Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Let Us Now Praise Worthy Men

Burt Lange was a fellow pastor in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ and yesterday, Burt passed away leaving this world much poorer in his wake. His humor, his incredible giftedness at the piano, his obvious love for his God and his family, and his ability to richly and wisely handle the Word of God as a preacher were a small sample of the depths of soul this man had.

His expertise on the piano for which he was always self-effacing was jaw dropping. He would sit at any piano and make it his and would draw a melody from it that only a true maestro could render. His art was so powerful he could make you laugh or cry or reminisce or lose you in just plain awe. And these are not superlatives. When the man put his hands on a keyboard, magic happened. Not magick with a 'k', but the real stuff that eschews power and reaches past the skeptical mind to the heart where we as children always remembered what true wonder was.

He always had a good word for everybody and I will very much miss him.

I know the Music of Heaven is sweet. It is now slightly sweeter.

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the passing of His faithful servants."

Amazon Pays Authors Only By Pages Read (And I Want To Talk About That Big Elephant In The Room)

From here:
(Reuters) - It could soon pay more to write lengthier books, if you are an author self-publishing on Amazon.com Inc's Kindle ebook platform.

Starting next month, the e-commerce giant will pay independent authors based on the number of pages read, rather than the number of times their book has been borrowed.

The move is aimed at authors enrolled in Kindle Direct Publishing platform – which lets authors set list prices, decide rights and edit the book at any time – and is applicable to ebooks made available via the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners' Lending Library programs.
There's a LOT more, so make sure you follow the link above to read the rest of the story.

I don't like this, but I understand. A lot of self-published material is dreck. People buy an eBook or take one out on Amazon's loan program and think to themselves, I am NOT wasting my life on this garbage! So, I agree. If an author self-publishes dreck, s/he only gets paid for what is read.

If you will forgive what sounds like arrogance, this does not bother me. I think I publish readable works. If somebody purchases or buys any of my works, I suspect they are going to read it all the way through and I have proven to my readers that if they find a huge error, it will be corrected.

However, here's the elephant in the room .....

How does Amazon know how much of a book is read?

Privacy concerns anybody?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Alice Remembers the White Knight: Thoughts on Poetry

Originally published in Beauty For Ashes Poetry Review: Fall, 1999

I very seldom write poetry. To me the process is more soul-bearing than writing fiction as I believe poetry is the most intimate form of expression than any other artistic endeavor.

For me personally, the meaning behind this poem is so complex and deep, I have yet to find the words to express its significance let alone its interpretation.

Therefore, you are invited to enjoy your own interpretation, whatever you may believe it to be. Maybe poetry is best enjoyed in that manner. That way you can make it your own.

A quick addendum: I had to make the poem into a graphic only because I wanted to preserve the unique indentation that plays a role in how the poem is read and understood.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

My First Poem: Jordan Draws

My first published story was The Substance of Things Hoped For published in PawPrints Fanzine in the summer of 1998.This short poem was meant to preface the story as it was inspired by the work of Jordon "Greywolf" Peacock. Eventually I made contact with him and he graciously illustrated my children's novella, The Seven Sisters (available only in the paperback edition).

Unfortunately, the editor decided not to include the poem with the story. 

I have written quite a bit of poetry since 1998, but this one will always be my most treasured.

Jordan Draws

Ink flows and 
an ebony line forms 
a face, an eye, a mouth, 
the artist's desire made 
corporeal—a faint echo 
of a Divine hand when 
it sketched its heart
on the virgin soil 
of Eden.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Beware the Blob (1972): A Review

Last night, my son, Christopher,​ and I watched one of the saddest horror films ever put on the screen. Beware the Blob (1972) was directed by Larry Hagman (yes, THAT Larry Hagman) and the acting and storyline were hilariously awful.

I had watched this film years ago but did not remember the B-actor lineup: Robert Walker, Jr. (better known for his role-playing Charlie X in the original Star Trek), Godfrey Cambridge, Carol Lynley, Dick Van Patten, Cindy Williams (Laverne & Shirley) and others.

But for me, here was the killer. Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill had bit parts in the film. If you don't know them, they were movers and shakers in the early Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement. When I saw Norman (whom I met personally in 1983), I told Christopher, "That's Larry Norman!" A little research and, yes, Norman and Stonehill (they were best friends at this time) somehow got in this film. I wonder if they ever winced at the memory of this little gem in their legacy.

Stonehill played a pot-smoking guitar hippie and Cindy Williams was his girlfriend. They both got blobbed.

This movie was so awful and so poorly written, the Blob was the most intelligent character in the whole flick.

Here's a little bit of trivia. There is a scene around the 47-minute mark where three hobos in a barn are getting drunk together. In order, they are Del Close (with the patch over his eye), Larry Hagman himself, and the great Burgess Meredith (who must have owed Hagman a huge favor). 

Years ago, Del Close wrote about his adventures on the set of Beware the Blob in an illustrated memoir he wrote for Wasteland, a DC horror comic published in the '90s. Close revealed his eyepatch was not just a part of his costume. He had sustained a serious eye injury and in the whole scene was in incredible pain. Even more interesting is that Close went on to play the role of Rev. Meeker in the 1988 version of The Blob and in his bio stated he did so because he wanted to express his contempt of the Christian clergy. I wonder if he bumped into Norman and Stonehill during the filming as both of them were nothing like Christian clergy.

More trivia:

  1. The original title was A Chip Off the Old Blob. It was also released under the title (The) Son of Blob.
  2. Larry Hagman was never allowed to direct another film after this.
  3. In an interview with Fangoria Magazine, screenwriter Anthony Harris admitted that most of the dialogue was simply made up on the fly, allowing the actors to say anything they wanted.

If you would like to watch this charming little piece of cinematic history, you can watch it for free here. Don't worry about gore or harsh language. There isn't any. The one scene of Cambridge being engulfed is so cheesy, it's actually laughable.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why I Love Bad Reviews

The challenge all authors face is sometimes our writing is not perceived or interpreted by the reader as intended and we end up receiving a negative review. If that is the case, there are two possible realities:
  1. The reader has allowed his perception of the work to be misinterpreted by his or her own mental and emotional grid, or
  2. The author has failed to write a clear and concise story. 
No writer has control over the first situation, but does have total control over the second.

The only way I will ever know if I have committed an unpardonable breach in the writer-reader relationship is if I get a bad review.

Now, I have very little ego. I am not God's gift to the literary world. None of my work is going to change your life. I have no great truths to share. That has never been the intent. If you read one of my stories or novellas, my only purpose it to entertain you. All that is desired is that you spend a brief time of respite in a world of my own creation and come away not regretting the time you put into reading the story. The hope is that every reader sees my work as something akin to a mental vacation, a brief respite from everyday life.

My first novella, Coventry House, served as my magnum opus for years. Over the years the novella has received some rave reviews, but some years ago it received a negative review that, believe it or not, I truly treasure because I got to see the work through another set of eyes.

The review is located here and unfortunately, I do not know the name of the reviewer. I respectfully disagree with some of his points, but it is very clear that he read the novella from cover to cover and the review is exhaustive.

Yes, the review is filled with snark and sarcasm, yet there are many points the reviewer makes that I cannot disagree with. It was, after all, my first major work and comes with a number of errors that first-time novel writers are prone to commit.

Most helpful is a list that compiled that the reviewer calls his Cheesy Story Checklist and, quite frankly, it's a goldmine for all writers. I confess some of the trope descriptions I just don't get, but the vast majority make some very valid points.

Now no writer enjoys having his baby called ugly, but all criticisms of one's work should be read and contemplated. Some can be ignored completely and you will instinctively know which ones.

Others ... well, others you will know instinctively if they contain a kernel of truth and for those you swallow your ego and read and heed. In the end, it's for everybody's benefit for both the writer and the reader.

And the negative review of Coventry House has been a priceless education.

So, for my readers who read my blog, if you read one of my stories or novellas that does not entertain you, let me know on Amazon.com or on Smashwords. It will be read and considered.

For my fellow writers who read my blog, writing is an art honed over time. We can only improve, but only if we are mature enough to learn that sometimes we produce some rather ugly babies.

The next ones we birth can only be better.

Why I Write Dark Fantasy

I took this picture on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 from my office parking lot and used it to illustrate my apologia as to why I write dark fantasy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Win-Win Situation

I used to have a rich dream life where I was James Bond, Allan Quatermain, Indiana Jones and Rick Blaine all tied into one.

Now my cerebral scriptwriter has me starring as some love child between Pee Wee Herman and Forrest Gump.

This should solve the problem.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Fiction Books That Profoundly Impacted Me

All my life I have been a voracious reader and for those who know me, to think of me apart from my library is impossible.

In response to a Facebook quorum, I sat for a bit to consider the fiction books that had a profound impact on me, and by profound, I mean that I was a different person when I turned the last page and closed the book.

I think I know what the list is:
  1. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis 
  2. Till We Have Faces: A Novel of Cupid and Psyche‎, by C. S. Lewis
  3. Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne 
  4. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand 
If we talk about nonfiction books, I could create a list as well, but that's still a sore spot with me that I am still working through.

I read Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber in 1973/74 and the story of a young abused girl with multiple personality disorder was so moving, I can say the reason I am a pastoral counselor is almost 95% of reading Sybil.

In 2011, journalist Debbie Nathan published an expose revealing the book and its story was primarily a work of fiction. I did not take that well.

In hindsight, I'm delighted that I have helped many people across the wide spectrum of humanity. I just wish my motivation had not been engendered by a massive lie.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Music To Write By

Erutan's real name is Kate Covington
Erutan is a classically trained singer-songwriter who specializes in a Celtic/Medieval style and plays a plethora of instruments including harp, lute, violin, guitar, hand drums, recorder, pan flute, kantele, dulcimer, etc. to bring her arrangements to life.

Erutan's music is both simple enough to enjoy, yet complex enough to find an ultimate description somewhat of a challenge. I experience it as music with a strong Celtic influence mixed with a subtle Gothic spirit that is both wistful and enchanting.

Good music to play in the background as I weave my tales of dark fantasy. You can hear her music on Spotify.

Monday, June 8, 2015

There Is A Place...

In my seven decades of life, I have learned two salient facts: the world is not safe and the world is not necessarily sane.

There is a place that looks like a restaurant affiliated with a well-known chain of fast food eateries, but that is only an illusion. I believe that the souls trapped in Purgatory come here to experience a brief respite from their penance.  

They sit and stare at the grimy walls reduced to a shade of burnt umber. Occasionally a stray napkin, a morsel of food, or a ripped piece of paper from a straw may drop from their nerveless fingers to contribute to the litter that peppers the greasy floor.

There is no conversation. The only laughter is an occasional humorless rasping bark swelling up from an internal monologue. The individual tables may have one or more customers, but they all act as if condemned to solitary confinement and eye contact never occurs.

They are not safe. They are not necessarily sane.

I look down at my hands with surprise that I cannot see through them for in this restaurant of souls it is I who feel like a ghost, an intruding revenant in a world where I am neither welcome nor acknowledged.

In the corner, a middle-aged man in shorts and t-shirt with a slogan faded to illegibility shouts two-digit numbers at the wall before him.  

In the corner, a young girl with hair black as the Abyss worries her drink, sucking on a straw.  As she tilts her cup, I see it is empty and moments later, she returns to her imaginary beverage.

An elderly couple sits at a table staring through each other. Each has taken a bite of their food. Both have been chewing without swallowing for the past five minutes.

At the soda dispensary, a man stands watching the beverage fill his cup, his face filled with wonder at such a miracle. When full, he drains the cup dry and then refills it again. As I watch in amazement, he does this ten times in a row and as I flee the restaurant, he refills it yet again.

I know, Gentle Reader, what you are thinking. I know this author. He writes short, dark pieces for entertainment, and if that is so, you are correct. My stories are nothing more than entertaining lies that hide a darker truth.

But not this time. This short work of 434 words is not fiction.

In my seven decades of life, I have learned two salient facts: the world is not safe and the world is not necessarily sane.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Cheerful Company And A Merry Time

Many years ago, the writers' group I am privileged to attend held a writer's prompt where an assignment was given with only ten minutes to write something inspired by the prompt.

That particular meeting's assignment was a delight. We were given fortune cookies with the instructions to relate the “fortune” to the future of our writing, My fortune said merely:

Cheerful Company And A Merry Time

Tuesday night! Alan smiled to himself in delighted anticipation. Tuesday night was his night for public dramatic reading and he savored the sound of his own voice enthralling a captive audience while he a wove an imaginative tale.

A woman-in-white opened the door and Alan walked onto the brightly-lit stage and looked at the sea of faces before him.

The mistress of ceremonies beckoned the audience to come closer. “Come, people! Come to the stage. Mr. Loewen has another lovely story for us.”

Mr. Stevens stopped chasing imaginary ferrets and made his way to the front. As people walked, skipped, or crawled to the stage even Mrs. Purdle stopped pretending to be a wall and took her place within the crowd.

“Tonight is also fortune cookie night, Mr. Loewen,” said the woman-in-white. “Here’s yours.” Carefully, Alan cracked open the cookie trying very hard on concentrating on not eating the paper this time and pondered his fortune. Cheerful company and a merry time, Alan read and he delightedly clapped his hands together like an overgrown toddler. He was always overjoyed when such fortunes come true.
“Okay, Mr. Loewen,” the woman-in-white said. “what do you have for us tonight?”

Alan giggled and reaching into his tattered terry robe, pulled out a wad of construction paper covered with illegible scrawls of black Crayola.

“Once upon a time,” he began, “there was a little pony … “

Thursday, June 4, 2015

An Experiment With Adobe Slate

I decided to try an experiment with Adobe's new app, Adobe Slate that allows you to create an interesting platform of text mixed with pictures. I took my dark love song to the English language and played with the Slate interface for a bit. You can view the results here. I will let you judge the final results.

On my iPad, it looks quite good and I suspect on any tablet, the scrolling is great, but on my desktop PC, the scrolling is clunky.

By the bye, Adobe Slate is an app for the iPad and is free.

Allow Me To Entertain You

An experiment with Adobe Voice. Unfortunately, the app only runs on the Apple tablets. :-(

You can play the video here or you can see it at a better quality by clicking here.


Nonetheless, I am delighted with the end result.

Adobe Voice is available for FREE in the iTunes Store.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Corrected Error In The Seven Sisters

"A man who edits his own work has a fool for a client."

It was brought to my attention that my children's novella, The Seven Sisters, contained a very amateurish error in that I named the Prologue the Epilogue.

The correction has been made and if you downloaded The Seven Sisters as an eBook from Amazon.com please delete the book from your Kindle and download it again from the Amazon Cloud. The error will be repaired. The download will be free.

My goal is to make sure my works are 100% error free. I know that is almost impossible, but it is what I strive realistic or not.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Review: The Greener Forest, by Vonnie Winslow Crist

In The Greener Forest, Vonnie Winslow Crist knows what comprises a fairy tale and her maturity as a writer shines most clearly in her knowledge that as opposed to today's antiseptic, squeaky clean. "they all lived happily ever after" fairy tales, the world of magic conceals risk and even genuine danger.

In this collection of short stories and poems, Crist takes us to a greener world where the gifts of the fae can bring delight or destruction and where the wonder that permeates her literary universe can wield happiness or horror. In this short collection you will meet the Acorn Cap Brown Man, mermaids self-exiled because of love, spriggans and a panoply of nature spirits both benign and malevolent.

All in all, a satisfying read and worth the time for armchair explorers like me who fear the invitation of the evening mist outside carries the possibility of never returning to hearth and home.