Friday, September 29, 2006

The Green Clods of Home

Hydroseeding! It sounds like something you'd do while terraforming Mars. Well, we had it done yesterday to our yard in Abita Springs. Now the mud (soil to some people) that was hauled in two weeks ago The landscapers came in yesterday with a tank of stuff, filled it up with water from our well, and sprayed it like a thin film of paint across our yard. They tell us we have to keep it damp, and that in a week or two we will start to see a green fuzz sprouting. I'll be glad to see that. Right now it looks like the kind of mold you'd find on some unrecognizable product that you left in the refrigerator a year or so ago.

I was thinking last night of how I've always wanted to be involved in a terraforming project. But now I'm starting to wonder, and the wondering is tinged with fear. What if the fuzz that sprouts isn't green? What if it', like the Martian plant that nearly took over the earth in War of the Worlds? What if the guys who came to our house weren't really guys? What if this is the opening salvo in a new war? What if I awaken one night to a crimson yard of tiny screaming Martians? or? What if I don't awake? What if you don't?

Hydroseeding anyone?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Work Goes On

In the past few days I’ve been getting a lot of non-fiction done. I’ve finished my next column for The Illuminata and will email that off today. I’ve rough drafted two more columns that I won’t worry about polishing up at present. They won’t be due until a couple of months down the line. I’ve also been working on a grant proposal in collaboration with a colleague at Xavier University, and that just got sent off this morning. Now we’ll see if I can get some time for fiction.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Strange Days

We are experiencing an unusual fall this year. I’m not talking about the weather, but about the fact that the New Orleans Saints are winning. They are 3 and 0, and this week they won their first game on Monday Night Football since 1992. The Saints are traditionally not fast starters. Nor are they strong finishers. In fact, they are, traditionally, not very good at all. They’ve won exactly one playoff game in their history, which dates from 1967, and other than a few years in the early 90s under coach Jim Mora, they’ve actually posted very few winning seasons. Understandably, there is quite a bit of football excitement right now in the city that care forgot. There is also quite a bit of skepticism. The Saints have broken the fan’s hearts before, so many of us are not yet ready to hand them the keys to the city. Still, wouldn’t it be grand? Could we have a great season? Could we get TWO playoff victories? Or, dare we consider it, a Super Bowl trip?

No. NO! I say to myself. Don’t give in to hope. Don’t….give…in….AARRGHHH!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Writing in Season

It’s late September and finally starting to cool off here in southern Louisiana. By cool off, I mean it’s dropping into the high 60s / low 70s at night and not climbing much above the mid 80s during the day. But even in this faux fall I’m finding my energy levels for writing starting to surge. It has always been this way for me. I write better when it’s cool, and better yet in the dead of winter when the world is quiet and lies waiting for spring.

Something in winter has always inspired me, and I believe it has to do with the edge of melancholy emotions that is wetted in me by the first seasonal chill. I’m not sad, not depressed. I’m merely a little more open to the darker emotions and darker thoughts that come creeping in with the cold northern winds.

Such observations of own productivity have led me to wonder if other writers have similar, or different, experiences. Anyone care to weigh in?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Criticism and Writers

When you read a book that you don’t like, how comfortable do you feel in criticizing the writer’s abilities in a public forum? I don’t mean in what you tell your best friend who is thinking about reading the book, but in what you put down in your blogs or in a review on Amazon. Once upon a time I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. When Lin Carter was still alive I was perfectly comfortable in referring to him as a hack. I have even been known to criticize the characters of one currently famous author, whose name I won’t mention except to say that it’s Stephen King, as being stereotypical.

I don’t feel the same way anymore. As a writer myself, I now know how much it hurts to get criticism on something you worked very hard on. And I can see how comfortable most people are with giving out such criticism. Writers, like actors and politicians, are public figures, and the public can be rabid in expressing their like or dislike. But writers, and even actors and politicians, are also people. They have feelings, and most of them are probably trying their best even if their best isn’t very good.

I find these days that I tend either to avoid criticism of living writers (dead writers are another story), or I leave out the names and focus on the writing problems themselves. For example, I won’t review a book on Amazon that I don’t care for, even though I read plenty that aren’t very good. If I mention a writing problem in my Illuminata column I usually leave out the writer’s name.

Sometimes I wonder if this is not cowardice. Shouldn’t I speak the brutal truth and let the chips fall where they may? Well, I don’t think of myself as a coward, and here’s why. If I’m writing a review that I’m paid for, I tell the honest truth as I see it, and I don’t pull punches although I may seek for wording that is less than brutal. However, no one is forcing me to accept review assignments of material that I don’t like. So, I find that I turn down assignments that would require me to really blast a writer’s ineptitude. When it comes to Amazon reviews, which are unpaid, then I figure I can do whatever I damn well please. And in my own column I can choose to leave out an author’s name if I want as long as I don’t cheat my readers of the “lesson” to be learned in the column.

Finally, of course, criticism is merely an opinion. Too often I have found myself loving a book that a friend of mine hated, or hating one that he or she loved. Criticism can be informed or uninformed, but it can’t be “right” or “wrong” in any objective sense. Was Hemingway a better writer than Faulkner? Is Stephen King better than Anne Rice? It depends on who you ask. And Steve (I call him, Steve), I’m sorry I criticized your characters once upon a time. I’m sure you worked hard on them.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Matter of Detail

So I'm reading along in this book see. And the heroes are going to break into this sorcerer's house. There are bars on the window so they get a jack and they crank the bars out so they can slip inside. Sound ok? Yeah, well then why did it take the author three pages to get us in the house? Did we really need to see every drop of sweat and quiver in the arm muscles of the guy working the jack? It's what's in the house that is interesting.

So now we're finally in the house and our heroes awaken a guardian demon. Cool? One might think so, but it takes them less time to defeat the demon than to break into the house in the first place. There's no other way to say it but to point out that this is poor management of detail. As a result, I'm tossing this book aside and it's highly unlikely I'll be reading more by this author.

What was Bill Clinton's mantra in his first bid for the presidency? "It's the economy, stupid?" Replace "economy" with "details" and you'll have my point.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Custom of the Sea

There wasn't much on TV last night and I ended up watching a couple of specials about, of all things, cannibalism. There was the usual consideration given to the Donner Party, although I learned a few things I hadn’t known. For example, there were actually two encampments, and the smaller one had only recently been discovered and excavated. The scientists found no evidence of cannibalism at the small site, possibly because there was mostly only a single family there. The researchers actually examined all the bones at the site for cut marks and then tried to identify the species involved. No human bones with cut marks were discovered.

The special also featured a couple of cases where groups of people lost at sea after their ship sank resorted to cannibalism. I knew there were a few cases like that, but what I had not heard of was that, in fact, cannibalism in such cases was actually an unwritten “custom of the sea.” The survivors would draw straws to see who would be killed and eaten so that the others could live. According to the show, this was a widely known custom and was deemed perfectly acceptable. Hum!

The worst, most horrific story, involved Japanese soldiers during World War II who were abandoned on islands and resorted to cannibalism, both of enemy soldiers that they killed, and of each other. The worst part of this was that there were supposedly some documented cases where the Japanese soldiers cut pieces off prisoners of war to eat while the prisoners were alive. They left them alive so their meat wouldn’t spoil. Now that’s a horror story.

Friday, September 22, 2006

As Seen in a Dream

A dream I had last night might make an interesting opening for a story. I was in an alleyway in the bad part of a medieval city with another man and a woman. The woman was related to me and was quite a bit younger than I was. She might have been a niece but I’m not sure. The man was an acquaintance. The setting was a quasi-fantasy setting, although none of us were carrying weapons. I heard something that disturbed me and told the other two to remain where they were while I investigated. I went off down the alleyway but found nothing. When I returned, however, I found the man and the woman dead and strung up from a crossbar with ropes around their necks. Both had been cut open. The man had strands of pearls thrust into his eviscerated stomach, entwined with his intestines. The woman had a few dollar bills clinging to her clothing and a little pile of wrinkled bills beneath her feet. I remember thinking that, since the motive was clearly not robbery, I was going to have a hard time finding the killer and taking my vengeance. Then I woke up.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Nostalgia Reading, Part II

I started a book called Dagger last night, by David Drake. I’m considering it nostalgia reading because it is the last tie-in book that I have left regarding the “Thieves World” ® franchise. This was a concept created by Robert Lynn Asprin, with the help of Lynn Abbey who later became Asprin’s wife. Thieves World ® was the first “shared world” anthology. Different writers all wrote stories about the same fantasy “world,” and they were allowed to use each other’s characters as long as they didn’t kill or maim them. The result was a series of twelve anthologies that really broke new ground in fantasy fiction. I was a big fan.

All the original anthology stories centered around a town called “Sanctuary,” which seemed to be filled mostly with thieves, rogues, murderers, rapists, assassins, drug addicts, sodomites, sorcerers, witches, pimps, whores, catamites, child molesters, drunks, mercenaries, bullies, bravos, muckers, down-on-their-luck bards, demons, and (whew) gods. Oh, there was an occasional merchant, although he or she usually doubled as one of the other types of character as well.

The series boasted some great writing from the likes of C.J. Cherryh, Poul Anderson, Diane Duane, and many others, although my absolutely favorite stories were by Janet Morris. There were also some series tie-in novels written by individual authors, with, again, the best ones being by Janet Morris and featuring a character named Tempus. Dagger is pretty good so far, although I don’t think it’s going to be as good to me as the Morris books.

If you haven’t heard of Thieves World ®, check out this homepage. There are also some new books being produced in the series, set long after the original series ended, but I have not seen any of these so I don’t know much about the quality. Lynn Abbey is editing them so one might hope they’ll keep up the level of quality of the originals.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Losses to Writing

I was realizing this morning that we've lost three writers already this year who personally touched my life. The first was Kenneth Bulmer, a British SF/Fantasy/Other writer who was actually an influence on the style of my fantasy fiction. I've probably read fifty of his novels and have quite a few left to go. He wrote under many pseudonyms, including Alan Burt Akers and Manning Norvil.

The second was David Gemmell, also a British writer. Gemmell wrote heroic fantasy and I've read at least fifteen or so of his novels, with another ten or so to go. In just the last two years Gemmell has become my "favorite" author.

The third loss was, of course, Charles Grant, who I mentioned an entry or so back. The antholigies that Grant edited were there when I first began reading horror and they were certainly an influence on my own short horror fiction.

The worst loss of all is that, by all accounts, these three gentlemen were fine human beings who have left behind many loved ones. Let's hope for a Heaven, or Valhalla, or something. I know that I won't forget them.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Nostalgia Reading

A new Illuminata is up with another “Writer’s Block” column from me. It’s sort of a five year retrospective on the major points I’ve made in the column over the years. Hard to believe I’ve been doing it for that long. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in an SF movie where time has sped up for me while the rest of the world moves at the same old rate. Maybe it’s just getting older, but I'd sure like the whirlwind to stop for a while so I could get off.

Between the opening agonies of the school year and the fact that my son has been having a few health problems lately, I haven’t had much energy for fiction. I’m still doing the non-fiction thing. In reading, I'm halfway through Garan the Eternal by Andre Norton. Some of you may remember my mentioning this book a few entries back when I was talking about “Childhood’s Books.” Unfortunately, “Garan” is not satisfying my need. It’s very weak. On the other hand, I also started an old Star Trek book that I had lying around and it’s actually pretty good. It’s Star Trek: Log One, which contains stories from the short lived Star Trek animated series. These are adapted by Alan Dean Foster. Nostalgia reading, I guess you’d call it. Or if you want to use Freudian terms, I’m “regressing” back to an earlier time in my life when life was just plain better.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Charles Grant

Charles Grant has died. Those of you who write horror will know his name. He wrote a number of fine novels himself, among them Night Songs and The Bloodwind, and he edited some great collections, including the Shadows series of original anthologies. I think I have most of his personal books and collections, and close to twenty or so anthologies that he edited. His work was a little quieter than the splatterpunks but I enjoyed it very much for the mood and atmosphere that he was able to evoke.

Charles died September 15, 2006, after a long, long illness. He had, in fact, just been released from the hospital ten days earlier, although he was still needing around the clock care. It is a good thing that he was able to spend a few days at home.

Charles is survived by his wife Kathy Ptacek, who is also a fine writer, and by many friends. He will be missed.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


I just finished reading a biography of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway is the writer who taught me that the "classics" weren't all boring and irrelevant to my life. The Old Man and the Sea is among my favorite novels of all time. Some of Hemingway's short stories, such as "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" or "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" are perfect gems. Hemingway wrote, perhaps, the best single-paragraph scene ever put on paper. It is headed "Chapter V" in The Short Stories, from the Scribners paperback collection.

But despite Hemingway's talent, and the ferocious discipline that he brought to his writing, Hemingway himself was not a terribly admirable man. He was certainly immature in his personal life. He was married four times and sometimes seemed to be looking for a new love as soon as he married the last one. And although he loved his children, he often left them when they were very small. He was also something of a braggart. Certainly, he often backed up his brags, but it's pretty clear that he talked a better show than he put on at times. And, he was often petty in his relationships with other writers.

I find that I can't admire Hemingway's personality, but I do respect his work and the effort that he put into it. I usually cannot see that same level of committment in my own writing life.

In the end, of course, Hemingway committed suicide, just like his father. He used a shotgun. I found out in his biography that, Mary, his wife at the time, had the gun taken apart and buried in an undisclosed location(s) in the hills of Idaho. Wouldn't that be an intersting find?

Saturday, September 16, 2006


All of you know about Wikipedia. Well, now there is a SCIFIPEDIA, based on the same concept but with the focus on SF, Fantasy and Horror. It's kind of cool, but kind of small at the moment. I intend to put some entries in, however. And I'm sure others will so maybe it will grow. Check it out.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Death Notes

I know it sounds morbid but on my long commute today I started thinking about the "literature" of suicide notes. The one that came immediately to mind was that left by Robert E. Howard before he shot himself. It read:

All fled, all done
so lift me on the pyre
the feast is over
and the lamps expire

Hart Crane had something much simpler to say just before he jumped over the side of the ship he was on. He said: "Goodbye, everybody!"

Once I got to school I did a quick net search and found there are quite a few sites that post suicide notes, and, more morbidly, there are sites that let you construct your own.

Strangely, in looking over some of these sites, I found the "better" sayings were often uttered, not by suicides who you might think had plenty of time to formulate their note, but by people on their deathbeds from other causes. One of my favorites is by Oscar Wilde. His last words were: "Either that wallpaper goes, or I do." H.G. Wells' last words were: "Go away. I'm all right." Pancho Villa's last words are rather humorous to us today: He ended with: "Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something."

The saddest I found, which sounds like a truly horrific suicide note but wasn't, was by Leonardo Da Vinci. His last words were: "I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have." Talk about being your own harshest critic.

Maybe I should start working on my last words now so I can get them right. If I had died in my first major motorcycle wreck my last word(s) would have been: "Shit!" If I'd died in my second one the ending phrase would have been: "Dammit, not again." Somehow I don't think those quite compare with: "I've had eighteen straight whiskeys. I think that's the record," which were the last words of Dylan Thomas.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

John D. MacDonald

John D. MacDonald is the only writer I ever wrote a fan letter to. This was back in the 1970s, when I was in Junior High, and I never got an answer. I wish I had a copy of that letter now. I can't remember what it said; I just remember sending it. At the time I was enamored of JDM's Travis McGee series. McGee was a Knight errant with slightly tarnished armor, and I loved his appearances in such books as The Turquoise Lament, The Deep Blue Goodbye, and The Long Lavender Look. JDM wrote 21 books in the McGee series, and all but the last to be published, The Lonely Silver Rain, were truly excellent. He also wrote many other books as well, over 70, and the vast majority of them were a combination of noir, mystery and thriller. My favorite, non-McGee book, is called Murder in the Wind, which involves a group of people trapped in a house during a hurricane and which I think is a lesson in how to write a thriller.

MacDonald died in 1986, the same year I finished graduate school, and I've read almost everything he's ever written. I would have read it all, but I've actually been doling the last few books out to myself over time. I hate to think of when they are all gone. Right now I'm reading Judge Me Not, about an anti-corruption crusader who runs head on into some nasty corrupters. This was published in 1951, from Gold Medal Books, and is one of his earlier efforts. It's not the best thing JDM did, but it still has the magic and I'm enjoying it quite a lot. If you haven't read any JDM, try his McGee books first. If you're into SF more, he also wrote a few SF novels, Wine of the Dreamers, Ballroom of the Skies, and The Girl, The Gold Watch, and Everything. They made a TV movie from the last one, and since that time a couple of movies have borrowed the basic idea. It's very good, about a man who has a watch that can stop time, but my favorite among his SF pieces is Wine of the Dreamers.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Where the Wild Things Are

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here but we have quite a few wild creatures living in the woods around our house. So far I haven’t seen any deer, but I’ve seen their tracks. I have seen rabbits and squirrels, and also possums and raccoons. The last two species are a rambunctious lot. Two days ago we put up a bird feeder. Yesterday Lana noticed that something had torn the bottom out of it to get at the food. We suspect a raccoon, although I suppose it could have been a squirrel. This morning I found poop right at the bottom of my steps. It was small poop so I’m pretty sure it was an animal. I’m hoping it was an animal. I know it wasn’t rabbit or squirrel, but I think it might have been either possum or raccoon.

You know you’re in the country when you find coon shit at your front door.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Free Books

A lot of older books are in the public domain now and Project Gutenberg has a lot of those available in various formats for downloading to your computer. I've previously downloaded some of the Doc Savage and The Shadow books, and a friend of mine recently pointed out a page where they have a bunch of free SF/Fantasy books, many of which took me on a nostalgic spin back to my childhood. In particular, I remember fondly the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the book Gulliver of Mars, which was an influence on ERB. I sometimes download these books even if I have a hard copy because it makes it easy to use my computer to search out particular phrases of interest. I've used this feature a few times for articles that I've done and found it handy.

Now, it's off to download a few more old books. I've particularly got my eye on Warlord of Kor by Terry Carr, and Brigands of the Moon by Ray Cummings. I've never read either one of them and but those titles are a promise I can't pass up.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Rereading Books

There are so many books to read that I very, very seldom reread one, no matter how much I enjoyed it. There are, however, a few exceptions. One book that I've reread is The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen, which I'm on record as claiming to be my favorite book of all time. I've also reread William Zinsser's On Writing Well, which deals primarily with non-fiction but which I believe is a good lesson plan for any writer. I've reread The Martian Chronicles by Bradbury, and the first three books in Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars series. The only "classic" I've ever reread is The Old Man and the Sea, which is almost cheating since it's really only novella length. But the book that holds my personal record for the most rereads (at least 4) is a western by Louis L'Amour called To Tame a Land.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine named Steve Tompkins made the point that where westerns are concerned, the "eyes" have it. He meant that western movies such as Once Upon a Time in the West and The Outlaw Josey Wales were superior to any written western. Now Steve is a great guy and highly perceptive, but in this case he is quite simply wrong. Those movies are great ones, and are two of my favorite movies, but I'd toss either of them aside without a second thought on my way to To Tame a Land. As proof? Well, I've reread it at least as many times as I've watched any movie, ever. And considering that it takes longer to read a book than watch a movie, and that it requires more effort, I'd say my claim is supported.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Inspiring Country

Yesterday, my son and I visited a lake a few miles from my new place in Abita Springs. It was almost completely overgrown by Lily pads and other greenery, with cypress trees poking their knees up from the swampy water in various places. I immediately started thinking of what kind of evil thing might be living under that water, living there, perhaps causing the plant growth as a way of hiding itself. There was a children's playground nearby, with no children on it. Had the evil already reached out to take them, I wondered? Or had the children sensed the evil and no longer wanted to play there? But what would happen when the parents, always less aware of such things, made their kids go out to play?

That night, with a nearly full moon overhead, my son and I took a long walk along the dirt and gravel roads around our place. We saw an area where there were literaly thousands of small spider webs strung on the ground beneath the trees. But no spiders. Were they organizing, massing for war? Or had something within the woods...called them, perhaps to wear as clothing when it came shambling out of the trees to take the two foolish humans marching along the white line of the road in the darkness?

Every night my new world feeds me. Right now I'm just turning myself into a glutton, letting the images pour in. I'm hoping one day soon some of them will start to pour out again onto the page. Maybe my fiction well has been empty. If so, it's being "spring" fed now.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Posting Pictures

I've yet to figure out how to manage posting pictures in Blogger. Sometimes they post and sometimes they don't, and I can't figure out the reasons why. With my entry yesterday I tried to post covers of three books that I picked up off Amazon. I can see them clearly downloaded to my computer. Then I go through the blogger process of uploading a picture and the system tells me that my file has been uploaded and to click done. But after I click it nothing happens, no href = stuff gets posted to my screen.

This morning, I tried two or three different pictures before the one you see here today uploaded. Is it just me, or do other folks have these kinds of problems?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Childhood's Books

I wasn’t a “huge” fan of the Hardy Boys when I was growing up but I did enjoy the books. I think I only read half a dozen or so because they weren’t readily available in my small town library. But I did remember them fondly and have been known to remark that I would probably have read them all if I could have gotten my hands on them.

Unfortunately, I decided last night to revisit my childhood. I had a copy of Hunting for Hidden Gold lying around, a Hardy Boys mystery that I picked up a few years back at a library book sale. Feeling the need for a nostalgia fix, I popped it open and sat down for a little time travel. Man, it was bad. The characters--Frank Hardy and his younger, blond brother Joe--were right there on page 1, and for a moment I was transported. Then I actually began to read the thing, and found it horribly written and completely lacking in any suspense or surprise. There’s a little disappointment for you, like opening a Christmas present and finding…socks inside.

I’ve had similar experiences before. I absolutely loved both Edgar Rice Burroughs and Andre Norton when I was a teenager, far more than the Hardy Boys, but when I try to read anything by these two writers now I am generally dissatisfied. The only Burroughs that holds up for me are the John Carter of Mars books. The rest are so full of awkward coincidences that I have to struggle to keep going through them. Andre Norton doesn’t have the coincidences, but her books still seem weak to me now. Yet, I continue, on occasion, to pick up a Burroughs or a Norton and take it for a test read. Why?

I think the answer to my “why” is that I’m forever hopeful of recapturing the sheer joy and excitement of reading that filled my youth. Man, I remember my first Tarzan book, opening with Tarzan lying lazily on the back of Tantor just before all Hell broke loose. Tarzan found a pair of lost cities in the jungle where knights on horseback jousted for the hands of fair maidens. And I remember Norton’s Galactic Derelict, where modern humans traveling through time find an intact alien spaceship and take off in it. Or her Breed to Come, an “uplift” story long before David Brin wrote of it. And I remember The Zero Stone, and Judgment on Janus, and so many others. I wanted it to rain so I could stay in and read those books. Even talking about it puts a lilt of excitement in my voice.

So, that’s why I do it, why I try to recapture my youth. I can picture a book waiting at home for me right now on one of my to-be-read piles. Garan the Eternal by Andre Norton. On the cover is a warrior riding a strange beast with a monstrous sword to hand. God help me, I’m going to give it a go.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Commuter Writer

As of yesterday, I've started my life as a long distance commuter, from Abita Springs to New Orleans. So far, in two days I've averaged about an hour and twenty minutes one way. I'll be experimenting around to find out how to cut that time by leaving at different points in the morning and afternoon. I'm afraid the likely answer will be to leave very early in the morning. Goodbye sleep.

In the meantime, though, an hour long commute does give one time to think. I've had several "lines" pop into my head so far, but have had to memorize them so that I could write them down once I got to or from work. I have a small tape recorder that I'd like to start carrying with me so I can simply record my thoughts. Unfortunately, I loaned it to my son several months ago and getting it back, as in finding it, could be a problem. They aren't too expensive, though, so if I can't find this one I'll just have to buy another. I think it's a good way to take notes during such a drive. I'll let you know how it works. Maybe it's a good idea for some of you.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Guilty of Driving with Long Hair

I got stopped by the police the other night in my new home town of Abita Springs. I was doing about five over the speed limit when the cop saw me, although when he pulled me over a few hundred yards down the road, in the dead center of the small town, he said I was doing 53 in a 35. The limit was 45 when I first saw him, and I probably was running around 50. I wasn't all that surprised to be stopped. A new (as in unfamiliar) car, with tinted windows, appears suddenly in a small town. And it's night time. I was a little surprised at what happened next, although it turned out fine.

I showed the policeman my license, registration, etc., all of which were in order. I'd even got the address on my license changed. A second cop showed up while the first was checking me out on the radio. I was told to stand between my car and his and did so. They asked me if I had any guns or knives in the car, to which I replied "No." Then they asked if they could search the car. I told them, "sure." He looked pretty completely through the automobile, spent a few moments studying my Rolaids as if they might be merely impersonating a gas relief substance.

Being stopped wasn't all that strange, but I do believe that if I'd had short hair and looked a little more respectable that they wouldn't have asked to search my car. I had been to work and had my briefcase and textbooks in the back, and when the first cop looked at the books he asked, "You go to school?" To which I replied, "I teach." I think it's also a little hard for anyone to believe that I look like I do and am actually a professor. I've never had anyone ever see my textbooks and ask if I was a teacher, so I wasn't surprised that the policeman didn't.

In the end, though, the guy told me, "Since you were cool with me I'll be cool with you and let you off with a warning." I appreciated that. At least I've never gotten a ticket for being long-haired. Or mabye it's just because I'm ugly.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Far Beyond Driven

I’ve known Jim Sallis for quite a few years, even though I haven’t seen him physically in at least five or so. He used to live in New Orleans, but moved to Arizona to escape the humidity. He’s perhaps best known for the literary mystery series featuring the character of Lew Griffin. Other than a few short stories, the Griffin novels were my introduction to Sallis’s work, and they are uniformly excellent, with such titles as The Long Legged Fly, Moth, and Black Hornet. One of his most recent books is a standalone novel, though. It’s called Drive and is certainly among his best books. It has definitely moved into first place for me among his works, and that took some doing.

All of Jim Sallis’s work is informed by the noir fiction of such writers as Chester Himes and Dashielle Hammett, but Drive is more noir than most and is truly a classic of its kind. If you decide to read it, I will give you one warning. The story is not always linear and at times the sequencing of events can be a bit unclear. That doesn’t stop me from considering it a ripping good read. There are scenes that are just so “right” that they are heartbreaking.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A Good Night's Work?

Well, for the first time in quite a while I was relatively pleased with last night’s fiction work. A couple of days ago I started rewriting a story that I laid out in a basic outline nearly a year earlier. The story is a fantasy called “Sundered Man.” It’s going to be short, probably less than 3000 words. I started work fairly early in the night, around 9:00, but things wouldn’t come together. The outline still sounded like an outline; it was all telling and little showing. My resolve weakened and I took a long break to play a game called Age of Empires. But an hour later I was back on the story and gradually things started to flow. I was rather pleased with the last two-thirds of my night’s work, although the story is still so weak in the first section that it’ll need a complete rewrite. Still, it was good to feel a little bit of juice flowing.

Even after years of writing I still have to be reeducated. Sometimes things don’t flow but you just have to keep hammering on. Sometimes the first stuff out of your brain will have to be thrown away or revised to the point where you can’t recognize it. But still you have to put that stuff down. You have to let it bleed to clean the lines.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Lisey's Story

I finally finished reading Lisey’s Story by Stephen King. Like many of King’s books, it started off pretty slowly. I thought it was a literary novel for the first hundred pages, which I read mostly during bathroom breaks. But the horror finally came out and it got considerably better. Yesterday I gave it the recognition of taking it out of the bathroom and reading it on the couch while football played in the background. In the end I enjoyed it quite a bit, although I felt it could have been written to move at a nearly blistering pace if he’d cut out 20 to 25 thousand words.

One reason I’m posting about the book here is because the main character, Lisey, is the wife of a big-time writer. Her husband, the writer Scott, is a prominent character throughout. Although Scott and his experiences are certainly fictional, I believe that many of the attitudes he holds about writing and about critics are the same as held by Stephen King. If so, King does not have a high opinion of critics or of the academics who study literary works. He has a much higher opinion of the actual readers.

I also believe that “Scott’s” working habits, writing with rock and roll or country and western music playing, for example, probably reflect the actual habits of King. Scott also does a considerable amount of drinking, which I know from various sources has been an issue with King himself over the years. I also suspect that the description of Lisey’s life with Scott probably parallels that of King’s real life wife, Tabitha. For these reasons alone the book might be worth reading. But once you get past the slowly paced opening there is some good writing and some genuine suspense.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ghost Road Blues

I’m reading a very good book called Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry. Jonathan is a member of HWA, Horror Writers of America, a group to which I also belong. He had contacted me a year or so ago about a library charity program that he was running. He was looking for book donations and I sacrificed a copy of Cold in the Light to the cause. This was my first contact with Jonathan but it won’t be my last. I started his book and found myself immediately hooked in a way that I haven’t been by a newly released horror/thriller in a long time. The characters are clearly defined and seem absolutely real. There is great action and a building sense of dread. And there is atmosphere, something too few thriller writers even try to achieve these days. I highly recommend the work. It’s from Pinnacle Books, 2006.

Jonathan tells me there are more books coming. I’m looking forward to them. But for more on his work, check his website.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Writer's Write

My title phrase has been everywhere in my life for the past week. I'm reading a Stephen King book called Lisey's Story, which features a big-time writer as the supporting main character, and again and again throughout the work the phrase "Writer's Write" appears. Then, in my Monday night writer's group meeting, the phrase also came up several times, and not from me.

One of the points of the phrase, as discussed in King's book and in my group, was that unless writer's write they feel...incomplete, or anxious, or frustrated. They literally have to write. I've always felt this way, at least since I began writing fiction regularly in 1988. I think, however, that I find it easier psychologically to take time off from writing these days than I did three or four years ago. I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. Could it mean that I'm losing some of my drive to write? What I do know is that moving into a new house, basically into a new life, would seem to be a good time for some soul searching. I hope you forgive me if I do some of the searching here.

Praise the Net (access)

You don't know how much you miss the internet until it's gone. It's been nearly three weeks since I've had regular access. I was so frustrated when I got home this last Monday night to find that the satellite guy had put up our dish and set the net up to work on his computer, but that it wouldn't work on mine. By the time I found that out he'd already left.

But now things are closer to normal. I finished my next column for The Illuminata tonight. I'll give it a once over tomorrow and send it out this weekend. Hard to believe that the Newsletter is five years old. I've now done 44 columns for it. It's been a great learning experience and has forced me to be both more disciplined and to write better first drafts. Of course, any writing is good writing.

Oh, and the moon was brilliant tonight over the pines. I love the country.