Tuesday, June 29, 2010

To A Writer

The other day, someone of my acquaintance asked me a question about how they should go about getting started trying to write. Here was my basic response, with details changed to protect everyone’s identity.

The first thing a writer does is write, and it’s very easy to start. All you need is paper, and a pen or pencil. I use a computer word processor myself but that isn’t necessary. You start out writing about something that engages your emotions. You write what makes you angry, or afraid, or happy. You write about loves won and lost. You write memories that you have; you write about experiences you really, really want to have. And if what you write seems ugly, so be it. You still don’t give up. If it’s on the page, it can be fixed.

The second thing a writer does is read. Not only in the genre the writer wants to work in, but in all kinds of genres. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry. They all feed your head. Besides, if you don’t like to read, why on earth do you want to write? That’s like saying you want to be a master chef but you don’t really like food.

The third thing a writer does is treat writing with respect. That means actively working toward improving your skills. Reading books on writing and grammar, such as William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, is one example of treating the field with respect. Using a dictionary to make sure you get the nuances of words right is another. Becoming your own harshest critic is yet another. Quality control for a writer is in him or herself. You are inspector number 1.

Since writing is a lonely business, you might also want to seek out the company of other writers. Joining a writing group is a way of doing this. Writing groups often form around universities or libraries in big towns and cities. In small towns, you might need to take out an ad in the paper and start your own. There are also many, many writing groups online. I’ve been a member of both online and in person groups, and I’ve gotten a lot out of them.

There’s really nothing magical about the act of writing. It shouldn’t be a scary process, although it often is for people. It can be frustrating, but it can also be immensely rewarding, especially on an emotional level. Besides that, it’s a lot of fun.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I’ve been having a lot of fun yesterday and today. Over the years I’ve hand drawn a variety of maps for my fantasy stories set on Talera and Thanos. Many were drawn on the backs of pages torn out of an old biology class workbook from college. Later ones were put down on a sketch pad and I thought I was really moving up in the world. I’ve used those maps a lot over the years, and have added or edited them at times so that they now have various scratch outs and additions on them. They also suffer from my complete lack of artistic talent.

But yesterday a revolution in Gramlich map-making occurred. I asked the Lovely Lana to scan the originals I had and to send them to me as graphic files. I then began using my paint program to clean them up, to redraw faded lines, and to begin to introduce some color and some typed headings instead of the almost impossible to read scrawls that I’d filled them with before. And I’ve loved every minute of it.

Every once in a while I forget why I’m in the writing biz. Sometimes I get too focused on deadlines and trying to make sure I meet certain audience expectations. Sometimes I worry too much about whether something is likely to be published or not. Of course those are important things, and I don’t deny that, but none of those were in my head when I first started writing. I started for the sheer love of creating. And fiddling with these maps is bringing it back home to me. I see those areas of my maps that are yet unfilled and my mind starts churning with possibilities. I see a line I marked as “Trader’s Road” and I want to know where it goes. I see a place I called “Quall Valley” and I wonder what secrets abide there.

One map that has certainly seen its share of use in my stories is the map of the Island Kingdom of Nyshphal, which features prominently in both Wings Over Talera and Witch of Talera. It is mentioned in Swords of Talera but is never seen in that book. I’ve posted two images of one section of this map below for you to see how it looked “before” and “after.” You may have to click on them to enlarge them.

Man, the memories this brought back. Makes me want to go back to those heady days when I was first writing Swords of Talera, when all I cared about was finding out what happened next to Ruenn Maclang and his band of friends. Great days. Great days. As they always are when you are doing something for love.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Novel Spaces and Elder Signs

I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve joined the wonderful blogging crew over at Novel Spaces. That blog is one year old now and I’ve been a frequent visitor since it began. I’ve even done a guest blog for them before. But now I’ll become a regular, which means I’ll be posting there a couple of times a month on subjects specific to writing and publishing. Razored Zen will still be my primary blog, but I’m looking forward to interacting with the folks at Novel Spaces. I know a couple of them very well and hope to get to know everyone well soon. I hope you’ll check it out.

At the moment, Novel Spaces consists of:
Stefanie Worth
Phyllis Bourne
Farrah Rochon
Jewel Amethyst
Kevin Killiany
Shauna S. Roberts
KS Augustin
Marissa Monteilh (Pynk)
Terence Taylor
Karen White-Owens
Liane Spicer
And me!

I am also going to be blogging, although probably somewhat less regularly, over at Elder Signs Press’s Blog. Our fellow blogger and fine writer Stewart Sternberg is organizing that. I already did my first post over there, on Robert E. Howard.

Yes, it looks like I’m going to be busier than I’ve already been. Anyone got one of those watches that can slow down time? I’m going to need it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Famous Books That Suck

Just a quick post today. My son, Josh, is coming up around noon for Father's day and will be here for a couple of days. I won't be posting or reading blogs during that time. We've got some fun things to do that don't involve the computer. In the meantime, though, I'll leave you with a brief commentary on famous books that suck.

1. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. Often referred to as the first modern novel, there are indeed some good things in this book. The writing isn't bad and the characters are well drawn. There are some justifiably famous lines, "From Hell's heart I stab at thee." However, the book is very long, with numerous asides that are info dumps on whaling and have nothing to do with the basic storyline. It took me nearly two years to read it and I still shudder a bit at the thought.

2. William Hope Hodgson wrote a very fine book called The House on the Borderland. I loved it's surreal prose and imagery, and the feeling of real dislocation within it. So naturally I tried Hodgson's The Night Land. Big mistake. The book is agonizingly slow and repetitive and is written with a biblical tone that is interesting at first but soon grows old. There is some fine imagery in it, and it showcases Hodgson's twisted but brilliant imagination, but the basic story is not very interesting in the first place. (It's about reincarnated lovers.) And the repetive elements are enough to drive a reader mad themselves. I thought if I was going to have to read one more time about how they: walked 8 hours and ate some tablets and slept for six hours, that I was going to scream. The books is about 200,000 words long, and I understand there is a 20,000 word version called The Dream of X. I sure wish I'd read that one first.

3. Requiem for a Dream, by Hubert Selby Jr. I've mentioned my dislike of this book before, and unlike with my first two picks I can't find anything positive to say about it. All I can say is, I wanted all the characters (except the main junkie's mom) to die as quickly as possible so I'd be put out of their misery. The writing is absolutely bland, with paragraphs that run on for whole pages and at the same time combine dialogue from several speakers without using any quotation marks or tags to let you know who is speaking. If you must experience something of this work, watch the movie, which is not my favorite in the world but is a thousand times better than the book.

And now, for two items that definitely do NOT suck. I just finished reading Heroes of the Fallen by David J. West, and I found it to be very fine. I'll be doing a review of the book as a blog post sometime soon. I also read "Love's Clothing," by Rachel V. Olivier, which is a short story in the March 2010 issue of Aoife's Kiss. Good stuff. Very inventive. With a great setting and backstory. I recommend both works.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Around the Web

Stewart Sternberg did a review of Cold in the Light over at Elder Signs Press Blog. Although he didn’t just say positive things about the book, the positives certainly outweighed the negatives and I believe he enjoyed the novel quite a lot. I’ve linked to the review here, but I’ve also quoted a couple of my “favorite” pieces from the review below.

“At its heart, Gramlich’s story is an old fashioned science fiction tale from the fifties or early sixties—and that’s not a bad thing. His writing at times reminded me of Heinlein, with its muscular prose and solid pacing. Gramlich though infuses modern, edgy sensibility and carefully sets the stage for jarring action sequences with a strong cinematic quality to them.”

“In one outstanding chapter, where the heroes are preparing for a last stand in an old sawmill, it is easy to call to mind the work of director John McTiernan (Predator) or Ridley Scott (Alien).”

Thanks, Stewart, for reading and reviewing. I appreciate your honesty.

Also, Natasha Fondren is running a great series on how to format books for Amazon Kindle. Since I’m planning to publish my western collection through Amazon in July, this is spot on information and great timing for me. Check it out. I’m certainly following it with care. Much appreciated, Natasha.

Rich over at Meridian Bridge is also still running his My Personal West series of posts. I'm finding these fascinating. I did one for the series and more have gone up since, or are going up soon. The West has been on my mind a lot lately.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

SLA Author's Night, and Writing

I was invited to the Southern Library Associations Author's Night for SF/Fantasy last night and it was a lot of fun. Another local writer, M. F. Korn, and I went. There was a question and answer session, which I enjoyed, and later we sold and signed books and talked with librarians, who are a writer's natural allies in this world. I sold quite a few copies, especialy of Swords of Talera, and was happy about that. I was a little surprised at the number of librarians who asked if our materials were on Kindle. I'd say about a third of them wanted to know about the ebook markets for out books, which in my case is virtually nonexistent except for Swords of Talera, which is available on ebook from Barnes and Noble. That was one of the questions from the audience for us in the more formal part of the night, as well.

In other news, I did a guest post on the real west over at Richard Prosch's Meridian Bridge. Thanks, Rich.

I'm working on two stories at present. One is a western tale for my planned Kindle ebook, which I'll try to publish in July. That story is working under the title "Powder Burn." The other story is for a secret project that I'm not currently at liberty to speak of. How's that for a tease? ;)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Brushes with Fame

What do Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, and Joe Lansdale have in common? They were all in anthologies with the illustrious Charles Gramlich. What about Piers Anthony, Graham Masterton, Brian Lumley, Steve Rasnic Tem, Richard Christian Matheson, F. Paul Wilson, Poppy Z. Brite, and Karl Edward Wagner? Is there anything in common among these great writers? Yep. Gramlich again.

What about one of the hottest names in the writing world right now? No, not J. K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer. I’m talking about Neil Gaiman! Even Neil Gaiman has been in an anthology with the mysterious author known only as Charles Gramlich (or sometimes as Charles A. Gramlich, or as Charles Allen Gramlich, or sometimes as another name entirely.)

Or perhaps you’d recognize the names of some more historical authors: Spinosa, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Keats, Hume, Herman Hesse, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, William Blake, Omar Khayyam, Walt Whitman, Anton LaVey and Edgar Allan Poe. Is it possible that any of these famous authors’ names could be found in a table of contents alongside Gramlich? It is. They are. All posthumously , of course. Well, Gramlich is still alive. Or so the rumors have it.

I think it’s kind of cool that Ardath Mayhar, Jane Yolen, Michael Moorcock, and Brian Stableford have had the privilege of appearing alongside Gramlich. I’m glad that Glenn Lord and S. T. Joshi have had that chance. I’m happy for David J. Schow, Joe Haldeman, and John Brunner. It’s not every day you get to have a piece in the same book as a Gramlich.

But then, Gramlich has been privileged beyond belief to be in the august company of a few other writers: Sidney Williams, Wayne Allen Sallee, O’Neil De Noux, Debb De Noux, Del Stone Jr., Rexanne Becnel, Kent Westmorland, John Edward Ames, Charlee Jacob, Marge Simon, Bruce Boston, Ann K. Schwader, Keith Gouveia, A. P. Fuchs, Greg Schwartz, Robert Reginald, Charles Nuetzel, Michael Malefica Pendragon, Wendy Rathbone, Denise Dumars, and a hundred others whose work lifted his own.

And, of course, all joking aside, Gramlich is pretty tickled about everyone in the first four paragraphs of this post, as well. Just goes to show, you hang around the writing world for twenty plus years and you get to brush shoulders with greatness. I’ve been very priviledged!

Once Upon a Midnight, edited by Jame Riley, Michael N Langford and Thomas E. Fuller.
Dark Terrors, edited by Stephen Jones and David Sutton.
Dark Voices IV, edited by David Sutton and Stephen Jones.
Erotic New Orleans, edited by Debra Gray De Noux.
Choice Words, edited by Robert Reginald
Vicious Verses and Reanimated Rhymes, edited by a. p. fuchs.
The Bible of Hell, edited by Michael M. Pendragon.
The Parasitorium: Terrors Within, edited by Del Stone Jr.
F/SF, edited by David Bain.
Small Bites, edited by Garrett Peck and Keith Gouveia.
Bits of the Dead, edited by Keith Gouveia.
Two-Gun Bob, edited by Benjamin Szumskyj.
The 1995 Rhysling Anthology.
The 2002 Rhysling Anthology.


Thursday, June 10, 2010


Many of you may know this stuff already but some of you probably don’t. I’ve looked more into the Amazon Digital publishing, and I’m definitely going to try it. My pic today is a rough mockup of a cover idea. Submitted covers have to be in jpeg or tiff format and I’ve found out how to change msword files to jpeg if I need to.

However, Amazon is about to change their rules for publishing ebooks in July and I will wait until those changes kick in first. Otherwise I’d have to ‘republish’ what I publish now. Since I’m going to be waiting a bit anyway, I’m going to try to do a new western story to add to the publication. Right now it has three tales in it, “Killing Trail,” “Showdown at Wild Briar,” and “Once Upon a Time with the Dead,” as well as a short essay on Louis L’Amour. I’m going to fiddle today with a story I’m calling “Busted Flat in Broken Axle” to see if I can get it going in a reasonable way. I figure to charge the lowest price I can for it once it is published, but Amazon has rules about how much or how little one can charge based on size of the file. You can’t give something away free.

I also need to write the “about the work” piece that is posted on Amazon with the book. I’m working on the assumption there that it’s kind of like a short back cover blurb. I’ve found it’s harder to do these for collections than it is for regular novels.

So far all I have is: “When they dumped Angie Hutton in Lane Holland’s yard she was close to death. She managed to speak only a few words, but they were enough to make Lane strap on his guns and ride out on a killing trail.”

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Ebook Consideration

OK, I’m thinking of publishing an ebook through Amazon’s Digital Text Platform. It looks like a fairly easy process, and I’ve actually set up a book, although I have no idea at the moment what it’s likely to look like after it’s published. I guess I’ll find out, because I’m pretty committed to giving this a try. Here’s why.

1. I have some western tales, two long and one short, that I’d like to make available in a collected format. But, there is not enough material to pitch as a collection to a regular publisher. It’ll be a total of about 60 pages, which seems pretty good for an ebook, if I make sure to let folks know that it’s not a full novel’s worth of material and if I price it accordingly.

2. I’ve been wanting to try something like this because I hear that some folks are doing pretty well selling Kindle ebooks that they published themselves. And I really do believe that ebooks are going to continue to grow in popularity for a good while, even though I don’t think they will ever completely replace printed books.

3. I’m also interested in doing a little publishing under what I intend to call a Razored Zen Imprint. They say every actor wants to direct. Well maybe every writer (or just this one, and David Cranmer, and Sidney Williams, and Bret Funk) wants to publish. And this seems like a good way to get my feet wet in the process.

So. What do you guys think? Any great advice? Any caveats? Anybody want to give me a few million bucks to set up Razored Zen Press?

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Midnight in Rosary

I appreciate everyone’s input on my title issues. Midnight in Rosary and Midnight in Crimson were the top choices from the responders. Several liked “Mouth Torn with Sorrow,” which I also think is an evocative line but perhaps too “vague” as a title for the collection. A number of folks were strongly against the use of “holocaust” in the title. I can understand that, although the word to me does not instantly evoke the Nazi holocaust against the Jews. I think it’s because I learned the meaning of the word from reading years before I learned the history of WWII.

I decided after much cogitation to go with Midnight in Rosary. I believe it evokes a kind of feeling that appears in many of the stories within the collection. However, I know Borgo Press likes subtitles so I’m thinking of presenting them with: Midnight in Rosary: Tales of Crimson and Black. Maybe that’ll cover all the bases.

In other news, I watched A Princess of Mars on the SYFY channel this evening. There were some elements I liked. I actually thought most of the characters were pretty good and I developed some interest in them. I particularly thought the Tharks were well done as characters, despite having only four limbs instead of six. I wish they’d given the Dejah Thoris dark hair and some expression other than sour lemon, but I could live with it. One of the things I loved about ERB’s Barsoom books was the swordplay and this had very little in it. That’s probably for the best seeing as how the one sword fight was pretty badly handled. Overall, though, it certainly didn’t do ERB’s story justice and I don’t think it will jumpstart a new Sword & Planet revolution. If you haven’t read the first three Barsoom books then you’ve missed something. In my opinion, at least. Here’s a piece from ERB’s original story:

“As I stood thus meditating, I turned my gaze from the landscape to the heavens where the myriad stars formed a gorgeous and fitting canopy for the wonders of the earthly scene. My attention was quickly riveted by a large red star close to the distant horizon. As I gazed upon it I felt a spell of overpowering fascination--it was Mars, the god of war, and for me, the fighting man, it had always held the power of irresistible enchantment. As I gazed at it on that far-gone night it seemed to call across the unthinkable void, to lure me to it, to draw me as the lodestone attracts a particle of iron.”

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Book Titles

As I’ve said before on this blog and elsewhere, I love good titles. I know I’m in a minority, but a good title on a book is far more likely to earn the work a second look by me than is a good cover. If the cover is interesting I may look at it and no further. But if the title is good I’ll always open the book to have a look inside.

As far as my own longer works go, Writing in Psychology was a natural in nonfiction but Write With Fire was tough to come up with. I spent close to a week trying out and discarding different titles on that book, but in the end I’m pretty happy with the one I chose.

With fiction, the Taleran books were pretty easy to title. I wanted a format that was in keeping with common practice in Sword and Planet fiction, such as Warlord of Mars or A Sword for Kregen. Cold in the Light seemed a natural title for a horror thriller, and Bitter Steel is a title for a heroic fantasy collection that I’ve had in my mind since graduate school. My vampire haiku chapbook was harder. I wanted something to evoke the sense of the vampire, and also suggest a certain eroticism. I ended up choosing Wanting the Mouth of Lover, which was a title I’d already used years before on a vampire short story. My image today is the cover of Wanting the Mouth of a Lover by the way, which was drawn by the Lovely Lana.

Now I’m struggling with a title again. And this one, too, is going to be for a collection of vampire material, in this case short stories. My original choice for a title was Holocaust in Rosary, which is the title of one poem in the collection. I like that title a lot but I’m worried that it might be a bit misleading. Here’s part of my problem. Although there will be some pretty nasty vampires in the collection, the majority of the stories feature more of the romantic/erotic kind of vampire made popular by writers like Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton. These are the kinds of vampires that were popular and selling when I first started writing vampire fiction in the 1990s. “Holocaust” seems to suggest a bit more bloodthirstiness than will be evident in the book, although “Rosary” certainly seems to soften the edge a bit.

A second issue, and one I’d like some feedback on, is that I believe this is the first book of mine that could be more popular with women than with men. Now, I hope I don’t get blasted for being sexist. I know plenty of women who like hardcore horror fiction and who read sword and sorcery and hard boiled noir fiction. However, I still think the readership for books like the Talera novels is more likely to be male, while I know a lot more females who read Rice and Hamilton. I hope my collection will appeal to both genders, but the core of the material seems closer, to me, to the kind of fiction that is more popular among women.

That being said, I have to wonder whether “Holocaust in Rosary” is the kind of title that might appeal to women, or if I should try something different. Here are some possibilities that I’ve been thinking of. Anyone have a preference?



Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Fantasy by Definition: Part 5

This has been a long series of posts but I’ve still barely scratched the surface of the Heroic Fantasy field. There are many other books and authors I could talk about, and I’ve barely touched on the whole subgenre of Urban Fantasy, which I know virtually nothing about. I’ve only read a couple of books in that field, and they were much more modern in setting than what I’ve discussed with the other four subgenres. That makes it very different to me. There are also many books that don’t fit clearly into the subgenres as I’ve described them.

Glen Cook’s Black Company books, for example, seem to cross the border between Sword & Sorcery and High Fantasy, though I tend to put them more on the side of S and S. Or take John Norman’s controversial Gor series. There we have an earthman transported to an exotic alien world, as in Sword and Planet fiction, but the earthman certainly isn’t chivalrous. And what is one to make of the Aldair books of Neal Barrett, Jr.? Aldair is an intelligent pig who lives on a future earth where beasts of various kinds have been raised-—Dr. Moreau fashion—-to a semblance of human form. There is even the Redwall series of Brian Jacques, which would clearly be High Fantasy to me if it weren’t about...mice.

But this is all good thing. We don’t want our fantasy to be churned out by some paint-by-the-numbers process. Besides, the exceptions just make the whole process more fun to argue about.

As for the films, from Conan the Barbarian to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, from Excalibur to Red Sonja. Well, most fantasy movies don’t do much for me, although I rather like two of the ones listed in my previous sentence. We could argue for ages undreamed of about such films’ quality, or lack thereof. But that’s another post, or maybe a series of them. :)

Thanks everyone for reading and commenting.