Thursday, February 23, 2017

Kipling and Casablanca

Welcome back! I see that I’ve let a couple of weeks slide by since the last post. Time is a serious constraint for me these days: I’m finishing up a contract gig with En Masse that keeps me out of the house from 8 am to 6 pm every day, I’m doing design work and Kickstarter preparation for my upcoming Alternity sci-fi game, I’m shepherding my Plan Number B expansion for Ultimate Scheme through art and layout, and I’m working on the second draft of my novel Restless Lightnings. 

With all that going on, blog posts tend to fall to the bottom of the stack. I guess the “good” news is that my contract at EME is winding up, so I’ll be able to devote 50 more hours a week to my writing and my own game design. I can use a few weeks to catch up on my various projects before the next contract rolls around, although I have to admit that I’ll miss that regular paycheck. That’s the life of a writer, I guess.

I Don’t Know, I’ve Never Kippled

I’ve been spending a few hours here and there over the last couple of months reading through Rudyard Kipling’s poetry because I’ve been looking for catchy turns of phrase I might use as titles in my Sikander North series. The first title, Valiant Dust, is drawn from the Kipling poem “Recessional.” The second title, Restless Lightnings, comes from the poem “The Islanders.” Then I discovered that I’d inadvertently established a “personality trait-inanimate object” naming system in my first two titles, and I needed to find a third turn of phrase that followed the established system. Naturally, finding just one more that suited me proved much harder than I’d expected! I’ve read dozens of Kipling poems in search of the right bit of verse.

Kipling is a writer not remembered kindly in many quarters these days. Yes, it’s tough to get around the jingoism of “South Africa” or the racism of “The White Man’s Burden.” But Kipling loved India enough to write Kim and The Jungle Book. And the man who wrote “Buddha at Kamakura” was no Christian supremacist. That last one is worth a read if you’ve never run across it. I’ve been thinking about it for days. I'm beginning to think that Kipling was a much more complex guy than we give him credit for nowadays.

I did finally find a title phrase I like, but I’m going to keep it to myself for a little bit longer. Book 3 is still a long ways away! If you’re curious, though, you might try reading “The Destroyers.”

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the heading… it’s an old, old punchline. The joke begins: “Do you like Kipling?”

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

I watched The Maltese Falcon for the first time on Saturday evening. It’s been on my list of movies to watch for years now—I’m something of a Humphrey Bogart fan and I just hadn’t checked “the Black Bird” off my list yet. I’m afraid the movie just didn’t do much for my wife or my mother-in-law, but I liked it well enough, especially the great dialogue between Sydney Greenstreet’s “Fat Man” and Bogart’s Sam Spade. Casablanca, Key Largo, The African Queen, and The Caine Mutiny still retain their top billing at the top of my Bogart list, but I liked seeing Bogart play a quick-thinking, resourceful troublemaker. Sam Spade’s not as cynical or world-weary as other iconic Bogart characters, although I suppose that The Maltese Falcon was early in Bogart’s career.

(Note to self: Track down The Big Sleep sometime. Still need to check that off, too.)

I don’t know if this is official writer advice or not, but I’ll recommend it anyway: Read and watch some of the classics. Casablanca’s dialogue is pure genius; it’s well worth a couple of hours of your time if you haven’t ever seen it, because you’ll learn something about snappy and unforgettable dialogue if you pay attention. Heck, The Caine Mutiny’s court martial scene did “You can’t handle the truth” to perfection forty years before A Few Good Men.

So, there you go: Read old poems. Watch old movies. You might learn something!


  1. Hi, I just wanted to say I'm really looking forward to Valiant Dust, but as someone who is both part-Indian and likes Kipling's work, I wanted to point out that he did support the massacre at Jallianwallah Bagh in India, so though he's complex, the critiques of him are not wrong!

  2. That's the massacre depicted in the movie "Gandhi," isn't it? Hard to imagine how anyone could defend that, really.

    I recognize that Kipling's views on colonial peoples rightly deserve rebuttal. I made use of his poetry because few other writers have more eloquently spoken for military virtues such as courage, responsibility, and loyalty, or better expressed the love for far and distant places. At his best, Kipling showed people a world they hadn't seen. At his worst, he rationalized segregation and oppression.

    Thanks for the comment; I hope "Valiant Dust" meets your expectations!

  3. Yes, it's the same massacre--even Churchill, not known for his sympathy with Indians, denounced it.

    Kipling's poetry is great--I love "The Ballad of the King's Jest" and also the novel Kim.

    Just read the excerpt at, looking forward to this.