Friday, February 29, 2008

A Father's Tale

Shauna put up a wonderful tribute to her father and I thought I’d follow her lead and say a few things about my father, who died in 1972. His name was John Vandel and he was 58; I was thirteen. He was a wonderful man and a great father and I still miss him very much.

1. My father lived his life knowing he would likely die young. He was born with a congenital heart problem that kept him out of World War II. He had his first heart attack when I was about 8. No one told me how serious his attack was and I didn’t understand until later how close he came to dying then. I remember him often taking a little nitroglycerine pill, which he always carried with him in a little tin. Years later my mother spoke of how doctors had told her that daddy could die at any time, and how much she worried. Their bravery amazes me. They lived their lives, worked, and raised five children all the while knowing that dad might die at any moment. These pictures are of their wedding day, and of another day not long before he died.

2. My father was a farmer and that is all he ever wanted to do. We raised cattle and chickens, and cash crops such as maize or peas. We also bailed hay for the cattle and always planted at least two, and often three, gardens. Despite my father’s poor health, he worked hard every day.

3. One thing that embarrasses me now is how I sometimes got a bit angry with my father for planting three gardens when one would have provided for our family. He would give away the rest, and I hated having to pick stuff that was then just handed away to others. Now I realize what a generous man he was and how he brought joy, and food, to the lives of many of our neighbors who couldn’t grow gardens for themselves. And all it cost me was a little work.

4. My dad had blue eyes and to this day I remember how they sparkled when he laughed.

5. When dad died, his generosity came back to him. The church was literally full of flowers from those he had helped and who loved him.

6. My father did not care for rock music, which he called “Duck Quacking music.” I don’t think he was a big music fan in general. We had a radio in the house but as I remember it was always tuned to the weather report. He would watch Hee Haw and seemed to like some country music.

7. From the time I was very little, my mother worked at a chicken processing plant while my father farmed. We didn’t have kindergarten in Arkansas in those days, so my dad pretty much raised me until I went to first grade. The story is told that when mom first went back to work she selected a local lady as my babysitter, but my dad went one day and brought me home because he didn’t think she was doing a good enough job. From then on I went wherever he went, carrying my bottle in the pocket of my kid overalls.

8. My mother left for work around 5:00 in the morning, so once I started school my father always got me up and fixed me a good breakfast, usually bacon and eggs, or his own sausage recipe, before I caught the bus. On the day he died, he and I worked a bit in the garden just before the bus came and I told him that I loved him and hugged him before heading off to school. The next time I saw him was when he was in his coffin. I’m glad I got to tell him I loved him. A picture of his gravesite is below.

Our family website, maintained by my niece Stacey, is here.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What's Wrong with this Critique

Note: A version of this post appeared way back at the beginning of this blog, but since there were no comments made on that original post, and since most people reading this blog now didn’t even know it existed then, and since I consider it an important point, I’m going to rerun the basics with some added commentary.

Although I certainly recommend Storyteller, by Kate Wilhelm, there was one place where I strongly disagreed with her. She mentioned a male writer at Clarion who turned in a 10,000 word story about a hero and his battles. She then said: "The students loved it, called it exciting, and we said no. It was static. Nothing happened." She went on to explain that it was static because: "Something had to change, either in the character, in the situation, or in the reader." She is, of course, wrong! And I wonder how many fine reads have been nipped in the bud by such awful criticism.

I don't mean to downplay a character's evolution as a person. I love it when that happens. But what is wrong with a story that is just an exciting read? Edgar Rice Burroughs didn't have a lot of character development in his John Carter of Mars books but I certainly devoured them. I still remember them far more fondly than some stuff I've read where the character "develops."

In my opinion, Wilhelm is wrong for many reasons. 1) She admits that the students loved the story and found it exciting. In other words, the "readers" liked it and she's correcting them. How can a reader be wrong about what they like? 2) Male readers, in particular, enjoy action, and what's wrong with a work that appeals primarily to males? It used to be that most books were written for males. Now it seems that most books are written for women. I don't think either extreme is desirable. I certainly enjoy many books that my female friends like, and I enjoy some they don't. That fact doesn't bother me at all. 3) Relating to the story in question, there actually is change if Wilhelm thinks about it, change in the readers. If they experience a lifting of mood, an escape for a few minutes from their worries and cares, then they have been changed. Maybe they haven't had an epiphany, but how often do those come around anyway?

Books and stories touch us as readers for different reasons. I treasure Peter Matthiessen's Snow Leopard because it took me on a spiritual journey with its transcendent prose. I loved Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men because of the relationship between the characters and how they changed. I've reread Louis L'Amour's To Tame a Land four times because it brims with action and excitement. I read the essays of Lewis Thomas and Loren Eiseley because they make science rich with mystery and possibility. Together they all changed me.

Not every writer has the same goal. Not every piece of writing has to achieve the same things. Change for change sake is, in my opinion, the biggest “bill of goods” that is sold to would-be writers. Character change is a writing “technique,” not a writing rule. It’s a good technique, one that enriches many stories, but there may be times when it is inappropriate. Consider: An author has a worldview that humans are largely incapable of personal change and she writes a story where characters go through relationship hell and end up getting right back into exactly the same kind of relationship next time. According to Kate Wilhelm, such a story would be static and, therefore, a bad story. Unfortunately for the critic, the story would also reflect the basic truth of many lives. Are stories, then, not to strive to tell the truth? To me, telling the truth is a rule of writing, not a technique. It trumps change for change sake.

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Some Gramlich Weirdities

I’ve been tagged by Billy to reveal seven weird things about myself. Although I am a very normal and average sort of guy, I’ll attempt to come up with some suitable oddities. As is usual of my response to memes, I won’t tag anyone else. This is actually one of the easier memes, though, so if you feel the urge have at it and consider yourself tagged by me.


1. Despite the fact that I’m 49 years old and a rather staid college professor, I get hassled quite often because of my long hair. I could relate many examples of this, but here’s one that happened Sunday. I’m out for a walk, as I do quite often on nice days around the neighborhood, and I happen down a dirt road I’ve only been down a few times. A couple of women in a truck turn into a driveway some way ahead of me and seem to deliberately wait for me to approach. I offer a smile and move to pass them when one woman asks: “Can I help you?” “No, I’m just out for a walk,” I reply, and continue on. “You live around here?” the woman demands. Her voice is clearly confrontational and suspicious. I stop for a moment and start to answer her, but then decide to be contrary because of the tone of her voice and say instead. “Why do you want to know?” “Well, I’ve lived here 23 years and I haven’t seen you around and we’ve had a lot of robberies in the area and I’m just protecting my home,” is the reply. I could have sympathized with her concern if it had not been for the fact that her angry attitude seemed already to have convicted me. The fact is, I pissed her off by walking by her house, and I’m sure the long shaggy hair was a big part of her issue with me.

2. I’ve never been one to believe much in astrology, but it sure is interesting that my birthday is the day after Lana’s and that we are both so compatible. We are Libras. Of course, her sun is in art while I’m a rising drunk. But nevertheless.

3. I’ve walked away from four motorcycle wrecks, three of which totaled the bike I was on at the time. Actually, limped away is a more accurate assessment. There were various broken bones as well as lots and lots of missing skin and meat.

4. I have been shot in the face with a shotgun at far too close a range. When I was about twenty-four I was dove hunting with others on our family farm. A teenager who had not hunted with us before was in a creek about thirty yards from me. A dove swept down between us and he shot at it while I was directly in the line of fire. At least a dozen bird shot BBs struck me across the face and chest. Two BB’s actually penetrated my cheeks and one lodged under the skin. Another BB bounced off my nose, leaving a nice bloody spot behind. I’m glad I didn’t get BBs in the eyes. Although bird shot at such a distance is not lethal, it sure as hell hurt.

5. I wrote a western novel at age 18 but it will never see print. It was a poor pastiche of a bad Louis L’Amour knockoff. I called it “The Bear Paw Valley” and I didn’t even break it into chapters. However, a character in that book is the ancestor of Ruenn Maclang from my Taleran novels. And a short section of that book has since been greatly polished and published as a short story.

6. When I was about 11 years old I wanted to be a priest. I would even bless my food at supper. I think it’s a good thing the priesthood lost out on getting me. Good mostly for the priesthood.

7. I often remember important events in my life by the book I was reading at the time. For example, I was reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich when my son was born. I was reading Brain Control on my first and only trip to Boston. I was reading a fantasy collection called Amazons when I first went to visit Lana in Canada.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Kate Wilhelm, Storyteller

One of the better books I’ve read on writing in recent years has been Storyteller by Kate Wilhelm. I got mine in hardback from the SF book club. It’s copyright 2005, from Small Beer Press. She made one particular suggestion in that book that I’ve tried a couple of times and found informative.

On page 17, Wilhelm suggests taking one of your stories and going through it paragraph by paragraph. Next to each paragraph write whether it’s “setting,” “character description,” “action,” and so on. This should give you a nice visual on how you’ve constructed the story. On page 53, she gives an alternative way of doing this exercise. Take a copy of a story or book that you don’t mind marking up, get some colored pencils, then underline the material that is about character, setting, action, etc., in different colors. Wilhelm says that a good story should have a “rainbow effect” when you are done.

Certainly, too much “setting” would suggest a static story. I’m also guessing that literary stories would have a lot more “character” paragraphs in them while genre stories might be heavier on “action.” I would imagine fantasy and SF stories would have heavier amounts of “setting” than contemporary thrillers.

To take this suggestion a step further, it might be a good idea to try this exercise on writers you admire. Select particularly effective examples of writing and examine them to see how the writer put the piece together. I haven’t tried this on other writers yet, but I think I’m going to have a look at one of Dean Koontz’s older thrillers.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sacred Time

One problem for the writer today is the frenetic daily pace that many of us maintain. Work, which means emails, phone messages, projects, proposals, letters etc., is a big source of this fast paced lifestyle, and in a world of computers and cell phones even home is no haven. But our jobs are only one source of strain. Children if we have them, bills, grocery shopping, maintaining automobiles, households, and adult relationships are other sources. Some of these can be pleasant but they all require time. And Lord forbid we try to maintain friendships and attend social events. Or that we get involved in blogging!

I don’t know about you, but if I allow it then every moment of every day soon becomes filled with chores and commitments. And there is no time to write. But worse, there is no time to think, and thinking is an absolute necessity if we are going to write well. For me, thinking is also a necessity for maintaining my own mental health. When I have no time to contemplate I get frustrated, irritated, and short tempered.

I’ve struggled with this problem for years, juggling the demands of my job, my commitments to other people, and my writing. Too often I’ve let the writing slide, giving up my own self fulfillment to meet the needs of others. I’m sure most of you are the same.

But lately I’ve been thinking about “sacred time.” This is time set aside to feed one’s own needs, and not the needs of others. This is time that has to be kept inviolate, or as near as possible to that goal, because without it we can’t do that which makes us more than a collection of impulses and behaviors.

Right now I have two ways of trying to achieve sacred time. One is my daily commute, an hour and fifteen minutes each way. In the morning I am usually planning lectures and going over my to do list on the way to work, but in the afternoon I allow myself to day dream. And I have a tape recorder in the car in case something really interesting comes to mind. The second sacred time is when I go on walks alone around my neighborhood. Walks have always been the best way for me to escape into my own thoughts, but I can’t always manage them.

How about you? Do you have sacred time? If so, how do you achieve it? How do you learn to put yourself first sometimes without feeling guilty or selfish? How do you break away from the frenzy and find the calm?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Titles Revisited

I've posted about titles a couple of times but it's a topic worth revisiting. Titles are important parts of books and stories, and it’s always easier for me to write when I have a good one in mind. I keep lists of possible titles, and when I think of a cool one it often triggers story ideas that match and I’ll start writing immediately. “Still Life With Skulls” was such a story. The ideas that carried that tale came with the title, and it was like doing a shot of Absolut straight. “Still Life” was my first story accepted for publication.

I also consider myself something of a connoisseur of titles. Harlan Ellison’s "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" is my favorite. Another great title is John Farris’s, "All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By." Or who can resist "Something Wicked This Way Comes?"

Where do titles come from? Some authors borrow them from The Bible, or from Shakespeare and other classic works of literature. Hemingway did this with "The Sun Also Rises" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls." Ray Bradbury borrowed "Something Wicked..." from Shakespeare, and "I Sing the Body Electric" from Walt Whitman. Those sources have been mined pretty thoroughly, but there are almost surely more titles waiting to be discovered this way, even in Shakespeare. For example, I've always wanted to title a tale, "Why Mourn We Not in Blood?"

A good source of titles for me seems to be music. I hardly ever pay close attention to lyrics, but sometimes a phrase will stay with me, or I’ll mishear a line that twists my thoughts into strange byways. (Mishearing is an important writing techinque, btw.) I didn’t realize until years after it was published that the title for Cold in the Light was quite possibly borrowed from a line in a song by W.A.S.P.

I’ve also come up with some titles that I really like but which haven't yet spawned good story ideas. One is, “The Girl with the Seashell Eyes.” Another is “Once Upon a Time on the Wine Dark Sea," although I've actually written a couple of paragraphs of disconnected prose inspired by that title.

How about you? Do you consider titles important? Do you agonize over them? What are your favorite titles?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Future Earth

Last night I visited a future Morocco. A friend and I, wearing dusters and face wraps against the wind and sand, stood in a bazaar while movement foamed around us. There had been a war. Somehow I knew this. A war against non-human forces that had nearly wiped out the human race. My friend and I had fought in it.

The human population was just starting to bounce back. Conditions for survival were harsh. I saw a family waiting to board a white hovercraft. Mother, father, two children. They were escaping north to safer lands. The father held a boy child of maybe two while a daughter of eight or so stood beside them.

There was no ladder into the hovercraft. The mother and father climbed over the side with the boy but the daughter could not reach high enough. She cried out, holding up her hands, but neither her father nor mother helped her, though they had tears in their eyes. I understood they were leaving her behind, that they felt they had to make a choice to save one of their children and the boy was more important to them than the girl.

The hovercraft began to move. The girl ran beside it, the swirling sand spraying her, making her blink and stumble. I couldn’t stand it. To one side of us two traders were bargaining with a merchant at a stall, their mounts tethered beside them. Those mounts were dragonflies the size of horses.

I ran to one of the giant insects, yanked its reins free and leaped onto its back. Together we tore upward into the brazen air, the creature’s wings humming, then swung back and down and the dragonfly scooped up the fallen girl in its front legs. We caught the hovercraft only a short distance away and deposited the girl on board. She ran to her mother, who hugged her desperately.

I leaped off the dragonfly into the craft, saw that other families were huddled in the bottom of the ship. I knew that some of them had also left loved ones behind. I shouted at them. “They’re human beings. You can’t leave them. They’re human!”

A young mother burst into tears. I awoke.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Power of Beauty Compels You

Is writing an art or a craft? In day to day practice I usually approach it as a craft. I have a certain amount of work to accomplish, and I must accomplish that work even if I’m not particularly inspired, even if I’m feeling under the weather, even if the work is more reportage than imaginative. But I understand that what attracted me to writing in the first place is the artistic heart of it. This is one reason why I look forward to the times when I can write fiction. This is not to say that nonfiction can’t be art, but most of the nonfiction I do is focused on the reporting of facts. The key requirement is clarity, not artistic flourish. The old adage of “kill your darlings” is more important in nonfiction than fiction, I think, because metaphors and other beautiful turns of phrase may serve to obfuscate facts.

For me, however, fiction is about more than just a good story. I can read a book or story that is plainly written but in which the prose doesn’t sing, as long as the plotline keeps me wondering what happens next. But, the works that I remember are those in which the words and sentences are infused with beauty as well as functionality. Consider:

“The evening sky was streaked with purple, the color of torn plums, and a light rain had started to fall…” James Lee Burke, The Neon Rain.

“Johnny James was sitting on the front porch, sipping from a glass of gasoline in the December heat, when the doomscreamer came.” Robert R. McCammon, “Something Passed By.”

“That country where the hills are fog, and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay.” Ray Bradbury, “The October Country.”

“To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.” John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath.

“Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last wolves.” Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian.

“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.” Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms.

The beauty of these lines compel me. There is meaning “in” the words, and also “behind” the words. I “feel” things in these pieces that go beyond the vocabulary and grammar. Therein lies the art. To do more than just tell a story. To do more than just move the reader from one scene to the next. That’s what I hope to do every time I sit to write a story, what I hope to do and too often fail. Art is a goal that is always difficult to achieve. But it is a goal that is worth the effort.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Weather Report from the Front Lines

Back in the early 1980s, when I decided that I’d be a college teacher, I never imagined that the next century would place me on the front lines in a war. It’s a strange sort of war, a war of attrition rather than a holocaust, and no one wears uniforms to indicate what side they’re on. Like any war, there are moments when the trenches are at peace. But there are also moments when spectacular violence erupts, when the cold war turns hot.

I’m talking about school shootings, of course. Our latest, as of this writing, was at Northern Illinois University, in DeKalb. A man carrying a shotgun and at least one pistol stepped out from behind a curtained area in a large lecture hall and opened fire. Seven have died so far and a number of others were wounded, including the lecturer. The gunman killed himself before the police arrived. It happened on Valentine’s Day.

This wasn’t even the first school shooting of the month. On February 8, a nursing student at Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—about an hour drive from me—shot and killed two fellow nursing students and then herself in a classroom on campus.

Certainly, every one remembers last year’s Virginia Tech shooting, where 32 died, and the worst High School shooting in history, at Columbine in 1999, at the turn of the century. But there have been shootings at many other schools. One that’s not on the list at that link occurred at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville a few years back. It happened in a building I frequented while in graduate school there.

I’m sure there are many reasons for the upswing in school violence and it’s unlikely to be due solely to one factor. For example, it’s clearly not due just to easy access to guns. Guns were readily available when I was growing up in the 1970s, more readily available than now. In fact, I took guns to school with me many times. I didn’t carry them into the school, but left them in the car because I was going hunting after school and didn’t want to go home first. Growing up in Arkansas you would frequently see trucks in the parking lots of schools, churches, and everywhere else with loaded gun racks in the back. No one got shot with those guns.

I’ve noticed that quite a few of the shooters have been graduate or professional school students, like in DeKalb and at Louisiana Technical College. I wonder if the stress of graduate/professional school, along with the fact that many (not all certainly) graduate/professional school students are not the world’s most socially apt individuals, could be a contributing factor. When you’re stressed, and you don’t have the social support network you need, bad things can happen.

What I really wonder, though, is how soon the next school shooting is going to take place. And where. And I wonder if maybe I should start requesting hazard pay from my school.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

When Life Imitates Art

OK, this is weird. I’m working on that horror story I mentioned here a few days ago, which is going pretty well btw, and on Sunday night I wrote the following scene: The elevator dinged. Wayne pressed forward but the elevator doors hadn’t opened yet. He heard a smashing sound, looked again toward the end of the hallway. The glass in the doors there was starred with cracks, and even as he watched one of the monkeys swung a rock again into the glass, smashing a gaping hole. Rats poured through.

The story is set at a university so I’m using my university and my particular building as the model. The glass doors described above are exactly like the doors in my building, and they open onto the parking lot where the attack comes from.

Now for the weirdness. I came in Monday morning to work, and in the afternoon I had a chance fiddle a bit with the above scene, and I also wrote another scene with a window being smashed. As I leave the building about 6:00 that evening I see that the bottom glass panels on both doors into the parking lot are badly cracked and starred in reality. It’s only the lower panels, the same panels I envisioned being smashed through by the monkeys in my scene.

To top it off, the story takes place on a Monday, the same day of the week that this happened. Now, I’m not much of a one to believe in weird things so I’m pretty sure this is a coincidence. But it is certainly one of the strangest coincidences I’ve ever experienced. Strange enough that I’ve been telling everyone about it.

Cue the Twilight Zone music.

Monday, February 11, 2008

How Not to Write a Pastiche

Back in the 80s and 90s Tor published a lot of pastiches featuring Robert E. Howard's Conan. Many authors, including Robert Jordan, wrote some of these books. Most were not very good. Here's my review of one of those books, with some asides on problems with the story and characterization that may help the writers among us think about our own works in progress.

Sean A. Moore, Conan the Hunter, Published by Tor. 1994. 245 pages.

This was Moore's first book and I haven't read anything else by him. I do think he showed promise but none of us will get to see it developed since he died in a car crash in 1998 at age 33. This book's strengths included fast pacing and generally pretty good descriptions of physical combat. The book also got better toward the end, and I found myself turning the pages to see what would happen next. That’s a step forward compared to other pastiches I've read.

There were, however, a number of problems that made the book less than a standout. First, Conan the Hunter failed to capture the flavor of Robert E. Howard. Anyone who has read REH's Conan would never be fooled into thinking that Moore's Conan is the same character. In fact, Conan in this story was only one of several central characters, and there were times when he didn't even seem the major one. Had the book been called "Gorum the Hunter" I probably would have enjoyed it more, but when you do something called "Conan" it seems to me that you try to stay true to the character as Howard created it. This was the weakest part of Moore's book. In fact, in several places the author seemed to draw Conan as little more than an ineffectual buffoon. For example, on page 13, a city guardsman, admittedly described as very strong, grabs Conan by the wrist--and snaps it just like that. It appears Conan needs a few calcium tablets in his diet.

On page 54, Conan is trapped in a sewer when he is attacked by a tentacled monster (from the cover drawing by Ken Kelly). Conan leaps into the air to avoid the creature, misjudges the tunnel’s height, and cracks his skull against the ceiling hard enough to bring down rocks and dirt. This stuns Conan long enough for the creature to get hold of him. By the way, it also sets off an avalanche of dirt that opens the sewer to the outside (described as 80 or 90 feet above.) This dirt, described as "tons," buries the creature.

On page 60 Conan becomes a total buffoon. He tries to sneak up on a gardener to steal his clothes to get inside a palace, but he screws this up and ends up on his face in the dirt with the gardener yelling for the guards. He then knocks the gardener down, but as he stands up the gardener's horse bolts and the cart it is pulling hits Conan's shoulder,
knocking his sword out of his hand. In reaching for his sword, Conan sticks his foot into a loop of the harness; the horse bolts again, and Conan is dragged unceremoniously along behind. When Conan finally gets free of the horse, he stands up and the gardener walks up and knocks him out with one punch. Just who is this gardener? Mike Tyson?

In yet another place, page 92, Conan takes a swing at a guard and ends up punching his fist into the other fellow's armor. Now true, Howard did not show Conan as infallible or as never making mistakes, but all this just seems a little too much for me. As I said, this might have been fine, or even appropriate, for "Gorum," but it just didn't fit "Conan."

What else? Well, despite the fact that Conan's wrist could be broken simply by being grabbed by another fellow, his head certainly seemed to be hard enough. On page 94, a man who is apparently incredibly strong hits Conan upside the head with a direct, sidearm blow from a heavy mace. Conan is merely stunned! Does that seem reasonable to you?

My overall evaluation is that Conan the Hunter was readable, and even enjoyable at some level, but that its attempt at a pastiche of Howard was unsuccessful. The main problems were with the characterization of Conan, and with the occasional lapse in internal logic. This book should have been published as a non-Conan book and should have had the more egregious errors edited out or toned down. I mean, did anyone along the production line for this book even stop to imagine what would happen to a human skull when impacted by a mace traveling at full speed?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Crazy stuff

I'm still a member of the Science Fiction Book Club, and occassionally pick up hardbacks of old classics, or sometimes omnibus editions. They also have a section of their offerings devoted to graphic novels, and to movies. This month, stuffed in with such fare as Missile to the Moon where "Lunar She-Devils lure Earthmen into their lair of doom" and Dinosaur Valley Girls, where an "action-movie actor" is cast into the past and must use his "prodigious skills to win the cavegirl of his dreams" while being tempted by a "tribe of love-starved exotic cave-women," there was--perhaps--the greatest come-on for a movie ever. I give you: Babes in Kong Land.

It's good that I stumble upon such fare once in a while. Just when I begin to feel smug in my own imagination, something like "Babes" is waved before my face and I know I am but a child. I dare say I would never have imagined quite this sort of scenario. I bow to the creators, and I know I can never watch this DVD. I just don't see how it could live up to the promise of the description.

On the other hand, this Andromina: The Pleasure Planet sounds interesting. After all, who wouldn't want to visit "the most famous pleasure planet in the galaxy?"

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Question on Finding Markets

One comment on my Tuesday’s post asked where I found out about the markets I submitted to. I thought I might take a moment to answer. Although there won’t be any great revelations here, I’m sure.

First, I’m a member of HWA (the Horror Writers Association) and they send out a periodic newsletter that lists market guidelines and provides information on editors and such. Most genres have their own professional organizations, including Westerns, Romances, Mysteries, and SF/Fantasy. There’s even the relatively new Thriller writers groups. If you’re serious about writing in a genre, then joining such a group has many benefits. In most cases, even unpublished writers can join, although they may not necessarily get all the benefits that professionally published members get.

I’m also a member of SFPA (The Science Fiction Poetry Association) and they include marketing information in their official magazine, Star*Line. There’s a link on my sidebar, at the top.

Online forums are also a great way to find out about markets. I’m active at two, Unified SciFi Forums, which is linked on my sidebar, and SF Reader Forum, which I just put up a link to this morning. Both are in my top set of links. My last two short story sales came to markets I found out about on SF Reader Forums.

Another thing I do is check out magazines about genres or topics I’m interested in every time I visit Borders or Barnes & Noble. The magazines themselves might provide potential markets, but they will also contain ads inside for other magazines and, thus, potential markets.

In the last year or so, I’ve been getting a lot of my information about markets from the blogosphere. My last three poetry sales came from markets I learned about by visiting Greg Schwartz’s website. Greg is an excellent poet and although he doesn’t update his blog as often as I’d like, he has links to several markets that publish the same kind of poetry that I like to write. I’ve found markets listed on many, many blogs, though, far too many to follow up on them all.

Finally, if all else fails I “Google.” Searching “Literary Markets” or “Memoir Markets” will give you lots of hits to check through. Some will be out of date or otherwise useless. But a little effort can usually reveal some suitable places to launch your manuscript toward.

That’s pretty much it.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Hope Springs

Well, I’m officially silly. I’ve been striving for this recognition for quite some time, and although I was recognized for my silliness by Lana, I have to admit that I half suspected her of bias. Now I have independent corroboration of my silliness, however, and can feel comfortable in proclaiming it to the world. Lest some of you doubt my achievement, just eyeball the pretty little picture below. Read the caption. And bow, or at least offer the glorious raspberry of goofiness, to my greatness.

Why did I receive such an award, you may well ask? And if you don’t I shall tell you anyway. It’s for a story called “Mirthgar,” which I recently submitted to a humorous fantasy anthology. And which was acknowledged today as “worthy” of inclusion among other jewels of jocularity. I’m not sure when this will be published but will let everyone know.

Just in case readers of this blog begin to suppose, based upon my last couple of posts, that every word that falls from my word processor is immediately snapped up for publication, let me copy a selected section of my submission record below:

Dec 1, 2007 – Sub “Love in the Time of Cybersex” to Space & Time. Rejected.
Dec 1, 2007 – Sub “Life is Football” to Today’s Christian. Rejected.
Dec 1, 2007 – Sub “Charade You Are” to Otherworlds Anthology. Rejected.
Dec 1, 2007 – Sub “Unicorn Lost” to Coyote Wild
Dec 6, 2007 – Sub “Insomnia in a Quantum World” to Abyss & Apex. Rejected.
Dec 6, 2007 – Sub “Silence Razored” to Abyss & Apex. Rejected.
Dec 6, 2007 – Sub “You Were There” to Abyss & Apex. Rejected.
Dec 7, 2007 – Sub “Blue Soul” to Dreams & Nightmares. Accepted 12-23-07:
Dec 7, 2007 – Sub “With Souls Electric” to Dreams & Nightmares. Rejected.
Dec 7, 2007 – Sub “Exquisite Machine” to Dreams & Nightmares. Rejected.
Dec 7, 2007 – Sub “In Poetry We Trust” to Dreams & Nightmares. Rejected.
Dec 7, 2007 – Sub “Neuronomicon” to Dreams & Nightmares. Rejected.
Dec 7, 2007 – Sub “Recompense Reprise” to Niteblade. Accepted, one line change
Dec 7, 2007 – Sub “Psychosorcery” to Niteblade. Rejected.
Dec 7, 2007 – Sub “Need” to Niteblade. Rejected.
Dec 11, 2007 – Sub “Emotion and Medium in Writing” to Bret Funk. Published
Dec 28, 2007 – Thank you note to Dreams & Nightmares.
Dec 29, 2007 – email note to Space & Time, thanks for consideration.

Jan 1, 2008 – Sub “The Unshriven” to MicroSpec.
Jan 1, 2008 – Sub “Inspiration” to MicroSpec.
Jan 1, 2008 – Sub “Love in the Time of Cybersex” to Strange Horizons. Rejected
Jan 2, 2008 – Sub “Worms in the Earth” to Flashing Swords. Contract Sent.
Jan 3, 2008 – Sub “Plague” to Whispers of Wickedness. Rejected.
Jan 3, 2008 – Sub “In Poetry We Trust” to Whispers of Wickedness. Rejected.
Jan 3, 2008 – Sub “Forever” to Whispers of Wickedness. Rejected.
Jan 3, 2008 – Sub “Exquisite Machine” to Whispers of Wickedness. Rejected.
Jan 3, 2008 – Sub “Neuronomicon” to Whispers of Wickedness. Maybe?
Jan 5, 2008 – Email thank you note to Flashing Swords.
Jan 5, 2008 – Sub “Grammar Primer” to Bret Funk. Published.
Jan 6, 2008 – Sub “Branded” to Star*Line. Rejected.
Jan 6, 2008 – Sub “She Is” to Star*Line. Rejected.
Jan 6, 2008 – Sub “Song to a Rose” to Star*Line. Rejected.
Jan 6, 2008 – Sub “Remember” to Star*Line. Rejected.
Jan 6, 2008 – Sub “Far Beyond Home” to Star*Line. Rejected.
Jan 10, 2008 – emailed note back to Whispers of Wickedness.
Jan 26, 2008 – Sub “Mirthgar” to Silly Fantasy Anthology. Accepted
Jan 29, 2008 – Sub Where it Wanders, 500 words to blog contest. Rejected.
Jan 30, 2008 – email Strange Horizons thank you for consideration.
Jan 30, 2008 – Sub “Love in the Time of Cybersex” to Heliotrope.
Feb 2, 2008 – email Abyss and Apex acknowledgement to their email.

Rejections are a fact of life for writers. 2008 has been a good year for me so far, but as you can see from the entries above there have been more rejections than acceptances. So what. You keep going. A story comes back, it goes out again. I got a rejection on “Love in the Time of Cybersex” on January 30 and sent it out again later that same day, even though I had to edit out 250 words to get it down to the submission requirements for that market. You get a rejection, you send a note to that magazine saying thanks for their consideration. Because you know it’s nothing personal. And one day you might send something their way again. Maybe they’ll even take it. Hope springs eternal in the mind of a writer.

By the way, when I first posted this I forgot to mention that many of these subs are poetry. To avoid confusion, the stuff to Star*line, Abyss and Apex, Niteblade, Whispers of Wickedness, and Dreams and Nightmares is all poetry. The stories here are "Love in the Time of Cybersex," "Charade You Are," and "Unicorn Lost." "The Unshriven" and "Inspiration" are microfictions. "Life is Football" is an essay.

Also, this is not all recently written stuff. Some of it's new. Some is older stuff I'm still submitting.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Of Publications and Cannibals

Just out is Dissecting Hannibal Lecter, a collection of essays on the work of Thomas Harris. It’s edited by Benjamin Szumskyj, with a foreword by Daniel O’Brien. I wrote the afterword, entitled “Mythmaker, ” about the developing “myth” that surrounds the “serial killer.” This is illustrated very well by the three novels featuring Hannibal the Cannibal. Below is the first paragraph of my piece.

“When we think of mythmakers and myths, most of us think of ancient times, of writers like Homer and Gods like Zeus and Apollo. We think of dragons, and the land of Faerie, and stories of Valkyries and Amazons. Yet, myth making didn’t stop with the ancients. It continues into the modern age, around Boy Scout campfires and on the silver screens of Hollywood, from the mouths of everyday folk and from the word processors of writers throughout the world.”

There are quite a few well known writers with essays in the collection, although the best known in the circles I move in is probably S. T. Joshi, who has written a lot of horror-related criticism, particularly concerning H. P. Lovecraft. I’m glad to see the book has come out. I found from my records that I submitted the completed piece in January of 2007, so the book has been a while in the making. I’m looking forward to delving into it.

Nothing much else to post today. The picture at bottom is my car, a Toyota Scion TC. I’ve been very happy with it so far.

Friday, February 01, 2008

It's the Emotion, Stupid!

I’m working on a horror story at the moment, and I’m struggling. Oh, the plot is there. And the characters. I know what is happening and going to happen (within some general limits), and I know who those things are going to happen to. What I don’t have is the “feel” of the piece. In short, I’m not making myself uncomfortable yet. I’ve found from experience that I don’t necessarily have to scare myself when I’m writing a horror story, but my gut damn well better be involved. I better remember to tell myself, "it's the emotion, stupid!"

I think the main problem is that I haven’t mentally switched gears from nonfiction to fiction yet in this piece. I’ve been doing so much nonfiction lately, particularly scientific writing, that it’s hard for me to force my intellect into the back seat and put my feelings into the driver’s seat. I’ve often said that I believe nonfiction, especially objective work like that which scientists write, can be created from the intellect alone. Fiction, on the other hand, demands, requires, cannot exist without, emotion.

Part of the problem also lies in the fact that I’m in a very busy period at school and I have not had the time to let the story soak into me in an emotional way. But because of Mardi Gras I’m now set for a four day break after today. I’m going to reintroduce myself to my fears and anxieties and all my other feelings. I may use the basic outline of what I’ve already constructed, but the viscera are going to be torn out and strewn around. One way or another, I’m going to remember what it’s like to look into a dark hole and feel like something is down there waiting for me. Or maybe not…waiting. Maybe it’s coming closer. Coming for me. Coming right now.

Maybe it’s right behind me!