Thursday, November 9, 2017

Weird and Wonderful: an appreciation of Broadswords and Blasters

In a couple of months, I’ll have a story published in the pulp periodical Broadswords and Blasters.

“Pulp” is a writing form that had its heyday in the early-to-mid 20th century and which is experiencing a contemporary revival at the semipro level.  While there’s a general agreement that pulp stories are action-focused and a shared appreciation for the classics of the genre, there’s no one fixed definition of what the term entails, and markets such as CirsovaStoryHack, and Broadswords and Blasters exhibit marked contrasts in their overall feel.  Whereas the former two periodicals seem to work primarily with authors who identify as members of the #PulpRev movement*, B&B editors Matthew X. Gomez and Cameron Mount have used social media to make clear that they don’t wish to be confined by any particular label.  Instead, they identify as a “pulp magazine with modern sensibilities”.

Some have implied that this is an implicit criticism of the undertones of classic pulp and therefore constitutes “pulp shaming”.  I think I agree with the former assessment and disagree with the latter.  Gomez and Mount, as far as I can tell, affirm the quality of even controversial classic pulp, such as the stories of Lovecraft.  They do not, however, accept the premise that all of the subtext of those stories--such as Lovecraft's racism--is necessarily intrinsic to the greatness of the work.  Indeed, there’s a certain irony in this criticism:  Gomez and Mount’s definition of pulp is meaningfully broader than that of editors who call for “stories with heart” or who expect story outcomes to be “superversive” in their affirmation of modern concepts of virtue.  This frees up B&B to greenlight darker material that might be rejected by other markets--see, for instance, Sara Cordair’s “Soul Plantation” in issue two, or C.R. Langille’s explicitly Lovecraftian homage “The Deep Well”.

Some readers within the new pulp community won’t find B&B’s horror-pulp stories to their tastes.  There’s nothing wrong with that; more markets means more satisfied readers.  I myself enjoy both takes on the subgenre, and I find that the Gomez/Mount approach has one intrinsic advantage over the narrower formulations of pulp:  as a reader, I’m less able to guess how the story is going to end.  What’s most important to me as a reader is that the editors and authors of B&B honor the most important principle of new pulp:  the purpose of the story is to entertain the readers, not to lecture them.

I had the opportunity to review B&B #2 and B&B #3, and found them both to be worth my time.  My overall impression is that the earlier issue lacked some of the self-assurance of the later one, which is understandable in that any new periodical will take some time to find its feet and shape its identity.

Cover design is a bit of an issue for me.  Cover artist Luke Spooner is certainly gifted.  His style is very busy, which isn’t a problem in and of itself—but coupled with the editors’ decision to include big blocks of text, the information density is a bit much to grapple with:

This is an even larger problem when the covers appear in thumbnail form in electronic formats.  The masthead attempts to use a font shift to convey an archaic/futuristic dichotomy, but it feels a little clunky to me.  If it were somehow possible to transfer about 25% of the filigree on the cover to the internal layout--not the actual content, but the general ornateness of the thing--I think I’d be happier with both.

Story concepts are a strength of both issues; the authors are an imaginative bunch.  In issue two, there’s an occasional contrast between the quality of the ideas and the execution of those ideas; the writers are mining diamonds but occasionally leaving them incompletely polished.  I'm not trying to sound superior when I say this; as a developing writer, I struggle with the same problem in my own work.

A standout exception is KAUAHOA VS. THE MU by PATRICK BAKER, a heroic tale set in Hawaii prior to European contact.  Baker has researched his setting out six ways from Sunday, and I don’t envy him the task; the spelling issues alone would kill a lesser writer.  He compliments his excellent world-building with a magic system unlike any I’ve encountered elsewhere.  There are people who argue that authors shouldn’t “appropriate” cultural milieus outside of their own; I am damned glad Baker ignored those people.

In issue three, Gomez and Mount announce in their editors’ notes that they have “a much better sense of the kind of stories [they’re] after,” and I agree with their assessment.  B&B takes on a much more distinctive identity with this issue, and let me tell you, folks, that identity is WEIRD.  Herein you will find tongueless cowboys with skinless faces, computer code laced with magic, and cities which morph into constantly shifting Rubik’s Cubes.

The general quality of the prose and storytelling feels a bit more polished than was the case in issue #2, and elements such as dialogue and story structure play a larger role in making the stories fully immersive.  My personal favorites included:

MOSS by WILL BERNARDARA JR.—the tale of a cursed pirate with apparent access to a thesaurus.  Bizarre, loquacious, utterly original.

COMPARTMENTS by JOHN WAYNE COMUNALE—Set in a city in which all outdoor areas have been entirely enclosed, this story metaphorically explores the walls we build against the people with whom we are forced to spend time, and eschews the happy-sappy take on that concept in favor of something a bit spicier.  Both character and concept-driven; the writer has a gift for juxtaposing realistic dialogue with surreal circumstances.

VALERO SERVES A HUNGRY GRAVE by COY HALL—a fairly standard western, but extraordinarily well-written and cunningly structured.

Broadswords and Blasters makes me glad to be a writer in this day and age, and even gladder to be a reader.  There’s a whole world of terrific imagination out there, and there’s never been more of it in print.  That a subgenre such as pulp could have so many different iterations, could cater to so many different tastes, is a tribute to the free market and to artistic inspiration in general.  I just hope I don’t let down the side when they put out my story in issue four…

*  (EDIT:  Cirsova disputes this categorization, as they discuss here.)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

No Hacks Herein: StoryHack Action and Adventure #1

I’ve written before of the nascent Pulp Revolution—of the authors who, operating under the aegis of #PulpRev, have sought to restore the glories of the pulp magazines of the first half of the twentieth century.  Their work eschews politics (for the most part) in favor of a primary focus on action, and in most cases affirms rather than subvert the traditional heroic narrative.  The protagonists are not flawless, but are generally admirable in their skills and motives, and by and large succeed against the odds.

One of the brighter emerging lights in this movement is Bryce Beattie's StoryHack Action and Adventure, in which I had the good fortune to be published earlier this year.  The magazine is back with another installment(confusingly designated as Issue #1), and it’s a solid effort all around, well worth the four-dollar Kindle price.

The layout and mechanics of the issue are consummately professional and almost completely free of errors, the inserts provide a persistent thread of chuckle-worthy humor, and the cover and story artwork contributes positively to the overall reader experience.

A magazine of this sort will, of course, rise or fall based on the quality of the writing.  As with the first issue, a number of the brighter lights of the new pulp community have turned up with new work, as well as several writers who are better known for work outside of that subgenre.  The diversity of the pulp movement is well-represented here, with work ranging from traditional detective fiction to steampunk superheroics to weird westerns.  Moreover, the issue gives the lie to pulp critics who claim that the movement is intended as a playground for white men; both the authors and the heroes they portray vary widely in culture, ethnicity, and gender.

This set of writers brings to bear many distinctive sets of specific skills and passions which influence their work.  Here is an obvious expert in the mythology of indigenous Canadians; over there is a writer who has carefully studied the early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; over here’s somebody who just plain knows about guns.  I suspect that for this reason, every story will be somebody’s favorite.  As for me personally, I was especially fond of:

Frost, a standout in StoryHack Issue Zero, is back with another tale of werewolf private eye Ben Lockwood.  Frost’s take on lycanthropy is far more detailed and interesting than is the standard in paranormal fiction, as Lockwood doesn’t just take on fur and claws—he takes on a canine psyche as well, with the attendant focus on scents and dedication to/reliance upon his “pack”. 

This particular story starts out in the same gritty, noir vein as Frost’s previous story.  Then it takes an entirely unexpected turn into another genre altogether.  It’s best if I don’t reveal more about the plot than that.  Frost’s primary gifts, though, lie in prosecraft, and about those gifts there’s a GREAT DEAL to be said.  Her line-by-line writing is elite by any standard, and her ability to infuse her heroes with vulnerability is a particularly rare and valuable skill within a subgenre that tends to brim over with steely-eyed supermen.  For all the ornate mechanics of this story, Frost never loses sight of the man at its center—a PTSD survivor who’s taking it one day at a time, and who learns the value of self-care in a very literal way.

UNDER THE GUN by David J. West
A supernaturally-influenced western that follows immediately upon the events at the Little Bighorn, in which one of America’s most celebrated military villains gains a new lease on life in the form of a possessed firearm.   One of the primary merits of the new pulp movement is its heavy emphasis on action, and West understands better than some of the other authors in this issue the necessity of getting the action underway early.  The voices of the two primary characters are resonant, distinctive, and interesting, and the central conceit of the plot is compelling.  This is the most absorbing piece in the issue on a line-for-line basis, a genuine page-turner that will have readers eager to read more of West’s work.

An impeccably researched tale of the post-Battle-of-Britain standoff between the RAF and the Luftwaffe, full of language that soars in both the literal and figurative sense.  Adamson’s narrative voice, positioned here as a pilot’s memoir, rings with authenticity; in his hands, the technical language of the piece is engaging rather than confusing.  The sensory detail here—the thrum of the airplane engines, the feel of the sheepskin jacket—is impressively rich.  I found myself reminded of the aerial scenes in Dunkirk, and it seems to me that's a pretty good piece of art to be evoking.

Really, though, the narrative style is the star in this one.  Both in the opening half, where combat details alternate with the pilot’s internal narrative, and in the second half, where the protagonist finds himself at sea in an open boat, the writing is reminiscent of Stephen Crane in style and quality. 


All told, StoryHack Action and Adventure #1 is a fun read, a positive manifestation of the new Pulp movement, and well worth your time.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Wizards Die By Stages

You will never achieve the greatness which your talent merits.  Lack of ability is the smallest of the obstacles you face.  Of greater importance are the number of hours in the day and the number of years in a life.  You will spend a third of your life asleep and most of eternity rotting in a pine box.  Your ability to shape the world is determined primarily by your ability to enlist other people as a force multiplier in pursuit of your goals.

In recruiting others, you have two primary options:  force and persuasion.  You can make people DO what you want, or you can make people WANT what you want.  The third method of enlisting others—economic contract—is essentially a combination of the two; you persuade the other party to engage you economically, and entry into the contract enables you to stake a legally enforceable claim to their labor.

Almost every historical figure of importance has been exceptionally skilled at either persuasion, or compulsion, or both.  My life has been spent teaching teenagers to argue, so the persuasion/compulsion dilemma is central to my thinking, and informs a great deal of what I write.

Magic is the great literary work-around where the persuasion/compulsion dilemma is concerned.  Magic radically empowers the individual to pursue his or her goals without help.  I suspect that’s why we’re so enamored of it as readers—we long for that kind of independence, for the ability to reshape reality without having to be bothered with what other people think.  Magic is a free lunch.  It offers us something for nothing.

“Wizards Die By Stages,” currently available to readers at, is an attempt to turn this literary trope on its head.  The story envisions a world in which even magic obeys the central rules of economic interaction—a world in which magic is derived from the labor of intangible, sentient entities, and in which their labor is compelled.

In most economic systems, those riding high on the hog have no real incentive to question the nature of the system from which they benefit, and I see no reason to imagine that magicians would be any different.  It goes without saying, of course, that those who point to the oppression inherent in such systems run into resistance from entrenched interests.  But it only takes one persuasive voice to change the world.  And while compulsion may be the easiest, most cost-free way to control others, persuasion can prove more enduring...

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Hermit Kingdom

Ha-Jun emerged beaming from the rejuvenation room, his robes immaculate, and wended his way back down the corridor past the long, serpentine queue of his patient countrymen.  And there he was…the Glorious Leader!  Standing patiently in line, waiting his turn, between two women who might have been anyone.  There were no bodyguards, no retainers; there was no hubbub of sycophantic attendants.  Merely a young man waiting his turn.

Ha-Jun went to one knee reflexively, preparing to prostrate himself.  “Eternal Sun of Mankind!” he exclaimed.  Above him he heard a chuckle, and he felt a hand upon his shoulder.  He looked up, and the face that stared from a hundred thousand posters was beaming down beatifically at him.  “Not here, my friend,” he intoned.  “There are no outsiders watching.”

The Leader’s hand descended and grasped Ha-Jun’s, hoisted him to his feet.  The line shuffled forwards a bit.  Ha-Jun’s face flushed with embarrassment; seeing this, the Guiding Sun Ray smiled generously and made a dismissive gesture.  The mere wave of his hand banished all shame from Ha-Jun’s heart.  “It is not uncommon among those who have been with us for a while.  So many years of ostentatious display for the sake of foreigners!  It is hard to set aside old habits.”  He raised an eyebrow.  “And you have been with us for a very long while, I imagine?”

Ha-Jun nodded eagerly, swallowed.  “Since…since the beginning, Fate of the Nation.  Since before then.  Back to the Discovery, in fact.” He cleared his throat and saluted.  “I was at your side, on that day.  One of perhaps a dozen…”

The Leader’s brow furrowed as he stared into Ha-Jun’s eyes, then his own eyes went wide.  “Ha-Jun!” he exclaimed.  “You must forgive me!  I did not recognize you!  The one great disadvantage of the process, of course…”  The line inched forwards again.  From the opposite direction came a fresh-faced woman, no doubt on her way to makeup and prosthetics; the two men bowed and pressed themselves flat against the corridor wall, allowing her to pass.  The Leader turned back to Ha-Jun.  “You are looking well, old friend.  How were the waters?”

“They were…”  Ha-Jun was but a simple soldier.  He lacked the words to describe the sensation.  His metabolism utterly changed, every cell cleansed and refreshed, right down to the telomeres in his DNA.  He was, truly, a new man.  “They were youth itself, Beloved Father.”

He smiled, nodded.  “Just so.  Just exactly so.  Good to see you again, old friend.”  He turned back to the line.

Ha-Jun licked his lips.  “I would never dare to monopolize your time, Great Sun of Life, but…er…is it true, what they say?  That the Pool of Radiance is…is being depleted?”

The Leader turned back to him, stone-faced.  Ha-Jun saw the old eyes within the young face, and imagined possibilities flickering behind them.  At length, the Leader turned to the woman behind him, his glance inquiring.  She gave a slight nod, and turned her back.  As if of a single will, those behind her turned their backs as well.

The Leader leaned in close, his voice low.  “It is…somewhat true, old friend.”  He paused.  “At levels barely perceptible to our scientists.  It recharges very slowly, as you know, and there are so many of us now.”  A frown creased his face.  “Not for many years, but…unless the population is carefully managed, we may one day need to consider rationing.”

A sickness crept into Ha-Jun’s soul.  He knew it for what it was.  Man’s most ancient fear.  That most terrible and eternal companion, held at bay for almost seventy years now through the Guiding Son of Heaven’s miraculous discovery.  The skeleton hand reached down the decades to grasp Ha-Jun’s heart, and his grip was cold.

The Leader somehow recognized Ha-Jun’s pain.  “Nothing to be frightened of, old friend.  One day, our scientists will discover the way to accelerate the recharge rate—and on that blessed day, we may share our gift with all the world.  But until that time…careful management is critical.  By whatever means necessary, we must restrict access.”

Ha-Jun nodded.  Few knew this better than he.  “Many years ago, Great Marshall,” he said, “I picked up a rifle.  I put my own gift at risk to keep the secret.  To prevent the discovery of our miracle, that the people might continue to cherish it.  I will carry that rifle, Dear Father, into the future.  For as long as it takes.”  He paused.  “My compliments, Eternal Secretary, on your new face.  The surgeons did their jobs well.”

The Leader’s hand graced his shoulder.  “You are a patriot, Ha-Jun, and a kind man as well.”  He laughed.   “I am glad to be rid of those accursed glasses, at least.  Best of luck to you.”

This time, the dismissal was definitive, but Ha-Jun scarcely noticed.  His heart sang with the Leader’s praise as he marched back up the corridor.  Back to the room where he would set aside these gleaming robes, and don a shabby, threadbare uniform.  Where they would streak his hair with gray, and etch his face with lines, and send him back out into the world.


Cavendish stared through the binoculars, across the DMZ to the border station, where the guard was changing.  “Well, I’ll be damned,” he muttered.  “Look who’s back.”

Smith stared through his own glasses.  “That’s our old friend, sure as hell.  Been gone, what, a month?  I thought we’d seen the last of him.  ‘Reeducation’, or breaking rocks somewhere.  Or just—POW.  Him, and his whole family with him.”

Cavendish shook his head.  “Why do they put up with it?  A slave state, cut off from the rest of the world.  It’s evil, is what it is.”

Smith nodded.  “Brainwashed.  The whole bunch of ‘em.  Steady diet of propaganda.”

Cavendish set the binoculars down.  “Still,” he grumbled.  “You’d think…I dunno.”  He shook his head again.  “So many years.  So much suffering.  After a while, you’d think it would get old.”

Thursday, August 10, 2017


This site was originally composed in order to promote my Young Adult novel "Axis of Eternity" (you can read it, if you wish; the chapter headings are in the sidebar to the right).  The site name, "The Redoubt", came from a specific location in the novel, a cave in which the free-floating souls of the deceased might learn to rebuild their bodies for a second shot at corporeal existence.

The project of writing and attempting to sell that novel taught me a great deal.  Axis died a worthy death after 120+ rejections by agents and publishers.   The story universe lives on in "Monsters in Heaven", a short story which will be released in the January 2018 issue of Broadswords and Blasters. I had great fun with Axis, but it's no longer the centerpiece of my writing, and this site is no longer a "Redoubt" in the sense of the cave in that story.

What IS central to my writing is problematic concepts.  By that I mean:  the deliberate inclusion of material that will discomfort the reader and challenge his/her pre-existing beliefs.

For instance:  I am a cisgender white man who writes stories from the perspectives of other kinds of people--African child soldiers, gay kids, women, what have you.  I make no apology for this.  All identities are intersectional; hence, any attempt to write from any perspective other than the author is going to involve cultural distance.  A world in which nobody is allowed to write as anything other than themselves is a world in which no book can be published in which two characters interact--by definition, one of the two perspectives involved is "appropriated."  I tire of the idea that to research, empathize with, and do honor to another human viewpoint is somehow exploitative.  I choose not to confine myself to the perspectives informed by my direct experience.  If you don't like that, fine; go read something safer.

Moreover:  I write about individual human beings AS individual human beings, not as representatives of groups.  Every character I write is himself or herself, and possessed of particular flaws and foibles.  No one of them is intended as a stand-in or representative of their gender, or sexual orientation, or ideological orientation, or ethnic group.  If the only way you have of dealing with a character is to place them in a category, you have a problem with reading.  That's your issue to deal with.  I won't reshape my characters to make them fit your idea of what's appropriately representative.

This approach to writing is not presently popular in the authorial community.  It makes it difficult for me to sell work.  I can live with that.  What I can't live with is the utterly poisonous environment that crowdsourced policing of modern writing has produced.  The use of social media for "dragging" and gang-swarming of writers and artists who challenge the norms of the moment is indecent and contrary to every principle of creativity and authenticity.  It is an attempt to impose ideological conformity through fear, to replicate the ethic of a high school ruled through peer-shunning by the "cool kids" on a societal level.  History will be brutal, absolutely brutal, in its judgment of those who engage in this practice.

Because I love the world of ideas, my fiction is often based in thought experiments.  I ask questions the implications of which are unpleasant.  What if reading a book could change your sexual orientation?  What if North Korea were secretly the paradise that its government propaganda claims it to be?  What if magic were not only real, but the product of the systematic slavery of an undiscovered set of sentient organisms?  What if the cultural collisions that have driven so many of history's wars were to manifest on an even more massive scale in the afterlife?

There appears to exist a growing school of thought that engaging horrifying ideas through speculative fiction somehow empowers them and creates real-world damage.  This is the mindset of those who react with horror to the idea of a TV show set in a world in which the CSA won the American Civil War.  To folks who believe that, this stuff is going to be unwelcome.  That's their business.  I'm not writing for them.

We do not need Milo Yianoppoulos-style provocateurs who systematically produce outrages in order to monetize them.  But it can't be the case that the only options are that and a constant reaffirmation of the prevailing ethic.  There has to be room in literature for questions that challenge the assumptions of the powerful--and those who define the mores of a community are, by definition, powerful in that context.  There's only one kind of writer I want to be: the kind whom those who set the rules deem "problematic."

So, yeah, I'll own the word "problematic".  "Problem" is just another word for "challenge."  Challenges are good for us.  They keep us sharp.  I hope you find me challenging in the most enjoyable sense of the term.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

What I Learned at the Pulp Revolution

One of the things I’ve learned to love about being published is reading the work of those who are published alongside me.  This is particularly true when the work I'm reading exceeds my own in quality.  One doesn’t need to be the headliner, or to play the lead, to enjoy being part of a terrific collective performance.  The moon is beautiful in itself, but it shines because it’s bathed in the radiance of the sun.

StoryHack Action and Adventure Issue Zero (my God, man, haven’t you read it yet?) contains no weak links, in my opinion.  But every reader will have favorites, and there were three stories in particular that blew me away, and taught me valuable lessons as a writer.

Jay Barnson’s “Dead Last” is wonderfully action-centric; it’s similar stylistically to one of those seven-minute single-camera tracking shots that directors like Scorsese work into their films.  Setting his work in an underworld of magical agencies at cross-purposes, where wizardry and gunfire are equally effective tools, Barnson lights the fuse on page two, and the fireworks don’t end until his final, devilishly brilliant twist.  For a writer like myself who tends to get buried in exposition and world-building, it’s a poignant reminder of the great lesson of the Pulp Revolution:  readers read in order to be entertained.

Julie Frost’s “The Monster Without”, with its morally-centered werewolf private eye, also brings plenty of slam-bang action to the table.  Yet it’s in the quiet moments that Frost truly excels; the story is at least equally effective as a reflection on the importance of family, and as a portrait of an ex-soldier struggling with PTSD.  Pulp fiction at its best is not a comic book, in which the consequences of violence can be brushed off or “retconned” away.  Frost’s hero, like those of Joe Abercrombie, bears scars both physical and psychological, and pays a substantial price for the life that his code compels him to lead.  Frost reminds us:  a story’s not about what it’s about, it’s about who it’s about.

Meanwhile, Shannon Connor Winward, author of the cranium-cracking “Daughter of Heaven”, obliterates utterly the false distinction between the pulp and the literary.  In leading the reader on a chase across the colonies and craters of Mars, Winward conjures up horizon-spanning visions and strings together sentences that would be award-worthy in any publication.  I dare you, reader, I double-dog dare you, to stare with Winward’s protagonist into the skies above Tikhonravov crater and manage to keep your jaw from dropping open.  Winward’s story is a master class in imagery, and crushes any illusion that pulp holds writers to a lower standard where wordsmithery is concerned.

What a treat to read such a collection.  And what an honor to be included!  It’s these achievements that a new writer clings to as the rejection notices pile up in glacial stacks.  If I am thought worthy to share the company of these artists—published novelists, Writers of the Future winners, celebrated generals in the #PulpRevolution—then there must be something in me worth developing.  The sidehustle is still on; the dream is still worth chasing.

If support for the arts is important, then the StoryHack Kickstarter is a worthy means of doing so.  I was delighted to donate, and to offer a new set of pulp writers the same opportunity I was afforded.  Perhaps you’ll choose to do so as well.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Meet the Menagerie

I read to be entertained. 

I read to escape. 

I read pulp.

Catch me at a debate tournament and you’ll likely find me in the school library, where results are being tabulated.  Catch me in that library and you’ll watch me walk right by stacks of quality literature to pick up a graphic novel.  I actively prefer YA to adult fiction.  Given the choice between a new Aliette de Bodard release and a Heinlein I’ve read three times, I’ll likely reach for the Heinlein.  I recognize that my tastes as a reader limit my ability to write for upscale markets, but I can’t apologize for it.  It’s who I am, and who I’ve always been.

My principal introduction to the writing of fiction was through “efeds,” which are, roughly speaking, exercises in competitive mosaic fiction.  The game master sets up a scenario, the writers adopt various characters and turn them loose in the scenario, and everyone produces individual story segments featuring their own character existing and changing the story universe, but all while confined by the events and changes created by previous characters.  This format, as you might guess, is better-suited to slam-bang action than carefully constructed plots.  I played in efeds which placed the players in the roles of hired mercenaries, superheroes, and even professional wrestlers.  It was pulp.  I loved creating it.

Pulp hasn’t got the market presence it once had, in part because its core market has been captured by video games and by serial novels set in video game universes.  But there are, as it turns out, readers who long for the literary conventions of yesteryear.  Signalling their affiliation under the hashtag #PulpRevolution, they’ve been gaining ground over the last two years or so, opening up new venues for old-school, action-centric work.  One of those venues, Cirsova, even picked up a Hugo nomination this year.

I dreamed, one night, of Amelia Owen, Countess of Basingstoke.  She appeared in a gown, sitting in an ornate Victorian parlor, spinning an antique globe with a dreamy smile playing about her lips.  I awoke knowing that she was the protagonist of a story—but what story?  Certainly a pulp adventure of the old school—something along the lines of what H. Rider Haggard would have dreamed up.  Certainly she’d be the center of a motley band of ruffians and rogues, all of them outcasts, but each of them admirable in their own way.  Eventually it became clear to me that they were Queen Victoria’s cleanup crew—that Her Majesty was secretly ashamed of the atrocities of empire, and occasionally found it necessary to intervene directly in order to right the worst wrongs of colonialism.  Lady Amelia and her menagerie were to be the Queen’s hand, deployed to work Her Majesty’s secret will, and to bend the arc of empire towards justice.

Was this a novel?  A series of novels?  Alas, after the donnybrook that was Axis of Eternity, I didn’t feel I had another one in me, at least not for a while.  But the story wanted out of my head, and was not to be denied.  So over a couple of weeks, with no realistic prospect of publication, I splattered an eight-thousand word initial adventure into my word processor.  And then I left them there for a couple of years while I strove to write something I could sell.

The literary market is a funny thing.  While I butted my head against numerous brick walls trying to get the rest of my work into print, the #PulpRevolution was steadily brewing in the background.  Enter, at this stage, Mr. Bryce Beattie, proprietor of the widely-read blog StoryHack.  The revolution had called out to him, and like Lady Amelia herself, he was putting together a menagerie—a collection of talented ruffians, proper tools for a black task.

I made the cut.  Given the superior credentials of literally every other writer in StoryHack Action and Adventure Issue Zero, I don’t quite know how.  I’m batting ninth, no question.  But I have a bat in my hands, and I’m appearing for a hell of a team.

I have, therefore, the privilege of introducing Amelia Owen, Lady Basingstoke, a young woman of breeding and refinement with a most improper appetite for adventure.  Meet also John Runciter, disgraced courtier and alleged sodomite, and his ward Jack, an orphan boy from the streets of New Orleans with a talent for elusion.  Meet the giantess Fatima.  Meet Sergeant Declan Curragh, dishonorably discharged hero of Balaclava.  Meet Doctor Lemuel Lepellimer, genius inventor and incorrigible pyromaniac.  A varied menagerie of ghastly beasts, to be sure…but where civilization fails, beasts reign supreme.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Let There Be Pulp!

A brief welcome to fans of StoryHack Action and Adventure, an exciting new publication featuring old-school pulp fiction.  Therein you will find the strong-jawed detectives, the grizzled warriors and eldritch wizards, the steely-eyed spacemen, two-fisted men of the west, cunning adventurers, and intrepid explorers you feared literature had lost track of.

I'm honored to have my tale of Victorian adventure, "Menagerie," among the selections in Issue Zero.  Expect to hear more about this story, the magazine, and about what you can do to ensure that you have subsequent issues to eagerly devour, as release draws near.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Making March Madness Even Madder

The opening weekend of the NCAA tournament remains my favorite weekend of the sports calendar.  However, there’s always controversy to contend with, and nowhere is this controversy more prominent than in the seeding of the teams at the event.

Wichita State is the perennial cause celebre, of course.  In spite of a continual record of success at the tournament, many see them as a team which the selection committee perpetually underseeds.  Last year’s team barely made the tournament as an 11-seed, then won both their play-in game and their second-round game against six seed Arizona.  This year’s edition won as a 10-seed against 7-seed Dayton.  There are other examples, of course, usually amongst teams from so-called “mid-major” conferences.

I know of no way to eliminate seeding controversies entirely, nor to alleviate the difficulties associated with choosing which teams to admit to the field.  But I do have an idea for making the process more interesting and entertaining.  Let’s adopt the “challenge format” that certain competitive debate tournaments have chosen.  Let’s allow the top seeds to select their first round opponents.

The system would work as follows.

1.  Narrow the field to 64 teams (or, if we must, hold the appalling “play in games” and set the challenge bracket immediately following).

2.  The selection committee should seed their top 32 teams as per standard procedure—1 through 8 seeds in four regionals, with a specific designation as to which is the “top” through “bottom” among the 1s, 2s, and so on.  Result is an ordinal list of the top 32.  Remaining 32 “low seeds” in an at-large pool.

3.  All coaches of the top 32 teams are gathered together at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, MO for a Pay-Per-View spectacular:  the Coaches vs. Cancer Selection Show, with all revenue (minus the NCAA’s 15% commission, of course) going to the aforementioned charity.

4.  Beginning with the coach of the top one-seed, the coaches are marched to a podium and forced to SELECT their first round opponent, NCAA draft style.  The moment a selection is made, the next coach goes on a five-minute clock.

5.  Failure to choose an opponent within the time allotted results in a random draw of the opponent—and the opponent then gets to disqualify one player of their choice from the higher seed’s roster for the game in question.

Can it happen?  No way in hell.  The coaching fraternity would never let it happen, for reasons of “respect”.  But IMAGINE THE CARNAGE, my friends.  Imagine Bill Self sweating out the choice of which small-conference tournament champion he’s going to call out, providing them a massive incentive to become the first 16-seed to topple a one.  Imagine Mike Kryzewski going back to Raleigh-Durham to explain to his trustees how his perpetually overseeded blue bloods just managed to blow a round one game to an opponent he was allowed to choose.  Imagine Rick Pitino standing at the podium and calling out his own son’s team.

And imagine Wichita State sitting there every year, waiting for their name to be called…and waiting…and waiting…until the final eight seed stands at the podium and says, “well, Wichita State, I guess.  I hate this goddamn format.”

Tell me you wouldn't pony up $19.95 to watch this live.

No, it’ll never happen.

But by God, it SHOULD.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

In which I exploit a tragedy in order to make people read a chapter of my failed novel

Celebrity deaths became something of a national fetish last year.  I remember taking to social media to mock the phenomenon, accusing the mourners of concern trolling, only to be stopped short the next day by the death of Richard Adams, who wrote Watership Down, a book I greatly valued as an adolescent.

I do think that some celebrity deaths, however, are objectively more tragic than others.  Those who die young, even as a result of bad decisions, never have the opportunity to develop their talents to the fullest extent, or to outgrow the traits that bring them pain.  Yordano Ventura, who died today at the age of 25, was one such individual.  In his short life, he demonstrated loyalty, compassion, and tremendous talent.  Having been brought together by the Kansas City Royals’ two recent pennant drives--both of which are owed in no small part to Ventura's contributions—the community mourns him today.

Kansas City has lost our share of athletic celebrities over the years; maybe a bit more than our share.  Joe Delaney was the one that impacted me most profoundly—I was 11 at the time—but there have been others.  Derrick Thomas.  Mack Lee Hill.  Dick Howser.

We all mourn in different ways.  I mourn, in part, by writing.  My failed YA novel, Axis of Eternity—yes, I’m aware that sounds like an off-brand cologne—involves a world in which humans both famous and obscure are reborn on a new world shorn of their earthly memories.  One of the more enjoyable aspects of writing the book was the opportunity to load it up with some of my favorite minor historical figures.  Buck O’Neill, a Kansas City baseball legend, plays a prominent supporting role.  Harriet Tubman’s there, too.  Angus McCaskill.  Others.

In one of my favorite chapters, a supporting character introduces the protagonist to the game of soccer.  His memory of the game’s rules isn’t quite perfect, but this in no way diminishes his enthusiasm.  I took the opportunity to load up the match with several of my favorite deceased Kansas City sports figures, along with some other personages of minor import.  Read it here, if you wish.  Kansas City sports fans of a certain age might recognize a few old friends. 

Should I ever get around to redrafting the thing, I’m sure the scene’ll involve a cameo appearance by a firey young man known to the citizens of Haven as “Angry Yordano.”


Thursday, January 19, 2017


I am interested in resistance to Donald Trump’s agenda, particularly where it impacts upon individual liberties. I suspect that my view of resistance is different than that of other Trump opponents. My priorities are that resistance be:

1. EFFECTIVE. I want to prevent Donald Trump from using government force to quash individuals. I’m not going to settle for less than this or for alternatives to this. I am not interested in “taking a stand” for its own sake, in “making my voice heard”, or in being seen as virtuous. For me, achieving none of these things while blocking federal action is superior to doing all of these things without blocking federal action.

2. PERSUASIVE. I am interested in Donald Trump’s supporters—in their concerns and welfare and in their right to express their sentiments. I am interested in seeing them brought back into the fold of civic discourse and into the body politic. To the extent that they have been victimized by cultural and economic trends that benefit the elite, I am interested in ameliorating their pain. I don’t think the road to a better America involves these people being “defeated” in a political sense. I have never heard of a person changing their mind as a result of being scorned or screamed at. This may be therapeutic, but it doesn't advance the goal.

3. HONORABLE. If American civic discourse is unpleasant or joyless, people will decline to participate in it. If the majority of people decline to participate in civic discourse it will be dominated by those who are willing to endure a joyless environment for the sake of power. This has proven a bad model for the selection of leaders. Donald Trump has increased the toxicity of civil discourse. I don’t wish to further that toxicity or to be a participant in the outrage economy. It’s unhelpful in the short term and only produces new Trumps in the long term.

That's where I'm at. If what you're looking for is displays of performative wokeness such as anti-Trump poems or angry petitions opposing the publication of books by alt-right figures, you've come to the wrong place.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Crowd Pleaser

I was surprised by how quickly they broke me.  I had thought I was mentally tough, inured against arguments and criticism.  It turns out that my toughness was a veneer.  The Crowd Pleaser—you know him as that guy who writes short stories and shuffles them off into the aether in the vain hope of publication--had always been lurking close to the surface of my soul, longing for the approval of his audience.  And now, faced with a cavalcade of boos, he’s sulking backstage, unsure of whether to venture out again, and unclear on where to find a different crowd.


I was always a competitor as a kid, but never an athlete.  My venue has always been competitive speech and debate.  I was very, very successful in high school, a two-time All-American and one of the best in my generation in the state of Kansas.  I found in the community of debaters a set of kindred souls, people with whom I could work in a spirit of mutual appreciation.  After a mediocre college career and a brief and disastrous foray into journalism, I pursued a teaching degree and became a debate coach.

I’ve been both good and bad at my job; quite good at my peak (multiple state champions and national medalists as recently as 2010) and quite bad lately.  The cutting edge of competitive debate is forged at the college level.  It tends to be a young person’s game.  For a while, I was that young person.  Later, I employed a few.  But my grip on the intricacies of debate theory slipped appreciably when postmodern philosophy and critical race theory, as opposed to policy analysis, became pivotal to the game.  Nor, as the demographics of my school changed, were my students able to spend thousands of dollars on summer institutes where they could learn from the top minds in the activity.  So I dropped behind the curve.  As I did so, I began to see the game with a different set of eyes.

For as long as there has been competitive policy debate, there have been outsiders within the broader community—kids whose skills, resources, time obligations or commitment level didn’t make it possible to succeed in the elite realms of the activity, where speech at upwards of 350 words per minute and reams and reams of expert evidence are the norms.  Their voice within the game is pretty slight, largely because the game self-selects its participants after a certain point.  Very few people are willing to stay around for a long time in the role of cannon fodder.  Fewer still are willing to do this when the activity becomes—and this is not too strong a description—vicious in terms of individual behavior and interpersonal courtesy.  Rounds at the top level are judged by former competitors who care for substantive argumentation more than for the norms of public discourse.  The competitors who succeed in this environment become tomorrow’s judges.  The spiral builds upon itself, until the elite rounds are in many cases brutal exercises in toxic masculinity.  Much lip service is paid to stamping out the uglier side of the game.  Explicit sexism and racism are rejected—the community is overwhelmingly politically progressive.  But in the end, the norms are defined by the survivors, and competitive rounds become increasingly unkind environments.  Even elite talents leave—but once they’re gone, their concerns by definition cease to matter.

As I became an outsider for the first time, I started to want to work towards the creation of an environment in which more traditional, delivery-oriented styles of debate could be rewarded—to create an enclave in which courtesy could thrive alongside analytical rigor.

But I also wanted to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of the hardcore members of the Kansas debate community as they strove to win the state’s first-ever national championship in policy debate—to honor the kid and the coach I once was.  And to that end, I implemented several projects, such as the bid tracker which honors recipients of bids to the DCI, Kansas’s elite debate event.  And, more notably, the Kansas HS Debate twitter feed, @KSDebate.


The concept of debate community within Kansas had always been important to me.  My most cherished memory as a high school competitor was of the “War Room” at the 1989 National Tournament in which Kansas teams which had formerly gone head-to-head joined forces to elevate one of their own to the brink of a national title.  In 2007 the experiment was repeated; I was part of the operation as a coach and saw one of my own teams elevated into the top ten and another school’s repeat the 1989 achievement by reaching finals.

The time seemed right to bind together the broader community in pursuit of the top prize.  Other coaches were better at the tactical side of the game—sharing information, plotting strategies—so I dedicated myself to creating a mechanism by which common achievements could be shared in real time.  Twitter was still new at that time.  @KSDebate was born.  The account served as a common clearinghouse for results which were sent in by national tournament competitors and coaches in real time.  For the first time, there was one place to go to know how all of “team Kansas” was doing.

As the site grew, it became a place to share results of important invitationals as well—DCI bid qualifiers, DCI itself, the various state tournaments, out of state “national circuit” events.  Fans of the activity had in most cases gained the ability to follow their own squads, or those of their friends, through individual team Twitter accounts.  Now, through the collective account, they could follow other Kansas teams as well.  It did not occur to me, at the time, that people might not particularly care to do so—I assumed that everyone was rooting for everyone else.

There is, of course, an old aphorism about what happens when you assume.


The issue that had ultimately proved fatal to my career as a journalist was an inability to confine myself to the facts.  In stories about people in panda suits serving as school crossing guards, about social service outreach for the hearing impaired, about mock elections for elementary school students, I was constantly spicing up the writing through the insertion of material that made the story feel more “complete” to me.  It was never anything so obviously unethical as a fabricated quote; indeed, I got in considerably more trouble for quoting people accurately than anything else.  Instead, it was the “connective tissue” of the stories—the supporting facts of news events that seemed necessary for people to understand the events in question, and which I therefore offered by way of explanation, only to discover that my assumptions had been inaccurate.  I had been lazy.  I hadn’t fact checked.  I had allowed my desire to entertain my audience, to be recognized as a “good writer,” to wreck me.

As a Twitter account manager, I was rarely factually inaccurate.  But I was also unable to restrain my urge to entertain.  And entertainment, to me, was pointing to what I saw as the flaws and foibles of the debate community.

However lighthearted my intent, people do not enjoy having their tournament errors and political beliefs held up to mockery in an arena allegedly dedicated to “building community”.  Over time, I received more than one “stick to the facts” response to these commentaries.  I ignored them.  Grudges developed.  I made enemies of whom I was unaware.

I was also making enemies on another front.


As my own squad descended into decrepitude, as the game left me further and further behind, I became more and more concerned for the plight of those kids whom cutting edge debate had also left behind.  Funny, isn’t it, how our circle of compassion manages to extend to people like ourselves, but not an inch further?

The Debate Coaches Invitational meeting discussed the possibility of restoring a “traditional” debate division for students interested in a moderate rate of delivery and evaluation by parents, teachers, and other “nonexperts”.  Preeminent in the rationale of the proponents was an alternative to the casual cruelty which they—which WE—saw as common in bleeding-edge policy debate.  A broad consensus initially supported the concept of a new tournament along these lines.  The devil was in the details. Concerns about what, exactly, the tournament would look like killed the plan.  The coaches’ vote on the eventual formal proposal was evenly split, and hence, the proposal failed.

A large number of coaches, myself included, were outraged by this.  It occurred to me that it was unfair to ask next year’s seniors to lose their opportunity at recognition so that the coaches could feel 100% comfortable with the specifics of change.  It struck me as a paradoxically conservative behavior for such a politically progressive bunch—using fear of radical change as an excuse to ensure that the fruits of success were concentrated in the hands of their current owners.

I acted.  I created a social media group dedicated to the creation of a tournament to recognize traditional debaters.  A number of coaches coalesced around the idea, and recognizing the increasing toxicity of my own personal brand within the community (and my inability to work well with others), I elected to step aside and leave the event in their hands.  They’ve done quite well; the first championship is a sizable event among excellent teams and will be contested this coming weekend.

I did not understand how powerful the backlash against my behavior would be.  I cannot say in retrospect that I shouldn’t have acted as I did, but I should have been smarter about the anger I was generating.  People who’d held the monopoly on the recognition of “elite” debate in Kansas were seeing their authority diffused, usurped by a new gang who couldn’t compete at their game and who were, therefore, largely unworthy of respect.  A couple of those who'd objected were elite coaches, but a larger number were members of the college debate community--recent graduates who serve as assistant coaches and frequent judges, and who are in all reality the arbitrers of the “good” within Kansas debate.

It is not without justification that they fill this role.  The increased involvement of college debaters in the direct training of high school debaters has been the one indispensable element in the rise of Kansas debate to national prominence.  Head coaches commonly defer to them in questions of argumentative strategy and in-round behavior.  The collegians do the job they are called upon to do, and achieve the results they are told to achieve.  They arbitrate the important rounds, and decide what’s worthy of praise and what’s worthy of scorn.  And as time goes by, our community becomes more like theirs; closer to the cutting edge.

And the students, taught from their earliest days to revere the collegians as role models and heroes, trained by them at summer institutes and prepped by them for elimination rounds at in-season tournaments—well, the students are THEIRS.  They absorb both the collegians' tactics and their politics, and above all their assumptions about the good.  They become the leaders of the community, and the definers of what is in and out of bounds.

It should be stressed:  the collegians do none of this with the intention of gaining or wielding power.  They do it for the same reason I did it at the same age, and for the same reason I created the Twitter account:  to serve their community.  Theirs are the noblest of reasons. 

But their definition of the community, I would eventually come to realize, were narrower than mine.  And their norms were never my norms.

A couple of the collegians reacted to the creation of the traditional debate championship with public explosions of rage, expressed in social media.  A couple of others seethed silently and took passive-aggressive swipes at the rationale of the event when the opportunity arose.  A few, I think, took note of me, and of my role in the creation of this event and in social media, and wondered why an old man whose time had passed was presuming to speak for Kansas Debate.

I wonder now if it was evident to others how much anger I had created, how many people—students, college assistants, head coaches--chafed at what they saw as my arrogance.  It was invisible to me.  I thought I was serving the community.

A more professional individual could have kept the plates spinning longer.  Not forever, I don’t think, but for a while longer.

But I am not, at my core, much of a professional.  I had to express myself.  I had to be The Crowd Pleaser.


My Christmas tweet at @KSDebate, since deleted:  “Merry Christmas!  Remember, it’s distasteful to respond to Santa’s “Ho Ho Ho” with a feminism K.”

Fairly innocuous on its surface, I think.  And actually pretty clever, in a subtle way.  It points to the inability of some self-described feminists to distinguish actual oppression—including directly sexist discourse—from harmless behaviors that share similar appearances.  It's a behavior that produces a less effective feminism, one that comes across as spiteful and mirthless.  And the best bit of the joke is:  if you treat the joke as sexist, if you fail to understand how a guttural expression of amusement is not the same thing as a slur aimed at women, you give evidence of the exact inability to make distinctions that the joke references.  You make yourself the butt of the joke.

I thought so, anyway, I STILL think so, in fact.

But then, I saw the joke through a different lens than others did.

Specifically:  I didn’t see myself as a patriarchal figure wielding arbitrary authority through the power of a Twitter account, actively seeking to control and undermine other people’s discourse.  Those who DID see me that way read the tweet…well…differently.  With a great deal of rage and anger.  “Merry Christmas to everyone but you!  Choke on it!”  And plenty more, in the same vein.

I still did not understand how other people’s perception of the power dynamics involved differed from my own.  I saw myself as a minority figure challenging a majority view through humor.  I thought I was the rebel alliance.  They saw me as the Death Star, out to kill feminism.

The intention of the account was to unify the debate community.  I was, instead, creating friction and pain.  On Christmas day, no less.  That hadn’t been what I wanted.  I deleted the Tweet to prevent others from having their enjoyment ruined by it.  To those who were bothered, this wasn’t an effort at amelioration.  It was an effort to cover up evidence of my crime.

I took a break from Twitter to re-evaluate.  I would seek consensus the next time out.  I would try to make reference to the common activity, to the bond which, whatever our political and philosophical differences, produced us all.  To the history of the game that made us what we were.  For once, no comedy.  I would seek to restore community.


New Year’s Day.  A fresh start.  And a post at another popular account asking who should be inducted into a hypothetical Kansas Debate Hall of Fame.

Perfect.  The history of Kansas debate is kind of my specialty.  I think it is probably fair to say that I have studied it as thoroughly, and know it as intimately, as any man living.  I can tell you who won the inaugural Kansas state debate championship in 1911.  I can name every member of the five Kansas teams that have contested the NFL national title.  I had something to contribute here.

Moreover, I had been reading the online discussions related to the baseball Hall of Fame, and the questions associated with induction and character.  Do you let in the steroid cheats?  What about the overt criminals and perjurers?  What case do you make to exclude them in a world where Ty Cobb, an inveterate racist who once beat up a double amputee, was a first-ballot Hall of Famer?

There were all sorts of interesting issues to be debated.  Here we go!  Here’s my contribution.  The first of five posts:  the coaches’ wing of the Kansas Debate Hall of Fame as I’d envision authorities creating it.

All extraordinarily successful coaches.  Some of the I cut at the last minute were those of legends.

The final name on the list is that of Richard Young.  A good case can be made for him as the most successful coach in Kansas history.  More than any coach in the state’s history, he won regardless of conditions.  In western Kansas at schools with less than 200 students, at the state’s largest inner city high schools, and everywhere in between—the state’s most consistent and inevitable winner.

And a convicted serial rapist of children whose conviction was later overturned on a technicality.

Which was, in all probability, why he coached in so many places.  Why he couldn’t keep a job in spite of all the winning. Unbeknownst to us all, he was being passed like a bad penny from district to district by cowardly administrators who wanted him gone but wouldn’t put themselves at risk of a lawsuit by telling the next set of administrators why.

I suppose I could argue that I hadn’t been thinking of this fact when I composed and narrowed my list.  But that would be a lie.  I had.  I included him because I believed that we were debaters setting the terms for a debate.  I had provided a list of those coaches who would have been inducted under the terms used by professional sports halls of fame.  But that had not been the prompt I was answering.  I had answered a prompt that asked who I PERSONALLY WOULD INDUCT by saying I would induct Richard Young.

The first person to reply to this tweet was, very possibly, the best assistant coach in Kansas.  One of those college kids, in fact.  Assistant coach of his own brother, who had won last year’s national championship—yes, after a hundred years, Kansas debate had finally climbed that mountain!

The last name of this coach, and of his champion brother, was that of their father.  Their father had changed his own name from “Young” because of the absolute havoc that Richard Young’s behavior—including, according to trial testimony, incestuous homosexual rape—had wrought upon their family.

The post I’d lightheartedly proffered for debate and discussion was predicated on the greatest personal tragedy of this coach's father’s life.

“Utterly disgusting and indefensible,” he called it.  And as I read, and realized, and felt my body go numb in response, I could not disagree.

It could not possibly be the case, could it, that people who I’d been working to serve for so long—the community I’d sought to build—thought I was celebrating child rape?  SURELY the context was clear?

Well…I don’t have permission to post the responses.  But you can go through them on your own, if you wish, and count the likes.

I had, of course, failed to bargain with a number of factors.  One of which is—and I will be blunt here, because I will defend the truth of this argument to the death—is the very nature of Twitter.  When I initially joined it with the idea of creating an instantaneous outlet for debate results, Twitter was broadly seen as a means by which live news could be shared.  Today, it is an integral part of the outrage economy, and a means to generate support via virtue signaling.  And oh, my, hadn’t I opened the door to that.  The counter-tweets went viral, and the enemies of rape culture swarmed, eager to outdo one-another.  There were a lot of good arguments about how my initial post was Flawed and Wrong, some of which I myself quickly came to endorse.  But there was also a BLIZZARD of virtue-signaling and like-trolling. 

I had acted callously.  But I had relied upon the assumption that readers would assume my good faith at the outset; that it would be understood that I was one of the “good guys”.  A guy who’d worked for seven years to glorify the accomplishments of Kansas debaters, including and especially women in the activity.  I had thought that was how I was broadly seen.

But I was wildly wrong.  I had given too many people too many different reasons to question my motives.  I was broadly seen as a vainglorious popinjay with no meaningful recent achievements who wielded his Twitter feed as a stick to hit kids with.  And in particular, I was seen by many among the college cohort as a broken-down old-schooler who was engaged in an active attempt to undermine the achievements of the state’s elite contemporary debaters.

And there would be no presumptions of good faith on my part.

None whatsoever.

“Rape apologist.”


“Everything that’s wrong with Kansas Debate.”

And the poll, responded to by a healthy chunk of the community, advocating my “removal” as sponsor of the Kansas Debate feed—the one I’d created from scratch and built over seven years.  I have no idea what that "removal" was supposed to entail, whether they had in mind some kind of impeachment procedure or whether they thought a twitter account was an actual physical location that I could be hoisted out of with a crane, or what.  In any event, the proposition passed by a margin exceeding that of the Johnson-Goldwater election.

I was surprised by how quickly they broke me.  By how fragile I turned out to be.  By the descent of insomnia, and by how much I came to dread each new chime from my cell phone as a tweet came in.  By how much I took all of it to heart—not just the rational objections, of which there were several but also the stuff that was just plain dumb: the ludicrous overreactions, the assertions of hidden motives by people I’d never even met.  I was surprised by what I saw, at the time, as the undoing of everything I'd sought to build, based on the inclusion of a single name in a single tweet.

I was wrong, of course.  The tweet struck the match.  But the kindling had been piling up for years.

The Crowd Pleaser had been present always, eager for everyone’s applause.  He had been sure that his attempts at cleverness had been appreciated—not by all, maybe, but surely by most?  In his version, others saw his antics as he saw them—as an effort to pay back and glorify the community that had nurtured him, rather than as an artifact of ego.

Like a shitty journalist, The Crowd Pleaser invented facts to suit the story he wanted people to buy. 


At the end of the day, there was no possible way to recover even a semblance of good faith.  It all had to go.

You can read the post here, on the site which I originally created to track the DCI bids of the state’s most elite, modern, cutting-edge teams.  It went up a few hours after the initial disastrous tweet—long before the majority of the tweet hurricane unfolded, but far too late to make any difference.

I don’t have much to add to it.  The reasoning of the tweet was dumb and careless for the reasons listed.  The apology will be proffered.  The relationship to the broader community is changed in ways I cannot yet guess at, and the Twitter site is ended.  The college kid who’s building a new site for the same purpose is actually going to do a very good job, I think.  He’s always been invested the glory of the Kansas debate community and worked to support it at every level, including those elements that don’t share his stylistic preferences or ideology.  And he's a smart kid.  He’ll make better decisions than I did.

DCI is next week.  I have to be there because my novices are competing at an event at the same site.  I have never in my life so dreaded the prospect of walking into a building and looking people in the face.  I don’t say this out of shame, because few of my actions have actually been shameful.  They have, however, been delusional.  My eyes are open, and I dread what they’ll see—particularly when I see my reflection in the eyes of others.

I don’t know what I do next.  Debate in some form, probably.  Certainly I want to teach young people how to persuade and how to argue while at the same time rejecting spite, cruelty, and moral certainty.  In spite of the letters and emails they’ve received, my administrators seem inclined to keep me on as coach.  Maybe I will have to build something completely new.  A new way of thinking about debate.  A new activity.  A new community.

I’ll think on it.  And, in my spare time: more writing.  Perhaps a tragedy, this time.  The story of a guy who sets out to do good, but who’s undone by blindness to the flaws in his own nature.

But then, I've been writing that book for a long time.