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Archive for the ‘My published writing’ Category

I’m an author. To quote the Irish writer, Brendan Behan, I’m a drinker with a writing problem. I do love that quotation. It sums up a lot of the feeling of this profession. The Muses are real, and they visit affliction upon writers, but we praise them for it.

But inside every author–even the ones who say otherwise–there’s a yearning for the world to read and enjoy our work. Some people say they write only for their own amusement, but I have my doubts. Writing is bloody hard work. As Samuel Johnson said, no one but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money. If you’re not a writer, try it sometime. Then try it again. And again. And again. Keep trying it, and you’ll be a writer one of these days. The Muses work that way.

Now and then comes the reward for the work: the book for sale. Is it like giving birth or coming home from a hard journey or getting out of prison? I don’t know. The end of the journey idea sounds right, since once the book is published, that moment is a destination. There are new journeys to go on next, and as Robert Frost told us, way leads on to way, and we don’t get to go back and walk the old paths over.

The written word becomes the possession of the reader. How you see the character or the scene, what you’re feeling and learning and experiencing is yours.

And thus, I submit for your approval, The Willing Spirit.

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It was a lot of fun (and work!) to write. I hope it’s a pure pleasure for you to read.

But I’m writing the next book in the Dowland series now. It’s set on Catalina Island and the mainland in 1871. There’s Spanish treasure, a gambling lady, and even grunion fish.

You’ll have to wait for me to finish it.

Crossposted on Greg Camp’s Weblog.

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A short story that gives the earlier days of my western character, Henry Dowland, is now available on Frontier Tales. That’s an on-line magazine of western short fiction, though this story lets us see Dowland right after the end of the Civil War, going south to find his family.

If you like my tale, vote for it as the best of December. You won’t get a calendar, but you’ll help get my work into the next anthology.

Crossposted on Greg Camp’s Weblog.

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It’s time for another excerpt from The Willing Spirit. If you’re getting tired of teasers, you can read the whole thing soon.

“Why’re we stopping, Mister?”
Dowland sat on a bed of pine needles with his back against a tree, while Joe paced in front of him. In the starlight from the gaps in the trees, he was just a dark shape passing before darker shapes.
“We’ve been moving for the whole day and some of the night. My eyes are tired, and so are my feet.”
“But they’re still after us. I know it—they’re still after us.”
“Sit down, Joe.”
The boy collapsed to the ground, and his feet scraped the soil as he settled.
“I think that we’ve lost them, but we won’t know it if you keep making noise.”
“So what’a you reckon we do now?”
“Sleep.”
Joe jumped up and paced again.
“Good land, Mister. Are you crazy?”
“Not that I know of, but I will be if you can’t calm yourself.”
Heavy feet crunched the twigs and dry needles on the forest floor until the boy thudded into a tree. He commenced to pounding the bark with his fists.
Dowland picked himself up and walked over to grab Joe’s arms and hold them at his sides.
“Stop it! You’ll make yourself bloody.”
“I don’t care.”
“I do.” Dowland put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and guided him back to the small clearing. “Lie down and sleep.”
Joe stretched out on the ground, and Dowland sat once more to keep watch. In an open patch between the trees, the square of the Big Dipper filled the sky. No one had guided Dowland through the Slough of Despond, as much as he had needed a helper, and he didn’t know what he could offer the boy. Joe was still, though his wet breathing told that he was struggling to hold back tears.
But the calm didn’t last. Joe sat up. “It ain’t no good, Mister. I can’t sleep.”
“I know. I couldn’t, either, after my first time.”
“Does it ever go away?”
“Not really.”
Faces floated through Dowland’s memory. He waved his hand in front of him, a futile gesture for dark ghosts in a dark forest.
“You will learn to live with it.”
“How?” The boy wasn’t even trying to hide his tears.
“Some men stop caring.”
Joe was silent for a moment.
“I don’t reckon I wanna be like that.”
“Good for you.” Was it good, though? Was it better to have a soul in pain than to be a man with no soul at all?
“What about you, Mister? What do you do?”
There was the question. Dowland couldn’t have given an answer to it before—it would have made no sense—but after this battle, Joe had crossed over into his world.
“I remember every time. It hurts like hell most days, but it reminds me to watch what I do. If I’m honorable in that, the ghosts have no claim against me.”
“That’s thin.”
“Yes, it is, but we have to take what we’re given. You killed one man to save another. That has to be good enough.”
The sounds of pine needles being crushed in fists stabbed through the darkness. “Did I save him?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can we go find out?”
Dowland stood and walked over to the boy to offer him a hand up. “We may as well. I can’t sleep anyway.”

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Crossposted on Greg Camp’s Weblog.

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My fellow Trekkers will recognize the reference in the title. It’s the question that the brainwashed people of Beta III ask each other when anything seems amiss. Until, that is, Captain Kirk and the Men in Tights come calling.

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Kirk performs his usual denial-of-service attack on the planet’s controlling computer, causing its avatar to have a bad hair day.

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And all, ultimately, is well, despite yet another gross violation of the Prime Directive.

But other than a trip down Memory Alpha, what is my point? I had it here somewhere…

The other day, an acquaintance saw my library. She asked me why I don’t just get an i-Paddle, or whatever the latest gadget is. I had my Samuel T. Cogley, Esq. moment, as I always do when asked such questions. You remember Samuel T. Cogley, right?

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He’s the lawyer who defends Kirk in “Court Martial.” He also has physical books, despite having been given a computer with lots of stored files. Like Cogley, I love the feel of a printed book. I love the pages that I can turn at my own speed, not what the machine allows. I love being able to go directly where I wish and to write a comment there. And I love the fact that some evil corporation can’t delete my books when it concludes that I’ve had them too long or haven’t paid enough for them yet.

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But as a writer who would very much like it if you’d buy my book, I have to accept that the world has changed. People today want electrowhizbangs. They want things with power switches and screens.

And that’s the essence of freedom. You can choose whatever form of my book you want to read. Er, um, you can choose whatever form you wish for the books that you read. As an author, I just want you reading. It’s good for the business, regardless of the format you select. Yes, you’re free not to read, but don’t expect to remain free for long if you don’t. If you are reading, you escape being a mindless drone.

But perhaps those are enough Star Trek references for one article.

Crossposted on Oghma Creative Media.

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Today, 28 November 2013, much of America is sitting down to consume a whole flock of these:

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But this raises the question: Why is an American bird, one the Benjamin Franklin proposed to be our national symbol, named after this place:

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The answer, it turns out, is that when Europeans came to America to take over, they confused the bird here with this fowl:

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The guinea was also referred to as a turkey cock, since it was brought into Europe through Anatolia. And thus, the bird and the country are related, if only because of confusion.

Since I’m pushing a book, I’ll give you a teaser in which my character, Henry Dowland, shoots a turkey to feed himself and a young fellow that he’s met along the way:

The wind rustled the leaves overhead, shaking Dowland out of his thoughts. On the other side of the clearing, three turkey hens worked their way across the grass. He picked up Alpha and steadied it with his left hand, the elbow on his left knee.
A big tom strode out into the open. His wings dragged the ground, and his tail fanned out, twitching.
Dowland cocked the hammer, each click as he it pulled back an alarming crack through the air, and squeezed the trigger.
Thunder boomed out across the open ground, and the hens scattered. The tom flipped over and lay still, relieved of the disappointment of courtship.
This evening, there would be a good meal. The world of memory was ever unsettled, but Dowland’s stomach would be full, and that was as much as anyone had any business wanting.
He crossed the grassy field to collect the bird in his pack and returned to mount his horse. If Young Joe had found any luck, so much the better, but the boy had been alone long enough.
The ride back took less time. He knew the way, and he was done hunting. His stomach was also in a hurry. The bird had to be cleaned, and a fire needed making. Dowland knew how he would divide up that labor. There were advantages to having a child about, after all.
But when he cleared the trees again onto the strip of grass next to the creek, a new problem presented itself. Joe cowered by the water, a fish on a rock in front of him, and a black bear, thin from its winter’s sleep, stood on its hind legs some thirty yards upstream and growled.

You can find out what happens on the 8th of December when The Willing Spirit goes on sale.

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My western novel, The Willing Spirit, comes out on the 8th of December from Pen-L Publishing.

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But you can read a few teasers here to see what you’ll be buying (and you are buying it–of course, you are). Here’s the first:

The sun had risen twice since the nighttime shootout and was setting again. Dowland’s body bore the weariness of continual shock and labor. He sank into a bed of needles beneath an elder pine, surrounded by a cover of trees, sure that the lot of them would stand aside and show him to a waiting world at his enemies’ command.
There had been men on horseback both days, always in the distance on the top of a hill or the far end of a valley, too far to shoot and too far to identify as belonging to the Willises. Was it hours between each one or only seconds? Weary bones and empty stomach made time swirl and blend together, and fear exaggerated every sighting.
They all may have been railroad workers, ranchers, and prospectors, but his nerves told him that he was watched, that the encirclement was tightening. For every one he’d seen, a hundred more must have been hiding behind rocks and trees and boulders. They were coming for him. Every step, whether at a full run or a furtive creeping from cover to cover, shoved him like a fox toward the hunters’ waiting guns.
But surely that was foolishness. The rugged land stretched too wide for even this gang to cover every mile. Besides, a man had to rest sometime, even if the whole world were after him.
And he had to eat. Dowland dug through his pack, but nothing more than one good meal was left. He had only a guess as to where he was, but the nearest settlements were at best many days of hard walking away. Taking a shot at game would announce his presence to anyone within miles. Hunger, though, no matter how quiet it was, offered no satisfaction.
He stood and pressed forward toward an open space filled with light from the west. A broad field of grass with a stream flowing through its middle presented itself. Somewhere, a creature must be grazing in the calm of the evening.
The thought of fresh meat gnawed at his stomach. One shot, then a little time to clean the kill and a small fire to cook it wasn’t too much to ask.
He scanned the land about him. Nothing moved. Dowland knelt beside a boulder and drew Alpha. He rested his elbows on the rock and steadied his right hand with his left. He turned from side to side, the muzzle following his gaze. His joints scratched across the rough surface, but his stomach mattered more at the moment than did his sleeves.
Brown ears rose above a tuft of grass.
An orange ball of fire erupted and was consumed in white smoke. A rabbit sprang forward, only to tumble and collapse in the grass.
He’d fired without a thought. When his mind caught up with what had happened, he gazed at the rabbit’s body, sixty yards out, but it lay still, dead by the flowing water where it had been drinking a moment before.
His stomach growled, and he stood to get his meal. A stone under his left foot shifted, though, and he stumbled and swung his right foot around to save himself.
There on a far hill, two miles at least, a sparkle of light caught his eye. The rays of the setting sun reflected back to him for a second, then the glint vanished.
Damn it! Someone was watching him. He shoved Alpha back into his belt and ran toward the stream. That rabbit still called to him, and he leapt over the water to the muddy ground beyond and hurried toward the kill. He snatched up the body and tore it open, eating what pieces he could as he ran on toward the cover of the forest on the other side.

Watch this site for more teasers and announcements.

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In a post on the Oghma Creative Media blog about genre, I told you why I like science fiction and related types of stories. I went on at length, but the short answer is that I love the world of Faerie, the world that the author gets to build. In that way, speculative storytelling is a lot like the myths that shape our culture.

But what about westerns?

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Gene Roddenberry did say that Star Trek was a wagon train to the stars, so there’s a connection, but this genre is typically defined as stories set west of the Mississippi River between the end of the Civil War and the death of Queen Victoria (points if you know that last reference). Yes, Lewis and Clark fan fiction could be a western, as could a tale about the doings to the left of the Allegheny Mountains in 1782, but the general idea is easy to understand.

So what is it that I like about westerns?

1. Research

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As I’ve said before, research is an essential part of good writing. That’s especially true if you’re going to dive into a genre that is known and defined. Yes, John Wayne schlepped a Colt Single Action Army revolver and a Winchester 1892 rifle in movies set well before those tools were available, but today, we’re less forgiving. Writers of westerns need to know the period. And that’s the thing: I love that time and place. Learning about it is fun, and I can immerse myself for hours in digging through books and websites. Of course, that can be a way to avoid writing, but we all have our weaknesses.

2. Ethos

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Remember in Lawrence of Arabia when the reporter asks our hero what attracts him to the desert? Lawrence answers, “It’s clean.” That may seem like a strange reply, given all the sweat and blood that he spills in that story, but what he meant was that the choices in a harsh environment are simple and stark. You fight with every ounce of your being to win against the odds and perhaps die anyway, or you die for sure. You survive by being worthy to meet that land and by joining in common cause with other good people. Sometimes, particularly if Clint Eastwood is the star, the morality tale becomes ambiguous, but the principle remains. A western is about good vs. evil, played out in a world that rewards the skillful.

3. Epic

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Westerns are the American genre. At the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner gave a speech titled, The Significance of the Frontier in American History. His thesis was that our nation is defined by the concept of a frontier, a boundless horizon over which we can always journey. The fact that our frontiers are now closed, at least until we get serious again about pushing into the final frontier, only sharpens our desire for stories about staking our claim in the freedom of the wilderness. The fact that westerns also deal with that stake being driven through the heart of those who were in that wilderness before us is a good corrective to our unrestrained impulses. More than stories about our founding, more than the woes of slavery and the Civil War, more than the fight against fascism and communism, the western is a tale of who we are.

That’s my answer to why I like westerns. I even write them, if I may promote myself. If I didn’t love this kind of story, I wouldn’t read them, watch them, or write them. For the genre to survive, I need more of you to join me. Hit the trail, pilgrim, and I’ll see you out there.

Crossposted at Oghma Creative Media.

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