Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Fashion Advice

If you are going to try on good clothes, with patterns / fashion potential?

Do not wear an oversized bright orange shirt.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


A partial list of my favorite movies, ones I feel a sense of "ownership" about:

Ladyhawke, Willow, The Princess Bride, Clue, Miss Congeniality, Stargate, National Treasure, Conspiracy Theory, History of the World (Pt 1), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ocean's Eleven (remake) ...

Movies like Major League, Short Circuit, The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, The Matrix (I loved the first movie and hated the sequels), Independence Day and the Lord of the Rings movies get close to this, but I don't feel the same way about them. The first list are sort of like children - you know they're flawed, but you love them anyway.

Monday, April 28, 2008

"I'll come to thee by the moonlight ...

... though hell should bar the way."

The Highwayman, as sung by Loreena McKennit. Listened to this a few days ago, and was reminded of why I asked for "The English and Scottish Popular Ballads" (Child) for Christmas a few years back. These old stories have a pulse, and they beg to be retold. Now, obviously The Highwayman is an American poem, not a ballad, and I never tackled it personally - though I "printed" an excellent prose telling of it eons ago when I was running Eye of Unicorn, Tongue of Dragon - but it is a chilling story.

Another one is The Twa Sisters or The Bonny Swans (or ... you get the idea; a lot of the Scots ballads are like that), which I did take on eons ago. In brief, the plot of this ballad is a young girl is drowned by her jealous sister, becomes a swan, and washes ashore. She is found by a harper, who crafts a harp out of her various parts. (It's delightfully unclear whether she is swan or woman - her hair is used for the strings, for instance.) He then takes it to a dinner with her family, who is a king in some versions of the story, and the harp plays on its own, accusing the false sister.

I tried a retelling from the perspective of the harper, who eventually fell in love with his instrument (don't they all?) ... and, of course, I had to answer the, "What happens next?" that the ballad never touches upon. What's interesting is I'm fairly sure I wrote this before I started playing ...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Rejection Letter

There is definitely a skill in writing an all-purpose rejection letter that doesn't insult - by omission, by a backhanded statement, or even by false praise. ("Well, if my story was 'finely crafted' why was it rejected?" -- not actual example.) I recently received one for a themed submission that was worded in such a way that - well - I freaked out. I wondered if I understood the genre properly, where I was making a mis-step ... until I found out that someone else had received the identical rejection. Apparently, it was their generic "no" email.

This same person received an email from another location that made it unclear whether their story was being held for further consideration or bumped. In this case, I was able to clear up the confusion by observing that I'd received the same letter.

I think you have to be careful what you say when you mean to say nothing. It's definitely a difficult task!

That said, equally frustrating can be only-positive personalized rejections. "This story had great characterization and a nice twist ending." ... then why are you turning it down?

One recently made me facefault. I think I just got told my story was the last one they cut before finalizing a table of contents ... argh gibber! It was a nice compliment to receive in a way, but flail evil torture so close.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Moment of Silence

A moment of silence for the bold venture that was Staffs & Starships, a solid electronic magazine that published my "The Oracle Unlocked" - and, in that first issue, one other story that also received a Preditors & Editors Readers' poll nomination. Mr. Dryden, the editor, was always highly professional in my dealings with him, which isn't always a given in the publishing world.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Loch Norman Highland Games

Sunday, harp events at the Loch Norman Highland Games, Huntersville, North Carolina.

First off, the church service / Kirkin o the Tartans. I arrived via the harp gate, and told the crowing rooster it wasn't *that* early. The prior day, I mistook the ruins for the graveyard (an honest mistake!) and had to ask for directions when I realized there was no one *at* the ruins. I found out I had to trek quite a ways across the gamefield. But I made it in time to play several tunes for a prelude - a little under twenty minutes. (On time - I have only been late for a gig once in my life.) As always, the marching-in of the tartans is enjoyable to see, and the sun flowed brilliantly over the scene.

Secondly, the harp workshop. I taught my arrangement of the tune Shingly Beach, a lovely tune - my version is constructed so the ornamentation does not require any change in fingering (one of the most difficult aspects of ornamenting a piece). It turned out that I had a group more advanced than I expected, so I got the entire tune taught (as opposed to just the A part, which I had planned after a "test run" of the workshop) and it still ran a bit short ... so I shared another arrangement technique I like to use occasionally. Everyone seemed to enjoy the tune and seemed comfortable with the speed and content, so I count this a success. It also gave me a better feel for what I want to do with workshops in the future.

Thirdly, the competition - or, as it turns out, the lack of it. We had one competitor advance-registered and another who signed up on the day. The former didn't arrive, and the harp coordinator and I discussed and decided that it would be best not to hold a competition under such circumstances. Instead, we gave the loyal audience an impromptu performance - she and I played several tunes, our sole competitor played her set, and another harper performed a trio of tunes. I closed with a taste of other music styles - enter my old "Andrew Lloyd McWebber" joke, and "All I Ask of You," which never fails to surprise people ... in a good way.

All in a good day, not at all the day I expected, but I'm satisfied ... and for all the good moments, ready to go home.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Operational Defintion

In explaining the difference between a harper (traditional music / lever harp) and a harpist (classical music /pedal harp), I had to comment:

Also, you're not officially a harper until you've threatened to kill at least one bagpiper if they don't go play somewhere else.


Out of town right now at the Loch Norman Highland Games just north of Charlotte, NC, for which I will be teaching a workshop and then judging. I am rather nervous about both, though less about the judging now that I suspect I will have only a handful of competitors. If I am lucky, no one will be in the same categories so I won't have to decide between performances, just whether or not each performance was sufficient to award a first. (SHSA rules state that a certain number of points must be acquired for a first to be awarded regardless of number of competitors.)

There will doubtless be a longer post after the event (tomorrow) when I have some impressions to offer. For now - wow. Coming south and watching the trees move from the fringe into bursting bloom is beautiful.

Monday, April 14, 2008

In A Name

The fourth CD rip, all songs featuring "named" characters ... in alphabetical order, of course. This actually turned out fairly well in terms of flow.

1. But Mr. Adams -- 1776 soundtrack
2. Adia -- Sarah McLachlan
3. Angie Baby -- Helen Reddy
4. Crickets Sing For Anamaria -- Emma Bunton
5. It's Alright -- Kimberley Locke ("Brenda lived out in Michigan / She always seemed a little different ...")
6. Wound Up -- Leann Rimes ("Little Carrie-Ann, what a beautiful girl / From the moment she was born she was always perfect ...")
7. Celestine -- Kirsty MacColl
8. Ciara -- Windham Hill Artists (from a sampler CD - don't have the specific singer handy)
9. Dr. Beat -- Miami Sound Machine
10. Eve -- Chantal Kreviazuk
11. Isobel -- Dido
12. Julia -- Chantal Kreviazuk
13. King Kong -- Kirsty MacColl
14. Roxie -- Chicago soundtrack
15. Sarah's Song -- Sissel
16. Terry -- Kirsty MacColl
17. Tom, Dick or Harry -- Kiss Me Kate soundtrack

The first song contains some of the best lyrics well ... anywhere. How can you not like:

Mr. Adams, but Mr. Adams,
The things I write are only light extemporania.
I won't put politics on paper, it's a mania!
So I refuse to use the pen in Pennsylvania ...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sword & Sorceress

I have three stories queued up to submit to the next Sword & Sorceress anthology. The plan is to send the first one; if they reject before the submissions period is over, then the next, and so on. Last time they held "Coldsnap" for final consideration and then ultimately rejected it; hoping for better luck this time!

Lightning Strikes (about 5900 words): When her city is attacked by centaur barbarians, augur Diyesari begs for a sign from the gods to find her sister - and is given an unusual gift. This story is actually set in the same world as "Chatter Me Timbers," (Afterburn SF) maybe 4-5 hundred years later. "Chatter" was in a pseudo-classical Greece setting; "Lightning" is a bit closer to Rome. I don't write fights as well as I would like; I think "Lightning" contains some of the best swordplay I've written to date.

In These Shoes (about 3300 words): Assassin Rosh takes "just another job" in her home region - and finds it is anything but. There is a metaphorical thread in this story about her "kill shoes," which represent her life as an assassin and break down as she does. I'm really hoping I can think of a better title for the story, as even though there's no trace of it in the work, uh ... this went through my head when I started writing about footware and I had to use it for a working title: This story was initially an exercise to write about an article of clothing that had history; I cut about half of the original exercise, but the core remains.

The Winter Queen (about 3400 words): Sardian, a Sword of the Realm, travels to the snow-bound realm of the winter queen in search of her beloved. But it will take more than a blade to solve this problem, and she may lose what she came to find. This story was initially a self-designed exercise where I took a list of words and had to involve one word every hundred words. In editing, I probably removed some of them and invalidated the order, but it was good inspiration.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


I haven't put this up on my publications page because there are aspects up in the air, but Darwin's Evolutions ( has requested to print "Fatecraft" for an upcoming issue. Here's hoping it all comes through!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Soul Siblings

(re)Sold to Sorcerous Signals! ... Soul Siblings at Sorcerous Signals. Ow, my brain. ;-) Find them at: Sorcerous Signals

Foreign Film Dub Redux

My original CD rip had a Foreign Film Dub, but I had some new songs and I believe I'd already used a couple of the ones on the original FFD elsewhere, so this is a redux.

(The term "Foreign Film Dub" is from the improv show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" where two actors perform a scene from an imaginary movie in a gibberish language supposed to represent German, Korean, whatever, and two others translate for them.)

1. God's Child (Baila Conmigo) -- Selena (Spanish)
2. Times -- Lesiem (Latin)
3. Go Away -- Gloria Estefan (Various. A sample line from the song is, "Ciao, bye-bye, hasta la vista - fare thee well, adios, so long.")
4. Hijo de la Luna -- Sarah Brightman (Spanish)
5. In These Shoes -- Kirsty MacColl (Spanish)
6. Dove L'amore -- Cher (French)
7. Tu Y Yo -- Thalia (Spanish)
8. Cursum Perficio -- Enya (Latin)
9. Te Amare -- Gloria Estefan (Spanish)
10. Adonde Voy -- Linda Ronstadt (Spanish)
11. I Wanna (Shall We Dance) -- Gizelle D'Cole and Pilar Montenero, Shall We Dance? soundtrack (Spanish. I think.)
12. Storms In Africa -- Enya (Irish Gaelic)
13. C'est La Vie -- Shania Twain (French)
14. Oye -- Gloria Estefan (Spanish)
15. Nao Esperando -- Kirsty MacColl (Spanish)
16. Fides (Belief) -- Lesiem (Latin)
17. Molde Canticle -- Sissel (No language - no words, just "ooh"s)
18. Ay, Ay, I -- Miami Sound Machine (Spanish)
19. Libre -- Paulina Rubio (Spanish)
20. Mambo De La Luna -- Kirsty MacColl (Spanish)
21. Seallaibh Curaidh Eoghain -- Celtic Harpestry / Sileas (Scots Gaelic)

Yes, there is an insane amount of Spanish here. This can be attributed to the fact that I have a bias towards Latin-influenced singers.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

My review

Thou Shalt Not Kill - ed. Cynthia Manson
(Tales of ecclesiastical sleuths)

The introduction is brief, but requires a comment. “The darker side of humankind seems all the more sinister when probed by the devout followers of the church.” Really? Why? Maybe I’m coming at the anthology from a more cynical mindset, maybe (fifteen years after the book was published) scandal in the church has become too common to ring much of a chord, but I am dubious of this statement.

“The Dutiful Son” by Ralph McInerny is a mediocre start to this anthology. Father Roger Dowling is drawn into a mystery when a man arrives, stating that his mother buried her infant in the yard of her home and that her dying wish was to have the child re-interred on consecrated ground. What is found in the yard, however, is not a baby – and the unknown man has not died of natural causes. The mystery in this story is interesting enough, with the turns and revelations paced well – relaxed but not plodding. I also enjoyed the portrayal of an old neighborhood where the residents can remember fifty years ago as if it was yesterday. We’ve all known places like this. However, there was minimal emotion and no real tension outside of curiosity. Though Father Roger Dowling acts sympathetic, the story aims at the heartbreak that occurs from the outside and remains there. The fact that the main character is consistently referred to by both names in narration becomes rather wearing; maybe this contributed to the distance.

“The Second Commandment” by Charlotte Armstrong picks up the pace. Minister Hugh Macroy is picked up by the police after his new wife has a tragic accident in the fog – or was it an accident? This story starts at a frenetic tempo, introducing a large number of characters without becoming unmanageable. Through their eyes, we see the facts of the case, their emotions, their biases … a technique which plants a clear picture of the human element. The last ten pages or so slow down to a point that is initially irritating, but I grew used to it as the end drew near. Ultimately, this is not so much a puzzle mystery – where the central point of the story is to piece together clues in search of a solution – as an interesting exploration of the nature of relationships and universal love.

“Straight Down The Middle” by Thomas Adcock is a short, snappy story were the question is not whodunit, but how – how did the diamonds stolen by Danny Esposito vanish into thin air? (Comparisons to “The Purloined Letter” are not inaccurate.) This case is given to any cop who manages to clear their workload, and detective Larry Stein is the next in line. The characters are clever and sketched well, and include an unusual – and very enjoyable – nun. Some of the earlier details tie into the conclusion of the mystery with finesse, and the result is a satisfying ride.

About “Death of an Alumnus” by Janet O’Daniel, let me first say: BASKETBALL NUNS! The story involves the events surrounding the dedication of a new building at St. Margaret’s Home, as seen through the eyes of the redoubtable Sister Maureen, whose tongue-in-cheek internal commentary is hysterical. (And yes, she did coach basketball at the Home in her younger days.) It takes a while for this story to get to the murder, but the portrayal of the chaos surrounding the dedication and the relationship between the home’s former children and their teachers is written so well that at least this reader didn’t mind. Perhaps in consequence, it seemed that the mystery wrapped up too suddenly, without sufficient reinforcement. However, the way in which Sister Maureen’s Ideas about the participants propels the solution is supremely enjoyable. To quote the back of the book, this lady is “second to nun.”

“The Price of Light” by Ellis Peters is a small dose of the shrewd brother Cadfael, and is written with Peters’ customary artistry and eye for character. When Hamo FitzHamon decides to secure his place in heaven by a donation to the Abbey, he does so with a lavish gift intended to impress his generosity on all who see it: a pair of gorgeous silver candlesticks. When these, inevitably, vanish, the hunt is on, and it is Cadfael who must seek out the truth. The human element is key to this story, with questions of motive and strength of character brought to the fore. One moving element is Brother Jordan, whose failing eyes make him treasure the gift of light. I am biased because I adore Cadfael to bits, but this was a great, solid story. My only criticism is that there were some passages that were written with unusual clumsiness – I had to read them a couple times to understand what was being portrayed.

“A Face to Remember” by Mary Amlaw is a satisfying inverted mystery, in which we see the crime committed – and its motivation – and the enjoyment of the story is derived from seeing how the sleuth solves it. In this case, the “detective” is Mother Mary Dominic, a woman of many dimensions. When a reformed prostitute dies just before she can join the order, it is up to Mary Dominic to solve the crime using the resources at her disposal. This story uses the inverted formula very well, and the idiosyncracies of the nuns are fun to read. I particularly enjoyed how the Mother provides the solution in a way designed to “speak police” and hence convince the authorities of what she already knows.

“The Man in the Passage” by G.K. Chesterton is a story of superlatives and leading luminaries, all described to a final purpose that I’m not sure was effective. Actress Aurora Rose is called upon by two prominent men, arousing the jealousy of her co-star – and Father Brown is a quiet witness to the events that unfold. The murder is telegraphed – you know who is going to die – and preceded by a redundant double explanation of how the soon-to-be victim intends to send the other men out of the room so she can speak to the Father. Brown plays a fairly minor part in the story despite his role as its detective, and I can’t but feel he fades into the woodwork around the other sensational people.

“Justina” by Dorothy Salisbury Davis is … a strange story, and one which I am not entirely sure even qualifies for the spirit of this anthology, although it fulfills the letter – more or less. The mysterious nun Sister Justina is invited into the Willoughby by Mrs. Ryan, toting two shopping bags. When she leaves, she sneaks out and the bags are nowhere to be seen. This small mystery spirals into more serious circumstances. I’m still not entirely sure I know what happened in this story. The two narrators ended up dividing the focus of the story, and I didn’t feel as if either of them had any claim to the title of sleuth.

“In The Confessional” by Alice Scanlan Reach also misses the mark with a conclusion to an interesting premise that leaves unanswered questions and a plothole. This story doesn’t play fair with its reader. It begins with promise, as petty criminal Blue attempts to steal from the church offerings and observes Father Crumlish at his evening routine – a routine which turns out to involve an unplanned confession and some horrifying facts.

“Rumpole and the Man of God” by John Mortimer is a story carried by its narrative voice – the sometimes witty, often dour, always slightly cynical Rumpole of the Bailey. When a vicar is accused of shoplifting six shirts, Rumpole must defend him – while the vicar himself provides no explanation better than, “They just ended up in my basket.” This is interwoven with the story of Rumpole’s friend George and his new fiancee, of whom Rumpole’s wife (She Who Must Be Obeyed) strongly disapproves. As a stand-alone story, this is a good piece of fiction. However, I’m not sure the vicar or his ecclesiastical involvement were central enough to belong to this anthology. Also this story is something of a slice-of-life and it feels open-ended, both finished and not.

Overall, I thought this anthology failed to hit the advertised mark. It bills itself as a collection of stories about ecclesiastical sleuths. Of the ten stories here, in only half is the detective a member of the clergy. In the others, the clergy member is either a side character or the accused. (It should also be mentioned that, since the title is “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” it seems slightly odd that murder is not the subject of three of these stories, almost a third.) In some of the stories, the promised melding of clergy with crime seems to be lip-service. There are also stories where the mystery element is slighted, rushed or (“The Second Commandment”) not really important.

The stories that worked in this anthology, regardless of how well they fit the theme, were those that emphasized the role of the ecclesiastical worker in a defined community, and often how that role propelled them into the task of sleuthing. In those stories, it is the careful haven constructed by church devotees that is threatened and disrupted. Ultimately, I would have liked to see more of this.

In the end, I thought four of the stories were excellent (“Straight Down The Middle,” “Death of an Alumnus,” “The Price of Light” and “A Face to Remember”) – and these had the misfortune of being sequential. I thought two more were good (“The Second Commandment,” “Rumpole and the Man of God”) and two more were passable (“The Dutiful Son”, “The Man in the Passage”). The remaining two (“Justina,” “In The Confessional”), I wish I had skipped. The anthology is worth reading for the first four, but expect that it isn’t quite as billed.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


There is no trial for a writer like accidental deletion. In my case, Word was behaving funny before I went to bed. I woke up, my computer had rebooted ... and I had lost my work from the prior day, including a page of my novel, three quarters of a page from my short story, and three of my reviews. Now, I write in 8pt font single-spaced, so I'm estimating it was about 1500 words - 5-6 book pages.

I spent the next three and a half hours recreating what I had lost as best I could, but when I reached the same point in the fiction, it was shorter. I knew I'd lost something, and I can't help feel that I ended up with an inferior version.

In other news, another year, another Sword & Sorceress. I've picked out three stories, ordered by my preference, to edit so I have something to send to them - and something else if they reject it before the end of the reading period - and something else. I want this to be the year.