Saturday, December 26, 2009

It's a Plot!

I love characters. Not just my own, I love all the good characters I've read about or seen in the movies and even sometimes on TV (in between the explosions). And I'm not alone in this. Lots of my fellow story-holics in blogs,, and elsewhere on the web, also insist that the character is the heart of a good story. When I started writing Unbinding the Stone a character was all I had, Tarkas, standing in a path with a stick in his hand. I don't know to this day where the name came from. I had the first sentence in my head, and one day I wrote it down. Then I stopped and said (well, thought, really), 'What do I do now?'

Because I had never written anything like this before, never taken classes, no writing groups or crit partners. I was writing a story because the story wanted to be written. So I had to figure something out, because one first line does not a story make. Tarkas paused in that damned forest path for a reason!* So I gave him a reason, a small one, and it justified him in pausing. But of course that wasn't enough.

I invented a plot. Step by step, one foot after another. Question leads to answer which leads to the next question. Where was he going that he needed to pause? If you've given the right answers, you've got lots of next questions to choose from. Not that the whole story is going to be a sries of answered questions, otherwise you've got a logic problem on your hands instead of a novel. The answers came when I needed them, too, never the expected reason, always something from left field. Tarkas appeared from the ether, and when I needed them so did a lot of other characters, doing other things for their own reasons, and my stories are about these characters and how their purposes mesh, or clash, or walk side-by-side. Some characters literally appeared when some other character turned around. None were invented.

This makes it hard to write. I can't tell you what my book is about because I don't know what my book is about. I think the first story I wrote where I knew what the story was about was my short story 'Off the Map'. This is because it was written for someone, Sandi von Pier, who had won a contest and my story, featuring a character based on her was the prize. I doubt it was what she expected. She gave me details about herself and I built a story based on them. So many ideas I stayed up for two hours plotting the story. Even the name, Off the Map. Plotting was fun. Plotting I wish I could do more of it.

On purpose, that is. I'm actually reading up on it, in a book called (ahem) 'Plot'. Original title, eh? I figure it may not be enough to tell me what I'm doing, but it may help me figure out what I've done.

*"Tarkas paused in the forest trail as he became aware of the sound of voices raised in Song."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

White Christmas

No, not the movie, real life.
Although I did try to get the movie, yesterday at the library. Two copies, both overdue. Bastids.
So I got some other movies. The Get Smart movie, which I watched yesterday and very much enjoyed. Maxwell Smart was much more intelligent in this one, which made the screw-ups and other funny stuff much funnier. I kept expecting the usual slapstick and was pleasantly surprised to find none of it. The villain's villainy was made even more villainous by an early appreciation of his character. Betrayal! AAAgghh! Lots of cameos from the original series, too, and the gadgets. Mel Brooks and Buck Henry consulting. Just couldn't get any better. I also found a movie version of the Man from UNCLE that I'd never heard of. And I got a set of Wolfman movies to watch, including one I've never seen, She-Wolf of London.
Today the big show is outdoors, snow mounding up everywhere. I hope it'll last until Christmas, but I understand there's a rainstorm predicted for then so it may not. Hard to get rid of 2 feet of snow that easily, though. And it will be there for our birthday, in a couple of days. Yes, 'our' birthday. My wife and I have the same day. Makes it easy to remember.
Did a little bit of rushing about, yesterday, not as much as lots of other people were doing, but some. More strands of lights, a present or two, if I can figure out who to give them to. But I don't have to go out anymore so I can enjoy with a clean conscience.
We made two batches of cookies yesterday, too. I made oatmeal and my daughter made a batch of chocolate chip. We're stocked.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas music and query letters

Odd combo, huh?

Well, it's stuff I'm doing today. A lot of driving around taking my various kids to various places, which of course means that I'm listening at least some times to Christmas music. I generally don't listen to the radio any other time. I'm usually not listening to the radio this time either, because basically most of the Christmas music on the radio is pretty poor. I get the impression that a lot of it was made so the artist in question would have some income at least part of the year, long after his fifteen minutes were over.

And how many remakes of classic Christmas songs do we need when thet've been pretty definitively covered already? Can anyone top Bing Crosby's version of White Christmas? Nat King Cole's Christmas Song, or Josh Grobin's version of O Holy Night? (Well, that last one there is challenged pretty well by Celine Dion, but I think his is better for being lower pitched.) I wish it were possible to permanently remove some songs from the list of remake-able items, and some movies, too, but then what would the entertainment industry do, produce something original? There's no love for originality in the world of business, however much the Universe in general may love it, and even depend upon it. Production means expense, expense requires justification, justification uses metrics, and metrics need a baseline. None of which is available for the truly original. Which argues, perhaps, for the absence of business in the world of originality.

Which brings us, somehow, to the subject of query letters. For some time now I've been reading blogs about them and trying to write one. I finally decided that both the blogs' complaints and my own were the same, that a new model of querying was needed. Being the brilliant, innovative writer that I am, I wrote one. It was a dialog, two of the characters from my latest manuscript discussing how best to present it as a query letter. What can I say, I like meta-literary. This allowed me to present the 'synopsis' of the novel in a non-synoptic way, which was important because my novels' -opses don't tend to syn- very well. If I ever wrote one that did I'd probably consider it defective and fix it. Anyway, I sent my little brainchild out into the cold harsh world of agentry to see what the reaction would be, and so far it doesn't look too terribly bad. One agent requested a partial, but passed. One agent treated it like a regular query and rejected it. Another also rejected it, based on certain items of content, but not the form. Only one has suggested that the form should be made regular, so the pros would know how to evaluate it. So it's only 4 responses so far, but three of the four are non-negative.

That's good, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


I finally got around to seeing this, when my son's girlfriend gave it to him for his birthday and he insisted on watching it with us. Both he and I enjoy these sorts of movies, but even my wife, who doesn't like these sorts of movies, got sucked in. I have read the graphic novel several times and found the movie to be a good translation, for the most part, although in one crucial aspect I was disappointed.

I have always understood the story to be about Nite Owl and Silk Specter 2, the two normal humans among the group of superheroes known as the Watchmen. Making them into kick-ass super-fighters, as demonstrated in the alley sequence as well as during the prison break, was perhaps a little too much, and I could have lived without the violence. The feeling the GN gave was people out of their depth, literal watch-men, trying to live their lives in a world filled with powers far more powerful and capable, even willing, of destroying everything. The main importance of the pair was that she was the one who convinced the godlike Dr. Manhattan of the value of life. It was something of an improvement that they weren't forced to adopt new identities after they broke Rorschach out of prison. Since no one knew their secret identities why would they have had to give them up?

Rorschach also was a human, but his uncompromising 'moral' stance, and preference for destruction over a world in which evil was allowed to go unpunished, put him on a different level. His role was quite well-played, and I've always preferred his character over all the others. I wonder why they had Rorschach kill the dog-owner with the cleaver rather than burn the house down around him, as he did in the GN. Budget, most likely. I'd also rather have had the space-squid, but that was part of a plot that would have taken far too much time to explain.

One scene I particularly missed was the final scene with Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan. The deliberate sinner looking for justification, if not absolution, from the closest thing to God he knows, and being denied even that. The scene they did show, leaving Ozymandias standing in the ruins of his palace, was evocative, but probably only to someone who'd read the book. Putting Dr. Manhattan's final words in the mouth of a different character in a different scene was no substitute. Especially since the movie also lacked the Black Ship, a metaphor that ran through the entire GN, describing Ozymandias' own self-ruination.

Over all, a good flick that I'd watch again.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sometimes it doesn't have to make sense

That's a line from a movie I just watched, Grand Canyon. One of the great movies. It even mentions Thanksgiving in it, so there. It seemed appropriate to me to watch it tonight, I don't know why. My son wanted to watch his Babylon 5 DVDs, and I suggested we watch the last episode of season 5, which he told me was supposed to sum up the series but which we never saw. So he pulled it out and we watched the last two episodes, in which various characters go off and do their various things. I was never a big fan of the series, I always thought it was both too preachy and poorly acted, or written, or something. Every episode seemed like half the dialog was busy recapping the action of previous episodes, when it wasn't being monological and preachy.

But the last episode did somehow inspire me to watch Grand Canyon, a movie I always get more out of every time I watch it, even if it's only to figure out where I've seen that actor before. This time I see that the failure of Davis to learn from th opportunity life handed him is due to his excessive rationality. The whole point is that, I don't know, 'rationality is a subset.' Reason is a great way to get from here to there but not a great way to pick a there to go to. The greater part of life is faith, and trust. There was a philosopher who wrote years ago on the importance of trust, that we live every day, trusting that other people aren't going to do us harm. That we take so much on faith because we don't know barely anything, much less everything. Everybody needs faith, and everybody has faith. Not necessarily A Faith, mind you, and in fact I'm distrustful of Faiths with a capital F simply because I think they take the place of a more natural faith that a person can and should come up with on his own. I see no reason to take seriously a Faith that's so simplistic it can be turned without serious revision into a fantasy novel.

As a writer I know this very well. I create the stories but even I don't know what's going to happen next, a lot of the time. I can get my characters going down the forest path, but that's a pretty boring story and they have to get off the forest path PDQ, but how will that happen? I don't know, until I'm driving down the road or doing some shopping and an idea pops into my head. My stories are about faith, all stories are, or should be, but I know that they'll never be complete and they'll never be true. By writing them, I put some elements of my own faith into words and thereby change them. It is my hope that someone reading my stories will see that and perhaps have his own faith changed thereby.

But I'll never know, and they may not either.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A good event

I don't normally post about my book-selling events here but I really have to congratulate the people who run the Mount Sinai Middle School craft & gift fair. I did it for the first time yesterday and had a really great day. First off they had a great crew of volunteers who helped me unload my stuff (boxes of books are heavy) in the morning and then load it up again at the end. It's amazing what a drain that is, doing it by ourselves. Second is a young Girl Scout I'd met the night before, as she was selling cans of nuts and other snacks at a local supermarket. I mentioned at one point how I didn't see how chocolate and cashews worked together, and she immediately pointed out that they had cans of cashews without chocolate. That was exactly right, and I congratulated her for it. It turned out that she was a reader, and I pointed out that I would be at this event. Sure enough she came by, and picked up three books (The Secret of Bailey's Chase, Zamora's Ultimate Challenge, and Cynthia's Attic: The Missing Locket, if memory serves)! Third, of course, is that we sold a lot of books to a lot of people. One woman bought two sets of my own novels, my first sale of the day and a very good omen, I thought. While my own books were the best-selling titles, the best-selling category was the juvenile/YA group. Nice to see parents willing to put up money to get their kids reading early!

Then I got home and watched more Medium. It's kind of weird, but it seems like some of the episodes I've watched of season 4 so far have been easily recognizable variants on movie plots I've seen over the years. One episode reminded me of Fargo, another of The Whole Nine Yards. On the other hand, I was watching one extremely powerful episode, and got a story idea from it. I wonder if Mr. Caron, the producer of the show, would be interested in it?

Probably not.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Coincidence? I think NOT!

We just finished watching the the last three episodes of the third season of Medium, and let me tell you, the parallels with Tru Calling are scary. There are some spoilers here, so if you haven't seen either show don't read any further unless you don't plan to.

I really loved the show Tru Calling. I watched all the episodes and thought it was a really cool, provocative, insightful show with lots to say and an interesting way of saying it. And I liked Davis. It was one of the great tragedies of TV when they cancelled the show, especially when they did it in mid-season, without even a hope of future production to lend closure to the storylines. Many of the other shows that I've loved that also got cancelled at least were able to do that much. But Tru Calling ended with a bang, the villains apparently winning, no hope in sight. I even wanted to write a book to give it that closure, but I was told that TV tie-ins are contracted by publishers not authors, and the show had been off the air for a while already.

But Tru Calling had a great villain, played by Jason Priestly, with a larger purpose of preventing the rescues that the heroine performs, making sure that events play out the way they 'should'. And it had a good story at one point, about how a reporter had realized that all these bizarre rescues were happening, and this woman named Tru Davies was strangely involved in all of them. She gets involved, and ends up the latest victim in need of her help.

And what was the last story arc of Medium about? A reporter, who gets involved with Allison's current case and ends up as a victim in it. The villain? Played by Jason Priestly.

I know. Spooky, right?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Astronomicon part 2

OK - most important things first. I survived the trip home.

Don't laugh. After my last convention in July (I call them that even though I see none of the panels and almost never get out of the Dealers Room), I left at 4 Pm and got home at 2 AM, mostly because of construction on the I80 in PA. So this was a distinct improvement, although I will admit to a bit of scary moment when it looked like another delay in Pennsylvania.

I must say I liked the feel of Astronomicon. The people there were very friendly and really loved the subject. The problem was that there so few people there, which they also don't understand. There are several schools in the area, but the students don't come. Quite a few people in the Dealers Room were also Panelists, constantly going in and out. On Saturday we sold a grand total of 20 books, and that's not good. I've done events where that was OK, but not any with a hotel bill attached. Sunday we did the same, which is pretty common. Most convention-goers will shop around for the first few days, and then come back and buy stuff on the last day as they're walking out the door, so they don't have to lug all that stuff around. We also got quite respectable sales from Con staff and other dealers. I also handed out a bunch of my cards for my short stories, so hopefully I'll see some activity there. It's kind of hard to push a story that doesn't come in a paper form I can hand to the customer.

As usual we didn't sell just fantasy books. These events are for people who like to read, and so we often sell a reasonable percentage of non-fantasy books. Lots of mysteries, an adventure novel, even a western. No surprises there, we sell a couple of westerns at almost every Con. I think the effort made to distinguish SF from the Western back in the early days of SF was valiant, necessary, and doomed. They have too much in common.

So as business ventures go, it was a bit of a bust, as the sales didn't really justify the expense of going. They were very nice about it, only charging us for one table instead of the two we signed up for, and they even let us expand into a third spot since there was room and no one else was using it. As a vacation it was much better.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


Live from the Radissson Hotel in Rochester NY, its...Author Guy!

Please, please, hold your applause, just throw money.

So here I am at my first ever Astronomicon, trying as always to get my deserving books into the hands of deserving readers. We got snowed on, on the way up here. My wife was so jealous when I told her about it last night. Out on LI we don't get nearly as much snow as we'd like.

We got in at around 4 and immediately set up our tables. My daughter, Julia, got a chance for a shower last night, but did I? Nooo. And guess who comes by--last night--taking pictures of everybody for the archives. On the other hand he also recorded a brief interview with me that he said will be podcast sometime in December.

I'm torn between calling my books epic fables, or new mythology. I don't think 'fantasy novel' really groks the essence, man. I've been trying for 7 years now to figure out how to describe my books in a 30-second sound bite or a short paragraph, and I still can't do it.

I've got other interviews that I did a while back on the Destinies Radio show on WUSB, and the show archives are on somewhere. I wonder if I can post them on my website? In chunks. The first interview was almost two hours long, since the follow-up DJ didn't get there in time. Fortunately I was able to speak coherently and extemporaneously for an additional hour, at midnight, until she finally got in. Howard had some good questions, so I had something to talk about.

Anyway, back to last night. It was steampunk night, and here I was without a single copy of Echelon's new steampunk novel, Thomas Riley. Lots of people in steampunk costumes too. As often happens at these sorts of events, we had a lot of browsers, and few buyers. Most con guests will browse the dealer's room several times before making selections, and then they don't actually buy them until the last day, so they don't have to carry around a lot of stuff. So I was able to spend a goodly amount of time with several people, talking extensively about my books in particular and Echelon books in general. Most seemed surprised that I could describe the stories so well, even though I read them a long time ago. Maybe that's the pronlem with both my reading and my writing, I don't just read, I work at it, so I read more slowly and lesss often but I know the book when I'm done. If I was able to just put words on paper I'd also get more words written but I don't know if they would be as good as the words I write now.

I got to shake hands with Robert Sawyer, the science-fiction author. Several of the other dealers are also panelists and such so I expect I'll meet a few more luminaries in the field before the weekend is out.

Time to see about breakfast.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

this weekend in Author Guy land

Busy, wet, and windy.

We were set up to do an event is Islandia, on LI, yesterday, and the weather was just not inclined to cooperate. Last weekend was windy and cold. This weekend was windy and warm, with a few bouts of rain thrown in just for fun. I wasn't even planning to go, but my daughter (the one who does these events with me) asked why not, and the sun was out and the weather channel showed no clouds around. So we loaded up and raced on down to the event. Lots of vendors had chickened out, some even after they had gotten there and complained a lot while setting up. Even in the lot we weren't sure about it, but finally decided to take our chances. No sooner were we committed than it started to drizzle, and we had to get out the tarps I'd cut up after the disaster in Collingswood. The books spent the whole day under the plastic, which was good, since the rain wasn't constant but the wind was. My shelter blew up off the ground twice, and we spent the last two hours holding it down. My neightbor lost several glass ornaments when her christmas tree display crashed down. The event manager came around and told everyone that they would get their money refunded, and a while later came around and told everyone that the event was closing up 1.5 hours early. Even so we sold over 20 books, so all I can say is Tough It Out. The only thing quitting guarantees is that you'll achieve nothing.

Today I spent part of my morning counting books. Not only was the layout at the event pretty haphazard, but the packing up was even more so, and we didn't even do a final inventory until today.

I also checked out some agent blogs. Saw the usual advice about queries. It amazes me that people still need to be told some of the things I see in these blogs. My only problem in writing a query is the synopsis, but that's me and my story, not the simple format of a query letter. I did see that there seems to be an assumption on the part of agents that a story will have one protagonist and one plot/conflict. I started thinking maybe that's what my book needs, a stronger set of links between all the various parts and characters, so instead of multiple layers of plot, threads of plot woven into one, I could in fact have one plot. I doubt that it'll happen, but I don't think it'll hurt my story to try. In this case I was adding new text to my novel St. Martin's Moon. I'd always felt it was too short, but it took some time and distance to see where content could be added without being filler. The story really features three protagonists (which makes it tough to write a synopsis for, since there's no single plot, either) yet only one of them gets any great amount of screen time. The other two need to have some more presentation, which is what I did, partly. I'll probably be adding more, especially during edits, if it ever gets any. I also need to get more time in on my next novel, Tales of Uncle, as well as my contest entry for next year's Parsec contest.

Then today I watched two movies that I'd gotten from the Library. One was called the Librarian, the third movie in the series, called The Curse of the Judas Chalice. Humorous adventure about vampires and stuff. Much better than the second movie but not as good as the first, IMHO. I still think they should bring back Nicole Noone.

The second film was A History of Violence, a marvelous movie by David Cronenberg. A small-town store owner foils a robbery, and the notoriety brings him to the attention of some big-time mobsters who know him from his previous life, a life he claims was not his. What I loved about the film is that it was not about the crime or the mob or even whether it was his past or not. The movie is about the effect all of it has on his family, the members of which are led into the discovery and exploration of their own darker natures, which they hadn't even known existed before then.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Medium - Rare

I just discovered the TV show Medium, and I am so glad I did. I found the first two seasons on DVD at BJs for $10 apiece, which is ridiculously low. I picked them up, even though I knew nothing of the show. Must have been my own psychic powers at work (I use the Force to select my books, too), because this show is everything I like and very little that I don't.

This is a show about a woman, a wife and mother. She also happens to have psychic powers, and the stories are more about the effect these powers have on her life than the powers themselves. Just as my own books are about a man, who has to rebuild his life after the gods have selected him to the work that needs to be done, so this show is about a woman trying to live a life with a power that is often as much a curse as a blessing. This show could easily have turned into some 'psychic detective' type of thing but has thankfully managed to avoid that.

It's kind of annoying, really, since I'm trying to work on my stories and novels and instead I'm watch episodes of this show every night. It's the problem to have, I guess.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Any Storm in a Port

This time things are going to be different. It’s what I do, it’s the way I write. My only rule, and I’ve said it a thousand times, is “Never repeat yourself!”

Consider, for example, the story that was released last month by Echelon Shorts (‘Chasing His Own Tale’, read about it here) as compared with the story that is being released this month, which I call ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, mainly because, well, that’s the title. ‘Chasing His Own Tale’ began with a dark and stormy night. ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ starts with a…um…

Okay, different example: ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ began with a contest, held by a very nice little convention out in Pittsburgh called Confluence. Every year they have a contest for a story to be published in their convention guide, and the contest has a theme. The year I discovered it, the theme was ‘Hard Port’. Any interpretation of those words was a good one, but the story had to include them somewhere. As you can imagine, the story does not progress in a straightforward fashion. No book written by me does, but this story really fed into my tendency to take an idea and go off thattaway with it. Cybernetics. Seamanship. (You know, ‘port’ means left, ’starboard’ means right, that sort of thing.) (No, I don’t know where ’starboard’ comes from.) Wine. Which one should I choose?

In 3500 words I managed it five times. In five different ways. I should have a contest of my own, see if anybody can find them all.

I didn’t start out with the idea that it should be another comedy, either, although it isn’t one, quite. I don’t usually start out with any idea what a story should be or where it should go. I usually start with a character, somebody doing something, and the story spins out of what he’s doing, and why he’s doing it. Usually I’m lucky enough to figure out what that is before I get to the end. A short story lends itself to comedy, though, at least I’ve found it so. Or maybe that’s just the kind of guy I am.


So if you’re in the mood for fiction that makes a couple of good, sharp left turns (ha! Get it?), you can find it right here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

New and improved

I finally got around to fixing up my website yesterday. It was originally created for me by a fellow student at SUNY Stony Brook, but I'm sure it had become something of an albatross by the time yesterday rolled around. It wasn't well-designed for what I ended up doing, which is write a bunch of truly excellent smaller stories. I had one novel and the site was intended to reflect that, naive rube that I was.

I had not yet caught on to the fact that authors have to be the main force in selling and promoting their own books, so the site wasn't especially active, and to a great extent it still isn't. If I want to add functionality I'd probably have to get a new hosting package and rebuild the whole thing. But I made a number of long-overdue changes, the most important of which is putting my novels, my short stories, and my anthologized stories on their own pages. Right now this is 6 items on three pages, but I have many more shorts coming, and maybe even a third novel. The manuscript for that is done, but I have no idea when it will come out.

I still have more to do, of course. In the near future the place will be changing some more, new pages and so on, plus updated content on the existing ones.

I have a question, though, and I'm hoping those of you in the world who read this will leave a cooment about it. I have changed the name of the site to "Left of Center", because I feel that phrase best describes the way I write. I have on many occasions been asked to write stories with certain guidelines and in every case, the looser the guidelines are, the further left of center my story becomes. As an example, I was asked to write a story about fire, for an anthology, and where almost everyone else created tales of house, building or forest fires and the people who had to deal with them, I created a vampire Christmas carol.

You see what I mean. I hope.

Anyway, I'm not an especially political person, but my wife is, and she felt that a title like Left of Center would be off-putting to those people who might come here expecting it to be a political site somehow. So my question is, how would you take this title? I admit I've already skewed the data by explaining it, but I would nonetheless like some feedback on the issue. I don't harp on the subject, and it only appears in the title bar. If this were a blog I could see it being a problem, but what about this case?

Thanks in advance for any comments you amy leave.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Six men, one room, and a door that goes WHAM! a lot

I was thinking about doing this as a character blog, and let Author Guy run the show, but AG’s a bit strange–

Greetings! I am Author Guy, the primary character in the hilariously funny short story, ‘Chasing His Own Tale’, so primary that I don’t even have my own name. Now that’s primary. Besides, the story is in first person and I know who I am.”

–and I quickly thought better of the idea.

I thought about doing some kind of fake interview setup–

“‘Chasing His Own Tale’ is the story of how I wrote, or tried to write, a funny fantasy story, and is in fact based on my attempts to write a funny fantasy story. Very John Lennon-ish. Remember Nowhere Man? Anybody?”

–but couldn’t think of any questions to ask myself. Besides, it’s been done, and I don’t do things that have been done already. At least I try not to.

I even invented a new character, Blogger Guy, to write this blog for me, but the less said about him the better. So I guess it comes down to me.

***Insert Girding of Loins here.***

When my once-editor, She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, asked me to do a short story, and a ‘weird, silly, humorous’ one at that, I panicked. I had only ever written one novel (Unbinding the Stone, get your copy today), and had, I thought, no idea how to write short, or comedy.

Wrong on both counts.

The idea for ‘Chasing His Own Tale’ (which I will call CHOT because the real name is just too-damned-long) ambushed me in a parking lot about a week after I was asked to write it. After about another week of typing away at my computer, giggling madly, it was done. I had a job at the time that actually paid me to drive around thinking about stories all day, and occasionally do other stuff in between, like work. Since it’s a) a comedy, b) short, and b) written by me, it’s filled with classic fantasy tropes turned on their heads, in a ‘Monty Python meets Zero Mostel’ sort of way. It is, in short, a parody, a spoof, a farce, and probably other words from the English theater tradition that I don’t really understand.

Hopefully you’ve all picked up on the not-so-subtle hints that this all took place some time ago. I’ve written a second novel since then (A Warrior Made, get your copy he—okay, okay!), as well as several other short stories. The anthology CHOT was written for , Wyrd Wravings, went toes up years ago (just three copies left, and they’re all mine, ha, ha, ha!) and now my story is prepared for a new chance at fame and glory.

Please help it along by getting your copy here.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Murphy's Law

My car has been showing it's Check Engine light for a while now. First I went to the Toyota dealership for an oil change and they said they checked it and I needed a whole new catalytic converter, and those costa lot of money. I was at a family get-together with my brother, and his daughter's boyfriend works in a garage that happens to specialize in exhaust systems. So I took it there and they said it was just a sensor, much less expensive. About a week later I get another light, but this time it goes on and off, like it used to. It's been on for a few days and then I start getting a wierd problem I never had before: it stalls out constantly. Fortunately I'd gone to the place near my house to shop. If I'd gone to the place my wife wanted me to go to, I'd never have gotten home. It wasn't so bad provided there was a constant flow of gas, but the second you hit the brakes it died. The next day I take it to the garage, a different one which was fortunately down a large hill from me, so gravity did most of the work. I get it into the lot and it dies, so I let it coast into a spot...or two...sticking out a little bit. The garage guy gets to it a while later and takes 10 minutes to get it across the street (he said). He gets it up onto his lift and tries to turn it on again so he can do whatever computerized magic those guys do nowadays to check engines.

It starts. It runs. The check engine light is out again.

"Any appliance when demonstrated for the repairman will work perfectly."

Thursday, September 10, 2009


So last night I drove up to Portsmouth, a very nice little town in New Hampshire, where the company I work for, Bottomline Technologies, is located. I came up here to train one of my associates on the really incredibly convoluted processes needed to test and analyze defects (I'm a bug-hunter) for some of our clients. It's a nice trip, about 6 hours from my house on LI. I suppose I could take the ferry or a plane, but really I don't think they would save me any time at all in transit, and I do like the scenery.

I got in last night and I was starving, and the lady at the desk of the hotel suggested a couple of places. I decided to go to the Portland Gas Light Company restaurant. It was a very nice place, multiple restaurants in a single building. Downstairs wa s a brick-oven pizza room, but on LI we have trouble believing that they know how to make pizza anywhere else. Besides, I've had pizza, and I'm more interested in the things that I can't get anywhere on LI, so instead I tried their Shrimp and Mussel stew, although I made the mistake of ordering the chicken fingers as an appetizer. First of all, it was an appetizer for three people at least. Second, the stew was quite a lot of food in its own right and I left there feeling like I was about to explode (in a good way), because it's Shrimp and Mussel stew! You don't just stop when you're full, it's almost a crime not to finish it. The staff was also very attentive, although that may have been because I was the only patron in that section. ;) In all, when I start going back to places I've been before I'll definitely be going back to this place.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Labor Week day-end

Last week was the official opening of my publisher's new line of short stories, called Echelon Press Shorts. They have a whole bunch of us scheduled to blog for the entire month, except apparently on the weekends. (I suppose this is a bad weekend to hope for all that many people to be hanging around their computers waiting to read blogs.) Normally I just write these posts as I go, but for my entry last week I actually wrote a draft and polished the damn thing. It shows, doesn't it?

I was working from home Friday when I suddenly remembered that this was Labor Day weekend, and I thought to myself, "Self--" (I can call it Self on account of we went to school together) "--don't we have a book-selling event on Labor Day weekend?" And I sort of thought I might be right. This is one of the benefits of doing a number of these craft and gift fairs on a regular basis. This venue's been doing events on the Sunday before Labor Day (and Memorial Day) for a while now. So I called and verified and I was there for the event yesterday, selling whatever books people were interested in. It wasn't a great day, but given the economic climate it was pretty good. People have so much more interest in not buying things than they used to, but fortunately books occupy a nice middle ground between the stuff that's not worth the money, and the stuff that costs too much. But it seems like there are fewer events than there used to be.

I may be forced to figure out this whole 'marketing' thing after all. I'll get to it, right after I become an expert query letter writer.

So how was your week?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

So yesterday was a good day for me, in that I was the spotlight author for the day at the Echelon Shorts blog, and it even looks like a few of you actually clicked through to the book page and hopefully ordered it. Yay!

I'm even looking at the stat's today and people are still checking it out. Yay!

I spent most of yesterday sneezing, and today I had to leave work early and come home and sleep since I was utterly exhausted. So thanks to all of you who read my blog and maybe even read my story.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

My turn

I have the spotlight today, on the new blog for the Echelon Press Shorts line, at . Kind'a strange how the names match up, there. Looks like a conspiracy to me.

They're even giving away free copies to the first five commenters, how weird is that?

What are you waiting for, this is Echelon, man!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

First official sale!

Today my publisher's new line of short stories debuted, with Regan Black as the featured author for the day.
The first official sale was my own short story, 'Chasing His Own Tale'. So thank you to Someone, for checking out my book. I hope you like it (actually, I know you'll like it, but a touch of modesty seems to be called for in this instance). I will be the featured author tomorrow, so come and join me, and tell people what you thought of my work.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Take it from me

A song from Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddigore that is vastly relevent to creative artists of all kinds:

My boy, you may take it from me,
That of all the afflictions accurst
With which a man's saddled
And hampered and addled,
A diffident nature's the worst.

Though clever as clever can be ?
A Crichton of early romance ?
You must stir it and stump it,
And blow your own trumpet,
Or, trust me, you haven't a chance!

If you wish in the world to advance,
Your merits you're bound to enhance,
You must stir it and stump it,
And blow your own trumpet,
Or, trust me, you haven't a chance!

BOTH. If you wish in the world to advance, etc.

Now take, for example, my case:
I've a bright intellectual brain ?
In all London city
There's no one so witty ?
I've thought so again and again.

I've a highly intelligent face ?
My features cannot be denied ?
But, whatever I try, sir,
I fail in ? and why, sir?
I'm modesty personified!

If you wish in the world to advance, etc.

BOTH. If you wish in the world to advance, etc.

As a poet, I'm tender and quaint ?
I've passion and fervour and grace ?
From Ovid and Horace
To Swinburne and Morris,
They all of them take a back place.

Then I sing and I play and I paint:
Though none are accomplished as I,
To say so were treason:
You ask me the reason?
I'm diffident, modest, and shy!

If you wish in the world to advance, etc.

BOTH. If you wish in the world to advance, etc.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

DVD catch-up

Once I finished my comedy short story, I went out and got some DVD sets I'd been wanting forever, like the second season of Pushing Daisies. Actually, that was the only set I went out and got. Such a great series, so original and unique. I'm so upset they cancelled it, and my only real hope was that they would be able to wind the show up well. The guy who made this was the same guy who made Wonderfalls, another great show that got axed far too soon. In that case they had enough time to turn the last several episodes into a mini-story-arc that wound everything up nicely. In Pushing Daisies they had more threads to work with, and not all could be closed. But they were left open well, and that was just as good. Ned's father coming back and no one knew it was better than him coming back openly.

I'm gonna have to watch the whole series front to back. Yep.

And then I was in BJs yesterday and I found a copy of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog right on the shelf. With the musical commentary. Now I gotta go out and get the words to that. I already know all the words to the show itself.

I've had a couple of ideas for the Color of Silence story, hopefully one of them will pan out. But not tomorrow. Got jury duty tomorrow.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Sorceror

I just saw this last night, part of my growing interest in the works of Gilbert & Sullivan. It turns out my local library has a number of their shows on DVD or VHS. In addition to the shows I saw last week I got discs for Ruddigore (which unfortunately was the trimmed down version) and Yeoman of the Guard. I liked Ruddigore, in spite of the absence of certain songs. I got the libretto and found that the ending really is as quick as it happens in the show I saw. I thought there would be some kind of build-up to his sudden epiphany, but he really does just blurt out the solution! I can see where Victorian audiences would have had a problem with it, I have some understanding of what's going on thanks to Wren's book, but it isn't obvious. To be honest I don't expect to like Yeoman, any more than I did Princess Ida, as my tastes don't go for tragedies and Yeoman is supposed to be just that.

The Sorceror was definitely in the G&S vein and definitely an early work. I enjoyed all of it except for the ending. The only way to break the curse is for someone to die, and the sorceror is voted off the island and goes willingly to his death. If memory serves someone claimed that the proper ending would have been for everyone to have slept with the object of their affections, which would have been an unacceptable ending then and even now.

But I saw a perfectly fine alternate ending for the story. Why not have the sorceror drink his own potion? It could have at the very least broken the spell, and, if some sort of 'divine retribution' is called for, left him to wander the earth in the same unhappy state as Dr. Daly and Lady Sangazure had been.

But something should have been done about Alexis, too. He got off far too easily!

P.S.:I've had an idea for my 'color of silence' story, too.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

family matters

No, not the show.

For the past two weeks we've had my wife's uncle visiting us from Philadelphia, so there's been a lot of out and about with him, not to mention ice cream and wine and cheese parties, which we almost never have. He's 75 years old, and his birthday is nowhere near now, but that didn't stop us from throwing a little birthday party for him. My daughter made two cakes, although only one was for him. The other was for our 26th wedding anniversary, which is much closer to now than his birthday is.

The day he left to go back home was the same day my brother invited us over to a mini-family reunion at his house, much more centrally located on LI than mine. Which is good, as my other brother came from New Jersey, with his sons and other 'young persons', to paraphrase Pooh-Bah. My camera battery was uncharged, but fortunately I had my Blackberry, a device foisted upon me by my job but occasionally useful nonetheless. The only hard part was figuring out how to get the photos downloaded from it, but for someone with my skill set it wasn't very hard.

I sent my story, CHOT 2, off to my editor, mainly because she liked the first one, but maybe she'll put in a good word with my publisher if she likes this one. Haven't started work on anything new yet. Still haven't anything workable for the Color of Silence theme, plus I've had some work issues occupying my time when I wasn't doing family stuff. If my millions of loyal fans would just buy my books and make me rich, I'd get more writing done. Links for everything should be <-- just over there, on the left.

I found that my local library has considerably more Gilbert & Sullivan than I had first thought, they shelve them under Opera. So I've managed to see Patience (very enjoyable) and Princess Ida (not so enjoyable), and am now halfway through the Gondoliers, which is also rather pleasant. I'm afraid I have little taste for tragedy, so I don't imagine I'll enjoy the darker works as much as the lighter ones, but fortunately for me they did mostly light ones. I must say, though, it was rather odd to see the part of Archibald Grosvener, supposedly the world's most beautiful man, played by a man who wasn't particularly attractive. That may have been the joke, but I somehow doubt it. On the other hand, I have seen Sandra Dugdale in two productions, as Patience herself, and Casilda in the Gondoliers, and I do just love her voice. In Patience she played the role of the bewildered innocent perfectly. Plus I like her accent, and she's very pretty. I wonder what she's doing now. To the IMDB-mobile, awayyyy!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

new stories for old

Lots of good news on the literary front.

I heard that my publisher has been advised by her readers to accept not only my latest novel, St. Martin's Moon, but also two of my short stories, 'Ex Libris', written for last year's PARSEC contest and originally published in Triangulations: Taking Flight, and a new story written for this year's PARSEC contest which wasn't considered good enough. The contest word limit was 3500 words and my stories usually take longer than that to tell. The book's word limit is larger but I have trouble writing multiple versions of the same story. Next year's story theme is the Color of Silence. As my daughter pointed out, Silence is Golden, but I think they'll expect something rather more original than that.

I spent the better part of this weekend finishing up the largest part of my current WIP short story, a comedy sequel to 'Chasing His Own Tale', originally published as part of the Wyrd Wravings anthology, which will itself be re-released as a standalone story eventually. I know they have the cover art. They sent me theirs and I sent them mine. Anyway, 'Chasing His Own Tale 2', once titled The Inevitable Sequel but now titled Struck By Inspiration, has had the first layer completed, the dialog. I tend to write my stories dialog first. Many times I do a whole scene and realize that everything is dialog, not a thing about actions or what the characters are doing otherwise, where they are, or anything. I go back and add all that stuff after the fact, and that is what I expect to be doing in the near future: filling in the little actions as the characters engage in witty banter and do strange things.

I just noticed, I have 7 followers. Seven! This is fantastic. I figure at this rate, I'll be the most popular author on Earth when the Sun expands into a red dwarf and consumes the planet. You know what they say, 'slow and steady wins the race.'

Monday, July 27, 2009

Prose and Confluence

Just got back from Confluence this morning, don't know why I'm awake now. The trip home was a nightmare. It started out well, but then we ran into yet more PA highway construction, not that anything was happening, just that the roads had been closed off into single-lane highways for large stretches, and there was so much traffic on them that we lost an hour just sitting and waiting for the trucks to move. This was when we had left at 3:30 PM from Pittsburgh, and we live on LI, NY. It's already an 8-hour trip. By the time we got to NJ I was so sick of PA (which is an otherwise beautiful state, but not when it's dark and you can't see anything) that I had to go looking for a gas station first thing. It hadn't occurred to me that they would close, or that early, but I did find one and fed my car. Then there was the rain. Apparently a thunderstorm had gone through the state, so not only was the traffic slowed by rain, when we got to the George Washington bridge there was an hour-long backup at the toll plaza, which I think was due to a failure of their EZ-Pass system by lightning or something. Not sure. But we finally got into NY and only got held up a little at the toll plaza for the next bridge to LI. And I got no flat tires or anything. In the rain. Hooray!

Sunday morning I wanted to try to do a little writing on my current WIP, and found that the copy on my flash drive was missing two pages. Fortunately the latest version had saved to my home computer, so I'm able to continue with it, but that didn't help me then.

Now for the good news: Confluence is a great little convention filled with some really nice people who love books! Many of the books I sold were to people who bought books from me last year and were coming back for sequels and new stuff. Echelon Press has a new line for fantasy and scifi books so hopefully I'll have more in that line next time. This year I had several new young adult titles but nothing in the adult lines, in SF/F/H. We had the Missing! anthology, though, and I sold one of those as well. They love to read there, and it doesn't have to be SF/F. I'm tempted to get a second table next time and spread out every book I have. Right now I have a bookshelf for the straight stuff, which makes the books harder to find. I also picked up a stack of the new Triangulations: Dark Glass anthology. I sold 8 at the event, along with several copies of last year's anthology, which has a story by me in it.

It also turned out the guy next to me had a small press and an interest in werewolves, and he said I could send him some chapters of St. Martin's Moon to see if he'd be interested in publishing it. Several people understodd the concept of a catalyst novel once I explained my book to them (Amy Treadwell even came up with the term 'catalyst character' independently), but none had any ideas for how to create a new format to describe one.
The assistant manager at the Bob Evan's restaurant across the street was also a scriptwriter and expressed an interest in adapting my short story Chasing His Own Tale. I've had lots of people say that, though. Maybe this time it'll actually happen.

All in all, a most worthy an excellent adventure. Now I'm going back to bed.

Monday, July 13, 2009

in the grip

A story's got me!

My publisher is (eventually) (someday) going to re-release my first ever short story, Chasing His Own Tale, as a stand-alone. It was originally requested as part of an anthology of wierd, strange, unusual scifi and fantasy stories, which was called Wyrd Wravings. The anthology is long gone, but the stories live on. In particular, my story, a classic English farce done in my own, distinctly left-of-center style. It cried out for a sequel.

Now, some years later, that sequel is crying back. Chasing His Own Tale 2: The Inevitable Sequel is on the march! As wierd as, if not wierder than, the original.

I've got almost 5K words already, and the story is perhaps half done. The original story was a little over 6K words. By the time I complete the actual storyline and fill in little things like setting and action, this one could be twice that. Or more. My stories always grow as I tell them.
Why now? I'm glad I asked that, on your behalf. The original story, which I will call CHOT, was based on a problem I had at the time, namely, a short story that I just couldn't get started. I ended up making that inability the starting point of the CHOT story. I have recently managed to write the story I couldn't write before, as part of my latest Tarkas book, Tales of Uncle.

CHOT2 is shaping up to be about, not a story I haven't yet written, but a story I've already written, St. Martin's Moon. Believe me, if I didn't tell you this, you probably wouldn't recognize it. I've been trying to synopsize that sucker for ages now, so it's only natural I guess, that it would work its way into this realm as well. At least it's more fun for me.

I'm actually thinking of doing this as a regular thing, do a CHOT version of some other story. If the story will let me, that is.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

the letter or the spirit

I just had an interesting thought, thanks to a discussion on the GoodReads site. They were discussing The Left Hand of Darkness, and someone posted excerpts as examples of her writing style and flowing prose. But it made me think how closed off it seemed to be, that the ideas being put forth there were not being discussed, merely presented as fact. (It's a common problem in SF, where whole books are written to give the author a chance to present their worldview as fact.) The prose was lyrical, but lyrical language seems to me to be a very certain language, the ideas behind it are very settled and resistant to change.

It occured to me that perhaps this is what I dislike about descriptive prose in general, that it is a presentation of the world as a given, incapable of change. It's as if the words are chains used to bind the thought, to take the unsettled and make it settled. I don't get the feeling that the writer cares as much about the thing as about the words.

My own writing style developed out of a desire to not write what I don't read, namely, descriptive prose. There is description, but it's really perception, the world as it appears to the viewer. As the perceiver changes, so does the perceived world. I especially enjoy Patricia McKillip's RiddleMaster of Hed series, for example, also with very lyrical prose, but in her case the world presented is capable of change, that the shapes of the things we see are just that, shapes, and the same thing may have a different shape tomorrow. Or I may. The whole story is about definition, self or otherwise, but not about stasis. Nina Kiriki Hoffman's excellent The Thread That Binds the Bones is another of this sort.

Friday, July 03, 2009

new story underway

I finally decided to get my sequel in gear. I wrote a funny short story some years ago at the request of my then-editor for a story for a humorous anthology of SF and Fantasy stories. I surprised myself by doing it, since I hadn't done humor or short stories at that time. I puzzled about it for a week, and then I had an idea. Like John Lennon before me, mutatis mutandis, I had an idea for a story about a man trying to write a story and getting nowhere. I got the idea from my own experience trying to write a story I had in mind about my hero, Tarkas, and how he accidentally created dragons. One day at work I had a whole bunch of ideas and wrote them all down, then started putting them into the computer that night. I think I had the story done in about a week. "Chasing His Own Tale" was published in the Wyrd Wravings anthology, short-lived and almost unknown.

Echelon Press will be bringing that story back soon, in independent e-book format, along with some others I've done in the meanwhile. This has put me in mind to create the next story in the sequence, foreshadowed in the story itself, which I'm calling "Chasing His Own Tale 2: The Inevitable Sequel". Hopefully people will get the joke.

My style is to change my style with every book/story. "If you've seen it done before, don't do it again" has been my motto since book one. Now I'm trying to deliberately recreate my own story. Not entirely, of course. Some returning characters, some new ones, recurring scenes and familiar themes (well, familiar to me, at least)--it's very strange. I have some ideas for further stories, too, a whole sequence that may be compilable into a single novel-length whole, but comedy is a hard subject to write so it may take me a while to get there.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The joy of spending money

Especially when you don't have it.

We noticed that our roof was leaking yet again around the skylights, and we found a roofer who appears to be rather more reputable than others we found. It turns out the previous losers who'd worked on it had done a number of things wrong. FYI, skylights are only supposed to have one layer of shingles near them! They are not supposed to have nails driven through the gutters! The skylights were installed by some non-professional who not only managed to put in the screens upside-down, they drilled screws through the sidewalls (don't ask me why)! So our poor roofer gives us an estimate for a minor repair that turns into a major repair when he finds that most of the wood supporting one skylight has rotted extensively and he has to do some carpentry. Oh, and let's not forget all the rain we've been getting, so he peeled off the shingles one day and had to wait three days to actually finish the job.

Tonight we just got back from spending more money at P.C. Richards. Our refrigerator has been raining inside for a while so we decided not to wait until the height of summer to replace it. But, to add to our joy, we just found that the unit we wanted and bought is too high, so we either have to change the order to an inferior model or trim the cabinet to gain an extra inch!

Eventually I have to get work done on my car...

On the other hand, I got some words down in one of my current stories. Yay, me. I have a short story that will be coming out--eventually--and I'm working on a sequel, called 'The Inevitable Sequel'. You may have guessed, it's a comedy. At least it's supposed to be. My editor thinks it's funny anyway. I must have 5 stories in various stages of completion, one of them has to get some progress.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New synopsis

OK, I've been working on this for months and months now, a synopsis of my story that captures, even incompletely, some idea of what my story is about. While talking to Therese at Writer Unboxed blog I had an epiphany, of sorts, and came up with the following:
Joseph Marquand knows he's the greatest werewolf hunter in the world. What he wants to know is how to save them.
He's going to the Moon to investigate some werewolf-related deaths. He'll discover that everyone in the colony is a wolf, terrified that their curse has followed them into their final refuge, their prison.
He falls in love with Candace in spite of her curse. He will rouse his prior love, dead on the Moon but not gone, trapped in limbo, and she is not done with him yet.
He must deal with one of the colonists that is in despair, seeking to kill them all and end their hopeless suffering. He will be dealt with by another that has freed his rage, hoping to kill many more people than that, starting with him.
Joseph Marquand knows he wants to save the wolves. What he doesn't know that he himself is the key to salvation, of wolf and ghost alike. Nor will he find out, until it is far too late.

Questions and/or comments are welcome.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Character-driven fiction

Don't ask me why, I'm going on a little bit of a Gilbert & Sullivan trip right now. I was at the library, last week, getting a bunch of books for my wife (who'll no doubt read the lot within a fortnight) and I picked up a bunch of books on G&S for no good reason other than I happen to like the Mikado. I also like the Pirates of Penzance, but I'm not a big fan of HMS Pinafore or Iolanthe, the only other shows I'd ever seen. Having read the books, especially one called A Most Ingenious Paradox, I'm even more interested in seeing their other works. Another was called Gilbert & Sullivan and their Victorian World. The first was a very technical and internal discussion of the development of the plays as works by G&S, how they grew and developed, and even what the stories were really about. The second is mostly a discussion of the effect of the team on the London world around them, and of the social elements that were being interpolated in the plays. I also found a recent movie that came out a while back, called Topsy Turvy, about the creation of the Mikado. Kind of interesting, in a year-in-the-life sort of way, and the portrayal of the development of the story was very pleasant, the best part of the film for me.

I first experienced the pleasure of seeing a G&S show when my wife and I were forced for a short period to stay with my parents (trying to find a rental house in mid-winter, no fun) and the movie version, with Kevin Kline, and Linda Ronstadt, was on cable. It was a lot of fun, but I had no idea that that was atypical of G&S. Gilbert was actually against much of the tomfoolery that went on in this version. He was quite specific about everything the actors did. Anyway, I enjoyed the show and naturally learned the songs, especially the Major General's song. I love fast and witty, and I have a trick memory for lyrics and dialog. Shortly after we found a new house to live in, and what a dump it was, let me tell you, I experienced the dubious pleasure of seeing a D'Oyly Carte production of the same show, and it had to be one of the most painfully unfunny and boring things I'd ever seen in my life. I saw a version by Peter Allen as well, which was actually worse, almost like a filmed dress rehearsal or something.

Fast forward a good many years, and I discovered that the library near me had a number of copies of G&S shows, specifically The Mikado, about which I'd heard a lot but never seen. It wasn't a great version, but it had the expanded stage, more room to maneuver, and most important the song lyrics were subtitled, so I've learned many of them as well. Not much patter, but a number have some incredible lyrics in other ways. Unfortunately, the dialog wasn't subtitled, so I still get a little confused about Pooh-Bah's different roles. Love Pooh-Bah.

At a different library I discovered recordings of Pinafore and Iolanthe, but I had to say that they weren't as interesting. Pinafore in particular was very unlike the others I'd seen, and according to the books that's because it was the most tied to the expected norms for the stage at that time. It was still head and shoulders above even that, so I cringe to think what the Victorian audiences of the day were seeing before that. Iolanthe is a much more mature G&S work, and according to the books one of the better ones. I can't say I was moved by it much, with its political plot, but I was watching an old video of a Canadian production on a regular stage and it may have lost something in translation. I should reread that chapter and watch it again.

It turns out both Pirates and Mikado were unusual for G&S, shows they wrote in a hurry, with little time to prepare or tune. So the writing is looser and the parts less cohesive, with room for humor and actors to shine. The versions I saw allowed that. Most of the shows were much more cohesive than these two, with the lyrics, and the dialog and the music all combined to an ever-increasing degree, to tell the story. The height of G&S is their most cohesive work, after which they sort of had little left to do. Sort of a shame really.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Cool true story

My daughter is reading Call of the Wild, the classic Jack London story. She expressed an interest in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, as well. Then I explained what the story was about. "Oh," she said, "So it's like a jungle, a place of terror, because the managers are like predators, treating their employees like prey."

My daughter is still 8.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Honored daughter!

My girl Julia got three separate academic achievement awards tonight. I left work and got there just in time to hear the principle read the letter from Barack Obama, and then start calling out the roll of those who received the President's Award for Educational Excellence, the one with the GOLD seal. As opposed to the one with the Silver seal. Then she got the Principal's Honor Roll!

Apparently I missed the Certificate of Special Recognition in English. My bad.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Printers Row Lit Festival

Like many another author I was at Printers Row last weekend. My publisher, Echelon Press, had a tent as usual (sort of), and had invited a number of authors to be there selling our books. I went in my secret identity of Author Guy, book seller to those who have the good sense to buy my books. Years ago, I started out trying to sell my own books at craft and gift fairs, but I ran into many people who said they didn't read fantasy. Since I'd paid for the table and wanted to make that money back, and since it seemed to me that someone who wanted a mystery wasn't going to buy a fantasy novel anyway (and therefore I wouldn't be cutting into my own sales), I went to Echelon and got everything they had in a variety of genres. That was five years ago and my table now carries everything Echelon makes and a few others besides.

Had I been in Chicago as myself with just my own books, I would have lost a ton of money on hotel fees, tolls, gas, etc., just to be there. As Author Guy I brought my entire collection of books, and I had on my table everything Echelon did that wasn't already being represented by its own author already. That took a good many titles off my table, let me tell you, since we had at least 10 other authors there, but even so I was still overflowing. Fortunately I have some folding racks, so I could go vertical where there was no room to be horizontal. We were placed at the worst possible corner, because that's just how good I really am. I learned a long time ago that book selling means getting the customer to come in and check out the product, and part of my function was to get people from the far side of the street to come in to see us.

Oh yes, we were reduced, as many vendors were, to a mere half tent this year, so we had four tables, two facing one side of the street and two facing another tent with an lane in between. Most of the business was on the street sides, naturally, and part of my work was to get those people to come into the lane and check us out. I've been doing this for years and I'm good at it. What was most pleasant was that some of the authors at our other table in this lane, Sam Morton and Margot Justes, were directing customers to me from the other side! Go Team Echelon! Sam even came up to me on Sunday, when my voice was starting to go (did I mention it was very loud?) and offered to get me a soda because he could hear the hoarseness of my voice. Gotta love Sam.

The event itself is a blur of faces and people, interested and eager to get our books. Many of them knew the Echelon name from previous Festivals and deliberately sought us out to see what we had new. Some even came looking for me, and I wasn't there last year! People were coming before the event even began and flooded us on all sides. We ran out of small change in the first morning! It started to rain a little bit Saturday afternoon, but that didn't stop anybody, although I was surprised to see that a lot of the vendors covered their products over with thick blue tarps! How could the people see anything? We had transparent plastic sheets over our books so the customers could still see covers and we could hand them out at need. A little bad weather doesn't stop Chicagoans.

Sunday started out much the same, although it had a little rain at the beginning of the day, which blew over quickly and left us alone the rest of the time. Some of our authors left and new ones arrived unexpected. Robert Walker, author of PSI Blue, showed up and signed the copies of his book that I had on the table. While we were chatting a customer arrived, looking for exactly his sort of book (FBI search for a serial killer using a psychic team)! I handed him a copy and let Robert take it from there. Good timing. At South Carolina I ended up describing Austin Camacho's Blood & Bone to a customer, in front of Austin Camacho! He thought I did a perfectly fine job, but I'm still leery of doing that. BTW, PSI Blue and Blood & Bone are really cool books, and I recommend them completely.

Getting there was a different story, not to mention getting back. First of all, being a flatlander, I really need to work on my driving skills in mountain environments. Going through PA and the Appalachians meant that I was constantly being accelerated by every little downslope. On the far side of the mountains we hit some large downslopes, and I was accelerated rather badly and ended up with a speeding ticket!

On Saturday I went to park the car in a local parking garage, only they had no directions on what I was supposed to do, and I guessed wrong. Another citation. The nest day I went to a different lot that had directions, as well as another man, an employee at the Hotel Blake, who showed us how the system worked.

On the way back we got sidetracked in some mysterious fashion and ended up going very south into PA on the return trip. It was very pretty, where we ended up, and it was also very pretty going up Rte. 220 to get back up to I-80, but we still lost an hour or more on a trip that was already 14 hours long. Then when we got back to New Jersey our tire developed not one but three separate bubbles! Fortunately none of them popped, and changing the tire was straightforward. But you can bet I was ever so glad to be home again.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Credit cards

So the government has passed a law restricting credit card rates and fees. Yay. So now they'l go after people in some other way, because they aren't going to give up that income stream just because a Washington suit says they have to. Especially when the suits are acting too little, too late.

Best thing to do, stop using credit cards. There's little pieces of green paper that do just the same thing.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Ballad of the Middle Manager

I was just thinking yesterday of the album Fresh Aire III by Mannheim Steamroller, and how my original copy is old, tape, and missing. When I went looking for it I found a copy of Dr. Jane's Science Notes, and I took the opportunity to listen once again and refresh my memory of the Ballad, which is one of the more interesting and complex pieces. I had once tried to look up the lyrics online only to discover that they weren't here. I'm going to fix that. Someday I'll do the Anthem of Bureaucracy, too, but I don't think I'll do the Muscles of the Kitty Cat. Feline anatomy in Latin isn't my thing.

Yes, he's a Middle Manager, without a claim to fame
Except a high partition and a sign that bears his name
And he blusters to intimidate the members of his staff
Who wait until he leaves the room before they dare to laugh.
He makes no great decisions and his insights are but rare
But he calls a million meetings and he's almost always there
to record in finest detail what we do not need to know
And he turns it into memos which descend on us like snow.

Writing memos, memos, memos to directors and to stenos
Little squares of colored paper by the reams, reams, reams.
Writing any piece of rot that impinges on his thought
Even though it isn't worth a hill of...beans.

Yes he's a Middle Manager, he is without a doubt.
You know him by the quantity of paper he puts out.
He is slow to catch a meeting and he won't pick up the slack
And if you're a fellow manager he'll stab you in the back.
But behind the mounds of clutter that he keeps for their effect
He belabors second fiddle so the bosses won't suspect
That he's far outrun his talent so must over-compensate
Lest they find him out and send him back to monitoring crates.

Writing memos, memos, memos to directors and to stenos
Little clumps of colored paper, how they swell, swell, swell.
Though a manager efficient finds the spoken word sufficient
No one sees you have been working when you tell, tell, tell.

Yes, he's a Middle Manager, with collars snowy white,
And all he does is pass the buck, procrastinate and write.
There is no idea so trivial it fails to self-inflate
When typed on a Selectric or produced in triplicate.
He has no real importance so he has to make it plain
That he's got a busy writing hand if not a busy brain.
Immortalizing every word that leaps from pen to pad
And saving for posterity the thoughts he hasn't had.

Writing memos, memos, memos to directors and to stenos
Little squares of colored paper by the piles, piles, piles,
But the file clerk isn't smiling as she goes about compiling
Pretty folders of confetti for the files, files, files.

Yes he's a Middle Manager, and though he sort of tries
He's the prototype for whom the Peter Principle applies.
He will get no more promotions and should not have got this far
So he's always busy writing with his office door ajar.
He's got a silver fountain pen that's monogrammed in gold
And custom memo pads that are impressive to behold
But his output, though voluminous, is boring and absurd
And all that we can figure is they pay him by the word.

Writing memos, memos, memos to directors and to stenos
Managerial excreta that we dread, dread, dread.
But we know how to feel better, we turn on the paper shredder,
And we watch the pretty rainbows as they shred, shred, shred.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Duck Pond Day

Yesterday was my favorite event of all the events I do throughout the year. Not only is Duck Pond Day my local celebration, it's also one of the first I ever did as an author (I think I sold 11 books that first time) and as a bookseller. I go every year, with tables full of Echelon Press books and literally hundreds of litttle rubber duckies. Lately, I've been selling more of the duckies than anything else. A couple of years ago we sold 218 ducks before we sold one book! I finally had to start giving them away with the purchase of a book before people got a book. Now that's my standard promo, and it's amazing how many people will buy a book, just to get a duck.

This year's event was extremely damp, drizzle most of the day, fortunately not a lot of wind. We kept the books in little plastic bags just in case. The turnout was a bit low as well, but we sold about half as many books as last year. Maybe the fact that there were fewer vendors as well had something to do with it. We still sold what must have been about 200 ducks, though.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


All right!
In some bizarre, flukish way, the turmoil in the economy and the subsequent turmoil in the book industry has resulted in my books, Unbinding the Stone and A Warrior Made, being made available through Ingrams, where they had not been before. This is great news.
Now I have to figure out ways to get people to actually go into a bookstore or a bookstore website and buy them. Where's a brainstorm when I need one?

Must be something about today. I've also been getting some writing done, adding another page to the third Tarkas novel. As usual, the style differs from all the other books I've ever written. I have this rule, "If I've seen it done before, don't do it again", that I apply to all my writing. It means that my books are as original as I can make them. It also means that my writing style changes from one book to the next. This book, tentatively titled Tales of Uncle, is going to be in large part a series of stories told about Tarkas' adventures, to many of the people of Querdishan, where Tarkas and his nephew the storyteller live. Of course, it's not just a series of stories, they all fit in to a larger story that makes up the book, with the last half being a real-time adventure that propels the series into book four where things start to get wierd.

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Isles of WHAT?

I was taking my daughter to the bus stop this morning, and we noticed a lot of tree debris on the ground. She asked me what it was for and I explained how trees and bushes grew. Then she asked me how trees and bushes lost branches, and I explained that too, mentioning termites and vines, etc., commenting that vines were parasites. She asked me what a parasite was, and I explained, using termites as examples of symbiosis, as opposed to vines and tapeworms which were parasites. After I explained what tapeworms were, she compared them to diabetes. I explained how they were different, that tapeworms steal food before you eat it (sort of), but diabetes is the body's inability to produce some needed substance to use food properly.

"Insulin," she says.

"Yes," I reply. "It's produced by some cells on the spleen, I think."

"No," she says, "It's the pancreas. They're called the Isles of Langerhans. I read about them in one of my Muse magazines."

My daughter is 8.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I've been getting more into blogging than I used to, but most of my posts are over on my MySpace blog, not here. I've also been doing a lot of posting back and forth with people over on GoodReads, and the subject of BSP came up yet again. BSP is Blatant Self-Promotion, and I'm for it, more or less. I have no objection with self-promotion. Before I can hope for or expect anyone else to promote me I have to promote myself, don't I?

A little bit of background here, since I shouldn't expect that any of you have followed my links above and learned all about my works. (Although you all have, right?) I'm the author of two fantasy novels, Unbinding the Stone and A Warrior Made, as well as a number of short stories. Info on all this can be found here. I started writing because the story came to me and insisted I write it. It wasn't until long after I'd finished it that I tried to get it published, and it wasn't until long after that that I succeeded. Then I wrote my first short story, on my editor's request, and then I started my second novel, and there were other requests and contests that resulted in other stories and novels, and here I am.

Notice the sketchiness of the last paragraph. It's self-promotion, of a sort, but I'm really not big on tooting my own horn beyond the bounds of propriety.

Just walking up to a total stranger and saying 'Hi, read my book' isn't my style and probably wouldn't work anyway.

Slightly less blatant is taking any conversation I'm in and twisting it to be an example of how great my book is. I've seen posts by some authors who do that and I know it annoys me, so why would I do it?

A better case is a lady I know who posts a lot and has a sig line about how great her husband's book is, but I guess that's not exactly self-promotion.

Also there are those who respond to every request for a new book to read with 'Try mine.' Not bad, but I really don't like repetition. (I suppose it's true that I can't get entirely away from it, story structure requires scenes of certain specific types. But there's no reason I have to do my scenes the way I've seen other people do them. That's why I invented the Elixir of Warrior.)

It's the 'blatant' part that I object to. Good stories should fit into, reflect, people's real lives, Just tell them how it does that. I call my story a 'making lemonade' story. Everybody gets lemons from life at times, and the important part is the lemonade we make from them. My stories are just like that, only the hero's been given a whole bunch...of fantasy lemons.