Using Books to Escape a Horrid Summer

badsummer_yogamobility

Tent blowing away in a summer storm.  Image Source: Yoga Mobility

Apologies for not posting as the past few days were the perfect end to an absolutely horrid summer for me (and by perfect, I mean utterly devastating for me as a human being and as a person).  Rather than coming online to vent my spleen (to use an old outdated expression of anger), I decided just take a couple of “mental health” days and refrain from posting for a couple of days (would that online Trolls would do the same thing and internet trolling would be a thing of the past).  I won’t go into details, but just reread my post on Sometimes the Bear Gets You and multiply it by a factor of 50 and then you’ll have some idea on why it was probably a good idea to step away for a couple of days.

Anyway, moving on, my library books happened to be due this week, so I stopped by and saw all of the changes that have occurred in the 4 years since I became a teacher and a PhD student.  It really is incredible!  One of the librarians, when I told her about my horrid summer, said to just put it out of my mind and to focus on my upcoming tasks, so I decided to take her advice.

To that end, I’ve checked out two books: The Green Rider by Kristen Britain and J.R.R. Tolkien, A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter.   Now I’ve checked out these books before but there is a story behind each of them.

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Book Cover: Young Lady on a Horse.  Image Source: Goodreads

I tried to read The Green Rider by Kristen Britain before when it was first released, but abandoned it shortly after I started reading.  I think it was because she does a lot of POV switching early in the book (I can’t remember if this is her first novel or not–I’ll have to research it), but at the time, I was a beginning writer and the advice to stay in one POV was ringing in my head and it drove me nuts that an author could get her book published while ignoring this “basic” rule (of course, I could be misremembering and this might not be the reason at all–hey, cut me some slack, it’s been a LONG time, but my best recollection is this is the reason why I stopped reading).  As both my school’s starting time and my library’s loan period is about the same time (3 weeks) I’m going to (in the short period before school resumes) try to read it again and see if I can stick with it long enough to finish it.  I’ll report back on my progress here.

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Book Cover: Tolkien seated beside a tree.  Image Source: Amazon

The second book I picked up is a biography on J.R.R. Tolkien that I’ve read before.  Last summer, when I started the PhD program we had to pick an author and do an in-depth study on him/her.  I wanted to pick Tolkien, but I was talked out of it by well-meaning (but ultimately flawed) advice: i.e., even though he’s deceased, the amount of editions in print and the amount of scholarship would be overwhelming.  So I picked Langston Hughes, an author who I’ve done a little bit research on and who seemed to fit the bill for the class (I wanted to do David Eddings as a 2nd choice, but there was almost NO research on him at all, which would have made finding 50 critical articles a near impossibility).  However, here’s what I (re)learned from that experience–I have to follow my OWN heart, otherwise it all goes wrong.  Langston was manageable, but uninteresting.  I struggled to complete the assignments because I wasn’t invested in Langston’s life and works as I had been as an undergraduate.  I had moved on as a person/scholar and I didn’t really have the zeal to do a critical study of him.  This is the “kiss of death” for a scholar.  If you’re going to spend all that time working on a project, you’d better make doggone sure that you’re interested in it.  I’d learned this lesson before by taking a graduate Shakespeare class at UTC.  The class wasn’t the one I had planned on taking that year, but a friend told me to take it and it (much like this summer) didn’t go nearly as well as I had hoped.  I learned then to trust my own judgement and not the judgement of others, a lesson which I forgot, (and had to re-learn) from my disinterest in Langston’s life and works at MTSU.  So, in honor of such a crappy summer, I’m going to reread Tolkien’s biography to hopefully remind myself that it is MY opinion that matters in deciding matters about MY life.

 

 

“Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain”

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Image Source: Vintages, Antiques, and Collectibles

“Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain” is an old baseball “rallying cry” that has been shortened into this nice, pithy saying.  If you want the full details on this saying, there is a great synopsis of it on billjamesonline.com.  My uncle used to say this to me, not often, but every now and again.  According to Bill James, there are two interpretations of this saying: 1) Lack of pitching depth on the Braves’ roster, so praying for rain to help you get back to your most consistent and valued pitchers, or 2) praying for rain so that you wouldn’t have to face these two reliably dominant pitchers.  My uncle most definitely used it in the 2nd sense: Go out with your best!

Sci-Fi and Fantasy are my favorite genres–be it books, games, movies, television, comics, what have you.  Generally speaking, I’m going to gravitate to those genres before everything else.  So it makes sense that I’d concentrate my writing efforts on those genres as well.  I love the sense of adventure and wonder that Sci-Fi and Fantasy allows me to have in a mundane world of bills, intolerance, rudeness, and a general lack of concern for one’s fellow man.  Now to be sure, you can find those things–and more–inside the wrappers of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, but at its best you can find true wonder and adventure as warriors fight mythic beasts, starship captains struggle to keep their ships and crews safe, and young boys and girls grow up to be powerful warriors against the struggle of tyranny.

If I’m going to go out, then like Spahn and Sain, I want to go out leaving everything on the field and giving it my best and trying find a way to do so at a consistently high level.  Just as Spahn and Sain were masters at their craft, so too I strive to be a master at mine.

That’s why I continue to both read, watch, play, and write things that are Sci-Fi and Fantasy related.

For the sheer wonder of it all.

It’s that Time of Year Again . . .

tourdefrance2016

Source: Letour.fr

Yup, it’s that time of year again–The Tour De France 2016 (aka “my annual 3 week production drop”).  It’s that time of year when my brain goes into “shutdown” mode and I gorge on four hours plus of race coverage for 3 weeks straight (including the “Rest Days” as I end up watching reruns of the previous days race even when there’s not a race on because I can’t bear to be without the race.  Sad isn’t it?  :0 )

I love watching the Tour and I have since the mid-80’s when Greg Lemond was participating in the Tour.  This (after E3) is my unofficial “Me” time where I put most everything aside and just watch.  I’m not a huge TV watcher, meaning that I’ll turn it on , but unless I’m invested in a (sci-fi and/or BBC) show, it is just “background” for me.  The Tour is one of those few exceptions.

“Project Storm”

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Source: learningenglish.voanews.com

Surprisingly enough, this year I’m actually still producing work.  I just started a new short-story tentatively titled, “Project Storm.”  For those who are interested, it was inspired by “The Open Boat,” by Stephen Crane.  I’m less interested in the actual plot of the story and more interested in some of the comments/thoughts of the men.  More on the genesis of the story in an Author’s Note when I finish it.  This one may be one of my shorter works–I’ve finished Section 1 and I’m thinking there’s only going to be 3 sections, but that may change.

Outlining Longer Works — “Project Skye”

 

A few posts ago, I was bemoaning the fact that I’ve not outlined anything any of the longer works that I would like to work on and summer break is quickly coming to an end.  So, with that in mind, I grabbed my notebooks and began going through them looking for ideas that I could use for Chapter Headings/Titles.  I put down around 60 or so possible chapter titles (whew!).  I’ll start whittling them down and then I’ll see if I can put a sentence or two description about what happens in each chapter while watching the Tour.  Who knows, if I’m really lucky, I might have a novel outlined by the time race concludes in 3 weeks.  How cool is that?  Wish me luck!  🙂

Goal: to have an outline finished by Summer 2016 so that I can start writing chapters in my (rare) downtime, so that by the end of the 2016-2017 school year, I have the “rough draft” of my first novel completed!

 

Tangent Online 2014 Recommended Reading List (Hey, Would You Look at that–“Faerie Knight” is on it!

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So I got accepted into a PhD English program (yay!), but I did not get any funding, so I’m going to have to find some way to pay for it (boo!).

I am very frustrated with this outcome as I desperately want to attend, but I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to pay for it and I’m worrying myself sick over it.  I also noticed that this is similar to my frustration with the writing process.  I can dream up the stories, write the stories, edit the stories, submit the stories all day long, but if editors don’t ACCEPT them and publish them, then the whole process often feels like just time wasted.  So I was all ready to write a blog entry (diatribe/rant, really) on the frustrations of being a writer and the breakdown of the writing process and how too much of it is out of your control, blah, blah, blah, when I happened across this little nugget.

My story, “Faerie Knight,” which was published in the anthology Fae, ed. by Rhonda Parrish was listed on the Tangent Online 2014 Recommend Reading List!  I had no idea that it was there.  Yes, I knew that the story had been reviewed by Tangent Online (all the stories in the anthology were to the best of my recollection), but I did not know Tangent well enough to know that they did a recommended reading list every year (I know that Locus, the granddaddy of the Science Fiction/Fantasy field did one, but not that Tangent did).  Imagine my surprise when I discovered it online just a few minutes ago while taking a break from (unsuccessfully) looking for funding awards/fellowships/scholarships.

And what’s more, it looks like they assign a “star” system to rank how well a reviewer “valued” the story.  No stars, 1 star, 2 stars, and 3 stars.  Now, I’m thrilled that the story just made the list period which is what a no star rating means, I think, but guess what?  It even got a 1 star rating beside it!

I’m totally flabbergasted!  It was for something like this–where the whole process works and completes is why I wanted to start writing Science Fiction and Fantasy in the 1st place.

I dreamed up the story years ago, but didn’t have the writing skills to see it through.  After several aborted drafts, I found a good character and plot and finished it.  It was rejected several times (7 or 8), when I decided to try Rhonda Parrish’s Fae anthology on a lark.  I didn’t think she would take it as it has someone fighting the fae, but the central character technically wasn’t a faerie.  Then she did.  Then she requested quite a few edits.  As they didn’t change the overall story/tone, I enacted all of them (although I was a bit dubious on a rather severe cut of 2-3 paragraphs at the end).  And then it was published, and then there were reviews.  Now Rhonda’s moved on to other projects and so have I, but to come back 2 years later and discover that your story was good enough that someone liked your work well enough to recommend it (and give it a star, no less) makes me want to jump with joy.

I dream up a story, I take the extra step of writing it down, I take the extra step of submitting it, the editor takes the extra step of asking for edits, I take the extra step of getting the edits done, and the editor publishes it.  We both get rewarded with the satisfaction of a published product.  It gets reviewed and it sells for a period of time (hopefully positively on both accounts).  Then the editor and writer move on.  And hopefully, somewhere down the line, either the editor or author will find someone who has read their work and enjoyed it.  Maybe even enjoyed it enough to recommend to someone else.

This is how the writing process SHOULD work.

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So, in preparation for the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie releasing soon, I went back and finished watching my 6 disc set of Star Wars Blu-Rays. I’d started watching them way back at the start of school, but I’d fallen away from them. I went from 1-4 (using Lucas’ numbering scheme), but needed to finish 5-6 (The Empire Strikes Back & The Return of the Jedi) for the uninitiated. Over the past two weeks, I finished these two movies and they rekindled my love for all things Star Wars and Science Fiction and Fantasy in general.

Child of Star Wars

I saw The Empire Strikes Back (ESB) first when I was a child. Heresy, I know, but when Star Wars came out, I was only 4 years old and my parents didn’t think that I would like it. As a matter of fact, we weren’t much of a movie going family per se. That changed in the early 1980s, when my preference for all things Sci-Fi & Fantasy began to emerge. My mother and stepfather took me to see ESB and I was immediately hooked. So much so, that they took be to the bargain theater the next weekend to see SW and the X-Wing trench run had me talking about it that entire summer.

When I was a kid, my grandparents used to subscribe to an oversized magazine called Life and in it, there was an extended interview with George Lucas. It talked about his early life, his car accident that nearly cost him his life, the movie American Graffiti and his making of Star Wars. I remember devouring that article.

In one interview, not sure if it was the one I mentioned above, Lucas mentioned that he kept the subtitles in his movie because he wanted to inspire kids to read. He wanted them to be so fascinated by the visuals that they would want to learn to read the text to figure out what they were missing in the scene. Or so was the gist of what I remember from the interview. I already was reading and reading well, but what Lucas’ movies did for me was show me that there was a niche of media available to me that focused on the futuristic and the fantastical. I began to search out those avenues wherever I could find them–in the library, on TV, in games (the Atari 2600 & Commodore 64 were my console and “PC” respectively).

Lucas took, for me, what was simply a preference and turned it into a passion. I can (& will) read non-genre works, but given the choice between a contemporary work or a genre work, I’ll almost always choose the genre (Sci-Fi/Fantasy) work.

Creating Science Fiction and Fantasy

Like many creators, I want to create my own works because (except for a few exceptions) people don’t seem to be writing the kind of things that I want to read/watch anymore.

I recently tried to read a fantasy work by an author whose cover art and cover blurb looked promising. When I started it, however, the F-Bomb was littered all through it. It completely turned me off–there’s no way that a “fantasy” milieu would use a vulgarity like the F-word in the same way and context that we would in today’s society, but that’s exactly what happened in the story. It was as anachronistic as playing the song “We Will Rock You” at a joust. At least the movie A Knight’s Tale used that ironically, but the author didn’t seem to even know how anachronistic his use of the word was. Its always dangerous trying to pretend to know the mind of an author, but it was almost like he thought, “Hey, this is how my friends and I all talk to each other, so sure, its okay that my characters in my fantasy novel talk this way too.” Um, no, it’s not okay. Even in Sci-Fi, if you’re going to use vulgarities, you need to take into account how the language might have shifted over time in your universe. Just shoving a contemporary vulgarity into your story because we (as a culture) use it now is, in a word, lazy. I loved Stephen King’s Dark Tower series for a while, but the vulgarities (among other things) eventually drove me away. King thinks we Americans talk like that, but in reality, we don’t (or at least we don’t in contexts that King writes about). In public spaces, we tend to moderate our vulgarities. It is only in small groups or online where anonymity reigns do most of us seem to cut loose.

Another area that I’ve talked about is the rise of the “Anti-Hero” in Fantasy. I stopped reading much of the Sci-Fi written in the 90’s because there was an “anti-Star Wars” reaction where everything had to be dark and gritty. The same movement is happening in Fantasy at the moment (the rise of Game of Thrones is evidence of this phenomenon). I’m beginning to read more Science Fiction now because it is more in-line with my own tastes due to the resurgence of military Sci-Fi at the moment.

I’m hopeful that the Force Awakens heralds a resurgence of the type of Fantasy and Sci-Fi that I personally like. Perhaps then, my stories will be able to find an audience and I’ll be able to read/watch more of the media in the genre that I love. I suppose only time will tell.

Author’s Note: Here Be Monsters

conquistadores

I finished a new short story!  It is entitled “Here Be Monsters.”  I tried several new things with this story, so I wanted to do an in-depth Author’s Note about the story to detail some of the things that I tried.

AUTHOR’S NOTE – HERE BE MONSTERS

Title

“Here Be Monsters” is the title of the story that I said that I was working on under the name “Project Monster.”  I’ve always had HBM in mind as the title of the story, but I used Project Monster as a code-name in case I decided to call it something else during the creation of the story (I rarely change titles once I decide on one, but it has happened.)  My concern that the title, when paired with the epigraph, may make the story’s theme too on the nose, but I like the way it works with the theme, so I’d rather not change it if I can avoid it.

Theme

This is the first story that I’ve called out what I think the theme is based on an epigraph (quotation of a famous person at the beginning of the story).  I’ve only used an epigraph once before–an article that I wrote on rough drafting–but I like the fact that Brandon Sanderson uses made-up epigraphs in his Stormlight Archive books.  Every story that I can find a suitable epigraph for it will probably have a epigraph from now on out.  I will definitely create a theme for every new story in the Rough Draft phase–I really like the way I create when I know the theme ahead of time.

Length

So, this story isn’t the shortest that I’ve done, but it is the shortest that I’ve done recently.  This story clocks in at approximately 4,100 words.  HawkeMoon was 5,600 words by comparison.  Considering that quite a few markets have a 5,000 word cap, this story would be able to be submitted, while HawkeMoon wouldn’t.  It has a beginning, middle, and end, and that is the way I created it.  I didn’t try to do a 5 scene structure and I think the story works better for it.

Time to Create

So, this took as long to create as other stories–but that was because I was sick for most of the month.  I finished the 1st scene right after Labor Day and then didn’t come back to it for nearly 3 weeks.  I finished it in the last week of Sept., and 1st week of Oct.  I think that I would have finished it in about 2-3 weeks.

Research

Conquistadores

So I’ve mentioned it before, but this book is one that I’ve been reading that directly influenced this story.  I minored in History, but I don’t think that I’ve really used my history degree.  I have quite a few books on history, but this is the shortest one that I own, so I thought I’d try to give it a read to cut down on the stress of teaching.  I really liked the book and the series and I’m looking to buy more on Amazon.  I have a book on Florentine history (much longer) and a book on Scandinavian history, so I can definitely try to mine those for ideas, but this was a revelation.  Instead of trying to create everything from scratch and ending up with a generic pseudo-european mishmash fantasy, I was able to give specific names to armor and weapons, the setting was influenced by real life and I was able to really get into the characters and their emotions.

Characters

So, I limited myself to 3 characters–the protagonist and his 2 companions.  I tried to keep the enemies fantastical, but keep the characters grounded in reality.  As I mentioned above, I wanted to really go deep into my characters and emotions.  I think these characters are as complex as the ones I wrote for Dragonhawk.  The characters have an arc and they seem to react appropriately based on their natures.  What I didn’t want to do was be disrespectful.  The culture is not my own, so I wanted to portray the conflict in an “everyman” kind of way, so as not to be disrespectful to another culture.

UP NEXT

I liked writing this way so much that I plan to revise a story (Rocket-Man) and put it in this 3 scene structure and give it a theme (already looking for an appropriate epigraph).   Once finished, I’ll start submitting it again.  Then I’ll start on a new project (probably a Weird West project that has been percolating since I started Here Be Monsters).

CORVIDAE Cover Reveal

So, some of you may remember that my story, Faerie Knight, was published in Fae, edited by Rhonda Parrish last year.  Well, she has a new anthology that will be released soon entitled CORVIDAE.  While I don’t have a story in the anthology, Corvidae is the genesis and inspiration behind my own recently completed story HawkeMoon, so what better way to show my appreciation to Rhonda than to showcase this awesome new project.

Here is the cover reveal and more information about the anthology:

CORVIDAE
Anthology edited by Rhonda Parrish
Rhonda Parrish’s Magical Menageries, Volume Two

CORVIDAE Cover
CORVIDAE

Associated with life and death, disease and luck, corvids have long captured mankind’s attention, showing up in mythology as the companions or manifestations of deities, and starring in stories from Aesop to Poe and beyond.

In Corvidae birds are born of blood and pain, trickster ravens live up to their names, magpies take human form, blue jays battle evil forces, and choughs become prisoners of war. These stories will take you to the Great War, research facilities, frozen mountaintops, steam-powered worlds, remote forest homes, and deep into fairy tales. One thing is for certain, after reading this anthology, you’ll never look the same way at the corvid outside your window.

Featuring works by Jane Yolen, Mike Allen, C.S.E. Cooney, M.L.D. Curelas, Tim Deal, Megan Engelhardt, Megan Fennell, Adria Laycraft, Kat Otis, Michael S. Pack, Sara Puls, Michael M. Rader, Mark Rapacz, Angela Slatter, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, and Leslie Van Zwol.

Corvidae
Edited by Rhonda Parrish
Release Date: July 7, 2015
Genre: Fantasy and Horror
Length: Anthology, approx. 230 pages
Tradepaperback: $11.95; ebook $5.99
ISBN-13 (trade paperback): 978-0692430217
ISBN-10 (trade paperback): 0692430210

You can find out more information about Corvidae from the publisher World Weaver Press or on (my personal favorite book related site) Goodreads.

And hey, if you like the book and the stories inside, consider contributing a review on Amazon or Goodreads.  As authors, we all like to see a little recognition/appreciation for our hard work!  😀