Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Writing Group Meeting

My writing group met last night and we had a good time. We talked for a while about what makes a book’s middle either sag or not. We generally agreed that to avoid a sagging middle one should: 1) introduce questions that can keep the reader going even if the pace slows down, 2) take the book in a new direction, such as introducing a second plot, 3) create surprises, which in general helps keep out the sag.

Later we got on the topic of humor, in life and in writing. I told them that I have no sense of humor, which is not completely true but which isn’t far from wrong if you should expect me to laugh at the kinds of things most people laugh at. We decided that humor was extremely idiosyncratic, and that it depended for best effect on surprise. This led us back to books. Surprise is essential in all writing. A book or story that is too predictable loses us just as a joke that is predictable falls flat.

Another thing we talked about was social skills. I mentioned that, in addition to lacking a sense of humor, I had no skill at picking up the subtle nuances of interpersonal relationships. Several group members mentioned some of the unspoken subtext that you see when groups of women or groups of men get together, and a lot of it surprised me because I just hadn’t realized such things were happening. At least one other member of the group admitted to not noticing such things as well, so I didn’t feel completely inept. But this also brought us back to writing. Does an author with weak social skills, as is the case with at least some of us, potentially lose readers by not—say—understanding the subtext in dialogue very well? I pointed out that maybe it wasn’t so bad because dialogue in writing is not natural dialogue. It has to sound natural, but it is certainly a heightened level of discourse. Dialogue in writing is “reasoned” out by the writer rather than simply being “released” by a speaker.

Finally, it occurred to me that these kinds of issues may explain one of my personal experiences in reading. Stephen King is often complimented on his extremely realistic dialogue. Readers say that his characters talk like real people. I’ve always found King’s dialogue to be rather mundane, and often a bit boring, but, then, I also find most casual conversation boring and mundane. It seems highly likely from last night’s conversation that the “fault” is in me. I find casual conversation mundane because, quite possibly, I’m not picking up on all the “behind the scenes” stuff. I bet King has good social skills, which are reflected in his skillful use of dialogue. I bet that’s why learning to create believable dialogue has been one of my greatest challenges in writing.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Wild Night Company

Living where I do now I can no longer claim that I'm not inspired by what I see. So far that hasn't translated into a lot of fiction productivity, but maybe the well is still filling. At least I'm soaking up details and atmosphere.

Lana and I took a long dark walk along our gravel road last night. The moon was a good thick crescent floating over the tall pines, their tops swaying in a breeze that we couldn't feel at ground level. It was cool, our breath smoking faintly. We passed a single dwelling, and then another. Both were dark, except for porch lights, and I wondered who, or what, might be coming home to them later. Then we passed a tiny cluster of three houses close together, with lights on inside but no signs of any activity through the windows as we passed. Pole lights stood on either side of the road at that place, casting a haze of purple light that was just strong enough to birth shadows in the surrounding woods. Somehow, the three houses together seemed lonelier than the single dwellings had, and I felt a little colder then and moved closer to Lana.

When we got back home, I went to check email while Lana sat out on the back deck, wearing a sweater against an increasing chill. She soon came to fetch me, however, to tell me that we had visitors. Just after we moved in we'd had an old dead tree cut down, but had left the stump about three feet high. We'd poured seed onto the stump for the birds, but our visitors weren't birds. Two racoons were gorging themselves there with much accomaniment of crunches and cracks. A flashlight didn't seem to bother them and we even found that our binoculars would give us a close up view. And so we played voyeurs at a feast of the Wild Night Company.

Lana thought she had seen another racoon so I shone the flashlight along the edge of the woods. Immediately, twin gemstones of green light winked back, and a few moments later a third beastie, a smaller one, came and climbed up the stump to join the dinner crew. Soon, a fourth member of the troup joined, and as I shone the light around the wooded perimeter of our yard I caught yet another flash of eye-shine and discovered a cat watching the Coon platoon. At first I thought the cat might have been a bobcat because it was very large and with sharply pointed ears, but I finally managed to get a look at it's tail and it had the long one that named it Cattus Domesticus. It was pretty clearly feral, though, because it would not let me get anywhere close to it.

Eventually, the Racoon tribe slipped one by one back into the woods. The cat followed and Lana and I returned to the warmth of the house, both of us wondering who, or what, might come to visit us next.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Times are Changing

I grew up in the country and I spent a lot of time walking along highways and dirt roads. For a while as a kid I actually made money picking up discarded bottles and returning them for their deposits. This was in the late 60s and 70s and I found a few items of interest or strangeness. I occasionally found an unopened can or bottle of beer, and every once in a while I would find a discarded toy.

But those were yesterdays, a less perverse time it would seem. Today, walking along the dirt road by my house, I found a penis pump and a pair of pants. Let me hasten to add that I didn’t touch either one of them.

Now I have a pretty good imagination, but either my imagination is not up to picturing why someone would throw out a penis pump and a pair of pants about fifty yards down the road from my house. Or, maybe I just don’t want to imagine it. The times they are a’changin’.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

By Way of Introduction

I've gotten my copy of fiends by torchlight, which is by Wayne Allen Sallee and which I've mentioned here a couple of times. I started reading the stories last night that I hadn't previously read, and let me tell you that the book rocks. Some people might say that Halloween is a good time to read this book, but I think around the elections is the best time.

And, by the way, I wrote the introduction to this collection. I did a short biographical article on Wayne for a reference book last year and had corresponded with him about it. I was surprised and flattered when he asked me if I would do the intro for his newest book. I had a lot of fun doing it.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Baron Von Pelican

The Pelican is the Louisiana State bird, but there was a time not long ago when it was nearly extinct in the state. That time is not now. Pelicans are thick on Lake Pontchartrain, and, in fact, are sometimes a menace to motorists on the Causeway, which runs 24 miles across the lake. For reasons that I don't completely understand, but which I suspect have to do with the wind coming up from under the bridge, the pelicans love to cruise along right at bridge height heading into oncoming traffic. Most of the time they are off to the side of the traffic stream, but I've had a few anxious moments when members of this Avian Legion have decided to dip down right over the bridge and it looks like they are coming in for a strafing run. In case you don't know, a pelican is a big bird, and the thought of one of them flying into your car's front window while you're doing 65 MPH is not a pleasant one. At that rate of speed, and with the often heavy traffic on the bridge, even swerving to avoid them would be iffy or impossible.

So far I haven't seen any signs that there are pelican aces with at least five wrecked cars to their credit, but I think I did see one with a red scarf around his neck the other day as he dipped his wings in my direction. I saluted him just in case.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bret Funk

I’ve mentioned The Illuminata in these pages a lot. The editor of that newsletter is Bret Funk. Bret is a very good editor, but he’s a writer first, and a fine one. He’s written a trilogy of fantasy novels called “The Boundary’s Fall” series, which have been well received and which have been particularly noted for their strong characters. Bret is also the head of Tyrannosaurus Press.

Bret and his wife were living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit and destroyed most of his publishing stock. He’s since relocated to the Baton Rouge area and has added a small changeling to his family. Check out his stuff, and if you’re in the New Orleans/ Baton Rouge area and plan to attend any SF cons you might well see him there.
Say hello for me.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Drunk Writing

I'm sure you've all heard of "Drunk Dialing," when you call up old friends you haven't seen in a long time while you're drunk and talk their ear off. Lots of people have done it. Maybe even you. But how many folks do you know who have engaged in "drunk writing?" This is when you write something when you're drunk but later have only the vaguest recollection of the details of it.

I'll admit to drunk writing a time or two. Beer sometimes makes me want to write poetry, and one night a lot of beer turned into a lot of poetry. I was eventually able to salvage one useable poem from the resulting, rather sophomoric mess. The rest of it was so bad that I took to calling it "anti-poetry." Until I found out that that term already existed.

Yesterday I stumbled upon a story that I "drunk wrote." I'd pretty much forgotten it existed until I saw the title in my "story file" and opened it. Then I remembered, and I remembered that Vodka was the toxin of choice that time. The story is a political satire, politics being something I usually won't touch while sober, and it is both gross and obscene. My problem now is that it's also pretty good. In fact, I was guiltily pleased at how well it turned out.

You might think that having written a decent story would be a good thing, but when I say it is both gross and obscene I mean those words in the way a horror writer would use them. This means that many civilians (non horror readers and writers) will be put off by it. And it's about real people so that makes it worse.

Now I don't know what to do with it. Perhaps I should delete it before I'm tempted to submit it somewhere, or perhaps I should keep it for my own amusement. Or maybe I should let the marketplace decide. One thing for sure, if it's ever published I'll make sure it's under a pseudonym.

And now I'm wondering. What might whiskey do for me?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

John Ames

I met John Ames at another New Orleans SF con, probably around 1990 or so. I remember that he was the only guy there with hair longer than mine, and the first writer I’d ever seen with groupies. (Well, one groupie, at least.) He was also already well established as a writer, mostly as John Edward Ames with horror novels such as Spellcaster and Death Crystal. Later, John made his livelihood primarily from westerns, including three well received works under his own name and various series books under house names. His most enjoyable series work, to my way of thinking, was for his Cheyenne books, which are told from the Indian point of view and which he wrote under the name Judd Cole. All told, he’s written over sixty novels, in four different genres--historical, horror, romance, and western--and he’s written under such pseudonyms as Jon Sharpe and Dodge Tyler. He has also written numerous short stories. John is able to write both quickly and well, something I’ve never been able to achieve.

Monday, October 23, 2006

O'Neil De Noux

O’Neil De Noux. Jr., is another writer who is a good friend of mine. He was born and raised in Greater New Orleans, and I first met him at an NO SF con, I believe at a reading by George Alec Effinger. O’Neil and I--and his wife, Deb--have since become good friends and I’m an admirer of both. Deb is also a writer, and an editor. She put together the Erotic New Orleans collection, which I have a story in. O’Neil was a homicide detective and organized crime investigator for years in the Jefferson Parish Police Department, and he was well known as one of their best.

O’Neil began writing short stories in high school, but it wasn’t until after he became a detective that he wrote his first published novel, Grim Reaper, which introduced the character of Dino LaStanza, a New Orleans homicide detective on the scent of a serial killer. LaStanza, who bears quite a few resemblances to O’Neil himself, has appeared in four other novels and numerous stories. The LaStanza stories are hardboiled, crime noir, but his short stories range the field from mystery to SF to horror.

To my pleasant surprise, I found that O’Neil and Deb recently moved to Covington, not far from my new home in Abita Springs. Sounds like a barbecue is in the offing.

For more on O’Neil, check out his entry on Wikipedia

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Magical Deck

It rained most of last night and Lana and I spent a lot of time out on our new deck, listening to the drops on the tin roof and watching the lightning through the dark trees. We lit some candles around, in various glass holders so that the reflection of fire danced on the underside of the tin roof in multicolored hues. It was cool, with a little breeze that occasionally misted a bit of rain across us. It was for pleasures like this that we got this house and had the deck built. I think it earned its cost last night.

I was thinking, too, about how much fun I would have had on such a deck as a kid. It could have so easily become a pirate ship, cutting through southern seas, or the Starship Enterprise with a new Captain. Namely me. Perhaps it could have been a fort in the early American forest with the Iroquoi in the woods all around. Or a raft at drift on the ocean.

I wish we could have had a place like this for my son when he was young, but originally my wife wanted to live in Metairie to be near her family, and later, after she had gotten ill, we never seemed to have the money or the stability to look for such a place. Lana wanted such a place, and she looked until she found it, and with some money that she had inherited she was able to put a downpayment on it and pay for our new and wonderful deck.

And I'm wondering, am I too old to play Starship enterprise? Am I too old to pretend I'm a settler on an alien world? Naw!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

What I'm Up To

Since the last Illuminata came out, I went ahead and polished up my next Illuminata column and mailed it off to the editor. It was largely done already but needed a bit of a read through. I'm also struggling with the ending to a poem I've been working on for some time. Everything but the last stanza seems to be ready to go, but for some reason that final image won't come clearly to me. I want to send a few poems to the magazine Star*Line, which is the zine for the Science Fiction Poetry Association, but I've been holding off in hopes of including this last one among the group. I'm going to make a concerted effort to try and finish the poem today.

Friday, October 20, 2006

New Illuminata Up

The October issue of The Illuminata is out, with a piece in it by me called "An Error in Detail." The editor is also running a writing contest for those of you who might be interested. The information is on page 7 of the October issue.

In other news, I was thinking of a book called Jonny Algiers and the Wizard of Sid. What a great opening line it had: "Jonny Algiers flicked the safety off his transmogrifier and slapped his hydroxen-powered drop-ship into overdrive as he blasted spaceward in pursuit of the evil Dr. Michael August, otherwise known as the Wizard of Sid."

Algiers was the protopical space hero, of course. Steely jawed, square-eyed, and always ready with a quip or a fist. And the Wizard of Sid? What a blackhearted villain he was. Maybe I'll try to revive the series. I think I could do it justice.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Apollo 17

In my novel, Cold in the Light, there is a mystery about something that the Apollo 17 astronauts found on the moon. Yesterday I started reading Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas Preston and it has a mystery in it about something the Apollo 17 Astronauts found on the moon. Deja Vu all over again.

I'm quite sure that Preston never read Cold in the Light but I think it's interesting that we both chose the Apollo 17 mission, the last Apollo mission to the moon. I wonder what common thought patterns created that choice. Could it have been simply because it was the last? I guess I'll just call old Doug up and ask him.

Oh, wait, I don't know Douglas Preston. Sigh! I guess we'll never know.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Something About Ernest

In reading a biography of Joe Namath, I found a little tidbit about Ernest Hemingway. Apparently Hemingway was often on the lookout for sparring partners and, according to a fellow who was one such partner, the candidates were told not to throw any "rights" at Papa, and to also watch their testicles in a clinch because he often would hit below the belt then. I know Hemingway did a fair amount of boxing, but if this story is true then it doesn't show Papa in the best light.

Another tidbit that I discovered in the Namath book is that Namath was the star of a motorcycle movie back in the 70s called C. C. & Company. I actually remember this movie with some fondness but had completely forgotten that Namath was in it. Broadway Joe was also in a spaghetti western, which must have been pretty bad because I had never heard of it before.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


I think I've finally finished a long poem I've been working on forever. It's called "Silence Razored" and I had great hopes for it, as I do for all my stuff when I start it. It didn't come out quite as good as what I could see in my head, but I'm not unhappy with it. It's now in the process of "fermenting" if you will. I'm letting it sit for a few days without looking at it and then will give it a final edit before sending it off.

In other news, I'm going to have to take my computer to the repair shop and that's always scary. I've got to do a bunch of backups first. For some reason I still can't access internet on my computer and Lana says it's because it needs some kind of board inside. I guess we'll soon find out.

I missed my Writing group meeting last night. I hated to do so but I we were off work and by evening I just didn't have the energy to spend two hours on the road in order to get to and from the meeting. When I'm working I just stay in town an extra few hours and it works out nicely.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Home Sweet Home

Over the weekend the contractors came and now we have a cool tin-roofed deck behind the house and a nice landing and walkway in front. Yeah! I didn't get a lot of sleep with them in and out but it was worth it to sit outside on the deck last night having a beer while the rain pinged on the tin roof. I also noticed a new shadow in our backyard last night, from our porch light. I'm not sure what part of the deck it is reflected from but it looks a bit like a scarecrow with one arm longer than the other. I wonder if tomorrow night it'll look more like a scarecrow. Each night it'll become more distinct, perhaps, until one night I'll find the shadow gone from the yard...and standing right behind me.

In the meantime, our hydroseeded grass is coming up pretty good and looking all green and healthy. I'm wondering what has happened to the two little dogs who used to visit our yard, though. Haven't seen either of them in about a week. Maybe I won't walk on the grass today.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Readin', Writin' & Me, Part 5, Final

By the time I finished graduate school I had only submitted my two completed stories about four times and had no sales. But when I got to the Greater New Orleans area I continued to write stories while I settled in teaching at Xavier University of Louisiana. Then, in the fall of 1988, I decided to try seriously to write and publish. I even constructed a mission statement for myself in which I gave myself five years to get published and where I said that I’d work on something writing related every day.

I subscribed to Writer’s Digest, and I did indeed write almost every day, though often only for a half hour or so. I began submitting too, and started sending stuff to contests. In the spring of 1989 I got my first sale, for a horror story called “Still Life With Skulls,” to a magazine called Twisted. Within another week or two I had a second sale, a vampire story called “Messiah” to a magazine called Dead of Night. I was hooked then, and I date myself as a writer from that fall of 1988.

In the years since 1989, I’ve had a few successes and many disappointments. I once gave up writing for six months, but I couldn’t stay away from it and I guess I’ll never quit completely. I’m disappointed that I haven’t sold more things and haven’t had greater success, but I generally am proud of the work I’ve done. Most of my published stuff has been well received and I’ve seldom gotten any seriously negative criticism.

In the last three years I’ve been writing more and more nonfiction and less fiction, despite the fact that fiction is what I truly love. I think it’s for several reasons. One, nonfiction pays a lot better and I’ve been needing money. Second, I’ve also had a bunch of nonfiction projects fall into my lap. But despite that, I look forward to having more time in our new house to focus on fiction. I’m hoping that I won’t need money as badly with Lana working full-time, and that I can bring myself back around to writing the stuff I truly love. I want the feeling back that I had in those long ago days when I was scribbling wildly on Swords of Talera.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Readin', Writin' & Me, Part 4

After Francis Gwaltney died, I didn’t write another word of fiction until I was in graduate school at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. I often worked very late at night in grad school, and sometimes to relax after finishing some research I’d start typing up a fictional scene, usually something with fantasy or horror elements. A couple of my colleagues read some of the stuff I was doing and seemed to find it of interest. I think that began to turn my mind back toward the possibility of writing for publication.

I was still doing a lot of reading at that time, but mostly short stories because grad school didn’t leave much energy for novels. I’d also discovered horror fiction and it was pretty influential on what I was writing. I finally completed a couple of stories that I thought were better, or at least as good, as some of the stuff I was reading, and I bought a copy of Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market and started submitting.

The two decent stories I had were “Death Turned Away,” and “Haunting Place,” both of which eventually sold. At first I didn’t have any luck with them, though. A couple of places were closed to subs and didn’t even read mine. I got a couple of other rejections.

By then I was well into a novel, a fantasy entitled Swords of Talera, from a genre I typically call Sword & Planet. It was strongly influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars books, and by the Kregen books of Alan Burt Akers (aka Ken Bulmer) about Dray Prescot. I was so excited by this book that I wrote on it in all my spare time, and even wrote by hand when I was home for Thanksgiving. That was the absolutely most fun I ever had writing, and eventually that novel also sold, though I rewrote it several times first.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Readin', Writin' & Me, Part 3

Growing up as a reader, I never considered being a writer myself. It didn’t really occur to me that people like me wrote the books I was reading. I do remember writing a story or two as a Junior higher, but it was strictly for entertainment value, not because I thought I’d some day be a writer and sell it. In high school we had an English class where we got to write a couple of “fiction” items. I read both of my pieces and both were generally well received by my classmates. I do remember getting criticism from a classmate on one story that I wrote, about how it wasn’t very realistic, and that kind of upset me. His story was better received than mine and was highly praised by the teacher. It wasn’t until a year later that I discovered he’d plagiarized the story from an SF anthology. I found it out when he loaned me that book, apparently forgetting that he’d taken his story from it. I never confronted him about it.

I don’t remember exactly deciding to become a writer. I remember that when I started college at Arkansas Tech University I began thinking about it. In my sophomore year at college, while living with my brother and his wife, I wrote a western novel called “The Bear Paw Valley” on an electric typewriter my mom had bought me for school. It was essentially a Louis L’Amour pastiche. I was so unfamiliar with the writing process that I just started typing at the top of page 1 and typed straight through to the end without even putting in chapter breaks. What an idiot, I was. But I still like “some” scenes from that book and, in fact, years later I polished up one particular section and sold it as a short story called “Killing Trail.”

Another influence on my wish to write was an essay class I’d taken with a man named Francis Gwaltney, the only writer who’d ever come from my home town of Charleston, Arkansas. The class didn’t have anything to do with fiction but it did help me focus some energy and thought on writing. Eventually, I took my western novel to Gwaltney, who read it and told me that it was “unpublishable.” He was correct.

However, Gwaltney also told me that I had talent and that he’d like to see something else from me, something more contemporary, more about what I knew. He even told me he’d send the result to his agent. I immediately started a new novel, mostly autobiographical, but before I’d completed more than a couple of dozen pages Gwaltney choked on a chicken bone and died while celebrating the publication of his latest book. I took that as a sign that I was not meant to be a writer and gave it up.
(Only two more parts to go).

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Readin', Writin' & Me, Part 2

When I was in grade school, we didn’t have a lot to read around our house other than the Bible and farming magazines. I read those, though, and I remember when my sister and her husband got a set of Encyclopedias for their kids and I would go to their house and read them. I still recall one fantastic cover photograph of a brightly colored lizard against a red-sand background.

By junior high I was seriously addicted to reading. I was happy when it rained because then I couldn’t do much farm work and would stay in the house reading all day. I mostly devoured Science fiction, fantasy, sports, and dog stories in those days. Edgar Rice Burroughs was a favorite, but not his Tarzan books. I read his Martian series. I also loved the dog books by Jim Kjelgaard, especially one called Desert Dog, about a greyhound abandoned in the desert who has to learn to survive on his own. At this time, I was getting the majority of my books from the public library, where my sister, Dolores, worked. She knew what I liked and brought them home to me, or else my dad would let me go about once a week and I would check out all the books they’d let me have.

Dolores had also married a reader. Roger read mostly westerns, and through him I discovered Louis L’Amour. When I finished the books I’d gotten from the library I’d borrow Roger’s books. Eventually, I read just about everything L’Amour had written. I also got my sister in trouble around this time with my mom. I’d borrowed a book from her that had “sex” scenes in it, and my mom, upset by the cover, had read a little bit of it. I got a chewing out but I’m pretty sure Dolores suffered worse. She didn’t stop giving me books, though, so I bless her.

It was also around this time that I began to get in trouble for reading “too” much. I admit that I sometimes tried to avoid chores in order to read, and I frequently would go and hide in the barn away from everyone else so I could have free time to read. My mom was afraid I’d hurt my eyes, and I do wear glasses these days so maybe she was right. Other than that, though, reading has always been and remains a staple of my life. I can’t imagine what I’d have been like without it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Readin', Writin' & Me, Part 1

I hope everyone will forgive me but I thought I might post a few entries about how a country boy from deepest Arkansas grew up to be interested in writing. I like to hear these things about other writers, and I often wonder if there are similarities to extract from such tales.

I grew up on a small family farm in the Arkansas River Valley, near the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. My father was a farmer; my mother got up each morning around 5:00 to go work at a chicken processing plant. We raised cattle for sale, and always put in one cash crop, such as wheat, oats, maize, turnips, or black-eyed peas. We sold hay when we had extra. We also raised chickens and pigs for ourselves, and always planted at least two vegetable gardens. I've always felt that I worked pretty hard as a kid, although my brothers and some of my sisters-in-law would not agree. I remember one of my sister-in-laws actually laughing out loud once when I spoke of working hard. It hurt my feelings badly at the time and I suspect that’s one reason why I really hate to be called lazy even today.

There was no kindergarten in Arkansas in those days and I don’t know when I learned to read. I know I took to it like a bat takes to bugs. I remember having a few “Little Golden Books” before first grade, although I don’t recall whether my parents read much to me. My father finished high school but I believe my mom stopped attending after 8th grade. Both could read, certainly, but they both also worked extremely hard at providing food and a home for their five kids. They didn't have a lot of play time.

Both my parents were also staunch Catholics, and this in a community made up mostly of Protestants. There was prejudice there, although in my experience it was never violent. Starting at age six, I went to a Catholic grade school for six years. We had a tiny library that must have contained no more than 300 books. Most were stories about Catholic saints. I believe I read most of them, but I only specifically recall two books. One was entitled A Man on Fire, about the life of Saint Paul. The other was about “The Littlest Guardian Angel,” who had to fight a group of devils on his first assignment. I wish I knew the actual title of it. I’d love to have that book. It would be interesting to read it again and see how it holds up. In my memory, it’s a wonderful adventure story.

At some point, we were allowed to join a book club through our school, and we got paperbacks for 25 cents. I loved this and I still have some of those books, including Strange, Sudden and Unexpected, Is Something Up There, Dinosaurs, and various books on football. I wanted to be a pro football player in those days. (To Be Continued)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Turning Down Work

I got asked to do an essay on Thomas Harris for a book coming out on his work and ended up saying no. There was a time not so long ago when I would have said yes. But I've been doing so much non-fiction lately, and have been really aching to get back to fiction. If I keep agreeing to do articles, even though the pay is pretty decent, I'll write my life away without getting to some of the stories I really want to tell. To do justice to the Harris article would take a lot more than the writing time, too, of course. I've read all of Harris's books but have made no systematic study of them. Research time is more than half the battle for such a piece.

After turning down the essay opportunity, the editor asked if I'd be willing to do an "afterword" instead and I'm considering it. That would take much less time and research and might be kind of fun. I'm thinking it would be more opinion and verbal fireworks than it would facts, and I've got plenty of opinion. I guess we'll see.

Monday, October 09, 2006

One for "The Road"

I just finished reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy and I highly recommend it. The basic idea is an old chestnut indeed. A man wanders through post-apocalyptic America. But the man has his young son with him, and it is his ferocious love for the boy that raises this tale above the level of cliche. In addition, you have McCarthy's wonderful prose, stripped down a bit here in service to the story but still beautifully wrought.

There are experimental elements in the book as well, which I suppose is why "critics" can treat this as a literary novel instead of the genre novel it clearly is. There are no chapters, just illustrative scenes, and, for reasons unknown, McCarthy doesn't use quotation marks to indicate dialogue and doesn't put apostraphes in his contractions. The contraction thing bothered me a bit at first, but I got used to it. The lack of "chapters" worked perfectly and I never had any trouble telling where the dialogue was coming from. Of course, the vast majority of the book never shows more than two people interacting.

The book is also short and a quick read. I finished it in one day. But its effects have lingered.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


If any of you are chess players in need of a game fix, you might want to check out Gameknot. This is an online sight with free registration where you can play multiple online games and work your way up, or down as the case may be, through the ranks. I like chess a lot myself, but southern Louisiana isn't a hotbed of wild chess action. Gameknot lets me play as many or as few games as I want, and lets me set the pace. I always have at least one game going. If you should happen to join Gameknot and want a game. My handle there is Raath.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Moon's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades

Lana and I went for a walk along our gravel road through the woods last night, and the moon was just about full. Lana was wearing a tie-died dress and the light was bright enough so that I could even see the colors. I had forgotten in the last 20 years how nice it is to live in the country. Even though I'm not particularly enjoying my two hour and change commute every day, I think I'm still more relaxed at the end of the day when I get home than I ever was living in Metairie. Just seeing the trees around helps.

In other news, we've got green fuzz in our yard. The hydroseeding is starting to take hold, and so far nary a strange scream in the night. But then, I haven't had to cut the grass yet. Perhaps then I'll see it's true nature.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

How I Spent my Evening

I worked last night and part of today on reformatting my Taleran books from Times New Roman 14 to TNR 12, which is the font that my prospective publisher wants to see the books in. The good news you can take from that is that he wants to look at all three.

I usually write in TNR 14 because it's easier for me to read on the screen. Of course, it fills up more pages, which would be of concern to any publisher. Changing the font should have been as easy as hitting select and apply, but on my computer (an possibly on everyone's) changing from 14 to 12 point occasionally breaks a paragraph in mid line. It doesn't happen very often but just enough so that I have to scan the whole manuscript fairly carefully to catch it. That takes a while when you're working with manuscripts of 68, 71, and 72 thousand words respectively.

And, of course, since I am pathologically incapable of leaving anything that I've ever written alone, I made a few minor changes here and there. Plus, I also caught a few errors, like failing to capitalize "Luna" and somehow inserting an extraneous word in one sentence. Those are just ones I caught on a quick scan, so I'm sure there are other errors as well. I thought about giving the whole trilogy a reread but I'm afraid I'd introduce as many new errors as I would catch and correct old ones.

No manuscript is ever perfect, I keep telling myself. Let it go. Release. Release.

Well, maybe just one more time through.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Out of the Fog

I've awakened each of the last three mornings to find eerie wisps of white curling through the trees around our house. And droplets of mist cooled the glass of our windows. It brought a delighted shiver.

I've always loved fog. For whatever reason, it fires my imagination and simply makes me feel...good. But I didn't see much fog while living in the city. Now that I'm out in the country I'm getting a daily dose and I'm enjoying it immensely.

Of course, one wonders what else the fog might bring besides its cool touch and mists. One wonders. And that's half the fun.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Instant Email Gratification

I've already heard back from the publisher who I sent the query to about the Taleran books. He wants to see the first in the series, so I'll send that off to him today. It's like putting one's child up for a beauty contest, I guess. I'm a little nervous. I wish he'd asked to see all three, although I didn't really expect him to. The problem is that the first Taleran book was written in the early 1980s and was the second novel I wrote. The other two were written in the late 90s and early 2000s and benefited from my increased experience. Certainly, Swords of Talera has been rewritten several times, and I'm proud of it, but it really is not quite as good a book as the second and third ones in the series. I think I'll just tell him that in the cover letter and let the chips fall where they may. Because it's a series, the first one needs to be published. And I personally think "Swords" stands up pretty well against the first books in other Sword & Planet series. Of course, it doesn't really matter what I think.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Sword and Planet

I have a Sword & Planet fantasy trilogy that I'd like to see in print. Sword & Planet is one name for a genre that pretty much began with Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars series. The basic premise is of an earthman transported to an alien planet where he must use his strength, wits, and a sword to survive against alien warriors and amid exotic alien women who seem better able to appreciate him than did the women of Earth. To me, it's just the most fun genre to read and write in, and I wish more of these types of books were being published.

My planet is called "Talera," and the trilogy consists of Swords of Talera, Wings Over Talera, and Witch of Talera. The first two were published as magazine serials, and the last was written for the same magazine, which unfortunately folded before it could see print. It would be nice to see the three of them in paperback.

Last night I started working on a query letter for the trilogy to a small publisher. I should get that finished today and email it off. Wish me luck.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Fiends By Torchlight

I've mentioned Wayne Allen Sallee here before. Well, Wayne's new book, a collection of his short stories, is now out. It's called Fiends By Torchlight, and I had the lucky opportunity to "preread" a few of the stories. There's some great stuff here. I highly recommend it. If you're interested, check it out at Annihiliation Press.