Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Charles's Salsa Beans and Rice

Time for another high protein, low fat recipe. This time it's a side dish. You'll need:

1 Can Bush's Black Beans
1 Package Uncle Ben's Microwave Whole Grain Brown Rice
1 Onion
Salsa (I use Herdez Salsa Casera, found in the Spanish food section of the grocery store)

Pour the beans into a medium pot. (Medium being big enough to hold a can of beans and a whole package of rice.) Heat beans on Medium until they begin to simmer. Rice will take 90 seconds to nuke, so have it in the microwave oven ready to go. Once beans are simmering nuke the rice. Then add rice to beans and stir until both are simmering. Add chopped onions at this point. Take off the heat and pour half the contents onto a plate and half into a Tupperware container.
Now dollop the salsa onto the mixture on the plate and serve with Chicken. I like the Pilgrim's Farm Key Lime seasoned chicken breasts, but Purdue Shortcuts chicken works well too.
This recipe makes two servings. The half in the Tupperware goes into the fridge for a second meal. I usually dump some chopped chicken into a microwave bowl with the beans and rice, nuke for two minutes, stir, then nuke for two more minutes. Add the salsa and you have a Chicken and beans rice bowl.
Always add the salsa last or it seems to lose some of it's kick. You can also add a handful of shredded fat free cheddar cheese if you like. I tried that tonight and it was quite tasty.
Total calories per half recipe 267. Chicken breasts are 100 calories each. I eat two but I'm a big guy. Minimal fat and lots of protein. Grrrrr!

The Internal Soundtrack

One of my weirder talents is perfect pitch. I can sing. I can whistle songs note for note and never miss a note. I consider it one of my more useless abilities since I've no interest in singing as anything more than a way to pass the time while driving. Many close friends are unaware of the fact that I can sing, or that I used to be in choir. (My departure from choir was pretty violent actually. I beat up two other choir boys and walked.)
But I have music in my head most of the time. Often songs drift up from my subconscious and ramble around. Sometimes I find that I am whistling without being aware of it. (I like to think it's like Doc Savage's habit of trilling when in moments of intense concentration.) I call this the internal soundtrack.
The thing is, people will ask me 'What was that song you were whistling?" and I go, "I was whistling?"
This morning I was apparently whistling the intro from the Guns and Roses song Patience. One of my co-workers says "Is that Guns and Roses? I love that song." I was still in mid whistle so I was able to identify it.
One mistake people often make is to think that because I am whistling, I am therefore in a good mood. Not the case. This ain't Snow White, kids. Tends to happen when I'm concentrating. Just a weird habit.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Department of Lost Barbarians 2

I promised last time that in the second installment of the Department of Lost Barbarians I'd talk about the most popular barbarian who never was. That's him over there in the picture. Jim Steranko's Talon. Talon has appeared in a portfolio, a poster, and a couple of oil paintings, but never in a book, comic book, or even a short story. His career remains a small collection of pretty pictures.
In an article in Savage Tales issue #3, Steranko, probably best known for his work on Marvel Comics Nick Fury:Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D series, says that he created the character in 1969. This would have been shortly before Conan appeared in comics. Steranko says that he was reading the Conan paperbacks and he thought that a Conan style character would be a natural for comic books. Other projects got in the way over the next couple of years, but in the 1973 Savage Tales article, Steranko promised that readers would be seeing Talon's adventures "someday soon."
34 years later and still no Talon. I'm beginning to doubt Jim's word...


Woke up this morning at 4:00 and couldn't get back to sleep. Rolled around for about half an hour and finally gave it up. Padded into the kitchen and started coffee, then turned on the computer. Unlike many of my neighbors, I try to be really quiet when I'm up at odd hours. I had some organic raisin bran so I wouldn't have to bang around in the kitchen.
At the desk with coffee I bumped around the Internet, hitting my usual spots. Check on Beth who has been sick. She's feeling some better. Check Cliff's blog. Over to Michael Moorcock's forum to see if anyone has posted anything of interest. Check my emails, yahoo groups, Ebay items I'm watching. Just another sleepless early morning in Kennesaw.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Secret History

ERBzine has posted the last two chapters of Secret Masters of Callisto today, finishing up the serialization of my novella length pastiche of Lin Carter’s Jandar books. The introduction that precedes the story tells how I came to write Secret Masters, but not why I wrote that particular tale.
The last published Callisto book was Renegade of Callisto. It came out in 1978, when the “boom” spawned by the late 1960s reprinting of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, had just about run its course. Sword & Planet and Sword & Sorcery were on the way out, being replaced by a more Tolkien inspired form of heroic fantasy.
The early Callisto books had been very strong sellers for Dell’s SF paperback division, but the final two books (Renegade and Ylana of Callisto) hadn’t done very well and the series was terminated before the third trilogy was completed. The final book would have been Sword Master of Callisto and would have featured series regular Lukor, the fencing master who had taught Jandar how to fight.
Lin Carter was a writer who usually had long range plans for his series. He had synopses for a couple of future Callisto books and titles for others at the ready.
Xara of Callisto would have followed Sword Master. Next would have been the Kaldar trilogy featuring Jandar’s son. Warrior Girl of Callisto, Ice Kingdom of Callisto, and Kaldar of Callisto. Lin had at least two more in mind after that, Lost Prince of Callisto and Zamara of Callisto. None of these were ever written.
Originally, when I decided to write a sequel to the Callisto series I was going to pick up with Lin’s titles and write Sword Master of Callisto. But my plot turned out to involve the origins of the jungle moon, building upon hints that Lin had salted his books with, so the title didn’t really fit. Besides, Lukor had been described as ‘elderly’ in the last Callisto book and I was picking up the story some three decades later, so it wasn’t likely that Lukor would still be among the living. Unlike the inhabitants of Burroughs’ Barsoom, the Thanatorians don’t have 1000-year life spans.
Still, I managed to work in a reference to the Sword Master by naming the new flagship of the Ku-thad sky navy the Lukor. Plus my title has the same initials as Lin’s. Secret Masters vs Sword Master.
Similarly, I decided to use Jandar’s son (who hadn’t appeared in Carter’s published books except as a baby) as a lead character. Thus I was able to use the name Kaldar and more firmly link my story to the originals. Darisha, Jandar and Darloona’s daughter, is entirely my own creation.
If you’ve read the final chapters you know that I left the story wide open for a sequel, and that the sequel would most likely be Ice Kingdom of Callisto. There are a couple of reasons I chose that title from the list of unwritten Callisto books. First, I always liked the Ice Kingdom of Mongo series from Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon strip, which is where I suspect Lin Carter got the idea. Second, since Lin never wrote about the polar region of Callisto I’d be free to make up everything. As much fun as I had playing in Lin’s world, I was beginning to chafe at the constraints of using his settings, monsters, etc. I’m used to making all that stuff up.
So do I plan to write the sequel? Maybe. The guys at the Lin Carter yahoo group are very enthusiastic about me continuing the story. I’m working on other projects just now, but I may find my way back to Callisto. Time will tell.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

And You Are There...

Currently reading one of the most interesting history books I've ever read, and for me, that's saying something. 14 Byzantine Rulers is by Michael Psellus. What makes this book so much more fascinating than the others? It's a fist hand account. Psellus actually lived and wrote in 11th Century Constantinople. He was a member of the court of Emperor Constantine IX and he (not surprisingly) spends more time talking about that Emperor than any of the others. There's quite a bit of fascinating information about the rulers who preceded and followed Constantine IX as well, but it's the chapters about his time with Constantine that really stand out. Amazing to get an insiders view of history in this way. The translator's introduction talks at length about the difficulty of translating Psellus's prose and keeping the jocular, colloquial speech intact. I think he succeeded. The book is really more of a memoir than a history and it shows me yet again how humanity isn't really any different now than it was 10 centuries ago. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Picking Up the Pieces

About that Ebay bid I won. When I moved to my apartment two years back, I got rid of A LOT of stuff. Over 3400 books and over 10,000 comic books and tons of other things I'd accumulated in the almost two decades I lived in my house. My current living conditions have been described as Spartan. I'd argue that, since I still have plenty of books, but I'll admit the place looks darn uncluttered, which is just how I like it.

In the time since I moved I have missed very few of the things I got rid of. In fact the only thing I can think of is the later issues of Savage Sword of Conan Magazine. I kept the first 60 issues because they had all the best art and the best adaptations of the original Robert E. Howard Conan stories. The later issues, after writer Roy Thomas left, simply weren't as good, and yet, lately I've been wishing I still had them. So I decided the other day to get them back.

Now keep in mind, I never had a full set. Just 1-60 and scattered issues between 60 and the final issue, 235. I think I had fifty or sixty later issues all told. I began checking on Ebay the last couple of weeks, looking for long runs of the series as lots because the shipping would kill me if I bought one or two issues at a time. I am still on a budget, after all. (The magazines themselves aren't rare or valuable, except for the early issues and I have those.) What I needed were big groups of reading copies. Unfortunately, every time I'd find a nice set, somebody, more often than not a comics shop, would outbid me. I don't bid-war on Ebay. I learned my lesson the hard way, years ago. I bid what I'm willing to pay and if I get outbid, I let it go.

This weekend I spotted a lot of over 80 consecutive issues for a reasonable price, so I made my top bid and crossed my fingers. And I won. The seller had over a thousand sales and no negative feedback so I figure I can believe his grading, and he says all the issues are very good to near mint. I'd have been fine with good but better is better. I'll take it. And I paid less than original cover price for them.

Anyway, I've mailed my payment, so in the next few weeks I should be receiving a very big box of black and white Conan magazines. Added to what I still have that will give me close to two thirds of the full run of the series. Heck, I may have to just get all of them this time.

Another Quiet Weekend

I wasn't broke this time, but I was close enough. Losing weight and having to buy new clothes is a good thing, but it is eating into my entertainment funds. Still, I was mostly at home this weekend more by choice than by necessity. I read a lot of course. Finished up Oath of Swords and read Blue Screen by Robert B. Parker, Conan and the Shaman's Curse by Sean A. Moore, and started A Little Yellow Dog by Walter Mosley.
Oh, and I won a bid on Ebay I really wanted. More on that later.
I also started a short story, which is going well and I hope to carry through to completion. I am the king of fragments so I never know until I'm well into something whether I'll finish it or not. I've abandoned a couple of stories less than two pages from the end. I'm like that.
This one is titled The Lurkers Below, a purposely Lovecraftian title which, surprisingly, Lovecraft never used, and is a pure, old fashion sword & sorcery story.

Friday, February 16, 2007

People are Safe When Near Him...

I was in Movie Stop the other day, just browsing, and I noticed that they had the boxed sets of the Kevin Sorbo Hercules series on sale for $19.95. That's less than a buck an episode, and I always kind of liked that show so I just picked a season at random (season five) and brought it home. I'd forgotten how much I liked Sorbo's portrayal of Hercules. he's just so likable and heroic. Plus there are lots of fights and monsters and scantily clad ladies. What's not to like? I'll probably end up picking up the other seasons at some point. Nice to have on hand to watch while I eat dinner.
Boxed sets are great. Cliff has loaned me quite a few and I've really enjoyed watching entire runs of series like Kung Fu and the Adventures of Superman. Other friends have loaned me things I've missed in my almost three years without TV. (I have a television, but I don't have cable. How do you think I have all that time to read?)
Anyway, I'm having fun hanging out with Hercules. Maybe I'll pick up the Xena box sets too...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The sunrise is tinged this morning with purple and yellow, making dark silhouettes of the high clouds. The air is cold and sharp, just now 20 degrees. My breath is a cloud of steam as I stand in the parking lot, watching the sun rise. Winter is making a last shout, I think. A last cold snap. I could be wrong though. Hard to tell in North Georgia. For now it's a cold, shadowy morning and Spring remains a matter of faith.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Can't Put it Down

Been a while since I got hold of a book that I enjoyed as much as I'm enjoying David Weber's Oath of Swords. Weber is primarily known as the author of Military Science Fiction books for Baen. Military SF isn't usually my cup of tea, though I have read one of his Up Country series, which is kind of fun. Oath of Swords, however is fantasy.
It is a fantasy informed by Weber's military knowledge though, giving the action scenes the kind of tactical verisimilitude that is lacking in many fantasy novels. The decisions that warriors make, whether in melee or individual combat, ring true.
But the main thing the book has going for it is a real hero, Bahzell Bahnakson of the Hradani. The Hradani are oversized humanoids with fox-like ears and a genetic disposition towards berserker tendencies. What makes Bahzell so fascinating is his determination to control 'The Rage' which can turn any member of his race into a killing machine. He knows what he is and he doesn't shy away from it, but he doesn't let it control him either. He's noble, loyal, and all the other things a hero should be. Just really short tempered.
The action gets going on the first page and barely lets up long enough to let the reader catch a breath and absorb some exposition. Definitely a Charles kind of plot. The world Bahzell inhabits has some Tolkien-like attributes, but the magic seems more like something Conan would run into with dark rituals performed by evil sorcerers. Demons and dark gods hide in the forgotten places of the world. A nice fantasy mix.
Anyway, on a humorous note, I had looked at this book before, a couple of years back, and decided against buying it because of the goofy cover. A static scene by Larry Elmore shows Bahzell and company apparently having a campfire sing along. Not sure what editor decided on that one. This is a violent book with some pretty rough scenes involving rape, murder, torture and a lot of bloodletting. Luckily, I read a review of the book somewhere and sought it out this weekend before realizing it was the same 'sing along' book I had passed up previously. There are two sequels in print and apparently a trade paperback has just been released of Oath of Swords that includes a new Bahzell novella. Since I really have found this book hard to put down, I guess I'll be picking those others up.

Sick and Tired

So I got some sort of bug. Sunday night I ran a fever and had chills, and didn't sleep at all. I don't sleep much anyway, but even I need a little sleep. Monday I had body aches and just plain felt bad. I went to work and felt bad all day, but I stuck it out because I knew we were behind and had a lot of work to do and I was no longer feverish.
Monday night I slept a little but again had some chills. I woke up Tuesday and didn't feel much better so I decided a day of feeling miserable at home with movies and comic books would beat another day of feeling miserable at my desk, so I stayed home and rested.
Seems that was the right choice because I definitely feel better today. No more aching or chills, but now I feel really drained and tired. Some sort of viral thing is all I can guess.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Charles's Low Fat Grilled Chicken Salad.

I am wearing my new smaller Dockers today. In honor of the smaller waistline I am presenting my first ever recipe here at the blog. This is one of the staples of my eating plan. It's fast, easy, and I can make it without dirtying a pan or pot. But most importantly, it actually tastes good.
Start with salad vegetables. Choose your favorites but I use lettuce, onions, shredded carrots and cabbage.
Add olives and Kraft Free fat free cheddar and mozarella cheese. Toss with Kraft fat free Zesty Italian dressing. Don't over do the dressing. It's fat free, but not calorie free. Add half a package of Purdue Short Cuts pre-cooked grilled chicken strips. Fajita style works best for me. Serve with Coke Zero.
You can heat the chicken, but I usually just eat it cold. A big bowl is less than 300 calories and less than 10 grams of fat.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Reading Report

This weekend's reading has so far included, The Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval Europe,
Sea Change by Robert B. Parker, Pompeii:The Living City by Butterworth and Laurance, and Conan and the Spider God by L. Sprague Decamp.
Two histories, a detective, and a barbarian. Pretty typical...

Department of Lost Barbarians

Since my pal Cliff has opened the Taking Up Space Museum over at his blog, I have decided to start my own little museum area, The Department of Lost Barbarians. Everyone's heard of Conan. The more well informed might know Thongor, Brak, and Kothar. But I'm going farther into the dim, dusty, spider haunted areas of sword & sorcery to bring you the characters you've probably never heard of. Heck, a couple of them never even made it to print. Anyway, we'll begin with one of my favorite comic book second stringers, the mighty Durak.
Durak was created by Don Glut, who would go on to create the more sucessful S&S comic hero, Dagar the Invincible. In fact, Durak originally WAS Dagar, or perhaps Dagar was originally Durak.
Goes like this. Back in 1971, Glut (rhymes like flute) had sold a sword & sorcery story to Gold Key's Mystery Comics Digest, called Wizard of the Crimson Castle, which featured a barbarian hero named Daggar, with two Gs. During the time between the sale and publication, Glut submitted a proposal to Gold Key for a Daggar regular comic book series. Gold Key said yes, but ended up changing Daggar to Dagar.
Anyway, Gold Key decided they didn't want Dagar appearing in Mystery Comics Digest the same month his own title premiered, so they changed Daggar to Durak. Glut ended up writing two more Durak stories that were eventually collected with 'Wizard' in the Gold Key anthology title, Spine Tingling Tales.
But Durak's saga doesn't quite end there. Glut used Durak as a guest star in three issues of Dagar and in one of comic's oddest team ups, in issue 16 of Doctor Spektor, uniting the barbarian with Glut's paranormal investigator to fight the living brain of the Wizard Xorkon and the Frankenstein monster. Now that's comic books right there, folks.
Next time, the most popular barbarian who never was.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A John Buscema Viking

Because it's a Viking. And it's by John Buscema. Duh.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Sailing to Byzantium

Just in case you're wondering, my study of Byzantium, aka Constantinople, now Istanbul*, came about as a direct result of my reading about Vikings. In the late 10th century, the ever rowdy Danes sailed their longboats down into the Mediterranean and attacked Constantinople. Eventually the Vikings and the Romans worked things out and the Vikings ended up as bodyguards and soldiers for the emperors of the Byzantium Empire.
Now being me, whenever I begin studying a culture, I'm always trying to build a mental picture of the place in my mind. What did the buildings look like? What kind of clothes did the people wear? What did they eat? What kind of weapons did they use?
Thing about the Byzantium Empire is, its citizens considered it part and parcel of the Roman Empire. They didn't differentiate between themselves and the Toga boys over in Italy. They referred to themselves as Romans. That's helpful because I already know a lot about the Roman Empire. Still given distance, cultural differences, climate, and what have you, the 'look' of Byzantium isn't just Rome warmed over. Fortunately there are many surviving works of art from the 10th and 11th centuries so I can get a pretty good idea of how things looked. The Oxford History of Byzantium has been darn useful for that.

(*And for some reason whenever I mention Constantinople, everyone starts singing the song "Istanbul Not Constantinople" and asks if I've heard of it. Yes, for pity's sake. They Might Be Giants did the cover all of you remember, though the song is actually of tin pan alley vintage. It was on Tiny Toons Adventures. I know. Thanks. And for that matter, the band got their name from the 1971 film "They Might Be Giants" starring Geroge C. Scott as a man who thinks he's Sherlock Holmes if you want some more useless trivia.)

Dream a Little Dream

And the weird dreams continue. Was dreaming this morning about a young girl from an alternate universe who had been sent to our universe to hide out from some enemies of her parents. The bad guys had sent a very ugly, slimy, winged black dragon through the dimensional warp to kill her. My dreams are often very cinematic and this one opened with the dragon appearing here on earth and killing several people at a gas station in Canton, where I used to live.
Then the scene shifted to me, sitting on a couch in the house in the suburbs where the girl was living with her adopted family. She was sitting at the kitchen table, doing her homework. Now in that odd logic that dreams have, I was aware that the dragon had just appeared in this world and had killed some folks and was now heading my way. I was checking the hollow point shells I had loaded in my .357 and figuring that it would probably take a head shot to bring down a dragon, which worried me a little because the dragon was only about the size of a large horse, so its head would be a small and difficult target, weaving on the long neck.
My plan was to wait until the dragon tried to force its way into the house. That way it would have limited room to maneuver, which would give me a better chance at shooting it. Failing that, once it was inside, we could hurry out the back door while it blundered around, and get away in my truck.
I should write a book on self defense from slimy inter-dimensional dragons.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

But No Books?

Whenever people find out I'm a writer, they invariably ask, "So what have you written?"
I then list my published articles, interviews, columns, short stories, novellas, and my three years as a comic book writer.
Then, with barely any hesitation, they say, "But no books?"
And I explain that no, I haven't published any books.
They nod knowingly, then they go away satisfied that I'm not a 'real' writer. They can't find me down at Barnes & Noble, ergo it's just a hobby.
I hate that.
Thing is, during my stint as a comic book script writer for Jademan comics, that was how I made my living. It was my job. I paid my bills by writing. For several years. So I bridle a bit at the notion that I'm not a professional.
If someone is actually interested, I will go on to explain that even if I had written a couple of books, I would still in all probability, be working a regular job. The masses, uninformed in the ways of publishing, see the reports of the big advances people like Stephen King and John Grisham receive and they assume that if you have books published you must be rich. Far from it. I have friends and acquaintances who have published six or seven books and they still have to get up and go to work every day.
It's the old saw, "You can get rich as a writer, but you can't make a living." That's often true.
The other thing I point out, if I'm talking to someone who is more than idly curious, is that I've never made much effort at trying to get a book published. I've mucked about with various novel ideas over the years, but I haven't seriously tried to write a book in a long time. It's not like a burning desire or anything. I think that one day I will probably have a book on the shelves at the major bookstores. I'll visit it on the weekends when I'm not at work...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Less of Me Redux

I ran out of belt holes this morning. Last hole in my belt. Coming up on my sixth week of no processed sugar or enriched flower. This weekend I'll have to go buy some new Dockers I think. The odd thing about Dockers VS blue jeans is that I can almost always wear a size smaller jeans than work pants. Something about the way the pants are cut, I guess. So while I've been wearing smaller jeans for a couple of weeks now, I needed to be a bit smaller before buying new Dockers for work. The end of the belt means it's time. Go me.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Birthday Money

Tomorrow is my birthday. I've already gotten my presents from my parents and my grandmother. Both were cash. I decided to blow some of that this morning on a couple of items I've had my eye on. First was the second season of the new Doctor Who. While only passably interested in the old series, I absolutely love the new show. It features witty writing in the Buffy/Angel style, fast paced, cleverly plotted adventures, and two vastly different but well played Doctors so far. And of course Billie Piper, the Doctor's blonde companion is quite the babe.
The boxed set is vastly overpriced but Border's had it marked down 20%, so I went ahead and bought it. I'd picked up the first set used for about half price.
Other two purchase were related to my continuing study of all things Viking. The Sagas of the Icelanders is a massive book at nearly 800 pages and is one of the primary sources for Viking history. A Short History of Byzantium weighs in at a mere 439 pages but it is reportedly chock full of historical goodness.

Beyond the Gate of Dreams

I have a lot of very vivid dreams. Always have. And about a third of those dreams are what are known as Lucid Dreams. That means that while I'm experiencing the dream I am fully aware of the fact that I am actually asleep and dreaming and often I can control what happens in the dream. The level of control varies. Sometimes I'm aware that I'm dreaming, but the dream progresses in its own way without any interference from me. Other times I am in complete control and can do...well, anything. Makes for some interesting nights.
Anyway, this morning I had kind of an odd experience. I woke up at about 4:00 am and couldn't get right back to sleep. I wasn't ready to get up yet, so I began thinking about a plot for a story idea that had occurred to me the previous night. I often plot stories as I'm waiting to fall asleep. Beats the heck out of counting sheep.
So I'm plotting this idea about a warrior who is called upon to defend a remote medieval city from a band of marauding giants. Somewhere during this, I drifted back off, only to find that I was still plotting, only from inside. I was walking around this medieval hall, seeing some of the characters from my idea. I wasn't a character, myself. Still me, but inside the story. I actually came up with a couple of usable plot twists as I was descending a stairwell.
The oddest part of the dream was when a sorcerer, who wasn't part of the plot, stopped me and asked me what I was doing in the castle. We talked for a bit and he revealed that he was a member of a pre-human race put on the earth by Elder Gods. I asked if these were the same Elder Gods from the Cthulhu mythos, and he warned me, "Not to utter the names of those gods lest I invoke them."
Shortly after that I woke up suddenly. It was a weird transition because the dream had seemed so real, it was almost as if I'd been instantaneously teleported from the castle back to my apartment. What dreams may come, indeed.

Friday, February 02, 2007

If You Read Only One Viking Book This Year...

Make it this one. Punchy, sharp, and humorous writing. Facts dropped in painlessly and effortlessly. Tons of nifty stuff. Lots of recommendations for further reading. Well researched and just plain keen. In case you couldn't tell, highly recommended. The author has written some Judge Dredd comics too. You know he's cool.