Raucously Funny

kill the farm boy

 

 

Kill the Farm Boy: Tales of Pell by Keven Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson (Del Rey, July 2018) is outrageously funny. It’s so tongue in cheek (which set of cheeks I am reluctant to say for fear of offending your sensibilities) that it’s like The Princess Bride on steroids.

Imagine making fun of literally every fairy tale and epic fantasy trope. This can’t go on or I’ll die laughing, you’ll say, but it does. One bad pun follows another. 384 pages of side-splitting hilarity.

If you love epic fantasy, you’ll love this satiric novel. Not recommended for people with no sense of humor. Lots of fun for everyone else.

 

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Discovery and Discoverability

Discovery and Discoverability

This year has been, for me, one of both discovery and discoverability. Columbus had his 1492. I had 2016, and the year isn’t even over yet!

Interesting that I should write this the morning after returning from Columbus, Ohio, where I read, autographed and participated in a R. A. Lafferty panel at World Fantasy Convention 2016. The trip odometer on my ten-year-old Toyota turned over another thousand miles as I arrived back home in Rockford, Illinois. During the past five years since Gretta’s tragic untimely death, I have traveled more than a hundred thousand miles promoting myself, my new writing, meeting new people, and renewing old friendships. Is it any wonder I feel a little like Brian Keene on his current farewell tour or Richard Collier in Richard Matheson’s Bid Time Return?

Life has often been likened to a journey, and I suppose there is a passing resemblance. We, in the fiction business, send our heroes on impossible quests that involve actual or metaphorical journeys of discovery. Writers, like readers and protagonists, must journey from here to there in order to discover who and what they really are.

Here are some the important things I discovered about myself this year: I kill people for a living, I can never remember a pitch or an elevator speech when an agent or editor asks me what I’m excited about now, and I have lots of wonderful friends and acquaintances who actually do remember me despite all of my faults and foibles (or perhaps because of them).

Every writer needs a label (as, according to publishers and librarians, does every published book), and mine is “I kill people for a living.” I forgot to mention that I kill people for a living when Darrell Schweitzer asked me to introduce myself to the large audience at the Ray Lafferty panel during WFC. I mumbled something about being first and foremost a reader (as was Lafferty), a shy guy who doesn’t know how to promote himself at an SFF convention. I should have, instead, captured the audience’s attention by mentioning that I kill people for a living. I didn’t, and I regret it.

We live and learn. Don’t we?

Likewise, when an editor asked me in an elevator what I was working on now, I should not have mumbled “I never talk about works in progress because talking depletes the energy I reserve for my writing.” What a missed opportunity! I should have had a pitch prepared so the editor, before leaving the elevator, would have asked to see the completed manuscript. Does it do any good to kick myself after the fact?

But I was heartened by good friends who remembered my name and my characters from my stories which were published alongside theirs in anthologies or magazines or from panels we had been on together at Worldcons or Windycons or previous World Fantasy Cons. I got to spend some quality time discussing the business of writing with well-known authors I respect. What more can one ask for?

And a few friends even showed up to hear me read from Winds and Light, two of my supernatural fantasies in the Winds-Cycle.

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Just as valuable an experience, however, was the road from here to there and back again. I wrote in my mind an entire short story due next January for an anthology, worked out the next two chapters in my current WIP, and saw locations and scenery I want to describe in future novels. I drove the same I-70 Jack Maguire and Amanda Miller drove in my novel Executive Function to get from St. Louis to Washington, DC.

Now I am back at my keyboard and putting those experiences into words.

During the past five years since Gretta died, I have seen much of the country I never had the chance to see before. Oh, sure, I traveled a lot when I was a soldier. Even then I was a writer at heart and noted people and places for future fictionalizing. But looking at everything through the eyes of a working writer is different. You are on the hero’s journey of discovery.

Noting how tired and exhausted—yet exhilarated—I looked and we both felt, Stephen Vessels asked me in the smoking room at WFC as I prepared to depart for home: “So, was it worth it?” Stephen and I attended Thrillerfest in NYC, MidAmericon2 in Kansas City, and World Fantasy Convention in Columbus this year on book promotion tours and kept bumping into each other. We took time out of our busy writing schedules to promote ourselves and our books, spent our own hard-earned money, and traveled thousands of miles. Was it worth it? Was it necessary? Did it sell books?

The answer, of course, is still blowing in the wind. Was it worth it to meet fellow authors and readers in person? Yes. With so many titles being published these days, promotion is essential to discoverability. The more people who know your name and can place a face with the name, the more books you are likely to sell. That’s the theory anyway. But the reality is that the more books you write, the better you write, and the more people will want to read what you write. There is a direct relationship between quantity and quality, although it’s almost as easy to write lots of bad books as it is to write just one. What matters most, though, is what you’ve learned about the human condition that readers recognize as true in their own lives. If you are able to share your discoveries with others in a way that resonates with them, they will want to read more of what you write. It is really as simple as that. In the final analysis, it’s the writing that matters.

So next year I will stay home and write more. I was gratified when a Nebula and Hugo nominated writer I admire told people at his reading at Worldcon that Paul Dale Anderson is a fantastic writer and everyone should read Paul Dale Anderson’s books. I was thrilled when so many people showed up at my own readings at Stokercon and WFC. I was honored when readers asked me to sign copies of my novels for them.

But now it’s time to write. I have deadlines looming. I am happy to be home with my cats and my books and my computers where new works beg to be written.

I discovered a lot during my many travels and in my life’s journey from here to there and back again.

I invite you to discover me through my writings.

 

You Can Go Home Again

This weekend was like returning home for me. I attended Arcana in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Arcana Con, for those in the know, is the Midwest equivalent of NECon. Currently located at the Bandana Square Best Western Plus in St. Paul, MN, Arcana 46 was held October 21-23, 2016. It’s a fantasy convention that appeals to collectors and lovers of dark fantasy and horror.

Bandana Square once housed the Northern Pacific Railroad’s Steam Locomotive repair shops. The hotel abuts where the locomotives were painted. The building has rails embedded in the floor and the doors look big enough to admit a steam locomotive.  Freight trains still pass by within a half-block of the hotel.

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Minneapolis/St. Paul was once home to some of the biggest names in pulp fiction. William Fawcett started Fawcett Publications there with Capt. Billy’s Whiz-bang. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei started Arkham House within a stone’s throw of the Twin Cities. Science Fiction greats like Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson came from Minneapolis. Weird Tales cover artist Jon Arfstrom made his life-long home in St. Paul. Fedogan and Bremer was founded in Minneapolis. Literary agent extraordinaire Kirby McCauley got his start in Minneapolis after graduating from the University of Minnesota. John Sandford still lives and works there.

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Jon Arfstrom’s painting on the cover of The Strange Company’s edition of The Devil Made Me Do It, 1985.

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Jon Arfstrom’s portrait of me, 1986.

I began attending gatherings of Lovecraftians in Minneapolis and St. Paul in 1982 after meeting Jack Koblas and Eric Carlson at a World Fantasy Convention. Jack and Eric were editors of Etchings and Odysseys, a professionally printed small press fanzine devoted to Weird Tales-style pulp fiction. I, of course, had read most of HPL and Henry Kuttner by that time, and after Jack, Eric, and I carried on long knowledgeable conversations during the WFC, we became life-long friends (both Jack and Eric passed away much too soon, and I miss them a lot).

Jack and Eric invited me to submit an article for the special Henry Kuttner tribute issue of E&O, and they also invited me to attend MinnCon (the forerunner of ArcanaCon) the following October. I agreed to write the Kuttner article and to appear on panels at MinnCon. I also received an invitation from The Strange Company publisher R. Alain (Randy) Everts to attend MadCon in Madison, Wisconsin the following May when E&O #4 would be released with my Kuttner article in it. Randy invited me to submit original fiction to The Arkham Sampler, and he bought several of my stories (he actually paid me cash money and bought me meals at expensive restaurants). He (The Strange Company) also published The Devil Made Me do It, a collection of 20 of my early stories, and a chapbook of Love Till the End of Time. I also sold him a couple of my early down-and-dirty novels that other packagers didn’t want. Randy supposedly published them under pseudonyms. I cranked out two 65,000 word novels on a manual typewriter every month for four years, and some of them were pretty bad (downright, god-awful bad) but they helped me learn my craft.

Then I married Gretta, took a regular 9 to 5 job with a medical publisher and later with Mutual Fund Sourcebook publisher Morningstar, and my fiction output dwindled.

Gretta and I attended MadCons and MinnCons every year from 1983 until 1990. I appeared on Lovecraft and Horror panels, and Gretta appeared with other small press editors on editing and publishing panels at several of the first ArcanaCons after MadCons and MinnCons ceased and Arcana became a full-fledged annual convention instead of just a gathering of friends and Lovecraft scholars.

We stopped attending sf and fantasy conventions entirely in favor of attending professional psychology educational conferences (APA, APS, Illinois Counseling Society, NGH, and alternative healing and wellness conferences).

This year I returned to Bandana Square for ArcanaCon 46.

 

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Most of the people I knew from MinnCon and earlier AracanaCons have passed away or moved out of state. Koblas and Carlson died. Jon Arfstrom died just last year. Bob Weinberg died just last month. Randy Everts is reputed to be living in Hawaii. R. Dixon Smith is now in California. David Pudelwitz was last seen in New Mexico. Roger Gerberding no longer lives in the twin cities, but he is still alive and still painting. Audrey Parente is busy with PulpAdventureCon in New Jersey and Florida. Roger Dale Trexler was unable to make this con but promises to make next year’s ArcanaCon when the GOH will be William F. Nolan. I did spend quality time in conversation with Scott Wyatt, Eric Heideman, Dwayne Olson, and Greg Ketter of DreamHaven Books. I also got to meet the delightful Kathe Koja, this year’s ArcanaCon GOH.

What I like about ArcanaCon is the attendees are all readers and book collectors. The con is small and intimate enough to get to know everyone and talk with everyone.

Once upon a time, attendance at MinnCon was by invitation only. When it became ArcanaCon, it was opened to the public but never widely advertised. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in fandom.

To me, it’s like home.

Yes, Virginia. You really can go home again.

Finding Fraser Is A Rare Treat

Finding Frazer by kc dyer (Berkley Books, May, 2016) is a fast, fun read. Imagine a young divorcee selling everything and giving up a good-paying job (well, she was fired and the job didn’t pay all that great anyway) to travel to Europe where she hopes to find her dream lover. Every woman has their ideal man, and Emma’s dream man is a fictional character—Jamie Fraser—from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels.

Emma Sheridan’s sister, Sofia, is a doer, not a day-dreamer like Emma. Sophia and Emma are as different as night and day. Sofia has to put Emma down every chance she gets, and it is their sibling rivalry that spurs Emma on despite financial and emotional setbacks.

Working writers who do the convention circuit will certainly identify with the hilarious scene at the Philadelphia romance writers convention where fen (plural of fan) wait in line for an author’s autographs. We’ve all been there as fans or as pros, depending on which side of the table we’re on at any one time. Emma is, after all, a writer of sorts (she writes a blog about her search for Jamie Fraser), and she even has printed business cards to prove it.

The debacle in the hotel bar is funny as hell. But she does meet Jack, a real writer from Scotland, there and shares a taxi ride with him.

Emma manages to survive, though she has doubts on the way, the plane ride to Scotland. She meets Susan who robs her of all her cash, her backpack, her laptop, and her debit cards. She tours castles and cairns, runs into Jack Findlay again, and works briefly as a fish monger and a door-to-door subscription agent before becoming a waitress and renting living space in a converted barn.

And then she meets Hamish Lewis. He’s everything she had looked for in a man: handsome, rugged, an automobile and truck mechanic, and a Scot’s Highlander. His kisses arouse her passion. Emma is certain he’s the one, her very own Jamie, and she falls head over heels in lust with Hamish and his six-pack abs.

Spoiler alert: We know from the moment Emma meets Jack that he’s the perfect man for her. But Emma, of course, does not know that, can’t see the forest for the trees, and mistakenly believes Jack is married or in a relationship. She has to go through a series of misadventures before she’s matured (grown, wised up) enough to recognize Jack as handsome, intelligent, caring, a reader and researcher like Emma, and someone who’s actually been madly in love with Emma since the moment he saw her.

Emma does find Fraser, but Fraser is neither who nor what Emma thought he would be.

Very highly recommended because of the superb character development, the twists and turns along the way, and the vicarious tour of the Scottish Highlands that’s almost as good as actually being there.