Bryon’s Muppet Backstage Pictures

Because my husband Bryon does not have his own website, I feel the need to occasionally share some of his handicraft work with you. Inspired by another Muppet fan, Bryon built his own backstage to go with the other Muppet play sets and toys he has. These pictures can convey some of what this looks like to you, but what you cannot see are the countless hours he spent decorating all the theatrical swirls with dimensional paint, the tiny dollhouse pieces he collected through the mail, or the intricacy of fitting all the pieces together. All I can say is I’m impressed. This is not my skill set at all! Now, he just needs a similarly ornate project to see him through our current quarantine.

I hope you enjoy these select photos.

Fantastic History #54: Buddy Cops in Speculative Fiction by Dan Stout

You got Elves in my Mystery!

Speculative fiction and mystery have long lived side-by-side. The earliest incarnations of the mystery genre were heavy with speculative elements, a trend found in works such as Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue or Hodgson’s Carnacki stories.

In recent years the blending of mystery and fantasy has grown more common, especially after the rise in popularity of the urban fantasy and paranormal romance subcategories. Not long ago a story that brought fantasy into a modern setting or that had equal parts romance and magic would have fallen between the genre cracks. Today they are flourishing, with readerships devoted to the exciting new work being done in these subgenres.

My personal obsession with the blend of mystery and speculative fiction was triggered by late 90s TSR novels such as Murder in Tarsis, whose covers promised a mix of dungeons and dragons and detectives. I admit that I never actually picked up any of those novels, but the idea of seeing how a detective would go about their business in a different time or world was fascinating. They felt like the Cadfael mysteries, which were set in 12th century England, but with the addition of magic and dragons. And really, what’s cooler than that?

Buddy Cop Defined

A very specific kind of crime narrative, Buddy Cop stories are a variation on the “odd couple” theme, a classic take on the traditional relationship story. And these go way back, appearing at least a few thousand years ago, in the epic of Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh is the hero of the saga, but he starts off as an oppressive king. In fact, he’s so reprehensible that the gods decide to ground him in reality by pairing him with Enkidu, a hair-covered “wild man”. Gilgamesh and Enkidu are diametric opposites. Enkidu is connected to nature and has empathy for the oppressed, which contrasts with Gilgamesh’s entitled elitism. Together, they each make the other a better person.

Similar friendships are depicted in everything from the Iliad to the TV incarnations of Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess. The obvious step from these narratives to the Buddy Cop is the addition of a crime to solve.
But when modern readers talk about “buddy cop,” stories, they’re not talking about two friends who solve crimes, like Holmes and Watson or Nancy Drew and Bess. They’re usually talking about the pairings of misfits who don’t particularly want to be joined at the hip, but find a way to get along.

So for our purposes, we can define Buddy Cop stories as relationship stories focused on a crime, with a pair of prickly characters struggling to get along.

This relationship can be found in novels as diverse as Caves of Steel and A Murder of Mages, and films such as Alien Nation, Men in Black, and The Last Action Hero.

Braided Roses

So now that we’ve got a good definition of a Buddy Cop story, how do we explore that relationship? One of my favorite tricks for writing relationships is the “braided roses” technique. (I’ve heard it taught by several different people, though I first heard it from Dave Farland.)

The crux of this technique is to consider each of the two characters as a rose. Each beautiful in their own way, both characters also has their personal set of thorns that make it difficult to get close to them. At first, these two roses seem like they could never be together, but as you line them up, you’ll find that they weave together, avoiding each other’s thorns, and that the end result is far more beautiful than either one alone. But the real power of this metaphor is that the thorns don’t go away. Instead, the two characters learn to coexist, and to function better together than they ever could have alone.

This works for any kind of relationship, whether that’s romantic or procedural. And Buddy Cop stories work because of this universality. On the macro level, they can explore a multitude of conflicts, and use the character confrontations, investigation, and elements of speculative wonder to dive into any societal disquiet imaginable. At the same time, they allow the storyteller to zoom in and examine the two investigators as people, highlighting both how they are different and how they are more alike than they might realize.

Learn how to tie two characters together while also drawing from multiple genres, and you’ll have a powerful tool at your disposal. From the saga of Gilgamesh and Enkidu to today, the idea of pairing a socially polished figure with a loose cannon (Lethal Weapon) or a street-savvy pro with a newcomer to town (Rush Hour/Alien Nation), or even teaming a cranky mentor with a fresh-faced kid (Men in Black) has been a go-to for relationship stories throughout the ages.


Dan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he writes noir with a twist of magic and a disco chaser. His stories have appeared in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post, Nature, and Intergalactic Medicine Show. He is the author of The Carter Archives, a series of noir fantasy novels from DAW Books. To say hello, visit him at his website.

Fantastic History #53: Two Stories or More than I Can Chew by Shannon Ryan

This is a tale of two stories, one I abandoned, realizing I was way over my head, and one that I finished in a week. I offer these examples in the hope someone can learn from my mistakes.

I generally write urban fantasy with a humorous twist. However, two years ago, I had a grand idea. Or maybe you could call it a Grand Wizard idea (sorry). I decided to write a novel based in the US Civil War with cavalry general Nathan Bedford Forrest as the villain, based on the fact that they called Forest “The Wizard of the Saddle.” I intended it to have an X-Files meets Wild Wild West feel. This was a horrible idea on many levels.

While Forrest was a famous, and some say brilliant, cavalry leader, he was a Confederate general and a slave trader. And given the sentiments in US politics today, any comedy involving a slave owner would probably go over slightly worse than a remake of Hogan’s Heroes. However, as a writer, I experienced something even worse. I could not find any empathy for Forrest, and I believe you have to have a little love for your villain.

Forrest’s legacy after the war was even more problematic. He survived the war and went on to found the Ku Klux Klan, and he is a hero to white supremacists. Not an organization or group of people I want to promote or encourage on any level. Finally, I am not a historian, and I’m a little soft on geography as well. I could probably do decently filling out the names of states on a map, but I probably would not get 100%. The US Civil War is one of the most documented and dissected periods in history, and no matter how many films, articles, or books I ingested, I felt like I only had the first layer of the onion peeled.

Even though I failed in this endeavor, I did find it an enriching experience. While I might never be able keep up with a Civil War buff or historian, I know how McClellan’s leadership differed from Grant’s and how the political organization of the Confederacy affected the provisioning of their military. I even hold opinions on these topics. So my wholly failed endeavor taught me more about American history than my secondary education—not to disparage my teachers, I just know my learning style and designed a curriculum to fit.

However, I did mention two stories. Well, a few months ago, I was hanging out with some writer friends, and we came up with the idea of a vampire doing porn in the 1970s as a protagonist. Now, unlike Civil War cavalry, this was a little more my speed.

I found the 1970’s a great time to write in. Not that I remember it, I was a toddler in the 1970s. However, all the pop culture of the time is available through the Internet in bite-sized nuggets. You want fashion of the times, you can find thousands of pictures—including one of David Hasslehoff wearing a pink shirt with only two buttons, both below the navel. Need to come up with the names of pornography studios or actors, just a web search away. Want the protagonist to drive a Dodge muscle car made in 1977, Wikipedia will tell you the Super Bee wasn’t made after 1971, but the Charger was in production.

But here’s the main takeaway from my 1970s story. It was easy to write because I was not writing about any relevant historical events, just using the trappings of the time as a setting. If I had been writing about the assassination of Harvey Milk and the White Night riots, I am sure I would have felt just as paralyzed. Now that I have finished a historical piece, I have to say I’m a little hooked. I might have to write a story that takes place during the Civil War someday, but I think I will avoid characters who might show up in a history book.


Shannon Ryan lives in Marion, Iowa. He writes weird, funny stories in the urban fantasy genre, featuring satanic telemarketers and awkward vampires. His latest book PANIC NO MORE is about a computer programmer harassed by a Greek god.