Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Just What I Needed Part II

I hate it when this happens.

I'm working on a short story, everything's going just fine, flowing smoothly when I hear a little voice. Fred.

"You know, this needs a little more description."

Okay. More description. Okay.

"Yeah, that's it. That scene is nice. But readers need to know why the woman has that particular wallpaper in that particular room."

No they don't! It's just wallpaper!

"There's a reason it's there...."

It's not important.

"It could be...."

All right, all right. Let's explore the wallpaper. A little! I'll give you fifty words.

"How 'bout 100? You could really make it happen with a hundred..."

And it keeps going just like that. One thing leads to another and I've got a 5,000 word story that's just begging to grow bigger and bigger. I hate it when that happens. Fred....

Now Playing = Barricades & Brickwalls - Kasey Chambers
Now Reading (almost finished) = The Keys to the Kingdom Book I: Mister Monday – Garth Nix
Listening to in the Car = 1776 – David McCullough
Today's Short Story = "Mr Justice Delany" – John Morrow from Shadows and Silence, edited by Barbara Roden and Christopher Roden

Friday, May 26, 2006

10 Years Together Posted by Picasa

10 Years

Cindy and I celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary today. When I look back at how much we've been through, it's pretty amazing that she's put up with all of my antics for an entire decade. She's been amazing thorough it all - graduate school, long hours (and weekends) of being a Texas band director, changing jobs many times, writing, Clarion, all my junk (literal and figurative), and so much more. She's a saint. If you've ever read Proverbs 31, that's her. I want to thank her for these ten wonderful years and tell her that she's come this far, she might as well stick around.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


The 10-Pound contest is over and I made it! I went from 180.6 pounds to yesterday's weigh-in of 168. Wooooooooooooo!

For those of you who haven't kept up with this nail-biting story, Gold's Gym held a contest several weeks ago: Pay $25, lose ten pounds, and split the total prize money with everyone who meets their ten-pound goal. I know at least 120 people signed up. I figure at least 10% (probably a lot more) of the people gave up early. At least another 10% lost a few pounds, but didn't make it to ten. I'm guessing that maybe half the people met their goal, in which case we all get $50. Whatever we get, I'm twelve pounds lighter, in better shape than I've been in 20 years and feel great.

Cindy and I celebrated by going to Hunan Rose, where I reveled in a huge plate of Hunan fried rice. Mmmmmm......

Afterward we found that there was a Scholastic Book Fair just a few miles down the road. (They have a warehouse in Odenton that I didn't even know about.) Scholastic was selling books for half-price, so I picked up a few:

Coraline – Neil Gaiman
The Game of Sunken Places – M.T. Anderson
The Keys to the Kingdom Book I: Mister Monday – Garth Nix

Plus I sent two stories out yesterday. Not bad for a Wednesday.

Now Playing = Chaos and Creation in the Backyard – Paul McCartney
Now Reading = The Keys to the Kingdom Book I: Mister Monday – Garth Nix
Today's Short Story = "The Weight of Words" – Jeffrey Ford from The Empire of Ice Cream

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Happy Birthday, Bob! Posted by Picasa

A Quick Shout at Bob

Believe it or not, Bob Dylan turns 65 today. That's right, 65, the age most people retire, but not Dylan. This is probably the busiest he's been in at least a couple of decades: he still tours (almost non-stop), he hosts a radio show on XM Radio, and his supposedly has a new album coming out later this year.

I didn't really start digging Dylan until the mid-80's, even though my good friend Joe Clarke gave me the double album Blonde on Blonde around 1978 or so. I don't know why, but one day in 1985 I was in the Music Emporium in Meridian, MS (across the street from Meridian High School, for those who remember) and decided I had to have the 3-disc Biograph. I talked the owner down from $50 to $35 and have been listening to it ever since.

I saw Dylan for the first time in 1988 in Memphis at Mud Island. I was way, way back and this nice lady told me I could borrow her binoculars for a few minutes and that was my first glimpse of Bob. I saw him again in Jackson, MS in 1992 (I believe) and on the Gulf Coast in 1995 - thanks to a friend of mine who won two second-row tickets by calling in to the radio station and singing the chorus to "Like a Rolling Stone." (Thanks, Leah B.) Once I moved to Maryland, I saw him at the MCI Center in DC in 2002 and then last summer on the "Baseball" tour at the Bowie Baysox Stadium. Each time has been great. You'd think the crowds would diminish for someone who's been around so long, but they keep coming. Most of the times I've seen him, it's been a full house or close to it.

When I saw him at the MCI Center, he performed an encore (I believe it was "Like a Rolling Stone," but I'd have to look it up) to a packed floor. When he finished, the place was going crazy and Dylan just stood there with an amazed expression on his face, kind of a Sally Field "They like me...they really like me...STILL!" look.

I could go on about Dylan, but I'll stop here and celebrate the man's birthday. Maybe blow a few notes on the harmonica. Maybe go get some white poster boards and a black marker and a video camera. Maybe call up Joan Baez.

Now Playing = The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Garage Sales

I love garage sales. Garage sales, yard sales, estate sales, whatever you want to call them - I love 'em. (Most estate sales are usually not real estate sales, but garage sales in disguise.) If there's not a weekend book sale within about a 30-mile radius, I'll go scouting garage sales.

I usually don't find much to sell at these things, but last weekend I did pick up a couple of books I can sell for about $40 or so. (My cost - 50 cents each.) I also got a pristine copy of the 4-disc DVD set of The Two Towers for $2. Even when I don't find anything, it's fun.

Moving sales are the best. I've moved so many times I get dizzy just thinking about it, but I know that the last thing you want to do is have more stuff to load onto that moving truck - so you sell it, and cheap. I've been to moving sales where I've bought several of their books/DVDs/CDs and asked, "Got any more stuff you don't want to move?" Usually the husband (more usually the wife) will get this look of euphoria and say, "...Yeah! Wait right here," just before the big boxes start coming out.

At most sales, you have to wade through mountains of Danielle Steele, John Grisham, Stephen King and Reader's Digest books...if they have any books at all, besides tons of kids' books the dog has chewed (or worse) on. But I've also found some really great stuff. Last year I replaced my old (stolen) Taboo game for a buck. Bookcases are usually readily available. Lately CDs are coming out of the woodwork.

For some reason, people are getting rid of a lot of classic rock CDs. I mean practically giving them away - fifty cents, three for a dollar, that kind of thing. 80's and 90's CDs show up a lot, too. I can't tell you how many Michael Bolton CDs I've seen sitting out in the sun, fading into oblivion. Or we can only hope.

Jazz CDs are showing up more also. My Pat Metheny collection has expanded considerably of late. Classical stuff doesn't show up much, unless it's some cheap edition of Swan Lake performed by the Buttmunchausen Philharmonia. Country (or what they call Country these days) is there in abundance. But if you're looking for anything from Hank Williams, Sr. to about 1968, forget it.

The most rabid buyers I see aren't interested in books, CDs, DVDs, clothes, furniture or any of that. But weekend after weekend, I see nothing but Record Vultures. Records, you know, those black vinyl discs old guys like me used to play. Maybe it's just this area, but people around here are insane about records. Just about every one of them I talk to claims they sound better than CDs. Maybe they do, I'm no audiophile. But I always ask them if they still like the bacon soundtrack of records. (Most of 'em don't get it.)

Got a free Saturday morning? Experience a little bit of Americana. Maybe I'll see you there. I'll leave the records untouched for you.

Today's Short Story = "Coffins on the River" - Jeffrey Ford from The Empire of Ice Cream

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Great...Just What I Needed....

Great, now I'm hooked on another TV show. Cindy and I are watching the first season of Lost, and so far it's pretty good. It's got enough of a speculative element for me, yet not too much for Cindy. Another TV show... This is the last thing I need, ya know. But please, DON'T TELL ME ANYTHING ABOUT SEASON ONE...OR TWO! Thanks....

Today's Short Story - "A Man of Light" - Jeffrey Ford from The Empire of Ice Cream

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Some clown who wanted his picture taken with Bullet, the famous retired racer.  Posted by Picasa

This is one happy boy Posted by Picasa

Just Another Weekend

I must admit, the weekend has been a pretty nice one. Visited with my good friend John last night, hit a few garage sales this morning (more about garage sales in an upcoming post), went to the dog park, and am about to send a story out. "Other Places to Go" was rejected by F&SF, so it's off to the next market.

Cindy and I are going to start watching Lost on DVD tonight. I hope it lives up to all the positives I've heard from just about everyone.

Now Playing = Different Light - Bangles (50 cents at a garage sale)
Now Reading = 1066: The Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry - Andrew Bridgeford
Listening to in the Car = The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
Today's Short Story* = "Counterfactual" - Gardner Dozois from the June F&SF

* John and I have a mutual goal of reading at least one short story a day.

Friday, May 19, 2006

S is for Skipping

Just started listening to Sue Grafton's S is for Silence in the car. I like Grafton's alphabet mysteries, but I'm skipping just a few in the series. Let's see, I went through A, B, C, S.... So what's a few letters, huh?

Anyway, I remember from reading the early novels that Grafton was always great at description and pretty good with characters. Only one disc into the book (probably the equivalent of 30 or so pages), the descriptions are still good and the characters not bad. The plot (at least so far) seems pretty routine, but I'll keep listening.

The odd thing about the book is when it takes place: 1987. Do all the Kinsey Millhone books take place in the 80's? Does she ever enter into the 21st Century? I guess that would make Kinsey match Grafton's own age, which I believe is at least in the mid-60's.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Jeffrey Ford's Outstanding New Collection of Fantasy/Horror Posted by Picasa

The Fine Line Between Fantasy and Horror

I've been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between fantasy and horror. This started many years ago when I was casually reading science fiction and fantasy. It seemed that the line between science fiction and fantasy was a fairly solid one. In the years that followed, I heard a lot of people try to pinpoint the differences between the two genres (rarely discussing their speculative similarities). It really wasn't that big an issue for me then or now, although people still discuss it at length.

After I started writing – and especially after I attended Clarion - I realized that most of what I was writing was fantasy. Even my "science fiction" stories had very little science in them. Most used some aspect of science as a speculative springboard to launch the story.

But then I began reading more horror stories and things got murkier. As I read stories in several of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies, I was often surprised to see that some of the stories that I would have called fantasy were chosen by Ellen Datlow (the horror editor for the series) rather than Terri Windling. Sometimes I'd read a story and purposely cover up the introduction containing the editor's initials to see if I could guess the genre. It was pretty much a crap shoot.

A few years ago I heard Datlow on a WFC panel. She said that she looks primarily for horror stories (or horror elements), even when reading submissions for (the now defunct) SCIFICTION. Since then, I've heard people discussing different stories, arguing back and forth over whether a certain one is fantasy or horror. Other than discussions of the blatantly obvious (elves vs. vampires, for example), I haven't heard anything tangible differentiating the two genres.

I've been reading Jeffrey Ford's new collection The Empire of Ice Cream, asking myself if some of the stories are fantasy or horror. Or both? (Of course much of this speaks to Ford's versatility as a writer.) I guess it really doesn't matter. It's all speculative fiction and I love both genres. I also tend to write in both genres, although I would be the last to tell you which of my stories are horror and which are fantasy. I don't know what the stories are and don't really want to spend too much time thinking about it. But for the purposes of sending out stories to markets, it helps to know.

I've probably heard them before – maybe not – but I'd like to hear your thoughts on the differences between fantasy and horror.

Now Playing – Abbey Road - Beatles
Reading/Listening = Same as last time

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

By the Numbers/New Stories

I got my cholesterol results back yesterday and I feel like I won the lottery. Well, okay, maybe more like I won a few bucks from a scratch-off card, but still pretty good. My total cholesterol is 201 - an all-time low for me. Triglycerides - 139. That's a huge turn-around, considering they topped 500 just a couple of years ago. HDL and LDL levels are very acceptable. Best of all, my doctor doesn't want to check me again for another year. Whooooooooo!


Story ideas are just zipping around like crazy. It's a real challenge to decide which idea to work on first, but for now I think I've figured out which one to place over the hottest burner. It's important for me (at least at this stage) NOT to think about potential markets, but to just try to tell the story. As I was working on a story this morning, I found myself thinking in very broad terms whether the story was headed in the fantasy or horror direction. I'm trying not to listen to the "market demons" inside my head, but it's tough. After all, you don't want to end up with a pretty good story that doesn't fit anywhere. But I believe every story belongs somewhere (even if it's in the round file). Onward.

Now Playing = Kind of Blue - Miles Davis
Now Reading = 1066: The Hidden History of the Bayeux Tapestry - Andrew Bridgeford (as recommended by John - Thanks!)
In the Car = The Thief Lord - Cornelia Funke

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Just When I Was Getting Warmed Up...

...another good market closes. That's right, Fortean Bureau announced that it will be folding soon. This was a good market and I'd submitted to them a few times in the past year. Alas, no more. I hate it for them and for writers like me who are focusing most of their efforts on short fiction. Lord knows there aren't enough quality markets out there as it is. It's sad to see another one closing its doors.

And to make matters worse, I feel like my short stories are starting to inch their way up to the next level (whatever that is). Lately the ideas have been coming faster than I can put them down on paper, but I'm trying to keep up.

The Fortean Bureau editorial doesn't rule out a future incarnation of the zine. Let's hope it returns at some point.

Now Playing = Rare, Live & Classic (boxed set) - Joan Baez
Now Reading = Shadows and Silence - Barbara Roden & Christopher Roden, eds.
Listening to in the Car = The Thief Lord - Cornelia Funke

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Today's Letter

Ask and it shall be given. From John League I received the letter F (Hey, watch it.) in the ongoing audience participation meme. If you're the first to comment on this entry, I shall confer upon you your very own letter which you will use to come up with 10 words beginning with said letter and explanations on what the words mean to you.

So without further ado, the letter F (minus the obvious colorful f-words one might expect):

Forest, Mississippi – My hometown, population give-or-take 5,000. It was a fun place to grow up. You could hang out in the parking lot of my dad's grocery store on weekends or steal traffic signs in broad daylight. They had a great Taste-E-Freeze, too.

Faulkner, William – How can you be from Mississippi and not like Faulkner? (Or at least try to.) Favorite quote: "The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past."

Fantastic Fiction – Does this count as two? Broad umbrella encompassing science fiction, fantasy, horror and all the little sub-genres and sub-sub-genres. Although right now I'm reading more horror than fantasy (and very little straight sf), I love it all.

Flatulate – This isn't a real word, but as kids a lot of us thought it was a great verb – an alternate way to say "fart" without getting in trouble with the grown-ups. Later I found out that it wasn't a real word, so I overcame my anxiety and used the word "fart" exclusively. It's a great word, isn't it? Fart, I mean. Flatulate is a good word, too, even if it's made up. As long as you don't do it too much. Flatulate, I mean.

Fear – Where would writers and readers of fantastic fiction be without this one? When you think about it, fear is a wonderful thing. Think of fear as a defense system that keeps us alive, otherwise we'd play in traffic, walk around downtown Baltimore counting money, and run for public office.

Face in the Crowd, A – Andy Griffith's first movie (1957) and his best performance. Griffith plays Lonesome Rhodes, a country bumpkin with a little talent and a lot of charisma. He's discovered by a television station, given his own show and rises to stardom. A Face in the Crowd was way ahead of its time, exposing media demagogues, the lust for power, exploitation, betrayal and much more. Lonesome Rhodes quote – "A guitar beats a woman every time."

"Freddie Freeloader" – The second track on the classic Miles Davis album Kind of Blue. "Freddie Freeloader" is a 12-bar blues number that features Wyn Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and James Cobb on drums. And of course, Miles on the horn. (Plus a couple of sax players you might have heard of – Cannonball Adderly and John Coltrane.) To simply label the tune (or all the tunes on the album) as "relaxed modal jazz" is an injustice. It's so much more. In his autobiography Miles, Davis says "That song was named after this black guy I knew who was always seeing what he could get from you free, and he was always around the jazz scene."

Fort Worth – I lived a stone's throw away in Arlington, TX for four years. Fort Worth isn't a bad city, despite the fact that nearly half the episodes of Cops seem to be filmed there. I wish I could remember the names of some of the great Mexican restaurants there (John, you can probably help me out here.), but come to think of it, those places probably didn't have names.

Film – Sometimes I watch movies. Movies showcase movie stars. Films have actors. There's nothing wrong with a good (or bad) movie if that's what you're in the mood for at the time. At one time you could see good American films. Now all you get are American movies (most of them lousy). There are still good films out there, but finding them is a lot harder than it used to be. Unless you have Netflix or live in/near a metropolitan city.

Firebird Suite – The first time I heard Stravinsky's Firebird Suite I was a freshman in college. It rocked my world in a pretty substantial way until I actually played it (horn) in graduate school, which rocked it even more. The conductor kept giving me the hand to back off, but it didn't do any good. That bird was soaring.

I'm already at ten? I didn't even get to felon, Karen Joy Fowler, funk, fabricate, flux, foo-foo, free speech, freebase, fuzzy, fugue, fruit punch or Fritz the Cat. Man....limitations....

Now Playing – Debut - Bjork
Now Reading – Shadows and Silence – Barbara Roden, Christopher Roden, eds.
Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Free Issue of F&SF

I'm already a subscriber, but if you're too cheap to buy a copy of F&SF, why not get a free one? Details here.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Stories, Novels, Music

This afternoon I sent out my third story in as many days. Don't be too impressed - only one of them is a brand new tale. But at least there's four stories out there now instead of one. More to come.


After finishing Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and getting closer to finishing Don Quixote, I think I'm going to indulge in some short fiction. And what better way than to buy nearly three years' worth (roughly 1982-84) of F&SF at a used book sale Saturday?


My first reaction to the new Mark Knopfler/Emmylou Harris project All the Roadrunning was disappointment, but it's beginning to grow on me. More on that later.

I also found a used copy of Poe's Haunted. Many of you will know that lead singer Ann Danielewski is the sister of Mark Z. Danielewski, author of House of Leaves. I haven't given the disc a really close listen, but apparently many of the songs are connected to the book. (Titles include "Exploration 8," "5&1/2 Minute Hallway," "House of Leaves," etc.) So far not quite what I expected, but very enjoyable.

Now Playing = Haunted - Poe
Now Reading = Dark Mirror - Marjorie M. Liu
Now in the DVD Player = Rear Window ($3 at a library sale)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Fewer Stamps These Days

I feel like I'm starting to get back on track as far as sending more stories out. At one time, I only had one little story floating around the nether regions of speculative fiction. As of today, I'll have three, possibly four. It's a slow process, at least for me.


My YA novel was not chosen as a finalist in the Avari Press contest, but I'm not too bummed about it. As I'd mentioned before, I mainly wanted to see if I could operate under a strict deadline, producing the best product I could. I'm glad I did it and now have something I can polish later on. The contest had 215 entries. But since they only listed their eight finalists, I don't know if I was #9, #215 or somewhere in between.

Now Playing - Beatles 65
Now Reading - Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy
Listening to in the Car - Don Quixote - Cervantes (disc 23 of 35)
In the DVD Player - Firefly, disc three