Journal On Writing Meet Email Message Board Read Bodger & Grift FAQ Index Home
May 2008:
Paperback edition
Posted by JVJ @ 4:51 pm
May 28th : 2008

I've received a cover flat of the UK paperback edition of A Sword From Red Ice. The paperback will be published in November so those of you who are waiting now know just how long you have to wait. Six months, two days to be precise. I believe the US edition will be out about the same time. A cover flat, btw, is an advance print of the entire cover--front, spine and back--which is used for marketing and publicity.
Now, for those still skeptical about my flying saucer report, here's a link to a NY Times article explaining the release of previously classified UFO-related documents by the British government. Paul and I and the rest of the Jones clan (Mum, Dad, Sue and Mark) were there the night the aliens landed. Make of that what you will.
UFO Trivia
Posted by JVJ @ 1:28 pm
May 27th : 2008

I’ve been saving the final claim to fame of my home town Rainhill for last--because it’s the best. On January 11th, 1978, a UFO landed in a field in Rainhill. Robert Bennet, a foundry maintenance worker, sat for five hours in his living room with three policemen as he tracked the alien craft across the region. Upon receiving a call from a friend, Bennet, a keen amateur radio operator, contacted the authorities. "With a bit of scepticism I phoned the St Helens police," Bennet admitted, "and told them I had just had a radio call about a UFO sighting. Everything went hush, hush on the phone and then they said they were sending someone up straight away. Three officers, one who I think was high-ranking, arrived at about 10.15pm and stayed until about 3am."

Detective Constable Gary Heseltine entered the sighting in the Police Reporting UFO sightings logging system (who knew they had one?). Two police officers tracked the craft by vehicle. Bennet said, "From what I heard there were officers in the car trying to follow it and I believe it did land in a field in Rainhill and two police officers, a PC and a WPC, were 20 yards away from it when it started to take off."

By my calculation at least five police officers spotted the spacecraft. Amazingly enough, PCs Lowe and Roberts drew a sketch of what they saw. And thanks to the internet, the British government, and UFO lovers everywhere, that sketch is now public information. Rest your eyes on this beauty, an official police sketch from an official police sighting. Makes you glad to live on Planet Earth.

For his part, Bennet was pleased to go public. After twenty years he finally felt he could tell his story without people thinking, "he was ready for the nuthouse."
Research your market
Posted by JVJ @ 12:33 pm
May 27th : 2008

Know your market. Doesn’t sound much like writing advice, does it? As writers we’re supposed to be above marketing. That’s what other people do, business people, MBAs, directors of marketing. Writing is different. It’s Art. And if we write really, really well people will appreciate it, word will get around, and our books will sell. Right?

Trouble is, even before our manuscript leaves our hot little hands we have to start marketing. The cover letter, where we plead our case to an editor or agent, attempting to rouse their interest enough to read our work, is an exercise in marketing. We have to set ourselves apart. Be noticed. Tempt. "My work is uniquely wonderful and here is why..."

Even that’s not the starting point of marketing your manuscript. When you have an idea for a book and as you’re writing, you need to research your market. What sort of book is it? Fiction? Nonfiction? Let’s say it’s fiction. It is literary or genre? Let’s say it’s genre. Is it a specialist sub-genre? Say military SF, steampunk, historically-accurate whodunit? Once you’ve identified your market your next question should be, "Who sells it?" If you’re writing military SF chances are you read military SF. Start by looking at those books. Finding the names of the publishers is easy--they're usually printed on the spine. Then open the books and read the acknowledgments. You can often discover who edited the book and who sold it (the agent). Start making a list. Go to the bookstore and pull out every military SF book you can find and take down the names of all publishers, editors and agents. Patterns will start to emerge. You’ll be surprised by how many of the same names keep popping up. These are the people you’ll target with your cover letter. Why? Because they have had success selling military SF, know how to market and edit it, and are on the look out for the next big thing.

That’s where you come in. Write them cover letters, firmly placing your work in the military SF sub-genre, detailing how your work is similar to other known and successful military SF writers, "Heinlein’s Starship Troopers was my starting point," and then detailing how your work is unique: "I’m interested in how a non-earth, non-human based military would evolve. What kind of problems would a recruit from a planet where (fill in the blank) is no longer necessary encounter?" Editors and agents reading this letter will think, "OK. A military procedural, but with a whole new set of rules." They’ll have a sense where your book falls in the market place and on their lists. And that means they can make an informed decision about whether or not to spend their valuable time reading your submission.
Posted by JVJ @ 1:25 pm
May 26th : 2008

Yesterday I played softball, my first time ever. In school I played a game called rounders, which is pretty similar and may be what baseball is based on (four bases, pitcher, batter etc). I had never used a glove or wielded a baseball bat before Sunday though. Sotftball’s more competitive than rounders and a lot faster. Rounders is like cricket--it can take a whole day to play it--whereas softball’s over in a couple of hours.    It was a lot of fun. The sheriff's deputies stopped by and played a couple of innings. It was that sort of day.
And my consolation for not living in the woods
Posted by JVJ @ 11:36 am
May 23rd : 2008
Yesterday's sunset
My idea of perfection
Posted by JVJ @ 8:45 am
May 22nd : 2008
A cabin in the woods
Writing in your own voice
Posted by JVJ @ 6:41 am
May 21st : 2008

"I write as if I was talking. If you just talk away, that's where you're nearest the truth, nearest yourself. I write as if I was telling a story to a friend." --Maeve Binchy

That’s some of the best advice on writing you’ll ever receive. Finding one’s voice as a writer--one’s style and diction, recurring subject matter and themes--can be difficult when one’s starting out, yet Maeve Binchy offers a simple solution: Be yourself, sound like yourself. If you were telling your story to a friend how would it go? Probably you’d find your story has a natural rhythm. You’d use the vocabulary you grew up with: its cadences and idiosyncrasies and slang. You’d mention details you found interesting. Your experiences would provide insight into the motives of your characters. Over time you’d realize you’re emphasizing what’s important to you. And that’s how you find your voice as a writer: by continually being yourself.

Don't forget to enter the Home Town competition to win a signed copy of A Sword From Red Ice.
A picture's worth a thousand words
Posted by JVJ @ 7:05 am
May 20th : 2008

On Saturday I posted a photo taken nearly ten years ago of me riding a quarter horse at a ranch close to the Mexico-California border. Upon hearing that I hadn't ridden since I was a teenager, Lonnie, the ranch owner, insisted I take one of his horses into the ring. That's when the photo below was taken--scroll down and take a look. You'll need the image fresh in your mind for the purpose of dramatic contrast. If you look carefully you can see Lonnie's hand in the photo.

So, the question is: Why haven't I ridden since then? The answer is here, in this second photo taken two hours later. Yes, Lonnie is holding a towel to my head. Yes, I am bleeding. And yes, I still have the scar. Lonnie didn't have any human medication on hand so he gave me a horse tablet instead. That expression is me trying to swallow it. After the photo was taken I was driven to the emergency room for stitches. I needed twelve.

In brief here's what happened. Lonnie cracked the whip behind the horse. Horse panicked. I was thrown. The back of my skull made contact with a metal fence post. I blacked out. I came to. Horse was lipping my face--contritely. Blood was pumping from my head. Haven't ridden since then. Too nervous to get back in the saddle.

Time to mow lawn
Posted by JVJ @ 12:03 am
May 19th : 2008

Here’s the first in a series of outdoor photographs I’m working on. It’s titled "I really need to mow the lawn". Others to follow are, "If you can’t see out of your dining room window perhaps it’s time to prune the bushes", and my personal favorite, "Are mice still living in the BBQ?"
Scroll down here to learn how you can win one of two signed copies of A Sword From Red Ice.
More JVJ stuff
Posted by JVJ @ 11:15 am
May 17th : 2008

I once had a Brazilian company offer to buy Three letter dot com addresses are relatively rare (there are a possible 17,576 to choose from) and the only reason I have jvj is that I nabbed it early on. For a while I owned too, but as I never did anything with it I let it go. It's now owned by a company who'd like to sell it to you.
There are now many JVJs around the internet. There's in Singapore, (China),,,, etc. My personal favorite is They raise and train quarter horses. I thought I'd like a lot more than I did. I grew up pubs, I know pubs, but they, Sir, have no pubs on their website. In this case pubs is short for publishing.
It's time for a contest!
Posted by JVJ @ 12:04 am
May 16th : 2008

It's time for a contest. I have two signed copies of A Sword From Red Ice to give away, one US and one UK edition. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to tell me your home town's claim to fame.
I've told you about Rainhill and the "invention" of plate glass. A friend told me that when the Queen visited his home town of Thunder Bay, Canada, the mayor patted Her Majesty on the butt. This is the only time we know of when the royal butt has been patted in public. That's a fine claim to fame. What's yours? To enter, head over to the messageboard and post your entry in the Home Town section. The best two entries win. Contest ends June 5th.
Cover Story
Posted by JVJ @ 7:42 pm
May 14th : 2008

We may have another book cover mystery on our hands. Those who've visited jvj over the years have heard tell of Melli's mysterious mid-Atlantic disappearance. Ten years ago, while traveling from the US to the UK she went missing, and apart from one unconfirmed sighting in Germany she hasn't been seen since.
Now, into the void created by Melli's vanishment comes a second inexplicable occurrence. Two covers for the same book. Here are the facts. It's the French edition of The Barbed Coil, published by Calman-Levy. Both covers are titled Book 1 (tome 1) and can be found readily on the internet. What we need to know is: Which one is the real cover and which is the evil doppelganger? And, perhaps more importantly: What happened to Book 2?
When Biggie Attacks
Posted by JVJ @ 6:08 pm
May 13th : 2008

When Biggie attacks she grabs, bites and kicks all at the same time. Strangely, it doesn't hurt.
Equine Trivia
Posted by JVJ @ 9:33 pm
May 12th : 2008

Here's the next installment of noteable--and increasinlgy harder to verify--facts about the village where I grew up. Oliver Cromwell, the man who signed a king's death warrant and turned England from a monarchy into a repubic for ten astounding years, is not buried in Rainhill. But his horse is. Yes, old Ironside's favored mount, whose name no one has bothered to record, is buried beneath a way-marker--steps and an elevated cross--on a roadside in Rainhill. Legend seldom bothers with detail so the when, why and how of the horse's demise has never been recorded. The way-marker is over four hundred years old and is cut from local sandstone. I used to play on it as a kid, climbing the steps and looking south across the fields toward the hills of Wales.
Where's the cake?
Posted by JVJ @ 1:10 pm
May 11th : 2008

Yesterday I stopped by Mysterious Galaxy to wish them Happy Birthday. They've been selling SF, fantasy, mystery, horror and thrillers in San Diego for fifteen years--no small feat for an independent book seller. Their first ever customer was present. Two birthdays cakes were on hand along with lots of good will and much swapping of book recommendations.
Plate Glass Trivia
Posted by JVJ @ 09:06 am
May 10th : 2008

The story is purely apocryphal, but it was told to me by Mr. Davenport who was our headmaster (school principal) at the time. Mr. Davenport was not a man given to error. So, in addition to being famous for the Rainhill Trials, Rainhill is also the place where modern plate glass was invented.
Mr. Pilkington was a mechanical engineer who worked for a glass manufacturer in the nearby town of St. Helens. Manufacturing plate glass at the time was expensive and time-consuming: it was literally ground into thinness then polished into transparency. One night, while watching Mrs. Pilkington do the dishes in their Rainhill home, his gaze was drawn to the way the soapy water coated the plates when Mrs. Pilkington held them at an angle. It formed a film, he realized. A plate upon the plate. This observation led to the “float glass” process by which all plate glass is manufactured today. Yes, your windows...made possible by Rainhill. And Mrs. Pilkington’s housework.

Stay tuned next week for Rainhill’s third (and least verifiable) claim to fame.
Happy Fifteenth
Posted by JVJ @ 12:48 pm
May 9th : 2008

If you're in San Diego on Saturday stop by Mysterious Galaxy and wish them Happy Fifteenth Birthday. They're having a bash, with lots of events, book signings, special deals and prizes. The celebration kicks off at 10:30 am and continues to late. Among the authors stopping by will be Timothy Zahn, Jeff Mariotte and Charlaine Harris. I'll be paying my respects too. I hope to see you there.
Railway Trivia
Posted by JVJ @ 11:43 am
May 8th : 2008

I grew up in the small village of Rainhill, which is famous in railway history as being the site of the Rainhill Trials. It was here in 1829 where Stephenson's Rocket won the competition for a locomotive to run a 3 mile round trip 10 times carrying a load three times its weight. Think of it as the DARPA Grand Challenge of its day. The prize was a whopping five hundred pounds ($250,000 in today's money). One of the entries used a horse on a treadmill for power. It was called the Cycloped and perhaps not surprisingly was the first to drop out.
Last photo of winter
Posted by JVJ @ 10:51 am
May 8th : 2008

Anyone who reads this journal regularly knows I like Winter. Ice sheets, glaciers, frozen tundra. It's that time of year in the western hemisphere, though: May. Time to give it up. I hereby promise to show no more photos of snowy woods, frozen lakes, mist-shrouded mountains and icy roads. Besides this one, taken last month on the banks of the St. Lawrence in Ontario, Canada. In my defense, the snow is clearly melting.
The Great Want
Posted by JVJ @ 11:12 am
May 7th : 2008

I always get a window seat on plane. If you ever sit next to me, it won't take you long to learn why. I like taking aerial photos. Yes, the airplane window is dingy, the field of view restricted, and the subject distorted by the thickness of the glass...but you get to capture a perspective that you can't normally see. These are the mountains east of San Diego. Looking at the photo for the first time tonight, I realized: this is what Raif sees in Chapter 1 of A Sword From Red Ice.
Blinking like a man shaken suddenly awake, Raif looked around. The Want had shifted. Something subtle had changed, a rotation of perspective or a shortening of distance: he could not decide which. The mountain ridge that they'd been heading toward all day was now upon them, looming dark and rugged and barren.
Sad News
Posted by JVJ @ 6:02 pm
May 6th : 2008

Paul and I learned today of the death of Ashley Wynn. Ashley was a frequent visitor to this website and posted regularly on the messageboard under the name polijn. She won one of the three galley copies of A Sword From Red Ice and we emailed back and forth. She was a writer herself, a bright, lovely and funny young woman. She is survived by her three year old son and newborn daughter.

Our hearts go out to her family.

The older the model
Posted by JVJ @ 10:42 am
May 6th : 2008

The older the model the more maintenance it needs. This is as true for websites as it is for buying cars. JVJ is fourteen years old now (older than and although it has a shiny new paint job, rust lurks under the hood. Potter around enough, follow a series of increasingly obscure hyperlinks and you'll find yourself in the dark and dusty depths of the underhood, viewing some ancient artifacts that may or may not be spark plus. Not everything works. Eventually your excavations will be halted with the dreaded Internal Server Error.
We keep things running, but we have to prioritize, so some of the older stuff is left in a delightful state of ill repair. Live At Castle Harvell is one such page. In its heyday it told visitors the time of day and what Bodger & Grift were doing at that particular moment (it had 24 messages which it could display). Sadly, it fires blanks now. The script fell along the wayside, left behind in some frantic last-minute server swap half a decade earlier. Taking it down is not an option. I like the old stuff, I like having it around.
Site Statistics
Posted by JVJ @ 1:25 pm
May 5th : 2008

After our foray into frequency analysis I think we’re ready for some statistics. Currently we average 910 visitors a day at jvj, that’s 27,000 visitors a month, 332,000 a year. The most viewed page is the homepage, followed by this page (the journal), then the message board, then Bodger & Grift’s Pick Up Lines. The top entrances to the site are, in order, the homepage, the journal, Bodger & Grift’s Pick Ups, and Black Pudding.
Bodger & Grift’s page rumbles along under its own steam because it’s in Google’s Top Twenty for the phrase “pickup lines” and the same for “black pudding” which is number 5. We get dozens of visitors each month searching for “epic fantasy” (# 4), a few hungry folk wondering how to cook “shrimp on a skewer” (also # 4), and a couple of hopeful folk looking for “etiquette for young ladies” (# 8). This is not part of some sneaky internet marketing plan, just stuff that’s accumulated on the website like car parts on a lawn.

However, if I were to give advice to someone setting up a website, I would say post some really odd stuff. Wacky, strange, just plain peculiar. Don’t try and compete for the big keywords, find a little niche like “squirrel badminton” or “alien food preference” and sit back and wait for the visitors to come.
E minus
Posted by JVJ @ 2:50 pm
May 2nd : 2008

E is the most frequently used letter in English, French, Dutch, Spanish, Swedish and German. In English, it has an average letter frequency of 12.072% which means that in a random block of text the letter E will constitute twelve percent of its content. T, its closest rival, bats 9.056.

By popularity the alphabet runs: e-t-a-i-o-n-s-h-r-d-l-c-u-m-w-f-g-y-p-b-v-k-j-x-q-z. This order is established by frequency analysis which involves crunching sizable chunks of text and counting how often each letter appears. Pasting the “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Hamlet into an analysis engine renders a count of 140 Es, 127 Ts, 91 Os, 84 As, 82 Ss, 67 Rs, 64 Ns, etc. At the bottom there are 2 Qs and 2 Zs. No Js. Frequency analysis is important in substitution cipher where a sender tries to disguise a letter by replacing it with another letter. Given sufficient text (the longer the better) E’s doppleganger can be picked out of a crowd simply because it’s out and about more than any other doppleganger.

Any way you look at it E is important. While it might rank 15th when it comes to the most common first letter in words (T and S duke it out for this one) it pulls ahead once again as the most common last letter. In 1969 the French writer Georges Perec wrote an entire book without E. He titled it La Disparition (The Disappearance) and amazingly it was translated into English, also minus E. Perec was a word juggler, obsessed with anagrams, palindromes, crosswords, lipograms and other obscure word games. He wrote La Disparition for the hell of it. To show it could be done. He was a very smart Frenchman.

I, however, was a very upset eight year old. Let’s go back to Christmas morning in the Jones household. Paul, Mark and I got up early. It was still dark, the living room cold. Trembling with excitement we switched on the lights. And there it was, the present of my dreams--not gift-wrapped because the Joneses didn’t do that--my Mattoy Super Type children’s typewriter. It had real working keys, a roll bar, paper-threader, ruler, the works. I can’t remember what color it was, but it was shiny and bright and the box it came in was impressively large. It was 5am, and I did what all kids do on Christmas morning, I unpacked my present and then ignored it. There was a lot of candy I had to eat.

Looking back on it now and applying frequency analysis to subsequent events, I suspect the candy may have had something to do with it. We stuffed ourselves and inspected each other’s gifts. Mark and Paul weren’t impressed with the typewriter, but Mark--yes Mark--took a plunk at the keys. For a ten year old he had big hands...and a nearly mystical ability to break things with a single touch. I remember hearing a noise. Ignorant then of the sound of a typewriter breaking, I was not alarmed. It was a soft sound, a kechink, followed by an absence of a satisfying thunk.

At midday, after some real food, but not much of it, I turned the full force of my eight-year old attention to the typewriter. I was hyper on candy and I was ready. Nobel Prize for writing here I come.

When an eight year old is given a keyboard the first thing she does is type her name. I loaded the paper, fiddled it into straightness, and then painstakingly plinked out J-u-l-i-BLANK. I tried again, surname this time. J-o-n-BLANK-s. I punched the key a couple more times, but I already knew. Deep down I knew. Mark had broken the E.

It took a while for the magnitude of this catastrophe to sink in (I wouldn’t learn of Perec’s pioneering work with E until thirty years later). Gamely I tried a few sentences. Today is Christmas and I got a typ-BLANK-writ-BLANK-r. Mark brok-BLANK it. Dad stepped in and tried to help. “C is an E in waiting,” he said. “Type C whenever you need E and then go back later and draw a horizontal line in the middle.” Unhappy, I gave it a try. We had chccsc and cakc. Thcn wc clcancd our tccth. I was writing subsitute cypher, and not surprisingly I couldn’t keep it up. No studies have been done of children forced to substitute the most popular letter of their alphabet with its 12th most popular letter, but I suspect if they were neurosis would be found. According to experts as much as forty percent of the brain may be used in processing language. That’s forty billion neurons, twelve percent of which (48,000,000) are devoted to the letter E.

I didn’t use the typewriter much after that first day. My hcart wasn’t in it. I like E, it’s useful, unassuming, malleable and omnipresent. I could go on without it but for how long and why?*

*Sentence is dedicated to Perec.
Guilty Pleasure?
Posted by JVJ @ 9:57 am
May 1st : 2008

It’s official, I’m a guilty pleasure in New Orleans. Which is fine by me, as I’ve indulged in several guilty pleasures in that fine city in my time (drinking beer while walking down the street at midday being one of them, half a dozen beignets from Cafe du Monde scarfed in a single sitting being another). Write fantasy for a living, and eventually you’ll end up on someone’s guilty pleasure list. Guilt free pleasure, I’ve decided, comes from other books, more literary ones, ones that make us feel virtuous to read. Thrillers, detective-novels, science fiction: guilty pleasures all of them. And, oddly enough, the books I love to read.
Paddling My Canoe
Posted by JVJ @ 8:34 am
May 1st : 2008

This was taken in September in British Columbia. I was camping on the shore of Summit Lake. A tiny tent pitched in a secluded clearing on the lake, dinner cooked over a firepit, beers cooling in the water, a canoe pulled up on the shore: What more could anyone want?
Previous Month
Next Month
Jan Feb Mar Apr
May Jun Jul Aug
Sep Oct Nov Dec
Link List:
NY Times article
Mysterious Galaxy
Rainhill Trials
Ashley’s MySpace
Ashley’s Review
Bodger & Grift
Black Pudding
Frequency Analysis