A Book to Inspire a Book

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”



In my younger days I used to make semi-regular visits to thrift shops.  Some of those visits were necessitated by the demands of raising children; there are some things that a regular working family just can’t afford new.  But one of the things that I checked regularly was the book section.  People seem to have a way of suddenly deciding that they need to clear off a bookshelf.  Maybe it’s spring cleaning, maybe someone dies, but whatever the reason, boxes of books show up at thrift stores every day, and I’ve gotten some sweet deals by keeping my eyes open.  Take this beauty to the left:  First edition, published by Smith, Elder, & Co., 15 Waterloo Place, London in 1907.  First edition, naturally.  Set me back a whole dime at a little independent thrift store that had formerly been a mom & pop grocery.  I chose it to photograph because it was in arm’s reach of my desk.  And why is that?  Well, if those familiar with former aero-officer Clinton Monroe of Beyond the Rails fame could read this book, they’d recognize a great deal of his training, attitudes, and tactical expertise in these pages.  Ten cents.  Thrift store.  Books are magic.

But every book is a mystery before you open it, and that’s especially true of old books.  And not just the content.  Every individual used book has a history.  Maybe there is a cryptic inscription or notes in the margins written by a previous owner.  Perhaps it is stained with tears, or, is that blood?  What if you found a heavy, leather-bound tome on a thrift shop shelf?  What would it contain?

Now it gets interesting, yes?  If you are a writer of fiction, any style, any genre, this is your lucky day.  As a gift to you, I’m going to apply a defibrillator to your creative synapses, and you may feel free to take whatever results and run with it.

You hold that book, gravid with age and history, in your hands.  With a sense of awe and reverence, you open it.  What do you find?

A vanishingly rare first edition of a famous novel?
A book of poetry that seems to carry a much deeper meaning than it first appears?
A scientist’s notes for an invention the likes of which has never been seen?
A map to a ruin lost to history for a thousand years?
A formerly unknown tale penned by a famous author?
A diary containing the deepest secrets of an infamous villain?
The working sketchbook of a great artist?

Or is it something much more wonderful than the few possibilities I’ve listed here?  You see, writer, what little it takes to jump-start your creativity?  Case in point:  I reported Thursday on my birthday loot, including William F. Nolan’s book, How to Write Horror Fiction.  The book may be out of print, but for whatever reason, my daughter ordered a used copy.  Tucked between the pages when it arrived was a boarding pass for American Airlines Flight 9100 departing from Dallas/Fort Worth on July 9th, 2005, and a receipt from the Terminal C, Gate 22 snack bar.  Well, writers, is there a story there?


Now, go forth and conquer!

In Other News . . .

Last week I said I was going to start acting like a “professional” author, whatever the heck that means.  I said that every morning was going to be filled with writing projects from whenever I got up, sometimes as early as 6:00 AM, until noon, and that something tangible would be produced, be it manuscript pages, outline sections, character descriptions, something.  It is now one week later, and what I have learned, or rather had imposed on that grand vision, is that I’m not that guy.  I don’t get the unmitigated pleasure out of The Craft that professional authors apparently do.  There are just too many other activities that I enjoy as much as, or (horrors!) more than writing, that I very quickly began to feel that writing was a form of self-inflicted punishment designed to keep me from enjoying the other things I love to do.

Does that mean I’m going to stop writing?  Far from it!  It means that I need to find the balance.  I schedule things I need to do, housework, gardening, and such through notes on the calendar, and I’m now going to attempt to put Writing, as in a day devoted to The Craft, into the cycle, and devote several hours if not the whole day to the process.  I’ll have to see how that goes.  Does this mean that I view writing as a chore similar to weeding out the flower beds?  I think perhaps it does, but a chore in the sense of one that is fulfilling in the doing of it; some people like gardening and the sense of completion that a well-tended patch gives them.  I feel the same about writing, and I will figure this out.  This may not be the solution, but I think I’m getting close to it.

Other Voices . . .

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been crossing Facebook paths with a most interesting fellow named Bonsart Bokel who produces an in-character steampunk podcast.  In celebration of Halloween month, he’s inaugurating a new feature thereon called S.C.P., Secure, Contain, and Protect.  I’m not going to try to tell you what you should think of it, but if you’re a fan of the “horrors among us” genre, you should definitely take a look.

If you aren’t busy next weekend, MileHiCon makes its 50th Anniversary appearance in Denver, and they have invited all of their living previous guests of honor.


Here is your chance to see such luminaries as Mario Acevedo, Paolo Bacigalupi, Steven Brust, Liz Danforth, Chaz Kemp, Jane Lindskold, James Van Pelt, Robert E. Vardeman, Carrie Vaughn, Connie Willis, and David Lee Summers gathered in a single venue.  The convention will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel – Tech Center in Denver on October 19, 20, and 21. You can get all the details at MileHiCon.org. Who Else Books, Massoglia Books, and Wolfsinger Publishing are all scheduled to be in the dealer’s room.  Not to be missed if you’re in town.

Last week Phoebe Darqueling looked at the Snow White story that Disney used for their feature film.  This week she compares the Grimm Brothers version with the Disney, noting that the Grimms added some material to pad it out, thus making it the only tale that they actually wrote themselves (they were dedicated collectors).  This is a fascinating read for literary historians and writers who want to see how stories develop over their lifespans.

The MovieBabble site specializes in film reviews.  Several reviewers post multiple times a day there. As I write this, the movie at the top of the page is Apostle, though it will almost certainly have been superseded by a new review within the hour.  Virtually all of their reviews are both fully informative and spoiler-free, which says a lot about the skill of their writers.  They also delve into the concepts and philosophy of film making, and is very much worth regular visits for anyone into the contemporary film scene.

The Writers Helping Writers site is a go-to compendium of useful (by which I mean vital) information for authors.  The several members hereof get into the grit and detail that isn’t often covered in the Big Successful Writer Telling You How To Do It books.  They offer free knowledge on their page, and some of the best comes from their Occupational Thesaurus.  They cover every aspect of a profession from knowledge needed and people they have to work with to sources of friction and ways to twist the stereotype.  Their latest entry looks at the General Contractor.  In the past, they have looked at jobs from Parole Officer to Exotic Dancer.  Every serious author should have this bookmarked and on their feed so they see every new entry.  I can’t do it justice in this little blurb; just go and see it for yourself!

Sci-fi fans need to pay a similar level of attention to The Firewater Site.  Here the owner takes in-depth looks at science-fiction movies and television productions.  He’s currently in the midst of an episode-by-episode review of the original Star Trek, including a timeline of real-world events to put each episode in context, and still finds plenty of time to bring in variety, such as yesterday’s post about Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.  If sci-fi in films and television is close to your heart, consider following this site.  I just discovered it recently, and you can take it from me, it’s quite a ride!

Finally, Richard of Cool San Diego Sights usually posts a portfolio of spectacular photographs of some themed aspect of our beautiful city, but this time he’s outdone himself.  He has discovered an interactive crime scene attraction in downtown San Diego called Solve Who! that immerses the visitor in the life of a detective investigating a murder.  He has provided a thorough writeup and a number of pictures on his website, so Law & Order fans who find themselves in the San Diego area and would like to spend an hour in the shoes of their favorite detective would do well to include this on their itinerary.

And that’s 30 for this week.  I’ve already found some intriguing new titles for my Thursday book roundup, so join me then to work on your TBR lists.  Until then, read well, and write better!

Discipline vs. Creativity

I’m not a big believer in disciplined writers.  What does discipline mean?  The writer who forces himself to sit down and write for seven hours every day might be wasting those seven hours if he’s not in the mood and doesn’t feel the juice.  I don’t think discipline equals creativity.”


Regular readers have seen this quote before, usually right after someone tells me that “real” writers write a certain number of words or pages every day.  But now I have a different reason.  There is, glittering in the haze off on the far horizon, the distant possibility of a book deal for which I would be tasked, legally, by contract, to produce a series of novellas.  On the one hand, I have approached agents and publishers more times than I’d care to admit in the distant past, and have nothing to show for that period of my life but enough rejection slips to wallpaper a small bedroom.  The takeaway from that is that this is  not going to happen.  On the other hand, the editor there read my submission sample and asked to see the whole work.  That’s never happened before, and makes me think that maybe this will go forward.  If it does, that will bring me nose-to-nose with something I’ve never had to deal with before:  Deadlines.

We all face challenges every day, large and small, and an emotional disturbance can have a devastating effect on other aspects of our lives.  High on that list is creativity.  A couple of weeks ago, I had to renew my driver’s license.  Here in California, applicants age 70 and up, which is what I will become on my birthday, have to take written and vision tests, and an actual behind-the-wheel proficiency test if they’ve had tickets (not me!).  I didn’t know how I would do on the vision test (I passed fine), and fretting over that one tiny thing stifled my creativity for a good two weeks.  And that’s just one thing.  Now my concern is what happens if I get locked into a deadline, and the juice just isn’t there?  What if I want to write something else?  What if something I haven’t thought of rises up to interfere?

Of course, as always, I’m probably worrying over nothing.  The most likely outcomes, in order, are 1) I won’t be offered a contract, and 2) if I am, it won’t be anything like I’m imagining.  None of that prevents worry over this from interfering with my creativity now.  Catch-22 at work.

And there’s one more issue.  The story I offered to this horror publisher is Possession of Blood, a story some of you may have read while it was publicly available on this site.  It was a tale of “thin spots” between dimensions causing “monsters” of various description to leak into our world, and a team of people who deal with them as their profession.  It was set in the 1920s, and was dead-serious in tone.  Since writing that story, I had refined the concept into a modern-day interdimensional leakage and gave it a strong comedic tone.  That’s the story I want to write, but I had Possession finished when the call for submissions came in, so that’s what I sent.  Just as well, as they didn’t ask for comedy in the submission guide, but I’m going to miss the updated version.

Before I continue, a word to my overenthusiastic friends on the commercial side of the house:  If you want to advertise on this blog, contact me, and we’ll talk about compensation.  All you will accomplish by dropping an ad in my comment section is to get yourself marked as a spammer, which will automatically block anything you try to post here in the future.

And with that cleared up, let’s move on . . .

Other Voices . . .

The Midnight Ember is a literary blog by Natalie Swift, who states in her bio that she prides herself on her ability to blur the lines between poetry and prose, intensity and elegance, and describes her work with the enigmatic descriptor, “never lying, nothing true.”  Here in the age of instant publishing, many writers talk about their “special skills” without ever once demonstrating any.  Not the case with Ms. Swift.  To see a practical demonstration of those proclaimed skills, you need look no further than I Was Here.

C.W. Hawes returns with his ongoing feature, Good Books You Probably Never Heard Of with Ernestine Marsh’s AgonisingWritten as a series of dueling advice columns between two fictional Dear Abbys, C.W. goes so far as to suggest that this work channels Voltaire. so fans of the thinly-veiled social commentary should check this out forthwith.

Tara Sparling is an award-winning Irish satirist who I’ve enjoyed reading since I first encountered her a couple of years back.  She focuses on various aspects of writing, which is what makes her especially attractive to me, and in this week’s post she goes into depth on what makes a book or film especially engaging, why it joins the ranks of those rare productions that achieve the coveted “I couldn’t put it down” status.  Most times she’s very tongue-in-cheek, seeking to entertain rather than educate, but I believe she’s really hit on something profound this time.  Definitely worth a look, and especially of you’re a writer of fiction.

Long-time friend Karen Finch blogs about her ongoing war with Rheumatoid Arthritis at The Original Dragon Mother, a blog that started life about her ongoing war with her contrary young adult sons.  She is a member of an RA organization of bloggers, and for her last post was given the word “Mindfulness” to blog about as it relates to the disease.  Her initial take was “No damned pack of new-age hippies is going to replace my pain meds with some glorified form of navel-gazing!”  Her journey to a different understanding is an incredible read worthy of the finest fictional works of self-discovery . . . and every word is true!

A name you see frequently around here is Richard Schulte, whose blog Cool San Diego Sights I promote often.  Richard is a gifted photographer who works on one of the most photogenic canvasses an artist can have, but his first love is of writing, and he has announced that he will be shifting a lot of his focus to that going forward.  He specializes in the short-short story, waxing profound in a couple of hundred words, a rare gift that he possesses in abundance.  His stories are little slices of life, vignettes about a ride on the bus or a sandwich at a diner, that say so much more below the surface.  He deserves a wide readership, and I plan to promote his work heavily, so if you enjoy that sort of story, rejoice, and prepare for some brilliant wordsmithing.  This is not just a buddy-act, he can really write.  Just wait and see!

And finally, my home town of San Diego, CA will once again be celebrating my birthday in fine style by hosting the most excellent Gaslight Steampunk Expo!  This year’s guests include James P. Blaylock, a pioneer author from the beginning of the genre, builders Scott Brodeen and John Harrington, and cosplayers to the rafters.  Be alert, and you may even spot the famous Poppy Appleton and her tall other half, Cog Bane.  There will be tea dueling, teapot racing, and the full slate of workshops and demos, presentations and panels, vendors, and all the other bits of flavor and atmosphere that have made this one of the premiere steampunk events across the nation.  The Town & Country Hotel is a class venue with ample parking, so if you’re a steampunk, and you’ll be in the area next weekend, this is a must-attend event!


And that’s 30 for this issue.  Be safe, have fun, and if you figure out how to combine those two activities, I want to hear about it.  Have a great week!

Naked in Public

Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.”


Now that I have your attention, let’s talk public nudity. How much are you comfortable with? Do you offer just a quick flash like the opening of a raincoat, or do you like to streak through a public gathering? Do you keep yourself wrapped head to toe like a Victorian bride, or is it your style to go skinny-dipping in the city fountain? And what’s all this talk about nudity on a site for writers and their fans, anyway?

It’s funny you should ask. What I’m referring to here, of course, is psychological nudity. As a writer, everything that goes on the page comes out of your head. Your experiences inform your prose. My service aboard a wooden minesweeper, and the experience of cruising the Orient from Japan to Viet Nam and the Philippines on the deck of a tanker did a great deal to inform my presentation of the airship Kestrel. On the other hand, I’ve never been to any part of Africa, and everything you read in Beyond the Rails was a product of watching National Geographic nature shows and months of on-line research. If the reviews are any indication, readers think I did pretty well with it, but that isn’t the point.

If flying an airship and keeping up maintenance on a wooden hull came out of my head, then so did the dark scenes of villains performing despicable acts with their dire machines designed for no other purpose than the infliction of pain and suffering, and that is the subject I’m here to discuss today. As a writer, you are absolutely unable to put anything on the page that you are not aware of. That’s a simple fact, and is utterly unavoidable. As a reader, when you read one of your favorite authors writing about a cannibalistic serial killer, a manipulator of those at his or her mercy, or a terrorist preparing to murder a building full of people, your conscious mind may be thinking that you’re reading a superb story by a gifted writer, but your subconscious is wondering how the hell a seemingly quiet and gentle bookworm who has kids and probably a 9-to-5 job even knows about this stuff.

That is how being a writer renders you naked. Readers will always wonder, consciously or not, what the hell was done to you as a child, what your home life must be like, what kind of medieval boss you must have to draw such savagery out of your mind. You’re naked before your readers, and in the absence of hard information, they will speculate and try to fill in the blanks. As a writer, you must be prepared to accept the consequences, which as anyone who has spent time on this-here interweb thingie knows, can be pretty brutal, and run the range from hate mail to smear campaigns to death threats.

The same holds true for reviews. If your only interest is in being told what a wonderful author you are, you may want to stick to sharing your work with friends and family. Once you post a book on Amazon or some similar site, you have to take the good with the bad, and there will be bad; not everyone, after all, is going to find your style to mesh with their expectations. And even before the internet, reviews could be pretty brutal. Nowadays, with every Tom, Dick, and Harry able to post an opinion with a few mouse clicks, you can find yourself labeled a gutless hack, a blight on the face of society, or a writer who glorifies violence to no good purpose. You must be prepared to accept the existence of these statements and walk away without comment; the worst thing you can do is get down in the pit and mud-wrestle with these people. They thrive on the attention. You cannot outlast them, and they will dirty your reputation if you insist on engaging with them.

So, this, too, is what being a writer means. If you’re just starting out, and all you’re thinking about is book signings and late-night talk shows, don’t embark on the journey without considering the fact that in the wake of your publication, you will stand stripped bare, the core of your psyche and id exposed to the world, and you cannot control what they think. I don’t in any way recommend that you give up your dream, only that forewarned is forearmed. Be aware that there are some pretty nasty people lurking on the web, vile, feckless people whose only “contribution,” if you could call it that, is to stomp on someone’s dream. Know that they’re out there, be mentally prepared to shrug them off, and let your imagination take you on the journey of a lifetime. Just remember that the trolls are writing in public, too, and what they write exposes them as surely as your prose does you!

Other Voices . . .

Not Just a Mum is a delightful blog consisting of observations on family life by a woman who has one, kids, cats, and husband. Fun reading that really raises a point when the laughter stops and you realize that she’s talking about you!

I’ve gone about as long as I can without mentioning the crew at Nerd Lunch. The familiar gang of Carlin Trammel, Paxton Holley, and the Man Called Jeeg will tear up your funny bone with their zany and all-too-real observations on their weekly pop-culture podcast. This week they rifle through the 50¢ bin at their local comic book store to create some new old superhero teams.

Lucid Being is a blog that defies description. It has a new-age, post-apocalyptic, turning points in history feel that would be a gold mine for a dystopian writer to mine – or a reader interested in getting off the well-worn path for a bit to settle back and enjoy.

J.A. Allen writes Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins, a blog that is mostly for writers about writing, but boy, does she have a sharp barb to her political harpoon! When something gets her going, she can really expound on the subject with great clarity. If you’re into well-reasoned political commentary, her last post is a doozy!

Eva Newermann is a Norwegian author of creepy sci-fi adventures, a paint artist, and a drone operator who regularly posts incredible photography of the rugged Norwegian landscape. She sometimes, as in her latest post, paints scenes from her books. Drop by and get acquainted. She has a way of commanding your attention.

Inmate Blogger is not a site for the faint of heart. I’m still not sure exactly how it works, but if you subscribe, as I have done, then each morning you will receive in your mail box about a dozen, give or take, blog posts written by prison inmates. I presume said inmates have earned the right to blog through good behavior or some mechanism, but their voices cover a wide range of tones. Some, as you might expect, are protestations of innocence, tales of being run over by the wheels of miscarried justice. I can’t comment on these. I don’t know the particulars of each case, and I do know that innocent people get convicted, but they make compelling reading. Most of the inmates are men, but there is a smattering of women among them. They write poetry, political treatises, book and movie reviews, poignant stories of the people they miss. One of them is writing a book a chapter at a time, and it isn’t bad. These are subjects most of us write about on our daily blogs, but they come with a perspective that most of us have never imagined. This is very much worth signing up for, if you think you can handle it.

The Art of Blogging is, as the name suggests, a blog about how to blog, and Cristian Mihai’s 18,000+ followers suggest he knows whereof he writes. He has a book available on the subject, and offers plenty of tips on the blog that you can incorporate instantly. I don’t often use the term “must read,” but if you want to up your game, this would be a good place to start.

Be sure to make a stop at The Firewater Site, where an ongoing series of in-depth reviews of Star Trek: The Original Series is underway, interspersed with a number of other interesting and often hilarious takes on various icons of popular culture. This is must-see blogging at its bet for any pop-culture fan.

Lifestyle blogger Simple Ula offers something everyone seems to need these days, tips for getting a better night’s sleep. I probably don’t need to mention that this is almost required reading if you’re of the unfortunate millions who suffer in that regard.

The blog Pointless Overthinking, which seems to mainly concern one man’s philosophy on the journey of life, asks a question of the day that, should you decide to answer it, would require some deep introspection.  He’s up to #153 today, and it occurs to me that if you were to sit down and answer them all, you’d have a pretty in-depth autobiography . . . Hmmm.

If you’ve heard about the FBI’s temporary closure of the Solar Sunspot Observatory and have been seeking more information, Kitt Peak Astronomer David Lee Summers’ blog yesterday carried the latest scuttlebutt.  A skilled story weaver and always a good read in book or blog format, you should check in and meet the scientist behind the writer.

A Dr. Who and Steampunk convention is scheduled for next weekend in Clarksville, TN. Info is available on their Facebook page or the organizers’ website, and here to grab your eye is their flyer:

ClarksvilleConThey found the compassion to include a message of comradeship with the fans displaced by Hurricane Florence. From their Facebook promotion:

Dear Geeks who have been displaced by Hurricane Florence – We know that many of you have taken refuge in Knoxville and surrounding areas like Chattanooga and Nashville, TN. So if you are here, we invite you to join us at Clarksville Dr. Who/ steampunk con 2018. Anyone displaced can show us your drivers license from North or South Carolina and get in free.

You may be far from home, but you can be right at home with us.”

It is certainly understandable if people displaced by a natural disaster have other things on their minds, but what a wonderful, inclusive community this is!

And that’s 30 for this installment. Be sure to stop by Thursday. I’m working on another bushel-basket of good reading, and you won’t want to miss it. Until then, read well and write better!