The joys and perils of Internet Research

The joys and the perils of internet research. I was able to learn so much about many places, their history, and culture when researching my novel, The Garden at the Roof of the World, BUT the internet sites that described the the famous Iron Pillar of Delhi which doesn’t rust neglected a key bit of information about it. While I learned that if you wrap your arms around it with your back to the pillar successfully it will grant you your wish, I didn’t learn that in the mid 13th century, they’d built a Mosque around it.

So I got the scene all wrong.

Drat, darn and fiddle faddle.

That Mosque just happens to be the oldest Mosque in India, unique for having just a single brick minaret, and would have been completed about a century before my story.

On never giving up

I started writing the Hacker of Guantanamo Bay in the summer of 2005 as I sat waiting for my flight in Las Vegas McCarren airport. I didn’t complete the first draft until the summer of 2012. After some editing I started querying agents. I had a few agents and editors tell me it was a good story, but it wasn’t for them. One even told me that she loved it, but the torture scenes were too vivid for her to be comfortable working with it. She told me she expected another publisher would gladly pick it up.
No one did. Most never got back to me.
I put the story aside to work on other things.
In 2016, I attended a talk at the DefCon hacker conference called how to own a country. This gave me an idea, and I went back to the Hacker of Guantanamo Bay. I introduced a new segment, but in the process realized that this segment was readily self contained. I began to shop it as a short story.
In Boskone, I got to attend a session where I got feed back on my writing style. I found the editors and agents loved what I had done, but my sentences were too uniform in structure. It was a subtle thing, but I needed to introduce more variation into my writing style.
I attacked the excerpt one more time, and sent it out.
This time I got a sale.
I applied the same lesson to the rest of the manuscript, in the hope that when folks read the excerpt, I can get someone interested in helping me bring the rest of the story into publication.
The story is good. More to the point, I never gave up on it.
You can read the InfoCoup at

When all of your options are wrong

Sometimes life puts people into horrible situations where they don’t have a good choice. Galiana was child when the crusaders were let into Constantinople during the 4th crusade. She watched her parents get slaughtered by men drunk with greed, and then she was sold as a slave. Barely a woman, she was raped, repeatedly by her new owner, who also beat her.
One night she killed her “owner” and leapt into the Black Sea. She swam for hours until a storm overwhelmed her.
Galiana was surprised to wake up on the shore. Following a river, she found a village that thrived on the commerce along the Danube. Without money or food, Galiana turned to prostitution to stay alive. She hated every man who she had sex with. Hated herself for the life she choose.
She would lie to herself about the money she would hoard, how it would allow her to stop selling her body. How it would free her. But it was never enough. As age took her and fine lines began to appear at the corners of her eyes as she smiled, which was rare, she became desperate and forced herself to become all that men might desire and gold became her cold comfort against her winter. She walled herself from all compassion and love was just another word for fuck.
Until a unicorn walked into her life and destroyed her.
Until she was pulled out of the river where she sought death.
Follow her journey in the Garden at the Roof of the World

Boskone 56!

Going to Boskone 56? Drop by the dealer room and say hi! I’ll be sitting at the Dragonwell Publishing table most of the conference. Happy to talk to you about my novel, the novels of the other Dragonwell authors I’ve read, or speculative fiction in general.

Found Poetry, MFA edition part 2

My Manifesto

I am for words that twist meaning, not to be mean
I am for words that tell the dreams we secretly love to be afraid of
I am for words that spill out of a mouth in the orgasm of love given
I am for words that rise in a wail the infinite sorrow of being
I am for words through which we discover people never born but in ink
I am for words that trip you into rhythm without thought
I am for words that pull aside the veil of the sacred
I am for words that show the sacred within the profane
I am for words that force unanswerable questions
I am for words with texture
I am for words that moisten my soul
I am for words that create worlds
I am for the word and am seeking of the word within me

Found poems:

Riding the soft H
to the proud pedestal
the saddle has a tail

the pedestal
the proud spade points to the apex
of the well formed plan and model
all cardboard

the board board spade
painted grey pedestal
plans scrawled on wood by absent pen

the tail wraps up
almost the only curve seen
angular passion

Do you know what its like to be dead?

Authors/poets/playwrites/artists/musicians do.

I’ll focus on the author/poet, because I am an author, a poet.

Writer’s block is being dead.
An essential part of you is not existing.
You want it to.
You can become desperate for it.
Some turn to alcohol or drugs to try to bring life to that part of themselves.
I’ve even seen the expression, “write drunk, edit sober” bandied about.
It is not about getting drunk, but writing without restriction, with abandon.
Too many don’t understand, and try getting drunk to write and eventually get swallowed up in the need to drink.
Drunk to death by the deeper need to be alive and write.

Too often writer’s block comes from stress, from lack of sleep, from lack of quietude.
Those who need to write to be alive forget to deal with the stress, forget to get more sleep, forget the need to refresh the soul.
You can’t draw water from an empty well.
Those who tell you to drink deeper don’t understand you’ve tried that and the stress of your failure is compounding the problem.

Yes, it is a vicious circle. You’re stressed, so you fail to write, which introduces stress, and you fail to write and so on and so on.

In my arrogance, I thought I’d figured out how to write at will, professionally.
And when I sit to write in one of my novels, I can do exactly that.

Poetry, that was another issue.
I’ve never tried to be a professional poet, to write poetry daily, to sell poetry.
I’d kept poetry for just fun, and wrote when I was inspired to.

Then one day I noticed I’d not written anything for a long time
In my novel, yes, I’d written, but no poetry.
And in my growing stress, I dipped into the well of the things that usually inspire poems, my wife, art, nature-
I was dry.
By not working on poetry, by leaving it as a play thing for inspiration only I’d let the well within go dry.

Recently, I was driving stress crazed through the streets of Boston
I saw a man
I saw a woman
I saw context
I knew a poem was within me from what I’d seen
I held onto that poem until I had time to write it
I wrote it ecstatically, drunk on the image, drunk of writing again

What have I learned?
I must work on my poetry much like how I’ve learned to work on my stories.
This doesn’t mean write every day.
Some days I am too tired for words, and that is okay.
However, I am to look among the daily mundane and pull from it poetry
Not just wait to be inspired
For no matter how inspiring truth, beauty, and love are
I can’t see them if I don’t work on how to look.

Poetry in the Gallery, art from the ordinary

Tonight, after a mad dash to find the right shoes (along with the matching left), Margo and I made an even madder dash to arrive an hour late to  There, the brilliant poet Kathleen Aguero was leading a event of poetry writing/reading among art pulled from the ordinary, sort of soft still life sculptures.

We explored different approaches to writing poems in reflection of the art.  One poem that speaks to all the objects in a still life, one poem that treats the ordinary as extraordinary, a haiku, and a cinquain.

As I was late, I missed the first exercise, but was there in time to write an ode to the ordinary.

This hat is the replacement hat
bought because a loved hat
went on its own adventure
and came back too small
or is it my head became swollen
without that hat
this hat
the replacement hat
is superior to my lost, adventurous hat
not only is it a shield against the sun
this oil cloth hat
keeps the rain off my brows
small copper stitches line the brim
broad like a soldier’s shoulders
it is crumpled
like me
from our shared adventures
pinched in the front to cut the wind
and scooped in the to push back the rain
this marvelous replacement hat
with its brown leather stitched band
screams to the world
its boldness
in staying with me
its resilience to the buffets and the scorn
its power over the rain
its command over the sun
my brilliant hat
the replacement hat
that has stayed with me

The next exercise was to write a haiku and a cinquain about the exhibit or an object therein. My cinquain has too many syllables.

shelves with found objects
everyday trash magnified
revealing beauty

a room
shelved discards
so tastefully arranged
highlighting color and form

Finally, as they told us they wanted photographs of all of our poetry, I wrote this:

They want photos of our poems
pulled from the examples and images on the walls
unthinking that some pictures
of words written of pictures
will contain bad scrawl
from fingers crushed by pain
that the words are indecipherable
in the pictures

But it was only a dream? Hogwash!

Badly written stories often end with the reveal that the entire story was just a dream.  Readers feel cheated when this is done for two reasons: they wanted what was being written to be real for the character, because it felt real to them.  The ending feels like a lie and ruins it for the reader, turning a good story into a bad one.

Then there is surrealism.

In surrealism, there is no differentiation between the real and the dream.  The dream is not a trick ending, it is not a betrayal.

In his novel, The Windup Bird Chronicles, Haruki Murakami provides dreams that are a way to break through that which divides us.  Readers don’t feel cheated, they get pulled deeper into the story, into the character.

We all dream, and in our dreams do amazing things.  To misquote J.K Rowling, just because it happens in your head doesn’t make it less real.  Dreams are real.  A different real than the world in which we walk awake, but no less real.

I dream in color.

I’ve died in one of my dreams, as an axe thrown by a Minotaur split my skull.  I died defending the castle and its computer from the Minotaur army.  I will never know who won that battle.

I dream stories.

I’ve only had three “real” people in my dreams, ever.  One of them is my wife.

I now write dreams into my stories.  Dreams in color.  Dreams with stories.  Dreams that are a way to reveal deeper truths of my characters than can be found in the cold light of day.


Want to kill writer’s block – write like the Bumbys

I’m out of my element (in LA) yet in my element (attending an information security conference) when at the evening reception I see The Bumbys.  They stylize themselves as performance artists, but what they are is writers.  They see you, but don’t interact.  Upon seeing you, they write a description of what they see to try to describe who you are.  You can follow them on Twitter @TheBumbys or Facebook

Here is a photo of The Bumbys at work:


Here is a photo of what each wrote about me:


And here is a selfie of me dressed as they saw me.


They just wrote and wrote and wrote.  Professionals who got paid well for it.

Struggling with writer’s block?  Look at something and write what you see.  Just write.