Monthly Archives: July 2012

Writing Tips from Doctor McCoy

At Black Gate Monday I’m going  live with a long post about how writers sabotage themselves, and I thought of a corollary that I’ve been thinking of as the McCoy test. On those days when I find myself hesitating, or wasting time notwriting during my writing time I try to think a little like Dr. McCoy. If you’re not a fan of the original Star Trek you might still have heard an occasional reference to some of McCoy’s catchphrases. No, not “he’s dead, Jim,” but “I’m a doctor, not a moon shuttle conductor” or I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer,” or “I’m a doctor, not an escalator” and a few others.

I’m training myself to ask if I’m a writer, or a reader of news articles, or if I’m a writer, or a Facebook visitor, etcetera. It seems to help me remember to stay on task. In my case, I have to have reference books on hand to keep historical tidbits accurate, but they can be so interesting (and notwriting is infinitely easier than writing) that I sometimes lose track. Hence the McCoy test. Am I a writer, or a historical text reader?

Running in Low-Gravity

Someone more photogenic than me running on the same kind of treadmill.

It certainly wasn’t worth all the pain and expense of my surgery, and therapy, but one cool thing happened the other day because of my knee injury, and that was getting to run on a zero gravity treadmill.

The space of the treadmill is pressurized, and the person who’s getting ready to run slips on a pair of super-tight shorts that are zipped into place at the top of the pressurized chamber.  The first experience, as you’re pulling those things on, is sort of “huh,” unless you’re used to wearing a diver suit or fighting evildoers in spandex. But once you’re actually running the treadmill it’s pretty enjoyable. My own weight was set to 50% Earth normal, which is less than I would weigh on Mars. And then I took a jog. For the first little bit I didn’t even notice the pain in my knee, which makes sense, because the whole object of the zero gravity treadmill is to get damaged joints back up to speed gently. But because I’m a long time science fiction and fantasy nerd I was thinking the entire time about jogging on another planet, or wondering if this is how John Carter felt when he ran, and other nonsense.

An Arabian Memoir

When I get asked about good resources and research materials on the ancient Middle-East, one book I always suggest is the memoirs of Usamah Ibn-Munqidh, a warrior from the early Crusades who set down his life story when he was a nonagenarian. It’s a short book, but it’s crammed with fascinating insight into the life of a warrior in the 11th century. It’s truly one of my favorite books. Usamah tells fascinating anecdotes on every page, and if he occasionally rambles (which even he admits) you never have to wait very long to get to another great anecdote. At the same time that you’re learning how much more strange and complex life was than might have been assumed, you also see how human the people were who moved through those times.

I decided today to stop using adjectives to describe how great this book is and just let Usamah’s work speak for itself. Here is Usamah telling us about the time he was asked to consider buying a Cheetah:

Wandering the Web

With my writing schedule back under control I’ve been wandering around spreading good cheer and talking about great fantasy writers. On the off chance there are some people who visit my site who don’t regularly visit the Black Gate web site, I thought I should point you toward two recent posts celebrating two of my favorite authors.

The first is about Leigh Brackett, and features a lengthy excerpt from the opening of one of her fine sword-and-planet stories so interested folks can see why she’s so lauded.

The second I just took live earlier today, and it is all about Robert E. Howard’s writing. I spend a little more time discussing the whys and wherefores, peeking under the hood, as it were, arguing that he is far more than he is assumed to be.

If these sorts of posts prove popular, I have other writers in mind to look at as well.

In addition to these writer celebrations, I’ve been doing a little mulling over the purpose of blogging as promotion, and it provoked some lively discussion. You can find it by clicking here.

4th of July with Dry Ice

With record breaking triple digit temperatures and a pronounced lack of rain, my community banned all  4th of July fireworks except for those that were being handled by the pros.

Here at Jones central, on our tower by the Sea of Monsters, 4th of July is fairly low key, but we do typically get some sparklers and snakes and snappers and a few small fountains. It’s my son’s favorite holiday, and I think he was the most disappointed of the four of us. But he and my wife cooked up a backup plan. Some time last year my son had discovered an amusing science video out there on the interwebs, and he suggested we try the experiment out in lieu of fireworks. So, with an old plastic pretzel container, a tube, some soapy water, and some dry ice, we managed to amuse ourselves for an hour or so. It didn’t occur to me until after all the dry ice sublimated that we should have tried some food coloring. My science genius wife tells me it probably wouldn’t have worked, but some red and blue bubbles would have made the whole thing feel a little more patriotic.

Follow this link to see an official Boo Bubble demonstration from Steve Spangler science. Yeah, it really is that cool in person. We built our own bubble device, but this one looks pretty nifty.

The Fierce Impatient Side of Things

Lately I’ve been reading through the Del Rey Robert E. Howard collection El Borak And Other Desert Adventures. I’ve read a lot of these stories in various beat-up old paperbacks, but some are new to me, and others haven’t been read by me in ten years or so. As I’ve said elsewhere, Robert E. Howard was a vivid writer and brilliant crafter of action scenes. I love how swiftly he brings a scene to life, and how visual and cinematic his fight scenes are. I always learn something or catch some great turn of phrase whenever I’m reading his work, and I usually enjoy myself immensely.

Sometimes I find myself growing annoyed with some of the artifacts of the era and magazine genre for which he wrote, particularly the racism, or the tendency for characters to infodump or villains to monologue. I know Robert E. Howard wasn’t himself a racist or sexist, but anyone who pales at seeing racism or sexism will be in for a rude awakening when they try out adventure fiction from the pulp era. Anyway, sometimes these aspects of the fiction that I otherwise quite enjoy start to irritate me… And then I think about how little I enjoy the sense of pacing in so many modern fantasy novels (how do people read such loooong books where nothing much happens for long stretches of time?) and how uninterested I am in novels that are mostly social criticism, and I remind myself how pleased I am to be reading some REH, who, like Conradin, seemed to celebrate the fierce, impatient side of things.

July 3rd Update

I’ve gone ahead and created a contest page, which makes the menu bar temporarily crowded. I hope any of you who are Dabir and Asim fans will help spread the word about the  chance to win an advanced copy of The Bones of the Old Ones.

I haven’t been quite as active on the blog this week because I’ve been helping babysit the Black Gate web site while publisher John O’Neill’s away on a secret mission. So far I’ve posted a review of Goodman Games’ new Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game, and on the nature of reviewing, and tomorrow I’ll have a post on one of my very favorite adventure writers, Leigh Brackett, so I hope you’ll swing by and see what I’ve been talking about, in addition to all the usual great material. Ryan Harvey’s just returned to his examination of Burroughs’ Mars series, a sequence of articles I’ve really been enjoying.

The galleys of the second Dabir and Asim novel will be coming my way before the end of the month, which means before long advanced reader copies will be bound and on their way to reviewers, and one contest winner. In the mean time, the third Dabir and Asim novel is coming along nicely. I’m having an awful lot of fun writing it, so it’s my hope it will be an awful lot of fun to read.

In other news, Twitter still bemuses me. I have friends on it all the time, but I find if I leave it running I end up checking it all the time to see what’s happening rather than getting work done.  I always hear about how writers constantly need to market themselves. Maybe I’m just too easily distractable to be heavily involved in Twitter. Also, I’m not sure I have a whole lot that’s worth saying in so short a space. Perhaps I’m just not pithy enough for it.