A Superhero Name

In order to be a successful superhero, the superhero candidate must have a sexy name. It’s absolutely required. Jimmy Olsen can be named Jimmy Olsen. Lois Lane can be Lois Lane. Alfred can be Alfred. But Superman must be Superman and Batman must be Batman. Otherwise no one would take them seriously.

Unfortunately all the sexy names were taken when Fish Guy was ready to graduate from Superhero U. Sure, he had played on the football team. Sure, he was graduating valedictorian. But Fish Guy just wouldn’t do for a name. Even though he was Big Man on Campus, the alumni and parents just laughed when one of his fellow students said the name “Fish Guy”.

In all the years of Superhero U, not one superhero had graduated without an appropriate name. If the word got out that Fish Guy was the latest, and greatest, of the school’s graduates, the public would laugh themselves into early graves.

The President of the school and the Faculty Council knew the consequences if they didn’t come up with a name that matched Fish Guy’s status as the latest and the greatest. They would be out of business. The new Paladin School for Champions had been recruiting many of the Potentials lately. If Superhero U didn’t face this crisis head on, they would have to close their doors. Parents would be  just too embarrassed to send their child to such a disaster.

After months of racking their brains, the Administration finally decided they needed a crisis management team. They chose the dream team of dream teams, X-cel Plus, Inc. If anybody could solve the dilemma, they could. After all, they had changed Heracles to Hercules. When Brutus came calling, they chose the  Ides of March for assassination day for Julius Caesar. When the Cleopatra team asked, they substituted an asp for arsenic. After all, if you’re a queen, you  want to go out with a bang. And they had made Lucretia Borgia the envy of her colleagues. Stabbing a person just wasn’t done if you were looking for a good rep. Poison it had be, and poison it was.

Originally Bill Shakespeare was known as “Just Plain Bill”. Bill came to X-cel Plus, Inc. They suggested “The Bard of Avon”. They said, “Now no one will ever call you Shakes again and use it derogatorily as in ‘I’ll be there in two Shakes.'” As you can see, the Bard of Avon is so much sexier than Two Shakes. From that point on, his plays were standing room only.

“But have you done anything lately?” President Positron asked.

“Waterloo. Wellington had chosen Brussels. We said no. No one would take the phrase ‘he met his Brussels’ seriously.”

“But anything since?”

“We were responsible for the Fab Four name for the Beatles and the phrase ‘British Invasion’. It’s amazing how much those two terms netted the British government in tourism dollars. You name the term, and we probably invented it.”

“So what did you have in mind?”

“We’ve given it a great deal of thought. At least, two hours. We took several polls. Tried out Merman on the public. People walked away shaking their heads. There was The Atlantaean. They just scratched their heads confused. Then we took The Swimmer out for a ride. It got a 52% approval. Not good enough. And the women didn’t swoon when they heard it.”

“I guess we just can’t let Fish Guy graduate.”

“No,” X-cel Plus shouted. “For heaven’s to Betsy, no. I’m not through”

“Continue then.”

“We tried Water Boy, Sea Weed, Gill Man. Nothing worked. Maybe okay for villains but not a superhero. Then one of our clerical workers piped up with the perfect name. It was so good we’ve made her head of our PR department.”

“What was it?” There was a great deal of impatience in the President’s voice. There was such tension in the air as the President and the Faculty Council were on the edge of their seats.

“Since it was her idea, we’ve asked Iris to do the honors. Iris?”

Iris stepped forward. If ever there was a business suit, it was the dark blue suit she wore. Her face was painted with such seriousness the President and the Faculty knew how serious she was.

“Over the past two weeks,” her soft soprano said. “we tested this up and down America from sea to shining sea and the responses have been 99% in favor. On hearing the name, women have swooned. Men have said that they would want this guy on their team. The name is…drum roll please.”

“Get on with it,” one of the Faculty Council urged.

“The name is Aqua Dude.”

The name hit the President and the Faculty like a ton of bricks. Before they knew what they were doing, they were on their feet applauding.

When the applause had quieted down, Iris continued, “There’s more.”

“More?” President Positron asked, a big grin on his face.

“What’s an AD without a BC. Aqua Dude has sidekicks. They are the Beef Cakes.”

And so that is how Aqua Dude and the Beef Cakes came to rein over the Seven Seas, pursuing Truth and Justice and distributing sea sick  pill to all in distress.

The Beast That Is Nanowrimo

PrintI completed 55,004 words last Saturday to qualify for Nanowrimoship. A good deal of the month I worked on back story and extracurricular scenes for the novel I began in November. I wrote six chapters toward the final product. I plan on continuing with 500 – 1000 words a day until I have completed a first draft. The nice thing was that I gave myself permission to write a Titanic load of unreadable crap. 

Having done my Nanowrimo this year, I have come up with an image that kind of goes along with the exercise. Writing a nanowrimo is like riding a bull or a bronco at a rodeo. You get on, then you are in for a wild ride. And it ain’t like riding that mechanic bull you see in some bars. This one’s wild as wildness can be. He’s bound and determined you ain’t going to get far on his back.

That’s why the prize money for bull riding is good and the respect you get from your peers is second to none. You’re a champion indeed if you can stay on even for eight seconds. It’s like John Lennon said in the song, “Christ, you know it ain’t easy.” Or Ringo sang, “It don’t come easy.” That’s the way it is with the bull we call Nanowrimo.

No matter how you practice for that sucker, it ain’t like riding the real thang. You get on, then the chute opens and you’re in for the write of your life. I ought to know. I’ve done four of ‘em. Nanowrimos, that is. Not bull rides or bronc bustings. I may be a little nuts but I’m not crazy, you know.

I started out well enough. October 31 I had my spurs and my chaps all ready to saddle up and write that fellow into the dust. I had my outline. I had pictures of my main characters. I knew who they were and they knew who I was. And to cliché a phrase, I was chomping at the bit to get at that Nanowrimo. He was not about to best me this year. Sure, he was a little red-eyed and had that snarl. That’s to be expected.

So it was Sunday morning, November 1, and I rose from my bed. I grabbed my big mug of coffee. One thing was for sure. I knew I wasn’t going to get a good ride out of that bull without a cup of joe. I strapped on my chaps and my spurs and headed for the chute. I lowered myself easy to the chair, then I faced the future. The blank page.

I checked out my outline. I perused my notes. The bull just wasn’t ready to fly from the chute. He’d gone tame on me. What was I to do? Go choose another bull. It was too late. It was this one or it was nothing. Well, you can imagine my surprise when I found my way to getting this bull to get up and go.

I started on a scene not in the outline. “What? You can’t do that,” you say. But, oh, I can. It is written by the scribe who writes such things that I can. I took a gander at my outline and started to wander what really happened to get this booger going. Why was Mr. Main in the mess he was in? Had he been messing where he shouldn’t have been messing? Well, you can imagine my surprise when I finished almost a thousand words that first day. I was going to write this bull or it was going to ride me.

Over the next few days, well, actually it was more like over the next week or so, I wrote 25,000 words and more. I was up to that first scene. If I didn’t know where I was going, I let the beast take over and lead me wherever. I would sit down to work on a scene and start writing, then somewhere a character, a prop or even a setting showed up unplanned. All I could say, “Very interesting.” Then continue on.

Now after thirty days of sweating the blood, sweat and tears it takes to ride a Nanowrimo, I actually have six chapters of my 80,000 word novel that I began as a nanowrimo. It’s been a tough ride but I managed to stay on that bull’s back for the entire thirty days of November and then some.

Yes, the novel is unfinished. I fully expected that. I wasn’t even expecting the complete first draft to be done. I will continue to work on it in December and into 2016. Once it’s done, I shall take the seventh day off and do some well-deserved resting. Then it will be back to shaping all that bull into one heck of a novel. And it will be good.

The artist as a boy

In the beginning was the canvas, a tabula rasa of promise, patiently waiting for a brush to touch its emptiness and leave color behind. Facing the canvas, the artist chanted softly like the magician he was, conjuring his art. His brush unraveled its colors onto the linen, the man’s voice breathing hope into what had only been possibility, potential.

One moment there was nothing: the next, lines drawn on the canvas, some straight, some crooked, some curved into a circle the shape of a woman’s face, and then a blast of color to fill what was only a skeleton of a thing. Soon there was the splash of a Rembrandt sienna for the woman’s hair, her eyes a dancing Mediterranean azure, a sinopia for her smiling lips. The artist easily worked the oils, his hand and its brush passing back and forth, dabbing an extra texture here and there, molding the paint into the form he desired.

Adam Jarvais, five years old and tall for his age, watched the artist touch his brush to the palette, then stroke the canvas once, twice, three times. His grandfather, who was the artist, made a woman’s chin, then a slender neck and shoulders. Soon the woman’s head was covered with an indigo scarf. Like a cat focusing on its prey, the boy studied the older man. How he moved his arms, his hands; how he stood, his feet seeming to be nailed to the hardwood floor. His Grandfather Peter was a conductor waving his baton, his motions playing the oils like an orchestra.

The fifty-eight-year-old Peter Jarvais wiped the bristles of his brush clean of paint and settled it down beside his palette. Stepping back one step, two, a third, he admired his day’s work, then grinned, sighing an audible “ah” that said he was pleased with what he saw.

He came over to the boy, knelt down to have a face-to-face, and looked deep into his grandson’s eyes. With practice, those eyes would observe the world for what it was and what it could be. He wrapped his hand around the boy’s and stood up and said his usual afternoon, “Come, boy.”

Instead of the daily walk grandfather and grandson made to the lake nearby, instead of the skipping of the rocks across the clear waters of the lake, instead of the daily ritual of tossing the boy into the air and catching him, this particular afternoon Peter led Adam over to a stool. He had arranged it in front of a blank canvas standing lonely against its easel, waiting for the companionship of some colors, a canvas blank as that first morning sky before the gods made the sun fill the heavens with sunlight. Lifting the boy, he stood him on the stool, then went over and brought a table with its palette and brushes back to the five-year-old.

The artist whispered into his young apprentice’s ear, “It’s time to paint.” Setting a brush into Adam’s open palm, he said, “This is your friend.” He stepped behind the boy. He

knotted his young student’s hand into a fist and touched the canvas with the brush. There was no paint on its bristles. Grandfather Peter made Adam’s hand swish back and forth. “Feel the motion,” he said to his grandson, nothing but kindness in his voice. “Feel the air that passes over your hand. Feel the wind that runs with the sea.” T he boy felt the motion, he felt the air across the back of his hand.

“Now let’s gather some color onto your brush.” The older man guided the brush to the palette and touched the tip to the paint, gathering just enough for the brush to begin to have color. “Just a bit more.” He pressed Adam’s hand a little firmer. He lifted it and led brush to the canvas.

“So what if you want to make a horse? All you need do is touch your brush to the canvas before you, and a horse will appear. As if by magic. Your magic.”

The boy hesitated as apprentices are accustomed to do. For they live with fear. Until the fear dissolves with the practice of the doing the thing they do. “What if Grandfather Peter is wrong?’ he asked himself. “ What if I have no magic in me?”

As if his grandfather could read his mind, the older man encouraged his young pupil, “It’s okay, boy. There’s nary a thing to be afraid of. You have magic in you. I know it. All you have to do is trust it like you trust your Grandfather Peter.”

But what if…?

The boy’s hand trembled. He concentrated and tried hard and could not stop his hand from trembling. It shook as the bristles touched the linen stretched before him. An electric charge shot up his left leg through his chest and shoulders and down his arm and onto the canvas. His hand stopped its shaking as a long black stroke became the hind leg of a mustang, and it was running wild and free across the arroyos and through the canyons of New Mexico. Adam was making something out of nothing just like he had seen his grandfather do.

“Follow the brush,” the older man encouraged him again and again. “Follow the brush. It will lead you to the place you are to go.”

So Adam followed the way of the brush. And the what-if never came. Session after session he hummed, “A little dab’ll do you,” and dabbed his canvas with paint. Or sometimes it was “Onward, Christian Soldiers” as he drew lines nice and straight or crooked to create the outline of a very large mountain above a small village in the backwoods of France or some such place.

For eleven years, he kept at the work. Even the accident could not stop him. When he was eight years old, he sneaked into his father’s studio. He was alone. The late afternoon sunlight fell through the full wall window and glanced off the steel blade of the samurai sword on the other side of the room. The weapon drew Adam toward it like a moth to light. He padded across the wooden floor. His hands reached the sword and lifted it out of its setting. What a thing of beauty and power it was.

It was heavy, heavier than he had thought. It slipped from his hands. The blade caught on his sleeve as it fell and bounced off the floor. It nicked his left hand and took his pinkie  and suddenly he was unconscious.

A few days later he was back at the canvas, one finger short on his painting hand, but unwilling to give up on his work. And he became good. Very good. Even his grandfather was surprised at how good an artist he was becoming. Somewhere along the way, he switched from oils to acrylics. Then one day it struck him that something was missing, something very important. Oh, the splashes he threw on the canvas were okay, the dabs were good, and the lines were good enough. But good enough was not good enough he decided. He wanted more.

One lovely afternoon in August, at least Adam remembered it as August; after a rather long session of things just about right and just about perfect, Adam realized what he had not known before. What it was that was missing. What he had been leaving off the canvas. It was the emotion, the feeling. In frustration, in despair at not-knowing the how of connecting his feelings to the canvas and pouring them into his work, he threw his brushes and his palette across the room. They landed at his grandfather’s feet.