My Favorite Sandwich

One heck of a giant burger

This topic was suggested by Chris Fairborn. Hi Chris!

First things first. Sorry I did not post yesterday; I had the best of intentions, but I wasn’t feeling well. If you followed the link on Saturday’s post to the Weird Al video, you know that I have a bad hernia, and sometimes it hurts like a bear. A big bear with sharp teeth. I’ve had it for awhile, and my doctor says there’s really nothing that can be done about it unless I lose a significant amount of weight.

Ahem. I may have a stern conversation with her at my next physical.

Anyway, on to the topic!

My favorite type of sandwich? Gotta be turkey. I love turkey sandwiches, even though my stomach has issues if I eat too much turkey in one sitting (let’s not go there). I especially love turkey sandwiches on sourdough rolls with plenty of lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonnaise. Maybe pickles. But plenty of turkey. My favorite purveyor of turkey sandwiches right now is Mr. Pickles, which I know is silly; it’s a chain restaurant, after all. But why not? The bread is fresh, the turkey is oven roasted, and so on.

I’m also fond of the vegetarian burgers they serve at Fox and Goose, so I’m not totally irredeemable.

But the best sandwich I’ve ever had was actually a hamburger. I get salivatey every time I think about it.

In 1995 or so, my girlfriend and I along with a mutual friend of ours journeyed to South Dakota in my girlfriend’s Toyota 4 X 4 pickup. We got into an accident just outside of a campsite near Yellowstone (aye, thereby hangs a tale, which I’ll tell some other time) which damaged the truck’s axle, leaving the truck pretty much undrivable for very long. A makeshift temporary repair later, we were able to make it to Cody, Wyoming, where the insurance company of the guy who hit us paid for our hotel stay and food and all that. We stayed in Cody for a few days while the replacement axle was shipped up from Denver, Colorado.

And that burger I mentioned?

I don’t recall the name of the hotel we stayed in, and I have no idea if it’s even still there, but it was across the street from a little restaurant whose name I can’t recall either. That restaurant served a HUGE burger. Half a pound of Angus beef, dripping with condiments, loaded with veggies, perfectly cooked to medium rare and seasoned with all kinds of just the right seasonings, and served up on a delicious Kaiser roll.

As I said: salivatey. Is that a word? It is now.

If I could go back to Cody and that restaurant and back in time to 1995, I would have another of those magnificent burgers. It may be more delicious in my memory than it actually was, but I’m not going to think about that. It was truly a transcendent sandwich.

There were other things that happened on that trip; it was the summer Jerry Garcia died, and it was the summer that saw the first airing of the infamous “Cornholio” episode of Beavis and Butthead. But the burger.

Excuse me, I’ve got to wipe the drool off my keyboard now.

Today’s book recommendation is The Drowning Empire trilogy: The Bone Shard Daughter, The Bone Shard Emperor, and The Bone Shard War, all by Andrea Stewart. And I won’t hesitate to drop names and say that Andrea is a friend of mine, and we go back years and years. I plan on riding her coattails when I finish my novel. Anyway. Go read these books. They’re fantastic!

The Drowning Empire trilogy

Trees are Jerks

This topic was suggested by Leigh Dragoon. Hi Leigh!

One of the reasons we fell in love with our neighborhood when we were fixing to leave Dixon was the huge elm trees lining the streets of the area. In particular, the trees in front of the house we bought were particularly lovely.

Over the past couple of years though, since February 2021, I have determined that our trees are jerks.

Take, for example, the incident in February 2021, when this happened:

Fallen tree branch on two cars
This tree killed our cars

Here’s a daytime image:

Daytime image of a fallen tree branch that totaled two cars
Daytime image of the tree branch that totaled both our cars!

Yes, that huge branch fell off the elm tree to the right of our house, and totaled two cars! Bastard! And we had just gotten the red Prius to replace the old Honda Accord that we had donated to the SPCA. We had to buy a new car; fortunately we are in a position where could afford one, and the car insurance paid for it.

Now look at this jerk:

A big ol’ elm tree in front of our house

This isn’t the tree that dropped a branch on our cars. No, this is a different tree, but it is one of the two in front of our house. And while I was at BayCon over fourth of July weekend, Jennifer sent me these pictures:

Huge branch across the street
Another branch that fell over the street


Look at this asshole. The tree, not the neighbor.

Yep, the tree dropped a huge branch that extended across the street. Fortunately, no humans, houses or cars were harmed in this incident, but still. Jerk.

The city — because the trees technically belong to the city, not to us, thank God — came by and determined that the tree had to be cut down. Our neighbor was dubious and had an independent arborist come out and double check; and yep, the tree definitely had to come down.

To which I say, Ha!

Because once again, trees are jerks.

Here’s the stump of that tree:

The stump of a huge ol' tree

Look at that heart rot! The rot at the tree’s heart! No wonder it hated us. I mean… Look at it.

In spite of the tree’s generally jerky behavior, we were sad to see it go. Its leaves spread all over the front of our house and provided valuable shade during the diabolically hot Sacramento summers. Now our AC runs more often and we end up closing the thick curtains over the living room window in the late afternoon.

I just hope the other trees in our neighborhood don’t get any ideas.

Today’s book recommendation is Little Witches: Magic in Concord, by my friend Leigh Dragoon. It’s a fun retelling of the old Little Women book by that badass Louisa May Alcott, but with magic! It’s not my usual fare, but I enjoyed my signed copy, and I recommend it to you.

The Best Writing Advice I’ve Ever Recieved

Chekhov on “Show Don’t Tell”

This blog topic was suggested by Brian C. E. Buhl. Hi Brian!

I hesitate to dispense writing advice on this blog, since I’m not the most widely-known and widely-quoted of writers myself. Plenty of writers are out there, giving plenty of writing advice, and who am I to add my voice to the chaos?

And writing advice is so subjective as well. Chuck Wendig says that all writing advice is bullshit, after all. Though he’s written plenty of books on the craft of writing, it all, he says, boils down to two things: Writers write, and they finish what they write. So I guess that counts as the best writing advice I’ve received: Writers write, and they finish what they write. All the rest is bullshit and dross.

Nevertheless, there’s other advice out there that’s good and that’s bad, so let’s look at a couple of those pieces of advice.

Show, don’t tell. This piece of advice basically says that you should always show what’s going on in your story, showing the characters and their feelings, and so on, rather than simply saying it. So, for example, instead of saying, “Rob felt angry,” you should write, “Rob felt hot rage stir through his body” or something like that. But is this always the best approach? I argue that it is not. There are times when it’s best to simply state what’s going on in a scene, and move on. To show in detail every single aspect of a scene can become laborious and difficult for the reader.

Write what you know. This piece of advice is a cliche, and a dangerous one at that. It’s also a cliche to hate on this piece of advice, and to dismiss it entirely. When I was a kid, I was told I should pass on writing my epic fantasy trilogy and stick to writing “what I know”, but I wasn’t sure what that was supposed to be. I was in junior high at the time; should I have therefore written about junior high kids and the struggles they went through? I didn’t think so, because what I was going through at the time was pretty dull, in my opinion, and didn’t make for interesting reading.

In short: if we only write what we know, we won’t have stories about spaceships, elves, talking trees, and so on. Lord knows that snippet of advice stopped me from writing my story about a mad scientist who traveled in time in a time machine created in a VW bug, twenty years before Back to the Future.

Still, I think it’s worthwhile to unpack this bit of advice. Write what you know. Does it make sense to write about a serial killer when you’ve never been one? Well… We’ve all felt the sort of anger and rage that have led us to hate someone, even if that anger and rage haven’t extended to the desire to kill that person. Could we extrapolate, though, from our own experience and emotions to something entirely outside of our own experience? I think we can. I think it’s possible. And I think it’s important, as writers, that we do so.

So there you have it. The best advice I’ve gotten, and the worst.

I’ve only had twenty minutes to write this blog post. Let’s hope tomorrow’s is more coherent.

Today’s book recommendation is Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty. I loved this book, and Mur is an excellent writer and mentor. This novel, which is touted as Murder, She Wrote meets Babylon Five, is a genuine delight. Get your copy now!

Cover of Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty

Why I Write

1960s manual typewriter
My first typewriter. Maybe. I don’t know.

This topic was suggested by Kat Templeton. Hi Kat!

Why do I write?


For the glamour, the fame, the money, the groupies!

And now that you’ve taken a moment to stop laughing, I can tell you that I don’t really know why I write. I don’t remember not wanting to be a writer. As a kid, I wrote a lot of stories, sometimes involving the detective Fizziwinker (was that his first or last name? No one knows!), or monsters, or weird aerial phenomena. I know that my mom has at least one of my first “books” in her cedar chest at home. And I don’t remember how old I was, but I’m pretty sure I was in junior high school that my mom gave me a typewriter of my own to write my stories with. Said typewriter looked something like the one above.

I know why I write what I write, which is “contemporary comedic fantasy with elements of cosmic horror”. I wrote a blog post all about it a few years ago, in which I basically said that I write these stories to help me come to grips with the trauma of having seen too many scary movies when I was a kid.  That’s not the only genre I write in, though; I’ve written straight horror (as in “Who Remembers Molly”) and what I think of as mind-benders (as in “Trying to Stay Dead”) and a genre I like to call “Northern California Gothic” (as in “Burying Uncle Albert”).

I guess I write because it comes naturally to me. I like to read books and stories, and I like to write them. (I used to draw comic strips too, but we won’t talk about that any longer.) I’m never going to get rich as a writer (hardly anyone does), and Jennifer’s enough groupie for me. I am of the opinion that I am a pretty good writer, and I certainly want my efforts to be known and recognized, as most writers do, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Anyway. On to the next topic!

Today’s book is The Repossessed Ghost by Brian C. E. Buhl. I’ve already talked about it in my BayCon report, but I wanted to re-recommend it. I had the opportunity to read an earlier draft, which was very well-written, and this final version is excellent. Go forth and read!

Cover of The Repossessed Ghost
The Repossessed Ghsot by Brian C. E. Buhl

AI and Science Fiction

Adorable humanoid robot working on laptop\

Please note, this post is based entirely on my own understanding of “AI” and the modern controversies surrounding these tools. It’s one of the topics I was given when I solicited topics for my daily blog posts.

AI in general

I am not a fan of what has been popularly called AI, as perpetrated on us by companies developing tools like ChatGPT or Midjourney or Dall-E or any of their equivalents. For one thing, the term “AI” — or “generative AI” — is a misnomer. There is nothing intelligent about these tools. They are not self-aware. They do not create anything. They do not feel anything. They are good at generating text or images based on large — I mean, HUGE — amounts of input. But intelligent? No. These tools are properly called “Large Language Models”, but that term is not precisely correct. It’s correct enough for my purposes, though.

One term that I have seen bandied about for such tools is “stochastic parrot”. 1, a term which basically means what I have just said above: they take large amounts of data and churn out predictive text. Another term I’ve seen online (usually in Facebook memes) is “plagiarism machines”. That’s certainly an appropriate term, because these tools are trained on, basically, the entirety of the internet, which includes a great number of copyrighted texts, and while OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT, may have restrained their own tools from using these copyrighted texts, other corporations or open-source creators may not. Indeed, the issue of copyright for these tools has opened up a number of lawsuits and legal troubles. How will these issues be resolved? I don’t know. I can tell you, though, that the high court of Japan has ruled that copyrighted texts published there are fair game for LLMs.

Then there’s the issue of AI “hallucinations”, which is an entirely wrong term. AIs don’t hallucinate, any more than my cup of coffee does. They simply generate bad information. When I asked ChatGPT to tell me about myself, Richard S. Crawford the writer, it told me at first that I had written a number of stories and listed a couple of my publications; but then it also listed the number of awards I’d earned, and the fact that I lived in the Bay Area with my wife and children and a dog. All of this is, of course, false. I haven’t won any awards, I certainly do not live in the Bay Area, and while I do have a wife, we have no children, and there are definitely no dogs. This leads me to wonder what the point of ChatGPT even is, if I have to fact-check every statement it makes; and when people encounter “facts” that ChatGPT hallucinates into being, how many of them are going to bother fact-checking anyway. You thought the internet was bad at spreading dis/mis-information now, just wait until Google’s top results in its searches are AI-generated articles with no human intervention or fact-checking.

There are other problematic aspects of LLMs and the companies that create them, from the environmental resources required to keep them up and running (and you thought cryptocurrencies were bad), to the hordes of Kenyan workers paid at sub-subsistence levels to keep the tools from becoming Nazi parrots. But I’ll let other people address those issues. And I’ll only mention in passing the way AI grifters are using ChatGPT to scam Amazon’s KU program for money.

AI and Science Fiction

This is a topic I’m less familiar with, mostly because I don’t read a whole lot of science fiction. I know that there have been plenty of movies that feature AIs or self-aware computers — 2001: A Space Odyssey comes to mind — and most of the time, these tools are portrayed as dangerous and, well, not necessarily fans of the human race. HAL, in 2001, killed off all the crew in that movie, and attempted to do in Dave Bowman who figured out how to turn it off by removing its memory cores. And who can forget Skynet, the AI in the Terminator franchise, that started a nuclear war between Russia and the US? And finally, let’s not leave out the intelligent machines in that vastly silly Matrix series of films2.

On the other hand, the Pixar film Wall-E features an intelligent, presumably self-aware robot that basically saves the human race from itself. Or something. To be honest, it’s been at least a decade since I saw that movie.

I’m even less familiar with AIs in novels, but I do remember that in Becky Chambers’s truly outstanding Wayfarers series of novels, there are plenty of AI characters who run the gamut of ethical sensibilities, from benevolent to less so. The second book of the series, A Closed and Common Orbit, one of the best science fiction novels published in recent years, features an AI on a quest to find out what its own personhood means.

In short, AIs in media are more likely to be true artificial intelligences, sapient, self-aware, capable of emotion, all of that. LLMs are not that. They may seem it, but they are not. HAL is sapient, as is Skynet… LLMs, not so much.

Will the science fiction view of AI ever come into being? This question has been hotly debated by philosophers and technologists for decades. I remember reading John Searle’s essay in which he argued that a thermostat may be intelligent, simply because it “knows” what to do when climate conditions change3, and that was in 1991. A consensus has never been reached.

Personally, I don’t think so; at least, I don’t think we’ll ever see a human-equivalent AI. This is based on arguments I recall from college philosophy and psychology classes that human intelligence is not just a brain phenomenon, but a whole-body one; in other words, our sense of self-awareness is based not just in the brain, but takes input from all over our body, all our senses, all our organs, even the microbiome that makes up the population of our guts4. Unless we can build a human body from scratch and imbue THAT with an artificial intelligence, maybe we’ll see something human-like.

I feel like I’ve drifted from the topic. What was it? Oh yes, AI and Science Fiction.

Artificial intelligences were a part of the worldbuilding in Dune, as I recall (though it’s been decades since I’ve read that book). However, there was a “Butlerian jihad” which destroyed the AIs and made them illegal because they tried to take over and kill the humans.

In summary, I believe a Butlerian jihad may be just what we need right now.

I’ve decided that I’m going to recommend books I’ve read as part of this series of blog posts, and for this one I’m going to recommend the Hugo-award winning Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers. Start with The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and go from there. You won’t regret it, I promise. And as I mentioned, while all these books are excellent, in my opinion, the second one, A Closed and Common Orbit, is the best.



I announced publicly on Facebook that I was going to post here on this blog daily in August, just as my friend Brian did in July, and I solicited topics. I don’t think I got 31 of them, so I’ll be soliciting more later on, but here are a few of them, mostly for my reference and not in any particular order. They are:

  1. Compelling fiction with non-violent plots
  2. My zucchini is conspiring with my tomato army to take over the neighborhood
  3. Dreams that find their way into your story telling
  4. ChatGPT and the delulu world
  5. Why grey cats are trouble
  6. Why black cats are special if not being troublesome
  7. Accepting life’s limitations
  8. The adventure with your tree!
  9. Why do you write? Approach philosophically or personally or some other way I’m not thinking of
  10. How awesome is Brian C. E. Buhl?
  11. Best Writing Advice I’ve Received
  12. The Future of Publishing
  13. How Gaming Can Influence Writing
  14. What Makes a Good Character Great?
  15. Maybe something about how raising cats is like writing stories
  16. Your favourite type of sandwich and what makes it delicious
  17. AI and science fiction
  18. The Barbie movie
  19. Art as a reflection of culture and society
  20. Self acceptance
  21. Harmful impacts of the Library of Congress classification system on historically marginalized peoples
  22. Your favorite teachers

Okay, that’s twenty-two. I’m gonna need nine more. I’ll think of something. If you come up with something, please post in a comment here or on Facebook! Thanks!


Con Report: BayCon 2023!

BayCon 2023
BayCon 2023!


So, last weekend I went to BayCon in Santa Clara. It was the first time I’ve been to a con by myself since TimeCon ’87; since then I’ve been with friends or with Jennifer. I was expecting to feel kind of lonely and sad without Jennifer at the con with me, but I didn’t. I made new friends, I met old friends, and I met other writers (including old friends who are writers), and in general I had a blast.

Cover of The Repossessed Ghost
The Repossessed Ghost by Brian C. E. Buhl

My good friend Brian C. E. Buhl launched his debut novel, The Repossessed Ghost, and I snagged a limited edition signed copy. I also met some other writers, but I already had copies of their books, and since I hadn’t brought their books with me, I didn’t get any signed. Ah well.

There was also gaming at the con, but I didn’t avail myself of any games since I had simply too many panels to attend or people to meet and have meals with. One of the people I met with on Saturday morning was a new agent. Mind you, I don’t have any projects ready to pitch to an agent (the novel And the Devil Will Drag You Under isn’t close enough to ready), but it was a good conversation nonetheless. They invited me to lunch, which I’m told is a good sign, but I needed to get coffee and head to Brian’s reading.

I went to panels on AI in writing and the arts, on panels about general topics in writing, and a panel that had five writers doing a dramatic reading of (of all things!) Modelland by Tyra Banks. I am not 100% convinced that this book really was written by model Tyra Banks; it might have been ghost-written, I suppose, or someone wrote this and slapped her name on it. Either way, it was really, really bad, and perfectly deserving of five writers doing a dramatic reading in exaggerated tones and voices.

I checked out the dealer room, where I bought a t-shirt, a pair of robot earrings for Jennifer, and way too many books. A pair of books that caught my eye were From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey through Myth and Legend, by Valerie Estelle Frankel, which outlines a very different version of the Heroine’s Journey than Gail Carriger does in her book on the topic; and The Villain’s Journey: Descent and Return in Science Fiction and Fantasy, also by Valerie Estelle Frankel.  I also picked up a copy of Classic Monsters Unleashed, which looks right up my alley.

Each night I headed back to my hotel room after dinner and flumpfed onto my bed. I fully intended each evening to get back up after an hour or so, but it just didn’t happen, so I missed most of the evening events and parties, which makes me kind of sad. Maybe next year I will budget my energy better.

Dragon*Con is in a couple of months. I have friends who are going, but I am not, even though some of my favorite writers will be there. I haven’t been there since 2006, when attendance was something like 30,000; I understand it’s much larger now, and I’m likely to get overwhelmed. Also, I entertain this fantasy that the next time I go to Dragon*Con, it will be as a guest. It’ll happen.

As I mentioned, the last con I went to on my own was TimeCon ’87. I went to TimeCon ’86 (on my own) prior to that. I also attended TimeCon ’88 with a lot of friends. I’ve been to several cons with friends or with Jennifer since then. I’ve only been to one con that I didn’t have a lot of fun at and that con shall remain nameless for now.

For a bonus bit of blog, here are the program covers for two of the TimeCon events that I attended in 1986 and 1987. Anyone remember these?

Cover of the TimeCon 1986 Program Booklet
Cover of the TimeCon 1987 Program Booklet

A Secret Uncovered!

Jonathan Coulton, Singer and World Master
Would you trust this man with your planet?

Through exhaustive research and millions of man-hours listening, I have uncovered the dark secret behind one of the internet’s most beloved singing sensations, Jonathan Coulton. Sure, he may look innocent and mild-mannered, but in reality what he secretly is looking for is WORLD DOMINATION. In this blog entry, I will demonstrate how his early music clearly states this goal, and how it has driven him throughout not only his career, but his entire life. All we have to do is consider some of his early songs. Now, granted, I haven’t really kept up with Mr. Coulton’s career, but is that truly necessary? Here we go.

First, we have the song “The Future Soon”, from is album Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow. This song is clearly from the point of view of a man who has a crush on a woman (called “Laura” in the song, but that may be a pseudonym). Coulton leaves her an anonymous note and is spurned; but instead of moving on, he dreams of becoming a notorious scientist and conquering the world with his army warrior robots. Listen to the song for yourself:

Next, we have Mr. Coulton taking on a soul-crushing job as a computer programmer (he makes no secret about the fact that he really did work as a “code monkey” at one point in his life. In his song “Code Monkey” from the album Thing a Week III, he sings about this boring life and how it destroys his creativity and soul. We find that  he has given up his dream of taking over the planet with his warrior robot race (even though the warrior robot race doesn’t actually show up in any song other than “The Future Soon”). Have a listen:

Office life continues for Mr. Coulton, as he tells us in this next song, “Big Bad World One” (Thing a Week IV). He sings in this song about loneliness, sadness, and the isolation that everyone faces in the modern world. But all is not lost for Mr. Coulton!

No, things are about to turn around for our nemesis. In the same dark, smoky place where he ended the last song, he encounters the ghost of George Plimpton, the dilettante and hero who has inspired so many of us, in “A Talk with George” (Thing a Week II):

Inspired, Jonathan Coulton goes out and conquers the world, finds a henchman, takes a captive (the Laura from “The Future Soon”, perhaps?), and sings about his plans for the planet in “Skullcrusher Mountain” (Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow):

So. We can see that Mr. Coulton’s plan is in full motion at this point, and he’s planning on igniting our planet’s atmosphere if his nefarious demands are not met. We are very fortunate that Paul and Storm, another internet music sensation, have talked him into postponing his dark plans and taken him on several cruises, or we may not be here today.

If you have uncovered other clues about Jonathan Coulton and his dark deeds, let me know in the comments here. Or on Facebook. Or on, as Matt Wallace calls it, the Goddamn Twitters (though I probably won’t see it there).

(I should mention, before I am taken hostage, that all these songs and plenty more can be found for download and ultimate enjoyment on the Jonathan Coulton store. Please share and enjoy!)


No One Asked For It…

Writer with dragon
Me, writing, under close supervision from a dragon

…but here is my May writing update. I ought to write about something other than… uh… writing, but I’m hard-pressed to find a topic. Suggest something to me? I’m not very interested in discussing politics here anymore. It’s not that I’m avoiding the news and political discussions, which is a very privileged position; it’s just that I know I’m not going to change the minds of anyone who has already made their minds up on issues and who have strong opinions that are just WRONG.


In April I submitted eight manuscripts, and most of them were rejected. Others are still waiting for a response.  I worked pretty extensively on my revisions for And the Devil Will Drag You Under, which I’m pleased with, and made significant progress on a new short story. I’m pleased with that too.

I’ve also sort of planned out what I’m going to work on next. First is the full-novel-length version of Witness to the Scourge, which was originally a short story that morphed into a novella. People generally liked it, but had questions about the main character’s narrative arc, and several said it has too much worldbuilding for one wee story. So I’m going to expand on it. It will require research into monster folklore from around the world, and that’s always fun.

The project after that will, thanks to comment a friend of mine made to me over brunch yesterday, probably be an actual middle-grade novel featuring cosmic horror and it will be specifically for kids with depression and anxiety. I was such a kid myself, and I was fond of scary stuff, so I this is right up my alley. It will require plenty of research, though, into subjects such as child psychology, depression and anxiety in children, and so on, and, of course, how to write middle grade fiction. One of my writing friends asked me whether the depression in the kids in the novel would be rooted in some sort of trauma, and I don’t think it will. Some kids suffer free-floating depression and anxiety, and I want to acknowledge that.

So there’s that.

My goals for May are:

  • Finish up revisions of And the Devil Will Drag You Under (my self-imposed deadline for this is June 21)
  • Finish up my short story “Little Old People”
  • Start writing my next short story, “Feast of the Forgotten”
  • Submit another nine manuscripts (I submit every Monday and Thursday, so this is very doable)

Even though I did not get into the prestigious Odyssey Writers’ Workshop this year, I’m excited for what the year ahead holds writing-wise. Excelsior!