Monthly Archives: June 2018

Shelf Treasure

If you’re a bibliophile like me you may have similar books. You cart them around as you move and they stay on your shelf, and maybe you plan to read them, but you haven’t yet. Maybe, like me, you’re not even sure where some of them came from.

In the case of Tevye’s Daughters, I THINK it might have joined the bookshelf when my wife’s book collection merged with my own, but she’s never read it, either. We like Fiddler on the Roof quite a lot, and the collection Tevye’s Daughters is the anthology from which the musical was drawn… and it’s also a slim book. And yet I haven’t read it. In part that’s because I’m usually suspicious of books alleged to be funny, because I’ve so often been disappointed. And then I’ve been reading fantasy, or science fiction, or swashbucklers, or private eye books, or westerns, or history books… but not literature, apart from Shakespeare plays, because I usually bounce off of it.


It’s been a busy but happy weekend here at the Jones household. I didn’t have enough time to put a long essay together, so I thought I’d share some happiness instead.

First, my daughter came home from the camp where she’s a counselor all summer, went to college orientation with her mother, and then celebrated her (somewhat belated) 18th birthday with us. There were presents and ice cream cake and a weird spinning mechanical candle that blared “Happy Birthday” and refused to die. We went out to celebrate at a really nifty Chinese restaurant, a first for our city, so far as I know, for it serves dim sum as well as some other goodies.

Robots of Gotham: Sly, Slam Bang Action Adventure

A few years ago I became a beta reader on a really swell manuscript that’s just now been released in hardcover. It’s already garnering some strong reviews, and I’m not surprised. It was strong in rough draft and it was even stronger as I read additional changes. Robots of Gotham is just a great read, and I was honored to blurb it.

Yeah, it’s not sword-and-sorcery, and it’s not historical fiction, but remember that I DO love me some space opera… but it’s not that, either. It’s science fiction in the near future, which doesn’t at all sound like my cup of tea. EXCEPT that it’s full of adventure, and suspense, and great action bits, and a hero who rises to the occasion, and dangerous and capable and well-motivated villains, and mystery. I mean, I could hardly stop reading it even in its rough state, and I never dreamed it was as looong as the thing is because it absorbed me so deeply. The thing’s huge, and not really my genre — and I COULDN’T PUT IT DOWN. I think that says a lot. It was so engaging I blew off my own writing time and just kept reading. Only a handful of modern writers can pull that off.

Pictures in the Fire

I just saw that the Robert E. Howard Foundation is about ready to release a new book that collects some uncollected  (at least in nice hardback editions) weird fiction and some other goodies by the man himself. It looks as though none of it is juvenalia, which is good, because while I realize stuff written when REH was a kid is great for scholars, I’m not interested in reading it myself.

There are also a substantial number of fragments. When it comes to Robert E. Howard, sometimes these fragments contain nifty little scenes or gem like moments. I recall one historical fragment that had an unbelievably cool fight in a corridor, so I’ll probably end up reading them all, just as I listen to rarity tracks by favorite bands.

I’m putting it on my birthday list. Seeing as how I’m downsizing my consumption of NEW stuff, this book will probably be about the extent of my birthday list this year, although, as I’m going to be hitting the half century mark, maybe I’ll treat myself to another of those wargames I enjoy so much…

Anyway, go to the page and check it out.

Father’s Day

My father never held much stock with Father’s Day, thinking it an artificial construct designed to sell more cards, but I’ve embraced it. And this last Sunday I had one of my nicest Father’s Days ever. Heck, it began the night before, when I took the evening walk with my wife and son and they gave me some fantastic ideas for the villain and a terrible weapon for my third Dabir and Asim novel.

The next day I was treated, if not quite king-like, as someone who didn’t have to do any chores, be they mucking the stalls or doing the dishes. In the morning I got up early, as usual, and worked away on the outline of a new short story. Then I was taken out for lunck, treated to a role-playing game run by my son, and given a new Lock ‘n Load Tactical game. Well, new to me. Between lunch and the start of the game I got in a little Ambush!, another of my favorite war games.

Novel Lessons 4: Stalking the Beast

After delivering a draft of The Bones of the Old Ones and while waiting upon editorial comments I wrote my second Pathfinder novel, Stalking the Beast. And while it proved much simpler in composition than writing Bones, it presented its own issues.

By the time I sat down to write it I was beginning to understand that every novel has its own challenges. Stalking the Beast was a sequel novel to The Plague of Shadows, which was in some ways a search for identity by its protagonist, Elyana. By the end, Elyana was comfortable with herself and her past. I wasn’t entirely sure how to create a new struggle for someone who had found a way to get her sh*t together, so I decided to focus my efforts on her loyal half-orc friend, Drelm. Except that he was such a simple character I knew he couldn’t carry the narrative on his own.

Inspiration hit when I developed the third viewpoint character, Lisette, a gunslinger hired to kill Drelm. Her chapters were the easiest to write in the entire book, despite me knowing her the least. It was the oddest thing. Previous experience had shown me that knowing a character well was a great way into their head, but I learned that being INTERESTED in the character was real fuel as well. Lisette’s complicated life and motivations were so much more fun to write that they were vastly more simple to explore, so much so that I barely had to revise any of the chapters from her point of view at all.

Writer Chat: Chris Willrich

During those long years when I was trying, and mostly failing, to get short stories published, there were a lot of writers publishing at the same time whose work I liked, but there was only one who I wanted to sound like. That writer was Chris Willrich. I’ve gone on to find my own voice for my fiction, one I’m pretty happy with, but I still admire the work of Chris Willrich an awful lot.

It was my pleasure to pick his brain a little recently, and today I’m sharing the resulting conversation.

First, why don’t you give us a little background about yourself and your work. 

I’m from Washington State originally, though now I live with my family in the San Francisco Bay Area. Though I flirted a bit with science in college, I’ve been pretty much a book person — I was an English major who eventually ended up as a children’s librarian. There there were some interesting odd jobs in between, like working at a newspaper and as a harbor cruise deckhand. I’m writing full time now, for stay-at-home-parent values of “full time.”

I tried writing a little bit of realistic fiction in college but it’s been all fantasy and science fiction since then. I’ve had more success with fantasy, though I love science fiction equally. Those genres are like catnip for a compulsive daydreamer. I think I have an easier time finding a confident voice in fantasy; I haven’t quite figured it out for science fiction.

Because Gardner Dozois recently passed away, I’d like to say I’ll always be grateful to him for buying my first published story, and maybe even more for giving me encouragement and suggestions in some of the rejections I got from him. I think there are lots of people in the field who got their starts because of him, and who benefited from his advice.

Gravity Falls

I’m locked away in the highest tower of my domain, working feverishly on a new draft, but I wanted to share with you that the complete Gravity Falls is now available for pre-order.

Gravity Falls is a wondrous, goofy, and extremely well-written show, stuffed full of creepy humor, thrills, lots of heart and good old fashioned heroics. Each episode is strong and most stand on their own, but they build into a wonderful interconnected, multi-layered story. It’s far more than it seems on first glance.

For years Disney refused to release it in its entirety, as they have done with many other TV properties, marketing only a few episodes here and there. But the fans were loud and the fans demanded and it seems that maybe Disney listened.

In any case, I just placed an order, in part for me, but also because my wife takes endless enjoyment in the show. There are always new minor details to notice in the background, because it was really well thought out from the start…

You can find it here.

Remembering Heroes and Sacrifices

In honor of D-Day this year I picked up a copy of the John C. McManus account of the 1st Division’s assault on the eastern section of Omaha Beach, The Dead and Those About to Die.

It’s an intense and gripping book, filled with detailed accounts of the harrowing obstacles and events, and tragedy and heroism. Just a great read, and full of examples of true leadership.

I had no idea that the men were so overloaded with equipment that it slowed them down. Time and again survivors reported that they had been weighed down with too much equipment, and felt that they wouldn’t have lost as many men if they could have moved faster. So many things went wrong — the aerial bombardment against German positions wasn’t very effective, the water was so choppy the special amphibious tanks sank, most of the boats were swept off course and into the worst possible places…

And yet somehow the men got off the beaches and took out the fortifications. In case you couldn’t already tell, this book has two thumbs up from yours truly. Highly recommended.

Updated Hard Writing Lesson: Word Count

I’ve run out of time to write a lengthy essay this morning about my fourth book, so I’ll resume that series of essays next week. Today I thought I’d draft a brief note about another writing matter that’s been a challenge to me for years: word count.

Like a lot of writers, once I got a steady writing gig I began to fret about my daily word count. It was always smaller than I wanted it to be. Some days I could get 4 or even 5 thousand words and occasionally much higher, but more often it was 3k or a little less. I last wrote about this in 2016, when I had realized that the overall weekly or even monthly word count was much more important than the daily word count.

That was an important realization, because it helped me stop getting frustrated every day when my words weren’t coming as fast as I thought they were supposed to arrive. I went so far as to read a number of books on writing faster to see if I could glean the secrets. I gleaned some, but I knew at that point that few writing tips are absolute. What works for one writer may not work for another — you have to be willing to try of course, but there are many different ways up the mountain.