Thursday, July 27, 2017

Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson

As a biological psychologist, I certainly consider myself a scientist. As a teacher, I strive in my classes to make science interesting and attractive to my students while not glossing over the hard work that it entails. I want humanity to have a positive future and believe that science can provide us with the ways to get there. In my own small way, I try to be a proselytizer for science. I want people to love it the way that I do.

In my generation, Carl Sagan was the primary spokesperson for science. I remember being captivated by his Cosmos, and it led me directly into a fascination with astrophysics. I read a lot of other books in the field, including more of Sagan’s own work as well as the work of Stephen Hawking and many others. I don’t profess to understand it all but, if there are ‘big’ questions then astrophysics is the place where they most frequently get asked, and sometimes answered.

I would say that, for the current generation, Neil DeGrasse Tyson has taken up where Sagan left off, and I know he fully credits Sagan for his own involvement in science. I recently finished Tyson’s book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. It’s definitely not a “title” for people in a hurry but the book does exactly what it claims to. I finished it over a weekend and it was very straightforward, with clear explanations of tough concepts. It was well written with quite a few touches of humor. I came away with a good capsule history of our universe. I also learned a few things that I didn’t know, but I’ll let you discover those yourself when you read the book. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Odd Bob's

We happened to be in Foley, Alabama today (Sunday), and stopped by a place called Foley's Indoor Flea Market. While Lana wandered around through much of the place, I went straight to Odd Bob's, who is a book guy among other things. (He also sells toys and a lot of vinyl records but I don't care anything about those.)

What I cared about was a simply huge selection of all kinds of books, SF, Mystery, History, Westerns, and much more, including a lot of comics. I only had an hour or so to spend there so I barely scratched the surface of what he had available, but I did find a few books that I'll share with you here.

"Drifter," by William C. Dietz is the first in a series. I've been looking for it for a good while and already have the other two. The Ray Bradbury collection of plays is not something I've seen anywhere else. I didn't know it existed. I've been intending to write a play myself. I also picked up a Babylon 5 tie-in novel by Peter David.

I also found several series books that were new to me. I got #1 in Donovan's Devils, #2 in the Man from U.N.C.L.E. series (which I had at least heard of), and copies of series books for The Guardians and UFO-1 that I'd never heard of. I was familiar with James Axler from his Death Lands series, although this "Earth Blood" is not from that series.

I picked up a collection of fables from Richard Adams, who I've found myself interested in again of late, and this rather odd book on the right called "The Alphabet of Manliness." It looks to be pretty funny. Never heard of it before. 

Finally, we also got the poster shown below, which is Star Trek related. For those of you who love Trek, no explanation is necessary. For those of you who don't, no explanation is sufficient.

If you happen to be in Foley, do yourself a favor and stop by Odd Bob's. He had a lot of Burroughs, a lot of L'Amour, and much, much more. You can find out more at his website, including his location. I linked it in line 2 of this post.

Friday, July 21, 2017


I read my first Mickey Spillane book in 2008. It was “One Lonely Night,” the 4th book in the Mike Hammer series. I gave it one star. Here’s what I said: “I was really looking forward to enjoying my first Mickey Spillane book. I'm still waiting. This one was awful. Personally, I found it nearly illiterate. He's got only the tiniest fragment of the style of Chandler and Hammett but without even a sliver of their talent. I won't be reading another Spillane for a long, long time.”

Cue 2017, a long time in reading years. I’ve started my second Spillane/Hammer book. “Vengeance is Mine,” book 3 in the series, and I’m liking it a lot better. Not loving it, mind you, but at least it’s not a chore to read. As I started thinking of this post about Spillane’s work, I did some background reading on him. Turns out his first few books tended to focus on Hammer coming up against gangsters. Then he switched to “Commies.” My accidental selections of his books has apparently bracketed these periods. “One Lonely Night” was from his commie phase while “Vengeance” involved gangsters. Maybe that’s the difference. The “Commie” threat is certainly a lot more dated than the gangster threat.

This time with Spillane, though, I can at least begin to see the attraction many readers have for him. There is a rawness and an underlying power that creates a momentum for the story. The dialogue is dramatic, if not very realistic sounding. I can see why the Hammer tales are of interest to TV and film makers. My interest may be higher this time, as well, because I’ve been fiddling with a hardboiled story myself.

The books are also just chock full of items that grind my teeth, however. Of course, every beautiful woman (dame) in the tale is a knockout and every one of them has the hots for Mike Hammer, to the point they can’t resist him and beg him to take them. Most of them also enjoy a good slapping and accept being pushed around as their due. The cliché is sort of that they’re good girls in bad roles and they recognize the ultimate bad boy in Hammer. I’d never be one to say that you just can’t create this kind of female character. There are all kinds of people in the world. But over and over and over to the point of caricature and formula? I wince every time one of them is on scene in the story.

I still have a number of Spillane titles on my shelves. See the picture below. I picked these all up together at a library book sale. It was 9 years between my first and second attempt at Spillane. It probably won’t be so long for the third. I guess we’ll see.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Another Dream and a Review at Angie's Desk

Two posts in two days! It's like old blog-time again around here. I definitely wanted to mention a review for Write With Fire over at Angie's Desk. I hope you'll check it out. Thanks Angie! Angie has been a staple of the blogging community for a long time and her lists of open anthology calls are must sees for anyone trying to sell short fiction today. Check out her own work too.

I also had another monster dream last night. Two of those in two days too. In this case I was camping out in a forest known to be inhabited by bigfoot. The whole dream had a kind of Boggy Creek vibe until I actually saw the creature. It was the horned monster with the striped shirt from the book Where the Wild Things Are. That was my son's favorite book as a kid. If I were to try and interpret this one, I'd say it meant that I needed to stop being so afraid of things, that maybe issues that I'm facing are not the monsters they seem to be on the surface.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Dream of Tigers

I’m not big on dream interpretation. Most of my dreams relate in a direct fashion to things I’ve recently read, watched or experienced. But last night’s dream begs for interpretation, and I have one.

It was on the farm where I grew up. My sister, Dolores, and two of my brothers, Paul David and Raymond,  were with me in the big field below our house. We were separated from each other but had our guns because something had been bothering the cattle. I was walking the fence line when I heard two deer bounding away in the narrow band of trees behind me. As I looked for what had startled the deer, I saw a tiger stalking through the field on the other side of the fence. It hadn’t seen me yet. 

Suddenly afraid, I  ran toward my brothers and sister, yelling a warning. The tiger came into the field where we were. It was strangely elongated. It must have been thirty feet long, with weird “S” curves in its body. I realized the tiger had focused on my sister. I opened fire with my rifle to prevent it reaching her but the bullets had no effect. Dolores was near the pond and when the tiger reached her it broke into a number of smaller tigers and attacked.

Dolores disappeared and then the tiger turned and looked at me. It was just one again. I ran toward our house, hoping for a hiding place. I managed to reach the house and get the door shut, but the tiger burst through that flimsy barrier. I slammed another door in its face and it burst through that one too. I ran, slamming doors that it smashed away. I’d lost my gun but was searching for another in a panic as I woke up.

So, what is the interpretation? Well, Dolores died of colon cancer. I’m convinced the tiger represented that cancer. That elongated, curved tiger could even be said to resemble one’s intestines. But why should I have this dream? Now? Well, yesterday I had a colonoscopy. I’d been worried about it, afraid the tiger was going to come after me. Fortunately, they found only a couple of small polyps that don’t indicate any problems. Only after the relief of that news could my fears finally surface in a dream. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Problem of Facebooking

So, here’s a thing I’ve discovered. Facebook is too easy. You can jump online, post something, get near immediate feedback from some of your thousand plus friends, and it feels good. You can easily stay in contact with family and close friends and see what they’re up to, although most of the time it isn’t anything exciting. You can share your joys at what you’re reading or watching, or lament your failures with people who have similar interests. But, the ease of Facebook communication is misleading. It would be better for me to call my family members than to just like some picture they post. It would be better to make plans to get together with a friend and have lunch.

As a writer, I’ve also used Facebook as a way to promote my work, but it’s become clear to me that FB is not designed to help you do that unless you pay. A personal post I make gets seen by everyone while any kind of promotion for my work disappears into a black hole. And even though it doesn’t help much with promotion, it has become—for me—a huge time sink. I’m writing less and reading less because of it.  Inevitably in writing a story there comes a pause while you think of what needs to happen next. Too often of late I’ve filled that pause by hopping on Facebook, and then finding half an hour or more gone just like that. A better promotion of my work would be to do more of it rather than talk about it.

For these reasons, I’ve decided to take a big step back from Facebook. I’ll monitor the sales of my books and stories to see if there is any discernable effect, so in that way it’ll be an experiment.  Meanwhile, I hope to see my output of both reading and writing increase, as well as finding time and motivation to do a bit more blogging.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Bestseller Metrics, By Elaine Ash

Bestseller Metrics is focused on helping writers figure out how their manuscript matches up in characters and structure with published bestsellers such as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and others. It forces the writer to confront what is actually in their manuscript rather than what they might *imagine* is in it. The writing is clear and concise, with touches of humor throughout. There are numerous "tests" for writers to run on their manuscripts, and each one is clearly described, with worksheets provided. When necessary, screen shots are given to explain the procedures on a step by step basis.

The creator of Bestseller Metrics is Elaine Ash, an award winning author in her own right, and one with many years of experience in editing. Although Ms. Ash did not specifically set out to create a writing "tip" sort of book, Bestseller Metrics does offer a lot of insight into the writing process and I personally found a lot of wisdom in it.

I've also not seen any other writing book out there that takes this kind of approach. I found it very valuable. It's something I'll keep referring back to with each new book I work on.