Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Interview

I was flattered to have Shauna Roberts ask if I minded doing an interview on her blog. She asked some good and tough questions that really made me think. But it was fun, and the results are at her For Love of Words blog. Email interviews seem like an exciting way to do this sort of thing. I did one a couple of years back for Cold in the Light, and I conducted one with Charles Nuetzel, who I’ve mentioned here before as a writer of Sword and Planet fiction. I haven’t seen many on blogs yet but I think it’s a great concept.

Shauna is herself quite an interesting person. She dwells in New Orleans and makes her living primarily as a freelance science and medical writer. She also writes fiction and is particularly fond of the genres of fantasy, SF and romance. Shauna has written on numerous topics, and has even coauthored a book on Rhesus monkeys. For more, you can check out her home page.

Thanks, Shauna. I appreciate you taking the time to interview me and post it on your blog.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Writing in the Blood

How does this writing thing become so addictive? I was talking to a friend on the phone recently. Five years ago he’d pretty much never written anything in his life. Then he began to dabble, producing an essay here, an essay there. Suddenly he’s writing every night, staying up late to get in his say, talking about writing to others. I could hear it in his voice. He’s hooked.

When I was a kid I loved telling stories, though I told them mostly to myself. But once I discovered that I could write them down, and discovered that I had the patience to sit in front of a computer for hours, I soon found that I absolutely could not stop. I took off from writing this Memorial Day, after finishing a big project, and it actually took physical and mental effort on my part to “force” myself to stay away from the computer. Today, I planned to run errands and deal with various business aspects of writing instead of starting anything new. Did that happen? No. The temptation to tickle the keys was just too much.

So, what is it? Are we just compulsives? Is writing a mental aberration? At least for me, the monetary reward does not equal the time I put in on this activity. And it’s not like I don’t enjoy doing other things, like reading, watching TV, playing games. But why do I feel guilty if I do those things too much instead of writing? And why does the time come, no matter how much I’m enjoying a book, or enjoying a movie, when I get up from wherever I am and find myself drawn by a literary gravity into the circuit of my computer?

I’d really like to know.

Monday, May 28, 2007

One Down

One of the four large-scale writing tasks that I’ve set for myself for the rest of this year is finished. Several years back a couple of colleagues and I wrote a small (35,000 words) Guidebook for our students on how to write term papers and research reports. We’d gotten a grant to do so and it turned out pretty well. We self published it within the department just for our students, but we’ve had intentions ever since of expanding it a bit and then attempting to find a publisher for it.

My first task this summer was to revise the work with such an attempt in mind. I expanded it to a bit over 40,000 and updated a bunch of references, as well as making the book more generic rather than targeted at Xavier students. One of my two colleagues has retired, but I’ll send the revised manuscript to the other and he’ll double check my work as well as putting in stuff that he feels we need. Then when he’s done I’ll give it a final go over for consistency’s sake and we’ll send it off.

But as for now, and as for my part, I’m done and am going to take this Memorial Day off and read. I’ve started another of L’Amour’s Hopalong Cassidy novels, and am also just getting into Mahars of Pellucidar by John Eric Holmes, an ERB pastiche. Both are good so far.

Enjoy your day everyone.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Hopalong Cassidy

I'm reading The Rustlers of West Fork by Louis L'Amour. L'Amour was a favored writer of my youth. I loved his westerns and he certainly was an influence on my own style and on the characters I've created. But this isn't your usual L'Amour western. This is a novel about Hopalong Cassidy. For those who don't know, Cassidy was a rough-talking cowboy created in 1904 by Clarence Mulford. Mulford wrote a lot of stories about Cassidy, but the character became hugely popular in the 1930s and 1940s in a series of films where he was recast as a clean-cut, well-mannered hero. The character eventually made it onto TV in the very first network western series.

At one point, L'Amour, a respected pulp writer of the time who had not yet made much of a foray into novels, was asked to write some new Cassidy novels. In fact, he was recommended by Mulford, who turned the offer down himself. L'Amour wrote four, under the name Tex Burns, but then he spent the rest of his life denying that he'd ever written a Cassidy novel, even to his death.

Such things have a way of coming out, of course, and there were those who had long suspected the Tex Burns--Louis L'Amour connection. The four books have since been published under L'Amour's name, with forewords or afterwords by his son, Beau L'Amour. I have a feeling that Beau was instrumental in having these published, but I'm not completely sure.

The question to me is why L'Amour denied so vehemently that he'd ever written of Hopalong Cassidy. His son reveals that Louis never thought the books were very good, although in reading them they seem clearly to have the L'Amour touch. They are not great, and almost seem like drafts of what would later come to be the L'Amour style, but they are in no way embarrassing. Beau also thinks that his father may have lied initially and then felt like he had to keep on lying to keep the secret. Perhaps he lied because it was in his contract. These were strictly works for hire. Or perhaps he lied because, as I understand it, he had to revise the first couple of books after they were written to make the character more like that of the movies and TV show rather than like the original Mulford books, and it seems that this may have made him quite angry. I wonder if he felt somehow that he had betrayed his own ideals by doing so, although if so it's an amazingly mild betrayal. It's not like he wrote porno to survive, like a number of well known authors of today did in their pasts.

Anyway, if you want to read Louis L'Amour at his best, then don't pick the Cassidy novels. They are, in addition to "Rustlers," Trouble Shooter, The Trail to Seven Pines and The Riders of High Rock. Instead, pick books like To Tame a Land or The First Fast Draw or A Man Called Noon. But if you're a L'Amour completist, the Cassidy novels won't disapoint.

A final thought, L'Amour was told early in his career that he'd have to write under a different name, that American audiences just wouldn't read a western by someone with a Frenchy sounding name like L'Amour. I'm glad he proved 'em wrong.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Those Incredible Opening Lines

Any of you ever enter the Bulwer-Lytton contest for worst opening lines? Or will you perhaps not tell me if you did? Well, I freely admit that I have done so, not once, not twice, but three times. I never even got honorably mentioned, and am not sure whether to be relieved or aggrieved. Below, in order of my least favorite to most favorite, are my three entries, appropriately numbered. Now, tell me, how could these not have brought fame to my name?

1. Humankind’s return to the moon ended in a tortured scream of rending metal as the descending spaceship plunged off course and slammed a new crater into the lunar surface, sending up a cloud of dust that drifted slowly downwind.

2. For the very first time in her short, trailer-park life, Gemini Darling was very pleased that her nose looked like a truffle, for she knew how very very much Lord Jackson Smythe adored chocolate.

3. Life had begun kicking Ernie Blaize in the nuts back before his testicles even descended into his scrotum, and when the blizzard wrapped itself around his car like a used condom, and the snow began splatting against his window like infected snot, Ernie knew that life was about to get really bad.

But what is this number four, you ask? Maybe it’s my next year’s entry. Or maybe it’s just the beginning of a new novel, which I am sure will be my best.

4. The interval lay cold and lightlessly forbidding within the context of the evening's activities, which were of the extended variety of lifestyles that characterizes the loss of habitat in subordinate species, which occurs mainly in the Tropics of Capricorn where Micronesia is extant and the people sometimes have blue eyes and build funny little statues that are not like the pot-bellied figurines of the Olmec, probably because the interstellar intelligences that contacted them were not of the same continuum and maybe not even from the same movie.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Huxley Predicts the Future

I don't often post on politics in this blog. There are plenty of other sources for that. But I'm reading a short little tome by Aldous Huxley called Science, Liberty and Peace, and though it was published in 1946 its major points have some frightening parallels to today.

Here's one long piece:

"There is also another way in which the preparation for war is useful to the holders of centralized political power. When things go badly at home, when popular discontent becomes inconveniently articulate, it is always possible, in a world where war making remains an almost sacred habit, to shift the people's attention away from domestic to foreign and military affairs. A flood of xenophobic or imperialistic propaganda is released by the government-controlled instruments of persuasion, a "strong policy" is adopted toward some foreign power, an appeal for "national unity" (in other words, unquestioning obedience to the ruling oligarchy) is launched, and at once it becomes unpatriotic for anybody to voice even the most justifiable complaints against mismanagement or oppression."

Here's the kicker:

"It is difficult to see how any highly centralized government could afford to dispense with militarism and the threat of foreign war"

This is only one of many points where Huxley hits home in this essay. This book might be very difficult to find. It was published by Harper & Brothers Publishers in New York and London. But if you can find it at a library or something it is well worth the reading. But be afraid, be very afraid.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lawrence Block

I just finished Lawrence Block's A Stab in the Dark, which is one of his Matthew Scudder books. This is actually the first fiction I've ever read by Block, and I see what I've been missing. Nice tight writing and a well told tale. I'm definitely going to be looking for more of these. This one was published in 1981. Probably the main reason I've not read him before is that I'm not typically big into mysteries.

The first thing I read by Block was Telling Lies for Fun & Profit, his nonfiction book on writing. This was excellent, and from there I decided to try his fiction. I got A Stab in the Dark at a book sale, but I'll be checking his stuff out next time I'm in Borders or Barnes & Noble.

I certainly recommend the two books of his I've read so far.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Interruptions Kill

Ever had a nice flow of words going, a story or essay unfolding as if in real time on the computer screen in front of you, and then someone knocks on your door? Or comes in to ask a question? Or rings a phone that you have to answer? Or yells from the other room, "you've gotta see this!"

I'm sure you have, so you know the almost audible pop of inspiration disappearing. You respond to the interruption, do whatever is needed to get back to your work. But suddenly your fingers are like sausages on the keyboard and your thoughts are nothing more than eddies where a moment before they were a rushing stream.

As a teacher who sometimes tries to write during work hours when I don't have students in the office, I've had this experience frequently. On occassion the flow returns to me quickly. More often it takes a while of tapping on the keys with clumsy fingers before I get back into the groove.

These kinds of interruptions are well known to writers, and often there is little we can do about them other than isolating ourselves, hiding out with the phone unplugged. But there is another kind of interruption that we bring on ourselves. We sit down to write and realize that we want a drink. Or a snack. Or we forgot to turn our music on, or off. Or... Well, you get the picture.

Sometimes I get irritated with myself because I seem to find too many little things that I need to do now that I should have done before I began the day's writing. I have a strategy for dealing with this, though. I have a mental checklist that I go through before I actually sit to write. I check to see that I have water on my desk. I check that the TV/stereo is off. I put the book that I'm reading somewhere out of reach behind me where I can't see the cover. I put a pen and notepad close at hand. I close down my email and all websites, except for Google so I can quickly fact check if need be. I tell myself that I'm not allowed to snack before I finish at least a couple of pages.

Of course, I still find ways to distract myself from the hard work of writing, but by arranging my environment ahead of time I at least minimize the interruptions and increase the chances that I'll be able to paddle my writing canoe into mid-stream where the flow is crisp and clear and swift between the shoals.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Community

I was thinking last night while lying in a tent in my own backyard looking up at stars and trees what a great community we have here in Blog World. How strange it seems at times to have made so many good friends with people I've never physically met, and in many cases never even seen a picture of. At other times it seems to have grown so naturally that it is no different than any other small community. In fact, it's better in many ways because almost all of us here share commonalities and interests that you don't typically find in an actual small town.

I remember growing up in Charleston, Arkansas, population 1500, and not a single other person interested in writing. There were quite a few readers, but only a few were interested in Science fiction and fantasy, which I wanted to talk about. I had great times in that small town, but there are things I might have enjoyed talking to others about that I never got the chance to do so.

This community has the kind of people in it I would have loved to talk to when I was 15, 18, 22. Thanks to all of you for sharing, and thanks for the overwhelming wave of support since the publication of Swords of Talera and Wings Over Talera. Thanks to Sid for admitting he knows me, and to my writing group buds Candice and Sphinx Ink for posting kind words about my writing and pictures of the cover of "Swords" in particular. Thanks to Susan for her blurb-worthy quotes on "Swords" today. Thanks to Randy for being the first to review "Swords" on Amazon. And he liked it too! And thanks to everyone else who has read and commented on my blog and wished me the best. I hope I'll be reading more of everyone's work soon. There are some talented people in this group.

Btw, the whippoorwills are back. Or they never left. I heard them again last night, although not as frequently as I did a few weeks back.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Wings Over Talera

Well, faster than I thought it would, Wings Over Talera has been released on Amazon from Borgo Press. In keeping with the trilogy aspect, they used the same basic cover but with a darker color (Shown Above). I assume the third cover will follow the pattern. The link is here for Wings.

I might have liked them to publish the three books at about one a month, but I really had no say in the matter. It’s nice to have the book out, though. I’m very happy.

Although Swords of Talera was the transition book and needed to be published first, I honestly do believe that Wings Over Talera is superior. It’s got more action for one thing, and the stakes are higher for Ruenn, the main character. It was written when I was several years older and much more experienced, as well. The publisher used part of the back cover blurb that I wrote for the book, but the whole thing is below:


Talera is a world of warriors and heroes, not all of whom are human. It is a world where sailing ships ply the skies as well as the waters, and where beasts are as likely to hunt men as be hunted by them. On Talera, beauty and steel are equally dangerous weapons, and sorcery is the deadliest talent of all.

For Ruenn Maclang, an Earthman who has won a place on this mysterious planet, his sword is a constant companion, and battle a daily promise that is seldom broken. But what will Ruenn do when the battle is against the woman he loves, and against the brother he has lost? And what will he do when he’s faced with a deadly choice: kill his brother...or die?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Nature: Red in petal and stamen

We camped out in our backyard again last night. It was nice and cool, even cold enough for a blanket in the night, and there were more stars than when we did this before because the moon wasn't up. I didn't hear the whippoorwills, though, and I guess they've moved on. I miss them.

This morning we went for a picnic at the park, and we found a nature preserve only a mile or so from our house. The preserve is trying to restore an area that is partially wetlands and partially long-leaf pine forest. There's a boardwalk through the area so that you don't trample the plants.

The coolest thing about the park was a large field virtually filled with pitcher plants. In case you don't know what pitcher plants are, they're carnivorous plants. An insect climbs into one looking for some nectar, slides down into a pool of fluid at the bottom, and is trapped and slowly digested. The picture for this entry is the North American pitcher plant. This is not a picture of the plants we saw today but this was the variety.

To see nearly an acre of pitcher plants waving in the breeze while they waited for their own picnic was rather eerie. There were also sundews in the field, which are another carnivorous plant. I imagined walking through that field as a man only a few inches tall. I imagined being in a world where humans were prey and the plants were the predators. It gave me a nice little shiver in the sun.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Well, I got a lot of writing done Tuesday and Wednesday, and was happy with my progress. About fourteen pages of final draft stuff. I took off today because the Psychology faculty at Xavier traditionally have a French Quarter-crawl to celebrate the end of the school year. Some of us used to end up doing some serious crawling, but most of us these days do a bit of strolling and go home early with only a minor buzz to show for it. It was a beautiful cool day, however, and we had a lot of great conversation.

While in the Quarter I stopped at my favorite used bookstore, Kaboom Books, which has the biggest selection of used SF and Fantasy in the city. I bought a few things but was very disappointed to learn that they are going to relocate to Houston. It seems business has just not come back since Hurricane Katrina and they're not making ends meet. Was very sad hearing that.

In other news, a new Illuminata is up with a column from me on "The Mechanics of Suspense." I've also been invited to present at Babel Con in Baton Rouge in August. That should be fun. I'll talk more about it later. Right now I think it's bedtime.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Too Much Information

I had to laugh/gag when I read the piece that follows in David Morrell's Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing.

"Stephen King once told me about his vasectomy. The surgical procedure occurred in the morning. His physician advised him to go easy for the rest of the day. Instead, Steve went to work as soon as he got home. Only when he looked down and realized that he was sitting in a pool of blood and that his testicles were swollen did he finally quit."

Morrell was talking about the commitment to writing that successful authors have. I fear I'm not quite that committed. I draw the line at bleeding. Although, when my left shoulder was broken and my arm in a sling I did manage to type with that hand by resting it on the keyboard.

In other news, last night I saw fireflies in the woods behind my house. Took me back to childhood's summer evenings in Arkansas when we'd catch them by the dozens and keep them in a jar for their light.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Time Enough At Last

I've officially been off work for 8 days so far. Unfortunately, due to various and sundry other commitments, as well as lingering things at work from folks who didn't get everything done on time, I've only had three of those eight days where I could actually sit down and get more than an hour of writing in. I don't know about you, but it's very irritating for me when I'm expecting to have time to write and then don't get it. If I know I can't, like during final exams, it doesn't bother me so much. But when I wake up thinking I've got the day and find out that I don't because someone else didn't do their job, or just because sudden emergencies of life come up, then I get seriously frustrated.

Thus the title of my blog post this morning. For the next two days I'm pretty sure that I have no commitments other than sitting in front of my computer. I am so looking forward to it. Although I wish it were going to be three days, four, five, without commitments.

Let's just hope that this title isn't sadly prophetic like it was in the greatest Twilight Zone episode ever made. Some of you know what I'm talking about.

Btw, Amazon finally has my name listed correctly with Swords of Talera. Yeah!

Monday, May 14, 2007

What We Owe The Past

I could not have written Swords of Talera without Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and Kenneth Bulmer (aka, Alan Burt Akers). I couldn't have written Cold in the Light without Ray Bradbury and Dean Koontz. There are other influences, of course: Andre Norton, Poul Anderson, Louis L'Amour, John D. MacDonald, Peter Straub, a hundred others.

Someone labelled "Swords" as "in the grand tradition." But that's true of all writers. Whether we are writing in the tradition of Moby Dick and Don Quixote, or Dashielle Hammett and Raymond Chandler, or Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour, we are all following traditions established for us by those great writers who have gone before. Even if our work is mixed in genre and approach, it is mixed out of the traditions established by others.

It seems to me the height of egotism for any writer to assume that his or her work stands free of influence, newly born into the world. None of us wants to do exactly what has been done before. All of us want to bring our own personality into the writings that we produce. But all of us have our debts to pay, and all of us should realize that there have been many good storytellers in the past and we of today can learn from them.

Today I celebrate my debts. They'll never be paid off. And that's the way it should be.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Weird World of Amazon

Well, when Amazon first listed Swords of Talera they had the author name slightly screwed up by putting a comma in it so that it read "Charles, Allen Gramlich." This didn't bother me too much. In fact, I was so excited about the cover that I didn't even notice until a couple of people called my attention to it. My editor had noticed it too and he contacted them about correcting it. So?

So, today I notice that Swords of Talera is by "Charles Allen." I'm a little more troubled by the fact that my last name has disappeared. I emailed them about it, although it took me 20 minutes just to figure out how to navigate through their email contact procedure. It's a little bit funny, actually, but I hope they do get it corrected. A good reason not to use three names on your book, I guess.

Btw, some folks have asked me why I wanted Charles Allen Gramlich on this one as opposed to Charles Gramlich on Cold in the Light. The main reason was as a sort of homage to previous writers of Sword & Planet fiction like Edgar "Rice" Burroughs and Alan "Burt" Akers. But also, I thought I'd use a variation of my name to differentiate my fantasy work from my more horror/thriller work.

I also got my first review at Amazon and it's a good one by Randy Johnson. Thanks, Randy. If we ever meet I'll owe you a beer, or a beverage of your choice.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Pleasure of Holding a Book

As soon as I knew that Swords of Talera was on Amazon, Lana and I ordered a copy to see how the process would work. We got it late Wednesday evening, which seemed very fast to me, especially since other folks have told me that theirs is not going to be delivered until after mid-month. I imagine, though, that they had some printed and the first orders went out from those.

I was as excited as a kid to actually hold the book in my hand, and it looks very nice up close. The cover is great and the print and typesetting is dark and readable. The book is well put together and I’m very happy for that. Right now I have one signing set in Covington for July 31st, but I’ll be posting more on this as it gets closer. This was set up for me by the incomparable Lana Jackman, who is much better than the incomparable Dejah Thoris that John Carter fell in love with on Barsoom. I’ll probably have another signing in Arkansas when I go home to visit my family this summer.

Here’s a little bit of information from David Morrell’s writing book that I thought was interesting. He points out that Hemingway used more adjectives and adverbs than people often think but that he used them differently. Here’s the first sentence of A Farewell to Arms.

“In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels.”

We’ve got five adjectives and an adverb here, but the adjectives seem almost more like nouns because they stand alone, “dry and white in the sun” rather than directly modifying the nouns they are directed at, “pebbles and boulders.” If we rewrote it in a more standard fashion we’d have something like:

In the river bed there were dry, white pebbles and boulders, and the clear, blue water moved swiftly in the channel.

I thought this was an interesting observation, and one that had not really occurred to me. Worth considering.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Marketing For Today

I haven’t posted here in a couple of days, but those days have been pretty much of a whirlwind for me. I’ve been contacting a lot of people about Swords of Talera, trying to set up a couple of signings, and also just enjoying looking at the cover. I’ve always heard that the time for writers to do their marketing is “before” a book comes out. I didn’t do any marketing directed at “Swords” before it came out. This isn’t completely because I’m lazy and dumb. I do have my reasons for not doing so, some of which do have to do with marketing.

First, of course, I freely admit that I’m superstitious about talking of potentially good publishing things until I see them in front of me. Writing primarily for the small press means that, often, things will not come out when you think they are, perhaps just not on time, and perhaps not at all. I’ve been embarrassed before by telling my friends that such and such was going to be published and then having it…not.

Second, and this is a marketing related issue, I see the benefits of “pre-marketing” to be much more important if your book is going to be widely distributed in bookstores and be there on the shelves when potential buyers stop by. The purpose of this kind of marketing is to create an awareness in potential readers that the book exists and to suggest in some way that it might appeal to those readers. But if the book is going to be sold primarily online I suspect that the same rules don’t apply. So far, all of my “marketing” has been done online. I’ve sent emails to friends and have posted about the book on my blog and on various other sites/groups that I visit regularly. This worked pretty well to create an initial surge. “Swords” reached into the 8000 level on Amazon’s Sales Ranking, and hung around in the 9000 to 14,000 level for a couple of days. I know this doesn’t mean I’m going to hit the Times Bestseller list, but it felt good and I know it means that I did sell some books pretty quickly.

Third, in a way I have been doing marketing, but not marketing of a “book.” The internet has been a boon to folks like me. Strange as it may sound, I’m a pretty shy sort of fellow. I don’t make friends easily and I don’t really enjoy a lot of social events. I often feel ill at ease or even a bit awkward when there are a lot of people around. I suspect that this is true of quite a few writers, of course. But the internet has given me a forum where I can feel comfortable posting information about myself and letting people get to know me in a sort of slow, non-intense way. I also have interests in reading and writing that aren’t necessarily shared by large numbers of other folks. The net has helped me find several groups who have common interests with me, and it was after posting to those groups that the biggest jumps occurred in the Amazon sales rankings.

Some of the people who bought Swords of Talera had read my writing before and liked it. Some bought it because they love the genre and are willing to take a chance on anything new in that area. But some of them bought the book simply because they had gotten to know me online. Many of those are folks reading this blog. I appreciate you all.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

We Interrupt This Regularly Scheduled Blog

Over the past few months I’ve dropped little hints here to suggest that something good might be on the horizon for me. Well, now it’s begun to happen and I can finally talk about it. My novel, Swords of Talera, has just been released by Borgo Press and is available on Amazon. This is the first of a trilogy. The follow-up books will be Wings Over Talera and Witch of Talera. Both are scheduled for publication but I’m not sure exactly when that will take place.

I’m very happy. It’s been five years since Cold in the Light was published, and nearly eight since “Swords of Talera” ran as a magazine serial. This version has been substantially revised for book publication, by the way. Those of you who have read Cold in the Light should know that this is a very different kind of book. “Cold” was a horror/thriller. “Swords” falls into the “Sword & Planet” genre (often called “Interplanetary Romance”). This type of book originated with Edgar Rice Burroughs and his John Carter of Mars series.

Swords of Talera has a convoluted history. I wrote it when I was 24, then revised it around the age of 29 and started sending it to the bigger publishers. DAW and Del Rey passed on it, although I got good commentary from both places. DAW was cutting their Sword & Planet books to the bone about then, and Del Rey had moved much more into fantasy that was heavy on magic and dragons. I then sold it to a small publisher, who never published it, sold it to a second small publisher that went under when the owner absconded with the press's funds, and finally offered it to Tom and Ginger Johnson who ran it as a serial in their Startling Science Stories mag, where it won their readers’ choice award.

Last year a pro writer friend of mine named Charles Nuetzel, who has written Sword & Planet fiction and a lot of other stuff too, suggested I try my Taleran books on Robert Reginald over at Borgo Press. Rob liked the trilogy, accepted it, and then did a thorough editing job on all three. My special thanks go out to Charles (CAN) and to Rob. Much appreciated, my friends. Your names are gold with me.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

From the Reading about Writing Front

Here's a good point from David Morrell:

"We call a fully drawn character "lifelike" when in fact we can never know someone in life as well as we have known that character in fiction. To the degree that we are privy to a character's thoughts and emotions, the experience is totally unrealistic, however magical."

He's right on here. In the real world we never truly know what is inside of another person. We can't read their thoughts and can't even trust our reading of their emotions. How ironic that in "fiction" we can do both.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Article in Progress

Here's a little snippet from an article I've been working on today. Maybe it'll be of interest, although nothing earth shaking certainly. It's meant primarily for the college level writer.

Remember that we often get a mistaken impression about how talented other people are. We pick up a novel and think how superbly written it is. We hear a good lecture from a teacher and we think, “Wow, this lady really knows her stuff.” We see Shaquille O’Neal slam-dunk a basketball and we just stare. In each case we think how lucky some people are to be born with those kinds of skills. And in each case we are wrong.

Sure, Shaq would probably be better at basketball than most of us even if he had never practiced it. But all of us could be better than we are if we worked hard enough at it. People are not born experts. They may have innate talents, like size, speed, or coordination, but most people have to work hard to make their jobs look easy. Writing is the same. Being a good writer is probably both a gift and a learned skill. Some people may just be better than others. But almost everyone can learn to write a term paper that will earn an “A” in college.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Morrell Again

Here's David Morrell again, on showing and telling. "In practice, a certain amount of telling is inevitable. Otherwise, a story might never be completed. But it's useful to know which method you're using and to steer from telling to showing as soon as possible in order to provide the immediacy that is more likely to capture a reader's attention."

In this case, I agree absolutely. There are times when you have to "tell." There are times when "telling" gets you quickly through certain details that the reader needs to know in order to get to the exciting stuff that follows. That's the stuff you "show." Knowing when to show and when to tell seems to be the hard part.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Squirrel Head Terror

I've just run off six squirrels who were in my backyard. Why you wonder? Well, it's because they are greedy little destructive bastards. We've been putting out food for all kinds of animals, including squirrels. We especially like to see the birds. We have cardinals, chickadees, blue jays, buntings, doves, thrashers, woodpeckers, hummingbirds and many more. There are several stump pieces in our yard and we started out by pouring seed for the birds on those. But the squirrels started eating all the seed, or scattering it about, and running off the birds. We bought a bird feeder. The squirrels tore the top off of it, even though we still had seed on the stumps. We bought a supposedly squirrel proof feeder that hung on a thin metal pole. The squirrels climbed the pole and began tearing holes in the feeder. We bought a supposedly better squirrel proof feeder. They tore it to shreds.

So now I run them off when I see them. They ain't very scared, even though I have stated in plain English to them that I've eaten squirrel before and don't mind doing so again. They still ain't scared. But maybe I should be. Two of them are looking in the window at me even as I speak. They're chattering something in their own lingo. I hope it's not: "Who does he think he is? I've eaten human before and don't mind doing so again."

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Character Revisited

In Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing, David Morrell says the following about characters: "Which are harder to write: types or multidimensional characters? I suggest types are harder because the narratives in which they appear impose limitations that make it more difficult to be creative."

Let me say, clearly, that I absolutely disagree with this. Let me also say that a writer in my writing group who publishes at a much higher level than I generally agreed with Morrell, and that I don't believe even creating a good character "type" is easy.

What evidence do I have to support my view? I will readily admit that it is anecdotal and/or non-scientific, but here's what I see.

1). There are more writers publishing and making a decent living out of writing types than multidimensional characters. This is despite the fact that readers in most genres will accept a multidimensional character even if they don't require one. I can enjoy a good private eye novel with a character who is very much the standard hard-boiled detective, but I don't mind if the writer has added something extra. So why don't more writers add that something extra? I suggest that it's a lot harder to do so.

2). Here's an analogy from painting. Character Types have certain standard characteristics that they need to exhibit. If you've read a lot in a genre you pretty soon pick these characteristics out. Then it's at least partly a matter of inserting these characteristics into your own work. I know that's not easy, but this can be a little more like a "paint by numbers" work than a completely free-hand painting. I couldn't paint a decent free-hand painting to save my life, but I can follow specific guidelines I'm given. It may not look terribly pretty but it will be servicable.

3). I've tried writing types and I've tried multidimensional characters in my own work. I find types immensely easier to work with. This is not necessarily to say that my "types" were well done, but I did get paid for them. I always try in my own work to give my types a little something extra, but I don't know if I've ever written a fully multidimensional character. I think the closest I've come is Kargen from Cold in the Light, and he isn't even human.

Developing good characters is never easy, of course. And this goes for types as well as multidimensional characters. I know people who have read extensively since they were young in a genre that they want to write in, and yet they don't seem to quite capture the essence of the character or the genre and their work remains largely unpublished. But I don't believe these folks could write a multidimensional character either.

Maybe I should do a little test of my own. For example, I've never written a hard-boiled detective character. Could I pull it off? I don't know, but I'm reading a little Raymond Chandler now and I'll see if I get the itch. I'll let you know what happens.