My series, “The Einai Series,” by Simon Lang

From the flagship novel, “All the Gods of Eisernon,” through going down the Tubes with “The Elluvon Gift”; whether braving pirates and a hurricane at sea with “The Trumpets of Tagan,” sliding backward down Time and Space in “Timeslide,” or rushing medical help and humanitarian aid to backwater planets throughout the galaxy in “Hopeship,” the Einai Series takes you along on individual epic journeys that will remain in your imagination forever.  Check them out today at Amazon.com, Nook, Kindle, or on order from bookstores worldwide.  The Einai Series: the galaxy is waiting!

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“Even I could have written that…”

The work of writing is much like an iceberg; the larger portion by far–they tell us it’s about nine-tenths–is hidden from view.  Only the splendid finished product, the brilliant, shining one-tenth, shows.  And of course, that is as it should be.

When you’re finished with it, if you have done it well, people will say off-handedly, “Of course it ended that way!  It couldn’t have ended any other way. Look how simple it is, how it all goes together!  Even I  could have written that.”

And perhaps they might have, if they were willing to do what we do: to put in the learning of our craft, and the hours and days and weeks of time, and the patience, and the special way of looking at the world around them: to do the endless hours of research and the meticulous editing and the rewriting and rewriting, and all the great multitude of hard work a writer does, to achieve that “Look how simple it is” effect in the mind of the reader.

Perhaps then, they really could have written it.

But they didn’t.

We did.

And we did a good job, too!

Aren’t you proud of yourself?  You should be!

Good for you!

Good for us!

Go and do what I’m going to do:  sit on my laurels for half an hour, then get back to work.  Because my next one will be tons better than this one, and that will take a whole lot of hard work.  I’d best get at it.

See you next time!

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A head’s-up for science fiction fans…

I’ve re-edited, re-tweaked and in several case, added material to, my five previously-published science-fiction novels, which are now available again on Amazon, Nook, Kindle and by order from any bookstore worldwide.  

I enclose herewith a review by the prestigious Robert Murdoch, in the now-defunct Way Magazine, that my first novel, “All the Gods of Eisernon,” received in May,1974, eleven months after it was published:

“The cover of this pocket book describes it as a “Science Fiction Epic,” and so it is.  The story is rich in characters, in romance and adventure, in intrigue and in mystery.

Simon Lang is a pen name of Darlene Hartman, who has studied medicine, is now the mother of a large family, and who has written poetry, frame, short stories, essays and film and television scripts.  This background, combined with the gift of a fantastic imagination and a gossamer writing style results in a fascinating story which dramatizes an affirmation of life.

The romance between the principal characters, Marik and Mishli, is played out within a galactic war in which Earth Men intervene when Krail invade Eisernon with very much the same results as when Americans “saved” South Vietnam.  There are sub-plots galore and some of the most heroic and bizarre characters you will ever meet even in science fiction.

Above all, this story is a hymn to life.  At one time in the history of Eisernon the women who became pregnant by the invading soldiers threw their babies from cliffs rather than rear them.  A kind of religious order of women was founded to care for unwanted children, in which the Nuns had the fetuses transplanted into their own wombs and the Nuns carried and bore the children.  In the last sequence of the story, a star-ship goes to a planet where the inhabitants are at a stage of evolution in which it is not certain whether they are human persona or animals.  The planet is about to vaporize.  Will the U.S.S. Hope go to the rescue?  How much will the crew rush?  There is a twist in the ending which strikes a new note in romantic novels.

When I read on page one: “There were gods on Eisernon, and the people knew their gods and loved them with both their hearts,” I could not stop until I finished the story.  I am glad I finished it.  If you love life and adventure and romance and a hell of a story, you will be glad over it too.”

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Nip it in the Butt

I’ve been English-watching for a while now, and I’ve discovered a horrible truth.

There’s something desperately wrong with our language.

The crisis has risen to epic proportions. Somebody has to tell the world, and since no one else seems to have noticed, I suppose the honor falls to me.

Take the television commercial I just witnessed, for instance.  The sweet young thing in the ad raved on and on about XYZ Mouthwash, and advised us to use XYZ, “to nip those flu symptoms in the butt.”

I kid you not.

I stifled my grandmotherly cackles, stopped what I was doing and listened more carefully.  Surely she could not have said that.  No one could make such a silly mistake; but no, there she went again.  “So whenever you feel those flu symptoms coming on, just use XYZ Mouthwash and nip it in the butt.”

Now, in all my long life, I’ve met a whole lot of farmers and fruit-tree owners, and one of their worst fears was that a late frost might hit their trees in the spring, and “nip the fruit in the bud.”

That means if the frost killed the fruit tree’s flower buds, there wouldn’t be any flowers for the bees to pollinate, and so the farmer wasn’t going to have much fruit, come autumn.

That unfortunate phenomenon gave rise to the expression, “to nip something in the bud, spelled ‘B-U-D’;” that is, to prevent something bad from happening, right in the beginning.

For instance, if Joey’s friend Sylvester was caught shoplifting, Joey’s mother would snap, “Well, this nips that friendship in the bud!”  Which meant that Joey wasn’t going to see hide nor hair of his light-fingered friend Sylvester for the rest of the mother’s natural life, never mind his own.

It makes more sense than the television version, but, admittedly, it’s not nearly as interesting a concept.  Not half as funny, either.

Sadly, mistakes like this are just the tip of the iceberg.  This kind of misuse of English has been sneaking up on us for some time.

For instance, people say, “Keep well.”

Hmm…  That means either that you want to person you’re speaking to, to make sure he doesn’t lose his well (although wells are notoriously hard to lose, or steal, either, for that matter), or that you are hoping he has good health in future.  But wishing him good health would be “stay (remain) well,” not “keep (retain) well.”

No, I’m pretty sure they’re afraid their friend will go out one day and find his well missing.  People will steal just about anything these days, and they’re getting better at it all the time.

The same goes for authors who write lines like,  “With a graceful gesture, she flung her mantel around her shoulders.”

Oh, poor heroine!  I don’t know about your mantel, but mine is pretty darned heavy—I think it’s made of oak—and even though this author’s Valkyrie heroine can juggle a mantel onto her broad and muscular shoulders with a straight face, I just don’t get any kind of a romantic image from what is written.

What I see in my mind’s eye is that screamingly funny TV episode where Carol Burnett, playing Scarlett O’Hara, came downstairs wearing the velvet curtains–and the curtain rod as well.

“Ah saw it in the window,” she breathed steamily into Harvey Korman’s face, “and Ah just couldn’t resist it!”

I’ve been trying to come up with a caption for our Valkyrie with the mantel around her shoulders, but for the life of me, nothing comes to mind.

Maybe because I’m laughing so hard.

There are so many more examples, it isn’t even funny.  No, that’s a lie.  It is funny.  In fact, it’s hysterical.

The idea of all us Americans strutting around being “First World rich,” flinging money and opinions around like…well, like money and opinions…and yet murdering our own language, is just too funny for words.

Is it just me?

I’m still worried about the girl in the ad.  Was it the mouthwash I should bite?  How do you bite mouthwash?

No, it can’t be that, can it?

She did say, “Bite the flu in the butt.”   Maybe she meant the virus, after all.

But then, you never really know.  You put the mouthwash into your mouth, don’t you?– not the flu.

“Is a puzzlement,” as Yul Brynner got paid for saying.

Word.

With all the stuff scientists are finding out about the sub-microscopic world, maybe they’ve found that flu viruses actually do have teeny, tiny little butts, and we’re supposed to nip them.

Since our big old teeth are much too coarse for such delicate work, perhaps they’ve developed this top-secret mouthwash to do all the teeny, tiny little butt-nipping for us.  You know, like maybe teensy butt-choppers.  Nano-dentures.  Or more poetically, nano-nippers.

Who knows?  It’s really a strange world.

And getting stranger by the commercial.

Well, I guess there are some things we’ll never figure out.  I’ll probably write about something simpler next time.  Meanwhile, it’s getting colder outside, so keep well, wear your mantel, and be sure to nip that flu virus in the butt.

 

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False Teeth, or no False Teeth, That is the Question…

Tonight I want to talk to you about a trend I’ve been noticing in one of my own Fiction Writers’ Groups on LinkedIn.  So many young writers worry about a good deal about competition, about whether and when they will get an agent, be published by one of the big Houses, by an Indie publisher, or even be published at all.

These are important things to think about, but not yet.

Not yet.

What’s important now, and this applies to all writers, is the story.  Always and everlasting, the story.  That is and must be your total focus.

Since the beginning of time, as long as Man has occupied our beautiful little planet, there have been storytellers.  Whether it was a hominid (yes, I know he wasn’t quite Man, but close enough, just now) telling his group in primitive signs that he had seen something with too many teeth to argue with; or a male Australopithecus pointing for his clan the way north out of Africa; or a Cro-Magnon man—or woman—drawing tales the hunt, of anticipation and terror and delight, on the walls of a French cave, Man has been a storyteller.  We have found many ways to tell our stories, in television, movies, audio cassettes, in person in schools and churches and around campfires, and from parents and grandparents to children.  Oral histories; old legends with the fire of truth in their hearts; fairy tales; old stories told a thousand times and still new, still funny and horrible and tender and memorable, like a fire that can destroy and consume, or warm and comfort.

We are the keepers of that ancient flame, and we must see to it that it never dims, never falters, never fails.

The story, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is the thing.  Stories must start as close to the rising action as possible.  I don’t give a tinker’s dam whether Millie-May Jumbles sleeps on her left side, wears a flannel nightgown, and puts in her teeth before she waddles into the loo to wash up and comb her hair and clean her nails, unless that’s vital to the essence, the core of the story.

But if the story begins when she steps into the barn and hears the click of a gun’s hammer snapping back, I’ll all ears from then on.

The description is fine, and often necessary. but don’t turn off your reader with incidentals before you hook him.  Once the reader has committed to reading your piece, then fine, drop in the description bit by bit, hopefully by showing us, rather than telling us.  And only tell us what we need to hear.

Don’t give old Milly-May false teeth at all unless they’re going to play a role in the story.  That is to say, for instance, that she can keep complaining about her false teeth, how they make her mouth sore, and keep trying to fall out, and are a total bother; and perhaps the nervous intruder keeps telling her to shut up.

Then, if he carries her off, maybe her dropping those teeth somewhere they’ll be found or snagging them on a cactus–or whatever–as she passes, will spin the story around into a completely new direction.  That would follow.  But if you’re going to simply tell us she has false teeth, just to be cute, and then never mention them again, or mention them to no avail, forget it.  You’re wasting your time and the reader’s time, too.

Here’s a non-rule that works like a Rule:  Don’t show your reader anything—especially by mentioning it two or more times—unless you’re going to use it in the story.

Everything is important; you just have to decide what’s the most important in this story, this time.

More next time.

Lang out.

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Side Issue…

       I finally broke down and went to the dentist’s office yesterday.  He’s a new dentist–for me, at least– a fine young man who met all my requirements: he had to have graduated from Baylor Dental School, be intelligent, and accept my insurance.

       This young man fit all the parameters, and he was polite and kind as well.  He was obviously not from the States, but not to worry.  Baylor liked him; why shouldn’t I?

       He did a thorough exam of my mouth, while I tried to explain to him—past his whole fist and three or four pounds of metal–that I was going to be teaching, so any extensive repairs were out of the question for the time being.

       We finally settled on a root canal.  Not happily, but we settled.  Anything is better than a toothache when you’re standing in front of an audience trying to wax lyrical about writing.

        I asked him whether it would be painful, and he quickly assured me it would not.

        “Your mouse,” he said. “will be numb.  Rearry.”  That one took me a minute to work out.  My mouse’s rear would be numb? At last I got it.

       “Oh, you mean, I won’t feel anything,” I suggested.

       “Yes.  Your mouse will be numb.  Unfeering.  No sensation.”

       I liked the juxtaposition of “root canal” with the concept of “no sensation.”

       “You’re saying I won’t feel the root canal at all.”  He grinned reassuringly.

       “Not until rater.  Your whole mouse,” he reiterated, “will be numb.”

       Okay, that’s fine with me.  I’d just as soon have a numb mouse than not, when I’m up for a root canal.  (I’d like to go numb all over when something painful is being done to me, but they don’t have shots for that yet.)  Like many writers, including, I’m told, the great James Agee himself, I always put off going to the dentist as long as possible.  I understand from what I have read about him that he put it off a bit long, but then, his mouse probably wasn’t numb.

       And yes, I know that the American Dental community recommends twice-yearly checkups, but I keep telling myself I’m really, really busy.  I’ve got all these kids and grandchildren.  I’ve got my writing, the teaching, the cooking, the cleaning out of nail holes with a pin, whipping up great art with discarded tin foil…  Okay, I admit it: I don’t like to go to the dentist.

       But I reassured myself that I had some discipline, after all.  I don’t like to go to the dentist, but I went, nevertheless. That says something about fortitude, determination, and persistence… and, incidentally, the fact that I couldn’t stand another second of having half my face throbbing until it fell off.

       Especially in front of an audience.

       Well, I went and I’m glad.  It’s all going to turn out fine.

       According to my dentist, I’ll go in there, open wide, and two hours later, I’ll come out with a completed root canal, a follow-up appointment on a distant date, and a very numb mouse.

       You’ve got to admit, it can’t hardly get any better than that.

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Speaking of Speaking…

One of the interesting things about dialogue is that fictional dialogue never reads the way people really speak to each other; it reads the way people think they speak to each other.

 Prove it to yourself:

If you are one of the fortunate people who have a recorder on your cell phone, record a segment of the conversation around the water cooler or coffeepot one or two days.  Transcribe these segments onto a Word document or something like it, and read it aloud.  Chances are—with the exception of a few choice bits of gossip—it will be some of the dullest, least interesting bits of dialogue you ever have endured.

Let’s approach it as a ratio: fictional dialogue is to actual dialogue—and this goes especially for filmic dialogue—as Haiku is to ordinary poetry: a condensation, a distillation of ideas and graceful flights of concept, a ‘boiling off’ of the steam and the rendering of the important conversational bits into a denser, richer, and more satisfying draught.

 Try this with your own work: take a troublesome few pages that are heavy with dialogue and rewrite them in a new document—or simply copy-and-paste into the new document.  The only reason I mention rewriting is that the actual kinesthesis of rewriting helps to ‘burn’ the information into your brain, and sometimes that’s enough to suggest edits on the spot.

Now go through each line and say it aloud, or even better, if you can get a local theater group or high school/college drama class to stage a reading of this part of your work (it’s nice to invite members of your writing group and people from your town’s newspapers to sit in, if you’re not too shy.)  As they speak your undying prose, you will immediately hear where you need to rewrite.

When I say, ‘undying prose,’ I’m not making fun either of you or your prose; but if you don’t think your work is undying yet, then stage nothing, invite no one, and get busy rewriting until it is undying.   Then make the calls.  A small press release doesn’t hurt, either.

 Make notes as the actors speak, and don’t mind stopping them to ask them to speak your hastily-rewritten lines.  Don’t do this too often, but you may do it if you are polite and respectful of their art as well as your own.  Occasionally, an actor will suggest a change.  Listen with an open mind and thank them kindly for their contribution.  You may not ever use it, but it is a free gift intended to help you improve your work, and that is always a compliment.

 More next week.

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