Saturday, March 31, 2007

Assumptions About Writers

As a helpful guide to my blog visitors, I have constructed a list of things that one can safely assume about writers. As a writer myself, I assure you that these things are absolutely true.

1. Writers are eager to hear criticisms from readers about every element of their published work. They especially like it when terms like “sucked” are used. Don’t worry that they might get their feelings hurt. Writers are toughened to criticism.

2. A published book sells a lot of copies and makes the writer a lot of money, so they will usually be happy to give you a copy for free. The mere fact that you’d like a copy of their work is reward enough. In fact, most writers have a large number of copies printed up at their own expense for just such a purpose.

3. Writers typically only work 2 or 3 hours a day. Part A: If they aren’t typing, they aren’t working and can be freely interrupted. Part B: If they are reading, then they aren’t working and can freely be interrupted. Part C: Writing isn’t a real job anyway.

4. Writers never have enough ideas of their own and are desperate to hear more “great” ideas from perfect strangers. The writer will, of course, be happy to write that idea up and share the profits with said stranger. This benefits both parties.

5. Much like medical doctors, writers are eager to give free advice and consultations on their area of expertise to total strangers. After all, when you work only 2 or 3 hours a day you have a lot of free time to fill. They are especially happy to fix someone’s grammar troubles so that the work instantly becomes salable.

6. Writers are superb party guests. They are good with words, after all, so they are always prepared with witty repartee. If you really want to see them at their best, make sure you put them on the spot by asking them to get up in front of the guests and tell a spur-of-the-moment story that is both poignant and funny.

7. Writers lead exciting lives, filled with frequent jet trips to New York for champagne brunches with their agents, and with blockbuster, multi-city tours where they dine at only the best restaurants and sleep at only the finest hotels.

8. Writers are, of course, crazy. (At least the good ones are.) But this is why they are entertaining. Feel free to ask them such questions as: “What happened to you in your childhood? Or, “I’ve always heard that writers are mostly gay. Is that true?”

9. Writers believe everything they write. For example, if a writer has a ghost in their story you can be assured that they believe in ghosts. Similarly, you can judge a writer’s personal philosophies from their characters. If the writer has a character who is racist then be assured that they themselves share such thoughts.

10. Writing comes easy for those who have the talent. One just sits down and words and sentences unspool from the storage center in the writer’s magnificent brain. Why, it’s scarcely work at all.

And now, I must leave you, my fellow travelers of the blogosphere, for my muse has called and I sense an epic trilogy coming on. That could take me most of the rest of the day. Then it’s off to chat with Brad and Angelina about my script for their upcoming movie. Where’s my secretary with the coffee?

Friday, March 30, 2007


I gave a test today (March 30) and four people missed it. One emailed in sick; three others were going on a university planned visit to a graduate program. On my syllabus, handed out day 1 of class, the test time was clearly listed. My syllabus also says that a test which is missed for a legitimate reason can be made up during the final exam period at the end of the semester. Now for the assumptions part.

A student representing the three trippers came yesterday (March 29) to tell me that they (the three) had decided to take the test next Tuesday (April 3) at 12:15. Oh how I longed for Spock’s ability to so deftly arch an eyebrow. When I informed the representative that this would not be possible, I received a rather dismayed “We’ll have to wait until after Easter?” (We’re off for Easter break on Thursday, April 5 and Friday, April 6.) I informed said representative that, “Well, yes,” and explained my syllabus policy about make-ups generally being given during final exam week.

The student who was ill was more flexible. Within the email informing me that she/he would miss the test was a notice that she/he’d be better on Monday and could take the test at either 10:00 or 2:00 that day.

There appear to be certain assumptions here on the part of the students, and I thought it interesting to consider what they might be.

1. My time is theirs. If giving them a make-up should require me to miss lunch, say, then that’s not a problem.

2. I can give the exact same test to those making it up as to those who took it at the scheduled time. Cheating is not a possibility to be considered.

3. If I do need to create a new test that is the “same but different” from the original, then that can be done largely at a moment’s notice and/or I will be happy to do it over the weekend.

4. Since they are missing the test, they suddenly become my highest priority. My need to grade the tests of the other students and to deal with various faculty issues is not a problem. In fact, I believe they assume that I have only my classes to deal with and all of my other time is free time.

The question naturally arises, where do these assumptions come from, and do they exhibit them anywhere else in their daily lives? I mean, surely they don’t have such assumptions about their doctor visits or their airline flights. The worst part is that when I explain to such students that, 1) I owe it to the students who took the test on time to grade their tests before I prepare make-ups, 2) developing a make-up test is harder than developing the original test because the make-up needs to be at the same level of difficulty but different, 3) that I give make-ups during final exam week because in the past I've found that as many as 1/4 of the students will miss a test if they think they can take it only a day or two late, and 4) that any make-up test will be given at “my” convenience, meaning I’m not missing lunch or giving up my Saturday to do it, they look at me like I’m mean.

All this got me to thinking about assumptions that people make about writers. My tomorrow’s post will deal with that.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Details, Smeetails

Warning: No problems are actually solved in this post.

You spend a good hour crafting a dramatic scene. A family comes home from a pleasant dinner. The father and mother tuck their daughter into bed before going back to their room to watch TV. But what neither the reader nor the parents know is that someone is in the house. Someone has been waiting, with a plan to kidnap the child, and now he is ready to make his move. Through the house, he will creep. Oh, he’s left clues to his presence. (You, the writer, left clues.) But will the parents notice them in time? Will they be able to stop the villain from taking their child?

To create such a scene the writer will need details. Perhaps there’s a sliver of still damp mud on the stairs, and the only muddy place around is the back yard--where no one has been this day. Perhaps an inside door is ajar that wasn’t left that way. Maybe the toilet is running but it only runs after it’s been flushed. Maybe there’s an odor. One or both of the parents need to notice these things, need to find them cumulative, need to find their tension rising as realization hits. The writer is hoping that the reader’s tension will rise at the same time.

Herein lies the problem. To be effective, the clues need to be sketched in subtly. But what if the reader doesn’t pick up on them? Readers bring so much of themselves to the table, and that is both a blessing and a curse for the writer. It’s a blessing because we don’t have to give every single detail of a world to have our readers join us there. They bring with them to your piece their imagination, experience with the written word, and a love of stories. They want to be swept away and are willing to give us the chance to sweep them.

But readers are also fickle. They’re human. They have moods. They get tired. They have a million other things to do. In conversations in my writing group, and with other readers, I’ve seen how one tiny detail can throw the reader out of a book. And the detail doesn’t even have to be wrong! A friend of mine who writes historical mysteries spoke about a criticism she got from one reader who thought she was putting modern thoughts into the head of a period character. Turns out, the writer had done her research and knew that such thoughts, while not common in the period, had clearly been expressed in writing by some people of that time.

What is the solution? It seems our best chance is to write so well that we “create” the appropriate mood in the reader. No matter how he or she feels when they pick up your book, they need to feel how you want them to feel by the end of the first few paragraphs. I know it can be done. I’ve had it done to me by writers such as Thomas Harris, Dean Koontz, Cormac McCarthy and Jim Sallis. So, the solution is simple. Just become a great writer. Whew, I’m glad I figured that out. And now I leave you to it.

Hey, don’t look at me like that! I solved the problem for you. You don’t expect me to do everything for you, do you? The great writing is your part of the deal.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Villains! Readers love to hate them. Writers have to have them; in most fiction they are as indispensable as the hero. But how do you draw them? I mean, do you make them evil to the core? Do they glory in the blackest of their deeds? Or do you make them conflicted, give them shades of gray? Do they question their own actions? Do they, perhaps, even consider themselves the “Good Guys?”

Gray villains are more realistic. Most people believe they are doing good even when another viewpoint paints them as evil. The men who flew the planes into the World Trade Center almost certainly believed themselves to be doing right. Most of those people in the world who joyed to see Americans suffer and die probably did not think of the deed as black. I, on the other hand, could not help but find myself sickened by those who destroyed so many decent lives and by those who celebrated that fact.

Those of us who write realistic fiction have to keep this kind of thing in mind. If our villains are terrorists, then no matter how repugnant we might find their actions personally, we have to remember that they probably don’t see themselves as evil. They have motivations for their actions; they may even have the kinds of characteristics that we often associate with heroes, such as being loyal, self-sacrificing, and caring about their own families. I’m not saying that you must approve of your villains’ actions, only that you must try to understand “why” they do them and not fall back on the simple explanation that they are “Evil.” Even if your villains know they are doing bad, realistic fiction almost demands that they be conflicted about it, or that their actions are at least partially out of their control.

In fantasy and horror on the other hand, it is OK (although not required) to have a villain who is an absolute. In fact, it can be a hell of a lot of fun. Maybe it shows my own less than literary heritage, but I enjoy a villain who milks their evil for all it’s worth. In my Taleran fantasy novels, Vohanna is just absolutely evil. She knows it, she enjoys it. She tells our hero at one point that she could give him explanations for why she does bad things but the truth is she does them because she “can,” and because “she likes it.” Vohanna was a lot of fun to write. Kargen, the “villain” in Cold in the Light, on the other hand, certainly illustrates many shades of gray. In fact, quite a few people have told me that they identified strongly with the character. Kargen was also fun to write, but a lot harder to pull off than Vohanna.

I don’t accept that there is a right way or a wrong way to draw a villain. Both kinds of villains have their place. Be aware that if you create an “absolute” villain that more literary readers and critics are probably going to think of them as “comic booky.” If you like that kind of villain, however, and enjoy those kinds of stories, then just tell the “comic booky” critics to screw off. What do they know about the joys of evil anyway?

For a related post, see Steve's excellent commentary on developing good villains.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Character Identification

My writing group talked about how readers identify with characters last night, and one member commented that people are most likely to identify with characters who are like themselves. They were referring primarily to characteristics like race and gender. Although there is truth in that statement, I don't have trouble myself identifying with characters who are quite different from me in those aspects. In reading SF/fantasy and horror I've identified with plenty of characters who weren't even human. I mentioned a book here a few days ago by David Gemmell called Winter Warriors. The book has an ensemble cast but my favorite character is the lone black swordsman in the tale. I identify strongly with him.

One the other hand, I recently read a book by the African American writer Donald Goines called Inner City Hoodlum, and I couldn't identify with any of the black characters (or white ones, for that matter) in that book. This got me to thinking, why could I identify with a black character in one case and not another? I think there are two reasons.

First, the main black character in "Hoodlum" has ambitions that I don't share. He wants to get rich, wear fancy clothes, drive a fancy car, and have sex with a new woman every night. In other words, he was not like me at all on the inside. Nogusta, on the other hand, the black swordsman from Winter Warriors, wants a quiet place of his own but has duties that keep him from getting it. He cares about other people (perhaps more than I do), and is hard working, loyal to his friends, and misses his family. Boom, identification.

Second, Nogusta's goals in the context of the book are universal ones. He's not in it to help just himself or those who are replicas of himself. He wants to make the world a better place for everyone. He wants to see "all" children happy. He even cares about animals, and rescues a horse from slaughter because--even though it is old--it has a noble and brave past.

Putting aside any discussion of "realism" in characters, Nogusta is the kind of person I'd like to be. Any character, of any race or gender, or species, that shows these kinds of universal goals will be someone I can identify with.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Night in Jail

Friday afternoon I get the call. My 19 year old son and one of his running buddies have been arrested in New Orleans for graffiti--caught in the act of spray painting under a bridge. I know it’s against the law, and am not very happy with my boy, but he doesn’t do obscenities. He does the kind of stuff that I’ve posted as today’s image, although this one isn’t his. He’s done some stuff on paper that I’ve got up on my office wall. Personally, I think he’s pretty damned talented, although I’d prefer he paint on plywood in our back yard and take pictures with his phone to show his friends.

Anyway, I go back into the city, to central lock-up, which is the kind of place you don’t even want to visit on a Friday evening. Things get rather interesting. I wait in line with half a dozen other folks to get to the bond window to find out what is going on, and, lo and behold, they respond to everyone in front of me and then walk away when I get up to the window. Maybe it was because I had long hair.

I wait semi-patiently for about five minutes before a female officer returns to the window to ask if she can help me. I ask about my son and she tells me he’s been arrested for “Criminal Damage to State Property.” I ask if I can get him out. “If someone pays his bond,” she replies in a “what are you, stupid?” voice. I sort of thought I’d implied that I was there to pay the bond, but then who knows what they heard. Grammar and proper expression were not exactly a strong point of the place, seeing as how there was a sign posted next to the bond window saying: “Do not speak to the prisoners or you will be arrest.” (Italics mine.)

“That’s why I’m here,” I say. She looks at me blankly. “Can I pay it?” I finally say, to which she does some checking on her computer and says, “It hasn’t been set yet. He has to see the judge in the morning.” I reply with something like, “He has to stay in jail overnight for graffiti?” And she says, “It was on state property.” This doesn’t help me much, although later someone else, apparently a previous occupant of the facilities, explains to me that if it had been on city property he would have gotten a ticket and been let go.

I had talked to Josh a few minutes on his cell phone right after he was caught and had told him I was on my way to get him, after yelling at him for a moment. So now I want him to know that he’s not going to be able to get out until Saturday. I ask if I can get a message to him and the officer says, “Not now.” “Does that mean I can get him one later, I wonder.” “We’re in the middle of a shift change,” she replies. I begin to question whether there is any real English in our conversation.

I wait around for an hour or so until shift change is over, but, alas, the answer to my question about getting a message to my son after that is, “No.” I go to see a couple of different bail bond folks but they tell me nothing can be done because it is a state charge. I drive home, considerably worried about my boy spending a night in central lock-up, but there appears to be nothing we can do. A little later my son gets his phone call and calls my ex-wife collect. She answers, and despite the fact that she tells them she’ll accept the charges the operator shuts him off because he called a "cell phone" collect. This is apparently against policy, some kind of policy. She heard him say, “what is going on…” and then nothing. Apparently he has no idea why he’s in there overnight, and he’s had his one phone call.

I don’t do much sleeping the rest of the night. I spend quite a bit of time trying to call central lockup to explain about the “collect” call to a cell phone. No human ever answers the ringing, ringing, ringing, although once in every five attempts I hear a machine say: “all our operators are busy at the moment. Please try your call again.”

Saturday morning, I’m back at central lock-up early. I find out from the bond window folks that my son is already in court (which turned out not to be true), and that I’ll have to pay his fine through a bail bondsman. I go to a bail bondsman. They are much, much more polite than the police officers, but they tell me they take only cash, no checks, no credit cards. I have about $150 with me and there is a place nearby that will cash checks, so I wait.

Around noon I find that his bond is 5,000 dollars, although the bondsman will take $630 of that to get him released. The check place won’t cash that much so I drive as fast as I can to my bank. On the way I’m called by the bail bondsman to say they actually need $714. Luckily, there’s a teller window open at my bank so I get the money and rush back. On the way I’m called by the public defender to say that he’s being released on his own recognizance. At least I don’t have to pony up any cash, although I now have about 800 dollars in my pocket as I walk to central lock-up. This is not a particularly comforting feeling.

A couple more hours fleet past before my son and his friend are released. He gets a hug, and a chewing out, in that order, then another hug. I find out that they had to sleep sitting up because the cell had over 30 people in it. There were roaches everywhere. I make him stop when he starts to tell me how disgusting the floor was. My stomach just isn't that strong.

He tells me about how some of his cell mates were using drugs in the cell, and about two guys that had to be taken out and (apparently) taken to the hospital to be stomach pumped. They'd tried to swallow their drugs upon arrest. He and his friend both say it was the worst experience in their lives, for which I’m rather glad. And they were given no idea during the night as to why they were still being held. They were arrested at 3:30 on Friday, and finally got out around 2:30 on Saturday. They’d had nothing to eat during that time, although after seeing the conditions of the place I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.

I finally slept last night. I dreamt of jails.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Night Wild

I heard them last night. I woke up around five in the morning, tired but unable to go back to sleep. And so I wandered in the darkened house, stopping after a bit to stand by the French doors that open onto our deck. The yard was painted faintly with light, although the moon should have long been down. It was very quiet, no whisper even of wind. Then I heard them, a brittle howling that swelled from one voice to two, to three, to many. For a moment the night took on a texture of sound, the wild language of coyotes raised in meanings I could not translate. Then the dogs erupted into barking all over the neighborhood. The coyotes fell silent; the dogs raged on. Civilization versus savagery. Civilization always lags behind, always follows, only to find when it arrives that the savage has melted away. As if it had never been.
* * *

Special thanks to Lana for updating my webpage for me. You rock.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Long Days, Long Nights

It's been a heavy work week with little time for blogging, but I finally managed to catch up fairly well last night. Teaching can be a feast or famine sort of existence. You'll have a week or two of short days and then suddenly a week of hell. This week was the latter, and it's during the "shorter" days that I tend to get fiction written. So, not much new writing here lately. I am reading a couple of books that are much better than the last two I read, although I haven't gotten to the endings yet.

Book 1, Blood & Thunder by Mark Finn. This is a biography of Robert E. Howard, who I've mentioned here many times. It's the first full-length biography of Howard in the last 30 or so years. Mark's approach is almost conversational, but he provides a lot of interesting material and is clear to lable speculation as what it is. He's obviously done his research and knows what he knows and what he doesn't. Since I'm rather intimately tied in with Howard scholarship I would have read this even if it wasn't well written. But it is. I'm not only getting good information, I'm enjoying it as a reading experience. I know Mark personally as a friend, but if I didn't like his book I just wouldn't even mention it here. If you're interested in Howard this is a great work to pick up.

Book 2, Winter Warriors by David Gemmell. Since I'm considering writing a big heroic fantasy novel myself, I'm doing some studying of Gemmell to see how he achieves his effects. So far, (about a third of the way into it) I'm enjoying this book very much. Gemmell seems unable to write a bad book, but my favorites of his have typically been stories of the "Drenai." This is one such. If you've never read Gemmell, I'd suggest some of his earlier Drenai books, particularly the ones featuring "Druss the Legend." This will set you up with the background, although any of Gemmell's books can stand on its own.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Lazy Endings

Ending a book well is hard, but it's perhaps the most important part of the writer's job. The reader has stayed with you through the thick and the thin, and at the end is where you deliver your pay off to them. Two books I finished this weekend didn't deliver, at least in my estimation. Both were pretty big sellers, and I've very much enjoyed previous works by both writers. This time I was disappointed. And here's why.

Book 1: The hero is cornered by the villain in a dark storm drain at the end. She/he has a gun and the drop. The villain has been well developed and is clearly vicious and ready to kill. The hero is a bit more bumbling but has shown amazing resourcefullness throughout. So how does the author resolve the apparent standoff? A wild animal attacks the villain from behind and kills her/him. Even though we have previously been introduced to the tracks of this wild animal, I felt badly let down by the ending and had to read it over a couple of times to make sure that, in fact, what I thought happened had really happened. Say what?

Book 2: The hero and his friends are pursued by a witch who is well developed as a powerful and savage antagonist. She has killed and "eaten" a child. She has transformed into an eagle, and a dragon. She has possessed souls left and right who now do her bidding. She faces the hero. He steps toward her, and with a single blow of his sword cuts off her head, freeing all the souls she's captured and finishing the final battle before it has properly begun. Yes, the hero is supposed to have supernatural powers, but that's why the villain is developed as having her own magic. The hero must face a worthy adversary. Er, or not. Say what?

How could these normally fine writers forget two simple rules of good endings.

1. The hero must resolve the conflict themselves and cannot be "rescued" by fate.

2. Defeating the villain must be "difficult."


Sunday, March 18, 2007

What's Wrong with (Some) People?

I was out for a walk today. I love the country, seeing the trees, hearing the wind rustle the leaves, having my eye caught by a splash of gold or lavender amid the green. But there are idiots around who have put a cramp in my enjoyment. I'm referring to the assholes who think the woods are their personal trash dump. It's not even the reefs of beer bottles and soda cans washed up in the ditches, or the blowing newspapers and napkins. It's the damned rotted "sofas," broken "TVs," "car seats," "refrigerators," "chest-of-drawers," and the freaking "piles" of black nylon trash bags spilling their cornucopia of crap into my environment. What the hell is wrong with people? I wish I had the power to take every last cast off carpet remnant and other piece of garbage and rematerialize it in the living rooms of the idiots who threw them out. I'd force them to live in the filth they create until they learned to dispose of it properly.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Book Mooch

Sid posted about Book Mooch some time ago and I recently got around to joining. So far, so good. You get points for uploading books that you're willing to give away, then can use those points to mooch books from others in the group. So far I've mooched one and been mooched for one, but I sent two more requests today. I had quite a few extra Louis L'Amour books because I inherited a collection from a friend's Uncle and ended up with quite a few duplicate copies. I've picked up various duplicates over time, as well. The only cost is postage to mail books that people mooch from you. Seems like a pretty cool idea, especially since many of the books I want are actually older ones that aren't on the shelves at the local bookstores.

For more on Biblioholism, check out Sphinx Ink's post today.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Rest of the Story

Here’s the deal on the post I made a couple days ago on sympathetic versus unsympathetic characters. In my story, I had a woman whose son was kidnapped at age 10 by a pedophile and returned four years later, and whose son then runs away from home at age 15, leaving a note for his parents to say that "I'm sorry, but I just can't stay here. Don't worry." In the story, the woman tries to contact him through his cell phone, calls the police, checks with his friends (although he doesn’t have many since his return), goes on TV, where pictures and contact information are posted, hires a private detective, and then drives around for almost four days looking for him in places she’s sure he won’t be in. But she just has to “Do” something. She has her cell phone with her constantly and knows that her son knows her number. After four tearful and nearly sleepless days, she ends up at the home of a man whose son was murdered by the same molester. (This is about a week after her son has run away.)

Here’s where the controversy came in. In my story, I had the woman tell the man that she wants to kill the molester who has so damaged her son, and that she wants him (the guy who lost his son) to help. I thought that all this actually made my female character into a sympathetic character. However, most members of my writing group disagreed. Their major points, as I understand them, are:

1. A mother would not turn her mind to revenge when her son is still “out there” somewhere, lost and in need of help. Her only concern at the time would be to “find her son.” Thinking and seeking revenge at this time makes the women unsympathetic.

2. The woman is also made unsympathetic, (and weak), because she is trying to “manipulate” (their word) the man who lost his son into helping her.

I can agree that seeking the “help” of the man weakens the female character, although I also thought it would be a “realistic” response. It never occurred to me that the woman was trying to manipulate the man, only that she was seeking aid and comfort from someone who she thought would “understand her pain.” Also, knowing the rule that characters must ‘act’ to be sympathetic, I didn’t want to leave the woman sitting at home waiting for things to happen.

Point number 1 is the most confusing to me, and through further discussion in our group it seems that we are looking at some differences between men and women here, especially for women who are mothers. My female character reacts more like a male than a female, it seems. All in all, it’s led to some wide ranging and interesting discussion about what men and women expect from characters of the same gender, and of the opposite gender. It seems we’ve got a long way to go to understand each other.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Public Service Message

Writers Beware! Be careful what you google. I heard a report today of a man who'd been murdered with a bullet to the head, then dismembered and loaded into three suitcases, which were then tossed into Chesapeake Bay. Police have taken his wife into custody as the primary suspect. Apparently, they obtained her work computer history and found that ten days before the murder she had googled "How to Commit a Murder." They also found searches for "fast-acting poisons" and local "gun laws."

It occurred to me that as a writer I have googled some pretty suspicious stuff, "fast and slow-acting poisons, Strychnine, chloral hydrate, weapons of all sorts, corpse beetles, bombs, concealed gun laws, pressure points, blood volume in the human body, etc., etc. Hopefully, no one of my acquaintence will disappear under mysterious circumstances or I might find myself hoist by the petard of my own computer search history.

And now of course I'm wondering, how suspicious are you?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sympathetic versus unsympathetic

My writing group had a spirited discussion last night about the elements of sympathetic versus unsympathetic characters. It began when I described a scene in the book I'm writing, a scene that I believed illustrated a sympathetic female character but which most other members of my group felt showed, instead, an unsympathetic one. And so, without saying what my own choices were, I offer the following situation and ask you, my blogleagues, what you think. Here it is.

A woman's son was kidnapped when he was about ten and held by the kidnapper for four years. He was molested repeatedly but was eventually found and returned home. He is physically OK but certainly not psychologically well, and he runs away from home himself after about a year, leaving a note to his parents saying: "I'm sorry, but I just can't stay here. Don't worry." For further information, the woman's husband is not a factor, but the woman believes that the molester is still on the loose. Now, my question is: what would a realistic woman and mother do in this situation? What would she do immediatelly? And what would she do over the next four or five days?

Any help would be appreciated.

Monday, March 12, 2007

To My Inner Critic. Fuck Off You Offal-Eating Piece of Maggot-Swilling Swine!

Susan had a post today about her inner critic, although she refers to said critic as "bitch." I had a visit from the critic last night. I call him by the name in my title of the day.

I'd worked over two hours with a particular scene and while at it I was generally pretty happy with what was happening. The words seemed to be right, the sentences hung together, the paragraphs flowed. I finally reached a stopping point and I should have turned the computer off right then. But, oh no, I had to give the scene a quick last look over. At which point a big, booming voice (my inner critic isn't a "little" anything) said: "Well that was a major waste of time. There's not even anything worth cannibalizing here so please don't make me read it again."

I would have beat the shit out of him but he's wearing my face. And getting it wrinkled to boot. I told him I was going to embarass his ass today with this very post. He only smirked, and, as always of course, he got in the last word.

"It's your writing," he said. "Who do you think it's really going to embarass?"

The fucker! I'm afraid he's going to be right.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Critter Central

Our house has become even more Critter Central here lately. As I've mentioned, we throw our food scraps out back, close beneath the window where I sit to write, and the local beggars of the animal variety are starting to set their watches by us. We have three regular racoon visitors, two of whom will come up right beneath my window, and we have at least two different, and possibly three different, possums. Each of these will come at least twice a night, and sometimes more. We have had a fox, although not in a while.

Last night we managed, with much dancing about and jumping up and down, to herd a mouse out the back French Doors, and Lana discovered after finishing a small box of raisens that they had mites in them. Oh well, it was Friday, but Lana's not Catholic so I guess eating the mites wasn't a sin for her. In my windowsill, I have a dead stink bug roughly the size of my thumb, and our backyard is so constantly visited by birds that it resembles Pearl Harbor on the day of the Japanese bombing runs.

Today there are butterflies and bees in the clover, and I've had about all I can handle of sitting in the house. Outside I go, feeling like Saint Francis among the animals. Only without the saintly qualities, of course.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Alone Time

I found a great quote from Charles Darwin yesterday regarding a visit he made in old age to his childhood home. The person who owned it when the elderly Darwin visited insisted on playing the host for Darwin, taking him from room to room at his (the host's pace) and talking non-stop about this and that and what had been done. Afterward, a weary Darwin remarked to his sister: "If I had been left alone in that greenhouse for five minutes, I know I should have been able to see my father in his wheel chair..."

This illustrated so perfectly to me the "unfortunate" state of life for many of us. I'm a teacher. Seldom during the course of my work day do I get a chance to string a few thoughts together without interruption, either from students or from co-workers, and if, perchance, I should find myself able to lean back in my chair for a moment and think, someone is sure to see me and ask, "are you OK? You look upset." I think I look happy inside my own head but most people have such little experience of that state that they can't help but judge it as something wrong.

Simply, our world does not allow much in the way of solitude. And many of us don't even seem to want it. I see students who are on the verge of a thought quickly getting on the cell phone to avoid it. I see people who walk in the door to their house, quiet finally after a long day, and immediately turn on the TV.

Solitude is not something to avoid. It is, rather, a place of sanity, a place of peace, a place quiet enough to hear your own self. And if you are a writer it is absolutely essential. I know this is why I take so many long walks, and why I don't mind at all having a few hours to myself. Solitude is a reward for the strain of living constantly among the noise of people. I don't want people to go away. I like quite a few people. I just want sometimes to go away myself. I want the human world to contract so that, in contrast, my own inner world can expand. Let's hear it for alone time.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

It's a Tense Situation

My writing group got on the subject of "tense" the other night. I was talking about the piece I'm working on in present tense, and was mentioning some of the strengths and weaknesses of it that I was finding. One of our members, Laura Joh Rowland, pointed out some interesting things. She said that when she was feeling her way through a scene that she'd not previously planned out that she typically wrote in present tense, because to her it was "happening now." I realized that I often did the same thing when talking out a scene in my head. As I'm creating a scene I typically think about it in present tense, then I write it in past tense as I describe on the page what I've already seen. Also, Laura pointed out that we often tell stories verbally to people in the present tense. I don't know what all this means, for sure, but it got me to thinking. I do know there's a lot more to be discussed on the issue of tense. It's not just another word for stressed.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Self Made Man

I'd heard about the book Self-Made Man, but had not given it much thought until last night. A woman named Norah Vincent spent a year and a half living as a man and this book is the result. I'd orginally assumed it was going to be a male bashing tome, but I watched an interview on TV with her last night and she seemed to have a balanced approach. She certainly carried off the appearance of being male, and I guess it helped that she's five feet, ten. She joined a male bowling league, went on dates with women, went to a strip club, and had other male type adventures. I don't know if it helped her that she's lesbian, but in the interview she revealed that at least some men took her to be gay, although they didn't know she was female.

Some points she made in the interview. 1. Males don't have it easier than women, just different. 2. Males bond with each other by picking on each other. 3. Males have a desparate need for intimacy with other men but are afraid to show it and don't really know how anyway.

As for these points, I agree with 1 and 2, although I think almost everyone knows 2 to be true. As for 3, I believe men do enjoy the friendship and companionship of other men, and that they need to get away from women sometimes (as women need to get away from men). However, I don't know about this desparation thing. I think women and men judge intimacy differently. My Ex used to badger my son to talk about what was bothering him, and he sometimes would do so and at other times would clam up. I told her more than once, sometimes men really don't want to talk about it, and sometimes that's for the best. The need to share "everything" with another person is, in my opinion, more of a feminine trait than a masculine one. Or am I just being sexist? Maybe women are like that too.

Anyway, I think I'm going to give this book a read. It sounds interesting.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Nightmare Love

Michelle posted a piece on her blog today about an interesting nightmare that she had. It made me think of my own nightmares, of which I've had many. The first one I remember was when I was about 8 or 9 and was being chased by half a dozen small human forms with long necks and no heads. Each of the forms wore either a blue or a red cowboy shirt, which I had gotten for Christmas not long before and which I seldom wore after my dream experience.

That first bad dream scared the hell out of me, but also ignited a life long love affair with nightmares. Not long after we were married, my wife woke me up from a nightmare that I was having. She thought she'd done me a good turn but I had to tell her, "never wake me when I'm having a bad dream." I like my bad dreams. I replay them over in my head after they are done; I write them down. Quite often I've gotten story elements or even whole stories from such dreams. But most of all they are fun, at least after the fact when I realize they were a dream.

In my nightmares I've been the victim of serial killers, and I've been the killer myself. I once dreamt that I was writing a book in the blood of my victims on the shut-in walls of my lair. I only killed when I needed more "ink." I have several times dreamt that I was Satan. I have dreamt that I was insane, and that I killed myself. And I've dreamt about monsters, demons, ghosts, and aliens dozens of times. I've dreamt of battling sorcerers over ancient books of forgotten lore, and I've dreamt of a place in the Amazon where the children are all born from the congress of the village's mothers with a river demon. I've died in my dreams many times, and terrified as I am at the point of death, I always think one thing when I wake up. Cool!

How about you?

Monday, March 05, 2007


Just some tidbits today.

Steve Malley has a link to Alan Gutherie's 32 rules of writing and they are excellent ones. Check 'em out. Even though most of us know this stuff implicitely, it's still helpful to see them explicitely stated some times.

Sid and Wayne have an interesting thing going about what you might find in a "dead man's pockets," including their own. I don't have a camera handy but in my pockets now there is a "billfold" with fifty bucks in it, a driver's license, two credit cards, a Barnes & Noble card, two library cards, some pictures of my son, some business cards, a Save A Center grocery store discount card, and a few business cards from other folks. Also in my pockets? A buck o' six cents in change, including a penny I picked up in the parking lot yesterday, a set of car keys, a cell phone, and a piece of chalk.

Writing wise, I did a bunch of rough draft last night on my fantasy, "The Blackest of Hates," and I'm finding that present tense sure does push the pace along quickly, perhaps too quickly in some cases. I also started on my next column for The Illuminata, and this one too owes a great deal to discussions I've had with folks here on the blog, as well as with my writing group. Thanks folks.

In reading, I finished Tommyland, which is Tommy Lee's (of Motley Crue)autobiography. It was actually pretty interesting, although I was most interested in the Crue years, being a big fan of their music. I'm also reading Charlee Jacob's Haunter, which is certainly one of the most graphic books I've ever read.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Copies and Pay

Nothing much to post today other than that I got my contributor copies for Two-Gun Bob. This was a book published late last year about Robert E. Howard. (Remember my REHupa comment from yesterday.) I had an article in it called "Robert E. Howard: A Behavioral Perspective." I know that probably sounds all psychological/sciency, but like pretty much everything in the book the article is intended for a general audience and is written in a non-academic tone. It was published by Hippocampus Press.

And, hey, they also sent me money. Now the question becomes, do I buy more books? Do I buy more beer? Do I spring for a nice dinner out somewhere? Do I sit in the corner of my office surrounded by the books I already have, drinking the beer I've already bought, eating some tuna fish that is already in the pantry, and giggle madly to myself?

Now, that's a hard choice.

Friday, March 02, 2007

New Links

I've put up a few new links that I thought I might say a bit about. The first one on my link list to the right is to "Lana's Web Page". Lana is my girlfriend, a talented artist, writer, and all around wonderful person who also has a bit of an acerbic wit. If you doubt that, check out her new blog, which is called "I'm surrounded by Idiots." (Most of the time she doesn't mean me.)

The next link is to REHupa, which stands for Robert E. Howard United Press Association, a group of psychos, nerds, dinks, and scholars of which I'm a member. (I won't tell you which category I fall into, although it may be more than one.) These guys have a lot of fun, and an occassionally bloody war, discussing Robert Howard and his works. There you'll also find links to such blogs as Fire and Sword, by Dave Hardy, who occassionally visits "Razored Zen," The Cimmerian, which I believe was the first ever blog dedicated solely to Howard, and The Two-Gun Raconteur, a journal that publishes stuff by and about Howard.

Third, I've added a link to The Dark Man, a scholarly journal of Howard studies, of which I'm an Assistant Editor.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Poet At Work?

The poet dipped his quill in a tiny puddle of iron-black ink and brushed a delicate calligraphy across a pale swatch of his manuscript, each stroke delivered as precisely as that of a surgeon’s scalpel. His lips moved as he read his own words.

“I dream in heat,” he whispered. “Of bell-loud nights where I tattooed love in her flesh with the wet needle of my tongue.”

The manuscript did not speak, could not around the satin gag that bound her mouth to silence. But now she allowed herself to breathe, allowed her chest to rise and fall beneath the fine dark lines that etched her skin. And her eyes were expressive, wet with a holy shine that the poet kissed lightly away.

“Not much more,” he said. “A few haikus worth, perhaps.”

He soothed the manuscript’s damp forehead with sandpaper-dry palm, then leaned back in his chair beside the bed where his canvas lay and picked up the smallest and sharpest of his knives. The manuscript shuddered, but the poet only trimmed his quill to a fresh tip and returned the blade to its defined space on the bedside table. Once again he dipped quill to ink; once again he wrote and read.

"A white rain
on a black day
scorpion voices whisper"

"Her lips
I dreamed
fallen into Hell"