Tag Archives: language

334. Making Videos for Cyan

I know from visiting your websites, that a lot, maybe most, of you either are or want to be writers. I’ve talked about some of the mechanics of that, especially in posts 133 and 134. During the last month, I’ve learned some more about how books are marketed in the age of the internet. I’ve had to make videos.

That proved harder than I thought it would, partly because of technology. Don’t think I’m a Luddite – I’ve been a computer nut since 1986 – but I don’t own a video camera. i don’t have kids to record as they grow, and I have no interest is seeing myself moving about on the computer screen.

Most of those who make videos to promote their books do so on their smart phones. I don’t have a smart phone. It is my firm belief that Alexander Graham Bell was an emissary of the Devil. I communicate the way God intended, by email, where I can correct my mistakes before I push send.

I finally used the camera built into my Mac. It makes a shaky, Skype-like picture, but that works well enough if you hold still and go into talking-head mode.

I didn’t want to ramble, so I wrote a script and tried out some videos. They stank (that’s the grammatically correct word that morphed into stunk about twenty years ago). It turns out that a glib, casual, conversational tone takes a hell of a lot of rewrites. I should have remembered that. I had to learn it two years ago when I wrote my first posts. I don’t mean numbers 1, 2, 3 . . .. I mean the ones you never saw because I trash-canned them.

Writing two masters theses and a bunch of novels did not prepare me to write posts. I had to learn a whole new, casual style. This month I learned that written-casual is not the same as spoken-casual — even if it is written as a script before it is spoken. It took quite a few tries to make the transition.

Eventually I made three videos for Brian at EDGE and he will put them on Youtube. They are an introduction to Cyan, the story of why I wrote Cyan, and a reading from Cyan. The first is already up; click here.

I’ve also tacked on the script I used in the Introduction to Cyan.


Hi. Welcome to my world, or at least to one of them. I’ve always been a fan of near future novels of exploration. There are so many things about traveling at sub-light speed that make for a great story.

Besides, it won’t be long until scientists have charted the actual planets around all the nearby stars. Then we won’t be able to make up our own planets.

Put those ideas together and you have Cyan, which is the name of me newest novel and the name of the planet that it takes place on.

In the year 2080 a crew of five men and five women, scientists all, set out for Procyon where they find a planet that stands straight up in orbit, with bands of unvarying climates. About 45 degrees north, is paradise.

But paradise with teeth — virgin, wild, beautiful, but very dangerous. Keir, our crewleader’s task is to keep his fellow explorers alive. He’s good at his job, but on a planet crowded with predators, that may not be enough.

For these scientists from vastly overcrowded earth, after years confined within the starship, the beauty and emptiness of Cyan is intoxicating.

They have one year to decide if Cyan is suitable for colonists, and it turns out to be perfect. But then one of the scientists picks up a flaked stone. This is not a natural occurrence. Someone, or some thing, has made it.

The explorers have discovered the Cyl.

The Cyl are a stone age group. They look nothing like man and their intelligence is low, but they are about to become much more. Evolution moves quickly under Procyon’s intense radiation, and the Cyl are poised to make the leap to full intelligence.

Earth needs Cyan to ease its massive population, and the Cyl need to be left alone to find their own destiny. Lines are drawn among the explorers and the resolution of the problem threatens to tear them apart.


When you get your copy of Cyan, you will see that this introduction actually only covers the first fifth of the novel. Giving a full summary would have made the video far too long.

252. Leonard Cohen, an appreciation

A day or so ago, Leonard Cohen’s death was announced on a trailer at the bottom of a newscast about Trump. It was not much notice for one of the finest artists of the last century.

I went online to find a few articles, New York Times and Rolling Stone mostly, but they didn’t tell me much that I didn’t know. I’m not going to add anything to his bio in this post. If you want to know about Leonard Cohen, listen to his songs.

To sum up, briefly and without equivocation, Leonard Cohen meant more to my moral and ethical life, more to my writing, and expressed my personal feelings better than any writer of fiction ever did.

I don’t mean that I learned about life from him. I learned about life from life, and a harsh one at that. I was fully formed when I discovered him, but he spoke to me. Leonard Cohen had the ability to say in music what I was trying to say in text. In almost every song, there was someplace where, the first time I heard it, I shouted, “Yes, dammit. Yes!”

I discovered Cohen when I was in college, in the sixties. Then I graduated, got drafted, spent four years working in a military hospital, went back for an MA, and in 1975, settled down to write novels. I wrote more or less full time for most of the following decade.

My wife would leave for work, and I would sit down at the typewriter with music on the stereo. At that time, I needed emotionally charged music to set the mood and drown out other sounds – today I could write through a hurricane. I wore the grooves deeper in a lot of LPs, and nothing played as often as Leonard Cohen.

HIs music was like a drug, compounded of depression and hope. It was rich, complex, filled with both thought and emotion, but it was an acquired taste. Except for Susanne and Hallelujah, not many people took to him. He doesn’t come easily; you have to listen with both ears and your whole heart.

Leonard Cohen’s music suffuses everything I have written. I never met him, outside of his records, but I count him as a mentor.

If you want to go beyond Hallelujah, I have a suggestion. Find a copy of Alexandra Leaving ( from Ten New Songs) and listen to it repeatedly, asking yourself, “Who is speaking? Who is this man, and what is the woman to him?” Make it your personal koan.

If, after repeatedly listenings, you decide Leonard Cohen isn’t for you, fair enough. You will have saved yourself a lot of heart ache.

And missed a lot of joy.

245. Serializing

I’ve been doing a lot of serializing lately. In fact, I’ve been at it for over a year, but lately it has become intense.

Publishing novels serially in periodicals is a very old idea. Most of Charles Dickens work came out that way. What I’m doing is a bit different though, because Dickens wrote his novels to be serialized. The size of each chunk was known to him when he wrote. And the chunks were bigger.

David Copperfield was a novel of 358,551 words. I know this by downloading it from Project Gutenberg, transferring it to my word processor, and using the word count function. You might make note of that; it is a useful technique. David Copperfield was published in twenty monthly installments. That makes each installment was about 18,000 words. In SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) terms, each installment was of novella length.

My typical serial post is about 600 words.

Dickens serialized in order to sell to those who could not afford his books, and at the same time, to boost sales of those books when they came out after they appeared in periodicals. Most successful nineteenth century authors followed the same pattern. So did the big names in twentieth century science fiction, although they wrote smaller novels and presented them in fewer, but longer installments. Often they didn’t sell their books for serialization until they were already completed.

That is also my situation. Nothing I have presented in Serial was in progress at the time it was serialized. I’m too slow and picky a writer for that. Some of the things presented had been published, some had not, one was presented as a excerpt from a completed novel, and one was a fragment from a novel I’ll probably never finish. Jandrax was annotated to such a degree that it almost forms a writing primer, and How to Build a Culture was entirely a how-to.

Everything I have presented in Serial has been to assure continued readership of the website. It’s a trick. Leave ‘em hanging, and they’ll come back. And the whole website is to assure a readership for my upcoming novel Cyan, and for others that will follow.

But man, it has been fun.

I’ve enjoyed revisiting old friends. I’ve learned a lot from a close re-reading of old material, especially regarding pacing. Since I post four days a week, each post has to be relatively short, both to keep from running out of material too soon and to keep each reading experience brief for the sake of the daily reader. I didn’t originally choose 600 words; that just evolved.

The actual process of taking a novel and breaking it into pieces has been fascinating, frustrating, and a rewarding learning experience. It begins with a completed novel, which may be decades old, and which will already have been polished to a high shine. Still, I find errors from time to time.

First, using a word processor version, I have to re-read the novel, looking for natural breaks in the action every two and a half to three manuscript pages. I type a nonsense word at each break. I use breakbreak, as one word, which has meaning to me but would never appear in the actual text. This will allow me to use the find function to jump from break to break if I should need to. After typing breakbreak, I highlight what I have chosen, use the word count function, then type in the number of words. If it seems too short or too long, I adjust.

That takes care of post #1. Now to repeat. Jandrax required 92 posts. Raven’s Run will require 150. Some posts make sense on their own, but some require that I start with a sentence or two from the previous day’s post. I use bold-italic to denote this repeat.

All this takes place on a single word processor document. I then make individual documents of each post-to-be. This is a backup to what will actually appear on the website. At this point, I run the spell checker one last time and face the two-space conundrum.

I learned touch typing in high school in the mid-sixties on a mechanical (not even electric) typewriter. This was overseen by Mrs. Worden (AKA the warden) who pounded (pun intended) the rules into our heads. One rule was that you put two spaces between sentences.

Over the years I went from mechanical typewriters, to electric typewriters, to computers, but the rule stuck with me – even after everyone else had stopped using it. Raven’s Run was written before I kicked the two space habit, so now I have to go through each document removing the second space.

The last step is copying from word processor file to website.

Tedious? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. If you write, and you don’t enjoy reading your own work, why bother?

233. Yearbooks Farewell

In an early science fiction novel/novella (A Fond Farewell to Dying/To Go Not Gently), I gave my protagonist a twenty year gap in his memory. To fill himself in on the events he missed, a friend of his suggests reading encyclopedia yearbooks, one by one.

It was a bad idea on two fronts. Shortly after I wrote that suggestion, Wikipedia drove paper encyclopedias out of business, and yearbooks were no more. My story was set a couple of centuries in the future, and long before we could get there, the immediate future had bit me where it hurts.

Even if that had not happened, it was a bad idea to trust yearbooks, as I found out when I tried it myself. I was planning to plot out a novel set in the sixties, so I accumulated yearbooks as a starting point for research. They were useless, and I kicked myself for not having realized in advance that they would be.

Almost everything the editors of the 1966 yearbook thought was important, turned out to be forgettable by the eighties. The important trends of that era only became obvious in retrospect.

1989 was like that, too. It was a pivotal year, but I missed it while I was living it.

I was alive, awake, and alert in 1989. I had recently returned from spending two summers in Europe. I was writing a teacher novel, and planning the novel Raven’s Run (now being posted in Serial), but I missed 1989’s significance. I didn’t really come to appreciate it until decades later when I was preparing to bring Raven’s Run up to date.

Basically, the cold war ended and the modern era began in 1989. When I realized that, I nudged Raven’s Run into that year so I could add a few events that I had missed when they happened, and set myself up for sequels.

I wrote a bracketing event, a meeting between Ian Gunn and a friend in Luisanne, Switzerland in 2012, where they are revealed as spies, or something like. (Raven’s Run 1) This leads to reminiscence and Ian begins to tell his friend of events that took place in 1989 – which becomes the novel.

I dropped these words into chapter 2:

It was April.  Ayatollah Kohmeni had a few months left to live, and no one had yet heard of Osama ben Ladin.  There were still two Germanies, two Berlins, and a wall; I had had my dealings with that wall a few years earlier, in uniform, when the cold war was even colder.

When I wrote chapter 2 in the mid-nineties, there were “two Germanies, two Berlins, and a wall”. I didn’t have to tell anyone. Not then – but posting Raven’s Run today, it has become necessary to remind my readers.

1989 was a pivotal year. If you don’t remember, or you weren’t born yet, take a look at Thursday’s post.

227. Mentors in Detection

“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants.”
             John of Salisbury, Issac Newton, and a million lesser lights attempting false humility.

What pen name? What market? What can we steal? . . . Correction. Not ‘steal.’ If you copy from three or more authors, it’s ‘research.’”
               Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love, and in a half dozen other novels in almost identical words.

There is very little in this world that is new and unique. We all borrow from those who went before. Some people borrow from giants, some borrow from pygmies.

Some people borrow from Shakespeare and screw it up royally. Some people borrow from third rate writers and turn the result into something memorable. But we all borrow.

I have made no secret of my mentors in science fiction, first Andre Norton, then Robert Heinlein. I write only a little like Norton and nothing like Heinlein (I would pay real money for his touch with humor.) Nevertheless, they both live in my head, all the time.

There are a thousand other authors whose work has moved me, but Norton and Heinlein got there early. Only Harold Goodwin (John Blaine) and the Bible got there sooner.

Over in Serial, my novel Raven’s Run is being serialized. It is a “men’s adventure”, a genre that is no longer recognized. In modern parlance, it would probably be classed as a thriller, although the tension level is really too low for that. It is also something like a detective novel, but not much. Genres today are so small and tightly defined, that RR crosses several of them. It resembles the Travis McGee books in that way.

In connection with mentors and influences, I will be covering three detective series next week along with one spy novel. McGee was a real influence on my writing. The two Fathers taught me a few things, but they are basically just stories I like. I’ll explain the Shrike when I get there, next Thursday.

Detective literature started with Holmes, both in the world at large and in my reading. I read him when I was in high school, and I still do, occasionally, although it is harder now that I can lip synch all the stories. I didn’t read other detective stories – or Westerns for that matter – until I was writing science fiction and fantasy full time and needed something to cleanse my mental palate between writing sessions.

McGee was by far the best and most influential. I’ll talk about him next Tuesday. Dashiell Hammet never appealed to me, but Raymond Chandler was superb. Robert Parker’s Spencer was great for the first ten books while he was imitating Chandler; after he started imitating himself, they went down hill fast. I enjoyed Chesterton and Greeley enough to give each his own post next week.

Quite a few of the authors who come to mind were actually writing spy stories, like the gritty early James Bonds before they degenerated into farce.

There were authors with a few books whose work stuck with me. E. C. Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case was worth reading. So were the few Bertram Lynch mysteries by John Vandercook. That particular series was a recent discovery, in ancient, battered copies at my favorite underfunded library – you know, the one that never throws away a book. Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe is the series I am working my way through now, since I have read the covers off all my previous favorites.

To be certain that I didn’t forget any old friends, I went through several “best detective authors” lists on line. There I found Alistair MacLean (author – under a pen name – of The Black Shrike) and John Buchan. I would not have called them detective novelists, but they are among my favorites.

Not every detective lives in contemporary England or America. I fully enjoyed the five or six Cadfael novels I read before the spell wore off. I own and frequently reread every Judge Dee book, and Bony (Napoleon Bonaparte), the half aborigine Australian detective is very nearly my all time favorite.

213. Borders

I don’t need to remind you what Europe is like today. Everyone knows her troubles. Refugees, and terrorists disguised as refugees, are flooding in, and once they arrive, they can move more or less freely from country to country. BREXIT came largely as a result of this crisis, with the threat of terrorism and economic dislocation driving the vote.

It was very different in 1989, the year in which the novel Raven’s Run (see Serial) takes place. There were no open borders, even between friendly countries. When my wife and I traveled from Switzerland to Italy during that era, the train crossed the Italian border at 2 AM. It stopped and a cadre of officials came aboard, moving from car to car, waking everyone up and checking passports. Of course, as Americans, it was a formality. Our passports carried us through without strain, but if there had been an irregularity . . .

There was an irregularity later, coming back from Hungary. A young and carefree European, French as I recall, had gotten into Hungary – God knows how –  with a passport, but without a visa. He confessed his lack to everyone in the coach, and laughed about it. Some very surly individuals took him off at the border. I never saw him again, but I had to wonder how funny it seemed a few hours later.

I had my own irregularity, harmless but thought provoking, earlier that same summer. My wife and I were camping at Innsbruck, Austria. When you camped or stayed in a hotel in those days, the owner confiscated your passport when you checked in and returned it when you left. It was the law throughout most of Europe.

We took a day trip from Innbruck to Reuthe, also in Austria. We did not know that the train passed through Germany on the way. As we crossed the German border, some very severe guards, with automatic pistols at their hips, came demanding passports. My wife had hers; I didn’t.

I took German in high school, which is very close to not taking it at all. I tried to ask why, but my one word “Warum?” (Why?) got me nowhere. The border guard repeated his demand for my passport. My weak German “Ins camping.” (It’s at the campground.) must have made sense to him. He had to know that holding passports at campgrounds and hotels was the law. It didn’t melt his icy stare.

Now I have met many people traveling through Germany, both before and after this incident. They were universally friendly and helpful, and they all spoke English, especially after trying to deal with my attempts at German. Not these guys. They just looked pissed. It was probably an act, but they had me convinced at the time.

Those of us with passport irregularities were taken to another car, without explanation, with just gestures and an intense glare, where we were sealed in. We passed through a piece of Germany and back into Austria, and were released.

It wasn’t life threatening, nor the stuff of spy novels, but it was very much a part of the system the Eurozone was designed to overcome. Open borders did away with a lot of annoyance, and allowed a freedom of movement that helped bring prosperity to Europe.

Today, new circumstances are bringing Europeans to reconsider that openness.

212. Old Posts Retrospective

I would have preferred to post this last Wednesday, one year after the first posts on this website. However, the introduction of Raven’s Run over on Serial took precedence.

I did some of my best post writing during that early period when no one was reading. Everything was fresh and new, and I was introducing myself for the first time. I reposted a few when it was appropriate, particularly in March of 2016 when I began Jandrax over in serial, but most of those early posts are still unread by those who are with me today.

Eventually, I plan an annotated index of all posts, but for now, here is a partial version so you can dip into the past if you want.

2. Turn Left at Chicago – How a fortuitous failure set me on the road to writing.

3. It Was 40 Years Ago Today – The act of sitting down to write a first novel.

6. Planet Oklahoma (1) – From birth to my first encounter with a library.

7. Planet Oklahoma (2) – A library changes my life.

9. Old Libraries – Old libraries, old books, and re-reading.

10. Book Words – Being the only person who reads

11. Why the Tractosaur Wouldn’t Go – Hearing and speaking Okie.

12. Why Okies Can’t Use the Dictionary – Mispronunciation guides.