Thursday, December 31, 2009


Well, the first of a new year is generally a time to look back, but I thought today I might look a little further back than usual. Below is my journal entry for January 1, 2006.

January 1--Sunday: Day 1 of the new year. We slept late and ordered pizza for lunch. Josh and Heidi were here. Then I watched some football and worked on my REH’s mental state article. Made very good progress on that. Played a little chess online here and there.

I’m basically pretty glad 2005 is over. What a steady series of shocks and problems we experienced. First, Lana’s mom died, and she lost an uncle and a friend as well. Then I had my motorcycle wreck and am still not completely recovered from that. Josh wrecked his bike, as well, and hurt himself a bit, but has recovered. Worse, he wrecked his Diamanti and it was totaled. Fortunately he was OK. He got another car at least, which was much cheaper and which he mostly paid for himself, but he seems to like it. We also had problem after problem with my Thunderbird. I put a lot of money into it early in the year, although it ran well at the end of the year. My sister Dolores died of colon cancer and it was a hard death. I'll never forget her last moments. For weeks I saw her face every time I closed my eyes. My own health did not fare all that well, either. My high blood pressure seems well controlled with medicine but my triglycerides went way up, to over 800, and my cholesterol increased some too, ending up over 200. Part of that was due to the blood pressure medicine. I haven’t felt my best in a long time.

And, of course, there came Hurricane Katrina in August. We got lucky in that we didn’t lose anything physically other than Lana's car, but we were forced out of our home for over three months, and even once we got back things have not been the same. We relocated to Austin for two months, which I didn’t find terribly bad, although Lana hated it. I got to work at the University of Texas, which was nice, and I got to spend time in a new environment. But for a couple of months I didn’t really see Josh, except for once when I flew into New Orleans. He stayed in our apartment, and he was unable to get back into school so he lost a semester. He finally did get a job that paid him quite a bit.

At one point, I got a grant and thought I was actually going to end up making some money. That thought died when Xavier fired over half its faculty. Although I was given a contract, Xavier took my grant money to pay it. The fear and depression over all this has been terrible, especially the sadness of seeing so many friends gone and worrying about how they will make it. And I don’t really have any idea what my future will be in the New Orleans area. I don’t know how well I have recovered from having my lifetime career so threatened. And to top things off, Cross Plains, Texas nearly burned down in December wildfires, although the Robert E. Howard House was spared. Still, there may be no one left to take care of things there considering how much fire damage there was in the town.

As for writing, 2005 was a non-fiction year and it was quite successful as far as money is concerned. I made decent money on the Salem Press articles, and on the fantasy articles for the Greenwood Encyclopedia. I also got the grant because of my writing on the Darwin book, which means I have made more money from that book now than from anything I’ve ever actually finished and had published. It may well have also saved my job because they got rid of a lot of people who didn’t get such grants.

In the coming year I hope to get back into fiction, but I don’t know how much time I’ll have considering the big work loads we are going to have at Xavier, what with release time cancelled and half our colleagues gone. I’d like to submit my three Talera novels somewhere, and have plans to work on that soon. I also need to continue work on the Darwin book and get it ready to submit for publication. I’d like to submit the writing Guidebook as well. Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to get motivated. So much stuff is up in the air about my life and career and I’m just a little tired. The other thing I’d like to do, though, is get myself a little more healthy, which means getting my triglycerides under control and getting off my prescription medicines, and eating a better diet.

So there you have it. That's what I remembered about 2005 on January 1 of 2006. Tomorrow I'll make another such journal entry. Not sure yet what I'm going to say. But maybe in a few years you'll see that one too.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Have You Noticed?

The last couple of Star Trek books I read were written by women. The one I’m reading now is by a man. And I’ve noticed something that I, 1) wonder if anyone else has noticed, and 2) wonder if it is a wide spread experience. I know there is a stereotype that might partially apply.

Specifically, in the Star Trek books by the women the characters are experienced in a much more internalized way. Even with the Vulcans we get to see a lot more of their emotional nature than we do with the book by the male author. Reading the male author book is a bit more like watching the TV episodes. We are treated with good visuals and we can see all the behaviors, as well as hear the dialogue, but we don’t really venture inside the characters. Is this a common difference between male and female authors?

Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes I felt that the female authors were reaching a bit when they started exploring the Vulcan emotions, but in generally I’m sort of missing the closer interactions with the characters that I’m not finding in the male written book. On the other hand, the male author’s version may be more realistic in that in real life we never actually see another person’s emotions from the internal perspective. We only see their behaviors. But we don’t really read books to get the absolute real world experience. We generally want a bit more. At least I do.

So, what do you think?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Updates and Reviews

Lana is improving steadily but my stepfather is still in the hospital and is struggling. Please continue to send him good thoughts. Our steak dinner with Josh and his girlfriend Heidi went off very well, though, and we had a great day.

I ended up cutting the preface for the anthology down by about 50 words and I think it’s a lot better. I also rearranged the story order in the book a bit because by putting the six Thal Kyrin stories in chronological order I would have had a relatively weaker story up first. I know you don’t want that in an anthology. I’m on the final read through now.

I just finished reading The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King. Often, I find King’s endings relatively weak and the rest of his stories pretty compelling. This was the reverse. The ending was quite strong but the path to get there was slow, slow, slow. This was one of King’s shorter books, only 254 pages in paperback, but I felt he really had ideas for a novella at most. I think cutting out a hundred pages toward the front and middle would have made this one sing. I haven’t much enjoyed the last couple of books I’ve read by King, but I so loved works like Misery, The Mist, and The Cell that I keep giving him chances. I know he can do it. That’s the thing.

I also finished Voices from the Dark by Gary William Crawford. This is a poetry collection. Most of the poetry is pretty dark, but I’m not sure I’d call this a “genre” collection. The cover certainly suggests that, but isn’t totally accurate. Crawford’s work really crosses all genres and ventures well into the mainstream. The book is subtitled “Selected Poems: 1979-2009” and is kind of a “best of.” I’ve read a fair number of the poems from the collection before, and have reviewed other collections by Crawford here on the blog; his works are regularly nominated for the Stoker Awards. Gary’s poetry is the kind that demands rereading anyway, though, so I didn’t mind revisiting some old favorites. There’s a lot going on in these pieces. If you haven’t tried any Crawford before, this would be a great introduction to his work. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Anthology

Almost everything is done on the anthology except a final read through. I'm calling it Bitter Steel.

I did a preface that is 700 words, although I’m gonna try to shave that down a bit. The preface focuses primarily on Robert E. Howard as the man who created the Sword & Sorcery genre. It doesn’t say too much about the stories in the collection, because I want them to stand on their own. I did mention that some of the stories have alternate endings to those that appeared in the original publications.

I set the Thal Kyrin stories up first in the collection, after an opening poem, and I put them into chronological order. That meant doing some revisions on a few of them, and I also used very short “end notes” behind a few stories to explain where gaps still exist. I made judicious use of “Author Notes” at the beginning of a couple of stories, primarily to let people know when they were going to get a humorous story as opposed to the more serious stuff that makes up the bulk of the collection. I also did a fair amount of tightening on the pieces throughout.

I’ve always kept a file labeled Story Notes, where I put information about when I wrote the stories and about any influences or other items that seem important to me. And I edited these notes heavily and included them at the end of the entire collection. I figure most readers will probably skip ‘em, but the writers might find those bits interesting.

Tomorrow I’m taking off because my son and his girlfriend are coming up for Christmas. I’m looking forward to seeing him. I’ve got the meal planned. Steak, corn on the cob, garlic bread with cheese, and ice cream for dessert.

Merry Christmas to everyone. I’ll be checking blogs again on Wednesday and then may take off for Christmas eve and Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Health Updates and Star Trek

Well, Lana is feeling a bit better, although she still has plenty of pain. She’s doing some passive exercises on her arm to keep the range of motion up. Unfortunately, I just got a call from my brother this morning to tell me that my step-father is in intensive care after a heart attack. We’ve been so worried about mom, and Ray has been a rock. But rocks crack, too, I guess. Two other family members are facing serious health issues as well. It’s been a hard couple of months for the family. Our world will change dramatically in the next few months.

But I didn’t start this blog to talk primarily about personal issues. I started it to talk about writing and reading, etc., and right now I need the distraction. Last night, before I got the latest bad news, Lana and I finally got around to watching the new Star Trek movie. I really enjoyed it. Watched it twice, in fact. I thought the characterizations were pretty spot on. The new Kirk, Christopher Pine, was the most different from the original character, but I really liked the character as he was envisioned. He’s a little harder edged maybe.

The writing was crisp and the overall story was excellent, even though I’ve not always been a fan of time travel stories. You can see that the writers and director paid close attention to the things that made Wrath of Khan such a great movie, and they riffed off of that pretty hard. I didn’t mind in the least.

I had wondered how I’d feel about the alternate universe storyline, but in retrospect I think it was an excellent as well as necessary choice. Should we call this series, Star Trek AU (for alternate universe)? It sets up dramatic future opportunities for a completely altered Federation, and I like the characters enough to want to see more. In fact, I thought the choices for the characters were truly inspired and they played off each other very well. And, the nice touches, like having the “red-shirt” get it on the space drop, were appreciated.

Of course, I could mention a few quibbles. I wasn’t enamored of the relationship between Uhuru and Spock. I can see that they are setting things up for Spock to be a much more emotional character in this series, and that may weaken future storylines. I’m also not sure about Scotty’s “sidekick.” Not sure what they’re going to do with that. The ship itself is also much “busier” on the inside, and that detracts a bit for me from the visuals, although it is probably realistic. These don’t really detract from my overall enjoyment of the story, though. The new Star Trek was a rousing good adventure and I highly recommend it.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Post Surgery

They started the surgery an hour late but finally got it done. The doctor said it came out well and that the main problem was some bone spurs and a tear in the tissue that connects the bone to the shoulder. They repaired all that.

Lana is pretty miserable at the moment. Her throat is very sore from the intubation and she’s having quite a bit of pain. She didn’t really get to sleep until about 5:30 this morning. But hopefully she will feel better soon. We’ll both rest easier. Then I’ll be returning to regular blogging and blog visiting.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Break Begins

I finished my grading and turned them in Friday. Then I went to bed and slept for over ten hours Friday night. Saturday I took it pretty easy, although I did some reading on the anthology. Later I watched Terminator: Salvation. I thought it was decent, better than Terminator 3 but not as good as the first two movies.

Today, I dug in on the anthology, reading through the whole thing and making some minor changes here and there. Tomorrow is thinking time. I’ll make the final decision on the order of the stories. After that, a week of intense reading and revising should follow before it’s done. I will be doing a short preface and I believe I’m going to need a few very short intros for individual stories. I need to explain just a bit about the Thal Kyrin tales, and about the humorous pieces. I’m looking forward to really focusing on that work.

In other news, the New Orleans Saints are 13 and 0. They have led the NFL in scoring for the past two years. In fact, they have two of the three highest scoring seasons in NFL history. They have set numerous records this year, and not only team records but NFL records. I never thought I’d be able to say these things about the New Orleans Saints. Never! Ever! You know, I really like rooting for a winning team.

Finally, send some good thoughts our way in the next few days. Lana will be having surgery on her shoulder on Wednesday. I probably won’t be posting for a few days but will let everyone know as soon as I get a chance as to how she’s doing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Anthology: Prefaces and introductions

Another issue to consider in putting together an anthology is: “to preface or not to preface.” In other words, 1) should I write an introduction to the collection as a whole, and 2) should I include any introductions to individual stories within the collection? One could argue that you hardly ever see introductions to novels, so why should short story collections be any different? Stories are different, though, in that they are likely written at different periods of an author’s career rather than straight through as one would a novel. That provides an opportunity for the writer to share in a preface some things they’ve learned over time.

Personally, I like introductions, and I even like when writers introduce individual stories, although they need to say something interesting when they do so. If I’m the reader, however, I want the introductions short, especially for stories. But here is the problem. I read, at least in part, as a writer. I like to know what the writer of an anthology was thinking and where his or her influences came from. I like to hear about a particular story that has an interesting history. But I also know plenty of readers who aren’t writers who just want the stories. They don’t care about where they came from or what the writer’s influences were; they want to get right into the action. And, ultimately, a story has to live or die by its own merits.

In looking through the anthologies I own, a very large number, I see that short prefaces are more common than not, although there are anthologies without them. I see that introductions to individual stories are rare, however. I’ve decided to take these observations as my general guidelines, though not as a firm rule.

I’ve already written a short introduction for the whole collection and will probably use it. It’s about three pages long and still needs shortening, I think, but it keeps the focus mainly on the history of the Sword & Sorcery genre, which is where 99percent of the stories in the collection fall. It also specifically gives credit to Robert E. Howard as the major influence in my fantasy writing. So far, I’ve decided against introductions to individual stories, but I haven’t been through the whole collection so that may change. If I do introduce specific stories, I'll keep that intro to no more than 5 sentences.

Once again, I come up against the issue of target audience. Of course I want my fellow writers to enjoy the book, but I also want to attract those readers for who “the story is the thing,” the only thing. Any feedback from…out there?


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Putting an anthology together

Once you decide what stories to include in an anthology, then comes the decision about the order in which those stories should appear. I decided to focus on a fantasy theme for the first anthology I'm putting together and that made the decision of what stories to include easy. To get 70,000 words, I needed to include all my Sword & Sorcery pieces.

But now for the order of the stories! From what I understand it is especially important to have a very strong story up front, and to end with another especially strong story. This issue is complicated for me at the beginning because I have both serious and humorous Sword & Sorcery pieces. Which should I start with.

I decided that starting with a humorous story would set a tone I didn't particularly like. Most of the stories aren't humorous so I don't want to give the impression with the first piece that the collection is light hearted. Once I decided to go with a serious piece, I faced another issue. Six of the serious stories I have feature the same character, Thal Kyrin. This makes up over a third of the collection and raises several questions. Should I run all the Thal stories back to back? Should I put these stories in chronological order in relationship to Thal's life? Or should I put them in the order that I wrote them?

I decided against chronological order in relationship to Thal's life because I wouldn't have the strongest story up front then. I also didn't put them in the order I wrote them for similar reasons, although I'm going back and revising early stories to take out the worst bumps from my inexperience at the time.

Anyway, these are some of the issues I'm dealing with as I start this project. More on the process as I continue, and I hope at least a few folks are getting something of interest from this.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Saints, School, and Stories

The Saints nearly gave me a heart attack today but somehow managed to pull out a win over Washington to go to 12 and 0 on the season. Washington helped 'em out by missing a field goal that would have put 'em up by 10 with just a couple of minutes left. But you don't make it to 12 and 0 without some luck in the NFL. As someone said, these ain't your momma's Saints. They never stop scrapping, and they have a quick strike capability that is nothing short of amazing.

In school news, we are finished with classes now and final exams start Monday. Going to be grading intensive for most of next week but after that I should be able to rest up. There's always a few humorous experiences that happen around this time of the year. I got an email Saturday from a student who has missed about a third of one of my classes asking if I'd be in my office on Saturday so "they" could explain why they've missed so much and get the information that they've missed by missing so much. I chuckled over that one for quite some time.

I'm also starting to put together a collection of my short stories for potential publication. I've got quite a lot of stories stored on my hard drive. Right now I have over 70,000 words of fantasy stories, and close to 100,000 words of horror. Quite a lot of the horror stories are vampire or vampire related, and vampires are quite popular these days. If I included samples of my poetry I'd be able to add a thousand words here and there to either collection.

Do people still read short story collections? I know I do. I just finished one collection and am reading another now. In fact, I usually have an anthology or two going. Do you think in this day and age a short story collection might be well received?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

An Interview with Shauna Roberts

Shauna Roberts’ first novel has just been published. It’s called Like Mayflies in a Stream and I reviewed it previously on my blog. Shauna has graciously agreed to be interviewed here on Razored Zen. So without further ado, here’s Shauna Roberts.

Shauna: Thank you for inviting me to visit your blog.

RZEN: Why historical fiction? What is it about history that fascinates you so much that you had to write about it?

Shauna: History appeals to me for the very same reasons that science fiction and fantasy do: the chance to immerse myself in a different world with different customs, different clothes, different rules; to get away from the mundane modern world. When I was little, my aunt (a writer) gave me a child’s history of the world, and I’ve been reading about history ever since.

RZEN: Why did you pick the particular historical period that you did to write about?

Shauna: I’ve been fascinated with ancient Mesopotamia in general and Sumer in particular since high school, when I read History Begins at Sumer by Samuel Noah Kramer. Until then, I had not realized how much of our modern culture dated back thousands of years. I also had never wondered how civilization first began. I started reading everything I could about ancient Mesopotamia and attended the University of Pennsylvania because it had a top Near Eastern Studies program.

I didn’t end up a Near Eastern archaeologist, as I had planned. But when the chance arose to write a novel for Hadley Rille Books’ new Archaeology Series, I didn’t have to think twice about a setting. In fact, I had been gathering background material for a fantasy novel set in a land much like Sumer, so I already had some research done.

RZEN: Historical fiction must require a lot of research to get right. Did you enjoy doing the research for Like Mayflies in a Stream? Do you think it would have been easier if you’d chosen a better-known historical period, such as the Renaissance?

Shauna: I loved doing the research for this book—so much so that I continued buying research books after I had finished Like Mayflies in a Stream.

A better-known time period would have been easier to write about in some ways and harder in others. Easier because, obviously, so much more is known. Another benefit would be that some popular time periods, such as Tudor England, have large, built-in audiences.

But a difficulty with well-known time periods is that the research burden is huge. If, for example, one decided to write a historical novel about someone who lived to be 80 years old and traveled often between England and France, one could spend months just researching the clothes and furniture. Learning the history that occurred, the manners of the period, and all the important personages who lived during those 80 years would be quite a job. If one gets even a minor detail wrong in a historical novel, the reading experience is spoiled for some readers.

With the era of Gilgamesh, we have too little information, not too much. My challenge in writing Like Mayflies in a Stream was to fill in data holes in an intelligent manner, based on my knowledge of other cultures at that level of technology and extrapolating from what is known about earlier and later periods of Mesopotamian history. Scholars may disagree with some of the choices I made, but their disagreement would be a matter of interpretation, not of fact.

RZEN: How did you feel when you held your first published novel in your hands?

Shauna: Relieved, mainly. Although Like Mayflies in a Stream, was my first published novel, it was my third published book. I jumped up and down for the first two books. With Mayflies, I just wore a big grin, happy to be a novelist at last.

RZEN: Every writer interview includes a question such as, what is your writing regimen like? So here it is.

Shauna: I try to be in my office Monday through Friday from 9ish to 6ish. Ideally, I work on nonfiction (I’m a medical writer and editor) Mondays and Tuesdays, fiction on Wednesdays and Fridays, and chores and leftover work on Thursdays. Ideally, I work evenings and weekends only when I fall behind.

In practice, dividing up tasks by day of the week often doesn’t work (editors’ schedules don’t always mesh with mine), and enough disruptions usually occur that working outside “work hours” is the rule, not the exception.

I write up a schedule for each month and for each week so that I can make sure everything that needs to get done gets penciled in somewhere.

I’m a big believer in BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard). No waiting for a muse to visit or inspiration to strike—I write when I’m scheduled to write.

RZEN: You’ve also written short stories. How do you feel about working on stories versus novels?

Shauna: I enjoy both, I find both rewarding (in different ways), and both feel natural to me.

Many people seem to gravitate to one or the other. At World Fantasy Con, I was talking to Ted Chiang, and he told me his preferred working length was 10,000 to 20,000 words because the stories he wants to tell almost always take that many words to tell them.

In contrast, I get tiny story ideas, medium story ideas, big story ideas, and huge story ideas. Some day I may discover my forte or settle into a particular length, but it hasn’t happened yet.

RZEN: Before you started publishing fiction, you wrote and published a lot of nonfiction, mostly medical and science articles. How do writing fiction and nonfiction differ? Do you find one easier than the other?

Shauna: I find them very different and could write a whole blog post on that topic. (In fact, I think I may have.) So I’ll just mention a few things I like about each.

Nonfiction is easier to write than fiction. Nonfiction pays much better (unless one is a bestselling novelist). The type of nonfiction I usually write—news about new medical research for patients and doctors—is spiritually satisfying because people benefit. They may feel better or live longer or keep a foot that otherwise would been amputated. And what a rush to know that most of my articles have been read by hundreds of thousands of people.

Fiction is more fun to write than nonfiction. I don’t have to suppress my natural voice in favor of the magazine’s house voice. I don’t have to write in simple, declarative sentences at the eighth-grade reading level. I can experiment with style, with voice, with different lengths, types, and genres of stories. I can be bawdy or snarky or politically incorrect. Watching the plot unfold on the screen—when it does—is exhilarating.

RZEN: What are you planning to work on next? Any other historical periods that you might be exploring?

Shauna: Task 1: Revise the short stories I wrote at Clarion this summer and submit them to magazines. Task 2: Write one to three more short stories that I have ideas for while also working up an idea for a novel. Task 3: Start said novel.

If I write another historical novel, it might also be set in Mesopotamia, possibly in the time of Sargon the Great. I’d also be interested in writing about one of the African kingdoms or the Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest. The “hobbits” (Homo floresiensis) of Indonesia would be fascinating to explore, but I’m waiting for more research to be published.

For the novel I want to start soon, I may pursue my old idea of a fantasy set in an alternative Sumer.

RZEN: Where can people get your work?

Shauna: Like Mayflies in a Stream can be ordered from any bookstore and can be purchased online at (hardcover and trade paperback) and Barnes & Noble (hardcover and trade paperback).

RZEN: The Links are below:
Amazon hardcover

Amazon softcover

B&N hardcover

B&N softcover

Shauna: People can find a list of my published short stories here. My two nonfiction books are out of print.

My nonfiction articles have appeared in Diabetes Forecast, The Diabetes Advisor, Diabetes Care, Diabetes Self-Management, The Journal of NIH Research, Science, The FASEB Journal, Analytical Chemistry, Modern Drug Discovery, Veterans Health System Journal, Ocular Surgery News, Oncology News International, Caring Today, Zaghareet!, and The Bark, among other hardcopy and online publications. If someone has patience, Googling “by Shauna S. Roberts” will pull up over a thousand links to tables of contents, citations, and occasional full-text articles).

RZEN: Thanks so much, Shauna, for appearing on my blog. Good luck with your writing.

Shauna: Thank you again, Charles, for having me. I’ve always enjoyed reading “Razored Zen” and have learned a lot from it. I’m glad I can make a small contribution in return.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Post Thanksgiving Return

Thanks to everyone for their well wishes over the holidays. I return those wholeheartedly.

I got back Sunday from Arkansas and spent the rest of the day trying to get caught up on everything I’d fallen behind on. I didn’t even come close. I did look at my Google Reader and had 288 posts. I actually scanned through all of them but there was no way I’d be able to comment on all so I didn’t comment on any. I should be able to pick up with new posts again starting today or tomorrow.

I had a pretty good trip, although they changed the gate on me in Memphis and didn’t announce it, and I missed my flight to Fort Smith, Arkansas. After I got home I realized they’d sent me emails about the change. That didn’t help since I had no way to check email while I was sitting in the terminal at the original gate. After running madly through the terminal I managed to make a flight to Fayetteville, Arkansas, and my brother Paul David and his wife Rita came all the way up there to get me. Thanks to them.

My mom seemed to generally be feeling OK, although she is certainly quite fragile these days. I did lots of visiting and ate a lot. Mom’s husband, Ray, has 7 kids and most of them brought varying amounts of food over for the holidays. We didn’t go hungry and I got my Lemon Pie. I also wore out my visiting bone for a while. And I only got chewed out one time by my mom, so things are looking up! The weather was great and I got to see my high school football team, the Charleston Tigers, win a game on their way to the playoffs for the Arkansas state championship.

One thing that really came home to me over the holidays is how much importance folks from small towns put on family relationships. Every time a new person’s name came up, my mom and Ray and my other family members would start in listing that person’s parents and their brothers and sisters. It had never occurred to me what a kind of “tribal” behavior that is, but I may post more on it later. It’s also interesting how it jumped out at “me,” having lived for a long time in a much more urban environment. The tribe is still alive and well in our world.

Coming up in future posts: 1) an interview with writer Shauna Roberts. 2) a bit about the process of trying to put together an anthology of one’s short stories. 3) more oddities and weirdness.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving in Arkansas

Well, crew, I'll be leaving tomorrow for Arkansas to spend Thanksgiving with my mom. She has not been in the best of health so I really need to see her. I'm feeling guilty about not making it up this past summer. I won't be returning until Sunday, and it's quite likely I won't be back to blogging until Monday or Tuesday. Mom doesn't have any kind of internet connection and the library where I sometimes access email and such while I'm there won't be open over the holidays. I imagine I can manage.

One funny thing. I talked to my brother tonight about picking me up at the airport, and he asked me if my favorite pie was chocolate. Apparently, someone in the family is thinking of baking me a pie. Score! The funny part is that about ten years ago my mom decided that chocolate had always been my favorite pie, and even though I tell her each year that it is actually lemon, I have not shaken her chocolate conviction. I always get a big kick out of that. And if I have to eat a fresh chocolate pie, well, I suppose I'll just have to suffer!

The things we do for family!

See you all when I return, and happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

From the Bizarre Side

OK, I just have to post about this. The same basic thing has happened to me three times in the past week, but today's experience was the most salient and bizarre.

I was making my blogging rounds today when I read something on Patti Abbott's blog about the old TV show "Leave it to Beaver." In my response to her I mentioned "My Three Sons," another show of roughly that time period. Not ten minutes later, Elliott Hammer, another Psych faculty member at Xavier, mentions "My Three Sons" to me. Elliott is quite a bit younger than I and is not obsessed with My Three Sons," but he heard Lisa Schulte's (another faculty member) daughter, Callista, refer to me as Uncle Charlie, and jumped from there to "My Three Sons.

I find that so unlikely an occurrence that it is still amazing me. And something very similar has happened to me twice before between the middle of last week and today. I don't think of myself as superstitious, but it seems like something is trying to get my attention!

OK, OK, go on with your lives now.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Quiz Report

OK, the quiz consisted of looking at 6 pairs of choices and picking one out of each pair. It doesn’t really matter if it is a forced choice, as in you didn’t care much for either of the two. I was a bit surprised that some folks seem to have no familiarity with certain pairs. I thought these were pretty universally known, although the music groups might be the least so. (That turned out to be the case.)

First, the “correct” answers. ;)
The Rolling Stones
Motley Crue
Star Trek
Black Sabbath

Now why are these the correct answers (and please realize this is tongue in cheek)?

First, there is what I call the “Scuzz” factor. The best things here are just a bit disreputable. They’ve got a nasty side, a dark side, a little bit more of an edge. They’re a bit more dangerous. Certainly this may be in our perceptions rather than in reality, but I’ve got to imagine that partying with Motley Crue or the Rolling Stones would be a bit more deviant than partying with The Beatles or Bon Jovi. And although Led Zepplin were definitely freaks, Sabbath has a soundtrack that might have come straight out of hell.

Second there is the human, non-human factor. I’m not a big fan of humans in general. Although both vamps and werewolves are typically shown as coming from humans, werewolves are definitely wilder and more beast-like after the change. Vamps are a little too prissy and pretty, especially today’s vamps. I mean, come on, get your blood drained or get your liver ripped out? Which is more frightening? Alien, of course, is far less human-like than Predator. That’s why I disliked the last Alien movie, which tried to make the thing more human. Aliens ain’t human. That’s why they’re cool. Predators are like Navy Seals gone all genetically modified or something. I liked the Predator movies but I’d rather face a Predator any day than an Alien. For goodness sake, they’re gonna lay eggs in you even.

The Star Trek VS Star Wars is an age identifier. I don’t know everyone’s age, but it looks like under 40 we’re talking Star Wars while over 40 we’ve got Trek. Since age brings wisdom, you can see why Trek is the correct answer. ;)

Ultimately, this was, of course, a psychological test. The data will be published in Abnormal Psychology of the Blogosphere, a journal that I just made up and am editor of. All your names will be used. Some of you—odder folks—and you know who you are—may be contacted for follow-ups. Good psychotic subjects are hard to come by.

Thanks to everyone for participating!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Quiz

OK, here’s a quick quiz for this blog’s visitors. I’m curious and have some thoughts about what the choices will be. I’m making predictions but I won’t tell you what those are just yet. If you care to take part, just indicate which one among the pairs below that you prefer.

The Beatles vs The Rolling Stones

Motley Crue vs Bon Jovi

Vampires vs Werewolves

Star Trek vs Star Wars

Led Zepplin vs Black Sabbath

Predator vs Alien

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pleasant Sunday

This was the first weekend in over a month when I didn't have to leave the house for anything. Lana and I did go hiking on Saturday, only to find the place we intended to visit had been clear cut and fenced off for construction. I get the feeling they are going to build a lot of cookie cutter houses there, although I just can't see the profit in it in this economy.

After that disappointment, however, the rest of the weekend turned out pretty darn well. First, we found another place to hike and the weather was perfect for it.
Then, we went through the drive through at Popeyes to pick up supper and when the young lady was handing the car in front of us their food she dropped a bag. She gave them a replacement and they drove off without anyone picking up the dropped food. I got out to move it because we would have had to run over it to get to the window and found that the box hadn't opened. Score.

Sunday we had breakfast out on our deck in extremely pleasant weather. I made scrambled eggs and bacon and Lana set up the table and chairs. We had leftover Popeyes' biscuits. The birds were hopping around the feeders and it was just a gorgeous morning to be out. Lana and I agreed that we were very lucky folks.

Sunday afternoon I watched the New Orleans Saints win their 9th straight game, this one over the St. Louis Rams. Then I had a nap. When I woke up I printed out and signed contracts for three nonfiction articles that will soon be published in a book, which I will reveal more about later. All in all, a weekend to enjoy. Sometimes it's very good to be alive.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Observe and Report

Here's a few observations on this world of human weirdness. These are some things I don't really understand, but then humans are truly an alien species to me.

1. There's a dating website called beautiful people dot com in which your application is judged generally by your level of hotness. You have to send a picture, which is voted on by those who are already members. Apparently only about 1 out of every 6 people is accepted. Here's some of their opening blurb:

Do looks matter to you, when it comes to selecting a partner?
Do you want to guarantee your dates will always be beautiful?
No more filtering through unattractive people on mainstream sites
Meet beautiful people locally and from around the world - now

I know beautiful people need love too, but do they really have that much trouble meeting folks? Or is it more of time saver for those beautiful folks who like to date a lot of different people? This way they won't have to deal with the homely, I guess. BTW, if you're "too ugly to sign up," (their words) you can click on a link that will let you browse through those of greater pulchritude.

2. Pornoments. Someone has come out with a line of Christmas ornaments that show snow people, reindeer, elves, and even Santa in various sexual positions. Even assuming these are meant humorously, is this something that needs to have been invented? Are there that many folks out there who just can't wait to see Rudolph's nose glowing red for reasons other than guiding Santa's sleigh? If so, I'm not one of them.

Just observing and reporting here. Soon I'll be returning to the Mother ship and submitting my full report to the high council. I wonder if I'll be believed, or will I end up on an ice planet in some galaxy where they house the criminally insane? I think the odds are 80 20 against.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Strange Landscape

Isn't the above a fascinating picture? To me it looks like human skin with some very interesting tattoos, but in reality it is a Martian sandscape with swirling marks left by the passage of dust devils. For more incredible Martian scapes, follow this LINK. Lana sent me this last night. If you squint just right at some of these I think you'll see Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom. Or perhaps, as one wag had it, maybe you'll see "worm sign."

In other news, Hurricane Ida barely sneezed on our area. We had some gusty winds and lost power for a couple of hours last night, but we scarcely had any rain and no work stoppages. It has come ashore as a tropical storm over toward Alabama so I hope our friends there are doing OK. It's certainly no Katrina, at least.

I completed a review for a textbook and sent that in, and today will return to put the finishing touches on a Sword & Planet story that has been sitting and waiting for over two weeks.

And, over at Writtenwyrd's Site, I won her Halloween contest. It was a tightly fought battle with only 1 vote separating first and multiple second places. Even if you didn't read or vote previously, you can still read some fine stuff. Every entry was worthy of consideration. Check it out. My piece was called "Lost in Greenery," and appropriately numbered 13.

Finally, I've altered my blog links around a bit to try and make them easier to find. If you're not linked there and have been visiting here then let me know. Or if you think you should be listed under a different heading, let me know as well.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Moon Calls up Strange Things

I don’t really have insomnia but I wake up frequently at night. In fact, I awaken completely after every dream period, and sometimes I’ll get up and wander the house, usually to have a look out the windows at the dark world. Last night was one of those nights.

Around 3:30 A.M. I had some fragment of a dream about a talking head in a box. I got up and wandered for a moment, and ended standing by the glass doors leading onto our deck. The moon was pouring its radiance gently into the yard. The black trees were backlit with an almost radioactive glow. I could see the ground where the moonlight pooled, and the ethereal shadows of the bird feeders reaching toward me.

Then I saw, clear and flawless, four footprints on the deck, crossing it toward the glass door where I stood. They weren’t quite human shaped. Nor quite animal. And they were almost fluorescent, as if whatever had made them had dipped its feet in a moonlight paint and was leaving drippings behind on the weathered boards as it walked.

For a moment, I even turned to look behind me in the room to see if the footsteps had come through the glass. They had not. But they hadn’t returned across the deck either. It felt as if whatever had made them was still there, standing across the thin glass partition from me. I couldn’t see it, but in the mirrored glass between us, with the moonlight beaming down, I saw its reflection. Or my reflection. Or maybe both.

What created the effect? Perhaps the moonlight was spilling through gaps in the deck’s tin roof. Perhaps it was refraction of moonlight from the wind chimes. Perhaps I had not yet completely escaped the dream state. Or perhaps! Perhaps in the moonlight there is yet magic. What do you think?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Updates and Other Things

Thanks to everyone for visiting and sending us good wishes. Josh got probation, which is what we were hoping for. It cost me over $1000 bucks, though. The fine was $150, but by the time you tacked on this fee and that fee and some other fee it was completely out of hand. The legal system's money grubbing knows no bounds.

Speaking of legal system money grubbing, I also got a red-light camera ticket. I was nearly hit by another car, sped up to avoid that crash, hit the stoplights under yellow, but they turned red while I was in the intersection. And now they say I owe the police $110 dollars. I wonder how these people sleep at night. I'm disgusted.

We're still in preregistration here and I gave one test yesterday and will give another on Friday. I have a deadline on a textbook review, two letters of recommendation to do, and have had three IRB proposals slapped on my desk in the last three days, including one request for a retroactive review, which is not possible. I'm still not going to get around to doing much blogging.

In the meantime, though, I finished reading The Ruins by Scott Smith. I give it a 3 out of 5 stars. I enjoyed it pretty well, although there was way too much telling and not enough showing in the book. I gave a full review at Goodreads. I also watched the opening episode of the new V and was not impressed. I thought the orginal was quite a bit better.

Also, if you haven't voted in Writtenwyrd's Halloween Cthulhu contest then please consider doing so. There are 21 flash fiction entries for people to select their favorite from. The posting and voting take place HERE.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Placeholder Post

I feel like I've offered very little of value here on the blog since my Days of Beer series, but school has been kicking my butt and I've had several writing deadlines that I've been trying to meet. This week is preregistration at school, which will be very demanding, and Josh's court date has been moved to tomorrow. Please send us some good wishes that that goes well. But for these reasons I'm not going to be keeping up with blogging very much this week.

I'm reading a good book, though, called The Ruins by Scott Smith. Stephen King called it "The Best horror novel of the new century." I don't know if I could agree with that but it's pretty good so far. I'm about half way through it. They made a movie from this but I didn't see it. I'll have more to say about the book when I finish.

Also, Writtenwyrd's Halloween Cthulhu contest posts are up here. There are some good flash fictions up there by a variety of anonymous writers, and you can read them and vote on your favorite. The winner will get a plush cthulhu.

Now, busy, busy, busy.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Spooky Music

I heard “Werewolves of London” this morning driving in through a heavy fog on the Causeway bridge. That has to be, for me, the most recognizable Halloween song out there, followed closely by “Monster Mash.” However, both of those songs are funny rather than spooky, and that got me thinking. What are the actually spooky Halloween songs?

I thought of “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, and there were some elements of spookiness in that, particularly the riff by Vincent Price, but generally that song is a dance tune and not terribly creepy.

After some careful consideration, I decided to give my picks for best creepy/horror music. But maybe there’s something I’m not thinking of, so let’s see how your opinions differ.

Numero Uno: Alice Cooper, from the “Welcome to My Nightmare” era. In fact, the album, “Welcome to My Nightmare,” is the all time creepiest album out there. With song titles like “Devil’s Food,” “Black Widow,” and “Cold Ethyl,”, the last one about a man who freezes his dead lover so he’ll be able to have her with him always, you’ve just gotta see the horror elements. There’s even an awesome spoken word piece by Vincent Price in “Black Widow.” This is the music I play on Halloween.

Here’s Welcome to My Nightmare.

Numero Dos: Black Sabbath, from the early years. Especially the album “We sold Our Soul For Rock and Roll.” Most of the songs on this compilation album are about madness, horror, and evil. “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” “Black Sabbath,” “Paranoid,” “Am I Going Insane,” and “Children of the Grave,” are great examples. And don’t forget, “Iron Man” and “War Pigs.”

Here’s Black Sabbath.

So what do you think of my choices?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Like Mayflies in a Stream

I just finished reading Like Mayflies in a Stream by Shauna Roberts and I can highly recommend it. “Mayflies” is a retelling of certain aspects of the Gilgamesh legend, but it’s told primarily from the point of view of the woman named Shamhat, who is a priestess of the goddess Inanna and the mother of one of Gilgamesh’s many children. Shamhat is a very realistic character and very sympathetic throughout the book as she strives to obey what she sees as the will of her goddess. That often means putting her own wishes second, and it means putting her life repeatedly in danger.

“Mayflies” is a hard book to categorize. I suppose it would generally be considered a historical novel, and Roberts certainly did her homework on ancient Mesopotamia, as her “resources” section indicates. However, as she also indicates, not a lot is known about the time of Gilgamesh and she had to intersperse what she could find out about that age with information gleaned from later periods for which we have better records. In that sense, perhaps “speculative historical” might be apropos as a descriptor for the book. There is also a strong feeling of fantasy/mythology about the work as well, so it has many elements.

However you describe the book, though, it is a fascinating read. I really found myself caught up in Shamhat’s struggles and I much enjoyed the background detail that brought the ancient world to life. Through the last half of the book, in particular, I didn’t want to put it down. I read most of the last half at one sitting. And Roberts’ passion for the story and the characters came through clearly. If you’re interested you can find Like Mayflies in a Stream on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beat To a Pulp Story

Just a quick announcement today that my Halloween horror story "Hunter's Moon," is up over at Beat to a Pulp. Stop by if you get a chance and give it a read and let me know what you think.


Friday, October 23, 2009

900,000 and One

I heard this morning on the radio that 900,000 new blog posts go up every day. Do we really need another one? From me? Probably not. But I’m going to post anyway. I started out my first year posting every day, then went to every two days, and lately I’ve been at every three days. I’ve seen no signs that the world is suffering from my slowdown.

My post today is a kind of meme I made up for myself. Certainly if anyone wants to do it, feel free. Or use parts of it if you want. Or not.

What five novels (other than your own) do you wish you had written?
1. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
2. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
3. War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells
4. A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
5. The Hour of the Dragon, by Robert E. Howard

What five short stories (other than your own) do you wish you had written?
1. The Fall of the House of Usher, Edgar Allan Poe
2. Surface Tension, by James Blish
3. Nightfall, by Isaac Asimov
4. The Valley of the Worm, Robert E. Howard
5. The Statement of Randolph Carter, H. P. Lovecraft

What five songs (other than your own) do you wish you had written?
1. Stairway to Heaven, by Led Zeppelin
2. Bullet the Blue Sky, by U2
3. The Warning, by Black Sabbath,
4. Screaming in the Night, by Krokus
5. Leper Messiah, by Metallica

What five movies do you wish you had written/directed?
1. Once Upon a Time in the West
2. Alien, Aliens
3. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
4. Predator
5. The Thing (John Carpenter version)

What five science/nonfiction books do you wish you’d written?
1. On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin
2. The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen
3. The Night Country, by Loren Eiseley
4. Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat
5. Artic Dreams, by Barry Lopez

What five games do you wish you had invented?
1. Chess
2. Scrabble
3. Jikaida
4. Jetan
5. Kaissa

What five movie lines do you wish you’d written? (Mine are all from Clint Eastwood)
1. Go ahead, make my day
2. Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you? Punk?
3. A man’s got to know his limitations
4. Deservin’s got nothing to do with it.
5. There’s nothing like a good piece of hickory.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


The newest issue of The Illuminata has just been published. If you follow the link and click on “Download an issue” you can get it for free. It’s volume 7, Issue #4, October 2009.

I’m pretty popular in this issue. Bret Funk starts out with some commentary and a review of Write With Fire, which I appreciated. The Illuminata definitely played a big role in the creation of that book. Without the demands of writing a regular column for the newsletter Write With Fire might never have existed, and certainly not in the form it took.

I also have my usual Writer’s Block column in this issue. Those of you who read my guest blog over at Novel Spaces, called “GEMS,” will see that this article is largely a reprint with a few minor changes. There’s also a review that I wrote for a fine fantasy novel called A Mage of None Magic: Heart of the Sisters by A. Christopher Drown. Drown is kind of a cool name eh?

Not much time for anything else. Mid-term grades were due at noon today and I squeaked mine in. I’m putting the final touches on the Darwin essay, which is due on Friday. It’ll be done tomorrow night, with just some final nitpicking on my part. I’m rather obsessive in case you haven’t noticed.

Man, I need sleep.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Louisiana Book Fest II: And Hint Fiction

First, I was very happy to learn that one of my pieces was chosen by Robert Swartwood for the “Hint Fiction” anthology. Some of you might recall that I mentioned this anthology previously on my blog here. I’m tickled to be included, and with such names as Peter Straub, Jack Ketchum, Joe Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, and Joyce Carol Oates included, as well as talented but-not-yet-quite-so-famous writers such as our own Kathleen A. Ryan, I feel in pretty good company. Check out Robert Swartwood’s blog for more information.

As for the Louisiana Book Festival, Lana and I had a great time. We went up on Friday evening for the opening party, which was held at the State Library and offered a variety of wonderful foods, including delicious fried catfish, shrimp, and a chocolate fountain that Lana was very appreciative of.

My talk on Saturday morning went well. I only had about 8 folks in the audience, 6 of whom were teen aged girls. I wondered if they had been mislead by the title of my talk, about “Witch” of Talera. But they were attentive and took notes, and a couple of them even asked questions at the end so that was nice. I then had my signing at the Barnes & Noble tent and they had plenty of copies of my books. I was not the busiest author there but most folks signing didn’t have a lot of people vying for their books. I did sign some for the store as well.

After that, Lana and I wandered around. She took many, many pictures, of which I will feature a few here. The Capitol grounds are quite lovely and the building itself is amazing. There were a lot of cool booths and some very fine Zydeco music. There were a few couple dancing and that was quite entertaining as well. Naturally, I bought a few books.

When I finally did get home it was to find that Arkansas was giving Florida all they could handle in football. In fact, Arkansas should have won that game. Our kicker missed two field goals. Florida won by three points. There was also a couple of horrible penalties against Arkansas on one Florida drive that helped them score a touchdown to tie the game against the Razorbacks. As you can imagine, I was doing some serious ranting at the TV.

I started to load some of the pics but blogger doesn't seem to be cooperating so I'm going to post this and then try to upload more pics later!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Louisiana Book Festival

Festival day is almost here, and I’m excited! The Louisiana Book Festival starts Friday, October 16, but most of the action is on Saturday, October 17. Lana and I will be going up Friday afternoon for the Authors Party dinner from 7:00 to 9:00 at the State Library. Then we plan to just get a room, if we can find one nearby, because my talk is on Saturday morning from 10:00 to 10:45. I’ll be talking about my writing, with specific reference to Witch of Talera, which is my most recent novel.

If you’re not familiar with the Louisiana Book Festival, it’s held on the Capitol grounds in Baton Rouge. It basically starts at 10:00 and ends at 5:30. The general link is here. And there’s also a link to my profile here. My talk is in the Capitol building itself, in House Committee Room 4, which is in the basement (Alario Hall). I’ll be doing a signing at the Barnes & Noble tent at 11:00, which is along Spanish Town Road on the Capitol grounds. After that I plan to hit a bunch of other exciting panels and presentations.

The festival is free and open to the public, and they have all kinds of things for kids to do as well. There will be booths up during the day with food and exhibits, and there are kid’s tents, live music, a cooking demonstration, and much more. There’ll be lots of books. Hurray! The State library and State museum are also right there. At 6:00 there is a free concert by the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra.

If you’re going to be in the Baton Rouge area on Saturday, stop by. The Capitol grounds are gorgeous and there should be many interesting sights and sounds to experience. Plus, did I mention "books?"

Needless to say, I won’t be blogging until at least Sunday. But I’ll give a report here when I get a chance. In the meantime, I’m going to have some fun.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

No Reading Allowed

I've not been able to get around to visiting blogs much in the past few days but I should get back to a more normal schedule next week. Monday and Tuesday I put in eight hour writing days finishing up an article on Charles Darwin. Wednesday I spent most of the day in court or dealing with court related items. After nearly three hours in court, however, all they did was end up giving Josh yet another court date on November 2. That means another lost day of work for both of us, and no doubt more expense.

After the few times I've had to be in court I've seen enough to realize a few things. One, the courts are overloaded for two main reasons: 1) they deal with plenty of petty things that really should not be clogging up the courts at all, and 2) they are so inefficient that they end up seeing every person who comes through the court multiple times. Most of today's actions seem to be delaying tactics, putting things off until later.

I also came to another realization today. While courts are supposed to represent rationality they are, in fact, bastions of irrationality. They assert power in all its irrational forms. Here's a good illustration, although just a minor one. I'm sitting in the back of a large courtroom that has about fifty people in it. Most people are fidgeting. Almost everyone looks either sullen, bored, or terrified. The judge is way up at the front dealing with lawyers and one defendent at a time. The woman in front of me is sitting quietly next to her son reading a novel. The novel is down in her lap. The bailiff comes marching up and tells her she's not allowed to read in the courtroom. It could have been me. I had a book with me but hadn't started to read yet.

Can you imagine much of anything more asinine? Or irrational? I could see not wanting someone to play a Gameboy in the courtroom, or be talking on their cellphone, but what possible harm could occur from someone reading quietly in the back of the room? I think this, more than anything today, showed me how profoundly silly the justice system is in this country.

Anyway, now I've got to get ready for the my Louisiana Book Festival presentation this Saturday. No rest for the weary.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Reading Habits Meme

Check out Writtenwyrd’s Chthulu Horror Writing Contest. Looks like it’s going to be cool.

In the meantime, I’ve been seeing this “reading habit” meme around and it looks like fun. So here goes: (the questions are in italics, my responses not)

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack:
I read any time I get a chance so I often read while I’m eating, but I don’t specifically seek out snacks or drinks when I decide to read.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I do mark in nonfiction books, especially those I’m using for classes. In fact, I’ll have lots of marginalia in those. If I find something particularly interesting in a nonfiction book I’ll make a note in the front of the topic and page number. I don’t mark in fiction books but will make notes on a separate sheet or a computer file at times.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
Bookmark only. I hate the thought of dog ears. As for laying the book flat open, and face down, I’ll only do that with hardback textbooks, which are built tough.

Fiction, nonfiction, or both?
I read about two thirds fiction to one third nonfiction. I read in just about every genre within fiction and nonfiction. Probably most of my nonfiction is about science or writing.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?
It depends on the book. I like to read to the end of a chapter, or to a clear break marked by a space, but some books have long dense chapters and I’ll stop where ever I have to, like with The Prince of Tides.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?
Almost always, or if I’m not in a position to look it up I’ll write it down to look it up later.

What are you currently reading?
The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy
The McDonaldization of Society, by George Ritzer
The Future at War, Volume II: The Spears of Mars

What is the last book you bought?
Like Mayflies in a Stream, by Shauna Roberts

Are you the type of person that reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one?
I usually read at least 3, often a nonfiction book, a novel, and a short story collection.

Do you have a favorite time/place to read?
Anywhere, anytime. I once took my brother to the New Orleans casino. Since I didn’t care to lose money myself, I took a book and read. Man did I get some weird looks. But I just thought it was funny. I take a book with me everywhere.

Do you prefer series books or stand alones?
Seems like most books published these days are parts of series, especially in fantasy. I like series a lot, but I also read plenty of standalones. I don’t have a specific preference, I don’t think.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?
I recommend The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen to anyone I see. I consider it the single best book I’ve ever read. Besides that, I recommend based on the person’s interests. If they are interested in reading westerns I’ll give ‘em some L’Amour titles, if it’s thrillers I’ll mention Koontz or C. S. Graham, if it’s horror I’ll talk about Wayne Allen Sallee, or Charlee Jacob.

How do you organize your books?(by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.)
The books that I’ve read are generally filed alphabetically within genre, and separated by hardbacks versus paperbacks. A few special types of books are kept in special places. Like I have all my old Ace Doubles in one place, alphabetical within author for those. My TBR piles are huge and are separated only into general categories, westerns, thrillers, SF/Fantasy, etc.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

My Reading Year

I’ve mentioned how I keep records of the books I read. Well, I date my “reading year” from October 14 to October 13 of the following year. That’s because my birthday is on the 14th so it corresponds to my actual number of years alive. I’m about to finish out the current reading period and thought I might share the results.

The 2008/2009 period was a good reading year for me and I read more than average. I estimated that I first started truly reading at around 7, so counting from that age I’ve averaged about 76 books a year. I believe the actual average should be higher because I didn’t keep records until I was a teenager, and didn’t keep accurate records until my 20s. But hey, the exact number isn’t that important.

For this past year, I’ve read 124 books. This includes 18 nonfiction works, almost all having to do with science, 15 westerns, 18 thrillers, 18 SF, and 17 fantasy. I’ve also read 11 young adult books, including the Harry Potter series, and then smaller numbers in horror, classics, and poetry.

In the past, I almost never reread books, but as I’ve gotten older I’m doing so more frequently. I only started a record column for reread books about 8 years ago, and this year I set a new record with 6. Several of these I reread in order to blog accurately about them for Forgotten Book Friday.

The Harry Potter books, especially the last five, were definitely among my favorite reads of this past year. Also notable was the graphic novel The Watchmen, which is by far the best graphic novel I’ve ever read (not that I’ve read many). My favorite mystery/thriller of the year was What Angels Fear, the first Sebastian St. Cyr mystery, by our own C. S. Harris. In SF, the Cap Kennedy series of Space Opera stories were an interesting discovery, and in fantasy it would be “The Best of Robert E. Howard series, although most of the stories there were rereads. In nonfiction, the best book I read was probably The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eiseley, which I talked about a lot on my blog.

So there you have it. Soon a new reading year will dawn, and the possibilities are…endless. Hurray!

Monday, October 05, 2009

I'm an old Fogy

Does anyone even know what “Fogy” means anymore? Well, I am an old fogy, definitely a curmudgeon, quite a bit of a luddite, perhaps something of an A**h**e. And it shows up in many ways. But I will tell you one way. Maybe we can laugh at it.

First, please, my friends, do not take this the wrong way. Especially those of you who are youthful and/or embrace the mixed media generation that we are living in. But I just really dislike the whole concept of book trailers. Consider my opening paragraph and feel free to ignore me. Go for the young and hip crowd if you will, and if I know you and like you I'll buy your book even if you have a book trailer. But I probably won't watch the trailer unless I'm somehow forced to.

I just really dislike book trailers. Have I said that? Have I said why? I'll tell you why. I read books because they are books. I watch very little TV, except for football, and not many movies, unless I'm getting them for free and they happen to be on at just the right time. Lana has given up bringing movies home that I've made some mention of maybe watching. If I'm required to get up and switch some cables around on the back of the TV to watch a movie, pretty much any movie, I just won't do it. It's not laziness; it's because I don't care that much one way or the other whether I see a movie or not.

Well, book trailers evoke TV/Movies to me, and my immediate reaction is like a case of the hives. I want all the drama of a story to be on the page, and I don't typically want drama sort of forced on me from outside. I also really, really enjoy the visualization aspect of reading, and I don't want my visualization to be overly influenced by the visualization of others. The book trailers I've seen tend to do both of those things, and it doesn't work well for me. In fact, I've never seen a book trailer that made me want to buy a book; I've seen several that made me not want to buy one.

Again, don't go by me you young-at-heart folks. Most people are not like me. (This is almost certainly a very good thing.) Just call me an old fogy, tell me the world is passing me by. I’ll agree with you, but I don’t regret my fogyness. I find it rather comforting even. I wouldn't even take that hipster transplant if it was offered.


Saturday, October 03, 2009

Family Issue Update

It's not been a pleasant week. I don't have the energy to go into all the details but the basics are, 1) my son was stopped on Monday for having a brake light out, 2) the cop arrested him on a warrant he didn't know he had, 3) he spent 3 days in jail, partly because they 'lost' him for over five hours, 4), I barely slept during most of that time and went to school only to cover my classes, spending the rest of the time at the jail trying to get him released.

After he was out, he showed me a ticket the next day that he'd been issued over a year ago which clearly had TBA on it for court date, but he did not recieve any further information. It's possible he recieved something and accidentally discarded it, or that it was sent to the apartment he was living in when the ticket was issued, but which he'd moved out of. I know he would not have just "blown off" a court date if he'd known about it.

Right now I'm quite sick of having any association at all with the Greater New Orleans area.

I'm gonna try to get around to some blogs today but it'll probably be a few days before I can catch up.

Thanks to everyone for their kind thoughts.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Days of Beer 4: The Second Oldest Profession. That is…Bootlegging

NOTE: I'm posting this because it was already written, but after that I won't be posting for a few days, and won't have time to visit blogs, I'm afraid. Some critical family issues have come up that have to be taken care of.

Days of Beer Post:

I went to Arkansas Tech University for my bachelors. My buddy Steve went too, for a year. It was a little over an hour from home. One night, while sitting around with a gang of friends and some perfectly serviceable beers such as Miller and Natural Light (which I had a small crush on at the time), a couple of my friends developed a Coors thirst that could not be satisfied even with pure water.

Now, at the time, (the late 70s), Coors could not be legally sold in Arkansas because of some tax issue. The closest place to get it was Oklahoma. These…friends of mine promptly got in their car and drove over two hours one way just to get Coors. The proverbial “Light Beer” went off over my head, and Steve and I soon went into the bootlegging business.

Where we lived was only about forty-five minutes from Oklahoma and we both went home most weekends to see our girlfriends. We spread it around to folks we knew that we might just happen to pick up some Coors while home, and did they want any. We had plenty of takers, so Steve and I started taking a Saturday night or two a month to head over to Oklahoma, where we would stock up on 10 to 12 cases of Coors for which we’d received orders for.

An added bonus was that the drinking age was only 18 in Oklahoma, but 21 in Arkansas. So we’d go over, get the Coors we wanted to sell into the trunk (along with some real beer for personal use), then hit the bars for a while before coming home. Monday evening would see us delivering our case load to our clients.

Of course, there was a substantial markup on our part. But that was only fair considering the risks. And they weren’t insubstantial. If you were 21 you were allowed to have two six-packs of Coors in your possession in Arkansas for personal consumption. Anything over two six-packs was considered intent to deliver and would cost you $60 per can.

Four buds of ours from our hometown ended up paying just that kind of cost. After seeing Steve and I having success with our little business, they decided to get in on the action for their own universities. But while they had the idea, they didn’t have the strategy. They drove across the Arkansas River bridge into Oklahoma, stopped at the first beer joint they came too, loaded up about 8 cases, then turned around and drove straight back. The cops stopped ‘em right off the bridge and it weren’t a pretty result.

When Steve and I went we bypassed the first few joints along the highway and found a place further removed from the main drag where the police were less likely to be watching. Then we bought the beer but just left it in the trunk while we hung out at the bars for a few hours. And we always took a different route going home than we had coming in. The result was that we never got stopped.

Only a few years into my bootlegging career, I hung up my cash clip. I assure you that it had nothing to do with Coors becoming legal for sale in Arkansas. Profiting off of other folks’ bad taste for beer just began to stick in my craw. So, you could say I gave it up for moral reasons. Yeah, I’m just that kinda guy.

Next: Beer Days go International

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Days of Beer 3: The Age of Found Beer

The Tuborg sanction marked the end of a carefree era. As they say, “it’s all fun and games until someone drinks a Tuborg.” But what of the epoch that Tuborg closed? That era marked the apex of my youthful beer-love. Here’s the story.

Most of my country buds drank beer, but if you had any left at night’s end you dared not take it home. You hid it. I’d considered one of our barns for my caches, and knew my mom would never find it. But my brother might well have. Beer over. Beer over.

Then it occurred to me: if I were hiding beers, maybe others were too. So began, “The Age of Found Beer.” I’d been hiding my stashes under bridges and culverts, so my buddy Steve and I began to check exactly those places. And we scored. Big time. We generally searched on Sunday because folks hid beer on Fridays and Saturdays. We routinely found five to six beers, and one day found thirteen.

The peak of the Age came one Sunday afternoon as Steve and I cruised the back roads in Steve’s Mustang Grande. We passed a glitter of broken glass on the side of the road when I caught a glimpse of gold among the shine. “Pull over,” I called. Steve did so and I got out to find where a whole case of Pony Millers had been thrown out into the ditch. Now, a “case” of Ponies was 48 seven ounce bottles, and although some of the beers from our found case were empty and others broken, we found 22 full ones. Party time!

I’ve wondered quite often about that found beer. Where had it come from? Why was it there? I’ve always figured somebody threw it out while running from the cops, but I’ll never know for sure. It drank like it was free, though.

The Age of Found Beer actually continued on the other side of the Tuborg Sanction, but I took a more mature approach.

During several summers in high school and college I worked at a military base called Camp Chaffee. I generally washed pots and pans and sometimes cooked. Not long after the Tuborg incident, I spent a very enjoyable free-beer summer at Chaffee.

The National Guard was using the base that summer, and man did I prefer these guys to the regular army. For one, most of their cooks were cooks in real life and we ate pretty darn well. Two, one of the cooks in my mess hall rented a car and parked it outside the building just so he could go out during breaks and sit in the AC. (There was none in the buildings.) Typically, I took my breaks along with him and we sat in the car drinking beer in the cool air while listening to KISR, the local rock radio station.

The best thing about the summer was that at lunch they filled huge plastic trash cans with ice and beer for the Guard soldiers, and I had the evening duty of emptying those cans out. Every single day I found between four and fifteen leftover beers, which went straight into a personal ice chest in my car’s trunk. I didn’t buy a beer that whole summer, and, in fact, became known as a generous fellow who often gave his friends beer. This was the first time that ever happened.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, my love for beer was about to take a darker turn!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Days of Beer 2: The Tuborg Sanction

I was eighteen before I realized you could actually open a beer and not have to drain it all the way to the spittle-laced dregs. I might never have learned that simple, mind-freeing fact if it weren’t for a single brand, a beer known as Tuborg Gold. I’d seen some great ads for Tuborg. It showed rowdy Vikings swilling the beer from drinking horns. I wanted to be a Viking, (a real one not a Minnesota one), so I decided I must get some Tuborg.

My brother, Paul David, who was also apparently susceptible to the Viking ads, brought some of the “Gold” home first, though. I remember, we were in our old green pickup, headed out to feed the cows, when Paul David unveiled the Tuborg. We clicked bottles and I took a Viking-hearty sip…and nearly spewed the entire contents of my stomach and various pieces of my intestines and bowel onto the dashboard. My first thought, after I managed to fight down the successive waves of nausea, was that: “No wonder the Vikings were such bad asses. How could anyone drink this slop day in and day out without 1) wanting to kill something, and 2) becoming inured to pain.

Four full bottles and two ‘one-sipped-from’ bottles were poured into the dirt that day. Over thirty years later, nothing has yet grown on that spot. Cattle avoid it. Insects mutate if they build burrows in that soil. There have even been...disappearances.

I’ve sometimes wondered whether Tuborg was, in fact, that awful, or whether we just got a bad six-pack, (as happens with every six-pack of Bud). I’ve occasionally thought I should try Tuborg again, but I’m afraid I lost something important that long ago day. I lost some testicular fortitude, and a lot of innocence. I just don’t have the jewels to try another Tuborg. Not while the painful memory of that first taste from 32 years ago is still so fresh.

Next post: The Age of Found Beer

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Days of Beer: The Early Years.

And now for something completely different:

The first beer I remember drinking was Country Club Malt Liquor in the half sized cans. That was the beer my dad drank when he drank, which wasn’t often. I remember a rare party we had at the house when I was 8 or 9, and how Dad filled some big silver tubs with ice and nestled the “Clubs” down in it. I wasn’t supposed to drink, of course, but I managed to sneak a few when no one was looking. They just looked so damn good all rimed with ice.

My first beer crush was on Schlitz. When I was a teenager of 15 or so, my friend Steve and I would pay this guy to pick us up a case of beer when he went to Fort Smith for work. (We lived in a dry county and you had to drive 25 miles or so for beer.) He always bought Schlitz, most likely because it was cheap and he got to keep the rest of our money. But man, I kinda liked Schlitz. I got some good buzzes off that stuff.

I eventually moved on to Schlitz’s big brother, Schlitz Malt Liquor in the 16 ounce cans with the Bull logo. You could have a “party” good night with a couple of sixers of that. But before the Bull I went through a Blatz phase. Steve and I drank so much Blatz, which was both cheap and pretty decent tasting, that we stopped talking about getting drunk and told folks we were gonna get “Blatzed” instead. Sadly, Blatz disappeared from the stores at some point though, so we made the move to the Bull and never looked back.

When I wasn’t interested in getting drunk but just wanted a beer I’d drink Miller, which was smooth and didn’t give me headaches like Budweiser did. I drank a helluva lot of Miller Ponies in my time. They were just right on a hot day, because even if you were just sorta sipping you’d finish those 8 golden ounces before they started to warm up. My brother Raymond and I used to fish a lot and we’d always take Pony Millers along. We’d get out in the boat and get all set up, crack the first Pony, and say: “Now if the fish just don’t bite we’ll have a good day.”

There was a tradition in my part of the south concerning bringing beer to parties. Most people brought beer because it was expected, but they didn’t want the moochers to drink all their refreshments. So, many folks brought beers they didn’t think anyone else would have the intestinal fortitude to imbibe. One of my brothers brought Pabst Blue Ribbon, for example, because everyone else said it tasted like crap. I came to like Crapst Blue Ribbon myself, so my brother started bringing Red, White, and Blue, which was a cheaper Pabst. (Made from rotted hops, I believe.) I must admit I never worked up the courage to get drunk on RWB.

My brother-in-law always won at these kinds of parties though because he drank things like Stag, and Lone Star, and Falstaff. About the only thing these “brews” had in common with beer was that they were mostly liquid. I called them Gag, Lone Puke, and Falshitt.

I was a beer trooper, though. In an emergency, meaning nothing better was available, I could even drink Sterling or Coors. I always regretted it the next day, but hey, you gotta have some regrets in your life. Next post, though, I’ll tell you about the one beer I actually, kid you not, poured out. I wouldn’t even inflict that swill on my brother-in-law.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Causeway Library Talk

Wow! I'm quite stoked. I gave my talk this morning at the library and I think it went really well. I had twenty-nine folks there, most of whom I did not know and who came because of the advertising the library did. That's actually the biggest crowd I've ever had for a talk/signing. And almost everyone bought a book. Yeah!

I talked for about 45 minutes and figured we'd have maybe 10 minutes of questions, but we had questions that ran almost 45 minutes themselves, followed by a lot of signing and chatting with folks who came up. We filled the whole 2 hour time slot, and quite a few folks have said they'll be visiting my blog. I really love talking with people about writing.

The library was very pleased at the turn out and I certainly was. Lana was her usual supportive self and took some photos. I'm gonna post a few below.

Thank to all my friends in the blogosphere who sent me their best wishes from afar. It must have worked.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Novel Spaces: Gems

Just a note that I'm guest blogging over at Novel Spaces today. I'm talking about GEMS, and it has something to do with writing.

Like you couldn't guess that!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lovely Blog

James Reasoner has given "Razored Zen" the "One Lovely Blog" award! Thanks, James!

The rules:

1) Accept the award, and don’t forget to post a link back to the awarding person.
2) Pass the award on.
3) Notify the award winners.

Although I don't visit blogs that aren't lovely in some way or another, and so there are many that deserve this award, I must pass the award along to a few folks who live close to me. First, Lana, who lives very close to me and who makes it all worthwhile. And Candy, who I've been in a writing group with for quite a few years now. And Sphinx Ink, who is mysterious to some but whom I know quite well.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Upcoming Week: Upcoming Month

I’ve got quite a week coming up, followed by quite a month after that. I hope I can get everything done. First, I’ll be guest blogging over at Novel Spaces this Friday, the 18th. I’ll be talking about a concept called GEMS, and I hope you’ll stop by.

Next, my first signing for Write With Fire is this Saturday, September 19, at the Causeway branch of the St. Tammany Library system. Everything starts at 10:00 in the morning, and I’ll probably talk on writing for half an hour to forty-five minutes, followed by a question and answer period and then a signing. Although the signing is primarily for Write With Fire, I’ll have copies of the Talera books and Cold in the Light available as well. I know that most of you aren’t in position to come, but come if you can and if not send me good wishes.

The address and phone number for that specific library branch is:

Causeway Branch Library
Address: 3457 Highway 190
Mandeville, LA 70471

Telephone: (985) 626-9779
Fax: (985) 626-9783


As for actual writing, the novel, Razored Land, is at a complete standstill at 144 pages. That’s where the “month” comes in. I’ve got a 7,500 word story due at the end of September, a book review that I agreed to do at the same time, and a 1000 word story due by the first of October. Immediately after that last story I’ve got roughly three weeks to do a scientific article on Charles Darwin, all the while preparing for the Louisiana Book Festival on October 17

This, of course, is secondary to that pesky…“Day Job.” After all that is done I’m going to take a week off writing.

I want to also thank Erik Donald France for his great review of my book at Write With Fire, and for his follow-up commentary. Check it out. And thanks so much Erik for your support.

And to all my friends in Detroit, no offense, but Go Saints!.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Learning on the Job

First, let me offer honors to those who died and suffered on September 11. You know which one. I arrived at work that day with no knowledge of what was happening, but my secretary had a TV and was watching the news. I’ll say no more than that it was heart wrenching, and if you want there are many, many fine blogs focusing on that event today. I’m going to talk about something different here.

Most, if not all, jobs require some learning on the job, but some types of work require more than others. Teaching is a prime example. I lament at times that the field of psychology continues to change at an incredible rate. It would be nice once in a while to teach the same facts in the same class for two years running. Of course, not every fact changes from year to year, but enough new and revised information is introduced every year to keep me hopping. Even though I’m simply unable to keep up with all the new information, I like the fact that my field is not static. It’s dynamic and exciting to discover new things, and to anticipate the discovery of more.

Unfortunately (sometimes), my second job is worse than my first. Writing fiction as a field dwarfs the learning requirement for psychology, and I’ll bet for most academic disciplines. Yesterday, because of writing projects I’m currently engaged in, I had to learn about wombats, badgers, and digging animals of all kinds, about river cane, bamboo, and sugar cane, about moonlight and werewolf mythology, and about child development, childhood aggression, child soldiers, and symbolic intelligence. My brain was pretty tired by the time all that was done.

To write convincingly, even if you’re writing fantasy, there is a tremendous amount of information and detail that you need to know. But correct details are not always enough. I’ve found readers to fall into three general categories where story details are concerned. First, we have the largest group, who merely want the facts of the story to sound plausible! These folks read for the story and as long as you don’t have any glaring errors you can get away with little twists on detail.

For example, take my question the other day about the age at which a boy might successfully sneak a dagger out of an unsuspecting enemy’s sheath and stab that enemy. I got a variety of answers, ranging from 5 all the way up to about 12. This told me a couple of things. First, the actual age at which a boy might carry out such an act is undetermined. Second, whatever age I choose, I have to make it sound plausible that “my” youthful character could do it. If I achieve plausibility, then probably 90 percent of the readers aren’t going to care about whether I’m absolutely correct or not.

The other two groups of readers are much smaller. One group actually ‘knows’ the absolute details. They are experts or well educated in that particular field. For example, if I get a gun caliber wrong in a story, most readers won’t care, but this second group will care a great deal and will be irritated with me for the mistake. This group can only be responded to by making your story facts as true to real life as can be. And I think that is a good thing. Although most novelists will occasionally take “liberties” with true events or facts in order to craft a compelling story, we certainly need to know the facts before we manipulate them.

The third group of readers, also small, is the hardest to please. These folks believe themselves to be experts but, in fact don’t know the true details. However, and I think many historical novelists will agree, this group can be very vocal in pointing out what they see as wrong. (Even if it’s correct.) I’ve been lucky that I’ve only had this happen to me a couple of times. It can be frustrating, however. I work hard to get the reality straight in my stories, but I have made mistakes and, although I feel chagrined, I don’t get upset when someone corrects my mistake. It’s the non-mistakes that are called mistakes that get to me.

So what kind of reader are you? Do small inaccuracies bother you? Is story more important to you than 100 percent factual accuracy? Do errors in some fields bother you more than in other fields? Just curious.