Monday, December 22, 2014

The New Poddler Review Came Through

I had just about given up. But today (yesterday now) I got an email informing me that a review of "Athame" had been posted, and apologizing for the delay. The review can be found HERE.

I am pleased, flattered, grateful, and honestly delighted at the favorable review I received. From my point of view, it was well worth the wait.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sicker Than A Dog

I have been sicker this past month than I have in years. It started as a bad cold with allergies, advanced into a debilitating case of flu, and a couple of days ago it started to advance toward bronchitis.

On the plus side, even my teenage son feels sorry for me and is willing to fetch beverages.

Needless to say, I am behind on my writing. However, some progress has been made. Peteros is out with Setka and some of the men, hunting temple raiding parties. Jess, to her disgust, is holding the fort while Telesa goes with the men to evaluate their ability to deal with local conditions. Nobody liked the idea, but nobody argued with the old woman either.

The earth and fire temples are gathering their joint forces to make a final, massive attack. This will be the make or break fight between the forest witches and the temples. Meanwhile, Peteros is planning to crush the Hohdwans, literally. The queen has emerged from hiding, and interesting repercussions are repercussion-ing.

The rest of the book is in my head, up to the very end which is already written. I know what happens. Now, I just need to get the strength and health back to type all of it. I wanted it done in time for Christmas. Not going to make it. Sorry. But I'm getting better, slowly.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

No Saturday Scenes Today

I'm not posting any scenes today. I have a fair amount of new material written on 'Recompense', but I'm to the point now that I just about can't reveal too much more without seriously spoiling the plot. I haven't done much with anything else recently. Too busy on the book and non-writing projects.

I did get a nice surprise in the mail yesterday. A package from Seattle. Opened it up and found a note from my daughter saying she never used her Kindle anyway, so enjoy. She added that an author should be able to review their work on all types of media. Which I can't argue with.

It does help, I admit. The text-to-speech feature is a nice reviewing touch. It also makes a difference on graphics. My computer screen and smart phone both have Kindle emulators, but their screen resolution is much higher than the actual unit that my daughter sent me. What looked good in black and white on my laptop looks like mud on the Kindle.

*sigh* Better late than never. I simple had no way of knowing until now. Time for more cover revisions I guess. Eventually.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Saturday Scenes

It's already Saturday going by GMT, so I might as well post this. I finally got around to updating the latest installment of my work in progress, "Recompense". The link is HERE. Or you can click the tab at the top of the page. All posted material is subject to revision before publication. It has not been edited.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Supporting Characters As Part Of The World Building Process

This is a follow-up of sorts to the last post, where I mentioned a glitched quest in an RPG I was playing a few days ago. The problem was reconciling the nature of the character, with the type and circumstances of the quest he gave me.

This is something that I have seen in novels. Especially in fantasy novels. And it is a real weak point in a book in my opinion, because the supporting characters of a book are just as much a part of the world that the protagonist inhabits as the landscape, and the monsters, and the magic system. Perhaps even more so.

I have read books where a simple village shopkeeper speaks like a university professor. Not just in using proper grammar. I mean, he knows about esoteric subjects, and he speaks with authority on obscure matters of philosophy. This is bad world building. An author needs to think about the context.

If you need to have the protagonist, for whatever reason, get some critical information revealed through exposition like that it isn't that much more work to introduce a wandering holy man, or a university expedition, that stops for the night at the village inn and gets into a conversation with the hero. Filling a simple, rural peasant's head full of information that he wouldn't need or want makes no sense. Even if you postulate that the typical fantasy society produces universal literacy.

Which is another issue. How many fantasy books are there out there where everyone, I mean *everyone* in a (relatively primitive) society can read? Even in the US, with a fairly decent public school system, well up into the 19th century many people were still illiterate. When I encounter a scene with some herald posting a proclamation in the town square, and all of the commoners crowding around to read it, I snort in derision.

There is a reason that they were called proclamations. Because they were proclaimed. In other words, they were read out loud. Because originally, nobody but the priesthood and a few of the upper end nobles could read at all. And even the nobles weren't very good at it. At least in Europe. This wasn't necessarily the case in the Middle East or the Far East, but most of the fantasy published in the US is set in quasi-European worlds.

It just doesn't make any sense, and it hampers immersion, when the supporting characters and the background characters act and think and know things that they should never do. Like a local lord calling up his sturdy peasant tenants to repel an evil invasion of orcs, or whatever. And every man shows up wearing leather armor and a sword.

Please. They would show up wearing their toughest working clothes, maybe a leather apron if they had one, and they would be carrying longbows, knives, meat cleavers, a few falchions among the more well-to-do yeomen, woodcutting axes, and hunting spears. Nary a sword to be seen among the lowlifes.

Them suckers were expensive as hell. They took forever to make, required the skill of a master weapon smith, and also required a distressing amount of high-quality steel. In a medieval environment, mining was conducted by the straightforward process of digging a hole and sending men down into it on their hands and knees with sacks. They filled the sack and dragged it back out. Rinse and repeat. High quality ore was at a premium.

Movie scenes of men working in a wide open quarry are misleading. That might have happened in an area where they were mining limestone, or digging out building stones, or some other mineral that was present in the form of a massive unit. But a mineral that consisted of a relatively thin layer, overlain by an entire hill, before the invention of gunpowder or pneumatic drills, was a different story.

It doesn't take much. A few minutes of careful thought and a quick google search would cover most of these. That's not too much trouble, is it?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Covering All The Bases

"Recompense" is well over 70k words now, even after I went back and excised a fair chunk. Things are smoothing out, so I decided to relax and do some gaming. The idea was to unwind and let my brain rest. Get it off writing for a while and just kick back. Naturally, since I usually play either RPGs or shooters with strong RPG elements, I got involved in analyzing the story line of a quest that my character was given.

How does this relate-connect-apply to novel writing? Bear with me.

Nothing wrong with the game's quest on the face of it. A priest had lost something while exploring an old ruin, and wanted my character to go fetch it. About as standard and routine as a quest could possibly get. But...

There's a problem. This is one of those games with multiple dungeons, and you never know which dungeon is going to be randomly chosen for the mission. As soon as he got the assignment, the hole in this approach became clear. And there is no excuse for this kind of thing, given the abilities of modern hardware. Back in the days of 8 bit or 16 bit processors, it might have been understandable. But games are sophisticated enough now that it shouldn't happen. This was simple sloppiness and getting a product out the door before it was properly finished.

Not only was it far too high level for my little character, but there was no valid reason for a feeble old priest, who was doddering along on his last legs, to be down at the bottom of a hellhole like that in the first place. He never would have made it down there to lose his whatchamacallit to begin with. Plus, the priest didn't offer any advice, didn't offer any protective amulets, or anything else. Just instructions to, "Fetch it."

Now we get to where this ties in with novel writing. I have read more than one novel where the protagonist, or some other major character, was jammed into a position because the plot called for them to be in a certain place at a certain time, and the author plainly didn't bother to think it though. They just yanked some excuse out of their backside and stuck the character in the right location, then went back to the main plot line. This. I. Not. A. Good. Idea.

A storyteller has to think through ALL of the details. Small things matter, most definitely You might be astonished at how anal retentive some readers can get about even the most minute points. But in the process of polishing and straining at gnats, we can't let the camels wander through the tent unobstructed.

Everyone looks at a story through the lens of their own life experiences, and everyone notices the details that they have been trained to look for. An editor or a teacher focuses in on the typography, sometimes even to the point of glossing over serious plot holes. A free spirited artist reads a story and criticizes it for not being avant-garde. Someone who likes "literary" works will complain if a character is not introspective enough.

But *everybody* notices if your protagonist marches off to battle without his rifle.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Behind Schedule

I am running behind my originally intended publication date for Recompense. People have been inquiring, so I wanted to let everyone know that one of the reasons I haven't been posting online much is because I have been writing my book.

Progress is still being made, but health issues are slowing me down. I wanted to have it out the door a couple of months ago. Good intentions, road to hell, etc.

I am plugging away. On the good side, I think and hope that it will be the best of the three. I am going to do my best to see that it is.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Mark Twain Was Absolutely RIght

To a novelist, that man's advice is worth its  weight in diamonds. Over the years I have read a lot of things that Twain wrote about the art of telling a readable story. But nothing has ever been more useful to me than his advice about what to do when a story stalls out on you, and you just don't know where to go next with it.

He said to do nothing. Literally nothing. Put it away for awhile and forget it exists. Some of his books sat in pigeonholes for years while he waited for the writing to break loose again. I had recently hit that point with "Recompense" I know exactly how the final third of the book is going to go. I have the first third written. But the middle third refused to shape itself into a configuration that would join them up.

I was about to shove my head through the drywall. Then I remembered what Twain said and I quit cold turkey. Started doing anything and everything. Different stories, moving furniture, yard work, organizing my office. I started game modding (which I plan to continue, this is starting to get interesting). I did just about everything there is to do around here except write on my third book.

This morning I woke up and the movies were playing in my head. The plot inconsistency was fixed. The rough patches were smooth. Progress has resumed. Proves once more, if you need advice go to the voice of experience.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Modding A Game To Tell A Story

Lately I have started trying to teach myself how to mod Skyrim. I picked that game because I already own it, the toolkit has been out long enough to have most of the bugs either worked out or worked around, and there is an encyclopedia of information floating around about how to do things with it.

The reason why I am doing it is a bit more complicated. I used to do a little game modding back in the days when Doom and Heretic first came out for DOS. In those days it was a lot simpler, because you couldn't really do much besides make a small level and drop in a few items. Scripting was a non-starter back then. Modern game systems are a bit more complex and flexible.

For one thing, I want to continue learning for as long as I continue breathing. Just as a matter of principle. For another, I suspect that the next level of storytelling will eventually include the integration of text and visual art. Much like paper books routinely include illustrations, I anticipate that ebooks might someday start to incorporate video supplements. I have seen things like that attempted before, but in the past the available tech was simply too crude to make it look good. That is changing, rapidly. People are already posting YouTube trailers for their ebooks. How far is it to go from that to embedding video in the book itself?

For another thing, it stimulates my muse. Looking at a story in my mind is different than looking at it in 3D. Framing a series of "what if?" questions when developing a plot line in a book becomes a different order of business when the book has an AI and starts to answer you back, independently of your own subconscious. And modern scripting languages are not really that much more complicated that the Basic or DOS batch files that I first learned to use back in the dawn of electronic civilization.

I may never get good enough to let the public see any of it. But I really think it will be an excellent exercise for stretching my ability to think in four dimensions while tracking multiple plot lines simultaneously. At least I hope so. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Temporarily Pulling Songs of Chaos

I am unpublishing Songs Of Chaos temporarily for revision. One of the major advantages of self-publishing is the ability to control your own work. Sales have not been satisfactory, and I have several improvements in mind.

I fully intend to re-publish it, once I am satisfied. This is my first attempt at a commercial sci-fi novel, and I usually tend more toward the fantasy genre. I am still hitting my stride. I learned quite a bit, I think, while writing the sequel and I want to bring the entire series into a consistently flowing pattern.

I am not setting a release date. Songs of Chaos, Second Edition, will be released when it's done, and not a minute before. For those who already bought the first edition, hang onto it. It might be worth something to a collector someday:) You never know. Everyone started off as an unknown.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I'd like to take an informal poll

Not even anything as formal as a poll, really. Just curious about something. I believe I am noticing a real difference in not only the type, but also the tone of reviews that are posted for independently published books as opposed to those works that are published by the larger publishing companies. I wonder if this is simply my impression, or is there something to this?

What I mean is that the general focus of reviews seem to zero in on some things more than others, depending on how the book was published. To give only one example, I hear a lot about how indie publishers need to pay close attention to quality. This is certainly true, and a fact that no one can reasonably dispute.

It is also true, and I have seven books in front of me to prove it, that 'mainstream' publishing houses put out work that is loaded down with typos like mis-spelled words, missing commas, misplaced punctuation marks, missing verbs and nouns, entire missing sentences sometimes, etc. Yet I cannot recall (I welcome anyone who can point me to one) a single review of a book published by a major publishing house where these flaws were dragged out and complained about.

The assumption seems to be, still, that anyone who publishes their own work is an amateur, and their work should and must be regarded by amateur standards. I spent over twenty years in the professional world, writing non-fiction technical documents dealing with contracts that amounted to tens of millions of dollars. I also assisted in writing some laws and regulations that were later put into effect. I can speak with some authority when I tell you that there has never been a document written that would pass the tweezer test.

The disturbing part of this, to me, is NOT that we indies are being held to a higher standard than the big publishing houses. Given the recent quality of what they are putting out, we can exceed their best efforts without breaking a sweat. The disturbing part, to me, is that so many of us are still doing this to ourselves and each other.

Is it just me? Am I being paranoid?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

This Scares Me. This Scares The Hell Out Of Me.

This particular piece of tech? Maybe, maybe not. It's the attitude that that freezes my blood. When I was a kid and watched horror movies about this, it comforted me to know that it was all fantasy, and no real human could bring themselves to do something so evil as to pervert the basic code of human life itself. That was before I studied history.

The link is HERE . At first glance, it reads as harmless enough. It's just coding, right? Everything is synthetic, right? Until you dig into the subject deeper and find out that they have already been making real chimeras. Viable embryos of mixed human/animal DNA. So far the embryos have all been killed.Except the useful ones, of course...

10 Ways Science is Using Hman-Animal Hybrids (Discovery.com

Human-animal hybrid embryos (BBC)

Scientist urge rules for human-animal hybrids (LA Times)

US Army: 'Super Soldier' Genetically Modified Humans Won't Need Food, Sleep

I wrote a short story on this subject a couple of years ago. It wasn't until I had actually written and published it that I learned I was behind the times. Way behind the times. England, I understand, is a world leader in this stuff. But everyone else is not far behind.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Way Of Things And The Story Of My Life

A while back (last spring) I was pleased to hear that Poddler Review was going to do a review of my first book, "Athame". I never saw a review and finally, to tell the truth, forgot about it. 

This morning I received an interesting email:

Hi Morgan,
We apologize for the delay in getting the review for your book posted. The reviewer was called out of the country for business and is not expected back anytime soon. When the reviewer returns, she promises that she will get right to it. In the meantime, she wanted to pass along that she enjoyed the book and regrets the delay. 

I appreciate letting me know what happened. I'm also glad the reviewer enjoyed the book. Since I will take what I can get, I am going to shamelessly claim this as a not-bad review by Poddler:) Until and unless the real review gets posted.

I am beginning to sympathize with people who break down and buy reviews. I have always thought of purchasing reviews from professional publications as a form of cheating. But I can't seem to talk anyone out of a voluntary review to save my bacon. Not even a bad one. Yeah, I'd take a bad one, just to get some. I know people are buying the books, Amazon puts money in my account every month to prove it.

*sigh*

Sunday, September 7, 2014

More Scenes From The Final Book

I have replaced the previously posted chapters with some new scenes from Book Three of The Unfortunate Woods trilogy. If anyone is interested they can be found by clicking the tab link at the top of the page, or HERE. It has not been proofed, spell checked, etc. When I say first draft I mean First (1st) draft. This stuff is raw.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Cheerybright?

Thaat's what Mike Reeves-McMillan calls the kind of fantasy he writes. It's a term he coined in opposition to the grimdark that is pretty much mainstream right now. He recently posted an article on his blog where Athame is mentioned. You can find his article HERE titled as "Books Like Mine." I recommend reading it. There are some good links there.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Confusing Fantasy and Reality

This doesn't connect directly to writing. Or maybe it does. I just felt like posting it. I bought something once from an online merchant called BudK. Naturally, they were so overjoyed that ever since that day, they have been blessing both my inbox and my snailmail box with advertisements. This goes with the territory nowadays, and I usually ignore it. But today's spam got me brooding.

As luck would have it, I have also been monitoring some of the survival and camping groups on google+. I write a lot of stories that are set in primitive conditions, and although I did spend most of my formative years in mud up to my ankles I figure I am never too old to learn a few new tricks. Besides, there are a lot of clever ideas presented on some of those threads that have triggered story possibilities.

This is where BudK ties into things. Budk sells blades. All kinds of blades. Kitchen knives, pocket knives, hunting knives, machetes, scissors, you name it, they got it. They also sell what is supposed to be camping and survival gear. And of late, they have a relatively new category that the they call, 'Zombie Survival' equipment.

I am old. Let us get past this aspect of things right up front. I am a doddering old carcass on its last feeble wheeze. But I am not completely insulated from the world at large. My children insist on dragging me out from under my nice comfy rock periodically. I have read World War Z. I have played zombie themed video games. I know what a zombie is. I am even aware, in a dimly confused way, that for some reason there has been an enthusiasm about zombies in the broader culture.

Fine. let the kids have fun. No problem with that. I don't have a problem with merchants cashing in on the craze either. That's what fads are for, after all. To drum up business. But this ties in with the survival groups on google+ I was talking about earlier.

I am, in a real sense, a survivalist. By that I mean that I like to survive and I want my family to survive. I keep a spare tire in the vehicle, along with basic tools and car insurance. I try to keep a little drinking water put back in reserve (a butt saver recently, in case anyone has been reading the news about Toledo's water supply) as well as canned goods.

I lived through the blizzards of 1978, and last year. I keep flashlights AND candles, along with batteries, matches AND lighters in the house. I spent the late 1990's in KY, living in a rural area where we were literally without power for weeks at a time during the worst of the ice storms. The little home town, West Liberty, was smashed flat by a tornado a couple of years ago along with a good chunk of the surrounding countryside. My niece's car was pulverized about thirty feet from where she was crouched under a counter in a restaurant.

So I take the idea of preparedness seriously. Many of the people who post on the survival groups claim to do the same. But it's easy to see that to them, it's merely an excuse to play zombie survival games without using the name. Either that, or they are dumb as a post.

I am not talking about all of them. A lot of the people who post actually live in rural areas, or post about gear that they actually use when they go camping, or hunting. I am not referring to those people. I am talking about the people who are daydreaming while pretending to make preparations for something that they seem incapable of actually imagining.

For example, when someone starts a thread about what to stockpile for the day the fecal matter strike the rotating blades, one of the the most strident questions is often what kind of weapons to gather. Really? I even see this in posts from people who say they live in areas where they aren't allowed to buy weapons routinely, so they have to improvise. Then they talk about the best kind to improvise. Please...

If a person in modern times, in the developed western world, is going to face an emergency it is unlikely to be something that an untrained civilian has any business diving into with guns blazing. In his book "Tunnel in the Sky," Robert Heinlein had a character who told her little brother that in a survival situation, "You are the rabbit, trying to elude the fox. You are not the fox." It's remarkably good advice, in my opinion. This is a case where a relatively harmless indulgence in fantasy might really lead one into the kind of idiocy that gets them killed.

Even in Katrina, when looters became a real problem, guns didn't help a lot of homeowners because a good number of the looters were corrupt cops. Right or wrong, pulling a gun on a cop is a BAD IDEA. Even if you are defending your home against a cop who is trying to loot it, what difference will that make to your corpse? Unless you are already a trained soldier or policeman, and already in good physical shape, and already well practiced, put weapons at the bottom of the list.

Then there is the concept of what many people call the bug out bag. The concept of the bug out bag is based on the idea that when an emergency hits, the first and best thing to do is leave your home and run out into the chaos, fighting the panicked mob to join the stampede trying to escape from whatever is happening. The bug out bag ostensibly contains everything that you need to stay alive, and even comfortable, while you are on your excellent adventure. Wow. All the comforts of home crammed into something the size of a backpack. Where can I get one? Heck, we can get one apiece for everyone in the family and move into the SUV. We can save a fortune on utility bills, and property taxes.

The bug out bag is derived from the idea of the field pack that soldiers carry. After all, if an infantryman can carry everything he needs, why can't you? Of course, the infantryman has logistical support from an entire quartermaster corps. He has supply trucks that haul food to his unit, and a medical corps that follows along to patch up anybody who skins their knee. But that's just nit picking obsession over minor details.

Granted, sometimes you actually need to run for it. Rarely. If the flood water is rising, or if the forest fire is closing in. If you decide to run, you don't need a bug out bag that will keep you alive while you make a covered wagon trek across the great plains. What you need is enough money to get wherever you can find refuge, hopefully a family member or friend's house, and the basics that you would pack for a weekend visit. Your car should already have basic hand tools for simple roadside repairs, a case of drinking water and snacks, and emergency blankets on general principles. You might, maybe take a weapon in case you are attacked by criminals along the way. A big maybe on the weapon.

If things have collapsed to the point that the disaster is not a local one, if the entire country or planet is coming apart at the seams, we all have much bigger problems than anybody can solve by sneaking off and hiding. I hate it when people waste their time and resources on things that won't help them. I have seen too many real world emergencies that were made worse than they needed to be. Most of them were floods and killer storms. They were made worse because people weren't properly prepared.

I see a lot of 'survivalist' sites who advocate having a secret refuge where you can sneak off to when the apocalypse strikes. Ideally, you will grab your bug out bag, saunter out to your fully equipped four wheel drive vehicle, and cruise happily into the wilderness. There you will meet up with the other members of your survival group and form your new community to begin civilization again, untainted by the corruption of previous life, or something like that. I also read comments where people boast about the skills they are learning in preparation for the inevitable. One says they are learning to garden. One says they are learning to can. One says they are learning to to take old car alternators and fans and use them to improvise a home power supply.

Nobody talks about learning how to dig a latrine for some reason. Nobody talks about the proper way to take hog intestines and clean them in preparation for making sausage casings. Apparently these people plan to never taste sausage again. Or meat, since nobody talks about being able to properly butcher anything larger than a squirrel or a rabbit. Nobody talks about the proper way to construct an onsite sewage disposal system. Apparently the idea of spending the rest of their lives using an outhouse holds some kind of rustic charm? Trust me on this, it gets old fast. Especially in the winter.

Nobody talks about how much chicken or hog manure is appropriate to spread on which type of plants. Nobody talks about how much ass-busting work is involved in raising one pig from piglet to pork chop. Nobody talks about the fact that plowing without a mule is impossible, and growing a garden without a plow is not feasible, and a roto-tiller won't run without gasoline. So somebody is going to have to muck out that stable. Nobody talks about how to go about digging a drinking water well by hand, and how to go about using local stone to brace the walls of it.

Instead of stockpiling weapons and pioneer tools, I would advocate making sure to have a claw hammer, pliers, carpenter's hatchet, a handsaw, a few boxes of assorted nails and screws. Simple things that a person can use to actually make and repair things. No untrained city person is going to be building their own log cabin, especially one who literally has never seen a broadaxe or put their hand on an auger. They might, however, be able to fix a roof, or nail up some plywood over a broken window.

I'm going back to the subject of weapons to finish. This one really bothers me. I grew up around weapons. I am a hillbilly, weapons are to a hillbilly what pasta is to an Italian. But what I read on many of these posts, both on google+ and others, worries me. Some of these people are setting themselves up to get hurt or killed. Or worse, kill somebody else.

Sure, keep a weapon for personal and home defense if you wish. By all means. I would never try to tell someone not to exercise their inborn rights. But make sure it is one that you can realistically own and practice with. Don't buy one because it seems cool, or because someone told you that it would be the perfect zombie killer, or because someone else told you that you absolutely-must-have this particular type of killing tool. And never forget that a weapon, especially a gun, is a killing tool. It is not a fascinating toy that makes loud noises and looks impressive. It is designed to rip huge bloody holes in living flesh and leave a decaying carcass behind.

Someone who rushes out an buys a .44 magnum, never having fired a handgun before, is living in a world more fantastic the anything Tolkien wrote. It isn't nearly as easy to hit something with a gun as it looks on tv. You will spend thousands of bullets getting close to accurate with any gun of any kind. A crossbow is even harder to get good with, because the bolt doesn't fly flat. A regular bow is harder yet. Whatever you pick, you will need to spend time practicing with it. And do it at least once a week for the rest of your life. Even then, you ain't gonna turn into Rambo.

If you really want to survive, never touch a weapon unless you are cornered. Even then, don't use it if you can possibly run or talk your way out of it. That particular part of the survivalist fantasy is the only part that really disturbs me.  I literally cut teeth on the stock of my father's shotgun. I have killed my own meat many times. I know what a weapon is. People who own and use weapons, knowing what they are, and accepting what they can do, are not a source of concern to me. People who think weapons are the subject of fantasy scare the living hell out of me.

Monday, August 25, 2014

New Chapters

I just added a few more chapters to the page for my new book, "Recompense". If anyone is interested, you can go HERE and scroll about halfway down the page to the point where is says [Added 8-5-2014].

This is the concluding book of the trilogy. I am doing this one a bit differently, but it seems to have broken the logjam. I am writing from both ends and working toward the middle. Oh, well. Whatever works.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Confessions Of A Former Fan Fiction Writer

I used to write fan fiction. Sneer if you wish, I don't care. Mark Twain's book, "A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court," was a blatant piece of fan fiction and he openly acknowledged it as such. If it was good enough for Mark Twain, it's good enough for me.

There is a long history of debate about the subject of derivative works. Many people object to them on principle. Given the ongoing avalanche of reboots, revivals, sequels, remakes, and reprints that are flooding the current American entertainment market, I suspect that the percentage of people who think that way is shrinking.

Captain America, Thor, and similar movies have recently made a whopping pile of money. I strongly suspect that before the trend is over, every comic book superhero ever published will have at least one movie made about them. I also confidently predict that Blade, the death defying dhampir vampire hunter extraordinaire, will soon have a remake/revival/reboot on the screen. You read it here first. Or maybe not, but you read it here, anyway.

I defy anyone to tell me that a 'reboot' of a canceled series is anything in the world but sanctioned fan fiction that someone is getting paid for. The recent Star Trek reboot (shudder) although bearing only the most scant resemblance to the original series still made a staggering amount of coin.

There is a lot to be learned by writing fan fiction. One of its most valuable aspects is the immediate feedback that you get. Many sites, for example fanfiction.net, allow you to post stories one chapter at at time. Anyone reading it can post a comment, either anonymously or with their user name attached. If they like it, you will feel that warm and fuzzy that encourages further effort. If they don't like it, you will lose hide. Serious chunks of hide, because those people do not mince words. But along with the standard insults and curse words, you will usually find thoughtful and helpful comments that you can take to heart and use to improve.

You won't get much experience at world building, unless you really go out in left field with it. The world, or city, or small town, or spaceship, or whatever is already in place and you mess with it at your peril. But if you really want to write a story that people will enjoy reading (and if you don't care about that, quit writing and turn on the tv) you will learn a lot about the details of keeping a plot internally consistent.

Remember that the people who read these stories are comparing them to the professionally written episodes that they saw on-screen. Their standards are fairly high. Sure, you can write tripe and post it. But no one will read it or offer any comments to speak of.

You also learn how to maintain adherence to an established pattern of character behavior. If you write a story where a well-known character veers too far away from the kind of behavior that they exhibit on-screen, your readers will rise in wrath to verbally scalp you. This is very, very useful when you start writing your own stories.

Your own original characters start out as vague, shadowy figures that creep closer as your story develops. You gradually get to know them by watching them behave, getting a feel for who and what they are as you see them act and react to the stresses all around them. Eventually you have a feel for what they will and won't do in a given situation.

Then you see them jump into a new kind of situation. What will they do? What does the plot call for them to do? The two are not always compatible. When you have to choose between making a character act unnaturally, or violate the flow that you had planned out for your plot, change the plot. Either that, or have a different character do what the plot calls for.

Every story (as opposed to vignettes and character studies and travelogues) is, in essence, a simple case of "Once upon a time, something happened to someone and this is what became of it." Once upon a time, two people met and this is what happened. Once upon a time, two races met in space and this is what happened. Once upon a time, a meteor struck the planet and this is what happened.

Once upon a time, the character you gave birth to got placed in a situation where they had to react. This is what happened. Ultimately, every story is about the characters. Events are only important in terms of how they effect the characters. Otherwise you are writing a history book. If it's fiction, you are writing a fictional history.

To get back to fan fiction, there is something else that it can teach you. How *not* to write a Mary Sue character. Or a Gary Sue as the case may be. These are characters that represent a kind of wish fulfillment for the author. They are the character that sweeps into the middle of things with all the answers, everyone in the story loves and admires them, they have the skills to handle every problem, etc.

You have seen them, I'm sure. So have fanfiction readers. Fan stories often introduce new characters, just as new episodes introduced new characters every week. But the Mary Sue cliche is a painfully familiar phenomenon to fanfiction readers. When they encounter a Mary Sue, the crap hits the fan in heaping fistfuls. You learn how to keep your characters human and flawed. In other words, not boring.

Like anything else, you get back what you put in. Sturgeon's Law holds as true for fanfiction as for anything else. But it can be a useful way to get started, and it has one overwhelming advantage that makes it superior to passing stories back and forth in a writer's group. On a fanficiton site, you are not getting feedback from wannabe writers like  yourself, who are second-guessing themselves just as much as you are. You are getting instant feedback from actual readers. The people that you are going to be selling to someday.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Maybe This Time

It start with a wheel bearing and ended with replacing the entire wheel assembly on both sides of the front. Now we are almost done. The new axle we need should be delivered to the Ford garage sometime early next week. Hopefully Monday.

But the hamburger tonight is fresh killed. It all balances out.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

There Is A Price For Everything

Our little home town (pop. 3200 plus pets and transients) is a peaceful and civilized place. It is filled with hospitable and generous people, and surrounded by some of the most beautiful country in North America.

It is also a hole in the wall when it comes to purchasing anything. After a week and a half, we have finally finished replacing the entire right front brake, wheel assembly, and steering rod on our car. The left front wheel assembly has been ordered from Virginia and should be here tomorrow, barring fire, flood, Teamster strike, minor earthquake, tornado, or any of the other piddling things that happen around here on a routine basis.

But at least I was able to get some writing done.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Always Another Adventure

There are worse things than being stranded 400 miles from home with a wheel bearing about to go out, and only one pill left of a critical medication. Many of them, especially when one is "stranded" at the home of an elderly parent with siblings and adult nieces underfoot. But being the grouch that I am, I tend to complain anyway.

On the other hand, we had venison last night and pork tenderloin today. The more I think about it, the more appealing the thought of selling the car becomes.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Realism Versus Believability

I wish I could recall who it was, and if someone who reads this knows the answer, please tell me and I will gladly give credit. But a while back someone mentioned the issue of making a world seem real to a reader when so many people have unrealistic ideas about things. It's a subject well worth spending time on, in my opinion. Hollywood and tv are prime culprits in promoting this state of affairs, but they are not solely to blame.

The article I read used caves as an example. Someone who is a spelunker might be thrown out of a story when they encounter an unrealistic description of a cave, as for example describing a volcanic type of interior when the hero is actually going into a limestone cavern. Things like that.

But we have been conditioned to think of certain things in certain ways, and sometimes when you put them realistically, it throws people out of the story worse than if you just went along with the erroneous assumptions that the mainstream clings to. Swords for example.

Nothing on earth is any farther from realistic than the depiction of swordplay as it is presented in movies, on tv, and on stage. It bears very nearly no resemblance at all to actually using a sword. All you have to do is watch an Olympic fencing match, which itself is as fake as a three dollar bill in terms of actual combat, to see that dramatic representations of swordplay are a joke. Scenes where two men are banging huge two-handed longswords against each other like they were fencing foils? One man standing off three attackers, out in an open field with no cover anywhere around? Right.

Even one man holding off a group on a narrow stairway is iffy, if one of the group has a crossbow and a clear shot at his leg. But you can put a scene like that in a story and a lot of people will swallow it without bothering to think it through, because they are so used to seeing things like that.

So you have to meet people's expectations. I got a review recently where someone thought the dialogue in my fantasy book sounded too modern, and it grated on their ear. The setting is  not Earth, it is another human world, in a kingdom with a technological level approximately equal to that of late Middle Ages/early Renaissance Europe. Not exactly, but close.

The people don't speak English, but rather than do what some writers have done and try to invent an entirely new language, I simply offered their speech in modern colloquial American. The reader was subconsciously expecting, in that setting, to hear archaic speech patterns.  Even though it wasn't Earth and they weren't speaking English, reading the dialogue with words like 'guy' instead of 'fellow' or 'sirrah' annoyed them.

It isn't a matter of right or wrong. It's a matter of effective story telling and audience appeal. The small details like that make a difference to people. And it's not the job of the reader to adapt to the writer's story. It's the story teller's job to reach out and snatch the reader so tightly that they can't escape.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Here's A New Review

A blogger named Jefferson Smith wrote a review of "Athame". He has a somewhat different approach to evaluating books. As I understand it, he reads them during his exercise routine, and gives them up to forty minutes to hold his attention. Each book is allowed three misses, or three WTF moments as he puts it, before he quits with it.

A somewhat interesting approach, I thought. So I submitted my work. The review is HERE.

My book made it to 34:40, which is actually better than most. Considering that it was my maiden effort at a commercial novel, I am not complaining. He finished the review with a complimentary note:
Note: Despite the WTFs, I really enjoyed this. The forest folk live in a very well thought out world, and their existence felt like a believable balance, pitting their lore and hedge magics against the roaming predators of the night. The characters are well drawn and have some charm. And there’s an underlying thread of unrevealed secrets that kept me wanting to learn more.
It could have been a lot worse. Some of what he cited was subjective, but that's a big part of any review. One point in particular, the dwarven sword and how Peteros gets it, was entirely understandable, since the significance doesn't become clear until the second book. Overall I have to say it seemed like a fair and objective assessment to me. I'm glad I sent it to him.

People Need To Calm Down About Amazon

They really do. I'm getting old, and I've seen this before. Trust this doddering old fossil. Amazon is not going to take over the world, run every publishing company out of business, and end up chaining us poor hapless authors to the walls of its dungeon so we can write 23 hours a day under the whips of our overlords. Not gonna happen.

Today I saw someone growling about how a person absolutely HAD TO join up with Amazon's new book sharing service (In which they are imitating Scribd, Oyster, and a bunch of others that are already operating and have been for some time.) The person was of the opinion that if they didn't join Kindle Select and sign up, they would be left behind in the dust. So they decided to go with another sales option than Amazon.

Permit me to reiterate this:
1) They think that Amazon is on the verge of establishing an inescapable monopoly, that there is no hope of anyone escaping Amazon's grip, and that not joining Amazon's new program will destroy their chance for success.
2) Their response to this is to avoid joining Amazon's new program. Instead, they are going to sell their book using one of Amazon's competitors.

Inconsistency?

Chill, people. This kind of economic shift and rearranging goes on all the time in a free market. Always has, always will. It's not worth worrying over. If Amazon gets out of hand, it's not a problem. New competitors to Amazon are springing up already.

IBM once ruled the computer world with an iron fist. I remember those days. Until Microsoft came along. And Apple. For a time those two behemoths stomped anyone who dared to stick their head up. Then some college kid designed his own operating system. Then some upstart company took a flavor of that operating system, called it Android, and slapped it on some cheap hardware. Now Microsoft is going door to door with a tin cup, begging people not to throw it out in the street and let its children starve.

This kind of constant innovation and shifting of power is a good thing, not a bad one. Seize the day. Or the evening, whichever time zone you happen to be located in. More change means more options. More options means more opportunity for the mavericks like us indie publishers. This is a good thing.

No, I am not in kindle select and have no plans to join. I might do it someday, I might not. I was in the Smashwords version of the loaner program, and had no luck with it. Maybe Amazon's arrangement will work better. But I will wait and see. Meanwhile, I have two books underway, and a third one pending. I am too busy to worry about it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

New Chapters Added

I have posted a draft of the first fifty pages of my new novel, "Recompense" in sample format for public browsing. Click the link at the top of the page to read the new material if you are interested. These chapters are subject to editing and revision, but they give some idea of the book's direction to date.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Come On, This Is Ridiculous

I have been reading some online debates, and some articles on entertainment sites lately that have had my head shaking like a metronome. It's silly to my way of thinking, but then again, it goes far to illustrate one of my pet peeves. The almost blatant lack of creativity in 'mainstream' entertainment. I am talking about the recent modifications to Thor and Captain America.

Now, first of all, I think it is just sad that Hollywood has been reduced to cannibalizing fifty year old comic books in order to come up with stories for movies. Tapped out doesn't begin to describe the state of their creative desolation. But ok. The movies with Thor and Captain America made money by the heaping truckloads, so plainly they were onto something.

Naturally, there was a feedback effect and the popular movies did good things for sales of the comics. Just as it should. Then it gets weird.

Some people have been pitching fits over the fact that comic book heroes are overwhelmingly either white males who are built like weight lifters, or nearly naked young white females who are built like porn stars. They object, and I admit quite reasonably, that there is no reason that the comics shouldn't have more female and minority superheroes.

A perfectly reasonable and acceptable idea. I think about anyone could get behind that one. But to do it, did the comic companies put their heads together and come up with a black superhero, or a new female superhero of color? Oh, hell no. That would require imagination. They made Thor, the ancient Viking god of thunder, a woman. Then they made Captain American black.

No reason Captain American couldn't be black, except that He's Not Black. There have been countless black men who have served this country with distinction, and who would provide archetypes if they wanted to invent a new black hero with a military background. But why bother, when you can just grab a pen and scribble over the graphic you already drew?

By the same reasoning, there would be no reason that, for example, Blade couldn't be lily white. He could do just as good a job as a sword wielding vampire hunter if he was pink as a bunny ear. Except that Blade Is Not White.

And Thor is just silly. They already have a goddess hero, or demi-goddess anyway, named Wonder Woman. If they wanted another female war goddess, what's wrong with picking Athene? Or a Viking Valkyrie? Or tapping into the the mythology of China, or India, or Japan, or maybe some of the vast cultural wealth of the Amerindians? But Noooooo. It was so much simpler and lazier to take an existing character, with an established back story, and an established fan base, and turn them inside out.

Maybe they were afraid that if they tried to actually used their brains to create something original, they might come to an unsettling recognition of the quality that they have been puking out.

Friday, July 18, 2014

My Poetry Is Nothing To Write Home About

I'm re-thinking the idea of putting excerpts from the ballad that predicts Agrahain's return at the beginning of each part in the concluding book of my fantasy trilogy. It's supposed to foreshadow the events of each section. But I'm second guessing. I'm just not that good a poet. For instance, the beginning of Part Three has:

Bone for bone and skin for skin,
Deathless hunger never born,
Flesh for flesh to cleanse the sin, 
Heart's blood from a mother torn.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Review of The Shaman's Curse

Once again, I say and maintain that this is not a review blog. It just happens that I read and reviewed two books within a short time. This one is by an indie author whose books I really enjoy, named +Meredith Mansfield . She writes slightly off-beat fantasy books with a strong romance element to them, and seems to prefer writing a series over stand alone books. I understand that, because I do too. My Amazon/Smashwords review is below:

Disclaimer. I requested a review copy of this book because I had enjoyed the author's previous work.

The protagonist in this story is a young man who belongs to a plains dwelling, nomadic people. At first glance they seem a bit primitive, but as the book progresses we realize that they are actually at about the same level of technological sophistication as the city-dwellers that they trade with. The story line unfolds smoothly, at a steady, even pace, and held my interest through the entire book without any real shocks. There was a lot of foreshadowing along the way, and it was done quite skillfully. Overall, you can see the storm front building up, and the next book should bring the lightning. I look forward to reading it. Highly recommended.
As a matter of principle, I suggest reading all her books. They are worth the money.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Amazon Tags

A minor aggravation. Amazon, in its infinite wisdom, has tagged my latest book under "Space Fleet" and "Military". While it is true that there is a fair bit of fighting, and some of it is of a military nature, none of it is in space. The whole point of the book is that they use portals to punch a hole through space-time rather than ride a ship.

*sigh*

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Review - Scenes From A Life

This is not a review blog. I will say that up front. But sometimes I get a review copy from someone, or I pick one up for whatever reason, and I always try to leave a review as a courtesy. In this case, I was given a review copy free of charge with no expectations in advance. After I left a few comments on Amazon, I decided that it deserved a little more.

The book was Scenes From A Life, written by +Richard Abbot, a British academic with a strong background in the ancient  Middle East. Which is highly appropriate, since the protagonist of the book is a scribe in New Kingdom Egypt. This was around the end of the Bronze Age for that part of the world. The story describes the protagonist's journey of self-discovery, both physical and emotional, as he investigates his own origins and comes to terms with his place in the world.

It is written in a literary style. What I mean is that the primary focus of the book is what goes on inside the protagonist, rather than events in the outside world. Things do happen around him, they certainly do, but they serve mostly to trigger periods of introspection and/or personal revelation in the main character. The only time anyone's pulse accelerates is when he has a nightmare. Except for one small fight, where they fort up behind a locked door and poke anything that sticks through the hole. And one bout of serious partying after his crew finishes a major project.

But that's the whole point. That's what the book is about. The character's life. Who he is, how he became the man he is, and what he eventually wound up being. Hence the title.

Ordinarily, this is not my kind of book. I write, and generally prefer to read, speculative fiction. That means science-fiction, science-fantasy, epic fantasy, some horror, slightly weird stories with fantastic elements, etc. The common point among most of the books I like is an action oriented plot, preferably one with serious conflict in it.

In other words, escapist literature. I tend more toward Conan than Kafka. I have read all kinds, of course. I am not an illiterate barbarian. But, to give an example, if I were writing the story "Metamorphosis" it would be about three paragraphs long. The guy would wake up as a cockroach, his family would scream, and his sister would split his carapace with the nearest baseball bat. And keep hitting until he was paste. Finis.

I do read historical fiction, however. Usually stories about Mongol attacks, the American frontier, and the destruction of the Roman Empire. You get the drift. Richard Abbot's book is a bit more peaceful than my usual fare. Oddly, I found myself getting caught up in it. It's a rather vivid travelogue of life in ancient Egypt. It was kind of like "Life On The Nile" instead of the Mississippi.

We learn about the little villages that dotted the banks of the river. We learn about the politics and geography of the regional alliances that the New Kingdom Pharohs made with their neighbors, and the military mechanisms that they used to hold their empire together. We learn what people had for supper. We learn about their slavery, and concubinage, and the dangers of childbirth. We learn about the techniques of tomb painting, and how to add salt to the oil in a lamp so soot wouldn't stain the ceiling. We learn about navigation on the Nile, and how not to get eaten by crocodiles. We learn about temple orphanages, and the religious significance of the seasonal floods, and how to play ancient Egyptian board games.

What we don't learn is much about the inner hearts of anybody but the protagonist. His love interest is described as pretty, and we know he thinks she's hot. Her actions when he meets her indicate that she is honorable, stubborn, and smart. All desirable qualities for sure. She also just happens to come from the area that will turn out to be his origin place. Surprise! But she's as passive as a rug. I always got the impression that women in Egypt during that time held a fair amount of real power. She never acts, only reacts. Her purpose for existing is to provide the protagonist with a sounding board, and to keep him warm.

The main reason I got unhappy about her, and the reason I am going on about this, is something that the SOB did late in the book. By all right and reason she should have kicked him in the nuts for it. Instead, she mildly forgave him and took him back with a grateful smile. Right. Maybe it's just my American indoctrination. Try that kind of thing here and now and see what happens. I just couldn't identify, and it threw me out of disbelief suspension like a bucket of icewater.

The other characters were a lot better, from my point of view. The protagonist's best buddy is a fascinating character, and one that I really would have liked to have seen more developed. His wife was a walk-on, but she seemed to have a lot of potential too. Several others were decent. Some of the protagonist's clients, both past and present, were well drawn.

But there were too many walk-on characters who appear, speak their lines, and disappear forever. They serve no real purpose. They certainly do nothing to advance the plot, and any character development they provide could have been offered a lot more compactly. Although one set of walk-ons, specifically the family that the protagonist was apprenticed to, do offer us a serious look at his quality as a person. It wasn't a pleasant sight. I didn't like the guy nearly as much after that.

The one thing that was done well with the characters, in my opinion, was dialogue. It flowed well and naturally. In fact, all of the character interactions were completely believable. More believable, in some cases, than the characters themselves.

Bottom line, the book is a quasi-biographical trip back to ancient Egypt to document the life of a scribe who decorated tombs for a living, and finally ended up getting married and moving back to his birth homeland. He's not a bad guy. He's not a real good guy either. Just a regular guy trying to get by. The strength of the book is the setting. When I finished it, I honestly felt as if I had stepped back in time three thousand years. Not too many books can do that.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Not Writer's Block. Something Else

I've got a problem with my writing that I don't usually have to deal with. Uncertainty about which way to take a narrative.

I'm not blocked, I know exactly which way the story is flowing. I know what's going to happen. I know who is going to do what, in general terms, and I have a pretty clear idea about what's going to happen, when, and to whom. My issue is the narrative itself.

For one thing, the dialogue is not flowing well. This is annoying as a toothache. My characters are old friends by this point. I know who they are, and so do they. I know what they are likely to say and do. I think the issue is that several of my main characters, especially the hero and heroine, have hit one of the major conflict points and they are, as one would expect, conflicted. The characters are confused and uncertain and, in a rather bizarre sort of psychosomatic feedback effect, their confusion is having an effect on me as well.

Different possible time lines for the characters are running through my head. The same outcome, but different paths to get there, and different scars being picked up along the way. (This is only in my head, there are no alternate time lines in my story. Just in my confused mind.)The characters are the same, the plot is the same, even most of the scenes are the same. But the details are fluid. It's like Jell-O that won't jell.

Any experienced fiction writer who reads this knows exactly what I am talking about. Most of them could no doubt do a better job of describing it. I think I may jump to another point in the book and let this part rest a while. I'm just spinning my wheels here right now.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Kid Flew Off This Morning

We drove up to Detroit and sent him on his way to visit his sister in Seattle. The great untamed northwest, where liberals roam in their natural habitat unencumbered, pot stands dot the countryside, and all is damp with the world. Sometimes the craving for a decent cup of coffee becomes unendurable.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

One Step Forward, Three Steps Back

Literally. Yesterday, I was pleased to see another review on Amazon for my book, "Wrath". A favorable one, too.

Four hours later, it was gone. along with two more. No explanation. No warning. From what I have been able to gather, no chance of ever getting them back. No particular reason for it. Neither of them were violating any rules that I know of.

*sigh*

Oh well. Easy come, easy go. Reviews are so easy to get, after all.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Another Post On G+ Provoked Me

I am going to stop spending as much time on there. It is seriously interfering with my writing.

The post is by + Wilf Nelson and can be found HERE

It links to an podcast HERE

The following is my reply:
The pen is mightier than the sword? Bull. Tyrants have been killing bards, burning books, banning books and songs, exiling artists, etc. for thousands of years. It didn't save them, because someone else just came up with equivalent art/poetry/music/stories. Art reflects culture. It does not define it. We are the product of our people and our time, and we are the public voices of our people and our time. Those who find our voices upsetting are not rightfully blaming us, they are seeking a scapegoat for the times that they find upsetting. The times that we are forcing them to acknowledge and confront. 
Got that off my chest. Going back to work.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Realistic Fantasy World Building

I was reading another debate on g+ recently. It was like so many others. Some parts of it were quite insightful. Other parts were, to put it bluntly, a touch lacking in common sense. I see this a lot in fiction writing, and it has provoked me to unleash a sputtering trickle or two from the decayed plumbing in my fountain of wisdom.

Before I go any further, I don't claim authority over anyone or anything. But I have done a fair bit of world building, and gotten positive feedback on it from people all over the world. To start with, I am *not* talking about the kind of fantasy where nobody expects realism. Fairytales, tongue-in-cheek parodies, wildly improbable worlds where anything can happen - these are immune to any expectations of adherence to real world standards.

By realistic fantasy I mean epic fantasy, or similar stories, that are supposed to be set in a world where normal humans live reasonably normal human lives, with a few minor variations. Like magic. Or undead. Or shapeshifters. Or the fact that they might be a dragon's next meal. Those piddling details should not take away from the realism of the world building process itself.

I am going to talk about fantasy worlds that follow a pre-industrial pattern, or at most, a 17th-18th century European/American pattern, since these seem to be the ones I come across most often. Granted, these are the kinds I look for most often. Such is life. I could reel off a few titles but I am not going to. I don't want to provoke anyone, and I am not a literary critic anyway. I'm just a writer. 

One last time. This is my personal opinion about my personal preferences. If you don't happen to like realistic fantasy worlds, good for you. Enjoy. 

If I had to pick one single thing, I think the main point that aggravates me most of all, and which I see over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again, is that fact that everyone in a fantasy world is rich. I mean filthy, stinking, rich.

Take food for instance. The poorest peasant, heck, even the poorest beggar never really goes hungry. Even if they do, it's because of social injustice. Some meany of a noble is hoarding it from them. There is almost never a case where the food simply isn't there.

In reality, famine was a dismal fact of life many times in most places. Even up into the twentieth century. Remember the Dust Bowl? Remember the droughts in Africa? But fantasy books almost never address the consequences of a bad crop year. The political, social, military, and purely physical disaster caused by crop failures could produce endless material for major plot points. Like in my second book, "Wrath", where the lack of food stockpiles is threatening the kingdom's ability to resist invasion. Even in a good year, there wasn't anything like modern surplus. And there was no such thing as freezers. You smoked, you pickled, you salted, you stuck it in a cool cellar, and you prayed to make it until next summer.

How many writers use material like this? I see food being used as a political tool (Mean old nobles/dictators/evil mages!) but there is always food somewhere to be had. Maybe someone has and I just haven't read it. If so, I would welcome someone pointing it out to me, because I would enjoy reading a book like that. I suspect it's because very few fantasy authors have ever lived or worked on a farm, and therefore have minimal understanding of just how close to famine we all really are, even today.

Then there is the issue of clothing. Everyone has all the clothing they need. Even under primitive conditions. Everyone has shoes. Everyone. In Depression era Appalachia, my family members went barefoot from Spring to Fall. They weren't trying to get close to nature. They were too poor to buy shoes. Almost never do you see peasants that poor in a fantasy book.

Some movies and television programs show barefoot peasants, but from what I have seen, it seems to be a case where they are depicted as either oppressed (Mean old nobles!), or ignorant and shiftless. The idea that the leather to cobble up some shoes is not available, even if they had the tools, which they don't, never seems to be presented. The average peasant in ancient times lived under conditions that would provoke humanitarian outrage today. Where would they get the leather? Kill their plow ox maybe?

And many people didn't have intact clothing in the old days, either. In most fantasy books, nobody is cold because they are wearing rags. Everyone is the epitome of sartorial excellence, except cases where the plot specifically calls for them to look dirty or something. In which case, everyone notices it because gods forbid someone look dirty as a typical thing.

Which brings up washing. Under primitive conditions, you make your own soap. Just like my parents did during the Great Depression. You go kill a hog. Then you butcher it and you peel out the lard. You reserve a *small* portion of the lard for soap, because most of it is food and you don't waste food. Then you take the soap ration and you render it. Then you pour the hot grease through lye made by leaching wood ashes. Then you cook it until it stiffens. Then you let if cool. Then you cut it up. Then you wash with it. Rarely. Because that stuff is harsh. It will quite literally eat holes in your clothing. It will peel hair off your scalp. Literally.

Nobody ever has fleas in a fantasy book. Or lice. Or skin fungus. Or any other disease that comes from filth. Shall we talk about toothbrushes? How many ever mention the lowly toothbrush? Granted, if your scene is set in a palace, and if you are implying a certain minimum level of sophistication, then you can safely assume they have toothbrushes. But what about the Great Unwashed? (There's a reason for that nickname.)

Not a toothbrush to be detected in any direction as far as the nose can smell. Yet everyone has a lovely smile and all their teeth. If the hero happens to be a commoner, and he grabs his new bride for a passionate kiss, do either of them ever recoil, gagging, and ask, "By all that is decent, what kind of carrion have you been eating?"

Back to the mechanics of washing. You don't turn a tap. You pick up a bucket and go to the well. If you are lucky enough to have a good well. Otherwise, you walk a tenth of a mile to a spring. You carry the water back to the fire. You pour it in a pot. If you are living in a world post 17th century, you might have a stove. That is, if you are in a developed country. Otherwise, you hang it on a hook over an open fireplace. Then you go back for more water. You walk back to the fire. You fill another pot. You walk back for more water. You fill a rinse basin perhaps. You go cut and split some more wood. By the time you are done, the water is hot.

You take the hot water. You use it to wash the dishes. Then you go to bed, because it is past sundown and you have to get up before first light to hitch up the ox. There's another thing. Every farmer owns his own horse. Not an ox. Not a milk cow that does double duty on the plow. Not even a spavined donkey. He owns a horse.

Nope. If you are a farmer under the kind of fantasy world conditions I am talking about, you don't own a horse. Only nobles own horses. If you are exceedingly well-to-do you *might* be able to get hold of a mule, you lucky dog you.

Does anyone realize just how expensive horses really were in the old days? Even in nineteenth century America, which was not a poor place by most standards of the time, most people had to struggle to buy a horse. They just weren't cost effective, either. The work you could get out of one, compared to the expense of feeding and housing one, made them luxury items. Like a pack of expensive and well-trained hunting dogs, a horse was a status symbol.

Earlier I mentioned heating water in a pot. Which brings up metal crafting. Anyone recall the profession of Tinker? Tinkers used to travel around from village to village mending people's old tin pots and other metal items. They were not blacksmiths. A blacksmith was an iron worker. Tinkers did piecework on small things. They were the shade tree mechanics of the day. Why was there a market for this job, and why did it endure for generations? Because worked metal, such as a tin pot, was unholy expensive, that's why.

In some cases, you could pay a workman in goods or services. If someone helped you with your roof, you could help plow his field. Or if he lived in town, you could pay him with a bushel of grain. But metal workers often had to be paid in money. Why? Because they had to buy supplies. You can't make a pot or a horseshoe out of straw. Iron and tin cost an arm, and a leg, and the pound of flesh nearest your gonads. So if you got something made out of metal, you hung onto it and maintained it. One hunting knife, or one straight razor, or one beer mug, might go through five or six generations of a single family. It wasn't for sentimental reasons, or not entirely. It was expensive.

Weapons? Don't get me started on swords. You don't need to get me started, I already did. OK. In feudal Japan a sword destined for a Samurai took months to make. Even in places where they were just hammering out iron bars and grinding points on them, you are talking about weeks of work. Because you did not buy the bar stock already made. You bought the ore, then you smelted it yourself, in many cases.

Even if you were lucky enough to find processed metal for sale from another smith, it was obscenely expensive. Which would add to the final cost of the sword, either way. Then you stuck it in a fire. Then you pumped the bellows. Then you pulled it out and you hammered it five or six times. Then you stuck it back in the fire and pumped the bellows. Then you pulled it out and you hammered it five or six more times. You stood there and did that every single day for weeks, even if you were making a relatively simple sword. For one of the fancy kind, like a knight used, double or triple the time involved. Believe me. My grandfather used to do that kind of work. (Not swords. Grandpaw made horseshoes and suchlike. But it's the same principle.)

You think the average peasant, or even the average merchant, is going to be able to afford something that took a skilled craftsman the better part of a month to make? Yeah, right. Not even talking about a nobleman's sword. I mean a simple foot soldier's blade? Not gonna happen. Which is why, in the days when it was customary for fighters to provide their own weapons, they brought farm implements. Or clubs. Maybe a spiked club if they were lucky and ambitious. Or wood cutting axes. Or quarterstaves. It's hard to beat a good quarterstaff. Even falchions (A thick machete with a point and an attitude.) were reserved for the well-to-do yeomanry and up.

Most things were not made from metal. Doors had wooden hinges and wooden bars instead of locks. Houses and ships were built using pegs instead of nails, whenever possible. Stone and bone, as well as ceramic, were used whenever they could be. Things like buttons for instance. Metal buttons were a high status item, even in colonial America. Most buttons in those days were made from bone, or turtle shell, or wood. If they were too expensive for the average person in the 18th century, in a fairly well-off area, imagine how much more expensive they would have been in the Middle Ages?

I'm going to quit here. I'm not done, but my hands are tired. Arthritis is not my friend. Next time I may rant about the unrealistic portrayal of women fighters under primitive conditions. Yes, they fought. Rarely. No, they did not stand up and trade broadsword blows with a man twice their size and three times their strength. Let's not get stupid. But that's for another day.



Friday, July 4, 2014

I Just Added Another Short Story To My Site

The story is a Science Fiction/Urban Horror piece called "Chimera". Feel free to read or download. I wrote this one a few years ago, and it is not very polished. An extended version was later self-published under a different title. I decided to post this version as much out of nostalgia as any other reason. It also provides a look at how my style and writing ability has changed (if it has) over the last few years.

If anyone is interested, just click the title below.



Other short stories can be found by selecting the Short Stories tab at the top of the page. I will continue adding stories as links as I go along.



Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Windows Has Struck Again

Again I ask, why do I do this to myself? For the past couple of years I have been doing almost all of my writing on a perfectly serviceable little laptop that was given to me by my daughter and son-in-law. I have it loaded with Debian Linux (stable) and using LibreOffice. I have never had any significant problems with it. Never. None.

But that wasn't good enough for me. Oh, no. Not me. I had to look for greener pastures. See, the thing is I need a copy of MS Word, since several publishing platforms require it in order to produce ebooks. More to the point, I need MS Word to do the page layout for Createspace. Which means that I have to keep a second system with MS Windows on hand.

As it happens, the second system (the one running MS Windows) is faster and more powerful than my Linux computer. Surprise, surprise. Anyone who has tried both of them knows quite well that you need at least 50-75% more RAM and raw CPU horsepower in a MS Windows system in order to get the same results that a Linux box will give you.

Well, fool that I am, it came to me that since I am maintaining two systems anyway, and since the MS Windows system has 4 gig of RAM compared to the Linux system's 1 gig, and since MS Windows system has cores that operate 50% faster than the Linux box, maybe I should consider just moving all my work over to the powerhouse and be done with it? After all, it has been more than a year since I really gave Win 7 a fair try. Maybe they have improved things by now. It can't hurt to check it out, right?

AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

I am currently in the process of typing this on my Linux box, which is still crunching right along without a sign of any problem. Meanwhile, the diagnostic programs are telling me that my MS Windows registry has become corrupted, and online research informs me that I am going to need to activate the hidden admin account, open regedit, and hunt down some elusive lines of code to fix it by hand. Which will take no telling how long.

Rather than try it, I decided to restore from a previous point. You all know what I am talking about. There is an option on the fix-it menu that says you can restore your system to a previously saved point. I have six such points, usually dating back to various times when I downloaded updates from Microsoft itself. I breathed a sigh of relief and picked the latest one.

Unable to complete. Some file or other was corrupted, Or didn't work. Or something. So I picked the next newest. Then the next. Then the next. I tried all six of the so-called restore points that MS Windows was supposed to be so carefully hoarding back for me in case of just such am emergency. None of them worked.

I am about to boot into safe mode and open the command line. Just like I used to do in DOS 3.1. Tell me somebody, how is this an improvement over what we had in my little 8086?

Meanwhile, my Debian Linux machine is humming to itself while it skims merrily across the internet, slicing through background noise and deftly extracting useful and relevant information for me. All of which merely confirms my decades-long conviction that I hate MS Windows. I hated version 3, I hated 95, I hated 98, I gagged at WinME, I groaned at Win 2000, I smacked my forehead over WinXP, I recoiled at Vista, and now I have Win 7 to deal with. There is no chance that Win 8 will ever desecrate any system where I put finger to keyboard.

But that still doesn't help me recover my files. But I have an ace in the hole. If worst comes to worst, I can always yank the hard drive and plug it into a USB port on my Linux box, which will read past MS security like it was cheese and let me scoop up my files effortlessly. So the only harm done is to my nerves, and the time I have lost. At my age, the time is worth more than money.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Mainstream Creativity - What Happened?

I wasn't there, so I can't swear to it as an earwitness. But I have read that the great Tecumseh once said, "When the legends die, the dreams end. When the dreams end, there is no more greatness."

Our legends are not dying nowadays. Not exactly. But they are twisting. Withering. Weakening and becoming distorted shadows of what they were. I have watched it happen over the last two generations. It worries me. I'm talking about America. I am not qualified nor entitled to talk about anybody else, although some of this might apply to other countries too. I suspect it will, but I'm not going to presume to paste any labels.

Full disclosure here. I am old. More than half a century have I seen. Although neither short, nor green, wrinkled and pudgy I am too. So these words could very well be the senile mumblings of a decaying fossil. But it's my blog, so I am going to mumble along anyway.

I was a youngster back in the 1960's and 70's. It was a different world. I'm not talking about technology either. The changes in technology over the last 30-40 years have been incremental. Granted, they have been wondrous, life-changing, and fantastic. But the seeds for every technological shift today had already been planted by the end of WWII.

Rockets, jet engines, antibiotics, interstate highways, radar, sonar, electronic computing, long distance wireless communication, television. Synthetic polymers. These have all been in place for two generations. Two generations, people.

In a real sense, once the transistor was invented the solid state integrated circuit was inevitable. Once the IC was invented, personal computers were on their way. It was just a matter of time.

Well, it was actually a matter of both time and imagination. People had to imagine the PC, and the microwave, and the cell phone, and the smartphone, before they could be built.

So, will someone please tell me what happened? Where is the next big breakthrough? And please don't talk to me about one of the chip makers coming up with some way to cram yet another core onto one poor, overloaded, CPU. This is not innovation. This is desperation.

Quantum computing? When I see convincing evidence that it can be made to really work, I will get excited. Although quantum computing is an old idea too. Very old. Circa 1930's or thereabouts I believe, although back then they didn't know what quantum particles were. They just imagined that there were some things smaller than atoms and went with it. Technical accuracy in the details isn't the point. The point is that they weren't afraid to dream, and dream big.

So where did ALL of those ideas come from? Science fiction, that's where. Just like faster than light spaceships, like the design NASA says it is tinkering with now. Submarines have been used since the Middle Ages. But Jules Verne was the one who envisioned a long distance underwater craft that could stay submerged indefinitely, in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. And he was the one who envisioned space travel in From The Earth To The Moon. (Note that he was French. Credit where credit is due.) The idea of firing a cannon with a ship inside sounds a bit extreme, but at least he wasn't afraid to stretch his mind and dream. This was one hundred and fifty years ago!

I don't know if Heinlein was the one who came up with the idea for using radiation to heat food. I doubt it. He was too late in the game. I clearly recall that microwave ovens were being sold as upper attachments to kitchen stoves in my childhood, back in the days of black & white television. The company was called Quasar. I can still hear that cursed jingle in my head. The only real improvement to them since those days has been in the control panel, and in shrinking them slightly.

Where did today's smart phone come from? A science-fiction cartoon detective named Dick Tracy, that's where it came from. He had a wristwatch that doubled as a telephone. It also had a little screen, for video calls. Familiar? This was back in the 1930's, people. Eighty years ago. The designer of the clamshell phone freely admits he got the idea from Star Trek.

Which brings me back to the 1960's and 70's. Each new series was trying to top the last one on originality every fall, and by the time the 1970's arrived even the network executives were coming around to the idea the science fiction was a money maker. It took them a while. Same for movies. No one can possibly total up the number of classic science fiction and fantasy books that were written and published in that time. The Lord of the Rings was started back in WWII I believe, but it was in the 1960's that it took off across America like wildfire. It, quite literally, birthed a new genre.

What the hell happened? When was the last time you saw something genuinely new on mainstream/traditional entertainment media? Something that was not either a reboot, a sequel, or a re-imagining of someone else's work? When was the last time that the suits in Hollywood, or the suits in Trad publishing, permitted something new, with even the slightest amount of risk to it, out the door?

Harry Potter was a fun series, and I heartily recommend it for all young people. But wizard, witches, and evil magicians are not new. Neither are vampires or werewolves, romantic or otherwise. Nor are demon lovers in any form. I have no objection to re-telling the classics. I object when that's all that is allowed to be told.

Yes. We have indie books, and indie films, and indie music now. But the painful fact is, a lot of people either don't know about, or don't pay attention to us indies yet. Meanwhile, two generations have grown up watching and listening to the same thing, in many cases EXACTLY the same thing, that their grandparents watched.

Will someone, I am begging here, will someone please tell me how these kids are supposed to learn how to dream big dreams, and innovate, and create, and improve, and make the world a better, brighter place? How can they even learn that it's ok to dream at all, that taking intellectual risk is GOOD, and not frightening. It is not a sin to have a thought that no one has had before.

My grandchildren deserve better than this.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

I Don't Know Why I Do This To Myself

I just get aggravated. There is another (naturally, there is always another one) "discussion" underway on g+ regarding climate change. Which is codespeak for "The Sky Is Falling! Give us all your money so we can save you!".

This particular thread is a cut above most. What happened was that David Friedman  http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/ posted the results of a survey of climate scientists. It seemed to indicate a potentially horrifying conclusion. Not every single scientist on Earth is convinced that humanity is the root of all climate evil.

Let the anger begin. *sigh*

As far as I can tell, Mr. Friedman is not an extremist in either direction. But what possible difference does that make, when someone mutters dark heresy?

I know I should avoid these discussions. I know I should keep my opinions to myself. I have books to write, and another book that I promised to read some time ago. I have things to do here at the house. I know better than this.

Again. *sigh*

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Adding Content

I have decided to add some of my short stories to this place, along with snips and previews of work in progress. It's going to take a while to get the layout done and put it all up, but why not? Like I said on the short story page that I have been putting together, if I am going to offer things for free on Amazon and Smashwords, why not just give it away here? Maybe I can lure some unsuspecting visitor into looking at the novels too. Evil, ain't I? I would emote a villainous laugh, but it's too much trouble to type it.

Here's the page where you can find the stories. I only have one listed so far. Others will go up as time and energy allow.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

I Dislike DRM

I haven't heard much discussion about DRM lately. I don't know if that's because it's no longer a popular subject, or because I haven't been paying attention. The only reason I am thinking about it now is due to my recent book. When I uploaded "The Songs of Chaos" I had to choose whether or not to enable DRM protections, and whether or not to allow lending. I answered no, and yes.

I have been watching software, and to a more limited extent media, companies in a panic-stricken scramble to maintain a death-grip on their products for decades. Some of the old methods were plain silly. The very early floppy disks had a little notch along one edge. If the tab was broken off, the disk drive would not copy to that disk. Some companies ran themselves into madness trying to use that fact in various bewildered schemes. None of them worked of course. Duct tape. Grasp the concept.

Then there is the immortal dongle. By any other name, it is just as much of a pain in the ass. (Get your mind out of the gutter. I am not making the name up. The dongle is the old word for a piece of hardware that has to be plugged into a system before a program will run.) Some of the more expensive CAD packages used to be fond of using it. Start the program, and it would check the serial port for the presence of the holy dongle.  They quit messing with this kind of bullshit when people quit giving them money, due to the fact that the software packages, which cost a mint, frequently went haywire and refused to recognize the hardware.

Then things got really dumb. I mean Dumb. For instance, I bought a game once, I think it was called Star Control, or something like that. It was a primitive, DOS based game with EGA or VGA graphics that had you controlling a tiny little spaceship in battle against another tiny little spaceship, while trying to avoid bumping into planets the size of grapefruits. In order to start the game (Please note. I do not mean install. This was after you had installed it. I mean EVERY TIME you wanted to play it.) you had to dig out a little cardboard thingie like a secret spy decoder wheel. It consisted of three nested pieces of card stock, with little windows cut in them. The computer would pop up a random code. You had to align the magical decoder wheel and come up with the right answer, then type it into the dialog box before you could play the game you had paid for. When the cardstock got tattered or coffee soaked, your gaming days were over.

The Space Quest series was immensely popular for a while. It was prone to letting you get halfway through the game, then tossing random questions at you from the user manual, like "what is the third word from the end of the second sentence in the fifth paragraph on page 109?" If you couldn't answer the question, you were screwed. Paying customer be damned. So you better not throw away the manual. Of course, there was nothing to stop you from photocopying the the manual, and then breaking out the handy-dandy duct tape to mass produce copies of the disks for all your friends. Shhhh!

Another space game I had came along with one of the computers I bought. I am not sure if it was the 8086, or the 286. It was a First Person POV game where you flew a fighter space craft on escort missions and attack runs. Pretty tame by today's standards, but it was fun. Thing is, you would invariably run low on fuel and ammo, and need to pull into one of the various space stations scattered around for restocking, and also for repairs. In order to get into the station, you had to type in the proper identification for the station you wanted to dock with. They were all listed on the map that came with the game.

You guessed it. We didn't get a map. I had to obtain a hex editor, crack open the executable, and read the ASCI parts of the file in order to extract the names of the stations so I could play the game.

This is all leading up to my point. I don't bother with DRM on my books because I have never seen it accomplish anything except aggravation for a paying customer. Anyone savvy enough to steal a computer file is certainly savvy enough to crack a DRM scheme. And in fact, I am confident that there is already more than one cracking program out there for the kind of books I publish. I don't know for sure, I haven't looked, but I am confident that they are out there. I see no reason to make life difficult for my paying customers, and accomplish nothing in the time of it. Besides, who knows? Today's pirate might be tomorrow's purchaser.




Thursday, June 19, 2014

I Finally Gave Up On Smashwords

It happened this afternoon. I was updating my two previous books, inserting a blurb at the end of each to describe my new book. At no time did I alter anything else. Rather, I updated *one* of my previous books, "Athame" with the new blurb.

Note again that the file was otherwise identical to the one that had previously been uploaded. I sent it up to Smashwords and started updating the other book, "Wrath". I got a message back from Autovetter. It told me that my Table of Contents was screwed up. I had not touched the Table of Contents. I have seen this happen before with Smashwords. But whatever. I went in and carefully checked, cross-checked, and double-checked everything. Then I re-uploaded the newly modified copy of "Athame".

I turned back to work on "Wrath". Got another email notifying me that my file had been reviewed by the Smashwords staff and that the links weren't working right. I grumbled and opened the file again. Before I could finish going over it yet again, I noticed something on my Smashwords Dashboard. It seemed that my second book, "Wrath", was showing Autovetter errors, too.

I HAD NOT MODIFIED "WRATH" YET! (Please excuse the shouting. But I am ticked off.)

That snapped it. Over the last few months Smashwords has taken half a dozen wild hairs and sent me false error messages whenever I tried to update, correct, edit, or otherwise modify my files. Half the time all I have to do is upload the same file, unchanged, and it will pass muster the second time through.

But when it gets to the point that Smashwords starts to send me error messages on files that have been sitting, untouched, on their own server for several months, just because I happened to edit one of my other files, I have hit my limit. I am a writer, not an HTML programmer. If I wanted to spend all my time tweaking the nuts and bolts of marketing presentations, I would get a job at a used car lot. I can't get any writing done this way.

For the present, all of my books have been unpublished from Smashwords. I am marketing strictly through Amazon for now. I may, or may not, try to publish directly with B&E, Kobe, etc. when I get some free time. But until and unless Smashwords fixes that mess of a Meatgrinder/Autovetter system they use, I am not interested in spending any more time on it that I could be spending writing. I have enough of a challenge formatting the books properly to begin with. I don't need to deal with an automated system that gives me inconsistent and unpredictable results.

It's a real shame too. I liked Smashwords a lot when I first got started. Their email help was always courteous, although it has been getting slower and slower and slower. They also don't get in a hurry about paying the pittance of sales royalties that I have made though them. But they were a convenient way to distribute to multiple outlets without needing to do it all by hand. That is, they used to be. Shame, really.