Friday, December 30, 2011

Days of Beer: An Excerpt

Here's a little piece of Days of Beer that no one has seen before. Well, that is unless you've already read the book.
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In my first week in New Orleans I stopped at a local gas station to fill up, and then went inside for a snack. I noticed several large, barrel-shaped coolers stuffed with ice and single beers of various kinds. The sheer beauty of the arrangement stunned me for a moment. I felt the wick of tears come to my eyes. It is for such wonders as this that terms like “smorgasbord” and “cornucopia” were invented.

I’d never been to a place other than a bar where you could buy a single serving of beer, but in front of me now I saw a pirate’s hoard of single servings, the gorgeous colors of their containers vying for my attention. And this was at a gas station.

A sudden terror overwhelmed me then. I feared I was experiencing a flashback from my graduate school experience with that hallucinogenic. Surely, this vision could not be real!

Before the mirage could dissipate, I quickly plucked two tall golden bottles of elixir out of the ice and rushed to the checkout counter. The woman behind the register asked me: “Would you like me to open those for you, sir?”

I stared in confusion at her for a moment, knowing that she spoke in English but unable to quite translate her meaning. Finally, I replied, “I’m…driving.”
She leaned a little closer to me, and in a louder voice to make sure I heard her, asked again: “Would you like me to OPEN those for you, sir?”

I finally understood, and managed, somehow, to choke down the emotion threatening to well up inside of me.

“Well, maybe just one,” I replied.


The link at Barnes and Noble is here
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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Days of Beer Goes Live

I said I had an announcement for today, and it’s big for me at least. I was complaining earlier this month about having many projects going and none finished. Well, I’ve finally finished one. Days of Beer is now live online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I am happy, and somewhat relieved. Apparently I still can finish things when I have a little time to write, as I’ve had over the Christmas break.

I’ve talked about the “Days of Beer” project quite a bit. You’ve seen pieces of it. The full title is “Days of Beer: A Memoir of a Beer Drinkin’ Man.” Although some folks suggested changes to the title, and taking out the word memoir, it is a memoir of sorts, although with the emphasis on funny incidents rather than a serious examination of my life. (That would be incredibly boring.)

I also did a fair amount of researching what books were available already, and this title comes closest in my mind to conveying what audience I’m trying to reach. I could be wrong. But in the end you’ve gotta go with your gut.

I decided to introduce the book at 99 cents, although it’s actually got slightly more words in it than “Killing Trail.” I plan to raise the price after a month.

Lana took the cover photo but I added the title and author name. There’s a second cover version inside the book. Lana was going to help with it but after her surgery she just couldn’t stand any time on the computer so you get the best that I could do. I want to get better at doing covers since I’d like to publish more ebooks down the line. Once Lana is back on her feet, she'll probably up the quality on this cover and I’ll replace it. I didn’t want to wait until then to get the work out, though. I’ll be back in school and time will be a precious commodity again.


The link at Barnes and Noble is here.

I'm happy!
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Monday, December 26, 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

For Reasons Unknown

For reasons unknown, my blog suddenly disappeared yesterday. In fact, I found myself persona non grata with Google so that I couldn't log in to my gmail account or anything else powered by Google. That includes Blogger. I sent an email to their contact and access was restored sometime after midnight last night. I don't know why but I'm glad everything is back with no problems.

I'll have a big announcement, for me anyway, coming up on Tuesday.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Updates of Various Kinds

Lana is in quite a bit of pain and discomfort after her surgery. She's having trouble sleeping for more than a couple of hours at a time. Her throat gets sore when she sleeps as well, from the tube used during surgery, no doubt. All of this is standard and to be expected, and much what she experienced with her last shoulder surgery. I hope she will get stronger every day now.

I will be at home with Lana for another week or so, but our school starts back on January 4, this year, which seems awfully early. I had hoped to get a lot accomplished over the break but it doesn't look good at the moment. However, Days of Beer is pretty much finished and I've been working on the cover. It will be up soon.

I checked Blogger this morning and had 220 plus posts in my reader. I did a quick scan through and didn't see anything earth shattering, so I decided I didn't have the strength to do my usual commenting. I'll try to get back to visiting and commenting today.
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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lana is in for Surgery

Lana is going in this morning (Dec. 21) for surgery on her shoulder, for a torn rotator cuff. I will try and post later once she's out, but won't be visiting blogs on my regular rounds today.

UPDATE: It's 12:45 now and Lana is HOME, and asleep. She came through everything OK. Thanks to everyone for the well wishes.



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Monday, December 19, 2011

The Urge for Memoir

I was never very interested in memoir writing. Until lately. Before my fifties, I wrote a few short pieces of memoir. Most were intended to be funny. One was called “When Electricity Came to Arkansas,” about an unfortunate experience with an electric fence. Another was a short piece called “Death by Prose,” about the humorous pitfalls involved in selling stories to the Small Press. I did a different kind of piece about my Hurricane Katrina experience and its effect on my writing. That wasn’t funny. I also wrote an account about adopting my son, called “Long Strange Road to Fatherhood.” While it was accepted for publication once, in the end it never saw print.

Then, just after I turned fifty, I put together the pieces for Write With Fire and ended up adding a longish memoir about how I became a writer. It was almost 4,000 words long. For some reason, I felt it was time to tell that story and that book seemed like a good place. I don’t really know if anyone paid much attention to it, but it was fun to do.

A year or so ago I posted several pieces on my blog about my teenage experiences with beer drinking. I called them “Days of Beer.” They were favorably received and a couple of months ago I suddenly decided I was going to write up those experiences more fully and publish them as an ebook. That work is almost finished now, and it’s 18,000 words long. I couldn’t believe how much material was there to work with until I started, but I believe the thing holds together well and I think it’s pretty funny. So far, the writing group that I’ve shared about a third of it with have agreed.

In the next weeks, then, a new piece will be coming out from Razored Zen Press. I need to finish the final read through, and get the cover ready. I have an idea for that and will get Lana to take the photo. I’m using the actual names of folks in many cases, but if I feel there’s any likelihood of embarrassment I’m changing the names or just leaving them out. I’m planning on opening it at 99 cents for the holiday season. I’m also toying with titles, but am leaning toward just calling it “Days of Beer: A Memoir of a Beer Drinkin’ Man.” What do you think?

The biggest question is “why now,” though. Is there something about getting older that naturally makes one want to look back and recall your life? Or is it something that most people have when they’re younger and I am just now finding it of interest? Are you interested in memoir? In reading it? In writing it? Is it a recent thing for you? Or long-term? Do you have any idea why?
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Friday, December 16, 2011

I'm Reading Again: Here's the Proof

Well, I’m officially finished with the school semester. I got my grades turned in on Sunday and took two days pretty much completely off. Then I got back to work on some writing and it has been going well. I’ve also been doing a lot of reading and much enjoying it. Here’s some of the stuff I’ve read.

A Rip Through Time, by Chris F. Holm, Charles A. Gramlich, Garnett Elliott, Chad Eagleton.
From a concept created by David Cranmer.


What a great fun read this one was. A grand romp across time by four authors working in serial form, the kind of pulp adventure you don’t often see anymore. It’s no secret that I did installment two of the story, and I tell you I just loved seeing how Garnett Elliott and Chad Eagleton played off some of the ideas that I introduced into the work, just as I enjoyed playing off what Chris Holm had put into the opening chapter.

At present, this is available at Smashwords, and for the Nook.

Miles To Little Ridge, by Heath Lowrance

This is a fast paced western of novella length. The main character, Gideon Miles, was created by Edward Grainer, but here the writer Heath Lowrance takes over the reins to tell a hard hitting tale of revenge and justice. I liked the detail on this one. I found the settings and characters very believable. Good stuff.


Monsters & Mormons, Edited by WM Morris and Theric Jepson

I’ve only read one story from this collection so far, David J. West’s “Fangs of the Dragon.” I enjoyed it very much. The gunfighter, Porter Rockwell, is sent to investigate tales of a lake monster who is killing locals. He finds a wide ranging conspiracy related to the sightings, and then comes face to face with the monster itself. The results are unexpected, and cool.


I’m also reading Bolo!, by David Weber, which consists of stories about the infamous “Bolo” war machines originally created by Keith Laumer. I haven’t finished it yet but I’ve just loved the first two stories, both of which had me a little misty eyed at the end. This is the first work I’ve read by David Weber. It won’t be the last.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monster Dream

Cool monster dream last night. Lana and I were on vacation, staying in a motel at the outskirts of a large Texas city. I was hungry; she wasn't, so I walked about a dozen blocks to small restaurant. While I was there, Lana actually called me on the store's phone and told me she wanted to go home. As I left the eatery, however, a parade was coming along the main street between me and our motel.

I started trying to find a gap through, when I heard a collective gasp and looked up to see the ball of a water tower flying through the air and then crashing down into some buildings. When I looked behind me I saw massive columns of smoke rising in the distance, and fires burning among the city center's skyscrapers.

The parade was scattering so I ran through the crowd toward our motel. I started along the route I'd come but soon came to a big parking garage that was leveled. I turned into other streets, trying to make my way through, and I knew that whatever the destroyer was it was getting close because debris was flying everywhere. At one point, a giant whip-like tail went whizzing by over my head, shearing off tree tops.

When I found the motel, people were running and screaming, although some were clustered together praying. I started screaming for Lana but there was no answer. I ran inside and down to our room. When I threw open the door, Lana was inside folding clothes with the music turned up really loud. I started yelling at her to "come on, come on". And to "get her shoes." I grabbed her hand and practically dragged her from the room to the outside. Then I woke up.

This dream was almost surely a response to watching the movie "Super-Eight" the other night, although it had elements of "Cloverfield" in it, for sure. I enjoyed!

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Since it's getting close to Christmas, I thought I'd also post my "price list" today. If anyone wants a signed copy of anything I've got around the house, this is the damage. You can email me at kainja at hotmail dot com I hope everyone is having a good December so far.

(2011): Current Prices on Books: Signed copies. (Shipping included inside the USA)

The Talera series: Sword & Planet Fantasy Adventure Series

Swords of Talera -- $12.50
Wings Over Talera -- $12.50
Witch of Talera -- $12.50
All 3 -- $32.00

Bitter Steel: An anthology of Sword & Sorcery short stories. $12.00

Midnight in Rosary: An anthology of Vampire and Werewolf short stories. $12.00

Both anthologies: (Bitter Steel & Midnight in Rosary). $22.00

Cold in the Light: A horror/thriller. $8.00

Wanting the Mouth of a Lover: A collection of vampire haiku. $5.00
Or $4.00 as an addition to any other order.

Write With Fire: A nonfiction guide to writing. $14.00
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Friday, December 09, 2011

A Matter of Convention

I'm over at Novel Spaces for today with a post about something that happened to me at a recent SF/Fantasy convention. Stop by if you get the chance.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Wings Over Talera

David J. West has a nice review over on his blog of Wings Over Talera, the second book in my Talera Trilogy. I appreciate it.

The most fun I've ever had writing remains the writing of the Talera Trilogy: Swords of Talera, Wings Over Talera, and Witch of Talera. I will do a fourth book at some point.

I'm very glad that folks have generally liked these books a lot, that they've seen something good in the way I drew on the legacies of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. I certainly appreciate all the kind comments on them, and the reviews over on Amazon and on Goodreads. These remind me of why I love good stories so much, and why I so enjoy writing.

If anyone is interested in picking up signed copies of one or all of the Talera books for Christmas, let me know. I've got copies at the house and can make folks a deal on the trilogy. Email me at: kainja at hotmail dot com

The books are also available for the Nook and the Kindle so if you know someone who has one of these ereaders, or who is getting one for Christmas, these books could make a nice gift. At least I think they do. :)

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Time Travel and Sword and Planet Action

I’ve been needing to post this information for a while but work has been crazy this whole semester. Seems mostly I’ve been putting up holding pattern blog posts. I have a test to grade today but Monday is the last day of class and then we’ll have final exams. I’ll be incommunicado for a few days then before I get finally to Christmas break. If I’m gonna get this post up it needs to be today.

First up, the collected Simon Rip adventure, A Rip Through Time has been published from Beat To A Pulp. It’s available from Smashwords for .99 cents and that’s quite a lot of reading, over 38,000 words. You can get it there for Kindle, Epub, PDF, or various other formats. Many of you already know that this is a serialized story based on David Cranmer’s ideas and character, and that I did one of the sections. Below is a quote about the work that I took directly from the Smashwords site, and it’ll give you the writers and the titles of the various sections:
“A Rip through Time follows the time-cop's travels in a series of five short stories written by several of today's top pulp writers. Chris F. Holm opens the collection with the fast-paced "The Dame, the Doctor and the Device." Charles A. Gramlich's "Battles, Broadswords, and Bad Girls" and Garnett Elliott's "Chaos in the Stream" breathe new life into the time travel story. Bringing the saga to a gripping conclusion in "Darkling in the Eternal Space" is Chad Eagleton, who then takes it a step further with a mesmerizing coda, "The Final Painting of Hawley Exton." And for all the time-traveling enthusiasts, Ron Scheer provides an insightful essay, "Are We Then Yet," which explores the mechanics of time travel in popular fiction.”

I’ve got my copy and look forward over Christmas break to reading the whole thing together. I was so pleased to be a part of this. I much enjoyed writing my segment, and was lucky to be chosen to be among this crew of fine writers.

*****

Next up, I want to mention a new, and “illustrated” collection of Sword & Planet stories called Strange Worlds. This anthology is edited by Jeff Doten, who also did all the wonderful drawings for the work. I believe this may be the first illustrated collection of S & P stories ever. And I’m very happy to say I have a story in the collection called “God’s Dream.” I had an incredible amount of fun writing it.

You can find out more about the anthology here. There is a review of the book up at Black Gate. I will be posting more about it as I read the rest of the stories in the collection. Here's the front and back covers below:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Teaching Issue

One thing I find difficult as a teacher is explaining to students that even though they might have legitimate reasons for missing class at times, they are still responsible for finishing the work, and that missing class almost always affects their grade negatively. This is not because I take off points for absences, but because by missing they lose out on stuff they just can't get from merely reading the textbook or borrowing their friends' notes.

Yet, year after year, I have students come see me who have missed a substantial amount of class because of a health issue, or because of family problems, who believe they should be given the grade they "would" have earned if they had not had the problems.

Leave aside for the moment that I have no way of predicting what they "would" have earned if they hadn't had personal issues. They always know, and it's often at least a letter grade above what I think likely. When students do have legitimate reasons for missing, I allow them to make up assignments, but I cannot go back and insert all the information in their brain that they would have gotten if they had been in class.

A student came in recently who had missed a lot of class because of family issues. She'd made a "C" on test 1, but because of all the missed classes she got an "F" on test 2. I worked out what she needed to get on test 3, the final, to get a "C" for the class. Her first question was, "What about a 'B'?" A "B" was statistically impossible. She then asked me, "What if I make like a 95 on the final exam?"

I told her that I'd be happy if she did so but that it still wouldn't get her to a "B." I could see she was hoping I'd tell her that I'd curve her grade to a "B" if she made an "A" on the final, but that's not the way it works. There is a certain amount of information a student masters in a class to earn an "A." There are other amounts for "B" and "C" and lower. Even if she mastered the last section at the "A" level, she would not have mastered the earlier material at that level.

She was nearly in tears when she left, and I felt badly for her. I know she has been through a lot this semester, but I can't morally sign off on work as having been completed at a certain level when it has not. And I don't know how to explain this to students.

I've tried telling them that we are not judged in the world on what we do 'one' time. Most people can get up for one test, one game, maybe even one story. Instead, we are judged on what we do across a semester, across undergraduate or graduate school, across a season, and across a career. We don't have to be great every time, but we need to be consistently good if we are going to get consistently good results.

Most of the students I talk to about this seem to think I'm just being mean. I don't feel very good about that myself.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Novel Spaces Suspense: Part 2

I'm still over at Novel Spaces today, but I'm down one post from the top. This is the second part of my post about using suspense in writing. I should put up a new post here but I came back from vacation with a whole bunch of things piled up. I hope you can drop by.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Guest Blogger: Ty Johnston

Fantasy author Ty Johnston’s blog tour 2011 is running from November 1 through November 30. His novels include City of Rogues, Bayne’s Climb and More than Kin, all of which are available for the Kindle ), the Nook, and online at Smashwords. His latest novel, Ghosts of the Asylum, is now available for e-books. To find out more, follow him at his blog. And now, Ty:

Today is Thanksgiving, but as I write this it is still October. It is through the marvels of modern blog scheduling I can write this post weeks ahead of time, then Charles can set up the time and date for my little article to run.

Why would I write this post so early, especially considering this is a holiday for many? The truth is, I have a whole bunch of blog posts to write. This month, November, I am on a blog tour to promote my newest epic fantasy e-book, Ghosts of the Asylum, which was just released earlier this week. I am appearing on 30 different blogs, one each day of the month, which means I have 30 posts to write. And then there are posts to my own blog I need to write, plus as a fiction writer I’ve always got another novel or short story to be working on.

But just because it’s October here where I sit in the past, while November 24 there where you sit, does not mean I can’t reflect upon the holiday that is Thanksgiving for those of us in and from the United States.

The truth is, I have a lot for which to be thankful. Yes, there are wars in the world and modern politics and media consistently grate at the nerves, but I am one of the fortunate few who gets to write fiction for a living.

Yes, I can get up early or sleep in. I can stay up all night if I want. I can work whenever, or not. I don’t have any bosses to answer to, nor boring meetings to attend. All because of my chosen profession.

I don’t mean to rub it in for those not so fortunate as myself. Believe me, fiction writing for a living has plenty of its own downsides.

But I want to be thankful today.

I want to thank Charles for hosting me here on Thanksgiving. I want to thank all the other bloggers who are hosting me this month. I thank my wife for putting up with my nonsense, and I even thank my beagle for being such a good girl ... most of the time. I thank my mother and father, who usually don’t understand my writing but who support me anyway.

And, perhaps most importantly, I want to thank my readers. Without you, the readers, I would not have the life I currently enjoy. I hope my writing gives back at least a little, hopefully a lot.

It’s Thanksgiving. And I’m thankful for being a fiction writer.

Got to go. It’s time for lunch, which today is a bologna sandwich. Wish I was there with you on Thanksgiving so I could enjoy some turkey and dressing!
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Monday, November 21, 2011

Cryptozoology

Lake Pontchartrain isn’t really a lake. It’s an estuary connected to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s generally said to be “brackish,” although parts of it to the north side are pretty fresh while other parts are heavily salty. It is the second largest inland saltwater body in the United States, after the Great Salt Lake, but, at 630 square miles, it’s the largest inland body of water in Louisiana. It borders New Orleans on the north side. I live on the north “shore” of the lake. On a recent photography expedition to the lakeshore, Lana and I stumbled up on a bit of a mystery. I’ll introduce it by asking a few questions.

Isn’t it possible, nay probable, that there are large creatures living in Lake Pontchartrain that are rarely seen by humans? Could some of these large creatures, under the right circumstances, be classified as monsters? Could such a said monster be, in fact, a relative of such other lake monsters as Nessie and Champie?

Could an intrepid photographer and her man Friday have caught a picture of said monster, who one might dub…Ponchie? Is said man Friday about to reveal said photograph right here on this blog? Does a bear **** in the woods?
You will note the long snake-like neck, a common descriptive characteristic of other lake monsters. You will note the opened mouth. I figure Ponchie was about to pounce on a pelican, of which there were many around that day. You might argue that the photo is really of some mundane object jutting out of the lake bottom. To this I say: “Pshaww!”
One last question. Could Ponchie, perhaps, be able to spend time on land? Could he be responsible for the skeleton depicted below, which was found only half a mile from my house? Should I be afraid, very afraid? I know how I would answer those questions.
What about you?
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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Razored Zen Interview: Patti Abbott

My most recent guest on Razored Zen Interview is Patricia (Patti) Abbott. Patti has had her short stories appear in a number of anthologies, and around the web. Recently, a substantial collection of her tales has appeared from Snubnose Press called Monkey Justice. Patti’s stories are known for capturing the essence of people’s humanity even within worlds of darkness. And so, I present Patti Abbott. (RZ represents Razored Zen and PAB is Patti.)

RZ: Tell us a little about yourself outside of writing. Hometown. Family. Job. That sort of thing.

PAB: I grew up in a lower middle class neighborhood in Philadelphia and moved to Detroit, Michigan at 22 when my husband, Phil, finished his Ph.D. and got a teaching job in political science at Wayne State University. As my children grew, I finished my degree, eventually taking a job at Wayne State writing newsletters, catalogs, web material, and brochures for the next twenty years.

My degree is in history and I didn’t start to write until I took a poetry writing workshop in the late nineties. Having access to a university probably allowed this to happen.

RZ: What made you want to write? Is it a desire that’s always been with you? Or was there some particular event or book that ignited the fire?

PAB: I have always wanted to write but lacked the confidence to try for years. My parents were the sort of people that discouraged ambition because they didn’t want to see me get hurt if I failed. They had very limited goals for themselves and for me. Better to be a secretary or work for the phone company (which I did for years) than try something so grandiose.

But some success in the poetry workshop convinced me I had some ability. Next, I won a chapbook contest and then switched to writing stories. My poems were really stories in verse so I was able to use them as blueprints for my first stories. I took four writing workshops with the wonderful Chris Leland and his encouragement made me begin to submit stories in the late 1990s. My stories were always dark, but the first dozen or so were basically literary. Sidebar: my mother changed her mind about my writing as she grew older and was very supportive of these ambitions, realizing she hadn’t encouraged me enough earlier.

RZ: Writers always get asked about their influences. Consider this that question.

PAB: I greatly admire the short stories of Alice Munro (the early ones in particular), Raymond Carver, Bobbie Ann Mason, Flannery O’Connor, John Cheever, Mary Lavin, William Trevor, Lorrie Moore, Eudora Welty and Charles Baxter. If I were to talk about my influences as far as crime goes, I would say Patricia Highsmith, Margaret Millar and Ruth Rendell, especially her non-Wexford work. That’s the tone I strive for at least. I like short stories that have a great voice, an unusual point of view. I am not as interested in plot. Complex plots are difficult to pull off in 4000 words so just as well.

RZ: Patti, I know this is a hard question to ask a writer, but tell us about your favorite story in Monkey Justice, and why it’s your favorite.

PAB: I think my favorite story in MONKEY JUSTICE is “Raising the Dead.” It’s the story of a female photographer who comes up with the unusual, if slightly repulsive, idea of taking pictures of dead men. I like the fact that she’s a difficult woman and relate to her need to find a way to express herself. To find a way to succeed artistically. I like that the story is set in Detroit and is gritty. There are no pretty moments in the story or the book. No noble acts. She does a rather shocking thing at the end of the story. It’s not something most people can understand, but I felt it was consistent with who she was. And perhaps who I am. That’s why I tried to turn it into a novel. The novel is able to develop her, her relationship with several men, and with the city more fully.

RZ: Writing can be hard work. What motivates you to keep going? What inspires you?

PAB: Age motivates me. The idea that time is running out and I have to cram as much as possible into every day. There have always been reasons why I didn’t have enough time to write before this year, but all of them are gone now and there is nothing to do but to sit down in front of the screen and write. I am inspired by my husband who will write anytime he has ten minutes to spare. He is my greatest inspiration and my greatest supporter. He has never once suggested I put my writing aside to do something for him. I wish I could say the same.

RZ: What are you working on currently? And what’s next for you?

PAB: I have promised my writing group to spend more time in trying to place the two novels. Twice I tried to find an agent but gave up after less than a dozen queries. Again I am up against my cursed fear of failure. Better not to try than fail. Better to let the novels wither on my hard drive until someone carts me and the computer off.

I am also working on about half a dozen stories and have about that many coming out over the next few months. I also should say here that I take my blog very seriously, especially the attention we pay to forgotten books. I also like to promote other writers whenever I can. These are hard times. I don’t have to support myself through my writing and am miserable for those who do.

RZ: Besides Monkey Justice, what other work is available from you right now, and where can readers find it? Is there a place online where folks could go to learn more about you and your work?

PAB: My website has links to most of my stories still online. (http://pattinase.blogspot.com) I also have stories in the print journals DAMN NEAR DEAD 2, NEEDLE, CRIMEFACTORY: FIRST EDITION, BEAT TO A PULP: ROUND ONE and TWO, DEADLY TREATS, and D*CKED. And one in the new Ed Gorman anthology. Ed has included my stories in three of his anthologies and I am very grateful to him.

Patti, thanks so much for visiting Razored Zen.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Halfway Man

I'm not very happy with myself at the moment. I think I'll start calling myself "Halfway Man." Since the end of summer I've been spinning my wheels. I've got a short story about Orcs halfway done. I've got a memoir about my beer drinking days that I hope will be both funny and suitable for a Kindle/Nook publication. It's halfway done.

I'm halfway through the galleys for In the Language of Scorpions. I should have been "full done" long before this. I'm halfway or near that on the erotica collection I was talking about here a few weeks ago. I've only about half way decided to publish it to begin with.

I've had a sword and planet story published that I want to promote but I'm about halfway to getting around to that. Hell, I even opened a beer the other night, drank about half of it, and put it in the fridge that way. There was a halfway finished can of Clamato already in there. Now, those two are visiting with the half eaten Quarter Pounder I stuffed in there from a few days earlier. If I can't even finish a beer, what hope is there for my writing?

What isn't halfway done is less than that, and I'm about halfway decided to chunk it all and play video games. Let's see: I'm about halfway through Red Dead Redemption. Should I go on with that one or buy a different game. No doubt, Halfway Man will buy a different one.

Progress, thy name is not Charles Gramlich.
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Monday, November 14, 2011

Star Trek and Star Shatner

I just finished reading William Shatner’s autobiography, Up Till Now. I enjoyed it, although I most enjoyed the sections where he talked about Star Trek. It wasn’t as good as his books, Star Trek Memories and Star Trek Movie Memories, but those were all about “Trek” so that’s probably why I liked them so much. I’m a Trekker, Trekkie, Trekophile. Take your pick.

Of course, Shatner worked with other authors on these books so I don’t know how much was specifically him and how much his co-writer. But all three books had a great deal of humor in them, and they certainly humanized our Captain Kirk. Shatner went so far as to clearly acknowledge that a number of other cast members, such as Scotty, Chekov, and Uhuru, did not and do not like him, and he admitted that he might have some blame coming his way. He admits that he probably stepped on their lines at times or took them for himself, but he argues that he intended it to be for the good of the show. He does seem to have become a close friend of Leonard Nimoy. (That’s Spock for some of you non-Trekkers.)


If you’re a Star Trek fan, I’d highly recommend Star Trek Memories and Star Trek Movie Memories. Up till Now is more for the “Shatner” fan, and I think I’ve gradually become one over the years. He kind of grows on you.

What about you? Trek fan? Shatner fan? Anti-Trek? Anti-Shatner? Don’t worry about expressing your opinions. My phaser is on stun only.
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Friday, November 11, 2011

Razored Zen Interview: Travis Erwin

I think it’s time to run another author interview. My guest today is Travis Erwin, who has his first book out. It’s called The Feedstore Chronicles. I have my copy but have not read this one yet. I have read his short collection for the Kindle, called Whispers and loved it very much. I’m looking forward to his newest. Without further ado, here’s Travis. (RZ represents Razored Zen and I’m sure you can figure out what TE stands for.)

RZ: Tell us a little about yourself outside of writing. Home town. Family. Job. That sort of thing.

TE: Born and raised in Amarillo, Texas, I’ve never strayed too far from the crib. By day I work for the US Postal Service making certain the machines that sort the mail keep chugging along. Being that it’s nearly Christmas card season let me say glitter is an evil thing. When you mail a glittery card half of the sparkles end up in the bottom of postal machines . Meaning when I open them up to make a repair, I come away looking like a craft store junkie or an overzealous Twilight fan.

RZ: What made you want to write? Is it a desire that’s always been with you? Or was there some particular event or book that ignited the fire?

TE: Reading. I’ve always been an avid reader and for as long as I can remember I’ve had the thought: Hey I could make up characters and stories. But for years I saw publishing as an unobtainable goal for a country boy from Amarillo, Texas. Then I met a local writer, Jodi Thomas, who writes historical romance and mainstream. Seeing the success she’s had gave me the confidence to actively write with publication in mind. Still, it took better than a decade for me to find a publisher for my first book length project.

RZ: Writers always get asked about their influences. Consider this that question.

TE: There are the folks I know. My mentors. Writers like the aforementioned Jodi Thomas and Jennifer Archer and Debbie Upton that have patiently read, critiqued, and offered advice every step of the way. Then there are the authors I love to read and whose style influences me because when I grow up I hope to be just like them. I love Richard Russo for the way he builds communities of characters so real that I begin to think I used to live in the town where it was set. Christopher Moore and Carl Hiasson both taught me nothing is too absurd for the sake of humor, and David Sedaris made me realize poking fun of yourself is sometimes the only answer.
RZ: Travis, The Feedstore Chronicles is based upon your real life experiences working at a feed store in Texas. Can you tell us a bit about that?

TE: I’m not sure if you mean a bit about working at that feedstore or a bit about writing based on real life, so I’ll tackle both. Working at the feedstore for a man who is still the most morally bankrupt I’ve ever met was, in one word, an adventure. My boss would say or do anything and I was an eager but naive teenage boy in the throes of puberty. After my four year stint I felt a bit like a natural disaster survivor—lucky to be breathing. But these days I look back with nostalgic fondness on those years. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

As far as writing about that time. It was harder than I imagined. For one thing, I didn’t want to vilify the character based on my boss. He was a likeable guy and even though I haven’t seen or spoken to him in years I still consider him a friend. Some of the events, when taken out of context, would paint an ugly picture. So it took some manipulation to turn my experiences into a story that followed the arc I created, as well as retaining a strong element of humor. There were some experiences I wanted to include but I’m not entirely certain the statute of limitation is up so I left them out. Last thing I wanted was my book used as criminal evidence. I’m only half joking.

RZ: Writing can be hard work. What motivates you to keep going? What inspires you?

TE: I’m never satisfied. I suppose that is what keeps me going. I sold my first short story about 2 months into writing. I sold three or four more in the year that followed and then, for about 5 years there, I amassed nothing but rejections. That was hard and I did get discouraged, but back in the day I refereed high school football here in Texas and trust me when I say nothing an agent or editor says to me will ever compare to the criticism I heard back on those Friday nights. My wife and boys inspire me. They believe I can do the impossible so I keep battling along trying to prove them right.

RZ: What are you working on currently? And what’s next for you?

TE: Outside of promoting The Feedstore Chronicles I am working on another humorous food based book, titled Lettuce Is The Devil: The Culinary Dogma of a Devout Meat Man. It’s a tongue in cheek mixture of memoir, comedic essay, and cook book. I also have a trio of novels in various stages. A comedic women’s fiction project about a woman whose life is being ruined by sex, a serious work of literary fiction about a man trying to redeem himself before cancer claims his life, and an erotic western titled Saddle Up and Ride. Actually that last one is bullshit. The one thing I can’t seem to write is a steamy sex scene.

RZ: Besides The Feedstore Chronicles, what other work is available from you right now, and where can readers find it? Is there a place online, such as a blog, where folks could go to learn more about you and your work?

TE: I self-published a small, novella length collection of three stories called Whispers. The stories contained in it are much heavier emotionally than most of my writing, but I felt compelled to share them with the world. Whispers is available for 99 cents on both the Nook and Kindle. I also have a short story titled “Plundered Booty” in the e-anthology Deadly by the Dozen. “Plundered Booty” is perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had writing a story and I’m glad it found a home alongside 11 other great authors.
Travis, thanks for visiting Razored Zen.

Charles, thanks for having me. Yours has always been one of my favorite blogs and I can’t wait for the day when I get to meet you in person. Hopefully over a juicy steak and a cold beer.
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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Monday, November 07, 2011

CONtraflow Con

Had me a good time at CONtraflow Con. I got to meet David Brin, whose work I admire. I didn’t really get to talk to him very much because he always seemed to be on panels at the same time as mine. My most successful panel was one on Robert E. Howard. I had several enthusiastic attendees and we had a wide ranging discussion about Howard and his work.

I also sat on a panel called “Our Vampires are Different” with a number of other writers. We compared vampires from the Dracula era to the Twilight Era, and I tried to make the point that the Twilight vampires are “fantasy” vamps rather than “horror” vamps. I also argued that vampires have moved from villains in the early days, to anti-heroes after Anne Rice, to straightforward heroes in books such as Twilight.

I also gave a panel on writing and had about five folks, including a young man of High School age to whom I gave a copy of Write With Fire. I didn’t think it went all that well but I did get a lot of questions and that was good.

I sold a few books at the Howard panel but that was about it. I bought a lot of books, though. The CONtraflow charity was the New Orleans library and they had a book sale table there where I spent a considerable sum of money. I was glad the Dealer’s Room had a couple of book tables since fewer and fewer cons have much in the way of books in the dealer’s rooms these days.

I put in about fifteen straight hours today and got a lot done, but certainly not enough. A few more fifteen hour days should get me caught up at least, although not ahead. What I’d like to work on is a set of galleys for a new collection of my stories, which have been sitting on my computer for about two weeks without me even having time to look at them. This will be a collection of my hardcore horror work, which will be entitled In the Language of Scorpions. Maybe soon.
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Friday, November 04, 2011

CONtraflow and High Chaparral

Giving a test today, then taking off pretty quickly for CONtraflow con. I have a panel today on Robert E. Howard, followed by the opening ceremonies and the Meet the Guests Party. Tomorrow I have panels on Reading, Vampires, and Writing. Looking forward to all of them. David Brin is going to be there, whose work I admire greatly, so I hope to get to meet him.

Some of you might remember a Western TV series called High Chaparral. I enjoyed it, although it was short lived. I recently found a tie-in novel for the series, written by Steve Frazee, and started reading it. It's called The Apache Way.

In it, Blue and Manolito get captured by Apaches. Although I'm generally enjoying the book and the writing, Frazee did something that I hate for authors to do. While the captives are stumbling along behind an Apache warrior all bound up and nearly dying of thirst, Frazee writes a kind of: "one day they would both look back on this moment and be amazed they'd been able to survive it."

I wanted to pull my hair out. Yes, we're pretty sure already that the characters are going to live, but do you have to tell us like this, in the middle of a supposedly life-threatening situation?
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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Updating and Undead

Wow, it’s been a busy few weeks, and not likely to ease up for at least another week. However, I haven’t posted in a week and haven’t even been able to visit blogs the last few days. I even missed my scheduled blog post on Novel Spaces, which is not like me. So I thought I’d take a moment while I’m watching the Saints game (and it isn’t going well) to update the blog on what’s going on.

On Friday, I spoke to the Entre Nous Book Club for Halloween on the topic of “The Psychology of Fear.” There were about thirty folks there and the talk went really well. There were a lot of questions and discussion afterward, which is always enjoyable. The group then treated me to a delicious lunch at the Metairie Country Club. Thanks to Fe, Christie, Elaine, and all the members of Entre Nous for a great time.

Friday evening, Lana and I attended the Vampire Lestat Fan Club Vampire Ball in downtown New Orleans. A few technical glitches that delayed the start of the ball, but once things got rolling it was magnificent. Incredible costumes and the entertainers all rose to the occasion with great performances. Lana and I spent much of our time just watching the movement of the gorgeously costumed performers and attendees.

On Saturday, I spent most of the day at Undead Con 2, at the Chateau Bourbon hotel in the French Quarter. They had two great panels of writers and I got to meet and chat with most of them. I sat on the second panel of the afternoon, with Cynthia and Mike Arsuaga, Lewis Aleman, Robert Crutchfield Jr., and Kurt Amacker. We had great attendance and a lot of laughs. After that, there was a cocktail party with delicious food and more conversation. I much enjoyed myself. Thanks very much Dionne, Suzie, and Cher Groves for all their hard work in making the ball and the con a success, and for being kind enough to invite me.

Now I’m going to try to visit a few blogs, but bear with me for the next week as school work heats up and CONtraflow Con comes roaring in next weekend.
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Psychology of Fear

Still way too swamped to get much in the way of blogging done. Besides school work, I've got several writing related things coming up. I'll be giving a lunch time talk this coming Friday to the Entre Nous Book Club. I'm going to be talking about the Psychology of Fear for Halloween.

Right after I finish that talk, I'll be heading downtown in New Orleans to attend the Undead Con. This will be my first time as a guest of that Con and I'm really looking forward to it. The con takes place at the Chateau Bourbon Hotel and I'll have an author's panel on Saturday.

The following week I'll be attending CONtraflow in New Orleans. I'll be setting on panels about Robert E. Howard, Vampires, and writing. I'm looking forward to that as well. After that I'm going to take the following weekend totally off!

I'll leave you with a few definitions from my talk about fear.

Fear: a biological response of the body to a threat. Sympathetic nervous system activity (SNS). The FIGHT or FLIGHT response. Heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure go up. Sweating, butterflies, goosebumps.

FEAR is: more biological: Horror, terror, and suspense all contain major psychological factors.

Suspense: When something is about to happen. Something BIG. But not quite yet. Can be good or bad. Child waiting for Christmas Day. Patient waiting for test results.

Terror: When the suspense is dark and threatening. When what you expect to happen is bad. Since the happening is not there yet, it isn’t quite fear.

Horror: When what’s about to happens--Happens. And it ain’t pretty.” FEAR is always an element of horror, that SNS response. Horror also has at least a little bit of disgust with it.

Suspense is when the person says: “I just wish something would happen. Anything. I can’t stand the waiting.”

Horror is when the person: Wishes they were still in suspense because what’s happening to them is far worse than the waiting.
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Aging and Raging

I’m still really swamped at work so I’m going to continue being relatively scarce on blogger for the next couple of weeks. Just a quick thought today on Aging and Raging. I was listening to Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” yesterday. The opening line is: “I stand up next to a mountain. And I chop it down with the edge of my hand.”

Jimi was young when he did this song, of course, and young when he died. I remember hearing “Voodoo Child” when I was young, and feeling the power flow through me. I felt the same way, felt like I could challenge a mountain and whip it, felt like I could take the scraps of that mountain and build an island, as Jimi sang. I remember one day, at sixteen, I’m barreling down a rough back road on the dirt bike I had at the time. I’m pushing the motorcycle as hard as I can, and the speed, and my youth are making me feel invulnerable. I take both hands off the handle bars, lift them high and give the world a big “F You.”

Good thing the world didn’t toss a rut in my way at just that moment. I might have experienced road rash a long time before I actually did. Or worse. I don’t know about you, but I remember feeling invincible as a teenager. You stand up in the storm and the thunder rolls over your head and the lightning strikes the ground around you, and you feel your heart running like a wild horse, and you know nothing can bring you down.

I remember in my twenties reading Dylan Thomas’s:
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Those words ignited in me. I had no doubt that I’d do exactly that. By then, perhaps, I could imagine being taken down by a force bigger than myself. But I still knew I’d go down fighting.

It’s a long way from twenty-five to fifty-three. One by one my sureties are fading. Most of the time, my raging seems to have changed to aging. I like to think its wisdom and, if so, it took it long enough to work through my thick skull. But like I said, the sureties are fading. I’m not so sure it’s not just fear.

Still a great song, though! Have a listen! Voodoo Child.

Still a great poem! Have a look: Dylan Thomas.
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Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Year of Reading Dangerously

Those who have been visiting my blog regularly may remember that I keep records of the books I read and that I measure my reading year from birthday to birthday. Being that the 14th was my birthday, I have now compiled my yearly report.

I read 118 books this past year, up 2 from last year and down 6 from the year before that. In general, my reading habits remained very consistent from last year, 13 nonfiction reads in each year, 2 classics, 21 SF, and 5 poetry works. I was up 2 on westerns, to 15, and down 6 in thriller/mystery, to 18. The three most notable changes were as follows: 1. I was down 6 in fantasy, for a total of 5, the lowest number of fantasy novels that I’ve read in a year since I began keeping detailed records (1988). 2. I was up to a total of 11 in graphic novels, the highest number since I’ve been keeping records. (I didn’t even have a category for graphic novels until about three years ago.) 3. I hit 7 on reread books, the highest number ever in my personal history. (I didn’t have this category until about 10 years ago.

Why the changes? Well, ever since I read The Watchmen I’ve been going up on reading graphic novels, hoping for a repeat of that classic. So far, not. But hope remains. And, some of those graphic novels would be classified as fantasy, so my fantasy count may not be down as much as it seems. As for the reread books? For most of the last 30 years I’ve virtually refused to reread a book because there were so many “new” books out there. Since about 2003, though, I’ve started to allow myself more “comfort” reads, books that I know without a doubt I’ll enjoy. I suspect it has something to do with aging.

So that’s my year-of-reading report. I’m gonna try to make my blogging rounds now, although I’m still going to be fairly scarce for a while. I just finished a major editing job for which I was spending several hours a day, and finished grading a test I gave Thursday. Unfortunately, next week is midterm time for us at Xavier and I’m going to be doing a lot of grading for the next few days. After that I hope things will get back to normal.

Later.
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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bullied by Life and Work

Life and work are ganging up on me right now. I'd report them to someone for bullying me but the folks I'd report them to are probably on the side of the bullies. Certainly no time to write any fiction, although the ideas are coming fast and furious. I'm gonna try to maintain my blogging for now but will be making some short posts for a bit.

Today I'll just casually drop a mention of Write With Fire, my book on writing, which is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Here's a little piece from the introduction about the book:

If you’re wondering why you’re holding a book on writing by someone who is not famous, well, most writers aren’t famous. Most of us work hard at our craft without the benefit of big advances and multi-city tours. Most of us never have autograph parties with lines so long that our hands cramp from signing our names. For many of us, writing is something that we beg, borrow, or steal the time for while our other job keeps the bill collectors at bay.

I’m lucky that as a college teacher in the field of psychology part of my job is to write and to teach and study writing. I hope that’s given me a perspective on the field that can be of use to others, but like most of you reading this I still struggle for every bit of writing success that I get. That struggle has been long, and it’s taught me a few things that I’ve tried to put into the essays that follow. I hope you enjoy.

In case you're wondering what's in the book, you can "look inside" at Amazon. But here's the table of contents below:

Part One: ……………………………………………………………
So You Want to be a Writer ……………………………………
First Words …………………………………………………….……
Writer’s Block No More ……….………………………….…………
Tipping the Odds in Your Favor ……………………….……………
Writing with Purpose ………..………………………………………
Don’t Talk, Write! ..……..…………………………………………..
Writing With Confidence …….……………………………………..
RQW3R …………………………………………………..…………
Five Habits of Publishing Writers ………………………………….
Quick Versus Slow Suspense ……………………………………….
Six Steps to Creating Suspense ............…………………………
The Mechanics of Suspense ……...…..……………………………..
Creating Sympathetic Characters …........………………….……
Characters: The Best and the Rest ….…….....…………………
Harvesting Memories ……….……………………………………….
Writing Your Past for Fun and Profit ………………………………
The First Rule of Endings ……………………………………………
The Curse of the Lazy Ending ……………………………………….
Endings: What’s at Stake ……………………………………………
The Physical Side of Writing …………………………………..……
One Way to Put a Style Together ……………………………………
Writing for Excess (With “Barbarian’s Bane”) ………………………
Writing With Attitude ……………………………….……………….
Selling and Reselling (With “To The Point”) ………….…………….
The Working Man’s Curse …………….……….…………….………
Punctuate It and Forget It! …………………….………….…………..
Problem Words ……………………………………………………….
A Grammar Primer …………………………………………………...
Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite ……………………………………………
By Example ………………………………………………………….
Before you Submit, Don’t Forget ..…………………………………

Part Two: ………………………………………………………………
Writing Groups …………………….………………………………...
Page-Turners: What Makes Them, What Breaks Them ..…………
In Praise of the Net ……................…..………………………………
Blogging: Pros and Cons ..….……………………………………….
Pro Versus Amateur ………………………………………………….
Expand Your Mind …………………………………………………..
Fun With Fear ………………………………………………………..
Why Horror ………………………………………………………….
Horror Writers: The Crazy Truth …………..…….………………
The Horror Lists ……………………………………………………..
Dream Stories …………………….…………………….……………
Criticism Hurts ………………………………………………………
An Error in Detail ..........................
Ernest Hemingway: A Writer’s Life and Death ..…………….……
Jack London: Two Fisted Writer …………………………………….
Ken Bulmer: A Death in the Family..………………………………..
Where Have all the Good Themes Gone ……………………….……
Writing Weather ……………………………………………………..
What the Writer Wants ..……………………………………………..
Rest in Peace: Short Story .………………………………………….
Five Years Down the Road …………………………………………..

Part Three ..……………………………………………………………
A Writer on the Run …………………………………………………
Readin’, Writin’ and Me ……………………………………………..
Death By Prose ..……………………………………………………..


Bibliography ..………………………………………………………… P. 286
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Monday, October 10, 2011

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Erotica

ADDED NOTE: I'd forgot about this, but an interview with me just went up over at Penny Ehrenkranz's blog. I hope you can check it out.
And now, back to my original blog post for today.

I’ve blogged before about a strange goal I’ve had in my writing life to try and publish something in every genre. In pursuit of that goal, many years ago now, I had an erotica story published under a pseudonym. I used the pseudonym because my mom was still alive at the time, and she would not have approved. When I was a teenager my mom didn’t even like me reading anything with sex in it. She once picked up a book I’d borrowed from my older sister that had sex scenes in it. That was not a pleasant day when I got home from school, and I know it was worse for my sister, who I’m sure got a sound chewing out.

Even worse, when I was in high school my mom found one of my notebooks in which I’d written down a scene that had sex in it. I still vaguely remember that scene, and it was incredibly tame even by the standards of the time. Nevertheless, it was sex and she was not happy. I didn’t get yelled at too much; I got the “disappointment,” and that was far worse.

I did later publish stories with sex in them while mom was alive. I just didn’t tell her about them. But I didn’t publish anything in which sex was pretty much the sole purpose of the tale. Except that one pseudonymous story. This brings me to today’s post.

I’m thinking of republishing that old erotic story as a .99 cent kindle ebook. I haven’t decided on a title yet, and I have no idea at present about a cover. I’m trying to decide whether to use my own name or another pseudonym. I do intend to acknowledge it if I publish it, but it might still be best to use a pseudonym. The thing is, although the books published under Charles Allen Gramlich have been in different genres, they have all had a strong sense of adventure at the core of them (except for some of the stuff in Midnight in Rosary, I guess.) This story would not have that so it seems reasonable to establish a different name for it. I had once thought about writing a romance novel and using the name “Pamela Charles” on it. I have a feeling that erotica sells better with a female author’s name on it, but I don’t know for sure. Maybe someone here knows. So here are my questions to my fellow bloggers.

1. Is there any likelihood that publishing an erotica story would hurt the sales of my other titles? I guess here I’m wondering if there is still any stigma attached to publishing erotica. I have to admit, and it’s probably my Catholic upbringing, it still sometimes seems a little questionable to me.

2. What do you think about a pseudonym? Should I use a female one, and, if so, what about Pamela Charles?

3. For anyone that has published or read a .99 cent ebook, what kind of word count do you typically look for in such a work? Especially for erotica?

4. As for covers, how and where do people get covers for erotica?

As always, thanks for reading.
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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Razored Zen Interview: Bret Funk

My guest today on Razored Zen Author Interview is Bret Funk. Bret is another Louisiana author. I’ve known him for a lot of years now. I’m not quite sure how many. I first met him at a local science fiction convention where we were both guests. Bret is the author of the acclaimed Boundary’s Fall fantasy series, and editor and publisher of Tyrannosaurus Press. He also edits The Illuminata, for which I’ve written a lot of articles and essays over the years, including quite a few that appeared in my book Write With Fire. Now, here’s Bret. (RZ represents Razored Zen and BF is Bret.)

RZ: Tell us a little about yourself outside of writing. Home town. Family. Job. That sort of thing.

BF: I grew up in southern New Jersey, not too far from Philadelphia. It was a rural area when I was born but morphed into a suburban haven, full of housing developments and strip malls, during my childhood. Two sisters. Parents who worked hard. Good friends. But it was still NJ, so as soon as I graduated high school, I left.

College was a choice between Boston and New Orleans. A conveniently-timed visit to Tulane in February sold me on New Orleans. It was only after I returned in August of 1994 that I realized the pleasant February weather was partnered with ridiculously hot summers. For someone that had been always hot in NJ, that posed a problem.

I majored in Biochemistry, got a Master’s degree in Epidemiology, all with the intention of going to medical school. Fate intervened, medical school didn’t happen immediately, and as I watched many of my med school friends grow tired and miserable, I decided that it might not be the wisest career choice. I started writing, and since I couldn’t survive off my words, I went back to doing what I did in high school: fix computers. I’ve been in IT ever since.

RZ: What made you want to write? Is it a desire that’s always been with you? Or was there some particular event or book that ignited the fire?

BF: There was no particular event, but I’ve always had an active imagination. Giant battles were arrayed across the attic of my house (fantastic crossover wars with Transformers, army men, dragons, and even the occasional My Little Pony when troops were in short supply). I tend to pose myself a lot of “what if” questions, and try to follow those thoughts to their conclusion. And I have a tendency to criticize, and a habit of listing (in my head, at least) all the things I would have done differently to make a given book, TV show, or movie better. Eventually I decided to walk the walk, and I started writing down my own stories. It was tougher than I thought, and even tougher to get noticed. So I should offer a blanket apology now; some of the things I was critical of were probably more a result of the industry and less the fault of the author.

RZ: Writers always get asked about their influences. Consider this that question.

BF: I can’t, and probably shouldn’t for fear of forgetting someone, provide any particular list of authors who have influenced my writing. I have gravitated to science fiction and fantasy since childhood, with a tendency toward epic fantasy. Stories that are character driven over those that are plot driven. As a child, I preferred tales where the good guys won absolutely; as an adult, I tend to favor stories with more nuanced conclusions, where the line between good and evil is blurred in both protagonist and antagonist, and where even the noblest characters suffer for the choices they make.

RZ: Bret, tell us a little about Tyrannosaurus Press.

BF: Tyrannosaurus Press is an independent publishing house of speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror, alternate reality, etc.) born out of frustration with the way the publishing industry worked, and how difficult it was for an unknown author to get any sort of voice. Sadly, the demands of life mean that it does not always get the attention it deserves, but we have published five novels and two anthologies to date, and our ezine, the Illuminata, is about to enter its tenth year. Our goal remains the same: to help unknown but promising authors find ways to get their words seen, with the hopes of furthering their writing careers.

RZ: Writing can be hard work. What motivates you to keep going? What inspires you?

BF: Writing is an escape for me. It gives me the much needed break from reality that we all need to continue functioning. For me, writing is a better escape than watching TV or movies, or even reading, because it also offers me mental exercise as well. Figuring out how each character should react in a given situation, and the consequences born of those characters’ decisions, excites me. It’s that excitement, coupled with the rush of a finished story, that inspires me most.

RZ: What are you working on currently? And what’s next for you?

BF: At the moment, I am preparing to start the final volume of the Boundary’s Fall series. After that… I have a number of other ideas, but I haven’t decided which one will get my attention next.

RZ: What work is available from you right now, and where can readers find it? Is there a place online where folks could go to learn more about you and your work?

BF: I have four novels in the Boundary’s Fall series (Path of Glory, Sword of Honor, Jewel of Truth, and Forge of Faith) available now in bookstores. The latter books are available in ebook formats as well. By the end of the year, we hope to have all four books available in Kindle, Nook, and ePUB formats. There’s also a smattering of short stories available across the web, and a number of articles in the archives for the Illuminata, which are available on our website (www.tyrannosauruspress.com).
Bret, thanks for visiting Razored Zen.

NOTE: Bret’s books are also available in print on the websites for Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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Monday, October 03, 2011

A Couple of Announcements

A couple of quick things. I mentioned Treasure Island in my previous post and how I was hoping to reread it soon. Well, I found that it was free for the Kindle on Amazon and quickly downloaded it. If you want it for free, the link is: here.

Also, the second issue of Rick Moore's White Cat Publications magazine is up online. I've read a couple of stories already and they are very good. The general link is here. There's also some exciting stuff coming up over there.

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Saturday, October 01, 2011

Treasure Planet

We watched Treasure Planet last night. This was my second time, Lana's first. This is a Disney animated movie, in case you don't know. It's based on Treasure Island but with all the action transplanted to space instead of the high seas. It starts similarly to Treasure Island but then moves further and further away from that story as it progresses.

I like the movie quite a lot. It engages my imagination. It's got pirates in space and a bit of a Space Opera / Sword and Planet feel. However, Lana told me it lost 80 million dollars when it was released and is considered Disney's biggest flop. Wow!

At first I couldn't figure out why it lost money, but I think maybe I've figured it out. 1) It's a bit too complicated for really young kids. 2) it's not sophisticated or modern enough for teenagers. 3) There's no love interest for the young man, Jim, which is a staple of many Disney classics such as The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. 4. The story seems targeted more toward a male audience with its subplot of a developing relationship between Jim and Silver, who becomes the boy's sort of surrogate father.

All in all, I thought it was well worth my time, but I'm apparently one of the few. If you saw it, what did you think? Do you have any idea why it may have done so poorly?
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dreams in the Fire, A Review

Dreams in the Fire (2011)
Edited by Mark Finn and Chris Gruber, Cover by Jim and Ruth Keegan.

Dreams in the Fire contains stories and poems inspired by Robert E. Howard. Proceeds go to Project Pride, the community organization from Cross Plains, Texas, that takes care of the Robert E. Howard House and museum in Cross Plains. All the authors in this collection are long-term fans of Robert E. Howard, and though not all are professional writers, their passion for Howard’s work shows clearly through. Even those who have not been widely published bring their best to these tales, and they can all feel pride in their work. Here’s my take on the pieces.

Introduction by Rusty Burke: Discusses Robert E. Howard Fandom, particularly the group known as REHupa, which almost every contributor to this collection is either a current or past member of.

“A Gathering of Ravens” by Charles Gramlich: My story about a sword slinging female warrior.

“The Rhymester of Ulm” by James Reasoner: A thief robs a bard of his magic pen. Or does he? Reasoner is the biggest name author in the collection.

“The Word” by Rob Roehm: “Carl Macon owned the land, all of it.” A flash fiction western style tale about taking a stand.

“This Too Will Go Its Way” by Barbara Barrett: A fine poem that evokes a strong sense of nostalgia.

“CSI: Kimmeria” by Robert Weinberg: Weinberg is also a widely known name. This one is written as a kind of play. I’m not the most sensitive guy but I thought I detected a satirical and humorous edge.

“Bloody Isle of the Kiyah-rahi” by Christopher Fulbright: Robert Howard wrote many pirate stories and this one is a fine tribute to that genre.

“Son of Song” by Frank Coffman: A tribute to Howard and my favorite poem in the collection.

“Avatar” by Jimmy Cheung: Good sword & sorcery fiction. It had my favorite opening line of any of the tales: “It was a corpse city infested with the living.” I would like to see an expanded version of this at some point.

“Belit’s Refrain” by Barbara Barrett: Belit is my favorite female character from the Howard stories. This was a very nice poem that captured her essence.

“Now With Serpents He Wars” by Patrick R. Burger: A Knights of the Round Table story. I much enjoyed the use of sorcery in this one.

“Best to Let it Lie” by Danny Street: A poem that captures the kind of nihilistic outlook on life that Howard’s poetry often expressed.

“Two Dragons Blazing: A Tale of the Barbarian Kabar of El Hazzar” by Angeline Hawkes: Kabar must find a way into hell to save his beautiful sister.

“The Nights’ Last Battle” by Amy Kerr: A long poem that captures Howard’s voice well when he was writing his more bombastic style of poetry.

“Sailor Tom Sharkey and the Phantom of the Gentlemen Farmer’s Commune” by Mark Finn: A humorous tale that reflects the kind of storytelling that Howard handled so deftly with his humorous boxing stories of Sailor Steve Costigan.

“I Am a Martian Galley Slave!” by David A. Hardy: My favorite story in the collection. The use of language is superb and the characterization is excellent. This one deserves to be nominated for an award.

“A Spirit on the Wind” by Frank Coffman: Another fine tribute to Howard by Coffman.

“Dead River Revenge” by Chris Gruber: This was my second favorite story in the collection. Lots of brutal action and a setting that recalls the Conan story, “Beyond the Black River.” The character of “Billy” is the most Howardian character in the collection without being a pastiche of a Howard character.

“The Moon” by Barbara Barrett: A very short, almost haiku ode to the battle between the sun and moon.

“No Other Gods” by Gary Romeo: Essentially a Conan pastiche, although using a character named Tanan.

“A Meeting in the Bush” by Morgan Holmes: Not so much a story as a sketch of an interesting meeting between two iconic characters in the jungle. I think you’ll be able to figure out the characters pretty easily.

“Blades of Hell” by Don Herron: An appropriately bloodthirsty ending poem.

Afterword by Mark Finn: Talks a bit about putting this project together.

Notes on the Contributors: Short pieces about each of the featured authors. You get to find out how most of them are connected to Howard fandom.

I highly recommend this collection, and it’s for a very good cause.
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Monday, September 26, 2011

Over at Novel Spaces today

I'm over at Novel Spaces today, talking about the use and overuse of description in fiction. I hope you'll join me.
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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Writing and Sensuality

Sensuous writing, to me, has little to do with sexuality. It has to do, in large part, with engaging the senses, of enmeshing the reader in a world of lush experience. Ray Bradbury is a sensuous writer. Robert E. Howard was, despite the fact that he is often considered a hyper-masculine author. When you read Bradbury or Howard you feel the chill wind, taste bitter drink, hear the crack of ice, and pant from the heat. But the details are put together in such a way as to create a sense of exotic beauty. And there is more. Sensuous writing not only excites the senses, it creates a mood, most often a melancholy one.

Poul Anderson was a master of sensuous writing. His book The Broken Sword, or his long story “The Queen of Air and Darkness” illustrate Anderson’s love of language and command over mood. They sing with poetry. Even the darkest imagery is combined with a sense of sad beauty.

For me, and feel free to say if you disagree, I find the most sensuous writing in the fantasy genre, followed by science fiction. Mainstream literature seems to be suspicious of sensuous writing, and hard bitten genres like noir and crime fiction try to immerse the reader in gritty detail. These stories also create a mood, but not one that is infused with beauty. There are times when I want just that kind of mood, but more often than not I seek out the beautiful, even if that beauty is tinged with darkness.

I strive for sensuality when I write, and I think I’ve gotten closest to it in my fantasy work, such as in the Talera Trilogy, and in some of the stories that appeared in Midnight in Rosary. While many of the stories in “Midnight” feature vampires, most of these are not ‘horror’ vampires but ‘fantasy’ vampires. And there is a clear difference. Sensuality is important to fantasy vampires, while gritty savagery is the drape that clothes horror vampires. Some time back, I put up a link to a free story from Midnight in Rosary. I’ll post it again here since it indicates the kind of sensuality I’m talking about (and in this case has some sexuality as well.) The story is called “The Poetry of Blood” and the link is here.

I’ll end with a couple of quick passages from the Talera series, these two from Wings Over Talera. Here, for the first time, Ruenn MacLang meets Vohanna. With Vohanna, I hoped to create a villain who would combine both beauty and evil, attraction and threat. These are important elements of sensuality in the language of fantasy literature. At least, I think so.

1). There were no adornments anywhere upon Vohanna—-no web of black pearls in her silken flag of hair, no bright jewels at her finely sculpted ears, no copper brassards clasping her upper arms. She wore no kohl to darken her sable lashes, no paint upon lips that were already riper than the rising sun.

In her form, she looked guileless and fragile. In her face, she looked...innocent. But her gaze was ancient and black upon mine, with firefly runes twining and beating in the depths of her glance. I felt that glance like a bruise.

2). Vohanna took another step toward me. And a third. Down the skull steps from her throne she came, and it seemed her sandals spurned the dusky wine that cascaded beneath her feet. Her eyes teemed with scarlet embers and with...other things.

“Kneel to me, Ruenn,” she said.
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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Razored Zen Interview: Mark C. Durfee

My next Razored Zen Author Interview features Mark Durfee. Mark is the first poet I’ve interviewed. Mark is a Detroit poet, what very well may be a breed apart. I’ve never met Mark in person but I know him from the online blogging community, and from his “Stink” trilogy, which includes Stink, The Line Between, and Scent of the Garden Within. I have read each of the volumes and reviewed them on Goodreads. Good stuff. So, here’ssssss Mark. (RZ represents Razored Zen and you know the drill on MCD by now.)

RZ: Tell us a little about yourself outside of writing. Home town. Family. Job. That sort of thing.

MCD: On steamy day in July of ’54 Mother Durfee had her second baby boy who was her fourth child. Though she had one more, two years later, she knew the oddest of all her children had been born already. That’d be me. I was born in Detroit and for the past 57 years never had a permanent address that didn’t have Detroit in it. I was born at the right time to be able to see the city at the tipping point of 1.7 million people to the current 700 thousand.

Our household was one of very literate, highly educated people, but I only paid half the fare so I became literate but not formally educated beyond high school. I enlisted in the navy at age 17 to get away from a mixed bag of problems, some self caused, some attributable to others but in either case now 40 years later I know it was the right thing to do. I may be the only honorably discharged veteran in the history of the United States to never fire a weapon, not even in boot camp. I had the compartment watch duty that day and was never rescheduled to hit the firing range.

My father went from his HS diploma to a PhD. In chemical engineering in the 5 years after WWII, my mother had her MSW by age 23 (social worker) and all of my siblings have advanced degrees, while I still need twenty some credits to get an associates degree in something. The thing about that much education in one house does is there were always books, newspapers, and an expectation that we would use them. My folks didn’t care what we read as long as we read. My father was a practicing alcoholic but a genius when it came to chemistry and especially polymers and plastics but he considered me to be his stupid child because I never could do basic algebra. Lord knows in his sober moments he tried to teach me but then I had more fun not understanding what a slide ruler was for but enjoyed making the parts move. I think it safe to say that I am my mother’s child, that woman could cut through more red tape for more people than any ten social workers and she spent 45 years at the same agency eventually rising to run the place.

The one thing I have always appreciated about my parents is they never shielded us from anything, nightly news with Walter Cronkite was mandatory. Many nights we never ate together but the Civil Rights, Viet Nam war and political news was a mandatory event. I believe they wanted us to understand not just the present but the effect of wars and what the black community not only in the south but in America has been through, they were good straight ticket democrats and personally I think they would be made crazy by today’s political situation after having lived as teens in the Depression of the 30’s and the war right after it.

After I was discharged from the navy, a few months before my 21st birthday, I looked around at a country still in turmoil with the winding down of Viet Nam (no I am not a combat veteran, I was a deep water sailor on a small ship on the North Atlantic.) and Watergate. The Arab oil embargo effects were still being felt and I looked at going into one of the auto plants for a job but I just couldn’t force myself to do that. Nothing wrong with it, it was a great living for them that could stand the same thing day after day but being at sea ruined that part of me. On the day I turned 21 I stuck my thumb out and 8 or so hours later I was somewhere in central Illinois.

I had no plan but to see what there was in America. So for the next 4 years I just moved about, sometimes I would work in the fields for a few days and other times just walk whichever way I was headed. In the military I had seen most of the East Coast cities so I pretty much stayed away from them and it was not un-common to spend a few weeks just quietly camping in the tree line. I never had any expectation for any particular day but it was at that time in my life I was able to be alone with the spirit of our being. And I found out through pointed questioning of that spirit creation and evolution are not mutually exclusive. One has to do some unbiased research into it but they are both in my belief structure true. The cosmos and all in it, included man was created many billions of years ago.

In ‘79 I came back to Detroit got married and divorced and had 2 children in between a very short marriage. They were still babies when my ex took them to a smaller town because she knew she didn’t want them to grow up in Detroit. I don’t blame her to be honest and she married again to a great guy who did a wonderful job raising the kids. But farm country just wasn’t for me, I knew there would be no way I could make a living so I let them go without to much problem and did my best to maintain some relationship with my darling children. I met my current wife in ’83 or so and we have been together ever since. It was a package deal and I inherited another son 3 months older than the one living in Farmville.

In the meantime I went to work for the city of Detroit and spent 20 years in four different departments, by far my favorite was the Art Department hanging art at the Detroit Institute of Art. That is one of the few places I can honestly say I was able to with the curators explanations get a fine education in the different schools of art and styles used. *shrug* 5 years and bad times hit and I had to go back to laboring in a fresh water plant. Eventually I finished up as a general auto mechanic when I blew out my L4-L5 disc and that was that. I was forced into a disability retirement. And two years later was in a roll over crash that broke my neck which stopped the idea of going back to work. That was 12 years ago, so since then I have been on a permanent week end.

So to end this question I was a blue collar working guy, I have never lived anywhere but Detroit permanently, never was a suburban type (not that there’s anything wrong with that) I have 3 kids 1 an engineer, 1 working on becoming an engineer, and my daughter who is an adrenaline junkie is an EMTS. My wife (commonly referred to as The Old Lady) and I have been together the better part of 30 years and even though we live on 25% of what I was making when I had a job I, believe all is pretty good for us personally. We are fortunate to have no debt, don’t mind driving beaters for cars and most of our neighbors actually, we get along with.

RZ: What made you want to write? Is it a desire that’s always been with you? Or was there some particular event or book that ignited the fire? Why poetry as opposed to prose?

MCD: I think that the poetry and the earlier wanderlust will have to be blamed on my grandmother. She was a wonderful woman who lived to 105. As soon as she could she left the farm outside of Ottawa and went to teachers college then moved four thousand miles away from home by herself to teach English in Calgary Alberta. It was still a cow town in 1907 and she stayed for 5 years before moving to Toronto. Once she married in her early 30’s she settled down and was content to be a housewife. She took care of me and my younger brother when I was between 3-6. She didn’t like children’s stories but in the afternoon while dinner was cooking and she had time to sit, she read poetry to me. I can’t claim that I understood it, but she knew how to read it and I loved the sound of her voice as she read. She introduced me to Dickinson, Frost, Guest, Sandburg and her other favorites. Once I was able to read for myself at about age 5 I always included some poetry in my choices among the comic books and other young adult books. Shel Silverstein wasn’t around yet but I was able by then to at least understand short works by the likes of Stephan Crane.

When I first started to put pen to paper at about age 14, spending hours writing a piece, I think it was to piss my father off. He thought I should be out playing football (fat kid, hold that line!) or baseball but like the factories later, that just wasn’t for me. I never followed sports, although I did like seeing Gordie Howe’s picture in the paper when he had dropped the gloves and was smiling with another tooth gone. To be honest I have rudimentary understanding of the rules of hockey but the rest of them…well the Old lady has to explain them to me if I sit and watch a game with her. She is the fan of the family.

Once I started writing though I never stopped, I like the solitude of writing and it is usually poetry that I write. Funny thing was when I returned from boot camp all of my journals had been burned and for once I did the right thing, kept my mouth shut. Just kept on writing but for the next thirty or so years I never kept any of it. I would write and drop it over the side for Poseidon to read and judge or just hit the circular file with it. A couple of times during that period some curious people would pay for my lunch as a trade for the napkin I was writing on. That was an interesting experience, but still when you are living out of a back pack you don’t waste space with pages of paper.

Now I have been keeping most everything I write because Michelle Brooks (Michelle’s spells—the only creative writing professor I ever had) said she would beat me if I threw any more writing away. So now I delete instead of throw away (just kidding Brooks). I don’t have this burning desire that will bust my gut to get published or anything so intense that I will go even more insane if I don’t write about it, but like Brooks taught me “There is poetry in everything.” I am just one of those fortunate souls who are able to see it.

I write prose, I just don’t often put out it out there. I have 6 or 7 completed novels that all need an editor’s hand and a few dozen essays and short stories. I am a poet though and it took me decades before I could say that about myself and become comfortable in those shoes. If one were to Google up “All I wanted was a little weed Mark C Durfee” they would come to Ivan Prokupchucks blog where he published that story. That is an example of my prose, a short memoir I wrote a few years back.

RZ: Writers always get asked about their influences. Consider this that question.

MCD: The easy answer would be who. I could run through a list of poets and writers that range from Yeats and Crane to Dickens and Dostoyevsky. I have favorite contemporary poets and musicians that I listen to and honestly love their work but what influences me I think most is yesterday, and today. Situations and people that come to mind who are for the most part voiceless or lost, crowded out by life’s loud and arrogant people. I have been in that position and I never liked it, then a couple of decades ago I learned to not be afraid to speak so in my own way I am speaking for my younger self as well as others who may stumble upon some of my work and find they can be courageous if they find a way to lose their fears. That one thought drives me, fear kills and I want most people to live, that they may learn to love honestly and fearlessly.

RZ: Mark, much of your poetry has a clear sense of place about it, and that place is Detroit. What is it about Detroit that sets you off?

MCD: Although I have spent my life here I do not love Detroit. I have great respect for her but it just seems that it has become too easy for the rest of the nation to say “bulldoze Detroit” and that pisses me off. I am honest, brutally so in my poetry that is centered on this city. I am not afraid to tell the truth of Detroit today. But Detroit is so ugly it is beautiful in its own way, it redefines beauty while at the same time acts as a portrait of the way America herself could find itself in as short as another decade if we don’t set our minds united to solving the great divide that is happening right now nationally.

Detroit since the early 20th century has always been segregated, not as racially as it is now but ethnically. Everyone who came here from somewhere else for a job moved into neighborhoods that they made their own. The Irish one place, the Poles another, Hispanics another etc. and no one ever integrated anywhere but on the factory floors. But what I find odd is that this city was one of the true drivers of the middle class, that group that earned a living wage and had access to some small luxuries like college for the kids or a boat or summer cottage.

Now that the factories are mostly gone, decaying or torn down the population within the city for the most part still does not yet value education because for generations, an 8th grade education could get you a great job. Those families that did value education when it was affordable have moved on now so what we are left with is a class of people who are semi-literate, and struggling with a 25% unemployment rate, not able to help their kids with homework and stuck in place. I could leave but I keep asking myself where would I go that I could do more than where I am at right now. I tutor first graders in reading, I do open mic’s in the suburbs and the city and I mentor other writers who ask for the help.

I don’t see Detroit as a hopeless place but rather like one of those voiceless people I mentioned earlier and I have a blog and a voice and I try to use both to reach an audience to inform them that “hey we are still here, we are able to work but someone has to come and do something with this 75 square miles of vacant and abandoned land within the city limits.” I see a reason for hope in a hopeless place and I want to stick around long enough to see some real change created by the hands of the people who live here. I don’t know what form that change would take but we are not on any known fault lines, are not prone to hurricanes, flooding or tornadoes and don’t have particularly brutal winters. That seems to me to be a starting point for some companies to come in here and build big projects, nuclear plants, hydrogen plants or anything that needs people who know how to use their hands and heads when putting things together.

RZ: What, or who, inspires you?

MCD: I do not like the word god. It is too generic a word. Who inspires me is that being that squeezed all matter so tightly it exploded into a cosmos for us to be awed by. I am still inspired by stars dressed in a dark blue cloth of sky. After that knowing my own individuality and commonality with others inspires me to want to keep breathing for awhile yet, I don’t think I am ready to have the last page of my personal book written yet. But if so I at least know I have been kind and done all I could do while I was here. In short that point where the mortal touches the infinite is my greatest inspiration.

RZ: Are you working on anything currently? What’s next for you?

MCD: I am not physically setting anything down for publication right now. The Stink trilogy took me about two and a half years to write and edit so I am not quite ready yet to shift gears to another theme. But I am thinking on a book of the political poetry I have been writing off and on because I am one who is always ready to make known my thoughts on religion (mostly a decent place to start but a poor place to end) and politics, which since the Reagan era has run the train of America off the tracks that a greatly diverse nation should be on. I am also thinking of doing an anthology with another much younger poet, I love her work and it is just as honest and raw as my own usually is, but she has a greatly different perspective on life. Either way it would be 6 months or so before anything would be ready. But the beauty of self publication once it is done the rest moves pretty fast.

RZ: What work is available from you right now and where can readers find it? Is there a place online where folks could go to learn more about you and your work?

MCD: I self publish, even though all of the three previous books have a publisher listed to get an ISBN for them, but the only way to get the books you named in your intro is at detstink@gmail.com I do it this way because it keeps the cost down. If I went the conventional publishing route the books would be subject to editing I may not want and the price would be in the $15-$17 range. So far I have been able to sell each 80 page book for $10 US and that includes return postage to anywhere in the world. Generally I am not trying to make a great profit on these books but just to be heard and maybe in being heard help someone find their way out of a briar patch.

No one, including myself has written a Wikipedia page about me yet so the only way to learn more about me is to ask me. I write The Walking Man blog where I float quite a bit of my poetry.

Mark, thanks for visiting Razored Zen.

From the bottom of my being Charles, thank you. It is to me a great honor to appear here and get a chance to really think out again why I am and how I have come to be as I am. I truly appreciate your readers and find them not only to have a wonderful sense of humor but to truly be interested in the craft and art of writing.
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