Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Bitter Steel

So, tell me please, if you read the following two paragraphs on the back cover of a book, what would you think? Would you recognize the genre? Do you find it at all intriguing? Does it sound too "over the top?" Any feedback would be appreciated! Thanks.


Heroic fantasy is often called the oldest form of literature. Homer told such tales. Virgil did. Beowulf and the Norse sagas related them. In a more modern age, we find the voices of Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Harold Lamb, Karl Edward Wagner, and David Gemmell. Critics sometimes deride stories of heroes and heroines. That’s because they lack imagination. If you’re human, these kinds of stories are your legacy.

So come! Gather with me around the fire where the smoke stings our eyes. We’ll listen to the drums with our hearts and drink from the common bowl as it passes among us. The darkness whispers outside our camp, but we have no fear. There are heroes among us. Let us hear their tales.



David Cranmer said...

I like it. Very classy.

sage said...

I was drawn in more by the 2nd paragraph than the first--I might reverse there order. Sounds interesting.

ArtSparker said...

Wonderfully old school, I wouldn't change a word. It makes me feel I am going to be taken care of by the narrator, as in some good old-fashioned escapism.

I hear an echo of the Lone Ranger " Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear".

G said...

Sounds interesting.

Not over the top. First paragraph sets up the second one nicely. Not sure if anyone under the age of 35would recognize the authors listed except maybe Burroughs.

For me, the front cover would have to grab my interest long enough for me to read the back cover.

Sad I know, but that's how I usually choose books to read.

Barbara Martin said...

The second paragraph would be the one to draw me in to purchase this book to read what promises to be wonderful tales.

Erik Donald France said...

I dig it -- first para. calm, second one comes at the reader. Over the top in a good way -- not in the WWI trench warfare way.

Charles Gramlich said...

David, thanks. I tried to mix a bit of history with a come on teaser.

Sage, hum, interesting. I'll give that a look and see how it works. Good point.

Artsparker, I love those kinds of come on teasers.

G., Yeah, I think Burroughs and Howard are fairly well known. The other names are definitely for lovers of the genre, but I figure that's the only folks who'll be buying it anyway.

Barbara martin, maybe I could shorten the first paragraph.

Natasha Fondren said...

I love, love, LOVE the second paragraph! Really pulls me in!

*cringes* The first paragraph kinda reads a little bit like a book report to me. And it feels a little defensive to me, and then a bit talking-down in the last sentence. (Again, could just be me.)

I do like your idea to set it up by talking about heroes. Maybe you could experiment a little? I mean, heroic tales always grab me in the gut. Any way you could capture that? Maybe instead of talking about who writes what, you could talk a little of the heroes?

Charles Gramlich said...

Erik, thankee. you must have posted about the same time I did.

Cloudia said...

" Beowulf and the Norse sagas related them."

B and the NS are examples of such tales that have thrilled for millenia. (at least get rid of the "related."

Cloudia said...

"Critics sometimes deride stories of heroes and heroines. That’s because they lack imagination."

If critics deride such stories of heroes & heroines, it is only because they have outgrown the imagination, and so have forgotten the thrill of wondering 'what will happen next.'

Something like that.... (You did say "any")

Aloha from Hawaii

Comfort Spiral

David J. West said...

I had to look twice at the--

"Critics sometimes deride stories of heroes and heroines. That’s because they lack imagination."

I wonder about having it be "That's because critic's lack imagination."

But it could be I was the only one that tripped over the passage. I like the rest the whole campfire tales analogy.

ivan said...

It is amazing that the late and great John Updike could write all those astounding novels, while at the same time, when it came to literary criticism, he sort of wrote like that.
A l7-year-old Wiccan in English l01?
You've got to read Updikes's reviews in the New Yorker, reviews of the talent in the room. His of course, outshone them all.
But when it came to criticism or blurbs, his writing was sort of birdlike.
Like Goethe's.
Yet both were geniuses.

ivan said...

It is amazing that the late and great John Updike could write all those astounding novels, while at the same time, when it came to literary criticism, he sort of wrote like that.
A l7-year-old Wiccan in English l01?
You've got to read Updikes's reviews in the New Yorker, reviews of the talent in the room. His literary talent, of course, outshone them all.
But when it came to criticism or blurbs, his writing was sort of birdlike.
Like Goethe's.
Yet both were geniuses.

the walking man said...

"Critics sometimes deride stories of heroes and heroines. That’s because they lack imagination."

The above is totally a turn off and would be enough for me to move on to something else to read.

The second paragraph is cheese but not a turn off, just a bit of a, ineffectual soft sell.

Angie said...

The first paragraph makes it sound like a scholarly non-fiction book on the subject of traditional heroic fiction. The second paragraph makes it sound like like an anthology of heroic-genre short stories, although I have no clue at this point whether they're original, modern stories or whether it's a collection of traditional stories -- maybe condensed, Reader's Digest fashion, to fit into the book?

And I'm guessing that some people who read the first paragraph and thought, "Ahh, some professor getting his publication in for the year" might not bother reading the second. Although of course it depends what the rest of the package looks like; the cover (art and title and other text) might well make it clear what sort of book this is, so that someone who's picked the book up to read the back copy will already have been steered in the right direction.

Going solely by the back cover copy, though, I think this is vague and uninformative. It's reasonably well-written, yes, and sounds good as writing, but I don't think it serves its purpose well, whatever kind of book this is.


pattinase (abbott) said...

The first does seem a trifle academic, but I am used to reading such things so it doesn't put me off.

Richard Prosch said...

I too liked the second para. "Drums...hearts...common bowl." Good stuff. Here we have an anthology, but the "there are heroes among us" made me think current working writers.

BernardL said...

Your lead in with the first paragraph set just the right tone for the very stirring second paragraph. I would be intrigued. It's extremely difficult doing a blurb for a collection.

laughingwolf said...

i forced myself to read the first, left me ho-hum... found the second engaging

and what cloudia sez...

writtenwyrdd said...

Charles, that wouldn't make me want to pick up the book, but it seems perfect for a forward or introduction by the author!

I think I don't care for it is that the first paragraph feels like the back matter for a scholarly treatise on heroic fantasy. But I DO like the language.

I think that perhaps if you inverted the paragraphs, it would do fine. "Gather with me around the fire where [stories are told], where smoke stings our eyes [and the drums beat in time with our hearts]. We'll listen [as] darkness whispers outside our camp, but we have no fear: There are heroes among us. Let us hear their tales.... Heroic fantasy..."

Charles Gramlich said...

Natasha Fondren, I thought about mentioning the heroes rather than the writers. But I admire the writers a lot. I didn't mean the statement about critics to seem defensive. It's just the truth as far as I can judge it. I'll have to think about it. Thanks for the quality feedback.

Cloudia, yeah, "related" is weak. I think some critics have "grown up," but others I feel really never had any imagination to begin with.

David J. West, ahh, good point. I didn't even notice that.

ivan, some folks get a pass from the critics, for whatever reason. I don't understand it.

Mark, hum, I wonder why that comment about critics turns you off. I find it to be a simple truth.

Angie, thanks for the feedback. Much appreciated.

pattinase, hum, that seems to be a common experience. I've never written back cover copy for a collection of stories before. I've done it for novels and it's much, much easier.

Richard Prosch, most people seem to prefer the second paragraph by quite a lot.

BernardL, yes, I'm finding that out. Thanks.

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, thankee. I need to change that first paragraph it seems.

Writtenwyrd, yeah, it's pretty universal that the first paragraph isn't cutting it. Thanks.

Aimless Writer said...

Second paragraph is great. The first one would have lost me. If it wasn't you I might not have made it to the second. I think the lines: There are heroes among us. Let us hear their tales. Would have hooked me in a heartbeat.

Middle Ditch said...

The second one is very alluring. But you need the first one too. And definitely not over the top.

ivan said...


I have probably written too many course outlines and have a whole shelf-full of blurbs for any possible novels of mine, but I can offer you filip as to how to maybe start your back blurb:

How about

The literature of heroes makes peculiar demands on the critic, forcing himself more directly than usual with the creative process of the artist working in this well-worked over genre. The reason for this can be directly traced to the crowded environment which almost overwhelms the author writing about heroes, or, for that matter, intelligent cowards who may be villains. It's all been done before. You need a hook. A really good hook, and Charles Gramlich at times seems to wield a harpoon...

Give ya a buzz? :)

Harry Markov said...

Sophisticated, inviting and heartfelt as far as the second paragraph goes. I love it and one can tell this is Heroic fantasy or Sword & Sorcery.

Though I also love what ivan coined. :D

Scott said...


I like it. Send forth the heralds to all corners of the realm.

Charles Gramlich said...

Aimless Writer, glad you liked that line. Obviously, the first paragraph isn't working.

Middle Ditch, maybe I can alter the first to make it less academic seeming.

Ivan, I like that line about the harpoon. I may steal that from you!

Harry Markov, I thought that was pretty obvious about the type of fantasy.

Scott, I hope the book will be coming out fairly soon.

Harry Markov said...

You asked me to point out, so I did. It is obvious, though I have not read enough to distinguish heroic fantasy from S&S.

Steve Malley said...

My suggestions:

1st para: No equivocating. This is not a scholarly work, so there's no need to hedge your bets. "Heroic fantasy *is*..."

Also, drop the two sentences about critics. Anyone with the book in hand, already reading the back-cover copy doesn't need to hear any objection analysis.

2nd Para: leave as is. Nice, clear call to action their, at the head and the foot of the paragraph, with a lovely taste of your style in between. Well done!

That is all.

Bernita said...

Charles, it's lovely!
Not the word you want, perhaps...

ivan said...


Charles Gramlich said...

Harry, what I meant was that you got the type of fantasy exactly right! I was surprised some folks didn't get it, but I don't imagine they read heroic fantasy. I consider heroic fantasy to be something of an umbrella term that includes sword and sorcery. I'll post about that one of these days. Sorry if it sounded as if I didn't agree with your comment.

Steve Malley, another person posted about objecting to the critic lines. I will take them out.

Bernita, thanks.

Ivan, indeed!

Harry Markov said...

Ah, good to have that one cleared. I was not sure what the tone was [so hard to tell with comments]. Though I am surprised there were people, who did not pick on the genre. It has steel hence bladed weapons and when you say heroes and myths, you get the fantasy or at least pre-industrial era.

cs harris said...

The second paragraph is wonderful.

Barbara Martin said...

Charles, the first paragraph will read better if you take out the last three sentences.

Writing Without Periods! said...

I like the back cover blurb. I'd cut the first paragraph, add needed info to the second paragraph and that will snap it up.
Makes me want to read the book.

Charles Gramlich said...

Harry Markov, gotcha.

Candy, I've left that and largely eliminated the first paragraph to replace with a couple of sentences.

Barbara, I left only about three words from the first paragraph in the final.

Writing Without Periods!, That makes it pretty close to unanimous on the first paragraph. Thanks.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I wouldn't have gotten through the first paragraph. I'm just being up front. I think there is something too stilted there, and maybe a bit too safe. Entice me. Make it edgy.

ArtSparker said...

Re related, ..."recounted"?

Heff said...

It's a "movie trailer" for a book !

Charles Gramlich said...

Stewart Sternberg, yes, too academic. I guess it's a hazard of my job.

ArtSparker, I didn't like that either but couldn't think of a substitute.

Heff, movies are what the world understands now.

Mary Witzl said...

I like the second paragraph more than the first too, though like G I wonder how many youngish people would recognize all the authors you mention. Sad, isn't it?

I'm a big fan of the late Robert B Parker, who wrote detective stories which always struck me as similar to heroic fantasy (though entirely grounded in reality). I love heroes, fantastic or otherwise -- especially if they're flawed. Superman without his allergy to Kryptonite would be a very boring fellow.

Charles Gramlich said...

Mary Witzl, I think many will recognize Robert E. Howard but probably not many of the others. But would they buy my books anyway?

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