Saturday, November 20, 2021

Remembering Du Bois

Yolande Du Bois Irvin has died. She was 89. Almost always when her name was mentioned someone added that she was the granddaughter of W.E.B Du Bois. And that is true. But she was far more than her connection to her historic grandfather.

She was warm, kind, witty, trenchant, thoughtful, practical. She was a supportive and loyal friend, a compassionate yet demanding teacher, a scholar of life. I never knew her in her role as a therapist but I’m sure she was excellent in that role as well because she never did anything with less than 100% commitment.

I knew her as a faculty member at Xavier University of Louisiana, in the Psychology Department. I was chair of the department when she was hired and it was a real coup for us to get her. Despite being Du Bois’s chair for much of her time at Xavier, she was—in fact—my mentor. And I was already 28 when I met her. She taught me many things, which I continue to pass on to my own students to this day, and which I use as guides in my day-to-day life.

She was so very much alive that it’s hard for me to believe now that she is not. She left Xavier after Hurricane Katrina and relocated to Colorado. For the first ten years or so after that, we spoke at least once a year on the phone. That frequency gradually decreased, as is common in such cases.

Even though I had not talked to her for several years, she was always a background presence for me. I thought of her many times throughout the year, most often during the school semesters when I’d be passing on a bit of her wisdom to my brand-new classes of fresh-faced students. I will continue to pass that wisdom on, as long as I’m around to do so.

Du Bois, it is an honor to have known you. And an honor to remember you. Godspeed!


Thursday, October 21, 2021

Narrative Drive

I’ve been thinking a lot this last week about narrative drive. What it is. How it works. And why it works. Every story I’ve read has been fodder for my thoughts on the topic.

First, what is narrative drive? It’s different from characters and setting. Many people say it means a tale is “plot driven,” but I don’t think so. I believe it means: “that element of a story that keeps you turning pages and wanting to know what happens next.” This is most often tied to plot but is not identical with it and also includes aspects of character and setting.

Narrative drive is about information, specifically, the release of information to the reader. The biggest tool writers have is that they know what’s going to happen in a story ahead of readers. Information is the energy that drives a tale, and the writers own all that information. To begin with, at least.

A story with narrative drive releases that hoarded information to the reader in dribs and drabs, giving only that information to the reader that the he or she wants and must have to understand what is happening. Just that much information. And no more.

Recently, for example, I read The Outsider by Stephen King. It begins with a murder and a suspect who just doesn’t seem capable of doing it. Yet, the evidence is against him. As a reader, I want to know how this situation can be explained, and King does a masterful job of releasing the information I want in little bits at a time. You might say, he ‘milks’ the situation for all he can get, and that kept me turning the pages, looking for the next tidbit. That’s narrative drive.

In contrast, I just finished an SF novella that failed the narrative drive test. This story was written by an author I admire, who is gone now, and who I’ve enjoyed plenty of stuff from in the past. The writing itself was excellent, better than King’s prose, but the problem was that halfway through the author telegraphed the ending and for the rest of the way the tale felt like a paint by numbers piece.

With King’s story, I was too absorbed to look ahead and see how many pages were left. With the SF story, I looked ahead just to see how many pages were left. Meaning, how many pages did I need to read before I could move on to something with greater narrative drive.


Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Silas Shoes

Who could have thought that one of my favorite memories of all time would involve tennis shoes. Here’s a picture of mine. I love the Velcro straps, a real boon to an old man like me. But that’s not the memory. 

A few months back we were babysitting our beautiful grandson, Silas. I’ve mentioned before how sweet he is. On this day, he wanted to play in the backyard so I slipped on my shoes. But it’s not easy for me to bend all the way over from a standing position to fasten the straps. Silas, on his own, without any prompting, bent down and fastened the straps on both shoes for me. Of course, he’s a lot closer to the ground than I am. But he wasn’t even two years old yet.

 I told Lana this morning that I was never going to be able to get rid of these shoes. Every time I put them on I get a big grin on my face as I remember Silas helping out his grandpa. Below is a picture of the little cutey, taken by his mom, Heidi. Sure am glad I’m still around to see him growing.

Thursday, August 05, 2021

Writing the Ranger Series

Have to admit I was a little scared when Paul Bishop of Wolfpack Publishing offered me a chance to write the first book in The Ranger: Concho series, as A. W. Hart. I’d written books for the Avenging Angels and the Black Rose, but to “begin” a series was something else again. However, the character outline he gave me was intriguing, and challenging. There seemed to be lots of interesting possibilities. Within an hour of talking to Paul and asking for a little time to think, I knew I wanted to do it. The ideas were already spinning in my head.

Now, I’m three books in (with a 4th manuscript just turned in), and it’s like learning a language. I’ve started to dream in Ranger. Even after just finishing a book, I keep thinking about what Concho Ten-Wolves is up to and what might happen next. It’s a lot of fun, if a bit all consuming.

Outside of the action sequences, which I’ve either based purely on my imagination or on historical events, the character of Concho comes from the real life of either myself or people I know. I’m neither black nor Kickapoo, and Concho is, but I’m human, and one thing I’ve learned in my life is that the hopes and dreams and desires of humans are mostly universal. People are more alike than they are different.

I’m not as good of a person as Concho, but a few of his characteristics and mannerisms come straight out of me: the foods he enjoys, his love of reading, even his inability to arch an eyebrow. The fact that he is a talker. I didn’t want to create another laconic Texas Ranger hero. Concho talks, jokes, laughs. He likes words, as I do.

I’m not sure where the Ranger series will go next. I certainly hope to write more books about Concho. An idea is already percolating for a fifth book. And I can probably go on as long as there are readers. I’ve sure been happy that the first two books seem to have attracted quite a few readers, and I’ve loved the great reviews. I don’t know about other writers but it is certainly a thrill for me to hear that someone enjoyed a work that I’ve written, or that it touched them in some way. Maybe that’s a human characteristic too. If you want to check the books out, here's the link:

 Thank YOU for reading!









Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Power of Coincidence

I was working on book 4 in the Concho: Texas Ranger series this morning when an odd event occurred. Concho is half Kickapoo and there's a fair amount of Native American lore in the series. Since I did not grow up in that culture, I've had to do a lot of research. And it's been both fun and enlightening. I do not want to use what I've learned as a mere "leavening" in the stories. And I haven't. I've tried to incorporate all such information in a respectful manner. 

Concho, for example, is a modern, educated man. He starts the series not having any belief in spiritual forces. But as the books continued I wanted him to have some experiences that force him to rethink. Many of these experiences are connected to a character named Meskwaa, an elder of the Kickapoo who is a friend and something of a mentor to Concho--as well as providing some biting but often humorous dialogue. 

I was writing a Meskwaa scene this morning where Meskwaa encounters what the Kickapoo refer to as the Thunder Beings. I was reading about the Thunder Beings and had just highlighted a piece of text giving the name of a Thunder Being in preparation of copying it into the manuscript--to get the spelling right--when a tremendous cannon shot of thunder boomed directly outside my window.  The house shuddered but the lights didn't even flicker. 

I've heard thunder boomers before, of course. And it was raining here. However, there'd been no previous thunder this morning, and none after  until much later in the day. And that single boom was the loudest one I'd ever heard. I'm not afraid of storms but I jumped at that boom. 

Coincidence? Almost certainly. But such a coincidence! It changed my day. For a while, at least, I felt the power of the numinous. 

Monday, June 07, 2021

Bruce Boston: Gallimaufry

: By Bruce Boston. Plum White Press, 2021, 134 pages.

Bruce Boston is a Bram Stoker Award winner, but that says little about the breadth and depth of his talent. As others have remarked on his work, you’ll find facets of language and story that resonate with the art of Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Franz Kafka, George Orwell, Dylan Thomas, and Oscar Wilde in his offerings.  But all of his work is uniquely “Boston,” and I hope that someday, someone will remark that they see a little of Bruce Boston in my work. It would be a high honor.

This is a collection of Boston’s short stories that span some fifty years of his life. Every single one of these is a small jewel of effort and art, from the profound sadness of “Cold Finale,” written with Marge Simon, to the absolute hilarity of “An Unrecognized Masterwork,” to the peyote-like stream of images in “Surreal Chess (which I desperately wish I’d written.)

Let Boston tell you where luck comes from in “Tales of the Dead Wizard,” or scratch an itch with “The Infernal Itch.” I highly recommend this collection. I loved it.

You can find it here!

Monday, May 17, 2021

Review: The Lost Empire of Sol

 Here is my review of The Lost Empire of Sol anthology, which was a labor of many years and at least 2 incarnations. The initial discussion from Scott Oden regarding this project must have happened on Facebook as far back as early 2012. A facebook group for the concept/anthology was created on May 17, 2012—so, nine years ago today. A number of people were excited about the project, including me. I wrote a story a little later in 2012 for the book called “The Machineries of Mars.” I know that Tom Doolan also wrote a tale for it, because after the initial plans fell through and the stories were released back to us, both Tom and I self-published ours on Amazon. I’m not sure if other writers involved at that time completed their stories or not. If they’re reading this, they can let me know.

In 2015, the anthology stirred to life again. Since I’d self-published my original story, and the new concept was subtly different than the original, I wrote a fresh story in 2016 called “A Sandship of Mars.” Scott brought Fletcher Vredenburgh aboard as editor and cat herder for the authors, and soon most of the stories were actually completed, edited, and ready to go. Things languished for want of a publisher.

Only when Jason M. Waltz joined the group and suggested that he’d like to publish the anthology did things really start moving. However, Covid hit and various other real-world events intervened so that the work finally appeared only in April of 2021. That’s certainly the longest developmental period for any anthology I’ve ever been involved in.

The idea was for ten shared world stories, with a story for each planet (including Pluto), and for the supposed planet that used to exist where the asteroid belt is now. When I wrote “Sandship,” the background concept was that there had once been a planet-spanning human empire ruling within the solar system but that the empire had fallen. The planets were now largely isolated, although some high tech space travel remained in a few places. In other places, the planetary populations had fallen back into a kind of Sword and Planet level technology, meaning lots of sword-fighting and a little bit of advanced tech.

To make matters worse, an alien entity was invading the solar system to pick up the pieces of the old empire. My understanding was that the entity was moving slowly and employing a variety of means to try and “take over” the lost empire of Sol. I wrote a fairly small world, self-contained tale about Mars being invaded by parasites that could turn their victims essentially into zombies under their control. I was pretty happy with it.

The final book contained not only the ten stories, but an introduction, forward, prologue and epilog. Here’s the TOC (Thanks to Joe Bonadonna).

Foreword, by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Sword & Planet is the Genre We Need, by John O'Neill

Prologue, by Scott Oden

To Save Hermesia, by Joe Bonadonna & David C. Smith

The Lost Princess of Themos, by Tom Doolan

What Really Happened at the Center of the World, by Christopher M. Blanchard

A Sand-Ship of Mars, by Charles Allen Gramlich

Whispers of the Serpent, by Howard Andrew Jones

Outcasts of Jov, by Mark Finn

Written in Lightning, by Keith J. Taylor

Survivors of Ulthula, by E.E. Knight

Hunters of Ice and Sky, by David Hardy

A Gate In Darkness, by Paul R. McNamee

Epilogue, by Scott Oden

To Save Hermesia, by Joe Bonadonna & David C. Smith is set on Mercury and did a bang-up job evoking the feel—for me at least—of the early Eric John Stark stories by Leigh Brackett. Stark was born on Mercury.

The Lost Princess of Themos, by Tom Doolan is set on Venus. Although not described in detail, the world brings to mind ERB’s jungle Venus. And the lost princess, Tamarra, follows in a long line of Sword and Planet Princesses, although much younger and less experienced than ERB’s Dejah Thoris. She finds her own hidden strengths, of course.

What Really Happened at the Center of the World, by Christopher M. Blanchard is a Pellucidar inspired piece with a little Journey to the Center of the Earth vibe.

A Sand-Ship of Mars, by Charles Allen Gramlich is my entry. It’s a little bit of a Dune meets the Ice Schooner meets The Puppet Masters. I really enjoyed creating the setting for this and might some day revisit it.

Whispers of the Serpent, by Howard Andrew Jones takes place on the planet that became our modern solar system’s asteroid belt. This is the first of the tales to have more of a Space Opera feel than Sword and Planet. Given the concept of the collection, you’d expect there to be all kinds of tech levels existing in the solar system so it makes sense.

Outcasts of Jov, by Mark Finn is set on Jupiter. Another Space Operish tale. It was good to see the Great Red Spot play a role!

Written in Lightning, by Keith J. Taylor is our Saturn tale. Very much a Sword and Planet work, although our heroes come from Venus rather than Earth.

Survivors of Ulthula, by E.E. Knight brings us to Uranus, or Ulthula in this story. This one also has a Space Opera feel, maybe a kind of E. E. Doc Smith and Edmond Hamilton meets Event Horizon.

Hunters of Ice and Sky, by David Hardy brings us to Neptune. The sky cities of Star Wars and Star Trek become low tech and are melded with the tale of Moby Dick! Great setting for many adventures.

A Gate In Darkness, by Paul R. McNamee is set on lonely, lost Pluto. The airships of Barsoom and Kregen meet slow decay as portions of the planet are lost to darkness and war.

So there you have it, ten imaginative tales that remember the shared history of Sword and Planet and Space Opera but take things in new directions and work in surprising connections from other realms of literature. I highly recommend it, and not just because I have a story contained within.

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Lost Empire of Sol

I cut my teeth on Sword and Planet fiction, first reading the Barsoom stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and then the many tales by those ERB influenced, such as Gardner Fox, Alan Burt Akers (Ken Bulmer), and many others. I consider S & P to be the purest form of adventure fantasy, and I've always wanted to write my own tales in the genre.

The first publishable book I wrote was Sword and Planet. That was Swords of Talera. I wrote four others in that series, and I've also written some S & P short stories. I'd say that, in general, I've never had more fun writing anything than writing this kind of tale.

A few years back, author Scott Oden had an idea for a shared world S & P anthology set in the era of the "Lost Empire of Sol." A number of writers got a chance to choose a world of our solar system to tell a story in this connected universe. I got my choice in early, and I picked Mars! What else would I have chosen?

That book is now available for preorder at this link. This is a kindle version but there are plans for a print edition as well. I'm very excited to be part of this collection with my story, "A Sand Ship of Mars." I'm looking forward soon to reading all the other tales. 

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Guns of the West

I'm thrilled to have my very first full-length western novel included in this handsome box set of 8 action packed novels of the west. Mine is "The Scarred One," under the Tyler Boone penname. 

Published through Sundown Press, this collection is available on Kindle for only 99 cents. That's a lot of good reading for the money. 

Here's the link to the books on Amazon

And if you'd like to learn more about the other authors involved, check out Sundown Press's blog

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Withering, By Ashley Dioses


The Withering, by Ashley Dioses: Jackanapes Press, 135 pages. Poetry.

I picked up a signed copy of this book from the author and read it over about a week to savor the poetry inside. There are 55 poems, divided into 4 sections entitled: A Luminous Darkness, Pale Radiance, Night Cries, and A is for Axe Murderer. In an Afterword, the author tells us a little about her genesis as a poet and about the pieces in the collection. She indicates that these are primarily pieces from early in her writing career, dating back even to high school.  (She has actually had a previous collection of poetry published called Diary of a Sorceress, which contains poems from later in her career.)

The collection is impressive for a writer of such youth. I also wrote some poetry at a young age but nothing as erudite as these. They are definitely not juvenilia, but fully realized and articulate pieces. They are rhyming poems, written around horror themes, and often with a formal structure. It’s a difficult style to master but Dioses moves through them with verve and confidence.

My favorites in the collection are “Obliterate,” “Hollow King,” and  “I am the most Beautiful Angel.” Here’s a quatrain from “Obliterate.”

The stones erode away,

And tales evaporate.

All memories decay,

The years obliterate.

There are also many other wonderful lines in other pieces, such as “My heart and soul are sparrow-black” and “Then scents of smoke, of myrrh, of rum,…”

There’s an outstanding cover by Mutartis Boswell, whose work I don’t remember seeing before but which I imagine I’ll see a lot of in the future. Boswell also did numerous interior illustrations for the book, which are set beautifully to really enhance the presentation of the poetry.

All in all, The Withering is a very professional package filled with some lovingly crafted and memorable poems. If you’re into dark poetry, this is an excellent reading choice.

Friday, January 29, 2021

A Dream of Crows

I dreamt of crows last night, millions of them swirling like black blades in an apocalyptic sky full of flames and clouds. I was a teenager walking with two friends along a highway where cars lay wrecked to either side. The cries of the crows were deafening, and occasionally a dead bird smashed like a kamikaze into the asphalt near us. 

We reached a temporary refuge, the penthouse apartment of one of my friends. She was rich. One friend went to a chair where she huddled in confusion and fear. I sat on the couch with the rich girl. Cell phones worked. She got a call. I heard the speaker through the phone. The “signal” was given.

The girl didn’t know I’d overheard. She made an excuse and left the room. I knew she was going downstairs to be picked up by someone, and that she’d be taken with other rich people to escape the coming destruction. I walked over to my second friend, to comfort her.

The rich girl returned. She said she couldn’t leave us, that she wanted us to come with her. We refused, knowing that even if she wanted us along, we’d never be allowed, and that we'd certainly be killed to keep the secret.

Better to chance the dangers of the apocalypse then to be led to certain death. 

Friday, January 01, 2021

What I Did during the Lockdown

I don’t need to tell you about 2020 in general. We lived through it. Except for those of us who didn’t. And there were far too many who didn’t. Personally, I started the year excited about some writing projects I had going. I also started my 34th year teaching, just as I’d started 33 years before. It had become routine—until March 10, a Tuesday, which was my last normal day. We had face to face classes on Wednesday the 11th but already knew we were going fully online as a University on Monday. I’d never taught an online course; most of our students had never taken one. Panic ensued on every front, including mine. I had about three days to master Zoom and get a ton of notes up on Brightspace, our web-based backup for our classes. I don’t know how I accomplished it. I didn’t sleep much.

Without a doubt, this was the hardest teaching year of my life, including my very first year when I had to teach three brand new classes I’d never taught before. And I was also a lot older to boot. One of the worst parts of it all was missing out on the personal interactions with students, both in class and in my advising capacity. I didn’t realize how important those interactions were to me. Somehow, I made it through, and I know I’m very lucky to have a job that 1) continued, 2) paid me a decent wage, and 3) allowed me considerable flexibility in how I did my work.

As for the lockdown, not being able to go to restaurants, or to movies, or to festivals, or out to visit folks, well, for the most part it was a piece of cake. Those of you who thrive on social activities may not want to hear that, but I’m intensely introverted and it just didn’t bother me. Sure, I missed going out to eat on occasion, and I didn’t like wearing a mask to do groceries or to get take-out, but—for me—these were minor frustrations. I missed, much more, not being able to hang out with friends, to hit the bar for a beer, or have a meal out with my son and his family. Overall, though, the lockdown was not much of a problem for me and gave me more time to fiddle around with my books, which is always a great pleasure.

As for writing, 2020 would have to rank as very good for me, at least in my top three years ever. I had two novels published, both under pseudonyms for Wolfpack Publishing. And I wrote three complete novels, as well as various short stories. I completed over 230,000 words of fiction for publication, which bettered my previous best production by about 50,000 words. One of the three novels I wrote has already been published, “Vengeance of the Black Rose,” and the other two are scheduled for publication in 2021. I won’t talk more about those until they’re hatched.

As of the start of 2021, I’m beginning a new novel today, which is under contract. And other contracts are looming so if I can keep up the writing it should be another good year. I hope most sincerely that we can get past the Covid Pandemic and return to a more normal world. I want to be back in the classroom without a mask on, able to get up close to speak to students, able to see clearly their facial expressions, and their smiles. I want to get back to hanging out more with my son and seeing my grandson more. I’m looking forward to an easier time shopping for groceries and visiting doctors and eating out, and going to bookstores. And I’m hoping that all of you will have a better year, too, and will see recovery from the tribulations of 2020.