Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Some of my favorite books of 2014

I’ve seen several folks do a top books of 2014 blog. Thought I might do something similar. Here’s ten books I really enjoyed this year. Because they are so different in tone and genre, I can’t really rate them as #1, 2, etc. They’re just works I liked a lot. Each was memorable for one reason or another. I didn't include links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble but all are available there.

The Hunter:  First in the Parker series by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake). A stripped down, noir tale. No wasted motion, no wasted words, no wasted description. A quick read

Elak of Atlantis, by Henry Kuttner, An anthology of Kuttner’s early work. Contains four Elak of Atlantis stories, plus two Prince Raynor tales. The tales combine the eldritch elements from Lovecraft with the action adventure work of Robert E. Howard. This makes for a fine pairing.

 Spawn of Dyscrasia, by S.E. Lindberg.  an entertaining fantasy novel that—I would argue—rises to the level of art. Incredible world building.

 Animals, by John Skipp and Craig Spector. I've read about everything from this pair of writers. Their work is gory and not always quite PC but it has power and drama. 

The Measure of a Man, by Shauna Roberts. A combination of fantasy, science fiction and horror.  A lot of action and adventure.

 Day of the Dollar, by Ty Johnston. I normally wouldn’t include this on my list because it’s a screenplay. But I just really enjoyed it.  Made me feel like I was watching a lost “Man with No Name” western.

 Cold Blooded II, by Bernard Lee DeLeo. I thought the first one had a lot of action. This one was nonstop.

 Last Chance Canyon, by James Reasoner. A wonderful weird western.

 Iron Man, by Tony Iommi. I’m a big fan of Sabbath and Iommi. Nuff said.

 Doc Holliday, by Matt Braun. I've always been interested in the character of Doc Holliday. I don’t know how accurate it is historically but it was fun and made me order more books by Braun.



Sunday, December 28, 2014

Writing Group Presentation, Part 6, Final Installment

Here's the final installment of the Writing Group Presentation, and possible my last post of 2014. See you on the other side of the year.

Part 6: Publishing Group Projects:

In this  modern world, writing groups can rather easily self-publish the work of members. We did this for Louisiana Inklings. And there are good sides and bad sides to doing so.

We first did an ebook only for Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook, then created a printed version about a year later through Create Space. Here are some points to remember if your group decides to do this:

a. First you need an editor. Since I suggested the idea of publication for my group, I agreed to edit it. I’d had more experience than anyone else. I wanted to publish something from every member, but in no way as a vanity project. I wanted only quality writing.

Members selected their best stuff, although I made suggestions. All material had been through group review. Then I edited. Authors were informed of changes I wanted and could respond. Some pieces went through more revisions than others. This was by far the hardest and most time consuming part of the process. Just creating a uniform style for the publication was a real labor. I made a lot of notes. Your editor needs to have a lot of patience and pay close attention to detail.

b. Next you need a “process.” Self-publishing an ebook, a print book, or both, is a matter of following the guidelines. If you can follow the instructions to put a piece of furniture together, or to cook a complicated food dish, you can self publish. And there is a lot of helpful information available. I used Create Space for our Louisiana Inklings anthology and have been very pleased with it. They do a good job of walking you through the process. For specific questions about this you can email me at kainja at hotmail dot com.

Thanks for putting up with this rather long series. There is more on the topic of writing groups, and all other aspects of writing in my book, Write With Fire. If anyone would like a signed copy of Write With Fire, or the Inklings anthology, email me at kainja at hotmail dot com. The price would be 14 bucks for Write With Fire, and 10 for the Inklings anthology, plus whatever the mailing costs would be, which are usually a couple of bucks. By the way, both covers are courtesy of Lana Gramlich.
Now, any questions? 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Writing Groups Presentation: Part 5: Bumps in the Road

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. I know it's Christmas and most folks won't be checking blogger but I do want to get this series finished before New Years so here's installment 5. I'll leave it up a couple of days. Only one more installment to go.

Part 5: Bumps in the Road.

If you join or form a group that lasts more than six months, you’ll definitely have to deal with losses and gains in members. For many reasons, people’s needs change. Their focus and interests alter. Life gets in the way with marriages, sicknesses, or job changes. Our group stresses that it’s OK for a member to leave with no grudges held. I’m still good friends with many ex-members. We also stress that it’s OK for a member to join or start a secondary group with a different focus than ours. The goal is to help people become better writers.

Our group started as an “open” group at the library, meaning anyone who wanted could join. As we started getting ourselves organized we transitioned to a “closed” group, which means you have to be invited to join. We only accept a new member when an old one leaves, and we’re careful about it. We ask potential new members to sit quietly through two of our meetings to see what we do and find out if it is for them. Then we actually vote on admitting the member. We’ve never had a vote be less than unanimous.

No Human Endeavor is Free of Conflict. The worst conflicts in writing groups are all about hurt feelings. I left my first group because one woman constantly made snide comments about SF/Fantasy/Horror. She called it “Comic booky.” I felt disrespected, and it didn’t seem she was trying to help me but was trying to tear me down, perhaps to make herself feel better.

Sometimes the disrespect you seem to be getting from other members is genuine. Sometimes the member is really feeling sorry for themselves. Sometimes the reviewer means well but comes off too harsh in tone. People have different critique styles.

When a personal conflict occurs, you have three choices:
a. Confront it. Start out with a one to one talk, then bring it up as group issue if that fails.

b. Leave. If it becomes too personal, you may have to. Start another group.

c. Learn from it. Hurt feelings are inevitable, but legitimate & honest criticism is how we grow. People say, “develop a thick skin!” What does that mean? It means to take criticism in a professional manner without getting defensive or erupting with anger. Don’t ignore criticisms that upset you. Learn what you can from each criticism. Remember that you own your work. Don’t just change it in an effort to be accepted. And for goodness sake, resist the urge to write for the group.

Reviewers need to remember some things too, though: Words have power. Criticisms need to be directed to the material, not the writer. You’re not there to make yourself feel better, but to help the writer. Fine writing and terrible writing can occur in any genre. Newer writers generally need a lighter hand than experienced writers.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Writing Groups Part 4: Organization

Just three pieces of my presentation left to post here. The last three sections are a little shorter than what came before. Here's Part 4.  Thanks to everyone for reading.

What about group leadership and rules? Support groups have elected officers. Most Discussion & Critique groups don’t. However, some jobs still have to get done. These are:

a. Timekeeper. Organizing humans is like herding cats. Someone has to call meetings to order, and let people know when time is up.
b. Moderator. In Discussion groups, there’s usually a topic. Leeway may exist but someone has to bring people back on topic when they drift. It’s best if people police themselves but they won’t always. Moderators may also deal with cross-talk, where individual conversations start while someone else is reviewing.
Moderators may remind members of certain rules. My group asks writers not to comment significantly until all reviews are done.

c. Taking Minutes? Some groups have a member take minutes. I don’t think it’s necessary.
Group Rules: Best Rule = Be Flexible. Rules should be a group decision. We voted on ours democratically, and can change them the same way. Any member can make a proposal for change.

Procedures: These vary widely from group to group. For my critique group, submissions are sent to the group via an email listserve. Reviewers print a copy of the piece, make notes on it ahead of time, then discus their thoughts at the meeting. Reviewers give copies of marked up pieces to the author. This creates another job: “Keeper of the List.” This person adds new submissions to the review list as they come in. I handle this job in my group.

As far as length of submissions go, shorter is better. We generally look for five to ten pages of material at a time. We look at single chapters of novels, and sometimes longer short stories of up to twenty pages. I’ve shared parts of two novels with the group but they’ve never seen every bit of those novels. I needed the most help early in the process.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Part 3: Finding a Group, or Creating One

If you decide that a writing group is for you, how do you find one? Or, if you can’t find one, how do you establish one?

Support groups are easy. You search online for “Writers Associations.” Here’s a link that lists many:  Or you can search for a particular genre, like Horror Writer Associations. For more local support groups, search “Writers Groups, Your Local Area.” You usually join such groups just by paying dues, although some have membership requirements.

Discussion & Critique groups are different. There are online groups that fill these roles. Search “online writing groups.” But I prefer a local and physical group myself. To find them you can try several things. 1) if your support group has a local chapter, there may be Discussion and Critique groups that spin off of that. Also check local libraries and bookstores. Most will have a newsletter or “calendar of events” that lists any writing group meetings. You can also contact local universities, where there may be writing groups. Many bigger towns will have restaurants and bars with “open mic nights,” where people come to read their poetry and prose. This might be a good place to meet like-minded writers who might know of groups.

You can always start a brand new group! To do so, you first call an “interest” meeting. Set it up through the local library or bookstore. Promote it with flyers at libraries, bookstores, community centers, churches, or anywhere the public might see. Below is a sample call for an “interest” meeting:

“Are you interested in writing? Would you like to join a group of people with similar interests? Join us at 2:00 on January 23, 2015 at the Covington Branch of the St. Tammany Library system for an introductory meeting. Email Jake Smith, for further information.”

Some things to think about before calling such a meeting:
a. which type of group do you want? Discussion or Critique.
b. what type of writing? Poetry, Mystery, Memoir, etc., or all of them.
c. how many members do you want? How many can you live with?
d. where will you meet? Look at Libraries, bookstores, churches, community centers.

Note: the more specific the group, the fewer people you’ll attract. I’ve never been in a group that was specific to SF/Fantasy/Horror, which I mostly write. I don’t mind because I write a bit of everything and I like being in a group with people who have diverse interests. In a diverse group, though, it’s critical that members be capable of appreciating other genres and not look down on them.

As far as numbers goes. Support groups = the more the better. Discussion groups = no more than 10 to 15. Critique groups = even fewer, 5 to 8, although it depends on how much members submit. The more each member submits, the fewer you should have.

For the first meeting: find out who is interested, what kind of group they want, what they want to get out of a group. Then, focus on good times and locations for meetings. Some meet at a member’s home. I suggest a neutral site. 


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Writing Group Presentation: Part Two

Part 2: The Whys and Whats.

What can a writing group do for you? When I ask writing group members this question I usually get some variation on three basic points.

a. Writing is a lonely business. A writing group provides needed socialization. At work I get time to socialize with friends and colleagues, but in the summer when I don’t teach I might see no one but my wife and my writing group for weeks at a time. I like my privacy but even I need some human contact.

b. More than in most careers, writers put their innermost thoughts, fears, hopes and loves out in front of people. We take risks and it’s scary. Sometimes it results in rejection. This hurts. We begin to doubt our talent, our luck, everything. Only other writers will really understand and a writing group can provide needed emotional support.

c. To improve their craft, writers need reader feedback. Books on writing are good but there’s no substitute for receiving a critical evaluation of your work. Editors and publishers don’t have time. You can pay professional editors but that’s costly and you get one opinion. You can ask family members and friends but that’s generally a bad idea. You’re likely to get either glowing reviews or anger because they think you’re writing about them.

I once shared a story with my mom that I thought was really good. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes as she finished it. “Is this what you think of me?” she asked. I was devastated. And confused. The story was a Twilight Zone type twist ending tale. It did have an older woman character with gray hair and Mom, who was an older woman with gray hair, took it to represent her.

A writing group can be easiest and cheapest source of feedback available for writers. This is the major reason I’m in one.

Say you are starting to think that a writing group might be for you. What kinds of groups are out there?  Many. But, I think they can be divided into three broad types.

a. Support Groups:  Provide emotional & literary support for writers. Many such groups are professional and nationwide. Romance, mystery, thriller groups etc. I’m in HWA. Many have smaller local affiliates. You pay to be a member.
          Strong at: newsletters, markets, contests, speakers, workshops, social events, webpages, networking opportunities.      
          Weaker at: One on one feedback, the nuts and bolts of constructing a story or novel, actual practice at writing.
          Dangers of: Too much talking, not enough doing. People can sometimes feel they are accomplishing writing while not actually putting words on the page. In extreme cases, this can actually decrease a person’s motivation to write.
b. Discussion Groups: General discussion about writing. Such as: genres of writing, plotters vs pantsers, info dumps, importance of dialogue & description, writing habits, many more. Such groups often include discussion on what members are reading and their reactions.
          Strong at: socializing opportunities, philosophy and theory of storytelling, emotional support, spontaneous discussion of writing issues.
          Weaker at: One on one feedback, actual practice at writing, fewer networking opportunities.
          Dangers of: Same as Support groups with too much social, not enough writing. Themes may begin to repeat after a while.
c. Critique Groups: (The kind I prefer). Members read each other’s writing and make critical comments, both on what works and what doesn’t. Can catch anything from grammar and punctuation errors, to clichéd writing, to plot holes, etc.        
           Strong at: One on one feedback, nuts and bolts of writing, actual practice at writing, motivation to write, getting your words in front of actual readers.
          Weaker at: relatively fewer socialization & networking opportunities, less of the big picture, less spontaneous discussion of writing issues.
          Dangers of: Hurt feelings.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Writing Group Presentation: Part One

Well, I had my second presentation on "The Care and Feeding of Writing Groups" last night and had two folks show up. Not a big audience but we had good conversation and I did end up selling one book so you could say I sold to fifty percent of the audience. That doesn't sound bad. Since not a lot of folks heard my presentation, I thought I might run it as a series here on the blog. It was quite a lot of work to just give to four people.  Below is part 1:

Part 1: Introduction.

Good _____ (insert time when you are reading this). Welcome. Thanks for coming.

Our topic here is on writing groups, but first let me introduce myself.

My name is Charles Gramlich, and I’ll confess that I’m a writer. That’s like  confessing I’m weird. But I bet I’m not the only one here. (I see you all out there in the blogosphere.)

I live in Abita Springs, Louisiana but teach at Xavier University in New Orleans. When I mention my other life as a college teacher, most assume English Professor. Nope. I’m in psychology. When I tell people I’m a psychologist, most assume I’m clinical. No again. I’m a biological psychologist, which means I study the brain.

I’m here (not really) with other members of my current writing group: Louisiana Inklings. We were founded May 22, 2008, by Alfred Olinde.

Other members include: Al Burstein, Sandra Loucks, D’Wanna Haynes, Sara Dickey, Laurie Walsdorf, Elizabeth Barilleaux, Isabella MacDonald Smith, and Mike Malloy.

Years before I became interested in psychology, I thought about being a writer. It came out of my love of reading. It started with me wanting to tell stories to myself like the ones I got so much pleasure out of.

I wrote my first book at 18. A western. It was awful and will never see the light of day. But I learned a lot from it. At 24, I wrote my second book, which eventually was published. After much rewriting.

I also wrote some short stories in grad school but became serious about trying to get published in 1988, after 2 years at Xavier. My first stories sold in 1989 and I date my writing life from there. So, I’ve been doing it a long time now.

In my first few years I had no writing group. Didn’t even know such things existed. I joined a small one at Xavier in 1993 and have been in one type of group or another ever since. Having a group is important to me. Maybe it could be for you. So let’s talk about writing groups. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Grades Done, Etc

Finished my grading and will turn them in today. So now I'll return to blogging. There were so many old posts piled up that I'd never get through them so I'll just pick up commenting again starting today.

This post will be a hodgepodge. First, a quick report on my talk at the library on "The Care and Feeding of Writing Groups." It didn't turn out terribly well. Lana was there, and four members of my writing group, another ex member of the group and her mother, and then "two" people who actually signed up for the presentation. Only one of those was there at the beginning, although she did buy three books after the talk.

I also thought I could have been smoother in my talk, particularly at the beginning. I was a bit discombobulated at the low turnout and it took me a moment to figure out how to basically present an hour presentation to one person. I'll have another chance to do better on Tuesday, when I give the same presentation at another branch of the library.

Second, Wicked Words Quarterly, Issue 3, has just been released. It contains a story by me called "Long Dead Woman in a Black Dress." I've got my contributor's copy but haven't had a chance to read it yet, although the stories sound intriguing.

Third, almost two weeks ago Lana and I spotted a small fire burning in the woods down the road from our house. While Lana called the fire department, I started putting it out. It was burning slowly through the leaf litter so I was able to get the primary flames snuffed. The fire truck arrived and started spraying things down. We left. Later, we drove back by and it was still smoking but we didn't think much about it. But the next day I saw that flames had sprung up again. The fire folks had plowed an area around the fire so it was unlikely to get out, but I was afraid it would catch the trees and then be able to leap the gap. Once again we put it out and then I later poured water on all the smoking places. Unfortunately, the fire seemed to have gotten down into some half buried logs and it continued to smolder and occasionally flare up again for nearly ten days, even though we had one light shower and several heavy dews. A couple more time I poured water on the hot spots, and finally noticed yesterday that it appears to have completely died away finally.  Rather scary how long such a fire can keep smouldering.

Fourth, Adventures of an Arkansawyer is getting some good comments, although only one review has appeared on Amazon so far. I have a few copies here if anyone wants a signed one. I"m asking $9 for the book, same as Amazon, and I'm not sure how much the mailing costs would be but probably not much. Email me if you'd like a signed copy. kainja at hotmail dot com

Hope all has been well with everyone while I've been gone.


Saturday, December 06, 2014

A Moment Away

My son is coming up today to see us and we're going to hit the Ren Fair. Tomorrow I've got to get a test graded that I gave yesterday, and Monday starts final exams. Lots more grading.

In addition, on Wednesday I'm giving a presentation on "The Care and Feeding of Writing Groups" at the local library. I'll be doing two presentations. I've copied the announcement below, though I know pretty much none of you are in this area.

For these reasons, I'm taking a few days off blogging and probably won't be back until Friday of this coming week. Hang tough!

ST. TAMMANY PARISH –Have you dreamed of belonging to a creative writer’s group? You can receive advice from experienced writers during two programs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 10 at the Causeway Branch library, 3457 Hwy. 190 and from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 16 at the Slidell Branch, 555 Robert Blvd.

Charles Gramlich and other members of the Northshore Inklings Writing Group will speak about the types of writing groups, how to form one, and how to maintain it. They will also discuss their experiences self-publishing an anthology of member’s works called “Louisiana Inklings: A Literary Sampler.”
Audience members can purchase“Louisiana Inklings”as well as Charles Gramlich’s book “Write With Fire.”The authors will be available to autograph the books.

The event is free and open to the public, and registration is recommended. Light refreshments will be available. Seating space is limited to adults. Please register online at or call the library at(985) . Registration opens two weeks before the date of the event.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

War Dream, with Extras

I dreamed I was with an army. We were fighting in Asia, either Mongolia or China it seemed. Mostly we were fighting the Chinese who seemed to be wearing WWII era clothing. Our weapons seemed like that era as well. I had a Tommy Gun. We finished a fight with some soldiers and then advanced into this valley where lay our objective, a village.

Before we saw the village, though, we saw the villagers coming toward us. They were mostly children with a scattering of women and old men. I was just a soldier but we had translators with us and through them the officers ordered the villagers to stop. They didn’t, but came on with these blank faces that seemed totally devoid of will.

Again and again they were ordered to stop but kept coming. Then the order came for us soldiers to open fire. We did. I shot a young boy in the leg to take him down but he seemed hardly to notice it and kept coming. I shot him again, higher, in the shoulder. The bullet seemed only to tug at him. No blood ran from the round black hole and he kept coming.

I was scared now. I opened fire for real. Bullets punched holes across the boy’s chest and even through his face—round, perfect, black holes, without any blood. They didn’t stop him. The other soldiers were having no better luck. I saw some of the bodies of the villagers almost torn to shreds by bullets and through those torn gaps I saw the reason for the villagers advance. From the back of each protruded a tentacle that was pushing them, controlling them.

The villagers, what was left of them, were within feet of us now. Then the tentacles shed their torn camouflage and whipped forward into our line, wrapping around various soldiers. One tentacle caught me up, jerked me up in the air. It dragged me spinning through the air and then released me. I fell, and landed with many other soldiers in a great long trench. We didn’t land on dirt though. We landed on a massive, quivering bulk of slick, pink flesh.

I woke up.

Chtulhu lives! In my dreams!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Typewriter Versus Word Processor

I had a thought last night. I have a lot of them. Most aren’t worth much. I’m not sure this new thought is either. I’m sure it’s not original. Maybe everyone has had it. But I haven’t seen it written down.

It begins with something Lana told me. She was contrasting her strategy for taking photos back in the ‘film’ days with the digital world of today. She said that with film, because of the cost and inconvenience, she tended to take few pictures and spend much more time framing each to try and make them good. With digital she doesn’t do much of this. She takes ‘lots’ of pictures, downloads them to her computer, and then weeds out the good from the worthless. Digital pictures are cheap to take and don’t need “development” time.

It occurred to me that something similar has happened with writing as we moved from the typewriter era into the computer/word processing era. I’m old enough to have written on a typewriter. I wrote college essays and papers on an electric. I wrote some stories and poems, and even a novel that will never see the light of day. I used my first word processor in graduate school and that is when my writing really took off.

Writing with word processing software makes it easy to generate lots and lots of words, then go through and weed out those that don’t work. I spent much more time thinking about the words I was going to use back when I wrote on a typewriter because I didn’t want to go through the arduous process of correcting and rewriting. I also typed slower and more carefully to avoid errors that would have to be corrected.

These days, I slather words down and do a lot of my thinking on the screen. I try out all different ways of saying things. I often end up saving several drafts of stories, those that are close to finished, or those that have variant endings. I like having these and sometimes go back later and think I chose the wrong ending for one I sent out. I also continue to rewrite stories even long after they're done. I save the published version as is, but I may still revise words, sentences, paragraphs and endings. 

Computer word processing software has allowed me to do this, and without it I’m sure I’d have no writing career at all. I also know, though, that the ease of writing on a computer can be a trap. A lot of the words that go down easily aren’t the right words in the right combinations. There’s still a lot of work to be done weeding out the good from the bad. In that process is where the art lies. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Naivety: Part Two

Even after the egg incident, my innocence knew no bounds. Paul David told me one day that he could pin a glass of water to a concrete wall. Thinking to myself that I was not naive enough to believe that one, I told him to show me. He just smiled and filled a glass with cold water from the tap and then showed me the big pin he’d borrowed from Mom’s sewing kit.

We went outside to the pump house, which was the only concrete structure on the farm. Paul David positioned the glass next to the concrete and pressed the pin against the wall beneath it. I was watching closely when the pin slipped from his fingers.

“Oh, can you get that for me?” my brother asked sweetly.

Of course, I could. I quickly bent down to pluck up the pin, at which point Paul David poured the glass of cold water over my head. I came up spluttering to see him convulsed in laughter. I wish I’d stuck him with the pin, but I was too naïve to think of it.

I’m not that naïve anymore. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Naivety, Part One

I was something of a naïve child, a trait that my older brothers often exploited mercilessly. Take Paul David, for example. He once taught me to juggle, which I at first took to be quite a wonderful thing. Little did I realize that it was only a prelude to a prank.
Paul David taught me to juggle using tennis balls, and I got quite good at it, although I could never do more than three at a time. One day, my brother asked me to demonstrate my skills and I proudly displayed them using our well worn set of tennis balls.
“Hmph,” he muttered.
“What?” I demanded.
“Tennis balls are easy,” he replied.
“I can juggle three acorns,” I said. “Or three rocks.”
“Sure.  But….”
“But what?”
“Come with me.”
I dutifully followed my brother into the kitchen where he opened the icebox and took out three eggs. He offered them to me.
“Juggle these,” he said.
I took the eggs. They were cool and smooth to the touch, and smaller than the tennis balls. Of course, the eggs would break if I dropped them and the balls wouldn’t. But I figured it couldn’t be that much different and I had lots of experience.
“All right,” I said, and started to walk past him into the back yard.
“No, no,” he said. “Do it here.”
Irritated, I decided that I would just show him. I tossed the first egg up, prepared the second, panicked at the thought of dropping them, and as quickly as that two eggs went splat on the kitchen floor.
Paul David laughed and laughed.

I got to clean up the yolk.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Remembering Things

I guess it's the nature of memoir. A few weeks ago I put the finishing touches on a memoir of mine entitled "The Adventures of an Arkansawyer." It's only been out a couple of weeks but I've already remembered other funny incidents that I should have included. I guess someday I can do an expanded version, but for now I'll just share the gist of those events with my blog friends. Here's one involving me learning how to ride a bicycle.

We didn't have a working bicycle when I was young but there was an old rusted one out back of the barn. The tires were flat and half rotted and the chain was off the sprockets. I asked Dad to fix it up for me at one point and he promised to do so. But I was impatient. One afternoon I pushed the bike up the hill above our house. There was a dirt road there and I hopped on the bike and started down. I had no idea what to expect. It was a wild careening ride, with pieces of rotted tire flying up in my face and me desperately trying to keep my balance so that I wouldn't fall over into the rock strewn dirt of the road.

As I neared the bottom of the hill I began to really panic because the garden was coming up in front of me and there was a barbed wire fence around it.  The yard fence was to one side of me and the barn to the other. To avoid the fences, I tried to steer for the barn, hoping to hit the doorway and land in the hay. I didn’t quite make it. There was a big bramble bush just outside the barn door and some of our chickens were clucking around there. I hit that bush on the bike and hurled myself deep into the brambles in an explosion of panic stricken chickens. 

After that adventure, Dad got the bike fixed up and taught me how to ride it. On a flat road and not a hill.

Friday, November 07, 2014

A Rare Symbolic Dream

As a psychologist, I often get asked to interpret dreams. My general response is that I have no idea what ‘your’ dream means. For the most part, dreams appear to have no meaning other than an expression of those events and experiences that we are going through at the moment of the dream. In other words, most of what is in our dreams is the same material that is in our waking life, such as the books we read, the TV shows we watch, and the thoughts that worry us.

Most dream material is not demonstrated in any symbolic way but is right there on the surface of the imagery. If there is “symbolic” meaning to your dream, it is generally a symbolism that only you can accurately interpret. It is based on your life and culture as you grew up. The same is true for me. Once in a great while, however, I have a dream that seems clearly to be saying something in symbolic form. Last night’s dream was an example, and it’s pretty easy to interpret, probably for everyone. Here it is:

An astronaut crashes on a desolate planet and walks away from the wreck. The planetary surface looks much like our moon, with no signs of any life. The man is wearing a space suit and is already thinking about what happens when the suit runs out of air. The man is not quite me, and does not look like me, but I feel clearly as if I’m inhabiting him.

Then, the astronaut sees a shadowy figure approaching from the distance. He heads off in that direction but stops as he gets a closer look at the figure. It’s a human and he’s not wearing a suit. He looks almost like the astronaut, but older. This older man approaches the astronaut and stops, but says nothing. His stare is blank.

The astronaut cautiously tests the air and finds it breathable. He strips off his suit, and as he turns back to the older man he is attacked suddenly by that fellow. The older man is slow and weak and the younger man easily throws him down and then backs away. The older man gets up and attacks again. The younger man punches him and knocks him down a second time.

The guy gets up off the ground and stands there. The younger man is ready to defend himself but no attack comes. The young man tries talking to the older man but there is no answer, only the stare. As the younger man relaxes a little bit, the older man attacks again. The astronaut easily knocks the man down again but now dares not relax when the fellow climbs back to his feet.

At this point, the dream began to jump forward in time. I’d see the young man starting to walk away and being attacked, moving to examine his suit and being attacked. Each individual attack was easy to defeat physically, but now the wear and tear of the psychological stress began to tell. The young man could not escape because the old man followed. He could not rest or an attack would come. He dared not sleep for fear that he would be helpless. And now he begins to tire.

In such a way is youth and strength defeated.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Elak of Atlantis, A Review

Elak of Atlantis, by Henry Kuttner. Planet Stories, 2007, with an introduction by Joe Lansdale.

This anthology of some of Henry Kuttner’s early work contains the four Elak of Atlantis stories that he wrote, plus two Prince Raynor tales. The Elak stories are: in order of first publication in Weird Tales, “Thunder in the Dawn,” “Spawn of Dagon,” “Beyond the Phoenix,” and “Dragon Moon.” The Raynor tales are: “Cursed be the City,” and “The Citadel of Darkness.” All these fall firmly into the genre of Sword & Sorcery, and they fit well together in this anthology because the characters of Raynor and Elak are quite similar. In fact, Elak just seems to me like an Older Raynor.

From what I had read previously to actually perusing these stories, Kuttner’s Elak tales were written in part to capitalize on the success of Robert E. Howard’s Sword & Sorcery works, particularly Conan. There is some clear influence there it seems to me, but these certainly aren’t pastiches of Conan, like the Brak stories of John Jakes. Both Elak and Raynor are far more cultured characters than Conan. Both are from the nobility. Elak certainly has some roguish elements to his character, especially where women are concerned, but neither Elak nor Raynor would be considered a loner like Conan. Each has a boon companion that travels always with them.

In fact, I see more influence on these stories from H. P. Lovecraft than from Howard. All the pieces in this book have clear “elder god” elements, and when I looked up Kuttner on Wikipedia I found that he was a big fan of Lovecraft and was considered part of the “Lovecraft circle.” That’s how he ended up meeting his future wife and collaborator, C. L. Moore, although the Elak and Raynor stories were written prior that joining.

The nice thing about the Elak tales is that they combine the eldritch elements from Lovecraft with the more action based adventure work of Howard. This makes for a fine pairing of elements, in my opinion. Kuttner could also pull this off prose-wise. Although I didn’t find his writing as beautiful or as dramatic as either Howard or Lovecraft, there were some very nice turns of phrase and the mood of the prose fit well with the stories. Here’s one of the nicer phrasings: “Piercingly sweet, throbbing almost articulately, a harpstring murmured through the gloom.”

All in all, I liked these stories pretty well. I understand that Adrian Cole has written a story or two with the Elak character, though I’ve not read them. These were entitled “Blood of the Moon God,” which appeared in Strange Tales, Vol. 4. No. 3., and “Witch Queen of Doom Island.” More can be found on this at Cole’s website.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Common versus Poetical Language

I love poetical language in prose. My favorite books not only tell a decent story, but they tell it in heightened prose, either sheer and lovely or powerful and evocative. There is a music to the best prose.

“The old man has been ravened from within. That blind and greedy stare of his, that caved-in look, and the mouth working, reveal who now inhabits him, who now stares out. I nod to Death in passing, aware of the sound of my own feet upon my path. The ancient is lost in a shadow world, and gives no sign.” (Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard)

Most of the time when I write, I strive for the same thing. I not only want to tell the story, I want the prose to sing as the tale goes along. However, I just finished a story where I made no particular effort to get the prose to sing. There’s relatively little description. I minimized metaphors and similes. There’s a lot of dialogue. And I found out something:

Constructing poetical prose takes an immense amount of time and work. At least for me. On the days when I worked on this latest story, the word count expanded dramatically above my usual average. And the writing was just…easier. It made me think of another writer whose work I have greatly admired:

Ray Bradbury was a big influence on my writing, particularly, I think, on my desire to write poetically. Bradbury’s early stuff is just so incredibly beautiful that I am often left in awe. Some of the stuff he wrote in much later years doesn’t have the same zing and zest to me. I wonder if he noticed too that it takes a lot of effort to create poetry in prose. Did he finally get tired of the effort? Or did he just decide that a change in tone was due?

I don’t think my discovery is going to revolutionize my own writing. At least not yet. But I will be paying close attention to how this current story gets received by readers. Do readers really care about beautiful prose? Do some of them actually find it distracting? I know story is king, but shouldn’t the king be adorned?  Or is it better for the king to have no clothes?

What say you?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Miscellaneous Adventures

Been pretty busy this week. We had mid-terms due. Here are a few things that happened.

1.  I had an amazingly beautiful dream on Wednesday. Lana and I had gone to a mountainous nature preserve where we saw five snow leopards crossing a creek. As night fell and I looked up at the sky I realized we weren't on earth. The stars were huge and absolutely myriad, and they did not all appear white but were gorgeous in brilliant shades of yellow, red, green and blue. Then, as I scanned the sky, I found a vast planet glowing a sullen red in one portion of the sky. The planet's seas appeared black, and there was a ring around the planet that was clearly an artificial construct. I could see space stations in orbit around the planet and understood that many of them were docks or construction sites for spaceships. I sure wish I could paint these images.

2. Lana and I watched the new Godzilla movie on Thursday night. We both thought it sucked, although I think Lana liked the depiction of Godzilla a fair amount. She certainly cheered when he used his lightning breath.  The movie definitely seemed to hark back to the original Japanese movies. However, all the plot lines involving humans in the movie turned upon them being absolutely stupid. I found myself unable to root for any of the human characters because of this stupidity. For example, why in hell would you arm a nuclear weapon while still in the city if you intend to take it out to sea to detonate it?

3. I found in my last year's reading that I didn't peruse many graphic novels so I've ordered a few from Amazon that should be in soon. I will report on them here.

4. And, delightfully, Randy Johnson has reviewed "The Adventures of an Arkansawyer" over on his "Not the Baseball Pitcher" blog. Thanks to Randy! I hope you will check it out.

Monday, October 20, 2014


I was driving home from a writing conference, meandering my way through mist-cloaked mountains. There was other traffic on the highway, but not much. The road was wet. It was daylight but I couldn’t see the sun for the fog.

To my left the mountains fell away into a tree-choked gorge. On the right they rose and rose, majestic, covered with primeval forest. I came around a curve and was surprised and depressed to see a long, wide clearing running like a scar through the woods. Timber cutters had been at work here. The bare clay shown through, brownish-red and churned to mud.

The boles of sawn trees lay stacked along the scar. I gaped in astonishment at how huge they were. I thought of redwoods, which I’ve never seen in reality, but these seemed even bigger. Again, an impression of the primeval swept over me. It would not have seemed amiss to glimpse the towering forms of dinosaurs moving along the highway, or the sweeping leathery wings of pterodactyls stirring the mist-shrouded sky.

Then I saw a truck laden down with cut timber. These trees were even bigger. They dwarfed the truck that carried them. And something clicked inside my head. “This isn’t real,” I told myself. “I’m dreaming.”

Not long ago, I had determined a way to tell if I were dreaming or not. It didn’t involve pinching myself, which doesn’t work. No, what I do if I think I’m dreaming is jump up and see if I can touch the ceiling of the room I’m in. If I touch it, then I’m dreaming. I’ve used this successfully before but here I was in a car. I brushed the roof above my head with my fingers but that told me nothing.

While trying to come up with some other test, I realized I’d already proven the dream quality to myself anyway. While I’d been focused on trying to figure out how to know if I was dreaming, the car had gone on driving “itself” along the highway without running off the road. That would be nice in real life, but it proved to me here that I was in a dream.

Typically, when I find myself going lucid, I immediately start to fly. I love flying and know I don’t have a lot of time to do so in a dream. This time, though, I wanted to see this incredible forest better and simply projected myself out of the car onto a path through the trees. The mist was heavy and damp. I felt a chill. I didn’t care.

The trees loomed far, far over my head, their tops lost in white. The path wound between them and I moved along it, encased in an amber silence that was profound. At one point I saw a pale shape watching me from among the trees. In the real world it would have just been a billow of mist, but I knew here that it was a friendly spirit. I felt very strongly that it was my father. The dream dissolved a moment later and I had no chance to speak to him. I’ve done so in other dreams.

Someone told me not long ago that they hated to waste time sleeping. I never begrudge the time myself. Not only do my physical pains and worries disappear when I sleep, but I get to visit new landscapes and sometimes whole new worlds. I get to feel that oneness with the universe that I seldom feel while awake.

No, I don’t begrudge sleeping. It is then that I live other lives.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Year of Reading

Today is my birthday. Fifty-six now. Hard to believe. I still feel mentally about eighteen, but when I try to get up out of a chair my true age comes calling. I count my reading year from birthday to birthday. For the past couple of years I've done a post about it on this day, or soon after. Here's another.

My book consumption was down this year. I managed 72 books, which broke a 7 year streak of reading over 100 a year. This is actually my lowest average since 2000-2001, where I read 71 books. I also break my list down by genre. Westerns won this year, with 16 total. That's the most in this genre I've read since 1997-1998. Nonfiction and SF were next with 12 each. That's up for NF and down for SF from last year.

I have done more writing this year than last so that accounts for some of the decreased reading time and decreased reads, but I think more of the downturn is due to a decrease in certain genres. Three genres dipped pretty low this year, poetry, graphic novels, and YA fiction. All three of these are relatively short works compared to some others, meaning that they require less reading time. In contrast, NF works are generally slower reads. Overall, this is probably what added up to fewer total books.

I don't feel compelled to read 100 books a year, although I like to. The only real disappointment was that my average book consumption per year actually dropped a little this year, from 80.15 per year (since age 6) to 79.98. I don't actually have clear yearly records going back past 1987-1988, when I started keeping records like I'm doing now. But I have been keeping a general list of books I've read since my early teen years. I'm sure there are plenty of books that I forgot to write down in those years, when I wasn't quite so obsessive about it. And I probably have missed a number of books I read in the years before I hit my teens. So, the overall averages are just approximations, although I'm convinced they are fairly close.

In other news, I just sent out my third author Newsletter. Most of you who visit here regularly are certainly on the list to get it. But if you didn't and are interested in getting a copy, you can email me or message me on facebook and give me your email address. I send out no more than two a year so it won't clutter your inbox. My email is kainja at hotmail dot com.

Enjoy your day!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Adventures of an Arkansawyer

Well, another book goes up on Amazon. This one is called The Adventures of an Arkansawyer. Right now it is print only. It contains two sections. The first one is familiar to some of you. It’s “Days of Beer,” albeit expanded a bit with some fresh memories.” The second section, which is about twice as long, is called “The Adventurers of an Arkansawyer.” Both sections are memoirs.

I always intended to do a print version of “Days,” but it wasn’t long enough on its own.  Back in the spring I decided to a write a companion section with humorous memories from my experiences growing up in Arkansas. I worked on it over the summer and into early fall, until it finally threatened to become overwhelming. I finally subdivided it into two sections, 1) memories from childhood up through graduate school in Arkansas, and 2) memories from the years after I left Arkansas for Louisiana. That latter piece will be called “Tales of an Arkansaw Traveler,” though it is a long way from being finished.

This is the first of my own books that I’ve self published through CreateSpace. I did the Inklings anthology late last year, but that had many other writers in it. Why print only? Well, I figured the biggest interest for my memoir pieces would be around my hometown, but Days of Beer didn’t sell that well there, and I wondered if it was because it was ebook only. So, this time I decided to go print only—at least initially—to see if that would have any effect.

As for doing a later ebook version, I’ve got a question for the blogosphere. Since Days of Beer is already an ebook, I’m wondering whether I should e-publish The Adventures of an Arkansawyer in its complete form, or publish only the section with the new memories. What do you think?  Got to give it some thought.

As always, thanks to my honey for a great cover image. If you want to check out the book itself, here’s the link to Amazon


Monday, October 06, 2014

CONtraflow Report

I don't attend many SF conventions just because most take place in the fall and spring, when I'm in school. It's hard to get away. Fortunately, CONtraflow is local and I've been going for the past four years. I hope to continue that streak.

CONtraflow is a three day Con. I got there around 4:00 on Friday and was there till about 10:00. All I really had to do was go to the Meet the Guests party and eat a little cake afterward. I mostly visited with old friends, some writers/guests and many of the staff folks who volunteer and keep it all running and smooth. This year, Greg Benford was the Guest of Honor. I've read quite a few of his books, although not too many of his most recent.

Saturday I only had one panel, at 9:00 that night. It was about horror fiction. I sat on it with Kurt Amacker, another local writer who leans more toward the comic/graphic side of the equation. We really focused on Science fiction horror, like Alien, The Thing, etc, rather than on supernatural horror, like The Exorcist. I also listened in on some other cool panels during the day, though, one on science and faith, which was helpful to me given that I've been long working on a book on that topic. Another interesting panel was on Queer Science Fiction. That is quite a broad term and encompasses far more than "gay." Great to hear viewpoints I've never heard before. I also got to see a short fan made film from the group "Star Trek Continues." It was a take-off from the Mirror Universe episode of the original Trek series and was just excellent. The passion of the actors really showed through. I loved it.

Sunday I had two panels, a morning one on "What's next in Supernatural Literature," and an evening one on "Pulp Writers."  We had a freewheeling discussion in the morning one on all kinds of trends in the supernatural genres but couldn't arrive at a clear consensus other than most of the "creatures" we see now are likely to continue to exist in literature at various levels, either rising temporarily or falling equally temporarily.

The evening Pulp Writer panel was fun. We had four folks, up from two last year. But two of the four were the same folks from last year and they'd enjoyed it then. We, of course talked about Howard, Burroughs, Lovecraft, Smith etc. I suggested that the closest thing to modern pulp was the Hollywood blockbuster, although it often only adapts the surface aspects of pulp.

After that I went to the dealer's room and found, as I expected, lots of books on sale. I picked up a number that I didn't have, including some more in the Dumarest of Terra series by E. C. Tubb, and several William Tenn novels that I didn't have. There weren't any 'notable' finds but buying books always brings a grin to my face.

As for blogging, I missed visiting blogs over the weekend since I was only home long enough to sleep. I'm now behind on a number of things and give two tests this week so I may not be visiting blogs for a few more days. After that I will resume as normal. I do see that the blogosphere didn't really miss a beat while I was gone so I'm sure that will continue for a bit longer before my absence is noted and everything just shuts down! :)


Thursday, October 02, 2014

CONtraflow Con, 2014

This weekend I will be a guest at CONtraflow Con in Greater New Orleans. I've attended for several years now and always have a great time. Good to see old friends and make new ones. Below is my schedule, although it won't be quite accurate, as I'll explain: I can't be at the 2:00 Friday thing because I'll still be in classes. I've emailed about that, but I was late getting that email to them so I haven't heard back if it will be cancelled or moved. Completely my fault. The time has gotten away from me this year. I know that most of you aren't anywhere around here but if you are then this Con is a fairly low key one with lots of friendly faces and fun panels.

Friday, 10/3
The Truths of Self Publishing, 2pm, Panel Room 2

Opening Ceremonies/Meet the Guest Party, 4:30pm, Panel Room 1

Contraflow Cocktail Party, 9pm, Hospitality Suite

Saturday,10/4 Science Fiction Horror, 9pm, Panel Room 2

Sunday, 10/5
What Comes Next in Supernatural Fiction, 10am, Panel Room 3

The Pulp Writers, 2pm, Panel Room 5