Friday, April 22, 2016

One Last Task

I had one last thing to do before we had the trailer and truck ready for the trip. I had to take care of the nest of baby birds.

I had a tank of propane filled and took that with me. At the trailer I removed the tank cover and carefully disconnected the tank that the bird had used as substrate for her nest. I could see the babies peeking out at me and one of the parents was obviously in there.

I transferred the nest and accompanying tank to a chair. Then I placed a plastic bucket atop the tank to protect the nest and leave it as much like the previous setup as possible. To keep the wind from knocking the shelter from the nest I placed a chunk of concrete block on top to hold it solidly in place.

It seemed to work just fine. Hopefully when we come back the birds will have fledged and begun their adult lives.

The replacement tank I brought with me.

The nest. They weren't bluebirds. Probably wrens. Not sure.

The birds. I'm pretty sure that's mama or papa on the left. one of the babies visible in the shadow.

The setup as I left it. I tried rigging it with the tank cover from the trailer but it wouldn't work. So I used this plastic bucket.

So now we can leave without hurting the birds.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

To the Moon!

Well, we're not going to the Moon, but I won't be posting for a bit as we head south for a week or so of camping and kayaking and snorkeling. No posts for me. I do hope to spend my evenings working on my current novel.


Ecofina Springs.

Juniper Spring.
Kayaking the Ichetucknee River.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Cascades Video

I don't have a lot of time for blogging right now. Busy with various projects.'s a video of a 2011 hike Carole and I took to see The Cascades near Blacksburg, Virginia. It's an extremely impressive waterfall with a fantastic plunge pool at the base that is perfect for swimming on a hot summer day (which we did).

The famous Cascades.

A leisurely hike and swim.

A truly well engineered hiking trail.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Buffing the Casita

Well, we're getting ready for a road trip with the Casita. So I used the new Black & Decker buffer on the fiberglass instead of the old elbow grease and a brush. I have to say it worked a heck of a lot better and got excellent results.

One minor problem was this: the propane tanks needed to be refilled so I removed the cover so that I could take them off and carry them to a propane station. As soon as I took the cover off I saw that a bird's nest had been built on top of the right canister. I was about to brush it off when I saw movement and looked closer to see three baby bluebirds.

Well, I am not a monster so I quickly replaced the tank cover. Tomorrow I will build a stand and put the tank with the bird's nest on it and leave the tank cover over it. It's only cosmetic and it won't hurt to take a trip without it over the tanks. And I have a spare tank that I can use in place of the one with the bird nest so I don't even have to transfer the nest to something else.

Hopefully, Mama Bird will be okay with the slight change and continue to raise her brood successfully.


I'll do the propane tanks tomorrow...

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Magic at the Peaks of Otter

The world is a hard, unforgiving place. But fortunately it is also a vast and beautiful place. This is why I go out hunting for that beauty which seems to be standing around turn of the trail.

At the Peaks of Otter.

Wandering around the Peaks of Otter.

The magic of a winter ice storm.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Nine-Day Camping Trip to Florida.

I logged another long video of various places we camped and hiked and canoed on a nine-day trip to Florida in 2008. We do not go to the places most tourists visit in Florida. We stay away from the crowded beaches and the amusement parks and the larger cities and towns. We prefer the Florida wild country. And, believe it or not, Florida has a tremendous amount of wild and rural land.

Nine days camping, hiking, canoeing.

Kayaking a spring run.

Boat ride from a mainland state park to an island state park.

A  native Floridian along a spring-fed river.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Some Great Animal Books

For some reason people seem to link animal books to children's books. And, yes, there are many great animal books written for children and young adults. I know, because I grew up reading many such novels and short stories. In fact, I cut my reader's teeth on books and tales about animals.

Such books influence many of us in the long run. It enables us to look with compassion and even equality with the fellow creatures with whom we share the globe. This was the effect such prose had on me as I was growing older and learning to think. Humans are worthless without compassion, and a lack of compassion for other species marks us as unworthy, in my estimation.

So, then, following is a brief list of the best of the animal books that influenced me in one way or another over the course of my reading life. Some of these books I read as a child, some as a young adult, and some as a grown man. There's no real reason to the list except that each of these books has had a profound effect upon the way I think.

I will say here that I will only mention Hugh Lofting and will not actually include his Dr. Doolittle books on the list (except by this mention). I did enjoy them as an eight-year-old child, but I saw them as mere fantasy and I quickly overdosed on the more treacly aspects of the fiction. But, yes, they obviously had an impact.


BIG RED by Jim Kjelgaard.

BIG RED was written by Jim Kjelgaard who is largely forgotten these days. This is a sad turn of events considering how influential his work was to a generation of children and young adults. Some of his novels are still in print today, mainly a few of the books about dogs. But he wrote many animals novels and even ventured outside his comfort zone from time to time. His book FIRE HUNTER was later purloined in grand fashion as the basis for a series of best-selling novels, sans credits.

Today, when he is mentioned at all, it is mainly for his book BIG RED. It was a tremendous best seller in its day and was purchased for film and produced as a movie by Walt Disney. You can still grab it in paperback format. As a young adult novel, high recommended.


THOR by Wayne Smith.

Another, stranger novel is THOR by Wayne Smith. This is a completely different kind of novel that bends the fabric of fiction. To me, it remains the single finest animal-point-of-view novel I have ever read. Add to this the fact that it is written for adults, and it doubles as a horror novel set firmly within the world of dark fantasy and you have a truly unique book. How many dog books introduce a werewolf into the mix?

The title character is Thor, the German shepherd dog owned by the human family with whom he lives. The reader sees the world from the eyes and senses of Thor. It is a phenomenally good book that had the misfortune of hitting the horror book market just as the horror scene in the world of mass market paperbacks was collapsing. It never really saw the audience that it so richly deserves. But it was recognized for its unique take and was optioned for film and made into a truly terrible movie that ignored everything about the book that made it worthwhile. (The less about that unfortunate occurrence, the better.) You should do yourself a favor and buy a copy of THOR.


WILD ANIMALS I HAVE KNOWN by Ernest Thompson Seton.

I could list a dozen novels here by Ernest Thompson Seton and all of them would serve well to illustrate the power of his work. Again, we deal here with a man whose work was once amazingly popular and influential to at least two generations of American readers. To me, the shadow that has fallen over his memory is about as sad a commentary on popular literature as any I could name.

Seton was a true polymath. An illustrator, a painter, a journalist, an outdoorsman, a historian, and a writer of fiction. Probably his most famous book remains WILD ANIMALS I HAVE KNOWN. It's a collection of short stories that feature tales of various species of animals. As I have mentioned in previous essays, even Seton's title makes it stand apart from all other animal tales that came before it. We see here that he has placed animals as persons and not as objects. These are characters whom he has known. Not watched, or observed, but known.

And all of those personalities stand out in each story. These are animals who make decisions and who journey and adventure and play and think and feel! On one level Seton's work turned millions of kids into enthusiasts of science and nature, and in many cases it turned those same kids into lovers of wildlife. Without Seton, where might we have otherwise stood?


As near as I can tell, this book is out of print. A pity.
The novel MONARCH OF DEADMAN BAY is at the very top of my list of favorite animal books. It doesn't hurt that my personal totem animal is the Alaskan brown bear. And the protagonist of this novel is a particular beast we come to know as the king of Deadman Bay where he rules the land.

A unique aspect of the novel is that there are pretty much no human characters in the novel. Yes, there are humans who appear from time to time, but they are only there as set pieces, fragments of the environment though which the Monarch strides, avoiding at all cost. We both sympathize with Monarch and empathize with him and are left to cheer him on as he lives and makes his choices in this dab of wilderness in a world that is inimical within and without. Even a beast who weighs close to a ton has to tread with great care.

Again, this is a novel that is largely forgotten these days, and sadly so. As I said, it is easily the finest animal book I ever ever encountered. Find a copy. Read it. You will not be sorry.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

An Old Section Hike of the Appalachian Trail

Over the years the Appalachian Trail has become more and more crowded. Often it's so crowded that I have found that I am completely unable to find anything like the solitude that is the main reason I go to hike and backpack. The last time I backpacked a section of the Appalachian Trail was in late May of 2009. The Trail remains a unique and physically beautiful place, but the crowds I encountered there convinced me that it's not really the place for me to spend a lot of time in anymore.

Obligatory shot on the precipice of McAfee Knob.
The warmup hike we took to McAfee Knob before beginning the backpacking trip.

The scenery was indeed stunning. But the opportunity for peace and solitude was hard to find.

The three-day backpack that took us to Mountain Lake.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Wilson Creek: Work (?!) and Play.

A few years back I needed some peace and quite to finish a novel. So I hooked up the travel trailer and headed to the Mortimer Campground, run by the National Forest Service at the Wilson Creek National Wild & Scenic River near Linville Gorge. I found my peace and quiet and I even found time to wander around the forests to explore trails and to see waterfalls and deep forests.

I had such a good time in there that I hooked up the trailer the following weekend and took Carole to see the place. She enjoyed Wilson Creek as much as I did.

With the rig at the entrance to the Mortimer Campground.

A kayaker on Wilson Creek.
The return trip to Wilson Creek.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Newer Videos

Here are a couple of more newly created videos of older hikes. One to a virgin forest on the slopes of Mackey Mountain here in North Carolina, and another featuring hikes to see some isolated corners of the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia.

Falls at Camp Creek State Park, WV.

A gorgeous virgin forest high in the North Carolina mountains.

Catawba rhododendron beginning to bloom.

Great hiking and waterfall wandering in VA and WVA.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016


I'm currently reading another self-published book. And, yes, I'm reading it because while it is deeply flawed, the author keeps finding enough ways to keep me interested that I haven't removed it from my ebook device. This book seems to me indicative of what is wrong with the self-publishing market. That is, the writing is often good, but the project very much needed an editorial hand. Or at least the author needed to have had to run the editorial gauntlet to print the way traditional writers have to do to reach publication.

I don't want to mention the title of the book or the author. Why? Because I don't like to leave any kind of review at all if I can't give it a hearty recommendation. That is, if I can't give the book four or five stars I'd rather not bother. If you can't say anything good, and all that sort of thing. As I have mentioned before, I don't leave negative reviews of fiction because the job of trying to be a writer is tough enough without having people try to drag your ass down.

But the book is pretty good. It's fun. There are flashes of imagination and the occasional displays of skill. But the book also has many, many flaws. It's the kind of situation in which I would have encouraged the author to keep trying back in the days when I was serving as a first reader. This is the type of writer who needs encouragement, who shows much talent, and who needs just a little more experience under his belt.

Still...I may promote the book and leave an online review if, by the time I've finished reading it, the book entertains me. We'll see...

Am I a unique anti-hero? Will I make the grade?

A competent space opera? Or a failed attempt? Stay tuned!

Monday, April 04, 2016

"A Last, Longing Look"

Here's a story I wrote a long time ago and sold a long time ago and saw published a long time ago in an anthology edited by Whitley Strieber (and several assistants including the Marty Greenberg team). A slightly edited version appears in my short story collection A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS which came out last year and which you can pick up in paperback format or as an ebook.

James Robert Smith

     In the little washroom down the road from the diner, he had stopped, washing and looking down at the hands.
     They seemed to be good hands. The fingers were long and fine and one could imagine them holding a camel hair paintbrush, or playing a piano, perhaps. Grime filled the creases and lines in the joints and on the palms, so he had scrubbed and scrubbed with the small bar of yellow soap he had found on the edge of the sink. As he washed them, the thoughts began to collect, the old ones shedding like so much dead skin from a molting snake. Yes, these fingers had played the piano often enough in days long gone.
     After the hands were clean he had peeled off his shirt and his tattered pants and he had washed the pits of his arms and his crotch, drying himself with wads of rough paper in the dispenser.
     Looking at the face in the mirror, he had wanted to shave, although the face looked to have been shaved the day before, likely. It could use another shave, but he couldn't find a razor or even a knife in the pockets of those tattered black pants or in the breast of the thin coat he had. He had looked at the face, a plain, mild face; it was his face, now.
     There was some money in the pocket, nine one dollar bills, and there had been two twenties under the lining of the left shoe. So he wasn't without money. He would need a little bit of money when he went to the diner to look at her this one, final time. Oh, he wished he were human.
     He felt human, sometimes. The moments were fleeting, then lost. When he was feeling human, he thought that maybe he was cursed, some cursed soul moving from point to point. But, really, he knew better. He just wasn't human. Merely something wishing to be so.
     The last time he had felt like a human had been three days before. He had been in the body of a man named Ned Waters. He'd been in Ned's body for months, four long months during which he had used that body and his thirst for humanity to court Ellen Hughes, who he had thought the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Ned had known Ellen for years, and had never given her much thought until he'd been shunted aside by the new inhabitant of his flesh. After that, it had become Ned's goal to marry Ellen. It had taken long weeks to convince her of that love, as genuine as it had been; Ellen was not a shallow creature. The last time he'd felt like a man was when he had finally gone to bed with Ellen, and she had shared herself with him and they had made love.
     In all his years he had found that there were few things so human as love, and the closeness he felt at such moments were among the ultimate human experiences. It was these moments he worked toward. And it was after these moments he was expelled, finding himself outside human walls, drifting again. Drifting until.
     Until he would find himself peering through different eyes, reaching out with different hands, speaking through a different
 mouth. This was the way it was. And now, having lost Ellen, having been forced out of his cloak of Ned, he would have a last, longing look at her. He had to. His love for her had made him human, for an instant.
      Intentionally, despite the damp night, he had waited in the cover of a long line of shrubs between the road and the peach orchards until the last stragglers at the diner began to vanish one by one. There in the darkness he was invisible to anyone not specifically looking for him, and no one had seen him go to crouch there in the honeysuckle and blackberry tangles. He bided his time and waited, absently picking beggars lice from his pants, pressing out the wrinkles in the dark fabric as the hours ticked by. And he plucked odd leaves and sticks from what he had carefully picked from the wildflower garden untilled by men there on the verge of those tangled shrubs. He plucked and cradled them in his arms.
     At last, near midnight, he stood up from his hiding place and peered out. There didn't seem to be anyone in the diner. There was a window of opportunity, he knew, when Victor, who did most of the cooking, would shove off to get home to his wife who he suspected of cheating on him. There was always about twenty to thirty minutes between the time Victor left and the diner officially closed. Ned usually spent those minutes with Ellen, but Ned had to work late this night and would not arrive until after midnight. This much, he knew, for he had heard the instructions with Ned's own ears. So. He had half an hour, at most.
     Avoiding the high weeds that grasped at his shins, he jumped up and bounded out of the bushes and hopped the narrow ditch that held pools of dark, stinking water. He went up the slope to the road and crossed it, seeing Ellen in the diner, seeing her as she rubbed down the counters and peered out from the brightness within. She was looking for the headlights of Ned's pickup truck, and she would not see his form moving through the night, until he approached the front door.
     The road was silent and black, blending with the night and the flat sameness of the surrounding country and only the twinkling stars let you know where the horizon lay. He stood there, on the edge of those shadows and waited until Ellen had finished mopping the counter and had retreated into the back of the diner, into the kitchen to begin locking the place down.
      Light from the diner fell on him, revealing him as he went to the door and pushed it open, jingling the bell. Going to the counter, he uncradled his arm where he held the bunch of daisies he had plucked from the edge of the orchard, and he placed the carefully groomed stems there on the white surface. And then he quickly took a seat near the big plate glass window, his back to the night so that he could see her face when she saw the daisies.
     He sat in the booth that he always used while waiting for Ellen to finish her chores. Most nights, as Ned, he had been right in the same spot, patient as she tidied up and locked down. Right now, he knew, she was latching the single back door that led out to the garbage cans. She had probably put some chicken in a big can for the stray cats that hovered about. Ellen would smell like bacon and her skin feel a bit slick to the touch, a thin sheen of grease from the cooling griddles, but he didn't mind; he never minded.
     Ellen appeared from the back and the first thing she saw were the daisies sitting neatly arranged in a fanlike pattern on the white-yellowing-to-brown countertop. Her face broke into a smile, her white teeth revealed, her blue eyes glinting, her light brown hair curly beneath her waitress cap. "Ned?" She started to say his name again and looked around, seeing...him. Her smile faded quickly.
     He sat, looking at her, his own smile of pain melting at her reaction to his new face. Still, he couldn't blame her. Despite having washed he still looked like the bum he was.
     "Oh," she said. "I thought someone else was here. I thought my boyfriend put these here for me."
     "No," he said. "Just me."
     Ellen put the daisies down, leaving them on the counter and she fidgeted, trying to decide if she wanted to step out from behind the wood and formica barrier. She fingered her hair and glanced to the window, looking for headlights. Nothing.
     "Do you want somethign to eat? The grills are off, but we still have sandwiches and pie and coffee." She touched the receipt pad in her apron with her fine hands.
     "Some coffee, please," he said.
     She went around the counter and got the coffee pot; then he saw her hesitate, as if thinking better of it, and instead she brought him a full carafe' and poured him a cup, setting the container on the table for him. "There's cream and sweetener on the table," she told him, nodding at it.
     He sat there and looked up at her. He could smell her, now: that familiar smell. The scent aroused him, in every way. "He'll probably just bring you a rose tonight," he said.
     "What?" Ellen took a step back.
     "He'll probably just bring you a rose. A salmon rose, or just a plain red one if the store was out of salmon."
     She backed up a little more. "What do you mean?"
     "Ned," he told her. "Ned will just bring you a salmon rose. He's really not all that thoughtful. He doesn't take into account how you might feel on a particular day. So what he'll do is bring you the same flower he gave you on Friday." His hands were busy all the while with the coffee, putting in two sugars and lots of cream. It had been a while since this body had taken in food.
     "What are you talking about?" She was all the way to the counter, now. But she had not turned her back on him.
     "Well...on Friday morning, Ned brought you a salmon rose, and he brought it to your apartment and left it on the table in your breakfast nook because...well because the sun was getting ready to come up and the light was going to turn the sky a light pink outside your bedroom window, and the first thing you'd see is that color as you opened your eyes. And you'd given Ned a key the week before, but he hadn't used it but when you woke up you heard him humming there in the kitchen, you recognized his voice, and when you came out you saw the rose, about the same color as that morning sky. And there was Ned.
     "And it was then and there that you decided that you loved him."
     Ellen brushed her skirt with her left hand. She often did things like that when she was nervous. She'd done something like it the first time he'd wanted to kiss her. "Who are you," she asked. "What...what are you saying?"
     "And then the two of you made love. You made love in your bed in your apartment. Ned loved you." He sat there in his booth and he sipped the coffee, his eyes slitting with pleasure.
     "Listen, Mister. You're scaring me and I want you to stop it. I want you to leave." She edged close to the telephone near the register, but still would not turn her back.
     "But ever since that morning, Ned really hasn't seemed quite the same man, has he? Admit it. How many flowers has he brought you?" He held up his left hand. "Wait. Don't tell me. It's been three days, so he's brought you three flowers...and they've all been salmon roses, haven't they?"
     " don't know me," she said. "You have no business coming in here and talking to me. How do you know my name? How do you know Ned?"
     "I was Ned." He said it. "I was the one who courted you and made you fall in love. It was me, Ellen. It wasn't Ned. Not the Ned who's going through the motions now. It was me," he all but screamed the last.
     And then Ellen lost what remained of her courage. She spun and her hands went for the phone. And then he stood, she heard his legs hit the tabletop of the booth as often happened with people in a hurry; she heard the cup and saucer clatter against the spoon.
     But the silence of the diner was broken by the sound of tires cracking loose gravel onto the blacktop outside, the mutter of a big V-8 bringing a pickup into the parking lot. It was Ned, they both thought.
     There was a metal creaking as the truck's front door opened, then slammed shut. The front door jingled open and Ned came in. He had a salmon rose in his big right fist and he did not seem to notice that Ellen was upset. She'd have to tell the oaf.
     Ned went toward her, and she rushed to meet her and it took him a moment to realize she was sobbing. "What's wrong, Ellen? What's wrong," he asked.
    Ellen gasped and tried to catch her breath and, finally, she just pointed at him sitting there in the booth where he has sat back once Ned had entered the diner. Ned was a big man. Bigger than most. And he was strong and fast and quick. Any man would think twice before crossing such a man.
     Ned's big features turned in the direction of the man sitting in the booth; the dirty bum sitting there and staring blankly at the two of them. He shooed Ellen away, pushed her back with his thick right arm, and he came over to the dirty bum, looming over him. "What's your problem, pal?" He would never have said that.
     The bum looked up at her lover. Ned's face was big and broad and usually friendly; the kind of face you couldn't hate, not really. The lover's body was strong and quick and younger than the other's. The other knew its strength, that those arms could lift great weights, could hold Ellen's body so easily, as if it were but a feather. And its reflexes were quick: he would see a punch coming from a mile away (he might say later, bragging to his pals about the weird guy he decked). So, knowing that body, knowing its strengths and wonderful quickness, he tricked it.
     His elbow bumped the coffee pot. It looked just like an accident, the kind of thing a weird little guy nervous in the face of an impending butt-kicking might do. His thin arm jerked up and that elbow bumped that coffee pot. And the lover, his reflexes so quick and his demeanor always on the lookout for friends, reached out, as fast as a cat on a mouse that has finally fled, and he caught that pot that his lover had placed on that table and which the weird guy had just nervously bumped off the table: he doesn't want her to have to clean up the mess.
     But the thing is this. While the lover is bent over, catching that double handful of warmth full of good, black coffee, the weird guy does something. The weird guy reaches over, just an inch or two, really, and he grabs up the great, big, full bottle of ketchup on the table and he brings it down on the head of the fellow with the double handful of coffee pot. There is an awkward silence broken by the big guy grunting, kind of small from so big and graceful a man. The woman gasps. The weird guy jumps up from the table, right up on his chair, and he kicks her lover in the side of the face with his right leg and the power of that kick is spelled out in the way her lover's body goes crashing to the floor like a heavy sack of wet sand.
     She can't tell if all the redness is ketchup or blood.
     Her lover says nothing, merely lays there heavy and silent with the bright lights overhead glaring down for all to see. But there's really only two of them looking. There's just her. And there's the weird guy.
     So she tears her eyes away from the sight of her lover lying there so big and so heavy and so awfully still. And she looks into the eyes of the wiry little man who had come into the diner to stare at her and make her nervous; the strange man who has hurt Ned. She looks at him and sees his eyes. And she screams.
     And he knows what she has seen. She has seen the truth. She has seen that look in his eyes, that look that her lover once gave her and which he now does not, although everything else is the same about him. This weird little man is looking at her with that look and that is what made her scream. That must be what it is, he concludes as she turns to run. Standing on the chair, thinking about what she has seen in his eyes--all that love glowing out at her--he lets her get to the door and through it, opening it on all of that darkness out there before he jumps off of the chair and begins to chase her.
     "Ellen," he yells as he chases her. She is already across the almost empty parking lot. Beyond that there is only the peach orchard and a farmhouse about a mile distant, the lights in its windows glinting in a mocking way through the darkness. The road is cruelly empty of traffic. Ellen has left her purse and the keys to Ned's truck in the diner, and she knows this and hopes only that she can outrun the strange, terrible man.
     But he is on her heels, faster and fitter than he looks. Of course he is a vagrant, used to walking. He has a good wind and she doesn't really have a chance. He has not caught her only because even now, even chasing her down in this orchard, in the night, in the dimness lit only by a crescent moon and the bright stars, even now he enjoys watching her, seeing her move, seeing the way her legs push, the way her hips sway. "Ellen," he says through gnashing jaws.
     And then he has his thin fingers in her hair and he is not gentle as he clenches down on a great handful of those long, brown, silky strands. "Stop!"
     They go down in a tangle. His fingers are still gripping her hair and through her panic she feels that pain, feels her hair almost tearing free of her scalp. Her back is to the damp earth, the scent of fallen, rotting peaches all around. He is on top of her, his weight firmly upon her ribcage, one hand in her hair and the other touching her face. She tries to scream and he jams the heel of his hand into her mouth, way back so that she cannot bite down and she cannot scream, can only gurgle. "Shut up, Ellen. Please, please don't scream. Listen to me."
     There is the sound of them. Both of them panting.
     "It's me, Ellen. I know you understand. You have to. I'm the one who made you fall in love. It wasn't him. I only used his body and now he's going through the motions I set in place. He doesn't even know why. I'm the one who loves you." He has to make her see. He has to make her understand so that she will give him that thing that makes him feel like the others, that makes him feel human. His free hand caresses her face, touches her chin the way he had the nights he made her love him.
     "Remember, Ellen? Remember the way I stroked your face? He doesn't do it like that, does he? Not anymore. And." He looks to the sky, then back at the face of this woman he loves so much, who let him feel so wonderful for just that moment before he had been forced out of that body. "And the way I touched you." He lifts himself partially, freeing one knee so that he can reach. "The way I touched you here."
     And now, her mouth free, Ellen screams as loud as she can. Even in that house a mile away they will have heard her.
     "Leave me alone you freak. Let me go. You freak."
     He snaps then. It is almost like that moment when he takes love to that ultimate peak. When he has courted and wooed and won that shared moment, when the two join as only true lovers can join. This, then, is the other half, the other way that joins him to them, that makes him feel human.
     The rage builds in his head and flows out of it in an electric charge that blossoms in his breast and fires down his arms and into his legs and his hands are like claws, like clubs, like knives. Ah. For this moment, for this brief, wonderful moment he is not this alien thing, this being apart from all others. In this moment he shares that brutality with them, that red hunger that only they have. For just this instant, as he beats the life out of this woman whom he had loved so grandly, this woman without whom he could not live. He could never continue knowing she was the lover of another. Rage and hatred: nothing else was so human. For an instant he is human.
     Then, it is over.
     Her body is lifeless, that one last breath going out of it, that spark gone. With it, he is forced out of this body. He is flung out of it. He is ripped out of mortal flesh and he sees everything around them: the trees, the sky, the air, the grass, the dew upon it, the peaches lying rotting in the loam, the bacteria feasting on ripe flesh, the light glittering in the sky. He sees the heavens and wonders for a moment from whence he came, from whence the threat to peace as he leaves behind Ellen's body and her lover lying prone in that diner; leaves behind the derelict man who finds himself crouched over the dead woman he cannot understand killing. In one last glance, he sees police arriving, lights piercing the night. He wonders if the derelict will escape. He thinks (or hopes) that sometimes they do.
     Then. He must go. He is being led by a process not completely understood by him. But he is familiar with it. He is tossed far, his self coming down to rest. He opens his eyes and sees himself staring back at his new reflection in the mirror, his hand paused with a razor to shave his handsome face. This time his name is Rick--Rick Collins. Linda, he thinks. You know: Linda is beautiful. I realize that now. I think I'll tell her. Today.
     What a human thought. Love is human.

This, and many other stories, can be found within the covers of A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS by James Robert Smith. From Hippocampus Press and wherever fine books are sold.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Wild Blue Yonder

I plan on watching this film tonight. I've always liked Brad Dourif, and Werner Herzog's films are generally at least interesting (if often confusing). I'll let you know what I think.

I do like this clip for the sense of improbability it conveys toward the idea of interstellar travel. Frankly, using anything even remotely tied to our current technologies, humans are not likely to venture into deep space at all; much less interstellar space.

Brad Dourif, from the Werner Herzog film The Wild Blue Yonder.

The improbability of interstellar travel by humans.

Friday, April 01, 2016


Every now and again I like to hand my blog over to other creators. Guys like Michael Hodges and Rick Grimes and Lawrence Roy Aiken and Eric S. Brown and others. When you're engaged in the lonely work of creating fiction and comics it's nice now and again to have someone try to give you a leg up or a helping hand. Thus, from time to time I'll do an interview or a book promotion for another writer.

Today, I present Jean Lamb, a fantasy writer I have known for a number of years. Her work has appeared in publications as varied as Deathrealm Magazine and science fiction anthologies such as Larry Niven's MAN-KZIN WARS. If you like high fantasy, you will certainly enjoy the work of Jean Lamb.

First of all, I’d like to thank Bob Smith for this promo opportunity. I have a lot more experience at writing than I do at promotion. Also, I want to apologize; I thought my readers would have gotten back to me by now, but apparently everyone is as busy as I am J, so my book hasn’t actually been released yet.

But I’d like to offer you something for your trouble. PHOENIX IN SHADOW is a large fantasy novel with a romance at the heart of it, though many of the branches go off in other directions. It is also the first of a series about the same fantasy world. Lady Idabel is a young woman with strong ambitions of her own, most of which have to do with revenge against the evil forces that destroyed her family, and the city that they once ruled. She has been raised in the Temple in Anyakora, and its leader is using her as a weapon, though she doesn’t really mind. Lord Treasurer Fennoy seeks her hand—but is he really the right man for her? Or should she vow herself to the Maiden, as the Priestess-Mother would like?

Then there’s Tar-Kapel Demytry, who knows he must marry, but hides a sad secret that keeps him from trying. He desires women, especially the tempting Lady Ardry—but fears he cannot have children. Who can heal his heart and release him from this curse? His friends include the aging spymaster Afac Stellin, who protected Demytry when he was a child from his ill-tempered father, and Dar Wolfraven, Demytry’s sword-brother and truest friend.

Demytry and Idabel must find each other in a world full of betrayal, the evil forces from the south who will do anything to keep them apart, and finally, love. There seem to be times, though, when even love might not be enough. They must find the courage to be honest with each other, and to survive the worst that life can deal to them.

This world, unfortunately, is full of graphic and sometimes sexual violence, and there are times when the reader might wonder if those who are guilty of it will receive their just deserts. Still, there is also hope, atonement…and always, there is love.

I’d like to add a brief excerpt from the first chapter:

Idabel never forgot the horror of the burning city.
            Cleophis once sat peacefully in the mountains at the southern edge of the Phoenix Empire and overlooked the passes to the land of the enemy. Dar Nidas Idarlo and his Lady Consort Denali ruled the city and the territory surrounding it. Idabel had been a child then. She was excited when her oldest sister Minshall was betrothed to Tar-Kapel Demytry, even though Minshall herself was less enthusiastic.
            That had been over half her life ago. She was only eight when Cleophis fell to the armies of General Durchan, leader of the Dramen who lived to the south. Idabel had been the youngest of seven noisy girls. Now she was alone.
            As she sat inside the Temple in Anyakora, she relived the bumpy wagon ride barely ahead of the flames consuming her home. Father had wanted to send them away two weeks ago, and Idabel still remembered the argument she’d overheard.
            Father had been right. Now he fought with his troops to cover their retreat. Idabel sat in the wagon and saw nothing but the back of her mother’s head. Her sisters huddled together and moaned in fear, despite Minshall’s attempts to calm them. Shouting and the sounds of fighting filled the air everywhere around them.
            Idabel was more excited than frightened. Father had let her begin arms training a few months ago. Shosann, one of her other sisters, showed her some of what she had learned of weapons when no one else could be spared to teach her once the Dramen army began their siege. Now they had to run, though Idabel wished they could stay and fight.
            Lady Idarlo screamed and lashed the horses to greater speed. Idabel didn’t understand. Mama always told them to be gentle with the beasts. The wagon lurched forward. All of them shrieked in terror when something hit the wagon, and a spear point stabbed through the heavy canvas at the side.
            Idabel coughed from the smoke. This couldn’t be real. As if in a dream, the pins fell out of her mother’s hair, except for one at the top. The long, looped braids fell. Streaks of white hair winding through black looked like ribbons. Her mother’s face, usually kind with her olive-skinned, fine-boned beauty, was now a mask of fury.
            The wagon stopped. Then it moved again. Idabel could tell they were off the road now. She held her hands over her ears to stop the horrible noise. Wood cracked and popped as something battered the frame of their cart beyond endurance. Gigantic green-skinned warriors on horseback seized the reins from her mother, though Lady Denali struck them with her whip.
            Idabel struggled to move closed to her mother, but Minshall pushed her down beneath a leather trunk. Why did she do that? The heavy thing squeezed her, and she found it hard to breathe. She wiggled first one way, and then the other, to escape the pressure. I only want to help! Why won’t Min let me?
            The wagon stopped. Idabel heard her mother and sisters shouting, and then weeping. One side of her prison broke wide open, and she slid down to the ground along with the trunk. Dramen warriors in dusty armor rode by laughing, while others pushed her family into the dirt. How dare they! What did they mean by taking turns?
            She finally pushed her way out from under the trunk, scooped up a fallen dagger, and flew at the enemy with a scream of rage. They paid her no attention till her blade sank into a soldier’s leg. One sweeping stroke of a spear-butt sent her flying. The last thing she remembered seeing was a torch being thrown onto the shattered wagon.
            Idabel never knew how long it was before she opened her eyes again. At first she didn’t understand why she wasn’t in her room. Everything shimmered and her head ached dreadfully. Her dress was partly burned, while one of her braids was charred to a stump. Her face hurt on that side, too.
            The wagon—the wagon was gone. A heap of smoldering embers sat in its place.
            Idabel struggled to her feet and looked for her mother. Mama would know what to do. The soldiers were gone. She was glad of that. 
            She looked at the bodies on the ground without understanding at first. One of them had a green skirt, though it was now soaked with blood. Shosann always wore that color.
            The young girl was afraid to look at the faces. It was so quiet.
            She heard someone screaming. She wished they would stop. Then she realized why her throat hurt. She was the one screaming. She was screaming because the bodies on the ground were her mother and sisters—one, two, three, four, five, six—that wasn’t right. She had one mother and six sisters, that should add up to seven bleeding lumps, not six.
            Then Idabel forced herself to look at the faces, the frozen horrible faces. Minshall was gone. Just…gone.
            She thought she heard a whisper. Oh, merciful Mother. Mama was still alive.
            “Idabel,” Lady Denali murmured. Her mouth bled. “Look in my hair…under the left braid…”
            “Yes, Mama.” She gently lifted her mother’s head and searched through the filthy, crusted hair. She found a hard lump the size of a large bean under the braid’s beginning. She was afraid to yank on it. Her mother had other lumps on her head now.
            “Take it,” the dying woman said. “It won’t hurt much.”
            Idabel pulled it out, like a small bead sewn into a small cloth bag. She held it tightly in her hands, because she knew it was the Rose of Cleophis, a flaming ruby with a tiny flaw in the center like a miniature rose. It had been the talisman of the Idarlos for centuries. She didn’t understand why Papa didn’t have it with him, though.
            “Take it to your father,” her mother said. Then the light fled from her eyes. She was like everyone else on the ground now.
            It was quiet again. Mama had told her what to do. Where was Papa? He’d told them last night that they were going to Anyakora. Maybe the Tar-Kapel could help—he had a spymaster who told him everything, her father had said. Maybe he would know where Papa was. Maybe he could find Minshall, too.
            Anyakora was in the north on the map her tutor had shown her. I want to go home! But she couldn’t. The Rose was her responsibility till she could give it to Papa. Idabel took a few steps and fell down. That was silly, she was much too old to trip like a baby. She stood up and started again.

I would like to thank for my beautiful cover! She adapted one of her premades to my needs, and I am delighted with the outcome. 

Jean Lamb is an older woman (just took early retirement, whee!) who is now writing full time, and who lives on the dry side of the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest. She has three novels already for sale, and will soon add PHOENIX IN SHADOW as her fourth (look for her author page on Amazon). She has a distressing tendency to think in the six book series length, and promises to add a new volume to one of them this year rather than just starting a new series. Honest! She is a full member of SFWA for SF like “Galley Slave” in MAN/KZIN WARS VIII and horror like “Esprit de Corpse” in GETTING EVEN: WOMEN’S REVENGE STORIES. She spent four years in the Air Force, some time raising a special needs child, four years in the library, and 15 in accounting. She has been married for 42 years and has two grown children, plus one cat and four computers in the house. Oh, wait, five...(she lost count of the number of books some time ago). She has also written fanfic on using the name of excessivelyperky (her husband was a chemistry teacher, so guess which character in Harry Potter she likes…). She has a lot more books planned to write.