Friday, May 30, 2014

Morning Words

When I don't have an alarm set for work, I always awaken in the morning out of a dream. The one I was having this morning involved pushing a car along a brutally rutted road in the dark. But that wasn't of much interest. Far more interesting to me is that, as I lay there for a moment, words suddenly appeared floating in the air right in front of my face. Closing my eyes allowed me to see them better, because, of course, they weren't really there.

Sometimes when I awaken I'm very briefly caught in what is called a hypnopompic state. From what I've read, the state is produced by being largely awake but with the brain activity in the frontal lobes still suppressed. Frontal lobe activity is key to what we call rational consciousness. Most people will occasionally experience such states, though most don't recognize them and just refer to them as dreaming.

Hypnopomic states are driven by emotion, and, in my case, probably because I'm such a huge reader as well as a writer, the imagery that appears in that state often consists of words floating in the air before my eyes. Most of the time I can read a few of the words but the meaning is usually jumbled. This morning, however, a whole phrase appeared to me. I've copied it below. Only the word indicated here as "throat" was smeared. I couldn't read what was actually there but "throat" seems like the most logical choice to my fully awakened frontal lobe. Perhaps you have a better word to replace it.

"There are those who smile and talk to your face with the tongues of angels, and all the while their black gaze is fixed on your throat, and their teeth click, click, click as they whisper evil behind your back."


Monday, May 26, 2014

Fish Bone Cure

We ate quite a lot of fish when I was growing up. Dad always ran a couple of trotlines in the spring and summer, and both Paul David and I liked to fish. Mostly we caught catfish on cane poles with hooks baited either with grasshoppers and worms, or with some of the chicken hearts, livers and gizzards Mom brought home from the processing plant. We also caught bass and bream, though, usually on old Zebco reels with spinners on the line. We loved eating them all.

 Though I liked the taste of fish, I didn’t like bones and sometimes worried about choking on one. I’d heard that if you ever got a bone caught in your throat you should drink vinegar, which would dissolve it.

One night the terrible thing I’d dreaded happened. I got a fish bone caught in my throat and panicked. I jumped up from the table and took off running into the kitchen where mom kept a little carafe of vinegar on the counter. I tore the cap off and drank the whole thing down in a couple of gulps.

The cure worked, though whether the vinegar dissolved the bone or just washed it down I’ll never know. Unfortunately, the treatment was about as bad as the bone. I think the vinegar dissolved about half my esophagus too, and maybe a little bit of stomach.

Come to think of it, though, it wasn’t much worse than drinking straight shots of Jack Daniels. But that’s a story from when I was quite a bit older.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


I have gotten the question, "where do you get your ideas?" It's not the most common writerly question I get but it's certainly happened more than once. My first word in response is: "Everywhere."  And that's true. But some particularly fertile places for ideas for me are:

1. Dreams
2. Overheard conversations, particularly "misheard" ones
3. Reading science
4. Reading history 
5. Nature (both seeing it and listening to it)

That's not particularly the topic of my post today, though. I want to talk about the fact that, for me, I get two types of ideas. The first kind are those that leap into my mind fully formed. Imagine kicking through some debris and turning over a perfectly cut and polished little jewel. Maybe there's a little dirt on it to brush off, but once that's done the jewel is ready to keep or to sell. For me, this happens most prominently with flash fiction, and sometimes with longer short stories. But not with novels. 

 As an analogy for the second kind of idea I get, imagine digging through a cave somewhere and uncovering a fossil. Only, it's not the whole fossil. It's just a single big bone. You dig around a little more and find another bone, and then pieces of others. The finding is pretty easy but now the hard work begins. As any paleontologist will tell you, getting a fossil out of the ground is back breaking work, and after that you have to put it all together, which requires even more hours of time. This is most often how my novels get put together. And sometimes it happens this way for stories, usually longer pieces. I get a big idea and realize there are a lot of smaller ideas all nestled around it. Then I have to dig it out, start putting it together, find on occasion that I’ve put something together wrong and have to back track. But finally you have a finished piece.

So, for those of you who are writers, is this something similar to what happens for you?  Or is the process very different?


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Zanthar of the Many Worlds: Review

I love Sword and Planet fiction. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Leigh Brackett, Alan Burt Akers (aka Ken Bulmer), and many others. There’s a reason why I’ve spent so much time writing it myself, as with the Talera series. I find it the purest form of adventure fiction. And I take it seriously.

I also demand that the writers whose Sword and Planet offerings I read take it seriously too. I’m afraid that I can’t quite picture Robert Moore Williams, who wrote this book, Zanthar of the Many Worlds, taking the genre seriously.

The book begins with John Zanthar, a brilliant Earth scientist who invents a machine that can open portals to other worlds. Zanthar himself is sucked through it accidentally, and later two of his students are sucked through as well. So is a man named Fu Cong, who becomes the primary villain of the story. So far, so good.

Then the weaknesses with the work start to arise. One would expect that transportation to an alien world would cause a person a bit of dislocation and discomfort. Not Zanthar. In the first few pages of the story he acquires some allies who decide he’s a god, and defeats the leader of a horde of attackers who are riding “miniature dinosaurs.” These appear to be T Rexes a bit bigger than the “Velociraptors” of Jurassic Park. Zanthar kills one of these dinosaurs with one blow from a “copper  hammer” he’d been carrying in his lab when the transportation occurred. He also has no problem communicating with his new friends, who are conveniently riding telepathic beasts. And one of his new allies is a beautiful woman capable of healing any wound merely by laying hands on it and concentrating. Later she proves capable of raising the dead. (I’m not sure I’ve ever had a day that easy in the real world.)

I’m also a lover of good poetical prose, and the best Sword and Planet fiction has this. The prose in Zanthar of the Many Worlds is almost completely leaden, and in many cases just downright silly. Here’s a bit of prose from early in the book: “And then: ‘The love-life?’ Zanthar questioned. He did not understand the term. In fact, he was not at all certain that he understood a tenth of the words she used. ‘I do not understand.’” The repetition was just wretched.

Later, there’s an actual bit of dialogue imagined by Zanthar between atoms.  I’m not making this up. Here it is:
“Zanthar had the impression that he could hear the atoms talking each to the other, saying, ‘Brother, where are you?’
‘Comrade, what has happened?’
‘Sister, why are we in darkness?’
‘Cousin molecule, where has mother gone?’
‘And where is father?’
‘Is—is this the night that never ends?’ an atomic voice wailed.
‘Is—is this the end of the universe of atoms?’ another whispered.” 

That was it for me. I stopped reading and just quickly scanned the rest of the book. I can’t in good conscience recommend it to anyone. And, do be aware that there are three sequels in this series, Zanthar at the Edge of Never, Zanthar at Moon’s Madness, and Zanthar at Trip’s End. All were published by Lancer books and were probably contracted for to capitalize on the Conan boom of the sixties. They were published between 1967 and 1969 and I’m guessing they were written exceedingly fast. I know Moore wrote a lot of books. He died in 1977. I have a few others of his at the house, most notably the Jongar series. They’ve all moved way down my list of books to read after this Zanthar fiasco. I read a quote once about a different writer that rather sums up my feelings about this book. “That’s not writing. That’s typing.”

Access Restored

The technician from AT & T showed up about 8:30 this morning and took about 15 minutes to restore our phone service and internet. Turns out a tree limb had fallen on the wires across the road from us and that proved easily rectified.

Although I'm very glad the guy finally came to fix it, and that it was easily done, I'm still furious that AT & T let us sit for a week without any phone and net service. They could clearly care less if they have our business or not.

Anyway, I'm way, way behind on things so I'll start going around to blogs before long. It will take me a day or two to catch up, I imagine.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Off Line through no choice of mine

As of Sunday night about 9:00, our phone and internet went out. We called AT & T the next morning bright and early and they told us it would be fixed by May 17, Saturday. When I protest they supposedly switched me to a supervisor, where I remained on hold for over 20 minutes and finally hung up. I am not happy but it seems there is little I can do,

Almost any other week would not have been a problem because I'd be going into work. But this marks the one full week I have off before summer school starts and I was hoping not to have to make the two and a half hour round trip this week. I finally came over to the library with my laptop, which is a good 15 minute drive but much better than the alternative. Unfortunately, I failed to bring extra batteries for my mouse, which is dying. This laptop gives me a problem with the built-in mouse so now I'm up a creek.

Anyway, this is why I'm not visiting blogs this week. I'll be back as soon as we get phone and net back.


Friday, May 09, 2014


I love a good story but I also love lyrical prose. Lyrical is the right word because prose has a sound to me. It’s not quite poetry but it has a musical element. In the hands of a master, it sings.

Consider: “See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He strokes the scullery fire. Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last wolves. His folk are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water but in truth his father has been a schoolmaster. He lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names are now lost. The boy crouches by the fire and watches him.” (Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian)

Or: “The battle in the meadowlands of the Euphrates was over, but not the slaughter. On that bloody field...the steel-clad bodies lay strewn like the drift of a storm. The great canal men called the Nile, which connected the Euphrates with the distant Tigris, was choked with the bodies of the tribesmen, and survivors were panting in flight toward the white walls of Hilla, which shimmered in the distance above the placid waters of the nearer river.” (Robert E. Howard, “The Lion of Tiberias”)

Very different language, and yet both are beautiful to me. I always strive to make my prose sound good as well as be functional, although it is not easy to achieve. I also believe the sound of the prose should match the content of the story. A horror tale will have different music to it than a fantasy. I believe fantasy in particular lends itself to beautiful prose, because fantasy generally requires much more description than horror fiction does.

So, I read a lot of fantasy, in hopes of getting a fix of both great story and beautiful writing. Then I come upon something like this:

“More important, if he could but grasp the language, what was the strange power this woman had? ‘You have strange powers,’ Zanthar said.”

And then: “The love-life?” Zanthar questioned. He did not understand the term. In fact, he was not at all certain that he understood a tenth of the words she used. “I do not understand.” 

Repetition ad nauseam seems to be this author’s stock in trade. The repetition of “strange power(s)” and of “understood” are just killers here to any music these phrases may have had. Not to mention the far from pithy dialogue, which simply restates exactly what the writer has just told the reader in narrative. This is the very illustration of “leaden” prose.

One guess who this author is.  If you read my last post, it’s the same guy. Robert Moore Williams. I was gonna give up on this book but have decided to continue on. I think I can milk a few more blog posts out of it. I can only hope no one will ever find my own writing so worthy of this type of exploration. I’d much rather be compared with McCarthy and Howard.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014


 I believe there is an important principle for authors to remember when writing fiction. This is: the victory a character achieves is directly proportional to the struggle needed to acquire that victory. The greater the struggle, the greater the victory. And the greater the struggle, the more readers will pull for that character to win and take joy when he or she does.

This holds true no matter the ‘level’ of the struggle. It doesn’t have to be a fight to the death. It doesn’t have to be a “save humanity or it goes extinct” kind of conflict. A child struggling against prejudice, a woman struggling to escape an abusive relationship, a man striving to find meaning in a world where he feels like a spent coin are all examples of the kinds of struggles that could, and have, become engaging fiction.

I’m reading a book now where the writer didn’t know this simple fact, or at least hasn’t illustrated his knowledge of it so far. The book is Zanthar of the Many Worlds by Robert Moore Williams. A man is transported to another planet. Within a few moments he acquires some allies who decide he’s a god, and he defeats a horde of attackers. He kills something referred to as a “miniature dinosaur” with one blow from a “copper  hammer” he’d been carrying in his lab when the transportation occurred. He has no problem communicating with his new friends, one of whom proves capable of healing any wound merely by laying hands on it and concentrating.

First I’m yawning. Then I start to scan. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a day on this real world where everything has gone that easily. And I've never even had to kill a miniature dinosaur with a hammer. Is the author going to get a clue? I’ll give it another dozen pages or so and see. I’m not confident.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Notable New Releases

Several of my friends have new books out that I’m eagerly looking forward to getting and reading. Perhaps you might enjoy these works as well. Here’s a quick blurb about them.

1. First up, Ron Scheer, over at Buddies in the Saddle has released How the West was Written: Volume 1Beat to a Pulp is the publisher. Ron has been doing a long running exploration on his blog of the early history of printed western tales. And he’s branched out well beyond such names as Owen Wister and Zane Grey. I’ve been following his work on this project eagerly and have ordered the book, though I haven’t yet had a chance to read it. Both an ebook and print version are available. Here’s the link on Amazon  

2. Bernard Lee DeLeo at Bernard’s Blog has the second book in his Cold Blooded series available for preorder. I tell you I almost NEVER preorder a book but I did this one. Looking forward to reading it. I’ve liked everything I’ve read from DeLeo, but the first Cold Blooded was my favorite. You can preorder here

3. C. S. Harris. The latest in Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series has been released, Why King’s Confess. This is an excellent historical mystery series that just ‘drips’ with atmosphere. It’s at Amazon here. I love this series.

4. Richard Prosch has released One Against a Gun Horde, a collection of western stories set mostly in Nebraska and Wyoming.  I’ve been remiss in getting this one up. I plead overwork. See Amazon link here.

5. Beat to a Pulp has a number of new releases out. They also have a re-release of  A RipThrough Time, which yours truly has a section in. An exciting space time adventure, if I do say so myself. And I do.

6. James Reasoner and his wife Livia have also leaped into the publishing ranks with Rough Edges Press. They have a good number of releases out already with a lot more to come. Check out their website

I’ve probably forgotten someone. If so, I’ll have to put up a second edition of this short list. But, for now, happy reading!