Saturday, November 20, 2021

Remembering Du Bois

Yolande Du Bois Irvin has died. She was 89. Almost always when her name was mentioned someone added that she was the granddaughter of W.E.B Du Bois. And that is true. But she was far more than her connection to her historic grandfather.

She was warm, kind, witty, trenchant, thoughtful, practical. She was a supportive and loyal friend, a compassionate yet demanding teacher, a scholar of life. I never knew her in her role as a therapist but I’m sure she was excellent in that role as well because she never did anything with less than 100% commitment.

I knew her as a faculty member at Xavier University of Louisiana, in the Psychology Department. I was chair of the department when she was hired and it was a real coup for us to get her. Despite being Du Bois’s chair for much of her time at Xavier, she was—in fact—my mentor. And I was already 28 when I met her. She taught me many things, which I continue to pass on to my own students to this day, and which I use as guides in my day-to-day life.

She was so very much alive that it’s hard for me to believe now that she is not. She left Xavier after Hurricane Katrina and relocated to Colorado. For the first ten years or so after that, we spoke at least once a year on the phone. That frequency gradually decreased, as is common in such cases.

Even though I had not talked to her for several years, she was always a background presence for me. I thought of her many times throughout the year, most often during the school semesters when I’d be passing on a bit of her wisdom to my brand-new classes of fresh-faced students. I will continue to pass that wisdom on, as long as I’m around to do so.

Du Bois, it is an honor to have known you. And an honor to remember you. Godspeed!


Thursday, October 21, 2021

Narrative Drive

I’ve been thinking a lot this last week about narrative drive. What it is. How it works. And why it works. Every story I’ve read has been fodder for my thoughts on the topic.

First, what is narrative drive? It’s different from characters and setting. Many people say it means a tale is “plot driven,” but I don’t think so. I believe it means: “that element of a story that keeps you turning pages and wanting to know what happens next.” This is most often tied to plot but is not identical with it and also includes aspects of character and setting.

Narrative drive is about information, specifically, the release of information to the reader. The biggest tool writers have is that they know what’s going to happen in a story ahead of readers. Information is the energy that drives a tale, and the writers own all that information. To begin with, at least.

A story with narrative drive releases that hoarded information to the reader in dribs and drabs, giving only that information to the reader that the he or she wants and must have to understand what is happening. Just that much information. And no more.

Recently, for example, I read The Outsider by Stephen King. It begins with a murder and a suspect who just doesn’t seem capable of doing it. Yet, the evidence is against him. As a reader, I want to know how this situation can be explained, and King does a masterful job of releasing the information I want in little bits at a time. You might say, he ‘milks’ the situation for all he can get, and that kept me turning the pages, looking for the next tidbit. That’s narrative drive.

In contrast, I just finished an SF novella that failed the narrative drive test. This story was written by an author I admire, who is gone now, and who I’ve enjoyed plenty of stuff from in the past. The writing itself was excellent, better than King’s prose, but the problem was that halfway through the author telegraphed the ending and for the rest of the way the tale felt like a paint by numbers piece.

With King’s story, I was too absorbed to look ahead and see how many pages were left. With the SF story, I looked ahead just to see how many pages were left. Meaning, how many pages did I need to read before I could move on to something with greater narrative drive.


Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Silas Shoes

Who could have thought that one of my favorite memories of all time would involve tennis shoes. Here’s a picture of mine. I love the Velcro straps, a real boon to an old man like me. But that’s not the memory. 

A few months back we were babysitting our beautiful grandson, Silas. I’ve mentioned before how sweet he is. On this day, he wanted to play in the backyard so I slipped on my shoes. But it’s not easy for me to bend all the way over from a standing position to fasten the straps. Silas, on his own, without any prompting, bent down and fastened the straps on both shoes for me. Of course, he’s a lot closer to the ground than I am. But he wasn’t even two years old yet.

 I told Lana this morning that I was never going to be able to get rid of these shoes. Every time I put them on I get a big grin on my face as I remember Silas helping out his grandpa. Below is a picture of the little cutey, taken by his mom, Heidi. Sure am glad I’m still around to see him growing.

Thursday, August 05, 2021

Writing the Ranger Series

Have to admit I was a little scared when Paul Bishop of Wolfpack Publishing offered me a chance to write the first book in The Ranger: Concho series, as A. W. Hart. I’d written books for the Avenging Angels and the Black Rose, but to “begin” a series was something else again. However, the character outline he gave me was intriguing, and challenging. There seemed to be lots of interesting possibilities. Within an hour of talking to Paul and asking for a little time to think, I knew I wanted to do it. The ideas were already spinning in my head.

Now, I’m three books in (with a 4th manuscript just turned in), and it’s like learning a language. I’ve started to dream in Ranger. Even after just finishing a book, I keep thinking about what Concho Ten-Wolves is up to and what might happen next. It’s a lot of fun, if a bit all consuming.

Outside of the action sequences, which I’ve either based purely on my imagination or on historical events, the character of Concho comes from the real life of either myself or people I know. I’m neither black nor Kickapoo, and Concho is, but I’m human, and one thing I’ve learned in my life is that the hopes and dreams and desires of humans are mostly universal. People are more alike than they are different.

I’m not as good of a person as Concho, but a few of his characteristics and mannerisms come straight out of me: the foods he enjoys, his love of reading, even his inability to arch an eyebrow. The fact that he is a talker. I didn’t want to create another laconic Texas Ranger hero. Concho talks, jokes, laughs. He likes words, as I do.

I’m not sure where the Ranger series will go next. I certainly hope to write more books about Concho. An idea is already percolating for a fifth book. And I can probably go on as long as there are readers. I’ve sure been happy that the first two books seem to have attracted quite a few readers, and I’ve loved the great reviews. I don’t know about other writers but it is certainly a thrill for me to hear that someone enjoyed a work that I’ve written, or that it touched them in some way. Maybe that’s a human characteristic too. If you want to check the books out, here's the link:

 Thank YOU for reading!









Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Power of Coincidence

I was working on book 4 in the Concho: Texas Ranger series this morning when an odd event occurred. Concho is half Kickapoo and there's a fair amount of Native American lore in the series. Since I did not grow up in that culture, I've had to do a lot of research. And it's been both fun and enlightening. I do not want to use what I've learned as a mere "leavening" in the stories. And I haven't. I've tried to incorporate all such information in a respectful manner. 

Concho, for example, is a modern, educated man. He starts the series not having any belief in spiritual forces. But as the books continued I wanted him to have some experiences that force him to rethink. Many of these experiences are connected to a character named Meskwaa, an elder of the Kickapoo who is a friend and something of a mentor to Concho--as well as providing some biting but often humorous dialogue. 

I was writing a Meskwaa scene this morning where Meskwaa encounters what the Kickapoo refer to as the Thunder Beings. I was reading about the Thunder Beings and had just highlighted a piece of text giving the name of a Thunder Being in preparation of copying it into the manuscript--to get the spelling right--when a tremendous cannon shot of thunder boomed directly outside my window.  The house shuddered but the lights didn't even flicker. 

I've heard thunder boomers before, of course. And it was raining here. However, there'd been no previous thunder this morning, and none after  until much later in the day. And that single boom was the loudest one I'd ever heard. I'm not afraid of storms but I jumped at that boom. 

Coincidence? Almost certainly. But such a coincidence! It changed my day. For a while, at least, I felt the power of the numinous. 

Monday, June 07, 2021

Bruce Boston: Gallimaufry

: By Bruce Boston. Plum White Press, 2021, 134 pages.

Bruce Boston is a Bram Stoker Award winner, but that says little about the breadth and depth of his talent. As others have remarked on his work, you’ll find facets of language and story that resonate with the art of Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Franz Kafka, George Orwell, Dylan Thomas, and Oscar Wilde in his offerings.  But all of his work is uniquely “Boston,” and I hope that someday, someone will remark that they see a little of Bruce Boston in my work. It would be a high honor.

This is a collection of Boston’s short stories that span some fifty years of his life. Every single one of these is a small jewel of effort and art, from the profound sadness of “Cold Finale,” written with Marge Simon, to the absolute hilarity of “An Unrecognized Masterwork,” to the peyote-like stream of images in “Surreal Chess (which I desperately wish I’d written.)

Let Boston tell you where luck comes from in “Tales of the Dead Wizard,” or scratch an itch with “The Infernal Itch.” I highly recommend this collection. I loved it.

You can find it here!