Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Decade’s Scariest?

Well it’s official. The zeros, the decade we’re finishing, is the decade of wimpy horror movies. At least that is, according to the Chiller channel’s list of the 13 scariest movie moments. The gore quotients went up, but suspense and fear took a nasty hit. Sad, sad, sad. Here’s their list, and what’s wrong with it.

#13. Drag Me to Hell: Although the gypsy curse plot is cliché, this movie was actually decent and should have been rated higher given the other listees. There’s a lot of slimy things here, with some genuinely revolting moments and some decent action. The ending raises the level too, and it reflects true horror. 3 out of 5 on the Gramlich Approval Meter.

#12. The Strangers: I wanted my money back. A couple is trapped in a farmhouse by 3 people intent on terrorizing and murdering them. Rather cliché, but could be OK. The problem is that the 3 “villains” are kids, with no guns, and there’s not an ounce of threat in any of them. The couple, who are far too stupid to live, even have a shotgun and other weapons but allow a couple of teens to own them. I know a lot of folks who would have wasted the 3 “mad-dog killers” inside of ten minutes. 0 of 5.

#11. Final Destination: This is really a remake, which means no suspense or tension since we already know the story. There were a few cool gory scenes but not enough to carry the movie. This one would come nowhere near my top 13. 1 1/2 out of 5.

#10. The Orphan: Didn’t see it so won’t judge.

#9. The Descent. Five women go spelunking and end up fighting monsters and each other. I liked some of this. There are claustrophobic moments I could appreciate, and the monsters, although typical mutated humans, were pretty nasty looking. 2 of 5. Maybe even 2 1/2.

#8. Hostel: No suspense, no fear. Lots of gore. This one is sometimes described as torture porn and I agree. Tourists are kidnapped and taken to a place where people pay to torture them to death. That’s about as slender a plot as I’ve ever seen. There’s one effective scene involving a woman and a train. 1 of 5.

#7. 30 Days of Night: I love the idea. Vampires tree a town near the arctic circle where it stays dark for 30 days. The vamps were appropriately nasty and there was some genuine tension as survivors hid for their lives. The middle sagged, though, and I didn’t buy the ending. 2 of 5, with an extra point thrown in for the concept. 3 of 5 total.

#6. Cloverfield: Oh, it was bad. A giant monster movie where you almost never see the monster. Shaky cam crap that ruins any chance to suspend disbelief. Characters that are realistic enough to be boring. I’m glad I didn’t pay for it. The only effective scene is when the Statue of Liberty’s head crashes down onto a New York street. 1 of 5.

#5. 28 Days Later: By far the best on the list so far. Essentially a zombie movie, but before the current glut, and this was the first movie to use fast zombies. That ratcheted up the tension, and the acting was really good despite a cast of mostly unknowns. 4 of 5.

#4. The Mist: Good acting and some moments of genuine tension as you wonder what lies in the mist. Some decent gory stuff. And, this one had the most horrific ending of any movie I’ve ever seen. The ending took guts and I loved it. 3 of 5, with an extra point tacked on for the ending itself. 4 of 5 total.

#3. Saw: Finally one that can stand up to the great old movies of the past. Passion and intensity. Wild twists and turns. This one had gore aplenty but it was well done and worked ‘with’ the storyline so well that you appreciated it even as you winced. A great horror movie. 5 of 5.

#2. Paranormal Activity: How this even registered as a blip on the horror field escapes me. The lamest movie on this list and nowhere near the top 100 of the decade, much less the top 13. You know that internet joke where you're watching a commercial and a zombie suddenly pops up? This is exactly the same, but it runs for over an hour before the monster pops up. I am ashamed to say I paid for it. -1 of 5.

#1. The Ring: This one deserves to be number 1. It scared the crap out of me, and that is not easy to do. Great twists and turns and the ending rewrites your expectations. 5 of 5.

Of the movies on this list, only The Ring, Saw, The Mist, and 28 Days Later are really good horror films. 30 Days of Night and Drag Me to Hell were worth seeing. Only The Ring and Saw match up decently with the best horror movies of the 80s and 90s, like The Exorcist, The Thing, Alien, and In the Mouth of Madness. Cloverfield, The Strangers, and Paranormal Activity aren’t anywhere close to good. The fact they made Chiller’s list could mean: 1) the decade really was a wimpy one for horror, 2) the Chiller folks who made the list don’t watch anything other than major Hollywood releases, or, 3) the folks who made the list are about the same age as the villains in The Strangers.

So, what is your vote for best horror films of the decade? Or of forever? How about the worst?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Season of Rust

Late at night the morbid thoughts creep upon me. I listen to a slow metal dirge that recalls the fetid summer. But now it is winter, and the iron cold sweeps down with blades of icicle-sharp. I hear the whisper of dead leaves stroking my windows; I hear the brush of the oak’s barren limbs upon my roof.

Outside in the night, I know the black horse rushes past on the Wild Hunt. And I know who rides upon him. I see his limbs, like sabers. I feel his eyes from the dark upon my face. They are curved like the stings of scorpions.

I wonder if I should put on my coat of silver. I wonder if I should set my mouth for war. The hunter and his wolves beckon, and in days past I would have joined his gathering and ridden fast to the vicious skirl of the horns.

But in those days my soul was quick; my youth was armor. Tonight, I fear, my weakness would make me prey.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Last December Post at Novel Spaces

After a few days off for Christmas, I'm back with my last post of the year over at Novel Spaces. This one is about the things I've learned from Bad Writers. Hope you can drop by.

And I hope everyone has had and is having a wonderful holiday season.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More Updates

You'd think I'd have more time to write information heavy posts since I'm off from school, but I've been spending most of my free hours lately working on the two Graphic Novel articles that I agreed to do. Good progress so far. The hardest part has been identifying other scholarly works that address the books, since graphic novels are only beginning to be taken seriously in the larger world.

So, here's another promo type post if you will, wherein I talk about myself. Egads, that sounds pretty boring even to me. But, there are some good things going on at the moment. David J. West has a review of Bitter Steel up over on his "Nephite Blood, Spartan Heart blog. Thanks to David for the kind words.

Also, Swords of Talera is now officially a "Nook Book," at $4.79. That's purty cool. At least to me. The second and third book in the series are scheduled to be released as ebooks eventually, probably in the new year.

I already mentioned here that Cold in the Light is also available as an ebook now, although apparently not yet for Kindle. It's available for only $2.84 at the Google Ebookstore. The link is here if you were wondering.

One of these days I'll put up another, more substantive post. I promise.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Already Sunday

It seems that when you’re working, time attacks you. It surrounds you, beats you down, and crows over your tormented body. Not so when you're off. Time flees like a teasing lover, leaving only a hint of gossamer behind to wet one’s desire for it.

In other words, how the hell did it get to be Sunday already? Thursday I posted here and then did various writing related and last minute school related business. Friday I wrote all day, Saturday most of the day. I made great progress, but not on fiction. I have articles due January 14 concerning two graphic novels, Bloodstar and A.D. New Orleans. I always kind of dread starting such articles but always enjoy them once I get into them. I will easily make my deadline and should have some time left for fiction.

Today I don’t plan to do a lot of writing. The Saints play the Ravens and I’m quite concerned about that. Lana also brought home the remastered versions of the original Star Trek episodes and I want to see those. We watched three of the earliest last night, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” in which we learn that James Kirk’s middle initial is…R, “Charlie X,” about a teenage boy with super psychic powers developing his first crush, and “The Man Trap,” which is about the last surviving salt vampire.

Speaking of vamps, I dreamt about them last night. I was a scientist who had just been assigned to a research lab and they took me on tour. Behind one heavily locked door they kept some vampire subjects. On the left was a single fairly large vampire who was incredibly old. He was in a glass enclosed chamber somewhat like an oversized coffin. On the right side were 8 glass chambers, 4 on bottom, 4 on top, and this was where they kept the vampire experimental subjects. They were humanoid but only about half human size; they generally looked like demons with reddish-brown hairless skin, ridged wings, and clawed hands and feet. As we came in they started pressing their fanged mouths to the glass walls of their cages and beat their wings wildly.

Later, I needed to get one of the vamp subjects for an experiment but when I went into the holding chamber all the cages were empty. I woke up about that time so I didn’t get to have any adventures fighting off vampires. More’s the pity.

Now it’s almost time to go get some Popeye’s Fried Chicken and get ready to watch the pregame show. Let time be with me.

And with all my friends (you, that is) on this December Sunday.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Day Off: Mostly

I’m away for a day and all kinds of things happen. Had to go into work early this morning to close out some stuff for the school year. Then the psychology faculty got together for lunch and a few beers in the French Quarter. I had a spicy rabbit stew, which was delicious but hot enough to make my tongue wince when the next bite was coming in. I cooled it down with some Bohemia, Negra Modelo, and Abita Amber.

While I was away from the net a number of things happened. First, Patricia Abbott posted my piece on writing Swords of Talera as part of her wonderful series on “How I Came to Write this Book.” You can find it here if you’re a mind to. Thanks, my friend.

Then I got a note from the talented Jodi MacArthur letting me know that I’d won a copy of what looks to be an awesome CD called A Pale Horse Named Death, and it’s autographed by Sal Abruscato. Thank you, Jodi. I’m looking forward to listening to this one.

Finally, I got word that Cold in the Light is now for sale as an ebook from the Google Ebookstore. I’d heard this was coming but didn’t expect it until next year. I actually have no idea what formats you can get it in. All I know at the moment is the link is here.

And now I’m going to try and visit a few of the 170 plus posts on my Google Reader. I won’t be making it all the way around before I crash.

Monday, December 13, 2010

On a Windy Day

The Horse Latitudes

I hear the wind
as horses racing through the tree tops.
Their hooves are shedding

For a moment,
I think of catching an air stallion,
of lying in wait up an old oak
with a dream lariat

He would be as blue as sky,
with a mane like a contrail,
and, oh, he would be fast.
We’d make thunder together

But maybe he’s better
running distances with his herd.
We humans have tamed so much.
Let the wild wind be


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Again at Novel Spaces

I'm posting again over at Novel Spaces today (12-11-2010). I've revisited a topic I mentioned here on this blog quite a while ago now. That topic is "resonance" in writing. I hope you can drop by over there for a visit.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Final Exams and a Review

Too much grading to do much posting of late, although coming in at six in the morning has allowed me time to visit quite a lot of blogs for the last couple of days. I give two more tests today and have a late meeting so will not be around tomorrow. I hope to have my grades turned in by Saturday. That would be heaven.

In the meantime, though, Evan Lewis has a nice review up over at Davy Crockett's Almanack about Write With Fire. Naturally I'd like to share it.

Thanks. Evan.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Kindle Reading; Holiday Books

I've just finished reading/listening to my 51st book on my Kindle, and have started on #52, a space opera by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I first held my Kindle in my hands on February 27, 2009, so I've had about two years. I currently have 34 books loaded on it, and about 75 more kindlized works stored on my computer to be loaded as needed. Among the books already loaded: some of the Dray Prescot works that were never "printed" in English, a couple of the "Shadow" pulp novels, several SF novels from the 40s and 50s, some books by friends like M. F. Korn and Ty Johnston, collections like Discount Noir, and such classics as The Picture of Dorian Gray, Ben Hur, and War and Peace.

I bought a fair amount of my kindle books from Amazon, but over two-thirds of the books I have and have read I downloaded free from Project Gutenberg and other online ebook sites. Many of these I downloaded as text files and then kindlized them, which is ridiculously easy. I just send a text file to my kindle email account and they kindlize it within seconds and either send it back to my kindle or to my PC so I can load it later at my leisure. I have found that I can improve my listening experience on Kindle with such books if I do a little editing on the text file first to make sure there are periods after chapter titles and so on.

Although the reading experience itself on Kindle is very good because of the lack of glare and the ability to increase font size, I've found the text to speech function to be one of my favorite applications. I let my Kindle read to me as I take my long daily commute, and although the voice is definitely mechanical sounding and lacks the voice qualities of a good audio book, I find that it doesn't matter much with a lot of books, such as the Shadow and Doc Savage Pulp stories. I tend to supply the intonations in my head as I listen along.

The Kindle has not meant an end to my long love affair with printed books. In fact, I've bought more "new" books in the past three years than at any time in my life. I've also bought printed copies of some of the books I've read on the Kindle just to have them on my shelves. It has complimented my love affair with reading, not complicated it.

And I'll end this little ode to the Kindle by mentioning a couple of my own works that can be found on Amazon for the Kindle. I’m talking about Killing Trail, and Chimes, of course. “Chimes” is actually a longish short story while “Killing Trail” is a collection of my western stories. They’re both pretty cheap, and I feel comfortable recommending the author to you. :)

Btw, Killing Trail is also available on Smashwords in different ebook formats and PDF if you should perchance prefer.

However, if you prefer to do your holiday shopping for printed books, check out Erin Cole’s Holiday Catalog, which includes Cold in the Light by yours truly, as well as many other wonderful books from up and coming writers who deserve your consideration.

Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Final Exams and Cutting Line

My first round of finals starts today and will run through the middle of next week. I hope to have final grades turned in no later than the 11th. I then have two articles that I’ve agreed to finish between the 11th and January 3rd. That shouldn’t be too difficult but it will certainly take time away from blogging. These are for a reference work on graphic novels and my articles will deal with two such works, Bloodstar, based on a Robert E. Howard story, and A. D. New Orleans After the Deluge, which is about Hurricane Katrina. The upshot is that I won’t be around the blogosphere as much as usual for a while, although I’m not abandoning it, of course.

Speaking of finals, I have to relate an experience I had yesterday. I generally eat at the school lunch room and it isn’t unusual for there to be some standing in line involved. I frequently get irritated at the students who cut in line in front of others. I sometimes say something and at other times don’t, depending on how far from the cut I am. Yesterday, I’d been standing in line for quite a while and was finally only two people back from being served when a student in one of my classes cut in front of me. I was somewhat taken aback but did mutter in a loud voice, “Oh come on.” The student did not make eye contact, and in fact I’m pretty sure she never even noticed I was there. I’ve realized through other dealings with the student that she is extremely self-centered and seldom notices anyone unless they can do something for her at that moment.

This student will certainly get the grade she earns in my class, but this isn’t the first time I’ve seen her take short cuts and be inconsiderate of others. Although I doubt she will ask me for a letter of recommendation, if she did I would have to say no. It’s certainly not just the frequent cutting in line and inconsideration, but includes cutting corners in classes she’s had with me that makes me feel this way. Yesterday too, for example, she came to my morning class about five minutes late, (early for her), and after bumbling around disrupting the class while she got settled, she asked me a question I had actually been covering in the moments when she was trying to get to her seat. The look on her face when she asked the question seemed clearly to indicate that I was confusing her with my unclear presentation on the topic. Although I answered her politely, I must admit to a touch of irritation. And I thought to myself that there’s no way I’d feel comfortable recommending her for graduate school where she might eventually become responsible for other people’s welfare. Maturity and empathy for others counts.

And now for some happier thoughts, I’m putting up the links below to some books I’m hoping a certain loved one of mine will buy new for me for Christmas. She knows who she is and would never cut in line in front of me. :)


Monday, November 29, 2010

Renaissance Fair Weekend

Lana and I went to the local Renaissance Fair yesterday, and the weather was gorgeous. The Fair is held outside Hammond, Louisiana, out in the woods. We attended the jousting and the “Birds of Prey” demonstration. Lana got some great bird photos and put some up over at her blog. We also watched a few of the comedy shows and browsed the shops. Other than food and drinks, we only bought one thing this year, a wind driven item for our deck. I admired the leather tankards but at 95 bucks a piece I decided to pass. I already have a drinking horn from a previous year.

Last year they didn’t hold the jousting on the day we went because it had rained so much the field was a lake of mud. I was glad to see it this year, and, besides being hilarious, our knight won! Well, his name was “Victor” after all.

The birds of prey demonstration was awesome, as it has been every time I’ve seen it. I even ran into a few old friends, including Stephan, who looked the part of a wandering Celt. Lana and I did not really dress up, although I wore my leather hat and the long coat you see me sporting in my profile pic. I felt a bit like a time traveller from the 1880s. I did admire the costumes though, including swordsmen and travelling minstrels and a host of either elves or Vulcans. It’s the ears, you know. And I always pick up interesting tidbits of renaissance lore, including this year a lesson in the types of siege weapons used in medieval times.

If you’ve never been to a Ren Fair, then get ye olde self to the next one you hear about. They’re well worth the tickets and the trip. Eat, Drink and be Merry. For tomorrow we return to the real world.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Where Words Get Their Power, at Novel Spaces

I'm posting over at Novel Spaces today on the topic of Where Words Get Their Power. I hope you'll drop by for a read.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends. Even if you don't officially celebrate it today, I wish you thanksgiving anyway.

No need to comment on this post. Enjoy time with the family; enjoy good food. Maybe some good reading or some football. I plan to do those very things.

I won't be around for a couple of days. Josh is coming up to see me tomorrow for our Thanksgiving. I'm looking forward to that.

Rock on!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lushness Revisited

Language is such a weak medium at times. In my last post I spoke about wanting lushness in what I read, but I don’t think I conveyed exactly what I meant. At least one commenter mentioned enjoying the “spare” prose of Hemingway, and Hemingway is actually a favorite of mine. How could I enjoy “lushness” and still enjoy Hemingway? It’s because lushness in my mind has nothing to do with wordiness. Lushness gives me sensory details, gives me emotional intensity, and gives me images.

Consider, from A Farewell to Arms, “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.”

Or:, from The Short Stories, “They shot the six cabinet ministers at half-past six in the morning against the wall of a hospital. There were pools of water in the courtyard. There were wet dead leaves on the paving of the courtyard. It rained hard. All the shutters of the hospital were nailed shut. One of the ministers was sick with typhoid. Two soldiers carried him downstairs and out into the rain. They tried to hold him up against the wall but he lay down in a puddle of water. The other five stood very quietly against the wall. Finally, the officer told the soldiers it was no good trying to make him stand up. When they fired the first volley he was sitting down in the water with his head on his knees.”

Though Hemingway is generally considered to write “spare” prose, these scenes of his are “lush” to me. Image piles upon image. I can see these scenes with absolutely clarity. I can feel myself inhabiting them. And though more subtle than in the “tiger” scenes I posted last time, there is an underlying current of powerful emotion singing through these words.

In contrast, here’s a scene from John Cheever that I found in Peter Elbow’s Writing With Power. “We drank in the garden. It was a spring day—one of those green-gold Sundays that excite our incredulity. Everything was blooming, opening, burgeoning. There was more than one could see—prismatic lights, prismatic smells, something that sets one’s teeth on edge with pleasure—but it was the shadow that was most mysterious and exciting, the light one could not define. We sat under a big maple, its leaves not yet fully formed but formed enough to hold the light, and it was astounding in its beauty, and seemed not like a single tree but one of a million, a link in a long train of leafy trees beginning in childhood.”

With the Cheever piece, I’m OK with “garden” and “spring day,” and then I’m lost all the way until “big maple.” Then I’m lost again. What is a “green-gold Sunday?” Why tell us there “was more than one could see.” Of course, there was. There always is. The writer needs to give us enough sensory details to help us create what is there. Cheever doesn’t even try. He confounds us with the overuse and misuse of “prismatic.” I can vaguely picture prismatic lights, but prismatic “smells!” And take “astounding in its beauty?” How much of a lame copout is that? This piece, although wordy, is the opposite of lush. It’s almost lifeless.

So, if lush isn’t the right word for what I want in a scene, that is sensory detail, emotion, and images, what is the right word?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Exotic and the Lush

Every once in a while I’m forcible reminded in my reading that I prefer lush prose with at least a hint of the exotic over sparse prose that reveals the mundane. The exotic settings is one of the reasons why I love fantasy, and I often find a similar sense of the exotic in historical fiction. I’m also realizing, however, that part of the exotic feel that I look for can be created with lush prose that immerses me in the sensory world of the story.

Consider the book I’m reading now, Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Tiger, which is set in India in 1799. The book is well written and the events are interesting. I’m following the story fine, although it is a bit slow so far. But while I was expecting to really immerse myself in the exotic sights and smells of old India, I’m actually finding the prose to be rather flat at times. I’m going to give an example below. These two brief descriptions feature tigers in a scene where an Indian Sultan is about to have two men executed for treason. One of the two will be fed to the tigers afterward.

“The six tigers, restless because they had been denied their midday meal of freshly slaughtered goat meat, glared with yellow eyes from the courtyard’s edges.” And: “One of the six chained tigers stirred at the smell of blood and padded forward until its chain stretched to its full length and so held it back. The beast growled, then settled down to watch the second man die.”

There’s nothing wrong with these descriptions. They adequately place us in the scene. They are perfectly well written. The problem, for me, is that they 1) don’t “immerse” me in the exotic sensory world where these tigers live, and 2) don’t convince me that the tigers are intensely dangerous predators. I want the author to give me that sensory experience. The beasts are “restless,” the author says. Are they prowling about? Do the chains clink and rattle as they stalk? How do their hides ripple with muscle? How do their growls rumble? Do we see their fangs? And I want to feel as if those chains are only “barely” adequate to hold them. I want to feel their threat.

As bizarre as it is for a complete unknown such as myself to dare rewrite the prose of the hugely successful Bernard Cornwell, I’m going to do so simply to illustrate what “I” want from my reading.

Six tigers in gleaming chains, denied their midday meal of freshly slaughtered goat, rose restlessly to their feet at the courtyard’s edges. Muscles rippled under the striped hides and low growls rumbled the hot, still air. Yellow eyes glared as they stalked toward the line of watchers. The chain links rattled, tautened, strained, and only at the moment when the metal seemed destined to fail did the beasts turn away from the men.


One tiger snarled at the smell of blood, its lips curling back over the white glisten of its incisors. It tested its chains, set the steel to clanking, then slowly settled onto its belly to watch the second man die.

Writing fiction is such an art rather than a science. If you strive for a high level of intensity, some readers will call you “over the top” and reject you. And you certainly can’t make every scene in a story equally intense or the reader won’t be able to stay with you. Bernard Cornwell is a very well known writer and I’m not claiming in any way that I’m better than he is. For all I know, he consciously made a decision to understate the tiger scene, perhaps to contrast with something that comes later, or perhaps just because he felt his readers would prefer it. I’m not one of his readers; this is the first work I’ve read by him. “This” reader, though, was hoping for a little more lushness and exotica. Hey, it's "tigers" for goodness sake. I'd like to think they might eat me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Discount Noir, and Bill Crider

Our blog colleague, Patti Abbott, is trying to get the news out about the fabulous collection called Discount Noir, which contains stories by Ed Gorman, Bill Crider, and James Reasoner, along with many other fine writers. In the interest of helping Patti spread the word, I’m hosting Bill Crider on my blog today with a short piece about his story in the collection, entitled “Their Fancies Lightly Turned.” Here’s……Bill.

When Patti Abbott asked me to write a story for Discount Noir, the first thing I thought of was a story I’d done a few years ago for Damn Near Dead. People often ask me if I ever intend to do anything more with the characters in that story, so I thought this would be a good chance to revisit a couple of them named Royce and Burl. They’re fun to write about, and I decided to give a little backstory about their meth dealing or something along those lines. Since the new story was to involve a big discount store, the next thing that occurred to me was that those places really have a problem with characters like Royce and Burl because those kinds of stores are where guys like them try to pick up some of their makings. After that, it was smooth sailing. I just put my characters in motion and let them carry the story through to the end. When I finished and looked it over, I liked the way it worked. It seemed to me to be a story about the kind of thing that could happen, or maybe does happen every now and then. I’d say more, but then this comment would wind up being longer than the story. Better for people to buy the book, read the story, and find out more for themselves.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Werewolves of the Ozarks

I had a long convoluted dream last night. A male friend of mine had gotten a divorce and had not fought for custody of his little four-year-old boy even though his wife was a rather well known crazy woman. She was known to be especially cruel to dogs and had been reported tormenting them in public numerous times. I saw some visuals of this in the dream.

My friend wouldn't talk to me about why he didn't fight for custody, but Lana kind of fell in love with the little child and was determined to save him from the awful mother. Lana found out that the woman had grown up in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and she decided to travel up there to find the family and see what she could learn. Naturally, I went along.

We drove deep into the mountains and at one point drove over this small wooden bridge above a deep green pool of water. I saw two different women swimming in the pool, swimming under the water in long graceful strokes. One had blond hair in a braid all the way to her feet. The other was older and was wearing a pink bathing cap.

We continued on our way as it began to rain and the road turned to mud. Dark green woods grew on either side of us, with limbs at times brushing the car. We knew the family we sought lived near the highest point of the mountain. Finally, the road became impassible through a combination of narrowing, mud, and fallen trees and we stopped. It was growing dark and neither of us was very comfortable with spending the night in the woods here.

Then three children showed up. There were two boys and a little girl. All were around the age of 8 or 9. The rain had stopped temporarily and they set out to guide us the rest of the way to the family's house. We reached it and went inside just as the rain came again and a storm wind began to blow. I'd expected a kind of hovel but the house was very nice on the inside and they even had internet service. However, the parents were away. The kids just told us to make ourselves to home and wait.

Lana got on the internet and began researching some stuff. The kids were in and out and the little girl seemed to have taken a fancy to us. She hung around quite a bit. She told us the adults were all in the village getting ready for the ritual, which I assumed was some relgious festival.

The two young boys came in at one point and were whispering with the girl and it was while I was overhearing stuff they said that I put the whole thing together. We had stumbled into a clan of werewolves. I went quickly to Lana and told her that we needed to leave. But we'd come to the house through a convoluted path through the trees and didn't know if we could find our way back. Lana tried to contact 911 through the internet but right about then the electricity failed. I turned at at the sound of whispers and saw dark blotches against the wall that I knew to be the two little boys. Their eyes glowed green, like cat's eyes. Or those of werewolves.

I realized then why my friend had not fought for custody of his child. He must have known the boy would be a werewolf too. And I was kind of wishing he would have told us.

I woke up then, and regretted that. I wanted to see how in the world we were going to get out of this mess, and I wanted to find out more. I guess I'll have to write the story to see how it turns out.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Demon Visitor

I've posted more about sleep phenomena over at Novel Spaces. This time I'm talking about a very frightening experience I had. I hope you can stop by.

In other news, G has a review of my short story collection, Bitter Steel up over at his blog. Thanks, man!

Here's a book I'll be buying soon:


Monday, November 08, 2010

Stereotyped Characters

I’m enjoying AMC’s series, The Walking Dead, but last night’s episode took its first misstep for me. It wasn’t enough of a misstep to make me abandon the series, but it will make me a little more cautious about the show. That misstep was introducing a standard-issue racist character. Let me see, the character is big, white, southern, male, lacks self-control, loves guns and violence, hates folks that he addresses with the “N” word, and is crude to women. Are there people who meet that stereotype? Probably. There are people who meet just about every stereotype. But I consider it a problem in a TV show, or in literature, when you can hear the first words out of a character’s mouth and instantly deduce everything about them.

The stereotypes in Avatar were a problem for me with that movie, especially the blue-skinned “Native American Noble Savages.” And that movie had its share of human racists too, the main one being the military commander, who was big, white, apparently southern, male, and in love with guns and violence.

This is not to say that written fiction never does this sort of thing. I like to read pulp stories and you can sure find the stereotypes there, inscrutable and evil “Orientals,” oily and criminal “Italians,” murderous heathen “Indians,” simple obsequious “darkies,” etc. Or you can read a certain brand of modern thrillers with their stereotyped Nazis and Islamic terrorists.

To a certain extent, I can tolerate stereotypes, although much less with main characters than with secondary characters. I understand that writers have to sketch some secondary characters quickly in order to get on with the plot, and stereotypes let the reader do a lot of the work of defining such characters. I can tolerate stereotypes that appear in fiction from a time period like the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. I can also tolerate stereotypes better if they are neither hateful nor overly positive. I’m mostly OK with the bookish librarian, the absent-minded professor, the football jock, the overly bright kid, but my patience quickly wears thin with the Noble Savages, the white racists, and the black crack dealers.

I believe I’m seeing fewer of the blatant stereotypes in both movies and literature these days, and I’m glad for that. I don’t see as many black urban youth gangbanger crack dealers on TV as I once did. I don’t see as many weak women victims who can’t outrun their male tormenters even though the villains are “walking.”

But certain stereotypes still seem pretty common, and the white male, southern, gun lover racist one is particularly prevalent. I will admit that I’m probably sensitized to this one in particular because I’m a white southern male who owns guns. However, I’m not very big, not crude to women, and though I dislike plenty of people I dislike them on their own merits or lack thereof and not on the color of their skin.

Am I right that the white male southern racist seems a particularly common stereotype today, or am I only noticing it more because of who I am? Am I right that many other blatant stereotypes are decreasing in entertainment? What other blatant ones are left? Any examples?

And, in other news, David J. West has a kind review of Swords of Talera up over at his blog. Thanks, David. Glad you enjoyed.

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Week That Never Was

This week has gotten away from me. It's preregistration time at Xavier so we've been pretty busy, and yesterday was complicated by having the internet out much of the day at work, as well as the electricity and elevators out for about half the day. Then there was the test I gave on Wednesday in Psychopharmacology, and the one I give in 45 minutes in Physiological Psychology. And, oh yeah, there was that big research proposal from Pharmacy that I had to evaluate. I am ready for the weekend.

I know some of you are NANOing and have probably written thousands of words this week. I managed a modicum of progress on a story called "Twenty-Four Mile Bridge," which is going through its final polishing now. And I temporarily halted work on another tale, "Scritch, Scritch, Scritch," because I need to rethink the ending.

On Tuesday I stumbled upon a review for an anthology called Dark Terrors, which I had a story in quite a few years ago. The reviewer indicated that he liked the anthology except for two stories. Yes, you guessed it, my own "A Splatter of Black" was one of the two he didn't like. The very next day, though, I got a message on Facebook from someone who told me how much they did like my offering in Hint Fiction. There you have the writing life. Full circle from hell to heaven in less than 24 hours.

I've got the ideas for several blog posts about writing from reading Peter Elbow's Writing With Power, and perhaps this weekend I'll be able to develop at least one of them. Gotta grade that test first, though. Sigh!


Monday, November 01, 2010

The Walking Dead, and Friends

I watched the premier of AMCs new series The Walking Dead last night and was quite taken with it. A sheriff’s deputy is shot in the line of duty, then wakes up in a hospital after the zombie plague has swept through. He finds a lot of dead bodies, some half eaten, and soon comes upon a zombie who is missing her bottom half. That really teaches him that something has changed in his world. He finds a few other normals eventually, though, and learns that Atlanta is supposed to be a haven for the living. He goes there, and you can probably guess what happens. I believe this is supposed to come on every Sunday night and I’m going to make a concerted effort to catch it. I can’t say that about many new series. Let me say, though, that it's pretty graphic if you are squeamish.

Something else I did over the weekend is add a new shelf called “Friendsbooks” to Goodreads. I was amazed when I found 168 books on that shelf. I have 50 to 60 other books by friends on my TBR piles. My friends appear to be a prolific bunch. If you are my friend and have written a book, but you’re wondering why I have not read it or perhaps not purchased it, let me give you some possible reasons.

First, some of my friends write erotica and I almost never read erotica. I have only 4 out of 3363 books on my Goodreads shelves that are erotica. Two of those are by friends and are short. I don’t mind having erotic elements or sexual elements in my fiction, but if the ‘primary’ purpose of the work is the erotic elements then I probably won’t be strongly attracted to it. Second, I loved YA fiction when I was young but only rarely read it now, especially if it is targeted at “tweens.” I just generally don’t have anything in common with the characters. However, except for Harry Potter, every YA work I’ve read in the past few years has been by friends.

Third, I hardly ever read straight mystery, although I read noir fiction and some historical mysteries. Fourth, I hardly ever read mainstream fiction, and when I read literary fiction it's most often older material that I feel I ought to read, like Moby Dick or The Metamorphosis. Fifth, I hardly ever read romance. I don’t even have a category for that since the only romance fiction I’ve ever read would also count as historical fiction. Sixth, I very rarely read paranormal or urban fantasy. I respect the writers of erotica, YA, mystery, romance, urban fantasy, and mainstream/literary fiction, but as a reader I tend not to automatically pick up such books to read myself. I do have quite a few such books on my shelves from friends, and I probably will read them eventually.

What do I read, you ask? That list is longer than what I don’t read. Science fiction, fantasy, magic realism/surrealism, horror, thriller, westerns, science, works on writing, animals and nature, astronomy and physics, psychology, poetry, noir, pulp-oriented, military, history, historical fiction, football, and animal fiction.

Finally, today is official release date for Hint Fiction. It even got a good review in the New Yorker, so if you’d like a copy, a link is below.


Saturday, October 30, 2010


Lana and I watched Avatar finally last night. She brought home a copy from the library. I hear all the time people telling me that you have to see “X” on the big screen. Well, I figure Avatar would definitely have been better on the big screen. It seemed made for it.

As for the movie, here are my thoughts. First, outstanding digital effects. I expected that. Second, the story was good, although certainly not original. I finally gave up counting the number of crystal clear influences that I could see, but some include the “Pern” novels by Anne McCaffrey, and the Horseclans stories of Robert Adams, Lynn Abbey’s work, and very strongly, the Janus novels by Andre Norton, including Judgment on Janus and Victory on Janus. There were also heaping helpings of Heinlein and Clarke.

In addition, the story is embedded in lots of human myths and/or misunderstandings. There’s the noble savage idea, the concept of the chosen warrior (used also in The Matrix, of course), the Gaia concept of the living earth, the conflict between nature as good and civilization as evil. I was a little disappointed in how blatant these were, and a bit disappointed that the Navi were so closely based on a kind of mythic idea of the Native Americans. This made the story very predictable.

I know everyone borrows and I’m not troubled particularly by that, although I might have liked the borrowing to have been transformed a bit more. Obviously the story resonated with a lot of folks, and that’s quite likely because it touched on so many myths and feelings that we modern folks hold. I was telling Lana last night that one thing I hoped people watching it wouldn’t do would be to assume that this material is all new and original. The ideas and themes in Avatar are much, much older, and in many cases were barely altered from their roots.

None of that means I didn’t enjoy the movie and that it didn’t hold my interest. I’m glad I finally saw it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Recent Readings

I've actually been getting through quite a few books recently. I'm also listening to some on my Kindle on my commute. Here's my quick updates.

Gangdom's Doom, either 4th or 7th in the Shadow series by Maxwell Grant. I listend to this one, in which the Shadow goes from New York to Chicago. I actually liked this one about the best of the ones I've listened to so far. It featured the Shadow on stage more than some of the previous volumes, which focused overly much it seemed to me on Harold Vincent, the Shadow's assistant.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, by John Ryder Hall. This is a novelization of the movie and stays pretty close to the film. I have to say I liked the film somewhat better. I thought the book started out well but began to seem rushed toward the end. Plus, it stayed almost too close to the movie. I like when novelizations expand a bit on the film.

Why Mermaids Sing by C. S. Harris. Harris is really Candice Proctor. This is the third in her Sebastian St. Cyr historical mystery series, which is set in England in the early 1800s, the Regency period. I love this series. I read the first two back to back but then somehow got distracted and delayed picking up the third. Once I finished this one, though, I launched immediately into the fourth one, Where Serpents Sleep. "Mermaids" was wonderful and so far I'm really enjoying "Serpents" as well. I have the fifth one, What Remains of Heaven and it's scheduled next. The sixth in the series will be out next year. I'm actually not a huge mystery reader but the character of Sebastian St. Cyr is so compelling, and the settings so wonderfully etched, that I'm hooked on this series.

I'm currently listening to She by H. Rider Haggard. Definitely a bit of a slow start but once it gets going it's pretty cool. I had not previously read this and I was kind of fascinated at some similarities in the 'introduction' to the story to the introduction that I used for Swords of Talera. Almost uncanny in some places.

Here's a couple of books I'm wanting below:


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lucid Dreaming

I'm posting about Lucid Dreaming over at Novel Spaces today. Please drop by if you get the chance.

In other news, my article on "Bull Riding and Writing" is in this month's Illuminata. It's Volume 8, Issue 4, October 2010, and you can download the whole issue for free here.

Have a great day.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Writing With Power

I'm reading Writing with Power by Peter Elbow, and I'm finding some really good stuff as well as a few items I disagree with. One thing he says that I like has to do with design flexibility. He says essentially that an outline planned out before you write is like: "a plan you work out for travel in an unfamiliar country; it usually has to be changed once you get there and see how things really work." I know writers who use outlines to great effectiveness, but I believe a risk of outlining is that the result can turn out flat and stale, without spontaneity. Oftentimes as I'm working on a book, I'll find my mind running off onto tangents that turn out to be far more creative than what I'd come up with, or could come up with, after careful conscious consideration. The conscious mind just isn't "playful" enough to generate the best twists and turns.

Another thing Elbow points out is that too much conscious rewriting can often wring all the fresh juice out of a piece. It can end up making your prose plod instead of sing. I realized this a long time before I read Elbow. And I have a suggestion about how to deal with the issue for anyone who writes. Anytime I'm going to make substantial changes to a story, more than just revising a few words or correcting grammar, I save two copies of my file. I usually call them “Storyorg” for the original, and “storynew” for the other. Then I only work on the new file. This way, if I revise all the life out of a paragraph, I can always go back to the original and copy and paste that paragraph back into the new story. The original is sacrosanct, untouched except to provide a safety net so I can revise the new file with an axe and not worry about cutting anything out that’s important.

By now in my files, I actually have 3 or 4 versions of some of my stories. I have the original. I might have a piece that is revised to be shorter, or revised with a different ending. Or I might have a piece that I’ve altered into a horror story from what was originally a mainstream piece. As long as I’ve got the original saved, I feel completely comfortable hacking a story to shreds and letting the chips fall where they may.

Many of the stories in my collection, Bitter Steel illustrate this process. I don't think a story in that collection reads exactly the way it did when it was first released. Some have been dramatically revised. But I still have that original tucked away safe and sound in my files.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

A New Quiz: Vampires

Oh, those pesky vampires. Blood suckers extraordinaire. The first vampires in literature were evil. But over time vampires took on more and more romantic and sympathetic elements until today they can even be leading men. Can you match the famous vampires from page and screen on the left with their creators on the right? Zero to five correct means you’re either covering for the vamps or you’re VQ is a little low. Six to ten correct is a good score. You’ve probably bitten a few necks yourself. Over ten correct makes me wonder if the phrase “blood bank” has more than the usual meaning for you.

1. Vampirella (1st issue) ............... Laurell K. Hamilton
2. Carmilla ........................... Anne Rice
3. Saint-Germain ...................... Whitley Strieber
4. Molochai, Twig, & Zillah ............. Suzy McKee Charnas
5. Prince Vulkan ...................... Robert R. McCammon
6. Edward Weyland ...................... T. Prest OR M. Rymer
7. David Lyle Hardwick ................. Stephen King
8. Jean-Claude ......................... P. N. Elrod
9. Jonathan Barrett .................... Nancy Kilpatrick
10. Dracula .............................. J. Sheridan Le Fanu
11. Joshua York ......................... Forrest Ackerman
12. Miriam Blaylock ...................... Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
13. Varney .............................. Poppy Z. Brite
14. Barlow .............................. George R. R. Martin
15. Lestat .............................. Bram Stoker

Answers: (Author's Last name only) 1. Ackerman, 2. Le Fanu, 3. Yarbro, 4. Brite, 5. McCammon, 6. Charnas, 7. Kilpatrick, 8. Hamilton, 9. Elrod, 10. Stoker, 11. Martin, 12. Streiber, 13. Prest or Rymer, 14. King, 15. Rice.

NOTE ALSO: Please check out this book giveway and consider the worthy cause Homes for Our Troops.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010


One of our blog colleagues is having his first book released today, October 19. I’m throwing my support behind him. This is Alex J. Cavanaugh, and the book is entitled: CassaStar. Alex describes it as Science fiction/ adventure/ space opera. The ISBN is 9780981621067, and it’s from Dancing Lemur Press LLC.

There’s a very cool trailer here.

Here’s a bit of description of the book:

To pilot the fleet’s finest ship…

Few options remain for Byron. A talented but stubborn young man with a troubled past and rebellious attitude, his cockpit skills are his only hope. Slated to train as a Cosbolt fighter pilot, Byron is determined to prove his worth and begin a new life as he sets off for the moon base of Guaard.

Much to Byron’s chagrin, the toughest instructor in the fleet takes notice of the young pilot. Haunted by a past tragedy, Bassa eventually sees through Byron's tough exterior and insolence. When a secret talent is revealed during training, Bassa feels compelled to help Byron achieve his full potential.

As war brews on the edge of space, time is running short. Byron requires a navigator of exceptional quality to survive, and Bassa must make a decision that could well decide the fate of both men. Will their skills be enough as they embark on a mission that may stretch their abilities to the limit?

The Library Journal says: “…calls to mind the youthful focus of Robert Heinlein’s early military sf, as well as the excitement of space opera epitomized by the many Star Wars novels. Fast-paced military action and a youthful protagonist make this a good choice for both young adult and adult fans of space wars.”

If you’re interested in purchasing CassaStar, the links are below:




The book is also available in eBook format for Kindle, iPad, Nook, and others

Alex has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He’s experienced in technical editing. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. He lives in the Carolinas with his wife.

Good luck to Alex!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Beat to a Pulp Round One Interview

We are visiting with Elaine Ash, who, along with David Cranmer, edited the fantastic new anthology Beat to a Pulp Round One. Elaine has agreed to answer some of my questions, and, as you know, I also solicited questions from the blogosphere. Below are Elaine’s answers, and if you have others just ask in your comments here and we’ll make sure you get answered. I’ll leave this post up for a few days. Questions are in italics, the answers not. Thanks to Elaine for joining us, and without further ado, here she is:

Charles: Elaine, can you tell us how you chose the stories you did? And how did you get major names like James Reasoner, Bill Crider, and Ed Gorman to contribute?

Elaine: Hi Charles! First let me say that you are not only a prolific writer, but you seem to be on top of every blog on the web, offering comments and encouragement throughout the community. You’re one of the pillars, and thank you so much for offering Razored Zen as a forum for the release of Beat to a Pulp Round One. Your readers have been very generous to supply such great questions.

This project started as a gleam in David Cranmer’s eye almost 3 years ago. Back then, Beat to a Pulp was a little acorn of a site; it did not have the established author and agent attention it now enjoys, and we had no idea if we’d get any stories at all for an anthology.

So we started with what we had—some really terrific writers like Glenn Gray and Patti Abbott, Frank Bill and Chap O’Keefe, who had been with us almost from the very start. In Chap’s case, I loved his satire “The Unreal Jesse James” so much that I begged for its inclusion. We just started asking for stories, and then word got out and stories rolled in. About halfway through, I got the idea to contact bigger names like Ed Gorman and Charles Ardai for stories, and David said, “Okay dreamer, go ahead.” Now I knew an ordinary email stating a plain request was not going to cut it. I spent hours and hours crafting customized pitches as to why we deserved the story and our track record with respecting short fiction and our plans for the book. I proofed and proofed those emails, because I knew both of them were sticklers for spelling and punctuation, and they’d be judging me, as an editor, to see if one extra space got through. When they both said yes, David about fainted on the spot. All of a sudden this project was bigger than he had ever imagined, with well-known names associated. He’s already been working on Robert Randisi and James Reasoner for months and months, and got them onboard. He also wrangled Bill Crider into doing the Introduction, and Bill has been a stalwart supporter of BTAP from the first story. Anyway, David was coming up with the cash, so he took an assignment overseas to earn money to finance it.

Charles: You and David Cranmer edited this book together. How did you divide up the duties? Did you butt heads over anything?

Elaine: I started as the developmental editor on BTAP and it became obvious, as the thing grew like kudzu, that I couldn’t handle the webzine stories plus the anthology. So I’ve exclusively worked on the anthology for about the last year. David and his brilliantly talented wife, the web designer and book designer, Denise, handled production, including the cover, and of course, David does what he always does; vetting the first round of stories that come in, vetting my suggestions and changes, and then keeping the promotion and publicity stoked on his blog, Education of a Pulp Writer.

Creative debate makes every project better. Did we butt heads? Like two rams on the side of a clover hill, you betcha. I come from the Hollywood tradition: He Who Cares the Most Wins. I argued passionately for “my” stories and reasons for printing them, and David argued for his. Why do you think there’s a boxer on the cover of this thing? The result is an eclectic collection that reflects the breadth of our contributors and readership, plus a touch of whimsical this and that. You gotta lighten up once in a while.

Charles: What makes a story hard or easy to edit?

Elaine: Plotline, plotline, plotline. Did I mention the plot? A story has to have clear plot points on which to hang its hat, or it just gets off in the weeds and is hard to follow. I take out a scalpel and trim away some fat, if necessary, so the plot shines clearly. When the plot is good, the rest is much easier. It doesn’t matter how great and colorful the characters and setting are, without events that twist and turn the story, and move it along, ya got nuthin’. A story has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Proofreading is the next biggest time waster for an editor. Never rely solely on spell-check. It’s not your last friend standing. Webster’s latest edition is your friend and you have to pick up that ten pounds of paper and use it. Did you know back seat is spelled backseat? How about loose versus lose, know the difference? Put the time in with Webster’s before you send a story out. Editors really appreciate the effort. It separates the pros from the not-yet-pros. I might have found one teeny proofing item in Charles Ardai or Patti Abbott or Ed Gorman. The less well-known the writer, the more riddled and riddled with typos, misspells etc. In a 140,000-word anthology, that means weeks of work for me, for David, and for the designer who has to go in and laboriously change every letter by hand. Late nights, lots of late, late nights. Yes, it’s my job to do this. I’m not complaining. I’m just lifting the curtain on the process.

That being said, BTAP has always pushed the envelope and we appreciate experimentation. Case in point: George Miller Jr.’s “Cedar Mountain,” which can be found in our archives on the webzine. It does not have a classic plot, it follows the four seasons, which still qualify as a beginning, a middle and an end.

Charles: The anthology has an awesome cover. How did that come about?

Elaine: David and Denise have always been art collectors and avidly follow new painters and photographers. When Denise came up with her wonderful and unique design for the webzine, I knew she was very special and I defer to her judgment, always. I think she and David, together, found James O’Barr on-line, contacted him, and commissioned the original artwork for the anthology. This was not existing art; it was especially commissioned just for the anthology and David now owns the piece. It’s this kind of enthusiasm and dedication for the book as a whole, from the words to the layout, font, design, cover, that set Round One apart from other works, in my opinion.

In fact, “looks” set BTAP apart from other webzines, in my opinion. Again, I’m from Hollywood, where how it looks is very, very important. BTAP’s web design and graphics are colorful and well-balanced. The archives are beautifully structured and maintained. I’d love to see some other webzines team up with art students or budding designers and let them show what they can do to showcase words. I think the world, even the world of reviewers and critics and competitions, have shown they are willing to take on-line fiction seriously. As a result, IMO, it’s time for on-line zines to step it up a notch and take proofing a little more seriously, for a start. Utilize an independent proofreader. Writers are too close to their own work to accurately catch mistakes. It’s entirely possible to find a crime-loving proofer who will do the job for a credit on a webzine, you just have to ask. Find him/her and use them to get rid of the typos and punctuation gaffes. If anybody’s listening, maybe I’ll never have to grit my teeth at the sight of another double hypen in place of an em-dash! Attention journalists: your fiction can’t be proofed againstthe AP Handbook. You gotta crack that Webster’s. Now then, you see what David puts up with? :) Not taking my advice won’t kill you in the zine world, but it will in bigger competitions. A typo knocks you out of the field, say in the Thriller Awards. They’re ready to take zines seriously. The question is: Are we ready to take them seriously?

Deka Black: Well, here is one question I’m very interested in so...
Any chance to see Beat To A Pulp published in Spain?

Elaine: You know, even with internet and all that e-shop stuff, sometimes it’s hard to be a pulp reader in the East of the Great Puddle.I’m very flattered that you show an interest. The market decides, you know. It’s all about demand. BTAP is a teeny, tiny player funded with capital from our personal piggy banks. But publishing is changing rapidly. People buy more and more books online and big players like Barnes and Noble are getting left behind. They were very slow to recognize the on-line sales trend and are hurting because of it. The good news is, all it takes to launch a book in a new market is a translation and throw it up on CreateSpace. Or if you mean just selling the book in English, in Spain, CreateSpace ships internationally. There are no borders to internet selling. That’s the great thing about it.

Ron Scheer: Were there stories you liked but didn't select for reasons other than space?

Elaine: Yes, undoubtedly there were. But we were already hefty at 397 pages, and had to draw the line somewhere.

Ron Scheer:Did you start out with an agreed balance among past, established, and new writers? Were there any differences between the two of you from the start about selection criteria? Any that came up later?

Elaine: No. My criteria is and always will be a compelling story that makes me give a damn. I don’t care if you’re nobody from Bumlost, Nobodyville. David always checks resumes, but I’ve been known to give thumbs-down to stories that may be by big names that I don’t feel are as good as one by somebody not well known. Case in point would be Jake Hinkson’s story, “Maker’s and Coke.” Nobody would call Jake a household name, and David suggested, rightly so, that we might push the story a little further back in the lineup to make way for a writer who is, very much, a household name. But I felt strongly about the emotional impact of “Maker’s and Coke.” I felt that anybody cracking open the book and reading that story first would be unable to put the rest of the book down. It sets the tone for editorial excellence and our taste and eye for great crime writing and characterization. “Maker’s and Coke” may be a tough-guy story but it’s as much a heart-rending tear-jerker as any literary drama out there. I just said my piece and let David make the final decision. Jake stayed first up.

Ron Scheer: Doing this all over again, what would you do differently?

Elaine: Nothing. It would just get done quicker and more efficiently because the trail has been blazed already.

Tom: Will there be a "Round 2" and if so, when can I submit a story?

Elaine: That will be up to David Cranmer. I think somebody asked that question on his blog, Education of a Pulp Writer, and he said he nearly fell on the floor. He’s swamped with publicity and business demands right now, trying to get the word out about Round One.

Scathach Publishing: Are the authors paid a lump sum? Do they get royalties? If so, how much per copy goes to the author, how is it worked out?

Elaine: BTAP contracted and paid writers outright for their stories, which is more than some anthologies are doing. We also provide a free copy per author. Royalties are something that may be discussed at reprint time, if and when it comes around. Remember, this anthology is a labor of love, and David and I went in and invested in it knowing we might not make our money back. So although we don’t pay a lot, at least we pay something, and believe me, the writers got paid a year ago and we’ll probably have to wait another year to see anything, and maybe we won’t ever. But it’s worth it. We raise our own profile while providing a vehicle for our writers, and that’s the main thing. BTAP would be nothing without writers trying their best, over and over again, and we appreciate it so much. The on-line crime writing community is the best, most supportive, decent bunch of people in the world, IMO.

Thanks very much to Elaine for visiting and answering our questions. If you have any others, now’s the time. Just put ‘em in your comments

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Record Keeping and Reading

I'm working today on the questions for Elaine Ash of Beat to a Pulp, and that will be up in the next day or so. In the meantime, here's a kind of placeholder post.

I finish my reading year on my birthday, and naturally I keep records. I read 116 books since October 14 of 2009. Mystery and Thrillers accounted for 24 of those and SF added up to 21. Westerns and nonfiction accounted for 13 each, and fantasy scored 11. I read fewer graphic novels this year than last, 2 versus 5, and reread only three books rather than 6. I read only 3 YA books, as oppossed to 11 last year. That was a Harry Potter year. I went up very slightly this year in hororr and historical fiction, and remained steady in poetry at 5. I have 7 books in the "other" category this year as opposed to 0 last year. "Other" is a catch all category for books in genres I don't typically read in. A romance novel would fall in this category for me, for example, or a mainstream literary novel that doesn't fit into classics. I read 0 books in the comedy column, which is standard for me since I only have 2 listed in that column over the past 7 years. I just don't read much material that is meant to be humorous.

OK, that's probably enough boring details about my reading year. See you next year with the same kind of post. :)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Movie Day at Novel Spaces

I'm posting about movies over at Novel Spaces today. Sorry I haven't been around to blogs this weekend much. Lana and I spent Saturday shopping for cars and going to the Northlake Nature Preserve. (I’m considering replacing my car, which has 107,000 miles on it.) On Sunday we took a day trip to Mississippi to see “Red Bluff,” sometimes called the Little Grand Canyon. It was awesome. Check out Lana’s blog for details.

I’ll start visiting blogs again this evening, but with almost 200 in my queue I doubt I’ll get around to them all. In the meantime, I hope you’ll stop by Novel Spaces, and I’ll leave you with a pic Lana took at Northlake. I think it’s a Sasquatch footprint and I’m sticking with that.


Friday, October 08, 2010

Beat to a Pulp: Q & A

Elaine Ash, who edited the new Beat to a Pulp anthology alongside David Cranmer, will be guesting on my blog in the next week or so. She’ll be here to answer questions about putting together anthologies in general, and BTAP Round 1 in particular. I have a few questions I plan to ask her, but I’m soliciting input from everyone who visits as to what additional questions they might like to see answered. Here’s your chance to pick the brain of an editor. You can leave your question in the comments section here, or email me at kainja at Hotmail dot com (You all know how to translate that, I believe). Or you can just drop by on the day that Elaine is here and ask your questions directly. I’ll post again as soon as we establish that date.

Here are the questions I’ve already lined up for that day:

1. Can you give us some of your selection criteria for the anthology? How did you choose the stories that you did?

2. You and David Cranmer edited this book together. How did you divide up the duties? Did you butt heads over anything?

3. What makes a story hard or easy to edit?

4. The anthology has an awesome cover. How did that come about?

End of questions:

Now, if you have any burning questions you’d like to toss into the ring, please do so. Elaine volunteered for this, after all!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Politics and Religion in Writing

I sold a story in 1995 called "Crypto," and I was looking at it yesterday with the idea that I might try to sell it as a reprint. But there's a problem. That problem is politics and religion.

The story is meant to be humorous, but in making its jokes it pokes fun at political correctness and at televangelists. It also picks on congress. I was careful with the “congress” jokes to not attack one particular party, but the televangelist jokes could possibly be seen as attacking the more fundamentalist types of religion. And in today’s cultural climate, people seem to be unusually rabid in responding to even the hint of an attack on their politics or religion. Even when the story was first published a couple of readers reviewed it negatively because they took it to have an “agenda.” Honestly, there was no agenda, just an attempt at some jokes. In fact, I was completely surprised that anyone would have thought I had an agenda, although in retrospect I’m surprised that I was surprised.

I have a friend who got into trouble with some readers for her “agenda,” even though it was a “character” in her book that expressed some anti-government sentiment. I at least thought readers would not take everything the characters say or think as evidence of the writer’s beliefs. I was wrong. And in “Crypto,” the jokes (or insults) come through the narrative, which is easier to attribute to the writer’s personal feelings.

In the end, I decided that “Crypto” is going to become a trunk story. I’m going to put it away for now because I know that one reader who feels attacked is very likely to share that feeling with other readers. That outcome might not be good.

How about you? Do you avoid issues of politics and religion in your writing? In your everyday discussions? Does it turn you off if what you’re reading expresses a different perspective on politics and religion from your own? I’m curious.

Finally, in other news, Robert Swartwood is hosting an “Ultimate Flash Fiction Package,” in which you will have a chance to win 120 bucks worth of books. Check it out here.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Publications and Sales and Sech

I’m excited to announce that Hint Fiction is currently available for preorder on Barnes & Noble and Amazon. I got my contributor copy of the book a couple of days ago and have already read it. It’s a wonderful collection and I’m very happy to be a part of it. I almost couldn’t believe how well many of the pieces worked as both standalone efforts and to suggest or “hint” at a much bigger story behind the scenes. The work starts out with a dynamite piece from Joe Lansdale, probably my favorite in the collection, but there are many more great pieces and for the first time I really saw the potential of the hint fiction concept realized. I feel pretty lucky to have made it into this group.

Among the bigger names in the collection are Jack Ketchum, Joyce Carol Oates, Peter Straub, and F. Paul Wilson, but the selections from unknowns and relative unknowns are just as powerful. I got lots of smiles and quite a few “winces” out of these pieces. They were just amazingly effective.

In other news, I’ve gotten in some author copies of Bitter Steel finally. If anyone should want a signed copy, I can offer them at a discount over what the unsigned book costs at Amazon and Barnes & Noble at present. I’m asking $12.50, and I’ll cover shipping within the US. For Canada or elsewhere I might have to split the costs with you. If you’d like a copy, please email me at kainja at hotmail dot com.

I also have one copy of Swords of Talera in which the red color of the cover is worn through in places. It’s not bad, but if anyone wants it I can let it go for $5.00, plus whatever the shipping would be. Same email if you are interested.

Finally, I just finished reading Ty Johnston’s Kindle collection American Crossroads, which puts together five stories about people reaching turning points in their lives. I enjoyed it very much and reviewed it on both Goodreads and Amazon. I highly recommend it. It’s worth much more than the .99 cents it costs.


Saturday, October 02, 2010

A Case of Plagiarism

Rick Moore, a friend of mine, and of some of you, is a highly talented writer. He's also just become the victim of a plagiarist. His short story, "Electrocuting the Clowns,” which appeared in the excellent 2003 collection Beyond the Porch Light, has been stolen by a man claiming the name David Byron. That’s not the name this guy goes under on Facebook. He is apparently selling a work on Lulu that contains Rick’s story. He has several books there, under his two names, so I’m not sure which one contains the story.

Please check out Rick’s post about this plagiarist. This hurts all writers and readers, and diminishes us all.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Maybe I'll Quit

OK, I've heard the name, although I had to check Wikipedia to get the details about her before I posted this. There is a woman known as Snooki, who is apparently a reality TV star on the show Jersey Shore. I've never seen the show and only once do I believe I've seen "Snooki," when I caught something about her on The Soup. She is apparently known primarily for drinking and fighting.

But now, Snooki is going to become a novelist! According to reports, Snooki read her first book in February of this year, at the age of 22, and has now been signed by Simon & Schuster to write a novel called "Shore Thing." It's supposed to have lots of love and fighting in it. And reports indicate that Snooki does have a collaborator.

I try to be happy for new writers when they garner a book deal. I really do. I try. I try. But I have to admit I'm having a hard time with this one. Especially after my most recent figuring up of how much money I've earned this year from my writing. Right now I'm in the black. Just barely.

But then, I guess I haven't spent enough time drinking and fighting in public. And I suppose I could dress a little sluttier too!

Or I could just quit writing and these things wouldn't bother me at all.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Heavy Metal Quiz

Another quiz for today.

Heavy metal and hard rock music has a long association with horror tropes, from band mascots and pentagrams to lyrics about Satanism, evil, and death. See if you can match the horror related imagery, lyrics, and song titles on the left with the bands on the right. This one may be pretty hard for a lot of you folks from the softer side of the music spectrum. 1 to 3 correct earns you the title of roadie. 4 to 7 and you can play rhythm guitar. 8 to 11 moves you up to lead guitarist. And if you get 12 to 15 right you’re a one man band (sort of like Aldo Nova). If you don’t get any correct, then I’m going to assume you like disco.

1. Living Dead Girl ---------------------- Black Sabbath
2. Eddie -------------------------------- W.A.S.P
3. The Headless Children --------------- AC/ DC
4. Louder than Hell -------------------- Iron Maiden
5. Long Hard Road Out of Hell ------- Metallica
6. Screaming in the Night ------------- Alice Cooper
7. Reign in Blood --------------------- Judas Priest
8. The Black Widow -------------------- Marilyn Manson
9. Devil’s Plaything -------------------- Rob Zombie
10. Screaming for Vengeance ----------- Danzig
11. Satan Laughing Spreads His Wings -- Butlik
12. Playboy Bassist ----------------------- Slayer
13. Wake up Dead ------------------------- Megadeth
14. Enter Sandman ------------------------- Motley Crue
15. Hell’s Bells -------------------------- Krokus

Answers: 1. Rob Zombie, 2. Iron Maiden, 3. W.A.S.P, 4. Motley Crue, 5. Marilyn Manson, 6. Krokus, 7. Slayer, 8. Alice Cooper, 9. Danzig, 10, Judas Priest, 11. Black Sabbath, 12. Butlik, 13. Megadeth, 14, Metallica, 15. AC/DC.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Listening to Talera

I've already mentioned here that I've been letting my Kindle read books to me on my long daily commute. I've been enjoying that process, and feeling less like I'm wasting my time with the driving.

I decided last week to load my Talera trilogy onto the Kindle and let it read those to me. I've finished listening to Swords of Talera so far and am about a third of the way through Wings Over Talera. Witch of Talera is up next. After that I may keep it going by listening to Robert E. Howard's Almuric, which is also a sword and planet work.

I make a habit out of reading my material out loud before I ever submit it, but listening to the 'whole' thing is actually pretty helpful. I noticed in "Swords" that I repeated the word "well" a lot, and I had not picked up on that merely by reading it. I may start doing this for manuscripts before I submit them. The Kindle voice doesn't offer inflections well so you can also get a feeling for how important it is to convey the emotion in the dialogue rather than by attaching tags such as "he shouted," etc. All in all, I think it could make a useful writing tool.

I'm also finding, happily, that I'm really enjoying listening to my own works. It's kind of weird in a way, but you know I really like these stories. I'm proud of them. I'm so glad they are out there.

By the way, if anyone reading this has read Witch of Talera and feels the urge to review it on Amazon, I'd appreciate it. "Swords" and "Wings" both have reviews but "Witch" doesn't. I'm not sure it makes any difference but it couldn't hurt.

Thanks to everyone for listening.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Movie Monsters Quiz

I had time this weekend to work on a blog post, but I didn't have the will. So, here's another quiz for you. This one is on movie monsters instead of villains. I hope you enjoy.

Do you like movie monsters? Hey, everyone does, don’t they? But do you remember your movies and your monsters? Can you look at the phrases or quotes on the left and match them with the famous monster on the right? Now this quiz is easy. Anything less than eleven correct and you surely can’t be trying. Less than six correct and you need to go out and buy yourself a DVD and spend some time catching up on the classics.

1. Not so jolly Green Giant __________ King Kong
2. “I’ll be back” ___________________ The Mummy
3. Fava beans _____________________ Dracula
4. Who goes there? _________________ The Wolfman
5. “The Children of the Night.” _____ Godzilla
6. Skull collector __________________ The Terminator
7. The Moon is a harsh mistress _____ The Predator
8. Swim fan ________________________ Cthulhu
9. When electricity came to the castle __ Creature from Black Lagoon
10. Chest burster _____________________ Pinhead
11. No sarcophagus can hold him _______ The Blob
12. The eighth wonder of the world ______ Hannibal Lecter
13. I told you not to open that box ____ Frankenstein’s Monster
14. Amorphous Entity ________________ Alien
15. Elder God _______________________ The Thing

Answers: 1. Godzilla, 2. Terminator, 3. Hannibal Lecter, 4. The Thing, 5. Dracula, 6. Predator, 7. The Wolfman, 8. Creature from the Black Lagoon, 9. Frankenstein’s Monster, 10, Alien, 11. The Mummy, 12. King Kong, 13. Pinhead, 14, The Blob, 15. Cthulhu.


A couple of books I'll soon be getting.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Quiz about Villains

I don't seem to have anything to say new today so here is a quiz I wrote for The Illuminata back some years ago now. The answers are at bottom. Hope you enjoy.

They're big. They're bad. Mostly they're ugly. Who are they? They're the movie villains of our nightmares and they're here to...GET YOU!. Can you match the descriptive phrase or quote on the left with the evildoer on the right? Zero to five correct means you may be too innocent for your own good. Six to ten correct and you are exhibiting just the right amount of nastiness. More than ten correct? Be afraid. Be very afraid.

1. Spider hater ---------------------- Jason Voorhies
2. Danger, Will Robinson! ------------- The Joker
3. Dream blade ----------------------- Thulsa Doom
4. Deep Breather --------------------- Leatherface
5. Camp Nightmare -------------------- The Penguin
6. What a big eye you have ------------ Darth Vader
7. Holidays can be killers ------------ Roy Batty
8. Permanent smile ------------------- Randall Flagg
9. Snake magic ----------------------- Lex Luthor
10. Buzz Cut ------------------------- Freddy Krueger
11. Umbrella fella ------------------- Green Goblin
12. The Dark Man --------------------- Khan
13. Kryptonite lover ----------------- Michael Myers
14. I spit my last breath at thee! ---- Dr. Smith
15. Made man ------------------------- Sauron

Answers: 1. Green Goblin, 2. Dr. Smith, 3. Freddy Krueger, 4. Darth Vader, 5. Jason Voorhies, 6. Sauron, 7. Michael Myers, 8. The Joker, 9. Thulsa Doom, 10. Leatherface, 11. The Penguin, 12. Randall Flagg, 13. Lex Luthor, 14. Khan, 15. Roy Batty


Monday, September 13, 2010

My Trouble With Dialogue

I've been listening to some of the old "Shadow" pulps on my Kindle while I commute lately. They're interesting, although there's a lot of sameness about them. One thing did occur to me today on my trip in.

The Shadow stories are 'heavily' dialogue driven, probably because of their close relationship with the old radio serial format. As a result, they work pretty well as audio works. But one thing I've noticed is that there is hardly any "music" to the stories at all. Except for the rare descriptions of "The Shadow," the sentences and paragraphs fall leaden on the ears.

I believe it's largely the dialogue that is to blame, and that this is probably why I typically don't read books that begin with dialogue or are heavy with dialogue. Descriptive prose, or action-driven prose, can develop a rhythm, a kind of poetry in prose form.

"All morning the moon hangs frozen on the sky, and the wind-bell rings unheard on the hard east wind." (Matthiessen)

Dialogue seldom obtains even a fraction of this kind of poetry, and then only in the hands of true masters. And I'm realizing, from listening to the "Shadow" stories, that I need the rhythm. I need beautiful, poetic prose and imagery to fully lose myself in a story.

I understand that dialogue is a necessary evil. I try to write it as well as I can. But it'll always be a weak sister to me. Maybe I really am a poet at heart. Some form of a poet anyway.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Winning the Day at Novel Spaces

I'm posting at Novel Spaces today on the subject of "Winning the Day." It's a term I picked up from Drew Brees's book Coming Back Stronger. Brees, of course, is the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, who on Thursday night beat the Minnesota Vikings in the first game of the 2010 NFL season. I'm enjoying the book quite a bit, and will have a review of it here after I finish it. In the meantime, I'm talking about the book and about writing over on Novel Spaces, so please stop by.


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Where it Wanders

I haven't had much time to work on a blog post so I thought I'd put up a scene from a work in progress called "Where it Wanders," which will be a horror/thriller. This scene introduces a major character. Hope you enjoy.


In a service road motel, near the I-10/I-35 merge in San Antonio, Layne Gabriel snapped awake. Listening intently, he heard only the groaning whisper of the cheap window heating unit and a faint snick of breathing from his most recent bed companion. But he knew there had been another sound here a moment ago. A sound, or maybe an absence of sound. The air tingled with it.

Sliding from the worn and rumpled sheets, he padded naked to the small motel table where his laptop stood open and on. The screen was black and it took him a moment to discern the message he’d been left. In places the normal flat slate of the computer face had grown depth, had taken on three dimensional form. He made out a phrase in the black on black. It said: “Ozark Mountains.” There was nothing else.

Layne shrugged, padded to the bathroom to do his business and then dressed in jeans and a navy blue T-shirt with faded white letters across the front that read “Hell Dog.” He turned off his laptop and packed it away in its weatherproof carrying case, then moved over to study the woman in the bed. She slept on, the sleep of the exhausted, with her short bottle-blond hair ratted around her head from where his hands had tangled during sex.

He leaned a little closer and sniffed her, and the combination of scents and sights brought a slice of poem driving hard into his awareness.

For the whiskey-breathed.
For the faint-beating heart.
Sweat-stained in the memory of love.

He smiled. The woman hadn’t been a very good lay but at least she’d been enthusiastic. That was worth something, he decided. He’d leave her a gift.

He turned away, slipped on his motorcycle jacket, lowered the laptop into his saddle bags, and quietly left the room. He had slept away the afternoon and evening. It was dark outside, the moon sailing black waters above him. He figured it for about 11:00 o’clock.

His bike waited, purple in the shadows, and he strapped the bags on it, then unlocked his full-face helmet and slid it over his head after tying up his hair. The night was chilly, and though he had a high tolerance for cold, he slipped on a pair of leather gloves. He didn’t want his hands to stiffen up on the ride.

Straddling the bike, he punched the starter and listened to the low growl of the modified Honda Magna 750 engine, the sound so different from the raw-throated chuckle of a Harley. The woman was probably waking up to the sound now, and he pulled from the motel’s parking lot and onto the street before she could come looking. He didn’t want to see her as he left; that might change his mind about giving her his gift.

He chuckled to himself as he thrust his boots up on the highway pegs and leaned back into the customized seat. Of course, the woman probably wouldn’t even realize he’d left her anything. But he’d left her alive, hadn’t he?

The road unfolded in a silver ribbon as he headed north in the wind.