Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Why, Yes, I AM A Grammar Nazi

Let's take a look at a meme:


A brief glance pokes fun at a mother's failure to prove she is a good mother. That's the spirit of the meme, but it fails terribly because it misplaced a comma.

As it is written, the mother is asking the little girl if she is a "good mother Susan." Now I have no idea what a "good mother Susan" might be, but it sounds like one of the names from the British Isles that people would call the local hedge witch.
"Morning, Elias, and where do you be going this fine morning?"
"Me cow's doing poorly and I'm off to see Good Mother Susan for a poultice."
Now you already know what the meme creator meant. The mother was asking her child, "Am I a good mother, Susan?" and the child corrects her by saying her name is actually Amy and general hilarity ensues.

I know what you're thinking. Why make a fuss over such a trivial error? It's a meme, not the Declaration of Independence.

But you need to understand one salient fact. Words, grammar, and sentence structure are my currency. I'm a writer whose sole ambition is to write entertaining stories, but if the elements of grammar are beyond my ken, then my stories go unread because they are unreadable.

I put as much work in my Facebook posts and blog entries as I do my stories. And, yes, I make hordes of errors, but I will not hesitate to correct them as soon as possible. I've pulled my books off of Amazon simply to correct one typo and then resubmit them.

Yes, I am that fanatical.

Seriously, the English language to me is wonder incarnate. As I wrote in my fictional essay, To Touch Real Magic,
"Well, gentlemen," Alan said to the empty air. "I know you’re here and reading this and have seen my perspective on the craft of writing, but before I go, I would like to share with you one closing thought.

"The ancient bards and troubadours saw actual magic in the ability to communicate with words. The Greeks called it the Logos. Norse legends say Odin gave up an eye and hung himself on the World Tree for a night of suffering and agony so he could win the secret of the runes and all the power inherent in what became the Norse alphabet. The Jews refuse to say the entire name of God or even write it out fully out of respect for its power.

"I will not bandy metaphysics with you, but I’ll simply say that I agree with the concept of the magic of words.

"History is filled with the names of men who sought the occult power of creation; Rasputin, Saint Germaine, Cagliostro and others. But I dare say to you now that if we craft an exquisite sentence, we have achieved more than all the incantations of Aliester Crowley combined.

"All the cabalistic mechanizations of Paracelsus never brought him any closer to the act of creation that we so easily achieve when we dare to put pen to paper or hand to keyboard.

"The writer who seeks perfection of his craft and continues to write comes across more wonder and magic and awe than any witch, warlock or sorcerer that ever mumbled a midnight charm.

"Thank you for allowing me to share my magic with you, even when it has been nothing more than droll slapstick. You have honored me deeply. I look forward to returning that honor when you share your writings with me.

"So let’s all together, in our own private worlds of our own creation, snap our fingers and say ‘Let there be light!’"

Alan laughed and snapped his fingers.
And there was light.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

I CAN MAKE YOU RICH!

Just a few minutes ago I received an advertisement from an author who claimed to have written 250 bestsellers IN A ROW. She offered to teach me how to replicate her success.

Oddly enough, I never heard of her, but I confess I was impressed with her output. So, I looked said author up on her Amazon author's page and her LinkedIn page.

Question for you: how do just three books (with rankings #97,106 Paid in Kindle Store, #198,136 Paid in Kindle Store, and #1,270,056 Paid in Kindle Store respectively) turn into 250 bestsellers IN A ROW?

The essence of her offer was to teach me "how to start a movement with your message." As I have stated many times, I write only to entertain and I refuse to turn my books into a bully pulpit. I fear the good author has very little to teach me.

However, upon continued meditation, I realized that if I just threw honesty and integrity to the winds, I could come up with my own scam! I mean... educational package for writers.

So here you go. I hope you catch the point amid the sarcasm.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Challenge of Writing The Inugami (With Samples)

(Note: Please be aware the samples provided are still part of the rough draft and may be changed substantially in the final release.)

The challenge of writing The Inugami as well as its predecessor, The Shrine War, is that the story takes place in a world that has a different culture, religious view, ethics, and social customs very different than mine. And though I knew a few Japanese people, I have never had the pleasure of visiting the country.

So before even putting hand to keyboard, I spent weeks reading up on Japanese history, historical mythology, Shintoism and Buddhism, culture, and language. I lurked on Internet discussion forums and asked questions risking the wrath of forum trolls, but I learned quite a bit.
Hours later back in the apartment, Kelly stocked the pantry and small refrigerator with food when there came a knock on the door. She opened it to find an elderly woman bearing a covered plate, bowing and greeting her in flawless English.

“Welcome to our little neighborhood,” she said. “I have brought you some Daifuku.”

Kelly took the plate with both hands and bowed. “Thank you,” she responded. “Please come in?”

She stepped aside, but the woman nervously looked past her into the house. After a moment, she stepped inside and removed her shoes. “Arigato,” she said and bowed again. “Suzuki Haruka.”

Kelly bowed again, a nonstop exercise in a country where respect was highly valued. “My first name is Kelly,” she said, “and my family name is Robbins. I am honored to have you here.”
 Progress on the story is slow because I try to put myself in the shoes of a person who has lived in a different world. Add the mythological worldview and things become complicated quite quickly. 

In the first draft of The Shrine War, I mentioned the incense burning in a Shinto temple. However, according to a famous work on Japan, Shinto temples do not use incense. In a future release of The Shrine War, I have removed the reference and alluded to the prohibition in The Inugami.
Within minutes, her neighbor had returned with a fistful of sticks. “That’s incense, isn’t it?” Kelly asked.

“Yes,” Haruka said. “Remember when I said that Japanese believed in ghosts? Well, we believe in a host of odd creatures. Do you know what yōkai are?” She continued without waiting for Kelly to respond. “There are literally hundreds of mystical creatures and monsters that fill the Japanese mind. Yōkai are supernatural creatures and they have various powers and they all look different, but regardless, there is one trait they all have in common. They absolutely hate incense.”

“Is that why the temples use it?” Kelly asked.

Haruka shook her head as she pulled a lighter out of her pocket. “You will only find incense in a Buddhist temple or some of the Christian churches. There it serves as part of the worship. You will never find incense in a Shinto shrine. Not only do yōkai despise it, but the kami themselves view its use as an insult.”
Of course, in all of this, I may have made grievous errors. My fantasy tale, In the Father's Image, took place in London and contained massive errors, but before it went to print I had it checked out by people who knew the city and its subtle culture. I attempted to correct all errors and even after it went to print, I made sure that future editions were as error free as possible. In fact, as I go over old blog entries, if I see an error, I correct it immediately. I certainly have a phlegmatic personality, but when it comes to writing, I wish to master the art. I am always revising.

That will be the same with The Shrine War and The Inugami. If anybody can substantiate an error, I will change it, first because of my perfectionist drive to have an error free product, but because I do not wish to incorrectly portray the country where my story takes place.

 
So having read this far, allow me to reward you by posting one more sample when Kelly sees her house guest for the first time, an Inugami living under the crawlspace of her Tokyo apartment.
Smoke started to come off the incense, the room filling with a musky aroma. Haruka coughed and put her sleeve in front of her face. “Open the trapdoor there,” she said. “Quickly please.”

Obeying, Kelly opened the little door and Haruka carefully dropped it down into the crawlspace. “The floor is dirt and there can be no risk of fire. Now, outside at once!”

Kelly followed Haruka out the backdoor to the small yard, wanting to ask hundreds of questions, when suddenly the outside access door to the crawlspace violently burst open.

What tumbled out moved so quickly, Kelly’s mind could not take it all in, a scream of surprise frozen in her throat.

It was a dog, a big one rolling across the ground, a collar around its neck trailing a chain that disappeared into the crawlspace. Inexplicably, it bore shredded old rags that through the holes, Kelly could see filthy, matted yellow fur. A stench rolled off the creature making Kelly gag.

It was when the creature stood on its hind legs, Kelly felt the scream escaping her paralyzed lungs. Only five feet tall, it bore the shape of an emaciated human being, but with a canine face and teeth bared in fury. It lunged at the two women, but out of the corner of her eye, Kelly saw Haruka throw something at the beast, something powdery and white.

With a yowl of agony, it fell to the ground and writhing in pain, it dragged itself to a corner of the yard, its chain trailing behind it, where it huddled against a corner of the fence clawing at its rags and fur.

Kelly took in a deep breath to release her scream, but Haruka grabbed her arm, hard.

“Do not make a sound,” she hissed. “You will alert the neighbors. Now we have enough problems.”

Kelly fell to her knees, her eyes wide in shock. Her voice had fled.

Wheezing, she forced air out of lungs. “What...what is it,” she gasped.

A smile devoid of mirth came to Haruka’s face as she stared at the thing that whimpered and cowered at the end of its chain. “Something your western mind cannot grasp,” she said, her words hard and cruel. “It is an Inugami. Just as I suspected, the man who lived here actually was an onmyōji, a Taoist sorcerer dedicated to evil. That is his familiar.”

“We need to call the police,” Kelly said.

“No!” Haruka said forcefully. “They cannot help here. This is my work.”

“How...how can this be your work?” Kelly asked, wide-eyed. “How can you even know what this thing is?”

“I was a miko many years ago, a Shinto shrine maiden,” Haruka explained, “but we can discuss that later.”

Haruka approached the Inugami and dropped to a crouch. “Tell me your name,” she demanded in Japanese. “I have more blessed salt in my hand. Tell me or you will burn again.”

The Inugami had curled itself into a ball, but revealed its face and snarled. “I obey no kit…”

“Silence!” Haruka commanded. She held her fist above her head and the Inugami tried its best to cower even further into the fencing. “What is your name? Tell me.”

The Inugami wailed in its misery. “I am Kirai, the creation of Abe no Tadayuki.” Kelly followed the conversation in shock. The Inugami’s voice was clearly female.
Kelly stood and walked backwards until she felt the wall of house pressing against her back.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Are You Afraid to Create?

So many of us live in fear of creating art whether it be graphic design, painting, writing, or other arts and crafts.

I understand this. For years I was pursued by ghosts of those who maintained I was never good enough to write.

There is only one way to combat critical voices of the past.

Replace them with voices that affirm your creative ability. Please watch these very short videos. And then watch them again.




Now, drown out the critical voices of your past and present with those above, share this post, and then ....

Go And Create With Joy.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Inugami Revisited

Due to increased responsibilities with my extended family, my writing has petered off to be almost nonexistent, but today I felt that if I did not put hand to keyboard, I would start to lose my edge.

Pulling up The Inugami, a story that runs concurrently with The Shrine War, I added 1,000 words bringing my total count up to 2,609.

What follows is an extremely rough draft of what I was able to craft this evening. Kelly is an American student studying Japanese at the University of Tokyo. She has rented an apartment that she discovers was the home of a recluse who disappeared eight years before the events of the story. Little does Kelly know, she has a mysterious resident in the building's tiny crawlspace and it may not be human:


That night Kelly tossed and turned in her bed. She always had trouble sleeping in new surroundings and she was grateful that the university classes did not start for another three days. It should give her plenty of time to get used to her new home.

Abruptly, she shot up in her bed, her ears alert. A faint sound had come from beyond her door for what all the world sounded like the faint clink of a chain. Straining her hearing, she listened for it to repeat, but aside from a car outside driving down the street, the house stood silent. She sat upright for what seemed to be five minutes and then curiosity got the best of her. Opening the drawer of the small bedside bureau, Kelly grabbed a tiny canister of pepper spray. Slowly, she swung her feet around and stood, trying her best not to make any noise.

Again, came the faint metallic ring of a chain, but sounding somewhat farther away.

Two steps took her to the bedroom’s sliding door that silently opened into the hallway. To her right was the door to the bath, but to the left, a short hallway led to the spacious living room and adjoining kitchen. Kelly stood still for a few minutes, but the noise did not repeat.

A dim light from the street illuminated the living room, but aside from her furniture, the room stood empty. With a sudden burst of energy, she lunged down the hall, reached for the light switch and flipped it on.

Nothing.

She quickly walked into the living room to check the kitchen. It too stood empty of any intruders, but the aroma of an open sewer hit her, making her step back. Maybe, she thought to herself, that was what I heard? The sewer backing up in the pipes again?

Kelly quickly checked the front door and the rear one that opened into the pathetic excuse for a backyard, but both doors were firmly locked. Spinning about to return to her bedroom, Kelly could see the door to the refrigerator was ajar just a fraction of an inch. Marveling at her own carelessness, she closed the door and with a cursory sweep of the rooms, she flicked the light off and went back to bed.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Notes on Writing Weird Fiction by H.P. Lovecraft

August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937
Today is the 80th anniversary of the death of H. P. Lovecraft. In honor of the body of work in the fantastic and the weird, I am posting his entire essay, Notes on Writing Weird Fiction, an essay now in the public domain. His grammar and spelling remains unchanged.



Notes on Writing Weird Fiction

by H.P. Lovecraft


My reason for writing stories is to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly and detailedly and stably the vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy which are conveyed to me by certain sights (scenic, architectural, atmospheric, etc.), ideas, occurrences, and images encountered in art and literature. I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best—one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which for ever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or “outsideness” without laying stress on the emotion of fear. The reason why time plays a great part in so many of my tales is that this element looms up in my mind as the most profoundly dramatic and grimly terrible thing in the universe. Conflict with time seems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression.

While my chosen form of story-writing is obviously a special and perhaps a narrow one, it is none the less a persistent and permanent type of expression, as old as literature itself. There will always be a small percentage of persons who feel a burning curiosity about unknown outer space, and a burning desire to escape from the prison-house of the known and the real into those enchanted lands of incredible adventure and infinite possibilities which dreams open up to us, and which things like deep woods, fantastic urban towers, and flaming sunsets momentarily suggest. These persons include great authors as well as insignificant amateurs like myself—Dunsany, Poe, Arthur Machen, M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood, and Walter de la Mare being typical masters in this field.

As to how I write a story—there is no one way. Each one of my tales has a different history. Once or twice I have literally written out a dream; but usually I start with a mood or idea or image which I wish to express, and revolve it in my mind until I can think of a good way of embodying it in some chain of dramatic occurrences capable of being recorded in concrete terms. I tend to run through a mental list of the basic conditions or situations best adapted to such a mood or idea or image, and then begin to speculate on logical and naturally motivated explanations of the given mood or idea or image in terms of the basic condition or situation chosen.

The actual process of writing is of course as varied as the choice of theme and initial conception; but if the history of all my tales were analysed, it is just possible that the following set of rules might be deduced from the average procedure:

(1) Prepare a synopsis or scenario of events in the order of their absolute occurrence —not the order of their narration. Describe with enough fulness to cover all vital points and motivate all incidents planned. Details, comments, and estimates of consequences are sometimes desirable in this temporary framework.

(2) Prepare a second synopsis or scenario of events—this one in order of narration (not actual occurrence), with ample fulness and detail, and with notes as to changing perspective, stresses, and climax. Change the original synopsis to fit if such a change will increase the dramatic force or general effectiveness of the story. Interpolate or delete incidents at will—never being bound by the original conception even if the ultimate result be a tale wholly different from that first planned. Let additions and alterations be made whenever suggested by anything in the formulating process.

(3) Write out the story—rapidly, fluently, and not too critically—following the second or narrative-order synopsis. Change incidents and plot whenever the developing process seems to suggest such change, never being bound by any previous design. If the development suddenly reveals new opportunities for dramatic effect or vivid storytelling, add whatever is thought advantageous—going back and reconciling the early parts to the new plan. Insert and delete whole sections if necessary or desirable, trying different beginnings and endings until the best arrangement is found. But be sure that all references throughout the story are thoroughly reconciled with the final design. Remove all possible superfluities—words, sentences, paragraphs, or whole episodes or elements—observing the usual precautions about the reconciling of all references.

(4) Revise the entire text, paying attention to vocabulary, syntax, rhythm of prose, proportioning of parts, niceties of tone, grace and convincingness or transitions (scene to scene, slow and detailed action to rapid and sketchy time-covering action and vice versa. . . . etc., etc., etc.), effectiveness of beginning, ending, climaxes, etc., dramatic suspense and interest, plausibility and atmosphere, and various other elements.

(5) Prepare a neatly typed copy—not hesitating to add final revisory touches where they seem in order.

The first of these stages is often purely a mental one—a set of conditions and happenings being worked out in my head, and never set down until I am ready to prepare a detailed synopsis of events in order of narration. Then, too, I sometimes begin even the actual writing before I know how I shall develop the idea—this beginning forming a problem to be motivated and exploited.

There are, I think, four distinct types of weird story; one expressing a mood or feeling, another expressing a pictorial conception, a third expressing a general situation, condition, legend, or intellectual conception, and a fourth explaining a definite tableau or specific dramatic situation or climax. In another way, weird tales may be grouped into two rough categories—those in which the marvel or horror concerns some condition or phenomenon, and those in which it concerns someaction of persons in connexion with a bizarre condition or phenomenon.

Each weird story—to speak more particularly of the horror type—seems to involve five definite elements: (a) some basic, underlying horror or abnormality—condition, entity, etc.—, (b) the general effects or bearings of the horror, (c) the mode of manifestation—object embodying the horror and phenomena observed—, (d) the types of fear-reaction pertaining to the horror, and (e) the specific effects of the horror in relation to the given set of conditions.

In writing a weird story I always try very carefully to achieve the right mood and atmosphere, and place the emphasis where it belongs. One cannot, except in immature pulp charlatan–fiction, present an account of impossible, improbable, or inconceivable phenomena as a commonplace narrative of objective acts and conventional emotions. Inconceivable events and conditions have a special handicap to overcome, and this can be accomplished only through the maintenance of a careful realism in every phase of the story except that touching on the one given marvel. This marvel must be treated very impressively and deliberately—with a careful emotional “build-up”—else it will seem flat and unconvincing. Being the principal thing in the story, its mere existence should overshadow the characters and events. But the characters and events must be consistent and natural except where they touch the single marvel. In relation to the central wonder, the characters should shew the same overwhelming emotion which similar characters would shew toward such a wonder in real life. Never have a wonder taken for granted. Even when the characters are supposed to be accustomed to the wonder I try to weave an air of awe and impressiveness corresponding to what the reader should feel. A casual style ruins any serious fantasy.

Atmosphere, not action, is the great desideratum of weird fiction. Indeed, all that a wonder story can ever be is a vivid picture of a certain type of human mood. The moment it tries to be anything else it becomes cheap, puerile, and unconvincing. Prime emphasis should be given to subtle suggestion—imperceptible hints and touches of selective associative detail which express shadings of moods and build up a vague illusion of the strange reality of the unreal. Avoid bald catalogues of incredible happenings which can have no substance or meaning apart from a sustaining cloud of colour and symbolism.

These are the rules or standards which I have followed—consciously or unconsciously—ever since I first attempted the serious writing of fantasy. That my results are successful may well be disputed—but I feel at least sure that, had I ignored the considerations mentioned in the last few paragraphs, they would have been much worse than they are.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

My Personal 1 Million Book Challenge

On August 5th, 2010, I made a decision to read a million books before I die and keep a list of books that I actually completed. On that date, I was 55 years old.

Today I completed Book # 251: Philip Jose Farmer's The Maker of Universes. That means, on the average, I read one book every ten days.

(Note: I am not proud of that rate. There was a time in my life when I could polish off three books a week.)

That means, at this rate, it will take me 9,997,490 days to complete my goal of polishing off a million books or the early spring of Anno Domini 29,407 when I will be 27,453 years old.

Now, to be honest, I suspect I'm not going to make it, but I'll have fun trying.

As for The Maker of Universes, it was a fun pulp adventure where men were men and women were just as deadly as the males. As long as you didn't think too hard, it served as a rather nice diversion.

Will I read the rest of the books in the series? Probably not. I still have 999,749 books to go and my reading list is both long and diverse. I have some nonfiction lined up now, required reading for my job.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Infinite Space, Infinite God I and II Going Off-Market

In late 2006, my coauthor, Ken Pick, and I negotiated with Karina Fabian, an editor of some note, to submit a story to her anthology, Infinite Space, Infinite God, a collection of hard SF stories that featured strong Roman Catholic themes. I'm delighted to say that Karina accepted two stories: the co-written Mask of the Ferret and my solo work, Canticle of the Wolf.

Due to the success of the first anthology, Karina approached us in 2009 for another co-written story and Ken and I worked hard on Dyads that was accepted for the work. Infinite Space, Infinite God II was released in 2010 with Dyads marketed as a sequel to Mask of the Ferret.

Both Ken and I are very proud of our contributions, especially since Mask of the Ferret was in the running for an award by the Washington Science Fiction Association in 2008.

Unfortunately, I have been notified that both anthologies are on the verge of being pulled off the market. If you would like your own copies before they disappear, I would say you have two weeks or so before the anthologies are gone forever.

I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Robert and Karina Fabian for their faith in the literary work that Ken and I worked on so hard and to Twilight Times Books for their support and vision.

Infinite Space, Infinite God
Infinite Space, Infinite God II