Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Miscellany

This being the last day of National Poetry Month, and in lieu of any profound thoughts, here are a few random facts, literary and historical, about April 30:

1936 - English poet A. E. Housman dies
1492 - Christopher Columbus receives his royal commission
1492 - Spain announces expulsion of Jews
1945 - Adolph Hitler commits suicide
1938 - American science fiction writer Larry Niven is born
1945 - American writer Annie Dillard is born
1789 - George Washington takes office as first president of the United States

About April in general:

1564 - Great English playwright William Shakespeare is born
1616 - Miguel de Cervantes dies
1926 - Anne McCaffrey is born
1850 - William Wordsworth dies
1928 - Maya Angelou is born
1707 - Tom Jones author Henry Fielding is born
1775 - The Battles of Lexington and Concord, beginning the American War for Independence
1790 - Benjamin Franklin dies
1861 - Hostilities commence in American Civil War
1865 - General Lee surrenders to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, ending the Civil War
1910 - Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) dies
1912 - Bram Stoker dies
1843 - Henry James is born
1731 - Daniel Defoe dies

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The End?

I've been considering endings. Writers are constantly being advised about the best ways to begin their tales, though what comes after may be less than stellar, but a strong ending can redeem a weak opening (not that I'm advocating such).

What makes a story work, beginning to end? All writers have the same tools, but each wields them differently, so that time bends in one writer's hands, but is linear in another's. One writer excels in action, another in dialogue or description. But one shouldn't only play to one's strengths; all writers should -- in my occasionally humble opinion -- practice to add muscle to their weaknesses, turning them into strengths.

One way is to study other writers and other stories. I often go back to the classics. For instance, the classic revenge tale, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, begins thus:
On February 24, 1815, the watchtower at Marseilles signaled the arrival of the three-master Pharaon, coming from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples.
A deceptively quiet first sentence, it still has the tang of mystery about it. Why the importance of the date? The word watchtower has more than one implication, the arrival of a ship also signals the arrival of people and goods, and the cities are ports of call where intriguing events might have occurred that will affect the story.

Just as the book opens with a ship's arrival, it ends with the sailing of another vessel:
"Look," said Jacopo.

The two young people looked in the direction in which he was pointing. On the dark blue line separating the sky from the Mediterranean they saw a white sail.

"Gone!" cried Maximilien. "Farewell, my friend, my father!"

"Gone!" murmured Valentine. "Farewell, my friend! Farewell, my sister!"

"Who knows if we'll ever see them again?" said Maximilien.

"My darling," said Valentine, "the count just told us that all human wisdom was contained in these two words: Wait and hope."
I'm not a fan of all those exclamation marks, but that last line is as strong an end as a story needs.

Fast-forward a couple centuries, and Will Thomas writes an excellent series of mystery novels featuring Barker & Llewellyn. The first book, Some Danger Involved, begins thus:
If someone had told me, those many years ago, that I would spend the bulk of my life as assitant and eventual partner to one of the most eminent detectives in London, I would have thought him a raving lunatic.
It ends thus:
I mused for a moment. "We did it, didn't we? We actually solved a case. Well, you did, anyway. Racket tried to throw us off the scent, but you saw through it all. There's just one thing that puzzles me."

"What is that?" he asked.

"Who's this widow you haven't mentioned before?"

He didn't say anything, but I knew I'd struck a nerve. His pipe went out.
Humor and mystery, even at the end. Perfect.

The Queen of Bedlam, another mystery, this one by Robert McCammon, begins with a bit of philosophy and history:
'Twas said better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, but in the town of New York in the summer of 1702 one might do both, for the candles were small and the dark was large.
And it ends with a bit of rumination:
Matthew held the glass close to the fingerprints and narrowed his eyes.

How like a maze a fingerprint was, he thought. How like the unknown streets and alleys of a strange city. Curving and circling, ending here and going there, snaking and twisting and cut by a slash.

Matthew followed the maze with his glass, deeper and deeper, deeper still.
Deeper yet, toward the center of it all.
Again, a book that ends but a story that doesn't, as the main character, having survived and solved a case, still seeks a killer who eluded him.

How about another classic? JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, my introductory drug to the whole fantasy genre, begins with a now-famous paragraph:
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat; it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
Hmm. Exactly how does a hobbit-hole mean comfort? And what in the world is a hobbit?

"The the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!" said Bilbo.

"Of course!" said Gandalf. "And why should not they prove true? Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"

"Thank goodness!" said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.
A cozy ending to a rousing adventure, coming (almost) full circle, for the hobbit at the end, while still enjoying his comforts, is a different hobbit from the fussy little man at the beginning.

This last illustration is from The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox:

After killing the red-haird man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper.
The first time I read that line, I didn't want to read the book, because such a sentence could only be a trick, a flamboyant barker's call to ride the rollercoaster, and the rest of the ride would be disappointing. Not so. And, just as in The Count of Monte Cristo, the quest for revenge turns the man seeking the revenge:

This, then, is what I have learned, since writing my confession on this final shore:

Honor not the malice of thine enemy so much, as to say, thy misery comes from him; Dishonour not the complexion of the times so much, as to say, thy misery comes from them; justifie not the Deity of Fortune so much, as to say, thy misery comes from her; Finde God pleased with thee, and thou hast a hook in the nostrils of every Leviathan.

I long for sleep, and for soft English rain. But they do not come.

Regret, lessons hard-learned, and desires unmet: Was the revenge worth the cost?

As for my own writing, I know where I want a fantasy story to end -- the final scene has been written for years -- but there's still a manuscript-and-a-half to finish first. However, because of what the three characters endure before that scene, the quiet ending will carry the weight of all the adventures and sacrifices, all the dreams and losses, that have gone before it.

In the science fiction serial novel, I don't know the ending. I know the conflicts and the characters, and the broad brush-strokes of the background, but the minutiae I'm learning as I go, right along with the readers: the less-obvious motives of the characters, the various reasons the colonies exist and are in conflict with the rebels, what's going to happen next.

I just don't know how it's going to end.

Having a work in progress even as it's being published is a disquieting circumstance for me. It keeps me writing, and it takes me on a journey. Maybe I'll only know the ending when I get there, and not a moment before.

I Love You, Man

My brother called last night -- close to midnight, so it could have been this morning -- and said that he'd read Episode 7 of Thieves' Honor (now up at Ray Gun Revival): "I don't know what hooey you were talkin' about your writing skills, but I like it."

Me: "You do?"

Bubba: "Yeah."

Me: "Good. Good to know."

Thanks, Bubba.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jenn's Limerick

In honor of National Poetry Month, I offer yet another poem, not my own, but a child's.

My oldest niece is homeschooled, an arrangement that seems to be working very well for her and her family (I used to wish I could stay at home, too, because school and other kids were scary sometimes). In April 2006, she and her mother were working through the poetry unit, and one morning before "school" started (my sister-in-law wasn't even awake yet, as I recall the story), 8-year-old Jenn sat down and wrote the following limerick, her first:
There was a young girl who was three,
Who always wanted to climb up a tree,
So climb up it she did,
And down it she slid,
And never again climbed a tree!
She's eleven now, and still writing, an activity I hope she does for life.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Blaggard's Moon - Day 3

Lantern Liege. Shalamon. Defender. Yellowbone. Tranquility. Savage Grace.Calliope. All names of ships in George Bryan Polivka's excellent pirate-themed fantasy novel, Blaggard's Moon, stand-alone prequel to his Trophy Chase Trilogy.

Those names are evocative of the setting and the time period of the story, as are the many character and place names, all sideways, but just "historical" enough to sound like they could have belonged to real people and places: Damrick Fellows, Nearing Vast, Spinner Sleeve, Dancer Clang, Skaelington, and more.

Names add dimension, add a layer of reality to the fiction, and play a hefty part in aiding the reader's "willing suspension of disbelief" -- or, in other words, a good set of names can help turn off the reader's internal lie detector that says, "This is just a story," and helps the audience enter in to the adventure.

There were times while reading Blaggard's Moon that I forgot I was reading fantasy instead of a piece of historical fiction, not only because of the names often being so close to "reality", but also because of the details about ships, procedures, weapons, and more. They gave the story the weight of truth. However, none of that information made the story seem heavy or dull, but was woven into the action, adding to the interest.

Last year, when I thought my science fiction serial would head in a different direction than it has, I researched pirate information and terminology in books and online, even ordered a few texts, and Blaggard's Moon sent me back to the research, re-igniting my interest in all things nautical and piratical. Below are a few fun and interesting sites laden to the gunnels with cool vocabulary:

The Pirate King
The Pirate Game
A Pirate's Glossary of Terms
Brethren of the Coast
Pyrate's Providence

For readers who prefer nonfiction to a rousing good tale (Curse ye all for scurvy dogs!), here are a couple good sources: The Pirates Own Book, or Authentic Narratives of the Lives, Exploits, and Executions of the Most Celebrated Sea Robbers by Charles Ellms, first published in 1837, but released in paperback in recent years (and as a free downloadable e-book), and The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd by Richard Zacks.

But I highly recommend reading Blaggard's Moon first, last, or right alongside all the facts. There are sea battles, games of wit and pirate's poker, sacrifices by men of honor, subtle illustrations of timeless truths, intriguing characters, all within a fantasy novel peopled by pirates. If this book were a ship, she'd be yar.

For other opinions on Blaggard's Moon, check out the CSFF Blog Tour stops listed in the lefthand sidebar.

And read the book!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Blaggard's Moon - Day 2

Here we are again, discussing once more the April feature on the CSFF Blog Tour: Blaggard's Moon by George Bryan Polivka, the stand-alone prequel to his Trophy Chase Trilogy, a series of fantasy novels -- with pirates! (After a session of reading the novel, I was in such a pirate-y mood the other night that I paused my other work, hit "play" on my much-viewed DVD copy of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, still my favorite of the three films, and watched it while I went back to work.)

Over at, there's an interesting interview of Polivka by C.J. Darlington. I was surprised but encouraged to read that Polivka had written eleven novels over the course of twenty-five years before achieving publication. Though I've had other writing published, none of my novels have hit the presses yet, nor will for a while. I've been writing since I was nine, I'm now thirty-seven, and I identify with his endurance run toward publication.

Those years have not been wasted. Polivka has produced a fine work of fiction in Blaggard's Moon, and it is a joy to read. Below is a darkly humorous excerpt from about the middle of the story, and one of my favorite passages. Be warned! Here there be cheesiness and wordplay:

"Don't they ever reload?" Skeel Barris asked his accordian player. The Captain was seated behind the gunwale, his back to the fray, reloading his own pistol. The musician to whom he spoke lay sprawled on the deck, his head propped up by a bulkhead wall, his forehead shot through by a stray musket ball. It had been a hot iron ball, too, so it had left a bloodless, cauterized gray tunnel as it passed through the man's brain.

"I can see what you're thinkin'," Barris said to the unlucky minstrel. Then he chuckled at his own joke. "You're thinkin' Conch'll have my hide. But Conch'll get the last laugh."

Now an explosion from below rocked the Tranquility.

"Then again, he may not be pleased," he said, less sanguine. "Me losin' a good ship to a bunch a' dandies like these." But he cheered up almost immediately. "Gimme that dance box, will ye?" Skeel pried the accordian from the lifeless hand of its proprietor and began squeezing out a tune. "I know ye can't sing no more," he told the man, "but if the wind kicks up just a tad, ye might find ye can whistle." He laughed again, and kept playing. "No? Well, keep an open mind about it." Then he laughed some more.

Another explosion followed, and he raised his head. Then in quick succession three more, the last one ripping through the decking not twenty feet from him, an enormous fiery fist punching upward into the air. He could hear men screaming below. Skeel dropped the accordian. He looked down at his own chest to find what he figureed to be an eight-inch wooden splinter sticking out about three inches, just below the center line. "'Bout time I danced wi' the devil," he said. "Hope he can take a joke." He slumped over.

There's all manner of buckling and swashing, and much more humorous dialogue, but there's also gravity and eternal themes that run through the tale. Perhaps I'll talk about those tomorrow. Meantime, I'll say that this is a book not only for almost all ages but also either gender, as there are things about the story that everyone can like, and the male and female characters are equally well done.

For other perspectives, visit these other stops on the tour:

Brandon Barr
Jennifer Bogart
Keanan Brand
Melissa Carswell
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Alex Field
Marcus Goodyear
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespack
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blaggard's Moon - Day 1

The April feature for the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour is a superb pirate-themed fantasy, Blaggard's Moon by George Bryan Polivka, prequel to the Trophy Chase Trilogy.

Ever since I read the title on a list of upcoming books on the tour, I've been looking forward to reading the novel. After all, with a name like Blaggard's Moon, it had to be full of pirate-y, fantasy goodness.

Indeed, it is, and it does not disappoint.

First, a few words about the title: Blaggard is a corruption of blackguard, a term in use since about the middle of the sixteenth century, and originally meaning the servants who worked in the kitchen or in the scullery (where the dishes and utensils were cleaned and kept, and where the messier cooking tasks were done). These servants tended toward muckiness from the dirty dishes, and sootiness from the massive fireplaces, and thus were dubbed "the black guard"--guard being a term for anything from a small armed force to an entire army. And those old great houses did require armies of servants.

Later, probably because of the coarse manners and raw language employed by the servants among themselves, blackguard came to mean someone who not only uses foul language but behaves badly, anything from mere rudeness to full-blown illegality, manipulation, and various vile activities. And, with the passage of time and the way we humans tend toward laziness in our speech, the word transformed to blaggard. In much the same way, forecastle became focsle, boatswain became bosun, and gunwale became gunnel.

Enough etymology -- on with the voyage!

The book opens with pirate Smith Delaney sitting on a pole, waiting death by piranha-like fish and flesh-eating mermonkeys. But, as in The Princess Bride by Willam Goldman, one has only to wait -- the story is bound to flip around on itself.

Delaney is the character that guides the reader through the story, or succession of stories, all part of one another, all telling one big story. Some of them are his own direct memories, and some are his memories of tales told by another, Ham Drumbone, whose gift for storytelling could sway an entire crew of pirates, despite their repeated calls for only the fight scenes -- another parallel with The Princess Bride, which is subtitled "The Good Parts Version".

Blaggard's Moon is all good parts. I was never bored by the story, and found all the characters to be engaging, even the villains. The writing is excellent, the story intruiging, and I recommend it to all readers; though it's more for adults, teens and even pre-teens might enjoy to story. As a kid, I read a lot of books deemed too heavy or complicated or adult-oriented for a grade-schooler, and I looked for more. This book has made me hungry for more, and I look forward to adding the other books to my collection.

More tomorrow. Meantime, check out these other stops on the tour:

Brandon Barr
Jennifer Bogart
Keanan Brand
Melissa Carswell
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Alex Field
Marcus Goodyear
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespack
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson

Saturday, April 18, 2009

After a day spent trying to write, I've accomplished exactly one typed page, and everything I read tells me that I can't write worth crap.

It's just a phase, common with every writer, and it'll pass, but it sure stinks while I'm in it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Chess by Rosario Castellanos


Because we were friends and sometimes loved each other,
perhaps to add one more tie
to the many that already bound us,
we decided to play games of the mind.

We set up a board between us:
equally divided into pieces, values,
and possible moves.
We learned the rules, we swore to respect them,
and the match began.

We've been sitting here for centuries, meditating
how to deal the one last blow that will finally
annihilate the other one forever.

Rosario Castellanos
(25 May 1925 – 7 August 1974)
Mexican poet and author

While on one of many trips to Mississippi last year, my father was helping care for his mother-in-law, a retired teacher, and entertained himself by browsing her bookshelves. He found the above poem in an old textbook, thought I'd like it, and called me up so he could read it over the phone. We talked about the poem and about the themes it brought up, and it was a pretty good conversation, considering that we aren't always on pleasant terms with one another.

Which, in a way, falls right in line with the poem.

UPDATE (January 2014)
FYI, as of this date, the above post has received well over 5k views.
For further commentary / discussion of this poem, visit Chess on the new Adventures in Fiction blog

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thursday Ramble

The writers group met this evening in a room at the Boys & Girls Club where I work. Only four of us attended, and events unfolded as usual, with one writer bringing two new chapters, one writer reading old material, another with a sheet of grammatical errors she found in her students' papers and used as lesson material, and then me with my few pages of science fiction, the unfinished draft of the next episode of Thieves' Honor.

I almost didn't share anything with the other writers. After all, they don't "do" science fiction or fantasy, and my work makes their eyes cross and their faces go blank.

I read the first scene of the episode anyway (wouldn't want to tax them with an entire story!), a harsher scene than made them comfortable, but they gave decent feedback. That was unexpected, and encouraging.

As solitary as writing is, and though many of us really write to tell ourselves a story, it does matter to us what others think.

Which brings questions: Why do performers perform? Would a stage actor act without the applause? Would a film or TV actor put in the long hours without monetary reward? Why, then, do we plug away at an avocation as miserly and demanding as writing?

Now's a good time to invoke a cliche: glutton for punishment. Yep. That's me!


Mom made sure my brother and I could thread a needle, wield a vacuum cleaner, and cook a meal. During our childhood forays into the kitchen, I generally made spaghetti and pasta dishes, and baked experimental cookies that could also double as hockey pucks or dog biscuits, and my brother's expertise was grilling stuff. I've given up on my childhood specialties, but Bubba continues as the family grillmaster. (He's pretty darn good, too.)

In an effort to eat healthier, I buy salad stuff, but sometimes it will sit in the fridge to the point of becoming a science fair project. I buy fruit; same story.

I like veggies, and I like fruit, so what's the problem? (shrug)

The local grocery store has been offering pre-cut plates of fresh produce, such as mixed veggies that can be eaten raw or cooked, or sliced fruit that can be eaten as-is or tossed into a fruit salad. Ah! My kind of packaging! No work involved -- though the price is higher than if I prepared the food myself -- and the only utensil I really need is a fork.

People might shake their heads over this evidence of laziness, but I call it a good way to eat.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Insane Poetry, and a Quest for Quirky Characters

Another bit of poetry for National Poetry Month, but this one was written on the fly for a goofy response to an editorial discussion over at Fear and Trembling magazine. (Editor Scott Sandridge has instituted a points--ahem, bones--system, in which we rate the submissions from 0 bones, for something horrendous or improperly formatted, to 10 bones for something that blows our skulls wide open.) Nothing literary or sweet or even truly poetic about this bit, just some macabre silliness, verbatim:

(conjuring the image of the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk:"Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread.")

Bones, bones, tasty bones
Fresh bones, blood-sticky, flesh-spongy bones
Arm bones and thigh bones and tiny, skinny finger bones
Puzzle-cut spine bones and knobby-ended wrist bones
Not-so-round skull bones
Shovel-scooped collar bones, wing-like shoulder bones
Bones, bones, lovely bones
White-boiled angels floating in my stew

(It ain't great, but I laughed a time or two typing it.)

Okay, enough of that. Now for something more serious.

I've been considering my characters, and studying what other writers do to make theirs memorable. Anyone who's been to a writers conference knows about psychological profiles / questionnaires, intended to help us know our characters from the insides out, or about character sheets, where we list all sorts of things, from physical traits and flaws to childhood trauma to favorite styles of footwear. But what makes a character linger in the reader's mind for not only days but years?

I met Philip Martin a few years ago when he was speaking at an Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. conference in Oklahoma City, and when I, feeling a little like a teenage groupie, asked him to sign my copy of his book, The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature: From Dragons Lair to Hero Quest. Through a variety of circumstances -- a group lunch, a discussion session, and more -- we struck up an acquaintance. Though communication has been sporadic over the last couple of years, I do check in on his blog from time to time, and the latest entry addresses the matter of memorable -- or quirky -- characters: "The Wonderfully Eccentric Characters of Charles Dickens".

He includes a link to his newsletter, too, in which there is an article entitled "In Praise of Eccentricity":

The core of the writer's challenge is to tell a fresh story. As William M. Thackeray (Victorian novelist, author of Vanity Fair), summed it up: “The two most engaging powers of a good author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”

But how? How do you put a fresh spin on old and common themes?

One secret: eccentricity!

That's the opening; here's the closing:

Find the character that is a bit odd (or a lot so), and you've got a core element of a story that can make the reader sit up and pay attention. By offering something fresh and exotic, you create real value, something we can’t get at the corner convenience store of the imagination. Remember the rule: eccentricity is your friend.

Now, head on over and check out all the stuff in between!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tell Me the Story

Regardless on which side of belief a person stands, there is no denying the impact one man's life has had on our world.

Throughout centuries, people have misused His name as a blessing on their endeavors, though He was not a part of them; abused His name as a curse word; mocked His name as that of a madman, a figment of imagination, or a grand liar; dismissed His name as having no place among those of rational men; strove to anhilate His name, persecuting or killing those who put their faith in Him; and yet His name remains. It is a rock against which storms rage but cannot overcome.

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. (Proverbs 18:10, NIV)

In honor of Easter, an old hymn that tells His story while inviting the hearer / reader to tell it, too -- fitting for a writer's page:

Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word;
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard.
Tell how the angels in chorus,
Sang as they welcomed His birth,
“Glory to God in the highest!
Peace and good tidings to earth.”

Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word;
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard.

Fasting alone in the desert,
Tell of the days that are past,
How for our sins He was tempted,
Yet was triumphant at last.
Tell of the years of His labor,
Tell of the sorrow He bore;
He was despised and afflicted,
Homeless, rejected and poor.

Tell of the cross where they nailed Him,
Writhing in anguish and pain;
Tell of the grave where they laid Him,
Tell how He liveth again.
Love in that story so tender,
Clearer than ever I see;
Stay, let me weep while you whisper,
“Love paid the ransom for me.”

- Frances J. Crosby, 1880

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I Ain't Keats

This being National Poetry Month, I'm revisiting my scant folio of poems. Fiction might be "plant your butt in the chair, and get it done" kind of writing, but poetry has to strike me before I write it. (Except when I was a kid, and it was a school assignment. Oh, the agony.)

Here are a couple of angst-y pieces, inspired by two different people, years apart, and both poems have won awards. (I can't recall the years or the contests. I did pocket the money, though!) Call the first poem an act of tough love, and the second a manifesto.


She is a choking vine,
twining my limbs,
wrapping my throat,
squeezing my strength
as if I am the soil that succors her roots.

I was, at first,
a sympathetic, willing trellis,
thinking my role temporary,
like a stake to guide a sapling,
but she will not let go.

Sun and shade equally strike,
yet she claims the lesser share,
complaining her weakness, her lack,
her compromise—
shadowing me as she seeks more light.

I am dying,
throttled by her need.
Freeing my hand, I tear at her tendrils;
broken stems bleed on my skin.
Remnants of her cling to my clothes.

She cries her shock and anger,
pleas the length of friendship,
but I reck not her arguments,
turn from her tilting form,
and say, “Stand.”


The Flood

You left
a high-water mark
on the walls of my heart--
a crusted undulating line
that marks the end
of the rising filthy tide
of pollution I once called

of receding emotion
lap against my reality boots
and cover the toes,
but I feel nothing,
wading through the muck and
debris like Peter walked on

If I
look down, I might sink
into that miserable morass
of self-pity and doubt,
mourning the lost years
and cursing you for taking them,
for making the dreams

of memory bleach
saturate the walls and wash away
disease, letting the clean things shine through,
leaving behind the bones of a house
in which laughter will ring

poems c. Keanan Brand

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Mad Streak

Ever get on one of those mad writing streaks, where sleep and time and food don't really matter? Those are the best.

I've been on a few where I forget such elixirs of life as fresh coffee and Southern sweet tea exist, but those are the real benders, when it's all I can do to take dictation from the ideas flooding my mind.

The current craziness is a calmer kind, when the story is a puzzle, and though I know what the final picture must be, I spend hours examining the pieces, turning them, shuffling them, fitting them together.

After work Tuesday night, and after a few trivial chores and a call from a friend, I started on the writing. Lots of tea, lots of coffee, and many deleted words later, I realized the sky was looking light.

Even when the digital clock beside the bed ticked over to 6:00 a.m., I still wasn't asleep, but the ideas that came then were for a different story than the one I'd been working on. Great ideas, too.

Figure I'll ride this streak till it dies. It always does, but it's awesome while it lasts.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Reaching for the Light

Check this out!

Read more about this awesome nebula and a pulsar here.

Meantime, here's a quote from the article:

The red light (is) actually a neighboring gas cloud, RCW 89, energized into glowing by the fingers of the PSR B1509-58 nebula, astronomers believe.

The scene, which spans 150 light-years, is about 17,000 light years away, so what we see now is how it actually looked 17,000 years ago, and that light is just arriving here.

image courtesy of NASA

Mis-Laid Plans

I had big plans for this weekend: write, mow, read.

What actually happened: slept on the couch, watched TV in between naps, took medication.

Oh, yeah. I did write a little -- a long journal entry, and portions of scenes for Thieves Honor, Episode 8 ("Endgame"), which will hopefully end the small story arc of "The Game", and be a little longer than previous episodes.

And the only reading I did was of the Biblical variety, on Sunday morning, in lieu of church.

It's now officially Monday morning, I've just taken another dose of medication, and I'm wishing work wasn't on the schedule in a few hours.

I've become a huge fan of, with its vast selection of free TV shows. I set the computer on a couch-side table, navigated over to, and episodically watched shows. (Yes, episodically. In between long "station breaks" when I slept.)

I own a few TV shows on DVD, and frequently rent them, too, in order to study the story arcs and the episode structures. Several years ago, at a writing conference, someone suggested watching soap operas for certain story elements, but that ain't my thing; other television shows work just fine, and I like 'em, so I actually pay attention. They're like homework, only cooler.

Being such a rookie to writing serial fiction, I feel like I have to re-learn how to write with every episode: If this were television, which scene would open the show? How long should a dialogue scene extend before the viewer (ahem, reader) gets bored? Action scenes can get boring, too, so how long should this or that one be, and what do I show? How much explanation is necessary in order to keep the audience informed, and how much should I let them infer from actions and dialogue?

See. It's an ongoing education.

Well, this post has rambled on, and I'm feeling a little loopy. Must be the medication. Yeah. Let's blame it on that.

Friday, April 3, 2009


This being Friday at the end of a busy week, and with no work-related items on the weekend schedule, I am looking forward to a couple of days of solitude and writing.

And mowing the yard, but not with as much enthusiasm as I anticipate the writing and the quiet.

In the span of a couple days, my inbox filled up with slush for Fear and Trembling, now that the online horror magazine is open again for submissions. However, being behind on my own material, I probably won't wade through the slush till next week. Don't be discouraged, however, if you have scary short stories or poems you'd like us to consider; they will be read.

I took a little break in brainstorming the other night, and scanned a few unfinished stories. One, temporarily titled "Eban's Crossing", is a bit of fantasy I need to finish for my oldest niece. Another, also with a temporary title--"Costano"--is the beginning of a novel that intrigues me, because it's an alternate, fantasy version of Rome during the Renaissance/Baroque era, the main characters are artists and architects and accused heretics, and, though I know the ending, I don't know what's going to happen between the opening chapters and the final scene. Then there's The Anachronist, the space station murder mystery that stumps me, not because of the murder, but because I'm still learning about the structure of the legal system in the futuristic world in which the story occurs.

This weekend, however, will be devoted to furthering Episode 8 of Thieves' Honor, and perhaps working on Dragon's Bane, which is shaping up far differently than I first envisioned. But that's the fun of writing: envisioning a new world, then being transported into it, where anything can happen.


Hey, there are still only two chapters to the "group novel" project in the F&T forums (John Kuhn wrote the first, I wrote the second). Click here to read the existing chapters, and maybe add your own. Let's see where the story leads!

Also, if you'd like to volunteer for Fear and Trembling, editor Scott Sandridge has put out a call for five more slush readers and two assistant editors (one for columns, one for poems).