Saturday, June 30, 2007

Back in the Saddle

I rolled back into home late last night and did nothing but rest and cuddle Lana, who I had missed about like one misses a lost limb. Today I'm blogging again and doing various errands that have gotten ahead of me, including groceries and checking out a new used bookstore in the area. (Yes, checking out bookstores is a part of my job, not a luxury.)

On the writing front, I'm a week behind but will try to start catching up tomorrow. I had a nice interview/article run on me in the Xavier University Newsletter. If you're interested it's about 2/3rds of the way down under the title "Psychology Professor Has Tales to Tell." There's a picture of me that looks like I'm preaching the gospel. (Now there's a scary thought.) Other than calling Cold in the Light Cold in the Night it's well done and quite flattering. In fact, a lot of people have said good things about me lately, including Steve Malley and some of his commentators. HA HA HA HAHA. I have them fooled!

I got my author copies for Swords of Talera and Wings Over Talera, as well as a few author discount copies that I ordered. I'd orginally planned to go up to Arkansas in July and have a signing when I saw my mom, but her hospital stay threw that off a bit. I can always go back, although I don't want to make that 9 and 1/2 hour drive again right now.

I hope by tomorrow I'll be able to get back to posting some more writing related stuff. Was good to check everyone's blog today. Thanks everyone for your overwhelming support. It means a lot.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Quick Update From Arkansas

Well, my mom got out of the hospital on Monday and is pretty quickly regaining her strength. She's started to eat better and is sleeping much better than in the hospital. Her blood pressure was too high and that was causing some fluid to build up around her lungs. They drained that and gave her more medicine and her pressure has been steady for about six days now. If she continues as she has today I'll probably head back home on Friday afternoon. Fortunately there are a lot of folks around to check on her, as well as her husband. I probably won't be back to regular posting here until later in the weekend, though.

Thanks everyone for their good thoughts. I really appreciate it and something certainly seems to have helped.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Gone To Arkansas

I got a phone call saying my Mom is in the hospital with some fluid on her lungs. They don't think she's in immediate danger but she is 90 and I'm going to go on up to Arkansas to stay for a bit. Not sure when I'll be blogging again. I imagine she will be OK but one never knows.

Take care everyone here.

See you when I return.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

30th Reunion

I missed my 30th class reunion, which was just held in early June. I was on my trip to Cross Plains, Texas at the time. But I saw the pictures today. Man my classmates have gotten old. It’s amazing considering that I’ve barely aged a day. Frankly, I wouldn’t have recognized 2/3rds of them on the street. Seeing the names, then making the connections to the pictures and maybe picking out a feature here or there that I recognized, really set the old nostalgia bone to tingling. I’ve never been much for nostalgia. I tend to look forward and most of the time it seems that my life now is much better than the emotional suffering I went through as a teenager. But once in a while…I think back. I wonder if that will get more frequent as I age.

In other news, I’ll be leaving for a bit again at the first of July to go see my mom in Arkansas. She was 90 last year and I understand from my brother that she is growing pretty frail. Because of all the hassle after Hurricane Katrina it’s been over a year since I’ve been to see her. In the meantime, my 19 year old son has strep throat, and my left rear tire has a slow leak, and…well…you know.

I will be a guest at BabelCon 2007 in Baton Rouge, where I’ll be on a panel about alien biology as related to alien intelligence. Not quite sure what I will say on the subject yet, but the con is not until August 4th so I have a bit of time. If you’re going to be in Baton Rouge around that time stop in.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I'm It.

Well, hummn, Sidney seems to have tagged me.

1. So first I post the rules, directly below:

2. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Here are my eight facts/habits:

1. I have absolutely no sense of smell. Can’t smell roses. Can’t smell skunks. There are both positives and negatives to this.

2. The older I get the better the beer that I drink.

3. I don’t like expensive wines. Give me cheap and sweet. Or better yet, make it a beer.

4. Like Sidney, I was born to older parents (mom was 40, dad a few years older), and that definitely had an impact on my life.

5. I taught myself how to swim, and I didn’t have a very good teacher. Perhaps that’s why I’m not much of a swimmer today.

6. I don’t find most movie comedies funny. Two exceptions are “Young Frankenstein” and “Team America.”

7. I am not a big fan of William Faulkner or James Joyce.

8. I’m terrible at telling jokes.

Tagging: OK, maybe I’m breaking the rules here, but I’m going to be radical and tag the same folks that Sidney did. This means that they can actually just post once to cover both Sid’s and my tags. I’m even tagging myself retrospectively. I’m grandfathered in as they say.


Monday, June 18, 2007

The Slow Down

Once again the lesson comes home. A few days off from writing means an inevitable slow down in production once I return. Since coming back from Howard Days I still haven't gotten back fully into the flow of the project I'm working on. Where before I was doing 6 to 10 pages a day, now it's 2 or 3. I'm making progress. I console myself with that. But I'm ready for the dam to burst.

I wonder what causes this effect. When I'm honest with myself I think it's two things. First, even over a few days some inevitable forgetting occurs. I mean that when I'm working five to six hours a day every day there are a lot of little details that hang around in my mind. Much of it swirls in my unconscious but it's ready when I reach for a metaphor, a connection, or a phrase. That stuff disappears when I'm away from the computer and in a completely different mindset. Unfortunately, there's not much I can do about this, except avoid vacations. And I do like a break now and then.

The second reason, though, is more personal and more troubling. Since coming back I've allowed myself to take it easier. I haven't put in the same number of hours, and it's because the work is harder without the flow, and because I'm simply feeling lazy. I've allowed myself to play too much of my video games, to watch too much TV (mostly Star Trek reruns), and just to fool around. Even though I know what I'm doing, it's still not easy to fight it. Even though I know the flow will only return when I put in the hours, still it's so easy to find something else to do.

Damn this writing. Why is it so tough when I want it to be all fun and games? I want to "have" written. I want to relax and bask in the glory of a completed project. But I know there's only one way through it. I've got to put the words on the page, on page after page. I've got to hammer the keys and keep on hammering until I beat something into a plowshare.

Maybe today it'll come together. Maybe.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Another Writing Article Up

The new Illuminata is up and I have a piece in it on "Quick Versus Slow Suspense." This is in my Writer's Block Column, page 5. If you're downloading from the archive page it's Vol #5, Issue #10 at the bottom right.

There's another writing related piece in this issue as well, "Power up your Prose by Eliminating Passive Voice" by the editor, Bret Funk. And don't forget those of you who are into the writing thing that Bret is always looking for reviews and some short story subs. He runs contests periodically as well.

Over on his blog, Lucas Pederson has posted an extensive revision to his "Chop Shop" story. He really did some work on this so check it out. Although be aware those of you with weak stomachs that some of it is still pretty graphic. Lucas is a horror writer.

And if you like beautiful prose in a fantasy setting, check out some of the short pieces that Bernita has been posting. Check out her June 09 and June 02 posts, and try to talk her into writing a complete short story in her voice, or a novel. I'd like to see it.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Writer's Landscapes

When I first started "telling" stories to myself as a pre-teen, without writing them down, I set almost all of them in a fantasy landscape that was essentially an expanded version of the farm where I was growing up. For example, we had 7 ponds on our land, and so my fantasy world had 7 seas. Real world creeks became fantasy rivers, and small groves of trees became forests. Even today, some of my fantasy stories take place in a variation on that original world building.

I also know that Robert E. Howard, among other writers, did much the same thing when he began writing. A lot of his stories use the Texas landscape where he lived as the background, although it certainly isn't called "Texas" and quite often some green-walled ruin will rear out of the harsh landscape.

Is this actually a common practice among writers? Is this how everyone gets started? This seems like a potential essay idea but I'm just in the beginning thinking stages about it. Maybe some of the folks in the fantasy world called "blogosphere" might have input?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Cross Plains: Lost and Found

If you’d like an extraordinary literary getaway that few people know about, then journey to Cross Plains, Texas for the Robert E. Howard Days festival. Cross Plains is a tiny hamlet that lies about a three hour drive south of Dallas, and it was the home town of writer Robert E. Howard, the creator of a dozen fantastic characters, including Conan the Cimmerian, Kull the Conqueror, and Solomon Kane, the Puritan adventurer from whom Van Helsing’s look was pinched in the recent movie of that name.

Howard died June 11, 1936, but his memory lives on in movies, books, comics, and in the minds of his many fans. Each June, Cross Plains hosts a Howard Days celebration on the weekend closest to the anniversary of his death. The 2007 celebration was on the 9th and 10th. I attended, as I’ve attended many others since the mid-1990s when I joined REHupa.

What is REHupa, you ask? The name stands for the “Robert E. Howard United Press Association.” This is a group of thirty individuals (never more) who, every two months, produce a personalized mailing focused on Howard and related topics. The membership of REHupa changes, but the group’s dedication to keeping Howard’s memory alive has never wavered in its over thirty years of existence. If you would like to know more about REHupa, you can find that information at the group’s website

Two current REHupans, Rusty Burke and Indiana Bill Cavalier, were among a small group of Howard fans who first went to Cross Plains in 1986 to visit his home. Town folk made them welcome, and before long the fans were making the trip an annual event. A local community group calling themselves Project Pride soon began planning for the regular visits. They purchased the Howard Home and have worked to restore it. The house is now a museum, one of the most comfy ones you’ll ever see, and it is at the house that the main events of Howard Days take place.

As for the events, they are varied. The house is open for tours and you can see the tiny, cramped room where Howard wrote his hundreds of short stories and poems. There is a walking tour of the town--sites such as the “Ice House,” where Howard used to box, are pointed out--and there is a bus tour of the surrounding country side that covers some of the local history. This year there was also a screening of a very short film about Solomon Kane, a Howard character, made by some fans. It was cool. At some point, most fans also make a trek to Greenleaf Cemetery in nearby Brownwood where Howard and his parents are buried. It’s about a half hour drive.

Although discussions of Howard go on throughout the two day event, there are panels where specific topics are examined. This last year, for example, there were panels on Howard’s boxing stories and on the layout of his fantasy world.

There is a banquet for Howard fans one evening, which costs only 10.00 dollars a head and which is catered by a local restaurant that cooks the best country fried steak I’ve ever eaten. The banquet also features a silent auction where various Howard items, books, comics, and oftentimes some rarities can be had for cheap. The speaker/guest of honor for the banquet this year was Greg Manchess, a very fine artist who has illustrated one of the Conan books.

For the second evening, a local ranching family hosts a free barbecue at their Caddo Peak Ranch, where visitors can climb the peak to see an incredible view of the local landscape. (Climbing doesn’t require ropes and pitons, just a little foot work.)

The 2007 festival is over, but plans are already underway for 2008. If you’re interested in seeing more about Howard Days in Cross Plains, or just in visiting the home, see Project Pride’s site here

Since the museum is not open for regular hours outside of Howard Days, you’ll need to write or call ahead to make sure you can schedule a tour. That information can be found on the website.

Monday, June 11, 2007

No Sleep In Texas

I’m partially back from Texas--I got back late Sunday--but most of my mind has not caught up yet and I’m walking around in a fog. Most of that has to do with the 11 and ½ hour drive each way, and the fact that from Thursday through Sunday morning I averaged only 3-4 hours of sleep a night. Surely the rather large daily consumption of beer products over those days has nothing to do with it.

I had a great time, as I always do at Robert E. Howard days. Cross Plains is a very small town, around 1,000 people and Howard Days is one of their bigger tourist attractions. Most of the people are very friendly and welcoming, and appreciative of the money we spend, but there are some folks who would rather not have us there and are occasionally vocal about it. There was an article in the paper the day we arrived that was very critical of the “outsiders” coming in. From their perspective, though, imagine from 100 to 300 Howard fans deluging your city for three days. Some have traveled long, long distances--we had one guy from Australia--and many of them have long hair and perhaps don’t dress quite as conservatively as the average denizen of Cross Plains. They are boisterous, and they drink! Cross Plains is in a dry county but the town basically looks the other way if we drink just at the Howard House pavilion or at the hotel there. We don’t drink elsewhere in town out of respect for the wishes of the locals.

I can understand why some of the locals don’t care for us coming in, although it seems a bit irrational considering the amount of money we spend there and the fact that it’s basically one weekend. I understand less that, in at least some of the locals, the animosity is directed toward Howard himself rather than the fans. Some people in the town seem to have no interest or appreciation for fantastic literature and, in some strange way, actually seem to find it threatening. I’ve been told many times by locals, “I don’t get it,” meaning they don’t understand why people like Howard and why they’d come such long distances to see where he lived and worked. I guess I don’t get what there’s not to get.

I’ll probably have a bit more stuff about the trip over the next couple of days here, and try to get it back to the writing angle. But for now I’m going to go look and see if maybe I left my mind in the car. I hope I didn’t forget it completely in Cross Plains because I’m not making “that” drive again anytime soon.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Gone to Texas

Well, I'm leaving very early in the morning (Thursday) for Cross Plains, Texas and Robert E. Howard days in that small hamlet where he lived most of his life and did all of his writing. I won't have computer access during the time I'm there, so I won't be posting on the blog or reading anyone else's until probably Monday or Tuesday of next week. I'll catch up when I return.

Until then, blog well.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Love is a Dog From Hell

I just finished Charles Bukowski’s Love is a Dog from Hell, a collection of his poetry written between 1974 and 1977. It’s a long book, 307 pages, but I finished it in about 2 hours with the sun creeping down the windows of the library where I sat.

What can I say? I hated it. But I loved it. Sort of. It’s not even poetry. There’s not a fragment of music in it. Bukowski writes microfictions with lots of line breaks. Some of it was disgusting, some cruel, some the kind of braggadocio that I despise. I had the feeling that at least some of it was written while he was stone-drunk. But I couldn’t look away.

I could say there’s truth in it. But it’s not my truth. It’s not universal truth. But I have the feeling it was Bukowski’s absolute truth. And it was refreshing to see so much honesty on the page, even if it was a drunken honesty stained with feces and vomit.

Bukowski writes poetry much like Hemingway wrote books. His works are simply stated, nothing fancy. I have a feeling that Hemingway could have been a Bukowski of prose if he’d learned to embrace his alcoholism rather than fight it. But Hemingway was always concerned with his reputation, and Bukowski only rarely seemed to give a shit. He just wanted to get laid, maybe because he came to it late.

I will try not to make too complete a judgment about Bukowski based on this one collection. I need to find out more. I certainly can’t say that I liked this first foray into his world. But it hit me harder than any poetry I’ve read, or written, in quite a long time. I know I’ll read more.

I wonder if I’ll hate myself for it.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Physical Side of Writing

Writing is generally considered mental work, but there’s much more to the physical side of it than people think. I’ve had the past few weeks off from school and have been pouring it on, spending anywhere from six to ten hours a day on the computer. I’ve made great progress, but I’ve also had to pay a physical price for it with back aches, neck cramps, numbness and tingling in the legs, a stiff shoulder and hand on my mouse side, and eye strain. In fact, while my mind is reveling in the work, my body is making periodic threats at a strike. Fortunately, I’ve begun to find some ways to appease my body without losing a lot of time from my writing.

1. I stay hydrated. Instead of a soda, I keep a bottle of water at hand and refill it as necessary. (I’ve found this is a good way to get myself to drink more water, in fact.)

2. I take frequent breaks and actually do some stretching exercises. Just a minute seems to help. Even at the computer I take moments here and there to roll my neck or stretch my upper body.

3. I force myself to switch position more frequently in my chair. I have a habit of sitting with my left leg curled up on the chair and my right leg over it. I’m trying to alter that about on a more regular basis.

4. I’ve given in and admitted that my eyesight isn’t what it used to be and have used my word processor’s zoom capabilities to significantly increase the apparent size of the font.

5. Concerning vision, I’ve also had my eyes tested and am getting a new glasses prescription, which should help.

6. I’ve cut back during my off periods on playing any computer game that requires a lot of repetitive mouse work.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Wildlife and Villains

We’ve been in our new place since August of 06 and we’re still seeing new creatures in the area. Today we saw a mottled tree snake so still that he could have been carved from wood. He allowed us to get within a foot or so of him without moving. We also startled a couple of Whitetail deer at the Wildlife Preserve about a mile from our house. It had rained a lot here over the past few days and the area was so flooded that we heard them splashing in the water as they leaped away. Then, when we got home, we found that we had bats sweeping through the air over our house. I always enjoyed watching bats of an evening when I was growing up, but this is the first time I’ve seen them here.

In other news, Stewart Sternberg, that arch villain extraordinaire, the blogosphere’s answer to Dr. Doom, the Metal Man of Mirthful Mayhem, needs your help. He seems to have gotten himself in hot water with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and needs bailing out. Why should you bail out an arch villain you may ask? Well just imagine, where would Austin Powers be without Dr. Evil, Sherlock Holmes without Dr. Moriarty, Sigmund Freud without Dr. Jung, Dudley Do-Right without Snidely Whiplash, Wayne Allen Sallee without Stewart Sternberg? To help Stewart, click on the following link.