Thursday, November 30, 2006

Time Constraints

Just another couple of weeks of school and then I'll be out for about three weeks. I'm looking forward to it, but it looks like I've already scheduled most of the writing that I need to do in that time. I have a couple of articles due by January 1, and I think I'm going to end up with a couple more non-fiction items to do. I have worked off and on on some fiction but it will have to take a backseat again to the non-fiction, which has deadlines attached and guaranteed paydays. Unfortunately, I've been lazy throughout the last half of November, when I did have a little more time to work on fiction. As I get older, the energy to write long hours seems to be declining, and I've found myself doing more relaxing than is typical of me. I did get quite a bit accomplished yesterday on my Jim Sallis article. Today I have to work on making up final exams.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Out of the Fog

The fog was so thick on the 24 mile bridge (the Causeway) this morning that traffic snailed down to 25 mph. The mile markers crawled by, and for the first time ever I really noticed the odd little structures here and there along the bridge as they suddenly loomed like alien outhouses from the mist. For part of the trip, about all I could see were the tailights of the car just in front of me and the ghostly moving shroud of the vehicle to my left. It was an eerie feeling, taking me out of the real world. I was in a kind of burning land where the only reality was movement and the curl of white smoke across my windshield.

But when I came down through the fire place, and reached the sanctuary of my office, I found three emails waiting for me with links to pictures of Brittney Spears flashing her sex. And I realized: the day to day world I live in is far stranger than any misty land I could imagine. Because the real world has people in it, and people are the most bizarre creatures to ever walk the earth.

Can I go back into the mist? For just a little while?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Who Needs a Hero; Who Needs a Villain

Are heroes passe? At my writing group last night we got on the subject of characters, and one of our members remarked on how much they enjoyed the TV series "Lost," in part because all the characters were developed with both positive and negative attributes. None of the characters were completely villainous, and none were completely heroic. Another member of the group remarked that this was good writing, and someone else chimed in about how characters who had only black or white characteristics were "cardboard cutouts."

I thought about this for a while, and I decided that while all my colleagues made good points, and I generally agreed with them, I'm not quite ready to give up the absolute heroes and absolute villains. Sauron from Lord of the Rings is an absolute villain; John Carter of Mars is an absolute hero. And I like them both. I remember them both. I'm glad they exist. (In fiction that is.)

I do think that in real life few people are completely black and white, and I do like when fictional heroes have flaws, as long as they aren't fatal flaws. I can read about Conan the Cimmerian, for example, even when he's a womanizer. I couldn't handle Conan the pedophile. I don't mind when Conan steals from sorcerers or from the rich. I wouldn't like it if he robbed a mother-to-be or kidnapped a child for ransom.

But, I mostly want my fictional heroes to be heroic. I want their flaws to be minimal, and I want them striving constantly to defeat their flaws as well as whatever villain they are facing. In other words, I want them "better" than real life. And I want my villains to be worse. Fiction is not reality, and it fills a need in me that I don't get filled in my day to day life. I want that. I need that.

Writing, Characters, Heroes, Villains

Monday, November 27, 2006

Synchronicity

There have been a lot of synchronicities in my life recently. I mentioned here the "shank" coincidence. There have been many others. Two occurred just this weekend. First, I was telling my son yesterday about a video I'd seen at least a year or two ago in which two men riding a motorcycle had hit a truck with poles in the back and a pole had pierced both of them, locking them together but without killing them. Last night, when I returned home after dropping Josh off with his mom, Lana was watching a new "caught-on-video" show. The video of the two men and the pole showed a few minutes after I sat down with her.

Second, I took Josh to look at four-wheelers this weekend and I also checked out the motorcycles. I told Josh how much I missed my bike and started thinking that maybe I should buy another one since I'm living in the country now. This morning I passed a motorcycle wreck on a country road about a mile from my house. Could I take such incidents as warnings? Should I? A year ago I would have laughed at such a thought. Now, I don't know.

I used to think that I lived a step out of phase with the rest of the world, judging by my day to day experiences with such things as traffic and work. I imagined myself in a sort of "Wink of the Eye" scenario, like from the original Star Trek episode of that name. Somehow, the sudden increase in synchronicities seems to suggest that I'm starting to phase back in.

The world gets weirder. At least my world does.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Miscellania

Our back yard is full of robins as I write this. For the past three days we've been swarmed with them. Not that we mind. Not at all. We'd been lamenting last week the fact that we didn't seem to have a lot of birds around our new place. I've also noticed that we still have a few butterflies during the day, despite several nights of frost. It made me wonder where they are staying at night, and I had an image of some giant ball of butterflies blowing through the forest in the dark hours. Thursday, we also had a sudden influx of giant stinkbugs. These were at least as long as my little finger, with a wingspan close to the width of my entire hand. Prehistoric looking beasties.

In eating news, my son came on Friday and I fixed turkey, rolls and baked potatoes on Saturday. None of it came out quite perfect but it wasn't too bad. Sometimes I give thanks for civilization. The turkey was already smoked so I just had to heat it up, though it came out a touch dry. The rolls were brown and serve and took five minutes to heat. The cranberry sauce came from a can. At least I baked the taters myself.

I'm sorry to see this little break nearly over. Back to work tomorrow. Aieeee!

Friday, November 24, 2006

I Dream of Books

I dreamt that I was in a bookstore last night, not an unusual experience for me by any means. According to my dream, it was a store that I'd been in before, although in reality it doesn't exist. The store sold mostly newer books, comics, and magazines, but under a table of magazines I found a box of older books. Such an experience in real life always thrills me, the thought of what treasures I might discover, and this was true in my dream as well. Eagerly, I pulled the box out and pawed through it.

I found one book that I was very happy with. Now, I'm a big fan of Sword and Planet fiction, like Burroughs wrote with his John Carter of Mars series, and my find was an old Sword and Planet novel that I'd never seen before. It wasn't by Burroughs, or Lin Carter, or Alan Burt Akers (Ken Bulmer), who I knew very well, but was by someone who'd be relatively unknown outside of the field. I can't recall if I even knew the author's name in the dream, but it seems like it was probably by someone like Charles Nuetzel or Mike Sirota. I don't remember the title either, although it had the word "Mond" in it. Perhaps something like "Swords of Mond."

I do remember the cover. It had a yellowish-brown background, with the title in big black letters at the top, and it showed a desert scene of sand and rock with a man riding a cat-beast that looked much like a sabertooth. The man had a lance in his right hand, with a red pennant tied to the head that blew out in an unseen wind. I'd love to read this book, although I suppose to do so I'd have to write it myself.

Does anyone else here ever dream of bookstores and the treasures they contain?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Good Advice from One of Our Finest Writers

In an essay called "Gone So Long," James Sallis gives some advice for writers that you don't often see. He says: "Write about the things that hurt you, write about the things you don't understand." This sounds easy, but I'll tell you it's not. Especially the first part, the "hurt" part. I've tried, in a slightly different way.

In writing horror, I always heard, "Write about what scares you," but I've always struggled in doing so because those things are so personal. I'm not personally afraid of vampires and werewolves, or invasions from outer space. I'm afraid of losing my son, of losing my health. I'm not particularly afraid to die; I'm afraid to suffer.

What hurts and scares you also defines you. These things are at your core, and they do not want to be dredged up. They will fight you tooth and nail. But Jim's advice is good. I believe that. I believe I should do precisely what he says.

Damn it's hard.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Almost Break Time

I'm working feverishly today to get my academic work done because from tomorrow through Friday is our school's Thanksgiving Break. I want to leave work today, and leave that work behind for a few days. Instead, I hope to find myself with some time to write that doesn't have to be stolen from some other job that needs doing. I've got at least two stories that I'd like to work on, and I'm going to make an effort to avoid doing any non-fiction so that I can lose myself in the fiction. Wish me luck. I'll probably need it.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Perfect Line

For most of my writing life I've been on a search for the perfect line, the search for a single, distilled sentence that would convey both truth and beauty. I've seen such lines in other writers' work, primarily in their titles. 1) "I have no mouth and I must scream," from a Harlan Ellison story. 2) "For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky," from an original Star Trek episode. 3) "All heads turn when the hunt goes by," from John Farris's novel. The 1st and 3rd ones are the best, because they seem to convey an almost universal sentiment.

I've written two sentences of which I'm quite proud, although I would not consider them absolutely perfect lines. The first one I used a variation of here the other day in my seduction scenario. The original of that sentence appeared a couple of years back in a story called "Thief of Eyes," and it was: "She had the lips that Satan dreamed of in his long fall to Hell." The second good line that I've written is: "She spoke to me in the language of scorpions," which has appeared in slight variations in a couple of published poems.

I have, of course, seen many beautiful lines of writing embedded within beautiful paragraphs, but the perfect line must stand on its own. It must convey meaning, and, in fact, must seem to convey more meaning than a mere surface examination would imply. It must also flow sweetly off the tongue, and its very tone must demand that it be spoken aloud. Anyone out there have any candidates for the "perfect line" award? I'm eager to hear them.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Where Has All the Literature Gone

In an essay in 2000 called "Pushing Envelopes," from Gently into the Land of the Meateaters, James Sallis writes about the small magazines and how they seem to have changed. He says: "Years ago I wrote a piece for American Pen suggesting that, abandoned by mainstream publishing, our literature--even then we'd begun to miss it, you see, and to go looking--had fled to these magazines. Like those remote islands in science fiction upon which prehistoric life has survived into the present. Now I don't know where it's gone. I've looked. I can't find it. If anyone's seen it recently, please call. I'll pay for information, photos, confirmed sightings."

I decided to post this passage for today, partly because of its humor, and partly because it dovetails nicely with my post yesterday about cryptozoology. Perhaps literature has become a mythical land, and we writers are sasquatches who leave only our footprints behind as we pass through it and out of the world of common experience. The passage also calls a question to my mind, not about where "literature" has gone, but about what is happening to "readers."

My son is 19 and doesn't read very often. Few of his friends read, and when they've been over to my house and seen all of my books most of them display looks that combine elements of awe and "damn-what-a-weirdo-this-guy-is." My college students laugh at me when I talk about having so many books that I have to have them organized alphabetically within genres. People in lines at Walgreens look at me funny when I bring a book to read while I'm waiting, despite the fact that they are the ones twiddling their thumbs with boredom.

Is reading valued anymore? I don't mean the need to scan My Space pages or to translate phone text-speech into English, I mean "real" reading, sitting down in a relatively quiet place and working your way through the intricacies of wording, tone, character and dialogue that make up a novel. In a world dominated by TV and movies, people seem less likely to read for entertainment these days, but there is more to reading than just for entertainment, or even for information. Reading really is a way of disciplining the mind, and of opening it to possibilities. On a simple level, reading expands our vocabulary. And human thought is largely verbally based. We think in words inside our heads. If we don't read, how much will our thinking become impoverished? If thinking is impoverished, how much more our lives?

Do the human race a favor and pick up a book to read today.

Someone?

Anyone?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Cryptozoology and Me

Cryptozoology is the study of mysterious animals, particularly ones such as Bigfoot and the Lock Ness Monster, who may or may not exist. I've always been a doubter where Nessie is concerned, although I think there is a small possibility that something like a bigfoot exists. Certainly, some weird animals are still being discovered in our modern age. Witness the Coelacanth, a very large fish that was thought to be extinct for something like 70 million years until a living specimen was caught in the 1930s.

The Ozark Mountains, where I grew up, carry their share of stories of strange creatures. I've written a few stories about them, and my novel, Cold in the Light, plays with that theme.

Recently, my niece Sarah sent me and some other folks a few pictures of a strange canine-type of animal that had been shot in the Ozarks. These pictures eventually wound up in the hands of Loren Coleman, who studies stories of cryptic creatures. He posted the pictures and some information about the animal on a website called Cryptomundo.com. And for reasons I'm not quite clear on, he mentions my name and talks about Cold in the Light. Thanks, Loren. I appreciate the mention.

By the way, my guess for what the thing is? I think it's a coy-dog, a hybrid between a coyote and a dog.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Insurance Scam

Car insurance these days is ridiculous. Geicko, our current company, is dropping my car insurance because my son had a wreck in his car. What kind of stupidity is that? But so I'm calling around to get quotes from other companies. First, it's virtually impossible to speak to a real human being anywhere about insurance, and when you do finally get a quote it's outrageously expensive. I got a couple of speeding tickets in my 20s and 30s, but none since I've turned 40. And the only accidents I've been involved in the last 20 years have been with folks who hit me. I drive a car with all kinds of safety features, and except for getting hit my record is spotless. I can't imagine what kind of quotes people are getting who have a few recent tickets. If the government wants to legislate that everyone have insurance, they need to do something about keeping the costs down. But I guess that would cut into the politicians' kickbacks.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Personal Webpage

I was updating the bibliography section of my webpage last night on a recent publication, a new column for The Illuminata, when I decided to check on just how long it's been since I'd updated the opening screen and the "New Stuff" section. Not since November of last year, when we were evacuated for Hurricane Katrina! I was rather appalled that it had been so long, so I updated it a bit and added a link to this blog. The stuff that's on the page is still good; it's just that newer notes have been put here rather than there. My webpage is also called Razored Zen, and I've added a link to it here as well if anyone is interested. By the way, it's hosted on a free site so you will see some ads if you go to it. I suppose I should break open the old checkbook and buy a site, but lately there have been other priorities.

The only other news I have is that, as mentioned above, a new column is up for The Illuminata. This one is called "Criticism Hurts: How I stopped the Brutality and came to Love Writers." Another interesting coincidence occurred last night involving the latest newsletter issue. Lana and I were watching Nip/Tuck when I said in response to something on the show: "Everything old is new again." An hour later I opened my email to find the new Illuminata, and the first article was entitled "Everything Old is New Again."

The weirdness keeps rolling.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sphinx Ink

A friend of mine who is very knowledgeable about books and who thinks deeply about writing related topics has started a blog that promises to be both interesting and entertaining. She goes only by Sphinx Ink here, and I'll not reveal her mysterious origins. But check it out and see what she has to say. I've added her blog to my links but you can also navigate there by clicking HERE .

Monday, November 13, 2006

Kissercise

Stewart Sternberg, whose blog is included with my links, challenged some folks to a seduction exercise. Writing one that is. I don't normally write this sort of thing, but I thought, what the hell. Below is my entry. I call it:

Kissercise:

Every day as he walked from his office to lunch he passed a woman whose lips Satan must have dreamed of in a long fall to Hell. She sat always at an outside table at Fryer Tucks, and every day he intended to speak to her. He planned things to say. But every day he lost his will just when the moment was ripe. Today the woman wore blue, as if she’d wrapped herself in sky, and today he’d left nothing to “will.”

At the precise moment when he passed her on the sidewalk, she sitting like a rapture at her white-clothed table, he triggered the virtual movie that he’d filmed on his computer and uploaded to his iPod. A calculated stumble precipitated the small device directly into the woman’s lap.

She startled, but so gracefully that she didn’t even spill the water glass cradled within the delicate web of her fingers. He paused, looking sheepish, and she immediately picked up the iPod and started to hand it back. That was when a character on the small screen said her name, “Jennifer.” It was a name that he’d overheard from a waiter on a previous walk past her table.

When Jennifer heard her name, she looked down at the screen. She saw a man and a woman, two lovers about to touch. And she saw:

***
He leans so close, halfway to the heaven of her kiss, wanting to close that gap. Needing to close it. Then his mouth finds the path to hers, his lips warm as they part slightly and he brushes them across her smile. That contact is feather light but electric, and his hand rises to cup the soft weight of her cheek, his nails sketched along the delicate line of her jaw.

He pulls back for a moment, studying her intently as if to memorize her face. Then his eyes darken, grow heavy-lidded with scarcely hidden desire, and he moves his mouth to hers again, turning his head to one side, letting his lips skate across the pout of her touch-warmed mouth. The tip of his tongue slips against the fullness of her lower lip, flicks softly across it, like the caress of a moth's wing.

He hears her gasp lightly and feels her mouth open under his. His tongue slips through that opening, meeting her own tongue in a brief swirl of heat that turns to hunger. His free hand slides up her back, fingernails grazing hotly on her skin until they twine in the satin-lace tangle of her hair.

He presses the kiss harder, turning his head again, tasting her, loving the wet glory of her mouth against his. The faint gasp of their breathing crackles in the room, that sound merging with the soft damp whisper of lips and tongues locked in a sweet war.

Her tongue thrusts suddenly against his and he lets her push him from her mouth, then uses his own tongue to capture hers and imprison it between his lips, suckling her, drawing a shiver from her body, a tiny mewling cry from her throat. He moans as well, both hands in her silken mane now, pulling her against him, the shock of their kiss spiraling down his chest, setting his muscles aquiver as he continues to make love to her mouth with his lips and tongue.

Only after a long moment does he pull back, breathing hard, his eyes dilated, half wild. He brushes his palm over his mouth, then glances down to see the smear of her kiss across his pale skin, the trail of dampness lying misted with a faint crimson stain from her lipstick. The vision jolts his body. He glances back up to meet her gaze, says--
***

The movie ended. The woman with the lips that Satan dreamed of looked up at the man who had dropped his iPod. She offered it back to him; he took it with his hand brushing hers.

“Sorry. So clumsy,” he said. “And sorry about the…film. Just a little animated piece I’ve been working on.”

“It was…interesting,” she said. “Are you a director?”

“In my dreams,” he said, and he wondered if she caught his double meaning. Then he glanced across the crowded tables nearby and added: “You know I’ve always wanted to eat here but I didn’t know if it was any good.”

“It’s very good,” she said.

“Great! Maybe I’ll go get a table.” Then he slipped into a well-practiced stricken look. “Or do you think the wait would be too long? I don’t have much time for lunch.”

Jennifer looked around. “Hmmm, I’d guess the wait would be pretty long. But why don’t you join me? I’m eating alone today.”

He smiled. “I’d like that very much. My name’s Paul. Can I ask yours?”

“Jennifer. Just like the character in your movie.”

“Wow,” he said, as he moved to pull up a chair across from her. “Can you picture such a coincidence? I wonder what other strange synchronizations we’ll find between us.”

Jennifer chuckled. “Quite a few, I would imagine. Perhaps enough to believe, almost, that our meeting was orchestrated.”

“Fate,” Paul said. “Must have been.”

They both laughed, and Paul clicked is iPod to Jennifer’s water glass in toast.

A Reading Weekend

What a pleasant weekend. Lana and I decided to stay home and just enjoy our new place, and I found it very relaxing. I finished two books by Jim Sallis. I'm reading them in part because of an article assignment I have, but I also read Jim's stuff just because he's a tremendous writer. The two books were: Gently into the Land of the Meateaters, an essay collection that ended with a real zinger. This was the kind of book that you close the covers and lean back for a while to savor the mood it's created. There's also some great commentary on the writing life in this one as well. I also finished Bluebottle, one of Jim's Lew Griffin mysteries. I'd say this is one of my favorites among the Lew Griffin books, but I remember saying that every time I finish one. Just to make clear, however, I don't think you really read the Lew Griffin books because you desperately want to see how the mystery turns out. You read them because of the characters and the insights.

I also finished reading Red Harvest, a collection of poetry by the late Karl Edward Wagner. I typically don't find Wagner's poetry all that outstanding, but all of these were related to the character he created named Kane, who is one of the most interesting characters in fantasy fiction. Wagner's Kane stories are among my favorite works of fiction.

Next I turn to Cypress Grove, the first in a new series by Jim Sallis. I'm also reading White Oleander, which is beautifully written, although at the moment I'm not particularly fond of the main character.

By the way, if you'd like to learn more about James Sallis, you can find it on his website.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Quick Gray Fox

Last night I watched a gray fox sniff around in the yard under my office window for nearly half an hour. I think I've mentioned that we've been throwing out table scraps in our back yard now that we're in the country, and the animals are definitely coming by. Three of our raccoon friends were back last night as well. The biggest of the three coons spent his/her time on our bird feeder stump, carefully picking out the sunflower seeds from the pile. Two smaller coons came up under my window to search around, and one came completely up our back steps to our door. At one point, the fox and one coon faced off, but the fox thought better of any confrontation and went on about his business. I'd also noticed yesterday a tiny fairy ring of mushrooms growing at one side of our deck, and this morning those shrooms were gone and there were signs of digging. I wonder what ate them, and am suspecting it was an armadillo, although we didn't see it.

In more writing related news, I'm reading an excellent collection of essays by Jim Sallis called "Gently into the Land of the Meateaters." Some of my favorites here are his essays on the writing life. Jim has definitely lived something of a bohemian life and has met some interesting characters. I found this collection at the library.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Priming

After posting about the "shank of the evening" coincidence, Sidney Williams pointed out that Wayne Allen Sallee's new collection has a story in it called "In the Shank of the Night." I've been savoring a story a day in that collection for the past couple of weeks, and I'd already read that story when I used the term "shank of the evening" in a story I was working on. Although it was unconscious, I'm virtually sure that seeing Wayne's title is what prompted me to use the term in my own tale. Psychologists call this sort of thing "priming."

This got me to thinking about the role of reading in writing. How often are the things we write triggered, in part at least, by things we've recently read? Quite often, I imagine, although if Sidney hadn't pointed out Wayne's story I would never have realized that I'd been "primed." The same thing happens in dreams. I was in Walgreens the other day and saw the display of "reading glasses," and I thought I ought to try a pair of those some time. Last night I dreamt that I was buying a pair.

This brought up another thought. I've known writers who refuse to read anything in the genre they are writing in while they're working on a piece. They say they don't want to borrow something unconsciously. I've had other writers say the opposite, that they read heavily in the genre they are writing in. I've always been among the latter group, and I think what I "borrow" unconsciously is more tone and flavor than it is specific details. If anyone has any thoughts on this, pro or con, I'd be intersted in hearing them.

By the way, my "shank" coincidence is still a coincidence, although my use of the term might have been primed. But it's still a bit weird that I'd be reading two books so close together where the phrase was used. I wonder, does Wayne read Jim Sallis's work? Does Jim read Wayne's?

The world is still weird.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Shank of the Evening Coincidence

"Shank of the evening" can mean the latter part of the evening, or it can mean "the best time of the evening," as when the mood and the colors are especially heightened. Whatever it's used to mean, it's not a very common phrase. I used it Wednesday night in a story I was working on, and I don't think I've ever used it before in writing. Imagine my surprise then, when reading James Sallis's Bluebottle a little later that same night, to find the phrase "shank of the afternoon."

I've had this kind of experience before, and it never ceases to amaze me. Like when you learn a new word and suddenly you see it everywhere. But "shank" being used in this fashion has got to be pretty rare, and I wonder what strange cosmic coincidence led to me using this unusual term just when I was reading--quite possibly--the only book in my house to also use the term. On the same day, within less than two hours of each other.

The world is weird, man.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Self Censorship

Ninety-nine percent of the time I write exactly what I want to write. But last night I started thinking about the other one percent. I was reading some sexually graphic horror stories by a friend of mine, and the thought occurred to me that I wouldn't feel "free" to write quite that graphically. I wouldn't because 1) I teach at a Catholic University and I don't think the institution's chief academic officers would be very happy about my choice of subjects, 2) I'd be deathly afraid my 90 year old mother would somehow find out and have a heart attack, and 3) I wouldn't want my 19 year old son to read them and start to wonder about his father. Someone might tell me to use a pseudonym, but pseudonym's are never forever. Someone else might tell me that I worry needlessly, and oftentimes I'm sure they are right. But I'm a nervous sort of person and I can't change that after all these years.

In other words, I occasionally censor myself. Francis Bacon supposedly said that: "He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief." I believe this quote to be true, although perhaps Bacon should have added "parents" and "career" to wife and children.

Sometimes I hear people say that art is about never compromising. But life itself is a compromise; it always involves trade-offs. Maybe the greatest writers do bleed absolutely true on the page; maybe that's why they're great. But I'm not among their number. I'm just thankful that ninety-nine percent of the time I want to write the kind of stuff that won't get me into trouble. At least not too much trouble.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Well is Filling

I think my story well or idea well is finally starting to fill up a bit. Just in the past week I've had decent ideas for four stories, two longish ones and two short ones. The main problem right now is that I have no chance to write them. This is the worst part of the semester at school, with little time to do more than teach my classes and meet with students. And at home there is more school work, letters of recommendation, getting tests ready, and grading tests and papers that I've already given. I'm at the point of quickly sketching the ideas down in a file and hoping to get back to them at a later date. Unfortunately, doing this lets the idea get cold, and I find that it's much harder to go back to that idea and work up enthusiasm for it after it's been sitting. It's like cooking a great meal but not sitting down to eat it right away. The food just doesn't look or taste as appetizing after it's sat for a while.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Men Versus Women

Last night my writing group got on the subject of differences between men and women, and how these differences play a role in character development as well as how our own genders affect our writing. I suggested, and believe, that my female characters are much more like men in their psychology than most real women are. This is because 1) I don’t understand women very well, and 2) what I think I do understand sometimes just makes no emotional or logical sense to me and I can’t write it convincingly.

Candice Proctor, one of the women in our group, mentioned an article that she’d read which said that about 10% of women have brain chemistry pretty close to that of men. I think maybe my female characters come from that 10%. Candice also said that she often feels more comfortable writing about male characters than female characters. I can’t imagine the reverse for myself, but then I think that many women understand men better than most men understand women. I think, in part, that this is because women actually “study” men and try to figure them out, while most men don’t do the same thing in reverse.

So what differences did we come up with between men and women? Here’s my take on it, and other members of my group can correct me if I’m wrong. First, most of us agreed that women and men each have their own gender strength, but that some women come across as having more of a masculine strength than others. Such women may well be respected by other women but are not usually as appealing to men. Madonna was mentioned in this context. Second, women probably spend more time paying attention to the subtexts of conversation, and spend more time trying to figure out what so and so meant by their actions. Women ask more questions about personal situations than men do, and, quite possibly, are simply more curious about those situations. Both women and men are ambitious, but until relatively recently many women had their ambitions short circuited by cultural constraints. Men and women can both be competitive, but men tend to be more globally competitive while women are more situationally competitive and often prefer to build a consensus.

Now for my personal commentary, 1) men are simpler than women, 2) don’t ask a man to be subtle in dealing with interpersonal issues, and 3) why can’t women be more like men (psychologically). One of my best friends is a woman, but I think she’s one of those 10 percenters.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Swallow Storm

Coming in to work this morning across Lake Pontchartrain, I was treated to a storm of swallows off to the west over the lake. They were swooping and swirling wildly, but never approaching closer than fifteen to twenty feet of the bridge. I didn't see any insects but I hope they were feasting on the mosquitoes that feasted on me last night. Or at least their relatives. But who knows, maybe it was preparation for a giant swallow orgy.

In other news, I was watching a "caught on tape" show last night when I saw one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen. A young punk had killed a 65 year old family man and had pled guilty to the crime. He got a mere thirty years, which was bad enough, but the aftermath was worse. While the families of the victim and the killer were outside the courtroom, a female member of the killer's family yelled out, "He was 65 years old. How much longer do you think he was going to live anyway?" Bad as that was, the spontaneous burst of laughter from most of the rest of the killer's family was even more disconcerting.

It's so hard to imagine how people could be so absolutely callous. Had it been my sister or brother or cousin who shouted such a horrible thing at the victim's family, I would have been the first to tell them to shut up and would have dragged them from the room. I certainly wouldn't have laughed when people who have lost a loved one are crying. I sincerely hope each and every one of those who laughed are ashamed of themselves as human beings, and they should try to apologize, difficult as that would be for such behavior.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Fun Weekend

This weekend was just how weekends should always be, but aren't nearly enough. The weather was perfect, cool but not cold, and with clouds moving in on Sunday but no rain. My son stayed over. We had a great time. Lana bought me an CO2 Air Pistol for my birthday and Josh and I sat up a target range in the backyard and shot probably close to two thousand BBs. We also took some long walks along the gravel roads around our place, shooting a few cast off beer bottles here and there, and just enjoying the fresh air. Each night we built a little fire in the yard and set outside trading yarns and talk. And we studied the full moon through binoculars or just enjoyed the moonlight filling up our yard and painting the trees. One night we watched as our racoon friends came in to the yard to check the larder. Or, if we weren't around the fire we were hanging out on the deck. We ate every meal in the fresh air on the deck, except for the night we went to Trey Yuen for a delicious dinner.

And to top it off, both the Arkansas Razorbacks and the New Orleans Saints won their football games this weekend. It was the kind of weekend that leaves you a little sad when it's over, but also very glad to have had it.

Friday, November 03, 2006

World Fantasy Convention

Even as I write, the World Fantasy Convention is being held in Austin. It'll be running through this weekend. I'd very much wanted to go because it's being dedicated to the Robert E. Howard Centennial, but finances are low after buying a house, and this is a critical time of the semester at work. Had it been held in Austin last year I would have been in the city due to Katrina, but I'm kind of glad we didn't have another Katrina event this year so I could go. If you do go, there will be a bunch of my friends and co-Howard heads there. You might run into Sidney Williams and Wayne Allen Sallee, two writers who I've mentioned here. From the Howard heads (REHupans), you should see Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier, Mark Finn, and probably quite a few others. Be careful of the REHupans. Horror writers like Williams and Sallee are nice folks, but REHupans can be a handful. Especially watch out if they want to show you their knives.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Yesterday's Work

I did some set up for my piece on James Sallis, and started reading his book "Bluebottle." I've read probably about 3/4s of his novels, but he has a new series (two books so far) about a character named Turner and I want to read those next.

I also worked on a story that I'm tentatively calling "Once Upon a Time on the Wine Dark Sea." I was disappointed last night that I didn't make more effective progrss, but then I reminded myself that all I have to do is make "some" progress. Even a paragraph a night will see the piece finished.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

James Sallis Assignment

I've mentioned the writer James Sallis here before. I've just been assigned to write a fairly in-depth article about him for a new Salem Press reference project. I sat up the file for the project last night and will probably work slowly on it for a while, doing a little bit at a time. My deadline for the piece is not until January. I could probably have gotten a few more assignments if I'd requested them, but with all that's going on now I wasn't sure I'd have time.

Speaking of time, my mom will be celebrating her 90th birthday on November 6. The family is actually going to have a party for her on November 12th. I would love to go to this, and will probably feel guilty if I don't, but it's a 10 hour drive and I have my heaviest class days on Friday the 10th and Monday the 14th. Used to be that 10 hours in the car wouldn't bother me, but after my motorcycle wrecks I tend to get really stiff and have a lot of problems with my neck when I drive even a couple of hours. I'll check out flights, but from where we live now it's also an hour and a half drive just to the airport, and after the move the money is a bit tight. I'm not sure what I'll do.