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!

Whither Originality?

We can’t constantly tell stories of heroes. We have to hear the other stories, too, about people in dire straits who make bad choices.”


I can remember a time long ago when every time I went to a movie, it was a new experience. The same with books. When you bought a book, you expected to be transported to a fantastical world like you’d never seen before. That time, sadly, is gone, and it has been for a long time. We have entered a world where innovative entertainment is shunned and disparaged, treated like a perversion that makes you weird if you like it. Publishers and studios are on epic quests to find and publish the latest example of the Last Big Thing. So, how many retellings of vampire romance are you up for? Dominant billionaires? Star Rebellions?

Movies I can understand. You can’t make a movie cheap anymore. The sad fact is that to make a solid action flick or a period piece can cost $100,000,000, and if it doesn’t return something close to twice that in sales, it could bankrupt a studio. Look at John Carter; it’s unlikely that any studio other than Disney could have absorbed that loss and survived, so I get it. That doesn’t mean I like it any better, but I get it.

Books are another matter. The traditional publishing industry bears no resemblance to what your grandfather would have recognized. Gone are copy editors, or even acquisition editors. Independent agents who earn their living from their percentage of a book’s royalties are expected to bring them print-ready manuscripts, proofed and edited, and ready to sell. I’ve heard that they expect their authors to do most of their own marketing these days as well. If all that is true, that all the work is done for them before they ever see the manuscript (and I don’t deal with them, so it’s all hearsay), what’s the source of their fear? Perhaps fear isn’t the word; perhaps it’s greed.

Whatever the case, the effect is the same. The Big Publishers are like self-proclaimed explorers turning over flagstones in the middle of town, hoping to unearth some great discovery in a place where millions of feet have already trodden. If you, as a reader, want to see something original, something that hasn’t already been done to death, you need to venture out of town, off the familiar streets, out onto the plains and into the mountains beyond. You need to get out past the edge of the map to where those authors who are beholden to no profit-based publisher, who dance to their own tune, who can’t be coerced by the threat of non-publication to change their vision to align with someone else’s ply their trade.

These explorers are independent authors. Self-published visionaries whose impresses are CreateSpace, Kindle, or Kobo. These people write stories that aren’t copies of someone else’s success, they build plots that take turns no traditional publisher would allow, and their characters are, well, characters! Of course, if you’re patient, you can stay in the middle of town; ten years from now, the Big Publishers will move into these strange lands that the indies have already moved beyond, and thump their chests while loudly claiming to have created a whole new genre. But if you’re a reader of indies, you’ll know better.

There are those who will warn you off of indies. Maybe they’ve gotten hold of a lousy self-published novel and now they’ve sworn off indies for life. So what? Who among us can say we’ve never gotten hold of a lousy book from a Big Publisher? Modern websites offer previews of almost every book they sell, and you don’t need more than a couple of paragraphs to know whether the author has the skill level you’re looking for. So there are no excuses for that assumption anymore. If you’re prejudiced against indies, fine, that’s your right, but don’t try to make it sound like it’s all the indies’ fault, because there are some damned good writers out here writing stories like you’ve never seen, with engaging characters, well-developed plots, and storylines that will leave you breathless. That’s what I’m trying to bring you in my Thursday “Edge of the Map” feature.

But don’t take my word for it. Look, the world of self-publishing is moving fast. Maybe it’s a world you haven’t been introduced to yet. If that’s the case, allow me to introduce you to William Jackson, David Lee Summers, Karen Carlisle, and C.W. Hawes . . . and even Jack Tyler. These folks have a story to tell you, more than one, in fact, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they could win you over to a point where you’d support indies for life.

I should point out that during the course of this past week, I got the first six chapters of Broken English posted in the tabs above. The pace will slow down until I’m finished, as from this point forward, the remaining seven chapters need to be transcribed by hand, but if you’re interested in seeing what I did in my first and only foray into the crime drama, dive in and see what you think.

BREAKING NEWS! The astute among you will have noticed that you can no longer access Possession of Blood.  That is because I am in talks with a small, specialty publisher who has expressed an interest in publishing that story, and any follow-ons I may be able to produce. We are in very preliminary discussions, and I’m not offering any details for obvious reasons, but should they pick it up, it would be my first book that I haven’t self-published, and would fulfill a life-long dream. Wish me luck!

Other Voices . . .

Tara Sparling, my favorite Irish satirist, looks at how Brexit can be expected to affect the books being written and read in the British Isles. Well worth a look, as is all of her material.

Jefferson Smith of Creativity Hacker announces the launch of a new YouTube series consisting of fun and unusual readings from his books. He admits that even he doesn’t know what that means right now, but knowing Jefferson, it should be entertaining.

My old friend Alice E. Keyes, who’s been away from blogging for a year, returns with an update, including news of her new posting (her husband is in the Diplomatic Corps). If you haven’t known Alice before, stop in and get acquainted.

Astronomer David Lee Summers talks about his work at Kitt Peak, and how it informs his writing, in his latest post at The Dead Planet. Fascinating stuff.

Writers Helping Writers, always a good source to reference for quality writing advice, looks at chapter hooks, and what you can learn from television shows.

Independent author C.W. Hawes has embarked on a series to spotlight excellent writers you’ve probably never heard of, and this week his attention is focused on Andy Graham’s An Angel Fallen.

Andrew Bloom of Classic Film Jerks joins the Nerd Lunch crew for another installment of Down the Rabbit Hole. They have no theme this time, but just go where Wikipedia’s links take them. This podcast is hard to describe, so just click in and join the fun; you may find yourself with a new guilty pleasure!

Author Phoebe Darqueling is on installment 4 of her series on things to see when you visit Paris. This issue is about the Botanical Gardens, and even if you never intend to visit the City of Lights, the photos accompanying this post are well worth lengthy perusal.

Michael May of Michael May’s Adventure Blog is joined by his son David on a regular feature of the blog, Dragonfly Ripple, in which they take an in-depth look at 2011’s Thor.

Karen J. Carlisle, author of steampunk, Victorian, and fantasy stories, has a Patreon account for those wishing to follow her activities. It is quite inexpensive if you’d like to take a look, and she makes videos for her followers; one was just released, and announced here with details.

Sarah Zama, an author enamored with the Roaring Twenties, offers a book review of Zen Cho’s The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo. Enjoyable reading, and an excellent chance to meet a talented writer.

There is little peripheral activity of greater value to a writer than good editing, and it is my privilege to be friends with one of the best. Join Lynda Dietz for an only partly comedic look at the admonition against using contractions in “serious” literature.

Photographer Richard Schulte also loves to write little slice-of-life short stories, and he has added another gem to his portfolio with One Lone Candle. Be sure to take five minutes to broaden your horizons with this one.

Sandy, or Doris the Great (see blog for more information), a Newfoundlander enjoying the tail-end of summer, has posted about a wonderful nature hike she took recently. There are pictures and some interesting text describing them; a nice relaxing side trip in the midst of all this heavy reading.

Novelist C.P. Leslie showcases an interview with fellow author Karen Brooks concerning Karen’s latest period piece, The Locksmith’s Daughter, an Edwardian novel of a lady spy. Looks like some good reading here.

Kyanite Publishing, LLC is seeking horror authors to join its ranks. They seek works of 15,000 words and up, and offer traditional contracts with royalties, editing, design, marketing, the works. Could be a great opportunity for the budding horrorsmiths on my reading list, and there are some other categories they support as well, so if you’re looking to get your foot in the door of traditional publishing, the link is just a few lines up. Don’t miss this opportunity!

And that’s 30 for this issue. Be with me Thursday for the latest list of promos; I’ve already found some beauties, and with four days left, who knows what might turn up? I’ll see you then. Read well, and write better!


Buy these fine books at Amazon.com.