Fiction and Other Unusual Creations
Old Thoughts...

Because 'Tepid and Stale' just didn't roll off the tongue.


March 19, 2010

I'm back from Kearney, and fighting to stay productive.  Yesterday, not only was the sun out, but the temperature had to be at least 60.  I got to walk around outside with no coat.  Glorious.  Today's snowstorm makes yesterday look like some kind of sick joke.  So motivation has been in short supply.

The speech meet was interesting.  The category we watched was Entertainment Speaking, which is essentially an eight-minute standup routine.  There was a clear distinction between those that had that 'it' one expects from a funny person and one that didn't.  Three of the finalists had that 'it', while the rest were just decent at giving a speech and might have benefited from stronger material.

The winner, incidentally, went deadpan the whole way.  Think Todd Barry, or if you're not into today's comedians, Larry, Darrell, and Darrell from theNewhart show back in the 80's.  As I said to my kids: When you go with a 'nontraditional' delivery, you're at the mercy of the judges.  If they like that sort of thing, you're in, but if they don't, they'll slaughter you.  Apparently, they like that sort of thing.  He did execute it well, and had a Patton Oswalt-esque face and body that matched the style well.

I often tell people I can't write funny stuff.  I'm definitely not a comedian.  When I read some of my stuff at my writers' group, it gets laughs, which is fine.  I do understand that humor somehow gets in there, but I'll tell you now: when I'm going for humor, it doesn't end well.

You can judge for yourself by going to deadfred.mevio.com and listening to an episode or two of The Show that Must Not Be Named.  In many cases I deliberately went for comedy.  In few cases I pulled it off.  I think I'm better acting out or reading comedy from someone else's material than I am at generating it myself.

On top of that, this gloomy frikkin' day is the worst time to think of something funny.

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March 18, 2010

Today’s post comes from Kearney, Nebraska, which is about 150 miles west of where I normally am.  I’m across the street from the University of Nebraska-Kearney, which is the site of the High School State Speech meet. Sadly, neither of my High School kids qualified but they’re there to observe.

I could go on several tangents here, about my High School experiences at State Speech, about the state of Speech and Drama competitions in Nebraska, about nearly being taken into custody by the Lincoln police for playing with fake guns, but no, I gotta get back to fiction, so I'll leave those topics for later days.

I’m coming to you courtesy of the internet connection at Barista’s Daily Grind, a nice independent coffee shop here.  The coffee’s pretty good, but I’m hardly the guy you’d want to be a food critic.  I generally order ‘coffee flavored coffee’, to quote Denis Leary.  I at least know the difference between medium and dark roast, but beyond that I intentionally stay ignorant.

This is a good day for a road trip.  It’s a sunny (albeit cold) day, I’ve got no business commitments, and the Home-Schooled son has a big project that he’s immersed in.

The other thought I had while I’m here is to visit the printer where Traffic Control is getting finished.  Just to say ‘Hi’.  Unlike a lot of the self-publishing companies, Morris Press just prints your book. They can provide other services, but if you’re a fully independent, ‘I can do it better anyway’ sort of person, a printer is much more preferred than a self-publisher.

The challenge will be in the distribution.  An author friend in Idaho went with iUniverse, which is more of a ‘full service’ provider.  They have her in bookstores, Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com, and a number of other outlets. Since I’m choosing the ‘I got it’ route, I’ll have to place Traffic Control myself.  I’m starting with a small run, so I hope to sell most of those through this website, with other sales tied to book signings and placement in independent bookstores.

I expect to be taught some hard lessons through this process.  Luckily, my financial future doesn’t hinge on the success of this book. I think it’s important that this isn’t my big chance, or the only book I’ll ever write.

Speaking of which, my next project is called Wind River.  Unlike Carl Patterson, who was nothing special in the arts of combat and taking care of himself, the main character in this novel is loosely (and I mean really loosely, Ron) based on a guy I worked with for a while.  He was ex-Special Forces, doing stuff you don’t want to know about in places you wouldn’t want to be, and joined the Construction Industry, I think, because it’s the closest you can get to combat without getting shot at.  Gig Garner’s the same way, but he’s originally from Saunders County, Nebraska, and served in Afghanistan.  And, though he can’t acknowledge it, Pakistan and Iran as well.

I’m a little over 20,000 words into it now, with a well-developed cast of characters and a good idea of where it’s headed.  It’ll need to incubate when the first draft’s done, get an edit from me, sit a little longer, then get an edit from an editor, etc.  My experience with Traffic Control will help me decide if I’m going to print it myself or shop it to small presses.

Alright, time to do some real writing.  I finished Traffic Control in an independent coffee shop in Oneonta, New York, so this environment is fertile ground, and words are begging to come out.


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March 17th, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's, from someone who's anywhere from a quarter to a half Irish.  Funny, but since 'Hall' comes from my Grandpa that didn't come back from WWII and didn't have a large family, we're not really sure of our ancestry from his side.   But hey, I've got a red beard and a round nose, so I can look the part, at least!

Whoo, man, have I been busier than a monkey juggler with a shock collar!  No, I don’t condone cruelty to animals.  I’m just good at visualizing things.

For the first time in two weeks, the sun came out!  It’s amazing the difference it makes.  Proof I wouldn’t make it through a winter in Vancouver or Seattle.

Got another episode of Quivira up on the Literary Killbox.  Also I recorded a commercial for Traffic Control, complete with background music and sound effects.  And, to top it all off, I got my books caught up and some more tax hell out of the way.

So, life is good.  But I’m wasting this daylight typing about it. I need to get outside and kick a football at my kids or something.

Oh, and I might not get a post up tomorrow.  I’m taking my high school kids to watch the State Speech Meet in Kearney.  Neither qualified as a competitor but I think it’ll do ‘em some good to watch the top presenters do their thing.  My sophomore has two chances coming up.  I didn’t qualify for State until my Junior year, so she has nothing to be ashamed of.

Still, a road trip—and one in the sunlight, no less—should be good for me.

If I can find a coffee shop around Kearney, I’ll have some more steamin’ fresh info for you tomorrow. 

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March 16... and a half, 2010

Whew.  The cloud of depression has lifted.  Know how I can tell?  Because I took a peek at Facebook and made about a half-dozen comments.  So there you go, people:  I'm not gloomy a hundred percent of the time!

March 16, 2010

The last few Steamin' Freshes kinda suck.  So does the writing I've done the past few days.  Yep, I'm in another iteration of what I call a depressive trough.  How can I tell?  I don't want to do this.  I don't want to do anything.  The 'what in the hell are you doing' questions flit into my head and bounce around in there like superballs.  Not the momentary ones, either.  The big ones.  

'After all', this line of thinking goes, 'you're not getting paid for this.  You need to do a better job of supporting your family.  Why are expending so much effort on this ridiculousness?'

Fortunately, after living with this particular family of head-demons for as long as I can remember, I recognize when it's happening.  Sometimes, I'm able to harness the negativity into my writing.  Have to be careful, though: often such usage turns an otherwise viable piece into a maudlin turd-pile of slush. 

If I can win the head-demons over to begrudgingly accept that I can occasionally attract others to read my writing, there's a new battle to fight.  I call it the 'shouldn't you be doing...' dilemma.

Because, right now, I really should be building a mechanism for purchasing Traffic Control into this website.  I should be following up with the printer on the delivery date.  I should be investigating bookstores to do signings.  I should be editing, or writing something else, or working on the Killbox.

Well, the head-demons haven't won today.  After all, I have a post (however disturbing) here today, don't I?  They never actually win, though there are days where I didn't get a lot done because of them.  Or what I do get done sucks.

The bright side is that as soon as I get through the worst of the depression, the next day's a really bright one.  It's not fair; I only get about one of those for every three or four down days, but when I'm on... good stuff happens.  

If tomorrow's post is an incredible piece of prose, you'll know the clouds finally passed.

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March 15, 2010

Jammed out 2100 words on my latest project this morning.  It wasn't my best work, but hey: that's what editing is for.  I don't let anything out in public until I've gone through it at least twice.  That's why these posts are always falwless.

I had to start over with today's post because the site builder barfed on my while I was typing.  That's a pain, but I'm partly to blame for that.  If I was smart, I'd type all this up ahead of time in a different program, and then paste it in.  I suppose that's what all the real bloggers do.

Then again, I never said this was a blog.  That'd imply I'm dedicated to turning something out every day, and that I actually have something to say in these posts.  Wouldn't want to get your hopes up only to dash them against the rocks when I toss up some ramble, would I?

Yesterday was Daylight Savings, of course, which always messes me up for a week.  How come losing an hour in the spring has long-lasting negative effects, but getting it back in the fall only improves your Sunday and maybe, if you're lucky, the following Monday?

I only mention Daylight Savings to reconcile the less-than-stellar words I pumped onto my hard drive this morning.  As I mentioned, it'll get smoothed out in editing (or, possibly, I'll end up excising most of it) so why would I apologize for it?  Ah, that's right:  If I mention it here, I don't have to go back into doing something productive.  Because, let's face it: Spring Daylight Savings is extremely demotivational.  And I'm having a tough time getting on with useful stuff.

Okay, enough complaining.  No more whining or excuses.  Time to get back to doing something useful.

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March 14, 2010

How can I tell I'm starting to get traction on this whole 'I want to be a writer' thing?  Because a story was rejected today and it didn't bother me all that much.  It just means that tomorrow, I'll have to find a new place to try it out.

I don't really submit a lot of stories to places where I've already had a story published.  I think this is because my stories seem so different from each other, or because, once I've succeeded at something, I don't want to break the winning streak.  

Took a break from writing and doing the website yesterday to revel in my nerdiness.  Four of us played Twilight Imperium, a board game with a 'dominate the galaxy' flavor.  It has a ton of rules to it, and takes hours to figure out.  It has about ten kinds of cards, plastic pieces to represent starships and ground troops, and cardboard markers.

Nerd gaming day is, like any other activity four adults would engage in, all about getting together to do something.  Anything outdoors is ruled out because of the crappy weather.  Drinking heavily might have worked fine a couple of decades ago, but each of us is at the age where we know better.  And, let's face it, if a football game isn't involved, just watching TV would kind of suck.

These games are good for stimulating imagination, which we think is so important for kids.  Well, what about us adults?  Oh, yeah.  In most careers, imagination is detrimental to productivity.  So there:  We're fighting the power by gaming!  Ha!

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March 12, 2010

Just submitted a story to a professional market, one that's accredited by the SFWA.  The downside to such a submittal is that you know you're in for a long wait for a response--more appropriately, you hope you're in for a long wait, since at least one pro market I know about won't even look at your work unless you're 'in the club' already--and the chances of success are much smaller. 

What's the big deal with accreditation?  The SFWA is the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.  While, technically, I could say I'm a professional writer because I've been paid for my work, and I can say I'm a professional writer because I'm a member of the Nebraska Writers' Guild and I treat it like my job,  I don't say I'm a professional writer very often because I haven't been welcomed into a prestigious national organization like SFWA.   

I like this story, or I wouldn't have tried it with a top-tier publication.  I polished it until it was a complete, well written, error-free work, then read it to my writers' workshop.  The changes they suggested were invaluable.  It helps tremendously to have romance writers in the workshop, by the way, because they're so much more in tune with the emotional, visceral side of people's interactions, even if your story isn't about two people falling in love.

So, we'll see.  In  a minimum of three months, I'll either have a new link on the Home Page that I'm very proud of, or I'll have a great story that I like to try with another market. 
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March 11, 2010

3-11 day today!  It's an inside joke between my wife and I; back in the nineties I used to crank the radio whenever a song by 311 came on, and I'd say: Hey!  These guys are from Omaha! 

Unfortunately I've never gone to one of their concerts.  At least, officially.  Back in 1997 they played an outdoor festival on Maui when we lived there.  I was playing with the kids in the park next to the amphitheater while they ran through their sound check.  So, yeah, I've heard them live... sorta.

And how did I spend 311 day this year?  By agonizing over a synopsis!

I sent a query letter to a small press, looking to have my Fantasy book published.  They responded with a request for a synopsis and the first five chapters.

Suddenly, that raggedy-ass synopsis I'd drafted up for it when I finished the stupid thing didn't seem good enough.  I solicited assistance from the Guild, who rushed to my aid with a lot of good advice.  Luckily our President is doing a seminar on good synopsis writing, too.  No, not Obama, dummy; our Guild President.

What's a synopsis?  Call it a pitch, if you'd like.  Your friend tells you about a book.  Why would you want to buy it?  Because your friend's description sounds really cool.  Makes the book seem like something you'd want to read.

Now, in a synopsis, you make your book sound like something others want to read.  After all, why would publishers be interested in printing something they can't sell?

Problem is: how do you pack 90,000 words into a 500-word summary?  Every word has to count.  You could agonize over it for days, if you're obsessive enough.

The concentration on the business side of things has derailed work on the next novel, but it's necessary.  Yeah, I do write for enjoyment, but it's also thrilling to see if any of this will sell.  Speaking of which, I've got a couple new short stories to shop around; they don't get themselves published either.  I like both of 'em, so I'm foolishly submitting to the 'professional' markets.  The ones that you can find in most bookstores, and that pay enough to cover groceries for a week or two.  I tell you this because it means it'll be a long time before you see them in print or online, because the big names would rather put a well-known author on their covers. 

They sell better, and they've got businesses to run.

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March 10, 2010

I get to go to my writers' group tonight!  Wednesday night is the most difficult for my family to have me gone, but with the consulting work they don't otherwise suffer for my art, so to speak.  

I can't even begin to describe how it's helped my writing.  Maybe, instead of a description, I ought to copy something I wrote in my journal the day before I went to this group the first time:

OH Geez on a weasel I iz so exsitted to go to this writer groop thingy it's going to be amazzing and they are totuly going to luve everything I wrieted. I hav this one story, it's about thees peepul who feel ways about stufff and I no its going to make them thenk they have the next stepen A. King in there mist!

Hmm. I know, the differences between before and after are very subtle, but you're a sophisticated reader and will pick up on it.

I can't think of any other thing I've done to improve my writing skills more. You can pay to sit through a class on how to write, but I'm convinced it's far more effective to write, and get feedback on your writing. Plus, having to listen to other people's work and give them both positive and negative feedback has helped my own skills immensely.

My number one worry prior to going to this group for the first time was that I'd find myself influenced by the work of others. I was a little nervous about hearing something I loved, and having it bleed through in the next thing I wrote. Turns out that's not the case at all. Everyone's got their own voice, and their voices, while very good, are not mine.


That same fear fueled a reluctance to read fiction after I started writing seriously.  Wow, am I glad I ditched that!  As a younger writer, I read Canticle for Liebowitz and the next short story I wrote had the same flavor.  But, after I dusted it off and looked at it with a more trained eye, the final version is in a completely different style and setting than the book.

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March 8, 2010

Spring is just around the corner.  Half of the snow that's been on the ground since the beginning of December has melted.  The brutal frigidity of the last three months has given way to a sullen, gray, all-encompassing dreariness served just above freezing temperature.

Can you tell I worked some more on taxes?

My writer's guild chatter contained a link to The Guardian, a UK publication that's always full of interesting articles (I know this because it's linked frequently from Fark.com) and a story about the top ten things a writer must know.  The springboard was Elmore Leonard's book that followed those concepts.  They asked a number of writers what their top ten pieces of advice were.  The primary take-away:  Everyone's bolted together a little differently.  Some famous writers said to read, read, read, while others said 'stop reading fiction'.

Yeah, famous British writer I've never heard of.  Like that's gonna happen.

Still, the first piece of advice from Hilary Mantel, the first writer cited:  "If you're serious about this, get an accountant."  She ended with a statement like "you can't dedicate your soul to writing if you're worried about filing your taxes."  So remind me, if I ever get huge, to hire an accountant.

Not that numbers don't hold a certain interest for me.  When I was a Project Engineer on a $300 million construction project, my favorite job duty was to go through the project's 250-page Cost Report every month and analyze what I thought the project's final cost would be.  There's a certain nerdy charm to tweaking numbers.

Oh, one more thing about top-ten lists:  I scanned through Elmore Leonard's book in a bookstore once.  I didn't buy it because he'd done such an impressive job of conveying what the reader needed to know in a minimum amount of words that I had no need to buy it.

Don't worry about Elmore.  I've bought and read five or six of his other books.

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March 7, 2010

Mmmpgh.  I'm stuffed.  

Sometimes in order to clean the kitchen, I need to cook.  So I made calzones and cinnamon rolls with the extra dough.  And when you make bread it's the best when it comes right out of the oven, so I end up jamming too much of what I make down my gullet.

At least I got to feed the family too.  And one calzone made it to the freezer for later consumption.

I've had a lot of good ideas for my book... but unfortunately it's not the book I'm currently on.  It's one that I've had in and out of my field of vision for most of the last five years.  I'd tell you more about it but it's kind of a gee-whiz story idea that could get easily swiped.  I came up with the idea of sending people to an asteroid that threatened the earth about three years before Armageddon came out.  Not accusing anybody of anything, because I never told anybody about my idea.  Nonetheless, it sucks when someone beats you to a great idea you had.

My wife came up with the idea of rollerblades when she was a kid, but she was a kid.   So, you have to have the idea, and connections to make it happen, and work ethic and skills to pull it off.

The consolation about the whole Armageddon thing?  I knew it wasn't the only cool idea I'd ever have.  When you realize that another one will come along, it's not so bad.

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March 6, 2010

Okay, so it's still March 5th, but I feel like getting a jump on things.  Hey, magazine publishers do it all the time, right?  I should be getting my July issue of Guitar World any day now.

A friend asked me about music recommendations.  Lead me to look through the dark corners of my musical tastes, and I dusted off a Scissorfight CD.  Man, I forgot how much arse those guys kicked!  And they made a lot of music for a band most people never heard of.

I can guarantee that well over fifty percent of people in this country have a favorite band that they've never heard.  When I think of all the bands in Omaha (my brothers' and sisters' bands included) that most of you have never heard of but will rock your boots off, it's tragic.

Then again, it's a supply/demand thing, isn't it?  As much as I'd like to listen to music all day, I honestly don't write as well as I do in a quiet environment.  I can do dishes or laundry better to music, but who wants to do that all day?

I'm playing around with lala.com now.  I actually despise iTunes.  For some of the same reasons I despise Amazon.com, I suppose, but really the user interface never clicked with me.  Same way that getting stuck with a Toyota as a rental car bothers me: switches and dials aren't where I want them to be.  The most significant source of my hatred, though, is the fact that when you buy a song on iTunes, you don't reallyown it.  Fry your hard drive, and it's gone, dude. 

Now, if I buy a CD, and rip it to mp3 format, and use a non-Apple device, like my Sansa, I truly own that thing.  After all, if you buy a copy of Traffic Control, am I going to come to your house after a couple of years and take the book back?  I'd better not.

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March 5, 2010

Had a long discussion tonight about life insurance.

Interesting thing, breaking one's mortality down to numbers and percentages.  Just how much would it take for your loved ones to be whole if, God forbid, you find yourself pulling the short straw when you least expect it?

We changed insurers about a year ago.  That experience, and the one the Missus and I had tonight, made me realize how much people inject a little black humor into the very real possibility that a freak meteorite, or runaway tanker truck full of nerve gas, or one-in-a-million dosage of amoebic meningitis might end it all tomorrow

People are more distant from death now then they ever have been.  It sounds...wrong saying that, since we all have lost loved ones, but think about what it was like a hundred years ago.  Or a thousand.  Mothers would go through pregnancy a dozen times, just to make sure they had the three or four viable children they needed to ensure somebody lived to adulthood.  

In a way, I think humanity's attitude about how we should conduct ourselves has gotten misaligned with how long we really live.  I suppose it'll all work itself out eventually, but it'll be well beyond our lifetimes.
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March 3, 2010

Let's talk for a moment about Fan Fiction, shall we?

Most publishers are not having any part of it.  In fact, most writers and publishers envision the holder of the Intellectual Property rights to whatever it is you're a fan of  getting a paper cut on their eyelids every time someone writes a FanFic piece based on their work.  I'm more of the 'sincerest form of flattery' mind.  But, then again, I ain't makin' millions off of my work.

But there's a right way and a wrong way to use the inspiration you receive from something you love.  Take the short story I just completed (at least in first draft form) today.  I've been playing Borderlands when I feel like shutting off my brain.  The story started out as inspired by the game.  It took about 50 words for it to completely deviate from the actual universe the folks at Gearbox and 2K gave us.

This is because I'm not writing about any of the characters in the game.  I'm not writing about the world of Pandora, or the long-lost race of Eridians, or anything like that.  

I'm writing about the feel.  A place where you or I probably wouldn't want to raise a family.  A weapon-obsession of the world's inhabitants fueled by the importance their firearms have in keeping them alive and fed.  By how the ones with nicer weapons are viewed as more successful.   One of the main characters is a member of an insectoid race with triangular preying mantis heads and psychic abilities.  

When you read another of my 'inspired by...' stories, The Armed Stranger, (archived in The Harrow), just try to figure out which game I was playing when I wrote the story.  If I've followed the feel of the game and where my brain took me from that jumping-off point, you won't be able to.

Try it, FanFic-ers.  You'll be happier with the results, I promise.  Besides, if something in the original works struck a chord that deeply inside you, are you presumptuous enough to decide you can do a better job?

Cherish it for what it is.  Then make your own creations!
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March 2, 2010

Spent a little time with my sixth-grade son (the one I'm home-schooling) working on a trebuchet.  It's a combination science/social studies project.  This one's a kit with about a twelve-inch throwing arm.

Back in the day, construction of such things was a word-of-mouth process with ideal component dimensions determined by trial and error.  So, if we can make this little guy work, the next step would be to scale it up five times, which should give us something that can lob a ten-pound shot the length of a basketball court.

Are there any story ideas in this?  Not yet.  But I did get one when reading about a military less-than-lethal project involving snotty liquid.  The idea is if you have a gaggle of angry people outside of an embassy, and it looks like things are going to blow up, the marines in charge of guarding the place can spray this goop at 'em.  It then makes everything slicker than a truckload of banana peels, so they can't even stand, let alone run at you with clubs and molotov cocktails.

And I'm thinking:  nice zombie deterrent!  If your compound is on a hillside (or, ideally, ringed by an apron of concrete) you could shoot this gooze all over, and they won't be able to get enough of a footing to come at you until it dries.  And then you have a little more time to shoot 'em or burn 'em or whatever you need to do.

All of these gee-whiz ideas are nice, but they don't make a story in and of themselves.  So, it'll be worked into a story where there are zombie-fighting people dealing with other issues.  Maybe.

One thing I've found about writing:  You can have the greatest idea, but if there's no home for it, it will remain just an idea.

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March 1, 2010

Just fed the tortoise.  It makes an ideal pet, actually.  They don't make a lot of noise.  They have claws, but they're pretty dull and as long as you give them some rocks to crawl over you don't have to trim them.  They don't take in a lot of moisture (ours gets his moisture from the lettuce he eats, as long as it's crisp) so they're not whizzing all over everything.  

The only thing you need to watch out for is when you take it outside to play.  If you look away for a few seconds, they might run away.  They don't have to get far, and if your grass is long, they're impossible to find once they're dug in.  Well, not impossible; you need to walk the yard dragging a plastic leaf rake behind you and wait until you feel something solid.

Oh, and they dig under things.  Our first tortoise - he eventually ran away - loved to dig under the backyard fence when we lived in SoCal.  Once he ran away and went into hibernation in a corner of the garage for a couple of months.  We thought he was dead, but he warmed up once we got him out in the sun.

He ran away a second time while we lived there.  Luckily, he was spotted by a neighbor down the street that had tortoises of their own.  Theirs were 30 years old and were a foot in diameter.  Oh yeah, another plus about tortoises:  If you take care of them, they live forever.

I mentioned the first tortoise ran away.  We had him in a 'corral' in the back yard.  He dug underneath when our attention was diverted for a couple of hours.  We like to think he made it out to the Mojave and found himself a nice place.

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February 28, 2010

Just pounded out a few words on a brand-new story.  It's as fun as it gets, when a new idea hits you and still seems like a good idea after you've gotten a page or so out.

Only problem with this one:  A lot of people are probably going to die.  

Now, I'm not the gloomiest guy in the world.  I am a depressive (mild, very mild) but it doesn't manifest itself in thoughts of death and destruction.  It's more of a sapped energy/nothing's worth doing/self-doubt and lack of confidence thing.

Anyway, I didn't mean to get on a tangent there.  I was talking about how, in the last two or three Sci-Fi stories I've worked on, Earth and humanity don't fare too well.

What is it about doomsday fiction and the Sci-Fi genre, anyway?  I think it has something to do with people's fear of technological advancement, what it gives an individual.  After all, in Roman times, a sociopath could only wreak mayhem of historic significance if they were, say, the Emperor.

Nowadays, explosives and firearms, viruses, and other increasingly portable forms of destructive technology are in the hands of someone who, like that creepy guy a few houses down the street, you and I don't trust very much.

But there's one more dimension to this.  I don't think all of us trust ourselves all that much.  Admit it, don't you, every so often, wonder if one more personal call by Mike in the cubicle next door, or one more cut-you-off then flip-you-off treatment on the freeway is the final straw that pushes you off the deep end?  Ultimately, the fear of ourselves is far scarier than the fear of the other guy.

Of course, the story I've started to write isn't a gloomy one.  It's a mad scientist story, but an upbeat one.  Really.  The main character isn't the mad scientist.  He just works for him.  He's a likeable people-person.  A real shake your hand firmly, look you in the eye kind of guy.  And hey, he's been out of work for a while.  You know how the economy supposedly is.  Up until the 50's-style reveal at the end (and, I'll beg your forgiveness in advance for that, I swear I don't do that too often), you're rooting for the guy.

Hmm.  Okay, I've got a few more ideas now.  Think I'll write some more of it.
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February 26, 2010

Have a lot to do today.  The proof copy of Traffic Control arrived yesterday so now I need to look through it and make sure I'm happy with it.  There were a few more visual things I wanted to do, but I decided they should be crushed under the wheels of progress.

Today's a good day to do this.  For the first time since late November it feels like we're going to have a break in the cold.  The sun's out.  There's no wind.  And, in the best evidence that I'm happy with what I'm doing, I'm a little disappointed that it's Friday.

I'd better get on with my inspection.  Done with that, and then the final product will be ready in, at most, a month.  I plan to hand-number the first hundred or so.  If it ever became a big deal, I'd imagine those first hundred might be worth something.

Well, more than the $7.99 cover price, that is.

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February 25, 2010

Started looking at getting organized for 2009 taxes.  At the risk of my Libertarian tendencies showing, I gotta say it feels like the least American thing an American can do.  So, let me get this straight:  I have to give away a third of what I make, and I have to fill out the unnecessarily complex paperwork and do all the legwork to determine how much that is?  

Mr, Biden, I'll go ahead and admit paying taxes is a necessary evil.  But it sure as hell is not patriotic.

Now, I enjoy the roads.  Really I do.  And BLU-82's, Spectre Gunships, and Boomer subs?  Yeah, they're kinda cool, gotta admit.  But as someone whose found himself on the top and bottom of life's competitions, I'm scared to death of giving so much money to something that has no competition.  

But patriotic?  The United States is as successful as it is because of the individualism our founding fathers promoted.  It's patriotic to dump my money in a hole where nobody's smart enough to figure out where it goes?  Uh, no.

Don't worry, folks.  I'm not planning to start building a compound in the country, stocking it full of guns, and printing my own money.  Just because taxes bother me doesn't mean I'm going to skip them.

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February 24, 2010

Someone can hide in a pile of data.  Unless you know specifically which person you're looking for, it's tough to find a person with a common name on the internet.  I lost out on my bid to convince my wife to name my oldest son Elwood.  Rolls off the tongue, though, doesn't it?  Elwood Hall.  

See, I never liked my name all that much.  One syllable followed by another single syllable.  It's over before you get warmed up.  I wanted all my kids to have multiple syllables in their names so they're more poetic.

In preparation for the release of Traffic Control, I've had to take a look at this whole publicity thing.  If you do a Google search for Greg Hall, I'm nowhere near the top five results pages.  And, honestly, on Google, who goes more than two pages in?

Now, if you add the 'M' in there, I'm right up front.  

Reading Wired, I've gathered that if I want more than a few hundred hits on this site (and, folks, don't get me wrong, I appreciate the guts out of all of you who have come by) I need to get nosy.  Need to show up on message boards.  Need to get a FARK username and comment a lot.  Need to... I dunno, buy ads?

Publicity's a weird thing.  I'm a private person.  Don't like tooting my own horn.  Always felt a little off about self-promotion.  I write because I love to write.  Because I friggin' have to.  But my natural aversion to self-aggrandizement makes me wonder:  Are the 100 best novels of all time sitting on people's hard-drives or rolling off a self-publishing press to moulder in an attic somewhere, because the absolute best writers of today can't promote themselves, and the changing nature of the print industry means anyone born after 1980 or so must self-promote?

Conclusion:  If you know a writer who's stuff is fantastic, do 'em a favor and tell everyone about it.

Now, I have to go create some fake identities of people who absolutely love my stuff.  I wonder if there are any Moose Unit Devedanders on Google?

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February 22, 2010

Y'ever get the feeling, as you wake up at 1:30 in the morning, that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong and you don't know what it is yet?  That's been me the last four days.  

Perhaps a little NyQuil is in order before bedtime.

I'm torn about where to go with my next big project.  Even though I want to make sure the rollout of Traffic Control happens, I still have this itch to write.  Lately I've been working on Quivira, a podcast novel, which is kind of an action/adventure book, but it feels more like a hobby than the Next Big Thing.  Also, I haven't thought of a better title, but when I do, I'm changing it.  It'll mean some re-recording for the Killbox, but it'll be worth it.

Speaking of the Killbox, I've got an itch to put another short story on there.  Maybe I'll have to put off the next episode of Quivira for a week.

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February 15, 2010

Aah.  Back in Nebraska for a while.  Easing myself back into being home; only spent half a day in the office, and for the rest of the time I'm at home.  Hmm.  I'm using my wife's computer to post this.  It's actually pretty nice.  Nicer than I thought it'd be.

Never mind that.  I now have to focus on getting Traffic Control printed.  It's a little intimidating, when one considers the consequences of making a bad decision at this point, but then I remembered:  This is just one novel.  I've written another one, gotten one more over 50,000 words, and over 10,000 words on three others.

And besides, this isn't one of those 'this is my life's story' sort of projects.  My life's story is probably as boring as anyone else's.  Don't expect to see that anytime soon.

So, like any other big task, it's just a case of making a To-Do list and ticking it off.

Now, the issue of embedding an ordering and paypal/credit card payment option in this website... much to learn, much to learn.
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February 11, 2010

Rainy and cold (for cajuns, at least) down here in the Big Easy.  Luckily they still have that Super Bowl win to keep them warm.  

If I were anywhere else, I might think the party would run out of steam before Mardi Gras hits.  But no, these people have no quit in 'em when it comes to having a good time.  And, hell, for a lot of 'em still sorting out the remains of the mess Katrina left 'em, sure, a two-week full-on blowout is due.

On Monday, before coming back down, I received a contributer copy of Outer Reaches magazine.  On my home page I already mentioned how great it looks.  As honored as I am to be chosen for a quality e-zine, at heart I still prefer the look of a paper-and-ink creation I can hold in my hands.  After all, the airlines haven't taken away use of a book or magazine at take-off and landing! 

Though, I suspect, if they thought it brought their passengers enjoyment, I think they'd want to put a stop to reading on the plane.

It's been a killer week.  In addition to jamming in some catch-up at home on Monday and the consulting day-job since, I've gotten my first copy of the Nebraska Writers' Guild's newsletter off to the printer.  I volunteered for it since my background in making manuals and technical documents seemed like a good fit, and it's going to be fun, but it'll be even more fun if I'm not trying to do it in a hotel room in the evenings.
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February 2, 2010

Wow, it's been a busy few weeks!  I'm still in Louisiana for a couple more weeks, but I'm working on some fascinating stuff, so I can't complain.  

Today I found out a story has been picked up by Electric Spec, a very high-quality e-zine with stories I'm honored to be associated with.  The best part isn't the fact that they're a paying publisher (although that never hurts, does it?) but that the story I sold is Identity Theft.

Let me tell you a little about this one:  I wrote the first version of it back in 1994 or 1995, the first time I was serious about writing.  I submitted it to a prestigious print magazine -of course, they were pretty much all print magazines back then- and though it was rejected because I was as green as the hills and the story was as polished as a sea urchin, the publisher gave me an encouraging note on my rejection slip.

When I got serious about writing again in 2005, this was one of the first stories I redid and shopped around.  After a while, it felt like this story was an ugly kid and I was its parent, the only person on earth who saw it as cute and charming.

In total, Identity Theft was rejected nine, maybe ten times for publication.  In between each submission, I'd work it over some more.  It's by far the most submitted story on my hard drive.  But through it all, I thought the idea was clever, the settings interesting, and, most importantly, I liked my hero and heroine.  I just needed to work hard to show everyone else how enjoyable these people were to meet, and how fun it was to wander the land they lived in.

Okay, a little corny, I realize.  But it shows the power of persistence and believing in yourself.  The story was always a good one, but through the iterations it became good and professional.

I'll definitely link this story as soon as it's available in late May. 

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January 20, 2010

Another week in the Westbank.  At least the weather is more like what I'd expect down here.  A thought or two on motivation:

Like anyone else, I've got by rough days.  Lately, those have been the ones where I spend a significant portion jammed into a narrow seat, between strangers, at thirty thousand feet.  Because I'm doing actual work between 7am and 6pm, it'd be easy to just grab a couple-three beers and forget about this whole writing thing.  Especially when this particular consulting gig involves writing and editing technical documents.

I have no special advice.  I only know what works for me:  Just starting.  Oh, yeah, and I need to shut the TV off first.  

My other thought on motivation?  You have to force it sometimes.  But sometimes, it's okay to blow stuff off.  In fact, I'd say it's healthy to blow stuff off once in a while.  After all, there will be times when you just can't get everything done, no matter how badly you want to.  When that happens, are you going to beat yourself up in self-loathing over it?  You have to practice letting yourself down if you're a generally motivated person.

Of course, if you're lazy, I can't help you.  What do I look like, Dr Phil?  Tony Robbins?  R. Lee Ermey?  Ha.
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January 13, 2010

Staying in the Westbank, near New Orleans.  I'm putting some of the skills I learned in my previous life to use.  This means I'm away from home, and my family, but it also means a paying gig.  After all, being a writer with only a couple hundred hits on his website doesn't exactly rank high on the top-paying jobs list.

One good thing about my working down here:  I'm on a project for the US Government.  Why is this good?  Because they're going to absolutely destroy me in federal taxes, thanks to my departure and cashing out of the retirement deal from my old employer.  Long story short, if I can work down here long enough, I'll be making back what I'm paying those guys.  What better activity is there for a Libertarian than to get his taxes back?  

Granted, I have to bust my arse to get it, but if it was good enough to earn once, it's good enough to earn twice.

When I travel, I like to put my feet on the ground, breathe the air, soak in the local vibe.  The drive from the hotel to the jobsite is about half an hour, plenty of time to catch up on the Saints, the political scandal in Jefferson Parish, how people feel about the cold snap they've had, and all those other things.  I've almost figured out how to say 'New Orleans' with a y in it.  Almost.

I think it's important.  I'm not on vacation here.  Besides, when I get a feel for a place, it's that much more real when I write about it.  

Damn.  I gotta get up early, though.  Early for me, anyway.  Need to go to bed already.

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January 9, 2010

Disappointment or relief?  We were going for a record here in Nebraska.  The all-time lowest temperature ever recorded was -24 Fahrenheit, back in 1886.  Sadly, all we could manage last night was -21.  I stepped outside after waking up this morning, in my tee shirt and pajama pants, to feel it.  I'm not crazy; 30 seconds was enough for me.  There's something attractive in extremes, in adversity and hardship.  As a writer, the thought of what if the power goes out is not a source of dread; it's a source of material.

I watched a show on Discovery Channel or public TV about the Siberians who herd reindeer near the arctic circle in the winter.  40 below (and that doesn't matter which scale you use) is common for them.  They sleep in a little reindeer fur tent inside a big reindeer fur tent.  I wouldn't want to live a day of that life, but it still fascinates me.  People are born, live their lives, and die in that climate; they don't know about warmer climes, or don't care.  Certainly government bureaucrats don't bother them, and they don't have to worry much about strangers.

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January 5, 2010

It's official:  I'm through tweaking with Traffic Control.  From here on out, it's a preproduction gig.  Sent the copyright app off yesterday, applied for the ISBN, started the cover design.  Still, it'll take a while before it's out of the printer.

Meanwhile, along with a bunch of members of the state writers' guild, I'm doing a '500 word a day' challenge.  It's refreshing to be back to writing raw material again, after spending so long editing and rewriting.  If there were a buyer for them, I've got about four projects going at once.   One's a follow-up to Traffic Control, though not really.  It's based in construction, but it has different characters and more of an action/adventure feel to it.

As far as my last posting goes - they got the fire out in the middle of the night.  The welding shop made it, but nothing else on that side of the street.  Now, as eastern Nebraska is bathed in sub-zero temperatures, I get to look out my window at snow covered piles of charred rubble.  Trust me, if it means my office didn't get burned, i'll consider it a blessing.  Once the weather gets nicer and the insurance companies have their say, the rebuilding can begin.
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December 28, 2009

I've got a front row seat to a small business owner's worst nightmare.  Across Main Street from my office, half a block is going up in flames.  I just got back from helping out at the welding/metal fab shop; when I saw those guys carrying acetylene tanks across the street I thought it would be wise to help.

Five towns' fire departments are dumping water on the buildings, but there's not much they can do.  Hundred-year old wood framed buildings, adjoined by common walls... they tend to burn well.  I think they all have flat-tar roofs as well.

The newspaper might only be badly damaged.  The hair salon where it started is a complete loss, as is the massage and tanning salon owned by two of my wife's very good friends.  They're trying to save the welding shop now; with chainsaws and axes they're cutting access in so they can get hoses down in the space between the ceiling and roof.

Nobody was hurt; if everyone was insured, it'll only be a royal pain in the butt for the business owners involved.

There were easily a dozen guys helping to move welding equipment, rods, tanks, and machinery out of the shop.  People in small towns get together in a crisis.  One of the guys I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with was someone who used to bully me a lot in Junior High.  A couple others have been on the other end of low-grade feuds.  But when it hits the fan... they're your teammate, dammit.

Send up some prayers for the business owners that got burned out.  It's just one small step below watching your home go up in flames.
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December 16, 2009

Urgh.  I just noticed that what I typed in on December 15 - pure gold, I assure you - has disappeared.  User error, I'm certain.  I don't even remember what the subject was, but I was on fire, man.  The world has <sniff> lost one of its treasures...

December 8, 2009

Ah, the joys of business travel.  In my Science Fiction I try to include nuggets of reality with all the 'gee-whiz' futuristic things.  People needing to get from Point A to Point B because they need to put bread on the table will never change.

I'm not saying they'll never develop teleportation.  After all, a hundred years ago television and lasers were ludicrous concepts.  But Business trips, I'm sorry to say, will always suck.  Unfamiliarity is part of the experience, as is the need to find a place to eat and a hotel. 

When they finally do get teleportation up, travelers will still most likely have to go to some hub facility to make the trip.  It'll be crowded, chaotic, noisy, and the guy in front of you who's about to get zapped into a quintillion charged particles beamed toward Mars will still smell like the previous night's six Jack-and-Cokes.

At least snow won't matter.  I'm flying into O'Hare tomorrow, and they expect half a foot of snow there.  What are my odds of actually making it within three hours of my scheduled arrival?

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December 3, 2009

I've begun home-schooling my son.  I've got my reasons; there are still four other kids going to public school so I haven't given up on the system.  For this particular kid, home-schooling is a much better fit.

Talk about a challenge!  Luckily, he's just a sixth-grader, so I can get by with what I already know, but what about three years from now, especially if he gets interested in programming and electronics?  I got a D in my last EE class twenty years ago.

On top of the new challenge I'm shoving Traffic Control repeatedly against a high-grit grinding wheel. This is a book that I began writing in 2005, but most of it was first-drafted a few months ago.  The difference in editing effort is significant, so I'm at least retaining what we've discussed in the Writers' Workshop I attend.

It's going to be a lot of work; four full-time days has gotten me through roughly 20 percent of it.  But I like the way it's looking on the back end.

Sadly, this means I might not be putting stuff on the Podshow as often as I'd like.  Don't worry: I get itchy if I go too long without recording something.

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Nov 28, 2009

I'm watching the Missouri/Kansas game, and as a Nebraskan, I'm wondering which team I should root against.  On the one hand, Kansas is either going to get rid of their coach, or not, based on what they decide to do with abuse allegations.  Not on whether or not they win.  Although losing to their rival might be usable as a pretense.  On the other hand, if Missouri loses, their fans will continue in their belief that the current coach isn't going to take them anywhere.

You're probably wondering: am I making a Sports Blog entry?  No, all this is a study in human nature!  You, ah, see it... right?

Sports has become so gloriously saturated with schadenfreude (My favorite German word, incidentally) that a lot of people here (and, I'm certain, Missouri) are hoping they find out Mark Mangino is an abusive, horrible person.  I've never met the guy.  If he hadn't accepted a head coaching job in a neighboring state, I'd wish no ill will to the man.  

In another program only related to football by my theme, I saw a symposium on C-SPAN entitled "Taking the Poison out of Partisanship".   The theme put to a panel (including Obama's chief pollster and someone who 'worked on the Bush and McCain campaigns') was: Why all the hate?  Why did George Bush get labeled 'the worst president ever' by the liberals, and why is Barack Obama unable to secure a single Republican vote for his legislation?  I laughed out loud at the TV when the answers were predictable.  Each side got in a dig at the other as they tried to put their own spin on the issue.

My point?  Simple.  People need conflict.  And we're not getting enough of it naturally.

I'm not saying I long for the age of squalid butchery (an actual term, defined in one of the military history texts I bought for a class in my Poli Sci minor in college).  What I'm saying is:  for 99-plus percent of our existence as a species, survival was a struggle.  We had to fight animals we could see.  Microbes we couldn't.  We had to fight the weather, the land, our own puny strengths and limitations as a species.

Eventually, our brains allowed us to overcome these obstacles.  What did we do as soon as we gained the upper hand on nature?

This would be around the dawn of recorded history, about eight, nine thousand years ago.  What were those original histories?  Legend (Gilgamesh overcame natural and otherworldly obstacles) and war.  Once we assured our survival was more likely than not, we took up arms against each other.

99-plus percent of recorded history has been, for the most part, one endless tale of conflict.

Now, we seem to be putting the brakes on nation-to-nation conflict, at least among what we'd consider the 'civilized' countries.  And what do we do?

Flip off the guy (or gal) that cuts us off in traffic.  Throw beer on a fan of an opposing sports team (incidentally, Colorado fan:  dumping Coors on someone is more accurately classified as dumping yellow water on someone).  Hurl invectives at CNN (if you're a righty) or Fox News (if you're a lefty).

What did you expect, people?  The Soviet Union quit being the ever-present threat they presented for a half-century, radical Islam hasn't really taken its place (an occasional terrorist attack pales in comparison to global thermonuclear war... sorry, guys), and we're out of that daily struggle we as humans faced for almost our entire existence.

So, everyone, don't deny your hate.  Just understand where it comes from.  And that you can't just flip a switch and make it go away.  Just, um... don't go overboard with it, okay?


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Nov 21, 2009

Winter is just around the corner here in Nebraska.  The vegetation has all gone brown, the trees are stark and skeletal, and that relentless north wind's been picking up.  It makes for great inspiration, but unfortunately, not the kind that leads to happy bunny stories.

I love struggles with nature.  Struggles for survival.  Les Stroud is my friggin' hero.  And the winter brings out the best in those feelings.  Most folks can make it without technology if it's warm enough to run around in a loincloth, and there are berries to pick off the trees.  Winter makes you work for your existence; makes you earn it.  

I have a deep respect for Winter the way a coach has a respect for a heated rival.  The way we Americans used to think about the Soviet Union.  Good opponents sharpen you, and motivate you in a way that nothing else can duplicate.

We've already had the first snowfall of the year, but it was an anomaly.  Before too long, we should have the first real snowstorm that sticks to the ground.  Maybe it'll even be a blizzard.

I say:  Bring it on. 
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A few thoughts about rejection...

They say baseball is a brutal sport because the best hitters only succeed a third of the time.  Try being a writer trying to sell your work!

I feel blessed, because I've had about an 8 percent 'hit' rate.  And that's including the first 40 attempts I made before I got my first acceptance.

Chalk a lot of the early failures up to learning the biz.  I sent my first submission to Asimov's.  For those of you not big into Sci-Fi magazines, it's the literary equivalent to a star High School baseball player stepping into the batter's box against Zach Greinke or Chris Carpenter.  Or, if you don't like sports analogies, like the Student Council President running for President of the United States.

If you're just starting out as a writer, but think your stuff is, as Shaun of the Dead put it, a 'slice of fried gold', there are still plenty of places that can give you an opportunity to share your greatness with the world.  I truly believe you need to 'collect rejections' before you get published, but your chances as an unknown are better with the markets that pay five bucks, or with a hearty 'atta boy'.

Honestly, the lightning-quick rejections from the last two pieces I submitted to one particular 'big time' publication (which, because it would be pointlessly stupid to piss off, shall remain nameless) led me to understand that they have a temp rip open the envelopes from 'no-names', stuff a rejection slip in the SASE, and throw the rest straight into the trash, unread.

That doesn't mean you quit trying.

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