“The sky is the killer of us all.” Enemy Ace – A Review

DC’s Showcase: Enemy Ace , written by Robert Kanigher and penciled by the legendary Joe Kubert, is the most unrelentingly nihilistic comic I’ve ever read. Enemy Ace - nihilism at its best

It presents the face of war from the side of the enemy.  In this case it’s Hans Von Hammer, a WWI fighter pilot modeled after Baron Manfred Von Richthofen, better known as the “Red Baron”.  Like his namesake Von Hammer collects victory cups for each plane he shoots down and flies a red Fokker DR1, just like the Baron.  There are many other aspects of his life that parallel Richthofen’s,  which makes the comic (for those who know something about WWI aces) a real joy to read.

The technology and fighting tactics are correct for the most part. But, these are comics and sometimes you get goofy characters the Enemy Ace has to go up against and defeat, or situations that stretch credulity.  But overall the stories themselves are top-notch and crushing in their nihilism and bleak outlook of men at war.

Von Hammer has no friends.  Death follows him.  The ground crew call him a killing machine and always remark on how cool he looks and how easily he kills.  He cannot connect in any emotional way with other human beings, and his only friend is a black wolf he meets in the forest — another killer.  They develop a psychic connection.  They both know one day they will be killed.  Killers are always killed — Nature demands it.  Von Hammer returns to the forest many times between missions.  He can find solace only at the side of this black wolf, his only true friend.  It is his only moment of peace.

But more than that it is the sky which endures in these comics.  The sky, as Von Hammer notes, is the “enemy of us all.”  He is “a killing machine” but one day he knows the sky will kill him.  The sky itself is a main character in all these stories.  It is vast, uncaring, unmoving.  The sky strikes down friend and foe alike.  There are many panels where Von Hammer’s plane is but a tiny speck in the vast space.  He is nothing compared to the infinite power of the sky, and he knows he can never be anything but a lonely speck waiting his turn to be killed.  As he kills.

About the only drawback to these stories is they are presented in black and white. These were originally four-color comics and we miss the red of his plane, the blue sky, the checkerboard green quilt of the land below.  Sometimes a comic can still work published in black and white even though it first appeared in color.  The Showcase: Jonah Hex collection is such an example.  But the absence of color hurts the overall appearance of these Enemy Ace stories, I think.  We want to see his red plane.  You can tell some of the panels were set up to enhance the color and make the action more alive.

Aside from that these stories are pretty darn good.  If you want to read a nihilistic comic and are interested in WWI flying aces, this collection is the one to read.

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Great article in Centauri Dreams: explains fallibility of Fermi’s Paradox, human impatience

“Lost in Space and Lost in Time: The Consequences of Temporal Dispersion for Exosolar Technological Civilizations” by Dave Moore, Centauri Dreams.

Mark here. This is an excellent article. I have always believed the problem lies more with our human-centralized impatience to “find idealized Star Trek aliens” rather than the simple fact we A.) are alone, or B.) the enormous spacial and temporal distances involved simply preclude a galaxy burgeoning with sentient lifeforms that mirror our own spatial-temporal frame.

In other words, the chances of advanced alien lifeforms inhabiting the same time-frame of our own civilization, given the age and enormous volume of the universe at hand, is pretty damn slim, and more likely zero.I fully expect this scenario is pure fantasy and wish-fulfillment. Occam's Razor is more than likely in effect: we're alone.

I maintain we will find microbial alien life, or come across archeological evidence of another civilization, long before we meet another  alien species face to face. You cannot ignore the time frame and galactic spacial distances involved, especially when coupled with the life spans of civilizations in relation to that.

Humans need to stop thinking in such limited and parochial terms. Even our galaxy isn’t a neighborhood. It’s enormous, enclosing both enormous time frames and distances. Once again, the ingrained impatience of our species is showing.

If you want to get down and dirty about it, Occam’s Razor is probably best here. We are alone. Star Trek, a federation of alien civilizations who exist at the same spatial-temporal point in their technological curve, is pure fantasy and will never be actualized. The actual age, and distances involved, preclude such an event. The distribution and rates of occurrence of alien civilizations are much too thin.

The Magical Reality of Reading

I used to read everywhere. Lying on the floor, in bed, in the tub, under a tree, in a tree, on the ground, in the car, at the dinner table, in the living room while everyone else was watching TV, late at night, under the stars, on a train, walking to and from school, inI used to read everywhere. Didn't you? school, in restaurants, under a table, under a trailer, in a deer stand, on the edge of a field, beside a campfire, in a tent…whew! I guess the one place I didn’t do much reading was church because that would have gotten me slapped.

I read everywhere. I probably couldn’t remember all the places if I tried, and what I put down here doesn’t begin to exhaust the list. When I think back to all the places I read it feels, well, kind of heavy in my mind. Like there were a lot of them.

Anyway, I read everywhere I could, whenever I could. I was voracious. I read everything, and I loved it.

I partly read to escape my life, but I also read because I enjoyed the physical act of reading. I liked carrying a book or a magazine around with me, its pages dog-eared, spine cracked. It seemed like it was always ready. There was something about it that felt right to me.

I will always remThe first comic I ever bought was Hot Stuff, haha. What was yours?ember the very first book I bought with my own money, and where I read it. It was a comic book about Hot Stuff, the Little Devil. We were living in Pearl, Mississippi at the time. I sat on the gray concrete stoop outside our front door and read that comic book while my baby brother took a nap. It was the beginning of a long, and often lonely, journey.

I say lonely because reading is a lot like writing. It’s a bit of a lonely exercise. Unless you are reading for someone or in front of someone. Otherwise it’s a solitary act, much like writing. Which is why they go so well together, I guess?

As I got older I read less, but I read more critically. Over the years, especially as an adult, I stopped making it a point to finish whatever book I started reading. I  used to be proud of that. I outgrew it fast enough when I began to understand it’s not how much you read, but how well you read.

I very much believe a good writer must be a good reader. Not of books, but people, too. Writers are always watching people and reading them in an unobtrusive way. We watch how they act and move and speak and change, and are changed, by the world around them. We read other people, and ourselves, and the world, as they circle around us.

We never stop because I think it’s sort of innate behavior with writers. I don’t know if it’s something you can teach. Maybe. If not it should be.

But all that reading doesn’t go to waste. When I attended a family reunion a while back one of my relatives pushed his little boy forward and said, “He wants to be a writer like you. Can you maybe give him some advice?”

I did.  I told him the best thing he could do right now was read. “Read as much as you can,” I said, “and everything you can. You like fantasy and that’s what you want to write, so that’s what you should read most. But you should also read mysteries, romance, science fiction, history, everything. Keep doing that, and the writing will come.”

I often think of my little relative from time to time and wonder if he’s reading. I used to lie in bed late at night (0n a school night, no less) and have the bathroom door cracked just enough so I could see the page and make out the words.

Is he reading? I expect he is. If he’s a writer, even at that unformed age, I can promise you he is reading.

I did it. You did it. Yeah, I bet he is, too.

Sunrise – 1927 (A Review)

I love silent film. I’m not a huge fan of movies per se, but I do love film.  I have seen one several times which I would like tSunrise - A Song of Two Humanso recommend for you. It is F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.

This is a silent film from 1927 with a great score.  It’s the only film I know in which an entire category was invented so it could win an Oscar that year. It’s an Expressionist film, but it’s not Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Expressionism, even though the characters are named The Man, The Wife, The Woman from the City, and they hail from places like The Farm and City.  Very fundamental. But the use of light and shadow, and Murnau’s interest in light as a character in the film, is fantastic. Murnau also directed the original Nosferatu, another silent film you should definitely watch should you get the chance.

But back to Sunrise.  Of course, the woman from the city is a typical man-eating Vamp who smokes cigarettes and likes showing the outline of her legs through her black dress.  She has mesmerized The Man and while they are making love on the shore of the water by moonlight she talks him into drowning his wife and making it look like an accident.  He is tormented. We see scenes of him wrestling with his conscience as ghostly images of The Woman from the City embraces and kisses him.  He decides to go through with the murder.

Everything in this film works, even, I suspect, quite by accident. In one scene, as The Man and The Wife are in a boat headed across the water and come to tie up at a pier, we see a black swirl of water behind her. It’s a spooky metaphor for the danger she’s in, and I’m quite certain it’s real and not a special effect.

Janet Gaynor plays The Wife. Rarely have I ever seen anyone as fragile and innately vulnerable as she appears on screen. She is perfect for the role, as is Margaret Livingston who plays the Vamp.
Torment and love in Murnau's Sunrise
I don’t want to say much else about the plot. I don’t want to spoil it for you. But the search on the water by lamplight (an incredible achievement considering the technology back then) has been copied in a ton of films since.  And for good reason: it’s freaking AWESOME. The play of light on water, the light and shadow on the faces…Wow.

I highly recommend this film. As a writer this film also fascinates me because the story is simple, but Murnau brings layers of complexity to it.

If you ever get the chance I urge you to see it.  You may find your outlook on life changes a little.

It’s that good, and that powerful.


 

Planning another camping trip…with writing a novel on the side!

Thinking about going camping this weekend. A couple of reasons. It’s getting late in the year and if I wait much longer it’s going to get cold. I don’t like the cold. I can deal with the heat much better. Just me. 😛

There are also the buffalo. I’d like to follow them around for a day and watch ’em interact with one another and the environment and see what makes them tick. I also like the solitude and quiet, of course.

But I think the major reason is I am very close to pulling the trigger on this new Haxan prequel novel. The story is coming into shape in my mind and I am getting close to the “start making notes and doing research” phase. Since that is the case I’d like to tie that in with some other act, like going camping.

Right now the changes are 50/50 I will go. I don’t need to go camping, either, to start preliminary work on a new novel. I just thought it would make a nice start with a camping trip. I’m going to start the notes and stuff next week whether I’m at Caprock Canyon or not. Maybe I can meet my writing buddy if I’m not going camping; that would be nice.

As you can see I have a lot to think about, haha. But I am looking forward to writing/working on a new project. Oh, and I have some more news on the “publishing my backlog of stories” thing going on in the background. I found someone who can do covers for me via barter, so that works out. He can’t do all my stuff, but it should give me a lead in while I try and learn how to use PhotoShop with my limited brain.

Other than that everything is fine here. I’m starting to get excited about Halloween and it’s not even October yet! 😀

Dreams of a Young Writer: A Personal Post

When I was little, oh, I guess about ten or eleven, I had a big poster thumbtacked to the wall above my bed. If I’m not mistaken I got it from a local library, but I can’t remember. It was a poster I bet a lot of kids didn’t have in their rooms, now or then.

It was a poster featuring the pictures and biographies of famous writers. People like George Orwell, Mark Twain, Margaret Mitchell, James Joyce, H.G. Wells, Virginia Woolfe, and about ten or fifteen others I can’t remember. I think it had Poe and Kafka.

Anyway, it was a great poster. I wish I had it today. I can’t remember exact details, only vague impressions of what it looked like. It was big with a black background and most of the photographs of the famous writers were in black and white. Beside each photograph was a short biography and there may have been a quote included, as well, either from the writer or one of their most famous works. I can’t remember. Those details are too tiny and have slipped through the cracks of my memory.

But here is my main point. I was a little boy, and I had a poster featuring writers hanging above my bed. I mean, come on.

I think about that sometimes. I think about the little roads and threads that came into my life through all those little disparate moments. All I had were dreams back then. Hell, all I have are dreams today. I don’t care how famous you get, I think all writers are spurred on by more and more dreams that keep them awake at night and keep them thinking, planning, working.

I can’t help but think about stuff like that sometimes, given my past. I sometimes wonder what I would tell myself if I could walk through that doorway and see that little boy lying in bed, and what I would tell him. I guess I would tell him, “Hey, don’t worry. Believe it or not you get through this, and you do become a writer. So just keep going.”

Then again, that little boy has never left me. He’s still there, lying in bed, looking up at that poster and wondering what it will take to be a real writer. What you have to sacrifice, what you have to work at, who you have to know, and what you have to learn.  He’s still there, with me.

He will always be with me.

New Haxan Page Added to My WordPress Blog. Hooray!

Just letting my readers know I added a Haxan web page to this blog. You can link to it from the side under “Pages” or click on the badge below, haha. It includes stuff like how I created the series, inspiration, and some character biographies. Hope you enjoy the extra content.

Thanks, guys. 🙂

Click here to see the new Haxan page on WordPress. Hooray!

I Hate Breaking in a New Story

I have not been sleeping well. This is due to one thing: I have a story on the brain.When story ideas come they come fast and furious. How about you?

I hate it when that happens, don’t you? Part of the contract we make when we write, though, I guess. You get these ideas that start to flower and suddenly they are putting out new shoots and root systems throughout your imagination and before you know it you are behind on sleep.

It’s like the story takes over.

I’m considering working on a Haxan prequel novel. I have the idea for one, but I don’t have the story. Over the past couple of weeks the story has been coming to me, bit by bit. What started as a trickle is threatening to turn into a waterfall. When that happens I know the novel will be ready to be written.

I was worried at first because I wanted to write a prequel novel, but didn’t have the story straight in my head. As of this morning I am getting the story straight in my head but…I kinda could use some sleep. Oh well, I’ve made that trade before. I guess I will do it again.

The first thing I need to do is start making notes and getting some of this down on paper. I no longer write stories out longhand (okay, I only ever did that a time or two) but I still like to make notes on a legal yellow pad using a black ink pen. I guess it’s a sort of comfort zone with me. Then I move to computer for the real donkey work.

Best thing about all this? Research! I love doing research for a story. My favorite part. I like learning new stuff.

How about you? How do you break in a story? Do you let it slowly develop or do you get an idea and immediately begin to work from that?

 

In Writing, Like Life, There Are No Guarantees

I must admit I am sometimes taken aback by how writing at its most fundamental core is so insane.

Think about it. You sit down and write a story. Okay, fine. You make it the best story you can with the tools you have available. All right, nothing wrong so far.

But there are absolutely no guarantees it will ever be sold or read by anyone.It may never earn one single penny. It may never help your career in anyway. You may decide to trunk the darn thing and it sits in an attic until you kick the bucket and the executor of your estate sifts through handfuls of paper upon which you have poured out your soul, wonders “What is this garbage?” and throws it into a fire or something.

I mean, seriously. Think about it. Who else but a crazy person would enter into a contract like that? To write? For what goal? There are no guarantees in this business. None.

You want to know a hard fact? I can almost promise you will make more money flipping burgers than you ever will writing. Want to know something else? Flipping burgers has more future in it than writing. Digging ditches, cutting brush, surveying a desolate Kansas field in the dead of winter — all easier than writing. And often more rewarding.

So why do we do it? Why do we put ourselves through this? Because we have to. We have all these words and stories and ideas inside that are bursting to get out. You can’t walk around with something like that inside you forever. You have to let it have voice. You have to write.

I don’t know about anyone else. I mean, I’ve spoken to writers about this before. All I know is about me. I don’t write because I want to.

I write because I have to. Something inside forces it from me.

It’s crazy and it’s insane. It’s writing.

Typewriters I have known and loved….

My earlier post about writing got me to thinking off the typewriters I have used down through the years. What’s that you say? Yes, we used to have typewriters. With ink ribbons that you had to change. I know, it was prehistoric!

The first typewriter I ever owned was a manual Royal machine. I got it from my grandparents as a graduation present after I finished two years of journalism school. I wrote the very first story I ever submitted to a magazine on this machine.

The next typewriter I got was a gray Olivetti. Man, I loved this machine. I wrote my first novel on it, 100,000 words. The novel didn’t sell, but I put a lot of “word miles” on this one, haha. I got it from my Grandmother who lived in Texas at the time. She was one of the few people in my family who ever supported my idea of wanting to become a writer, so this one holds a special place in my heart:

The next machine I got was an electric typewriter. Boy, talk about a step up from manual! Your fingers could fly across the keyboard. I wrote tons of stories on two or three machines like this. I would wear one out, buy a new one. The first one I bought was in Lafayette, LA at Sears. I remember debating whether or not I wanted to spend the money for it. I got in my car, drove away, got halfway down the road turned back and went inside and made the purchase.

This was probably the best typewriter I have ever owned. It had the awesome Coronomatic cartridge you could pop in and out. Later, as typerwriters became an endangered species, it was more difficult to find the cartridges:

Now I work on a laptop computer. It’s like every other laptop computer out there. It has no soul, no quirks, no funny noises or needs oiling or the keys cleaned or anything like that. It is impersonal and uncaring. It’s like every other stupid laptop out there, I swear.

Yeah. I miss typewriters. But I’m not crazy. Computers have made the technical aspect of writing a lot easier, especially when it comes to producing a clean manuscript.

Yes, technically we are better off with computers. But emotionally? You are never going to convince me otherwise.

Just a Reminder: I am on Twitter, Too

Hey, I can tweet with the best of them. Follow me @kmarkhoover  😛

Follow Mark on Twitter and be amused at his stupdity....

The Story Endures: My Growth as a Writer

I remember the first real story I ever wrote. Five Million Years to Earth

I was living in South Texas and I was in seventh grade. I think we were living in Kenedy at the time. It was a one-horse town surrounded by weeds and cactus, tortoises and horned toads. It was there I got chased by a red wasp and I outran it I was so scared. I also saw a snake once. And in a ditch was a puddle of green rainwater with slimey frog eggs. You could slip your hand into them and they’d squeeze past your fingers all wet and gooey. I had a pet hen. I don’t remember her name, but she was brown. A little girl lived next door and her name was Peggy. I got invited to her birthday party and we had tuna sandwiches on an outdoor table under a shade tree. There was a field of clover next to the house. During the day you could hear bees hum.

It was a great place for a kid. I mean, for South Texas.

I was pretty sure by then I wanted to be a writer. At least I thought so. One day I got my spiral notebook and a blue ink pen. I had seen the movie Five Million Years to Earth on TV recently and it inspired me. I was a kid. I liked movies about giant insects and things that used human beings as disposable Slim Jims. I figured I could write something like that.

I can’t remember the name of my first story, but it was about an astronaut expedition to Mars and they get wiped out on a hilltop by angry Martians. (Don’t you hate it when that happens?) The narrator of the story was the last to die as the Martians swarmed upon the crown of hill over their dead bodies, victorious under a red Martian sun. I even illustrated the story. I don’t remember what ever happened to it. I either threw it away or it got lost in one of the innumerable moves that plagued my life, throughout my life.

I remember the second real story I wrote. I was now in eighth grade. This was for an English class. It had the added pressure of being for a grade, so I knew I had to make it good.

I was a big fan of science fiction so I thought I would write a story about an astronaut expedition which encounters a UFO around Jupiter. I got about halfway through and stopped. I didn’t like it. I didn’t even like my illustration of the UFO flying mysteriously near Jupiter. I slipped the unfinished story into my notebook and sat there, troubled.

I went home. Hours passed. I was going to be in trouble if I didn’t write a good story.

Later, after supper, I sat down and wrote a story about a Confederate soldier fighting alongside General Lee. The night before they surrendered at Appomattox he and his comrades were around a campfire eating beans and bacon. The trees were dark overhead. The next day, he accompanied Lee to the surrender, sees Grant from a distance, and goes home. The soldier didn’t care about the fighting. He was just a nobody guy caught up in history. He only wanted to go home and be with his family. The story ends as he leaves the battlefield one last time and strikes out on an empty road.

I don’t remember what grade I got, but I do think it was an A. Anyway, I know it was a good grade.

Now it goes without saying neither of these stories were very good. They would not pass muster today, probably not even compared to stories written by other kids in seventh and eighth grade.

But they have remained with me all this time. Despite how much progress I have made, and have yet to make in this profession, those stories will always be part of me. They were my first true efforts at writing a short story. I had started several before then, but never finished them. They were the first stories I actually finished.

I will always remember writing them. I remember how I felt when I started them, and how I felt when I finished them. I remember the notebook paper they were written on, and what my life was like at the time, along with all the fears, upsets and hurts I had to endure from other people around me. All those things are part of those lost stories, and those stories themselves are part of me today.

The third story I wrote I was much older, eighteen or nineteen. I was living in Tyler. I had gotten a new portable Royal typewriter from my grandparents. It was a story about children who were cyborgs attending their first day of school. They were being taught how to be soldiers so they could protect humanity from some evil and dangerous presence in the universe. This was also the first story I sent off to be considered for publication. I  want to say I sent it to Amazing but I know that’s not right. Anyway, whoever it was didn’t accept it.

That didn’t stop me one bit. I kept right on writing. I went back to college, got another degree, and started teaching. When I quite teaching I started writing full time. Suddenly, the floodgates were opened. And here I am now.

But those first stories…I think about them sometimes, and the little boy alone in his room with no real friends to speak of, writing alone. I think of those first stories and how they are still a part of me, how they resonate.

I guess that kind of fascinates me in a way. I don’t know why. Of course the stories are part of me, I wrote them.It would be impossible for them to exist outside of me. I created them.The story endures.

They were the first steps I took to becoming a professional writer. The very first steps. I had no idea what was ahead of me in my future when I wrote those stories. I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me at the time.

But they were the first ones. They taught me another lesson, one I have never forgotten.

Stories endure. The story always endures.

 

 

The Lonely Chaos of Writing

Mark here. I wrote this essay years back. I think the things I said are as true today as then. We all have walls we must climb. I maintain there is NO other profession like writing. None. It is internal and solitary. I mean, even a painter gets to look at a bowl of fruit sometimes.

All we have as writers to comfort us is our imagination.

Anyway,  a couple of friends said it helped them process some difficulties they were experiencing at the time. I reprint it here in the hope it may help someone else who is struggling with some aspect of writing, or anything else in life.

………………..

I know your life is chaos right now.  I know that and you know that.Writing takes and takes...we give all.

But sometimes you have to be a right bastard if you ever want to write. Sometimes you have to shove other people out of the way and make room for yourself so you can write.  It’s not a nice thing to think about.  I know that.  But no one else can write for you. You have to do it yourself because you are a writer.  Don’t forget that.

You see, writing isn’t like any other thing.  It’s completely you, no one else.  Therefore, since that’s true, sometimes you must push people aside, even those you love, to make the room you need so you can write.  Yeah.  It’s very selfish.  But writing demands selfishness.  It doesn’t allow anything else to impinge upon the freedom it wants to have in our minds, and its desire to express itself on paper because writing is even more selfish than we are.

Writing will NEVER be loyal to you.  The only loyalty will be what you have for your writing.

Like I said, writing is very selfish.  It has to be or you’re really not writing.  In the words of Truman Capote, you’re “typing.”

You have to get that straight in your mind.  Listen, it’s not your talent, it’s not your ideas, it’s not your perception that you have to overcome. It’s YOU.  You have to overcome you so your writing can prevail.  In a word: you must submit.

Writing isn’t happy with second place, either.  It demands it be first in your heart and mind and soul.  Writing isn’t interested in being best friends. It wants to be all.  You have to make that commitment.  You have to move beyond the point where writing is a game. It has to become your breath.  Your living breath.

Speaking for myself, I don’t see that in everyone who says they want to be a writer. But I see it in some people and they got me to thinking about it yesterday.  You have to plant your flag and say, “Okay, I’m in all the way” and then go down with the ship if that’s what’s called for.  Because writing doesn’t make any promises, either.  There are no guarantees and there never will be.  Writing doesn’t meet you half way.  You have to climb Mt. Everest and then jump a little higher and you still might fail.

Writing gives nothing. It only takes.  As a writer, you have to give and give.

And that’s what writing is all about, Charlie Brown.  I think you can do it, and I think you need to do it,  and I will always be there for you.  But even so all I can do is show you the landscape.

You have to go into it alone.  And once you’re there, never turn back.

Haxan is My Corner of the Universe – You Need One Too

I have often said Haxan is my own little corner of the universe where I can play with matches. That much is certai"All men are born of blood...."nly true, but I don’t think it would be as much fun if it weren’t for the fact Haxan is a series.

Maybe it’s somewhat surprising, but working in a series appears to give me more running room and allows for more sustained creative energy than I would have writing singleton-genre stories. At least this is how I view it. I suppose if I never created Haxan, and the characters who inhabit that world, I would be writing about something else. Come to think of it I know I would.

I’ve been thinking about this since I read Richard Parks’s blog entry entitled “Series Seriousness” in which he describes the fun and problems of working with a series. Parks has done quite a bit of work in series from his Eli Mothersbaugh stories to the excellent Yamada tales. He describes the problems of trying to find a steady platform or venue for readers and fans to find the work. But underlying all these problems is the fantastic fun you can have working with a series.

One of the nice things I like about Haxan is how it lends itself so easily to many different genres and interpretations. I can do horror, dark fantasy, fantasy, straight westerns, weird westerns, romance, mystery…the only genre I don’t see working well in this mythos is science fiction. I have yet to write a straight SF story in Haxan and I doubt I ever will. It doesn’t fit my view of Haxan and what that world entails. But many of the other genres, especially horror and dark fantasy and western, certainly fit, and it is here I am most comfortable.

One of the problems with a series is bringing fans from one venue to another. You might cross many different genres and publications in a  series and your fans can lose track of where to find you. Unless you make a special agreement with a publisher or something you will have to work doubly hard to make sure your fans know when and where the next Haxan story (or whatever series you are working on) will appear.

Also, and Haxan is a good example here, you might run into the problem with some fans who are not interested in one particular genre. Like I said, Haxan runs from horror to western to dark fantasy. Sometimes mixing all three at once. If I have a fan who only likes the straight-up western stories, he might not like the ones that have stronger elements of dark fantasy. That’s not his fault. We all like reading particular things that are in our comfort zone. I don’t like some genres. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect them, it’s just not something I read. So if I have a reader who likes a Haxan story based on horror, she might not care for the fantasy story that takes place in the same mythos in another magazine.

Not every series runs into this problem. You might develop a high fantasy series that remains high fantasy. Or dark mystery, or a blending of science fiction/horror, or whatever else interests you. I’m saying from my perspective I think fans of my Haxan stories kind of learn to like and appreciate the mythos of Haxan, and the idea of Haxan, more than any one particular genre. Especially since Haxan sort of straddles so many different genres at once. So that’s what I try and concentrate on, or allude to in every story I write: the mythos.

If I want to bring more people on board as fans I need to sell the idea of Haxan rather than any specific a genre. If I say, “Oh, yes, they’re dark fantasy,” and someone reads a Haxan story that is a straight-up western…I’ve probably lost a reader. Conversely, I know I am starting from behind the eight ball because these stories have a western background. A lot of readers hear “western” and immediately turn away. Not their fault. It’s not something they read or are interested in.

Therefore, Haxan is not necessarily genre specific. It was never meant to be from the outset of its creation. I don’t know if that limits the numbers of my readers. I’m rather afraid it does, to be honest. But I can only write the stories as they come to me. I have been doing this long enough to know you can’t force something, especially a story, into something it’s not meant to be. That doesn’t work and will never work. I can’t bend a Haxan dark fantasy story into another genre because I think it would be more palatable to readers and editors alike. I don’t write that way and I never have.

I don’t think it would be fair to the reader, and I know it wouldn’t be fair to the story.

So that’s my cross to bear, for what it’s worth. Putting aside that I think it’s a great thing for a writer to work in his own series. It’s your entire creation. No one owns it, or owns you. And you can do literally anything you want in that world, as long as it remains logically consistent.

Even though I mostly write Haxan stories now I still write other stories in other genres from time to time. I have fun in Haxan, but I don’t feel limited by it. I don’t feel the series owns me or that I own the series. As long as I have interesting stories about the people in Haxan I will continue to write them. If I have an idea about ballerinas, high-energy physics and the universal power of love, I will write that one, too.

I’m a writer. I’m not a stenographer. I write stories that need to be told. I don’t pick and choose, the story chooses itself.

I am not limited by my Haxan series or imprisoned. But having the series at my elbow, knowing I can walk into that world anytime, and knowing I have structured it in such a way I can tell stories from a variety of genres — I find that liberating.

So here is my advice to you. If you have a particular genre, or idea of place, that you want to write about, I suggest you look into developing it as a series. Not only will you have the continuity thing going for you, which readers love, it will be your own little corner of the universe.

And while you’re working don’t mind me over here in my little corner. It’s a universe. There’s enough room for everybody out there, along with their ideas. 🙂

Foundation Repair Part 2: Hey, it didn’t leave a mark!

The guys finished working on the foundation. They did a pretty good job, I think. The crack in the garage floor is all but gone and the crack between the wood and brick on the side of the garage is much better now. They patched everything up and now we are back to normal. Or as normal as we ever get around here.

Here’s some after repair pics for you:

Lighthouses and Stories Guide Us Through Darkness

I came across this quote many years back which speaks to the seeming futility of writing. And how wrong we are when we have that opinion. Whenever I am especially down about some aspect of writing, or doubting myself, I think of this quoteLighthouses are like stories, they guide us through the dark.....

I think it captures a philosophical truth about perseverance, and why you should never quit.  Mainly, because it’s not about you.  It’s about the words themselves. It’s about the story.We have to remember that.

Here it is:

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for a boat to save; they just stand there shining.”  –Anne Lamott

Foundation Repair Part 1: This Will Leave a Mark

Hoo boy. And this is minor. I was talking to the foreman and he said they are so busy they are working 16 hour days. He said where we live isn’t so bad but you go east toward the lake and there are huge cracks in the ground. He said homes are in really bad shape out there.

It’s all because of the drought. The ground has dried up to such an extent foundations are cracking everywhere.

 

 

 

Writing 101 – Three Rules for Success

Many of my writer friends who are starting out sometimes ask if I have any rules they should  follow.  Now, I’m not one who believes there’s a magic bullet to get your work published or attain literary success. In fact, when I hear someone say there is only one way to write I immediately put that person on my “DO NOT LISTEN TO” list.

But there are three basic rules I personally try to follow with every story I write. Your mileage may vary. Over time you will likely develop your own plan and it will work for you. But this is what I try to keep in mind when I write, and I thought I would share it with you today.

1.)  TELL A GOOD STORY. This should be self-explanatory. Sadly, for many new writers, and not a few older ones who should know better, this is a perpetual stumbling block.  Let’s say you have two story ideas.  One is completely mapped out.  It’s about puppies romping through flowerbeds in the summer sunshine.  The other you’re not quite sure about.  It’s hazy, somewhat disturbing, and probably controversial.

You write the second story.  I’m not saying your puppies-in-the-flowerbed story won’t be good.  But the second story will often be the better story.  How do we know this?  Well, that brings us to our second rule:

2.)  TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Put more simply, write what you feel and don’t be afraid to take chances.  Herman Melville knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote Moby-Dick.  He knew it would challenge readers. (There are people today who still think that novel is about whales.)  Mark Twain knew what he was doing when he wrote the line “Okay, I’ll go to hell, then,” when Huck Finn decided not to turn Jim in as a runaway slave.

So did Henry Miller, Upton Sinclair and Eugene O’Neill.  But since we often talk about genre fiction here the same rule applies.  Joanna Russ, Samuel R. Delany, Harlan Ellison and Daniel Keyes all understood this basic concept, along with a ton of other successful writers.   Appropriately, SF is perfectly suited for pushing the envelope because it’s a genre composed primarily of ideas. But that aspect is not limited only to science fiction. It’s appropriate for all genres.

But you can only attain success if you arm yourself with my last rule:

3. ) PERSEVERE. I have written about this before. You must have the courage to fail if you want to be successful. Remember, the unsold story is the unread story. I know, sometimes it’s like banging your head against a brick wall. Trust me, I’ve been there. But don’t give up. There are a LOT of writers out there who get published, and I’m willing to bet some of them have less talent than you.  In fact I know they do because I’ve read some of their work.

You know why they keep getting published? Because they don’t give up.  They keep submitting their story and working at their craft until they find a market that will accept them.  You should, too.

You can do it. I did. So have thousands of other writers. Good luck!

On Rejection and Courage in Writing

I don’t think I have many stories rejected anymore because of the writing per se. (Although I am capable of  writing the occasional sentence that makes the reader stop and say, “Wha?”)  No, I think the reasons I get rejected now is due to length: too short oYou want to write? You must have the courage to fail.r too long, the editor having a bad day, the editor having my story and another equally good from a well-known writer and picks the other guy (well, I would too, writing is a business) and a hundred other little things out of my control.

In a way it is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle.  It’s not my skill level as much as it’s timing, space left over in a magazine, and a host of other little problems I cannot remove.  That’s okay. I can actually work with that.

Meanwhile, I do what I can to keep those road bumps down to a minimum.  I feel rather good overall about my ability to write.

If writing is all I want to do. But even when you accomplish that, there is one more barrier you have to overcome.

You see, I know a lot of writers.   All the successful writers I know have one thing in common.

They all have the courage to fail. 

They know to attain success you must 1.) submit your work 2.) believe in your work (and yourself) and 3.) possess enough courage to be willing to fail, and fail repeatedly, until you are published.

I also know a lot of people who want to be writers.  Some of them are pretty damn good. The only thing holding them back, as far as I can tell, is finding that inner courage and preparation to confront failure. .

It’s a difficult concept to accept.  I’m not saying it’s an easy philosophy to live by.  But if you want to be successful in anything you do, you must have the courage to try and never quit until you reach your goal.  This lack of courage is, I believe,  one reason I see so many  otherwise decent writers give up before they’ve ever truly begun.

Writing is not easy. I have no patience for anyone who thinks this profession is easy.  In fact it can be downright soul-smashing.   But remember when you get rejected it’s not personal.  It’s never personal.  The editors aren’t rejecting you, they’re rejecting your work, and no, even if you want to believe otherwise, they are not the same thing.

So find the courage inside yourself  and start submitting. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the results. 🙂

 

My 10 Favorite Opening Lines for Fiction

Here are my top first lines from books I’ve read.  These books have had an impact on my maturity and growth as a writer.  But they aren’t arranged in any particular order.  I’ve tried to include  lines that weren’t selected a while back by American Book Review, though there are one or two I couldn’t help but pick. There are also lines I’ve liked over the years but didn’t include them because I don’t have the book here with me and I can’t remember the line exactly. One is the opening from Of Mice and Men which reads something like “A few miles south of Soledad they threw me off the truck.”  But since I don’t have the actual quote, I didn’t include it in this current list.  It’s a great first line, though, especially when you know “Soledad” means loneliness in Spanish.

An other fun first line that got some play in the SF community a while back is from John Varley’s novel Steel Beach, which reads something like “In twenty years the male penis will be extinct.”  Funny and novel, worth a grin and definitely memorable, but pretty shallow otherwise. I include mention of it only if you run across the book so you can look up the line as it was actually written.

So here are some of my personal favorites:

1. Call me Ishmael.    –Herman Melville, Moby Dick

It’s really hard to ignore this opening line. Aside from the fact it’s world famous, I argue the line itself, from a lot of different perspectives, is not only well written, it’s a super grab-you line. Three words, but weighty with significance before and after you read the novel.  Absolutely perfect in every sense of the word.

2.  You don’t know me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter.  –Mark Twain,  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Another perfect first line. Evokes character, gives setting and hooks you hard all because of the dialect and the tease “You don’t know me….”  A great first line from one of the greatest books ever written.

3. They’re out there.  –Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

I like this a lot. Total paranoia that hits you between the eyes like a two-by-four.  At first blush you might think it’s a short and pithy line. Look deeper.

4. It was eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.  –Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

I think this is a great first line. Gives place, some depth of characterization and emotional content. You can’t wait to see what is going to happen next….

5.  It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.  –George Orwell, 1984

Wow. There’s a lot going on in this first line, isn’t there? Where to begin? You know you’re in a very different world after you read this line, and you can’t wait to find out what it’s like. Also, you know it’s not a world you would probably want to live in…if this society has clocks that strike thirteen….

6. The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.  –Ian Fleming, Casino Royale

I love this line. I think it’s great. It gives you everything and is a strong hook for the reader. A great first line. Fleming had many of these; he was good at first lines.

7. He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees.   –Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

I really like this one. You can feel the pine needles and hear the wind blowing through the tops of the trees. You know right away this is a character and a scene worth reading about.  Really well done…but then again we’re talking about Hemingway. Sadly, as good as the book is, it doesn’t live up to this opening line. However, this is what we writers call a circular line because the book ends with him lying on the pine needles, his heart thumping….so this first line provides an entrance to the book and also closure.

8.  It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed.  –Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

Typical Bradbury, both poetic and romantic at the same time.  Maybe a funny pick, but I like this one, too. Though, I admit, the first line from Fahrenheit 451 gets more play, and perhaps deservedly so.

9. “Tonight we’re going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man.”  Joe Haldeman, The Forever War

Another winner. Gets you into the action right away and keeps you reading. Sadly, most science fiction writers don’t write great first lines. Asimov never did, Heinlein wrote a couple of memorable ones. It’s as if the focus of the genre is not on hooking the reader — SF readers don’t have to be talked into reading a novel, they’re usually happy to do it anyway, especially if they already know the writer’s work — but on the world building. But when a killer first line does come across, like this one, the book finds popularity outside the SF audience.

10. I am living at the Villa Borghese.    –Henry Miller,  Tropic of Cancer

This one is a bit of a cheat. The line itself isn’t high-powered, but that’s because it leads naturally into the next line, and that into the following. So it’s the first paragraph that is really killer. Here is the entire paragraph:

I am living at the Villa Borghese.  There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, nor a chair misplaced. We are all alone here and we are dead.   –Henry Miller

Now that’s a great opening. You’re totally hooked. The writing is terse and novel and Miller has put words together in a new way to make you think like “crumb of dirt….” and the shock of  “we are dead” that brings the reader up short. So in that context it’s a fantastic opening line, imo.

I would be interested to see lists of your favorite opening lines if you want to share them.  🙂

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