Thursday, September 01, 2022

Milking the Beast Within, By Ben Douglass

 

Milking the Beast Within, Selected Poems By Ben Douglass. Atomic Mountain Press, LLC, Edited by Rowena White. 63 pages, 2021. Cover by Albert Birkle.

Milking the Beast Within contains thirty-seven poems spanning from 1971 to 2012. This is apparently only a small subset of the poems written by Douglass, who is a poet I’ve not previously read. While each poem seems intensely personal, all are also universal in theme, with the author addressing primarily the issues of relationships and love. The poems are free verse and written in everyday language. As a result, they come off as exceedingly honest.

I’m not widely read in poetry and have mostly read speculative poetry, which normally has SF, Fantasy, or horror elements. I did immediately recognize a certain kinship between Douglass’s work and that of Charles Bukowski. The plain language is similar, as are many of the themes. It was no surprise then to find that one poem in the collection is called, “On Reading Bukowski for the First Time.” However, the collection contains a number of poems written before Douglass discovered Bukowski and the same kind of language and content is found there as well. So, it seems less of a direct influence by Bukowski and more of a certain, common viewpoint on life. Still, I believe I found more hopefulness and peacefulness in Douglass’s work than I have previously in Bukowski.

The cover, called “The Acrobat,” was…intriguing. It’s quite an ugly image of a man, almost a caricature, but it does catch the viewer’s attention. I was surprised to find that it had been done in 1921. It certainly seemed contemporary to me on first look.

All in all, this is a very nice package and the poems are insightful and make one think. I enjoyed them and will likely reread them over time, as well as seeking out more of Douglass’s work.  

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Drowning are the Dead

 Drowning are the Dead, Brent Towns. Rough Edges Press, 2022. 285 pages.

This is an excellent mystery story wrapped in a very attractive package from Rough Edges Press. The title is catchy; the cover is a knockout. A perk for American readers is that it’s set in Australia, offering a slice of exotica to many of us.

 Mark Hayes is a private detective, an ex-cop as many of them actually are. He’s hired to track down another PI who went missing while in the small town of Friar’s Lake deep in Australia’s Outback. The missing man was investigating a dead girl who may or may not have been the victim of a notorious serial killer named Ten Cent. Only, Ten Cent has been inactive for a long time and is presumed by the authorities to be either dead or incarcerated.

 That’s the set-up and I’m not going to give away any spoilers. As you might expect, Mark gets more than he bargained for as he finds a small town full of big secrets. This is the first adventure for the character Mark Hayes. It shouldn’t be the last. He’s an engaging character with streaks of both stubbornness and compassion in his makeup. His ex-wife is still a cop and they have a complex relationship that provides (for story purposes) a way for Mark to occasionally get information a typical PI wouldn’t have access to.

 As for the writing, this may be the character’s first outing but Brent Towns has written a lot of books and it shows here. The prose is smooth, transitions are handled quickly and professionally, description is enough but not too much. The style has just enough quirks to make it interesting but not enough to make you aware that you’re reading a story.

 I had a good time with this tale, staying up later than normal over several nights to finish it. I’d read a few pages and slip fully into the story, and then the page turns would come fast and furiously. Highly recommended.

 

Friday, May 27, 2022

Spacers Snarled in the hair of Comets

SPACERS SNARLED IN THE HAIR OF COMETS: By Bruce Boston. Mind’s Eye Publications, 2022, 39 pages. (Introduction by Andrew Darlington).

This latest collection from Bruce Boston contains twenty-two poems, all of which—I believe—have been previously published separately in magazines. Who is Bruce Boston, you ask? Well, he’s my favorite living poet, but perhaps that doesn’t mean much to you. He is also a Bram Stoker Award Winner, a multiple-time Rhysling Award Winner (the highest award given for speculative poetry in the US), and a helluva nice guy. But maybe none of those things mean anything to you.

But do you love language? Specifically, the English language? Do you enjoy science fiction?  If you do, then you owe it to yourself to sample Bruce Boston’s work, and this book is a good place to start. Let me give you a little taste:

Burning green to metagreen,

a rush of colors in between.

Mandalic moons, sidereal seas.

A spacer’s life is ice and fire,

graced by iridescent dreams.

Besides the beauty of the language, Boston’s poems also tell stories. In fact, he’s basically a storyteller and has also written many poetic short stories, as well as a wonderfully complex dystopian novel called The Guardener's Tale. It’s both the language and the storytelling aspects that draw me to Boston’s work. As a writer myself, I find inspiration in his language and the germs of many ideas in his stories and imagery. I jotted down half a dozen ideas for tales just from this collection. I recommend him for writers and readers alike.  

You can find out more about the book at Mind’s Eye Publications here: 

Or you can order the book from Amazon here:

Or from Lulu here: 

For more information about Bruce Boston and his work, you can also check out his website

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Dad 2022

In 1972, my father—J. V. Gramlich—died on this date. Of a heart attack. I was 13. He was 58. He seemed old to me at the time but so much younger now. I had my own heart attack at 59 but survived. For nearly 30 years my thoughts turned automatically to him on this date. In many of those years I wrote a poem for him.

I realized this morning that I’d almost forgotten dad on this day. Only seeing a post on facebook about some celebrity who died on this date sparked my memory. And I realized that, for the last ten years, I have forgotten in many Aprils and have allowed the day to pass unremarked.

For a moment, a flash of pain swept through me. How could I ever forget? But I know how. I have so many more things to think about today. Work, of course. The semester is always busy at this time. But that’s the least of it.

I have my own son to think of. He works too hard and rests too little, and I see myself at his age in that. And I have a daughter-in-law who is a great mother to my two wonderful grandsons, Silas and Sully. And those boys! What wonderful, amazing, beautiful children.

And there’s Lana, who keeps our yard beautiful with flowers, and who is so smart that we can talk about anything in the world, and who makes the best spaghetti and meat sauce I’ve ever eaten, and who is just simply cute in every way.

I don’t forget my father. I still have his photo (with mom) up in my living room. But the day of his death no longer has the same power and same pull on me that it used to. There’s too much life going on around me to think very much of death. 

 


Wednesday, March 02, 2022

The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub

The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub. 646 pages. Viking.

You know how when you’ve been constipated for three days and you finally slay the dragon? How good it feels? And yet, there are still residual cramps that torture you? Well, that’s exactly how I felt when I finally finished reading The Talisman. I worked on it for over two months, occasionally speed reading a section or two while at other times getting caught up in the prose and absorbing it. I started it December 24 of one year and finished March 2 of another. Not since Moby Dick have I labored so hard on a single book.

Here are the positives: 1). The prose is generally delightful. I like Straub’s prose a lot and generally find King’s prose to be perfectly adequate to the story by rather “meh” aesthetically, but King seems to have risen to the challenge of Straub here and the book is finely written. 2). The fantasy setting of the “territories,” which is contiguous with the world we know, was excellent. I particularly liked how everything was experienced so intensely in the territories. 3). The climactic scenes were powerful, both the final battle with the evil and the denouement with the character’s mother.

However, there are a number of things I didn’t care much for and I think they all revolve around one particular issue. The book is way, way too long. I’d say at least 200 pages too long. Every scene is embellished and packed with verbiage. There is nothing here that can be considered lean or stripped down. Instead of a juggernaut, it moves like one of those giant armored buses often depicted in zombie movies. The story rolls slowly along through the horrors and mysteries, powerful but ponderous.  

Because of the length of the book, the middle sags like a mattress supported by broken springs, the characters repeat themselves and repeat themselves in thought and dialogue, points get hammered (the book often uses an apropos metaphor of a nail being pounded) flush to the board and then the board gets hammered into mush. I frequently uttered the words, “Get on with it” as I worked my way through. It also struck me as apropos that the main villain is often called “bloat.”

Please note, this is a fantasy novel, not in any way a horror novel. There are a few horrific images in it but the monsters and characters are fantasy based, including the werewolves and the radiation twisted monsters. I like both fantasy and horror, but they do different things to my moods and mindsets.

Also note, the book makes no secret of being—in part—a fantasy retelling of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Even the main character’s name is Jack Sawyer, although the journey across the US smacks a bit of Huck Finn’s journey down the Mississippi.

I didn’t dislike the book. Some things I quite enjoyed. But the sheer length and padding of it made it a tough row to plow. You might find your experience very different, as I might have if I’d read it when I was much younger.

I also want to make clear, I do not dislike Stephen King or Peter Straub’s work. Ghost Story by Straub is in my top 3 favorite horror novels. Some of his short stories in Houses Without Windows still scald me years after reading them. King’s Misery and The Mist were absolutely riveting page turners, and Pet Semetary made me weep with emotion. These are very fine writers but—to me—The Talisman is far from their best work.

 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Why Authors Use Pseudonyms: Part 4

Here’s part 4, and our last installment of, Why Authors Use Pseudonyms. I hope you enjoy.

4. One of the major reasons why writers write under pseudonyms is because the publisher wants it and they are paying for the writer’s work. For example, publishers of western series books tend to use a “house name” for all books in a particular series, even though the individual volumes may be written by various authors. Using the house name ensures a certain uniformity to the series that makes it easy for fans of the series to find the next volume, perhaps written by a different author. This is the primary reason why I’ve written under pseudonyms. This often aids the author greatly in sales as well. For example, say there’s a house name like “Jake Logan,” which there is. The first three are written by Joe Smith and sell well, and then the fourth is written by Bob Jones. Changing the name in mid series would cause all kinds of havoc in the way the books were shelved or listed, and create confusion for the readers.

Some publishers insist that the individual authors of books within a series do not reveal that “they” wrote any one particular book, although often they ease up on this constraint as time progresses. I know quite a few authors who have written, for example, in various western series such as “The Trailsman,” which is published under the name Jon Sharp, or “Longarm,” which is published as by Tabor Evans. In many cases these authors were not to reveal their particular involvement at the time of writing, though that constraint has since been eased and many of them will now reveal which particular books they wrote. This is great for me because I tend to collect certain writers’ works more than I care about getting every volume of the Longarm (well into the 400s for individual volumes) or Trailsman series (past 300 volumes).  

Most of the pseudonymous books I’ve written have been for Wolfpack Publishing under the house name of A. W. Hart. For example, I wrote book seven of their Avenging Angels series (The Wine of Violence), and book 3 of their Legend of the Black Rose series (Vengeance of the Black Rose.) Although these were published under the name A. W. Hart to represent a certain kind of action-adventure tale, I was credited as author in the “About the Author” section at the end of the book. I certainly appreciate Wolfpack for doing that, and I’m certain these books sold more under the Hart name than they ever would have under my name because other excellent writers coming along before me had already established the quality of the A. W. Hart Brand.

The “House Name” concept is actually very widespread in publishing, much more than most readers realize. Not only is it used on Western series, but often on SF and Fantasy series as well, such as The “Richard Blade” series, the “Casca” series, the “Traveler” series, and many more. In fact, I could easily do a lengthy series of blog posts on such series, but for now I’m done with Pseudonyms. Thank you very much for reading.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Why Authors Use Pseudonyms: Part 3

Welcome to part 3 of our series: Why Authors Use Pseudonyms. Let’s get right to it.

3. Writers who write across different genres may use pseudonyms to avoid potentially alienating certain readers. Quite a few people tend to read in only one genre—say Westerns. And this can be a problem for a writer who works in other fields. Say a reader who likes my western stories recognizes my name on a horror novel and decides to read it, thinking he’s going to get the same kind of tale. He soon finds himself...well, horrified. He doesn’t like the blood and gore. He’s not going to read anymore horror novels under my name and he may well push my westerns away as well.

This has happened to me and is one reason I decided to start writing westerns under the name Tyler Boone. My westerns, although often violent and bloody, have nowhere near the gore that appears in many of my horror stories. Nor are my westerns populated by topes like vampires and werewolves. (I’m not sure what I’m going to do if I ever decide to write in the subgenre called “Horror-Western.” I did one flash fiction like that and it caused some issues with readers who wanted more straightforward western tales.)

With likely even more dramatic results, imagine readers of a particular western author picking up a romance novel by him—under the same name. I bet he’d lose readers. True, he might possibly gain some other readers, but if they are romance readers they’re not going to want his straight action adventure westerns.

This use of a pseudonym does have the potential to backfire. Dean Koontz wrote under pseudonyms in his early days for this kind of reason and he later said he regretted it and it cost him momentum. But, for the most part, Koontz was not writing in as dramatically different genres as romance and horror, and since we can’t rerun the experiment we’ll never know whether it actually hurt his career length sales. I do know that I’ve also had a few readers who liked my work under the Gramlich name not recognize me as a modern western author under a different name. So, it’s not a simple matter.

 Part 4 is up next:

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Why Authors Use Pseudonyms Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of why authors might use pseudonyms instead of their real names. Let’s not waste any time:

2. Whether we like it or not. Whether it’s fair or not. Some of our given names are going to work against selling our product, without having anything to do with the quality. In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, (and sometimes even today), women who were writing SF used male names to publish under. Andre Norton and James Tiptree, Jr are two examples. I didn’t know Tiptree was a woman until I was in my 30s. Others just used initials so they wouldn’t clearly be identified as women, such as C. L. Moore or—more closely to the modern day—J. K. Rowling.

It wasn’t all one way. Robert Jordan, of Wheel of Time fame, wrote romantic fiction under a female name (Reagan O’Neal) because it seemed that women were less likely to buy romance by a male author, just as male readers of SF often wouldn’t take a chance on a female author. It made good sense for authors trying to sell in those markets to use names that would not bias potential readers against them. Of course, this isn’t fair. But it’s real.

And, just like actors have often changed their names to make them more easily pronounced (Rock Hudson) and to avoid prejudice, some writers with very long or foreign sounding names may use pseudonyms to help sales. This brings us back to Robert Jordan, whose real name was James Oliver Rigney Jr. Would he have been as successful under the Rigney Jr name? We’ll never know, but you have to admit that for most English speakers, Jordan rolls off the tongue easier than Rigney and is likely more memorable.

Name recognition is an incredibly important thing in writing and publishing. The British author known as Lee Child, of “Jack Reacher” fame, is actually James Dover Grant. Grant isn’t hard to pronounce or remember for English speakers, but “Lee Child” has a certain flair that James Grant lacks. The first letter of the last name is even important for how things get shelved. “Jordan” would be shelved before “Rigney” in the SF section of bookstores, “Child” before “Grant” in the thriller section. I’ve seen research that suggests that names beginning with “C” through about “L” seem to get the best positioning in bookstores, close to the eye height of most browsers and either toward the beginning of the display area or right in the center. I don’t personally know that to be true but consider some of our best-selling authors—Mary Higgins Clark, Harlan Coben, John Grisham, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Charles Gramlich. Uh, wait, how did that last name get in there? Please ignore that typo! Unless, that is, you really want to read some Gramlich.

Please stay tuned for installment 3 of Why Authors Use Pseudonyms. 

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Why Authors Use Pseudonyms: Part 1

I get asked quite often why I’ve had work published under names other than my own. A thought that often accompanies this question is: “don’t you want to see your name in print?”  Well, there are numerous reasons why someone might use a pseudonym in publishing. The topic is complex enough that I’ve decided to do a short series of blog posts about it. Here’s the first one, with more to follow.

First, I’ll address the “name in print” point. When I first aspired to write and publish, I definitely did want to see my name in print. And it was very exciting and ego pleasing and confidence building when it happened. But, I’ve actually had my name in print hundreds of times now and my goals have changed. What I want more than anything today is to see my “work” in print, and to have it read, and to see how people respond to it. And sometimes, the best way to get these three things is to publish under a pseudonym. Here are the reasons why:

1. The material you’re writing may get you into trouble with family, friends, coworkers, or a job. I’m not specifically talking about writing porn, but that’s in there. When I was growing up in rural Arkansas, and even in some places today, writing science fiction or fantasy was frowned upon, dismissed, and even banned. And the people who wrote such material were gossiped about and sometimes even harassed for doing the Devil’s work.

My own mother wouldn’t display the books I gave her when I first started getting published, and I’m pretty sure it was because she didn’t like the content and the covers. None of this was pornographic, mind you. In fact, my fantasy and SF works firmly honored the good over the bad and upheld all the moral thinking I was taught growing up. It’s just that it often did so beneath the trappings of aliens and monsters and strange settings.

If your writing is going to cause fights and problems with your family, or conflicts with jobs and coworkers, and you’re not fully ready to handle the emotional turmoil, write under a pseudonym and don’t tell anyone.

There are plenty more reasons why authors might use pseudonyms. We haven’t even gotten to the reasons why I’ve used them yet. But more is to come in installment 2 of this series. I hope you enjoy.

Saturday, January 01, 2022

The Crows Abide

 

January 1, 2022. Beneath a warm wind that rocks the pines, I walk through the aftermath of the war. I watched last night as 2021 fought a desperate last stand battle against the descent of 2022. The defenders failed. As they always do. The New Year arrived and now licks its wounds and plots revenge. Of course, it will fall soon enough itself, though now it feels its vigor and does not doubt it will last forever.

Those of us who have been through many such wars, know better. And the crows abide.