Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lucky vs. Unlucky Truck?

Back in 1990 I purchased a brand new Ford Ranger. For the vast majority of my ownership it was parked out in front of our home—without incident.

In 2007, I replaced the Ranger with a new Chevy Colorado. This past spring, within two months, the truck was struck twice. Once when a fellow was looking into the setting sun and swiped the side of the truck, doing far more damage to his compact vehicle than to the pickup truck. A second incident occurred when a school bus that had been in a substantial collision was being towed down the street struck the Colorado. With the first collision, a local police officer witnessed the accident. A following driver witnessed the bus strike the Colorado’s side mirror, shattering it, and informed me. Thus, nothing for repairs came out of my pocket.

To add to the Colorado’s string of hits, my wife took my vehicle to work and one of her coworkers did it a smidgen of damage while parking next to it.

Now, just like my Ranger, the Colorado has proven to be reliable, but it seems to lack luck—or maybe attract bad luck? Heck, you’d think red would make the vehicle easier to spot than green and help it avoid being struck.

Some writers, I think, begin to feel that a story or novel they’ve written and submitted is a bit unlucky, much like one might say my Colorado is.

I had a short story that had twice been accepted for publication. Both of the magazines that accepted it for publication had long track records—years of continuous publication. Yet, they closed their doors prior to the story coming to print. Another market closed while the story was sitting in the slush pile, and with yet another market the story languished after acceptance for well over a year before I pulled it. The story finally did find a market (Fear and Trembling) that not only accepted it but published it.

The story in question, “The Scene of My Second Murder,” was the first short story I wrote for publication. If I’d have considered it ‘unlucky’ and stopped submitting it, the story never would have been published. If I’d have linked my short story writing to the line of dead end results “The Scene of My Second Murder” encountered, I’d have ceased my short story writing efforts and missed out on those successes to date.

So I’m sticking with my Colorado, just like I stuck with “The Scene of My Second Murder.”

The situation reminds me of a quote from the late 70s novelization of Star Wars where Yoda explained to Luke and Han Solo: “In my experience there is no such thing as luck. Only highly favorable adjustments of multiple factors to incline events in one’s favor.”

Even considering Yoda’s observation, I’d say there is a bit of luck involved in an author successfully finding a publisher for his story(s) and novel(s). But I also believe that it takes effort in writing a quality work, and being professional and persistent in submitting it to appropriate markets for as long as it takes.

So, no, my Colorado isn’t an unlucky vehicle. It just ran into a short string of unfavorable adjustments of multiple factors that inclined events against its favor.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fred Saberhagen's Books of Swords

The Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

The entire Swords series is comprised of the first trilogy (which stands on its own) and then individual books that carry the story further, each standing on its own but best read as part of the series. Especially notable is that Saberhagen's series of Lost Swords doesn't read as tired and worn out after the first three novels.

The Book of Swords trilogy tells the story of the twelve god-forged swords (each with unique powers) distributed to mortals for a 'great game’ the gods intend to play. Needless to say there are some unforeseen consequences.

The eight Lost Swords books tell the stories of the Swords of Power after the initial trilogy’s climactic battle.

What kept me reading was the fact that the series is filled with interesting characters, including some of the Greek gods themselves, each with lives and ambitions that often are at crossed paths.

To give a flavor for the books, I've included the The Song of Swords below (which is an integral thread woven into the fabric of the novels):

Who holds Coinspinner knows good odds,
Whichever move he make,
But the Sword of Chance, to please the gods,
Slips from him like a snake.

The Sword of Justice balances the pans
Of right and wrong, and foul and fair,
Eye for an eye, Doomgiver scans
The fate of all folk everywhere.

Dragonslicer, Dragonslicer, how d'you slay?
Reaching for the heart in behind the scales,
Dragonslicer, Dragonslicer, where do you stay?
In the belly of the giant that my Blade impales.

Farslayer howls across the world
For thy heart! For thy heart! who hast wronged me,
Vengeance is his who casts the Blade,
Yet he will, in the end, no triumph see.

Whose flesh the Sword of Mercy hurts has drawn no breath,
Whose soul its heals has wandered in the night,
Has paid the summing of all debts in death,
Has turned to see returning light.

The Mindsword spun in the dawn's grey light,
And men and demons knelt down before,
The Mindsword flashed in the midday bright,
Gods joined the dance, and the march to war,
It spun in the twilight dim as well,
And gods and men marched off to hell.

I shatter Swords and splinter spears,
None stands to Shieldbreaker;
My point's the fount of orphan's tears,
My edge the widowmaker.

The Sword of Stealth is given
To one lonely and despised;
Sightblinder's gifts: his eyes are keen,
His nature is disguised.

The Tyrant's Blade hath no blood spilled
But doth the spirit carve,
Soulcutter hath no body killed,
But many left to starve.

The Sword of Siege struck a hammer's blow
With a crash, and a smash, and a tumbled wall,
Stonecutter laid a castle low
With a groan, and a roar, and a tower's fall.

Long roads the Sword of Fury makes,
Hard walls it builds around the soft,
The fighter who Townsaver takes
Can bid farewell to home and croft.

Who holds Wayfinder finds good roads,
Its master's step is brisk;
The Sword of Wisdom lightens loads
But adds unto their risk.

As indicated, the song’s lyrics are woven into the plot lines, adding depth and texture. Beyond what the song's words indicate, the fact that the Mindsword’s stanza is the only one with six lines, or the fact that some swords have two names and others do not, hint as to the direction struggles and conflicts will take as they emerge.

Of great issue for the characters in the story (and debated among readers) is which sword is more powerful, or at least most useful to achieve one's objectives. And to add interest, beyond the hints in the Song of Swords, their strengths and weaknesses are revealed within the action of the storyline.

A listing for the books in the series are:
The First Book of Swords
The Second Book of Swords
The Third Book of Swords
The First Book of Lost Swords: Woundhealer's Story
The Second Book of Lost Swords: Sightblinder's Story
The Third Book of Lost Swords: Stonecutter's Story
The Fourth Book of Lost Swords: Farslayer's Story
The Fifth Book of Lost Swords: Coinspinner's Story
The Sixth Book of Lost Swords: The Mindsword's Story
The Seventh Book of Lost Swords: Wayfinder's Story
The Last Book of Swords: Shieldbreaker's Story

Since publication initial, the books have been combined into three volumes (One for the original Book of Swords trilogy and two for the Lost Swords books). Most are still in print, but I’ve often found them (including the individual mass market paperbacks) available in most used book stores.

If you read the Swords books and still have a hunger for the series, look into The Empire of the East (originally three books: Black Mountains, Broken Lands and Changing Earth) which is set in the same universe as the Swords books, but long before the swords are forged. It gives an explanation to some of the gods, and the development into the gods of the Greek pantheon.

On a final note, as a writer I appreciate the world and characters that Fred Saberhagen created in his Swords series. The way the various parts are developed, from the characters, kingdoms, conflicts, and historical backdrop to the swords themselves, is masterfully accomplished within the context of the overall story arc.

If you're a fan of fantasy and looking for a good set of reads, Saberhagen's Swords books might be just what you've been looking for.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Local Adventure: The Ohio Caverns

Often one doesn’t need to travel far to find interesting little adventures. One that’s not too far away from where I live is The Ohio Caverns.

It’s a neat little tour that takes just under an hour. Since it’s underground, any time of the year is perfect. I took my two daughters one afternoon a few weeks back. It was the first time for my youngest, and both had a great time.

Don’t hesitate to look around where you live and uncover those great little adventures. Oh, and for the writers out there, great fodder for ideas and settings.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Statistics including Total Words Published

Statistics. Some people are more numbers-driven than others, and this includes writers. I’m one of those that closely tracks my ‘writing numbers.’

Tracking is important. It’s important to keep track of submissions—what was sent to which market, when and the response, including date. Nothing fancy, just a necessary method to keep track of multiple articles and fiction pieces that are sometimes out there awaiting a decision for months and maybe even years.

I’ll get back to some of my statistics as far as submission, rejections, and acceptances in future posts. But for right now I’ll share one of the most basic stats I track: Number of Words Written vs. the Number of Words Accepted for Publication.

As of today:
Total Words Accepted for Publication: 183,200
Total Words Written for Publication: 391,100
Success Rate: 46.8%

A respectable success rate, but I’m shooting for 100%. Currently, I have all but one completed piece out on submission. The single idle piece is an article on turtles titled The Turtle Road Show. The problem is that the number of markets for articles with such content is limited. Still, my goal is to find a home for that article and every other work I complete.

Speaking of my goal with respect to this tracking effort: One million words published. It’ll be more than a few years before I'll have written a million words intended for publication (articles, short stories, novels) and certainly much longer, I suspect, before having a million words published. Maybe it's silly, but it’s a goal I’m shooting for.

And what happens if I reach 1,000,000 words? I’ll probably strive to double it.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Book Review: Street Empathy

Street: Empathy
by Ryan A. Span
Gryphonwood Press (February 2008)

Street: Empathy is a science fiction (cyberpunk) novel that is both fast-paced and action-packed. It follows Gina, a person who sells her mind-reading services to any individual or corporate representative who wants them, much like a prostitute of today. The main drawback is the inevitable result of using the drug which allows one to read the minds of others. Eventual insanity.

A mysterious deal gone bad rockets Gina into a deadly cat and mouse game, one where she doesn’t know the stakes or understand the rules—other than getting caught is a bad thing. Only her wits, quick learning and a bit of luck keeps her one step ahead of the bad guys (sometimes), all the while she strives to figure out exactly who involved is her friend, enemy, or simply using her.

The world and its depth Ryan Span created to tell Gina’s story holds together well, avoiding the inconsistencies (or at least questionable logic) one sometimes encounters when reading science fiction novels containing future dystopian societies.

What I liked:
+ The protagonist Gina is a likeable character that I could root for to succeed, or at least survive.

+ Supporting characters (both main and bit part) that added to the tale, each with their own mysterious past and individual goals that don’t always mesh with Gina’s.

+ The twists and turns the plot took—things often didn’t go right for Gina. Sometimes they went very, very wrong.

+ The passing reference to Looney Tunes’ Marvin the Martian.

What I disliked:
- The language, while in character, can at times be pretty rough (Mainly a lot of F bombs).

Beyond the occasional cursing, I only came across one scene in the novel where I couldn’t visualize the action. That shouldn’t be enough to deter any reader from picking up a copy of Street: Empathy and enjoying the read. Plus, one could chalk up any concerns to my biases and perception (or lack there of).

On a final note, Street: Empathy was originally a serialized novel, still online, so you can check it out at to see if it’s something you really like. And, you can get into the second novel as it’s being written.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Research, Fiction and Daylilies

Sometimes when researching for a novel or short story, little things like the life cycle of a certain type of plant becomes important. Where and under what conditions does the plant thrive? When does it flower and what is its root structure like?

Such information can be found on the internet, or at the local library, but usually folks in the field are the best source. It is much easier to ask an expert 'what if' questions and get answers as compared to struggling with what can be found in a textbook or on a website. Plus, one question's answer can lead to other and another--and with the expert on hand, the answers are right there.

For a fantasy short story I've been plotting out, I needed some sort of flowering plant to play a part. I recalled a co-worker (Julie Roeth) who raises daylilies on her farm. I knew a small amount about daylilies, and felt they may be just what I needed.

So a few initial questions resulted in an invitation to visit and see the daylilies in bloom. Happily it turned out to be a visit where my daughters got some hands-on experience and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon spent with my co-worker. (She knows who she is and I can't thank her enough)

People enjoy sharing their knowledge and insights, especially if asked. And the expert doesn't have to be a family member, friend, or co-worker. Have an insect question? There might be an entomologist at the local university who would know the answer, or could direct you to someone who does. What better way to insure depth and accuracy in one's stories?

Needless to say, common courtesy rules apply, especially in accommodating the expert's schedule.

Maybe I'll manage to finish that story in which the daylilies play a small part. And if it gets published, I'll let the readers here (and the expert in person) know.