Friday, November 19, 2010

Military Sci Fi

I posted earlier that my current WIP was a Military Science Fiction story. One of the things an author must do when writing genre fiction is to respect the conventions of the genre. By this I mean that people who read a certain genre have expectations. If you are reading a gothic romance novel you need a certain setting (preferably a moor) a strong male lead (preferably a brooding sort) and a plucky female (it wouldn't hurt if she were a bookish sort that could give way to her passions). You don't want to write such a book that violates the conventions of the genre unknowingly. You can bend the rules, be iconoclastic, but it's better if you know what your doing wrong rather than just stumble along. As I have said before, I don't feel constrained, but at the same time I try not to be blatant (like calling Twilight 'Horror' fiction- argghhh!)

For this reason I thought to have a look at some of the premier Military Scifi out there and I came away with this short list (if you think I've missed one please speak up).

1. Starship Troopers, Heinlein (Clearly the all time best of the genre-read it loved, still love it)
2. The Forever War (a Vietnam ere anti-warish sort, but great)
3. Old Man's War, Scalzi (I've read the third in the series and wasn't blown away- good but not terribly realistic from a military perspective)
4. Anvil of the Stars, Bear
5. Exultant, Destiny's Children, Baxter
6. The Kinsman Saga, Bova (Have this to read but haven't yet)
7. The Man-Kzin Wars, Niven (Inspired a whole slew of books, and made it into the star trek cartoons of the 70s- read a few, liked them but not very militarily strong)
8. Armor, Steakly
9. A Hymn Before Battle, Ringo (Read it, liked it, Ringo's first novel, clearly written from the perspective of a junior NCO-even though the Main character is a junior officer, but these are the young men that fight our nation's wars)

What do you think? Have I missed a good one?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Succumbing to Gravity" is a riveting read that will be hard to put down.

My Midwest Book Review review came in, and they liked it. About 20 book reviews down in the fiction review section [here]. They were also kind enough to five star me on their companion Amazon post.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Sacrifices of Automated Tabulation - Again

My Steampunk-ified story, The Sacrifices of Automated Tabulation is now out in the 'Cover of Darkness', a biannual digest [trade paperback-anthology] of darker fiction, by Sam's Dot publishing. Yay.

I've commented on the story before (it was first in Steampunk Tales).

My first second sale, and since it's a rewrite of a previous tale that I sold can I count this as a trifecta?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Three British authors and one not

I knocked out books by three British Author in quick succession.
The first was Ukridge by PG Wodehouse. If you haven't read any Wodehouse, you're missing out (if you like stuffy, dated British Humor- which I do). He is often held up as an example of how to write sympathetic characters, humor, timing. These books are antiques, but timeless.

The next was Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell. I've spoken of him before- he writes great Historic/Military fiction. This one was the fictionalized account of one of the most famous battles in history. A British force outnumbered ten to one (or so), prevails. I think some famous deadguy wrote a play about it.

The last was With One Lousy Free Packet of Seeds, by Lynn Truss. Truss is the author of the best selling 'Eats Shoots and Leaves', a cute little book about punctuation. The book was fine, a sort of Britsh Comedy of errors. When I picked it up I didn't realize it was an early 90s book, as her ESandL was quite recent.

After all this Britishness I had to cleanse my palate with a good old fashioned dose o SciFi. I read Scalzi's 'The Last Colony'. I went to my favorite used book store looking for Old Man's War, or Ghost Brigades, but neither was available, Stand alone it felt like I was missing somthing with this one (some books are like that, if you like the earlier books in the series you are 'on board' with the characters, but if you haven't you don't buy in so readily- this one was like that for me).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Interview on Horroview

(No, I'm not trying my hand at poetry, the title just worked out that way.)
I recently did an interview via email with 'Catwalk' (not his real name) at Horrorview. And if you go to the main horrorview page you'll see my scary mug!
Horrorview Article (click and all will be revealed).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


My book Succumbing to Gravity has made the list for best first novel in the Bram Stoker Award Recommendations for 2010. Yay.

The Stoker is like the Emmey of horror fiction. Very cool. The recommendations are winnowed down to the final ballot, the winner gets a cool statue, the losers get a letter saying they are a 'stoker finalist'.

If you're an HWA member remember to vote early and vote often...

Thursday, September 30, 2010


One of the things people often ask me about writing is, what are you working on now? The lingo is, your 'Work in Progress' or W.I.P.

Some author friends of mine that blog will often post their WIPs, detailing story development, progress, weekly word counts. I think it helps to have an external accountability.

Others have even gone on to publish their works as serialized, online novels (covered under creative commons copyrights).

Since I started this blog I really haven't started a new work. I finalized and worked on the marketing of StG, and I edited the novelization of my were-hyena story (Gift of the Bouda) but I really haven't started anything new. Two big reasons were my Army Reserve commitment- I'm doing a Masters degree for the Army through distance learning (a combination of online, group chats and residence phases) with the US Army War College (pretty cool- but also very time consuming) in additon to my weekend army job and my job job. I was bumped up a notch at work and this requires me to travel. I've done 3 round trips to the Republic of Georgia (Tbilisi, not Atalanta) since June.

So I've been pretty much leaving everything on the field and don't have much to devote to writing.
But thanks to poor food prep hygiene, I was gifted with the nastiest case of the shivering-fever-trots that I've ever had. It was great, I lost 10 kilos and was confined to bed. What does a writer do in such a circumstance? He makes lemonade, and begins a new WIP.

Inspired by some of the destruction in Georgia due to the war with Russia, and the scenery in general, I penned out 3 pages of rough outline, and the first three chapters (6k words) of first draft material. It looks pretty good.

As with most of my work, I don't feel strictly constrained by genre conventions but this one would largely fall under 'Military Science Fiction', with a liberal infusion of postapocolyptic science fiction horror (zombies and alien monsters), hand to hand combat, military hardware. Even a hot chick. You'll love it.

I use an alternating first person POV (the Captain of a Transatmospheric assualt craft or -drop ship- which is a cross between a vietnam era huey-of which I have much experience- and a normandy era landing craft) and a close 3rd person POV. Right now the primary 3rdPOV is a fourth generation planetary settler whose world was been blasted from space by aliens and is now in the 'mop up phase' with bioweapons and urban assault forces. The good guys go in light due to civilian oversight. Mayhem ensues. Yes a little bit of an Iraq war influence.

I see it as 90K words based on the story arc I have so far. A lot of Military Science fiction crosses over into what is know as 'space opera' and these books can be monsters (140K words, 300+ pages). I write books about monsters, not monster books. I find with those I tend to skip pages(other people's stuff, I try to pay attention to my own pages), so heeding my friend Elmore's rule number 10...don't write the parts they skip, mine should come in around 250 pages. But that's on this side of the story- there's no telling what the characters will need once they start to have lives of their own...

That's my WIP.

A funy aside, I was editing the second chapter and working on the third on my flight from Munich to Dulles. An early twenty something guy sitting next to me asked, when my laptop battery gave up, and I quit, if I was working on a novel. "Why yes I am," I said. He asked in a manner that made me unsure if it was derisive or impressed, if I'd ever had anything published. "Why yes I have," I replied. Must be hard, he said. "Yes it is," said I.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reviews, reviews!

The reviewers are finishing my book and the reviews are starting to come in.

My first Review is live on Horrorview (click on horrorview)!

My second Review is live on Paperback Horror.

My third Review is live on Dread Central.

My fourth Review is live at the Antibacterial Pope.

My fifth at the horror fiction review.

So far they're all pretty positive.

Go...check them out..I'll wait.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

StG Now in Kindle

Thanks to the staff at Reliquary press, my Debut novel,
Succumbing to Gravity, is now out in a kindle edition!

I encourage those of you have read it to post a reveiw or 'TAG' it on Amazon (either the paperback page or the kindle page- or hey how about both?).
I am a member of the Horror Writers Association and they have a program where they pair up junior members with more senior members for mentorship. More how the biz works than the actual mechanics, but that too if needed. My HWA mentor is Dan Keohane (a Stoker nominated author- Stokers are like the oscars of horror fiction) just left a generous review on Amazon. Blurb-worthy.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

More Pirates

I've been a longtime fan of the Richard Bolitho tales of Alexander Kent, but the Last Raider is the first Douglas Reeman book I've read. The irony here being that Kent is the pen-name of Reeman. I wasn't disappointed.

In war one expects to see enemy troops meet on the battlefield. Victory generally consists of one force defeating the other. But what if one of the forces can't take to the field because they lack equipment, supplies, transportation, food; logistics. Then the one combatant would win by default, right? Targeting an enemies ability to get supplies to the fight is a strategic consideration. In WWII US strategic bombers destroyed factories, infrastructure, fuel depots, all with the aim of keeping assets out of the hands of German soldiers. A sea-going version of this approach was to sink supply ships. When done by easily identifiable warships it seems like an 'in-bounds' move. But another approach was to mount guns on a civilian ship, in Navy service, with minimal disguise and have it sink civilian cargo ships...this is the 'commerce raider'.

The last raider is a fictionalized account of the last German commerce raider of WWI. A satisfying read from before I was born, both the content and the book itself ( it published in 1963!) I saw many similarities with the Bolitho novels. Reeman (a WWII British Navy veteran) writes with authority on how men in war behave with one another. I saw echoes from my own combat experiences (though I was a US Army officer- some things seem universal).

This was an older novel than other Reeman/Kent stories I have read. So I presume he was newer at the craft, though I couldn't tell. The books are written in third person, but he has this disconcerting habit of switching around through dozens of people's POV. It was also an ensemble cast, and when you POV wobble like he does it can be hard to follow. I think it worked well, given that this is only the second WWI novel I have read from the German side (All Quiet being the other with most graduates of the American public school system).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pirates, arghhhh

I recently finished the penultimate Crichton novel, Pirate Latitudes. His last novel is still in editing and is rumored to be a techno-thriller, for which he is best known. But Dr. Crichton could write a mean historical tale of adventure as well (Eaters of the Dead being the other one I'm thinking of).

As I understand it, an assistant found a copy of this manuscript buried in one of his computers, finished but forgotten. The publishing industry being what it is, they grabbed it up and printed a million copies! I'm not sure why this would have been locked away, but I suspect he wasn't done with it. It was a rougher read. Crichton tells a good story, Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain. Science gone awry with a small group of people trying to survive. In PL, Crichton tells of a 17th century pirate. Affected voice, more exposition than usual, jumpy narrative. That sort of thing. It was Fine. No Treasure Island or anything, but I enjoyed it alright.

Immediately after, I started in on my next read, the Last Raider by Douglas Reeman, also a tale of Naval Hijinks. Not to take anything from an obviously great man and writer, but there is sure a notable difference between someone writing about something they have experienced (Reeman was a sailor in WW2) and someone writing about something who hasn't.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


The Internet Speculative Fiction Database now has a Rick Farnsworth page...who'd'a thunk?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ch,Ch,Ch. Changes...

I read my first Jim Butcher book recently. 'Changes' is the most recent installment of the Harry Dresden Files series. You may have heard of this from the show on the scifi channel a few years ago. Dresden is one of the leading Urban Fantasy series out there written with a male voice. (a large preponderance of Urban Fantasy slips easily into the 'paranormal romance' or 'chicklit')

For the unenlightened among you, Urban Fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy where mythic elements are found in an urban setting. It could be any time period, just set in an urban environment. You usually find elves, dwarves, fairies, magic mixed with the modern world. The second hellboy slipped into an urban fantasy.

I think I should have started at the beginning with Harry though. As with most series the author needs to up the ante as the character goes along, right? Changes is #12, so the events, rather than being the story of a wizard in a modern setting (which sounds clever), turn pretty quickly into epic battles between a vampire army, along with every mythic figure, from norse, to celtic to aztec, that I have ever heard of. Butcher is a competent writer, his first person narrative is believable and he has an interesting premise. I can see why he has a following. I wasn't a fan of the all-in and kitchen sink approach to fantasy though. It felt like a long mixed metaphor, but understandable if all of the characters had been introduced over the past few years.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My friend Elmore

I recently finished the novel Glitz by Elmore Leonard. I think this is over number 12 for me (of his crime books, I haven't read many of his early westerns, 3:10 to Yuma for instance). It was an early eighties vintage tale of bad guys, doing bad things and the women who watch them do it. Atlantic City, Puerto Rico, and the human psyche. One thing I enjoyed was the seeming randomness of events and the banality of the bad guys. No evil geniuses masterminding the end of the world, just bad people doing bad things for stupid reasons.

Like all 'EL' books, it was a satisfying read. If you read 'how to write better' books, you'll find that he is often singled out as an example for pacing, and snappy dialogue. And it's true. The thing to keep in mind is, there's only one Elmore and trying to ape his style is a bad idea. So go for the flow, be cool, don't plagiarize the actual verbage.

EL was also the person who I think gave the most sublime writing advise.

His ten rules of writing go something like this:

1. Never open with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than said to carry a dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb 'said'.
5. Keep your exclamation marks under control.
6. Never use the word 'suddenly'.
7. Use regional dialects and patois sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Ditto, places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Clearly number 10 is my favorite, and the one I try hardest to follow.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Amazon Review

My first Amazon review was published today. Hooty Hoo!

Check it out here {Click Here with your mouse cursor}

I think it was pretty good, hope I can be as circumspect when I get one that's less complimentary. But that is part of putting your work out there for others to see, isn't it?

My publisher sent a note that orders through Reliquary Press will be sent out in the next day or so. They are just now getting in from the printer.

*NOTE: orders of the last week shipped Thursday 5 Aug*

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Book Reviews...

STG has popped on the 'currently reading tab' at Paperback Horror! Paperback Horror is a book review blog that covers the horror genre, which Succumbing to Gravity can fall into.

Remember in a previous blog post where we discussed genre? I don't think what I write falls neatly into a genre bin, but you have to put a label on books so that they can be filed in the right section of the book store, or library, right? And I am a member of the horror writers

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror are often grouped under the title 'Speculative Fiction' or Specfic. Horror can be further split into a large number of 'subgenres'; supernatural horror, psychological horror, splatterpunk (think blood splatter) and on and on. It gets more complicated when you realize that the psychological horror novels are often also marketed as crime. Think Silence of the Lambs or the Red Dragon- psychopathic serial killers. Sounds like Horror to me.

As I mentioned, I don't think STG fits neatly into a genre, though I am glad PBH is reading it. The non-neatness-of-fit is not just my opinion. I sent it off to a number of agents before I sent the manuscript to Reliquary and a common complaint was that it didn't fit 'neatly' into a genre. Complaint because agents want big books that can be easily marketed, not untidy books that one must equivocate on the genre from the start. STG had elements of religiously or supernaturally inspired horror, dark fantasy; one agent even said after review that it seemed more urban fantasy than horror but with elements of both. (I queried around 50 agents, 20 of them asked for partials to review and almost half of those asked to read the whole manuscript. So I did get a good sampling of people who knew what they were talking about.) And here I thought it was just a little road-trip book about a fallen angel, with a heroin habit, that was just trying to get by in the world.

Anyway, I can't wait to see what the reviewer thinks about STG. Unless he pans it, of course. That I can wait for.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hellnotes and HWA

David Silva runs the Hellnotes blog, a blog about...well, hell. Really it's a book review site for horror, dark fiction, movies books, etc. He was swamped with reviews so didn't have time to review STG, but being a Class Act he posted my press release all the same.

Check it out here. (Click on 'here' -I figured out how to do that hyperlink thing)

Also, since I'm a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) I rated a note on their members new release website. Also cool.

Invitation Only Anthology

You know you're making headway as an author when you get an Invitation to submit a short story to an upcoming 'Invitation Only' anthology. Most anthologies have open calls, you submit a story, wait a year, bump your way up from slush, to hold, to final selection list to contract etc.

Jen Brozek sent me a note the other day asking that I submit a short story for consideration in the new werewolf anthology by Graveside Tales. (Gift of the Bouda appeared in the first GST werewolf anthology.) Exciting. Not the same as a a guaranteed slot- that's the next step (and it's a big step). It should be a great anthology as Jen just published a really nice one for Apex (Close Encounters of the Urban Kind) that is on the Stoker recommendation list for 2010.

First a book published, then an anthology invitation. Hooty hoo.

Hotcakes and Giveaways

Well, STG is moving. It peaked (so far) as the 65,000th most popular book on Amazon!

Admittedly it has a ways to go to make the NYT bestseller list (or to be compared to hotcake sales), but still, copies are moving and this is good. My own copies will be here from Reliquary any day now (and I can hardly wait).

The ladies (and one dude) in the book club at work were generous enough to select STG as their book for August, and they asked me to sit in on the lunch-time review. Yikes. I'm not sure how I'll stack up against Reading Lolita in Tehran, or the Kiterunner..but they also read Paluniak's Survivor and Gaiman's Graveyard book, so maybe not so bad.

So the Giveaway you ask? I loaded a picture in Amazon, and tagged the book, but I stop short at providing a review. So I leave that to you dear reader. To the first person that leaves a (generally positive) review I will mail you your own free copy of STG. Gratis. Freeeeeee. Should you have already purchased one on which to base your review, and don't want another, I would be happy to substitute a copy of Abominations: 17 Spine-Tingling Tales Of Murderous Monsters And Horrific Creatures (Shroud Publishing, ISBN-10: 098018701X) which holds pretty steady at under 200,000th most popular book. Yes, I have a story in it- BEKs.

So there you go, post a copy of your review and email in the comments section, and I will delete your email before I post it. I'll contact you and get a shipping address, and these fabulous prizes will be yours!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Succumbing to Gravity- Now available

Yes, I know you have all been waiting with bated breath for the release of Succumbing to Gravity. Well, wait no longer, here it is! (Click on 'here')

The Back cover copy:
Succumbing to Gravity
Richard Farnsworth
Greg used to be an angel, but that was an eternity ago. Back when he was Araqiel, part of the celestial chorus. Back before he gave in to his temptations. Before he fell. Now he roams the wet streets of a hopeless city, feeding his addictions and punishing himself for sins that cannot be forgiven. But when a desperate girl and a host of vengeful demons cross his path, Greg must choose between redemption and damnation. For him, the two may not be so different.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Author Interview

My author interview for STG is up at the Reliquary Press website. It doesn't seem to have come out too schmarmy. My interview for the Beast Within anthology is still up also, so I have 2 interviews floating around in cyberspace.


Mike Stone is a friend and fellow writer I met through my online critique group, critters. We shared a table of contents in the GST 'Beast Within' anthology, he's a fabulous writer and is working on, what else, but a novelization of that same short story. Anyway, I found this sight on his blog that will tell you which famous author (and I am unsure how many there are) your writing resembles. Here's me, a Cory Doctorow wannabe. Could be?

The things I do while waiting waiting waiting for my proofs to come back from the printer...

I write like
Cory Doctorow

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

STG the Novel- update

My first novel, Succumbing to Gravity- is in final proof.
It has an ISBN number. (978-0-9841833-4-0)
Next it's going to the printer.
Then it will be available online at all your favorite online book buying places...

I'm sending ARCs (advance reader copies) to all my favorite book reviewers.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dead Bird is still great

Was it, 'I Want Candy' by the Bow Wow Wow's, or "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles? How about 'Ride Captain Ride on Your Mystery Ship' by the Blue Images or 'In A Big Country' by who else, Big Country?

Nope, it wasn't.

Of all the one hit wonders to ever hit big, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was clearly the biggest of big. Since it's publication in the 1960's Ms. Lee's book has sold well over 30 million copies. 30 Million. Can you imagine? And if you check Amazon it's in the top 2000 books right now. (If my book spikes at 2000 for an instant I'll fall over, apoplectic.)

I finished it for the second time in several years (the first time being in middle school which was... like I said several years) and really appreciated it more now than I did then. I can see why I was made to read it. It's elegant, understated, and emensly powerful. I don't need to run through a critique, there are 50 years worth of those. If you haven't read it since you were made to do so as a kid, then you should revisit. In spite of the blantant racism, the adult content that I didn't catch when I wasn't an adult (for instance, the accusation of incest that Tom R obliquely makes against the little terd Ewell- do you remember it? If not that's what I mean) it's still great both in spite of and because of, for different reasons.

As far as a one-hit wonder (Ms Lee never published another book) I am reminded of a quote from Joe Heller I once read. Paraphrasing: An interviewer noted that in his subsequent writing Heller had never written anything as good as Catch-22. He replied that the interviewer (nor most people that write) had never written ANYTHING as good ever.

Here Here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

STG Update

So, word from the editors is that Succumbing to Gravity, the novel based on my short story in Nossa Morte will be out in the next few weeks. It will be available through reliquary press, amazon, and When I have the ISBN and such I'll be sure to post.

Also, keep an eye out for an opportunity to win a free copy of your very

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


If you look up lists of noir, or hardboiled fiction (and I do), you often run across Sara Paretsky's name. Dr. Paretsky writes a crime series featuring a private invesitgator named V.I Warshawski (Vic); Chicagoan, whiskey drinking, mustang driving, butt-kicking lady.

In all I find her writing certainly competent and entertaining, and recommend it. But I do have an observation for you to take and do with as you will. In previous posts I have mentioned differences in writing audiences. Manly-not manly. Much of the hard-boiled or noir fiction, the really edgy stuff, is geared toward men. Then there are the 'cozies', Agatha Christy type 'crime' books that you can cozy up with that I usually see women reading. There is a large body of crime fiction that is pretty gender neutral (to me). Paretsky's work is that body of noir that I don't see as appealing to the strictly knuckle-dragging crowd. To me, the thing that keeps me from really engaging in Paretsky's work to the degree that I do with others, say Robert Parker for instance, is in the details that I will gender-biasedly call manly details.

Compare and contrast a Sunny Randall book with a VI Warshawski tale. Different.

It's in the details.

When Vic pulls a weapon out, it's her 'colt'. The gun she keeps in a tuck holster. But what kind? Colt has made 100s of guns in the last century....

When a noir (anti) hero slides his (or her) weapon from the leather (or nylon) shoulder holster, it's a 9mm Glock 17 with pacmyer grips, laser sight. Heavier in his (or her) hand than the Glock 19 and redolent with the smell of cleaning fluid and old gunpowder, or better yet, cordite.

Accessory or life partner? This isn't to say crime fiction written from a manly viewpoint wouldn't also assume that a gun is just a's just not the manly crime fiction I read.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rest for the wicked

I polished off two very different books this past week; Paul Tremblay's "No Sleep till Wonderland"and Joe Hill's "Horns". Both held my attention until the end but neither really did it for me, even though they are both 'dark fiction' writers (which I also aspire to be).

First, Tremblay. He's a high school teacher and published a number of short stories in anthologies and magazines. This story falls into a "flawed Private Investigator, duped by girl, crime" sort of story. He did a good job of writing and I usually like these, but Tremblay has made the character so irredeemably flawed that I couldn't really embrace him. The protagonist is Mark Genevich, a narcoleptic attending group therapy or his mother will kick out of his rent-free apartment. It reminded me a lot of a cleaned-up Chuck Paluniuk. I think the part that kept me from embracing it was that the first person account was very internal. The protag editorializes everything, all the time, in a wisen-himer manner. I expect this is needed as Mark is facing some serious internal issues and we get a real sense of what it is like to live with the disease. But still...
The constant use of tough-guy talk and overly involved metaphors was sometimes entertaining and sometimes distracting. The other thing that threw me off was the use of present tense.
So, in short, a clever take on the detective novel, competently written, but I didn't love it- but then there is no accounting for taste.

The second book was Joe Hill's "Horns". I was really looking forward to this one as I enjoyed his debut novel, "Heart-Shaped Box" very much. It was an updated, edgier, and faster-paced Steven King. Ummm... if you didn't know, Joe Hill is the pen name of Steven King's son. And in that first book you could see the lineage. This one too, but not in a good way.

You see, I like King. He writes these genre-busting novels. But the thing I don't like about his writing, especially in his later work, is that he seems to meander through the story. Think Lisey's story... Dooma Key was an awesome book, but for me it was 30% too big for the story it told. I think his work certainly matured and progressed, but I haven't liked anything he's written as much I liked the shining. But this isn't about Steve, but rather Joseph Hillstrom King. Hard not to do though, isn't it?

Anyway, I didn't really like Horns as much as I had hoped I would. First, the theme, a guy turns into a demon. This didn't overly offend my Christian sensibilities, but the author's several rants about the Devil being the first superhero and God generally being a no fun blowhard didn't sit well. The characters are devoutly Catholic, but Hill really trivialized the mechanics of being religious, and being Catholic in particular, which made me feel it a bit unrealistic. The other part I didn't really like (and I confess, I actually skipped over text- which I try never to do) was that the flashbacks and the 'present' of the book seemed really unbalanced. If that makes sense. Time is moving along in the book, big flashback to explain something, short present, long long long flashback, repeat. Otherwise, he can certainly tell a story. Writing advisors tell you to not be easy on your protagonist, and the poor protagonist in this story went through hell. Which in the end seemed to be the place he wanted to go after all.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Sacrifices of Automated Tabulation

I mentioned that I have a new story in Steampunk Tales, The Sacrifices of Automated Tabulation. I also promised that I would tell you where the story came from and what Steampunk is.

There are lots of different ways to cluster fiction, stories or novels with similar conventions, tropes, etc are in the same genre. (Western, Romance, Mystery etc) Genres can in turn be split into subgenres. 'Steampunk' is a subgenre of science fiction. There is an adequate definition on the wikipedia page, but the name comes from 'Steam' the primary motive force of the Industrial revolution and 'punk'. From punk. Like punk rock. It was a play on a subgenre of the early nineties known as cyberpunk, 'edgy new fiction' where people would plug right into computers, or have augmented neural pathways; cybernetics.

In general steampunk stories are science fiction placed in the past or in an alternate present where steampower and antiquated weapons are the rule of the day. There are a number of essays out there on the steampunk movement (there are steampunk bands, bars, retro-future steampunk devices, etc) but to me it is fun when it reminds of the Jules Verne novels I read as a child or the Flash Gordon serials I would watch late Saturday night, just before the stations signed off for the night (that was before infomercials). Old-fashioned people, with old-fashioned equipment, setting off into the future. You see its influence a lot in contemporary scifi, look at Stargate Universe...the ship is old, cranks, clicks..

There are those that would then split Steampunk into more discreet clumps. Were I to be such a splitter I would agree that my story, The Sacrifices of Automated Tabulation, which, did I mention, is out in the latest issue of Steampunk Tales (click on the name) anyway, TSoAT would fall into the Steampunk genre 'Gaslight Horror'.

So where did it come from? Well, I wanted to try a Steampunk story, I had been thinking about it for a while. And I thought how well the story arc of my first published story, Outsourcing Blues would fit. Man against machine. The age of computers harnessing the power that haunted the dark outside the camp-fire light. That sort of thing. So, I did it. I kidnapped Toni and slipped her into the wayback machine and sent the story from 2008 to 1890, with all the associated changes in norms, theme etc. Antonia Farragolo is given a complete body makeover, but her kick-ass attitude just wouldn't leave. Oh, and for once the graduate student wins out over the thesis advisor. That NEVER happens in real life.

I hope you enjoy it. Steampunk Tales, the iPhone app and penny dreadful for the 21st century. How cool is that?

Steampunk Tales , Lucky Number Seven

My first Steampunk Story is now out in the latest issue of Steampunk Tales, number 7. The magazine bills itself as a 'penny dreadful for the twenty-first century', and is sold as an iphone ap! (Or a pdf for those of you not so enamored with all things Mac.) I've never been an iphone ap before...hmm.

The story is 'The Sacrifices of Automated Tabulation'. Check it out, and in my next post I'll discuss both Steampunk and where the story came from. I'm also behind on a few book posts so I had better get to those too.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

More Manly books

I finished in rapid order (thanks to a transatlantic round-trip plane flight for work) two books. Robert Parker's Appaloosa and Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's Siege.

Very different books, but certainly the type to appeal to guys. I've mentioned Parker before, a writer of contemporary crime fiction who decided to try his hand at a Western. I think it came off well. Tight, hard-boiled-ish, gun fights and cool no-nonsense heroes.

Sharpe's Seige on the other hand is much like the Alexander Kent book I described earlier. Rather linear, manly. Cornwell is one of the best writers of historical fiction out there, writing of the exploits of Major Richard Sharpe in the Napoleonic Wars. As Kent and others write of the British Navy, Cornwell writes of the British Army. Infantry in fact. While the majority of British Infantry was armed with the venerable 'Brown Bess', .75 caliber, smooth bore musket, Sharpe is a rifleman armed with the 'Baker Rifle', a .625 caliber rifle. (Note: a rifle is a long arm where there is 'rifling' or spiral grooves inside the barrel that cause the bullet to spin- makes them more accurate at greater ranges, but also takes longer to load).

The average sailor in the 19th century British Navy probably wasn't the most reputable person, but the Infantry soldier was down-right disreputable. Sharpe is an officer that was raised up from the ranks (prior enlisted). So he comes across as a bit of a hard-case. I like spending time with him.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A visit with a futzy uncle

Imagine spending the afternoon with a slightly eccentric foreign uncle. He's amusing in a doty, understated, dry-British-humor sort of way. His puns and set ups are deliberate. Not a rock-concert, or a frat party, but you enjoy yourself all the same. This is what reading an Alexander McCall Smith book is like for me.

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, as the second Smith book that I've read (the first being Portugese Irregular Verbs). He's much better known for his #1 ladies detective club books, and I keep meaning to pick one of those up... AMS is an academic, born in Africa but Sottish.

tULoS is an episodic novel that revolves around the lives of a small cadre of characters that live in and around #44 Scotland street in Edinburgh. The characters are all for the most part well drawn and it seems a bit like a Seinfeld episode if reimagined with a larger cast and more elaborate problems by a BBC writer with a slight 'comedy of manners' bent and a desire to make social commentary. I think it's the fourth or fifth in the series and there may be merit to starting at the beginning, but I think it stands by itself as well. (But to be honest I enjoyed Portugese Verbs more).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Manly Books

It's pretty well accepted in the publishing industry that women read much more fiction than men. Go to any book store or stop by the rack of books by the magazines at the grocery store and you can clearly see this in the available selections. Honestly, how many guys do you know that belong to reading clubs? A bunch of manly men sitting around discussing enduring themes and how a novel made them 'feel', while balancing a plate of finger sandwiches and sipping green tea. Seriously. I can't even conjure an image.

My coworkers in the office have a monthly book club, and when I asked if I could join, I was scoffed at. Openly. "Your a 'manly-man', why would you join?" one Lady asked. And this after they had chosen Neil Gaimon's Graveyard Book as their selection. "Did you at least note the structure of said novel (short story-like), or the parallels to Kiplings works?" I asked. Nope. But they did invite me to sit with them on their next selection, Reading Lolita in Tehran...

Pa-shaw. Not manly enough.

Honour This Day by Alexander Kent is a manly book. Douglas Reeman (the real name for the author) is a World War II British Navy veteran. As Kent, he writes the story of Richard Bolitho, a British Navy Officer set from the end of the US revolutionary war through the Napoleonic Wars. Great stuff, but alas, never to be seen in a women's reading circle...

And why exactly? I think there is action, certainly (and Reeman does an excellent job of making you feel like you are there, with a host of details you would only think to include if you had actually served in the Navy and been to sea in war- think Horatio Hornblower only better). But the plots are also fairly linear. There aren't a lot of twists and turns, they're there, but not so much so that they detract from telling a great story. Or maybe those twists make it more suitable for the reading circles?

Most of his books are out of print, and he is one of the first authors I look for when I hit a used book store. (I know you can find these on amazon, but I like the thrill of the hunt). The aspect of the writing that I really don't much like is his shifting POV. Most authors use 3rd person, where you describe a person (as opposed to first person where the writer uses 'I'), but Reeman will liberally shift POV through 3 or 4 people in one short scene. A little hard to follow at times.

HTD was my most recent Kent novel, and I loved it. When Reeman is detailing the seamanship, the battle sequences, how leaders and men in war interact, he does so flawlessly. (And I can say this with some authority as I was a leader of men in war). The romantic aspects (there is a love interest, a point of honour, an affair) not so well played. But then, this is not meant to be filed in the stacks with the Romance novels, this is high adventure. No lace doilies and finger sandwiches here!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Trailer

A new trend in Book Publishing is the book trailer. Sort of like the little snippets of movies, but as the name implies, made for books. Check out the trailer I put together (with extensive technical assistance from my son- kids and technology) for STG.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Succumbing to Gravity- update

As I sat to type out this post I heard a tapping at the window. When I turned, there was nothing at the glass. Then a tapping, turn, nothing.

The third time I turned I saw the culprit...a mockingbird, a-tap-tap-tapping on the glass. Not so ominous as Poe's Raven, to be sure, but I wonder what the little bird could want in here? I looked square in those (little flakes of black marble) eyes of his and he flew away.


Well, the novel has a new cover image with a proposed release date this summer. Exactly when this summer, I'm unsure. But let's hope sooner than later. I like it much better than the previous one. But I wonder what people will think when they see it?

I had the same thought when I finished the first draft (which was really about the third or fourth draft, with all the futzing around) of STG. I was pretty sure I'd said the things I wanted to say, that I had conveyed the messages and theme I'd meant to. I was curious to see how my small cadre of first readers and critique group members would see it. Funny the things people pulled out of the book that I hadn't intended. Whether my unconscious inclusion or the reader's projection; unexpected results.

Probably the same thing with that mockingbird. He saw his reflection in the glass and pecked at it, while I pondered the significance of his actions to my own life. Were he able to talk he probably would have said something like, "What are you looking at?"

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

True blood

When people find out that you like to write short stories (and novels) about monsters, they often give a puzzled half smile. And then they search through their experiences to try to make a connection; "Oh, like (insert name)" or "You must like (insert name)".

With the increased popularity of monsters in a certain cross-over genre...we'll call it...I don't know, horror how about paranormal romance.. well with the increased popularity of tortured vampire love interests (from Anne Rice's Lestadt to Stephanie Meyer's Edward) the 'insert name' name is less likely to be Steven King or Dean Koontz and more likely to be someone writing about tortured vampire lovers.

Well, one I've been asked about more frequently (especially after the HBO show True Blood came out) is Charlaine Harris. So, I finally knuckled under and gave one of her books a read. Or, in this case a listen (audio book). I picked up her collection of short stories A Touch of Dead.

Clearly not my cup of tea. But it wasn't bad. Paranormal, southern romance with a chick-litty chatiness. The character, Sookie Stackhouse, was believably likable, there was a chatty understated quality to her dialogue. It certainly didn't take itself too seriously and was fun. But she did disconcertingly dump every trope of supernatural horror and urban fantasy and swirl them around. And I just went through the 5 short stories. Vampires, elves, trolls, were creatures...telepaths, witches..even catahoula hunting dogs! My head hurt.

I would recommend with a qualified 'if you like that sort of thing'. And many many people do, as she spends a lot of time on the NY Times lists. Certainly smarter than...egads, Twighlight...but a bit of stretch otherwise. I wouldn't turn my nose up, but I'm not running out to buy the next book either.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

STG the Novel

Succumbing to Gravity was a short story that I wrote for Nossa Morte. This was the first paying market that paid 'real semi pro' rates and allowed me to apply for affiliate (semi-pro category) membership to the Horror Writers Association.

STG is also my first novel. (Actually my second, the first was a practice novel that I will probably never discuss in an open forum). I floated it past forty agents and had 8 partial requests and 5 requests to read the entire manuscript. They all ended up passing and then I started in on the direct submissions to publishers.

And yay, the gentlemen at Reliquary Press requested the partial, the full, some revisions and tada, they bought it. I'm expecting a mid-summer release as they have a few others in the queue ahead of STG. I'll keep you all apprised as it gets closer and I've posted one of the early cover ideas, because I thought it was pretty cool. A little busy for me, but cool all the same. And making the publishing of my own first novel a little more real.

The image comes for the statue of the fallen angel in Retiro Park, Madrid, Spain.

Hard Boiled Crime/Mystery

I finished Split Image by Robert B Parker, the ninth and last Jesse Stone novel. It's also the last novel that features his other successful series character, Sunny Randall.

Last I'll see either character because Dr. Parker passed away last January. A terrible loss for his family to be sure, but to the genre and his large fan base as well. I know I was sad when I heard.

I recommend all Parker's novels as a matter of course. I love them for their crisp elegance. My favorite Parker books are, I must admit, his Virgil Cole westerns, but his most famous character is of course Spenser (39 novels from 1973 to 2010- a pretty good run). Like in the Spenser books, here there is humor, there is an adept insight into psychiatry, there is competent writing with mostly complete characters and snappy dialogue. Unlike the Spenser books, Jess Stone is very much a flawed character (so is Sunny Randall which I suppose makes them a good match). But Jesse struggles with obsessive behaviors and alcohol.

Well, the novel. Again a novel very much like the other Jesse Stone Novels (Oh and Tom Selleck comes off as a much older and grittier version than I imagine the book version of Jesse to be in the TV specials) without being overly repetitive. Or worse yet, being derivative! The novel follows Jesse, and to a lesser extent Sunny, as they try to solve crimes. Jesse struggles with his inner demons and goes on a bender, spending much of the rest of the novel trying to understand what set him off. A quick read. Dr. Parker left the ends rather well tied for me to believe these two characters may have a future.

The only real criticism I have, and it's really something I've seen in many of the books, is that the characters all get each other. What I mean is that there is a sort of ironic-self depricating-sarcasm to the humor one character will express to another. And for the most part all of the other characters 'get it' and have the same sort of snappy comebacks. Except for the criminals who all seem to exhibit the banality one would expect of a thug.

("It looks like it was hard to get into those pants' says Jesse; 'For who' retorts Sunny. That sort of stuff).

Something to keep in mind, most people come at conversations from different angles and don't always see irony or sarcasm as funny. Being an ironic-self depricating and sarcastic person myself, I feel that I can say with authority that not everyone 'gets it'. And even if they do get it, that doesn't mean everyone thinks it's funny. Well, me anyway. But then, I don't have such a skilled and experienced writer putting my material together.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


(And I don't mean of the Michael Jackson variety.)

I finished Eric Van Lustbader's 'Last Snow', a thriller.

EVL is known for his fantasy and thriller series, but also for reviving the Jason Bourne, (of the Bourne identity movies) series on contract from the estate of Ludlum, the creator.

An aside:
Generally literati talk about Plot driven novels, versus character-driven novels.
In the plot driven novel, what happens in the story is of primary importance. The characters seem to be pawns driven around through the novel like chess pieces on a board. In the character-driven novel on the other hand, it seems as if the characters are the masters of their own fate, and the story told unfolds because of the choices they make. I prefer novels that combine the two. The best examples of character driven stories are 'literary fiction'. I've been known to criticize this 'genre' as often the stories are so beautiful and they employ such incredibly powerful imagery, the prose is so lush, but I finish one and say.... so what was the point?

Plot driven stories are quite the opposite. There is a story. But sometimes the plot can be so contrived as to force me to the other side of the 'criterati' and scream at the pages; "That would never happen. Protagonist would never act that way!" (Most genre fiction has conventions. If a story didn't follow some of the conventions of the genre for instance, it wouldn't be labeled, right?) Of all the contemporary genre fiction, Thrillers are far and away the most plot-driven of them all. And this was very evident in Lustbader's novel.

Okay, back to my post.
In short it was a story of Jack McClure, ATF agent, hero, Presidents friend on special assignment where he breaks a 27 year marriage off with his wife, sleeps with an FSB (old soviet KGB) agent, foils high crimes, saves people, has shoot outs, survives arsenic poisoning...okay, get the picture? The political thriller is always an over the top plot-driven romp. It was well plotted, carried the story along and sold millions of copies. It will probably be a movie. But, I really didn't enjoy it and had to resist skimming to the finish. (I try never to do that. Elmore Leonard said his novels move along well because he never writes the parts people skip. So when I am tempted to skim, I ask myself why exactly I have that impulse.)

I think the biggest problem is that the author doesn't have a firm enough grasp of current Russian/Eurasian geopolitics and energy policy. News paper level, but there were too many instances where he tried to make the Russia of today be the Soviet Union of the 80's (the peak of coldwarspynovelthrillerdom). Then there were the instances where an event would happen but it wouldn't impact the rest of the flow of the novel. For instance, main character kills two assassins sitting in the car on the street below his apartment. Main character goes off to bordelo for top level meeting with bad guy. Main character returns to apartment and has dinner with hot widow next door. Okay. So why was the front of his apartment, where presumably there is a car full of dead guys, gone? No crime scene? I don't know, call me crazy, but I would expect such an event to have repercussions. And yes, I know it's a story. And it never really happened. And yes, I know that such a criticism from someone who writes stories about monsters seems a tad ironic. But still, help me suspend my disbelief a little bit longer.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Gone but not forgotten

It would appear that Atom Jack online magazine has closed up shop. It's been happening alot lately, small presses start with a burst of energy, flourish and then life catches up with the publishers and they fall by the wayside. Adicus Garton bought my first short story, "Outsourcing Blues", for the May 2007 issue (Issue Seven). It was nice little mag, with good taste...I mean he bought my first story, right?

It would appear that the publishers are trying their hand at spec fic anthologies, you can check them out here.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Jaw Bones

I recently finished two books in rapid order, first 206 Bones by Kathy Reichs and second, Jaws by Peter Benchley. It was an osteologically-themed reading week.

Kathy Reichs holds a PhD in forensic anthropology and writes genre mystery fiction with a bit of a police procedural feel. Her character, Temperance Brennan, is the inspiration for the TV show 'Bones'. I picked this up thinking this was the book that the series was based upon, not realizing that it was in fact the twelfth book in the series...

It was pretty good. I'm a science geek, so the preachey asides which bordered on direct address of the reader, weren't so bad.
A common technique in old-fashioned literature, is referred to by contemporary literati as 'Breaking the fourth wall', but I assure you dear reader, this is much frowned upon in contemporary writing circles. Unless of course you are going for a pastiche of some sort, which Kathy Reichs was not doing. Anyway, her asides took time to explain very technical aspects of anthropology, forensics, etc and worked pretty well. The preachy references to the need for a 'board-certified-forensic-anthropologist' was a thinly disguised professional rant against the unprofessional use of 'mere pathologist who lack forensic anthropological training or board certification' at the end though.

Anyway, you can read the wikipedia review for the plot; different than the tv show, not bad on its own, better than some I've read, realistic, but not as terribly gritty as I expected from a crime novel about someone dealing with bodies.

The second book I devoured was Jaws. Ha!

Like most children of the 70's, my first summer blockbuster was the movie Jaws. I had the Jaws poster. I had Jaws T-shirts. I saw all of the sequels over the next 10 years. But I never read the book.

I picked it up from the library a few weeks ago....
... da-dum
With that same scantily clad swimmer..
... da-dum
With a torpedo-like shark with a grinning mouth-full of teeth beneath...
... da-dum

...And I was expecting pure camp.

(Don't get me wrong, I love camp. I love pulp. I like old Dr Who -The Tom Baker version, Dr #4, for max camp and minimum special effects budget.
Conan the Barbarian is one of my top ten favorite films of all time for crying out loud.)

But you know what? Jaws was actually a great read. I not only enjoyed it, I thought it was pretty good. The characters seemed extremely dated, but real. A little over the top with the frustrated housewife and the 'old mystery man of the sea' Quint. The children were props. But still I was pleasantly surprised. The tension held up well even though I knew what was going to happen, but I could see how the screen writers took scenes that were slower, more drawn-out but real and jazzed them up a bit to increase the tension and give the scenes more 'pop'.

It was a classic, but was much quicker at getting to the point than Ayn Rand...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Oh Lazarus

I recently finished,and enjoyed, the Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon.

Friends know that my tastes are eclectic, reading is no different. Even though I am a wide-ranging reader, I don't think I would have picked up this book had it not been a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award. I mentioned previously that the center of a writer's life is reading. So I read, a lot. I read pulp, I read Pulitzer winners, I read Newberry award winners, I read genre fiction by the box full(except romance- I tried...I just couldn't do it). I try to read things I enjoy, and things that will instruct (both in general terms and with regards to the craft of writing)and LP hit both marks.

The book is a story of a modern day Bosnian immigrant like the author who is conducting research for a book (about a Jewish immigrant killed in Chicago in 1908) and while tracing the path of the Jewish immigrant his companion (also a Bosnian, but one who had lived through the siege of Sarajevo) relays his story of the war. So really 3 stories in one.

Overall I thought it was well done and worth a read. But there were many instances where I experienced problems with the text that some of my critiquers have pointed out from time to time in my work.

First, the novice writer is told that the writer should be invisible to the reader. By that I mean that when you notice the writing you are knocked out of the story. Hemon's prose was overall very good, but he often used descriptive language (in particular adjectives) that seemed a bit incongruously and awkwardly wedged into the text. Maybe it's just me, but these instances brought me out of the story to wonder if these were really the right words to use.

Next problem for me was the reuse of vivid imagery. In particular 'vines of hair up the back of his neck'. First time you use it it's cool. Second time it is not only not cool it's awkward. Didn't happen often, but enough that I said to myself, 'Self, that's what that critter was talking about'.

Recycling is great, but not if it's really obvious in your story. The author recycled the same names, the same descriptions of people etc. I think the point was that there are echoes in history, but when it's really apparent that the author is doing it I think of it as 'cutesy' and I didn't really like it.

The last thing that tripped me up was not giving me enough information up front to have a clear image of the characters. If your character wears glasses and these will be important later then you need to tell me about them up front, otherwise I'll ask the blank pages 'where did those glasses come from?'.

It may sound as if I'm nitpicking, and I am. But I did enjoy the book, and would recommend it, even though it was a tad too literary (and postmodernist even) and just sort of...


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dougie's Hand

My short story, 'Dougie's Hand', has been accepted for the Spring issue of Rose and Thorn by Kathryn Magendie.

The story goes live 15 April 2010.

There are many different ways to go about constructing a story. (I think the only universal method these days has something to do with a word processor...some imagination..and I'm not always sure about the imagination). I still read a great number of 'how to do it', or preferably 'how I do it' writing advice articles. Some authors plot extensively, write notes, draw diagrams of story arcs and character interactions, maps of the place where the story takes place, etc. I did this for GOB-the short story and BEKs (see below)and I have to do it for my novels or it they turn to unintelligible goo in my hands.

Other people just start writing and see where the story takes them. You can try for a certain 'mood' or a 'voice' or just write. In short stories I can get away with this to some extant. But I still need to do some plotting of where I want to go. I have heard the writing of a story like planning for a road trip (an old school road-trip, no Garmins or Tom-Toms allowed here). You know where you will start, you've looked at the map, made some notes of where you want to go, but you reserve the right to deviate a bit if you see a Shoney's or a sign for one of those road-side museums (some of the best are along I10- the prehistoric alien in Arizona, the alligator farms in Louisiana, the Crocket county museum in Ozona Texas...ah, memories!). But every once in a while even OC road-trip planners like me just get in the car and see where they go. That was Dougie's hand for me.

I started with a voice. I knew what the main character sounded like. He was a millenial slacker in college. He was self-deluded and superficial. And he was FUN. So with that premise, I started typing away.

Dougie's hand is a story, really a 2200 word vignette, of a young man suffering from Anarchic or Alien hand syndrome (also called Dr. Strangelove hand). This is the conflict, because without conflict for the main character to overcome or deal with there's nothing happening in the story. Stories without conflict are usually called 'literary fiction'. Sounds great, but what was the point again?

After voice and conflict There was also a quality that I wanted the story to have, and this came in the rewrite, because even though I just got in and drove doesn't mean that I couldn't go back over and over and over...

So, the quality I wanted was one in which the narrator was so convicted in his obviously erroneous belief that the reader took a minute to doubt his/her own convictions. It's hard to explain exactly what I wanted, but the best example is from the movie
. Maybe not your cup of tea, but I loved it. In it there are a few instances where Gabriel Finch is so convicted, and there is evidence to support his delusion, that the audience asks...could it be that he isn't a nut?

Well, you judge for yourself on 15 April how well I did to capture this with Dougie's Hand.

The story itself was a joy to write. My critique group provided valuable feedback. I submitted it and it sat in second and then third and then fourth round review with first ASIM (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine) for a year. Then it was bought by Arkham Tales, where it waited to be published until the magazine folded. And then...Rose and Thorn had at it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Atlas shrugged and so did I

This is meant to be a blog about my writing life. Almost every 'how to write' book, article or interview by an author advises that the novice author read voraciously. For this reason (voracious reading is part of my writing life) it seems appropriate to include those experiences here.

My inaugural post-reading post is Ayn Rand's Atlas shrugged.

It's been long in coming.
It was a long time in the reading.
And I'm left with an ""

As with most famous works, I was familiar with it before I read it. In fact, before reading the book I had read more about Ayn Rand's objectivism than I had ever read of Rand directly. I think as a work meant to pontificate a world view, in it's time it was probably great. But for just took long to do it. The characters were either one of three people; 'looter', 'noble industrial egoist' or one of the masses with his/her hand out. No middle ground, they all sounded the same. They all gave one or the other monologue. For a long time. Didn't really care for the characters, couldn't buy into the dystopian world. I tried, honest.

The parts I really did enjoy were the datedness. The hunt for a long-distance phone connection (as I flick open my black berry), the obsession with cigarettes, the very 1950's ish-ness. That for me was fun (though I don't suspect this was the author's intent).

Glad I read it, because I have felt like a phoney all these years for reading about it, but not reading it. It will be a while before I dig into the vault of great tomes, I paid my dues for the near-term.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Gift of the Bouda- the short story

Even though it was the first short story I ever wrote with the intent of publishing, 'The Gift of the Bouda' was actually the fifth short story published. So that implies two stories behind the story, right? Right you are. Let's start with the what motivated me to write for publication and then we'll get to the how.

I wrote GOB because of the war in Iraq.

Sounds weighty, doesn't it?
Well, for me it was. And here's the short version.

I am a life-long Army Reserve officer. I enlisted in the California National Guard when I was nineteen, with the intent of flying helicopters. Which I did. I attended OCS and then went on to fly Cobra helicopters (as well as Hueys) while I was in college. Neat part-time gig, let me tell you.

After I finished my PhD I went to Texas for a postdoc and also transferred to the Reserves, where I flew the venerable AH-64 Apache. Really cool. I was eventually promoted out of flying, but volunteered to go back (should they need me) when the War in Afghanistan kicked off. One thing led to another and we started this thing in Iraq (you've probably seen something about it in the news) and I ended up there as an Operations officer for an Aviation Task Force. In order to go though, I had to leave my civilian job at a the world's leading non-profit provider of cell lines (in Manassas, Virginia) where I had a lab. The war blew, but I did my part. My civilian employer, though, really didn't. When I returned from a year away, serving my country, separated from my loved ones, risking my life, after all of that, my lab, my staff, my equipment and my projects had been parted out. Gone was the lab for which I had worked so hard. To shorten the long story, I ended up finding a new gig. But I didn't seem to be able to scratch that creative itch that I was able to scratch in the lab. Most people don't think of science as creative, but it really is. Especially cell biology where there is as much 'craft' as pure science.

I wondered if creative writing might be able to scratch that creative itch. 'Creative' is in the title, right. So I gave it a shot, and the story turned out okay. Two months of futzing, but it wasn't bad.

I shopped GOB around a bit and it received some good feedback. They always tell you that receiving personal feedback (as opposed to a form letter) is a good response. My first rejection was from George Scithers at Weird Tales, and yes it was hand-written and rather encouraging. So I incorporated his suggestions and then I sent it to a proposed anthology at Graveside tales. It took around 6 months to be accepted and another 6 or so to be published. It was quite worth it. Matt Hults was the editor and I think he did a great job -he also did the cover. I had the added bonus of sharing the TOC with Mike Stone who I had met through my critique group as well as some other great authors. It was fun and I was asked for an author interview ( If anyone at Graveside is reading this, I'm still on hold with my story for Beast Within II...and waiting...and waiting...

So I told you about the what and the how. How about the why?

Gift of the Bouda is the story of a soldier who is attacked by a were-hyena (the Bouda) while on a mission. He is infected with the lycanthropic curse and returns to the 'real world' of mundane America.

A place he isn't needed.

A place that doesn't understand what he's been through.

See where I'm going with this?

Yes, the story was a bit cathartic. The lycanthropy of the story represents PTSD. Not something I suffered but I can have empathy for those that do and John Rogers (the main character) is an homage of sorts. And yes, in this light the challenges I faced after being kicked the curb by the system were so much less traumatic than those faced by others. John also has the opportunity to deal with the Pre-Shinseki VA. Oh joy. I hear it's getting better.

The lycanthropy made for a great vehicle for post traumatic stress. I employed the Bouda as I wanted something that was appropriate to the folk lore of the region, as opposed to another haunted moor...with a cursed gothic manor, werewolf story. I was thinking blackhawk down with monsters. Or the movie dog-soldiers. Military horror. Fast-paced. It seems to have worked.

I really liked this character and after I finished STG-the novel, I wrote Gift of the Bouda- the novel. Again, another year. It currently sits with a few agents, so we'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Party Favors

My fourth story was Party Favors, purchased by Todd Robinson of Thuglit (, a nice ezine with a penchant for hard-boiled crime.

Party Favors began life as 'Being Sullivan Brown'. Almost everyone that critiqued this one at thought that was an incredibly lame name. I guess that they all saw "Being John Malcovich" or something. Anyway, it was meant to be a fairly straight forward hitchhiker-killer-with-a-twist story. And that's how it came out. I had the added bonus of getting a cover for the mag with my second favorite iconic handgun; the colt python with the 4 inch barrel. I don't know who the tongue belongs to...

Monday, March 15, 2010


My third short story sale was a story titled BEKs (for Black Eyed Kids). I shopped this story around for a bit before Tim Deal at Shroud publications bought it. Tim's a great guy and is putting out a nice magazine (

I had thought that the magazine was what I was being considered for, only to find that instead Tim wanted to place it in his new print anthology 'Abominations'. One of Tim's other anthologies had made the Stoker short list, so that was fine by me. It's doing pretty well in the low five-figures in sales rank on Amazon (ISBN 098018701X).

BEKs was inspired by a Texas urban legend about preteen boys that seek assistance from strangers, who are in turn never seen again. I took these creatures and placed them into a crack-house in Baltimore. Then I sent in a DEA agent and a special forces support team to route them out. The story was meant as a military-horror short, with the war on drugs taking a slightly different tack.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Succumbing to Gravity- the short story

I thought it might be interesting to those of you new to writing, or who enjoy reading, to have some insight into how a story comes about. The second story I sold, after OB, was Succumbing to Gravity (STG). It had been sitting with an anthology called holy horrors for some time before it was released (and then HH was actually was never published).

I queried Nossa Morte. which was at the time new (and I thought a bit vulnerable to a new author like me). They liked it, but requested a rewrite. I liked their suggestions, made the adjustments and viola, STG made it into the Feb 2008 issue ( . Melissa et al were a joy to work with and I am glad to see the magazine continues to put out great stories.

So, the inspiration for STG? Well I had read 'The Year of War' by Steph Swainston (ISBN 0060753870- I recommend it, except for chapter 22, what was that?). In it the main character, Jant, is a winged drug addict. I thought how very much like a tragic sort of fallen angel he was. And that idea went to work somewhere in the back of my brain...maybe anterior thalamic nuclei.. I'm not sure, but there was nuclei fermentation. Then I was doing some light reading through the Apocryphal book of Enoch and thought those poor angels, what would it be like to live in the grace of God and then be cast out?

Could you help but despair?

Could you find drugs?

And that's how Greg was born. A fallen angel, walking the earth, avoiding responsibilities of any kind and trying to find solace in drugs. More to come on this one as I liked Greg so much I spent a year writing the rest of his story. Nihilism, drug addiction, demon combat and redemption (of a sort), STG is now a novel-length tale that recently sold to Reliquary Press and should be available summer of 2010.

But the story of that story is a different story. One to be saved for later.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Outsourcing Blues

My first short story sale was "Outsourcing Blues", purchased by Adicus Garton for the May 2007 issue (Issue Seven) of Atom Jack online magazine.

OB was a fun little science/horror story that was inspired by two things; the trend in business toward outsourcing of costly, rarely needed services requiring a unique skill set and a heating grate on the floor under the desk at which I write on my trusty Mac.

So I started there and penned out a first draft which went to my critique group ( worth a look if you like to write speculative fiction and don't mind people telling you how poorly you write it, at first, it gets better) for review. Many of the reviewers didn't care much for the protagonist, and to be honest I didn't really like him either. So I exercised him from the text and imported a Janeane Garofalo-inspired software engineer (as she played Heather Mooney in Romie and Michelle- which may have not been the pinnacle of her career, but was my personal favorite). Viola- second query resulted in a sale. And this in spite of the fact I misaddressed the query letter- note to self and others, always proofread letters!

Oh, and I hear it's also not a good idea to let your wife read a story about a monster sucking a woman typing at a computer, through a heating grate, while she's sitting at a computer with her feet on the heating grate...just a thought.