2009: A Status Report

A recent Galleycat post offered advice on what writers should blog about. Those of you reading this know I blog about a little of everything--popular culture, my family, current events, writing and film...

One of the panelists said writers need to spend more time writing about what they're writing (sheesh--lots of forms of the word "writer" in that sentence), so here goes:

I was thinking last night about the creative spurts writers seem to work through. I made the analogy, many posts ago, of harvesting different sections of the garden, and I'm pretty much over in the fantasy patch right about now.

We're a third of the way through the new year, and here's a rundown on the edited manuscripts I've produced thus far:

  • "A Fable for Today" 970 words
  • "The Mermaids of Ichnipopka Springs" 4700 words
  • "On the Banks of Royal Marsh" 2970 words
  • "Revision" 750 words
  • "The Scheme" 600 words
  • "Labor" 13700 words

I've also put together 15,000 words on my next novel. It's a great start on a project that's been a lot of fun.

As a batch of stories (about 39,000 words), that group strikes me as the oddest group I've produced in the three years I've been working seriously at my writing. There's a traditional fable in there, a zombie mash-up of a hot-button news story, three works of Florida-creature-based fantasy and a looonngg techno-thriller.

The novel is a haunted house story.

In terms of length and genre, these stories aren't bound by much of a common thread. Nevertheless, there is a similarity in these works, and it's this: the overall tone is one of melancholy.

I was writing some pretty playful dark humor in the last third of 2008, and since the calendar flipped over I've been writing stuff that's far more somber.

I don't know if it's a reflection of the down economy and the national outlook.

It certainly isn't a product of my own mood, as I've been blessed to welcome a wonderful little girl into our family. She's a light, and a great little person. It's not the weather--Florida has been as pretty as ever in the spring.

Like I've said before on this blog, though, I think writers tend to mine a particular vein of creativity until it fizzles out, and then they move on. I'm not sure where the next short story will come from, or what form it will take, but I'll be interested to see how it plays out in terms of tone...


Options for the Industrious

I've got links, my friends. The changing face of publishing is taking all sorts of form. From podcasting to print-on-demand publishing and the long arm of the internet itself, there are many options for the contemporary writer.

I submit for your approval:

Insidious Publications. I'm intrigued by the look of a lot of these chapbooks. The website looks good, and I think the potential is there for some very cool projects.

Drollerie Press. They have an extensive catalog of good-looking books, they publish speculative fiction and they seem to have a very solid web presence.

Mundania Press. This publisher accepts a wide variety of lengths and publishes speculative fiction.

Ghostwriter Publications. Seems like a hard-charging press out of the U.K. They're publishing Move Under Ground by Nick Mamatas (read that journal if you don't already--good stuff).

I also noticed Cemetery Dance is moving product onto Kindle and offering PDF files for $1.99.

The opportunities are out there, particularly for a writer with some internet cred. and an ability to get the word out...


Yao Ming is...

...extremely tall and very good at basketball. His ability to lock down two Portland big men, alter every single shot in the paint and make Greg Oden look like the rookie that he is truly astounds.

When Yao first came into the league, I was impressed with his size and that was about it. Now, his whole game is a thing to admire. His footwork in the post is Duncanesque, freeing him up to pop those little eight--twelve footers that he's become so good at.

He moves very well from the top of the key to the baseline, those huge arms changing just about anything in his area.

He's a great passer--one of the better bigs in the league at hitting his guards in stride for good outside shots (watch that stuff, G.O.!)...

And the man handles himself so well. Listen to him speak English. I know I wouldn't be able to speak Chinese that well if I'd been in that country for less than ten years.

He is a game changer, and well worth that first overall draft choice, which reminds me: NFL draft today! My Broncos have two first-round picks; the McDaniels experiment begins.



A simple idea done well is a delight. If you have a few minutes, watch Boris Undorf's Olivia.


Earth Day

Today is Earth Day--the day anyone with a shred of environmental conscience is roundly chided by those driving Escalades up and down the freeways (and never offroad--Sports Utility my ass). People who care about the future of the planet are called, among other things, tree huggers and alarmists. We're communists, right Fox News! Part of some vast conspiracy to keep your viewers from making money by developing the world!

And on the heels of one of the coldest winters in the last quarter century, these flat-Earthers have strong temporal evidence (never mind that the sample size is a single season--not hundreds of thousands of years of core-ice samples) that, in their grand world view, climate change is not happening!

It's unbelievable.

And sorry, piling into your SUV and driving ten miles to your local grocer to purchase free-range chicken and organic produce with your re-usable bag is not living a sustainable lifestyle.

Take stock of your life and think about how you can reduce your impact on the planet. The single greatest thing you can do is to monitor the amount of waste you create and plan your consumption more carefully to avoid creating more of it. Ten years ago, the state of Florida set a goal of recycling thirty percent of its solid waste. According to the state's accounting system, 240 of every 1000 pounds of waste is now re-used in some capacity.

The state wants to push that number to 75%. Ambitious? Of course. Realistic? Hell no.

That'll never happen here. Florida's ethos is one of blatant disregard for the planet. The people here litter more than any place I've ever visited. It's really a huge disconnect. We live, literally, in a subtropical Garden of Eden. What do we do with it? We chop it down to cram more homes into the ecosystem. A quick drive up and down Atlantic Boulevard provides a stark lesson in the realities of our swamped economy. There are dozens--literally dozens!--of shuttered stores there. Instead of using them, we're now building one of the area's largest shopping centers on the corner of Kernan and Atlantic. Acres upon acres of wooded land was cleared.

And we wonder why the Florida Panther has to eat from garbage cans and the gopher tortoise is disappearing and why there are alligators in people's pantries and swimming pools.

My wife and I recycle just about everything (recyclery at 1745 Phillips Highway). We go weeks without taking the garbage to the curb. When Lyla reaches ten pounds, we have dozens of bummies (cloth diapers) and we'll stop using disposables, which sit in the landfills for years. We try to stack our errands to stay out of our cars (of course, in Portland we lived for two years without a car, but we can't do that here) and we support local farmers by shopping the farmers' markets. We grow our own fruit and vegetables. We don't over-fertilize, nor do we waste water on our lawn.

And we've only begun to scratch the surface of limiting our impact on the Earth. We need to do more, and we will, because we believe that things are spinning toward an unpleasant horizon.

There's a film that comes out today called Earth.

Go see it.

Then watch this.

I'm hopeful that my little girl will see the dawn of the next century. That's a neat idea to me, that Lyla, born on the first day of Spring in the year 2009, might welcome a fresh century.

But what will that look like? Hopefully....hopefully, hopefully, hopefully...it won't look like this.

Everyboday says, "There's still time to turn it around." Really? Is there really time? The time was yesterday, friends.

But if you missed that boat, then you can get on today. There's plenty of room, and your children and grandchildren will thank you for it.

Celebrate Earth Day by being the change you want to see in the world...


Swinging for the Fences

I finished the last set of revisions on a story whose central thread occurred to me in a moment of sleep-deprived anxiety in the hospital while I waited for our daughter to be born. It's the longest short work I've ever written, and it poured out of me pretty easily over the last three weeks. Any trepidation I might have had about whether I'd find the time to get the words in with Lyla at home has been allayed, somewhat, by the creation of this story.

In writing it, I tabled the novel I'm working on. That felt a little odd--I was really humming along on that project--but I'll get reacquainted with it tonight and hit the word processor again tomorrow.

I have a novel currently being looked at by my agent, and I've been furiously revising a story for an anthology I'd be very happy to be a part of. I've written five short stories in the new year, and many of the tales out on submission have been well regarded.

All of this is positive news, and it gives me the confidence to try this longer work with Asimov's Science Fiction. Asimov's is, of course, one of the giants of the genre field, and if you look at the writers featured on the cover of the magazine there, you can see why any writer would be thrilled to find a home in its pages.


Adventures in Reading

I keep a reading journal, and I try to sample widely from the genres I work in. And through my experiences in teaching academic writing, I occasionally encounter some interesting essay prompts. Florida State University keeps a list of previous CLAST examination questions. The CLAST is a standardized test to illustrate writing proficiency for our eleven state universities.

Last week, I pulled one of the prompts from the list and we wrote on it in class. It was simple: which is a more educational activity--reading or writing? It's a simple comparison and contrast piece, and it gives students a little room to include some personal reflection on their favorite books, films and shows.

I was shocked that, almost to a writer, no one specified any favorite childhood books. There weren't any references to classics like Hatchet, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Chronicles of Narnia, James and the Giant Peach, etc.

There weren't even any specific references to books they've enjoyed as adults. I was shocked. It seemed like such a tailor-made prompt for anyone who remotely enjoys reading.

A Farewell to Arms blew me away. I remember waiting for Jeanne outside of her dorm, pacing back and forth as that sorrowful conclusion unwound in front of me.

American Gods gripped me in a way few books have in recent years.

I wept a little at the end of The Road.

But, if pressed, I usually refer to The Dark Tower as my greatest adventure in reading. After literally waiting decades to finish the series, I found myself on a cross-country flight to Portland with only thirty pages left in the book. Alas, Roland's saga would come to an end.

I hated it. I hated the idea of reading it on that stuffy airplane, breathing recycled air while crammed in between a couple of strangers. I'd come to know and love Roland and his Ka' Tet, and it simply felt wrong somehow to finish his story in that place.

I stowed the book, went to my back-up and waited about a month until I could book a proper vacation back in Florida. Jeanne and I took a room at The Beachfront Hotel in Cedar Key and I read those final pages on the beach, as the sun traced out over the Gulf of Mexico. It was a great ending to a fine series, and I was very happy I waited.

I'll read the series again--maybe even this summer. That said, I believe those seminal reading experiences are special. Anyone out there care to share a title or an experience on a cherished tome?


Who'd Have Thought?

...that pirates have "colleagues"?

Take a look at that first paragraph. Honestly, this has been one of the strangest stories I can recall in recent memory.

I mean, what were the pirates going to do with the $2,000,000? They didn't think they'd get away with it and retire to some pirate island, did they? The FBI, Navy and Fox News had cameras on that little boat for five straight days.



The Barricade Wars: An Ongoing Saga

After a week's migration north, our outfit has arrived at the black roads of Mt. Pleasant; alas, our services are not required here. We left sixty traffic cones to cover our backtrail on St. Johns Bluff, and we'll now move east, heading for progress near the Wonderwood Expressway.

My colleague Road Closed, a flashing sawbuck with ice water in his screws, is massing his forces near Kernan Boulevard as I write this. Dispatches arrived in our camp yesterday; they delivered the picture to the left of your screen.

When his army is complete, there will be a shimmering ocean of orange--a force of Bob's Barricades so immense the very thought of it reminds me of that scene in The Lord of the Rings when all those orcs were lined up against the hobbits and their buddies.

Ah, the specific scene now escapes me. I recently loaned my three-disc set to my cousin (another blinking barricade, on my father's side). He shipped out to direct traffic at a new shopping center on the westside last week, so I'll have to wait a while before I can identify the scene.

But I'm sure you saw those movies--who didn't, right? You know the one I mean.

At any rate, we endeavor east. There has been evidence that ACME has scouted construction projects in Mayport Village, and time is of the essence...


Coincidence or Sound Inductive Leap?

Four more were killed in another senseless outpouring of violence in Alabama yesterday.

A writer at the Washington Post has written an article tying the recent carnage (outlined in the post beneath this one) to the economy. Huh. You think?


Symptoms of an Ailing America

There was a time, and it wasn't long ago at all, when the economy was not the heart of this country. There was a time when the heart of America rested in its people, and in their intellect, curiosity and spirit.

Things happened in the first decades of the last century that changed the way we live. They were monumental changes that led to a perception of prosperity in the short term, but 100 years later we're beginning to reap the fruit of that flawed ethos.

We're seeing the miscues of largess in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. We see it in big-ticket technology, in automotive production, in the gaps we've created in funding education and health care.

That last failing was illuminated in what can only be characterized as a heart-wrenching piece that aired last night on 60 Minutes. If you have the time and the constitution, watch the clip below.

There's a perception in the global community that we have it easy in America--that we're the antithesis of Thoreau's "lives of quiet desperation."

But take a look at this tally:

  • March 10, Samson, Alabama: Michael McLendon kills ten people and commits suicide.
  • March 22, Oakland, California: Lovelle Mixon couldn't find work. He subsequently killed four police officers after a routine traffic stop.
  • March 29, Santa Clara, California: Devan Kalathat kills his two children and three other relatives, then kills himself at a housewarming party.
  • Matrch 29, Carthage, North Carolina: Robert Stewart kills seven elderly patients and a nurse at a nursing home. He was trying to kill his estranged wife.
  • April 3, Binghamton, NY: Jiverly Wong lost his job. He was frustrated with "people picking on him for his limited English." He barricaded an immigrant-education center and killed thirteen people before taking his own life.
  • April 4, Pittsburgh, PA: Richard Poplawski lost his job. Fearing the Obama administration would ban guns, he dressed up in body armor and started to raise hell. When the police showed up, he killed three of them.
  • April 5, Graham, Washington: After learning his wife would leave him for another man, James Harrison killed his five children and himself.

Look at that list. Not even a month elapsed from the first depraved act to the last...


Wow...just, wow.

Lyla and I were enjoying a little daddy/daughter Family Guy time when she became a little fussy. As that show is fond of doing, they cut to a Conway Twitty clip.

Super-fussy-baby-powers were instantly disabled. Lyla gave up the fussing. She smiled a little and became extremely content.

When Conway was over, so was the peaceful interlude.

What can I say? Our little girl is a Twitty fan!


Feds Bail Out Old Woman

by Margery Buttwhistle

Jacksonville, FL

The federal government has volunteered to take over payments on the heavily mortgaged shoe. The shoe, inhabited by an Old Woman and her substantial brood, has recently undergone expensive repairs, including a load-bearing prop beneath the ankle and a new thatched roof.

"I just didn't know what to do," said the Old Woman, who claims she is a victim of predatory lending practices.

"Three mortgages, and all I've ever produced was broth. I never even made any bread. In fact, when times were tough, I simply whipped all my children and put them to bed."

Citi Financial, the lender of note on each of the three mortgages, listed a monthly salary of $14,500. An appraisal of the shoe in question will be completed by the end of the week.

President Barack Obama, speaking at the world financial summit in London, had this to say about the Old Woman and her distressed property: "America is at a crossroads. People are losing their jobs; they're losing their homes and assets. We have to stand for something in these tough times. In this case, we've decided to stand up for Americans and their inalienable rights to domestic footwear."

Old Woman, file photo


Ben Thomas, Mike Resnick and Vienna Teng

I've read some fine short fiction lately. My winter edition of Weird Tales arrived, and it's an excellent read. Tim Pratt and Kathe Koja have written compelling stories, but my favorite in this issue is Ben Thomas's "The Man With the Myriad Scars." Thomas, the lead editor of The Willows, has put the desired style of that magazine (the classic weird tale) to good work in this piece.

It succeeds on a couple levels, both as an homage to Kafka's "A Hunger Artist" and as an allegory on gluttony and consumption. Thomas's narrator, an art professor obsessed with a grotesque performance artist, is well drawn--alternately transfixed and repulsed by the things he's seen. The character effectively captures the duality of why we're attracted to the dark and bizarre.

Thomas then elevates the narrative by giving the artist himself a forum to discuss his craft. There is some chilling stuff in the second act of this tale, not the least of which is the trio of tall spectres who "were not anything like men; they were like towers composed of spiders, of anemones and worms, of millions of tiny crawling things" (90).

I won't spoil the third act, but I will say that I really liked this story--compelling content and strong writing.

I motored through Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy last week. It's a good collection, with another fine piece by Champion Joe ("It Washed Up"). The best story in this batch was written by a writer whose work I hadn't encountered before in Mike Resnick. His Hugo-nominated novelette "Alastair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders" is a great story--tightly written, with compelling characters and a healthy dose of moral caution.

Go to the website to read the piece.

It reminds me of the 1962 Twilight Zone episode "The Trade-Ins" for its lesson: our nature is also our best compass.

And finally, if you're looking for something new to try on the ol' i-pod, give Vienna Teng a shot. As a huge fan of pianists such as Marc Cohn and Bruce Hornsby, I've found Teng's musicianship top notch, her music consistent and beautiful.

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...