Monthly Archives: February 2015

Writerly Writing – Update #1

  • Monday: I chopped/rewrote ~850; managed to come out slightly positive on net words written.
  • Tuesday: As planned. 300 before noon, a couple hundred more in the afternoon. Had ultimate frisbee league game in the evening.
  • Wednesday: Spent some time going over notes and still had 500 done before going out to play ultimate at noon. Couple hundred more in the evening.
  • Thursday: Had an arthritis flare-up. Eked out 500 for the day. I really wanted to hit 2K for the week on Thursday, but couldn’t get around the brain fog.
  • Friday:  As planned, with ultimate frisbee at noon.
  • Saturday: The only day I didn’t revisit the manuscript after writing 319 before noon. Was just banging my head on it and wanted to goof off for the rest of the day. So I did.
  • Today: Over 700 before noon. I probably won’t write more today since I have a few things to take care of and some entertainment planned for this evening.

Total: 3533 net.

The real test will be if I can do it again (and again, and better). I have a pretty good history of making a plan work for a week.

For this week: There’s a scene I need to rewrite. I’ll probably dive into that on Monday. Mondays are usually my most productive days and going negative on Monday gives me the rest of the week to catch up.



Deal Me In, Week 7 ~ “The Sandman”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Sandman” by E. T. A. Hoffmann

Card picked: Two of Diamonds – A WILD card. Yes, seven weeks in and I’ve already drawn two wild cards. I don’t much like the deck I’m drawing from.

From: Weird Tales by E.T.A. Hoffmann, translated by T.J. Bealby, available from Project Gutenberg


This is the second story I’ve read from the Obscure Literary Monsters list. The story might be “obscure” in that I’m not sure it’s widely read, but some of the details have a curious legacy. The Sandman in his most benevolent form sprinkles sand into children’s eyes to bring sleep and dreams. I understand that this is a myth to explain the grit in the corner of your eyes that you wake up with, but I’ve always thought the concept sounded terrible. A guy sneaking around and sprinkling *sand* in someone’s eyes? Nothing about this says sleep and good dreams to me. E.T.A. Hoffmann seems to agree.

Our protagonist is Nathanael, a student at an Italian university. We learn in a letter from him to Lothar, the brother of his fiance, that he is being troubled by something that he believes he left behind in childhood: the Sandman. When he was a kid, he explains, his nurse scared the bejeezus out of him with tales of a Sandman that threw sand in the eyes of children who refused to go to sleep and then would pluck their eyes out to feed to his own children. That’s a tale that will put a kid to sleep…never again. Young Nathanael convinces himself that a particularly loathsome man, Coppelius, who occasionally visits his father late at night, is actually the Sandman. Nathanael sneaks out of his room one night in hopes of proving his theory, but he’s quickly found out and further scared by Coppelius. In fact, Nathanael is convinced that Coppelius removes Nathanael’s hands and feet to examine them, before his father rescues him. His childhood trauma culminates a few months later with an accident–a late-night explosion which kills Nathanael’s father. Nathanael is certain Coppelius, or rather the Sandman, had something to do with it What has troubled older Nathanael is the arrival at the university of a weather glass salesman who looks *just* like feral old Coppelius.

The letter ends up being read by his fiance, Clara. On one hand, Clara is level-headed about it all. Her theory is that Nathanael has blown his childhood fears way out of proportion. His nurse told him a cruel story, Coppelius didn’t care for children and delighted in scaring him, and his father died while doing some sort of chemical experiment. The monster that is dogging Nathanael is all in his head; we create our monsters.  On the other hand, Clara is sort of annoyingly optimistic.”[T]he intuitive prescience of a dark power working within us to our own ruin cannot exist also in minds which are cheerful” is sort of her final statement on the subject.

Nathanael seems to mostly agree. In a second letter, he admits that he’s been a bit foolish. The weather glass salesman doesn’t look *that* much like Coppelius. One of his teachers, Spalanzani, knows the guy and vouches for him. All in all, Nathanael is happy to be coming home for holidays. He relates one more thing to Lothar. Speaking of Spalanzani, Nathanael peeked through a crack in the door to catch a glimpse of Spalanzani’s daughter. She’s beautiful, but sort of vacant…

Despite the tone of the letter, Nathanael isn’t over the whole Sandman/Coppelius thing. He drones on about everyone being the playthings of some evil ultimate power. He even pens a poem in which he and Clara happily woo but when they come to the marriage altar, Coppelius shows up and plucks out Clara’s eyes. Needless to say, this poem is not endearing to Clara.  She’s not unhappy when he goes back to the university.

When Nathanael returns, he finds that the building where he used to live has been burnt down. Some of his fellow students rescued his belongings and he’s been moved to an apartment next to where Spalanzani and his daughter, Olimpia, live. In fact, often Nathanael has a direct view into the room where Olimpia sits for hours on end not really moving or doing anything. The weather glass salesman finally pays Nathanael a visit and to get rid of the guy, Nathanael buys a mini telescope from him. Now with an even better way of spying on Olimpia, Nathanael becomes utterly besotted. It’s as though, she never had life in her eyes until he looked into her eyes. Olimpia is given a coming out party, but Nathanael is her only suitor. She can dance, but is stiff in her movements. She can sing songs, but doesn’t talk much beyond saying “Ack!” But she listens to Nathanael with utmost attention. She’s the perfect woman! Alas, Nathanael is doomed. He walks in on an argument between Spalanzani and the weather glass man (who actually *is* Coppelius) about who made Olimpia’s clockwork and who made her eyes. Coppelius makes off with Olimpia’s body, leaving her eyes behind. That’s not the end of Nathanael’s story, but I don’t want to spoil it all.

I wasn’t expecting a 1816 tale called “The Sandman” to so heavily involve an automaton. (Due to the name. The subject matter–life from unlife–was definitely having a resurgence.) Other sinister versions of the Sandman have been done, but I have to wonder if there isn’t more than a little of this story in the movie Blade Runner.

About the Author: E.T.A. Hoffmann’s best known work, at least in its ballet form, is The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. “The Sandman” gets a much more light-hearted dance adaptation too with Coppelia, the story of an inventor with a life-like dancing doll, the young man who falls in love with it, and Swanhilde, the girl he was supposed to marry who saves him from himself by pretending to be the doll. Presumably things work out better for all involved in this version.

Swanhilde (performed by Leanne Benjamin). I have to think that abrupt, wooden movement do not make for easy ballet.

Review ~ The Two Sams

Cover via Goodreads

The Two Sams by Glen Hirshberg

In the title story of this unique collection a husband struggles with the grief and confusion of losing two children, and forms an odd bond with the infant spectrals that visit him in the night. “Dancing Men” depicts one of the creepiest rites of passage in recent memory, when a boy visits his deranged grandfather in the New Mexico desert. In “Mr. Dark’s Carnival,” a college professor confronts his own dark places in the form of a mysterious haunted house steeped in the folklore of grisly badlands justice. “Struwwelpeter” introduces us to a brilliant, treacherous adolescent whose violent tendencies and reckless mischief reach a sinister pinnacle as Halloween descends on a rundown, Pacific Northwest fishing village. Tormented by his guilty conscience, a young man plumbs the depths of atonement as he and his favorite cousin commune with the almighty Hawaiian surf in “Shipwreck Beach.” With The Two Sams author Glen Hirshberg uses his remarkable gift for capturing mood and atmosphere to suggest the possibility that the most troubling ghosts of all are not the ones that hover above us and walk through walls, but those that linger in our memories and haunt our souls. (via Goodreads)

I reread The Two Sams back in December. I get into a horror mood in the winter; it never fails. At the time, I think there was a reason behind the pick, but I don’t remember it now. Maybe I just needed something that I knew would be good.

I was reminded again of how well Hirshberg handles a sense of place in all of these stories. Even the two that I don’t like as much, “Shipwreck Beach” and “Dancing Men,” I can’t deny that I am there in those stories. “The Two Sams” still stood up as being creepy and poignant. And I had forgotten how much of a set up there is to “Mr. Dark’s Carnival” and its Twilight Zone ending. These are all solid, solid stories.

But I actually do have a ghost of a memory about why I decided to read The Two Sams and it had to do with the story “Struwwelpeter.” The original Der Struwwelpeter is a children’s book by Heinrich Hoffmann. In the book, “Shockheaded Peter” is a boy who won’t comb his hair or cut his nails and is therefore shunned. All the children in the book misbehave and suffer for it. Some in rather gruesome ways. Yes, it’s *that* kind of children’s book. The Peter of Hirshberg’s “Struwwelpeter” is a bad kid too. In a way the story is a companion to his novel The Snowman’s Children. Set in the late 70s, The Snowman’s Children relies on the biggest child-related issue of that time: abductions. In “Struwwelpeter,” we have school violence, the bugaboo of the 2000s. In retrospect, the one problem I have with this story is that I’m not sure I buy Peter as a truly disturbed kid, even though the story works in the moment.

Publishing info, my copy: Carroll & Graf, 2003, trade paperback
Acquired: PaperbackSwap
Genre: Horror
Previously: Reread, discovered Glen Hirshberg though a mixed anthology.

Magicienne Monday ~ Magic Megs and the Magic Circle


I like Mondays. On Monday, I am refreshed from the weekend and exhilarated by the possibilities of the week ahead. I also like magic. I like its history, its intersection with technology, and its crafty use of human nature.  I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

And welcome to the first Magicienne Monday! I’ve had this on the agenda for a while now, but things kept getting in the way. Monthly, I’d like to profile some of the women in magic. I actually got the idea back in November when I heard about Megan Knowles-Bacon.

6.Rings-7At the age of 22, Megan Knowles-Bacon was voted in as the youngest and the first female officer of the Magic Circle, Britain’s magic association. It’s only been 23 years since they started admitting female members at all! I was really hoping to find a video of her performing part of her Black Swan routine, but she’s quite absent from YouTube.


What Am I Reading?

Planning to make good headway on Dead Wake this week. It’s enjoyable, but it is Erik Larson. It’s dense with facts. I drew a wild card for Deal Me In; I’ll be reading “The Sandman” by E.T.A. Hoffmann, which is off my Obscure Literary Monsters list.

What Am I Writing?

Main goal for the week is 3K on In Need of Luck. I’ve also been puttering around with a short story idea during my free writes.

On the Blog

Depending how busy I get this week either a review of Teller & Todd Karr’s House of Mystery books or a reread review of Glen Hirshberg’s The Two Sams.

Writerly Writing – Goals

There are still many more days of failure ahead, whole seasons of failure, things will go terribly wrong, you will have huge disappointments, but you have to prepare for that, you have to expect it and be resolute and follow your own path.
~Anton Chekhov

I’ve been having problems with the motivation to write for a while now. In an effort to power through, I’m going set a some goals and post every Sunday with an update. No frills, except maybe additional inspiring quotations like the one above.


Write first. Without a day job or children, I have the opportunity to write whenever I want. Lately, I do everything else first and what time I have left over I spend on writing. This from someone who has energy management problems. I aim to get at least 300 words written before moving on to other things. This may include staring at the Word doc for two hours as coffee gets into my system in the morning.

Write twice. Take a serious look at the document again later in the day. Get another couple hundred words written, because goal #3 is…

3000K for the week on In Need of Luck. Kinda meager, yet fairly mountainous.  I’m at 44,672 words and I wanted to have a 60K first draft done at the end of December. Of 2014.

Deal Me In, Week 6 ~ “God Sees the Truth, But Waits”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“God Sees the Truth, But Waits” by Leo Tolstoy

Card picked: Seven of Hearts

From: Best Russian Short Stories, available at Project Gutenberg

Thoughts: Ivan Dmitrich Aksionov is a young merchant with a good life. On his way to Nizhny, a journey of several days, he’s framed for the murder of a fellow merchant. He’s flogged and sent to Siberia to work in the mines. While a prisoner, Aksionov becomes a well-respected member of the prison community, respect he probably would have never gained as a successful, carefree merchant.

Twenty-six years pass before an aged convict, Makar Semyonich, arrives at Aksionov’s mine. He’s been accused of horse thieving, but has past indiscretions on his record. He is surprised to hear Aksionov’s tale. In fact, he knows details about the crime and Aksionov suspects that Makar Semyonich is the man who framed him. Since he doesn’t have hard evidence, Aksionov doesn’t take revenge on Makar Semyonich when he has the chance. Aksionov is the only one in this story that doesn’t act on his desire to punish.

This was a very short tale, very simply told, and rather grim. Near the end, Aksionov contends “Maybe I am a hundred times worse than [Makar Semyonich],” which is rather contradictory considering that it’s Aksionov’s mercy that leads Makar Semyonich to repent his wrong-doings.

About the Author: Leo Tolstoy is arguably most well known for his door-stop epics like War and Peace and Anna Karenina, but he was all over 19th century Russian literature, writing short stories, plays, and even a philosophical work, The Kingdom of God is Within You.

Review ~ The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Cover via Goodreads

Holmes and Watson are faced with their most terrifying case yet. The legend of the devil-beast that haunts the moors around the Baskerville families home warns the descendants of that ancient clan never to venture out in those dark hours when the power of evil is exalted. Now, the most recent Baskerville, Sir Charles, is dead and the footprints of a giant hound have been found near his body. Will the new heir meet the same fate? (via Goodreads)

Back during the Readers Imbibing Peril event, Amanda at Simpler Pastimes hosted The Hound of the Baskervilles read-a-long. As good as that sounded, I was super busy in October and had vowed not to over-extend myself. So I penciled in my own reread of Hound for January/February. In her thoughts about Hound, Amanda mentioned The Castle of Otranto, which I later recognized as part of the Gothic Reading Challenge and decided to more directly pair the two.

The Hound of the Baskervilles was published (and probably written) after Doyle had killed off Sherlock Holmes in “The Final Problem.” Can you imagine how excited the reading public was to get more Holmes after nearly a decade? Except… Hound is pretty light on Holmes. Watson does a lot of investigating on his own and Holmes swoops in near the end with the last puzzle piece. It’s a decent mystery, but it’s a better gothic novel.

We have a lustful villain, a family curse, secret marriages, people creeping about dark houses, a chase, and potential supernatural elements. Doyle does it all very atmospherically. I was a little surprised at the convict sub-plot which I didn’t remember. “Well, as long as he’s fleeing to South America and not hanging around…” is not really the height of prison reform.

Publishing info, my copy: I started out using a complete Sherlock Holmes edition on my Kindle, but it was slow going with little external feedback on progress. I finished with Barnes & Noble Books, 1992, Hardback
Acquired: At a Barnes & Noble, possibly the one I frequented in Lincoln, NE
Genre: mystery, gothic
Previously: I was probably about 11 when I first tore through Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.
See Also: Tim Prasil recently covered the 1983 film version of the story, starring Ian Richardson, in his In the Shadow of Rathbone feature.