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Frankenstein’s Support Group

Oh, wow. Been awhile, hasn’t it? Here, lemme blow all the dust of this newsletter and we’ll see if she still works. Test the gears, pump the breaks, make sure the crystals are still in alignment, all that jazz.

How have you been?

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my new daughter, Wednesday. She’s pretty cool. You’d like her.

But! I’m not here to talk about her!

I’m here to talk about Frankenstein.


Frankenstein’s Support Group For Misunderstood Monsters, to be exact.


It’s a very fun comic I’m doing with Quirk Books, and I hope you dig it.

Oh, and if you do like it, maybe leave a comment on the Quirk website? They’ve been real great about this very, very weird project, so it be nice to show them their faith has not been misplaced.



In case you missed it, the VFPX live show that we did at the Philadelphia Podcast Festival was put on the feed for your listening pleasure.

The Voice of Free Planet X returns to The Philadelphia Podcast Festival with a brand new live show! In an effort to bring an understanding from two sides of an intergalactic conflict, VFPX host Jared Axelrod invites Salamander Keep (Phil Thomas) and Loam Sodden (Andy Holman Hunter) to debate. But how can they when they keep getting interupted by time-traveler Tiff Tock (Lizzy Hindman-Harvey)? And why is the Devil himself, Lucifer, Who Is The Morningstar (Russell G Collins) hanging around in the audience?

From the ends of space to the depths of Hell, The Voice of Free Planet X brings you the universe to the comfort of your seats at Tattooed Mom! Featuring a live musical performance by Gina Martinelli!

A note about the audio: We had some wonderful mics provided for us by Bridge Set Sound, but I wrote an episode that had everyone running all all over the place. So, some parts were not picked up by the good mics, and I’ve edited in bits recorded by my handheld recorder that I had going just in case. I’ve tried to make the edits as unobtrusive as possible, but there is a difference in sound quality.

We had a great turn out–thank you, all who showed up–and PhillyPodFest continues to be the best. Can’t wait until next year!


Seeing as how I’ve been immersed in comics recently, I’ve been wondering if I could I get away with a superhero comic without fight scenes? Where it was all the stuff surrounding the fights, but when one started, it would cut to the end.

“Yay, the hero won! Now back to the interpersonal drama…”

See, Chris Morse got me thinking about Power Rangers, which got me thinking about my sweet, sweet ghost children Ressha Sentai ToQger. who proved that superhero story structure is a lot sturdier than we think, and a lot of parts can be removed & it will still stand up. Which then got me thinking on how much of a standard superhero story I could break. I realize there’s a lot of superhero comics and movies that do this, but they’re either parodies or stripped of all the genre’s glorious weirdness in favor of a more “grounded” approach.

The closest thing to what I’m thinking of is Hannah Blumenriech’s Spidey comics, but I’m not sure if that would work with a totally new character. Maybe it would? I dunno. I’ll stew on it.

Right now, though, I’ve got play with my baby and draw more Frankenstein stories!

Good luck with the dragon.


On Alternate Realities

Wednesday has been helping me with novel revisions.

As a co-writer, she doesn’t offer much, but the company she provides far makes up for it.


Recent events–The Man In The High Castle TV show, Marvel’s Secret Empire crossover, current politics–have meant a lot of speculation of how the Nazi’s might have won WWII. I am hardly immune. As a lover of history, I’ve always been fascinated by the individual choices that lead to massive, world-wide changes. It’s amazing how the petty actions of a few can change the lives of the many.

For example, I’ve been studying the post-Civil War Reconstruction, and the ways pro-Confederacy ideals wormed their way into American society and government despite having lost the war is absolutely horrifying. We’re still dealing with it, over a hundred years later.

So, if I was going to pull a Nazis-Win scenario, that’s the one that makes the most sense. The ground war is won by the Allies, and everyone pats themselves on the back. But the Nazi ideas have already taken root, and America, rather than looking ashamedly away from the Japanese-American internment camps it put up during the war, decides to double-down on them. “This is why we won,” the rhetoric goes. “Our American purity must be protected.” So the camps are expanded, which turns out to be not a hard sell in an America that’s still has whites-only water-fountains…

There is, of course, an argument that the reality described above is not that “alternate” at all


Speaking of alternate realities, I got to get my fanfic on over at Quirk Books, talking about Galifreyans other than the Doctor, and the cosplay habits of fictional characters. Both are divinely silly and well worth your time.


New stuff over at the Patreon: a flash fiction about lingering, post-apocolyptic emotions called When The Cry Fades (read aloud as well, natch), and page 2 of the Secret Comic Project, where in I got to draw wolves and the inside of a diner.

Friday will see the 3rd page of the Secret Comic Project, and a weird little thing that I can only describe as “a Gothic Tale of the Library Returns Desk.”

If that’s your jam, consider being a supporter.


I’ve been a mother officially for a month now. Wednesday remains the chillest of all possible babies, a sign that she’s more of a fiendish plotter than a uncontrollable screamer. It is, after all, always the quiet ones.

What’s perhaps the most surprising about all of this is how natural it has all felt. As I was saying to JR, it’s not like there was a hole in our relationship that Wednesday has filled. Rather, it’s that she just snapped in right next to us, fitting into our irregular edges as well as we fit into each other.

It’s been really great to have her around. I foresee grand adventures with this, the third member of our party.

Good luck with the dragon.


The Angel Is In The Details


When I was 11, my parents took me to get my eyes checked. There was nothing noticeably wrong with my vision, but I was at the age my father needed glasses, my mother needed glasses, and my older sister needed glasses. Later, it would be the age my younger brother needed glasses. Biology does not always lead to destiny, but it never hurts to check.

I was shown the standard jumble of letters on the chart on the far wall, and I asked to read as much as I could. In an act that sums up who I am more than I’d like to admit, I read past the point where the eye doctor told me stop, and then apologized for not being able to read the last line.

The verdict was, rather than need glasses, I possessed “better than Perfect Vision,” which is a phrase I’ve always liked. Subsequent checks at the DMV have proven that my better than perfect vision is hanging in there, despite my predilection for reading in very low light, practiced over several decades.

All of this is to say, I often see things others don’t. The proverbial eye for detail.

I’ve been taking a lot of pictures recently. My daily “take a picture of my outfit” photo habit has increased to include multiple pictures of my darling daughter, and of my face. The documentation of Wednesday is obvious: she’s adorable, and has already changed considerably in her first two weeks of life. I’ve noticed. Better than perfect vision, remember. And she’s a better than perfect baby. The angel is in the details.

The need for pictures of my face, however, comes from an entirely different place. My better than perfect eyes see too much. See all the flaws that makeup cannot hide, the tells and giveaways. Despite my efforts to present myself as feminine, I can see the ways I’m falling short. I’ve been doing pretty well for not doing it for very long, but I can see the lengths I still have to go.

Still apologizing for not going far enough, as ever. You’d think I’ve grown out of it by now.

So I need the imperfect lens of the camera, the approximations and half-measures that make up photography. I need to have pictures of myself because I can see too much in the mirror. In the photos, gloriously blurry with digital imperfections, I can see me without worrying about details. It’s remarkably comforting.

It was not uncommon for me crop my face out of my “Today’s Style” photos. Now, I take proper selfies with the best of ’em.


The new Patreon went into full effect last Friday, with the first of the weekly rewards for $2, $5, and $10 backers. There’s a new flash piece, The Ballad of the Eyeball Kid, audio of me reading that flash piece, and the first chapter of my novel-in-progress, The Wish of All Things. If any of those things interest you, you may want to consider becoming a backer.

What’s in store this week? A rumination on supervilliany entitled Voice Victorious–which I am very much looking forward to reading aloud, let me tell you–and a sneak peak at a comic project I’ve been working on. The Patreon’s right here, iffin you want to see ’em.

Don’t wanna be left out, do you?


One more baby picture? How’s about when Wednesday finished her first bath?

Such an angel, am I right?

Good luck with the dragon.


Changing Everything, Because Everything Needs Changing

So. Things have changed.
The biggest change has been this little bundle of joy, my daughter Wednesday. She is, as near as I can tell, the best baby, full of joy and screams and little songs she sings to herself. Or, possibly, to us. Which is very sweet if true.

Which makes me a parent, a mother, simply by virtue of her existing. A big change, 3 now, where there was once 2. But a welcome one.

I love her.



Continuing the theme of everything needing changing, I’ve been updating jaredaxelrod.com, putting in proper pronouns and a new photo. It’s weird thing to do, if I’m honest. It’s either a small thing that feels much more momentous or momentous thing that feels much more small. A change of a few letters. A new photo. Shouldn’t mean as much as it does, but it does.

As @endrift said on Twitter, “A (cis) friend once said “trans is contagious”. I thought about it and realized what’s contagious is the idea that it’s OK to be trans.”

So, here’s me saying it’s okay to be trans, in a conscious effort to live more truthfully. It would be easy to leave the old site up and just say “I’ll change it later,” never meaning to. But if the site is meant to show who I am, then it needed to change. My virtual self needed to keep in step with my meatspace one.

Also, can I just say? I look great in that photo.


Changes have happened over at the Patreon as well. I’ve moved the charges to monthly, rather than “per Voice of Free Planet X episode.” In an effort to give folks more stuff while the podcast is currently in production. There’s now weekly flash fiction, and audio versions of said flash, and selections from whatever I’m working on, depending on your reward level.

So, if you’re looking for fresh Axelrod fiction, that’s the place to find it.



Some new pieces up on Quirk Books. There’s Noteworthy Women In Sci-Fi History, and What If Robert Frost Wrote About Food? One is obviously more silly than the other, as it is about things that rhyme with “ice cream.” But, if you ever wanted to know about the origins of slash-fic, the less silly one may well be worth your time.

Also in the “silly” category: Apes of Wrath, a Steinbeckian take on Planet of the Apes, which I hope lives up the giggles created by the title.

And there’s a return to my favorite monsters with Speaking In Terms At Frankenstein’s Support Group For Misunderstood Monsters. This marks the first appearance of Myriad, the sentient swarm of locusts, Gelatinax, the blob, Lobstar, the unholy melding of lobster and man, and Lord Zynn, extra-dimensional warlord. Will these characters show up again? Who knows?


(Lobstar. Lobstar will show up again.)


A week or so ago was #PitMad, aka “Pitch Madness,” aka “cram a description of your novel into Twitter and see if anyone likes it.” I’ve been trying to find an agent for my novel The Wish Of All Things, so I gave it a shot. I was not prepared for the response:

(note that updated avatar; changing everything)

Needless to say, I was floored by this response. Not all of those likes and retweets were agents, but a hefty percentage were. And even so, to have such a marvelous outcry of support for a measly one-sentence pitch–I didn’t even talk about the dragon!–was wonderful. I’ve gotten some good critique on The Wish Of All Things recently, and with this latest revision its the best its ever been. It’s hard not to send this version out and think “Is this the year everything changes?”

‘Cause, y’know. Everything needs changing.

Good luck with the dragon.


I’ve Been Busy

The Voice of Free Planet X is currently on hiatus as JR and I prepare for the arrival of the third member of our party. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing things! For example, I’ve recently appeared on Chris Lester’s The Raven & The Writing Desk (episode already on the VFPX feed!), talking all about VFPX. We dig into how the stories come together, how I record, and what’s coming in Season 3.You’re going to want to listen.



A staple of my wardrobe recently has been this fantastic fox-eared hat. I’m currently involved in a DnD campaign run by none other than Christiana Ellis, playing a charming, con-artist rogue, Muugen the Magnificent, who got cursed to look like strange fox/monkey creature. One of my fellow adventurers is Starla Hutchton (Beyond The Wallers Chooch & Vivid Muse round out the party), and she gave me this hat for X-Mas. I’ve been wearing it on the regular ever since.

Now, if you read the above paragraph and thought “Jared playing DnD with Christiana, Starla, Chooch and Viv sounds great! I wish I could listen!” have I got news for you! You can! Christiana has been releasing our game as a podcast called “So Many Levels.” I think it’s a hoot, and I’ve got some great plans for Muugen’s journey going forward.


Additionally, I’ve been writing humor pieces for Quirk Books. I really should have shown you to these earlier, since more than a few of them are VFPX ideas that never quite developed into full episodes. Here’s the full list, up to today:

Frankenstein’s Support Group For Misunderstood Monsters
An Interview with Kilgore Trout
What if The X-Men Was A Gothic Novel
Narnia Real Estate Listings
Louisa May Alcott’s “The Fast & The Furious”
Jane Austen’s Birthday Haul
The Hundred-Acre Games
Jane Austen’s 21st Birthday Haul
A Christmas Caper
25 More Laws of Robotics
The Hobbit Inspired by Cormac McCarthy
Frankenstein’s Support Group For Misunderstood Monsters, Friday the 13th Edition
Quoth The Tweety Bird
Presenting “Mirrer,” The Wonderland Dating App
The Latest Headlines From OzFeed
“2 Great 2 Expectations” and Other Charles Dickens Sequels That Never Were
Time Machines, Ranked By Accuracy
Forgotten Fairy Tales
Ode to a Venusian Flurn
What If Les Miserables Was A DnD Game?
The Future of Celebrity Gossip
Dr. Seuss-Inspired Books About Modern Technology
St. Patrick Contemplates Driving Out The Snakes

I realize that’s a heaping helping of links to throw at you all at once. I’m going to attempt to make this blog a more regular thing, so that you’re alerted by where to experience my bits of weirdness in a more timely fashion.

Until then, good luck with the dragon.


Guidance

I was just informed that Jeff Jeske, my college advisor, passed away. Jeff provided perhaps the only type of guidance I would have accepted at that age: “If that’s what you really want to do, here’s how you go about it.”

I almost didn’t graduate. I had failed a business class senior year, so I was two credits short. Not even a full class. That semester, with the help of a extraordinarily talented group of friends, I had put on a full-length play that I wrote. I’d like to claim that the play was why I failed the business course, but the fact of the matter was that I just couldn’t get into the material. Unlike the play.

I went to Jeff with the news of not being able to graduate, and while we talked about the possibilities of summer classes and the like, I brought out a longshot. Could I have the play, done through a club, count as a 2-credit independent study.

Jeff, to his credit, did not throw the idea out of hand. Instead, he looked a me, shrugged and said, as he always did, “If that’s what you really want to do, here’s how you go about it.”

He told me which forms I needed, how to fill them out, what they should say and who should sign them. And when I saw the dean not two hours later, a fist-full of papers in my hand, there was nothing he could do but sign off on it. My paperwork was ironclad. I graduated.

I usually tell this story as triumph of early-twenties optimism and outside-the-box thinking, and it is. But it couldn’t have had the happy ending it did without Jeff, who took my oddball idea and calmly laid out the way for it work.

I don’t think I’ve ever thanked him properly for all the guidance he’s given me. I don’t think I ever could.


Starchild

What is this, a month later and I still haven’t talked about Episode 25? Well, it’s been quite a month.  I’ll get into that in a moment. But first, Starchild!

This is an unabashed love letter to my wife, JR Blackwell. Doctor Mercury is her character–and that’s her posing as Mercury, underneath the layers of Photoshop in the title card–and I’ve been wanting to write something with her for awhile. Doctor Mercury was already established as part of Chris Morse’s Super Villain Corner, and having recently jumped over there, it seemed the perfect excuse to have her follow me back. Like all things my wife does, Doctor Mercury is an immaculate creation, a perfectly twisted power fantasy the likes of which fiction rarely sees. I’m not sure how much of this episode was me “writing” and how much was just letting Doctor Mercury do her thing. JR has read me her Mercury stories in that thick, delicious voice, so I getting her words on the page was surprisingly easy.

This was remarkably fun story to write. The whole “found audio” conceit allowed me to pull some actual horror around JR and my vamping. And it was nice to try my hand at some Lovecraftian-style terror, while at the same time making in feminist and, well, not racist.

Props to Sonia Williams, making her third appearance on the show, and absolutely nailing the transition from focused scientist to deranged madwoman. And simmilar props to new-comer Josh Hitchens, who I daresay is the best screamer in podcasting. Seriously, I asked that guy to just give me a scream, thinking we’d have to do a couple of takes to get the energy right, but he shook out a perfect one right out of the gate. I’ve been wanting to work with Josh for awhile, I just had to find the right character. And it seems like I made the right choice.


Speaking of collaborations with my wife…

We’re looking at an April publication date. Should be life-changing.


Speaking of life-changing, if you follow my Instagram or Twitter feed, you may have noticed I’ve stopped dressing like this:


And started dressing like this:


I’ve been experimenting with my gender identity over the past few weeks, and I’ve come to a few conclusions:

  • Presenting a feminine identity, both on the street and online, makes me happy. As in, “seemingly cured my depression in one fell swoop” happy. I used to view to myself as someone who had lots of different problems, but it looks like I just had one problem that affected me in lots of different ways.
  • I’m not changing my name. You can continue to refer to me as “Jared.”
  • I haven’t come down on specific pronoun preference, yet. “He” is fine, I’m still testing the weight of “she,” and I’ve never had a problem with the singular “they.” So, really, all pronouns are fine.
  • I do intend to keep wearing ties.

Whether this a wholesale shift in my gender from male to female, or just some genderqueer wardrobe additions remains to be seen. I’m still exploring this, and there’s no real map to speak of. But the journey has been nothing but positive so far, so I’m content to continue on and see where I end up.


Soft Pretzel Stuffing

It’s that time of year, again. The time of year when everyone asks me about the recipe of my soft pretzel stuffing.

As I was born of southern climes, I have…opinions about the so-called “cuisine” offered by the Northern region of these United States. The concept of soft-pretzel stuffing, however, is a glory I cannot and will not deny. It was first introduced to me at a “Friendsgiving” party, and while the original creator was tight-fisted with the recipe (he has since relented, giving me a list of instructions far too long to replicated, even if they do finally find a use for gibblets), I have made my own.

The nature of the soft pretzel, being salty and buttery before you even begin, allows a recipe that is sheer elegance in its simplicity. You can dress up a soft pretzel if you like, I suppose. But why would you?

I recommend using the soft pretzels found at Miller’s Twist in Reading Terminal, but any soft pretzel will do.

Soft Pretzel Stuffing

1 dozen soft pretzels
2 quart chicken or vegetable broth
4 oz of butter
1 large onion, chopped
4 large carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
4 sprigs of fresh sage, chopped
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped
Salt
A dash of Penzey’s Sandwich Sprinkle (an optional touch, but I always find it adds a little somethin’-somthin.’ Garlic powder will serve)

1)    Preheat the oven to 350°. I usually make this along side a roast turkey, using Alton Brown’s recipe, so the oven has already been at 350° for quite some time before I shove the stuffing in.

2)    Chop the soft pretzels into 1-inch pieces, place in a large bowl. Poor one quart of the broth into bowl, and allow the pretzel pieces to soak the broth up

3)    Melt the butter in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots celery and a pinch of salt, and sweat until the onions are translucent

4)    Add  sage and thyme to the vegetable mixture, stir until the vegetables are evenly coated.

5)    Add the pretzel pieces, including the broth at the bottom of the bowl. Add Sandwich Sprinkle. Stir well.

6)    Add more broth, so that the liquid comes halfway up the sides of the dutch oven (usually only 2 cups, but it depends on how dry or absorbent you pretzels are)

7)    Place the dutch oven in the oven, covered, for 30 minutes.

8)    Remove cover, and cook for another 20 minutes.

9)    Serve immediately in huge honking spoonfuls.

 

Not a fancy recipe, I will admit. But a crowd-pleaser just the same.


Even In Arcadia/A Good Guy With A Magic Sword


Been busy with my new gig outfitting the ghouls and monsters haunting Eastern State Penitentiary as part of Terror Behind The Walls’s costume team. Making sure the 200 or so actors all have the right pants took some doing, which lead to Even In Arcadia being later than I would have liked. But the show’s up properly, now, and A Good Guy With A Magic Sword came out on schedule, so all is right with the world.

Sadly, podcasting does not yet pay the bills. You could help with that, if you’re so inclined.

It’s fitting to talk about these two together. After the format-breaking shenanigans of The Wake Of The Lacuna, Parable Of The Leopard, Just Around Supervillian Corner, Court of the Crimson Queen and Rap Battle Beyond The Stars, it’s kind of nice to get back into the groove of fake interviews again.

Episode 25 (also Episode 200, if you’re counting the old way), breaks with the format yet again—if you’ve finished A Good Guy With A Magic Sword, you may have some guesses on how—because I’m never satisfied with boxes, even those I build myself.


Even In Arcadia started life back in the old version of VFPX, where it was just prose that I read. Part of the plan for redoing it for the new version was to add the scenes I never got a chance to do back then. But once all the parts of the old version were written up as dialogue, it was clear that the bulk of the episode was already written.

Those other scenes may see the light of day sometime, in another version. “Alien refugees hide out as Edwardian servants” does seem to be an idea I can’t get enough of, ever since it occurred to me watching PBS’s Manor House.

In addition to that fine bit of programming, Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia is also an influence, if the title wasn’t clear enough indication. I first saw that play as teenager, and it’s never left me. I don’t think about it often, but when I do, I remember with a crystal clarity I wish I had for, you know, actual things that have happened to me. I always pull out Rosencratz & Guilderstern Are Dead as a favorite Stoppard piece—certainly several characters in VFPX tip their hat to the Player King—but I may be lying to myself.

With the exception of the wondrous Jennifer Sommerfield, all of the actors were recorded over Skype—a necessary evil when you realize that all of your cast needs to have UK accents. The only one accent is natural; everyone else is faking it, and doing a cracking good job of it, too. Proper accents meant going to trained theater types, which means the performances are all top-notch, even if I had to direct them over the phone.

Nick did his over a cell phone in the midst of theater festival, and it is still fantastic. That’s why I work with professionals.

It’s kind of a low-key episode. The humor is gentler, the stakes are purposely misleading, and when the ending is so at odds with the rest of the story the violence is amplified ten-fold. Which, again, was on purpose.

(Pretty much all of VFPX is on purpose, by the by.  I’ve had people ask me about references in titles and characters misspeaking idioms and the like, and yes, all of it is on purpose. Even the things the actors bring to the show that I didn’t plan for is kept in the edit for specific reasons.)

Still, the ending aside, a low-key episode. Which I like. Despite my love of pulp velocity, I’m a bit of a ponderous writer by nature. Sometimes it’s nice to just hang out in a place, before it’s gone for good…


Speaking of hanging out in a place, how much fun is Cyriania? I’d just finished Lev Grossman’s The Magicians when I was pulling this episode together, and watching him grind his axes against Narnia, Oz, Hogwarts and Dungeons & Dragons certainly affected this episode. While it’s interesting to peer into Grossman’s “what if magic wasn’t any fun” worldview, even he couldn’t help enjoying himself when that bear waddled into frame. Talking animals are great, even when they’re used to nakedly explore gun control.

Like every queer person, I was deeply affected by the Pulse nightclub massacre. So much so, this episode kicked another idea out of the Episode 24 slot I had been thinking about longer (don’t worry; Players Of Games will show up in Season 3). I needed to talk about it, and this episode became the vessel for that, the result of my irritations with the facile arguments about assault weapons that bobbed up and down in the wake of the tragedy.

One thing I noticed when bringing this episode together: it’s really easy to be racist in a fantasy context. Half this episode is improv, and without any prompting from me, each and everyone of the actors said something disparaging about ogres, or trolls, or elves, as group. That sort of casual fantastical racism mirrored nicely the casual real-life racism that accompanies any discussion about gun control, so it was put in the scripted portions, too.

There will probably be a return to Cyriania to dig into the weird racist attitudes that prop up fantasy worlds. There’s a lot to dig into, there. Plus, we never talk to a Tanuki! After watching The Eccentric Family, I’ve got a lot of Tanuki ideas…

Ellen Kushner returned for this episode, because I can’t have a story about swords and not include the author of Swordspoint. I’m considering putting an unedited version of the improve we did, because over half of it was edited out, and it was all so good!


Next episode is the Halloween special and the last episode of Season 2 as well as being the 25th and 200th episode. It’s also shaping up to be one of my favorite episodes of the show. I can’t wait to share it with you.

Good luck with the dragon.