Thursday, December 31, 2009


Well, the first of a new year is generally a time to look back, but I thought today I might look a little further back than usual. Below is my journal entry for January 1, 2006.

January 1--Sunday: Day 1 of the new year. We slept late and ordered pizza for lunch. Josh and Heidi were here. Then I watched some football and worked on my REH’s mental state article. Made very good progress on that. Played a little chess online here and there.

I’m basically pretty glad 2005 is over. What a steady series of shocks and problems we experienced. First, Lana’s mom died, and she lost an uncle and a friend as well. Then I had my motorcycle wreck and am still not completely recovered from that. Josh wrecked his bike, as well, and hurt himself a bit, but has recovered. Worse, he wrecked his Diamanti and it was totaled. Fortunately he was OK. He got another car at least, which was much cheaper and which he mostly paid for himself, but he seems to like it. We also had problem after problem with my Thunderbird. I put a lot of money into it early in the year, although it ran well at the end of the year. My sister Dolores died of colon cancer and it was a hard death. I'll never forget her last moments. For weeks I saw her face every time I closed my eyes. My own health did not fare all that well, either. My high blood pressure seems well controlled with medicine but my triglycerides went way up, to over 800, and my cholesterol increased some too, ending up over 200. Part of that was due to the blood pressure medicine. I haven’t felt my best in a long time.

And, of course, there came Hurricane Katrina in August. We got lucky in that we didn’t lose anything physically other than Lana's car, but we were forced out of our home for over three months, and even once we got back things have not been the same. We relocated to Austin for two months, which I didn’t find terribly bad, although Lana hated it. I got to work at the University of Texas, which was nice, and I got to spend time in a new environment. But for a couple of months I didn’t really see Josh, except for once when I flew into New Orleans. He stayed in our apartment, and he was unable to get back into school so he lost a semester. He finally did get a job that paid him quite a bit.

At one point, I got a grant and thought I was actually going to end up making some money. That thought died when Xavier fired over half its faculty. Although I was given a contract, Xavier took my grant money to pay it. The fear and depression over all this has been terrible, especially the sadness of seeing so many friends gone and worrying about how they will make it. And I don’t really have any idea what my future will be in the New Orleans area. I don’t know how well I have recovered from having my lifetime career so threatened. And to top things off, Cross Plains, Texas nearly burned down in December wildfires, although the Robert E. Howard House was spared. Still, there may be no one left to take care of things there considering how much fire damage there was in the town.

As for writing, 2005 was a non-fiction year and it was quite successful as far as money is concerned. I made decent money on the Salem Press articles, and on the fantasy articles for the Greenwood Encyclopedia. I also got the grant because of my writing on the Darwin book, which means I have made more money from that book now than from anything I’ve ever actually finished and had published. It may well have also saved my job because they got rid of a lot of people who didn’t get such grants.

In the coming year I hope to get back into fiction, but I don’t know how much time I’ll have considering the big work loads we are going to have at Xavier, what with release time cancelled and half our colleagues gone. I’d like to submit my three Talera novels somewhere, and have plans to work on that soon. I also need to continue work on the Darwin book and get it ready to submit for publication. I’d like to submit the writing Guidebook as well. Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to get motivated. So much stuff is up in the air about my life and career and I’m just a little tired. The other thing I’d like to do, though, is get myself a little more healthy, which means getting my triglycerides under control and getting off my prescription medicines, and eating a better diet.

So there you have it. That's what I remembered about 2005 on January 1 of 2006. Tomorrow I'll make another such journal entry. Not sure yet what I'm going to say. But maybe in a few years you'll see that one too.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Have You Noticed?

The last couple of Star Trek books I read were written by women. The one I’m reading now is by a man. And I’ve noticed something that I, 1) wonder if anyone else has noticed, and 2) wonder if it is a wide spread experience. I know there is a stereotype that might partially apply.

Specifically, in the Star Trek books by the women the characters are experienced in a much more internalized way. Even with the Vulcans we get to see a lot more of their emotional nature than we do with the book by the male author. Reading the male author book is a bit more like watching the TV episodes. We are treated with good visuals and we can see all the behaviors, as well as hear the dialogue, but we don’t really venture inside the characters. Is this a common difference between male and female authors?

Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes I felt that the female authors were reaching a bit when they started exploring the Vulcan emotions, but in generally I’m sort of missing the closer interactions with the characters that I’m not finding in the male written book. On the other hand, the male author’s version may be more realistic in that in real life we never actually see another person’s emotions from the internal perspective. We only see their behaviors. But we don’t really read books to get the absolute real world experience. We generally want a bit more. At least I do.

So, what do you think?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Updates and Reviews

Lana is improving steadily but my stepfather is still in the hospital and is struggling. Please continue to send him good thoughts. Our steak dinner with Josh and his girlfriend Heidi went off very well, though, and we had a great day.

I ended up cutting the preface for the anthology down by about 50 words and I think it’s a lot better. I also rearranged the story order in the book a bit because by putting the six Thal Kyrin stories in chronological order I would have had a relatively weaker story up first. I know you don’t want that in an anthology. I’m on the final read through now.

I just finished reading The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King. Often, I find King’s endings relatively weak and the rest of his stories pretty compelling. This was the reverse. The ending was quite strong but the path to get there was slow, slow, slow. This was one of King’s shorter books, only 254 pages in paperback, but I felt he really had ideas for a novella at most. I think cutting out a hundred pages toward the front and middle would have made this one sing. I haven’t much enjoyed the last couple of books I’ve read by King, but I so loved works like Misery, The Mist, and The Cell that I keep giving him chances. I know he can do it. That’s the thing.

I also finished Voices from the Dark by Gary William Crawford. This is a poetry collection. Most of the poetry is pretty dark, but I’m not sure I’d call this a “genre” collection. The cover certainly suggests that, but isn’t totally accurate. Crawford’s work really crosses all genres and ventures well into the mainstream. The book is subtitled “Selected Poems: 1979-2009” and is kind of a “best of.” I’ve read a fair number of the poems from the collection before, and have reviewed other collections by Crawford here on the blog; his works are regularly nominated for the Stoker Awards. Gary’s poetry is the kind that demands rereading anyway, though, so I didn’t mind revisiting some old favorites. There’s a lot going on in these pieces. If you haven’t tried any Crawford before, this would be a great introduction to his work. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Anthology

Almost everything is done on the anthology except a final read through. I'm calling it Bitter Steel.

I did a preface that is 700 words, although I’m gonna try to shave that down a bit. The preface focuses primarily on Robert E. Howard as the man who created the Sword & Sorcery genre. It doesn’t say too much about the stories in the collection, because I want them to stand on their own. I did mention that some of the stories have alternate endings to those that appeared in the original publications.

I set the Thal Kyrin stories up first in the collection, after an opening poem, and I put them into chronological order. That meant doing some revisions on a few of them, and I also used very short “end notes” behind a few stories to explain where gaps still exist. I made judicious use of “Author Notes” at the beginning of a couple of stories, primarily to let people know when they were going to get a humorous story as opposed to the more serious stuff that makes up the bulk of the collection. I also did a fair amount of tightening on the pieces throughout.

I’ve always kept a file labeled Story Notes, where I put information about when I wrote the stories and about any influences or other items that seem important to me. And I edited these notes heavily and included them at the end of the entire collection. I figure most readers will probably skip ‘em, but the writers might find those bits interesting.

Tomorrow I’m taking off because my son and his girlfriend are coming up for Christmas. I’m looking forward to seeing him. I’ve got the meal planned. Steak, corn on the cob, garlic bread with cheese, and ice cream for dessert.

Merry Christmas to everyone. I’ll be checking blogs again on Wednesday and then may take off for Christmas eve and Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Health Updates and Star Trek

Well, Lana is feeling a bit better, although she still has plenty of pain. She’s doing some passive exercises on her arm to keep the range of motion up. Unfortunately, I just got a call from my brother this morning to tell me that my step-father is in intensive care after a heart attack. We’ve been so worried about mom, and Ray has been a rock. But rocks crack, too, I guess. Two other family members are facing serious health issues as well. It’s been a hard couple of months for the family. Our world will change dramatically in the next few months.

But I didn’t start this blog to talk primarily about personal issues. I started it to talk about writing and reading, etc., and right now I need the distraction. Last night, before I got the latest bad news, Lana and I finally got around to watching the new Star Trek movie. I really enjoyed it. Watched it twice, in fact. I thought the characterizations were pretty spot on. The new Kirk, Christopher Pine, was the most different from the original character, but I really liked the character as he was envisioned. He’s a little harder edged maybe.

The writing was crisp and the overall story was excellent, even though I’ve not always been a fan of time travel stories. You can see that the writers and director paid close attention to the things that made Wrath of Khan such a great movie, and they riffed off of that pretty hard. I didn’t mind in the least.

I had wondered how I’d feel about the alternate universe storyline, but in retrospect I think it was an excellent as well as necessary choice. Should we call this series, Star Trek AU (for alternate universe)? It sets up dramatic future opportunities for a completely altered Federation, and I like the characters enough to want to see more. In fact, I thought the choices for the characters were truly inspired and they played off each other very well. And, the nice touches, like having the “red-shirt” get it on the space drop, were appreciated.

Of course, I could mention a few quibbles. I wasn’t enamored of the relationship between Uhuru and Spock. I can see that they are setting things up for Spock to be a much more emotional character in this series, and that may weaken future storylines. I’m also not sure about Scotty’s “sidekick.” Not sure what they’re going to do with that. The ship itself is also much “busier” on the inside, and that detracts a bit for me from the visuals, although it is probably realistic. These don’t really detract from my overall enjoyment of the story, though. The new Star Trek was a rousing good adventure and I highly recommend it.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Post Surgery

They started the surgery an hour late but finally got it done. The doctor said it came out well and that the main problem was some bone spurs and a tear in the tissue that connects the bone to the shoulder. They repaired all that.

Lana is pretty miserable at the moment. Her throat is very sore from the intubation and she’s having quite a bit of pain. She didn’t really get to sleep until about 5:30 this morning. But hopefully she will feel better soon. We’ll both rest easier. Then I’ll be returning to regular blogging and blog visiting.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Break Begins

I finished my grading and turned them in Friday. Then I went to bed and slept for over ten hours Friday night. Saturday I took it pretty easy, although I did some reading on the anthology. Later I watched Terminator: Salvation. I thought it was decent, better than Terminator 3 but not as good as the first two movies.

Today, I dug in on the anthology, reading through the whole thing and making some minor changes here and there. Tomorrow is thinking time. I’ll make the final decision on the order of the stories. After that, a week of intense reading and revising should follow before it’s done. I will be doing a short preface and I believe I’m going to need a few very short intros for individual stories. I need to explain just a bit about the Thal Kyrin tales, and about the humorous pieces. I’m looking forward to really focusing on that work.

In other news, the New Orleans Saints are 13 and 0. They have led the NFL in scoring for the past two years. In fact, they have two of the three highest scoring seasons in NFL history. They have set numerous records this year, and not only team records but NFL records. I never thought I’d be able to say these things about the New Orleans Saints. Never! Ever! You know, I really like rooting for a winning team.

Finally, send some good thoughts our way in the next few days. Lana will be having surgery on her shoulder on Wednesday. I probably won’t be posting for a few days but will let everyone know as soon as I get a chance as to how she’s doing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Anthology: Prefaces and introductions

Another issue to consider in putting together an anthology is: “to preface or not to preface.” In other words, 1) should I write an introduction to the collection as a whole, and 2) should I include any introductions to individual stories within the collection? One could argue that you hardly ever see introductions to novels, so why should short story collections be any different? Stories are different, though, in that they are likely written at different periods of an author’s career rather than straight through as one would a novel. That provides an opportunity for the writer to share in a preface some things they’ve learned over time.

Personally, I like introductions, and I even like when writers introduce individual stories, although they need to say something interesting when they do so. If I’m the reader, however, I want the introductions short, especially for stories. But here is the problem. I read, at least in part, as a writer. I like to know what the writer of an anthology was thinking and where his or her influences came from. I like to hear about a particular story that has an interesting history. But I also know plenty of readers who aren’t writers who just want the stories. They don’t care about where they came from or what the writer’s influences were; they want to get right into the action. And, ultimately, a story has to live or die by its own merits.

In looking through the anthologies I own, a very large number, I see that short prefaces are more common than not, although there are anthologies without them. I see that introductions to individual stories are rare, however. I’ve decided to take these observations as my general guidelines, though not as a firm rule.

I’ve already written a short introduction for the whole collection and will probably use it. It’s about three pages long and still needs shortening, I think, but it keeps the focus mainly on the history of the Sword & Sorcery genre, which is where 99percent of the stories in the collection fall. It also specifically gives credit to Robert E. Howard as the major influence in my fantasy writing. So far, I’ve decided against introductions to individual stories, but I haven’t been through the whole collection so that may change. If I do introduce specific stories, I'll keep that intro to no more than 5 sentences.

Once again, I come up against the issue of target audience. Of course I want my fellow writers to enjoy the book, but I also want to attract those readers for who “the story is the thing,” the only thing. Any feedback from…out there?


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Putting an anthology together

Once you decide what stories to include in an anthology, then comes the decision about the order in which those stories should appear. I decided to focus on a fantasy theme for the first anthology I'm putting together and that made the decision of what stories to include easy. To get 70,000 words, I needed to include all my Sword & Sorcery pieces.

But now for the order of the stories! From what I understand it is especially important to have a very strong story up front, and to end with another especially strong story. This issue is complicated for me at the beginning because I have both serious and humorous Sword & Sorcery pieces. Which should I start with.

I decided that starting with a humorous story would set a tone I didn't particularly like. Most of the stories aren't humorous so I don't want to give the impression with the first piece that the collection is light hearted. Once I decided to go with a serious piece, I faced another issue. Six of the serious stories I have feature the same character, Thal Kyrin. This makes up over a third of the collection and raises several questions. Should I run all the Thal stories back to back? Should I put these stories in chronological order in relationship to Thal's life? Or should I put them in the order that I wrote them?

I decided against chronological order in relationship to Thal's life because I wouldn't have the strongest story up front then. I also didn't put them in the order I wrote them for similar reasons, although I'm going back and revising early stories to take out the worst bumps from my inexperience at the time.

Anyway, these are some of the issues I'm dealing with as I start this project. More on the process as I continue, and I hope at least a few folks are getting something of interest from this.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Saints, School, and Stories

The Saints nearly gave me a heart attack today but somehow managed to pull out a win over Washington to go to 12 and 0 on the season. Washington helped 'em out by missing a field goal that would have put 'em up by 10 with just a couple of minutes left. But you don't make it to 12 and 0 without some luck in the NFL. As someone said, these ain't your momma's Saints. They never stop scrapping, and they have a quick strike capability that is nothing short of amazing.

In school news, we are finished with classes now and final exams start Monday. Going to be grading intensive for most of next week but after that I should be able to rest up. There's always a few humorous experiences that happen around this time of the year. I got an email Saturday from a student who has missed about a third of one of my classes asking if I'd be in my office on Saturday so "they" could explain why they've missed so much and get the information that they've missed by missing so much. I chuckled over that one for quite some time.

I'm also starting to put together a collection of my short stories for potential publication. I've got quite a lot of stories stored on my hard drive. Right now I have over 70,000 words of fantasy stories, and close to 100,000 words of horror. Quite a lot of the horror stories are vampire or vampire related, and vampires are quite popular these days. If I included samples of my poetry I'd be able to add a thousand words here and there to either collection.

Do people still read short story collections? I know I do. I just finished one collection and am reading another now. In fact, I usually have an anthology or two going. Do you think in this day and age a short story collection might be well received?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

An Interview with Shauna Roberts

Shauna Roberts’ first novel has just been published. It’s called Like Mayflies in a Stream and I reviewed it previously on my blog. Shauna has graciously agreed to be interviewed here on Razored Zen. So without further ado, here’s Shauna Roberts.

Shauna: Thank you for inviting me to visit your blog.

RZEN: Why historical fiction? What is it about history that fascinates you so much that you had to write about it?

Shauna: History appeals to me for the very same reasons that science fiction and fantasy do: the chance to immerse myself in a different world with different customs, different clothes, different rules; to get away from the mundane modern world. When I was little, my aunt (a writer) gave me a child’s history of the world, and I’ve been reading about history ever since.

RZEN: Why did you pick the particular historical period that you did to write about?

Shauna: I’ve been fascinated with ancient Mesopotamia in general and Sumer in particular since high school, when I read History Begins at Sumer by Samuel Noah Kramer. Until then, I had not realized how much of our modern culture dated back thousands of years. I also had never wondered how civilization first began. I started reading everything I could about ancient Mesopotamia and attended the University of Pennsylvania because it had a top Near Eastern Studies program.

I didn’t end up a Near Eastern archaeologist, as I had planned. But when the chance arose to write a novel for Hadley Rille Books’ new Archaeology Series, I didn’t have to think twice about a setting. In fact, I had been gathering background material for a fantasy novel set in a land much like Sumer, so I already had some research done.

RZEN: Historical fiction must require a lot of research to get right. Did you enjoy doing the research for Like Mayflies in a Stream? Do you think it would have been easier if you’d chosen a better-known historical period, such as the Renaissance?

Shauna: I loved doing the research for this book—so much so that I continued buying research books after I had finished Like Mayflies in a Stream.

A better-known time period would have been easier to write about in some ways and harder in others. Easier because, obviously, so much more is known. Another benefit would be that some popular time periods, such as Tudor England, have large, built-in audiences.

But a difficulty with well-known time periods is that the research burden is huge. If, for example, one decided to write a historical novel about someone who lived to be 80 years old and traveled often between England and France, one could spend months just researching the clothes and furniture. Learning the history that occurred, the manners of the period, and all the important personages who lived during those 80 years would be quite a job. If one gets even a minor detail wrong in a historical novel, the reading experience is spoiled for some readers.

With the era of Gilgamesh, we have too little information, not too much. My challenge in writing Like Mayflies in a Stream was to fill in data holes in an intelligent manner, based on my knowledge of other cultures at that level of technology and extrapolating from what is known about earlier and later periods of Mesopotamian history. Scholars may disagree with some of the choices I made, but their disagreement would be a matter of interpretation, not of fact.

RZEN: How did you feel when you held your first published novel in your hands?

Shauna: Relieved, mainly. Although Like Mayflies in a Stream, was my first published novel, it was my third published book. I jumped up and down for the first two books. With Mayflies, I just wore a big grin, happy to be a novelist at last.

RZEN: Every writer interview includes a question such as, what is your writing regimen like? So here it is.

Shauna: I try to be in my office Monday through Friday from 9ish to 6ish. Ideally, I work on nonfiction (I’m a medical writer and editor) Mondays and Tuesdays, fiction on Wednesdays and Fridays, and chores and leftover work on Thursdays. Ideally, I work evenings and weekends only when I fall behind.

In practice, dividing up tasks by day of the week often doesn’t work (editors’ schedules don’t always mesh with mine), and enough disruptions usually occur that working outside “work hours” is the rule, not the exception.

I write up a schedule for each month and for each week so that I can make sure everything that needs to get done gets penciled in somewhere.

I’m a big believer in BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard). No waiting for a muse to visit or inspiration to strike—I write when I’m scheduled to write.

RZEN: You’ve also written short stories. How do you feel about working on stories versus novels?

Shauna: I enjoy both, I find both rewarding (in different ways), and both feel natural to me.

Many people seem to gravitate to one or the other. At World Fantasy Con, I was talking to Ted Chiang, and he told me his preferred working length was 10,000 to 20,000 words because the stories he wants to tell almost always take that many words to tell them.

In contrast, I get tiny story ideas, medium story ideas, big story ideas, and huge story ideas. Some day I may discover my forte or settle into a particular length, but it hasn’t happened yet.

RZEN: Before you started publishing fiction, you wrote and published a lot of nonfiction, mostly medical and science articles. How do writing fiction and nonfiction differ? Do you find one easier than the other?

Shauna: I find them very different and could write a whole blog post on that topic. (In fact, I think I may have.) So I’ll just mention a few things I like about each.

Nonfiction is easier to write than fiction. Nonfiction pays much better (unless one is a bestselling novelist). The type of nonfiction I usually write—news about new medical research for patients and doctors—is spiritually satisfying because people benefit. They may feel better or live longer or keep a foot that otherwise would been amputated. And what a rush to know that most of my articles have been read by hundreds of thousands of people.

Fiction is more fun to write than nonfiction. I don’t have to suppress my natural voice in favor of the magazine’s house voice. I don’t have to write in simple, declarative sentences at the eighth-grade reading level. I can experiment with style, with voice, with different lengths, types, and genres of stories. I can be bawdy or snarky or politically incorrect. Watching the plot unfold on the screen—when it does—is exhilarating.

RZEN: What are you planning to work on next? Any other historical periods that you might be exploring?

Shauna: Task 1: Revise the short stories I wrote at Clarion this summer and submit them to magazines. Task 2: Write one to three more short stories that I have ideas for while also working up an idea for a novel. Task 3: Start said novel.

If I write another historical novel, it might also be set in Mesopotamia, possibly in the time of Sargon the Great. I’d also be interested in writing about one of the African kingdoms or the Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest. The “hobbits” (Homo floresiensis) of Indonesia would be fascinating to explore, but I’m waiting for more research to be published.

For the novel I want to start soon, I may pursue my old idea of a fantasy set in an alternative Sumer.

RZEN: Where can people get your work?

Shauna: Like Mayflies in a Stream can be ordered from any bookstore and can be purchased online at (hardcover and trade paperback) and Barnes & Noble (hardcover and trade paperback).

RZEN: The Links are below:
Amazon hardcover

Amazon softcover

B&N hardcover

B&N softcover

Shauna: People can find a list of my published short stories here. My two nonfiction books are out of print.

My nonfiction articles have appeared in Diabetes Forecast, The Diabetes Advisor, Diabetes Care, Diabetes Self-Management, The Journal of NIH Research, Science, The FASEB Journal, Analytical Chemistry, Modern Drug Discovery, Veterans Health System Journal, Ocular Surgery News, Oncology News International, Caring Today, Zaghareet!, and The Bark, among other hardcopy and online publications. If someone has patience, Googling “by Shauna S. Roberts” will pull up over a thousand links to tables of contents, citations, and occasional full-text articles).

RZEN: Thanks so much, Shauna, for appearing on my blog. Good luck with your writing.

Shauna: Thank you again, Charles, for having me. I’ve always enjoyed reading “Razored Zen” and have learned a lot from it. I’m glad I can make a small contribution in return.