Thursday, December 31, 2009

Know Your Rights

These are the things:


A warm, dry place to live.




Time to enjoy these things.

I am reminded of the song by The Clash, "Know Your Rights", about imposed limitations.

These are things I think of when I stop to review my life until now.

The only real path to freedom in the western world is through money. It opens the doors and allows you access to the road without having to worry about freezing to death, starving to death, or being arrested for being poor.

I was pondering my writing life.

I started writing fiction when I was eight years old. I was spurred into this by my third-grade buddy, Billy Bridges. We would write Godzilla stories and exchange them. But I quickly grew bored with Godzilla and moved on to writing stuff about my own inventions.

When I was in my mid-20s I started trying to sell my work. It was time to get serious about it. At first, I managed to place short works in magazines that paid in copies. Later, I sold tales to small press publications that paid anywhere from 1/2 cent per word to 3 cents per word.

All the time I was at this work, I would wonder what it would be like to:

sell my first story...(it was nice)...

sell my first comic script...(a great achievement for me)...

appear in a hardback anthology...(that one was electric)...

appear in a mass market paperback anthology...(I loved seeing it on the shelves in the bookstores)...

have a story in a widely circulated newsstand magazine...(Hey...almost famous!)...

edit an anthology...(a special kind of satisfaction)...

sell a novel (that was indeed a rush).

I kept thinking that each of these goals would electrify me and fill me with contentment and satisfaction. But as I reached each goal, I just kept wanting to hit the next mark, climb the next peak, see over the following ridge.

The novel sale to Five Star and seeing it in hardback in 2006 was truly a thrill. But I still wanted to keep moving. I wanted to sell another novel, of course, but more than that I wanted to move out of the smaller publishers and into the realm of one of the big, New York publishing firms.

Now I've done that. It feels really good to achieve that goal. I've been chipping away at this slab of marble for almost thirty years. It's taking shape, at long last. Eventually, I'll reach my next publishing goal. I won't say here what it is, but I've got a feeling I'll reach it.

I'm single-minded that way.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I Know What John Muir Meant

"Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean." -- John Muir

Living here in Charlotte, it generally takes me about two hours of driving to reach a place in the mountains. Ironically, just about the easiest place for me to reach is the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. You'd think I'd spend more time there, but I don't.

Today I woke up and had to run a few errands. I'd sold some copies of THE FLOCK and had to ship those. And I needed to send some gifts to friends. So that took some time away from my day off, but I really needed to get into the woods to escape the city for at least a few hours. Luckily, we here in the Charlotte area have a safety valve for that kind of thing. We have Crowders Mountain State Park located just southwest of the city near the town of Gastonia.

After I'd run my errands, I loaded my daypack and camera and headed to the park. It took me roughly forty minutes to drive there and I was quickly on the trail to the summit of Kings Pinnacle, the highest point in Gaston County.

As mountains go, this wouldn't even make the definition in places where there are real mountains. Its elevation is just a bit over 1700 feet above sea level, and it
doesn't quite show 900 feet of relief above the surrounding Piedmont. But it does rise abruptly, and the summit is ringed by towering cliffs of quartzite rock. And due to chance and the efforts of some local people with the help of the State of North Carolina, the summits of Crowder Mountain and Kings Pinnacle and several thousand surrounding acres were spared from development and locked up into a state park.

It's where I go when I'm desperate to get away from the city, but don't have the time to drive into the real high country farther west. The Interstate is situated about a mile west of the park and from the ridge lines you can both see and hear the constant roar of the chrome blood rushing along its surface. But if you get the bulk of the mountain between yourself and the highway, you
are greeted with nothing but the wind and blessed silence.

Today, I went hiking there. The skies were clear and blue. The weather was fine and cool. Chilly breezes blew over me and washed me clean.

On the roof of Gaston County: Kings Pinnacle.
(I love Photostitch!)

The lower slopes.

Crowders Mountain to the north.

Bushwhacking off trail.

Composite view of the north section of the summit area.

Summit Film.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Four Colors!

I went to a local comic convention yesterday. Called the Charlotte Comicon, it's a good place for me to go two or three times a year to give myself a hit of comic book geekdom. I admittedly collect a few titles from my childhood, and this place is a good one for me to fill in the holes in that collection.

On this trip I nabbed a DYNAMO #4, copies of FANTASTIC FOUR #19, #21, and #24. I also landed some hard to find Steve Ditko comics.

Plus, I got to watch the crowds, hang out with some old friends, and see some Star Wars costume folk. As always, I had a great time!

Tiny stormtrooper. Yeah, he was a cute kid having a blast.

I never get tired of looking at all of those vibrant colors!

The crowd was really intense at times. They had hundreds of attendees at the show.

Comic artists Al Bigley (seated) and Budd Root (behind him).

This huge banner was on the parking deck across the street from the parking deck I was on. This is really neat when you realize that this giant anti-smoking banner is on display in the largest city in the state that had the most wealth from the tobacco industry.

Crowded Show.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

It's Okay to Cheer

Animals are not automatons. People are not always assholes.

One thing you should notice. The big squirrel does not abandon the little one. Animals feel. They have a wide range of emotions. They plan. They know fear, contentment, satisfaction, love, and more.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Christmas of Cairo

In my mind, this will always be the Christmas of Cairo. She was a great presence around the tree the past few days. The activity of setting it up and putting down the presents excited her to no end. She went tearing around the room at light speed. She jumped and tumbled and bounced and seemed to be everywhere at once. Andy's all grown up and moved out, so it was almost like having a little child around.

This year's tree, Christmas morning, just before the opening of the gifts.

Cairo hides under some wrapping paper as we were wrapping Carole's mom's presents Christmas morning. Lilly looks to see what's happenin'.

An excited Cairo is temporarily put into custody by Carole.

Andy and Cairo.

Cairo kitty runs out of steam.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Raymond Scott

I've always thought that Raymond Scott was one of the most interesting cats of all time. He wrote amazing music. The fact that much of that music ended up soundtracking Looney Tunes films is beside the point. It was just brainy stuff, all around.

Apparently his son is doing a documentary about his dad. Long overdue.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

This has always been my favorite Youtube Christmas video.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Writing Announcement

The original cover to the first edition of the novel from Five Star Books. Art is by Thorsten Grambow. The editions from Five Star are now out of print.

My agent for all-things FLOCK related (Robert L. Fleck) sold the mass market rights to my novel THE FLOCK. He'd been busy moving those rights for several months and he locked up a deal that's been in the works since September.

Tor Books will be producing the paperback, and have also purchased rights to the sequel, THE CLAN. I'm looking forward to working with Tor in the coming months.

The ultra-cool artwork by my pal Mark Masztal done as a test cover for a proposed comic book series for THE FLOCK.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cairo Kitty, writing announcement

Xmas is keeping me exceptionally busy this year. I can't slow down for even a day. So here's a couple of shots of a cute kitten to hold me over until I can write something substantial.

My agent tells me a major publishing deal is brewing for me. I'll post the details as soon as I get the all-clear.

Cairo thinks she's in charge of the house. In a way...she really is.

Surveying her domain.

Good old Fritz Hollings speaks his mind. Too bad he's retired.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winterizing the Casita

Some years we use the Casita all during winter. So I don't really ever close it up for the season. Usually. But I figured this winter was going to be a year when we weren't going to have much time for traveling and camping. So for the past week I've had the heat on in the trailer so that the pipes wouldn't freeze up.

Today I emptied the water lines, blew them out with an air compressor, and then drained the hot water tank. After that I added the RV anti-freeze to the main tank and ran the taps until the stuff was running throughout the system.

After that I dragged out the cover and for the first time in two years I covered our fiberglass egg. It was a bit sad. There have been some years when we went camping twelve out of twelve months. But I can't see getting back on the road with the travel trailer again until March or maybe April. So out came the cover and on it went.

Getting ready to cover the Casita. Ladder and cover waiting.

Setting the stage.

Cover on the roof, getting ready to situate it and clip it on and tie it down.

90% done.

Almost done. Only things left to do is unhook the power, stow the cords, and lock the door. Back on the road in 2010!

Life is fun with a bit of irony. As I was setting my Casita into its artificial cocoon, I found this real-life cocoon attached to the covering. I don't know what kind of bug it is, so I set it back into a fold on the trailer cover. I hope it survives.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Alligators (and me)

When I was a very young kid and living in southern Georgia, I recall that those days saw the greatest wane of the alligator population. If you wanted to see one, you generally had to go to a place like a state park. In most other locations they were all but extinct. They'd been hunted pretty much to death wherever such hunting could not be regulated (or stopped).

As I got older and protections for alligators were enforced, the populations quickly rebounded. By the time I was in my early 20s, one could encounter the big critters just about everywhere there was an open stretch of fresh or brackish water. They were all over the place.

Another thing that was believed in those days was that alligators were pretty much harmless when it came to humans. There were, of course, alligator attacks recorded in books and newspaper articles. But these were considered strange and isolated occurrences. I read the popular ideas on the subject and bought into them. There was nothing, really, to be afraid of when it came to alligators. They just didn't look upon people as food.

In fact, I went through a brief period during which I earned some extra spending cash by diving for golf balls in various golf courses on Jekyll Island, Georgia. My pal Scott and I would walk onto the golf course with our snorkels and burlap sacks and take turns diving into the lakes to retrieve the lost balls. Our only tip of the hat to alligators was that we would carry small tridents with us (yes, somehow Scott actually owned a couple of real tridents) to push gators in the snout if one were to happen to get too close. And, a couple of times, we'd take turns watching for the reptiles while one of us dove for golf balls.

At times, the alligators would get relatively close to us. But mainly they'd swim away as soon as we walked up to the lakes and went into their water. The stories I'd read about the critters seemed to be true, reinforcing my impression of the big, cold-blooded galoots.

Over the course of a couple of weeks, Scott and I worked our way through the course, emptying the lakes of their treasure. Eventually, we got to a particularly large lake on the back nine. This one, we knew. would be the motherload of golf balls. As we hiked to the lake shore on that initial trip, we were greeted by a blur of motion and a huge splash. We looked down just in time to see a really large alligator racing into the lake.

"Damn," I said. "How big do you suppose he is?" I asked Scott.

"Nine feet, easy," he said. "I think we should take turns watching."

I agreed.

As I waded into the water to start diving, Scott called out to me and pointed across the lake. He was indicating an even larger alligator on the opposite bank. It was sunning itself on the verge of the shore. "Damn," he said. "Ten or eleven feet, at least. Maybe bigger," he added.

"Just let me know if you see him head this way." And then I was under water.

The lake was packed with golf balls. This was, indeed, the mother load. The entire floor of the lake was a carpet of untouched golf balls just waiting for us to harvest them. I started grabbing them as fast as I could and jamming them into the sack. After a few minutes I stood up on the soft bottom of the lake, my shoulders breaking the surface. Scott's voice came immediately to me.



"That alligator. The big one. He's gone! I turned away for a second and he just wasn't there anymore!"

I froze and began to scan the water. Indeed, the big gator was no longer at his post on the shore on the far side of the lake. "Where do you think he went?" I said.

And no sooner had those words passed my lips than the alligator bobbed to the surface of the water about five feet in front of me.

"Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck," I said.

"Get out," Scott hissed.

He didn't need to say a thing, of course, and I quickly backed out of the lake. I was never so happy to feel solid earth beneath my feet.

"Let's get the hell out of here," I said. Scott agreed, and we never returned.

Looking back on my brief career as a golf ball thief, I realize that we were very lucky not to have become an intriguing statistic in a book of human/wildlife conflicts. That last alligator was, indeed, a monster--probably 500 pounds or more. Either of us would certainly have been nothing more than a victim if it had chosen to attack.

I also believe that those books and articles I'd read about the relative harmlessness of alligators were pretty much correct. But they were based on flawed evidence. The fact is that humans had killed off the largest of the alligators in the South. There just weren't very many large gators left. That is...the kind of animal that was so big that a 150 or 200 pound human would be a meal. The alligators that were ten, twelve, fifteen feet in length just weren't there to attack us.

But guess what?

Now they are here. The waterways are full of huge alligators. These reptiles are big enough now so that a fully grown human is nothing more than an attractive target.

Look for more people to get et.

I like this photo because it isn't exaggerated by false perspective. It's just two guys, a pickup truck, and really big humping alligator.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Covered in Kitty Cats

We're only just now getting our Christmas tree up and decorated. We should be finished by tomorrow afternoon. Then it's time to start wrapping presents and getting those stashed under the tree. This year has seen so much time pressure for us that it's the latest we've ever prepared for the Holidays. I have had almost no real time off and the volume at work has been much heavier than the past two years. Add to this the fact that I just finished with a six-day work week and it hasn't left much time for decorating the house. Carole, too, has had a heavy work load.

Today I came home from work and relaxed in the den, watching some DVDs and hanging out with the cats.

Me and Cairo.

Cairo and Lilly use me for a pillow.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Take a Trip!

If there are parks and wilderness areas that you want to see before it's too late, I'd suggest you do so.

The clock is ticking down and mass extinctions and irreversible environmental damage is in full swing. We're not talking about centuries. Oblivion for many species and many environments are now measured in months and years.

I plan to take at least two trips next year to see some places that I fear will not be around much longer in anything resembling their natural state.

We've really messed things up.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Attacks at Will!

The Little Meany.

Cairo under my computer desk with her squeaking mouse toy! Her current favorite toy. She's growing fast, now! Still small, but not the tiny palm-sized fur bundle we brought home from West Virginia. Still the cutest kitten I've ever seen. Loads of fun! (No, you can't have her.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dinner with the Gang

Work for the USPS is not all drudgery. Sometimes a bunch of us from the station gather for a meal. A few nights ago a fair number of us hit a local seafood restaurant to enjoy the food and talk. We had a pretty good time, as we always do. This was the first of these that we've had in a few months due to scheduling problems.

This was most of us. There were a few more who arrived several minutes later.

The singing waitress. This lady was hilarious. She was performing the most sexy Christmas carol I've ever heard. My co-worker here is Thaddeus, who lives a few doors down from me on the same street. (But he's moving soon to Fayetteville.)

Tucker, the waitress, and Thaddeus share a laugh. She was great! (Really a nice voice!)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Etiquette--A Repost


Copyright 2009 By

James Robert Smith

According to Robert Graves, that nastiest of curses (you know, the one that begins with “f”) is derived from the Celtic word fachen, which means, literally, to seize.

I had been holding down the route of another carrier who was out on maternity leave. She was going to be gone for a couple of months, so I was getting spoiled doing her route. It was a nice one in a safe, secure neighborhood with lots of trees and wide lawns. A pleasure to walk.

One particular elderly couple had taken to talking to me every day. Eventually, they began to expect me to take a seat on their porch if the weather was really hot and humid and they’d offer me a glass of tea or a soft drink so I could cool off for a few minutes and talk with them. They liked square dancing and, it ended up, had met my in-laws who were also into that.

I enjoyed the brief respites from the labor of lugging the mail across that section of the route. On the occasions when they weren’t at home, they would leave me a canned soft drink in the mailbox and it would always be frosty since it would be in one of those can insulators. I’d take the drink and the packet of crackers that would also be left for me. It was all rather pleasant.

The only drawback to this section of the route was a particularly nasty Dalmatian that lived across the street from the old couple. I’d have to pass the dog each day and it would roar and bear its fangs at me and I always thought blessed be the fence-builders, for my ass is safe. But I knew that if that dog ever got out, I’d be in big trouble. Some dogs, you just know are going to tear you apart if they get the chance. This was one of those.

A day came; you get into a groove after a while and it’s all very comfortable doing a route. You cross this street, you walk through this yard, you detour around this flowerbed, and you walk up this set of steps. The day was nice, not too hot, and partly cloudy, I was in the zone, and across the street from the old couple’s house. I walked past the fence where the Dalmatian usually waited to snarl, growl, and slobber at me. But he wasn’t there and I figured he was in the house.

I was wrong.

The dog came roaring at me as I approached the front steps. He was out in the yard and I didn’t see him until he was bearing down on me full speed. The dog’s owner was standing about twenty feet away, watching, talking on a cell phone. I froze. The owner continued to stand and talk. The dog ran toward me and all I could see were teeth.

Just about the only thing you can do in a situation like this is to get your mailbag between your flesh and the dog’s jaws. At the last possible instant, I was able to do this. I dropped the mail I was carrying and put my satchel between my legs and the dog’s muzzle. The dog bit the mailbag instead of me, tore at it, and actually tugged me from side to side (and I’m not a small man).

I looked up. The owner was still talking on the phone, casually, as if nothing was going on.

The dog let go of the bag and lunged at my legs. And once more I got the bag down low enough so that he got a mouthful of canvas instead of my calves. I screamed for some help from the dog’s owner who continued to chat on the cell phone. There was another lunge, and the Dalmatian got canvas again, tearing at it.

Finally, the dog’s owner put the phone in his pocket and walked over, very casually, as if this were no big deal. He grabbed the dog by the collar and pulled him away, the hound slobbering and snapping and growling all the while until he was shoved into the house.

The dog’s owner stood at the front door and looked at me, saying nothing. I looked at him.

And at the top of my lungs I burned his ears with my rage. I stood there, surrounded by the mail I’d had to drop to defend myself while he talked on his cell phone. Larry Flynt wouldn’t print what I yelled. The dog owner said nothing and retreated into the house while I picked up the scattered letters and magazines.

Shaken, my head aching, the blood pounding in my ears, I continued my route. It was some time before my heart stopped hammering in my chest. Back at my postal vehicle, I just sat and collected my wits. This happens a lot, but I never get used to it. All you can do is try to put it out of your mind.

The next day, the dog was behind the fence again. No one else was there. I delivered that mail and crossed the street to the old couple’s house. The woman opened the door a crack as I was placing the mail in the box.

“Hello,” she said to me from behind the door. I could just see her in the space she had opened.

“Hi,” I said. “How are you today?”

She ignored the greeting. “Was that you yesterday yelling across the street?”

“Oh. Yes, ma’am. The guy over there let his dog out on me and wouldn’t get it off of me.”

She closed the door without another word.

I never saw either of them again, and that was the end of the soft drinks and packs of crackers waiting for me in their mailbox.

Seize the day.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Arrogant Bastard

Writers and Assholes and Jerks! Oh, my!
Copyright 2009 by James Robert Smith.

When I was younger and supposed that other writers must all be very neat people to meet, I would go to various science-fiction and fantasy conventions in an effort to encounter these folk.

Initially it seemed a good idea. I thought that I'd meet other people who shared the same passion not only for writing, but for the same type of fiction that drove me to create. In short order, though, I found that what drove almost all of these other writers was not so much a passion for writing as a passion for attention. This is, of course, a common thread among writers. It's the same thing, essentially, that drives athletes, painters, dancers, actors, sculptors, illustrators...the thirst for attention. The act of creating for most of these people is a shrill "LOOK AT ME!".

For me, that part of the attention-grasping stops there, with the creation of the work and the submission process. I create and try to distribute, but I don't wish to labor on and on about the merits of the work, its creation, or the personality behind it. I don't work that way and generally can't stand the kind of person who does.

I quickly tired of hanging out with writers. It's hard to hold a conversation with people who only want to talk about themselves. I wanted to talk shop. They wanted to talk about THEIR shop.

The first time I realized that I might have a problem in dealing with these creeps was when I got the chance to meet a particular writer I'd wanted to encounter for some time. He wrote mainly fantasy--sometimes horror--and he occasionally penned some really interesting work. I'd heard that he would be attending a specific show where I'd bought a ticket and so I looked for him.

It didn't take long, and I soon found this writer sitting behind a table selling chapbooks and magazines and a few anthologies that contained his stories. Like myself in those days, he was a short story writer. I longed to break out of the magazine and anthology markets and into novels. I'd already written a couple of novels at that time, but I didn't yet have an agent. I wanted to talk with him about the problems a young writer encounters in selling novel-length fiction.

I was standing on the customer side of his table. He was sitting on the other side, of course, but remained seated while we spoke. I asked him about his stories sold but not yet published so that I could look out for them when they appeared. Eventually, the conversation moved to novels. I asked him if he was going to write anything of that length.

"Two editors recently called me to ask for a novel," he said. He stated this with some boredom.

"Which publishers?" I asked.

"Let's from Pocket Books, and one from Bantam Books. But I told them both that I haven't yet mastered the short story form so who was I to try to write a novel?" He all but sneered this last bit.

" who was I.."

Now...all I wanted to achieve in those days was a novel sale. It was my consuming passion, and remains so to this day. In all of my years as a writer I have managed to sell a single novel. And that took me almost two decades to achieve. In that particular moment, as I listened to this self-obsessed jackass, all I could feel for this fellow was an overwhelming sense of contempt. He was everything that I loathe in this world--his personality dripped with self-importance and arrogance and conceit. He was so presumptuous that all I could think of doing was fleeing from his general area.

Which is precisely what I did. I hope that my expression of loathing made some impact on him as I turned and left.

I've heard that he's still writing. But I never again looked for any of his work, so I can't say if he ever wrote and sold a novel. And, frankly, I couldn't care one whit less.

After that, I need a good laugh...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Stitched Panoramas

Just a few stitched panoramas from our trip last weekend. (Click to embiggen these shots.)

At the Crazy Fox Christmas Tree Farm.

Stone Mountain.

High point of my scramble.

Climbers ascending an enormous flake on the cliff.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Almost every time I go to Stone Mountain State Park I get to see technical rock climbers making their ways up the face of the cliffs. I really like watching them working the routes to the top. They're all very careful and take their time on the walls. As I understand it, Stone Mountain is a relatively easy technical climb and many instructors use it as a classroom because of the relative safety of its routes.

Generally, I shy away from such steep areas. As I've said before, those kinds of risk just aren't for me. However, as I was scrambling up to the edges of the technical routes, I looked up to watch the real climbers high above me. And I really wanted to join in.

Maybe one of these days before I get too old, I'll give it a shot.

Information kiosk at the base of the climbing routes.

Self-service permit box so that the rangers will know who you are if you fall and go "squish".

Instructor and student above a point where I felt safe enough to climb.

Telephoto shot of the very patient instructor and student.

This guy was part of another climbing team to the right of the highest point I scrambled.

Another place where I climbed as high as I safely could.

This flake of rock kept telling me to keep climbing. "C'mon," it said. "It's safe! Keep goin'!"

Two climbers about halfway up the face of the mountain.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I've been to a lot of state parks that have recreations of old-time homesteads. Some of them are pretty complete, but the finest one that I've encountered is the one at Stone Mountain State Park just east of Sparta. The buildings are in exceptionally good condition, even the main house which is quite large. What's amazing to me about the place is that the house served four generations of the same family. Here in the USA, it's hard to think that a single house was used for so long and that one family looked upon it as the old home place.

Carole and I had a good time touring the restored farm and buildings. Here's a brief photo tour of our wanderings...

Carole on some farm contraption in the barn.

Another barn.

Old wagon, complete with load of wood.

This was a building for curing tobacco and meat.

Another storage building.

The main farm house. It's quite large and had five bedrooms, two fireplaces. It's extremely well built.

The front of the main house.

Detail of the side chimney. I'm always interested in stone chimneys.

The outhouse.

Shed for cutting firewood.