Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Remembering Frank

My father-in-law, Frank Kanaskie, died a week ago, of a heart attack, on 19 March 2022 at the age of 94. He was one of the good ones – one of those “luckiest people in the world people;” a person who needed people. He made and kept many friends all throughout his long life. For example, he was the grocery manager of a butcher shop, and had teen age stock boys working part time under him. Many of those stock boys remained lifelong friends of his. Though he loved life – he often mentioned his sadness that all his lifelong buddies had proceeded him in death. His stage 5 kidney failure meant that he could not eat his favorite foods, and a very painful bad back meant that he could not walk without pain, and not much further than a couple hundred feet, even with a walker. His short term memory was going as well, so conversations with him could be pretty circular. None of these aliments prevented him from taking his scooter down to play sheepshead with the other card playing residence of the senior housing facility where he and his wife of 50 years, Trudy, lived. In short, if I in his position, I would be wondering were death’s sweet sting was, he was still in love with life.

His first wife, and mother of his four children, Jean, died of cancer when my wife was only 10 years old, and she was the oldest. Left with four young children to raise, he was lucky that his mother, “Granny” was also a people person who welcomed him and his children back home. His stepfather at least tolerated them – they served as this remote control for the TV in the evening. Still, if I was in that position… well, I give him credit as well. Frank and Granny raised them until he was introduced to Trudy ten years later – proposing to her on their first date and marrying her three months later. He was an impatient man, a man who wanted things done, ideally, right now.

I am sure that he would be diagnosed today with ADHD. He was always on the go, especially in his early years. My wife as some notes she took on their annual vacation with him when she was 12 years old. On the second day he woke the kids, telling them that it was 7:00 am. They later found out it was actually 5:00 am, but he was up as was the sun, so why waste the day in bed? And on vacation, it was one activity after another – no rest for the wicked. He never liked silence or just sitting around doing nothing, though as he aged into his 50’s, he came to enjoy reading. And though he never finished college, he loved to learn new things all his life.

He could play a variety of musical instruments by ear, but with ADHD he never had the patience to spend the hours of practice needed to become a musician. He envied handymen and artists and tried his hand those arts as well, but again, lacked the patience -- he judged his efforts against the work of decades and found his work too disappointing to continue. However, his great talent was as a people person, and he was great at that.

Another of his talents was the laying "guilt trips" on his daughters, though he called it “salesmanship.” He was a master salesman and for all his life, his wish was their command.

His greatest passion was golf. He was good at it, and played the game well into his 80’s, though I think his back was bothering him long before that. When he retired and could play golf whenever he wanted to, he still only played twice a week, which, in retrospect, I think is telling. His next greatest passion was sheepshead, and he could play that, and win money at it, until the very end of his life.

He was also one of those great fun-loving Grandpas, a favorite of all his grand and great grand children, and will be deeply missed by them. He was a dear friend of mine. He was always enthusiastic and supportive of my various ventures, be it selling tea mail order, painting, or writing books. In recent years he always asked about how my writing was coming, and read and enjoyed my books. We enjoyed talking religion even though we never agreed. Age, distance and covid reduced our contact to a few brief visits and telephone conversations over the last few years, Given the pain and reduced state he lived it, I can’t help but see his passing as a blessing. Though I know he would disagree with me on that too, even though he said he was ready. Still, death is the price we all must pay for life, and at 94, no one can kick about the price of a lifetime like his. While I know that I won’t ever see him again, he remains in my inner world right where he has always been – a great guy, a great friend and a great sheepshead player. Death doesn't change that.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Riding the (Virtual) Rails: Slovakia


photo credit:

Slovakia was the first former Easter Block country I visited virtually. I spent several months traveling the rail system of Slovakia, the southern half of the former Czechoslovakia. I found the differences between Slovakia and, say, France or Germany, quite stark. To begin with, Slovakia is a noticeably less prosperous country than the western countries I traveled through. The towns and cities, the sliver of which one can see from the cab of a train, I thought looked rather nondescript. Which is to say neither ancient or modern, seemingly no national architectural style. The stations do not seem to have large parking lots – the people leaving the train just followed a walkway or a dirt path into town. 

photo credit

This was the first country I traveled in that had “halts” along the branch lines – basically some concrete blocks alongside the rails to form a low embankment where the passengers would embark. They might have a three sided shelter, think of bus stops in the middle of the countryside, with any town that they were serving completely out of sight. This is another country where the station masters are out of their offices to see every train go by, and where, on the branch lines, there are those huts on either side of the station where the tracks converge and must be switched manually. All the main lines are electrified, though some of the branch lines run diesel engines and can be very twisty. Some of the trains just creep along, so here's a pro tip: you can speed up the train by viewing the video at up to 2X speed, a setting in the on screen setting icon. It helps on some of the very boring routes, if you happened to be a completest like myself.

photo credit:

I don’t wish to be too harsh on Slovakia. It is a beautiful country, indeed all of Easter Europe seems to be. I don’t know how the political situation and tourist accommodations fare in these countries, but these countries are certainly worth visiting. One of the great things about Slovakia via Youtube trains is that you can travel on just about every route. See map below. The routes in yellow are the routes available from this Youtuber:


All of the routes are identified with a number, which is the train route number. Using the map below, you can identify what routes you might want to take. It is a whole lot easier than looking up every city on Google Maps. (If you can read the numbers, that is. This is the best that I can do.

In your travels around Slovakia you will catch glimpses of ancient castles on the hills, and deer running across the tracks. There is a train that takes you up to a sky resort in winter. And it has plenty of hills, and farmland to travel through. As always, if you want to pick and choose the most scenic rides, consult a topographical map to see where the mountains are, and take a trip through them.

photo credit:

Friday, March 11, 2022

Mini-Review Too Much Like Lightning


Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer – DNF

This one is on me. I’m sure it is a very creative and creatively written story – the first volume of a four book series – but its narrative style was just too ornate and disjointed for me to get into. Sometimes it was in first person, and other times it seemed like the first person narrator stepped back and was relating incidents of the story that they weren’t present in third person. The first 10% or so that I read suggested that the books offered lots of original concepts, indeed, too many for this old man. You would have to put more effort into reading this book than I cared to put into it. As I said, that’s on me. I read light entertaining books for light entertainment. Deep philosophical musings don’t interest me. Dark and horror stories don’t interest me. And I really don’t like being lost in a story -- wondering what the hell is going on -- which I was, more or less, in this one. Oh, I got the basics of the plot – some sort of machine --  a transporter --  is in the hands of the wrong people, and our narrator is tasked with finding it and getting it back. What that has to do with toy soldiers that come alive was not clear in the first 10%,  But I guess I didn’t care enough about either that or the narrator, and their ornate style of narrating the story to push on. It was just too much work.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Opening Lines


Several weeks ago one of the blog I look in on, Fantasy writer Mark Lawrence, had a blog post where he listed most of the first lines of his books. I thought quite a few of them were really good – I like clever writing. For example:

From his book, Dispel Illusion

The two saving graces of explosions are that from the outside they’re pretty and from the inside they’re quick.

From his book, Prince of Fools

I’m a liar and a cheat and a coward, but I will never, ever, let a friend down. Unless of course not letting them down requires honesty, fair play, or bravery.

Writers are told that first lines are very important, one of keys to hooking a reader. And yet, in all my years as a reader, I can recall only one set of opening lines that I recall. They were the lines from Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey:

It began with my father not wanting to see the Last Rabbit and ended up with my being eaten by a carnivorous plant. It wasn’t really what I’d planned for myself – I’d hoped to marry into the Oxbloods and join their dynastic string empire.”

And to be honest, I think those lines would likely have sent just as many readers packing, as they did drawing them further into the story.

The truth is that I don’t think first lines are all that important. Oh, it’s nice to have a clever opening to a story, but are they critical? I doubt it. In fact, I think closing lines are more important, as they set the tone for what people remember of the book. I pay more attention to closing lines than opening lines. In fact, I already know the closing lines for the story that I’m writing, even though I'm less than a third into at this point.

That said, I do make an effort to come up with what I hope are engaging opening lines, but their nature depends on how I am opening the story. Sometimes my openings are just setting the stage – so the lines are simply descriptive, serving only that purpose. I sometimes open with dialog, and so they’re dialog. And occasionally I try to be clever and teasing. In any event, below are the opening lines of my published novels along with opening lines from works that have never, or not yet been finished.

I'll start with some of my early unpublished works going back to 1980’s and 90’s.

The Hybrid-Worlder (unpublished novella)

Within the Knym-sooh the air was heavy and aromatic with the flavors of Chantsom Yea.

Death on Glou’Ay (unpublished short story)

The cosmicpolitan worlds – while retaining their singular character – have become rounded and smooth from their long intercourse with the many other famous hominoid worlds; like pebbles on a seashore.

The Brigand Sea-Prince (unpublished fantasy novel)

We stood in silence – waiting – within the dimly illuminated bowls of what looked to the lower hold of a vast galleon. It was, however, the Great Hall and Throne Room of the sea-raiders of Ividish’fa.

The Poisoned Coast (YA Novel)

Read this,’ snapped Cory, bursting into my room.

He slapped a sheet of paper down on the solar power panel I was working on.

I could probably dig up more scraps, but let’s move on to my more recent stuff.

Some Day Days 

The scent of grass and warm stone laced with fleeting wisps of chatter and laughter drifted through the open window, moving the curtains ever so slightly, without shattering the stillness of my room.

A Summer in Amber

Not yet 8:30, and the morning was bathwater warm and nearly as moist. It'd be tropical by noon.

The Bright Black Sea

'You'll see my ship safely – and profitably, mind you – around and back. Am I making myself clear, Litang?'

The Lost Star’s Sea

Can you dream pain?

Fear, yes. I felt that, but was the sharp splinter of pain in my head part of the dream as well?

Beneath the Lanterns

The golden light of dusk day slanted through the pine boughs to splash down on the blue shadowed road before me.

Sailing to Redoubt

I clung to the railing on the tilting deck. The horizon would not stay still.

The Prisoner of Cimlye

...And your packet of Can-Fi Savory Biscuits, 49 coras, brings your total to...’ I pulled the lever on the adding machine, ‘279 coras.’ I wrote the total on the sales slip, looked across the counter, smiled, and waited…

The Secret of the Tzaritsa Moon

I signed aboard the Tzaritsa Moon as her second engineer. I ended up a toaster repairman. I was very lucky.

An earlier story that became the opening set of events for Tzaritsa Moon has this variation of that same opening:

I took my first steps in becoming a toaster repairman aboard the Aphar Hawk, nine days out of Gan Dou orbit. And I don’t believe that I’ve ever stepped faster in my life.

The Secrets of Valsummer House

Pine Cove had its secrets. Little ones. And one big, dangerous one. It took Patrol Lieutenant Vaun Di Ai, Intelligence Analyst 3, to uncover its big and dangerous one. It would. Them girls with pretty faces and inquiring minds.

The Shadows of an Iron Kingdom

I’d like to believe that I can take the rough with the smooth. I didn’t complain about the hundred petty inconveniences of the Iron Kingdom. Not too much. It was the werewolves, superhumans, and mad scientists who haunted its black forests and ruined castles that got to me. Still, what did I expect in the company of Vaun Di Ai?

The Aerie of a Pirate Prince ( unfinished 9 Star Neb Mystery/adventure)

It wasn’t my fault. For more than three years I’d been quite content to leave the infamous Alantzian System’s pirate princes to their own un-Unity Standard devices.


The taste of claustrophobic panic as the pod closed around us clung to the back of my throat. The sharp pricks of pain as Molly’s claws clutched my chest still lingered. And yet, if everything had gone right, those sensations would have been twelve thousand, nine hundred and fourteen Martian years old. But everything hadn’t gone right.

Sian (unfinished sequel to Keiree)

Grrrrrrr,’ warm breath on my ear. {Feed me} in Molly’s vocabulary.

Go away,’ I mumbled, turned the other way, and jerked the blanket over my head. I wasn’t ready to get up. I wasn’t planning to.

I felt Molly land on top of me, and pulling back the blanket with one clawed paw leaned close, and said, ‘Grrrrrr’ in her deepest, most menacing tone.

No,’ I mumbled.

No” was a concept Molly has never mastered. I doubt she ever tried.

I could feel her warm, moist breath of her mouth around my ear. And then the little pricks of her teeth as she began to close her mouth on it.

One thing you don’t say to Simla cats, at least not to Molly, is “Don’t you dare,” because she will dare. I didn’t care much about anything. But I didn’t care to lose an ear.

A Night on Isvalar

The name’s Riel Dunbar. I’m second mate of the interstellar freighter, Tarina. I’ve been a starfer – a starfarer – for something like 37 years. Perhaps not the most ambitious starfer, but the second mate’s berth suits me. It’s a responsible position. And if it doesn’t pay as well as a first mate’s berth, it comes with half the headaches.

Villain & Botts (Unfinished work)

A broad chested, grey bearded man in a black spaceer's uniform with silver trim swept into the Astra Automation's elegant showroom accompanied by a tall woman in a soft white and silver outfit that shimmered as she walked and Temta, one of the salespersons. Could either of these be my owner, Viletre Viseor?

Velvet Island Nights (Unfinished work)

'Good morning gang,' I sang out cheerfully with a wave of my umbrella as I strolled into the Exports Section of the Bureau of Trade, Department of Statistical Studies of the Island of Larrendia Governmental Office. 'The sun is high, the sky blue, the breeze balmy, the birds cheerful, and our workweek is in its last gasp. What do you say we take our morning break early and savor this wonderful morning as it should be savored – out of doors, and in the shade of LeVara's Cafe with his best Janvar bean caf? The reports can wait an hour.'

Rust in the Dust (Fragment of an unfinished work)

Twenty-seven books will not fill a wall of bookshelves, not even the wall of a very cozy dormer office under the rafters of Croft Hall, Wayscross University. This came as not a complete surprise to me. I had hoped, however, that by artistically spreading my twenty-seven books out across the shelves – displaying the larger volumes cover out – I might create the impression that the shelves were more filled than they actually were. Sadly, this proved not to be the case. Indeed, rather than disguising my scarcity of books, it seemed to emphasis the barrenness of the shelves – each book a lonesome cry of despair.

Inlowpar Stars (Unfinished work)

Greetings, Zenabya. Broke enough to consider going back to work yet?’ pinged the auton Cline Carr, of the Starfarers’ Guild Hiring Hall on Kantea Island.

Taef and the Sorceresses (A fragment a page long)

The gods have their places. They’re welcome to rule the dead unseen under the ground or reign high in the sky. They may torment or reward the living hidden behind the masks of natural events or make mischief in the myriad coincidences of everyday life. As long as they stay invisible, and in their proper places, humans embrace or ignore them as they choose. But, should a god should step out of its proper place… Ah, then, things get complicated.

And finally, just as a tease, here is the current first lines from my work in progress. Talk about setting the stakes!

The long red tram crossed Crane House Lane and disappeared behind Villiers House, sealing my fate. I’d be late for work. I slowed to a walk and took another bite of toast. I found that I didn’t care. It was that kind of day,