Book Love

The other day a friend of mine was bragging that she never kept a book. Once she had read the last page of a novel or a nonfiction volume she would give it away or donate it, and in the case of an e-book she would delete it forever from her e-reader. That way, she claimed, she maintained her minimalist lifestyle and prevented the accumulation of clutter in her household. I politely refrained from passing out in her presence, as that could have been interpreted as a negative comment on her life choices, but as soon as I was alone I had the urge to pound my head against my desk, hard. We share some important core values, which is why we are friends, but it shocked and saddened me to hear her refer to books as “clutter.” What on God’s green earth was wrong with her?

When I was able to think about it calmly, the answer finally came to me—she sees books as disposable commodities, and I see them as friends. Neither one of us is wrong, and the difference in our philosophy of literary vehicles isn’t important enough to get between us. But it’s a radical mind shift for me to think of books as something disposable. Many upstanding, sane, decent folks read a book once and then discard it. It simply doesn’t make any sense to them to keep the physical or electronic item hanging around any longer. Once and done, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and they probably do have less clutter in their households because of it.

But I simply cannot see it that way. Reading a book once and then deleting it or giving it away feels to me like enjoying a ride at an amusement park once, and never riding it again. Or eating a delicious meal at a fantastic restaurant and never returning. Having the greatest first date you ever had, and then never returning their message asking for a second one. I just can’t consider books that way. It isn’t in my soul.

Of course, one can’t keep every physical book one reads. After several large-scale weeding projects on my own home library I have made sensible weeding an ongoing activity, not an end-point. But the decision is still hard. Will I ever want to read or consult this book again? Can I get another copy later on if I weed this one out and suddenly want to read it over? And sometimes the question is, am I ready to let this book go even though I may never open it again?

There are levels of book-love. Mine is outlined in those three critical questions above. How great is your own book-love? One question, three, twelve, none? To make room for the books you love, you must sort out the books you had a one-night stand with, or a passing fling. But don’t settle—never settle. Books you feel less than passionate about are probably best weeded out and thrown or given away. But those books that you well and truly love, that you keep coming back to, those books that have stood the test of time, keep them close to you forever.

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Goodreads Giveaway for Hill Magick Dec. 25 – Jan 6

Stop by the Goodreads Giveway page and pick up a copy of Hill Magick starting Dec. 25 through Jan 6!

Here, have some cookies!

courtesy Desktop Nexus

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What Makes A True Writer?

Does one painting make a real artist? Does having written a couple poems make one a true poet? Does playing a few games of volleyball on the beach one summer make one a genuine athlete? Does writing a story or two make one a true writer? Just as a summer of beach fun or a stab at haiku doesn’t make one a real poet, creating a few items and stopping doesn’t make someone a true writer.

Dedication and followthrough are part of being a serious artist, or athlete, or writer. If someone writes only when they are inspired, or only a few pages every couple of months, are they legit? I think yes because the act of writing is recurrent, but it’s very difficult to complete anything at that rate. The more often and regularly a writer works, the more serious it shows he or she is about their craft.

Must a true writer have a published book? There’s a problem with that definition; it leaves out the neophyte writer who is working on their first novel and the serious author whose works haven’t yet been accepted by a publisher. Being published, while the goal of almost every writer, is not a real-world, accurate definition of a real writer.

Can a real writer be defined as someone who has published a book through traditional means? While it’s true that self-publishing does not carry the stigma it once had, there is still an undercurrent of feeling that unless a book has been accepted by a traditional publisher the work hasn’t been legitimized. However, I know a few genuinely talented authors who haven chosen the route of self-publishing through sheer frustration with traditional publishing venues, and I can’t fault them for it because I have done the same.

So what does make one a genuine writer? Is it any of these? Or is it simply the act of writing itself? I argue that a real writer is someone who writes regularly, whatever that regular schedule might mean; who is willing to work hard, and who can accept valid criticism and strive to become better at their craft. Last but not least, I would like to add zeal. A true writer is someone who is impelled to write, because they can’t NOT write. Because a person can’t stick with it year after year without that hunger and the drive to create with words.

I’m a true writer, in the fullest sense of the word. Are you?

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Bad Times at the El Royale

I found this film well-written, directed, and acted, containing intelligently done misdirections that change the course of the narrative and mess with the expectations of the audience. Much like the TV series Lost, the characters in Bad Times interact and collide in the present time before we’re given their back stories, adding to the suspense and rising tension of the film, and the revelations at the very end are just as important as the ones which occur during the thick of the narrative. However, this movie could have been edited down to the standard two hours without subtracting from the plot and without editing out the excellent music therein.

Much like the US-Swedish film Midsommar, Bad Times at the El Royale is a great movie unrelieved by lighter moments which might have allowed the audience to relax and renew their emotional energy to prepare for the next action scenes. All in all, Bad Times an excellent movie well done, one that I have no desire to see again, but one that I am glad I watched for the first time.

Here is the link to the movie in IMDB (warning, spoilers!):

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The Buzz

In July and August, the hot-weather insects are out in force. All sorts of obscure and icky insect sightings can occur during this time. You innocently leave your car and walk up to the front or back door of your house, dreaming of nothing more exciting than a tall, cool glass of Coke or beer. Then you stop dead in your tracks—some gigantic, ugly, horrifying mutant reject from a monster movie has settled in just where you must put your key or your hand. You’ve never seen this strange life form before or anything like it, and you have lived here for years. “What the hell is that?” you exclaim out loud, hoping the freakish insect will get a clue and retreat without drastic measures. But the creature remains immobile, seemingly in a trance. Fanning it with the piece of paper in your hand doesn’t dislodge it or wake it up (thank gosh!). So you stand there hopelessly staring at it because you don’t want to lunge at it with your shoe and miss, and have to run as you have never run before as it rockets toward you to take revenge for your feeble attempt at insecticide.

So you saunter back to your car, making up some sort of excuse to whoever might have witnessed your ordeal: “I forgot to get bread when I was at the store,” or “I dropped my key” or some such face-saving thing. You drive around the block, thinking of stopping in at the local Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone, but decide you don’t deserve one for being such a coward. You circle the block twelve more times, squint at the spot where the horrifying apparition had been, and see that that spot is now pristine and white, cleansed and pure. You are finally able enter into your apartment or your house, filled with a vast relief and false bravado: “I could have swatted that thing, if I’d wanted to!”  But you know in your deepest self that the reason you didn’t “swat that thing” was because you didn’t want to piss it off or only half-kill it, or kill it and hear that awful crunch of the carapace splitting and the gush of insect guts spilling out. Or perhaps it’s the only living specimen of its kind (surely there can’t be a whole race of those ugly things!), and if you killed it you would have made that species go extinct, which would be an awful thing, or so we are told, but sometimes we wonder. Safely inside, nursing your cold one, you suppress the memories of horror and disgust and pretend this is the only time this sort of incident has ever occurred in your life, and that it will never occur again, ever.

Until next summer, of course. And so it goes…

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Free on Smashwords July 1 – 31

Download all my digital books for free on Smashwords from July 1 through July 31!

Happy Independence Day!





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Smashwords special!







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Active or Passive? It’s All Good!


Some activities are active, like skiing, knitting, gardening, playing the trumpet. They involve energy, time, and commitment. Other activities are passive in nature, such as going to a museum, listening to music, and watching a movie. They don’t require much energy or commitment and ask for little energy in return.

Both types of activities are refreshing and satisfying in their own ways, but they are not accessed in the same ways. Active pastimes and hobbies demand you put energy into it to get something back. You expend emotional and often physical energy to gain the benefit. Passive pastimes don’t demand much from you. They provide emotional enjoyment while not asking much in return. They are there when you are in need of comfort and distraction but don’t have any energy to give.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, all good writing needs emotional energy of some sort to get done. And you can have all the the time you need to write (finally!) and the space, and the ambition and desire, but if you don’t have the inner wherewithal to do the job then you’ve got to fill your emotional gas tank—do the passive activities you love to fill your emotional gas tank, and when you are recovered enough to invest energy in “active activities,” then do those. And when your creative energy is at its peak, get busy writing!


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Your Mind’s Eye


In your mind’s eye, do you picture the story you are reading or writing happening in real-life locations? Do you picture your favorite narrative taking place in your back yard, your grandmother’s farm, or the national park you and your family camped in when you were twelve?

I do…and one of my favorite visualizations is picturing the abandoned church in HP Lovecraft’s “The Haunter of the Dark.” The building is a gaunt, steepled Victorian mansion. I get a good view of it when I drive on certain streets, and it always gives me a (welcome) shiver.

Picturing narratives taking place in real-life locations, the vivid details of sights, smells, and sounds, makes them come alive—makes them real. Whenever I reread Gone With The Wind, Scarlett’s mansion is the magnificent house of a rich friend of mine. The childhood classic The Wind In The Willows plays out in a shady glen with a trickling brook that I remember from when I lived overseas. And the events in HP Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” takes place just a quarter mile down the road from my childhood home.

Old-fashioned black and white sf movies often included scenes filmed in the US southwestern desert, I’m guessing because the surroundings look exotic and alien. Whenever I look at desert photographs I am eleven years old again lying on my family’s sagging couch in the living room, engrossed in whatever scary Saturday matinee movie was playing on TV that week. Portions of the Lord of the Rings movies were shot in New Zealand, and thousands of people look at photographs of that beautiful landscape or visit that area themselves and imagine Frodo and his companions walking there. And whenever I drive past that Victorian mansion I think afresh of “The Haunter of the Dark.”

What exotic or familiar, buildings, areas, or landscapes do you imagine when you are reading or writing?


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It’s So Simple!

spagh squash

Life is sometimes simple, except when it’s not. Writing isn’t simple, or at least I don’t find it so. Buying a house isn’t as simple as we would like it to be. Raising a puppy or a kitten isn’t as simple as it looks at first. But baking spaghetti squash is simple, if you know the right way to do it.

Don’t hack away at that rind! Why are you trying to cut that raw, hard thing in half? Why would you do that!?

Here’s the easiest way in the world to bake that big yellow sucker:

  1. Wash your spaghetti squash all over and pat dry.
  2. Poke a fork in that hard rind, all the way around, so it won’t explode in your oven. This is just a precaution; once I forgot to do it, and the squash was fine.
  3. Put it on a cookie sheet on a piece of parchment paper.
  4. Bake that thing at 350° for one hour. If you can stick a fork in it easily and if the rind is starting to turn brown, it’s done.
  5. Take it out and let it cool for maybe ten minutes, unless your hands are made of asbestos.
  6. Slice the squash in half with a carving knife. The knife should go in easily and you should be able to bisect it with no trouble. As I mention in my cookbook, it’s rather like deflating a big warm football.
  7. Remove the seeds and the inner pulp, which is often difficult to see because it’s only slightly darker than the flesh. It’s OK if you miss a few bits, it’s not toxic or anything.
  8. Now take a fork and rake the flesh of the squash into strands. This is your “spaghetti.”

Boom, done!  Wasn’t that easy?

Don’t put yourself through hell trying to stab and slice through that hard, raw rind. Save yourself the trouble and do it the easy way. My way!


written in response to a frustrating conversation with a clerk at the grocery store

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A Ballad To Remember


Way back in the dinosaur days when I was in college, I wrote a lengthy term paper about English and Scottish ballads. The reason this song, If I Die Young by The Band Perry (available in Amazon digital music) fascinates me is because it has all the elements of a true English ballad. I think it’s haunting and lovely, both the words and the music:

If I die young bury me in satin,
Lay me down on a bed of roses,
Sink me in the river at dawn,
Send me away with the words of a love song.

Here are the classic symbols of romantic love, emphasizing her youth and beauty and the future she never got to have. Most ballad subjects are about love, and death, the present and the future, sadness and the promise of that sadness being lifted in the future.


Lord make me a rainbow, I’ll shine down on my mother.
She’ll know I’m safe with you when
She stands under my colours, oh and
Life ain’t always what you think it oughta be, no
Ain’t even grey, but she buries her baby.

She speaks as though she’s already passed on, alternating with still being live—like one foot on the earth and one foot already in heaven. Concern about the survivors, and a celestial omen that might appear in order to provide comfort.


The sharp knife of a short life,
Well, I’ve had just enough time.

The sharp knife, a homey and simple image, not only for her mother but for herself, that it hurts not to have had much time on earth but it’s ultimately all right. No cause of death is mentioned, but that isn’t the focus of this ballad.


And I’ll be wearing white when I come into your (God’s) kingdom.
I’m as green as the ring on my little cold finger
I’ve never known the lovin’ of a man

But it sure felt nice when he was holding my hand

She has died a pure virgin, not because of prudishness but because there wasn’t enough time for the right man to come along.


There’s a boy here in town says he’ll love me forever

Dispassionate statement, no indication that she felt he was the right one.


Who would have thought forever could be severed by

The sharp knife of a short life,
Well I’ve had just enough time….

What I never did is done.

Just enough time because of God’s will, sadly not enough for the romantic love she would have wished for.


A penny for my thoughts, oh no I’ll sell them for a dollar.
They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner,
And maybe then you’ll hear the words I been singin’
Funny when you’re dead how people start listenin’.

The canny, wise girl-woman who sees backward and forward at the same time. Wisdom gained both before and after her early demise.


…the ballad of a dove
Go with peace and love
Gather up your tears, keep ’em in your pocket
Save ’em for a time when your really gonna need ’em oh

The prescience of the newly dead, a common belief in old times. Don’t grieve excessively for me, let go and move on with your lives.


The sharp knife of a short life,
Well I’ve had just enough time
So put on your best boys, and I’ll wear my pearls

Prepare for the kingdom of heaven. Also an implied hint that perhaps one of those “boys” might be the right man for her, in God’s kingdom.


A beautiful, perfect ballad.

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Out of the Deep Freeze

blizzard 1 (2011)

The midwestern US has its share of cold snaps, but this year was a record-breaker. On the worst day the air temperature stood at -25° and the wind chill was reported at -49°. Today, the second day of February, the weather has changed. It’s +37°, I can breathe through my nose without my nostrils sticking together, and the ice on the upper part of my windshield has finally melted. I don’t have to run out in the evening and run my car for a half hour to keep the battery charged. The monotonous scrape, scrape of snow shovels and the roar of snowblowers is suspended. It’s going to rain some time this afternoon, and I am delighted beyond words.

What have I learned during this cold snap, the worst in twenty years? I’ve learned that salt doesn’t melt ice if it gets too cold. I’ve learned that after a certain point, bundling up against frigid weather doesn’t help you any more. I’ve also learned that I am a wimp. In Siberia people live with extreme weather all winter long. They keep their cars running until spring because if the motors were turned off they would be unable to start them again. Children go to school while the thermometer stands at -50 degrees. Folks go about their normal daily business in temps that can freeze bare skin in seconds. It’s amazing what you can get used to, if you have to. But what does that make me? Lucky, yes. But a wimp nevertheless.

The next time I find myself complaining about normal winter cold, I will remember Siberia. I will try to do better, I swear—after I thaw out my fingers and unstick my nostrils, that is.

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