An Ode to Apple and Microsoft, in the Tradition of Romeo and Juliet

Two companies, both alike in dignity,

In fair Silicon Valley where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where different operating systems make people want to scream.

From forth the grinding gears of these two foes

A pair of star-crossed softwares take your files;

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows,

Do with their glitches bury your smiles.

The fearful passage of their glitch-marked love,

And the continuance of their consumers’ rage,

Which, but competition’s end nought could remove,

Is now the endless traffic of life’s stage.

The which if you with patient ears attend,

A customer service rep in the middle of nowhere shall strive to mend.


This is dedicated to my sister, R, without whose Google Chat conversations, this never would have been written.

*It’s not in Iambic Pentameter. Take it up with my legal counsel, the firm of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern*

Coffee With Hannah & Helena – Episode IV: A New (Hope We Don’t Get Sued)

Coffee with Hannah and Helena
Welcome to the first official edition of Coffee with Hannah and Helena! Grab a mug or a cup or a stein or a glass or a hollowed out skull with your favorite beverage and get comfortable. One of the things Helena and I like to talk about is the projects we’re working on—whether it’s a nascent idea or something that’s more solidly formed. It’s always enjoyable to talk about writing with other authors and get advice, whatever the stage of creation. We (read: Helena) also have a habit of playing a game we like to call Pop Culture Confusion (I just made up that title, roll with it). This essentially involves mixing up pop culture icons and the films/shows/etc in which they appear. We also like to speculate on who we would pick to cast characters in our stories when they one day make it to the silver screen. You can see how Pop Culture Confusion can make casting tricky. Today, we’ll be talking about CHUK – the serial novel in progress by Jessica B. Bell, dark alter ego of your favourite dilettante, Helena Hann-Basquiat (for more about Jessica, CLICKETH THOU HERE…EST)

Bayou Bonhomme Primer:

CHUK is a gothic horror mystery that takes place in the fictional Bayou Bonhomme, Louisiana, home of the legend of Remy LeVert, a swamp monster that to most is about as real as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. But there are those in Bayou Bonhomme that know for a fact that there is something old and evil that lives in the bayou, and they shudder in terror. There are others still that worship it as some sort of god, and do its bidding, which includes the occasional human sacrifice.
Chief of police Oscar Blanchette has lived with the knowledge of Remy LeVert’s true nature — call it C’thuN’Chuk, or Chuk for short — for the past fifteen years. Something terrible happened in the summer of ’98. A bunch of children went missing and turned up horribly mutilated, if they turned up at all. Was this the work of the otherworldly creature that lived in the bayou, or was there a human agent at work. One thing’s for sure – there are monsters in the Bayou — and some of them walk on two legs just like you or I. The story opens in current day, and another child has gone missing. Oscar fears it’s beginning all over again.
Leroy Angell runs a BBQ shack, boasting the Best BBQ in Louisiana, and it certainly is popular. Downright addictive, even. Leroy and Oscar share in old secrets, and while Leroy might not exactly be the most scrupulous of individuals, he is, for the most part, on the side of the angels.
The same cannot be said for Olivia Hereford, who stems from the two oldest, richest, and most powerful families in Bayou Bonhomme, the Herefords and the Bergerons, and who is secretly the head of The Faithful, the religious group that has worshipped C’thuN’Chuk for a hundred years or more. She is, quite simply, evil.
Then there’s Marla Bergeron — Oscar’s deputy, who he cares about like a daughter. Her allegiance is divided, having been raised in the traditions of her family, but after someone she cares about ends up dead, she begins to question her place in life, and if anything is ever truly ordained by Fate.

Soundtrack for CHUK:


Helena Hann-Basquiat  About a year ago, Hannah and I were chatting, and I pitched her the idea of an ongoing story — completely unrealized or plotted at the time — set in the Louisiana bayou, where there lived an actual swamp monster. The idea was that it was just going to be an over the top, Tales from the Crypt-esque story about a BBQ Shack where the owner was cooking up strange meat that he got from this creature. It was really just a grotesque “the secret’s in the sauce” gag at first. Hannah, where did you think the story was going to go?


 Hannah Sears  Well, I certainly didn’t think it would go as long or become as big a world as it has–and that’s no slight against Jessica’s writing chops, if anything it’s my fault for underestimating. I wasn’t sure how far you could take a BBQ Shop of Horrors without just rehashing jokes about “It’s an old family recipe–that there’s part of the old family!” But as the story simmered and more spices were added, and Helena mentioned that the real monsters in the Bayou weren’t the ones you expected, I knew it was going to be good. Twisted, warped characters are a forte of Jessica’s.


Helena Hann-Basquiat  I honestly think a lot of that had to do with not taking it seriously. I had a trilogy of novels in my head that just refused to come out properly, and I just wanted something different to get the creative juices flowing. Next thing you know, I’ve created an entire mystery, shady characters, a Lovecraftian mythology going back thousands of years, and of course C’thuN’chuk herself..


Hannah Sears  Not to mention Monsterotica is all the rage these days.


Helena Hann-Basquiat  That was completely unintentional… the tentacle porn bit just seemed to fit.


Hannah Sears  I’m sure there’s a niche for that too, but I’d go to a movie store outside your neighborhood before asking. But speaking of Chuk, if you could pick anyone to be the voice, who would it be?


Helena Hann-Basquiat  Oh, are we doing fantasy voice casting? Oh, this is always fun. Well, you know, I almost want the voice to be sort of androgynous — Tilda Swinton? That guy from that ’90s band BUSH? Whats his name? Gavin Stefani?


Hannah Sears  I’m not a Tilda Swinton fan (it’s probably latent jealousy from the fact that she was in a film with the Hiddles**) but she would be stellar.

(** This guy)


Helena Hann-Basquiat  She was in a film with Loki?

(Interlude — Of course, we’re talking about the film Only Lovers Left Alive, a film by the amazing Jim Jaramusch, which looks fantastic.)


Hannah Sears  Yeah, it was after she attacked Narnia–world destroyers get on well together. (I totally missed the Gavin Rossdale/Gwen Stefani moment, that one was over my head.)


Helena Hann-Basquiat  She was the only watchable part of Constantine. If they make a movie of Sandman, I’d cast Tilda Swinton in every role. One actor to rule them all…

Would I cast her as a Bowie-esque Lucifer? Would I cast her as the androgynous Desire? Would I cast her as the zany Delirium? Would I cast her as sweet but sombre Death? The answer to all of the above is a resounding YES!


Hannah Sears  She looks like Voldemort. Was Constantine a stop on Bill & Ted’s most excellent adventure?
 If you’re casting rulers, who would play the chilling Olivia Hereford?


Helena Hann-Basquiat Unfortunately, no one can tell you WHAT Constantine is. You just have to see it for yourself. (TAKE THE BLUE PILL HANNAH! SAVE YOURSELF!)


Hannah Sears  Oh THERE’s the Advil Liquigel I dropped on the floor this morning. Cheers!


Helena Hann-Basquiat  So who would I cast for Olivia? Sadly, the actresses I’d want for Olivia are dead. Olivia is, in my mind, a younger, evil Jessica Tandy — a refined Southern Belle with a vicious side. Bette Davis would have been perfect, too. But now? Hmmm… Who would you cast?


 Hannah Sears  This may be completely off base but I could see Sally Field–she’s got that spitfire quality that I could see translating into the Matriarch, but both your picks were blondes. I almost want to say Michelle Pfeiffer as well, but I feel like she’s a little bit of a cliche choice.


Helena Hann-Basquiat  Michelle Pfeiffer is a favourite, but yeah, you don’t want to type-cast her. I definitely think there needs to be a sexiness to Olivia that I don’t see in Sally Fields.


Hannah Sears  True, which is why I started thinking Michelle–she’s got that slinky quality that could lend itself to the creepiness.


Helena Hann-Basquiat  I could see Famke Janssen as well — a young(er) actress could handle younger Olivia, and with makeup could play older Olivia. But then, Hemlock Grove. Don’t even get me started on how that show has taken a giant nose dive with the second season. Hell, right up until the last two minutes, I was still hooked.
Hey, what about Judi Densch as the voice of CHUK! (Worst casting ever…)


Hannah Sears  I never actually knew the name of the actress that played Jean Grey — Google is getting a lot of action this morning–DAME JUDY DENSCH. Show some respect!


Helena Hann-Basquiat  I was actually already chastising myself for that, thanks. I’ll go borrow Jessica’s scourge. What do you think of Billy Bob Thornton for Leroy? I know he’s a little old, but I loved his performance in Puss In Boots.


Hannah Sears  But it makes me see Puss in Boots and he’s so cute in his little hat. I still think the real question is who voices Chuk.


Helena Hann-Basquiat  Didn’t we already answer this with the catch-all answer? Tilda Swinton. She’s like the default answer. If you’re asked to solve for X in a mathematical equation, the answer is Tilda Swinton. Why’d the chicken cross the road? Tilda Swinton. What’s the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything? 42 (Okay, that one’s not Tilda Swinton, but you don’t mess with Douglas Adams, darling.) But, how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?


Hannah Sears  Who is: Tilda Swinton?


Helena Hann-Basquiat  Of course.


Hannah Sears  I’ll take Who’s Going to Voice Chuk for $300.


Helena Hann-Basquiat  Ah, yes, the voice. Cummerbund Bandersnatch, of course. Or Robin Williams (kidding.)


Hannah Sears  Are you prepared for Chuk to periodically shout KHAN? (I know he doesn’t shout his own name in the film. Semantics.)


Helena Hann-Basquiat  My only non-negotiable in the casting (other than the obvious Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Robert Pattinson, Shia LaBeouf prohibitions) is no True Blood castaways, and that guy who played Gambit in one of the X-Men movies… you know… John Carter.


 Hannah Sears  You leave Taylor Kitsch alone or we’ll be having words! Angry words, that is.


Helena Hann-Basquiat  Yeah, but GAMBIT. Need I say more?


Hannah Sears  I’ll just have him in the starring role of every single one of my movies. He’ll be the Depp to my Burton. Hey, I swore off X-men when they killed everyone and then they weren’t really dead. It was like LOST but less confusing and less pointless shirtless dudes.


Helena Hann-Basquiat  In the comics, apparently Charles Xavier is dead. Again. “For real this time, we swear”


Hannah Sears  How George RR Martin of them.


Helena Hann-Basquiat  Do you know how many times Jean Grey has died and come back? More than Jesus. Too much.


Hannah Sears  Technically he only did that once, so it’s not hard to beat.
Well, that’s all the time we have for today, thank you all for joining us–we hope you didn’t scald yourself snorting any hot beverages out of your nose, Helena and I are not responsible for injuries incurred from reading our posts. As Helena mentioned in our introductory post, we want this to be a conversation with more than the two of us, so I hope you’ll join in our discussion.

When you write characters, do you start with images in your mind, or do they develop over time? Do you create Pinterest boards or slideshows or inspiration boards etc with photos and things that inspire characters ? Do you start with the way a character looks at all or do you build from the inside out? 

Coffee With Helena and Hannah (or Hannah and Helena)

Coffee with Hannah and Helena

Step right up ladies and gents, it’s finally time to peek behind the curtain. For the first time ever, you can join Helena Hann-Basquiat (who can usually be found with a Greyhound and a choice musical selection over at Memoirs of a Dilettante) and I once a week(ish) to, as Helena says, “hang out, banter about books, films, blogging, and our ongoing projects. It’s been brewing for a while now, and long overdue.”

What’s in store for you, lucky readers? I’ll let the delightful dilettante spell it out as only she can.


This is a chance for you get to know us a little better, and ask questions. It’s just in the conception stage right now, but I’m hoping for it to be almost like a bit of a variety show — we’ll hang out, maybe have some special guests from time to time, and we can catch you up on what’s going on.

It’s important to me because I’m going to be wrapping up CHUK in the next couple of months, and after that, I plan on launching into writing a new novel, but due to the advice of some very kind people who advised me not to give away such quality material, I won’t be writing it in public after all. So this is a way to keep you in the loop, give you a taste of what I’m writing.

And also, it will be a place for writers to come and talk about writing. I’ve often made the distinction between writers and bloggers, and I relate more to the first one than the latter. Writing a fiction blog can be a tough sell. I’d like to point you to some great fiction that you might be missing out on.

When I met Hannah over a year ago, it was over at Friday Fictioneers. We clicked immediately, and have spent the last year helping each other grow as writers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — Hannah is a painter when it comes to writing. I consider myself a storyteller. She and I have hugely different styles, and we echo each other’s envy of our respective skills. Hannah creates fantastic characters and wonderful atmospheric settings, and at some point, I’m going to hand her a bare-bones story idea and have her give it sinew, muscle and skin and bring it to life.


I was going to complain about the fact that the title of this get together should be Coffee with HANNAH and Helena–I don’t know what your idea of alphabetical order is, but A comes before E last time I checked–but after you said all those nice things about me, I’ll let it slide. This time. At the risk of retelling the story of our meet-cute, it all began with a vampire gauntlet (if it didn’t happen this way, blame an unreliable-narrator-in-training and besides, if you’re a writer you make stuff up for a living). I stumbled across Friday Fictioneers and wrote my first story about a vampire which is where Helena found me. This evolved (or perhaps devolved) into the “vampire gauntlet” being thrown and a somewhat in-depth discussion of what said gauntlet would look like. And so began the start of a beautiful friendship.

Praise from Helena is praise indeed, and while I splatter paint around on a canvas, Helena sits you down and en-spells you, locking you into whatever world she’s currently crafting and refusing to let you go until you’ve read until the end, making sure that along the way you’re either snorting your favorite beverage out of your nose, crying into your coffee, or sweating profusely.

When I first started reading Helena’s blog, I was impressed not only by her verbosity and skill at turning a phrase–the alliterations, I tell you, are masterful–but also by the sheer variety of treasures to be found. There are anecdotes that will make you laugh, stories that will make you cry, and tales of terror that will have you checking under your bed. If you talk to Helena for more than a moment or two, you’ll find that underneath the perfectly coiffed curls, there is an entire library of music and pop culture–she awarded herself a doctorate in Films of John Hughes. If you want to strike up a conversation, mention Ferris Bueller or Velvet Underground and prepare for an education.

A (somewhat) Definitive and (utterly) Arbitrary Compilation of the Elements in a YA Novel Part I

         It’s important to read outside your “comfort zone”–whatever that may be. It’s certainly not as though I’m sitting in my smoking jacket reading War and Peace. Speaking of which, where does one buy a nice smoking jacket? I feel like every good author needs that and a pipe…but I digress. I’ve been trying to read more YA since that’s (arguably to me) the closest genre to my writing and (because I’m a total sellout) it’s a very popular genre if you want to make some money publishing. However, I always hit a wall very early into most novels since they fall very quickly into the same patterns.

         1. Your protagonist (male or female) must have an outdated, embarrassing, unpronounceable, or otherwise unusual name. In over half the cases, it will be one that prompts them to use a catchy, edgy nickname. (See: Those Stephanie Meyers Books Name of the Star, The Blue Sword, and The Fault in Our Stars)

         2. If your protagonist is female, they will most likely be incurably clumsy. I don’t know when tripping over your own feet and damaging other people’s property and, occasionally, people themselves became synonymous with being desirable. The baby fawn syndrome is so overdone (See: Those Stephanie Meyers Books, Name of the Star ) Close seconds to this rule include: possessing “untamable” hair and NOT possessing athletic acumen.

         3. If your protagonist does not meet their love interest in the first ten pages, they certainly will by the end of the second chapter AT THE LATEST (See: Harry Potter, Those Stephanie Meyers Books, The Fault in Our Stars, The Blue Sword )
         3A. If your protagonist actually likes someone in the first few chapters of the book, chances are it isn’t their real love interest. Every good YA romance grows out of hatred.

         4. The male protagonist or love interest must have an element of the rebel. This can be evidenced by his choice of clothing or simply by the refusal of his hair to conform with societal strictures (See: Those Stephanie Meyers Books, The Name of the Star, Harry Potter )
         4A. I don’t know why unruly hair is so popular among the YA lover boys. Sure, everyone thinks they like the rebel in high school or college–his hair is always a mess, he wears old band t-shirts, and possibly has some ink or an earring and plays music with his buddies in a dive bar on the weekends. But then, something remarkable happens; you graduate. That same boy is still wearing his stupid hair too long and his band t-shirt has holes in it and he and his buddies have moved from the dive-bar to his mom’s basement. The clean-cut, preppy boys that are the beloved stereotypical jerk jocks are the ones who wear real shoes, have a job that doesn’t involve a deep-fryer, and can buy you dinner and your own real shoes. Ahem. Anyway….

         5. Your protagonist must be forced outside of their comfort zone as soon as possible. This usually involves shipping them off to school, preferably out of the country. (See: Harry Potter, Those Stephanie Meyers Books, The Name of the Star, Looking For Alaska )

This list is by no means complete (I haven’t even finished reading Name of the Star, yet, or many of the other YA novels on my list) but that’s why they don’t limit blog posts.

Author’s note: several of my favorite books are included here, I’m just making an observation somewhat affected by too little sleep and too much time trapped inside a hot office possibly working for a crime ring in disguise…but that’s a story for another time

1,000 Word Story in Five Parts, Part II

Chuck Wendig started a challenge last week that will yield another 1,000 word story that is a little different from the usual. Last week, the participants posted the first 200 words of a story. This week, we choose from one of the beginnings and write another 200 words. The stories will continue on until they hit 1,000 words. You can read the beginning of my story here and Samantha’s continuation here

This week, I chose to continue Meagan‘s story featuring a snarky demon, some particularly terrible summoners, and gin. I’ve included her part first and then my addition. Enjoy!

         “Yes, this penthouse view is quite breathtaking,” I turned to the luscious blonde before me, “but not nearly as lovely as—”
         A thunder clap, and then I was standing in a small, glowing circle, surrounded by a gaggle of chanting fools in robes.
         “Oh great Sorasel im Palat, lord of fire and darkness, fell devourer of the innocent, conqueror of—” Arcane symbols covered the speaker’s robes, nearly obscuring the heavy crimson fabric.
         “Yes, yes, get on with it.” I gestured with my gin martini.
         He paused, then finished in a post-pubescent squeak, “We invoke thy true name and bid thee do our will.”
         “Oh you do, do you? Well I want you to send me back. I was having a smashing time, and that girl may not have two brain cells to rub together, but she looked quite likely to do some rubbing together. If you know what I mean.”
The robe-wearers shuffled, and whispered amongst themselves. The leader piped up again.
         “O great Sorasel im—“
         “Stop that, stop that,” I interrupted. “Only my dad calls me that. I prefer my middle name. If you must speak, call me Stewart.”
         More shuffling and whispering from my summoners.


         “Oh great and mighty…Stewart….” the leader—whose pasty face was mostly spots—began again. “We bind thee to our will.”
         I took a sip of my martini—extra dirty, extra olives—and raised an eyebrow at the little prat. Summoners used to know what they were doing. I looked at the floor where their demon trap was sloppily drawn with what smelled unmistakably like fresh, store-bought spray paint. I sighed. What happened to the blood of a virgin? Or even the vital fluids of an unwilling Christian priest?
         I noticed their silence; I could practically smell their fear—a mixture of piss and that foul deodorant that promised them flocks of women. I took another gulp of the martini—it was perfect. Almost as flawless as my blonde client who was no doubt currently working her minimal intelligence into a sweat in an effort to find me.
         “Well? Get on with it.”
         “We bound you, oh great Sora—er—Stewart.”
         “I heard that part. So,” I made sure to smile with all of my teeth. “You’ve bound me. Congratulations. Now, what do you plan to do?”
         “Jaime, this was your idea.” One of the other robed figures poked the leader.

All The King’s Men

Friday Fictioneers–look at the photo, write a story circa 100 words, and click the blue frog to link your story or read other tall tales.

Photo by Sean Fallon


The king’s men I can understand—they’ve got hands, they can use tools; they know their way around a hot glue gun. It’s the horses that really get me. They don’t even have opposable thumbs. And they make me sneeze.

Do you know how hard it is to sneeze when your head isn’t connected to the rest of your body? It’s no picnic, let me tell you. So here I am. Humphrey Dumphie—what a name, right?—in pieces because the king just had to go and volunteer me for his favorite magician’s new magic trick.  

Screw you, Criss Angel.

Role of a Lifetime


Friday Fictioneers, you know the drill: one photo, one hundred words. If you haven’t been following, hop on over to Rochelle‘s page and see where all we’ve been. This week’s photo is courtesy of Kent Bonham.

“What the hell is this? Game of Bones?”



“Game of Thrones. And no.”

“Then what, the Ripper? I heard FX had rights.”

“No, sir.”

“Some assistant—you bring me to set for a cameo and this stinking alley is what you give me to work with?”

“You’re a legend, sir. We didn’t think you needed prep.”

“Damned straight. Hey—what’s with the knife? Is this a Scorcese project? That old bastard.”

The blade slid in and out of the aging actor’s insides as smoothly as a prop.

“I told you, sir, it was a role to die for.”



What can I say, Friday Fictioneers always racks up the body count. 

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door


“Are you sure this is the right doorway?”

“They said to look for a creepy stone face with a winged helmet.”

“But it’s not even a doorway. This is just a blank wall.”

“This is the Gateway! Have I taught you nothing?”

“I expected it to be bigger.”

Alastor closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Serax, I brought you on this mission for a reason.”

“Yes, Master,” the little demon hung his head. “Do you get the feeling that face is watching—”


Michael, the archangel, blinked his flaming eyes once and retreated back into the stone.

Don’t be Koi

copyright Douglas M. McIlroy

copyright Douglas M. McIlroy

         “Sir–SIR!” The waitress’ cry came too late; she flushed an unbecoming shade of red that clashed with her green kimono and bleached hair.
         Other diners were staring disapprovingly at the man standing thigh deep in the decorative pond. Bethany looked around helplessly for her manager before shoving back her oversized silk sleeves and stalked over to the wader. He stared intently down at the fish.
         “Sir, please exit the Koi pond. And Golden Buddha,” Bethany said.
         “But it’s my pond.” He turned towards her.
         “I just bought this place,” he said with a debonair smile. “I’m Bruce Wayne.”

I swear, Officer, it’s fictional!

How do you research murder, mayhem, and malicious, malignant manipulation without being put on one or many governmental watch lists? 

Is there some sort of author website that has a compilation of murderous methods, torturous techniques, and poisonous plots?

Imagine such a repository. You must sign in by saying aloud, with your hand on a copy of the MLA Handbook or Moby Dick, “I solemnly swear, I am up to no good.” If you need to know how to kill a character and make it look like poison, cancer, heart failure, clumsiness–click here. If you’d like to know the proper rope to use if you must hang a villain, click here. The right gun, sword, morning-star, or lightsaber to commit your specific brand of murder? Look in the archives under: weaponry.

“But really, Officer, I’m googling chloroform for a story…that search about body decomposition? Different story, sir, but still a work of fiction!

Just because I theoretically know how to get away with murder doesn’t mean…right to remain silent? You know, sir, I am a writer? We write to resist silence. No, no, I’m not making fun of you.

No, I haven’t been drinking! Who do you think I am, Hemingway? No! He’s not an accomplice…well, he was a great man and I admire his work but…I’d like that phone call, now.”

But really, I’m writing a story with all sorts of nasty bits and pieces and I need to do some research. If I disappear for a while, send money for the lawyer fees.