Columns and Editorials

Column: The Superior Beast? A Look at the Human Species

All my life I?ve heard statements like that?s what separates us from the dumb animals used as a means of rationalizing reality. I took every one of those statements in, repeated them, and considered them gems of philosophy for years. Then, one afternoon I went running with my son, and I started thinking. Then I started talking. I knew from the looks he gave me that it would be a while before he caught up to my logic. I might as well have been a talking aardvark trotting along beside him, but it didn?t matter. My mind was on a roll.

Let?s look at our so-called superiority. Let?s start with the fact that I was running. I was running to try and get my aging, flabby body back into some sort of fighting trim. I was also after some weight loss, having let a sedentary lifestyle and too much ice-cream overwhelm my waist line. Compare this to one of those dumb animals.

Humans are the only creatures that have to force themselves to exercise and remain fit. It is true that there are fat cats, dogs, and even ponies, but where did they pick that up? It happened after we took them in and subverted them. They don?t exercise, and they don?t diet, they take things like fitness, strength, agility and speed as a given. In other words, chalk one up for the dumb animals.

I won?t pretend that animals don?t share some of our worst traits. They will fight, maim, and kill one another at the drop of a hat. They have one advantage in that arena, though. For the most part, they fight when there is a reason, and they quit fighting when the conflict is resolved. They don?t run conspiracies behind one another?s backs. They don?t slip around and cheat on one another. The bigger, stronger, faster and smarter among them lead, and generally they...

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The speed with which our world changes is dizzying, disorienting, and downright eerie at times. What got me thinking about it was a recent essay by fellow author Wayne Allen Sallee over at www.storytellersunplugged.com . Wayne hasn't flown into the computer age on the same flight as the rest of us, and his connections to things past are stronger. His memories are pretty clear, too, but I found that I had to sift back through a lot of modern day detritus to find these particular roots in my own tangled past.

When I determined, long ago, that I was going to get serious and actually start writing, I bought a portable, manual typewriter. It was what I could afford (I am guessing this was around 1982 or 1983. I was stationed in Spain with the US Navy Communications Station, and there weren't a lot of options available. One guy I worked with had an "Adam," which was a very early personal computer system that you plugged into your television. The printer was a piece of crap, the text it spit out came more slowly than I can type, and was so light you could hardly read it.

I wrote all my first drafts by hand. A lot of folks seemed, in the day, to be sold on legal pads, but I wrote in spiral bound notebooks with a nineteen cent Bic pen. For some reason the way these felt rolling across a page was right for me. I wrote a lot of pages with Skilcraft, government issue pens, also, but the pocket clip on these tended to pinch and cut my fingers, eventually, and they were (are) horribly unreliable. Bic was my answer to Mont Blanc.

The reason that I wrote my first drafts by hand was simple. In the early days of my writing career, I was not big on editing. I hated to rewrite, and...

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A recent review of my upcoming novel, The Mote in Andrea's Eye, in Publisher's Weekly has driven home a point that is worth dwelling on, I think. There are a lot of factors in the creation, artistic makeup, marketing and publication of a book that contribute significantly to that book's success.

If you are deficient in any single area, you may, or may not be able to compensate for it, so it's a good idea to be on top of as many aspects of the process as you can, and to listen to good advice. In the case of the aforementioned novel, for instance, I waited until the last second to check on the cover art. I learned (apparently) nothing from my first experience with Gale / Five Star and cover art.

When my novel Deep Blue, which is the story of a young (late 20s) guitarist with long hair who paints his face white like a harlequin before performing and his group, consisting of a short, spike-haired singer / bass player named Synthia, an OCD drummer named Dex, and a lead guitarist named Shaver went to print, it bore a rather remarkable cover, all things considered. It appears to me to be a picture of Neil Diamond, about age 38 or 40, playing a lavender acoustic guitar while Ray Charles plays harmonica in the background. Neil's face is floating away to the left (his left) and morphing into Jethro from the Beverly Hillbillies. Needless to say, this did nothing for sales. They did fix the cover on the trade paperback, still not totally appropriate, but MUCH better, but by then the damage was done, as there was no further marketing done (that I can see) for the Trade Paperback.and it also fizzled. Had I involved myself in the cover process earlier, I might have averted this and who knows what a difference it could have made? The reviews on that book...

Column: PSEUDOCON?How it Changed My Life, and Why

Most of you won't know what PSEUDOCON was. In fact, not that many people, in the grand scheme of things, ever heard about it?except in passing mentions from the chosen few. I'm here to let the cat out of the bag, so to speak. It was a nearly magical experience for me for several years running, and one that is worth chronicling for the ages.

PSEUDOCON was the work of mastermind and very talented author Elizabeth Massie. I learned of it at another important event in my writing history, NECON, and was lucky enough to be invited into the small "cabal" of initiates. At the time, we were all up-and-comers at various levels, some more successful than others, some with success still in the future, others I haven't seen or heard from in ages . . . all of whom have a special place in my memory. Here's a short list of those involved . . . I'm sure I'll miss some people because, frankly, I didn't know all of them that well at the time . . . that came later.

Elizabeth Massie her sister Barb and Barb's husband Charlie were deeply involved. Between their two farms we distributed sleeping, eating, and activities, dancing our way past horses and cats. Attendees over the few years that I was able to attend (I was a latecomer to the game) were Stephen Mark Rainey, Brian Hodge and Doli, the love of his life, Wayne Allen Sallee, Yvonne Navarro, Jeff Osier, Jeff Johnston, Charles "Steve" Hill, The "not-quite right" Reverend Lee, Andrew Lynch, and then the aforementioned group I said I was sure I'd forget. I know there were others. The core crew is what mattered the most to me.

We decided long ago that among the attributes of the next round of famous horror writers would be a bald head. This decision came about after careful contemplation of myself,...

Column: Everything in Good Time

Over the past year, I've taken some time to muse, study, and read on the subject of characters in historical fiction. I've retained some of what passed through my brain, and I'm going to pass it on . . . it's a thing I do. This column is dedicated, then, to characterization, voice, period research, and realism.

Most of us have run across in a story or novel a character in one of the two that just didn't work. Why? The voice was wrong. They said something they would never say, or did something they would never do. They knew things that weren't invented yet, or used a figure of speech common to a different time period. One of my pet peeves is horror authors who try to write in elaborate, overblown Victorian speech patterns. In almost every case, someone who didn't live in those times will fall short of sounding correct, and will probably sound pompous, or flat silly. The reason is simple. You can't read Poe and Lovecraft and then, from vague memories of how they used words and language, transfer this to your own characters. It isn't that simple. Writing about characters you might meet today, or tomorrow, is one talent—writing about characters long dead is a different form altogether.

I've been writing a novel for Amazon.com's "shorts" program, serialized in many parts, titled "The Orffyreus Wheel." In this novel, half of the action takes place in modern times, and half in the time of Johann Bessler, which is Germany in the 1700s. I've read what is available in excerpts from Bessler's journals, and some accounts of his life, but to get a real feel for the language of the time, I've had to try other sources. This is where the research (and in particular the Internet) come in handy. If you put in the right search terms, you can find...

Column: Writing and Reading Serial Characters

Since my earliest days as a reader I've been enamored of books that form a series. I collected the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift, then later moved on to fantasy trilogies, The Destroyer and The Executioner, and have now "graduated" to detectives, forensic experts, and the occasional bounty hunter. Because of my commute, I listen to audio books voraciously, and if you find a decent series coupled with a good narrator, this is a uniquely pleasant form of entertainment?like having a long, very extended episode of a favorite television show trapped in your car with you. I have started by stating all of this because I want to establish that I am familiar with the ground I'm about to cover?the art of writing about continuing characters.

Stephen King has taken this art to a new level, finding ways to intertwine seemingly unrelated works with one another, dragging characters from his own literary past, answering questions left hanging in other stories and novels and weaving it all into a huge, wonderful tapestry. He's damned good at it, but it isn't a task for the faint of heart, or the fuzzy of memory. In fact, part of King's success in this realm is probably attributable to the fact he has someone helping catalogue, map correspondences, and track inconsistencies. It's a daunting task.

King's form of serialization isn't what I want to talk about, though. I'm interested in discussing the serial character. Kay Scarpetta, Spencer, Anita Blake, the 37th Precinct, Lucas Davenport, Dave Robicheaux, the list is endless. Each book finds our hero or heroine battling the forces of evil, or crime, or terrorists. We are presented with familiar faces, names, character traits, and side plots. The familiarity is a good thing, in most cases. It...

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With the end of a year approaching, and a new one about to get underway, I always like to recap how things have gone, and where they're going. I guess that will work here as well as anywhere, so the focus of this column will be 2004 (heavy on things that related to myself) and 2005?high hopes and a lot of words bursting forth.

2004 was the first full year of life for my daughter, Katie.

2004 saw the woman I love hospitalized with heart trouble brought on by childbirth, and fighting her way back to stand with me and raise that gorgeous little girl.

2004 saw the publication of the first stand-alone novel I've had come out since This Is My Blood, which was published in 1999 I have ten published novels, and only two of them are all mine. Now This Is My Blood has been re-issued in a gorgeous new format from PRIME BOOKS as The Temptation of Blood, and Deep Blue is doing well. You'll see more about that in the 2005 section of this column.

2004 brought several exciting sales, but it also brought some disappointments. The extreme limited edition of Deep Blue was to come out from Wild Roses Productions in 2004, and has failed to surface. Along with that failure, the same publisher has not put out the anthology Family Plots, which has a story by me, and another by Trish. Cockroach Suckers, which started out with high hopes and actually drew in some real quality fiction also fell by the wayside. There are a number of other projects that are taking their sweet time in seeing the light of day, like Verte Brum, and Dark Arts, but I've been paid for those?and that makes all the difference in my book.

During the year I wrote five short stories that will appear in the collection Lost and Found. This collection is significant because all...

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I wanted to take some of my space to comment on a phenomenon that has grown from small roots, back in the 1970s or so, I'd say, into a frighteningly prevalent trend. Simply put, why has America become obsessed with remaking things that were fine in their original form? Worse yet, the newest trends seem to lean toward remaking things in forms that don't even match well enough with the original to actually be considered remakes. I think the TV advertisements for the new Kojak series put me over the edge, but it probably happened a long time before that. Okay, Kojak didn't do much for me the first time around, but here's the thing. It was about a bald white detective. The Wild, Wild West, which I grew up with, was definitely NOT about an African American western hero and his inventor sidekick. Blade the Vampire hunter would NOT have pretended on screen that he didn't believe in Dracula, because the original Blade was on a quest to kill the vampire who bit his parents. That vampire was Dracula.

My good buddy and esteemed literary contemporary Stephen Mark Rainey, late of Deathrealm Magazine fame, and prior to that known for his small publication "Japanese Giants," brought it all together for me when he came to visit one time and we watched the new Godzilla movie (not new now, but it was then) together. His comment was that it was a good movie, but that they shouldn't have called it Godzilla, because it was not. They should have called it Big Damned Lizard, because that giant iguana in no way resembled Godzilla, and the spirit of the story in no way resembled the Godzilla stories.

So here's my question. When you decide to remake something, where does this urge come from to use the title and then make...

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Apology / disclaimer: I usually don't write this column about projects I'm directly involved with?but this time I can't resist. Keep in mind that part of the point here is, it could happen to you!

Once upon a time, long, long ago I was sitting at my computer, minding my own business, when an e-mail popped into my Inbox. It was from my friend and sometimes collaborator, Rain Graves. The gist of it was this: A woman in San Francisco named Rosanna Jeran had put a want ad in a local Goth-oriented newspaper (or maybe it was on a web site, I never saw the original ad). Rain passed on the information because it looked like something I'd be interested in.

The ad stated that Ms. Jeran was an independent film producer / director, and that she was searching for a writer to bring her outline of a screenplay to life. The requirements included, among a lot of other things, a working knowledge of alchemy. As you might have guessed, this piqued my interest.

So I responded to the e-mail address with a list of my credits at the time, a list of the occult works I was familiar with, and a sincere desire to "get on board." Of course, at the time, I didn't know Rosanna. I didn't know anything about her films, or the story she wanted to film. That was how it began.

Somehow, out of hundreds of responses she received to her advertisement from authors and creative folks in all walks of life, I was chosen. She sent me the outline of the screenplay, and, in the form I first saw it, I would call it a fascinating mess. It was a jumble of symbols, beautiful poetry, and images. It was tied together in pieces by what she called (and still calls) vignettes?which are surreal, image-driven segments with poetic voice-overs that draw you from scene...

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