Thursday, June 30, 2016

Ignorance and Loss

Most people have never heard of many things. They have always been ignorant and remain so.

The descendants of the people who exterminated the Woolly mammoths would, many generations later, encounter the tusks and skulls of mammoths sometimes emerging from the thawing permafrost and melting glaciers. They would see these things and puzzle on them, completely unaware at what they were looking. Many such populations settled on the story that these were the skulls of giant cyclopean beasts who burrowed through the earth with those giant tusks. (The nasal cavity for the trunks they mistook for a giant eye socket.) These miscreants had no idea at all that they had utterly exterminated an entire genera that had once supplied them with food, with clothing, with building materials, with ivory for art, etc. They just gaped at the enormous skeletal artifacts in complete ignorance.

If the average American moron even looks at the skies at night (I doubt many do), then they would be left to assume that the sky either has no stars at all, or that there are only a dozen or so in the heavens. 

Yes, I have seen the skies at night with little light pollution. It is a sobering thing to behold.

Night sky above Firehole Lake, Yellowstone National Park. Photo courtesy NPS.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Mountain Lake Lodge and White Rocks Campground

After I hiked the War Spur Trail, Carole and I drove to take a look at a National Forest facility called White Rocks Campground. It's a pretty nice spot deep in the forest. Unfortunately, there's a lot of clear-cutting going on in the formerly mature hardwood forests around it, totally wrecking some of the scenery and the illusion that our National Forests are a haven for peace and tranquility. But the campground itself and the forest immediately surrounding it remains unaffected.

We were both surprised that there was only one family camping in the entire place. There are no hookups for RVs, but the place does have a dump station and there are water sources placed around the campground. Also, it has several bath houses where there are flush toilets, and sinks, but no showers. I wish I'd taken a photo of the inside of the bathhouse because it had some clever decorations inside, including sinks made from galvanized tubs. Also, it charges an amazingly low price of $4 for overnight stays! There was a spot for a campground host that was conspicuously vacant. Not sure why no one would want to host the campground.

After that we headed back the way we came because Carole wanted to visit Mountain Lake Lodge where one of her favorite movies was filmed ("Dirty Dancing"). I had been past the lodge many times, but had never stopped there to walk around the grounds, which are impressive, I must admit. It's an old-style turn-of-the-century (19th/20th Century, of course) lodge that has a lot of the charm one thinks of when considering those old places. At some point I want to stay a couple of nights there, which we may do in a few years. Time will tell.

In White Rocks Campground.

I wish I'd taken a photo of the interior of the bathroom.

Lots of shady campsites.

Mountain Lake Lodge. Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray slept here!

Set a spell.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

War Spur Trail

I have visited the Mountain Lake area a number of times. And every time I go up there I always mean to hike the War Spur Trail to the overlook, and each time something keeps me from accomplishing that goal. So, this time I was determined to do the hike. It's an easy one. Very little in elevation gain or loss. Except for a couple of hills, it's pretty much a level hike without even much in the way of rocky terrain. At a little over two miles, there's nothing difficult about it, at all.

Most of the trail is located within the Mountain Lake Wilderness Area, administered by the National Forest Service and protected from development and abuse by an act of Congress. The place is pretty much about as green as a place can be. You're already very high...close to 4,000 feet above sea level, and you find yourself exploring a forest mainly of northern hardwoods with a few evergreens mixed in, those being mainly Eastern hemlocks. For some reason there are a lot of healthy hemlock trees in the wilderness. Either some party has been up there treating them against the hemlock woolly adelgid, or the winters are severe enough that the bugs can't survive to kill the trees.

As I said, the hike is very easy. I didn't even feel the need to carry any water with me. All I took was my camera, a hiking staff, and some camera accessories. If you like ferns, parts of the trail passes through some lush expanses of those, some quite large (almost chest-high).

Carole waited in the truck while I journeyed to the overlook and wound my way back to complete the loop hike. It was very easy and I barely broke a sweat.

At the trail head.

Classic National Forest wilderness designation sign.

There were lots of these little American chestnuts throughout the forest.

Ferns and a world of green.

The rhododendron were in bloom!

Part of the view from the War Spur Overlook.

Time for a selfie at the overlook.

Good signage along the trails.
Video of the hike along the War Spur Loop, and a visit to the nearby Mountain Lake Lodge (where "Dirty Dancing" was filmed in the 1980s.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Stony Fork Recreation Area.

Well, Carole and I stole a few days, hooked up the Casita travel trailer and provisions and headed up to the mountains of western Virginia to go camping and kayaking. We decided to stay at Stony Fork Recreation Area where we had camped once before, way back in 2009. The drive up was not much trouble at all, only a little more than two hours' time.

We pulled in to campsite #45 which we had reserved a couple of weeks earlier via which has been an invaluable tool for us over the years. The only minor problem was that we had thought our space had water and electric but upon arrival we  realized that #45 had electric hookup but no water. Since our site in 2009 had both, we just assumed that all of the sites had water and electric. Wrong! So we filled the onboard tanke with fresh water and problem solved. No big deal.

I want to say now that Stony Fork is a very well run National Forest campground. Extremely nice in all ways. The two main campground hosts were brothers and were very helpful and they actively policed the campground to make sure everything was clean and orderly. I can't say enough good about those hosts. There are bathrooms around the campground and they have flush toilets and warm shower facilities. One was just a few yards from our spacious, shady campsite.

The only negative thing that happened was that on the second night we were there a horrible thunder storm rolled through the campground. Not long after dark the lightning began to land all around us. Finally, one bolt hit very, very close and knocked off the power. I told Carole that it was so close that I had no doubt that I would be able to find the tree that was struck within a few yards of us when the sun came up. In the meantime we just shut off and unplugged everything in the trailer. It was very cool that night and we slept well.

In the morning our power would still not work. Eventually, after trial and error and the campground hosts checking the main breakers in the campground, I realized that the lightning strike had fried the power converter on my trailer. The AC and the microwave plugs still operate (they bypass the converter) so we plugged in a lamp and used the fan on the AC some. The temperatures stayed low (especially with all of the shade) so we didn't need to use the air conditioning to mitigate the heat.

I'll post more later on the trip as a whole (including our drive to Mountain Lake Wilderness and our kayaking trip down the New River). But this post is mainly to serve as informational on the campground that we used. I highly recommend Stony Fork. It's convenient to the Interstate, but far enough from it that one finds quiet and lots of green Mother Nature all around. There are tremendous hiking opportunities everywhere in the vicinity. If you forgot to bring something, it's a short ten mile drive to Wytheville to pick up supplies.

Our campsite (#45). Shady. Spacious. Electric hookup. (No water, although some sites in the campground have both).

The white pine that got hit. As I told my wife after the strike, it was easy to find. Just about 50-60 feet from our trailer. No wonder it fried our power converter.

This campsite was beautiful. Large. Shaded. Plenty of space between other campsites.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Camping and Kayaking.

Carole and I are going camping and kayaking for a few days. To the mountains of Virginia. We hope to do some kayaking on the New River. We booked a campsite with the National Forest Service where we stayed back in 2009.

Nice campground with great facilities.

This place is called "Monster Rock".

We were there in late May in 2009, so the blossoms were still in the process of opening.

Hiking along a series of peaks called "the Seven Sisters".

I took this selfie on a trail that was once part of the Appalachian Trail. But the AT was rerouted because this section had too long a stretch with no reliable water source. It was a tremendous ridge hike with no drops into any deep gaps or valleys.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


I'm already busy on the next book in the series. Tentative title for now is THE TROUBLE BOYS. In the meantime, here are few more videos I made of various hikes I've been on and waterfalls I've seen.


Looking up at "the Attic Window" from the time I hiked inside of a mountain.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Work Ethic

I wrote my first novel on an electric typewriter. It took me nine months. Yeah, yeah...the whole "nine months" thing, but it's true.

Around the first week of May 2016 I started my latest novel. I don't recall the exact date, but in that first week. These days, of course, I use a very good word processor (as I have for decades, now) so work is easier. Today, I finished the new book. This is the quickest I've ever written a novel.

And, yes, I'm pleased with myself, and the work.

Without too much delay (I was also editing and revising the book every day), I sent it to my agent via email. With the first novel I had to make photocopies, box it up, and mail it to editors and literary agents one at a time. These days...just attach the file and click a button and it's on the other side of the planet almost instantly.

At any rate...I suppose I should get started on the next one, since what my agent and I want to do is pitch the book as the first in a series.

Work! I love it!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Advice from a Dead Writer

Years ago I bought a copy of ONE WHO WALKED ALONE, a biography of the last years in the life of pulp writer Robert Ervin Howard. This books formed the basis for the excellent movie "The Whole Wide World" starring Vincent D'Onofrio as Howard and Renee' Zelwegger as Novalyne Price Ellis, the author of the biography.

That book focuses on the emotional problems that beset Howard and which derailed the budding romance between Price and Howard. But from time to time along the way Price-Ellis reveals some details about Howard's work ethic and practices in his job as a writer. And for Howard it was a full-time job, and he was quite good at it. In his day he was the highest paid man in his town, even though he wrote for low rates for the adventure pulps. His output was astounding, so he kept earning even though the country was in the midst of the Great Depression.

And one thing that struck me in the book was an instance in which Novalyne Price explained that Howard actually spoke the lines aloud as he pounded out his stories on his typewriter. Initially, I found that this seemed a strange thing to me. But later, reading my own work aloud (after it had been put down), I would find clumsy passages that did not "sound" right. And so, I'd revise them until I had decided that the words flowed more easily and the lines made more sense. It was like having an objective reviewer standing by, I discovered.

These days I still actively do this. I've found it works best with dialog and when I'm working on a conversation I do try to recite the lines as they occur to me. How good does it sound? Have I chosen the right words to convey emotion, tension, situation?

Thanks to Novalyne Price and her biography of crazy old Two-Gun Bob, I found something that has helped me to create.

ONE WHO WALKED ALONE by Novalyne Price Ellis.

Haunted Bob Howard.

Novalyne Price.

The doomed romance translated to film in THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

How To Find a Good Self-Published Book

My first two hundred or so exposures to self-published books were--to put it mildly--negative experiences. I am still of the opinion that almost every self-published book is crap that should never be offered for sale or to be given the light of public display.

However, over the past six months or so I have managed to find some really good self-published novels. And, no, I'm not talking about the few that have been picked up by major publishers and put out in new formats with advertising behind them, etc. I read those, also, but I'm not referring to them here.

The books I've been finding are novels published and advertised the same way just about every such novel is promoted: via the Internet in ebook format and with all efforts at promotion done strictly by the author.

The way I have been able to find some good books is by doing a few things that had passed by me before. First of all, I ignore the five-star reviews. They're worthless. Cormac McCarthy is five-star. Charles Bukowski is five-star. Ernest Hemingway is five-star. Ray Bradbury, Ursula get my meaning. When I look at reviews at all these days, it's to the ones with four stars and three stars. (I also ignore the one and two-star reviews because those are generally done just out of cruelty or to voice some political or philosophical or religious disagreement with the author of the book.)

The brightest and most thoughtful and honest of the reviews that I read have four-star approvals. Anything else is generally bullshit. It's a fact.

Also, I don't listen to the recommendations from friends. Sorry, but this has pretty much been a complete bust for me. Why do my pals always do this? Word of mouth ain't all it's cracked up to be. They tell me there's a thriving business books about dinosaur-on-woman-bestiality. One man's treasure can obviously be a pile of turds to my way of thinking.

The next thing I do is read the excerpts that are generally offered online. And I don't mean just the first line or paragraph or even page. I got suckered by some great opening pages. Sometimes it takes a bit more than that to prove quality, and some people know how to create a hook but not a competent novel structure. So I try to read as much of the sample as is offered. If I'm still interested after that, I've probably found a good book and I'll take a chance on the purchase.

Now, I don't mean to say that I have found self-published books that are completely brilliant and flawless and destined to become classics of the form. I haven't done that, yet. Even among traditionally published novels that kind of quality is very rare. But what I have been able to do in the past few months is find a small number of entertaining and well constructed novels that are self-published.

So...maybe there's hope for the technique after all. (And, yes, I admit to giving a few self-published books five-star reviews because, frankly, I was just thrilled to finally locate really good self-published novels. But to be honest, I haven't found any Hemingways in the mix.)

Computer Heist by Michael P. King. Just one of the decent self-published novels I have read recently.

Friday, June 10, 2016

On Cruise Control.

One reason that I have not been updating the blog routinely is that I am working to complete my newest novel. It's nice when everything is meshing so perfectly. Sometimes you have to dig deep to recreate the initial enthusiasm that you had for an idea that initially hit you and filled you with inspiration. Not so with this newest project. I keep wondering why I hadn't thought to write such a piece in the first place.

I feel like I'm just a few days away from finishing this one up. We'll see where my agent can market this one as soon as I write "THE END" on it and do some edits and re-writes.

Later, dear readers!

At work.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016


Once again, I want to mention here that writing is work. Often, it's very hard work. Most of us get into the gig of creating fiction because it's fun and we'd do it no matter what. But that's not always the case--the pure fun part--and that's when it becomes work that's not a lot different from other jobs. The only good thing about it being that it's a job that you want to have and that you enjoy doing, no matter the toil of it.

Years ago, about the third year I was into the job of delivering the mail for USPS, I used to deliver to an old guy who would be sitting out on the cluttered porch of his bungalow scribbling away in notebooks. I'd say hi, and he'd say hi, then I'd wander off and he'd keep scribbling in one or another of his notebooks.

One day as I was delivering the mail I heard a faint call for help as I got to the door. The voice was so faint that I thought for a second that I had imagined it. So I knocked on the old guy's door and I heard the voice a little louder. "Help."

I was getting ready to smash the door in when I heard the lock disengage. I opened the door to find him sitting on the floor, looking like a bag of bones in clothes that looked to have been made for a man three sizes larger. "Water," he croaked. The city had apparently cut off his water for lack of payment and he was quite actually dying of thirst.

This was in the days before I owned a cell phone so I was left to run from house to house knocking on doors to ask for someone to call the cops or an ambulance. This being a working class neighborhood, everyone was at work. I passed a Duke Power truck with a lineman in it and I asked him to radio for help, which he did.

Finally, I found him some water and brought him a glass a woman in a house half a block away gave to me. He took that, and soon the cops arrived, then an ambulance. For most of the rest of the week I was kind of an emotional wreck.

A few weeks passed. The tiny little bungalow where he lived remained empty. He never did return. But distantly related family arrived to empty it out and put it up for sale, since the property values were soaring and the real estate there was moving fast. I still went up on the cluttered porch to deliver mail that someone picked up for him. One day I noticed trash bags up where the old fellow used to sit, his ink pen in action. Three or four big black plastic bags. I could see that they were full of the notebooks I would always see the old dude working on.

To Hell with it, I figured. What would it hurt to look at one, since they were all bound for the trash. So I opened the first one at hand.

Tight, scrawled lines written in ink. Letters so tiny it was extremely difficult to read them.

It was a novel.

They were all novels. Four garbage bags full of handwritten novels scribbled over what I assume were years and years as a single man grew into an old drunk abandoned by one and all, quietly hunkered down in that tiny bungalow with those notebooks and cans of beer while he scribbled away, living on social security checks, in the house his parents had left for him.

And, no, I did not rescue the bags of novels. It just wasn't in the cards for me to do that. If his family didn't care enough to salvage the material, I certainly didn't have the time or space to do it.

A few days later the bags and all the contents of the tiny little house were gone and the place was scrubbed clean. Later on it was painted, some minor landscaping was done. The house went on the market and sold very, very quickly.

I doubt much of anyone remembers the old guy sitting there alone on that cluttered porch, spending his evenings guzzling beer and his days writing novels that, as far as I know, no one else ever read.

Who knows?

Monday, June 06, 2016

Local Cred.

Sometimes I don't give enough credit to the beauty of my current home state of North Carolina. But Carole and I do a lot of touring and vacationing right here within our state's borders. Granted, I don't think our state park system is as robust as it should be, and I would like to see more wilderness areas created and an expansion of National Forest recreation areas. But you could pick and choose places to hike and bike and kayak here and spend years getting it all done.

We certainly have no shortage of natural beauty. Sea coasts. Lakes. Rivers. Whitewater. Mountains (the highest in the eastern USA). Waterfalls. Long-distance hiking trails. Wilderness areas. And so on.

So, here's to the outdoor activity potential of North Carolina!

Plenty of opportunity for rock climbing!

You want views? We got views.

Good ol' Stone Mountain!

Return of the eastern elk.

Coyote in Cades Cove.

The return of the elk!

Friday, June 03, 2016

Revised Video.

I've been going through and adding to and revising some of my travel videos of campgrounds and hiking trails in various states. I just completed a trio of them detailing an October 2011 trip to a state forest campground (Kumbrabow) and a National Forest campground (Seneca Shadows) in West Virginia with added footage and photos.

Kumbrabow State Forest.

Part One.

Mill Creek Falls.

Seneca Rocks.

Part Two.

Dolly Sods Wilderness.

Part Three.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Short Story Markets.

I don't write short stories as often as I once did. This is something that I've covered in my blog in times past, but I think it bears another brief visit.

Among the reasons that I don't work that often in short form is that I prefer to work on novels. Just for my own pleasure I prefer to create the skeleton of a more complicated story and spend a few months fleshing it out. It's just that I'm a happier writer working on novels than I am on short stories.

Another factor is that there are just not very many places where a person can sell a short story. It's no secret that the markets for short stories has gradually diminished since the 19th Century, and through the 20th Century, until today when it is almost impossible to find places where one can sell fiction in the short form. There are a few magazines around that publish short stories, but the competition for a place in them is stiff.

Even since the relatively recent days of my youth the markets have shriveled to the point of no return. Professional magazines that paid decent rates have vanished at an alarming rate. And even the days of semi-professional periodicals has continued to decline until on a few are left. I have been told to contribute to a few newer magazines and at least one revival of an old title, but when I inquire about their pay rates, I have been horrified to learn that they only pay a few bucks, and sometimes not at all. One particularly nasty woman who publishes a horror rag requires that all writers send her their stories "for the love", with no chance of payment of any kind.

Fuck that.

Some of my friends who self-publish have suggested that I go that route--that I self-publish my short stories. But I continue to resist the self-publishing platform. I'll still write short stories, but nowhere near the number that I did when I was in my 20s and 30s. And I suppose that I will try the few remaining professional markets when I do have something that I want to contribute.


Even the magazines from the 80s have faded and vanished.
Pay the Freaking Writer.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

It's in the Air!

It's almost summertime again. The world The humidity reigns, bringing moisture everywhere. All around us the land is afire with trillions of insects screaming endlessly for sustenance. And what is that in the air? What is that sound? That smell?

It's the summer of zombies!

Get yer zombie horror on!

THE LIVING END by Yours Truly.


THE COALITION Zombie Trilogy under my pseudonym Robert Mathis Kurtz.

SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER Part One by my pal, Lawrence Roy Aiken.

Book Two in the Dead Silencer series (Book Three coming soon!) by me mate, Lawrence Roy Aiken.