Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas in Chicago

Early tomorrow morning, Cindy and Bullet and I will load up the Matrix and head for Chicago, where Cindy's sister Jan and her husband Pete live. (We haven't decided yet if Bullet will drive or sleep first.)

I hope everyone has a safe, wonderful holiday! Have fun, kids!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

M. Rickert Mania

Not that much is known about M. Rickert, one of my favorite writers these days. Ah, but John Joseph Adams (The Slush God) has just conducted an excellent interview with Rickert at Strange Horizons. Read it. Then buy Rickert's new book Map of Dreams. Then buy it for friends. Repeat.

A Few Thoughts on Holiday Music

You'd think after fifteen years of teaching band, fifteen (or more) holiday concerts, I'd just about had it up to the gills with holiday music. But for some reason, I still enjoy listening to most of it. (Then again, I guess there's someone out there who enjoys root canals and reruns of Joanie Loves Chachi.)

And there's plenty to choose from. Just on XM Radio, there's six different holiday stations. After listening for a few days, I've made some interesting observations:

First, we need national (or maybe international) standards for who gets to sing "O Holy Night" and who doesn't. It's hands-down my favorite holiday song and I know many others who share that feeling. It's a song that requires a great voice and a tasteful rendering. Not everybody can or should try it. Yet it seems like everybody has recorded a version of the song. Oddly enough, most of the versions I've heard are from country singers. I began to wonder why and I think I've got it figured out:

I can picture all these country singers sitting around the bar after the Country Music Association Awards or some such event, mad as all get-out that Johnny Cash (who's been dead for three years) is still releasing better stuff than most everybody else. After a few rounds, somebody no doubt proclaimed, "Well, hell, he can't do 'O Holy Night'! I'm gonna do it!" Which led some other singer to say, "Well, if he can do it..." and on and on.

Now from what I've heard on the country stations, only Martina McBride gets to sing "O Holy Night." She can pull it off. As much as I like, sorry. And Dolly, you know I love ya, but....nope. George Jones? Hey, buddy...there's lots of stuff you shouldn't try anymore.

Second, after listening to the traditional holiday station, I assumed that Johnny Mathis must've spent a good six or seven years of his life recording Christmas music. I mean the dude is all over the place. So I went to Amazon and typed in Johnny Mathis Christmas and got 62 matches. Of course you know, several of those are overlaps, similar editions, reissues, etc. He didn't really record 62 Christmas albums. (Just so you know, which you probably already do.)

But Mathis is a real lightweight. Perry Como and Christmas got 70 matches. Sinatra and Christmas, 115 matches. But they're all twerps compared to Bing Crosby. 296 matches! Again, he didn't record anything close to that many Christmas albums, but come on! Man. I'll bet David Bowie wishes they'd done more duets.

So whatever you're listening to this holiday season, have a great one.

Now Playing: "O Little Town of Bethlehem" – Emmylou Harris

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Year in Review Part Four: Fiction

Although some actually appeared in 2005, these were the most enjoyable new books I read this year. I highly recommend them all. (The order listed is the order I read them.)

His Majesty's Dragon (2006) – Naomi Novik
Just when you think you've seen everything that's been written about dragons, here comes Naomi Novik, placing them in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars. This was an absolutely delightful read, the first in a three-book series with more reported to follow.

In the Forest of Forgetting (2006) – Theodora Goss
Goss writes with an elegant, yet very readable style, the poetic influence clearly seen throughout. All of the stories are good, many are exceptional.

The Empire of Ice Cream (2006) – Jeffrey Ford
What can you say about Ford? Leave your expectations at the door and be prepared for some great weird. An outstanding collection, even better than the remarkable The Fantasy Writer's Assisstant.

The Last of the O-Forms and Other Stories (2005) – James Van Pelt
It really bothers me that more people aren't familiar with this author. The title story is one of the most emotional reading experiences I had this year. Fantasy, science fiction, horror – James Van Pelt can do it all.

Shriek: An Afterword (2006) – Jeff VanderMeer
Set in the wonderfully realized city of Ambergris, Shriek is a novel about history, war, relationships, perspectives and so much more. VanderMeer delves deep into Ambergris, its history, its people and its culture as Janice Shriek narrates this afterword to "The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of the City of Ambergris" (found in VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen*), a pamphlet written by Janice's brother, the missing historian Duncan Shriek. But the afterword contains added commentary by Duncan, who has mysteriously returned only to find his sister now missing. I admire so much about VanderMeer's writing – his love of language, compelling characters, a world you can get lost in, a fascinating tale... What else could you ask for?

* It's not really necessary to read City of Saints and Madmen first, but I was glad I'd read "The Hoegbotton Guide" section of that book first.

Kafka on the Shore (2005) – Haruki Murakami
Winner of this year's World Fantasy Award, this was my first experience with Murakami. It's a very odd tale mixed with American and Japanese cultural references, fish falling from the sky, talking cats and much more.

Never Let Me Go (2005) – Kazuo Ishiguro
Like Kafka on the Shore, people continue to debate whether Never Let Me Go is genre or literature. Who cares? It's a tremendous story that's beautifully written, less surreal than Kafka, but in my opinion, packs more of an emotional punch. The novel unwinds slowly, so settle back and savor this one.

The Unblemished (2006) – Conrad Williams
This book just scares the crap out of you, that's all there is to it. Williams is one of horror's most outstanding writers with an extraordinary vision and the skills to haunt you well past sunrise. If you haven't read him, stop reading this and go buy one of his books.

Map of Dreams (2006) – M. Rickert
Fans of Rickert can definitely celebrate this first collection from one of the genre's most talented writers. Don't miss it.

American Morons (2006) – Glen Hirshberg
Hirshberg's quality of writing, his ability to unsettle and fascinate are second to none. Even better than his first collection The Two Sams, which was outstanding.

These books are a little older, but really blew me away (in order of publication):

A Scanner Darkly (1977) – Philip K. Dick
Blood Meridian (1985) – Cormac McCarthy
Gun, with Occasional Music (1994) – Jonathan Lethem
House of Leaves (2000) – Mark Z. Danielewski
lost boy lost girl (2003) – Peter Straub
Air (2004) – Geoff Ryman

Other books I enjoyed (again, in order of original publication):

Don Quixote (1605) – Cervantes, trans. by Edith Grossman
Jane Eyre (1847) – Charlotte Bronte
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1905) – M.R. James
Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) – Zora Neale Hurston
The Crying of Lot 49 (1965) – Thomas Pynchon
The Jaguar Hunter (1987) – Lucius Shepard
Shadows and Silence (2000) – Barbara Roden, Christopher Roden, eds.
Bangkok 8 (2003) – John Burdett
The Colorado Kid (2005) – Stephen King
Vellum (2005) – Hal Duncan
No Country for Old Men (2005) – Cormac McCarthy
The Lincoln Lawyer (2005) – Michael Connelly
Saturday (2005) – Ian McEwan
The Shadow at the Bottom of the World (2005) – Thomas Ligotti
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror Eighteenth Annual Collection (2005) – Datlow, Link, Grant, eds.
The Brief History of the Dead (2006) – Kevin Brockmeier
The Road (2006) – Cormac McCarthy
Best New Fantasy (2006) – Sean Wallace, ed.
No Good Deeds (2006) – Laura Lippman

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Cellar

Richard Laymon's The Cellar (1980), which was included in Stephen Jones and Kim Newman's Horror: The 100 Best Books, has just been re-released in mass market paperback by Leisure. Check it out.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Year in Review Part Three: YA

I read seventeen YA/children's books this year, and although several of those were from either 2005 or 2006, few current books made my list. I find myself starting more and more YA books and not finishing them. I grew fed up with certain series, but decided to start others.

YA is a mixed bag and is becoming a larger mixed bag all the time. I think we're seeing a widening gap between quality YA and no-so-good YA. It seems everyone's writing one (even me). Anyway, of the seventeen titles I read this year, these were the most enjoyable:

The Thief (1996) by Megan Whalen Turner offers a story line we've seen before: A skillful young thief named Gen is released from prison to help a king's scholar steal an ancient mythical stone. Of course it's not just any stone, but one that grants the possessor freedom from death and the perpetual right to rule. Gen is very likable and smart, but he's far from simplistic. The characters in this story are not always who they seem to be and they're always intriguing. Turner challenges younger readers with complex sentences as well as several philosophical and political issues. I have not read the sequels Queen of Attolia or The King of Attolia, but if they're anywhere near as good as The Thief, I'm there.

The Witches (1983) by Roald Dahl is actually more appropriate for younger readers (age 8 – 12), but I had a great time with it, so I'm including it here. While on vacation with his grandmother (who is an expert on witches), a young boy learns all the warning signs for identifying witches, the most dangerous beings in the world. He's forced to put his knowledge to the test when he finds himself in the middle of a witch convention at the hotel where he and his grandmother are staying. The Witches is a fun story that not only entertains, but also teaches that all sorts of people can be very skilled at disguising their real selves.

I started Scott Westerfeld's Midnighters series at the end of 2005 and read the other two books in the trilogy this year, Midnighters 2: Touching Darkness (2005) and Midnighters 3: Blue Noon (2006). The first book, Midnighters: The Secret Hour (2004) is mostly introductory, showing us newcomer Jessica as she moves to the small town of Bixby, Oklahoma, only to discover that she's one of five teenagers who can move in the secret midnight hour, when the rest of Bixby is suspended in time. Only there's plenty of nasties also creeping around during the midnight hour.

The trilogy really takes off in the second book, as the five teenagers try to discover what happened to all the other midnighters throughout history, what makes Bixby susceptible to midnighter activity, and where the next attack of creatures is coming from. And who is the strange old woman they keep seeing? The third book was not quite as satisfying as the first two, but overall a nice series.

An asthmatic seventh-grade boy, a new school, an odd-looking key and atlas, a villain in a wheelchair, dog-faced creatures, a labyrinthine house, a mysterious plague... It's all in Garth Nix's The Keys to the Kingdom, Book One: Mister Monday (2003), an exciting, fast-paced read that begins a seven-book series. (The fifth book, Lady Friday, will be released in the U.S. in March, 2007.) Nix does a wonderful job of mixing the familiar (How was the universe born and how can man control it for selfish purposes?) with fresh ideas. The biggest problem with the series? It's not finished yet.

Another storyline we've seen before is first love and The End of the World, but the Jane Yolen/Bruce Coville collaboration Armageddon Summer (1998) refuses to rehash a predictable, routine story. Fourteen-year-old Marina meets sixteen-year-old Jed on a remote mountain that serves as the last settlement of a cult called The Believers. As the end of the world approaches, what matters most? Faith, belief or love? Told in alternating chapters from the viewpoint of both lovers, Armageddon Summer is a thought-provoking YA novel filled with complex characters and no easy answers.

Treading on familiar ground once again, we have The Book Thief (2006) by Marcus Zusak, a book set in Nazi Germany, narrated by Death. You might think "I've seen this before. Do we really need another YA novel about Nazi Germany?" Okay, you've got a valid point. But consider this from an early chapter, in which Death compares watching humans to seeing colors:

"The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places, it was burned. There were black crumbs, and pepper, streaked across the redness."

and later:

"There was the smell of a freshly cut coffin. Black dresses. Enormous suitcases under the eyes. Liesel stood like the rest, on the grass. She read to Frau Holtzapfel that same afternoon. The Dream Carrier, her neighbor's favorite."

This is not your father's YA Nazi Germany novel.

Early in the book, Death follows a young girl named Liesel Meminger and her brother as they are being sent to live with foster parents near Munich in World War II. Death claims the boy and many others, but is intrigued by Liesel, who finds in the snow a book on gravedigging. Her new-found passion for books will have lasting (and not always pleasant) impact and consequences on everyone she encounters.

Although Death's chapter and sub-chapter headings can become tiresome, Zusak by and large avoids sticky-sweet sentimentality and emotionally manipulated scenes. I'm not quite ready, as some seem to be, to proclaim The Book Thief a "modern classic" (whatever that means), but there's no denying the book's power and Zusak's storytelling ability.

Other YA books I enjoyed:

Crispin: The Cross of Lead (2002) – Avi
Only You Can Save Mankind (1992, reissue 2004) – Terry Pratchett
Tuck Everlasting (1975) – Natalie Babbitt
The Amulet of Samarkand (2003) – Jonathan Stroud
The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book One: The Field Guide (2003) – Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Year in Review Part Two: Non-Fiction

It's my favorite time of year, list time. Here's how my lists work. (My list, my rules.) These books aren't necessarily 2006 releases. Some of the titles appeared in 2006, but I discovered them all for the first time this year.

Each year I say I'm going to read more non-fiction and I suppose this year wasn't too bad: I read 24 non-fiction titles, a bit more than usual for me. Several were genre-related, several were books on Christianity/spirituality, some history, some biography.

Here we go....

Blue Like Jazz (2003) is a book that's not afraid to say that Christians don't have all the answers and have flat-out screwed things up royally at times. My favorite part of the book occurs when Miller and some of his friends set up a confession booth on their secular college campus. One guy came in to confess and Miller and his friends said, "No, it doesn't work that way. We want to confess to you that as Christians, we've screwed up Christianity, misrepresented Christ, and treated large portions of humanity like crap starting with the Crusades all the way to today. And we're sorry." A great read.

I also discovered two books by Edward T. Welch this year,
Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave : Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel (2001) and When People Are Big and God Is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man (1997). Welch writes in a very practical, no-nonsense style that examines not only Scripture, but also psychology, philosophy and much more.

Although I enjoyed Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson (2006), I was enthralled by a book recommended by John,

1066: The Hidden History In The Bayeux Tapestry (2005) by Andrew Bridgeford. Manhunt reads like a good thriller, but it also reads like Swanson has done a lot of speculating. Still, a good read, but nothing like 1066. I knew little about the Bayeaux Tapestry and the era going in, but was fascinated by Bridgeford's account. It's certainly more scholarly (but no less entertaining) than the Swanson, with many references to early documents and professional findings. Sure, there's bound to be some speculation involved, but it's mixed with credible theories supported by credible findings.

I tend to gloss over most of the "current events" books, but I was intrigued by The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (2005) by Thomas L. Friedman. I don't know that I agree with everything Friedman says about how our world is changing, becoming flatter, but every aspect of the book was at the least intriguing and often mind-blowing.

I really got into reading horror this year and two of the most useful reference books I ran across were Horror: The 100 Best Books (1988) by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman and the second installment that came out in 2005,
Horror: Another 100 Best Books (2005), also by Jones and Newman. For anyone who wants to discover the horror genre, these two books are invaluable.

I'm convinced that to become a good writer, you have to be a pretty good reader, something I'm slowly learning to become. Some of Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (2006) covers fundamental stuff, but it's stuff we all need to know. For someone like me who hasn't had a lot of formal training in writing (or even in reading/understanding/analyzing good writing), this book is a must-read.

Ever since I saw the cover of Jeffrey Ford's The Fantasy Writer's Assistant, I've been fascinated with the work of John Picacio, one of the most exciting artists in the field. His new collection Cover Story: The Art of John Picacio (2006) is outstanding in every way. Plus Picacio is one of the nicest guys you'll run across anywhere.

Finally, the best biography I read this year was hands-down James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (2006) by Julie Phillips. From hunting trips to Africa as a child, to pulling the wool over the eyes of the entire science fiction community, to writing some of the most powerful genre stories ever written, Alice Sheldon's biography pulls no punches, giving readers a glimpse into the life of an amazing writer.

That's it for non-fiction. Next time: Young Adult

Today's Story = "Monster" – Kelly Link from Best New Fantasy, Sean Wallace, ed.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Year in Review Part One: Sobering Statistics

I've just been looking over my writing for the past year and I'm amazed (and not in a good way). What have I been doing?

I do feel good about finishing one YA novel this year, tentatively titled Fortress. I'm in the process of revising it right now. I've only written one other novel (which no one will ever see), and I am confident that this one is miles better than my first effort.

But I only wrote six new short stories this year. Yeah, six. Most of them took an average of two months to revise. One took six months. And I've got eight other unfinished stories all started this year.

What does all this tell me?

First, I think my writing time is inconsistent. That's not brought out by the numbers, but I can't help but think it's a contributor. Life often gets in the way, but I have to set aside that time and not let anything interfere with it.

Second, I've got to learn to move on to another story if the one I'm working on isn't coming together. I'm just too stubborn, which is why I only have six stories this year.

Counting new and old stories, I've submitted to markets only 23 times this year, a very low number. One story sold. In many cases, several of the stories that got rejected made it well past the first level(s) and one is still being held for consideration by a major market.

Writing resolutions for the new year? In the simplest terms:

Regular hours, no matter what.
Write more.
Send stuff out.

Next: The Year in Review: Non-Fiction
Today's short story: "The Language of Moths" - Christopher Barzak from Best New Fantasy, Sean Wallace, ed.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Having a Fit

It's been such a busy week, I haven't had time to post. With my car dying a quick death, Cindy and I went to the Honda dealership last Friday to pick out a Civic for her. It certainly wasn't her first choice, but none of the Honda dealerships had the new Fit on the lot for a test drive.

Well, we got to Jim Coleman Honda in Clarksville and saw two Fits staring us in the face. Cindy and I both drove one (black sport model) and loved it. They had just come in the night before and we were literally the first ones to see them. So we bought it. And sold the Saturn. Life is good.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Great Stuff on the Cheap and A Story with No Home

As John pointed out on his blog, Fantasy Magazine (actually Wildside Press) is offering a holiday subscription special: four issues for just ten bucks. Ten bucks! You got ten bucks? No? Skip Starbucks a few times and you've got it. If you haven't read the mag, get it. You won't regret it. (I subscribed yesterday. Thanks for the tip, John!)


After much revision and a little help from my friends, I finished my story "Graveyard Journal" last night. I'm pleased with the end result, but I wish I had a definite market in mind. It's a horror story with a teenage protagonist, which isn't really that hard to find a home for, but it's nearly 6,000 words, which knocks it out of several horror (like Cemetery Dance) and YA (like Cicada) markets. Yeah, I could probably cut several hundred words, but I've done that before and have never been pleased with the result. I may send it to one of these markets anyway. Maybe there's an upcoming anthology floating around somewhere.

Today's short story: "At the End of the Hall" - Nick Mamatas, Best New Fantasy

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


That's right, the Library of America will publish a hardcover edition in June 2007 containing four of Philip K. Dick's novels from the 1960's: The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ubik.

I'll admit that the only one of these novels in this collection I've read is The Man in the High Castle, but I've read a few others, most recently A Scanner Darkly, which knocked me out. Not only was Dick an important genre writer -- and it's great to see more credibility given to a genre writer -- he was an important writer period. He and his readers certainly deserve this edition.


I was at a library sale today and ran across a book I just had to have: Edison & The Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death by Mark Essig.

I've been fascinated with the concept of the electric chair since I was a kid. I remember hearing some of the old timers hanging around my dad's grocery store, telling tall tales, as old timers will do. One man told about the days when the State of Mississippi had a traveling electric chair, which of course enthralled young ears like mine. When I got older, I dismissed the story as pure bunk.

Years later a friend of mine told me he remembered actually seeing the traveling electric chair as a boy in Quitman, Mississippi. Then I read Andy Duncan's excellent story "The Executioners' Guild" and was once again fascinated. Andy, if you're out there, have you read the Essig book? I imagine any romanticism on the subject is greatly diminished in what I imagine are pretty grisly details, not for the faint of heart.

But I'm still going to read it. Hey, it was only 10 cents.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Today's Survey

Here's the situation: I just took my car in to the shop. Needs a new radiator, around $600, which actually isn't too bad. But the car's ten years old and probably won't last much longer. Here's all the vital information for your consideration:

1997 Saturn SL-1, manual
128,000 miles
Good mileage (between 32-37 mpg)
CD player has an attitude

Repairs completed in the past year:
New water pump/gasket
New ignition coil/switch
Replaced front brake pads and rotors
New windshield
Other routine stuff (including new tires)

Total amount spent (other than normal maintenance) in the past year (not counting the radiator) = $2225.88

Other factors:

We just bought a Toyota Matrix, which we love. It's eventually going to be my car, but Cindy's driving it right now. The next car will be hers, but we can't decide what to get. We want to test-drive a Honda Fit for Cindy, but they don't stay on the lot long enough for you to even look at one. (They don't call it the Fit for nothing. We've had a fit trying to find one.) But we may have to made a decision sooner than we thought.

So whaddya say? Fix the Saturn or sell it?

The Unblemished - Conrad Williams

I'm about halfway through this book, which is a must-read if you're a fan of quality horror fiction (or fiction in general). I plan to write more about it later, but I just have to share this one paragraph. (I hope Mr. Williams doesn't mind.)

After meeting a character in a London bar, Bo experiences some really strange stuff going on in the city. In this scene, Bo's staying at his friend Sammy's house, considering whether or not it's safe to confide in his friend. While Sammy is asleep, Bo hears something from outside the bedroom.

He saw the shape of a hand reach around the edge of the door, its fingers shockingly long. Each of them came to rest against the wood, nails tapping lightly as though it were still incarcerated, knocking politely to be let out. Its smell reached Bo before anything else did: old things left undisturbed for too long: wet rags that had not been allowed to dry properly, desiccated newspapers, woodworm and rust. It shifted like someone whose joints had recently been operated upon, or someone coming back from a traumatic accident, at the start of a physiotherapy programme. Bo resisted the insane drive to offer assistance. He heard a terrible, dry clicking sound and though he didn't want to know what was producing it, found his mind throwing up any number of horrid possibilities. What disturbed him was the knowledge that the truth would be far worse.

This isn't hammer-the-reader-over-the-head horror, but instead an artful balance of terror and desire. Bo is terrified of who (or what) is about to enter the room, yet feels a tinge of compassion, if not responsibility, to somehow help this creature. The sensory details are so vivid you can almost feel the overwhelming odor of the thing wrapping itself around you. And Williams even portrays the painful sickness of Bo's conflict and imagination, "his mind throwing up any number of horrid possibilities."

What happens next is totally unexpected, yet completely satisfying. This guy's an outstanding writer. Check him out.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Gym First, Shopping Later

Well, the Eating Season is officially upon us. I survived the surplus of Halloween candy and yesterday's eating festivities (including three pies*), so I'm off to the gym to fight the good fight. Wish me luck. I'll need it - This will be my first visit to the gym since World Fantasy.

But before I subject myself to a morning of pain and ridicule, I want to make my bid for the "Genre-gift-for-the-person-who-doesn't-read-genre" prize. We all have friends and family whom we love in spite of their indifference/disinterest/outright condemnation of genre. With some of these people, we've probably given up, but with others, we continue to hold out a bit of hope.

Even though I haven't quite finished it, my choice for the genre holiday gift for the non-genre reader is Best New Fantasy, edited by Sean Wallace from Prime Books. Here's why:

1. Size - This collection contains 16 stories at 237 pages. Sure, most genre readers have no problem tackling the mammoth 500-page anthologies with twice as many stories, but for those new to the field, this is the perfect size.

2. Price - At $12.95, you can afford to buy one for yourself and one (or two) for a friend. Or a potential friend. Or Uncle Stinky who thinks you're a freak anyway.

3. A little bit of everything. You've got fairy tales, historical stories, horror tales, slipstream, action, beautiful prose, weirdness, you name it. There's truly something for everyone here. Even Uncle Stinky.

There's my pitch.

* No, I didn't eat them all. Not quite.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

My Hair Length is Determined by the NFL

The barber I go to is really incredible. He takes his time and does a great job, even trimming my moustache, goatee and eyebrows. This guy's really top notch.

But he's also a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

I've got no problem with that, as long as I get a haircut after a Steelers win. If I go after a loss, the guy's so steamed that I come out of the barber shop looking like the top of my head's been in a battlezone. But the Steelers won on Sunday, so I should be safe.

Go Steelers!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Don't Miss This!

Jeff VanderMeer is offering copies of Leena Krohn's World Fantasy-nominated book Tainaron, as well as signed copies of Jeff's own collection Secret Life, just out in trade paperback. Check it out here.

I haven't read Jeff's collection yet, but I bought a copy at World Fantasy. I think I can safely say, having read his latest novel Shriek (as well as Veniss Underground), that these stories will not disappoint.

I'm buying two copies of Tainaron to give to friends. If you've got friends who know you read speculative/fantastic fiction but don't think they'd like it, this book would be a great gift. (And by all means, get a copy for yourself.) The writing is poetic, gorgeous, stunning, strangely beautiful. Anyone who appreciates good writing will enjoy it. Trust me on this.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Everything Old is New Again...Sort Of...

After last year's release of Let It Be Naked, Capitol Records will release The Beatles Love in a couple of weeks. The difference between the two releases? Let It Be Naked was not manipulated; rather the official release was, with Phil Spector's orchestral and choir overdubs, among other things that sent Paul McCartney into orbit. With Love, long-time Beatles producer George Martin (along with his son Giles) has augmented and linked several Beatles songs together with additional instrumentation, newly-discovered vocal tracks, etc.

Do we really need this? Probably not. Does Capitol really want to juice more money out of Beatles fans? Definitely. Capitol understands that there aren't any more hidden Beatles tunes to be discovered; we're finished, done. We can't even throw something together as the (then) surviving Beatles did a few years ago with "Real Love" and "Free as a Bird," featuring pre-existing vocals by John Lennon. That was sort of cool, but those tunes are hardly standouts in the Beatles canon.

I actually heard the Love version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" a few days ago. The orchestration is okay; it's not offensive, it's somewhat interesting, but if I want to hear the song, I'll just put The White Album into the player.

Musicians argue all the time over performance practices, especially in classical music. What did Mozart really mean when he wrote a forte? Did Tchaikovsky really want five fortes in the Finale from Symphony No. 4? You can find musicians who'll just about come to blows over whether to perform pre-modern music on contemporary or original instruments.

So is the release of Love really such a big deal? I guess it is for Capitol. I don't plan to buy it, but if it's playing, I'll give it a listen. Or maybe I'll just dust off that old Rubber Soul LP instead.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hold Your Breath for 13 Weeks

Six weeks into Season Three, the fine folks at ABC have decided that Lost will take a 13-week hiatus, returning on Feb. 7 to begin sixteen more episodes. During those thirteen weeks, ABC will air a new show (or maybe mini-series would be more apt) called Day Break, which actually doesn't look bad.

Of course that means we'll have to wait and speculate for thirteen weeks. 91 days. 2184 hours. 131,040 minutes. But who's counting? Maybe that will give me time to get caught up on Battlestar Galactica Seasons One and Two.

More on the WFC awards later.
Today's short story: "A Temple of the Holy Ghost" - Flannery O'Connor

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

World Fantasy Report

Reality still hasn't quite settled in yet (Let's hope it never fully does), but since I have been home for well over 36 hours, I'm probably coherent enough (Well, maybe not) to give a brief report on WFC.

As John mentioned on his blog, WFC is much more than panels, book signings and the dealer room. I attended only a few panels, the best of which was Saturday morning's Horror, Dark Fantasy and Other Fiction that Go Bump in the Night.

Any panel with Stephen Jones and Ann VanderMeer is worth your time and this one was no exception. Jones mentioned that horror will endure because it keeps reinventing itself with the times and culture. VanderMeer said that two of the basic aspects of horror, sex and death, are universal, motivating us more than anything else. Everyone understands that, although they may not want to face it. Nancy Holder seemed to agree, stating that horror is an emotional mood, not a genre.

I'm glad the panelists brought up this topic: People often ask "Why do we need horror in the world we live in now?" The more visceral the real horrors of life, the more we need escape. Jones said that horror should be confrontational, not just violent; it should stick with you.

It was a great panel. It could have gone on for two hours and I wouldn't have budged.


I only attended two readings: Jeffrey Ford and Holly Phillips. Ford read a story in manuscript (but which will appear in the upcoming anthology Inferno) which was vintage Ford: weird, funny, disturbing, quirky, wonderful. I believe it was called "The Bedroom Window." Correction from John: "The Bedroom Light"

The only story I'd read by Holly Phillips before last week was her WFC-nominated story "The Other Grace," which I enjoyed very much, but the unpublished story she read on Saturday was absolutely gorgeous. I'll be reading her entire collection very soon.


As John mentioned, World Fantasy is about the people you meet and the friendships you develop. It's always great to see my Clarion friends (we had six show up this year) and instructors, as well as meeting new folks. The more I write, the more I realize that the friends you make along the way constitute the best part of writing.


And now, the part everyone wants to know about....

FREE books from the book bag/exchange table:

The Lost District - Joel Lane
Mockingbird - Sean Stewart
The Nymphos of Rocky Flats - Mario Acevedo
Best Short Novels 2006 - Jonathan Strahan, ed.
A Princess of Roumania - Paul Park
The Mount - Carol Emshwiller
Last Week's Apocalypse - Douglas Lain


Best New Fantasy - Sean Wallace, ed.
Forbidden Cargo - Rebecca K. Rowe
In the Palace of Repose - Holly Phillips
Howard Who? - Howard Waldrop
Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead - Alan DeNiro
Catalyst - Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Secret Life - Jeff VanderMeer

Books I should have bought while I had the chance:

The Keyhole Opera - Bruce Holland Rogers
20th Century Ghosts - Joe Hill

Tomorrow: Thoughts on the WFC Award Winners

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Post-Halloween Thoughts, WFC Preparations and Other Stuff Guaranteed to Waste Your Valuable Internet Time

You'd think the World Fantasy Convention powers-that-be would have enough wisdom to prevent these two clowns from attending, but they have foolishly allowed us free (well, not exactly free) access to the con starting tomorrow. (This photo of John and me was taken at the recent Capclave by Andy Duncan. Thanks, Andy!)

Halloween was fairly uneventful. Since our greyhound Bullet normally sends young children running for the safety of their parents' waiting cars on Halloween, we've found the best thing to do is set out a bowl of candy, refilling it every hour or so while watching a movie or two with the hound. Cindy had her running group last night, so I got to choose the movies. (Bullet lost his voting privileges when he sided with Cindy to watch Memoirs of a Geisha several months back.)

I made a couple of discoveries which weren't too surprising:

1 - The TV show Night Gallery is nowhere near as good as I thought it was as a kid. Disc One is all I've seen in 30 years, but if it's any indication, the show suffers from overacting, gimmicks and weak adaptations of good stories. C.M. Kornbluth's short story "The Little Black Bag" is a wonderful tale in print that should have been a home-run, especially with Burgess Meredith starring in the NG episode. Although it's probably the best of the lot, the frame around the episode is very clumsily done. Fritz Leiber's "The Dead Man" would have been a good episode, but runs too long and explains far too much to the audience (plus the device that makes the whole thing work isn't executed well at all). "The Nature of the Enemy" is downright embarrassing, but at least it's short.

From what I've read, Rod Serling isn't really to blame. The producers wanted more "weird monster" stories, rather than the imaginative thought-provoking tales that made The Twilight Zone such a hit. As a result, they got the monsters-and-gimmicks they were looking for.

I'll probably keep watching, though. I remember several episodes that I'd like to see again, in particular ones starring John Carradine as a creepy old man trying to scare a couple of kids and Richard Thomas as a starving man offered corpses to eat.

2 - John Carpenter's The Thing, however, still holds up well after nearly 25 years. (Has it been that long?) Although it hasn't happened lately, Carpenter used to make some pretty good stuff. Every time I see The Thing I ask myself if I really like the ending or not. Last night I liked it.

Well, it's almost time for WFC, which means the ol' blog will be silent for a few days. If you're attending, I hope to see you there. If not, I'll be back early next week with a full report.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Things To Do on Halloween

The possibilities are endless. If you live in the Baltimore/DC area, you couldn't go wrong by visiting Poe's grave at Fayette and Green streets in Baltimore. Check out Andy Duncan's comments here.

If you are inclined to stay at home handing out goodies to the neighborhood kiddos, my good friend Kelly Shaw has some great movie suggestions for you here.

At some point, Bullet and I will probably watch either the original 1963 version of The Haunting or the 1982 remake of The Thing, both great (and as different from each other as they can be) horror flicks.

Of course, I'm very tempted to start the new Conrad Williams novel The Unblemished, which arrived just a few days ago. Ah, so many choices.

Whatever you do, everybody have a happy, safe Halloween. (Two more days to WFC!)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Cindy Conquers the Marine Corps 10K

I'm very proud of Cindy for completing the Marine Corps 10K Run yesterday (which is connected with the Marine Corps Marathon) in downtown DC. The way she's going, I wouldn't be surprised if runs the whole marathon soon. I expect she'll be ready for a half-marathon very soon. (I told her I'll stick with the half-miler.)

The Clydesdales were even there at the end of the race, giving out free beer. (Well, the Clydesdales were more or less supervising.) Free beer? What a race! Sign me up!

These guys weren't doing much. Looks like Skippy was guarding all the good stuff.

Cindy after crossing the finish line - a job well done! Of course they had other free stuff - bagels, sports drinks, egg beaters...but after the beer, who really cares? Anyway, I'm very proud of her. It doesn't seem that long ago that she and I were huffing and puffing at the track at Lamar High School in Arlington, TX. (The only difference is I'm still huffing and puffing.)

Speaking of huffing and puffing, I saw a woman preparing herself for the 10K by puffing a last minute cigarette. That's what I call training. And sacrifice. And some other things.

Just a few more days until WFC...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Resting Places

Did you know that the most common non-religious name for a cemetery in this country is Evergreen? It's true - there's at least 101 of 'em. I found this out by doing a little research for my current graveyard story, which should be ready to go out in a few days. (I did not choose the name "Evergreen" for my story, however.)

Speaking of this story, I'm breaking one of the rules I've heard for years, that diary or journal stories generally don't work well in fiction. I tend to agree. I remember telling a good friend of mine a couple of years ago that I didn't think her novel in diary/journal form would work.

So why am I doing it with this short story? (And it is pretty short; should end up no longer than 5000 words.) Maybe because it's the best way for me to discover who my narrator really is and becomes through this weekly journal. I might decide to take the journal element out once I've read the completed first draft, but for now it's working. We shall see.

A revised version of "You Can Say Anything You Want" got rejected yesterday, sent to someone else today. That makes only six stories out there in the pipeline, which is fewer than I'd like. I'm hoping to have at least two more stories out there before Thanksgiving. If I can just get Fred to punch the clock a little more often, I think it'll happen. Maybe he's been hanging out at Evergreen...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Countdown to WFC

One week from now (or less, if I just can't stand it) I'll be packing for World Fantasy in Austin, TX, where I'll eat/drink too much, sleep too little, and purchase far too many books. But hey, this is World Fantasy, right?

It'll also be good to be back in Austin. Cindy and I lived there in 1996-97 while I was teaching at Bailey Middle School and Murchison Middle School. But if anyone asks me how to get anywhere, they'll be out of luck. I don't even think I could find our apartment after being gone for ten years. But Austin is definitely one of the nation's coolest cities, regardless of whether you're lost or not.

There are a few places I'd like to revisit. Although it's several miles from Austin, The Salt Lick can't be beat for great barbecue. Maybe some of us can get a group together and drive on down.

Book People, The Largest Bookstore in Texas (and what else matters?) is a must-stop. Unfortunately, I'll miss the Howard Waldrop/Ellen Kushner/Kelly Link book signing due to my flight time, but they'll all be at the con anyway.

In the meantime, I'd better make some money...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Capclave Report

My good friend John and I decided to run over to Capclave for a Saturday-only sampling. The only other con I'd been to previously was World Fantasy (twice), so I certainly wasn't expecting Capclave to match WFC in size or quality, but it was quite good.

John and I went to the dealer room first (of course) where we literally bumped into Andy Duncan and his wife Sydney. It's always great fun to see Andy and it was a real pleasure to meet Sydney. (And it's also nice having them in Maryland.)

Most of the panels we attended were pretty good. I always enjoy the wit and wisdom of David Hartwell, who had a lot to say about why we have dividing lines in genre and how they came about in the first place. And I enjoyed the panel on the TV show Lost, where I discovered that compared to some fans, I am only a casual observer of the series.

Which brings me to the best panels:

The Future of Small Press Magazines consisted of four panelists: Neil Clarke (Clarkesworld), Ed Schubert (InterGalactic Medicine Show), Lawrence Watt-Evans (Helix) and Sean Wallace (Fantasy Magazine).

Each publication is different in their format, their payment and their philosophy. While Clarkesworld pays 10 cents a word, they only publish two stories a month, one by an established writer and one by a relative newcomer. (The stories appear online and in chapbook format. Online is free, chapbook is not.) Fantasy pays 2 cents a word, but includes a healthy twelve stories an issue. Wallace says that he feels it's more important to include more 4,000K (or fewer) stories than one or two stories of novellete or novella length, that most readers seem to want to read shorter fiction. (I tend to agree with him.) Helix is not an open submission publication, but they do tend to publish stories by established authors that's been turned down by other mags because they're too controversial.

There's a lot more to say about this panel and Endings: Slingshots and Other Varieties of Wrapping Up, but if I'm going to get to the gym before it closes, I've gotta go now. More later (pending interest). All in all, a good con I plan to attend again next year.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Keep It Short?

I'm wondering how my writing would change if I read only short stories for awhile, say three or four months. Don't get me wrong, I love novels, but when I'm in the middle of reading one, I tend to get caught up in the entire world presented in it, including all its complexities and structure. Then when I sit down to work on one of my stories, I get a little overwhelmed with the possibilities of ideas, structure, character, etc. I know and understand that you don't have the room in a short story to explore an entire world, but I'm wondering if a tighter focus in my reading would provide some boundaries in my writing, which right now tends to roam all over the place.

Speaking of writing, another 500 words on my "dead people" story. Really it's more of a graveyard story than a dead people story. It took me awhile to explore what's going on in the narrator's head and after some false starts, the story has shown me where it needs to go. Now it's flowing pretty well.

Not much going on this weekend, but my good friend John and I will be attending Capclave next weekend, which will be a nice warm-up for World Fantasy next month.

Monday, October 09, 2006

How 'Bout Them Cowboys?

As you may recall, back in April of this year, T.O. signed a three-year, $25 million contract with my former favorite team of 30+ years, the Dallas Cowboys. At that time, I made a statement that I refused to cheer, root, pull for or even give a nod in the general direction of the team as long as Jerry Jones keeps T.O. around. In fact, I've cheered for every team that plays against the 'Boys. (Let me tell ya, it's tough cheering for the Redskins.) It's my hope that:

1 - The Cowboys will lose as many games as possible, and miserably.

2 - Jerry Jones will decide T.O. isn't worth $25 million and will trade him/pay him out and cut his losses (which should be many) at the first opportunity.

It's also my hope that Parcells/Jones/etc. will find a quarterback that's under the age of 30 that can lead this team to some type of future...that is after T.O. has gone and I can cheer for the Cowboys once again.

So has T.O. been the non-factor on the field/distraction off the field I thought he'd be?

You betcha.

Owens had three catches on Sunday for 45 yards. Plus at least one dropped pass that I saw (I only watched a few minutes) which caused the Philadelphia fans to erupt in laughter, finger pointing, knee-slapping and other forms of jubilation.

Plus (according to the articles I read this morning) T.O. behaved in his usual immature fashion, spouting off, yelling and screaming, pouting, etc. on the sidelines.

But I guess that's what Jerry Jones wanted. Let's see...a 38-24 loss to the Eagles, three catches, 45 yards, zero touchdowns, multiple's that $25 mil. contract workin' for you, Jerry?


On the positive side, 500 words this morning on a brand new short story that has nothing to do with T.O., football or money. Just lots of dead people.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Stepping into the 21st Century

Well, I'm finally making the plunge. Everyone in the known universe has made fun of me (and rightly so) for years, so this weekend I'm buying a cell phone family plan.

Cindy's had a cell phone for years. I bought her one when we lived in Austin in 1996. She commuted to UNT in Denton, TX and I wanted her to have a little added security. (Denton's a dangerous place, ya know.) It was one of those big clunky Motorola phones that looked and felt like a gray brick. Then she got a prepaid phone that she's been using for a couple of years. But now we're getting the real thing. I told her as long as I can get "Like a Rolling Stone" as my ringtone, I'll be happy.

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but we're wondering how many people have disconnected their land lines and use cell phones for all their calls. What do you think?


Sent out a new story today called "Thicket" which clocked in at exactly 5,000 words.


Everybody have a good Columbus Day Weekend. Go discover something.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Some Thoughts on Lost - Seasons One and Two (plus a few minor spoilers)

Awhile back, Cindy and I spent several weeks watching Lost Season One via Netflix. We enjoyed it enough to rent Season Two as soon as it was available, watching the entire season in a matter of days.

In a way, Season One is like a prologue for Season Two. Sure, a lot happens in Season One: the crash, of course, and all the weird things going on, but most of Season One shows us who these characters are (and were) thorough backstory.

Without giving anything away, the stakes are raised big-time in Season Two. This season is (for the most part) fast-paced, exciting, intriguing and addictive. But there are a few factors that bring cause for concern:

Sometimes the character flashbacks seem to work against themselves. Much of the backstory provides essential information on why the characters act (or should act) the way they do. But that's part of the problem. We see what these characters are about, then back on the island, their behavior is sometimes inconsistent with what we've learned about them in the flashback. Sure, their whole lives have been turned around since the crash, but people will certainly still carry around their baggage. For instance (again, without giving too much away for those who haven't seen the show), we learn that there's something in Kate's past that makes a man like Sawyer not only a big turn-off, but downright odious. Yet she sure spends a lot of time with him. You can see other inconsistencies with other characters as well.

Certain characters appear in deus ex machina fashion, only to disappear after serving their purpose to get the main characters where they need to go for that particular plot point.

I have some other minor issues, but my main concern is that the writers/producers of the show will never be able to tie all the loose ends together. There's an awful lot to be explained at the end of Season Two and I just have to hope that Lost is not jerking our chains at the end of the season just to say "Gotcha!"

We shall see. Season Three begins in two days.

Which brings up another point that bothers me.

When Season Three does start in two days, it's only going to run for six weeks, followed by a thirteen-week break, after which the season will conclude. Talk about jerking your chain....

But again, I'm willing to go along.

For now....

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Random Thoughts

First, if you have any interest whatsoever in speculative fiction, you should read James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon. An excellent, informative, entertaining and long overdue biography. Highly recommended.


Second, if Flannery O'Connor were alive today, I'd camp out on her front porch, sidestepping the peacocks, telling her how wonderful she is each time she opened the door. I've been chipping away at several of her stories from The Complete Stories. O'Connor read lots of Joyce, Kafka and Faulkner and that conglomeration of influences shows up in many of her stories. Many of the stories are humorous, disturbing, horrific, strange, violent, absurd and nihilistic - often all in the same story. She had the uncanny ability to capture small-town Southerners and yet bring out universal concepts, moral judgments and the possibility of redemption from them, and the supernatural, all without stooping to preachiness.

O'Connor was a Roman Catholic, but denominations are never clear from her stories, at least not to me. What amazes me is that so few Christians have read (or have even heard of) O'Connor. These are amazing stories. Start with her most famous, "A Good Man is Hard to Find," which is itself very easy to find: it's been anthologized just about everywhere.


On the writing front, 600 words tonight on an almost-finished short story.

Now Playing = The Complete Columbia Stanley Brothers

Friday, September 22, 2006

Getting Unstuck or The Battle of the Jeffs

Some excellent comments from the last post. Thanks to all.

It is tough to leave a story alone for awhile. I tend to want to struggle through the muck, waving knives and swords at anything that moves (or doesn't move), getting in the way of my story. But following Ford's advice, I went back to a story that had fizzled out awhile back. I focused on why one of the characters acts the way he does and several pieces of the puzzle fell into place, not all at once, but little by little, like a trail of clues leading me forward. The story is working and I'm excited about it. Like VanderMeer mentioned, I have a general idea of what's going to happen (or might happen), but I'll be open for any self-discoveries I or my characters might find along the way.

This from Sarah Monette. Advice, help and suggestions you can get from others, for which I'm thankful. But you've gotta do the work. Good stuff, Sarah.


Watched another Blast from the Past on DVD last night, Let's Scare Jessica to Death from 1971. It's a good example of some of the 70's low-budget horror films that often work better than the stuff being made today.

Everybody have a great weekend -

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sort of starts off real slow and then it fizzles out altogether*

The last two stories I've worked on (for the past month) have done exactly that. With both stories, I've started off with a good idea, run with it, then bogged down trying to find the finish line. I can tell that I'm manipulating the endings, something Jeff Ford warned us against at Clarion. I can even point to specific sentences and tell you "That's where it's happening, right there." But I can't seem to "unmanipulate" it.

I suppose that these stories will take care of themselves in time. Probably the thing to do is leave them alone for awhile and let Fred take over. It's frustrating, but everybody goes through it. (I hope they do.)


I've found that sometimes such fizzling out comes after reading a lot of really great stuff, then trying to write too soon afterwards. It's sort of like watching Roger Federer play tennis then picking up a raquet and hitting the courts. Anyway, lately I've been reading some short stories by Flannery O'Connor, one of my favorite writers.

There's much to admire in O'Connor's work. I certainly appreciate all the Southern touches, but I marvel at how she weaves a spiritual element into each story. The South is filled with spiritually, and not all of it good. O'Connor knows how to bring this out without beating the reader over the head with it. She also knows the importance of word choices. So many of her sentences could have been written with slight differences, but sacrificing much. Hers is a true world of wonder with enough strangeness to satisfy spec fic readers (even non-Southern ones).

My reading has been all over the place lately. In addition to O'Connor, I've been reading:

Scott Westerfeld
Jeff VanderMeer
Anton Chekhov
Jasper Fforde
Hans Christian Andersen

No wonder I can't write anything....

* from Neil Young's introduction to "Don't Let It Bring You Down" from the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young live album 4-Way Street.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"Can you do this? Without CGI?"

Beam Me Up?

It was more like "Beat me up" if you wanted to own the three seasons of the original Star Trek series on DVD just a few weeks ago. The price of each individual season has lately dropped from over $100 to $45 at Costco. Hmmmm...usually means there's a "new" edition coming out soon....

And there is. CBS/Paramount will begin broadcasting digitally enhanced versions of the original series, beginning on September 16, so the DVDs won't be far behind. (But at what price?)


The most noticeable change will be redoing many of the special effects, created with 1960s technology, with 21st century computer-generated imagery (CGI). Upgrades include:

Space ship exteriors – The Enterprise, as well as other starships, will be replaced with state of the art CGI-created ships. The new computer-generated Enterprise is based on the exact measurements of the original model, which now rests in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Show opening – The Enterprise and planets seen in the main title sequence will be redone, giving them depth and dimension for the first time.
Galaxy shots – All the graphics of the galaxy, so frequently seen through the viewscreen on the Enterprise's bridge, will be redone.
Exteriors – The battle scenes, planets and ships from other cultures (notably the Romulan Bird of Prey and Klingon Battle Cruisers) will be updated.
Background scenes – Some of the iconic, yet flat, matte paintings used as backdrops for the strange, new worlds explored by the Enterprise crew will get a CGI face-lift, adding atmosphere and lighting.
The refurbished episodes also feature higher quality sound for the famous opening theme. The original score by Emmy Award-winning composer Alexander Courage, has been re-recorded in state-of-the-art digital stereo audio with an orchestra and a female singer belting out the famous vocals. A digitally remastered version of William Shatner's classic original recording of the 38-word "Space, the final frontier..." monologue continues to open each episode.

The remastered episodes have been converted from the original film into a High-Definition format, which gives viewers a clearer, crisper, more vibrant picture than before, even when viewed in standard definition. Once stations upgrade and start broadcasting HD signals, the episodes will be all ready for viewers to enjoy in HD.

Just for fun, here's a look at the new enhanced Enterprise.

I don't know how I feel about this. Sure, I realize that the show (especially the unenhanced edition) is major cheese, but I grew up on the show and have fond memories of it. Like many of us from my era, this was our first introduction to sf. And even though I haven't watched any of the newer Trek incarnations in the past 20 years or read a Trek novel in 30 years, I still love watching the old shows. (Some of them, anyway.) I like watching the old cardboard sets, the cheap fx, the universal rock-planet that appears in each episode.

Sure, it would be nice to see a cleaner picture, a better soundtrack, and fx with less of a cheese factor. But what can you do about Shatner's bad acting?

Still, I think of those old episodes as an old friend. He stumbles around a bit and embarrasses you sometimes, but he's still hanging in there.

"He's dead, Jim."

Yeah, well....yeah...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Going There

This from Sarah Monette's blog. Competition is something that's part of life; there's no getting around it. It's in how we view it -- and ourselves in it -- that counts. As a teacher, I always tried to instill in my students the idea that you're primarily competing against yourself, trying to go deeper, to explore what you're capable of, which ususally involves moving outside your comfort zone.

When I look back at my stories that show the most promise, nearly all of them involve a journey for me, the writer, to a place that is both challenging and uncomfortable. When I strip away all the safety barriers and protective coverings, I find some pretty incredible stuff waiting to be discovered.

That happened this morning for about an hour with a story that had just stalled for the past several days. It took me to a place that's both scary and challenging, but I stood there in the middle of it and learned a lot about the story and myself. The story is certainly not finished, but the truth (and the power) of it is rising to the surface.

It's a lot easier to compare yourself to other writers, though. But what good comes from it? As Sarah rightly says, there's always a writer that wins a bigger prize or whose book stays on the bestseller lists longer than yours. Those things are ultimately out of our control. But you can control how you challenge yourself by getting out of your comfort zone and making some discoveries that might not feel so good for awhile. But your writing will be stonger.

It's true. Give it a try.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

James Van Pelt's The Last of the O-Forms

I just finished James Van Pelt's second collection of short fiction, The Last of the O-Forms and Other Stories. It doesn't take much reading to realize Van Pelt is not only a very good writer, he's also comfortable in a variety of genres. In the fifteen stories in this collection, you'll find sf, fantasy, horror, an homage to Lovecraft, post-apocalyptic stories, stories about high school kids, little kids, birds and animals, a poker tournament, Bogart, Astaire and more.

Van Pelt knows about all these things, but more importantly, he knows a lot about what it means to be human, even when your surroundings pressure you to become something other than human. That he can do this without coming across as heavy-handed or sappy is pretty amazing.

Take, for example, the post-apocalyptic "A Flock of Birds." All we know is that something has wiped out most of the North American population, only about 50,000 people remain. Van Pelt isn't really concerned with how it happened. (Lord knows, it could be any one of a hundred ways.) What he is concerned with is how we handle the days that follow. A middle-aged, balding man named Carson spends his days watching for rare, near-extinct birds while taking care of an ailing woman who has wandered into his house. We've seen this scenario before, lots of times, but Van Pelt doesn't go where you think he's going.

He's never predictable in any of these stories. They're all fresh, well-told and memorable. The title story is one of the most powerful, unsettling tales I've read this year. The only thing I can't understand is why Van Pelt isn't talked about more.

Saturday, September 02, 2006



Mission: Impossible - The Complete First Season will be released on December 5, just in time to be placed in the stocking of that special someone. Whoot! I have fond memories of the opening credits, the lighting of the fuse followed by a flurry of (what I then thought of as) lightning-fast images of fast cars, ticking clocks, masks being ripped off, stealth-filled shifty-eyed glances, all driven by Lalo Shifrin's much-parodied yet unforgettable theme music. I fear that after forty years this show will now look like major cheese puffs, but I don't care. I've waited a long time to see this show again and purge all images of Tom Cruise from my memory.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Rain, Stories, Novels, Fortune Cookies

Ah, the rain at last. Refreshing, isn't it?

Finished a new story this morning, a 7,000 word monster that may need to be further tamed. It's in the hands of my First Reader right now. Hopefully I'll send it out early next week.

A good friend of mine gave me a gentle nudge to get the revision on my YA novel going, so that's just what I'm going to spend the next few months doing. The novel comes first, then the short stories. Maybe I should tape that to the computer screen.

From last night's fortune cookie:

"Life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think."

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Three Notable Passings

This morning, actor Glenn Ford died at the age of 90. When most people think of Glenn Ford, they think of Pa Kent from the 1978 Superman, but that film only scratches the surface of the actor. Ford made several important films, among them two of my favorites, The Blackboard Jungle (which introduced millions to the Billy Haley and the Comets hit "Rock Around the Clock") and the noir classic The Big Heat. I never had half the trouble Ford had as a teacher in the first film and I'll never look at a pot of hot coffee in quite the same way after the second film.

Ford often played tough, rugged characters, but he also had a kind of quiet strength about him that you can detect in nearly all of his roles. My favorite Ford film isn't talked about much, the Western 3:10 to Yuma.


Singer/songwriter Jumpin' Gene Simmons (not the wildman from Kiss) passed away yesterday at 69. Simmons was one of the first artists to appear on the Sun Records label and worked as an opening act for the young Elvis Presley. Simmons was from the strange and wonderful Itawamba County, Mississippi. Favorite song title: "Peroxide Blonde in a Hopped-Up Model Ford."


Joseph Stefano, who wrote the screenplay for Psycho and was co-creator of the original television series The Outer Limits died yesterday. He was 84.

Stefano made several changes to Robert Bloch's original novel for the Hitchcock film, most notably the book's opening. Early in the novel, Bloch has Marion Crane arriving at the Bates Motel with her death quickly following. Stefano didn't like it.

"My feeling was that, since I did not know anything about this girl, I wasn't going to care about her when she was killed. So we backed the story up a bit and learned something about her so that when she was killed, it would have more impact."

It sure did.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Here he is, boys and girls...Uncle Bob's back!

Random Recommendations

Right now I'm giving a cursory listen to Bob Dylan's new album Modern Times, which officially releases tomorrow. (XM Radio is playing a sneak preview of the album in its entirety.) Although I haven't been able to give it my full, undivided attention (breakfast, taking care of Bullet, etc.), I've heard most of every song. Without getting into specifics, I can pretty safely say that it doesn't vary much musically from 2001's Love and Theft. In fact, the styles may be even more nostalgic than that release: some blues, rock-a-billy, soft-shoe, a waltz, but very little out-and-out rock n roll. The first time I listen to anything, the music tends to come first, then the lyrics. I just have to look at the big picture for now. But this is Dylan we're talking about, so the lyrics will take time to sort through, demanding repeated listenings. More later.

It is interesting to note, however, that the limited edition featuring four extra tracks (none of them new material) and a DVD of Dylan performing the aforementioned four songs is currently No. 2 on Amazon's music sales. (The regular CD-only version is at No. 3.)


I bought James Van Pelt's collection The Last of the O-Forms at World Fantasy last year and just started it last night (a mere nine months later). I read the title story and was blown away. If all the stories are as good as that one, look out.


I just finished Shadows and Silence, a collection of (mostly) ghost stories from Ash-Tree Press. Awhile back Ash-Tree ran a special including this volume and the World Fantasy Award-winning (actually it tied with Dark Matter) Acquainted with the Night. Ash-Tree books aren't cheap, but they're impeccably produced and the stories well-chosen. I was only disappointed with one story in Shadows and Silence, thought most of them were very good and several outstanding.


I started watching Veronica Mars Season Two (from NetFlix) this weekend. While it's still early (four episodes), the writing doesn't seem as strong as in Season One. But I'll keep watching. (No spoilers, please.)

Now Playing = "Ain't Talkin'" – Bob Dylan