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!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Killing Trail: Print Edition

Well, finally something worth reporting here on the blog. For almost a year I've been planning on publishing a print version of my western short story collection, Killing Trail. I published this on Kindle and Nook several years ago but finally used Create Space to produce a print version. You'll probably recognize the cover image. Lana took this picture of me at the local Flatwoods nature preserve. Not a great cover image but it fit and I thought, "what the heck."

I dispensed with the "Charles Gramlich, Writing as Tyler Boone," subtitle and just put the pseudonym here, but everything is explained inside. I plan on more westerns under this name. Here is the back cover blurb (with the link):

RIDE INTO DANGER! Killing Trail is a collection of western short stories written in the action & adventure tradition of such authors as Louis L’Amour, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Robert E. Howard. It contains:

Killing Trail: When they dumped Angela Cody on Lane Holland’s ranch she was scant moments from death. She managed to speak only a few words but those were enough to make Lane strap on his guns and ride out on a deadly hunt.

Showdown at Wild Briar: Accused of a murder he didn’t commit, Josh Allen Boone rode a long way from his Wild Briar Ranch. Now he’s coming home, and the real killers are waiting for him with a rope.

Powder Burn: They said Davy Bonner’s luck had run out and they ambushed him along a dark road. But luck or no, Davy wasn’t going down without a fight.

Once Upon a Time with the Dead: For the gray raiders, death was an old friend.

The work also includes two nonfiction essays, one about Louis L’Amour and another about the real Wild West.

The price listed on this is $6.99, but if anyone wants a signed copy you can let me know and I'll order some myself for that purpose. It should be a buck or so cheaper. Not completely sure how much cheaper.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Rise of the Rain Forest: A Book Review

Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest: By Robert Frazier and Bruce Boston: Crystal Lake Publishing, 2017, 245 pages.

In an undefined future, the rain forest has taken on a grotesquely beautiful life. It and everything in it mutates wildly, incessantly. The only laws governing the changes appear to be chaos and rage. Some humans survive at the jungle’s ever hungry and expanding frontier; their existence is precarious. The people who live within the forest itself are no longer human.  Perhaps they are more, perhaps less. The cities fight back with flame and chemical warfare. The forest attacks with spores and vines and strange beasts. In the end, everything succumbs.

In this thick and meaty work, the reader will find poems, flash fiction, and even a few longer stories. Many of these have appeared in other publications but there are also a number of new pieces. Boston and Frazier appear to have been writing of the mutant rain forest for quite a few years, and I’m glad to see this material collected together in one place by Crystal Lake Publishing. It certainly heightens and reinforces the impact of the individual pieces.

I’m very familiar with Bruce Boston’s work, less so with that of Robert Frazier. However, I thought the vision of these two writers meshed wonderfully throughout the collection.  As I started reading, I was paying attention to which particular author did what. I soon stopped concerning myself with that as I got further immersed in the world. It didn’t matter any longer.

The greatest strengths here are word play, imagery, and resonance. Maybe word ‘play’ isn’t quite the right term, for the language is serious. Word “work” might be better. Others have remarked on the imagery as apocalyptic and hallucinatory. I concur. But there’s a bit more. The imagery is itself insidious—not in a negative sense but in the sense of entrapping and beguiling. It’s almost as if the spores of the mutant rain forest wash over you with every page you turn. You wonder if they might take root on your skin. What might be born from such a symbiosis? And there you have the resonance.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hateful Thing


When life struck its first blow,
he retreated before it.
But blows never stop at one.
So he kept retreating
until his back found the wall.
Within himself he found
hammer and anvil,
turned the ore of pain
into plate metal and shield.

Gilded and girded,
he strode forth upon the field.
And the wounds he took showed
only as dents in his armor.
On the outside.
On the outside.

A hero holds his own in the face of many.
He does not wish battle but does not shirk it.
He “stands tall.” He “fights the good fight.”
His face may be bloodied, his body bruised.
But it’s only on the outside
because his spirit is burnished within.
Burnished within.

Only, in this world
there are so few face-to-face fights.
He seldom sees an enemy coming.
He can’t watch every shadow where a dagger
might lurk.
And not only enemies wield the blade.
Friends and loved ones always know
where the chinks lie in the armor
that has started to rust.

When does the hero become the villain?
Is it when he begins to return every blow
with the force of ten?
Or when he returns blows not yet given?
But expected.

In time he came to enlightened rage.
When an insult was thrown at him,
he sharpened it with words,
poisoned it with his own blood
and hurled it back.
By then he was going armed
to every gathering.
Prepared for defense.
Or offense.
Or offense.

Finally the day came
when he looked in the mirror
and saw,
he had become his own enemy.
A hateful thing.
And for such a blow
there is no armor,
no retreat.
For such a blow must be the last
ever struck.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

A Sleep Paralysis Experience

Wow, I haven't posted her since February 10. My blog seems to be dying almost in spite of myself. Well maybe that's because not a lot of interest has happened to me. However, I did have a dream experience last night that might be worth sharing.

Many who visit here know that I have very vivid dreams and have written a lot of stories from those. However, I also occasionally experience sleep paralysis. For those who don't know, sleep paralysis involves waking up from sleep but remaining paralyzed from the neck down. The paralysis is temporary but can be disturbing. Sometimes, sleep paralysis is accompanied by vivid dream-like experiences that indicate a state that mixes waking and dreaming. I've had both types, the paralysis only, and the mixed state. Last night's experience was rather interesting, and scary.

I woke up, or thought I did, with a leg pushed up against my back. I knew Lana was in the other room and tried to call out but couldn't. I reached behind me to touch the leg and realized it was too small to be Lana's. It was a child sized leg. And it seemed to be growing out of me at the base of my spine.

I got a chill over my whole body and squeezed the leg hard. As soon as I did so, a child's arm popped out of my shoulder. But it was like a ghost arm. I could see through it. I realized at this point that it was sleep paralysis. Normally when I realize that I try to relax, which is the best way to make it dissipate. However, I was still freaked out enough to struggle. I tried to sit up and managed to do so, then woke up completely to find myself still lying on my side. I went and told Lana about the experience, then fell back to sleep pretty easily.

About all I can imagine from this experience is that it was my "inner child" trying to get out. Maybe he just didn't want to go to work today.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Ed Bryant

I was very sorry to hear that Edward Bryant died on Friday, February 10. Ed was a very fine writer of both SF and horror. He was often associated with the New Wave of SF. I did not know Ed well; I only met him a few times at various conventions in Louisiana. However, I will always remember my first meeting with him at a New Orleans SF convention back in the 1990s. It was my very first convention as a guest. Ed was by far the biggest name at the con and I remember how friendly and accepting of me he was.

I talked to Ed a few more times at other conventions and he always seemed to remember me. Over time I got him to sign quite a few books for me and I still have and value those. From all I hear, he was at all times a nice and considerate fellow and that was certainly my experience of him. He'll be missed.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Perry Rhodan: The Planet of the Dying Sun.

Despite my best intentions, time gets away from me. We’ve got two job searches going on in Psychology this semester and I’m on both sub committees. Reviewing applicants, meeting about them, doing phone interviews, etc, has filled up every spare moment I might have had to blog, or write. But, finally, here is a blog post.

I mentioned previously that I was going to make this year, at least in part, of reading series books. In this regard, I just finished “The Planet of the Dying Sun, #11 in the Perry Rhodan space opera series. This is a German series, which started in 1961 in Germany’s equivalent of a pulp magazine. There is something like 3000 books in this series, and more in a Spinoff series called “Atlan.”  In the USA, Ace books published the first 126 books, between 1969- and 1978, as well as a few Atlans. They’ve been phenomenally popular in Germany. Wikipedia indicates they reached 1 billion in sales by 1986.

I've only read half a dozen of the series. Most I’ve enjoyed, but I found “The Planet of the Dying Sun” to be extremely weak. It didn't engage me at all. After looking through my records I see that the ones I've liked were written by K. H. Scheer. My favorite so far has been Fortress of the Six Moons, not coincidentally, the first in the series that I read.

“The Planet of the Dying Sun" was written by Kurt Mahr, although from what I understand an original draft of the work might have been done by Scheer. Mahr was the pen name for Klaus Otto Mahn. Mahr/Mahn apparently wrote a bunch of the Rhodan titles and I have a couple more of his around here. However, at the moment, I’m thinking that I'll probably give those a miss and stick with the Scheer ones.

The most memorable thing about this book was the opening "letter" from Forry Rhodan. Forry was Forrest J. Ackerman, who contributed imaginary “fan letters/editorials” to some of the early books in the series. I'll quote a brief passage that made me arch an eyebrow and laugh. In speaking of Perry Rhodan, the letter reads: "He is a true super-Homo Sapiens, the representative of the Man of the Future, to show our present day Hippies, long haired defeatists, and their friends that the future of Earth is in the stars, not in drugs or in plain sex and pleasure!"

As a long-haired scientist myself, I thought this was laying it on a little thick. I guess Forry wasn’t a fan of the hippie movement.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Fantasy Book Sale

To celebrate the new year, there's a sale/promotion going on today in Heroic Fantasy that I wanted to mention. One of my own pieces is included in the promotion. If you click on this link, it'll take you to the page, which features mostly works for under a dollar.

I plan to pick up a couple of these today, too. I haven't read all of them myself. However, I have read stories by Peter Fugazzotto and Scott Oden and feel very comfortable recommending them both. 

Fugazzotto's work, it seems to me, shows some influence from two fantasy authors I particularly like, Robert E. Howard and Glen Cook. 

Oden's work featured here is properly called Historical fantasy since it is based on an actual historical world, although it features fictional characters. It's good solid writing that puts you in the period very well.

The rest of this also looks quite good. There's a variety of stories available, from the deadly serious to the more humorous. Hope you get a chance to check out the page.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Early Music that Influenced Me

I saw this “ten albums that have stayed with me or influenced me as a young person” thing going around facebook. It’s interesting . My situation growing up seems a little different from most. The only music in our house was some country & western and the music on Lawrence Welk. My father did not approve of rock and roll. He called it “Duck Quacking” music. The first time I ever heard a rock song was on the radio in the truck while my brother was driving.  It was Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the Shondells. It was a revelation.

We also didn’t own a record player while I was growing up so the idea of personally owning music was completely foreign to me. I didn’t have a turntable until I went to college. My brother-in-law had one and I did hear him play “Light my Fire” by the Doors once.  I liked it a lot. The first music I actually bought was as a Junior or Senior in high school when I had an 8-track tape player in my car.  It was Deep Purple, “Shades of Deep Purple.” I loved “Hush.” I played the tape 4 or 5 times before the machine ate it.

This means that most of the albums that really affected me didn’t come into my hands until college. But here they are, generally in the order of influence. And by influence I mean those that have remained with me over the years and have influenced my writing and all future musical interests.

1. We Sold Our Souls for Rock and Roll, Black Sabbath, double album.
2. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin
3. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd.
4. Tres Hombres, Z. Z. Top
5. Rocks, Aerosmith
6. Boston, Boston
7. Leftoverture, Kansas
8. Welcome to My Nightmare, Alice Cooper
9. Straight Shooter, Bad Company
10. Stormbringer, Deep Purple

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

School and Writing

Well school is back in session. Classes started Monday. That means, for the past few days, my writing has been nearly at a standstill. When I was in my 30s and even 40s I still had the energy after long days of work to go into my office and write. That energy is no more. I've had to revert back to a strategy that I've used throughout the years during the heaviest work periods:

That is, "Write at least one good paragraph every day." No matter how tired I am, I try to get that one good paragraph done each and every day. On good days, rested days, I can get a lot more than that. But even on the worst days I make a little bit of progress. Progress is the key. Writing is accumulative!

Friday, January 06, 2017

The Year of the Series

For each reading year, I tend to set a kind of general goal, knowing that I don’t intend to make it a hard and fast rule. In the past, for example, I’ve had the goal of reading more poetry, or big books, or missed classics, or graphic novels. I keep this in mind as I go through the year, and try to make sure I have plenty of books from the selected category available.

This year I’ve decided to put a focus on reading and finishing book series. I love a good book series. I read a lot of them. However, I’ve often read relatively haphazardly through a series, reading one here and one there, and often stopping part way through to go on to something else. Sometimes I’ve never gotten back to a series, even though I might have greatly enjoyed it when I first jumped into it.

The first series I ever read through completely, back to back, was the Lord of the Rings trilogy, way back in college. The second series I read like this came much, much later. It was the Harry Potter series. I’ve also got a dozen or more “series” books around the house that I’ve not yet read. So, for this year, I’ve decided to keep a little focus on completing series. I’m on the last book now of David Gemmell’s Rigante series, which is four books. I’ve got like 2 of the survivalist series books left, maybe 2 of the Cap Kennedy series left, a bunch of Edge and Dumarest of Terra books, something like 5 of the Dray Prescot series, a couple of the Destroyerman series, and numerous others. I’ve also got entire series of books in my TBR pile.

My “reading year” starts on my birthday each year so I’m well into my program for this current period. I’m having fun with it. What about you? Do you ever set general goals like this for yourself?

Monday, January 02, 2017

Opening Post of 2017

Wish I had something profound to say for my first blog post of 2017. 2016 was not a very good year for me, but it was definitely better than any in the period 2012 to 2015. That’s not saying a lot considering those were among the toughest personal years of my life. I read more in 2016 than in the year before but wrote less. I basically wrote about 50,000 words of what I consider to be commercial fiction and non-fiction, as in stuff I’d like to sell and believe that I will. A fair amount of that has been sold. Other stuff has been lingering around without being submitted just because I’ve been procrastinating on that front.

Another change in my life, which started last year, involved streak watching of TV shows. I don’t binge watch in that I seldom watch more than two episodes at a time, but for the past two years Lana and I have been watching seasons of various TV shows back to back over a period of a few weeks. I’ve found that there’s quite a bit more decent TV out there than I had assumed. This has probably impacted my writing to some extent since I used to go to my computer pretty quickly after supper. Now I tend to spend at least an hour watching a TV show before hitting the pages.

Of the shows we’ve streaked so far, here are my favorites, in order.
Game of Thrones
Breaking Bad.
Babylon Five
New Battlestar Galactica

I’m also still watching The Walking Dead and a newer show called Lucifer, but only an episode a week, like with old fashioned TV.

In short, and as usual, I’m hoping 2017 will be a good one both personally and professionally. I want to finish a few writing projects that I’ve left hang around too long. In reading, I’ve made a tentative decision to make this the “year of the series,” either starting and finishing whole series of books, or finishing a few of the series that I’ve had lingering around for a while. I’ve started with the Rigante series by David Gemmell and am about to finish book 3 of a 4 book series.

I hope all of you have a grand 2017. My best wishes go with you.