Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dyscrasia Fiction, S. E. Lindberg

Helen’s Daimones, by S.E. Lindberg, IGNIS Publishing LLC, Dyscrasia Fiction
204 pages. Front cover art by Daniel Landerman.


This is the third book in the Dyscrasia series by Lindberg, following after Lord of Dyscrasia and Spawn of Dyscrasia. Here again we find the combination of beautiful language and powerful imagination that informed the first two books. The result is a unique fantasy vision that is both artistic and effective. The “Dsycrasia” novels are hallucinogenic, dream-like, full of wraiths and apparitions. Ideas and images pile one on top of another with an intensity that is far from common in fantasy literature. I admire the author’s ability to maintain that intensity throughout his works; his world-building never stumbles.


This volume also introduces Helen, a young girl who immediately evokes both sympathy and admiration. I liked this touch because it gives readers a very human character we could strongly root for. Most of the other characters are inventive and complex but not entirely human. They are fascinating, but not as easy for the reader to inhabit. I’m looking forward to more adventures with Helen, and at the end of “Daimones” the author hints at things to come. I know there is a fourth book in the works. I’m looking forward to it. Here's the link on Amazon








Friday, November 10, 2017

Charles Recommends: Sword and Planet Fiction

I'm going to start a new feature both here on the blog and on facebook in which I’ll recommend my top five or so books in each genre that I’m familiar with. I'll limit it to one book per author in each of those genres. What I'd love to get back is other folks' recommendations in those genres as well. I'm always looking for new good books to read. Below are my top five recommendations in Sword & Planet fiction.

1. Swordsmen in the Sky: My favorite fantasy collection of all time. This is the collection that, more than anything, made me want to write Sword & Planet stories. Contains: Swordsman Of Lost Terra by Poul Anderson, People of the Crater by Andre Norton, The Moon That Vanished by Leigh Brackett, A Vision of Venus by Otis Adelbert Kline, and Kaldar, World of Antares, by Edmond Hamilton

2. A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This is the one that started it all for me. The first in the Barsoom series by Burroughs. John Carter gets to Mars and has his first adventures. I loved it so much that from the moment I read it I began making up my own stories about this kind of character and world. Eventually, the Talera cycle resulted. I owe ERB so much for the joy he gave me and the inspiration he was for me with these books.

3. A Sword for Kregen, by Alan Burt Akers (AKA Kenneth Bulmer): This is the first Dray Prescot book that I ever read, and it is still my favorite. Dray Prescot meets a better swordsman than he is, which was unique in my experience with Sword & Planet fiction up to that time. The book also involves a game of living chess, or the Kregen equivalent of that, called Jikaida. I still remember finding this book at a small used bookstore in Russellville, Arkansas when I was in college there. Just a great story.


4. Aldair in Albion, by Neal Barrett, Jr.: This is the first in a four book series that has to be one of the most unique S & P works out there. It’s a bit outside the standard realm for S & P fiction because it actually takes place on a future earth. However, the feel of it—to me—is sword & planet with a healthy dose of animal fable. This is a story about a world abandoned by humans but only after they raised many other species to sentience. The main character is an intelligent, upright walking pig. But although that sounds like food for hilarity, the story is full of adventure and excitement.


5. In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, by S. M. Stirling: Stirling knocked it out of the park with this one. A wonderful revival of the Sword and Planet genre, and set on Mars no less. Great action, fantastic and wonderful characters, and a powerful ending. A truly enjoyable experience.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

The Traveler Series, D. B. Drumm

This is the first in a post-apocalyptic series that seems clearly influenced by the movie Road Warrior. It's credited to D. B. Drumm. It takes place about fifteen years after a "nuke-out," which seems to have occurred in this book's timeline around 1984. That's when the book was written. It features a man known only as Traveler, although we do learn his real last name late in the book. It's Paxton.  Traveler is an ex-special forces soldier who, while in "El Hiagura" (El Salvador) before the war,  was exposed to a very nasty neurotoxin that often causes him great pain but which also seems to provide him with some extra-sensory ability to detect emotions. 

In this volume, Traveler stumbles into a town where two opposing war-lords divide the town between them. Shades of Kuroisowa's "Yojimbo" and Leone's "A Fistful of Dollars." As one might expect, Traveler ends up pitting the two sides against each other. The book also reveals that a man who betrayed Traveler back before the war is still alive, and that he serves the ex-president of the United States, a man named Frayling, who appears to be a rather thinly veiled substitute for Ronald Reagan, who was president from 1981 to 1989. It further reveals that at least one of Traveler's friends from before the war is still alive. These two discoveries provide a set up for the continuing series.

As with most of these men's adventures books of the era, D. B. Drumm was a house name for the series. It appears that Ed Naha wrote this first volume, and he and John Shirley traded off on the books through the rest of the series.

I actually enjoyed this book quite a bit and will look for others in the series. There are apparently thirteen volumes. Although the story is pretty standard, the writing was good and the character interesting. Better done than many in the post-apocalyptic genre. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Free Ebook, Harmland

For Halloween, and for a couple days after, my "Harmland" collection is free to download as an ebook at Amazon. This is a collection of noir and horror stories. There's over 20,000 words of material here, including such tales as "Whiskey, Guns, and Sin," "The Grey Inside," "The Finding," and others.

One of the stories, "The Toad," is about half autobiographical. You'll have to guess which half. There's also a Cthulhu Mythos story called "The Vivarium."

If you read ebooks, why not give it a download. And if you do read it, I'd appreciate a review, of course.

Download here:

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Sirens Call

The Sirens Call, Issue 35, is out just in time for Halloween. This is a dark fiction, dark poetry ezine that has really good production values and a plethora of creepy/scary stories and poems. It's 144 pages of material, and is free to download. I have three poems in it, "In Wormwood Days of Wither," "Mother Cold-Eyes," and "A Hiss of Angels."

Why not check it out? It costs you nothing. And if you like it there is a place for comments at the publication site, which is here. You just have to click on the magazine cover at the site (not the one below) to download your free PDF.


Monday, October 16, 2017

When a Book Goes Out of Print


Cold in the Light was the third book I wrote but the first to be published. Invisible College Press picked it up in 2002 an it sold modestly. Emphasis on the modestly. This is despite the fact that I believe it was, and is, a really strong thriller. I’m very proud of it.

In September of 2017 I received word from Invisible College Press that they were closing their doors, officially making Cold in the Light “out of print” as of October 2017. The question then becomes, what next?

I see two possibilities: First, I could seek out another small press publisher who might be interested. Second, I could self publish it. Frankly, because I believe it is really good, I’d like to try another publisher who might have more marketing sense than I apparently have. I’m going to take a bit of time to look around.

Another issue that has arisen though is whether I should update the book. My writing skills have, hopefully, improved since this book was written in the 1990s. I at first just assumed I’d update and started going through it. A problem quickly became apparent. The technology has changed dramatically since the book was published. And not only that, but the geographic setting has changed. When I wrote Cold in the Light, Highway 71 was the main route students took to get to the University of Arkansas. That is no longer true.

My alternatives then became, rewrite the tech and the geography, which will require considerable work, or simply set the book in the past time in which it was originally written. I already have times and days mentioned in the book so I could easily establish a year. What do you think of the latter idea? Have you read books like that? Do you care if a thriller is essentially set in the past? Or do you want your thrillers to be "torn from today's headlines?" Before I make any further changes to the work I need to make this decision. Any feedback would be appreciated.








Thursday, October 05, 2017

CONTRAFLOW SF/FANTASY/HORROR CON

Contraflow #7 is going live this weekend, October 6 - 8, at the Airport Hilton in Kenner, Louisiana. That's part of the Greater New Orleans area for those who aren't familiar. This is a great con with lots of great guests and fun activities. I'll be there as a guest so I hope you can stop by if you're in the area, or going to be. I'll be there as much as I can, particularly on Saturday when I have most of my panels. Here's what I'm going to be doing: 

Fri 5pm, Event One: Opening Ceremonies
Sat 11am, Panel 3: The Representation of Contemporary Reality in the Horror, Sci-Fi, and Thriller Genres
Sat 1pm, Event Two: Narrative in Punk Rock, Black Metal, and Shock Rock
Sat 2pm, Event One: Star Wars and Psychology
Sat 8pm, Panel 1: Dark Fantasy
Sun 1pm, Panel 3: Pulp Returns! (about modern pulps)

If you're interested, check out Contraflow's webpage, and/or their facebook page. 

Hope to see you there!



Thursday, September 28, 2017

National Poetry Day

Today, September 28, is National Poetry Day. I urge you to read a little poetry, perhaps pick up a collection or two. I believed that I hated poetry when I was in Junior High and High School, but that was because I seldom found any that really engaged my imagination. These days I spend a little time every week reading poetry. I find it enhances my life.

Most of what I read would be called "speculative poetry," which generally means that it involves concepts and ideas from literary fields such as science fiction, fantasy, and horror. However, my personal favorite poet is Dylan Thomas, who I've mentioned on this blog many times before. While not specifically "speculative," Thomas's poetry has a certain surreal element to it that I find very lovely and thought provoking.

If you'd like to know what I recommend in the field of poetry, here is a link to my poetry shelf on Goodreads. You can see what I've read and how I rated it.

Although I don't consider myself much of a poet, I do try my hand at the form on occasion. Here's one of mine, the only one I've ever written about my writing "muse." It was originally published in The Pedestal Magazine.


GAUNT

As autumn shadows
evolve into winter nights,
hunger comes sniffing.

Gaunt, the gray wolf has grown.
With yellow eyes.
Her belly snarls a wild music of want,
to match the growl in her throat.

In the spring she fed well
from the hunt.
Her teeth left the green grass
dappled with red.

But summer came warm
and did not warm her.
Heat drove the hunted to ground.
Sickness claimed her pack.

On a hushed and lorn eve,
in a desperate famine,
through cold black woods
she came weak to my fire.

I threw her the carcass
of my feast,
and she became my muse.
In no way domesticated.

With strength returned, she hunted.
Spurning the tame food I offered,
she left me the feathers
of some gutted prey.

Now on occasion she visits.
At edge of fire and shadow,
only her eyes glow.
We judge each other warily.

We will be friends,
a pack of two.
Or one will kill the other.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Robert Frost's Poems


New Enlarged Pocket Anthology of Robert Frost’s Poems: With an Introduction and Commentary by Louis Untermeyer.  Pocket Books: 1971 (29th printing):




My first introduction to Robert Frost came in high school, specifically “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” These are his two most famous poems and probably most people have some familiarity with them. I like them and both spoke to me.  I wouldn’t say they inspired me or influenced my own poetry, which developed much later. In high school I was still convinced that I didn’t like poetry. I came to understand later that I didn’t like poetry with facile rhymes or that simply pointed out an observation, thought or feeling that I already knew well from my own experience. It wasn’t until I discovered Dylan Thomas in college that I began to see the possibility for poetry to transcend and expand personal experiences.



Because Frost’s poetry spoke of what I would describe as mundane reality, I just never pursued his work further. I don’t mean mundane in a negative sense here. I mean it essentially as “objective” reality. But that’s not what I want to experience in the literary works that I read. I live mundane reality. I want the poetry I read to twist that reality and surprise me. Knowing of Frost’s influence on the field of poetry, however, I did pick up this collection of his poems. I decided I needed to read them. Here are my thoughts.



First, I can certainly agree with the critics that Frost was a superbly talented poet and a keen observer of the world. His poems are typically quite simple in construction, with straightforward rhyming patterns. When they impact me, they tend to evoke quiet and contemplative moods. And now I’ll say, and hope that I won’t be misunderstood, that quiet and contemplative is not what I want from my poetry. I want disturbing. I want rawness. I want the surreal. Frost does not give me these experiences and for that reason he’ll never be as important to me as someone like Dylan Thomas.



I really hope people do not take this as some kind of “dislike” of Frost, or that I’m saying he’s not a poet worthy of study and consideration. I don’t mean it that way. I’m talking about my own very personal and visceral (or lack of that) reaction to his work. Perhaps the best way I can say it is this: I have a bookshelf where I keep copies of works that inspire my own writing, or that have in some way shaped my philosophy on life. Dylan Thomas’s poetry is on that shelf. Some of Ray Bradbury’s is on that shelf. Robert Frost will not be on that shelf, though he may well be on “your” inspirational shelf.  And if that is the case then I salute you.



Moving from my general response to Frost’s work to this specific collection, I’m not sure I’d recommend it. The poems are well presented, of course, and I generally liked the overall organization of the book. However, I just did not care for, or find useful, the commentary by Louis Untermeyer. Untermeyer was a well respected poet and critic, but I found his comments about Frost’s poetry to be long on hyperbole and low on information. Here’s an example, from page 168.

“The poems of Robert Frost have a way of uniting opposites. They are casual in tone but profound in effect, teasing and intense, playful yet deeply penetrating.  Even when they seem to be about a particular place, they suggest ideas unlimited by space.”



This is a good example, to me, of saying nothing while seeming to say much. I would much rather have had information about when and where the poetry was written, and information about any historical connections that the poem may have had. I bought this collection, in part, because I felt I needed some commentary to help me experience Frost. I think now that this was a mistake and I should have come to the poems without any filter. To those of you who are interested in writing poetry and want to study Frost for that reason, I’d suggest a collection with no commentary. For those of you who are making a more literary study of Frost, this collection might be useful but I don’t think it would be a good starting point. Something that places Frost’s work better into the context of his times would likely prove more useful.








Saturday, September 09, 2017

The Summer of Moonlight Secrets


Summer of MoonlightSecrets: By Danette Haworth, 2010, Walker and Company, 273 pages.


Allie Joe and her family manage the Meriwether Hotel in Florida. It was once a grand place frequented by movie stars, but it has seen better days. Some of the upper floors are closed. There are places where the windows are broken out and stray cats and kudzu slip in. But for Allie it is the perfect place, full of secret passages and hidden nooks and crannies. Allie Jo is intelligent and imaginative, but she doesn’t have a lot of friends. This summer will change that.

Chase arrives with his father, a writer, to stay at the hotel for a while during the summer. He breaks his arm in a skateboarding accident the first time he meets Allie Jo, but the two strike up a friendship. Soon, they meet a mysterious young woman named Tara, who says that she is a runaway and has nowhere else to go than the hotel. She reveals that she’s hiding from someone who wants to control her. Allie Jo and Chase are caught up in solving the mystery of Tara, and in helping her defeat the plans of the man she’s hiding from so she can return home.

The Summer of Moonlight Secrets seems perfect for anyone who enjoys young adult stories. Its target audience is kids but it certainly held the attention of this 58-year-old, and took me back to my childhood when summers were magical and lasted forever.

The book is fast paced. It’s told in short, alternating chapters from Allie Jo and Chase’s points of view, with an occasional chapter seen from Tara’s perspective. I thought it was a lot of fun. I’ve already read a previous book by Danette Haworth, Violet Raines almost got struck by Lightning, and I enjoyed it very much as well. I’ll be picking up others by this author so I can take an occasional trip back to my younger self.


Sunday, September 03, 2017

In a world of books



Sometimes folks seem to think I lead an exciting life. Well, I do. But not in the way they think. I live most of my exciting adventures through books. And I always have. I became addicted to reading very early and have never broken the habit. I typically three 2 to 3 books at a time, of varying types. I'm reading a pulp western, a collection of Robert Frost's poetry, and a children's book right now.

I got almost all of my early reading through the library since we didn't have money for a lot of books. But I actually kept semi-decent records of what I read as a youngster and as an adult I have purchased many of those old books. Now I've taken pictures of those and will share some of them here. Among the books I read in my pre-teen and teen years were books about:

Football. I wanted to be a running back for the Arkansas Razorbacks growing up, and then go pro with Green Bay. I did play in high school but weighed only 132 pounds when I graduated so I never played college ball. I lived many football adventures with Joe Archibald, though. Here are some:
                                                
                                           

I also loved animal stories and that probably made up the bulk of my early reading. Jim Kjelgaard and Walter Farley were staples in those days:




I loved novels but I also enjoyed reading of real life adventure and non fiction. A favorite series for me were the "You Were There" adventures. Here's two that I remember fondly.

Soon, I began to branch out to westerns, science fiction, and fantasy. But that's for another post.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Compass

I offered the tender of my heart
to suborn the hag of life’s kisses.
And I have stood in winter
against a morn dreadful and vicious. 

Warped as a cinder,
burned alive,
unshriven and unshorn,
I have stood and given
until the blade is worn.

Do the bones of my smiles
not show the bruises?
Wear I not the blisters
of weary miles?

Is there a scream
I have not loosed?
Is there a blood
I have not shed?
Why do you think 
I dream in red?

But at the gate between hawk
and dove,
on all the roads that scars chalk,
still I seek a compass that points to love.


Monday, August 21, 2017

A Little History

I always sort of assume that the readers of this blog know me and know about my job, but lately there have been a few new people stopping by so I thought I might take this post to introduce a little about myself and my work. If you already know it, feel free to skip. I'll try to be brief.

I was born in 1958 and grew up on a farm in Arkansas. I got a bachelor's degree in psychology from Arkansas Tech University, then an MA and PhD in psych from the University of Arkansas. I started teaching at Xavier University of Louisiana, in New Orleans, in 1986 and have been there ever since. This is my 32 or 33 year. It's a lot anyway. I teach experimental psychology courses such as Physiological Psychology, Psychology of Learning, Evolutionary Psychology, and Writing in Psychology.

For the last ten years or so I've been able to take summers off to write and pretty much all of my book publications have come in that time period. I do write during the school year but I am seldom able to complete long projects during that time. My job keeps me pretty busy. In addition to teaching, I'm also chair of the Xavier University IRB, which processes any research project carried out on campus that involves human participants. It is a "very" busy committee. 

I also tend to blog less when school is in session, so you may note a slow down in my blog posts and visits over the next few weeks. Faculty meetings and registration took place last week, and classes start today. I came in very early to get all my stuff ready for class so that's why I have a few minutes to blog this morning. 

Anyway, enough about that. I'm off to try and visit some blogs before the first students start coming in. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What I Learned from a Month off Facebook

So, I spent a month off facebook. Here’s what I learned.

1. I didn’t much miss it on an emotional level. Quite a few times in the first few days I automatically reached for FB to post some comment or update. That went away pretty quickly.

2. I generally felt more relaxed and didn’t miss the drama that is often present on FB. A big plus.

3. I got more writing and reading done, and watched more TV. However, the increase in writing and reading wasn’t anything astronomical. It was substantive, though, and was the best part of being off FB.

4. Sales of my self published items took a nose dive. I sold exactly one thing during the time I was off FB. Generally, I sell more than that. I have no idea about how it might have affected sales of my Wildside and other publisher released books. A big negative.

5. Although I could have called family members and friends, I didn’t make a substantial increase in this. I did some and that was pleasant, and it’s something I hope to continue. However, I still end up wasting plenty of time, just in other ways.

6. I missed talking about books and writing on FB. This was actually most of what I did when I was on it, and I enjoyed it. A negative.

7. I missed some regular interactions with folks that I was used to seeing on FB. A negative.

8. I found that many, many publishers and contests and other writing related projects make FB their main platform and this was a big negative for me. I couldn’t access guidelines and quite a few other sources of writing information that might have been important for me. Most of this is marketing and that in itself can cause problems for production. But still, not having ready access to this material cost me potential markets. One call for submissions that I missed was definitely something I would have submitted to, and a place where I’ve sold stuff before. This was the biggest issue for me.

9. I got back into blogging and did more of that and found that a positive. I did not necessarily have to give up FB to do this, though. I could have simply shifted the time spent on these various activities around.

For these reason, with the negatives outweighing the positives, I’m going to renew my facebook profile. I’ll see if I’ve lost a step there, and let you know. However, I want to spend less time there and try to avoid leaping on and off it a dozen times a day. If I can do that, I can maintain some of the good things of being away from FB while keeping access to other things that I like.

So, see you on facebook within the next few days.



Monday, August 07, 2017

Dark Hours, by Sidney Williams.

Dark Hours, by Sidney Williams. Crossroad Press. Hard copy Print. 183 Pages.


Dark Hours is a relatively short novel but packs a lot of tension and atmosphere into its space—and adds a good amount of action. I would classify it as a horror/thriller. It does a good job of combining the best attributes of both these genres.

Allison Rose is a student journalist at Pine College, a small school that has seen better days. An escaped killer is suspected of hiding out on the campus, where the woman he murdered once went to school. Allison is contacted by someone who claims to be the killer, and he wants to give her an exclusive interview of his side of the story.

But is it really the killer, or someone else playing a sick joke? Along the way to answering that question, we find out that everyone seems to have secrets in this game, and in a savage bout of cat and mouse played through the basement level of the college library, all those secrets get spilled while Allison struggles to survive against a dangerous and cunning foe.

I read Dark Hours in print form, as a hardback from CrossroadPress. It's a very nice physical package as well, with a dynamite cover. The author, Sidney Williams, has written numerous novels, most of which I’ve read, and many short stories as well. I’ve never read any of his work that I didn’t enjoy, and I highly recommend Dark Hours.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

The Expanse: TV Show

Been watching "The Expanse" on DVD lately. This is an SF TV show from SYFY channel, based on a series of books by James S. A. Corey, which is a pen name for a pair of authors named Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. The novels are well respected and have gotten some Hugo nominations. I haven't read them but quite likely will give the first one a try, "Leviathan Wakes."

I have no idea how close the show stays to the novels. We've only watched the first five episodes, but based on that I'll definitely be continuing with it. There are two 13 episode seasons filmed so far, with a third planned for 2018.

The concept is a three way political struggle between Earth, a strong and independent Mars colony, and "The Belt," which are the independent settlers and miners of the Asteroid belt, particularly "Ceres," the largest asteroid in the belt. Based on the first five episodes, there appears to be a fourth player who is not clear at the moment.

I've always disliked politics and am not much of a reader of political fiction. But Games of Thrones showed that when you match politics with genuine human interest and human characters, and throw in plenty of action, you can have compelling TV. The Expanse TV series is following that kind of pattern and so far it's hooked me.

I didn't realize, too, until the past few years, how much of a difference good acting makes. Game of Thrones certainly illustrated this for me. The Expanse also showcases some good actors doing good work, including Thomas Jane as a hardboiled sort of detective, and a number of actors previously unknown to me. Another bonus is that the cast is very cosmopolitan, with meaty roles for women and non-white characters. I was pleased to see Chad Coleman get a good role here. I enjoyed his work in The Walking Dead.

I'm liking it!

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Krieg

In the last couple of years I've come up with what is so far my favorite sword and sorcery character. I call him Krieg, which is the German word for war. I've created quite a few other S & S characters over the years--Thal Kyrin, Jaal Harkest. Jedess of Seth-Loeril, Jys Martel. Most of them can be found in Bitter Steel, which collects the majority of my older S & S stories. But Krieg has become my favorite. If I had to compare him with any other heroic fantasy character out there, I'd say he was closest to Karl Edward Wagner's Kane. But Krieg is not Kane. He's the product of many years of reading heroic fantasy and striving to write it. He's his own man, so to speak.

I hope to write many adventures for Krieg. So far I've completed three. Only one has been published, A Whisper in Ashes, at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. The other two, "Where All the Souls are Hollow," and "The Rotted Land," have not yet been submitted. I'm looking for the right place to send them. One of the things that I've done to characterize Krieg in these tales is begin each one with a short poem that describes the character from the point of view of an outsider. Below are the three openers that I've got so far. What do you think?

A WHISPER IN ASHES

Down from the death-lands of snow
came a warrior with eyes
like scars.
No one knew his origins.
None could foresee his end.
He had no name.
The barbarians called him Krieg.

WHERE ALL THE SOULS ARE HOLLOW
Out of choking dust and black smoke
came a warrior with eyes
like broken blades.
Wherever he journeyed,
war followed.
None could say why.
The survivors called him Krieg.

THE ROTTED LAND 
He arrived on a fetid wind,
with eyes black as fractured onyx.
Blood flowed the paths where he walked.
Some thought him angel.
Others claimed him demon.
Only the whisperers named him   
Krieg.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson

As a biological psychologist, I certainly consider myself a scientist. As a teacher, I strive in my classes to make science interesting and attractive to my students while not glossing over the hard work that it entails. I want humanity to have a positive future and believe that science can provide us with the ways to get there. In my own small way, I try to be a proselytizer for science. I want people to love it the way that I do.

In my generation, Carl Sagan was the primary spokesperson for science. I remember being captivated by his Cosmos, and it led me directly into a fascination with astrophysics. I read a lot of other books in the field, including more of Sagan’s own work as well as the work of Stephen Hawking and many others. I don’t profess to understand it all but, if there are ‘big’ questions then astrophysics is the place where they most frequently get asked, and sometimes answered.

I would say that, for the current generation, Neil DeGrasse Tyson has taken up where Sagan left off, and I know he fully credits Sagan for his own involvement in science. I recently finished Tyson’s book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. It’s definitely not a “title” for people in a hurry but the book does exactly what it claims to. I finished it over a weekend and it was very straightforward, with clear explanations of tough concepts. It was well written with quite a few touches of humor. I came away with a good capsule history of our universe. I also learned a few things that I didn’t know, but I’ll let you discover those yourself when you read the book. I highly recommend it.








Sunday, July 23, 2017

Odd Bob's

We happened to be in Foley, Alabama today (Sunday), and stopped by a place called Foley's Indoor Flea Market. While Lana wandered around through much of the place, I went straight to Odd Bob's, who is a book guy among other things. (He also sells toys and a lot of vinyl records but I don't care anything about those.)

What I cared about was a simply huge selection of all kinds of books, SF, Mystery, History, Westerns, and much more, including a lot of comics. I only had an hour or so to spend there so I barely scratched the surface of what he had available, but I did find a few books that I'll share with you here.

"Drifter," by William C. Dietz is the first in a series. I've been looking for it for a good while and already have the other two. The Ray Bradbury collection of plays is not something I've seen anywhere else. I didn't know it existed. I've been intending to write a play myself. I also picked up a Babylon 5 tie-in novel by Peter David.

I also found several series books that were new to me. I got #1 in Donovan's Devils, #2 in the Man from U.N.C.L.E. series (which I had at least heard of), and copies of series books for The Guardians and UFO-1 that I'd never heard of. I was familiar with James Axler from his Death Lands series, although this "Earth Blood" is not from that series.

I picked up a collection of fables from Richard Adams, who I've found myself interested in again of late, and this rather odd book on the right called "The Alphabet of Manliness." It looks to be pretty funny. Never heard of it before. 



Finally, we also got the poster shown below, which is Star Trek related. For those of you who love Trek, no explanation is necessary. For those of you who don't, no explanation is sufficient.

If you happen to be in Foley, do yourself a favor and stop by Odd Bob's. He had a lot of Burroughs, a lot of L'Amour, and much, much more. You can find out more at his website, including his location. I linked it in line 2 of this post.

Friday, July 21, 2017

SPILLANE/HAMMER

I read my first Mickey Spillane book in 2008. It was “One Lonely Night,” the 4th book in the Mike Hammer series. I gave it one star. Here’s what I said: “I was really looking forward to enjoying my first Mickey Spillane book. I'm still waiting. This one was awful. Personally, I found it nearly illiterate. He's got only the tiniest fragment of the style of Chandler and Hammett but without even a sliver of their talent. I won't be reading another Spillane for a long, long time.”

Cue 2017, a long time in reading years. I’ve started my second Spillane/Hammer book. “Vengeance is Mine,” book 3 in the series, and I’m liking it a lot better. Not loving it, mind you, but at least it’s not a chore to read. As I started thinking of this post about Spillane’s work, I did some background reading on him. Turns out his first few books tended to focus on Hammer coming up against gangsters. Then he switched to “Commies.” My accidental selections of his books has apparently bracketed these periods. “One Lonely Night” was from his commie phase while “Vengeance” involved gangsters. Maybe that’s the difference. The “Commie” threat is certainly a lot more dated than the gangster threat.

This time with Spillane, though, I can at least begin to see the attraction many readers have for him. There is a rawness and an underlying power that creates a momentum for the story. The dialogue is dramatic, if not very realistic sounding. I can see why the Hammer tales are of interest to TV and film makers. My interest may be higher this time, as well, because I’ve been fiddling with a hardboiled story myself.

The books are also just chock full of items that grind my teeth, however. Of course, every beautiful woman (dame) in the tale is a knockout and every one of them has the hots for Mike Hammer, to the point they can’t resist him and beg him to take them. Most of them also enjoy a good slapping and accept being pushed around as their due. The cliché is sort of that they’re good girls in bad roles and they recognize the ultimate bad boy in Hammer. I’d never be one to say that you just can’t create this kind of female character. There are all kinds of people in the world. But over and over and over to the point of caricature and formula? I wince every time one of them is on scene in the story.

I still have a number of Spillane titles on my shelves. See the picture below. I picked these all up together at a library book sale. It was 9 years between my first and second attempt at Spillane. It probably won’t be so long for the third. I guess we’ll see.






Sunday, July 16, 2017

Another Dream and a Review at Angie's Desk

Two posts in two days! It's like old blog-time again around here. I definitely wanted to mention a review for Write With Fire over at Angie's Desk. I hope you'll check it out. Thanks Angie! Angie has been a staple of the blogging community for a long time and her lists of open anthology calls are must sees for anyone trying to sell short fiction today. Check out her own work too.

I also had another monster dream last night. Two of those in two days too. In this case I was camping out in a forest known to be inhabited by bigfoot. The whole dream had a kind of Boggy Creek vibe until I actually saw the creature. It was the horned monster with the striped shirt from the book Where the Wild Things Are. That was my son's favorite book as a kid. If I were to try and interpret this one, I'd say it meant that I needed to stop being so afraid of things, that maybe issues that I'm facing are not the monsters they seem to be on the surface.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Dream of Tigers

I’m not big on dream interpretation. Most of my dreams relate in a direct fashion to things I’ve recently read, watched or experienced. But last night’s dream begs for interpretation, and I have one.

It was on the farm where I grew up. My sister, Dolores, and two of my brothers, Paul David and Raymond,  were with me in the big field below our house. We were separated from each other but had our guns because something had been bothering the cattle. I was walking the fence line when I heard two deer bounding away in the narrow band of trees behind me. As I looked for what had startled the deer, I saw a tiger stalking through the field on the other side of the fence. It hadn’t seen me yet. 


Suddenly afraid, I  ran toward my brothers and sister, yelling a warning. The tiger came into the field where we were. It was strangely elongated. It must have been thirty feet long, with weird “S” curves in its body. I realized the tiger had focused on my sister. I opened fire with my rifle to prevent it reaching her but the bullets had no effect. Dolores was near the pond and when the tiger reached her it broke into a number of smaller tigers and attacked.

Dolores disappeared and then the tiger turned and looked at me. It was just one again. I ran toward our house, hoping for a hiding place. I managed to reach the house and get the door shut, but the tiger burst through that flimsy barrier. I slammed another door in its face and it burst through that one too. I ran, slamming doors that it smashed away. I’d lost my gun but was searching for another in a panic as I woke up.
  

So, what is the interpretation? Well, Dolores died of colon cancer. I’m convinced the tiger represented that cancer. That elongated, curved tiger could even be said to resemble one’s intestines. But why should I have this dream? Now? Well, yesterday I had a colonoscopy. I’d been worried about it, afraid the tiger was going to come after me. Fortunately, they found only a couple of small polyps that don’t indicate any problems. Only after the relief of that news could my fears finally surface in a dream. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Problem of Facebooking

So, here’s a thing I’ve discovered. Facebook is too easy. You can jump online, post something, get near immediate feedback from some of your thousand plus friends, and it feels good. You can easily stay in contact with family and close friends and see what they’re up to, although most of the time it isn’t anything exciting. You can share your joys at what you’re reading or watching, or lament your failures with people who have similar interests. But, the ease of Facebook communication is misleading. It would be better for me to call my family members than to just like some picture they post. It would be better to make plans to get together with a friend and have lunch.

As a writer, I’ve also used Facebook as a way to promote my work, but it’s become clear to me that FB is not designed to help you do that unless you pay. A personal post I make gets seen by everyone while any kind of promotion for my work disappears into a black hole. And even though it doesn’t help much with promotion, it has become—for me—a huge time sink. I’m writing less and reading less because of it.  Inevitably in writing a story there comes a pause while you think of what needs to happen next. Too often of late I’ve filled that pause by hopping on Facebook, and then finding half an hour or more gone just like that. A better promotion of my work would be to do more of it rather than talk about it.

For these reasons, I’ve decided to take a big step back from Facebook. I’ll monitor the sales of my books and stories to see if there is any discernable effect, so in that way it’ll be an experiment.  Meanwhile, I hope to see my output of both reading and writing increase, as well as finding time and motivation to do a bit more blogging.


Thursday, July 06, 2017

Bestseller Metrics, By Elaine Ash


Bestseller Metrics is focused on helping writers figure out how their manuscript matches up in characters and structure with published bestsellers such as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and others. It forces the writer to confront what is actually in their manuscript rather than what they might *imagine* is in it. The writing is clear and concise, with touches of humor throughout. There are numerous "tests" for writers to run on their manuscripts, and each one is clearly described, with worksheets provided. When necessary, screen shots are given to explain the procedures on a step by step basis.

The creator of Bestseller Metrics is Elaine Ash, an award winning author in her own right, and one with many years of experience in editing. Although Ms. Ash did not specifically set out to create a writing "tip" sort of book, Bestseller Metrics does offer a lot of insight into the writing process and I personally found a lot of wisdom in it.

I've also not seen any other writing book out there that takes this kind of approach. I found it very valuable. It's something I'll keep referring back to with each new book I work on.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Poetry from Yours Truly

I'm very honored to be July's Selected Poet over at The Horror Zine. I hope you will click on the link and head over for a look. Thanks to Jeani Rector and all the good folks over there. I much appreciate their efforts. 

There are three poems, "River of Love's Dreaming," "Recipe for Disaster," and "Serpent Rain." I always construct notes about the evolution of stories I write, and sometimes I do this for poems, although in less detail. For what it's worth, here are the notes for these three poems below. 

A River of Love’s Dreaming: Started in 2016. I was very happy with my poem R.O.A.D, River of Angels Dreaming, and so I decided to try something else in a similar vein. I don't think it's as good but I was pleased with it overall. 

Recipe for Disaster: After reading some great poetry by Bruce Boston, I tried to create a similar kind of poem and this very short piece came out. I wrote an alternate version too and showed both to my writing group in 2016. They liked this the best. Bruce actually read this and gave me a suggestion for it, but it was already submitted at that point and so I wasn't able to incorporate his suggestion. If there's ever a collection that small change will be made. 

Serpent Rain: Written in 2010 but I don’t remember much about it. That was a very stressful year. A lot of losses. I suppose it felt a bit like I was being punished and was hoping for forgiveness. 

Thanks to everyone for visiting. 



Saturday, June 24, 2017

Raymond Chandler: Killer in the Rain

Just finished reading Killer in the Rain by Raymond Chandler. This is a short story but it was given a kind of standalone novella treatment by Modern Classics. You can see the cover below.

As I was reading this one I tried to pay close attention to Chandler's style, to see if could pick up on what makes him such an original and so often imitated. First let me say I really enjoyed the story. It captivated me as I read along. But what were the elements that lead to that captivation?

First, Chandler's writing is very simple and straightforward. There is very little poetry in his prose, unless one considers a certain starkness to be poetical. Second, the work reads like it was written quickly and was not revised very much, although I have no idea if that is actually true. I say that because I found various places where Chandler reused the same word in the same sentence or paragraph. I often do that in first drafts but usually try to change it as I revise. Third, there is almost no description of the natural world other than an occasional visual given of the sky or of rain. There is, however, a fair amount of description of man made objects within the story, such as the drapes or automobiles.

I found these three points interesting because, normally, I would say that I didn't like the way Chandler does them. I love poetical writing. I like polished prose. I love descriptions of nature and dislike descriptions of man-made materials. Chandler worked against all three of my preferences here, but I still enjoyed the read.

One might say, well, "Story is King." But the story here is not that compelling either. Basically, a mobster's girl is stepping out on him and he hires our "shamus" to take care of it. There's a couple of murders and a blackmail scheme, a couple of dames and a lot of whiskey. There's an hysterical woman who has to be slapped out of it. None of these are particularly compelling plot lines, although they certainly would have been much less predictable when this work was originally published.

The upshot of my analysis here is anticlimactic. I don't know why this booklet worked so well for me. Maybe other's have thoughts.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Bookshelf of Inspiration

Reading has been a major inspiration for me throughout my life. Not only an inspiration for my own writing, but for life in general, for whatever philosophy I claim, for my career in academia, for the way I try to treat others. It would require many blog posts to list all the books and stories that have influenced me, but I can show you pictures of those works that have stuck with me the longest and which I continue to this day to pick up periodically and peruse.

First up are three books that reflect both my love of nature and of beautiful writing. All of these are nonfiction. The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen is my favorite work of all time.  I have multiple copies, and keep one at home and one at school. Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez is hallucinogenically beautiful. And Walden, by Thoreau! Nuff said.

Next, I didn’t discover Fitzgerald’s translation of Homer until college but when I did, I fell in love and memorized long sections of it. Some of those I still recall.  I didn’t discover The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers until grad school, but when I started writing Chambers’ work was right there with me, particularly a section of flash pieces called “The Prophet’s Paradise,” sections of which I also memorized.

Inspiration comes for me from every kind of work and every type of writer. The opening to Jitterbug Perfume is just about the most perfect piece of writing I’ve ever seen. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday beings with another of those hallucinatory passages that fires my imagination. And Teot’s War by Heather Gladney is a gorgeously written fantasy novel.

Ernest Hemingway is the only writer with two books on my inspiration shelf. The Short Stories contains some absolute jewels of Hemingway’s work, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “The Short Happy Life of Francis MaComber,” among them. But the piece simply headed by “Chapter V” on page 127 is a thing of beauty.  A Moveable Feast is not on my shelf because of particularly beautiful writing, but because it contains the best advice on writing and on being a writer that I’ve ever read.

Finally, we have two very different types of works. Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of the Species” is one of the best written scientific arguments ever produced, and it certainly helped inspire in me an interest in science and reason. The other book here, which you can’t see the title on, is a near polar opposite to Darwin. It is the Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. I thought I disliked poetry until I read this book late in college. This made me realize that I wanted a sense of poetry to be at the heart of everything I did.


So tell me, what books have inspired you?


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Summer Book Project

Every summer when I'm off teaching I tend to take on a project related to my books. In the past, this might just mean a good cleaning. Sometimes it means rearranging my shelves. Sometimes I get all my boxed books out and go through them for gems before reboxing them. This year I'm doing something different, and probably more time consuming. I'm going to take photographs of my entire collection, at least of the ones I've read.

I see people posting pictures constantly on facebook of their books and I never had any to post. I"d have to download a pic from the net if I wanted a cover image for this blog. But now that's going to change. I'll have a complete photo record of all my books available to me to post. Since I do various articles on books as well, this will also be helpful there.

Although this has already proven to be time consuming, I'm really having fun doing it. My books still bring me pleasure in so many ways, even if I'm not reading them at any given moment. Here are some pics I've taken so far. I'm sharing a lot more on Facebook.

1: I am the only person I know who collects Ken Bulmer, a British paperback writer who penned 100s of works under many different names. Here are some books under a few of his pseudonyms:


And here is my favorite anthology of all time. Maybe more than any other, this one made me want to write interplanetary adventure fiction!



Friday, May 19, 2017

The Bane of Kanthos




I'd originally planned to put this up officially for Forgotten Books Friday but I got busy and have been thinking about my son's wedding, which is coming up tomorrow. Anyway, I recently heard about this book on facebook and ordered a copy. I was pleasantly surprised. There is a newer kindle edition of this work but I read the original 1969 edition, which was part of an Ace Double with Kalin by E. C. Tubb. I'd already read Kalin in another format.

The Bane of Kanthos is a sword and planet novel, in the tradition of ERB's Barsoom series. An earthman is transported to what appears to be an alternate world via passage through a black gate. He discovers that the world is at risk from a great, reawakened evil, and that he is the only one who can save it. There are staunch allies, nasty villains, and a beautiful warrior-princess. All these tropes are familiar, but I enjoy them. What raised this book a little above the standard level for me was the fine writing. I thought the author's word usage and prose choices were excellent ones.

On Goodreads, there is an indication that the author, Alex Dain, has planned to write more stories about this world. The kindle edition is listed as: Book 1 in the Chronicles of the Gates. However, the kindle edition was published in 2013 and nothing new has appeared from Dain since. That would seem to make it unlikely that he is going to continue the series, although I'd certainly be interested in a sequel.


Even if nothing else appears in the series, I still think this one is worth a read for fantasy fans, particularly fans of sword and planet fiction.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Writing: Organic versus Manufactured

I had a discussion with a friend about writing the other day that I thought might make a worthwhile blog topic. It has to do with the differences between a piece of writing that grows organically and one that is constructed instead. Here’s my thoughts.

For me, poetry and flash fiction (750 words or less) usually grow organically. What I mean is that I have a seed of an idea, start writing, and let my unconscious guide me through. I don’t plan it, although oftentimes in revision I’ll make conscious changes to improve the piece. This is not, however,  the way, I write short stories, anything over 1500 words. Short stories are “constructed.” They are manufactured.  Although, if I do my job well the seams and welds in the story are invisible to the reader.

Now, my short stories often start out organically. They begin with a germ of an idea and the first 500 to 1000 words are often written straight out of that germ. But short stories have to have plot, and the unconscious typically only generates simple, straightforward plots. Those stories have already been told too many times. By the time I’m a 1000 words into a story I’m already engaged in the conscious work of building the piece to meet specific goals.

An analogy is this. A poem or flash fiction piece—at least for me—is like a wild fruit tree springing up seemingly out of nowhere. A short story is a carefully pruned and constrained fruit tree that has had many new limbs grafted onto it for specific reasons. Even the first 1000 words get this treatment. And I don’t just go through pruning and grafting once, but many times. The original seed is usually so hidden by the additions that it is scarcely noticeable


“Conscious” writing is immensely harder than just letting it all flow, but it does have its own rewards. One is that you have, in fact, built something with your own two hands.  And the final product is no longer all about  the writer.  It’s at least as much about the reader, if not more.  I believe this is one reason why it’s both difficult and dangerous to draw conclusions about writers themselves from the stories they construct. Just because a writer explores a negative theme does not mean that he or she is drawn to that theme. A writer’s characters and plot twists do not necessarily reflect the writer’s personal feelings and fixations.  Speaking for myself, although some part of me is in every story I write, I am not those stories.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Picking up on the Blog Again

Since my summer has begun, I'm hoping to pick up a bit on this blog, which I've neglected for quite a while. As per my usual, it'll mostly have to do with writing and reading, with occasional asides into whatever strikes my fancy.

On the writing front, I have a western novella about 3/4s done called "The Scarred One." Had to put it on hold during the school year, but now I'll try to get untracked on it. I've got quite a few completed stories that I need to submit, including two about the sword & sorcery character of Krieg. And I'm still considering self publishing a set of horror stories based on my dreams. I have about a dozen of those finished.

I'm working on a vampire story right now that I'm enjoying, and have opening scenes on several other tales that I don't know what to do with. Lately I've been working on a lot of poetry, partially because it takes less time and I can squeeze out a few moments from work here and there to commit poem-icide. Several of my poems appear in the latest issue of The Horror Zine. Thanks to Jeani Rector.



So, it is with good intentions that I post this blog. Let's see if that holds up through the next few weeks!