Yearly Archives: 2016

On Writing and Speed

hulk computerWriting can be a struggle. I think we have to admit that. And I have to admit to myself that some things in this profession are beyond my control. It may be that I’ll never be quite as fast as I want to be, and it may be that I’ll always have to spend long days in rewrite, no matter how carefully I outline.

I have scads and scads of ideas and stories I’m excited about, but sometimes I worry that I’ll never get to them because it takes so long to get one right. And I keep thinking that with practice I’ll get faster so I can write more stories, but there’s a give and take with energy levels. I may want to write a short story in my spare time, but many evenings when I have “extra time” I don’t have much extra energy.

It seems like the writing is getting better — thank God for that — but I’m not sure that speed is improving so very much. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll keep trying on that score. But I’m starting to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t shift my desires towards goals that are more reasonable for me. If speed isn’t ever going to be the result, maybe the best thing is to take more time with the original draft so that less time is required during revision.

I’ll think it over, try some things out, and let you know how it goes.


brackett2I rose bleary a little too early this morning and read the sad and somber story of “The Last Days of Shandakor” by the incomparable Leigh Brackett. Shortly Bill Ward and Fletcher Vrendenburgh and I will be discussing it on the site, so if you have a copy of the tale I hope you’ll join us. It’s found in several Brackett collections, among them the nearly perfect “best-of” paperback Sea-Kings of Mars and the absurdly affordable Martian Quest e-book.

I say nearly perfect because A.) It contains NEARLY all of my very favorite Brackett short stories. I’d take out one or two and replace them with others, but it’s a great one-stop if you’ve liked Brackett and want to get a better sense of her before plunging into buying the expensive Haffner Press hardbacks. I own them, but I might not have if I hadn’t been familiar with this volume already.

B.) The darned thing has irritating typographical errors, the kind that crop up when the original  manuscripts have been scanned and then not proofread carefully enough.

Winter Gaming PLUS Brackett

hornet-leaderWith the cold snap in full swing I’ve been looking into my game closet at the increasingly large stack of games-to-be-played. It’s not nearly as high as my books-to-be-read pile, but it’s starting to get embarrassing. Some of these games are pricey and took a lot of effort to track down (they were out of print) or to get trade deals for. And yet many are unplayed or even in shrink wrap, on the off chance I decide I want to trade them away for something else.

I’d been thinking that my collection was starting to get out of hand, but after I poked around a bit I realized that I’ve got nothing on the real game aficionados. I have a few dozen — some friends, acquaintances, and like-minded folks have HUNDREDS. But then maybe they collect those rather than cats or porcelain figurines, and maybe they don’t have other hobbies.

Flakes with Special Syndrome

hulk thinkPardon me while I slip on my ranting hat. This may start like it’s going to be a post just for gamers, but it really isn’t. Bear with me.

I’m putting finishing touches on a review of a new Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons product titled Volo’s Guide to Monsters. I happen to think it’s pretty swell, but I thought it would be a good idea to see what other reviewers have written about the text, to make sure there’s not some glaring problem I missed.

It turns out that no, there isn’t, unless I’m a special snowflake. Hence the ranting hat. While there were a number of intelligent, rational reviews that seemed to have found what I did, there were also several that called it out for perceived weaknesses — i.e. the book didn’t address their special field of interest. While the monster guide has a big selection of new player classes, someone faulted it because it didn’t have another, different kind.  While it had hundreds of monsters, someone else faulted it because it didn’t have a certain KIND of monster.

I’m reminded of those Conan fans who complained so mightily about the art in the Roy Thomas run on the new Dark Horse comics that they didn’t happen to notice how good the STORY was — how clever Conan was and how much he was acting, you know, like Conan would in a Robert E. Howard story.

Thinking of Pete

ham-1The late, great Pete Ham died in 1975 by his own hand one night after drinking an absurd amount of scotch, crushed by the bankruptcy engendered upon him by a crooked business manager. His best friend, the talented Tom Evans, always thought that Ham must have changed his mind at the last minute owing to the way he found the body, but we’ll never know, and we’ll never know what the two might have gone on to write together if Pete hadn’t killed himself. Their band, Badfinger, had gotten royally screwed by their business manager but it’s possible that they could have recovered had they turned to the right people for help.

Depression in combination with alcohol is a deadly mix, and it unfortunately led to the death of Tom Evans eight years later. Sometimes, in fits of despair, he would tell his wife or his friends that he wanted to be where Pete was.

Joyous Gifts

adventure-legosAs I bring the family gift shopping to a close this season I’m finding presents on my mind. My children are teenagers now and just aren’t as easily excited by gifts as they used to be, and I suppose the same thing is true of me. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so thrilled by a gift that I grinned from ear to ear and ran off to enjoy it for hours at a time.

(I mean gifts in the traditional sense, not “oh, the love of my child” or “the gift of life” or some permutation thereof.)

I wonder if that change in joy level is because as we age we’re less surprised even by the things we like. I mean, even when I received a copy of a rare pulp collection it still wasn’t like discovering that toy I was mad for when I was five actually under the Christmas tree. On the other hand, that pulp still brings a smile to me whenever I pick it up, so it’s not as though the joy has gone. It’s just not as intense.

Last Stop for Ki-Gor

molunduOver the last few days I finally finished the last unread Ki-Gor novella in my possession, Slave-Caverns of Molundu, and after setting it down I think I’m done reading jungle man adventures for a while. It wasn’t quite as good as the first three, and, as I’ve mentioned, too many jungle stories in a row kind of wear on me/emphasize the ridiculousness of the whole genre. This adventure started strong, but didn’t have as much variety or out-and-out weirdness as the best ones. There were also occasional signs of hasty composition, like a word repeated too many times in a row.

On the other hand, it did have a great, driving pace, the characters were suitably heroic, and there were strong action scenes. And as a final reward, there were occasionally paragraphs of great descriptive power. Like the following:

Story Play or Game Piece Play?

game-pieceThe Old School Renaissance is immensely appealing to me. I like a lot of the “simpler is better” philosophy behind the design of adventures and rulesets, and the emphasis on creativity. But I keep bumping my head on one of the common conceits. I think it’s best summed up by this line from the famed module Anomalous Subsurface Environment 1, in which the writer Patrick Wetmore declares, in an advice section for players, “You will probably die at some point. Possibly  repeatedly. That’s okay, rolling up a new character is quick and easy. Don’t take it to heart.”

The thrust of this kind of gaming is centered on problem solving and discovery, and I believe — I can’t be sure — character development and narrative must be de-emphasized. I’ve seen some people playing this way, and the characters are only loosely role-played and the players don’t really speak with their voice at the table. If one is removed from the board, they just drop in a replacement character and keep going.

Return to the Jungle, Ki-Gor Style

silver witchIf your to-be-read pile is anything like mine, sometimes stuff leaps ahead for no good reason. For instance, I have a score of books I’ve actually been looking forward to for years and have never gotten to. Sometimes it’s a matter of taste (maybe I’m not feeling like a pulp adventure) and sometimes its just timing, or that I’m saving THAT book for a long airplane trip because I’m positive I’ll like it (such is the fate of Nathan Long’s third Ulrika book, and Tim Powers’ The Drawing of the Dark).

But sometimes it’s just a whim. I drop by James Reasoner’s excellent blog from time to time, and on November 18th he posted a review of a Ki-Gor story. He kind of liked it, and I dropped in to say that if you like THAT one, just wait, because they get weird and wild and far stronger pretty soon… and that got me and my pal John Chris Hocking talking about Ki-Gor again. He decided he’d finally get around to reading one of my favorites, “The Silver Witch” and I decided to heck with my TBR pile, that I’d tackle a handful of Ki-Gor stories I’d never gotten around to.