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4.30.2011

Well, shoot...

It's looking more and more like I won't get drafted by any team in the NFL again this year. Starting to wonder if it'll ever happen at all at this point...

I took Lyla to the grocery store an hour ago. When we were loading up the truck, she said, "Music, Daddy?"

"What would you like?" I replied.

"Jimmy Buffet, please."

Man, that's a good kid! We grooved to "Cheeseburger in Paradise" the whole way home!

4.29.2011

News on "Raising Tom Chambers"

My story "Raising Tom Chambers" was listed as a notable story with the Million Writers Awards. Thanks very much to G.E. Mullins for the nomination, and to Jason Sanford for facilitating the exposure for stories published on the internet.

Additionally, I came across a nice review of the story at Tangent Online. I appreciate the kind words on the story, Mr. Schmidt. I'm glad it struck a chord with you.


"Raising Tom Chambers," along with thirteen other dark speculative stories, will be available in all digital formats and in trade paperback in late May in the forthcoming collection These Strange Worlds.

4.28.2011

Daily Life...

The funny:

I was cleaning the kitchen the other day when Jeanne brought her dinner dishes into the kitchen and tried to stuff them in the dishwasher. I had that puppy packed (what can I say? I was a huge Tetris fan growing up...), and I hit her with a dose of healthy righteous indignation.

"What?" she said.

"It's like you get to put the last brick in the Great Wall of China! I do all the work, and then you just put your plate in there."

She just laughed at me and handed me her plate. "You realize that the top dishes don't get cleaned because of that pot you put there, right?"

I studied it. "Yeah, but there are other pots beneath it to redirect the jets. We've got our bases covered."

The sad:

I was awoken this morning by cries of "Daddy! Mommy! What's happening?" Lyla had suffered a bloody nose, and it was just heartbreaking to see her agitation while her body betrayed her a little.

I think someone is learning there's a limit to how far a finger goes into a nostril...

4.27.2011

Fotolia

When I was a kid, I used to create books and sell them throughout my neighborhood. We had a computer program called The Children's Writing and Publishing Center, and I used to publish The Powell Family News on that sucker and write story collections. I bound them with staples or loops of yarn and slogged them up and down the street, and patient folks gave me a buck for them. My mom still has a collection of Christmas stories that I wrote; she puts it out every year!

I would drop clipart into those stories, trying to make them as multidimensional as possible.

So I've always really enjoyed the DIY ethos, and I'm pretty fascinated by the field of graphic design. One of those sticky points on graphic design, though, is how to generate content to create striking products. I've shot hundreds of photos, but I'm no good behind the lens. I've tried my hand at other artistic mediums, and those efforts were less than successful. I'm no thief, so simply raiding the internet for content without permission is out of the question.

So where does the content come from? How do you bring your blog to life, adding a secondary layer of professionalism and context through images and video? How do you find images for your book covers, professional posters, brochures and newsletters?

Try Fotolia! I think you'll be thankful that you did.

About a month ago, I received an e-mail from Jenna Levy. Ms. Levy offered me a one-month trial membership to the service, and I was simply blown away by it.

It starts with the service's size (over thirteen million images and video clips) and ease of use. A simple search of the database sent me, in some cases, into galleries of hundreds of images. Much of the work comes from independent artists, and there is some excellent artwork in there. A number of my searches hit the nail on the head, yielding just a page or two of perfect results. Either way is fun: I enjoyed clicking through hundreds in search of the diamond in the rough, and I was impressed by the focused search results when I tried some very specific queries.

I really enjoyed the shopping process as I added items to my cart.

The service is also very affordable. Users can purchase content a la carte (for as low as fourteen cents an image!); designers can take out monthly subscriptions for greater access. The service is available in multiple languages, and I found the quality and breadth of variety to be excellent.

I have downloaded about fifty images. I'm excited to dork around with them in my design process. A great many of them feature my home state of Oregon, so I'm thinking of writing a series of essays that will only be enhanced with the crisp, clear images of the places I'm discussing.

Fotolia definitely exceeded my expectations as a content service. I'll be happy to use them moving forward as I contemplate digitizing some of my individual short stories. Another nice aspect of this is funding the artists that use the service. When I buy an image, a portion goes to the artist, which is just the way it should be...

The frontier of publishing is an exciting place to be right now. It promises access and timeliness. But another aspect of getting the most from this new era of publishing is marketing. If you don't have the financial resources to hire an artist, but you have an idea and some determination to make it happen, give Fotolia's database a chance and start dorking around with cover design.

Before you know it, you might be making some pretty fine book covers!

4.22.2011

Why Do Writers Abandon Novels?

I've written three novels, and I'm almost finished with the first draft of another. Two of those novels are out on submission, while the other is available at the right side of the screen here. I've also got the remains of three novels resting in their various urns, reduced to ashes in their digital crypt.

Why did those books whither and die? Why are they mere ashes, and not at least piles of dessicated bones?

Because they never had any blood in them to begin with.

I wrote an interpretation of the Stick Indian Mythos (20,000 words), a post-apocalyptic punk story (26,000) words and one of those clumsy, oafish middle-aged man has a crisis stories (18,000 words); not a one of them ever took so much as a breath in the world.

Even as I was writing them, I felt they were lifeless things. But have you ever found yourself lost, fumbling around on unfamiliar streets? You look for something that feels like a road mark, but you just push further into your predicament? You get that obstinate air about you, and then you bargain with yourself (it's really not that bad...) and then comes that moment of cold realization: I'm in a pickle--better stop for directions.

It can feel like that, writing a novel. And sometimes, the best directions are just to move on.

Here's an interesting article on the topic. That stuff in there about Chabon, a writer whose stuff I really enjoy, is interesting. Five and a half years before he pulled the plug! I know there are numerous stories of novels never getting finished, after decades and decades of revision and work.

On Sunday night, I'm going to go through and read the work I'm drafting. I'm not going to make any marks, I'm just going to read it and see how the two of us are doing. Are we still making eyes at each other, me and that manuscript? I hope so, because if we are, come Monday I'm buying it flowers and taking it out for dinner...

4.20.2011

Random Weirdness...

I had a vivid post-apocalyptic zombie dream (I know, I know...I'm violating my own code of conduct about discussing dreams) early this morning. Jeanne and Lyla and I had holed up with the rest of the survivors in an enormous two-story warehouse. The normals had the top floor, with the old offices, and we moved around on catwalks above the wall-to-wall herd of the undead beneath our feet.

It had been discovered that the only way to placate the mob was to capture mourning doves. For whatever reason, the zombies became calm only when listening to their calls. So we had all these complex cages wired up, filled with mourning doves, and the job of keeping them was some sort of tribal honor.

And then the dream became strange. We'd managed to scrounge $10,000 from the bank before everything went to hell, and regular U.S. currency was still trading in our little contained environment. Only nobody had change for our big bills. So I went to meet with the banker to try to work out a currency exchange.

It was Tiger Woods!

Apparently, he had squirreled away all this cash in briefcases. I gave him my bundle and asked for $9500 back in small bills. Instead, that sucker gave me $8000 in looted pharmaceutical supplies and costume jewelry and bandages and stuff and the rest in change.

And so we became apothecaries. We operated a little pharmacy and Lyla rode around among all the medical stuff Tiger Woods had traded us on a trike.

Then I heard my daughter on the monitor and it was time to start the day, but darn if I don't hope that little beauty picks right back up tonight!

In unrelated news, America's Team, your Jacksonville Jaguars (!!) actually have two games on Monday nights this fall. With the roster we have now, I see another 8-8 year. Maybe 9-7 if we sweep the Titans.

And finally, out here in Jacksonville, we have an annual Opening of the Beaches. It's a big community festival (the official start of the beach season), with lifeguards and music and all that stuff. Well, I have an official closing of the Round Marsh Trails that I like to run four times a week in the winter/spring. The time has come, as that is once again a very snaky trail and I was chewed to death by yellow flies. See you in November...

4.19.2011

Herman Wouk Is Still Alive

Stephen King's latest short story, "Herman Wouk Is Still Alive," is kind of a nasty little piece of classist vitriol.

I've made no apologies for my love of Stephen King's work. Ultimately, I think time will prove the critical appraisal of his writing to be quite positive. I love his conversational writing style, his hugely ambitious plots, and his ability to twist the trivial aspects of life into perfect little snippets of mundane horror.

I also tend to agree with many of his political views. However, in the case of this story, I just feel sorry for the man in the big house with the iron fence that he built to protect the writerly folks from the dangers of mixing with the rest of us plebes.

This tale features every paper-thin cliche and classist sketch of those without resources; it becomes tiresome. Jasmine and Brenda are broke; they have seven children among them and no positive males in their lives; there has been sexual abuse; they both drink rotgut hooch; they call the library the "li-berry"; they give their children names like Glory and Freedom and they are both outright bigots.

They want to load a rental van with their children and some booze and go stay in "The Red Roof" so they can eat takeout from "downstreet" and swim in the pool.

Road trip!

The first third of the story is painted with such wide brushstrokes that it's insulting to anyone who has ever had to struggle. Look, even when I was dirt poor and living with Jeanne over on Whitaker in South Portland, my sense of educational and cultural class distinction wasn't defined by my lack of wealth. I'd like to be charitable to King and just hope that he was trying for satire with this piece.

We then see the other side of the coin in the second vignette: ivory tower academics en route to a poetry reading in Maine. They are equally offensive character renderings., and they're stuck on a collision course with Brenda and Jasmine and the VAN OF DOOM!

The story travels well-worn King Country: aging, politics, sex, and that afore-mentioned VAN OF DOOM!

His knack for perceptively hammering the details is there (the MADE IN PARAGUAY tag on the stretch pants from K-MART, for instance), and I understand the emotion he's trying to expose. It's a story about perception and opportunity and lives of quiet desperation.

It's a story about resignation, too. And damn it, those kids don't deserve the thing that happens to them. You make your own luck, that is if your parents have the decency to give you half a chance.

Like I said, I see what he's trying to do with the tale, but it's just too danged hackneyed to drive the job home. I've got a copy of Just After Sunset on the nightstand. There are some excellent stories in that collection, and I'll look at a few of them tonight to reacquaint myself with one of the finest contemporary storytellers...

4.16.2011

Another Reason Why Portland, Oregon, Will Always Be Home

When the Timbers played their first game ever in downtown Portland, they didn't bring out any heavy hitters from the celebrity world to belt out the national anthem. The fans did it themselves. That town has an undeniable vibe. Man, I miss Portland...

4.13.2011

What Kind of State Does Florida Want to Be?

Bob Graham, a former United States senator and governor of Florida, wrote what seems a very prescient op/ed piece about assessing the past to better guide the future of our state. Over the last year or so, it's become pretty clear to me that Florida is an undesirable place to live for at least four groups of people: children, the elderly, the disabled and workers who lack a college education.

Florida's economy--service, agriculture, tourism--has lagged far behind many other states in the region (North Carolina and Virginia being the two most visible examples) in transforming in a way that is positioned to excel in the information age. There was a spike in investment in the hi-tech industry, most commonly focused on Central Florida and the Orlando area, in the late '80s and early '90s, but that momentum has fizzled.

From 1960-2000, the population grew by around three million in each decade. Those new taxpayers fed the construction and infrastructure segments of the economy while contributing to the tax foundation. But that growth also fed urban sprawl and put extreme pressure on our natural resources. That growth levelled out in the past decade; since 2006, we've actually been going in reverse and that, coupled with the real estate collapse, has left Florida in a tough economic bind.

So why are folks leaving this Garden of Eden?

Well, as Graham points out, the deregulation of industry has negatively impacted our environment. We see that pretty clearly here in Jacksonville, where Georgia Pacific continually releases discharge into the St. Johns River. There was a two-month fish kill last year in the waters of our city's greatest resource. You can't swim in it, you can't eat the seafood that comes from certain portions of it, and it stinks to the high heavens in August and September with the algae blooms. There was serious discussion by the Rick Scott administration earlier in the year of shuttering almost fifty of our state parks (Florida has one of the finest systems in America). A study done by the state found that the parks have a direct economic impact of 1.9 billion on the economy. The savings gained by shuttering these parks was minuscule (some estimates pegged the savings at just a few million dollars) in comparison with the loss of access to natural Florida.

Under new guidelines proposed by the Scott administration, seniors will be paying more for health care; he has proposed cuts on the state's disabilities services funds (although he has indicated that he'll sign an emergency order to restore those funds as of yesterday) that will leave our most vulnerable citizens in a hard place.

And our education system is in shambles. We rank near the bottom in K-12 per-student spending. We have one of the lowest percentages of college-educated adults in the nation. In Jacksonville, where Scott's proposed budget cuts will be felt very deeply, there is talk of abolishing all extracurricular activities to square up a $97 million dollar shortfall for the next school year.

No sports mean even fewer opportunities to attend college for many of Duval County's most vulnerable students (that's not to mention all the other benefits organized after-school activities have on our youth).

All of this while Scott is trying to slash four billion in taxes (the majority of tax relief will be realized by affluent individuals and corporations). His will be the third consecutive administration that has sought to reduce or hold steady the tax burden to pay for programs and services. How, with every other aspect of the economy experiencing inflation, are we to pay for things? Health care and education will take the largest hits, of course, but so will investment in infrastructure and preservation of natural resources.

The past three administrations have sold tax cuts on the idea that they stimulate job growth. As Graham opines in his piece, the job creation credited to these policies has been far slower than in previous decades, and the quality of jobs has been degraded.

All of this comes to light at the outset of the tourism season in Florida, which suffered a terrible blow last year as a result of the BP oil spill. Now we see that gas prices are nearing $4.00 per gallon, and I doubt that will make it attractive for many folks up north to pack up the wagon and strike out for the beaches or Disney.

Graham's piece is a wake-up call. Do we want to be a state that invests in attracting research and hi-tech firms? Do we want to educate our children so that we have a workforce that can, with agility and competency, move into those positions in the coming decades? Do we want to look out for the elderly, who flock to Florida for its climate and cost of living? Do we want to be known as a state that lacks resources for the disabled?

Or do we just want to do everything on the cheap? Do we want to let our children fall through the cracks? Do we want to encourage a service economy filled with McJobs and stake our fortunes to an industry that can be seasonally destroyed by things like storms or environmental disasters?

There are opportunities here; there are far more strengths than weaknesses. But, I fear, our state's recent voting habits and the national political tide are making it expedient for our leaders to ignore the things that we did well in the past to push forward with policies that will make things more difficult for our future.

4.12.2011

Inventory = Longevity

Thanks to those who drop by the blog for stepping up and requesting copies of my forthcoming collection, These Strange Worlds! The response was overwhelming and immediate, and I'm looking forward to getting copies into the mail (and dropping some by the college)...

This post is very interesting. Bob Mayer, a writer whose work has appeared on numerous bestsellers lists, turned down a lucrative publishing offer to publish Duty, Honor, Country: West Point to Shiloh, as an e-book.

Here's my favorite portion of the post: Two weeks ago at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference I suddenly realized something: as quickly as a writer can publish their book, is also as quickly as they can quit. It seems many think this is an easy path to great sales and wealth and fortune—a yellow brick road. But success will go to those who first and always, have a well-written book with a great story. Then there is the need for persistence and consistency. While the digital age has made all this possible, I think it has the potential to make quitting much easier since we live in a time of instant gratification. Writers are checking their Kindle numbers daily and bemoaning lack of sales within a week of upload. I think one trait those of us coming from traditional publishing have had is knowing it’s the long haul that counts. Also, in digital, it’s not the spike for the bestseller list, but the long tail of sales that is the key.


Publishing is changing quickly, but writers still need to focus on the long haul.
I think it's important to try to find those niche markets (often cultivated by submitting to anthologies, zines, magazines--the traditional avenues). They still need to, as the great Todd Shaw once said, get in where they fit in. It's important to both remain dedicated to writing good stories while also learning about promotion, emerging publication platforms and design (among other things). Mayer's post, like the ones that have preceded it on Joe's blog, is just filled with food for thought. Kudos to some of these writers for doing for themselves what wasn't necessarily done well for them in prior relationships with the publishing industry...

4.07.2011

WANTED: Readers


My first collection of short stories, These Strange Worlds, will be available from Distillations Press in a few months. I could use some help getting the word out on this collection (fourteen tales--seven reprints and seven new works of dark fiction), and I'd appreciate it if some of the folks that read this blog or have enjoyed my stories in the past might compose an honest review of the book.


It's awkward for me to solicit help in a public forum. My approach with writing has always been to write the stories and put them out there. But, if folks are interested in reading the stories, I'd love to send a copy of the book out for review.


Please e-mail me directly at dpowell [@] fscj.edu with your physical address if you are interested. When I get my first batch of copies, I'll send one to the first ten folks that have responded. Anyone else that would be willing to read a proofed PDF, please shoot me a note and I'll send a copy directly.


All I'll ask in return is an honest assessment of the book on Amazon.com and/or any other platform you would be willing to post to.


E-book editions for all platforms will be available later this spring.


Thanks, as always, for dropping by and also for considering this offer.


The cover above is a rough early version. Might change prior to publication...

4.04.2011

Out on Discovery

We loaded the car with our camping gear and lit out for Suwannee River State Park last week. It was an amazing respite from life in Jacksonville, a chance to get away from the computers and televisions and spend some time in the woods with family. It was Lyla's first camping trip, and she sure seemed to enjoy it. Before we departed we made an entry in the cabin's journal, and we agreed that we would return in one year. The great delight of being a father comes from watching the simple discoveries that the little ones make on a daily basis. We hiked the Lime Sink trails and walked out to Balanced Rock. We tramped over to the Columbus Cemetery and took a walk down the Sandy Hills Trail. We fished in the Suwannee River, a stunning body of water bordered by huge cypress trees and home to all manner of wildlife. The fish were jumping, the birds were wading. We must have dallied twenty minutes over a skink that patiently let Lyla watch its sunning on the side of a pine tree. At night and in the mornings, we sat on the swing and listened to the birds calling back and forth in the tropical canopy. "What's that?" Lyla said. It became the mantra for her trip. I like to think about how things must appear to her. At just two years of age, the sunshine must feel so warm, the pitch from the trees so sticky. How exotic must it seem to her young mind to hear that symphony of birds all around her? How strange must it seem to see sturgeon break the glass of the river's surface before splashing back into their underwater world? She smiled a lot, which made us smile a lot. It's a blessing, to be sure, to share all the opportunities that Florida presents with her... One other neat thing about the trip: I found a copy of Richard Matheson's collection Button, Button for a buck at the Dollar General in Live Oak. Live Oak, Florida, is a real piece of work, by the way. Small-town antebellum southern, it's a pretty place with some really neat architecture. It's also a bit Southern, so I was surprised to find a bin of discount sci-fi and fantasy at the local dollar store. It's a nice collection. I read it on the porch swing with an iced tea while Lyla napped in her camping night-night...