Who voted in 1965, why he voted, and why you should vote this year


Original caption of this August 1965 photo: "Jim Dyous of Plains, Georgia, a one-legged Sumter County resident is helped by two youths into the Sumter County Court House in Americus, Ga., to register to vote. At the same time President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voter Rights Act. There were no incidents in Americus as African Americans filed through the registrar's office."

I looked up Jim Dyous on the web. I'm pretty sure that this is Jim Dyous's grave. If so, he was born in September 1887, during the horrors of the Jim Crow era in the South. If he lived in the South all his life, he likely never had the opportunity to register to vote before the Voter Rights Act was passed in 1965. In that case, he never had a chance to vote in a presidential election, because he died in 1967.

I want you to think about that for a moment. For sixty years - through all the horrors of segregation, the KKK, lynchings, and the rest - Jim Dyous was unable to vote for people who would change matters for African Americans.

He had one chance in his life to make a difference. And that one chance came during a mid-term election.

I doubt he missed voting in that mid-term election.

To those of you who live in a state with an upcoming election: What would you feel like if you didn't vote in this mid-term election, and you woke up one day after November 6 to discover that your voting rights had been taken away from you?

It could happen. It has been happening to Americans for several years now. Don't assume that, because you don't share the background of the Americans who have already had their voting rights stripped from them, that means you're safe.

Get ready to vote now. Get ready as though this will be your only opportunity to vote. Because it might be.


* Plan ahead of time. There's nothing worse than wanting to vote and discovering at the last minute that you can't. (I speak from experience.)

* Make sure you're actually registered to vote. Voters have been finding out at polling stations that they're no longer registered. The link in this paragraph (and in the following paragraphs) takes you to the website of the nonpartisan vote411.org website, which lists links to sites where you can check such matters. Just click on "Voter Registration" and your state name, and then click on "Verify Voter Registration."

* If you think there's any chance you'll have trouble getting to the polling station on November 6, whether due to health or duties or any other reason, check whether you can apply now for an absentee ballot (click on "Absentee Voting"). In some states, anyone can apply, no matter what their reason for being absent.

* Alternatively, check whether your state has early voting (click on "Early Voting").

* If you need help in getting registered or in getting to a polling station to vote, search now for a friend or organization that can help you. Unfortunately, I can't find a handy list of organizations, but if you do a Google keyword search and add your state name, something is likely to show up in your search results.

* Decide now who you're voting for, so that you won't run out of time. The vote411.org website has a handy section called "Candidate and Ballot Measure Information" that not only provides information on federal elections, but also on state and local elections.

Carved on the National Archive: "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." (Photo source.)

Text for the 1965 ad at the start of this post (minus the final paragraph, crediting the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union):

The walk to the Registar's Office was the easy part.

The tough part was deciding to take the walk. Jim Dyous knew that out there was a townful of people who didn't want him to register; didn't want him to vote. People who'd prevented him from registering for 60 years. People who would, if they could, make him sorry he took that walk.

He walked. He registered. He voted.

That's all there was to it.

You don't have Jim's problems. If you're 21 you have the right to vote. And you won't find people hanging around the registration office letting you know that they know what you're doing.

You don't have any excuses. If you've registered you have the right to vote.

If you don't vote - you get who's coming to you.

Author inspiration #3: Isaac Asimov and other science fiction writers of the Golden Age


We're still talking about the writers I first encountered in eighth grade. That was a banner year for me as a reader. It was the year I first fell in love with historical fantasy, and it was the year I first dove deep into adult science fiction.

It wasn't the year I first *encountered* science fiction. In later entries in this blog series, I'll go back and talk about how science fiction came into my reading life. Suffice it to say that, by age thirteen, I'd read a handful of outstanding examples of science fiction, as well as a truckload of not-so-outstanding examples of science fiction. However, with one exception, all of the SF novels I'd read were juvenile science fiction.

Which is great. We're talking Robert A. Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and Lester Del Rey - those were three of the juvenile SF writers I was gobbling up. But there was still a whole wide world of SF writers I hadn't encountered because I was confining myself to the children's department of the library.

I'd made a few desultory explorations of the adult fiction section of the library since age twelve. I wasn't impressed by what I found. Adult novels seemed to take *forever* to get going. (That's still my impression of most of them.) I went back to the children's department, where the novels usually cut to the chase.

However, a sneaky librarian shelved some adult fiction at my junior high library. That was how I ended up reading Isaac Asimov's "Buy Jupiter and Other Stories."

I couldn't tell you, offhand, what any of those stories were about, though I enjoyed them at the time. What initially grabbed me about the book was Asimov's chatty introductions - actually postscripts - to each story. Asimov had chatty writing down to a science. He was one of the masters of essays that sound so much like a guy idly talking to you at a bus stop that he actually fools you into thinking that this type of writing is easy. (Well, maybe it was for Asimov. He defied the usual rules of laborious authorship.)

The postcripts in "Buy Jupiter" turned out to be descriptions of how Asimov came to write and sell his stories. I found these irresistible. My father was an academic writer, so I'd thought I knew how you sold a book: you labored over it for several years, then you sent the manuscript off to a bunch of publishers, one of them accepted the manuscript, your published book got glowing reviews (well, my father's books did, anyway), and that was the end of the story, except that you definitely kept your day job.

It turned out that it was far more interesting being an SF writer in past decades. Asimov's tales of his interactions with editors and fellow authors were so fascinating that I promptly hunted down every book by him that I could find, in hopes that I could read more of his chatty mini-essays. It turned out that most of the books I could find by him were in my public library's adult science fiction section.

And that, my friends, is how I became acquainted with Golden Age science fiction.

It wouldn't have happened that way if I'd been born later. I went back to that section of the same library a few years ago and discovered to my dismay that there scarcely remained a single work there from the Golden Age. But in 1976-77, when I discovered Asimov, SF publishers were in the midst of making a mass of money by the simple expedient of printing volumes of stories from old SF magazines.

(The publishers also kept themselves busy issuing a bunch of books about how SF novelists came to write their stories, which is how I ended up reading "The Early Asimov," "The Early Del Rey," "The Early Pohl," "The Way the Future Was," and "Hell's Cartographers," and every single one of those books I would recommend in a heartbeat. They're among my favorite memoirs on authorship.)

Not all of what I encountered was from the Golden Age of SF . I read everything in the adult SF section of the library from the 1920s to 1977, which means I also got exposed to earlier pulp SF, literary SF, and New Wave SF. I was especially taken with the trend in the 1960s and 1970s of prison science fiction, of which I'll say more in a different blog entry.

But it was the SF that was written in the particular type of pulp fiction style that was so popular in the Golden Age which had its most immediate effect on my writing. People rail against the formulaic nature of pulp fiction - and indeed, from an objective point of view, a classic short story such as Asimov's "Nightfall" would have been a lot better in a more elevated style of writing. In addition, a lot of Golden Age SF - like most literature of its time - fell short in its inclusion and treatment of women characters and marginalized characters. But when you're a young writer groping for a story construction formula to follow, you could do a lot worse than to adopt the Golden Age formula.

Until then, my main formula for story construction had been children's novels. Which would have been great if I'd been trying to imitate, say, the novels of E. B. White. Instead, I tried to imitate books like this:


The girl took a quick little breath. "I see his beard," she whispered.

"Where's his sack?" a boy asked Buster.

Suddenly the little girl ran to the bed and threw her arms around Cousin Ben's neck.

"Oh, poor Santy Claws," she wailed, "are you going to die?"

[Mary Calhoun: "Depend on Katie John" (1961)]


Now, don't get me wrong. I have an infinite nostalgia for such novels, which is why I was able to pull this one straight off my bookshelf. And this type of writing style is actually a bit better than most pulp fiction. But in terms of story construction, the average juvenile novel of that period was rather simplistic. Most of those books left me without a good sense of how to construct a scene, much less a full story.

What Golden Age SF offered me - other than some truly atrocious prose - was a solid formula for story construction. I'm not going to try to decipher all the elements here of a typical Golden Age story; instead, I'll talk about hook openings.

A hook opening, as its name suggests, is an opening intended to immediately hook the reader (and, just as importantly, the editor considering whether to buy the story). The classic pulp-fiction hook opening consisted of dialogue. Here's an example from "Buy Jupiter":

"'*Of course* the ordinary conception of Genesis 1 is all wrong,' I said. 'Take a pool room, for instance.'"

And here's a later example, from Robert A. Heinlein's "Podkayne of Mars" (1963):

"All my life I've wanted to go to Earth. Not to live, of course - just to see it. As everybody knows, Terra is a wonderful place to visit but not to live. Not truly suited to human habitation."

Hook openings weren't just for SF; they played an important role in all types of pulp fiction and ended up trickling down into non-pulp genre fiction. Here's an example from Mary Stewart's 1976 Gothic romance, "Touch Not the Cat":

"My lover came to me on the last night in April, with a message and warning that sent me home to him."

And here's an example from Mary Renault's 1956 historical novel "The Last of the Wine." Renault did hook openings so well that I swear she must have been reading a steady diet of pulp fiction.

"When I was a young boy, if I was sick or in trouble, or had been beaten at school, I used to remember that on the day I was born my father had wanted to kill me.

"You will say there is nothing out of the way in this. . . ."

Hook openings were so ubiquitous in SF of the Golden Age that I ended up absorbing them into my writing. Which turned out to be a good thing, because in the 1990s, I started reading long adult novels of fantasy and historical fiction, which, as I observed above, took forever to get to the point. I might have adopted the slow opening (to the detriment of my writing, I believe) if it weren't for the fact that, in 2002, I began releasing my fiction on e-mail lists.

There is one thing that e-mail fiction has that no other format of fiction has to the same degree: the delete button.

I knew that, if I didn't grab my reader within the first paragraph, they'd simply delete the e-mail. So I got into the habit of using hook openings. Here's an example from my Three Lands novella Bard of Pain, which I first released in 2002 on an e-mail list:

"The beginning of the end for Quentin-Andrew (or so it seemed at the time) came in the moment that he stepped into the shadow of Capital Mountain and was assaulted by a stranger."

Despite the fact that this was a fantasy story, that is an opening straight out of Golden Age science fiction. Not just the hook opening, but the plunging of the reader right into the middle of the action, with no explanation as to what this world is and what the character is doing there.

Because that's the other important thing I learned from Golden Age SF: keep the explanations to a bare minimum. What a lot of Golden Age SF did so well (as opposed to the SF pulp fiction that came before it) was to plunge readers into an imaginary world and simply leave them there. John W. Campbell, Jr. - the science fiction editor who shaped the Golden Age of SF virtually single-handedly - is said to have wanted stories that read as though they were newspaper accounts from the future. He wanted authors to be matter-of-fact about the worlds they were describing - to treat the worlds as real, and not make a big deal over the fact that those worlds were different from ours.

That is a formula I've never abandoned.

Author inspiration #2: Susan Cooper


I woke up today thinking about which books have settings that have drawn me into the story. That list was disappointingly small. At the top of the list, though, was a masterpiece in setting: Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series. It's a contemporary fantasy series, published mainly in the 1970s, set in England and Wales. But to call it "contemporary fantasy" is a misnomer; it has deep roots in British history and legend, and even deeper roots in the landscapes of Susan Cooper's childhood.

There are five novels in the series: "Over Sea, Under Stone," "The Dark is Rising," "Greenwich," "The Grey King," and "Silver on the Tree." Recently I wrote a fan letter to Ms. Cooper that describes how I first encountered her series as a teen:


I was in eighth grade, just turned fourteen, when I encountered "The Grey King" on display in my junior high school library. I passed it by a couple of times, but it had such an attractive cover that I picked up the book finally. When I realized the story had an Arthurian element, I borrowed the book. (I'd recently read "The Sword in the Stone" and the first two books in Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy, so I was primed for more Arthurian fiction.) Then, when I was finished with "The Grey King," I went back and read "The Dark is Rising" and "Greenwitch." I eventually had to buy "Over Sea, Under Stone" to get my hands on it, and "Silver on the Tree" hadn't yet been published. . . .

That fall, I attended a children's book fair in Oxford and acquired a copy of the Summer 1977 issue of "School Book Shop News" (sitting by me as I write this), which had an article by you about how you came to write the Dark is Rising series. It ended with your anecdote about Oldway Lane, in which you spoke of "the precise landscape of 'The Dark is Rising,' disappearing now beneath the urban sprawl of Slough . . ."

Well, that was quite enough for me. I managed to persuade my parents - heaven knows how - to take us out on a drive on a very dark and cold Twelfth Night, in search of Oldway Lane. Since I didn't think to bring a map along, we never did locate the lane. It wouldn't be till a few years later that, with the help of Google Maps, I was able to "walk" through the landscape of "The Dark is Rising."

By age sixteen, I was deeply into the series. I taught myself a bit of Welsh, spent time in English public libraries tracking down every literary and mythical reference you dropped in the series, and converted an American friend to the series, so that I could have someone to talk about it with. (I could really have used social media in those days.) Finally, two summers after my failed expedition to find Oldway Lane, I managed to persuade my easily persuadable mother to take me and my younger brother on a trip to Wales.

So we did the full pilgrimage. We stayed in a bed-and-breakfast in Machynlleth and then set out for Aberdyfi. With my Ordnance Survey map in hand this time, we walked to Cym Maethlon, Carn March Arthur, Llyn Barfog, and the echoing stones, where I shouted, "Thou earth, thou! Speak!"

Later, we drove to Tal y Lyn and to the Church of St Cadfan. (We had some trouble dragging my brother away from the Cadfan Stone; he wanted to be an archaeologist.) I still have the photos I took with my Brownie on that trip.

What was the result of all this? Well, my interest in mythology morphed in college into an interest in religion, and I ended up working for a few years as a religion news reporter. A story I wrote a few months after our visit to Wales served as an eventual seed to a cycle of mythic fantasy series I've been bringing out. All that history I read blossomed into editorial work for academic history publications, a cycle of alternate history series, and work as a children's history writer, a part of my career that I'm about to revive. And "The Dark is Rising" is still part of my annual Christmas reading.


I think Harry Potter fans would probably like the Dark is Rising series; in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if I found that J. K. Rowling was a fan of the series. The series share a lot of common items. But I don't find in the Harry Potter books the strong love of landscape and history that I find in the Dark is Rising series, and which gives such depth to that series.

I found it surprisingly difficult to pick a passage from the series to quote here; so much of the series's success depends on the accumulated atmosphere of suspense and wonder. But here's a passage from "The Dark is Rising" (the second book in the series) that gives a sense of how deeply rooted certain British Christmas traditions can be.


The tall fir tree, its branches tied down with bands of hairy white string, was loaded onto the handcart, and with it the gnarled old root of a beech tree that Farmer Dawson had cut down earlier that year, split in half, and put aside to make Yule logs for himself and the Stantons. It had to be the root of a tree, not a branch, Will knew, though nobody had ever explained why. At home, they would put the log on the fire tonight in the big brick fireplace in the living room, and it would burn slowly all the evening until they went to bed. Somewhere stored away was a piece of last year's Yule log, saved to be used as kindling for its successor.

"Here," Old George said, appearing suddenly at Will's side as they all pushed the cart out of the gate. "You should have some of this." He thrust forward a great bunch of holly, heavy with berries.

"Very good of you, George," said Mr Stanton. "But we do have that big holly tree by the front door, you know. If you know anyone who hasn't--"

"No, no, you take it." The old man wagged his finger. "Not half so many berries on that bush o' yours. Partic'lar holly, this is." He laid it carefully in the cart; then quickly broke off a sprig and slipped it into the top buttonhole of Will's coat. "And a good protection against the Dark," the old voice said low in Will's ear, "if pinned over the window, and over the door."


Susan Cooper has quite a lot to say about landscape and history in her book of essays on writing fantasy, "Dreams and Wishes." At one point, she says, "We all have places we can't get rid of, loved or hated; places which bring the past into the present. . . ."

Well, yes and no. As I grow older, I do find that I draw more and more upon my own memories of childhood places, which were mainly suburban rather than small town. But I don't think I'll ever be able to tap as deeply into place as Susan Cooper did, for a simple reason: while her primary home as a child seems to have been landscape, mine was books and television.

This is the reason why so many of my stories are set inside buildings. That's not an accident; that's been a deliberate choice on my part. Writing about landscape is tough for me, unless it's inside landscape; I've spent so much of my life inside. And most of that time has been spent with books or with screens.

There have been times when I strove with all my heart to create and love a fictional landscape. One time is with Chronicles of the Great Peninsula, and for this, I owe a lot to Parhelion. Parhelion had volunteered to create a map of the Three Lands of the Great Peninsula for me. I had a vague sense of what the peninsula looked like; I sent that to her in the form of a sketch. What Parhelion gave me back - through the map and through a series of e-mails - was an entire physical geography for the Great Peninsula and surrounding environs, complete with climate regions and - I kid you not - prevailing ocean currents.

It was amazing and inspiring, and I wish I could say I'd done as much work in that area as Parhelion did. I didn't, because of my lack of background in such matters. But I did make an effort to dig deeper into the history that underlies the Great Peninsula, which is starting to affect what the peninsula looks like. There's a scene in Breached Boundaries that you'll encounter later, set in a town called Emorton; that town wouldn't exist if I hadn't tried to dig into history.

But the Great Peninsula continues to be a conundrum for me, mainly because I came at it in such a hodgepodge fashion, adding bits and pieces as I went. The realest pieces continue to be the people, and any landscape I create is in response to my characters' dilemmas. There are definite advantages to this. I never have to tear out a pretty piece of landscape because it plays no real role in the story. The problem is remembering to put the landscape into the story in the first place.

The other landscape that I have used in my stories is, of course, the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, which ended up being the setting for Turn-of-the-Century Toughs. I say it "ended up being the setting" because it wasn't, to start with. I wrote The Eternal Dungeon, Michael's House, and Life Prison for years without any concept that these series were set anywhere except in an imaginary world.

That changed when I began writing the first and third stories in Master and Servant. I went to a Chesapeake island to do research on what islands are like, and I fell in love with that particular island, Hoopers Island. I wanted to write about Hoopers Island, not about a wholly imaginary island. So I came home, took the map of my imaginary world, superimposed it on a map of the Mid-Atlantic (with Maryland at the center) . . .

. . . and it didn't fit. I glared at the maps for a while, thought a lot, and then tilted the map of my imaginary world so that its north pointed east. And then the map fit atop the map of the Mid-Atlantic, to a frightening degree.

You won't notice this switch in the current e-books; I went back and changed the direction markers. I also set out to determine exactly where my stories were located. For example, Vovim City, the setting of Michael's House, became Pittsburgh. Lo and behold, Pittsburgh has an old theatrical district, south of which is a bridge over a river, and south of that is a manufacturing district with a high hill on it, and on top of that hill was once a mansion . . . just like I'd already described in Michael's House. It was eerie.

The rest of the locations took a bit more tucking into place, but eventually I'd given all of my imaginary places real homes to live in, and man, did it make a difference to my series. Suddenly my cycle had roots in real places and real history, and this made my stories feel more real, at least to me. I don't know what effect it has had on my readers.

So it has taken me decades as a writer to begin to have that "love of landscape and its history" that drew me so deeply and so hard into the Dark is Rising series. But without Susan Cooper's series, I might not have found it at all.

I've removed the fiction limit on my Patreon account


I've managed to free up a little more time in my schedule for fiction editing. It's still the case that, the more my patrons pledge at Patreon, the more time I will have to work on my fiction; money-making endeavors have to come first in my life. But I've decided not to confine myself - and my readers - to a maximum number of monthly stories/chapters. I'll try to bring out as much fiction as possible, and in exchange, I ask that new patrons pledge as much as possible.