Sunday, September 30, 2012

From Ghoulies and Ghosties, Long Leggitie Beasties . . . (Part 6)

From Ghoulies and Ghosties, Long-Leggitie Beasties . . .
(Part 6)
For the first time Halloween felt near.
(Continued tomorrow.)

And . . .
That concludes the first paragraph.  The scene has been set.  Tomorrow, the action begins.
You can find all of the story serialized to date here.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

From Ghoulies and Ghosties, Long-Leggitie Beasties . . .
(Part 5)

Looking up, he saw a bat struggle across a sky that storm and sunset working together had turned an eerie green.  

(Continued tomorrow.)

And I should mention that . . .

Normally, I don't blog on weekends.  But this story is unstoppable, one sentence per day now through Halloween.

This sentence, incidentally, is autobiographical.  I was eleven years old and standing in the sand lot, not  far from one of the three haunted houses in Winooski, when I saw that bat.  All three houses are gone now, alas, including the one with the secret room in the top floor.

You can find all of the story serialized to date here.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Ghoulies, Ghosties, and Slings and Arrows

From Ghoulies and Ghosties, Long-Leggitie Beasties . . .
(Part 4)

When the rain ended, Kenny ran out the back door of his house and through the dying woods at the edge of town, into a meadow that crunched underfoot.

(Continued tomorrow.)

And for those who came in late . . .

The mood-setting is complete and the story has a protagonist!  We're really moving now.

You can find all of the story serialized to date here.

And speaking of Canadian television shows . . .

Did I ever tell you that I used to be in theater? Oh, yes.  Back in college, I was a stagehand, and the pinnacle of my career was being backstage when Glenn Close played Sally Bowles in Cabaret

Since that time, I have heeded Tallulah Bankhead's dictum, applied to a society lady who said that she loved theater so much she wanted to be an actor, in order to give something back:  "Darling, if you want to help the theater, don't be an actor.  Be an audience."  But from the pleasant vantage point of someone who was of no importance yet of some use, I got to see what the process of putting on theater was like, how the egos clashed and meshed.  So when I say that I love Slings & Arrows, the Canadian television series about a troubled Shakespeare festival and the even more troubled director who is its very heart and soul, mine is an informed if far from expert opinion.

So why haven't you heard of it?  Well, it's a Canadian television series.  The good news for everyone involved in such a beast is that the Canadian government subsidizes creative television to the hilt.  The bad news is that nobody south of the border is willing to take a look at it.

As a fantasy writer, I spend a certain amount of my time wondering exactly what magic is.  Like all primary abstracts, its definition recedes from you more the more seriously you consider it.  But whatever it is, theater has got it, both onstage and backstage.  You have only to go the party at the end of a play's run and see people who hate each other's guts getting genuinely tearful about being separated to realize that.

I won't go into details about the show -- you can google the show if you're curious -- but I will recommend it highly.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ghoulies and Krakens

From Ghoulies and Ghosties, Long-Leggitie Beasties . . .
(Part 3)

 It was only in late October that a storm front finally swept through Winooski and brought in cooler weather.  

(Continued tomorrow.)

And for those who came in late . . .

I'm serializing this story, one sentence a day, concluding on Halloween.  After which, the framed typescript will be auctioned off on eBay to benefit the Clarion West Writers Workshop.  You can find the story to date (three sentences so far) here.

And, meanwhile, over at . . .

I have a new story available online, the third (after The Mongolian Wizard and The Fire Gown) in the adventures of Franz-Karl Ritter and Sir Toby.  

Day of the Kraken has yet another beautiful illo by Gregory Manchess.  And you can find it here.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

From Ghoulies and Ghosties, Long-Leggitie Beasties . . .
(Part 2)

The dog days of August stretched into September and beyond.  

(Continued tomorrow.)

And just so you don't have to memorize the story . . .

You can find the story to date (two sentences so far) here.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

From Ghoulies and Ghosties, Long-Leggitie Beasties...

From Ghoulies and Ghosties, Long-Leggitie Beasties . . .
(Part 1)

That year summer lasted halfway to forever.

Continued tomorrow.

And for those who came in late . . .

 This is the first sentence of  a story that I'll be serializing, one sentence at a time, every day from now to Halloween.  When it's done, the framed typescript will be auctioned off on eBay with all the proceeds to go to the  Clarion West Writers Workshop, to help train the next generation of writers.

And meanwhile, in the outside world . . .

When I was a gonnabe writer, I went to all the SF conventions I could and attended as many panels as possible, because I was looking for the Secret Handshake -- the one bit of information that would turn me into a real writer.  In this I was wise.  I never did learn the Secret Handshake, but I managed to pick up an enormous amount of information that in combination with my constant scribbling, made me good enough to be published.

Nowadays, I only rarely attend panels I'm not on.  I'm afraid that I'll learn something that will undo everything I've painstakingly achieved to date.  But if I did attend panels, I'd definitely go to this one (waning: it's 77 minutes long; you may not want to start viewing it at work).  I've heard these stories before and they're still hilarious:


Monday, September 24, 2012

A New Halloween Story -- Starting Tomorrow!


Halloween is coming, and that’s the season for creepy stories!  So I’ve written a flash Halloween story for you.  It's called From Ghoulies and Ghosties, Long-Leggetie Beasties . . .

Where can you read this and when?  Right here, starting tomorrow.  I'm going to serialize the story one sentence at a time, every day for thirty-seven days.  Which, you'll note, means that it will conclude on the Feast of Children and Dark Imaginings itself.

The very next day, All Saints Day, with the story complete, I'll be auctioning off the original typescript (printed single-spaced on a single sheet of 7" X 5" paper, signed and framed), on eBay.  All proceeds will go to the Clarion West Writers Workshop, to help train the next generation of writers.

That's the frame up above, in my garden, containing all of the story that's public as of today.

The fun starts tomorrow.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Brooklyn Book Festival


I'm going to be at the Brooklyn Book Festival tomorrow and, if you're anywhere in the area, you should be too.  It's a festival!  About books!  Nuff said.

Okay, so there will be lots of lots of famous authors, over a hundred panels, and it's all free.  It's the largest free literary event in New York City and -- did I mention this already? -- it's all free.  You might need to know that too.

The festival info can be found here.

And I'll be at the Dell (the publisher of both Asimov's and Analog) booth at 4 p.m., to chat with anybody who cares to show up.


Friday, September 21, 2012



I took on an unpaid writing chore (which I'll tell you about when it comes to fruition) that has a short deadline and requires a lot of work from me.  So I almost forgot to blog today.

But I didn't.  Her, above, is Benjamin Bagbey in all his glory!  Bagbey specializes in the recreation of dead art forms.  Years ago I saw an ad for a show of Beowulf and went, only to discover that it was one man with a harp, on a bare stage, reciting a full half of the poem.  In the original Old English!

It could have been dire.  But it was magnificent.  If you ever get a chance to see him, by all means do.

And meanwhile, in the U.K.  . . .

Writer and journalist Molly Flatt blogs about writers' rooms . . . and because a good half of her blog is about Kyle Cassidy, there's a photo of me in my office.

You can find it here.

And on Monday . . .

I'll be announcing my new project.  Be there or be square!


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rock On!


Another rock and roll anthology, you ask?  No!  Believe it or not, Rock On is the very first anthology of rock and roll science fiction stories ever published.

Not that people didn't try.  I know some very talented anthologists who busted their humps in the Seventies and Eighties and Nineties trying to sell just this book.  Up and down the publishing houses of New York, the response was, "There's no market for stories about rock and roll."

Jesus wept.

Now, a mere sixty years or so after the birth of rock, Paula Guran has managed to sell the book that nobody else could.  I'm in it, of course, because way back in the day when I was starting out, a science fiction story about rock and roll was an extremely difficult sale.  I was lucky  that  Robert Silverberg was enough of a wildman to buy "The Feast of Saint Janis" for his New Dimensions series.  But Howard Waldrop's flat-out brilliant (you doubt me? it's in the book) "Flying Saucer Rock and Roll" languished for years while its partisans talked it up to editors who knew for a fact that rock and roll was just too weird for science fiction, until finally Gardner Dozois became editor of Asimov's and snatched it up.

I won't go into detail about this book.  It has most of the stories I would have chosen, and the mere titles of some of them carry me off to the long-lost Lyonesse of my youth.  Here's Lucius Shepard's "How My Heart Breaks When I Sing This Song . . ." which was the first hint I ever had, back when rock and roll ruled the earth, that there was corruption in its heart and winter was coming.  And here's . . .

But never mind that.  If rock and roll is your drug of choice, you'll never find a surer buy.  You want this book.

And soon, soon, soon . . .

I'll be announcing my secret project in only a few days.  Don't touch that dial!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Researching Io


Here's a message I received recently:

Where you got all the information and research for your short story "Pulse of the Machine" that dealt with the magnificent descriptions of Io. I would like to write a story about Io, but I can't find any of the background information you found for this story. Any help would be appreciated.

Thank you

As it chances, I was inspired to write "The Very Pulse of the Machine" by a remark by (I think) Geoff Landis, who told a mutual friend that he was baffled by the fact that NASA had spent billions of dollars exploring the Solar System and then put all the information they found up on the Web available for free -- and yet almost no SF writers were taking advantage of it.

So I chose Io because it seemed an interesting place to me and went to the NASA website to see what they had to say.  Initially I found synoptic general-public pages.  The more useful of these I printed out and placed in a cardboard box by my desk.  Then I branched out from there. doing searches on combinations of keywords until I started finding scientific papers based on the findings of various probes.  I printed them out, read them, underlined or highlighted the evocative bits, and placed them in the box.

I made various side-trips into related matters, particularly into volcanism and the chemical properties of sulfur, and the information I found I also printed, read, thought about, put in the box.

By the time the box was full, the data had given me a story.

None of the sources I used gave me a detailed overview of Io.  That was patched together from a hundred different sources.  And some of what I described -- anything that couldn't be seen by a fly-by probe -- was made up, based on those related searches into sulfur and volcanism.  In the story I didn't violate any known facts about Io.  But whatever wasn't known could be anything I wanted it to be.

I realize this rather sidesteps your question -- how to find these sources.  But I've had no formal training on running searches (when I was a student, my college had exactly one computer, an IBM mainframe), nor was I particularly ingenious in my research.  I just kept poking around, looking and finding until I had what I needed.

Go thou and do likewise.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012



This is just good.  A clear explanation of libration, set to music.  And how often do you have a piece of formal music vetted by NASA scientists?

As it says on the credits, music by Matthew Schickele; sung by Hai-Ting Chinn; with piano by Erika Switzer.

And . . . 

I've got some nifty stuff coming up soon.  Keep watching the Web!


Monday, September 17, 2012

The Words


I saw The Words this afternoon and despite some gaffes -- an inexplicable confusion between editor and agent, for example -- liked it quite a bit.  Yeah, it's a story-within-a-story-within-a-story, but nobody in the theater was ever confused as to exactly what was going on.  All the actors were good and Jeremy Irons, as the old man, was magnificent.  And the moment when the writer decides to publish the novel he found as his own was a beautifully set-up emotional mousetrap.

The one genuine accomplishment of the movie is in portraying writers as being, at their core, infinitely crushable.  The script manages to capture the insecurity that, I'm here to say, dwells at the heart of every serious writer I've ever met.

The one genuine failure is the lack of real women.  Yes, all the actresses are good and some of them are magnificent.  And my complaint isn't that they're uniformly beautiful -- the men are too, so that's not it.  My complaint is that they're all mirrors to the men:  wives and girlfriends.  They have no lives and thoughts independent of their men.  Which is not women as I have encountered them. 

I complain not because I have some politically-correct agenda.  I complain because . . . well, because The Words could have been twice the movie it is now.

Which, as I've mentioned, I quite enjoyed.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Spready Oak of Rising Sun


It doesn't look like much, but this fallen oak in Rising Sun, Maryland, was a mute witness of history.  During the American Revolution, Lafayette's men camped by and under the Spready Oak, as it came to be called.  A cavalry camped under it during the Civil War. I stopped nearby it for lunch just the other day.

In the early 1980s, a windstorm blew over the Spready Oak.  It was estimated to be over 500 years old at the time.

Memento Mori -- "remember you must die."  Because if you haven't died, you haven't yet led a rich, full life.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Today's Mystery Bird


I took this shot at Oswingo Dam in Maryland yesterday.  Down below the dam is smorgasbord heaven for piscivores.  Fishermen line the shore.  Bald eagles soar overhead and occasionally deign to swoop like the wrath of God upon the Susquehanna and fly away with a glistening silvery fish in their talons.

So.  Care to guess what the above in-no-way-an-eagle bird is?

(Tick.  Tick.  Tick.  Tick.  Music here.  Tick.  Bing!)

No, it's not a crow nor is it a raven.  Look at that head.  You've got it -- it's a black vulture!

You didn't used to find black vultures in Maryland -- only turkey vultures.  But they've been moving north over the past decade.  This particular one was about twenty feet away from me and captured by a point-and-click at the extreme limits of its competence.

Black vultures are about two thirds the size of a bald eagle.  They can be identified by the white patches at the tips of the undersides of their wings (turkey vultures have white along the trailing edge of the undersides of their wings)and there are many dozens of them at Oswingo.  Along with an equal number of cormorants.  And, as I said, the occasional bald eagle.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Viewing Eagles


Whenever I have an urge to see bald eagles -- not to have a good chance of seeing, but to see -- I drive to Conowingo Dam in Maryland.  They hang out there in great numbers, majestic and lazy, waiting for the people who run the dam to bleed off excess water, which churns out at the bottom of the dam and is rich with stunned and helpless fish.

When I was a boy, I was mad about (along with a hundred other things) birds.  Alas, I almost never saw an egret, a red tailed hawk, or a vulture because DDT, working its way up the ecosystem, had killed most of them.  Bald eagles?  Extinct where I lived.

When the connection between DDT and the extinction of the top avian carnivores was understood, the pesticide was banned and, after a lapse of some decades, the top avian carnivores returned.

Today I'm on the road again.  I have the urge to see bald eagles.  So I'm going to Conowingo Dam, where I will see many.

There's a moral to this, and I think we should all teach it to our children:  It can get better.  All we have to do is identify the problem, pay for the solution, and stay the course.

End of sermon.  Now, if you'll excuse me . . .

I have an urge to see eagles.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012



Where were you on 9-11?  Frank Culbertson was in orbit -- the only American to see the disaster from that vantage.  He saw the plume of smoke from space.

My father, who was as good a man as I have ever known, was an engineer for General Electric.   He worked on (among other things) space flight and ICBMs.  Which is to say that he was involved in the best and worst of the American Century.  Astronaut Culbertson holds a similar, though less morally complex, position in the Twenty-First Century.

You can read about it here.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Writer Must Always Get Paid


When my son Sean was a boy, he had a zine, The High Flying News, which went out to all of his friends.  It ran for over a hundred issues and went to probably twenty-five copies at the peak of its circulation.  Now and then one of his buddies would send him an article or story or artwork for the zine, and when they did, I always sent them extra contributor's copies, along with five dollars in payment.  Marianne and I were very careful to inculcate Sean with what I consider to be a core moral value:  The artist always gets paid.  I put special emphasis on visual artists, since they're so often ripped off, cheated, and badly treated.  But it applies equally to writers.  We're artists too.

Above is a promotional snippet for the Harlan Ellison documentary Dreams With Sharp Teeth.  His opinion on this matter is intemperate, angry, obscene -- and absolutely correct.

This cannot be said too often.  What separates the professional writer from the amateur is money.  If you're a professional, money flows to you.  If you're an amateur, money flows from you.  It's as simple as that.


Monday, September 10, 2012



A quiet weekend.  I wrote a story yesterday, but that's about it.  Now, however, to settle down and write long and well.

In the meantime, here's a nifty NASA piece swiftly recapping just what it takes to put a probe on Mars.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Frame Of Things To Come


This is a picture frame I picked up this afternoon.  I saw it and instantly came up with what I thought would be a pretty nifty thing to do with it.  So I bought the frame, brought it home, and started shaping the project in my head. 

You'll see the fruits of this . . . oh, let's say the end of the month.  October 1 at the latest.

You may consider this a teaser.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Uncharacteristically . . .

I find I have nothing to say.  So here are three quotes, almost at random, from my commonplace-book:

Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.

To write well, to write passionately, to be less inhibited, to be warmer, to be more self-critical, to recognize the power of as well as the force of lust, to write, to love.
                                 -- John Cheever, Journals

You must be an intellectual.  No normal person would say a thing like that.
                                 -- George Orwell, overheard at a party


Thursday, September 6, 2012

My Voice -- Or Yours! -- In The Philadelphia Skies


Some years back, returning from a trip, I found myself driving down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia at one in the morning.  It was foggy and there was almost no traffic.  But in the sky was a  lattice of crisp lines drawn by a series of lasers for an art installation I hadn't heard about.

My God, but it was beautiful.

I expect something similar -- but far more kinetic -- from Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's installation Open Air, which will be playing on the Parkway every night from eight to eleven p.m., starting September 20 and ending October 17.

Voice clips are currently being solicited from the public.  The most popular of these will be analyzed by a computer program and then rendered in motion and pattern by 24 of the most powerful searchlights on the planet.  Thus creating "a meshed canopy of light" in the sky.

If that's not cool, what is?

Instructions for how you can submit a voice clip can be found here.  Me, I've got to decide what I want to have written in the sky.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Can You Be Saved From the Writing Life? Take This Simple Test and Find Out!


I'm on the road again.  But, knowing I'd be away, I've devised a simple test you can use to determine whether it's possible for you to be saved from the drudgery and humiliation of becoming a professional writer.

Most people harbor the notion of writing for a living, even if the thought appears fleetingly and then goes mercifully away.  But a lot of us take that notion very seriously indeed -- and a certain fraction of us waste a great deal of time trying because we have no idea whether we've got what it takes.

Well, I can't tell you whether you'll succeed as a writer.  But I can tell you if you have no business trying.  Simply take the following 100% irony-free three question test.

Ready?  Here goes:

1.  Does the prospect of reading at least one hundred (and probably a lot more) full-length books a year fill you with joy?

2.  Do you enjoy doing research?

3.  Do you enjoy writing?

That was easy, wasn't it?  Now to analyze your answers:

1.  The proper answer is Yes.  Not only are you going to have to read an enormous number of books as research for your own writing and even more to find ideas in, but if you don't keep current with what's being written in your genre, you're going to fall out of touch with it and editors are going to lose interest in you.

2.  The proper answer is Yes.  By research here, I mean not only book learning but going to places to make observations, interviewing people who do the kind of work your characters do, lying down in parking lots to discover what your fatally-shot protagonist is going to see in his dying seconds . . .  Obviously, science fiction requires research, but so do mysteries (so your villain doesn't put a silencer on a revolver), fantasy (especially if horses are involved; people who love horses are not a forgiving breed), or pretty much anything else.  Oh, I suppose writers of erotica don't really need to do research.  But they'd be mad not to.

3.  The proper answer is It doesn't matter.  I personally loathe writing.  But the desire to have written something is sufficiently strong to make me sit down to the computer and type.  It's entirely possible, of course, that there are writers who enjoy writing.  But the thought of finding one is so depressing that I've never actually looked.

There you have it.  If you didn't answer Yes to the first two questions, you probably can't become a writer and you wouldn't enjoy it if you did.

And I've just saved you a great deal of time and effort.

Above:  That is not a trick shot.  Those really are some of the piles of books blocking access to my bookshelves.  If this appalls you . . .


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Good Morning! It's Butterfly Effect Time


Unity 4 realtime rendering, in collaboration with Passion Pictures, the credits say.

So far as I can tell, this was done as a demonstration of the animation software that makes it possible.  I don't know whether to marvel more at the brilliance of the software engineers or the fact that there's so much money sloshing around the industry that it makes sense for them to put together something this spectacular.

In any event, I've been there.  This is what waking up is like for me most mornings.


Monday, September 3, 2012

The Oldest Novel in the World & Its Genre


The latest issue of the New York Review of Science Fiction (which, thanks to difficulties with its printer, is also its first issue as an ezine) has an essay by Darrell Schweitzer, titled "Reading the World's Oldest Novel:  Some Further Thoughts About Genre." 

Darrell, in order to save you and me the trouble of doing so ourselves, recently read the world's oldest surviving novel, Callirhoe by Chariton of Aphrodesias.  It was written around the first century A.D. and for the sake of saving myself a lot of typing, I'm going to give an abbreviated version of Schweitzer's recap of the plot (all ellipses are mine):

The plot is something on the order of The Perils of Pauline.  Callirhoe, the most beautiful woman in the world is married in Syracuse to the comparably handsome Chaereas ... a jealous, unsuccessful suiter ... convinces Chaereas that Callirhoe is unfaithful.  He, in a fit of rage, kicks her while she is pregnant, and she falls down, apparently dead ... She is buried in a tomb ... Enter grave-robbers, led by the pirate Theron, who ... carry her off ... sells her as a slave ... the wealthy Dionysius ... falls hopelessly in love with her ... Learning that Callirhoe is alive, Chaeras and a companion set out ... are sold as slaves... Egypt revolts against Persian rule ... Chaeras escapes and ... captures the Persian queen ...
Oh, the heck with it.  Even in synopsis, it goes on and on and on while containing no surprises.  But the point Darrell wants to draw our attention to is that Callirhoe is the first book in human history which is unquestionably a novel -- a work of prose of a certain length, telling a single story and intended primarily as an entertainment.  The Epic of Gilgamesh is a myth.  Lucian's A True History, which came later anyway, is a parody of travel writing.  So this is where the novel begins.

And it's a romance novel.

Which contains no fantasy whatsoever.  So much for the pretensions of fantasists -- our genre is not  the root and wellspring of literature, as we like to tell ourselves.  Romance is.

If you stop and think about it, it seems self-evident.  Now that Darrell Schweitzer has pointed it out, of course.

And speaking of Australian speculative fiction . . .

Some time ago, I wrote a blurb for Adam Browne's novel PYROTECHNICON, subtitled Being a TRUE ACCOUNT of Cyrano de Bergeracs FURTHER ADVENTURES among the STATES and EMPIRES of the STARS by Himself (dec'd).  Now, after the usual delays, it's come out from Couer de Lion Publications in Australia.  As you can guess from the title, it's a sequel to de Bergerac's pioneering science fiction classic.  And it's a hoot.

That's all I really need tell you about the novel.  Either you need this book desperately or you don't, and the title should be enough to tell you which camp you fall into.

You can find the book here.