Sunday, March 12, 2017

Times and Tides

Writers are creatures of habit.  My own writing routine is to get up crazy early before I have to be at work and write the day awake.  I've been doing it that way for years.  Decades, even.  Then the time change comes.

When you're young it's not such a big deal.  A few extra yawns at school on Monday and by Friday you're acclimated.  But time holds still for no one.  As an adult, it takes more time to adjust to changes in your schedule.  Suddenly what used to be 4 a.m. is now 5 a.m.  You have to get out of bed at what feels like 3:00.  The writer's schedule suffers.

Daylight Saving Time was a contingency invented by the Germans during the world wars.  In order to maximize the usable light, they changed their clocks from standard time so that early morning light (my favorite) wouldn't be wasted.  Better to have later at night light.  Obviously, they weren't writers.

So I get up in the morning, ready to write, but *yawn* I can't concentrate so early!  It'll take me more than a few days to bounce back.  We writers live on our own time anyway—perhaps there should be a special rule for writers, allowing them to keep their regular time?

Even our computers, though, change the time automatically.  It used to be that only the gods had such power.  Well, with Silicon Valley being what it is, maybe it's still the gods in charge of our clocks.

Where did I leave off that story?  Funny, I don't recall being so fuzzy-headed yesterday morning when I got up to write.  I have nothing against the Germans, of course.  They were only being practical.  Logical.  Now, with advances in technology, it would be logical to stop shuffling the time around.  If Daylight Saving Time is better, why not keep it all year round?

Don't mind me.  I'm just headed back to the kitchen for another cup of coffee.  And maybe then I'll be able to remember what I was writing about just twenty-three hours ago.  Or was it twenty-five hours ago?  Only the gods know.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Glass-Walled Cabin

My latest publication, “Glass-Walled Cabin” has appeared on The WiFiles.  As is my custom, I devote a post to the story to share with readers what went into the writing process.

The WiFiles publishes fiction with a paranormal bent.  That fits the horror genre particularly well since few people take sasquatch seriously.  To write a story like this, however, requires some first-hand experience.  At least in my case it does.

Many years ago I went to visit a forest ranger fire spotter in a lonely observation tower in the northwest United States.  Most people are aware that the western part of this country suffers from perpetual drought, making the mountains, especially in summer, a potential tinderbox.  The fire spotter had to live in this glass-walled cabin for four months at a stretch.  Short visits were okay, but long-term guests would be a distraction.

Climbing to the tower meant hiking to the top of one of the tallest peaks in the area.  And you also had to know the ranger.  The first thing that struck me was how incredibly alone this guy was.  He had to be okay in his own head.  You need to look out through the glass constantly.  If you can look out, others can look in.

Horror, for me, takes place in isolated locations.  I’m not the kind of guy who has lots of friends, but I know the necessity of reaching out when trouble strikes.  So the aging protagonist finds himself isolated in a fire tower.  Instead of preventing a fire he finds himself on the inside of a cage.



Are sasquatch real?  I don’t know.  Taking aside the pranks there seems to be some reasonable evidence.  While today’s eyewitnesses tell of seeing one, the miners in Ape Canyon in 1924 claimed to have been attacked by a whole tribe of them.  I took this story, modernized it, and brought one man alone to face the fear that others claim doesn’t exist.


Without having traveled to this region myself, however, I doubt I would’ve felt compelled to write such a story.  For me, horror begins with personal experience.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Problem with Backup

I remember the days when computer files were saved on disc.  Diskettes, actually.  All my stories were carefully backed up in duplicate.  I felt secure.

Technology progressed, as technology will.  The floppy disk gave way to higher capacity storage systems—I had a Jaz drive, once upon a time.  These cassettes, reminiscent of an 8-track, held an enormous amount of data.  But not enough.

Computers came with CD drives then, but you couldn't save onto a CD—like the early PDFs.  Then they made CD writers common hardware with your computer.  I began saving everything on CDs.  Large tubes of them fill a forgotten desk drawer.

Then came the terabyte drive.  Holding more storage capacity than a moon-launch computer, this little device, used weekly, safely holds my secrets.  Stories are secure at last.  My computer wants me to save them to the Cloud.  And pay for the privilege.

So I dutifully backup my hard disc onto the terabyte drive.  This morning old Terry died.  I think my files are still there, but what does one do when one's stories are in jeopardy?  I don't trust the Cloud.  Rain happens, my friends, and I don't want somebody else keeping my fiction.

Alas, it is time to seek out an expensive expert who will charge me to retrieve what is mine in the first place.  Puts a new spin on intellectual property, does it not?  These improvements are supposed to make life easier, but instead they mean storage spaces full of outdated media.

I think I'm going back to pen and paper.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Fiction Factor

I’ve often wondered if it’s accidental that fact and fiction share consonants.  Oh, the vowels are completely different, and fiction ends with that trickster consonant n, but don’t let that fool you.  Things aren’t always as clear cut as they say.

In some languages, I’ve been told, the meaning of a word lies in its root.  My friend Steve once told me that Hebrew words have “triliteral roots.”  That is, words based on the same three consonants, in that order, are closely related.  You can make a noun into a verb by taking the root and changing the vowels.  Maybe something similar is going on with fact and fiction.

Jorge Luis Borges, I have to confess, hasn’t appeared in my reading as much as he should.  Many of his story revolve around the indeterminacy of words.  They change, they shift, they mean something we didn’t mean for them to mean.  And he sometimes uses Hebrew as an example.

I don’t read Hebrew—English is difficult enough, thank you very much—but I wonder if Borges, and others, aren’t onto something here.  The language you think in determines what you write.



I once had a dream in French.  I’ve never studied French and I don’t speak it.  At the time of the dream I’d seldom heard it spoken.  In the dream I knew it was French and when I awoke the sounds were consonant with the little I knew of the language.  Maybe our hardware includes the Rosetta Stone.  All we have to do is tap into it.

I’ve often played with the idea of writing using nonsense words.  Dr. Seuss was a master at pulling that off plausibly.  Those who speak in tongues might have an advantage here.  Still, words don’t always mean what we think they do.  Those of us who write fiction know that words tame us, not the other way around.


So is it fiction or fact?  Can anybody really know?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Free Writer

I’ve been a bad boy.  I haven’t been posting on my poor, neglected blog lately.  You see, like all truly creative types, I’ve been protesting.

Call me simplistic, but I always thought America was about freedom.  I grew up writing fantastic (as in wild, unusual, not as in great) stories and nobody said anything I wrote was threatening.  I didn’t know any better—I was just a boy with a tablet and a pencil.  I wrote my imagination.

Now we have a president who’s trying to slash the National Endowment for the Humanities.  There’s no profit in it, you see.  And this after having W say just a few years back that freedom isn’t free.  What?  You have to pay for freedom?  Forgive me, but I’ve always been a live and let live kind of guy.

My horror isn’t gruesome.  It’s existential.  Maybe that’s why I have such a tough time getting published.  With nearly twenty stories in press I hope my writing’s not that bad.  I can live with people just not getting it.  But I protest a government that can’t support the humanities.



I’ve been a bad boy.  I went to Washington to join the Women’s March.  I may not be a woman, but half the people on this planet are and they should have the same rights as the other half.  And throw in an order of freedom while you’re at it, please.

All this fighting for freedom has taken its toll on my fiction.  Not that the ideas are fading—they’re not—but who has time to tweet their congressmen all day and then write stories?  Who thought politics would ever interfere with good, old-fashioned creativity?


I like my freedom free, just like my imagination.  There’s no places barred to it, and there’s no limit to the number of genders or races you might find there.  Is it too much to hope for a government that’ll just leave me alone to be free?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Editing Reality

One becomes inured.  That is to say, rejection letters are far more common than acceptances.  So it became clear to me while looking at my Submittable page recently.  The number of cheery blue acceptances is largely outweighed by those dreary gray “declined”s.

Look, I’m an editor.  I know how this game works.  Every day I see the pitches the hopeful send, wanting to be represented by my press.  Every day I try to think how to write rejection letters that are complementary, comforting, encouraging.  The point is, I see bad writing.

Some people see dead people.  Others of us see dead writing.  Books that should never have been born.  When you agonize over every word, and when you know that you’ve got some felicity with the pen (or on the keyboard) being classed with those who clearly don’t understand is painful.



Awfully gloomy for a positive post, I must say!  I just received the good news that my story, “Glass-Walled Cabin,” was accepted for publication by The WiFiles.  As is my custom, I will write a little about the background to the story after it is published.  For now it’s just a nice, cheery feeling in my chest and belly that I’ve received an acceptance letter.

“Glass-Walled Cabin” is my nineteenth story accepted for publication.  The WiFiles is the tenth magazine that has been willing to take a chance (and what’s to lose when it’s only electrons?) on my grappling with reality.  Stories, after all, are an effort to make some mark on the world.  However tiny.

As an editor I often wonder what you have to do to gain credibility.  In editorial board meetings I hear talk of authors you accept no matter what.  That translates into authors whose past books have earned money.  It’s all about the money.  Really, it is.

I’ve never been paid for my writing.  One story, “Initiating an Apocalypse,” won a contest on Calliope, which earned back the entry fee plus a few dollars.  I don’t write for the money.  I write because I must.  It’s who I am.


Not that I would object to having someone toss a few coppers my way for my efforts.  But I’m too realistic to hope for that.  I am an editor, after all.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Writing's the Crisis

Being a working writer means living with inherent contradictions.  For fifty weeks of the year daily life involves awaking between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m., writing for half an hour, and catching a bus to over eight hours of work in New York City.  Then riding the bus back home again in time for supper and bed.  I’m not complaining, just observing.  That’s what writers do.

That lifestyle—constantly tired, anxious, and pressed for time to get the mundane chores done (paying bills, balancing the checkbook, taking out the recycling)—wears me down like a grindstone.  When the weekend comes I sleep an extra half hour or so and, although refreshed, I awake without the urgency that frames five days a week.  It’s a crisis.

Every year I save up enough vacation days to take off between Christmas and New Year’s.  As a former professor this is a no-brainer.  In my industry (publishing) there’s no such thing as an emergency.  Nobody dies if a book is released a week later than scheduled.  Even so, publishers don’t get this natural caesura of the year off.  My first year in the biz, I sat in the office with no one answering emails or calls because everyone else has this time off.



I save five of my precious vacation days every year to take this time off.  To write, I think, to finish projects.  To catch up on all the things I don’t have time to do.  Then the expensive break comes and inspiration flees.  I get enough sleep and can’t think of a thing to write.  My half-finished stories collect at my feet.  There is no crisis. 

Every year’s end I come to realize that the writing’s in the crisis.  The stories dwell in that frazzled mindset of never having enough sleep.  The constant financial worries.  The looking ahead to no retirement because who can afford retirement when the rent is so damned high?  The moment I put my foot on that early morning bus, the story ideas begin to flow.


I won’t have time to write them down, though.  Not until next year at Christmas.  So the working writer’s life goes.  They’re called holy days for a reason.