Sunday, November 30, 2008

December 1

December 1. One more week of classes and then final exams. After that it’ll be Christmas break. There’ll be a lot of work before then, though. The end of the semester is typically the hardest. This year won’t be quite so bad for me, though, because I had release time so that I only taught two classes instead of my usual three.

The release time was for a long-term project to write a book about science and religion, particularly where the conflict between evolution and creationism occurs. That conflict is a tremendous waste of energy in my opinion. In the first place, acceptance of the theory of evolution certainly does not require one to believe in God, but it doesn’t require that you disbelieve either. No scientific theory can require a belief in God. That’s just not the way science works. Science attempts to explain the physical world, and it applies to the physical world only. Science can answer many, many questions, but it does not tell us if there is an ultimate truth about the purpose of humankind. People of faith approach the great question of ultimate meaning from a different direction. Both ways of looking at the world are legitimate, and—-I believe—-can even compliment each other.

My project is not finished. I completed three chapters of the work, to go with seven chapters that I had previously finished. However, as I moved into the section on religion I found that I needed quite a bit more reading to ensure that I got the views right. That won’t be easy. Despite appearances, the creationism front is itself full of divergent views.

I did make good progress, though, and also managed to finish three reference articles in addition. Unfortunately, that didn’t leave much time for fiction. Maybe during the break I’ll be able to do some more of that.

In the meantime, with the holidays coming, don’t forget great gift ideas from the Charles Gramlich library: ;)

Cold in the Light

Swords of Talera

Wings Over Talera

Witch of Talera

Wanting the Mouth of a Lover. (See Sidebar to the Right. Scroll down just a bit.)


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving, and Friday's Forgotten Books

First let me wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, and forgive me for not getting around for all my regular blog visits today. I didn’t get to check blogs Wednesday and when I called up my Google Reader list this morning the number of posts was just beyond any chance of catching up. So I used the “Mark all as Read” choice and spent the rest of the day eating turkey and napping.

My post for today/tomorrow is for Forgotten Book Fridays, which is the brainchild of Patti Abbott. My choice for today is The Secret of the Martian Moons by Donald A. Wollheim. It was publishd by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston in 1955, and was part of a “juvenile” line, what today would be considered young adult. It’s an example of an SF subgenre that I’d call “Space Opera,” where the emphasis is on adventure.

“Martian Moons” was published before I was born, and I’m not quite sure at what age I read it. Probably I was no more than 12 or 13, and I found the book in the small Charleston, Arkansas library. At that time I wanted to be an astronaut myself and was especially enamored of Mars. This story didn’t let me down with its mixture of adventure and mystery.

The story begins with Nelson Parr, returning to Mars at age 16 after four years on earth. Nelson had been born on Mars, where his parents were scientists investigating the civilization left behind by an original Martian race. Unfortunately, the scientists had not had much luck in cracking the mystery of the aliens and Earth politicians were about to shut down the project because of costs.

But when everyone else leaves Mars to return to earth, Nelson, his father, and a few others stay behind on a “secret mission.” I won’t tell you what this mission is; it’s part of the fun of the book. But I will say that it involves a secret trip to Phobos, and later Deimos, which mean “fear” and “panic” by the way. And along the way there is one exciting revelation after another about the mystery of Mars’ original civilization.

This was all pretty heady stuff to the boy I was then, and in preparation for this post I reread the book and found it just as much fun, although not quite as surprising, as I had in those long gone days of youth. I even realized that elements from this book have worked their way unconsciously into concepts that I’ve developed for my own writing, including for the universe in which the Talera stories are set.

The Secret of the Martian Moons was a book that I remembered for years and years until, in my forties, I sought it out and bought my own copy. I remember the smile on my face when the package arrived and I took the book out and ran my fingers over the cover. And sitting here now writing this, I’m still smiling.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wherein I Get Tagged

The Sphinxy one tagged me, and since I was casting around for my next post I thought: Why not? It’s “Six Random Things About Me.” Or maybe it’s “eight.” I’m not sure but I’ll go for six, because there surely aren’t eight things that folks don’t know about me. First, here are the rules. Let’s see how many of them I manage to follow.

The Rules:
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

1. I played football from 7th through 12th grade. I loved it, even though I almost always played on losing teams. At that time, Charleston was the smallest school in our district and we seldom had more than 20 kids out for football, not even enough to field two full squads. Most of the other schools had at least forty kids out, and some had seventy to eighty. We lost a lot, but we played hard. I played halfback on offense and either cornerback or safety on defense. I played a lot more defense than offense. In my junior and senior years our whole defensive backfield made all district.

2. I grew up in the country where hunting and fishing expanded our larder. That means I’ve had guns most of my life. I got my first pistol, a .22, at about fifteen. By the time I was 18 I had a shotgun (12 gauge) and a couple of rifles, a Remington 30.06 and a Browning Lever action .22. I sold the shotgun and the Remington when we needed money early in my first marriage, but I still have the Browning. I now have three pistols, a Colt Trooper .357, a Sig 228 9mm, and a Uberti single action .357. I know there are “gun nuts” out there, but most people I know who own guns are responsible and careful with them. I don’t understand sometimes the vehement resistance I see in folks to gun ownership. A gun is a tool, albeit a dangerous one that you should always exercise caution around. I do a fair amount of shooting at the range and enjoy it. I never pick up a gun without making sure it’s unloaded. I practice so that I know how to shoot and I keep my weapons clean. I’ve taught my son how to shoot and how to load and unload guns so that he understands and respects them. Respect is the key, it seems to me, not fear.

3. I may be an adult but I still love naps. Lana says my superhero name is “The Napping Avenger.” In a perfect world I’d have a siesta every day. I find them both pleasant and very energizing. I get a lot more work done on days that I nap than on those I don’t.

4. I begin every rest period by telling a story to myself. I’ll create a scenario, such as being transported to an alternate earth where none of the great SF, Fantasy, and Horror novels have been written, and then I’ll spin out a story of what I might do in that world over the course of dozen nights or so. I switch up stories all the time, although I often go back and retell stories with variations. It’s just how I get off to sleep.

5. My favorite games growing up were war games, and I played very elaborate ones all by myself. (I lived six miles away from the nearest kid my age.) I created one game where I used seeds from various trees as soldiers. Walnuts, Chinaberries, Acorns, yellow berries, hickory nuts, and others. Each type of seed represented a different race of beings (a precursor to the Talera stories perhaps). The acorns were tribal, with each oak tree producing it’s own tribe. We had two chinaberry trees in our back yard and the chinaberries became my favorite group. I developed a two party political system for them, a religion in which the Emperor was worshipped as a god, and a military that included an army, navy, air force, and mercenary forces. There were numerous tales of heroism that I came up with for the Chinaberries. Some day I’ll have to tell you about the “Lost legion.”

6. Next to war games, my favorite games growing up involved football. I created my own football “league” of teams using empty shotgun shells for the players. Each year after dove season, where a lot of folks would hunt on our land, I’d go and gather up all the empty shells and then the existing teams would hold a “draft.” I had an elaborate set of rules for how the pieces played, and I used a large rectangular piece of Formica as the “field.” My four teams were the Mongols, the Saxons, the Knights, and the Marauders.

And now I break the rules. I’m not going to tag anyone, but anyone who wants to take part please feel free to do so.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Contrast and Completion

First, thanks very much to both Laughingwolf and Demon Hunter for giving me this award.

Ain’t she a beaut? It probably won’t be a surprise to anyone that I don’t follow all the rules upon receiving this award. I follow enough rules in my day to day work life that I tend to resist them when I’m expressing myself here on the blog. Call me an anarchist! Or just a lazy idiot! It would be impossible anyway to just nominate 10 of my blog colleagues. I see so much wonderful stuff here every day.

And now for my own day’s post. Since I’m working from home today I decided to sleep out on our deck last night. It’s getting pretty cool here now. The temp dropped into the low 40s and there was a gusting breeze, but I built myself a cocoon of blankets on top of my cot and snuggled down as toasty as a pig in warm mud. Even though I was aware of the occasional ping of acorns or twigs on the deck’s tin roof, I slept wonderfully and feel very rested today.

It’s really a different experience sleeping outside. I could hear the constant murmur of the breeze, and feel it caressing the cot. I heard night birds and a few other critters I couldn’t name. The chill in the air around me increased the pleasure I found in being warm and snug. It's the contrast effect, I guess. The awareness of contrast somehow enhances my emotional feelings.

I remember when I was a kid, during the winter, when it would get cold as could be in my room at night because we had such a big drafty house. And even though I was snug under the covers, I'd deliberately stick my foot out and let it get cold so I could draw it back under the quilt and feel the enveloping warmth. And I remember when we’d have winter rains and I’d pull a chair up close to the edge of our porch, snuggle up in a blanket, and read there where droplets of chill mist could drift over me.

I guess it's hard to understand and appreciate the good unless you’ve experienced the bad. How can you truly know warmth if you’ve never known cold? How can you understand the true wonders of a good meal unless you’ve gone hungry? I guess I have to be thankful for the women who broke my heart when I was younger, or else I wouldn’t understand now how wonderful my life is with Lana.

I am truly blessed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Recent Reads

I finished reading The Year of Living Biblically and really enjoyed it. I thought the author, A. J. Jacobs, did a good job of taking a fair and unbiased approach to his subject. One thing he pointed out, and it's something I've thought about before, is that even people who say they take the Bible literally don’t really do so. There are many things in the Bible that everyone pretty much agrees should be taken metaphorically. For example, “Ye are the salt of the earth,” clearly doesn’t mean that people are literally salt. Almost every person who looks at the Bible religiously will follow some rules and not others. How many moderns always wear white, for example, which is an injunction in Ecclesiastes?

Another book I’ve started reading is The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is what I call an anti-theist and really doesn’t want folks to believe in God. It’s an interesting read so far, although far from a convincing one. Most of his arguments are statistical in nature, although the statistics could be used just as easily to counter his points. I’ll say much more about this eventually in a longer piece.

I also just finished Phillip Ellis’s poetry collection called The Flayed Man and Other Poems. Ellis is an Australian poet and this is the first collection of his I’ve read. It’s really tremendous, particularly “Deep in Darkness” and “Deep in the Midnight,” which are almost companion pieces. I highly recommend it, from Gothic Press.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Creating Characters Part 2: Stereotypes

Standard thinking is that good characters avoid being stereotypes. I think that’s a bit oversimplified. Consider a character named “Joe.” We first meet Joe at a gun show in Alabama. He’s around fifty, long hair, beard, wearing blue jeans, motorcycle boots, and a t-shirt that reads: “Always outnumbered, Never outgunned.” He has a southern accent. We see him talking with one gun dealer about the best weapons for home defense, then see him buying reloaded ammunition for this .357 magnum. He finally buys a machete before leaving.

What kind of vehicle does Joe drive away in?
a. sports car
b. SUV
c. pickup truck
d. a hybrid

What level of education do you think Joe has?
a. high school only
b. college degree
c. advanced degree, (MA, PhD, JD)
d. high school dropout

If you selected “c” for the first question and either “a” or “d” for the second one, then you’re doing what most readers do, you’re buying into stereotypes. Readers will say they don’t like stereotypes but they use them all the time to guide them into a story. And if you suddenly break stereotypes as a writer you run the risk of losing the reader.

Characters should avoid being complete stereotypes, of course, but the writer usually needs to bend stereotypes gradually rather than snapping them all at once. You have to lead the reader into your character, and remember that almost all readers will make certain assumptions about your characters based on stereotypes.

By the way, Joe is essentially me. The gun show mentioned was in Louisiana instead of Alabama, and was a composite of several gun shows I’ve visited. But other than that it’s me. And I don’t drive a pickup.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Creating Characters: Part 1: Why Women are Weird

A couple weeks back in my critique group we went over a writer’s chapter in which two women have a confrontation and argument revolving around a man they both like. I and the other two men in the group thought the chapter worked well. Information was revealed. The plot got moved along. And, we thought there was even some nice characterization going on.

Three of the women in the group were having none of it. The scene didn’t work for them because they thought one of the women in the scene was too aggressive and blunt. In general, the women in the group thought that character was acting too much like a man, and that there should be more subtlety and undercurrents expressed in the argument scene. One woman even went so far as to say “real women” were more subtly vicious and cruel under these circumstances. Now, here’s the kicker for me. The author of the chapter was a woman.

Several weeks before this event, I was telling another group about a scene in a story I was writing where a mother acts a certain way after her child runs away from home. The three women in the group immediately tore my idea to shreds. “A mother would never act that way,” they said.

Skip forward to another moment in my critique group. I have a scene where two women, one a female warrior and the other an empress, are interacting. There’s distrust and hostility there and I tried to convey it with undercurrents in the dialogue, which wasn’t easy because the warrior prefers to let her actions speak louder than her words. One of the female group members said: “Well, I have to keep in mind that this is a man’s idea of women.”

OK, I’m confused. And it’s not the first time I have been so confounded by the other half of the human race. My confusion runs something like this: 1) Would not the woman author in the first instance have a legitimate feel for how women might act in a given situation? 2) Are all mothers precisely the same in how they’d react to a child gone missing? 3) Are there not variations in how women act, or do all women react exactly the same way to such experiences as an argument with another woman?

In defense of my own scene with the mother, I must say that I ran the same scenario past a female friend of mine who is a mother and she said: “That’s exactly what I’d do.”

I understand that men often put women into fiction simply for sexual reasons or to act as window dressing. Well, women do that to men sometimes, as well. And neither of those tactics leads to good characterization. Good characters definitely have subtleties, and they have varied responses to the world around them. I’ve known women who have been blunt, snide, vicious, understanding, supportive, emotional, unemotional, and just about every other descriptor you can imagine in specific situations. I don’t think women are always one thing.

So why are women so hard to characterize in writing? How easy is it to get a female character wrong? What kind of things should you never do in creating a female character? Male writers, and some female writers, want to know.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Death by Misadventure

The LSU football team lost a hard fought game against Alabama this weekend. That’s not my story. Sometime later, according to a radio report that I heard this morning, an LSU fan phoned an Alabama fan of his acquaintance and an argument ensued. Said LSU fan then drove over to the Alabama fan’s house, apparently taking his wife along, and a fist fight followed.

At some point, according to the radio, the LSU fan pulled a gun. But it so happened that the Alabama fan also had a weapon, a shotgun, which tends to trump other cartridge weapons at close range. The LSU fan and his wife are now dead. Radio announcer announced that “alcohol was apparently involved.”

My first thought was that the Darwin Awards had claimed two more. Stupidity will weed itself out (though I don’t see nature doing the job very quickly). My second thought was a touch of guilt at my first thought. Hello! Human beings dead here. Maybe I should have more compassion. Though I seem to be having a hard time working it up. What compassion I feel is for the poor families of those involved, not only for the dead ones but the relatives of the fan who did the killing. They must be going through hell because someone couldn’t hold their liquor. A sad day for them.

Come on people! Get a little perspective. It’s a football game for crying out loud. The sun will come up tomorrow for you.

If you let it.

And now for a song with some lyrics appropriate to that story, as well as to honor our vets on this day of remembrance. It's by Saxon and is called Broken Heroes.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Oh Happy Day

For reasons unknown, some kind of virus popped up on my work computer this morning. It keeps opening up webpages that I don't want to visit, and seems to be activated every time I intentionally open up a different site. Our ITC department tells me I have to take the computer to them for a mind wipe, which frightens me nearly as much as the virus. I'm going to back up everything first. I like my work computer and I'm wondering if it will ever be the same again. It's like Electroshock therapy for a PC.

In the meantime, I may not be posting a lot or viiting blogs as often for the next few days anyway. I have a bunch of tests to grade, some writing tasks that I'm behind on, and some things I need to help Lana with. In addition, there are a couple of football games I'd like to catch this weekend and it's not looking good for that.

I'm reading a fun book, though, The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs. It's a nonfiction work about the author's attempt to live for a year following--literally--the rules of the Bible. Jacobs says that he was born Jewish but was never really raised religiously. But he wanted to find out how difficult it would be to follow the Bible. He wants to try and understand the mindset of those who do this, or mostly do this, and since I'm interested in that topic too I felt it was worth a read. There's a lot of humor in the book, but it also makes some very good points about religion and secularism in our country.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Lana's Blogiversary and Moonrat Day

Politics aside, today is notable for two other reasons. I give you these below.

1. Today is the one year blogiversary of my lovely wife, Lana. Her "The Dreaming Tree" has gained her quite a bit of recognition, and in honor of the support that everyone has given her, she's going to be giving away one of her awesome paintings. I'd try to win it myself but I get to see them all as they are being created. And that's the absolute best. Check her blogiversary post out and enter to win HERE.

2. It's Moonrat day in honor of our favorite editor. To play along, win prizes, make comments, write haiku, and enjoy many other fun things, check out Celebrating the Moonrat. I think you'll enjoy.

Monday, November 03, 2008


I awoke to a very unpleasant sound this morning. We have been trying to buy the lots next to us where we live to keep folks from building on them but have had little luck in tracing ownership of said lots. Then I saw a sign up last week that I thought was a lot for sale just one over from ours. I immediately called to make an offer only to find out that it had already been sold and that no information could be released on the buyer. This morning, before 8:00, they started clearing the lot and the awful sound I heard was a bulldozer tearing down trees. I don’t begrudge others wanting a bit of nature in their lives. That’s why we moved where we did. But with the constant building—at least 12 houses have gone up in our neighborhood since we moved there in 2006—we’re rapidly losing the very nature that we wanted to get a piece of. It’s very saddening and I’m really not feeling very happy today. I want to get back somewhere in the woods with hundreds of acres around us as a cushion against other people. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

As a quick warning note, if you see a book by Peter Benchley called Creature, be aware that it’s the exact same book as his White Shark. I liked the book when I read it but didn’t need two copies. Now I have two because I didn’t realize it was just a change in title.

Finally, below is a complete—I believe—list of all those flash fiction stories and poetry that were written for Halloween Horror October. I’ve also included links to Halloween art from our blog colleagues, and links to blogs where nonfiction materials were published about Halloween. My own stories can be found in my post backlog under the names Halloween Flash #1 through #7. Thanks again to everyone who participated and who visited. Happy Halloween!

Halloween Flash Fiction Stories and Poetry:

Donnetta Lee, Spirit Moving.
Donnetta Lee, Loop.

Avery Debow, Empress of the Fescue.
Avery Debow, Problem Child.
Avery Debow,The Love of the Job.

L. A. Mitchell (an Award Winning Story), Home.

Sidney Williams, Having His Say.
Sidney Williams, Jack-O-Lanterns.

Miladysa, Twisted.

Bernardl, Jack-o-Lantern.
Bernardl, Last Halloween Fiction.

SQT, Election Day.

Lucas Pederson, The Lesson.
Lucas Pederson, Hell Plate.
Lucas Pederson, The Creeper.

Stewart Sternberg, Fat Man.

Vesper: Fortune.
Vesper, On a Halloween Night.

Will Kinshella, Halloween Flash.

Mark C. Durfee, Trick or Treat.

JR, Inspire.

Writtenwyrd, Chocophobia.

Travis, Investigating a Mysterious Ending.

Ferrel D. Moore, Little Friends .

Barbara Martin, Halloween Flash.

Sarah Hina, Run.

Jason Evans, The Forgotten Ones.

Billy Hammett, It Is a Fearful Thing.

Laughingwolf, freaky flash iii.
Laughingwolf, witch.
Laughingwolf, overlord.
Laughingwolf, Polterguest.
Laughingwolf, Dawn Coyote.
Laughingwolf, freaky flash IX, night.
Laughingwolf, flight.
Laughingwolf, analine..
Laughingwolf, lady jane.
Laughingwolf has another freaky flash up: Chance
Laughingwolf, freaky flash IX, night.
Laughingwolf, lobo.
Laughingwolf, rider
Laughingwolf (Adult Language Warning): taboo

Nonfiction Halloween Horror links:
Rick, “The Writer and the White Cat” ran a very informative series about the “monsters” of horror fiction.

Scott, Blog of the Beast did a series on horror movies, including one of the goriest films ever, “Dead-Alive,” which was directed by none other than Peter Jackson.

Writtenwyrd, Marketing Horror, markets for horror fiction.

Barbara Martin, Dracula, posts about horror films.

Travis, (a great true story of haunting),Ghost. Well worth checking out.

Halloween inspired art:
Steve Malley, here.

Jack Bertram, Frankenstein versus Hercules