Saturday, December 29, 2007

Devil May Care

I've always been a sucker for exorcism. There's something about a couple priests pushing up their sleeves and heading out to Georgetown to kick a little bit of demon ass. Maybe it's the romantic in me. Imagine then how delighted I was when I heard the pope had announced a "War on Satan" with the intention of setting up exorcism squads. Heart be still. I'm sure George Bush became more than a little aroused.

Apparently the Vatican is concerned about what they see as an increase in interest in the occult. That and poorly printed expiration dates on milk cartons. According to an online Catholic news service, the Vatican has introduced courses for priests to combat what they call the most extreme form of "Godlessness." Furthermore, each bishop will be instructed to have a number of priests in his diocese trained to fight demonic possession.

Why can't Jews be this cool? Why can't the rabbis band together and have squads of holy guys traveling around shaming evildoers? They could wear special uniforms so as not to be mistaken for the Hasidim. I think about these things because someone has to. If I had it my way, Jews would do communion, too. Oh sure, we couldn't do the "body of Christ" thing. We'd have to put a different spin on it. Maybe call it the "the cookie of Aunt Esther". Just thinking out loud.

Forgive me for getting off topic. I just want to tip my hat to the pope. Either Benedict is getting very cool in his old age, or very very crazy. I wonder if he has plans for dealing with cats.

Friday, December 21, 2007

How Lucky For Us All

In the last week, I've heard three people tell me that some oaf has said these hideous words to them: "You're lucky to have a job."

What an odious phrase. Consider its intent. These words are really not meant to offer comfort or congratulation. They are a club to beat someone down and to impress upon them where their station lies. It is a cautionary phrase.

Sadly, it's not only used by people in power, but by people who cling precariously to their station, to their class level, to their own employment. For them it's a phrase which comes from jealousy and bitterness, from their own insecurities.

"They're changing my health benefits."

"Really? Well, I wouldn't complain too loudly. You're lucky to have a job at all."

REALLY? Well since I'm so fortunate, why am I even accepting compensation? Hell, I should turn around and give my employer half my paycheck for being so wonderful as to let me help him make a profit. Perhaps I should elevate him to godhood and supplant the Holy Trinity with the Holy Quartet.

It astonishes me how we accept certain statements and ideas without questioning them. How we love our conditioning.

The next time some miscreant utters those words to me, no matter how well intentioned, I am going to rip open his or her shirt and bite their belly. It might not make a proper political statement, but it will be something to remember.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

THERE AND BACK

Every couple years I tend to slip into a reclusive state. I stay home, read, and try and avoid as much contact with the outside world as possible. When in this state, I tend to avoid the internet and become negligent in returning email. Friends who have known me for a long time tend nod their heads and mumble: "Here he goes again." Some friends give me space and some try and drag me out of my hole.

Since I am writing here, I would say it's a safe bet that I am starting to emerge from hibernation. To those who have wondered what happened to me, that is about all the useful explanation I can offer. I'm not saying I've entirely sluiced loose the cocoon, but it has serious cracks in it.

So, let me dust off the keyboard and reclaim my address at the HOUSE OF STERNBERG.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Teacher's Story

A teacher's story...

A group of students shuffled into a classroom, smiling sheepishly and explaining that the reason they were so miserably late was that they had just had a flat and stopped to change it. The teacher nodded. Then, seperating the students into different corners of the room, asked that each one write on a sheet of paper which tire had been damaged.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Story of Cynical Inspiration


I hate inspirational stories.

In an old non-profit I worked for that did foster care, the executive director would step up at almost every staff meeting and public event and deliver the "Starfish Story". If you don't know it, here is a thumbnail of it:

"A guy walking along the beach after a storm spotted an area where thousands of starfish had washed up on the sand and were drying out and dying in the sun. He came upon another man who was carrying each starfish gingerly back to the ocean. The first man said: 'why do you do this? You can't possibly save the starfish? What does it matter?' The second man held up the starfish and said: 'It matters to this one.'"

Retch.

After listening to this story forever, I wrote a response and mailed it to the executive director of this non-profit agency.

"A man from a nearby fishing villiage was walking along the beach after a storm and spotted an area where thousands of starfish had washed up on the sand and were drying out and dying. He came upon another man carrying each starfish gingerly back to the ocean. The first man said: 'What are you doing? The starfish raid our fishing area. They ruin everything. Starfish are pariahs to us.' The second man shrugged and continued to the ocean. 'Sorry,' he responded. 'I'm only licensed for starfish'."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Time For Rick To Rethink His Avatar


Author Ferrell Moore, a friend and critic, who never updates his blog, and who provides all manner of smug and erudite commentary (designed to bait the gullible) has had this white cat as his avatar.

I think it's time he changes it. It's not that I dislike cats (I do, but that's irrelevant), it's just that I don't think this particular image suits his personality.

And speaking of avatars, I think it's time for Jon Zech to try another as well. Here's Jon's:


See what I mean? Smug. Self-satisfied. Over-confident. You want to just take a magic marker and draw Groucho eyebrows and glasses all over the picture. Good thing I love this guy.

Another avatar begging to be changed? SQT.

Don't defend her. Mystique is an interesting image. It begs for a closer look. But I want something raw. I want something that screams at me, a rage, a fury, an explosion of personality that erupts like a volcano.

Yeah. I could toss up a few more. Charles and his motorcycle (yawn), Jim Miller's Cartman, Pythia's nymph....but I think my point is made and well taken. Time for a change.

Now, I know, there will be some people who will jump to the defense of the cat and the smarmy guy, and they'll do it by attacking "THE CULT OF STERNBERG". Okay. Well, attack away, because in a day or two, I'll practice what I preach and put my new image up. Something that reflects the wry, gentle man with a heart of gold that all who know me come to love. No. Seriously.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

No More Horror

With Halloween over, I hid my horror films and put aside my horror novels. At least for a little while. For the next month I will be watching dramas, comedies, and chick flicks. I sat through "Eight Below" the other night and cried like a little girl with a hormonal abnormality.

Fiction? I'm in the middle of Steinbeck's "Tortilla Flat". When I'm done with this, it's "Cannery Row" and maybe "Of Mice and Men" again. Then....Dickens? Maybe "The Pickwick Papers".

I love horror. But a steady diet of it guaranteed to depress and give one shoulder acne.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Changes In Education

I have a simple question. How much have human beings changed in the last fifty years? I don't mean who we are, I mean what we are. Physically? I think it's a valid question and one worth examination.

As a teacher, I am constantly being told that I have to be accountable. People want me to keep trying different techniques. They say education is failing.

Yet, teachers pretty much do what they did fifty years ago. We assign reading, we engage the students in discussion, we attempt to engage them through interactive activity, we take on the role of Socrates. We assess and check to see what the class isn't getting, target some students who seem to be lagging too far behind, and then we test to check for competency. Sure, teachers are constantly being told to work on critical thinking, to teach to the test, to do a myriad of other things which sound great to the community-at-large, but the basics of teaching haven't changed. Even homeschool teachers can't really teach differently, although they have the advantage of a smaller group of students.

So if education is failing, then what's changed? The teachers? Most teachers I know go through a four year program, majoring in their desired content area. They take two more years after that and get certified. Then, they take eighteen additional college credits over the next five years and assorted professional training experiences.

Over half the teachers graduating college leave the profession within the first five years, so those that remain to teach have accrued some strong knowledge of their craft and appear to have a degree of dedication.

So what has changed? Really? Why is education failing? I go back to the original question: are human beings physically different in how they are able to learn?

Or is it possible society has changed? Could education's failure somehow be influenced by a fifty percent divorce rate or the amount of single parents? Could it somehow be influenced by the amount of time students spend in front of a television, playing videogames or watching vapid programming? Could it be somehow influenced by the diets of the young, manifested by the obesity level in the country? Could it be influenced by the elements within the government who, desiring to implement an agenda of privatization and politicization, twist curriculum this way and that?

So what's changed?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Last Night

I live in a working class neighborhood and we get a fairly large amount of kids on Halloween. I have some observations from last night:

1) A large amount of our trick-or-treaters dressed up as soldiers. Some wore bandages. I've always seen kids dressing up as militarymen, but this time there were more of them. Not sure what that means. One thing I can say: watching those kids walk away from me was an eerie experience. I prayed that they wouldn't be wearing real uniforms and marching off to war in the next ten years or so.

2)In Detroit, where the Pistons, Tigers, or Red Wings didn't have championship seasons, there were scant amounts of kids wearing sports getups. No kid was seen in a Lions outfit, but then, no kid is ever seen in a Lions' outfit. Maybe this will change in the next year or so, but I doubt it.

3) Retreads and Make Do's constituted the bulk of outfits. It was almost as though this year parents threw together last minute things for their kids or bought whatever was on sale at the store. Of course, this meant a healthy mixture of faeries, monsters, and ninjas. Among the littlest kids, Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles were hot.

I'm not sure what these costumes say about conditions in my area. We probably have the highest number unemployment numbers and foreclosures in the country. Things in Michigan are pretty dismal. I get the feeling that next year, it won't be the kids that will be coming around for handouts, but the parents.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Journal


I often discuss writing journals with other writers and am surprised by the resistance I find. Here are some common objections:


"I don't want to write in something everyday, it's too confining. It makes me feel like I'm back in school." "I forget to write entries and then I feel 'what's the use?'" "If I have something to write, then I would prefer it be a story."


Writers' journals are fine for some. Not fine for others. I love them.


My wife bought me a journal of crisp white paper with an attractive, sturdy leather binding. I take it with me most everywhere I go and write in it on a daily basis. In it are passages which will sometimes end up in short stories, or sometimes I'll write detailed outlines for stories I am considering. Occasionally I will set down three or four story concepts, often no longer than a few sentences, hoping this will spur me to write. It's not for everybody, but it works for me.


Here is an example from my writers' journals of ideas which may or may not become something. I'll write them down exactly as they were in my journal just to show the process I go through. Who knows if any of the ideas will become anything:


The Statues- a man moves onto a block with curious and imaginative children. They are in awe when he puts on his lawn two or three grotesque statues. The children start to notice that the statues poses seem to change slightly from day to day.


When The Weathervane Lied- 1930's. A poor farming family in Oklahoma is about to lose its farm. Grandmother: "Fortunes change --weathervane says so." The family faces a murderous dust storm. Someone comes to the door, a thin man with a bandana over his nose and mouth. The grandmother sees him and says: "Don't let him in!" The father gives the stranger charity.

Stranger: "Funny thing about doin' good. People reach out and give a man a hand up. Sometimes they do it and it's automatic. They just do good without thinking about it. They just do." Father: "It's Christian to be charitable." Stranger: "Is it Christian when charitability becomes a habit." Father: "I don't get your meaning." Stranger: "The old lady didn't want me in here. The old lady was right." Father: "Ma don't mean nothin'." Stranger: "But she was right. You should have listened to her. When I leave here in the next couple minutes, I'm takin' your children with me."


Finding The Road: A Nazi concentration camp officer is shown to be a normal individual. Whatever his conflict is, the concentration camp must be nothing but a background, all violence and gore portrayed in a mundane manner. The story is theme driven, showing that the Nazis are not monsters, but humans doing monsterous things. As such, the terror should be found in the potential for all of us to play the role of monster.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Zombie Freak Out

"Zombie freak out," I said.

My wife, who is used to such unprovoked outbursts, stared at the road ahead, ignoring me. The silence sat between us until she couldn't stand it any longer. "Okay," she asked. "So what's a zombie freak out?"

"I have this idea. We need to get about ten to twelve people together and dress them up as zombies."

She waited. She waited a bit longer. "And?"

"And we turn them loose in different places. Maybe one night let them wander through a car lot on a busy road; another night we could all go to the airport, maybe they can hang out in the bathroom there like Sen. Larry Craig; another night we could all go to a local McDonalds, maybe all of us just order the Apple Pie. Who knows, maybe it could get popular. We could put an ad in the local paper advertising future zombie freakouts."

She nodded. "Zombie freak out," she said. "Cool."

"Cool."

Another ten miles of silence. "Vampire Wilding."

She didn't ask.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Burning Times



"No more burning times," shouted the man on the stage. Dressed in a buckskin suit with a long braid running down his back, the man raised a militant fist. The pagans around me raised their fists and returned the chant.

"What burning times are we talking about?" I asked the person next to me.

"You know, in Europe."

As a person who considers himself well-schooled in history, I scratched my head. "The Inquisition?"

"It's called by many names. We were persecuted. My people have been persecuted for centuries."

"Your people?"

"The Wiccans. Witches. The Christians tried to exterminate us."

"Wicca hasn't exactly been a codified religion," I protested. "And the Inquisition wasn't just a religious event, it was also political. The church was using its power to solidify its control. They were burning anyone who got in their way."

"They were burning witches."

"And a bunch of other people. Besides, most of the people burned as witches weren't witches."

The person looked at me with a hurt expression. "I expected you to be more understanding about genocide. Look what the Germans did to your people. The Jews."

I didn't trust myself to respond.

Someone came by selling candies shaped as something called "The Green Man". The man on the stage had stepped aside for entertainment: a man with a bare torso who was spinning in circles while banging a tambourine and singing elongated vowels.

I nodded and bought myself a "Green Man."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Not Feeling The Love

I thought to myself: why don't I join the Horror Writers Association? You know, the people who give out the much politicized Bram Stokers Award. I thought, hey, why not. You can communicate with other writers, have other writers communicate with you, and join that big happy much politicized group.

I sent them the application fee and waited. Nothing. Not even an acknowledgment. I waited an appropriate period of time and sent a gentle prod to see if there might be something awry. Nothing.

At least magazines send out rejection letters.

Maybe some of you who are members of this esteemed group can send emails to your organization and tell them to maybe give me a buzz and let me know what the deal is. Just a thought.

Friday, October 19, 2007

DAED GNIVIL EHT FO KCATTA


Since we're still revving up for Halloween, allow me to turn my attention from the exploitation of vampires to another form of undead, the Zombie.

Prior to seeing George Romero's unintentional iconic rip off of "Last Man On Earth", starring Vincent Price, I associated the zombie with such films as Val Lewton's "I Walked With A Zombie", Hammers' "Plague of the Zombies" and "White Zombie" starring Bela Lugosi. In these films, the zombie is a product of a dark Voodoo rite. Magic.

In the late sixties, Romero added a new twist.

No Voodoo rites in "Night of the Living Dead", but rather some strange radiation animated corpses, turning them into unthinking flesh eating machines. So successful was this manifestation of the zombie that Romero's vision now permeates most fiction and film dealing with the undead.

I've been tackling the topic myself. It's difficult. In writing stories featuring the more modern version of the zombie, I am foreced to grapple with an apocalyptic image where the protagonist is doomed to failure; where the defeat of mankind at the hands of nature is inevitable. Such a restrictive and depressive setting isn't easy fodder. I mean, how many different ways can you set up a protagonist to deal with the zombie threat in a crumbling infrastructure that resembles Baghdad at high noon.

What complicates such a story for me is the inevitability of the protagonist's demise. Sure, they may defeat the immediate zombie threat, but ultimately the undead are going to get them.

Brian Keene (one of several authors who have tackled this sub genre approach) in "The Rising" and "City of the Dead" shows exactly what the problem is. He creates engaging drama and likeable characters, but they of course end up as most protagonists in these tales end up, serving as a main course for the undead. Still, Keene's books are worth reading. He is entertaining and his novels are page turners.

Personally, I hate writing a story where the protagonist dies. I want my characters to triumph, or at least not fall under the wheel of a steamroller. I believe readers deserve more than to be shot down after investing in a character's development. Readers want a catharsis. The reader, who has given emotional time to the writer, wants to experience some sense of purging.

When writing about things Lovecraftian, I take care to carry this belief forward. In the world of Lovecraft, it's easy to kill off protagonists as they are overwhelmed by a reality that is nihilistic and beyond any mortal understanding. I won't spill the beans about what happens to my characters in "The Others", my contribution to "High Seas Cthulhu", but I'll just say that my character lives through the end of the story. Maybe changed, but he lives. The reader is allowed a catharsis.

Poe wrote that without hope there cannot be terror. Without hope there is only a tale of the fatalistic. The doomed man who knows his fate with a certainty that does little to spark horror. The doomed man who thinks that perhaps there is a chance, even only a sliver, engages the reader and creates the dramatic tension and suspense.

I will finish my novel "Food For The Flies", which features good old-fashioned Voodoo zombism, but I'll also attempt to chew my way through a Romeroesque zombie story. I think maybe that I have something to offer readers.

I hope.

And that's really the key to horror, isn't it? Hope.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Vampire Preservation Society



With Halloween around the corner, I want to return to a particular complaint that I'm sure I've mentioned before, but it needs repeating. What prompted this forthcoming rant was a book by Brandon Massey called "Dark Corner". I read the first chapter, having no prior knowledge of what the book might be about. It began promisingly enough. An African American goes south to live in the home of his now dead famous father. The characters were engaging and whet my appetite. But then...then Massey began Chapter Two with a tall man in black sitting in first class on an airplane, a metrosexual vampire drinking blood through a straw from a juice pack. I threw the book aside and began this rant.


An open letter to would-be horror writers and urban fantasists.

Dear Sir or Madame,

Leave the vampires alone.

I understand that they are alluring and that these manifestations of repressed Victorian sexuality are irrestistable as you attempt to draw in readers by playing upon their own power and repressed sexuality issues. However, in writing about these dark creatures and in giving them all the neurosis of metrosexuals in heat, you rob them of their primal energy. You take away that which has made them fearful, that which has haunted our subconscious and thrilled us and instead left behind a pale, ineffectual doppleganger.

I remember the thrill I had watching "Nightstalker" for the first time. The made for TV film followed a vampire as he hunted prey in Las Vegas. No charming foreigner there, with smoldering good looks and a seductive smile. No. Kolchak's prey was the vampire revealed. The cruel animalistic bloodsuck, drinking our fear along with our blood, chewing through our psyche, devouring it as though chewing through popcorn at a midnight show.

Dan Curtis' Barnabus Collins. I know some will think that he was a fop, a pathetic troll trapped in a daytime drama. However, every so often, Jonathan Frey showed what lay beneath the romanticized version of evil, and it wasn't pretty. Not one bit. Love him all you want, you lovers of "Buffy" (one of the greatest offenders) but when given rein, Barnabus was evil without bottom. He was darkness come solid.

Shall we talk about Simon Clark's creations? What about Dracula as drawn by Bram Stoker, without the baggage given him by Hollywood? Shall we discuss Robert R. McCammon's "They Thirst"? What about F. Paul Wilson's "Midnight Mass"? Or King's "Salem's Lot"?

I won't throw blame though. I won't wail about Anne Rice, nor shall I stake poor Laurell K. Hamilton. I won't even turn a critical eye toward the likes of Mary Janice Davidson and her Queen Betsy series (you really don't want to know). Let me instead just extend my arms in supplication and beg that these writers stop. Go pick on someone else. Leave the vampires alone. Write stories about uncertified car mechanics. That can be terrifying. Write about professional soccer players transplanted to the U.S.. Egads!!!!! Just turn away from the nightstalkers. Stop. Now.

Given time, these creatures of shadow can reclaim their mystique. The word VAMPIRE can regain some of its iconic horror. The mind heals. The culture forgives.

So turn back to the light where you really belong, and leave the darkness to us who know it and love it.

Stewart Sternberg

Monday, October 15, 2007

Markets of the Dead


Madness. Madness, I tell you.

This was a quiet convention, as conventions go. I went last year to Conclave in Romulus and I would wager there was a sizable drop in attendance this year. I'm not sure why, although I can tell you it took them forever to get the programming together, and once together, the number of panels and presentations from last year were down considerably, with no focus or thread seeming to hold the convention together.

Still, it was fun to drag people in for refreshments while hawking the official release of "High Seas Cthulhu." And magically, I even got to sign a few books. I liked doing that so much, I might just start hanging out in libraries and scribbling in the flyleafs, maybe even forging names as I go along, leaving behind a trail of signatures from Sinclair Lewis to John Steinbeck. Of course, no one seems to take these books out any longer, so my wit may go unappreciated for years.

What's next? I am still pounding away at a novel revision and working on short stories to hawk to an ever shrinking market. Little by little the number of anthologies and magazines are vanishing, stepping off into the dismal clouds of yesteryear.

Years ago, when magazines seemed aplenty, and I'm talking about the forties, fifties, and sixties many writers were publishing their work in mimeographed anthologies and collections of fan fiction. Of course why mimeograph when we have the internet?

I'm working on a piece of fiction now, which should be done by Thursday, hopefully. When this is finished (it's called 'Dead Memories', a better moniker than its working title of 'Zombie Love'), I'll send it out snail mail to the handful of magazines still printing and paying something close to five cents a word. When they reject it, it's off to the five to fifteen dollar a story internet publications. And if they won't print it, why...then it's the freebies.

Writing may be all about the publishing, but when no one is publishing or buying, what's a writer to do?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Assignment ...Chesterfield Writers



Two people at the writers' group complained they couldn't get anything going. Jon threatened to put a request for ideas on his blog to spur him to write. The other person begged for a writing assignment.

I haven't done much formal writing (well, except for today) but I have been religiously keeping a writers' journal.

I don't believe in writers' block, by the way. I believe that if you can't move forward on one project, you should shift gears and try something else. Leave your short story alone and go write a paragraph of description. Forget the chapter you're working on, go write a character description. Detail it. Make it your own.

Don't use these diversions as an excuse though. Go back to what you were working on and force yourself to continue.

So, people need ideas, hmmm? Let me then propose an assignment for the Thursday group. You are all welcomed to participate, and I'll publish a link to anyone who sends me one for what they produce. Deadline: Tuesday, the sixteenth of October.

Assignment: A relationship has ended, but one person is in total denial. Extreme denial. Absurd denial. Here we have two important elements for fiction, character development and conflict. If you want extra points, try black comedy. Limit...2000 words. Or more. No poetry.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

It's Alive! It's Alive! It's Alive!


Frankenstein looks at his creation, seeing its hands move on their own, its eyelids fluttering open. He looks toward the sky and maniacally proclaims: "It's alive!!!"

I've always loved the Frankenstein legend and its many incarnations. I've loved the original Karloff version, the latter Hammer films, and even Peter Boyle as the misunderstood lug in "Young Frankenstein".

Mary Shelly's horror story, a gothic morality tale, was at once horror and science fiction.

Now, according to an article recently published in the "Guardian", a Nobel laureate named Hamilton Smith has already constructed a synthetic chromosome. Or another way to put it, scientists are now claiming to have achieved Frankenstein's illusory dream, the creation of life. Well, sort of.

According to the article:

"The new life form will depend for its ability to replicate itself and metabolise on the molecular machinery of the cell into which it has been injected, and in that sense it will not be a wholly synthetic life form. However, its DNA will be artificial, and it is the DNA that controls the cell and is credited with being the building block of life."

If you would like to read the whole article, here is the link for the Guardian.

Frankenstein created one monster, and never had to deal with issues regarding bioterrorism, or the political horrors of eugenics. Instead the theme was easily boiled down to the oft repeated line:

"He dabbled in things that were best left alone."

Why is it that when science fiction starts approaching the realm of science fact, it becomes more terrifying than anything presented in fiction. Don't get me wrong. I am all for advances in science. I don't harbor concerns about playing god. Instead, my night terrors involve what should happen when this technology is driven by corporate profit and not by any degree of moral or ethical responsibility.

I'm not stating that the people working on this project aren't ethical, but let's look at contemporary history.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

See Ya At The Conclave

On October 13th, Elder Signs Press will be hosting a coming out party for "High Seas Cthulhu" at the Conclave 32 Convention in Romulus, Michigan. Conclave is the place where I had my first experience with that group of people who call themselves the "furries" because they dress up as cute, fuzzy little animals. I can't explain it past that. The convention is also an great place to immerse oneself in the fantasy fan and gaming subculture. I'm looking forward to it.

One thing which will be a first experience for me is to be present for a book signing. Several writers who contributed to the anthology will be available for a "meet and greet" and to autograph copies of "High Seas Cthulhu".

Friday, September 28, 2007

FRONTIER CTHULHU...available now for pre-order


People have asked: Where's Stewart? Okay, well..maybe some people have asked that. Somewhere.

I have been amazingly busy with the new school year. It may be a bit before things lighten up. I just thought in the meantime that I would announce the release of FRONTIER CTHULHU. Published by Chaosium and edited by William Jones. This anthology, like the Elder Signs Press anthology "High Seas Cthulhu" is a collection of stories dealing with the mythos created by H. P. Lovecraft. It also features my own story, "Children of the Mountain".
Available for pre-order now, releasing officially October 26th. Holy Halloween!

If you want to read more about "Frontier Cthulhu" check out this entry in William Jones' blog. I'll be writing more about this and an upcoming convention in a few days.

Monday, September 17, 2007

J

Watching Darren Brown closely, a theatrical person from the British Isles who uses psychology, manipulation and showmanship to pull off some amazing feats, I got an idea to try to duplicate one of the stunts I saw him perform on television.

The trick is simple...I make an "m'', a casual drawn out consonant, pressing my lips together. I rub my face a couple times, I even use my fingers to form an "M", crooking the first three fingers of my right hand. As I'm....U-m-m-m-m-m-m-m...doing this I tell the person across from me that I am picking a letter. "Ummmmmmmm", hand gesture...rub face...

"I'm picking a letter and I want you to tell me what it is. Just tell me the first one that comes to mind."

Now when Darren Brown did this on TV, the person across from him of course said: "M?" Absolutely correct!!!! Smashing!!!!

Me? About eight out of ten people have chosen the letter "J". WHAT ????

I'm obviously doing something to influence folks subliminally, but everything I try and do is supposed to manipulate a person into picking "M". Yet, eight out of ten pick "J".

Don't get me wrong. Having this many people picking "J" is pretty impressive. But I don't know how I do it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Below Decks

I have just finished applying for membership with the Horror Writers Association. The HWA. I'm tempted to quote Groucho Marx: "Why would I want to belong to any organization that would have me as a member?"

Speaking of which...

A few of us were gently chiding William Jones about his tendency to not do introductions for his anthologies. His response was that introductions (including little tidbits about why a certain story was selected for an anthology) tended to be more popular among writers than among readers. Maybe. But I've always loved things that help me appreciate what I am about to read.

William acquiesced to our nagging. No, he didn't suddenly insert comments in "HIGH SEAS CTHULHU". Instead, he made available on his blog comments from the writers about their work. He has cleverly titled this: High Seas Cthulhu, Below Decks.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sexy Beast

Are writers sexy?

Can one use one's writing skills to attract members of the opposite sex? I'm trying to think of the last playmate who listed "writing" in her profile.

Ah...yes...pimping the writing.

You know, I used to walk into a bar and sidle up to a fox, one hand in my belt, one hand toying suggestively with the gold chain I wore about my neck. With the disco ball spinning and Barry
White crooning in the background, I would wait until the right moment and then whip out a page of manuscript.

"Um..." she would usually respond, eyeing the paper with curiousity as a flush rose from her throat to her cheeks.

"Yeah...I....write," I would respond. "I write....a lot. Wanna see?"

I never waited for a response. Instead, I would craft a word, right there in front of her. Using a Bic medium point black ink pen, I'd write something like: "Hammer" or "Screw".

Nouns..go for the jugular, I thought. Stay away from the adjectives and verbs. Women want something they can wrap their hands around.

If she nibbled at this bait, I would offer to take her back to the apartmentand write an entire sentence. Compound.

You're a writer, you work with what you have. Are writers sexy? You bet your adjective.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

To Jim Miller

Jim Miller appeared at the writers' group, bringing with him a notebook and a look of nervous anticipation. He had taken a class in writing at Macomb County Community College and decided that he wanted to be creative in a way that his current job with a large advertising wouldn't allow him to be.

"What did you bring?" asked Jon.

"I really..." he said, shuffling some papers.

"No, go ahead. Did you bring something?"

"I don't feel comfortable reading..."

"We're interested," said Jon. Jon tends to be more nurturing than I. I think I might have just asked him his blood type.

That was well over a year ago. Since then Jim has quit his job, moved to Florida with his family, and entered the Masters program to try for a degree in Creative Writing.

Jim is driven. He is often soft-spoken, quick to smile, and studies his environment with a keen eye. He is a smart man who enjoys discovery. He has a wry sense of wit.

The one thing about getting to know Jim which was most frustrating for me was that just as he and I were settling into a comfortable friendship, he moved. I miss him.

So visit his site. Read his work. Here's to Jim. I hope I kill him in fantasy football.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Heading Back



Summer is drawing to a close, and with it my freedom. It also means I'll have to leave the Tigers and let them just figure things out in the bullpen. I know Leyland will be devastated, but if they had listened to me in the first place and done something in the off season about the pitching squad and not just picked up Jose Mesa, or picked up a fresh arm before the trade deadline at the end of July, they wouldn't be so upset about seeing me head off to school.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Halo 3, World of Warcraft, and Fantasy Football

Halo 3 is coming out in a week and yet I still do not own an XBOX360.

You're going to hear a lot about this game. It will receive the same media blitz as a big feature motion picture. Of course it probably doesn't need a such massive promotion; it's already presold a million copies. For a game, that is astonishing. It's likely that Microsoft's Halo 3 will challenge several records. To put it in perspective, "Spiderman 3" made 150 million in its first weekend. Microsoft is hoping to make 155 million in one day's sales.

Is it worth it? I can't review Halo 3, but I can tell you that based on the first two games, yeah..it probably will be. The first was astonishing. It had amazing graphics, magnificent gameplay, and a story that unrolled to envelop the gamer, building to a wonderful climax. The second game was as exciting graphically, but the story stuttered a little and just as it built to a climax in what should have been an ultimate battle, Microsoft cheated and left gamers hanging. A cliffhanger wouldn't have been too horrible if the game hadn't been too short.

The third in the series promises to utilize the XBOX's amazing processor as well as deliver a more compelling story than the second title. I want this game. But I'll probably hold off on buying an XBOX360 for a few more months.

In the meantime? Need you ask? World of Warcraft? Well maybe ... but as September approaches so does fantasy football. And in a year where I have a lineup of Eli Manning, Larry Johnson, Javon Walker, Clinton Portis, Braylon Edwards, The Chargers' Defense and David Akers kicking, let's just say I'm hoping to be competitive.

So that's it...the gaming continues, but I promise that with the school year approaching, I'll be gaming less and less.

It's probably a good thing I don't own that XBOX360

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

ASSIGNMENT: LEARNING CURVE

In the last few weeks I've made numerous postings about writing, mostly dealing with business prospects. Maybe it's time for something a little interactive.

With the coming of September, this blog will take on a more regular posting schedule. To get that underway and to return to the purpose of this blog, to force me to keep focused on the mechanics of writing as well as the business aspects of craft, I am setting up a writing assignment for myself. Of course, this means that anyone who wishes to join along is welcome to send along a link via email to an entry on their website and I will post it on Tuesday, August 28 so people can read, enjoy, critique, comment and what have you.

The assignment? Education, of course. Whether it is an essay, an anecdote, a short story, or a poem..it should deal with the experience of learning. If you're doing a short story, then the suggested title: Learning Curve.

(picture from strangecosmos.com)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Staying Inside The Lines

Small children will sit in front of a television and watch the same show over and over again. Parents complain, maddened at having to sit through "The Lion King" or "Cars" for the fiftieth time. But are the adults so different from the children?

Someone recently said to me: "People like the familiar. They don't mind twists on the familiar, but they want something comfortable." Writing is like that. When a reader picks up a spy novel, they want a spy novel. And there are rules that writer is supposed to follow within that subgenre. When people read a vampire story or a zombie tale, they expect the author will work within their expectations or else have a strong reason why they are coloring outside the lines.

Strange that we spend so much energy exalting the "original" and the "creative". I'm not condemning, just observing.

I think that the brilliance of some writing is the ability of the author to take the familiar and present it in such a manner as to strike deeply resonating chords within the reader. Whether the author does that by deliberately following a Campbell model of archetypes, or by following an intuitive bend, success is measured by reader response.

Reader response.

I've been critical of writers who create without consideration of readership. I've scoffed at those who are acclaimed great writers for producing books nearly indecipherable. Is originality an illusion, or a matter of timing and perspective?

Stephen King, a writer with whom I have a love/hate relationship (I just recently gave up on trying to make it through "The Gunslinger") is a master at playing to that part of the human psyche that sits on the floor cross-legged, smiling dreamily while proclaiming: "Tell me that story again. Tell me again the part with the old man."

King stays colors within the lines. It's his genius to do so. Giving the public what they want may not win a person literary praise by ivy league critics, but it improves chances of publication.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mr. Cronin's Book

If you want to find out how many cds sell, if you want to find out how a certain film does in terms of box office receipts, this information is fairly available. Yet why is it that if you want to know how many copies of a certain book title passed through retail, the information becomes a bit more difficult to obtain.

Don't believe me? Go ahead and try and do a search of a particular title to see how many copies were sold. You can ask the publisher, but that's no guarantee that information is going to be forthcoming.

Now you're probably thinking: what about bestsellers lists like the New York Times' survey? You'll notice no number of books sold is detailed there.

If you want information, you have to subscribe to Nielsen. You know, the same people who magically rate your television watching. Nielsen keeps track of retail sales but you have to pay. It will cost about eighty dollars for one title, with discounts available if you want to see more. And even then, the information doesn't take into account some of the smaller presses' distributions.

Why is this important to anyone writing? Because we're basically masochistic people and the more we hear about how difficult it is to succeed in our profession, the happier we are. And also, at some point a writer needs to ask: how many copies of a book sold is a sign of success. It helps to be able to track other writers and titles and do comparisons. It helps too when writing and marketing a title. Shelf lives are short and retailers are picky about what risks they want to take with their floor space. Scratch that. Retailers don't take chances.

Except...

A story is circulating through the literary world about a bidding war that recently went down for a writer's unfinished manuscript about vampires in an apocalyptic setting. A bidding war? Who was the author? Stephen King? Anne Rice? Laurell K. Hamilton?

No.

The author's unfinished manuscript will be published under an unknown non-de-plume. And even if you did know the writer's name, chances are you haven't heard of him before nor read his prior work. The author is Jordon Ainsley (real name Justin Cronin). His prior work? A book you've probably not heard of: "Mary and O Neill", one of those literary pieces few people read which also manages to win the Pen/Hemingway Award. The what? And then there was also "The Summer Guest".

No history of genre writing. No track record with the fans.

And yet Mr. Cronin or Mr. Ainsley if you prefer, gets almost four million dollars for an unfinished manuscript in what will be the first of a vampire trilogy.

HEY!!!! FOX!!!!! If you want unfinished manuscripts and outlines, I got some for you!!! You want vampires? I'll give you vampires. If you want to read more about this go here.

The world of publishing remains a mystery to me. I guess my problem is that I see the world through left wing glasses. Maybe if I clean them and try putting on my "Capitalism Is Neat" basenball cap, it would make a little more sense.

Or not.



Monday, August 06, 2007

Reading As Writer

Someone wrote to me about two stories in a magazine, commenting that one story would be a favorite of the readers of the magazine and the other would be a favorite of the writers. I thought about this and wonder if this is a distinction worthy of exploration.

Do writers read differently than people who have no intention on spinning tales of their own?

There are many times that I read something and pick it apart, looking for construction and how character is developed and plot unveiled. Those times, I will study paragraph construction and sentence usage. As a matter of fact I've found myself doing that today while reading Stephen King's "The Gunslinger", which is the first of the "Dark Tower" series. But then, there are other works of fiction that I devour without any consideration as to form.

When I worked as a film critic, I seldom broke apart a film until after I had watched it. As I told someone: "If I am sitting there thinking about acting, direction, and editing, then something is wrong. I should be immersed in the experience."

Should the same thing be said about writing? As we read should we be enjoying the experience, or is it a failure if we find ourselves picking it apart as we go along? Or as writers do we approach the craft or art with a different perspective? There's no right or wrong answer or perspective here, it's just something to think about when reading.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Awardings

I've just finished "The Rising" by Brian Keene. It's a well written book that pulls the reader along, milking the theme of a plague of zombies for all its worth. And tomorrow, I'll probably head over to the book store and get the sequel (trust me, the way this ends, picking up the sequel is a must...and if I had known the ending ahead of time, I would have had the sequel waiting). I recommend this book. Keene's novel deserves to be read by fans of horror. But did it deserve to win the Bram Stoker First Novel award in 2003?

For those who don't know, The Bram Stoker Award (named for the author of "Dracula") is the annual award for fiction given each year by the Horror Writers of America. It's something to be coveted, or at least I used to think so. That's before I started reading the list of other novels that have won the award over the last several years. Here's a sample of winners in the Novel category and First Novel category over the last few years:

2006---Novel: Lisey's Story by Stephen King (Scribner)/First Novel: Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry (Pinnacle)

2005--Novel: (tie) Creepers by David Morrell and Dread in the Beast by Charlee Jacob/First Novel: Scarecrow Gods by Weston Ochse

2004--Novel: In the Night Room by Peter Straub/First Novel: (tie) Covenant by John Everson and Stained by Lee Thomas

2003--Novel: lost boy lost girl by Peter Straub/First Novel: The Rising by Brian Keene

(if you want a more complete list, follow this link...)


Now while I've read several of these novels on the full list and consider many well-written and entertaining, some have in no way been deserving of a Bram Stoker Award. I won't mention which, but the I'll raise the question as to whether or not some of these nominations are the result of self-serving politics.

And I'm not just picking on the Stoker Awards. I've been unable to watch an Academy Awards presentation for years without rolling my eyes and shaking my head. Can the same be said for The Edgar Allen Poe Awards, given by Mystery Writers of America; or The Hugo Award for science fiction, given by the World Science Fiction Society, or the Golden Heart Award by the Romance Writers of America.

I'll bet that most of these awards are the result of haggling and politicking between agents, editors, and publishers. That there is an enormous amount of favor promising and favor collecting going on during the process.

So, does that make these awards less important to their winners? Does it mean anything to the person who picks up a copy of a novel and sees that the author is the former recipient of a Golden Heart?

I'll tell you one advantage to the reader. More than likely, a book nominated for one of these awards is probably not going to be a total waste of time. Looking over the list of nominees for Stokers is how I found "The Rising". Do I consider it worthy of the award? No. But I'd still recommend it for purchase and for a good scare or two. So Mr. Keene, wherever you are, please don't take offense. I don't know if I'm making a comment about your novel so much as I'm commenting about my own naiveté and the world of marketing.

And hey..I still haven't gotten an award for blogging, so there's still integrity out there somewhere.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

For The Manly

As a writer I am always sensitive to the presence of archetypes in literature and film, and while I extol the virtue of character development beyond these archetypes, it is sometimes fun to celebrate the appearance and endurability of these iconic figures. Okay, I'll put it differently...

I've been recently playing Warcraft and glutting myself on testosterone inducing cinematic experiences. You know, macho films. Manly movies. Studly Cinema. Is there anything more inspiring (in a manly way) than John Wayne taking the reins in his teeth as he charges down a hill to meet the badguys, both hands filled with hot iron? Is there anything more inspiring than the manly self sacrifice of Bogart, looking down at Bergman as he intones: "You're getting on that plane. If you don't you'll regret it. Maybe not tomorrow, or the next day, but soon and for the rest of your life. We'll always have Paris. Here's looking at you, kid."

Icons. Indiana Jones, Hans Solo, Harry Callahan, Rooster Cogburn, James Bond.

So, before slipping away once again to do battle in cyberspace, here's a quick nod to my own list of the ten greatest guy films in cinema. In no certain order:

1) Magnificent Seven
2) The Great Escape
3) Star Wars
4) Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark
5) The Dirty Dozen
6) Bullitt
7) Die Hard
8) XXX
9) Predator
10) True Grit

yeah, there are more..and manly men know them and celebrate their manliness.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Warcraft

I make no apologies. I have been in the throes of "World of Warcraft", and as soon as I am done posting here, I'm heading back. You wanna criticize someone? Go to Chuck Zaglanis' blog and give him hell. He's the one who turned me onto this damned thing.

And there's so much I could have been posting about. I could have been writing about the cat who lives in a nursing home and intuitively snuggles up to patients hours before they die (yeesh!); I could have been bashing the Bush administration and the upcoming constitutional crisis; or I could have been waxing and waning about the Detroit Tigers. But no-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o, what do I do? I play World of Warcraft.

So I'm off...and no apologies. Thanks Chuck.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Go Away Tom

I know many people who read this blog aren't fond of my political posts. So, I'll just slip this in and then I promise, I'll do another post for the rest of you later tonight or tomorrow.

Tom Delay, the former House Majority Leader, the guy who resigned from office because of an ongoing investigation into his involvement with Abramov and other corruptions, spoke before a group of Young Republicans the other day. Ordinarily I would let this pass, but considering how hilarious and sad his statements, and considering how he remains a fixture in the national Republican party, I thought I would print this quote attributed to Delay from the The Huffington post"

"I contend [abortion] affects you in immigration," DeLay told the Washington-area gathering. "If we had those 40 million children that were killed over the last 30 years, we wouldn't need the illegal immigrants to fill the jobs that they are doing today. Think about it."

So, Tom, the implication here is that abortion is depriving the country of an underclass and makes it necessary for us to bring in illegals? Now whether you agree or disagree with abortion, I'm sure you will look at this point of view as being rather frightening.

I'm surprised Tom hasn't included a statment about genetic engineering.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Just whining

Sometimes when in a writing slump, I look to the web for inspiration. Let's see...ah The National Endowment for the Arts! Yes, I think, they usually have something inspiring. I shake my head as I read that more than half of the adults in the United States won't pick up a novel this year. Sonovabitch.

And apparently that rate of decline has tripled in the last ten years.

Hell. You're being published depends, of course, on supply and demand. If there isn't a demand for your type of literature out there, then why should someone invest in your manuscript?

So who reads? The greatest market is composed of married, middle-age career women who make an average of $88,000 a year and have at least a bachelor's degree, says a new survey. This, from the Chicago Sun-Times.

According to the article nearly 43 percent want to write novels as well.

What does this mean for genres such as horror? spy thrillers? Obviously, romance doesn't have to worry. On another blog I bemoaned the amazing amount of fantasy on the shelves and the shrinking numbed of hard science fiction titles. Of course, science fiction and horror have always been marginal, so I'm not really complaining.

So what's on the Barnes and Noble bestsellers' list this week? 1)The Quickie by James Patterson 2) A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini 3)High Noon by Nora Roberts 4)Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich 5) The Judas Strain by James Rollins 6) Double Take by Catherine Coulter 7)The Bourne Betrayal by Robert Ludlum 8) The Bungalow 2 by Danielle Steele 9) The Navigator by Clive Cussler 10) The 6th Target by James Patterson

Do you notice how some of these names seem to be on the bestsellers' list over and over again, summer after summer, year after year? New authors have a hard time squeezing in unless the corporations are willing to back them, and to be honest, would you rather back Danielle Steele or Stewart Sternberg. Danielle Steele is going to guarantee you solid sales, regardless of the quality of her fiction. Sternberg? He's going to guarantee you headaches.

It's harder than ever to have a novel published (congrats, Charles), and publishing doesn't mean success. Consider that the average shelf life of a book at your local store is six weeks. Hmmm...for people who read one novel every couple of years, that means they are going to be missing some major titles.

These statistics shouldn't scare writers away from their craft, but it might help them put it in a more realistic perspective. Selling's a bitch. Writing is a business. Be a writer, but be a businessman, or businesswoman. Yeah, go ahead and hold your nose in the air and say something about art. I don't want to hear it.

Save it for creative writing class. Maybe someone there will care. But for most, they aren't publishers, are they?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Mr. Irrelevant

Have you ever heard of Marty Moore, Fred Zirkie, or Mike Green? I don't see how you could have missed them? What about Kevin McMahan, Andre Sommersell, or Ryan Hoag? These men have all earned the unique title: "Mr. Irrelevant". Yes, I know I'd want that on my resume.

Apparently "Mr. Irrelevant" is the title given to the last person in the NFL draft each year. When I think about how painful it was being picked last in sandlot from time to time, I can't imagine the humiliation and misery of being selected "Mr. Irrelevant". Pick 255.

Rookie camp must be heaven for these fellows. And you're probably wondering what team picked Mr. Irrelevant this year. Get ready. ...The Detroit Lions.

Dear God. So not only is Ramzee Robinson the new Mr. Irrelevant, but he plays for Team Irrelevant. I want to cry for this man. I want to offer him cookies and take him to Cedar Point to enjoy the carousel. I want to tell him that things won't always be this bad.

Starting today, I'm raising a mug of beer to this hero of heroes, Ramzee Robinson. Be brave Ramzee. Know that being on the worst team in football means that you've most likely found a home. They'll probably make you first string.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Windsor Incident

In journalism the mid to late summer is sometimes referred to as "Silly Season". Mostly because the dog days of summer tend to offer up few major news stories and so serious media sometimes turns to something frivilous to hold reader interest. So what sort of stories will the press dredge up? Bigfoot sightings, Men In Black, and UFO sightings are all ripe for this time of year. And mostly fun.

Stories about Roswell are big right now, there's an expedition getting ready to hunt Sasquatch in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and the Australians are excited about a half ton squid that has washed up on Ocean Beach.

In 1995, while living in Detroit, I remember turning on my radio in the morning and hearing that something had crashed in Windsor. Apparently a fireball had been seen over Ohio and travelled over Michigan before crashing into a trailer park there. Later that morning, a second story followed where a representative from emergency services told the press a craft had been found in the wreckage. He later denied this, claiming to have been joking at the time. By late afternoon the radio stopped broadcasting information about the story. News of the fireball was played down and the fires in the trailer park were instead attributed to arson.

I don't know what happened, but such a story was grist for Silly Season. It should have been plastered everywhere. And while CNN and few other sources gave mention to the incident, it received none of the attention one would have expected. It amazingly whispered into nothingness.

Some UFO enthusiasts have started calling this "The Windsor Incident"
One website even has a blurred videoclip.

Most Detroiters I talk to scratch their heads when I bring this up.

It was Silly Season, after all, and we all know what sort of stories play in Silly Season.




Monday, July 09, 2007

01-18-08 (Cloverfield) or The Parasite

I thought the advertising campaign that preceded the release of The Blair Witch was brilliant. I think the advertising that is circulating the net preceding the release of J. J. Abrams (Lost)'s untitled horror film (currently only known as Cloverfield) will make advertising history before it is complete.

The thing began with a trailer before the recently released "Transformers" movie. The trailer hinted at a monster movie from the perspective of average people on the street, perhaps most of it the product of handheld cameras. A pretty slick idea that moves away from the seamless special effects of the last couple years. By narrowing the experience to handhelds, it personalizes the action in a way that may connect with people in visceral manner. A brave ploy.

To continue the advertising saga, following the release of this mysterious trailer, a couple of viral advertising sites opened. They produced puzzles, which when solved, would lead a person to certain videos to further develop the mystery. These videos show a fuzzy image of a man rambling about Aug 1, and about how the end of the world is at hand, with the returns of ancient ones. Actually, here is some of the text:

The great war of the gods will come upon the earth; the fires and terror of their rule will return for a time, but the children of the gods may be thus prepared, themselves aware and powerful…they may stand along side the gods not as equals, but as allies, feared and ready.

If you are into Lovecraftian mythos, then this is crack for you.

Abrams denies these videos have anything to do with his project and indeed they seem to point here: http://www.mindstormlabs.com/products.html. The wild thing is that they have become associated with Abrams' film to the point that he would be foolish not to continue to have people believe.

Still, with these messages crossing and criss-crossing the web, we are witnessing an astonishing act of advertising acumen, and wait until the mainstream media gets hold of it. I predict that in the next few weeks there will be numerous pieces in Entertainment Weekly and Newsweek about how Abram's company has whipped up interest in this new project. Probably August 1st we'll see a new website open with further clues and maybe another trailer.

The Cloverfield campaign is viral advertising at its finest. For those who may not be familiar with this term, viral advertising refers to a marketing technique using pre-existing networks. People pass around the message voluntarily. For instance, the day after I saw the trailer I went on SQT's website and posted 01-18-08. No explanation. Just the date. My goal? To generate curiousity and interest, and to spread the virus.

While many people will point to the internet and complain that fans of genre have too much time on their hands, I think instead that critics should sit back and enjoy all the hoopla as it unfolds. In a time when headlines pound away and reality shreds our positivity, I think something that could have been devised by P.T. Barnum is worth a little attention. So here's to Paramount, Bad Robot and J.J. Abrams.

Until then...
The Phnglui mglwnafh Cthulhu Rlyeh wgahnagl Ftagn!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A Rose By Any Other...


Scout Finch--"To Kill A Mockingbird"
Harry Potter--"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"
Billy Pilgrim-- "Slaughterhouse Five"
Frodo Baggins--"Lord of the Rings"
Scarlett O'Hara--"Gone With The Wind"
Howard Roark--"Fountainhead"
Heathcliff--"Wuthering Heights"
James Bond--"From Russia With Love"

What's in a name? How did these authors happen upon these combinations of vowels and consonants?

I know Ian Fleming named his famous spy after a British ornothologist when he cast about for inspiration for a name and saw James Bond's "Birds of the West Indies". Harry Potter just came to Rowling one day on a train; no great significance offered. Named for fellow infantryman and fellow prisoner-of-war, Edward Crone, Billy Pilgrim's name is a reflection of the theme of "Slaughterhouse Five" and an allusion to the character's journey through time and space.

I love looking at a chracter's name when reading works. Why Anita Blake? Where did Valentine Smith come from? Jonathan Harker? Dr. John Watson? John Clayton, Lord Greystoke?

For some reason, I usually have difficulty with names in my own writing. I usually insert the first thing that pops into my head. Gerald Case. Levon Druery. James Maloney.etc. No deep meaning, just the character speaking out and saying: "Hey, Stewart...here's who I am."

Just speaking out loud here. No special purpose. Earlier today I worked on a mystery/fantasy with a hardboiled dick named Kevin Falcon. Again, no real meaning behind the name...it just felt right. Maybe, like Charles has said, not everything has to have meaning. People are born. They are given names. Bang.

Of course if I had named Kevin something like Sylvester Arbuckle III, then we might have had to stop and wonder why.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

A Wee Touch O Satire

Okay...sometimes we just need to step back and not take everything so seriously. So for your late Saturday night/early Sunday morning giggle: Cheney Hides In Plain Sight.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Purple

I've mentioned this before, but let me draw greater attention to Purple Prose.

One definition:
A term of literary criticism, purple prose is used to describe passages, or sometimes entire literary works, written in prose so overly extravagant, ornate or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself.


I'll raise my hand and claim guilt for this. I can't help it...occasionally I put on my Bradbury cap and wax poetic. Then, the sound of the tale, its texture, sweeps me along.

Here's an example of me at my worst:

Levon gently closed the door to his room and stared at the moonlight spilling through his window. He bathed in it, feeling the radiance stream over his skin, rushing along the hairs on the back of his hand. Intuitively he turned his hands palm up and gathered moonlight until it filled his palms and ran through his fingers. Then, he brought it to his face and let it run over his skin.

Another author narrowed the definition for purple prose, stating that it tended to be cliched, stilted. That is ran on past the point functionality. Another author stated that it "had too many adjectives". Hmmm. Not quite sure about that one. Someone else argued that if a reader becomes aware of the writing, if the writing distracts from the flow of the narrative, then it's purple prose.

As a teacher, I can say that teens are great at purple prose. They lack the experience to edit themselves, to keep from filtering their emotional content. "It rained hard, storm clouds hurling water at the earth as lightning crashed and thunder roared through the black velvet night. The wind blew with fury and the rain pelted in sheets the slick streets."

One thing, people hate hearing the word applied to their own writing. Their eyes widen, their brows slide together, their jaws clench and they begin defending their work by insisting that they are deliberately following
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Hey.

I think we need to look at cliched writing next, don't you?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Setting

Some of the writers I have been communicating with these days have been discussing setting and purple prose. Okay, I whine and they pacify me, but I like to consider that still some form of communication.

The big discussion at this time is the use of setting as an externalization of the character. For instance, if I am writing about a person who is struggling with loss and seeking meaning.

He had walked for a long time before resting against an old tree which had been downed in a storm. All sorts of life had sprung up around the fallen branches, the forest constantly in change, renewing itself. Life and death part of the one continuous process. Stepping over the tree, he moved on, pushing through the underbrush, listening to the sound of small animal life scurrying at his approach, an unseen world acknowledging his presence.

I have read some writing where an author meticulously writes about an environment, giving the characters a place to breathe and die, but not using the environment in any way. Some people argue that if you write about a room, where the windows are open and the wind is blowing through, flapping the red curtains...that there should be a reason the window is open and the wind is blowing in. It doesn't have to be earthshaking..it can be something obtuse.

Rick Moore and I recently discussed proofreading. One of the things I suggested was proofreading a work maybe four deliberate times. Once each for character, plot, theme, and finally setting. And maybe a last one for good measure.

But in working over a setting, in allowing it to become another character, in wisely utilizing colors, scents, shadows, texture and taste...one can add another dimension to a story, re-enforcing character and manipulating a reader subliminally.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Album Art

We gained a lot when we went from analog to digital recording, when we went from vinyl to cd....and we lost something,too. Let's face it. Album art has never been the same since. There was something magical about going home with an album, exploring it and the music simultaneously. I know that some cds have little booklets inside, but its not the same. Trust me.

If you aren't old enough to remember the first time you purchased something like Sgt. Pepper's, then let me describe it for you. First you took the shrink wrapped package from the bag and peeled it off. It clung to the outside of the album and to itself, static electricity. Then, after staring at the front forever, and with Sgt. Peppers, there was a lot to stare at, you opened the album. Inside, more pictures. Vibrant. And when you slipped the album sleeve out, to remove the vinyl for the first time, sometimes those sleeves had more art and lyrics on them, sometimes the lyrics were on the inner cover. And once the music was playing, once you had settled back with your favorite recreational drug, then you could explore the cover again at your own leisure, letting it become part of the musical experience. Oh....oh yeah.

And then there were the interactive covers. Rod Stewart's "Ooh La La" (the eyes and mouth opened and close when a tab was pulled);Led Zepplin's third album had a wheel inside the cardboard so that you could turn it and watch different pictures pass by cutout windows (you had to be there);Jethro Tull's "Stand Up" album had...well....a picture that stood up when you opened the album. I'm not saying this was brilliant, but it gave you something to do while waiting for the lava lamp to warm up.

I love mp3 and I love cds. But I miss the album art.

Here are some of my favorites for you. I'm not calling them the best, just my favorites. Enjoy them. Then, go to this website...it's well worth the visit.

Dreams


Jon and I studied the price of gas.

"There has to be a better way," he said. I nodded and pulled a page from a magazine from my pocket. He raised his eyebrows. I shrugged and said: "I come prepared."

"So what is it?" he asked.

"When gasoline hit three dollars a gallon..."

"When the 'forces that be' determined it would cost that," he interrupted with bitterness. "Lord knows they don't follow supply and demand. That they actually closed a refinery in Bakersville to keep their profits up. I think..."

"Anyway," I said, taking back the conversation, "I came across this article."

Jon took the paper from me and skimmed it. "This was written three years ago."

"I know, but I've been keeping up on it. They have plants that are producing this, showing that it is feasible and maybe desirable to use garbage to create crude. Right now the cost is probably about sixty dollars a barrel. Oil is around seventy dollars a barrel. If the Bushies took the money going into Iraq for one year and mandated a "Manhattan Project" style effort to find an alternative form of energy (and I'm not talking about ethanol--all that does is drive up our food costs), I think we could be energy independent in the next few years, not in the next few decades."

"In a country where the corporations rule and the interests of Wall Street are held above the interests of the people, you can't possibly think any of this could come to pass."

"I can dream," I said.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Real Life

"They say 'write what you know'," I said.

"That's what they say," said Jon. He peered from the dugout. We were in rain delay and if things didn't clear up soon, the umps were going to call it. I bounced a ball off the back of my hand. We were down by two runs, but I knew if we resumed we stood a chance. Keltner, their leftie had started throwing nothing but junk.

"If I wrote what I knew, I wouldn't write. I've tried. I think what works best for me is when I incorporate true elements of myself in my work. For instance, if I write a story set in the eighties in Montana, I obviously don't know squat about Montana and not a whole lot about the life of mountain men at that time."

"Stands to reason," said Jon.

"So, I research the state and the life of those individuals and I write about it. But the things they feel, the loneliness, the closeness to nature---I can write about that by drawing from my own experience."

The manager walked by and gave me an evil look.

"If you're gonna keep hittin' like you've been, try holding the bat by the other end."

Some of the players chuckled. Jon smiled. "Don't let him bother you," he said.

The manager snorted. "Yeah, good advice, Zech. This coming from the 'Error King'."

"Me? I write more from experience," said Jon. "When I wrote my 'Buck and Tangee' thing, that was more closely related to my life. I have trouble writing crazy stuff like you. I like taking this person, then that person, and putting them in a quiet, ordinary setting and seeing what happens. I like spending time on description and detail. Painting a picture."

I nodded. "Again, I don't think it matters if you write about real life so long as you're writing about real people."

Zech looked at me. "I like that. Say it again."

"It don't matter if you write about real life so long as you are writing about real people."

The umps called for the managers and we could tell by looking at the ground crew that they were getting ready to pull the tarp from the field. The sky looked menacing, but it had stopped raining.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ending

The following is an imaginary exchange...

Jon Zech climbed down from the mare he had ridden to check the herd in the north pasture and handed it off to one of the boys. I watched him saunter to the campfire. He bent over and picked up an old can which he would use as a cup and poured himself coffee. Before sitting down, he stirred the fire and added a log. I watched him for a moment, leaning back in the hammock and smelling coconut.

"When I was a kid, I used to think a story had to have an ending, or a twist. It had to have the reader throw hands into the air and leave them speechless," I said.

"That's the 'Twilight Zone' syndrome," he responded. Jon, who couldn't play a violin to save his life, began to tune one, plucking the strings and wincing with each untrue note.

"I loved those stories. You remember how some stories had the last line italicized in some of the magazines. You know, like: ....and then he realized he wasn't looking at a mirror!!!!"

Jon laughed. "Yeah."

"Now I think the ending should just be a logical point. It should give the reader closure, or resolve the issue or conflict one way or another."

"Oh, I don't know. I think there are some stories that don't have natural endings. Some stories are snapshots. The point is to illustrate character or theme, not necessarily resolve a plot or conflict."

A shooting star passed above.

"I don't hold to that sort of writing. I think a story needs to have a story. Not just be a jumble of events or things...not just stroke the writer. You might as well call it poetry."

Jon shook his head. "Well some writers write for different reasons. Not everyone writes to try and get published in Playboy."

"Now you're just talking crazy," I said. "Look, I'm just saying that an ending should have something behind it. I think some writers are just in a hurry to get things over with, or some have an idea, but they have no idea how to finish things up. I always like to start with some sense of beginning, middle and end when I write."

"I know some people who just like to start writing and see where the creative writing process takes them."

"How many times have you seen a story ruined because the ending just sort of came out of nowhere or because the writing just trickled into nothing?"

"I've seen it," he said.

I didn't say anything else for the rest of the night. A coyote howled and Jon threw the violin onto the fire. Jim finally came riding in, but by then we were too tired to care.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Nothing Up My Sleeve....Presto


There's a reason Dick Cheney has had a nine percent approval rating (wait, I'll let that figure sink in), the man's arrogance and probable complicity in constitutionally illegal activities will be something future history and political science classes study for years to come. Never has a vice president had this power.

I know, I know...people get bored with political posts, but I think it is worth pausing to consider a recent news story. Apparently, in an attempt to block the government process that allows checks and balances and oversight, Cheney had declared his office is not part of the executive.

I'll let that sink in.

Furthermore, the president has agreed with him.

One wonders therefore which part of government Cheney considers himself to be part of. The legislative? The Judicial?

Perhaps he is planning a new layer? The monarchial branch?

Hey Dick, have you read this? It's from the Constitution:

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows---


The story broke when Cheney threatened to axe the agency that monitors national security documents (I didn't think he had that power). Apparently they have been trying to get information from since 2003, when he stopped providing them what they wanted. 2003...now why does that sound familiar? Ah, isn't that when we started our attack on Iraq????

So how would the rightwing conservatives answer this? I went to the National Review...nothing. I went to the Wall Street Journal....nothing. I swung by NewsMax, another right zilch. What about The Spectator? No. Fox? I was astonished to see that their website covered the story. Well, at least sort of, Fox gave it a paragraph on their website burying it in the political section (compared to a massive column with links raging at a disputed story which, according to right wing Sen. Inhoffe [the man who believes global warming is a worldwide left wing conspiracy] Boxer and Clinton made about right wing radio---three years ago)

I'm done ranting for now.

At least I didn't mention Ann Coulter.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Fool's Gold


I should be writing a story right now. I should be doing lots of things. However, here is something I've been thinking about. I have a great idea for a story, but it refuses to become a story. I'll repeat that: a great idea, but no story.

I think several people do that. They write something which has tremendous potential, a setup, a situation, but then it never matures into anything. The story I'm suffering with? A Hemingway fanatic finds an unpublished copy of a new Heminway novel on a book shelf. Or rather, it's been published, but he knows there's no record of the book. Taking it to the front of the store, the owner admits its a fraud. What we discover is that there is something magical about this bookstore and unpublished, or rather, unwritten works, keep appearing on this one shelf. Books by Tolstoy, Steinbeck, Berry, Baum, etc... And when these works are read, the reader finds oneself incredibly unfulfilled.

"These are the dreams that never blossomed," explains the owner. "These are the seeds that bear false fruit."

Great idea, great setting, great characters...and after three pages of waiting for the story to happen...nothing. Instead, I sit there and think: So what? So this guy finds this book? So the work is unfulfilling? So the shelf keeps replenishing with never before published manuscripts. So? So? So??????

It's a great set up, but I've yet to hook on the delivery. I'm a master at set up, but still a wee one at delivery, I think. And yet? And yet I've read several short stories by the likes of Bradbury, Bloch, Bentley, and King which seem all set up.

I'm returning to my notebook now to see if I can swing that bat and make that delivery. Here's to all who are plugging away at something, trying to find that nugget in all that fool's gold.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Pulp Fiction

Jon Zech and I sat in his family room, our bones settling into the cushion, our minds into mush.

"I'm trying to work on something. I want to try writing pulp."

Jon, who loves all things Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, half-turned toward me. "Yeah?"

"How would you define it? Pulp, I mean. What are the primary characteristics of it?"

He reached out and fingered a copy of a Mickey Spillane novel on the tv tray in front of him. "Well," he said, "I suppose it's mostly action oriented."

"And the character's are archtypes. I mean, the authors don't do a lot of character development. It's pretty much plot driven, wouldn't you say?"

Jon nodded and we started naming off authors who we thought would be good examples. "Mickey Spillane," I offered. He nodded.

"Robert Howard, the author of Conan. What about Lovecraft?"

I shook my head. "I don't consider him pulp. He's written some stories that fall into that vein, but I wouldn't call him pulp."

"What about the Doc Savage stuff? The Shadow?"

"Would you consider pulp as stuff written for children?" I asked.

"No. I mean, not today. Not all of it. Maybe some."

"Some romance literature is pulp. Especially the harlequin romance sort. We think of pulp as the province of manly men but women read a tremendous amount of it."

Hunger, real or imagined, drives away most intellectual dialogues. We went out to dinner and left the discussion in the family room. Still...the nature of pulp in literature brings me in and I find myself returning to a lantern jawed character in a leather jacket, sitting in front of a fire in a Hooversville, looking up as the government agents approach him to once again play the role of the reluctant hero.