Tuesday, September 30, 2008

John Dee rides again

A story about the early days of my John Dee character (when he went by a different name), "The Unconcquered Mage," is now available over at Static Movement. It's sort of a Sword and Sorcery story, or at least the closest I've come to having John appear in one, and it takes place in Gaul in 321 A.D.

Enjoy. Or don't. Then tell me it sucks. And I'll get all defensive and tell you what an idiot you are.

See how the circle works?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Story places third in contest

I recently submitted my short horror story, "Day Trip," to the guys over at Demonic Tome. And I placed third! It's my first contest, so I'm excited. The prize is a gift certificate at B&N, so that's always handy.

The story is scheduled to be published in October, so stay tuned and I'll let you know when it's available.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

No. 28 - The Last Dance

by Ed McBain

Started: September 27
Finished: October 3

Notes: This is my third 87th Precinct novel. The first two were published in the 1950s, but this one came out in 2000, so I'm interested to see how McBain's style changed over the years. I'm a growing fan of this series of police procedurals.

Mini review: Another fast-paced read with lots of speedy dialogue and some decent action. It was a bit weird to read of characters I'm more familiar with in a hardboiled, 1950s environment who have been set in the modern day. And it was a bit weird with the hardboiled style for a story in the modern day. But it mostly worked, and was a fine read. I'll be getting more of McBain's works.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ramblings on Sword and Sorcery

Sword and Sorcery is a subgenre of fantasy writing. Typically the protagonist in such stories is somewhat self-centered, though not necessarily selfish, and tends to use weapons and brawn and sometimes brains to accomplish daring feats to save the day. It's rare for S&S protagonists to use magic to much of a degree, and often the oppenent they face or obstacle they must overcome is one of magic. This is all very general, because there are S&S characters who break this mode and the rules (Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone being probably the most famous ... or infamous). In many respects, at their most basic core, S&S stories are often about the idiocies of civilization, and often how barbarism can overcome civilization and maybe is even preferable to civilization in some instances.

Again, all of that is very general. There really isn't one definitive definition of Sword and Sorcery.

Another thing about Sword and Sorcery is that, being a subgenre, there aren't that many authors associated with it. Here are the most well known:

Robert E. Howard
Michael Moorcock
Fritz Leiber
Karl Edward Wagner
Andrew J. Offutt
C. L. Moore
Charles Saunders
Clark Ashton Smith

There are a handful of writers with styles similar to that of Sword and Sorcery, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, but their work tends more toward science fantasy or what has been called Sword and Planet. Also, there are a handful of writers who have written S&S stories or even novels, but they are better known for other works and not considered godfathers of the genre (so to speak).

I'm writing all this is to give a very basic background on Sword and Sorcery. The reason I'm doing this is to discuss the subgenre a bit further.

Specifically, I've been reading a good bit of S&S of late (and I've read it off and on throughout my life), and one of the S&S topics I fairly frequently see on Internet discussion boards is "the death of the genre" or something akin to "why aren't more of today's readers reading this stuff."

After thinking about this for a few weeks, I've come to a conclusion. Sword and Sorcery isn't dying. Readers are crying out for more S&S stories. The problem isn't with the readers. It's with the hardcore fans of this subgenre.

I can hear all the arguments now. Yes, I know, S&S can be difficult to find on the shelves of your local bookstore.

But that's not true. If you have a bookstore of any size, there's probably plenty of S&S, you (the hardcore fan) just don't recognize it as S&S.

Why do I say this? Because S&S has changed. It's not the same subgenre it was 80 years ago, or 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago. This little subgenre of ours has moved on, while many of us fans have not.

Don't believe me? Then you need to check out the following authors: Steven Erikson, Glenn Cook and David Gemmell (though Dave is no longer with us, having passed away a couple of years back). While these novelists aren't entirely writing in the true S&S tradition, they are using S&S character-types and traits and tropes.

So, I'm now arguing that modern S&S is there. You just have to look for it and keep an open mind. Conan may no longer swinging his heavy blade, but characters like Erikson's Karsa Orlong are more than filling that role.

Besides, if you want the more traditional stuff, check out my links at the left. Rogue Blades Entertainment and Flashing Swords are just a couple of modern publishers who put out S&S, the more traditional stuff and the modern. And there's always Black Gate magazine, a fine publication that keeps S&S alive.

Oh, and for anyone who is interested, I don't consider myself an S&S writer. I sometimes write an S&S story, but when it comes to my fantasy material, I tend to mix things up a bit ... some S&S, some heroic fantasy, some epic fantasy, etc. To my way of thinking (and writing), I see no problem in mixing these subgenres. Heck, who knows? Maybe it'll eventually even become a new subgenre, mixing all the old ones together.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"I laughed at myself," he said.

After my recent gripings about the word "said," I had to laugh at myself recently while reading a couple of John Scalzi novels. I noticed this author used "said" quite often, not ranging into silly words (such as "stated" or "expounded," etc.), nor did he just do away with "said" in favor of action.

And it worked.

One school of thought is that "said" is a perfectly good word because the reader will sort of scan over it without really thinking about it. I'm guessing Scalzi is a member of this school of writing, though he might or might not even be conscious of it. Anyway, Scalzi is a pretty good writer, and it works for him to use "said" a lot.

I, myself, will probably continue to shun "said" for other forms of spreading my characters' dialogue, but I'll keep Scalzi's writing in mind. I could change my mind someday. Who knows?

No. 27 - Zoe's Tale

by John Scalzi

Started: September 22
Finished: September 27

Notes: I've just finished my first novel by this author, was quite impressed, so I wanted to try another book by him. This one should be most interesting because, if I understand the blurbs correctly, this novel contains the same story as the last book I read by Scalzi, "The Last Colony," but told from the point of view of the character Zoe. I can easily see how Zoe could have her own story, because she plays an integral part and goes off to do her own thing for a while.

Mini review: An excellent book. I feared this one might be a tad boring, since mostly it's a retelling of a book I had read before, but it turned out to give a fresh spin on the story from a different angle. Scalzi has definitely earned his place among today's fiction writers, and I predict even bigger and better things for him in the future. I will be reading more from him.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Beretta 92FS

This 9 mm semi-automatic handgun is, without a doubt, the finest firearm I have ever owned. This piece of machinery is a genius in craftsmanship, durability, usability and so much more. I can fully understand why the U.S. military branches have come to favor this weapon for its sidearms, and many law enforcement offices, too.

This gun is big in the hands, but that's because it holds 15 rounds in the clip; but, I have pretty big hands, so that's not a problem for me. Others with smaller hands might find this weapon unwieldy ... maybe. Also, this firearm fitted into my hand perfectly, and had good grips on the side that helped it keep from slipping in sweaty hands.

Accuracy with this thing is top notch. In fact, it's a better gun than I am shooter, so I'm sure I never could put this thing to its full potential. Still, I loved shooting with this sidearm. Always hit my targets, usually with bullseye accuracy, and I don't consider myself any kind of expert shot, just a civilian who enjoys target shooting.

The cost for one of these new is pretty high, usually anywhere from $750 to $900 depending upon whatevers going on with the current gun market, but it's well worth it. Whether you use a handgun for just fun or for self defense (or, heaven forbid, a military operation) you couldn't do better than this 9 mm; if you can't afford one of these guns, but want a good semi-auto, I suggest just saving your money until you can afford it. It's worth it, believe me.

Since this weapon is only a 9 mm, there are some shooters who will grumble about the weakness of the round, which is roughly equivalent in power to a .38. I can't argue much with them about the power issue, but Beretta does make similar handguns in the .40, so that should help a little. However, the lighter recoil of the 9 mm does help with accuracy, and since I mostly shoot for enjoyment, power usually isn't my main concern (not that I wouldn't use a gun in self defense, but it's not my main reason for owning guns).

To end, this weapon is a sheer joy to own and shoot. Save your money and buy one. I expect you'll love it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

No. 26 - The Last Colony

by John Scalzi

Started: September 19
Finished: September 22

Notes: This writer has been pretty popular these last few years, especially with his military science fiction. I've read enough of his bloggings to have some respect for him already, but thought I'd actually get into one of his novels. Here goes.

Mini review: This was a great, fun read. I fully understand why this author is making it big. Most of this particular tale was more political and full of intrigue than straight out combat, but there was never a dull moment. A lot of this tale is told through dialogue, which reminded me a bit of the Ed McBain school of writing. I'll definitely read this author again. In fact, I'll do so right now.

Robert E. Howard quotes

Some of these are from short stories, but most are from personal letters writer Robert E. Howard sent to acquaintances. I've not identified exactly where the quotes came from out of sheer laziness. You can look up specifics elsewhere on the Web.

"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing."

"Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph."

"I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content."

"I think the real reason so many youngsters are clamoring for freedom of some vague sort, is because of unrest and dissatisfaction with present conditions; I don't believe this machine age gives full satisfaction in a spiritual way, if the term may be allowed."

"Money and muscle, that’s what I want; to be able to do any damned thing I want and get away with it. Money won’t do that altogether, because if a man is a weakling, all the money in the world won’t enable him to soak an enemy himself; on the other hand, unless he has money he may not be able to get away with it."

"Come, my friend, let us cuss things in general."

"Hell, the world isn’t worth reforming or even aiding as I can see. Men are swine and most women are fools"

Monday, September 15, 2008

No. 25 - The Dying Earth

by Jack Vance

Started: September 14
Finished: September 19

Notes: Yet another fantasy book I've been meaning to get to for a while, specifically because the magic system in this one has gone down in gaming history as the source for the original Dungeons and Dragons games' magic system.

Mini review: Not bad. Sort of light science fantasy, reminding me a little of Lord Dunsany and Andre Norton's writings. Not hardcore, but there's enough action and mystery to keep things going. I'd read this author again.

Friday, September 12, 2008

New story available

My short story "A Dragon's Tale" can now be found right here. Check it out, and tell me what you think.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

Story to appear in anthology

My dark Appalachian short story "The Death of Lester Williams" is coming out in November this year in trade paperback in "Deadlines: An Anthology of Horror and Dark Fiction." The anthology is being published by Comet Press, the print division of the webzine Crimson Highway.

My Dragon story published soon

My short story, "A Dragon's Tale," has been accepted and is supposed to come out soon at the webzine Aphelion.

As I've said elsewhere, I'm quite proud of this story. It's one of the oldest, if not the oldest, story I've written that I've still been trying to sell. This tale is about 15 years old, but I've always felt it would find a home. Now it has.

No. 24 - Bran Mak Morn

by Robert E. Howard

Started: September 7
Finished: September 14

Notes: Okay, so I'm back to Sword and Sorcery stories again. This is a collection of short stories about the Pict charecter Bran Mak Morn written by the grandfather of S&S writing, who also happens to be the creator of Conan the Barbarian (and if all you know of Conan is the movies or TV show, then you don't know Conan).

Mini review: Man, I'd forgotten just how well ole Howard could write. Really, some of the short stories here really blew me away. One tale even included Bran Mak Morn, Cormac Mac Art and Kull (all three Howard S&S characters). The only thing that would have made that tale more interesting would have been if Conan or Soloman Kane had showed up! Always worth reading. Robert E. Howard is a god among writers.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

"My current pet peeve," he said.

I've decided I hate the word "said."

Early in my writing career, the idea of writing dialogue bothered me. There was so much advice, and it was difficult to know who to trust. Some authors and writing gurus suggested never, ever using the word "said" because it's boring. Other idjits said to only use the word "said" because anything else looks silly.

I've come to the conclusion that both are right, in a way.

Yes, readers don't want line after line of dialogue that reads like this ...

"I love you," Jane said.
"I know," Jim said.
"No, I really mean it," Jane said.

But readers also don't want something like this ...

"I love you!" Jane exclaimed.
"Do you?" Jim questioned.
"Not really," Jane lied.

Get the idea. And here's another that pretty annoying ...

"I love you," Jane said exasperatedly.
"I don't believe you," Jim said sarcastically.
"You hurt me," Jane said tearfully.

See those -ly words at the end. Those are adverbs. They also happen to be annoying. Adverbs can be used well, but usually in limited use. Generally, kill your adverbs, and a lot of your adjectives too. If you don't know what an adverb or an adjective is ... well, not to be harsh, but you probably shouldn't even be trying to be a writer. At least not until you've studied some more.

But back to hating "said."

After 20 years of writing, I've decided that all the gurus out there can go shove off. The best way to write well is to read well, to pay attention to what authors you like are doing in their text.

When I do that, I don't see the word "said" a whole lot, though I do see it some. I definitely don't see hardly any of those silly adverbs in goofy places.

What I do see is action, action, action.

Example ...

"I love you!" Jane darted across the room and grabbed him by the shoulders.
"I know," Jim said, bringing his lips up to hers.
After the kiss, she leaned away from him, staring into his dark eyes. "I always knew it would be this way."

Okay, so that's not great writing. Sue me. It's not like you're paying me for this blog. But I think you get the idea. Writing the action in with the dialogue works. It might not work well if you did nothing but that (as I did above), but mixing things up a bit never hurts.

I'll keep on using "said," but now I hate it. Which means I won't be using it nearly as much. Which I think will make my writing stronger.