Friday, October 29, 2021

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Peter Wolf hit it big with "Come As You Are" in 1987. I remember an article in Rolling Stone or somesuch that covered how Wolf compiled his album out of songs originally rejected by the J.Geils Band, which I found fascinating. Not so fascinating was his video, which featured Wolf bizarrely hopping around a 1950s town. It wasn't necessarily a bad video, but the era of MTV (or Friday Night Videos, because I didn't get MTV in my small Texas town) it was just baffling. It wasn't until decades later that I realized this video is almost a jump-for-jump homage to Bobby Van's 1953 performance of "Take Me To Broadway" From the film "Small Town Girl." After comparing the two, I'm much more impressed by Wolf's video.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Men At Work.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Sheriff T.J. Flournoy (1902-1982)

On this date in 1982, Fayette County Sheriff T.J. "Jim" Flournoy died at the age of 80. Big Jim, as he was known, was the longest-serving sheriff in Fayette County history, had a two-year run as a Texas Ranger during World War II and several stints as a deputy in various jurisdictions. He shot to fame, of course, by defending the Chicken Ranch brothel when KTRK-TV newsman Marvin Zindler campaigned to shut it down. Zindler returned to La Grange on December 30, 1974 to do a follow-up story, and that's where he encountered Sheriff Flournoy. The altercation ended with the Sheriff stomping on Zindler's toupée in the middle of the street, and Zindler heading back to Houston with several cracked ribs. Lawsuits flew back and forth for years, before the two eventually settled out of court.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is available from both and It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

In which Jayme rages at the machine

In my Armadillocon 43 report, I mentioned that I came home from the convention enthused and inspired to write, but all that positive energy had a downside to that. This is the post in which I lay into that, pissing and moaning whilst I wallow in self-pity. I normally try to keep my personal angst pretty close to the vest, but I feel the need for an unfettered vent, professionalism be damned. If this is the kind of self-flagellation you like, read on. If public tantrums make you queasy, then you'd best avert your eyes. If overly-long navel-gazing grates on your nerves, then I recommend fleeing to distant corners of the interwebz, post haste.

I've made no secret that I haven't written much fiction in the past two years. I'd managed good progress on my Sailing Venus novel through most of 2018, but that petered out around the 2/3 mark. Writer's block wasn't the problem, antipathy was. I developed an aversion to writing. I went into Armadillocon hoping to get my creative juices flowing again, and by golly, it worked. I returned home ready to jump right into it. My first order of business was to submit a couple of stories to market.

This is where things went sideways for me. For reasons convoluted and boring, I'd ended up with a whole bunch of files corrupted a year or so back, including my story submission record dating back to 1996. I've not done a thorough housecleaning and reconstruction of the mess that are my fiction files, so that's on me. But to submit a story, I have to double check all my emails to ensure I hadn't already subbed a particular story to a particular market (an imperfect science, at best) and then review said story to ensure, say, the text doesn't suddenly reverse direction halfway through. Realize that I haven't looked at most of my writings for several years, and while I have broad feelings of fondness for my works, I do not retain detailed memories of my writings. As I'm skimming over the words, there is an unfamiliarity to them. Whilst I recall the narrative in a general manner, the characters, scenes and details are wholly new to me. It's as if I'm reading something written by someone else's hand. The novelty doesn't wear off, but rather intensifies the deeper I get into each story. I start out thinking, "Heh. This isn't bad," rapidly progress to, "This is actually rather good," to, "Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, this kicks all kinds of ass!"*

Please understand I share this with no intent of hubris. Having published a bit of fiction in professional markets over the years, plus 30 years or so as a continuously working journalist, my writing skills on a technical level are a given. It's my storytelling ability that comes into question. Over the years I've served as an instructor in numerous writers workshops, worked as a fiction editor for RevolutionSF where stories I published earned multiple Year's Best honorable mentions from various quarters, and survived multiple Turkey City Writers Workshops as a participant. Objectively, I can recognize when a story works and when it doesn't. Objectively speaking, these stories of mine that barely remembered didn't just work, they sang with the angels. The startled me, surprised me, made me laugh, made me weep. Again, it was as if I was reading the work of somebody else. When I could not fathom how a particular conundrum would resolve, I was wowed by my past self's elegant solution. Just to be sure I wasn't wholly deluding myself, I dug out another older work of mine, one I remembered as a valiant effort but ultimately a failure, and read it. I experienced much the same as with the previous stories, but instead of growing delight, I experienced increasing unease. Flaws unremembered and unexpected crept into view. The central idea, which I once thought clever, revealed itself to be merely pedestrian. I'd long held the notion that I would return to this story and fix it once sufficient time had passed to give me perspective, but revisiting it now laid those thoughts to rest. It was not a good story. It was not terrible, either, but rather firmly mediocre. I may well be deluding myself, but this sufficiently confirmed a level of objectivity toward my own works, given sufficient distance from their initial creation.

It was at this point I became angry. It started as a mere flickering ember but soon erupted into a Krakatoa-esque geyser of molten rage and explosive victimhood. There was nothing wrong with these stories. On the contrary, they were as good as anything published in the past 20 years, and a damn sight better than most. I am a fucking good writer! I've lost sight of that fact over the past few years, but it's true. I haven't alwasys been, to be sure, and there's no guarantee that I always will be, but right now at this particular point in time that is a statement of fact. And it enrages me that these stories have not been published. That every single one of them have multiple rejections weighing them down, making me question their worth.

It's galling. I look at one story, the first unequivocally excellent story I ever wrote (I had professional publications by this time, oh yes) and remember how a veteran SF author read it and told me it could very well win the Nebula Award. Another SF author, even more veteran than the first, opined that they thought the ending went on maybe a page too long, but other than that it was very good and would sell quickly. I look at another story that one well-known editor dismissed out of hand because of an "error" on page 2. It wasn't an error at all, of course, but it stung that a professional with whom I was well acquainted with didn't trust me more as a writer. Another couple stories were rejected by another editor because they didn't have happy endings. There are more, of course, excuses not to buy my work, not reasons. The worst of all is the dreaded "Not what we're looking for at this time."

And that's the crux: Anyone in this game long enough knows that editors aren't ever looking for manuscripts to publish. They get far too many submissions for that kind of luxury. No, they're looking for reasons to reject submissions. I, along with every other competent writer out there, we're not competing with the 90% of submissions that are mediocre. Those submitted with sans-serif fonts and ALL CAPS reject themselves. No, the good writers are all competing against each other... but even that's not entirely true. We're competing for the editor's attention, yes, but it ultimately comes down to personal taste. An editor can recognize two stories as equal in quality, but choose one over the other because the cadence of the sentence structure, or the evocative descriptions, or even something as mundane as the character names appealing to them more in one than the other. Writers who break out often have the good fortune of finding an editor who groks their style and looks forward to the next submission. They become a literary advocate, as it were. One editor publishes an author regularly, and others take notice. Readers take notice. The uncertainty of public taste still comes into play, and it is incumbent upon the author to continue an output of quality fiction, but all things being equal, finding an editor on your same wavelength is what every author hopes for, if they ever give such things a thought.

I, for one, am sick and tired of being second runner-up.

The fact that my writing career is perpetually stuck in neutral is as much my own fault as anything, mind you. I am clear-eyed about that. As a writer, I am not prolific. I'm not disciplined enough to produce the volume of work I am capable of. I have too many novels abandoned before reaching the halfway mark. In the late 2000s, the one time in my life where I had multiple short fiction sales in succession and was producing new short stories on a regular basis, I feel I was approaching the fabled "critical mass" where productivity and sales would begin to feed into each other, resulting in a self-sustaining literary cold fusion of sorts. It was at that point I put my fiction career on hold and spent the next six years researching and writing a non-fiction history of the La Grange Chicken Ranch--a book nobody asked for and one most publishers and all literary agents viewed as a quixotic folly at best. The fact that certain populations I'd looked to for support dismissed the book as meaningless or turned their collective backs on me en mass stung. I've got to be honest here, I'm still a little bitter. I got great support from many folks hither and yon, some of whom cheered me on from day one, but people in positions to make a difference in its success or failure washed their hands of me. I'm proud of Inside the Chicken Ranch, but also feel it was form of career suicide. Hell, even my interview collection, Voices of Vision, was completely kneecapped by the most nightmare-inducing cover ever inflicted upon a book by my well-meaning but utterly clueless publisher. More people came up to me and said they'd like to buy the book but wouldn't because the cover art disturbed them than actually bought the book. No lie--I've got the publishing reports to back it up.

Even when I break through the breaks still seem to go against me (yes, I'm whining here. It's my blog. Roll with it). A decade ago I sold "The Makeover Men" to HelixSF. This was the most provocative story I'd ever written, an envelope-pushing examination of toxic masculinity and misogyny that took me to some insanely dark places. I recognized that it would be an easy story to misinterpret, so braced myslef for potentially nasty blowback... that never came. Nothing came, actually. A near as I can tell, nobody ever read that story. Nobody commented. No reaction whatsoever. It vanished without a trace. Not too long after that, I was fortunate enough to have "The Final Voyage of La Riaza" published in Interzone. It was intended to be the cover story--which would've been my first! Art was commissioned, gorgeous artwork, but then at the last minute I was bumped from the cover. I was sorely disappointed, but happy for the publication. Some time after the fact, I learned that Gardner Dosois had read it and been impressed enough to include it in his annual Best SF volume for that year... except that my story was almost 12,000 words long, so in the end he talked himself into bumping my story and instead running three other, much shorter stories by other authors instead. But hey, all was not lost! Another annual best-of anthology also read my story and was impressed with it. Impressed enough to not bump it in favor multiple shorter stories. Yes, my story was all set to be featured in this volume... except that the publisher had fallen behind schedule, and in order to get back on track made the executive decision to cancel that year's best of volume outright and just skip ahead to the next years. There's more where that came from, a parade of examples where the universe went out of its way to screw with me.

Fuck that shit.

I've got half a dozen stories that should've seen publication years ago, yet still languish, homeless, like some literary Island of Misfit Stories. In the decades since I made my first professional sale, the markets have contracted significantly. There are fewer places to sell short fiction today than there was back then, and there will be still fewer tomorrow. To make matters worse, most markets have gone to an electronic submissions format. In general, this is good--I spent a shit ton on postage back in the day, single-handedly keeping the U.S. Postal Service solvent, so my bank account appreciates the relief. But electronic submissions allows markets to permanently record and archive all submissions, and I've run into some that absolutely refuse to allow resubmissions even after an editorial change. I'm sorry, but my story is pre-rejected because an editor three years prior with entirely different tastes from the current one didn't buy it? That's some serious bullshit there. Compounding matters is the fact that my seemingly natural storytelling length falls within the 10,000-12,000 word range, which vanishingly few markets will even consider. Hell, there's one market that explicitly states it will consider works shorter than 6,000 words and longer than 17,000 words, but nothing in between. I feel personally attacked. How can I not?

The punch line, of course, is that every professional writer out there feels the same way. These demons are universal--only the details change. There are aspiring writers who would desperately love to attain my level of success. There are full-time pro writers who are prolific, sell practically everything they write and live in borderline poverty, envious of my stable income afforded by my day job. The grass is always greener, right? I don't begrudge any writer their success. I've known authors far more talented than I whose promising careers went into a steep nose dive because of the publisher's miscalculations. Some miraculously recovered and are now enjoying unprecedented poularity. Others were unable to arrest that death spiral and, sadly, are no longer with us. I celebrate all of their works.

When I look at my works, I see the three best things I've ever written languishing and gathering dust, while other stories I've written since then that are objectively lesser works find homes in various markets... there is no reason in this world. Deserve's got nothing to do with it. I'm nothing special, and the universe--much less the publishing universe--doesn't owe me any special treatment.

But that doesn't mean I won't stoke my anger like an overclocked boiler on a runaway steam locomotive, fueling my creative fires until I am finally, completely creatively spent or the world's editors pull their collective heads out of their collective butts and finally recognize my prose for its inherent brilliance. Whichever comes first.

*To answer the unacknowledged elephant in the room, yes, I made new submissions that very night. Less than 24 hours later I received my first "does not suit our needs" rejection, which did wonders for my disposition, I can assure you.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

That was the Armadillocon that was (2021 edition)

I am clearly getting old. How else to explain my intent to write this post-con report up on Sunday evening, and here it is Tuesday with the relatively brief recap still in progress? Bah!

Anyway, here's my Cliff's Notes version: I attended Armadillocon 43 this past weekend. It was a pleasant, yet odd experience. I attended no conventions in 2020 because of the pandemic, obviously. In 2019 I was only able to attend Armadillocon one day, and participated in no programming, so being back in the thick of things was not unlike trying to relearn atrophied muscle memory. Other factors contributed to the slightly out-of-sync vibe of the weekend: Because of COVID (naturally) attendance was depressed. There were fewer attendees this year, and many long-time program participants chose to not attend. For a convention that thrives in no small part on annual reunions of friends and acquaintances who don't see each other for the remainder of the year, this was a significant absence. Fortunately, Armadillocon partially made up for this with an aggressive outreach effort to authors who'd never attended before, so I got to see a bunch of fresh new faces that were as insightful and clever as they were talented.

The con itself had excellent health and safety protocols. Proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test was necessary for admission, and masking in social situations was required. The downside to this was that very few mass gatherings of authors and fans for round-robin conversations in the bar and lobby area just didn't seem to happen. Conversations were smaller affairs, limited to small handfuls of folks, many of which migrated to hotel rooms and therefore not readily accessible if one didn't get in on the ground floor, so to speak. The result was an unusually subdued convention that appeared to close up shop rather earlier than usual.

I don't frame this as a complaint, but rather an impartial observation. For my part, I was up exceptionally late Thursday before the convention and therefore arrived in a state of sleep deprivation. Insomnia decided to pay me a visit Friday and Saturday nights, so I was punchy by sundown and in no condition for late night con shenanigans. Curse this aging body! Despite that, Armadillocon did exactly what I'd hoped it would do: Infuse me with energy and enthusiasm for my fiction and get those creative juices flowing. Because here's the thing: I've barely written any fiction in the past two years. Apart from a nifty collaboration with Don Webb and my finally getting around to completing a short story I started writing nine years ago, the cupboard had been bare. Which explains why my Venus novel remains in a perpetual state of incompletion. It's not that I had writer's block, writer's indifference is more like it. Or maybe writer's aversion. I just had no interest or desire to write. Armadillocon remedied that, for the time being at least. I came home brimming with ideas and concepts and Jonesing to dive back into fiction, so yay! There's an unfortunate downside that stemmed from that, but I'll save that for another blog post.

Friday's Writers Workshop proved a great experience. I'd not participated as an instructor for maybe six years, and I missed it. I was partnered with Britta Jensen who was a soothing, encouraging yin to my demonstrative, prescriptive yang. The submissions in our group were intriguing and broadly competent, which isn't something that can always be said about writers workshop manuscripts. One was damn near publishable already, another was maybe a draft or two away from the same status, and the other two manuscripts had some problems to overcome but excellent worldbuilding and lots of potential. Curiously, all the submissions I critiqued were first novel chapters, no short fiction at all. I moderated the "Building Your Brand" panel for the workshop, which could've been more accurately called the guerilla marketing panel, but I think we muddled through okay and, as usual, smarter people on the panel pulled us over the finish line.

There's a saying I've heard in the past: If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room. The idea is that the way to improve oneself is to learn from those who are more intelligent, more skilled, more talented. In that context, I was never in the wrong room the entire weekend. I'll wager I got something of an unexpected tan, so much basking I did in reflected creative genius.

I attended two readings, one by Mark Finn and the other by the afore-mentioned Don Webb. Both were entertaining, and if you know either of them, exactly the kind of story one would expect to hear from such fonts of creative fiction-making.

My panels went swimmingly: Conventions from a Con-Runner's and Participant's POV with David Chang, Rhonda Eudaly, Brad Foster and Sarah Felix; Cli-Fi with Chris Brown, Sim Kern and Alexis Glynn Latner; and Writing YA Fiction with Kathleen Baldwin, David Anthony Dunham (who I bought a copy of Pride of Carthage from, but inexplicably forgot to have him sign it) and S.G. Wilson.

Aside from the panels, I had varying great conversations with Scott Cupp, Rick Klaw (who I kinda sorta agreed with on the King Kong vs. Godzilla panel), Jessica Reisman, Mikal Trimm, Jess Nevins, Jeremy Brett, Lawrence Person and my sworn arch-enemy, Stina Leicht. Apologies to everyone I left out--the slight is unintentional. I also came home with a carnivorous sundew plant from Texas Triffid Ranch, so that's something. Until next year!

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Thursday, October 14, 2021

Armadillocon off the port bow!

Heh. I never get tired of that blog post title.

Armadillocon returns to in-person festivities for the 2021 after the COVID disruption of 2020, and I will be in attendence. They have a rigorous health and safety protocol in place, so I feel comfortable that it won't be a breeding ground for COVID infections. I'm quite looking forward to seeing folks who've been absent from my radar for quite some time.

On Friday I'll be one of the instructors in the writers workshop. I haven't been an instructor for several years and am jazzed to get back into the saddle. I feel I can often see the potential in others' fiction where my own work just leaves me stymied. Hopefully I'll impart some good advice this weekend. My other panels include:

  • Saturday 1-2 p.m. Conventions from a Con-Runner’s and Participant’s POV
    J. L. Blaschke, D. Chang, R. Eudaly*, B. Foster, S. Felix
    What does it take to run a good convention? What are the con-runners hoping to achieve? What do the participants want out of a convention? How to we get these two perspectives to line up to make the perfect con?
  • Saturday 7-8 p.m. Cli-Fi
    C. Brown, J. L. Blaschke, S. Kern, A. Latner*
    Climate fiction, or cli-fi, features a changed or changing climate as a major plot element. We dicuss pioneering and current writers and works, along with suggestions on writing in the genre.
  • Sunday 11 a.m.-noon Writing YA Fiction
    K. Baldwin, J. L. Blaschke*, D. A. Durham
    How to craft stories that capture the interest of tweens and teens.
  • Sunday 2-3 p.m. Autographing
    J. L. Blaschke, S. Leicht, A. Royer

Drop in and say hi if you're in the area. Hope to see you there!

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Friday, October 08, 2021

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

It's a shame Men At Work didn't enjoy more success than they did, because they were a fun band and Colin Hay was (is) a talented performer. I quite like his solo work, although that never enjoyed a fraction of the success Men At Work did. They always had a healthy sense of humor in their music, which often took a skewed view of society. Case in point: "Who Can It Be Now? which is infectious and probably the group's second-most popular song.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Whitehorse.

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Monday, October 04, 2021

A Moment of Tiki: Witco Rescue and Oceanic Arts

A Moment of Tiki Episode 33: Witco Rescue
Once again, I'm cramming two months' worth of A Moment of Tiki into one blog post. Earlier this summer, Secrets By Miss Lisa and I embarked on a road trip out west to take in as much tiki as humanly possible. These two episodes are a direct result of that trip. First up is Episode 33: Witco Rescue, my October installment which is now live on the YouTubes! Whilst killing time in Tuscon as we waited for the venerable Kon-Tiki to open, we stopped into a Goodwill. There, on the shelves, was a pile of lumber marked "carved wood" for an insanely low price. I've heard stories of folks happening upon vintage Witco pieces at garage sales and thrift stores before, but never has such a thing happened to me. Until now. Spoiler alert: I take it home, restore it and make it a centerpiece in our home.

The other video I have for you is my installment for September, Episode 32: Oceanic Arts, in which I pay a visit to the No. 1 supplier of all things tiki worldwide. Located in Whittier, California, Oceanic Arts was founded in 1956 by LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting and has had a hand in pretty much every major tropical build that has happened since that time. They supplied materials to Walt Disney for the construction of the Enchanted Tiki Room, as well as to the Thornton family for the build-out of the famed Mai Kai. Oceanic Arts is everywhere, and a visit there is an experience in sensory overload.

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