Saturday, March 30, 2013

Micro Weird Has Landed

As I hoped, I was able to put the finishing touches on my collection called Micro Weird: Tiny Tales of the Strange over spring break. It is now available for both Nook and Kindle, at 99 cents. There are fifteen stories and a postscript about flash fiction. It’s over 10,000 words total but only about 8,000 of that is fiction. There’s also a section telling “about” the stories, which is something I like to do and something I like to read from other authors.

You all know I like variety in my writing. Well, this is the most varied collection I’ve yet put together. There’s some stuff in here that would be considered horror, albeit mild, some SF stuff, some humor, a children’s story, and a number of pieces that are really unclassifiable. I suspect there’s some things that will surprise even those who have read most of my previous work. Most of the pieces in Micro Weird were written in the last couple of years, but a few stories go back decades, including one (revised) that dates from the early 1980s. Only three of the tales have been previously published, and only one in anything some of you may have seen.

Despite the variety in the stories, there are two things that hold the collection together. First, all the stories are short, with the longest being about 1200 words. Most are quite a bit shorter. These days, these lengths are identified as either flash fiction or micro-fiction. Second, all the pieces strive for a twist ending.

The cover photo was taken by Lana outside Meteor Crater a couple of years back. We saw what looked like a giant picture hanging on the wall, and a man leaning “through” the picture smoking a cigarette. The “picture” was actually a rectangular opening in the brick wall. It was rather surreal to see, though. Lana did the blacking out of the figure so he’d be in silhouette, and I did the lettering. I used her “Gimp” program to manipulate things and it seemed far superior to Paint so I’m going to download a free copy of it for myself.

I hope you enjoy Micro Weird. I had a lot of fun writing these tales. If you want, you can pick ‘em up at:

As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Falling off the (book) Wagon

I’ve been good for as long as I could. I’ve got so many unread books around my house, literally a couple of thousand, that I’ve been trying not to buy many new books. Of course, I don’t count kindle books that I’ve been picking up from author friends (although some of those have been free). It hasn’t helped any that my reading pace so far this year has been pretty slow. Part of that was reading a few books in a row that I didn’t care that much for, and I’m not the kind of guy who can just put a book down easily once I’ve started it. Part of it, also, is just having been very busy with other work. And there’s a little bit of blame that goes to my new video game, the entire “DOOM” lineup.

Up until a couple of days ago, though, I was doing pretty well at resisting the urge to buy books. Then I saw a cheap copy of a book I’d read via ebook and thought, “why not?”  The dam burst after that. In the space of two days I ordered a new Doc Savage, two Star Trek graphic novels, three books in Taylor Anderson’s Destroyerman series, an old book by Max Brand, under the George Challis name, and some assorted other readables. I’m off the wagon, out on a binge. The gutter beckons. Will I be able to resist?  I guess you’ll have to stay tuned to find out.

In the meantime, I took a break from the binge yesterday to drive up to Lafayette, Louisiana to see my son, who is in architectural school there. He was recognized at their honors convocation so I enjoyed that!


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Writing, Reading, and Losses

I'm considering this the first day of our Easter vacation. I'm off next week from school. We have a few plans. I'm going up to see my son be honored at his school's honors convocation on Tuesday. Not sure yet if Lana will go with me. I'm sure we'll get out to some local parks quite a bit while I'm off, too.

But mostly I'm hoping to get some writing done. I mentioned Micro Weird and I believe I'll be able to get that finished and published by the end of the week. I'm also rolling pretty well in an exciting section of Wraith of Talera so I hope to keep that momentum up. I have a few school quizzes to grade but they won't take long.

And, hey, I might even get some reading done. I want to read some stuff from Rick Hautala, James Herbert, and David Silva, all excellent horror writers who died just recently. I did not know any of them on a personal level but had corresponded with Rick and David. I have read their work before and have great respect for all three. There is a Kindle collection of Rick Hautala's short stories available for free right now if you'd like to sample his work. It's called Glimpses:


Monday, March 18, 2013


Since I've been an adult, I can pretty much name the TV shows that I've watched through their first run on the fingers of one hand. Frasier, Modern Family, and The Walking Dead are the top three. I came to Nip/Tuck in the second season but was hooked then. But even Star Trek: The Next Generation I caught mostly in reruns, though that had more to do with the fact that I was very busy with my first teaching job than from anything else.

I came to The Office and Big Bang Theory several seasons in, but did make the new episodes part of my regular viewing once I'd been hooked on them. Three other series that I started on the first episode with were Flash Forward, Falling Skies, and Terra Nova. I was very disappointed when Flash Forward was cancelled, but I quit Falling Skies pretty quickly and was ready to give up on Terra Nova when it was cancelled.

I'm now watching a new series and have to admit I'm still hooked. This is The Following, with Kevin Bacon as an ex-FBI agent who gets involved with the wife of a serial killer and then becomes the target for an elaborate revenge plot by said killer. I think it's Kevin Bacon's acting that is keeping me hooked. He's very fine in the role. At least it seems to me.

It's also the acting of the ensemble casts of Modern Family, Frasier, Big Bang Theory, and The Office that kept/keeps me coming back to those shows. Nip/Tuck was about the totally insane plot twists that they got up to in that show. And The Walking Dead is a combination of acting and plot for me.

How about you?  What shows are you truly hooked on?  And is it the acting, the stories, or something else that keeps you watching?

Friday, March 15, 2013

MicroWeird is Coming

Sometime in the next few weeks I'm going to self publish a collection of my flash fiction stories under the title MicroWeird: Tiny Tales of the Strange. The stories are already collected and edited, though I'll give them one more read through, and I've got an idea for the cover but need to work on that a bit more. Xavier is closed for Easter Break during the week of March 25-29, so the final touches will probably get done then.

The plans are for 16 stories, with a total word count of around 10,000. Not counting the "about the stories" section, which I always include, the stories will average about 600 words a piece. Quite a few are shorter, and a couple are less than fifty words long. Only three of these have been published before, and only one of those three in anything folks reading this blog may have seen. The price will be 99 cents.

Most of you know I tend be varied in what I write, but this collection has some stories in it that are weird even by my relaxed standards of the strange. Although most of the stories have been written over the past few years with a "Microweird" kind of publication in mind, two of the tales were written during the years before I ever published anything at all. Two others were written and submitted time and again without getting accepted. One of those went to seventeen places without a taker. You might think I'd take that as a sign that it's not very good, but the problems with that are: 1) I think the story is really good myself, and 2) readers I've shown the story to love it. I just think most of the editors I've sent it to have had no idea what to do with it.

Of course, most of these tales will have a "twist ending."  In fact, it was working on the newer stories in this collection that led to Fiction Techniques #3: The Twist Ending, which is one of the writing tip articles I recently put up on Amazon.

So, COMING SOON:  Just when you thought Gramlich couldn't get any stranger. MicroWeird!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Like It Or Not

It never ceases to fascinate me how differently people can view the same book. I just finished a book entitled: Morigu: The Dead, by Mark C. Perry. When I went to review it on Goodreads, I found that most reviewers loved it. Several readers literally raved over the work. One said he’d give it 5.5 out of 5 stars. Another said it was the fantasy book that he judged all others against. Another reviewer of my acquaintance said it was the equal of Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword, which is one of my favorite books. It was that comment that persuaded me to pick up the book in the first place.

My impressions of the book were somewhat less glowing. I thought it was very well written. I really enjoyed the prose, but the story didn’t engage me as much. There were so many characters and I didn’t particularly connect with any of them. The main character, the “Morigu” of the title, was interesting but wasn’t even on stage through most of the book.

There were a lot of scenes where the main heroes were talking about their plans. I generally find one or two such scenes to be plenty. The battles were fairly frequent but I generally felt somewhat distant from them, much more as if I were watching objectively from a distance than if I were down in the midst of the action experiencing the danger. The high level poetic language may have accounted for part of that. I ended up giving the book 3 stars. There is another in the series but I don’t imagine I’ll be reading it.

I wonder why the differences between my response to the novel and the responses of others.  Could it be something as simple as mood?  I felt like I wanted to read a fantasy novel, but maybe I wanted something with more blood and gore and less on the “high fantasy” end of the spectrum. Maybe the plot was more complicated than I was looking for. I think I did want something more straightforward, with fewer characters and more time spent with those characters.  The book was only 202 pages but had so much packed into it that we often seemed only to scratch the surface of events.

Do you find this kind of thing with your own reading?  You love a book that others either don’t like or find average?  Or you find a book average that others love?  Do you have any insight into why such things happen for you?


Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Be Careful of Teaching What You Love: Part Two

This post provides the reasons why I’ve come to dislike teaching my writing class, a class I originally thought I would adore.

First, and least, the class is a LOT of work.  I spend far more time on the writing class than any of my other classes, and much of that extra time involves grading and commenting on student assignments, which is not my favorite part of teaching. No one can learn to write without writing, so I have to get my students to write a lot, and I need to respond to those pieces to help them grow and improve.

Second, I wouldn’t mind the workload if it actually translated into student improvement. Unfortunately, many students seem to pay attention only to the grade rather than the numerous other comments I write on their papers, and they become so focused on grades that they begin to try and “not loose points” rather than trying to get better at the process of writing.  I hear, every semester, “so you focus mainly on APA style in grading?”  Every time it’s asked I say, “no.”  But APA style is the easiest thing for them to fix so they continue to focus on it.  I do have students who take what I say to heart and strive to get better. These students don’t necessarily make the best grades in the class, but they develop the most as writers. But these seem too few and far between, numbering 1 or 2 out of a class of 25 rather than the 10 or 12 I might hope for.

Third, this class evokes arguments with students about almost everything. When you ask an objective question, as in, “who developed the concept of classical conditioning,” there is one specific answer that the students have been taught (Pavlov) and, if they miss it, they won’t argue about it. But it sometimes seems that students want to argue about everything in the writing class.  If they wanted to argue as a basis for learning, that would be one thing. But it’s clear they want to argue so they can try and squeeze out another point or two for their grades. Many of the arguments take the form of, “But that’s what I meant to say…” and they either don’t understand or don’t want to understand that “meaning” to say something is not the same as having said it. At the end of the semester I never fail to have 2 or 3 students, usually ones who got “B’s” but wanted “A’s” come to see me in my office to argue and argue and argue about the situation. Good writing is somewhat subjective, although not completely so, and I stress to the students that I take off most points for objective mistakes and not subjective ones. But even a mark of “awkward sentence” can evoke arguments from students who don’t think it’s awkward.  When I won’t give in to these arguments, the result is often tears. That really makes my day, let me tell you.

Fourth, and worst, plagiarism. I’ve never taught this class yet without having at least 2 out of 20 or so papers plagiarized in the first round. And not just a sentence here and there, but whole passages lifted with no quotation marks and either no references or the wrong references, the latter of which indicates an active attempt at deception. This is despite the fact that I have a lengthy statement about plagiarism on my syllabus. The book talks about it at length. We cover it in class and I have two quizzes with questions on plagiarism in the first third of the semester. There are two inevitable responses that I get from students when this happens: 1). I just messed up on my references, 2). I didn’t realize that was plagiarism. I don’t accept these excuses and indicate to the students that they should drop the class because the likelihood of them passing has now been greatly diminished. Unfortunately, many of the students have reasons why they feel they can’t drop the class, and when I tell them that I will go over future papers with a fine-toothed comb, they say, “OK.” The final result:  usually a poor grade and more tears.

In fifteen years of teaching this class, I’ve had more students cry (at least one a semester, often when caught at plagiarism) than in any other class I’ve taught.  I’ve seen more students argue over each and every grade they make than in any other class. I’ve seen more students look completely bored in class than in any other I’ve taught. I’ve gotten far more frustrated questions (Why is this important? Why do we need to do it that way?) in this class than in any other. I’ve gotten more outbursts of anger than in any other. Is it any wonder that I don’t really look forward to teaching this class?

The negative aspects came to a head for me in Spring 2011 in this class, with a student who went to the chair and the vice president of the university about her unfair “B” grade, which was the “highest” grade she received that semester in any of her classes. She told our chair that she didn’t care so much about herself and her grade, but she just didn’t want future students to have to deal with my unfair policies in the class. The policy in question was me requiring classroom attendance as a portion of their grade for class participation.  After dealing with that, I was the one who felt like crying.  

Be careful of wanting to do what you love. 
By the way, check out this great review by Keith West of my Under the Ember Star.  This certainly makes me feel better!

Also, a flash fiction piece by me called "Eye Spy" is up over at Beat to a Pulp. Another reason to feel better!

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Be Careful of Teaching What You Love: Part One

I love writing. I love talking about writing. I love telling people what I think about writing, and what I know and what I “feel” is true. It’s one reason I’ve done quite a few nonfiction pieces on writing, including my book, Write With Fire. Many of the writing related pieces I’ve produced began because I wanted to understand some concept myself, and I learn best by writing about it.

Because I know that writing about something is a superb way to learn about it, I always wanted to incorporate that element into my teaching.  In the early 1990s at Xavier I saw a way to do that. Du Bois Williams (Irvin) and I got a small grant to create a writing guidebook for our psychology students.  Writing in Psychology was the result, and it soon became a class. Because we had so few faculty, we weren’t able to offer the class very often but when we did I typically taught it. I’ve taught it most years since then, and as we’ve added faculty and rearranged our curriculum we’ve been able to offer it more frequently.

I wanted to teach writing. I think many people hope for a career where they can do and be involved with the things they love. It seemed, once we had the course developed and once the “Guidebook” was published officially as the textbook for the class, that I had arrived at that high point. Every other semester I was going to be able to teach a whole class focused on something near and dear to my heart.  How could it get better?

Unfortunately, I was very na├»ve.  Today, the writing class is the least favorite of all my classes. I won’t say I hate it; I will say I dislike it. I imagine that if I do it for another four or five years the dislike may well turn into hate. I know exactly why my feelings have changed. It isn’t just one reason, but a number of them. In part two of this post I'll go into the reasons.

NOTE: I give a test tomorrow so my blogging may be sporadic in the first part of the week. I also get my second set of papers in the writing class on Thursday, and give another test on Friday, so at the end of the week I'll probably have another forced hiatus from blogging.  Just giving everyone a head's up