Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Friday, March 17, 2023

The Making of a Cover, Part Three

Let’s address the elephant in the room. This is a silly painting for a book cover, especially one for a story that purports to be an espionage & science fiction adventure story. What gives?

What gives is that this is an expression of the great joy of writing and publishing your own work. You can do whatever you damn well please. The painting illustrates, with some artistic license, the opening lines of the book. And the opening lines of the book are me thumbing my nose at the received wisdom of what an opening line should be these days in a traditionally published novel. The fashion in books today is to have a opening “hook” to draw the agent, editor, and eventually, the reader into the story, like a fish. The opening should have a worm, a barbed hook, or intriguing lure. Of course you still have to land the fish, but let’s leave this analogy aside, and move on…

One of the many things that bug me about today's fashion in books, is the perceived necessity of hooking a reader with a dramatic, and often violent, opening scene. Sometimes this is in the form of a prologue, sometime this is a scene taken from the middle of the book that then has to be then walked back. and sometimes a writer just starts their book in the middle of the action and explains it later. The idea is to raise the stakes in order to draw in the reader. I’m not saying that it doesn’t work, only that it doesn’t work for me. In the case of The Girl on the Kerb, I deliberately decided to make my opening stakes trivial, by having my main character oversleeping and finding that he is going to be late for work. Basically, it's a private joke, but I write what amuses me, so it works, for me. And I’m willing to let the chips fall where they might.

The cover is in the same vein. There are more than a few exciting scenes in the story, but the overall tone of the book is similar to all my others; lighthearted and very retro, despite it being set in the far distant future. The cover is about as far away from science fiction as you can get, and this is somewhat deliberate, as I will be "marketing" this as an espionage novel first, SF second. While my regular readers are used to my covers, who knows how this cover will be perceived by readers not familiar with my work. My theory is that my covers, being different than the run of the mill books in the genres, makes the WTF nature of it stand out as something different, something worth investigating. That's my story, anyways. On to the cover.

Below is the original piece of art I painted for the cover. I take these photos of the art outside, and as a result the photo captures some of the blue of the sky, which usually gives the resulting photo of the piece of art a blue cast that has to be color corrected. The photo below is before I corrected for color, so the blues are bluer in the photo than they are on the paper.

As I mentioned in my last post about this cover, the painting is just the first step. After I take a photo of it and upload it into Gimp, where I can play around with it, changing tone, colors, crop and edit details. Below are the various versions I tried. In them you can see how I played around with color, tone, size and orientation it order to capture the mood I wanted to give to the cover - that of a carefree spring morning.

In this first attempt, above, I've brightened the painting, toned down the blues and upped the yellows to create a bright spring morning look. I faded the colors of the tram and distant buildings in the distance to create a greater sense of distance. And finally, I added the cartoon effect to sharpen everything up a bit.

In the next version above, I dialed back the brightness of the yellows, did not fade the distance, and upped the blues a bit. The cover is cropped slightly different as well. Things like this come down to a matter of taste and experimentation. It works pretty well, but I was afraid that the printed version would be too dark and dull.

In the version above I've brightened things up again, making the colors more saturated, in anticipation of the colors getting duller when printed on a matte cover. The distant buildings are a bit more faded, the tram less so. Plus, the crop is different, making the figure of Henri Hardy a little larger.

In the above version I've died back the brightness a bit and enhanced the blue in the shadows. The black outlines are a little stronger. The crop is a little wider so the character is a little smaller.

In this, the current final version of the art, I've once again dialed back the blues, and the black outlines. I have fixed up the tram so that it has more regular features and straightened it roofline a bit. The crop is closer, so the figure is larger again.

As you can see, these are minor variations, each has its pluses and minuses. It's take your pick. And one of the factors in taking your pick, is knowing that what you see on your computer screen is not exactly what your printed copy will look like, even if you have a color calibrated screen, which I don't. Images often look darker when I open an image in another context like the Amazon listing, so I'm not afraid to make my images pretty bright, confident that they won't be too bright at the end of the process. In addition to the image on a glowing screen is going to look different on a matte paper book cover. And those covers might be a little different every time the book is run. Being print on demand books, subtle differences in color can occur. For some reason my dozen author copies of my most recent release were printed at two different plants, and there was a slight difference in colors between the two editions. The nice thing about self publishing is that you can tweak things as you go, even paperback covers, since there is no long press run. (I saw a YouTube video recently where the cover had an error in it, a quote from H P Lovecraft, without the quote, so they had to place a sticker with the quote above his name on the cover. Having been in the print and newspaper industry, things like that happen. Somehow.)

If you look closely at the actual cover of the printed book above and compare it to the final version on the top of the page, you will see that I've tweaked the back blurb a bit. Not that it matters, since I do not expect anyone to find this book in a bookstore and turn it over to read what the story is about. The back blurb is there, just because that is how things are done in the real world.

Not being a patient fellow, and not wanting to wait 2 to 3 weeks after my announced release date for my author copies of the books to arrive, The Girl on the Kerb trade paperback is now, quietly, available for $11.99 on Amazon ( Here ) in order to get my copies as soon as possible, hopefully next week. My beta readers will get their copies a week or so after that. You, dear reader, are welcome to get you own paper copy now.


Friday, March 10, 2023

The Girl on the Kerb Coming 6 April 2023!


"The red 8:25 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 I didn’t care. It was that kind of day."

Henri Hardy, The Girl on the Kerb

It took several months for Henri Hardy to discover just what type of day it really was. It was more than a day when his alarm clock failed to ring. It was more than an unusually mild day in early spring. It was a prelude to undreamed of changes in his life as an analytical engineer in the Ministry of Innovation. It was a prelude to travel, adventure, danger, and romance.

Fifteen hundred years before that day, a devastating plague swept across the planets, moons, and space ships of Earth’s solar system spanning civilization. It ended space travel and forced the surviving population of the resource depleted Earth to live at a near 20th century level of technology, while endlessly recycling the remains of their once highly advanced civilization. To that end, every aspect of their society governed by an elaborate set of laws known as the Code.

But not everyone is content to live at the reduced level of technology dictated by the Code. There are those who dream of returning to space and the planets. Once such person is the Administrator of EuraEast, the Duchess of Fauconcourt. She has made it clear that she intends to alter the Code, one way or another to that end, much to the alarm of the neighboring regions’ administrators. So when an illegal flying machine, crashes in EuraEast comes to the attention of the administrators of EuraCentre and EuraNorthwest, they recruit two amateur agents; Jeanne Murat, an expert in EuraEast, and Henri Hardy, to travel as a team to EuraEast seeking the evidence needed to compel the World Government to preemptively act to foil the Duchess’ dangerous ambitions. Murat and Hardy soon discover that not only had their governments selected them as a team, fate had as well.

Nevertheless, their mission to EuraEast goes south almost immediately, propelling them into one perilous situation after another, even as they seek to uncover the Duchess’ secret plans.

The Girl on the Kerb is a new full length novel from the pen of C. Litka. It blends a far future world with a nostalgic past in an espionage novel filled with intrigue, adventure, and romance, told in his classic lighthearted style. Like all his novels, it features engaging characters, witty dialog, meticulous world-building, and mysteries to be solved in unexpected ways.

C. Litka’s novella Keiree is set on Mars after this same plague and in this same time period, so that The Girl on the Kerb can be read, not as a sequel, but as a companion piece to that story, answering the question of what happened on Earth? And vice versa.


The ebook version will also be available on Amazon, Smashwords, and Google on 6 April 2023. It should be available on Apple, B & N, and Kobo within a week or so after the initial release date once it clears Smashword's premium program process.

As always, the ebook version will be a FREE book on Smashwords, Google, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and a number of other European ebook stores. 

The audiobook version will also be FREE on the Google Play Store.

The Amazon ebook version will have a list price of $3.99. Amazon may match the free price some time down the road. That's up to them.

The trade paperback version will be available on Amazon for $11.99

Friday, March 3, 2023

My February Reading


The Razor’s Edge by W Somerset Maugham  A

This is my third Maugham book, and I really enjoyed this story. It is my favorite of his so far. It is mostly a character study of supposedly real people deeply disguised. It might be, Maugham had used real people and events, slightly disguised as characters in his earlier novels. There are several people who either claim to be or have been suggested to be the real characters, but if so, he as taken such great liberties with their real life as not to matter.

The story follows the life of a young American from Chicago who comes back from World War One changed. He has friends and good prospects, but all he wants to do is “loaf” as he tells his friends. He is in love with a young woman who also loves him, but she can’t understand why he doesn’t seem to want to work to make something of himself, given that he has friends who will give him the opportunity to do just that. The "Maugham" in the story meets this young man because he has a friend who is the uncle of the young woman. This friend, an American, got rich by brown nosing his way into European society, mainly the society of lonely wealthy widows, and dealing in art – selling the painting of hard pressed European aristocrats to wealthy American millionaires. We follow the lives of these people, and meet others along the way, as periodically throughout the 1920’s & 30’s Maugham encounters them in his life. We discover  how the young man lives and what he is looking for. And that’s it – Maugham’s engaging writing and his interesting characters make for an excellent story.

Fated, An Alex Verus Novel by Benedict Jaka  C+

I came across this book on Mike’s Book Review YouTube channel. He was asking viewers what fantasy series he should read next. This one, a 12 book series, is an urban fantasy set in London. As you may have gathered, I am a big fan of London, and so it interested me simply because it was set in London. I looked it up on the library website and the ebook version of it was available, so I picked it up.

The premise is that there are wizards and other types of magical people and creatures in our familiar world. I’m not sure if it supposed to be our world, or an alternate version of it where magic is well known. Since he makes a sly reference to Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, whatever that world is, so is this one. My C+ rating reflects the fact that while I enjoyed the narrator and characters, this is really not my type of story. The story is fast paced and the narrator fulfills what I really like in a story – a character that I can enjoy traveling alongside of through the book. All to the good. What doesn’t click with me is my typical fantasy complaints, namely that with magic, an author can  their your character a special trait to pull out when he or she seems doomed. That and the fact that the hero can never totally defeat evil, since it is need for the next book in the series. In this story, all the utterly cruel and ruthless people the hero betrayed, just decide to let him be after their plans are defeated. No doubt we’ll see them again. And again. The library seems to have more or less the complete collection, so I might read the next book, someday. Who knows, anything can happen even in the non-magical world.

Comanche Moon by Larry McMurtry  C+

This is the second book, chronologically, in the Lonesome Dove series of four books, but the last written. This takes place about ten years after Dead Man Walk, starting a few years before the Civil War and ending after that war. One might call this a sweeping tale of the old west. But in reality, it's an interconnected series of little tales of the old west, some concluded, others left hanging. We have our two main characters of Lonesome Dove, Woodrow Call and Augustus, Gus, McCrea who are now veteran Texas Rangers, but perhaps because they are more thoroughly explored in Lonesome Dove, they remain rather sketched in, Call especially. Many minor characters are more developed than the two key characters.

To be honest, before I finished the book I had started the review, and had it pegged as a B- book, a minus mainly because of McMurtry’s signature style, i.e. that of a bee or humming bird flirting from one flower to the next, or in the case of McMurtry, from the mind of one character to the next, restlessly, within a chapter, and from chapter to chapter, which can get tiring after 590 pages or so. While this technique allows the reader to get to know something of all the characters, it is doled out in small and often incomplete doses. Indeed, major things happen to characters that are never explained, even though he spent pages exploring little things about them. Moreover, he will sometimes start a story arc with a character and never finish it. Perhaps that is intentional making the readers think about the story without any resolution. He did, after all, win the Pulitzer Prize for Lonesome Dove, so this can't be a problem for most. Still, I have to wonder is he just didn’t know where to go with it. In any event, it loses points in my book.

The book is divided into three books, each focusing on a different main story, with all the continuing characters tagging along. I was getting pretty weary by the end of the second book, but the third books starts fresh with the civil war, and I thought, well, this should be interesting. However, it is more of the same, with a great deal of confusion thrown in. It seemed like Texas had joined the Confederacy, and yet the Rangers were riding with “Blue Coats”, which I take to be American soldiers, i.e. Union soldiers. And, well, it skips through the war pretty briskly, in McMurtry’s signature style of snippets, of character and action. And yet, despite this hopping about, the book still dragged, with pages of the thoughts of minor characters, that I began to skip past. So for me, McMurtry did not stick the landing, leaving his main characters walking across Texas, failing again to achieve their mission, hence the final C+ rating.

Lonesome Dove is next up, but to tell the truth, I’m not really looking forward to it. We’ll get to it, but I’m going to take a month or two or more off before tackling 858 pages of small text.

NOTE the story depicts violence, killing, rape, and graphic torturer.

Life Class by Pat Barker  C

Looking for something new to read, I searched the library website for “London Historical Fiction” and came up Noonday by Pat Barker set in London during the blitz. While the blurb said it could be read as a standalone novel, it features characters from two other books, Life Class and Toby’s Room. Despite my rather disappointing experience with the Lonesome Dove series, I decided to start at the beginning rather than the end, and read Life Class.

Part one of the story follows two main point of view characters, Paul and Elinor who are art students at the Slade School of Art in London in the summer of 1914, along with two other characters, a young successful artist, Neville, and Teresa, a model (for artists to draw). We have a love affair and a love triangle of sorts with both Neville and Paul in love with Elinor, or maybe not. Paul, though a point of view character is either opaque or wish-washy. Actually both. Part two follows Paul as he goes to war working for the Red Cross as a dresser (one who bandages the wounds) and an ambulance driver. We get a slice of the human price of war in the field hospital, and letters between he and Elinor as she pursues her art career in London and a tentative affair.

Pat Baker is an award winning British author of the Regeneration Trilogy. Life Class is the first book in another trilogy about young English characters. English author, English characters, first book of three, perhaps those factors explains the rather cool and colorless characters, and the rather pointlessness, and damp squib of an ending for this story. While we sometimes get the thoughts of the two point of view characters, and have their thoughts expressed in their exchange of letters, they remained, to me anyway, ciphers. I never could quite make out what they were thinking since their attitudes seemed to shift constantly even if we were privileged to view their thoughts. Often, however, we had to rely on their dialog, which may well not have been fully honest. I expected more – more life in the story, and a more complete novel – than this book  turned out to offer.

The other thing I was hoping to find in this story is a taste of the times. A bit of Earl Grey’s line: "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time." in the writing. However, all that was mentioned was that people were talking about the crisis that lead to WW1, which apparently her characters didn’t care much about. There was little period atmosphere in the story, though I did learn that even in WW1 there was a blackout in London, complete with streetlights dimmed and searchlights in the sky. Still, it was a I believe a Big Thing, and recognized as such at the time, and that seems missing in this story, which does not bode well for a story set in the Blitz of WW2. All in all, I won’t be reading further.

The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk B-

What the heck? For someone who doesn’t like fantasy and has given up on SF, what’s yet another fantasy book doing on this list this month? If I can blame the last one on my love of London, I can blame this on on my love of tea. The TOR blog recently had a piece on books to read while drinking tea, and this book was the one to read while drinking Earl Grey tea. My daughter’s family spent a long week in London last fall (a long COVID delayed holiday) and for both Christmas and my birthday, I received gifts of tea from them, one of which was Twinings Strand Earl Grey, and the other Fortnum & Mason’s Earl Grey Classic, so I’ve been drinking Earl Grey tea. Thus, when I found that this book was available as an ebook from the library, I borrowed it. And I rather enjoyed it.

It is basically a regency romance with magic, as well as a story about the emancipation of women from men’s expectations. The setting is entirely fictional, though perhaps on a human colonized planet – just a guess from some subtle hints, though it doesn’t matter in the story. The story is set around something like the “coming out parties” of England, where the debutantes began their quest to find a suitable husband. In this story, that quest is quite specific, as arranged marriages to enhance the families’ fortunes was the open intent of the book's "Bargaining Season" setting. While both sexes can possess the talent to summon and take control of immaterial spirits whose various powers can be used as magic – with the proper training – females of childbearing age are forced to wear collars that suppress their magical powers, since the immaterial spirits that they have the talent to summon can take over a fetus in their womb uninvited, thus giving the immaterial spirit a real body without the control a human. They can become powerful monsters with a body of their own. The hero of the story is a young lady of a family on the verge of ruin who is expected to land a rich husband. But in doing so, she must give up her magical abilities, at least until she is old. She doesn’t want to give up her abilities, as so doesn’t want to marry… but falls in love anyway. Reconciling all these factors and finding her own way to what she wants is what the novel is about.

There are plenty of twists and turns, that, in the end are happily resolved, perhaps a bit too sugary sweetly, but then, it is a romance, after all, and romances require happily ever after endings. But still, it is a light, entertaining read. Nothing too grim and dark here.

Friday, February 24, 2023

The Making of a Cover, Part Two

In my previous post I described how I put together my first cover, creating it more or less as a fun project to use on the beta versions of the manuscript. However, this past summer I decided to revert to a single, uniform design for all my covers – wrap around painted artwork for the paper version with two simple boxes. The collage version was neither painted nor did it wrap around, so I needed a new cover for the published edition.

I have also posted about my first attempt to produce this painted cover. I'd chosen a scene just a few paragraphs into the story, but the complicated street scene proved too challenging for my talents, so I eventually abandoned it. Below is penultimate version of the painting before I abandoned it.

My first attempt, a pencil sketch, with some color, and some pencil revisions (i.e. a larger, closer tram)

Having abandoned my first attempt, I needed to come up with a) a scene from the book, or a general scene that would convey the mood of the book, and b) one that I could actually paint. Both of these requirements where a challenge. The latter because I haven’t been painting more than the covers of my books for three or four years now, and I’m out of practice. Really out of practice. You’d think you’d not forget how to paint, but it seems that I have. The former was just as problematical, in that it would be very hard to capture the mood of the story – or a scene from the story, with my talents.

Since the story takes the characters into the steppes of Ukraine, and includes incidents that involved traveling in cars, I considered a scene with a car driving down a narrow, dusty road – grass and wildflowers on either side, and a whole lot of sky above. I had painted similar scenes without the car before. Here's one example of what I was thinking about.

But without the ocean and hills. Just the foreground and sky.

While this seemed doable, I feared that the car might give me trouble, given my impressionist style of painting. As I said in the post about the first cover, if you paint in an impressionist style, you want to make sure that viewers know that your lack of attention to details is deliberate, not a result of incompetence, so painting something that looked like a car in the free, impressionist style would be a challenge. I was also having trouble designing the painting that would wrap around the print version. I needed the action - the car - on the front cover so the road would have to go to the left, as in the painting above, but where to put the car and how big in needed to be without it being lost... I hesitated.

Then one Saturday I happened upon the paintings of Grant Wood, and more specifically, his birds-eye view of Iowa. Below is one such painting, or rather it seems to be an oil sketch for a painting that I've yet to find the finished version of. I'm using it here because I think it the best of the series of such paintings,  I've never found a finished painting that is, in my opinion, as good as the sketch. I like the freedom of sketches over the more rigorous painting of the final version. Anyway, the sketch:

Grant Wood oil painting

Seeing those paintings got me to thinking. Could I take the same approach? Could I use a birds-eye view of flat farm fields stretching into the great distance of the steppes, conveying the vastness of a major setting in the book. It seemed doable, from my talent point of view, and in keeping with my general policy of going for mood over specific scenes. So I painted the picture below.

The thing about covers is that the painting only represents a starting point. Once I’ve taken a photo of it and uploaded it to my computer, I can manipulate many aspects of the painting; its light or darkness, its tone, and colors. I can and do add lines for shading and sharpness. I can eliminate or alter things and crop it as I choose. Given the limits of my talent, all this comes in very handy.

I went to work on the photo of this painting. Unfortunately I don’t have the complete paper cover of what I ended up with since I deleted the level it resided in, once I settled on the next cover. Gimp, as with most graphic programs, allows one to assemble an image in numerous layers. Each layer can be manipulated independently of the others. The cover art is my lowest level and I add things like the title box, book spine and back blurb box, as well as the text, each on its own layer on top of the cover art. At some point, I decided to eliminate this layer from the stack once I had settled on the next version. All I have is the front cover/ebook cover version of that cover, but it does show what I did to enhance the painting for the cover.

As you can see from the sky and fields, I lightened and brightened the painting, shifting its tone more to the yellows. I also added, as I usually do, some slight black lines to the painting using the "cartoon" filter in Gimp. This tends to sharpen the image, and give it a little texture or shadows. I also brightened and enhanced the plume of dust behind the car on the road.

As for the  painting itself, it was supposed to represent the largely flat steppes of what is now Ukraine with a village and a large estate on a ridge in the distance, that is one of the scenes in the story. However, in the end, I decided that this was not very good artistically speaking, and too abstract for the cover of the book, so I moved on to the version of the cover that I revealed several weeks ago. In the next and last instalment of this series, I'll talk about that cover, and show all the subtle ways a painting can be manipulated, since I still have something like four or five variations of that cover still potentially active in Gimp version of the cover. 

Friday, February 17, 2023

The Making of a Cover, Part One

On a whim, I submitted the manuscript that has become The Girl on the Kerb, to the British SF publisher Gollancz during a rare open window for manuscripts without agents, back in June 2022. They said I could expect to hear back from them in 6 to 9 months. This left me with a lot of time on my hands, and well, idle hands being the devil’s workshop, I’ve used the last 7 months plus to play around with all aspects of this book, including some significant revisions. In this and in two future posts, I will detail my extended efforts to create a cover for the book that began as EuraEast.

Below is the first version of the cover. For the background I used a 1913 copy of A Satchel Guide to Europe and one of the maps included in the guide book. The only thing I altered, is changing the “To Europe” on the book to read “To EuraEast” in Gimp, a free PhotoShop like program.

First cover, with its first title.

I thought the red book made the cover too dark, so I reluctantly changed it to blue. In addition, thinking that this cover was too plain, I went on to make a collage of it, adding several more elements to it that I created in Gimp. The first of these were Press ID’s from the fictional Gazette de Paree for my two main characters. Jeanne Murat and Henri Hardy (AKA Henri Tardy).

In researching Russian country houses for the story, I came across the photo below of a Russian family in the late 1800’s.  

Photo credit:

For some reason the daughter on the far left struck me as looking something like the vague idea of Jeanne Murat that I had in my head. I try to leave the image of all my characters up to each and every reader, but sometimes I do have an image in my head, and this unknown young woman, seemed to be Murat, though the braided hair she sometimes wears in the story also comes from how a host on YouTube sometimes wears her hair. Needing a mug shot, I decided to use this young woman on my ID card for Murat. For Hardy, I used an old photo of my late father-in-law, Frank, as he looked in his early 30’s. Frank was always an enthusiastic supporter of all my efforts, so this is a little tribute to him. Being small, I felt that they would not influence the readers' ideas of the characters too much.

I made the ID press cards from scratch. I found the globe graphic and designed them myself. I thought they came out pretty good. Missed my calling as an ID card designer.

In addition to the press cards, I created a newspaper clipping that is part of the story, with a murky photo of what was supposed to be a crashed flying machine. For the photo of the crash, I used a picture I took when I was 8 years old with my Kodak brownie box camera of a train derailment, and made it murky, knowing that most of it would be covered up by the guide book. I then added some shadows to give the effect of collection being in 3D, resulting in the cover below.

This then was my first complete cover. However, as I said, I had time on my hands, time to make changes, the first being to change the name of the novel to The Road to EuraEast because as I was writing it, I felt that it had a certain Hope and Crosby road picture feel to the story. At least that was something I was aiming for. Several months later, I changed the title again while I was querying agents. Being aware of a long series of books that have “The Girl” in the title, and thinking that the agents might actually be familiar with those books even as I doubted that more than one or two of the agent were old enough to be familiar with Hope and Crosby’s road pictures, I changed it to The Girl on the Kerb. And while the title does refer to one aspect of the story, I made this change with my tongue firmly in my cheek. This was one of several little jokes, including the novel’s opening lines setting out the stakes, that I did just to poke some purely private fun at the publishing world and its expectations.

However, after making this cover, I decided to revert to my original idea of having all my books have a standard cover design, as my trademark branding. In the last several years, I had drifted away from that idea, looking to make them appear more modern. I decided to return to my original standard and to do so very rigorously. That meant that not only would this cover have the standard size title & author box on the cover, but that it would have to be a painted cover as well to match all the other books, So, as the cover, the collage version was out. Unwilling to give it up entirely, I am using it as the first page in the paper version, below.

In the next installment, I will describe the creation of the first two attempts at a painted cover, both of which failed in one way or another.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Happy Birthday Sally!


We have a lot of February birthdays in the family, and today it's my dear wife's 72nd birthday. And since she has a new portrait photo, I thought I would post it here today on her birthday. Friends for nearly 50 years, married for nearly 45, mother of our two fine children, grandchildren to two more, she's my editor, proofreader, and partner for life. Love'ya Sal.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Happy 99th Birthday Mom!


Here's a picture of my mother on her 99th birthday. She's starting her 100th year looking good.
Happy Birthday Mom. Love you. And many more!

Friday, February 10, 2023

Exploring London From Home


The future has proven to be something of a mixed bag for me. Still no Jetson style flying cars, and, to be perfectly honest, I’m getting a little discouraged about that. I’m beginning to think that I may not live long enough to own a flying car. On the other hand, we have the internet, and YouTube. YouTube allows me to travel without leaving my house, which is the way I like to travel these days. 

A west end residential street

As I have posted several times before on this blog, I’ve been traveling all across Europe in the cabs of trains for the last three or more years, thanks to the train drivers who record their trips and post them on YouTube. This winter I’m only spending half an hour pedaling my bike on a stand in the house and virtually riding the rails as I do so, so I am rather slowly making my way around the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal, so it may take me most of the winter to travel all the routes I can find through those countries.

A small town center absorbed into Greater London

However, I have found a new place to explore, in a new, virtual, way. London. And from the upper deck front seat of London’s iconic double decker buses. It seems that people take videos of their trips across London on its hundreds of bus routes and post them on YouTube. So far I am riding along with only one of these passengers, whose channel is called Wanderizm. You can find their videos here:

Wanderizm also post videos of walks through various neighborhoods of London as well, if you want something more relaxing and detailed. There are other people posting bus ride videos as well, but Wanderizm posts a map of the bus route at the beginning of each video, and I am recording the routes I’ve ridden, as I do for my train rides, on a Frankensteinian map of London that I have pieced together from several dozen screen shots of Google Maps at a scale that at least shows every street. This has been a project of its own, but I have finally gotten a system down to keep the scale more or less consistant. Below is a photo of my map, with the routes I've taken in yellow.

Part of my Frankenstein map of Greater London, Routes I've ridden on so far are in yellow.

There are resources on the web that I think I could use to trace the routes that other such YouTubers post, even if they don't post maps, but for now, I’m sticking with Wanderizm until I’ve seen all of his. 

It is important to note that while you can place yourself on any street in London using Google's Street View, moving pictures are at least ten times more immersive than any still photo. The scene becomes truly alive since you can both see everything and everyone moving about, and hear the world you are traveling through. 

Dusk looking south to London from the surrounding hills.

As for London. Well, it’s been half a century since I was in London, and it has changed, like everything else. And it has changed a lot. Almost all of its many high-rise buildings have been built since I was there, and there are lots of high rise buildings these days in ol'London Town. I'm glad I visited it before they became so prevalent. And that I was also able to see a bit of "Dock Land" while it was still docks, and not high rise apartment buildings and such. 

On the other hand, much of it hasn’t changed much at all. There's still a lot of the old city wherever you go. And well, my bus trips have already taken me to so many parts of London that I never experienced when I was there, that every trip is an interesting adventure. I haven’t lived in a big city since Chicago in the early 1970’s, so big city life is a new experience for me. I am amazed at the thousands of small shops you find everywhere in the city, And of course, all those long streets lined with row house, grand, and modest, with long rows of "semi-detached" houses that were built in London's suburbs, as well as all the little town centers that have now been absorbed into Greater London in the last century. What is striking is the English fondness for trees and hedges in even the heart of London residential areas. 

The bus trips take you through rich areas, the poor areas, And you see people from all around the world and the old British Empire. And the fact that you rarely hear English being spoken on the buses. 

I like seeing where people live. I never bothered with museums, castles, and cathedrals when I was traveling about Britain 50 years ago, and it is the residential neigborhoods rather than the familiar hear of London that interest me today as well. So many places to explore…

Not the London I knew 50 years ago...

As for bus travel, well, it’s a whole lot more exciting than train travel. Even stressful. You have cars, cycles and scooters, bikes, lorries, and other buses navigating often very crowded and narrow streets. From the front of the bus, you can observe this often awkward dance of vehicles with a somewhat restricted view due to your position on the bus and the fact that it is being shot with a slight zoom lens, that has you just scraping by a stoplight when the bus makes its wide turn and hides cars and bikes in front of the bus. Plus, you can get stuck in traffic jams that can be annoying, even as a passenger. (Though you can skip ahead or view videos at 2X speed. Just saying.) All in all, a very different kind of travel from the hyper-controlled travel by train, but there’s something new every few seconds, unless you’re stuck in traffic. You can also play games like counting the number of KFC, McDonald’s, Dominoes, Subways or Starbucks you encounter on your trip. All in all, an interesting way to kill time, if you happen to have time that needs to be killed.

A city of shops

Friday, February 3, 2023

Cover Reveal for The Girl on the Kerb


"The red 8:25 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 I didn’t care. It was that kind of day."

Yes, the cover illustrates the opening lines of the novel. What can be more iconic? Or is it a case of any port in a storm? In any event, this, or a minor variation of this will be the book cover when I release it. I will likely devote a future posting to all my efforts to create a cover for this novel, but for now, I’ll just leave you with it, and the current (unproofread) version of the blurb for The Girl on the Kerb.

The Girl on the Kerb is a new full length novel from the pen of C. Litka. This time around he has written an espionage novel filled with intrigue, adventure, and romance, told in his classic lighthearted style. Like all his novels, it features engaging characters, witty dialog, meticulous world-building, and mysteries to be solved in unexpected ways.

C. Litka’s previous novella Keiree was set on a far future Mars some 700 Martian years after a deadly plague had devastated Earth's solar system spanning civilization, leading to its complete collapse and the end of all space travel. So how did Earth itself fare in this catastrophe? Set on Earth in roughly the same time frame, The Girl on the Kerb answers that question.

Suffice to say that with its population drastically reduced, its natural resources utterly depleted, Earth’s surviving population must survive by endlessly recycling the leftovers of its Solar Age. To do so they live with an extensive set of rules, known as the Code, which regulates every aspect of society.

But there are still those who dream of rebuilding the fabled Solar Age and returning to space. One such dreamer is the Duchess of Fauconcourt, the administrator of Europe's EuraEast Region, who seems willing to defy the Code to do so, much to the alarm of her European neighbors. When a large and very illegal flying machine crashes in EuraEast, the administrators of EuraCentre and EuraNorthwest see the hand of the Duchess in the incident. They recruit two amateur agents, Jeanne Murat, an expert in EuraEast, and Henri Hardy, an engineer, to travel as a team to EuraEast seeking evidence to compel the World Government to preemptively act and foil the Duchess’ dangerous ambitions.

 Fate, however, had already chosen Murat and Hardy...

But it was ill luck that had their mission to the east immediately go south. They quickly found themselves in one perilous situation after another, even as they sought to uncover the Duchess’ secret plans.

Coming Soon! 

Friday, January 27, 2023

Killer Angels, Mr Roberts and Sharpe


The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara A-

I’m rather late to the game with this book from 1974, but better late than never. Sometime back in the 1960’s I picked up Avalon Hill’s Tactics ll, and played a lot of wargames in my high school and collage years, and off and on since then, including a decade of playing Napoleonic miniatures. Over that period I have read some military history, but not extensively so. The thing about military history is that no matter what book you read about a battle or campaign, nothing ever changes. The same mistakes are made every time, so that what interest me more than the battles is the story of the leaders, and that is what The Killer Angels is about. I am somewhat familiar with the Battle of Gettysburg, I’ve gamed it a couple of times, so I had no need to read about it again. What Shaara does is touch on the overall situation and some of the key points of the battle to set the scene, but his main focus is on Generals Lee and Longstreet, with a few other Confederate generals, and the Union general Buford, and a Union colonel Joshua L Chamberlain who commanded a brigade that defended Little Round Top on the second day of the battle. Using extensive research and the memoirs of the people involved, he fictionally recounts the events of the three day battle from the viewpoint of these men. The fictionalization of the memoirs makes them more alive to readers a century after the event then the more “stilted” writing of another era by the men themselves. It was a compelling read.

Mister Roberts by Thomas Heggen A-

This was a reread, probably my third reading of this book. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s of the last century, we watched a lot of war movies on TV. Mister Roberts was certainly one of them, and one of the best of them. The book is just as good, if not better. It humorously recounts life aboard a US Navy cargo ship in the South Pacific during World War Two. Plying the backwaters of the conflict, boredom and indifference was the crew’s biggest enemy. The book is composed of short stories that mix humor, character studies, and philosophy based on Heggen’s three years of sea duty during the war. It’s an entertaining book, that seems to have some special appeal to me, for reasons I can’t place. My father served in the Pacific with the US Navy during the war, but it’s not like he ever talked about his service life. So I don’t know where the appeal comes from – but I did write my own set of stories set in a tropical ocean. It’s that powerful. In any event, you don’t need that affinity to the South Pacific to enjoy the book Recommended.

Sharpe’s Sword by Bernard Cornwell C+

This is book number 14 in Bernard Cornwell’s 23 book series concerning the doings of one Richard Sharpe, a soldier in the British Army from 1799 to 1821. There is a TV series based on these books, that I’ve not seen. The books largely concern themselves with the war against Napoleon, as Sharpe rises through the ranks from a private of an officer. This book concerns the British Army’s Salamanca Campaign in Spain in 1812. This is the first Sharpe book I have read, and the only one as an ebook from the library, which is why I’m jumping in at book number 14.

Cornwell writes very well researched and authentic stories of war, with a great deal of detail. Perhaps too much, for my taste since as someone who has read a number of books on the this type of battle, I am familiar with the horror involved. I found myself skimming parts of the descriptions of battles. A more significant sticking point for me, is the character of Sharpe. Sharpe is brave, resourceful, determined, adored by his subordinates, valued by his superiors, loved and bedded by the most attractive woman in the book, but nevertheless, I found him to be a rather colorless character. He is neither witty, nor clever, or entertaining. But what I really did not like most of all, is that Cornwell has Sharpe do something subtle in the battle, that swings the battle in the favor of the British. Without Sharpe, the battle might have been lost. I really dislike when authors have their fictional characters save the day in a historical battle. I've encountered that before. All in all these are minor quibbles, but they all add up. I will not be continuing on with Sharpe. However, next up is Cornwell’s non-fiction recounting of the battle of Waterloo. I expect it to be quite readable.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Monsters and Marches


The Rival Monster by Compton Mackenzie C+

This was the third novel in Penguin’s The Highland Omnibus I purchased a while back. I believe that I had read this story before, but remembered nothing of it. The story takes place four or five after Whisky Galore, and the end of World War Two. It includes many of the characters from both Monarch of the Glen and Whisky Galore. This story is focused on a rather farcical premise, namely that the Loch Ness monster was seen being struck by a flying saucer, and if not killed, it had been scared out of Loch Ness, since it had not been seen for months afterwards. However, a spade “monster” sighting by various people on the two Todday Islands of Whisky Galore fame, suggest that it may have fled to the islands. And I think the story suffers for this change of focus. The subtitle of the omnibus is “Three fine, furious farces from the forerunner of Tome Sharpe.” While all three may indeed be viewed as farces, the first two were focused more on the characters of the story, all of whom were “characters” in their own ways. The Rival Monster, on the other hand, is more focused on the premise of the story, how all the locals take it seriously, and the newspapers have a field day with the story. And such, I think it loses a lot of the charm of the first two stories, and becomes much more of a farce than the first two stories. I found it a less enjoyable story than the first two because of that. There are three more stories in this series, Keep the Home Guard Turning (1943),which was written before Whisky Galore (1947), and Hunting the Fairies (1949), written before The Rival Monster (1952), and Rockets Galore (1957). I am not certain if I have read the remaining three, save for Keep the Home Guard Turning, which I know I did read. I’m not sure if I will continue on or not. I have a number of long books on the TBR this days, so it won’t be for quite a while, if I do.

Dead Man’s Walk by Larry McMurtry C+

I enjoyed McMurtry’s writing, though he does buzz around like a bee flirting between characters, sometimes giving us what they’re thinking and other times not. Still you get to know them pretty well, and so, as a character focused reader, I was pretty happy with the characters, as each of them was a “character.” Where this book loses points is in the story itself. It is largely a one note symphony. And that note is foolish men doing stupid things, over and over again, paying a steep price each time, and eventually, for most of them, the steepest of prices. The story concerns two expeditions into the wilds of Texas in the early 1840’s by bands of Texas Rangers. These expeditions are ill led, ill prepared, and with one damn thing happening after another, one stupid decision after another, things don’t end well. I found that the reading gets a bit wearisome after awhile, despite McMurtry’s writing. In addition you have the sadistic Comanche war band leader who they meet time and again, and who bests them every time they meet. I believe that Texas is a big place, but no matter where they travel, he turns up. The main expedition is inspired by an unsuccessful invasion of New Mexico from Texas, and having gotten a handful of characters 700 miles away from Austin Tx, McMurty had to get the heroes of Lonesome Dove home again. And he does so in a sort of deus ex machina way. I’m hoping that the next book, set 20 years in the future is a bit more expansive and less repetitious.