I was sold a bill of goods

Music has always been important to me. Even as a child, I had a large collection of records that I played on some sort of children’s record player. It had one of those little flippy styluses, one way was for 33-1/3, the other way was for, I’m not sure, 78s? 45s?

My record collection contained a set that featured the great music of the world. Each record contained something different. Like classical. Or folk. Or musicals (I believe there was one devoted to Rogers and Hammerstein). Or historical (music of the American Revolution, Civil War, etc.) And so on.

I also owned records like “Peter and the Wolf” and my all-time favorite, “Popeye’s Favorite Sea Shanties” as performed by Captain Allen Swift and his crew. I’m sure I drove my parents crazy playing “What do you do with a silly sailor” over and over and over and over and over and over again. By the way, I still have it.

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Popeye’s Favorite Sea Shanties

As a teen, I got a sort of real, kind of, phonograph: a Realistic Clarinette III. That’s also when I discovered Black Sabbath and I cranked up those six inch paper cone loudspeakers until they distorted.

Anyway, time passed and I had purchased a somewhat decent stereo system in the Navy (well, I purchased several and managed to blow most of them up), which I brought home and then played the hell out of, until 30 years I realized my system was now archaic. Worse, the speakers just didn’t sound right any more. Either age or abuse had taken it’s toll on the tweeters of one of them. Not to mention my turntable had been destroyed in a horrific accident.

I needed new speakers. But this was 2008. Nobody just had a stereo any more. Everyone had a HOME THEATER SYSTEM! (Say that in a deep, loud voice.) So I bought into the whole booming explosions and surround sound thing and spent almost $2000 on a system. At first, yes, I loved the hell out of it. I’d watch the beach scene in “Saving Private Ryan,” to hear the deep boom of explosions, the lobby scene in “The Matrix,” and the depth charge sequence in “U-571.” That one gets down below 25hz!

But now, a decade later, I’ve come to realize that the bloom is off the rose. I hardly ever use my system to listen to movies or TV, mostly because the only time I ever watch movies is when the family has gone to sleep and then I can’t crank it for fear of waking people, but also because I don’t really watch a lot of current movies. I like vintage black and white movies and classic television and they don’t usually have surround sound.

But I still love my vinyl. And I’m realizing that it was peer pressure of a sort that got me to buy a home theater system when what I really only wanted was a vinyl audiophile system. I have five speakers when I only need two (six if you count the subwoofer, but you always need a subwoofer). I have a complicated audio video receiver when all I really needed was a stereo receiver, or even just an integrated amp.

So let my tale of woe be a lesson to you. Don’t buy more than you need. Except for subwoofers, bigger is always better.

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Getting my groove back

A few days ago I had a wonderful feeling of deja vu. I did something that I haven’t done in years, maybe even decades.

I went into Barnes & Noble and thought I’d look in their music section. Surprise! They had a decent sized rack of new vinyl records. I flipped through them with an eagerness I haven’t had since I was a teenager and used to stop at the 1812 Overture record shop on the way home from school.

Granted then, it was an extended proposition since all they had was vinyl in those days. Now, my perusing took all of say, 20 minutes. But it was enjoyable.

I’ve waited 30 years or so for the return of vinyl.

Does anyone recall the first vinyl album they ever bought? The first I bought (that wasn’t childfare, like The Archies) was Black Sabbath’s eponymous first album.

black sabbath

Black Sabbath

I wonder if people who buy CDs remember their first purchase? I really wonder if people who download MP3s have any sort of connection like that.

I believe that vinyl is special. There’s more to it than just so much black wax. There’s great artwork published at a frame-able size. And listening becomes an active experience.

Sure, I have MP3s on my phone, and I listen to them walking at the mall, but I’m not really listening. The music is just there. It automatically shuffles songs. There’s no thinking involved.

But vinyl? You have to choose the music. Choose the album or song. Then you pull the record out of the sleeve. Gently place it on the spindle. Most of us have some sort of brush or cleaning solution that we use prior to placing the needle upon the vinyl.

This is all part of the experience. To those who just don’t understand the appeal of vinyl, all that is considered work. Unnecessary work, they believe. And they look at us as though we’re just plain weird.

I don’t want to get into the digital versus vinyl debate. I’ve read all the science behind it, the statistics, and cold, hard facts. That doesn’t change my opinion, my feelings, my hearing that I happen to think vinyl just sounds warmer. Music is, after all, analog.

So seeing vinyl, new vinyl in the store makes me very happy. A part of me that I thought was lost is found.

Now all I need to is to replace my crappy phono preamp with a better one. It is a TCC TC-753LC and it has weak output, so I have to turn its knob up to past three-quarters of the way to get it to sound loud enough and then it has this hiss. It’ll have to do for now.

It’s good to get my groove back.

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Decades, Lord of the Misinformation

tarzan

On Thursday, January 7, 2016, Decades TV aired a couple of episodes of “Tarzan,” the 1966-1968 television show staring Ron Ely. I was pretty psyched about it. I haven’t seen that show since I was a child and it’s never been available on Netflix or Hulu or even YouTube.

As is Decades way, they also made a few statements about the show and its history. Those statements about Tarzan however, made me wonder just how well they research and brings into question all of their statements.

The statement that bothered me? They stated that Tarzan’s first appearance was on January 7, 1929 in the comics.

That statement is partly correct. January 7, 1929 did mark Tarzan’s first appearance in comics with artwork by the great Hal Foster, who later went on to create his own hero, Prince Valiant. (Although Wikipedia says this is the date of the first comic strip on their Tarzan [comics] page, on their Hal Foster page they state the comic strip actually started on October 20, 1928. So as my Econ Professor always says, you pays your money and takes your choices.)

Either way, by 1929, Tarzan had already appeared in thirteen novels written by his creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs.He would end up writing a total of 24 novels based on his famous vine-swinging character

The jungle lord had also been adapted in film in 1918, portrayed by Elmo Lincoln. In 1921 there had been a stage play based on the Ape Man played by Ronald Adair.

Sorry Decades TV, but you screwed up.

Currently, if you would like to see Ron Ely in his role of Tarzan again, it is being shown on Heroes and Icons Network on Fridays and Saturdays. Enjoy.

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Adventures in ADHD: Self-publishing

As you recall, in my last blog post I talked about learning more about self-publishing. I tried to Google it and unfortunately, that didn’t go so well.

Do it. You end up with 139,000,000 and if you suffer from attention deficit, that comes to about 138,999,995 too many.

I mean, where to start? It’s too overwhelming. I need a limited number of choices or my eyes start spinning like rocket-powered pinwheels.

So feeling as though I were cast adrift at sea, I did what any drowning man does: got a book on the subject.

Luckily, Half Price only had two to choose from and I picked the latest of the two, published in 2014.

It’s “Self-Publishing Your Novel Made Easy” by Richard N. Williams.

I took it home and dove right in. Williams has an easy style and the information was readily understood so that by the time I finished it, my head no longer felt like it had been stuffed with cold oatmeal and the anxiety attacks stopped every time someone said, “eBook.”

I understood the terminology used in self-publishing, I had a good grasp of the eBook publishing platforms available, and knew the difference between a direct vendor (Amazon’s KDP, Apple iBooks, Kobo) and an aggregator (Smashwords, Lulu), who will distribute your eBook to many vendors. I learned about copyrights, ISBN numbers, and a lot of the jargon the Annointed throw about.

Now when I Google self-publishing and get 139,000,000 hits, I’m not so overwhelmed because I can separate blogs offering information from vendors, and so on. The stress headache is gone.

Leaving me free to decide what route I want to take to start the process of publishing my novel.

It’s a novel that I wrote years ago, and has been edited and reedited, beta-read, and submitted to numerous agents.

It was publish-ready, or so I thought.
I have nearly two dozen versions on my hard drive. Each an improved version of the last as I got feedback. But as I looked at it, it hit me.

I had started the story at the wrong point!

In my first draft, I had the main character and his daughter driving to school. I figured some character development would be nice, an introduction, and then later, he gets a phone call about a murder.

But that turned out to be …. well, dull because nothing really happened until the second chapter.

So I added another chapter where my character hears a psychic scream and goes to investigate. This introduces him as a sorcerer and there’s finally a little action. Fine, except now the arrival at the murder scene is two chapters away.

Also, someone said, “I’d like to know how he got his powers, how he came to be.”

OK. OK. So I added some back story that answered his origin and added a little humor to it, but now the murder was three chapters away.

And now, just minutes ago, it hit me. The story is about the whys and wherefores of the murder so, start with the murder!

It seems so obvious in retrospect.

Start with the murder.

So I’m off to revise the story once again.

And then, I can start the self-publishing journey.

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To self-publish or not to self-publish

One of my many New Year’s Resolutions is to figure out this thing called “self-publishing.”

Now when I first started writing, on a manual typewriter — ah, those were the days, fingers all black with carbon… sorry, I digress. Back in the days before the Internet and electronic publishing, there were just the traditional publishers.

If you wrote, or were writing a book, there was really only one way to get it published, the old-fashioned way: submitting a query to an agent, hoping the agent loves your book enough to take you on as a client, then hoping your agent can convince one of the many book publishers that they should love it also.

As a writer of sci-fi and fantasy, my dream was to be published by Ace or DAW or Signet. That was pretty much every sci-fi/fantasy writer’s dream, because there was no other route back then.

Self-publish? That was a dirty word. That meant you failed. You were a loser. An egotist who needed to see his name in print even it meant they had to *shudder* pay, sometimes thousands of dollars, to get it published. It was vain and thus the term, vanity press came into being and it was a pejorative.

Respectable writers didn’t even consider self-publishing.

That was then, this is now.

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Now self-publishing, whether it is an eBook or a publish-on-demand (POD) print book, is regarded with more or less favorable light. Some of us old fogies are still a little leery of it, still think of the old negative stigma associated with it, but little by little we’re beginning to realize self-publishing is a respectable activity. It gives you creative control. It gives you an opportunity to put your book out where the public can see it, something that might never happen with traditional methods because the gatekeepers can’t publish everything. They have to make choices based on monetary considerations and sometimes good novels have to be rejected.

So I’m trying to overcome forty years of being indoctrinated that self-publishing means failure and trying to learn this other side of the publishing industry.

There’s a lot to learn and so far I’m very overwhelmed and not exactly sure where to start. It’s like learning how to walk all over again.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Out of the darkness

A long, long time ago in a galaxy not so far away there existed people who were outcasts, shunned by mainstream society, bullied, picked on, and made fun of.

These were people who enjoyed strange and bizarre things. They read comic books, and enjoyed science fiction and fantasy. They stayed up late at on Saturdays, but not to go to the bars or nightclubs, no, these people stayed up to watch horror movies on TV; movies introduced by horror hosts.

These people would go to drug stores to purchase (shudder!) comic books! And they’d carried them home in unmarked brown paper bags.

They’d go to bookstores and lurk in the dark recesses where they kept the science fiction and fantasy novels. And when they’d walk through the store, they had “Conan the Adventurer” or “Tarzan of the Apes” sandwiched between ordinary best sellers by Erma Bombeck or Jackie Collins. Then at the counter they’d say, “I changed my mind about these” and they’d just buy the Conan and Tarzan, and the clerk would wink knowingly.

At home, they’d put on their Battlestar Galactica jacket (which they could never leave the house wearing for fear of ridicule) and go into their closet, pull out a musty old box labeled, “Grandma’s quilts,” inside of which was their secret stash of Marvel and DC comics, Warren and Mad magazines, and their collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. And they’d read!

It was a secret society. There were no meeting places, no memberships, no secret handshake, because you never knew who was watching you.

You never flashed the Vulcan salute because, like a gang sign, you couldn’t be sure who would see it. Maybe a school jock would see it, peg you for “one of those pencil-necked geeks” and before you knew it your ass would be on fire from a wedgy or you’d find yourself face first in a toilet receiving a swirly.

We lived in constant fear that our secret life, our forbidden passion for comic books and science fiction and fantasy, would be found out.

But today, that has all gone mainstream and geek has become a pop culture phenomenon.

We didn’t have comic books stores where you could speak geek with others who shared your interests. No Internet with forums for our kind.

Now there are whole shelves at Target devoted to superheroes, Star Wars, video games, entire online stores, like Think Geek, selling nothing but geek-inspired items.

Television is inundated with superhero and sci-fi shows. The biggest blockbusters at the theater feature the Marvel Universe.

We had Lou Ferrigno in green make-up as the Hulk. You have CGI. We had Robbie the robot and the robot from Lost in Space. You have R2D2 and some round little thing. We had Captain America in a motorcycle helmet and an Evil Knievel-like suit. You have Chris Evans. We had Adam West. You have the Dark Knight. We were laughed at by the girls. You have the beautiful women of Cosplay.

We blazed the trail, we took our lumps, we hid in the shadows. You get to come out of the darkness as the force awakens.

You’re welcome.

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Lancer/Ace Conan the Usurper: Rereading and Reminiscence

When I discovered, and started reading, the Lancer editions of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, many volumes in the series had already been in print a good five or six years, but it wasn’t old news. It wasn’t passé. No, on the contrary, Conan was at his peak in popularity and these editions were being reprinted on a regular basis and a few of the books were still scheduled for their first printing.

It was an exciting time for us sword and sorcery buffs. Conan’s literary popularity pawned the floodgates for all the other S&S heroes to be reprinted from their pulp days or for authors to create new characters and adventures.

By the time I read Conan the Usurper, I was already reading the novels and anthologies of Michael Moorcock’s Elric, Fritz Leiber’s Fafard and the Gray Mouser, and John Jakes’ Brak the barbarian (0ddly enough, despite my love for Lin Carter, I never read any of his Thongor of Lemuria books), to name a few.

And Sword and Sorcery made its way to comics with Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian, being the most successful, but there were also others. DC put out Sword of Sorcery, which featured Fafard and the Gray Mouser adventures and there was Dax the Warrior with art and writing by Esteban Maroto in Warren’s successful black and white comic magazine, Eerie, which was followed by Marvel and it’s B&W comic magazines, such as Savage Tales and the Savage Sword of Conan.

It was an exciting time to be alive.

But let’s get to Conan the Usurper which is book 8 in the Lancer/Ace series of Robert E. Howard’s Conan published back in the late 60s and 70s. This edition was reprinted seven times between 1967 and 1973, the year Lancer went bankrupt.

Frank Frazetta did the cover. It depicts Conan in chains straddling a monstrous serpent that is rising above him to strike, which came from this passage: “Slowly, a huge, hideous, wedge-shaped head took form before his dilated eyes, and from the darkness oozed, in flowing scaly coils, the ultimate horror of reptilian development.”

Conan, in this book, is now in his early to mid-forties.

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Conan the Usurper, 1967

Conan the Usurper (1967) by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp

Contents
“Introduction” (L. Sprague de Camp)
“The Treasure of Tranicos” (Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp)
“Wolves Beyond the Border” (Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp)
“The Phoenix on the Sword” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Scarlet Citadel” (Robert E. Howard)

Introduction. As always, de Camp starts things off with a little essay on Howard and Conan.

The Treasure of Tranicos. The manuscript was found in the house of the Howard estates’ late literary agent, Oscar J. Friend. It started life as a Conan story that kept getting rejected, so eventually Howard changed it to a pirate tale. L. Sprague de Camp took the original story, edited it, and it was published in Fantasy Magazine for February 1953. It was then published in hardcover in the anthology King Conan (1953, Gnome Press). It was then reedited once again by de Camp, where he added elements such as the wizard Thoth-Amon to make it fit biographically into Conan’s life, then published in the paperback edition of Conan the Usurper. The story was then republished in The Treasure of Tranicos (1980, Ace Books), Echoes of Valor (1987, Tor Books), The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (Gollancz, 2001) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Three (1935-1936) (Del Rey Books, 2005).

The story was adapted in Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan #47-48 by Roy Thomas and John Buscema.

The story starts with our hero on the run from the savage Picts, having made his way west from his last adventure in Conan the Warrior in the frontiers to the coast.

To escape the Picts, he clambers up a steep stone crag, which turns out to be feared b the Picts and they abandon the chase.

Inside a cave, Conan finds a tunnel that has several chests in it and a closed door. Opening the door, a blue mist solidifies and black hands try to choke him, but he manages to break free to run down the passage. He realizes the demon isn’t following and is confined within the room; a room filled with dead men and treasure.

Meanwhile, the story shifts to a coastal fort, where Count Valenso of Korzetta is in hiding from something. Suddenly, Baracan pirates appear, seeking a treasure they believe the count has. They try to storm the fort but leave when another ship appears on the horizon. That ship contains Zingaran buccaneers, who had been following the pirates to find the treasure.

Add Thoth-Amon, the cave’s demon, Picts, and Conan finds himself in a rousing adventure against five adversaries.

Wolves Beyond the Border. The story is from an unfinished fragment and a one page synopsis that Howard wrote and de Camp finished to fit into Conan’s history. It was republished in The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (Gollancz, 2001) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003).

The story was adapted in Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan #59 by Roy Thomas and Ernie Chan.

This is a jarring tale compared to everything else in this series. For one thing, it’s told in first person. For another, Conan never appears in the story at all and is only mentioned by way of the characters talking about Conan and his followers rising up against the king of Aquilonia.

The Phoenix on the Sword. Originally published in Weird Tales, December 1932. It was republished in King Conan (Gnome Press, 1953), The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (Gollancz, 2001) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003).

Known to any Conan afficiando as the very first published story about the Cimmerian. Also known is that it is a rewriting of the rejected Kull story, “By This Axe I Rule!” Now I enjoyed this story, and consider it among the best Howard Conan stories. After all, it is fast-paced, exciting, and introduced the readers of the day to Conan for the first time. Nevertheless, I think the Kull story was somewhat superior. The Kull story is longer, adding more details of the treachery of those who would slay the king, whereas the Conan story is pretty much just the battle between the king and his betrayers. Also, there is a love story between a slave girl and a noble that shows more of Kull’s character as a caring monarch. In comparison, Conan is almost one-dimensional.

The Scarlet Citadel. This was the second Conan story ever published, and again, he is king of Aquilonia, betrayed by two neighboring kingdoms and placed in a pit to die. But this is Conan! There is sorcery, monsters, and plenty of great battles and skirmishes.

I wonder how readers of the day greeted these last two stories, being introduced for the first time to Conan, king of Aquilonia, only to have Howard write the next 16 Conan tales out of biographical order as a younger man, just learning the ways of civilization. Personally, I would have found it somewhat jarring and just a little off-putting.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Howard and think he’s a fantastic story teller, but I just find it baffling that he would start writing about Conan toward the end of his life, then proceed to write the rest of the stories sort of willy-nilly throughout the character’s younger years.

This is why I really like the Lancer editions because they follow Conan’s life chronologically from beginning to end. Say what you will about how de Camp and Carter edited the Hell out of Howard’s words, at least they tried to arrange the tales in a sort of biographical timeline that makes sense.

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Lancer/Ace Conan
Lancer/Ace Conan of Cimmeria
Conan the Freebooter
Conan the Wanderer
Conan the Adventurer
Conan the Buccaneer
Conan the Warrior