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?