Red Sleigh Flying

I realize, Cherished Reader, that I have been neglecting you and this blog. Please forgive me, I have no excuse but for the ordinary slings and arrows that assault us all. I blink, and the year has passed me by.

It is Christmas day as I write this, and it is come so fast I have barely got in under the wire to get presents and cards and all the necessary functions of party-making in the Yuletide season. When I was a kid, I remember Christmas took *forever* to get here, and Christmas night was the longest night of the year -- which, by the way, it almost is, due to its proximity to winter solstice, but that's not what I  mean.

When we were children and looked at the world with young and inexperienced eyes, cherished times of our youth (birthdays, Christmas, family trips, summer vacation) took ages to arrive and lasted forever. As we get older, we lose this timeline.

But its existence has solved, for me, a mystery: How does Santa Claus deliver all his presents in one night?

That Santa Claus is real is beyond all doubt. His name is Nicholas of Myra and he was a bishop in 4th-century Turkey (look it up if you don't believe me). However, how a man in a sled pulled by caribou can visit every home in a single night and deliver presents to the homes of good boys and girls? Please attend, Cherished Reader, as this mystery is now solved.

Firstly, let's define the job. One man in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer delivers gifts to every house in a single night. Advantages: Firstly, Saint Nicholas does his deliveries near winter solstice, one of the longest nights of the year. Secondly, by moving from East to West, he can take advantage of the Earth's rotation and move ahead of the terminator (the day/night boundary, not the killer robot from the future). Thirdly, less than one third of the world's population is Christian; he doesn't have to visit Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Shinto, Hindu, Baha'i, or Scientologist families. That means there are huge chunks of Asia, Africa, and Los Angeles that he can simply skip. So figure that leaves about two billion people, given that many live together, an average of two parents and 2.4 children per family, that's 5.4 people per household... carry the one... roughly 370 million homes in one light, about five or six presents each.

Now the average reindeer can run at a top speed of 40 miles an hour (flying reindeer were not listed in the zoology text I checked), and the Earth's circumference is about 25,000 miles, so a team of eight reindeer can circumnavigate the globe in approximately 625 hours, or a little more than 26 days, at a straight run. Obviously the route would be longer since he has to zig-zag to each home. Also, this doesn't account for stops, reindeer bathroom breaks, and the time it takes for St. Nick to disable the home security alarms and break into a modern household, leave the presents, drink the cocoa, and kiss Mommy underneath the mistletoe. Now here's the problem; taking all that into account, event at only five minutes per house, 26-day plus travel time, we are still looking at over 31 million man-hours of work time.

Can't be done, right? Wrong, Cherished Reader! Albert Einstein to the rescue! In 1905, Albert Einstein posited his theory of Relativity, which states, among other things, that time is not absolute, but relative based on the point of view of the observer. So for an observer in a spaceship traveling close to the speed of light, time will run far slower than time for an observer in a relatively stationary point of reference. This is known as time dilation and is a real, observable scientific phenomenon.

Now if, for purposes of relativistic time dilation, the point of reference is a small child waiting for Christmas to arrive, then that leaves more than enough time for Santa Claus to visit every household in a single night, a night that takes forever to come for the little kids who wait for it.
QED. You're welcome.

So allow me to adjure all of you who may read this to keep at least a small sense of wonder we had when we were young, so that the generations to come will know the joy of Christmas.

Merry Christmas, Cherished Reader. Merry Christmas.

Lest we forget....

There exists a headstone I may have glimpsed now and again from the road; my commute takes me past a national cemetary, so I drive past many such headstones. On the plain stone slab is carved the legend SMITH; it's all I spot as I zoom past. Today is Memorial Day, and I am thinking about you, SMITH. Never mind the parades, never mind the ceremonies, never mind the political speeches... this just between you and me, SMITH.

Who were you? All I know about you are those five letters spotted out of the corner of my eye. I didn't even catch your first name, or your rank, or the branch of service in which you served. Did you volunteer, or were you drafted? Or does that even matter? Either way, you went.

Were you ever in combat? What war? Was it World War II? Maybe you knew my uncle, who served in the Navy on a cruiser in the Pacific. Was it Korea? My Dad served stateside shortly after the fighting was over, he was a supply sergeant in the Army. Maybe you met him once. Was it Vietnam? Perhaps you knew my friend William, he was over there as a medic. Maybe he bandaged one of your wounds. Was it Grenada? Or Panama? Desert Storm? Iraq? Afghanistan? Truth be told, your stone looks too old and weatherworn to be any of those later ones.

When you got home, was it to parades and cheers? A hero's welcome? Or did people call you names and spit on you? Or did you come home in the coffin that now houses your mortal remains under that slab of white stone I see from the roadway? Are you one of the honored dead we remember on this day?

Or maybe you never saw combat. Maybe you were there helping civilians after a natural disaster, passing out food and water from a truck in some part of the world most of us couldn't find on a globe. Or Perhaps you just stood ready, at some base here or overseas, in case your were needed. Either way, you were there.

I know so little about you, SMITH. What kind of man were you? Where did your ancestors come from? What was your Faith? Who were your friends? Were you a good man, or a bad one? Were you even a man at all? We're quick to forget that women served also. How old were you? Were you married? Any kids? What did you do in civilian life? Maybe you were just a regular kind of person, not too different from myself, who faced up to extraordinary challenges and met them simply because that's what had to be done. You had a job to do, and did it. But I'm just guessing; I'll never really know.

And that bothers me, today of all days. You want to know why, SMITH? I'll tell you why.

Because of you, and so many others like you, I am free. Whoever you were, wherever and whenever and however you served, you did it for me, and you don't even know me. Our freedoms were bought and paid for not by the speeches of politicians, or the opinions of pundits, or the philosophizing of intellectuals, but by the blood of men and women like you, SMITH.

Thank you. Thank you, SMITH, whoever you were, for everything you did, everything you gave, everything you sacrificed, whether it was a little or a lot, or even everything. I'll never forget you. I wish I knew you better.

Maybe the next time I drive by the white marble slab that marks your place of rest, I should pull over and take a closer look.

27 Seconds of Fame

I had the opportunity to meet Daniel Ruettiger on a business trip this past week. For those of you who don't know who this is, Daniel Ruettiger is the "Rudy" of the eponymous 1993 film. Stiil in the dark? Very well, here: This is probably the most inspirational sports film since Rocky; so shame on you, Cherished Reader, if you do not know it.

"Rudy" Ruettiger, now a gentleman in his 50's, was the guest speaker at a business conference I was attending. He is famous for playing 27 seconds of a college football game in 1975. This man's entire life is based around these 27 seconds of football. College football. 27 seconds.

But that is not the story of Rudy Ruettiger. The story of Rudy is that 1) he wasn't smart enough to get into college, 1A) even if he were, he would never get into Notre Dame, 2) he wasn't big enough to play football, 3) he wasn't fast enough to play football, 4) he wasn't strong enough to play football. So what does he do? He gets into college, attends Notre Dame, and plays football. The contrariness alone is enough to make a gadfly like Your Humble Blogger grin. The story of Rudy is the story of overriding the naysayers. As I write this, I have freshly received my second rejection for a short story. It was a very polite, encouraging rejection, but a rejection nonethless. Writers must get used to rejection, it is part of the game. All writers get stories rejected.

But with multiple rejections grow the brain-worms of Doubt. Doubt erodes the confidence, and soon one puts oneself in a "can't do it" mindset, which is often fatal. Rudy does not doubt. Rudy does not give up. Rudy perseveres. We, Cherished Reader, can do no less.

What defines Rudy is a vaguely-articulated character trait known as "heart" - which, as the song says, you gotta have, miles and miles and miles of it. Heart is what keeps us going when all others tell us to quit. Heart is what makes us stand up again after events conspire to knock us down. Heart is what keeps us fighting regardless of the odds, and makes us save our last breath to spit.

To become a successful horror writer takes heart. And, frequently, entrails.

So thank you, Rudy. You have no idea how far afield your inspiration reaches, nor how strange the fruit of what inspiration may bear.

If you haven't seen the film, do.


In between our Fundamentals blogs, Cherished Reader, I will of course blog about my own literary-endeavors-du-jour: to wit, I have been adjured by the whip-wield-woman (she'll likely comment when she reads this) to resurrect a story I wrote over ten years ago and submit it to a most excellent market that has opened a narrow window of submission. Resurrecting very old stories is like going into the garage to fix up your old '67 Chevelle, which was such a kick-ass car back when you were a kid... but now, looking at it with older, wiser, and more experienced eyes, you wonder how you ever wanted to be seen in public driving that old rust-bucket.

Now I love TV shows like Pimp My Ride and Overhaulin' where they take an old beat-up clunker and rejuvenate it into something extraordinary. Skill, creativity, hard work, and love beat the ravages of time any day; what comes out at the other end is better than the original ever was, and better than anything else out on the road today. But the magic of television compresses the weeks of back-breaking effort into a 30-minute pastiche. And these are cars, not stories.

So in some ways I have it easier. I simply need to rearrange some letters and punctuation, I don't have to rebuild a five-speed transmission.

Here is the dirt: Back in 1999, I wrote a short story titled "Burnt" -- it was about spontaneous human combustion, black magic, and the end of the world. I submitted it to Omni magazine (remember them?) and probably got the best personal rejection of my career; the fiction editor wrote me personally and said it was "pretty well done" and the only element that was lacking was a metaphorical resonance. Rather than re-ship it, I stuck it on my old webpage where it was available to anyone who wanted to read it. Ten years later I am reading it again, and realize I cannot "revise" this story: the cultural and political references are far out of date, the "voice" is wrong, even the first person narrative is wrong.

In car terms, the engine is seized, the chassis is rusted through, and the exhaust will never pass today's emissions requirements. So, as they say on the Internet: Walk in, see this, what do?

Well, Cherished Reader, I intend to start from scratch. I will write a story about spontaneous human combustion, black magic, and the end of the world. I will title it "Burnt" because I really like that title. It will, however, be a brand new story. It will be submitted. What happens after that is anyone's guess. Stay tuned.
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Fundamentals of writing a good horror story (part 1)

OK, Cherished Reader, this is a writing blog let's talk about writing. My genre of choice is horror / thriller / dark fantasy so that is what we will blog about. First things first -- why write a story? Jonathan Swift says: "The end of all scribblement is to entertain." I will not dispute Mr. Swift in this, but remember fiction is "the lie that tells the truth." The events in your story may never have happened, but they illustrate a Truth that the writer needs to express. So let's explore this. You will need:

1. A story to tell, that should both enlighten (truth) and entertain (Swift).
2. The English language (or whatever language you write in; I was born in Brooklyn, so like Corbin Dallas in The Fifth Element, I speak two languages fluently: English and Bad English).
3. The discipline to sit your ass in a chair and write until a story is completed.
4. Perseverence; your first efforts will be poor until you learn your craft.
5. A thick leathery skin and a horned carapace in order to withstand the rejection and criticism that comes with writing.

In Part 1, let's start with the story itself:

Q. First, where do your ideas come from? A. Do not worry about ideas, truly, they come from anywhere like moths to a streetlight. Also, no idea is truly original. Every story ever told can be broken down into about seven or eight basic plotlines. Put your energy into the *execution*. Great stories have been written about mediocre or recycled ieas. Look at the basic storylines from your favorite authors; look at Shakespeare, his plots were recycled from a number of classical (as in Greek / Roman) stories. All that being said, I do have a fascination with the process of how an idea germinates and grows into a full-blown story. We'll make that a separate blog entry in the future.

Q. What is the basic structure of a story? A. This:
1. I have a character (protagonist)
2. My character wants something (desire line)
3. Why doesn't he/she have it already? What inherent flaw in my character prevents him/her? (need line)
4. What does my character do to get what he/she wants? (plot)
5. Who tries to thwart my character from getting what he wants? (antagonist)
6. Who tries to help my character? (allies)
7. What complications does my character face in getting what he/she wants? (complications)
8. How does my character resolve getting what he/she wants in the face of his/her antagonist(s) and complication(s) (climax)
9. Does my character succeed (comedy) or fail (tragedy)?
10. What is the end result of all this? What have we learned? (theme)

Most stories follow this structure. It's not a formula so much as an armature or set of guidelines. If your story is missing one or more of these elements it may fail in the telling. That's it for now, next part will be how to structure a story as per Western Mythic structure, as told in Chris Vogler's excellent book, "The Writer's Journey." See you later.

Worship God on HIGH!!!!

I have a confession to make, Cherished Reader: Your humble blogger is church-goer. Moreso, your humble blogger is a retired Elder at his local Presbyterian Church, is a teacher's assistant at Sunday school, occasionally fills the pulpit and preaches the Word, and, perhaps most importantly, plays the bass guitar in the church praise band.

Our praise band is pretty good, I would say. We have anywhere from 4-8 people playing at any given time: singer, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass (myself) sometimes mandolin (myself), a back up bass player (for when I play mandolin), an on-and-off drummer who has been on again lately, two keyboardists, and an occasional violinist / harmonicist. We're even thinking of re-tuning the pipe organ so we can use that, too.

Lately we've acquired a professional guitarist who joined our church and plays with us. He is, to put a non-churchy term to it, kick-ass. Under his influence our band has gotten way better, way more rocking, and -- and here's the rub -- LOUDER. Sunday morning at our little church is sounding more like Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. To quote the Muppets: "They don't sound like Presbyterians..."

Not everyone appreciates our new hard-rock-Praise-the-Lord-and-light-the-fireworks format. So much so that the choir (who were practising their own songs in the basement below us) came up thrice to complain. Eventually we got the hint and called off rehearsal. There is also a rumor that our music is now so loud it is in danger of shattering our stained glass windows.

I am unapologetic. "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord" says the Good Book. We are Praise Band (add umlauts and lightning bolts as required). We will worship the Lord on HIGH -- which in our case, goes up to eleven.

Dominance and Submission

One of the linguistic ironies of being a writer is that in order to dominate, you must first submit.

You may be pleased to know, Cherished Reader, that I performed not one but two such acts of literary jiujitsu not ten minutes ago at my local Post Office, to wit: "Pale Pink Walls and White Furniture" has been submitted to the extraordinary editorial staff at Fantasy and Science Fiction (, and "The Necromancer's Problem" (having shed 400 words in a last minute edit to stand at 7000 words) has been submitted to the fine fiction selection personnel at Realms of Fantasy ( My earnest prayer is that they dominate the other offerings in the slush piles of these two excellent publications and get accepted.

Havng been out of The Game for a while, I had no idea what the postal rates were for manuscript submissions, and that led me this snowy Saturday to our local post office and Mike the Postman, who not only weighed and stamped my envelopes with near microgram precision, but gave me a full course explanation on postal rates for large envelopes and how to calculate them, as well as links to on-line sources ( and a rate sheet. So thank you, Mike the Postman; one more cog in the complex machine that drives aspiring literary careers is now turning once again, no small part due to your efforts.

Postage, by the way, for the two manuscripts and their self-addressed stamped envelopes, was about $6.00.


Like most writer-types, I tend to live a good portion of my life inside of my own head. "Ah, the life of the mind!" you may say. "Look upon me!" bellows John Goodman's character from the burning hallway in the film Barton Fink, "I will show you the life of the mind!"

I have always contended, Cherished Reader, that the act of writing -- at least the way I try to do it -- is like building a bridge: I know where I'm starting, I know where I want to get to, it's the bit in the middle that's tricky. Like building a bridge, every strut and cable is carefully engineered and deliberately placed in order to construct the narrative. There is no part that exists that is not placed purposely and with conscious forethought.

Or so I thought. One of my newly-completed stories is "Pale Pink Walls and White Furniture" -- an experimental piece of weird horror fiction in which I play around with the layout of the text to add to the narrative. I'll tell you up front that it took me three days to write the story, and nearly a month to select a title. I cycled through about four different titles until I came up with the phrase "Pale Pink Walls and White Furniture" -- and somehow, I knew that title was exactly right, it fit perfectly, but I had absolutely no idea why. Until about fifteen minutes ago.

Sadly, I cannot explain any details about the story, I don't want to give it away. As of this writing, only two living persons have read this story apart from myself. I do hope a magazine picks it up, I do like the story a lot and would love for you to read it someday.

Until then, I fear I must leave you with only this blog, the random spewings of my rather ordinary brain, which sits in my skull, a small but comfortable room of pale pink walls (flesh) and white furniture (bone).
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Writing Progress report #1

OK -- Cherished Reader, here's what's going on in the writing front so far:

1. "Midtown Tunnel" was submitted to Dark Discoveries (electronically, they're very "green" and I applaud that).

2. "The Necromancer's Problem" received some tweaks and fleshing out, increasing it to 7400 words. Looking for a market that takes that length.

3. "Pale Pink Walls and White Furniture" is complete, I may want to tweak the ending just a tad, but it has some format gimmickry that might make it a tough sell to certain markets. Whoever does buy it (if anyone), their layout folk are going to hate me.

Many markets are closed, this is irritating, I may need to wait on certain stories. Thinking of what I can give to F&SF, they lament in their guidelines that they do not get enough hard SF or humor, I have a humorous SF/Horror story in my head they may like. Many of these markets are also looking for artwork -- this too is a game in which I ought to be fielding a team.

Ed, Edd, and Eddy

How good was Poe as a writer?

Many years ago (as all good tales begin) in the earliest throes of my attempt at a writing career, I was prank-called at random by some teenage girls who, in their pranking, quoted Poe's "The Raven" in an attempt to spook out the random person on the other end of the line (to wit, me) -- I immediately responded by quoting "Annabel Lee" back at them. This confused the prank callers, so I said to the young lady: "Miss, you have no idea who you called, but you cannot scare me by quoting Poe. Edgar Allan Poe is my beloved spiritual Uncle, and one day, many years from now, you will be in a bookstore and will pick up a book of scary stories, and that book will have been written by me."

Arrogant, yes (I was still high with my first publication), and truth be told, many years *have* passed, and I have yet to make good my threat to this anonymous Lenore (who I will likely see nevermore); I will give it my durndest to see that threat come real; but I digress.

How good was Poe as a writer? Apart from being spontaneously quoted by random prank-callers over 150 years after his death? Well, if you win the Superbowl like the New Orleans Saints did this year, your team is awarded the Vince Lombardi Trophy. If you are a writer of some skill and you publish in the field of mystery and suspense, and your work is one of surpassing excellence, the esteemed personages at the Mystery Writers of America may grant you an award. The award is called "The Edgar".

It's one thing to win an award. It's a whole other thing to have the award named after you.