Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 59 -- An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

by Amrose Bierce

Started: Dec. 31
Finished: Dec. 31

Notes: I've read this classic short story a couple of times before, once in grade school and again in high school, but that's been decades ago, so I thought I'd familiarize myself with it once more. If you're not familiar with the story or have forgotten its subject matter, I'll at least tell you it starts with a condemned man on a bridge getting ready to be hung by Union officers during the Civil War. To tell more would give too much away, but this has been a fairly famous story over the decades since it was written, and there have even been a few short films made concerning it.

Mini review: A strong story, but I'm thinking the writing would be too blunt and obtuse all at the same time for modern readers, the style it is written in being the blunt part, the ending being the obtuse part (since it leaves a fair amount to the imagination, something fewer and fewer readers seem to appreciate nowadays). Still, a commendable story that has had a lot of influence over the years. Was worth checking out again.

Books read in 2013: No. 58 -- Candyland

by Evan Hunter and Ed McBain

Started: Dec. 23
Finished: Dec. 31

Notes: For those who don't know, though there are two authors listed for this novel, they are actually one and the same person. "Ed McBain" was a pen name for author Evan Hunter, who was actually born under the name Salvatore Albert Lambino but legally changed his name in 1952. I've long been a fan of this author's work as McBain, though I've not stepped into his Evan Hunter works. Here I get that chance in a single book written by both men ... er, both characters ... uh, hell, well, they're written by the same guy but in different styles. Make sense? Maybe you have to be a writer to understand. Anyway, the first part of the novel is by Hunter and focuses upon a successful architect who lands himself in some hot water while traveling and searching for female companionship; the McBain portion of the novel apparently is about three detectives covering the case of a murdered prostitute, a woman who had some kind of link with the architect.

Mini review: As a reader, I was not awed by this one. The first half of the book, the Hunter half, was a bit slow for my taste. The second half, McBain's section, heated things up quite a bit, but as is always the case, I feel a little let down when reading McBain but not reading his 87th Precinct novels. As a writer, I was quite intrigued by the dichotomy between the two styles of writing, the first half being much more personal (which stings a bit as the protagonist is somewhat sleazy) and the second half which is fast-paced police detective work. The ending was a complete surprise to me, I can happily say.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Why fantasy and not science fiction?

When I was a kid, back in the 1970s, I was a science fiction fan. I loved me some early Star Trek, and then became a huge Dr. Who fan when it became available in the States. Of course Star Wars came along and blew my young mind, as it did for a whole generation. Battlestar Galactica and Space: 1999 were also favorite shows, though looking back neither holds up well, in my opinion.

As a teen in the 1980s, I read all the Asimov I could get my hands on, and went back to check out the early masters, Verne and Wells and the like. There always seemed to be a Heinlein novel somewhere around me. And comic books, though not considered serious reading material at the time, were still full of science fiction elements.

Then along about the mid-1980s, I slowly began to lose interest in science fiction. By the '90s, what interest I had had was pretty much dead. Today I rarely read the genre, though every once in a while I will check out a hot author or peruse an old favorite.

What changed? Why do I no longer read science fiction?

For that matter, since I write so much speculative fiction, why don't I write much science fiction?

I've thought about this a lot of late, in no small part due to various postings over at the Black Gate site, and I've come to something of a mixed conclusion, though I'm fairly sure it's one not a lot of science fiction fans will like to hear.

Here's part of my conclusion: I didn't change so much as the genre of science fiction changed, and not for the better, in my opinion. The things I looked for in great sci-fi back in the day are rarely present in modern science fiction, or at least I'm not seeing a lot of it.

This begs the question, well, Ty, what is it you look for in science fiction?

The same thing I look for in most fiction. Good stories. Quality characters. Decent dialogue. Convincing and interesting plots. Etc.

But also, specific to the genre, I look for boundaries to be crossed, and I look for a sense of wonder.

I'm sure all that can be found in today's science fiction literature, but I'm not seeing much of it.

What do I see?

I see lots of military science fiction, which there's nothing wrong with, but I've read enough of it to find it lacking, meaning less relevant and compelling, compared to earlier works, Heinlein's Starship Troopers being the obvious but not only choice. The modern military sci-fi I've perused feels more like a video game than an actual story, with high body counts but little humanity.

I see some hard science fiction that I simply find annoying, and this is someone who has read a fair amount of Asimov. The thing is, Asimov told actual stories amid all his hard science. As an author, he provided me with that sense of wonder by raising questions and proposing possibilities. I see little of this in modern hard sci-fi. I see overly analytical and pedantic texts that everyone wants to argue about, whether the science is factual or used correctly, etc. There is no sense of wonder here. If I want such material, I can always go check out a physics textbook. For the most part, I could really give a shit about whether an author's science is 100 percent accurate, at least if he or she is telling a good story and gives me something to think about.

And then there's the modern version of softer science fiction I see. Like a lot of the bad but hot-selling thrillers on the market, much of this material reads like a fast screenplay. The science is practically irrelevant. The characters blank. The plots thin. But there'll be a mystery and some explosions and lots of running around without much getting done, at least not until the very end when everything is tied up in a little ribbon.

Okay, here's where somebody always chimes in with the argument, "well, you say you're not reading much science fiction today, so your opinion is obviously invalidated since you don't know what you're talking about." Let me just say to such arguments, yes, as I said, I don't read a lot of today's science fiction, not from beginning to end, but that doesn't mean I don't read book blurbs, that doesn't mean I don't skim novels and such online or at bookstores in order to get a feel for the story and the author's style, that doesn't mean I don't check out reviews and read fan forums and the like, and that doesn't mean I'm completely out of the loop, regardless of one's fan boy snideness.

And let me add, before someone's panties get bunched up, that I'm not saying modern science fiction is necessarily awful, that you aren't allowed to enjoy it simply because I do not. This isn't junior high and I'm not saying your favorite band sucks.

What I am saying is that the genre has moved on, and that I have little interest in it today. I've outlined most of my reasons above, but the great big reason, the elephant in the room, the rhinoceros on the nightstand, the hippopotamus on the toilet, is that I simply no longer find any sense of wonder in modern science fiction.

Which is why I tend to fall back upon the masters when I want to read the genre.

And which is why I turn to fantasy so often for my reading and writing.

Actually, fantasy might be the only genre left that still instills in me any sense of wonder. I'll admit much of modern fantasy also falls under some of the faults I listed above, but not all of it, not enough of it to kill my complete interest. Some horror comes close to providing that sense of wonder, but so much of horror today is about the scare or the blood and gore, with little thought given to anything beyond.

I do want a good story, but I also want something that makes me think but does so without my having to go back to college to get a degree in one of the hard sciences, and this is coming from someone who gets most of the references and jokes on "The Big Bang Theory." Not everyone goes along with that line of thinking, and that's fine, not all books nor all genres are for everyone. I'm fine with that.

But once upon a time, science fiction was for me. And now it's not. And I kind of miss it.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Looking back, looking ahead

About this time of year, I do a post looking back upon that year, and usually I do a post looking ahead to the year to come. Not wanting to break with tradition, this is the post for 2013, looking into 2014, as always with a focus upon my reading and writing.

2013 was a year that kicked me pretty hard, then kicked me again while I was down, and again, and then yet again. It never seemed to end, for me and my family. Bad news swamped us more than once, the worst being my spouse's Stage VI breast cancer diagnosis near the beginning of the year.

That being said, it is almost a year later, and she is still with me, and she is conscious and able to walk some, at least with a walker and some help. She has some good days, but also plenty of bad days. Most times she's not in too much pain, or at least not so much that she can't deal with it through medication. Her life expectancy is unknown, which could mean anything from a few months to a few years to, on the off chance, a decade or even two. Some of this might sound frightening, but you kind of, sort of come to live with it, to take each day one at a time. And as scary and sad as all that might sound, the important part for me is that she is still with me.

So, as bad as the year started, it has also been kind to us in its own twisted way.

And the people I could thank, those who have helped us through these tough times, I couldn't name them all. I don't even know the names of all of them. But ... thank you, everyone.

Now about my reading and writing for 2013 ... all I mentioned above about the cancer and the other bad stuff that throughout the year, yeah, it had an effect upon me, especially my writing habits, maybe not so much my reading.

In 2012 I was fortunate and busy, pumping out about 600,000 new words of fiction, all of which has been published or self-published since then. 2013 wasn't so kind. I think maybe I'll have about 150,000 words of new material, hardly any of which has been published as of yet.

On the plus side, I did a fair amount of work this year in traditional publishing. I can't talk about it, but hopefully most of that will see the light of day sometime next year. Through these writings, I had some experiences working with other writers and a handful of editors, all of those experiences quite positive. I found it quite interesting to be working with others again, and for traditional publishing, as until this year I'd mostly been doing my own thing, or occasionally having contact with traditional publishers but with few fruits for my labors. So, 2013 was good in a lot of ways despite my lack of writing.

As for reading, I read more than my usual amount of non-fiction, and I strayed further from speculative fiction. In fact, I hardly read any fantasy in 2013, and I'm feeling the need.

Which brings me to 2014.

I'm hoping soon, perhaps in the next couple of weeks, to dropkick myself back into some fantasy reading. It's been far too long. I strayed from the genre a couple of years ago because I was feeling somewhat burnt out on it, but the time is drawing near, very near, for me to jump back in. I'm looking forward to it.

As for my writing in 2014, I hate to make predictions, especially after getting slammed with personal stuff in 2013. However, I am about halfway through my next Kron Darkbow novel, and I hope to have it finished and edited and ready for self publishing sometime in the first quarter of 2014. As things stand, this will likely be the longest novel I've ever written, probably about 160,000 words when I'm finished with it, so it's taking a little longer than usual to wrap up.

After that novel, I'm not dedicated to anything in particular, but I have been feeling the urge to come up with a sequel for my 5-part Mage Hunter serial, which has been relatively popular, selling nearly as well as my best-seller, the Kobalos Trilogy. I do have a story idea for this sequel, and hopefully it will have gelled a bit more in my mind by the time I can get to it, if I get to it soon.

Other than that, I have no specific plans for my writing in 2014. Thousands of ideas float around in my head, but which one I'll get to at any given point is up in the air. It usually depends upon my frame of mind. Epic fantasy will almost assuredly be on the menu, but I might step over into the horror field again as it's been a while and I'm missing the fun of working in that genre.

Time will tell.

I do hope 2014 is a better year for myself and my loved one's than was 2013. I also hope I manage to write a whole bunch more in 2014.

Again, time will tell.

I hope some of you will enjoy the ride with me.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 57 -- Mad #1

edited by Harvey Kurtzman

Started: Dec.23
Finished: Dec. 23

Notes: When I was a kid, not only did I read comic books, but I read the funnier versions of such material in Mad magazine and Cracked magazine. Over the years I had gotten away from them, but recently I found the very first issue of Mad from 1952. It was free from Amazon for the Kindle. Since I've been wanting to enjoy some lighter reading, I thought this would do the trick.

Mini review: A nice piece of nostalgia. The humor was juvenile, but mostly not slapstick or constant yuckity-yuck material. There were a number of short comic tales here, a funny horror piece and a western and a sci-fi tale, as well as some humorous prose pieces. For today's audiences, the laughter would probably be quite mild, but I found it interesting and worth a few chuckles.

Books read in 2013: No. 56 -- Astro City #1

by Kurt Busiek

art by Brent Anderson and Alex Ross

Started: Dec. 23
Finished: Dec. 23

Notes: Recently I discovered a bunch of free comic books for the Kindle online at Amazon, and I went through a little spree of downloading some of my favorites. This is one of them, the first issue of a comic book that started back in 1995, though the series has gone through a couple of different versions since.

Mini review: I don't read comic books or graphic novels nowadays nearly as much as I used to, but it was nice to take a look back at one of my favorites. Why was Astro City a favorite? Because it approached super heroes and villains from a relatively realistic point of view, often dealing with the problems of their everyday lives and not just the big fight scenes and the like, though there was some of that as well. This particular issue introduced the character known as Samaritan, basically a stand-in figure for Super Man, and focuses upon the daily trials and tribulations of the character's life. Interestingly enough, his biggest problems aren't fighting bad guys and monsters, though there is plenty of brief action. No, his main troubles center around his never having time to have any kind of life because he is always so busy saving the world. Solid artwork, too, that strives for a more realistic touch but which also keeps a comic book edge.

Books read in 2013: No. 55 -- Haunted Savannah

by James Caskey

Started: Dec. 18
Finished: Dec. 23

Notes: As the title suggests, this is another book I picked up a while back during a trip to Savannah. The author is a local who runs his own tour of Savannah, and the copy of the book I picked up was signed. The preface to this book, subtitled "America's Most Spectral City," points out that the author wrote it in order to correct any misconceptions or out-and-out untruths about the history of Savannah, at least as related to ghostly matters, and that the book is to benefit tourist guides throughout the city. I've had my own unusual experience in Savannah, though that doesn't mean I believe in ghosts. Still, I'm always drawn to such literature, and it's probably one of the reasons I enjoy writing horror fiction from time to time.

Mini review: Quite the interesting look at the darker side of history in Savannah, as well as the supernatural, mostly ghost tales but a few with links to voodoo. The author does a fine job through his research of debunking common mistakes concerning the history ofSavannah, but most of the spectral aspects he leaves up to the reader to decide for themselves, though he does point out that he's a believer in ghosts and he relates a few incidents which he personally witnessed or experienced. Written well, too, with a down-to-earth vibe that doesn't get overly scholarly, making for a fairly breezy read.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 54 -- The House on Gaston

by Tony Cope

Started: Dec. 8
Finished: Dec. 18

Notes: During my trip to Savannah, Georgia, a while back, I had the opportunity to pop into a local bookstore, E. Shaver, Bookseller. I always enjoy checking out regional book shops and regional authors, and that day I was pleased to find the author of this particular book there doing a signing. I didn't have much of an opportunity to speak with him because he was talking with other customers when I came in, but I shook his hand, said "hello," and picked up a copy of his most current book, The House on Gaston, subtitled "A Savannah Childhood." So, not only do I have the pleasure of checking out a regional author, I also have the pleasure of learning a little of the history of Savannah. The book looks back at the author's youth growing up in the city with somewhat of a focus around the World War II era. I'm looking forward to it.

Mini review: This was a delightful memoir of the past, of an era and a particular city's place within an era, all of which I'll never experience, except through an interesting book such as this one. The author's exuberance for his childhood comes through quite clearly, reminding me of my own father's stories, and though the author and my dad are about the same age, my dad grew up in a far different world, a small town in the mountains of Kentucky. Here, in this book about Savannah, there is a lot of charm about the city itself, but also about the many local characters from that time period, and some of the events. The author doesn't appear to hide much about his personal life, going over some early sexual exploits, for example, and writing a little about family tragedies and the like. Those with an interest in Southern Gothic could do worse than reading this memoir, and those with a love of Savannah in particular but also World War II history from a civilian's point of view, should find much here to enjoy.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 53 -- Worth Dying For

by Lee Child

Started: Dec. 4
Finished: Dec. 7

Notes: So much of my reading of late has seemed serious, quite a bit of it non-fiction, and I'm thinking it's time I jumped into something breezy with lots of action for a change of pace. I'm hoping this will be it. For some time I've been meaning to check out this thriller author and his popular Jack Reacher character.

Mini review: This pretty much fit the bill, but it felt fairly generic. It was like reading a screenplay for a modern action movie, not that that's all bad. There is no background material hardly at all, and the characters are all pretty much blank slates other than very basic qualifiers ... such-and-such is "the doctor" or such-and-such is "the Italian" and the like. Even the main character, Jack Reacher, gives up next to nothing. I can tell you everything I know about Reacher in one sentence: He's big, about 250 pounds, probably in his mid-30s, has brown hair, was a military cop at some point during 13 years of some kind of military service, he needs to get to Virginia. That's it. The story keeps rolling, but it's not constant action, with plenty of stops for dialogue scenes. A good airport novel to kill time, I suppose, but ... it just felt so generic. Give me a reason to care for the good guy, other than the fact he seems a little smarter and better trained than everyone else around him. Not a bad novel, and not bad writing, but I didn't see much to draw me back.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 52 -- Freedom

by Johnathan Franzen

Started: Nov. 17
Finished: Dec. 4

Notes: When one thinks of a modern elitist, snobby, literary writer sitting around coffee shops in New York City, for many Jonathan Franzen's is the name and the face that comes to mind. To boot, he has somewhat a reputation for being an ass, even to those who are supposedly in his corner. But he's supposed to be a heck of a writer, and I've been meaning to check him out for some time now. Freedom apparently is about modern family life in the suburbs, what I tend to think of as "first-world problems." So, here goes to find out if Franzen will come up with something original or if he will fall back on stereotypes and literary tropes.

Mini review: Original? Hmm, maybe, maybe not, but every novel is original to some extent or other. The story here follows a family of four, specifically the mom and dad but also their son and daughter, as well as a close family friend. The tale covers about 30 to 40 years, with particular focus upon a few years during that period. You see the mom and dad in college, their relationships with their parents, their relationships with their children, the problems they have, the problems their children have, the problems they cause themselves, the pain, the troubles, and eventually the fragmentation and a dipping toward depression. I won't tell you if this story becomes a tragedy or has a happy ending, so you'll have to read it to find out. But I will say this: Franzen can indeed write. I hated the first 30 pages of the book because it was almost totally telling without showing, but once it got past that, I enjoyed his writing style and his characters. Kind of funny, but his writing style reminded me quite a bit of Stephen King, though without all the horror elements, as if King suddenly decided to take up writing about a family living in the suburbs and their troubles, which I could actually see King doing, though he'd probably have to throw in a ghost or two. So, yes, Franzen can write, and he's a decent storyteller, though I think King generally has him beat in that regard. I did have a couple of minor problems with the story, one being that there were a couple of scenes in which there seemed to be some political preaching being thrust in the reader's face, and then there was one minor scene that felt fabricated to me, that didn't quite fit in with the rest of the tale because up to that point the story had been quite natural, but then this one thing happened and it seemed to happen simply because the writer wanted it to because it made easy a few eventual outcomes. There is a lot here said about modern U.S. society, specifically about white suburban life and families and to a slightly lesser extent about modern politics. There were also a handful of fine insights, the one I found most interesting being a look into today's youth culture, both the negatives and positives. Could I suggest this book to others? Sure, but don't expect any action scenes, though the story flows well and is a relatively quick and easy read. Will I read Franzen again? Probably, though I can't claim him as a favorite. Still, this novel gave me a lot to think about concerning writing, so I'll have to let my thoughts gel on this one for a while.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Every novel is a learning experience, especially for the writer

I'm up to 44,000 words in my current work in progress, the fantasy novel The Company of Seven, which puts me about halfway through the first of three acts. I was originally thinking this novel would be about 120,000 words, which might still be possible with re-writing and editing on my part, but I'm leaning towards it being more like 160,000.

If that turns out to be the case, it will be the longest single work I've produced. The current record is my novel Ghosts of the Asylum at more than 110,000 words. Most of my novels are in the shorter range, about 65,000 to 80,000 words.

The potential length of The Company of Seven has caused me some concern. I've wondered if I'm letting the story become too unwieldly, and if I'm falling into the beginning writer's trap of not cutting out your darlings.

But I don't think so. My scenes aren't gratuitous. I'm not throwing in a scene simply because I think it's "cool." Each of my scenes have a purpose that in some way furthers the plot and/or character development, usually leaning toward the plot side of things.

I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog that this is the first novel I've worked on in more than a year, and it's my first Kron Darkbow novel in nearly two years, and I'm enjoying getting back into the world of Ursia and its characters. I've come to recognize that I need to let myself have a little fun with this one, and I don't feel guilty about that.

To that end, I'm not worrying about the length. It will be what it will be.

When I've started a longer project in the past, I've usually known within 10,000 words or so what the eventual length would be. This time, not so much, but that's okay. I'm not restraining myself as much with this novel as I have with others, and that feels good to me.

It's part of my learning experience as a writer.

If I fail, if the novel turns out to be just awful, then I'll know to go a different route from then on. If it works out, I can follow a similar path in the future while looking for other forks in the literary road.

Another thing I've found of interest is the resonance of strong characters. The emotional weight of a truly strong character can stretch far past his or her initial appearance, possibly long after their use in the story, even long after their fictional death.

In this case, I'm speaking of my character Belgad the Liar.

My barbarian crime lord Belgad was the main antagonist in my first novel, City of Rogues, and he remained an antagonist through most of the rest of The Kobalos Trilogy. The Company of Seven will be my third Ursia Chronicles novel since that trilogy, basically another trilogy, and Belgad has not made a single appearance, yet the character continues to influence the stories indirectly, his name coming up more than a few times.

Belgad has become part of the back story for a number of my characters, and he was such an important figure that he had a big influence upon the history of some of my fictional locales. His very lack of making an appearance has influenced much.

I kind of like that.

And yes, for you Belgad fans, I do have plans for him. It'll just take a while to get back to him.

So, where were we? What was my point?

Oh, yes. The learning experiences of writing a novel.

I'm writing, I'm learning. I make plans, some that fall through and some that succeed. I hope my current work succeeds, especially as I'm taking some chances with it, ones I normally would not take.

But we'll see.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

'The Awakened' now available

I've been holding my tongue so long on this one, I'm really excited to announce here that The Awakened is now available online in e-book and print and it includes my short story, "Assassins of Opportunity."

What is The Awakened, you might ask?

It is a shared-world fantasy anthology from Dark Quest Books, edited by Neil Levin and Hal Greenberg.

I'll let the blurb speak for itself:

You just turned nineteen. Do you feel... different? Is strange magic happening all around you? Are you suddenly mindspeaking with a sentient animal? In The Awakened, this could be you. Sixteen exciting stories pull you into the diverse and unusual world of Grimaton, where the twin moons above might mean a lifetime of change. Join our celebrated authors as they explore the world of The Awakened and spotlight the heroes, the villains, and the magic; where a random few may find themselves bonded to an animal companion for life, or might find they are the possessor of weird and powerful magic they could never have imagined. How these exceptional few are treated and how they learn to use those unasked-for powers... Well, that is the adventure we have started here.Experience the highs and lows of becoming an Awakened, decide if you would use your power for good or for evil, and grow with characters who will make you proud... or make you angry.

Besides my own tale, there are works from:

Erik Scott de Bie
Clinton Boomer
Steve Creech
Torah Cottrill
Darrin Drader
Hal Greenberg
Ed Greenwood
Doug Herring
Jaleigh Johnson
Rosemary Jones
Kevin Kulp
Colin McComb
Darren W. Pearce
Richard Redman
Rai Smith

I've been excited about this project for quite some time now, perhaps a year or longer. I've worked with a number of these writers before in one manner or other, and working with Neil and Hal as editors has been quite enjoyable.

My story, "Assassins of Opportunity," obviously steps outside of my own fantasy world, so it includes characters and situations and a world new to my readers.

I believe the official publication date for the print edition isn't until December 21, but it can be pre-ordered now, and the e-book version is definitely available.

To add to the excitement, there is more than a small possibility of there being other Awakened books in the future, as well as an Awakened RPG. Will I be taking part? Only time will tell, but I hope I have the opportunity to play some small role.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tom Baker was 'my' Doctor

In the late 1970s, science fiction suddenly became the next big thing, in no small way thanks to George Lucas and the Star Wars phenomenon which was just bursting forth. It seemed everywhere the nine-year-old me turned, there was some new science fiction movie or television show to watch, or novel to read. Of course most of those movies and shows were dreadful, just Hollywood trying to cash in on the sci-fi craze. However, there was one show that was different.

And that was Doctor Who.

I wasn't aware of all the show's history at the time, but I did know it came from British television, the BBC. Where I lived in central Kentucky we could pick up a few Chicago channels on our TV from time to time, this being back before cable, and the Chicago-area PBS started running episodes of Doctor Who. The episodes began with Tom Baker's first appearance as the Doctor and ran through a few seasons or thereabouts.

I had no idea there had been three other Doctors before Baker, though I did catch on quickly that he was not the first actor to portray the role, that his character was an alien who changed form, thus different actors could be used. I also had no idea back then that Doctor Who was something of a phenomenon in England, with its own cult following I suppose not unlike that of Star Trek in the U.S.

Keep in mind, this was all before cable, before VCR, before DVR, before the Internet, before the modern Doctor Who show, before the popularity of the new Doctor Who show.

All I knew was Tom Baker. He was my Doctor, and even today, he still is.

When one talks with Who fans, the majority of them seem to have one Doctor they prefer over the others, usually whomever was Doctor at the time they became a fan or the Doctor they grew up with. At this moment there have been 12 Doctors, though the 13th begins his run quite soon.

Funny thing, I don't really consider myself much of a Who fan nowadays. In my late childhood and early teen years, yes, there was no doubt, I was a Who fan. Even though Baker was my Doctor, once VHS came along I sought out as many non-Baker episodes of Who which I could find, which was quite difficult until the '90s. I also read as many of the novelizations of the shows I could find, and there were a lot of them. I also read books based upon the show and its characters, and I read books about the show and its characters. I was ate up with it.

But then in the late 1980s the show was canceled by the BBC. It sucked, but it happens. Life rolled on, I got older. Every now and then I'd hear something about a Doctor Who resurgence, but it never seemed to happen, even in 1996 when there was a Doctor Who televised movie.

Years later, the BBC finally brings back Doctor Who, and the show becomes more than a success. It becomes a massive hit, and not just in the UK, but across the globe.

As I said, I no longer think of myself as a fan. I've watched maybe a dozen episodes of the modern series, and I have enjoyed them. It's a good show. Perhaps a little too fast-paced for my liking, but that's today's world and today's media, and I'm sure my opinion of this reflects my earlier love of the original series.

The newer shows have far better special effects, generally better acting, and for the most part also better writing. Better directing? Not so much in my opinion, but by no means awful directing. I also appreciate that the modern show has its own tropes and themes and new characters but does so without destroying anything from the original run. I like the modern Doctors, all of them, and think they have done great jobs with the character.

So why am I not as big a fan today?

I got to thinking about this recently because the BBC, and to some extent the world, celebrated the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Also because there was a 50th anniversary special episode of Doctor Who. I watched it and loved it. It tied in quite well the old shows and the new, and honestly it's probably my favorite of the newer Who shows I've seen.

Perhaps one reason I'm not as much a fan as I used to be is because I'm older and I'm not as much a sci-fi fan as I once was, my interests leaning more towards fantasy and horror. Also, there's the nostalgia factor.

And then perhaps there's a little bit of ... hmm, I'm not sure what to call it ... jealousy?


Yeah, I'll admit, there's a small part of me that kind of feels like all these modern Who fans are johnny-come-latelies. Admittedly a large number of those fans are too young to remember the original series, but it does irk me a little that Who never really made it in the U.S. until the modern series came along with its flashy graphics, darker stories, etc.

But all that's just a small part of me. It's not like I go around holding a grudge over any of this. It's not even like I go around think about it. Like I said, heck, I don't even watch the show all that often any more, and when I do I always go away pleased.

I don't have an answer. I don't really know why I'm not as big a fan as I once was.

But I do know one thing. Watching that 50th anniversary episode, it reminded me of a big reason why I loved the show in the first place. It all comes down to one word: Hope.

Doctor Who doesn't generally promote a positive future, as to some extent does Star Trek, nor does it usually focus upon enormous, sweeping stories that are epic in scope, as does Star Wars. But Who does focus upon the individual quite a lot, most times through the character dynamics of the Doctor himself, though sometimes through his sidekick characters and every now and then even through the villains or lesser characters.

Doctor Who forces us to look deep inside ourselves and to find hope even when things are at their most bleak. Doctor Who shows us we can be our most noble selves, and we don't necessarily have to stand tall to do so, we don't have to act tough or have a weapon or do awful things because we think they are right under certain circumstances.

We just have to be human.

Which is interesting coming from an alien.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Writers

Writers ain’t easy to love and they’re hard to understand.
They’d rather give you a new book than shake your hand.
Typewriter ribbons and faded computer keys,
And despair fills out their whole day.
If you don’t read his work, and he don’t quit young,
He’ll probably curse all the way.

Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be writers.
Don’t let ’em plot stories or in words get stuck,
Let ’em be drug dealers or drive big ass trucks.

Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be writers.
Cause they’ll always be home and they’re always alone,
And writing's all they can talk of.

Writers like smoking their pipes and hard drinks in the mornings,
Cups of stale coffee and fiction and words that feel right.
Them that don’t know him won’t get him and them that do
Sometimes will think he’s quite grim.
He ain’t wrong, he’s just reticent but his pride won’t let him
Type words that just don't feel right.

Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be writers.
Don’t let ’em make characters without any luck,
Make ’em do something that pays a few bucks.

Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be writers.
They’ll drive you crazy by turning off the phone,
And writing's all they can talk of.

(my thanks to Willie, Waylon, Ed Bruce and Patsy Bruce)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 51 -- Sell Your Book: 75 Ebook Promotion Sites

by Greg Strandberg

Started: Nov. 16
Finished: Nov. 17

Notes: My guess would be I'll be familiar with most of the sites listed here, but it never hurts to take a look.

Mini review: As expected, I knew most of these sites. However, I didn't know all of them, so I picked up a few places that might help me promote my e-books. A short read, also easy to read, so worth my time and the price.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 50 -- Forensics for Dummies

by D.P. Lyle, MD

Started: October 22
Finished: November 16

Notes: I've been wanting to read this one for a while. I thought it might prove helpful for my horror writing, possibly also for any thrillers or action-oriented and detective fiction I might write. The author has a similar book specifically for fiction writers, but I opted for this one because I was thinking it might be a little more comprehensive. Maybe, maybe not, but this should still help me with the basics.

Mini review: The writing here is clear, but the subject matter bored me, bored me, bored me. I felt like I was back in college again studying for a class which I didn't particularly like. Most of it was the science here. However, while I knew the broad basics, I did learn a lot. Anyone writing thrillers or horror should check out this book or one similar. For that matter, anyone writing any kind of fiction which might include crime or dead bodies would be doing themselves a service by looking into such a book. If writers don't get the details right, someone eventually will call them on it. Also, I want to point out that the particular version of this book I had was about a decade old, thus a little out of date; a more recent version would probably be more up to date.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Writing must always be a challenge

There is an old saying among writers that usually goes something like this: "Writing is easy; you just open a vein and bleed." This quote or one similar has been bandied about for decades, with various authors attributed with having said or written at one time. I've seen this quote attributed to Stephen King, Thomas Wolfe, Hemingway and others. Who first said it? Who knows?

But there is some truth in it. Or there can be.

For some writers, writing is hard. For others, sitting down at the keyboard and punching out a few thousand words seems to be a piece of cake. I'll admit there's a small part of me that doesn't quite consider that second group "real" writers. Color me prejudiced, or jealous.

Most times, writing is hard for me. It's emotionally draining, it's tiresome, at times even downright boring. There are some writers who would suggest I'm doing it wrong. That if my writing is tiresome or boring to me, then it also will be to my readers. There might be some truth to that, but it also strikes me as being more than a little snooty. I'm sorry, but, for example, working in exposition into a story is simply not a ball of fun, and any writer who says otherwise is fooling him- or herself. For most writers, it seems rewriting isn't all that enjoyable, either, though I do occasionally hear of one writer or another who enjoys the task of rewriting.

I'm not one of them. But such is life.

All that being said, I don't want writing to be easy. As bored as I might sometimes get, I would be far more bored if writing held no challenges for me.

What kind of challenges?

Well, there are all different types of challenges with writing. For one thing, simply chugging through and finishing a longer work such as a novel can be challenge enough. But even then, once you've got at least a few finished novels under your belt, you can seek out different types of challenges with each new novel you pen.

I know that's what I do. Otherwise I'd go jump off a bridge or something, because writing would bore me to tears, and at this point in my life I don't feel suited to any other kind of work ... hmm, okay, maybe editing or graphic design, but I do plenty of that with my own work.

The challenges I present myself with each of my novels might not be readily evident to the reader, though sometimes it is, and a few readers have pointed out things to me which I recall being one of my writing challenges.

For instance, in my novel Demon Chains I intentionally attempted to keep the point of view away from the protagonists, at least after a brief opening to introduce my pair of villains. It is more common for me to go back and forth between my antagonist(s), the protagonist(s), and various lesser characters (depending upon whom I think can best represent the going-on in any given scene). Some writers and editors will tell you to stick with one point of view only, but again, I don't find that a challenge, and I personally feel that's an old-school viewpoint not so relevant to today's readers. As for Demon Chains, I wanted the villains to be a bit more mysterious, and to be honest, the villains in that novel are more sick and twisted than my usual lot, and I didn't really feel like spending a lot of time in their heads.

Did that experiment with Demon Chains work? I don't know. It's not one of my better-selling works, but then it's also one of my most gory and disturbing works, which turns off a number of readers. So who knows? Sales wasn't the point. The story was the point, and my challenging myself to tell it in a slightly different way.

The challenge is another reason I write in different genres. The same old thing all the time finds me bored. But even when I write within my old tried-and-true genre, adventure fantasy, I try little things different with each novel, even when I'm writing in a familiar world and with familiar characters.

For instance, right now I'm about 14,000 words into my latest novel, to be titled The Company of Seven. It's another of my Ursian Chronicles tales and it features my main protagonist, Kron Darkbow. This novel is set in the city of Bond and somewhat revolves around street-level politics, so it has some basic similarities to my novels City of Rogues and Ghosts of the Asylum. However, I'm trying some things different with this one.

What type of things?

Well, for one, I'm focusing a bit more upon the feelings of certain characters. Once upon a time I wrote with a stronger focus upon characters' emotions, but then I backed off that, focusing more upon the action and the plot. In fact, my first completed novel, City of Rogues, lost about 15,000 words before publication because I chopped away a lot of emotional stuff for the characters.

That might have been a mistake. Or maybe not. I've gone back and forth on this over the years, but I want City of Rogues to stand as it is. I'm not interested in going back and publishing a new version that would include all that emotional baggage, and to be honest, I'm not sure I still have all that text anyway (though it might be squirreled away on an old computer).

So, instead of reworking an older novel, I decided I would make the focus a little more emotional in my next novel. It'll either bore the readers or it'll bring more depth to my storytelling. I'll wait and see my beta readers and possibly the reviews have to say.

Another thing I'm trying differently with The Company of Seven is something I'm having a bit more of a hard time accepting, but I want to try it, at least for the first draft. I'm doing a big no-no for writers. I'm providing a great big info dump near the beginning of the story, in the third chapter. Worse yet, it happens during a dinner feast with a bunch of characters, all of them major players within my story. Sounds boring, right? It probably is. I've finished the scene, which ran about 4,000 words, and it's quite dialogue heavy, so I'm hoping that will help. I think it might work. If my beta readers squawk, I'll adjust and do something different, though that will take a lot of work.

Why would I attempt such a big no-no? Why would I try something so stupid?

To see if I can pull it off.

It's that simple. Writers have a lot of no-no rules, yet I see them broken all the time by "name" authors. Am I good enough to pull this off? Maybe. I'll wait and see. I hope so, because I probably won't enjoy all the rewriting it will take.

But I want to take that chance.

I want to challenge myself.

Without that challenge, why write?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

2 omnibus editions available in print

I finally got around to putting out print editions of The Kobalos Trilogy Omnibus and The Sword of Bayne Omnibus. These things are massive, especially The Kobalos Trilogy Omnibus, which weighs in at 824 pages.

Monday, October 28, 2013

I've started a new novel

It's sort of weird. Me starting a new novel. A year ago it would have been sort of old hat, but ... well, as anyone who has read this blog in the last year might know, things have been a little hectic.

I've not started a novel from scratch in nearly two years. Last year I wrote a bunch, but looking back, much of it was serialized fiction or short stories, especially after the first quarter of the year. This year I've not been able to write nearly as much, mostly because of health-related issues, but I have managed a few short stories and I did work on a long project with another writer (not ready to announce that one yet). Also, early this year I did manage to wrap up my five-part Shieldbreaker series of connected short stories, sort of a serialized tale but not exactly.

So, it's been a while since I've sat down and worked on, let alone begun, a new novel.

I've only finished the first scene, about 1,700 words, but it's been kind of refreshing. It's been a little hectic, too. I feel rusty, like there are cobwebs in my head. The words don't flow quite as easily as they once did, but I think they will, though it might take 20,000 words before I get there again.

I'm not rushing myself. I'm not pushing ahead with daily output goals, a daily word count. I'm just trying to write when I can.

One nice thing is that this novel has been floating around in my head for more than two years now, perhaps even as long as three years. What this means is I already have nearly all the plot worked out, as well as the major characters. I'm not one who outlines, except in my mind, but in the past I have often written on the seat of my pants with only a vague notion of what's to come. Oh, I always knew what the next few chapters would bring, and I always knew the end game, but between all that I often relied upon my characters to lead the way.

I'm not saying that's bad, nor that it's good, but that it's how I often operated, especially with my serialized fiction.

Now, though, I've got it all in my head. Which I find a nice change of pace. I'm not sure it will speed up my writing, but it does give me more time to kick around different ideas, to consider taking the story in different directions or to go a little deeper with some of my characters.

Often in the past whenever I became stuck in a story, and it happens to every writer at some point or another, I usually found my way through by thinking about the characters and their motivations. I would ask myself, "Okay, what would the logical action or response be from this character considering the circumstances?" This way of thinking almost always pulled me through, though I might have had to spend a few days working out the details.

Now I find I mostly don't have to work out the details. I know them already.

Oh, I'm sure there'll be a few bumps along the road, but perhaps fewer bumps or different bumps.

I'm not suggesting I'm going to take up outlining. There's no need, in my opinion. This particular novel is another Kron Darkbow tale, so afterward I might put off for some while writing the next one in order to let the next Kron tale work itself out in my brain (yes, I've already got the basic plot figured and some of the characters), but I've already got dozen of other ideas for novels ready to hit the page or screen. Some of these other novels would be fantasy, mostly more tales of my Ursian Chronicles even though they don't feature Kron, but some are horror novels or even mainstream or literary novels. And I've still at least two more serialized fiction tales I want to get to, maybe three.

Short stories aren't specifically on my horizon at the moment, but that doesn't mean I'm not interested in writing them. I've found of late I much more like working with an anthology editor or submitting a tale to a magazine than trying to publish my own short stories, mainly because my shorts on their own don't sell all that well but also because I like working with others some.

So, we'll see. At least I'm writing regular again. I'm sure in a month I'll be bitching, wishing this damn novel was finished. But until then, I'll enjoy the ride.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Did I see a ghost? Southern gothic comes to life

I recently spent some time in the city of Savannah, Georgia. It was my first extended stay in that city, though I had driven through and by it on several occasions throughout my life.

Savannah is a truly Southern gothic city. Even by day there is a spookiness about it. Perhaps it's the two-hundred-year-old buildings, more than a few of them mansions by today's standards, that reside at every corner. Perhaps it's the strict layout of the old city, roads written upon a map so filled with precision it almost screams "the Illuminati were here!" It could also be the creepy Spanish Moss that hangs from huge, crooked trees older than the nation in which Savannah resides.

It probably doesn't help that there are at least a half dozen ghost tours, with signs and posters advertising such not uncommon.

There are plenty of ways to tour Savannah, with plenty of "official" tours available, either on foot or on bus or trolley or even by bicycle. There are multiple tours of the city itself, then individual tours for particular sections of the city, then tours for individual buildings, museums and libraries and huge churches and the like.

Savannah is a city doing well in capitalizing on its history.

But back to the ghost tours.

Savannah is a city labeled "America's most haunted city." I'm not sure about this, but my guess would be there are a few other cities that also use this label. New Orleans comes to mind, for instance. As mentioned above, the city of Savannah is spooky enough that I have no qualms considering it a haunted city.

While I personally did not witness or experience anything there that made me a hardcore believer, there were a few little incidents that were strange.

But first I want to take a step back. For those who don't know me, I want to point out that I am not a believer in the supernatural, the mystic, the transcendental, etc. But I'm not a complete skeptic either. As I've said elsewhere, I have never experienced anything that has made me believe 100 percent in any of this stuff, but I try to keep an open mind. To my way of thinking, to completely disregard even the possibility of the supernatural, that's just as dogmatic as those who go around espousing not only belief in such, but who try to make sure everyone else believes as well. None of that's me. I'm interested enough as a writer to do a little investigation of my own from time to time, but I'm not convinced one way or another.

Okay, back to Savannah.

As I said, during my recent visit there, a few odd things happened.

First off, there were the photographs. And let me apologize here and now for not having any of the photographs available here. They weren't my photos, as I did not take any. I'm not a person who feels a need for a camera at every single event in my life. I'd rather have the memory of the experience than the memory of me holding up a camera to capture some image I'd probably never look at more than once or twice the rest of my life. If perchance I have access to the photos at some future point, I will post them here on this blog, but as is the photos belong to some friends who live far away from me, and I don't know how they would feel about my using their images in a public venue.

Anyway, the photos.

Some friends and I went on one of the ghostly tours. Basically you ride around in a bus with about 20 other people. It's night. The driver cruises you around town, stops every so often and informs you about the supposed supernatural occurrences that have allegedly occurred at one place or another, usually an older residence or former residence that has been turned into something else, a museum house or art gallery or something similar.

During this tour, which lasted about an hour and a half, I did not notice anything out of the ordinary. The hair didn't stand up on the back of my neck. Nothing like that.

Afterwards, as my friends and I were driving back to our hotel, a couple of the women mentioned that they thought they saw something moving behind the curtains of one particular house, and that this minor event had unnerved both of them. As I was with these two the whole time, I did notice that neither of them had gotten together to discuss this particular house or the window there before we entered the car. This isn't enough to make me any kind of believer, but it was a bit odd that two separate people shared a minor event that unsettled both of them. Still, it could have been anyone behind that curtain, not necessarily a spook.

Once we got back to our hotel rooms, everyone broke out their iPads and their smart phones and started comparing photographs they had taken during the tour.

Things got a little more spooky here.

At first I saw nothing unusual. Several people pointed to a small blurry figure seemingly standing next to one of the old buildings we had seen. Everyone in the group said the figure looked like a little boy. To me it looked sort of vaguely like a fire hydrant, or perhaps a short garbage can. No one could remember a child around the building, but I also couldn't recall a fire hydrant or a garbage can. I mark this up to usual expectations from various opinions concerning ghostly images.

The next photo was apparently the creme de la creme, everyone seeing it (but me) believing it showed a pair of ghosts, a man and a woman embraced in a kiss. Everyone but me raved about how strong the image was, about how you could see the two figures with their arms wrapped around one another and their lips touching. Me, I saw a tall tree with some shadows of leaves from other trees. I was told repeatedly there had not been a tree in that spot. I could not remember a tree either, but it's not like I go around remembering where trees are located. I looked at the photo multiple times, and I still never saw anything unusual.

Another photo was of the window where the two women in our party had seen something moving. There was indeed a darkness behind the window that was unique to it when compared to the other windows, a dozen or so, of the big house, but does that really mean anything? A shadow behind a window in the night? It could have been anything. The way the light laid upon the window. Someone in the room. A gust of air brushing against the curtains. This photo did nothing to convince me of anything.

Then came the last photo. This one showed two figures standing atop the roof of one of the large houses. I can write this with a straight face because that is what I saw. The figure on the right was a man wearing a tie, his collar high and stiff and white, like the old paper collars common in the early parts of the 20th Century. The second figure, the one on the left, was harder to make out as it was much more blurred, but it also seemed to be a man. The two figures were looking out from the roof in the general direction of the camera taking the photograph. Were these two figures ghosts? I don't know. I don't necessarily believe they were, but it does raise some questions. What were these two individuals doing on the roof of an old house late at night? Were they paid to be there? Were they part of the tour, sort of actors who filled a roll? I repeat, I don't know. I do know the tour guide did not point them out and made no mention of seeing anything weird during the tour itself. But two people on a roof doesn't make them ghosts, even if the house is supposedly haunted in a city that is supposedly haunted. And why were they wearing older style clothing? Again, ghosts? Maybe, maybe not.

I'm still not convinced, but that last photo struck me as more interesting than the others.

Besides the photos, there was also a little "episode" I personally experienced on my own.

I was in a candy shop downtown Savannah with my significant other. While she was waiting in line to purchase some chocolate-covered almonds, I went in search of a restroom. I meandered around for a while with no luck in my quest, when I finally saw a sign for a restroom, the sign pointing out of the candy store proper and into a sort of indoor mall that was connected to the store.

Strolling my way into the small mall, I found it was mostly full of art galleries, which seem common in Savannah. Following another sign for the restrooms, I found my way up a stairway of curling black iron. Then I came out on the second floor of the building.

Until that moment I had not thought about the age of the building I was in. The downstairs portion, the mall and the candy shop, had looked very modern. Upstairs was a different story. There were a couple of art galleries up there, but the lay of the land was quite different. Most of the walls weren't covered with sheets of dry wall, but were old brick. Looking around and taking note of the general shape of the ceiling and what I could make out of the various doorways and the like, I decided the mall was stationed in what must have been an old warehouse or some other large structure from a much earlier time.

My reaching that second floor, and realizing the age of the building, set me back a little. Nothing unsettling happened, but I was surprised after all the glitz of modern life below. Also, whereas the candy shop and the mall had been bustling, up there I found myself quite alone.

Looking around, I finally found the door to the men's room.

Immediately upon entering, things felt ... different. The room was cold, chilling to the bone. And that didn't make sense because the outside temperature was in the 70s and the rest of the building had not been overly air conditioned. Also, the walls and ceiling and even the bathroom fixtures themselves were old, quite old, I'm talking late 19th Century old. Everything had been painted over, of course, there was no denying the age of the room.

But all of that was nothing to the sense I had of being watched. I even looked around for a mounted security camera, but nothing came to view. It was as if someone else was in the room with me, watching me, even judging me. It wasn't a hostile feeling, but it was definitely a sense of unhappiness, as if someone was saying, "You are not wanted here."

So, I wasted no time doing my business, washing my hands, and exiting.

Was that a ghost? Or something similar? I'm not convinced it was. The coldness of the room could be explained away in several fashions. And that weird feeling I had? It could have just been the moodiness of the old room bringing about an affect upon me. That, and the ghost tour and all the talk about ghosts (which is practically impossible to avoid in Savannah), could have infringed upon my mind so that it would have been almost impossible for me to not have had such an experience.

Ghosts? Maybe, maybe not. I cannot say one way or the other. But I did enjoy my stay in Savannah, and I'll likely head back that way eventually.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 49 -- The Art of Fiction

by John Gardner

Started: Oct. 2
Finished: Oct. 21

Notes: Though I find it somewhat limiting, for a while now I've had quite the interest in Gardner's philosophical approach to fiction as outlined in his book On Moral Fiction. Being a fan of that book, even though I don't agree with all of it, I thought it time I read some of Gardner's work on the mechanics of writing. Thus, I'm reading this book, The Art of Fiction.

Mini review: This book comes off a bit snobbish early on, but to be fair, Gardner warns that this material is meant for those who are serious about being a literary writer. Also, the sub-head on this one suggest it is for young people, but my feeling was much of this material would go over the heads of all but the most well-read and experienced writers. There is a fair amount of material here, but I'm not sure it's absolutely necessary for most writers. The first half of the book mostly looks into literary theory, which can be a bit dry, but might be of interest to some, dealing with such things as themes, morality in fiction, etc. The second half of the book is a little more down to earth, focusing upon structure, plotting, etc. The last chapter of the book is filled with exercises, and I thought many of them were quite interesting. Should this book be mandatory? No. But it could be interesting reading for those with a literary bent, and especially for those who are Gardner fans.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Rogue Blades Entertainment is reborn!

To me, this is huge, huge news.

Rogue Blades Entertainment lives again!

That's right. The publisher who brought us some of the best Sword & Sorcery action of the last decade has returned after a hiatus of a few years.

I knew the editor was still doing a little here and there in the background, but I had no idea a new site would be launched.

Never count a good swordsman out.

Congrats, Jason! And long live RBE.

Monday, October 07, 2013

'Sever, Slice and Stab' reviewed at Amazing Stories

Just in time for Halloween, the incomparable Keith West has provided a fairly detailed review of my collection of horror tales, Sever, Slice and Stab, over at the Amazing Stories site.

Thanks, Keith!

And this is doubly nice since I just came out with the print version of this collection, and it has a new cover.

Friday, October 04, 2013

What I want to say about cancer

I don't talk much on this blog about my personal life for two reasons: 1.) I like my personal life to remain just that, personal, and 2.) This is mainly meant to be a blog about writing in general but my own writing in specific.

However, cancer always seems to be in the news, and sometimes it hits home for the speculative fiction crowd.

Just a few days ago, the fabulous Eugie Foster announced over at her site that she has been diagnosed with cancer. I'll let Eugie tell her story over there.

I'll tell what I've got to tell here.

That I know of, no, I do not have cancer. I have enough health problems of my own without cancer, some quite serious health problems. I live with congestive heart disease, gout, a heel spur, and all the various ailments that go along with all that stuff. Unfortunately, I have not aged well, and the last few years my body has gone down hill on me quite a bit.

Still, I do not have cancer.

That being said, like millions of people in the U.S. and across the globe, cancer has had an effect upon my life.

Three of my four grandparents died of cancer. And because you'll probably be asking yourself at this point, the fourth died of slipping on some ice and cracking his skull.

Stop laughing.


Done yet?

Okay, back to cancer.

I also lost an uncle to cancer about 25 years ago, and he was only three years older than I am now.

More recently, about five years ago my mother was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer. She had a tough time of it for a year or so, including having a breast removed, but she pulled through. She was declared cancer free last year, and now her chances of having cancer again are about the same as anybody's.

Most recently, my better half was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer this past January.

Stage IV.

That means the cancer has spread beyond the breast(s) to other parts of the body. In this case, the lungs, the spine and other bones. So far.

The first thing anyone asks whenever I or my loved one tells them about this is, "How long do you have?"

It's almost become a joke. Really, we laugh about it sometimes. How long do you have? Nobody knows. That's the truth. Even all the doctors, the specialists and oncologists, can't give a good estimation.

She could have a few months or a few years. Some small number of cases live ten to twenty years.

But the chances of long-term survival are much better nowadays than they were just five years ago. And back then, things were better than they were five years before that. And so on back through time.

You might be nodding, thinking, "Well, of course. Medical treatments have come a long way."

Yes, they have. But the reality is my better half's survival rate is much, much higher now than it was just five years ago.

Think about that.

I'm sure logically you realize the importance of this, but I'm not sure you can emotionally, not unless you've been through something similar.

As recently as March of this year, the woman I love was practically comatose. Even the nurses and doctors did not believe she had more than a few days left. I went home from the hospital every night expecting a 3 a.m. phone call telling me the worst.

But then, slowly, through various treatments and movements from one hospital to a facility and then to another hospital, she got better.

Now she can walk some, with the help of a walker. She has pain, but it is manageable. More importantly, she is conscious and aware. Sometimes her memory slips a little, but that can happen to all of us. Some days are better than others.

But she is home, and relatively healthy. This after she had been hospitalized for nearly six months.

Some would call that a miracle. I'm not necessarily saying it is a miracle, but others would.

Okay, I've rambled on about cancer, but I've not really imparted any wisdom. What is it I really want to say here?

I want to let others know there is hope. There is survival.

Cancer has not been beaten, but much of it can be treated now, especially breast cancer, which has been studied more than any other type of cancer. Long term survival rates are improving all the time, and today's cancer patient might possibly live long enough to actually be around when a cure is discovered, if one ever is.

I don't wish to give false hope, nor do I want to get all spiritual. Cancer is still deadly.

But again, we laugh when someone asks, "How long do you have?"

Why? Because we don't know, and we don't think that way. We don't think, "Oh, she's only got a few months or a few years." We go on with life, we live life, however long we've got.

With my heart condition, it's not impossible I'll go before her. Or I could get hit by a train or struck by lightning. I could even slip on some ice and crack my skull.

It happens.

Now stop laughing, and go live your life.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 48 -- What is Art?

by Leo Tolstoy

translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhansky

Started: Sept. 17
Finished: Oct. 1

Notes: This book is a collection Tolstoy put together of his essays and thoughts on art, and what constitutes true art or what we might consider high art. From my other readings about this author, it seems Tolstoy thought of true art's goal as one of being influential upon humanity in a positive aspect, specifically a Christian aspect, though Tolstoy's notions of Christianity weren't exactly orthodox (leaning toward a non-mystical anarchism). This translation, I expect, will allow Tolstoy to present his arguments on such matters. I much look forward to it as it was apparently a big influence on John Gardner's On Moral Fiction, one of my favorite books about writing.

Mini review: Good lord, I feel like I've just finished reading a 200-page blog rant by an old guy screaming about how music today is just awful and isn't anything like the good stuff we had back in the day. This isn't far from the truth. Tolstoy here spends a lot of time shitting all over art of his day, including the works of Wagner and Beethoven and Kipling, and then for good measure goes back in time to shit all over Shakespeare. At least he likes a few of the artists from his own period, such as Dickens. Personal taste aside, Tolstoy's definition of "true art" is so narrow as to almost be nonsensical. For him, true art  must contain the following: 1.) The artist must have had true feelings while creating his or her art, and must have either intentionally or unintentionally been trying to convey those feelings through the art, 2.) the art is only allowed to have two subject matters, showing reverence for God, or, showing the union or potential union of mankind in a brotherhood of all, and 3.) the artist must not have been a professional, ie. must not have been trained in art in a school or by a teacher, and the artist must not have been creating his or her art for money or any other kind of personal benefit (other than maybe a sense of happiness at sharing with others). That's it. Anything else is false art, bad art, or counterfeit art. I can't agree with him, which he predicts most people would not. While I could follow some of his reasoning, much of it had to do with the upper classes of his time seeming to have a monopoly on what is considered art, something which I think is not so relevant today. In the final chapter, Tolstoy even goes on to shit all over science, complaining about how much of it is useless other than what today we would call the social sciences, which he found important for the improvement of mankind. My problem with this book wasn't so much that I disagreed with its opinions as the almost vicious way Tolstoy expresses his thoughts on the subject matter. Page after page of old-man rant. It wore thin quickly. At least I'm finished with it. And I'd like to add that while I'm somewhat fascinated with Tolstoy as a writer and a philosopher, that doesn't mean I enjoy everything he wrote, nor that I approve of all his various opinions. There seem to be some who feel Tolstoy was a bit mad in his last years, and that's quite possible, though I tend to think it wasn't so much insanity taking hold of him as it was general grumpiness ... he was old, not in great health, and the world was passing him by ... plus there were all the religious notions he had which seemed to fill him with some despair and even anger. I'll read Tolstoy again, but it might be a while as I need a break.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Just in time for Halloween, 2 new horror books in print

My literary horror sort of gothic novel 100 Years of Blood and the collection SEVER, SLICE and STAB: 20 Tales of Horror are both now available in print.

This time I decided to go for something different with the designs. I intentionally decided to go against much of the common wisdom about e-book covers, and instead focused upon the print copies. I still think the top one should look okay as a copy for an e-book ... okay, not great, but okay ... but the bottom one doesn't show up will in the digital form, though I think it looks pretty nifty in the printed edition.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Where do I see myself as a fantasy writer?

One might argue a writer cannot determine his or her own legacy, not unless that writer becomes quite popular and lives to a ripe old age. Speculative genre figures such as Heinlein and Asimov and Tolkien had some control over how they were portrayed, but the images they had of themselves change and evolve the further we get from the end of their writing careers and often their deaths.

I am in no position to even think about my own writing legacy. Or at least I shouldn't be. I'm not that popular an author, in fantasy or any other genre.

But I don't set out to be.

Fame isn't a goal of mine. More money is always appreciated, but that's not really my goal, either.

Telling stories? A good number of writers will suggest they live to tell stories, that they long to reach readers with their tales. This is closer to the truth for me, but it's still not hitting the nail on the head.

I don't write for readers, at least not initially with each novel or short story. I occasionally will write with an anthology editor in mind, but that's usually because they have provided me a challenge in some way by giving me a new world to play in or a twist on a genre which I find interesting.

So who do I write for?

I write for myself.

I don't write because I enjoy it. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.

I write because, when I'm truly honest with myself, there are people living in my head and they are yearning to get out. They live there, slurking around within my skull, having their adventures, slaying the monsters, falling in love, falling out of love, betraying one another, honoring one another, doing all kinds of things to themselves and to each other.

No. No, that's not quite accurate either.

These people do not live in my brain. They live outside of me in another universe, or perhaps several other universes. If you're up on your quantum physics, this is theoretically possible.

So, they live in these other worlds, and my brain is somehow a conduit to wherever they are located. My mind is filled with images and emotions, and I must get these down onto paper or onto a computer screen. I must. I have to.

It's like breathing, or eating, or drinking water. If I do not do this, I will cease to exist, at least in any meaningful, conscious way. Without writing, I could physically go on, but I would be a shell of my former self.

Also, writing is sort of a spiritual thing for me, not quite metaphysical, but more philosophical. I like to explore my own mental landscape through my writing, and sometimes that is exciting, other times not so much.

If I don't tap into the stories in my head from time to time, my head will fill up and eventually explode. And we can't have that, brain matter and bloody gore all over the place with a bunch of sword-swinging freaks and ghoulish beasties wandering about outside my corpse.

That would be bad form.

So I write. I let a little steam out of the boiler from time to time.

That's why I write.

Now back to the image of myself as a writer.

I don't really set out to have an image, to be honest, though I suppose I do have one or something like one.

For example, a fan recently called me "humble," and I had to think about that. Am I humble? I don't consider myself especially humble, but when I look around at the world in which we live today, yeah, I have to say I'm a pretty humble guy. But only comparatively. I'm not as humble as a saint, not by any means, but compared to the celebrities and politicians and other familiar names in the headlines, yep, I'd say I come off as pretty humble compared to them.

If I get remembered as the "humble" fantasy writer, there are worse things.

If I'm remembered at all.

Not overly worried about being remembered or not remembered, honestly.

But if I am to be recalled by future generations as a fantasy author, how would I want myself to be remembered?

As an esteemed professor, such as Tolkien?

As the hard party boy, like Karl Edward Wagner?

As a hard working writer, such as Glen Cook?

I suppose that last is closer to the truth.

See, I never set out to become some world-known fantasy author. I've never had any plans to go down in history as some literary genius, either. Back in my youth I had plans to become a horror author, but I eventually found that limiting, though I still work some in that genre.

If I had to pick and choose, I suppose I would want my fantasy writing career to be more akin to that of many of the '60s to early '80s fantasy authors, most of whom are not remembered today outside of true fandom. Zelazny, Norton, Saberhagen, these are just a few of the names. These writers weren't necessarily the greatest writers who ever lived, at least in a literary sense, but they could type out adventure tales not unlike the pulps of an earlier era. Michael Moorcock came out of that group, and today is probably the best known of the lot.

I'd like to add that I don't mean any of these authors are completely forgotten, but that they aren't generally recalled or even known by the world's mass consumer audience.

Much like the pulp writers of the '20s through the '50s.

I suppose that means I would be satisfied being thought of as a modern pulp author, for being remembered as such. I'd like to be remembered for bringing the thrill of adventure or the creeps of horror to a few readers, to bring a smile or smirk or gasp to their lips from time to time.

All while keeping my brain from exploding.

I can live with that.

For now.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Today I go off on a rant

But not here.


If you want to see me rant and rave today about writing, you'll have to check out my guest post over at the blog of horror writer Kevin G. Bufton.

Thanks, Kevin!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Gimme Three Spells

This is what happens when the stereo isn't working in the Explorer and I have too much time for thinking while driving ...

I was snug as a sword
at the head of a horde
when up rode a man in plate.

He was the size of a ship
with an ax on his hip
and a look that was filled with hate.

He said, “Hey there wizard
with a familiar of a lizard,
I hear your cantrips are great.

“But I’m the lord of the land
and magic has been banned
so your death can no longer wait.”

I was scared and fearing for my soul
I was shaking like an imp in Hades.
’Cause he was tough and rough,
and didn’t look to bluff,
sporting in all those blades.

I said, “Wait a second, master,
I’m only a low-level caster,
I can’t even summon up dew.

“And while I know we don’t agree
About what’s to happen to me
I’d ask one pledge from you.”

“Won’t you give me three spells,
Gimme three spells, master,
Gimme three spells and not one more.

Gimme three spells,
Gimme three spells, master,
And I’ll fly away from here for sure.”

Well the warriors cleared out
and I started to shout
for anyone to save my hide.

And I’m telling you, sirrah,
That I wasn’t no nearer
To that armored man being denied.

But he turned and pointed way over there,
And that’s the chance I was seeking out.
And you could see me running for my life,
I’d never come back there, no doubt.

“Won’t you give me three spells,
Gimme three spells, master,
Gimme three spells and not one more.

Gimme three spells,
Gimme three spells, master,
And I’ll fly away from here for sure.”

(my compliments to the late Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

As a writer, I feel like I'm never doing enough

The headline to this post says it all.

I've not published a lot this year. Serious health problems have hit my family pretty hard since January. My book sales are evidence of this.

There were weeks on end, maybe even a month or two, in which I did not write a word. Nothing. Zip. Nada. I was just too busy, and often too emotionally devastated to write.

The period seems to have moved passed, though it still lingers around the edges of my sanity, and I'm back to writing daily.

Thinking about all this brought me around to realize that I've accomplished more this year than I initially thought, though most of that work is not readily apparent to anyone.

I did put out a five-part series of short stories very early this year, my Shieldbreaker tales. I also managed to get the majority of my self-published works into print form, though a few of those are still coming, a couple likely in the next week or two. On top of that, I helped a children's indie author with formatting her first book.

And then there's my super secret collaboration with another author. I've felt guilty because I should have been able to punch out this project in a month or two. Last year I could have managed that. Not this year. Instead, I've pecked and picked and clicked and clacked at the keyboard off and on for about six months now. Finally the first draft of that project is nearing its end. The other author finished up his end of the writing a long while ago, but I'm just now down to the last couple of scenes. I hope to have my first draft finished within a week or two, then I'll start reading it and making corrections, doing some rewriting, etc.

I've also managed to pen a few short stories this year. Three have been accepted in anthologies and will be available sometime in the next year, possibly one of them within the next month. I have another story finished and ready for the editor, but I've yet to submit as it's still a little early for that.

So, looking back, I got more accomplished this year than I originally believed. With a few months left in the year, perhaps I'll even get another novel finished, or at least near finished. Come January, it will have been two years since my last Kron Darkbow novel. That's at least a year too long, in my opinion, but hopefully I can remedy that situation soon.