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04 August 2012 @ 09:00 am
While in Texas I met Gretchen and Roxanne Rix, sponsors of the annual "Scare The Dickens Out of Us" contest on behalf of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library in Lockhart.  I entered this ghost-story writing competition twice before (once making off with a useful $500.00 Second Place Prize) and have every intention of entering again this year.  I encourage all writers within the sound of my blog to do likewise.  The prizes aren't to be sneezed at -- First Place Prize is a cool grand -- and the $20.00 entry fee goes to a good cause.  Details are available here.

Gretchen, incidentally, is also the author of Arroyo (a "paranormal western/horror/pulp/action-adventure/alternate history/legendary love story and pseudo science fiction novel"), The Cowboy's Baby, Truepenny, Saints & Sinners, When Gymkhana Smiles, and The Taking of Rhinoceros 456, most or all of which are available in Kindle editions.  She blogs, too.

For a general report on the convention, and a few pictures (including one of mine own self, slightly out of focus and looking, as a friend puts it, "rather severe"), I refer you to Gary Lee Webb.

Here on the home front, I'm reading a couple of those 100-story omnibi edited by Martin H. Greenberg &c., by way of priming the pump for ghost-story writing.  A British anthologist wants to include "The Wind Over the World" in a book he's assembling.  I have settled back into the role of The Strange Old Man Who Lives At The End Of The Street With Too Many Cats.
Current Music: Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra, "Boogie Woogie"
30 July 2012 @ 07:19 pm
I had a generally good time at ArmadilloCon this past weekend, doing everything one is supposed to do at a convention except drink to excess, stay up way late, and set fire to a hotel room.  My schedule included panel discussions of alternate history and college-level courses in science fiction, a signing (= sitting at a table in the dealers' room for an hour and talking with Cat Rambo while people ignored us), a story-reading (for five dedicated listeners; thank you for showing up, Jessica, Doug, Gretchen, J. Eddie, Lindsey), and a poetry read-off.  I spent the rest of the time renewing old acquaintances and making new ones, and came away, as I had hoped, feeling psychically recharged.  Another little perk: Scott Cupp directed me to his review of Ghost Seas.

The flight back to Nashville passed without undue incident, and I arrived in my street to find the house still standing, the cats still more or less kindly predisposed toward me, and, buried in a week's accumulation of junk mail, two copies of the October issue of Analog containing my story, "The End in Eden."  I suppose that qualifies as a happy ending.
26 July 2012 @ 04:00 pm
This evening I shift my base of operations from Molly and John's house in Kyle to jess_ka's loft in Austin.  Kyle is a smallish town, pop. 28,016, but not without its attractions -- among them, Railroad Bar-B-Cue, the Texas Pie Company, and the house in which Callie Russell Porter, later known as Katherine Anne Porter, spent her childhood.  The house has been preserved as the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center, a writer's residence.

From Kyle I have gone visiting other small communities in the area (Lockhart, where my friend and former boss Dianne lives, and charming San Marcos) as well as Austin itself.  A goodly portion of these past several days and nights, however, has been spent at "home" with Molly and John, conversing with them on a variety of topics (Jane Austen, history and alternate history, Mitt Romney), watching costume dramas (recent or, anyway, semi-recent movie and television adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Wuthering Heights) or, because they know they do not have to entertain me, reading (Austen's Persuasion, Kurt Vonnegut's Armageddon in Retrospect).  Sometimes I just go upstairs and have a delicious nap in about as comfortable a bed as I have ever known.

Things undoubtedly will become markedly less laid-back starting tomorrow, when ArmadilloCon 34 kicks off.  Stay tuned for developments.
21 July 2012 @ 10:14 am
I flew out of Nashville on schedule yesterday afternoon and got to Dallas-Fort Worth International just in time for the airport to be shut down for two hours by a severe thunderstorm.  I am the only person left in America who does not have a cellphone, so I trusted in the good sense and patience of Molly and John, who were expecting me at Bergstrom in Austin at 6:00 pm., and passed the time people-watching.  (Observation: we are a nation of slobs.)  Eventually, my fellow passengers and I were allowed to board the plane.  Then we sat parked at the loading ramp for forty-five minutes.  Then we took off and arrived at our destination half an hour later.  Then we sat on the tarmac for another half-hour, waiting to be directed to a ramp ....

But all's well that ends well, Molly and John did meet me, and we drove into Austin for a late meal at an English-style eatery, where, over a fried egg sandwich (for me) and pasties (for them), we discussed science fiction and Jane Austen.  Already I could tell I was no longer in Tennessee.

19 July 2012 @ 10:37 pm
When I got home from work this afternoon I found roofers atop my house.  Clomp! clomp! clomp! bang! bang! bang!  They finished the job (including clean-up) in fading light and departed, and then my poor traumatized cats drifted in one by one to give me reproachful looks.  They're in for more trauma tomorrow and for the next week or so, as more strangers (actually, my mother and my grand-nephew Zach) will be feeding them while I disport myself in Austin, Texas.

The preliminary ArmadilloCon 34 program schedule is now available for inspection.  I'm slated to participate in a Poetry Round-Robin Reading and two panel discussions, "SF 101: A Reading List for a College Course" and (with Howard Waldrop at my side) "Alternate History: The Way Things Weren't."  I find these prospects far more interesting than some I've faced at past conventions; perhaps I do in fact still have something to say to a science-fiction audience.
29 June 2012 @ 08:44 pm
Another weekend, another funeral -- this time, that of my former sister-in-law's 91-year-old mother, whose husband, age 93, died some while ago.  During the fifteen years since I moved back to Tennessee and in so doing returned to the bosom of my family, I have lost the last four of my aunts, an uncle, a cousin, a grandfather, a niece, and a father.  It's enough to make a fellow reach for the rum, though for the moment I am resisting the temptation.

In other news, an inspector from my insurance company crawled atop the house this morning (in brutal heat, 106° F.) and concurred that, yes, I do indeed need and shall get a new roof.

Recent/current reading matter: Ravelstein, by Saul Bellow; In My Father's Court, by Isaac Bashevis Singer; The Founding Fish (= shad), by John McPhee; Mark Roseman's The Wannsee Conference and The Final Solution: A Reconsideration; David J. Silbey's A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902; and Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee's The Life and Death of Planet Earth: How the New Science of Astrobiology Charts the Ultimate Fate of Our World.  Those last three deal, respectively, with Nazis, naked imperialism, and the extinction of all life on Earth.  I may be slightly unclear on the concept of "light summer reading."
Current Music: Tony Bennett, "The Best is Yet to Come"
24 June 2012 @ 06:14 pm
Yesterday my mother, my two brothers, and I drove to Henderson, Kentucky, for the funeral of her brother/our uncle and the graveside service in Dawson Springs.  Afterward we visited the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Madisonville, where my maternal grandparents, my father, my sister, and the odd aunt or two are buried.  My mother was in a recollective frame of mind.  I learned that Dawson Springs, now little more than a stretch of two-lane blacktop lined with tired-looking houses, had once been one of those places, complete with fine hotel, to which gouty folk repaired to take the waters; it was also where we boarded a train in 1951 to travel to New York City, thence, to England by ship.  And my mother told the tale of a local widow who, in the depths of the Great Depression, walked six miles each way each day to work at a school cafeteria so that she could bring leftovers home to feed her six children.

The rest of the weekend has been given over to recovering from so much driving, and to reading: Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, Diane Johnson's Lulu in Marrakech, Selected Poems by Randall Jarrell.  As may be seen by my choice of music, I am now resorting to rhythm 'n' blues in a last-ditch effort to stir the blood.
Current Music: Sam and Dave, "Soul Man"
08 June 2012 @ 09:14 pm
I have given over this first week of June to catching up on movies and reading voraciously.  A while back, my little town finally got its very own cineplex, the Malco, and in early May I did go there to see The Avengers (in 3-D, no less).  I much prefer, however, to scoop up a handful of DVDs at 99 cents a pop from Captain Video & Tanning and watch them in the privacy and seclusion of chez Utley.  The bill of fare: two films, Capote (2005) and Infamous (2006), about Truman Capote's relationship with the murderer Perry Smith, The Last King of Scotland (2006), Frost/Nixon (2008), Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), a fine remake of True Grit (2010) with Jeff Bridges, and The Quick and the Dead (1995), sort of an American spaghetti western starring Gene Hackman as Henry Fonda and Sharon Stone as Charles Bronson.

My recent reading matter has been a mixed lot of mystery (Georges Simenon's Maigret and the Killer and Earl Derr Biggers' Keeper of the Keys), history (Elizabeth's London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London, by Liza Picard -- whose Victorian London: The Life of a City 1840-1870 I had read earlier this year -- Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine, by Jasper Becker, and The Ransom of Russia, by John McPhee), and what-not (Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury's Holy Sh*t! The World's Weirdest Comic Books, e.g., All-Negro Comics, Tales From the Leather Nun, Fatman the Human Flying Saucer). 

I had previously read only John McPhee's Annals of the Former World trilogy -- indispensable when I was writing Silurian tales -- but other works of his patiently wait on the bookshelf: The Founding Fish, Heirs of General Practice, Looking for a Ship, The Crofter and the Laird.  In The Ransom of Russia he relates how (I quote here from the dustjacket flap), "In the 1960s and 1970s, an American professor of Soviet economics forayed on his own in the Soviet Union, bought the work of underground 'unofficial' artists, and brought it out himself or arranged to have it illegally shipped to the United States.  Norton Dodge visited the apartments of unofficial artists in at least a dozen geographically scattered cities.  By 1977, he had a thousand works of art.  His ultimate window of interest involved the years from 1956 to 1986, and through his established contacts he eventually acquired another eight thousand works -- by far the largest collection of its kind."

Currently at my bedside are Leigh Brackett's Shannach -- The Last: Farewell to Mars, 100 Creepy Little Creature Stories assembled by the editorial team of Martin H. Greenberg And Two Other Guys, and Young Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby's Romance Comics.  Joe Simon and Jack Kirby launched Young Romance, the first comic book of its kind, in 1947, some years after they had already made a name for themselves as the co-creators of Captain America and other high-octane action series.  They were never afraid to try something new, and usually they pulled it off.  Young Romance was a smash hit from the git-go and inspired countless imitations during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Current Music: Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, "Get in the Kitchen"
07 June 2012 @ 07:22 am
Ray Bradbury, who died this week after a long and fruitful life, was My Main Man, the person who lighted the fire in my soul to become a writer almost half a century ago.  I know of at least 837 other writers who would say the same.
31 May 2012 @ 06:17 pm
The high point of this week, thus far, has been the arrival -- long-anticipated, long-delayed -- of The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer and published in the UK under the Corvus imprint.  This is an 1100-page trade paperback comprising about three quarters of a million words by more than a hundred writers, "an anthology of writing so powerful," according to The Guardian, "it will leave your reality utterly shredded."  Well, that's laying it on a bit thick, actually, but I certainly cannot complain about the company I keep between these covers: Franz Kafka, Robert Aickman, Joyce Carol Oates, Harlan Ellison, Lisa Tuttle, Ray Bradbury, Julio Cortazar, Jorge Luis Borges, James Tiptree, Jr., Joanna Russ, and Lord Dunsany, to name just a very few.
Current Music: Doc Watson, "Country Blues"