Changing the Western (for the better)

While I was attending SoonerCon a week or so ago a writer friend relayed a conversation she had with a family member.Hoover-8

She said the uncle stated he liked to watch westerns because “they were real.”

She proceeded to tell him, No, they were not real, but only Hollywood’s version of the Old West.  What he saw on television and movies was not in any sense “history” or “reality” of what the Old West was truly like.  He was being sold a bill of goods. Period.

I work in the western genre. Not exclusively, but I toil there quite a bit as readers of this blog know. I’ve seen this before. I know mythology and cliche has been elevated to historical status in some areas. Frankly, I find this depressing, because if this is all we have, if things don’t change, then this genre will never change.

And it needs to change.

The idea of the iconic western is an extremely powerful story telling tool. I use it all the time. It’s also the whole frontier mentality that makes much of science fiction accessible to readers and fans alike. But westerns are earth-bound. We can readily identify with that. Hell, even Star Wars was a western, and Star Trek often used western elements.

They are used because they are powerful.

Here’s what I would like to see. I’d like to see a western novel where there were no guns. Historically, most people never owned, carried, or used one. That’s historical fact. I’d like to see stories about that.

I’d also like to see more stories from, and about, women and POC. Because, you know, they actually existed back then.

It’s easy to slipstream behind Hollywood tropes. Cliches are the easy way out. Example: the iconic gun fight a la High Noon.

I agree this all makes for great television. But that’s not how they fought. Gunfighters did not meet each other on the street. They shot each other in the back and through windows. It was gang warfare. No one in their right mind would stand with a gun 15-feet away from another man with a gun in an open street. These weren’t dueling Knights of Old, which is where this myth was appropriated.

I remember visiting the Flats near Fort Griffin while doing research for Quaternity. I came across a first person account of a town sheriff or marshal who jailed a man and then shot him through the bars and killed him because “he was too mean.”

Now I want you to stop and think about that a bit and then get back to me.

To be sure, not every man and woman behaved like this, and it would be ridiculous to assume otherwise. But they weren’t Knights from the Round Table, either. They just were not.

There are three gunfights in my novel Haxan. None of them go according to Hoyle because it NEVER happened the way Hollywood sold it.

I’m also getting a little worn out with the romantic notions that permeate too much of what I see. Men and women of all races, all religions, all creeds, struggled every day to survive in the Old West. Just like they do today.

There’s nothing romantic about that.

Mythology is not history. Cliches are not a foundation to build on. Well, I mean, you can, if you want. If we write the same stories over and over, and don’t push the envelope, this genre will not evolve. It won’t die. As I said up at the top the idea of the western is too atavistic for that to happen.

The western will never die. That’s a good thing, in my opinion because it’s an interesting setting in which to tell stories about people.

But maybe it’s time to step away from the romantic ideals of an age that never existed, either, and write something different. There are many western writers right now doing exactly that. Their voices are few.

I’d like to see more.

Assassin’s Gambit by Amy Raby (review)

I am not a big fan of romance. I don’t think much of most fantasy, either, because a lot of it draws too much on what has been done before and comes off as lazy. It feeds upon itself too much, especially when it comes to plot and motivation and the world the characters are supposed to inhabit.

All too often much of romance and fantasy is cardboard characters stomping through yet another two-dimensional background. Popular?15808673 Extremely popular. Do these kinds of stories bring anything new to the literary world? No, not much, or rarely, nor are they expected to. So everyone wins. I guess.

Is Amy Raby’s Assassin’s Gambit one of these kinds of stories? Nope. Not even close.

Not that it’s easy to find new plots and develop them with twists that engage and surprise the reader. As a professional writer I realize there is no such thing as a new plot. Even Assassin’s Gambit by Raby, her first fantasy romance novel, doesn’t do that, nor does it set out to prove otherwise.

In Raby’s novel a beautiful assassin named Vitala Salonius (with a tragic past) is sent to, well, assassinate an emperor and ends up falling in love with him. She’s a Caturanga champion, a game much more complex than chess and one which mirrors the social and political machinations and upheavals of the world she lives in.  As you might guess the lovers battle intrigue and powerful political forces arrayed against them. Shades of From Russia, With Love at least as far as the basic plot line goes. Serviceable and robust.

So far so good. But Raby does something extra here which I find very welcome and wish more writers would take the time to do. She builds a world. More than that, her world and its culture and its unique magic system isn’t copy/pasted from some other novel or cliched background. She did a lot of research and homework for this novel, and it shows. And, boy, does it work.

It’s not often I become so immersed in a novel I stop reading critically and just read and enjoy the novel for what it is. But this is what happened to me with Assassin’s Gambit and it was a welcome change.

I read it in one sitting. You know how often I do that? Maybe once a year. So this novel was my quota for 2013. Seeing as how good this story was, I can live with that.

Amy Raby, author of Assassin's GambitI really like Raby’s magic system and how it all hangs together. Nor does Raby ignore the cultural impact her magic has on social and political institutions or the burgeoning gunpowder tech which is being developed. What’s more, the world she presents is itself multicultural, and within those cultures there are opposing factions. She doesn’t pull any punches, either, given the set up. She shows the racism and fear and hate and distrust you would expect.

It’s a believable world. I like that. As a professional writer….I like that a lot.

But aside from all that, which is considerable, I like how Raby subverts. From the cover of this novel of a pretty lady with wind in her hair, to the blurb (In the struggle for power, nothing is safe…not even her heart) you figure, “Okay, this is a fantasy romance which is maybe kinda heavy on the romance. I’ll test the water with my toe.”

And at first when you start reading it does read like a standard romance. But then Raby pulls a fast one, and this is why I liked the novel so much because not only was it subversive, it was dangerous.

It’s almost like Raby was laughing behind her hand a little and saying, “Do I have your attention? Good. Let’s get to what this story is really about.”

She pulls it off with aplomb. In essence, the novel stops being a traditional romance in an exotic setting and turns into a hard hitting fantasy tale that examines how (and more importantly why) two broken people are able to love and trust one another…while in the meantime killing some bad guys who really need killing.

Is the novel without fault? No. There are too many adverbs, too many exclamation marks (one per novel, please and thank you) and I personally would have liked it to be darker. But then again I wasn’t writing it so what do I know. I also thought Vitala made a crucial decision in a bean field that wasn’t true to her original motivation. (Although I do understand and sympathize with Raby’s limitations regarding Vitala’s decision.)

Finally, the novel actually ends on the penultimate chapter, and quite strongly, too. But, once more, Raby is playing with us a little here and it’s as if she says, “Okie doke, this is supposed to be a romance, so here ya go, one last chapter.”

I liked this novel a lot. It was damn good. Yes, it is a romance. A very good one. The characters are memorable and I found myself lost in the world. You can’t ask for more than that.

Give it a peek.

My Elevator Pitch for the New Haxan Novel “Quaternity” and Other Philosophical Arguments on Recursive Genre

*Press elevator stop button. Cage jerks to a halt.*

“I can sum the novel up pretty fast. Jorge Luis Borges said man will one day resign himself to new abominations, and that soon only bandits and soldiers will be left. Which is why I’m going to beat the living shit out of you right now.”

*   *   *

Thus, Quaternity.

But this crazy scenario does represent in a stark and frightening way what the novel is all about: the ever-present actuality of man’s violent nature and its necessary place in history. A nature, the book argues, which will never be ameliorated by man himself because it is not in man’s interest to do so, nor is it his fundamental nature to be able to do so, outliers like Gandhi, MLK, and the Prophet Jesus laid aside.

As I remarked before in this blog, Quaternity is unlike anything I have ever written before. I set the bar very high for this novel not only on a literary level but thematically. Of course I don’t go into these arguments within the novel’s context or as story. It would make the damn thing nigh unreadable and pretentious beyond human reason. And, quite frankly, we have enough epidemically overrated books in our midst to last us through the remainder of the decade, and quite possibly the century.

But if I were to say these elements were not present in the story I would also be lying, and I’m not going to do that. They are there if you want to find them. If not, they won’t impact the rest of the novel one bit.

Whether I reached the mark I aimed for remains for readers to decide. If it ever gets published, and if there ever are readers.

I don’t pull any punches in this novel. I am loyal to the historical record. This is who these ruthless people were, and not the sanitized and whitewashed (in all respects of that word) romantic history we have been spoon fed by John Ford and Owen Wister and others.*

I have said before I wanted this novel to stand as an anti-western. But now that I have distance from the story I think I can more specifically say,

Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges

and with justification, it’s an anti-mythology western.

Not that I am dinging on westerns in particular. Like all other recursive literary genres westerns incorporate semiotic elements which make them immediately recognizable to the reading public. Science fiction has a long and storied history in this regard. This isn’t debilitative to a genre if it’s handled correctly, and if a writer has a natural respect for a genre’s history and its canonical themes and the foundations that were laid down  by other writers. Even science fiction, which by all accounts is at heart a subversive genre, adheres to some of these principles today, at least from time to time. Although, I guess we have to accept that many of them were lost during the New Wave Movement in SF. A movement that was necessary because SF themes had become so incestuous and moribund there had to be a spurt of literary growth or the entire genre would collapse into smoking slag.

But the old themes and cliches were never really lost to us, even though they had been put aside by writers with dangerous visions like Samuel R. Delany, Harlan Ellison, Joanna Russ, and John Brunner. Later, they were rediscovered, revived, and thrust again into public consciousness via the Star Wars trilogies.

Again, it doesn’t dilute the field if handled with respect. Which, to be fair, most writers do. I may not hold George Lucas’s writing talent in the highest regard, but I do recognize the fact he had a deep love and respect for science fiction’s past, hoary cliches and all.

I simply maintain there are other writers too lazy or too inept to see the difference which half an hour of homework and research would correct. Google exists today for a reason. But so did Encyclopedia Britannica twenty years ago. I know because I bought a set and I still have it.

Writers who reinvent the wheel and then put their work up as if it’s new and different, when really it’s nothing more than recursive cliches posing as plot devices, hurt growth. Genres, like people, are organic. They must grow and evolve, or wither and die. Writing the same thing over and over doesn’t do any good. Let’s make them grow.

So, all else aside, I obviously cannot use the elevator pitch I started this blog with. So what is the story about? Simply put, it’s about a ten thousand year old demon man who is trying to find himself in a world he cannot understand.

Sometimes, Occam’s razor is the best starting place after all. 🙂

 

*It is to their everlasting credit creative directors like Bud Boetticher, Clint Eastwood, and Sam Peckinpah, along with robust writers like Edward Gorman and Loren D. Estleman have worked to correct this fault.

Writing is the Art of Reality

I believe writing is the art of reality.Do you want your reader to read the same old boring story?

Writers paint in words. We use the world around us to create, and we create immense worlds. We aren’t constrained unless we let ourselves be constrained. We can take as much as we want, or as little, depending on the story that wants to be told.

We are in complete control. The only limitation is ourselves.

I was talking to a writer friend yesterday. There’s a person in her writing group who does not accept criticism of his work. Every word he writes is gold, every sentence glitters. In his mind he’s a writer, and everyone else, especially the reader, is always wrong.

I don’t have to spell out to you how toxic this is.

Earlier this week I followed a link to a writer’s published work. It was bad. The dialog was cringe-worthy. I honestly felt embarrassed for the writer.

How does stuff like that get past agents and editors? Seriously, how does it? So much for the vaunted gatekeepers.

But these are extreme examples. Most published writers are technically able to turn out a readable story. Readable, yes, but not memorable.

Or maybe the readers keep reading them because that’s the only option they have?

I have wrestled with this my entire life. I always try to challenge myself. If you follow this blog you know my peculiar philosophy. I’m not saying I am successful. I fail more often than I succeed, but I keep trying.

I love and respect writers who elevate their craft beyond the mundane. I like seeing genres grow out of their cliched roots and welcome new readers. That can’t happen unless writers are constantly challenging the status quo, however.

I don’t think I am alone in this. I believe most writers want to write well. I think they want to bring something new to the reader, and I believe the reader wants to be challenged and entertained.

But when writers take the safe path  everyone loses, and the genre is watered down.

Then again maybe I am wrong about every blasted thing we have talked about today. Maybe writing is not art. Maybe it’s only a method to shovel thoughts and ideas down to the reader. But I don’t believe that in my heart. I don’t believe most writers think that way about their craft, and I don’t believe readers think that way, either.

Meanwhile, a lot of people are getting published.

But, by comparison, I am seeing fewer writers in the process.

So my advice, FWIW, is take a chance. Stand out. Separate yourself from the pack.

Look, if all you want to do is get published, if that is your goal…well, anyone can do that. Nowadays it’s not difficult. But if you want to be a writer? That’s something else altogether. You will have to work to accomplish that goal.

Trust me. It’s worth it in the long run. You won’t always be successful and there are never any guarantees, especially in this ego-shattering profession. But when you are able to pull it off….man, is it ever worth it.

My Story in The Best of Frontier Tales!

The Best of Frontier Tales, edited by Duke Pennell, has been out a while and I wanted to let you guys know about it. Every story was chosen by  readers as the best of that month. I have a Haxan story in there, but I really wanted you to check out the rest of the fiction as well.

Frontier Tales Magazine is a pretty good site that publishes not only Spur Award winners but lots of other cutting edge fiction in the western genre. The editor isn’t afraid to take on new voices and new ideas for his magazine, and this is what attracts me most, I think. Nor do I mean to imply it is the only western magazine out there doing this, because it is not. But this post is about Frontier Tales Magazine and I want to keep it concentrated on that for today.

So if you want a good collection of western fiction that isn’t wholly dependent on Saturday morning John Wayne cliches, check out The Best of Frontier Tales. And when you do, be sure to give ’em a review!

The Best of Frontier Tales

Chicon7 Update: getting tired but still going

Last night I attended the Chizine party and had a really good time. Talked writing with Janet Harriet and made new friends. Also did some preliminary convention planning with Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory, the owners of Chizine.

Sandra Kasturi introduced me as a new Chizine author and mentioned the Haxan novel. I talked to other people about it later as the party wore on. I hope the interest continues on their part when the book finally comes out.

I didn’t get to attend as many panels as I wished yesterday because I was busy with other things. But that’s all right because networking, in the long run, is much more important than listening to panels. Even for an introvert like myself. I’ve seen lots of editors and publishers I have dealt with the in the past, I just wish I had time to hang out with them and talk. But they are busy, too. This convention is known for networking since it’s so large and so many people attend.

On a personal note one thing that irks me about Chicago is how difficult it is to find a restaurant to eat at. I mean, it seems there are a dearth of restaurants around the business section where I am staying. Which stupefies me since you would think there would be more restaurants to take care of the influx of weekend tourists who descend upon the city. It’s troublesome because while I have had some very good food here, I’ve also had bad. That kind of experience colors my perception of what is otherwise a fun experience.

Another thing I have trouble getting used to is the noise. It’s SO DAMN LOUD here. Sirens, car honks, people yelling…it never stops. I’m more used to the quietude of the country, I guess, or smaller cities. I guess I would get used to it eventually. I am not sure I want to ever get used to it, is what I am saying.

Well, that’s about it for now. I will head over to the convention tonight and watch some anime, but other than that I don’t have much else planned. I’m kind of tired even though I’ve been pacing myself well. Aside from the restaurant issue I am having a good time. I’m just getting ready to head on home, though, but that’s for tomorrow.

I’m going to write now for the rest of the afternoon. I haven’t been able to get any done since I’ve arrived and I need to get my hand in a little.

Attending the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, 2012

I made it to Worldcon in Chicago yesterday. So far it’s been good even though I had to wake up at what, I forget now, 3:15 am? Had a little trouble with the plane trip from Dallas because we had to go back from the runway because there was a problem. After an hour wait we got a new plane and flew in to Chicago. Later that night I attended a Chicago Cubs ballgame, and of course they lost, haha. I also ate an Italian beef sandwich for supper, and boy am I believer!

I got my registration packet yesterday and read through it today. Penciled in a couple of panels I want to attend, but mostly I’m here to see and connect with some writer friends and watch some anime. Even so I expect to be pretty  busy. Hope to see some friends and have drinks with them on Saturday afternoon.

I’ll try to update what’s going on when I can. Maybe some pics, later, if I can remember to take them. 🙂

 

“Western Horror, My Interview with Kenneth Mark Hoover” by Darke Conteur

Darke Conteur interviewed me recently and we talked about a lot of things including the current state of publishing and genre. I had a good time doing this interview and I hope you like it, too.

Here’s the link to the interview. Hope you enjoy it and don’t forget to leave a comment and let her know if you enjoyed the interview!

 

Western Horror, My Interview with Kenneth Mark Hoover

 

In Search of Bold Story Ideas…and settling on the warm safety of cliche.

I guess one of the things that surprises me most is how easy it is to come up with ideas for stories.

I wrote about this before. I used to be worried I would never have enough story ideas when I began to write. Now I have too many. I suppose that’s growth of a sort. Or being wised up to reality. Or something.

But what I want to talk about today isn’t how easy it is to come up with story ideas. It’s how hard it is to determine which stories deserve to be written and which stories don’t. That’s not always easy for me to do. But over the years, and with I admit some confidence, I have reached a point where I think I can look at a story idea and say, “No, I’ll let someone else write that one.”

I think this decision making process operates simultaneously on many different levels. Not surprising since writing itself is an organic process. Part of it is genre related. No, I don’t want to write a SF story today. Or, no, I don’t currently see I have anything new to say with that story idea; it’s been done to death already. Or, again, no, I’ll pass on this story idea because…let’s face facts…I’ve moved beyond that point and am now engaged in saying different things than what that story calls for.

Because, you see, the story comes first. You can’t make it into something it’s not. That never works no matter how hard you try.

I suppose it’s a cold-hearted culling process that goes on here, and a learned one. I am not saying these story ideas have no worth. I am saying I have so many other story ideas to explore I’d rather see them developed first. Okay, I guess when you get down to it I am saying certain story ideas have no worth to me. There is some definite snobbery at work here. That doesn’t mean another writer can’t, or shouldn’t, develop them into something stellar. They can, and they probably should, do so.

They just aren’t for me.

I suspect you know where this is going. I am currently working in the western genre. No secret there. It’s also no secret I have railed, and will continue to rail, about the cliches and stilted story lines I continue to see in this field from writers who should know better. But, you know what? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe they don’t know any better. Maybe they never will. But I am not complaining. Because they stick to their field and what obviously works for them, it leaves me with a lot of running room. And, to be fair, the stories they write are popular and people do like them and do buy them. So they must be doing something right.

But they are not for me and they never will be because while science fiction is twelve (and by extension all other genres) I am no longer twelve.

I mean, seriously. Do we have to see another story about the Noble Savage? The Virgin Schoolmarm? The Laconic Cowboy? I am on record I want to see other voices, new interpretations, different perspectives.

Is that asking too much? Sometimes I wonder.

I will give you a personal example. Maybe it will help you understand what I am trying to say here. Several years back when I was running a western community on Live Journal someone actually confronted me and argued homosexuals had nothing to do with settling the West.  Absolutely nothing. Now I want you to think about that a moment. This individual might well have said women had nothing to do with settling the Old West, or Native Americans, or African Americans, or Latinos, or…well, you get the idea.

In this person’s worldview the stereotypes we have been fed for decades was the only truth.

Long story short, I want to change that. I don’t mean I want to change that person’s mind. Nothing is ever going to accomplish that. I want to change the underlying idea of what makes a western a western because I want the genre to thrive and grow. I want it to thrive and grow because I am working in this genre and it does me no good to be in a genre that’s spinning its wheels and calling that progress.

Fortunately, all this is changing. Although, I admit, not fast enough to suit me. There are a lot of new, good writers out there who are challenging the Old Guard. I call them Cactus Turks because they tend to be young, prickly, obstinate, and they openly challenge authority. Thank goodness for that!

Because otherwise we’d be stuck with the same old story about a handsome sun-tanned cowboy on a palomino who safeguards a widow and her blond-haired son from the evil robber baron who owns the deed to her ranch. Hoo boy. Like  we haven’t seen that one before, right?

Let someone else write that story. It’s not for me. And it’s not for the new guard of writers in this genre who are doing better work than I am and pushing the boundaries far wider than I could ever hope to imagine.

So. My advice? Be bold. Take chances. Run risks. Piss people off with your fiction. I see a lot of safe fiction out there in many different genres. They’re all guilty of it, not only westerns. Let’s get out of that rut. Get off the well-lighted roads and strike off into the dark woods and see what you can find. You’re a writer. Be bold.

Trust yourself.

So that’s my point about why I am so careful about choosing story ideas. There are a lot of story ideas out there. As a writer you always have to make a decision for yourself, your reader, and, yes, the health of the genre, whether or not you are going to pursue it. You may not always get it right. In fact, since this is writing we are talking about, you will probably get it wrong more often than not. I know I do. But I keep trying. I don’t give up. I have seen it in my own fiction. The stories I first started to write in this genre are very different from what I see now. I take more risks now, challenge more beliefs.

Once again I am only speaking for myself, but I feel if I am not doing that then I am nothing more than a stenographer. A stenographer  looks at the surface features. I am a writer. I try to dive deeper.

But, come what may, these are the headwinds we are faced with today and they are fierce and unrelenting. Believe it or not there were millions of people other than the traditional White Christian Male who worked and lived and died in the west. No, really. It’s true. Just open a history book.

Better yet, open your mind and write.

Reading Outside Your Genre Even if it Kills You

There are lots of ways to get better at writing. Sitting down and writing more is one of the more obvious. Another helpful way is to read a lot, and read often. That is also obvious. If you write science fiction you should read a lot of science fiction. If you write romance you should read a lot of romance.

But a step past that is to read outside your genre. It makes sense to read the genre you are working in. That gives you perspective to what is going on, what is being published, and the impact it is having within the genre. But reading outside your genre? Does that mean if I write science fiction I should read Regency romances?

Well, you don’t have to read all Regency romances. I am arguing you need to be familiar with them, what they are about, how they are written, the structure of those novels, etc. That goes for every genre. I firmly believe you need to cross-read into other genres to get a perspective on your own genre. The more you know about other books and writers the more tools and confidence you can bring to the table in your own work.

There are genres I despise. I mean, I absolutely despise them. But I have read a couple of novels and short stories within them to have at least a passing familiarity with them. I also bring that knowledge to my own work. My dark fantasy stories set in the mythological town of Haxan have the benefit of not only being westerns. In that setting I can write romance, fantasy, mystery, suspense. drama, practically anything I want. The setting allows versatility.

Therefore, if I am going to write a romance story  in the Haxan mythos then shouldn’t I at least have a passing familiarity with the genre? I cut my teeth in science fiction. I read it almost exclusively when I was growing up and that’s what I first started writing. But that is a narrow focus. Anytime you look to one genre as your template you are limiting yourself.

As I got older I started branching out and began to read everything. All right, being a voracious reader to begin with I was already reading everything I could get my hands on, but this time I started reading in order to understand what the genre was about. I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. I see a lot of that, by the way, from new writers in SF particularly. There’s a lot of “reinventing the wheel” that comes along. I know the SF genre pretty well, I think. I’ve exhausted it completely via my reading. Not difficult to do because while deep, the genre itself is rather narrow. As opposed to fantasy which is extremely broad in nature, but there’s not as much literary depth as one might like. Or westerns, which is both narrow and shallow. (More about that later.)

One good thing that comes from this is you can stumble across great books in other genres you might not necessarily have thought about approaching. I freely admit when I was younger I was an SF snob. I didn’t see any reason why I should have to read classical literarture. What did dead Englishmen know about SF, aside from the scientific romances of H.G. Wells? Shakespeare? Joyce? Shelley? Hell do they know about science fiction?

You can see the fault in my so-called “logic” I am sure. By limiting myself to only one genre I limited my knowledge of the genre I professed to be interested in: Science fiction. Because the more you know about other genres the more you know about your own. Fortunately, I grew out of that ridiculous assumption the classics were unworthy of my time, and now I love the classics. In point of fact they, along with history, are what I mostly read now, with the occasional foray into books I read in my youth for light entertainment: Burroughs, Fleming, Hamilton, Le Carre, and others.

So why don’t I continue to read a ton of science fiction? Because I have exhausted the field. As I said before, while the genre is somewhat narrow, it is deep. Even so you can completely exhaust the field via reading in four or five years. And I’ve been reading that stuff since I was a kid. I’ve seen it all. I know all the plots and I’ve seen all the variations. There is nothing new under the sun in science fiction other than different ways to tell the same story.

All right. That is true for any genre. I get that. But we’re talking about science fiction here because that is the genre I cut my teeth on. So once I realized I was reading the same book again for the umpteenth time I moved on to other genres, other work, other voices. I don’t always like what I see. Actually, unlike when I was a kid, if a book or a story doesn’t grab me right away I move on. I don’t give a book “time” to grow on me. I try not to do that as a writer, and I don’t like coming across it as a reader. Besides, there are lots of other better books out there, so if something doesn’t grab me right off I move on.

Writing is always red in tooth and claw. That’s the way it should be.

Finally, a word about westerns. I am deeply involved in working this genre right now. My attraction to the genre is well documented: I fell in love with the old time radio series Gunsmoke and wanted to write something like that. Meanwhile, I began to read through the genre to get a feel of what was out there.

Hoo boy. A lot of crap, mostly. Even the so-called “classics” of the western genre are achingly bad. It didn’t take me long to realize there wasn’t a whole lot going on here. Very little growth, almost nonexistent literary quality, and an almost obsessive dependence on myth and cliche.

It didn’t take me long to read through the genre at all. There’s simply not that much out there that isn’t a clone of something else, and the times you do run across something new and different like Cormac McCarthy, or Ed Gorman, or Estleman, well, it’s a real pleasure.

But because the genre is so narrow I realized here was a great opportunity. I could write anything I wanted if I created the right setting. I could experiment with all sorts of stories. I am not saying I am the first one to do this in the western genre. I know better. I am not saying I am doing it better than anyone else, either. I am merely stating I love the opportunity to work like this and hopefully, by some small part, bring a fresh look and a reawakening to a genre that, at best, is on life support.

Well, I’ve said a lot in this blog post. You may or may not agree with all of it. But one thing I want you to take to heart, particularly if you are a beginning writer. Read everything. I mean everything you can get your hands on. You don’t have to like it, but be familiar with it. When you start writing your stories and your books and your plays, you don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel like the other writers around you.

You will have read outside your genre. You will be well armed and well prepared to meet whatever obstacle comes your way as you write your story because of your breadth of knowledge. Want to be a writer? Then write.

And read. A lot. No. More than that. Read everything.

I Could Write This Story All Day Long, But I Won’t

A stranger rides into Haxan. He badmouths Magra Snowberry. Marshal Marwood then meets him in the plaza.

I am here to tell you I could write this story all day long. I love this story. I could write it again and again, in different ways and perspectives, and be in clover. I would love it.

But the reader would hate it. Maybe not the first time, but probably by the second. Definitely the third. Because while I like the idea of the story, we have to be brutal and honest with ourselves: it’s crap.

It really is bad. Everything about that story is bad. It’s full of cliches, full of everything I despise about the current romanticized view of the genre. I mean, come on, like we haven’t seen this movie before, right? A bad guy rides into town. He does something bad to a nice girl. The lawman is incensed, things escalate, and they shoot it out.

Sounds like every Saturday morning western program we have ever watched. Not to say people don’t like reading that kind of thing. There’s a market for it. Lots of writers in the genre enjoy using tropes like “Spinster Schoolmarm” and “Laconic Cowboy” or what have you. Many more are successful at it. But as much as I like that stuff, too, at least on a pure atavistic level, I cannot write it. I mean, maybe I can do it once. But I can’t keep doing it. I would go nuts.

But back to my earlier comment. I love that story about Marwood and Magra. I like it because it’s so simple and I don’t have to think very hard. Everything is distilled down to its elemental qualities. But as much as I would like to write that story (and have written that story) I can’t in good conscience write it many times over.

Because if I did I would not be true to myself.  I would be writing something, and writing in a fashion, completely unknown to me. I wouldn’t be comfortable doing it, I guess is what I am trying to say. Even worse, I feel the reader would reach a point where he feels he is being short changed. I don’t want the reader to feel that way about any story I write.  Even this one.

Sometimes I joke with other writers and readers I will one day write a story where Marwood resolves his problems with balloon animals and party hats. It would have the benefit of never been tried in the world of Haxan, I’ll give it that. But that wasn’t what the west was like, either, and I’m not sure I could bring myself to write a joke story like that. Not because I view my work in such lofty and serious terms, but because I don’t think the story itself would work.

And when you get right down to it that’s what writers are all about: the story. Does it work? If not, why? Can you fix it? Will it be better? What does the story demand? Do I have the talent to bring that across to the reader?

Stories are like that, sometimes. At least I think they are. We may want to write the same story over and over because it would be easy and fun. But if we did we would not be true to the story, even the story we want to write over and over. I can’t speak for anyone else, but this would be hard for me to pull off.

But, yes, I love the idea of a stranger riding into Haxan, badmouthing Magra, and having to meet Marwood. All these things have happened at one time or another in the series. I think one or two stories have even presented them in that sequence, if not that specific structure. But as much as I love the idea, I have to watch myself because I would not be fair to the story or the reader if I kept writing that same story again and again.

No matter how much I love it, what I love doesn’t matter. The story dictates those terms. I think good writers respond to that.

Doorway to the Past: The Bush Knob Massacre and the Larn Wall

While I was visiting Fort Griffin I heard a story about a man called John Larn. He worked for Bill Hayes. In 1872 Hayes went to New Mexico with a herd of cattle expecting Larn to watch his stock at Fort Griffin.

Larn rebranded the cattle as his own. When Hayes got back he discovered Larn had stolen his cows so he hired men to steal them back. Larn in turn hired his own men to steal the cows back again and then tracked down Hayes and nine other men and killed them all.

Later, Larn built a home for his wife, Mary Matthews, south of Camp Cooper. By this time Larn was the sheriff of the town of Fort Griffin. Larn hired Irish brothers, stone masons, to build a fence. When it was finished, rather than pay the brothers, Larn killed them with his deputy and dumped the bodies into the Clear Fork of the Brazos.

In 1878 the same vigilantes Larn had led against Hayes rose up, hunted him down, arrested him as a cattle thief, and killed him.

This is what the Old West was like. This is why I don’t like the hoary cliches and maudlin romanticization of the west that have taken root in our culture.

We know what the west was like. We know exactly what the west was like. That’s what I want to write about. Other people can write about other things they think the west is about and that’s fine.

But this is the red plain upon which I work, and this is why I like working in the genre. It hasn’t even begun to be tapped for story potential.

I really believe this. Westerns have been around as long as the Old West itself, since Ned Buntline. And I am telling you we have just begun to scratch the surface as far as story potential goes.

We haven’t even begun.

More Conversation with Story: Does this genre make me look pretty?

Story: I’m back.

Me: You were gone a while.

Story: The editor had a lot to say about me. Maybe you should read his comments.

Me: Wow. These are a lot of changes. Nothing too spectacular, though. I think I can do this all right.

Story: Did you see his last suggestion?

Me: Uh oh.

Story: Yeah.

Me: I wasn’t expecting that.

Story: I know.

Me: If I make a change like this it will change you completely. You will no longer be the original vision I had when I wrote you in the first place. Hm. I’m not sure I want to do that.

Story: I know. What are you going to do?

Me: I’m not sure. I think I need some guidance here. What do you think?

Story: Here’s how I see it, and how any writer should see it when confronted with this problem. You are the one who has the first vision as to what I am going to be about. As you write me there’s probably some synergy between you and the story itself, leavened by your imagination and creativity, which itself is tempered by knowledge, confidence, and technique. That’s all fine and dandy, especially when it works. Let’s say in this case it did work, which I think it did or you wouldn’t have sent me out in the first place. At least, I hope not.

Me: Ok.

Story: Then another reader comes along. It could be an editor, a beta reader, anyone. Let’s say it’s another writer who agreed to be your beta reader, but it could just as easily be an editor or publisher or anyone. She reads your story and likes it, but recommends changes. Now what you have to remember is she is not you. She didn’t write the story and she wasn’t in your head at the time you wrote the story. When she reads it she brings her own worldview into play, and her own lens through which she views and judges fiction, talent, and artistic integrity. This doesn’t make her less right or more right when it comes to judging your story, it just makes her bring a different viewpoint into play.

Me: I’m with you so far.

Story: So this is what you must take into consideration. Do these suggested editorial changes make the story, make me, better? If they do, perhaps you should seriously consider adopting them. If your main goal is to write the best story you can, and then with outside suggestions and editorial control make the story even better….yeah, that’s usually an easy decision. Sometimes writers are hesitant to make any changes at all. Personally, I think this is a mistake. I don’t know of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from a blue pencil now and then, to be frank with you. Writers aren’t perfect, and the work they create is not perfect, because they are human. And despite what some people think, humans are not perfect. Especially writers, when you come right down to it.

Me: I always thought I was quite wonderful, myself.

Story: That’s a conversation I’ve been meaning to have with you later on. But back to the problem at hand. So you have a story, the suggested editorial changes make it better. Okay, easy decision. Maybe the changes don’t substantially change the story much at all. Again, probably an easy decision on your part. But if the changes harm the story, at least in your estimation, or in my case change me completely from what I am into something totally different, maybe even into a different genre altogether…then you’ve got a hard decision to make.

Me: Like now.

Story: Like now. This isn’t a plot shift or concentrate more on one character thing. This suggestion morphs me into something completely different from what you originally envisioned, and ultimately worked to create. So the final decision is left up to you. Are you willing to make these kinds of substantial changes? Even if they change the whole tone of the story, perhaps what the story is about in the first place? If they are changes you can live with, and if you see a valid reason behind them, well…your decision becomes more difficult. If you don’t like the new artistic direction, or if you believe certain changes actually harm the story, then you probably should not make them. There’s one thing you should never do, however.

Me: What’s that?

Story: Make changes you don’t agree with because you’re afraid the editor won’t buy the story. Well, maybe he or she won’t. But you should never make a change to a story based on fear. Make the change if you agree with it, if you believe the change makes the story stronger. Frankly, you’d be a fool not to. Everyone involved in this process, yourself, the editor, the publisher, the reader, they all want the best story possible. Keep that in mind.

Me: Okay, I’ve decided. I’m going to make this change. I know it doesn’t guarantee you will be accepted by the editor, but I’ve been thinking about the proposed suggestions and I think I see what he is getting at here. It means I will have to substantially rewrite you, but there’s something in my gut, some instinct, that tells me this is a better way to go. I had the original vision of what you should be about. I think the editor looked a little deeper because he had a different perspective and saw something that originally escaped me.

Story: In that case you are almost certainly making the correct decision. As you said there are no guarantees in this profession, but I’ve always believed a writer should be willing to go that extra mile to make the story better, even if it goes against his vision. Writing is a profession and it’s a business. If you think the changes make me better, even though they make me different, then I agree you should go ahead and make them.

Me: I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me now.

Story: We both do. I can’t exist without you.

Me: That’s a very nice thing for you to say.

Story: Don’t get all slobbery on me now. C’mon, I can’t wait to see how I look in my new genre. I only hope the shoes match.

Making changes to your story is sometimes a difficult decision. But if the changes make the story better, perhaps you should make them.

Lonesome Dove Theme: A story of friendship and love written in music by Basil Poledouris

I am not a fan of Basil Poledouris. Much of his music sounds the same with sweeping themes, grand entrances and quiet interludes. That’s what he writes and he does it well with with poetry…but he writes it too often.

However, if you have to listen to Poledouris you can do a lot worse than the “Lonesome Dove Theme”. This mini-series has a big reputation among western genre circles and much of it deserved. It’s not a perfect series, but it’s very, very good. Two things make the series stand out: the extraordinary on-screen chemistry between Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones, and the superb music which frames the story of friendship and love between two old cowboys.

White Zombie (1932) – Old Fashioned Love and Death Sprinkled with Haitian Magic

White Zombie (1932) is a classic Pre-Code film starring Bela Lugosi. Though it was roundly panned at its release it has, over the Definitely Pre-Code clothing here!intervening decades, become a seminal horror film as regards subject matter, direction, and artistic photography.

To be sure the acting is a heavy handed and creaky, not to mention the squeaky musical soundtrack. But you don’t watch this film for the acting or the soundtrack. You watch it because 1.) it’s Pre-Code which means there’s a lot of sex and dangerous subject matter, and, 2.) it’s a story about zombies when zombies were cool.

George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) notwithstanding, I have never been a huge fan of flesh eating zombies. I view many of those stories as one-dimensional. It’s as if the same Knock-Knock joke is being told over and over again. Under those circumstances we all want to chomp on brains if only to escape the endless repetition of rotting corpses chasing ambulatory shish-ka-bobs around a shattered city .

Now, to be fair, Romero didn’Madge Bellamy was a big silent film star before she made White Zombie. She will always be known for this film.t always do this, even in films where he always did this. Then again he was an authentic genius and a phenomenal filmmaker. But much of zombie filmdom after him is derivative — and it reads and looks that way. It’s weak because it is dependent upon itself and has no need of a good background story and characterization. The storylines for these stories all start off with the same premise: there was an Apocalypse, and zombies eat brains.

You can phone that in while waiting in line at a coffee shop. And much of it reads and looks that way. Look, flesh eating zombies jumped the shark with the publication of  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith in 2009. I mean, seriously, it doesn’t even work as parody anymore. And, no, I don’t care that there’s a zombie series on TV that is popular right now. So what. This is America. Mediocrity always plays big here. My point is you’ve seen it all before. There’s nothing new there at all. Not one damn thing.

Okay, so I’m a zombie snob. You found me out. Sue me.

Bela Lugosi made White Zombie after his success as Dracula. Here he is as the sugar cane mill owner, Murder Legendre.But zombies didn’t always dig into skulls after brains. They have an ancient origin, ostensibly tracing religious roots all the way back to ancient Egypt. But the dark supernatural Vodoun magic that was the strongest foundation of zombie lore comes directly from Haiti via Africa. It is this lore that White Zombie explores.

As I said at the top this is not a perfect film. Hell, as a film it’s not very good. I’d be the first to concede that point. But the directors Victor and Edward Halperin made a visually stunning feast. I cannot get over the incredible graveyards built into the sides of hills, the silhouettes moving along the horizon, the mystic shots, the play of light and shadow on stone and faces, the oblique camera angles. There’s a lot of experimentation here, it seems, and it works rather well because it lends atmosphere and layers that not only make the film memorable, it has made the film endure for over 80 years.

I don’t want to spoil the film by giving away too much of the plot. Suffice to say a young couple plans to get married in Haiti, there’s a man who wants the woman for himself, and he approached a mad sugarcane mill owner (Bela Lugosi) who has the name of Murder Legendre. That name alone turns this into a classic.This film was shot in eleven days. Even so some of the camera angles are absolutely stunning.

Lugosi tells the heartbroken young man he can have the love of his life if he makes her a zombie. (That right there, with all its sexual implications, would never make this film see the light of day during the Hays Code era.)  The lovestruck young man agrees, the bride “dies” during her wedding service…and off we go.

Hoo boy, and what a ride it is. I cannot get over how well-crafted some of these shots are. Many of the backgrounds were reused from other horror films like Dracula, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Frankenstein.

If you have never seen this film I urge you to do so as soon as possible. Especially if you like horror. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how well the film holds up. It may even spur you on to write a different type of zombie horror story other than what we see so often nowadays.

One last cool aspect about this film? The heavy metal band White Zombie took its name from this movie. Rob Zombie, who founded the band, has always had a deep love and respect for classic horror. As a bona-fide zombie snob myself, I always found it rather awesome that Mr. Zombie would elevate the original film to a height it deserved.

I do want you to see this film. I think you will like it.  🙂

The Long Red Light of the West

One of the things you learn when you research the Old West is how utterly violent it was. It is this long red light, the murderous plain of humanity if you will, that I want to talk about today.

From genocide to rape to murder to shotgun blasts from an alleyway into someone’s back to carving a drunk with a bowie knife until his guts spilled out over your hand in a hot steaming mass — the Old West was one big killing ground. And it never stopped. It was a violent arena of grinding bone, quick death and irrevocable loss. Torture and greed were the raw sinews holding it together.

Of course, you don’t see that often in movies and books or on television. Oh, you see violence. Hollywood is great for splashing buckets of violence across the silver screen. But all too often the violence in novels or film have an underlying meaning or symbolic reference behind it. But the reality of the Old West is the violence didn’t have a poetic framework. It wasn’t a vehicle to portray the warring forces in a man out to wreak vengeance nor was it an exercise in splatterpunk devoid of emotion. History proves this out.  Violence in the Old West existed because Man himself existed. Nor do I mean to rag on the Old West and single it out as a special case.

This is but the history of our species.

We do one thing really well. We kill stuff. Amidst the architecture and mathematics, violence exists because Man exists. The Old West was but one more boiling crucible in the history of our species that showcased dark desires and bright greed.

I don’t mean to say there were not people who wanted to bring law and order to the west. There were voices who wanted equality and fairness for everyone. But how could they be heard above the winds of genocide and destruction?

The longer I work in the western genre the more convinced I am the only way this genre is going to grow and evolve is if we treat its fundamental truths with more respect. Personally, I want to see more voices in this genre. I want to see  voices from people who didn’t historically have their stories told. The west was more than one thing. It was made up of millions of people from different backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures. That’s what I want to read, don’t you? We have seen the sanitized picture reflected through American culture in a thousand shards, and they are all the same. I want to look beyond the glittering icons and down into the abyss. I want what some might consider dangerous stories to be elevated into the American consciousness. If that is possible.

I work in this genre. I want to see other voices in this genre. I want to hear their stories. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. There are many good writers who are doing better work than I could ever hope to do in this area. I am starting to see elements of this in more and more stories. But no matter how good they are their voices are nearly drowned out by American myth perpetuated.The west was many things. I would like to see those differing stories from new voices.

I don’t know. Maybe someday it will happen and we will be able to see the west as something other than simplified romance. There is such great potential in this genre. It lends itself to so  many interpretations. The ground is rich for writers. But the headwinds are great, hurricane strength. And while humans are good at killing they are also good at self-delusion.

It’s safer, and far simpler, to believe in romantic fairy tales than to face the long red light of murder that was the Old West. I’m just saying that needs to be changed. The Old West needs to become dangerous. That’s where the best stories are, I think.

A Conversation with Story: Advancement of Plot through Conflict

Story: What’s up?

Me: I’m writing a love scene.

Story: I see that. Where’s the conflict?

Me: What conflict? It’s a love scene. They’re in love.

Story: You delight in making my life difficult, don’t you?

Me: Of course not…oh, I see what you did there. You advanced our dialog through conflict.

Story: Exactly. All scenes must have conflict of some kind. All stories must have conflict. That conflict can take many shapes and many forms, but it has to be there. It can be outward conflict, an inward psychological struggle, conflict through dialog, even conflict through the way the story itself is written. But it has to be there and it has to operate on some level, even if it’s below the radar.

Me: I understand what you are saying, but this is a love scene. These characters have been through toil and fire to reach each other.

Story: Okay, go ahead and finish your love scene.

Me: There. Done.

Story: Good job. Now delete it from the manuscript.

Me: What? No. I worked hard on this. It’s a love scene. It stays.

Story: I agree it’s a love scene, but does it advance the story in any way through conflict?

Me: The hero has trouble unbuttoning his shirt.

Story: Besides that.

Me: Well, no, not really. There isn’t any conflict here that relates to the plot or character development.

Story: Then the scene isn’t needed. All good stories have conflict. All good stories are made up of scenes that incorporate conflict within. Yes, even love scenes like that one. All scenes. If the scene doesn’t have the element of conflict then it’s nothing but an aside…and an aside is not necessary, or needed in anyway, to advance your story. A scene without conflict is a stone around a story’s neck.

Me: Okay, I’ll get rid of the scene. Hey, what do you know, the story reads faster without it.

Story: Of course it does. That’s what conflict does both for the story and the reader. It advances the plot and gives structure. It serves double duty.

Me: Story, I think I love you.

Story: Muah.

Conflict gives structure to the story and advances the plot.

Pride and Prejudice: If People Were Ants We Wouldn’t Need Stories

About three years ago I read the first 100 pages of Pride and Prejudice and then I bailed.

I was taking some very heavy damage from several hardened missile silos down below me. I had lost all aileron control and the self-sealing fuel tanks, well, were no longer self-sealing. I had to eject fast or I would auger in from 10,000 feet. I fought my way out of the pilot seat against the compiling G-forces and scrambled with a sob in my throat through the open hatchway.

Tumbling in free fall. Feeling of helplessness. Cold air rushing past my ears. I pulled the rip cord and felt the hard snap I once tried to read Pride and Prejudice. I almost didn't make it out alive.as my parachute opened and the last I ever saw of Pride and Prejudice was the book dwindling against the bright stars overhead, lost to me forever.

I’m telling you I barely made it out of that book alive.

Lots of readers have experiences like this one. We have comfort zones of genres we like and understand and want to wallow in. This is normal, and I would argue healthy. But as for writers, what do we say when we come across readers who say, “Oh, I don’t read that crap” when you tell them what genre you work in?

As a western writer I totally understand and have experienced this genre myopia myself. Sometimes I might explain how some of the Haxan stories actually have dark fantasy elements or romance or mystery or what have you. It never works. The missile silos are too hardened. All they hear is “western” and their immediate reaction is “Oh, I don’t read that crap.”

So what do I do? I have the stories inside me and I have to write them. That’s out of my control. I can’t stop writing even if I tried, and trust me I have tried. Scientists have yet to develop a super-methadone that will allow me to get that monkey off my back.

Do I abandon everything I’ve learned during my years as a professional and start writing for what’s popular on the markets right now? I can’t do that, either. My personal philosophy about writing won’t allow me to jump on bandwagons with their colorful balloons and bright ribbons. Or maybe I can try and fool myself into believing the western genre, even blended western genres, aren’t that bad right now, that they are more popular than I think. But the evidence shows the genre is, at best, on life support and someone is standing next to the sick bed with a loaded gun against the patient’s temple.

Westerns are not in a healthy and popular place right now. They might be again someday, but that day has not yet arrived.

Here’s the rub. You arPeople and writers are not ants. We have different genres for a reason.e never going to be able to write something that satisfies everyone. Everyone is different. We all bring different experiences and backgrounds and expectations and loves to the table when we open a new book. I may not like one genre but that doesn’t mean it has no worth for a majority of other people. I know this from experience because a majority of people sure as hell don’t read westerns.

But I keep writing them anyway because there are some who do and I have what I hope are good stories to tell them.

Read what makes you happy. Forget what anyone else says. But most of all, write what makes you happy. Your readers, and your inner peace, will thank you for it.

Conversation with Story: Trusting the Reader to Trust You

Story: What are you doing?

Me: Writing.

Story: No, what are you doing?

Me: I thought I was writing.

Story: You don’t see what you did back there, did you?

Me: Back where?

Story: Five pages back. I’ll wait.

Me: Oh. Yeah. Well, you see, I wanted to make sure the reader understood what was happening in that scene so I took the extra effort to explain in detail what the characters were feeling and doing at that point in time.

Story: I see. Can I ask you something?

Me: Make it quick. I want to finish this story.

Story: Do you hate the reader?

Me: Hate the reader? Of course not. I want the reader to like the story, that’s why I went the extra mile to point out the deficiency of that character in exposition. I mean, that’s why I did that. I want the reader to understand the story,  so I had to add that extra stuff.

Story: You went the extra mile and told the reader what was happening rather than showing the reader what happened?

Me: It’s an important scene. The story hinges upon this scene. If it doesn’t work, the story doesn’t work.

Story: Here’s a clue. The story doesn’t work now because of what you did. Not only did you tell instead of show, you didn’t trust the reader to understand what he himself was reading. Instead, you felt you had to hit the point again to make it apparent to the reader that what he was reading was important. Rather than letting him trust the story you have written, and to trust you.  Not only do you not trust the reader in this case, you don’t trust the story. You don’t trust me.

Me: I think I see what you’re getting at.

Story: Believe it or not the reader is pretty insightful. They see deeper into a story than you might think. You don’t have to spell everything out in careful ABC language. They’ll get what you’re going after if you trust them to do so. It’s one of the most powerful lessons any writer can learn, but when you do, your fiction will open up because you enter a synergistic relationship with the reader himself. It’s pretty amazing when it happens, and it happens more often than you think.

Me: I’ll fix it right now. Hey, writing is easy!

Story: Hang on there, spanky. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That’s a conversation for a future date….

You don't need to overwrite. Trust the reader to trust the story, and he will.

I remember when every SF book I read the story was new. And now….

I’ve read a lot of science fiction in my lifetime.  Maybe I’ve read too much.

It seems I’ve reached a point of diminishing returns.  The science fiction field isn’t that large. You can pretty much exhaust it if you read voraciously.  Then you move on to the magazines, but after a while you realize you’re reading the same story over and over, so you put them aside, too.

Then you reach a point where you pick up a new novel, try it out, discover it doesn’t hold up to the wealth of fiction already packed and chambered in your fevered little brain.  You feel disappointed.  Like there’s nothing out there worth reading at all.

I’ve read a lot of fiction. There’s damn little genre fiction I haven’t read.  Let me rephrase that: There’s damn little important genre fiction I haven’t read. No sense wasting time with writers who are trying to reinvent the wheel.

So lately I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction, almost exclusively, along with rereads of novels I liked as a kid or a young adult in a desperate attempt to recapture that early sensawunda.  It never happens, though.  Okay, rarely.  But the emotions aren’t as strong as they once were. That’s to be expected from comfort reading.

And, please, don’t come to me with the “science fiction is twelve” argument because I know crap when I see it, whether I was twelve or an ancient Mr. Grumpy.

I guess that’s all part of growing up but I’m kind of bummed about it.

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