Friday, June 30, 2006

Writing Alone

I'm always amazed when I hear of writers who go to coffee houses to write. I need alone time, myself. I need to be away from people, in an environment that is relatively quiet and without interruptions. Before my divorce (impending), I had a home office, and although interruptions from family members were not uncommon, at least I couldn't hear the TV. Right now I'm living in an apartment and the computer is in the living room with the TV, which is also where the couch is and where everyone gathers. I think this is part of the reason why my fiction production has fallen off in the last couple of years.

The good news is that we're getting ready to buy a house out in the country, and since there will be an extra bedroom I'll once more have a home office that is separate from the rest of the world. There won't be any TV in it. Just computer, desk, chair, and books. And also a door.

If the boy's a writin', a closed door's not invitin'.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

J. Bruce Fuller

J. Bruce Fuller is a local (Greater New Orleans) writer and musician whose poetry has appeared in a wide variety of venues. J. is also editor for The Shantytown Anomaly, a new but excellent journal of speculative poetry and short prose. He’s always looking for good stuff so check out his submission guidelines.

I first met J. at a local SF con, which are great for such networking. I found out later that he was also a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, which I’ve been a member of for years. J. is quite a talented poet so you should check out some of his stuff, which you can find by clicking on my link to his blog. He's also a musician and I've been wanting to check out his work there. Soon, soon.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Encounters with Characters

A writer never knows when they are about to encounter a “character” suitable for a tale. I met one just a couple of nights ago while at my writing group meeting. Our group meets at a local bookstore, in the coffee shop/café area. It’s not always an ideal place to gather because it can get pretty noisy and is sometimes crowded, but it generally serves us well.

The other night we were holding court amongst ourselves when a young fellow at a nearby table began periodically tossing his 2 cents into our conversation. His comments--laced as they were with references to God and right and wrong--were not exactly illuminating our topic, and other than gazing politely in his direction as he interrupted us we pretty much ignored him. He stopped butting in, but then later began muttering just slightly under his breath about not being able to work because we were making too much noise, and because, apparently, the content of our discussion was not to his liking.

Putting aside the fact that it’s not a good idea to come to a café if one craves a funereal silence to “peruse” one’s deep thoughts, I found it interesting that our conversation seemed almost to be taking the fellow over, as if , (insert appropriate dramatic music here),…our thoughts were becoming his. Now hey, a story idea and a character all in one. But it’s even a little better than this because, as a psychologist, I began to realize that the young man was almost certainly experiencing an episode of hypomania. He was, in fact, highly distractible, was experiencing what is called a “flight” of ideas (which often take on religious or moral tones), was most likely experiencing an increased “pressure” to talk, and was probably exhibiting a sense of inflated self-esteem (which led him to believe that his intrusions into our discussion would be welcomed for their insightfulness).

Now, a hundred questions started racing through my head. Why was this fellow showing hypomania? Had he done so before? What was the trigger for it? Would the symptoms increase or subside? What had brought him to the bookstore at that moment? Was the rather large cup of (I assume) caffeinated coffee contributing to his symptoms? Where would he go next and who would he encounter there? Coming up with such questions, and trying to answer them, is the root process involved in creating characters. I think this one needs a little further exploration. Bear with me while I consider.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

C.S. Harris / Candice Proctor

Candice is in my writing group in New Orleans. Like me, she began with an academic career. Then, while this world traveler was living in Australia, she turned to writing full time. Candice has penned a number of historical romances under the Proctor name, and is now writing an historical mystery series as C. S. Harris for NAL. This series has great titles such as What Angels Fear and When Gods Die, despite the fact that Candice once claimed to be absolutely terrible with titles.

I haven’t read any of Candice’s mysteries yet, but I’ve read some of her historical romances, which draw you along in the story by virtue of their compelling characters. One thing I’ve also learned about Candice from our writing group is that she is an absolutely meticulous craftsman. Most readers want a good story and are not terribly concerned with the aesthetics of the prose, but Candice manages to craft an exciting tale and still produce a polished prose that those of us who like lyrical writing can appreciate. She does it all with hard work, so check out her link on my blog.

Candice recently did a signing at the American Library Association conference, which was held here in New Orleans, and she and her husband Steve Harris, who is also in our writing group, brought each member of the group goody bags stuffed with Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) that they got at the conference. I suppose only another bibliophile can imagine the quickening heartbeat and dilating pupils of one who is about to peek into such a bag of goodies. One item they brought me was an ARC for Stephen King’s latest novel, which is a rare treat since King is so popular that his publisher almost never sends out ARCs. Another book they brought me was The Space Opera Renaissance, an anthology of and about Space Opera, a favorite genre of mine. I looked through this last night and realized it’s not only going to be fun reading but a gold mine of reference information for my own writing. Did I tell you that Steve and Candice are good people? Yup, they are.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Writing that is too full of adjectives and adverbs is typically considered weak. Too many adjectives may lead to “purple prose,” for example. Too many adverbs actually weaken the verbs they are supposed to prop up. In both cases, you can end up with a lot of excess words that bog your story down like a cruise passenger who insists on bringing their luggage into the life raft after the iceberg hits. One way to avoid this excess is to write the original story with no (or an absolute minimum) adjectives or adverbs at all. Later, go back through the story and “layer” in ones that seem absolutely necessary. It’s like putting icing on a cake.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Del Stone, Jr.

Del is another good friend of mine, and he wrote what I consider to be the best, most action packed zombie novel ever. It’s called Dead Heat and you can find it on Amazon. I met Del sometime back in the early 90s when we were both guests at a New Orleans SF con. We hit it off right away and have stayed in touch. I wrote a story called Thief of Eyes for an anthology he edited last year called The Parasitorium: Terrors Within. The anthology was well received and my story actually got honorable mention in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Del has also started a Yahoo writers group called The Parasitorium. It’s a place for newcomers and established professionals to get together to talk about the screams and sighs of horror writing.

Friday, June 23, 2006

David Lanoue

David Lanoue is one of my best friends, and he’s also a helluva good writer. His link is on my blog. Dave teaches English at Xavier University, where I teach Psychology, and we’ve known each other for close to twenty years. He was in the first writing/critique group that I ever got involved with, and each of us wrote a novel in that group that was later published. His book was called Haiku Guy and it is a wonderfully written novel filled with humor, delightful prose, and unique characters. It’s the most enjoyable literary novel I’ve ever read, and the good thing about finishing it is that there is a sequel, Laughing Buddha that expands on the stories of some of the great characters.

Dave translates haiku from the original Japanese into English, and he also writes his own poetry. In Haiku Guy and Laughing Buddha he has combined poetry and prose into a seamless meld called the “Haiku Novel.” I highly recommend it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

James Reasoner

James Reasoner’s blog, “Rough Edges,” is yet another of my links. James is the most prolific professional writer that I know, and you can check out his blog comment on “End of a Streak,” May 31, 2006 for proof. James writes faster than I can read, and that’s saying a bit. James lives in Texas and is married to another writer, the beautiful Livia. Together, and separately, they’ve written over 100 novels, in just about every genre you could imagine. They’ve also written under many pseudonyms so you might have to check out his (their) website to find everything they’ve done.

I just saw James at the Robert E. Howard Days in Cross Plains, Texas. He’s been a long-term fan of Howard’s and always comes down for at least a day. He used to be in REHupa, in fact. Our chats always revolve around writing and books. He once owned a bookstore and has close to 80,000 books stored in a barn somewhere. There’s no more knowledgeable fellow out there, especially when it comes to westerns. Most of what I’ve read from James are his westerns, and a few of his Civil War books. I’ve been looking for his World War II novels. Simply put, he tells a great story.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Names Left Out to Protect the Guilty

Some friends of mine attended a meeting recently of a writers' group that is made up primarily of women, most of them Romance or Mystery writers. The speaker for the day got off to a bad start when he indicated a certain fascination with a brutal serial killer who had preyed on women. He then proceeded to do a reading that involved the rather graphic torture of a female victim. Several people walked out, including my friends.

My thoughts? Know your audience, dude! And don't be stupid.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Writers I know 2

Wayne Allen Sallee's blog is another of my links, and I first met this completely strange (in the good way) horror writer at another New Orleans SF conference. Unlike Sid Williams, Wayne works almost exclusively in the short story. And he’s damn good at it. I’d rank him at least in the top five of horror writers alive today who work in the short form, along with such luminaries as Dennis Etchison and Ramsey Campbell. In fact, his work reminds me just a bit of Campbell’s in that it is intensely introspective and psychological.

Wayne has written a novel called Holy Terror, which might be difficult to find, and he’s also written the most compelling autobiography that I’ve ever read. It’s called True Tales of the Scarlet Sponge and is only forty-five or so pages long. It’s unfortunately out of print, but is an amazing work that will rip you open.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A New Column is Up

The latest Illuminata is out from Tyrannosaurus Press (TP). This is the online newsletter that I've mentioned before, which I write a column for. My column this month is entitled "Writing Groups," and it's a pretty extensive expansion on an entry I made here several weeks ago. Again, the newsletter is free, and there's also information on a new anthology that Bret Funk, the editor of TP, is getting ready to put together. He's looking for submissions. Check out the issue for details. It's Volume 4, Issue #10, June 2006.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Writers I Know

One of the best things about being a writer is getting to meet and talk with other creative people with similar interests. One of my links is to a blog by such a writer, a friend of mine named Sid Williams. I first met Sid around 1989 or so at a New Orleans Science Fiction Conference, where he was an invited guest and I just had to pay my way. He had already written a couple of novels while I’d only sold a few short stories. I met him sitting with a fellow named Robert Pettit in the hotel bar, and I was impressed with how friendly and down-to-earth these horror writers were. In fact, I’ve found that the sanest people with the best senses of humor at any conference are always the horror folks, although that may be because I’m biased by my own interests. Anyway, meeting Sid and Robert was a big reason why I started attending conferences regularly, and that helped my career.

Sid has written eight novels, and I’ve read all but one. I think Night Hunters and When Darkness Falls are my favorites of his, but there’s nary a clunker in the bunch. Three of his books are actually young adult horror novels written under the name Michael August. Sid has also written short stories and has scripted comic books. If you like good, atmospheric horror, check his stuff out some time.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Rainbow Writer

On page 53 of Storyteller, Kate Wilhelm gives an alternative way of doing the exercise that I described yesterday in this blog. Take a copy of a story or book that you don’t mind marking up, get some colored pencils, then underline the material that is about character, setting, action, etc., in different colors. Wilhelm says that a good story should have a “rainbow effect” when you are done.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Writing Exercise

I found an interesting writing exercise in Storyteller that I’d never tried before. It’s on page 17 of the hardback version, 2005 from Small Beer Press. Take one of your stories and go through it paragraph by paragraph. Next to each paragraph write whether it’s “setting,” “character description,” “action,” and so on. This should give you a nice visual on how you’ve constructed the story. Too much “setting” would suggest a static story. I’m guessing that literary stories would have a lot more “character” paragraphs in them while genre stories might be heavier on “action.” I’m definitely going to try this with some of my own tales.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Celebrity Cult

In my writing group last week, we got onto the topic of how the cult of celebrity has pervaded our society. And the literary world is no exception. Routinely, books 'supposedly' written by celebrities hit the bestseller lists, in both fiction and non-fiction. And even more recently we seem to find that bestselling novels often feature celebrity characters, at least historical celebrities. There are recent or current books out featuring 1) Sigmund Freud, 2) Edgar Allan Poe, 3) Longfellow, 4) H. P. Lovecraft, and 5) Charles Darwin as characters. It occurred to me that even the monster Dan Brown book, The Da Vinci Code, features a celebrity scandal…about Jesus Christ. It makes me wonder why my short vampire stories featuring Jesus and Judas Iscariot didn’t sell better.

Personally, I rather hope the celebrity craze dies down soon, in literature as well as in the everyday world. I’ve yet to find a single truly compelling novel featuring a celebrity character or celebrity scandal. But maybe it’s just me. Sometimes it seems that way.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Falling Behind

Although I had a great time in Texas, I'm finding, as many of you probably have in the past, that going to a conference usually ends up throwing you way behind at work. I've got so much stuff piled up over a few days in my office that I'm back to trying to get one paragraph a night done on my own writing. The rest of my time is spent playing catch up. Whatever you do, try to stay off committees wherever you work. They are the great time killer. Over half of my work pile upon returning was due to a single committee that I'm on.

On the other hand, I sold three copies of my novel while I was at the conference, and so with all my earnings I'm going to rush out and buy myself a...well, something cheap.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Home from Texas

I’m home from Robert E. Howard days. Flew back into the Greater New Orleans area Sunday afternoon, but didn’t get much done that evening because I was exhausted. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were all very full of panels and displays and talk. I don’t think I had a night on the trip where I got more than about five hours of sleep. Usually it was less. But I had a lot of fun, and I bought a lot of books. Too much happened to give a complete report, but I’ll mention a few things.

I met Roy Thomas, who some of you will recognize as the long, long-term writer for the Conan comic books from Marvel. He also had substantial involvement with both the Conan movies. He’s a very nice guy.

I met two of the owners of Paradox Entertainment, which is the company that now holds the rights to all of the Robert E. Howard characters and properties. They seemed genuinely interested in Howard and spoke of a bunch of movies that they’d like to make, including another Conan movie and a movie about Howard’s Solomon Kane character.

The Dark Man
, issue #9, debuted at the conference, and it’s a double issue with some 98 pages of content. As Assistant Editor for the journal, I edited two of the articles in the piece, and contributed a review.

I saw a bunch of old friends and colleagues (and their significant others), including Morgan Holmes, Matt Herridge, Gary Romeo, Steve Trout, Frank Coffman, Dennis McHaney, Michael Scott Myers, Chris Gruber, Scott Hall, Tim Arney, Ethan Nahte, Leo Grin, Don Herron, Mark Finn, Rusty Burke, Indy Bill Cavalier, Rob Roehm, Glenn Lord, Paul Herman, the Project Pride crew, and many more. I also met a lot of new people, or met again folks I’d met years ago. My brain’s awhirl with names. No way I could list them all. I’ll also be posting more about Howard Days over the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I'm Off (In more ways than one)

Well, I fly out this evening for Cross Plains, Texas and Robert E. Howard days. I won’t be posting here until at least Sunday, but I should have a report on some of the fun after I get back.

In the meantime, here’s a great writing quote from Kate Wilhelm’s Storyteller. “Surprise and inevitability are two goals worth working for. To achieve those goals, the writer must know from the first word what the story is about, what it means.” What do you think?

Sayonara for now.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


I wonder if "666" will be the most common title for blog entries today. For those of you who don't know--although I can't imagine anyone who doesn't--today is the sixth day of the six month of the sixth year of the new century. That's a combination that doesn't come around too often, and the "end-is-nearers" have been making a big deal out of it. I think the antichrist is supposed to be born today, or his evil twin or something.

I bring it up here only because I had a dream this morning about 666. I dreamt that a local museum had put up a display about the significance of 666 and they featured a newspaper with today's date on it. I stole the newspaper and took it home, then used it to wrap up some drinking glasses. The police somehow traced me as a possible suspect--I'm not sure why--and came with a warrant to search my house. They found the paper but I told them it had been thrown on my doorstep that morning and I thought it was just a normal daily delivery. They knew it was the right paper, but couldn't prove that I had taken it. They finally left without arresting me, although clearly they were very suspicious.

I remember a lot of my dreams, and often use elements of them in stories. But this is the first time I can remember ever dreaming about a specific date in this way. Made me wonder. Is there some significance to today's date? Could it be the day upon which the anti-Elvis is born, perhaps? Might it not be revealed today that Britney Spears has indeed given virgin birth? And is about to do so a second time? Or maybe scientology will be revealed today as the one true church, with Tom Cruise as its prophet. I don't know. But strange things are in the air. And in dreams.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Hurricane Preparedness

I managed to get some plotting and a few paragraphs done on my short story, now retitled “Hollow,” but the weekend wasn’t as productive in writing as I would have liked. I gave a test on Friday and spent much of Saturday grading it. On Sunday, then, Lana and I looked at houses across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans and ended up putting a deposit down on one just outside the small community of Abita Springs. This is where Abita beer is made so perhaps you can see the attraction.

Why are we moving? Well, besides the aforementioned beer, hurricane season is upon us again here, and though we’re all praying that a Katrina won’t happen again, we’re also taking steps to better protect ourselves. North of the lake and inland, which is where our new house will be, is likely to be a lot safer from flooding--although wind could still be a problem. The move will mean a much longer drive for me to and from work every day, but we’ll also be well out into the country where we can experience some blessed solitude. And, I’ll once again have my own office in the house rather than trying to write in the living room where the TV is and where everyone congregates. If this doesn’t up my productivity then I’ll just have to consider myself hopeless.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

People Believe the Strangest Things

I’m reading Carl Sagan’s last book, The Demon-Haunted World, and one question it asks and examines is why people believe weird things. For example, why would folks credit the idea of cancer healing crystals, alien abductions, and ancient ruins on Mars and the moon? Personally, I’m trained as a scientist and that’s one reason why I’m a skeptic. But I also find the very idea of global conspiracies to be faintly ludicrous. I mean, how could a government full of people who are not all that bright keep captured interstellar spacecraft and alien corpses secret for decades?

On the other hand, the weird things are fun, aren’t they? I hope there’s something odd hiding in Lock Ness; I hope they catch a Bigfoot one of these days. I’d be scared to see an alien space craft approaching Earth through a telescope, but damn it would be cool, too, eh? People hunger for the new, the surprising. And I think that’s one of the reasons why they read fiction. I know, for me, that I pick up a novel so that I can get lost in a world of “what ifs.” In part, I write for the same reason. Thank goodness for the strange.

But how about you? Believed in anything weird lately?

Friday, June 02, 2006


Kate Wilhelm’s book, Storyteller is chock full of good writing advice as well as providing a fascinating look into the generation and survival of the Clarion Workshops. I'm reading it slowly to savor it, and I recommend it for new and used writers. (I’m including myself in the latter group.) In chapter 1, Wilhelm stresses the need for a writer to set aside a regular time to write, and to keep that time sacred.

To keep writing time sacred means protecting it even from those who love you and are just trying to help. Even for those of us who write a lot, this is something we can forget. I also hurt my soon-to-be ex-wife’s feelings pretty badly once over this exact situation. I was trying to explain to her how interruptions really held up the flow of my writing and she replied with something like: “Well, we’ll just have to talk to Josh (our son) about how he needs to leave you alone when you’re writing.” It hurt her when I replied that it wasn’t Josh I was worried about, that “she” was the one who most often interrupted me. And no, that isn’t why we’re getting a divorce.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Cross Plains Journey

Just as a head's up, I won’t be posting here from June 8 through the 10 because I’ll be in Cross Plains, Texas for Robert E. Howard Days. I mentioned in a previous post about being a member of REHupa, the Robert E. Howard United Press Association. We’re a group of diverse scholars, artists, and fans who are interested in preserving and promoting the literary works of Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Cimmerian, Kull of Atlantis, and many more iconic characters. Howard essentially founded the genre of Sword & Sorcery, and his impact on the modern fantasy field has been second only to that of J.R.R. Tolkien.

This is Howard’s centennial and it looks like we’re going to have the biggest gathering ever in Cross Plains, which is the small hamlet (around 1000 people) where Howard spent most of his life and did all of his writing. A large number of panels and events are planned, and there will be ample time for shooting the bull with writers, editors, film makers, fans, and just about anyone else you could imagine. If you’re interested in finding out more, check out Howard Days.

If you miss Howard Days, the World Fantasy Convention will be honoring Howard’s centennial this year, as well. Many REHupans will be there. That Con is in Austin, Texas, November 2-5, and there will be a 1-day trip to Cross Plains available.