R.I.P. Rocky Mountain News

Man oh man. The Rocky Mountain News is done after tomorrow's edition. This paper has been around for over 150 years. Having spent many great years in my youth in Colorado, this is more than a little sad for me. I read the RMN's online edition two or three times a week, looking for Denver Broncos news.

The Florida Times-Union serves about two million people in this state and southeast Georgia. It lists its circulation numbers at around 176,000. We still get it every morning. I like to hold the paper in my hand. I always have. There's a pile of news sitting next to me as I blog in my recliner.

But I don't think the outlook is rosy for us getting a daily hard copy. In Detroit, the two competing dailies have contracted to only delivering thrice weekly. The San Francisco Chronicle is in danger.

For heaven's sake, the New York Times is struggling to stay afloat.

This is not good news, in my humble view of things. I cut my teeth writing sports in Portland. They still have a pair of papers going at it, but I've heard that the Oregonian is struggling. I loved the news room, and I pictured my golden years writing sports for a major metro in the Pacific Northwest.


R.I.P. Rocky Mountain News. Sorry to see you go...

Doorways: Support Your Local Horror Magazines

I took out a subscription to Doorways Magazine this week. I also get Weird Tales, Cemetery Dance and One Story. As much as I enjoy keeping an emergency short story in the cargo compartment of my Tacoma, I'm not sure I'll be renewing One Story. I've found the overall quality of the magazine a little inconsistent, sad to say. I usually like every other story.
I recently read the lamentations of an editor at a popular magazine who said, essentially, that writers don't buy magazines. This editor is, most probably, correct.
And I'll admit that many writers find a magazine's overtures to "purchase copies so you'll get a feel for what we print" trite, and maybe a bit of a cash grab.
But it's good advice.
Henry Ford once said: You can't pay your workers so poorly that they can't afford to drive the cars they're building. I think this maxim applies to writers as well. If you want to sell your work, you need to also support the platforms that make it possible.
I know times are rough, but if you're able, taking out a subscription to a favorite magazine goes a long ways--particularly in the genre fields, where quality pubs like Realms of Fantasy have recently perished.
Non Sequitir Transition:
I don't like being the person who has to drive behind a truck that has a person sitting in the back of it. It's awkward for everyone involved.
Also, I like the word "whilst." While I can't think of any occasion in which I'd ever use it, it has a nice ring to it...


What in the...?

Twice in the last couple of months I've had a young man knock on the door and pose the following query:

"Hey, man. Do you like steak?"

Uhhh, yeah. I do. A lot.

I just don't like to buy it from a fellow canvassing my neighborhood in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt who's willing to go as low as $3.00.

I don't know what $3.00 will buy me. Our business relationship hasn't ever gone that far. Maybe someday, I'll learn just what cut the mysterious bargain meat is...


Something Wicked and 9 Curzon Place

I've always been fascinated by carnivorous plants. There are numerous varieties of these clever suckers, and a variety of different trapping mechanisms. You got your snap traps, your bladder traps, your pitfall traps and your flypaper traps, among others.

It's a remarkable notion to think of these bullies of the floral world snacking on insects. Talk about payback.

About a year ago, I was listening to AM talk radio while jogging on Atlantic Beach. I was tuned to the Jim Rome Show, where the listeners have kept a running joke about Cass Elliot choking on a ham sandwich alive for years. I wanted to look more closely into Cass's story, so I came home and did a little research. Well, Cass died of congestive heart failure while on tour in England. There was a ham sandwich next to her bed, but it had nothing to do with her death. She perished in Flat 12 in the apartment building located at 9 Curzon Place in London.

Looking into her death a little further revealed a strange coincidence. Keith Moon, the legendary drummer of The Who, later overdosed in the same flat. I read a bunch of articles about these artists and the wheels up there cranked into motion.

I started to think about how, maybe, some places are kind of like those carnivorous pitcher plants. How some places might secrete a chemical, luring prey ever closer before engulfing them, trapping them inside forever.

And what if one of these places liked rock music? Well, with Cass Elliot and Keith Moon, 9 Curzon Place was well on its way to building a hell of a band.

I put my energy into writing a story that would tie all of these ideas together. I polished it and sent it to editor Joe Vaz at Something Wicked, a great magazine out of Cape Town, South Africa. Joe liked the story and the piece is now available in both print and PDF formats at the SW website. You can also pick up a copy at numerous outlets in New York City and at selected bookstores throughout the United States. I purchased SW #7 through Fictionwise and was very pleased with the finished product, but the hard copy is a full-color glossy magazine and is really the coolest reading experience, if you can wait on the international shipping.

Here's a direct link to SW #9.

I'm thankful to Joe for accepting this story, and I hope you'll send me an e-mail or comment here on the blog to let me know what you thought of it.


Grandson Sues to Reclaim Geronimo's Remains

In what can only be fairly characterized as a bizarre news story, Harlyn Geronimo is suing President Obama, the army, Yale and Skull and Bones to investigate whether Yale's secretive order has pilfered his grandfather's remains. Geronimo, one of the last leaders in America's Indian Wars, died at the age of 79 in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Although it's believed that his remains were housed beneath a monument at the Oklahoma fort, Harlyn Geronimo contends that his grandfather's skull was stolen and is commonly used in strange rituals at Yale.

Weird, huh?

Makes me wonder who else they might have in their "clubhouse" out there in Connecticut. What if the zombie revolution starts there and Geronimo, Elvis, Ambrose Bierce and JFK take to the streets at the helm of an indestructible zombie army?

I'm telling you, there's a story there...


Writing Theory: Drafting Compelling Dialogue

Editors and graduate students (often one and the same, when you're submitting to collegiate journals) love to espouse the advice show, don't tell. This is largely a function of creating authentic dialogue. Of course, it also means avoiding the dreaded information dump as much as is practical, and every rule should be taken with a grain of salt.

Many of my favorite writers do an awful lot of telling, and the work is certainly none the worse for it.

But to discuss today's topic of dialogue, I'll start with advice taken from one of my favorite resources, Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.

Page 75, Section 11:

It is seldom advisable to tell all. Be sparing, for instance, in the use of adverbs after "he said," "she replied," and the like: "he said consolingly"; "she replied grumblingly." Let the conversation itself disclose the speaker's manner or condition.

The authors go on to call dialogue heavily peppered with adverbs "cluttery and annoying," which is certainly not the desired effect you want with your work. In On Writing, Stephen King takes the adverb culling a step further, advising authors to use a chainsaw when cutting these terms from your work in progress.

Good advice, I think.

Page 76, Section 13:

Dialogue is a total loss unless you indicate who the speaker is. In long dialogue passages containing no attributives, the reader may become lost and be compelled to go back and reread in order to puzzle things out. Obscurity is an imposition on the reader, to say nothing of its damage to the work.

Place attributives...where the break would come naturally in speech--that is, where the speaker would pause for emphasis, or take a breath. The best test for locating an attributive is to speak the sentence aloud.

This is simple, sound advice. I read every story out loud at least a few times before I send it out on submission. I've found it's the best test for fluidity in my prose, and it does improve the dialogue. Words spoken carry different weight than they do on paper.

When I wrote Wendigo a few years ago, I had longer scenes that often included three or more characters having a talk. It got old doing the he said/she said, and I was curious for some advice on the topic. I attended the First Coast Writer's Festival here in Jacksonville where Steve Berry, a very gracious man and fine writer, gave a talk on crafting the novel. During the Q & A I posed my question. Berry liked the question, saying he'd been waiting to answer that one for some time, and he told me that the trick there is to use mannerisms.

Sally leaned forward. "What do you want from me?"

"Nothing," Jim replied, "I don't want anything at all from you."

I took a class in graduate school on Ray Carver. I can't find the article, but I read an interview once where Carver once said that the attributive "he/she said" is the best bet. It's the most honest. I tend to agree. I'm a "he/she said" guy first and foremost, but I sprinkle in "replied" and "asked" as well. There are a number of others I'll go to also.

And remember, sometimes you can convey mood in the dialogue through the punctuation. I noticed this passage last night in John Connolly's (excellent) novel The Book of Lost Things:

"Fresh meat!" she whispered to herself. "Fresh meat for old Grammer's oven!"

The juxtaposition of the exclamation points with the attributive "she whispered" creates a different effect than merely saying: "Fresh meat!" she hissed. The meaning is fairly uniform, but Connolly's version has a stronger undercurrent of menace and immediacy to it.

One final note. Never, to the best of my knowledge, have I ever used the term "he laughed." It's difficult to speak and laugh at the same time. Try it sometime. I always use:

"Ok, ok," Jim said, laughing.

Or something of that nature--you get the idea. It's a little idiosyncrasy, to be sure, but it makes sense to me.

As an exercise, try writing a short story that's better than 90% dialogue. If you want a model, take a spin through some of Carver's stories in the Vintage edition of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Lots of great examples in there.


Dark Days in Jacksonville

The Jacksonville Jaguars did the unthinkable today, releasing Fred Taylor, the greatest player in the franchise's short history. I just heard the news after leaving the office, and this one hurts. Being the stand-up man that he is, Fred did an interview on the locally broadcasted Pete Prisco Show.

Fred was gracious in discussing his tenure with the Jags. He mentioned that owner Wayne Weaver and coach Jack Del Rio flew to his home in South Florida to ask him to retire. Fred said that he knew something was up when his agent's calls to renegotiate went largely ignored by the Jags. Del Rio was just interviewed on the local newscast. He said the Jags are in rebuilding mode and those plans don't include Freddy T. With Maurice Jones-Drew set to make a huge payday, the team couldn't afford two six-million-dollar backs. It does make sense, but it's more than a little surreal.

When I was living in Oregon, I drafted Fred first in the fantasy league I was playing in during the 2000 season. Little did I know how frequently I would see him play in person and listen to him on the radio. He did regular radio interviews out here on Thursdays during the 4:00 p.m. hour. In the summer and fall, that's when I'd be pushing the mower around in the 95 degree heat, sweating and listening to Fred talk football.

He was always a fantastic talent, and I got a chance to see what a great individual he is also. He's very charitable and he grew into a great speaker (dude gives a helluva candid interview) and a savvy veteran. He's got a lot more football left in him also. Put him on a team that runs a zone blocking scheme (I'm looking at you, Denver), and he'll run wild. He's one of the best trap runners in the league, and he can still go eighty yards in a heartbeat.

The last thing he discussed with Prisco was possibly taking a slot on the hated Colts. That would turn this town inside out, let me tell you.

Fred is 16th all-time in rushing yards in NFL history. He scored 70 touchdowns as a Jaguar. He played here for eleven years. That's amazing, in and of itself in the NFL.

I wish you the best in your future endeavors, Fred, and know that we'll be keeping a spot warm for you in the Pride of Jacksonville Ring of Fame at the stadium.


A Taste of Old Florida

Looks inviting, doesn't it? Good old Boca Grande. Tourists love to swim in that water, but the locals know better. That stretch of cool blue is absolutely teeming with hungry mermaids.

They've been known to tip john boats, pulling fisherman down into a salty embrace at the bottom of the sea.

It's hot here today. The temptation would be to dip a toe. But take care,friends. There's plenty of safe water further north...


In Memorium: Herbert Hamrol

Herbert Hamrol, the last survivor of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (how surreal an idea is that?) has passed away. Hamrol, 106, credited his long life to "wild women and good liquor." Up until a month ago, he worked two days a week at a grocery store. He was independent, still getting around the city on the BART trains, and he'd recently celebrated his 106th birthday at a huge party at a steakhouse. 106 and eating t-bones and drinking bourbon. Nice.

What a life...


The Kindle 2.0

In a publicity storm rivalled only by A-Rod's doping admissions, the Amazon Kindle's second-generation e-book reader made quite a splash yesterday. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos certainly has grand plans for this technology, saying he envisions access to "every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds."


Although timeliness often leads to hyperbole when it comes to technology, I have to admit that I'm both excited and anxious about what this means for the future of publishing. Many of us have been reading e-books for at least five years now. That's nothing new. But the portability and capacity (Kindle 2.0 holds 1500 books) of this reader are attractive features. As much as I love bookstores (the smell, the book-lovers, the scads of unique formats and editions), there is something nice about pulling up a new book in under sixty seconds, right there from the comfort of your Barcalounger.

While the device is still expensive ($359), the books are pretty cheap. You can purchase some stories individually. If you buy a lot of books in a year, and particularly hardcovers, this sucker could pay for itself in short order. The user reviews for Kindle 1.0 have been, largely, quite positive.

The implications of technology like the Kindle are enormous for the publishing industry, of course. Amazon reported that, for books offered in both print and e-book formats, Kindle-version sales jumped 10% in 2008, a positive result in a decidedly gloomy year for the publishing industry. Although Bezos and Amazon won't ever usurp Gutenberg in the public consciousness, the rapid nature of the marketplace's embrace of the Kindle can't be discounted.

I'd love to hear reviews for any of you reading this that own Kindle 1.0. What's the call-traditional books or e-books?


The Visitor

In terms of movies, we saw the highs and the lows in the Powell household this past weekend.

Friday night brought us Eagle Eye, a film so utterly devoid of compelling storytelling that I tuned it out after about thirty minutes. Jeanne fell asleep. Underwhelming performances, tepid pacing, shallow writing and dreadful special effects (Ooooohhhh! The orange globes indicate the mother computer is scanning our conversations!) torpedoed this one. DJ Caruso tried to keep the energy level high, but it felt disjointed and, frankly, joyless.

I like Shia LeBeouf, too. I'd like to see him get a piece that pushed his range as an actor a little bit. But, oh well. IMDB lists only a sequel to last year's Transformers for the months ahead.

To contrast, The Visitor is an 'A' film on every level. From a narrative perspective, the exposition here is keen. I really admire how much director Tom McCarthy leaves to the imagination while still drawing dynamic, three dimensional performances from his cast. The director of the critically acclaimed The Station Agent frames a visually attractive film. He allows his actors space and doesn't push the story's politically charged plot to tedium.

Richard Jenkins gives a measured, compelling performance as Professor Walter Vale, a widower with an endearing love of music. Jenkins instills a letter-perfect tone in the character. His Vale juxtaposes an emotional recovery against a backdrop of crushing loss--a stark contrast, to be sure. Jenkins, a popular comedic actor whose not instantly recognizable here, delivers the goods in this film. Great work.

The Visitor is a fine example of everything that's good about the movies. Add it to the queue and save it for a time when you can carve out two uninterrupted hours to soak it all in.


Deep South, Deep Chill

Spent the afternoon checking in on the operations throughout Florida's alligator warming centers. This state's one-million-plus population of thunder lizards hate the cold, so I drove all over Duval County, making food drops of piping hot tomato soup with french bread croutons. There were lines outside the City Reptile Rescue Mission; I hope they get everyone situated before sunset.

It was eight (8) degrees with the windchill today in Jacksonville. This is a serious crop crippler folks. We've already had a dozen plants in the backyard die this winter. Now I'm just hoping the citrus trees and blueberry bushes make it through the weekend.

As I was driving home, I thought I saw a disembodied head floating through the trees. I was transfixed. Turns out it was a dude in a camouflage jumpsuit walking in the woods. He was selling firewood out of the back of his pick-up truck.

Yeah, it's cold.


Transcripts from a Three-Way Emergency Call With the Florida Highway Patrol

Dispatcher: 911, what's your emergency?

Caller: (screaming in the background) Ummm. They're out in the median and (unintelligible)...eating a person over on the shoulder...

Dispatcher: Some one's eating a shoulder?

Caller: No...it ummmm...it looked like they were eating her guts. They're coming out of the trees on the side of 9A, near the scene of the accident. And...they're eating a woman. On the side of the road.

Dispatcher: You're on 9A? What's your middle name?

Caller: My middle...what the? Listen, I just drove through the scene of a major accident! You need to get the authorities down here pronto. They're...they look dead, and they were chewing on a woman (unintelligible)...Hurry!

Dispatch: Ok, sir, please calm down. You say you just drove through the accident?

Caller: Yeah, that's right. Florida 9A and Gate Parkway. Over by the mall. It looked like a tanker plowed into a bunch of stopped cars. There's bodies everywhere and...(unintelligible) zombies in the road. We saw a...we saw a women being eaten.

Dispatcher: Please hold, sir. I'm going to patch this call into the Florida Highway Patrol. (dial tone, pause, ringing).

Officer Dale: FHP forty-eight sixty-nine, over...

Dispatch: Officer Dale?

Officer Dale: You got him. Go ahead.

Dispatch: I have a caller on the phone. He wants to report another zombie disturbance on 9A.
Officer Dale: (loud sigh) Put him through. (pause) This is officer Chip Dale. We got a disturbance?

Caller: Uhhh, yes sir. I just passed 9A and Gate.

Officer Dale: Any dead?

Caller: Yes! They're all over the place, Officer Dale. They were coming out of the trees over by the mall. My wife thinks she saw one as far north as the college.

Officer Dale: They bitey?

Caller: Yeah. We...(unintelligible) saw a woman being eaten on the side of the road.

Officer Dale: Fair enough. Thanks for calling it in. We'll get right on it.


The Oregonian's Books Section and Nuclear Jellyfish Signing

I've always enjoyed the books coverage in my hometown paper. The Oregonian's book section is an oasis of pithy reviews (seriously, these people can get beneath the surface of a book; it's a must-send for you and your publisher), industry news and great regional fare from one of the most literate corners of America.

I love that post on the tattered copy of Henry James's The Ambassadors (an excellent book, by the way). I often get a chuckle thinking about the adventures some of these books must go on while in the employ of the public library. I know I've been burning through some soldiers in '09, many of them smudged with food and filled with sand.

For fellow Tim Dorsey fans in the Jacksonville area, the author will make his at least yearly sojourn to our fair city this Friday to sign copies out at The Bookmark, Atlantic Beach. As I understand it, Northeast Florida gets top billing in this one, so I'll be excited to hear what Mr. Dorsey has to say about his writing process.

You Know When It's Good

If you spend any real time at the word processor, you understand that sometimes the writing flows and you just know in your heart and in you...