Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Words With Author Maria Schneider

I try to keep the blog fresh. Exciting. In line with certain oddly specific court-ordered strictures, but still fun to read.

So today I'm unveiling a new feature, which I hope to repeat once a month.

Welcome to Words With!

This edition of Words With features author Maria Schneider, a New Mexico native now residing in Texas. I met Maria a while back on the Amazon Kindle forums, and when I discovered she was an author I gobbled up her books. Literally. That was during an awkward time in my life when a head injury made me think I was a goat. I still can't look at paper without salivating.

Anyway, Maria has an impressive 17 titles below her name on her Amazon Author page, and that's no small feat. She writes everything from urban fantasy (her Moon Shadow series) to straight-up gritty realism (Soul of the Desert).

Author Maria Schneider and friend
My favorite of Maria's books are the Moon Shadow books. Set in modern-day Santa Fe, her heroine Adriel drives a battered Honda Civic and, much to her dismay, knocks heads with ghosts, vampires, shape-shifters, and other unpredictable sorts using her own unique brand of earth magic.

Of course, Earth magic isn't the only kind of magic around. Adriel's friend White Feather works as a wind energy consultant by day, but he's a wind witch when magic is afoot.

Oh, and the vampires -- they don't sparkle. Not one bit. Then there's Lynx, who can shape-shift, which I;ve always wished I could do, because then I could be skinny.

If witches and ghosts aren't quite your cup of supernatural tea, Maria is also the creator of the Max Killian Investigates stories. These stories are set in our world, but after a fictional oil crisis which resulted in the collapse of the global economy and the sudden emergence of all manner of supernatural beasties.

Max works as a private investigator. Max has the supernatural ability to smell ghosts and sense magic, but he keeps that a secret because (and I love this bit) people with paranormal senses are taxed at a higher rate if they earn a living from these abilities. Good twist! Adds an entire extra layer to the stories.

Maria's Sedona O'Hala series doesn't contain any supernatural elements at all -- but there's lots of humor, mystery, and clever plotting!

I love this fantasy novel, The Dragons of Wendal. "Cousin Lonnie was an idiot." Well, yeah, he is!

Maria's latest release, Soul of the Desert, tells the story of a troubled youth snatched away from gang life in New York to work on a remote cattle ranch in New Mexico. It's a fascinating read, and a heck of a character portrayal!

Now that you know a little about Maria Schneider, turn up thy speakers, ready your best clicking finger, and prepare to embark on a sonic journey as Maria and I talk about writing, aardvarks, her preference for ionic to covalent chemical bonds, and of course the controversy over the inclusion of Finnish synchronized otter licking as an Olympic event.

Click below to hear Words With: Maria Schneider!

Words With Maria

Thanks to Maria for taking her time for the interview!

And now, helpful links to Maria's sites and books:

Maria's BearMountainBooks blog

Maria's Amazon Author page

Maria on Twitter

Bigfoot Update

Weird how the forest light makes my golden yellow hair look grey, isn't it?

Several weeks have passed since the inexplicable howling we recording along the Yocona River (see my November 10 entry, The Wild Man of Yocona Bottom). 

We've listened for more howls, but haven't heard a thing. We got a trail camera and we keep it moving around in the woods south of our house, but so far we've only managed to photograph deer, squirrels, cats, dogs, two Muppets, a flying saucer crash-landing, Elvis, and what can only be The Invisible Man.

But no Bigfoots. We keep the camera in play, though, so who knows?

Obligatory Nature Photo

I keep my trusty Fuji Finepix handy when we tramp through the swamps of Dagoba to check the trail cam. The image below is of one of the wooded ponds, taken on a bright cold December day. Note how the pond scum takes on different colors when the sun is at just the right angle!

Okay, folks, time for me to get back to work! Again, a big thanks to Maria joining us!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Foothot Five the First

Frank's Foothot Five

The glamour and allure of the writing life!
Welcome to the first installment of a recurring feature which shall be named Frank's Foothot Five!

Today, I've ambushed -- er, enlisted the generous assistance of fantasy author Elyse Salpeter. Elyse has four novels out, and entries in several anthologies (all available from Amazon, of course). Her latest book, The Hunt for Xanadu, was just released Friday (I had an ARC, because hello, Evil Genius!). I read it, and loved it, and I recommend it!

Here's how the Foothot Five works. I ask the hapless author five questions, which the author answers as quickly as they can. Meanwhile, the bucket fills with scorpions and the counterweight mechanism slowly raises the door to the tiger den. It's all very simple, especially if you live in a mad scientist's abandoned Lair of Evil. Sure, the place is hard to heat, but it came with indoor acid pools and three old Soviet nukes!

Author Elyse Salpeter
That's Elyse above. She's written everything from YA fantasy (The World of Karov, The Ruby Amulet, Flying to the Light, The Sun and the Star) to modern-day thrillers filled with Buddhist mythology (her latest, The Hunt for Xanadu). You can visit her website, follow her on Facebook, or find her Twitter feed here. She maintains a weekly blog, Musings From a Type A Mom, which is always fun to read. Now it's my turn to shut up and let the author speak.
So here they are, the Foothot Five! My questions in bold, replies in plain text. Enjoy!

Frank's Foothot Five

Foot-hot. Adverb, archaic. "On the spot. See also hastily."

1. Let's go back to the beginning. Can you remember the moment when you first realized 'I want to be a writer?' If so, describe the circumstances leading up to that moment. If you can't remember, make something up, because after all you're a writer.

Elyse: I always had an active imagination as a kid and loved to collect things like buttons and stickers, to shells and rocks (yes, my desk was filled). I also loved to draw, but not sweet happy faces and cute little animals. I drew families of fifty kids (and the siblings were all twins, triplets and other multiples) and drew wild pictures of cars and houses, each with fifteen plus levels to them. They had movie theaters, carnivals, zoos and cafeterias. Then I’d draw stores and have floor after floor of different kinds of products ranging from the mundane, pants and shoes, to the more arcane (floors filled with wigs seemed to be a big theme for me as a kid)

<story takes a sad turn here, get out your tissues>  So, to get back to your question: One day I was in my ninth grade honors English class and I wrote an extra credit book report that I was immensely proud of. Instead of simply regurgitating the book, I decided I wanted to conduct it like an interview and I had a news reporter interviewing the main character.

When the teacher, (a bitter old woman who will forever remain nameless and will thankfully never teach a student again), gave it back to me, she wrote a big red zero on the top and told me (loudly, in front of the class) that it was the worst piece of writing she’s ever seen. (this was a creative writing assignment, mind you) She crushed me. Right in front of her I crumpled it up, threw it on the floor and said “I give up.” I stopped writing until college. Then, one day in my freshman year, I had this idea for a book and I remember saying to myself, “Don’t let that horrible lady control your life.” So, I didn’t. I wrote the book and that’s where my writing “life” started. Getting the guts to put the words and ideas finally on paper and not worrying about what other people would think.  
2. What do you find to be the most maddening aspect of being a writer today? With me it's snakes, but that's my fault because my writing desk is inside the cobra exhibit.  Describe your main source of frustration. Feel free to kick it in the shins. 

Elyse: I have a few frustrations. Personally, it’s finding the time to write while managing work and a family. The second is exposure. How to find the right people to read my stories? Third is social media. What aspects of that beast do I concentrate on? There are days I spend hours on social media and I cringe when I look at my WIP’s just sitting there waiting for me to open them up and get to work finishing them.  

3. Every book is a journey. What do you hope your readers experience as they travel with your characters and visit your fictional worlds?

I hope I can let my readers forget about all the stresses they have and for a little while they can disappear into the worlds I create. Now, these are not always happy little ditties where everything is a bed of roses, but I do try to create stories that are interesting and hopefully entertaining (at least they are to me!)  

4. You've just captured a leading New York literary agent in a trip-line net. In the 30 seconds it takes the agent to retrieve their cell phone and summon a SWAT team, pitch any of your books in a single sentence compelling enough to both get a read and have the charges dropped. GO!  

Elyse: I have a brand new idea to pitch to you. The Hunt for Xanadu is about a young girl on a mission to avenge the death of her parents, murdered in their quest to find the mystical land of Xanadu. It’s steeped in Buddhism, has an international flavor and I believe it’s something we’ve not read about in the field before. (I think that was under 30 seconds, but I talk fast – hey, I am a New Yorker!)

5. Every writer has a process by which words get put together. I use foolscap and a tattoo gun. Faulkner used whiskey and a manual typewriter. How do you write? Mac or PC? Word or Scribd? Morning or night? If you have any warm-up rituals (loud music, samba dancing, llama taunting) describe those too.

Elyse: I have an HP Laptop and write in Word. A few months ago my Dell laptop’s motherboard was slowly crashing and I had the big decision to go Mac or PC. After debating, living for days in the Apple store and grilling every employee, then appealing to the internet for suggestions, then living in Microcenter, I finally chose to keep the operating system I was comfortable with. It was the best decision I made. The company I purchased the computer from saved everything on the old laptop and transferred it to the new one. Seriously, within ten minutes of having the new laptop I was already working on my WIP. Best feeling ever! 

Click here to go to Amazon!
Thanks, Elyse, for joining us on the blog today! Everyone will be happy to know she got past the tigers, avoided both acid pools, and entered the shutdown code before the nukes went off, making her an honorary member of the Evil Genius Society. Mrs. Salpeter, your monocle, sinister white cat, and miniature (evil) clone are waiting by the umbrella stand. Hope to see you again soon!

What am I Reading Now?

I am mid-way through Neil Gaiman's and Dave McKean's The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book is the story of an orphaned infant taken in by the kindly residents of a graveyard. Young Nobody, Bod for short, grows up among ghosts, learning their ways, not knowing his life among the dead (and the undead) is anything but perfectly normal.

I won't post any spoilers, but if you haven't read this classic, you need to. Zelazny couldn't have done it any better.

Writing News

Progress continues on the new Markhat book. Of course I can't say much without spoiling any surprises the book holds, but I can say I've reached and surpassed the halfway point.

Here's a very short spoiler-free excerpt:


Mama Hog climbed atop a cannon, waving her cleaver, shouting words lost to the gunfire and the shouting. I saw vague shapes in the dark behind her, and wondered if I was seeing Darla and Gertriss make a desperate last stand.

Evis charged the monsters. The rotary gun chewed through their right flank, keeping Mama and the cannons out of the line of fire. Things went down in a tangle of legs and inky dark blood.

One of the halfdead tossed me a sword. The blade glowed faintly. I caught it as Slim hefted Alfreda into the back of the wagon.

"Die well!" he bellowed, and together we charged the left flank of the nightmares.

Season's Greetings!

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Yule, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Pancha Ganapati, Hogmanay, Yalda, Boxing Day, or Hanukkah, I wish you all the very best. May peace and joy not only follow you but make smooth the ways and fill your pockets with cash during the holidays and the new year!

And hey, if you're still looking for that perfect ebook stocking stuffer, I have a few titles out!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Even Wilder Man of Yocona Bottom

Fig 3A, The Yeti, sans britches.
Many of you will perhaps recall a prior blog entry entitled The Wild Man of Yocona Bottom, in which we recorded some unusual vocalizations originating somewhere along the Yocona River.

Subsequent scrutiny on the source audio has revealed something startling -- I believe there may have been not one but two creatures sounding the calls. One was close, and the other was further away, and harder to hear. 

But when you do hear it, it sounded like this:

First you hear dogs bark, barkbarkbark. Then you hear a long loud call, woooooooo, then dogs barking.

It's that wooooooo call I missed on the first close listen to the audio.

Contrast that call with what we heard as much louder and closer, on the rest of the recording:

Two callers, of undetermined species? Could be.

In an effort to identify what sorts of critters make their home in the woods behind out house, we installed a trail camera this afternoon. We hung it on a tree in what I think is a great spot, where two heavily-traveled game trails converge on the banks of a pond surrounded on all sides by dense woods.

Late afternoon, dense growth. Perfect place to hide.

First, I hung a line of apples across the game trail. Because as everyone knows, Sasquatch loves Granny Smith apples.

That stalwart fellow in the lower left corner is Lamar, our big black lab. Lou Ann was also with us, but every time she saw the camera turn her way she turned her backside to the lens. 

Lamar is now a gentle giant with a wide lazy streak. We found him many years ago running down the middle of Lamar Avenue in Oxford, thus his name. He weighed 15 pounds. I have never seen a creature so emaciated and skeletal; the vet said he should have weighed three times that, for his age and build. As you can tell, he eats rather well, these days.

But back to the wild wood. No sooner had I hung the apples, than one fearsome forest creature appeared!

I tossed a handful of jewelry into the woods, and she took off in pursuit of it. Always come prepared, kids!

Here's the whole setup:

Apples in the trees, trap camera strapped to tree. I should be able to catch anything traveling along either of the two trails or anything heading toward the pond for a drink.

The astute viewer may realize the apples and the camera are hung at levels more suited to Hobbits than Sasquatch. Which may be true, but I didn't think to lug a ladder through all that brush, and if all I get is a picture of hairy knees that will be fine too.

I predict here and now the vast majority of the photos will be those of deer, foxes, coyotes, feral pigs, dogs, bobcats, raccoons, and of course the occasional wandering saucer man.

I'll keep you posted on what images we capture.


I've told this story before, but it's been a while so I'll tell it again.

I'm a classic rock guy. I grew up listening to rock -- stadium rock, prog rock, classic rock. Pink Floyd and AC/DC and The Moody Blues and The Alan Parsons Project and the Beatles and ZZ Top and a host of other bands formed my musical ecosphere. My knowledge of 80s rock was encyclopedic. I listened to music non-stop.

Something happened in the early 2000s, though. I stopped listening to new music, and instead retreated into my collections of CDs (you kids can Google compact disc).

But as much as I love my collected music, a year or so ago I got restless. I wanted new music, stuff I'd never heard before. I wanted the same joy of discovery I felt the first time I listened to Dark Side of the Moon, or Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

I wandered around in iTunes, getting a song or two here and there, finding a few gems but missing that old rock and roll magic.

Then a new record store opened up in Oxford. An old-school record store called The End of All Music, selling vinyl albums.

What sorcery is this, I wondered? Who buys vinyl anymore, and why?

I'll answer both the who and the why questions. I buy vinyl, and I buy vinyl because it's just more fun.

My turntable isn't some five-hundred dollar European laser-balanced precision machine. I'm using the same massive Sony amp I bought in 1992. My speakers are so old they get AARP letters, addressed R. Speaker and L. Speaker.

But slap a vinyl album on my rig, and sit back in a comfy chair, and I tell you it's magic all over again.

I believe a good vinyl record on a decent turntable played through a good amp and quality speakers sounds better than the same album played from a digital audio file or a CD.

Could that be a bit of self-induced delusion?

Yeah, sure it could, but wouldn't Life be sad and awful without self-induced delusion?

What I really love about a vinyl album is this -- it forces you to A) sit and B) listen.

You hear the tracks in the order the artist arranged them. You don't skip from track 2 to track 9 just because the first few nanoseconds of a song don't grab you. Unless you want to haul your aging carcass our of your comfy chair and fiddle with the tone-arm, you're going to go where the musicians lead.

And that's when the magic comes back. For me, anyway.

Now, I don't know a thing about today's music scene. Show me a wall of new albums and I probably couldn't identify more than one or two. I don't even understand the new genres.

So my method for buying a new album is this -- I grab at random.

Tonight's random pick is The XX, and their album named X. Or XX. Frankly I'm not sure, because the cover says X and the record itself says X but the liner notes state XX. So either X or XX, and my inability to decide should showcase my aforementioned ignorance of modern music.

But I never let a little thing like ignorance get in my way, so here's my review of the record X (or XX).

Liner notes. Good times.

OVERALL RATING: 8 out of 10 Blurry Bigfoot Heads 

I like this album. It's contemplative, a touch melancholy, soothing and unhurried and complex. If I had to assign a genre to it, it would be what I call Coffeehouse. It's not in-yer-bloody-face rock ala AC/DC, and it isn't what's-it-all-about-Alfie prog-rock like Pink Floyd. 

But it's really good rainy day listening music. There are a lot guitars and some synth work and some drums. The vocalists are a man and woman and they sound as if the belong together. Best of all, they're not mad at each other, and they're not whining. They're singing, and it's pretty.

This is great music for:
  • Relaxing after a long day of crushing one's enemies 
  • Plotting global domination, but plotting for a year or so away, so no big hurry
  • Enjoying a relaxing goblet of Wobbly Wizard 3506
  • Posing dramatically in the corner of the coffee house while pretending to write a sonnet on foolscap with a quill pen
  • Enoying another relaxing goblet of Wobbly Wizard 3506, because man, that stuff rawks
Okay. That's my review. Let's head on over to Amazon, and see what genre and musical type this album is classified as. That way my incompetence can actually be quantified.

The XX album samples

First of all, it's The XX. Okay. Look, if you're the XX, maybe put another X on the cover. Us old people tend to be literal.

Next, the description:

"The xx exist in a time and space of their own making. In 2009 the south London trio’s debut album ‘xx’, quietly made at night over the course of two years, bled steadily into the public consciousness to become shorthand for newly refined ideas of teenage desire and anxiety. Articulated with a maturity beyond their years, its hallmarks were restraint and ambiguity."

Um. 'Newly refined ideas of teenage desire and ambiguity.' Did you catch that?

I didn't hear any of that. Frankly, I'm so old I wouldn't know a teenage desire if it walked up to me wearing a TEENAGE DESIRE placard. But still, nothing about this album suggested 'teenager' to me.

I said 'contemplative and melancholy.' The artists who created the record claim 'teenage desire.'

Man, that Wobbly Wizard is some potent stuff!

I now abandon any thoughts of being a serious music critic.

But hey, I loved the album.


The new Markhat novel is at the halfway point. Yeah, I said it, the halfway point. Which makes this effort the very fastest I've ever achieved. Is writing a novel fast fun?

You bet your Wobbly Wizard it is. Because I'm as eager to know what happens next as I hope you'll one day be.

Speaking of which, I should get back to work. Take care, peoples, and 'ware those teenage desires!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

If You've Seen My Brain, Please Send it Straight Home


Fig. 1: The author's renegade brain.
As the old saying goes, some days it's simply not worth the trouble to chew through the leather straps and get out of bed.

Today has been one of those days, where writing is concerned. I sat down to write this blog at precisely 2:39 PM. It is now 6:06 PM. I have completed, let's see, 38 words.

Here's my effort laid out in a timeline:

2:39 PM -- Open file. Note that empty white space must be filled with squiggly things.
2:46 PM -- Words. That's what the squiggly things are called. Glad we got that settled. 
2:47 PM -- Fingers hang dramatically above keyboard.
2:54 PM -- Fingers hang dramatically above keyboard.
2:59 PM -- Fingers hang dramatically above keyboard.
3:04 PM -- It is the fingers I use to type with, right? I know I've done this before, but for some reason everything seems foreign right now. Have a I skipped a step? Am I missing a lizard? Is there a song I'm supposed to hum?
3:09 PM -- Close file. Take in deep breathe. Hold, exhale, let the bad air out. Focus. Center myself. 
3:16 PM -- Krampus. I should write about Krampus, the Old World evil companion to jolly old St. Nick. 
3:17 PM -- Right, because there aren't already a zillion blogs out this time of year yammering away about some obscure Austrian tradition nobody outside of Austria has ever heard of. Yeah, THAT would be original.
3:19 PM -- Resolve to simply skip the blog tonight. Better no entry that a bad one.
3:20 PM -- Ha! If you skip post one you'll skip another and then another and soon your blog will join the millions of other abandoned blogs on the Island of Misfit Toys, how could you do that you complete bastard.
3:22 PM -- Is Krampus really that bad of a subject? I mean, it's creepy, there are a lot of cool pics I could post, and there's even a series of hilarious Austrian speed-metal Krampus carols people might enjoy....
3:23 PM -- Shut up about the Krampus! No more with the Krampus. 
3:24 PM -- Fine. Fine. How about you come up with something, Mr. I Know Precisely What The Readers Want to Read?
3:25 PM -- Fingers hang dramatically above keyboard.
3:32 PM -- Fingers hang dramatically above keyboard.
3:46 PM -- Fingers hang dramatically above keyboard.
3:57 PM -- Fingers hang dramatically above keyboard.
4:04 PM -- All bloody right, do the Krampus thing.
4:05 PM -- No. The moment has passed. How about the Voynich Manuscript?
4:06 PM -- You did that already, back in 2012.
4:07 PM -- Darn. Okay, I've got it, I'll post another letter from my Muse, grumpy old whatshername.
4:08 PM -- Those weren't really all that funny. 
4:09 PM -- Are you sure? I thought they were. People seemed to like them.
4:10 PM -- Trust me, they were just being nice. We need something new.
4:11 PM -- We could just play BioShock Infinite.
4:12 PM -- Shut up.
4:13 PM -- Just for half an hour. 
4:14 PM -- SHUT. UP.
5:52 PM -- What? Where'd all that time go?
5:53 PM -- You were staring. See, if we'd played BioShock, we'd have at least fired off a shotgun or two.
5:59 PM -- What if we played BioShock and recorded our session and supplied humorous commentary?
6:00 PM -- Then you'd be Conan O'Brien, and no offense, but you ain't him.
6:01 PM -- Point.
6:05 PM -- Look, I've got an idea. We make a timeline, see, and fill it out. That could be funny. 
6:06 PM -- Should have gone with Krampus.


If anyone attends MidSouthCon, and if you can you should because it's a blast, it can now be revealed that I have been asked to serve as the Toastmaster for the 2015 MidSouthCon 33!

Already, I am assembling my entourage. If you're interested in joining, the following positions are still open:
  • Man-At-Arms. Must be of large build and imposing nature. Primary duties include clearing a path to the meat tray in the snack room and, um, okay that's pretty much the only primary duty. Knowledge of Klingon, first aid, and room layout of the Memphis Hilton are required.
  • Food Tester. Applicant must sample suspect food offerings to ensure they do not contain healthy, wholesome, or otherwise non-fried components or ingredients. The successful applicant can locate, by smell alone, a sealed bag of cheeseburgers hidden anywhere within a 500 foot radius.
  • Sycophants, Yes-Men, and Yes-Women. Position requires a minimum of three skilled individuals who excel at verbal communication. See the movie 'The Fifth Element' and Ruby Rod's associates for model sycophant behavior. Ability to vary verbal inflections when saying the phrase "Yes, Frank, you are exactly right" is a MUST.
  • Groupies and Hangers-On. Twelve positions. Successful hires must be able to either play a musical instrument or hum along with my personal theme music (TBD) when I enter a room. Squealing and clapping skills are also required.
All salaries are commensurate with experience, and are paid in the internal currency of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.

Buy me please


Why yes, yes I am.

Progress on THE DARKER CARNIVAL continues. Not today, of course, but I wrote every night last week except the evening of the Christmas parade.

Here's a random couple of paragraphs, right out of the first draft:


"Welcome to my world," he said, smiling a toothless little smile. "I am Ubel Thorkel, master of Dark's Diverse Delights. My men tell me you write for a newspaper." He nodded at the paper I clutched in my hands. "May I see it?"

I handed it to him. "I am Mortimer Bustman, city desk," I said. He didn't offer to shake hands and neither did I. "People in Rannit are curious about your carnival."

He sat, opening and holding the paper so that I could no longer see his face. 

"Are they now," he said. 

"Oh, they are indeed," I replied. "Mr. Thorkel, do you have any idea how many Rannites start each day by reading the City Daily? Our circulation is well over twenty thousand, and growing by the week. Why, a half dozen paragraphs in our Diversions section could bring in hundreds of visitors to your carnival, the first few nights alone."

He lowered the paper and stared at me.

"My men suspect you are a tax man, Mr. Dustman."

"The name is Bustman," I replied. "We both know even the Regent of Rannit can't collect taxes on a traveling carnival encamped outside the city walls. I don't work for the Regent. I'm just here to write about your carnival, Mr. Thorkel. We haven't seen a traveling show in years, and people are eager to read all about you."

The walls of the tent shut out noise as well as light. There'd been a gang of workmen hammering tent-stakes into the ground when I entered. I hadn't heard a single hammer blow since passing through the flap.

Thorkel didn't blink. I didn't like his eyes. They looked dry, as if both were glass with irises and pupils daubed on with paint.  

He spoke. "Why don't you tell me the truth, Mr. Bustman?"

"I just did."

He let the Daily fall down to his desk. "You came here to mock. To ridicule. To demean. To print lurid descriptions of my show, for the titillation and fleeting amusement of your vapid, witless readership."

"That's twenty thousand vapid, witless readers, each paying five coppers a week to be titillated and fleetingly  amused."

He smiled.

"Twenty thousand, you say?"

"Twenty-two thousand, by the end of the week."

The carnival master nodded. Amid the masks and the wigs, mirrors hung haphazardly on every wall, and the effect of his nod reflected in so many mirrors filled the tent with the illusion of movement.

"May I ask what wage you are paid, to mock and demean?"

"Five coppers a word," I said. "Six, if I manage to fit in ridicule."

He laughed. The sound was abrupt and dry and harsh. I'd heard jackals once, while my unit camped under the stars at Branach, sand dunes sparkling with hoarfrost in the night. Thorkel's laugh sounded like a jackal's cry, hungry and humorless and cruel. 

He fished in his jacket, withdrew a silver Old Kingdom coin, and tossed it to me.

I caught it.

"Make them good words, Mr. Bustman. Excellent words. Now then. Let us show your magnificent audience the varied and unforgettable wonders of Dark's Diverse Delights, mobile circus extraordinaire."


And that's it for today. I shall now relent and allow my renegade brain to do whatever it wants, i.e., alternate between napping and drooling. 

Merry Krampus!

PS -- Brain image at top is courtesy of  ©  |

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ho Ho Hum, Or a Holiday Survival Guide for Writers and Their Caregivers

Gift Ideas for Writers

© Simon L | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Is there a writer in your life? Are you struggling to come up with that perfect Christmas gift for him or her?

If so, my condolences, because I'm a writer and I know full well what a morose bunch of budding alcoholics we writers usually are.  I'm constantly staring off into space, oblivious to the world around me until the front bumper strikes something solid and the air bags deploy.

That can't be good company.  I know from experience that the Highway Patrol is seldom thrilled.

Every year, it's the same dilemma.  What to give for Christmas?  What will make your writer's eyes light up, or at least open halfway?

As usual, I'm here to help.  My list of suggestions follows, in order of descending utility.

1) BOOZE.  HOOCH. ROTGUT.  That's right, kids, the Demon Rum himself.  Why?  Simple.

A writer's job is to plumb the depths of the human condition, or at least convince a harried editor that he or she is plumbing said depths long enough for the ink to dry on a contract.  And the first thing you'll learn when you start taking a really close look at the much-vaunted human condition is that doing so induces a sudden, powerful urge to have a drink.  Or three.  Or maybe just leave the whole bottle and start running a tab, because right after the urge to drink comes the realization that it's going to be a long bad night.

2) A THESAURUS. Because nothing works better as a coaster for the drinks mentioned above than a really thick book.  I'd counsel against actually using a thesaurus for writing, because no one wants to read sentences in which characters advance, meander, promenade, traipse, or wend one's way across the room.

3) A CAT.  Hemingway had a cat, right?  He had a cat because a cat is the only creature on Earth more vain and self-centered than the average author.  While other more social animals might feel neglected or ignored by an author, who is probably staring off into space or rummaging in the cabinets for more liquor, a cat is perfectly comfortable being ignored because it doesn't know anyone else is in the room anyway.  The cat's 'I don't care if you exist or not' attitude is perfectly suited to the author's mindset of 'What? Huh? Who?'

4) AN ELEGANT LEATHER-BOUND JOURNAL.  We all know that writers, and I mean serious professional writers with book contracts and everything, are always prepared to whip out a convincing character or a heart-wrenching plot at the drop of a dangling participle. So give your author the most expensive, ornate leather journal you can find, wait a year, drag it out from under the whiskey-stained thesaurus, and give it to the writer again.  They won't ever know, because each and every page will be as blank as it was the day you bought it.  Seriously, people.  I tried the whole notebook by the bed schtick for years, and I recorded exactly two notes in it, which read:

"Char. A sees the thing, intro. other scene w/char B, str. exc. Plot hole & 9 days."
"Why G. not cld/not E?"

Which explains why Hemingway's cat had six toes, for all I know.  But leatherbound notebooks make pretty good coasters too, and if the glasses sweat on them, you can tell people the stains are from a solo hike through Guatemala which you took to 'reconnect to my muse.'

I don't have a Number 5.  You should probably stop at Number 1, because gift-wrapping a cat is nearly impossible and writers can spot a gift wrapped thesaurus from across a crowded room anyway.

(originally published here December 2011)

The Perfect Face for Radio

Last Saturday I was a guest on the Steve Bradshaw Radio Show. If you missed the live show, the interview (minus commercials!) is now online for your listening pleasure. Click here  and then click on the play icon by by name. My accent is sure to amuse children and calm restless emus. We talked about writing after my accordion audition went horribly wrong.

A Writer's Christmas Carols

© Vlawton | Dreamstime Stock Photos

It Came Upon a Manuscript Clear
(Sung to the tune of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear)
It came upon this manuscript here
Fatal problems with the pace,
Then beta readers bending near
Did make that WTH face.
This plot is contrived, they sang with glee,
the shallow protagonist weak,
Not a theme or an ending anywhere in sight,

God Rest Ye Merry Editors
(Sung to the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen)
God rest ye merry editors,
and bless thy weary eyes,
For NaNoWriMo just ended 
Now begin your painful sighs.
The flood of just-completed books 
Shall wing to you its way,
Bringing forth sparkly vampires in love,
vampires in love, and hungry zombies every day!

We Wish You Would Format Correctly
(Sung to the tune of We Wish You a Merry Christmas)
Word's Smart Quotes, your editor notes, 
should never be used, any way.
But even though you turn them off,
they sneak back in to stay!
A global replace will always fail,
Oh Word, why hate me so?
I'm now going line by terrible line,
Smart Quotes, why won't you go?

We Three Writers of Fantasy Are
(Sung to the tune of We Three Kings)
We three writers of fantasy are,
Considering putting out a tip jar.
Sales are slowing, bills are growing,
Yes I think we need that tip jar!

Jingle Bells
(Sung in ragged gasps accompanied by the rending of clothing and the gnashing of teeth)
Jingle bells, bloodshed sells,
Why didn't I write Game of Thrones?
(Song only has these two verses, followed by long bout of inconsolable weeping).

Silent Night, No Email Tonight
(Sung to the tune of Silent Night)
Silent night, no email tonight,
Hope is lost, no sales in sight.
Agents are burning my manuscript whole,
Laughing and laughing at the gaping plot hole,
Why didn't I see it before, oh?
Why didn't I see it before?

Of the songs above, God Rest Ye Merry Editors was inspired by author PN Elrod, whose quips concerning editing are rapidly becoming legendary. 

And may I suggest that anyone who enjoyed my Markhat series should check out Elrod's Jack Fleming series? Great books, with a genuine film noir flair and some fine writing.

Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, Wherever You Are

Remember, every time you buy an e-book, and author gets to eat.

That's it for this week. Thanksgiving put a huge dent in my word count, but the new Markhat (The Darker Carnival) is at the one-third complete point. 

Let's stay safe out there, people!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Into Wildest Yocona

Pretty, right? Don't eat them.  You'll see unicorns, but then you'll die.
On numerous occasions in this blog, I've spoken about the Yocona River, which runs about a mile from where I now sit.

My steamboat in Passing the Narrows is named the Yocona. I've used the woods around here as the setting for Mama Hog's ancestral homeland of Pot Lockney. I even blogged about strange sounds I recorded along the Yocona River a few weeks ago.

Today, via the twin miracles of photography and waterproof boots, I'm going to take you on a journey through fields and forest and right down onto the sandy banks of the Yocona River itself.

While one might not simply walk into Mordor, that's precisely how we arrived at the River. Walking is the best way, at least under certain circumstances. And by certain circumstances I mean this:

That's ice. Shaded water remained frozen all day, which means the nine-foot-long water moccasins with heads the size of piglets are all snug in their winter beds, dreaming whatever it is that venomous monsters dream. 

Which isn't to say there are no perils along the way, even on nice cold days. There are. First and foremost, we have the over-eager deer hunters with their rocket-propelled grenade launchers and their cavalier disregard for property lines. Next on the list are the wild boars, which is what happened when Mother Nature saw an Abrams M1 tank and decided she could do better with tusks and hooves. 

Then we have feral hogs, which can be nasty if they have piglets around, and coyotes, which -- nah, I'm not really afraid of coyotes. I've run into them before and while I got the distinct impression they wanted to sell me something on Craigslist, I'd put their physical threat level somewhere between 'Hay, bales of' and 'cheese, slightly off.'

Even so, I armed myself with the Mantle of Sarcasm and the Breastplate of Snide Remarks, gathered my valiant companions, and off we went.

You can shave off a half-mile hike through the woods by skirting this soybean field. That line of trees in the distance? That's the halfway mark on our journey.

But let's stop here a minute. I acted as expedition leader and Bearer of the Mighty Camera. Lou Ann, self-appointed safari guide and ad hoc legal counsel, took point. Karen armed herself with a stout length of oak and listened politely while I misidentified trees and took on the air of an experienced game tracker, even though I once got lost going to the refrigerator and I'm vague on where ham comes from. 

And thus we sallied forth. 

The first 400 feet revealed my folly in not bringing along a secret stash of Snickers bars. The sun beat down, well, to be honest, like a distant 40-watt incandescent bulb. The wind bore with it a deadly chill. Um. No.

Actually, it was quite pleasant. We saw many tracks -- deer, turkey, raccoon, stegosaurus, Muppet, alien greys, wolfmen, and the Creature From the Black Lagoon. Or maybe just deer and turkey.

Lou Ann amused herself by bathing in a slew, much to Karen's dismay, as the water did not smell of hyacinths and lavender.

Lou is at my feet this very moment, and her fragrance is redolent of rotting leaves, pond-slime, and the subtle hint of something best not explored any further. I'm sure among dogs, such a thing is equivalent to Chanel No. 5.

Soon, we entered the woods.

As you can see, many of the leaves haven't fallen yet. It's beautiful, though.

I wish the photos showed the true scale of these trees. They're very large. Tree-like, I suppose. Most, er, arboreal.

And if they're not monsters, they're close together. It's slow going, because briars are the fashion accessory for forests everywhere this season!

So far, so good. We encountered no boars. Took no artillery fire from Bubba and crew. A pair of shifty-looking coyotes did try to sell me a pair of speakers from the back of a van, but I know that scam, so we kept walking.

You know how you're getting close to the river? Pick one:

A) You fall in and drown.
B) You see the first line of bamboo.

B. Always pick B. And there it is, bamboo amid the briars. Perfect for cutting a fishing pole along the way, if you must. We must not, since this is a a scientific expedition and anyway I'm looking forward to a Red Baron pizza for supper.

Here's another amusing aspect of hiking near the river. Beavers are busy, and they're everywhere, and here is what they leave behind:

So if you do find yourself falling, don't fall flat. Those things are sharp.

Keep walking, being careful with your footing (the pics don't show it, but the ground is full of exposed foot-catching roots and hidden holes left by rotting stumps), and soon you'll see the Yocona River itself.

There it is, muddy and lazy, meandering along like it has all the time in the world, and I suppose it has just that.

What you're seeing is the River from atop a twenty-foot bank. Your next task is to descend down to the water without descending down into the water, and that is a critical distinction. The river still has two pairs of Tuttle eyeglasses, and it wants a third, I just know it does.

As usual, Lou led the way, scampering down in an instant while the clumsy humans climbed and slid and leaped.

At last, we all made it. The sand bar is covered by leaves, but it's the same sand bar I fished from as a kid. I'm 50 now, so that's quite a few years ago.

I've changed. The River hasn't. Make of that what you will.

It's still a peaceful place. Of course in the summer, we'd have heard frogs and crickets and a hundred, a thousand other critters, but with ice on the ground, the river is silent.

Above you see the adventurers triumphant, nattily dressed in their Day-Glo PLEASE DON'T SHOOT ME gear. Note Karen's Stick of +5 Striking, and my Haircut of +7 Feral Pig Intimidation.

The above photo is the result of asking Lou to pose for a picture. Note her immediate charge toward the lens.

Finally got it, though! Note the head of the Loch Ness Monster emerging from the water to Karen's right.

And what good is a river if you can't swim in it? I declined, as I was wearing my good socks.

Cryptozoology is dirty work.

Did we find anything strange on our trip?

Well, there's this.

Tracks in the sand. Look, the river is home to all kinds of critters. Beavers. Coyotes. Nutria. Bobcats. Rabbits. Raccoons. You name it, and they all come here to drink, sooner or later.

So something made these marks in the sand. They can't be more than a day old because it rained hard Friday and there was loose sand in the bottom of the impressions.

My guess is a coon or a possum was digging for grubs. But I can see how other opinions might vary.

Finally it was time to head for home. Lou Ann took a last swim. Then we made the climb back up the bank and marched back into the woods.

A red-tailed hawk wheeled overhead when we emerged, probably laughing at all the trouble we were having pushing through the briars.

And that, my friends, is the photographic record of the 2013 River Expedition.

Sadly, the above image of big feet is the only such image I can offer, at least today.


I had a pretty good week, all things considered. I didn't quite hit the magical 10K word count, but that's okay. I taught my writing class Thursday evening and I was in Memphis as a guest on the Steve Bradshaw Show, talking about my books, so that was time well spent.

I'll close with a brief excerpt from the work in progress, THE DARKER CARNIVAL. In the book, I've established that what they call a 'riding wheel' is what we call a Ferris wheel. Big wheel with seats and lights and no apparent purpose, smells of corn dogs? That clear? Everyone cool with it? Good.

The riding wheel flared to life. A man climbed it, leaping from seat to seat, finding handholds in the rusty iron frame. If he cried out, we never heard it.

Something leaped onto the wheel below him. At first I thought it a man, but when it began to climb, it used too many legs. It scuttled up the wheel effortlessly, leaped on the climbing man's back, and after a moment of awful stillness it flung his limp body to the ground and climbed down after him, moving like some monstrous eager spider.

I'll end on that note. Take care, everyone, and if you're in the US I wish you and yours a happy Thanksgiving.