Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Some kind folks passed me some blogging awards while I was away on vacation, so I need to pass them along now.
This really awesome Fantasy & Sci-Fi Blogger award came from Aubrie at Flutie Words. Thanks, Aubrie!

There aren't any rules for this one except to pass it along to some great Fantasy and Science Fiction writing bloggers. Now, since I am writing this in the evening and am too lazy to look up each and every follower site to see who all is fantasy or sci-fi, I'm simply going to name a few that I am absolutely certain about and let the rest of you know that if you are a fantasy and sci-fi blogger, you too can have this shiny new award for your blog. Give thanks to Aubrie for creating it!

I'll pass this along to:

Matt Rush
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Maria Zannini
Bryce Ellicott
Kevin Hearne
Francis Cossette

The next one is the Sure Fire Winner award, given to me by Anne aka Piedmont Writer. Thanks, Anne!

 The rule for this award is that it can only be passed to one person, and it should be someone who does great work but has struggled in some manner recently. Also, the recipient must say something nice about their own writing. So, to fulfill that request, I will say that despite my imperfections, I feel that writing comes very naturally to me. I never feel that I struggle with it or lack ideas. Now if only I could become much better at it! I'm passing this along to Roland Yeomans.

The last award was given to me by no less than four people (!!) - Tessa Conte, Watery Tart, Amanda Borenstadt and Mohamed Mughal. It is the Versatile Blogger award.

I am supposed to list seven unusual things about myself. Hmmm.
1. I was once offered a pro contract in soccer (a lifetime ago at age 16). Since it meant moving to Mexico, my mother wouldn't allow it.
2. The one season that I pitched baseball, I won all 24 games that I pitched.
3. I am a correspondence chess master.
4. I tied for 1st in the 2001 U.S. Amateur Chess Championship in Tucson.
5. I have played chess live against 4 world champions -- Kasparov, Karpov, Kramnik, and Anand. I also met Boris Spassky, and I lived in Reykjavik along with Bobby Fischer when he died there two years ago.
6. My first job in the Foreign Service meant flying into Moscow in October 1993 just when the big coup happened and the tanks were on the bridge down the street blasting away at the Russian parliament building. It was a dangerous and oddly thrilling time. Then in 1995 someone fired a rocket propelled grenade through the wall of the embassy building where I had been working earlier in the day. I might as well top off the dangerous stuff by saying that I also witnessed two Russian mafia attacks during my stay there.
7. I'm a diplomat and have now lived/worked in six countries, and I have visited around forty. As dangerous as Moscow may have sounded, it was my favorite posting, and it was there that I met and married the most wonderful woman the world has ever seen (with slight apologies to my lovely readers).

Now, I am not going to pass this along to 15 readers (as the rules stated), first because it is getting late and I need to go to bed, but also because I am simply too lazy right now to post and link to so many! So, I am passing this along to:

Mary McDonald
Theresa Milstein
Alexandra Shostak
Angie Lofthouse
The astonishingly gorgeous Victoria Cross (so amazing that the British named their highest award for her!)

Okay, I'm exhausted, and before I sleep I have to go let each person know about their award. Please check out all of these fabulous blogs if you don't know them already!


Okay, I am back from my vacation to London. It would have been truly memorable if I hadn't suffered terrible allergies that attacked my eyes quite painfully. We managed everything that we wanted to do, and even threw in the concert of Paul McCartney on Sunday evening.

Here's a quandary I am in, and perhaps some of you might have some sound advice. What do you do when readers consistently point out something that should normally be correct, but due to something you can't tell them it isn't? Here's what I mean.

Readers keep pointing out that at times my characters use modern sounding phrases when they speak. They assume that since my world appears medieval that this is wrong. However, the tribe that eventually became the Greatlanders evolved with the help of scientists from earth. Thus, the language they speak is Russian. It is not only modern, but it is even from the 22nd Century, so it is normal that they took these modern aspects of speech from the scientists who taught them much of what they know.

When I first imagined this book, I wanted the sole remaining scientist (the wizard Xax) to reveal where he was from in a series of scenes. However, once I began studying what it takes for a first time writer to get published I had to change my mind. First time writers can't write such a long book (it would have been closer to 200,000 words rather than the 130,000 it is now), plus agents prefer to see us stick to a single genre for our first effort. Because of this I set out to tell The Shard as a stand-alone fantasy with bare hints that there was something more to it.

This leaves me in the current pickle. Everyone, including agents, will think that the language is too modern in spots, while to me it is normal. I suppose I could attempt to detect where each of those problem spots are and change the language, but that is not simple to do, and it should be unnecessary.

Anyone else ever encounter this issue?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Green Day at Wembley Stadium

I haven't been able to blog, because my family and I are on vacation in London and the internet we have in the apartment is intermittent at best. Anyhow, the family is enjoying seeing London.

Seeing Green Day at Wembley Stadium was a blast. It was their largest audience ever. Joan Jett opened and did a fine job, playing classics such as "I Love Rock and Roll" and "Crimson and Clover". Green Day were really on top of their game, and the crowd was jumping all over the place. They played every one of my old favorites. The only criticism I have is that they played only four songs from their new album, and the new album is terrific. My wife would have enjoyed it more if they had at least played "Peacemaker"!

Oh well, Pearl Jam in Hyde Park this Friday!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Interview with Lord Midas Welby

Today is the Character Interview Blogfest. I've chosen to interview the main character from my fantasy novel The Shard. It's tough, because Midas is a fairly serious fellow, so it's not easy to get anything funny out of him. I decided to interview him a few years prior to the start of the novel (it would be interesting to do an after-novel interview someday).

Interview with Lord Midas Welby

A tall slim man, his brown goatee touched with gray, sits down beside me under the elm tree. He wears chainmail and a surcoat decorated with a black and red checkerboard pattern.

Me:  So, you’re a lord?

A very minor one. I think few of the other nobles truly consider me to be one. I actually got kicked into a moat once by a knight who was insulted by the very idea that I could be considered a noble.

Did you get revenge on that knight?

It's a long story. He's my vassal now.

You weren’t born a noble?

No. I was born in a tiny fishing village a little north of Mitinya in the Westlands.
(Map here)

Go on, how did you become a lord?

Well, for centuries it has been a rule that every able-bodied 16 year old boy must serve two years in the military, either at the capital of Pangalia or at the defensive fortress of East Gate. I began serving in Pangalia, but just a few weeks after I arrived, there was an attack by barbarians against some settlers beyond the gate, so King Alderic sent the army to crush them. It turned into a long campaign, as the neighboring Alsean tribe was joined by several others. This was how I met Lord Havlin Tathis of Iskimir. I was placed under his command.

I liked him, and he seemed to like me. He promoted me twice after battles, and when it was over he took me on as captain of the guard in Iskimir. Our friendship grew. I knew he was sad because he had failed to produce a male heir. One day he hit me up with the idea of marrying his daughter Rina. I was shocked, naturally. I didn’t know Rina; I had just seen her a few times at the castle. She was pretty, but always so aloof. I couldn’t say no to Lord Tathis, though.

So, he knighted me and arranged for our wedding to take place after a big tournament the king was throwing in Pangalia. We met King Alderic, who had me swear fealty, and that was it -- I was a noble. Lord Tathis gave me a tiny province on his southern border with Laithtaris and Vimar Keep.

So, does that make you Lord Tathis’s heir now?

No, though it’s possible I might be a steward if necessary. Hopefully not! I’ve had three sons with Rina, so my oldest boy Miros is Lord Tathis’s heir.

How is your marriage going?

Umm, do we have to talk about it? Rina’s a lovely woman, very smart and headstrong. She felt I was far beneath her, so she was quite unhappy with her father’s arrangement. She also doesn’t like Welby. It is tiny and she has no friends there, unlike her life in the huge city of Iskimir. She loves our children, especially our daughter Daria, but I think that’s all that keeps her happy. She’s started drinking a bit too much wine lately.

Are you happy as a noble, or would you rather be back in the fishing village?

I loved fishing with my father, though the ocean makes for a hard life. Those three moons cause crazy tides and choppy water. I wish I could be happier in my marriage, of course, but I am content. My sons are all growing fast and show great promise, plus they get along well together. I have a few good friends. My neighbor at Vimar Keep, Lord Solomon Arthanis, is a good friend, but his daughters are terrors, so I admit I avoid visiting. My closest friends are my vassals -- the knights Brindor, Voor, and Victus, and also my captain of the guard Dalthis. We go hunting sometimes, and now that my son Miros is getting older we are even taking him with us.

I know the lands have been at peace for years. Any looming dangers?

Not that I know about. That blasted dragon keeps coming out of hibernation every ten years or so and laying waste to the Eastlands, but the barbarians seem to have settled down. I hear they are actively trading with us now.

Welby borders on Laithtaris, where the elves live. Can you tell us about them?

They might as well be mythical as far as I can see. I’ve never seen an elf. Have you?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Character Interview Blogfest

Sangu at Echoes of a Wayward Mind is running a blogfest tomorrow where we are supposed to interview a character from our work. It sounds fun, so join in if you have the time! Be sure to hop over to Sangu's site to check out the posts of all the other entrants.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Concert Time!

It has been a long time since I have been to a rock concert. I've been fortunate in the past to be at some very interesting ones -- the last time Page & Plant played together; the U2 concert in Sun Devil Stadium that was filmed for the movie Rattle & Hum; and best of all the last great Pink Floyd gig, for which a friend and I flew from Moscow to London to see and it also ended up being filmed (it was called Pulse).

However, my two sons are now 12 and 10 and have yet to see a show, despite the fact that they have inherited my love of great music. We were teased terribly last summer. We found out that Green Day was going to play Phoenix the very day that we had to fly from Phoenix to Washington DC. Then in Washington we found out that we would miss both Green day (again) and Tool by just a day.

So, I felt bad and decided that we were going to see something no matter what. I searched for our favorite bands to see who was on tour. Green Day seemed to be the only good choice (though a great one, of course) since they would be travelling through Europe this summer. U2 were also going to be in Moscow in August, but that was at a bad time for us. So, we head out next Thursday for London.

I chose to see Green Day in London for a few reasons. One is that London is a fantastic city, and though I have been there many times, my family never has. Two, the concert is going to be at Wembley Stadium, and such a huge venue should lend added electricity to the show. We then got lucky and found that Pearl Jam got added to a big event at Hyde Park less than a week later, so we added tickets to them also.

I wasn't a huge fan of Green Day for their real punk years. It was only when the more accessible American Idiot came out that I began to change my mind. Seeing the Bullet in a Bible concert on DVD blew me away and I really became a fan (along with my younger son). Then their latest album also was great, so they are truly on a roll.

I have been a Pearl Jam fan since the beginning. While I love many of their famous songs, I thought I should mention some that I love that never seem to get any attention. One such song is Tremor Christ. It has such a discordant musical beginning that it is easy to dismiss, but the vocals are amazing, even a bit haunting. A list of my absolute favorites is Thin Air, Yellow Ledbetter, Sad, Fatal, Dead Man, I Got ID, In My Tree, Green Disease, Better Man, Even Flow, Alive, and Oceans. That's just the ones with five stars in my iTunes! Check them out if you haven't heard them.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Type of People

First off I want to send some thanks out to some wonderful people:

Matt Rush made my day today by leaving a cool comment in my last post, basically suggesting that my first novel is written just for people like him. Not only that, but his post about our critique group garnered me a few more readers (and readers are more precious for us wannabe authors than The One Ring!).

Anne (Piedmont Writer) and Maria Zannini both gave me great feedback on one of my short stories. It means really rewriting some of it, but it will be a better story. Thanks to both of you!

Thanks also to the handful of others who read and sometimes comment. Know that I read the blogs of all who appear on the blog roll down below on the right, even if I don't always have something to comment about.

Now on to today's post. I was thinking about all of the thousands of elements that go into world building. I have thought so long and hard about my fantasy world that I would be honestly surprised if I had trouble answering any question about it. I decided to pick just one element to write about today.

Do you know how the different cultures of our world each have a national characteristic of some kind (one that is not always correct, of course, but is to a degree)? For instance, Germans are generally considered to be precise and solid, while Italians are passionate, and Russians like a good drink. Okay, well I gave my main 'tribe' their own characteristic - pragmatism.

I say 'tribe' since these people no longer consider themselves to be a tribe (as opposed to all the barbarian tribes howling outside the borders). I didn't give them the pragmatism randomly, but chose it due to the manner in which they evolved. Rather than evolving naturally, this tribe was the first to meet a group of scientists from earth and decide not to kill them right off. Due to that happy fact, the scientists helped this tribe to advance far more quickly than their neighbors, making them the one 'civilized' group of humans on the planet.

The Greatlanders, as I call them, were eventually driven from their original tribal lands, because they were seen as too much of a threat by the barbarian tribes. They relocated to an easily defensible land beyond a wall of mountains, and after two thousand years it is a well-developed region called the Known Lands.

The pragmatic character of the Greatlanders shows in several ways. First in place names. While many people enjoy giving fancy names to places, the Greatlanders tend to keep it simple. A lake that is frozen year round is named Frozen Lake. A forest in which a great battle took place becomes the Battle Wood. Yes, there can be a boring aspect to this, but it is their character. Fortunately not all names follow this pattern, because the Greatlanders also took on characteristics of the earth scientists, who were mainly Russian (there was an Icelandic geneticist in their group).

Greatlander bards tend not to use fiction much, since making up things is not a big part of their nature. Rather, they write songs or perform skits based upon true events from history. I know, sad isn't it? It reminds me of my grandfather, who would never read fiction.

Probably the biggest aspect of Greatlander pragmatism shows in regards to religion - they have none. Partly this is due to their contact with the much older race of elves, since the elves already were aware of the great energy (magic) that permeates the world and thus never developed the idea of gods. However, part of it is that the Greatlanders simply feel no need to make up stories in order to better understand the unknown. When they look at a moon or a star they don't pretend to have any special understanding of what they are. They are comfortable with simply saying that they don't know and leaving it at that. The scientists never explained such things to the Greatlanders, feeling that some ideas were too big and needed to be left for later.

One of my favorite scenes is when two Greatlander rangers are scouting through the barbarian lands and encounter a small tribe of cannibals. They see the painted shaman and their guide tries to explain about their red moon god, but the Greatlander rangers simply cannot fathom it. They do not have a word or concept for 'god'.

This is just one tiny element of world building, and one must think of just about everything if the story is to feel genuine to readers. Personally, I do my best thinking about the world at night when I am trying to fall asleep. How about you?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Blogger Reviews

It's been a busy week at work with Secretary of Defense Gates visiting, so I apologize for not blogging. I'm going on vacation next week, yay! We'll be in London seeing Green Day at Wembley Stadium and then Pearl Jam in Hyde Park. These will be the first rock concerts for my sons.

One minor quibble I have had with Blogger was that they ranked me so low - a mere 6.5 on their ten point scale. I see lots of blogs ranked better that don't have nearly as much as I do now. At the time I had no sidebar, no header to speak of, and only one or two posts (and certainly no followers). Their rules say they will only re-rate a blog if at least ten people rate it higher on Blogger. So, if anyone would like to help me get a re-ranking, please click on the little orange 'Blogged' icon and help me out with a ranking. Thanks in advance!

Edit to add: Hey it's working! I don't understand it, because it still says there are no reader reviews, but the editor's ranking jumped to 7.3! Come on, can we get to 8, at least?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Question of Subtlety

I have trouble understanding how subtle I need to be with various hints in my stories. I have always heard to trust the readers, that they are smarter than people give credit for. So, when writing my first novel I made some semi-subtle hints about some stuff. Looking at it again during editing I thought to myself that it was too obvious, that I needed to be more subtle. Then I was shocked when none of my beta readers got any of the clues!

Okay, so now I just wrote a short story. I am not a short story writer, so I am having serious trouble understanding if it is decent or complete garbage. I had some constraints, because I set it within the world of my book, but twenty years earlier. So, place and character names had to be the same, as well as the general feel of the world.

I wanted a story that showed the compassion and empathy of my main character, but I think it is not subtle enough. I feel like the story is not bad, but certain parts are difficult and I'm not sure I pulled it off well. I had to set part of it in a hospital, and since people generally dislike hospitals I didn't want to dwell there, but the story called for it. Anyhow, I need help if I am to have any chance of selling this to a magazine. (I'd like a short story or two published so I can add that to my queries as a credential). Anyone out there willing to read a short story and give me the honest truth?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Passing Along an Award

I've only got the one (thanks to Wendy aka Quillfeather), but I've held on to it long enough. I really appreciate the few readers I have and wish I had more of these to pass out. I'm going to hand this off to a blogger who really has made a difference in my writing life by scraping together a critique group. Thank you, Matt Rush (who runs a must-read blog for all who query or will one day query). I apologize if you've already gotten this one before!

I suppose the 'Silver Lining' is that despite our rejections and less than perfect writing, we are actively pursuing our dreams and working hard to improve. Doing it together in some small way makes it a little easier (though it also helps us to procrastinate!)