Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Out of Touch

I’m often amazed, but not unpleased, at how out of touch I am with modern popular culture. A lot of that is due to my age, of course, but I often seem very much unaware of things that other folks of my generation do know about. Let’s see.

A guy named James Gandolfini (I think that’s the spelling) died recently. I had no idea who he was. Even after I’d seen his photo I could only recognize him as being in a recent movie I saw with Brad Pitt about assassins. When I expressed my confusion, quite a few folks explained to me that he was on “The Sopranos.”  Ah, of course. The problem is that I’ve never seen an episode of that show.

Nor have I seen an episode of Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Castle, Sons of Anarchy, or any of those Law and Order type CSI shows. I believe those are two different shows but I couldn’t tell which is which. I’ve never seen Game of Thrones, other than watching about ten minutes with Lana the other week. All I know about Fawlty Towers is that it’s British. I believe. Now, I might well like all of these shows; I’ve just never felt the urge to sit down and watch them.

I do know who Justin Beiber is because I see him being made fun of on facebook all the time. However, I couldn’t pick Lady Gaga out of a line up, unless she was wearing a meat dress perhaps. Nor would I recognize Honey Boo Boo. I believe she is a rather large child but that’s as much as I could tell you. I think there are three Kardashian sisters and they have dark hair. I wouldn’t recognize them. They may or may not be the daughters of Bruce Jenner. One of them was dating Reggie Bush for a while. I know because he played for the Saints at that time and I pay attention to football. I used to think Eva Longoria was a Kardashian until someone explained to me that she wasn’t.

There are a bunch of Jersey Shore/Big Brother type shows. At least I believe there are, although I’ve never seen an episode of any of them. I know there was a guy on Jersey Shore who called himself the Situation. I know because he was on a roast one night and was amazingly stupid in a non-funny way. Also on that show was a short, dark haired woman named Snooki. I only know because of the Jersey Shore episode of South Park, and because I heard a snippet of her one time admitting that she’d never read a book until she was in her twenties but she was going to write one now.

Not long ago I was told I’d mistaken Kanye West for Puff  Daddy. Only, his name isn’t Puff Daddy anymore but I’m not sure what it is now. It used to be Puff Daddy when he did a pretty bad remake of a Led Zeppelin song for the Godzilla 2000 movie. I only know the name Kanye West because of the South Park episode making fun of him. He apparently interrupted some famous female singer at one of the award shows. I don’t know who she was or what show it was on. The Grammeys maybe. By the way, how do you spell Grammeys?  I’ve never watched an episode. I still can’t tell Kanye from Puff something. I also confuse Fifty Cent with Mike Tyson. They’re both big guys ain’t they?

There are about half a dozen or more blonde actors who appear as the female leads in horror movies that I’ve watched. I can’t tell any of them apart or give you their names. Worse than that, I can’t name the directors of 98 percent of the movies I see. I know Spielberg, Sergio Leone, David Lynch, and George Romero, and that’s about it. Oh, and John Carpenter, because his name was on my favorite horror movie of all time, John Carpenter’s “The Thing.”  I believe he may have directed the first Terminator and Alien too, but I’m not sure. There’s also a del Toro guy, I think. He may or may not have directed Pacific Rim but he recently had a big blockbuster. I didn’t know until last night that the Actor’s Studio is a school for actors. I just thought it was a celebrity interview show.

I could go on and on but I think you get my point. How about you? Are you as out of touch as I am?

My next post will be about what I do know about popular culture. That might be a shorter post.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

If I had it do over

I was thinking of a story idea about a guy who gets a chance to live his life over, maintaining all the knowledge he accumulated during his first life. I put myself in the protagonist’s shoes to see how I felt about it myself. I think a lot of times people find this an attractive idea. I have myself at times. But when you really start to analyze it, as you would need to do if you were going to do a story about it, things don’t seem quite so simple. Every decision we make has multiple and complicated repercussions. There’s no way to change one thing without changing multiple others and one would risk losing the good things in order to get rid of the bad.  

I think, for example, of what I might do differently knowing the exact day my father would die and what I might have been able to do to prevent it. But I can’t even imagine the repercussions in my future had it not happened. I imagine relationships that I spent a lot of time and effort on that went nowhere, and what time and pain I might have saved myself by ending them earlier. But how would my memories and my personality be different if I had done so. Would I be a better man now? Or a worse one?

What about the motorcycle accidents I had! Changing my timing by a bare moment in any of those cases would have saved me a lot of pain. It would have saved me some of the permanent stuff I’m living with. Or would it? Had I not had any of those accidents, perhaps I would have had another that was far worse.

I think about my writing, about what might have happened had I produced the stuff I’ve produced earlier in my life, or what might be if I had decided to pursue a career in writing rather than making the choice that I did, which was to find a good career and job and write on the side. Would I be further along as a writer now? Would I have sold more? Would I be making a living at it?  The thing is, I almost certainly wouldn’t be making as good a living as I have with the choice I did make. Of course, there is no telling. I might have hit the market at just the right time and broken out. Or maybe there wasn’t a market for my work until I found it in later years.

I often wish for a reset button on life. Like you get with video games. You die in a video game and you just reload from the last save. But we don’t have those. And even if we did, would we reload after every “wrong” decision without knowing that, in fact, it was a right decision for what greater things came later. 

Ultimately, I know two things. My first marriage didn’t work our in the end but I have a wonderful son from it. I could not and would not give him up. Two, it was things going wrong in my life that led me to finding Lana. And I could not and would not give her up either.

Guess it’s a good thing we don’t get to live our life over. I wouldn’t want the fear of some pain to make me miss out on what I have now.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Losing Time and the Giveaway Results

How does the time get away? It feels like I just posted the Star Trek post but that's already six days in the rear view mirror.

Patti Abbott won my giveaway for a copy of "Cut Short," by Leigh Russell. This is the first in her Geraldine Steel series. Patti, if you will send me your snail mail address to kainja at hotmail dot com, I'll get it in the mail to you pretty quickly.

Going into the dentist today to get my permanent crown put in to replace the temporary one. I sure hope that's the last dental stuff I need to do for a few years.

I finished my last read through of Wraith of Talera, then decided it wasn't the 'last' read through. I'm letting it sit a few days and will give it one more going over. I want it done and sent off so I can get into the next one, Gods of Talera. I've got a couple of short stories to do first, and an article on C. L. Moore.

The last couple of days I've been taking a needed break and just playing Skyrim and reading.

All right, enough. I promise a more substantial post in a couple of days.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Influences: Star Trek?

It’s no secret that I’m a big Star Trek fan, particularly of the original series. I’ve seen every episode multiple times, every movie, and have read almost 60 Star Trek novels and 8 or so nonfiction books about the show.  I’ve watched all of The Next Generation episodes as well, although not as many of the other series. And yet, as far as I can tell, Star Trek has had virtually no influence on my writing.  Most recently, in Wraith of Talera, I have a chapter title that is a take-off on “The World is Hollow and I have Touched the Sky.” That’s about the only influence I can think of, and it’s just a title.

In contrast, the eleven books of the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs have been a major influence on all kinds of writing I’ve done, not just the Talera series. The works of Leigh Brackett and C. L. Moore I’ve read can be numbered on the fingers of my two hands, but they also have been big influences.

I thought at one point that it was because I didn’t really write Science Fiction that the Star Trek influence never showed up in my work. But even when I turned my hand to SF with Under the Ember Star, it was Brackett and Moore type space adventure/space opera, not Star Trek. I have other SF ideas that I want to write at some point too, but none of them are Star Trekesque.

It’s not just the overall story setting of Star Trek either. I’ve never created any characters that smack of Spock, or Kirk, or Bones. I do have a character ‘arch an eyebrow’ on occasion and that might be influenced by Spock’s famous gesture of surprise.

I wonder why this is, and without much promise of an answer coming to me anytime soon. Any of you other writers out there, has there been something you’ve read or watched a lot of that hasn’t influenced your writing? If so, do you have any idea why not?

Speaking of showing one’s influences. If you’re a writer, you’ve got to read this poem by Ty Johnston. Sheer genius!


Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Resting WIP

I took a few days off to let Wraith of Talera rest and have been playing a lot of my video game Skyrim. It's such a wide open world and beckons one to explore. I think I've been playing too much, though, because I've started dreaming about it as of last night, and when I close my eyes I can see various kinds of screen images from the game. I think I'll take most of the day off Skyrim and get back to writing. In fact, ideas are occurring fast and furious but before I start anything new I'm going to give Wraith of Talera its final read through and send it on its merry way.

As I'm writing this, we have six baby coons in the back yard, with two different mommas. They come out early in the morning to graze around the yard for bird seed that has spilled out of the trays. Many birds flutter around in the trays and knock out seed. The doves scratch it out. When the coons first came they climbed up our poles and knocked the seed out themselves, and at one point completely dragged off one hanging feeder. We got Raccoon baffles and they didn't work. So we had to put two baffles back to back and that finally stopped them.

At any rate, the little ones are great fun to watch because they wrestle and play around all over the place. Sometimes 2, sometimes 3, sometimes all four of the one family. Lana is watching through binoculars and laughing uproariously at their antics. The young everywhere have energy. It's good to see someone does.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

When a Manuscript is "Done."

I guess I’ll tag this post under writing techniques because it might not be of interest to anyone else. It’s about what happens when a manuscript is “essentially” done.

For example, Wraith of Talera is finished except for one last reread. I’ll do that next week. Gonna let it sit a few days. I just finished some pretty much mechanical stuff on the manuscript this weekend and week. When a book is done I always do a “search” for particular words that I often overuse. In doing so this time I ended up taking out over 900 words that were basically useless out of almost 70,000. The words I search for in particular are, “that,” “my,” “though,” “still,” and “I.”  It’s first person. I also search for “And,” “But,” and “Yet” at the beginning of sentences, which I overdo at times. I also search for “said,” and “asked” and take out excess ones And I search for words that need to be used sparingly, such as “suddenly” and “finally.”

Although I believe this is a good thing for writers to do, there is a risk. Searching through a whole novel this way for a single word can give the impression that the word is far overused when in fact it isn’t if you consider it spread out over the entire book. For example, I use “my” a fair amount in the Talera books, but this is, in part, because they are first person books and I need to cut out some of the “I”s that can really overwhelm the reader otherwise.

Someone told me not to worry about “said” because it becomes invisible to the reader. I’ve always heard that and I think it is generally true for me. However, I’ve noticed it does not become “inaudible” to those who listen to audio books. Since the Taleran books have been produced in Audio, I also wanted to remove excess “saids” for that reason.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Recent Goodreads during Jury Duty

Those of you who visit here regularly know I recently had jury duty. I spent most of four days sitting in a room, and while I didn’t particularly enjoy it, I took my kindle along and did get a lot of reading done. I thought today I’d run some capsule reviews of some of the items I finished or at least started during those days. I also reviewed all of these on Goodreads as well, if I could find them listed there at least. I got all but one of these from Amazon.
Commando: Operation Arrowhead, by Jack Badelaire:
I used to read a lot of historical fiction but have gotten away from it in recent years. When I read a book like Commando: Operation Arrowhead, by Jack Badelaire, I wonder why I slowed down in reading the genre. Commando takes place in World War II, certainly one of my favorite historical periods to read about, and probably my very favorite judging from the number of WWII books I have around the house, both fiction and nonfiction. The story is set after the Blitzkrieg has overrun France. A small British Commando team is sent in to make contact with local partisan groups and they have to deal with a brutal local Nazi commandant and his zealous troops. Although a fellow named Lynch is probably the main character, we get familiar with several major commando figures and these characters are a lot of fun. I can see lots of room for backstory to be expanded on these characters as the series continues. An afterword to the novel gives some historical backstory on the British Commando units of WWII. 

Badelaire’s work fits in nicely with the books I already have on my shelf, reminding me somewhat of the grittiness of Willi Heinrich’s WWII books, but with considerably more action. That action, which is quite graphic and which I like very much, reminds me a bit of some of the stuff we saw in the movie Inglourious Basterds, but told with the greater depth and background that a novel can achieve over a movie. Any movie reference will be somewhat misleading because this book should really be compared against other WWII adventure series, of which there used to be quite a few. I think it compares very well and really enjoyed it. I know there is a second in the series out, Operation Bedlam, and I imagine more are planned. The series is definitely off to a great start.

Hard Case II: The Lure of Hell, by Bernard Lee DeLeo
John Harding is back in new adventures with his band of merry “righteous” killers. They’re a group who take the safety of America seriously and aren’t afraid to get down in the dirt with those who would endanger her. In fact, they’ll get lower in the dirt. They often refer to themselves as psychopaths but in reality they are willing to do what it takes to protect the people and country they love. Among themselves and the decent folks around them, they know loyalty and love aplenty. 

Hard Case II, however, adds some new folks into the mix, Clint Dostiene, a somewhat reluctant agent of the “Company,” and Lynn Montoya, who enjoys killing, but only of serial killers and lowlifes. There’s the usual adrenalized action and the sometimes wry, sometimes dark humor that mark most of DeLeo’s work. I’m an action junkie so this is right down my line.

Outlaw, by Matthew Pizzolato
When I started with this book I was afraid it was going to be a bit cliche. The writing was good but the adventures befalling our hero seemed a bit pat. As the book continued, though, the twists started to happen and I really enjoyed the ending, which I did not suspect until very near the end.

The Toughest Mile, by William Meikle
This is a fantasy short story and is the first work I've read by this author. It won't be the last though. It begins with a pit fighter seeking his freedom, which is not anything new in the genre. But Meikle makes it his own and delivers a solid story with plenty of action, excitement, and some good emotional impact. The prose is also quite good, raising the level of the tale even further.

Boggy Creek: The Legend is True, by Eric S. Brown and Jennifer Minar-Jaynes
A fast, action horror read. It's about what you expect from knowing about the movie of Boggy Creek, but it delivers well. I enjoyed it.

NOTE: the following works were not available on Goodreads for me to review, but here’s what I would have said about them.

Madam Chang’s Red Dragon Saloon, by Angeline Hawkes (reviewed on Amazon)
This is an excellent tale, a long short story or a short novella. A young Chinese woman in the American West is born with a strange tattoo on her arm. Her family knows what it represents but keep that from her. Only after her family is brutally murdered and she is shown the horrors of the real world does she discover what the tattoo means. Blood and gore are the result, but there's a lot more to this tale, which could easily lead to some sequels. Highly recommended.

The Unexplained, by Christopher Fulbright (reviewed on Amazon)
This is a collection of short horror stories. It's very well written and creepy as hell. I've read other material by Fulbright and he can write. This is a fairly short collection so it's a quick read. There is still quite a lot of variety among the stories, though. Much enjoyed.

Polysyllabic, by Mark Durfee
This is the only one I didn’t get originally from Amazon. It is a collection of poetry by the fellow we know in the blogosphere as the Walking Man. If you’ve visited his blog you know the kind of hard hitting, intense, poetry he writes about life and politics. This is more of the same, made even more powerful by the accumulated imagery that you get off the pages. Searing is a good word to describe Mark’s work.

The Adventures of Black Jack Pepper, by M. L. Madison (reviewed on Amazon)

A charming children's book. Black Jack Pepper is a six-year-old girl who decides on that name herself. She and her younger brother and father have many cute and hilarious adventures. I bet many children would love to have it read to them. Now I'm going to have a doughnut.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Swords of Talera Author Notes

Those of you who have read my short story collections know I always include a section “about the stories.” These are snippets that tell about when the idea came to me, how it was developed, and when it was published. Although I know many readers don’t give a hoot about such things, I’ve always enjoyed reading about stories in this way. My novels, however, don’t have this sort of thing so I thought I’d put some of this up on my blog. Perhaps I’ll have no readers for it, but what the hey, that’s why they call it a personal blog, I guess. Anyway, here’s a bit about the way Swords of Talera came about.

Swords of Talera was my second novel. The first was a western written when I was 17 and it will never see print. Because of events that happened around the time I finished that western, which I wrote about in Write With Fire, I decided writing was not in my future and just gave it up. I couldn’t stay away, though. Seven years after the western, I was in graduate school. Sometimes late at night when I’d finished my research work but couldn’t sleep I would type out sentences and paragraphs of fiction on the computer. By this time I’d read a lot of fantasy fiction, in particular a lot of ERB and REH. The John Carter stories of ERB particularly resonated with me. I’d been making up Sword and Planet type stories for my own amusement for years, and then just said, what the heck, why not write one of them down. I figured it would probably just be for myself, although the thought that it might get published was always in the back of my mind.

I didn’t start the writing immediately, though. First I spent quite a bit of time in the University of Arkansas library doing research. I already had the idea for the world of Talera, but I needed a character. I decided he would be a descendent of a Maclang, the characters from my western. I looked through a bunch of Irish and Scottish names and found the name Ruane. That didn’t sound quite perfect to me, though, so I modified it to Ruenn. I also did a lot of research on sailing vessels, on gas giant planets, and on all manner of creatures and plants that might be twisted around to form the basis of Talera’s biosphere. Only then did I sit down to write.

In fiction, ERB’s Barsoom books were certainly the biggest and earliest influence on Talera, but another major influence was the Dray Prescot books of Alan Burt Akers, who I didn’t know at the time was really a British author named Ken Bulmer. Still other influences included the Llarn books of Gardner Fox, and the early books in the Gor series by John Norman. Although I never liked the slavery aspects of the Gor books, that didn’t figure at all prominently in the first few books and Norman had a dramatic writing style that I did like.

“Swords,” which was originally entitled “Taleran Genesis,” is a linear book full of all the things I loved to read, and still would love if anyone was publishing them. It had alien characters, lots of action, sword fights and desperate rescues. I wrote “Swords” in about 4 months in 1984, although it wasn't submitted for years and was heavily polished in 1988 before I submitted it. Eventually I sent it to Tom and Ginger Johnson in Texas and it was serialized in their magazine. It was very well received by the readers and was voted best piece of original fiction for the year in which it ran. Below are the notes I kept during the initial process of writing the book:

Taleran Genesis? (Book One)  [begun June 15, 84] [1st draft fin [Christmas, 1984]

(Retitled, 6-7-85 Swords of Talera  [3rd draft fin, 6-11-85]

[4th draft started 5-29-88; finished 6-20-88]

Final draft start 7-12-88, fin 7-29-88;  printed 8-1-88:

final polish 9-29-88  Did a minor rewrite 6-30-96 and reformat

starting 3-3-02, doing a final rewrite to bring it up a notch

Went through it one more time in 2004, again trying to bring it up a notch.

The book was finally published as a paperback from Borgo press in summer 2007. It was mildly revised one last time before it was submitted for publication.

And there you have it. If you should have a hankering for such a book, it’s available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Wildside Press. It’s in print, ebook, and audiobook, along with the sequels, Wings Over Talera and Witch of Talera. There are clickable links to Amazon for the books along my right side border of the blog.