Archives: Uncategorized

Mourning a Fallen Scholar

I had the pleasure of meeting Steve Tompkins in person only once, at a World Fantasy Convention, but I had known him for many years prior, and maintained a fairly regular correspondence with him up until the time of his unexpected death.

Steve was bright, and passionate, and gifted. He was enormously well read, and even today, ten years after his death, I sometimes think about him, especially when I myself critically contemplate the work of Robert E. Howard. I am certain he would have continued to contribute to REH scholarly studies, just as I am fairly sure he would have cast his net even more broadly as the years passed. I should love to have read what he might have written about Leigh Brackett, another writer whose work we both adored. I once sent him an essay discussing her, knowing he’d provide helpful and insightful feedback, and he told me that when he got to one line I’d written about the excellence of her prose, he’d stood at work and given a fist pump. That accolade from him was better than a starred review from anywhere else.

I should have liked to have read what else Steve had in him. And I should like to have sat down with him in person again.

I dedicated one of the Harold Lamb volumes I edited to him, in part because I knew Steve would have loved to have held it. But it was in part because I wanted in some small way to preserve his name, so that others would see it, and maybe pull out some of his essays and see again what a fine and brilliant fellow he was.

Update at Work

In the coming days there are apt to be some curious changes underway on the web site. Colors will be changing, as will typeface, organization, and so on — a lot of it’s up for grabs. Hopefully I’ll have it all straightened out in just a few days, so bear with me… The intention is to make the entire web site a lot more user friendly.

Behind-the-Scenes

You wouldn’t know it by looking at the site, but life’s pretty busy here. Nearly every day I’m doing editorial work for Perilous Worlds. Several times a week I’m editing things for Tales From the Magician’s Skull. And every day I’m working on either the promotion of book 1 of the Ring-Sworn trilogy, or working on the first draft of book 3. This morning it’s that draft I’m contemplating. Wrapping all the threads up by the end of the book is proving a little challenging, and so I’m still tinkering with the outline.

I’m also managing some wargaming to relax, courtesy of the dedicated spot in our new remodeled basement. In the last couple of weeks I’ve played four scenarios of one of my favorite games, Ambush!.¬†(While I do enjoy playing, that exclamation point is part of the game’s title.)

I hope to share details about all of the publishing stuff as everything gets closer to release…

In the meantime, here’s a snapshot at the end of a recent Ambush! scenario. And here’s a link back to my thoughts after a first few plays, as well as a description of the game for the curious.

Marvin Albert Westerns

I got a grab bag of duplicate paperbacks from Chris Hocking a few years ago and discovered a lot of gold. One of the standouts was a detective novel from “Nick Quarry,” which turned out to be one of the pseudonyms of Marvin Albert. Albert also wrote under Al Conroy, and Anthony (or Tony) Rome, Ian MacAlister, and J.D. Christilian. Mysteries, westerns, “men’s adventure;” Albert could do it all, and he always delivered. I’ve read over a dozen paperbacks by the man at this point, and I’ve yet to read a bad one. Now maybe I’ve read only one that comes close to being a true classic, but they’re always good books. The plots make sense, the characters are compelling, the action scenes are crisp and clear, and the pace never flags.

Over the last few years I’ve been trying out a number of “new-to-me” authors of old westerns and mystery fiction. A lot of it is uncharted territory for me. So if I’ve tried a few authors who’ve left me cold, I know I can always retreat to another old Albert novel and be entertained. He’s dependably good.

Karate Form

I’ve realized a curious fact about the way I learn katas taught at my karate school.

If you’re not in the know, katas, or forms, are the somewhat dance-like patterns that martial arts students perform to master various techniques. The longer you’ve been practicing, the more katas you learn. Continued rehearsal of the katas improves not just your ability to perform them, but provides physical benefits. Once you stretch every day and run some katas, you’ve definitely performed a workout. But the benefits are greater than this. After a while you notice the stances and practice of balance intercalate themselves into your daily habits. Your reflexes improve profoundly.

For instance if I’m surprised — say a kid’s running past me at a pool — I do a quick sidestep without thinking about it. After learning an upper-level kata with multiple crane stances, which were extremely challenging at first, my own balance improved overall. If I’m bumped, I immediately ground myself into a more sturdy stance. And don’t be the person who grabs me from behind in jest, for you may find me spinning to face you with hands ready to strike. I alarmed a friend (and myself, a little) when she was just giving me a surprise shoulder squeeze.¬†

Calamityware

If you’ve ever thought to yourself, well, fine china is cool, but it needs more sasquatches, giant robots, and sea monsters, have I got a site for you.

Why settle for the ordinary when you’re hosting a fancy dinner party?

Seriously, these things are cool. My friend Nick pointed these out to me a few weeks ago and I thought it high time I share them. Visit the Calamityware site and look around!

I am nose to the grindstone for the next week, so my posts are apt to be a little less frequent. Bear with me — I’m getting important writing work done.

Dreams of My Father

For the first time in ages, I dreamt of my father. I was walking across campus with my backpack over one shoulder, as I would have been lo those long years ago, and I spotted him through a corner window that never existed, standing behind his desk and talking on a phone — in an office that never existed, for Dad was never on the first floor with a huge window. But he was talking to someone about how I was coming to see him prior to Freshman orientation.

At some level I was aware that this was a dream and that he was gone, and I was long past this point in my life, but I raised my hand at him and smiled and he raised his hand up to me and smiled and damn, but that was great, because I could see him. Not just for a frozen moment in a memory, or photograph, or even a rare shot of him on video tape, but I could look at him, living, as long as I wanted, and meet his eyes, and he was looking back at me.

I didn’t realize how powerful it was until a little later this morning when I thought about it and wept. It’s been eighteen years. It’s been long enough now that it’s impossible to imagine me calling him up and catching up on everything that’s happened, like I used to fantasize about. The acute pain of his absence is gone. But I will always miss him. I would so like for him to have known my kids as adults, or even to have met my youngest. What I wouldn’t give to tell that kid with the backpack that you’re not always going to be walking across campus and have the chance of running into your dad.

I can’t do that, but I can try to take time to be present in the lives of my kids, as my father always did. Maybe I can pass that on, and one day they’ll get it too.

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.

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.