This is the time of year for ghost stories. Everybody has one, whether it was a loved one who appeared after they passed who comforted you or just a great story your big brother told around the campfire. I have a ghost story, of a sort.
Monday I was sleeping next to my wife. About a half an hour before her alarm went off, I was awakened. Completely awake. That’s important. I opened my eyes and saw my wife standing in front of me. This is unusual because she usually sleeps to the alarm. I said to her, “What’s wrong, Honey?”
This is where things get weird. She replied that I need to stop waking her up. A normal reply at our house except for one thing. The voice came from my wife, sleeping behind me! I reached out to touch the image in front of me and it slowly dissolved. I looked behind me and my wife was sleeping soundly on the other side of the bed. I touched her leg and she grumbled at me.
Now, I’ve studied the occult for years. I know about doppelgängers and ghosts people claim to see, but never have I heard of one appearing in the same room as the living person it copied. There wasn’t five feet between the apparition and my sleeping wife. It didn’t dissolve until I touched it, after my wife spoke. It made no attempt to speak to me.
Later, I got up and started an internet search. I’ve found nothing like this. The closest thing was a couple of people claiming spotting doppelgängers, but they were miles away from the original. People reported stories about seeing themselves. Common superstition claims that seeing your doppelgänger is a sign of impending death. The deal is, I didn’t see myself, I saw my wife. The stories don’t cover that.
I could have turned this into a story. After all, it’s what writers do. I’m not so sure, this time. I am curious, has any one experienced something like this?
William Stout (williamstout.com) posted a horror film list for watching during the lock down
I would add:
1) Pontypool -2008 Language becomes killer!
2) The Student of Prague - 1913 The effects are spectacular for the time.
3) Faust - 1926
4) Alurane - 1928 Remade many times. This version has Paul Wegener and Brigitte Helm! The original is a lost film.
5) The Ghost of Frankenstein - 1942 Best Bela role since Dracula
6) Gojira - 1954 (not the crappy English dubbed version!) Powerful anti nuke and anti war film
7) Night of the Demon -1957 Jacques Tourneur strikes again!
8) Pandora's Box - 1929 Pre code film, Louise Brooks, Jack the Ripper, what more can you need?
9) Sword Art Online (Anime) - 2012 Trapped in a video world. Waking the players kills them.
10) Death Note (Anime) - 2006 (not the crappy live version!) High tension, twisted anime at its best!
What's new? I'm working on a young adult novel set in a world overrun with nightmarish monsters. I'm taking a break from my Lovecraftian novel, waiting for new inspiration.
So, Covid 19 remains and all of us in the Bay Area are still locked up. We're in our fifth week and I, personally, am finally adjusting. Rather than freak out as it continues to get worse, I've refocused on writing.
It is with great pleasure that I can tell you all Alice has gone to print! It should be available on Amazon in about three days. It's definitely not for children! The title I gave it is Alice's Story. Not the most creative title, but wildly accurate. It is a good mystery set in the Twenty Minutes Away world. Once again, most of the characters are based on real people who have had completely different lives on their world. Pretty much, if I used a favorite person of mine and they are the bad guys, it's a sign of respect from me. Not so much for some of the good guys, except the Marines. They come off very well in the book.
That leaves my Cthulhu Mythos story left to do. The first chapters are done. The characters are setup, and they're traveling in the wrong direction with a cursed artifact. I'm sure Nyarlathotep will give them a warm welcome!
Stay safe, stay healthy. Self isolate and we can all ride this out!
What do you do with three pages worth of garbage? This is a question every writer asks themselves. After all, your writing has your sweat and soul poured into it. You just don’t want to toss out a great idea, no matter how badly you’ve expressed it. So, if you’re not going to junk it and you can’t publish it, what do you do?
I have no idea. I only know what I do. I have on this computer many unfinished story ideas and partial executions. I keep them to use as a source of new story ideas when my writing is better. For example, I have a young teen story about a girl who is given a special present for her tenth birthday. Some of it hits the sweet spot, other parts are clunky and unreadable. And frankly, if I can’t stand to read it, you sure as hell don’t want to! There is enough there to modify and write a nice tween book, with a little vicious editing.
But not every story is salvageable. Sometimes it’s not the writing but the theme which is dead wrong. No matter how well you write, a poor idea is still a poor idea. I have the beginnings of a story about a boy who loves dinosaurs. Nice concept, easy to write, but it has a fatal flaw. I have no idea what I want the story to be about. The theme is the meaning of the story. All stories have a theme to some extent. It was the single hardest concept I ever learned in English class. Plot, no problem. Setting, easy. Character, a breeze. Theme, what is that? It took me years to finally grasp the meaning of theme, but in High School? Not a clue!
So what comes first? Depends on the writer and it depends on the story. Harry Potter is a fascinating character. You could build a whole series from the character. A philosophers stone is a great plot device, as is magic. Many a story has been written to take advantage of a McGuffin (look it up). Hogwarts is an incredible setting and could stand as an inspiration all by itself. But what drives us to read the Harry Potter series? The basic conflict between good and evil. Harry representing love and friendship and Voldermort, the personification of hate and racism. The theme to the series remains the same. Everything else changes in one way or another. Such is the power of theme.
Now, more news. My scars hurt, but I’m healing. I’m keeping way far away from any potential sources of Covid 19. You’d think that would give me more time to write, but the stress of the pandemic has had the opposite effect. I have to push myself even harder to get a bare minimum of output, including the god awful pages which inspired this weeks blog. Stay indoors and stay safe!
The Great War in the American Southwest is in publication. You can get it on Amazon. It is a novelette, but it is also a good read. I priced it cheaper than the novels. It is the third book of the Twenty Minutes Away series. Alice will be the second book and is novel length. You can read them out of sequence. I’ve written helpful forwards so you don’t get lost!
Finally, thank you to everyone who purchased Twenty Minutes Away. It is my best selling novel. Alice will not let you down once it is released!
At last, good news from Kaiser! They got all the cancer and I do not need chemo or radiation. Thank you for all the well wishes and prayers!
Today I published my first three novels: The Second Kingdom, Runner, and Twenty Minutes Away. I gave up on getting an agent at this time. Each one has their little group of authors and seem to be petrified to take on anyone new. As you can imagine, this is incredibly frustrating for newer authors. Regardless, you can get them on Amazon as either Kindle or paperback.
The sequel to Twenty Minutes Away, working title Alice, is nearing its violent conclusion and a decision about its publication title. A second sequel, The Great War in the American Southwest, is completely written and is just awaiting my final editing. Both should be available for publication sometime in April.
Many of my short stories are out at the magazines being reviewed. I may collect them and publish them in a single volume. I look forward to hearing your feedback.
Ten days ago I was diagnosed with lung cancer. Ten days from now I will go under the knife. Were that not scary enough, I don’t smoke or toke. It’s an environmentally caused cancer. The years of second hand smoke while growing up? All the adults then smoked like chimneys. The chemicals in the factory I worked in after college? The asbestos from the said same factory? That crap used to fall like tiny snowflakes when the machines shook, which they did every day. Exposure to pesticides in the early seventies? I worked the fields and may have been exposed. How about the DDT I was exposed to as a child? They used to fumigate campgrounds in the summer with big trucks spewing the white clouds of the stuff. We used to run through it and play. Maybe the Agent Orange used to kill the weeds at my elementary school? That stuff stunk and I had to walk through the residue to get home from school every day. Or even the volcanic ash we were exposed to on Hawaii during the last great eruption? Frankly, I don’t know and probably never will.
I saw the x-ray of the tumor today. If that does scare the hell out of you, nothing will. The surgeon says it’s a little bigger than a ping pong ball, a little smaller than a golf ball. I’m assuming she is correct, because what I saw took up a good third of the lung space it’s growing in. I’m thinking tennis ball sized. But if it was just a round nodule, the term they have been using, it wouldn’t be nearly as frightening. The little bastard is irregularly round with tendrils reaching out to my lungs, like a parasitic plant. It definitely looks alive and not very friendly.
My surgeon carefully explained the operation to my wife and I today. There was the expected small incisions here and here, followed by a slightly longer incision over there. Then she got into the details. The lymph nodes that get removed and their unexpected location away from the tumor. A chunk of my lung is coming out with the tumor, somewhere between a quarter and a third of the lobe. It gets sealed with tiny stainless staples. I almost wish I could be awake to see that. They probably won’t let me see the tumor afterwards. I know that sounds a little twisted, but I an trained to be a scientist and part of this is fascinating. Finally, the warnings. A less than 1% chance of dying on the table. A possibility of throwing a pulmonary embolism. The slim possibility of heart failure. You know, the stuff that makes hospitals so cheerful.
So, what does this have to do with writing? Things like this either spur a writer on to write even more than before, or slow the entire process down to a crawl while you focus on the cancer. Both ways are acceptable because we all deal with stress in our own way. I can’t really drink and I don’t do drugs, so instead I’m awake too late at night while my wife softly snores, trying to work out my fear and dread through writing. Don’t get me wrong, the recovery rate from this sort of tumor is near 100%. But I worry just the same. I’ve written my will and the other assorted documents and need to get them notarized, probably tomorrow. One tends to get very efficient after the initial shock. So, I go back to working on Alice when I can. It is getting closer to completion all the time. The story twists are amazing, but the foreward stinks and I need to rewrite 99% of it. So much to do and so many to do it to!
I'm sorry I didn't blog sooner, but it has been an eventful year for me. For one, I just retired. It seems work was interfering with my sanity and, to a lessor extent, my writing.
So what's up? I was published in Altered Reality Magazine on August 27th. A link can be found on my short story page. The story, Ass Hat, is written along the lines of Alfred Hitchcock Presents or Thriller. Additionally, look for my story, A Short Duel of Words, in Bewildering Stories #827. It's a great tale with a lesson for frustrated writers.
The first sequel to Twenty Minutes Away is complete. Like Twenty Minutes Away, it is novella length, which makes it hard to find a publication venue. The title is Twenty Minutes Away: The Great War in the American Southwest. It's a story of an alternate First World War timeline which connects with the timeline of Andrew Sims and Alice Brownwell. Speaking of Alice, it is half complete. It follows the story of Alice until just before the arrival of Colonel Sims. It is currently about 30,000 words, which means it, too, will probably wind up as a novella. Alice is the working title. I'm sure it will have another title at completion. Naming the stories after the main character make it easier for me to keep track of what I'm doing.
I am also about halfway through my Lovecraftian story, Relic. It's about to jump into crazy land and will probably be a longer short story, about 10-15,000 words.
One of the newest things I've written is a story for a picture book (ages 5-8). It is my first time in this genre. I enjoyed writing it. You don't submit art with the story, which I find odd. The publisher supplies the artist and the art work. It does mean I don't have to farm out the art, which is a relief.
I'm looking forward to a great year!
It is almost the dead month. No, not October when kids get to trick or treat. August, when most publishing houses close down for a month. Anything sent in during that month is bound to get lost in a huge heap of poorly sorted material. For me, this is good.
I begin teaching at the very end of August each year. The dead month allows me to get ahead on my writing and prepare it for submission in September, while also prepping for my classes. It’s a busy time for me and not much else can get done. Except that I live in the real world where all kinds of things need to be done, so time gets compressed and I wind up writing either late at night or mid-day when the heat is too much to work outside. Today is a noon writing session.
Why? Is it too hot? No. We had a death in the family, my father in law, and now we have to attend a funeral. You can argue all day, but, in the end, you still have to go to the funeral. My wife’s sister is here and tomorrow we bury James Carpenter in Moss Landing. To me, he was a good guy who remembered me long after Alzheimer’s had claimed the memories of his daughters. I doubt very much if I’ll write tomorrow, maybe at night.
We also started a remodeling summer task, the infamous back yard project. This will probably eat up most of my mornings and mid-days for the next month. It requires demolition, excavation, rewiring the house panel, and a truly astonishing amount of detail work. Frankly, I have plenty of reasons just to stop writing for a while.
I won’t, though. There are always reasons not to write. They pop up every day. They raise their sneaky heads up and try to put you back into a lazy frame of mind. Unfortunately for the reasons, the act of writing is much too satisfying to give up, even for a short time.
I make a single exception to this. When my wife and I spend a lot of money to go on a vacation, I indulge myself in the experience and write only what I can’t contain for two weeks. My blog about the passing of Harlan was written while I was in Hawaii. Sometimes grief comes pouring out and can’t be stoppered. What finally allowed me to rest was casting a lei in the ocean off Kohala for him and saying a Shinto prayer. I’m not Shinto by any measure and Harlan certainly wasn’t, but sometimes the circumstances dictate what needs to be done and this time, they told me to honor his memory in a very particular way.
So, dead month is nearly upon us and I’m cranking out stories as fast as I can type. I have a goal of seven new stories and to finish the first draft of my novel, Alice, by the beginning of school. For now, though, you can read the story “The Muse” at https://academyoftheheartandmind.wordpress.com/2018/07/04/the-muse/
and one of my poems, “Last Chance”, at Fiction Week Literary Review when it is published for Fall 2018. I will be posting a new short story on my web page by August 1st.
Yesterday I learned of the passing of one of America's great writers, Harlan Ellison. Saying that Harlan had a reputation would be an understatement of monumental proportions. He was known for his razor sharp wit and his intolerance for bullshit. As he did a lot of work in Hollywood, you can imagine what happened, time and time again. He was magnificent.
I first began to read Harlan's work back in the late seventies. I was assigned a paper in college which required me to read and dissect a story from an omnibus of short fiction. I chose "Repent Harlequin Said the Tick Tock Man." As someone who was used to Bradbury and Heinlein, it was a revelation, to say the least. He wrote with a style all his own and, as a beginning writer, I stole from his style blatantly. The main difference being that he wrote extraordinarily well, while my earliest stuff stunk, as many beginning works do. I eventually had the balls to obtain Harlan's address and sent him a short piece I wrote while I was stoned on prescription drugs prior to surgery. Mercifully, he never answered.
I've read just about everything he's written, both fiction and nonfiction. I had, at one time, a row in my library dedicated to his collections and novels. Everytime he would published something new, I eagerly devoured it, many times over. That last sentence is important. You see, I have an excellent memory and rarely read anything twice. His work was so well written that it was a pleasure to go back and reread every story to extract every nuance and sly twist from it, until it was wrung out like a rag. Years later, I would read them again and each time I would find it as fresh as the first time.
When it came to new writers, Harlan was never afraid of the competition. He freely gave advice and the advice was excellent. Write everyday. Never give up on writing. Write what means something to you. Sue the hell out of James Cameron and win. Oops, maybe not that one, unless you wrote the basis for Terminator, then watched it being stolen. Finally, edit unmercifully. Don't be afraid to be your own harshest critic. It's how miracles happen.
I already miss Harlan and I hope his widow is able to get through the mountain of unpublished work and give us just a taste of what we are missing. If there is reincarnation, come back as a wasp Harlan, and sting the hell out of the liars, crooks, and thieves. RIP.
My first Blog! Ever!
So why read what I write? Because I lie, and what is fiction but a pleasant lie? I am an accomplished liar, which for you is a good thing. Mark Twain was a self acknowledged liar. Even his name was a lie. Am I Mark Twain? No, don’t be so literal in your reading. Is my name real? Why yes it is, unless I’m lying. But I’m not, maybe. And that’s the thing, reality is what you make of it.
The worlds I create are no less valid than the one I live in. I teach, so every day my little darlings come into class fresh faced and ready to learn, except of course this is the real world and I teach at a county alternative school. It is a state of the art facility, the parents are be deeply vested in their children’s education, and all of my students are be dedicated to learning. Or not. It may be a run down ex-adult school with hand me down computers. Only a few of my parents might have any involvement with the school if it doesn’t also involve food, and while my students tend to be bright, they may also tend to be easily distracted. So which is real? The one you believe in. You aren’t there and you have limited interest in the place You have to rely on me to be your guide, and guide you I will.
I write speculative fiction, a term which I’ve seen before, but only bothered to look up today. It’s a catch all for stories set in alternative worlds, time lines, science fiction and fantasy. For example, in Alice, the work I’m currently writing, Nixon was a beloved president, known for his honesty and his stand against corruption, assassinated in 1963. Whatever you feelings about the former president, I believe I am safe in saying he wasn’t killed in 1963. Alice takes place in an alternate time line. It is similar to ours, but enough different that a visitor there would become very confused, very quickly. Now aren’t you glad you have me as a guide?
So what can you expect from my blog, other than my admitted lies? As this is a blog, so basically has few rules, I can promise this. I will share with you the thoughts behind my writing. Who or what inspires me, who I read, and how I make that into a story you might want to read.
Time for Truth or Dare!
Truth: I would write even if no one read it. I don’t have any choice. It has to come out, be it fiction or truth.
Dare: This would be the part where you play the game. Send me a reasonable, literate dare and I’ll see what I can do.