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. 


Friday, July 17, 2015

Momentum, And Loss

I’ve been making good progress on Gods of Talera this summer. This is the fifth book in the Taleran series and brings the current storyline to an end. During the last week in June and first week in July I was averaging over 1000 words a day, and a couple of times approached or exceeded 2000 words a day. I only count them when they are pretty well polished so that means quite a bit of wordage for me.

A lot of the progress I was making was due to two things, 1) getting into the routine of writing every day, which I can seldom do during the school year because of other work, and 2) the story developing momentum, with one idea leading to another and another and another. For me, that kind of thing starts to snowball and it revs up my excitement level for the tale, making it easier for me to dive into work every day.

Then, starting on Monday, July 6, the momentum started to fade. This was expected. I had a presentation on Dreams and Creativity to prepare for Saturday, July 11, and I started working on the presentation, as well as doing things to promote it. I managed a residual 1000 words on Gods on Tuesday, July 7, and then it dropped to virtually nothing the rest of the week as my attention turned toward the presentation.

I’ve found that I always have a day or two lag after a writing interruption before I can pick up the momentum again. I expected this after the dream presentation, and had already decided to take that Sunday off and hit it again hard on Monday. Sunday was when Randy Johnson died.

I didn’t get started back on Gods on Monday. I did a bit on Tuesday, then sagged again for a couple of more days. A big part of it was my sadness at Randy’s passing. I know some writers who seem to be most energized to write when they are upset emotionally. I’m not one of those writers, at least not where fiction is concerned. I write best when my mood is stable, and it wasn’t.

I realized on Thursday, though, that Randy, of all people, would not want any writer to write less because of his death. Randy loved good reading and, judging by his reviews, he loved the Talera series. I wrote about 800 words yesterday. Not quite a thousand but not a bad chunk. I’ve got to get my momentum back, gotta keep rolling. I owe it to Randy, and myself.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

On the Passing of a Friend

At about 8:30 Sunday night, I was sitting in the living room playing a video game when Lana, who was on facebook, gave a gasp. I asked her what was wrong and she told me, with a catch in her voice, that Randy Johnson had died. I jumped up and rushed over to her computer, hoping, hoping that it was a mistake, or that it wasn’t the Randy I knew. I’m afraid it was the Randy I knew, not the baseball player of that name, but the voracious reader, the music lover, the blogger, and my friend.

I may never have met Randy, although I spoke to him once on the phone, but he was definitely my friend. And he was the friend to a whole lot more of us, both in the blogging world and on facebook. We shared many interests in books and movies and music. He liked westerns and pulp stories and SF and fantasy. He liked Spaghetti westerns and was something of an expert in that area. He’d seen more of them than anyone I know. He liked hard rock and heavy metal music, and he had a great sense of humor.

Most importantly, Randy was a kind and thoughtful man, and a loyal friend. He cared about the rights, and freedoms and dignity of all humankind. He tirelessly supported me in my writing, and I know he did the same for a lot of others. He was the kind of person I could look up to. To say that he will be missed is an understatement. I am heartsick.

Randy had a chance to say his last piece in a blog post and facebook post put up by his nephew. I’ll leave you with the link to that blog


Breaking Bad

Recently, Lana and I took a step to save some money by getting rid of most of our cable TV package. We kept only the local channels. Neither of us watches a lot of TV but we oftentimes do watch an hour or so in the evenings when we eat supper. To make for the lack of most of the cable channels, we decided that we'd pick up a few shows that we've always been interested in watching but never had through the library. Lana had known this, but I only found out recently when I started watching the early seasons of Game of Thrones, that this is the way to watch TV. You don't watch week to week and deal with commercials. You get the whole season and watch it an episode or two a night.

We decided to start our program with Breaking Bad. I'd heard many good things about it and had imagined I'd like it, but had never been able to catch it. We've watched season 1 and are just about finished with season 2. Here are some of my thoughts.

1. I am enjoying it but not finding it nearly as compelling as Game of Thrones. I think there are various reasons for this. For one, the setting for GOT is far more interesting than the suburbia of BB. Second, there are a lot more interesting characters in GOT. Walter, Jessy, and Hank are the most interesting characters to me so far in BB. Third, there are much more sympathetic characters in GOT than in BB.

2. One way I judge the quality of a show is whether it makes me want to inhabit that world in my imagination. I don't want to really live in GOT or BB land. But I've often found myself imagining interacting with the folks from GOT. Never with the folks from BB.

3. I've learned again that I really do like heroes. In BB, despite Walter selling Meth, I found him a very sympathetic and even heroic character in the first season. In the second season he has become, for want of a better word, a "dick." I'm not liking him much at all, and my interest in the show has waned accordingly. Jessie is too weak at present to be much of a hero so I'm left with no one to root for. Hank seems the most heroic character at the moment, but he doesn't have a lot of screen time. Although many folks have told me they thought season 2 of BB was better than season 1, I can't agree, and I think this is the main reason.

4. Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely enjoying Breaking Bad and will watch it most likely to the end as Lana brings home the other seasons. I'm expecting to see the continued deterioration of Walter White.


Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Free Creativity Seminar

If you’re going to be anywhere near Slidell, Louisiana this Saturday, I’m going to be giving a presentation on creativity that is free and open to the public. The topic is “Dreams and Creativity: How to Enhance Your Art through Dreaming.” The presentation will be hosted by the Artists Galleries de Juneau, located at 2143 First St. in Slidell. That’s Saturday, July 11th from 1:00 to 3:00 pm.

The talk will cover the physical characteristics of dreaming, ways to improve dream recall, and how to harness your dreams to create art. There will be a question and answer period after, and I’ll have copies of my book, Write With Fire:Thoughts on the Craft of Writing, available for sale. Below is one little piece of the talk, about the care and feeding of dreams.

 Despite what many people believe, there’s no real mystery about where dream imagery comes from. It comes from your own mind, and it reflects the kind of things you put in that mind, the kind of things you think about, and feel about. Dreams come  from your fears, your hopes, and your obsessions.

If you spend most of your time dealing with the reality of jobs, family, politics, and paying the bills, then that’s where your dream content comes from. And such mundane dreams, which make up most of what any person dreams about, are not well remembered. It’s the weird and the strange that we remember.

A lot of art is about seeing the world in some new way, some unusual way. If you want your dreams to help you with your art, start feeding it some unusual things. Watch TV shows and movies that you don’t usually watch. Read books you don’t usually read. Take some risks.

Dreams also come from things you are emotionally invested in. Read and watch stuff that makes you uncomfortable. Push your own envelope. If all you experience are those things that make you feel safe and protected, then how can you expect your dreams to help you create. Feed your head some weird stuff. That will feed your dreams, and, just maybe, your art.


Sunday, July 05, 2015

Encounter with a Fourth of July House Mouse

I’ve known we’ve had a mouse in the house for a while. I’ve heard it late at night, and there’s been physical evidence left behind. I’d left a shirt on the floor of my office for a few days and when I moved it the other day there was an acorn under it. I left the acorn there after picking up the shirt, and the next day the acorn was gone again.

Years ago, for reasons that escape me, I brought a double handful of big acorns into the house, then put them in a drawer and promptly forgot them. At some point a mouse stole them and began hiding them around the house. I’ve found quite a few little stashes over the years, and usually throw them out when I do. I know many of the mice that made them are no longer with us, but it seems like each new mouse that comes in finds some of those acorns and hoards them like gold.

Late Friday night/Saturday morning, around 4:00 or so, I encountered our newest house mouse. Like many men of my age, I spend an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom. Nature called again around 4:00. I stepped into the bathroom and immediately thought I saw something coming down the wall near the bathtub. When I looked closer, it was the mouse, a sleek, gray, well-fed looking creature.

It appeared he wanted out of the bathroom and there’s only one way out. I was standing in his way. He darted a step toward me and I darted a step back. I then tried to reason with him that if he would just be patient, I’d get out of his way post haste. Apparently, he wasn’t patient. He came shooting in my direction. I did the only thing I could under the circumstances. I grabbed hold of the sink on the left and the wall on the right and…levitated.

Here’s the thing, I’m not really scared of mice.  I outweigh them by a considerable amount. I don’t find them disgusting. I think they’re rather cute, in fact. So why is it that when such a small thing comes scurrying toward me, I immediately engage in the standard avoidance dance?

Maybe it’s the acorns. Maybe I’m afraid I’ll encounter a mouse who can’t tell the difference between acorns and…well, you know.


Thursday, July 02, 2015


I’d finished a book the other day and only had one book going. Since I generally like reading at least two at a time, I started scanning my TBR shelves for my next read. A book that I’ve had for a couple of years caught my eye. I’d read other things by the author and liked them, and this one had an intriguing title. Then a thought struck me: “It’s awfully long.” I passed it by.

Something similar occurred a couple of months ago. One of my colleagues at Xavier was reading book three of A Song of Ice and Fire. That’s Game of Thrones for you TV viewers. I’d been watching the TV show myself and much enjoying it. I’d decided I wanted to read the books. But there stood my friend with a serious doorstop in his hands. It’s over 1200 pages. And that is one of a bunch in the series. I thought to myself, “I have not the strength.”

I’ve never been one to judge a book by its cover. In fact, I notice covers only in passing. But I’ve been aware for maybe a decade now that I’m becoming increasingly reluctant to start “big” books. Increasingly reluctant is the operative term. I used to read Stephen King novels. Not anymore. I used to read long-assed thrillers. Not anymore. Even if I love you, I’m just not going to read your 800 page opus. Or even your 600 page one. And probably not your 500 page one.

400 pages appears to be about my cutoff these days, but the book I rejected this morning for being too long was only around 380. My ideal length for a book that I’m about to invest my time in is between 185 and 250 pages. I’ll pretty readily go 300, especially for a thriller. But 350 is starting to push it.

I guess the question is, why am I becoming this way?  I have some thoughts, of course. First, I’m 56 and quite aware that I’m likely never to get all the books read I’d like to read. Five of my preferred size books would equal one Game of Thrones tome. Do I want to read a 1200 pager by George R. R. Martin, or would I rather read five other books by the likes of James Reasoner, E. C. Tubb, Joe Lansdale, Poul Anderson, and O’Neil De Noux? Five wins.

Second, I started out writing short stories mostly so I had very little idea how long novels needed to be. But I’ve written a number of novel length projects by now and I’ve never found the need to go beyond about 350 pages. I can’t even imagine how much padding I’d have to include to push one of my Taleran books to 1000 pages. They average a little over 200. And in almost every long book I’ve ever read, I’ve found what seemed to be padding. As a writer, I just don’t think one story in a million needs great length to be told effectively. In fact, padding a work is the opposite of being effective. Maybe once in a while a story really needs to be that long—once in a long, long while.

So what about you? Do you love big thick tomes heavily marbled with fat? Or would you prefer a leaner cut of meat? What is your ideal length for a novel?