Sunday, December 31, 2006

Favorite Fictional Characters (Animals)

One thing I loved to read when I was a kid was Animal Stories. Jim Kjelgaard and Walter Farley were two of my favorite writers at that time. I still have fond memories of many of their tales. In fact, I still own many of their books. In keeping with that, and with my yesterday's post, I thought it only fair to put up my Top Ten Favorite list of fictional animal characters. Here they are:

1. Pagoo, a hermit crab from the story of the same name. A children’s book by Holling C. Holling. One of my favorite books of all time.

2. Desert Dog, a greyhound abandoned in the desert who must learn to survive, from Jim Kjelgaard’s book.

3. Flame, also known as “The Island Stallion,” from the Walter Farley books.

4. The Black Stallion, also from Walter Farley.

5. Mike. Steve Costigan’s white bulldog, from the Robert E. Howard stories.

6. White Fang, from the Jack London book.

7. Buck, from Call of the Wild by Jack London.

8. Charlotte, from Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White.

9. Black Gold, the horse in the book of the same name, by Marguerite Henry.

10. The unnamed polar bear from the book The Strange Intruder by Arthur Catherall.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Favorite Fictional Characters

Over on his site, Christopher Mills has a list of his top ten fictional characters. It seemed like a blogworthy sort of thing to do, so I thought I’d join in. First up below are my top ten, from written fiction only. Below that are ten from TV/Movies. These are as of right now, of course, and subject to change.

From Prose:
1. Karl Edward Wagner’s “Kane”
2. Robert E. Howard’s “Bran Mak Morn”
3. ERB’s “John Carter”
4. Ken Bulmer’s “Dray Prescot”
5. John D. MacDonald’s “Travis McGee”
6. Louis L’Amour’s “Rye Tyler” (From To Tame a Land)
7. Howard’s “Conan”
8. David Gemmell’s “Druss”
9. Poul Anderson’s “Flandry of Terra.”
10. Jim Kjelgaard’s “Desert Dog.” (Gotta get one animal in there.)

From TV/Movies
1. James T. Kirk
2. Spock
3. Kolchack (From the original series)
4. Kelly (From Charlie’s Angels)
5. Sean and Christopher (from Nip/Tuck)
6. Little Joe (From Bonanza)
7. Matt Dillon
8. Ripley
9. Pinhead
10. Cartman

Friday, December 29, 2006

Catching Up

Last night I took a little time to go through my files, to see what stories and poetry I have out and what needs to be resubmitted. I used to do this at least once a month, but it seems today that when I sit down to write I usually have deadlines looming and need to get right into new stuff. I found a bunch of items lying around in my files that needed to go out, so I submitted four stories, got six poems ready to go in January when the Science Fiction Poetry Association begins its reading period, and identified a couple of snail mail magazines I want to send pieces to today. After that I’ve got to get back onto two non-fiction pieces that are due just after the start of the new year.

As an aside, I wrote this entry on my laptop this morning as I sat out on my back deck and watched the robins splattering around in the puddles in the yard. Amazing how nice and warm it is here for December 29. There was enough wind to stir the trees and ring the wooden wind chimes, but it had no chill edge and I worked in sweat pants and a t-shirt. For those of you in the cold climates reading this, I’m sorry. Uhm, well, almost.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Elementary, My Dear Stewart

In one of his comments on this blog, Stewart mentioned “grammar” as a possible element. My first though was “yes,” but then I began to think more about it. If we add grammar we’d need to add vocabulary too, it seems. And what about punctuation? But grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation almost seem more like “tools” that we use to manipulate our elements, like the particle accelerator used by the physicists. This is probably needlessly complicated. Maybe I’m at risk of disappearing right up my own particle accelerator and ending up more quarked than I already am. Anybody have any thoughts? Grammar, vocab and punctuation? Are they elements or tools? Is it even useful to separate elements and tools?

I was also thinking of something else. Most storytelling is linear with the occasional flashback, but some writers, such as Jim Sallis, often make non-linearity a major part of their work. Is linear versus non-linear a part of “pacing?” Or is there a better name for such an issue?

By the way, the Sphinxy One has a nice post on blogging over on her site that suggests a relationship to “The Great Conversation.” Could be. Could be.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Periodic Writing Table, addendum

Candice pointed out that we could add "Pa" for "Pacing" to our table of elements. And since Stewart has brought up "concept" a couple of times as a separate element from plot, then maybe we need to add that. This would give us:

Character - Ch
Plot - Pl
Style -St
Setting -Se
Mood - M
Voice - V
Point-of-View - PV
Pacing - Pa
Concept - Co

I'm leaning toward Style being the "expression" of voice. Voice is within you as a writer, while style is the expression of that voice on the page. Could be then that these aren't separate elements, but merely altered versions of the same basic element, like Ozone is a special case of oxygen.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Periodic Writing Table

Our discussion of Plotting recently has gotten me thinking. Is there one element of writing that is more important than any other? Koontz talked about "character" for instance, and I've heard many other writers say they start with character. But some writers say they have trouble reading "un-plotted" works, and so they never get to character. For me, good prose style is also important in my reading, but sometimes I can get past that if I find a great plot or an interesting character. Finally, I decided I better lay out what exactly the elements of writing are before I start trying to analyze them. That said, here is my Periodic Table of Writing. What have I missed? And just what the Hell is “voice” anyway?

Character - Ch
Plot - Pl
Style -St
Setting -Se
Mood - M
Voice - V
Point-of-View - PV

Monday, December 25, 2006

Joshua's First Christmas

What follows is a Christmas poem I wrote for my 19 year old's first Christmas. How did the time get away? Merry Christmas to all.


It was late Christmas Eve in December so fair
With not one flake of snow swirling in the air
The tree was all dressed, the lights blinking awake
The turkey and stuffing and the hams were all baked
Mary was up the stairs, making all the beds
Joshua with me, banging rattles on his head

I was reading a book when I heard such a sound
That I raced to the window and glanced all around
In the sky came a jingle, as if of sleigh bells
And a voice calling down "Merry Christmas" as well
There landed a bright sleigh and Santa stepped out
And the elves that were with him raised up a shout

Old Santa's broad face was cherry red from the wind
And his whiskers were frozen all white to his chin
Rudolph's nose was glowing and so was St. Nick's
Both of them were blinking. Now that's quite a trick
Since we hadn't a chimney Santa came in the back door
He said not a word but spread his bag on the floor

He took out the presents, wrapped in red and green
And he laughed all the while, or so it seemed
He lay them under the tree, spread out with such care
And Joshua sat still with wide eyes and stared
I went to the refrigerator to fetch Santa a bite
And when I came back I saw such a sight

A fairy wind had blown up and thrown back the door
And in had come elves to dance on my floor
They had turned on the stereo and had it real loud
And smoke from their pipes rose up in a cloud
One had gotten into my brandy, another my beer
And Joshua was riding on one of the reindeer

Santa was on the table, cutting a jig
I couldn't get around him, his belly was so big
Everywhere you looked there were elves, elves, elves
Falling around and making fools of themselves
They were screaming and yelling like I'd never seen
And I can tell you this. I've had some strange dreams

Elves standing on their heads, elves on the ceiling
Elves on the shoulders of reindeer that were kneeling
Two of them were swinging around on the chandelier
And another was watering the tree with his beer
I knew I had trouble when I heard glass shatter
And Mary called down "Now what's the matter?"

I yelled at the elves and chased them to their sleigh
Santa called to his team, up they went and away
I caught up Joshua before they went into the sky
He was having a ball and trying to fly
Santa yelled back before going out of sight
"Thanks for the brandy and have a good night."

About that time Mary came down and says
"How in the world did you two make this mess?"
I told her the story. She thought I was lying
And Joshua ain't talking, though he's sure trying

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Dean Koontz on Plotting

I picked this up off an Amazon plog. It's Dean Koontz's response to a question about plotting:

Q: Which do you think of first: character or plot? --John, Columbus

I do not plot. Not consciously. Characters drive the events of the story and take me places I never would have anticipated. This does not mean that every book starts with a character. Some do--like ODD THOMAS, in which I knew the character in detail long before I knew what his story was going to be. In books like THE HUSBAND, the hook--some would call it the concept--comes first, but the concept is not a plot. It is more a situation, a premise. With that, I have to know who the lead characters are, have to understand them, and in the understanding of them, I find the plot chapter by chapter. This feels organic to me, and character-driven stories feel more real, even when they are stories of the fantastic, than do plot-driven books.

In personal news, I finished my article on Jim Sallis so I'm taking the day off. Unfortunately, I had a bit too much drink last night and am not feeling very good at the moment on my day off.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Short Story, RIP

Stewart Sternberg is talking about what is happening to the short story over on his blog and that inspired a few thoughts. He believes the short story as a form is dying, and I tend to agree with him. But I will mourn that death until my own last breath.

I like short stories. I like to read them and I like to write them. Along with poetry, I consider them a different kind of art form from novels, and sometimes they are the "perfect" art form. No novel could express so perfectly the ideas behind Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations,” or Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God.” No novel could equal the absolute horror of “Hangover” by John D. Macdonald. There are reasons why “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes and “Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov were better as short stories than when they were expanded to novels.

We humans live our lives as moments. Just as novels are made up of scenes, so too are our lives. Even if our lives are epic, we don’t experience them that way, we don’t know they were epic until--usually after we are dead--someone writes about us. And none of us are ever going to be trilogies. The short story is really more like the way we actually exist. We lose it at the risk of losing ourselves.

And at the risk of sounding a little harsh, those of you who never read poetry or short stories should remember a little quote, which I’ll paraphrase here:

First they came for the poets, but I wasn’t a poet so I did nothing. Then they came for writers of short stories, but I never read or wrote stories and so I did nothing. Then they came for the novelists and the readers of novels, and I was one of those. But by that time there wasn’t anyone else left to help us.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Plotters versus Pantsers

Since some discussion of plotting is going around I thought I'd throw in my 1.5 cents on the Plotters versus Seat-of-the-Pants writers. I started out writing short stories, often no more than a couple or three thousand words, and often I wrote them in a white heat. In addition, most of these were horror stories, where mood and atmosphere is often as important as the "events" that take place. For such pieces I really didn't need to do much plotting, so seat-of-the-pants it was.

When I wrote my first novel, well, my first decent novel, which was Swords of Talera, I used the same strategy that I'd learned in short stories. I didn't plot it out, just let it unfold. It was fun, perhaps the most fun I've ever had writing. But I can look back now and see that there are some weaknesses to that book that I don't believe are there in the two sequels. The latter two books were plotted, albeit not to the point where I developed a detailed outline. Instead, I knew where I wanted to begin, where I wanted to end, and at least several major points I wanted to hit along the way. I think the books are better for it.

For Cold in the Light, I initially just started writing, without thought of what might lie ahead. But after I got a couple of chapters in I realized I had a long piece coming and I stopped, spent some time plotting out the story chapter by chapter, and then rewrote the first couple of chapters to set up the rest. However, I still didn't know the end of that book until I finally got there. But at least with the steps planned out the ending became inevitable.

For short stories, I like the freedom of not plotting, of just spinning out the words to see where they go. This results in plenty of false starts, but those starts are usually no more than a page or so. I don't think I'll write another novel without a much more detailed plot, however, which is why I'm reading along carefully with C.S. Harris as she talks of plotting over on her blog.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Writing Life

I turned in my grades Sunday and Monday began my vacation. I did a bit of writing that day but mostly had to Christmas shop, run errands, and handle various life details that had piled up during final exam week. Yesterday was the first day of my writing holiday, not a holiday from writing, but a holiday in which to write. Man it was nice. I slept in until nearly 10:00, then checked email and did some blogging things, then went to the UPS store in Covington to mail my mom's Christmas present. I had lunch there, then came home and had a quick nap. After that, I started work on the Jim Sallis article, and with the combination of being rested and having uninterrupted time, I knocked out about a third of it, which included substantial fact checking. I fixed a supper of pork chops and corn for Lana and me and then hit the article again. I finished about half of it by late evening and rough drafted some more, and that was despite taking several fifteen to twenty minute breaks here and there to talk with Lana or watch a bit of TV.

Days like this make me wish I wrote full time. It's so nice to be able to write and still get some rest and get other things done, like eat a leisurely meal. Too often during the school year, writing means giving up an hour or two of sleep or grabbing a quick tuna sandwich and back to the computer. It almost always means that I miss whatever I might find interesting on TV. (I guess I'm fortunate there's not that much interesting on the tube.)

But, of course, when I look at what they will pay me for the article I realize that even if I finish it in two days it wouldn't match my salary, and considering the amount of reading I've already done for this piece it doesn't come close to what I typically make at my job in an hour. Considering bills and a 19 year old son, I'm not going to be giving up the day job anytime soon. But at least I have now; I have Christmas break. Let the writing holiday continue.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hannibal Rising

I just finished reading Hannibal Rising, primarily because I have an article due pretty soon on Thomas Harris. Despite reading it for work, however, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It was an easy read, and didn't have, to me, the kinds of plot twists and turns that marked Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, but it did tell an interesting story and brought out a lot of stuff from Hannibal Lecter's childhood that show how he got to be who he is. I'm sort of torn about that, and as I work on the article I may post a few more thoughts on this subject.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Return to your Regularly Scheduled Blog

I'm going to put RZ E NEWS on the shelf for a bit and return to more serious commentary. It's pretty hard for me to maintain the illusion of comedy anyway, seeing as how I was born without a sense of humor.

Sidney Williams, Stewart Sternberg, and Wayne Allen Sallee have all posted on the issue of "Why We Blog" lately, and you can find commentary on those posts at their website. Stewart has pointed out that the key to increasing your blog traffic is to "have something interesting to say." One point about that, though, is that "interesting" exists more in the reader than in the blogger. Obviously, to many people, Paris Hilton is an absolutley fascinating person. I don't feel the same way, and I'm not going to have much or anything to say about such celebrities. I remind myself, however, that I'm not likely to sell my writing to "most" of the people who find Paris fascinating. My potential audience is different and I have to find and post here that which interests "them."

In related news, C. S. Harris is posting over on her site a series about how she plots, especially related to her current historical mystery series. I found the first entry quite informative so you folks interested in plotting might check it out.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Denial of Truth; A Cure for Everything

Williams Denies Charges. According to this interpretive reporter, Sidney Williams, revealed the other day on this very blog to be Satan’s actual love child, has called the accusation, “rash” and “premature.” He claims that Azarius is only a novel and not the blueprint for damnation that, in fact, it is. Let me ask you, Mr. Williams. If the charges are false, then why are you never seen in public without your pants? Is it not that you are afraid to reveal the Satanic tail that is the genetic legacy from your father?

Save your Life

Save your life and buy Cold in the Light by Charles Gramlich. A local scientist, whose name is being withheld at his request but who has a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology, has revealed that the mere purchase of the book Cold in the Light by esteemed author Charles Gramlich can add years to your life and protect you from all sorts of diseases, including cancer of the big toe and hair follicles. In one particular experiment, mice who were exposed to repeated visual flashes of the phrase "Cold in the Light" were found to lose weight and be 72 percent more attractive to mice of the opposite sex. This news is likely to spark a rush on Amazon and other fine establishments where Cold in the Light is sold. So, get your copy today and start feeling better immediately!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Today's Top Story

Your syncopated correspondent has discovered that Sphinx Ink is actually a….pseudonym. Believe it or not, Sphinx Ink is not her real name. Although several eye witnesses to Sphinx’s actual identity have disappeared under mysterious circumstances, this reporter will continue to dig for information. Already we know there are lawyers involved, but as I've said before, somewhere, "I'll take a bullet for the truth. As long as it's a small bullet in some non-vital place." Stay glued to this blog and any day now I’ll reveal the secret. Yeah, any day now.

This Just In

Stewart Sternberg Caught in Flagrante Delicto with a Squid! Some witnesses say the squid was female. Others claim that it was, in fact, Cthulhu. Basil Ratbane, who took the photographs of the incident, is holding out for more money so at the present time you'll just have to take the word of your astounded correspondent as to the truth of this case. However, check out this picture of Stewart, to the right of the page, and decide for yourself whether he seems the type to sleep with a squid.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Torn from Today's Birdcage Liners

Turmoil in New Orleans.

This ineffectual correspondent has discovered that C.S. Harris and Candice Proctor are conjoined twins who were never separated at birth. Furthermore, the two are married to the same man, a former KGB assassin and tormented chef. Sources close to the…uhm…triple, suggest that the former assassin prefers one of the twins over the other and that this is causing serious domestic strife in the household. A picture of the twins is to the right side of the screen here. Notice how cleverly the twins are turned to the side so that only one is visible. A back pack hides the protruding portions of the second twin.

Feel Good Story Goes Bad

My revelation of the secret marriage of Clifford and Cougar has already generated controversy. I have been contacted by PETA, which has asked me to cease and desist publicizing this marriage. Apparently, Cougar wore only a bit of jewelry and a full-length fur coat for the ceremony, which can be seen in the accompanying photograph. Although I am resistant to pressures to back away from the truths I report here, I have been personally attacked by noted PETA member Pamela Anderson Lee-Rock. I plan to have dinner with the former Baywatch model later this week at my place to discuss our...options. Trust me, your cromulent correspondent will reveal all to you, my faithful readers.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


An examination of an ancient manuscript dating all the way back to 1989 has revealed that Sidney Williams, mildly mannered writer by day, is, in fact, the illegitmate son of Satan, conceived during a single night of passion with Yeoman Rand. (Those of you who do not recognize the name of Yeoman Rand are probably either too young for this blog, or insufficiently nerdy). The manuscipt in question is a tome simply called Azarius, which is clearly the name of some sort of demon, and is believed, by this insipid correspondent, to be Williams' name in Hell. A perusal of this "book of evil" easily reveals Williams' parentage. The numbers on the back of the book show three and only three "fives," one less at all points than the 666 of the devil. Furthermore, the book begins with the single line "I'm going to kill a priest," warning enough perhaps of the evil within. And finally, I was rather easily able to find words, rearrange words, or alter words in the actual text to produce such phrases as "father lies," "Satan dad," "mother Rand," and "evil sex."

This is a public service announcement.

This just in: It’s official. Noted Tablet Writer, Clifford, has married his cat. Clifford says that “Cougar…” “is a new breed of cat.” Heh heh heh, if you know what I mean. Pictures of the secret ceremony were taken by Basil Ratbane, who despite his apparent antipathy to this blog, viz a viz his posts, is--in fact--one of my field paparazzi. One of Ratbane's pictures of the Clifford marriage can be found here. This blog will soon carry exclusive photos of the Siberian Honeymoon.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Writing Group Blogs

My writing group talked mostly about blogs last night. Three of six members have them, one more will be joining shortly, and a fifth member is considering it but is holding off for now. Mostly we talked about whether blogs are at all helpful in introducing our work to new readers and, perhaps, in helping sell our writing. So far, those of us who have books out have not noticed any avalanche of sales that could be related to our blogs. However, I have had a couple people tell me here that they would buy my novel, Cold in the Light, which probably doubled my sales for the month.

We also talked about ways to increase our blog traffic and wondered why some blogs attract a lot of attention while others garner mostly silence. I think most of us realize that posting on other folk's blogs helps attract readers to our own blogs, but you're not going to be able to post on enough blogs every day to make a living out of it. We also decided that "controversy" and "personalities" attract a lot of readers to blogs. Both of those might be a bit of a problem for me.

For example, I don't know anyone tremendously famous. Except for Stewart Sternberg, of course. That means I don't have much ready gossip to draw in the readers. And I'm not a terribly controversial guy. However, working with what I have, I introduce my new blog style below:

Razored Zen E. News:

1. A photo was taken of Stewart Sternberg without his underwear on while he was getting out of a car with Paris Hilton. Apparently, something horrible happened to the photographer immediately afterward, however, and the photos have yet to appear. Your intrepid correspondent for RZ E NEWS will remain on this story and will attempt to up before the world as we know it ceases to exist.

2. Wayne Allen Sallee, noted horrorist, appeared recently with Supermodel Tyra Banks and some bimbo in a black dress. Wayne was clearly bloody about the face and your intrepid correspondent believes that he was badly beaten when a "multi-way" with the two models, William Shatner, and a bunch of kinky tribbles went wrong. If you doubt this story, check out the photograph.

3. Tune in tomorrow when I blow the lid off Sidney Williams' double life.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Eye of Cyclops

I'm reading a book about mutation and at one point the author suggests that early myths of the Cyclops came from folks finding the skulls of elephants and mistaking the opening where the trunk was for a single eye socket. I could certainly see this is a possibility, and I wonder how much of our mythology may have been influenced by such experiences. I've often thought that stories of Dragons and Rocs were probably based on the discovery of dinosaur fossils. I also read recently that the Greeks sometimes found fossils of various types and mistook them for the bodies of gods, which they then rearranged to look more human and reburied.

Humans are imaginative and are natural storytellers. They make up shit all the time. Those of us who are writers should take heart from that fact. What we can do will always be in demand, even if not in the exact form we are used to now. And, thinking about such things, and deliberately trying to incorporate such images in our writing, may be able to help us connect with our readers. I think this may be especially true in fantastic fiction, but any writing could benefit from a dose of mythology.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


My friend Sphinx Ink has posted over on her blog about the case in which Janet Dailey admitted plagiarizing Nora Roberts in at least two of her novels, Notorious and Aspen Gold. What was most disturbing to me, I think, is that some readers seem to be critizing Nora Roberts for "making a big deal" out of it. Janet Dailey stole from Nora Roberts. This isn't a victimless crime. And it wasn't that she borrowed a "phrase" here and there. Whole passages were taken. In reading about the issue, it actually seems to me that Roberts has showed remarkable restraint.

As a teacher, I can tell you that plagiarism is a serious problem, and it is damaging to both the plagiarist and the plagiarized. It needs to be dealt with firmly, although too often it is not. I don't mean to say that Janet Dailey should be ostracized from the writing community. But 1) she should not earn money from plagiarized work, 2) any future work she does should be carefully inspected and rejected if evidence of plagiarism is found, and 3) Janet Dailey should apologize to both Nora Roberts and to her readers. (I believe she has done the last.)

I do want to note, however, that plagiarism is a serious claim and the mere fact that someone is "charged" with plagiarism does not mean that the charge should be accepted as true without further investigation. This happens to famous, money-making authors all the time by folks who want to make some cash or earn a little infamy.

Also, of course, plagiarism needs to be defined carefully when any charge is made. The plagiarism of general ideas is very difficult to determine. Charging Dan Brown with stealing the idea that Jesus had descendents is ridiculous. I've heard that story bandied about in many quarters, long before The Da Vinci Code or Holy Blood, Holy Grail. If one sentence or one phrase is borrowed then making the charge of plagiarism also seems ridiculous, or at least petty. Even if the so called plagiarist did borrow that sentence, it seems most likely that it was accidental rather than a pattern. But when phrase after phrase is borrowed, when whole paragraphs are lifted, that is not an accident and should be pointed out and criticized by everyone who finds it.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Working on Fiction

I've actually worked a lot on fiction the last two nights. I'm reading the final book I need to read for the article on Jim Sallis, so when I take a break from that I'm working on a story called "Farhaven." This is actually a story I started many, many years ago but never finished. It's a children's story, and instead of working on some piece that I feel I should work on, I'm working on this one just because I want to. I guess we'll see if that strategy pays off.

Friday, December 08, 2006


I was thinking about my writing last night and I believe I've figured out one reason why my fiction product may have dropped this past year. I've forgotten that I'm not a professional fiction writer. What I mean by that is, I don't have to sell my work in order to pay my bills, and yet I'm not taking advantage of the freedom that this fact offers me. I've started a couple of stories recently for anthologies that I know pay pretty decently, but I've been unable to muster up any true passion for the work. I think it's because I'm writing them for the money and exposure rather than from any internal drive to produce. Let me add: It's not that the work I've done on those stories is bad, only that I'm having a hard time driving myself to the computer to work on them. I can't wait to get to the computer when I'm really in love with an idea or a story.

The same considerations don't occur to me when I'm working on non-fiction. I am a professional when it comes to non-fiction. At least, a pretty good chunk of my income depends on my ability to produce articles in my field and related fields. I have them to do and I simply do them. But maybe when it comes to fiction I should let myself just write what I'm enthusiastic about rather than worrying about where to sell it or how much I'll earn.

On the other hand, maybe I need to just stop whining and write already.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"Mad House"

I just finished a longish short story by Richard Matheson that was very good. It's called "Mad House," and involves an English teacher whose goal has long been to write but who never seems to get around to it. Yet, it's never his fault, you see. He has papers to grade, or his wife is holding him back, or reading poor student work has tainted him, or....well, you get the picture. As we find out in the story, of course, he has ample time to write if only he would sit down and do it. But he makes excuses, and his anger and frustration at himself makes him lash out at everyone and everything around him. I have to admit to a little chill here and there throughout the story as I heard the narrator's words coming out of my mouth. I'm certainly not as bad as the story's narrator, but I've made plenty of excuses for my own lack of productivity. It's a good piece of writing that holds a mirror up to our own faces.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Library Thing

My friend Sidney Williams turned me on to the Library Thing, which is sort of an online place to share with other readers about the books that you own and read. I joined up and have added some of my own books. Sid talks more about it on his blog, or you can check the site out itself and it will give you an explanation. Seems like a way for authors and readers to make contact with each other. I also found it fun, although I can see how one might spend a fair amount of time on such a site. It was interesting to see who there had some of the same books I have.

books, reading

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mystery Probe

My writing group met last night. I mentioned that I was reading one of James Sallis's mysteries and that it seemed to me that the mystery genre allowed one a lot of leeway in process and subject matter. One of our female members, who is writing a mystery series now, and who has written romance novels before, said that she actually found mystery to be "more" confining in structure than romance. I believe she was talking about the need for a mystery to be more tightly plotted than a romance. That made sense to me, but then I realized that I'm attracted to "mysteries" in which the puzzle is secondary to an exploration of character and theme. In these kinds of mysteries, like the ones Jim Sallis writes, the plot is not tightly woven and there are a lot of sidetracks to follow. Although I've not read a lot of "mainstream" mysteries, I can imagine the rules for writing one would be more constraining than those for writing in many other genres. But mysteries also seem to allow for a lot of experimentation around the edges of the genre. I wonder if the same thing is true for other genres?

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Importance of Place

The countryside shaped me. As a person and as a writer. But I don't think I realized how much until I moved back to the country after twenty years in suburbia. Cold in the Light was all about the woods, which is where I played throughout much of my childhood. And I've come to realize that most of my best writing has involved the woods in some way or another. I'm an alien in the city; I don't belong. In my more melodramatic moments, I might say that--for a while--I had a brief flirtation with civilization, but the newness has worn off and it's easy to see now the tarnish behind the glitter. Now I'm back where I belong, wrapped in an old world that is new all over. Maybe you can go home again.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Renaissance Festival

Lana and I went to the Louisiana Renaissance Festival yesterday. This happens every year near Hammond during November. It's great fun. There are a lot of booths that sell medieval type clothing, weapons, art. You can shoot arrows and throw axes, and there are a couple of rides for kids. They have a Queen, who always has a court, and often there are parades through the "town." There is a jousting site that is very cool, and also places where they demonstrate glass blowing and older crafts. This year they had tigers. I particularly like the bar where they have comics of various kinds. For a couple of years now we've gone to see Christoff the Insulter," who people pay to insult other people in the bar. He is very good, and very hilarious, although you do NOT want to take your kids, or any kids.

Lana and I had decided that instead of buying each other Christmas presents we would go in together to buy something for the house. We found two things at the festival that we bought. One is a metal sculpted fountain that is absolutely gorgeous, and the other is a sculpted dragon perched on a rock. The lady who did them threw in some metal dragonflies and butterflies, and we are very happy with our acquisitions.

If you get a chance to go to the festival I'd certainly recommend it. A lot of creative people there.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Return of Sword & Planet?

S. M. Stirling has a new book out that is causing some stir in the ranks of us Sword & Planet aficionados. It's called The Sky People, and you can read a sample here. In opening notes, Stirling gives thanks to Burroughs and Otis Adelbert Kline, who were the main early practicioners of this genre, and the prologue certainly has that retro feel. I would love for this genre to return, both because it's about my favorite type of reading, and because it might help develop a market for my own Talera novels. Anyway, I saw today that the book will be offered in my SF Book Club mailing so I may pick it up there. Or else I'll let Lana get me this for Christmas. It's definitely going on my reading pile.

Reading, Sword & Planet

Friday, December 01, 2006

I am Legend

Years ago I remember enjoying a movie called The Omega Man. It starred Charleton Heston as the last normal human trying to stay alive on a world where everyone else has turned into vampires as a result of biological warfare. The movie was based on a book by Richard Matheson called I Am Legend, and I finally got around to reading that book this week, a lapse on my part since it is considered a classic in the horror genre. I have to say that I was disappointed. I didn't think it was well written at all, and for the most part it is very static. We spend most of our time inside a boarded-up house, locked into the thoughts of the main character, Robert Neville. There are very few interactions with any other characters, including the vampires, until the very end. Matheson also glosses over some scenes that could have been quite dramatic, such as when the body of Neville's dead child is stolen by vampires, and when his wife comes back after he's buried her. These powerful scenes are told only in very quick flashbacks that are over almost before they begin. I was looking forward to reading this book but I think this is one of those rare cases, for me, of a movie being better than the book it was based on.