Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Who Knew?

The jounal Science reviewed A FIELD GUIDE TO SURREAL BOTANY in their 12/19/2008 issue(!)

That's a place I was not expecting to hear from. I'll have to get a copy and post a summary.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


How do you come up with a title for a story?

I've been reading Dean Koontz's book on writing best=selling fiction and he has a chapter on this. He has an intriguing method where he plays around with word pairings and comes up with something that really grabs a readers attention and makes them want to read the story, then he uses that as the seed for writing the story itself.

It's a logical idea, but it does assume that you don't already have a story. My problem is that my stories generally come first, and coming up with a title for something that already exists is a different proposition. It's great if there's an important word or phrase that just leaps out of the story, but that doesn't always happen.

I'm npt always happy with my story titles, but like them much better than my sermon titles. I publish those a month in advance, when I haven't really started to do any serious work on them. I've chosen the scripture at that point, and have a general idea of where I want them to go. That's generally enough for a decent title, so I come up with something. The problem is, when I really do some serious study of the text, and get into the creative process of writing, something much better than the original idea begins to form. I usually go with the superior sermon rather than the sermon that fits the title best.

Of course that means there are often a couple of people who ask "...but what did that have to do with your title?"

When it comes to stories, I've come up with titles in a number of ways. The closest to Koontz's method I've done is probably "Snake Oil" which was written for FRONTIER CTHULHU. The anthology asked for horror stories in the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft set in the American frontier. I had a vague idea that I wanted to use Lovecraft's serpent god Yig, and that seemed to fit with the western archetype of the traveling peddler selling snake oil as a cure-all. All manner of snakey goodness seemed to fall into my lap after that.

I guess "Clown Fish" which was published in HIGH SEAS CTHULHU has a similar story. I had an image of what I wanted to do and the title fit that perfectly. I don't think the title is a great hook, and it doesn't make much sense until you finish the story, at which point there's a nice "aha" moment.

"City of Masks" is (IMO) a nice, mysterious sounding title. I wrote it for an anthology set in a future where zombies have become commonplace. In my story the undead are used for labor and are masked so that people don't have to be bothered by the faces of deceased loved-ones. With this one, the title came about the time I was finishing the story.

"Closing Time at Galaxy Video" is a story about a pair of aliens who drop into a video store at closing time. It's such an ordinary sounding title that I thought it would catch someone's eye seeing it in the contents of a science fiction anthology. The hardest part was thinking of an appropriate name for the video store. I came up with the title about half-way through the writing.

"Nano-Domini" is a favorite title of mine. I wrote a story for the upcoming anthology ROBOTS BEYOND that has medical nano-robots in search of meaning. It's the most overtly religious story I've ever done and I wanted a title that suggested that without beating people over the head with it. The working title was "In the Details" which is based on the proverb "God is in the Details" and the idea that nano-robots are tiny little details themselves. (Interestingly, there's also a proverb that saiy "the Devil is in the details"). I think that was an okay title, but when "Nano-Domini" literally popped into my head a few days after I'd finished the first draft, I liked it much better.

I got tothinking about this because of the vampire story Bobbie and I are working on. What might be a good title for that?

"Truck Stop...of Death" :p

Maybe a wait-and-see policy is better for this one.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Weather and Writing

Nice moody weather this week in Illinois. First there was the snow and the odd mix if brutality and wonder it brings. Hmm...I like the idea of creating a creature that can be at pitiless and as beautiful and serene as a snowstorm at the same time. I'll have to file that idea away.

Tonight I went out for a bit and there was heavy fog, which really added to the mystery and wonder of the snow. Of course it didn't add to the driving skills of the other people out and about so my chances to really enjoy it were more limited than I would have chosen. Still, it was very nice. I will not miss the cold when it goes away, but I will miss the trappings of winter.

And what am I writing in this? Well, I just finished a first draft of an SF story called "Closing Time at Galaxy Video". It's cold and damp in the story so maybe the weather crept in a bit. On the other hand, the story I'm working on with Bobbie (and finally have a little free time to get back to :-)) is set in early summer in New Mexico, which is a whole 'nother kind of weather.

It's set at a truck stop near Santa Rosa, and the pictures I've been looking at for research make me yearn for those open, arid spaces again. Some of that may just be my chilly bones yearning for a little warmth, but there's more to it than that. There's a severe kind of beauty in the desert. Like the snow, it is pitiless, but it will take your breath and capture your imagination at the same time. I hope we can catch that feeling for the story.

Monday, December 22, 2008

More Snow

I was out again tonight (on my new tire:)) and saw something I haven't seen in years. As I was walking into the library I could see the air sparkling around me.

I could feel a few pin-point stings of cold on my skin and I'm guessing this was a form of snow, as if there were tiny ice-crystals, too small to be seen until they caught the light just right. it was amazing and magical, whatever it was. the air seemed cold and clear otherwise, and I could only see the sparkles our of the corner of my eyes.

It made me think of another snowstorm I was in a few years ago. I was driving up to Flagstaff and came through an area where the big puffy flakes were falling thickly. But the western sky was clear and the sun was setting and it painted the falling snow a vivid orange. it was like driving through falling specks of fire.

It is amazing to see, even under the most prosaic conditions, and sometimes, it outdoes all else for mystic beauty.


It's very cold up here in the midwest! On the one hand, that's kind of nice. I grew up in the southwest and I think I remember one or possibly two white Christmasses.

Here in Chicagoland there is a lot of snow, more this year than ever. It's beautiful and it always makes me think of how exciting snow was when I was a child in Albuquerque. It's beautiful and kind of magical in my mind, and it always seems odd whenI hear long-time midwesterners complain about it.

On the other hand, I have some understanding...

Last night I decided to go to a local bookstore. There aren't any in Lickport but there's a freeway that can get me to Barnes and Noble in about 15 minutes, so I braved single digit temperatures, nasty winds and snowy streets.

Everything was fine until a tire blew out on the expressway. Unpleasant but decided to handle it philosophically. I pulled over on the shoulder to consider my options. The good news is that I am a AAA member... the bad news is that, for the first time in months, I didn't have my cell phone with me. Oh well...

I checked the tire; the entire sidewall was shredded. Fortunately, I have a spare and I know how to use it. Unfortunately I didn't have the foresight to have gloves along. :(

Changing the tire in the bitter cold was hard, but not that bad. Not until all the streetlights on that section of the freeway suddenly went out. Unscrewing lugnuts is tough when you can't see them, and worse when your hands are so numb that you can't feel them. (I've got blisters today on a few of my fingers, so I'm guessing mild frostbite.) Still, while I couldn't feel my hands that was compensated for by the lancing pain in my sinuses from the cold wind, and the sudden nearly-irresistable need to pee.

I got the tire changed eventually and made it back home without further incident. I think I have a better understanding now of why so many misdwesterners dislike snowy weather.

I still love it. But my next trip out will be to get a good roadside flashlight and a heavy duty set of winter gloves!


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Off to Gryphonwood

A friend (thanks Bobbie!) tipped me to the fact that Gryphonwood Press's next anthology has re-opened it's doors for a 2 week reading period. the anthology is titled You Don't Know What You've Got.

The theme is loss and it seems perfect for "City of Masks", a story that I first sent to The World is Dead anthology. It seems appropriate because the character in the story loses his vocation, his girlfriend, his freedom, bits and pieces of his body and ultimately his humanity.

It's the first zombie story I've ever done and is set in a dismal dystopian future. Kind of bleak stuff, but perhaps it's balanced by the story I'm working on now, a fantasy/western romp called "the Sad saga of Tyrannosaurus Tex".

(Bipolar much?)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Drop Dead Gorgeous

I'm posting this for Wayne over at Permuted Press. I haven't read the book yet, but can attest that he is a talented and clever writer. Check it out.

Wayne Simmons' living dead novel Drop Dead Gorgeous is now available for purchase from many stores including:

* Permuted Press - Free shipping on any 2 or more books!
* Amazon US
* Amazon UK
* Amazon Canada
* Barnes & Noble
* Many Others

As tattoo artist Star begins to ink her first client on a spring Sunday morning, something goes horribly wrong with the world... Belfast's hungover lapse into a deeper sleep than normal, their sudden deaths causing an unholy mess of crashing cars, smoldering televisions and falling aircraft.

In the chaotic aftermath a group of post-apocalyptic survivors search for purpose in a devastated city. Ageing DJ Sean Magee and shifty-eyed Barry Rogan find drunken solace in a hotel bar. Ex-IRA operative Mairead Burns and RIR soldier Roy Beggs form an uneasy alliance to rebuild community life. Elsewhere, a mysterious Preacher Man lures shivering survivors out of the shadows with a promise of redemption.

Choked by the smell of death, Ireland’s remaining few begin the journey toward a new life, fear and desperation giving rise to new tensions and dark old habits. But a new threat--as gorgeous as it is deadly--creeps slowly out of life’s wreckage. Fueled by feral hunger and a thirst for chaos, the corpses of the beautiful are rising…