Friday, September 12, 2014

Holed Up In the Bat Cave (Writing)

Yes, it's true. I've been absent. But trust me. it'll all be worth it. I'm holed up in the bat cave working on the next Spencer Murdoch novel tentatively titled "The Island of Magic. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Lost Seventh Sapphic Stanza of the Song of Sappho

The Lost Seventh Sapphic Stanza of the Song of Sappho
James M M Baldwin

In June I published The Song of Sappho, my study on the ancient Greek poet Sappho, in the form of six Sapphic stanzas. In the honor of Sapphic history and Sapphic study, I present this lost seventh Sapphic stanza of the Song of Sappho. Although referred to here as the seventh, it was originally intended as the first stanza of the poem. Meant as an historical introduction, it seemed antiseptic, so I deleted it. In imitation of the lost poetry of Sappho herself, I present this seventh stanza in fragmented form. In the tradition of the multitudes of scholars that have work on deciphering the ancient fragments of Sappho's poetry, see if you can figure out the following fragmented lost seventh stanza.

The Lost Seventh Sapphic Stanza

Sapp……mentations lost antiq…ies
Desc……ant from Grecian Islan…of Lesb…
Repu…….on enduring fragm……ed parc….ent
Lamen…….ons lost

Are you the forensic poetry scholar that can decipher the fragments?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hey! Facebook! Why do you hate me?

Oh Facebook. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Like most relationships, everything started off just peaches. So where did things go wrong? It wasn't when you let me see all those pictures of my crazy uncle's long haired dachshunds. No, that was a joy. It wasn't when you let me post memes of myself in photo-shopped Star Trek selfies. No. That was all fun and games. What? You'll let me make a page to promote my writing. You'll even help me connect to my friends. Many of them obliged. What fun! I'll post updates on my current work in progress. Publish some reading and book jokes. Announce milestones in my writing career. What could go wrong?

With 300 likes, my posts regularly reached a hundred people or more. If people commented and liked them, sometimes my funny pictures or words of wit would reach 400 or more. That's more than liked the page. Awesome.

This when things started to go awry. First you offered to let me advertise my page to get more likes. I tried it. I spent about fifteen dollars and gained thirty likes. Is that worth it? At fifty cents a like, I decided no, it was not. Fine. Then I found some author groups on the Facebook groups and started exchanging likes. Soon I had more than 500 likes. There was only one problem. My reach was not climbing along with my likes. In fact, it had decreased. Huh? How could that be?

Anyway, I continued to discuss writing on the boards and slowly increased my likes to over 800. This is when Facebook initiated the fateful algorithm program, which limits the reach of page posts. I realize my measly page is peanuts compared to many. Some people have thousands of followers. Some pages "purchased" thousands of likes. They had a reason to be angry. The grumblings sprang up all over the net. You can imagine their resentment. After spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to reach people, they find the same company they paid was now limiting their access to their fans.

I recently read an article in The Atlantic on how Facebook showed random users only happy, positive posts while showing others only negative or sad content. It's being called a "mood manipulation experiment." They did this without the users' knowledge to evaluate how it affected their experience. Of course, they've apologized but only after they were caught. You can bet that this is not the only experiment they've conducted on us. To Facebook we're all just a bunch of Guinea pigs with dollar signs painted on our backs.

Here is my dilemma. As my Facebook page inches slowly toward 900 likes, my posts are lucky to reach 20 people. If fans like and comment on a post it might reach fifty people. Hey! Facebook! Why don't you let the fans decide what they want to see? Let them like and unlike pages to control the content on their news feed. As a page creator, is it worth the nightly work of creating content? I've determined it is not. So, when the scheduled posts I have in queue are exhausted, I will not be going out of my way to create content for my page. I guess everyone will have to go back to enjoying their crazy uncle's dog pictures. Or maybe Facebook won't allow you to see that anymore.

What do you think? Did you know Facebook controls what they allow you to see? How does that make you feel about your Facebook experience? What would you think if you found out you were part of one of Facebook's tests? What if you found out you were only being shown negative material?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Song of Sappho

Song of Sappho
Six Sapphic Stanzas
James M M Baldwin

Waning lavender daylight colors your hair
Bluish purple locks envy of the violets
Purple curls charm Lydia’s renowned dyers
Lavender tresses

Petite Olive skinned loveliness unrivaled
Lips of gathered nectar from golden roses
Hypnotic umber eyes captivating gaze
Olive skinned beauty

Originator of celestial songs
Honored among the greatest lyric poets
Odes divine oh Sappho's songs from the tenth muse
Celestial songs

Poetic passion for all things beautiful
Love's infatuations unrequited
Aristocratic art of Socratic love
Poetic passion

Lyrics of the wind-shaken olive tree branches
Fair words produce unwakable comatose sleep
Poetic choruses awaken the dead
Lyrics of the wind

Sing a song of Sappho so that I may die
Athens' Solon desired her song more than life
Lyrics worthy of sacred admiration
So that I may die

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dialogue Excerpt from Chapter 2 of Spencer Murdoch and the Portals of Erzandor

In this excerpt from Spencer Murdoch and the Portals of Erzandor, Spencer is explaining to his friend and coworker Jack. Spencer notices a couple of strangers working in the field across from his house. I walks over to investigate and notices one of them has a gun. When Spencer sneaks away, something under an unusual bush by his house distracts him. Jack, who always has some wild theory, keeps throwing in his two cents worth.

(Jack asks.) “What do you mean ‘something under the bushes’?”

(Spenser replies. ) “Remember the flash I told you about. Well, there was this reflection, or a flicker of light, like somebody shined a flashlight in the corner of my eye. I don’t know what it was, and I’m not even sure why I care. I suppose it could’ve just been a trick of the light, but you should’ve seen it! I swear it had a direct connection to my thoughts. Like it was telling me everything will be all right.”

Jack stayed uncharacteristically quiet for a minute, before he offered his opinion. “I know what it was.”

“Okay genius, what was it?” Spencer knew one of Jack’s extraordinary explanations would follow.

“The two guys in the woods were probably aliens from another planet! And they didn’t have a regular gun; they had a mind control gun. They must have shot you with a thought ray and that’s what flashed. I bet you’re under their control right now. Yeah, if those two guys are as big as you say, and one of them had a name like Gustav, they have to be from another planet.”

Spencer grabbed his chin and looked down, pretending to consider the out-of-this-world theory. He went back to work without responding.

Jack continued to nudge him from his catatonic state. “They could have been ghosts! Yeah, that’s more likely than aliens. I bet they were ghosts. You’re probably under the influence of some supernatural force from a fourth dimension.”

After another make-believe thoughtful pause, Spencer still did not reply.

A few minutes later, Jack followed with yet another theory. “I know. I know what it was… Bigfoot! It must have been Bigfoot. You know Yeti. Sasquatch! The Abominable Snowman! Those two guys must have been Bigfoot hunters, and they didn’t want you moving in on their catch.”

Another short moment of silence followed before they both broke into laughter.

Spencer shook his head. “I’m glad you have it all figured out. Let me get this straight. You think the flash came from the ghost of an alien Sasquatch named Gustav, right?”

Jack raised his eyebrows. “It could happen.”

Read the entire scene and learn what it is Spencer saw under the bush in Spencer Murdoch and the Portals of Erzandor.

Get the book at these stores.
James M M Baldwin
And wherever books and ebooks are sold

Take a look at the scripted version in the video below. It shows the whole scene, so it starts a little before this dialogue. You can skip ahead to 2:04 or just watch the whole thing. The characters and setting are not accurate, but it captures the mood of the dialogue rather well.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Observing Jackson Pollock

Observing Jackson Pollock
James M M Baldwin

Swirling, dripping, drizzled color
Looming, high and wide
Lost within your intricacies
Overlapping blues and greens
Stepping close you fill my vision
Stepping closer I feel your process
Closer still, I smell the oils,
Turpentine, canvass
Texture, color, curves, spots
Within inches now, fingers twitch,
longing to touch
Over my shoulder
A security guard watches,
intently scrutinizing
I back away
Standing, gazing
Drinking in your wonder

Jackson Pollock Convergence
Albright–Knox Art Gallery
Buffalo, New York

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Judging a Book by its Cover -or- Knowing a Good Nut from Bad

You've heard the saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover."
It's a metaphor about prejudice. Not concerning race but strictly appearance. My dad used to say, "You can tell what a book is about by its cover. You can tell if it's a romance or science fiction, a mystery or horror. That's what a cover is for." So, can you judge a book by its cover? Not quite. You can't tell whether the book is good or not.

I originally wanted to write this post concerning peanuts. I love peanuts in the shell. I can't go to a baseball game without having a bag. Anyway, I noticed that you couldn't tell what the nut inside was going to taste like by the way the shell looked. Sometimes you can, but not always. Sometimes the prettiest, perfectly colored, flawlessly shaped shell contains a bad fruit. Other times, an ugly discolored shell holds the most enjoyable nut. After a lifetime of eating peanuts, I am better at finding the good and bad peanuts. However, even with my experience, I can still be wrong. I really hate it when the nut I save for last, thinking it would be the most delicious, turns out to be the bad nut. I misjudged and now I'm left with a sour taste in my mouth.

Then I realized the metaphor I wanted to create was already contained in the judging a book by its cover saying.

With books, you can sort of tell what it's about from the cover, but can you tell if it's any good. Does a poorly crafted cover mean a poorly written book? Does a beautiful cover mean the writing inside is just as elegant or enticing. Not necessarily. My dad was right. You can judge a book by its cover, but the saying was wrong. It's been said different ways. It's not that you "can't" judge a book by its cover, it's that you "shouldn't."

It's the same with people. Sometimes the nice looking, impeccably groomed person can be the most deceitful. And the oddest person, the one you might avoid eye contact with, might just be the one that would do anything to help others. Maybe. Maybe not.

But what about books. How can you tell? I guess you'll just have to open it up and see if the first words compel you on to sentences, then paragraphs, and eventually chapters. So next time you're in your local book store, (or church, or wherever) take a look at the person you might ordinarily avoid. Give 'em a smile and see what happens.

Have you ever judged a book by its cover, only to find out you were wrong? What book was it? Or who was it? What misled you?

And while you’re here, go ahead and throw the peanut shells on the floor. I'll sweep 'em up later.


Saturday, April 26, 2014


James M M Baldwin

Are there monsters under your bed?
Creeping, crawling from the dead

Gnashing, grinding long sharp teeth
Hiding in the dark beneath

Angry, piercing yellow eyes
Jagged claws of monstrous size

Crooked snotty bulbous nose
While you sleep, sniffing your toes

Are there monsters under your bed?
Maybe they're just in your head

Friday, April 11, 2014


James M M Baldwin

Mother sent us out
Into the front yard
My brother and me
One cent she offer'd
For yellow flowers
A price on the head
Of dandelions
She Obviously
Did not realize
clearly had not thought
Ten-year-olds could have
certain ambitions
with money involv'd
An hour and a half
A full plastic pail
Mother asked us
How many we had
We had not kept track
I quickly offered
Sixty-one thousand
Seven hundred two
Mother's arms crossed
Foot tapping the floor
I stuck out my hand
Smiling innocent
That must be at least
A hundred dollars
She gave us each five
Waving our money
We both ran smiling
Hoping there would be
More dandelions

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What is Speculative Fiction?

People often ask me, "What is speculative fiction?" Like all fiction, I like to tell them, it answers the question, "what if?" In speculative fiction, the question is, "What if anything imaginable were possible?" In my stories I've asked questions such as; What if a percentage of light speed travel is possible. What if time travel is possible? What if supernatural monsters are real? What if someone could physically enter the dreams of another person? What if hatred could manifest itself in a biological presence? What if a man discovered a portal between heaven and hell? These are only a few of the questions that have made it into my stories. I have hundreds of questions such as these that have the potential to become future stories and novels.

I know this concept seems like it could be infinitely wide-ranging, but I believe that is what speculative fiction should be. No restraints. Technically, speculative fiction encompasses the genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. But even among these three, there are many subgenres. Wikipedia defines it as, " an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror fiction, weird fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history in literature as well as related static, motion, and virtual arts.

According to Google, to speculate means to form a theory or conjecture about a subject without firm evidence. They define speculative as engaged in, expressing, or based on conjecture rather than knowledge. Those are fancy ways to say, "making stuff up." That's what we do when we write speculative fiction. I know some "hard science fiction" fans and writers that might disagree with that, but it's still taking what is known or possible and filling in the blanks. Some relevant synonyms might be conjectural, theoretical, hypothetical, or abstract. Put the word fiction after any one of those and it could probably be considered a subgenre of speculative fiction. attributes the creation of the term "speculative fiction" to Robert Heinlein (one of the big three science fiction writer of all time along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clark) in 1941. gives a precise definition, "a broad literary genre encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements. That makes it easy. Right?

Well, I'd better get busy writing. If you want to know more about my speculative writing, stop by my website. In the meantime, what's your favorite speculative genre. Or, if you want to be more specific, who is one of your favorite speculative fiction authors or what is one of your favorite speculative works?