Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last Blog of 2013

Like some novels I’ve read, 2013 started out pretty good, sagged seriously in the middle, then picked up toward the end. Not the greatest year but still better in almost all ways than the years 2010 through 2012, each of which saw major family losses and serious illnesses strike. I’m glad at least the trend for health issues was up.

School was school. No great victories. No great tragedies. I’m glad for that. I do like things on an even keel. Personally, Lana and I continue to be very happy together, although Lana did have some serious back issues for several months that caused us great concern. The worst of that seems to have passed.

In writing, I mentioned before that I wrote about 80,000 professional words, which I’m confident was up from the years 2010-2012. The best thing was the completion of the fourth book in the Talera series, which should be out in 2014. I did not have any books published through Borgo/ Wildside in 2013 and much of that was because I’d decided to focus on some long term projects and some personal self-publishing concepts I had.

In early 2013 I put up the three volumes of the FictionTechniques series, “Creating Suspense,” “Characters Wanted,” and “The Twist Ending.” These actually sold pretty well, although I have not gotten many reviews on them. They also helped earn me a couple of speaking engagements, which is nice.

In the spring I put up MicroWeird: Tiny Tales of the Strange. Despite garnering 4 five star reviews, it did not sell well and ultimately has been my slowest seller of any self-published title. In the fall, though, I put up The Machineries of Mars, which also gained 4 five star reviews but which has far outsold “Micro Weird.” It’s been my best seller since Harvest of War.

The only other publishing related thing I did was putting the Louisiana Inklings anthology into print. I was glad to learn how to do this and may start doing print editions of some of my other self-published work in the days to come.

All in all, a pretty good year that reversed the trends I’d been experiencing in the three years previously. Let’s hope I can keep the momentum going into 2014. And let’s hope that all of us here in the blogosphere have a great 2014 with lots of success. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 Word Count

For the first time ever, I kept records of how many words I wrote professionally this year. This is not counting blog materials, facebook writings, journal materials, or school related writing (unless it was for publication). I had hoped for at least 100,000 but I fell well short of that. The total came out to be right around 80,000. These 80,000 fall into three major categories: 1) those already published or scheduled for publication, at about 65,000, 2) those which mark progress on long-term projects that are probably a year or more at least away from competition but which I think likely to be published, at about 12,000, and 3) miscellaneous poetry and pieces of stories that may or may not ever be completed or published, at about 1400.

I also realized, however, that a simple word count does not constitute a very good measure of my writing productive for the year. For example, I had an older nonfiction project I worked on where I only added 558 total words. However, this also involved extensive editing on the material that was there, which meant cutting out lots of stuff that was there before. I worked pretty steadily on this project for a couple of months and also did lots of reading for it. The 558 added to my count scarcely touches how much work I put in on this project. There are several projects like this that I’m busy with.

So, all in all, I’m not totally unhappy with my productivity. Quite a bit better than last year I’m sure, even though I didn’t keep a word count in 2012. I don’t know whether I will keep up my counting next year. It seems like a relative waste of time for me since I have many small projects to keep word counts for. If it were just novels it would be a lot easier and less time consuming. It was an interesting experiment, though.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Books that have Stayed with Me, Part 3

Here's the last installment of Books that have Stayed with Me:

9. Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat. I was assigned to read this book in my college biology class and I still remember how irritated I was at the assignment. I read constantly, and always had a TBR pile ready to go. I didn’t want to have to read what someone else thought was good for me. I remember griping and growling about it until I set down with the book and started. Within moments I was laughing uproariously and totally engrossed. I later picked up and read almost everything Mowat has written. This particular tale is about Mowat’s study of Wolves in Canada, but it is nowhere near as dry as that description suggests.

10. The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen. Never Cry Wolf got me into reading stories of nature and this is another such tale. But it’s also much more. It’s the story of Matthiessen’s journey into the Himalayas to find the elusive Snow Leopard, but it’s also a spiritual journey and offers great insights into the human condition.  It also has some of the most incredible writing I’ve ever seen. When I want beautiful prose that resonates through me, I often go to this book.

11. Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin. This is also generally considered a classic and had I read it as a youngster I would probably not have liked it. However, since it deals with gay characters I would never have found this book in any high school curriculum in Arkansas in those days. I read the book in my thirties, after having already read and enjoyed a number of other Baldwin books such as The Fire Next Time and Go Tell it on the Mountain. The story is about an American Gay man living in Paris and about his relationship with Giovanni, an Italian fellow. I didn’t continue reading this for the adventure. It’s a character study and has great humanity.  It’s also impressive to me that Baldwin, an urban African American man, could write so well about white characters in France. Of course, Baldwin was gay and had lived in France for many years, but still I found this work well worth my study as a writer.

12. House Made of Dawn, by N. Scott Momaday. This book opens with gorgeous prose and is a very fine character study as well. I still pick it up from time to time for the prose. It was also memorable to me as an introduction to a Native American character with depth and a kind of humanity that I did not get from most of the reading of western genre fiction earlier in my life.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Books that have Stayed with Me, Part 2

Here are the next four books on my list of twelve that have stayed with me. One more part to go.

5. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury. I could fill up half my list with Bradbury’s work but I’ll limit myself to this one. Chronicles is another collection of short stories that are loosely connected to each other around the theme of colonizing Mars. Bradbury was the master of melancholy. No one else does the haunting beauty of loneliness as well; no one else writes “sad” so wonderfully.

6. Murder in the Wind, by John D. MacDonald. I said I love the archetypal characters created by writers such as REH and ERB, but to me, no one has ever created more ‘realistic’ characters than John D. MacDonald. JDM was outstanding at putting real people on the page, and he told compelling stories about them too. This book has a number of characters thrown together during a hurricane. The interactions are a lesson in how to do characters.

7. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. In high school, I had to read such classics as The Grapes of Wrath, Silas Marner, The Scarlet Letter, and The Metamorphosis. To this day, I still think Silas Marner and The Metamorphosis are two of the worst books ever written in the English language. At least for our modern times. The Grapes of Wrath is actually worthwhile but is way too long for required high school reading. After being forced to read this material in high school, I came to the conclusion that I generally hated the classics, and to this day I struggle to get myself to read such material. Had I not already been in love with reading, High School English class would have destroyed it for me. But all this could have been avoided if they’d just let us read The Old Man and the Sea. It’s short, vivid, full of adventure, full of characters of depth, and introduced me at least to a culture I knew nothing about but found interesting. It was this book, read when I was in my late twenties, that restored my interest in the classics. Most of the classics I’ve read since then wouldn’t have gotten read without this book coming first.

8.  Northwest Smith, by C. L. Moore. I had no idea when I first read these stories that C. L. Moore was a woman. Nor would I have cared. Anyone who can write stories like this will get my attention. Smith is also an archetypal character, but there is far more vulnerability in him than in most of the characters created by REH and ERB. Having something of a melancholy personality anyway, these tales resonated strongly with me. As I grew older and began my own writing, I also wanted to create such characters. They should be bigger than life, but also have that vulnerability as well. 


Monday, December 16, 2013

Books that have Stayed with Me, Part 1

Recently, a meme went around facebook asking people to quickly list ten books that have stayed with them over time. My first thought was, only ten books? How could I possibly do that. Many hundreds of books have stayed with me. However, the guidelines also said not to give it a lot of thought so I just jotted down ten. But, as I usually do when it comes to books, I wanted more, and I wanted to say why certain books have stayed with me. On my blog then, I decided to give an expanded version of my list. And I pushed it to twelve. It might take me a couple of blog posts to get through this, but here, in no particular order, are some of those books.

1. A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This is perhaps the purest “story” I’ve ever read. ERB didn’t waste time justifying things or explaining ‘how’ things happened. He pitched you headlong into adventure and let you sink or swim. I learned to swim, and to this day I find this kind of sword and planet adventure to be my most enjoyable reading experience. Not to mention that this book is a primary influence on much of my writing, particularly the Talera series.

2. To Tame a Land, by Louis L’Amour. Another pure story. This time a western. A youth and his father are crossing the plains with a wagon train when their wagon breaks down. The rest of the train rolls on past, leaving them behind. From this premise, a series of adventures take our youthful character into adulthood. All the boring parts are left out. Ryan Tyler, the character from this book, is my favorite fictional gunfighter.

3. The Sowers of the Thunder, by Robert E. Howard. This is a collection of four short stories by REH, “The Lion of Tiberias,” “The Sowers of the Thunder,” “Lord of Samarcand,” and “The Shadow of the Vulture,” all set against the backdrop of the crusades. I love a good story but I also love good writing. This collection has some simply beautiful poetic writing that ignites my imagination every time I pick it up. In addition, I’m also a fan of archetypal characters and Howard’s crusader tales are the perfect trifecta, from Red Sonya to John Norwald, these characters are bigger than life and cannot be forgotten.

4. Teot’s War, by Heather Gladney. Gladney’s tale is also a fine story, but the writing here is simply exquisite. I often pick this book up just to read her prose. Few stories have so put me “into” a world as this one.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Deep Thoughts on the John

I’m reading The Power of Myth, an extensive interview with Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers. It’s currently my bathroom reading, meaning it’s handy for those daily sit down situations that come with being human. In this morning’s reading, it became clear that Campbell believes that religious books such as the Bible were understood by ancient peoples to be intended as allegory rather than as fact. In other words, to Campbell, these ancient folks were wiser than many people alive today.

That the Bible and other ancient religious texts should be read as allegory and metaphor certainly seems clear to me. And even the most ardent literalists of today do read sections of the Bible in that way. Consider. “You are the salt of the earth,” from Matthew 5:13. Doesn’t everyone read this as metaphor? From this, you may take that I consider an absolutely literal reading of the Bible to be a mistake. It can’t be taken that way.

On the other hand, were ancient peoples wiser than many folks today? Somewhere buried in history are the folks who “first” told these stories. I have always imagined that they knew the tales were not literally true, but they believed them to be symbolically or spiritually true. I cannot rule out two other possibilities, though. First, they may not have believed the stories to be true in any sense, but were only making them up for entertainment value. I’m sure that humans have been telling ‘whoppers’ ever since our race started. However, I’m personally skeptical of this scenario. Second, it’s also possible that the people who first told these tales had hallucinatory or dream experiences that convinced them the stories were literally true. I think this is more likely than the former possibility.  

But what about the people who first “heard” these stories? Did they think the tales were to be understood as allegories, or did they think they were fact? My personal opinion generally disagrees with Campbell, although neither of us has proof of our speculations. I imagine that there were three types of folks in that first audience for these tales. First, there were those who took the tales as literal truth, perhaps given to them by an authority, or because they jibed with what these folks already were thinking to be true. Second, I also suspect that other members of that original audience didn’t buy the tales as literal at all but felt them to have a resonance and deeper meaning. Third, there were probably those who didn’t believe a word they were hearing but didn’t say anything because of the social pressure of those around them. 

In other words, I suspect that first audience was pretty much the same as modern audiences, although the percentages of the three groups may have changed over time. This has been, Deep Thoughts on the John, with Charles Gramlich.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Drear Sky

Drear sky. Wet Earth.
A cold drizzle falls like nails.
The daylight is grey;
The green of the grass is heavy and dull.
Yet there is mystery here.

Goldfinches and chickadees flit in their hundreds
in and out of our bird feeders.
Doves bob for seeds
around the last shards of an old stump.
Cardinals and Blue Jays splash color
through the dark boles of oaks, pines, magnolia.
There is mystery everywhere here.

Leaves rattle downward through air,
stirred by a wind flying over
the quiet cup of our backyard.
Squirrels send up sentinel calls.
They sound like gossip to me.
They sound like mystery.

Dimly I become aware of another sound,
a susurration that is like breathing.
I think it a medley of moving wings,
crackling seeds, scraping claws, clicking beaks,
all set against a backdrop of water
sighing down trees.
The mystery taunts me.

There is meaning in all this.
Though I cannot fathom it.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Narrative Drive

I was reading a bit of literary fiction just recently. It was well written. The characters were interesting. The scene setting was quite good. It was a leisurely read, meaning that I felt in no urgency to get to the next paragraph or page. When I did reach the end I found, no ending. It just stopped. In fact, it stopped at a point where I thought something dramatic was finally going to happen. I just shook my head, put that one down, and picked up Rick Cantelli, P.I., by Bernard Lee Deleo. Our intrepid P.I. is kicking back on the beach with a couple of lady friends when here come three gangsters, including the brother of one he'd just recently killed. "Uh Oh," I thought, and was instantly eagerly reading forward to see what happened next.
The contrast between the two tales was dramatic to me.

The literary fiction was fine. There was nothing wrong with it. It felt a bit like looking out a window and studying the scene there. Sometimes I like looking out the window. On the other hand, the DeLeo tale has the elements of a good "story."  In a story, something happens, then something else happens, and so on, and the things that happen are connected to each other, and they affect characters that you've come to know and love, or, more rarely, hate.

A story involves "narrative drive." At least, a good one does, a compelling one. Narrative drive is about the giving and witholding of information. You give the reader enough information to understand "what" is happening, but you withhold plenty of the "why" information. The "why" information is only slowly revealed, and only at the last possible second that it must be revealed. And, almost every time you reveal some "why" information, it ends up raising still other "whys." It is the need to figure out the answer to the next "why" that creates narrative drive, and this is what keeps the reader glued to the story.

There's no particular reason why literary style fiction can't have narrative drive, and sometimes it does. Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" has it. So does "The Old Man and the Sea." A lot of literary fiction doesn't though, and when I'm looking for something to read it's almost always narrative drive that I'm looking for. I want to get lost in the story to the point where I no longer know I'm reading a story. Most literary fiction simply doesn't do this for me, and most of it is not supposed to. Doesn't make it bad. But for that reason, it's never going to be as important to me as a rollicking good story.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

On the Writing Front

It’s been a busy school year and I haven’t gotten as much writing done as I’d hoped. That is often the case, however, so is nothing new. I managed to finish a sword and sorcery story over Thanksgiving for a project that I’m sworn to secrecy on. It’s going through my writing group for feedback now.

I was badly knocked for a loop by Robert Reginald’s death. I still think about him every day. I’ve been quite busy, though, which has helped me. I did get some positive news. I’d sent Rob the fourth Talera novel before his death. Everything was pretty much up in the air over that but it now looks like the book, called Wraith of Talera, will be published in 2014. I’m actually looking over the galleys now, although this is also the last week of classes, to be followed by final exams, so I’m being pulled in many directions.

Also, “The Machineries of Mars” did better than I’d feared it would. Not as good as I’d hoped, but you gotta grab the positives where you can. I’d actually made a kind of deal with myself, that if “Machineries” didn’t sell better than “Micro Weird” did I’d just hang it up. Good thing, perhaps, I didn’t have to be tested on that commitment. I don’t know if I could really “quit” anymore anyway. I’ve just been banging my head against writing for too long.

Speaking of “The Machineries of Mars,” I picked up a nice review by Keith West over at the Amazing Stories Blog. Keith also reviewed Tom Doolan’s “The Pirates of Themos.” Both of these stories are tied in to the concept of the Lost Empire of Sol. The review is here if you want to check it out.

There is also a review of "Machineries" over at James Reasoner's blog. Thanks much to him for the kind words.

Now to get the last bits of the school semester dealt with and have some time for writing over the Christmas break. That time is already spoken for with a nonfiction project I need to complete. But maybe I can work in some fiction as well.



Friday, November 22, 2013

Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess has died.  He was just sixty-five. I usually called him Rob, because Robert Reginald was the professional name that he did most of his writing and editing work under. I never met him in person but I talked to him occasionally on the phone and corresponded with him for years through email. I knew he’d had health problems as a consequence of a bad heart attack about ten years ago, but his energy was always so palpable that it came as a complete shock to me to find out he had passed on November 20. I had an email from him a week or so before saying he’d just gotten out of the hospital and was feeling pretty weak, but that he was glad to be home. I never for a moment thought that would be the last email I ever saw from him.   

I was introduced to Rob by a mutual friend, Charles Nuetzel. Rob was editor and publisher of Borgo Press, which later became an imprint of Wildside Press. I wrote him about my Talera series of novels and he asked to see them. He accepted all three and that was the beginning of my working relationship with Rob. He went on to edit three collections of my short stories, a couple of my nonfiction books, and the Wildside Double that I was very proud of, having grown up reading the old Ace Doubles. A couple of years ago, when Rob was revisiting the Talera series to put them in ebook and audiobook format, he wrote to tell me that he’d almost forgotten how good they were and that I should write more. That compliment really meant a lot to me and I did indeed write another Talera book. I sent it to him at the end of this past summer, and though he acknowledged receiving it I don’t know if he ever got a chance to actually read it. I like to think he did, and that he enjoyed it.

Rob was a professional editor and always freely expressed his thoughts, comments and suggestions on my work, but he was also an incredibly warm individual who was easy to approach and open to discussion. He always took into account my thoughts and hopes for the stuff I sent him. He was certainly the kindest and most supportive editor I’ve ever met. I will miss bouncing ideas off him and knowing he’d give them an honest but caring appraisal.

A second way that I knew Rob was through his own writing. He wrote mysteries, pulp noir, science fiction, and nonfiction with equal ease. I was a particular fan of his science fiction, which was very much classical SF in tone and content. That is, he took interesting ideas and melded them with action and wit for a fun and thoughtful read. I’m lucky that I still have several of his novels yet to read. Each one will be especially meaningful to me now.

The picture I put up of Rob comes from the webpage of Bobbitt Memorial Chapel, where the services are to be held for him. I imagine it was provided by Rob’s family. The link is here if you would like to visit. There is also an obituary of him up at Locus Online.

One of the good things about the age we live in is that we can become friends, good friends, with people we have never met face to face. I consider Michael Burgess (Rob) a friend. I’m very sad today that he is gone, but very happy that I got a chance to know him.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Right to Bear Arms

Nowadays, many folks are afraid to give their kids toy guns to play with. They don’t want to encourage violence. But I’m not a violent guy and playing with toy guns was half my childhood. Of course, I didn’t have many ‘actual’ toy guns. I had pretend toy guns. Other than a cap revolver that was part of a cowboy outfit, the only toy guns I had were ones I either found or made myself from items around the farm. I had a piece of fence post that looked a little like a tommy gun, and a long, straight piece of limb from a Chinaberry tree that I used to represent a musket like Dan’l Boone used to carry. Sometimes I used a pocket knife to improve these pieces’ resemblance to actual weapons.

I even had a kind of armory for all my weapons set up in one of our barns, and I’d go and pick out whichever one was most suited to the type of game I was about to play. My nephews, Terry and John, who were six and seven years younger than me respectively, knew where my armory was but I didn’t often let them play with my “guns.” And then only if I knew about it. I’m sure I was just trying to protect them from growing up to be outlaws.

Apparently, however, Terry didn’t care much for my selfishness. One day I couldn’t find my Chinaberry musket in the armory and began searching all over for it. I finally discovered it broken and lying nearly under the wheel of an old wagon that we had on the farm. I couldn’t figure out how the gun had gotten to its new location, or how the wagon wheel had broken it since this wagon had four flat tires and hadn’t moved in years.

I confronted Terry and John about the broken weapon and found out that Terry had borrowed the gun, broken it, then put it under the wagon wheel in hopes I’d buy the fiction that the wheel had run over it and done the damage. I don’t believe he had thought the whole thing through. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Writing as Play

Years ago when I first started writing I read something that stayed with me. A well known writer—I no longer remember who—said you shouldn’t tell other people about your stories because if you talked them all out you’d never write them. I certainly followed that advice as I began my career.

As time went on, though, I began to hear about “plotters,” those writers who meticulously plan out stories and novels before they put the first word on screen. That seemed to me to be much the same as “talking a story out.” I didn’t think I’d like it and I just didn’t do it. I often commented on the issue with, “that would take all the fun out of it.” So, I continued my life as a “pantser,” a writer who prefers to discover what is going to happen in his or her story as they write it.

To be completely clear, however, I’m not 100 percent a pantser. I don’t commit to a novel, for example, until I know about where it’s going to end. I often have a good ending in mind even for short stories, although such endings are more likely to change as the tale weaves on. In novels, I will generally know some trends and some high points in the book well before I begin writing those sections. But I don’t meticulously plan and outline and I always leave lots of room for ‘discovery’ as the tale unfolds.

As more time passed, however, I discovered that—many times, but not always—plotters got bigger contracts and made more sales than pantsers. I also discovered that plotters often spoke of writing two or three thousand words a day (or more), and sometimes of writing 1000 words in an hour. I was flabbergasted. I generally averaged about 250 an hour and seldom made more than a thousand in a good writing day. Finally, one plotter told me they could write so fast because they knew exactly what they were going to write when they sat down. They knew what the scene was about, where it was going and what was going to happen.

An epiphany! The scales fell from my eyes. I suppose I should have easily realized this but I’d not actually made the connection between writing speed and complete scene knowledge. Maybe this was the secret to producing more, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

So, a few days ago, I set down to play the plotter role. I’d already written an opening scene for a story in my usual way, but decided now to carefully plot out the rest. By the end of an hour or so, I knew every plot turn and twist in the tale. I knew all the characters and had the setting firmly in mind. I began to write. The words flowed swiftly—500, 800, 1000, 1250. In less than two hours. I was pleased.

Then came day 2. I found myself not very eager to get back to the story. It took quite a bit of motivation to do so, but I got started. 500 words, 600. I began to slow down, paused to check email, 700, paused to watch a sit-com, 800, 850, stopped. Still, a respectable showing, and I’d been working on the tale less than an hour.

Day 3. Again, very tough to get myself motivated. I waited until an hour before bed but I knew I could do a good amount in an hour. I rolled to 400 very quick but then started looking for breaks. I fought that urge, made it to 800 in about 30 minutes and quit for the night.  And I realized one important thing. I was bored as hell with the story. I’d enjoyed the ideas during the plotting phase. I thought the story had a good concept and could have some very nice elements of suspense. But I was not enjoying the writing at all. It felt like paint by the numbers to me.

I’m going to finish the story, read through it again, and see if it is worth anything. Not having done this before, maybe it will be just fine. I can’t tell until I see the finished product. But one thing I know.  For me, writing is very much a form of play. And when I know precisely how a game is going to turn out, I don’t enjoy it nearly as much.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Machineries of Mars

The Empire of Sol!

Some say it lay in an ancient past.

Some claim it will rise in a distant future.  

But one thing is clear. What rises must fall again. And no one knows what will crawl from the ashes.

*    *   *

In the last days of empire, Mars became a pleasure planet for the wealthy and powerful. Every vice was permitted there, every hunger satisfied. But what happens when an empire collapses and the wealthy stop coming? What happens when the machines that fed humanity’s dreams for so long are left on their own? What dreams might rise in them?

The Machineries of Mars tells a tale of battle and honor on the red planet. If you like stories written in the tradition established by Edgar Rice Burroughs and expanded on by such writers as Alan Burt Akers, Leigh Brackett, Gardner F. Fox, and S. M. Stirling with his In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, then The Machineries of Mars may just be the kind of Sword and Planet adventure you’re looking for.

--- By the way, another tale from this lost anthology is also available as of today. Check out Tom Doolan's blog for more information: 

Friday, November 08, 2013


I've been talking to my students this week about various elements of professionalism, ranging from concepts such as punctuality to knowing where and how to find information that you need. Today we are going to talk specifically about vocabulary. 

Every field, from plumbing to psychology, has its own terminology. Some terms will have common meanings in the world as a whole, but special meanings within a field. A professional knows these terms and their subtleties; a non professional most likely does not. 

Below, I'm including the list of "psychological" terms that we'll be discussing today. I thought it might be interesting to run it here as well. 


Affect vs Effect
Confident vs Confidant
Covert vs Overt
Councilor vs Counselor
Deductive vs Inductive
Discreet vs Discrete
Disinterested vs Uninterested
Envelop vs Envelope
Exhaustive vs Exhausted
Explicit vs Implicit
Extant vs Extent
Former vs Latter
Hallucination vs Delusion vs Illusion
Imply vs Infer
Manic vs Maniac
Nature vs Nurture
Obsession vs Compulsion
Positive vs Negative
Principal vs Principle
Psychotic vs Neurotic
Qualitative vs Quantitative
Sensation vs Perception
Simple vs Simplistic
Stereotype vs Prejudice
Stimulant vs Stimulus
Timber vs Timbre
Valid vs Reliable

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

New Cover and TOC for Killing Trail

Killing Trail was the first item I self published, back in 2010. This 24,000 word collection of western tales has been among my better sellers, but hasn’t sold much of anything over the last six months.

When I first put the book up, I knew relatively little about formatting an ebook and setting up a clickable table of contents. I’ve decided to reissue the book in an updated version with a clickable TOC. The stories themselves are not changed so if you’ve already bought this book don’t buy it again. In fact, I think Amazon is supposed to let those who bought it know about the update and provide it to them free of charge. I don’t know how that works because I haven’t done this before. But let me know if you have the book and get a notice about the new version. Or if you don’t get a notice and want the clickable TOC version let me know and I can get it to you.

I also uploaded a new cover for the book, which contains the pseudonym, Tyler Boone. I’ve got several more western stories in the planning phase and when I do publish them they’ll go up under the Tyler Boone name.

If you haven’t read the Killing Trail collection already, I hope you’ll give it a look see now. Here’s the link to Amazon. The book is also up for the Nook  but I’ve not yet changed the cover there. Since sales on Nook have been very very very minimal, I’m not sure I’ll bother to make the change.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Charade You Are

Today marks the first time that Razored Zen Press has published an entire work by someone other than myself. Although the Louisiana Inklings Anthology has material in it by other folks, it also contains stuff from me. Last night, a short story called Charade You Are went live on Amazon. Outside of the introduction, which I wrote, the tale is the product of another mind. One that is—perhaps—even more twisted than my own.

Charade You Are is a political satire. The name on the cover as author is Reagan Pheasant, which is a bit of word play on the contents. It is, as you probably have surmised, not the author’s true name. I know Reagan Pheasant but am not going to reveal their identity.   

The reason for the mystery is simple. Charade You Are contains some graphic sexual scenes and some very strong language that might get Reagan into trouble at their job. The sexual scenes are neither erotic nor pornographic per se. They are not meant to titillate but are part of the satire. As I said, I know Reagan Pheasant. They have a point to make about the increasing polarization that we’ve seen in our government and society over the past twenty or so years. I think they make the point well, and with humor, albeit of the black kind. Otherwise I wouldn’t be involved in publishing it.

I don’t want to discuss the story more at present because I don’t want to spoil anything for those who might read it.  Over time I can talk more about it, and if anyone has questions I can relay those to Reagan. I can’t guarantee they’ll answer them.

Charade You Are is 99 cents on Amazon

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


I first met J. Bruce Fuller at a science fiction convention many years ago. He was much younger than I, and I remember him having a lot more hair than now. We talked quite a while after one of my panels and we’ve stayed in touch over the years. In fact, we’ve worked together several times on various poetry projects, including my collection of vampire haiku called Wanting the Mouth of a Lover. I’ve been very happy to see him gaining a reputation as a prominent Louisiana and southern poet. From my reading of his work, it’s well deserved. Below, I review his latest chapbook offering.
J. Bruce Fuller. Notes To A Husband.  Imaginary Friend Press. 2013. 18 pp. Introduction by Amy Fluery. Edited by Dan Nowak.

J. Bruce Fuller is a Louisiana native who obtained his MFA in poetry from McNeese State University and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Louisiana—Lafayette. He has already been widely published and his latest poetry chapbook, Notes To A Husband, is the subject of this review.

In Fuller’s latest chapbook, he uses the form of notes from a wife to a husband to illustrate the waning of a relationship. There is no heightened poetical language to mask or mythologize the relationship. It is laid out stark on the page, in the common language of humanity. All the ambivalence of such dramas is there. Even while the woman thinks “about old lovers” she washes her husband’s “favorite mug.” She admits her own faults; she sugarcoats nothing.

It’s often claimed that what is left unsaid is at least as important as what is actually said. Notes To A Husband illustrates this perfectly. I’ve seldom been made so keenly aware of what can be revealed “between the lines.”  In her introduction to Fuller’s collection, Amy Fluery refers to the “indirection of silence,” and I think that’s a very fine way of describing the depth to be found in these mostly brief poems. They’re like the proverbial house that is much bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside. They expand in your consciousness as you read them.

I highly recommend Notes To A Husband.  You can find out more about the collection, or order a copy for yourself, at Imaginary Friend Press: www.imaginaryfriendpress.com

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Coming Soon from Razored Zen Press

I’ve just published one new item through Razored Zen Press, and in the next few weeks will be releasing two more. The first item is a print version of the Louisiana Inklings anthology, which appeared in ebook a year or so ago. This is a collection of writings from members of my writing group, which I organized and edited. A few of my own pieces are included, although all are more literary than genre fiction. I used CreateSpace, Amazon’s printing arm, to produce it, and the proof copy came out perfect. I’ve now ordered the first actual copies. If all works out well with this, I’ll probably start producing some print versions of other ebooks I’ve published, such as Killing Trail and Days of Beer.  I might produce some “super” collections, of several different individual ebook publications lumped together.  I expect Louisiana Inklings to be primarily of interest to local folks around the Abita Springs and southern Louisiana area, but if you want to check it out, it’s here

One of the soon-to-be-released items is a longish short story/novella called The Machineries of Mars. This is a Sword and Planet fantasy tale, which was originally earmarked for an anthology that never came to fruition. The editor released the stories back to us a month or so ago and I’ve been setting it up for publication. I really like the cover I’ve come up with for it, although I had to have help from Lana to bring it to fruition. I’ll talk much more about it when I upload it.

The second soon-to-be-released piece will be the first ever non-Charles Gramlich story to be published from Razored Zen Press. It’s a political satire from a friend of mine and will be published anonymously because it contains graphic depictions of sexual activity. I still have to do the cover for this but it’ll probably be done within a week or so.

Slowly, ever so slowly, I make progress on getting projects finished and published. It’s always nice to see them appear.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

While I was Away

Well, I'm back from CONtraflow and starting to dig out from under everything that has piled up. I much enjoyed the con and got to meet several new folks as well as visit with old friends and acquaintances  Most of my panels were pretty well attended, although the one on self-publishing had only two folks. I'd expected more for that one.  Maybe the tide is turning there.

Unfortunately, I came home to find that someone had smashed up the reflectors we'd put up by our driveway to help us back out in the dark mornings, and then they bashed in our mailbox so that it has a big dent in the top and the lid will no longer shut. It was also leaning rather drunkenly to one side. Our house was the only one so hit in the neighborhood, which bothers me quite a bit.

I spent half an hour of time that I could ill afford getting the mailbox back in some semblance of working order. We see kids in our neighborhood quite often and expect it was one of them that did the damage. We don't know for sure, of course. The reflectors were stolen once before but I walked around the neighborhood until I found them and brought them back. 

Lana and I have always tried to be friendly to the neighboring children, going so far as to give a bicycle to one local kid. But it seems I must constantly be reminded that no good deed goes unpunished.  

Of all crimes, I think I understand vandalism the least. To simply destroy things. Why?


Friday, October 18, 2013

Going to be Away for a Few Days

I generally dislike breaks.We were off Monday and Tuesday for fall break and I did enjoy the time off. However. when I got back to work I had a massive pile of material waiting for me to deal with. Breaks mean that other people now have time to do work that they then send to me for evaluation. I've already had five research proposals land on my desk through Wednesday and Thursday of this week. I have a test to give today (Friday), and then mid-terms are due first of next week. Any rest I gained from the break has already been crushed by the piled up work that has appeared since.

In addition, I'll be gone much of the weekend to CONtraflow Con right here in the greater New Orleans area. I mentioned it back a blog post or two ago. I'm looking forward to that, but I won't be getting school work done during that time so Monday and Tuesday of next week will be overloaded.

For these reasons, I probably won't be visiting blogs again until after mid-terms are turned in early next week. I'll leave you with the following. Hope you enjoy, and I'll see you when I return.

The Talera cycle:  http://www.amazon.com/Swords-Talera-Book-One-Cycle/dp/1434400816/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382103261&sr=8-1&keywords=swords+of+talera


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gravity and A Little Something Else

Lana and I went to see the movie Gravity today. We watched it in 3D at the IMAX theater. Those of you who know me know I'm a long way from a movie buff. Frankly, I usually don't give a crap about them. But I have to say the 3D IMAX version of Gravity was pretty overwhelming. 3D has come a longggg way since the last time I saw such a movie, which was probably 15 or 20 years ago. It was incredibly engrossing and did not feel contrived at all. I did have a mild headache after leaving the theater, but I'm not sure if that was a function of the 3D effect, the thunderous sound system, or both. The headache went away pretty quickly.

Even in non 3D, I suspect this movie would be very good. It was as intense and suspenseful as anything I've seen in years. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney did amazing jobs as the only two characters we ever put real faces to. I've always liked Bullock, have generally not been particularly admiring of Clooney, but both deserve award nominations for this movie.  Of course, much of the credit also goes to the writers who put wonderful dialogue into the actors' mouths.

The special effects were just outstanding. Although we expect good special effects these days, I thought this movie took it a step above and beyond (so to speak). Both Lana and I felt at times like we were right there inside the astronauts' suits. The sheer immensity of space and the awful loneliness of it came through in just about every frame. As Bullock or Clooney reached to grab for a hand hold, or strained to reach something just off their fingertips in the darkness, I reached with them. I felt like I'd gone through the ringer by the time it was over, and will give the movie my hearty recommendation. I've not done that very often for movies here.

- - - - -
I'll end with a little change of pace. Here's a little teaser I worked up for "Under the Ember Star."  What do you think? I've done a couple more of these as well and will be posting them over the next few days.


Saturday, October 12, 2013


I'll be a guest at the New Orleans area CONtraflow 3 convention this coming weekend, October 18-20. It's being held at the DoubleTree Hilton near the New Orleans airport in Kenner, Louisiana. Kenner is a suburb of New Orleans. The Con link is:

The phone for the hotel is:  504-467-3111

Here's my schedule at present.

The Pulp Writers: Robert E. Howard and Beyond, Friday, 4pm, Panel Rm 2

Exploring Dreams and Nightmares, Friday, 8pm, Panel Rm 3

The Truths of Self Publishing, Saturday, 3pm, Joey Grillot Memorial Movie Rm

Getting Published, Sunday, 10am, Panel Rm 2

I did some similar panels last year and they were well attended and we had a lot of fun. If you happen to be anywhere in the area, it's a great con.  Big enough to be interesting but small enough to feel pretty intimate. 

All are welcome, whether you're big into SF/Fantasy or not.


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Two Big Mistakes

One of my chores on the farm when I was growing up was to gather the eggs from our chickens and guineafowl. Guineafowl are a vaguely chicken-looking kind of bird that is raised much like chickens. They tend to eat ticks and are sometimes used to control those pests. That’s probably part of the reason my dad kept them. Although generally smaller than chickens, they taste much the same when cooked, and their pint-sized eggs make tasty omelets. Guineas are also wilder than chickens and I remember having to search much further afield to find their nests and eggs. It was an adventure.

In contrast to the guineafowl, our chickens tended to stay close to the chicken barn where they both nested and roosted. That made their eggs easier to find, and we ate fresh eggs for breakfast just about every morning. Some chickens would quit laying eggs if you took the ones they produced, so to keep those hens laying Dad would sometimes replace their real eggs with wooden ones painted white. The chickens didn’t seem to notice the difference. Apparently, neither did another creature that sometimes haunted our hen houses.

While we wanted our chickens and guineas, of course, one of the most undesirable visitors to our farm was a large variety of black snake that we called a chicken snake. They often grew four or five feet long, and I saw some as long as seven or eight feet. I never saw a chicken snake eat an actual chicken, but I found them coiled up in the hen’s nests at times when I was out gathering eggs. Those nests were almost always empty of eggs, although I don’t believe the snakes were quite so empty themselves.

One day, I found a big six-footer in one of the nests where Dad had placed some wooden eggs. The snake had already swallowed one “egg,” which made a noticeable bulge in its belly, and had a second in its mouth. I remember watching in fascination as its jaws and throat distended around the white oval of wood, which it slowly worked back into its throat.

Normally, chicken snakes swallow the eggs they steal whole and then crack them inside their bodies, either by muscular contraction, or by wrapping themselves around a rock or tree for some added help. They then absorb the nutrients and crap out the pieces of shell. That was not going to happen for this unfortunate egg thief. I couldn’t even imagine the pain he was going to experience when he tried to crap out two intact wooden eggs.

I figured it was nothing short of merciful to kill him with a hoe to the neck. I trust he would have done the same thing for me if our roles had been reversed.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

A Bottle in My Pocket

I don’t have an actual memory of this event but I remember being told about it hundreds of times. Apparently, up until I was two or three years old I used to carry my milk bottle around in the pocket of my overalls. This apparently incensed by older sister to no end and whenever she was left babysitting me she’d take it away. Daddy would then get mad at her and give it back to me when he came home. 

I guess Dad figured I’d grow out of it on my own, and I did. For example, I no longer carry a whiskey flask in my back pocket everywhere I go. I stopped that about five years ago now. 

Come to think of it, most all of my older siblings (3 brothers, 1 sister) tried to do some raising of me. Thank goodness I was able to avoid being unduly influenced.

If you were a younger child, did your siblings try raising you as well? How successful were they at it?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Careful What You Ask For

My brother-in-law, Roger, used to eat a lot of chili peppers when I was a kid. Although I don’t remember doing so, I apparently used to bug him fairly regularly to give me one, even though I had no idea what a chili pepper was. It just seemed that he enjoyed noshing on them so much.

One day, Roger gave in to my--no doubt adorable--entreaties. He fished around in his bag of dried peppers to find just the right one for me, a nice big yellow one. He insisted, of course, that I needed to eat the whole thing at once rather than taking a small bite.

I listened.

I regretted.

I remained a little scared of Roger for a long many years after that. I did learn an important lesson, however, never ask anyone again for a bite of anything they seem to be enjoying.

Be careful what you ask for. You might just get it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Old House

The house where I grew up was old. From what I heard, it had originally been built around an old log cabin that stood there. It had an upstairs that was almost always filled with shadows, and several different attic spaces. It creaked a lot.

I often got a little creeped out in that house. There was an opening into part of the attic right next to the landing of the stairs. Dad hung a board over the opening and put in a hook to keep it closed. Mom used that space sometimes to store goods she canned, like green beans, corn, beets. But she only used the front of it and I could see it extended pretty far back into the darkness. My brothers told me about the “things” that lived in that attic and how I better hope they never “got me.” I believed them.

We slept upstairs during the winter and I would go up the stairs at night with my back against the outside railing of the stairs so I could stay as far away as possible from the attic. I’d watch the hook on that door like my life depended on it. When I’d come down the stairs I’d often jump over the last few steps so I could get past the attic before anything grabbed me.

One late afternoon, probably when I was about ten or eleven, I was home by myself for a little bit. I’m not sure where mom and dad were. I was sitting in the living room watching TV when I clearly ‘heard’ footsteps coming down the stairs. I bolted, out of the living room, down the short hall and out the front door, never stopping to look behind me to see what shambling horror might lurk there.

When mom and dad got home a short time later, I was sitting near the front porch with our pack of hound dogs around me. They asked me why I was outside and I just told them I’d wanted to play with the dogs. I let them go in first, though. When they didn't scream and come running out, I followed them in.

Years later, I figured that what probably made the sound of footsteps was a squirrel dropping a nut down between the walls and it bouncing off the support boards as it fell. My rational mind tells me this anyway. My imagination is still not quite so sure.

Monday, September 23, 2013


I had a pretty good summer with writing. I finished the fourth Talera novel and it is off to the editor. But that was about a month and a half ago now and I've been in a state of lethargy to semi-lethargy ever since. I have made progress on one long nonfiction work but definitely could be further along on that if I'd put in a bit more effort. I've got a second project that is essentially done and ready for getting out but I just haven't had the energy to pull the trigger on it. Other than that, I've started several pieces, written the first five or six pages, then let them fizzle. On the weekends I've just been sitting around, watching football and movies mostly, and not even doing as much reading as I probably should.

Lana often tells me I should cut myself some slack, but it too often feels to me as if that's all I'm doing. I keep telling myself I'm gonna pick it up, and I do for a few days, but then slide back down again into...meh. A few weeks back I ordered myself to shake it off and stated clearly to myself that I'd do more in the writing arena and pick up with the blog and with promotions. I did the scorn series here and then fizzled. I haven't done much promotion at all, and part of that is because I'm not sure what to try next.

I realized a year or so ago that I couldn't make headway by working harder. I don't have youth on my side for that anymore. I realized I had to work smarter. Unfortunately, I've cut back on working hard and haven't figured out how to work smarter. The only ways I can figure out to improve my promotional efforts is to work 'harder,' to visit more blogs, join new forums, take more speaking engagements, etc. And so I'm back at square one. I think my lethargy has arisen from this, and it's extended into my writing as well as into promoting.

My mom once told me when we were arguing about one point or another, "Charles, I thought you were smarter than that. I just thought you were smarter than that."  At the time I was convinced I was pretty darn smart and got a big laugh out of her comment.

A few years further on and I'm beginning to think that maybe Mom was right.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Running some reviews today. De Noux and Johnston are friends who also happen to write damn fine books. I didn't know Kyle Knapp personally but knew of him through David Cranmer's blog. De Noux and Johnston are still writing and deserve wider recognition and readership. Unfortunately, Mr. Knapp is no longer with us.  His work is very fine, though.

A very fine collection. A combination of youthful verve with a mature voice. The author's youth is most on display in the often daring wordplay and the willingness to risk an entire poem on the turn of a single line. The maturity is seen in how well the author infuses multiple emotions and moods into the same piece. The typical poem, it seems to me, generates a single mood or feeling, while many of these poems evoke a range of emotions, from melancholia, to gaiety, to a risque humor. Well done.

This is a fantasy short story featuring a childhood version of a character (Lerebus Shieldbreaker) who plays a large role in some of Johnston's full-length fantasy series books, The Ursian Chronicles. This is something of an origin story for the character, or at least part of that origin story, and I believe there are more stories related to this one although this is the only one I've read so far. The nice thing about Johnston's writing is that not only does he tell a good story, but his prose is lyrical, which gives his work the extra jolt that I like from my fantasy reading

I'm not quite sure how to categorize this one. A young man in New Orleans begins to discover that he has superpowers and becomes a masked crime fighter. Then he meets a girl with similar powers. They fall in love. Or do they? There's a pretty big mystery behind it all, which is revealed in the end. Good stuff.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Writers and Genres

In talking to a writer friend the other day, she mentioned my “genre.” That seemed a little odd at first because I rather pride myself on writing in lots of genres—Fantasy, Horror, Western, Science Fiction, etc. In our discussion, it seemed that she meant, primarily, fantasy, but only a portion of the stuff I’ve written would be classified as fantasy by fantasy readers.

After I thought about it, I began to divide my fiction writing into two ‘broad’ genres. These are 1) action-adventure and 2) weird. Weird includes stuff that carries elements of horror, noir, and the surreal. Since it was of interest to me, at least, I thought I’d post the breakdown here. In part, I’m wondering if the breakdown into these two broad areas might help sales a bit. I know some folks who read specifically, and only, in one genre. For some readers, if they are looking for “X” and happen to read “Y” by a writer, then they’ll avoid that writer in the future, even if most of what he or she writes is indeed “X.”

Anyway, here’s the breakdown for myself, as I see it:

Action-Adventure                        Weird
Swords of Talera                         In the Language of Scorpions
Wings Over Talera                      Midnight in Rosary (with erotica)
Witch of Talera                           Micro Weird
Under the Ember Star                  Harmland
Bitter Steel                                  Wanting the Mouth of a Lover
Cold in the Light
Killing Trail
Harvest of War

I was thinking of other writers I admire and how they might fit into one or both of these categories. I decided to place those writers in the same categories below. This is my opinion, of course. Any discussion is welcome.

Action-Adventure                              Weird
Edgar Rice Burroughs                         H. P. Lovecraft
Robert E. Howard                              Edgar Allan Poe
Louis L’Amour                                    Ray Bradbury
John D. MacDonald                            Clark Ashton Smith

Someone who combines the two throughout much of his body of work is Joe Lansdale, and maybe Dean Koontz.

What say you?