Monday, September 30, 2013

Careful What You Ask For

My brother-in-law, Roger, used to eat a lot of chili peppers when I was a kid. Although I don’t remember doing so, I apparently used to bug him fairly regularly to give me one, even though I had no idea what a chili pepper was. It just seemed that he enjoyed noshing on them so much.

One day, Roger gave in to my--no doubt adorable--entreaties. He fished around in his bag of dried peppers to find just the right one for me, a nice big yellow one. He insisted, of course, that I needed to eat the whole thing at once rather than taking a small bite.

I listened.

I regretted.

I remained a little scared of Roger for a long many years after that. I did learn an important lesson, however, never ask anyone again for a bite of anything they seem to be enjoying.

Be careful what you ask for. You might just get it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Old House

The house where I grew up was old. From what I heard, it had originally been built around an old log cabin that stood there. It had an upstairs that was almost always filled with shadows, and several different attic spaces. It creaked a lot.

I often got a little creeped out in that house. There was an opening into part of the attic right next to the landing of the stairs. Dad hung a board over the opening and put in a hook to keep it closed. Mom used that space sometimes to store goods she canned, like green beans, corn, beets. But she only used the front of it and I could see it extended pretty far back into the darkness. My brothers told me about the “things” that lived in that attic and how I better hope they never “got me.” I believed them.

We slept upstairs during the winter and I would go up the stairs at night with my back against the outside railing of the stairs so I could stay as far away as possible from the attic. I’d watch the hook on that door like my life depended on it. When I’d come down the stairs I’d often jump over the last few steps so I could get past the attic before anything grabbed me.

One late afternoon, probably when I was about ten or eleven, I was home by myself for a little bit. I’m not sure where mom and dad were. I was sitting in the living room watching TV when I clearly ‘heard’ footsteps coming down the stairs. I bolted, out of the living room, down the short hall and out the front door, never stopping to look behind me to see what shambling horror might lurk there.

When mom and dad got home a short time later, I was sitting near the front porch with our pack of hound dogs around me. They asked me why I was outside and I just told them I’d wanted to play with the dogs. I let them go in first, though. When they didn't scream and come running out, I followed them in.

Years later, I figured that what probably made the sound of footsteps was a squirrel dropping a nut down between the walls and it bouncing off the support boards as it fell. My rational mind tells me this anyway. My imagination is still not quite so sure.

Monday, September 23, 2013


I had a pretty good summer with writing. I finished the fourth Talera novel and it is off to the editor. But that was about a month and a half ago now and I've been in a state of lethargy to semi-lethargy ever since. I have made progress on one long nonfiction work but definitely could be further along on that if I'd put in a bit more effort. I've got a second project that is essentially done and ready for getting out but I just haven't had the energy to pull the trigger on it. Other than that, I've started several pieces, written the first five or six pages, then let them fizzle. On the weekends I've just been sitting around, watching football and movies mostly, and not even doing as much reading as I probably should.

Lana often tells me I should cut myself some slack, but it too often feels to me as if that's all I'm doing. I keep telling myself I'm gonna pick it up, and I do for a few days, but then slide back down again into...meh. A few weeks back I ordered myself to shake it off and stated clearly to myself that I'd do more in the writing arena and pick up with the blog and with promotions. I did the scorn series here and then fizzled. I haven't done much promotion at all, and part of that is because I'm not sure what to try next.

I realized a year or so ago that I couldn't make headway by working harder. I don't have youth on my side for that anymore. I realized I had to work smarter. Unfortunately, I've cut back on working hard and haven't figured out how to work smarter. The only ways I can figure out to improve my promotional efforts is to work 'harder,' to visit more blogs, join new forums, take more speaking engagements, etc. And so I'm back at square one. I think my lethargy has arisen from this, and it's extended into my writing as well as into promoting.

My mom once told me when we were arguing about one point or another, "Charles, I thought you were smarter than that. I just thought you were smarter than that."  At the time I was convinced I was pretty darn smart and got a big laugh out of her comment.

A few years further on and I'm beginning to think that maybe Mom was right.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Running some reviews today. De Noux and Johnston are friends who also happen to write damn fine books. I didn't know Kyle Knapp personally but knew of him through David Cranmer's blog. De Noux and Johnston are still writing and deserve wider recognition and readership. Unfortunately, Mr. Knapp is no longer with us.  His work is very fine, though.

A very fine collection. A combination of youthful verve with a mature voice. The author's youth is most on display in the often daring wordplay and the willingness to risk an entire poem on the turn of a single line. The maturity is seen in how well the author infuses multiple emotions and moods into the same piece. The typical poem, it seems to me, generates a single mood or feeling, while many of these poems evoke a range of emotions, from melancholia, to gaiety, to a risque humor. Well done.

This is a fantasy short story featuring a childhood version of a character (Lerebus Shieldbreaker) who plays a large role in some of Johnston's full-length fantasy series books, The Ursian Chronicles. This is something of an origin story for the character, or at least part of that origin story, and I believe there are more stories related to this one although this is the only one I've read so far. The nice thing about Johnston's writing is that not only does he tell a good story, but his prose is lyrical, which gives his work the extra jolt that I like from my fantasy reading

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.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Writers and Genres

In talking to a writer friend the other day, she mentioned my “genre.” That seemed a little odd at first because I rather pride myself on writing in lots of genres—Fantasy, Horror, Western, Science Fiction, etc. In our discussion, it seemed that she meant, primarily, fantasy, but only a portion of the stuff I’ve written would be classified as fantasy by fantasy readers.

After I thought about it, I began to divide my fiction writing into two ‘broad’ genres. These are 1) action-adventure and 2) weird. Weird includes stuff that carries elements of horror, noir, and the surreal. Since it was of interest to me, at least, I thought I’d post the breakdown here. In part, I’m wondering if the breakdown into these two broad areas might help sales a bit. I know some folks who read specifically, and only, in one genre. For some readers, if they are looking for “X” and happen to read “Y” by a writer, then they’ll avoid that writer in the future, even if most of what he or she writes is indeed “X.”

Anyway, here’s the breakdown for myself, as I see it:

Action-Adventure                        Weird
Swords of Talera                         In the Language of Scorpions
Wings Over Talera                      Midnight in Rosary (with erotica)
Witch of Talera                           Micro Weird
Under the Ember Star                  Harmland
Bitter Steel                                  Wanting the Mouth of a Lover
Cold in the Light
Killing Trail
Harvest of War

I was thinking of other writers I admire and how they might fit into one or both of these categories. I decided to place those writers in the same categories below. This is my opinion, of course. Any discussion is welcome.

Action-Adventure                              Weird
Edgar Rice Burroughs                         H. P. Lovecraft
Robert E. Howard                              Edgar Allan Poe
Louis L’Amour                                    Ray Bradbury
John D. MacDonald                            Clark Ashton Smith

Someone who combines the two throughout much of his body of work is Joe Lansdale, and maybe Dean Koontz.

What say you?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

When a Man Writes a Woman (Character)

For a long time I would not write a female character, other than as a love interest or as a secondary character. There were two primary reasons for this, which I’ll talk about below.

 1). I didn’t feel competent to do so. I knew women but certainly did not feel like I understood them. I realize today that I still don’t understand them. But then, I don’t really understand men either. I don’t understand humanity very well in general, I fear.  Humans are  complicated organisms. Most don’t even understand themselves.  But I realized somewhere in the 1990s that if I wrote about female characters, I might begin to understand them better. I’ve always learned through writing about things.

2). I was afraid I’d get it wrong and would be thrashed over it. I had seen men write female characters and be taken to task for creating a male-fantasy version of a female character. Many times I felt the criticisms were correct. But not always. Then I had an enlightening experience. I shared an idea about a female character with my writing group and the three women in the group were absolute adamant that a woman would not do what I was going to have my character do. I was rather depressed over that, so I asked a couple of other women, not writers but work colleagues, what they thought. They both said, absolutely, a woman might do that. In fact, that’s what “they” would do in that situation. Probably I should have already known it, but I had an epiphany: “not all women are alike.”   

By the way, these are the same reasons I haven’t written much about characters who aren’t ethnically white. I didn’t grow up African American, or Native American. Although I can generally envision some of the experiences such folks might have, I can’t literally “feel” the experiences the way they would. This makes me cautious in writing non-white characters because I don’t want to get it wrong. I want to treat all my characters with respect in the sense that I don’t want them to be cardboard cutouts or caricatures. But I particularly want to make sure to do this for women and non-white characters because they have too often been treated as stereotypes. At the same time, I don’t want to limit my characters either. I don’t want to avoid making an African American or a woman into a villain simply out of fear that some folks might disapprove.

Under the Ember Star was my first long work with a female lead. Ginn Hollis was not a consciously constructed character in the sense that I didn’t sit down to build a female character and then put her into the work fully formed. Instead, I tried to write her as naturally as I could, not so much writing a “woman,” as writing a human being who is also a woman. I think that’s probably the only way I can do it. In the reviews I’ve gotten for the book, most have said specifically that they liked the character of Ginn, so I feel pretty good about that. However, so far, I haven’t gotten any reviews from female readers. That makes me a bit curious about how women feel about Ginn. Well, maybe one day one of them will tell me.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I didn't intend for it to be a whole week between "Scorn Posts" but school is in session and I have been swamped with work. I'm also trying to jump start an older nonfiction project that I have and that has taken a lot of what little spare time I've had. Anyway, here's the next entry in my Scorn series below.

4. From inches away we lock gazes. The mirror and I. The glass fogs with our breaths but at least that means we are alive. Then one of us begins to scribe letters in the mist. I do not know which of us it is. I read an R E S O L… I hope for a moment that the scribe has simply left off the “V E.” But perhaps I am reading the word backward. 


Tuesday, September 03, 2013


She is gowned in razors, and the blood on her hands is not her own. I have no weapons to match hers. So I study her cautiously, from far away. I conceal my scent with wormwood. I bind my belongings to my flesh so that no stray sound alerts her to my presence. It would not do to let the predator know that you are stalking it. Such a revelation would be prelude to a fatal nocturne.