Category Archives: Writing

Easy as Cooking Stew


Writers create a host of rules to improve their writing, and often impose these same rules on other writers. This can lead to wars. Mention the topics of passive sentences, adverbs, word length, filter words or a host of other subjects and you’ll find passionate supporters and deniers. It’s very wearing, even when all you do is follow the conflict.

I believe the writing is often very much like cooking a stew. You begin with a meat, add some vegetables, and finish it off with spices. Properly done, the result satisfies the appetite. Make a mistake and it was a waste of time.

Stay with me for a moment longer. No matter what I tell you about making a stew, I’m certain that you could find an exception. Let me give you an example.

Start by cutting up some meat.

WAIT! What about a fish stew?


What about an egg stew?

Egg Stew? Is there one?


There are stews with and without cream. There are stews with and without vegetables. Some stews have almost no spices aside from a bit of salt. Curry has a multitude.

It’s the same with writing. Some stores start in the third person; others in the first person; still others in the second person, although they are rare.

Some stories have large gobs of description. Others have almost none. Some stories contain sentence fragments. Others are spiced up with adjectives and adverbs.

In the end, balance is the thing. The key factor to applying rules is the same one you use in cooking the stew. Try to put everything in balance, and season to taste. You can use pepper, but don’t drown the stew in it.

Try new recipes and discover what works for you. Try the writing rules and discover what works for you.

It’s as easy as pie. But that’s another story.

The Rise of the Machines


Scientists, working on AI, are trying to create a computer writer that will be indistinguishable from the human one. The story reminds me of a science fiction tale.

I first became involved with computers in the age of punch cards and large tapes. Big machines in dedicated rooms were served by acolytes in white coats. Today your smart phone has more processing power and more storage than those devices of a generation ago.

The computers have not just become smaller. They have become more human like. Remember the voice of the computer on any Star Trek episode? Strange how those episodes usually involved the destruction of the computer. Contrast that with your GPS or your Siri. In a movie a couple of years ago, a man falls in love with his electronic personal assistant.

Going the other way, voice recognition has gradually moved closer and closer to reality. I’m not using it personally. I go ‘um’ and ‘ah’ too often. However, I noticed that Windows 7 came with this tool and played around with it. Still doesn’t work for me, but for people with disabilities I can see how it would be a boon.

So the computer of today can listen and talk. In the words of the Shania Twain song, “That don’t impress me much.”

I recently discovered a grammar checking tool from, and I was impressed. To really edit a story, I run it through MS Word Grammar and spelling checker, then Grammatik and then I have the computer read it to me. Languagetool catches errors these three checks missed. I’m hoping I can use it to drop a couple of the other review techniques.

Still, grammar is just a set of rules isn’t it? Yes. Go to the library and pick up a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. You might want to work out at the gym for a bit before you try. Big book filled with rules.

Chess is a game of rules. A computer, Deep Blue, won a best of six games competition with the World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov almost twenty years ago.

Another computer, Watson, won on Jeopardy almost five years ago.

AP is already using robot writers to pen earnings reports pieces.

I don’t know if the programmers can create a story making machine. I wouldn’t bet against it. And just between us, I have a sneaking suspicion that James Patterson owns the prototype.


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Hail Pericles, Prince of Tyre


On Saturday, in Stratford Ontario, I saw ‘The Adventures of Pericles’ by William Shakespeare.

The play was staged at the Tom Patterson Theatre, which always makes me think of a converted hockey arena. However, I am unkind. The building started life as the winter home of the Stratford Badminton Club.

It’s a classic Shakespearean stage with an enormous tongue, so that most of the seats are on either side of the stage, instead of in front of it. Like all Shakespearean plays all the props must be carried on stage and off again by the actors. When staging a play that covers five different cities, a birth aboard a ship in a storm, and a shipwreck the director has some challenges. Pericles moves around a lot.

One particular effective staging was the birth scene aboard a boat in a storm. A hawser was used to outline the boat on the stage, where actors held onto it and pitched in the storm. White sheets from the top of the four poster bed became the sails, and within the bed, the babe is born and the mother dies.

The four-hundred and eighty patrons that make up the audience are close to the action. There is nothing to separate the audience from the actors, and, if you wanted to, you could run onto the stage during the production. I didn’t. I have a feeling that doing something like that would get me turfed from the theatre, and possible put in jail.

What this means for the patrons on the first row is that the fight scenes are not just in your face, they are almost in your lap. You can’t help ducking when they start swinging their swords.

You can gather that I enjoyed it more than I expected. Small wonder it was such a hit within Shakespeare’s life. The writing in the second act shows the bards touch with words. In one scene, Marina, who has been kidnapped and sold to a brothel in Mytilene, saves her virginity by convincing the men that they should seek virtue. As this unfolded before us, no one coughed or shuffled their feet or fiddle. The audience held their breath.

Then a little later, Pericles who has fallen into a deep depression discovers in the woman sent to care for him, his daughter. Remembering the scene today brings more tears to my eyes. His joy and happiness filled the place.

I’d like to see another staging of this play. I don’t know how much of my enjoyment rests with this particular performance rather than the work itself. Perhaps Scott Wentworth turned a weak play into an enjoyable one. If that’s the case imagine what he might do with better material.

If you live within driving distance of Ontario, consider coming to Stratford to see this play.

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Stratford in the Summer



This summer I plan to see a couple of plays in Stratford Ontario. Every summer this small sleepy town, also known as the home of Justin Bieber, has a Shakespeare festival that involves three different theatres and close to a dozen different productions. Shakespeare shares the spotlight with Broadway musicals and Restoration plays.

My first play is The Adventures of Pericles by William Shakespeare. Stratford decided to change the name of the play from the original Pericles, Prince of Tyre. As with almost every Shakespearian play, Bill stole the plot from somewhere else. In this case he took it from Confessio Amantis (1393) by John Gower, an English poet and contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer.

The play is set in Classical Greece. However, when staged in 1607, I doubt the company wore costumes from Ancient times. Stratford decided the perfect costumes for the play should set the story in Victorian England. I’ve seen stranger things done to the works of the bard.

That is not the only question about this play. How much did Shakespeare actually write? The play wasn’t included in the first Portfolio. Some scholars in the past have denied the Bard of Avon had any hand in it. Today, the general consensus is that he wrote about half.

The play’s likely co-author was George Wilkins. Who was he? Wilkins was an inn-keeper in Cow-Cross, London, an area that was “notorious as a haunt of whores and thieves”. Most biographical information about him derives from his regular appearance in criminal court records for thievery and acts of violence. Many of the charges against him involved violence against women.

Strangely enough, this work proved to be one of Shakespeare’s most popular during his lifetime.

The other play I plan to see is a comedy, ‘She stoops to Conquer’ by Oliver Goldsmith. As in most restoration comedies it involves love, marriage, and class. In this case the heroine pretends to be a servant when meeting the man her father wants to betroth her too.

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A Tribute to Christopher Lee


On June 7 of this year, at the age of 93, Christopher Lee died. If it feels like you just saw him in a movie recently, you probably did. He starred as Saruman in ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ and four other productions in the last two years. He appeared in two-hundred and fifty movies during his career. That ignores the voice over work, the television series, and probably some other stuff. I’d like to be that productive when I reach my nineties.

It is his villains for which we will remember him. He played Saruman in ‘Lord or Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’. That’s six movies. He played Count Dooku in two Star Wars prequels. He also played the Frankenstein monster in ‘The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)’. Lee stood five inches over six feet, which helped for the role. That led to Dracula in ‘Dracula (1958)’ and the Mummy in ‘The Mummy (1959)’.

If you get a chance, watch ‘Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1965)’ where he again played the blood sucker, without a single line of dialogue. Lee said he refused to speak the poor dialogue he was given, but screenwriter Jimmy Sangster claimed that the script did not contain any lines for the character.

Lee himself was an interesting and erudite man. Besides English, he spoke Italian, French, Spanish and German, and was able to converse in Swedish, Russian and Greek. This led to one of his roles. The casting director needed an actor who could speak Spanish, and fence. Lee could do both, and got the part of the Spanish Captain in ‘Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951)’. Lee played a leading role in the German film ‘The Puzzle of the Red Orchid (1962)’, speaking German.

During WWII, Lee served with the Royal Air Force. Lee was having his last training session before his first solo flight when he suffered from headaches and blurred vision. The medical officer diagnosed a failure of his optic nerve and Lee was told he would never be allowed to fly again. In an effort to be useful, he volunteered for RAF intelligence where he served until 1946. Lee mentioned that he was attached to the Special Operations Executive and the Long Range Desert Patrol, the precursor of the SAS, but always declined to go into details.

Fu Manchu, Comte de Rochefort, Francisco Scaramanga in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ and Lucifer are other villainous roles he played in a number of pictures. However, he didn’t feel he was typecast. He liked to quote something Anthony Hopkins said, “I don’t play villains, I play people.” If you check his films you’ll also find him played Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft Holmes, Ramses and even the pope.

To add to his acting Lee had an operatic bass voice and sometime sang in his pictures including ‘The Wicker Man’. You might want to look up his metal Album ‘Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross’ which was released in 2010. Lee would have been in his late eighties then. Who says music is a young man’s game?

Let’s leave the last word to Lee. “I haven’t spent my entire career playing the guy in the bad hat, although I have to say that the bad guy is frequently much more interesting than the good guy.”


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The Greatest Inhuman Villains


Inhuman villains can be anything from Dracula, to the perfect storm. These villains are more monstrous because they are monsters, lacking the weaknesses that a human is heir to.

Here we wander into the realms of science fiction, fantasy and horror. The aliens, the orcs, the dragons are all in the running. The other type of story that relies on these villains, are a class of stories known as man against Nature. Hurricanes, typhoons, twisters can all play the part of the villain.

When nature is the villain, it must be merciless, murderous, and relentless. In ‘To Build a Fire’ Jack London, describes the conflict between a man and the cold of a Klondike winter on the trail. There is no sun by day, for this is the land of the eternal night. In the air, before it could fall to the snow, the spittle crackled. This means it is colder than fifty below, colder than eighty degrees of frost. Then the cold begins to eat the man, one bite at a time. First the cheeks and nose. Even reading this story on the warmest day of the year, makes me shiver and reach for a sweater.

The problem with nature as the villain is that this choice lacks any emotions, unless the author uses pathetic fallacy. So while the northern cold has no anger or rage against the man, it also has no potential for pity. This is a villain without remorse, who cannot be bought off, cannot be bargained with.

At the other extreme for inhuman villains lies the vampire and the preeminent of the ilk must be Dracula from the book by Bram Stoker. Here we have a monster that lives on human blood. However, it is the way Stoker suggests that Dracula wants more than blood. He wants to seduce and corrupt Lucy, turning her into a monster like him. This forces the heroes, including Lucy’s husband to stake her heart, behead her, and fill her mouth with garlic. That erotic element continues to run through vampire stories to this day.

For relentless, the award for a machine has to go to the robot Terminator, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. He arrives from the future naked, but almost before the movie has really started, the Terminator kills a gang member, a gun-shop manager, and two other women named “Sarah Connor” listed in the telephone directory. Even near the end of the movie, the one armed, legless Terminator continues to try to kill Sarah. I couldn’t have been the only person impressed. In 2008, The Terminator was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the American National Film Registry.

To round out the list, I think I have to go with ‘He who must not be named’. When a character is so frightening, that even his name has power, he is a force without putting in an appearance. Lord Voldemort impinges in some way on all of the Harry Potter books and movies. Yet, he does surprisingly little. Instead Harry has different lessor villains to battle as he grows. This is the most human of our inhuman villains. Partly this is because he began his life with birth. The other reason is that Rowling has admitted that Voldemort was “a sort of” Adolf Hitler.

I know. I left off your favorite inhuman villain. Perhaps it was HAL9000, the wicked witch of the west, Darth Vador, the shark from Jaws, Freddy Kruger, the Joker, or any one of the evil queens from fairy tales.


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These are Some of my Favorite Villains


We all have favorites. Our favorite flower, favorite season, favorite hero, and favorite villain. Let’s talk about the villains.

Now I’m going to divide villains into two categories, human and inhuman. A human villain is a man, woman or child without supernatural powers. Moriarty, Lex Luther and Hannibal Lector are examples. Inhuman villains can be anything from Dracula, to the perfect storm.

One problem with both heroes and villains is the way our society recycles them. Consider the stories of Robin Hood and the Sherriff of Nottingham. There have been 18 films, six television series, eight animations, four parodies and five retellings. All have the same characters. Personally I think the low point was an animated series names “Rocket Robin Hood”. This Canadian animated television series, placed the characters and conflicts of the classic Robin Hood legend in a futuristic, outer space setting. Check it out on YouTube and cringe.

Let’s talk about human villains that have stayed with me over the years.

Who could forget Inspector Jarvert? He was born to a fortune-teller whose husband was in the galleys. Javert grew up in the galleys, conscious of the fact that he had only two choices of profession open to him. He could become a predator on society like his father, or a protector of society. Here is a man who has only one faith and one following, the letter of the law. What makes Javert (who has no first name) a great villain is his humanity and rejection of all that is human. He has no kindness, no mercy, and no empathy.

All his strength is channeled into a fanatic observance and support for the law, and in his case his hunt for Valjean which lasts years. How does Valjean defeat Javert? With mercy. When Valjean spares Javert, he destroys the basic tenants of the Inspector’s morality, that convicts could never be good citizens. Suddenly he realizes that he is the monster, not the man he pursued. That drives him to suicide.

Who could forget the creation of Dr. Frankenstein? The creature is not Frankenstein. In the novel, the monster is identified via words such as “creature”, “monster”, “fiend”, “wretch”, “vile insect”, “demon”, “being”, and “it”. Speaking to Victor Frankenstein, the monster refers to himself as “the Adam of your labors.”

Made from the best portions of corpses, and animated by science, we have a creation that is a blank slate at the beginning. However, Dr. Frankenstein is repulsed by his creation and abandons it. The creature finds nothing in the world of man but hatred and rejection. This hardens his heart to mankind, and he demands the Doctor, create a mate for him to sooth his loneliness.

What should be a tragic figure, by his actions becomes a monster. Again we see the unyielding determination and lack of moral compass that we see in Javert.

Who could forget Richard III? Shakespeare in his tragedies, concentrated on the fatal flaw the destroyed the protagonist. In his histories, his characters had to fit both the history, and the politics of the day. In the play Richard commits every vile act known to man. He drives his sick brother, the king, to death, has the princes murdered in the tower, and more. Shakespeare lays the foundation for all of this in the opening soliloquy, where Richard states his aim, to play the villain, to be subtle, false and treacherous. He blames all this on his deformity.

He had drive, ambition, and courage. Again it is his lack of a moral compass that makes him the villain. In the play he is so strong and successful that he destroys all his enemies until the final battle.

Who could forget Iago from Othello? At the start of the play he states the reason for his rage. While he has served Othello, he feels he was passed over for promotion and plans to destroy both his lord and his rival. What makes Iago so intense a villain is the manner in which he accomplishes this.

Each one of these villains remains in my mind long after the book is set down and the play is finished. They are all strong, smart, almost fanatical in obsession, and without moral qualms of any sort. All almost succeed, and in the process cause terrible suffering that we can see as the story unwinds.

Yet they are only men!


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More about Villains


There exist certain rules that apply to villains in almost all stories. Whether your story is a western or a mystery these rules remain.

First, the villain must be powerful enough to threaten the hero. Without that power, the character is no longer a villain but merely an annoyance. The power can be physical, financial, political or psychological. Perhaps the villain could reveal a secret that would discredit the hero.

Second, the villain must be intelligent. What makes Moriarty such a great villain? His mind matches Holmes. Why was Hannibal Lector so terrifying? His intelligence and how he uses it. Even in comic books you find the brilliant villain. Lex Luther is an example.

Up to this point we could be describing any character in the story. The villain has some other characteristics that fit him. He/she may not have all of them, but they will be the basis for his actions which the reader views as evil.

Third, the villain is arrogant. He/she breaks the rules because they shouldn’t apply to him. For this reason he feels justified stealing from his clients, speeding on the highway, blackmailing the hero, or some other nefarious deeds. The villain can hide his arrogance from the world. Remember Uriah Heep from David Copperfield.

Fourth, the villain has negative emotions which drive him to act. I’m referring to anger, hatred, greed, jealousy and fear. This is perhaps the point where the hero and the villain are most dissimilar. There’s a very common connection between fear and anger. What makes a person afraid is what they hate. While the hero can be afraid, he acknowledges this within himself. Our villain won’t. This gives the author scope for making him/her a more complex character.

Finally, the villain is implacable. He/she cannot be avoided. He/she cannot be talked down. He/she won’t stop. This is the trickiest aspect of the character. Do it wrong and you have inhuman monster. Perhaps that’s why so many modern stories rely on the psychopath as the villain. To avoid this trope, simply work harder on showing his emotions and values.

Remember every great story needs a great villain.

Why my Villains Act that way


I wrote earlier that the villain is often more complex than the hero. He has to act in a way that is wrong. On the other hand, no man is a villain in his own eyes. How do I make this work?

As human beings we perceive the world through our own personal viewpoint. This includes all those things we believe to be true. Let me give you an example.

A 64-year-old man, Edgar Nernberg, was excavating a basement in March when he caught sight of black outlines of five fish in a block of sandstone. He contacted a paleontologist at the University of Calgary, Darla Zelenitsky. She reports the fossils were of a primitive fish, dating back 60 million years

Nernberg thinks the fish were most likely from the Great Flood in the Bible, about 4,300 years ago. Nernberg is a creationist who believes the Earth is roughly 6,000 years old.

Here we have two people living in the same city, working together on fossils, whose perception of the world is entirely different. You can bet neither of them will change their belief about the age of the universe.

We have all sorts of issues where people truly and passionately hold different beliefs. That’s why it’s a good rule to keep politics and religion out of the conversation. Other topics. Some people believe there is a relationship between childhood inoculations and autism. Some people believe there are aliens on other worlds in the universe. Other people believe the lunar landings were faked. And at the top of the list are the people who believe we are living in an enormous simulation inside some super computer.

It’s not the belief, but how it affects the person’s behavior. Nernberg and Zelenitsky can work together despite their different beliefs. When a person on drugs believes they can fly and tries to do so, the result can be fatal. Note the second part of the sentence. It’s acting on the belief that has the consequences.

Let’s put this all together in a story outline. A deeply religious man sees an alien spaceship landing. He believes that aliens must be the spawn of the devil so he kills the alien. If that story sounds familiar, catch an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ called ‘The Gift’.

Today the internet abounds with conspiracy theories, all with their adherents. Lizard People rule the world? Global Warming? Global cooling? The CERN Large Hadron Collider will create a black hole that will consume the earth?

Start with a belief. Then add an ego that won’t accept the possibility he/she is wrong. See where it goes because you have created the starting point for a truly horrific villain.

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The Villain is the Key


I think the villain is more important to the story than the hero. What? Really. The hero must conform to some standards, but the villain can be anything at all. As a writer I have much more latitude with the villain. Furthermore, the better the villain, so to speak, the more the hero can excel and the better the story.

Watching the ‘Outlander’ series on television, I was struck by the character of Black Jack Randall. As the story progresses, this character gets more and more evil. Each time he returns, he becomes more of a monster. I’m certain this was intentional on the part of Diana Gabaldon.

She’s not the first writer to demand much of the villains. Charles Dickens created fascinating despicable ones. Consider David Copperfield. In that book his first villain was Murdstone the father-in-law. But that wasn’t enough for Dickens. He created Uriah Heap to threaten his hero’s love interest in the most diabolical manner. Finally, there’s Steerforth, who seems at first to be the quintessential hero, but lacks the moral fiber. Dickens needed so many villains because his heroes were unappealing.

Other writers have created multiple villains to match a single hero. From comic books to crime stories the hero survives to return in the next installment, but the villain must be defeated.

However, a good villain is a complicated creation because he/she must serve multiple purposes within the story. First, the villain’s actions usually create the causative incident that starts the story. Where would Sleeping Beauty be if the witch hadn’t attended the christening? Snow White would never have met the dwarfs if her step-mother had acted like Mary Poppins.

Furthermore, the villain must come into conflict with the hero. So the villain must have strong needs and desires that drive him forward. That could be a lust for money, a lust for a woman, or a desire for revenge. Often writers make their villain insane. Hannibal Lector comes to mind.

Finally, the villain acts as a foil to the hero. The villains’ looks, actions, feelings, exist to create a contrast. The sour makes the sweet taste even stronger.

However, there’s a trap in all of this. No man is a villain in his own mind. We are all the good guys. To make the best villain, you must create a character that starts the ball rolling, keeps interfering, had strong visible emotions, and is different to the hero, without creating an inhuman monster.

Well, if you want to create an inhuman monster, think of Stephen King’s novel ‘It’. He creates a mysterious monster that appears as a clown. However, the bullies, led by Henry Bowers, are the more oppressive villains. If you do create an inhuman monster, then don’t make it a person. Do you remember the shark in ‘Jaws’ by Peter Benchley?

If you want to create a great story, start with a great villain.

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Murder by Medication/food Interaction


One of the fun things about writing is figuring new and interesting crimes. I sure hope no one is checking my Web searches. I could be in trouble.

I had an idea for a crime story. The perfect murder would be one caused by something no one expected to cause a problem. However, Mythbusters have destroyed a lot of great ideas, especially the ones with disappearing bullets made of frozen meat or ice. Darn party poopers.

I decided on death by medication. Right, killing someone with their own meds. How? Having the medicine interact with some food or drink. Everyone knows about drugs and alcohol, so I decided to search for something new. And I found a bunch, not fatal ones, but still interesting.

Bronchodilators treat and prevent breathing problems from bronchial asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The combination of the Bronchodilators and caffeine can create side effects, such as excitability, nervousness, and rapid heartbeat.

ACE inhibitors alone or with other medicines lower blood pressure. It also increases the amount of potassium in your body. Too much potassium can be harmful and can cause an irregular heartbeat and heart palpitations. It would interact with foods high in potassium, such as bananas, oranges, green leafy vegetables, and salt substitutes that contain potassium.

Glycosides, such as digoxin, treat heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms. They help control the heart rate and help the heart work better. Foods high in fiber may decrease the digoxin in your body. Digoxin with black licorice (which contains the glycyrrhizin) can cause irregular heart beat and heart attack.

Thyroid medicines control hypothyroidism but they don’t cure it. They reverse the symptoms. Coffee and Black tea reduce the medicine’s effectiveness by up to 35%.

Antipsychotics treat the symptoms of schizophrenia and acute manic or mixed episodes from bipolar disorder. Caffeine can increase the amount of medicine in your blood and cause side effects.

MAO inhibitors treat depression. Someone who eats an excessive amount of chocolate after taking an MAO inhibitor may experience a sharp rise in blood pressure.

Grapefruit and its juice are especially nasty. It increases the absorption of the drug into the bloodstream, creating a higher concentration of a drug. With Statins this can lead to liver damage. It can also interact with some blood pressure drugs, organ transplant rejection drugs, anti-anxiety drugs, anti-arrhythmia drugs and antihistamines.

Pomegranate juice has its own list of drugs it can interact with. In its case it increases the impact by slowing the body’s ability to break down the drugs.

I decided to stop before I got into herbal medications. I’m certain there are murderous combinations of herbs and medications. Would you like a cup of Foxglove tea?

So, death by coffee, banana, chocolate, bran, or licorice. Choices. Choices. Now I have the murder, all I have to discover is how the murderer trips up. That’s the trouble with writing. It’s one problem after another.


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Science Fiction and the Car

science ficion cars

I love writing and technology. Naturally, I’ve read a lot of science fiction over the years. Looking back, the technological hits and misses astound me. I’m talking about ‘Near Future Science Fiction.’

For example, Heinlein wrote a number of stories about the world less than a hundred years in the future. In 1940 he wrote a short story called ‘Let there be light’ in which the hero had invented a 99% efficient solar panel. Still waiting on that one, aren’t we?

Transportation seems one area science fiction writers have neglected. You can find lots of stories with spaceships, but very few with commuters. About the only form of transportation that seems to inspire stories is teleportation. I’m thinking about ‘Granny won’t knit’ by Theodore Sturgeon, ‘The Stars My Destination’ by Alfred Bester and the Known Space universe of Larry Niven.

For some reason Science Fiction writers were convinced that personal helicopters would replace cars. I agree that would solve the highway problem, but the potential for fender benders makes me shudder. Others posited antigravity sleds, helicopters without the revolving blades in effect.

However, the automobile has been pretty much ignored. Automated taxis have popped up as a sideline. The one in the original ‘Total Recall’ was amusing. The only story that I can remember that focused on future cars is ‘Code Three’ by Rick Raphael. It revolved around the lives of a couple of highway patrol men in a future where automobiles travelled on roads at speeds up to 400 MPH.

I think that the reason automobiles have been ignored, is that nobody has found anything that could be done to create an interesting story with them. Roads are another matter. Whether we are talking about ‘The Roads must Roll’ by Heinlein, or ‘Roadmarks’ by Roger Zelazny, the appeal of the road is about the journey. Since all stories are journeys of one form or another, this makes sense.

How about a story with an automated taxi cab? I can think of a great opening. The taxi pulls up to the police station, but no one gets out. A cop looks inside the cab and sees a dead man.

If I write it now, would it be science fiction or a modern mystery?

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Science Fiction Crime Stories


sf crime

I have long enjoyed the Science Fiction crime story. Perhaps my favorite one was written by Alfred Bester, “The Demolished Man”. How do you plan and commit a murder in a society that has telepathic mind readers working for the police? It’s an inverted detective story, from the criminal’s viewpoint.

George O. Smith also addressed the issue of telepathy and crime in his own way.

Probably the best argument that ever occurred for readers was the once between Isaac Asimov and John W. Campbell. Asimov thought that Science Fiction could be applied to any genre or type of novel. Campbell disagreed, saying the science fiction writer could invent “facts” in his imaginary future that the reader would not know. Asimov proved this point with “Caves of Steel” a murder mystery. Asimov went on to write a number of stories about Wendell Urth, some involving outrageous puns. This isn’t surprising from a man who belonged to a group devoted to Nero Wolfe mysteries.

Would you prefer murder mixed with magic? Then look up Lord Darcy stories, created by Randall Garrett. There ten short stories and a couple of novels with this character for you to enjoy.

I apologize right now for not naming your favorite, but I want to right a blog not a novel on the topic. There are just so many out there.

However, what got me started was the whining of a mystery writer. He was complaining that modern technology had ruined the mystery story. DNA testing made proving the killer absolute. Cell phones gave everyone a chance to call the police. Cameras and facial recognition software meant a person’s movement could be tracked absolutely.

Crime stories aren’t about technology but about human passion. Science fiction isn’t about how a society exists but what the possibilities there can be. Imagine a world where the police have drones to patrol and can incapacitate criminals with a ‘stunner’. Wait, that will probably be real before the story is published.

Philip K. Dick and William Gibson pointed the way for us. They invented new crimes for their SF stories. I’m going to go and invent some new crime, one with a twist and a bit of a spin.

The PEN controversy


PEN American has decided to give the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award. This decision has met with some blow back. Six authors have decided to protest the award by withdrawing from the PEN American Center’s annual gala on May 5.

While I knew of the horrific events of January 7 of this year, I didn’t really know the publication. After all it’s in French, a language I have ignored for the most part since I left high school. The protest caught my attention and I did a little digging.

From what I can determine, Charlie Hebdo, isn’t fearlessly uncovering plots, conspiracies, and corruption. Imagine Mad Magazine satire targeting politicians, and religions. In 1982 one of it cartoonists admitted on radio that he was anti-Semitic. He continued to work for the magazine until 2008 when some of his work drew a complaint. The magazine’s editor noted that the publication had been sued thirteen times by Catholic organizations, and seemed proud of it. One Cartoon depicted the ‘Father’, ‘Son’, and ‘Holy Spirit’ engaged in sodomy.

Charlie Hebdo isn’t the only magazine the goes for shock. In 1991, in Canada, the Frank magazine ran a satirical advertisement for a contest which invited young Tories to “Deflower Caroline Mulroney.” Her father, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, threatened physical harm to those responsible. Later he joined with several women’s groups in denouncing the ad as an incitement to rape.

In every democracy there are limits to Free Speech. “You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater.” That’s the gist of a 1919 U.S. Supreme Court written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. In 2007 the European Union approved legislation that would make denying the Holocaust punishable by jail sentences. Canada and other nations have laws against hate speech.

I’m not certain we need laws against blasphemy to keep people from printing a cartoon featuring rolls of toilet paper labeled “Bible,” “Koran,” and “Torah.” with the headline “In the shitter, all the religions”. However, the world has enough angry people striving for attention of any sort.

I condemn the murder of those people, but I wouldn’t chant ‘Je suis Charlie.’ I certainly wouldn’t buy the paper.


To see some of my short stories go to



Why read fiction?


It’s a valid question. Are there any benefits to reading fiction?

It turns out that reading fiction does have benefits. A study in the Journal ‘Science’ found that people, after reading fiction, scored better on tests measuring empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence. These are human interaction skills used when you try to read someone’s body language or guess what is on their mind.

In other words, reading fiction should be part of your preparation for the Friday night poker game.

Another study discovered that reading fiction makes you more empathetic with people. Reading nonfiction makes you less so.

Consider another study. You take one hundred university students. Sophomores are the preferred test subject. The University of Toronto has some many of them to experiment with. You give half of them eight short stories and the other half eight essays. Do you think there will be a difference when they were tested?

Those who read the fiction stories expressed greater comfort with uncertainty and chaos, a key to greater creativity. It would also help with that poker game again.

In 2007, The Chinese government held the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention. Why? They wanted to foster and improve innovation and inventiveness in its society.

The U.S. prison industry has a pretty simple algorithm that can predict the need for incarceration in fifteen years. It’s based what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds can’t read. If there was ever a case for improved reading education in grade school, this is it.

Why does reading fiction change the way people think and perceive each other? I have my theory, and I’ll bore you with it. The Cherokee tribe of Native Americans had a proverb that said “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes”. When you read a novel, you don’t walk a mile; you walk a thousand miles in the character’s shoes.

Nonfiction books hold facts and arguments. Fiction holds experiences and emotions. By reading fiction, we can pilot a space ship, or travel through the jungle. We can defeat the pirates and save the princess, or solve the crime and capture the killer. We can learn how the coward flees the battle and regrets it until he wins the ‘Red Badge of Courage’.

Small wonder fiction readers are more emphatic and more adventurous.

To see some of my short stories go to

Science Fiction Poetry


Since I enjoy poetry (I don’t write it) and enjoy Science Fiction, my research into the Hugo Wars uncovered an interesting fact. There’s no Hugo for Science Fiction poetry.

Now science fiction magazines have published poetry for almost a century now. The Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA) created its own awards, the Rhysling, to make up for this oversight. This award had been handed out continuously since 1978. If you look the award up, you’ll recognize some of the winners as authors you know.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Poetry and speculative fiction have a long association. The medieval poetry of gods and monsters hold the stories of Siegfried and Beowulf. Bryon’s Childe Harold inspired two multi-book stories, one from Gordon R. Dickson and the other from Stephen King.

This, of course, begins another of those continuous discussions of ‘What is Poetry’ with an additional twist. What makes it SF poetry?

I won’t try to answer that. I don’t want to start any flame wars. However, I think I can point to a shining example that all of the SFPA would agree with. Their award is named after a fictional character, a poet, in a Robert Heinlein story, ‘The Green Hills of Earth’. The story is a biography of “Noisy” Rhysling and includes a song with the same name as the story. Here’s a bit of it:

Out ride the sons of Terra,
Far drives the thundering jet,
Up leaps a race of Earthmen,
Out, far, and onward yet —

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth;
Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.
–Robert A Heinlein

Is it poetry? I think so. Is it SF poetry? With rockets and space flight throughout the solar system it definitely is. What gives it such power? The poem’s strength lies in the emotional impact. Heinlein manages in a few lines to capture the homesickness of every person who has left his familiar world for another.

Go and search the Internet and find more Science Fiction poetry. With English the most spoken language in the world there must be a few thousand who will like Science Fiction poetry.

To see some of my short stories go to

Hugo Wars


In a world of crowd funding, flash mobs, and internet anarchy, it feels that the current Hugo awards controversy was inevitable.

What are the Hugo Awards? Since 1953, these awards for the best Science Fiction and Fantasy published in English have been given out at the annual World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon). Hugo Award nominees and winners are chosen by supporting or attending members of Worldcon. The rules about nomination are critical to the rest of this story.

To become a supporting member requires buying a membership for forty dollars. A group known as the Sad Puppies took advantage of rules, and the low participation of readers to mount a campaign that nominated their slate of stories for the 2015.

Who are the Sad Puppies? This is a group organized by sci-fi writers Larry Correia and Brad R. Torgersen. Is it really a group? From what I’ve read this year was not the first time these two have tried to influence the nomination process. In 2014, they had some success with about seventy supporters.

What happened this year? On February 1st, 2015, Torgersen published the Sad Puppies 3 slate for this year’s Hugo Awards. On February 5th, the conservative news site Breitbart published an article about Sad Puppies. On April 4th, the Hugo Awards announced the 2015 finalists, featuring many authors and works listed on the Sad Puppies slate.

Now we get to the name calling. The Sad puppies say they wanted to draw attention to authors and creators who were suffering from an undeserved lack of attention due to the political climate in sci-fi. That’s right. This is about politics in Science Fiction.

Not the Science Fiction has been immune to politics. H.G. Wells’ novel ‘The Time Machine’ has a distinctly socialist message. Jack London’s novel ‘The Iron Heel’ chronicles the rise of an oligarchic tyranny in the United States. Who could forget ‘Animal Farm’ or ‘1984’?

Politics, race, roles of women have all been addressed in Science Fiction for decades. Not just in books either. Rod Serling often used aliens to raise an issues related to race in ‘The Twilight Zone’, and the first interracial kiss on American television was shown on an episode of Star Trek.

I remember how the war in Vietnam divided the SF community as it did the world: Heinlein supporting, and Asimov protesting. Both groups ran advertisements in the SF magazines of the time.

Personally, I don’t care if the author is black or white, man or woman. I’m interested in the fun the story gives me. I read Samuel R. Delany long before I knew he was black. And Leigh Brackett long before I knew she was a woman.

However, the issues of race and gender in Science Fiction have come out of the fiction and into our reality. As for the Hugos, it seems that the awards have entered the world of party politics, with the battle lines drawn between the left and the right, the liberals and the conservatives.

I wonder what next year will bring. Attack ads on the internet? Conventions? Will the community divide along political lines? Maybe the Hugos will implode, leaving the Nebula awards as the only ones for SF writers.

Welcome to ‘The Brave New World’.

To see some of my short stories go to

Wasting Time Researching Exotic Martial Arts


Procrastination is a writer’s tool to avoid writing. It’s so common, that we make jokes about it. Remember the one about sharpening pencils before committing words to paper? I heard of one writer that would clean her entire house to avoid writing. However, with the web and the computer there are so many other ways to avoid writing.

First I must check my email. Who knows? There could be a short story acceptance in there. After that I read the news. There could be the germ of a new idea in the stores from around the world. What could we do with a chimp that knocked down a drone?

Checking for new markets for short stories is another diversion. However, that usually leads to submitting short stories, which is really productive time. A bonus! Diverting yet productive.

My favorite way to waste time is research. What was the name of a bank in Junction City, Kansas in 1867? What metallic cartridge pistols were available after the Civil War? Can a Colt peacemaker actually shoot through a six inch think hunk of pine?

Sometimes the research can lead into different tangled little forests. I have a character for one short story that needs… Well never mind that. I needed the name of a new Martial art for the story, something exotic and off the beaten track. I didn’t want Judo, Karate, or Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

I asked google and it gave me over a million sites. Some were about exotic weapons. One site listed fictional martial arts. I just had to look at that one. However, in the end, I decided that Munchkin Fu wouldn’t do although it tempted me.

What real ones did I find? Pencak Silat, Escrima, Kuialua, Capoeira, Krav Maga, and Sambo. Yes, Sambo is a martial art. It comes from Russia.

While doing this research I looked into Military based forms of unarmed combat. Did you realize that a soldier spends less time on unarmed combat than the average civilian student of a martial art?

Consider for a moment the American Marine Corp Martial Arts program. To reach a black belt in this program requires 150 hours of instruction. At three classes a week that’s roughly a year. Compare that to Karate where you’ll need about three years to earn a black belt.

Did I mention all the YouTube bits available on the martial arts? I found demonstrations, promotions for DVD training courses, UFC fights, world championships in various skills and lots of clips from movies. If you have a few hours to spare look up a show called Fight Quest on YouTube.

Personally I’m thinking about taking Tai Chi again.


To see some of my short stories go to

All the connections

Have Gun

On the weekend I was watching an episode of “Have Gun Will Travel”, specifically Season 2 Episode 34 – Comanche. This was a half hour western television series from the 1950’s. If you want to watch it, go to YouTube where you can find all the episodes.

I’m not certain if watching a fifty year old television series says more about me or the current state of television. Stop laughing.

Now the main character on “Have Gun Will Travel” is a soldier of fortune named Paladin, who lives in San Francisco, and works all over the American west. His character is portrayed as a well-read, well-educated man, with a taste for the theatre. Usually he quotes some piece of writing during the show.

Sometimes I know the quote. However in this episode I didn’t. It ran as follows:

And when he fell in whirlwind, he went down

As when a lordly cedar, green with boughs,

Goes down with a great shout upon the hills,

And leaves a lonesome place against the sky.

Catchy isn’t it? I had to look it up. It turns out this is the last lines from a poem “Lincoln, Man of the People” by Edwin Markham who was the subject of one of my blogs earlier. I have a particular liking for another of his poems, ‘The Man with a Hoe’. I found the connection fascinating.

I decided to look up the writers for this series. There were 225 episodes, 24 written by Gene Roddenberry. Other contributors included Bruce Geller, Harry Julian Fink, Don Brinkley and Irving Wallace. This particular episode was one of three that was written by Irving Wallace. He is better known for his novels and the movies they inspired.

It’s get stranger. During WWII, Wallace served in the Frank Capra unit in Fort Fox along with Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss). So there’s only one degree of separation between Dr. Seuss and Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame.

Want some other connections? Movies from Wallace’s novels starred everyone from Paul Newman to Tom Selleck, to Jane Fonda, to Cloris Leachman. And this is another connection to me, because Tom Selleck started in ‘Three Men and a baby’ a picture I worked on as a movie extra.

For writers, the connections are many, complex and not always obvious at first sight.

To see some of my short stories go to

The Most Important Sentence


The most important sentence in any story or novel is the first one. That’s not to say a weak first sentence has always doomed a novel to ignominy. However, we live in a fast paced world where there are a thousand competitors for every minute of leisure time we have.

Should we watch TV? Go to Net Flicks for a movie? Play an online video game. Get out the Wii or the game boy? Check Facebook? Or read a story? If that story doesn’t gain the reader’s attention in the first bit, it will be tossed aside.

So what makes a great opening? It’s like the joke that ends, ‘But I know it when I see it.’ Elmore Leonard had a knack for openings. Take this one:

The war began the first Saturday in June 1931, when Mr. Baylor sent a boy up to Son Martin’s place to tell him they were coming to raid his still.

It’s one sentence, but in those few words, the author establishes the time and location of the story (June 1931 at Son Martin’s place) introduces the protagonist and the antagonist, sets the hook and raises questions in the readers’ minds. Why did Mr. Baylor send a boy up to tell Martin about the raid on his still? Why did that start the war?

Let’s look at another:

One day Karen DiCilia put a few observations together and realized her husband Frank was sleeping with a real estate woman in Boca.

In this example Leonard establishes the relationship between Karen diCilia, Frank, and the real estate woman. In other words he has introduced the protagonist, the antagonist, and the conflict. With conflict comes drama, and the fundamental question all writers want in the readers’ minds. “What happens next?”

Now one of my problems as a writer is that I like a slow start to a story. I want to set the stage so to speak. I want to show the protagonist in his/her happy place before the inciting incident burns everything to the ground. So I write it that way. Then I try to cut everything out that slows the start. I don’t always succeed.

There are more rules about what is wrong in an opening that what is right. I’ll try both. A story opening should contain the following:

  1. The setting – time and place of the story,
  2. The protagonist, and the antagonist,
  3. The source of the conflict,
  4. Indication of genre,
  5. Something original and memorable.

Consider this example:

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

It is memorable, possibly unique. It does introduce the protagonist. You see, putting all the stuff I listed into a single sentence is well-nigh impossible, so each writer weighs the combinations.

There are some rules about what shouldn’t be in the opening. They include:

  1. The weather.
  2. Nothing but description.

I know. I understand weather. Unless the weather is crucial to the story, almost a character in the story, this is a waste of words. The same with description. While we want the setting, we also want something to happen. In the three examples I’ve given something has happened. Dialogue. I’m personally not convinced about this one, but I understand that when you start with a line of dialogue you usually end up with a conversation rather than action.

Have said all of this, it’s the exceptions that make writers grind their teeth. Consider this opening for a novel that is included as one of the one hundred best opening lines:

The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.

This is why so many authors end up drinking. You get to the point where you think you know the rules and someone (in this case Samuel Beckett) changes the rules.

To see some of my short stories go to

Short Story Components

What is a short story? Seriously. If you want to laugh, look in the dictionary where they define it as “a fictional work of prose that is shorter in length than a novel.” Now that’s as useful as a trap door on a lifeboat.

When I started to write short stories, I had to discover a host of things that narrows the definition further.

Edgar Alan Poe defined a short story as one a person could read at a single sitting. I think that’s still a pretty good definition, especially in this age of eBooks and commuting. Whether the reader is on the tread mill, or the commuter train this definition has at least some connection to the his/her reality.

For length, I think the best short story definition is the one that comes from the market place. In general, a story under a thousand words is call flash fiction. At the other end, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula awards define the novelette as having a word count of between 7,500 and 17,499, inclusive. So the top end for a short story (Stephen King excepted) is about 7500 words. However, there’s a sweet spot, depending on genre.

For YA fiction, the maximum length is about 2000 words. For crime, and horror short stories the sweet spot is between four and five thousand words. Why? Readers of these genres want a more complex plot.

Let’s start with 2500 words as the ideal length for a short story. Now what does that allow an author to write?

You can break a short story down into scenes. A scene is a part of the story with one setting and one time frame. Whenever you write ‘The next day’, or ‘at the saloon’ you have created a transition from one scene to another. You can have any number of scenes in your story, but there are some constraints. If your scenes are too short your story becomes choppy. If they are too long, the pace slows. Aim for around three paragraphs, or three to five hundred words per scene.

So the story is 2500 words in length with scenes of three to five hundred words, which gives you about five to eight scenes to tell your story. This is the point where a writer can feel the brevity of the short story. You don’t have much to work with.

Now a story plot needs an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. If you are missing any of those elements, your story won’t work. So you have to fit those plot components into your story scenes.

You also need a setting, characters, conflict and a theme.

This is why writing a good short story is so tricky; you have to put the elements in without scrimping, and without running out of space.


To see some of my short stories go to


I have an entire folder on my computer filled with story fragments. Every time I start a story and can’t finish it, that folder gets another entry. I’m certain all writers have something like that. With today’s technology it’s easy to keep all those stillborn literary children, hoping that someday in the future they can be brought to life.

Today, I reviewed the pile. Oh, I corrected some typing errors. I added a sentence or two. I thought about how to use the words. The end result was zip, de nada, nothing.

Here’s an example:

“So you want him to confess. What do you want him to confess to?”   

Yep that’s it. I like it. There’s tension in that single line and a hook. Who is talking? What is the answer to the question? What will the outcome be? Yet it remains just a single line.

I’ve had this single line for a decade now, without ever turning it into a story. Part of the reason is that I write other stories. Right now I have three short stories on the go, as well as a novel. I’ll finish those short stories although one keeps trying to turn into a novella.

What’s the difference? It lies in how my mind makes stories. Now some fly by the seat of the pants and some plot out their story. I used to fly until my story ended up with the hero, alone, broke, without any memory, stuck in a park while the police and the bad guys hunted him down. Thirty thousand words and my only solution was to have him fall out of bed and wake up. (No. I didn’t.)

A successful story needs a plot from opening to final conclusion. It also needs an emotional flow to carry the reader along. When I can see the plot and the emotional element then writing the story is a blissful experience. When I can punch out a plot and define the emotional flow, I can hammer out the story. Otherwise I just look at the words and say ‘What’s next?’

Some of these fragments are ideas. Some are descriptions. Some are character sketches. At times I consider pulling a couple of fragments, chop them up and put them in the blender to create a new mash up. That doesn’t solve the problem of the missing components.

So, don’t tell me your great idea for a story, play, screen play, novel or picture book. I have my own idea pile waiting for me to strike the right spark to set one on fire.

To see some of my short stories go to



Cars in Havana


Havana makes watching cars to by an enjoyable diversion again. Yes, there are a host of American cars from the 50’s on the road. You can see a 57 Cadillac convertible. I admit to a bit of nostalgia as a Studebaker drove by.

However, despite what you might have read, these cars are not the only ones on the road. There are only 60,000 of the máquina still on the road in a country eleven million people. The Ladas continue to reign as the most populace vehicle on the island.

What else can you see? I saw Hundai and Kia, Toyota and Mistubishi. Peugots are popular. Then there are Fiat, Citroen, Volkswagon, Renault and others. Frankly, I didn’t recognize some of the manufacturers they have there.

One that I had to track down when I returned is the Geely, which is a Chinese automotive manufacturing company headquartered in Hangzhou, China. The Emgrand is another car from the same maker.

Cuba doesn’t manufacture its own cars. However, I did see a number of Geely with that maker’s emblem replaced with one that was a stylized Cuban Flag. I don’t know. Nationalism? Government contract?

I did ask about the old American cars. I wanted to know what they did for gasoline, since the vehicles of the 50’s used leaded gas. Really. At one point they put lead in gasoline as an anti-knock additive.

I was told that many of the old American cars have had their engines replaced with diesels. The price of diesel is much lower than gasoline, and the new diesel engines are much more efficient. Those old cars used to get ten miles to the gallon, or less.

The máquina will continue on the roads of Cuba, especially Havana for a few reasons. To begin with any automobile is expensive in Cuba, in part because of the import duty on new cars which runs close to 100%. A car costs almost as much as a house. Therefore having a working car is a perfect example of conspicuous consumption. On Sundays, taking a spin in the family car is a favorite afternoon recreation. The roads are just as crowded on Sunday as they are during the week in Havana.

Finally, those brightly painted and polished old American cars are used for taxis and tours. The Cubans know that tourists are fascinated by the old cars, and the Cubans know how to turn a pretty car into a tourist trimmer.

Still Cubans hope that the American embargo is rescinded. They would like to be able to order parts for these old cars from Miami. Today, they need a relative, who will carry the part. Even direct flights would be an improvement.

So why do travel writers always remark on the máquina? Well like all writers, they try to identify the unique element of the environment to catch the readers’ attention. Nowhere else in the world do people drive American cars made in the 1950’s.



To see some of my short stories go to

Turning The Moon is a Harsh Mistress into Uprising

They plan to make Robert A. Heinlein’s Book, ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ into a movie. They have a producer (Bryan Singer) and a screen writer (Marc Guggenheim) in place as of a few days ago. This isn’t the first attempt. In 2004 a screenwriter Tim Minear started a screenplay based on the novel. It was shopped around but never got off the ground.

If you haven’t read the novel, I would recommend it. It’s written in an easy style. It has enough action to keep a reader interested. The characters, while one dimensional, are interesting. It also has just a touch of sin, and paints an interesting picture of lunar colonies.

Heinlein wrote the novel in 1965, and it was first serialized in the ‘Worlds of If’ science fiction magazine. That’s where I first read it. It has a computer (not a robot) that talked, and became sentient. It had revolutionaries, and a completely new culture set on Luna.

I’ve written several stories about the moon, in part inspired by Heinlein’s attention to detail; ‘Crash’, ‘Nothing but Vacuum’, ‘No place for a Cripple’, and a few that have not yet sold.

To libertarians this book is one of the ten best in the twentieth century. Milton Friedman praised the novel as a “wonderful” book. Another element of the novel is the line marriage structure Heinlein describes in the novel. In 1966 we hadn’t heard of polyamory. There’s also the key issue that is driving the revolution, and his stark position that you can’t cheat natural laws, just because you want to. That makes Heinlein an early conservationist.

So there’s a lot in the book. Well it’s 115,000 words. So how do they plan to turn that into a 2 hour screen play of 120 pages? Obviously, they plan to cut something, but what?

Here are some hints. They plan to title the movie ‘Uprising’. Marc Guggenheim’s previous screen plays were ‘Green Lantern’ and ‘Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters’. (Before that he wrote comics – ‘Spiderman’ and ‘The Flash’. ) Bryan Singer has some excellent credits. He directed ‘The Usual Suspects’ as well the ‘X-men’ movies. So from this meager information I will predict that movie will concentrate on the revolution, and probably drop all stuff that made the book so controversial.

To see some of my short stories go to



And Nobody Noticed

US Poet Laureate Philip Levine

This is an angry blog today. Why am I angry? I’m angry at the strange silly balance in our modern culture that raises some to exalted levels who have no talent and commits to obscurity the great voices of our age.

What if I told you that on February 14th of this year a man died? This man had been appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. His awards include the following:

  • Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award,
  • Pulitzer Prize for Poetry,
  • National Book Award for Poetry,
  • Los Angeles Times Book Prize,
  • Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine,
  • Guggenheim Foundation fellowship,
  • National Book Award for Poetry,
  • National Book Critics Circle Award,
  • Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize from Poetry,
  • Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets,
  • American Academy of Arts and Letters Award,
  • Frank O’Hara Prize.

However, his passing was too insignificant for the likes of Fox News, and CNN.

Philip Levine started working in the Detroit car factories at the age of fourteen. He didn’t stay there. He finished high school and went to University for a Bachelor of Arts which he completed in 1950. Then back to the ‘Stupid’ jobs for Chevrolet and Cadillac.

He wrote poetry about working in a Detroit auto factory.

Maybe in a century or two, when the world has forgotten Leslie Gore, and E.L. James, it will remember Philip Levine, and his portraits of working class Americans will be enjoyed.

Library of Congress

To see some of my short stories go to



The Day of the Jellyfish


Let’s be honest. We all like a good story about the destruction of the world. Now some are too silly. I’m thinking of ‘The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’ and some are too depressing, like ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy, but there are loads of ones in between that are in the Goldilocks zone.

Remember John Wyndham? He hit the ball out of the park with ‘The Day of the Triffids’, ‘The Kraken Wakes’ (published in the US as ‘Out of the Deeps’) and ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’. If you read any of his stuff in school, they probably foisted one of his weaker books on you which was called ‘The Chrysalids’ (published in the US as Re-Birth).

G. Ballard destroyed the world in countless ways. So did John Christopher. For some reason the British Science Fiction authors of the fifties and sixties loved to destroy the world, with special attention to England. I guess it must have appealed to their readers.

Now a story, a real news story caught my eye, and I can’t decide if it would make a good ‘end of the world story’ or just a silly one. Jellyfish are taking over the oceans and it may be too late to stop them. Yes, jellyfish, which have no brain and are 95% water, are the next great crisis.

It turns out this isn’t a laughing matter. (Stop giggling.) The little buggers aren’t all that small. For example the Nomura jellyfish can grow to be the size of large refrigerator. In 2009 a Japanese fishing trawler capsized. Too many jelly fish in its net.

An explosive breeding of jellyfish is called a bloom. In 2000, a bloom of sea tomato jellyfish in Australia was so enormous — it stretched for more than 1,000 miles from north to south — that it was even visible from space. Let me repeat that – visible from space.

The pesky problems have clogged the water intake on Nuclear reactors on four different continents. In Northern Ireland they killed a hundred thousand farmed salmon. In the Black Sea they wiped out the fishing.

It might not be as scary as a Great White Shark, but I’ve been stung by a jelly fish and it hurts. At least it wasn’t a boxy jellyfish. This charming species which is also known at the sea wasp is widely regarded as one of the most deadly creatures on earth. They have been responsible for at least 5,568 deaths recorded since 1954.

Who feels like writing the novel? (All I want is acknowledgment for suggesting the idea.)

To see some of my short stories go to

Reading, oh Me!


If you root around on the internet you’ll find more than a few articles that decry the modern educational system and explain that today’s illiteracy is caused by abandoning the phonics method of teaching English.

Now I find these attacks interesting and humorous for a couple of reasons. When I was learning to read, my parents thought that phonics was the source of all the reading problems. They were old school. You memorized spelling, and then you knew the world. If you didn’t know a word, you used a dictionary.

Those attacking modern education like to quote a book named “Why Johnny Can’t Read” published in 1955 by Rudolph Flesch. Yes, a sixty-year-old book about reading is still making waves.

Now Rudolph Flesch has a background that proves his intelligence. Flesch was born and raised in Austria. He finished university there, studying law. He would have learned German as his milk tongue, Latin, and Greek in high school. For law, at that time, a student required a proficiency in German, Italian, Spanish, Romanian and English.

Fleeing the imminent Nazi invasion, Flesch fled to the U.S. There he became a graduate student of Columbia University, where he earned a Ph.D in English. (Pretty sharp guy.)

What started me on this topic? I just found this bit today:

Written by Mr. P. Thomas O’Dea of New Haven, Conn.:

When the English tongue we speak,

Why is “break” not rhymed with “freak”?

And the maker of a verse

Cannot cap his “horse” with “worse”?

“Beard” sounds not the same as “heard.”

“Cord” is different from “word.”

“Cow” is cow, but “low” is low.

“Shoe” is never rhymed with “foe.”

Think of “hose” and “dose” and “lose,”

And of “goose” and yet of “choose.”

Think of “comb” and “tomb” and “bomb,”

“Doll” and “roll” and “home” and “some.”

And since “pay” is rhymed with “say,”

Why not “paid” and “said,” I pray?

We have “blood” and “food” and “good.”

“Mould” is not pronounced like “could.”

Wherefore “done,” but “gone” and “lone”?

Is there any reason known?

And, in short, it seems to me,

Sounds and letters disagree.

It was printed in the Ann Landers column on July 19, 1995. However, the clipping is from sixty years earlier. As for Mr. P. Thomas O’Dea of New Haven, I can’t tell you a blessed thing.

However, for anyone wishing to explore phonetics and English there are a wide variety of sites on the Internet. Some have ten, some have forty-seven, and some have a hundred or more rules. You can even find tee shirts with the rules on the front and the back. (Do you know the thirteen rules for Silent letters? I don’t.)

I just warn you that all rules have exceptions.My favorite is one I saw a couple years ago. It goes as follows: “Dew, few, spew, flew, and stew all follow the same rule. If you think you need a lawyer to sew, then you are a phonetic reader.”


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Sugar, a short history


I love sugar. However, that is not the reason for this blog. I read all sorts of stuff, especially when sailing. Almost every marina has a book place, where voyagers can offload books that they no longer want and pick up new reading material. However, you are at the mercy of other peoples’ tastes.

I picked up a Historical Romance set in the 12th century in Great Britain. In one scene the heroine feeds her horse a lump of sugar. Are you laughing? You understand. Are you wondering what the issue is? Read on.

Today, you can pick up a pound of sugar from sugarcane in the grocery store for less than a bottle of beer. That shows how greatly the world has changed.

Sugar, as we think of it today, is the product of either sugarcane, or the sugar beet. We can ignore the sugar beet for most of history. Why? The 16th-century scientist, Olivier de Serres, discovered a process for preparing sugar syrup from the common red beet. However, since crystallized cane sugar was available and tasted better, beet sugar never caught on. The commercial manufacture of sugar from beets didn’t take hold until the early 1800’s when the British blockaded the French ruled continent. The sugar beet has one advantage. You don’t need a tropical climate to grow it. Even with this advantage, beet sugar only accounts for about 12% of all sugar production today.

So, cane sugar is king, and always (aside from the necessities of war) has been.

Guess where the sugarcane plant came from. No, not the new world. Actually, sugarcane was first grown in New Guinea about 6000 BC. The practice spread to India, and the production of crystalline sugar began about 500 BC. Ancient Sanskrit and Pali texts mention sugar. Arab traders brought sugarcane to Mesopotamia by the 10th century AD.

Crusaders brought sugar home to Europe after their campaigns in the Holy Land, where they encountered caravans carrying “sweet salt.” Crusade chronicler William of Tyre, writing in the late 12th century, described sugar as “a most precious product, very necessary for the use and health of mankind.” The first record of sugar in English is in the late 13th century.

So, before the 13th century in England, sugar was unknown, except for returning Crusaders. Imagine a delicacy that had to be imported from the Holy Land. Do you think you would feed it to a horse?

How expensive was sugar? In the fourteenth century, a pound of sugar would cost as much as thirty-six gallons of ale or a couple of sheep.

Now remember this isn’t the same quality of sugar that we buy in the store today. Early refining methods involved grinding or pounding the cane and then boiling down the juice. The result looked like gravel. The Sanskrit word for “sugar” (sharkara) also means “gravel” or “sand.”

Then Columbus discovered America, and sugar production moved to the new world. Approximately 3,000 sugar mills were built before 1550 in the New World. The Spanish had the gold, but Portugal had Brazil and its sugarcane plantations.

The French and the British followed. For the British sugar formed one side of the triangle trade of New World raw materials, along with European manufactured goods, and African slaves. Sugar (often in the form of molasses) was shipped from the Caribbean to Europe or New England, where it was distilled into rum.

France found its sugarcane islands so valuable that it effectively traded its portion of Canada, famously dubbed “a few acres of snow,” to Britain for their return of Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia at the end of the Seven Years’ War. (Shush. Don’t tell the Quebeckers.)

Sugar and the European demand for it fueled the plantations. Those needed slaves, so the sweet stuff financed slavery in the Caribbean and South America. New England abolitionists tried to fight sugar from cane with the sugar beet. The “Beet Sugar Society of Philadelphia” was founded in 1836 by those who opposed the slavery on the sugar plantations.

At the same time, sugar began to work its way into every aspect of the cooking of Europe. As the price dropped, sugar changed deserts. It sweetened jams and marmalades. It even sweetened tea.

What we eat and drink today is much different from what people in the actual historical settings had. Sometimes describing an everyday meal can be a trap for the Historical Author.

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Grace Darling


Grace Darling was an English lighthouse keeper’s daughter, famed for participating in the rescue of survivors from the shipwrecked Forfarshire in 1838. In the early hours of 7 September 1838, Darling spotted survivors on Big Harcar, a nearby low rocky island. She and her father William determined that the weather was too rough for the lifeboat to put out from Seahouses (then North Sunderland). They took a rowing boat (a 21 foot, 4-man Northumberland coble) on a long route that kept to the lee side of the islands, a distance of nearly a mile. Darling kept the coble steady in the water while her father helped four men and the lone surviving woman, Mrs. Dawson, into the boat.

Darling became a celebrity. Gifts including fifty pounds from Queen Victoria amounted to seven-hundred pounds. Painters flocked to her island to capture her image. Marriage proposals arrived with every mail.

However, the story doesn’t have a happy ending. Grace Darling died of tuberculosis in October 1842, at the age of twenty-six.

And as you might suspect, there’s a poem in the works. The question was should I include the one by Wordsworth or by Swinburne? You read and decide.



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The boy stood on the Burning deck

The Explosion of the Orient by English painter George Arnald

I wrote a blog about parlor poetry a while ago, and thought about revisiting the subject. The poem in question is Casabianca. Don’t know it? Well it was a staple of elementary school readers in the United Kingdom and the United States over a period of about a century spanning, roughly, the 1850s through the 1950s.

More than that. Whether you read Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, or Ian Fleming’s ‘Moonraker’ you’ll find references to it. In film, look for it in ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, or ‘The Unit’ and others.

The poem by Felicia Heman, celebrates an event during the Battle of the Nile in 1798 aboard the French ship Orient.

Here is the complete poem.

The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
Shone round him o’er the dead.

Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though child-like form.

The flames rolled onhe would not go
Without his Father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.

He called aloud‘say, Father, say
If yet my task is done?’
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.

‘Speak, father!’ once again he cried,
‘If I may yet be gone!’
And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames rolled on.

Upon his brow he felt their breath,
And in his waving hair,
And looked from that lone post of death
In still yet brave despair.

And shouted but once more aloud,
‘My father! must I stay?’
While o’er him fast, through sail and shroud,
The wreathing fires made way.

They wrapt the ship in splendour wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And streamed above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.

There came a burst of thunder sound
The boyoh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea!

With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,
That well had borne their part
But the noblest thing which perished there
Was that young faithful heart.

The young son, Giocante, of Commander Louis de Casabianca remained at his post. His name would have been forgotten, but for this poem.

Whenever you doubt the power of words and poems, just utter the first line of this poem and see who with you knows some more of it.

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Hope for Lost Works of Greek and Roman Times

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79, The scrolls of Herculaneum were blasted by volcanic gas hotter than 300C. The scrolls still exist today, but are essentially ashes that haven’t fallen apart. How Many? The best count that I have found is 1,785. However, there are still 2,800 m² left to be excavated, so there could be more scrolls, many more.

Since their discovery this scrolls have been a source temptation and a source of anguish. What do they contain? We don’t know. To unroll the scroll is to destroy it. The riches trapped in the scrolls have been locked in their condition until most recently.

Using a 3D X-ray imaging technique Scientists this they may be able to read the scrolls without rolling them. Dr Vito Mocella from the National Research Council’s Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems (CNR-IMM) in Naples, Italy, has identified a handful of Greek letters within a rolled-up scroll for the very first time.

The technique doesn’t actually read the scroll it reads the difference in thickness caused by the dried ink on the papyrus. It reads the thickness of the ink, not the ink itself. It’s difficult because the Papyrus isn’t perfectly flat. Imperfections can disguise vertical and horizontal strokes, so letter with curved lines are easiest to detect.

With over seventeen hundred scrolls it is possible that some lost works of literature may be recovered. There is some speculation that the villa that housed the scrolls was owned by Father-in-law of Julies Caesar. It is believed that the library might have been collected and selected by Piso’s family friend and client, the Epicurean Philodemus of Gadara.

I can speculate. Actually, anyone can. If this was Julius Caesar’s Father-in-law, we can hope to find the following works by the famous Roman:

  • Anticatonis Libri II (only fragments survived)
  • Carmina et prolusiones (only fragments survived)
  • De analogia libri II ad M. Tullium Ciceronem
  • De astris liber
  • Dicta collectanea (“collected sayings”, also known by the Greek title άποφθέγματα)
  • Letters (only fragments survived)
  • Iter (only one fragment survived)
  • Laudes Herculis
  • Libri auspiciorum (“books of auspices”, also known as Auguralia)
  • Oedipus
  • possibly some early love poems

By Cicero:

  • Four tragedies in the Greek style: Tiroas, Erigones, Electra, and one other.
  • Hortensius, a dialogue also known as “On Philosophy”.
  • Consolatio, written to soothe his own sadness at the death of his daughter Tullia Ciceronis

By Homer:

  • The Odyssey mentions the blind singer Demodocus performing a poem recounting the otherwise unknown “Quarrel of Odysseus and Achilles”, which might have been an actual work that did not survive.
  • The sequel to the Odyssey?

By Livy:

  • 107 of the 142 books of Ab Urbe Condita, a history of Rome

By Ovid:

  • Medea, of which only two fragments survive.

Then there are the lost works that might, just might show up, but really don’t fit with a Roman library. The lost books of the bible for example, or the lost epistle of Paul.

We just don’t know what the library contains. However, today we have more hope of its recovery than before.

Yes, works can be lost and recovered. The most famous case is the Epic of Gilgamesh, dating from the Third Dynasty of Ur (circa 2100 BC).


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Alfred and the Cakes

Alfred the Great. Ever heard of him?

Alfred was the King of Wessex (part of today’s England) from 871 to 899. Since he was the youngest of five sons of king Æthelwulf, there was little expectation that he would wear the crown and so he was sent to Rome to stay with Pope Leo IV for three years. He would almost certainly have received the education and tutoring appropriate to his station, but Alfred was never more than semi-literate according to all histories.

Despite the fact that he could not read, Alfred had a prodigious memory. As a child Alfred won a prize of a volume of poetry in Saxon, offered by his mother to the first of her children able to memorize it. Later in life he was reputed to be able to memorize complete books that were read to him. (Was he dyslexic?)

Alfred also suffered from a mysterious malady. Alfred’s illness continued, on and off, for twenty years. One of his three older brothers, King Athelbald also died of some similar illness, too, and even Alfred’s grandson, King Edred, suffered from a similar ailment. Modern doctors suggest it could have been Crohn’s disease.

Now at this time, Wessex was under constant attack from Viking raiders. An army of Danes landed in East Anglia with the intent of conquering the four kingdoms that constituted Anglo-Saxon England in 865. They conquered Northumbria and East Anglia. In 870 the Vikings turned their attention to Wessex.

By this point, three of Alfred’s brothers had died, two while wearing the crown. His brother Æthelred wore the crown. Alfred? Bishop Asser applied to Alfred the unique title of “secundarius” making his the recognized successor. As such, Alfred spent the next year in battle, nine engagements. Alfred was about twenty-two years old.

When his brother died, Alfred became king. Alfred probably paid the Danes gold to buy a peace that lasted five years. Then a new leader, Guthrum, led the Danes against Wessex once more. In January 878, the Danes attacked a royal stronghold where Alfred had been staying over Christmas. King Alfred with a little band made his way by the woods into the marshes of Somerset.

Now to the story of the burnt cakes.


Separated in the wilderness from his friends and companions, Alfred stumbled onto the cottage of a cowherd, where he asked for shelter. The man’s wife, a woman known for the sharpness of her tongue, did not recognize the king, but let him enter. As he stood by the fire, trying to warm himself, she told him to watch the barley cakes she was baking while she milked the cows.

However, Alfred soon forgot the cakes, deep in thoughts of his defeat and the defense of his kingdom. When the woman returned, she found the cakes burnt. Incensed she berated him. When he said he had forgotten to watch them she said, “Men! When you saw the cakes burning, why were you too lazy to turn them? For you are glad enough to eat them when they are all hot!”

My father insisted there was a moral to this story which he put roughly this way. Do all things that come to your hand well, no matter what.

After this.

Between 6 and 12 May AD 878, Alfred won the Battle of Edington. He then pursued the Danes to their stronghold at Chippenham and starved them into submission. One of the terms of the surrender was that Guthrum convert to Christianity.

Alfred died on 26 October 899. During the last twenty years of his life, he had to contend with Danish raids. In addition to this he reorganized the military, the tax system, established a navy, revised the legal system and established a court school. Alfred proposed that primary education be taught in English. He also established a program to translate books deemed worthy from Latin to English.


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It Really is a Wonderful Life

Today, December 20, was the release date for Frank Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in 1946. If you haven’t seen this picture, do so. The film has been in the public domain since the 1970’s.

Let’s go to the beginning. In 1939 Philip Van Doren Stern awoke from a dream that was inspired by Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’. He wrote ‘The Greatest Gift’ and rewrote it and played with the 4100 word story until 1943 without success. He couldn’t find a publisher. So, in frustration, he printed two hundred booklets and sent them out as Christmas cards that year.

Smart move. RKO pictures thought the story would be a perfect vehicle for Cary Grant. The actor thought so as well. They bought the movie rights from Stern for ten thousand dollars. (That would have been five years’ salary for a policeman at the time.) RKO commissioned a screen play. Then another screen play and then a third one. After that they unloaded the entire project on a director named Frank Capra.

Frank Capra was a well known and very capable director. His films before the war had been nominated for forty academy awards and had won eleven. After Pearl Harbor, at the age of forty-four, Capra enlisted as a major in the United States Army.

When the war ended, Capra and two other directors founded Liberty Films. Capra bought the movie rights to ‘The Greatest Gift’ and hired writers to create another screen play. This is the only time he took a writing credit for one of his films. He also renamed the picture to its present title.

Jimmy Stewart was also back from the war. He had worked with Capra before. Jean Arthur was considered for the role of Mary Hatch but had prior commitments so Donna Reed got the part.

Filming began on April 15, 1946, and ended on July 27, 1946. It took exactly ninety days as Capra had predicted.

The film was originally slotted for release in 1947, but RKO’s Christmas release of ‘Sinbad the Sailor’ was delayed by production problems. ‘It’s a Wonderul Life’ was rushed into the theatres to take its place.

That’s where the story of the film turned sour. The critics didn’t like it. The movie was a financial failure. The film didn’t recoup its production costs. Liberty Films was sold to Paramount Pictures in May 1947.


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A Christmas Carol was published on Dec 19, 1843

Today, December 19th was the publication date for A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Anyone who hasn’t read the story, or seen the movie (there are at least six versions.) should go to Gutenberg and get a copy. It’s in the Public Domain.

Dickens was unhappy with the amount it earned him. Dickens declined a lump-sum payment for the tale, chose a percentage of the profits in hopes of making more money thereby, and published the work at his own expense. (Tell that to people who look down at self-published books.)

The first run of 6,000 copies sold out by Christmas Eve and the book continued to sell well into the new year. That was at a price of five shillings, a considerable sum.

In 1844 Parley’s Illuminated Library printed a pirated edition. Dickens sued and won his case. However, the book thieves declared bankruptcy and never paid.

Dickens, ever a man who knew the value of publicity and money, began to give readings of the tale in 1853. His last reading was in March 1870, three months before he died.

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Crossing the Lake and other Stories is now available


The ebook is now available on Kindle and on Smashwords.  eight stories for only  $1.99.

These are historical stories.

Crossing the Lake

In 1837, in Upper Canada, The failure of a rebellion left its leaders no choice but to flee.

A Debt of Honor

In 1920 in County Cork, the bitter war between the IRA and the Black and Tans spilled onto Patrick’s farm. Patrick was a pacifist but not a coward.

Number 21 Rue le Sueur

In Paris after the war, an American Colonel questions a Gestapo agent about the events at 21 Rue le Sueur.

The Theater Conundrum

In January 1597 William Shakespeare has a problem. The lease on the Blackfrairs is running out and he doesn’t have any alternative.

Shirley Winters

During the Blitz, a young woman with a secret drives an ambulance through the night under blackout.

The Duel

Vienna after the WWI is a romantic fairyland and the best place to be is at the Sophina Salon to flirt and dance the waltz and fight a duel.

Mother of a People

She never bore a child but became the mother of a people, the wearers of the blue veil.

Attack Along the Road

In May 1940, a SU87 strafed the civilians fleeing on the road and brought the war home to Madeline.


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In Honor of Black Friday

I’m giving away a short stoy as an Ebook.

Use this coupon code LU87Z.

A short story.

When Hell’s in Session in Abilene, the brothers of the trail have to take care of each other.

In the summer of 1869, the cattle herds came north from Texas to Abilene, the end of the trail. At that time, no more lawless town existed. The Topeka Commonwealth paper declared, “At this writing Hell is now in session in Abilene.”



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The Horse Thief and Other Short Stories is now on Amazon

My first Ebook has been published on Amazon. It’s a Kindle ebook, containing six short stories of a Western theme.

This is a bit of an experiment for me. Why this approach? Secondary rights for short stories don’t have much of a market (unless you’re a Stephen King) so I found trying to place the stories a second time was taking more time than it was worth. Believe me, submitting a story to a magazine or collection takes time.

So I gathered my westerns into a collection and put them out as an ebook. Now I like Westerns. However, the market for Westerns is almost as bad as it is for short stories.

To see The Horse Thief and other short stories on Amazon just go to:

The Horse Thief and Other Short Stories



William Shakespeare and his Time

These things you might not know about Shakespeare and his times.

The theaters were closed during lent. That gave Shakespeare a forty day break from acting and managing the company of actors.

Shakespeare was married at eighteen to a pregnant Anne Hathaway who was eight years his senior.

Love’s Labors won was written before 1598 and published by 1603, but no copies are known to have survived.

William Kempe specialized in comic roles. He was one of the original players in early dramas by William Shakespeare, and often the comic roles were written specifically for him.

Shakespeare’s play-write contemporaries were a wild bunch. Ben Johnson was arrested for killing a fellow actor named Gabriel Spencer in a duel. Thomas Kyd was arrested and tortured into giving evidence against Christopher Marlowe. Christopher Marlowe murdered in a lodging place in Deptford. It is believed that he was in a meeting with three Government agents, and that they were paid assassins.

Shakespeare did not invent the plots of his plays. Every wonder why so many of his comedies were set in Italy? He took his plots from stories by Italian writers such as Giovanni Boccaccio.

Shakespeare was commanded to write The Merry Wives of Windsor by Queen Elizabeth, who wanted to see “Falstaff in love”. However, this story was first recorded one hundred years later.

One of Shakespeare’s relatives on his mother’s side, William Arden, was arrested for plotting against Queen Elizabeth I, imprisoned in the Tower of London and executed.

Although it was illegal to be a Catholic in Shakespeare’s lifetime, the Anglican Archdeacon, Richard Davies of Lichfield, who had known him wrote some time after Shakespeare’s death that he had been a Catholic.

Shakespeare never actually published any of his plays.

Between 1592 and 1594, all the theaters in London were closed because of the plague. Shakespeare used the time to write poetry.

I’ve written a short story called The Theater Conundrum which was published in Tales of Old.

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The Land of Poets and Rebels

Eire, Ireland. It has been the land of poets and rebels for more than a thousand years. Perhaps that is the reason that every generation has had its rebel songs. I want to talk about one such song, “My Dark Rosaleen”. You might know the words. It begins:

O MY Dark Rosaleen,
Do not sigh, do not weep!
The priests are on the ocean green,
They march along the deep.
There’s wine from the royal Pope,
Upon the ocean green;
And Spanish ale shall give you hope,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
For the complete text, go here.

Or you might remember hearing someone singing it. Here’s John McCormick:

Like most Irish I know the song. My father would sing it, along with a raft of others. Then I discovered the poem.
James Clarence Mangan wrote the poem which was published in The Nation in 1846. Actually, this was one of three translations of an older poem from Gaelic to English.

1846 was a beginning of the Great Famine that would see the sons and daughters of Erin leave or die in numbers beyond imagining. During the famine approximately one million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%.

Although the potato crop failed, the country was still producing and exporting more than enough grain crops to feed the population. Records show during the period Ireland was exporting approximately thirty to fifty shiploads per day of food produce.

The 1690 Penal laws were still in effect. To speak of rebellion would bring death. The memory of the rebellions of 1798 and 1803 remained in the minds of the ruled and the rulers.

Mangan’s poem is a love song, a love song to the country that was not a nation. In this he was tapping into an older Gaelic poem ‘Róisín Dubh’.

Rosaleen translates as little Rose. The song is named after Róisín Dubh, probably one of the daughters of Hugh O’Neill, earl of Tyrone in the late 16th Century. The song is reputed to have originated in the camps of Red Hugh O’Donnell (1572 – 10 September 1602). He led a rebellion against the English from 1593 to 1603 which has been called the Nine Years War.

A more recent translation of this poem was created by Pádraig Pearse. He was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916 and died before a firing squad on May 3, 1916. You can find that translation here:

So the song to the little dark Rose spans three hundred years and, two languages. At one end is Red Hugh O’Donnell, and on the other is Pádraig Pearse.

To hear the original in Gaelic:

I like Westerns

I like westerns.  I watch the movies and I read the books. My problem is that so few of today’s westerns fit my sense of what a western should be.

A western story is generally seen as a story taking place west of the Mississippi between 1800 and 1900. The genre began with the “penny dreadfuls” in/after 1860 in the United States. Easterners want to know about the west, perhaps spurred on by Horace Greeley’s message: “Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”

Certainly these early books were cheaply sold, cheaply printed, and terribly written. However, the subject matter was pulled from the lives of people such as Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickok, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp (who was still alive at the time) and Billy the Kid.

Buffalo Bill was a combination of Indian scout, Pony Express rider, soldier, buffalo hunter and showman. For example; during the 1873–1874 winter season Cody  starred with “Wild Bill” Hickok in a play called Scouts of the Plains in Chicago. Cody stayed in show business. Hickok returned west.

Perhaps some easterners thought these books were factual. Certainly the Journals of Lewis and Clarke by Meriwether Lewis and other books/diaries of early explorers sold well to people planning to travel west.

The publication of Owen Wister’s The Virginian in 1902 and especially Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage in 1912 elevated the Western into popular reading. Have you read The Ox-Bow Incident (1940) by Walter van Tilburg Clark, The Big Sky (1947) and The Way West (1949) by A.B. Guthrie, Jr., and Shane (1949) by Jack Schaefer?

I started with Louis L’Amour, Max Brand, Loren D. Estleman and Elmore Leonard. These were the Westerns of the 1940’s through the 60’s.  Available in paperback books, they were cheap, and usually short. A western back then was fifty thousand words, and concerned with one character and sometimes just one incident.

In structure Western stories were concerned with fundamental and simple issues. The hero was a moral creature, relying on his own skill and courage to achieve his goal. The stories portrayed men creating something of their own principally through their hard work.

After the Civil War, many men traveled west looking for a new start, where they found free land and open spaces. They tried to make their fortune in mining or cattle. Women came west as well looking for husbands, where there were ten men for every woman.

In many respect the Western story is the American morality play. As American has changed over the years, so has the play.

That’s why I write them too. They are fun. Sometimes it’s the story of men pushing a herd north to the rail head, of a woman looking for an escape from her loneliness.

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On this Day on April 27, which just happens to be today

This is the day that Ralph Waldo Emerson  was born. It’s also the birth for Carlos Castaneda,  but we’ll forget that. OK?

Actually it wasn’t a co-incidence.  I need inspiration and that popped up.

I’m not going to go into his biography,  his importance, his essays. That you can find it if you are interested.

Instead I’m going to give you some quotes:

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”

“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.”

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”

“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”

OK. I’m going to stop there. There are so many, and less is better than more.

Still I can’t help wondering. Imagine Emerson walking through the woods, thinking these great thought. He trips over a root, and hits the ground. Does he say “Oh, shit!”

Sorry, but I keep wondering about that.

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