Wassail, traveler, and welcome to The Gable Grey -- a place of retreat, of renewal, and of resistance: a tree-shaded refuge in Dark Times. Now pass the threshold, and rest from journeys! For a cold wind is blowing; and here, if you wish, you may hear tidings of the world without...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Harad Road

So. I have once again shifted my gaming focus... this time, back South, to Umbar, the Haradwaith, and beyond.
I have recently rediscovered one of my favorite characters, the Haradan thief and adventurer Roon Dorozhand, son of Roon, son of Roon, son of Roon, Keeper of the Sword of Hoodrazai.
Elements for a Quest are forming and are slowly being put into place. I am slowly gathering together a very small cadre of companions for this, as well as assembling the needed library of MERP volumes.
I am very excited, and think about the possibilities every day. Umbar, Greater Harad, Far Harad, Boshisha-Dar, Ciryatandor, Ny Chennacatt, the Yellow Mountains... I have never been so excited about a campaign!
So far, I have two possible companions to come with me and my mule, Chu-bu, on this Quest, fellow Haradrim both: Reav Bodrahan and Blod Tarkhaan. There is another, possibly, but we shall have to see if his overlords allow him time to come and play.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Another has left these shores...

I discovered that one of my favorite fantasy illustrators, Angus McBride,

died earlier this year. I usually am not too saddened by celebrity deaths, but this one hits me harder than most. McBride's art served as covers for many MERP campaign and adventure guidebooks published by Iron Crown Enterprises back in the 1980's and early 1990's. His work helped shape my ideas of what certain peoples and areas in Middle-earth might look like. I had not thought about him in a long while; I suppose I took his work for granted.

Angus, I hope you found that far green country under a swift sunrise. You are missed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Back to the Fields I Know...

I am being sucked (albeit willingly) back into Middle-earth Role-playing.
I have not got any writing done. Much of my free time is spent prowling Ebay listings for MERP titles. Beyond that, I plot adventure scenarios and conjure up wierd characters for my imagined campaigns. It's almost as if I were still 17 years old, staying up till all hours rolling stats and perusing Treasures of Middle-earth as if it was a Christmas catalog for Elves, Dwarves, Men, and Hobbits. Want THAT sword, THAT elven-ring, THOSE boots...
This is becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence, this slip back into Endor. It's probably not a good thing, but I can't muster the will to care. I mean, I'm planning on eventually introducing elements of time-travel to my Third Age campaign, if certain characters survive long enough to become moderately powerful and at least locally famous (or notorious). Third Age characters testing their mettle in war-ravaged Beleriand? How cool is that??? I get giddy just thinking about it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

In Dreams

SO I got one paragraph done on "The Woodreeve's Tale," and of course more editing. Hey, it's better than nothing.

Been getting back into the MERP gaming thing lately. Something about this time of year -- autumn light, leaves changing, chill mornings -- gets my adventurous spirit up. My brother and I are working on creating a pair of characters that are actually brothers in Middle-earth: half-elves (Peredhil), part Silvan (Avar) elf, part Beorning. I am the more wizardly of the two: a muddle-headed animist with a particular affinity towards birds. I expect we will become great spider-hunters, before we do the real fun stuff: spying on the Dragons of the Withered Heath, infiltrating the slave pits of Mount Gundabad, getting to know the Giants of the Grey Mountains. Wilderland! We shall have fun there. Must... stock... up... on... Guiness...

I suspect that we will begin somewhere in the middle of the Third Age. Of course we will probably opt for the immortal route regarding the inevitable half-elf question, so we will be able to engage in all sorts of adventures over the course of 1500 years, and on into the Fourth Age, if we survive. I have designs on a lesser Elven ring of power I know of, and my brother is destined to wield a sword of great power and great historical significance (read: notoriety)...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Grim, unproductive days for this writer. Happy times otherwise; good times, noodle salad. But no writing, nothing. Can't even be inspired to fill in a blank Word page. ZERO desire to work on the novella. Less than zero desire to work on Book II of the fantasy epic. It'll never get either of them done at this rate.
There's been so much going on lately. Both the wife and daughter had birthdays last week, as did my stepmother. My brother's birthday was the week before. My dad & stepmom's anniversary, the same week. My brother-in-law and his wife had their first child that week. One of my wife's stepsisters had a baby last week, 2 months premature (little girl weighs 1 pound). Then Adrienne had Lasik surgery on her good eye yesterday; still kind of waiting for her vision to really clear up, although she drove to work today without her glasses for the first time, EVER. That's a really big deal for her. Tomorrow, one of my off days, my brother and I are helping my mom finish putting skirting around her trailer, which she had moved earlier in the summer.
I have no creative energy, unless it is to give some thought to future arrangements in the yard, or to organize new displays of my Star Wars collection. Is this what being a writer is like? Getting no work done, and feeling bad about it most of my waking hours? How do I get past this? How do I get back to the "salad days" of writing, before my daughter was born, before we bought the house, before three dogs and two cats and a tank of fish and relatives lurking about and a video rental business to manage? I miss the feeling of finishing a troublesome chapter, of being able to talk about finishing a troublesome chapter, even of lying awake at night wondering how the hell my characters are going to get from point D to point E. I miss just talking about it with other writers. But there's no one in this small Mississippi town I can really talk to about it. There are no real novelists here; one old man I know writes novellas of "local color" that cater mainly to the locals, but he is old, fairly well-to-do and has little to no interest in sharing in the struggles of a young-ish writer of Fantasy fiction.
I've tried rereading Tolkien to jumpstart my creative battery, to little effect. So, I am going to try and get hold of some Gardner again, including a book I only recently discovered on Amazon: On the Moral Novel or something to that effect. If that doesn't do it, I don't know what will. Aside from my various petty material collections, and my daughter, I don't know that I will leave any other lasting ("lasting" being a bit relative) legacy. Not that having a legacy is that important to me, per se, but I guess simply for once I want to finish something big that I started. Too many times in my life I've left things unfinished -- relationships, graduate school, jobs, little hobbies that spring up like lightning-sparked fires in the wilderness, only to get doused by a passing thunderstorm a few days later.
I'm such a self-important bastard sometimes. Maybe I've thought about this business too much; maybe there's not enough mystery in it for me any more. Too much thinking about anything can lead to a deadly boredom, I suppose. Have I wrung the last drop of good stuff from this writing business, sucked the last bit of marrow out of the bone of this art? I tend to do that with things I am passionate about. Perhaps I've ruined it for myself for ever.
I will write some more on The Woodreeve's Tale before I return to these pages, at least. I have to get something done.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

...and then there is The Map

Right, then. I've had a few beers in me tonight, and I actually feel like blogging a little. Been doing some writing; managed to get some rebuilding/editing done on The Woodreeve's Tale. I remembered the name of the dragon in the story, which for me is a big deal, since it is a very good dragonish name and I came up with it almost all by myself, with only a little help from Lord Dunsany.
Anyway: The Map. I capitalize it to help emphasize the importance of maps in any fantasy story. You may not know this, but Robert Louis Stevenson drew his famous Map well before he wrote Treasure Island. I read that in a book about a map thief (I disremember the title, though it was an entertaining true story). Any student of Tolkien knows well (and probably loves, if they are true fans) his various maps in The Silmarillion and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and knows also that those works of art evolved over time, as author and publisher errors were corrected (and as Tolkien's storyline evolved). What is probably true of both Stevenson and JRRT is that their Maps came first. They may change as the needs of the story dictate, but a Map is indespensible to the writer of a fantasy story that takes place over a large geographical area of their own creation. It reins the writer in, as needed; gives them a bit of grounding in reality that their readers will appreciate later. My own fantasy world of Enea works the same for me: the Map came first. It was always so; the stories of Ramandyra and Kuronia and their surrounding Frontier Realms only came later.
Fine. A Map is a necessary first step towards great epic fantasy. (I have not really proved this, I know; but I believe it.) There have been many imitators of Tolkien's maps over the years. What keeps these imitators from approaching the grandness, the fullness, the wonder of JRRT's rendering of Wilderland, or the West of Middle-earth in the Third Age, of Beleriand? Lack of imagination, mostly. Am I the only potential reader of fantasy who picks up a volume off a bookstore shelf and turns almost immediately to the Map, if there is one (the latter being almost a sure requisite for purchase and/or further reading in said volume)? Only to be disappointed upon being presented with yet another view (often with a strangely familiar Western orientation) of a "Sea of Storms" or "Dragon Mountain" or some other such uninspired drivel? (The latter was a sentence fragment, I know. I offer no apology. Blame the Guinness.) The Map must be original both in its nomenclature and in its geographical orientation. The latter is often accomplished; the former, not so much.
My own Map faces East. My names are not particularly imaginative; but a greater command of archaic geographical nomenclature has helped, as well as a willingness to go beyond my own language and to utilize the tongues of my imagined world. (Which, admittedly, do not approach Tolkien's linguistic accomplishment on any scale.) You would have to see it to understand... and I am not yet willing to let it be seen by the world without; not without compensation, at any rate. Too much imagination has gone into it; things that have crept into my mind over the past twenty years have found their way to the plains, forests, mountains, rivers, and seas of the east of Enea: my own world, my Creation.
Jeez, writing this while slightly inebriated has been easier than I thought. I doubt it will hold up under scrutiny later. But there you have it, and I am done talking about Fantasy for a while. I am mad about other things at present, mad about the felling of trees and the general ruin of the natural world that comes in this latter age of foolish desires and misguided mores. And I am nearly drunk, and the wife does not know it yet. She may be disappointed, but will love me all the same, bless her! Her birthday is this week, and our daughter's, too. Blessed days for them, and for me. The mornings are cooler now with the advent of autumn. I am writing again, some. Life is good here in my little Angle; but the world without darkens still, and I worry.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

How Fantasy Can Be Great Again, Part 3

The third component to successful epic fantasy in our time is, of course, the skill of the writer's craft, aside from his skill as a fantasist. For some, this comes natural; or so I hear. Many of my friends who claim to be writers (and have reams of narrative to proudly show off) also claim some natural proclivity towards the art, without any benefit of or recourse to formal training. I have not actually witnessed any significant examples of this proclivity. These are the same ones who scoff at worrying about such trivial things as grammar and punctuation, and who recoil at the thought of second, third, or even (the horror!) fourth drafts. All those things and more are part and parcel of the art of fiction, at least for me. If it sounds like work, believe me, it is, and don't let anyone try to tell you otherwise. (If they do, they're selling themselves, not their art.) It's mind-numbing, frustrating, sometimes depressing and dreary work. It is also immensely satisfying, just not all the time.
I do not claim to be a great writer. I don't suck at it, but I do have work to do. One can always improve as a writer. At the least, I have written a lot of stuff. Much of it is garbage, especially the stuff I wrote in the years before 2001-2002, my last years in college. (I still write some garbage nowadays, too.) It was then, as a failed graduate student of history, that I went back as an undergraduate, and did one of the wisest things I ever did in my life: I took two semesters of fiction writing at the University of Southern Mississippi, under the instruction of Steven Barthelme.

Classes amounted to routine evisceration. My work was read by the whole class, and mercilessly critiqued by both them and S.B. I had known before I took the class that I needed to improve; I had no idea how much. But I soon found out, and was shown what to read -- much John Gardner, among other things. (On Becoming a Novelist is probably the only "self-help" book for writers one needs to bother with. It's still in print and inexpensive.) Even more than that, the classes changed the way I look at the world. I am more cynical now than before, more wary of the tricks novelists and screenwriters play, so it's sometimes harder for me to be entertained than others. I come across as an insufferable snob sometimes, I know, but I cannot help it and do not worry too much about impressions anymore.

So take a writing class or two. Read Gardner. Read and critique other writers, and let them read and critique for you, if they will. (But don't count on that. Most self-styled writers are too self-centered to return the favor, in my experience.) Then write, write write. The latter, I've found, is the hardest to do on a day to day basis, but it must happen; otherwise, one is not a writer, and will never be an author -- just a daydreamer.

Next post, I want to talk about The Map.

How Fantasy Can Be Great Again, Part 2

Two things a writer of epic Fantasy must have at his command, precious: a vision of Faerie, and the right language -- the language of Faerie -- to talk about it.
By "vision of Faerie" I mean a fairly clear idea of the fantasy world in which the action takes place. It need not be wholly of the fantasist's creation; indeed, it should not, but should rather be a melding of elements that are already familiar to the reader. It is in the melding that the fantasist should offer something unique. Readers of LOTR may well recognize the Norse names, the Finnish elements of Quenya, Christian themes and symbolism, the quaint Englishness of the Shire. In my case at the first reading, I did not really recognize those things, but their sound and use touched something strangely familiar in my cultural subconscious. As an inheritor of the English literary tradition, I had a connection with the story without fully realizing it, and it took years to figure out why. But it is Tolkien's own vision of all those things, his own "soup" of Faerie, if you will, that really puts his solid, original stamp on otherwise gossamer Faerie itself, and not just pass through as just another imitator.
The "language of Faerie" is difficult to nail down, and even more difficult to use without sounding pompous or even unintelligible. Readers of The Silmarillion know whereof I speak. It is the "grand old style" of epic fantasy, the language of William Morris, a sound that harkens to a time that never really was, but that we feel should have been. One cannot speak effectively of the wars of the Noldor, or of Numenor, without it; and yet it is, unfortunately, beyond the ken of the casual reader of modern literature. How, then, does one speak of Faerie, which by its very nature is ancient and archaic (to us), and yet remain understandable to a modern audience? To use it is perilous. It is ignored to the detriment of the Faerie-story being told. Either course risks alienating the reader.
But of course it must be used. To not use it would be like John Grisham not using "legal-ese" in his novels. How, then, does one learn to write in the language of Faerie, the language of epic fantasy? I am still not sure. Total immersion in the fantasies of William Morris has been my only recourse: reading with my handy-dandy notebook nearby, trying to build a vocabulary of English words and phrases that fell out of everyday use (at the latest) a hundred years ago. I may not be fluent in Faerie, not yet; I do not use it every day, and as anyone who has tried to learn another language knows, if you don't use it, you lose it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

How Fantasy Can Be Great Again: Part 1

How many times have you browsed the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of your favorite (or merely convenient) bookstore, and walked away empty-handed? Why is that? I can tell you that that has been my experience, over and over, for years. There is virtually no decent Fantasy on bookstore shelves these days -- nothing new, anyway. Of course you can find diminishing selections of Tolkien, but JRRT did not give us an inexhaustible supply of stuff -- maybe nearly so; but there is only so much one can enjoy of Elven etymologies. One needs swords, and blood, and creatures, well-written. Ah! therein "lies the rub," as my good friend Richard says: well-written. Some may not be well-read enough (or well-written enough themselves, if you take my meaning) to recognize good writing when they see it -- or, more importantly, to recognize bad writing. Even Tolkien was not, how you say, a great writer. He was, more correctly, a good writer, and a stellar fantasist. But nowadays being simply the latter is not enough; but to be both a great writer and a great fantasist may be too much to hope for in any mere mortal... and yet, that is how Fantasy as a genre can continue to not only remain viable, but to show once again how it is the ultimate form of the written art. It is the only way, and it is what I have striven for.
Before I go further, let me clarify something: I am talking about the highest form of fantasy, and the most difficult to write and to achieve that "willing suspension of disbelief" that all fiction writers need in their readers: I mean Epic Fantasy, what you find in LOTR and what other writers like Robert Jordan and R.A. Salvatore and David Eddings strove for, and mostly failed. Once must needs dig deep, rummage around in Fantasy's forgotten attic, to find other great epic fantasy. William Morris pulled it off; others there may have been who were nearly as successful. Their names escape me at present. But there was something in Morris at least that kindled Tolkien's imagination, and stirred a desire in him to take what he found in The Well at the World's End, The Roots of the Mountains, and The House of the Wolfings, and go one better. And now we must go one better than Tolkien; and in the fifty-odd years since readers first followed the wandering path of the Fellowship, no one has figured out how to do that. If they have, they haven't actually done it.
In my next post, I will present what I believe to be the two necessary skills a modern fantasist must have to be successful. In the post after that, I will talk about what I think the fantasist must do to be a good writer as well. But first I will think a bit, and read a bit more.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

When he had gone and passed again into the outer world...

I have passed into the outer world, the Grey World, and have come back alive to the Green! The realm of Babbits wore me down, but I bore it, and now I am back again to my little Naith, my green Angle between rivers of concrete and steel. The foxes still dance in the gloaming, Enea beckons, and my wife and daughter surround me with love. I am a lucky man; too often I forget it.
I think I shall return to the world of the Woodreeve tonight... I have some inkling how I shall proceed. Afterword I shall turn to the Fellowship again, and "The Mirror of Galadriel." I so enjoyed "Lorien"; the last line about Aragron brought a lump in my throat and a tear to my eye yesterday, knowing his fate, and Arwen's:
"...And taking Frodo's hand in his, he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as a living man."

Sunday, September 9, 2007


I actually did some writing last night... editing, mostly, on the short story/novella The Woodreeve's Tale. It is set in Enea, the same world where my epic fantasy The Quest for Kullervo lingers unfinished. TWT reflects the tremendous influence W. Morris and Dunsany have had on my writing style, and Eddic influences as well, all of which probably render the thing unreadable to most if not all save myself. But it is great fun to write, if nothing else; and having from the beginning written it with little or no consideration for a wider audience, I have humored my Morris muse, and borrowed extensively from his and the Edda's word-hoard. I agree with Tolkien when he says: "Why deliberately ignore, refuse to use the wealth of English which leaves us a choice of styles -- without any possibility of unintelligibility... I can see no more reason for not using the much terser and more vivid ancient style, than for changing the obsolete weapons, helms, shields, hauberks into modern uniforms." Hopefully I will not be completely unintelligible.

Unfortunately, to my great dismay I have found that a sizable part of the story was lost when our laptop crashed earlier this year. I had only recently transferred the files from it to our desktop PC, deeming them intact; but apparently all the work I did in "Safe Mode" on the laptop was not properly saved, which amounted to the bulk of the meager amount of writing I have done this year. So I am pretty much back to where I was in January/February, with Mar and the thanes leaving their ship, the Gnod, beached near the mouth of the dead river. I tire of this re-writing and re-membering rubbish. Not exactly how I wanted to "ease" back into the writing mode of life.

Now I have a two-day long meeting to go to tomorrow and Tuesday, for my regular job, the one that helps pay the bills. Rubbing elbows with Company people. It's like pulling fingernails for me. And it's my birthday. Jeez, I hope I can make it through the meetings without zoning out completely.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

As part of my effort to jump-start my writing engine, I have been rereading The Lord of the Rings for the past couple of weeks. It's the first time since I saw the LOTR films in their entirety, now going on four years ago. I have to say that it is a strange, enjoyable experience. There is much that I had forgotten; and there is much more that I had not noticed before.

I had always been aware of Tolkien's love for the natural world, and for the words used to describe it: words like stone, tree, stream, hills, wind are prominent everywhere. I am coming to the realization that, of all the myriad characters of the epic, one stands above all: Middle-earth itself. More interesting than any Noldo lord, Dwarf-warrior, Ent, Orc, or wavering Man, Middle-earth too dominates the story even more than the permeating malice of the Ring. Black chasms, fiery chasms, great rivers, sweeping forests, festering swamps, gullies and hillocks and mountains named and unnamed, are both the stage and the actors.

The voice that describes these natural places and phenomena is careful, pointed, loving, as near to Tolkien's ideal of sub-creator as is possible, I think. I do not believe in God, but if I did, and he let me in on the secrets of the Beginning, I think I might find his methods of creation strangely familiar as a reader of LOTR.

But Caradhras has just defeated the Fellowship. Ahead, the long dark of Moria...

And the long dark of another birthday. Monday I shall be thirty-seven. I have not yet decided how I feel about that. Best not to think about it too much, probably. I have accomplished much that I desired to this point, yet much remains un-accomplished, and some goals seem as far from fruition as ever. My family and I are still in Mississippi, and not Montana, where I left a good chunk of my spirit eleven years ago. I have not yet been published. And... well, hell, I can't think of anything else at the moment. Not so bad, after all, I guess. But "Time is the fire in which we burn," and it's getting warmer all the time.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Awhile ago...

The storied First Post... it is as difficult to begin this as it is to write the first line of a story. I wonder if I will be able to contribute enough to keep this viable, and who it will benefit. I never was one to keep a journal, as romantic as such a thing is made out to be for writers to do. Keeping a journal is usually merely a distraction for the writer from his art; and I have many distractions these days to keep me from Ramandyra, where so many of my stories and dreams take place. Above, another distraction: my daughter, Belle, and my dogs: Beulah and Earl, our Basset Hounds, and young Misha, our Siberian Husky. They will keep me busy today, lovingly busy, while I am home and my wife Adrienne is at work. I doubt much, if any, writing will be done today. It is difficult to visualize realms of Fantasy and Faerie, or even the wide world beyond the borders of my little land to which I have withdrawn nowadays. But it will happen, it must happen; my writing is all I have left to give the world now. How I will restart my writing life, I am not sure; but I am working on it. Ah, now I am being called away already; little hands tugging at my arm.
Breakfast, and another day. Will it be much different than yesterday, I wonder?
Whiles carried o'er the iron road,
We hurry by some fair abode;
The garden bright amidst the hay,
The yellow wain upon the way,
The dining men, the wind that sweeps
Light locks from off the sun-sweet heaps --
The gable grey, the hoary roof,
Here now -- and now so far aloof.
How sorely then we long to stay
And midst its sweetness wear the day,
And 'neath its changing shadows sit,
And feel ourselves a part of it.
Such rest, such stay, I strove to win
With these same leaves that lie herein.

-- William Morris, from
"The Roots of the Mountains"