Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

As I'll probably be too busy to post later tonight, to all reading this ... Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Everything I know about writing I learned from baseball

Yes, one of my goofier posts.

Roy Campanella: "You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too."

Phil Linz: "Baseball is a fun game. It beats working for a living."

Art Hill: "With those who don't give a damn about baseball, I can only sympathize. I do not resent them. I am even willing to concede that many of them are physically clean, good to their mothers and in favor of world peace. But while the game is on, I can't think of anything to say to them."

Robert Frost: "Poets are like baseball pitchers. Both have their moments. The intervals are the tough things."

Bill Veeck: "This is a game to be savored, not gulped."

Tallulah Bankhead: "There have been only two geniuses in the world. Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare."

Philip Wrigley: "Baseball is too much of a sport to be called a business, and too much of a business to be called a sport."

Ty Cobb: "The crowd makes the ballgame."

Because he deserves his own slot ... Yogi Berra quotes

"All pitchers are liars or crybabies."

"Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical."

"How can a you hit and think at the same time?"

"In baseball, you don't know nothing."

"The game's isn't over until it's over."

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

"I never blame myself when I'm not hitting. I just blame the bat, and if it keeps up, I change bats. After all, if I know it isn't my fault that I'm not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?"

From the movie "For Love of the Game"

Billy Chapel: "Clear the mechanism."

Billy Chapel: "The game doesn't stink, Mr. Wheeler. It's a great game."

Billy Chapel: "I ain't carryin' no books. Where's the pillows?"

Billy Chapel: "Don't help them make a joke out of you."

Billy Chapel: "God, I always said I would never bother you about baseball, lord knows you have bigger things to worry about. But if you could make this pain in my shoulder stop for ten minutes, I would really appreciate it."

Billy Chapel: "I used to believe, I still do, that if you give something your all it doesn't matter if you win or lose, as long as you've risked everything, put everything out there."

From the movie "Bull Durham"

Crash Davis: "Think classy, you'll be classy."

Crash Davis: "Let's have some fun out here! This game's fun, OK? Fun goddamnit."

Crash Davis: "Don't think; it can only hurt the ball club."

Crash Davis: "If you believe you're playing well because you're getting laid, or because you're not getting laid, or because you wear women's underwear, then you ARE!"

Crash Davis: "We gotta play it one day at a time."
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: "Got to play... it's pretty boring."
Crash Davis: "Course it's boring, that's the point. Write it down."

Skip: "You lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. You know what that makes you? Larry!"
Larry: "Lollygaggers!"

Anthology Builder -- the wave of the future?

I'm not going to go on and on how spiffy an idea I think Anthology Builder could be, because plenty of other people have already blogged about it. I will add, however, that you need to check out their blog too, and not just the main Web site. Why? Because not only does Anthology Builder sound like a decent idea as it is, but they've got big plans for the future.

Check it out!

Reading habits for 2007

Looking back on the year, for the most part I would say my reading habits have been scattered, though there have been some trends.

For example, I read quite a bit more pulp fiction this year than normal, this being due to the fact I moved to a town with good used book stores that offer the old books at cheap prices.

Also, I noticed I did not read a ton of horror this year, nor non-fiction.

I did, however, return to a few favorite authors, such as Dumas and Offutt. On the flip side, I also discovered plenty of authors new to me this year, most of this being because of my reviewing of books.

Unfortunately, while I read a lot of good books this year (and a handful of crappy ones), I didn't read any great books this year, though Ayn Rand came closest probably. And I'm not counting "I Am Legend" since I had read it before.

The never-ending struggle continues.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Seasonal greeting

Before I forget, and before I get busier with the holidays, I just wanted to say to everyone reading this, "Merry Christmas!" And may all your writing dreams come true in the new year!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Cover art for "The Return of the Sword"

Here's the cover art for the upcoming Flashing Swords anthology, "The Return of the Sword," which will include my Belgad short story "Deep in the Land of the Ice and Snow."

I love this cover. It's fantastic! Thanks to Howard VonDarkmoor for letting me know about this and artist Johnny Perkins for his fine work.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

You never know where a story will take you

I had been having a lot of problems with my John Dee short story, "Where the Baptized Drown." My main difficulty was the beginning. I had two problems. One, I couldn't figure out who should be the main character for the story. Two, I couldn't figure out the best place to start the story. I knew the plot and characters, but just couldn't get things right.

So, after many fits and starts with the story, I was pacing the floors one night trying to force myself into working out my difficulties with this tale.

And ... walah!

No, I didn't fix the problems with "Where the Baptized Drown."

Instead, I came up with a whole other John Dee story. And this one is practically writing itself.

It takes place in Milan, Italy, in 1892. John, again, is not known as John. And this story is told in the first person, from John's perspective (something I never considered before now).

What took me down this path wasn't some spark of a new idea, or any feeling of giving up on the original story. I'm keeping "Where the Baptized Drown" on the backburner for now, but I'm not giving up on it. What lead me to this new story was going through the thought process of what was wrong with the original story, and what needs to be implemented to make a John Dee story.

My Dee stories have certain "rules" to them, ones I'll keep to myself. Certain little things have to be pointed out about the character, mainly because they are hints to his past. I also have certain "rules" about the speculative elements in my Dee stories.

I don't have a title for the new tale yet, but the Dee titles also have certain "rules" or themes and I'm hoping to keep with that.

Who knows? Maybe I'll even get one of these things published someday.

Monday, December 17, 2007

No. 1 (for 2008), No. 49 (for 2007) - Njal's Saga

translated by Lee M. Hollander

Started: December 17, 2007
Finished: January 16, 2008

Notes: I've had this one a while and been meaning to get to it, so here goes. This is the first saga of Iceland I've gotten into, and one reason I'm interested in it is because one of my characters (Belgad) comes from a somewhat similar background. So, here's to learning new things.

Mini review: Boy, am I glad to be done with this one. Honestly, I think I skimmed through the last hundred pages as fast as I could. There's a lot of intersting information here, but the stories are soooooooo repetitive. There's only so many tales about feuding Icelanders I can read before they all start sounding the same. And there's not as much sword fighting as you might think. There's some, but a lot of times it was just plain old murder. And then there are lawsuits upon lawsuits. Basically, as far as I can tell, a man could kill another man as long as it was during the day and the victim sort of knew the attack was coming, and it would only be considered manslaughter at worst; then, the murdered guy's family could sue the killer, and once the money was paid, usually everything was fine and everyone went on with their lives. The few times this didn't work was when the long family feuds started. To be fair, though, I'm thinking Icelandic doesn't translate well into English, and I'm not sure this translation was very good because it seemed extremely modern in some places. I might give another saga a try, but I'd probably be tempted to go with a different translator for variety's sake if nothing else.

An accidental experiment

I've not blogged much lately, but that's because I've been busy and I've not been feeling well (I allow myself one soft drink a week, and boy did I pay for it this week).

Anyway, while I've not been blogging, the number of hits I get for this blog has skyrocketed! I usually average about 12 to 20 hits a day, only half of those people who stay any amount of time. But the last few days I've been in triple digits. I'm easily setting daily, weekly and monthly records for the number of hits I'm getting.

One might ask, "Why?"

For a very simple, and unexpected, reason.

All my posts about "I Am Legend."

Apparently, with the movie coming out, tons of folks are looking up quotes about the book and the movie. Can't blame them for that. And hey, I'll take the free publicity. Maybe I'll even get lucky and a few of these folks will hang around a little.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Where to begin?

Whether writing a short story or a novel, the beginning can be the toughest part. For me, the beginning is always the toughest part. With novels, once I get past the first couple of chapters, I have little problem going ahead with the rest of the book. With short stories, the beginning is also often the hardest part for me.

Sometimes it's simply a matter of figuring out how to tell the tale, from what perspective or what point of view. Sometimes it's a matter of "feeling," or what kind of aura or emotional quotient one is trying to purvey through the style of the writing for a particular piece. Sometimes it's a matter of knowing where to start the story.

I bring all this up because I'm having a tough time with the start of a short story I'm currently working on. I know how the story begins. I now who the protagonist is. I know how the story will end, and it's middle section too. But I'm having trouble with the style of the story.

I originally opted for sort of a straight action-oriented styled, but I'm findin that works okay for the beginning, but not so much for the ending. Now I'm toying with trying a darker beginning, which would tie in better with the rest of the story, but somehow that doesn't seem to fit quite right either.

For me, it's often just a matter of having time to think, time to figure out stuff like this. But lately I don't have any time for such niceties, so I'm having to plop down in front of the keyboard and just start typing.

Should I wait until I have that time to think? Or plow ahead?

I don't know. But I think I'm going to take at least a couple of days off from writing this piece, just to see if anything clicks in the old brain and maybe to give me a little distance and perspective on the story.

Darkbow out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

No. 48 - A Princess of Mars

by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Started: December 11
Finished: December 16

Notes: It's about time I got around to reading this author and discovering just what all this "Sword & Planet" stuff is about. I'm very familiar with old school Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and even Star Wars, but my understanding is that that stuff is more "Space Opera."

Mini review: Not a bad read. Not as action-oriented as I expected, reading more like a 19th-centery adventure story (which it practically is). Not boring, but has a good bit of exposition about life on Mars. I'd read more by this author, and might when I get the chance.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

"I Am Legend" quotes

Just a couple of pieces I like from a book I like:

"There was no sound but that of his shoes and the now senseless singing of birds. Once I thought they sang because everything was right with the world, Robert Neville thought. I know now I was wrong. They sing because they’re feeble-minded.”

“In a world of monotonous horror there could be no salvation in wild dreaming.”

Saturday, December 08, 2007

No. 47 - I Am Legend

by Richard Matheson

Started: December 8
Finished: December 9

Notes: I stumbled across this book this morning while going through boxes from the latest move. I've been wanting to read this one again for a long time, especially with the movie coming out, and figured now was a good time even though I'm not finished with my other book yet.

Mini review: A fine piece of fiction. The climax is a bit jarring because the pace of the book changes so swiftly, but the emotional, even social, implications are stunning, in my opinion. Especially for a novel written more than half a century ago.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Working on a new short story

I started a new short story tonight, and it's got me excited, so I have to yack about it a little without giving anything away.

The title, so far, is "Where the Baptized Drown."

It takes place in Texas in 1881.

And, just so a certain editor knows, it's another John Dee story. Except he's not called John Dee in this yarn. Heck, he's not called John Dee a lot of the time, but that's the name I usually give him in my head.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"I Am Legend" movie trailer

I really, really, really want to see this movie. It looks as if they've done a decent job of sticking with the original story, and Will Smith can act when the directors is right.

Monday, December 03, 2007

No. 46 -- Red Prophet

by Orson Scott Card

Started: December 4
Finished: December 11

Notes: Because I am a glutton for punishment, and an idiot, I have agreed to read this book. Even though it's the sequel to the worst book I've read this year. A certain person promises me this book is much better. I didn't believe her, but then even the blurbs on the book say it's much better. I'll give it a shot. What's a week or two of my life?

Mini review: This book is a much better novel than the first one in this series, but I'm still glad to be done with it. I'm thinking Card isn't going to be one of my favorite authors. Still, Tecumseh shows up in this book and is a major character. If you don't know who Tecumseh is, find out here. Usually when Tecumseh shows up, lots of white people die. Which is always fun! Right, kids?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Book review for "99 Coffins"

My latest book review, for "99 Coffins" by David Wellington, is up at Apex Online. Enjoy!

Never Call Me At Work

Viking Prayer from "The 13th Warrior"

It's not well known, but I love this movie. Had to share a clip.

I thought I'd have to hang myself

I have this short story I wrote in the summer. I think it's the best short story I've written in a long time. Then I moved. Again. Second time this year.

Since moving into our new place, the last few weeks, I've been rummaging through boxes and bags and stuff looking for a series of CDs I had burnt. See, I write on a Mac, but do all my Internet business on a PC, so I often have to burn CDs and transfer stuff between.

So, this story, it's not on my PC. Nowhere. I searched online in my e-mail files and a few other places. No story.

Back to the burnt CDs. I haven't been able to find them. No matter where I've looked. They are not in any of the places they should be.

I e-mailed a copy to a certain editor a while back, and I've been considering contacting him to see if he still had a copy of this story somewhere. But honestly, I was kind of embarassed to do so.

Of course the story should still be on my writing Mac. But that Mac hasn't been started up in almost five months.

Tonight I took the plunge. I plugged in the Mac, turned it on ...

... and listened to it whine for a reaaaaalllly long time.

Then, just as hope was lost, it kicked on. But it kept whining. Eventually I figured out the whine was from a CD I had left in the thing.

And ... wallah! ... there was my story! Right on the ole hard drive.

I immediately burnt off three new DVDs and transferred a copy of the story to my PC. Now I'll have to e-mail myself a copy or two and place it in a file or three on a few other places online.


I think I did a good thing this week

There's an older gentleman, a copy editor near retirement age, I work with at my part-time newspaper job. He and I got to talking a while back, and he informed me he had written something like three novels and had had a handful of short stories published, including a few in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Of course I told of my own interests and hopes, and he asked if I would like to take a look at a couple of his short stories.

"Sure," I said.

So, the next day he brings me a couple of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazines from the early 1990s.

I read his stories.

One was okay. Not great, but it didn't suck, and it showed talent.

The other one ... that one I really liked, about 1930s gangsters in St. Louis.

I returned the magazines to him the next day and asked him what he was currently working on.

"Oh, nothing. I haven't written anything in 10 years."

I think my jaw dropped. I asked him why he had not written anything, and long story short, he just got fed up and disenheartened with the whole process. He had had an agent, but the agent had not been able to place any of his novels anywhere.

"How many publishers did the agent try?" I asked.

"Ten," was the answer.

"Ten! That's nothing!" I hollered in the newsroom.

So, I sat down with him and we had a little talk. This fellow is also a somewhat accomplished water color painter, so it's not as if he has no artistic outlet, but I sort of felt like it was my duty to get him back on the writing path. I hate to see anyone who's put that much work into something to give up.

I talked to him about how the Internet had made it much easier to submit to a lot of agents and publishers. I told him how there was a bit of a resurgence of hardboiled and mystery fiction, the genres he prefers. I also explained to him how, mostly through the Web, it is much easier for an author to deal with smaller publishers without having to bother with an agent.

And, most importantly (I believe), I explained that I thought he had some talent.

By the end of a half hour or so, I think I had him hooked again. Least, I hope I did.

I guess time will tell. Again, I hate to see anyone's dreams swallowed by life.

And, to tell the truth, I didn't want that to be me in another 20 or 30 years. He wrote three novels. I've written a trilogy, about the same. But even if my trilogy never sells, I will write another book. That might even be my goal for 2008, to write another book (preferably not a trilogy this time).

I think I did a good thing. I hope I did. And I hope he gets back in the biz and starts writing and submitting again.

Friday, November 30, 2007

No. 45 -- Dusk Before the Dawn

by Larry Ketchersid

Started: November 30
Finished: December 3

Notes: Ancient civilizations. End of the world. Martial arts. What's there not to like?

Mini review: A fascinating mixture of mysticism, nanotechnology and martial arts. The book reminded me a bit of King's "The Stand," but not because of any story similiarities (there aren't many), but because of the way the writer deals with a multitude of characters embroiled in a world facing near-extinction. This book is an easy read, fairly short, but does a compelling job of giving you enough information about the characters and plot and settings, etc. It was a breath of fresh air to read a tight story, not something spread out over 500 or more pages.

Ramblings from the slush pile

I've been reading slush for Flashing Swords for a little while now. It has proven most educational for me, as a writer and reader and editor.

As a writer, it helps me to see things like plot holes and story structure, good and bad. I get to see when those things work and when they don't. I'm hoping this will make my own work stronger.

As a reader, I've also learned some things. Flipping through the slush has helped me determine a little more what I like and don't like about stories. Some things work for me, and some things don't. It's all just my opinion.

Here are a few things I've found or noticed:

  • I'm seeing a good bit of fiction set in the Bronze Age, usually related to Babylonia, or with some kind of link to that time period. Is this the new, big thing for fantasy? I don't know. For the most part, these stories don't work much for me. Why? Because I'm not seeing anything new. Tiamet might be a weird, mysterious creature to someone who doesn't know better, but come on ... the majority of fantasy readers are going to be familiar with her and Marduk, etc.

  • The stories, over all, are not as bad as I would have expected. I'd say at least one in four are worth publishing, though maybe with some rewriting.

  • I've yet to see a story that I've been completely repulsed by.

  • I don't care much for experimentation. This is just me. But when I'm reading a short story, by the gods, I want to read a short story. I don't want to read some faux historical text or something that twists around the ending and puts it at the beginning.

  • Good antagonists are hard to find. Make your bad guys bad, but with a purpose. Don't just make them orcs or goblins or vampires or whatever. Villains need to be something more than just a thing for the good guys to kill.

  • Good protagonists are hard to find. Make your main characters real people. Give them weaknesses, fears, dreams. Don't make them generic.

  • I'm also seeing a good bit of Norse related material, some good and some not so much. Be careful here. Remember you're not writing an ancient saga, but a short story for a modern audience.

  • Despite the fact I like to write darker material, for the most part I prefer reading jaunty stuff with a fun little attitude, at least when it comes to fantasy.

  • The first paragraph can be everything. I'm not seeing a lot of good, let alone great, first paragraphs. Usually I'm seeing one of two things, lots of exposition that is quite boring, or action that is so convaluted I can't tell what's going on until I'm at least four or five graphs into a story. A little exposition up front can be good; for example, if there's a fight scene, I need to know fairly quickly what type of environment it is happening in ... a castle, cellar, open field, where? I also want to be able to tell pretty quickly who the protagonist is.

  • For stories, I prefer what I call a "neutral modern" voice. This means if your story is supposed to be set in an ancient time, I don't want to see modern slang and cursing. But I also don't want to see a lot thees and thous and names so weird I can't pronounce them. Keep in mind your audience. You're not writing for a history professor nor are you writing for your peeps. You're writing for a modern audience that doesn't want to be distracted by the oddities you might use.

None of the above thoughts are set in stone. I'm sure I could find a story that goes against everything I said above, but I'd still love. I just haven't seen it yet.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The future of war is here

Just when you thought Starship Troopers and Armor couldn't be reality ... science and the military prove us wrong with this.

There ought to be a word for ...

... that thing that happens when someone pesters you about a book, telling you over and over and over how fantastic it is, even to the point of lending you the book, then you read it ...

... and it sucks ass.

And you tell the person.

And watch their mouth form into a little "O."

There should be a word for that.

Other early writings

When I was in fourth grade, I wrote my first book. Yes, fourth grade. And I think I violated copyright law. But maybe not. Today, what I wrote could be called fan fiction; it's not as if I tried to sell the book or anything.

It's title is "James Bond in: The Search for Research II." The plot was about James Bond and another spy, a guy I made up named Ron Stenburg, and their mission to find out who sunk a British science vessel, Research II. Along the way they fight all kinds of bad guys, get captured, Ron has a love interest with a girl named Julie and they come face to face with the world's most notorious hitman/villain, a guy named Stepi Rolls (boy, could I pick character names back then). When it's all over, lots of bad enemy agents are dead, Ron retires with Julie and Bond returns to England for whatever his next mission would be. Oh, and I drew pictures every 10 or so pages.

It's inspiring stuff, I'm sure.

My second novel, "Mafia Massacre," was also a rip off. I wrote in in 6th grade, and it was a book about the Executioner, Mack Bolan, and his war against the mob. I don't remember as much about this book, other than it starts with Mack having a nightmare about his days in Vietnam.

One thing I've always found surprising is the level of the writing from fourth the sixth grade. There's actually quite a bit of improvment, though I guess that's to be expected.

And I still have these two books. I wrote them in notebooks, and they're stuffed away in a box in my bedroom. Every few years I'll break them out to glance at them and remember a little of my youth.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My earliest writings.

Way back in the 1970s, when I was a kid, I began my youthful writing apprenticeship by creating comic books. I would take ruled paper and use colored markers to create my little drawings and stories on the pages, then I staple the pages together.

I started with the basic Marvel universe of super heroes, then I added my own good guys and bad guys. Eventually I had a three-ring binder full of drawings and notes about all my creations.

My main creation was a guy I called Destroyer X. He was human, but from another planet. His planet was in the middle of a civil war against a despotic wizard when a godlike being came to the man who would become Destroyer X and offered him super powers to defeat the wizard. But there's a catch. After the wizard is defeated, Destroyer X must leave his planet and go to a little place on the other side of the galaxy known as Earth. Earth needed a new protector, and this godlike being (whose name I can't remember) was in charge of finding that protector. Of course, Destroyer X agreed, defeated the wizard and went on to become Earth's new champion super hero.

I even created a super group called the Destroyers, which was made up of Destroyer X, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Rom the Spaceknight, Dr. Strange and a shifting band of others.

Man, I wish I still had those comic books and all those notes. I bet I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours putting all that stuff together, and I'm sure it's been long destroyed.

I would have been about 7 and 8 when I did all that work. We had a couple of very bad winters in a row, I missed months of school, and playing in the snow gets a little dull after a week or so. Thus I had had plenty of time to write.

Wish I had that much time to write now!

Monday, November 26, 2007

2007 in retrospect

Nope, 2007 isn't over yet, but JA Konrath has been blogging about goals, and it got me to thinking.

Did I reach my goals this years as a writer? Not quite. By looking back at this post, I realize I've fallen short. But not by much, and again, the year isn't over yet.

I had hoped to have my trilogy completly finished by the end of 2007. That's probably not going to happen. The first drafts are finished, and the first novel is completely finished, but the second novel is ready for a third rewrite/edit and the third novel is not quite finished with the first edit.

I also had hoped to start another novel by the end of the year. That definitely isn't going to happen.

I won't offer excuses, but I'll just say life has kept me very, very busy this year, and often I've been without a computer at home (or wherever I've been sleeping) for long periods of time. My writing computer still isn't set up yet at our new place, and probably won't be for at least another week or two until we can get all our stuff unpacked. Meanwhile, I've done as much trilogy editing on paper as I could.

Despite the fact I haven't reach all my goals, there were some positive things this year, and I've continued to learn as a writer.

  • I had a couple of short stories published, and there might even be one or two more before the year is out, and I'm expecting/hoping at least a couple to be published near the start of 2008.

  • I've reviewed books for Apex Online, which has opened me up to a whole slew of authors of whom I was unfamiliar, and has allowed me to meet and e-mail a few cool people.

  • I've begun to read stories for Flashing Swords, which is actually teaching me a lot about finding strengths and weaknesses in stories. Always good knowledge, that.

  • I've been rejected by editors. Yep, that has been a good thing in some instances. Why? Because it's allowed me to open correspondence with them. I wouldn't say I've made new editor friends this way, but at least my name won't be a total unknown to some of these folk.

  • I've written a handful of new short stories this year, most of them very short (less than 2,000 words), allowing me to experience flash (or near-flash) writing.

I'm sure there are plenty of other ways in which I've grown as a writer this year, but those are some of the highlights. Early on in 2007 I was extremely productive, but not so much of late. Still, I'm not giving up.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The state of my health

For those who might not know, two and a half years ago I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. That's not good, but it's maybe not as bad as it sounds. I was in and out of a hospital for a few weeks, and I had to take several months off work at the time. I had to change my eating habits and general lifestyle, and I eventually even had to change my work situation to lessen the stress in my life.

I lost a good bit of weight at the time, but since then I had put some of it back on. My eating habits slacked again, though still not as bad as it used to be.

Still, of late, I've had a lot of stress in my life due to not having full-time employment, starting my own business and moving at least twice in the last eight or so months. All that, combined with lack of sleep, and some bad eating habits (though again, not nearly as bad as it used to be), has made me go back down hill some.

I'm not in the hospital again. But I do have some minor symptoms of recurring problems with my congestive heart failure. I suffer no pain, but I do get short of breath.

Basically, my form of congestive heart failure means lots of fluid builds up around my heart, which puts pressure on my lungs and causes me the shortness of breath. At my worst, something as simple as standing up causes me to have to pause and breath heavily for half a minute or so. When I'm at my best, I'm pretty much normal.

I'm at a point, and have been for the last six or so months, where I no longer have to be on medication. My doctor had been impressed enough with my improved heart condition that I could drop my meds.

But I still have to watch what I eat. Most importantly, I have to limit my daily sodium intake and I have to watch how much liquid I drink every day.

All this is kind of funny in a couple of ways. First, I'm not a salt person; I don't even like salt on my french fries. So I would have never thought I'd have problems with sodium. But I do. Tons and tons of frozen and canned and restaurant foods are filled with sodium. You might be surprised, if you don't check how much sodium is in a lot of foods. For instance, one can of soup usually contains enough sodium for my entire daily intake. The second funny part of this is the fluid business. I've heard all my life you're supposed to have at least eight glasses of water a day. Not me. I'm not supposed to go over six, four if I'm having a bad day.

I bring all this up for two reasons. One, it's the holiday season, and yes, like everybody else in America I indulged myself over the last day or two. But I did watch myself carefully in the days before and I know I'll have to watch myself in the days to come. My breathing is already a bit harsher from all the sodium in the traditional Thanksgiving Day meal.

The second reason I bring all this up is good news. Since the first of the year, I have lost 70 pounds. Yep, that's right. 70. I won't say how much I originally weighed, because it would be too embarrasing, but let's just say I'm a big guy and have always been pretty big.

Hard to imagine fifteen years ago I lifted weights three times a week and ran four miles a day.

But no longer.

Anyway, my health isn't the greatest, but it's not awful. I could be doing better, but I feel like I've made a lot of progress. I just need to keep moving forward. I have my good days and I have my bad days, and it's always dependent on what I ate or drank the day before.

I'm getting better, slowly, a day at a time. I'll keep loosing weight, and hopefully someday, maybe in another year, I won't have ANY days where I'm short of breath.

But today, of course before I ate for Thanksgiving, I weighed myself and I had lost that 70 pounds. I'm pretty proud of myself for that.

I'm a Flashing Swords First Reader

Recently I have joined the fine people over at Flashing Swords as one of their First Readers, which means I am one of the folks who gets a first look at stories submitted to this fine publication.

This is a first for me, and I'm glad to lend a hand with their slush pile. I hope to provide editors and writers with my own little pearls of wisdom in hopes of continuing the excellence of Flashing Swords and maybe to even help it become a better publication than it already is (if that's even possible).

I'm also doing this for myself. It always helps to study other writers, to study their strengths and weaknesses, in hopes of making me a better editor and writer.

I'm glad to be part of the team.

No. 44 -- Seventh Son

by Orson Scott Card

Started: November 22
Finished: November 29

Notes: This is another author who I've never had a chance to read with the exception of a few of his shorter pieces. Thought it was time I gave him a try.

Mini review: Boring. Boring. Boring. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

For all the lonely writers

Writing can be a lonely game, especially for genre writers. And I say this as someone who, to a certain extent, is constantly surrounded by writers, at least newspaper writers.

When you tell someone you are a writer, you usually get one of two reactions: a blank, dumbfounded stare that seems to say "what a waste of your time" or you get the ch-ching of money in someone's eyes as they try to think of a way to ask you to write their idea into a novel and then split the money with them. Neither reaction is very endearing. For the first reaction, I usually just ignore the person from that point on because they have no interest and I've suddenly lost interest in them because obviously they believe anything that doesn't bring an immediate return in dollar bills is garbage. For the second reaction, I usually try to pull myself away as quickly as possible, even if I have to chew off a limb to do so.

But every once in a while you get a third reaction, someone who is truly interested.

But even here, for a genre writer, the reactions are a bit different for each person, usually based upon what kind of genre or sub-genre they themselves like. If I had to place myself in a genre, I guess I'm a dark fantasy writer because I like to write fantasy and horror and I sometimes like to mix the two, but every once in a while I'll write a sci-fi or mainstream piece. But try explaining that to someone, even someone who shares some of your own interests. If I tell a genre-loving individual, who also happens to not like darker material, that I'm a horror or dark fantasy writer, I'll often get a squeamish look. If I tell someone I'm a fantasy writer, I usually hear back something like "you mean fairies and stuff?" No, I mean Conan and stuff. "Same thing." Hardly.

So, it can be lonely being a genre writer. The Internet helps quite a bit. Most of the folks I talk writing with are people I've met online or who I've known personally at one point in my life and we keep in touch online.

But with writing, specifically speculative writing, being one of my few interests nowadays, some days it's a bit difficult to make it through the day without snapping at someone else. I don't care for politics -- too abbrassive, and there's no one to root for. I've lost nearly all interest in sports -- it's just a money game now, with maybe the exception of some minor league sports. So, writing is my life. It's what I live for.

Am I going insane?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No 43 -- The Martian Child

by David Gerrold

Started: November 20
Finished: November 22

Notes: I don't normally pay a lot of attention to writing awards, but this book won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Picked this one up at work. I've never read any of Gerrold's prose before, though I have seen a number of TV shows he's written for (Star Trek's "The Trouble With Tribbles" being my favorite). And yes, that's John Cusack on the cover because there's a movie version of this book coming out.

Mini review: A nice, touching story, but not really my thing normally. Barely science fiction at all; in fact, if the author weren't a known sci-fi figure, I doubt this would have been classified as sci-fi.

Monday, November 19, 2007

AC/DC lyrics

Another band I don't think of as lyrically gifted, but they've had a few I really liked:

Ride On
It's another lonely evening
And another lonely town
But I ain't too young to worry
And I ain't too old to cry
When a woman gets me down.
Got another empty bottle
And another empty bed
Ain't too young to admit it
And I'm not too old to lie
I'm just another empty head.

Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution
Hey there, all you middle men
Throw away your fancy clothes
And while you're out there sittin' on a fence
So get off your ass and come down here
'Cause rock 'n' roll ain't no riddle man.
To me it makes good, good sense. Good sense.

For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)
We roll tonight to the guitar bite.
Stand up and be counted for what you are about to receive
We are the dealers
We'll give you everything you need.
Hail hail to the good times
Cos rock has got the right of way.
We ain't no legends, ain't no cause
We're just livin' for today.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

No. 42 -- Dexter in the Dark

by Jeff Lindsay

Started: November 17
Finished: November 20

Notes: I've enjoyed the Dexter program on Showtime for the last couple of seasons, and been meaning to check out some of the novels upon which the show is based. Fortunately, I found this one when scrounging through books at work.

Mini review: A nice change of pace, with a storyline that wasn't so linear I could pick out every plot point as it came up. This novel felt almost episodic, sort of like each chapter was an episode of a TV show, instead of an ongoing narrative. Actually, despite the dark material, this book has a fine wit to it.

The perfect song?

Happy Trails
by Dale Evans Rogers

Happy trails to you, until we meet again.
Happy trails to you, keep smilin' until then.
Who cares about the clouds when we're together?
Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.

Happy trails to you, 'till we meet again.
Some trails are happy ones,
Others are blue.
It's the way you ride the trail that counts,
Here's a happy one for you.

Happy trails to you, until we meet again.
Happy trails to you, keep smilin' until then
Who cares about the clouds when we're together?
Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather

Happy trails to you, 'till we meet again.

Friday, November 16, 2007

My problem with modern novels, part 2

Okay, so back to bitching about modern novels.

I mentioned Hollywood, and I think that's a big part of it. It's not that Hollywood has taken over the novel publishing world, but that the novel publishing world has shifted far into the spectrum of entertainment.

There's nothing wrong with entertainment. It's entertaining. I like being entertained. But I also like a little extra from time to time. Sugar on my cereal, for example.

The film industry has almost always been one of instant gratification, stooping (so to speak) to the lowest of our emotions. That's inherent in the medium to some extent. You go to the flickers and you're out in two hours.

Novels don't have to be that way. What have you enjoyed more (usually), that novel you read in one day or that novel you delved deeply into for a month?

But to backtrack a little, even Hollywood has become more Hollywood in the last 10 or so years. I haven't seen an action movie in years (other than "V for Vendetta") that I thought had anything more to it than just fighting and death. But there have been plenty of movies that do more than just tug on your heartstrings or grab at your nut sack. And I'm even talkin' action movies.

Apocalypse Now

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Hell, even the first Matrix movie had some thematic material to it (though I think a lot of that was lost to special effects and a rush for $$$ in the sequels).

At first glance, something as action-oriented as a spaghetti western might not seem to have any substance, but that just means you're not paying attention. You have to look for the little things.

When I look for the little things in modern movies, I find nothing but romantic comedies with weak jokes and the latest big sci-fi/war/historical/action flick that has nothing but meaningless deaths. There's no unspoken agendas, no secrets to look for, no characters to feel empathy for ... no nothing.

I realize I'm talking a lot about modern film here when I'm supposed to be talking about the modern novel, but again, that's because I feel the publishing industry has gone Hollywood to a large extent.

And let me add, I'm not saying all modern novels are bad. I am definitely not saying all modern novels I've read recently are bad. I'm just saying I wish they had a bit more substance to them.

Maybe I expect too much. I realize someone who reads as much as myself can't expect every book to take me to nirvana.


I say that because I believe a lot of writers have fallen into formula writing, much like screenwriting (which I do have some experience with). You have your beginning, middle and end. You have your protagonist. You have your antagonist. The beginning: the protagonist has a problem. The middle: the protagonist tries in various ways to solve his or her problem but runs into trouble against the antagonist. The end: The protagonist usually finds a way to solve the problem, though sometimes they fail.

I like screenwriting. I enjoy it. It has taught me a lot and it brought me out of my writer's block a few years ago.

But again, does every single friggin' new novel have to read like it's a screenplay?

Far too many publishers are seeking material that's like a screenplay, in my opinion. Heck, if you look around at enough publishers' Web sites, a number of them even come right out and say it.

They want no exposition. Lots of action. Action-oriented dialgoue. Little-to-no description. Fast. Fast. Fast. Keep the reader going, going, going.

Shit. Ed McBain's the only writer I know who can pull that off. And he did it well.

We as writers should expect more of ourselves, our publishers and our readers. We also owe more to ourselves and to our publishers and our readers.

I hate to sound all artistic, and I don't mean to. And, I'll admit, this blog post actually sounds stronger than I normally feel about this topic.

But, come on. All I see on the bookshelves at stores are rip-offs of Harry Potter (a seven-book series about a new mystery in each book) or "The DaVinci Code" (definitely a mystery).

You other writers out there: Give me more. Give me better. As a reader I deserve it and want it. As a writer, I'm going to start expecting it.

To speak in film terms again, I'm tired of nothing but VanDamm and Adam Sandler
flicks. I'm ready for some Coppola movies.

My problem with modern novels, part 1

My recent post about theme and a few other comments here and here have gotten me to thinking lately about modern novels and one of their big downfalls.

I believe a problem with many modern novels is the lack of a strong theme or a theme that is hidden so well you have to buy a telescope to find it.

Most of my reading habits jump around. I read some older material, classical literature then non-fiction then pulp fiction then modern fiction. I hate to sound like one of those old foggies who always says "things were better in the old days," but for the most part I have to say that's true when it comes to fiction.

I've read a decent amount of modern novels in the last few years. One big element I see in nearly all of them is the element of mystery. Mystery is fine. It draws you in and can keep the interest level high. But I seem to notice a lot of mystery without a lot of character development and not a strong overall theme.

Unless you consider a theme to be something as simple as "oh, we figured out the big mystery" or "oh, we survived that big deadly thing and now we're stronger for it." Those can be themes (though simplistic for my own tastes), and there's nothing wrong with a good romp of action and adventure with some mystery thrown in.

But, the problem is this ... that's about ALL I'm seeing in modern fiction. There's a mystery set up in early chapters, then very quickly you get to know the main protagonist and his or her sidekick, then they have to fight through a bunch of stuff to get to the end where they finally unfold whatever the big secret is.

Again, there's nothing wrong with that kind of fiction. It's enjoyable, it sells, but for the love of God, can someone come up with a new plot? Can someone come up something that has a little more depth to it than that?

And I don't mean to pick on the mystery genre, or any other singular genre. I'm seeing this across the board in all genres.

Don't get me wrong. I like a good mystery from time to time, but all I'm seeing in modern novels ... from Harry Potter to horror fiction to lots of fantasy fiction ... is mystery after mystery with not a whole lot of context.

Maybe I need to read more modern stuff. Or maybe I'm right and the publishing industry has sold out to Hollywood.

More later ...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A problem worth having

So, for the first time in probably two decades, I have my to-be-read pile down to three books. It's usually somewhere between 15 and 30 books, but I've intentionally been trying to whittle that pile down because I got tired of looking at it (and because a lot of books I'm excited to read seem to lose their luster after I've stared at them for a few years).

Then I go to my newspaper job. We get lots of books for free. Tons of them. At least 5 or 6 a day for review. However, we're generally not supposed to take them.

Until today. The book editor decided she wanted to clean out her office, so she took about 20 mail crates full of books and lined them up in an empty office. Then she passed the word that anybody could have any books they wanted.

At first I cursed. Then I think my eyes went all goo-gooey and I plied my way through those boxes of books like Renfield scouring his cell for rats to eat. I came away with about 20 books, mostly novels.

That was at dinner time. I took a box of those 20 books to my Explorer.

Then it was back to work.

And I kept hearing that office calling to me, saying "There are still plenty of homeless, orphaned books here waiting for you to provide them shelter."

So, toward the end of the night I scampered back to the books and perused them once more. This time I only came away with a dozen books.

I didn't want to be greedy or anything.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No. 41 -- 99 Coffins

by David Wellington

Started: November 14
Finished: November 17

Notes: This one is for another book review. I'll admit, I'm kind of tired of the whole vampire thing, but this one has a Gettysburg link to it. So, I might find it interesting. Also, I've never read this author before, and I always like discovering another talent. Also, the cover you see at right might not be the final cover; this image is of a galley.

Mini review: The first half of this novel is pretty straight-forward mystery stuff, but the second half picks up nicely and is nearly nothing but action, action, action. A small town (modern Gettysburg) has to defend itself against a group of vampires, and it's one heck of a battle.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Apex Digest subscription drive

Okay, all you spec fiction writers ... you're always saying publications don't pay enough for their short stories, but here's a chance for you to directly improve that situation.

Apex Digest is currently holding a subscription drive with one big goal in mind: to improve payments for short fiction.

If 100 new subscriptions, the new rate will be 2.5 cents per word.
If 200 new subscriptions, the new rate will be 3.0 cents per word.
If 500 new subscriptions, the new rate will be 5.0 cents per word.

Multiple-year subsciptions are also available.

The drive is running through Nov. 30, so see what you can do. Even if you can't afford a subscription, maybe you can help by passing along word about the drive.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Van Halen lyrics

While Van Halen isn't band I normally think of as a "lyrics" band, they still have a few that have caught my ear over the years.

Runnin' With the Devil

I live my life like there's no tomorrow
And all I've got I had to steal.
Least I don't need to beg or borrow
Yes I'm living at a pace that kills.

I found the simple life ain't so simple
When I jumped out on that road.
I got no love, no love you'd call real
Ain't got nobody waiting at home .

Runnin' with the devil.

Ain't Talkin' About Love
I been to the edge
and there I stood an' looked down .
You know I lost a lot of friends there baby,
I got no time to mess around.
So if you want it got to bleed for it baby .
Yeah, got to got to bleed baby.
Ain't talkin' 'bout love .

My love is rotten to the core.

And the Cradle will Rock ...
At an early age he hits the street
and winds up tied with who he meets,
and he's unemployed.
His folks are overjoyed.
And the cradle will rock.

A matter of themes

Themes, or "meanings" to stories, are essential. Every story should have some kind of theme, some kind of emotional quotient that usually affects the main protagonist. Usually this means a change of mindset for the main character by the end of the story, but not always; sometimes a characters views or ideas are merely reinforced by what happens in a story.

Now you might be asking yourself (or asking me), "but what about stories that are just for entertainment?" True, there are plenty of those, but deep down (maybe even hidden very well) there is some sort of theme to the story, even if it's not some big, eye-opening, world-shaking idea. A story without any kind of theme whatsoever is not a story. It's merely a string of events.

Don't believe me? Then go read some short stories that are action oriented ... I'll suggest maybe a Conan story by Robert E. Howard, or a Calthus story by Steve Goble. Yep, you'll find lots of action and adventure, heads rolling, bodies falling, stuff like that ... but I guarantee by the end of the story the protagonist has learned something either about himself, his world or other characters. That's where the theme comes in. Again, if a main protagonist learns nothing ... absolutely nothing ... then you don't have a story, just stuff happening.

Now, I'm not a writer who usually ponders the themes to my stories before writing, and often not even while writing. But I do look my stories over for a theme once they've been written. In all my stories (at least my decent ones), there will be a theme. It's not a theme I planned, and maybe not even one I like or agree with, but it will be there. That might be lazy writing on my part, but I have found that when I try to push a theme (ie., agenda) into a story, the story almost always falls flat. So I try not to think about my themes too much until I've written.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Where I stand with my writing

Not a lot of writing or editing the last month or so, but most of that's because I've been busy moving and working.

However, I did manage to write a few short stories and I've got 15 stories circulating the slush piles. Usually, as soon as I get a rejection, I send it right back out. Unless I'm saving a story for an upcoming reading period, or I know of a new market that's getting ready to open up soon. I do have one story I'm holding onto for those reasons.

As for the trilogy, I've been able to do a little editing on paper, but I've actually not sat down in front of a computer to work on the story in nearly two months. The computer I write on, and which has all my chapters stored (yes, I have backups on burnt CDs) has been in storage until yesterday. So, I'm looking forward to getting back to the trilogy. It's nearly finished. All the editing (on paper, anyway) is done except for a chapter I added and another chapter I'm thinking about adding. After that I have to go back over books two and three one more time for line editing, looking for the little stuff ... spelling, grammar, etc.

Meanwhile, book 1 of the trilogy is sitting at a certain publisher's, waiting to be discovered. They're already several months over their own reading time, but I'll let the book sit there at least through the end of the year. After that, I'll be submitting it elsewhere, and maybe to a few agents.

A blog worth discovering

If you haven't checked out short story writer Jim Van Pelt's blog at A Place for Strangers and Beggars, I suggest you do so. Not only is Jim a writer, but sometimes he's also an editor of one anthology or another (most recently "Hardboiled Horror") and he is a teacher.

Over the past few months I've been checking out his blog, and he often has interesting topics, sometimes quite analytical of the short story writing process (a lot of which also applies to novels and other forms of creative writing).

Jim also brings some of his teaching to the blog, discussing elements of story crafting that he has discussed or is working on with his students. I feel like I've learned a good bit of late just studying what he says about his classes.

And Jim seems to be pretty down to earth. While he might talk about the artistic side of writing, he also keeps it real by sometimes talking about the academic or business angles.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

THE zombie movie

World War Z, one of the best books I've read in the last few years and my all-time favorite book dealing with zombies, is being made into a movie. According to IMDB and other sites, it is being produced by Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment and is scheduled to be released sometime in 2008. The screenplay is still being worked on.

Before you jump the gun and think "great, another zombie movie, who needs it?" I want you to know "World War Z" is much more than just a zombie book. It's a novel told in interviews with people who survived the rise of and the war with the zombie. It's a novel of a zombie war as if told by Ken Burns. "World War Z" is full of tales of survival, a few comedic and a few horrific and many touching. The chapter dealing with pets, specifically dogs, was one of the most moving sections of the book. The political spectrum of the new world after the zombie invasion is also quite interesting (though I myself found this part a bit unrealistic -- Cuba as a new world power? I don't think so).

I'm quite excited about the movie, and hope they don't screw it up by turning it into a straight horror flick or even a horror comedy.

The Dune connection

Okay, I'm reading Dune, by Frank Herbert, for the first time. I'm about 160 pages into the novel and I've been reading it for about four days.

I carry a book with me just about everywhere. I keep it out on my desk at work so I can catch a page or two here and there while I'm waiting for other people to finish their job so I can finish my job.

So, in these last four days I've counted twelve people have walked by my desk and commented on my reading Dune.

I always have a book on my desk, and at most, I get one or two people commenting upon it. But everybody is commenting about this book. I'm not getting bad news about it, but not necessarily good, just people saying they had read it.

Is the book that popular? I mean, people who have hardly ever spoken to me at work have commented on Dune. People who have only ever spoken to me for professional reasons have commented on Dune.

It's weird.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A fantastic prize!

I recently won a prize for a contest over at Howard Von Darkmoor's blog.

I found it in the mail tonight when I got home from work, and what a prize it is! It's a hardback called The Art of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.

I've only flipped through the book so far, but it looks great! The artwork is fantastic, and letting me know I need to read Martin's work.

HvD, thanks for the great book! Glad I could win it. Looking forward to any future contests.

Hmmm ... maybe I need to come up with a contest of my own?

Monday, November 05, 2007

It's Nov. 5 -- Happy Guy Fawkes Night

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot,
I know of no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Ever should be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
To blow up King and Parliament.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys,
Let the bells ring!
Holloa boys, holloa boys,
God save the King!
A penny loaf to feed the Pope,
A farthing o’ cheese to choke him,
A pint o’ beer to rinse it down,
A faggot o’ sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we’ll say the Pope is dead.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Writer/editor relationships

As a writer, I have several friends who are editors of one publication or another. I also know several other editors by name, though I wouldn't necessarily call them a friend, more of an acquaintance.

So, the neurotic bunch that we writers often are, we have to face sending our work to not only editors, but editors who might know us fairly well, sometimes even quite well.

This could be unnerving for the writer as well as the editor. The writer is hoping to please this person he or she knows, but is also looking to make another sale. The editor, on the other hand, doesn't want to disappoint this friend/acquaintance and also wants to deal with their story fairly in comparison to other stories received.

The best way to deal with this is to keep it professional.

Yes, you can cut up and have a laugh with your editor or writer friends, but when it gets down to the nitty gritty of publishing, keep in mind that it's a business (even if big money, or any money at all, isn't involved).

There's one big reason to do this. To keep a good relationship going, and I'm not just talking about the friendship part of the relationship. I'm talking about the business relationship, the writing relationship and the publishing relationship (which can all boil down to the same thing).

I'd much rather a friend editor reject one of my stories and us stay on good terms, than for him or her to have to fret over it or even worse, accept the story just because they know me. That would not be good for them, their publication, nor for me as a writer.

You see, any publication I submit to, I want them to have the best possible stories even if it does not include one of my own. Why? Selfish reasons. Eventually they are likely to publish one of my tales, hopefully for the right reasons, and it will shine all the more coming from a respected publication and while packaged with other good stories.

I'm in this for the long haul, not just to get one story published.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Friday, November 02, 2007

No. 40 - Dune

by Frank Herbert

Started: November 2
Finished: November 14

Notes: Yep, I've never read this sci-fi classic. Figured it was about time I did.

Mini review: I'm not quite sure this one deserves the cult status it has fostered, but it was still a damn good book. Started well, but for me, it bogged down for about a hundred pages in the middle, then it picked up again at the end. Most of this tale is sort of political and military intrigue, with spiritual/religious overtones that seem to have more to do with heavy drugs than they do with any kind of creator or mythology (but that's just my opinion). Yep, I'd recommend this one to anybody, even you, von Darkmoor.

New publication and new market

There's a new publication in town, folks. It's called Noctem Aeternus.

I don't know much about them yet, but they kick off in January 2008 and feature an interview with Rob Zombie, a story from Ramsey Campbell and lots more. Looks very well done, and I hope they do well.

Apparently it will mainly be a horror publication, but it looks as if they are seeking other genres too, but with a horror element.

Oh, and for you writers, the Web site's guidelines say they pay 10 cents a word!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Television is the enemy, but not always

Okay, I have to admit, I don't have a lot good to say about television. It is evil. It destroys more brain cells than beer and pot combined. Yes, it can be relaxing to sit down in front of the tube after a day at the office, but you're rotting your brain.

Now, to be a hypocrite, I do watch a handful of shows from time to time. I don't rush home, or even try to be at home, when these shows are on, but if I have nothing else to do or the other half is watching TV, below are a few of the shows I will tolerate.

On Showtime. The serial killer is the good guy. You can't go wrong with that.

This show is in re-runs now after finishing last year, and it had a slow season or two, but overall I loved it. Again, the bad guys as the goodguys.

The Office
Hilarity ensues at work. The writing for this show is sometimes sheer genius.

My Name is Earl
I liked this one a lot early on, but it's dropped in favor with me since about halfway through the last season. It still has its moments.

Real Time with Bill Maher
I like Bill. I disagree with at least 75 percent of what he has to say,but I find his show informative and entertaining. I like many of his guests, and I don't feel like I'm being given a line of bull. Even when I don't agree with Bill, I at least feel he is passionate about what he is saying, and not just another talking head trying to squeeze out thisw eek's paycheck. Most talkshow hosts, and/or political talk hosts, give off a creepy vibe to me ... part of it preachy, part of it swarmy ...and I don't feel that from Bill; at least when he's being an ass, or acting silly, he's upfront about it.

That's about it. I will sometimes watch "Two and A Half Men," but find the show very hit and miss. If I live to be five thousand years old, I never need to see another episode of "Friends."

Friday, October 26, 2007

The drama that is my life of late

As no one here knows, because I've not mentioned it in any detail, my life has been hell the last few weeks.

See, we decided to move again. Our last house was too big and, frankly, too expensive. So, we found a new place. Two days before we had to be out of our old house, we found out we couldn't move into our new house yet because of construction work going on around the house. The city was doing major road and gas line work in front of the house, and behind and around the house were other construction jobs for other houses and townhouses.

All of this means, we had to be out of our old place, but we couldn't yet get into our new place. Initially we stayed in a hotel, but that gets expensive very quickly. And we have no relatives living near.

Which means since the first of October the wife and I have been staying with friends. And they have an extremely small house with only one bedroom. The wife slept on a bed we set up in their dining. Me? I've been on a couch.

But today ... finally, today ... we got the keys to the new place and the city has finished their work, so we can get into our new place.

I don't get off work until a little after midnight tonight. But I don't care. I'm still going to empty that damn storage unit, even if it means I don't get any sleep for three days. At least when I do get sleep, it will be on a bed again.

Is short fiction dying?

This is related to my post below, so you might want to check it out first.

There's been a lot of Web talk recently about the potential death of short fiction, most specifically short speculative fiction. You can find plenty of informed comments from authors such as John Scalzi, Jeff Vandermeer and Jim VanPelt.

For the most part, I'm going to agree with Vandermeer, though he has his detractors on this issue.

Frankly, I don't think there is as much good short fiction out there as there used to be. Or, to be more correct, I think there is just as much as there used to be, but readers are bombarded with so much more crap today than we used to.

The Internet and desktop publishing have allowed a whole lot of people to think they can be writers and earn Stephen King's salary at the stroke of a computer key. It's just not so. I hate to squash anyone's dreams, but there are a lot of people out there who should not be writing. I don't mean to say they have no right to writing and submitting fiction, but that if they are going to, at the very least they should look at their work as objectively as possible and spend plenty of time working on their craft before submitting.

Writing does take talent, but it also takes experience. Just because you like to read it doesn't mean you can write it.

I do not mean to suggest anyone should give up their dream of being a writer. Not at all. Just do the work. Write your stories. Read. Write some more. Study editing and other forms of writing, screenplays or poetry and the like. Keep writing and writing. Sometimes it takes years to be a decent writer. Join a critique group, get some feedback. When you finally think you have a good story, then submit it to a publication.

I speak from experience. I'm sure I made George Scithers at Weird Tales cry more than once during the early 1990s.

So, I suppose the gist of what I'm saying (to get back to my original subject) is that if anything is killing short fiction ... it's bad writing. Or not-quite-so good writing.

And I'm not I'm the greatest writer in the world. If I was, I'd be earning that Stephen King salary.

Some scary numbers

Author Warren Ellis has listed some circulation numbers for some of the BIG speculative fiction magazines right here. We're talking Azimov's Science Fiction, Analog, Interzone and Fantasy & Science Fiction.

These numbers do not look good.

And worse, I can't offer any hope for short story writers and editors and publishers.

The fact is, short stories have not been a popular form of entertainment for a long time, since at least the 1960s. Yes, short stories did survive, and some good ones have been turned out, but the heydey for short stories has been over for decades. And things have only gotten worse in the last decade or two.

Why is this happening? I personally think it has much to do with technology. First you had television (and to some extent cinema), and nowadays you've got the Internet. Technology has created too many forms of entertainment, and distractions, for everyone to be able to watch or read everything. There used to be a form of bonding when you could turn to someone and say, "Hey, did you catch such-and-such show?" or "Hey, did you read such-and-such book?" A lot of that's gone. It's still there to some extent, but that entertaining, even intellectual, bonding, is harder to find (though it's probably easiest to find on the Internet, fulfilling a vicious cycle).

I am not shooting down television or the Internet. Both are fine mediums in their own ways. But print mediums have an extremely tough time competing with them.

I'm not sure print mediums can compete nowadays, though there is still life to be found in short stories, especially online. And the book publishing industry is churning out more novels all the time, though they seem to be playing the lottery, always hoping for that next big seller (though, even there, I'm always hearing about how the best sellers are actually losing money for everyone).

So what's to be done? First, I think writers and editors and publishers need to stop living in denial. They need to stop thinking, "Oh, things will be better next year or quarter or decade or whatever." They need to stop bitching about TV and the Web, and start doing something about it (though some are). They can't compete directly, so what to do? Only one thing. Join thy enemy.

Plenty of magazine have made the leap to the Internet, but I don't see them doing anything groundbreaking, just another Web site with a list of their upcoming stories, yaddy yaddy, bore me to tears. Most of the real innovative work seems to be coming from the smaller presses. They are trying new things, shaking it up a little. One of my favorite examples is Every Day Fiction (check them out if you haven't already).

As for writers, what we can keep doing is working on the best stories we can and seeking new markets. Those markets might not be in magazines. New markets might be in anthologies or for video game companies or podcasting or something else no person has even thought of yet.

I will tell you this: Short stories will survive. The heydey might be over, it might come again, it might not. Who knows? But there will always be some market out there somehow.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Big news for me: Story accepted

My short story, "Deep in the Land of the Ice and Snow," has been accepted into the Flashing Swords anthology, "The Return of the Sword: A New Age of Heroic Adventure."

I'm really excited about this publication, and about my story being in it. There are some pretty impressive names already slotted for the anthology, but I won't give it all away here, at least not until all the authors have been named.

You can find out more at the forums.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Songs for my funeral

The other half and I have this thing where we've told each other which songs we want played at our funerals. We each have two songs. Hers are Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides, Now" and Sting's "Until ..." Mine are below.

I love Trent Reznor's original, but I've got to go with Johnny Cash's version.

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become?
My sweetest friend.
Everyone I know
goes away
In the end.
And you could have it all,
My empire of dirt.
I will let you down
I will make you hurt.

I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar's chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here

What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way.

Black Bird
Not necessarily my favorite Beatles song, but one I like, and it has personal meaning and memories for me.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Black bird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
all your life
you were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise,oh
You were only waiting for this moment to arise, oh
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Every short story writer's worst nightmare

After spending some time looking over Duotrope and Ralan, I've come away a little disgusted. I've mentioned this before here. It seems to me there are way, way, waaaaayyyyy too many little niche markets and not enough general fiction markets for short stories.

I expect genres, but for the love of all that's holy, does every single friggin' little publication have to be so concise in what they are willing to publish.

Yes, I realize it's a free country, and they have a right to publish what they want. But, come on, are people thinking? How many copies of a fantasy anthology about three-legged cats that ride monkey gnomes does somebody really think are going to sell?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Overview of the current state of speculative fiction

Just me rambling tonight. Only my opinions here, based upon what I read and see in book stores, so no hard facts, just very general BS.

Fantasy fiction, especially novels, has been stuck on "Lord of The Rings" clones or gaming tie-in material for so long, it's almost hard to believe there is anything else available. While nothing is necessarily wrong with the above types of fantasy, most of them tend to be pretty bland.

There has been some movement in the last decade toward more literary, speculative-light fantasy. Most of these books are not usually labeled fantasy, but "speculative" or something similar. Gregory Maguire's novels come to mind.

Also, in just the last couple of years there has been a slight resurgence in the old Sword & Sorcery genre. This surge isn't huge yet, not quite making its way to major publishers, but it is building and growing. There seems to be an audience for this material, and hopefully it will continue to grow. There hasn't been a lot of S&S from the big publishers since the 1980s, but hopefully that will change.

Science Fiction
As far as I can tell, the only type of sci-fi novels selling nowadays are military related. I think this genre is lacking in creativity (for the most part). Not that there's anything wrong with military sci-fi, "Starship Troopers" being one of my favorite books, but they tend toward all action and little thought, not that that's all bad, but there need to be other options. Where are today's Heinleins? Bradburys? Heck, even Asimovs?

Horror has kind of fallen into two camps (maybe three, more later). First, you've got your sentimental, romantic horror with roots in gothic horror; Stephen King is the leader of the pack here, with follow-ups by guys like Dean Koontz. Second, you've got what used to be called Splatterpunk a couple of decades ago; this stuff is strongly dark, sometimes violent and gory, by folks like Joe R. Lansdale and Clive Barker. Nowadays, Splatterpunk (and its offshoots) have become more mainstream, though I might argue the genre isn't quite as strong or shocking as it once was.

I mentioned a third type of horror, and this is a sub-genre I see little of, but it's there. This is more of a literary horror, sometimes even mainstream. Max Brooks' "World War Z", about a zombie war, comes to mind here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A surprise in the newspaper

"Hamlet" is my favorite Shakespeare tragedy, so yesterday I was readinga story about a local production company bringing the play to the stage. With this story is a little sidebar/breakout box listing all the actors who have played the character of Hamlet in my region going back to the 1890s.

A name listed for 1921 caught my attention.

Fritz Leiber.

What a minute! I had to look at it again. Fritz? Would he have even been old enough in 1921?

So, a little research online and at the local newspaper reveals the truth. It wasn't Fritz the writer, but his father, Fritz Sr., who was an actor (I hadn't known that).

You learn something new every day.

No. 39 - Daily Life in Medieval Times

by Frances and Joseph Gies

Started: October 16
Finished: November 2

Notes: Picked this up a few years ago at a Barnes and Noble in North Carolina. It's one of those books I'm not real excited about reading,but feel like I need to. My medieval history knowledge is spotty, at best, and this should help some. This book is a compilation of three earlier books,"Life in a Medieval Castle," "Life in a Medieval City,"and "Life in a Medieval Village."

Mini review: Another one I'm glad I read, but I'm really glad to be finished with. Not the most tedious book I've read, but not very exciting reading. Because this is a collection of three books, sometimes the information is a bit repetitive. However, all that said, this is a good book, literally opening my eyes to much about the daily world of the Middles Ages, roughly 1106 A.D. to about 1250 A.D. The most eye-opening element for me was to discover that average person had much more freedom than is generally believed. Yes, they were somewhat tied to the land and their lord, but there was more opporunity for movement and change than I would have thought.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Johnny Cash lyrics

Folsom Prison Blues
"When I was just a baby,
my mama told me, son
Always be a good boy,
don't ever play with guns.
But I shot a man in Reno
just to watch him die.
When I hear that whistle blowing,
I hang my head and cry."

Man in Black
"Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You'll never see me wear a suit of white."

The Man Comes Around
"There's a man going around taking names
and he decides who to free and who to blame;
Every body won't be treated quite the same,
there will be a golden ladder reaching down
When the man comes around.

The hairs on your arm will stand up at the terror in each sip and each sup,
will you partake of that last offered cup?
Or disappear into the potter's ground?
When the man comes around."

Sometimes, it is who you know

Contacts are very important in any business, and they are just as important for writers as they are for bankers, realtors and any other professional.

To succeed as a writer you need a lot of things: Talent, skill, luck, ability, etc. But personal contacts can help.

Getting to know editors, and other writers, can help. First, these other people become your peers, and they can become a sort-of support group for you. Who else knows the goods and bads and ins and outs of the writing business than editors and other writers? They can also provide advice, and sometimes they're just swell people to hang out with or chat with online.

And, and this is a big and, they can help your career.


Simple. If an editor has one slot open for a story in his or her publication, and they have two great stories in front of them, they are more than likely going to pick the story from the writer whom they are most familiar.

Foul! Right? No, not right. It's fair. You might scream nepotism or favoritism or some other -tism, but the truth of the matter is that editors are human too, so most of the time they're going to go with the safe bet, someone they know and trust to provide them with good material. Also, editors, more so often than writers, realize publishing is a business ... that's right, a business, not artsy fartsy or playtime or any other garbage ... publishing is a business, so again, the editor is probably going to play it safe.

Now, that's not always the case. Again, editors are human, so maybe some of them will sometimes give the new guy or gal a try. Or maybe they just feel they've published a lot of work from one particular writer of late and they want some fresh meat in their publication.

But regardless, it never hurts to make contacts. And contacts at smaller publications could be just as important as knowing the big-city, hot-shot editor at a major book publisher. Someday that hotshot editor is going to retire or move on, then he or she is going to be replaced. And the truth of the matter is this, quite often the newest bigshot editor at the giant publishing house is someone who has worked their way up from smaller publications. It happens. Be prepared for it. A lot of known editors and publishers started off 10 or 20 or 30 years ago with a fanzine or just as fans.

So, the lesson of the day is, get to know some people.

Oh, yeah, and be nice to them. Nobody likes an asshole writer.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Cover letters are no big deal

Every once in a while I run across a blog post on some writer or editor's site that has to do with writing cover letters. It seems a lot of writers, especially beginners, get caught up trying to write the perfect cover letter when submitting a story or novel for publication.

Here is my best advice: Keep it short.

Editors are busy people. They have a lot of stories to read. Most of them also have a day job and family and friends and a thousand other things that keep them busy. They don't have a lot of time to flounder through some lengthy cover letter.

My cover letters usually have two or three paragraphs.

The first paragraph tells the title and word length of the item I am sending the editor. I will usually also try to work in the genre, but sometimes I won't if the editor is only accepting one particular genre (why waste time telling them something they're going to expect me to know already?).

My second paragraph usually is an extremely brief bio of myself, but only stuff pertaining to writing. I let them know of my last published piece, maybe how long I've been writing, current writing projects, and I'll usually throw in the fact I've got nearly 20 years of experience as a newspaper editor. That last part isn't really all that important, and I don't always throw it in, but it at least lets the editor know I can spell and know my punctuation and grammar (but yes, I still make mistakes ... just look at the mess that is my blog, but in my defense I rarely go back to edit this blog).

The third and final paragraph, if there is one, is usually just to give a brief thanks. I might throw in a little more bio here if the submission guidelines requested more, or I might mention something that was particular to the guidelines, but that's it.

I sign off giving my thanks, then type in my name.

That's it. If it's more than 100 words, I would be surprised.

And you know what, I have never, ever, had an editor send me a note saying "Hey, that was a lousy cover letter," or "Hey, that was way too brief a cover letter."

For the most part, editor's are more interested in the story you are sending them than they are in your cover letter. Don't tell about your stories plot or characters in the letter (unless the guidelines said to). Don't ramble on about your life. Don't suck up, telling the editor how much you love his magazine or that you've read all of his books. All that does is take up space and wastes the editor's time.

To you budding writers, don't fret over your cover letter. Keep them short.