Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In Praise of Nonfiction

I talk a lot about fiction on my blog, about reading it and writing it. Usually when I mention loving to read I’m referring to fiction, and during the summers I really indulge myself there. I also prefer to write fiction over nonfiction, although I’ve actually sold well over a hundred nonfiction articles and the pay is much better than for fiction. Writing it is definitely a different kind of animal.

But my focus on fiction here shouldn’t be taken as a ‘dislike’ of nonfiction. I’ve often said that, as writers, nonfiction will feed our heads better than fiction, and I read a lot of nonfiction that is not just for work but for pleasure. I thought I might talk about it today. My nonfiction reading generally falls in three areas.

1. Science: I consider myself a scientist, and, as a teacher, I feel it absolutely necessary to keep up with scientific developments in the field of psychology. In the past five years I’ve been reading very heavily in the areas of evolution and evolutionary psychology, partly because I’m working on a book in that area, and partly because I’ve developed a couple of evolutionary related courses at my university. I’ve read some very good stuff in this area. The granddaddy book of them all in this field is Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species, which I read many years ago but still reread passages from here and there. Some other good writers in this field include Loren Eiseley, Richard Dawkins, and Stephen J. Gould. Unless you’re working on a book, however, I’d suggest you not read many of the “Intelligent Design” screeds, which generally give a bad name to both science and religion.

2. Books on Writing: Kate Wilhelm’s Storyteller, Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, Bill Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words. These have been three of my favorites in this area in the last few years. But I also really enjoy reading writer’s biographies, and I’ve got a bunch, from Hemingway to Stephen King. I love hearing about how other writers work, and about their successes and not so successes. A lot of writer’s lives are probably pretty boring to people who aren’t writers, but I find them fascinating. Of course, I’ve actually written my own book in this field, my collection of writing tip articles and essays called Write With Fire

3. Music: I think I always secretly wanted to be a rock star. I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I sometimes think I would. And these days those dreams are way behind me. But I still read books about rock stars, mostly aging stars these days. Two of the more enjoyable works in this field that I’ve read have been Lemmy’s autobiography, White Line Fever, and Dave Mustaine’s self titled autobiography. I enjoyed Motley Crue’s The Dirt. I will eventually get around to Ozzy’s books.

I do read outside these three areas, though not as much. I’ve read a fair amount about motorcycle culture. I wouldn’t consider myself to have been an outlaw biker. I definitely was no 1%. But I enjoyed my years as a biker and I found the sub-culture pretty fascinating. I still read a few books about that world, including Ralph Barger’s Hell’s Angel. I devoured history when I was younger, particularly the history of ancient warfare, and World War II. I came close to becoming a history prof rather than a psychologist, and I would have specialized in WWII. But there’s only so many hours in the day and history has fallen off my radar for the most part in the past ten years.

What about you? What are some of your favorite nonfiction works, nonfiction areas?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ashedit on Gramlich

I feel like all I'm doing lately is touting my own horn, but there's something neat that's just gone up that I want to call to your attention. Over at Ashedit's Blog, Elaine is having a kind of Gramlich extravaganza. I think it's kind of cool so I hope you'll check it out.

Thanks so much to Elaine for putting this up. Much appreciated.

Also, I'd almost forgotten that June 27 was coming up. The second of my monthly posts is up over at Novel Spaces. This one is not about me but about "For the Love of Books." There's some cover photos I think many of you might appreciate. It's just down from the top.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Buddies in the Saddle Review

Well, I haven't normally been posting every day but I had to put up a link to Ron Scheer's review of Killing Trail. Ron captured exactly what I hoped to do with those stories. I'm very glad he enjoyed and I sure do appreciate the support. Check it out if you get a chance, at Ron Scheer on Killing Trail


Friday, June 24, 2011

Progress and a Retrospective

I've been doing a lot of writing and I can 'see' the end of "Under the Ember Star." My pace as slowed but I know the end is in reach and I have a pretty good idea of what has to happen and when. There's still going to be some feeling my way through. In the meantime, I thought I might be lazy today and post a scene from my first novel, from Cold in the Light. I'm still very proud of this book. Kargen, who is mentioned in the scene below, is probably the best villain I ever created. I believed when I finished it that 'everyone' would love this book. You know, I still think that. Or at least I think they should. :)

Kargen's war-band followed swiftly along the scent trail of their leader, moving like an animated wind through the forest, flowing around tree trunks, leaping over fallen logs, rushing as quick as air through the night. They passed a ruined helicopter and the torn bodies of humans, one of them without a head. But they did not stop.

The kill-smell on each of the dead bore the mark of Kargen, and it injected enough of a stimulant to quiver their war-spikes and raise spines all across their heads. It made them run faster, and faster, down hills and up, until they crossed a road of bare ruts through the dark woods.

The band's warriors no longer cared about the strange odors underlying their leader's scent pattern. Blood and violence made too heady a perfume. It overwhelmed any reservations they might have had. Kargen killed, and because of that he led. They only wanted to join with him in hauling down the prey, in tearing it to froth. Their teeth hurt with the thought.

Then, as one, the band slowed, came to a drifting stop in a meadow where wild flowers of purple and white bloomed. A wetness flared their nostrils, the raw signature of a not too distant stream. And painted among the wet were the threaded fragrances of Kargen and the Mother and of humans. And, too, of a place.

A killing ground.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

More Reviews

A post just went up by me over at Rogue Blades today on "I Dream of Heroes." I only realized it went up this morning so if you get a chance, check it out. Below are two more reviews of books by friends. And it looks like something kind of cool is going to be happening this weekend. I'll let you know.

The G.O.D. Factor, by Rachel V. Olivier:

This is a novella length SF work by our blog colleague Rachel Olivier. A deactivated artificial intelligence unit that once ran a giant warship regains sentience. And it’s insane. It also thinks it’s God. And now it’s installed in a civilian ship rather than a warship, with a crew that is poorly prepared to deal with it. The event happens during the shift of a crew member named Monica, and she has to figure out how to get her fellow crew members out of an AI imposed stasis and retake the ship.

Good stuff. I might have actually liked seeing a longer version of this. It could be expanded to a novel, but I don’t know if there’s any plans for that. It’s definitely a quick read, well written, with a solid emotional core to the story. Rachel is a polished writer. I always recommend her work.

You can pick this one up at Sam’s Dot.

Past All Traps, by Don Wentworth:

This is a collection of haiku and other short poems, observations about the world and about life. It sort of combines Eastern and Western sensibilities. I thought it was very good. There are whimsical pieces and pieces that are much sharper and pierce.

"Stop counting syllables
start counting the dead."

My favorite, because it's so true: "While begging forgiveness, plotting my next scheme."

I recommended it.

If you want this one, you can pick it up from Issa’s Untidy Hut. The link is at the top of the right hand column.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day

I didn’t have many Father’s Days with my dad. I remember wishing him happy Father’s Day a few times, but I can’t recall any gifts I gave him except for one. In grade school one year they brought in a wood burning kit and let us make designs on pieces of treated wood. I did a Father’s Day and a Mother’s Day piece. I have no idea where they are now. I can only vaguely remember them at all. I was probably 10 or 11. A couple of years later and my dad would be dead.

When my mom remarried many years later to a wonderful man named Ray, who was much like my father in many ways, I was already in my mid-twenties. I never knew quite how to refer to Ray. I didn’t think of him as my step-father, because I was already several years out of the house by then. I came to love and respect him, and I often actually called him on Father’s Day to wish him a good day. But I never really knew what to say. And, of course, many times on that day I was a little bit closed off inside because I missed my own father.

Then I had my son, Josh, and Father’s Day became a joyful time to me again. I still have many of the gifts he’s given me on prominent display in my office or around the house, some alien figurines, a porcelain skull, some of his sketches, a clock he made for me one year.

On Father’s Day this year my son will be coming up to see me. He’s 23, so I made it 10 years longer for him than my father was able to make it for me. I will be spending the day with him so I won’t be blogging. Tomorrow, I’m going to the grocery with Lana and we’re going to see if we can pick up some sushi grade tuna and salmon, and if we can then on Sunday Josh and I will steam that over the stove and eat it fresh and nearly raw over a bed of sticky rice and soy sauce. If not, I will go and get some sushi and bring it home. And we will have it with some cold Abita beer.

If I didn’t get to enjoy many Father’s Days from the side of being the son, I’m very thankful to have them from the side of being a father. These are precious days. I hope you all have a chance to enjoy them. With your father. With your son. With your daughter. With the memories you have of the past, and with new memories you will make on this day, in June of 2011.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Whispers and Cash

I’ve recently finished two Kindle ebooks written by friends of mine. Both were excellent books, and I wouldn’t say so if I didn’t feel it to be true. Following my mother’s advice, if I didn’t believe what I said about them, I just wouldn’t have said anything at all. Below are my reviews, and links to Amazon for the books.

Whispers, by Travis Erwin

This is a novella length collection consisting of two stories, “The Simplest of Sounds” and “White Shutters,” and a memoir piece called “Whispers.”
All are simply outstanding. Reading them is like touching a circuit alive with electricity. The tales are told simply but with great emotional power. I normally think of thrillers when I think of page turners, but I read these straight through without stopping and kept hitting the “Next Page” button on my Kindle about as fast as my thumb would work.

If I had to assign a genre to the collection, I’d call it literary. My reason would be that these are realistic tales of “real” people, and they are more about the heart and the mind than about action. However, they don’t leave the reader wondering at the end. Each piece has closure .

The memoir piece recounts the author’s experience surrounding his son’s birth, when the doctor gave him those dreaded words: “Something is wrong.” I wept through half of this one.

Whispers is also available on the Nook here

Overall, I highly recommend it. 99 cents is definitely a bargain for the talent on display here.

Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles

My second selection is by Edward A. Grainger, and I think it’s no secret that Grainger is actually David Cranmer. This is a wonderful collection of seven western stories featuring Marshal Cash Laramie, who is sometimes called the Outlaw Marshal. Laramie has a little of Matt Dillon in him, but there's a lot more of Dirty Harry.

Laramie is a true hero, the one who does what has to be done to protect the innocent rather than just doing what the law allows. His partner, Gideon Miles, is cut from the same cloth, although he is a black law officer in a difficult time.

I really enjoyed this collection and highly recommend it. A fun read, but also one that makes you think, and which doesn't skirt the tough issues. Stories like “Melanie,” for example, really hit you where you live.

This is another .99 cent book, and you can’t go wrong at that price.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Hitting the Wall

It seems to happen in nearly every book. I don't remember it happening with Swords of Talera, but in every other book I've written I've hit a wall at some point that seems to say: "this far and no further." Beginnings are easy and fun. Endings are harder but still fun. Middles are tough. And I've hit that point with "Under the Ember Star."

I know what the problem is. In the early part of a book, you set up mysteries and questions that help keep the reader reading. But you can't answer every single one of those questions at the end because the ending can't just be explanation. That means you have to insert more and more information as you get further into the work. You have to reveal some answers as you move through the book, without revealing everything. And that inevitably slows down the action and the pacing. That's the point I'm at now.

I spent most of yesterday spinning my wheels, or so it felt like. The chapter I'm working on, even called "Revelations," is all talk and no action. I think the dialogue is revealing info the reader is curious about. I hope so. And I think the information is interesting in its own right, given the reader's curiosity about the world of the story. But I haven't been able to work a lot of conflict into the dialogue. The characters are being too nice to each other for one thing, letting the information be drawn out with little to no resistance. I've got to change that, and shorten the whole chapter so that the lull in the action doesn't go on too long.

Once this chapter is done, I finally know what is going to happen next. It's going to be full of conflict and I'm in a hurry to get there. First, I just have to climb this wall.

Wish me well.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Howard Days, Novel Spaces, and Killing Trail

It’s almost unheard of these days for me to post two days in a row, but June 11th was the anniversary of Robert E. Howard’s death. Most of you who visit here know who he is. I’ve talked about him plenty of times before. On the 11th, I talked about him again, but this time I did it over at Novel Spaces. I hope you’ll drop by.

And, of course, Killing Trail is indeed up finally as a Nook Book. I’m excited. Here’s the direct link again, in case you missed my shouting yesterday. Thanks all for visiting.

NookBook At Last

Hurray! At least to me. Killing Trail is up as a Nook Book. Same price as over at Amazon for the Kindle. I never found out what the major issue was or even got notice it had been published. But I decided to have a look just in case late last night and there it was.

Here's the link for you "Nookites." Killing Trail

Thursday, June 09, 2011

To Make a Reader

What leads one to become a reader? What led ‘you’ to become a reader?

These are questions I often ask myself, because I wonder how it happened for me. When my son was young I read to him every night, or at least told him stories every night. Some of them I made up myself. He had two large bookshelves in his room and they were full of books. Anytime he showed interest in a book I got it for him. He certainly saw me reading a lot. But although he does read and does enjoy it, he certainly isn’t a reader like I am.

When I was growing up, my mother read newspapers or magazines, mostly things like Better Homes and Gardens. She read the Bible. I don’t remember her reading fiction although she did have some of those Reader’s Digest condensed books at one time. My father read the Bible and farming magazines. He read for religious reasons or for information. Both my parents were great people but, maybe because they had to work so hard all their lives, they just didn’t do much reading, and certainly not just for fun.

My oldest brother was married and gone by the time I was born, but my other two brothers never read anything while I was growing up that they didn’t have to, except maybe hunting magazines. One of my brothers did become a reader later in life and even has his own excellent library, but I didn’t see him reading when I was young. My sister read a good deal, though, and it was from her that I borrowed a lot of books while I was growing up. These were mostly books she brought home from the library, many of them for her husband, who was definitely a big reader.

My parents, in fact, tended to actively discourage me from reading as much as I did. My mom often told me I was going to ruin my eyes, and both mom and dad would find me reading in the house sometimes and make me go do chores. They didn’t mind a little reading but I just did too much to suit them, and not the right kind of stuff. Oh, I read about hunting and fishing, and I read the Bible, but I also read science fiction and fantasy and that nonsense. There certainly wasn’t any of that kind of stuff around our house. I even used to hide out in the barn to read so I wouldn’t be caught for chores. Yet, today, I’m one of the biggest readers I know.

So what’s the secret to creating a reader? Do you encourage reading, model reading, and read to them every night? Or do you tell them they read too much and to put down their books and go outside? Do you buy them any book they want? Or do you let them scrounge for whatever reading materials they can find? I tried the first way. My parents tried the second way. My way worked somewhat, but mom and dad had the most success.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Still no Success

The announcement I'd hoped to make last Friday was that I'd finally gotten Killing Trail uploaded to Barnes & Noble for the Nook. Alas, that still hasn't happened. They claim to be having some trouble verifying my account identity, which has now got me all worried that someone has stolen it. So, what I'd hoped to be something good has not turned out so well. I'll give it a few more days, see if anything happens. If not I'll have to cancel the upload.

The only other thing I have worth mentioning is that I watched the movie Shoot 'Em Up tonight. In it, a man gets involved in trying to save a pregnant woman from a hit man and ends up delivering the baby. The mother is killed and now the guy has to take care of the baby himself while an army of hit men try to kill it. He enlists the aid of a lactating prostitute. And the resulting body count is higher than Commando or Rambo. This had to be the most over-the-top movie I've ever watched, and I loved every minute of it. Totally ridiculous but very well done. I laughed my keister off as one ridiculous but intriguing scene piled on another. I recommend it.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Announcement Deferred

I thought I was going to have a bit of a personal announcement to make today but my thinking was premature. And it turns out I won't even know if I'll be able to make the announcement until Monday. Oh well, never count your beer until you've opened the can and had the first sip. Nothing major anyway.

In writing news, I’m over 15,000 words into “Under the Ember Star,” and since I don’t expect it to go much over 25,000 I’d say I’m well into the middle of the work. That almost always means a bit of a slow down for me, and it has here. But I’m still making progress and I expect to finish it by the end of June. I’d like to have it done sooner.

I finished reading two books by friends in the past week. I’ve included my reviews below.

Midnight Eyes by Sidney Williams:

Midnight Eyes is a thriller set in Louisiana, an area of the country Williams knows well, having grown up there. A serial killer is working one of the small Louisiana towns and an embattled sheriff and his FBI profiler son have to solve the case before more die. Along the way they have to deal with their own shattered relationship. The writing here is very fine and the "killer" is definitely a bit different from what the reader starts out expecting. There are some nice twists and turns along the way, and a really exciting action sequence at the end. The characters are well drawn and seem very real, including the killer. Good stuff.

Midnight Eyes for the Nook

Longarm and the Arizona Flame by Tabor Evans (Really James Reasoner):

This is what they call an “Adult Western,” which means it has sex in it. The sex is relatively graphic but not pornographic. I’ve only read a few adult westerns, and almost always because I’ve known the author, as I know James Reasoner. The key thing for me is that when James writes one of these books the book works as a “western” first and foremost. This is a very good western, in fact, and I much enjoyed it. If you haven't read any of this type of book this would be a good introduction.

Arizona Flame at Barnes & Noble

I also read my first SF book by John Ringo, called Into the Looking Glass. I liked it a lot and have already picked up a few of his other books.