Robert E. Howard, Southern Writer


The Abbeville Institute, a site dedicated to Southern arts, has published my article on Robert E. Howard. Here’s a sample:

“The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.” Flannery O’Connor

The Southern Gothic tradition, as pioneered by such writers as William Faulkner and Carson McCullers, as well as O’Connor, is noted for its stinging indictment of modern life. Southern Gothic tales feature shocking violence and criminality committed by bizarre, larger-than-life characters clawing for survival in a society that has broken down. Magical and supernatural forces often intervene in unexpected ways.

Read the rest at Abbeville Review, and like it here.

We Are Not The World


Sarah Hoyt reminds us how presumptuous and simply wrong-headed it is to imagine the rest of the world is just like us, only dressed differently. As she puts it, “I don’t think anyone realizes just how different the texture of life is elsewhere.”

She’s right. My wife and I spent three weeks in a village in central Mexico where I researched Aztec Midnight. Though I’d been in the country before, I was not prepared for what I encountered.

The locals we met were extremely hospitable, generous, and eager to talk to us. I admired how social they are — we attended a birthday party for a 75-year-old man we’d just met, and our hosts kept offering us homemade rum and beer, pastries, and enchiladas. They love to fiesta.

But Mexicans are indeed different. There’s a certain Mexican attitude that encompasses both cheerfulness and fatalism, and it’s expressed with a grin and a shrug of the shoulders. Their national character is a striking contrast to American triumphalism.

The more we learn about others, the more we can appreciate who we are.

Best fiction and writing blogs

The best fiction and writing blogs, compiled by lovecraft

A Vase of Wildflowers: Links for Readers and Writers [Good stuff here, folks!]
Writerish Ramblings: Critique Group
Captain’s Log: Notes on Money and Self-Publishing [Practical advice from a writer who’s walked the walk]
Kill Zone: Don’t Muddle Your Message [How to think like an editor]
Alice Osborn: 4 Tips for a Writing Mom to Stay Sane
Jacqueline Seewald: How to Increase Your Creativity and Productivity
Flavorwire: The 50 Sexiest Literary Villains
A Writer’s Path: Ten Quote Tuesday [Need inspiration? Ryan has it]

David Holt’s State of Music

Frank Stasio of North Carolina public radio interviews David Holt about his upcoming special on the music of western North Carolina. There’s a great slide show accompanying the interview you don’t want to miss.

And don’t forget: David Holt’s State of Music premieres Thursday, January 29. It promises to be a wonderful introduction to mountain music.

Beauty and the Ideal Man


Far from making him appear “sissy,” an appreciation of beauty is essential to channeling a man’s natural inclinations into supporting vital social goals and making him a better man, says Jared Silvey:

This stronger inclination to fighting is not, in itself, automatically directed to either good or evil. It has the potential to go either way. It can be directed to good, as in the case of fighting to defend one’s country against unjust aggression, or to evil, as in the cases of murder, rape, and other acts of unjust violence.

Beauty here enters the picture by helping to direct this male inclination to aggression and fighting to a worthy end. This is because real beauty is always found wherever there is truth and goodness, and it strengthens the attraction these other two values exert on the human person. It moves a man to defend whatever is good and true. The beautiful maiden is a potent spell which carries the knight into the field of battle. It can be said that there is no one the enemy should fear more than a man who enters into battle with his lady in his heart. Beauty makes men fighters because it first makes them lovers.

Silvey observes that even the caveman found time to make cave paintings, whereas “today’s tech-savvy, fast-food fed, materialistic West places more emphasis on money, things, efficiency, and instant gratification.” Modern consumerism transforms everything into a commodity, even sex. To salvage the humanity within us, we need to slow down, stop envying what we’re told we’re supposed to have, and rediscover the joy of simple, direct living.

Jon Barrett, the hero of my novella Aztec Midnight, feels a mystical connection to the beauty of ancient weapons when he enters the vault at the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia in Cuernavaca:

I stepped into a long, darkened room full of rows of tables. The only illumination came from ultraviolet lamps. It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the relic-friendly lighting. I slowly recognized piles of Aztec, Mayan, Toltec, and Spanish colonial artifacts on each table. As I gazed at the long rows of deadly and finely crafted weapons from four heroic cultures, my heart beat just a bit faster than normal. It felt like Christmas morning.

I think Jon Barrett would agree with Dostoevsky’s observation that “Beauty will save the world.” Appreciating beauty, like striving for a sound mind in a healthy body, is a vital part of being a whole man.

I resolve to be very bad this year

… and very good. It depends on what I’m aiming for at the moment.

Now that I’ve had a chance to digest all the advice and resolutions of various writers and writing coaches, I’ve decided what advice I intend to follow and what advice I will violate.

For starters, a number of well-meaning gurus counsel writers to finish what they’ve started. Only they say it like this: “Finish that manuscript! And eat your broccoli!”

No doubt they mean well. And there are times when you have to buck up and WORK at getting words onto the screen (or paper). But when a project just doesn’t work for you, there comes a time when you have to admit you took a wrong turn. Why keep on working to complete a piece that you know in your gut is a waste of time?

Another way I intend to be bad is to be more open to artistic expressions I once rejected or was afraid to approach. The “bad boys” (and girls!) of literature have something to say, and many of them say it damned well. For example, I just finished Charles Bukowski’s Ham on Rye, and loved it. He’s a writer who, from what I’d read ABOUT him, I just knew I’d despise. Boy, was I wrong. Ham on Rye is honest, gritty, vivid literature.

We all need a little crazy in our lives. In Act V, Scene 1 of my favorite Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus offers these observations about the little spoonful of insanity that makes art come alive:

Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

As Hippolyta acknowledges, that interplay of madness and craft can yield “something of great constancy” that is both “strange and admirable.”

But fear not; I only intend to flirt with the dark side, not elope with it. I’ll be good, too, in the coming year — I’ll continue to set writing goals, blog often, and keep myself mentally and physically sharp by getting outdoors more often and exercising. It’s good to have both feet planted on the ground. However, the idea is not to stay planted, but to have a good foundation from which to explore and grow.

The Complex Sense of Place

Tobacco Barn

“The deconstuctionist postmodern analysis asserts that we never actually know anything about our local patch of the biosphere because we can know only the concepts our particular society has invented … All this seems exceedingly odd–and more than a little pathological–to traditional native peoples, for instance. From an early age, they pay a great deal of attention to the dynamics of the natural world, both individually and collectively. They observe with great sensitivity the dramas, rhythms, and presence of place.” Charlene Spretnak, The Resurgence of the Real, p. 27.

Worthwhile writing, like any other product of a living culture, arises from a people’s strivings, tragedies, and victories as experienced in a particular place. This is an insight that animates the fiction of Tolkien, and I think he would agree that the sense of alienation that afflicts so many these days is the result of our loss of feeling for the dramas, rhythms, and presence of place. Tolkien certainly knew that a vivid setting could be as strong a character in a good story as the protagonist, and no one could create a living, dynamic backdrop like he could.