Sunday, December 30, 2007

News of the Day

Well I received a nice bit of recognition over on The Rising Blogger. My post "A Dream of Fire" was named "Post of the Day." That's pretty cool. Seems like a lot of folks liked that piece, and all I had to do to get it was have a sleep. I like working that way.

In other news of the day I have on hand four anthologies now with works from my fellow bloggers. The first one I got was Weirdly with Bernita Harris's wonderful story “Stonechild” in it. The other three are listed below. So far I’ve just read the stories of my blogleagues.

1. Black Sails: Tales of Pirate Fantasy, which contains a story by David Hardy called "Black Curse of the Noose." Dave is a fellow REHupan, and his blog is called "Fire and Sword" and is linked to this blog through my link to REHupa. Dave’s tale involves a curse, as you might guess from the title, and follows an old pirate who tells a tale of woe. All I can say is, be careful what you fear.

2. Werewolves: Dead Moon Rising, which contains a tale called “The Beast of Bava Pass” by Christopher Mills of Atomic Pulp fame. Christopher’s story is full of atmosphere and some neat twists. The action is deftly handled.

3. High Seas Cthulhu, which contains stories by several of our fellow blog travelers. Stewart Sternberg has a story here called “The Others.” There are many interesting elements in this story, which I don’t want to give away. I might describe it as Long Black Schooner meets Nightmare on Elm Street meets “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” I really found the main character here, one Avery Tressler, interesting and wouldn’t mind seeing more about him. This collection also contains “The Bedlamite” by Ferrel Moore. I love this title, and the tale lives up to it. A nice mixture of realism and fantasy in a Cthulhu Mythos world. There is also a tale by blogleague William Jones, who edited the book. The tale is “Depth of Darkness,” and involves an ancient stone dredged from the bottom of the sea. This piece is really nicely written with plenty of shivery elements.

High Seas Cthulhu actually contains stories by a bunch of other folks I know or know of. Lee Clark Zumpe, Darrell Schweitzer, Stephen Mark Rainey, C. J. Henderson all have stories here. The biggest name is Alan Dean foster. And in a twist of interesting fate, since I started reading this collection last night, Gerard Houarner has a story here called “The Stars, In Their Dreaming.” Why is this a twist of fate you ask? Because Gerard Houarner was the name signed to that rejection note I mentioned yesterday for the story “Love in the Time of Cybersex.” His story is quite good and reminded me a bit of “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.” Small world, ain’t it.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Flash Present Day

Yesterday I posted some rejections from my past. Today I have current news. Dreams and Nightmares accepted a poem from me called "Blue Soul." D and N is one of the premiere poetry magazines in the speculative poetry world and I've been hoping to sell them something. David C. Kopaska-Merkel is the editor there and I have great respect for his work.

On the other hand, I had a story rejected by Space and Time. It was a nice rejection, though. I quote: "Your piece came up through the editorial ranks and made the "final" grouping under consideration, but alas, we've decided to pass on it. Good luck with the story elsewhere, and keep writing!"

This was for a tale called "Love in the Time of Cybersex," which I originally wrote for an anthology at the request of the editor. It was accepted for that anthology, but they ended up unable to get funding for it and the story reverted back to me. I've tried it at most of the big SF markets now without luck so will have to send it to some smaller markets. I think the problem is that it has too much romance/sex in it for the primary SF audience. The anthology was going to be called "Erotic Women."

This is one of the things you can face in a writing career. You get an opportunity and write a piece to match that opportunity. But if that situation doesn't pan out the story has to either be reslanted or completely revised. In this case, the romantic elements are so much a part of the story that rewriting it just doesn't make sense so I'll keep sending it out until I find a market that wants it.

At least with fiction I will probably eventually sell the piece. I once spent an entire month writing four articles for a non-fiction book on Star Trek. The book never materialized and only one of the four pieces ever sold. The other three were so specific to that book that there was no other market for them, and they've all long since become outdated. So figure three weeks of writing time wasted.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Flashback Corner

I was converting some old REHupa (Robert E. Howard United Press Association) files into new Word and found some commentary that brought back memories from what is now a fairly long attempt at a writing career. Take the following little nuggets, for example. (Modern day comments are in parentheses.)

1. Good news on the writing front. I've sold an SF story called "Floater" to a mag called Radical Infinity. Sounds like an interesting magazine, though their contract was almost as long as my story.

(This magazine folded before publishing the story and although it was submitted several more times the tale has yet to see print. It was written in 1991.)

2. I just got one of the most insulting rejections of my life. This was from Jennifer M. Caudle at The PostModernist's Journal of Horror. I quote: "Mr. Gramlich, You're headed in the right direction. There is potential in your prose, but you should consider concentrating on refining both your basic writing skills and your storytelling skills. Good luck." OUCH! That hurt. And, what's worse, I thought the story was one of my better efforts. Just goes to show what I know.

(This story was "Splatter of Black," and I got this rejection in 1994. A few months later I sold the story to Dark Terrors, a hardback horror anthology that marked my most lucrative sale to that date. One editor's reject is another's buy.)

Maybe I'll post a few more such nuggets next time, just to show the ups and downs, and sometimes the just downright sideways weirdities, that happen in the writing biz.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Dream of Fire

Sometimes in my dreams I’m myself or some variant of myself. And whatever happens to that character is happening to me. Sometimes, though, I seem very much an observer watching a character who is not me. The latter is usually a warning, I think.

Last night I observed a battle. An army was on the march and a group of older and injured warriors were moving with and guarding the baggage train, where there were also many women and children. One of these warriors was near a giant, probably 6’ 5” or so, with iron gray hair braided in the Viking fashion. He limped slightly on his left leg and carried a strange axe that he worked to fix. He was definitely not me, but I could tell from his actions that he was angry about missing the main battle. Angry, and a bit depressed because he knew that his advancing age would soon keep him out of all battles.

His axe deserves mention. It was two axes fitted together, the haft of one inserted into the head of the other, but the two had come lose and were held together only by a thin silverish chain. He had gotten the second axe reinserted but was cursing it because it wouldn’t stay fitted. That was when the attack came.

A horde of enemy raiders, mounted on horseback, had found-—either through accident or design—-the pack train, and they descended in a cloud to the slaughter. The guards ran forward but were badly outnumbered and not in the best of shape because of age or injuries. The big warrior that I’ve mentioned cursed again as he realized his broken axe was going to be useless. He used one of the two chained axes to hack through the chain, then leaped forward to battle with the bigger of the axes locked tight in both hands.

The enemy came at him and he sheared through the first attackers, sundering armor and hacking through bodies in a berserk rage that carried him straight into the heart of the horde. The momentum of the enemy charge broke. Horses milled. Men lunged with lances and curved blades toward the big warrior as he lashed and beat around him wildly.

Some of the enemy began to back away, but one man rode forward and threw a container of liquid onto the warrior. In an instant the big axe man was on fire, was an inferno. I heard him roaring, but he charged the man who had set him aflame. The man’s horse reared back from the fire, throwing his rider, and the big gray warrior smashed that rider’s head open with his axe.

Wheeling about, the burning soldier leaped into the melee of his enemies. Horses screamed and reared. Warriors were thrown and trampled; others caught a bit of flame on their leathers and began to burn themselves. Within a moment the enemy attack had broken completely and the horde was retreating madly, leaving the burning man standing with legs braced upon the field.

The other warriors who had been guarding the baggage train rushed forward. Someone was screaming to “put him out, put him out.” The burning man fell to his knees. And in that very instant the flames snuffed themselves, as if their fuel had been exhausted. I could see the old warrior plainly then. He was horribly burned, with nothing but tufts of his gray hair left. But his left eye was open and it was a perfect blue within whorls of charred flesh.

Somebody rushed forward with a blanket but there was no need. The man fell face forward but with his head turned to the left on the churned soil. I knew he was dead, but his eye did not close, and in it there was no terror or pain, only a quiet satisfaction that he had not died the straw death.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Midnight Walk

Lana and I took a midnight walk last night under the full moon at the Flatwoods Preserve. It was light enough to see colors up close, but also marked our first really cold night. We had to scrape frost from the car windsows before driving, and after about an hour in the briskness we were ready to get home and curl up with a warm cup of coffee laced with brandy.

Today it is much milder, but the sky is that shade of gray that suggests a long afternoon nap to me. This will probably be my last post for a few days. Josh and his girlfriend will be out Wednesday and we'll celebrate our Christmas then. I need to clean up a bit around the place today, then kick back with eggnog and a good book tomorrow.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone. It's been great getting to know everyone here and making new friends. I'll leave you with a few pictures of our Christmas trees.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Genre Must Evolve?

I hear it often from writers and editors. A genre has to evolve. I have to ask why?

First, evolution is a poor analogy for literature. The folks I’ve seen using it seem to imply that: 1) change is the natural state of both living things and literature, and that 2) living things and literature both get better as they change. Neither of these statements is true where biological evolution is concerned. Many species of crocodiles have remained virtually unchanged for 65 million years, or more. Some turtles haven't changed since the Triassic, 200+ million years ago. Living things don't change unless there is a need, as when there is a dramatic shift in their environments. Also, evolution does not imply progress. Living things don't get "better" in any global sense as they evolve. A species adapts to an environment and may be better suited for that environment than its ancestors, but if the environment changes all those great adaptations are no longer helpful. They may actually become a hindrance.

Even if evolution were a reasonable analogy for literature, I still wouldn't understand why it is taken as a given that things must change. Why must they? I knew and respected the writer and very fine editor Karl Edward Wagner, but he once wrote, in speaking of heroic fantasy and how it must “evolve,” that: “It doesn't matter how well such stories are written; it doesn't even matter that the author may be a far better writer than Howard or Tolkien..." This seems, to me, to be nonsense. It certainly does matter to the readers.

Now, I imagine most writers would tire of churning out story after story about Chayne the Barbarian, and that most editors would get to the point of hating to see another Chayne story cross their desk. That's fine. But a young reader just doesn't have the same history. When they pick up that first fantasy novel it matters very much what they get. They don't care if the ideas are new evolutions in the field. Everything is new to them. They do care if the story makes sense to them, if it touches their hearts and imaginations. And they do care whether or not the writer is good, even if their tastes aren't sophisticated (sometimes you can read "Jaded"). In my case, this same attitude extends easily into adulthood. Personally, if there is anyone out there who can write about wandering barbarian warriors better than Howard, then I want desperately to read them. If someone can do interplanetary adventure better than Burroughs then I will trade in my collection of "new idea" books in a blink to get hold of some.

Finally, I’d also like to know what we do if a writer's best strengths lie exactly in those areas that have been mined before. Should he or she have to write something different merely because the basic concept has been done before? The rest of the world doesn't work this way. Nobody spends their time developing five-legged chairs just because three- and four-legged ones have already "been done."

I’m not advocating that literature should remain constantly static. There is nothing wrong with change either. But change doesn’t have to eliminate that which was good that went before. Here, the way evolution really works might be a good analogy. Evolution often occurs when one group splits off from another and evolves in isolation into a new species. This does not cause all members of the original population to suddenly drop dead. In fact, the new species and the old are likely to coexist for thousands if not millions of years. Why can’t we, then, have both traditional westerns and new wave westerns? Why can’t we have traditional romances and paranormal ones? Why can’t we have new writers writing traditional heroic fantasy stories while others experiment with new approaches? Why must we have change for change’s sake? What do you think?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Do You Hear That Roar

Both the Church Lady and Shauna Roberts have nominated me for A Roar for Powerful Words! and I am grateful and very much appreciative of their thoughts. This is an award hosted originally at The Shameless Lions Writing Circle, but which has spread like wild over the net. There are many lions out there now, and all are roaring.

As near as I understand, the general rules for the award are to post the Lion, which is done, and to list three essentials for powerful writing. Here are my three essentials, all of which have been discussed wonderfully by other recipients of the award as well.

1. Honesty: It seems weird to talk about honesty as a requirement in writing when many of us write “fiction.” But I do see it as essential to good writing. Honesty in writing means, among other things, not taking the easy way out when you know in your heart that your character wouldn’t act that way. An example from my own writing? In Cold in the Light I had a character utter a particular curse even though I hesitated because I knew my mom wouldn’t approve. But that character, at that time, would have used that curse. I had to let him utter it.

2. Discipline: No matter the beauty of an author’s words inside his or her own head, powerful writing requires the discipline needed to put those words down on paper or screen, the discipline to work and rework those words until they say what you want them to say, and the discipline to put them out in front of others to read, and to perhaps criticize.

3. Fun: Writing is not a joy at every moment you are engaged with it. At least not in my experience. Sometimes it is downright hard and exhausting work. But if there is no fun in it then I don’t see how it can be enjoyable for the reader who reads it. I try always to keep in mind that writing is a form of play for me. It is serious play, but I’m either going to have fun or I’m going to quit.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Character Names in Heroic Fantasy

For those of you who have some familiarity with Heroic Fantasy (Sword & Sorcery and Sword & Planet), have you ever noticed how many heroes have names with either 4 or 5 letters. Robert E. Howard, who is pretty much considered the founder of Sword & Sorcery, didn't really do this. His main 5 letter hero was Conan, and his 4 letter hero was Kull. He also used characters with 6 letter names, like Cormac and Vulmea, and some with even longer names, like El Borak, Turlogh, Hunwulf, Solomon, Wulfhere, Athelstane. It's pretty interesting, though, to see how many of the writers influenced by Howard used 4 or 5 letters in their hero's name, almost as if Conan and Kull became the archetypal names for Heroic Fantasy. Below is a partial
list of what I've found, focusing on the names by which the characters are usually referred to in the books. Names of characters are on the left, writers on the right.

4 Letters:
MILO morai-------------Robert Adams
BASS foster------------" "
Bili the axe-----------" "
DRAY prescot-----------Alan Burt Akers
RYRE-------------------Ramsey Campbell
NILS-------------------John Dalmas
ALAN morgan------------Gardner F. Fox
BRAK-------------------John Jakes
ELAK-------------------Henry Kuttner
TARK-------------------Colum MacConnell
Michael KANE-----------Michael Moorcock
TARL cabot-------------John Norman
OTTO (DOG) ------------" "
ODAN-------------------Manning Norvil
VIKA-------------------C. E. Owston
WULF-------------------Quinn Reade
GATH of baal-----------James Silke
ORON-------------------David C. Smith
KANE-------------------Karl Edward Wagner

5 letters:
KADJI-------------------Lin Carter
VANYE-------------------C. J. Cherryh
GALAD sarian------------Adrian Cole
HADON-------------------Phillip Jose Farmer
KYRIK-------------------Gardner F. Fox
KAVIN-------------------David Mason
baron GALLT-------------Richard Meade
ELRIK-------------------Michael Moorcock
CORUM-------------------" "
COUNT BRASS-------------" "
John DAKER--------------" "
URLIK skarsol-----------" "
JASON marshall----------John Norman
DRACO falcon------------Mark Ramsay
IMARO-------------------Charles R. Saunders
AKRAM-------------------David C. Smith

Both 4 and 5 letter names
ADAM THANE--------------Michael Resnick
ERIC JOHN STARK---------Leigh Brackett

Dorian Hawkmoon---------Michael Moorcock
Thongor of Lemuria------Lin Carter
Kothar------------------Gardner F. Fox
Kyllan------------------Andre Norton
Tempus------------------Janet Morris
Kickaha-----------------Phillip Jose Farmer
Fafhrd------------------Fritz Leiber
Prince Corwin-----------Roger Zelazny

4 letters--------------5 letters

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sword and Planet Link

As a supporter of all things “Sword and Planet,” or “Interplanetary Romance,” if you prefer, I must refer you to the The Perils on Planet X Blog. This is a sort of production diary set up by Christopher Mills, who is writing the story for a three issue comic book series of this name. The series features an earthman named Donovan Hawke who ends up stranded in the past, on a planet named Xylos, which also happens to be the planet that once inhabited our solar system at the spot now known as the Asteroid Belt. Swashbuckling ensues, as I’ve seen from getting a glimpse of chapter 1 of the series.

There are certainly elements of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in the series, and a bit of Burroughs as well, but there are a lot of nice new touches that keep the story line fresh. As you could guess from the Talera series, I believe there is still tremendous potential in the general Sword and Planet genre, with plenty of room to respect what has gone before while still telling wonderful fantasy adventures that have never been told.

By the way, Christopher and I have different preferences for how to name this genre. He thinks Sword and Planet is clunky and prefers Interplanetary Romance, which is one of the earlier names for the genre. I stopped using “romance” myself because I found that if I tried to describe the Taleran books as Interplanetary Romance almost all non-fans of the genre were confused by what I meant. A term that I use sometimes is “Interplanetary Adventure,” although Christopher has suggested “Interplanetary Swashbuckler.” I like that, but for the moment may continue to use Sword and Planet as a parallel construction for Sword and Sorcery, which I also like to read and write.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Seeing Sequels

I just finished reading Mrs. Frisby and the rats of NIMH and greatly enjoyed it. The book ends with some of the rats having escaped into a national forest with the intention of building their own civilization separate from that of human beings. I immediately began to think of sequels in my head, a whole series of them in fact. What dangers would the rats face as they begin the hard work of building their civilization? What adventures would they have? How would their civilization be different or similar to that of humans?

The first sequels might feature primarily the rats’ struggles against natural enemies and the attempts to grow enough food for themselves while remaining hidden from human observation. Perhaps there would be politics, splinter groups, the development of a religion. Later would come the inevitable, contact renewed with humanity. What would be the result? Would there be conflict? Would the rats have to flee again to start over elsewhere? Would the two races find ways to coexist? Might not they even complement each other? Imagine our first adventures into space with rats as our equal companions rather than our hangers on. Would rats join us on Mars, not as stowaways but as partners?

I found out that Robert C. O’Brien (real name Robert Leslie Conly), who wrote the book, never did a sequel, although his daughter Jane Leslie Conly wrote two. I’ve never heard anything about these so I take it they weren’t that successful. I also wonder whether Brian Jacques’ “Redwall” series was inspired or influenced by O’Brien’s work. The “NIMH” book was published in 1971, Redwall in 1986.

What about you? When you finish reading a book that you really like do you start imagining sequels that you wish the writer had written or would write? Have you ever thought of writing one just for the fun of it? I have, although I almost certainly never will because I have too many stories of my own that I want to write. No doubt, though, some of the ideas triggered by the “Rats of NIMH” will appear in other places in my work, in other forms, down the line.

Imagination is never wasted.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Tagged and Random

I’ve been tagged by Danette to name five random things about myself. In keeping with my general policy, I will obey the commands of the tag but will resist tagging anyone else. So here goes:

1. Since it’s on my mind, I just sold a poem to Niteblade . It’s called “Recompense Reprise,” and is an homage/ode to Robert E. Howard’s poetry. Howard, of course, is my favorite writer and I’m a member of the Robert E. Howard United Press Association, REHupa. I guess that’s a couple of random things about me in one.

2. As a kid I had a sparkplug collection. Hey, I grew up in the country and I played with sparkplugs. Anyone got a problem with that?

3. I love fried frog legs.

4. My first car was a maroon and white Malibu Classic. It outlasted three girlfriends.

5. I still like to read children’s or YA books sometimes. In fact, I’m very much enjoying Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH right now. I saw the movie many years ago and enjoyed it and found this book at a recent book sale and snapped it up. Glad I did.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Learning a Foreign Language

I just gave my final, final exam this morning at 8:00, and now the grading begins. Why am I taking the time to blog then some of you may wonder. Well, if you’ve ever looked at a daunting stack of essays big enough to choke a Baleen whale, and realize that your next couple of day swill be spent in their company and their company alone, you might forgive me for hesitating to begin the task. Nevertheless, the tests will get graded, and final grades will be turned in on time. And most likely I will still be relatively sane, albeit only semi-coherent, when I’m done.

In the meantime, here’s a little language lesson from Talera. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test. I’m sure as “dahh” not gonna grade any more “krutt-loving” tests than I have to.

Curse words: There are, of course, many more. But here is a sample: Dahh -- Generally translated as Damn or Hell
Dihmus vishka -- possible translation is “god in heaven.”
Lart -- Rodent (You Rat)
Vish -- Usually translated as Shit or Piss
Krutt – a type of parasite whose name is also used as a curse.

General words:
Ahy -- Greeting
Dihn -- A small coin of little importance.
Dhorn -- Day
Dhu -- Hundred
Efrinore -- druid-witch-shaman. A magic woman of the wood. Herbalist.
Jhesan -- Lord (or sometimes Prince)
Jhesana -- Lady (or sometimes Princess)
Khi -- soul, spirit, psychic energy, charisma
Khiang -- Warrior
Khisan -- Warlord, who rules by the Khi.
Lehr -- Outlaw
Mercredi -- Foot mercenary
Mordai -- the name for the hour of the Taleran day that comes after midnight, when the veil between the living and dead worlds is said to be thinnest.
Nex -- Place
Phal -- Island
Phoros -- Healer or Physician
Phorosnex -- Hospital
Phrer -- Priest or monk
Rha -- War
Rhath -- Warrior
Rhahn -- battle
Rhanvin -- fighting slave, gladiator.
Saar -- Gesture of polite title, like Sir
Saaress -- Gesture of polite title for a woman. Madam.
Saysa -- term of endearment, like the English “baby” or “honey.”
Vin – slave

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Quiz for Vampires

Oh, those pesky vampires. Blood suckers extraordinaire. The first vampires in literature were evil. But over time vampires took on more and more romantic and sympathetic elements until today they can even be leading men. Can you match the famous vampires from page and screen on the left with their creators on the right? Zero to five correct means you’re either covering for the vamps or you’re VQ is a little low. Six to ten correct is a good score. You’ve probably bitten a few necks yourself. Over ten correct makes me wonder if the phrase “blood bank” has more than the usual meaning for you.

1. Vampirella (1st issue):::::::::::::::::::::Laurell K. Hamilton
2. Carmilla::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::Anne Rice
3. Saint-Germain::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::Whitley Strieber
4. Molochai, Twig, & Zillah:::::::::::::::::::Suzy McKee Charnas
5. Prince Vulkan::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::Robert R. McCammon
6. Edward Weyland:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::T. Prest OR M. Rymer
7. David Lyle Hardwick::::::::::::::::::::::::Stephen King
8. Jean-Claude::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::P. N. Elrod
9. Jonathan Barrett:::::::::::::::::::::::::::Nancy Kilpatrick
10. Dracula::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::J. Sheridan Le Fanu
11. Joshua York::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::Forrest Ackerman
12. Miriam Blaylock :::::::::::::::::::::::::::Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
13. Varney:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::Poppy Z. Brite
14. Barlow:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::George R. R. Martin
15. Lestat:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::Bram Stoker

----- ----- ------------------------------- ------------------ ------ ----------
Answers: (Last name only) 1. Ackerman, 2. Le Fanu, 3. Yarbro, 4. Brite, 5. McCammon, 6. Charnas, 7. Kilpatrick, 8. Hamilton, 9. Elrod, 10. Stoker, 11. Martin, 12. Streiber 13. Prest or Rymer, 14. King, 15. Rice.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Feathers from the Sky, and Lions that Roar

I was glancing out the front window a moment ago when I saw a tiny cloud of pale objects come floating to earth in our driveway. A few of them were spinning as they fell and I thought they were some kind of seed pods and went out to look. They weren’t seeds. They were feathers, mostly soft, downy underfeathers. I counted a few dozen scattered in a thin mosaic over the gravels.

Naturally I looked up. But saw nothing. Where did they come from? My guess is that a hawk hit a dove in midair and the feathers were torn free. I have no idea if the dove survived. The fact that there were a lot of feathers and that many were underfeathers suggests maybe not.

It was odd that I looked out at just the right moment to see the feathers settle. It makes you wonder how many dramas like this happen every day and no one observes. It’s sheer luck if we even observe the aftermath, like those feathers raining down.

It occurred to me that reading a novel is a bit like this experience. What a reader sees on the page is the aftermath of events played out in the writer’s head. The drama in the book isn’t real. The drama that took place in the writer’s mind as he or she constructed the story is the reality.

In other news, Church Lady picked me and several others for “A Roar of Powerful Words” award from The Shameless Lions Writing Circle. How cool! Thank you, Church Lady! “Let’s Discuss.”

Friday, December 07, 2007

My Green Brother

The "Green Thing" in the previous picture is a young pine tree, but I'm not sure of what subspecies. It really looks like a person with green hair combed down over their face. Above is a picture of another of these young pines with another "long hair" standing next to it for comparison. We found these at a local state park.

In writing news, yesterday and today have been poetry submission days. I've got eight poems off so far, three to Abyss and Apex and five to Dreams and Nightmares. I have five more ready to go to Star*Line when the magazine's reading period starts in January. I'm off now to look for some more possible markets for other poems I still have. I've already gotten a rejection on a short essay I sent out, which did not come as a great surprise.

I also want to write an entry for Bernita's contest. She's giving away a copy of Weirdly, which she has a story in.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Surreal Corner

I'm off school today. No grading to do right at the moment. Washing a load of clothes and cleaning up around the house a bit today, and I hope to get some good writing work done as the day progresses.

In the meantime, for a rather surreal experience, I post something I located on the net this morning. At least it seemed surreal to me. It apparently occurred in 1940.

Carole Landis, lush, blond cinemactress whose ambition is to graduate from cheese cake pictures to Bette Davis roles, played the outraged woman in an offset drama.

A man broke into her dressing room, announced himself as "Grimmick, the attorney," started in a businesslike way to unzip her black tights. Her screams brought suave Cinemactor George Sanders, a gatekeeper and a studio policeman. Later, in the Hollywood police station, Carole pointed an indignant finger at smirking Attorney Charles Gramlich, a former mental patient, and undramatically said: "That's the guy."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Poetry in Emotion

One reason why I find it more difficult to write poetry these days has to do with my inner emotional state. The problem is that I’m basically happy. Oh, I have my moments, but from a day to day perspective I’m more relaxed, more on an even keel, than ever before in my life. A lot of this has to do with Lana, but it’s also because I’m more established in my job, and also because I’m older. I don’t know about you, but I remember how “intensely” I felt everything when I was young, especially as a teenager, but even into my late thirties and early forties. I burned with anger, rioted with joy, drowned in unhappiness.

For whatever reason, although some of it is surely due to the aging of my biological response to emotional stimuli, I don’t feel things as strongly as I used to. For the most part this is a good thing. My moods are not as mercurial as they once were. I don’t let little things bother me as they once did. But for my poetry this has been a problem. Almost all of my best poetry has been written while I was in a state of emotional uproar, especially at periods when I was angry or sad.

If I were to place writing along a continuum from most emotion-laden to least, I would list them this way: Poetry – Fiction – Nonfiction. I believe that nonfiction can be written from the intellect alone, and, in fact, I’m often suspicious of nonfiction that is strongly emotional in tone. With nonfiction, I want the facts, and I know that emotions strongly color the interpretation of facts. Fiction without emotion, however, is a waste of time.

I 've read plenty of nonfiction that engaged no emotion in me other than curiosity; I've enjoyed these books. But if a fictional story doesn’t involve me emotionally in the first few pages I will drop it like a struggling diver drops a weight belt. Emotion by itself, however, isn’t enough in fiction. I need to have my intellect engaged too. There must be some logic to the tale, even if only an internal logic.

In contrast, the enjoyment of poetry, to me, involves no need for intellect at all, outside of being able to understand the actual words. What I need is the raw emotion on the page. I need that emotion to come through even if I don’t get the “meaning” of the poem. I can even enjoy a poem in which the imagery evoked is largely clichĂ©, as long as I can feel the author’s joy, anguish, rage. This is why I can like a lot of the poems that I see on the internet from young writers. They may not even realize their imagery is common; all they know is that they feel, and they have to express that feeling or explode.

What do you think? Is poetry the purest emotional writing there is? Do you think that your own poetry has changed as you’ve aged because of changes in your emotional experience? Can you still enjoy a flawed poem just because of the emotional strength of it? I wonder.

Monday, December 03, 2007

In Poetry Thou Shall Not Trust

I’ve been working with poetry for the last two days. When I’m away from it for a while I always forget how hard it is, how frustrating. It doesn’t take long to relearn that fact. I grew up thinking I disliked poetry. That was because I’d never read Dylan Thomas, or Poe, or Blake, or Coleridge, or even Kipling. Thomas opened the door for me, and the others swept through on his heels. For a while I considered myself a poet, albeit not a terribly talented one. Eventually I realized that I could say what I wanted much better through stories than poetry, and over the past seven years I’ve written less and less of it. But I’ve never given it up, despite moments of absolute despair over my ability to craft a poem of use.

Many of the early poems I had published I despise now. They seem so artificial, so contrived. They lack grace at their best, and at worst they are pretentious. At times they irritate me by their very existence. At other times I feel silly and pretentious for even saying I despise them. Somebody liked them. Some bodies even paid me money for some of them. Who am I to feel superior to those who wanted my youthful drivel. Or perhaps I’m completely wrong. Perhaps those early efforts were the only true and honest poetry I’ve ever written; perhaps it is today’s work that is contrived.

You see how difficult it is? How can poetry possibly be judged? How can one even make a stab at an objective evaluation? Or do I just sound insane? Poetry will do that to you. It will drive you mad. But I believe it’s important.

I just don’t know why.


Alone with the walls
Emptied of center
In a cold place
With the shadows
And the broken blades
Quiet as stones
Twisted as hearts
Praying for silence
Praying for hope
And no one

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Communion Dreams

Sorry I haven’t posted much lately. I’m gearing up for final classes and final exams, and haven’t been feeling very well on top of that. My last class is Wednesday, December 5th, but I’ll still put in close to 40 hours in the next three days because I have late meetings each day. Then I’ll have a break before final exams that I give on December 11, 12, 13.

A bizarre dream I had night before last might be informative of my current mindset. I was in bed in the dream but a hornet had gotten under the covers and was stinging me. I was fighting to kill it and finally got the sheets off and caught the insect between my fingers and squished it. I stood up, looked down to see the stings, and realized a horrible fact. It hadn’t been stinging. It had been laying eggs inside me.

In writing, over the past three days I got six of my unsubmitted stories out of my computer and into the world for consideration. A short essay that I wrote is also off to market. Tonight I plan to get some poetry ready to go out.

Finally, I’m reading Whitley Streiber’s Communion. This is his supposedly nonfiction tale of some bizarre experiences he’s had, which at this point in the book (page 133) appear to be due to alien abduction. Frankly, I’m having a hard time buying much of it. Many of the experiences he relates are classic examples of hypnogogic and hypnopompic experiences, a few of which I’ve had myself.

I’m a skeptic. I wouldn’t be surprised if alien intelligences exist in the universe. It’s a big place. But it seems highly unlikely that any alien intelligence would be humanoid. I’m also doubtful that such an intelligence has ever visited earth and am even more doubtful that they periodically abduct humans for experiments.

What explains the abduction phenomenon then? In some cases, of course, people are lying. Don’t kid yourself, there is money to be made in pretending to close encounters. In many other cases, however, I’m convinced that people are having experiences primarily related to dream states or to other brain phenomena such as epilepsy. Some abduction experience may be related to actual mental illness but I doubt that most do. The causes are more likely natural, if uncommon.

I rather wish aliens were visiting earth. That would be the most incredible discovery in human history. And if they were humanoid it would be even more incredible because it would mean a complete rethinking of currently believed scientific principles. Personally, I’ve always wanted to see a UFO. Perhaps tonight I will. In my dreams.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Short Story Carousel

I’ve finished a big nonfiction project that I was working on, and before starting the next one on my list I’m going to take a bit of a break and look through my unsubmitted or rejected poetry and stories and try to get some of those out in the world for consideration. I’ve been so focused for the past 7 months that I’ve even neglected updating my fiction submission files, which I’m normally quite good at, and have not submitted any of my available poems or stories in quite a few months.

It looks like I have sixteen short stories that I could submit. Two of these have previously sold but ended up never being published. Interestingly, both are SF tales. One is “Floater,” which I wrote many years ago and which has been rejected by virtually everyone. It did sell once but that magazine folded before it could appear. The main problem with the tale is that it’s too long and the ending doesn’t hit with quite enough payoff. The second one is “Love in the Time of Cybersex,” which was written for and which sold to a nice anthology that ended up never being printed. I’ve sent this out a couple of other times to SF mags without luck. I think the story is a bit romantic for most of the SF readership, although it was perfect for the anthology’s guidelines.

To my thinking, the best story of the bunch is a microfiction piece called “An Affair of the Heart.” I can’t figure out why this hasn’t sold because everyone who has read it has laughed out loud and loved it, but it might be because it doesn’t really fit in any specific genre. It’s been submitted a lot of times but I’m not giving up on it. Another piece I really like is “Unicorn Lost,” which I’ve also submitted a bunch and which a writer friend of mine named David Lanoue referred to as the best thing I’ve ever written. It’s still unsold, likely because it is quite an experimental piece and also doesn’t easily fit into any particular genre.

The two most recent pieces are “Sundered Man,” which is a heroic fantasy retelling of Shakespeare, and a political story which will remain unnamed and which is probably way too perverted and sick to ever see print. I wrote the latter when I was completely wasted on Vodka, and if it is published it’ll be under a pseudonym. I’ve debated not submitting it at all, but dammit it does have some interesting things to say.

How about you? Do you have any stories you will never try to publish? Do you have any stories that you’re particularly fond of but which have never sold? Do you give up on stories after a few rejections, or do you keep sending them out into the world to sink or swim?

BTW, those glowing green eyes? We're pretty sure they're a big old coon who comes around most every night. Of course, who knows if he's really a coon or just masquerading as one.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

War of the Woods

Lana got a picture of this in our backyard the other night. I have a pretty good guess as to what it is. But I could be wrong. Could be that intelligences far greater and colder than my own are watching my house, scrutinizing and studying Lana and myself. Could be that tonight I’m posting with infinite complacency on my blog while the warmth of my home is watched with envious eyes and plans are being laid against me. Could be.

Could well be.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Consistency of the King

Hemingway always said that he stopped a day’s writing at a point where he was still interested in finding out what happened next. In other words, he didn’t write himself out in one session but held back something for the next day. I always thought this showed a lot of discipline. The closest I’ve come to this is jotting down some notes at the end of a day’s writing to guide me the next day. Usually when I’m rolling I stop only with great reluctance, either out of exhaustion or simply because I have to go to class, or work, or sleep, or something of that nature. Yet, I know the key to completing any long piece of writing is consistency over time, not an explosion of activity over a short period.

Stephen King demonstrates the same thing. Some people have accused him of hiring a ghost writer because he’s so prolific. But, instead, he writes about 2000 words a day, or 7 to 8 pages, but does this day in and day out, rarely missing a day or shorting himself on his quota. At this rate, he can turn out a 180,000 word novel in three months. (The math works; I calculated it myself.)

Reading about the disciplined habits of Hemingway and King tells me how I could be more productive myself. However, I know there are times when my school work keeps me from making any quota I might wish for. And there are times when I let other activities interfere with writing, although relaxation is also essential to life and one can’t work constantly. How about you? Do you already exhibit the kind of discipline that Hemingway showed, or that King shows? Or do you find that real life and the work that pays your bills keeps you from being consistent with your writing? What might you do to improve your writing productivity while still maintaining your home life and your sanity?

Friday, November 23, 2007


Well, all but one of those things I listed last week as hanging over my head are done. I made a tremendous amount of progress over the weekend and through the first part of the week, enough so that I’ve only done a bit of fiddling around so far on my Thanksgiving break. Lana and I went out to eat for Thanksgiving because my son and his girlfriend are coming up on Saturday and we will have our big feast day then. Today we’re cleaning up a bit around the house and I’m going to have a long walk later because the weather is gorgeous today.

Unfortunately, we have had a few real world intrusions into our peace. I had to have that work done on my car a week or so back, to the tune of almost $1500. This week Lana’s car is in the shop and has been since Tuesday because of transmission problems. This is after paying $150 already to have it worked on. Then one of the water pipes into our house sprang a leak, which we noticed when we sank into the ground walking to our shed. I dug up the pipe and found it was leaking at a joint, primarily because the joint was put on crooked. I tried some home repairs but that didn’t work so we are now waiting for the plumber, who I supposed to be here today. I don’t know how much that’s going to cost us but we’ve been living with limited water supplies the past two days so I want it fixed.

Still, I have very much to be thankful for. And right now I’m thankful that I’m off work so I can go have a nap. In the meantime, here are some more pictures for you that Lana has taken at nearby nature centers. We do love getting out in the woods.

Enjoy, and happy holidays.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I’ve kept a regular writing journal since 1994, and there are even some entries dating to before that. After updating today’s file, I decided, on a whim, to take a gander at my journals for previous years. I discovered something that might be worth sharing.

My journal entries focus primarily on what I do each day in writing, what progress I’ve achieved on projects and what successes/failures I’ve had. I do mention major life events going on at the same time, and occasionally what books I’m reading at the moment. I almost always start each new year with a retrospective on the past year.

I began my journal primarily as a motivational tool. I’m a fellow who needs visual evidence of my progress as I work toward long-term goals. The journal provides that. I can see from my entries when projects were started and finished, and can get a feel for what was happening in my life to either distract or focus my thoughts. I can see when I have a series of days where I enter over and over again, “no writing today.” That upsets me. It makes me want to get back to work because I know I’ve been lazy. I know the effort isn’t there.

As I went through my older journals tonight, I also found that I used to begin each year with a list of goals that I hoped to accomplish. Though I never completed all those goals, I believe that putting them into my mind on January 1st helped me work toward them over the next twelve months. And usually I did make progress on them, enough so that I managed some writing each year that was important to me, enough so that these days I usually start the year with projects already underway and no longer need to put my goals into print.

I wonder, do any of you out there in blogland pick yearly writing goals for yourself? If so, do you find that it helps you? Hinders you? Or do you think it might help to give it a try? Would it help you to plan your year’s work more consciously? Looking back at my earlier years in writing, I find that it helped me.

The new year is coming up soon. That’s always a good time for a retrospective look at what you’ve been doing, and whether it has been successful. It’s also a time to look forward, and—just maybe—to plan, to goal, to give your desires life by putting them into words.

PS: Shauna has a great interview over on her blog with C. S. Harris, a writer of historical mysteries who more commonly goes by the name Candice Proctor. It’s well worth a look.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Various Notes and a Short Rant

The newest Illuminata is up as of yesterday evening. It's Volume 6, Issue 3, November 2007, and contains a combination, expansion, and revision of the posts I made here about "resonance."

Yesterday, Lana and I visited Fontainebleau State Park, which is about a twenty minute drive from our place. At one time it was a huge sugar plantation on Lake Pontchartrain, but the house is long gone even though you can still see where the front carriage way was because it's marked by stands of great live oaks. It was very warm and muggy and there were mosquitoes, but we still had a good time and Lana got a lot more pictures, including pics of a couple of hawks and an armadillo that seemed to pose for us. Any of you that have a chance, I urge you to get out in the woods. Take some hiking trails, watch the birds, look at the beautiful plants that grow all around you. It's such a calming influence.

And now for the rant, which involves the total destruction of the calming influence that nature exerted over me yesterday. This is for all the morons on cell phones taking the Causeway bridge into New Orleans this morning (11-19-07) between 7:35 and 8:15. If you can't *&*#$% drive and talk at the same time then give one of them the *%^$#@ up! It is not OK to go around someone in the passing lane, then shift back into the right lane and slow down below the speed limit so you can listen to the ignoramous who either called you or answered your call. It's also not OK to drive twenty miles below the speed limit in the right lane just so you can carry on your conversation.

And I'll say this, I have generally found that women talk more on cell phones on the road than men, but this morning all of the idiots but one that I'm referring to in this rant were men. To you I say, grow a set, will you? If you need some testosterone treatments so that you can drive the speed limit then see a *&%^%# doctor.

All right. I'm done.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Rising Tide

They say a rising tide lifts all boats. I’ve been thinking about that lately, thinking about the explosion in publishing wrought by the advent of the internet, ebooks, and print-on-demand companies. It seems to me, although I don’t have the figures in front of me, that more books are being published today than ever in the history of humankind. And these are being published by more writers.

At the same time, I suspect a lot of mid-list writers are making less money that they have in the past, and a large number of the new authors are making very little, especially if they are being distributed by small presses, ebook publishers, and pay-to-publish presses.

The rising tide has lifted the total number of book publications, but I wonder if it has lifted the total amount of money that is being spent by readers on books each year. I personally suspect it has raised that total somewhat, because I find that newly published authors also “buy” a fair amount of books, both books on writing, and books by other new authors who they have made connections with. I’m not sure however, that the total amount of money spent on books in the US has risen very much in the past ten years.

For myself, the total amount that I’ve spent on books has risen over the past few years, and this is in large part due to buying quite a few more new trade paperbacks than I’ve ever bought before. I’ve bought many of these because they are written by other new writers and I want to support those writers as they have supported me. At the same time, I haven’t actually bought as “many” books lately as I used to, because each of the books I do buy is more expensive.

How about you? How has the current publishing explosion affected your buying habits, and reading habits?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Work Smurk

Work has really been kicking my butt lately. I’ve barely had time to enjoy the publication of Witch of Talera, much less keep up with blogging. I have been commenting on folk’s posts, just not posting much myself. At this time of the year it’s so hard to make much progress on any ongoing project. Here’s what’s on my front burners.

1. Continue final revisions on Writing in Psychology, the textbook for a writing class that we teach here at Xavier University of Louisiana. This is a collaboration with two other faculty members in the Psyc Department, and now I’m about half way through the final read through. Only minor changes are being made now, but it’s still tough to find the time to focus.

2. A critique of a chapter in a Physiological Psychology text by Bob Garrett that is undergoing the revision process now. Fortunately, I finished that yesterday.

3. A peer review of an article submitted to The Dark Man, the Robert E. Howard journal for which I’m an Assistant Editor. Haven’t started this yet.

4. Editing and setting up peer reviews for another article submitted to The Dark Man. This is a lot more work than doing an individual review and I haven’t started it yet.

5. Completing my next mailing for REHupa, the Robert E. Howard United Press Association. This is due by the end of November and is almost done. I have to get it done early so I can make copies.

6. Preparing, with some collaboration from colleagues at other local New Orleans Universities, a panel presentation on recruiting minority participants for research for a national conference on research in the spring. There’s a meeting about it today but then it’ll go on the back burner for a while.

7. Processing three study proposals that have been sent or are being sent this week to the Xavier IRB, of which I’m chair. One I finished yesterday. The other two should be coming today or tomorrow. These are the ones I know about. Others could be dropped off at any time. There is always a clock ticking with these.

8. Trying to find time to make up final exams for three classes, including one I’ve never taught before (Psychopharmacology). Our final exams come the second week of December so I have to get on this over the Thanksgiving break next week.

9. Turn down an offer to write a bunch of short articles on national sports figures for a reference series. I might enjoy some of this but there’s just no time.

10. Whatever I forgot because it seems like there’s more. I just have to keep telling myself, “it’s only a job, it’s only a job.” And eventually there’ll be a break in the flood.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Cover of Witch of Talera

A friend of mine, Steve Harris, found this picture of the cover to Witch of Talera at The Book Place here.

It looks great to me. Each cover is darker than the last, which is kind of true for the contents of the books as well. I'm happy.

In other news, I started and finished James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice yesterday, and now I'm into his Double Indemnity. Although the opening line of "Postman" is great, there are some snags in the first couple of pages. At one point it looks like the main male character is talking to some guy who has car trouble in the Kitchen but it turns out to be the main female character. And the main male character seems to jump to the conclusion that the woman is Mexican even though nothing is set up for this and she is married to a guy who is clearly Greek. But once I got through those relatively minor snags I was hooked and raced through the book. You can definitely see where Cain's influence on the development of noir fiction comes from. Personally, I didn't think his characters were particularly realistic, certainly not as realistic as John D. MacDonald's, say, but they were fascinating nevertheless.

I also finished reading The Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx of the heavy metal band Motley Crue. It was pretty fascinating but I'd like to have heard more about how he still managed to write songs during his "gone to Heroin" days. It's basically the story of a year in Sixx's life when he was at the height of his drug addictions, and is taken from actual diaries he kept at the time. Interesting from a psychological perspective and very honest, even to the point where the reader is likely to say, "you dumb ass, what were you thinking?" I found it a worthwhile read, better than Tommyland but not as good as The Dirt, both of which were about the Crue.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Witch of Talera

I'm stoked. After quite a long wait, Witch of Talera has been published. This is the Amazon link. I can't find it up anywhere else yet. I'm a tiny bit disappointed that the cover isn't shown. I'm assuming it is the same cover format as the other two, but I was curious about the color scheme. For some reason I'm thinking it's going to be green but I really don't know.

I'm very happy, though, to see this book in print. As some of you know, the first two Taleran books were serialized and so have been previously published, although in somewhat truncated form. Witch was supposed to be serialized as well but it didn't happen. I had to take a four month break in the middle of writing it because of family issues, and by the time it was done the magazine was getting ready to fold after something like 12 years. So, in a way, it's nicest to see this one ushered into the world.

Here's the opening paragraph of Chapter 1:

It is a custom on Talera for those about to be married to spend the last hour before the ceremony meditating alone. Thus, I was in my apartment within the great pile of Jystral Castle when the assassin came for me.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Writing's Key Component

Do you write to entertain? To educate? To persuade? Or to express yourself? These are all legitimate, even noble goals. But if you want to have readers there is a more important goal that must underlie any other. That is, writing to communicate. No one entertains or educates unless he or she can convey something interesting to other people. No one gets rich from writing unless they can convey that interesting thing to large numbers of people. The transmission of ideas and emotions is basic to all writing.

It seems to me that if you want to be read then your primary purpose must be to get your point across, whatever that point may be. Some writers dress up their points with metaphorical language. Other's bury their points under layers of symbolism and subtlety. Others write in prose that is translucent, under which the meaning lies like bones under an X-ray. Any of these can be effective, although for myself I tend to strive for the first and the last rather than the middle. But ultimately no approach matters unless the reader thinks or feels that thing which you wanted him or her to think or feel.

That's my point.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Poverty of Content

Schizophrenics sometimes talk a lot but say little of meaning or substance, and this is typically referred to as poverty of content. Well, our culture, especially the media it seems, is in the middle of a serious poverty of content phase, and along with that goes a poverty of imagination. Two of the last three movies I’ve seen were 1408 and The Number 23. These are recent movies and it turns out they were both based on Stephen King stories, as is the soon to be released The Mist. I also saw some other film with Kate Beckinsale in it, Vacancy. Now, Stephen King is a fine writer, but there are other writers doing the horror/thriller thing. There is plenty of original work available but the film companies just keep coming back to King over and over, despite a certain sameness to many of these films. And Vacancy while OK as a movie, was a virtual remake of many previous films. A couple of years ago they filmed Jack Finney’s Body Snatchers for like the fourth time. And now I hear there is going to be yet another Incredible Hulk movie. They just made one a couple of years back. It sucked. Why do we need another?

Why isn’t some filmmaker bringing Wayne Allen Sallee to the screen, or Del Stone Jr., or Dennis Etchison, or Ramsey Campbell, or the late Karl Edward Wagner? What about the works of virtual unknowns like T. Chris Martindale, or Del James? Sidney Williams has books like When Darkness Falls or Blood Hunter, which could make terrifying films. And why aren’t emerging talents being nurtured, like Stewart Sternberg or Bernita Harris, or many others here in the local blogosphere? No, the companies go back to the same old wells over and over and over.

I’m afraid we writers have to face the fact that the real money in entertainment these days is in the pockets of TV and Filmmakers. And that is a largely closed club with admission allowed only to a few prose writers like King, Thomas Harris, Clive Barker, and now Neil Gaiman. I feel very fortunate myself that I have a good job and don’t have to depend on writing income for my survival. And no one said the world is fair or that the breaks should go to the deserving. In fact, I honestly feel most sorry for the “consumers,” for folks like myself who would enjoy a good movie if one were to be made.

They say there is a dearth of truly good passing quarterbacks in the NFL these days. That’s because colleges are no longer nurturing them but are focused largely on fielding a quarterback who is a glorified extra running back. In the same way, the dearth of good new ideas in Hollywood is a direct result of thirty or more years of neglecting the development and nurturing of promising prose writers, and the blindness to any talented writer other than the few anointed ones.

Don’t look for it to get better anytime soon.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Writing and Talking

Lana and I had dinner at a local cafĂ© the other evening and the owner, a very nice and friendly fellow, at one point asked us what we did. I said I taught at Xavier University and got the inevitable question: “What do you teach?” “Psychology” I replied, and got the inevitable comment about how I could probably do a whole case study on him. I tried to explain that I was an experimental/research psychologist and not particularly interested in the clinical side of psychology, to which I got the inevitable comment indicating that he had no idea what that meant but I could surely do a case study on him. I just went along from there because it wasn’t worth the effort to try and explain again.

Lana then mentioned that I was also a writer and we got on that topic for a bit. The fellow made a comment about how people think writing is hard but it’s really very easy. He pointed out that people talk all the time and all they have to do to write is put those words down on paper. I didn’t correct him because I know from experience that in such situations people only want corroboration of their viewpoints and they won’t really listen to a counter argument anyway.

The truth is, though, that writing is not nearly as easy as holding a conversation with your friends, even if both forms of communication use words. Saying so is like saying that a Pee Wee football team could play just fine against the New England Patriots because they both use footballs. Here are just some of the ways writing is harder than talking.

1. One must think much more carefully when writing than when talking because there is no immediate feedback on your success, or lack thereof, in communicating your points. If you screw up while talking the other person will let you know, but the person reading your work may not even be in the same country as you are. They can’t ask you a question if they don’t understand your point or if they get lost in your narrative.

2. There is no reactive communication in writing. You can’t let the other person’s reactions to your words dictate or affect what you are going to say. They haven’t seen ‘em yet. You are on your own in constructing your writing.

3. A large part of a spoken conversation depends on emotional cues. There are no emotional cues in writing, although things like ;) and LOL’s and punctuation are a lame attempt at adding such information. It doesn’t work very well. This is why jokes are generally much funnier when told in person than when on the printed page, and why people sometimes take comments much more seriously in written form than was intended by the writer.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Alien's and Baby T-Rexes, and More Mysteries

First, in answer to my picture questions last blog, the Alien Egg is indeed a Cypress knee, although it is one of the largest ones I've ever seen. One area of the Flatwoods is a Cypress swamp. As for the footprint in water, although Lana and I didn't see it made, we have seen a big heron in the area several times and his/her tracks are identical. I try to imagine it's a baby T-Rex footprint, though. As for the butterfly picture, anyone notice how the yellow goldenrod looks like a hand on which the butterfly has perched?

Second, Lana and I watched The Rise of the Silver Surfer last night. It had some good moments and I enjoyed most of the special effects, although both "The Thing" and "Dr. Doom" looked kinda cheezy. It was worth a PPV rental, though.

Third, I hear from my editor that Witch of Talera has been sent to the printers so I'm hoping it will be published soon.

One of these days I'll get back to posting more writing thoughts. School has really been kicking my butt for the last two weeks, and will be doing so through at least next week. In the meantime, here's two other Flatwoods pics that are quite interesting. I did not expect to see the one on the left at this time of year. Any guesses as to the nature of these?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

What's Work Got to Do With It?

It’s amazing how much work one can get done when one doesn’t go to work. I only had one class today but had to miss it because I had car trouble and had to take my Scion to the shop. This is the first class I’ve missed since I broke my collarbone and three ribs back in the spring of 2006. I really don’t like cancelling class, but since I wasn’t able to make it to school I stayed home and got so much more done than if I’d gone in. I got tests graded, which I can seldom do at school because of constant interruptions, and made tremendous progress on the final revision to our Writing in Psychology text, which we’ll be using in the spring. I probably completed over a third of that project today alone. And I still had time to get in a walk around the neighborhood, have a shower and quick nap, and grill pork chops for dinner. Work is really cutting down on my productivity.

As for the car, that’s another story. Turns out they have to order parts, which won’t be in until tomorrow, and the total cost is going to be around 1200 bucks. Means I’ve essentially worked the last 10 days for free. Oh well, Lana is off tomorrow so I’ll take her car to school. In the meantime, here’s a few more pics from the Flatwoods preserve. Doesn’t that first one look like an “Alien” egg? Anyone recognize what it really is? The flower and butterfly is self explanatory, but how about that animal track in water? I know the answer to questions 1 and 2. Do you?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Some Wedding Pictures

Well, here are some pics of our wedding. The first one is our wedding kiss. Then it's "Champagne Time." The fellow in the blue shirt is Mark, who performed the ceremony. After that is a pic of Lana and I on the steps to our deck, and opposite of that a picture of my son, Joshua, and his girlfriend, Heidi. Finally, after everyone left, Lana slipped into something more comfortable, an all black honeymoon ensemble you might say.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Who Are You Anyway?

I walk pretty frequently in my neighborhood and generally avoid houses where I can. That’s not always possible, however, and today I walked further than usual because of the nice weather and passed a house where a boy of 7 or 8 and a girl of 4 or 5 were playing. The boy came running toward me as I approached but I tried merely to nod at him and continue on my way at a fairly fast pace. There would have been a time when I might have stopped to chat. But that time is not now.

The girl followed her brother, and made sure to inform me that he was her brother. I said, “your brother, huh. That’s nice.” I still kept walking, moving over to the far side of the gravel road as far away as possible, and tried to do nothing to encourage them to come closer. But I didn’t want to growl at them like some ogre.

The little girl turned and started running along beside me, along the side of the road, and asked: “Who are you anyway?” I replied, “Oh, my name is Charles and I’m just getting a little exercise.”

I heard the mother come outside then—I was almost past the house—and imagine she’d heard my voice. She snapped at the children, particularly her daughter, to “get over here.” The little girl asked her mother “why,” then said, “he was talking to me.” I thought to myself, I’d rather you not say that, little girl. I might get shot for something like that.

I almost stopped to explain to the mother who I was and try to reassure her that I’m just a harmless guy with long hair. But then I thought, what if she finds that suspicious? In the end I just kept going.

I’m proud of that mother for coming outside, for intervening. She did her job. I just wish it wasn’t her job. I wish she didn’t have to be suspicious of a fellow out for an evening stroll in the nice fall weather. I’d rather not be thought of as the bogie man. Even if it is almost Halloween.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Public Speaking and Anxiety

A major problem for those who aren't practiced at public speaking is the anxiety evoked by standing up in front of people to talk. I know how debilitating this can be because I suffered from it myself when I first started teaching. Unfortunately, I don't know an easy way to overcome this anxiety. There aren't any magic words to make the fear go away. However, there are some things that can help.

1. Avoid drinking a lot of caffeinated beverages before you talk. Yes, you need to be alert, but fear will probably do that for you anyway. Caffeine is a stimulant. In some people, even low doses of caffeine can actually create anxiety and even trigger panic attacks, especially when taken in association with an already anxiety producing event. Almost everyone who takes high doses of caffeine will increase their anxiety levels. Don't make yourself more nervous.

2. It's less anxiety provoking to talk about facts than opinions. Part of a speaker's anxiety will be the fear of being wrong, of making a mistake. Facts can be memorized and one can site supporting documents for them. That makes them hard to argue with. Opinions are easy to argue with. Everyone's got one. So, make as much of your talk factual as possible.

3. Practice, practice, practice. The more you prepare, the more you can knock your presentation out while half asleep, the less anxiety you'll feel.

4. It's good speaking practice to make eye contact with the entire group that you're talking to. However, early in your speaking career, you may need to find one or two supportive people to keep looking back to. You know, the folks who smile encouragingly when you make eye contact. If possible, why not salt your audience with a person or two who will offer such support and encouragement. I know that I like to have a few friends in the audience when I talk, although it's not always possible to do so.

5. Prioritize your presentation. People who teach you how to speak will tell you many things that you should do. Trying to remember all those different things can be intimidating. Keep in mind that your actual "talk" is priority number 1. You need to speak clearly and loud enough to be heard so that your information will be conveyed. A second priority is making a connection with the audience through eye contact, gestures, and smiles. Whether you have good posture or not, or whether you stand still at the podium, are lower level priorities. Don't let worry about those issues interfere with the more important elements.

6. Deep breaths and relaxation before you talk. Do things that normally help you combat anxiety.

7. Time passers. If you need a moment to think, a moment to remember where you are in your talk, have a glass of water handy to sip from. The audience will give you the time you need. Just don't stand there and hem and haw

8. Finally, if all else fails remember that it'll be over soon, that you'll still be alive, that the sun will rise, the earth will turn, and somebody somewhere thinks you're OK.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Some Pictures

Posting pictures today. Lana and I got a digital camera for our wedding from one of her good friends, and yesterday we took a bunch of pics at the Flatwoods, the nearby preserve I've mentioned here a few times. I thought I'd share a few so here goes.