Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Break from Blogging and Reviews

I've got to take a few days off blogging and commenting on blogs. Just too much grading to do. Two full length tests, a quiz, and twenty term papers coming up on Thursday. I hope to be back by the weekend, or next Monday at the latest. I'll leave you with two five star reviews of books I've just recently finished. Won't be much more reading for a few days either.

Cold Blooded, by Bernard Lee DeLeo

An assassin is given the task of killing a woman who is under witness protection. Instead, something draws him to her emotionally, and he takes on the task of protecting her and her tween-aged daughter from a host of murderers. Who better to save someone from assassins than the coldest blooded killer of them all.

This is an exciting thriller, full of brutal action, but not without a sense of humor. The assassin, Nick, is about the baddest bad ass ever. Good characters, good story, good read.

Hallam Collection, by L. J. Washburn

This collection contains two long short stories by L. J. Washburn featuring the Cowboy detective, Lucas Hallam. The first one, marking the first appearance of the character, is just called "Hallam." The second is "Hollywood Flesh."

Hallam is an ex-gunfighter and ex-lawman who now works as a private eye and a part time actor in westerns in the early days of Hollywood. He deals mostly with crimes involving the movie industry. In "Hallam," Lucas must sort out a war between two rival gambling moguls. It reminds me a bit of "Last Man Standing." In "Hollywood Flesh," Hallam runs up against the uncanny in the form of a script writer who has apparently been cursed and is pursued by zombies. Despite the apparent existence of the zombies, it's far more a mystery than a horror story.

I enjoyed both these stories a lot. Straightforward storytelling with an interesting private eye, interesting settings, and considerable action. This is the first of Hallam I've read, but there are at least three novels available about the character that I know of so I will be reading more.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Telling Lies, Up at Novel Spaces

New post up at Novel Spaces this morning. I'm talking about lying in fiction and reality. I hope you can stop by.

Here's a couple of other things I want to call to your attention. Both involving White Cat Publications, which is a new independent publisher with a lot on the ball.

First, they have an April Fools flash fiction contest running. Check it out here

Second, they are running a Kickstarter project for their first book publication, a tremendously fine werewolf novel that I've actually read in manuscript form. You can find out more about that HERE. I'm in.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Days of Beer: New Cover

I'd hoped to get it done before now, but I finally got around to revising and improving the original cover for Days of Beer. You can see the results here. The title and name are larger, and they are in line with each other, as opposed to the original cover. I think the color of the title is more festive as well.

Lana took the original photo for this, and then I cropped it and added the verbiage. I did the original using the 'paint' program on my old desktop. Last night, I was having so much trouble I went and tried to work on the revision on my new laptop. I found that its 'paint' program is a revised program and is much, much, much easier to use. I'll be doing any future covers on that.

Supposedly, this version went live this morning but I notice it's not showing up yet on Amazon itself. Maybe it will in the next few days.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Second Hand Books

After the electricity went out on Saturday, Lana and headed out to the second hand store. I generally spend most of my time looking at the books, and I always find a few that call out to me to take them home. Interestingly, I tend to see different kinds of books at the second hand stores, books I don't normally stumble upon in regular bookstores or when I'm browsing online stores. Here's a few of the items I found.

1. A young adult King Kong published by Grosset and Dunlap. It's got a pretty cool cover of Kong climbing the final tower with the planes coming in toward him. There's even a "photo insert" with photos from the original movie. This is a 2005 reissue of a 1932 copyrighted work, it appears.

2. I generally do not like or read books featuring real historical figures such as Abe Lincoln, but I have a soft spot for Charles Darwin so I brought home The Darwin Conspiracy, by John Darnton. I'd never heard of this one before.

3. The Fire Thief, by Terry Deary, which I had actually heard of. This is another YA series, and I think this might be the first one in the series.

4. Blade Runner: Replicant Night, by K. W. Jeter. I loved the movie, Blade Runner, but had no idea there'd been a sequel written.

5. Empire of the Ants, by Bernard Werber, which is apparently a kind of Watership Down, with ants. Since I've always loved stories about micro folks and ants I had to get it.

6. An apparently very non-PC western by Chet Cunningham called Sioux Slaughter, which starts out with an Indian scalping a white man. The oddest thing, to me, is that it was published in 1998. I'm looking forward to reading it to see if it really is as non-PC as it seems.

7. Jack Ketchum's She Wakes. Ketchum can flat out write.

8. The Last Place God Made, by Jack Higgins. I've always enjoyed whatever I've read with the Higgins name on it and this looks like some grand old adventure.

Such a shame I don't have more time to read. Really, really a shame.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Micro Burst

Mardi Gras is here and I'm off through Wednesday. So far, working would have been better. I'd arranged to get a set of term papers in my Writing in Psychology class on Thursday, and some quizzes that I could grade over the break, but everyone else decided that I'd have so much time over the break that I could do stuff for them too. Letters of recommendation, IRB proposals, QEP reports. You don't even want to know what all those letters stand for.

Friday I put in a long 14 hour day, hoping to get enough done so I'd have a few days off at the end of the break. I planned a good 8 hour marathon on Saturday but the world had other ideas. I worked all morning and had a good head start, then decided to lie down for a short nap. That was my last peaceful moment of the day.

Suddenly we got hit by what are called "straight line" winds, but which I've also heard described as a micro burst. The winds seemed to explode out of the woods and our roof sounded like a war zone as it took a pounding. A few moments later the electricity went off. A few minutes after that, Lana came to tell me I had a ceiling leak in my home office. No nap for me.

We had small hail, and thunder and lightning the rest of the day, as well as periods of heavy rain, so I wasn't able to get up on the roof. Hopefully I can this morning. The electricity came back after about 10 hours finally, but the Satellite TV won't load so it may be that the dish took a hit. I ran my laptop long enough to edit a few more student papers but I'm behind on what I planed to get done.

We did take a drive though, to see what else got hit. Electricity was out all over and apparently some houses were damaged pretty severely by the winds. We stopped at the second hand store and I bought a few books that I'll tell you about at some point. Since cooking was out, we got Popeye's Fried Chicken and came home to play Mad Libs and Trivial Pursuit. The evening was good by candlelight, but now today we start picking up the pieces. I won't be online much.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Toad

I've started a new story. It's called "The Toad." One piece of common writing advice I've generally ignored has been to "write what you know." Certainly, I use my life and experiences as the basis for characters and settings in my tales, but I typically veer far afield after that. Talera, Thanos, Kelmer. These aren't towns I've lived in. "The Toad" is going to be a little different. The story takes place at my house in Abita Springs. It involves myself and Lana. Pretty much everything except the 'toad' itself will be absolutely real. In fact, maybe the 'toad' is real too. I'll have to let you decide. Below is the opening few paragraphs of the story.

By the way, what do you think of the advice to "write what you know?"


After Hurricane Katrina tore up New Orleans, my wife and I decided to get out of the city and find a place further north without so much noise and so many people. Lana discovered the perfect hermitage for us just outside the small town of Abita Springs, Louisiana. The house sat along a dirt road with pine forests on three sides. Our only neighbor kept entirely to himself, which Lana and I both appreciated.

We had a deck with a tin roof put on the back of the house so we could sit with ease and enjoy a big back yard shaded by oaks and magnolias. Bird feeders brought us cardinals, blue jays, doves, woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, and a brazen little thing we called Wrenny Wrenerson. In season, the yard swarmed with goldfinches and chipping sparrows. Occasionally even a few crows dropped by. In the evening, we threw our table scraps into the backyard for the birds or whatever critters might come. Soon, the local raccoons and possums began nightly visits.

The location was so pleasant, I decided to take off our first summer in the new place and try to write a novel. I’d wanted to for a long time. The deck became my office. A laptop and a cool drink was all I needed. The drone of cicadas and the flash of bird wings kept me company.

It wasn’t until a week had passed that I first saw the toad.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Frosty Matter

Sun shining, but it's fairly cold here today. Around 38 on our back deck. I have to admit, I kind of like it. I grew up in Arkansas and wasn't exposed to the kinds of frigid winters they have up north. But it got cold, and the trees all lost their leaves, and sometimes the snow would come for a visit. You needed a heavy coat in Arkansas.

Since coming to Louisiana I've seen very little of winter. I remember one very cold snap in the late 80s where we had a week of below freezing temps. Other than that, the only time I've worn a heavy coat down here is back when I used to ride my motorcycle to work in December and January. I kid you not.

I've only got about 3 long sleeve shirts, I've worn one of those twice so far this year, with the sleeves rolled up because it was too darn hot. I get asked a lot by folks at Xavier, "aren't you cold?" I reply with, "aren't you hot?" Because most of the people who ask me the question are wearing mufflers and gloves and heavy coats in 50 degree weather.

I think I'm gonna go out for a walk now. I'll wear a jacket, and I'll like it. I'll let the crisp air carry a little frost within, and just maybe I'll be able to remember that frost when August rolls around and I'm sweltering at midnight on some black summer night.

One can hope.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Fiction versus Nonfiction at Novel Spaces

I'm over at Novel Spaces today with a post about fiction versus nonfiction, and how story is the king in all. Hope you'll drop by.

We have a job candidate in for interviews today so I may not be around the blogosphere much. Stay frosty!


Thursday, February 09, 2012

In the Language of Scorpions: Review

Well, two days in a row with reviews up of some of my stuff. This time, Randy Johnson, over at his Not the Baseball Pitcher Blog has weighed in on In the Language of Scorpions. If you get a chance to scoot over and have a look, that would be grand!

Randy, thanks for the review. Much appreciated.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Musings on Days of Beer

Over at his "Musings" blog, Sage has a review of Days of Beer and a short essay on his own drinking experiences. His were a bit different from mine. Check it out HERE

Hope your week is going well. Mine has been far too busy so far.


Monday, February 06, 2012

The Evolution of a Career

My interest in the Theory of Evolution began when I was in college, first as a biology major and then a psychology major. As soon as I understood the nature of “Comparative Anatomy,” in which human physical structures are compared with those of animals, I had my very own eureka moment where evolution through Natural Selection is concerned. I was simply blown away by the theory’s elegance, simplicity, and its ability to explain things that no other competing theory has ever come close to explaining. Why, for example, the bones in the wing of a bat, the flipper of a whale, the paws of a cat, and the hand of a human are nearly identical except for size.

I specialized in biological psychology in graduate school and that’s what I was hired primarily to teach at Xavier University of Louisiana when I got my first job there in 1986. I had been continually reading about the subject of evolution for nearly a decade by then, and I knew that biological psychology could ultimately make no sense unless understood from an evolutionary perspective. I always spent several class periods in the first week or so on the topic.

In my third year at Xavier I got to offer a seminar on any topic I wanted and I chose “Ethology,” which is the study of animal behavior. Evolution as a necessary mainstay of that class. I eventually began teaching this class as a regular offering, but in regard for my students’ interest, made it more about “comparative” psychology (humans in comparison with animals) than about ethology alone. I kept the evolutionary component.

Since I started at Xavier, however, a new field has emerged in psychology called Evolutionary Psychology. This year, I began teaching a course I’m calling Comparative/Evolutionary psychology, and am using an evolutionary psych text, which is very exciting reading. I’ve increased the details on evolutionary theory to fill a full third of the class, with the rest being focused on specific applications of evolutionary psych to traditional psychological study areas such as psychopathologies, and Social Psych. I rather wish the field would have been around when I was going to graduate school.

What an exciting time to be a psychologist, when a new way of looking at things is starting to permeate the field, and when we may be in sight of a unified theory of psychology the likes of which we’ve never had before. Here’s to Charles Darwin, one of the greatest thinkers of any age.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

On My Kindle

I suppose it was inevitable. After all, my “To Be Read” piles in print have grown to mammoth proportions over the years. For a while, my Kindle TBR….”list?” was manageable. No longer. I turned the device on a moment ago and it showed 129 items. That’s not counting archived items, of course. Lately I seem to be downloading at a rate of about 3 pieces a day. A majority of these have been books by friends or folks I know through blogging and facebook. A fair number of these have been ‘free’ works given away for promotional reasons. Honestly, I’d probably eventually “buy” most of the free works I’ve gotten from friends this way, but it’s kind of hard to turn ‘em down for free when I know I want them. Here are some of the books loaded on my Kindle from friends and colleagues.

The Red Reef – James Reasoner
Uncle Mildred and other Stories – Ian Ayris
The Prairie Chicken Kill – Bill Crider
Hallam – L. J. Washburn
Shooter’s Cross – Colby Jackson
The Golden Amulet – M. M. Fahren
Mindjacker – Sean Patrick Reardon
Ghosts of the Asylum – Ty Johnston
Malcontents – Has authors I know
American Horror – Has authors I know
Matters of Honor – Channing Hayden
Scars and Candy – Sidney Williams
Cold Blooded – Bernard Lee De Leo
Tractor Girl – James Reasoner
The Dishonored Dead – Robert Swartwood
No Shelter – Robert Swartwood
Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled - David Cranmer (ed)
The Paths of Righteousness – James Reasoner
Battle Kiss – O’Neil De Noux
City of Rouges – Ty Johnston
Monkey Justice – Patti Abbott
Hard Bite and Others – Anonymous-9
Bayne’s Climb: Part 1 – Ty Johnston
Discovery of Death – A.P. Fuchs
Calling 666 – Akasha Savage
Drunk on the Moon – Paul D. Brazill
Yesterday’s Flame – Livia Reasoner
Axiom Man – A.P. Fuchs
Deadly by the Dozen – Has authors I know
Monsters and Mormons – Has authors I know
Laughing at the Death Grin - has authors I know
Collateral Damage – has authors I know
L. A. Noir – has authors I know
8 Pounds – Chris F. Holm
Sever, Slice and Stab – Ty Johnston
More than Kin – Ty Johnston

Here are two still on my Kindle from friends that I have read:
The Hunt – Shauna Roberts. An excellent novella. I’d call it space opera. I did a further review on Goodreads and Amazon.

Night Games – Sean Patrick Reardon. An intense and fun short story.

I want to read every one of these. I’m sorry some of them have been languishing unread on my Kindle for quite a while now. So far in 2012 my writing has gone pretty well, but my reading has dwindled even further. I sure wish I could download some reading time for free. Heck, I’d even pay for it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

So What is Fast Writing?

Once in a while, someone will tell me they wish they could write as fast as I do. Over the years it’s occurred quite a few times, but I’m still a little surprised when it happens because I think of myself as a very slow writer. Of course, I’ve told other writers that I wished I could write as fast as they. That got me thinking about how exactly to define ‘fast’ writing.

Something that confounds the issue, of course, is the difference between writing and publishing. The last time someone made a comment to me about being a fast writer was right after Days of Beer and In the Language of Scorpions came out, and after I mentioned that Under the Ember Star would likely be published this year. That’s not fast writing, though. That’s fast publishing. A third of Days of Beer was completed a couple of years ago, and I wrote the rest throughout November and December of 2011. That’s probably close to 15,000 new words in two months, which is actually kind of fast for me. As for “Scorpions,” the majority of the stories in there were reprinted from earlier magazine publications. I did write a couple of new pieces for that book, and I completed a number of stories that had been in rough draft form, but the total number of new words in that book was fairly small. “Ember Star” was written mostly last summer, 30,000 words over several months. I didn’t even average 500 words a day.

In order to try and understand more about my own productivity, I decided this year to keep word count records. I know many writers who do this routinely but I’ve never really made an effort to do so before. Well, the first month’s data is in and here are the results:

I produced 8033 new words of material that I hope to get published. This counts stories, introductions to stories, and material about stories that might go into a publication. It doesn’t count blog posts or letters of recommendation or other writing that I do as part of my job and life, but which isn’t going to be put on any bibliography of my publications. Although I don’t know exactly what my average monthly output is, I feel comfortable saying that this was actually an above average month for me.

January has 31 days so my average daily output was 259 words a day. That’s a little misleading because I didn’t write every day. I didn’t keep “exact” notes on when I wrote or didn’t, but looking back over my journal it looks like I wrote material that I hoped to publish on about 20 days of the month. That would bring my average daily production count up to a whopping 402 words a day. According to my journal, on my best day in January I did “about a thousand words.” None of that suggests to me that I am a fast writer.

I also realized, though, that word count is only a partial record of writing activity. I do a lot of revising and rewriting on my stuff. In other words, on the days I wrote I tended to work a lot harder than a new word count of 402 would suggest.

So if I’m not a fast writer, who is? Stephen King? King says he writes about 2,000 words a day. Considering that he’s a full time writer while I’m not, even two thousand doesn’t seem all that fast. But if he writes six days a week, that would give him a production of 634,000 words a year, or one and a half books considering the size of his novels. To average a million words a year would require around 2740 words a day, every day. Since I don’t imagine anyone writers 365 days a year, we’re probably talking about million word a year folks averaging 3,000 words a day or better. Now that seems pretty fast to me, but I’d like to know how many hours a day this writer works, and how much revision they do.

So. Is Stephen King a fast writer? What does it take to be considered a fast writer? Is fast even about word count? Or it about an attitude? Is it about a writer wanting to churn out the biggest word count possible in the least amount of time necessary, without worrying about achieving anything more than the lowest level of quality needed to get it published? What do you think?