Another Odysseus Poem

Quick post from the Aegean Sea. Unreliable Wifi, so we’ll just have to make do this week.


I’d remembered the poem about the Sirens, but I’d totally forgotten this little masterpiece. I stumbled across it while looking for the other. What the hell, I thought. Just in case they read Wandering Among the Sirens and though it was good, I’ll share this little turdlet with them as well.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

* * * * *

i was busy vacuuming
using my hydromatic automatic suck-o-matic central vac
and when i moved the laundry room door to clean behind
(responsible guy that i am)
there was a

and reacting without a second thought
about the interdependent web of life and all that
i sucked that sucker up.

and the fury of that wind unleashed
tempest tossed
around corners and down dark passages
swirling ’round the rim
and directly into Charbodys’ maw.

washed up battered half dead
in a pile of dust
carefully crawled out (now that Charbodys had stopped)
through the exhaust pipe
and back into his cozy home in my wall.

oh what tales he’ll tell his grandchildren,
that endless voyage
that ended up about 10 feet away.

and if the old blind roach takes up the tale
ages from now
when men walk the earth no longer
(prey to the bomb or pollution or evolutionary success)
and the magnificent tales of Homer are long forgotten
young roach schoolchildren will still speak reverently
of Odysseus Roach.






Editing: A Love-Hate Relationship

I’ve just moved from doing a lot of writing to not doing much writing at all, and at the same time poised on the edge overlooking a great chasm . . . of editing.

I have a true love-hate relationship with editing. You can’t be an effective writer without being a good editor, so you’ve got to suck it up and do it. And do it well. Without whining and bitching about it. But.

What I love about editing:

  1. I love good writing. A well-written sentence is a piece of dark chocolate wrapped in a rainbow and sprinkled with a twist of imagination. I love to read something I wrote sometime in the past and think, “Hey! This is good!”
  2. There is something immensely satisfying in completing a good rewrite and knowing that what you’ve finished is way better than when you started.
  3. My father taught me to appreciate good craftsmanship. I’ll never be as good as he was: don’t have the patience. He could take more time sanding a drawer front than I was willing to spend on an entire piece of furniture. But I learned to appreciate the beauty of something done well.
  4. Editing happens in big chunks. You can see real progress in a hurry. It puts you closer to publication in steps that you can immediately appreciate.

What I hate about editing:

  1. It’s not writing. It takes away writing time and spends it on something that isn’t writing.
  2. It’s simply not as creative. The best sentences that comes out of a rewrite are every bit as creative, and take every  bit as much imagination, as those that come out of a first draft. There just aren’t as many of them. For me, anyway.
  3. Expanding on #2. For me, editing doesn’t consistently engage the subconscious. Your invisible friends don’t get to run and frolic in the meadow. Mostly it’s you and your English teacher, although some days it’s Spring and you get to hold class outside.
  4. It’s not writing.

The Adventures of Sir Kay will be fun to edit. I have some fundamental problems to work out. The conflict between Kay and Aggravaine needs serious expansion. In the first draft, the reader doesn’t appreciate how screwed up Kay is; that, for the first time in his life, he doesn’t have any idea how to accomplish something. More tension. Etc.

But it has good bones. And a lot of really good sentences already. Just needs some love.


And then on top of that . . .

If my next project is to rewrite Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail, that will be 20% writing and 80% editing. Back to back! Aargh. And worse, no matter when I decide to do it, it will always be back to back with something.

I can’t imagine being able to juggle revising Bradley Schuster and writing a new novel at the same time. I know, I’ve been editing one book while writing another for several novels now. But it’s going to need my undivided attention, at least for a while.

And then the final straw: I just finished the second pass of edits on Strange Bedfellows with my editor.

I hate editing.

Good thing I love it.

ps: if your retirement account needs a little boost, buy some stock in a company that makes red ink.

edited page 2

Cover Art Saga

I hesitated to write this blog at all. Once you hear how great my publisher is, well, everybody will want one.

I love Soul Mate Publishing.  They may not be the biggest, but they have to be the easiest to work with.

Remember back on January 14th when I got my new cover? I liked it a lot, and so did you. Here’s the email I sent back.

I absolutely love it, Debby. Is this the same artist as before? Her vision is spectacular, as well as translating a weak concept into a strong cover.

 I have one request and one suggestion/consideration.

 REQUEST:  The love potion is in too big a container (a ‘flask’ instead of a vial). There should only be enough for a single use. It’s distilled down, so it should look thick.  Here’s my vision of a vial, although I’m definitely not hard core about this (think the neck adds more interest than just a straight glass vial).  I like the cork a lot, so it could go in the vial.

SUGGESTION/CONSIDERATION: The author’s name is so high as to appear mildly unbalanced. I would lower it another half inch. But that may wash out the “D” without making significant changes to the color scheme. Can’t tell if the outline will carry it or not. Bottom line: if it can’t be done without altering the overall look, don’t do it. It’s not that big a deal to me.

Along with the email I sent a simple image of a straight-sided glass vial.

The reply back included a new cover with the author’s name (that would be my name; sorry for the 3rd person) lowered. And also with the line, “She couldn’t find a vial but I think this works very well to convey your theme.”

To which I answered:

Like the name location. Not quite ready to give up on the vial yet.  Any small bottle of any sort and description would be OK, comparatively. Where does she look? Can I help?

I guess in a pinch we could shrink down the flask to maybe half its size. Turn the name tag sideways if necessary.

By now, I’m wondering if I’m being a prima donna pain in the ass. But back comes a URL for a graphics site, along with:

This is where she gets the pictures. If you can’t find something you like better, I’ll suggest the alternative.

I get to look and suggest what I like? Um, I think I can do that.

So I go to this site and there’s about a billion images available. A search on “Old Bottle” offers 11,085 choices. A feast of choices, and so I indulge. After a half hour, I realize that 1) I’m never going to be able to look at everything, and 2) this isn’t going to be done on the spot. So I send off this note, along with a couple of the really cool options that I’ve found.

depositphotos_11235869-Old-sealed-bottle-of-white-wineOoh. Ooh.  So many delicious choices.

I’m going to assume she can’t fill the bottle and so it needs to come with liquid.  And that she can modify an existing blank label. If these aren’t true, please let me know. Otherwise, I’ll have some favorite choices to you by Monday morning if that suits your timetable.

I didn’t expect a reply back–Debby is a very busy person and I’ve already soaked up more of her time than my little rat killing deserves. But I get one back later that night (another late night for Debby, I’m thinking).

I’m so glad you found some! I think she can make those changes but she takes a while to reply to I’m going to say just pass along your favorites to me so I can let her know.

Carte blanche, sounds like to me. You know me: I spent a solid hour (probably an hour and a half, but who’s counting?) searching for the perfect bottle. In the end I send back 7 choices (4 shown below), with the pros and cons of each. Just your usual Rusty overkill. They’re waiting in her in-box on Monday morning, as promised.

4 bottlesOK, here’s my suggestions. Any of these work for me. Want to make sure that the artist has choices that she feels coordinate well with the look of the cover.  Hopefully I’ve given enough information so that they’re easy to find.

Thanks for the opportunity to contribute. Have a great week.

Debby fires back:

I sent your suggestions along to Ramona. You did find a lot! I’m sure she was thinking about a beaker not a vial so this will help her create the cover you want.

Ramona agrees with my favorite of the 7 choices, does her magic, and back comes Rev 3, which is proudly on display below. All I can answer back is:

Perfect, Debby. Thanks for the extra effort making it happen. Assume you’re passing along to Ramona how pleased I am.

You people are such a delight to work with. Appreciate you all.

Strange Bedfellows #3 copy

That Troublesome Last Chapter

Unless my characters rise up in revolt today, I’m finishing up the last chapter in my latest novel, for which SusanH has suggested the title, Sir Kay’s Last Quest. The question for me always is: how the-end-is-heremany loose ends to tie up?

In the editing process of Return from Avalon (and Points West), my editor “suggested” that I get to the end quicker after the climax of the story. When I went back to work on it, I discovered that there were 21,000 words after what most people would regard as the climax. Holy crap, that’s 20% of the book! I painstakingly cut 7,000 words. 7,000 very good words that I’d lovingly crafted in the first place. If I ever become rich and famous as a writer, after I die somebody may be going through my papers and discover those missing 7,000 words. Then there will be a big brouhaha over them and a new edition published with the “lost words,” sort of like they do with long-dead TV series, and then everybody will have to buy a new copy and of course you can’t get that one signed by the author since I’ll be dead. Maybe I should sign a bunch of labels in advance and store them with the lost words. Except that nobody keeps papers anymore, just 40 different versions of manuscripts in digital form. And who would be going through that!

In Strange Bedfellows, you’ll remember (well, probably you won’t. But I’m reminding you so you’ll remember), there were 4 final chapters, one from each characters’ point of view. A tidy little 5500 words. During which we got the happy family moved to the Caribbean, engaged, J.G.’s little girlfriend confirmed to have extra-sensory powers and still around, a messy threesome with Morgan/Tig’noire, etc.

In Avalon, S.C. there weren’t that many loose ends. J.D had been left on the island; Rick and Sabrina had moved from semi-platonic to fully-lubricant lovers. What more was there to wrap up? Adeline offered Rick the job of staying at the cottage as caretaker, they agreed on their story to tell the Sheriff about J.D., Sabrina wasn’t pregnant, plus a nice teaser that ties in with Return from Avalon (and Points West) and sets up a potential novel where Sabrina goes to Wales and meets Vivian and Meg. 1,948 words and we were outta there.

Sir Kay’s Last Quest  has a lot more loose ends. I’m just not sure how many of them to tie up and how many to leave loose. Like the Holy Grail: touch on, or leave hanging? Morgan’s redemption? The upcoming discovery of Lancelot and Guinevere tryst by Aggravaine and company?

Sometimes books have an epilogue where they list the major characters and tell what happened to them. This is a frequent device in military books where a platoon fights together, then disbands after the war (or in the case of Vietnam, rotate home). Curiously, everybody is a success at something; nobody ever lives a life of bleak mediocrity where they lose the house due to mortgage foreclosure. But using that device for an Arthurian book would be even worse:

  • King Arthur: dies in the battle of Camlan
  • Sir Kay: dies in the battle of Camlan
  • Sir Gawain: dies in the battle of Camlan
  • Sir Aggravaine: dies in the battle of Camlan
  • Sir . . .

Hey, I didn’t write the original story. And some things you just can’t up and change. At least with Morgan, we’d have a different fate.

  • Morgan le Fay: learned how to jump into the bodies of “special nieces” to avoid death. Last seen in the 21st century in the body of an 18th century voodoo priestess.


Just the Right Word II

But suppose you can’t find the perfect word?  What then?  Well, if you’re as bold and creative as Lewis Carroll, you make one up.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.


OK, I’ll admit it: I’m not that creative. Still, I confess to having made up a word or two myself.  The last one was a month or so ago, in Chapter 16 of The Adventures of Sir Kay:

“She was as lithe as a cat, although her movements had a certain deliberate languidity.”

Languidity is a portmanteau of liquidity and languid.  Definitely not as “outgrabe” as Carroll.  But unique nonetheless.

SusanH threw down the gauntlet in her comment to my Friday post.  “I’m thinking of inventing “virgin words” (per Jana) for laugh, smile, chuckle, snort. I need at least five more!”  The thousands of you not in my writers’ group, unless you were psychic, had no idea what she was talking about.  So I’ll share.

“Jana” is Jana Moore, a powerful–“brillig,” some might say–young poet in our writers’ group.  Last session she shared with us this poem, from which the reference “virgin words” comes:

the hum

I want to taste a virgin word
while I still have a human tongue
I wonder if such a sound would come
or whether I’d be
the chosen one to recognize
its patterned syllable
how many combinations
can the lips and tongue and teeth produce
with finite vowels and consonants
and the pitch of my woman’s throat
I’d like to know
if it’s possible
to learn a yet unspoken sound
to utter the hum of unused space
and summon the language holy-ground


In addition to sharing Jana with you, I’m also passing along SusanH’s challenge.  How about offering her a virgin word for laugh, smile, chuckle, or snort?  Or if you’re not into verbs today, how about grumpy, happy, sleepy, or sneezy?  I offered lippleup for smile, but I don’t think that’s going to “win.”

All entries will be feted; the best will be praised unduly.  Get your entries in today!

JanaMoore crop1Jana Moore

ps:  in case you missed it, SusanH commented, “Laughing–or lipplingup–at that.”  But of course, the correct usage would be, “I’m lippleupping at that.”

Just the Right Word

My “stated” writing methodology is not to edit on the first draft.  But that’s nowhere near what I actually do.  I don’t extensively polish–there’s too much chance that the words that I fuss over are going to change on the first editing pass.  But it is important that the writing from the beginning has the right flavor.  A richness of words.  A precision of expression.  To me that’s important, because that’s part of what makes my writing interesting.  At least to my niche audience–everybody else just yawns.  Oh, well.  If the story itself has to carry the novel, well, I might as well stop now.

But . . . one of the key of getting words on the page is not to dither.

Research is one place where dithering can get out of hand.  There’s a million things I don’t know about the period I’m writing about, and every time I dip into research I end up spending way more time than I should.  I’m OK with that, though.  Nothing screws up a novel for me than a writer who has no idea what he’s talking about.

Word choice is another.

I would like to say that I don’t spend a lot of time in the Thesaurus on the first draft, but again, that’s not really true.  What I INTEND to do is to use the Word Shift>F7 Thesaurus, take the best fit, mark it as a word that could be improved if not totally satisfied, and move on.  But sometimes, that simply won’t do.

I got caught up in exactly that time sink on Wednesday.

The sentence was: “OK, young squire.  Here is a mission worthy of your skills as a ___________.  My mental image was someone who skulks effectively, can slip into a shadowy alcove and hide effortlessly, move noiselessly.

My Dungeons and Dragons background speaks up. That’s a thief.  That’s what the class does.  Except ‘thief’ doesn’t mean that to the reading population at large.  Oswald’s not specifically going to steal anything, and he’s not really that sort of person.

“One who lurks.”  Except ‘lurker’ isn’t listed in the thesaurus.  Looking under ‘lurk’ yields nothing useful.  Lots of rich verbs, but nothing that can be converted into a noun.

“Prowler.”  That gets me into Section 483, Thief.  Well, OK; I hadn’t looked at that before.  But again, back to the problem that thief carries too many undesired connotations.  Again, lots of rich words: cutpurse, cat burglar, filcher, and grafter to name a few.  But nothing useful.

Finally, fully 10 minutes later, my common sense alarm went off.  I settled for ‘prowler’ and got on with my work.  At 10 minutes a word, writing 4 hours a day, it would take 11.4 years to finish a 100,000 word novel.  Isn’t it apocryphal that Flaubert took that long to polish Madame Bovary?  And yes, I’m being a little silly.  10 minutes for ONE word is not the same as 10 minutes for EVERY word.

But still.



Way back in September of last year, I was pissing and moaning about how, now that I’m retired, I don’t take long drives for work anymore and so I was having a hard time getting my mind to wander enough for my subconscious to work plot lines.  Many of you suggested “Mulling While Walking.”  I even wrote a blog on the difficulties of doing that for me.

The Walking Mull

At least part of the problem (which I didn’t even talk about) is that I can’t go outside on a consistent basis during the summer.  Even early in the morning, it’s miserable.

But . . . November is here, and the weather actually cools off.  It’s my very favorite month, although late October is pretty nice too.

That, plus the swap from daylight savings time, opens this neat little window around 7am.  I’m not really doing anything else productive–my creative side hasn’t fully woken up yet–and I’ve finished reading my mail and Facebook and whatever blogs I read daily.

So I decided to start taking Destiny out that time every day.  Why not?

And guess what?  I had a successful walking mull!!!

As a hard-core “pantser”–I don’t outline a lot, don’t even really plan where my novel is going next–I need a lot of ideas.  Like the novel I’m working on now: The Adventures of Sir Kay (working title; this will NOT be the real thing).  It’s pretty easy to write him into a lot of complex situations, but not so easy to get him out of them.  I’m a steadfast believer that “something will come up.”  And it did.

Yesterday I wrote 2,500 words.  That’s a LOT for me.  I typically average around 7,500 a week.  Not nearly enough to succeed at NaNoWriMo.  But I’m really excited where this is going.

Can’t wait to show you.  Won’t be too long from now before this novel is ready to start posting (particularly if I keep this pace up).

HPIM1054Destiny in her favorite chair, recovering after a long walk

A Rose by Another Name?

FIRST, THE NEWS:  I have received a contract offer for Avalon, S.C.

(pausing a moment to allow you to celebrate wildly and raucously)

NEXT, THE QUESTION:  The Soul Mate Publishing Acquisitions Editor asked: “Is Avalon, S.C. the real title, or is it still a working title?”

Aha!  Good question.  I’d gotten so used to calling it that, I’d forgotten the possibility that there was going to be another name.  To be honest, I haven’t been able to think of one I like better.

But maybe you can.

So, blog community.  Submit your suggestions as comments here.  If the Acquisitions Editor and I see any we like better than Avalon, S.C., why, you’ll have the honor of naming the book!

To help you with your thinking process, I’m including a little photo montage of the novel.

Avalon 1Not Avalon, SC–there’s no hill!–but at least it gives the feel on an island off the coast of South Carolina

NimueShe’s not golden-haired, but I love the picture

???????????????????????????A wheel, ready for you to walk while you contemplate this question.

triple goddess jewelry3A triple goddess pendant, NOT worth $6000 nor nearly as classy as the one George designed.

altar and stone circle, beacons national park, walesAn altar with standing stones in the background

enlightened-chai-logoa salute to our favorite new-age cougar

BeltaneA child conceived on Beltane is blessed by the gods.  Maybe next year?

taserHell hath no fury . . . this one’s for you, JD

1362-Atlanta-FalconsMaybe next year.

Those Mystical Magical Moments

NB: this is a repost of the guest blog I did yesterday for Melissa’s blog, EatReadRate.

Last April, at the Houston Writers’ Guild Spring Workshop, I had the pleasure of hearing an uplifting speech by Nikki Loftin.  Nikki is a delightful young writer who spoke about offsetting the disappointments—and there are many, believe it or not—of a writing life by celebrating the victories, large or small.

We all know about the large victories.  The big one, when you get that first email that somebody actually wants to publish a book you wrote.  And there are others.  Or I hear there are; I’m just not thinking of any right now.  Ah ha.  When you get your first 6-figure royalty check.  Sorry, temporarily slipped my mind.

Smaller victories are more common, fortunately.  You get a 5-star review from somebody you don’t know—I opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate the first time that happened.  Your Aunt Myrtle, who hasn’t read anything deeper than Soap Opera Digest since high school, brings your novel to Thanksgiving dinner for you to autograph and then discusses the nuances of the ending.  Stella chooses you for an interview.  Celebrate every single one of those, my friends.  Savor them all.

But I want to talk about a different sort of victory in today’s blog.  One that takes place, not in the business world or in the publishing world, but in the writing process itself.  Because for me, those are why I write.  The magical moments that keep me coming back to the page.

WARNING: the opinions expressed below are strictly mine.  Writing is an intensely personal and individualized process, and I wouldn’t be totally astonished if there are a dozen comments that are variants of, “What the hell are you talking about?  Are you serious?  Writing isn’t like that.”

Writing at its best is a right-brained process, not a logical plan.  Images burble up from the deep, dark swamp of your subconscious, coalesce, and dance together around a bonfire in some deep oak grove.  Only then does your logic, your writing skills that you’ve worked so hard to hone during countless workshops, your hard-earned knowledge about deep point of view and telling-not-showing get to work to shape those images into clean, tight prose.  But it’s the subconscious magic that makes it special.

I love it when I sit down to write, having a pretty good idea where I’m going in this chapter, and an hour later I stop and ask, “What just happened?”

I love it when my characters don’t behave.  When I put them in a situation and they do something totally unexpected.  Ha.  And you thought you were in charge.

Here’s one favorite example of mine.  In Return from Avalon (and Points West), the hero Arnie Penders touches a ghost on a Civil War battlefield and sets it free.  When I wrote that scene, I had no idea how he did it or what part it would play in the novel.  He was moved by the anguish on the face of the young soldier, so I guess I was as well.

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT.  If you haven’t read Return from Avalon (and Points West)—and why haven’t you, I want to know?—this is going to reveal a really dramatic piece of the book.

35,000 words later, Arnie is in a misty valley in North Wales, experiencing a vision about the death of King Arthur (“vision” seems like a totally inadequate word; Arnie’s visions are uber intense).  When the vision ends, as he is walking toward the spot where Arthur was mortally wounded, he sees a ghost.  The implications totally blow him away.  Has he really gone through all of this to set the spirit of King Arthur free from 1500 years of being trapped on the spot of his death?

But it’s not the ghost of King Arthur.  It’s Mordred.

I can still clearly remember the day I wrote that, although it was more than five years ago.  I was still working as an engineer, writing over lunch every day.  When lunch hour was supposed to be over, I was still just sitting there, stunned by something I had just created.  Didn’t get squat done the rest of the day.

A mystical, magical moment.  One of many.

That’s why I write.


A Rose by Any Other Name . . . Part II

“What’s in a name? That which we call a turd
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

     –  Willie “the Snake” Spear

Sorry, I’m totally into my new novel where the “I character” is sarcastic, anachronistic, misquotes writers who haven’t even been born yet, etc.

Anyway, now you’ve met “Bessie,” as she was called in the original version.  Another warm, fun character.  My sister christened her Clarissa; SusanH added “but called “Issa.”  So that’s where she is . . . for now.

As promised, you now get a chance to live on in history (or perhaps infamy) by giving her a new name.  You did such an outstanding job with Amos/James–a total of 41 names suggested (culling down to 20 was pretty easy; every discard after that was painful)–that I’m delighted to give you another opportunity.

Clarissa was born in 1970, so there are more name options open–although it was still in backwater, S.C., so the distinctive names for black women that were beginning to appear in the cities were still a few years away.  “Sassy, but not cute and not too new-fangled,” the name should suggest.

Incidentally, Bess is the soprano star of Porgy and Bess, my favorite Operetta.  “Porgy, I’m your woman now” still gives me goose bumps.  But still.

Incidentally, Tuesday was the biggest traffic day for this web site (still hasn’t come close to the other one yet–wonder where all those readers disappeared too?).  That was the post on the Medicine Wheel.  I’m sure that says something, but I’m not going to speculate on what it is.

porgy and bessA very young Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald in one of the most famous versions of Porgy and Bess

Sierra Exif JPEGMy personal favorite rendition ever.  I owned it on vinyl, but it’s never been reissued in digital format.  I keep hoping (in case you were looking for a Christmas present for me)