Wednesday, October 30, 2013

2 omnibus editions available in print

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

Monday, October 28, 2013

I've started a new novel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Did I see a ghost? Southern gothic comes to life

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

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

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

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

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

But back to the ghost tours.

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

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

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

Okay, back to Savannah.

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

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

Anyway, the photos.

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

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

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

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

Things got a little more spooky here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

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

by John Gardner

Started: Oct. 2
Finished: Oct. 21

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

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

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Rogue Blades Entertainment is reborn!

To me, this is huge, huge news.

Rogue Blades Entertainment lives again!

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

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

Never count a good swordsman out.

Congrats, Jason! And long live RBE.

Monday, October 07, 2013

'Sever, Slice and Stab' reviewed at Amazing Stories

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

Thanks, Keith!

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

Friday, October 04, 2013

What I want to say about cancer

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

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

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

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

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

Still, I do not have cancer.

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

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

Stop laughing.


Done yet?

Okay, back to cancer.

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

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

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

Stage IV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It happens.

Now stop laughing, and go live your life.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

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

by Leo Tolstoy

translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhansky

Started: Sept. 17
Finished: Oct. 1

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

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