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Unscheduled flights to mysterious worlds, all stops along the writer's journey.
         What you'll find here on the Blimp are my thoughts, dreams, and ramblings on the Craft, my direction, philosophies, and things that make me go hmmmmm. On the port at large you'll find the simple, swashbuckling tales of El Cajon's oldest teenager that will hopefully interest the fans of steampunk or horror in all their intertaining forms. And if you find that my sometimes winking eye coincides with your own views, make it a part of your rounds. There's no telling what we might get up to! And by all means, bring your friends, especially those who enjoy the delicate bouquet of coal smoke and embalming fluid. Until we meet again, then, read well, and write better.

Semper audax esse,
*Hotair2* Jack
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November 15, 2019 at 3:05pm
November 15, 2019 at 3:05pm
         I should lead with a couple of disclaimers. First, these are the Four Cornerstones according to no one in particular but me. Second, these have been up on my whiteboard since a time I don't remember. I don't recall whether I articulated these (probably not), or read them somewhere in the distant past. In any case, they have served me well for at least a couple of decades. There are a lot of accomplished writers here, and if you recognize your own words, drop me a link and I'll put your credit up in large red letters. Finally, I post these out of no desire for glory or admiration. Like everything I know, I learned them somewhere else, and have distilled them down to a writing style guaranteed to keep readers curious and turning pages. I share them here so that anyone who wishes to try them can incorporate them into their own writing. And you should. Trust me, they have the Blimprider Seal of Approval.

1. Don't pick up story threads too quickly. This goes hand-in-hand with "Show, don't tell." How many times have you read a story in which something out of the everyday happens, and before you have a chance to work on the puzzle, the author just tells you what it was? This will happen in fantasy and scifi especially, where someone gets teleported or something disappears as a character is about to reach for it, and the writer will say, "...but Luax had used his pocket frannistanner to render it incorporeal." I'm guessing you haven't seen many professional books with that problem for the simple reason that editors tend to reject them. Don't add yours to that list.

2. Let uncertainty fester in the reader. Not only is "Show, don't tell" a worthy axiom, but don't show too early. When I write a novel, which doesn't happen too often anymore, but even with a novella, you're running a marathon (or maybe a 10K if it's a novella). You don't need to expend all your energy leaving the pack behind in the first 100 yards. If you're wise, you already know everything that's going to happen. That doesn't mean you have to tell your readers. We shouldn't have any more information than the protagonist, and we should be working with him to affect a solution.

3. Stretch out rescues and solutions. Your reader wants to sweat bullets, and won't forgive an author who is overprotective of his characters. Tom Clancy was famous for never putting his characters in too much jeopardy, and that trait caused me to abandon him after a couple of books. Rake your readers over the coals. Even if it's a series, and it's understood that your protagonist must survive, make it difficult. Make your traps diabolical. Make him or her responsible for someone who doesn't have to survive. Make your readers cry, sweat, and bleed. They'll love you for it!

4. Offer less than satisfactory alternatives to dilemmas and problems. This gets right back to not hand-holding your readers. I think back to a Hawaii Five-O episode, the old Jack Lord series. There's an ongoing crime in progress, and they don't have a clue what it might be. During the course of the investigation the guys had taken probably forty surveillance photos, and tacked them up on a board at headquarters. At one point, McGarrett points at one of them and says, "I know the answer's in that picture." And what do you know, it was. Talk about letting the air out! Offer your readers the clues, but if you're going to have your protagonist guess, have him guess wrong, or if you're going to include the real solution, then have him and his sidekick, team, whatever, guess several solutions, most of them wrong but with serious merit, and deliberately misleading.

         Suspense isn't simply a genre. It is a quality that can used to good effect in any genre, from romance to children's books. It's the basis of conflict, whether it's man against man, man against time, or man against nature, and conflict is the basis of fiction. These are the rules I've found that keep the pages turning. Maybe you do most of this instinctively. But maybe you've never seen them written down like this. Sometimes seeing a concept written out in so many words can gel it in your mind. That's what I hope to give you here, a powerful set of tools for upping the ante. Think about them, imagine how you can include them in your writing, and what they might do to raise your game. I'll be looking forward to seeing the results!

Read well, and write better,
*Skull* Jack
November 13, 2019 at 1:48pm
November 13, 2019 at 1:48pm
         Good morning, WdC, and a very good morning it is! I have been the recipient of an incredible delivery of inspiration, and I'm here to share with anyone who might need some of the same.

         Regular readers will be well aware of my recent crescendo of doom, brought about, I believe, and fed by my wife's recent health issues. But a couple of things have happened in the last week or so. First, she has taken a marked turn for the better, and second, I've been reading C.W. Hawes' blog. I have praised the work and work ethic of C.W. many times in the past, and with good reason. He is a skilled writer over many genres, and his blog has a way of cutting to the heart of things. Take yesterday's for example. In a lengthy dissertation covering his last five years as an independent author, he included these two paragraphs:

         "Marcus Aurelius wrote 'Life is opinion.' Life is what you think it is. It’s all in your ‘tude. Don’t sweat the small stuff — because it’s all small stuff.
         "For many, many years I was not a happy camper. Then I took old Marc’s advice to heart. I swept out the crap, and got down to enjoying what I have. And being thankful for what I have."

         It's time for me to do the same. What I have is a God-given ability to write, and a platform that embraces quality writing of every sort. It's time for me to stop grousing about things that I can't change, and embrace what I have. Thankfully. So I'm going to open up "The Witches of Fear, and get back to work on it. I'm going to get back to work on this blog, and reviewing, and my off-site author site, https://jackshideout.blogspot.com. Oh, and if you'd care to read C.W.'s inspirational post, or become a regular reader of his fabulous blog, it can be found at https://www.cwhawes.com/

         Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get busy!

Read well, and write better,
*Ghost* Jack
November 9, 2019 at 4:00am
November 9, 2019 at 4:00am
         Good morning, and I hope you all have a great weekend lined up. No one has asked me any deep, pressing questions this week, so to maintain my regular presence here, I'm going to post an essay that I have published a couple of times on other sites, so some of you may have seen it already. No harm done; this really belongs on a writing site, and this being the best of them, I can think of no better place, so here we go.
         I left the navy in the fall of 1969, full of life experience and immaturity, and thinking that now I would have time and space to devote to that novel that had so eluded me. My neighbor gave me an antique typewriter in lieu of payment for some yard work, and convinced that that was the last piece of the puzzle, I tore into it with a vengeance. Space operas, spies, and special agents came and went, none finding completion, nor even any particular direction as I thrashed about seeking divine inspiration for my efforts. Then one day I picked up a copy of a fan magazine, Starlog or one of its clones, and there in the back was what I was certain was the answer to all my problems.
         "The Star Trek Writers' Guide," the tiny ad trumpeted. "Own the guideline given to every writer for the hit TV show Star Trek! Learn the secrets that made this show great, and apply them to your own screenplays and novels!" Well, how could anyone go wrong with that? So I dutifully sent my buck-and-a-half or whatever (it wasn't much) to the post office box in Pasadena, and two weeks later there arrived a pamphlet of twenty-odd pages, poorly mimeographed on one side and clipped together with brads, purporting to contain the Secrets of Star Trek between its hand-lettered covers.
         What a bunch of crap! I would be hard-pressed to describe how angry I was. The idea that any professional production would hand any professional writer this piece of garbage was unthinkable! It was so badly centered that I had to take out the brads and separate it into individual pages to read some of it. But then I thought, I paid for this, I'm not going to get a refund, so I may as well read it on the off chance there's something useful there.
         And what a wonderful decision that was! Despite the appearance, there was much useful information therein, and in fairness, I did discover later that this was indeed the exact guide handed to such authors as Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, and Robert Bloch. Much of it was aimed specifically at screenwriters, but there were three tenets that I took to heart and that have guided me since the dawn of my adult writing career. Am I going to share them? What else would I be doing here?

         1. DON'T EXPLAIN STUFF. The cops on Law & Order and Blue Bloods don't draw their weapons and turn to explain their workings to the nearest bystander before they follow a fleeing suspect into an abandoned building, and your characters shouldn't either. Guns are part of our modern world, and we all know how they work. If you're writing about a different world, be it wizards or space pirates, they know their own equipment, and rarely discuss its workings. Star Trek presented transporters, tricorders, phasers, medical equipment, warp drive, and a host of other things they never talked about. They simply used them. The audience saw them work, had their aha! moment, and understood from then on what they did and what they couldn't do. The same applies to a wizard's wand or a steampunk gadget. Show it in use, and move on.

         2. KEEP IT SIMPLE. The guide chronicled an example of a writer who had written a five-minute scene of orders being given, procedures implemented, camera changes and so on for the purpose of turning the Enterprise around to retreat by the same route they had arrived on. All that was replaced by Kirk saying, "Reverse course." All that procedural jargon is uninteresting clutter to your reader. He'll tend to skim through it to get to the place where the action resumes and if you've buried something important in there, he'll miss it completely, and likely regard it as a plot hole.

         3. KEEP IT REAL. It's the day after tomorrow on the bridge of an American destroyer in the Persian Gulf, and they've spent the morning playing cat-and-mouse with a flotilla of Iranian patrol boats. Suddenly three of them peel out of formation and head for the ship at top speed, and the captain suddenly remembers that briefing from last week, the one mentioning the rumor that the Imperial Guard had acquired a small nuclear weapon, and was looking for a way to make a statement with it. Does the captain then turn to comfort a junior female sailor on her first cruise, or launch into a speech on the nobility of doing one's duty? No? Then maybe yours shouldn't either. Whether he commands a pirate ship, a star ship, or a rickety dirigible cruising over Kenya, your reader expects him to leap into action, giving the orders that will maximize their chances of survival and victory. If you ever find yourself in doubt, place your action on the bridge of that destroyer and ask what that captain would do. Chances are it's what yours should do, too.

         So that was my Starfleet education in producing exciting literature. Feel free to take and use any part that seems reasonable to you. I have followed this advice for my whole writing career, and if my reviews are any indication, readers love it! Okay, I'm going to head out in search of the next thing to bring you come next Saturday. Until we meet again, read well, and write better!

Semper audax esse,
*Ghost* Jack
November 5, 2019 at 12:06pm
November 5, 2019 at 12:06pm
         Okay, the apocalypse is behind me. Time to begin the post-apocalyptic journey. And speaking of journeys, member Octavius approached me with a simple question: Can you tell me about your writing journey? A simple question to ask, at least. I shall now attempt to answer it...

         My great-grandmother, a Victorian lady of aristocratic background, had me reading and writing in at least a rudimentary fashion by the age of three. She used to sit and read the comics page to me as I followed along beside her. I was way too young to get the jokes, and to this day I don't laugh when I read comedy. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy it, but I digress. I was skipped past kindergarten based on the fact that I could read, and entered school as a first-grader. The teachers immediately started making us write the most mind-numbingly boring things: Spelling lists, adding suffixes and prefixes, handwriting practice and so forth. It didn't take long before I hated writing like most of you hate cobras. And then I reached fifth grade. That was in 1958, school starting a month before I turned 10.

         I landed in the class of Mrs. Warner at Sunset View Elementary School on the ocean side of Point Loma in San Diego, and it was kismet. She had a couple of writing exercises designed to instill a love of the Craft, and the one that hooked me was this. A couple of times a month she would tell us all to write a story. She had some square foot-size pictures she would line along the trough in front of the blackboard to help with inspiration, and after we had all written for an hour, she would send us out for recess. While we were out playing Red Rover, Dodge Ball, and a half-dozen other games that have since been banned because kids were having too much fun, she would stay in class and read our stories. When we came back in, she would read a few that she considered the best without saying who wrote them. Mine were almost always picked, and the kids always voted them among the best of the selection, despite that fact that I was far from popular. But again, I digress.

         What I was writing at the age of ten was no different than any other ten-year old. In those lurid tales, my neighborhood friends and I would shoulder our military-grade weapons and trudge off to the brush-covered canyon at the end of the street to take on anything from Japanese invaders (WWII had just ended, and most of the men in our families were veterans) to movie monsters or live dinosaurs. The total crap that comes from the mind of a ten-year old. But the listeners were ten-year olds as well. They ate it up, and I never looked back.

         I experimented with various forms including plays and poetry throughout school, then joined the navy after eleventh grade. One of the perks enjoyed by sailors was a new movie every night, and when something caught my eye, I'd try to write a story about it. Again, my shipmates enjoyed them, and nothing came along to discourage me. Circumstances, primarily my great-grandmother's failing health, forced me to return home after I got out, and I'd do yard work, walk dogs, and the like for my neighbors for pocket money, and one day a neighbor offered me an antique typewriter in lieu of cash for a job. I jumped on it like a Rottweiler on a pork chop.

         Star Trek was going into syndication — I had been deployed through all of its first run, and it was new to me — and it caught my imagination in a big way. My epic Sci-Fi adventure was called Tribes of the Southern Sky, and chronicled the adventures of the crew of the Chippewa, one of scores of frigates named for American Indian tribes, hence the name, trying to maintain order in the Southern Drift, an imaginary swirl of stars thrust below the galactic plane. My main character was Brian Lee Corby, a Combat Technician, which was sort of a Professional redshirt whose job was keeping the landing parties safe. Unlike Star Trek's redshirts, this guy was a living weapon honed to a razor's edge who could clean out a SEAL bar or a den of pirates with equal aplomb. He joined the ranks of dozens of projects that never went anywhere.

         You must realize that all this time, I was writing with no idea that there was a Craft. I would just sit down and start writing. Not surprisingly, most all of my stories went nowhere, as I didn't know what I was doing, and on top of that, I had no idea that I could work on more than one project at a time, so when a new one came along, the one went on the scrap heap, and I was back to square one. I finally finished Temple of Exile, a modern-day fantasy story that was a rambling monster of 140,000 words that might have been good at half that size. I submitted it to an agent who, in a watershed moment, offered me some pointers rather than a simple rejection slip. One of those pointers was to learn what I was doing, and so I began the second phase of my journey through a series of how-to-write-books books, culminating in my discovery of The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing.

         Evan Marshall is a New York agent and author of some repute, and he lays out a disciplined, by-the-numbers formula for turning one's rambling, disorganized ideas into a tightly scripted novel that holds a reader in the grip of a well-woven yarn, be it suspense, sci-fi, or romance... or any other genre you care to name. A lot of people feel constrained by it, but it was exactly what I needed, and under its guidance came The Stone Seekers, "Broken English, "Beyond the Rails, and a number of other stories that aren't available publicly right now. It was a life-changing discovery of the first order.

         Which brings us to the now. Two days ago I said I was through writing, and I may be. I certainly don't feel the prod of compulsion like I used to, and I fully intend to take at least November off. But the thing is that now, should it tickle at my creative centers again, I can do it or not, with no expectations from friends and followers, nor even my handful of fans. Should something materialize, it will be a nice surprise, like an unexpected present. Meanwhile, I can sit here pontificating like some kind of cosmic guru whenever the mood strikes me, and I can play on my X-box or anything else free of guilt, because there are no expectations or deadlines hanging over my head. This is the perfect life for a retiree. Of course, there's the matter of Kyanite Publishing, and their decision on whether they want my work, but I'll burn that bridge when I come to it, which is expected to be around the end of this month. I'd like to be a traditionally published author; that would check all the boxes on what I wanted from my writing journey, but if they select someone else to join their stable, that's all right, too. And isn't that a wonderful position to find one's self in?

         So, that's my writing journey, short-form. If there's anything else anyone would like to know, my personal experiences, how I approached different aspects of the Craft, what I think about characters or settings, just anything at all, drop me a line, and I'll get to it. Meanwhile, read well, and write better!

Semper audax esse,
*Ghost* Jack
November 3, 2019 at 2:33am
November 3, 2019 at 2:33am
                   "You don't choose writing. Writing chooses you."

~ Jack Tyler

         The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of many things... Or in this case, one thing. Those who have been with me for the long haul have watched my struggle over a period of many months, more than a year, in fact. You'll recognize the quote above as one that I've said to many of you as we've talked about the Writing Life. And the time has come for me to face the fact that after a sixty year run, writing has un-chosen me. Over the past months, as the seasons have come and gone, I've planned, I've plotted, I've made outlines and storyboards, but very little in the way of productive work has been done. New words on the page, new stories, are lacking, and that is sort of what defines a writer.

         Jerry Jenkins, author of over 200 books including the Left Behind series says that there are two qualities that every writer must have. First he must be a dreamer. A writer must see the stories unfolding in his mind, feel the characters coming to life, hear the riveting dialogue bringing passion to his heart. We're all good at that. I'm probably better than most. I can see stories so far out ahead that they haven't found their way into my notebook yet. But second, and equally important, he must be a doer, someone who can take himself by the collar and force himself to the keyboard, and produce a thousand, two thousand, three thousand or more words a day, words with meaning, feeling, passion, words that when polished in rewrite will become a story that will bring passion and have meaning to those who read it. That's the quality that has deserted me, and I've known it for a while. I've fiddled around posting chapters of old stories, and talking big about upcoming projects, but the simple fact is that I can't write anymore. I can plot and scheme and outline, but while I can force myself to the keyboard, I simply cannot write.

         I've forced myself to the keyboard many times over those months, but nothing comes of it. After I've sat staring for an hour, give or take, I look for something to review, and when that fails, Facebook and YouTube beckon with their siren songs of mindless fun. It's too hard not to answer, and it's too wearing on me to anguish over wasting the time. So I'm going to listen to my daughter, who can be very wise. She simply says, "You've worked for fifty years. This is your time. You shouldn't be doing anything that doesn't bring you enjoyment. If you don't want to write anymore, don't write; you don't owe anyone anything." See? Very wise, that girl!

         There it is. I've faced the facts: I'm not a writer anymore, and I don't enjoy agonizing over it. Why, then, am I holding onto my membership in a writing site? Well, first, I paid for it, and that counts for something. But equally important, I have sixty years of practice and experience. I've learned many lessons about the business, the Craft, the pitfalls and hurdles that can befall a writer in the early stages of his journey, and maybe I can pass some of that along to "newbies." Not what we call newbies, new members, but those young and old that are new to the path and just finding their way. Maybe I can help them not have to reinvent the wheel, or help them avoid some of the missteps that can cost a novice months or years of his or her precious time. If I can do that, perhaps it won't all have been in vain.

         So, what will I do here? Review, certainly, especially newbies, and offer them what I've learned during those sixty trips around the fireball. Maybe I'll continue to blog. I don't know about that. I'll have to see how my little dissertations are received. But I'll be around here, a ghost in the machine so to speak. My old writings will stay up here so you can see for yourself whether I have a style, voice, or insights that you might care to follow. There are more that I might add to my portfolio in the future. My unfinished works will be removed, as the way it stands right now, they will never be completed and there's no point in teasing anybody with them.

         And that's the way it is, Sunday, November 3rd, 2019. I'm no longer a writer, but neither am I leaving it behind. My efforts never brought me fame or fortune, but thanks to this magnificent hobby, I have made scores of friends and left a legacy for my grandchildren to enjoy. And to all of you who have been so deeply supportive in good times and in bad, I simply say Thanks for everything; I had a ball! Now go forth and produce the fuel for the dreams of tomorrow.

Semper audax esse,
*Ghost* Jack
November 1, 2019 at 4:04am
November 1, 2019 at 4:04am
         Take my social media presence, for example. Right now I'm scattered over a half-dozen sites, and a good many more groups than that. This dilutes my efforts, and leeches away writing time to be constantly producing appropriate content for each place that I'm present. This needs to change, and I've invested some thought into it. Here's what I've come up with:

         My personal blog, https://jackshideout.blogspot.com, will immediately be turned into a promotional site for my own works and those of friends that have entertained and supported me during the journey. This will probably be repeated on Facebook to maximize coverage, but it will basically be book ads, bios, whatever looks like it will improve sales for me and my friends. I have settled on Tuesday for these posts, as most books seem to be released from Friday through Monday. Makes sense, as publishers want to grab the weekend reading crowd and the Monday gift shoppers. By Tuesday, I should have most of the new stuff.

         All the writing-themed material, the how-to techniques, the works in progress, the "here's what I've been doing" updates, will be moved here and posted every Friday. It seems to make sense to post the writer-oriented material in place that's inhabited by, you know, writers.

         Now, speaking of updates, there are a couple. First, regular readers will be well aware that our family has gone through hell with my wife's bout with congestive heart failure. She is on the mend, as is my interest in getting words down. I'm still unable to muster up the interest or energy to produce copy just yet, but yesterday I organized all the notes the muse has provided for the fourth Nexus story, which I have to say looks to be a more convoluted and sinister ride than the first three, which merely establish the world and how it works. This could come to nothing, however, because of this other factor: Kyanite Publishing has told me that they will decide at about the end of November whether they are interested in contracting with me to provide a series of Nexus stories. If they do, that will be my writing life for as long as they continue to want it. If not, I honestly don't know whether I'll keep writing or not; I am 71, and have been at it since the 5th grade, for a total of 61 years. I must admit that the idea of a long, leisurely break looks pretty attractive. But however that goes, I do intend to stay here and keep reviewing, and giving the "Talk of the Flight Deck Award to writers who peg my fun meter.

         That's all I have for this week. I'm going to link this on Facebook, so for my Facebook followers, this will be the blog from now on. You'll be able to read it, but only writing-dot-com members can comment; membership is free. Of course, you can comment on the Facebook link, and you can also message me at my WdC email address, which is blimprider@Writing.Com. I hope to welcome some of my old friends there in the future.

         My thanks to everyone who included me in their Halloween activities. This really is a fun place to be a writer. Until next week, read well, write better, and always keep your chin up . . . It makes a much better target that way!

Semper audax esse,
*Hotair2* Jack
October 25, 2019 at 3:37am
October 25, 2019 at 3:37am
                   "If you copy from one author it's plagiarism. If you copy from two, it's research."


         In the aftermath of last week's descent, I'm trying to maintain a presence here against the time that I return from the darkness, and this seems an appropriate subject for writers of every level. Plagiarism is a subject of great interest to a good many writers, especially the inexperienced who go to such lengths to avoid it that they sometimes end up not writing at all. A year and a half ago I participated in a discussion on another writer's blog in which he touched upon plagiarism as well as several other points. Presented for your approval is my contribution to that discussion, with a few minor changes to keep it making sense in this new context.

         Stealing is unavoidable; everything has already been done. One of the nicest compliments I ever received was from a reviewer who called my Beyond the Rails series “Jules Verne meets Firefly.” By the same token, William J. Jackson's Rail Legacy looks a lot like steampunked X-Men to me. Does that mean that nothing else along those lines should ever be written? Just because BtR has an ensemble cast in a strange locale doesn’t make it Firefly. We aren’t flying in space out of a port on Persephone, and my crew doesn’t have the exact same mix as Malcolm Reynolds’. Applying that logic means that Firefly should never have been made because Hatari featured an ensemble crew that looked out for each other over thirty years before. Carrying it on to detective stories, that would mean we would only have one, because once someone wrote a book about a person solving a crime, another could never be written. Romance, westerns, horror, same deal.

         We’re all inspired by everything that has come before, and some of us can take those things and mold them into new works that carry that engaging touch of familiarity while still being “original.” My advice: Don’t sit down to deliberately copy someone else’s story with nothing but the names changed, and then stop worrying about it. We all love these stories, and somebody has to write them. Write on, I sez!

         That was my opinion in April of last year, and I stand by it today. Write a good, original story, and it will find its audience.

New Releases

         There is a new release coming next week that I want to make my readers aware of. My old mate C.W. Hawes, a name familiar to any regular readers of this magnificent column, is publishing the latest in his Pierce Moslyn Paranormal Investigations series, Demons in the Dunes. On his blog this week he talks about the historical "lost city," and the H. P. Lovecraft story that combined to inspired it. No release information is included yet, but check it out, and if it looks like something that would move you, bookmark his page; I'm sure he'll be linking it upon release. https://www.cwhawes.com/demons-in-the-dunes/

         Earlier this month, Hadrosaur Publications, the imprint of another old mate, the terrifying astronomer David Lee Summers, released Battle Lines by Greg Ballan. In the sequel to Greg's Armageddon's Son, the confrontation between good and evil comes to head in a sci-fi political thriller with religious and fantastic overtones. Read all about it on David's web journal. https://davidleesummers.wordpress.com/2019/10/01/battle-lines/

* * *

         I would be a sorry excuse for a correspondent if I didn't update my situation from last week. I'm still in that listless slump, but the muse is loving it. Ideas are forming for a fourth story in the Nexus series that is much more convoluted than its predecessors, and begins a story arc that is set to carry through for at least several stories. Once I recover my interest, I'm set to take off.

         And that's thirty for this week. I can't guarantee Tuesday, but I'll have something next Friday. Be here, or be square!

Semper audax esse,
*Skull* Jack
October 18, 2019 at 3:51am
October 18, 2019 at 3:51am
         "When I hear about writer's block, this one and that one; f**k off! Stop writing, for Christ's sake; plenty more where you came from."

~ Gore Vidal

         Those among you who are attentive to detail will notice that I didn't post anything this last Tuesday, not even to pimp my own books. I very nearly didn't post today, but feeling obligated to be civil and forthcoming with a lot of people who have been very kind to me, I chained myself to the desk and left instructions that I was not to be fed until I had a coherent article on the page.

         My friend, who was with me like a brother from middle school through the raising of our children, once told me that I ran on a six-week manic-depressive cycle. I acknowledge the cycle, though I haven't noticed the clockwork predictability of it, but he had a Ph.D. in philosophy, so he must have been right.

         But, right about now, I have it worse than I can ever remember. I'm not interested in anything, and I don't want to do anything. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday playing Borderlands 2 with my daughter, a video game that barely asks its players to be conscious; I call the genre "see it and shoot it." It was just what the doctor ordered, but it didn't do anything to help my condition, and I don't think this bout is part of the cycle that my friend thinks he identified.

         A couple of weeks ago I almost lost my wife of 44 years to congestive heart failure. She spent a week in a hospital room with her heart rate bouncing between 100 and 150 beats per minute, and they finally stopped her heart to let it restart itself in a normal rhythm. It worked, and she came home the next day. I should be ecstatic over that, right? She made it, she's well, we have more years ahead of us. And yet, there is this crippling depression. Our daughter said she didn't know she could hold her breath for a week. Perhaps I was on edge for so long that the release of tension just left me flat like a deflated balloon, and if that coincided with the down part of that cycle, maybe I'm suffering a cumulative effect.

         All I know for sure is that I don't have the slightest interest in doing anything. I'm disappointed when I wake up, not because I have any sort of death wish, but because once I'm awake, I have to fill a day's worth of hours with something more or less worthwhile, and I'm just not interested.

         That's why I'm not producing blog copy, or working on a story, or even driving one of my complex story-rich games like X-Com or Skyrim. I haven't got anything left in the tank, and the worst part is that I don't care. I hope I feel like this when I get my anticipated rejection slip from the publisher I've been raving about for the past few months; if I got it right now, the only feeling I can imagine would be relief, like being freed from bondage. Well, if they hold to their end-of-November timetable, I should be at the bottom of the next cycle, so this particular chapter of my life may be closing soon, and that should be enough to horrify anybody!

         Look back in now and then. I'll pass along any developments that arise. Until then, get out there and live life like you mean it.

Semper audax esse,
*Skull* Jack
October 11, 2019 at 3:25am
October 11, 2019 at 3:25am
White Whale: n. Something you obsess over to the point that it nearly or completely destroys you. An obsession that becomes your ultimate goal in life. [From Moby Dick, the titular whale that Captain Ahab destroyed himself pursuing — urbandictionary.com]

         I made a new friend this last week here at writing.com, a charming young lady who goes by the handle of Rustika when I reviewed a chapter of her work in progress. It was a fine piece of craftsmanship, and I wasn't shy about telling her. The story is "Utopia in the Void if you want to see how it's done while you're over there. But in reply to my review, she admitted that this is a story she cannot drive no matter how much she likes the concept, nor how much she wants it to progress. There are a number of ways it could go, none of them bad, and she'll write the next scene, put it aside, and when she comes back, decides that she could do much better, and tears that one up.

         This got me thinking about my own "white whale," and I can only wish I had so many good options that I couldn't pick one. The story that is sitting in a file on a memory stick is Stingaree, a story of a steampunked San Diego. It was inspired by two historical facts. First, in the late 1800s San Diego was the first American port open to the windjammers that had rounded Cape Horn carrying crews that were ready to celebrate their survival. Everyone has heard of San Francisco's Barbary Coast, but San Diego's Stingaree was every bit its equal. A collection of bars, cathouses, opium dens, and gambling establishments, it was said that the police wouldn't cross to the south side of Market Street after dark, and if no bodies turned up with the sunrise, that fact was newsworthy enough to make the papers. The other fact is that Wyatt Earp owned a bar in the Stingaree during the period in question, and who could resist making that larger than life figure a supporting character?

         I began Stingaree at the pinnacle of my steampunk era, and it was the story of a naive young man named Harold Youngblood. A young dandy of Charleston, SC, Harold is jilted, ridiculed, and humiliated by a girl he thought he was wooing, but who was only interested in how many expensive gifts she could finagle from the several young men she was leading on. Smarting from her harsh treatment, when he receives word that he has inherited a hotel in the west coast boom town of San Diego from an uncle he's never heard of, he packs up his belongings and heads west. It isn't until he arrives in town that he discovers that the "hotel" he now owns is one of the most notorious homes of gambling and prostitution in the region.

         He visits his new hotel to find his "business manager," a streetwise and competent Mexican woman, is willing to take him under her wing and help him succeed, and maybe more. His uncle's chief rival, a man known as the Angel of Death, soon steps in with designs on his establishment at any cost, and when Wyatt Earp makes time to give him a few pointers, he soon finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation being run by a mulatto deputy marshal who may have his own agenda. And what hidden agenda might the town's wealthy benefactor be following?

         The status on the piece is that I have twelve of a prospective twenty-four chapters, and the first scene of chapter thirteen completed. This has been going on for over two years, and no matter what I do, I can't drive it any further. The thing is, the twist I've built into the end of chapter twelve is not negotiable, but I haven't been able to weave the rest of the plot lines past that point. Hence the designation "great white whale." The distinct possibility exists that struggling to capture this particular narrative is what ended my steampunk career. It is the last thing I wrote, or more to the point, tried to write in the genre, and sometime during the effort, I began to transition to 1920s horror. The conversation with Rustika, and creating this post, have gotten me thinking that I should take it out and try it again now that I've reached a point of separation . . . But, as long as I'm on Kyanite's list for possible publication, I have to concentrate on the stories they will want. Maybe if they turn me down? Who knows? I'll tell you what, I'll post the first chapter and you can read it here at "Chapter One.

         How about you, my fellow scribblers? Do you have a white whale in your portfolio, that story you'd love to finish but just can't quite get a grip on? Tell us about it in the comments. Get it off your chest. Maybe you'll be inspired by the telling as well. And be back Tuesday when I'll be up to something or other. Read well, and write better!

Semper audax esse,
~ Jack
October 8, 2019 at 4:24am
October 8, 2019 at 4:24am
         This is a reprint of today's post on my off-site blog, Jack's Hideout. I generally promote books and services on Tuesday, and as it was a slow week, I thought I'd do a little cheerleading for some of my own stuff. I'm sorry I can't produce the graphics and links here that I can on Blogger, but should anyone find this interesting, it can be read with all the aforementioned material at https://jackshideout.blogspot.com. Enjoy!

         This week I'm going to promote two excellent anthologies in which I have short stories, one in each. Both were assembled by the members of Scribblers' Den, the best small writing group it has ever been my privilege to be associated with.

         A bit of background for the new readers: I founded Scribblers' Den as a group within the Steampunk Empire, a web page that was home to 20,000 steampunks, writers, gamers, musicians, builders, cosplayers, practically the whole steampunk universe. I established the Den as a site for writers that would have no restrictive rules other than a requirement to be civil, and we never had a problem until some two years ago, when the site administrator woke up on the wrong side of the bed and deleted the site. 20,000 people lost their work, their contacts, their networks, everything, and Firefly fans will know what I'm talking about when I say there's a seat by the fire reserved for her in the Special Hell.

         A group led by William J. Jackson re-established the Den on a new site called Welcome to Steampunk, which is similar in look and format to the Steampunk Empire, but will take decades to rebuild to level of that site, if it ever happens. To support those rebuilding efforts, the membership has produced several anthologies, of which I am pleased to say that I have stories in two of them.

         The first was Den of Antiquity, a dozen stories by some of the most innovative authors in steampunk. The theme tying the stories together is a den, and when one thinks of a den, one tends to think of comfort. A cozy room in the house—a quiet, comfortable place, a room for conversation, reading, or writing. One doesn’t tend to think of high adventure, dragons, vampires, airships, or paranormal creatures. And yet, that’s just what you’ll find in these pages. Stories of adventure and mystery! Paranormal, dark, and atmospheric tales! The fantastical and the imaginative, the dystopian and post-apocalyptic, and everything in between!

         So settle in to the coziest room in your house, plop down into your favorite armchair, and dive in to the Den of Antiquity, featuring stories by E.C. Jarvis, Kate Philbrick, Neale Green, Bryce Raffle, N.O.A. Rawle, David Lee Summers, William J. Jackson, Steve Moore, Karen J. Carlisle, B.A. Sinclair, Alice E. Keyes, and yours truly. Den of Antiquity is available on Kindle for $2.99, and also in traditional print format.

         The other offering is Southern Steam, an alternative history set in a late nineteenth century in which the Civil War has ended in stalemate, and the two hostile nations share a 1500-mile border across which they eye one another suspiciously and wait for the other to blink. The action in all the stories takes place in Port Reprieve, a new city that has sprung up on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay to replace ruined Mobile, and has become a bustling seaport, replacing Charleston and Savannah as the gateway to the south. Scribblers Den's writers have traversed the dimensional barrier and done our research. We have returned with tales told about the people of that far flung Earth where America is divided, Alabama hosts the world's strangest port city, and every sort and flavor of curiosity roams its dusty streets. Take a tour through our words down unpaved roads to adventure, tension and danger in the Southern Steam surrounding Port Reprieve. Southern Steam is available in Kindle format only for $2.99.

         I don't try to judge my own work, but the work of the other authors who contributed to these anthologies is innovative, entertaining, and well-worth experiencing, so climb aboard and join us for some grand adventures in a world of wonder; you just may discover your new guilty pleasure!

Semper audax esse,
*Skull* Jack

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