Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Evening Update, Gustav

Well, it's a bit after 10:00 pm here at Fortress Gramlich, and so far we've had no trouble. A band of rain squalls came through around dusk but there wasn't much wind with them. We lost internet for a while, and we've had two brownouts, but nothing to worry about as of yet. I can see on radar a much thicker band of rain squalls headed our way. They should be on us before long but they don't actually look terribly heavy. Of course, the storm won't make landfall until tomorrow so we've got some waiting to do.

In the meantime, I watched "Duel" again on TV, and it wasn't quite as good as I remember. Dennis Weaver was a bit of a whiney bitch. I've been doing some reading, as well. Don't feel as if I could concentrate on much writing at the moment.

Well, more updates as time passes. Internet access allowing. Take care all.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Technicolor Zombies

Yesterday, I finished reading Bits of the Dead, the zombie anthology I’ve mentioned here. Although it has hits and misses like any anthology, I thought the majority of the stories were pretty good. And I’m not just saying that because I have a piece in it. Since all the stories are short, flash fiction pieces of 1 to 3 pages, it also doesn’t take long to finish one you don’t particularly enjoy and move on to one you do. Especially in these days when concern about Gustav is always in the back of my mind, I appreciated the short pieces. They took me away for moments at a time from my worries, but didn’t require the lengthy concentration a novel would have. I actually wish I had a few more of these flash fiction anthologies around for just this reason.

The stories were salient enough so that last night I dreamed of zombies. I don’t remember all the details, but the gist of it was that people who were pretending to be zombies were attacked by real zombies. The real zombies had your standard gray, monochromatic appearance while the pretend zombies were done up beautifully in Technicolor hues. The fake organs and intestines they’d glued on were brilliant reds and pinks. They had bold slashes of yellow across their faces, and the pure white of fresh bones showing artfully through the fancy rags of their carefully selected costumes. The strangest part was when the pretend zombies were bitten and became real zombies, and how they hunted people now with their faces made up like zombie hookers. Outside, they were works of art; inside, they were gray and empty of all but hunger. I remember one, in particular. He was trying to eat his own fake intestines. He’d shove them in his mouth and bite down, then make a face and spit them out. Only to try a fresh bite moments later.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Although Gustav is at current a tropical storm only, the coast is taking this one seriously. Xavier has already cancelled classes as of this Friday afternoon and only plans to reopen Thursday of next week, September 4. This seems a little bit of an overreaction to me. Since the storm is not going to even get close until Sunday at the earliest I'm not sure why Friday classes needed to be cancelled. And I guess it seems early to cancel classes next week when we are already off on Monday for Labor Day. However, all predictions are that Gustav will become a hurricane again, possibly a category 3. And that's nothing to sneeze at. Anyway, I'm not making the decisions, and I'm glad I'm not. I wouldn't want the responsibility.

I'll be posting again before the storm approaches, but if it comes close at all we'll surely loose our satellite internet connection. I may be out of touch for a few days next week. Let's hope it won't be longer than that. After Katrina it was months before the grid was back up.

As long as it's no more than a category 1, Lana and I will probably ride it out in our home. For a category 2 we'll have to strongly consider its direct track before making a decision. And if it's a 3 or better we're out of here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Change of Pace

I’ve started the commute to work again and that means listening to the radio. I have a CD player but I tend to listen to the radio because they also have traffic reports. And I’m reminded in my travels of a rant that I’ve shared with the seagulls and the lake on occasion. That is, why do they have to play the same songs over and over and over? Many of them bad songs, of course. To explain, I only get three radio channels, and a fourth one when I’m in range in the evening going home, that I’ll listen to. One is classic rock, one new rock, and the other oldies. I’ll listen to the oldies when the other two channels have nothing but talk talk talk on, which is far too often. But even when the rock stations are playing music they tend to play only the standards.

Now, I like a lot of the standards. Love “Stairway to Heaven,” “Radar Love,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and many more. But there are plenty of other good songs that never get played: "Space Lord" by Monster Magnet. "Suicide Messiah" by Black Label Society. Etc. And, lets face it, there are some commonly played rock tunes that just frankly suck. They sucked the first time I heard them, and they certainly haven’t aged like fine mead. So, without further ado, here is my top twelve list of “rock” songs that I wish every radio station would lose from their catalogue.

12. “Home Sweet Home” by Motley Crue. I really like a lot of Motley’s songs. Their second album is especially good. But this song nearly made me stop buying Crue CDs forever. I eventually recovered and continued to pick up new Crue releases. But this tune is a wound I’ll never get completely over.

11. “Pour some Sugar on Me” by Def Lepperd. The Lepp had some good music back in the day, but this is simply godawful. It should be titled pour some “saccharine” on me, then shoot me in the head with a large caliber handgun before the bees sting the hell out of me because they feel gypped.

10. “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. Kansas could play some pretty decent mellow songs, like “Cheyenne Anthem.” This isn’t one of them. And although it was OK the first couple of times I heard it, it really wears on one, sort of like how dust in the wind erodes the hardest rock. I’m worn down already.

9. “Mr. Roboto” by Styx. You know how I said I almost stopped buying Motley Crue albums after “Home Sweet Home?” Well, I did stop buying Styx albums after “Mr. Roboto.”

8. “The Other Side,” by Aerosmith. From it’s limp wristed opening to the insane babbling at the end, this one sucks all the way through. I’d rather listen to white noise. In fact, I have listened to white noise when this was all that was on.

7. “November Rain” by Guns & Roses. I’ve never made it all the way through this song. Not once. Maybe it gets really, really good at the end. But I doubt it. I’m not willing to suffer through the first part to find out.

6. “Nevermind” by Nirvana. Sorry grunge fans, but Nirvana hadn’t the faintest idea how to rock. Except for “Smells like Teen Spirit.” “Nevermind” is a freaking lullaby. I could sleep to it probably, if it didn’t make me feel faintly nauseated. You know, kind of like somebody soaked my pacifier in Scotch.

5. “The Lemon Song” by Led Zepplin. Is it really necessary to hear about the “juice” running down Robert Plant’s leg four times a day? I cry enuff’s enuff.

4. “We are the Champions” by Queen. How can you follow one of the hardest rocking pieces in rock and roll, and by that I mean “We Will Rock You,” with one of the all time lamest pieces of drivel? It’s blasphemous is what it is. And there isn’t even a decent break between the two. I try to catch the exact moment of the change so I can press a button to flee the station, but I sometimes fail and the first fragment of “Champions” bleeds through and nearly convulses me. Please, radio stations, stop while you’re “rocking me.”

3. Anything by Poison, but especially, please, I’m begging you, never, ever play “Every F*$@#*& Rose has its Thorn” again. I mean, I’m gagging on my own bile here. And that’s because I’ve already emptied everything else in my stomach.

2. “Beth” by Kiss. I was never a big fan of Kiss. I remember that it was not long after I’d discovered rock music that I was gleefully listening to the radio when “Beth” came on. What’s this, I thought? Isn’t this pretty weak? But, knowing that some rock songs start out slow and then burst into explosive acoustics, I listened to the song all the way through. I still shudder to think of that experience. Makes me wish I was better at repressing memories. I believe this is where I first used the term “wimp shit.” I have reused that term a lot, though, so the incidents kind of run together.

1. “Black Hole Sun,” by Soundgarden. Not only is this one of the lamest songs ever, but they play it on both the classic rock station and the new rock station. A double dose of agony, although as soon as I hear the first strains of this--I hesitate to call it music--I’m punching radio buttons. ANY radio button.

So there you have it, my 12 songs of shame. I can’t imagine anyone would disagree. ;) But if you want to argue, have at it.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cool Stuff, at least to me

Language sure is fun. Just in the last couple of days I’ve heard new words, new to me at least, which seemed obvious after I heard them.

Velvis: A term for a velvet Elvis. I thought to myself, how stupid not to have thought of that. How perfect.

Fourgy: A term for an orgy between four people, particularly two couples.

Probably many of you have heard these terms but they were new to me. Sometimes I’m amazed at how much creativity is left in language.

Another thing, cool to me at least, is the publication of Bits of the Dead, a collection of flash fiction zombie stories from Coscom Entertainment. My story “Once Upon a Time with the Dead” appears therein. It begins: “Alkali dust under the white blaze of the Mexican sun. Riders are coming. To a village standing idle on a ghostly quiet day.”

Some of the more famous authors in the book include Piers Anthony and Nancy Kilpatrick. It's available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon, of course.

Last night, Lana and I watched The Spiderwick Chronicles and we both thought it was good. I think I liked it better than she did. At first I didn’t really care for the primary kid character, and I never did really come to like him, but the story itself was fairly compelling and the special effects were great. There was a lot of action for what is essentially a kid’s movie.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Taking Stock

As usual, I underestimated the mass of work that slams me during the first school days. I tried to have as many things done ahead of time as possible, syllabi and so on. But some things you can’t foresee. Xavier is about to undergo accreditation, an event that takes place every ten years, and which takes several years to complete. That means updating faculty vitas (resumes) and filling out many other forms. We also have to turn in an annual (but more extensive now) update sheet that basically tells the university administration everything important we’ve done in the past academic year—from August to August.

The areas in which our updates are made in are: Teaching, Scholarship, University Service, Public Service, and Collegiality. We also have a section labeled “Other Pertinent Information,” for things that don’t fit the big five categories.

For teaching, I list courses that I’ve taught and any new developments for those classes. For scholarship, I count non-fiction pieces only, and only those that have some relationship to the areas I teach in. I count writing articles, for example, since I teach “Writing in Psychology,” but a piece on “Sword & Sorcery” wouldn’t count. As for fiction, Xavier, as does most universities, looks askance at fiction and poetry publications for anyone outside the English Creative Writing Department. I have been known to mention some of this stuff under “Other Pertinent Information,” but I doubt it’s ever helped me. In fact, I’m sometimes convinced it works against me. Maybe I’m not working hard enough at my career if I have time to write a novel, for example.

For University service, I mention committees I serve on, particularly the Internal Review Board (Human subjects committee), which I’m chair of. And for public service I mention public lectures that I’ve given on various issues related to psychology, or writing, or evolution, or dreams. I do list the talks here that I gave at Babel Con and similar venues.

I’ve actually never minded much doing these updates. It gives me a chance to take stock, to put into writing the things I feel I’ve accomplished over the year. As a person with a streak of OCD, I rather like making lists, and updates are kind of like lists. Just expanded ones.

How about you? How often, if ever, do you “take stock?” What categories are important in your life? Your career?


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Mistake to Remember

I know better, but I made a mistake the other day in a story submission. I wanted to send a story to an anthology featuring strong women characters. The editor’s first name was “Roby.” (Let’s say the last name was “Doe.) I went to the market’s website, as I always do, and checked the submission guidelines and the section on “about.” There was no mention of Roby’s gender. Since I know a man whose first name is Roby, I addressed my email, written like a business letter, to the editor as “Mr. Doe:”

Big mistake. I didn’t hear from the editor herself, but from another woman at the market who took me to task for referring to Ms. Doe as Mr. Doe. I received a brief lecture on how I should check the website so I wouldn’t make such mistakes. She even sent me links to the website, which were the same ones I’d already investigated and which didn’t mention Ms. Doe’s gender.

Although I thought the lady’s response was rather out of proportion to my mistake, the truth is it was easy to avoid. All I would have had to do is address the letter as: “Dear Roby Doe:”

Because of a single moment of carelessness, I pissed off an editor and quite possibly lost a potential market. Don’t do what I did.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I'm Backkkkk

Back from Arkansas. As I expected, there was no time to blog or check blogs. I spent the days visiting with mom and family. And doing a fair amount of eating. My favorite pie is lemon, so family members baked me not one, but two lemon pies. I think I’ve had enough lemon pie for a while. I also ate home-grown steak and ground beef, which was nice and lean, and a variety of vegetables from the garden, including green beans, tomatoes, corn on the cob, potatoes, purple hull peas, and spinach. What I didn’t eat, although I was offered them about 100 times, was okra and onions. My mom and brother Paul David just love okra, but they must have gotten all the okra genes in the family because the stuff reminds me of something that might have been edible eons ago but which has been mummified in dry desert air for a few too many millennia.

One thing I didn’t get done in Arkansas is any real writing. I tried a couple of times to sit at the laptop but in a small town where everyone knows everyone there are always visitors dropping over. Besides that, about a quarter of the town of Charleston is related to us, if not by blood then by marriage. That’s a lot of family to see in a short time.

As always when I go home to Charleston, I was overwhelmed by memories. On a couple of afternoons I rode around in the countryside with my brother and it seemed like every field and woods and dirt trail were haunted with the ghosts of the past. I imagine that would settle down if I moved back to the area permanently, which Lana and I have talked about doing after I retire from teaching. We have land there, some of which I’ll eventually inherit, and I wouldn’t mind building a house along the creek where I spent a many hot summer day.

Rita, my sister-in-law, asked how I’d get in and out if I lived back along the creek and I told her I only needed to get in. She asked what Lana thought of that, and I had to tell her that Lana loves the idea. My wife is not a social butterfly. She and I are both pretty intense introverts.

Well, it’s off now to do a little catch up blog visiting, but I’m sure I won’t be able to comment on every post I’ve missed. Seems like most of us here in blog land are pretty prolific posters. Plus, I’ve got to turn up the back-to-school engine big time to get syllabi and other such tasks done before school starts next week. When I got off school in early May it seemed like the days stretched out forever in front of me. Now that the summer escape is over it sure did seem to go fast.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Going to Arkansas, and Other Cool Things

I’m leaving tomorrow to go visit my mom in Arkansas. I’ll be gone until at least Friday and most likely won’t be posting or visiting blogs during that time. I’ll be staying at my mom’s and they don’t have internet. And it’s not like there are a lot of wi-fi hot spots in small town Charleston, Arkansas. I may check in at the library on occasion to get email. But, I only see my family about once a year so I want to spend every moment I can with them. I’m sure you’ll all survive for a week without commentary from me. I’ll catch up next weekend. After that, though, school will be starting again and I’ll have to make some adjustments in posting.

In the meantime, I got a couple bits of good news. My poem, “Blue Soul,” has appeared in Dreams and Nightmares #80. I’m in the company of some very fine poets, including Gary William Crawford, Ann K. Schwader, Bruce Boston, Deborah P. Koladji, and our own Greg Schwartz.

Also, William Jones has accepted my story, “The Vivarium,” for his anthology Tales out of Miskatonic University. I did the Psychology Department story. I’ll post more about that in the future, of course.

I'll be visiting blogs today and responding to comments. After that, see you in a week.


Friday, August 08, 2008

Friday’s Forgotten Book: Kyrik: Warlock, Warrior

Before I ever found Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard, I found books by other writers with words slashed across the cover that read: “In the Tradition of Conan.” This book, Kyrik: Warlock, Warrior by Gardner F. Fox, was my first sword and sorcery read. It had those words on the cover, but after I read it I might have thought Conan was “in the Tradition of Kyrik.”

Gardner Fox was a prolific writer in the paperback explosion of the 1960s and 70s, and also wrote a lot for the comics. He did two sword and sorcery series, The first, in the 1969-1970 period, was about Kothar, a barbarian swordsman very similar to Conan. There were 5 books in this series. The second series (4 books) was about Kyrik, in the 1975-1976 period. He also wrote a two book Sword & Planet series featuring earthman Alan Morgan on the planet of Llarn. These were written in the early 60s and were entitled Warrior of Llarn and Thief of Llarn, although “Thief” was the first one I found. Kyrik: Warlock, Warrior was the first in the Kyrik series, and besides that, two Kothars, and the one Llarn book, I never got copies of the others until I was in my thirties.

To start with, Kyrik: Warlock, Warrior had a great cover, at least for a fifteen-year-old boy. I’ve never been one to care much about book covers, but this one has always stuck with me. Painted by Ken Barr, you can see the exotic nature of it.

Intriguing as the cover was, it was the story that thrilled me. Years later, in my thirties, when I found and read the other Kyrik books, I didn’t think they were that well written or that interesting. But that first one! Oh, the adventure, the thrill. It began with a sorceress stalking an exotic bazaar in search of a legend. She finds it in the form of a statue, of a warrior named Kyrik, who has been dead 1000 years. It turns out that the statue is Kyrik, and the sorceress removes the spell that has kept him trapped in stone for ten centuries.

Fox captured very well the sense of immense past times and it was all heady stuff for a young fellow new to the glories of Sword & Sorcery. A fifteen-year-old now would have been exposed to this kind of stuff at a much younger age, but I was growing up in small town Arkansas, in the Bible-Belt. It was new to me. Just glimpsing that cover still ignites my imagination, and I’m almost fifty years old.

Kyrik: Warlock, Warrior is not that hard to come by. I’ve seen copies at used bookstores where SF/Fantasy is featured, and on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can find it if you want it, though I doubt you’ll thrill quite as much as my young mind did in 1975.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Battle Song

I started fiddling with a post on battle songs but got off track with a poem that I thought I'd put up. The song that I think captures a sense of battle better than any ever written is "Deaf Forever" by Motorhead. Love it. I basically tried to write more stanzas for that song, and try to make them relevant in some twisted way to today. If you listen to the song then you'll hear the rhythm that this poem should be read in. If you don't want to go to that trouble, no problem. This isn't very good anyway, and I wouldn't ever submit it anywhere.

I'm going to try and post the video, but if I don't get that done, I think this is a link to the song on You Tube. Deaf Forever

Battle on!

Cold as Hell
Battle yell
Death awaits me on the devil’s leash

Sword on shield
No one will yield
Worm waiting for the murdered feast

Cut them down
Killing ground
Dream of evil with an angel’s face

Shade of ice
Lost your honor in a blind disgrace

Bone and blood
Crimson flood
Love returns as an emptied lust

Nothing left
No blade to heft
Can’t feed a child on war’s cold crust


Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Influence Thing

X-Dell asked an interesting question in my comments: “With respect to the previous post, did you ever consider that what you read early on was a better influence in some ways? After all, if you've read certain narratives all your life, wouldn't there be a temptation to re-create those tales instead of creating fresh ones?”

This came from my "Jealousy" post, and I got other interesting comments on that post, too. I thought I’d answer X-Dell here, and respond generally to the other comments as well. I always enjoy talking about influences. It’s a topic I find endlessly fascinating.

Humans learn throughout our life spans, but we are especially sensitive to learning during our early years. Language, for example, is largely acquired in the first 7 years of life. Other experiences have later sensitive periods. I believe that for most readers, and writers, the ages between 8 and 18 are of critical importance as influences. I discovered ERB’s Barsoom books at that time, and I’ve loved Sword & Planet fiction ever since. I still enjoy reading this type of fiction, even if, from an adult perspective, it’s not objectively well written. On the other hand, I never read a Doc Savage or Shadow adventure until my late twenties / early thirties, and I still find them Ho Hum.

I found Louis L’amour, John D. MacDonald, and Ray Bradbury early, and I don’t pass a day without riffing off one of their great themes in my own imagination. I even dream experiences influenced by these writers. But Cormac McCarthy, David Gemmell, and James Sallis, whose books I adore today, don’t have nearly that impact on the deep levels of my mind. When I try to incorporate themes in a story that I’m playing with from Hemingway, for example, I’m always completely conscious of what I’m doing. When I wrote the Taleran books I was almost completely “unconscious” as far as theme and content were concerned.

Being “unconscious” of one's sources has potential risks and potential benefits. On the risk side, it’s possible to stay so close to the original that you are simply writing pastiche. On the benefit side, being unconscious of influences allows a seamless mix and match of many influences into the blend that makes up true creativity. When there’s a little ERB, a little REH, a little Bradbury, a little L'Amour, Andre Norton, and Jim Kjelgaard, then no single influence predominates and the whole is a recipe for something new.

As a biological psychologist, though, I also believe there is an interaction between experience and biology. ERB and REH influenced me not only because I found them early, but also because they resonated with the biological bent of my imagination. As an example, take music. As a youngster, I heard “only” old time country music and whatever you call Lawrence Welk. I instantly disliked it, and dislike it to this day. The “moment” I first heard rock and roll, at around 13, I loved it. And from the first, I wanted to hear it louder and faster. I’m not biologically attuned to old style country music, like Merle Haggard, Porter Waggoner, and Hank Williams Sr. I’m attuned to AC DC, ZZ Top, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. But once I discovered rock and roll, then “experience” played a role in my tastes. I heard the Stones before I ever heard The Beatles, and to this day I prefer the former to the latter.

The 8 to 18 age range is only an approximation, of course. I didn’t discover horror fiction until my early 20s, and yet it resonated so strongly that I quickly began writing it. I suspect that had I not found horror until my 30s it would be different. Even though horror came outside the 8 to 18 range for me, I notice that “individual” horror writers are only weak influences on me. I devoured everything by Lovecraft in my early twenties, for example, and yet today I don’t think his themes have influenced me much at all.

OK, enough rambling for now.


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Pics from the Past

My brother has been scanning some pictures for an older family member and he sent me a few of them. I thought I'd post those today. Not much else going on at Fortress Gramlich. Can you guess who the first two pics are of? Just have a look at the "last" pic on the page and imagine taking off 49 years.

The other pics are my mom and dad with my oldest brother Jimmy as a baby, and pics of my mom and dad's wedding. All these were taken in the yard of the house where I grew up. In the pic with my brother Jimmy you can see the house in the background. It's kinda cool to have these images of a time long gone.