Monthly Archives: November 2015

Celebrating Leigh Brackett

Leigh-BrackettThe 100th birthday of the late, great Leigh Brackett is coming up next Monday, and to celebrate, Bill Ward and I our doing a read-through of one of her great stories set on a Venus that never was.

Brackett was a phenomenal writer. She’s been called the Queen of Space Opera, but I think a better-named crown was probably Queen of Planetary Adventure.

She wrote screenplays with Faulkner  AND mentored Ray Bradbury AND wrote the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back. She was writing about heroes who would have been comfortable plying the space lanes beside Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds decades before those characters were ever conceived. Most importantly, though, she was simply an incredibly gifted adventure writer who wrote with fantastic atmosphere, wonderful pacing, and dynamic characters. She’s one of my very favorite writers, and she’s had a tremendous influence that (unfortunately) has often gone unsung.

We hope you’ll join in our re-read. To make things extra simple, here’s a link to an extremely affordable e-collection of her work from BAEN, The Swamps of Venus. From that collection Bill and I will be reading “The Moon that Vanished.”

This e-book is only $4.00, and I have to say, if you’re going to invest that, you probably ought to simply get Brackett’s Solar System collection for $20.00 so you can read her even more (and justly) famed stories set on Mars. Bill and I are reading “The Moon that Vanished” because it’s a great one that gets passed over because she has so many more stories set on Mars.

Anyway, hope to see you here, and I hope you’ll trust my recommendation if you’ve never read Brackett.


Link Day & Hard Writing Lessons

Linkman Copyright Darian Jones

Linkman Copyright Darian Jones

I’ve gotten a late start today so I’m going to have to keep things short. That doesn’t mean I’ll waste your time, though. I have a couple of writing links I thought would be of use.

First, Mary Robinette Kowal has a doubly interesting post. First, it breaks down that whole “why am I not writing” question and then diagnoses it by symptom. It’s dead-on accurate, including solution.

And then she goes on to discuss diagnosing depression. Seeing as how it’s a common problem amongst us artistic types, this, too, bears a close look.

Second, J.H. Moncrieff take a look at the problems behind the simple saying “Writer’s Write.” Well, yeah, if you’re going to be a writer, you have to write. Except sometimes you don’t. Even as enormously prolific a writer as Robert E. Howard didn’t write ALL the time, as much as it seems like he must have, given the tremendous amount of stories he wrote in his short life time. Every now and then he’d stop writing and read or research voraciously, or go off and do other things. He called this “filling the well” because he knew writers didn’t create in a vacuum. The well has to be replenished.

Moncrieff suggests that we need to be kind to ourselves when we’re not meeting our own impossible expectations. Here’s to that.


Conan Re-Read Plans

comingofconanBill and I have been exchanging notes about what to read next following The Coming of Conan. After tackling a whole pile of Lord Dunsany texts and a big stack of Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar adventures we were struck both times by fatigue from reading work by just one writer. We’re not sure we’ll feel that way with REH because many of those Conan stories yet before us are the most sophisticated and polished.

And that’s why we’ve decided to keep on going through the rest of them, even though, as Bill pointed out in one of our recent reviews, most are a LOT longer. We might try splitting discussion of some of the lengthier yarns up over the course of a couple of weeks, but we’ll try not to do that. If the real world gets super busy, we might have to have a catch-up week where we discuss Conan comics or movies or something as we’re reading the next story.

Ghost in the Cogs

ghost cogsWho has opposable thumbs and a story in Ghost in the Cogs, a steam powered ghost story anthology?

Well, me. Also some other fine and talented people, including my friend Liane Merciel. It’s the first time in years I’ve had a story published that didn’t feature Dabir and Asim or one of my Pathfinder characters. In this instance, it’s an alternate steampunk world with zeppelins and haunted temples and a sort of Robin Hood , Gentleman Jim, who adventures with his trusty second story gal Big Jane. They get into a scrape when they’re hired to steal a fabulous treasure that turns out to come with a few drawbacks.

I had a blast writing it and I might draft more in the same world with the same characters.

Anyway, I hope you’ll check out the book for all the stories, and if you do, I have fingers crossed that you’ll enjoy “The Ghost Pearl.”

Podcast Guest

once and future podcastLast week I dropped by The Once and Future Podcast to talk writing, gaming, Harold Lamb and other assorted fiction and nerd stuff with the incomparable Anton Stout. We had a great chat, and it’s a shame that Patrick Rothfuss has a hit out on him, because I’d like to get to know him better.

Anyway, the podcast is here. Hopefully I didn’t ramble too much. I talked a little about Dabir and Asim and my new Pathfinder novel, and a little about my writing process, and a little about my upcoming new series, and other things about gaming. And maybe I talked too much. Sometimes you give me a mic and I just won’t shut up…

Hard Writing Lessons 3

good editorI’m moving some older posts over from my original LiveJournal blog to this one, and ran across a long list of Hard Writing Lessons from 2007! Apparently I’d just turned over a manuscript to some beta readers and came back from the experience slapping my forehead. They found all kinds of problems. I don’t remember what they were, but I remember my profound sense of shame.

I THINK it was probably a novel that’s no longer in circulation, because 2007 pre-dates The Desert of Souls. Anyway, here’s a long note from younger Howard that still reads like good advice. I was pretty disappointed in myself when I wrote it! Clearly I hadn’t learned that other lesson yet, which is to be kind to yourself.

I’ve included a little bit of the preamble:

… I realize that all writers have different strengths and weaknesses, so a lot of this may not apply to you. It’s a list I wrote for me, and the issues I’m dealing with in my novel-in-progress at this time. I’ll post it here in the hope someone else can find my hard lessons instructive. I hope that I have the wisdom to do so myself! 

The Coming of Conan Re-Read: “The Devil in Iron”

comingofconanBill Ward and I are finishing our read through of the Del Rey Robert E. Howard collection The Coming of Conan. This week we’re discussing “The Devil in Iron.” We hope you’ll join in!

Bill: One thing that struck me as fresh with “The Devil In Iron,” a story that reprises many familiar elements from the last handful of Conan stories, is that an antagonist’s plan to kill Conan is what sets the plot in motion. We haven’t seen that in a story since “The Phoenix on the Sword” and “The Scarlet Citadel,” two King Conan yarns where his importance to the larger Hyborian world is undeniable.

Howard: I ended up liking this one more than I was afraid I was, because I’d recalled that it was sort of a fix-up of elements we’d seen before. I do wish we saw more of Conan being a Kozak and having Kozak adventures, but, alas, we only hear about it and see his outfit. 

Hard Writing Lessons 2

Pen&Ink InteriorIf it bores you, it’s probably going to bore your readers.

While this is absolutely true in my experience, I’ve only recently developed a good strategy to fight this particular problem. (And no, I don’t usually hear that my books are stuffed full of boring scenes — I’ve just cut them, painfully, after lavishing attention on them.)

The trick is knowing when you’re having trouble because you just don’t feel like writing and when you’re having trouble because you’re bored with the scene. Unfortunately, when I was just beginning to develop the discipline to write I sometimes had to force myself to work even when I didn’t feel like it.