I became aware of author Charles Gramlich when I saw a comment he'd left on someone else's blog. I tracked him down and became a follower of his blog. On the basis of a few very interesting posts, I ordered his book, Write With Fire and it immediately became my favorite how-to book. I learned some new stuff. How often can we say that? Gramlich's voice is appealing to me, like an old friend sharing writing secrets and offering encouragement. I can pick up Write With Fire, turn to any chapter and become totally captivated by his popcorn bits of advice, suggestions and personal experiences. This book is an easy read with some great info. You can buy it HERE.
I hate splitting my interviews into two parts. I like everything neatly in one place. Stay with us and read every word. I hope you enjoy meeting Charles Gramlich as much as I have.
1) Tell us about your books—the genre, etc., and a little of your background.
There have always been two primary streams in my writing, Fantasy and Horror. The Talera trilogy and Bitter Steel, my recent collection of short stories, are all fantasy,
while Cold in the Light, my first published novel, was a horror thriller. Most of my biggest short story sales have been in the horror genre. Increasingly over the years I’ve started combining elements from both genres in my work, and I always like to have a major element of adventure in everything I write.
As for my background, I grew up on a small farm in Arkansas but was never interested in farming myself. My mom, who was born in 1916 and only got an 8th grade education, wanted her children to be well educated and two of us earned PhDs. I got mine in 1986 in Psychology, and came to Xavier University to teach. I’ve been there ever since. I was an early reader and that’s what got me into writing. I wanted to be able to tell more of the kinds of stories that I grew up loving to read.
2) When did your passion for writing truly begin? What’s kept you going? I wrote some stories as a kid but they were strictly for my own amusement. I didn’t think about anything beyond just telling the stories until I was eighteen and decided to write a western. That was the first time I thought about writing something that might be publishable.
One of my professors at Arkansas Tech University was a writer, and I showed him the book. He told me I had promise and offered to help. But only a short time after that he died and I completely gave up writing until graduate school. I couldn’t stay away from it, though. I thought about the characters and setting for Swords of Talera for over a year before one day I just started writing it. I couldn’t hold back any longer and got so caught up in the joy of creating the story that I knew then that writing would always have to be a part of my life.
3) What is your writing process like? Do you stick to a writing schedule, set yourself daily, weekly, yearly goals?
I write almost every day, but how many hours I spend at it depends on whether I have deadlines or not. I really have only one primary goal, and that is to make progress every time I sit down to write on whatever project I’m working on. No one can write a book in a day, but if you make progress every day then you know you’ll get to that magic point where you can say: “The End.”
4) Once you come up with your idea for a novel or a short story, what methods do you use to flesh it out to determine if it's salable—or maybe just to finish it?
I talked about some of these techniques in Write With Fire. One of them I call RQW3R. Ideas and characters tend to occur together for me, and once I’ve got that I start doing background reading to flesh out my knowledge. Reading is the first “R” in the equation. The “Q” stands for question, and as I get the story into motion I start to ask myself continual questions about what happens next. I try to make sure the answers aren’t the obvious ones. The “W” is write, and the 3R means rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. It’s during the rewrites that I make sure every question got asked and answered appropriately.
I also find that a lot of my best ideas come when I’m walking. This may date back to my childhood on the farm when I often took long walks and daydreamed about exotic worlds and wild adventures.
5) Do you utilize critique groups or readers? What are some of the best characteristics of good critique partners as opposed to bad?
I do have a critique group, although I write a lot so I never get to show them everything. I don’t have any beta readers at present but I’m considering trying that for my next book. I’m interested to see if it will help.
I’ve been in other groups too, and I think there are some clear does and don’ts.
1. Do remember that it’s the writer’s story, not yours.
2. Do mix positive comments along with your criticisms.
3. Do be honest.
4. Don’t make demeaning comments about a writer’s genre or educational status (I’ve seen it done).
5. Don’t try to rewrite a writer’s story to make it match how “you” would have written it.
6. Don’t couch your statements in absolutes, such as “This will never sell,” or “Never use second person,” or a hundred other things that some writers think are rules but really aren’t.
6) What challenges or obstacles have you encountered in your writing and how did you overcome them?
A big obstacle for me is that I have a day job that can be very time consuming. Xavier’s normal course load is four courses per semester. I teach three because I’m also chair of a big research committee. There are times during the school year when my days are full and I can barely make any progress on writing. I always try to remember that even a paragraph a day is progress and will eventually get me to my goal. When I first started at Xavier I also taught every summer and that made it more difficult. Now I take summers off and that’s when I actually finish the bulk of my projects. During the school year I focus on making small, consistent progress. Consistency is the key to getting your writing done despite whatever obstacles come your way.
7) You haven’t gone the traditional publishing route—you’ve published with small presses. How is the state of publishing today affecting the small press author? Sometimes I think you might be ahead of the game and be in a better position than traditional press authors. What have been the rewards of small press publishing for you?
The big presses focus almost exclusively on commercial projects that have mass appeal. Small presses are much more willing to take risks on material that is professionally done but not highly commercial. I actually like to work in genres that once had mass appeal but which attract a smaller readership in today’s market. The small presses can survive with a lower number of sales and they also do a much better job, in my opinion, at courting small groups of ardent fans who the major presses ignore. Small presses also still nurture developing writers, which the major publishers no longer even attempt to do.
I like the individual attention you get from small presses, and the chance to be more involved in activities like writing back cover copy. I like the speed with which small presses can move. I like that they’re not afraid of experimentation. I don’t like that small presses typically have almost no advertising budget and the writers have to do most of their publicity on their own. I certainly wish they had better pay scales, too, although I’ve seen those fall steadily in the major presses over the last few years.
Both routes to publishing have their positives and their negatives. The small press has been a good fit for me and for the type of material I really want to write.
8) You’re married to an artist. Your home must vibrate with creative energy. How do you two help each other when faced with negativity and rejection? Are there any shared projects?
It’s wonderful. We bounce ideas off each other all the time, and since we’ve both experienced rejection and know how that attacks the core emotions of a creative individual, we can help each other through those tough moments when you sometimes just want to chunk it all. We also know to give the other person that space and alone time every creative person needs.
So far, the only shared project we’ve done is that Lana illustrated the cover of my poetry chapbook, Wanting the Mouth of a Lover. We do have some plans for future collaborations as well, and I’m looking forward to those. Lana has been so supportive of me and I know I wouldn’t have published half the stuff I have in the last few years if not for that support.
9) Have you had any downfalls or negative experiences working with a publisher/agents/other authors that have made you want to just drop out and do something safe and sane?
There’s a piece in Write With Fire called “Death By Prose” in which I talk about starting out in writing, and how so many stories I sold ended up never getting published because the magazines folded first. I actually sold Swords of Talera twice to publishers that never printed it. With Cold in the Light, I tried to get an agent and finally snagged one. Four months later she wrote to tell me she’d been diagnosed with a severe illness and was retiring. Another agent loved the first half of Cold in the Light and then decided the last half was too gory. I gave up on agents after that.
There have been many, many times when I’ve thought of quitting. I’ve imagined how much reading I could get done if I wasn’t trying to write too. I’ve thought about how I could catch up on years of movies that I’ve missed, and maybe follow a TV show once in a while. I’ve imagined what it would be like to come home from my day job and just relax instead of turning my mind to the next story or book that I want to do. But I can’t stay away from writing. It’s got it’s fangs in me, and I’ve got mine in it. For good or bad, we are locked together in a relationship that isn’t going to end until I physically can’t do it any longer.
I’ve also met many wonderful individuals through writing: readers, critique partners, editors, publishers, other writers. They’ve enriched my life so much that I don’t think I could survive any longer without them.
10) You have an Internet presence. Tell us how you use the Internet to boost your writing career and generate fans/followers?
The internet is an important tool for all writers but it’s absolutely critical to the small press writer who has to do pretty much all of his or her own promotion. I have a blog at http://charlesgramlich.blogspot.com/ and I post there consistently. Not every day, but every two or three days. And although I occasionally post personal material, I try to generally keep my blog’s content focused on writing and reading. I also have a Facebook account and I’ve made friends with many readers and writers there. I visit a lot of blogs that focus on reading and writing, and leave comments. I’m genuinely interested for one thing, but I also know that you need to make contacts and nurture those contacts if you are going to make a career as a small press writer. The writing and reading community is a giving one, and the support you give to others comes back to you in ways you’d never predict.
11) Do you experience self-doubt regarding your work? How do you handle it?
I often think that self doubt is a chronic condition for writers. I doubt myself all the time. There are days when I despair of my ability to write. But I’ve been at it long enough to know that those feelings will pass. I never do anything in the throes of emotion, like one author I know who in a fit of sudden depression burned all her manuscripts. Sometimes, a sentence I thought was just awful one day won’t look so bad the next morning, or else I’ll see an easy way to fix it that I couldn’t see before. Most of the time, I suspect that a writer’s material is neither as great as he or she thinks at those most joyous moments, nor as bad as it appears on those inevitable dark days of despair.
12) Who are your favorite authors, and why do they inspire you?
I love to read so I have many, many favorite authors. Some of my all time favorites are Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Kenneth Bulmer, C. L. Moore, John D. MacDonald, Louis L’Amour, and Ray Bradbury. All of these are influences on my writing. Some of the modern big name writers I really enjoy include Joe Lansdale, David Gemmell (who regrettably died recently), Dean Koontz, Cormac McCarthy, and James Lee Burke. I follow a lot of writers who are sometimes called the mid-list writers but who are in the top tier for me: people like Candice Proctor, James Sallis, James Reasoner, and O’Neil De Noux. There are also a lot of small press writers whose work I admire and who deserve a much wider audience, folks like Wayne Allen Sallee, Robert Reginald, Angeline Hawkes, Christopher Fulbright, and David Lanoue.
Reading good writers inspires me in many ways. For one, I just absolutely love great prose. I keep a shelf of books handy by my desk to read passages from whenever I need inspiration. The Snow Leopard is on that shelf. The Odyssey is. Hemingway’s short stories are there. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d still be a huge reader.
13) If you had it all to do over again, what would you do differently? In other words, what mistakes have you made while seeking publication?
There are things I probably could have done to improve my standing in the publishing world. I probably should have focused on a single genre of writing rather than leaping around all over the place as I’ve done. I certainly could have focused on more commercial projects. But I’ve enjoyed every moment and every story in my career so far and I wouldn’t give that up easily even for more money and fame. I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and although I certainly wish I had more success I don’t want to write “just” for success, as in money and fame. That’s not why I started writing, and not what has kept me at the keyboard through plenty of lean years. It’s the love of story and characters and beautiful prose that has kept me working
14) What’s the best advice you’ve heard (and followed) on writing/publication? What’s the worst advice you’ve heard?
The greatest advice I’ve ever found about writing came from a variety of sources but can be boiled down to this:
You must start writing.
You must finish what you start.
You must submit what you finish.
You must do it over and over.
The worst advice? Well, there’s a ton of bad advice out there, or at least advice that will cause new writers problems if they try to take it literally. The absolutely worst advice is of the “never” variety. Never use adverbs. Never start a sentence with “and” or “but.” Never use any dialogue tag but “said.” I always counter such advice with my own “never” statement. “Never throw any tool away.” There are times when you need to “tell” rather than “show.” There are times when “and” is the perfect word to begin a sentence with. There are times when ending a sentence with a preposition is the best way to do it. The hardest part about writing is deciding exactly when to use a tool, such as an adverb, and when not to. There’s no shortcut or magical formula for that. Writers have to learn through experience, and they don’t need to handicap themselves up front with a lot of “nevers.”
15) How do you craft a plot? Give us your best secret for plotting a novel.
There appear to be two types of writers, “plotters” and “pantsers.” I’m of the “pantser” variety. By that, I mean that I don’t develop an elaborate plot for a novel before I start writing it. I have a character, a situation, and I generally know where I want the story to end up. But I don’t know all the steps it will take to get there. As I write, I always keep my ultimate goal in mind, but I like to let the story develop organically rather than forcing it into a specific stream. I tend to write several chapters, then experience a pause as I work out where to go next. I suspect most pantsers follow this “write and pause” pattern while fewer plotters do. I think good books can be written in either way. It probably also depends on the genre. A thriller or mystery needs more plotting than a pure adventure novel. For me, however, knowing everything that’s going to happen in a story takes away much of the fun of writing it.
16) How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?
Reading is just so critical for writers. For one, it lets us know what has already been done in the fields where we write so that we don’t just repeat the clichés. It also inspires us, in two ways. I’m inspired when I read really good stuff because I’d like to be able to achieve that same level of skill. I’m also inspired when I read stuff that isn’t very good because I know I can do better and am determined to show it.
17) What piece of writing have you done that you’re most proud of and why?
That’s a hard one. I agree with what others have said before me. Writers’ stories and books are much like their children and we’re usually proud of them all, but in different ways. I’m proud of Swords of Talera because it was the first book I wrote that proved to be publishable. I’m particularly proud of Cold in the Light because I wrote it at a time when I had a lot of other responsibilities on my shoulders. I wrote that book in segments over a four year span because I had so many other things going on professionally and personally, but I think it still works as a uniform novel.
18) Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?
Every time a reader tells me that they’ve liked or connected with something I’ve written, it is memorable. I’ve treasured most, though, the sudden spontaneous outbursts that I’ve heard at times from readers. A woman reading one of my early short stories one day just looked up from the last page and said; “You know you’re really good.” I got an email from a guy one time who told me that he’d read a lot of horror fiction but that my descriptions in one story even made him wince. I could tell even through email that he was saying it with admiration. Those kinds of things just really warm a writer from the inside out.
19) The only book I’ve read of yours is Write with Fire—and I love it. I love your voice, your advice, the personal tone you had with us readers. How did you pull this book together?
Not only do I love to tell stories, but I actually learn best through the process of writing. Many of the articles in Write With Fire were written first as lessons for myself, to teach myself certain things about writing that I struggled with. Then, in 2002, I started writing a column called “The Writer’s Block” for Bret Funk’s The Illuminata newsletter, and I revised or expanded many of the bits I’d written for myself for publication as columns. After I’d sold my Talera fantasy trilogy to Borgo Press, the editor there, Robert Reginald, asked me what other projects I saw myself working on, and I told him I’d like to do a nonfiction collection about writing. This is what came together as Write With Fire.
20) What’s next for you? Where can we keep up with you, your words of wisdom and buy your books?
I’m working on a longish short story for a secret project involving several other writers, and I’m putting together a collection of my vampire fiction and poetry for Borgo Press. I still do an occasional column for The Illuminata, and I post about writing and reading frequently on my blog at http://charlesgramlich.blogspot.com. There are cover pictures and links for my books on my blog site. All of them are readily available at a number of places online, most easily at Amazon, Barnes & Noble online, and Wildside Press.
I’d like to thank you very much for having me on Louisiana Saturday Night. I appreciate the opportunity and I hope your readers will get something interesting out of it all. If anyone has follow up questions or questions of any kind they’re welcome to contact me through my blog. Or they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Take care.
I want to thank Dr. Charles Gramlich for taking the time to answer my many questions in wonderful detail. I urge you all to visit his blog--it's an interesting read. If you'd like to read more about this author/professor and his books, click HERE.