Monthly Archives: June 2012

Name the Dabir and Asim Series

As I mentioned last week, I’m launching a contest to win an advance reader copy (known as an ARC) of the next Dabir and Asim novel, The Bones of the Old Ones. Now Bones won’t actually be available until December 11 of 2012 through bookstores (or via Kindles and Nooks and what have you), but ARCs will start going out to reviewers within the next few months. And one of them could be headed your way.

Here’s the deal. The Dabir and Asim series needs a title. I haven’t yet come up with one that’s especially electrifying, so I’m throwing open the gates, and from now until July 22nd I’m accepting your suggestions for series titles. The series title will appear on the final version of the cover, probably in the place where this version of the cover reads “A Novel,” and on all following Dabir and Asim novels.

Here’s how to enter:

1. E-mail me (with no spaces in the actual e-mail address) at joneshoward AT

2. Use Dabir and Asim Contest as the subject line.

3. Provide me with the series title you like best, and an e-mail where I can reach you.

4. You can list several ideas in a single entry, or just one. If you’ve already sent me one or more ideas and think of others later, just send me a new entry.

My editor Peter Wolverton and I will sort through all the entries and pick the winner from them. Should we choose a series title some other way, I will still select my favorite entry from this contest, and that person will receive an autographed ARC. On the outside chance that several people suggest the same title that Pete and I end up loving, then we’ll select one of those entries via random draw.

Pretty straightforward, right?

The only other thing you need to know is that I need all entries by Sunday the 22nd of July. I’ll announce the winner by the end of July.

I look forward to your entries!

Soon, a Contest. Now for the Rooster!

Author Howard Andrew Jones and Friend.

I’ve never felt especially comfortable in front of a camera. Aim one at me and I tend to freeze up. I’m actually a pretty happy person, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the family photo album. I suppose you MIGHT have seen me relaxed looking on TV some twenty years back when I was living in Terre Haute, Indiana and working as a production assistant at WTWO. With a limited budget, a lot of us 20 somethings on the production staff acted in the commercials when necessary, and I got to ham it up a few times. But that’s the difference — I was hamming it up, not trying to look respectable, or posed.

As to this picture… Astute viewers will note that I’m wearing the same paisley shirt that appears in the one and only publicity pic I ever use. (Yeah, I know, I need a new one. Maybe for The Bones of the Old Ones.) When my friend Bruce was snapping shot after shot of me to try and get a nice dust jacket photo, there were literally a hundred shots of me looking even more awkward than usual. Then my daughter ran and grabbed a rooster and shoved it into my hands. You see the result on the left.

After a few silly ones like this I looked considerably more relaxed, although I still think I look like a cardboard cutout rather than the real me.

What’s your take on this one? I think I look rather like an evil poultry wizard, or possibly Blofeld’s cousin from the midwest just finishing a monologue to James Bond.

Next week I’ll be announcing a Dabir and Asim contest, with the prize to be an advanced reading copy of The Bones of the Old Ones. This week, behave yourself, or the rooster will get you.

I almost forgot — I posted some more thoughts on revisiting Ray Bradbury’s work over at the Black Gate blog. Apart from relaxing with some old favorites, I ended up feeling rather melancholy during the reading. It’s hard to go home again, sometimes.

On Father’s Day

When I was a child, my dad would leave early for work to grade papers at the university. My school was only a block from where he taught. Mom would drop me off early so she could get to work and I’d swing by the university cafeteria for a half hour. I could always spot my father sitting at the window, waiting for me.

I wish now that I’d discovered teaching with him, or that I had talked to him about his classes, but I never did. We’d play hangman on cafeteria napkins, or he and I would draw grids and play battleship the old fashioned way. He’d check in with me and see how I was doing.

Sometimes I’d wish I was somewhere else, or, as I moved on from grade school to junior high (all in the same school) I’d be annoyed that I had to stop in rather than heading in early to be with my friends. Now, though, I’d give anything to swing by that cafeteria and sit down with him for a game of hangman.

He was usually there when I got home from school, too. We lived in a little bungalow style house on a side street. Dad loved to sit on the screened porch in the afternoon. A lot of trees threw shade onto the porch, and you could hear birds singing as well as the winds stirring the leaves, or the passage of cars on the busier street beyond.

Sometimes Dad would be looking over a book he was teaching from, or reading the paper. More often, though, I’d just find him sitting peacefully, lost in thought.

“Hey Bud,” he’d say, and he’d ask me about my friends, or my day.

It wasn’t until I became a father myself that I realized just how important that had been to me. How much I hoped to emulate it (in spirit, if not in precise imitation). How much skill was involved in being present without being intrusive. And how reassuring it was to have him there. So steady. So certain. So dependable.

I don’t think that there was anything left unsaid between us. There’s no lingering pain about wishing I’d addressed this, or that, or some unresolved emotional crisis. I just miss him. In many ways, he set a high bar I’m still trying to reach.

My Horror Dream

I could just about guarantee this wasn’t the issue that scared me, but it’s pretty typical of the kind of DC horror titles I used to skim in my youth.

These days I don’t wake up remembering my dreams very often, but last night I had a doozy. It creeped me out during the dream so much that I actually woke up. And then the dream started right back up where it left off. Thanks, REM sleep. Why couldn’t you have done that when I was a kid during that ultra cool dream where I was helping crew the Enterprise?

In this dream, my family and I had moved into a new house, on condition that we took possession of the mummified corpse of a woman who used to live there. It had to remain in the house. The rest of my family, even extended family, seemed okay with this, but I was pretty disturbed. This being a dream, I went along with it anyway. At no point did I ever feel like the thing was actually alive, or would come alive, but I kept finding that the family had shifted its location. I’d walk into a room, mentally psyching myself to have to see it, and then not finding it where it had been placed — BUT RIGHT NEXT TO ME BESIDE THE DOORWAY!

I’m not sure why I was dreaming such things. I’m in the midst of a scene in the third Dabir and Asim book where the boys are fighting stuff man was not meant to know, but I don’t think that’s it.

I then remembered an ancient inspiration. I used to read horror comics at the grocery when I was a kid (remember when you could actually get comics in places OTHER than specialty comics stores?). I only bought superhero comics with my limited allowance, but while Mom was shopping I would leaf through horror comics and occasionally see or read something that freaked me out. There was one story in one of the DC horror titles set a century ago about a woman whose husband had accidentally been buried alive. They’d gotten to him in time, but he was a shattered wreck, psychologically, and died a little later. In her will the woman had it written in that she had to be checked every week to see if she were really expired. Shortly following that there was a scene of a doctor coming to the house years later and checking on this wrapped up thing in the closet and saying “still dead.”

It might sound a little funny, the way I’ve described it, but it obviously scared little Howard, or I wouldn’t remember the story so vividly.

At one point I picked up a big stack of pre-owned Ripley’s Believe it or Not True Ghost Stories comics, cheap — a couple of pennies an issue — and they scared me so bad I traded them in at the comics store! Kind of wish I still had them, now.

Barn Life

Every now and then, when I’m pulling a tick off of a barn cat, or chasing chickens into the barn in the evening before some fox kills them (there have been two massacres in the last two years), or rounding up a stubborn pony for vaccinations, I wonder how it is that an urban kid like me ended up spending so much time doing this stuff I used to only read about. Or that I never thought about. Mostly the latter, as I was usually reading about intergalactic adventure or swashbuckling derring-do.

But I quickly remember that I married a country gal and think about all of my nonsense that she puts up with. And I think, too, about how much better shape I am for puttering around outside even when I don’t want to, and how the kids have a good work ethic because of the required daily chores (those horse stalls don’t get cleaned on their own, nor do the eggs get collected by house elves) and I realize sometimes the strange paths we take end up being good ones.

Dreams and Memories

Memory can be an elusive thing. I’ve noticed lately that I can’t always remember completely what my father looked like. I get snatches of certain looks he had, but then I can’t be sure I have the whole image right. And I hate that.

He died a little over 12 years ago. Sometimes I’ll be out somewhere and out of the corner of my eye I’ll catch a glimpse of someone in a crowd who vaguely resembles him. It happened the other day while my wife and I were picking up some summer clothes for our daughter. An older gentleman was walking down the store aisle and if I squinted, or looked partly the other way, the hairline, hair color, and general stature was enough like my father that I deliberately kept not QUITE looking at him so that I could remember my father in motion.

It was a distinct pleasure to have a vivid dream last night when I actually got to see my father as he had been in his last years. I got to give him a big hug, and even though we hadn’t held hands since I was a little kid, we held hands briefly before he told me he had to go. I wish we could have said a few words, but I knew the whole time that he was dead and didn’t really belong there. Around us was the click and hum of electric typewriters, as there used to be in English departments everywhere, and as there was whenever I visited him at the university at his office when I was a kid.

When I woke up, though, I realized that he seemed smaller than I remembered; I was a little taller than he was. And my memory had tricked me so that I had to ask my wife if I had been taller than my father in later years. She was pretty sure we were about the same height. So am I. I think.

Memory is undependable. And I miss my dad.

Celebrating Bradbury

I called my good friend (and gifted writer) John C. Hocking Saturday to catch up and pretty soon we fell to discussing what we’d been reading lately. And naturally we got quickly around to discussing Ray Bradbury. It was amazing how many great stories we reminded each other of, almost like we were sharing memories of spending time with an old friend. “Remember when he did this, or how about the time he did that?”

Maybe it WAS exactly like remembering an old friend, because those stories had kept the both of us company for many years, and led us to strange and exciting places. Bradbury opened up so many doors of the imagination. “How about that story,” I said to Hocking, “about the Chinese emperor and the man who invented the flying machine?” And then he’d mention “The Fog-Horn,” or “The Pedestrian,” or “The Veldt.” And then I’d go on about “The Blue Bottle,” a story I love so much I read it again every few years even though the words are well-worn into my heart. Or “The One Who Waits,” about the perfectly pleasant monster on Mars who’s only lonely–it doesn’t MEAN to kill anyone… Or the haunting “Dark They Were and Golden Eyed,” or, that great murder story that ends with the line “and then some fool turned on the lights.”

There were so many great ones. It seems to me that some of my very favorites are Bradbury Martian stories that aren’t actually in The Martian Chronicles, but, really, not all of the ones I love are space opera, or science fantasy. I have a hankering to break out some of the battered anthologies I have on my shelves, and maybe go hunt the used book store to see if I can pick up some more of those old Bradbury collections I used to check out from the library when I was a kid.

Other writers and readers have waxed eloquently about Bradbury all this last week. I don’t know that there’s much more I can add, except I believe the entire world is richer for having had Mr. Bradbury here among us. I mourn, yes, but there is so much to remember that as I think back on the joys his work created, I do not weep, I smile. Thank you, Mr. Bradbury.

Reading Sherlock Holmes

If I’ve never discussed the influence of Sherlock Holmes on my writing, it’s probably because until now I’ve been reluctant to admit something. Clearly Dabir is a smart guy who deduces things other folks can’t see, and, clearly, Asim is his trusted confidant who records their adventures — a nod to Holmes, right? Yet until recently I’ve been more familiar with the conventions of the Sherlock Holmes stories than the real thing. In my early 20s I’d read A Study In Scarlet, The Sign of Four, and a handful of stories  and deduced  that I either didn’t understand the magic, or that the character was better than the stories themselves.

Turns out I was right about not understanding the magic. It took me a while to catch on.

My family has a copy of the stories in paperback editions, with the tales arranged in the order they were written. This means that the first adventures I read were A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. To say that there are some slow bits in these two is to put things mildly. My initial impression was that Doyle was gifted and Sherlock was fascinating, but that the style was simply too dated for me. After them I dipped into a few of the short stories but swiftly ran out of steam.

Now I understand that the short novels were written while Doyle was figuring out how best to bring Sherlock to life. It turns out that these first novels didn’t actually sell that well in Doyle’s day. It wasn’t until the Sherlock Holmes short stories began appearing in The Strand magazine that the character became popular.

I wish I’d known that. And I wish it had occurred to me that maybe I didn’t have to read the short stories in order. While there are some brilliant early stories, it wasn’t until I read “Silver Blaze,” in the second collection, that I truly began to enjoy myself. It’s in that collection (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes) where I began to see some more interesting quirks of Sherlock Holmes’ character, and it’s by the third volume, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, that the writing struck me as consistently excellent. Really, if you’ve never read Sherlock Holmes before, I’d suggest starting there.

There are things a reader coming to them for the first time ought to be prepared for, and which I wish I’d known.

  1. They really aren’t buddy stories. We often see the stories presented as the adventures of Sherlock Holmes AND Watson. Consider the recent movies, which I rather enjoyed. But these really aren’t buddy stories. Sherlock is kind of a superhero, and Watson is a loyal normal man to whom Sherlock can explain things so we can see how truly extraordinary Sherlock really is. Watson’s not a dummy, and he’s dependable and brave – and a good shot – but this is Sherlock’s show. The BBC Sherlock series understands this very well.
  2. They are more puzzles than action tales. As much as the stories are presented as adventures, these are mysteries. Some of the time, just when Doyle is building toward what looks like an exciting adventure climax the tale suddenly ends without much action at all… and that’s because, I believe, Doyle’s real fascination was in seeing Holmes deduct his way to the solution. This was a disappointment for me at first, because this sort of conclusion occurs in some of the more famous titles. Once you understand that might happen, it’s not as rude a shock.
  3. Moriarty is more concept than character. Moriarty is a fascinating character, but the lone story where he’s on stage isn’t actually that engaging. I think that’s because Doyle created Moriarty so he could kill off Holmes, of whom he seems to have grown quite tired. As a result, it feels like Doyle is just rushing to get to the conclusion so he can hurl Holmes over that waterfall. That there was a great antagonist whose potential wasn’t realized has provided endless fascination for pastiche writers and those who have adapted the stories into other media. But he doesn’t appear in the background manipulating things except offstage in The Valley of Fear, written long after the story that kills him and Holmes.
  4. Be prepared for the genre conventions. There are thematic moments, especially in earlier stories, that begin to feel the same. Stretches where the clients carefully relate a long sequence of events so that Holmes can have the clues that lead him to the solution. The narrators begin to sound rather similar, and sometimes this opening part of the tale seems to drag.

But I said that I liked them, didn’t I? Taken as a whole, the Sherlock Holmes stories are works of genius. I should be so lucky to create something that so resonates not just during my time, but for generations to follow.  Sure, there are some things I didn’t like, but even my favorite TV shows have some episodes that don’t work as well. And of course every genre has its conventions. Once you know what to expect, you can sit back and enjoy the ride.

Right now I’ve read the first three volumes – generally considered by Holmes aficionados to be the best stories, along with The Sign of Four, A Study in Scarlet, and The Hound of the Baskervilles. That leaves two more short story collections and another novel, The Valley of Fear. If you’ve been curious and want to dip in for the first time, I heartily suggest starting with The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes or The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

On Loss, and Sherlock, and Mars

Today I finished a rough draft of the first chapter of the third Dabir and Asim book, currently titled The Maiden’s Eye. That felt pretty good. It also felt pretty good hearing that one of my short stories actually featuring someone other than Dabir and Asim had been accepted for a secret sword-and-sorcery anthology project (shh) just this morning.

Not so cool was spilling the orange juice down the side of my desk, although it was pretty swell that I missed a couple of books that I had lying around and merely soaked the carpet.

I’ve been watching the BBC Sherlock stories with the family, which inspired me to dig at last into the actual stories. As influential as Sherlock and Watson have obviously been upon Dabir and Asim, it’s only been recently that I peered deeply into the Sherlockian canon. Safer than peering into actual cannons. I quite liked what I found. It got me thinking about what put me off about the series the first time I tried, and how I wish I’d been given better advice about where to start when I began reading. More on that in a bit.

The other thing I’ve been reading are some Leigh Brackett short stories in the most excellent Shannach – the Last, from Haffner Press. I find it apropos that I was reading about Brackett’s Mars yesterday when I got the word that her old friend — best man at her wedding — Ray Bradbury had passed away. I’ve thrown my web weight around about Harold Lamb and Leigh Brackett and Robert E. Howard, and I’ve talked about my love for the works of Zelazny and Leiber and Moore and Forrester and scads others, but I probably haven’t mentioned Bradbury much. I suppose that’s because he was the first author I actively sought out, and that I’d read and re-read his stories before I’d ever found my way to the others that really influenced me. But wow, oh wow, did his work have an impact upon me, particularly his space operas. Particularly his stories of Mars. Seeing as how I’m making my name writing fantasy set in the ancient Middle-East, that probably sounds odd, but space opera was my first genre love, and I still loves me some of that. The original Star Trek and Ray Bradbury anthologies like Golden Apples of the Sun and R is for Rocket were dear companions and shaped a lot of what I like in storytelling and were a light toward what I like best in humanity.

Thanks, Mr. Bradbury, for inspiring me along with so many others. My kids are reading and loving your work as well.