Thursday, December 31, 2015

Lemmy. R. I. R. (rest in rock)

Lemmy Kilmister has died. He was the frontman, bass player, and heart and soul of the band Motorhead. I won’t rehash his story. It’s easy enough to find on the net, especially since his death. What I will say is that I’m sorry to hear of his loss. His music was important to me. As I’ve often said, I don’t typically respect specific people, although I might respect certain behaviors that folks exhibit. Lemmy is probably about as close to a whole person I could respect as there exists out there. Death owes us all an apology for taking Lemmy. Here are my top five favorite Motorhead tunes.

5. Killed by Death: Something has to take you out. Might as well be death. 
4. Ace of Spades: My introduction to the band. 
3. In the Year of the Wolf: Remembering how we were when we were young. 
2. Just Cos You got the Power: An anthem for the little man. 
1. Deaf Forever: The best heroic fantasy song ever written. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Very Zombie Christmas

Since finishing a major writing project, I’ve been playing quite a bit of a Undead Nightmare the past few days. This is a zombie video game based on the western Red Dead Redemption. I’m having a lot of fun. There are four different kinds of zombies, including fast crawlers and “retchers” that spew green puke at you. There are also mythical animals like the sasquatch, the chupacabra, and the four horses of the apocalypse, which you can catch and ride. So far I’ve only caught “War,” who is on fire and burns all the zombies he touches.  Last night, zombies entered my dreams, and the results were quite hilarious. I was living in a zombie apocalypse but wasn’t a zombie. To survive, I was mimicking their behavior. Here’s the tale:

I’m shambling along when I bump head on into another zombie. He snarls at me and I snarl back, but neither of us will give way. We start battering against each other with our heads and upper bodies, trying to knock the other aside. I look more closely at the other zombie after a moment and realize he’s the chef from my favorite restaurant. I still won’t give way and keep battering. Gradually I seem to be winning.

Then, three other zombies come over and start beating at me with their fists and arms, and I realize it is to make me leave ‘their’ favorite chef alone. The next thing I see is a quick cut of the restaurant itself, which looks like a wooden plank shack on the side of a river. The door pushes open and dozens of zombies start stumbling out and coming toward me. One is carrying what looks like a hoe. I realize that they too are angry at me for attacking their favorite chef. In the final scene, I’m lying on my back, victorious after my battle with the chef, and I’m holding up his mandible. I shout at the zombies coming toward me: “let’s see him talk to you without this.”

Had I written this instead of dreaming it, I surely would have had my hero holding up the chef’s hands and shouting: “let’s see him cook for you without these.”

I can’t help but add one more scene that seemed to follow this dream. I appeared to be a real zombie this time, and shambling back and forth across a stage that had been set up for a rock band. Suddenly a bra landed on the stage at my feet. I guess I’d earned a fan!


Saturday, December 19, 2015

"Reader's Choice"

Speaking strictly as a reader now, and not as a writer, I want to say a few things about the kind of advice that new writers are often given. I may be something of a unique reader, so for all of you who want to write, take my comments with a grain of salt. I know you need readers, not just one reader, not just me.

First, many recent writing guides suggest that starting with dialogue is a good idea. As a reader, I absolutely hate this. Most of the books I’ve picked up and put back down after a few sentences are ones that began with dialogue. Ann Rice’s Interview with the Vampire is an example. Some writers can create truly excellent dialogue, but the fact is that I don’t care about what the character says until I begin to get a feeling for the inner nature of the character. That means, I need to see them acting, not talking.

Second, I’ve been told all my writing life that you never start a story with the weather.  As a reader, I absolutely love it when writers do this. Now, it needs to be good strong weather, and the character needs to be pitted against it, but—for me—opening with a character fighting against a storm, or freezing cold, or violent high seas instantly catches my attention and brings me into the tale. There is immediate intense conflict. Many of my favorite reads begin with the character facing off against nature.  Westerns often begin this way. Perhaps my favorite short story of all time, Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” begins this way. Note that, for me, a beating sun or a cold, dark night also constitute a form of weather. 

As far as openings that catch my attention, what do I personally like as a reader? A character placed in a strong setting with conflict looming, or at least with a question as to why the character is in this place. Here’s the opening to the book I’ve reread more than any other, To Tame a Land, by Louis L’Amour.  “It was Indian country, and when our wheel busted, none of them would stop. They just rolled on by and left us setting there, my pap and me.”

Here’s the first two lines of The Road, my favorite of Cormac McCarthy’s books:  “When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before.”

Here’s the opening paragraph of Teot’s War by Heather Gladney. It’s got everything I crave for an opening, and poetry too!  “Heat beat down on my shoulders, my face cloth. My armor dragged at the riding sores underneath. Little sparkles danced behind my eyelids, and the strains in my joints were cramping to knots in the muscles. It had been a long ride. A grating call made my shoulders twitch. The carrion crows, who glided after us day after day, were waiting.”

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tarred with a Dangerous Brush

Final exams began for me on Wednesday  (December 9) and I’ve got tests also on Thursday and Friday. After that I’ll be grading so I won’t be visiting blogs for a few days, probably not until Monday. I did want to share a little something before hunkering down with a red pen, though.

Those of you who know me, know that I’m a Liberal. You may or may not know that I’m not a fan of the current GOP front runner. I’ll call him the “Grump” in keeping with the season of the Grinch. I’ve never had any positive regard for the Grump, never watched his TV show, never had the remotest interest in his thoughts about the world. However, I now find myself in the unpleasant position of having to defend him on one, very specific matter.

In the last couple of days I have seen the Grump accused—and “accused” is very much the right word—of having “read” both Mein Kampf and the speeches of Adolph Hitler. This is clearly an attempt to paint him with the Nazi brush. Despite the Grump’s rather uncanny physical resemblance to Il Duce, and despite disagreeing with everything I’ve heard out of his mouth so far, I don’t find the “he’s a Nazi” attacks terribly compelling. That’s not my point with this post, though. Others have made a closer study of his behaviors and can certainly express their opinions on the matter.

No, what I’m saying is that you can’t judge an individual’s personality simply from his or her reading material. Maybe Grump considers Hitler his role model, but you cannot make that judgment based just upon what he’s read. You literally do not know what his reasons were. I’ve also read both Mein Kampf and many of Hitler’s speeches. I read them for a couple of reasons. First, I was a history minor in college with a particular interest in WWII, and I thought at one point I might go to grad school in history. Second, as a psychologist, I’m also a student of people, and of why and how people do the things they do. Reading these works both educated me on the dangers of fascism, and also helped cement my own opposition to it.

Reading Mein Kampf does not make you a Nazi any more than reading the Bible makes you a Christian, or reading the Quran makes you a Muslim, or reading Roots makes you African American. As a reader, I protest anyone’s attempt to say differently. Would you want to be judged on the basis of that one erotica novel you read? As a liberal, I think this kind of tactic is beneath us because it is irrational. There is plenty enough to criticize about the Grump without reaching for straws, and this is a very dangerous straw indeed.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

The First Five Parker Novels

      I just finished reading The Score, which is #5 in the Parker series by Richard Stark. I’ve been reading them in the order they were written, although I’m not sure that’s really important.  I did not grow up reading crime fiction, other than John D. MacDonald’s work. So I was very late discovering the Parker novels. I had certainly heard quite a bit of good stuff about them before I ever tried one, but it wasn’t until November 2014 that I got to the first one in the series.  I was bowled over by that book, The Hunter, and immediately bought the next 12 or so in the series.  Here are my reviews of the first five books:
      The Hunter: (4 stars). I had never read anything by Richard Stark, or by Donald Westlake, which is the author's real name. The Stark books feature a character named Parker, who is generally described as a thief, although he certainly does plenty of killing too. This is the first one in that series and there are at least 23 more. This one has been filmed at least twice that I know of. I enjoyed this one a lot and am irritated at myself for waiting so long to read one. I'd been hearing good things about them for years. 
     What we are looking at with this book is a stripped down, noir tale. No wasted motion, no wasted words, no wasted description. This makes it a quick read. I didn't quite get through it in one sitting but came close. 
      I like books with rich, sensuous description, but this one doesn't have any of that and I liked it too. I suspect that I wouldn't want to read three or four of them back to back, but it's a quick, hard hitting work that you can mix in among other, perhaps more leisurely, reads.
      The Man with the Getaway Face: (4 stars). This is the second in the Parker series. Not quite as compelling as the first to me, but still very good. Parker is a real SOB in many ways and you don't necessarily root for him, but the combination of the intensity of that character and the compelling plot line keeps you turning the pages. I've just started the third in the series.
      The Outfit: (4 stars). Third in the Parker series. Parker went to all the trouble to get a new face that was revealed in book 2, but finds by the end of that book that his new appearance has been revealed anyway and the "Outfit," (Organized Crime) is out to kill him. Parker strikes back as only he can do. Good one!
      The Mourner: (3 stars). This is still a good read, but I liked it least of the four Parker books I've finished so far. One reason is that Parker is actually only on the scene for a little over half the book. Quite a bit of the book follows another guy named Menlo, who has betrayed Parker. Still, it was a quick, enjoyable read.
      The Score: (3 stars). This is the longest of the Parker books I’ve read so far and I’d rank it about where I ranked #4, The Mourner. It was good, but not as good as the first three. In this book, a man comes to Parker and some colleagues with an idea for a huge score, one in which they’ll essentially rob an entire town. Everything seems to be going well when the fellow who initiated everything turns out to have a private agenda. Hell breaks loose. I thought there were a few slow spots, particularly where Parker’s crew is hiding out for a while. Parker also had less to do with the resolution of the story than in the previous books. I still enjoyed it quite a lot, however. And fortunately I have quite a few more of these books on my shelves!


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Al About Story: Part One

Story is the way we make sense of the world. Take science, for example. You gather data. Some of it agrees with other bits of it. Some of it doesn’t. You gather more data. Eventually you make a story that connects the data. We call it a theory.

A “story” can be fictional or true, or it can mix the two together. A scientific theory is like that last option. At least some of it is true, or so the researchers believe. Though the parts we think are true today might turn out not to be true tomorrow. Researchers also know that some parts of a theory probably aren’t true, but they won’t find out what is or isn’t true until more data comes in.

Once in a while, to try to make sense out of a theory that has too many gaps, scientists throw in a known falsity. They call it a hypothetical construct. It serves its purpose to help the story flow smoothly, but it’s like a plot twist forced onto a tale by the author during the first draft. It never feels completely right, and hopefully it gets replaced during the revision process.

As the years go by and theories are tested, and as they pass those tests, they move closer and closer to being true in the final sense of that word. And they help us understand a very complex and chaotic universe by turning it into stories full of meaning and relevance.

We humans are constantly in the process of telling stories. Science is just one of type of story, though one very interesting to me. In future posts I'll explore a few other types of stories.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

In Their Glory

Fiddling around with a poem today. Not quite sure where it might be going. Here's what I've got so far.

I see the wolves of winter
in their glory,
wearing coats of blood.
As black eyes flame to blue,
they bare the teeth that
bring justice to the night.

I see the feral horses of hell.
I hear the saber rattle
of iron hooves on stone.
Their eyes roil with desire
to sow their foes destruction
and reap them of life.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Kind of Thing that Makes my Job Hard

I grew up on a farm so I’ve dug plenty of ditches, put in postholes, hauled hay, chopped wood, chopped ice off the ponds, herded cattle, picked up rocks, planted garden, dug up gardens and plenty of other kinds of physical labor. I’m under no illusions that what I do today as a professor is anywhere nearly as tough. However, I also wouldn’t say it’s easy—at least much of the time. Just today I experienced another example of how my job can be tough, and how it is so often made a lot tougher than it needs to be because of others not doing their work.  Let me walk you through a frustrating moment of my exciting academic life!

At my university, I’m chair of a research committee that has to evaluate all research using human participants on campus. I get a lot of proposals to look at, averaging about 4 a week during the school year, and a whole lot more questions or requests for information. Around 85% of the proposals I get require some changes, although many times these aren’t very extensive. I’ve learned over the years to be very, very clear on the changes I require, because it saves me a lot of time.  The problem comes in when people either don’t listen to my requirements, or make mistakes in implementing them. Here’s an example from today, and—unfortunately—not a particularly rare example.

For one particular proposal, I required changes to three pages of a 25+ page document. These were mostly minor. First, I needed to have two lines removed from a document that the participants will see. Second, I needed to have a typo corrected on a part of their survey, so that the participants wouldn’t be confused by the wording. Third, I needed some clarification on a line from their proposal. The proposal was sent in Friday and I emailed them my requested changes Friday evening.

Today, Monday, the researchers sent an email indicating that they’d completed the changes I requested and the documents were attached. Here’s what I found.

First, the exact same page with the same two lines in it that needed to be removed. Nothing whatsoever was changed.

Second, they did indeed correct the typo. However, instead of just correcting it, they reworded the entire sentence. This rendered the sentence incomprehensible.

Third, no clarification of the issue from their proposal, which was the most important of the three.

This is not from students, mind you. This is from PhDs. And almost certainly this is a case of the researchers feeling overworked and trying to rush to get something done. I know they know how to make the corrections I needed them to make. But haste and carelessness do not go well together. The big problem is that it costs “me” time.

Had the researchers just made the corrections/changes I asked for, it would have taken me maybe three minutes to process it and get them their approval. Instead, I had to construct another email to clarify what I needed, to indicate the new problem introduced into the survey, and to ask once more for information I’d already asked for.  At least some of this I could copy and paste from original email. But it still took a lot longer than three minutes since I also have to keep careful records on all correspondence carried out for every proposal I see. That means quite a lot of additional paperwork for me. And we’re still not done!

Now, who wouldn’t want to go to school for umpteen many years so they, too, could have this kind of exciting academic adventure?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Forgotten Book Friday: Web of Gunsmoke

Web of Gunsmoke, by Will Hickok

Will Hickock was a pseudonym of Chester William Harrison (1913-1994), although Harrison apparently only wrote three westerns under that name. Two of these were tie-ins with the TV show “The Restless Gun,” which I’ve never seen an episode of. The third was Web of Gunsmoke and I liked it very much. I will certainly be seeking out more Harrison works. He was apparently quite a prolific author who wrote under several different names, include Coe Williams and C. William Harrison. I’ve seen various statements that he wrote up to 1200 works, counting books and stories, but I’ve not found a breakdown of that and I haven’t been able to locate many of his works online other than his westerns. I haven’t had time to do any extensive looking, though.

In Web of Gunsmoke (copyright 1955), Curt Selby rides back into the town of Signal after several years absence. When he’d left, he’d been a reckless, heavy drinking young man. He returns sober and mature, but he finds that much has changed. His father, Hamp Selby, was the biggest rancher in the area but had always gotten along well with his neighbors. However, an aging Hamp has turned over the ranch to Curt’s half brother, Phil, and Phil has used guile and pressure to run those neighbors off and gain control of their lands. He’s hired a crew of gun toughs to back his play. Now, Hamp wants Curt to put Phil back in his place, but most of the townsfolk are backing Phil. There is, of course, a woman caught in the middle. She was once Curt’s girl, but now she’s pledged to marry Phil.

The plotting in this book is not its primary strength. There was a fair amount of what I call “backtracking” in the plot, where the character moves one direction, then has to reverse his/her direction to get back where they started. This often looks like the author is just shoving things around at random to get conflict and add length to the story. That may have been the case in Web of Gunsmoke, but it didn’t bother me tremendously and I felt the plot was certainly adequate.

The strength of the story lies in interesting characters, strong action, and very good writing. Hickok was very good in this book at sketching the backgrounds in quickly but effectively. He also was able to sum up emotional scenes dramatically and succinctly.

Here are a few examples: (Just assume the quote marks please)
1. The coin, the silver dollar, struck Selby in the corner of the mouth, bringing blood. It hurt.
2. “You forgot your drink,” Bannon said. “No,” said Selby. “I didn’t forget it.” He kept on walking.
 3. He liked fine things. Fine whiskey, fine horses like this high-stepping black.

So, overall, this was an enjoyable book that has stayed with me for the week since I read it, and I think it’ll stay with me a while longer. The cover shown here, by the way, is from a different version than I have. My cover is the fourth printing from Signet Books. It’s mostly a kind of orange with a cowboy on the front. I like it better than the one shown here. It looks like it was done by the same artist who did a lot of Louis L’Amour covers from around that time. Couldn’t find the artist’s name listed, though.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Today’s Beautiful Writing: Robert E. Howard

Since, too often these days, I’m not coming up with blog posts related to my own work, I thought I’d start doing some more posts where I highlight beautiful writing from others. I started here but have been doing most of this on facebook. For my selections so far, I’ve gone with writers like Ray Bradbury, Pearl S. Buck, and Peter Matthiessen, all recognized literary figures who are known for their good writing. But beautiful writing comes from all kinds of places. It comes from places that many literary readers might not suspect.

I’m not a literary reader. I’m just a reader. I read pretty much anything and everything. The following selection is from a writer who has had a big influence on my fiction interests, both reading and writing. It’s Robert E. Howard, a man who died young but who in a short time created several iconic characters, including Conan the Barbarian and Solomon Kane. Howard was a very fine writer. Here’s the opening of one of his “Crusader” stories. The tale is called “Lord of Samarcand.”

“The roar of battle had died away; the sun hung like a ball of crimson gold on the western hills. Across the trampled field of battle no squadrons thundered, no war-cry reverberated. Only the shrieks of the wounded and the moans of the dying rose to the circling vultures whose black wings swept closer and closer until they brushed the pallid faces in their flight.”

To me, beautiful writing isn’t just about describing beautiful scenes and beautiful feelings. Often, in fact, the scenes and feelings can be anything but conventionally beautiful. Beautiful writing is about creating a mood with a flow words that are placed in the right order for maximum effect. It’s about creating an emotional resonance in my psyche. This piece achieves that. Much of Howard’s work does.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Beautiful sentences

I saw a post the other day on “50 of the most beautiful sentences in literature.” 

I liked many of these but this is a long way from any list I’d put together. For example, one choice on the list was: “She was lost in her longing to understand.” From Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s, Love in the Time of Cholera. The problem with this, for me, is that it’s obvious. There’s nothing profound. It seems almost cliché.

Another weak one, to me, was: “Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” From Nicole Krauss, The History of Love. This seems maudlin to me, and cliché. I don’t like it at all.

On the other hand, some that I did like were: “In our village, folks say God crumbles up the old moon into stars.” From Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. This is lovely. It resonates to me. It evokes a sense of history and place. It wouldn’t make my list of 50 favorites but it’s good.

I also liked “Isn’t it pretty to think so, by Ernest Hemingway, from The Sun Also Rises. But my favorite on this list was: “Let the Wild Rumpus Start,” By Maurice Sendak from Where the Wild Things Are. This was Josh’s favorite book when he was a kid and I loved, loved, loved reading it to him. This one would certainly make my list.

So what would be some of my other personal favorites? Well, many of them would come from Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, which is my favorite book of all time. Here are a few:

“Figures dark beneath their loads pass down the far bank of the river, rendered immortal by the streak of sunset upon their shoulders.” 

“We have outsmarted ourselves, like greedy monkeys, and now we are full of dread.” 

“Left alone, I am overtaken by the northern void—no wind, no cloud, no track, no bird, only the crystal crescents between peaks, the ringing monuments of rock that, freed from the talons of ice and snow, thrust an implacable being into the blue.”

“In the gaunt, brown face in the mirror—unseen since late September—the blue eyes in a monkish skull seem eerily clear, but this is the face of a man I do not know.” 

“At dusk, white egrets flapped across the sunken clouds, now black with rain; on earth, the dark had come.”

“In the early light, the rock shadows on the snow are sharp; in the tension between light and dark is the power of the universe.”

“The mountains have no ‘meaning,’ they are meaning; the mountains are.”

“My foot slips on a narrow ledge; in that split second, as needles of fear pierce heart and temples, eternity intersects with present time.”

“In his first summers, forsaking all his toys, my son would stand rapt for nearly an hour in his sandbox in the orchard, as doves and redwings came and went on the warm wind, the leaves dancing, the clouds flying…”

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Lana has Surgery, and a Review

I haven’t been around the blogs much for a couple of days. Lana had surgery Wednesday to repair a hernia. She was supposed to go in around 11:00 but it was 12:00 or so before they took her to the operating room. She got out of there in 45 minutes but remained in recovery for a couple more hours, partially because of the hospital being overcrowded. Anyway, the important thing is she came through the surgery well and is feeling much better already. She was feeling pretty sick and nauseated from the hernia. Very glad to see her feeling better. It is hard to watch her feel constantly ill.

Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of reading done in hospital waiting rooms. Yesterday I read well over 100 pages in the book Footfall, by Niven and Pournelle. This is an alien invasion tale and I’m enjoying it very much. I also finished a book that I did not much enjoy. It was the first in a men’s adventure series called Hawk, by a writer named Dan Streib, who died back in 1996 of a heart attack. This particular volume was entitled “The Deadly Crusader.”

According to SpyGuys and Gals, Streib wrote all fourteen books in this series over a two year period, 1980 and 1981. This is what I call a Men’s Adventure novel and it has the trappings of its era. I often enjoy this type of book, but have to judge this particular incarnation as sub-par in most respects. I thought the work had a relatively promising premise and a decent start, but it lost me pretty early and I ended up just scanning the last two-thirds of the book. I can’t recommend it at all and won’t be reading any more of the series myself. In addition, I’ll have second thoughts about picking up other books with Streib’s name or pseudonyms on them. According to Amazon, Streib  also wrote romance novels as Lee Davis Willoughby, and other adventure tales under the names J. Faragut Jones and Jonathan Schofield.

The plot of the story has some interesting elements. Michael Hawk, who is an investigative reporter, has just been released from a Soviet prison and is relaxing aboard a cruise ship to Greece when he discovers a mysterious yacht anchored at one of the islands. He decides to find out the story behind it. Predictably, all hell breaks loose. However, the character of Hawk is not particularly well drawn. He seems to alternate between periods of mastery and incompetence.

Finally, and critically for me, the writing is just godawful in many places. There’s no other way to say it. I imagine a lot of this came from pumping out 14 Hawk books in two years, plus whatever else he was writing. There are plenty of decent lines so I’m sure it’s a matter of rushing and not anything to do specifically with his writing skills. Anyway, here’s a little sample, from page 109, of “The Deadly Crusader.” I've taken out the paragraph breaks but the words are quoted exactly.

"A rifle slug clanged metallically into the boat's exposed gas tank, leaving a hole to squirt out the explosive fluid and send it running directly toward the hot, protesting engine. Hawk stared at it, then compressed the coiled muscles in his legs for the jump. The gas tank exploded with a roar that splintered the already battered craft. A flying hunk of wood cracked Hawk on the base of the skull and he felt unconsciousness trying to relieve the pain. He wanted to scream at his own brain."

Saturday, October 17, 2015

How the World has Changed: Part 1:

The human world has changed tremendously since I was young. Since on my last birthday I turned 57 and am now officially an old-fogey, I thought I might share with you some of the changes I’ve witnessed. Frankly, quite a lot of this is somewhat bewildering to me. Though that is too be expected from an ancient such as myself when faced with the modern age.

First: Gun racks.

In the 1970s in Arkansas, and I imagine across the south, gun racks were all the rage. It would look something like the picture below, except it usually held only two guns and was meant for your…truck.

That’s right. In the 1970s in Arkansas many members of the male population carried rifles and/or shotguns hung up in the back of their trucks. I even had a gun rack, though I didn’t have a truck to put it in. Eventually I gave the rack to a nephew, I think.

In the parking lot outside the high school you would often see a dozen trucks with racked guns in the back. There was often some admiring of weapons going on by non-racked folks. This was especially true during hunting season. A lot of kids would go hunting either right before school or right after. Even though I had a car and no rack, there were plenty of times I’d put my shotgun or rifle in the back seat while at school so I could head out to hunt after.

No one shot anyone else. No one reached for a gun to settle any kind of argument. No one even accidentally discharged a firearm on school property. I wonder what happened. I don’t believe it is any one thing. Some factors that I think were involved in the changes are listed below. 

1. Everyone of us who had a gun for hunting had been taught by fathers or brothers or someone how to handle them, how to make sure they weren’t loaded, how to keep them in working order.

2. We had also been taught that if honor required a fight, you did it with your fists. You weren’t a pussy. You didn’t reach for a weapon to make you a big man.

3. We weren’t cowards like the assholes today who use guns to settle every dispute or who just decide to use a gun to take some folks along with them when they decide to die. We weren’t so afraid of every little thing that we had to bluster and blow constantly about how tough we were. And we didn’t just make up enemies, or let the media make them up for us.

4. We lived in a community where you did fear losing the respect of your peers and your family and the folks in your town. You knew, for example,  that if you did something stupid or wrong, it would get back to your family. Now that can be a double edged sword, for sure. But we not only cared what our parents thought of us, we wanted to please them and tried to do the best we could to make them proud.

I’m sure there are many other reasons for why the way people act around guns has changed over the last forty years. These are just some of my thoughts. What are yours?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Facebook Killed the Blogging Star

 I’m trying to decide whether to call the days of the blog over or not. Blogging seems to have been hanging around on life support for quite a while now, but not really capable of breathing on its own. I remember the heyday of blogging. In my experience that was back around 2010/2011. I’d easily visit fifty blogs a day and would have liked to have visited more. I’d post most every day, and would quickly get 20 or 30 comments, which would grow over the next day or so.  My blog links took up the whole side panel of my blog. There was a vibrant community with everyone linking back and forth to other blogs of interest. That just isn’t really happening anymore.

As facebook became more popular, I saw the blogs decline. Why spend a good chunk of time constructing a thoughtful and well researched blog when you could type in a quick status update and get a dozen immediate ‘likes’ on FB? It’s not like a lot of people were really reading the blogs carefully anyway. Then came Twitter and it got worse.  I never joined Twitter. You can’t convince me that important things can be said at such short length.

I remember reading somewhere years ago that: “A bumper sticker is not a philosophy.” That may be the most profound single line of wisdom I’ve ever seen. A blog wasn’t a philosophy either but it allowed people to expand and expound on thoughts. Through that kind of process, philosophies are born. But it would appear those days are pretty much over. What say you?

Monday, October 05, 2015

CONtraflow #5 in the Bag

CONtraflow 5 is over and a great time was had. I was there every day, with my biggest day being Saturday where I had three panels back to back. I also spent quite a bit of time in the Dealer's Room, at the book tables. The Library had a table there where they were selling works to support the library. I picked up a bunch of stuff that I'll have to talk about and show the covers of another time.

The author guest of honor was Robert J. Sawyer. He was busy, of course, with many folks looking to talk to him, but I managed to get a book signed by him. I also renewed acquaintances with a bunch of old friends and made quite a few new ones. I attended a lot of good panels as well, on such things as Cyberpunk versus Steampunk, Skepticism versus Belief, and Space Opera!

All the panels I sat on were well attended and we had a lot of good interactions with the audience. My last panel on Saturday was on Dreaming and Creativity. I had about 12 folks and they were enthusiastic. Everyone was interested and asking questions, but everyone was also respectful of all the others. When the "sign guard" came to give us the "Five More Minutes" sign, one of the folks at the table went "Noooo." They didn't want it to end. That really made my day.

Afterward, another person told me it should have been two hours, and someone else said it was their favorite panel of the weekend. All of that made me feel wonderful.

I'm back at work on this Monday morning, and feeling both a bit tired after the long weekend but also energized. Lots of ideas flowing. Now I just have to put together some time to work on them. 

I didn't make it around to blogs over the weekend. Wasn't home much except to sleep. But I'll start visiting again this week. I do give two tests so I'll still be a bit slow in the blogging arena until that is done.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

CONtraflow 5 and DeepSouthCon 53

Starting this Friday (October 2) and running through Sunday (October 4), we’ll have the CONtraflow 5 and Deep South Con #53 happening in Kenner, Louisiana, at the Airport Hilton. This is part of the Greater New Orleans area. I’ll be a guest and will be there quite a lot. I’ve got a number of panels.

Here’s the Con webpage

Lots of exciting stuff this year and it’s going to be the biggest one yet because it essentially combines two cons in one. Robert Sawyer is supposed to be there and I’m looking forward to meeting him.  Below is my panel schedule. (There’s a direct link as well.) Hope to see you there:

1:  Opening Ceremonies, Friday, 5pm, Event 1

2:  The Scariest Movie I've Ever Seen, Friday, 10pm, Panel Room 2, Panelists talk   about their favorite horror movies and what makes them turn on the lights. Seanan McGuire, Charles Gramlich, Kurt Amacker, Moderator: Jessica Styons

3: Vampires in Fiction, Saturday, 7pm, Panel Room 4: Explore this popular topic in fiction with our panelists. Alys Arden, Lewis Aleman, Trisha Baker; Moderator: Charles Gramlich

4: Speculative Poetry, Saturday, 8pm, Panel Room 3: Explore your poetry writing skills with authors Charles Gramlich and Kimberly Richardson. Charles Gramlich, Kimberly Richardson, Seanan McGuire

5: Dreams and Creativity, Saturday, 9pm, Panel Room 3: Join guest Charles Gramlich in exploring how dreams and creativity are interconnected.

6: Horror Fiction, Sunday, 4pm, Panel Room 2: Discuss the genre of horror fiction   with our guests. Charles Gramlich, Alex Jennings, Mason James Cole; Moderator: Kurt Amacker

Friday, September 25, 2015

Exposition versus Description

I saw the unthinkable yesterday. Someone gave my story, "Harvest of War," only 1 star. :( They quoted the first two lines and said "It doesn't get any better." Then they later referred to the writing as "boring and banal." They did, however, indicate that it was a personal preference and that if others are tempted they should have a look at the sample of the story. I appreciated that. I then found a second 1 star review, but I have the suspicion these may be by the same person since both are "jonsomething" and both indicated they like Amish themed fiction. That can't be all that common.

Honestly, I'm not very hurt by this. People have different tastes. I am, however, immensely curious. Why did this individual judge those first two lines as being so bad? I actually think they are rather good. I began to wonder if it might have to do with different preferences for level of description, exposition, and dialogue. The opening of "Harvest" has no dialogue. It depicts a battle scene to set up the story. 

But now I have a question that perhaps some of you might be able to help me with. I've quoted the opening paragraphs to "Harvest of War" below. No dialogue as you can see. However, would you consider this section to be more description or more exposition? I have to confess that I don't quite understand the difference between these two. Exposition appears to me to mean "explanation." Description gives visual and other sensory images. To me, there is some exposition below, but mostly this is description. However, I have heard this section of the story described as "classic exposition" by another reviewer, who liked the overall story very much. 

Can you help me understand this concept?


Across a snowfield that lies red with dawn, the Orc charge comes.

And is met.

Axes shriek on shields. Swords work against armor into flesh. The tips of spears are wetted. Gore dapples the snow.

For a moment, the human line holds. Then the center wavers. In a frenzy, an Orc squad punches through. More Orc pour in. The gap widens. The human forces fold back in desperate defense to either side of the breakthrough. Victory rewards the most brutal.


Across the field of now trampled snow, a new army appears—human cavalry mounted upon chargers of black. Banners unfurl. Horns skirl. Only too late do the Orc realize they’ve been tricked.

The mounted charge comes crashing. The hooves of warhorses hammer the ground to icy slush as lances headed with black iron are couched. The rear of the Orc army falls like wheat before that scythe. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Update and Review

Let me first point you to a review of The Adventures of an Arkansawyer over at Erik's Choice. Erik is a first rate observer of culture. He usually reviews books and movies that have far more literary merit than my own efforts. But I really appreciated his insightful comments on my stuff. Check it out.

As for updates, we got mostly very good news last week concerning Lana's PET Fusion scan. The cyst that she had removed from her ovary did have cancerous elements but it looks like from the scan that removing the cyst got everything and she will not need any chemotherapy. We were both very relieved by that, as you might imagine. They did find in the scan that she has an umbilical hernia, and that will probably need to be dealt with.

Lana also has another rhizotomy scheduled for this Wednesday, on the other side of her back. We're hoping the combination of these two will get her walking and moving well again. We've been able to get out for short walks after her first one but the pain is still pretty bad. Plus, it has been very hot here most days so we walk only early or late. I know we're both hoping for some cooler weather.

Looks like I'm not going to have football to distract me this year. Both my beloved Arkansas Razorbacks, and the New Orleans Saints, have lost two games in a row. Well, there's always next year. In the meantime, I've started replaying Skyrim again for the umpteenth time.

In writing, I'm about three or four chapters away from finishing Gods of Talera. I have not worked much on it for the past few weeks, though. Just trying to keep my head above water at school.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime

I don't know if any of you have Kindle Unlimited (KU), but if you do, I wanted to let you know that many of my books are absolutely free with KU. If you have Amazon Prime, they're also free to borrow. Here are the works you can get free from me through Unlimited or Prime.

Micro Weird: (a collection of weird flash fictions)

Harvest of War: (A fantasy story involving an Orc. Probably my best reviewed work)

Killing Trail: (A collection of western tales)

The Machineries of Mars: (A sword and planet story influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs)

Fiction Techniques, One, Two, and Three: (Articles on creating characters, creating suspense, and using the twist ending)

Days of Beer: (A humorous memoir of my younger days)

Harmland: (A collection of noir/horror tales)

Adventures of an Arkansawyer: (More humorous memoir material from my youth. It includes Days of Beer)

If you do have Unlimited or Prime, why not take just a second to hop over to these links and get your copy. And, of course, if you do, why not give them a read. I think they all tend to be pretty fast reads. I think I only get paid when people do read them. (Of course, most of these are only 99 cents at full price anyway).

I would certainly appreciate it!


Friday, September 11, 2015

Currently Reading

As is usual with me, I can't really just read one book at a time. Right now I've got three going. These are:

1. Who's Afraid of Marie Curie?, by Linley Erin Hall. This is subtitled: "The Challenges Facing Women in Science and Technology." Given that the vast majority of my students at Xavier University of Louisiana are women, I thought it a good idea. I found the first chapter very general but it has improved as the author has begun to focus more on actual research.

This book is my "school" reading, meaning that I generally only read it while at school, such as during my lunch hour or between my afternoon classes, or when I'm giving a test to students. During the school year I always have one of these books going, always nonfiction and related either to my field or to academia in general.

2. "The Axe" by Donald Westlake. I'm enjoying it quite a lot. I've classified it as a thriller. I think the basic plot, while very simple, is rather ingenious. I don't want to give it away. The book itself reveals it pretty early. (My copy has a solid black cover)

This is my "primary" read at home, which means I'm mostly focused on reading this whenever I get a few moments, such as while in the bathroom, while 'watching' TV, while cooking, or just before bed. I always have one such book going. About eighty percent of the time this book is fiction, but nonfiction might fall here as well, particularly if I'm reading nonacademic stuff such as musician or author biographies.

3. Luana, by Alan Dean Foster. This is a novelization of the movie. Foster does a lot of novelizations and does them well. I've never seen the movie but it was clearly supposed to be kind of a female Tarzan concept. Luana's plane crashes and she is raised by a pair of animal mothers, one a chimp and the other a panther. At least that's how the book starts. The movie is on you tube but I don't plan to watch it anytime soon.

This is my "secondary" read at home. I'll typically read about three times as many pages in my primary read as in my secondary, but I switch off between the two. Not sure why I do this but I've gotten into the habit of it. I think part of it is that I'm always looking forward to my next read, and hoping it will be one of those 'knock your socks off' books. I don't find a whole lot of those, though, so I pick up a fresh book before I'm finished with the one I'm on.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Breaking Bad

After eliminating most of our cable TV channels to save money, Lana and I decided to use the library to pick up some TV series that we’d heard good things about. We figured to watch an episode or two a night and get through a series that way. The first show we decided on was Breaking Bad. We’ve now finished it, and here are some thoughts.

First, watching a show this way is a lot better than watching it on a normal broadcast timeline. You don’t have the lengthy breaks that lead to forgetting of plot lines and details. I suspect that probably added to our enjoyment of the show.

Second, Breaking Bad is, in both Lana and my opinions, a very, very good drama. There are some weaknesses, particularly the show’s relatively poor handling of the main female characters, but overall the writing was outstanding. Tension, characters who were fully rounded and showed development, the settings, the way flashbacks were used. All these were deftly handled.

Third, this is only the third time in my history that I actually felt, even remotely, the kind of sadness at the end of a TV series as I have so often felt at the end of a really good book. The only other times I’ve had this feeling was with Star Trek: the Next Generation, and Frazier, and the feeling in both those cases was much less than with Breaking Bad. I’m talking about the kind of bittersweet melancholy that one feels when you read the last page of a beloved book and close the cover.

As we got closer to the end of the series, Lana and I both hated thinking about how we had only three episodes left, then only two, and then one. That’s also not something I’ve really felt, although I’ve never watched a show in this fashion before.

Lana and I were talking last night about our concern that we’ve become spoiled by Breaking Bad and that we’ll never find another series to watch that will compare. We do plan to try The Wire, Justified, and some others, so I suppose we’ll see.

I’ll end with this thought. TV has never been of much interest to me. I’ve very, very rarely felt any particular desire to see the ‘next’ episode of some show. For those shows I liked, such as Frazier and TNG, I was happy to catch an episode when I could but never gave it much thought between episodes. Breaking Bad has been something of a revelation to me. I think, for the first time, I have seen the potential for TV to create the kind of compelling stories that I’ve taken for granted in written fiction. I didn’t even know it was possible.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Drying Time

The last part of summer 2015 has been the driest period that I've experienced since moving here to Louisiana in 1986. We saw just how dry when Lana and I took a walk yesterday at the Abita Springs Flatwood Nature Preserve.

A creek flows through the Flatwoods, which is primarily a pine savanna. Most years in late summer, the creek is no longer running but still has one large, deep, long pool, and a few smaller ones. We had noticed a week ago how low the main pool had gotten and how shortened it was. Yesterday we saw that it was down to quite a small mudhole and were saddened to see a bloat of dead fish all around its banks. I imagine they simply ran out of oxygen. (The following pictures are not pleasant to look at, but you can click on them to enlarge them.)

One thing you don't see in these pics, and I didn't know it was there until we got home and Lana started processing the images, is that there's a very much alive snake curled up under one of the logs. Last week we saw it catching what appeared to be a frog in the pool. You also don't see the numerous raccoon tracks in the surrounding mud.

In some ways, even sadder than the many dead fish were the fifty or sixty small catfish swimming aimlessly around and around in the remnant. Mudcats are tough but unless we get some rain in the next day or so they won’t make it either. 

After seeing this, I walked about a few hundred yards along the creek and found not a single other pool. There were a few spots where the mud was still barely damp, but no other water at all.  The animals that come to our yard are faring better because in addition to food we’ve been putting out water each day. Still, I hope we get some rain soon.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Hint of the Cool

I stepped out the door at about 6:15 AM on Monday and found it refreshingly cool. It’s been a long, hot summer. That’s not unusual for us down here; I can’t say it’s been much different than any of our other summers as far as the heat goes. It has been, however, a drier summer than we are used to. The big creek at the Flatwoods nature preserve near our house is almost totally dry. There’s only one pocket of water left, and it is rapidly disappearing. I’ve never seen it this low since we moved into our place in 2006. We’ve been putting out some water for the birds and other critters in our back yard.

I’m glad to see the worst heat behind us, although we’ll still have some pretty brutal days. I’ve never been one to particularly mind the cold, although I’ve always lived in the south where the colder temperatures seldom get to the extreme. In the time I’ve been in Louisiana, it has only gone below ten degrees once, and that was a cold snap that lasted several days. I’ve seen snow about three times since 1986, two of those since we moved to the Northshore after Hurricane Katrina. The snow has never lingered more than a few hours.

Frankly, I rather enjoy cold temperatures, at least as long as I can eventually find a place to get warm. Down here, I tend to wear short sleeve shirts year around, although in the coldest period of our year, usually January-February, I may pair the shirt with a windbreaker when I’m outside. During our “winter,” which has to be put in quotation marks for those who might mistake it for a real winter, I often get asked by people at school: “Aren’t you cold?” This is because they are wearing a heavy coat and gloves while I’m still wearing my t-shirt.  These days I just respond with: “Aren’t you hot?”

Just like how, sometimes, I feel as if I were born out of time, I often feel as if I were born out of place. Maybe I should have been a Neanderthal in Ice Age Europe.

Come to think of it, maybe I was.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Gods of Talera Progress

I'm working on the fifth book in the Talera series at present. The title is Gods of Talera, and it will bring to conclusion a number of threads that have been running throughout the previous books. Mid-summer, from mid-June through mid-July were a highly productive time for me. During about five weeks, I wrote over 25,000 words on the project. 

Then in late July the real world came back to intrude in a big way and my production dropped way off. Week-long plumbing problems, the AC going out, Lana's surgery, blood tests for me, more AC issues, taking back chairship of the research IRB committee at work, and then getting ready for the fall return to school, brought my writing to a near standstill. I've managed only a few thousand words since that all started. 

Nevertheless, the book is still moving forward and I'm at 58,000 words on it now. I can largely see my way through to the end, although exact details are still a bit hazy. I had originally hoped to have a strong rough draft done by the time school started, but now I'm pushing my schedule back and plan to have the final work done by Christmas. We'll see.

 A lot will depend on how heavy the school year  is. When I was younger I could work an 8 or 9 hour day at school and then come home and still write another couple of hours. That's really not happening for me much these days. Much of that is physical. By the end of a day my legs often ache and throb so badly that I can hardly sit in a chair. Plus, my emotional state is not as responsive as it once was. It takes me longer to recover from emotional shocks and I'm not as able to lose myself in writing in response to emotional upset as I once was. 

The secret, of course, is to find workarounds for those things that throw me off. I've always been able to do so before and probably will now as well. The main thing it takes is will. 


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sorry I Haven't Been Around

School started Wednesday and I've been doing 12 hour days. No chance to visit blogs and tomorrow is not likely to be any different. I should be around for a visit this weekend and sometime next week should be getting back to a somewhat normal routine.

Part of the reason for the long hours is that Xavier experienced a nice enrollment increase and our department had one of the biggest increases of all. Great to see after a few years of falling enrollments. Certainly increases our work load, though.



Sunday, August 16, 2015

A New (for us) Approach to TV

TV has just never been important to me. There are a few shows that I really like and that have been an influence on my writing, but most are forgotten within an hour of having watched them. Star Trek is an exception, although I also read quite a few Star Trek related works.

Recently, however, Lana and I changed our viewing habits and that has led to a slight increase in my appreciation for TV. Because of budget constraints, we got rid of all but our basic cable package, and that meant a lot of shows that I might have caught here and there were no longer available to us. Since Lana works at the library, though, we decided to start picking up series from the library and watching them a season at a time, meaning an episode or two a night.

We started with Game of Thrones, which Lana had already watched in this fashion. But getting a chance to see a couple of episodes a night and watching the series straight through a season over a week or so quickly got me involved in the series. When we ran out of Game of Thrones, we started with Breaking Bad, and I was quickly hooked. I also suggested an old TV series called "The Invaders," which I had seen some episodes of. Although not nearly as compelling, we are now on season 2 of the two season show. Of course, there were like 20 episodes a season back then.

We still have some seasons of Breaking Bad, and one of Game of Thrones. After that we'll want to do The Walking Dead when we can get the new season. Some other shows we may try this way, Nip/Tuck, The Shield, Justified, Sons of Anarchy, Lost, The X Files. I'm certainly liking this way of viewing things better than how I did it before. I've tried to watch series and generally always miss episodes here and there, which gradually leads to me losing interest in the show. This way of viewing helps keep my interest up, and Lana and I have always watched an hour or so of TV together of a night when we eat our meals so it fits our habit already.


Friday, August 14, 2015

Blog Format Change

Well, I've been blogging for a lot of years now, and during all that time I've not changed the background. I probably still wouldn't have if my template hadn't gotten corrupted. Apparently, Amazon changed some of their links and my sidebar suddenly lost all the images of my books and instead showed some meaningless political message.

With some dread, I set out to update my format. I figured it was going to be a huge pain in the butt. Instead, blogger made it virtually painless.I chose the simple template and blogger did all the work with uploading the actual posts. All of the long and laborious links to other blogs disappeared of course, as well as all the links on Amazon to my books. However, the links badly needed updating anyway. I've put in a few links anew, ones that link to my Amazon author's page and my Wildside Press page, but haven't gotten around to any other links yet. Not sure when that will happen, if ever.

So what do you think? Does the new format look OK to everyone?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Something Weird

Well, a few of you may have noticed some weird thing on the right side of my blog. Some "fight hunger" screen has replaced all the links to my books. Don't know how this happened and can't find the relevant problems in the template so I'm going to try today to upgrade my template. If my blog completely disappears, you'll know I've failed.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Summer's Passing

Don't know how so much of the summer got away from me. Or actually, I guess I do know. Summer started with a lot of issues and I didn't get much writing done, but then around mid-June things calmed down and I started to surge on the writing. For almost five weeks I was able to write pretty much every day and my output surged from 4 to 5 hundred word a day to a high of over 2000 a day. It settled down to at least a thousand a day and I added about 25,000 words to Gods of Talera.

No good streak continues in my world, though. Toward the middle of July, Lana's car completely failed and we had to get another one. Then our plumbing stopped up and we were without flushing toilets and showers for about a week. Around the same time the AC started giving us trouble. Lana had a minor surgery during this time, then had to have a major one at the start of August. Most of three weeks went up in flames as far as writing goes.

And when I started to lift my head again after all that, well, it was time to start worrying about school. Unfortunately, my summer vacation from the IRB committee that I serve as chair of ended early and I'm back in the saddle there. Feeling really down about all this stuff, I've taken the last two days off and just played Skyrim.

For all  of my adult life I've worked an academic job. During the school year I rob my leisure time to write. Whenever I've had breaks, at Christmas, or during the summers these last ten years, I've converted my normal working hours into writing. Can't say I see a whole lot of accomplishment from all that. I've got some books out, some stories. I sell a few here and there but never see any real growth in sales.  Writing has certainly not been able to replace the money I'd make if I taught summer school.

I didn't really start off this post meaning to whine, but I guess I have. I figure for the next couple of years I'll just go back to teaching in the summer. Maybe I'll start taking some long breaks from writing. By now it's become at least partly a habit, though. Since the main reason I started this blog was because of the writing, I may cut back on posting even more as well. I've been banging my head against a wall for a lot of years now. The wall's still there. My head hurts.


Sunday, August 02, 2015

Singing versus Music

Lana and I had an interesting discussion yesterday about our musical tastes. Hers are much more eclectic than mine. She likes Metallica and Frank Sinatra, Barry Manilow and Motley Crue. I hesitate to say it, but she also likes some….disco. Me? I like hard rock and heavy metal. And that’s pretty much it.

In our discussion yesterday, I had a bit of an epiphany about my own musical tastes. That is, I like music that is heavy on the music, and I don’t care about the singing. Lana appreciates both aspects of music, but—for me—the singing is simply…meh. I won’t listen to music just for the sound of the singer’s voice. The music itself has to be catchy and, generally, full of energy and intensity.

I’m going to link to some examples to illustrate my points. First up is “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele. I’ve listened to this song several times with Lana and apparently I always say I like it. However, I never seem to remember it next time Lana mentions it, as she did yesterday. So I went and listened to it with my new thoughts on the subject. It’s a good illustration of my point. First let me say, I really like the singer’s voice modulation in this song. However, “Rolling in the Deep” is about the singing, not the music. In fact, to me, the music is virtually non-existent, and is not really important to the effect of the song. It’s all about the voice. 

In contrast, after watching the Adele video, I felt a need for some heavier stuff. I called up “Albatross” by Corrosion of Conformity. Instantly, a surge of energy swept through me. I became aware of my heartbeat, of the taste in my mouth, of the way my eyes moved in their sockets. My fingers started to drum. Other than the word “albatross,” I scarcely know what the singer is saying in this song. Nor do I care. This song is about the music. The voice is a compliment at best. 

I decided to give another work a listen, and chose “Angel” by Sepultura, which is a remake of a Massive Attack song. The music here starts out very slow. It’s almost non-existent, much like in the Adele song. First there are just the words of the singer. But then the music starts to build, it starts to hammer, it starts to scream. My scalp tingles. My body flushes hot and cold. I didn’t see them but I know my pupils dilated. The voice of the singer is mostly just a shriek now. There’s no Adele level modulation of the voice. In fact, half the time he isn’t singing real words. I don’t care. This is what I listen to music for—the power and the glory. 


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

An Analogy

The piece below is fiction. Or is it?

So, I was walking along the road with an acquaintance when we noticed that a house across the way was on fire. The fire hadn’t spread very far yet . Fearing that there might be people inside, and figuring there was still a chance to save the place, or at least save some of the stuff inside, I started across the road. My companion grabbed me and pulled me back.

“Wait! Was that fire started by a human? Or was it lightning caused it?”

“What does it matter?” I yelled, trying to pull away. “There may be people in there!”

The man would not let me go. “The important thing,” he said, “is whether we need to blame a ‘who’ or a ‘what.’

By now, the whole first floor of the house was engulfed with flames. I jerked free of his grip and took off toward the fire. The man tackled me from behind and in another moment was sitting on top of me so that I couldn’t get up.

“A who or a what?” the man yelled at me. “If it was humans started it, that’s one thing. Then we could act. But if it was lightning then that’s nature and we just have to let it burn.”

“Get off me!” I screamed.

He wouldn’t. “I think it was lightning,” he said. “We’re just going to have to let it burn.”


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Gods of Talera and Buying Books

Well, I've passed 50,000 words on Gods of Talera. I've also written the last chapter, so I know basically where I'm going. For much of June and July I made outstanding progress. Now, unfortunately, real life has intruded to cause a slow down. Tuesday all our toilets stopped flushing. We had a plumber out and he found out that it was the pipe running from the septic tank that was clogged, most likely with tree roots from all the trees around us.

Now we have to have a new pipe put in and the people who do that had to get digging clearance and won’t be able to start until Monday.  That means showering at the “Y” and bathrooming wherever we can.

While the plumber was here, he noticed that it’s nice and cool under the house, probably because some of our AC piping is leaking or broken. So, we’ve called an AC guy too. We had been doing very well this month on bills after cancelling most of our TV cable and cutting back on our cell phones and on satellite radio, and after poking a new hole in our belts so we could tighten them further. But now that cushion is so far gone that I can’t even see where it was. And it has been like that for month after month for a while now.

We’ve been running in the red for so many months now that I’ve lost track. I believe it’s around 11 or 12 in a row. It’s a good thing I had quite a bit of savings before the run started. One of the worst things for me is not having money to spend on books. I see so many new books I’d like but I’m just forcing myself not to buy them. I’ve bought one .99 cent book for my kindle in the last two months. I’ve also picked up a number of Kindle free deals, of course, and I have years of collected unread works so I’m not in danger of running out of reading material.

But I see new work by friends and colleagues and writers I admire, and I’d love to buy copies of their works to support them, as so many have supported my writing. Unfortunately, it’s not in the cards at the moment. As soon as the cash river regains some flow I’ll be buying some books. I’ve got a big wish list!

As for Gods of Talera, in between phone calls and dealing with all the minutia of getting any house repair done, I've got to try and keep making progress. It's very hard, though. I tend to be a writer who thrives on routine, and I don't write particularly well when emotionally and physically upset. Reckon I need to get over that, given that life seems to be all about constant emotional and physical upset.


Monday, July 20, 2015

The Worst Novelist in History?

I saw some commentary about bad writing on facebook this morning, and this link was below it, about “The Worst Novelist in History.” I had to read it. And I think I might just agree, although I’ve seen some horrible writing in the modern world.

The fairly short article is about Amanda McKittrick Ros, or at least that was her pen name. Her real name was Anna Margaret Ross. She was born in Northern Ireland in 1860 and died in 1939. She was a schoolteacher, and I find myself wondering what horrific effects she may have had on her students.

Here is a line from her first book, Irene Iddesleigh, which her husband paid to have published as a tenth anniversary present to her: “She tried hard to keep herself a stranger to her poor old father's slight income by the use of the finest production of steel, whose blunt edge eyed the reely covering with marked greed, and offered its sharp dart to faultless fabrics of flaxen fineness.” 

She went on to publish more books and poetry, though. Here is the Wikipedia link for her. She apparently was a bit full of herself in addition to writing prose like that wonderful bit quoted above.