Wyrdwend

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

THE OBSERVATION OF FAILURE

Failure is the one thing that modern men are almost always willing to excuse and yet are almost never willing to learn from. No wonder it does them so little good.

from The Business, Career, and Work of Man

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SPOOKED

SPOOKED

If you are a young black male and you don’t understand that police are sometimes spooked by you, especially if you live in a high crime, urban area, then you aren’t thinking this out very far. Now as a black kid or man is that necessarily your fault? If you are law abiding and peaceful and doing the best you can, then no, it is not your fault. But at the moment anyway, it is the way it is. And no one can argue the way things actually are. You might not like it, and in this case you shouldn’t like it, but you can’t argue it’s not true.
If you are a police officer and you don’t understand that a lot of young black males (or others) are sometimes spooked by you, especially if you react to them with automatic suspicion or an assumption of guilt, then you aren’t thinking this out very far. Now as a cop is this your fault? If you are a good cop and doing the best you can, then no, it is not your fault. But at this moment, anyway, this is the way it is. And no one can argue the way things actually are. You might not like it, and in this case you shouldn’t like it, but you can’t argue it’s not true.
Everyone is spooked. Sometimes for entirely legitimate reasons and sometimes for assumptively dubious and entirely erroneous reasons. And when people are spooked, then rightly or wrongly, bad things tend to happen. People react instead of carefully observe, people are triggered by instinct rather than reason, people’s emotions become actively paramount rather than their common sense. The result of those habits are often very bad (certainly stupid and unnecessary), even murderous things.
But no one but criminals and terrorists and very bad men will benefit if young law abiding citizens and young men and the police are spooked of each other, and are reflexively hostile towards and automatically dubious of each other.
What’s the answer? Hell, I wish I could tell you the answer. The one that will work in every case. But no answer will work in every case. That’s just not real life. Not the way real people are. People are people. They will at times revert to their worst instincts or their most illogical and counter-productive habits. Or even to bad or incomplete or misguided training.
However I can tell you this much: When you are angry at each other, and vengeful towards each other, and automatically suspicious of each other, and spooked by each other then no real good can come of that. And no solutions either. Sometimes though, just really thinking and dwelling on the problem can give you an understanding of how to start.
However I can tell you what ought to be happening. What ought to be happening is that young black men, the law abiding and decent and good ones should be working with the police to take down criminals and thugs and terrorists in their own neighborhoods and to straighten out those neighborhoods for everyone else. (Including for the benefit and safety of their own children and women.) What ought to be happening is that cops should not to be automatically suspicious of all young black men who live in a dangerous area (and yes, they have every right to own personal firearms and maybe even more reason than most – because, well, think about it, they live in a bad or violent or high crime neighborhood) and instead the police ought to be conscripting the young, decent, good ones as allies and informants and friends to help clean up bad neighborhoods. (And good cops cannot stand beside or defend bad ones, or even wrong ones.) There should be an alliance and a true friendship and a partnership between citizen and police, but that has to run in both directions at once and respect and protection and cooperation and trust has to also run in both directions at once, and keep running in both directions at all times and as much as humanly possible.
Now I fully understand human beings and their true natures. I’m not fooled by how things will have to go or will go, or are even likely to go. And I’m not gonna try and deceive you with a bunch of feel good, talk-show, pop-psychology, fairy dust and glitterized bullshit. Mistakes will be made and will continue to be made. That’s human nature. Humans are imperfect. But no one should defend wrongdoing in either direction and over time the mistakes should become fewer and fewer, and even less and less egregious.
But this shit has got to stop people. My nation is already entirely fucked up enough as it is. Manslaughter and mass murder and unending suspicion and chaos and innocents being slaughtered and riots in cities and snipers on rooftops and kids shot dead out of suspicion is not the way. We’ve nowhere else to go from here but straight down to hell.
Being spooked all of the time will make spooks of far too many of us. Dead men in a dying land. It is a false hope to live as ghosts in a ghostland, to be half-men in a dead land, when we could be a Great Thing in a Great Land.
We should all be living and thriving and growing and developing, and at and about worthwhile, profitable enterprises.
What we’re doing right now ain’t working, and it can’t work. And, in the end, because it cannot hope to succeed, for anyone, it will have to be abandoned anyway. Or to stubborn self-ruin we go.
I hate even mentioning shit like this because I despise politics being interjected into life and death matters and matter of Right and Wrong. Right and Wrong should always stand on it’s own because, well hell, it’s fucking Right and Wrong. If you don’t get that then I can’t help you. Truth is you should never have to interject race or class or sex or any other far lesser considerations into Right and Wrong. But my wife is black, and my kids are half-black, and a lot of my good friends are black. And I grew up around cops and I’ve worked crime and tracked murders and rapists and thieves (and I know exactly how it works, I’m not in the least naïve or misguided about how criminals and terrorists are) and a lot of my good friends are cops and God-damnit it all to hell this ain’t fucking working.
I’m sitting here about to cry just thinking about all of the totally useless, murderous, violent shit I’ve seen over the years and I don’t fucking cry. And I keep thinking, Christ in Heaven, damn this mindless, habitual shit, don’t they ever, ever, ever fucking get it? How useless this shit is? How utterly unnecessary most of it is!!?
And if they don’t get it by now then what will it actually take?
Look, I’m under no illusion that most criminals are not gonna get what I’m saying. Nor are they gonna care. But by God, why can’t the rest of us? Get it?
So start now. For God’s sake. For your own sakes… Start doing things differently. Start treating each other differently. What in the fuck do any of us have to lose if we all do this differently?
Otherwise this shit is all you’re gonna have and this cycle of idiocy and death is all you’re going to have to hand down to your children and grandchildren.
You’ve already bankrupted them. Do you want to hand them down this useless shit too?
So man the fuck up already people, throw in together, and stop being so bucking spooked when you don’t need to be. And stop giving out reasons for others to be spooked by you too.
Because what we’re doing right now can’t possibly work over time.
And we’re running the hell out of it.
Pray for your nation folks. Pray for your own understanding. But just as importantly, if not more so, start doing things differently.
This shit is all on us. The solution will be on us too.
Or the doom and the fucking damnation will be.
And I for one have had a fucking nuff of the doom and the damnation.
I want to see things they way they ought to be. I want to see all men behaving as they should.
For God’s sake, for your own sakes, don’t you?

MY WIFE’S BODY

My wife arrived home from a trip to the beach on July the First. The next morning we had get home sex. She went to sleep afterwards but I got up and wrote the following poem.

I like the poem a lot but I am having difficulty naming it. I like these potential names/titles: Rich Everafter, Those Treasures Within, The Labors of Love, The Harvest of Human Labors, or Sweat of Our Love. 

If you have a preference among those or would like to make your own suggestion then feel free to do so. I look forward to reading your ideas.

Here is the poem. Let me know what you think, and what you would call it.

My wife’s body is naked and soft like broken ground
My wife’s body smells rich like fertile soil
My wife’s body is dark and moist like morning loam the restless Meander has watered at sunrise

I think that I shall plow her deeply again when she wakes and see what treasures within us both lie hid

Like the open fields of tended Pharos or the silty banks of the flooded Nile we shall suddenly sprout silver and salt and bare fecund Earth overflowing with milk and honey and blood dark wine and rampant wild oats and thus shall we feed ourselves a lifetime on the harvest of our human labors and the sweat of our love

My wife’s body is naked

My body is naked

Now shall we again labor in earnest, produce in abundance, and be rich everafter…

UNTOLD LAYERS

Untold layers of a man, say I

But three most vital and prime: Body, Mind, and Soul.

vitru_man_large

Of Body – movement, grace, strength, and sensation
Of Mind – craft, thought, apprehension, and creation
Of Soul – his inmost Self, Endurance, Honor, Truth, and Love

Untold layers of a man, say I

On Three All Other Things Depend

TO PORT OUR HOME, TO STARBOARD STILL UNKNOWN

I began this poem around noon as a response to today’s Daily Post prompt on Voyage. I got two stanzas in and then my daughters needed my help and then someone working with me on one of my start-ups demanded my attention and so therefore I have had to leave it at this point. I apologize but that kinda thing happens in life.

I intend to finish it but cannot do so at the moment. I hope you enjoy it nonetheless, and have a good day folks…

 

TO PORT OUR HOME, TO STARBOARD STILL UNKNOWN

To port was home, to starboard unknown foreign seas, and
Lands bespoken of in dream, where endless roam great beasts
Not seen since man was in the cradle of his mother’s shore
The stars still young and uncertain in their unfixed course
Across the skies of night still bright with constellated myth
Prodigious like the unseen figures which grappled in the dark
Around the moon’s white lantern in desperate search of a world
So new, so full of wonder, that no other home would do,
Not, at least, to the Daring

To port is home but on every other course the waves break
Upon a soil unsown with the tares and tears that common habit
Bestrew along the Earth we know so well by mundane states
Unchallenged in their broad decay and rush to ruin
Across the fields of ancient countries whose ground is salted
With the misery of crawling empires and rotting kingdoms
Made of man beneath the shadow of what is most foul within him
So old, so full of apathy, that no such home can seem true
Not, at least, to the Wise…

EMPTY

I was working on a short story when I happened across the Daily Post whose prompt-subject matter was Empty. Now I’ve had a lot of personal experience with Empty over the course of my life, both the good kind, and the bad kind. So I thought I’d make a post about that and turned out this poem at lunch. Hope you enjoy it.

Have a good day folks.

 

EMPTY

I once was empty, full of naught
By calculation, mind and thought

I once was empty, hollowed out
Melancholy, heart in doubt

I once was empty, fearless, cold
My fury made me endless bold

I once was empty, cast alone
It sharpened me so I was honed

I once was empty, bleak despair
My atmosphere a poisoned air

I once was empty, of myself
That was joy I could regale

I once was empty, God was gone
Why had He left me all alone?

I know of empty, made and true
I know of empty, me and you
I know of empty, blessed, good
I know of empty, as I should

For Empty is a Friend of mine
That gives me all, and then sometimes
Relieves me of all I have known
So I am ever forced to roam

In search of what is not…

So empty anymore.

THE FUTURE OF THE WAR MANCHINE

A lot of my buddies have military and law enforcement backgrounds.

Because of that one of my friends brought this article to my attention and a few of us discussed it since it is of more than passing interest to many of us.

It gave me an idea for a new science fiction short story about the same subject matter which I’m going to call Jihadology. (For the Jihad of Technology.)

I going to completely avoid the whole Terminator and tech gone rogue approach though of modern sci-fi and rather take a particular variation on the Keith Laumer BOLO theme, though there will be nothing about BOLOs or other such machines in the story. Those stories though were as under-rated and prophetic as was Laumer himself.

Anyway I want to avoid the whole world ending, unrealistic bullcrap kind of story (both from the scientific and military standpoints) and focus more on a very tight interpretation of what might actually happen if technologies such as those listed or projected in the article below were employed against an alien species in the future.

What would be both the operational and eventual ramifications, good and bad, of such technologies,and how could such technologies get out of hand or evolve beyond specified tasks and design parameters to become something completely new in function and focus?

I’ve already got the first few paragraphs to a page written which is based loosely upon this observation I made about what the article implied:

“I’m not saying there are any easy answers, there aren’t when it comes to technology, but technology can at least potentially do two related and diametrically opposed things at once: make a task so easy and efficient and risk-free for the operator that he is never truly in danger for himself, and secondly make a task so easy and efficient and risk-free for the operator that he is never truly in danger of understanding the danger others are in.

And if you can just remove the operator altogether, and just set the tech free to do as it is programmed, well then, there ya go…”

 

If the stories work well then I’ll add them to my overall science fiction universe of The Curae and The Frontiersmen.

By the way, as a sort of pop-culture primer on the very early stages of these developments (though they are at least a decade old now as far as wide-scale operations go) I recommend the film, Good Kill.

Anyway here is the very interesting and good article that spurred all of this. Any ideas of your own about these subjects? Feel free to comment. If your ideas and observations are good and interesting I might even adapt them in some way and incorporate them into the short story series.

 

Do We Want Robot Warriors to Decide Who Lives or Dies?

As artificial intelligence in military robots advances, the meaning of warfare is being redefined

opening illustration for killer robots feature
Illustration: Carl De Torres
robots report icon

Czech writer Karel Čapek’s1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which famously introduced the word robot to the world, begins with synthetic humans—the robots from the title—toiling in factories to produce low-cost goods. It ends with those same robots killing off the human race. Thus was born an enduring plot line in science fiction: robots spiraling out of control and turning into unstoppable killing machines. Twentieth-century literature and film would go on to bring us many more examples of robots wreaking havoc on the world, with Hollywood notably turning the theme into blockbuster franchises like The Matrix, Transformers, and The Terminator.

Lately, fears of fiction turning to fact have been stoked by a confluence of developments, including important advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, along with the widespread use of combat drones and ground robotsin Iraq and Afghanistan. The world’s most powerful militaries are now developing ever more intelligent weapons, with varying degrees of autonomy and lethality. The vast majority will, in the near term, be remotely controlled by human operators, who will be “in the loop” to pull the trigger. But it’s likely, and some say inevitable, that future AI-powered weapons will eventually be able to operate with complete autonomy, leading to a watershed moment in the history of warfare: For the first time, a collection of microchips and software will decide whether a human being lives or dies.

Not surprisingly, the threat of “killer robots,” as they’ve been dubbed, has triggered an impassioned debate. The poles of the debate are represented by those who fear that robotic weapons could start a world war and destroy civilization and others who argue that these weapons are essentially a new class of precision-guided munitions that will reduce, not increase, casualties. In December, more than a hundred countries are expected to discuss the issue as part of a United Nations disarmament meeting in Geneva.

MQ-9 Reaper dronePhalanx gun
Photos, Top: Isaac Brekken/Getty Images; Bottom: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jose Jaen/U.S.Navy
Mortal Combat: While drones like the MQ-9 Reaper [top], used by the U.S. military, are remotely controlled by human operators, a few robotic weapons, like the Phalanx gun [bottom] on U.S. Navy ships can engage targets all on their own.

Last year, the debate made news after a group of leading researchers in artificial intelligence called for a ban on “offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.” In an open letter presented at a major AI conference, the group argued that these weapons would lead to a “global AI arms race” and be used for “assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.”

The letter was signed by more than 20,000 people, including such luminaries as physicist Stephen Hawking and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who last year donated US $10 million to a Boston-based institute whose mission is “safeguarding life” against the hypothesized emergence of malevolent AIs. The academics who organized the letter—Stuart Russellfrom the University of California, Berkeley; Max Tegmark from MIT; and Toby Walsh from the University of New South Wales, Australia—expanded on their arguments in an online article for IEEE Spectrum, envisioning, in one scenario, the emergence “on the black market of mass quantities of low-cost, antipersonnel microrobots that can be deployed by one person to anonymously kill thousands or millions of people who meet the user’s targeting criteria.”

The three added that “autonomous weapons are potentially weapons of mass destruction. While some nations might not choose to use them for such purposes, other nations and certainly terrorists might find them irresistible.”

It’s hard to argue that a new arms race culminating in the creation of intelligent, autonomous, and highly mobile killing machines would well serve humanity’s best interests. And yet, regardless of the argument, the AI arms race is already under way.

Autonomous weapons have existed for decades, though the relatively few that are out there have been used almost exclusively for defensive purposes. One example is the Phalanx, a computer-controlled, radar-guided gun system installed on many U.S. Navy ships that can automatically detect, track, evaluate, and fire at incoming missiles and aircraft that it judges to be a threat. When it’s in fully autonomous mode, no human intervention is necessary.

More recently, military suppliers have developed what may be considered the first offensive autonomous weapons.Israel Aerospace IndustriesHarpy andHarop drones are designed to home in on the radio emissions of enemy air-defense systems and destroy them by crashing into them. The companysays the drones “have been sold extensively worldwide.”

In South Korea, DoDAAM Systems, a defense contractor, has developed a sentry robot called theSuper aEgis II. Equipped with a machine gun, it uses computer vision to autonomously detect and fire at human targets out to a range of 3 kilometers. South Korea’s military has reportedly conducted tests with these armed robots in the demilitarized zone along its border with North Korea. DoDAAM says it has sold more than 30 units to other governments, including several in the Middle East.

Today, such highly autonomous systems are vastly outnumbered by robotic weapons such as drones, which are under the control of human operators almost all of the time, especially when firing at targets. But some analysts believe that as warfare evolves in coming years, weapons will have higher and higher degrees of autonomy.

“War will be very different, and automation will play a role where speed is key,” says Peter W. Singer, a robotic warfare expert at New America, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, D.C. He predicts that in future combat scenarios—like a dogfight between drones or an encounter between a robotic boat and an enemy submarine—weapons that offer a split-second advantage will make all the difference. “It might be a high-intensity straight-on conflict when there’s no time for humans to be in the loop, because it’s going to play out in a matter of seconds.”

The U.S. military has detailed some of its plans for this new kind of war in aroad map [pdf] for unmanned systems, but its intentions on weaponizing such systems are vague. During a Washington Post forum this past March, U.S. deputy secretary of defense Robert Work, whose job is in part making sure that the Pentagon is keeping up with the latest technologies, stressed the need to invest in AI and robotics. The increasing presence of autonomous systems on the battlefield “is inexorable,” he declared.

Asked about autonomous weapons, Work insisted that the U.S. military “will not delegate lethal authority to a machine to make a decision.” But when pressed on the issue, he added that if confronted by a “competitor that is more willing to delegate authority to machines than we are…we’ll have to make decisions on how we can best compete. It’s not something that we’ve fully figured out, but we spend a lot of time thinking about it.”

Russia and China are following a similar strategyof developing unmanned combat systems for land, sea, and air that are weaponized but, at least for now, rely on human operators. Russia’sPlatform-M is a small remote-controlled robot equipped with a Kalashnikov rifle and grenade launchers, a type of system similar to the United States’ Talon SWORDS, a ground robot that can carry an M16 and other weapons (it was tested by the U.S. Army in Iraq). Russia has also built a larger unmanned vehicle, the Uran-9, armed with a 30-millimeter cannon and antitank guided missiles. And last year, the Russians demonstrated a humanoid military robot to a seemingly nonplussed Vladimir Putin. (In video released after the demonstration, the robot is shown riding an ATV at a speed only slightly faster than a child on a tricycle.)

China’s growing robotic arsenal includes numerous attack and reconnaissance drones. The CH-4 is a long-endurance unmanned aircraft that resembles the Predator used by the U.S. military. The Divine Eagle is a high-altitude drone designed to hunt stealth bombers. China has also publicly displayed a few machine-gun-equipped robots, similar to Platform-M and Talon SWORDS, at military trade shows.

The three countries’ approaches to robotic weapons, introducing increasing automation while emphasizing a continuing role for humans, suggest a major challenge to the banning of fully autonomous weapons: A ban on fully autonomous weapons would not necessarily apply to weapons that are nearly autonomous. So militaries could conceivably develop robotic weapons that have a human in the loop, with the option of enabling full autonomy at a moment’s notice in software. “It’s going to be hard to put an arms-control agreement in place for robotics,” concludes Wendell Wallach, an expert on ethics and technology at Yale University. “The difference between an autonomous weapons system and nonautonomous may be just a difference of a line of code,” he said at a recent conference.

In motion pictures, robots often gain extraordinary levels of autonomy, even sentience, seemingly out of nowhere, and humans are caught by surprise. Here in the real world, though, and despite the recent excitement about advances in machine learning, progress in robot autonomy has been gradual. Autonomous weapons would be expected to evolve in a similar way.

“A lot of times when people hear ‘autonomous weapons,’ they envision the Terminator and they are, like, ‘What have we done?,’ ” says Paul Scharre, who directs a future-of-warfare program at the Center for a New American Security, a policy research group in Washington, D.C. “But that seems like probably the last way that militaries want to employ autonomous weapons.” Much more likely, he adds, will be robotic weapons that target not people but military objects like radars, tanks, ships, submarines, or aircraft.

The challenge of target identification—determining whether or not what you’re looking at is a hostile enemy target—is one of the most critical for AI weapons. Moving targets like aircraft and missiles have a trajectory that can be tracked and used to help decide whether to shoot them down. That’s how the Phalanx autonomous gun on board U.S. Navy ships operates, and also how Israel’s “Iron Dome” antirocket interceptor system works. But when you’re targeting people, the indicators are much more subtle. Even under ideal conditions, object- and scene-recognition tasks that are routine for people can be extremely difficult for robots.

A computer can identify a human figure without much trouble, even if that human is moving furtively. But it’s very hard for an algorithm to understand what people are doing, and what their body language and facial expressions suggest about their intent. Is that person lifting a rifle or a rake? Is that person carrying a bomb or an infant?

Scharre argues that robotic weapons attempting to do their own targeting would wither in the face of too many challenges. He says that devising war-fighting tactics and technologies in which humans and robots collaborate [pdf] will remain the best approach for safety, legal, and ethical reasons. “Militaries could invest in very advanced robotics and automation and still keep a person in the loop for targeting decisions, as a fail-safe,” he says. “Because humans are better at being flexible and adaptable to new situations that maybe we didn’t program for, especially in war when there’s an adversary trying to defeat your systems and trick them and hack them.”

It’s not surprising, then, that DoDAAM, the South Korean maker of sentry robots, imposed restrictions on their lethal autonomy. As currently configured, the robots will not fire until a human confirms the target and commands the turret to shoot. “Our original version had an auto-firing system,” a DoDAAM engineer told the BBC last year. “But all of our customers asked for safeguards to be implemented…. They were concerned the gun might make a mistake.”

For other experts, the only way to ensure that autonomous weapons won’t make deadly mistakes, especially involving civilians, is to deliberately program these weapons accordingly. “If we are foolish enough to continue to kill each other in the battlefield, and if more and more authority is going to be turned over to these machines, can we at least ensure that they are doing it ethically?” says Ronald C. Arkin, a computer scientist at Georgia Tech.

Arkin argues that autonomous weapons, just like human soldiers, should have to follow the rules of engagement as well as the laws of war, includinginternational humanitarian laws that seek to protect civilians and limit the amount of force and types of weapons that are allowed. That means we should program them with some kind of moral reasoning to help them navigate different situations and fundamentally distinguish right from wrong. They will need to have, embodied deep in their software, some sort of ethical compass.

For the past decade, Arkin has been working on such a compass. Using mathematical and logic tools from the field of machine ethics, he began translating the highly conceptual laws of war and rules of engagement into variables and operations that computers can understand. For example, one variable specified how confident the ethical controller was that a target was an enemy. Another was a Boolean variable that was either true or false: lethal force was either permitted or prohibited. Eventually, Arkin arrived at a set of algorithms, and using computer simulations and very simplified combat scenarios—an unmanned aircraft engaging a group of people in an open field, for example—he was able to test his methodology.

Arkin acknowledges that the project, which was funded by the U.S. military, was a proof of concept, not an actual control-system implementation. Nevertheless, he believes the results showed that combat robots not only could follow the same rules that humans have to follow but also that they could do better. For example, the robots could use lethal force with more restraint than could human fighters, returning fire only when shot at first. Or, if civilians are nearby, they could completely hold their fire, even if that means being destroyed. Robots also don’t suffer from stress, frustration, anger, or fear, all of which can lead to impaired judgment in humans. So in theory, at least, robot soldiers could outperform human ones, who often and sometimes unavoidably make mistakes in the heat of battle.

“And the net effect of that could be a saving of human lives, especially the innocent that are trapped in the battle space,” Arkin says. “And if these robots can do that, to me there’s a driving moral imperative to use them.”

Needless to say, that’s not at all a consensus view. Critics of autonomous weapons insist that only a preemptive ban makes sense given the insidious way these weapons are coming into existence. “There’s no one single weapon system that we’re going to point to and say, ‘Aha, here’s the killer robot,’ ” says Mary Wareham, an advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and global coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a coalition of various humanitarian groups. “Because, really, we’re talking about multiple weapons systems, which will function in different ways. But the one thing that concerns us that they all seem to have in common is the lack of human control over their targeting and attack functions.”

The U.N. has been holdingdiscussions on lethal autonomous robots for close to five years, but its member countries have been unable to draw up an agreement. In 2013,Christof Heyns, a U.N. special rapporteur for human rights, wrote an influential report noting that the world’s nations had a rare opportunity to discuss the risks of autonomous weapons before such weapons were already fully developed. Today, after participating in several U.N. meetings, Heyns says that “if I look back, to some extent I’m encouraged, but if I look forward, then I think we’re going to have a problem unless we start acting much faster.”

This coming December, the U.N.’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons will hold a five-year review conference, and the topic of lethal autonomous robots will be on the agenda. However, it’s unlikely that a ban will be approved at that meeting. Such a decision would require the consensus of all participating countries, and these still have fundamental disagreements on how to deal with the broad spectrum of autonomous weapons expected to emerge in the future.

In the end, the “killer robots” debate seems to be more about us humans than about robots. Autonomous weapons will be like any technology, at least at first: They could be deployed carefully and judiciously, or chaotically and disastrously. Human beings will have to take the credit or the blame. So the question, “Are autonomous combat robots a good idea?” probably isn’t the best one. A better one is, “Do we trust ourselves enough to trust robots with our lives?”

This article appears in the June 2016 print issue as “When Robots Decide to Kill.”

 

 

I WENT TO YOUR GRAVES

I WENT TO YOUR GRAVES

I went to your graves to speak with you dead
You answered with nary a sound, but
The echoes of stone, and the blood and the bones
Still in the air they redound
Someone must live, and someone must die
I’ve seen my share of those things, yet
You know them all well in your marrow and flesh
For the shroud is the shield that still clings
To the toil that you wore, to the deeds that you bore
To the future and past you present
When I see countrymen free, and the grass
Green overseas that otherwise death would have spent
If you could arise, recall how you died
Who then could discharge the debt?
That we owe in our souls, but don’t really know
In the war and the wound that beset
About you in harm, the wrong, the alarm
As you struggled the catch your last breath
Yet it fled far away, like your soul on that day
By demand, or command, or request,
What can I say, much less best relay
Of what your great efforts have earned?
You’ve written in blood, in anguish, in mud
We’ll honor, and then we’ll adjourn, oh
The tombs that we’ll build, of marble and steel
Carved with your names and your stars
Will pass with the times as the ages unwind
As you fade into memories afar, yet
The world that you built, the anger, the guilt
Of your blood on the altar of Mars
These will live on, and not just in song, but
In the hope and the home of my heart…

in memoriam, 2016

NOTHING EVER CHANGES – TUESDAY’S TALE

NOTHING EVER CHANGES

“Yeah,” he said. “So I’ve heard tell.”

Maugham sighed, then leaned over with a groan and put his head in his in hands for awhile. He rubbed the top of his head slowly as if to somehow comfort his own mind. But it didn’t seem to work.

When he lifted his head back up he looked at Steinthal.

“Do you think it will ever change?”

Steinthal looked at him and then shrugged wearily.

“I suppose that’s entirely up to the people involved. I only know one thing for sure… and even that’s not much…” and then he fell silent.

Maugham waited but when Steinthal said nothing else he just stood back up. It was obvious he was hurt though, so Stenithal moved over and put his arm under his friend’s and around his back and helped him start to walk again.

“What’s the one thing by the way?” Maugham asked as the men made their way torturously out of the ruined building.

“Oh that,” said Stenthal, as if he had just assumed his friend already knew. “Nothing ever changes much when no one ever much changes.”

So they made their way back to the river, dripping sweat, shedding blood, grunting in pain, and limping as they went.

from The Detective Steinthal

YEAH, THEY’LL DO THAT – FIRST VERSE

YEAH, THEY’LL DO THAT

She is a wonder of claw, fang, and hiss
Be careful if ever she growls
If she purrs first then mister
Something’s amiss
Something you missed or allowed,
But stroke her and feed her
And give her a kiss and tell her
That all will be well,
Rub her soft fur and play
With her tail
Until she is mended
And tame,
For my friend I must tell
That the end of this tale
Is ever and always the same

So if she complains
Come sun or come rain
Then just know
That her Nature excels, but
Other than that just what
Can you do?
For her nature
Is flighty as hell!

Oh, and also cats get that way
From time to time too…

THE LONELY SCOUT – TUESDAY’S TALE

THE LONELY SCOUT

So today after my walk through the woods with Sam I came home and started work on a new short story. It will be historical fiction and a supplement to my Westerns and it will be about a half-Indian, half-white Advanced Scout for the US Cavalry.
 
He is rejected by everyone, as was the custom of the day, by his white society and by his Indian tribe. Later he goes on to wander much farther West and to form his own settlement of former Chinese rail workers, other outcast Indians, runaway slaves, Mexicans fleeing the wars in Texas and California, and poor whites and others wishing to start over from the Civil War.
 
Eventually he becomes town marshal and then county sheriff until he is hunted down by US Marshals looking to take him in for desertion from his former scout position.
 
Got three pages written just about an hour ago and I’ll post those once my daughter types up the manuscript (still having trouble typing with my broken wrist), but only the intro because I plan to publish the story. Like I said I want it to be a supplementary story to my Western, The Lettermen. Still not sure about the title though, iffin I wanna call it The Lonely Scout or simply The Outcast.
 
My wife and youngest daughter read it and really liked it, and my wife gave me a coupla good ideas for further plot development. My oldest daughter read it and gave it a 9 out of 10 (so far anyway) and then she said, “Writing Westerns and frontier and adventure and detective stories are your favorites.”
 
I like writing a lot of different kinda things, but she may be right. Those hold particular and personal appeal to me…
Manhood is a lost art if you ask me. I hope to preserve it in my writings so future generations can take it up again. Wholesale and unimpeded by whatever we got nowadays.

THE RED TRACTOR – FIRST VERSE

A poem I began this weekend. I am usually not much for modern poetry but in this case I thought the juxtapositioning of that kind of poetry against the subject matter fit very well. I am also not posting the entire poem here as I intend to publish it.

THE RED TRACTOR

“Love demands infinitely less than friendship.”

                                                                                   George Jean Nathan

If I could admire a machine
As I admire a man it would be you
You were tough and you were strong, you did not relent
You were fit for tasks for which you were not
Designed and yet you mastered

*    *    *

One day I shall show my grandchildren the green and open
Fields we cleared and I shall say,

“Here we pushed back the frontier together,
he and I, my old friend. Here we hauled
and carried and labored and strained
and cut and leveled. This is because
we were as we were, and he was stalwart
and faltered not. I wish you could have
known him before the end, on the
border of what was wild forever we finally
made tame. What was chaos we ordered.
What was savage we made fit.”

And they will say,

“papa! it was only a tractor!

And I shall remember fully the fields we made, ground we claimed, land we
Tamed. Uncertain Earth we took foot by foot from the long dry summers and the
Shower soaked springs with restless toil. The memories shall return to me of how
I repaired you endlessly and with great effort and frustration,
And yet did you always abide…

THE WORDY WAY – TUESDAY’S TALE

Last night while in bed I decided to write up some new lines for my Western, the Lettered Men.

I’ll do that sometimes right before I go to bed. Got some good stuff done but had to rework some of em this morning. Many of these lines are spoken by Jerimiah Jereds, also known as “Wordy” (the only name his friends call him) because he will either invent words (neologisms) or will twist around old phrases and common sayings in new ways. Wordy sometimes acts as the comic-relief of the novel, which is pretty rough in parts, and sometimes acts as the de-facto Bard of the novel, being a sort of frontier’s poet and cowboy wordsmith.

Now not all of these snippets are by Wordy. But many are.

Anywho I gave my notes to my wife and daughter this morning (before the final rewrites) so that they could look over em and give me their opinion. I heard a lot of loud laughing coming from the kitchen table downstairs as I worked from my office so I reckon I did something right. They both seemed to like what they read.

Also I should not neglect that my mother came down to the house yesterday after lunch and she also reminded me of many of the old sayings and euphemisms of my grandparents and great-grandparents, which were in many ways the inspiration for Wordy.

So here are the final write ups for the Wordy Way. All from my novel The Lettered Men.

_______________________________________________________

“He’d howl like an old hound dog if ya hung him with a new rope.”

_______________________________________________________

“Ain’t really worth mentioning Word.”

“Oh yeah?” said Wordy. “Well half of not really worth mentioning still beats ever bit a nothing all day long. Specially in the middle a nowhere. So let’s just work around with what we got awhile and see where it leads us. Maybe tomorrow it still won’t be worth mentioning, but maybe in a week or two it will be. When we’re sitting our asses by the fire back home.”

________________________________________________________

“You can’t get there from here boys. But if we can just get over to there I bet we can.”

________________________________________________________

“He smells like he smothered a buzzard and kept it in his pants for a keepsake.”

_________________________________________________________

All the boys laughed when they saw him come out of the barbers. All except Wordy. He just stared at Beau for awhile and then he stood up and circled him like a corvus round a scarecrow. “Hmmm-mmm,” he kept humming to himself as he circled.

“Well now, that’s a two bit shave and a haircut iffin I ever seen one,” he finally said. “Way I see it though she still owes ya a dollar in change just to make it even.”

“Dammit!” Beau said testily slapping his hat against his thigh. Dust and hair swirled everywhere. “I told her it didn’t look right to me.”

“Be alright Beau,” Wordy said. “You’re both new at this. She ain’t much of a judge a jug-heads and you ain’t much of a judge a women.”

“Oh, and you is you Wordy sumbitch!” Beau practically yelled.

“I didn’t say that,” said Wordy. “I just seen enough scalpings in my day to know the difference between a brave and a squaw cut.”

The boys all laughed again.

_________________________________________________________

“That whore’s dumber than a plow mule, sure nuff, but she’s still twice as easy to ride. So if you’re gonna plow with her then just cut the reins and let her wander. Save ya both a lotta trouble.”

_________________________________________________________

“He drunk up the sea and spit out Achilles.” (Wordy describing a cowboy that rode into town, got drunk, and started shooting and fighting.)

_________________________________________________________

“He’s a one mare man. True enough. But he’ll go for any stallion what ain’t tied down.”

_________________________________________________________

“Book learning ruined him for anything worth knowin. I wouldn’t trust him none.”

_________________________________________________________

“The mare’s the better horse. He ain’t worth bad oats and barn rats.”

_________________________________________________________

“There ain’t another man like him in the whole lot. Thank God. Can you imagine a whole herd a dem sumbitches?”

_________________________________________________________

“She’s got a face like a sty-sow. But he’s a pot-bellied pig so who cares who slops who?”

_________________________________________________________

“Ride her at your own peril kid. But don’t dismount till ya broke her.”

_________________________________________________________

“Why, do you think she’ll foal on me?” he asked.

“Probably not,” said Wordy, “but she’s so rough you might.”

__________________________________________________________

“Boy’s so slow that he’d hav’ta ride as hard as he could for a month just ta reach the county line.”

__________________________________________________________

“Man knifed three Comanches and a Texas Ranger,” Sole said, “and lived to tell it. So you might just wanna shoot him. In the head. From behind. While he’s sleepin.”

__________________________________________________________

“Maybe he’s just shot so many men by now that he’s plum forgot how to miss. Ever think a that?”

__________________________________________________________

“Man smells like a Mississippi pole-cat, but he tracks like an Arkansas wild dog. Just make sure to keep him downwind and you’ll run em all to ground.”

__________________________________________________________

“He’s slicker than a cold-creek water snake, but not near as warm-blooded. So keep him ahead of ya, but always in sight. Safe plays are always the safest.”

__________________________________________________________

“Sir, your coffee tastes like chickpeas and boll-weevils. Without the chickpeas.”

__________________________________________________________

“Damn Word! It smells like you shit a dead possum and then lit it on fire with pine tar!”

“Yeah,” Wordy said. “I ain’t feeling too well right now.”

“Fine,” Mason said. “But did ya have to spread it around to everybody else like that? You made the local skunks puke.”

Hart Thomas snorted, spit out his chaw, and then laughed out loud.

“Hell Hart,” Mason said, “you was the skunk I was referring to!”

__________________________________________________________

“He’s cotton-brained and toe-headed. You walk a mile in his moccasins and you’ll end up Boot-hilled.”

__________________________________________________________

“Oh, he went to war alright. He just never met a battle worth sitting through or a man his equal at a foot chase.”

__________________________________________________________

“Ah hell Bill, iffin you gave him a new bull and three pregnant cows then in five years time he’d still be a sheep farmer.”

 

Hope you enjoyed em…

 

COME THE HORIZON – TUESDAY’S TALE

This is a little piece of flash fiction I wrote involving one of my detective characters, the chief one, Steinthal.

 

THE DETECTIVE STEINTHAL – COME THE HORIZON

“You know part of me really would like nothing better than to save everyone. But another part of me knows equally well that to habitually do so only makes people, especially some people, dependent, enslaved, useless, and weak.

It is entirely immoral and unacceptable to abandon the truly helpless and indigent. Yet it is also wholly wrong to save those who should be busy saving themselves.

So I won’t do either because both are evil and unwise. Even God understands that you cannot save those who refuse to change. That’s as true for individuals as it is for groups of men.

See, as much as I’d like to help you I’m just a detective, not a messiah. Therefore I can’t help your friend Sara. I can’t help anyone who won’t help themselves.

And all the evidence here points in just one direction. That boy doesn’t want help, he wants to be saved. From himself. There’s no real cure for that, and there never will be. I’ve got no trick to fix it. There is no such trick. Those are the actual facts I’m afraid, and I never argue with the actual facts. There’s just no future in it. For anyone.

If only he truly understood that. Or really cared. Because either one would probably do.

But he doesn’t and I can’t do those things for him. You know as well as I do he’d rather die before he tries either. I wish I could tell you different, my dear, but I’m far too used to the truth. It would just sound odd and unbelievable to the both of us. So I’m going to spare us both the pain and suffering of a futile effort.

He’s not here speaking to me because he doesn’t really give a damn. And you’re here speaking to me because you do.

As strange as that sounds let that be some consolation to you. Because the truth is he’s not worth you getting killed for, and there will be plenty of others to save. People who will let you help save them.

He’s not one of those people, and you shouldn’t be buried beside him because you’re too stubborn to admit that to yourself.

Live, my dear. That’s the very best help I can give to you. Because if you stay attached to him the way you are now, you won’t.”

I left it there because it was the truth and because it was as good a place as any to leave it.

She sat across from my desk staring at the floor for a long while. Then she raised her face to look at me and her eyes were watery and unfocused, as if she were looking through me and out at something on the horizon she didn’t expect to escape.

She stood up slowly, her breath uneven and shallow and short, like women breathe when they are both upset and resigned to their fate. Then she turned and walked for the door.

When she got to the door she turned the doorknob, pulled the door back slightly, paused, and wrestled with herself as to whether or not to look back at me.

Eventually, with a little shake of her head, she decided that she wouldn’t. Instead she opened the door just enough to slide out it and then pulled it quietly shut behind her.

And I knew she was as good as dead…

PUBLISHING YOUR BOOK – BOOKENDS

Book Publishing Secrets with S.W. O’Connell, Author of ‘The Cavalier Spy’

Name: S. W. O’Connell

Book Title: The Cavalier Spy

Genre: historical fiction

Publisher: Twilight Times Books

Thank you for your time in answering our questions about getting published.  Let’s begin by having you explain to us why you decided to become an author and pen this book?

SW: I had once published a magazine, called Living History. With each issue I wrote a publisher’s letter and often “ghost” wrote a few articles. I found over time that I preferred the writing to the publishing. After the magazine went out of circulation, I decided that I would get to the writing I liked via my favorite reading genre – the historical novel. I grew up reading Thomas B. Costain, James A. Michener, Leon Uris, Wilbur Smith, and C.S. Forrester. Later on, I read many of Bernard Cornwell’s books. I learned a lot about history from those writers. Yet the stories entertained.

Is this your first book?

SW: No, The Cavalier Spy is the second in the Revolutionary War action and espionage series I call Yankee Doodle Spies. I know the name is a bit “kitschy,” but I like it. I plan on eventually writing eight books in the series.

With this particular book, how did you publish – traditional, small press, Indie, etc. – and why did you choose this method?

SW: I went with a small trade publisher, a small press called Twilight Times Books. A friend, the late Lee McCaslin, referred me to Twilight Times Books. He was a published author himself and was looking for a new publisher for his second non-fiction book. When he learned Twilight Times Books published mainly fiction, he referred me and I was accepted and given a contract for the first three books in the Yankee Doodle Spies series.

Can you tell us a little about your publishing journey?  The pros and cons?

SW: Well, I did all the usual things. After my first manuscript was done, I went on line to search for an agent. I also met with Dave Meadows and Michael O. Varhola, both published authors. Dave has written several naval espionage novels. Michael writes popular history, travel and ghost haunting books. They provided me lots of insight and encouragement. Lee McCaslkin did as well. But most of our dealings were by phone and email. I actually wrote a chapter in his book, Secrets of the Cold War. Then began the long and frustrating search for a literary agent. Mostly by luck (or unluck) I found two and had contracts with them. They provided feedback on my writing but it was a bit of drag and die. I would get some generalized comments. After I would address them and resubmit, I’d get more (different) generalized comments. It was clear different folks were reading these, as occasionally the comments clashed. In any case, I never was submitted to a publisher. In one case I was dropped. In the other, I did the dropping. These were not paid agents but fairly renowned New York agencies. I’d rate the experience as extremely frustrating, not to mention nerve grinding, but I did learn from it.

What lessons do you feel you learned about your particular publishing journey and about the publishing industry as a whole?

SW: The most important thing I learned was to park my ego at the door. When you are writing, you have complete control of the world you are presenting. But once you get into the publishing phase, the situation sort of reverses. Editors and publishers now have a legitimate right to comment and suggest changing things. You have to trust them. And you have to let go of a part of the creative process. The author creates a work of literature for people to read. The editor and publisher have to turn it into a product for people to buy. The kind of fiction I write doesn’t really fit the cookie cutter mold.

Would you recommend this method of publishing to other authors?

SW: Yes, I would. I find the publisher accessible and well versed in all aspects of the business. And this publisher supports its writers.

What’s the best advice you can give to aspiring authors?

SW: I’ll say that there are a whole bunch of folks who will shut you down. For them, your work is a business decision.  This is especially true of some f the agencies. I’d say – find your style… your voice, and hone it. But don’t try to change it. I’d also say be very patient…. And keep writing!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

S.W. O’Connell is the author of the Yankee Doodle Spies series of action and espionage novels set during the American Revolutionary War. The author is a retired Army officer with over twenty years of experience in a variety of intelligence-related assignments around the world. He is long time student of history and lover of the historical novel genre. So it was no surprise that he turned to that genre when he decided to write back in 2009. He lives in Virginia.

////////////////////////////////////

Title: The Cavalier Spy

Genre: Historical

Author: S. W. O’Connell

Websitewww.yankeedoodlespies.com

Publisher: Twilight Times Books

Purchase linkhttp://www.twilighttimesbooks.com/TheCavalierSpy_ch1.html

Amazon OmniLit 

About the Book:

1776: His army clinging to New York by a thread, a desperate General George Washington sends Lieutenant Jeremiah Creed behind British lines once more. But even the audacity of Creed and his band of spies cannot stop the British juggernaut from driving the Americans from New York, and chasing them across New Jersey in a blitzkrieg fashion. Realizing the imminent loss of one of the new nation’s most important states to the enemy, Washington sends Creed into the war-torn Hackensack Valley. His mission: recruit and train a gang of rogues to work behind British lines.

However, his mission takes a strange twist when the British high command plots to kidnap a senior American officer and a mysterious young woman comes between Creed and his plans. The British drive Washington’s army across the Delaware. The new nation faces its darkest moment. But Washington plans a surprise return led by young Creed, who must strike into hostile land so that Washington can rally his army for an audacious gamble that could win, or lose, the war.

“More than a great spy story… it is about leadership and courage in the face of adversity…The Cavalier Spy is the story of America’s first army and the few… those officers and soldiers who gave their all to a cause that was seemingly lost…”

~ Les Brownlee, former Acting Secretary of the Army and retired Army Colonel

“Secret meetings, skirmishes and scorching battles… The Cavalier Spy takes the reader through America’s darkest times and greatest triumphs thanks to its powerful array of fictional and historical characters… this book shows that courage, leadership and audacity are the key elements in war…”

~ F. William Smullen, Director of National Security Studies at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School and Author of Ways and Means for Managing UP

– See more at: http://publishingsecretsofauthors.blogspot.be/2015/09/book-publishing-secrets-with-sw.html#sthash.RvabPHmv.dpuf

THE GHOSTLAND – TUESDAY’S TALE

THE GHOSTLAND

“Within us all there is a Ghostland, but sometimes when we wander in the dark, we become the ghosts of a far stranger land.”

(Opening line of The Ghostland) *

Tonight I was walking Sam in the woods near sundown. I let him go ahead of me because I knew about a quarter mile ahead was the fenceline. When I caught back up to him it looked just like he was standing on the other side of a large steel gate and for a moment I thought, “Now how could he have passed through that gate and fence, and how will I retrieve him if he did (since the neighbors keep it chained and locked)? But as I got closer I realized it was just a trick of the light given his color as he stood against the fence-gate near sundown.

Then on the way back I thought to myself, “suppose Sam really had passed right through that gate, how would I have gotten him back and what would that mean?” And that gave me a superb idea for a short story. Which I originally thought about calling Ghost Dog.

Then as I walked on I began to see in my head I saw all of these scenes of places I’ve Vadded over the years. Especially deserted and spooky places I’ve hit at night or while working some case. Except these places and the things in them weren’t as they really are, and some were certainly weird enough just on their own, they were all changed in my imagination. Strange, surreal, and unreal places in which things like a dog walking through a steel gate was, if not normal, at least something that could happen. I kept seeing a Ghostland. And since the story kept expanding in my mind I renamed it Ghostland.

And then I started seeing weird and bizarre events in this Ghostland too. So I came home and sketched it out.

And yeah, I’ve been relistening to the Fourth Tower of Inverness lately too (it’s that time of year after all) but what I saw in my head wasn’t just weird, like the Fourth Tower, it was spooky and bizarre. I think it will make a perfect Halloween story.

THE SCALE OF YOUR WORK

Amazon Pays $450,000 A Year To This Self-Published Writer

Jay McGregor

CONTRIBUTOR

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
The London Book Fair lands on an unusually sunny three days in the capital. The scorching rays – rarely seen at all, let alone in April in the UK – seem at odds with a closed-off indoor book fair. But that hasn’t stopped scores of page-turner enthusiasts scouring the giant exhibition centre’s main floor, looking for publishers to schmooze, books to buy and advice to receive.

It’s the advice from authors who’ve ‘made it’ that seems to resonate most with attendees. Seminars and workshops are scattered in between the stands – all packed with a baying audience that fire off seemingly endless questions. They’re all trying to piece together an escape route out of the doldrums of full-time work.

One man, Mark Dawson, has a queue of wannabe writers lining up to speak to him as we sit down for an interview. Dawson is one of the self-publishing success stories that Amazon likes to wheel out when journalists like myself come knocking. But Dawson’s success isn’t down to simply publishing his crime-thriller series and hoping for the best.

Dawson has become an entrepreneur. With the self-publishing platform, he had no choice. The tactics he employed to promote his series aren’t game-changing, or even particularly clever, but the scale in which he implemented them is what made the difference.

To date he has sold over 300,000 copies of his series about an assassin called John Milton. Dawson says he pocketed “ six figures” last year and he’s on course to make much more this year. And he’s got plans for bigger and better things for this series outside of print form.

BOOTIN UP LIKE A BOSS- TUESDAY’S TALE

This is the beginning of a short story about one of my detective characters. Well, he’s really a Deputy Sheriff acting as Sheriff while the real sheriff recuperates from a car crash as the result of a felon fleeing across county lines. This is my Tuesday’s Tale. I give you, Bootin Up Like a Boss.

BOOTIN UP LIKE A BOSS

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

He stopped tying his laces to look up at her.

“I’m bootin up like a boss,” he replied.

“What does that even mean?” she said, exasperated.

“It means, ‘I’m bootin up like a boss,’” he said evenly.

“But you are the boss!” she said loudly.

He went back to tying his laces.

“Funny how that works, ain’t it?” he said.

She paced around the room impatiently.

He finished lacing his boots tight and stood up slowly but gracefully and then he stomped both feet to see how they fit.

“Yeah, that’ll do…” he said out loud to nobody in particular.

She turned to look at him.

“Can we go now?” she pleaded.

He looked at her patiently and then walked to the coffee pot and poured himself a cup.

“When I’m good and ready. I ain’t really finished bootin up yet,” he said. “When I’m proper ready then I’ll let ya know.”

He sat down at his office desk and drank slowly from his cup of coffee. To himself and to all appearances he was alone in the room. Lost in his ruminations.

After five minutes or so he had completely drained his cup. She had tried to interrupt him several times during this interlude but he had silenced her with a single wave of his hand each time. Twice he had raised his hand an instant before she spoke, anticipating her attempts.

When his cup was empty he placed it before him on the old and weather-beaten desk, both palms cradling the still warm ceramic mug.

“Yep,” he said. “That was mighty gratifying.”

Then he stood, walked over to the high-rack and took off his field hat. He twirled it around in his hands a couple of times, running his finger along the brim as if testing it for something. Seeming to be fully satisfied with his investigations he finally placed the hat on his head, slightly askew, then took it back off, ran his fingers through his hair and settled it more evenly upon his head.

“I reckon that’ll work,” he said as if to himself.

Then he turned and looked at the woman as if seeing her for the first time.

“You ready to go now,” he asked, both casually and impatiently.

“What in the hell are you talking about!” she replied heatedly, her face reddening.

“I’m talking about doing my job,” he said as if her reaction puzzled him.

He brushed past her in a long legged stride and as stepped outside he said, “Lock up behind yerself. I ain’t yer housemaid ya know.”

He strolled out into the bright sunshine, looked around him a bit, and then crossed the street once he heard her hurrying up behind him.  That’s what bosses did…

(to be continued)

BREAKPOINT

Tonight, while readying my Work for tomorrow I had an interesting idea for a science-fiction short story.

I’m going to call the story, “Breakpoint.”

It sounds like it might be a military sci-fi tale, or maybe a sci-fi espionage story, but it actually has to do with human longevity.

The story will be a sort of reverse Logan’s Run story (I don’t know how many of you are old enough to remember Logan’s Run), in a very loose way. Although it will have an altogether different point and moral.

In the future, for a very peculiar reason, it is discovered that if people over a given age undergo a certain taxing process then they will either die prematurely as a result, or they will reach their Breakpoint, and survive, and by so doing their lifespans will increase exponentially.

That’s all I’m going to describe until I write the story.

So for now I’m gonna go walk Sam and then make out my sketch notes for the story and go to bed.

See you later and have a good night. Or morning.

Whatever ya got out there.

NEW PUBLICATION SCHEDULE

NEW PUBLICATION SCHEDULE

Recently I have been involved in a number of different projects that have left me little time for blogging. I have been writing the lyrics for my second album, Locus Eater, I have been writing and plotting my novel The Basilegate, I have been putting together a crowdfunding project for one of my inventions and one of my games, I have been helping with and compiling material for my wife’s new career as a public speaker, and helping my oldest daughter prepare to enter college. In addition I have been speaking with and seeking a new agent. I have even been preparing a new paper on some of the work of Archimedes and what I have gleaned from it. Finally I have been preparing my Spring Offensive, which is now completed.

All of which have kept me extremely busy.

However I have not been entirely ignoring my blogging either. In background I have been preparing a much improved Publication Schedule for all five of my blogs, my business blog Launch Port, my design and gaming blog Tome and Tomb, my personal blog The Missal, my amalgamated blog Omneus, and this blog,  Wyrdwend.

Now that most of these other pressing matters are well underway and on an even keel this allows me more time to return to blogging.

So below you will find my new Publication Schedule which I’ll also keep posted as one of the header pages on my blogs.

So, starting on Monday, March the 15th, 2015, and unless something unforeseen interferes this will be the Publication Schedule for this blog every week, including the Topic Titles and the general list of Subject Matters for that given day. That way my readers can know what to expect of any given day and what I intend to publish for that day. I will also occasionally make off-topic post as interesting material presents itself.

 

Wyrdwend – 11:00 – 12:00 AM

Monday: First Verse – Poem, Song, Music
Tuesday: Tuesday’s Tale – Short Story, Children’s Story, etc.
Wednesday: Highmoot – Reader Discussions and Commenting, Reblogs
Thursday: Hammer, Tongs, and Tools – Tools, Linked In, Essay, Non-Fiction, etc.
Friday: Bookends – Serialized Novel, Graphic Novel, Script
Saturday: The Rewrite – Reblog best Personal Posts, Review
Sunday – Sabbath

 

WRITING FOR E-KIDS

As someone who writes books for kids, and enjoys writing books for kids, I both enjoyed this article and found it quite useful.

How to Create Picture Ebooks for Kids

Picture ebooks

Today’s guest post is by Laura Backes of Children’s Book Insider and Picture eBook Mastery.


Until recently, creating ebook versions of children’s picture books was something publishers reserved for their best-selling authors and illustrators. If you wanted to self-publish a picture ebook, you either needed to be a whiz at writing code, or you paid an ebook creation service to do it for you. (That said, it was possible to find a few services targeted toward publishing books for kids on Apple devices, such as Book Creator.)

Last September, Amazon released KDP Kids’ Book Creator, which allows the average Joe to create illustrated children’s books for the Kindle and upload them directly to Amazon. These books can be designed in the landscape format (to mimic the layout of print picture books) and can include text pop-ups that enlarge the text with a tap or a click, making it easier to read.

Side note: Using the KDP Kids’ Book Creator means you’re publishing through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program. You can choose from several royalty structures within that program, and also choose whether or not to be included in KDP Select, which gives Amazon exclusive distribution of your ebook for a certain time period in exchange for marketing perks.

While the KDP Kids’ Book Creator still has a few rough spots (which Amazon is presumably ironing out in response to user feedback), it’s a good start. Those of us who have worked in children’s publishing for years recognized this move for what it was: a game changer.

Just how much has Amazon’s new free software changed the game?

With the release of the Kid’s Book Creator, as well as the Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition tablet, Amazon is investing in illustrated ebooks. And they need content.

So now comes the big question. Are you ready to ride this wave?

Not every self-published picture ebook will make it. Many will slip into oblivion as soon as they’re released.

Does Your Book Have a Fighting Chance?

Here are some positive signs.

You have a book that appeals to a niche market. Often publishers reject a manuscript simply because there isn’t a big enough audience to justify their expense to bring it to fruition. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the book shouldn’t exist. You’ll just have to make an effort to directly reach the consumers searching for the specific topic in your book.

If your story features a child with certain food allergies and how he must navigate snack time in preschool, you can write guest posts for parenting blogs that focus on these issues, or even blogs about nutrition and cooking. Many mommy bloggers welcome guest posts about all aspects of child care, and you can mention your book in your bio.

You already have a good online following. Jessica Shyba’s popular blog Momma’s Gone City, featuring photographs of her toddler and puppy at naptime, prompted publisher Jean Feiwel to offer her a two-book deal. Naptime with Theo & Beau was published by Feiwel and Friends in February, with a huge social media campaign using the hashtag #theoandbeau.

Could Shyba have chosen to self-publish the book and do the same thing? Sure. These days, authors and illustrators reach readers directly via their blogs, Twitter feeds and YouTube channels. Even if your blog is attracting the kind of people who would buy your picture book, you still have a potential customer base.

You want to begin establishing yourself as a professional author or illustrator. Waiting for an agent or editor to say yes can take months or years of submissions. Getting two or three picture ebooks out now means you’re working on creating a name for yourself and building a platform. If you do these books well, and market them smartly, you can build a reputation that can lead to more opportunities and possibly traditional book deals.

You have taken the time to study your craft. The quality of your work will be compared to those authors and illustrators who appear on the bestseller lists, so it must stand up to the scrutiny. Take classes in picture book writing and design, attend workshops, join a critique group, hire a professional editor. You want, and need, for your book to garner five-star reviews on Amazon, and not just from your mother. 

Why Your Book Might Not Make It

Your book has been rejected 25 times and you’re tired of submitting. Self-publishing won’t fix the flaws in a manuscript that had received nothing but form rejections from editors. Nor will it camouflage an ill-conceived story or writing that doesn’t appeal to the intended audience. You first need to figure out why the manuscript was rejected, and fix the problem.

You don’t have a solid marketing strategy. Complain all you want, but there is no way around it—if you want to sell books, you’ve got to market. And this goes for authors who are traditionally published as well. Don’t expect to post a link to your book on all your friends’ Facebook pages and call it a day.

You lack quality illustrations. This is crucial if you want your picture ebook to attract an audience. Remember that your first sales tool is your cover, and your second sales tool will be the first two pages of your book if you have Amazon’s Look Inside feature. If your illustrations look amateurish, the overall impression you’re giving potential customers is that this is not a professional product.

If you’re not an illustrator yourself, get the best illustrations you can afford. Start by checking the rates of some experienced illustrators. You can search the Illustrator Gallery of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, or find freelance illustrators at sites like elance.com.

If you decide to design your own illustrations, it’s wise to take a graphic design class so you learn the basics of font choices, image placement, and how things fit together best on a small screen. And speaking of the smaller screen, remember that the images should be clear and without too many tiny details so they can be easily viewed on a Kindle or iPad.

At the very least, the biggest hurdle toward successfully self-publishing picture ebooks doesn’t need to be the technology. Trust me, the KDP Kids’ Book Creator software is easy to use. Hundreds of authors and illustrators have already taken advantage of this opportunity, and are selling their books on Amazon—and they’re not all young upstarts who could use an app before they were potty trained!

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Laura Backes

For 25 years, Laura Backes has published Children’s Book Insider, The Children’s Writing Monthly. She is the co-creator of Picture eBook Mastery, an online course on how to use the KDP Kids’ Book Creator software to produce, upload and market picture ebooks on Amazon. To get her free, four-part mini video course, “Yes, You Can Publish a Kindle Picture eBook!” go to www.pictureebookmastery.com/yesyoucan. Laura can be reached through writeforkids.org.

THE ENTITLED TRIBUTARY TALES

These two posts, The Tributary Tales, and Conan, Baba Yaga, and Tôl Karuţha will explain what I mean by the Tributary Tales.

Suffice it to say that over the holidays (in my spare time between Thanksgiving and Christmas)  I made basic, and sometimes quite complicated, plot and character sketches of the Tributary Tales I wish to write.

Below is the new and expanded list of the Tributary Tales I will write and the titles for each story. I’ll post plot and character sketches and the stories themselves as I write them. I’ve made good progress on Tôl Karuţha and on My Battered Heart already, with the second being a graphic novel script, not a short story. The Godzilla story, Rising Son, will actually be a film script not a short story. But most all of the others will be short stories or short novellas.

I will work on these stories and scripts in my spare time, they will not interfere with my business, novel, or non-fiction work.

So, here is my list of entitled Tributary Tales:

THE TRIBUTARY TALES

Tales of the Fictional (or partially fictional) and Mythical Characters that had the most influence on me growing up or that in later life most appealed to me

AeneasThe Flight from Knossos
BatmanMy Battered Heart
BeowulfThe Good King Comes But Once
Cole and HitchThe Ravine Near Ridgewater
ConanThe Vengeance of Tôl Karuţha
DaredevilBlack and Blood Red
Doc SavageSavage Is as Savage Does
GalahadGalahad and the Golden Stag
GodzillaRising Son: The Eternal Ocean is my Womb
HephaestusThe Forging of the Titan’s Chain
Horatio HornblowerThe Jib’s Complaint
Jack AubreyThe American Problem
John CarterThe City Never Seen
John GaltFree is a Four Letter Word
Kirk and Spock (Star Trek original series) – The Battleship Remission
Lone RangerThe Cold Wind at Sunrise

Lovecraftian  – The Secret Grave of Harrow Hill

Merlin The Bones of Old Stone
Nathaniel Bumppo (Hawkeye) and ChingachgookBlood Feather
OrpheusNo Music May Soothe, or perhaps, Tears of Iron
ParsifalThe Sorcerer’s Swan
Philip MarloweThe Crooked Dane
Robin the HoodThe Fletcher and the Fulmen
RolandThe Menhir and the Moor
Sherlock HolmesThe Case of the 12 Septembers
SiegfriedThe Rhine-Wine (of the Black Elf)
Solomon KaneWith Evil Intent
SpenserHigh Roll Her
Taliesin (Taliesin Ben Beirdd) – Sweetly Sang yet Rarely Ventured
TarzanThe Ruins of Khumbar and the Slave Girl
Túrin TarambarThe Piercing of Melkor’s Doom

THREE PINTS OF MUSTARD

Now you’re probably wonderin why I’d do something like that. Well, let me tell you a little story.

See, long about wintertime, when the sun gets short and the shadows get long, a mocking bird drops by my place and screeches real loud. Up pops the handyman and asks what it’s all about but nobody but me can tell that kind of thing from a hole in the ground. So while the mock is high mocking and the handyman handy I thought it might be a very good occasion. For you know, doing what needs to be done.

Well after getting a flight from the bird and right around nightfall it all got too dark to follow. So I decided to lead. Now where should my lead wander than out by the old stump which is better than beating a dead horse to the barn. And iffin I listened I thought I could hear em but no such luck floated where I searched the town. So for about thirty minutes or so I just sat there and waited, but the good part of that is about twenty or less.

Which brings up a point about something I’ll mention when passing is better than going along. When covering old ground, which is like swimming up river, don’t ever be surprised by what you will find. For finding is easy but difficult hardly if you happen upon losing without even a thought. Can you see where I’m going – just imagine it’s real dark, then re-imagine it all done and illumined by tricks. Now personally I like that kinda thing, but don’t try to rub it in, cause that only works in real life with people around.

So let’s get back to the story. I’m three steps ahead but seven or eight sideways which still puts me eighteen or thereabouts behind where I am. That may seem somewhat simple but believe me it might be if not for the fact that simple is three red shades of green. I just threw that in there for some background color. I figured since this story is all black and white so far, what most people need is some shade of the truth. And blood is the new black.

But don’t let that throw you or even hold it against me cause what I’m saying to ya is don’t be that way. Any old cusser can sway with the best men but it takes a real kinda courage to admit that you know.

Anywho, the man that I’m tracking has led me to a place by the rathole which can smell kinda funny when covered with cheese. Now that’s pretty rotten if you cotton to cotton but cloth gets expensive when sold by the foot. He’s rolling a bedroll but who can believe him when all that he’s told me has been up and up? That’s a question for felony fellas and if never comes never then it’s better than nothing and silly that way. As for my take of this all, well, my cut is free. And you can’t beat that for keeping your costs low.

But I’ve still got a big job and with no one left hanging why can’t we just say that when talking is pass time for what we left out? I got nothing but egghead while he roams with the birdbrains and so what can I figure but he likes it that way? You see as most people age they start to wonder what it’s really all about. And by that I mean all the things they don’t when they’re not trying to know any better. I guess that’s why when they ask me about something they nod when I’m silent and talk when they’re not. I feel bad when that happens and keep trying to tell them but semaphore signals don’t sell well these days. I guess this guy is just one a them, which means that while he ain’t looking to see me I’m still tuning away. Go figure, but try all your fingers, cause multiples breed plenty when push comes to shove. And there tain’t a adding machine for that kinda racket.

So with all cards on the table and money a swilling round the slop buckets that’s my call sign to action, and springing up backwards, I turn to my left. He sees what I’m doing and feigns right of center but nobody’s judging cause the court date ain’t set. Which is fine by me, you never know when a judgment might lead to a fashion and fools just love fashion when the runaway is lit. You know the old saying, “a fool is soon separated from his Mahoney.” Once that happens some Mick’s bound to start squealing, then backstabs are a flying like jigs in the air.

I laugh when I see that, but watch through my binocs, cause Micks in a nightfight make holes in the wall. They’re not very good marksmen and that’s bad when you’re close up, but best when you’re downtown a’ biding your time. It all happened kinda fast after that but the upshot of the downside is that a man is soon done by the company he keeps. Especially if he’s worn out his welcome by going outside of the inside he’s made. It’s a shame when your bridge is burnt under but that happens quite often when the tide rolls back out. If you take my advice you’ll avoid that kinda thing or at least prepare for the fact that your skull might just crack. Better safe than Charlie.

So if you ever come across three pints of mustard where you ought to find mayonnaise, then drop what you’re doing, and toss what you find. That’s what I did, the same day it happened, and look where it got me so who can complain?

Now you know the rest of the story.

Spread it around…

GRIMLY GRIMM

Indeed. The original Tales (and I’ve read several of them) are powerful and horrific, more like the uncensored stories of Baba Yaga. The revised tales are mostly impotent and simple-minded by comparison.

Grimm brothers’ fairytales have blood and horror restored in new translation

‘It is time for parents and publishers to stop dumbing down the tales for children,’ says editor of uncut edition
Grimm

Not for kids … an illustration from the new edition of Grimms’ fairytales. Illustration: © Andrea Dezsö

Alison Flood

Wednesday 12 November 2014 06.09 EST

    

Rapunzel is impregnated by her prince, the evil queen in Snow White is the princess’s biological mother, plotting to murder her own child, and a hungry mother in another story is so “unhinged and desperate” that she tells her daughters: “I’ve got to kill you so I can have something to eat.” Never before published in English, the first edition of the Brothers Grimms’ tales reveals an unsanitised version of the stories that have been told at bedtime for more than 200 years.

The Grimms – Jacob and Wilhelm – published their first take on the tales for which they would become known around the world in December 1812, a second volume following in 1815. They would go on to publish six more editions, polishing the stories, making them more child-friendly, adding in Christian references and removing mentions of fairies before releasing the seventh edition – the one best known today – in 1857.

Jack Zipes, professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota, says he often wondered why the first edition of the tales had never been translated into English, and decided, eventually, to do it himself. “Though the Grimms kept about 100 of the tales from the first edition, they changed them a good deal. So, the versions with which most English-speaking (and German-speaking) readers are familiar are quite different from the tales in the first edition,” he told the Guardian.

His version of the original 156 stories is just out from Princeton University Press, illustrated by Andrea Dezsö, and shows a very different side to the well-known tales, as well as including some gruesome new additions.

How the Children Played at Slaughtering, for example, stays true to its title, seeing a group of children playing at being a butcher and a pig. It ends direly: a boy cuts the throat of his little brother, only to be stabbed in the heart by his enraged mother. Unfortunately, the stabbing meant she left her other child alone in the bath, where he drowned. Unable to be cheered up by the neighbours, she hangs herself; when her husband gets home, “he became so despondent that he died soon thereafter”. The Children of Famine is just as disturbing: a mother threatens to kill her daughters because there is nothing else to eat. They offer her slices of bread, but can’t stave off her hunger: “You’ve got to die or else we’ll waste away,” she tells them. Their solution: “We’ll lie down and sleep, and we won’t get up again until the Judgement Day arrives.” They do; “no one could wake them from it. Meanwhile, their mother departed, and nobody knows where she went.”

Rapunzel, meanwhile, gives herself away to her captor when – after having a “merry time” in the tower with her prince – she asks: “Tell me, Mother Gothel, why are my clothes becoming too tight? They don’t fit me any more.” And the stepmothers of Snow White and Hansel and Gretel were, originally, their mothers, Zipes believing that the Grimms made the change in later editions because they “held motherhood sacred”. So it is Snow White’s own mother who orders the huntsman to “stab her to death and bring me back her lungs and liver as proof of your deed. After that I’ll cook them with salt and eat them”, and Hansel and Gretel’s biological mother who abandons them in the forest.

Zipes speculates that the Grimms’ changes were “reflecting sociologically a condition that existed during their lifetime – jealousy between a young stepmother and stepdaughter”, because “many women died from childbirth in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and there were numerous instances in which the father remarried a young woman, perhaps close in age to the father’s eldest daughter”.

Cinderella’s stepsisters go to extraordinary attempts to win the prince in the original Grimms version of the tale, slicing off parts of their feet to fit the golden slipper – to no avail, in the end, because the prince spots the blood spilling out of the shoe. “Here’s a knife,” their mother urges, in Zipes’ translation. “If the slipper is still too tight for you, then cut off a piece of your foot. It will hurt a bit. But what does that matter?”
Grimm Not such innocent fun … an illustration from the new translation of How Some Children Played at Slaughtering. Illustration: © Andrea Dezsö/PR

Zipes describes the changes made as “immense”, with around 40 or 50 tales in the first edition deleted or drastically changed by the time the seventh edition was published. “The original edition was not published for children or general readers. Nor were these tales told primarily for children. It was only after the Grimms published two editions primarily for adults that they changed their attitude and decided to produce a shorter edition for middle-class families. This led to Wilhelm’s editing and censoring many of the tales,” he told the Guardian.
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Wilhelm Grimm, said Zipes, “deleted all tales that might offend a middle-class religious sensitivity”, such as How Some Children Played at Slaughtering. He also “added many Christian expressions and proverbs”, continued Zipes, stylistically embellished the tales, and eliminated fairies from the stories because of their association with French fairy tales. “Remember, this is the period when the French occupied Germany during the Napoleonic wars,” said Zipes. “So, in Briar Rose, better known as Sleeping Beauty, the fairies are changed into wise women. Also, a crab announces to the queen that she will become pregnant, not a frog.”

The original stories, according to the academic, are closer to the oral tradition, as well as being “more brusque, dynamic, and scintillating”. In his introduction to The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, in which Marina Warner says he has “redrawn the map we thought we knew”, and made the Grimms’ tales “wonderfully strange again”, Zipes writes that the originals “retain the pungent and naive flavour of the oral tradition”, and that they are “stunning narratives precisely because they are so blunt and unpretentious”, with the Grimms yet to add their “sentimental Christianity and puritanical ideology”.

But they are still, he believes, suitable bedtime stories. “It is time for parents and publishers to stop dumbing down the Grimms’ tales for children,” Zipes told the Guardian. The Grimms, he added, “believed that these tales emanated naturally from the people, and the tales can be enjoyed by both adults and children. If there is anything offensive, readers can decide what to read for themselves. We do not need puritanical censors to tell us what is good or bad for us.”

WEST OF THE SUNSET, EAST OF THE DAWN

Last night my wife asked me if I thought we’d be “together forever?” (It’s been twenty years, doesn’t that qualify?)

So I wrote her a poem in response:

 

WEST OF THE SUNSET, EAST OF THE DAWN

West of the Sunset, East of the Dawn
The place I first found you, where you belong
Darker than nightfall, brighter than day
Lost in between them, here I will stay

Seven Great Cities all on a hill
Have fallen to nothing yet I’m with you still
Forests have vanished, rivers are dry
I haven’t wandered; I’m still by your side

The poets, the playwrights, the minstrels are gone
Their verses as empty and dead as their songs
I’m going nowhere without you along
West of the Sunset, East of the Dawn

The moon in her orbit, the stars in their paths
Ten thousand summers and winters will pass
Old men will wonder, and children know not
Whatever’s remembered whenever forgot

The Earth shall grow ancient, the mountains collapse
Of us shall be always without a relapse
Forgotten in legend but still living on
West of the Sunset, East of the Dawn

One day a sailor shall glide past this world
An explorer by mishap will see all unfurled
Frontiersmen will cross into lands still unknown
There they will find us, for we never roamed

West of the Sunset, East of the Dawn

WE BOTH KNOW

“Son, you can spend your whole life bitching and moaning about the problem. Or, you could just abandon the problem in favor of the solution. And we both know which is the wiser course of action, don’t we? But that’s not the real question surrounding your situation, is it? That’s never really the question. The question really is, why in the hell is it taking you so damned long to do anything about the answer?”

THE MAN OF BRONZE AND THE MAN OF STEEL

Today, when my wife and I went out I got a new Doc Savage novel (Phantom Lagoon) and the Doc Savage Man of Bronze film (which I had seen before, but still…)

So, BOO-YAH!!!

“A wise man once observed that trouble has walked around in skirts since the beginning of things.
This particular wise man did not proclaim such a thing in so many words, but every man knows it to be true…”
Phantom Lagoon

When a novel opens that way you know it’s going to be good.

Also, I got the soundtrack to Man of Steel. My Wife and I both agree that soundtrack is some of Hans Zimmer’s very best wok, and he has done some excellent work. If you ask me composers for film are some of the very best composers working in the world right now.

I’m not absolutely sure why that is (I mean aside from the obvious, it is an excellent and profitable music market), but I’m beginning to think that’s it because the music being composed is associated so directly with powerful visual images (in this case derived from film). That seems to me a very logical conclusion.

One normally thinks of music and the composition of music as a more or less strictly auditory (or perhaps even mental experience), but suppose modern film composers are so good because they are intentionally (or perhaps even subconsciously) directly associating powerful visual images with the musical ideas they are composing and expressing? (This technique could be both self-limiting and self-liberating depending upon how it is employed.)

That might very well alter the underlying compositional patterns and techniques these composers are employing. It is a logical chain of reasoning but I’m not sure how many are considering that it could be very well greatly altering their innate composing habits.

Anyway, thinking on these matters and having deduced a probable cause I’m going to try some experiments of my own in attempting to compose music “visually,” rather than auditorially, or to fit word and phrasing patterns (lyrical composition or song composing), or as a purely mental exercise.

See where that leads me. I’ll let you know what my experiments yield.

CONAN AND ME, PART ONE: LANGUAGE, PULP, RACE, AND FICTION

Lately I’ve been re-reading (actually listening to on CD) some of R.E. Howard’s later stories on Conan, such as The Conquering Sword of Conan.

Now every year, usually in the Fall (but at other times as well) or as the weather changes I get a desire to read or listen to Conan, or Solomon Kane, or the stories of HP Lovecraft. Adventure and horror stories. Don’t know why, I just do, it’s sort of a recurring literary theme with me. I associate Autumn and early Winter with adventure, and patrolling, and exploring, and the coming dark.

(I also at this time of year like to read or listen to the radio plays of Jack Flanders or the Green Hornet or John Carter of Mars or Doc Savage or other types of things like that I used to listen to as a kid.)

Now I’ve always liked the stories of Conan (though I have much more in common personally with the character Solomon Kane) as I enjoy a lot of pulp fiction. It’s adventurous, and that’s what I like about it. Adventure stories and pulp fiction tend to roam widely in space and time, and this very much appeals to the explorer and Vadder in me. As well as to the historian in me, as pulp stories are often pseudo-historical and often contain historical and archaeological allusions and references. I wish far more modern writers wrote really good adventure stories, especially for young men and boys, but also even for girls, such as my daughters. Alas, aside from children stories adventure yarns seem a dying or dead art. More is the shame.

But a couple of things have always bothered me about Conan and his adventure stories. One is Howard’s sometimes ridiculous use of inappropriate language, mixing antique, antiquated, and outmoded terms all in the same paragraph or sentence and doing so without a broader context. The same can be said for his general world building tendencies as well, he sometimes mixes wholly inappropriate matters and allusions and settings and events and places and personages together haphazardly and without any logical framework. I know this is part of his Sword and Sorcery Shtick but it can detract heavily from the appeal of the story. As a writer I certainly understand that every writer is at least to some extent a product of his times, and of what is known in his time. As well as a victim of his own his ideas, and a bondsman of his ideas about writing. Finally he is in at least in some sense a slave of his own language, real or invented, and his use of that language. But Howard’s language often descends into “pulp-speech” in a way that is almost an obvious caricature of pulp. In other words his writings become the very caricature of the pulp genre to such an obvious degree that it becomes impossible to read some of his phrasing without saying to yourself, “this story is pulp.” Instead of, “this story is a great adventure.”

True, sometimes his phrasing and language use is clever, even inspired, at other times though it is both simultaneously banal and overwrought. At times like that you easily remember within your own mind, “this is fiction,” and that’s precisely what you want to avoid in fiction writing.

The second thing that bothers me about Conan is Conan’s obsession (in some of his stories at least) with race and tribalism and ethnicities and “groups.”

to be continued…

PENNY DREADFUL

Penny Dreadful, mood most leadful
Like a cup of arsenic
Spoon my cube of sugared rubiks
My Sophists are all Cynicals

Penny Dreadful, lungs and headful
Smoke a peacepipe barrow-top
A drop of silver, moon and livers
Make a canny bumper-crop

Penny Dreadful, all regretful
That this night is deep and black
Kill the Hanged-Man, in the bright sand
Bury them then bring him back

Penny Dreadful, what a mouthful
If the spirits won’t attend
I don’t know, I just work here
Tell me how this thing will end

Penny Dreadful, mourn the bledful
Filled at every fresh dead-drop
I never saw the bag man moving
But I heard his shadow-hop…

 

A DAY IN THE KIFE – UPDATE

Update: So last night I went out for waffles and a ding-dong. While sitting and waiting for my coffee brunch this old lady wanders by and makes like a cat caught under a washing machine. You could hear the fur fly but nobody said nothing cause it was after closing time already. Still that kinda racket really piques my pin-cushion whenever I’m within quadruple earshot. So I got up and floated outside, but upside down so nobody would notice. Once the roof was beneath my head I called out, “Hey Method Man, take out for sixteen.” But nobody came to listen. It’s like that old analogy, “if a tree falls, then what’s the best direction to be upright?” I’ve never caught that saying in the middle of nothing, so en media res is all satellite radio to me.

But seeing as that is neither here nor there, I decided it would be best to climb back down to street level, to see what all the fuss was about. No sooner had I toed up my twinkles and caught wicked pavement than the old lady shot by me like a post modern possum. “Hooray,” I said. “How long you been screaming?”

“The whole time it took me, but nobody cares.” She said without speaking. I touched my nose and she laughed in the other direction.

With that kinda market-clout I could feel what she peddled, but no closer to home, away I did run. Three good blocks later, or half a loaf will do ya, I finally hit paydirt and rang up the bill.

“Is Pink here,” I asked. “Cause I wish he was here

“Don’t we all, and whatcha mean?” asked the Russians, but pulling pushed harder, so centrifugal tickled and I had to laugh. 2 cute for Harlem, we all know the story, and I was no farther than farther along. Well, what’s a guy to do when he’s tried nothing and everything worked, but not like he figured, so he’s back to the end? That kinda thing really gets to some guys, but not me, I just kept a pluggin and hoped not to spit. More holes though went a’poppin than I could’a covered so whenever that happens I shake my stick. Now good sticks are expensive, or that’s what they tell me, but far worse than belt loops when you buy one for free.

Now as luck would have it, or maybe on purpose, I lost the old lady, but found a new boot. Since my old one was still under warranty, I ditched it in Chelsea and wore on the gum-fingers till the treading felt right. It was good that I did so, or maybe just dancing, cause ten minutes later I was early to bed. More on this last week.

But not right now. Somebody ain’t watching, and it’s already past ten…

https://wyrdwend.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/a-day-in-the-fike/

THE SORE MAN OF OLDE TOWNE

Last year I wrote a graphic novel entitled, “The Sore Man of Olde Towne.”

I am looking for an artist or artists to do the artwork for the Sore Man. (There are actually two parallel sections to the GN separated by a considerable period of time and I desire the style of artwork to be very different for each separate section.)

What I desire to do is for the artist to do the artwork to accompany the Sore Man (I have already written the entire script) and then when we sell it we split all profits 50/50. We’d enter a contract to that effect. But the artwork would have to be done to my specifications to fit the nature of the story. I already have design sketches and notes prepared for the layout I envision. The artwork will be a vital part of the overall story so it must be done to very high standards.

Below you will find a short portion of the Sore Man to give you some idea of the story and style I am shooting for. If you are interested in the project then contact me and we will begin discussions. If everything works out well then we’ll sign a profit-splitting contract.

If this venture succeeds in the way I suspect it will then I could very well look upon this first collaboration as an on-going and long-term partnership.

Thanks,

Jack.

________________________________________________________________________

THE SORE MAN OF OLDE TOWNE

(Newe Version)

The Sore Man of Olde Towne
Cuts deep in the dark
The Sore Man of Yore Towne
Of measured remark

The Sore Man of Olde Towne
Did all men dismay
The Sore Man of Yore Towne
Of all men held sway

The Sore Man of Olde Towne
A wolf in the night
The Sore Man of Yore Towne
A frightening sight…

A MAN, HIS HORSE, HIS DOG, AND A BOY

Awhile back I took Sam for a walk in the woods. While we were out I had what to me was a very good idea for a short story – a Western.

The story is basically this. A bounty hunter goes out looking for a small gang of outlaws. His dog finds a young boy, about 15, who has been taken in by the two outlaws. One of the outlaws shoots the bounty hunter’s dog and the bounty hunter kills the two outlaws, and then makes the boy help him rescue and save his dog from dying of the gunshot. (Which they do at the time.)

The bounty hunter decides to himself that as they’re saving the dog that he will sort of adopt the boy and turn him from his previous life of outlawry.

Though he never really comes out and legally adopts the boy or gives him his name. He does give the boy an alias that was his grandfather’s name, the same grandfather who had raised him, though the boy doesn’t know that until much later.

Anywho I liked the story so well that I came home and spent most of the afternoon working it when I wasn’t having to do other things. It will be sort of a long story; I’m to fifteen hundred words already.

It doesn’t run from beginning to end yet, I can see the whole thing in my head but I’ve been writing down the scenes as they come to me. The lines are scene break points. Like I said it’s not woven together yet, just scene parts. Some in order, some not. It’s told form the point of view of the main character, Thomas Hodgkins.

If you wanna comment then you’re welcome to.

There’s some cussing in a good cause at a few points, nothing gratuitous. It’s man-cussing, out of anger. But I’ve warned ya, so you know it’s there.

It’s called, A Man, His Horse, His Dog, and a Boy.

Have a good one folks. I’ve got a lot to do today, but hope you enjoy it.

 *           *           *

A MAN, HIS HORSE, HIS DOG, AND A BOY

____________________________________________________

“Oh, a little Irish tow-head, huh?” he said. “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

____________________________________________________

“What’s your name boy?”

“Thomas,” I told him. “Thomas Clancey.”

“Well, Thomas Clancey, just by fortuitous accident my grandfather’s name was also Thomas. So I kind of fancy you keeping that part. As for the Clancey you’re gonna lose that.”

“Why?”

“In case that name is attached to any robberies or other outlawry.”

I thought about that awhile as we walked.

“What’s gonna be my last name then?”

“Well, let’s see… my grandfather’s last name was Hodgkins. So you can be a Hodgkins from now on.”

Thomas Hodgkins. It seemed okay.

“What’s your last name?”

“Wellford,” he said. “But you don’t want my last name.”

“Why is that?”

He stopped moving. The question seemed to surprise him.

I could see him thinking a bit and then he seemed to catch himself. So he clicked his tongue and set his horse back to walking again.

“You just don’t kid. You just don’t,” he finally said.

__________________________________________________

“I hate you!” I said. “They mightna been much but they was all I had, and they were partners with my pa, and you killed em.”

He turned on me like a copperhead and for the very first time I saw a black fury rise up in him that froze my blood.

“Tough shit!” he hissed, and his hiss was louder than a close wolf howl. “Those two was outlaws and murderers and horse-thieves and train robbers and I’m glad I killed them and if you turn out like that boy I’ll gladly kill you too.

Shoot my dog, threaten me, kill women, raise a little boy to be a piece of shit like them. Goddamnit!” He reached out and grabbed me by the collar and yanked me almost off my feet, then threw me to the ground like a dead, skint hare.

Then he pulled out his gun and pointed it straight at my chest.

“Boy, you learn one thing and you learn it right now – this very second. You ain’t gonna be like that. You ain’t gonna be no damned outlaw, not anymore, not never again. Or I’ll kill you right now and save us both the trouble.”

He trembled at the trigger for a moment as if considering whether I was really worth killing. I closed my eyes and waited.

Then he exhaled loudly and seemed to get ahold of himself again. At least for the moment. I opened my eyes to see him look at the gun, then at me, then back at the gun. He raised his pistol into the air and fired three times in quick succession. I flinched at each shot

“Goddamnit!” he shouted. “Do you want me to shoot you right now because I can do it and leave your body for the buzzards and scorpions? They gotta eat too.”

When I didn’t reply he almost whispered, “Well, do ya?”

“No…” I said tightly. I was furious inside as well but too afraid to show it.

He holstered his gun, kicked sand in my direction, and then lowered himself to stare straight in my face.

“From now on boy you’re not gonna be no outlaw. You’re not gonna be like those two bandits I killed and you’re not gonna be like your robbing, murdering old man. You’re gonna be something different. Very different. Now git off the ground and stand up like a man afore I decide to beat you senseless.”

I stood up unsurely and he raised himself to his full height but didn’t threaten me anymore.

“Now repeat after me,” he said. His sense of calm was returning, and for some stupid reason my sense of defiance kicked back in.

“And what if I don’t care to repeat after you old man?” I said.

He shook his head slowly and then slapped me so hard across the face that I fell to the ground again.

“Let’s keep up this bullshit til one of us gets tired of it boy. Wanna lay odds on who that will be?”

I was still angry, but didn’t particularly favor my odds.

I stood up.

“Now repeat after me boy.”

“Okay,” I said.

“I will not be no murdering outlaw like my old man and his no count cutthroats. I don’t have to hate my natural father but I sure as hell ain’t gonna become him.”

I repeated what he said, word for word.

“I’m gonna become something different. Very, very different.”

I repeated it back to him. He seemed satisfied.

“Now boy, you’re gonna keep repeating that to yourself, every day and night until you actually mean it. Until it sinks in. Until it sticks. And then you’ll actually be different.”

I thought about that a second and then said coldly, “Different how? You mean I’m gonna become a lawman or a bounty hunter like you?”

He looked down at me.

“Hell if I know boy, and damned if I care. But you are gonna be different. You can be a cowboy, or a ranch hand or businessman, or a mayor, or a sheriff, or a doctor, or a priest, or a teacher or a circuit riding preacher for all it matters to me. But from now on you’re gonna be different from anything you’ve ever been before. From now on you’re gonna be a real man. We’re both gonna see to it.”

He walked over to his horse, cinched his saddle tight, and adjusted his rifle.

“Now mount up. We’ve got a lotta work to do.”

While he mounted I walked over to my horse, cinched my own saddle, tested it, and swung myself up. When I was set I looked over at him and said, “I’m ready.”

He looked at me, spat, wiped his mouth, and then almost smiled. He reined north and turned away at a trot.

“We’ll see boy, we’ll see,” he said to himself.

And that drifted back to me and kinda stuck in my craw.

____________________________________________________

“You gotta kid of your own?” I asked

“Nope,” he said flatly.

“Gotta woman?”

“Nope to that too boy.” He paused a moment to rest, took off his hat, and swiped his brow. He looked out over the long horizon. He was quiet awhile and then he spoke again.

“Maybe one day I will, maybe not, but iffin I do then she’ll just have to understand that you’re part of the package now. She’ll have to get used to that.”

I didn’t know what to say, but he seemed awful serious. I looked at the ground speculating on what he might mean exactly and then I heard him continue on. I looked up to see him moving away from me and so I started walking again to catch up to him. It didn’t take long, he was lingering for me.

___________________________________________________

“That was the best damn dog I ever seen.” I said.

“Don’t cuss about old Pete,” he answered. “He deserves your respect.”

I didn’t mean anything by it, nothing bad anyway, but didn’t know if he knew that.

I looked in his direction to see if he was mad and he turned to face me. I swear I saw a tear in one eye, but then it disappeared faster than a foxfire.

He looked at me hard for a long time after that and then he reached out and wrapped both his hands around my shoulders and pulled me in close and hugged me like I imagined an old bear would. Then he pushed me back and let me go, looking away at something only he could see.

“I know son. I know exactly what you meant. That was the most fetching dog I ever had.” His voice almost choked, but he wouldn’t let it.”

Then he looked right at me. “And you were the best thing he ever fetched me. So to hell with it all, you’re right as rain. Don’t pay me no heed. He was a helluvah dog, wadn’t he, and he’d have much appreciated your comment.”

He smiled at me and maybe for the first time ever I saw inside him. Right inside him. And he didn’t bother to look away.

“Now if you’ll excuse me I’m gonna go bury Pete deep enough the coyotes can’t get at him, shallow enough God can raise him anytime he wants to.”

I didn’t know what to say so I asked him, “Do you want me to go with ya?”

“No,” he said. “This is my job. I was there when he was born, I’ll bury him now.”

He picked up his working hat, rolled up his sleeves, and then went to closet and took out his shovel. Then he walked to the door and opened it, but before he stepped out he half looked over his shoulder back at me.

“My job is to bury Pete. Your job will be to bury me.”

Then he shut the door and left.

I walked to the window and through the dusty and uneven glass I saw him wrap the blanket tight around old Pete, lift him gently into the wheelbarrow, place the shovel over his body and start off towards the desert. With the sun running down towards twilight the dark took him quick.

So I oiled a lantern and left it lit on the table for when he returned. With any luck he’d be back before it died.

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