Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Are There No Workhouses???


“If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!"”

Now if you'll all excuse me, there's a boy down the street, a lad with a crutch and lisp. I think I shall go and mock him till he cries.

Merry Christmas. You may all have the day off...provided your work is done. 

Peace

Monday, December 15, 2008

X-Files:I Want To Believe---revisited


With the X-Files film coming out on DVD, people are going to have a second opportunity to revisit two of the most likeable characters in science fiction and fantasy, Dana Scully and Fox Mulder. In my opinion this film got short shrift when released. Perhaps expectations were set too high, perhaps it shouldn't have been released along with the summer blockbusters, perhaps people were hoping for a story that fit with the canon. Whatever the case, if you haven't seen this film and you are a fan, this is a dvd that should be part of the collection.

I'll agree that it breaks little new ground and that the story isn't mind-boggling. Instead, it nestles in the consciousness as another X-Files episode, perhaps sitting there between the episode about the psychic who sees his own death and the videogame come to life. It's a story about faith and it gives us a complex character, a pedophile priest who is asking for forgiveness and redemption. I would argue the paranormal issues are almost secondary to the reclaimation of Fox Mulder and the moral issues raised by the priest and Dana in her attempts to save the life of an innocent as she fights against hospital bureacracy to employ experimental and uncertain treatment her patient.

This isn't a big budgeted affair. It's quieter than you would expect. The characters are in pain and the plot, improbable and at times unfathomable, takes a back seat to their inner dilemnas.

So, rent this, buy it...give it...but watch it. Just don't expect thrilling car chases, multiple explosions, and strange flying saucers. This is a story about the need of people to connect with one another and to find something to give meaning to their brief lives.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Does She Show?

Several people seem to wonder if the woman at the bar would have gone to Maloney. I was actually surprised that would even be considered. Still, as I continue to consider writing a prequel to a book that I am unsuccessfully marketing, I couldn't help but respond to L.A., who wrote: "When do we find out if she shows up?" and SQT: "Yes. L.A. has the only pertinent question here. When do we get to see if she shows up"

L.A and SQT....this is for you. I'm still outlining this novel, but I wrote this to give me a feel for where Maloney might be at this point in his existence. And this is the last of these for a long time. I have another novel to finish and probably a few short stories. Maloney will have to wait. Unless someone here wants to publish the original novel.

Charlie stood with his hands spread away from his body. His blue eyes blinked rapidly and Maloney wondered if the man was about to start crying.

"You said you never killed no one," said Charlie.

"I never have," said Maloney, transfering the gun from one hand to the other and sitting on the sofa. He fluffed a pillow and leaned back. "It doesn't mean I won't."

"But you won't," said Charlie, the man's voice sounding more at ease. "Manny knows I'm here. Manny sent me. You better stop playing games, James, and turn over Manny's cut."

"Walk around the room, Charlie. I want to see you walk."

"What's that mean?"

"It means 'walk'.

Charlie smiled. His eyes narrowed as if he was trying to read Maloney's thought. "What's this, then?"

"That bag in the back of your car. It took me time to realize who it belonged to. At first, I was skeptical. You're not that brave, Charlie. You're not that independent. I figure, it was a matter of bad timing. Sharlene probably pressured and manipulated you, but Manny won't see it that way. He'll assume you were disloyal."

Charlie opened his mouth, but Maloney stopped him with a dismissive gesture. "I'm not the one who you have to convince. Manny might have believed you when you told him that I didn't pay up, but when he finds out about Charlene, he'll figure I'm telling the truth, and besides being the kind of guy who steals his boss's girlfriend, that you're also the sort of shlub would probably cheat him out of money. I've earned some cred with Manny. Now walk."

"Why am I walking?" Chrarlie whined.

"Because I want you to."

A knock at the door interrupted them. Maloney saw the expression of relief cross Charlies face.

"Come in," he called.

The door opened and the woman from the bar stepped in. As instructed she wore no makeup and kept her head down.

Maloney checked his watch. "9:58. That's cutting it close."

"What is this?" asked Charlie.

Maloney instructed her to sit on the floor by his feet.

"Now walk," said Maloney. He aimed the gun at Charlie's head and the man started moving, stepping uncertainly, awkwardly.

"I want to watch you move. No, not like that Charlie. I want you to strut. Don't just move in circles. Let me see you put something into it. Give us something special. Excite me."

Charlie started to move a bit more fluidly. He went to one side of the room, paused, then returned with an athletic prowess. He paused, hands on his hips. "Is that enough?"

"It's never enough," whispered Maloney. "Now walk, and if you please me, if you please us, you might just get that money that you came for."

Charlie started walking again, strutting aggressively, his shoulders swaying with each step.

"Take your shirt off."

Charlie froze. "Oh, come on, James. This is enough. I'm not taking off my damn shirt."

"Then you won't get your money."

"Sonovabitch."

Charlie glared at him and began to unbutton his shirt.

Maloney nodded, reaching down with his free hand and stroking the hair of the woman beside him.

"He's pretty, isn't he?" asked Maloney.

She nodded.

"And do you want to know the best part? One of us isn't going to live to see the dawn."

He felt her flinch under his touch. Grabbing a handful of hair, he pulled her closer. "I didn't say you would be the one. "

Charlie watched them. He dropped his shirt.

"And then, I didn't say you wouldn't, " added Maloney.

Friday, December 05, 2008

You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.


Jon recently read a chapter from the novel I am working on. Remarking on the villain he said: "It's Maloney. He's changed, altered, but he's Maloney." I disagreed vehemently, describing that my inspiration for the vile character had been more along the lines of Clancy Brown's Rev. Justin Crowe. Granted, both men are amoral and both are the heads of a perverse religious community, but I don't think the two are alike. So, here's to Jon, a reminder of Maloney (what follows is new, mostly written for my own benefit)...

Maloney's gray eyes penetrated the bar's smoky interior, scrutinizing every detail about her, analyzing and catergorizing until he could break her down into manageable parts. That being done, he slipped from the bar stool and began his walk.

"I don't want to know your name," he said.

She was the sort who was probably stunning in high school and who mistakenly thought adulthood raised her beauty. "I'm sorry?" she responded.

Maloney sat next to her, enjoying the look of consternation. "I saw you were sitting alone and it was obvious you wanted company."

"Well, you're wrong," she said. She adjusted her professional attire, pulling up a collar, pulling down a hemline. "I'm not looking to get picked up."

"I don't pick people up," Maloney commented. "That's way too much work."

She turned away from him and focused her attention on the dance floor. Maloney watched her, recognizing the dismissive gesture but refusing to accept it. When she turned back , he still watched her, his face unexpressive.

"Why don't you go away?" she said with undisguised annoyance. "I don't want to be bothered. I don't want you here.

With a grin he placed a hundred dollar bill on the table.

"What is that for? What do I look like?"

Maloney pursed his lips. "I'm staying at the Kramer. Room 302. Be there by ten."

The shock on her face pleased him. He shut his eyes and inhaled the moment. When it passed, he opened his eyes again and ran a finger along the side of her face. She cringed, but didn't pull back.

"You're a sexist pig," she said. "You're disgusting."

"This isn't about sex," replied Maloney, his voice flat.

He stood to leave. She took the hundred dollar bill and slowly ripped it in two. The halves fluttered to the ground.

"Don't worry. There's more where that came from. When you come, make sure you aren't wearing makeup. Also, keep your eyes down. Don't look directly at me."

She slowly held up a middle finger.

"By ten," he said. "One minute after and you won't be let in."

He turned and walked toward the exit. On his way out he paused to tap another woman on the shoulder, someone who didn't look old enough to be drinking. Maloney bent over and kissed her, holding the kiss until everyone who noticed turned away in discomfort. . He broke away and whispered something in her ear. As she burst into tears, he grinned and winked.

"Ten O' Clock," he called over his shoulder without looking back. 

She'd be there.

[and mike, wherever you are...my level of depravity is a far deeper well than you could ever fathom]

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Can Writers Act?



What is life without stupid questions? I live by stupid questions and am fed a multitude of them on a daily basis. So...let me wax annoyingly and offer up a musing of my own: Do you think writers are good actors?

I thought about this recently while sitting at my desk reading dialogue out loud. It's something I do. It's probably one of the reasons I went the longest time without a date before getting married. I held off the readings out loud until after the wedding, and then to my amazement, she didn't seem to mind.

That being said, when I do my readings, I am incredibly animated. I sometimes think it would be a good idea to get a bunch of costumes and makeup and keep them by my computer to help me get into the mood. Wait..was that too personal? Rewind.

When writing, I try and become the character, I want to hear that character's voice, hear his thoughts, imagine that when he does something on paper that it is true to who he is. Having read much about acting and having played Felix in a bad amateur production of "The Odd Couple" (some people are even now gasping---Felix? The clean, finicky guy? Not the grumpy, messy one?), I think actors and writers share some appreciation and empathy for character.

It's amazing to sometimes listen to writers read their work. Often when we do, we are one dimensional. We pretty much read in one vein. Jon Zech is usually folksy and reads like that guy who does the Disney voice overs for the nature films, for example. Chuck Zaglanis reads with this welcoming come-hither tone. Me? I chew the scenery, relishing in description that will shock people around me...and have been known to improvise as I read to truly offend. Even when reading a child's poem.

But reading out loud is one thing.

I still wonder, if you put me and Chuck in dresses and told us to star in a remake of "Some Like It Hot" (somewhere out there Ferrel Moore just went running out of the room), would we be able to pull it off with aplomb? Could Jon Zech handle Hamlet?; how would Charles Gramlich do playing opposite Sidney Williams in a new version of "Inherit The Wind"? How about Mark Rainey in a musical based on the life of John Wayne Gacy? Ferrel Moore in an imagining of "Dr. Strange" (someone will have to tell him who that is). I try and imagine people in the Royal Oak group and wonder if Joe could submerge himself into a reimagining of Darth Vader, Kim as Princess Leia, Aubreii and Gwen as female versions of Hans Solo and Obi-Wan respectively. Just trying to think out of the box.

Does creativity transfer to other forms? Is it plug and play? Can writers act? 

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sneering At Puppies


Some people will be posting about how lucky they are and how much there is to be thankful for. Let me buck that trend. Here is a quote for Thanksgiving.

"When you look at how minuscule and unimportant we are in light of the immensity of all existence, when you look at how even the greatest tragedy a person can experience is nothing when set against the backdrop of the tapestry that is life...when you are able to see that, you can start to realize how pointless your existence is. You can understand that you're not even fit to be a dot on an italicized 'i' We're all just the butt of some enormous colossal joke. God sits on high laughing at us all."

"So...um...why don't you kill yourself?"

"Because, fortunately, I at least have a sense of humor."

So think about that when you're sitting around the table giving thanks, or when you're appreciating a Spring day, or marveling at a baby's smile. Me? I'm going to go outside and sneer at puppies.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Too Much of A Bad Thing

Someone shook their head at my last post and rumbled "You might as well do the NaNoWriMo..or whatever it's called, where a bunch of folks commit to write a novel in a month." Hmmm.

I have actually given that consideration. Except that the NANO thing always struck me as counterintuitive. Don't get me wrong, I believe in writing each day, having a schedule, forcing productivity. But an entire novel in a month??? I know some people will comment that they've done it, that others have written and published from NaNoWriMo that it's been a push that made them write.

Maybe.

But I think the best plan is to be a careful and deliberate writer. I believe in researching a market, looking for what sells and how it sells, and then crafting something that meets what an editor is looking for. A market plan.

And besides, once someone has written that novel in a month, what do they do with it? Do they edit? Do they rewrite? Do they go back and rework it? I know there's some other group writing event where they next go and edit the damn thing in a month...but come on. I mean..come on.

If you pound out a novel or a group of novels and you aren't selling them or at least finding some interest (maybe in breaking them up and rewriting them as short stories) then I think a person needs to stop and look at the process.

There's a term we use for productivity without quality.

It's called Crap.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Kabillion My Eye


Joe is a soft spoken individual with dark complexion and pepper hair. He has this sense of quiet urgency about him. He is a thoughtful person who seems to choose his words carefully. 

"I set a goal to send out a kabillion stories this year," he said.

Okay. Not a kabillion, but over a hundred. I can't remember the number but maybe close to a kabillion. And it turns out those kabillion stories are a kabillion different stories. Some of them are being sent around to several publishers after a rejection. Still...a kabillion is a number to respect. It's the sort of number to rumble at while grabbing a crotch and glancing skyward.

I received this news from Joe and sneered. "Yeah? And how's that working out for you?"

"It's working out. I think I'm going to meet that goal."

"When is the year up?" I asked.

"December."

"I want in," I said.

Joe looked uneasily at me. We were suddenly standing under the hottest sun. A lone tumbleweed skipped with the breeze. I tilted my hat back and ran a hand across my brow.

"You want in?" he asked.

"I'm very competetive. Starting in January, we'll both do a kabillion stories."

"Kabillion and one," he said, squinting.

"Make it...Kabillion and one," I agreed.

Sonovabitch. 

So Duotrope and Ralans....look out. Starting in January the old Jew is going on a rampage, no market too small, no market too large. I've got a kabillion stories to push, and every step of the way that soft spoken pepper haired writer is going to be trying to beat me, pushing himself. Pushing me. Thank god I have a reservoir of work to polish and upgrade. Still.  A kabillion and one...that's serious. And I have a novel to finish by April.

Jon? You want in? 

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pair of Dimes

The Writer's Group will be discussing economy, which of course was the whole purpose of the "assignment". That being said, I think one of the things I am going to push is the idea that economy is about adapting a paradigm, changing how one looks at one's writing, seeing it differently. Sort of foreshortening, if I may be allowed to use an art term. That being said, here's something to look at...have a little fun.





In the image below...stare hard at the figure and she will appear to change direction, going either one way or the other.



Finally...something really stupid

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Okay, Fine...You Want Goldfish Porn?

He drew the blinds and stood in the quiet apartment, lit only by candle. Broad shouldered, with an elegant line to form, the flickering light highlighted his nakedness, accentuating his excitement. He knew she was watching ; he enjoyed that she was watching.

A slight smile curling thick lips, he padded across the carpeting and stopped before the aquarium. The water filter hummed. He watched the fish for a long time, almost oblivious to everything else. His hand dipped into the water and swiftly retrieved a goldfish. Holding it in one palm, he used a finger to stroke the creature.

"What are you doing?" she asked nervously.

He didn't answer. Instead he glided across the room and stood above her. "Sex is an act of creation," he whispered.

He lowered the goldfish onto her chest, listening to her sudden intake of air. She arched her back as the little creature struggled against warm skin.

Moving with a lion's speed and strength, he was suddenly on the bed, straddling her, his weight a pinion. His hand remained cupped, pressing the fish against her. The other hand moved along her body, reshaping curves, exploring them, rediscovering them.

She started to grip the wrist of the hand that held the struggling fish. Resisting, he rubbed against her heat. She responded with quickened breathing and a small moan. Encouraged, his actions became more forceful, more controlling. She surrendered and matched him. The moment lengthened and stretched. It lost meaning against the building of sensation and the immensity of contact.

The fish's struggle lessened.

It surrendered.

She called out at the intensity of sensation, her voice all passion and release. Sweat beaded along her chest and along her belly. Between her legs. Muscles contracted and remained tight until the final pinnacle. Then she released and he could feel the tension melt.

"A little death," he said, holding the fish aloft.

He saw the guilt in her eyes and smirked.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

No Mas!

I can't do it. I just can't do a fifth story about goldfish and... I just can't. Not unless I decide to try a porn approach, something like:

She trailed the flopping goldfish along his bare chest, leaving a wet streak along his sternum. He grinned at the little life she pressed against him, feeling it struggle to breathe. She moved the poor thing down his abdomen....

NO. Even I won't go there. So I'm done. I think I've proved my point. That being said, I'm bringing all the links together. My four and some links to some other people who have jumped in here. First, my four tales, then some others...

Story One, Story Two, Story Three, Story Four

and then these are from Jon Zech, Gwen Jarris, Kristen Berry, and Aubreii Stuart, Joe Ponepinto

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Goldfish, Man In Black, and A Train--Story Four

"What if goldfish were, like, aliens. You know? And, like, their goldfish bowls were environmental units?"

Larry nodded approvingly at his own observations.

George frowned and turned back to the window. The night looked cold and threatening. He peered unseeing through the reflection of his eyes. Shiela's train had been due over three hours ago. He should have gone to meet her. He thought about it, struggled over how it would make him look to her.

"Maybe she caught another train?" suggested Larry, as if reading his thoughts.

"Maybe."

"Maybe someone kidnapped her or something. Maybe, like, she was walking along the road and you know, like some dude in black jumped out and grabbed her. Maybe she was like, like..."

"Shut up," said George. "You talk too much."

"You," retorted Larry.

George sighed, thinking that it might be a good idea to send Larry out. Sheila hated him. If she showed up, his presence would block any chance they might have at reconciliation.

Larry stuck a hand into the goldfish bowl, chasing the fish around with a finger as he made a low rumbling sound.

"Stop it!"

George's voice startled him. Jerking back, Larry snagged the edge of the bowl. It fell and crashed onto the linoleoum. Goldfish flopped about.

"Oh my God," whispered Larry. He ran to the sink and grabbed a glass, quickly half-filling it with water. Rushing back, he squatted and retrieved the two fish. With damp eyes, he watched them to make sure they were unharmed.

"I'm so sorry. God, George. I'm so sorry. You know? I'm sorry. I'll clean it up. I'm sorry."

George looked at the clock again. If she was going to come, she would have been here by now. She at least would have called. He turned to Larry; his friend's eyes were anxious. "It's okay, we'll clean it up. We'll get a new bowl tomorrow."

"Yeah, a new bowl." Larry seemed relieved. "I'm sorry about Sheila, man. Maybe you could call her."

"No, man. She knows my number."

"Damn right," said Larry. He chuckled and set the glass of goldfish on the table.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

a goldfish bowl, a train, and a man in black...story three


The train bound for the work camp rumbled through the night. Shem leaned back against someone, grateful for that person's warmth and for the counterbalance that provided his aching legs relief. He wished he could eat; the Nazis had promised to feed them at the next large town. Instead, the door was thrown open and more Jews were herded in as a black jacketed S.S. officer good-naturedly called out instruction.

"Shem?" The voice belonged to Ari, a neighbor who hated Communists more than he hated Nazis. "Dp you remember Anna's goldfish?"

Shem didn't respond.

"You want to hear something funny?" Ari continued. "I remember every little detail about them. It's uncanny. But Shem, I can't remember my Anna's face. It's a blur. Why? Why do you think that is?"

It seemed several people held their breaths to catch his response, as if his answer would give them something to cling to. The burden was unforgiving.

"You remember because the goldfish don't matter," said Shem. "Later, when this nightmare ends, you'll remember."

"And if the rumors about the camp are true?"

"Then someone else will have to remember."

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Train, A Goldfish, A Man In Black---story 2


Lorenzo liked watching them cringe. The way their eyes widened and the tightness abour their jaws excited him. He could smell their fear and savored it.

Sam watched him. A fat man with long hair and little black eyes that looked like buttons, Sam didn't do anything on his own. He would wait for direction, wait and see how crazy Lorenzo was going to go. Tonight, Lorenzo was willing to go pretty crazy.

He held the goldfish bowl out from his body and waited for the first one to make eye contact. It was the mother. She pressed her young son closer, making a "shooshing" noise as she inadvertently looked up. Lorenzo felt the contact, the moment of electricity. He let go of the bowl and watched it drop and shatter. The sound was enormous. The three people on the floor jumped, but quickly settled down as Sam made a motion with the .45.

"It's a wild thing," said Lorenzo. He stepped over the mess he had made and squatted down, deliberately putting his back to the father as he spoke to the woman. "People live tame. But we ain't meant to. We're meat eaters. We're hunters."

"Hunters," echoed Sam. He sounded excited.

The mother pulled her son closer. Lorenzo wanted a greater response, needed a greater response. Someone was going to have to get hurt; it was the only way to ratchet things up.

“Do hubbie,” said Lorenzo.

Without hesitation, Sam squeezed off a shot. The child screamed as blood blended with the water, the shards of glass, and the dying goldfish. A little ceramic train which had been part of the bowl’s western motif turned red.

Lorenzo grabbed the woman’s arms and yanked her up. As she screamed and pleaded, he pushed her toward the bedroom. “Watch the kid,” called Lorenzo.

Sam giggled.

“You can play with him, but don’t kill him,” warned Lorenzo. “Not yet.”

Those words ignited more screaming from the woman. Smiling, Lorenzo carried her across the threshold and tossed her unceremoniously onto the bed. To remind her of what was at stake, he drew his gun. “Get undressed,” he ordered. Lorenzo liked how flat his voice sounded.

The sound of running feet. Little feet. Heavier feet in pursuit. Lorenzo grinned at the sound. “Games started,” he said.

A gun went off.

“My baby!”

Lorenzo turned toward the door. “Dammit, Sam. I told you to control yourself.”

Seeing her wilt, feeling that the fight had been drained from her by this turn of events, he considered just killing her and finishing it. She would be no fun now.

The door opened behind him. Lorenzo expected a rush of apology, a note of disappointment and fear. Sam was a big child. Hard to stay mad at him, really.

“Sam?”

The gun fired again.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Friends


Okay, so I'll agree that a train, a bowl of goldfish, and a man in black are elements that produces sniggers. But to those who scoff...I am going to write one short short each day (ending Thursday)based on the above three ideas.


“Those are the kind of boxes they use in restaurants,” Gerald protested.

“The fish won't know.”

“I want them in a bowl.”

“Kid, the water will slosh all over the place.”

“They should see the world.”

The train rumbled in. Gerald carefully stepped into the car and immediately found a seat beside a shriveled woman, her hair a hard plastic shell. She studied him with a lack of humor and turned away. With a kick, the train started cross town. The water in the bowl sloshed dangerously close to running over the lip.

Watching the two goldfish, considering names for them, trying to discern personalities, Gerald suddenly became aware of a shadow standing over him. A teenager, dressed in a black t-shirt, his face an explosion of acne, leaned over the bowl.

“What the hell?” the teen asked. “Fish? Are they sanitary?”

Gerald wasn’t sure how to respond. “They’re in water.”

The teen shrugged. “Well then,” he said. His hand splashed downward, found one of the fish, and before Gerald could respond, plucked it out and dropped it into his mouth. He made a show of chewing and swallowed. With a gleam of satisfaction in his eye, he opened his mouth and stuck out a tongue to show Gerald the fish was now gone.

Tears welled up in Gerald’s eyes.

“What you gonna do about it, freak?” asked the other boy.

Without hesitation, Gerald’s hand dipped into the bowl. It took him a few awkward moments before he caught the other fish. A grim, defiant expression on his face, he looked up and popped the struggling fish into his mouth.

The two boys stared at one another.

Mumbling to himself, the teenager moved away. “Freak!” he called over his shoulder.

After a minute, Gerald leaned over and spit the goldfish back into the bowl. Wiping his eyes, Gerald whispered: “Don’t you worry, Roddy. Friends are overrated.”

The solitary goldfish, perhaps now wiser than before, swam about his transparent world.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Goldfish Bowl, A Train, and a Man In Black


I've been through several writers' groups...sort of like Spinal Tap has gone through drummers. However this current one has been tremendous fun thus far. It sparks me to write. Maybe its the group of people (a fun and energetic mix ), or maybe its just the lively discussion about elements of fiction writing (we last discussed an Editor's checklist). Perhaps it's the fact that three of us are teachers and three of us have been involved in journalism. Maybe its just a good group.

Anyway, there's a point to my ramble. The group is engaging in a bit of writing designed to exercise our sense of economy. I love these little assignments; some of my best story ideas have come from these activities. I thought I would share this one with you. I will be posting the result on this blog next Thursday. Anyone who would like to join in is welcome. Send me a link to your posting and I will post it here so others can visit, read, and comment.

So, the assignment? Five hundred words. That's it, no more than five hundred freaking words. And somewhere in those words you will have to involve a goldfish bowl, a man in black, and a train. I know...I know...but those are the conditions. 

If you want to see what I come up with, visit next Thursday night. If you want to play, send me your link.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I Confess



William Jones is running a contest on his blog regarding the upcoming Tales Out Of Miskatonic University. He is offering a prize for people who guess who is going to be part of this anthology. If you want details, I suggest going to his blog.

That being said, I will fess up and announce that my story "At The Pillars of Canaan" will also be in the anthology by Mythos Books. I can't tell you much about it at this time, other than to say it gets filed under "extra-curricular" activities in the Miskatonic directory.


And while I am making one announcement, I will also allow myself a small smile for having been noted in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror by Ellen Datlow. and Kelly Link...Honorable Mention for THE OTHERS in Elder Sign Press' "HIGH SEAS CTHULHU". Honorable mention aint much. But its worth a smile.


Monday, October 27, 2008

A Halloween Read


I have just finished Richard Laymon's Traveling Vampire Show. What a strange experience.

Let me first say that I've read much of this author and recommend him to those who love horror; most of you who love horror have probably already read his work. If you haven't, then allow me to suggest what I consider to be his best piece "Night In The Lonesome October", which wasn't just an astonishing suspense/horror story, but an astonishing work of fiction. Its prose and timing rivaled Bradbury's darkest work and the characters created by Laymon are entirely believable and worth knowing.

So what's the deal with The Traveling Vampire Show? I have never sat on the edge of my seat for this long with a novel. Page after page I held my breath and felt true dread. That is an amazing feat to pull off for a writer, and what made it even more amazing was that basically nothing was happening. Two thirds of the novel is character development and set up. And yet he manages to scare the poop out of you. It's an astonishing feat, one that I am reviewing right now to see how he does it.

Don't get me wrong, Laymon is not a good writer. A good storyteller, but not a good writer (with the exception of "In The Lonesome October"). He relies too often on the gross out factor and sometimes his plots clank improbably along. This story, told in first person, is about three teens in the early sixties, living in a small rural town. When posters appear around town advertising the arrival of the vampire show (a little bit of a bow to Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes), the characters make plans to attend. All the action that follows occurs through the course of one day.

Unfortunately, when someone spends an entire novel doing set up, it is almost impossible to deliver on what is promised. And this is the case with "Vampire". I'm sure many people will enjoy the final battle royale, but it seems to just degenerate into so much pointless violence and sex. The joy of this novel is everything that happens before the three kids actually get to the show---and that's the lesson for horror writers. The horror comes not from what happens but from the anticipation of what is going to happen and from the relationship the reader forms with the characters. If we don't care about the characters, then what is about to happen to them has no meaning for us.

And by the way...another good read for Halloween would be "Blood Crazy" by Simon Clark (dear god....this one was brilliant. Clark is hit and miss, much like Laymon, but this is a hit...the premise is that for some reason as a species we suddenly turn on anyone under eighteen and try to kill them. Social commentary and apocalyptic horror told from a teen's perspective)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tribute


While putting together the Halloween playlist, I started coming up a slew of fascinating tunes, basically covers in the form of tribute albums. If an artist has a history and has garnered any small amount of respect in the music community, then somewhere at sometime fellow musicians have come together to compile interpretations of the apex of that person's catalogue. Well, maybe not always the apex, but there are some interesting interpretations available.

For instance, if you like the work of Van Morrison, Casandra Wilson performing "Crazy Love" is a sexy, soulful rendition. Maybe something harder? How about Motorhead performing Metallica's "Whiplash"?  Or how about Metallica peforming a tribute to Iron Maiden with a cover of "Remember Tomorrow"? Me? I'm an Alice Cooper fan. He actually has three tribute cd's, with the best of them featuring a slick cover by Bruce Dickinson.

Take a gander and you'll see tributes to Harry Chapin, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Judas Priest, ABBA, Depeche Mode, Frank Sinatra, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Beatles, Steve Goodman, Joy Division, and Johnny Cash. I'm just ladeling a few names here, the titles go on and on...

Want something a bit strange? "Back in Baroque... The String Tribute to AC/DC" or "Gone Phishin': A Bluegrass Tribute to Phish"  What about "Harptallica: A Tribute", featuring the all-female Harptallica, covering Metallica's tunes with classical harp.

Lot's of good music. And sometimes the cover outshines the original. 

Friday, October 17, 2008

Halloween Playlist


Why do we do playlists? What an amazing conceit! Who gives a damn what music someone listens to during a specific time of year or to get into a mood. How pathetic. Truly. People who post their playlists have enormous egos that are nothing more than bloated shells.

Here is my playlist. Twenty five songs to cruise along under charcoal skies as Halloween Eve nears.

1. Welcome To My Nightmare (Alice Cooper says hello, let's get this thing started)

2. Mr. Crowley (Ozzy Osbourne creates atmosphere and menace with the homage)

3. I Put A Spell On You (There have been many versions of this tune, but Joe Cocker's is the most soulful. Or else go for the original by Screaming Jay Hawkins).

4. Werewolf (I love this song about a father forced to hunt down his son by the light of the moon. Five Man Electrical Band. By the way, this is the band who gave us "Signs".)

5. Bela Lugosi's Dead (Who doesn't love Bauhaus?Over nine minutes of Gothic head nodding)

6. Bad Moon Rising (CCR...A little menace from the Biyou)

7. Call of Ktulu (Metallica has written many songs that would fit in perfectly with this playlist, but hey...Cthulhu and I have a relationship)

8.Don't Fear The Reaper. (This song by Blue Oyster Cult has been featured in several horror films, including Carpenter's "Halloween". And it has Cowbells!!!)

9. Season of the Witch (Now you can go with the original Donovan version, maybe try the Stephen Stills/Mike Bloomfield version, but let me recommend the 'nighttripper', Dr. John.)

10. Sympathy for the Devil (Mick or Axel, take your pick)

11. Bloodletting (A  song for vampires...by Concrete Blonde. This is vampire music for people too cool for Laurel K. Hamilton)

12. Zombie Jamboree (fun calypso piece...there are several versions of this floating around, but I think Harry Nillsson's is the most fun..."Oh, my God..there's a zombie on my belly!!!!)

13. Temple of Light (Creepy instrumental by Delerium, not for lights out entertainment)

14. This is Halloween (A cover of Elfman's song for the Burton movie by everyone's favorite attention whore: Marilyn Manson)

15. Number of the Beast (I was always afraid something would be summoned when Iron Maiden performed this)

16. Godzilla (this is for Mark Rainey...a tribute to the giant of Tokyo, again Blue Oyster Cult and cowbells.)

17. Creepy Crawler ( bit of electronic house music by Zombie Girl. It's not exactly art, but it will keep you nodding while the Belgium boys in the hostel do splits)

18. Into The Coven (Merciful Fate...a wee bit o 'celtic pretense for a wee bit o' pagan flummery. A moody electronic violin piece that seques into a good bit of metal pounding. Actually, pretty decent even for a Danish band, even for a Danish band with King Diamond)

19. Seance-(Gothic instrumental drama....Nox Arcana...put this on, turn out the lights, and wait in the closet for somone to come)

20. My Violent Heart (Trent..Nine Inch Nails...he's a disturbed individual)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

FAT MAN (Halloween flash fiction)




This bit of flash fiction is for Charles...

Snaking lines gawked as the rubes smacked down their coin to be reassured of their own humanity. He sat in silence and let them shake their heads at his unimaginable girth. How could he walk? How could he take care of himself? Who would love him? And having sated themselves, the people returned to their homes and did the things that defined them as less than God.

When the lights dimmed and the carnival at last quieted, he sat in the blackness and tested the air. Slipping into the night, he whimpered as the hunger built. Mole-like eyes shined as he tasted the air and began to feed. He shoveled in the greed, the selfishness, the jealousy. He paused to savor the anger, but not too long for there was so much else to tempt him at this buffet. He devoured the shame, the prejudice, and the black misery. The hatred was so rich that he almost had to turn away.

And for dessert? All the despair, loathing, and foulness that waited for a young life still in its womb. That was the best. Yes. Stealing that little one’s future was sweetest. Untested. Foulness unspent. He would savor it and let the innocent emerge into the world a blank.

Deliciously stuffed, he crept back into the tent.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Someone To Believe In

I have been trying and trying to avoid making any political comments. Really. But I can hold back no longer. I've reached my cracking point. Maybe it was Conclave 33, maybe it was the rash I had on the back of my leg. Whatever. But now I have decided to throw my support to a political candidate, and no...no it isn't any one you would think.

Go ahead. Follow this link and see what movement will soon be sweeping the U.S.







Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Nox Arcana

This is like the best time of year. I love October. And I think Halloween is on a Friday. What could be better?

Naturally, I have Carpenter's "Halloween" theme already programmed on my cell phone. The wallpaper on my computer has been swapped to Alice Cooper's image at his most horrific. And musically, I am assembling my Halloween playlist, that musical assortment that captures the feeling of the season.

Before getting to a playlist, something I'll drop on you in a later posting, let me first talk about a band that has caught my attention. NOX ARCANA. Their music is rich in dark atmosphere and the sort of thing one enjoys playing in the background at three in the morning when trying to scare yourself stupid. At this time, they've produced more than ten albums in the last six years, with such Halloween-appropriate titles as "Necronomicon", "Darklore Manor", "Carnival of Lost Souls" and "Blood of Angels". This is the type of dramatic Gothic film music that a writer of horror tales needs to listen to for motivation.

If you want more information about Nox Arcana (Joseph Vargo, William Piotrowski ), then take a trip over here. It's worth a visit. You'll be able to view some titles, artwork, and listen to some of the music. Don't get me wrong, this isn't something you're going to tap your feet to. But if you want to scare the hell out of the kids...then this is the thing.


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Conclave, not just a pretty name


So...how was Conclave 33? I behaved. Now stop. Stop. I sat next to Michelle West, author and reviewer for Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine and we discussed politics in science fiction. Sure, there were disagreements. But discourse was pleasant and I never once lapsed into unreasonable or psychotic rants. I'm starting to think that was the point. I'm starting to think that by putting me on a panel which would probably have made me crazy had I been in the audience, that I was effectively being muzzled. Even with Chuck Zaglanis and Rick Moore sitting in the front row, their eyes gleaming with mischief, their grins taunting, I was not tempted into making statements guaranteed to incite the audience into a lynch mob. So kudo's for taming that beast, Jody.

I also wanted to mention that I had a chance to meet Steve Buchheit, a smart, funny and talented individual. Check out his blog here.

And finally. Allow me to write that Rick Moore's panels were exceptional. I had a chance to sit in on him moderating a panel on writers and editors. Rick's comments were insightful and he had a way of drawing out thoughtful responses from the other panelists. Also, during a panel on "How To Write A Scary Story", he once again was entertaining and informative. Outstanding job, Rick.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Gathering Evil


The deer are out there.
Waiting.

About eight years ago I had just purchased a new car. Driving along the coast of Lake Huron, on my way to work one morning, I looked out over the windshield and BANG. One second I saw road, the next second I saw deer. A couple thousand dollars worth of damage and a week later, I was on my way home at night. Dusk. Again, in front of me? Deer. Two of them, standing frozen in the road. I didn't have time to stop, so I...steered between them. I'm still amazed at this. They were standing frozen and I steered between them. Since this happened I've had two other incidents with my car and deer.

I see deer almost each morning now as we head into the hunting season. They stand by the side of the road and mock me, wiggling their private parts in my direction while taunting in Brooklyn accents. I've seen them defacing road signs, saying rude things to children waiting for school buses. I've seen them pretending to be civil to one another. I've seen them gambling and wearing cheap make-up.

It used to be about Bambi. I used to look down at hunters. I still look down at hunters. I think the time has come to hit the forests from above, raining down napalm on the antlered fiends.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Return of The Monster

Lovers of horror and fantasy films look back with yearning toward certain film experiences which they might only have been able to imagine were it not for the digital age and dvds. Were it not for director cuts and extra features we probably would never have seen Linda Blair's "spider walk" from the Exorcist or the scene "Spider Pit" scene from the original King Kong (I'll post both below). And to be honest both are probably scenes which we could have done without, and which the directors were wise to excise from the final cut.



But what about other lost gems that we've craved since childhood. At least that I've craved since childhood? I would love to see Edison's 1909 film version of Frankenstein. According to web sources, the much sought after copy of this curiousity was only made available after 1970, when a private collector came forward to allow someone to restore the version. The first public showing of this restored version of the fifteen minute film finally occured on October 30, 1993. Of course the complete version is now available on the net. For those interested, here it is on Youtube. Be aware, that we're talking about a 1910 film:

PART TWO


Another classic that I have craved is "London After Midnight". The lost Lon Chaney piece. Now, unfortunately, no copy of this film has ever been located. However, there were tons of stills made during production and Turner Classic Movies commissioned a restoration of the film based on a shooting script. So what we have are original images from the film along with the script and although it's not a motion picture per se, it certainly gives you a feel of how the motion picture would have looked to an audience back in the twenties. Again, if you would like to see the entire production from TMC, you can find it on You Tube.



disclaimer: I claim no right to any of the video here; all is from searches found on youtube. I urge anyone seeking these films to purchase the dvd's, all of which are available. And to be honest, for the true collector, owning the most pristine copy is really what it is all about.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Writer Rip Off?

I listened to a woman who stated, and I am quoting loosely: "Writers get ripped off all the time. I've had my stuff stolen. I know that staff writers of magazines where I've submitted have taken my ideas. I wrote a novel and was told by an editor that the publishing company that rejected me ripped me off."

My response was a rolling of the eyes. Maybe I'm naive, but I just don't believe magazines and publishers rip people off like this. How would they stay in business? The publishing world is a small world (or at least it feels that way to me) and people who do wrong in the community tend to have their names dragged through the mud. Of course, with most publishing in the hands of five megacorporations, maybe this has changed. I don't think so.

Screenwriters have complained and several filed suit against studios who have ripped the writers off stating: "You can't copyright an idea". Recent court decisions have gone with the writers and studios are becoming shy about cheating people. After all, why steal work as a studio or publisher when there are so many people out there willing to come forward with quality product. The influence of writers' unions also put influence on the studios to reward work done.

Getting published is hard. Bang. That's it. But I don't believe one of the elements making it hard is that there are unscrupulous editors and publishers out there denying writers their just reward.

Again, maybe I'm being naive. Maybe there will now follow an army of comments by writers with horror stories. We'll see. My gut though tells me my initial impression is correct.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Paying To Forget

When I was in my twenties I actually researched having a hypnotherapist put me under so that I would forget "Star Wars". My plan? To be able to go back to the theater to re-experience the film anew. The hypnotherapist merely shook his head and suggested I get a life.

However, the last post about The Great Gatsby has made me think about that idea again; looking at certain experiences, re-examining them removed by time and space. Oh, I could never do that with "Star Wars". I've seen it too many times and could probably write the script shot for shot. Still, there are books and films which I might have missed, or may have seen only once or twice in that time, which deserve revisiting.

Here are my top five revisits, in no special order. I promise to take this trip in the next few months and report back, whether it proves to be a disappointment or otherwise.

1) The Doc Savage series. Maybe not the whole series, but gimme a few. This is pulp in its purest form. Doc Savage and his band of adventurers fighting foreign saboteurs and other threats to democracy and apple pie.
2) Dracula. The actual novel that it seems so many people know about and never read; and along that vein (forgive a pun) perhaps Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Frankenstein. These are the titles I read as a kid, back in the time of covered wagons we didn't have horror in young adult literature, no Goosebumps, Harry Potter, or Stein.
3) Crime and Punishment. The Brothers Karamazov. The Idiot. You know, in early college I read through these texts and because I was young and stupid, probably missed the beauty and complexity of the writing that made these novels great.
4) Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Now, I never actually read this book, but because everyone around me in the seventies did, I always felt a little left out. So, yeah, this is on the list.
5) The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov. It's been a long long time. And while I'm at it, maybe a few of the Heinlein novels. You know, maybe a journey to the golden and silver ages of science fiction.

We'll see. What about you? Time is the best hypnotherapist; it robs us of so much. Are you going back to re-experience anything? Or are you strictly future bound?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Her Voice Is Full Of Money


I have just finished "The Great Gatsby". What a marvelous work.

This is my first reading of this. Okay, all of you stop gaping in wonder. That's how classics work from time to time...some books just get by you. I've been meaning to read this for the last..oh...thirty years. I have finally done so.

. . . One autumn night, five years before, they had been walking down the street when the leaves were falling, and they came to a place where there were no trees and the sidewalk was white with moonlight. They stopped here and turned toward each other. Now it was a cool night with that mysterious excitement in it which comes at the two changes of the year. The quiet lights in the houses were humming out into the darkness and there was a stir and bustle among the stars. Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalk really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees--he could climb to it, if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder.

I swear when I read that prose I wanted to applaud. But the beauty of the writing, the lyrical use of description (the incomparable milk of wonder)paints astonishing images and at the same time sets up metaphors that weave in and out of the theme.

The characters here are complex.

The tragic Gatsby, in love with a woman who can never really love him back; a woman so shallow that she can be described by a few words: "Her voice is full of money." God. In that sentence, placed where it is in the book, we have unquestionably established Daisy. With those words the author has driven a needle through her, pinning her into place. A specimen. And Gatsby, pursuing her, is persuing a dream which can never find fruition. This shell, though noble and poetic, running from one past, pursuing another, has nothing to offer the future. Gatsby has seen his finest hour and it is behind him.


This novel, a tragedy of unfulfilled love, empty dreams, shallow relationships,
pathetic decadence and punished materialism deserves the accolades it has
received over the last several decades.

This is one of the greatest American novels ever written. I am embarrassed to only be reading it for the first time at age fifty three. If you haven't read Gatsby, then grab a copy, sit down, and read.
But read interactively. Don't just follow the words and expect to be entertained.
Read and question. Explore. Stop between paragraphs occasionally, and think about what
you have read. I don't mean plotting, I mean structure, language, description.

Here's to Jay Gatz. And to Daisy, where ever you landed.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Coming Conclave

This October 3-5th I will be a participant at Conclave 33, a science fiction and fantasy convention in Romulus, Michigan. For those interested, the panels I'll be participating in are "Fanfiction", "H.P. Lovecraft, Influences in Popular Culture", and "Politics in Science Fiction and Fantasy". For those who know my sometimes colorful character, I promise to behave. Especially in the presence of Michelle West, with whom I will share the panel for "Politics in Science Fiction and Fantasy". A contributor for The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, she has written numerous novels, including "The Sundered" Tetraology" and "The Sacred Hunt" duology. I'm looking forward to meeting her and hearing what she has to offer in discussion of genre.

Besides myself, William Jones, publisher of Elder Sign Press will be present. Also associate editor Chuck Zaglanis will be presenting as well. And Ferrell "Rick" Moore will be doing numerous presentations. Rick, known around here as vwriter, is a martial arts specialist, certified paranormal investigator and a student of alchemy. In addition to his presentation on H.P. Lovecraft, I think, and I'm sure he can correct me, he'll be doing a presentation on secret societies in literature and the real world, as well as a few panels on horror writing and perhaps some workshopping with burgeoning writers.

I think it's going to be a good time. And despite the skepticism that William Jones and Chuck Zaglanis may have regarding my ability to behave myself, I promise I'll be the model of decorum.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tasting The Urine

"The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

Sherlock Holmes inspired me when I was a kid. I loved the idea of being able to look around and in one glance dissect the world commandingly; I thrilled at the intellectual acrobatics and the keen discipline the master displayed.

According to Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein, observation is one of the thirteen thinking tools of the world's most creative people. Their book, "Sparks of Genius" is being used in a class I am taking. So, you'll forgive me if I incorporate some of my learning into the blog.

The thing that the Root-Bernsteins emphasize is that while observation is key to being able to apply creativity in real-world applications, it is something that can be learned. Observation isn't just a gift that some have and some don't. Art critic Herbert Read once stated that "observing is almost entirely a an acquired skill."

So what's the key? I'm not going to write an essay here about how to improve observational skills, I just wanted to note the importance of observation in creativity. Especially as a writer. However, one can just as easily make an argument for the importance of observation in any discipline. In any profession. By watching, focusing, using patience, one will spot patterns perhaps previously unnoticed and perhaps through those patterns make connections that they might have missed otherwise.

And of course, we must be cautious to limiting observation to the visual. Observation should include the aural, the olfatory, the tactile. Consider the keen aural skills of the musician, of an engineer listening to a car engine, of an attentive parent listening to a child at play or at rest.

The Root-Bersteins quoted W.E.B. Beveridge and I would like to share the story here:

"A Manchester physician, while teaching a ward class of students took a sample of diabetic urine and dipped a finger in it to taste it. He asked his students to repeat this action. Reluctantly they did, agreeing with their mentor that the urine was indeed sweet. 'I did this to teach you the importance of observing detail,' he said. 'Had you watched me carefully you would have noticed I dipped only my first finer into the urine...but licked the second."

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Buttercup Faces The Night


Make up and lipstick. The perfect mask.

Combined in the right manner it can enhance, allure, or terrify. The ritual of taking on the mask is as old as organized religion. Nail polish can be traced back to 3000 B.C. According to one source women used to use burnt matches to darken eyes, berries to stain lips, and young boy's urine to fade freckles. Some would drink ox blood to improve complexion.

In history, in some religions and cults, taking on makeup was considered a way to assume the mask and possibly the mantle of godhood, or at very least, divine approval. Consider the Native Americans wearing war paint into battle. Perhaps its the idea of the religious connotation of certain makeup practices as opposed to its secular and libidinous use that has drawn such ire from religious fundamentalists over the years.

Given the idea that makeup is more than just something applied in haste at the beginning of the day, doors open for intriguing consideration.

I am fascinated by all role stretching in a society. Ethnic and racial roles. Gender roles. Class roles. Political roles. As a writer, it's rich subtext. Threading something as small as the use of makeup into a short story can tilt things in a strange and disturbing way.

Think about the sudden appearance of an ominous message on a mirror written in lipstick. What about the violation of someone rendered helpless and while in that position, has their face ridiculously made up, smeared with lipstick and powder as a mask of humiliation. Consider the image of the cosmetologist at the funeral parlor, working the corpse so that its appearance is "natural" and pleasing to the living.

In the end all masks fall away and what remains is the inevitable unveiling. Hmmmm. Given a choice between on one hand dressing up in yellow pinifore while wearing glitter lipstick and bright pancake powder, and on the other hand, facing the darkness that hides outside the window and crouches in our dreams, I'll take the glitter and glam.

Just call me Buttercup.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Back to...


Summer's over. Tomorrow I return to my other life, the one where my blood pressure rises and I come home at night spitting out monosyllables while rubbing crackers with a dirty index finger. Yes, tomorrow, it's school. So, if you'll excuse me, I'll take a minute here and practice one of my favorite head games:

Student: "This is a stupid assignment."
Me: "Yes, I suppose you might look at it that way."
Student: "I'm not going to do it."
Me: "Okay."
Student: "Fine."
----long pause----
Student: "What happens if I don't do it?"
Me: "That's up to you."
Student:"You're the one who grades me."
Me: "I didn't say I wouldn't grade you, I just can't tell you what will happen to you if you don't do it."
Student: "What?"
Me: "Beg your pardon?"
Student:"So, if I don't do it, you'll fail me."
Me: "Absolutely."
Student: "But it's a stupid assignment!!!!"
Me: "Okay."
Student: "So why should I have to do it????"
Me: "You don't."
Student: "But you'll fail me."
Me: "Only if you don't do it."
Student: "You suck. Why can't you be fair?"
Me: "I don't know what you want from me. If you don't want to do it, then don't. It's up to you. I have no control over any of this."
Student: "But you're the one giving me this assignment."
Me: "Define give."
Student: "What?"
Me: "Well, if you say so."
Student: "Wait. What????!!"
Me: "How's everyone doing class, any questions???"


I can already see I'll be taking my blood pressure medication before the end of the month.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Write What You Know...or Feel



We've all heard the dictum: "Write what you know." We've also heard all writing is "biographical in nature". And so we tie these two phrases together. Often these words have been used to tell writers who are writing outside their experience that perhaps they should stay with the familiar. A blue collar worker writing about life and death in the arctic circle? A teacher in a small town writing about mountain men in the early eighteen hundreds? What?

Perhaps we need to examine the above dictums from slightly different perspectives. Perhaps we should listen to Robert Frost: "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." Perhaps writing "what we know" isn't a concrete direction about environment, but a direction to peer within, to seek the truth of the internal. Writing "what we know" is allowing ourselves to experience an emotion, to feel it truthfully and deeply, and then to convey that feeling through the written word.

If we don't "know" the feeling of isolation, if we have never felt that, then it is difficult to convey that feeling. If we don't "know" the feeling of joy or the feeling of profound sorrow, then we can't share that feeling with a reader. However MOST ADULT WRITERS KNOW A TREMENDOUS SPECTRUM OF EMOTIONS. So, the key, the key is to be able to tap into your feelings and communicate those feelings through words to your reader; to write so that your readers are able to feel what you feel. When that happens your writing assumes a mantle of truth.

Steinbeck wrote: "No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself. " Writing is about knowing yourself. Then, it's about helping others know you while at the same time identifying with universal traits.

"Facts and truth really don't have much to do with each other.
"--William Faulkner.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Surf's Up!!!!

Can you tell something about someone by the links that sit happily in their bookmarks folder? I flipped through mine and I think the answer is: "Absolutelymaybepositivelyperhapsnonotatallldontevengothereforgettaboutit".

Um, if you need to check the spelling of that word, be aware I'm using the reformed Latin. My links tend to be dominated in three categories: film, politics, and sports. Seeing that, I was a little disappointed. Where were the lofty educational links that one expects from an educator? Where were the multitude of literary or author links that showed my devotion to writing?

I will share with you my top ten to fifteen links, to give you some insight as to how I waste um...spend my time. Some of these links aren't necessarily my time consumers but rather they sit there in bookmarks calling to me. I invite others to post your own interesting or favorite links from your bookmark folder this week.

First up? Harry Knowles. The man who created one of the best film sites based on his own fanaticism about film. He gets the best rumors and his contributors have interesting takes on what's coming out of Hollywood. The site? Ain't It Cool News. Another cool site for reviews of everything from film to dvd to games is metacritic.com. Seriously. I love this site!

The next here? Fancast! This site, completely legal, lets you watch an enormous variety of television shows you may have missed. "Family Guy","Kitchen Nightmares", "Ghost Hunters", "Star Trek", "The Office", and at least a two hundred others, including vintage shows from the seventies and sixties.

Political junkies, or rather, left wing political junkies should be checking out this site on a daily basis. I go there about three times a day. I'm talking about Rawstory.com
You'll have to sort through some absurdity here, but if you factcheck a bit, you'll find information that isn't covered in traditional news sources until two or three days later. If you're a right winger, you'll have to tell me what source you like to check. Not Drudge please, too often that site has given a series of false leads.

I'm a gamer. I celebrate that. I know. I know. Old fat guys with titatnium knees and thinning pates shouldn't be sitting around playing games. But dammit, I like my XBOX360. As a gamer, let me recommend this site to my fellow gamers. I am sure though, if you are a gamer, you already know it: gamespot.com

Want to meet people with similar interests? Want to know who in your area is a garden freak? Want to join a book group for people interested in women without teeth (just giving an example)? This is a fairly cool social site, the goal being to put you in touch with people with similar interests in your area. I like the idea because the goal is to actually meet these people. No, this is not a romantic site, although I am sure some people use it for that. Check it out: Meetup.com

Some people may have noticed I widget I had on my blog for a while. It tracks the price of oil. I'm sorry. It's something I pay attention to. Did you know that a recent report has shown that eighty percent of the trading going on in oil commodities is done by speculators? Did you know that eleven percent of that is held by one oil investment firm in Sweden that regularly manipulates that market. Close the Enron Loophole friends, and the price of oil will fall. I promise you. Here are my favorite three sites for keeping track of the business world and the world at large: Bloomberg News, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. I am constantly reading and doublechecking news stories.

In additional to these sites, there are countless sporting sites I visit, sites dedicated to writing, and blogs. But I thought I would list these. Hope you find something interesting here. I'm interested in seeing what you come up with. I'll be visiting your blogs and watching.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I Like To Drool---or Is It Grammar?

If you ask people whether or not they think grammar is important, they will stare at you for about a minute before answering: "Why, of course it is." Or, they might answer: "It don't be."

I don't think I truly learned grammar until I taught it to myself as an adult. No, don't respond by wagging fingers and badmouthing the educational system. Instead, ask yourself if knowing grammar (being able to recite rules and diagram sentences by drawing roadmaps that would make sense only to the most medicated) really makes a difference.

Language is intuitive.

We learn by sound. We hear pauses in speech and understand how to pause in a sentence. When teaching grammar, one thing I do is to have children talk and ask other children to transcribe their words. They listen for pauses and try and pick up a flow of conversation, editing out that which doesn't make sense and elaborating where necessary so that their writing becomes immediate. Another thing I'll do is have my students E-Nun-Ci-Ate in an exaggerated manner, painfully pronouncing each word, each syllable. Why? If I am correct about the sound of a language being important, then pronunciation will help students become aware of exactly what they are saying as opposed to what they think they are saying. It also slows them down and forces them to think about the logic of the sentences they are stringing together.

So do I teach writing or grammar? Depends on the group. Last year, I spent an eternity on helping students recognize and correct run on sentences. It was purgatory. Satan himself kept passing through, shaking his head sympathetically and offering to usher off some of the students. When Satan pities a teacher, that teacher really really deserves to be pitied. However, this answers the above question regarding grammar: is it important for a student to learn the difference between past perfect and future perfect, etc? No. Is it important the student knows what makes a proper sentence and be able to construct a complex sentence, perhaps with parallel construction? Yes. I don't care if they don't know how to label what they are doing, as long as they do it correctly.

Some writers who ask me to read their work will ask that I ignore the grammar and just concentrate on what they are trying to say. I respond to this with a dull look. I drool a little, too. Some writers have perfect grammar, yet their work goes nowhere. I still drool.

I drool a lot. It actually has nothing to do with my "people" skills. I just enjoy drooling.

Friday, August 15, 2008

What's With Urban Fantasy? Jim Butcher, Laurell K. Hamilton Feel Free To Respond



So I took one hundred and fifty pages of manuscript and butchered it to change the book into a contemporary urban fantasy. Prior to this the novel had more of a mystery novel feel, with characters developing casually, plot unfolding, tension building. However, a few friends convinced me to go the Urban Fantasy route. Bang. So I started the rewrite. However, after three chapters, I'm thinking: I need to go even more radical don't I? I need to shoot steroids into this work.

So let's talk about Urban Fantasy. Help me get a handle on the genre. Right now I am under the understanding that urban fantasy isn't just fantasy in an urban setting (I recently argued with my wife that Dracula could have been urban fantasy at one time). No, the genre seems to have certain conventions that I need to begin adopting instead of resisting.

1) The novel needs to be series of action sequences strung together by occasional bursts of plot [unfair?]
2) Like any good fantasy, the rules of reality and fantasy need to be consistent and logical.
3) The protagonist [at least most of the current popular ones] are flawed characters, often suffering from issues with self esteem. They also are often outsiders and deal with horrible relationship skills. Their choices of partners suck or are doomed to fail. Another thing about the heroes, they are often (in keeping with the best of Campbell) reluctant.


Butcher, Hamilton, any one else out there who writes Urban Fantasy, or who feel they know the genre well, what am I missing? Let's get a discussion going here. I need to get my head around this and right now, I think I know what I am doing but the voices keep telling me I don't. What about you, Mark Rainey? William Jones? Sidney Williams? Charles Gramlich? Calling all writers. Let's debate and discuss.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What Makes A Writer?

Gloria: My mother died when I was six.
Arthur: Jesus! Don't they know what they do to kids?
Gloria: My father raped me when I was twelve.
Arthur: So, you would say you had six relatively good years?
--From "Arthur" 1981

What experiences in childhood forges a person? What experiences do writers use when hammering out a work? Even the most fantastical literary journey is ground in some reality. No one invents a character. Not really. Characters are hodgepodges. They are bits and pieces of experience stirred together.

Below are five writers' early lives. See if you can guess the writer based on the thumbnail sketch.
1) His mother keep his son from contact with the outside world. She treated him like a girl, and made him wear his hair long until the age of six. His father, a traveling salesman went mad, probably from syphilis, and had to be institutionalized. He died when his son was five. The son would suffer from terrifying nightly disturbances and nightmares which lasted until his own death.

2) This writer never forgave his mother for dressing him as a little girl in his youth. His father, perhaps to compensate, taught his son to love the out-door life. Unfortunately, his father committed suicide after losing his health to diabetes and his money to a bad real estate venture. The son went to public school, showed some promise as a writer, and abandoned a career as a reporter to join an Italian ambulance unit during WWI.

3) During her early childhood, her father suffered from a lengthy illness. When he finally saw a doctor, a case of diabetes was diagnosed but by that time his illness was advanced. His end was fraught with suffering which included the amputation of a leg. He died a few days past her 8th birthday. Her mother was twenty some years younger than her father; they had a cordial relationship. She did well in school and thrived as a writer, but never seemed happy. The guilt of her depression led her to suicide attempts. She spent a period of time institutionalized.

4) One of ten children, life was a struggle for the Edinburgh family. They were poor, and his Scottish father was an alcoholic. His father viewed himself as a failure compared to siblings who achieved some artistic and financial distinction in the empire. He was schooled by the Jesuits, noted having received a fair share of corporal punishment (ah the good old days) and almost became one of the order. He instead went on to become a doctor, writing in the quiet days when he was still building a practice.


Scroll down for the answers....




1) H.P. Lovecraft (of course)
2) Hemingway (what's with the little girls' clothes and these guys?)
3) Sylvia Platt (Cheer up)
4) Arthur Conan Doyle.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dammit, Dammit To Hell


Beauty is a curse. But enough about me...

I recently read that the delightful young girl who performed in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics was not the same one who sang. Apparently, the singer was considered not attractive enough. Now, we're talking about a seven year old girl. According to the person responsible, and this quote is from CNN: "The reason was for the national interest," said Chen Qigang, the ceremony's musical director, in a state radio interview. "The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feeling and expression. ... Lin Miaoke is excellent in those aspects." And apparently this was a decision which also involved party leaders. It would be like having John McCain or Barack Obama drinking aperitifs and passing on whether or not a kid hit the cuteness meter hard enough.

Now I know kid stars are rejected all the time. I know Hollywood makes these choices. But imagine the affect it has on the psyche. As a writer who is rejected on a regular basis (far too regular, if you ask me...and you aren't ,so screw you, you insensitive bastard) I understand the how it can eventually beat you down. But the effect on a seven-year-old girl must be devastating. Especially when you do the singing and the cute kid gets all the credit.

So here's to the rest of us. To the Imperfect. To the Near-Sighted, Flat-Footed, Over-Weight, Poor-Complected. Here's to the EveryMan, EveryWoman, EveryChild. EveryPet. And don't you worry, little Lin Yang, some day Miaoke will be sweating it over a sink of hot water, her face swollen from hormones and too many bon bons...and you? You'll have emerged like a butterfly to take your rightful place in the world. So THERE!!!! Um...no...um...actually, you'll still be unwashed and unloved and lost in a sea of undeserved mediocrity. Miaoke will still be beautiful. And rich. And they'll probably build statues to her where we'll pause and whisper: "Well, at least she's no Lin Yang". Dammit. Dammit to hell.