Thursday, November 30, 2006

Well this is just nuts. It's November. It's the END of November and I just had to bump my AC on for a while. It's a muggy warm evening in Georgia, folks and in case I didn't make it clear, it's NOVEMBER. Temperatures this year have been unseasonably warm even for the sunny south but this is just silly.
Weather Channel's website says cooler temperatures for the weekend. We'll see.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thinking about Dave Cockrum

Back in late 2000 I was in the process of accumulating original artwork from various comic book artists who were accepting commissions. I had a huge painting by Mike Grell, several black and white pieces from Thomas Yeates, and I was looking for someone to do an illustration of Edgar Rice Burroughs' hero John Carter and Carter's wife, the Incomparable Deja Thoris. I found that Dave Cockrum, artist and co-creator of the new X-Men, was accepting commissions through his website. Cockrum had done the inking on one of my favorite renditions of John Carter over Gil Kane's pencils for the Marvel Comics John Carter comic. I'd also seen solo illustrations Cockrum had done of Carter and Deja Thoris. He seemed the man for the job.
I contacted Cockrum and we agreed upon a price of $250 bucks. I dutifully sent him a check and he said I'd have the drawing in a couple of months. I'd had good turnaround time on the commissions from Grell and Yeates, so that seemed reasonable.
Four months passed and no drawing. I emailed Cockrum to ask what was up. He assured me that he was just a little behind on commissions and the drawing would be forthcoming. I said fine and went about my business. Another four months went by. I again emailed Cockrum.
Cockrum then told me that he was having some health problems and that he had been hospitalized for several weeks. I told him I could see where that would put him behind, but I did think that he could have contacted me and told me what was wrong. He agreed but again assured me the drawing would be done post haste.
Four more months passed. It had been a year since I had commissioned the artwork and I emailed Cockrum yet again and asked him to return my money if he didn't plan on doing the drawing. This time his email said that he had been in the hospital two more times, but he really thought he could get the drawing done if I would just be patient. I said okay.
A little later I began to hear reports of he seriousness of Cockrum's health problems through the fan press. He apparently really was in pretty bad shape and there was talk of a benefit comic to help pay his medical bills. More info trickled in. Cockrum had become diabetic and his eyesight was failing. I saw a few drawings he had done and I realized that I was never going to see my John Carter drawing and that Cockrum was obviously short of cash.
I sent one more email.
I basically said, don't worry about the drawing and don't worry about the money. You're obviously having a hard time so just consider the cash a gift for a lot of years of good comic books. You won't hear from me again. No hard feelings at all and consider all obligations canceled. He emailed back saying his eyesight was improving and he thought he could still do the drawing. I never wrote back.
Over the next couple of years my friends would rag me about hunting down Dave Cockrum. I'm known to have a pretty bad temper sometimes and a long memory, but oddly enough, I really had forgiven Dave. I thought he could have handled the situation better early on, but I didn't think a stupid drawing mattered much given his situation. Cockrum was a guest at the last two Comic Book conventions I attended. I passed by his table where he was signing comics for X-Men fans and never felt the urge to say anything to him.
Cockrum died two days ago. He left behind a legacy of good work and a lot of friends, family, and fans who loved him. He also proved that I'm capable of forgiving and forgetting. Rest in peace, Dave. No hard feelings at all.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sundays with Conan

Sunday morning and Conan and I are at Cracker Barrel a little before sunrise. I'm having the pancake breakfast and Conan, as usual, is having one of everything.
“How can you eat so much?” I say.
Conan doesn't answer. He merely glowers at me from beneath bushy brows and stuffs an entire pancake into his mouth.
The elderly couple at the table next to us are stealing nervous glances at my dining companion. He is clad in leather kilt and sandals. His broadsword leans against a wall.
Catching my eye, the elderly lady says, “Where is that boy's coat?”
I smile. It's something my grandmother would say when I would breeze in during 30 degree weather in my shirt sleeves. “Where is your coat, son?”
“He's from Cimmeria,” I say. “It's cold there all the time.”
The lady looks dubious but goes back to her breakfast. Conan jams three sausage links into his mouth and says, “You've never been to Cimmeria, have you?”
I shake my head. Conan says, “It's a dark land. The trees are packed so close and the mountains loom so high that sunlight never touches parts of the ground. Somber hills and leaden gray skies. In the winter it snows and in what passes for summer it rains.”
“A hard land,” I say, just to be saying something.
“In my memory I see only the clouds that pile forever on the hills and the dimness of the everlasting woods.”
“Next time I'm bringing Red Sonja to breakfast,” I say. “She's not as depressing as you and she looks a lot better in chain mail.”
“Aye,” Conan says, grinning. “That she does.”

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Author Identification

I was watching the extras of the Lord of the Rings Return of the King DVD and there's a long documentary where a group of “experts” on J. R. R. Tolkien attempt to show that every character, location, and incident in LotR has a parallel in Tolkien's life. You know, the orcs represent the soldiers Tolkien fought in World War One, there are four hobbits because Tolkien had four close friends in college, and so on and so on. I think Gollum was Tolkien's third cousin or something. Personally, I don't think every single aspect of an author's work is autobiographical and I get a little annoyed with this sort of amateur psychoanalysis.
But, Charles, you say, YOU are a writer so of course you don't like that sort of thing. It would mean everything you write reveals deep hidden secrets. To which I say, Pthhhh.
However, since I do write, let me use something of mine to explain my point. My most recent short story was called The Dead Remember and it was about a guy named Alexander Gordon who fought a bunch of zombies in a world not unlike Robert E. Howard's Hyborian age.
Now, lets see. What did those flesh eating zombies represent? My debts? Um...people at work? Well no. I wrote about zombies because I had just read a Karl Edward Wagner story about zombies and a Joe Lansdale story about zombies, and I thought it might be fun to write about zombies.
Okay, next thing. The zombies were the resurrected remains of tribesman, kind of like native Americans. Now what deeply rooted psychological thing made me write about them? Oh, and they had been killed by the local army who were kind of like the U.S. Military during frontier days. What did that represent? My long held problem with authority figures? My distrust of the government?
Actually I had been watching season three of the old TV series Kung Fu, and one of the episodes was about a massacre of an Indian tribe. I needed zombies and I thought, hey, what if that tribe came back from the dead to seek vengeance on the guys who killed them?
So there you have it. Kung Fu, Karl Edward Wagner, and Joe Lansdale = my story.
But what about the protagonist, Alexander Gordon? Surely that means something. I must have delusions of grandeur since I named the hero after the man who conquered the world. I mean all protagonists are just wish fulfillment version of the their authors, right?
Well okay, you got me on that one.
Actually, I named him after Francis X. Gordon, one of REH's lesser known heroes. One of the Francis Gordon stories is called The Lost Valley of Iskander. Iskander is a corruption of Alexander. Thus Alexander Gordon.
And all you Tolkien experts? Get a frikkin life.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The End of Something

For most of my life, the Thanksgiving Tradition for my father's side of the family was to have breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. No turkey or dressing. Instead, eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, toast grits, grits with cheese, eggs with cheese, pastries, chocolate milk, orange juice, coffee, and on and on. Then off to the living room to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving parade, look through the papers, and to catch up with my cousins, aunts and uncles.
My grandfather died five years ago and my grandmother, Ma Bess, had to move to an assisted living home. But we kept up the tradition. My mom and my aunt would switch hosting duties and we'd still have the breakfast and trundle my grandmother back and forth to the retirement home.
This year my grandmother, who is 91, was too feeble and ill to leave the home.
The whole lot of us made the trip over there, but the home doesn't really have anywhere all of us could gather so we went in to see my grandmother in shifts. Afterwards we hung out a bit in the parking lot amidst blowing leaves and a slowly climbing sun. Anyway, I'm home now at 9:30. An era has ended this morning. I'm not overly sentimental about family, but it does feel a bit odd to have Thanksgiving mostly over with. I'll go to my brother's later today and hang with him and my nephews. My world has shifted slightly though, from now on.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Giving Thanks

I'm not really one to do the "what I am thankful for" thing at Thanksgiving, but what the hey. Someone asked and I said, "My friends." That's what I'm thankful for pretty much every day of my life. For Cliff, Chris, Lanny, and Brian, who are brothers to me in all but blood. For the Dr. No's gang, the reason that Wednesday is my favorite day of the week. For Trish, Laura and Beth because they are Trish, Laura and Beth. For my brother and my mom and dad, who are my friends as well as actual blood relations. And for all the great people I've met on-line. You know who you are. Robert Louis Stevenson said, "Of what shall a man be proud, if he is not proud of his friends?". Amen, Robert.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Quote I liked for my writer friends

"No matter what you find yourself writing about, if it's giving you enough energy to continue, then the work bears a profound relationship to you at that point, and you don't question it."

Norman Mailer

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Opening Lines

Editors like to talk about how the first line of a novel can make or break a book. They advise spending a lot of time getting that first line and first paragraph right. This is sometimes known as a narrative hook. My absolute favorite opening line comes from John D. MacDonald's 1966 novel, Darker Than Amber. I was reminded of it this evening as I was moving some books around. It is:

"We were about to give up and call it a night, when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge."

MacDonald's hero Travis McGee and McGee's buddy Meyer are fishing below a highway bridge in Florida when some thugs toss a girl over the bridge into the bay. She's got a concrete block wired to her ankles but she's still alive. The next several pages are a harrowing scene where McGee goes into the night dark waters and tries to save her. It's a very suspenseful scene and what an opening line.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Culling Books

When I moved a couple of years ago, I got rid of over half the books I'd accumulated in my old residence. There were about 5000 books in the house and I ended up keeping right at 1600. I donated the majority of the books to the local library system for their annual book sale. The running gag that year was that I WAS the library sale.
Anyway, having escaped the clutter and having decided I would never again allow that much stuff to stack up, I have adopted a new policy at my new dwelling. I will buy no more bookshelves. So if my exisiting shelves get full, then stuff has to go. It's not as hard as it sounds. Once I got rid of so much of my material possessions during the move, I found that it was much easier to let stuff go. Things that I had thought I'd keep forever, I've ended up parting with, and I haven't missed them.
Tonight I filled a copier paper box with paperbacks. That makes three such boxes I've filled over the last six months or so. These will eventually make their way to next years library sale. I've also started looking at some of the books I've collected but no longer read or refer to. Basically, if I haven't touched it since I moved, I probably don't need it. (This goes more for fiction than for my reference books.)
Other than my new more 'Zen' attitude, the other thing that makes it easier to get rid of old books is the Internet. There are so many on-line book sources that there are very few books that I couldn't get again in a couple of days if I decided I really wanted to. Books that I once had to search for by haunting used bookstores, sending out want-lists, and ordering print catalogs, can now be acquired with a few keystrokes. So I don't have to horde hard to find books just on the off chance that I might want to read them again some day.
There are exceptions of course. I have some truly rare books and also some volumes that have sentimental value. I'm not likely to ever get rid of those. But pretty much anything else always stands the danger of being culled.

Lord of the Aisles

5:00 am Saturday morning and I can't sleep. I need a couple of things so I decide to go to the 24-Hour Super Wal-Mart. I hate Wal-Mart because it's usually crowded, but I've found that at 5:00 there's hardly anyone shopping. One of the few benefits of insomnia.
It is a cold gray morning with a thin line of sunlight just edging the horizon. I reach Wal-Mart without incident. I wander about the store, wishing I'd made a list. As I turn a corner I come face to face with Tarzan of the Apes.
Tarzan is moving in a stalking crouch, his jungle hardened thews rippling beneath his bronze skin. He clutches his father's hunting knife in his right hand. He glares at me for a moment with his iron gray eyes, then straightens up and says, “Sorry, I thought you were Numa, the lion.”
“Um, no. Just doing a little early shopping. Do they get a lot of lions in here?”
“You'd be surprised where Numa stalks his prey.”
There's a slight noise from the next aisle over and Tarzan glides in that direction. I follow, along. A small herd of zebra duck from the cover of the paper products aisle. “Bah,” says Tarzan. “It is only pacco and his brothers.”
“Rak,” I say, getting into the spirit of things.
Tarzan glances over at me. “You speak the language of the great apes?”
“Only conversationally.”
Tarzan nods. We stroll for as bit, chatting amiably. I ask about Jane. About Miriam and Korak, and has Tarzan heard from Jason Gridley since he returned from Pellucidar? Tarzan answers most of my questions but then there's a flash of amber fur and a tawny mane over near the frozen food section.
“Kreegah, Numa!” Tarzan shouts, sprinting away,”Tarzan Bundolo!”
This translates roughly to 'Beware, Numa. Tarzan kills.' I'm not even going to try to keep up with the lord of the jungle in his relentless pursuit of Numa the lion, so I find the things I need and head for the parking lot. Starbucks should be open now, I think. Vando. (good)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday at the Bookstore


Today I had lunch with my pal Trish and then headed over to Marietta Book Nook, a used bookstore I frequent. It's a spin off of the original Book Nook, which used to be located at Claremont Road in Decatur. The Marietta location has a pretty decent turnover of books so I find it worth my time to swing in there about once a month.
Had a couple of interesting finds today. Two of Katherine Kurtz's original Deryni series from 1970. I'm not overly interested in the Deryni books, but the early volumes of her long running series were published as part of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, which means they have introductions but Lin Carter. I mentioned Carter's book, Imaginary Worlds, in one of my earlier posts. Carter was the Editor of the BAF series in the late sixties/early seventies.
Most of the BAF books were reprints of classic fantasies by authors like Lord Dunsany, William Morris, and James Branch Cabell, but Carter also introduced some new fantasy writers like Kurtz and Joy Chant. Anyway, I was glad to get these books because the BAFs always have nifty covers as well as the editorial material from Lin Carter. Look here for really small (but plentiful) scans. http://phantasma.onza.net/biblio/lists/baf.html
My other find was a reprint of Alfred Hutton's 1901 book on swordplay, The Sword and the Centuries. The book contains first hand accounts of actual combat with edged weapons going back to the thirteenth century with commentary by Hutton, who was himself an expert on fencing. You'd have to know me to know how cool I think this is.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Favorites

Someone asked me the other day what my top ten favorite movies were. Now to me, favorite is a sliding scale. On any given day you'll probably get a different answer, though there will be one or two films that always stay on the list. For instance, had you asked me to name favorite movies ten years ago you'd have probably gotten a very different list than today. And if you ask me next year, you'll probably get a slightly different list then too.
My absoute favorite film has remained pretty much the same for a long time though. It is The Maltese Falcon, John Houston's 1941 adaptation of Dashiell Hammet's novel. That's the movie I've watched the most, somewhere in the area of 50 times I'd guess, and I'd watch it again today with no problem at all.
Why? Any number of reasons. I like Hammett. I've read the novel Maltese Falcon many times and the movie script is almost word for word from the novel. I like Humphrey Bogart, probably my favorite classic movie actor. The rest of the cast is amazing. Peter Lorre. Mary Astor. The amazing Sydney Greenstreet. The philosophy expressed by the film, that we live in a random and orderless universe, is pretty much in line with my world view. And, what can I say, I'm attracted to the stark noir atmosphere of the film.
Anyway, that's my favorite movie of all time. The other nine? Well, looking at my shelf of DVDs and seeing what I've watched the most in the last year or two, I'd say top four behind Falcon are Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Lost in Translation, Scent of a Woman, and Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. After that are the three recent Lord of the Rings films, a couple more Star Treks (Voyage Home and Generations) a bunch of Akira Kurasawa films, Sinbad movies, Errol Flynn swashbucklers, etc. Gets pretty hard to choose. Why do we have favorites anyway? I suppose they are the films that most closely reflect our inner landscapes. They are, as Bogie says at the end of Falcon, "The stuff that dreams are made of."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Wasted Time

I didn't go to work today. I felt better but I was a little feverish early this morning, so I figured I would save my co-workers my contagions, unlike the co-worker who came in and made me sick. I'm all for dedication, folks but if you're sick and contagious, stay home. Anyway, I'm feeling much better now so tomorrow should be a normal day back at work. Thing about sick days is that they often end up being wasted time off. I didn't really feel good enough to do any running around so I spent another thrilling day here. I read Michael Moorcock's The Oak and the Ram, and I slept some to make up for the sleep I lost last night as my head kept draining. That was about it. Not a productive day. Probably should have tried to write something fiction-wise, but couldn't work up the enthusiasm. Anyway, I guess the time wasn't wasted if resting helps me get better and the cold isn't prolonged.

Chocolate Alert

This just in. Brewster's Ice Cream store now has CHOCOLATE Oreo ice cream. Yes, Oreo cookies in chocolate ice cream.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Red Sky at Morning

The horizon looks like it's on fire this morning at sunrise. I think that's supposed to be bad for sailors. For me it's just a plus for being up early. Nippy out there with a strong cold wind sending leaves skittering everywhere. This has been one of the more beautiful autumns I can remember here in Georgia. The trees turned color a bit late but when they turned they went for it full out. My cold is better this morning. Throat no longer sore, though now my head is stopped up. I made myself sit still all day yesterday. I read Jonathan Kellerman's 'A Cold Heart' and I watched Hellboy and Pirates of the Carribbean, and I mindlessly surfed the Internet. I'm going to make a run to Border's Bookstore in a couple of hours when they open. That should keep me from getting cabin fever and there's a Christmas present I need to pick up there. Otherwise I plan to just chill out some more and get this cold over with. Not the way I had planned my weekend to go, but I've certainly had worse.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

First Cold of the Season

I have a head cold. I'm pretty sure I got it from a co-worker, but however it came to me, I am not thrilled. My head hurts and my throat is sore, and I can't talk much above a whisper. So I will be spending a quiet weekend, getting over the cold. I should be grateful I suppose that it hit me yesterday and with any luck the worst of it will be over by the time I have to go back to work Monday. Bleh.

What Would Sinbad Do?




While I was in Chicago, Beth was kind enough to take me to the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago to see the Mesopotamian exhibit. I've read countless books on Sumeria and Mesopotamia and I'm absolutely fascinated by the ancient civilizations. (Don't be too impressed. I think it has something to do with Mesopotamia being a huge influence on Robert E. Howard's Conan stories.)
The big centerpiece of the Mesopotamian wing is a 15 foot tall man-headed bull that used to sit outside the throne room of King Sargon of Akkad. Staring at this 40 thousand pound stone statue I had one of those strange moments of connection to the past. Sargon used to see this thing every day, and here I am looking at it a couple of thousand years later.
Something I didn't know though, was that the institute also has an Egyptian Wing. I have done much reading and studying about the Egyptians as well over the years so I was thrilled to get to see the collection of artifacts. As you enter the Egyptian wing you come face to face with a 17 foot tall stone statue of King Tut. Pretty darned impressive.
When I told my pal Chris about these two monoliths the other night at dinner, he said, “If you had been in a Ray Harryhausen movie, the statues would have fought.” Well of course they would. Anyone who has seen The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, or any of the other amazing films made by veteran stop motion animator Ray Harryhausen knows that the statues must eventually fight to the death. Duh.
Immediately my brain begins to create a plot. Beth and I are in the museum seeking the Eye of Osiris, a powerful mystic talisman that was secreted within the one Sarcophagus in the Institute that has never been opened. The Eye is the only thing that can stop the evil Egyptian sorcerer Kasdiel from conquering the world with his army of undead warriors. That'll work.
We break into the Sarcophagus, (leaving a note saying we're sorry and will return the eye) and start to leave the Egyptian wing. Unfortunately the baleful radiation emanating from the Eye of Osiris has animated the statue of King Tut and he is not happy to see us desecrating said sarcophagus. With much creaking and groaning of tortured stone, Tut tears free of his pedestal and begins to lurch across the floor. He is about to deal us a messy death, when with a roar, the man-headed bull, also awakened by the Eye, comes stomping into the Egyptian wing spoiling for a fight.
A pitched battle ensues. Since the Egyptians are the bad guys in this movie, Tut wins, and returns to his initial idea of killing Beth and me. Looking about for any sort of weapon, I think what would Sinbad do? I break the glass on the fire hose that is mounted on one wall and quickly wrap the hose around the lumbering statue's ankles. He topples, and weakened by his tussle with the bull, smashes into many fragments. Beth and I charge out of the museum to face Kasdiel in the thrilling finale.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Conversation with a five year old

The husband and son of a woman I work with are meeting her for lunch. She brings them through the engineering department and the boy's gaze goes immediately to a sketch of a dragon I did for one of my co-workers.
"Where did you get that dragon?" the boy asks. His name is Bailey. He's five.
"Charles drew it for me," my co-worker tells him and points to me. Bailey looks at me. I probably don't look like a guy who can draw dragons.
I say, "Would you like me to draw a dragon for you?"
Vigorous nod. "Can I watch you?"
"Sure, come on over." I snatch up some paper and a pencil. His mom beams as moms do when you do things for their kids. Bailey stands at my elbow as I start to sketch.
"First I draw the eyes," I say.
"Why do you draw the eyes first?"
"So I know how big his head will be."
I begin to draw from the head down to the slope of the neck and chest and Bailey's eyes get wider.
"How are you doing that?!"
"Doing what?"
"Just drawing that dragon?"
"I don't know. It's just coming out of the pencil."
"He has big teeth. Is he a friendly dragon?"
"Yeah, he's friendly. Here, I'll draw him waving at you."
"Are you going to give him wings?"
"Sure." I start sketching wings.
"He needs wings so he can fly," Bailey says.
"I don't think he'd still be aerodynamically capable of flight."
"Huh?"
"Nothing. I'm giving him legs like a Tyrannosaurus."
"Ooooh, I like Tyrannosaurus."
"Me too."
I finish up and scribble a hasty CR at the bottom of the drawing. Bailey gives me a high five and he's off to lunch with his mom and dad, leaping and jumping and waving his drawing around. Unlike my non-aerodynamic dragon, he doesn't need wings to fly.
It was a scholarly weekend at my place. I was re-reading two of my favorite books ABOUT fantasy, Lin Carter's Imaginary Worlds and Michael Moorcock's Wizardry and Wild Romance.
In many ways these two books are polar opposites of each other. Carter pretty much uses The Lord of the Rings as the B.C/A.D. line for fantasy. Everything that led up to LotR and everything that follows it. Considering that Imaginary Worlds came out in 1973, at the height of the Tolkien craze, that's not too surprising.
Carter, long considered one of the experts in the field of heroic fantasy, lays everything out on a timeline, showing the emergence of the 'invented world' story, which firmly separates the contemporary fantasy novel from myths, legends, fables, and folklore, giving vast amounts of information about the lives and works of William Morris. E.R. Edison, Lord Dunsany, and the other pre-Tolkein fantasy writers.
Other chapters cover fantasy in the pulps with nice sections devoted to Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Rider Haggard, A. Merit, Talbot Mundy and the like before leaping to the Weird Tales Triumvirate of H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard. There are chapters on Tolkien's circle, the Inklings, on LotR itself, and then a chapter on the post Howard and Tolkien fantasy writers circa 1973, which is full of Carter's insider knowledge of the publishing industry as it stood then. Basically if you wanted to give someone a good working knowledge of the history of fantasy literature, this would be the book. Why it's never been reprinted is beyond me.
And then there's Wizardry and Wild Romance. Michael Moorcock has long been an iconoclast. His most famous hero, Elric of Melnibone was created to be the exact opposite of Conan and nothing Moorcock writes follows any expected path. He remains an original, seldom covering the same ground twice.
Wizardry is more of a personal essay than a history, though Moorcock touches on some of the same writers as Carter. He explains in his introduction that he plans to talk mostly about the authors he admires rather than attacking the ones he doesn't care for, but when he does decide to go after some writer or other, he brings the full brunt of his not inconsiderable literary knowledge against them. The biggest example of this would be the chapter 'Epic Pooh' where he compares the comforting messages of The Lord of the Rings to A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh. It's a pretty savage attack, written originally as an essay in the 1960s and updated for this edition, and it has caused no end of arguments over the years. Thing is, all Moorcock's venom is directed at the work and not the author. He explains that Tolkien was very kind to him when he was a boy and he has no animosity toward the late Oxford Don. He just hates hobbits.
Anyway, Wizardy and Wild Romance is in print and available, and copies of Imaginary Worlds are readily available cheap on Ebay, Abe Books, and other online stores. Check em out.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Restless...

So I went to Chicago to visit my friend Beth, and I had a great time and saw many things and had many adventures, and Beth is wonderful. But since I returned I have been restless. I always seem to get that way once I'm back from a trip. I think perhaps it's because you get out and you see that the world is really such a big place and there's so much of it that you're not seeing.
So I had lunch with my friend Brian today and he's just back from Key West. I hopped into his truck and asked how things were going and he said, “I dunno, man. Since I got back from my trip I'm just in a bad mood. Restless I guess.”
And I had to laugh, and then we talked about how the world is a big place and how we're not seeing all of it...

Whence Sword & Sorcery

In his introduction to Kull: Exile of Atlantis, Steve Tomkins says “It is not quite accurate to label the Shadow Kingdom, which introduced Weird Tales readers to King Kull in the August1929 issue, the original Sword & Sorcery story. To do so is to overlook and earlier masterpiece, Lord Dunsany's 1910 The Fortress Unvaquishable, Save for Sacnoth, in which a swordsman invades the hellish, dragon- guarded stronghold of an archmage.”
I'm going to have to disagree with that. I've read Fortress. In fact I re-read it last night, and it, like the rest of Lord Dunsany's work, is fantasy, bordering on fairy tale. It is not sword & sorcery, no more than the Lord of the Rings, or for that matter, the Wizard of Oz. As odd as it sounds, a story can contain both swords and sorcerers and not be sword & sorcery, just as a story can contain murder and the police and not be a mystery.
Sword & Sorcery, that bastard spawn of horror and historical fiction, tempered with a layer of hard boiled realism, was created by Robert E. Howard. Period. You can point to many examples of proto-Sword & Sorcery from Beowulf to the adjective drenched prose of Clark Ashton Smith, but the sub-genre of S&S was born when REH mixed the historical fiction he loved with the fantastic, dark visions of Weird Tales writers like H.P. Lovecraft. From here came Kull, Conan, Solomon Kane, and all of Howard's other S&S heroes.
Of S&S many people say that, like pornography, they can't define it but they know it when they see it. My personal take is that there is a very limited range of true S&S. The genre was created by Robert E. Howard and expanded upon by a small group of writers. The other pioneers of S&S were Fritz Lieber, who added dark humor and came up with a duo of heroes, C.L. Moore, who created the first female S&S hero, and Michael Moorcock, who flipped the genre by making his protagonist a physical weakling as opposed to a brawny barbarian. Everything else in the genre since is pretty much derived from these writers with the possible exception of Karl Edward Wagner's Kane, who may look like Conan, but who is actually an extremely intelligent and cultured man. (Not to mention he's the biblical Cain. A nice touch.)
The farther one gets from the Howard model, which despite its fantastic trappings, is usually firmly grounded in realism, the more one moves into High Fantasy or Heroic Fantasy. That's elf land where Raymond Fiest, Terry Brooks, Robert Jordon and all the Hobbitoids live. It ain't S&S.
Anyway, I'm not sure what Mr. Tomkins agenda is in trying to attribute the creation of Sword & Sorcery to Lord Dunsany, but he probably should read the book cover blurb on Kull which reads, “Heroic tales of adventure from the FATHER of sword and sorcery.” Damn straight.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Barbarians and Jungle Lords

I have a pen and ink illustration on my wall by comics artist Thomas Yeates. It shows Conan the Barbarian, holding an axe and pointing off camera. Beside him stands Tarzan of the Apes, looking at whatever Conan is pointing to and nocking an arrow into his bow. Many times I have looked at that drawing, wondering what these two iconic characters are looking at. When I commissioned the drawing from Yeates, I simply told him I wanted Tarzan and Conan, two characters he had drawn for the comics, and that I didn't want them fighting each other, a standard comic book cliche. What I got back was an amazingly detailed black and white illustration.
I have often thought to write a story explaining what brought these two heroes together, across thousands of years, and what menace they are facing. Of course Tarzan and Conan are both trademarked characters, so anything I wrote using them would be fan fiction at best, but recently I've begun to think of Philip Jose Farmer's Lord of the Trees, which teamed thinly disguised versions of Tarzan and Doc Savage, and it occurs to me that I could create my own jungle lord and barbarian savage. Today I thought of an opening scene. We'll see where that takes me.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Posting

For the last year or so people have been asking me, "Why don't you have a blog?" Many were surprised to find out that I didn't have one in fact. Theyknow I write. They know I spend a ridiculous amount of time on the internet in forums, groups, and such. So why no blog? Well primarily because I didn't think I'd update it enough to make it worth the time to create one, and that may yet prove true. But my friend Beth, who is wise in the ways of blogging says to me, she says, "If you just talk about all the stuff you read it would fill a blog." She has a point. I read a lot. Five books a week average and that can jump to ten or more depending on what goes on. Reading is my primary form of entertainment and has been for most of my life. Now when people learn that I read so much, they often get this idea that I'm a highbrow of some sort, sitting in my study, wearing my smoking jacket, with War and Peace propped on my knee. No. Uh uh. I have read War and Peace. But I draw no distinction when itcomes to reading. I will read classics and I will read trash. I love it all. My favorite genres are mystery and fantasy. My favorite non fiction subjects are literary studies, biographies, and history. Just for a crosssection lets check what the last six books I read were. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman. Hundred Dollar Baby by Robert B. Parker. Everyday life inAncient Mesopotamia, by Jean Bottéro. Conan: The Road of Kings by Karl Edward Wagner. The Warhound and the World's Pain by Michael Moorcock. Morrigan's Cross by Nora Roberts. Hmmm, a little heavy on the fantasy this week. Let's see. What else? I'm an anglophile. I love Charles Dickens, JaneAusten, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (hence the title of my blog) and many manyothers. I have an unhealthy obsession with the fantasy sub genre known as sword & sorcery. Anyway, more on all that later. This should serve as a first post and an introduction. Welcome to my blog.