Showing posts with label Gramlich. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gramlich. Show all posts

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Beautiful and the Repellent: An Interview with Charles A. Gramlich

Art & Beauty in Weird Fantasy

It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven my strange muses. Weird fiction masters (RE Howard, Poe, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, ...) held series beliefs that their “horror” was actually beautiful. This interview series engages contemporary authors & artists on the theme of "Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.” Previously we cornered weird fantasy authors like John Fultz, Janeen Webb, Aliya Whiteley, Richard Lee Byers, Sebastian Jones, and Darrell Schweitzer.

Charles Gramlich grew up on a farm in Arkansas but moved to the New Orleans area in 1986 to teach psychology at Xavier University. His degree is in Experimental Psychology with a specialization in Physiological Psychology; Charles served as chair of the department several times between 1988 and 2002. He was instrumental in developing the Psychology Pre-medical program for the department. He's since published eight novels, three nonfiction books, five collections of short stories, and a chapbook of vampire haiku. Charles likes to write in many different genres but all of his fiction work is known for its intense action and strong visuals. Check out his Razored Zen blog and Amazon page.

Previous interviews are revealing: in 2007, Shauna Roberts’ interviewed Gramlich about his Talera Cycle (also included in Write with Fire) and in 2014 Prashant C. Trikannad’s interview focused his western Killing Trail). This round we focus on his poetic take on pulp adventure. In addition to publishing many short stories that fit the bill, he published an essay iWeird Fiction Review #7 called “The Beautiful and the Repellent: The Erotic Allure of Death and the Other in the Writers of Weird Tales” (Fall 2016 edition).

In Gramlich's WF#7 essay, he notes how Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe (and many more speculative fiction writers) juxtaposed content that were both repulsive & beautiful. In his words: “Repulsive elements and events are intertwined with the grotesque and beautiful ones—often through the use of poetical prose—thus transmuting the ugly into something that, if not exactly lovely, still compels attention.” He posits two types of repellent beauty in weird fiction (and associated adventure, like Sword & Sorcery/Planet). Here’s a brief overview:

Erotic Allure of Death (EAD) in which sexual taboos and an attraction with death itself is a focus, and...

Erotic Desire for the Other (EDO) which regards “the desire for that which is exotic, which is foreign or alien to one’s own identity and experiences…it disorients readers; it dissociates them from every other sense of order and brings them back to the level of flesh, the messy flesh” – CAG.
Summary quotation: “Many of the most memorable writers in Weird Tales—Lovecraft, Howard, Smith, Dyalhis, Moore—were master at the art of combining attractive and repulsive elements together in the same scene. They blended beauty with horror, turning the deadly and the alien into erotic.” - CAG

(1)   SEL: WF#7 issue is sold out via Centipede press, so I’d like to echo some of your perspective here. Can you paraphrase how some of the masters applied EAD and EOD? Black God’s Kiss and the use of blood were great examples.

CAG: One thing I’ve noticed about reading such writers as Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Nictzin Dyalhis, and C. L. Moore is that the emotional power of their prose often comes from interweaving images of beauty with the grotesque. When the grotesque images take the form of death and decay, and yet the protagonist of a story is still attracted to it, I called it EAD (The Erotic Allure of Death). As an example, I mentioned Smith’s “The Seed from the Sepulcher,” where the main character is seduced by a beautiful, parasitic monster that he’s just watched devour his companion. He knows the thing will kill him but cannot fight his attraction to it.

These same writers also often introduced what I call EOD (The Erotic Allure of the Other) into their stories. In Howard’s story, “Worms of the Earth,” Bran Mak Morn must make a bargain with a half-human witch woman of the moors to achieve his revenge on the Romans. The woman is described as both lovely and repellent. Bran is simultaneously disgusted by her and undeniably attracted to her. C. L. Moore did something similar in her story, “Black God’s Kiss,” where Jirel of Joiry comes upon a statue of an abhorrent alien god with its lips pursed for a kiss. Jirel shudders at sight of it, and yet finds herself so drawn to it that she must kiss the awful lips. Neither Bran nor Jirel are expecting or wanting to die, but both find themselves simultaneously attracted and repelled by the inhuman aspects of another being.

(2)  SEL; Approach Avoidance is a psychology term mentioned in your essay. Can you explain that convey how writers could use such tension for their own character’s dilemmas?

CAG: Typically, tension in a story is produced by the protagonist wanting something and the antagonist opposing them. For example, a police officer wants to solve a crime and save a victim from impending death while the antagonist/criminal fights the officer every step of the way. The Approach-Avoidance concept adds a deeper layer to this tension. It puts the protagonist into a position where he, or she, is simultaneously attracted to and repelled by the same goal. For example, imagine that the police officer wants to save a kidnap victim, but, at the same time, knows that saving the victim will destroy the officer’s career because of some secret the victim knows. Now, the protagonist faces two obstacles, an outer and an inner one.

(3)  SEL: On writing poetic weirdness: You also note that the memorable writers “… expressed it all in poetic prose without becoming either maudlin or prurient.” Writing accessible, poetic fiction is what drew me to you in the first place (see review snippets below). Writing poetically often implies writing abstractly; combined with weird content, this approach risks alienating the reader. Any tips on how to balance poeticism with accessibility?

“Across a snowfield that lies red with dawn, the Orc charge comes. And is met. Axes shriek on shields. Swords work against armor into flesh. The tips of spears are wetted. Gore dapples the snow...”  - CAG, Harvest of War
“In the bitter twilight of frost-rimmed peaks, Thal dreamed, the visions crimson with gore. War-horses frothed at their bits, eyes rolling like bloody pearls. Men in bruised armor and torn silks of umber and white hacked each other into ragged scarecrows. Arrows sleeted the sky like sharpened flakes of ice. When it was over the ravens gathered, scarcely moving as Thal rode among them searching. He found [spoiler]’s head on a stake.” -CAG, Bitter Steel,Sword and Sorcery

CAG: That question illustrates why this writing thing is still an art rather than a science. You’re absolutely right. Poetic writing can distance the reader from the story, and—I think—is guaranteed to distance some readers from it. Some folks just don’t like language that is highly metaphorical and overtly lyrical. For one thing, it requires more effort to read that kind of writing. And, unless the writer and the reader share certain visual affinities, the images just won’t translate. For example, I recently used the phrase “blackshine” in a poem and several members of my writing group said they just couldn’t picture it. To me, “blackshine” creates a completely concrete visualization. Imagine the shine of black satin under a silvery light. On the plus side, though, if poetic writing does connect to a reader, then the communication between the reader and writer is intensified, and isn’t that what all writers want—to communicate what’s in our heads to someone else?

I think there are some strategies that can help poetic writers communicate better with readers. One thing that you mentioned was “economy.” An economy of words and images is important. Throwing layer after layer of metaphor at the reader will probably lose them all. You select one metaphor, one poetic image, and see it through before adding another. And, whenever possible you temper the metaphorical and abstract qualities of the writing with simple, concrete language.

I like to think the following paragraph from my book Cold in the Light illustrates the process. There’s some metaphorical language (dawn creeping like a fog), and a hint of the mythical (god or demon), but the core of the piece employs simple, everyday terms like  death, life, sex, and hunger.
“By the time gray dawn came creeping like a fog he had mastered himself. He lived in the place that all warriors sought, where death and life and sex and hunger were one. Where you created your own reality and no one else's could intrude. Where you became a god, or a demon. And you didn't care which.”

(4)  SEL: Have you ever employed any EAD or EDO in your own writing?

CAG: Absolutely. As I mentioned in the article, The Erotic Allure of Death, or EAD, is basic to many horror stories, and I’ve written a lot of them. My collection, Midnight in Rosary, is mostly about vampires, and vampires are the most popular manifestation of EAD in our culture. There are very few vampire tales that don’t combine the monstrous lethality of the creature with the erotic allure. Certainly Carmilla, by Sheridan Le Fanu, and Dracula, by Bram Stoker illustrate this. In Midnight in Rosary, there is a story called “The Poetry of Blood.” In it, a man gives himself willing to a vampire because he knows that she will create a work of erotic art from his death.

To some extent, vampires also represent Erotic Desire for the Other (EDO). Vampires can be shown as “mostly” human or as far more grotesque monsters. The more inhuman the vampire, the more it can represent EDO. An example that particularly stands out for me is the scene in the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula where Lucy is shown having sex with Dracula in his beast form. The scene is set up to be highly erotic and yet Dracula is clearly not human at that moment. I’m working on a story now that has elements of this. It’s a Krieg story; you know that character. In it, Krieg has sex with a sidhe, one of the fairy folk of Irish and Scottish mythology. At one point, Krieg realizes that he could close his eyes and imagine her as human. He chooses not to do that. He wants to experience the element of the other that she represents.

(5)  SEL: Is there something you find repellent and beautiful that others may not appreciate?

CAG: I think it’s probably clear from much of my horror writing that I find the juxtaposition of gore and beauty to be interesting. I’m certainly not alone in that. An image that I’ve used in poems and stories several times is that of the “rotted angel.” An angel is, arguably, the most beautiful being that humans can imagine. Now imagine that being with skeletal wings and rotted flesh peeling away from the bone. For me, adding a layer of gore to the angel’s beauty intensifies the image and evokes both fascination and disgust.

Another example of this kind of thing is from a story I wrote called “She Fled, Laughing,” which is a retelling of a dream I had. In the dream, I was a police officer investigating a murder scene. I found a young girl who had apparently survived. She wouldn’t let me get close to her and I finally decided I’d have to run her down to catch her. When I caught her, and spun her around, her face was just a black hole that suddenly vomited maggots and roses. So, I literally dream in images that combine the beautiful and the repellent, and I have since I was a teenager.

(6)  SEL: Any tips on how to create art that is “dark” yet “attractive”?

CAG: Probably the best answer for just about any writing question is “to read.” For dark fiction, read Poe, read Stoker, Lovecraft, Bradbury, King, Koontz, read Cormac McCarthy and Clive Barker, read the classic writers and the new ones. Immerse yourself in the wild poetry of Dylan Thomas and Bruce Boston. Beyond that, spend some time alone, watch yourself bleed, sleep in strange beds, take night walks in the woods, visit ruins and stalk dirt roads on foggy mornings.

(7)  SEL: Fine Arts: CAS was a poet, illustrator, and sculptor; many others interviewed by S.E. have other artistic talents beyond writing.  Do you practice other arts (Voodoo counts)? If so can we share them (i.e., images of fine or graphic art) or mp3s (of music). If not, which artists/pieces inspire you to write?

CAG: Writing is about it for me, but my writing interests are very broad and include poetry, essays, memoir, and scientific writing. I don’t really have any drawing or musical skills and am jealous of those who do. I was in a rock band in high school, but I was the singer because I wasn’t very good on guitar. I’m most inspired by other writers and have an “inspiration” shelf of books that I keep handy. When I’m having trouble with language, I pick up some of those books. The shelf includes the poetry of Dylan Thomas, Walden by Thoreau, The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen, and Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, as well as The Sowers of the Thunder by Robert E. Howard.

I am certainly influenced by music and art. In music, a song that stimulates me lyrically is  U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky.” This is their hardest rock song and the music is great, but I really find the lyrics to be intensely poetical. Then there’s “Deaf Forever,” by Motorhead, the best heroic fantasy song ever written. It also has a good bit of poetry in it. I’ve often listened to this while rough drafting battle scenes. It rather makes you want to go out and kill something!

In art, well, there’s the great Frank Frazetta, of course. He created such drama in his paintings. My favorites by him are his Death Dealer and his Kane images. I also really like some older illustrators such as Roy Krenkel, who illustrated The Sowers of the Thunder, and J. Allen St. John, who illustrated a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs stories for the pulps.

(8)  SEL: Your wife is a fine landscape photographer, I wonder if you ever wrote about any of her photograph’s subjects/locations? Can we share a photo if so?

CAG: Lana’s photography work certainly inspires me and I’ve used her images on several self-published works, including “Harmland” and “Adventures of an Arkansawyer.” Her photography has the same kind of juxtaposition of emotions that we’ve been talking about here. Her scenes often contain serenity and incredible drama at the same time. I don’t know how she manages it, but the attached photo perfectly illustrates it.

Lana Gramlich Photography

(9)  SEL: You have a personal goal to publish in a variety of genre markets, and have already tackled many (westerns like Killing Trail, Sword & Planet with Talera, Sword & Sorcery and Weird Fiction in Skelos magazine). What is next in queue? And what motivation drives this?

CAG: I’ve been moving more toward crime, mystery, and thriller lately and have been reading a lot of that type of story. “The Scarred One,” my latest book, is a western primarily, but it’s also a pretty complex mystery as well. I’ve done a couple of short crime stories but I plan to do more. And I’d kind of like to write a non-supernatural thriller, something in the vein of Harlan Coben.

I think my motivation for this goal comes from several sources. One, I enjoy all kinds of writing and when I read something I like it sets my imagination loose. If I’m enjoying a western, then the ideas I get tend to be in that genre also. It’s the same for other genres. Second, it’s a challenge. I like the combination of fear and exhilaration that comes with trying something new, something I haven’t done before. Third, I like to think of myself as a writer, not just as a poet, or essayist, or fantasy author. I’ve chosen writing as a craft and I work hard to be as good at it as I can, on all levels.

(10)    SEL: If you were more juvenile and dressed up on Halloween, which one of your characters would you be? (Thal Kyrin , Bryle, Ruenn Maclang, Krieg?)

CAG: If I had my druthers, I’d look like Krieg. It would be nice to be that bad-ass. But if I had to try to carry off being one of my characters for Halloween, I’d have to go as an older, chubbier, and less robust Ruenn Maclang. I’ve got the hair, and a long coat and sword I could use. I’d just need green contacts.

(11)  SEL: Any new works you can discuss?

CAG: Well, I mentioned my latest, a western called The Scarred One. It’s under the name Tyler Boone. In keeping with my rather odd writing goals, I’ve got a children’s book that I’m about to start submitting to publishers. It’s called Farhaven and is about three orphaned fox kits trying to make their way to a wildlife sanctuary. I’m also working on another Krieg short story and something that might possibly turn into a novel about Krieg. The working title of that is Lords of War. As with most writers, I’ve always got far more ideas than I can possibly complete in a lifetime.

Links to SE Reviews/Posts about Charles A. Gramlich:

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Unsheathed - review by SE

Unsheathed: An Epic Fantasy Collection
by Stuart Thaman
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Unsheathed: An Epic Fantasy Collection is high quality Sword & Sorcery by nine contemporary authors. The anthology is varied in tone and style, and will delight new fans (who may like lit-RPG fare) as well as aged veterans looking for weird pulp. I picked this up as part of a S&S Groupread on Goodreads which had the theme of "New vs 'N'" (N being the infamous Appendix N list from Gary Gygax.

All were fun, but two of these resonated with me. The first was by Charles Allen Gramlich, whose writing lured me to this collection (having read his Harvest of War and Bitter Steel: Tales and Poems of Epic Fantasy and others). The second was by Jay Erickson whose Lydia/Gwendolyn Locke stood out in design & delivery.

1. Hanging at Crosbhothar Austin Worley: “Corpses hung from the ancient maple like leaves” is a great opener. The story follows the female Arlise, Watcher of the Order, who trails the corrupted Eoghan and his sorceress lover Katrin. A few abrupt saved-by-the-last-minute incidents and rpg-rapid-healing keeps this decent tale from a 5-star.

2. Retribution by Night Chad Vincent: This 4-star tale introduces Captain Brennan who is caught in an outpost drama between the oppressed, local named Aodhan ( a nature lover, and demon lover too?) who is hounded by surly knights, like Sergeant Armstrong. Not sure who to root for in this gray tale, though Brennan is ostensibly on the knights side. Nice undead battles here. Would have enjoyed experiencing Aodhan's past to appreciate his motivations.

3. Where All the Souls are Hollow by Charles Allen Gramlich: a 5 star Sword-n-Planet with the technology being more implicit than explicit. We join Krieg (German for "War") as his adventures mid-mission. Krieg’s purpose is slowly revealed as he battles automatons, sinister alien forces, and evil "children." A beautiful blend of horror and adventure; pacing is spot on.

4. Switch Blade by Scott Simerlein: I am not into humorous stories, but this hilarious farce was well placed in the collection. It was slightly confusing, but was meant to be. 4 star.

5. King’s Road by G. Dean Manuel: This melodrama unfolds faster than the characters can deliver their lines; it felt like a fan fiction tribute of LOTR's Rohan Gondor play between a prince-son usurping his worn-king-father’s rule. 3 star

6. The Artefact by Ross Baxter: lit-RPG readers would like this one. Three heroes with desires to collect as many types of loot (books/knowledge, a weapon, and something mechanical/crafty like a timepiece) adventure in ruins. It feels like part of larger universe, but for a short story the story arc was not contained enough to be a clear stand alone adventure. The character Jud stood out. 3+ star.

7. Under Locke and Key by Jay Erickson: a 5 star tale with female leads and blood magic. Gwendolyne is an enslaved adolescent girl, whose parents died by the Red Tears plague. The same sickness affects the countryside and criminals wishing to profit off of orphaned girls and a possible cure. The flow of the tale was very smooth and engaging.

8. Ransom for a Prince by Liam Hogan: this is saturated with fighting, and was more real/historical than fantasy. Expect lots of medieval duels with a female lead. The premise is a reason for the author to show off the art of sword play, which is described well. 4+.

9. Only an Elf by Stuart Thaman : There is a lot going on here in this 4-star tale of slavery. Overall the plot is very engaging, but the bloody climax seemed inconsistent with the lead up. Certain scenes between the female elf slave Enessana and her master, the blacksmith dwarf Kimiko, worked separately, but did not flow with other events. Perhaps too much was packed within a short span of pages, throwing the pacing off. This would expand into a great novel.

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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Charles Allen Gramlich & SE Lindberg - The Beautiful and Repellent

Charles Gramlich the Beautiful (left) and S.E. Lindberg the Repellent (right)

A family vacation to New Orleans brought me in close proximity to two authors: Charles Gramlich (whose works I have reviewed, see links below) and Beth Patterson (fellow Perseid Press "Hellion" and "Heroikan.").

This post captures the Charles & S.E. selfie, the red corona/halo blessing the former. He has been writing adventure fiction for decades, and aims to publish in "every" genre. A sequel to Heroika #1: Dragon Eaters has been incubating for few years (#2 focused on Shieldless/Skirmishers), and if the gods are with us we both will have a contribution.

We discussed everything from  (a) Evolutionary Psychology which he teaches at Xavier University, to (b) GRR Martin's short story "The Sandkings" which inspired the first episode in the The Outer Limits in 1995 (I still have the VHS of that! eh gad, who would imagine that a weird-horror about ants would attract me?), to (c) Beauty in Weird Fiction (Yes, my favorite topic which I interview others on -link), since he recently published an article in WEIRD FICTION REVIEW #7 called "The Beautiful and the Repellent: The Erotic Allure of Death and the Other in the Writers of Weird Tales”. I just ordered my paperback copy, and after I read it... I'll be reconnecting with Charles to see if I can lure him into an interview.

Check out his Razored Zen blog:

Links to SE Reviews of Charles Gramlich works:

Swords of Talera: Book One of the Talera CycleMage Maze DemonImage result for bitter steel gramlich amazonHarvest of War by [Gramlich, Charles]

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Skelos Delivers Weird Fiction & Dark Fantasy - Fiction, Essays, Art, and Reviews

Skelos (The Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy 1)Skelos by Mark Finn
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

Skelos was an ambitious 2016 Kickstarter project. Successfully funded, it aims to be an outlet for literary essays, short stories, poem, novelettes, and reviews for Dark Fiction/Weird Fantasy. As a backer, I am very pleased. Somehow, it delivered all this in its first issue and a low price. Just ~12USD for the print version. In short, it is a highly recommend periodical to subscribe.

This reviews their first issue (Summer 2016 edition, Kickstarter funding seems to guarantee at least four issues). I thought I was well versed in Sword & Sorcery and Pulp/Weird Fiction but still learned more by Robert E. Howard and Arthur Machen. I discovered new authors too. In a collection so broad, not all the contents will please everyone…the menu is just too big. The quality is good, and anyone interested in dark fantasy will be pleased. There are lot of nice touches here, including cover art by Gustav Dore’, tons of interior art, and photographs of REH's drafts. There is no common theme, but this issue leans toward 'Vikings & Plagues.' My specific comments per contribution are detailed below.

Skelos is edited by Mark Finn, author of the World Fantasy Award-nominated Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard; Chris Gruber, editor of Robert E. Howard's Boxing Stories from the University of Nebraska Press; and Jeffrey Shanks, co-editor of the Bram Stoker Award-nominated The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales: The Evolution of Modern Fantasy and Horror. They are leading Skelos Press.

Short Fiction:
‘The Dead Unicorn’ –Scott Cupp (It is depressing as its title suggests)
‘Hungry –Charles Gramlich’ (A groaner sci-fi; it may be the only contribution that infused some sort of comedy, except for the single-frame cartoon ‘By Crom’. Also, it is one of the few to have a modern milieu)
‘The Night Maere’ –Scott Hannan (Classic horror in which your sickness may take a life of its own!)
‘The Nameless Tribe Drafts’ –Robert E. Howard (Included to complement an essay; very nice touch)
‘The Yellow Death’ –David Hardy (A plague doctor experiences lots of death)
‘The Burning Messenger’ –Matt Sullivan (Two Viking-esque tribes are pitted against one another…or something more cosmically evil; this started out with too many trope’s to promise much, but turned into a wonderfully dark tale)
‘Dangerous Pearl’ –Ethan Nahté (An average pirate/Lovecraftian adventure with a satisfying denouement)

‘The Drowned Dead Shape’ –Keith Taylor (This is an engaging zombie-Viking tale; it was so good, I stopped reading Skelos, tracked down Taylor’s Servant of the Jackal God: The Tales of Kamose, Archpriest of Anubis…devoured that….then came back to Skelos)
‘One Less Hand for the Shaping of Things’ –Jason Ray Carney (A Fairy Tale /Weird Romance; this had its moments; the title seemed misrepresentative; I didn’t think I liked it until I reached the ending and realized I was more attached to the characters than I realized)

(I enjoyed having the poetry interspersed; they are short and digestible, and their presence reinforces the literary history/approach to weird fiction.)

Diary of a Sorceress –Ashley Dioses
Midnight in the Ebon Rose Bower –K. A. Opperman
The Writer –Jason Hardy
The Casualty of the Somme –Frank Coffman
Totem –Pat Calhoun
Surtur –Kenneth Bykerk

‘Nameless Tribes: Robert E. Howard’s Anthropological World-Building in “Men of the Shadows”’ –Jeffrey Shank (This details REH’s evolution of his Hyborian Age, with his Drafts complementing the essay; I didn't know REH factored in the infamous continent Lemuria and California into his world)

‘From the Cosmos to the Test-Tube: Lovecraft, Machen, and the Sublime’ – Karen Joan Kohoutek (Loved this, in part because I am fascinated in how serious Weird Fiction writers [i.e. Edgar Allen Poe, RE Howard, Poe, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft] took their craft serious and often philosophized on the “Art’ in Horror. I missed Arthur Machen’s Hieroglyphics book in my hobbyist studies and will be getting that).

‘A Sword-Edge Beauty as Keen as Blades: C.Moore and the Gender Dynamics of Sword and Sorcery’ –Nicole Emmelhainz (this had potential, but could have been even more provocative, the premise being that the Sword & Sorcery genre….often stereotyped correctly as misogynistic… has some feministic qualities; strangely, the essay focuses on C.L. Moore’s female Jirel of Joiry story in The Black God’s Kiss but somehow glosses over that C. stood for “Catherine”…yes a woman writer who had to use a pseudonym to get published, or work with her husband writer Henry Kuttner who could use expose his first name. I’m not sure how the author’s gender was left out of this essay; perhaps it was done on purpose, otherwise it would not be surprising that a woman may decide to represent other woman as strong. The only indication that a reader may know Catherine’s gender is by reading the endnote reference.)

Special Features:
'Skull Session I' –Editorial by Mark Finn (This sets the stage for Skelos’s approach to provided deep and broad based weird fiction)

'Grettir and the Draugr' –An illustrated tale by Samuel Dillon and Jeffrey Shanks (Wow, they squeezed in a mini-graphic novel; the artwork by Dillon outshined the story here, which was okay.)

'By Crom!' –Rachel Kahn (A single frame cartoon)

Reviews too!
How better to reinforce Weird Fiction’s longevity than to review contemporary works? There are ~8 books reviewed depth. Despite the review’s average rating, I was unaware of Swords Against Cthulhu’s publication and will likely track this one down.

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Mage Maze Demon - short, pulpy, sword and sorcery

Mage Maze DemonMage Maze Demon by Charles Allen Gramlich
SE. rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mage Maze Demon by Charles Allen Gramlich is published by “BEAT to a PULP”. It is a short story that delivers the uber-fast adventure pulp fiction readers expect. For the unfamiliar, "the pulps" were inexpensive magazines published ~1920’s that gave birth to Weird Fiction, Sword & Sorcery, Lost World stories; a time when fantasy, sci-fi, and horror were blended together. This one is Sword & Sorcery fare. As in Harvest of War, Gramlich writes concise poetic fiction. The title is a good summary of what Bryle the barbarian has conflict with. Although a short story adhering to pulp roots, I would have enjoyed the story even more if it were about twice it length. I was ready for more, and I suspect Gramlich has more ready for us.

Here is the opening to convey Gramlich’s style:
“The most vicious of all predators hunts in the forest. The barbarian flees. His name is Bryle. He dodges standing trees, leaps fallen logs, bulls past thorns and briars. A trio of gray wolves runs as well. They swiftly pull ahead. Bryle picks up the pace, though dares not run himself to exhaustion—as the wolves are doing. The wolves will tire; the thing that hunts them all will not.
…. It is fire that hunts. The forest roils with flames. Tendrils of crimson and orange whirl between the trees like the churning legs of a giant. Sap explodes into a shrapnel of embers, lashing Bryle now to the greatest effort he can muster. Sweat slimes him. His chest heaves. He passes a wolf from earlier. It staggers, bloody froth at its muzzle. Its heart must be near rupturing. Nothing can be done.”

Charles Allen Gramlich is the author of the Talera fantasy trilogy, the thriller Cold in the Light, and the SF novel Under the Ember Star. His stories have been collected primarily in three anthologies, Bitter Steel, (fantasy), Midnight in Rosary (Vampires/Werewolves), and In the Language of Scorpions (Horror). He is also the author of Write With Fire, a book about writing and publishing. His works are available in print and ebook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Wildside Press. Additionally, some of Charles's stories are available in novella length packets or as standalone ebooks from Amazon. These include Killing Trail (Westerns), Harmland (Noir/Horror), MicroWeird (Flash Fiction), and Harvest of War (Fantasy).

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Gramlich's Swords of Talera - Review by SE

Swords of Talera: Book One of the Talera CycleSwords of Talera: Book One of the Talera Cycle by Charles Allen Gramlich
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fun “Sword & Planet” adventure. Get svelte, escape to Talera.

I first discovered Charles Allen Gramlich via his poetic Sword & Sorcery books (highly recommended): Bitter Steel: Tales and Poems of Epic Fantasy and Harvest of War. Being biased toward weird adventure on “earth,” I was inspired to branch out slightly because of the Goodreads Sword & Sorcery Group's groupread for May-June 2014, the theme being “Sword & Planet.” Being a fan of Gramlich, this was a prime time to try out his Talera Cycle. If you ask the author why he should read it, he’ll reveal his humorous side (taken from his Facebook page):
"Dr. Charles Gramlich, professor of psychology at a prominent New Orleans University, has made the extraordinary claim that reading the three books of the Talera fantasy series, Swords of Talera, Wings Over Talera, and Witch of Talera, will actually help you lose weight and maintain a svelte figure. Gramlich says that, “those who read the slender volumes of the Talera series, which are quick and exciting stories, develop a speedier metabolism, allowing them to burn calories more quickly. This effect lingers for weeks after the books are finished,” he adds, “and can easily be prolonged further by consuming another book by the same author.” When asked whether that author, Charles ‘Allen’ Gramlich, was any relation, Dr. Gramlich abruptly yelled “Fire” and left the room."
Even though Swords of Talera: Book One of the Talera Cycle is not explicitly comedic, it does present pulp adventure with a dose of old-school “cheese” sprinkled atop weird milieu and tons of melee. It is a homeage the Sword & Planet subgenre initiated by Edgar Rice Burroughs in the early 1900’s with John Carter, and has all the tropes fans of the subgenre would demand: a man from the early 1900’s gets transported from earth to a strange planet; he can occasionally revisit earth; he manages to quickly converse with many aliens, lead armies, and free a maiden in distress.

Gramlich’s “Carter” is a 1914 sea merchant captain named Ruenn Maclang, whose arrogance and decisive leadership will remind readers of Indiana Jones. He gets transported to Talera mysteriously along with his crew, though he gets separated and strives to find his fellow earthlings. He is met by many humanoid aliens embroiled in slave-trade and war. Maclang becomes infatuated with a maiden in distress, and shallow-romantic interactions with her are intermittent. A sidebar on the technological history behind the mysterious Planet/Land Talera was distinctly cheezy sci-fi, but was not explored in depth in this first installment. There are continuous combat scenes, adequately fulfilling the “Sword” requirement for “Swords & Planet.” What I enjoyed most about this adventure was Gramlich’s poetic side, that creeps into every chapter. Check out these Excerpts:

Beautiful Battles
"…Heril leaped forward, swinging an axe over his head. The beast commander caught the stroke on his shield but the blow drove him to his knees. He surged up, hurling Heril back, and lashed out with his own axe. I watched Heril leap away and then saw no more of them as the beach exploded into motion.

War cries tore the sky. Steel whistled through air and rang on steel, or thunked into soft flesh. Men screamed with the impact and went down hard. Blood clotted the sand and stained the bright swords with ugliness.

Numbers were on our side and our first charge carried the Klar back. They recovered and held. Bodies piled up. Men stumbled over the dead and few who went down were given the chance to rise again. Axes and swords lifted and fell, came away drawing screams or soft sighs of death. Our enemies were cold and disciplined, but so too were Jedik’s men, and the slaves were hot with anger. It was that passion which finally broke the Klar line. But we paid for it in blood."

Weird Ambience
“A bass throbbing rose and fell with each pulse of emerald light, and over the vibration lay the screams of my men, crawling up the scale until their voices teetered on the edge of soundlessness. Then the screams were gone and the cold, verdant fire went with them.”

“The thing’s body was human-like but it was not a man. Its flesh gleamed an iridescent green and gold; scales covered it like armor. A broad, thick tail stretched away into the gray fog behind it. The creature’s face was an abomination, calling up visions of fallen angels burning centuries in hell. The eyes shone flat and stone blue, without whites. Two slits gashed the face where the nose should have been and the mouth below glistened wide and red, lined with yellowed fangs. Large vanes, like the wings of bats, extended from either side of the beast’s head, fluttering with each harsh breath it drew.”

“The lorn wind blew about the volcanic peak, playing dirges in the empty lava funnels. Both beauty and pain lived in that wind, and the drifting ghosts of ancient memories.”
Testimonial: I lost 3 pounds in just one week reading Swords of Talera! To stay with my weight maintenance program, I’ll continue with Wings Over Talera:Book Two of the Talera Cycle, and Witch of Talera.

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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Bitter Steel, Sword and Sorcery by Gramlich - Review by S.E.

Bitter Steel: Tales And Poems Of Epic Fantasy by Charles Allen Gramlich
S.E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars

An anthology of dark adventure; highly recommended.

Epic Content: Sub-genre purists would clarify that the inclusion of “Epic” in the title inappropriately evokes long-winded, 2000page fantasy sagas; this anthology does feature 20 items of epic qualities, but these are discontinuous, compact doses of horror adventure (weird, pulp fiction). Most poems and tales were published previously. A table below sorts the order of presentation vs. publication and serves as a tour-guide for adventurous readers. The contents are organized well if you decide to tackle this linearly; a timely intermission of three humorous tales appears two-thirds the way through. After that, a few more doses of dark Sword & Sorcery leads into the final poem, an appropriate, haunting dedication to Robert E. Howard.

Author: Charles Allen Gramlich is a college professor of psychology (also teaching “writing for psychologists”); he extends his passion for teaching writing into the speculative fiction arena too (i.e. see Write with Fire: Thoughts on the Craft of Writing). He is also a scholar of the Sword & Sorcery genre, having been a member of REHupa (Robert E. Howard United Press Association). Personal annotations transition many of the tales/poems in Bitter Steel. These almost recast the anthology as a bibliography/teaching-text for future authors. As an example: the theme of lost fathers and sons is persistent throughout, and Gramlich confesses in his tour-like annotations that this stems from his losing his father as a teenager.

Emotive Style: The author’s psychology expertise enables him to his infuse his prose with emotive flare. This sometimes manifests in characterization, but more often affects his poetic tone (best represented by excerpts, like the ones below). Although he claims to have been inspired primarily by Howard and Wagner, he appears influenced by Clark Ashton Smith too. I was first introduced to Gramlich via his short story Harvest of War (highly recommended), which shares the style here: poetic cadence, with dark content, a fast read despite its depth.

In this collection, protagonists range from barbarian warriors, to anti-hero kings, to pathetic necromancers. Side characters are far from being shallow, many being deformed or mutilated with plenty of their own motivations. The Thal Kyrin yarn (6 tales) is a highlight. Thal adventures on Thanos, a version of Earth long after an alien race colonized it. No worries fantasy fans, this is not sci-fi. The foundation is obscure and mysterious, reminiscent of Lovecraftian cosmic horror. Here are some examples:

Undertones of Cosmic Horror
Cloudy tears of darkness began to pour from the eyeless face of the moon, and the normal white light of that orb began to shimmer and alter, from pearl, to gray, to bloody red. And when it was all red, the color poured out into the surrounding clouds, igniting crimson lightning that cracked wide the night. The people in the tiers, the shades of Karillon, gasped and fell to their knees, hiding their faces as their God began to materialize out of the storm. Wings unfolded from tattered cumulus streamers; eyes blinked open with thunder. In another moment, bladed talons extended beneath the mass and the shape of a giant raptor was born.
Poetic, Grim Prose:
In the bitter twilight of frost-rimmed peaks, Thal dreamed, the visions crimson with gore. War-horses frothed at their bits, eyes rolling like bloody pearls. Men in bruised armor and torn silks of umber and white hacked each other into ragged scarecrows. Arrows sleeted the sky like sharpened flakes of ice. When it was over the ravens gathered, scarcely moving as Thal rode among them searching. He found [spoiler]’s head on a stake.
A Whisper From a Muse: More Thal?
Many know that REH was inspired to write Conan as if the barbarian was literary standing behind him, encouraging him to chronicle his tales. Gramlich was similarly inspired by the muse of Thal Kyrin. He does not apologize for discontinuities between the tales, but instead employs his annotations to spur our imaginations. Bitter Steel was released in 2010, and readers have yet to see more Thal in print. However, just this year (2013) Gramlich published "A Whisper in Ashes" (on Heroic Fantasy Quarterly e-zine) another accessible, poetic adventure inspired by Wager and Howard. Personally…I suspect the nameless warrior Krieg from Whisper in Ashes is actually Thal wandering, chasing ghosts and abandoned pyres. In any event, Bitter Steel is a great anthology.

Table of Contents:

Item Title Category First Published
1 “Recompense Reprise” Poem Niteblade, 2008
2 “A Gathering of Ravens” Standalone Tale: female lead Deep South Writers Conference: The Chapbook, 1991
3 “The Horns of the Air” Poem Deep South Writers Conference: The Chapbook, 1990
4 “Of Sake and Swords” Prose Poem Warrior Poets, 1997
5 “You Were There” Poem Bitter Steel, 2010
6 “Dark Wind” Thal Kyrin -1 Welcome to Suburbia, 2007.
7 “In the Memory of Ruins” Thal Kyrin -2 Shadow Sword, 1996.
8 “Wine and Swords” Thal Kyrin -3 Shadow Sword, 1997.
9 “Coin and Steel” Thal Kyrin -4 Bitter Steel, 2010
10 The Evening Rider Thal Kyrin -5 Shadow Sword, 1995.
11 “Sword of Dreams” Thal Kyrin -6 Fantastic Realms, 1992
12 “Smoke in the Blood” Poem Warrior Poets, 1997.
13 “Worms in the Earth: Barbarian’s Bane” Humorous Adventure Dragonlaugh, 2001
14 “Mirthgar” Humorous Adventure Strange Worlds of Lunacy, 2008
15 “Slugger’s Holiday” Humorous Adventure Beacons of Tomorrow, 2006.
16 “Luck and Swords” Standalone Tale Classic Pulp Fiction Stories, 1999.
17 “Sundered Man” Standalone Tale  Bitter Steel, 2010
18 “A Flock of Swords” Standalone Tale Warrior Poets, 2000
19 “In Cold Desert Light” Poem The Barsoom Poet’s Corner, 1997.
20 “Cross Plains Conjure Man” Poem Star*Line, 2001

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Friday, January 4, 2013

Harvest of War - Short Story Review

Harvest of War
by Charles Allen Gramlich
S.E. Linderg's rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Victory rewards the most brutal”. But in a war fought between Orcs, Humans, and the monsters known as the Reapers, who best deserves that title? And will any of them fight for the weak? Or are the weak just prey? Back cover Summary

Context: This is a short story, originally scheduled for an anthology in ~2011 that never made it to market, and has thankfully been made available as a stand-alone tale. An underlying motivation of the anthology was to show Orcs as more complex characters than presented by Tolkien. Gramlich delivers this.

Brutal, Poetic Style: Amongst the heaps of eBooks available, the above premise alone does not make this stand out. However, deliver it with Gramlich’s style and you find yourself with a true treasure. Harvest of War will appeal to both casual and literary readers because Gramlich’s economy of words is so smooth it belies its rich imagery and emotional depth. His prose is: Arresting. Vivid. Compelling. Here is a glimpse:
Across a snowfield that lies red with dawn, the Orc charge comes. And is met. Axes shriek on shields. Swords work against armor into flesh. The tips of spears are wetted. Gore dapples the snow...
..Others are surrounded by clots of human foes and hacked down in an orgy of hatred. At last, only one Orc stands, dark axe blooded in his fists. A lightning-rent oak wards his back so his enemies can come against him only a warrior at a time. His axe splits a helm; his knotted fist tears a man’s jaw away. A shout makes the rest of his foes pause and draw apart.
Only one brief instance gave me pause: a character not accustomed to speaking strangely has a burst of dialogue; this contrasted the efficiency presented throughout, but was merely a surmountable hurdle in an enjoyable 400meter sprint. I highly recommend this.

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