten into. Peggy once again saved me. She took Scott by the arm and led him away from the car. We stayed there for a little while longer, but finally I realized I needed to go. I said good night and as I started to open the door she leaned over and kissed me. It was short, but it was real. I got out and waved as she drove away.

I never saw her again.

We stayed in touch, letters and phone calls. She broke up with the abusive douchebag. Eventually she finished school and moved back to Japan. She ended up teaching English to grade school kids, last I heard. We continued to write for several years. But that eventually dwindled and then stopped. I don't know which of us wrote last. I've tried to find her during the internet age of course. But the name Chiharu Takahashi is apparently a lot like the name John Smith because I've seen dozens of listings for men and women with that name over the years and none of them seem to be her.

So what do I make of this, thirty-plus years on? Was she the great lost love of my life? Probably not. We never had the chance to have a relationship. It was an idealized long-distance not-quite-romance that existed in my head more than anywhere else. I have no idea if we would have been compatible over the long haul.

What it was for me though was a beautiful experience that has given me wonderful memories and great stories. It may be better that she remains an ideal romance of my youth, unsullied by real life. But in my interaction with her, through our brief moments together and in the many, many words of our correspondence, I opened up to another person. I began to transition from a youth to an adult. I think whatever it was I felt for her helped prepare me for real relationships with real people. Since then I know I have had the genuine love of a woman, real and sullied instead of ideal and pristine. More difficult, but more rewarding.

Chiharu, if you're out there, know my twenty-one year old self believed he loved you as much as he was capable of loving. Somewhere inside of me he still does. Thank you for returning my affection. Thank you for being in my life and for giving me a story. I still have your necklace. I still think of you. I hope your life has been wonderful and filled with love and adventure and fulfillment. Domo Arigato.

I'll end this the way we used to end our letters:

Your tomodachi,


Saturday, January 5, 2013

My ebook This Creature Fair is now available in a paperback edition, thanks to Amazon's Create Space self-publishing option. I'm pretty happy with the final product.

If you want to buy a copy online you can find it at:

Here's a preview of the wraparound cover, designed and executed by Marcel Walker.