Tuesday, September 29, 2015

CONtraflow 5 and DeepSouthCon 53

Starting this Friday (October 2) and running through Sunday (October 4), we’ll have the CONtraflow 5 and Deep South Con #53 happening in Kenner, Louisiana, at the Airport Hilton. This is part of the Greater New Orleans area. I’ll be a guest and will be there quite a lot. I’ve got a number of panels.

Here’s the Con webpage

Lots of exciting stuff this year and it’s going to be the biggest one yet because it essentially combines two cons in one. Robert Sawyer is supposed to be there and I’m looking forward to meeting him.  Below is my panel schedule. (There’s a direct link as well.) Hope to see you there:

1:  Opening Ceremonies, Friday, 5pm, Event 1

2:  The Scariest Movie I've Ever Seen, Friday, 10pm, Panel Room 2, Panelists talk   about their favorite horror movies and what makes them turn on the lights. Seanan McGuire, Charles Gramlich, Kurt Amacker, Moderator: Jessica Styons

3: Vampires in Fiction, Saturday, 7pm, Panel Room 4: Explore this popular topic in fiction with our panelists. Alys Arden, Lewis Aleman, Trisha Baker; Moderator: Charles Gramlich

4: Speculative Poetry, Saturday, 8pm, Panel Room 3: Explore your poetry writing skills with authors Charles Gramlich and Kimberly Richardson. Charles Gramlich, Kimberly Richardson, Seanan McGuire

5: Dreams and Creativity, Saturday, 9pm, Panel Room 3: Join guest Charles Gramlich in exploring how dreams and creativity are interconnected.

6: Horror Fiction, Sunday, 4pm, Panel Room 2: Discuss the genre of horror fiction   with our guests. Charles Gramlich, Alex Jennings, Mason James Cole; Moderator: Kurt Amacker

Friday, September 25, 2015

Exposition versus Description

I saw the unthinkable yesterday. Someone gave my story, "Harvest of War," only 1 star. :( They quoted the first two lines and said "It doesn't get any better." Then they later referred to the writing as "boring and banal." They did, however, indicate that it was a personal preference and that if others are tempted they should have a look at the sample of the story. I appreciated that. I then found a second 1 star review, but I have the suspicion these may be by the same person since both are "jonsomething" and both indicated they like Amish themed fiction. That can't be all that common.

Honestly, I'm not very hurt by this. People have different tastes. I am, however, immensely curious. Why did this individual judge those first two lines as being so bad? I actually think they are rather good. I began to wonder if it might have to do with different preferences for level of description, exposition, and dialogue. The opening of "Harvest" has no dialogue. It depicts a battle scene to set up the story. 

But now I have a question that perhaps some of you might be able to help me with. I've quoted the opening paragraphs to "Harvest of War" below. No dialogue as you can see. However, would you consider this section to be more description or more exposition? I have to confess that I don't quite understand the difference between these two. Exposition appears to me to mean "explanation." Description gives visual and other sensory images. To me, there is some exposition below, but mostly this is description. However, I have heard this section of the story described as "classic exposition" by another reviewer, who liked the overall story very much. 

Can you help me understand this concept?


Across a snowfield that lies red with dawn, the Orc charge comes.

And is met.

Axes shriek on shields. Swords work against armor into flesh. The tips of spears are wetted. Gore dapples the snow.

For a moment, the human line holds. Then the center wavers. In a frenzy, an Orc squad punches through. More Orc pour in. The gap widens. The human forces fold back in desperate defense to either side of the breakthrough. Victory rewards the most brutal.


Across the field of now trampled snow, a new army appears—human cavalry mounted upon chargers of black. Banners unfurl. Horns skirl. Only too late do the Orc realize they’ve been tricked.

The mounted charge comes crashing. The hooves of warhorses hammer the ground to icy slush as lances headed with black iron are couched. The rear of the Orc army falls like wheat before that scythe. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Update and Review

Let me first point you to a review of The Adventures of an Arkansawyer over at Erik's Choice. Erik is a first rate observer of culture. He usually reviews books and movies that have far more literary merit than my own efforts. But I really appreciated his insightful comments on my stuff. Check it out.

As for updates, we got mostly very good news last week concerning Lana's PET Fusion scan. The cyst that she had removed from her ovary did have cancerous elements but it looks like from the scan that removing the cyst got everything and she will not need any chemotherapy. We were both very relieved by that, as you might imagine. They did find in the scan that she has an umbilical hernia, and that will probably need to be dealt with.

Lana also has another rhizotomy scheduled for this Wednesday, on the other side of her back. We're hoping the combination of these two will get her walking and moving well again. We've been able to get out for short walks after her first one but the pain is still pretty bad. Plus, it has been very hot here most days so we walk only early or late. I know we're both hoping for some cooler weather.

Looks like I'm not going to have football to distract me this year. Both my beloved Arkansas Razorbacks, and the New Orleans Saints, have lost two games in a row. Well, there's always next year. In the meantime, I've started replaying Skyrim again for the umpteenth time.

In writing, I'm about three or four chapters away from finishing Gods of Talera. I have not worked much on it for the past few weeks, though. Just trying to keep my head above water at school.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime

I don't know if any of you have Kindle Unlimited (KU), but if you do, I wanted to let you know that many of my books are absolutely free with KU. If you have Amazon Prime, they're also free to borrow. Here are the works you can get free from me through Unlimited or Prime.

Micro Weird: (a collection of weird flash fictions)

Harvest of War: (A fantasy story involving an Orc. Probably my best reviewed work)

Killing Trail: (A collection of western tales)

The Machineries of Mars: (A sword and planet story influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs)

Fiction Techniques, One, Two, and Three: (Articles on creating characters, creating suspense, and using the twist ending)

Days of Beer: (A humorous memoir of my younger days)

Harmland: (A collection of noir/horror tales)

Adventures of an Arkansawyer: (More humorous memoir material from my youth. It includes Days of Beer)

If you do have Unlimited or Prime, why not take just a second to hop over to these links and get your copy. And, of course, if you do, why not give them a read. I think they all tend to be pretty fast reads. I think I only get paid when people do read them. (Of course, most of these are only 99 cents at full price anyway).

I would certainly appreciate it!


Friday, September 11, 2015

Currently Reading

As is usual with me, I can't really just read one book at a time. Right now I've got three going. These are:

1. Who's Afraid of Marie Curie?, by Linley Erin Hall. This is subtitled: "The Challenges Facing Women in Science and Technology." Given that the vast majority of my students at Xavier University of Louisiana are women, I thought it a good idea. I found the first chapter very general but it has improved as the author has begun to focus more on actual research.

This book is my "school" reading, meaning that I generally only read it while at school, such as during my lunch hour or between my afternoon classes, or when I'm giving a test to students. During the school year I always have one of these books going, always nonfiction and related either to my field or to academia in general.

2. "The Axe" by Donald Westlake. I'm enjoying it quite a lot. I've classified it as a thriller. I think the basic plot, while very simple, is rather ingenious. I don't want to give it away. The book itself reveals it pretty early. (My copy has a solid black cover)

This is my "primary" read at home, which means I'm mostly focused on reading this whenever I get a few moments, such as while in the bathroom, while 'watching' TV, while cooking, or just before bed. I always have one such book going. About eighty percent of the time this book is fiction, but nonfiction might fall here as well, particularly if I'm reading nonacademic stuff such as musician or author biographies.

3. Luana, by Alan Dean Foster. This is a novelization of the movie. Foster does a lot of novelizations and does them well. I've never seen the movie but it was clearly supposed to be kind of a female Tarzan concept. Luana's plane crashes and she is raised by a pair of animal mothers, one a chimp and the other a panther. At least that's how the book starts. The movie is on you tube but I don't plan to watch it anytime soon.

This is my "secondary" read at home. I'll typically read about three times as many pages in my primary read as in my secondary, but I switch off between the two. Not sure why I do this but I've gotten into the habit of it. I think part of it is that I'm always looking forward to my next read, and hoping it will be one of those 'knock your socks off' books. I don't find a whole lot of those, though, so I pick up a fresh book before I'm finished with the one I'm on.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Breaking Bad

After eliminating most of our cable TV channels to save money, Lana and I decided to use the library to pick up some TV series that we’d heard good things about. We figured to watch an episode or two a night and get through a series that way. The first show we decided on was Breaking Bad. We’ve now finished it, and here are some thoughts.

First, watching a show this way is a lot better than watching it on a normal broadcast timeline. You don’t have the lengthy breaks that lead to forgetting of plot lines and details. I suspect that probably added to our enjoyment of the show.

Second, Breaking Bad is, in both Lana and my opinions, a very, very good drama. There are some weaknesses, particularly the show’s relatively poor handling of the main female characters, but overall the writing was outstanding. Tension, characters who were fully rounded and showed development, the settings, the way flashbacks were used. All these were deftly handled.

Third, this is only the third time in my history that I actually felt, even remotely, the kind of sadness at the end of a TV series as I have so often felt at the end of a really good book. The only other times I’ve had this feeling was with Star Trek: the Next Generation, and Frazier, and the feeling in both those cases was much less than with Breaking Bad. I’m talking about the kind of bittersweet melancholy that one feels when you read the last page of a beloved book and close the cover.

As we got closer to the end of the series, Lana and I both hated thinking about how we had only three episodes left, then only two, and then one. That’s also not something I’ve really felt, although I’ve never watched a show in this fashion before.

Lana and I were talking last night about our concern that we’ve become spoiled by Breaking Bad and that we’ll never find another series to watch that will compare. We do plan to try The Wire, Justified, and some others, so I suppose we’ll see.

I’ll end with this thought. TV has never been of much interest to me. I’ve very, very rarely felt any particular desire to see the ‘next’ episode of some show. For those shows I liked, such as Frazier and TNG, I was happy to catch an episode when I could but never gave it much thought between episodes. Breaking Bad has been something of a revelation to me. I think, for the first time, I have seen the potential for TV to create the kind of compelling stories that I’ve taken for granted in written fiction. I didn’t even know it was possible.