Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Some of my favorite books of 2014

I’ve seen several folks do a top books of 2014 blog. Thought I might do something similar. Here’s ten books I really enjoyed this year. Because they are so different in tone and genre, I can’t really rate them as #1, 2, etc. They’re just works I liked a lot. Each was memorable for one reason or another. I didn't include links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble but all are available there.

The Hunter:  First in the Parker series by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake). A stripped down, noir tale. No wasted motion, no wasted words, no wasted description. A quick read
 


Elak of Atlantis, by Henry Kuttner, An anthology of Kuttner’s early work. Contains four Elak of Atlantis stories, plus two Prince Raynor tales. The tales combine the eldritch elements from Lovecraft with the action adventure work of Robert E. Howard. This makes for a fine pairing.

 Spawn of Dyscrasia, by S.E. Lindberg.  an entertaining fantasy novel that—I would argue—rises to the level of art. Incredible world building.

 Animals, by John Skipp and Craig Spector. I've read about everything from this pair of writers. Their work is gory and not always quite PC but it has power and drama. 

The Measure of a Man, by Shauna Roberts. A combination of fantasy, science fiction and horror.  A lot of action and adventure.

 Day of the Dollar, by Ty Johnston. I normally wouldn’t include this on my list because it’s a screenplay. But I just really enjoyed it.  Made me feel like I was watching a lost “Man with No Name” western.

 Cold Blooded II, by Bernard Lee DeLeo. I thought the first one had a lot of action. This one was nonstop.

 Last Chance Canyon, by James Reasoner. A wonderful weird western.

 Iron Man, by Tony Iommi. I’m a big fan of Sabbath and Iommi. Nuff said.

 Doc Holliday, by Matt Braun. I've always been interested in the character of Doc Holliday. I don’t know how accurate it is historically but it was fun and made me order more books by Braun.

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Writing Group Presentation, Part 6, Final Installment

Here's the final installment of the Writing Group Presentation, and possible my last post of 2014. See you on the other side of the year.

Part 6: Publishing Group Projects:

In this  modern world, writing groups can rather easily self-publish the work of members. We did this for Louisiana Inklings. And there are good sides and bad sides to doing so.

We first did an ebook only for Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook, then created a printed version about a year later through Create Space. Here are some points to remember if your group decides to do this:

a. First you need an editor. Since I suggested the idea of publication for my group, I agreed to edit it. I’d had more experience than anyone else. I wanted to publish something from every member, but in no way as a vanity project. I wanted only quality writing.

Members selected their best stuff, although I made suggestions. All material had been through group review. Then I edited. Authors were informed of changes I wanted and could respond. Some pieces went through more revisions than others. This was by far the hardest and most time consuming part of the process. Just creating a uniform style for the publication was a real labor. I made a lot of notes. Your editor needs to have a lot of patience and pay close attention to detail.

b. Next you need a “process.” Self-publishing an ebook, a print book, or both, is a matter of following the guidelines. If you can follow the instructions to put a piece of furniture together, or to cook a complicated food dish, you can self publish. And there is a lot of helpful information available. I used Create Space for our Louisiana Inklings anthology and have been very pleased with it. They do a good job of walking you through the process. For specific questions about this you can email me at kainja at hotmail dot com.

Thanks for putting up with this rather long series. There is more on the topic of writing groups, and all other aspects of writing in my book, Write With Fire. If anyone would like a signed copy of Write With Fire, or the Inklings anthology, email me at kainja at hotmail dot com. The price would be 14 bucks for Write With Fire, and 10 for the Inklings anthology, plus whatever the mailing costs would be, which are usually a couple of bucks. By the way, both covers are courtesy of Lana Gramlich.
          
Now, any questions? 
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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Writing Groups Presentation: Part 5: Bumps in the Road

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. I know it's Christmas and most folks won't be checking blogger but I do want to get this series finished before New Years so here's installment 5. I'll leave it up a couple of days. Only one more installment to go.

Part 5: Bumps in the Road.

If you join or form a group that lasts more than six months, you’ll definitely have to deal with losses and gains in members. For many reasons, people’s needs change. Their focus and interests alter. Life gets in the way with marriages, sicknesses, or job changes. Our group stresses that it’s OK for a member to leave with no grudges held. I’m still good friends with many ex-members. We also stress that it’s OK for a member to join or start a secondary group with a different focus than ours. The goal is to help people become better writers.

Our group started as an “open” group at the library, meaning anyone who wanted could join. As we started getting ourselves organized we transitioned to a “closed” group, which means you have to be invited to join. We only accept a new member when an old one leaves, and we’re careful about it. We ask potential new members to sit quietly through two of our meetings to see what we do and find out if it is for them. Then we actually vote on admitting the member. We’ve never had a vote be less than unanimous.

No Human Endeavor is Free of Conflict. The worst conflicts in writing groups are all about hurt feelings. I left my first group because one woman constantly made snide comments about SF/Fantasy/Horror. She called it “Comic booky.” I felt disrespected, and it didn’t seem she was trying to help me but was trying to tear me down, perhaps to make herself feel better.

Sometimes the disrespect you seem to be getting from other members is genuine. Sometimes the member is really feeling sorry for themselves. Sometimes the reviewer means well but comes off too harsh in tone. People have different critique styles.

When a personal conflict occurs, you have three choices:
a. Confront it. Start out with a one to one talk, then bring it up as group issue if that fails.

b. Leave. If it becomes too personal, you may have to. Start another group.

c. Learn from it. Hurt feelings are inevitable, but legitimate & honest criticism is how we grow. People say, “develop a thick skin!” What does that mean? It means to take criticism in a professional manner without getting defensive or erupting with anger. Don’t ignore criticisms that upset you. Learn what you can from each criticism. Remember that you own your work. Don’t just change it in an effort to be accepted. And for goodness sake, resist the urge to write for the group.

Reviewers need to remember some things too, though: Words have power. Criticisms need to be directed to the material, not the writer. You’re not there to make yourself feel better, but to help the writer. Fine writing and terrible writing can occur in any genre. Newer writers generally need a lighter hand than experienced writers.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Writing Groups Part 4: Organization

Just three pieces of my presentation left to post here. The last three sections are a little shorter than what came before. Here's Part 4.  Thanks to everyone for reading.

What about group leadership and rules? Support groups have elected officers. Most Discussion & Critique groups don’t. However, some jobs still have to get done. These are:

a. Timekeeper. Organizing humans is like herding cats. Someone has to call meetings to order, and let people know when time is up.
         
b. Moderator. In Discussion groups, there’s usually a topic. Leeway may exist but someone has to bring people back on topic when they drift. It’s best if people police themselves but they won’t always. Moderators may also deal with cross-talk, where individual conversations start while someone else is reviewing.
Moderators may remind members of certain rules. My group asks writers not to comment significantly until all reviews are done.

c. Taking Minutes? Some groups have a member take minutes. I don’t think it’s necessary.
         
Group Rules: Best Rule = Be Flexible. Rules should be a group decision. We voted on ours democratically, and can change them the same way. Any member can make a proposal for change.

Procedures: These vary widely from group to group. For my critique group, submissions are sent to the group via an email listserve. Reviewers print a copy of the piece, make notes on it ahead of time, then discus their thoughts at the meeting. Reviewers give copies of marked up pieces to the author. This creates another job: “Keeper of the List.” This person adds new submissions to the review list as they come in. I handle this job in my group.

As far as length of submissions go, shorter is better. We generally look for five to ten pages of material at a time. We look at single chapters of novels, and sometimes longer short stories of up to twenty pages. I’ve shared parts of two novels with the group but they’ve never seen every bit of those novels. I needed the most help early in the process.

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Part 3: Finding a Group, or Creating One

If you decide that a writing group is for you, how do you find one? Or, if you can’t find one, how do you establish one?

Support groups are easy. You search online for “Writers Associations.” Here’s a link that lists many: http://writersrelief.com/writers-associations-organizations/  Or you can search for a particular genre, like Horror Writer Associations. For more local support groups, search “Writers Groups, Your Local Area.” You usually join such groups just by paying dues, although some have membership requirements.

Discussion & Critique groups are different. There are online groups that fill these roles. Search “online writing groups.” But I prefer a local and physical group myself. To find them you can try several things. 1) if your support group has a local chapter, there may be Discussion and Critique groups that spin off of that. Also check local libraries and bookstores. Most will have a newsletter or “calendar of events” that lists any writing group meetings. You can also contact local universities, where there may be writing groups. Many bigger towns will have restaurants and bars with “open mic nights,” where people come to read their poetry and prose. This might be a good place to meet like-minded writers who might know of groups.

You can always start a brand new group! To do so, you first call an “interest” meeting. Set it up through the local library or bookstore. Promote it with flyers at libraries, bookstores, community centers, churches, or anywhere the public might see. Below is a sample call for an “interest” meeting:

“Are you interested in writing? Would you like to join a group of people with similar interests? Join us at 2:00 on January 23, 2015 at the Covington Branch of the St. Tammany Library system for an introductory meeting. Email Jake Smith, Jsmith43@hotmail.com for further information.”

Some things to think about before calling such a meeting:
a. which type of group do you want? Discussion or Critique.
b. what type of writing? Poetry, Mystery, Memoir, etc., or all of them.
c. how many members do you want? How many can you live with?
d. where will you meet? Look at Libraries, bookstores, churches, community centers.

Note: the more specific the group, the fewer people you’ll attract. I’ve never been in a group that was specific to SF/Fantasy/Horror, which I mostly write. I don’t mind because I write a bit of everything and I like being in a group with people who have diverse interests. In a diverse group, though, it’s critical that members be capable of appreciating other genres and not look down on them.

As far as numbers goes. Support groups = the more the better. Discussion groups = no more than 10 to 15. Critique groups = even fewer, 5 to 8, although it depends on how much members submit. The more each member submits, the fewer you should have.

For the first meeting: find out who is interested, what kind of group they want, what they want to get out of a group. Then, focus on good times and locations for meetings. Some meet at a member’s home. I suggest a neutral site. 

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Writing Group Presentation: Part Two

Part 2: The Whys and Whats.

What can a writing group do for you? When I ask writing group members this question I usually get some variation on three basic points.

a. Writing is a lonely business. A writing group provides needed socialization. At work I get time to socialize with friends and colleagues, but in the summer when I don’t teach I might see no one but my wife and my writing group for weeks at a time. I like my privacy but even I need some human contact.

b. More than in most careers, writers put their innermost thoughts, fears, hopes and loves out in front of people. We take risks and it’s scary. Sometimes it results in rejection. This hurts. We begin to doubt our talent, our luck, everything. Only other writers will really understand and a writing group can provide needed emotional support.

c. To improve their craft, writers need reader feedback. Books on writing are good but there’s no substitute for receiving a critical evaluation of your work. Editors and publishers don’t have time. You can pay professional editors but that’s costly and you get one opinion. You can ask family members and friends but that’s generally a bad idea. You’re likely to get either glowing reviews or anger because they think you’re writing about them.

I once shared a story with my mom that I thought was really good. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes as she finished it. “Is this what you think of me?” she asked. I was devastated. And confused. The story was a Twilight Zone type twist ending tale. It did have an older woman character with gray hair and Mom, who was an older woman with gray hair, took it to represent her.

A writing group can be easiest and cheapest source of feedback available for writers. This is the major reason I’m in one.

Say you are starting to think that a writing group might be for you. What kinds of groups are out there?  Many. But, I think they can be divided into three broad types.

a. Support Groups:  Provide emotional & literary support for writers. Many such groups are professional and nationwide. Romance, mystery, thriller groups etc. I’m in HWA. Many have smaller local affiliates. You pay to be a member.
          Strong at: newsletters, markets, contests, speakers, workshops, social events, webpages, networking opportunities.      
          Weaker at: One on one feedback, the nuts and bolts of constructing a story or novel, actual practice at writing.
          Dangers of: Too much talking, not enough doing. People can sometimes feel they are accomplishing writing while not actually putting words on the page. In extreme cases, this can actually decrease a person’s motivation to write.
         
b. Discussion Groups: General discussion about writing. Such as: genres of writing, plotters vs pantsers, info dumps, importance of dialogue & description, writing habits, many more. Such groups often include discussion on what members are reading and their reactions.
          Strong at: socializing opportunities, philosophy and theory of storytelling, emotional support, spontaneous discussion of writing issues.
          Weaker at: One on one feedback, actual practice at writing, fewer networking opportunities.
          Dangers of: Same as Support groups with too much social, not enough writing. Themes may begin to repeat after a while.
         
c. Critique Groups: (The kind I prefer). Members read each other’s writing and make critical comments, both on what works and what doesn’t. Can catch anything from grammar and punctuation errors, to clich├ęd writing, to plot holes, etc.        
           Strong at: One on one feedback, nuts and bolts of writing, actual practice at writing, motivation to write, getting your words in front of actual readers.
          Weaker at: relatively fewer socialization & networking opportunities, less of the big picture, less spontaneous discussion of writing issues.
          Dangers of: Hurt feelings.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Writing Group Presentation: Part One

Well, I had my second presentation on "The Care and Feeding of Writing Groups" last night and had two folks show up. Not a big audience but we had good conversation and I did end up selling one book so you could say I sold to fifty percent of the audience. That doesn't sound bad. Since not a lot of folks heard my presentation, I thought I might run it as a series here on the blog. It was quite a lot of work to just give to four people.  Below is part 1:

Part 1: Introduction.

Good _____ (insert time when you are reading this). Welcome. Thanks for coming.

Our topic here is on writing groups, but first let me introduce myself.

My name is Charles Gramlich, and I’ll confess that I’m a writer. That’s like  confessing I’m weird. But I bet I’m not the only one here. (I see you all out there in the blogosphere.)

I live in Abita Springs, Louisiana but teach at Xavier University in New Orleans. When I mention my other life as a college teacher, most assume English Professor. Nope. I’m in psychology. When I tell people I’m a psychologist, most assume I’m clinical. No again. I’m a biological psychologist, which means I study the brain.

I’m here (not really) with other members of my current writing group: Louisiana Inklings. We were founded May 22, 2008, by Alfred Olinde.

Other members include: Al Burstein, Sandra Loucks, D’Wanna Haynes, Sara Dickey, Laurie Walsdorf, Elizabeth Barilleaux, Isabella MacDonald Smith, and Mike Malloy.

Years before I became interested in psychology, I thought about being a writer. It came out of my love of reading. It started with me wanting to tell stories to myself like the ones I got so much pleasure out of.

I wrote my first book at 18. A western. It was awful and will never see the light of day. But I learned a lot from it. At 24, I wrote my second book, which eventually was published. After much rewriting.

I also wrote some short stories in grad school but became serious about trying to get published in 1988, after 2 years at Xavier. My first stories sold in 1989 and I date my writing life from there. So, I’ve been doing it a long time now.

In my first few years I had no writing group. Didn’t even know such things existed. I joined a small one at Xavier in 1993 and have been in one type of group or another ever since. Having a group is important to me. Maybe it could be for you. So let’s talk about writing groups. 
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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Grades Done, Etc

Finished my grading and will turn them in today. So now I'll return to blogging. There were so many old posts piled up that I'd never get through them so I'll just pick up commenting again starting today.

This post will be a hodgepodge. First, a quick report on my talk at the library on "The Care and Feeding of Writing Groups." It didn't turn out terribly well. Lana was there, and four members of my writing group, another ex member of the group and her mother, and then "two" people who actually signed up for the presentation. Only one of those was there at the beginning, although she did buy three books after the talk.

I also thought I could have been smoother in my talk, particularly at the beginning. I was a bit discombobulated at the low turnout and it took me a moment to figure out how to basically present an hour presentation to one person. I'll have another chance to do better on Tuesday, when I give the same presentation at another branch of the library.

Second, Wicked Words Quarterly, Issue 3, has just been released. It contains a story by me called "Long Dead Woman in a Black Dress." I've got my contributor's copy but haven't had a chance to read it yet, although the stories sound intriguing.

Third, almost two weeks ago Lana and I spotted a small fire burning in the woods down the road from our house. While Lana called the fire department, I started putting it out. It was burning slowly through the leaf litter so I was able to get the primary flames snuffed. The fire truck arrived and started spraying things down. We left. Later, we drove back by and it was still smoking but we didn't think much about it. But the next day I saw that flames had sprung up again. The fire folks had plowed an area around the fire so it was unlikely to get out, but I was afraid it would catch the trees and then be able to leap the gap. Once again we put it out and then I later poured water on all the smoking places. Unfortunately, the fire seemed to have gotten down into some half buried logs and it continued to smolder and occasionally flare up again for nearly ten days, even though we had one light shower and several heavy dews. A couple more time I poured water on the hot spots, and finally noticed yesterday that it appears to have completely died away finally.  Rather scary how long such a fire can keep smouldering.

Fourth, Adventures of an Arkansawyer is getting some good comments, although only one review has appeared on Amazon so far. I have a few copies here if anyone wants a signed one. I"m asking $9 for the book, same as Amazon, and I'm not sure how much the mailing costs would be but probably not much. Email me if you'd like a signed copy. kainja at hotmail dot com

Hope all has been well with everyone while I've been gone.

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

A Moment Away

My son is coming up today to see us and we're going to hit the Ren Fair. Tomorrow I've got to get a test graded that I gave yesterday, and Monday starts final exams. Lots more grading.

In addition, on Wednesday I'm giving a presentation on "The Care and Feeding of Writing Groups" at the local library. I'll be doing two presentations. I've copied the announcement below, though I know pretty much none of you are in this area.

For these reasons, I'm taking a few days off blogging and probably won't be back until Friday of this coming week. Hang tough!

ST. TAMMANY PARISH –Have you dreamed of belonging to a creative writer’s group? You can receive advice from experienced writers during two programs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 10 at the Causeway Branch library, 3457 Hwy. 190 and from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 16 at the Slidell Branch, 555 Robert Blvd.

Charles Gramlich and other members of the Northshore Inklings Writing Group will speak about the types of writing groups, how to form one, and how to maintain it. They will also discuss their experiences self-publishing an anthology of member’s works called “Louisiana Inklings: A Literary Sampler.”
Audience members can purchase“Louisiana Inklings”as well as Charles Gramlich’s book “Write With Fire.”The authors will be available to autograph the books.


The event is free and open to the public, and registration is recommended. Light refreshments will be available. Seating space is limited to adults. Please register online at http://register.stpl.us/evanced/lib/eventcalendar.asp or call the library at(985) . Registration opens two weeks before the date of the event.
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