An Undisciplined Writer

Did you know that Walter B. Gibson, creator of the wildly popular character The Shadow and prolific author of hundreds of stories and novels, one time typed so much his wife was forced to intervene because he broke his damn fingers typing?

Damn.

I learned this on my buddy JimFear138’s most recent podcast, where he talked to another friend of mine, Rawle Nyanzi, about all things genre (and why genre doesn’t really matter these days; check out J.D. Cowan’s recent post about this if you’re interested in the premise).

Anyway, the point is that these guys in the 20s, 30s, and that general era wrote fast. And they produced quality.

This, of course, translates into money. You can see why guys like Nick Cole and Jason Anspach have been so successful with their Galaxy’s Edge series, both with the fans and financially.

Information like this, of course, has the tendency to produce self-reflection, and I realize one vital fact about myself: I am a very undisciplined writer.

Seriously. I don’t really enjoy the actual act of writing. Maybe it’s because I don’t like sitting still for that long. I don’t think it’s necessarily a focus thing, because given the right objective, I can be occupied for hours.

And writing can be like that, when I get into a groove. It’s just that getting into said groove can be a challenge.

This gets me wondering if it’s a free time issue: Free time is so limited, as it is for most of us, that I almost have a checklist of things I’d like to do–work out, read, check some website I’m fond of–before I get to the writing, which can sometimes feel like work. So I’m scheduling writing time–I keep this blog going, after all, I’ve written several novels, and I’m getting others ready for publication–but I can’t shake that I could be doing more with my time.

Is it a balance issue, then? What if I wrote to the exclusion of other things I like to do with my time? I know what would happen: I’;d feel as guilty as I would if I, say, worked out to the exclusion of my writing and other things that interest me.

And then I look to my heroes in writing the way I looked to my heroes in music, and realize I don’t measure up.

For example, when I tried to make a go as a musician, I’d look to my idols like Frank Zappa, Prince,and David Bowie, how ridiculously prolific they were, and get sort of depressed by my own inadequacy.

Likewise, looking at guys like Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the aforementioned Walter B. Gibson, I start to fall into the same trap.

But the important things to remember are that these guys did this for a living, and they weren’t getting paid the big bucks (or having the massive TV/movie deals) the way guys do today. So they had to write to pay the bills.

Me? I’m doing this solely for the love of it . . . for the time being.

Stephen King and Dean Koontz are two super-rich authors I can think of off the top of my head who pumped out tons of books in their heyday, even when they’d already received financial success. I can’t help think of guys like George R. R. Martin, though, who acts as though he actually hates writing.

Enough musing! What to do about it? Here are some things that work for me, both physically and psychologically. I hope they help! Continue reading “An Undisciplined Writer”

Book Review: Queen of the Black Coast by Robert E. Howard

My foray into the works of the early pulp masters continues with my first brush with a Conan story, Queen of the Black Coast by Robert E. Howard. Having recently read and deeply enjoying some Edgar Rice Burroughs, I was eager to sink my teeth into Conan.

Metaphorically, you understand.

Howard is best known for creating the enduringly popular Cimmerian, as well as Solomon Kane, among other characters in his 30 short years of life. Although first appearing in the pages of Weird Tales in 1932 in a story called The Phoenix on the Sword, I decided to first read Queen of the Black Coast because I found it on Gutenberg.org and I liked the title.

Robert E. Howard

Queen of the Black Coast was published in the May 1934 issue of Weird Tales. It tells the tale of Conan, on the run from soldiers in the port city of Argos, taking passage on a south-bound trading vessel called the Argus bearing goods to trade with the kingdom of Kush.

It only takes a few sentences for Howard to suck the reader in:

Hoofs drummed down the street that slopes to the wharfs. The folk that yelled and scattered had only a fleeting glimpse of a mailed figure on a black stallion, a wide scarlet cloak flowing out on the wind.

Reading that, and the images it conjured in my mind, I was hooked.

Of course, the Argus doesn’t have an easy trip to Kush. In fact, it never makes, being waylaid by the fearsome pirate woman Bêlit as it hits the coast. The Argus‘ captain is killed, and Conan boards the pirate ship Tigress intending to take as many of Bêlit’s strong, black warriors down with him, but he and Bêlit soon fall for each other, and Conan joins their crew, ravaging the Coast.

Eventually, they journey to the mystical and cursed ruined jungle kingdom up the river Zarkheba in search of more treasure. And that’s where things get really freaky.

I was impressed with Howard’s writing. You won’t find deep characterization, internal conflict, or excursions into socio-political issues. This is pulp, baby!

What you get is a story and prose that grabs you by the gut. Conan’s world is brutal, like the man himself. But this world also has a savage beauty that Howard conveys in his descriptions of the jungle and the spoiled grandeur of the ruined city.

Oh, and also the monsters. You didn’t think Conan was getting out of this without tussling with some freaky monsters, did you?

I shall say no more about the plot save that Queen of the Black Coast is fast-paced without feeling rushed, and short enough to be read in one sitting.

It’s fortuitous that I picked this story, as I just finished playing an old computer game called Quest for Glory III: Wages of War for a chronogaming blog I occasionally contribute to. Quest for Glory III takes place in a jungle realm based on both Egyptian society and more traditional sub-Saharan African cultures, and has an incredibly pulpy vibe, complete with lost cities, romance, demons, and a sense of the eerie and mysterious.

That’s what I appreciated the most from Howard’s writing–the way he was so economically able to put you in his world, feeling the unsettling ancient horrors facing Conan.

The jungle was a black colossus that locked the ruin-littered glade in ebony arms. The moon had not risen; the stars were flecks of hot amber in a breathless sky that reeked of death.

Is it a little over-wrought? Maybe. But to hell with what creative writing professors think; this is effective. Continue reading “Book Review: Queen of the Black Coast by Robert E. Howard”

Book Review: War Demons by Russell Newquist

War Demons by Russell Newquist

If you like action, well then, have I got a novel for you.

War Demons is the debut full-length offering from Russell Newquist, book one in his Prodigal Son series. Russell is a writer, a blogger, the owner of Silver Empire publishing, the mastermind of the electronic short-fiction anthology Lyonesse, a podcaster, husband to the writer Morgon Newquist, owner of a martial arts dojo, father of four . . . oh, and he has a day job. I think he sleeps sometimes too.

To say that Russell is an impressive guy is an understatement.

Russell Nequist doing a karate form.
Russell Newquist

I’ve written about Russell before on the topic of nihilism. Not that Russell is a nihilist–far from it! Russell, in fact, is a huge proponent of what is called superversive fiction. Think of superversive as being the opposite of subversive: instead of seeking to tear cherished traditions, ideals, and institutions down and piss all over them, being superversive is to strive to hold up these traditions, ideals, and institutions as worthy of preservation, and indeed the keys to virtue and fulfillment.

Whew.

Russell is also a devout Catholic, which must have something to do with his general attitude, right?

Keep all of this in mind as you read his work. War Demons is what happens when you mix martial arts, Christian tradition, magic, demons, the military, and terrorism. You end up with lots of fights, lots of explosions, and lots of crazy mystical stuff happening in the present day (present being 2006).

Seriously, War Demons has a bit of everything. As someone fortunate enough to be given an advance copy, I tore through it in a matter of days.

There are dragons fighting helicopters, for crying out loud. Continue reading “Book Review: War Demons by Russell Newquist”

Pulp Rock

Pictured: No rock.

I care about rock n’ roll, perhaps too much. Like Pete Townshend said, “Rock is very, very important and very, very ridiculous.”

Look at the charts now, read a magazine, or flip through the radio, and you’ll see that rock is done as a cultural force. Totally dead. 

Sure, there’s Rolling Stone, but what young people really care about that?

Guitar-based groups are niche old-people music at best, and I lump myself into this group. Rock is just kinda-sorta still here because of nostalgia. Rock is an Anglo-American thing, so we’ll keep it around for tradition’s sake. 

No one cares about it. It doesn’t capture the imagination anymore. Kids aren’t growing up dreaming of playing guitar. They want to rap or dance or sing pop stuff. And that’s fine. Everything changes. But it still makes me sad. 

Of course rock is still there. And of course there is still “good”‘stuff. The barriers to entry are low and, thanks to the Internet, you can find whatever kind of music it is that you’re into. So it’s there, but it doesn’t matter. 

Aside from the legacy “bigs,” who cares?

Why? How’d it get to this point?

I contend that it died from self-inflicted wounds. Like many forms of entertainment, a stultifying combination of political correctness, commoditization, and technological disruption ruined it. The freewheeling, anything goes 60s and 70s gave way to the slick 80s, the faux-rebellious 90s–reeked of manufactured authenticity–to the pretension-soaked indie 2000s and now the the whatever-you-call-them 2010s (the dead zone?).

Every big movement came from the ground-up: Acid rock. Punk. Prog. Hardcore. Grunge (at least, the Melvins). Hell, even the much-derided emo thing. 

But one thing rock couldn’t do was escape its own ass.  Continue reading “Pulp Rock”