Friday, November 22, 2013

Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess has died.  He was just sixty-five. I usually called him Rob, because Robert Reginald was the professional name that he did most of his writing and editing work under. I never met him in person but I talked to him occasionally on the phone and corresponded with him for years through email. I knew he’d had health problems as a consequence of a bad heart attack about ten years ago, but his energy was always so palpable that it came as a complete shock to me to find out he had passed on November 20. I had an email from him a week or so before saying he’d just gotten out of the hospital and was feeling pretty weak, but that he was glad to be home. I never for a moment thought that would be the last email I ever saw from him.   

I was introduced to Rob by a mutual friend, Charles Nuetzel. Rob was editor and publisher of Borgo Press, which later became an imprint of Wildside Press. I wrote him about my Talera series of novels and he asked to see them. He accepted all three and that was the beginning of my working relationship with Rob. He went on to edit three collections of my short stories, a couple of my nonfiction books, and the Wildside Double that I was very proud of, having grown up reading the old Ace Doubles. A couple of years ago, when Rob was revisiting the Talera series to put them in ebook and audiobook format, he wrote to tell me that he’d almost forgotten how good they were and that I should write more. That compliment really meant a lot to me and I did indeed write another Talera book. I sent it to him at the end of this past summer, and though he acknowledged receiving it I don’t know if he ever got a chance to actually read it. I like to think he did, and that he enjoyed it.

Rob was a professional editor and always freely expressed his thoughts, comments and suggestions on my work, but he was also an incredibly warm individual who was easy to approach and open to discussion. He always took into account my thoughts and hopes for the stuff I sent him. He was certainly the kindest and most supportive editor I’ve ever met. I will miss bouncing ideas off him and knowing he’d give them an honest but caring appraisal.

A second way that I knew Rob was through his own writing. He wrote mysteries, pulp noir, science fiction, and nonfiction with equal ease. I was a particular fan of his science fiction, which was very much classical SF in tone and content. That is, he took interesting ideas and melded them with action and wit for a fun and thoughtful read. I’m lucky that I still have several of his novels yet to read. Each one will be especially meaningful to me now.

The picture I put up of Rob comes from the webpage of Bobbitt Memorial Chapel, where the services are to be held for him. I imagine it was provided by Rob’s family. The link is here if you would like to visit. There is also an obituary of him up at Locus Online.

One of the good things about the age we live in is that we can become friends, good friends, with people we have never met face to face. I consider Michael Burgess (Rob) a friend. I’m very sad today that he is gone, but very happy that I got a chance to know him.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Right to Bear Arms

Nowadays, many folks are afraid to give their kids toy guns to play with. They don’t want to encourage violence. But I’m not a violent guy and playing with toy guns was half my childhood. Of course, I didn’t have many ‘actual’ toy guns. I had pretend toy guns. Other than a cap revolver that was part of a cowboy outfit, the only toy guns I had were ones I either found or made myself from items around the farm. I had a piece of fence post that looked a little like a tommy gun, and a long, straight piece of limb from a Chinaberry tree that I used to represent a musket like Dan’l Boone used to carry. Sometimes I used a pocket knife to improve these pieces’ resemblance to actual weapons.

I even had a kind of armory for all my weapons set up in one of our barns, and I’d go and pick out whichever one was most suited to the type of game I was about to play. My nephews, Terry and John, who were six and seven years younger than me respectively, knew where my armory was but I didn’t often let them play with my “guns.” And then only if I knew about it. I’m sure I was just trying to protect them from growing up to be outlaws.

Apparently, however, Terry didn’t care much for my selfishness. One day I couldn’t find my Chinaberry musket in the armory and began searching all over for it. I finally discovered it broken and lying nearly under the wheel of an old wagon that we had on the farm. I couldn’t figure out how the gun had gotten to its new location, or how the wagon wheel had broken it since this wagon had four flat tires and hadn’t moved in years.

I confronted Terry and John about the broken weapon and found out that Terry had borrowed the gun, broken it, then put it under the wagon wheel in hopes I’d buy the fiction that the wheel had run over it and done the damage. I don’t believe he had thought the whole thing through. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Writing as Play

Years ago when I first started writing I read something that stayed with me. A well known writer—I no longer remember who—said you shouldn’t tell other people about your stories because if you talked them all out you’d never write them. I certainly followed that advice as I began my career.

As time went on, though, I began to hear about “plotters,” those writers who meticulously plan out stories and novels before they put the first word on screen. That seemed to me to be much the same as “talking a story out.” I didn’t think I’d like it and I just didn’t do it. I often commented on the issue with, “that would take all the fun out of it.” So, I continued my life as a “pantser,” a writer who prefers to discover what is going to happen in his or her story as they write it.

To be completely clear, however, I’m not 100 percent a pantser. I don’t commit to a novel, for example, until I know about where it’s going to end. I often have a good ending in mind even for short stories, although such endings are more likely to change as the tale weaves on. In novels, I will generally know some trends and some high points in the book well before I begin writing those sections. But I don’t meticulously plan and outline and I always leave lots of room for ‘discovery’ as the tale unfolds.

As more time passed, however, I discovered that—many times, but not always—plotters got bigger contracts and made more sales than pantsers. I also discovered that plotters often spoke of writing two or three thousand words a day (or more), and sometimes of writing 1000 words in an hour. I was flabbergasted. I generally averaged about 250 an hour and seldom made more than a thousand in a good writing day. Finally, one plotter told me they could write so fast because they knew exactly what they were going to write when they sat down. They knew what the scene was about, where it was going and what was going to happen.

An epiphany! The scales fell from my eyes. I suppose I should have easily realized this but I’d not actually made the connection between writing speed and complete scene knowledge. Maybe this was the secret to producing more, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

So, a few days ago, I set down to play the plotter role. I’d already written an opening scene for a story in my usual way, but decided now to carefully plot out the rest. By the end of an hour or so, I knew every plot turn and twist in the tale. I knew all the characters and had the setting firmly in mind. I began to write. The words flowed swiftly—500, 800, 1000, 1250. In less than two hours. I was pleased.

Then came day 2. I found myself not very eager to get back to the story. It took quite a bit of motivation to do so, but I got started. 500 words, 600. I began to slow down, paused to check email, 700, paused to watch a sit-com, 800, 850, stopped. Still, a respectable showing, and I’d been working on the tale less than an hour.

Day 3. Again, very tough to get myself motivated. I waited until an hour before bed but I knew I could do a good amount in an hour. I rolled to 400 very quick but then started looking for breaks. I fought that urge, made it to 800 in about 30 minutes and quit for the night.  And I realized one important thing. I was bored as hell with the story. I’d enjoyed the ideas during the plotting phase. I thought the story had a good concept and could have some very nice elements of suspense. But I was not enjoying the writing at all. It felt like paint by the numbers to me.

I’m going to finish the story, read through it again, and see if it is worth anything. Not having done this before, maybe it will be just fine. I can’t tell until I see the finished product. But one thing I know.  For me, writing is very much a form of play. And when I know precisely how a game is going to turn out, I don’t enjoy it nearly as much.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Machineries of Mars

The Empire of Sol!

Some say it lay in an ancient past.

Some claim it will rise in a distant future.  

But one thing is clear. What rises must fall again. And no one knows what will crawl from the ashes.

*    *   *

In the last days of empire, Mars became a pleasure planet for the wealthy and powerful. Every vice was permitted there, every hunger satisfied. But what happens when an empire collapses and the wealthy stop coming? What happens when the machines that fed humanity’s dreams for so long are left on their own? What dreams might rise in them?

The Machineries of Mars tells a tale of battle and honor on the red planet. If you like stories written in the tradition established by Edgar Rice Burroughs and expanded on by such writers as Alan Burt Akers, Leigh Brackett, Gardner F. Fox, and S. M. Stirling with his In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, then The Machineries of Mars may just be the kind of Sword and Planet adventure you’re looking for.

--- By the way, another tale from this lost anthology is also available as of today. Check out Tom Doolan's blog for more information: 

Friday, November 08, 2013


I've been talking to my students this week about various elements of professionalism, ranging from concepts such as punctuality to knowing where and how to find information that you need. Today we are going to talk specifically about vocabulary. 

Every field, from plumbing to psychology, has its own terminology. Some terms will have common meanings in the world as a whole, but special meanings within a field. A professional knows these terms and their subtleties; a non professional most likely does not. 

Below, I'm including the list of "psychological" terms that we'll be discussing today. I thought it might be interesting to run it here as well. 


Affect vs Effect
Confident vs Confidant
Covert vs Overt
Councilor vs Counselor
Deductive vs Inductive
Discreet vs Discrete
Disinterested vs Uninterested
Envelop vs Envelope
Exhaustive vs Exhausted
Explicit vs Implicit
Extant vs Extent
Former vs Latter
Hallucination vs Delusion vs Illusion
Imply vs Infer
Manic vs Maniac
Nature vs Nurture
Obsession vs Compulsion
Positive vs Negative
Principal vs Principle
Psychotic vs Neurotic
Qualitative vs Quantitative
Sensation vs Perception
Simple vs Simplistic
Stereotype vs Prejudice
Stimulant vs Stimulus
Timber vs Timbre
Valid vs Reliable

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

New Cover and TOC for Killing Trail

Killing Trail was the first item I self published, back in 2010. This 24,000 word collection of western tales has been among my better sellers, but hasn’t sold much of anything over the last six months.

When I first put the book up, I knew relatively little about formatting an ebook and setting up a clickable table of contents. I’ve decided to reissue the book in an updated version with a clickable TOC. The stories themselves are not changed so if you’ve already bought this book don’t buy it again. In fact, I think Amazon is supposed to let those who bought it know about the update and provide it to them free of charge. I don’t know how that works because I haven’t done this before. But let me know if you have the book and get a notice about the new version. Or if you don’t get a notice and want the clickable TOC version let me know and I can get it to you.

I also uploaded a new cover for the book, which contains the pseudonym, Tyler Boone. I’ve got several more western stories in the planning phase and when I do publish them they’ll go up under the Tyler Boone name.

If you haven’t read the Killing Trail collection already, I hope you’ll give it a look see now. Here’s the link to Amazon. The book is also up for the Nook  but I’ve not yet changed the cover there. Since sales on Nook have been very very very minimal, I’m not sure I’ll bother to make the change.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Charade You Are

Today marks the first time that Razored Zen Press has published an entire work by someone other than myself. Although the Louisiana Inklings Anthology has material in it by other folks, it also contains stuff from me. Last night, a short story called Charade You Are went live on Amazon. Outside of the introduction, which I wrote, the tale is the product of another mind. One that is—perhaps—even more twisted than my own.

Charade You Are is a political satire. The name on the cover as author is Reagan Pheasant, which is a bit of word play on the contents. It is, as you probably have surmised, not the author’s true name. I know Reagan Pheasant but am not going to reveal their identity.   

The reason for the mystery is simple. Charade You Are contains some graphic sexual scenes and some very strong language that might get Reagan into trouble at their job. The sexual scenes are neither erotic nor pornographic per se. They are not meant to titillate but are part of the satire. As I said, I know Reagan Pheasant. They have a point to make about the increasing polarization that we’ve seen in our government and society over the past twenty or so years. I think they make the point well, and with humor, albeit of the black kind. Otherwise I wouldn’t be involved in publishing it.

I don’t want to discuss the story more at present because I don’t want to spoil anything for those who might read it.  Over time I can talk more about it, and if anyone has questions I can relay those to Reagan. I can’t guarantee they’ll answer them.

Charade You Are is 99 cents on Amazon