Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Agents and Other Elusive (Mythical?) Creatures

I am told there are such beings as literary agents. I’ve even seen their footprints and heard their apparent calls in the great wilds of the internet. But man, they are wary creatures and so far I have no firm physical evidence of their existence. Much like Sasquatch, all the sightings come from other folks, and even though I believe many of those folks are generally reliable witnesses, there is always the chance of a misidentification. Perhaps it was a wandering minstrel. Or a politician.

Let me tell you about my own hunt for the legendary agent. It began in 1994. I was in a writing group with a fellow who had one. He recommended me and one of my friends, who was also in the group, to his “connection.” We both sent query letters at the same time concerning our newly finished manuscripts. Both of us had PhDs, and both of us had published before, although I had many more short story sales under my belt than my friend. After 3 weeks my friend got a personal phone call from the agent asking to see his whole manuscript. After 3 months I got a form rejection saying, thanks for your manuscript but it’s not right for us. Uhm, I only sent a query there. Did you even read the letter?

I then sent a query and sample to a local New Orleans agent who I’d met at a book signing for one of her authors. She was quite gracious in saying “no,” and that she didn’t represent Science Fiction, although this was for Cold in the Light and the SF elements are pretty minor. I think it might have been the gore. Still, it was refreshing to find someone who’d actually read the thing and I was gratified at my progress.

Then I got a call from an agent who was interested in my work. I was quite enthusiastic, until I found from a quick internet search that the fellow was being sued by several of his clients for stealing their money and was generally considered scum by many writers. I turned him down, although in truth it was kind of hard to do.

Well, remember my friend from the writing group who got the personal call from an agent? That agent ended up not signing him, but my friend soon got another agent to represent his work. And now, he recommends me to this agent. Eagerly, I send off my query. Months pass. I email. Nothing. I email again. Nothing. Finally, I hear through my friend that the agent has decided to get out of representing fiction. Perhaps a gentle line in my direction would have been appreciated. I never heard a thing.

Over a year passed before I tried again to acquire an agent. And I got one. She seemed enthusiastic about my work. I went around with a smile on my face for a couple of months. Then came the morning I opened my email and found a note from her saying that, because of health reasons, she was retiring from the literary biz. Turns out, she’d never sent my manuscript out to anyone. Or, was she only another of those UFO sightings that turn out to be weather ballons?

I immediately began querying other agents, or at least those who "claimed" to be agents. One wrote me concerning a partial of Cold in the Light and she also seemed very enthusiastic. I sent her the whole manuscript at her request, and at least she read it and paid attention. But in the end she decided it had too much horror in it for her. Alas, she had obviously never experienced the horror of searching for an agent or she would have thought “CITL” was pretty tame by comparison.

After that, I gave up on agents and started submitting “CITL” to small publishers myself and sold it to The Invisible College Press. Several years later, when I was starting work on a new thriller, another friend from a writing group recommended me to her agent. I got a personal phone call from that agent and we seemed to hit it off pretty well. I thought. I sent her a copy of “CITL,” a copy of an anthology that had a story in it by me that had won an award, and information on the other thriller project, as well as stuff about the first two Taleran books, which by that time had been published as magazine serials. I also included some ideas that I had concerning nonfiction, primarily because I wanted the agent to know that I’d made quite a bit of money over the years from NF. I’d heard that agents like writers who might make them some money.

That was over three years ago now and I still haven’t heard another peep. Well, as all Bigfoot hunters know, you set up your recording devices in the forest and you listen and listen, and once in a while you hear a "cry" you can't clearly identify. But then everything is silence and you wonder, was it really Bigfoot? Or maybe just a mocking bird?

So there you have it. Literary agent? Reality or myth? Perhaps what I heard on the phone those times was only a ghost. Or a mimic. Perhaps the footprints I think I’ve seen are really cardboard cutouts constructed by some clever and creative writer.

To heck with those shows where they try to find Hogzilla or Nessie. Why don’t they track down something really elusive, like the literary agent? I’ll believe in them when the evidence is right in front of me. Until then, they remain a fascinating possibility, but I’m not quite ready to buy their existence. I certainly wouldn't bet on it.

Shazbot, Nanu Nanu

Saturday, September 27, 2008


I haven’t been keeping up with blogs well because I’m very busy working on a 2000 word article on “Fear” for a Mental Health reference book. You’d think a horror writer would be perfect for such an article, but it’s not about my “thoughts” on fear, or about anything to do with writing horror fiction. (I have plenty of thoughts on those.) It’s about the physical and mental attributes that accompany fear, and how these are controlled in the brain. I’m enjoying it, but am finding it fairly effortful. I know the general physiology but there are a lot of details that I need a refresher on. Just below is the abstract of the piece, which will give you an idea of the focus.

Fear is an unpleasant emotion that occurs in response to an immediate and identifiable threat, usually of an external nature. It includes physiological elements such as increased heart rate and muscular tension, behaviors such as running or hiding, and hormonal changes like the release of epinephrine (adrenaline). It should be differentiated from “anxiety,” where the threat is only anticipated and is often not specifically identifiable. Fear is largely adaptive, in that it prepares us for immediate danger, while anxiety is maladaptive, in that it occurs to threats that cannot be controlled or avoided.

To bring this post around to writing, though, I’ve seen other writers talk about the internet and how it can distract one from writing. I agree that one can get caught up in surfing and lose sight of your writing goals, but--for me--net access has become extremely important to my productivity and the speed with which I can complete projects. However, this is true only for nonfiction. I just finished two other nonfiction articles and I had the net up almost the entire time while I was writing them. I was able to fact check at a click of the mouse, and was able to access journal articles and historical documents galore to give me just the details I needed when I needed them. My productivity level with nonfiction is three or four times what it was before I had regular net access. I would have had to spend a lot more time in libraries and ordering material through interlibrary loan. That time now is spent in actual writing.

With fiction, however, I tend to write away from the net. Oh, I find it helpful on occasion to quick check facts online about sailing ships, or weapons, or various props that are used in my story, but fiction is not primarily factual. Stories need mood and atmosphere, and the net can’t give me that. Also, fiction is hard, harder to me than nonfiction, and when I get to a sticking point on a story I can so easily allow myself to “see if there are any comments on my blog,” or “check my email.” This is the death knell for “flow.” A sticking point in nonfiction can be broken by more research. A sticking point in fiction usually can’t, because it’s not about the facts but about the “feel.”

How about you? What’s your take on the net and writing. Helpful in all cases? Harmful? Or is it different for different forms of writing?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Follow-up to Hot, Blue, and Righteous

Well, I’m scrounging for blog posts at the moment, not having a lot of time outside of work to “think.” So, here’s a follow-up to my last post.

Those who guessed this poem is about ZZ Top, also known as “That Little Old Band from Texas,” are correct and win…uhm, well, nothing. The poem contains numerous references to the Top, mostly in song titles, or occasionally in lyrics. I’m annotating the poem below with the references, in brackets []. As you can see, if you care to read through it, some of the references are clear and concrete while others are oblique or downright vague. But this is how my mind works sometimes while I’m drinking, especially when I get to just the right level of buzz. As you can also see, the moral of this piece is “Drugs are bad. Okay. Kids, don’t do drugs.”

HOT BLUE & RIGHTEOUS [song title]

Three [3 members in the Top] went blind [Song title is “Arrested for Driving while Blind”] to Texas [the Top’s home state]

Down to the forest and the [lyric from “Jesus Just left Chicago”] plains [“Plains” is a common mishearing of the real word, “Pines,” in “Jesus Just left Chicago.” In fact, I thought it was “plains” for years.]

Drew a last “got paid” from the bank [Song title, “Just Got Paid”]

Bought one hellraiser [from “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers”] bottle of black [ref to “Black Fly” song + a twist on the line “drink down a bottle of midnight red” from “Groovy Little Hippie Pad”]

Carried a siphon under pressure [“She’s Got Me Under Pressure” is a lyric from a Top song]

Cause gas cost too much nationwide [Song title, “I’m bad, I’m Nationwide”]

And they bummed [“Bummed” is a frequently misheard lyric for “bombed” in the song “Pearl Necklace”] in sparks and beer [from the songs “Master of Sparks” and “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers”]

And smoked the butts gone [ref. to the song “Mexican Blackbird”]

Drank the Rio Grande to dregs [“Rio Grande Mud” was the Top’s second album and the first one I bought. Also, drinking is common in a lot of Top songs." The Rio Grande also borders Texas]

While the Top played the radio [for ZZ Top, of course, and you hear ‘em a lot on radio]

And they dreamed women [Most Top songs seem to be about women]

Blackbirds and pearls [Ref’s to song titles “Mexican Blackbird” and “Pearl Necklace”]

Francine with legs [“Francine” and “Legs” are both ZZ Top song titles, and both songs are about women, as referenced in previous line]

But when momma called [Next few lines, down to “Boogie Woogie,” are only slightly twisted lyrics from the song “Backdoor Medley,” one of my favorite Top pieces]
On that long distance cell-o-phone
And daddy didn’t tell ‘em

To Boogie Woogie [Papa said “Let that boy Boogie Woogie.”]

They brought their blue jeans [from song titled “Blue Jean Boogie”]

Home to Mississippi [several songs, but mainly “My Head’s in Mississippi”]

What’s up with that? [a song title]


Monday, September 22, 2008

Hot Blue and Righteous

Some of you will get the references in this drunken piece of drivel, but only if you're a fan of a certain Little Old Band. There's even a tie-in between the band and the second part of my post for today.


Three went blind to Texas
Down to the forest and the plains
Drew a last “got paid” from the bank
Bought one hellraiser bottle of black
Carried a siphon under pressure
Cause gas cost too much nationwide
And they bummed sparks and beer
And smoked the butts gone
Drank the Rio Grande to dregs
While the Top played the radio
And they dreamed women
Blackbirds and pearls
Francine with legs
But when momma called
On that long distance cell-o-phone
And daddy didn’t tell ‘em
To boogie woogie
They brought their blue jeans
Home to Mississippi
What’s up with that?

Also, a good friend of mine, Scott Hall, has just started to blog. He’s a fellow REHupan, a fine writer, and another “longhair.” Please give him a welcome over at Blog of the Beast. And no, beast is a nickname for him, not anything to do with him being the son of Satan. Although, I swear a time or two in Cross Plains, Texas I’ve seen the outline of horns under his Viking hair. Coulda just been the beer. And the mead.

BTW, Scott and I have another thing in common. We’re both married to women far higher on the looks scale than we are. Talk about beauties and the beasts they married.

*Waves at Kim and Lana*

Saturday, September 20, 2008


I’ve seen quite a few blog posts lately on political issues. It’s understandable, given the times and the upcoming election. But I’m often at a loss as to how to comment on such posts, and I hope folks don’t get upset with me if I disagree with them. People often express very strong feelings, and it’s usually clear that they really “don’t” understand how anyone could believe differently from them. Of course, I’m the same way. If I view a candidate in a certain light, it seems obvious to me that my reasoning is correct. I like to tell myself that I make my decisions based on reason, but I know that isn’t always the case. Everyone wants to think they are being rational, but humans can’t escape their emotional natures. And this means you too, I’m afraid. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

I also find myself to be an incredible cynic these days where politics is concerned. I mean, when have we seen a politician who really seems to care about people in the modern world? Oh, they all give lip service to it. But do you believe their words? I’m afraid that most of the time I don’t. And I’m talking about Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. There’s an old adage: how do you know when a politician is lying? Answer: when his, or her, lips are moving. Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that there’s a lot of truth in that.

Many of the folks I see posting on politics are idealists. They honestly want to make the world a better place. I admire that. But I always want to warn folks that idealists are the politician’s favorite prey. If one can focus passion, then one can accomplish one’s goals. Unfortunately, the politician’s goals may not be the same as what the passionate believers “think” those goals are.

Cynics are not necessarily the enemy of politicians, however. If they’re so cynical that they do nothing, then the politicians can freely discount them. So, I’m going to vote. And I’m voting for the candidate that I “believe” best offers a chance for a change in the direction our country has been heading. Do I believe the direction will really change? Nope.

But I have hope. I suppose I just have to. It’s part of my irrational nature.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mood In Writing

The response to my Monday post suggested how important mood is to writing. It started me thinking that one of the primary goals of writing is, in fact, to create a mood in the reader—happy, angry, frightened, melancholy. A writer’s success at hooking the reader, or lack thereof, depends to a large extent on whether readers are experiencing the mood the writer wants them to experience. But how can words create a mood?

Fortunately, human beings are emotionally expressive. We’re wired for emotion and most of us like it. We read fiction to be emotionally involved. So, the writer has a partner in the drive to create a mood. I know, as a reader, I desperately want the writers of the books I’m reading to be successful. I’ll meet them halfway, but they are the ones driving and the first move is theirs.

I find that most writers have strengths and weaknesses in their ability to create mood. Personally, I find it easier to create melancholy moods than happy ones. I’m not exactly sure why. I’ve definitely experienced sad times, but I’ve had plenty of happy ones as well. I’m not generally a sad kind of guy. But an important aspect of creating mood in writing, I think, is for the writer to be experiencing the very mood they are trying to induce. When I’m happy, I tend to spend less time writing. I’m doing other, happy things. I express myself with laughter maybe, but happy moods don’t send me to the keyboard. In contrast, when I’m feeling a little down I seem to naturally gravitate toward words in an attempt to express the feeling.

I also find that certain words or phrases have the strength to evoke certain moods in me. “Gray rain.” “Barren trees.” “Cemetery.” “Coffin.” These shift my mind toward melancholy. “Zephyr wind.” “Clear stream.” “Cicada.” These tend to create a summer mood, peaceful and relaxed. A lot of this is the power of association. Cemeteries are associated with loss, and loss with sadness. In Arkansas, I remember hearing the Cicadas’ strident song every summer when I was working on the farm. To create mood we need to find the words that are associated with the experience of that mood. And those words and phrases, if we let them, will shift our own mood toward the one we’re trying to convey.

So, if you’re a writer, what mood do you find easiest to evoke? Which one is hardest? As a writer or a reader, or just a person in general, what words or phrases create mood for you? I’m curious to see how different your words are from mine.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Gray as Hearth's Ashes

Drove through a cemetery sky the color of steel-wool this morning. And "through" is the exact word. On the Causeway bridge over Lake Pontchartrain in the rain, with the clouds sewn gray around you like a tattered shroud, you are part of the sky. And alone. Oh, there were other cars on the road with me. But they were separate coffins. Each one set apart. Each one isolated.

And on such a day, the radio played only sad songs. Bound within the car's frame with my thoughts, it was impossible to believe that the music came from elsewhere, from far away. It seemed to arise wholly out of the bubble of space I occupied, transmuted from the whine and hiss of the tires on wet cement, and from the metronomic swish of the wipers.

My mood deepened, darkened. Why at such times do you always remember the wrongs you've done? I tried to weigh my contributions this morning, subtracting the bills that others have paid because of me. I'm afraid I found the balance sheet wanting. I’m in the red.

I wonder sometimes if the world will end this way for me, and I’ll be left driving on into the rain, driving on forever on a bridge that goes nowhere. I imagine the other cars sliding away, one by one. I feel the sky closing in until my wheels turn only on wind. Do you think there will be a moment when the music stops and I am caught in a world of gray amber, left to listen to gathering silence?

Will I know it when it happens?

Friday, September 12, 2008

I'm a Winner

How cool is this! I just won a $25.00 gift certificate over at the Book Roast for a t-shirt slogan idea I posted. There were some great entries so I’m amazed that I won. My entry was: “Reading: It’s not just for the bathroom anymore.” Thanks very much to Moonrat for selecting me, and to Chris Eldin for organizing these roasts, which must be a lot of work. I’ve already been poking around at Amazon to see what I want. Well, who am I kidding, I really kind of want them all. But I’m looking forward to narrowing my selection down.

As for the local conditions, we’ve had a lot of wind yesterday and today due to Hurricane Ike passing underneath us, but nothing serious has happened. But this is a big storm so I hope all our friends in Texas are bracing for impact or getting the hell out, depending on where they live.

In writing news, I’m working right now on the update for the Neuropsychological article and it’s getting close to done. I still have two original pieces to do, though, which will take longer, and I’m going to have to cut back on blogging a bit. This morning I had 50 new posts on Google Reader, then 18 more new ones after lunch, and 9 more just a few minutes ago. There is so much great stuff going on in the blog world, like the Book Roast, Bernardl’s online novel, the interviews that Shauna Roberts’ runs, and the funny cartoons that folks like Laughingwolf post, but I’m pretty close to saturation point at the moment. I’ll continue visiting blogs but won’t be posting comments as frequently. The writing just has to come first.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

To The Princess in the Olive-Green Volvo SUV

Dear Princess:

Clearly from our interactions on the highway this morning, I am not suited to share the road with your highness. However, because there might be other peasants who do not instantly recognize your royalty and may get in your way tomorrow, I wonder if you’d allow me to make a few humble suggestions and comments.

First, on-ramps onto the freeway are typically meant for one individual automobile at a time. In the future, instead of passing me on the on-ramp so that you can swing into the far lane before I’ve even merged, thus putting you fifty feet ahead of me, simply flick your headlights at me and I will instantly move over and allow you to proceed. After all, how dare I merge before you.

Second, strangely enough, despite your need for speed, when we got to the toll bridge some three miles later, you were precisely in front of me. Other peasants were in your way perhaps. Anyway, I’m sure you were far too busy with your high-level thoughts to read, but the line that says “toll-tag only” is actually meant for those who have toll-tags on their automobiles. There are several other lanes for those who will need to pay cash for their toll. Of course, despite my own toll-tag, I was happy to wait in line behind you while you searched through your purse for the three dollars. Other peasants might not be so patient, however, so perhaps you should get a personalized license plate that reveals your “royal blood.”

Third, I imagine you were putting your purse away, or some equally important task, as you got onto the Causeway, which would explain why you were driving slowly after leaving the toll booth. I am sincerely sorry that I attempted to pass you in the other lane, and I appreciate you cutting me off, forcing me to slam on my brakes as you finally selected “my” lane to drive in. It was thoughtless of me to attempt to drive the speed limit when you were going more slowly in front of me. You will note that I backed well off from your bumper after that event so that you could proceed unhampered by such dirt-grubbers as myself.

Fourth, what a glorious day it was to find that after driving 24 miles of the Causeway bridge, we arrived at the far end at almost precisely the same time. You may remember that you were in the left lane and I in the right. I am so sorry that I forgot my previous lesson and once more attempted to pass you. I was confused because your lane was moving more slowly than mine. How dare I take lane space better suited for your sweet little Volvo. My horn was only meant to indicate that I wanted out of your way before you took off my entire front end as you once more cut me off. I do appreciate you honking your own horn in acknowledgment.

And please have no doubt as to the intentions behind my lone fingered salute. It was only meant to indicate that you are indeed…Number 1.

Monday, September 08, 2008

When Death Comes for Me

Feel like rocking tonight. Listening to old Black Sabbath. “Sweet Leaf.” “Snow Blind.” “The Warning.” If there’s a soundtrack to evil, Black Sabbath wrote it.

Then I open a more modern Hell for some Black Label Society. “Suicide Messiah.” Or I listen to a little cultural commentary with Marilyn Manson’s “The New Shit” and The Crue’s “Find Myself.” Wind it up with a little “I am the Bullgod” with Kid Rock. After, I slow it down with “Space Lord” by Monster Magnet and then "Screaming in the Night" by Krokus.

Makes me want to ride a pale horse with the Wild Hunt, to feel the scrape of briars across my leathers while the horns skirl and reap the silence.

In my dreams sometimes I run the dark. My teeth are long. Crimson at the roots. At campfire’s edge, my eyes gleam wicked yellow. My pupils are dilated. And I am:


When death comes for me
I’ll wait in the black light
Armed to the teeth
With blade and bullet

Standing in the rain
The wine bite of life
Bloody on my tongue
Eyes smoking ready

When death comes for me
I’ll be fueled for fire
I’ll throw him a red kiss
But it won’t be sweet

Standing under eclipsed sun
With the wink of steel
Hiding cold in my fists
Smiling only with my mouth

When death comes for me
His angel wings spread dark
He’ll find a machine rusted
But sharp edged and poison

Standing in a blank wind
A ghost with scars for eyes
With ruins for memories
He’ll find me...watching


Saturday, September 06, 2008

Lost Days.

Is it already Saturday? How time flies when you have electricity. I remarked to Lana during the “Lost Days” as we refer to them, how slow time seemed to move when we had no computers, no telephone, no internet, no TV, and when we couldn’t even get out of our own yard. I read during those days, read and sweltered and occasionally grilled something on the barbecue. I wouldn’t mind a little bit of that slower pace sometimes, but only if it can come with AC at the same time.

Lana is still uploading videos from the Lost Days so I won’t steal that thunder. I’ll post here when they’re ready. The process is slow.

In other items, I finally managed to respond to my Google Reader feeds yesterday. When I got back online I found 198 posts waiting for me, and in a moment of “Oh my God, I can’t do this,” I hit “mark all as read.” Sorry about that, and about the great posts I'm sure I missed. But sanity required it. I’m still behind but I’ll start getting caught up today, and will resume making individual responses to comments on my own posts.

I’ve got to get started quickly, however, on three new reference articles for a book on mental health. I’ve got new pieces to do on the topics of “fear” and “transvestism,” and have to update an entry on Neuropsychology. I sent in a list of ten topics I’d be willing to work on, chosen from their master list of topics, saying that I only wanted three assignments total. This is the three.

The “fear” one is a natural for me since I’m interested in horror fiction and have given presentations on fear and horror before. And since I’m a biological psychologist, the neuropsych one is straightforward. I threw the transvestism topic in as a possibility because it’s something I don’t know much about, but I find it interesting as a disorder since the act of cross-dressing is so prevalent in our society. It seems like every TV sitcom has had some episode where a guy dresses as a woman and everyone laughs. I’m not quite sure why. I don’t know if they still do it, but there used to be a group of male Washington Redskin fans who dressed as really “ugly” women for the games. My tiny hometown of Charleston, Arkansas even has a “womanless beauty contest.” And, of course, in New Orleans there is Mardi Gras and Southern Decadence, both of which involve extensive costuming and cross-dressing.

I’ve already learned that the term “transvestism” was coined by Magnus Hirschfeld in 1910 in Germany. Hirschfeld had several things working against him during the later Nazi period and had to flee the country. He was Jewish, gay, a cross-dresser, and a foot fetishist. Worst of all, he was a medical doctor.

Finally, one book I read during the Lost Days deserves special mention. This is Nightblood by T. Chris Martindale. What an excellent action horror novel. It’s one of the best I’ve read in a long time. Great characters and action mixed with atmospheric horror and vicious vampires. I’ve read one other horror novel by Martindale, Where the Chill Waits, and it was even better. I’m reading a third one by Martindale now, and have a fourth one ready. That’s apparently all he wrote. One rather odd thing I’ve noticed about Martindale is that he, more than any other writer I’ve ever read, reminds me of my own writing style. I’m talking about the style I used in Cold in the Light particularly.

All right, time to make the Google Reader rounds.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Back Online At Last

Just a short note to say Lana and I got our power back this evening and can finally start to claw out from under our backlog of messages. Some initial priorities included baths. Four days without electricity in southern Louisiana, meaning no AC and no running water, can...well...let's just say that it's a good thing this net thing doesn't allow smellovision.

We came through the storm OK, and we'll be giving some updates as time permits. Lana did some short videos that she'll be showing over this week, too. Our main problem was the electricity going out on Monday morning about 8:00, and then getting trapped in our neighborhood by rising flood waters. Our house and cars survived, but for three days we weren't even able to move out of our driveway unless we walked.

Anyway, more later. For now I'm going to try to catch up on critical emails and dream of a night sleeping with AC.