Our Nation’s Capital

From a newsgroup post dated January 15, 2010:

You know those overhead signs in supermarkets that tell you what’s in which aisle? There are several variations, but I assume you know roughly what I’m talking about.

Safeway, at least around here, has them arranged to list a category, and then three items in that category you’ll find on that side of that aisle, such as:


or maybe

Canned meats

Well, tonight we stopped into a Safeway down in Washington to grab a couple of things, and Aisle 2’s left-hand sign read:


I suppose there might be some innocent explanation, that they moved the beer there from somewhere else and didn’t bother to change the top line, but still…

And that “and” just somehow makes it perfect; it’s not just beer, it’s beer and beer.

For breakfast.

The Muse Plagues Me

From a newsgroup post dated December 16, 2009:

And here’s another idea I didn’t need — suppose there’s a secret government project that’s opened portals to other realities, maybe on purpose, maybe accidentally. The other realities are inhabited by humans, or at least creatures indistinguishable from humans, who appear to have a lower tech level than ours — or at least a different tech level.

Our guys want to know what’s going on in these other worlds, but they don’t want to interfere, they don’t want to start any wars, and they’re not ready to make any direct, open contact; for one thing, they want to know who they should contact. Who are the good guys over there? Who are the bad guys? Who’s gonna be trouble?

These are other realities — are the laws of physics the same? Close enough for humans to exist, but is everything the same?

Someone gets sent in to scout. This isn’t something you can trust to civilian contractors, and it’s not really the military’s job, and we aren’t ready for the State Department, so the CIA gets the call.

So we have a 21st-century CIA agent trying to blend in in a fantasy world…

Esprit d’escalier

From a newsgroup post dated December 12, 2009. “Esprit d’escalier” is French for “spirit of the staircase,” and refers to thinking of the perfect comeback only after you’ve left the party or other event.

I completely failed to come up with a suitable comeback this evening.

Situation: We’re going out to dinner, and I’m explaining to Julie about George Smith, and my sudden realization that the first-person narrator is Wayne Ellsworth, who is a weirdness magnet.

“Like you,” Julie said.

“I’m not a weirdness magnet,” I said.

“Sure you are. You attracted me, didn’t you?”

I still haven’t figured out what I should have responded.

Strange Days

From a newsgroup post dated December 11, 2009:

Christmas cards have started arriving.

Two people report that their husbands died in October; a third lost his mother-in-law and a son-in-law. How depressing!

But on the good side, I got the June 1935 issue of The Twilight Patrol, featuring the full-length novel, “Drones of the Ravaging Wind.”

This is, I am not kidding, a friend’s Christmas card; he wrote and edited the issue. He wrote the novel last year, actually, but the rest of the issue (a short story, a poem, miscellaneous art, and a couple of features) is new. The ads are an assortment of the weirdest real ads he could find in his pulp collection. The full-color cover bears the NRA seal.

I wish I could do something like that!

And I have been eager to re-post this item so I could point out that now you, too, can read The Twilight Patrol 1: Drones of the Ravaging Wind! There’s even a sequel, The Twilight Patrol 2: Maggot Czar of the Everglades. These aren’t in Christmas card/pulp magazine format with the additional material, but still…

The Muse Plagues Me (again)

From a newsgroup post dated September 23, 2009:

So I was going to post about a family legend in a discussion of privateering on rec.arts.sf.written, and thought better of it when I realized that it really is just a legend, we can’t document it at all — but then it occurred to me it’d make a pretty good basis for a story.

See, one of my ancestors was allegedly a Welsh privateer, but that may have just been a cover story for smuggling. (He wound up with a French wife, which seems more likely for a smuggler.)

And it only just now sank in that that could be a story set-up.

The Summer of Sixty-Nine

From a newsgroup post dated August 14, 2009:

Julie and I attended a 40th anniversary Woodstock tribute at the Strathmore Music Hall in Rockville tonight. It was really good. An outfit called Bandhouse Gigs put it together, using a lot of local talent and a few not-so-local folks.

We were impressed enough to buy CDs by two of them, blues singer Patty Reese (who did the Janis Joplin numbers) and a band called GHz (who did the Hendrix segment). I already had a CD by Bill Kirchen, who covered John Fogarty’s role in the Creedence Clearwater Revival medley.

(Yes, they sold CDs in the lobby — and why not? Capitalism isn’t that weird.)

Several acts were covered by made-for-the-occasion bands, mixing and matching musicians; the group they put together for Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice” was really, really good, and the Sly and the Family Stone set had the audience on their feet and dancing.

There was a fair bit of overlap with the movie and the albums, but they did try to include some other stuff, so for example there was a Bert Sommer tribute (Paul Simon’s “America”), and Joan Baez was represented by both “Joe Hill” and “Ain’t No More Cane on the Brazos,” the latter of which I had never heard before.

There were songs I hadn’t heard in many, many years, like John Sebastian’s “Younger Generation.”

It was a three-hour show — but that’s counting a twenty-minute intermission. Still, we felt we got our money’s worth.

Been awhile since we’d seen as much tie-dye as that, or as many peace signs.

Besides acts already mentioned, I’ll want to check out the Cravin’ Dogs, Crimestoppers, and the Tone Rangers.

The Decline of Civilizations

From a newsgroup post dated April 23, 2009:

Over on rec.arts.sf.written there’s currently a discussion (in a monster thread entitled “Socialism in SF” that’s 90% crap) about the decline of the West as evidenced by the sorry state of the fine arts.

That’s a subject I find interesting, even though I think 90% of everything everyone says on the subject is wrong — not the alleged sorry state of the fine arts, but what it says about the state of our civilization.

I’m trying to give shape here to a bunch of complicated and conflicting ideas on the subject, and I’m not finding the words. Instead, let me ask everyone out there for opinions:

Are the fine arts in a state of decline?

Does it matter that opera and ballet are now largely the province of a tiny faction of old-fashioned elitists, given that we have movies and other new media?

Does it mean anything for the health of civilization as a whole if the arts are in a state of decline?

Does it mean anything for the health of civilization as a whole if people think the arts are in a state of decline?

Feel free to bring up historical examples like Ming pottery and Byzantine literary forms.


This did not yield any discussion. I suppose I misjudged my audience.

The Muse Plagues Me (again)

From a newsgroup post dated April 17, 2009:

I just watched the new trailer for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” and thought they’d made the movie look unrelentingly dark. Which it may be. But that got me thinking about Dark Lords in general, and about their usual esthetics, which are pretty goth.

Ever notice that most goths are under thirty? They tend to outgrow it eventually.

So now I’m imagining a Dark Lord who’s conquered his world, and has been running it for a decade or so, who gets bored with all that darkness.

“Yes, General, I know I was the one who dressed your men in all-black uniforms. I don’t care. I’m tired of them. As of the first of the month I expect to see the troops in pastels. Now, send in my Imperial Architect — I want to talk about cutting more windows into my throne room, and I had better not hear another word about load-bearing walls.”

The Muse Plagues Me

From a newsgroup post dated March 26, 2009, and oddly relevant now as explained below:

I got invited to write a story for the next “Lace and Blade” anthology, and I’m giving it serious consideration because it looks like an ideal venue for a story set in the Bound Lands.

Except I didn’t actually have a short story planned. The Ermetian Jar isn’t going to be that short, and besides, it’s not really suited to the anthology.

I started thinking about possible tie-ins to the story of Anrel Murau, but nothing leapt to mind. I didn’t want to tell the story of how his parents died, and I didn’t think of a story set during his student days until right now. I wondered about maybe a story about the Burgrave of Lume, but didn’t have anything obvious to work with.

And then I realized that this might be the place to tell the tale of the murder of Lady Arissa Taline, which is referred to several times but never explained in detail (though there’s a brief, biased account in On A Field Sable).

Now, I’ve known for over a year how Lady Arissa died. I’ve known for months who killed her, and more or less why. I know how Lord Blackfield was involved. I didn’t, however, actually have it in my head as a story; it was just a nasty scandal that ended badly a year or two before the start of A Young Man Without Magic.

But once I had the idea of making it a short story, it started accumulating details. A LOT of details, very quickly. I now know exactly why Lady Arissa was killed, and why it happened the way it did, and what’s more I suddenly have a whole lot of backstory on Empress Annineia, and her childhood in Ermetia, and why she hired necromancers from the Cousins, and who the current King of Ermetia is, and why Prince Sharal behaved so badly, and why the murder was never investigated properly, and why the birth of Lurias XIII was such a big deal, and where the demons in Above His Proper Station came from…

The trick is going to be turning this into a short story.


June 12, 2017: And in the end, I couldn’t make it a short story. I got distracted, didn’t finish it, and missed the anthology deadline. It still isn’t finished, eight years later. The working title is “Fearless,” and I’ve forgotten a lot of stuff I talk about having thought out above.

I never did submit anything to Lace and Blade 2.

But last year I got an invitation for Lace and Blade 4, and was determined not to miss out this time. I dug out “Fearless,” looked at it, and couldn’t see any way to keep it to a reasonable length or include all the elements I thought the “Lace and Blade” series should have. If I ever do finish it, it could well wind up novella length.

So I dug out another unfinished story I thought might work, “The Dancing Teacher,” and labored on it for months before concluding that it wasn’t going to work, either.

And finally I started a new one, “Sorcery of the Heart,” which wound up a novelet, 8,500 words, but which did get finished and submitted. No idea whether it’ll be accepted; we’ll see.

All three stories, incidentally, were set in the Bound Lands. “Sorcery of the Heart” and “Fearless” are set in the Walasian Empire, while “The Dancing Teacher” takes place in the Cousins.

On the Perversity of the Muse

From a newsgroup post dated March 25, 2009:

I have lots of stuff in progress, and a shortage of time, so of course last night, was I working out plot details of Realms of Light, or perhaps considering finishing touches for Above His Proper Station?

Of course not. I was trying to remember all the details of “Tales of Sha’ar,” a collection of eight stories/vignettes I wrote in 1974, and wondering whether I could maybe actually turn some of them into publishable stories, now that I have thirty-five years more experience and know what I’m doing.

I’m pretty sure I still have the manuscript around here somewhere. Obviously not on disk, though.

I’ve tried to salvage these before, incidentally — they were incorporated into my abortive first attempt at a novel, Shadowdark, back in the ’70s. Didn’t work there, either.

Let’s see how many of the eight stories I can remember now…

“The Mansion of Lord Fire” — I remember the title and some of the descriptive passages, but not the plot — assuming it had one.

“How the Party Ended At Goldsand” I remember pretty well. I tried to recycle the central conceit in a different story in the 1980s, but never finished it.

“How Dal Fought the Death in the Palace of the Mute” is an absolutely dreadful title, but hey, I was nineteen. I remember most of that one.

Coming up blank on the other five. I think I had a couple more last night.