Why It Works for Me – Mark Hayes’ “The Strange and the Wonderful”

The Why It Works for Me series are my opportunity to share with others particular pieces of writing which stand out (to me) and why (as in “this piece of writing taught me something about writing, encouraged me to be a better writer, engaged me, captivated me, educated me, …”).

As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s one thing to know something is good, it’s a better thing (in my opinion) to know why it’s good and then be able to copy what’s good about it, to learn from it so you can be as good and (hopefully) better.

This time out, Mark Hayes’ “The Strange and the Wonderful” in Harvey Duckman Presents Volume 7.



Classic Science Fiction Podcast – April 2021 – James Blish’s “Mission to the Heart Stars”

As I wrote in last month’s Classic Science Fiction Podcast – March 2021 – Murray Leinster’s “Exploration Team”, I’m honored and thrilled to be part of an ongoing tribute to classic, Golden Age science fiction.

Mission to the Heart Stars is a favorite of mine for reasons detailed in My Sister Got Me Started.

James Blish
From Wikipedia: James Benjamin Blish (May 23, 1921 – July 30, 1975) was an American science fiction and fantasy writer. He is best known for his Cities in Flight novels, and his series of Star Trek novelizations written with his wife, J. A. Lawrence. He is credited with creating the term “gas giant” to refer to large planetary bodies.

You can download a zipped file containing both PDF and TXT versions from my site (not sure where I found them. Please let me know if I’m violating any laws and I’ll remove it).

Enjoy the podcast and let us know what you think.


Classic Science Fiction Podcast – March 2021 – Murray Leinster’s “Exploration Team”

I’m honored and thrilled to be part of an ongoing tribute to classic, Golden Age science fiction. Yifeng You advertised for interested folks and I regularly read Golden Age stories to learn storycrafting, so it seemed like a good match. Next we asked Robin Baskerville, a fellow scifi enthusiast and well-known editor, if she’d like to take part.

The rest is future history (this is scifi, after all).

Murray Leinster
From Wikipedia: Murray Leinster (June 16, 1896 – June 8, 1975) was a nom de plume of William Fitzgerald Jenkins, an American writer of science fiction. He wrote and published more than 1,500 short stories and articles, 14 movie scripts, and hundreds of radio scripts and television plays.

You can read Wikipedia’s overview of Exploration Team here. My suggestion is you read the actual story. It’s amazing. You can download a PDF copy from my site (not sure where I found it. Please let me know if I’m violating any laws and I’ll remove it).

Enjoy the podcast and let us know what you think.


Steve Searls’s Dalliance

I’ve mentioned Steve Searls’s writing chops twice before in Steve Searls “A Little Chit-Chat” and Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Aug 2020’s Great Opening Lines)

He continues to impress, this time in his Dalliance blog post.

Here’s a sample:

It begins with the placement of a necklace: simple gold chain links– not curb link, not snake, not rope – in a Figaro design. It is carefully placed so that the charm that hangs down, gold rings of varying sizes, dangles between the V of your breasts as you stand and watch yourself in the mirror above the sink, twisting back and forth. You hop from your right foot to left foot, searching out the angles, the light and the shadows that augment your form, your skin tone, the small mole on your neck.

A fascinating read.

Are there some errors and such? Yes. Minor.

Searls told me that his publisher offered little editing advice/services and asked him to rush his first novel into print.

I told Searls “Never let anyone rush you again. You’re too good an author to rush your work.”

Steve Searls’s Dalliance bears that out.

Terry Melia’s “Tales from the Greenhills”

Let me get the obvious out of the way; Bravo, Mr. Melia. Bravo!

Let me get the obvious out of the way; Bravo, Mr. Melia. Bravo!

Now repeat that half a dozen times to get it out of my system.

I completed my third read of Tales from the Greenhills less than fifteen minutes ago. It’s going on my reread shelf.
One of my unwritten rules for realizing a book is stunning is getting to the end and wanting the story to continue, to find out what happens next to the characters (Melia says sequels are in the works. I’m holding him to that).

Another unwritten rule is having the characters sneak up on you such that you don’t realize you’re vested in their lives more than your own, that you care about them as people, not as characters in a story.

Bravo, Mr. Melia! Bravo!

American readers may have trouble with the language. Remember the first time you saw The Full Monty or Waking Ned Devine? You wanted subtitles for the first ten minutes until you got use to the accents? I had a similar experience reading the dialogue for the first time. I reread sentences to make sure I got the meanings correctly. Once I accepted the vernacular, I realized it was perfect.

Let me focus on that “perfect” part. Future anthropologists will pick up Tales from the Greenhills and realize they have a textbook for late 1970’s Liverpool, England, and the world. This book is so rich with cultural iconography is could be used as a time traveler’s guide to time and place.

Tales from the Greenhills is also a coming-of-age story meets Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, although I didn’t recognize this until half way through my second read and realized fully during my third read. Regarding the Hero’s Journey aspect, Melia couldn’t have done a better job of placing Le Queste de Saint Graal in modern England if he tried (don’t tell him I said that. He’ll prove me wrong and do it). It’s all there and I laughed when I finally recognized the separate characters for their Journey counterparts.

Again and again and again, Bravo, Mr. Melia! Bravo!

Do you need to read it three times to appreciate it? No, not at all. However, if you’re an author or writer-wannabe you must read this novel multiple times. Melia does an amazing job with scenes, characterization, mood, place, setting, voice, POV…I need to know this was by accident. If Melia set out to produce this rich a story, I’m going to hang up my writing shifts now, I can’t compete.

I did have the privilege of exchanging comments with Melia during my reading. His attention to detail — this is a movie or should be – think Trainspotting meets Oliver’s Travels — caused me to ask how much was imagined and how much remembered. I won’t give away his answer except that it increased my respect for both him and his work.

The book is also rich in quotable lines; “the only thing money can’t buy is poverty.” If Melia lifted that — good authors borrow, great authors steal — please tell me where so I can play in the treasure.

And last note; the opening scene. The book opens literally with the aftermath of the story. Not the conclusion, the aftermath of the climax. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! As I learned to say in Glasgow, “Pure Dead Brilliant, Jonnie!” Get past the first chapter and the rest of the book builds moment by moment, scene by scene, to the climax. You know it’s coming — you’ve already read the aftermath — and Melia keeps notching up the tension for what you already know is going to happen.

Again, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant.

Okay, the for real last note; the last three paragraphs. I read them and laughed. Oh, Mr. Melia, BRAVO!

Minor technical matters for American audiences
Editing styles in the UK differ slightly from their US counterparts. Some constructions don’t roll smoothly off the American tongue. They’re awkward, not confusing, much like I wrote above regarding dialogue.

I took them as an opportunity to increase my understanding of contemporary British literature and hope I’m a better all-around reader for it.