Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Lego Web Redesign

Once again, I have redesigned my website.

Everyone has told me that I need an author website—a static place to keep my stuff for the entire world to view at their leisure and pleasure, as opposed to a blog where I have to constantly provide contact and actually interact with with commenters. Or as opposed to Twitter or Facebook where on Twitter I yammer pretty much about whatever I feel like, a pouring out of my constant unedited thoughts really, and only when I remember to do so. At least with Facebook, I try to keep a theme going. Literature, small-town America, and blather. A website, on the other hand, just sits there. It’s like one of those highway billboards. If you see it, you might get off the exit and check out whatever tourist trap the sign is advertising. The difference, of course, is that nobody sees my billboard. I have to get a billboard to sell my billboard.

I’m not complaining. I don’t have much to sell, one book. Hopefully two by the end of February. Then three by this time next year? I don’t know. So I wanted something simple and easy to maintain, and everything that I had designed before was overly complicated. There is something to be said for a minimalist design.

So my site is kind of a throwback to the early days of the web. Not much art. Nothing fancy. I have an email form, which is about as scripty as the site gets, and hopefully I’ve designed well enough that the site can grow with my own growing needs without changing the overall design. It’s basic because my ultimate goal is to communicate, and sometimes—but more often than not, all the time—two cent words are better than five dollar words. That, by the way, is awesome-sauce advice for web design, writing, life. And I can’t help wondering if my own personal day to day life needs a redesign—a minimalist flare. I’m tired of rushing. I must remember to breathe and rest. To be in that moment fully on the floor with my still-kindergarten aged son building stuff from Lego blocks and not at the same time reading a book over my shoulder, or working on the redesign of a web page, or thinking more about my upcoming thesis defense than whether I need a red Lego block or a blue Lego block. That when I’m doing dishes with my 13-year-old daughter, I’m not rushing through the suds to get to the next thing on my to-do list, but instead I am making certain each crumb of food has been disposed of while I dance to her music even though I know I’d prefer way over dubbstep Blues or Jazz or 80s Heavy Metal Hair bands. That I should take a moment to thank my wife for nothing else than sitting across from me at the supper table.

This will probably not be the last time I redesign my web page.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

An Insidious Back Story

imageThe press has been all about the Amazon-Hachette dispute. Authors, such as John Grisham, have even signed an open letter, requesting “loyal readers” to email Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, telling him what they really “think” about the “boycotting” of Hatchette authors. The Guardian quoted Publisher’s Lunch reporting “the number of authors signing up to the letter is ‘growing quickly,’ and Publisher’s Lunch’s own coverage of the letter runs a headline that reads, “Open Letter […] Has ‘Gone Viral,’ and whatever that means (I only count 18 authors having signed thus far).

The dispute, for me, is a non-issue, but what’s troubling is the insidious back story that no one’s talking about. The one we should be frightened of: traditional publishers trying to turn public libraries into the next, new, all-improved Amazon. Michael Kozlowski covered this for Good E Reader on June 28th. It’s a short article, well worth the read. Simon and Schuster now require libraries to offer a Buy It Now button when lending an eBook to a patron. Penguin offers an opt-in program, and had tested the program through the New York public library.

Traditional publishing is scared. Amazon seems to be running away with profits because trade publishers are unable to accept the new paradigm shift in business—similar to what happened in the music industry. I don’t understand why publishers simply don’t create their own Amazon-like online-retail outlet as opposed to corrupting a public institute.

Something needs done about this. I’m not sure what yet, and I am open to suggestions. But this needs stopped. Our community institutions should not—cannot—be turned into commercial enterprises.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Author R.A. McCandless On Bad Scotch

quote the raven
 Image of RA McCandlessQ. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
 R.A. Thanks Steve, I really appreciate the opportunity. I’ve been a writer both professionally and creatively for nearly two decades. I was born under a wandering star that led to a degree in Communication and English with a focus on creative writing. I’m the author of the urban fantasy "Tears of Heaven", short stories "Through the Sting of Fairy Smoke" in the “Nine Heroes: Tales of Heroic Fantasy” anthology, and several other short stories due out in 2014. I continue to research and write historical and genre fiction, battle sprinklers, and play with my three boys.

 Q. In 30 words or less, give us a synopsis of your current work and why we should read it.
 R.A. Thrilling danger, fast-paced adventure, high-seas action, and heart-warming romance fill this urban fantasy “Tears of Heaven” with a page-turning story that won't let you put it down.

 Q. What is your favorite book?
 R.A. A Different Light by Elizabeth K. Lynn. It’s a science fiction novella with as much emotional conflict as physical. The layers and lyrical narrative that Lynn wove in that book are truly stunning. Everyone should buy it and read it today!

 Q. What is your fondest childhood memory?
 R.A. I friend of the family gave me a copy of “The Hobbit” when I was ten or eleven. It was the first real novel I’d ever read. I devoured it, not even pausing to swallow. Then, I grabbed all the money I’d saved, jumped on my dirt bike and hustled down to the local bookstore to get everything else the author had written. I had no idea I was buying the seminal fantasy work “The Lord of the Rings”.

 Q. What period of your life do you find yourself writing about the most?
 R.A. Of my life? Absolutely nothing. I’m as boring as a three-dollar bill. The friendships and relationships that I’ve had are the biggest portion of my life that I pull from, but they aren’t what I write about the most. Those are themes that become part of the motivation for characters.

 Q. Have you ever stolen from another author?
 R.A. Stolen? No, never. May a flaming Balrog strike me down with a lightsaber and crucify me on the Tree of Woe! That said, authors don’t operate in a vacuum. Everything you read, watch, hear or experience becomes food for the story. If it’s going to seem real then some of it has to be real, and authors know this intimately. Their best stuff is that which they draw from personal experience, either their own or someone else’s. I do love research and reading first-hand accounts of history. They’re almost always biased, but they provide a definite sense of time and place, of a normality that is vastly removed from our own. Capturing that sense of real

 Q. What author does your writing compare to?
 R.A. Bernard Cornwell and Joe Abercrombie thrown in. I like my historical fiction and fantasy to have dirt in the pages, with contemporary heroes who have legitimate flaws of time and place. I just finished a short story called “Grenadiers and Dragon’s Fire” which Harren Press will be publishing in their steampunk anthology, and in researching for it, I discovered that some of the military innovations during the American Civil War and the Crimean War were misused because tactics hadn’t caught up to the technology. Despite the advent of repeating rifles and increased range of ammunition, most of the strategy was still based on putting soldiers in a line and marching them toward the enemy position, then slugging it out. They were caught up in their own experience and training, and, as with all humans, had a tough time moving past and innovating.

 Q. How does fiction question our lives?
 R.A. It doesn’t. All any work of art, novels, music, painting, sculpture, etc., can do is present a view of the world from a certain perspective. It’s up to us to determine if that perspective prompts questions or motivates us to change. That, however, is the inherent power, and the potential for questions and change isn’t just vast, it’s infinite.

Q. What kind of socks are you wearing?
R.A. White crew socks with an impact-cushion bottom. I believe they’re generic. I can’t determine if they have a brand.

Q. Reveal your secret "author" crush.
R.A. I don’t think I follow one author closely enough to have a crush on him/her. I guess Patrick Rothfuss has made me the most jealous and want to be him. I’d love to strike up a hate-hate relationship with him that had him gnashing his teeth and pulling his hair about my superior talent. I’d also like for him to mention the wearing of sackcloth and ashes.

Q. What gives your life meaning?
R.A. I’d like to say something snappy like, “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.” But I’m going to have to go with a warm fire in the winter, an excellent selection of movies or television shows, and nothing on the schedule.

Q. What scares you the most?
R.A. Bad Scotch. Nothing worse than being served some terrible blend. Single malt, every time. 

Q. What can we expect from you in the future? What are you working on now?
R.A. I can see myself going to the Dark Side. I’ll make bad look smooth, smart and sexy. Day One: Laser Eyes. Also, more. More short stories and move novels and more blog posts. I have a couple of shorts lined up through Harren Press slated for this year. I have a completed historical fiction samurai novel called “The Second Cut” about Tomoe Gozen right now. I have a fantasy series that I’m building, with the first novel completed, called “The Blood of Heroes”. Also, I hope to have a semi-functional sprinkler system sometime in the near future.

Q. How can we contact you or find out more about your books?
R.A. I accept psychic messaging from the aether, but that’s not as reliable during these times of heavy sunspot activity. My Facebook site is really the best place to get ahold of me, followed by the contact form on my website.
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The Quote the Raven Author Interview publishes once a month on the last day of the month at If you would like to be considered for an author interview, please email with “Author Interview Request” in the subject heading.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bicycle Locks and Hammers

booksBicycle locks are ridiculously easy to break into. All you need is a hammer. I know because my daughter’s combination bicycle lock decided not to open. My first instinct was to cut into it, but all I had was a pair of wire cutters, which did not work. Next, good old WD40, which should actually have been my first thought. WD40, as brilliant of a product as it is, failed. 

I searched online how to break through this lock. Turns out, you just have to whack the combination lock portion several times with a hammer. Easy-peasy.

Really, not that easy though. It was an entire day’s project, and by noon the Wyoming temperatures sored to a whopping 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and for Wyoming, that makes one want to lock himself inside with the air conditioner while you stand in front of the refrigerator in nothing but one’s underwear. To be fair, this is in comparison to earlier in the year’s –23. But instead, I was outside, standing on the cement by the bicycle rack, hammer in hand, and the sun beating down on my neck. I was frustrated and mad and pounding on the lock and pounding on it and pounding on it. Then a neighbor walked up. “Excuse me, Sir, what are you doing?”

Okay, she didn’t ask me that, but I felt guilty. Like I was a bike thief, and I’ve had a bicycle stolen from me, and it’s a horrible, horrible feeling.

When I was a kid, my bicycle was white and blue, six gears, slick, thin, street tires and I flew down my town’s roads like a bird. That’s how it felt. How I remember feeling. I ride a bike still now at forty and overweight, but it is a clunky, old, yellow rental from the University. Twenty-five dollars a semester. And today’s feeling is not fun. It is a daily commute to work, and when the end of the day comes along, the very last thing I want to do is get on that bicycle and pedal uphill all the way with zero gears the fifteen plus blocks home. Especially in the
23 weather, which I have done. If my bike lock had gotten stuck, I would have left the bicycle on the rack and taken the bus.

But my daughter’s bicycle, that is a different story. So I sweat in the sun and beat the heck out of that lock, and she could ride again like a bird, like I hope she does when she is all grown-up.



Going Down Hill on a Bicycle

By Henry Charles Beeching

A Boy’s Song

With lifted feet, hands still,
I am poised, and down the hill
Dart, with heedful mind;
The air goes by in a wind.
Swifter and yet more swift,
Till the heart with a mighty lift
Makes the lungs laugh, the throat cry:--
“O bird, see; see, bird, I fly.
“Is this, is this your joy?
O bird, then I, though a boy,
For a golden moment share
Your feathery life in air!”
Say, heart, is there aught like this
In a world that is full of bliss?
‘Tis more than skating, bound
Steel-shod to the level ground.
Speed slackens now, I float
Awhile in my airy boat;
Till, when the wheels scarce crawl,
My feet to the treadles fall.
Alas, that the longest hill
Must end in a vale; but still,
Who climbs with toil, wheresoe’er,
Shall find wings waiting there.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

On Seagulls

booksThe seagulls came earlier this month. They are violent birds, chasing away Wyoming’s winter black ravens. The seagulls scavenge from dumpsters and restaurant parking lots. They soar over the small park ponds in search of the few fish that are in this mountain-locked valley.

They are how I know it is spring in Laramie. May is unpredictable. One day, you’ll sport shorts and t-shirts, and the next day, or even sometimes within the next few hours, you’ll bundle in coats, scarves, and knit hats. As a Wyoming non-native, the snow drops out of the sky quick and unexpected, wet and windy. The seagulls are the harbingers of spring—how I know the long winter which began in early October finally suffers death-throws.

Snow is never far away. I’ve been told snow has fallen mid-July here, and if I look to the Snowy Range, their tops are never not covered in white. The gulls, though, they settle in and seem out of place without their ocean.


Grey Gull

By Robert Service

’Twas on an iron, icy day
I saw a pirate gull down-plane,
And hover in a wistful way
Nigh where my chickens picked their grain.
An outcast gull, so grey and old,
Withered of leg I watched it hop,
By hunger goaded and by cold,
To where each fowl full-filled its crop.
They hospitably welcomed it,
And at the food rack gave it place;
It ate and ate, it preened a bit,
By way way of gratitude and grace.
It parleyed with my barnyard cock,
Then resolutely winged away;
But I am fey in feather talk,
And this is what I heard it say:
“I know that you and all your tribe
Are shielded warm and fenced from fear;
With food and comfort you would bribe
My weary wings to linger here.
An outlaw scarred and leather-lean,
I battle with the winds of woe:
You think me scaly and unclean…
And yet my soul you do not know,
“I storm the golden gates of day,
I wing the silver lanes of night;
I plumb the deep for finny prey,
On wave I sleep in tempest height.
Conceived was I by sea and sky,
Their elements are fused in me;
Of brigand birds that float and fly
I am the freest of the free.
“From peak to plain, from palm to pine
I coast creation at my will;
The chartless solitudes are mine,
And no one seeks to do me ill.
Until some cauldron of the sea
Shall gulp for me and I shall cease…
Oh I have lived enormously
And I shall have prodigious peace.”
With yellow bill and beady eye
This spoke, I think, that old grey gull;
And as I watched it Southward fly
Life seemed to be a-sudden dull.
For I have often held this thought -
If I could change this mouldy me,
By heaven! I would choose the lot,
Of all the gypsy birds, to be
A gull that spans the spacious sea.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Being Hemingway and Another Ten Pounds

A new year, a new semester with one down and three more to go and eighty-five thousand books to read between now and then. My New Year's resolution was to sell more books, and two weeks into 2014 when I realized my resolution was something I had no control over.
Write more. That should have been my goal. Blog more. Loose another ten pounds. Spend more time with my kids. Compliment my wife more, because she deserves at a minimum that kind of treatment.

5am is a beautiful time of day. In the mountains, the sky is black dark like midnight. The house is silent and cold. I turn up the heat, drink orange juice, and make coffee which is a gorgeous scent that cries out for bacon and eggs, a warm cinnamon roll with the icing dripping off onto your fingers. My schedule for the week is booked tight and will remain like that until mid-May with all the craziness of work and school and dropping the kids off at dance, a friend pressuring me into listening to his piano composition that I really really do want to listen to, but I'm not sure when I'll have time to schedule him; when will I have time for his music, when I barely know what my song is?

Odd at forty, pushing into forty-one damn quick that I haven't figured out my own song yet. Twenty years ago, if you had asked me who I was, I was cocky sure of my self-worth and identity. I knew where I came from. What I wanted to do. My New Year resolutions were more grandeur—like travel the world, hitchhike across America, write the Great American Novel, be more like Hemingway who was tough and manly and outdoorsy and the epitome of the self-reliant writer.
Hemingway's façade of toughness though, that's all it was—a façade. In Paris, he ran after other authors with starry eyes—Pound, Fitzgerald, Stein. Like he was a little boy running after someone big and famous like Peyton Manning.

I watch people walk across campus, especially professors. They are confident like Hemingway. They know what they are doing, who they are. They have it "all-together." And the students that worship them, the grad students that are intimidated by their credentials, their knowledge that we are all struggling to gain, and we look at them and say, "I want to be like that."

But everyone is like Hemingway. Everyone has a facade pointed outward, and the inner struggles of the soul are secret and dark like a 5am morning mountain sky. Perhaps the sun will break, and perhaps you'll catch a glimpse of soul-spark, be fortunate enough to hear their song, but they know and understand as little as you do.

And they are all chasing Peyton Manning. They're all making resolutions that they have no control over.

So I've changed my game. I'm not worried about book sales. My goal for this year is to give away more books for free. And to write a little bit every day about the small things, not anything as grandiose as the Great American Novel. To have more 5am mornings.
And maybe, along the way, I'll lose another ten pounds.

“I thought this book was beautiful. Having just finished it, I feel like I have just woken up from a really disturbing dream” – Rose Actor-engel, Amazon
Christine and Jack sat on the back deck of their cottage and watched the stars fall into the lake. They whispered to each other, "Beautiful." But Jack did not know his life was to forever change. A plague came. Christine died. Aliens landed and they put things in his food and soap. The sidewalks lit up blue to let him know when he was allowed to go to the store. Filled with drugs, sex, and cigarettes, the first of six inter-related short stories that make up the entirety of the Wasteland series all styled after Winesburg, Ohio and As I Lay Dying. Based loosely off T.S. Elliot's poem of the same name, The Wasteland is told from the perspectives of the people living inside Jack's head.
Would you like your book featured here? For free? Email me!
Steve Bargdill writes “literary stuff” with the occasional foray into speculative fiction. Originally from Ohio, he has lived in Dayton, Columbus, Troy, St. Marys, and New Knoxville as well as West Branch, Iowa; Lincoln, Nebraska; Muncie, Indiana; and currently lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Bargdill is the author of The Wasteland Series available on Amazon. He’s written for several newspapers and is currently a first year English graduate student at the University of Wyoming. You can read his short stories for free on Wattpad. You can also like him on Facebook where he posts a daily poem, Monday evening writing prompts, hump day videos and more nonsense!