Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Series Character, Part 1

When I was a kid I think my favorite kind of reading was the "series." John Carter of Mars, Conan, Travis McGee, The Sacketts, the Black Stallion, The Three Investigators, The Hardy Boys, etc, etc. When I first started writing, and started thinking about a novel, I immediately thought "series." My first western, the unpublished "The Bear Paw Valley," was conceived as an introduction for the gunfighter character of Quint Maclang. He was modeled quite a bit on the youngest of the Sackett brothers, Tyrell. Well, I was the youngest of brothers so why not?

The "Maclang" western series never got off the ground, but the Maclang fantasy series did. I've now written four books about Ruenn Maclang, who would be Quint Maclang's nephew. Three of these have been published and a fourth is supposedly scheduled for it. I'm about 33,000 words into book 5, which will be the last one for a while, I think.

One thing I've started worrying about is repeating myself. The first book, Swords of Talera, was an introduction, and then books 2 and 3, Wings Over Talera, and Witch of Talera, dealt with a war against a sorceress named Vohanna. Books 4 and 5, Wraith of Talera, and Gods of Talera, deal with another war against a sorcerer named Vessoth, who was Vohanna's husband. There's a lot of new adventures in the 4th and 5th books, but there is some commonality as well.

As I was thinking about this the last few days, I stumbled on a link to a blog where John D. MacDonald is talking about writing Travis McGee. I'm reading this closely and giving it some thought. He certainly knew the pitfalls and promise of the series character. One thing I found interesting was that he said it was harder to write first person stories than third person ones. I don't know. It doesn't really seem that way to me. The restrictions of the first person tale help me quite a lot, I think.

Anyway, I'm going to have more about writing a series character as I give it more thought. As readers, are you a big fan of series? Or would you prefer stand alones? For those who read series, do you commonly find that the formula starts to pale after a while?


Friday, June 26, 2015


As I mentioned in my last post, Pedestal Magazine, Issue 76, is available. It was published June 22, 2015. I have a piece in it called “Gaunt,” which is about the creature I consider to be my muse. When I first got access to the magazine, I posted about its availability on my blog. Then I began reading the other poems and was blown away. I realized I wanted to do a longer post and review. This is one of the best collections from varied poets that I’ve ever read, and I feel very lucky to have my piece in this mix. Bruce Boston and Marge Simon, who served as editors for this particular issue, deserve a lot of credit. I don’t normally do reviews of magazines like this but felt compelled to in this case. Here are my capsule thoughts on the poems, without any spoilers: 

1. Lewis Carroll Knew My Family: A Series, Diana Smith Bolton: The Red Queen, The White Rabbit, The Cheshire Cat. They’re all here. Alice’s Adventures are such surreal works in their own right, and here we have the surrealistic elements taken to another level. The resonance here is intense.

2. Miracles, Ken Poyner: Genetics gone wild. This is a poem of ideas, touching on one of the biggest scientific advances of our age.

3. Critique of Car Accident Art Museum, Ross Wilcox: The melding of the machine and human. The stanzas consist of “exhibits” described. Each alters your reality a little further.

4. Lunar Eclipse by the Chitose River, December 10, 2011, Stephen Toskar: My favorite poetry often revels in contrast. Here we have such contrasts as warmth and cold, sex and fear. The last stanza is perhaps my favorite in the collection. I won’t quote it; you have to read it with all that’s gone before.

5. And Then the Stars… Mack W. Mani: Very grounded piece. A poem about reality, though it has the stars. Lots of subtext. I’m sure I didn’t catch it all.

6. Time Capsule, Rose Blackthorn: What comes after. The post-apocalyptic world as a time capsule.

7. Tourists Do Not Touch the God, Andrew Pidoux: What happens when even the Gods grow old. I liked the humorous images in this.

8. Venetian Red (for Michael Nathan), Steven Ratiner: Images of the old world’s beauty. An invocation to a past age, and a present.

9. Tether, Christina Zawadiwsky: a free for all of beautiful images and thoughts. Not quite free association. A stream of resonant consciousness. Perhaps my overall favorite of the pieces, although my favorite also seems to change with every reading of these works.

10. Gaunt, Charles Gramlich: The shortest poem in the mag.

11. The Dark Side of The Force in Relation to Art (Remarks by Lord Vader), Frederick Pollack: If Lord Vader gave a commencement address, what might he say?

12. Whatever Happened to Scott Carey?, Richard Bruns: Metamorphosis. Why me? Why not you?

13. Selenites, John Philip Johnson: How many will know that word, “Selenites.” I know it. So alien this piece, and yet familiar to us from the history of philosophy.

14. Crow Mother (for Frida Kahlo), Linda Rodriguez: The juxtaposition of beauty and the grotesque. Great fun to read aloud.

15. Schizophrenic Conversation at the Four Winds Bar: A Poem of Blues-Rock Numbers, and Crap-Game Numerology, Fred R. Kane: Reads like your favorite drunken night in an old blues bar. It happened, if only you could remember more than snatches. At the right moment, this one could be my favorite too.

16. Analog Reincarnation, Gary Singh: Life captured by a camera, and then by words. We step back two paces from reality to get a better view.

17. The Alien Ruins, Daniel Ausema: My favorite title. It already evokes my imagination. What will we find when we first make contact? A living race, or a lost one? And how will we come to know them?

18. Copernicus, Dane Cervine: Life and death and wonder.

19. Flyology, Gabrielle Bates: A feeling of lightness of being comes through in this one. Sometimes this is my favorite. The language flows so smoothly.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pedestal Magazine

Pedestal Magazine #76 is up, and I’m very honored to have a poem in the magazine. My piece is called “Gaunt,” a poem I wrote a couple of years back about how I see my literary muse. As I’ve been reading through the other wonderful works in this issue, I feel very lucky to have had a piece chosen for this company. I’m really blown away by the depth of language and emotion shown. You can check out the issue here.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Harvest of War, A Little Experiment

Sales of all my own Amazon titles had been decidedly low and flat for some time so I thought I'd try to shake things up with a free promotion. I made my fantasy story, "Harvest of War," free for three days, July 15-17. It's still too early to tell much probably but here's a quick synopsis of the results so far.

I gave away 87 free copies. I also gave away one PDF copy that someone on Goodreads requested from me. I had made this story free back when it was first published in 2012 and it moved a 'lot' more copies, but 87 is respectable I suppose. And maybe quite a few folks already had it. I promoted it on facebook and Goodreads. It reached its highest ranking at about 11 hours in on the giveaway, but about four hours after I started promoting it. Here are the numbers:

At 11:45: #2,745 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)
#4 in Kindle Store > Kindle Short Reads > 45 minutes (22-32 pages) > Science Fiction & Fantasy
#13 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Anthologies & Short Stories

As of today, June 19, I've gotten one additional sale on the title, but it came at the end of the free promotion period and, quite likely, the person thought it was still free and clicked buy before seeing the .99 cent price had returned. Sorry about that. There have been no additional sales on any of my other titles so far, but many who downloaded "Harvest" have probably not read it yet. It did look like the numbers on Swords of Talera dipped so someone may have picked that up, though whether it had anything to do with the promotion I don't know. 

I was/am also hoping for some reviews on the story and the first one came in this morning from Prashant over at Chess, Comics, Crosswords. It's a very good one and I'm really happy Prashant enjoyed the tale. At the heart of why I write is to tell stories that I love and that others love too. It's gratifying when you hear that it has worked, and particularly gratifying to make that connection with someone in another part of the world. Thanks very much to Prashant for his great review!

At some point in a couple of weeks, I'll have another post on this to see if any new developments have occurred. In the meantime, happy reading. 


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Heroika: Dragon Eaters Review

Heroika 1: Dragon Eaters, Edited by Janet Morris

I first became familiar with Janet Morris through her stories in the Thieves’ World Series. Morris generally wrote my favorite stories throughout that series, and when her characters from there, “Tempus” and “Niko,” appeared in several spinoff novels I also read and enjoyed those. So, when I heard of a new fantasy anthology edited by Morris, I quickly picked it up.

In Heroika: Dragon Eaters, Morris has put together seventeen short stories that all feature dragons and some aspect of dragon consumption. There are all manner of tales here, including many that use the kind of fantasy setting one might imagine, as well as others set during the Civil War, in the swamps of Louisiana, on a modern earth, and in a post-apocalyptic world.

This is a big book, chock full of stories. I read the kindle version but the paperback is apparently 436 pages. That means plenty of bang for the buck. The stories are also uniformly well done. The biggest names are Janet and Chris Morris, who have two pieces in the book. Most of the other writers are not household names but are definitely experienced and talented writers. I’d read and enjoyed material by such authors as S. E. Lindberg, Walter Rhein, and Mark Finn, and had heard of some of the others although their writing was new to me. I’m not going to do a detailed review of the stories because I don’t want to give things away. Here are some capsule comments about things that I found particularly memorable.

“The First Dragon Eater,” by Janet and Chris Morris has an interesting structure that reminds one of the ancient Eddas.

“Legacy of the Great Dragon” by S. E. Lindberg is set in an ancient Egypt where the gods are real. Great atmosphere and characters in this one.

“Bring Your Rage,” by Janet and Chris Morris has some beautiful writing in it: “When I first saw Rhesos, he came riding a horse white as sunlight, a black dog at its heels…” Also very interesting characters.

“Aquila of Oyos,” by Walter Rhein features the Dragon’s point-of-view, and has a nice twist featuring a second dragon.

“The Wyght Wyrm,” by Cas Peace takes us to the age of Stonehenge and the Druids. Great setting.

“The Old Man on a Mountain,” by Jack William Finley features an aging warrior on his last dragon hunt. You really feel a lot of empathy for this character and his suffering.

“Of Blood and Scales,” by A. L. Butcher. I liked the concept of the “bloodsister.”

“Night Stalkers,” by Travis Ludvigson takes place in the time of Charlemagne and features Roland in a “northern thing” adventure.

“Forged,” by Tom Barczak features a nice surprise before you see the dragon.

“The Rhyme of the Dragon Queen,” by JP Wilder has a great cadre of heroes and rogues, including Spera, an excellent female character.

“The Dragon’s Horde,” by Joe Bonadonna. There’s a lot of creativity in this tale and a very interesting twist on who the villains are.

“Wawindaji Joka,” by Milton Davis. Great character conflict in this one. Jimbia is an excellent character and shows some interesting development.

“Against the Sky Tomb of the Earth Kings” by M. Harold Page wins for best title. Great inventiveness and action here.

“Red Rain,” by William Hiles. Here we have a dragon appearing during the Civil War, and Union and Confederates must join forces against it. A lot of emotional intensity in this one and I’d have to say it was my favorite piece in the anthology.

“La Betaille,” by Beth W. Patterson featured the youngest hero and I loved the details of the swamplands and the people who live there.

“Arctic Rage,” by Bruce Durham features a kind of “Alien” and “The Thing” riff in a post-apocalyptic world.

“Sic Semper Draconis,” by Mark Finn was full of action. Reminded me a bit of David Drake. 


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Books versus TV/Movies

Some time ago now, during a riot in London, it was reported that in one area every shop had been picked clean by rioters except—the bookstore. That one had been left untouched. I can’t imagine the same to be true of the video store. 

It’s a familiar refrain and sometimes even I get tired of hearing it.  But it does often seem that our society’s values are a little skewed.  Sports often appear to be valued over education, infotainment over actual news, and—yes—movies and TV over books and literacy.  I generally find that when I’m reaching for an example to illustrate some important point about writing, that a reference to a “movie” often works best. The books I want to use as illustrations will work only for a subset of people.  The movie will work for nearly everyone. In fact, I sometimes feel as if I watch most TV and movies just so I’ll have something to talk about with other people and to use as examples in my classes.

Along a similar vein, I’ve had dozens of folks over the years find out that I’m a writer and immediately recommend that I 1) write for the movies, 2) read screenplays as a way to improve my writing,  3) read a book about screen writing, or 4) all of the above.  This is in spite of the fact that I, 1) don’t really find movies very interesting, 2) personally find screenplays the most boring thing to read outside of technical manuals, 3) don’t ever want my written prose to sound like it came from a movie, and 4) it just plain irritates me.

Now, I have nothing against folks who like movies. I like plenty of them myself. I also think that writers can learn something from studying every form of writing, including screenwriting, and there are movies that contain great dialogue, although I generally find them strongest at the “one liner” verbalizations.  But what irritates me about people making the “movie” suggestions to me is that these folks seem clearly to value movies more than books.  It almost seems they are saying, “well yes, write your little novels until you develop the professional skills to write for the important markets, TV and the movies.”  Frankly, most TV and movie writing isn’t very good, and that which is good generally comes originally from books, as with the Harry Potter movies and Game of Thrones.

I’ll admit that I probably sometimes overstate the case against movies, but that’s because hardly anyone else seems to question the “movies are just worth more than books” vibe that we live with in our society. I question it.  If my TV/video system was gone when I woke up tomorrow, my life would go on almost exactly as it did before.  When Lana is not home, our TV is off 99% of the time. But if I woke up and all my books were gone, I’d be devastated and would probably head for the nearest bookstore immediately to start replenishing my shelves. 

For me, and for always, books are where it's at.


Sunday, June 07, 2015

A Louisiana Boat Ride

To revise a line from one of my favorite movies, “Well, Mister, we’ve got something in this country called a Louisiana Boat Ride.”  Sunday morning, June 7, Lana and I left the house around 4:50 AM to go and join Scott Schexnaydre, a local photographer who graciously offered to take us out in his boat. We went out to an area of marsh lands called Lake Boeuf, and had a great time. Scott took us to several rookeries where we saw hundreds of adults and young herons and egrets of various species. There were numerous grackles as well, and these were some of the biggest I’ve ever seen. Many of the dark black males were nearly as large as crows. Lana got a picture of a female grackle with a mouthful of dinner. “Yum! Yum!”
Lana also captured an Eagle in flight, and got pictures under a bridge of some baby barn swallows still in the nest. 

At that same bridge, I spotted some Lubber grasshoppers. We watched one of these complete a molt. These are a huge variety of local grasshopper. The babies are young and mostly black with stripes of red. They are found in large numbers together and look almost like crickets. The adults, though, are yellow and black and easily stretch the length of a man’s palm.

Most insects, and other normally small critters, grow big in Louisiana, which has close to a tropical environment. As we were going out toward the lake this morning I noted masses of pink slime on many tree trunks and on the reedier grasses. Scott and Lana knew what this was, the eggs of a type of invasive snail species called the Red Apple Snail. Pictures will be forthcoming. I found one emptied snail shell, which was about the size of a golf ball, and later saw a live snail on a tree extruding its eggs. It was much bigger, about the size of a tennis ball. Scott got us close to get pictures, and almost put his hand on a normally unseen denizen of the marsh area, a very large water spider about the size of a baby’s fist.

Nature simply can’t be touched as a provider of beauty and entertainment. (All photos courtesy of Lana Gramlich)


Thursday, June 04, 2015

Forgotten Books Friday, Brackett and Hamilton Double

For Forgotten Books Friday this week I’m looking at Tor Double Novel No. 8. This contains “The Nemesis from Terra” by Leigh Brackett on one side, and “Battle for the Stars” by Edmond Hamilton on the other. That makes this a family affair since Brackett and Hamilton were married.  Both books would be classified as space opera. They were originally published separately in 1961, and combined in the Tor edition in 1989.

I read Battle for the Stars first, many years ago, and for my Goodreads review simply have the phrase, “decent space opera.” I read it as a standalone, probably checking it out from the small library in my hometown when I was a teenager, and obviously from the review I didn’t remember it all that well. It’s probably been over 40 years. I preferred the stories in Hamilton’s Crashing Suns collection, which I reviewed last week.

I discovered Brackett later than Hamilton but I’ve read more of her work and rate her as the better writer. At least, I tend to like her work better than Hamilton’s. Reading The Nemesis from Terra now shows me why.

First, Brackett had more poetry in her work than Hamilton. Here are some lines: “The winged ones drifted out from the white towers, and across the little racing moons. They were light and indescribably beautiful, and their wings shimmered with soft secret fires like opals under mist.”  I’m afraid I’m just a sucker for that kind of descriptive poetic language.

Second, while both Brackett and Hamilton wrote a lot of action into their stories, Brackett’s characters seem, to me, to have more heart. We see more of their inner thoughts and emotions. We see more things through their eyes. To make a comparison, reading Hamilton is like watching a movie, while reading Brackett is more like playing a video game. The video game involves you more directly in the action rather than letting you passively receive the information.

Brackett wasn’t an early influence on my writing, but has become one during my adult years, as I’ve read more of her work and have studied why I enjoy her stuff so much. She, and C. L. Moore, were particular influences on Under theEmber Star.  Here’s a particular little snippet of Ember Star that, perhaps, evokes a Brackett kind of feeling.

“The seven hovercycles Ginn saw hidden now beneath the overhanging bank of the dry river were typical of nomad machines. Low slung. Predatory. They seemed molded out of rust but that was only camouflage against the umber and ochre shades of the desert rocks. Ginn noted the hand-stitched seats of local leather, the exquisite etchings in black and red that embellished every metal surface, the displays of bone beadwork that dangled from handlebars and saddlebags.”

I like doing these forgotten book Fridays so I’m going to try to do a few more while it’s still summer. Once school starts, all bets will be off.