Monday, June 29, 2009


I finally got around to watching Taken tonight and I really enjoyed it. I’d call it the feel good movie of the year. The story is about a father whose daughter is kidnapped by slavers in France and who then hunts the kidnappers down and kills them. Liam Neeson plays the father and the old man can ‘do’ some action moves. For a while, Lana and I were having bad luck with our movie picks, but the last couple, Taken and Gran Torino, have been pretty good.

The scary thing is, of course, that such evils do happen and too often are allowed to happen by the corruption in our governments and police forces. I see in Greater New Orleans the police setting up speed traps to catch working people on their way to and from their jobs, and to ticket those who aren’t wearing their seat belts. I see them arresting taggers and throwing them into jail where they can clutter up the courts rather than just giving them fines. I see them setting up stings to arrest prostitutes and Johns rather than getting the pimps and organized crime figures who run the prostitutes. The police are gung ho on the small time criminals. Generally they seem to leave the big ones alone, and almost certainly it is because someone’s palm is getting greased.

A week ago we had two interesting police related events that happened only a day apart. It was announced one day that many thousands of dollars had gone missing from the evidence lockers of the NOPD; the very next day we heard how the police department needed a big increase in funding in order to keep our streets safe from criminals. Maybe they should just check their evidence lockers for the criminals. They could cut crime a lot faster and wouldn’t need any additional funding. Hell, they wouldn’t even need cars. The crime is happening right on their own premises.

Of course, there are plenty of good police officers. But where are the priorities of those who are assigning those officers to duty? The person without the seat belt is likely to hurt themselves before they hurt anyone else. The taggers should be fined if they deface public property, but do we need to clog up the courts with such cases? Set the fines, make ‘em steep if you want, but put the focus of the court and law systems on the big time criminals who fester like ticks on the body of the country.

Seems to me, we’re all being “taken.”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Snakes and the Wild West

Despite the brutal heat here in southern Louisiana in June, I’ve been getting out occasionally in the late evening for short walks. And it appears from my walks that our local snake population is doing quite well. Almost every evening I’ve been out, I’ve seen a small snake on the road. I don’t believe they are the same snake, although they look close enough alike to be kin. I’ve seen them in at least three fairly widespread locations. I finally took the camera with me and snapped a few pics. They all look like the one featured here.

The most disconcerting thing about these wee ones is that they look a bit like copperheads to me, although I’ve not gotten down at eye level with them in an attempt to verify that. Even a small snake can cause a man to dance a jig when you nearly step on one. And snakes hardly ever invite you to pull up a patch of ground and visit. They just don’t seem all that friendly a creature.

In other news, I got my copy of The Tarnished Star, by Jack Martin (aka Gary Dobbs), and finished it in a couple of days. It’s really good. Fast paced, and well written in a straightforward, no nonsense style. The characters are clearly defined and you know who to root for. There’s the sheriff, a true upholder of the law, and his fiancĂ©, who is actually a school teacher. There’s a local big rancher who runs roughshod over his opposition. He isn’t completely a villain, but he hasn’t done a good job of raising his spoiled son and therein lies the rub.

There’s considerable action in the book but not a lot of gore. I’ve been thinking lately of the “sub-genres” of western fiction. I’d certainly include The Tarnished Star as a “traditional” western. Think Louis L’Amour and James Reasoner. This is in opposition to the “spaghetti” western, such as the books by Joe Millard featuring the Eastwood character “blonde,” the “hyper-violent” western such as the Edge series by George Gilman, or the “adult” westerns such as the Trailsman or the Longarm series.

All in all, a very promising debut novel from our blogosphere friend.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Father's Day, Sushi, and Talera

G., over at Cedar’s Mountain has a review of the second Talera Novel, Wings Over Talera. He is apparently an extremely discerning fellow, seeing as how he liked the book quite a lot. Thanks for the kind words, G.

My son came out Saturday for Father’s Day since he had to work a double shift on Sunday. We had a great time. We went to my favorite sushi place. We had our first official beer together while out to eat. After that we did some target shooting with my air pistol, watched Pale Rider, and then he helped me set up my DVD with surround sound. He also bought me the five disk collected works of White Zombie, which to me was better stuff than the material that Rob Zombie has produced separately since. Good kid!

I’ve been on a real sushi kick lately. I had it twice last week on Monday, then Saturday and Sunday this weekend. Love the stuff. Maybe part of it is the variety of the meal. There are many different flavors to a typical sushi meal. I’m a big fan of tuna in all its varieties, especially tuna tataki and pepper tuna. I’ll probably go again tomorrow.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

There's Rules, and There's Rules

My post today was triggered by something I read over at Writtenwyrd’s blog. Particularly, she posted Lawrence Watt-Evan's “Laws of Fantasy.” Thanks, Writtenwyrd.

Although I agree in principle with most of these rules, I do have a pedantic bone to pick here and there. Here’s my response to the rules:

1. Watt-Evans' First Law of Fantasy: Stories are about people.

-- I’m afraid this isn’t always true. Nor should it be. Personally, I generally prefer stories about people. But fantasy can also be a literature of ideas, in which the people are secondary. I think this happens more in SF than fantasy, but I can see it in fantasy. And, what of those writers who truly try to imagine an “alien” people. Certainly, most races in Fantasy are thinly veiled humans with pointed ears etc., but does that have to be? Mr. Watt-Evans may, of course, be defining people broadly, and that would dispense with most of my objection.

2. Watt-Evans' Second Law of Fantasy: People are never wholly good or wholly evil, and therefore characters should never be wholly good or wholly evil.

-- Here we have a problem with logic. Mr. Watt-Evans is absolutely correct in saying that real life people aren’t wholly good or wholly evil. The second part of his law doesn’t necessarily follow, however. The problem is that, by his own statement, these laws deal with “fantasy.” That means we’re already outside the realm of “real life.” Magic doesn’t work in the real world. So, if we are not allowing “unreal” characters then how can we allow unreal magic? One of the great powers of fantasy, of fiction in general, is that it allows us to contemplate and experience that which isn’t real. There is not only room in fantasy for unreal characters such as those who are wholly evil or wholly good, but one could argue that there is a demand at times for exactly that kind of character.

3. Watt-Evans' Third Law of Fantasy: The basic human motivations are universal.

-- I agree completely with this one. It does not necessarily follow, however, that all human characters in fantasy should have only real life human motivations. See my commentary under #2.

4. Watt-Evans' Fourth Law of Fantasy: Everything other than the basic human motivations will vary, depending on the cultural setting.

-- I agree. Culture is very powerful and most fantasy writers (including myself) struggle in developing realistic seeming cultures and properly predicting what the humans in those cultures will do.

5. Watt-Evans' Fifth Law of Fantasy: Magic, like everything else, has rules.

-- Again, I generally agree. Personally, I much prefer stories in which magic has clearly defined rules (although they don’t have to agree with the normal physical laws of our universe), and has a cost attached to using it. I’ve actually seen a literary writer deliberately break this rule for effect, however, and though I didn’t like it, I could accept it as an experiment. This is pretty much an exception, though, and doesn’t disprove for me the validity of this fifth law.

6. Watt-Evans' Sixth Law of Fantasy: If a story can be written without a fantasy element, then don't bother with the fantasy element.

-- I agree that fantasy elements should not just be thrown in. They should be integral to the story. However, doesn’t most “magical realism” violate the sixth principle? Many of the magical realism stories I’ve read could have been told without the fantasy elements. But they would have lost something, something I couldn’t necessarily define.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

More Ultimate Wisdom

Are you ready for this? Tell me what you think. The writing book that I’m very slowly making my way through just gave me another gem.

The writer’s running coach wanted to be a writer himself. Her advice: “Terry, you know everything about writing because you know running. If you go deeply in one thing, you know everything else. Just apply what you know about running to writing.”

Now, I wonder why she didn’t put this advice on page 1. I wouldn’t have had to read further. I’ve gone quite deep in eating, so I must know everything there is to know about writing as well. Whew, that’s a relief. No more study for me!

I’ve actually been able to translate some of the things that this author has said into common, everyday language. But this one I can’t even make the wildest guess at.

And while you're contemplating your navel and today's wisdom, here's the opening of the western story I just finished yesterday. It's called "Showdown at Wild Briar."

“You Josh Allen Boone?”

Leaning back in his chair in the Bucket Of Blood saloon, a man looked up from under the brim of a battered Stetson. His gray eyes studied the speaker, noted the briar-scarred chaps, the faded red bandana at the neck, worn smooth and soft with many washings, and the sun-worn face under a sweat-stained hat. The gun was worn high on the right hip. Except for the boots, which were hand-tooled and expensive, the outfit shouted cow puncher, but didn’t provide a name.

"Who's asking?"

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Brew Tour and Buzz Time

Well, sorry I didn’t get around to anyone’s blogs yesterday, and only to a few today. My writing discipline mostly fell apart on Saturday after drinking all day. Lana and I took a tour of the Abita Springs Brewery with some friends and all that free beer was too much for me to say no too. And after scoring a good buzz there, I knew I might as well tie one on because the writing day was shot anyway. Sunday I was recovering but was just too lazy to do any writing. I also had a moment to realize that I’d let quite a few school related things pile up, so Monday and this morning had to be catch up time. Even in the summer, the IRB committee that I’m on can generate labor. I did go to my Borders writing group Monday night and it was fun, especially since my friend Elora was back with us after a few weeks off for health reasons. It was good to see her.

Some Odds and Ends:

Lana and I watched Gran Torino Sunday and it was a pretty good movie. The ending surprised me and wasn’t quite the expected Clint Eastwood finale.
I’m reading two short story western collections, The Fatal Frontier and Best of the West II.

Fatal Frontier has been a bit hit and miss for me so far, although I’m not very far into it. There’s a great story early on by Marcia Muller called “The Time of the Wolves,” but unfortunately I’d already read it and it isn’t the kind you’d likely forget. There’s also a very fine story by our own James Reasoner called “Hacendado,” which I hadn’t read before. There’s also just a really, really weak story by John Jakes called “The Woman at Apache Wells.” This one started out to be one type of story, changed to another type of story, and ended as a third type. It contradicted itself throughout, and the main character and the ‘woman’ of the title were totally unbelievable. The tale might have been included for marketing reasons since Jakes’ name was listed first and prominently on the cover.

In regards to the other collection, all I can say is: “James Warner Bellah, where have you been all my life? Man this dude can write. I don’t remember ever reading anything by him before. Apparently he wrote mostly short stories, although quite a few of his tales were turned into movies by John Ford, including “Fort Apache,” and “She wore a Yellow Ribbon,” and “Rio Grande.” Bellah wrote mostly stories about the Cavalry fighting Indians it appears, and man he slams you down on the saddle with the column and you smell the leather and feel the hot wind. I’m gonna try to find out more about this guy.

That’s it for now. I should be back on track with visiting blogs tomorrow.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Two Projects at Once

I admire those who can work on multiple fiction projects at the same time. I’ve discovered, once again, that it’s virtually impossible for me. I’d been rolling pretty well on the novel, Razored Land, and then, while reading some great Louis L’Amour western short stories, a sweet idea occurred to me for a western short. I thought: well, do both at once. I thought I’d work on Razored Land in my home office during the afternoon and early evening, then in late evening work on the laptop in the living room on the western, which is currently entitled Showdown at Wild Briar. The first day went well, 3 pages on Razored and almost 4 on Showdown. For day 2, I managed 1 and a half pages on Razored and 4 on Showdown. Day 3 (today), about 2 pages on Showdown and maybe 3 sentences on Razored.

It’s not the writing time that’s the problem. It’s the thinking time. The first couple of days weren’t bad because I’d already done quite a bit of thinking ahead on Razored Land and was working from that material. But as soon as the western idea occurred to me I began spending almost all my thinking time fiddling with it. The result, as soon as I dipped out the water (thoughts) already present for Razored Land, that project came to a screeching halt. I’ve decided my best bet now is to spend the next two days smashing the western home to a finish, then getting back fully into Razored Land and not letting myself be distracted further.

Guess I’m a one-project kind of guy.

In other news, did any of you watch a TV series when it was on called Invasion? It’s about a hurricane hitting Florida, followed by what appears to be an invasion of the body snatchers type of story. I never heard of it before but they were running “Invasion Week” this week, with back to back episodes every night, and I actually got hooked on it. Unfortunately, only one season was filmed and it ended with a big cliffhanger. I would have liked to see more. Anyone see this thing?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Four Play My Way

Randy tagged me. Thank goodness because I wanted to play. It looks kind of fun. So here goes.

Four Movies You Can See Over and Over

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan
Once Upon a Time in the West
John Carpenter’s: The Thing

Four Places You Have Lived

Or, Farm, Fayetteville, AR, Metairie, LA, Abita Springs, LA.

Four TV Shows You Love to Watch (Now this is hard since I hate most TV)

Star Trek (original)
Gunsmoke (Used to watch it)
Andy Griffith (Used to watch it)

Four Places You Have Been on a Vacation

Cross Plains, Texas
Disneyworld or Disneyland, whichever is in Florida.
Universal Studios
Silver Dollar City

Four of your favorite foods

Chicken (in all its infinite goodness and diversity)
Pork Chops
(Is my carnivorous nature showing through?)

Four Websites You Visit Daily
Everyone on my Google Reader who Post every day. You know who you are.

Four Places You Would Rather Be

(This one is also hard. I love my house and yard and deck and Lana is here right now. But:)
Motorcycle riding
Trey Yuen Chinese Restaurant
A book signing for my NY Times Bestseller
The last one involves Lana

Four Things You Hope to Do Before You Die

See the Mayan ruins (almost got there this year but for the flu)
See my grandchild (but not quite yet)
See Meteor Crater, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon
Write a dozen more books, read at least 5,000 more

Four Novels You Wish You Were Reading for the First Time

To Tame a Land, by Louis L’Amour
The Swords of Night and Day, by David Gemmell
The Hour of the Dragon, by Robert E. Howard
Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke

Tag Four People You Believe Will Respond

I don’t do tagging actually.

Monday, June 08, 2009

More Advice Gone WTF?

“Before you enter the writing each day, you may want to take a long drink of water or a walk around the block. Do something to let you sink into yourself, so you may write from that quiet place of equanimity and truth. You are safe, go ahead. Stay simple.”
This is another quote from that writing book I’m reading, but I just have to ask, what the hell does it mean? Again, it sounds kind of nice. But do you understand it? Even if you do, I rather doubt you understand it in the same way I do. I take walks often, which allows me to think about the story I’m working on, but I’ve yet to sink into myself with a drink of water. Frankly, I don’t really know what “sink into” myself means. I’m guessing it is intended to suggest something like mediation. I meditate, or daydream at least, quite often but it’s a very different mindset for me than I experience while actually writing.

And where exactly is that “quiet place of equanimity and truth?” And why should I want to be “safe” while I write? I always think the best writing comes when I’m feeling unsafe, feeling the same kind of emotional intensity that my characters are feeling. “Safe” writing sounds like boring writing to me.

I get the feeling that this whole passage is meant to convey a very simple idea: In order to write you need to “focus.” Is that how you read it?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Long Haired Country Boy

If you don't like the way I'm livin',
You just leave this long-haired country boy alone.
--Charlie Daniels

“Mommy, why does that man have long hair?”

I overheard this from a little girl, probably about four, as I walked through the library the other day. I didn’t hear her mom’s response but I thought the girl’s comment was pretty cute. I get this kind of thing a lot and in almost all cases it’s just hilarious. When my son was playing little league there was a kid on his team who had a little sister about that age. She used to stare and stare at me, but would hide behind her mom if I smiled at her. Finally, her mom explained to me one day why she stared. “She calls you: ‘Jesus at the park.’” That’s one of my favorite stories about my long hair.

Another favorite is when I went for the first time to set up my electricity service in Abita Springs. After paying, I stopped in the restroom right around the corner in the office, but the two ladies behind the counter thought I’d left. I came out of the bathroom only to hear one lady exclaim to the other about how “ridiculous” my hair length was. At that moment I passed in front of the counter and waved to them as I headed out the door. The look on their faces was…to steal a phrase…priceless. I chuckled about that one for days.

Last week, having lunch at a local sushi establishment, I became aware of a woman staring at me from across the tables. I kind of watched her from the corner of my eye as she leaned forward and whispered something to her friend while continuing to look in my direction. Instantly, the friend spun around and looked right at me. Laughing under my breath, I made eye contact with her, and she immediately blushed and began looking past me at the wall behind me as if that was the reason she was looking my way. Her friend should have told her, “no, no, no don’t turn around.”

Occasionally, though, I find comments on my hair irritating. About ten years ago, when I was chair of the Psych department, we were meeting our new freshmen students. I actually had quite a bit shorter hair then but I was shaking hands with one of the parents when he just bluntly made a gesture at my hair and said: “What kind of statement are you trying to make here?” Here was a guy who was dressed in a silk suit, with carefully matched tie and diamond tie pin, with a gold watch on his wrist, and he’s asking me about “my” statement? I wanted to say, “you’re a ween,” but instead I said: “I didn’t realize I was making a statement. I just like long hair.”

That’s the thing, really, my hair is not a statement about anything. At least not anymore. I originally grew it long for two reasons. First, for all of my childhood life my father cut my hair himself and never let it get more than a quarter inch long even though I begged him to. When I became a teenager, after he died, I let my hair grow. This was, at least in part, a rebellion, I’m sure, but the rebellious phase faded out back when my hair was barely shoulder length. Another reason I let my hair grow was because that was the style back in the seventies, and because I was in a band. But by the time I was 20 I had long hair for only one reason. I liked it. The fact that it seemed to irritate some people to no end was just gravy.

My mom has always seemed to believe the hair was a rebellion, and at least one of my “sister’s in law” seemed to make it her goal in life for years to get me to cut my hair. She told me once something along the lines of “You’d be a really good looking man if you got your hair cut.” I just laughed and told her, “well, I’m not trying to attract you.”

The strangest thing about it all is that I just can’t for the life of me imagine why anyone cares? What is it about long hair on men that seems to “threaten” some people? Why is it worthy of a stare or a snide comment? Seems to me there are a lot more interesting things to observe about people than their hair.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Harry Potter

Well, I’ve finished the entire seven book Harry Potter series now. I’m sorry that it’s over. I have to give J. K. Rowling high marks, both for the individual books and for the overall arc of the series. In fact, I’ve never been so caught up in a series that I read them all one after another after another. The last two, particularly, put the reader through an emotional roller coaster, and as a reader I appreciate every minute of such an experience. Even three days after closing the cover on the last volume, I still feel that sense of loss that comes with being finished with a beloved book. And although I normally leap right into a new book after one is done, I waited a day before starting something different (a Star Trek book if you must know.) A day is a lifetime for me where reading is concerned.

I’m not going to give details of the books here because I don’t want to reveal any spoilers. The books are too good for that. But I will tell you my overall impression of the story arc. The first two volumes, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets are indeed books for young, young adults. They’re good, but they only hint at the more mature development that picks up with volume 3, Prisoner of Azkaban. After that, for me, it was a straight run to the finish, with each book capable of standing on its own but also laying the ground work for the next. At first I thought book five, The Order of the Phoenix, marked a fall off. I didn’t much like Harry at the start of that one, but in retrospect I think Rowling simply turned him into a true teenager in that book and handled that task deftly. I was also pleased to see that Rowling’s action scenes substantially picked up, although these are definitely character books and not truly action driven.

It’s hard to say which book was my favorite because in this case I really think you have to judge the whole series together. And as a series it is outstanding. However, for me, the last two books, where the overall story is coming to its climax, stand out in my mind. I wish I still had them left to read.

Thank you, Ms. Rowling! Not that you need it, but you have another fan.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Good Advice Gone Bad

Ever hear a piece of advice that sounds great at first hearing but starts to look pretty lame when you begin to dissect it? I found just such a piece of advice in Wild Mind, a book on writing that I’m reading along with my Harry Potter fix. The advice was essentially, find a line you like, then just add the next line, and the next. “Don’t think further ahead than the next line. Don’t think back. Just build that story.” And: “Place those sentences down, as if you were laying bricks. Keep each one true.”

Man that sounds good. Or does it? As I began to think about it, two problems with these statements quickly occurred to me. First, if you build a piece line by line you’re not building a story. A story goes somewhere. It has a destination, even if that destination is rather vague and different for different readers. I’ve started stories the way this author suggests, and I think it can work to find a beginning, but unless I soon begin to think ahead, and back, and sideways, the piece ends up nowhere and either gets stuck in my “writing pieces” file or gets reworked from the beginning with more thought given to it.

Second, although the bricklaying metaphor works perfectly for the suggestion the author makes, I don’t think it works as a metaphor for how stories and novels really get written. Many successful writers I know work from outlines; a much better metaphor, then, might be a blueprint. And if you just lay one brick after another after another you’re going to end up with a wall, not a building. I don’t write with an extensive outline, but that means I constantly have to stop writing and start thinking. At some point you just can’t proceed until you know at least partly what has happened before and what is going to happen next. At least I find it to be so.

Turns out, the author of Wild Minds seems to have gotten this advice from Raymond Carver, and this was an epiphany of sorts for me. That’s why I can’t stand Carver’s stories. They begin in a random place, meander about for a bit while repeating themselves, and then end up nowhere. They’re walls of bricks, with no windows or interiors. They’re not really stories.

Whew! Now I can rest easier.