Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Poetry and Jack

Sitting around after finishing the day’s writing, I had a little Jack Daniels and listened to some Black Label Society, particularly a song called “Funereal Bell.” The aggression of the music triggered a few poetical thoughts about the days when I used to ride. I jotted them down.


Chrome flash
When moonlight comes down
And the whiskey runs
Like gasoline

Bang the night
Rubber frictions into smoke  
A V-Four screams
Motor dreams

Flat out
Black pave glitters with light
Heart shifting gears
Into acceleration

White lines
Blur into the empty distance
As my engine burns
Gin and mescal

Learn fast
When the curve comes
Highway and dirt always beat
Flesh and blood


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Summer Reading: Capsule Reviews

Finally, with school behind me for the summer, I’ve been able to get to some reading. First up was catching up on some of the friend/colleague books that I had piled up on my Kindle. I realized I have some talented friends. Here are some capsule reviews, in reverse order to the time frame in which I read them.

The Drifter Detective, by Garnett Elliott:  This is from Beat to a Pulp, a small press publishing juggernaut.

Jack Laramie is a descendant of Cash Laramie, known as the Outlaw Marshall. Cash was a lawman and Jack is in a similar business, working as a private eye. He limps into a small Texas town with a truck that's falling apart under him and gets a job working for the local sheriff. Everything is not as it seems, though, and those who try to use a Laramie soon find they've got a tiger by the tail. Note, in length, this is between a long short story and a novella.

Hard Case, by Bernard Lee DeLeo:

This is the kind of book they mean when someone says a book is "action packed." Seldom does the main character, John Harding, sit still. Whether fighting brutal bouts in ultimate fighting style arenas, or fighting terrorists or modern day pirates, Harding moves quick and hits harder. He'd be a good friend to have, and a terrible enemy. Of course, he wouldn't be your enemy for long. You'd pretty quickly be dead.  Note: This is a full length novel. Link is Here:

Deadlock, by James Reasoner: A Judge Earl Stark tale. (Nuff Said, but I’ll say a little more.):

I'm a huge fan of the Judge Earl Stark series by James Reasoner. This current entry is top notch. In length, it's a long short story, and a quick and entertaining read. Reasoner knows how to get the action going instantly as Stark arrives in a town where a lynching is threatened. As usual, he's instantly in the middle of the drama. Highly recommended.

Mistik, by O’Neil de Noux:

I'm not quite sure how to categorize this one. A young man in New Orleans begins to discover that he has superpowers and becomes a masked crime fighter. Then he meets a girl with similar powers. They fall in love. Or do they? There's a pretty big mystery behind it all, which is revealed in the end. Good stuff.  Note: This is novella in length. Link is Here:

Blood and Skin, by Steve Malley:

An exciting thriller with some nice twists and turns at the end. I particularly didn't see coming the identity of the primary villain, although after the reveal it made perfect sense. The hero of the story is a tattoo artist with an interesting back story. I also know the author is a tattoo artist as well, so there is some really interesting insider information in the work. How much of the rest of the protagonist's back story is based on the writer's own life is open to question, I suppose. Note: This is a full length novel. Link is Here:


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Characterization and Stereotypes

A few years ago I read a western tale involving the basic trope of settlers versus Indians. Afterward, I checked out the reviews and the writer had gotten grief from some reviewers because a Native American character who was treated decently by a white woman turned around and brutalized her. One particular reviewer clearly considered this a racist characterization. I didn’t see anything racist in it, particularly not when I looked at all the characterizations in the story.

In fact, I think some of the negative reviewers were the ones being racist, although in a very subtle and convoluted way. I think that many of the negative reviews came from folks who, not only carried a healthy dose of disgust at the way European settlers so often treated Native Americans, but also accepted the “noble savage" myth. With that viewpoint, any Native American character has to have an innate decency to match against and call attention to the brutality of the “civilized” white men.  One problem with this viewpoint is that the noble savage myth is indeed a myth, whether you're talking about American Apaches, African Bushmen, Australian Aborigines, or European Cro-magnons. None of these peoples, or a thousand other tribal societies, lived by some idealized civilized code of conduct.  Not only would it have been foolish for them to do so, but each was a completely realized and fully developed culture of its own, which did not necessarily value the same things as other cultures.

The worst part about this approach is that it actually diminishes those it seeks to promote. It turns them into less than full humans, draws them more as stereotypes (although a positive stereotype) than as living, breathing people.  The fact is, as I've argued before, the Native American tribes were completely and fully human in every way. That means they were capable of great bravery and great treachery, of innocence and evil, and of kindness and savagery.  They loved and they hated.  Their culture taught them different ways of dealing with the world than my culture has taught me.  And some of them, like with any group of humans, were just plain nasty sons of bitches.

It is not racist to have a Native American character who is a villain, no more than it’s racist to have a black character who is a criminal. Of course it is a problem if “all” of your Native Americans are villains, or all your black characters criminals. It’s also completely unrealistic.  It’s also unrealistic, however, if all your Native Americans are depicted as noble savages. It diminishes a people if you turn them into stereotypes, even if the stereotype is generally positive.

In the story I’m talking about at the top, the “kind” white woman was a Christian woman who had good intentions but who was treating the “Indian” character more like a wayward child than a complete and complex human being. What the story really showed was that a mixture of naivety and a holier-than-thou attitude can get you hurt.

This whole issue raises another point. You can’t judge a writer’s attitudes from the depiction of one character.  In a realistic world, any single character, of any ethnic type or any gender, could be a villain or a hero. Realistically, they’ll probably have some aspects of both. They’d show the traits that belong to all of humanity by virtue of our common biological origin. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Journey to Atlanta

Lana and I left Friday morning for a drive to Atlanta to visit some good friends of hers. It was about seven hours. Lana drove down while I read, and I drove back while she tried to nap and didn’t succeed very well. We stayed with Doug and Katherine, whom I’d never met, and they were very kind in treating us to a great time and great eats. Saturday night they even treated us to Star Trek: Into Darkness. Although there were clearly some plot twists of convenience rather than logic, I enjoyed the show quite a lot and would recommend it for Trek fans. The actors nailed the characters very well, particularly the Spock, Bones and Checkov characters. I don’t want to say much more to avoid spoilers

Saturday during the day we went to see Stone Mountain, which Lana said was on her bucket list. This is the largest “carving” in North America apparently. It consists of images of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson cut into a massive granite dome that is awesome in size. Lana and I were more interested in the rock formation itself than the carving, and we took the sky tram to the top of the dome of rock and explored it. Simply amazing.

Saturday evening, after Star Trek, our hosts queued up some episodes of the SF series Firefly for us. I had heard good things about it but had never seen it. I got hooked pretty quickly and will have to watch the remaining episodes when Lana brings them home from the library. There’s very nice chemistry between the characters and good acting all around.

Sunday, Lana and had brunch at a very nice German restaurant in the area. The pork fritters and sausages were delicious. In the evening we visited a used bookstore, and I bought quite a few books that I’ll have to report on some time. Then we had a grilled supper and watched more Firefly. Monday was our trip home. Although I wanted to get back to writing on Tuesday, I’m not feeling very well. I went to the dentist this morning and found out I have a cracked tooth that will have to be crowned. In the meantime, they set to cleaning half my teeth and my teeth and jaws are aching horribly at the moment, too much even to get my hoped for nap. The numbness finally wore off by 3:00 and I was able to get a few bites to eat. I get to look forward next Wednesday to having the other half of my mouth feel this way.

Anyway, off to visit blogs now.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Good Writing Day: Gramlich Style

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 was the best pure writing day I’ve had since the late summer of 2011 when I was working on Under the Ember Star. Word count was about 1500 polished words and another 5 to 6 hundred rough draft. Most of the polished stuff came on Wraith of Talera, and I was able to fix a plot hole that had been troubling me and push forward to the end of a very tough chapter. That ending also gave me a jump start in ideas for where I’ll begin today’s writing.

I also did some polishing on a new Ginn Hollis story that I’ve started. It’s going to be a short story instead of a novella, and the working title is “Once Upon a Time Beneath the Ember Star.” It will be a prequel to Under the Ember Star. This is where I also did most of the rough draft stuff. After finishing up four straight days of final work for school last week, and taking a day to rest, I had a hard time getting started back on “Wraith” but this idea excited me and I let myself roll with it. I’m going to try and keep my writing time at about 85% “Wraith” and 15% “Ginn.” Unfortunately, this weekend is going to be full of a different kind of commitment, so after today I won’t be able to work on either story much until next week.

Speaking of this weekend, I’ll be off the internet most of that time so I won’t be visiting blogs or commenting. I’ll probably be checking email on occasion. I know everyone will survive without my input for a few days!

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a little snippet of the new Ginn Hollis tale. This is the first paragraph.

1: Burning Sky
Across the wasteland of sand came a hum, rising rapidly in pitch, building toward a whine. Then a hoverbike burst into view over a dune, fine grit scattering behind it from its fans. Ginn Hollis crouched low over the cycle’s power pack, her head down between the handlebars as she tried to will every last erg of energy from her engines.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mom in 2013

A little over three years ago now, on March 21, 2010, my mom died. Even though I was in my fifties and had raised a son of my own, it was devastating at that moment to lose someone who had been my bulwark so many times in my life.  My mom and I had our moments, but I never doubted I was loved and appreciated. She had always been a hard worker, both as a mother and in her job outside, which was at a chicken processing plant, but after my father’s death when I was thirteen she redoubled her efforts. I never went hungry or without clean clothes. I always had a bed to come home to. I don’t know how she found the energy and discipline to keep it up year after year after year, especially since she was what we call a “worrier,” and often put herself under a lot of extra stress from worrying about things she didn’t need to worry about.

Although I am still saddened when I think that I cannot just call her on the phone, or go home and see her, I am happy for the wonderful person she was and that toward the end of her life she was able to take things a little easier, even if she didn’t often avail herself of those opportunities. I also look at the family she raised, and the families they have raised in turn, and I think she has an amazing legacy. She was a force of nature and we’re still living in the climate she created for us.

Mom, you’re still remembered and loved!

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Branding Failure!

I read a blog post by another successful independent author today and once more he touted the importance of writing “one” type of story per name. The reasoning makes sense for those readers who primarily read in one genre. It makes sense for the idea of “branding” one’s name in the memories of those readers who like your stuff. It doesn’t make sense to me as a reader because I’ve never limited myself to one, or a dozen, genres. I guess it makes sense for authors who write almost entirely for business related reasons. Although I’d certainly like to sell more than what I do, I’m not one of those kinds of authors. I like to write just as widely as I like to read. That made me start thinking about the kind of stuff I’ve written and how it might be classified.

1. Swords of Talera, Wings Over Talera, Witch of Talera:  A series, primarily sword and planet fiction with some elements of sword and sorcery mixed in. Edgar Rice Burroughs and Alan Burt Akers wrote similar kinds of things.  

2. Cold in the Light: A standalone thriller with a lot of horror elements. Similar in some ways to Dean Koontz’s early thrillers like Midnight and Watchers.

3. Under the Ember Star: A space opera in the vein of Leigh Brackett and C. L. Moore.

4. Bitter Steel: A collection of sword and sorcery short stories, with the main emphasis on swords and less emphasis on sorcery. Most similar probably to Robert E. Howard’s work.

5. In the Language of Scorpions: A collection of  horror stories, ranging from splatter punk type tales like “Razor White,” to twist endings like “I Can Spend You,” to flash fiction like “Roadkill.” 

6. Midnight in Rosary: A collection of vampire and werewolf tales, with a ghost story thrown in. It’s got brutal vamps, romantic vamps, and lots of sex. That last is a bit strange on its own because most of my other fiction has no sex in it at all.

7. Killing Trail: A collection of traditional western short stories. Definitely most similar to Louis L’Amour’s work.

8. Harmland: A collection of noir/horror stories, with the emphasis on the noir.

9. Days of Beer: A memoir containing humorous anecdotes and tales about my life growing up as a beer drinker and a hell raiser.

10. Harvest of War: A standalone fantasy short story involving Orcs.

11. Micro Weird: A collection of flash fiction running the gamut from SF, to horror, to humor, to just plain strange.

12: Write With Fire: A nonfiction collection of articles and tips about writing.

13: Writing in Psychology: A textbook on writing for psychology majors.

And all with some variation of the name Charles Gramlich on it. Guess I’m not doing well at following the advice of one genre, one name. 

Monday, May 06, 2013

Coaching: Old School

I told a story here quite a while back about a night when we played Pocola, Oklahoma in football and I made an accidental interception that made a big difference in the game. Another year when we played Pocola it didn’t work out so well. We played them on their field in the cold mud and they beat us soundly. It was almost a two hour ride home in the bus, a long, quiet ride home. Coach sat in the front and never said a word. No one else said much either. We were all pretty miserable.

Charleston didn’t have a big sports budget. The cheerleaders and managers rode on the same bus with us. It was close to midnight when we pulled into the parking lot at the school. Coach stood up and opened the bus door.

“Anyone who isn’t a player can get off,” he said quietly. That wasn’t a good sign.

After the cheerleaders and managers disappeared into the gym building, Coach closed the bus door and looked around at us. Coach was a big man, well over six feet. He seemed larger in the shadowy light, and he seemed awfully close to where I was sitting. For the first time that night I wished I hadn’t ended up in an aisle seat.

Coach studied us for a moment. His fists clenched suddenly. I’d never seen him look so angry.

“If that had been a pile of shit out there,” he shouted, “you would have drowned in it. With your mouths open!”

He stalked down the aisle, then back up it. We all leaned away from him. He shouted and raved some more. I only remember those first words, however. They are engraved on my memory.

It seemed to go on forever; I doubt it lasted longer than five minutes. Then Coach opened the door again and told everyone to get off but the seniors. I wasn’t a senior and was very glad of that fact at the moment.  To this day I don’t know what he said to the seniors. No one ever talked about it. I didn’t even ask.

The next day we ran wind sprints until the first person vomited. Then we crabbed up and down the field. Crabbing consisted of getting down onto your hands and feet and going back and forth down the field as fast as you can. I had blisters the size of quarters the next day. I remember poking them with a needle to let the water out. I remember the dead flap of skin peeling away over time to reveal the nice pink new flesh underneath.

Someone told his parents about what Coach said on the bus that night. It wasn’t me. He got into a bit of trouble for a while, although I never knew the inside story on that. I didn’t even get mad at Coach. I was more angry at some of my team mates. There were those who didn’t give a crap whether we won or lost.

I’d like to say the team rallied after what we went through. We didn’t. We lost the next week too. Coach never said a word to us about it.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Summer Routine

Today I start trying to get into my summer routine. I'm going to try and do a few things differently this year. I got up this morning and had a nice vigorous walk around the neighborhood. Only 16 minutes this morning, but I should work my way up some from there. I just don't get enough exercise and I'm getting to the age where I better start now or I'll soon be unable to start at all.

Of course, first thing out the door, the bottom board on our front steps came cleanly off under my feet. I'm still amazed I didn't fall on my ass. I was proud of myself, though. I took my walk anyway, instead of using the board as an excuse to avoid it. Waited until I got home to fix it. 

After that it was breakfast. The Lovely Lana fixed bacon and eggs this morning. And now to blogging. Writing is next. 

First, up, a revision of a piece I wrote several months back called "Big Boy Football." I've got several pretty funny stories about my High School football "career." Depending on how much I've got and how they fit together, I might do another collection of humor along the lines of Days of Beer. Or maybe I'll just blog them. Who knows. 

Speaking of Days of Beer, it's only .99 cents for some funny stuff. If I do say so myself. After all, Bernard Deleo liked it. Here's what he had to say:
"If you read any humorous memoir this year, it should be DAYS OF BEER. Author Charles Gramlich relives his early life experiences with beer, and a teenager's challenges in obtaining the golden substance to consume in mass quantities. Just his hilarious section aptly named the Touborg Sanction is well worth the price of admission. It is without doubt the funniest collection of anecdotes I've read in many years." 

Hope you can check it out.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Coming Back to Life

From late Thursday through Tuesday morning I spent the majority of time grading, but I’m now 99% done until Friday, when my next test hits. Yesterday afternoon felt like coming back to life after a period in a coma. I cleaned up my home office in preparation for a summer of writing, created an inventory for all my for-sale books, and actually sat down and did some reading of my own! This afternoon I will start back on Wraith of Talera, but this morning I’m going to put up a blog post and try to visit some blogs I’ve ignored for the past few days.

Just as I came back to life I found out that Under the Ember Star had gotten a very nice review over on The Post Modern Pulp Blog,, by Jack Badelaire. My favorite line from the review was: “Overall, Under the Ember Star feels like a much older work, like a battered old gem of a pocket paperback from the 60's or 70's dug out of the stacks of a used bookstore and bought for a dollar.”
That’s exactly the kind of books I like to read, and remember the excitement of making such finds many times in my bookstore life. I hope you’ll check out the review, and much thanks to Jack.

In getting a chance to read myself last night, I finally got to finish a really good book I was working on by Steve Malley, called Blood and Skin. Here’s what I had to say about it on Goodreads and Amazon.

“An exciting read with some nice twists and turns at the end. I particularly didn't see coming the identity of the primary villain, although after the reveal it made perfect sense. The hero of the story is a tattoo artist with an interesting back story. I also know the author is a tattoo artist as well, so there is some really interesting insider information in the work. How much of the rest of the protagonist's back story is based on the writer's own life is open to question, I suppose.”  I will add here that I doubt Steve has any ghost companions and probably hasn’t killed as many people as the story’s protagonist has. One can never be sure, of course.

Below are the Amazon links. I can't get the widget thing to work today. 
Print version:

Kindle Version:
And now, off to visit blogs.