Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Poem Accepted at Tales from the Moonlit Path

There was a bit of good news in my e-mail inbox today. My dark speculative poem "Gathering of the Dead" has been accepted for publication in the Halloween 2009 issue of the dark e-zine Tales from the Moonlit Path. As always, I'll post a link when the poem is on-line.

"Gathering of the Dead" draws upon the link between faerie and the dead, perhaps even amplifying it for dramatic effect. I found my inspiration in a story extract included in The Ultimate Fairies Handbook by Susannah Marriot. The folktale that served as my inspiration, from Lady Wilde's Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland, concerned Hugh King's encounter with the fair folk late one November Eve. I took the idea of a gathering on a fairy rath on November's Eve, added some ghostly imagery, potentially fatal consequences, and perhaps a dash of irony, and turned the whole thing into a cautionary verse. And, as I tend to do quite often, I also threw in a bit of archaic vocabulary, using the word "gasts" as a synonym for "ghosts" or "spirits". (Gast used in that sense does appear in the archaic and obscure section of my old Websters New International Dictionary, as well as in the copy of the OED I consulted in the college library.)

I believe this will be the fourth poem of mine to appear in Tales from the Moonlit Path. I like it when this happens; after the second or third time, it gets harder and harder to think of it as just a fluke. By the fourth time, I actually begin to think I might know what I'm doing. Then again...

Anyway, I'm always especially pleased when one of my fairy lore pieces gets picked up for publication. And I'm glad that I managed to get this particular poem accepted for publication in a Halloween issue, since it is all about what happens on the fairy rath on November's Eve.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mould Ate my Leather Armour!

While cleaning house over the weekend, I noticed worrying spots on the back of my wax-hardened leather scale armour. Upon further inspection, I realised that the whole lower half of the back, scales and backing leather, was covered by spots of mould. The scales had been treated by immersion in melted wax, and the backing leather by a varnish, but the mould got through anyway.

Alas, there was no saving the scale shirt. The mould growth looked too extensive, and was particularly bad under the overlap of the scales. I bagged up my ruined armour and threw it away. There goes a couple hundred dollars worth of leather and several days' work down the drain. Granted, the piece had been on display in my home for many years now, but that doesn't really lessen the pain.

I hate the humidity here in upstate New York, just a few blocks from the Hudson River. I especially hate the mould that seems to grow so prolifically around here. This growth was particularly bad in our previous place of residence, one of the reasons we moved back in July. And I am furious when my things get ruined by this mould from hell, something that had happened before (again, in our previous residence).

Oh well, if ever I find the time and money to make it possible, I will have to go ahead and make a replacement scale shirt. And I just found out that this armourer recently added DIY steel scales to his inventory. So, perhaps I can actually create an improved version, one where I don't have to worry as much about mould. Rust will still be an issue, but there are ways of dealing with rust.

Unfortunately, I don't think I ever took any pictures of my leather scale armour. It did look impressive.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shameless Parental Brag

My daughter received a letter in the mail yesterday informing her that she has been invited to join Phi Theta Kappa, the international honour society for students of two year colleges. I am very proud, and this proves that she was more than ready for college. I guess we did something right in home-school after all. I saw it as my duty to prepare her for college, and I guess I performed that duty admirably. Of course, credit must go where credit is due, and Stephanie would never have earned this honour if she hadn't work hard to achieve it. She is a good kid (alright, young adult), and she understands the importance of a college education.

Anyway, this makes three-for-three honour society inductees (or soon-to-be-inductees) in this household. I was made a member of Phi Beta Kappa back in '92, during my last semester at SUNY Albany. My wife was inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honour society for adult learners in continuing higher education, in '99. And now my daughter will be a member of Phi Theta Kappa.

Aren't we just a family of braniacs?

Niteblade Art Blog: Faerie and Fantasy

I just posted another Niteblade art blog entry. This time around, I feature the faerie and fantasy art of the character concept artist and illustrator Amber Alexander. A soldier turned traditionally trained artist, Amber discovered digital art during her last semester at the University of California at Berkeley. She was hooked, and decided that digital was the medium for her.

Check out more about Amber and her work here: Faerie and Fantasy: The Art of Amber Alexander.

Oh, by the way, I managed to slip "fays" into the entry, just to make a point (and because it worked). I simply couldn't help myself. Not to mention, I didn't want to use "fairies" after using "faerie" earlier in the paragraph.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Visages of Betrayal and Madness" in THE MONSTERS NEXT DOOR

My dark poem "Visages of Betrayal and Madness" has been published in Issue Eight of The Monsters Next Door, their very-first print issue. The poem can also be seen in the free pdf sneak-peek, but I suggest buying a print copy to help support the editor's efforts in making the switch from e-zine to print zine. Besides, reading something on the computer screen just isn't the same as reading something actually in print.

Hmm...what do I say about this poem? Do I dare admit that it deals with my very real, very troubled thoughts regarding my own parents? It is true; I did delve into my own pain, disappointment, and resentment when writing this piece. It's a hell I've revisited once or twice before. Not that I'm going to turn into a murdering monster because of what the monsters in my past did to me, but I figured it could definitely happen to the subject of this poem. And I also took something I saw on the telly about a madman tearing the faces off his victims (or something like that), gave it a slight twist, and added it to the brewing pot of bloody mayhem.

In a departure from my more typically supernatural dark verse, there is nothing otherworldly about the events in "Visages of Betrayal and Madness". The monsters this time around are decidedly human, not creatures from the shadow realm. I've written about human monsters before, but I don't do it very often. Perhaps it hits too close to home. After all, I grew up surrounded by plenty of examples of monstrous humanity.


Thom Olausson, a fellow poet, had asked if I could come up with a quote he could use to promote his forthcoming collection. I told Thom to send some poetry my way and I would see what I might come up with. He e-mailed me a bunch of poems, and I came up with what seemed like an appropriate quote:

"Thom Olausson's compact verse captures the pure beauty and emotive power of nature as well as the timeless strength of myth and folklore. The cycle of life and death, birth and rebirth, flows throw his words, given immediacy by the brevity of his chosen form."
- Richard H. Fay, poet and artist

Well, Thom liked the quote. Actually, he said it was wonderful. So, it looks like my quote may be one of those used to help promote Thom's forthcoming collection. I don't know if it will do any good, I don't know if my words and opinions carry any real weight, but I was honoured and flattered to be asked to come up with a quote to be used in such a way.

Now, I'm more anxious than ever to have my own collection out there! I'm starting to think that waiting for publication is truly the hardest part. And I'm far from having a complete set of illustrations for the collection-in-progress (not to be confused with the one currently under contract, with a tentative publication date of early 2010).

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tiny T. rex Ancestor

Well, I guess short arms weren't really that much of a liability at all for the Tyrannosaurs, since that distinctively Tyrannosaur trait was apparently around for at least 40 million years before T. rex:

Tiny "T. Rex" Found -- 150-Pound Species Came First
(Link to a National Geographic News article by Rebecca Caroll)

Gotta love the name Raptorex, too.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Abandoned Towers Magazine On-Line

A while back, Crystalwizard, Managing Editor of Abandoned Towers, asked for help in getting the word out about all the content available at Abandoned Towers on-line. Well, I figured better late than never, so here goes...

Abandoned Towers Magazine has lots of neat reading material on-line, from timeless classics authored by famous names to gems penned by up-and-coming writers, from literature of the fantastic to non-fiction articles, from comics to poetry. Not to mention, you can find plenty of poetry, some art, and even an article by yours truly within the pages of that particular e-zine. There is even an Abandoned Towers Zazzle Store selling cool Abandoned Towers merchandise, much of it featuring my own designs and illustrations. Of course, there is also a print version of Abandoned Towers, but the versions are different. Material appearing in print will not appear on-line, and vice versa. So, even if you purchase print issues, you might still want to browse the on-line version.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Little Bit More About THE DENHAM TRACTS

Maybe I'm now beating a dead horse, but...

Out of all the things on the rather extensive list of "spirits" from Volume II of The Denham Tracts, fays are listed, but faes are not. Granted, some of the spellings of the names of other beings are different from spellings seen elsewhere, and Denham's works are now well over one-hundred years old, but I still find the absence of "fae" telling. Yes, language is mutable, but what about tradition? Shouldn't tradition carry some weight when talking about beings found in lore going back hundreds, if not thousands, of years? Or must modern men thumb their noses at such things in order to be modern, playing fast-and-loose with tradition?

The fairies of today are, for the most part, descendants of the fairies of yesteryear. Even thinking of fairies as entities existing in a slightly different dimension from our own, occasionally slipping through the edge of our reality, is nothing really new; fairies were often thought of as beings of "in-between" (creatures of dusk and dawn, people of mist and shadow, a strange link between the living and the dead). Much of the lore surrounding the fay had them residing in an alternate reality, a reality that often possessed different physical and temporal rules from those holding sway over our own world. And traditional Celtic belief in the fair folk was just as strong as current New Age belief in the actual existence of fairies. So, why the change to "fae"? What purpose does it serve? If they are the same beings, with such a rich tradition behind them, why the departure from the more traditional spelling of the term?

Tolkien did not Make up Hobbits...

...well, the name, at least. Back in my college days, I knew I had seen the name "hobbits" in a book about beings of traditional lore. It appeared in a list of "spirits" (fairies, bogies, and other night-fears), probably copied from Volume II of The Denham Tracts. I recently saw the list from The Denham Tracts posted in someone's on-line journal, which made me recall my own discovery of this interesting bit of information many years ago. The list does appear in An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures by the folklorist Katharine Briggs. I may have originally noted the mention of "hobbits" while browsing that particular tome, or I may have run across it elsewhere. In any case, since Michael Aislabie Denham died in 1859 (his works were complied by the Folk-Lore Society into the two volumes of The Denham Tracts in 1892 and 1895) I think it's safe to say that Denham's mention of "hobbits" predates Tolkien's use of the term for his halflings. Tolkien apparently adopted, rather than invented, that particular race name.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Standard vs. Trendy Spellings

Should a writer follow trendy spellings of words, even if those spellings aren't necessarily recognized by dictionaries that the writer consults on a regular basis? Or, should a writer stick to standardized spellings, spellings presented as proper in most of the standard English dictionaries? To stay current, must a writer follow the flow of popular trends regarding spellings, or should a writer remain on a more traditional course for the sake of clarity? Might non-standard spellings muddy the waters, or do they merely add a contemporary bend to the story stream? (Yes, this is more of the "fae versus fay" discussion, or at least an extension of it.)

Personally, I prefer tradition over trend. For clarity's sake, I'm reluctant to use non-standard spellings. I may use obscure and archaic words on occasion, but always ones found in one of the standard English dictionaries (Webster's or the OED). And I usually try to make sure the words can be deciphered through context. On occasion, I will use technical terms not found in the dictionaries, usually in discussions of arms and armor (and always terms already recognized by academics and scholars in the field). Sci-fi and fantasy names, completely made-up terms in imaginary settings, are a different kettle of fish altogether, but in that instance writers should have free rein to let their imaginations soar. However, I don't like to use different spellings of recognized English words just because that is what others are doing at the moment. I don't trust that all popular trends will stand the test of time.

To me, writing is a form of communication. To be as clear as it can be, there must be some sort of standardization to that communication. And one way of achieving this standardization is through the use of standardized spellings. I know about the mutability of the English language, and I understand that language is ever-changing, growing and adapting to new circumstances. However, I don't think writers should use the fact that language changes as an excuse to follow non-standard spellings when standard spellings already exist. Maybe a writer can be a force of change, but must a writer be a force of change of the very language they use as a tool of communication? Taken too far, wouldn't this idea of following non-standard spellings ultimately lead to a lack of clarity? (For instance: reading Middle English isn't always easy for all; you have to adapt to different spellings, often sounding out certain words that are spelled differently than their modern equivalents. I'm sure that at least some of those who attempt to read Middle English don't necessarily understand it.)

That's why I tend to follow a traditional path.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fay versus Fae

To kill time while my wife and I were waiting for our daughter to get out of her night class tonight, I went to the college library to consult their copy of The Oxford English Dictionary. Among the handful of words I wanted to look up was fae, often used in recent literature as an alternative for fairy.

Well, according to the OED 2nd Edition, Volume V, 1989, the only definition for fae is a Scottish variation of foe. There is no entry where fae equates to fairy. Fay, on the other hand, does.

Since I like to sprinkle my works with archaic and obscure words every so often (one of the other words I looked up was gast - an obscure variation of ghost), I think I'll stick to the more traditional spelling of f-a-y. It goes back quite a way, and suits my style. And I'm just more comfortable with it. F-a-e, even if it is currently acceptable within certain circles, just seems wrong to me.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I'm a Favourite Poet!

I received an ego-boosting compliment today. A fellow poet, one with a collection due to come out in the near future, had asked if I could read some of his poems and come up with a quote he could use, I guess for promotional purposes. He actually said it would mean a lot if a poet of my caliber honoured him in such a way.

Feeling both flattered and unworthy at the same time, I had to ponder over my response. I try to compose poetry the best way that I can, but I suspect deep down in my heart that my best is probably not always good enough to reach true greatness. And I'm woefully lacking any sort of academic background in poetry; my college-level training in the poetic arts consisted of merely one semester-length course taken two decades ago. I almost always rely on instinct more than anything else. And acknowledgment of that fact can make me feel like a sham poet at times.

Still, being asked to give a quote under such circumstances may indicate that I have indeed touched another's heart and soul with my particular brand of verse. Which means I may have achieved one of my objectives, one of the reasons I keep writing poetry. And maybe I'm too hard on myself, thanks in part to my poor self-image and oft-wavering self-esteem.

After thinking about it for a while, I decided it was better for me to grasp the opportunity and come up with a quote, rather than let the opportunity slip right through my fingers. So I told my fellow poet to send the poems my way. He did, and in the message that I received today he stated that I was his favourite poet! Well, one of his two favourites, anyway. He also called me a master of the written word.

Of course, all this flattery may simply be an attempt to butter me up to get a good quote out of me. Then again, maybe not. Maybe there is more to it than that. Perhaps, just perhaps, I may actually be better than I think I am. Then again, maybe not. Whatever the whole truth of the matter may be, now I have to see about coming up with that quote.

Not bad for someone who has only been working on this poetry-for-publication thing seriously since March of 2007! Prior to that, I had written poetry on-and-off (mostly off) since the late Eighties, but hadn't really submitted more than a modest batch or two until I began my submission blitz in 2007. My recent string of publications seem to have gotten me a little bit of attention, a modicum of recognition from at least a few fellow poets. And that is definitely a good thing, although the shameless attention-craving side of my personality wouldn't mind more of the same.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Eldritch Mistress" Published in APHELION

My dark speculative cinquain "Eldritch Mistress" has been published in the September 2009 issue of the web-zine Aphelion. Check it out!

Yes, in a departure from my regular Aphelion scifaiku and horrorku publications, I have something slightly larger this time around. I like the form of the cinquan, although I don't profess to be any sort of expert at cinquain composition. Still, I find that I can typically say just a little bit more in a cinquain than I usually can in a haiku. In some ways, the cinquain form actually fits my style better than the haiku form. Maybe it's just symptomatic of my own limitations, but I often find haiku to be too restrictive. Cinquains let me explore the language of scenes, thoughts, and feelings just a little bit more.

As for this particular cinquain, I found inspiration in tales of fatally beautiful fairy loves, especially the Breton Korrigan temptress. She would sit beneath the dark forest canopy beside a ruined well, combing and braiding her golden hair. Through glamour she would transform mossy thicket into richly carpeted palace, only to have the spell broken by dawn's first light. I also added elements from the Manx Lhiannan-shee, the fairy muse that slowly drained life energies from poets and musicians.

And why eldritch, other than the fact that this happens to be one of my favourite words? Well, I'm trying to get extra power out of the title, treating it as part of the poem rather than just a tag. I feel that the possible root of eldritch, perhaps coming from the Middle English elfriche, meaning "fairyland", adds that fairy element missing in the poem itself (although hinted at in the use of the word fey). In my mind, fay equates to fairy; fey equates to doomed, visionary, or otherworldly, but not necessarily of fairyland. After all, fay is the old term for a denizen of fairyland; fairy (Fay-erie) was first used merely for a state of enchantment. And I'm none too fond of the modern preference for fae, a spelling that seems to simply be a shortening of the alternate spelling of fairy - faerie.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Holy Cow!

Today, I finally received a couple of copies of Abandoned Towers #3 featuring my cover art "A Leviathan Ascendant". I wanted one to frame, and one to add to my growing collection of contributor's copies (I was sent a contributor's pdf, but I just had to order actual print copies). Plus, my wife wants to take one into work to show off. I believe she thinks that some of her coworkers don't quite get it when she says I did the cover art for a magazine (albeit, a small-press one).

Well, I opened the box, peeled back the plastic, and literally exclaimed "holy cow!". I knew this image happened to be one of my best drawings yet, but seeing it for the first time in its full-colour glossy glory was an amazing sight. I am actually impressed by my own art, which doesn't happen very often. Usually, I'm my worst critic, finding microscopic flaws, discovering non-existent faults. I get so bad at times that my daughter says I have "art-orexia". Not this time. This time I'm quite pleased with my work. And trust me, there is no way to experience the full impact until you hold that zine in your hand.

(And, let me give some credit to Crystalwizard and her Abandoned Towers team, too, because they came up with a title font that goes great with my serpent.)

No Reply Quandary

During my quest to become a published poet, I sent examples of my work to a plethora of venues, genre and mainstream (I did write a little mainstream). One thing I noted as my list of submissions and responses grew is that some editors never responded to my submissions at all. Such works sat in submission limbo forever, at least as perceived on my end of things.

Now, I know some markets don't reply to rejections, and say as much in their guidelines. However, others say no such thing, and yet still apparently practice the "no reply" policy. And querying might not do any good. Some of those same markets that refuse to reply to rejections also refuse to reply to queries about those rejected works. I know; I've sent out several queries that never received replies. Which leads me to the "no reply quandary" - when do you actually know if a lack of a reply is a rejection?

Many markets dislike simultaneous submissions. And I've been trying to avoid simultaneous submissions as much as possible. I've tried to play by the rules, but sometimes the rules don't make a heck of a lot of sense. Sending to markets that don't respond to rejections, and don't say as much in their guidelines, is almost like banishing your work to an endless void, from which it never returns. I know some may say that the publishing world is unfair, but that's beyond unfair, that's absurd (especially in the these days of e-mail).

How do you judge if a lack of response from a market is truly a rejection, or if that market just takes a remarkably long time to respond? How long do you give a particular venue until you give up on it and send the piece elsewhere (and run the risk of simultaneous submissions)? How many withdrawal letters can one poet send out before that poet gets a reputation as being too impatient? When do you assume a lack of reply is actually a rejection? I know patience is a virtue in the publication business, but no human being has infinite patience. And I'm not always known as a patient man; an irony for someone even just wandering the verge of the publication field.

I have a few poems submitted back in April and May of 2007 that never received replies one way or the other. I think it's safe to assume that the submitted works were rejected, and in these cases the editors just didn't bother to say "thanks, but no thanks". However, I'm currently awaiting word back on a submission of multiple poems sent to a certain market in late May of this year. The market claimed in their guidelines that they responded in 2-4 weeks, but then stated in July that they were behind due to unforeseen issues. In mid August I sent a query asking about the status of my submissions. I'm still awaiting reply to my query. I know I should wait a bit longer, give them more time, but how much time do I give them? I'm thinking of waiting another 4-6 weeks, and then sending them a letter withdrawing my works so I can send them elsewhere. Is that reasonable, or not?

I've also withdrawn works from markets that appeared dead or dying, ones that seemed to take so long to respond that it looked like they never would, only to have the markets revive and finally reply to my submissions or queries. So you can't always assume a "no reply" is indeed an outright rejection, which in my eyes muddies the waters even more. As a potential contributor relying only on the information about response times provided in a market's guidelines or on an editor's blog (and perhaps what is gleaned off of Duotrope's as well), I don't always know if a reply is just slow in coming, or if it isn't coming at all.

So, for all my writer and poet colleagues out there, what prophetic spell or scrying ball do you use to figure it all out? And where can I get me some of the same magic?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Drawing Swords

I've been drawing swords for a clip art project. I used to draw swords and other weapons for fun, during down-time at my former place of employment, and in the process scared my coworkers to no end. They all knew I collected medieval sword replicas, and some thought that I would go completely psycho one day and bring one of my swords to work to wage bloody mayhem.

Silly people, my swords aren't even truly sharp, and anyway, how would I have gotten them past security at the labs? It's not like you can easily conceal a three-foot long piece of polished steel. Besides, I was drawing swords in a purely artistic sense, not a martial one. Some people let their wild imaginations get in the way of any sort of rational sense. I actually dealt with the terrible atmosphere present in those labs by a more reasonable fashion - I left! (Imagine that.)

Anyway, my more enlightened coworkers used to ask me what I was doing in a place like that, when it seemed like I had the talent to draw so well. I was certainly a prolific doodler of deadly weapons. So, now I draw swords for profit. Yippee for me!

Funny how things can work out like that sometimes. It took a while to get to this point (while I was still at the lab I created sword and weapon bookmarks for sale at a local medieval fair that didn't sell nearly as well as my Arthurian character ones), but I'm finally putting my penchant for drawing swords to good use.