Category Archives: Writing

This week started early

Normally I hate writing on the weekend. However, due to our late night vet visit on June 13th, I was too zonked to get any Leaf done the next day (not to mention Plushie’s cone of shame kept banging into my lap desk). As the two Leaf articles I had in my queue would have expired Sunday, and they were paying extra (an incentive to get everything completed before the project expires), I worked on them Sunday afternoon. Not the best use of downtime, but hey, it’s money.

To claim as many of the remaining bonus-price articles, and a few that were regular price but easy (articles about liquor licensing are surprisingly easy. Liquor boards have good websites), I bulked up on Leaf through Wednesday, completing 12 total (I also did an extra bonus one today). It was easier because (I think) the pressure to get them all done got in the way of sleep so I was up early Monday and Tuesday. As a result, I was able to get the Leaf done and a good chunk of Undead Sexist Cliches.

I’m feeling much better about the book after this week. The division of two and three finally makes sense. Chapter Two is sexist explanations why feminism is unnecessary and why women don’t deserve equality (because evolution made men superior). Chapter Three is the sexist rationalizations why feminism is actively destructive. I also took a lot of discussions of antifeminism and made one small chapter out of them.

I also inserted a lot of notes I’d taken on various books and websites into the post, and added examples for several points I was making, such as some Fox News hosts discussing why men get the blame if they rape drunk women: “the point is that the drunk woman is — she’s just not held accountable for anything. The drunk guy, however, is supposed to make all these amazingly perfect decisions, and not make any mistakes.” As if not raping someone who says no was like performing brain surgery while drunk (I’ll have a blog post on this topic soon).

The additions will require I make another pass to incorporate the new material better. Then I’ll sit down with all the critiques my beta-readers gave me and incorporate them. Then comes writing the finished draft including footnoting everything and indexing everything. Then to publication.

I made the book a priority this week but I found time to start redrafting a story I finished a couple of weeks back, tentatively titled Death is Like a Box of Chocolates. Tentative because much as I like the title, I don’t think there’ll be a box of chocolates in the tale when I’m finished.

Plushie’s eye infection (the one that necessitated that vet visit) has cleared up. We were even able to take the cone off after the first day. We do have a couple of worries about the dogs (nothing serious) but we’ll be talking to the vet about them tomorrow when we go in for booster shots.

All in all, a productive week.

For no reason other than my love of showing cool art, I’ll close with what I think is a neat Ghost Rider cover (the Western one) by Dick Ayers:

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

Is authenticity a white people’s illusion?

That’s LGM blogger Erik Loomis’s argument in a response to a WaPo article by Mexican American John Paul Bremmer on why people should stop expecting him to eat “authentic” food. Bremmer jokes that he’s from a Mexican family that can’t cook (“I had already discussed all the recipes in our family tree after just two essays.”). His family’s Mexican food in childhood came from Taco Bell.

Bremmer looks at white folks craving “authenticity” in their Mexican food and concludes “it assures the visitor that whatever they’re experiencing, be it a meal or a poem or a human being, is rarefied and exotic, something they can’t get anywhere else. People going about their ordinary lives, whatever their ordinary lives look like, don’t have to think about authenticity any more than my mother has to think about whether her microwaved eggs and bacon in bread is ‘Mexican.’ At that point, calling something authentic can help you sell it.”

Conversely, Mexican food that doesn’t fit what people expect is dubbed inauthentic (CityLab discusses whether “authentic” means anything other than ‘customers like it.’). “Heritage and tradition are important, there’s no doubt. But it’s also important to free our imaginations from the tyranny of authenticity … Our culture — any culture — isn’t static. It is a living thing. It pulls from its surroundings to adapt in a world that in equal turns marginalizes and fetishizes it. The truth is, I see myself more in Taco Bueno, in my abuela sacking the salsa bar, in the Parmesan crispy taco, than I do in whatever Yelpers think is authentic.”

Which reminded me a lot of Michal Wojcik’s recent post about children of immigrants being told drawing on their homeland culture is inauthentic: they’re not part of it, they can’t claim it. So they only “authentic” thing they can write is immigrant fiction.

I don’t think authenticity is all about the outside view. Preeti Chhibber at Book Riot expresses her fondness for books about Indian characters by Indian authors who know the culture. In An Offer We Can’t Refuse, George di Stefano wrote about how much of The Godfather connected with him for being so very Italian (no, not the part where Italians are all mobbed up).

But at the same time, I do think Bremmer and Loomis raise good points. Most importantly, Loomis argues that whether food is “authentic” has nothing to do with whether it’s good; I’d say the same is often true of fiction. I could certainly write a more authentic story of being an English ex-pat in America than NK Jemisin but the odds are she’d write a better story; that’s why she won all those Hugos.

And authenticity really is subjective when we judge a culture we don’t know. Daniel José Elder’s Shadowshaper felt authentic when I read it, but as I said at the time “if he were pulling it all out of his butt, I wouldn’t have a clue.”

It is important to get it right, whatever “it” is, but if that required “authentic” writing then we’d have nothing to draw on but personal experience. Take CL Moore’s Doomsday Morning, which I just finished. The story involves a theatrical troupe caught up in a government plot and the stage details are just perfect. Struggling to come up with stage business to fill a slow expository scene. Adapting to theater in the round when you only know conventional staging. Rehearsing your lines until they feel absolutely canned, then finally feeling them sound spontaneous again.

Did Moore have a lot of theater experience? I can’t find any reference to it, which doesn’t prove anything (if it was community or college, biographers might not know); maybe she talked to someone who does have experience and listened. But I don’t care whether it’s her authentic experience or not, because she got it right.

#SFWApro. Shadowshaper cover photo by Michael Frost, cover design by Christopher Stengel; all rights to images remain with current holder.

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Caffeine couldn’t stop me but canines did!

So after last week’s insomnia-fest I stopped using my decaf tea in the afternoons and sure enough, I slept better Sunday and Wednesday night. The other nights? Pull up a chair, I’ve got a story …

So Monday night, Trixie had this very loud hacking cough for a few minutes, loud enough to wake me up (admittedly it doesn’t take much to do that). By the time I’d checked whether she was okay, I was wide awake and couldn’t get back to sleep. Tuesday night, first Trixie demanded to go out and poop after we’d all settled into bed. Even after that she was fidgeting, or lying against me while chewing on her feet, which didn’t lend itself to sleep. So another night down.

Last night, it felt like everything would be fine. But just as I was drifting off, TYG noticed Plushie was getting restless and checked him out closely. Turns out he had some sort of swelling in his eye, so it was up and off to the 24-hour emergency vet. We brought Trixie along rather than leave her alone but oh, the alarmed whimpers when she saw them taking Plushie away without her! She did not like it at all. We finally got back a little after midnight, with medicine for the eye (it was just an inflammation). To my surprise, I slept soundly after that, but the window before I got up again was … small.

Turns out gettting up at my regular hour was a wasted effort. Plushie’s in the cone of shame and not happy about it. Dealing with him and working proved … impractical shall we say? For example I can’t use my lap desk because it bumps into his cone too easily when he’s in the lap. Fortunately the two nights of insomnia meant I’d put in some extra hours, so I only lost a little writing time.

Pretty much everything I got done was either Leaf articles or work on Undead Sexist Cliches. I’ve almost completed this draft (two or three more yet to come) and I figured out the right breakdown to chapters two and three. Chapter two will cover antifeminist arguments about why giving women equality is pointless (they don’t need it, and they aren’t actually equal) while chapter three will focus on claims feminism is not only pointless, it’s destructive. I can feel how much better it flows now.

One reason I didn’t get more done is that I took Thursday off to deal with the mundane matters. North Carolina’s Department of Revenue had sent our return back (for what I found absurdly technical reasons) so I had to print out a fresh copy of the paperwork, then redo the whole thing. Plus get my estimated taxes for the year to date in.  Plus a few minor tasks including getting a free credit report from the Annual Credit Report website (it’s legit. And actually free), an electrician appointment, bicycling for one hour (highlight of the day) and going over our emergency kit in case we have evacuate fast (not that I expect it, but it’s possible). That took up the day nicely.

Today? Work just didn’t happen.

However I did find a dead shrew in the driveway —

And removed it before Trixie or Plushie could rub themselves on its gloriously stink flesh.

So that’s something accomplished, right?

#SFWApro. All photos are mine.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

The most sensational news you’ll read today! Or at least in this post.

So McFarland, which publishes my four movie books and dozens of others, is having a 40th anniversary sale. Everything 25 percent off, including my four movie books. It’s a great opportunity to buy one, two or collect the entire set! It’s always cool to have the entire set, right?

My books are:

Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan, a book on made for TV specfic films of the 20th century.

The Wizard of Oz Catalog, an encyclopedic look at Oz books, movies, TV shows, radio shows and stage plays. A lot of oddball material such as a 1930s women’s college film and a sales-training video, The Wizard of Sales.

Screen Enemies of the American Way looks at American fears of the enemy within — subversion by Nazis, Japanese, Commies, pod people, Stepford Wives and extraterrestrials.

Now And Then We Time Travel lists and reviews time-travel television and film stories from around the world.

The sale runs through the end of the month. I’ll be buying a couple of books (maybe more) myself, though I haven’t completely settled on which ones yet. Prime contenders are one on The Saint in his many fictional forms and a book on witches in films and TV, Bell, Book and Camera.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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Writing, sleep, dogs and other matters

First off, dogs, because Trixie’s butterfly ears after her Monday grooming are just too adorable not to lead with.

Here’s a picture of them both newly shorn.

They were surprisingly calm while the opossum was on the deck. Trixie has been exceptionally needy this week, wanting lots of pets (I comply as much as work allows), but otherwise the pups are as usual.

Staying off caffeine after noon was a little less effective this week — two nights of little sleep, two solid sleeps and one that was solid due to Ambien. I’m wondering if the decaffeinated tea I picked up has too much caffeine (decaffeinating tea leaves doesn’t completely eliminate it ) so I’ll skip it next week. I still drink decaf chai in the afternoon but there’s a lot less caffeine in it (among other things, because I make it half milk so the volume of actual tea is lower).

That said, things went well. I got 10 Leaf articles in for the first time in a while. And I rewrote slightly more of Undead Sexist Cliches than I’d expected. I know see that what slowed me down earlier is that Chapters two and three are badly organized — they’re both about “why feminism is bad” cliches, but the division into chapters doesn’t really make sense. Next week I’ll look at rearranging the material and maybe cutting them into three smaller chapters.

I rewrote Impossible Things Before Breakfast and I think it’s ready for one final revision. I’ll get to that at the end of the month so my mind has a little time to clear. I went over both Bleeding Blue and Only The Lonely Can Slay trying to figure out how to improve them on the next draft. I think I see a way, but I’m not sure — I had to do the work today while I was still groggy from lack of sleep.

And I finished an as yet untitled story, basically by deciding “okay, I’m ready to finish this today … guess this is the ending!” and pulling what’s close to a deus ex machina. But I’ve done that before and for some stories it works. Even a nonsensical ending frees my mind up to start redrafting and improving.

The best week in a while, I think.

#SFWApro. Images are mine,

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Wednesday was the App-ocalpyse!

I’ve mentioned before that Apple’s Pages is unable to follow standard manuscript format when I create documents. If I use it to edit a Word document, when I save it back to Word it ends up with a blank first page. I’ve tried using Open Office but when I download it the computer says it’s not from an authorized app source and deletes it.

Last month I discovered a Word app in the App store and figured what the heck, I’d sooner pay for the license than keep having to crack open my old computer to work on Word docs (it’s very cranky and sluggish by now). However the program required me to register with Microsoft and refused to let me do so. I gave up, shrugged and didn’t think about it until Thursday, when I found that even though i couldn’t use Word, I was still being charged.

What followed was a brief conversation with Apple help which bounced me to Microsoft. A much longer session there followed, and to the help desk’s credit, they really tried to fix the problem. But I didn’t have a product key so they told me I’d have to go to Apple for the fix. Apple said the best they could do was refund the payment.

Two hours wasted. The one good result was that in frustration I downloaded Open Office again and this time I found information on how to make the computer accept it. Success! Now I should be able to make edits on my own computer again.

Other than that, let’s see … I got my Leaf quota in, including articles on such mesmerizing topics as Pros and Cons of a Matrix Organizational Structure … okay, not very mesmerizing. But the pay’s good, and I like getting paid.

Beyond that I redrafted the rape-apologist chapter of the Undead Sexist Cliches book. It’s going slower than I’d have liked. I’m rethinking my approach to figure how I can accomplish the various goals — reorganizing, rewriting and adding some new material — more efficiently.

Annoyingly, no fiction this week at all. Blame the app issues for that. Well, and spending Wednesday at a dental appointment. Happily, though, my teeth are in great shape.

#SFWApro. Image by Albrecht Durer, all rights remain with current holder.

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But how can fantasy fiction offend people, the writer gasped

Apparently “political correctness is out of control!” is a theme in the UK as much as the US, judging by a recent article in the right-wing Spectactor magazine, “Writers Blocked: Even Fantasy Fiction is Now Offensive” (I’m not giving them clicks, but you can find it easy enough). The gist of it is that cries for diversity and worries about cultural appropriation have become a witch hunt, ruining the lives of authors for violating all these crazy new standards. For example the Twitter storm over Amelia Wen Zhao’s Blood Heir for racism and plagiarism (which Slate argues are dubious charges) and Laurie Forest’s The Black Witch (not named, but that seems to be the novel they’re describing) for racism and homophobia. Foz Meadows points out the “repentant racist” aspect of that book, does raise problems: “the big emotional reveal is seemingly predicated on the reader either learning from, being surprised by or sympathising with Elloren’s transformation, which means caring enough about her – caring more about her than those she victimises – to feel invested in the first place. And if you, as a reader, are one of those she victimises, then that’s unlikely to be a fun experience.”

The Spectator cites Lionel Shriver, who made a speech in 2016 defending herself against criticism that her books lacked diversity, and arguing that cultural appropriation criticism just translates into “don’t write anything outside personal experience.” As Meadows points out in another blog post, Shriver’s arguments don’t hold up: “By her own admission, whiteness is an identity, just as straightness is an identity, distinct from their respective alternatives and made meaningful by the difference. But this is an uncomfortable thing for Shriver to admit in those terms, because it means acknowledging that identity is neither the intrusive hallmark of political correctness nor an exotic coat to be borrowed, but a basic fact of human life that applies equally to everyone. What Shriver views as a neutral default is merely a combination of identities so common that we’ve stopped pretending they matter.

It’s quite possible that Zhao’s book was unfairly maligned (I look forward to reading it for myself to decide, now that it’s headed for publication again). And I’ve seen blog posts and Twitter comments that find white people writing PoCs to be objectionable, or casting an actor whose ethnicity doesn’t match the character exactly offensive (CW’s upcoming Batwoman has caught flak because Kate Kane is Jewish and the actor isn’t). But that’s not a sign debates over diversity and appropriation have gone too far, it’s a sign that there are a lot of opinions on these topics and some of them are wrong. Even if Zhao’s book was condemned unfairly, though, it doesn’t follow that these issues should be off the table or that we can’t criticize books for all-white casts or reducing women to sex objects for the male lead. Just like any branch of criticism, individual criticisms may be wrong without invalidating the whole branch.

And then there’s the title’s “Even Fantasy Is Now Offensive,” which implies a)that this is a new thing, and b)it’s ridiculous because it’s fantasy. I’m not sure why fantasy should be exempt from the ability to offend, and the author doesn’t say, but it isn’t. The author rolls her eyes metaphorically at Philip Pullman saying C.S. Lewis is racist, but Pullman’s hardly the first to criticize Lewis’ handling of the Arabic-ish Calormenes. Fantasy can offend just as easily as any other branch of fiction, whether it’s Merlin’s Godson‘s portrayal of Native Americans, the rape humor of “Coming of Age in Zamora” or the sexism in countless other stories.

Yossman might be clueless, but as someone who writes about pop culture (I Googled her. It’s something she does) she shouldn’t be. Perhaps she figures all that criticism is invalid, or perhaps she knows what sort of article the Spectator is more likely to want.

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Worlds in collision: why I don’t write utopias

In a recent thread on Twitter (sorry, I don’t have a link), NK Jemisin took issue with people pushing for fewer dystopias, more utopias: people of color, women and gays (for example) all have good reasons not to feel optimism. Where utopian fiction is sunny escapism, dystopian fiction grapples with the darkness.

I see her point about the appeal of dystopia, but I think breaking utopia and dystopia into some kind of escapism/serious fiction dichotomy is wrong. Utopian fiction is traditionally educational, not escapist, starting with Sir Thomas More’s original Utopia. The goal isn’t to entertain with a fantasy but to show how an ideal society would work, or how we get from there to here.

Conversely, a lot of dystopia is escapist. Hunger Games. Cyberpunk. It can be the horror of the protagonist being ground under by a corrupt system, or the excitement of being the rebel fighting against tyranny, but the goal is, as with most fiction, entertainment. It may satisfy because it speaks to our fears about the future or our experience of life, but I don’t think it’s inherently more serious than utopian fiction.

And that got me thinking, again, about how when I write stories that change the setting’s social order — Southern Discomfort, Atoms for Peace, Questionable Minds — I change some things, improve some things, but I don’t improve everything. In Atoms for Peace, women are much better off, 1950s sexual standards are looser, but people of color haven’t gained anything. In Southern Discomfort, the McAlisters prevented the worst violence of Jim Crow from affecting the black residents of Pharisee County, but women and gays aren’t any better off. And by 1973, younger blacks see the McAlisters as more patronizing and outdated than protective.

I could have shot for utopian, or closer to it, but dramatically it doesn’t interest me. A system that’s changed from our own, or in upheaval (in Questionable Minds, Victorian England is still attempting to fit psi-powers into the established caste system) has more storytelling potential for me than a utopia where everything works.

That’s personal taste, not a writing rule: I could imagine the alt.1950s of Atoms for Peace reluctantly embracing civil rights and still tell the same stories. But a setting that works imperfectly appeals to me more. That’s not meant as an excuse — if someone thinks Southern Discomfort should have had a larger gay presence, they’re certainly entitled to criticize my storytelling decisions — just a statement of fact.

Of course, I don’t write dystopias either. But that’s just because I don’t write the kind of SF that imagines dystopia, so no great lessons to learn.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

 

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Going retro: “It’s okay to look back. Just don’t stare.”

Writing a text page in the Airboy and Mr. Monster Special back in 1987, comics writer Gerard Jones used that quote from baseball player Satchell Paige to describe the challenge of retro: if you’re going to revive something from the past (both Airboy and Mr. Monster were Golden Age characters) you need to do so without lugging their cultural baggage (racism, sexism, whatever) along with them. Eclipse’s Airboy series, for example, gives hero Davey Nelson a Japanese mentor and a tough, competent girlfriend. As Jones notes, it also rejects the assumption that America is the right side in every conflict: one early arc involves an American-backed dictator in Central America (I’ll be writing more about the series soon).

Staring back — just embracing the stereotypes and racist/sexist/homophobic tropes of fictions past — is never a good thing. And I don’t think it’s any more acceptable because that’s just the way movies/comics/SF was back then. For example, if SFWA can’t put a scantily-clad woman on the cover of its magazine, that’s spitting on genre history because so many covers had scantily clad women back then. Likewise, sticking Jonni Future, a character from America’s Best Comics, in a space suit that bares her ginormous boobs down to the navel, is certainly faithful to a lot of pulp imagery, but that doesn’t make it any less sexist.

And it’s more likely to be sexism than anything else. As I’ve complained before, writers are much more likely to use sexist heroes or sexist stereotypes way easier than to bring on a shuffling black servant in the old Stepin Fetchit style, and it’s more acceptable to a lot of people when they do. Though we still get retro racism too, like Alan Moore’s use of old Victorian tropes about Arabs and Chinese in League of Extraordinary Gentleman.

Or consider Robert Bloch’s HP Lovecraft tribute novel, Strange Eons. The premise of the book (which I read a month or so back) is that Lovecraft’s fiction wasn’t fiction, it was a warning: his antiquarian interest in history had uncovered evidence of the terrible reality underlying the mundane world. His stories were a coded guide to the future to prepare for what was coming, boosted by psychic flashes of events to come (which explains why several scenes and details in the book mirror exact details in HPL’s fiction). The story has various characters discover the truth and try to resist the return of the Old Ones. It doesn’t go well for them.

Overall it’s an excellent novel, though the FBI vs. the Mythos section bogs down a bit (I think it worked better the first time around, when the idea of the feds dealing with this sort of horror was novel). Unfortunately, Bloch faithfully incorporates Lovecraft’s racist tropes about sinister non-white races worshiping the Great Old Ones and those haven’t aged well at all. Worse, he attempts to work Lovecraft’s loathing of immigrants and miscegenation into the plot: what if Lovecraft wasn’t racist? What if his horror of racial mingling was just a metaphor for the mingling of human and nonhuman races? I actually find the idea interesting, but unfortunately it’s bullshit. I love Lovecraft’s work but the dude was a racist and his fiction reflects that. This does not justify doing it in modern-day mythos stories; it’s not an essential component of the whole (Molly Tanzer, for example, does a great job going in the opposite direction in Creatures of Want and Ruin).

Retro can be fun. But some things should be left in the past, dead and buried. Look back, but don’t stare.

#SFWApro. All rights to cover image remain with current holder.

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I didn’t see the labyrinth until I was lost inside it

Wisp has a nasty cut/infection/something on her side. We’re planning to trap her again and take her to the vet, and TYG wants some tuna fish to bait her into the cage. This morning I combined my exercise bike ride with a trip to Walgreens for tuna and a couple of other items.

As I prefer to make my rides at least 30 minutes, I went up the road by Walgreens and cycled around a little subdivision there. When it came time to turn around, either I took a wrong turn or I cycled past the right road or something because I wound up cycling up an around with on idea where the right turn was (it’s a bigger subdivision than I realized). Eventually I whipped out my phone and GPSed it … too bad I asked the road home, rather than to the Walgreens, because I only got more lost.

Eventually, though, I figured it out, partly by guessing that the car that shot by me fast and turned was probably rushing for the main road and work .. yep!  So I made it home after an hour, which was way more than I thought. A very good thing I started early, because I’ve experienced heat stress while biking and it’s very unpleasant.

So after that TYG needed me to take over the dog care, so it was breakfast, walkies and then sitting upstairs with them until her stuff calmed down. The double exposure to the heat left me more wiped than I expected. The end result was that by the time I’d called the vet and asked some stuff about Wisp, my brain was too fragmented. I wound up doing research reading most of the day.

Yesterday I’d taken off, confident I’d have a full day of work today. I needed to sort out some stuff around the house, like the contents of our just-in-case emergency evacuation kits (we need to add some stuff, and I had to throw out some outdated meds). And I wanted to review my writing schedule and figure out why it’s been so unproductive this year. Partly it’s the crazy distractions that keep popping up. Partly that I was just too ambitious in what I wanted to do, including trying to do too many projects at once. And Leaf articles, at the moment, are taking more time out of my schedule than usual, so I have less for other stuff (the paying gigs come first).

Wednesday I had a half day because of an Alexander technique class. Monday and Tuesday I finished rewriting Chapter Two of the Undead Sexist Cliches book (plus I got some Leaf articles done). As one of my beta readers said, it’s not well organized. First I’m going to reorganize, rewriting while I go. Then I go over it for any changes suggested by my betas. Then I add footnotes.

Oh, and I’ve been remiss noting my posts on the Atomic Junkshop site. I’ve recently posted about the Brain Boy Archives, the comics of the early Silver Age and what comic books look like in DC’s post-Crisis universe.

And I sold two different books this week, a copy of Philosophy and Fairytales and one of Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast (you can find details about the books and links to buy both on this page). So woot!

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Kirby with Steve Ditko inking; all rights remain with current holder.

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