Sunday, November 12, 2017

BEHOLD: THE MAD VISIONS OF AL-HAZRED!

My 2017 began in a challenging manner. Newly returned from a long hospital stay and working on a novelization of the classic made-for-TV movie I'd been hired to write, The Day After Tomorrow: Into Infinity, my creative batteries were somewhat depleted. Editor H. David Blalock had rolled out his usual wonderful welcome for me to submit to his third Lovecraftian anthology for the fine folks at Alban Lake Publishing -- I'd been accepted into the first two, and this year's focused around the mysteries and horrors concerning the fictional "Mad Arab", Abdul Al-Hazred. But ideas for the submission call eluded me, which I found fairly maddening.

Until I departed on a brisk Friday morning for Massachussetts with good friend and fellow writers' group moderator, Jonathan Dubey. Jonathan had also been featured in the previous two years' releases, and had his Al-Hazred story ready for submission. We were headed south to stay with friends for the weekend, and from there were off to Boston to enjoy the launch party of Murder Ink 2, a mystery anthology we'd both been accepted into. On the long ride, I mentioned the germ of an idea I had concerning a memorial time capsule being opened, the most I'd managed to come up with before setting out for our big literary weekend. By the time we arrived some three hours later, I had the entire story outlined in my mind. Before Boston and the book party and luncheon, I'd also recorded the rough outline of "For Sale by Owner" on a note card. I dashed off a draft, polished, and made Mr. Blalock's deadline, and my story joins others in Alban Lake's new release, The Mad Visions of Al-Hazred.

Many of my fellow authors shared the back-stories behind their stories.

Jordan King-Lacroix on "My Eyes Were Set Aflame": "The back-story to my work might seem a bit banal, but really once I read the prompt, the idea just kind of came. I have always been fascinated by madness in fiction, and unreliable narrators in general. My favourite novel is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, so that probably has something to do with it. The complete freedom I had to express al-Hazred's harrowing experiences was a big draw as well: with Lovecraftian horror, it's kind of a wonderful 'anything goes' territory."

Paul StJohn Mackintosh on "The Howling in the Sands": "I wanted to use Abdul Al-Hazred’s fictional history to dig deeper into historic Islam, especially Sufi mysticism. The Jinn have always appealed to me as entirely credible beings of pure force that could have easily come to Earth on an iron meteorite. What better source for the mad Arab’s visions? The faux etymology of the ‘Al-Azif’ gave me all I needed to connect all of these. I had Muslim friends look the draft over, and they liked it. Islamic culture has a bad and bigoted press currently, and I wanted to help redress the balance on behalf of one of humanity’s great traditions. Plus, I have a Miyazakiesque love of weird flying machines of all kinds. When I unearthed the Imperial Airship Scheme, and the plans to fly the R101 over Arabia, that pulled the whole story together."

Bryan Dyke on "The Andalusian": "I penned a massive term paper in high school on ‘Al-Andalus: the Tragedy of Moslem Spain’, it was a grand, sprawling forty-page treatise and one of the biggest papers I had ever written at the time. I remember buying yellow parchment paper to print it on, so it was a pretty big deal. I think since then I’ve always been fascinated by that period. For this anthology, I wanted to also dive into what could drive Al-Hazred insane and push him to write down such a maligned book. Enter the Yith; who, despite their oft-benign status, were always one of Lovecraft’s most terrifying beasts. The Yith represent a sort of twist on the ‘Body Snatcher’ concept and their entire relationship with their rivals, the awkwardly named ‘Flying Polyps’, was vintage Lovecraftian brilliance.That set the stage for me to write a sort of two-fisted tale from a villain’s perspective in and around ancient Damascus in Syria. I wanted the lead character to be somewhat evil. If not a true villain than a character with obtuse motivations and morals, that is, ‘mostly’ beyond our understanding, but not entirely. Thus, ‘The Andalusian’ was born."

Allen Mackey on "The Buzzing": "Pssst, hey you, come here.  I have a juicy secret to tell you...Okay, here's the story behind the story, or as I like to call it:  Behind-the-Scenes of ‘The Buzzing’. One Wednesday morning in late June 2017 I was looking online for for Lovecraftian fiction markets and found a listing for an original anthology based on the Mad Arab!  The deadline was the next day.  I wrote ‘The Buzzing’ right then and there in one draft, sent it off and it was accepted.  Thank you David and everyone at Alban Lake Publishing.  See you next time."

Jonathan Dubey on "The Horrid Fate of Professor Merchant": "So I was at a garage sale with my mom, don't judge me, and I came across some old books. I opened one up because it was so old I couldn't read the spine and I could smell this musty, dusty, odor.  For a minute I wondered what I'd just taken into my lungs, then something else distracted me, so I moved on. Some time later, I read the submission guidelines for The Mad Visions of Al-Hazred and that afternoon came back to me. That was the start of ‘The Horrid Fate of Professor Merchant’. When I noticed the story becoming too dialog heavy, I chose to try something different; I cut out everything else. Why not tell a story with dialog and nothing else? People including the publisher and editor seemed to think it worked and so it was. Being entirely dialog lent itself well to being an old-fashioned horror radio show, so I did that too. Listen to it here: http://www.ghostshipradio.com/the-horrid-fate-of-professor-merchant.html."

Aaron Vlek on "The Prophet of the Black Hajj": "When I saw the anthology call for works exploring possible origin stories of the Mad Arab Abdul Al-Hazred, to say I was excited is an understatement of epic proportions. Beyond a few thin references that could be gleaned from bad Hollywood movies, I had never seen the character of Abdul Al-Hazred placed firmly within his Islamic cultural tableau. My own lifelong study of Islam, including a degree, and my personal closeness to many elements of Muslim practice, as well as being a lifelong lover of all things Lovecraft, gave me just the opportunity I needed to rectify this and to offer what I believe is a unique look at what a Muslim mystic who is lured to the proverbial Dark Side might actually look like in a historic context."

 DJ Tyrer on "The Coils of Apedemak": "I wrote ‘The Coils of Apedemak’ because I wanted to look at Al-Hazred in the early days of his career, when he was still more knowledgeable than most, yet some distance from becoming the author of the Al-Azif, and I wanted to take him somewhere beyond his more usual Arabian haunts. So, I took out an Atlas of Islamic History and began looking at places he could visit and decided to take down the Nile to the kingdom of Makurria, or Al-Muqurra. As I researched the region, I discovered the existence of Apedemak, a god of pre-Christian Meroe and the story coalesced from the wonderful images of the deity."

Morgan Griffith on "Withered Moon Obsidian Black": "I first discovered Lovecraft tales in a used bookstore back in the ‘70’s. The place was a maze of shadowy aisles where silverfish darted across walls and soft, degrading cardboard boxes were stacked high with books at the end of each aisle. It was an incredible, and sometimes disturbing, treasure hunt. It’s been a while since I’ve read HPL, but the manuscript call for Mad Visions was intriguing. Research to refresh my memory of Al-Hazred sparked images of insects and moonlight; a creature in yellow, and the discovery of his cryptic manuscript. It’s an honor to be included in this collection."

Saturday, November 4, 2017

BEHOLD: DARK LUMINOUS WINGS!

I have a certain fondness for my dark SF short story, "Alchemy." On December 22, 2016 I returned from a long hospital stay during which I dreamed daily of coming home to family and muse. It wasn't that the latter was acting scarce as 2017 began -- in fact, my constant hospital companion helped me dive almost directly into a big project, the novelization of the classic made-for-TV movie I'd been hired to write the previous October, The Day After Tomorrow: Into Infinity (I escaped from Room 384 with a tiny scrap of paper covered in notes for the novel and one short story that I penned in first draft on Christmas Day, a long and beloved tradition). But as 2017 unfolded and the weeks progressed, something seemed to be missing.

My imagination is a new idea factory. Among the results are wonderful ideas and quite a few not-so-pretty ones. I write across a broad spectrum of genres, unable or unwilling to judge the good from the bad from the ugly. They're all my babies, I love each and every one, and I've learned more about writing from difficult efforts than pretty, shiny tales that wrote and sold themselves with ease. No, the problem was that for the first time in a very long time, new ideas eluded me. I thought about writing a story concerning my hospital bed, which tortured me for twenty-three nights, destroyed my spine, and made sleep impossible. I grasped at invisible story threads while translating the movie script into novel format. Nothing. It's not that I didn't have enough banked material to work on once the novelization was done -- I kicked off 2017 with ninety-nine unwritten ideas on note cards. But the new births had waned to nothing following my hospital stay, and a voice inside my skull wondered if the well had dried up. Not so, it turned out. A story about an alien planet and technology discovered in caves and beneath the soil crept upon me one winter day while seated at my desk, and the idea blossomed. I took a two-day break from the novelization to pen a first draft and, upon conclusion, was exhausted -- and unsure if what I had was even of quality. But I let the longhand draft sit, polished it up, and sent it off on its maiden voyage to the fine folks at Pole to Pole Publishing, the wonderful team responsible for last year's magnificent release, In A Cat's Eye, who were reading for a new project, Dark Luminous Wings. Within two days, the verdict came back, "Alchemy" was accepted. And as for that drought? As of November 2017, I've been deluged by thirty-eight new ideas, all but four of which (including a short novel and a screenplay) have already been written in first draft.

Why this theme?

“[Fellow Pole to Pole publisher] Vonnie Winslow Crist and I like to read fantasy, science fiction and horror. So, we're always looking for a theme which allows us to collect stories that will work with any of those genres. And when we put together a collection, we like to narrow the focus so that the stories we choose will blend together to form one cohesive collection. We usually start with a poem -- or an adage -- to give us the flavor of the anthology. We make a point to include the inspiration when we make our call for submissions so that authors can keep it in mind when they write their stories,” says publisher Kelly A. Harmon. "This worked extraordinarily well for Hides the Dark Tower and In a Cat’s Eye. Dark Luminous Wings was inspired by the second stanza of the poem Mors et Vita by Richard Henry Stoddard:

‘Under the awful wings
  Which brood over land and sea,
  And whose shadows nor lift nor flee –
This is the order of things,
And hath been from of old:
    First production,
    And last destruction;
So the pendulum swings,
While cradles are rocked and bells are tolled.’

What we were expecting was an influx of dragon stories -- and what we got was altogether different -- which we were ecstatic about. Dark Luminous Wings does include one dragon story, but it’s not what you’d expect, we guarantee it. And there are a host of other stories that are equally fabulous and different -- each including wings."

Many of my fellow authors shared the back-stories behind their stories in Dark Luminous Wings.

Nancy Springer on "the Raptor": "My good friend and neighbor, a remarkable woman raised in a circus family, suffered and struggled with cancer for five years before she died.  Her death was recent when I received the invitation to write a story for Dark Luminous Wings, and it was an event in my life that required exorcism via words.  Around the same time I saw a swallowtail kite swoop low over my car.  These are magnificent birds. Looking up at its white breast, I nearly drove off the road.  In some mysterious and symbolic way guided by the unconscious mind, the two events mixed to set off my story.  I had to change the bird's markings, but only a little.  The swallowtail kites visit my area once a year, in May, and they do indeed soar at treetop level hunting for snakes."

Todd Sullivan on "Wheels and Deals": "I came up with the idea for my story, ‘Wheels and Deals’, years ago while attending university. The idea was supposed to be for a novel, and I actually wrote twenty or thirty pages before putting it down. In 2015, I finished my most recent novel, NATURAL POLICE. When I began to work on its sequel, GWI’SHIN, I decided to explore some of the less developed subplots of the narrative. One of the minor characters in NATURAL POLICE is possessed by a darkness that only he sees and interacts with, and I wanted to give a back-story to the darkness. I thought back to the idea I had conceived years ago in university and decided to recycle many of its narrative components to flesh out the history of the dark entity. ‘Wheels and Deals’ is a short story meant to develop the character of the dark force that will play a major role in the sequel to NATURAL POLICE. Readers have not seen the end of the fallen angel from ‘Wheels and Deals’. When the angel appears in GWI’SHIN, it will be significantly more malignant as it strives for individuality."

Rebecca Gomez Farrell on "Treasure": "‘Treasure’ is one of the first short stories I wrote after deciding to pursue writing as a career. It was initially titled ‘Black and White’ as it was an exercise in exploring how someone with a harsh worldview might react to encountering people very different from themselves, people who prize taking care of each other and the greater good over personal enrichment. The ultimate test in this fantasy fable is Enkid’s, the protagonist. She must decide what’s most worth treasuring -- the peacefulness and love of the community she’s discovered or the tangible wealth that could set her for life back home. Can she overcome the avarice she’s cultivated to survive? Enkid is quite similar to one of the three main characters in my first fantasy novel, Wing Unseen, that came out this summer from Meerkat Press. But their ultimate ends are very different, although both stories feature a flying menace."

Jason J. McCuiston on "The Wyvern": "When my wife and I first moved to our new town, I was blessed with the opportunity to write almost full-time, but also cut off from everyone and everything I’d ever known. To battle the creeping funk of this new isolation, and to improve my craft, I decided to create a world to use as my sandbox for writing. Inspired by my love of the Fallout 3 video game and the horror movie, The Atticus Institute, I came up with a post-apocalyptic world devastated by magic and monsters, where I could write in pretty much any genre I like. To date, I’ve done a high-fantasy story, a western, a military adventure, a sci-fi tale, a neo-noir detective yarn, and of course the story in question, which is a blend of steampunk and horror, set in the skies above the Mojave Desert. Like in Stephen King’s “The Mist,” the real horror is not the supernatural threat encountered by the protagonist, but rather his ongoing series of bad decisions, which only makes matters worse. For me, that’s where real fear lives; in the place where we can no longer trust ourselves to do what is right in a crisis."

D.H. Aire on "Knight of the Broken Table": "I first wrote ‘Knight of the Broken Table’ six years ago. A couple of months later I received my first book contract. I believe there’s a lesson in perseverance here somewhere. You see, when I wrote ‘Knight’ I had just gotten divorced. Looking to find myself again, I’d turned to writing and seeking to getting published. That first published novel I’d actually copyrighted over twenty-five years before. After a number of rejections, I’d stopped sending anything out. I decided to just write for myself and as I re-wrote draft after draft, my writing got better and better -- I just didn’t realize it until my life went into the toilet, as it were. I then began entering my stories in contests, getting a few Honorable Mentions in Writers of the Future, and ‘Knight’ came this close to getting published early on through another contest. The editor wrote me his reason for rejecting the story, which got a thumbs-up from all the judging readers but him. It came down to his not liking the tone. So, I took that to heart and believing in the tale kept honing it. Definitely a lesson in perseverance and learning to believe in yourself."

(the fabulous Ms. Harmon)
Nemma Wollenfang on "The Devil You Know": "I’ve always been fascinated by the way one culture can invade another and, in some cases, obliterate it, leaving only tantalizing traces of what once was. You see it throughout history -- when the Romans invaded Britain, when the Old World colonized the New. Pagan religions are particularly obscure, as most existed pre-record. Very little is known about them and what is has often been vilified and altered by the new order. With ‘The Devil You Know’, I explored this concept a little -- in my own darkly speculative way -- how one religion takes over another, how aspects of the former become twisted into a more abominable light. In this case, my focus lay particularly on dying paganism in Celtic Britannia. I read somewhere that the Devil wasn’t always depicted as a cloven-footed, horn-headed, half-beast man. That, however, was how pagan gods such as Pan and Cernunnos were depicted -- this overlap was supposedly created by early Christians in an effort to throw the old pagan gods out of favor and push conversion. While I don’t know how true this is, the idea is what gave birth to this dark little number."

Steven R. Southard on "Instability": "Seeking inspiration for a ‘wings’ story, I came across an account of a medieval monk in England who supposedly flew from the abbey’s tower on a pair of homemade wings. I’d written plenty of historical stories, but none from the Middle Ages, mainly because I focus on my characters’ reaction to new technology. I couldn’t resist the idea of a Benedictine monk attempting to fly. Why would he do that? What did his fellow brothers and the abbot think of him? The resulting story has its dark elements in keeping with the anthology’s theme, but also humorous ones. Some readers will laugh at my unimaginative and skeptical monks. Other readers will wonder whether today’s society treats its more innovative thinkers any better in our more enlightened age, as they invent their own metaphorical wings and attempt to fly."

Kelly A. Harmon on what's next for Pole to Pole Publishing: "You’re hearing this first:  As an experiment, P2P is going to publish two reprint anthologies in 2018. One will be dark science fiction, the other will be dark fantasy and horror. P2P is still firming up details, but look for that announcement soon! And, of course, P2P will be publishing their annual new-fiction anthology in October next year. Vonnie and I have been looking at artwork and dreaming of themes. We’ll make our pitch to the folks a P2P in a few weeks to see what they think. P2P will open that call for submissions some time in February. Finally, P2P will be publishing a short book that Vonnie and I have written about writing for anthologies. (In it, we divulge the secrets of how to get your work looked at more seriously by editors!) It’s in the final editing stages now. Look for it in a few months!"

Sunday, October 29, 2017

BEHOLD: DOWN WITH THE FALLEN!

On Christmas Eve in 2009, I shot awake in the darkness of our old house struggling to breathe. I'd just experienced one of the most terrifying and memorable nightmares of my life. In it, I was walking along New Hampshire's Route 93, surrounded by devastation and other survivors of an alien invasion. Chasing us was an enormous vortex, which looked like a massive bruise in the sky. A tornado touched down from the vortex, and, right before waking up, I felt myself being drawn up into its maw. My last memory was of looking into the vortex and seeing a hateful alien face, massive, unforgettable, merciless. Dating back to when I was fifteen, the year I had that big Eureka! moment about living the writing life, I've penned an entire short story on Christmas Day. That year was no different. Possessed by the same lingering terror that chased me through the dream, I put pen to paper and bled out the words. By the time dinner came out of the oven, I had a completed first draft.

I sent out "Vortex" several times in 2010, and had quite a few near misses. As other projects and deadlines drew my focus, I stopped sending the story out -- until this year, when I read the call for Franklin/Kerr Press's apocalyptic-themed anthology, Down With the Fallen. Not long after submitting, I received a glowing acceptance by editor Jordon Greene. Down will soon be released, containing work by an amazing group of authors. Many shared the back-stories behind their stories in Down With the Fallen.

J.C. Raye on "To Market, To Market": "Justice. Interesting word, isn’t it? Sometimes, in the darkest place of our heart, we’d maybe like to see a little more of it rear its head, now and again. For real. For…right. Witness it dispensed a little more evenly. More publicly. Over a wider array of truly worthy recipients. For example, do you secretly wish that driver who ran the red in front of you would accidentally wrap their Hummer around an oak? No deaths or injuries or anything like that. Just a trashed car. Well, of course not! Evil to even think about. Would you love to see that shoplifter discover an angry scorpion in their jacket pocket, replacing the stolen pair of earrings dropped there only moments before? Please. What’s a few baubles in the scheme of things? Ever fantasize about making that oh so delicious short film, documenting your neighbor’s majestic belly flop into his pool while still collecting state disability payments? Oh no. Not you. Not your brother’s keeper and all that jazz, right? But hey, what if there was someone who could dispense that kind of justice? We’re talking payback folks. Accurate, swift, righteous. And right to your door."

Garrett R. Kirby on "The Other": "I will never forget coming up with my idea for ‘The Other’. I was suffering from a serious case of insomnia at the time, and it was somewhere around five in the morning. My alarm wouldn’t go off for another hour, but suddenly, in that odd state between consciousness and dreaming, I found myself imagining something that truly horrified me. It was the idea of a mother, carrying two unborn twins, dying of exposure in a nuclear fallout. The idea was that while she lay dying, something alien had sprung up in her womb, and began leaching life off of the fetuss’, creating this symbiotic relationship that caused this thing -- this Other -- to grow from the radiation, while also keeping the fetuses alive, meshing with them like some mutant cancer. The thought chilled me to the bone, and while none of this is directly in ‘The Other’, you do certainly see the aftermath: a world where these monstrous Others have become the apex predators; things which must be avoided by the remaining humans at all costs. I also thought it would be a bit more frightening if that little tumor wasn’t quite so small anymore…"

Jeremy Megargee on "The Rip": "Limax maximus literally translates to “biggest slug”, and I’ll be the first to tell you, these slimy bastards are BIG. Another common name for them is the leopard slug, and if you live in North America, chances are you’ve seen them sliming across your porch or your deck on a damp night and leaving a trail of grimy mucus in their wake. If you’re ever bored after midnight, take a seat and watch their progress. There’s something alien about their movements. The twisted contortions of their bulging forms mesmerize and repulse all at the same time. And on some level, if you watch them, you get the strange feeling that those stalk eyes are watching you right back. I’d watch these creepy little crawlies as a kid, and I guess something about it resonated, and that memory became the inspiration for ‘The Rip’. There’s something otherworldly about a slug, and I did my best to expand upon that concept. Don’t take my word for it. Watch them. Study them. Marvel at them."

Tobey Alexander on "Thirteen Days": "‘Thirteen Days’ was born from a whim but ended up being something to test me as a writer. I’ve always focussed on longer stories and thought I’d challenge myself to write a short story, it was October so the Halloween mood took me. When I asked my helpers (my two sons who thankfully often act as my brainstorming medium) they told me I should write a zombie story. I was worried about being too cliché and sat down to think how I would want it to be different, a little away from the norm and yet chilling in itself. I came up with the idea of taking a first person perspective. Not only did I decide to write a short story where I normally write novels or novelettes, I wrote in the first person instead of the third and so ‘Thirteen Days’ became my ‘out of my comfort zone’ tester. Hopefully, I’ve given you all something entertaining and chilling at the same time with a little feeling of humanity in a situation where humankind is not necessarily top of the food chain anymore. That said, what really separates us from the monsters? I’d guess...not a lot!"

Jack Lothian on "Men of Tomorrow": "It was a few years ago, Halloween night. We were making our way home in the wee small hours. The streets weren’t exactly empty but most of the parties were over. As we crossed over the main road, we passed a small alleyway and I could see someone standing at the end it. It was man, dressed in tights and a cape, an emblem on his front, hair slicked into a S-curl that had got messier as the evening had gone on. He was staring off into the distance with this look on his face… it wasn’t annoyance or anger. It was more like some kind of revulsion for the world he found himself in. Now, I understand that in reality he was probably a partygoer who’d had one Jäger shot too many and was now dealing with a rebellious gut, but there was something about him standing there, in the shadows, in that costume, with that expression of disgust… Anyone with the power to save the world would have the power to destroy it too, should they be so inclined. I hope he had a good Halloween anyway."

 M.B. Vujacic on "Freshmint": "‘Freshmint’ draws more from my own life than most of my stories. I'm a big fan of hookahs, and the hookah lounges where the story takes place are inspired by actual places in my hometown, Belgrade. The two male characters are caricatures of me and a buddy of mine, and freshmint was our favorite flavor at the time I wrote this story. Finally, as far as I'm concerned, the forearm-length centipedes that live in South America and hunt bats are among the scariest creatures on Earth. Even the small, black ones that occasionally find their way into my house give me the creeps. Fun fact: I'm currently writing a full length novel set in the same apocalyptic universe in which ‘Freshmint’ takes place, so I guess you could say ‘Freshmint’ is a prototype of sorts. A prototype I'm rather fond of. Here's to hoping the readers will share the sentiment."

Rohit Sawant on "The Pack": "Usually when you trace the origin of a story, you can follow the thread leading to the collision of ideas that sparked it, but sometimes, like in the case of 
The Pack’, it’s like waking up to find a mound of puzzle pieces on your doorstep. I only had a rough storyline, but even in its half-formed state, the characters and the imagery fascinated me, but most of all I was drawn to exploring how certain situations were likely to throw a harsh light on the fickleness of alliances when the chips are down; however, it still felt incomplete so I set it aside. It wasn’t until I saw this photograph my dad took of a New Jersey neighborhood when he visited the states late last year that things clicked, which was odd since the location doesn’t feature specifically in the story, but in that mysterious way, something about it brought everything together, and I began work on the piece about these two characters who butt heads in a post-apocalyptic setting while carrying out a task. Now that might sound pretty vague but revealing more would only spoil the fun!"

Marvin Brown on "Grandfather's Room": "I set two ground rules before tackling my post-apocalyptic tale: first, there would be no zombies or mutants or aliens. Second, the planet couldn’t be destroyed by nuclear mayhem, climate catastrophe, pestilence, asteroids, extraterrestrial invasion, or electromagnetic pulse -- any of the usual ways we get to the end of the world in these types of stories. Oh, there will be a collapse of civilization and my New Creatures will roam, but anywhere I can sidestep common tropes of the subgenre I did. I like the texture of post-apocalyptic stories: vast man-made structures in ruin, unmanaged nature taking back its planet, the devastating silence. Most unnerving, though, are the echoes and footprints and fading photos of the extinct. So, as your tour guide, I aim to provoke with these time-tested horrors, and point out some new ones as we cross this dystopian terrain."

Irina Slav on "A Year Later": "My first thought when I saw the phrase ‘post-apocalyptic anthology’ in the Franklin/Kerr call was ‘Disease! Zombies! Yay!’ My second thought was ‘Oh, how banal can you get?’ I still wanted my disease-caused Apocalypse, though, I’m kind of pigheaded with my ideas, so I looked for a way around the banality of disease-zombies-survival. I left the disease, dispensed with the zombies as we know them, and decided to make the story personal. What happens to Haley and Julianne in ‘A Year Later’ is pretty run-of-the-mill survival in a post-apocalyptic world where every human touch is death up to one point. For that point, I had to reach into that darkest corner of my mind when the most gruesome horrors lurk. The horror I pulled out this time is kind of disturbing but it had to be in the story. There was no other way, as Haley would probably say."

Christine Stabile on "Dry Leaves": "This story was born from a nightmare. The kind that jolts you awake drenched in sweat and sobbing. Unlike most of my vivid dreams, this one didn’t fade away. It plagued me until it was written and Jill’s story was told. Was it a glimpse into the future? I hope not. You can find me on Facebook -- I’d love to hear from you."

Jordon Greene on "Forbidden": "You know what I hate more than anything? It's not people who drive too slow in the left lane, though they do rank near the top of the list, or liars and thieves even. No, what I hate more than anything is when people use the government to oppress others who don't follow or agree with their religious views. What is more high minded than that? ‘Forbidden’ takes this deep distaste for religious tyranny to the next level in a world that I hope we'll never live in. It takes a current issue that seems to rile up a lot of fuss in our day and throws it in the middle of a horrifying political system only a theocrat could appreciate to make a point. Tyranny is tyranny, no matter what label you put on it. As a person of faith myself, I don't have a problem with religion, I have a problem with its abuse."

Jessica Clem on "Slits": "In the dystopian world of ‘Slits’, the First Battles of the extremist True Cross militia has eliminated law and order in a small community. Those who remain must obey their commandments, including participation in the annual, bloody Holy Arcturus. This gruesome game pits eight randomly selected people against each other, where they must cut and gut their way to victory inside the claustrophobic confines of a mega trailer home. This story follows Charlotte, one of the chosen who is afflicted with PTSD flashbacks. We follow her from room to room as she battles former acquaintances and neighbors, and the crazed ringleader known as The Gorgeous Man. She knows whomever remains will become a member of the militia. But whomever doesn’t... This story was inspired by a terrifying nightmare of mine. The trailer was original to my dream, but the extremist mania of the army was inspired by the ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘The Long Walk’, and the Crusades. I wanted to the horror to be inside and out of the trailer, bleeding into every edge of the community. Is there a world worth fighting for in ‘Slits’? It’s up to YOU, brave reader, to decide!"

Monday, October 16, 2017

BEHOLD: HAUNT!

In June 2016, I had the great luck of attending Writing From Nature, a workshop/retreat set in the wild shadows of Mount Monadnock (which I climbed almost to the summit the autumn I was fifteen). On the Saturday of Christine Woodside's excellent weekend experience, she sent us out into the woods without notebooks and pens -- which I found supremely unnerving. We were to walk, observe, and return after an hour. I like to be challenged, and this facet really tasked me. Rarely have I ever found myself without pen and paper by my side. I ambled down to the little chapel near the lake, sitting on a granite bench set beside a field stone wall at water's edge, and was supremely inspired. So much so that I couldn't get back quickly enough to work on my short story "The Shut-in", of which so many details came to me from that one hour sans writing utensils. Over that afternoon and the next morning, I belted out most of the story, about a young man who finds a kind of counterfeit happiness in a haunted lakeside bungalow over the course of a troubled summer. But returning home and to other deadlines, the folder went into the 'works-in-progress' pile on top of the second of the two big four-drawer lateral file cabinets in my Writing Room, and there it stayed until late December. In between my return from Writing From Nature and the time I again picked up the story was a twenty-four day stay in the hospital. The very last completed project of 2016 was "The Shut-in", and only one day following its 'The End' I received a personal invitation from Marie Piper to submit to a new charity project being planned -- Haunt, which would benefit Chicago-area homeless initiatives. Would I be interested, and did I have anything that fit the particular guidelines? Did I? "The Shut-in" seemed the perfect submission, and it was. Within days of sending it in, I received a wonderful acceptance from Ms. Piper. Tomorrow, my tale appears in Haunt alongside eight others by some of the most talented contemporary writers out there, with a stunning cover by artist Aleisha Knight Evans.

Many of my fellow authors shared the back-stories behind their stories in Haunt.

Randi Perrin on "Redemption Hill": "This story was all about stepping outside of comfort zones. I’ve written paranormal/fantasy romance, m/m romance, and contemporary romance. I’ve never done anything in the horror vein. So when this project was pitched to me I was excited, which then gave way to fear. I had written the project off, and emailed Marie and told her I was too damn busy to do it. The truth behind that was that I was too damn scared to do it. I can’t write horror. What the hell had I gotten myself into? Then one day this character appeared to me, little spunky thing she was. The problem was that she was seventeen. I. Don’t. Do. YA. It’s my general hard and fast rule. I’m willing to do all kinds of things, but write about high schoolers? Are you kidding me? Still, Amelia wouldn’t shut the hell up. Once she gave me her first joke I knew I couldn’t just bury her and pretend she never existed. As a result, this story was born, which is everything I said I wouldn’t do: horror, YA, and not a romance. That’s extra scary for me. If you need me, I’ll be over here biting my nails while I rock in the corner."

Harley Easton on "People Who Live in Glass Sanitoriums": " I often find myself inspired by multiple sources. Elements of places, stories, and interactions that shouldn’t make sense together sit in my brain until they gel into something more solid. In my area, there is an old insane asylum that is rumored to be haunted. It has been the subject of neglect and vandalism. A beautiful building, the local historical society had been trying to raise money to save it by offering history walks and haunted tours. At one point, it was rumored that the asylum might be renovated for a haunted bed and breakfast location. The city keeps trying to tear it down and sell off the land, but they haven’t done it yet. The idea of this old asylum’s tenuous fate combined with the glass brick walls of an early 1920s house in our area and my teenage fascination, pre-reality television shows, with all things ghost hunting. Thus came the idea of an old sanitorium turned hotel and paranormal research center that had a stunning glass wall as a distinctive feature. My characters came out of real life as well. People will tell you that irritated authors will write you into their stories. Believe them. In my early twenties, I had a particularly bad series of dates with an individual who grew into my character Drew. It took over a decade, and several story revisions, for the character to soften out to someone likable enough to be the narrator and still flawed enough to ignore some rather blatant hints about where his actions were leading the story. In the end, I was much kinder about my character and his eventual fate than I could have been when I originally conceived the story."

Katey Tattrie on "Roommates": "Ryan Headley loves the outdoors and working with his hands. After a long search, he finds the perfect house, with land big enough for his dog to enjoy, for just the right price. But he soon finds out why; it’s haunted. Would you knowingly share your house with a ghost? What if it was the ghost’s dream house and it didn’t want to leave? If you could talk with them, would you hang out like friends? Especially if your dog loves them? Curiosity soon takes over, and Ryan can’t help but go digging into the ghost’s life, stirring up stories. Can he find out the mystery, of what has tied it here in death?"

C.M. Peters on "The B Room": "Manors. Big ol’ huge manors. I’ve always had a weakness for those fabulous looking homes but only got the chance to visit one, Casa Loma. It’s a beautiful Gothic Revival style house in Toronto built between 1911 and 1914. Large bedrooms, huge windows letting the light in, but frightening at night with all the creaking and wind drafts coming through the cracks. Although it’s not the setting I used for The B-Room, I kept it in the back of my mind while I wrote Beth’s story. So, when the time came for a haunted house story, what better to use a house I’ve visited and was terrified in -- an 800-meter long tunnel runs under the manor and feels like it’s suffocating you at every corner. Now add a young woman, which I see as the lovely Alicia Vikander, suddenly having to deal with his house as an inheritance and all that comes with it -- even if it might not be of this realm. This is what I began with and thus ‘The B Room’ was born."


Marie Piper on "Jessie": "My story came to me in a roundabout way. It exists in the same universe, and serves as a sort of epilogue, for my Maidens & Monsters serial, which is comprised of classic gothic/horror tales re-told in a Kansas town in 1880. But, while those books were all based on classics like Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera, I decided that Jessie needed to pay tribute to a more modern horror master…Stephen King. It was inspired by Gerald’s Game, a book that still haunts me to this day (and was just recently made into a movie by Netflix!) I’ve always been fascinated by the American west, and the spirit of exploration that sent people crossing the country to find something new. Jessie and her husband, Daniel, came to Kansas to be free of prejudice they faced back home. But after Daniel disappears, Jessie is alone, trapped in her bed in an isolated farmhouse, with only her thoughts to keep her company. But is she alone? You’ll have to read to find out."

Sienna Saint-Cyr on "Possessed": "When asked what my inspiration for Possessed was, I huffed, then promptly felt my cheeks filling with heat. Normally, I’d have a real answer. Like, I had this experience that I wanted to write about, but not this time. I really didn’t have an inspiration for this story. I was dealing with depression and horny as heck at the same time. Thus, a story of tragedy and sex. While this isn’t the most creative of inspirations, I do connect to the main character in a deep way. Not only that, but I’m very into tantric sex. So I brought some of the energy/spirit scenes in to honor that part of me. All in all, this story was super fun to write. I enjoyed it because it wasn’t heavy in me dealing with trauma through writing, or rewriting some part of my life I wish had gone differently. It was simply fun. So for me, this is a huge win! I hope you enjoy my sexy little story of heartache and pleasure!"

S.B. Roark on "By Tethers Bound": "Every horror story needs a memorable antagonist.  I am a fan of vampires.  The bloody monstrous kind, no sparkles added.  I like my monsters with bite and unafraid to explore the bloodlust in us all.  Vampires have always been a mirror to humanity, showing us the demons which lurk inside our ‘civilized’ minds.  When I wrote ‘By Tethers Bound,’ I asked myself the question ‘What would it take for a vampire to truly dwell in civilized society?’  Inspired by Jekyll and Hyde and the tales of Jack the Ripper, I decided that the only answer was that they would have to let the monster out at times.  But what if they could cut out the monster completely and set it free on an unsuspecting world?  Would this person be responsible for the actions their monster took?  And to what lengths would they go to avoid facing their own personal demon?"    

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Light Ship Altares Flies Again!

I was raised on a healthy diet of creatures double features and classic TV science fiction. When I was eleven, sitting cross-legged on the living room floor in the enchanted cottage where I grew up, I briefly got lost in Gerry Anderson's made-for-TV movie, The Day After Tomorrow: Into Infinity, in which the crew of the light ship Altares launches to nearby Alpha Centauri in search of answers that might heal a dying Earth. I was captivated -- not only by the story and visuals, but by the common DNA the project shared with my beloved Space:1999, a television show that forever changed my life. Day's entire adult cast had performed on 1999 -- Joanna Dunham, Altares' CMO, played "Vanna", Raan's (the late, great Peter Cushing) daughter in the first season episode "Missing Link." Brian Blessed, navigator "Tom Bowen" was "Dr. Cabot Rowland" in "Death's Other Dominion" and Maya's father, "Mentor", in the second season "The Metamorph". And of course, Nick Tate was Eagle pilot "Alan Carter" and fittingly helmed Altares as her captain. I simply loved The Day After Tomorrow: Into Infinity.

Flash ahead some four decades to a Saturday night in New Hampshire's North Country, where I and several members of my writers' group were enjoying a late September retreat at the Waterfall House. After a long, productive day of writing (and exquisite dining!), I retired to my room and found a message from Robert Wood, who, with the late Gerry Anderson's son, Jamie, sought my help in bringing the crew of Altares back to life for a new generation of Science Fiction fans and readers. Would I be interested in writing a novelization of Johnny Byrne's pilot episode script? Feeling both humbled and also daunted by the prospect of adapting a legendary writer's beloved work from script to novel, I said yes. On January 1, 2017 with the movie playing on my laptop's screen, the original script open on the desk before me, and a fresh pad of lined paper and pen in hand, I began to write.

The going was, at first, slow. But like the light ship's charge across space, I built momentum. Both Robert and Jamie Anderson requested certain additions and enhancements to the story, namely a bigger reason for the crew to willingly enter the black hole at the climax of the original movie. Immersed in the script and the film, I woke late one snowy winter night from a terrifying dream involving the crew and consequences caused by their mission. I found myself reaching for paper and pen in the drawer beside my bed, jotting down rough notes, and in the morning they still stood up. I was able to weave these darker elements seamlessly into the original storyline, thus fulfilling the task assigned to me. Those changes -- and the completed novel -- were praised upon delivery. My novelization of The Day After Tomorrow: Into Infinity was recently published by Anderson Entertainment to great reviews and the potential for more adventures to follow.

"The instant the possibility arose to be involved with Day it felt like an inspirational lightning bolt struck me," says Robert, who proved himself a wonderful editor on the project. "Suddenly my mind was swirling with possibilities. Being a life-long fan of Space:1999, one of the things that inspires me most about Day is that it shares a lot of genetic material with 1999. From the cast to the music, production design, special effects, models, and of course, the script by Johnny Byrne! Johnny’s connection is of utmost importance, because although the original TV pilot has certain limitations and is hindered a bit by the educational aspect that was built into it, I have no doubt that if it had indeed gone to series, and had Johnny Byrne continued to be involved in it, that it would have gone on to engage with the same kinds of story elements that he had been exploring in his episodes of 1999. I feel very strongly that Day is a natural inheritor of the Space:1999 storytelling format, just with a smaller crew. The Altares crew, like the Alphans before them, find themselves unable to return to Earth, lost on the other side of a black hole (or "black sun" in 1999’s case), and at the mercy of whatever lies ahead of them as they search for a new home in the unknown depths of space. So I think that the storytelling style, as well as the feel and look of the show, would have been very much in line with Space:1999. It really is a bit of a hybrid between 1999’s Year One and Year Two, so all the elements 1999 fans love about Johnny’s episodes could be utilized as a launching pad for further adventures of the Altares crew. I think the relevance of Day lies in its core premise, just like in 1999. It’s a metaphor for life. Just as the Breakaway blast was the moment of birth for a new tribe of humans -- the Alphans -- roaming the universe, so too the Altares' journey through the black hole and their subsequent exit into a new universe represents the birth of another new tribe of humans (the Altareans?). All of us have felt at one time or another alone or lost or adrift in our own world, just as they do in their new universe. Confronting unknown challenges ahead. Making do with the limited resources they have. Both excited by and afraid of the unknown, but unable to stop the inevitable movement forward in their search for a new home. Finding strength and support amongst those closest to you, whether they are family by birth or by choice. The human will to survive. I could go on, but the point is that there are a lot of big topics intrinsically tied to the premise of Day, and immense storytelling potential. There’s a line I remember Johnny Byrne saying about Space:1999 when he came to write the script for the short film Message From Moonbase Alpha years later. He said, ‘You only have to dip your fingers into this quirky, magical pool before all sorts of other chemical things start happening.; I think with The Day After Tomorrow: Into Infinity we’re dipping our fingers into that same magical pool, and the chemical reaction is just beginning."

(The Altares crew, image from novel)
Throughout the writing of the novelization, it was imperative to me to honor Mr. Byrne by keeping his dialogue intact. Also, I tried to flesh out the main characters, particularly Dr. Anna Bowen and Jane Masters, the ship's copilot. At one point, I felt as though I was with them, not as an observer but along for the actual ride, which I'd experienced way-back-when during the movie's original TV broadcast. There's a paradox central to the enhanced storyline I was asked to create. But another one took place while seated at my desk, and for most of the writing of my adaptation, I was eleven again, which I believe is one of the many great blessings of this particular project. But now once more in the present, is there a future for the Altares and her crew?

"When you look at the core premise of The Day After Tomorrow: Into Infinity I think it can work very well as a platform for modern storytelling that is both exciting and philosophical," Robert adds. "There were just a couple of key concerns that Jamie and I discussed, agreed upon, and then subsequently shared as guiding points for the novelization. One was that we wanted to minimize the overtly educational aspect of the original TV pilot as it hinders the storytelling and adventure, particularly in the context of an ongoing series, where you don’t want to have to essentially stop the flow of the story for a mini-tutorial on E=mc2, or whatever other scientific lesson was being shoe-horned into the adventure of the week. That really wouldn’t have been an asset for an ongoing series. Two was that we wanted there to be more depth brought to the characterizations than was possible in the scope of the original. They only had 47 minutes, and they had to get from A to B to C, so Johnny’s script was driven by plot more than characterization. Although there were warm moments and worries, but there could have been more if there was additional time. The novelization provided the space to expand the story and characters a little bit, while at the same time not straying too far from the original, and I think does that job marvelously. The twist added to the relationship between Tom and Anna Bowen is my favourite because -- without giving it away for those who haven’t read the book -- although it’s immediately obvious the instant you read it in the book, it’s also something that never would have occurred to most people watching the pilot. It’s a genius twist that is seamlessly integrated with the original, while also suddenly adding a wealth of character depth. I love it, and I’m sure Johnny Byrne would have been very happy with the new life that’s been brought to his old script."

Thursday, May 18, 2017

This, That, and the Other

(writing at the White Mountain Cafe)
My 2017 started on quite shaky ground. I returned from a long hospital stay a mere week before the New Year, barely able to walk following surgery and easily exhausted. But I was also excited by the prospect of what the year would bring, and happier than I thought humanly possible to be home at Xanadu with family and muse. Now nearly six months into 2017, I have plenty to show for the time -- I just wrapped my 1241st work of fiction, a mystery novella, have placed numerous short stories in publications, and will soon depart for my second writing retreat of the year (my fourth if you count two book launches, readings, and signings that took me to Massachusetts), with two more scheduled for June, including my return to the wonderful Writing From Nature, where I plan to complete one of my oldest unwritten tales. As for walking? Just try to hold me back.

Early in the year, I sold a long Science Fiction tale, "South of Human", to the fine publication Perihelion Science Fiction. The story is a free read, and Perihelion is one of those credits writers love to show on their resumes. I'm excited to report that a follow-up sale, "The Goldfish", is scheduled for their June issue.

Often on winter days -- especially when it snowed -- I found myself working in bed, with my right leg elevated and episodes of Stargate Atlantis playing on the TV (during my hospitalization, Bruce dvr'ed most of the series when it ran on Comet TV in December). I worked on short and long projects, a screenplay, and submitted manuscripts to editors for consideration. I read of the new literary magazine Riddled With Arrows edited by Shannon Connor Winward during one of those luxurious snow days, and submitted my short SF meta fiction, "Lessons in the Garden of Lost Language". I soon heard back with a minor rewrite request. I made those few changes days later while traveling home from the book launch and party of Murder Ink 2. The story sold and is presented with some fairly bad-ass writers in Riddled's debut issue.

(reading from Murder Ink 2 in Boston)
Speaking of Murder Ink 2 -- I owe more to publisher George Geers and editor extraordinaire Dan Szczesny than merely including my sports-themed mystery, "Murder at Channel Ten" in the follow up to last year's release; in a very real way, I credit them with my ability to walk again. During my hospital stay, I was bemoaning to one of the fabulous physical therapists, Claire, how I was likely going to miss the book launch in Boston. In her colorful Irish brogue, she said the launch was still two months off, and I'd sure as hell better plan to attend it. Her passion charged me, and I began to take to physical therapy like it was my religion. Not only did that effort lead to my release from the hospital, but two months later I found myself ambling without the aid of a walker or a surgical boot up the two flights of cast iron stairs to the third floor of Boston's famous Chart House restaurant, which was once John Hancock's office space. There, I signed copies of the anthology, read from my tale, and lunched on an incredible lobster roll, thanks to our generous and wonderful publisher. On the drive into Boston, I jokingly said that I'd order the lobster, even though we didn't yet know what our menu options for the luncheon were!

(with Judi Calhoun and others at the
Whittier Farm and Birthplace)
Earlier in February, I enjoyed a fantastic three-day retreat at a writers' group friend's sprawling manor house a few towns over. With his parents' blessing (they were away on a trip), seven of us wrote, dined in decadence, and enjoyed pizza on Superbowl Sunday -- and watched the New England Patriots win in perhaps the most famous comeback in NFL history.

During the first week of May, I again traveled to Massachusetts, this time for the launch, reading, and luncheon to celebrate Murder Among Friends, edited by the stellar Dave Goudsward. Murder contains my cozy mystery "Antiques". All of the stories are inspired by the works of John Greenleaf Whittier, with proceeds going to maintaining the Whittier Farm and Birthplace, where the launch was held. It was my pleasure to again appear alongside the talented Judi Ann Calhoun in the Table of Contents. We stayed with our famous friends, The Sisters Dent, ate well all weekend, and wrote together for much of those four days in the Bay State.

And soon, I depart for my fifth stay at When Words Count, a luxury retreat center for writers in Vermont. This time around, I'm staying in the F. Scott Fitzgerald Suite, the center's finest room. There, I plan to write on several projects, including the editing for submission of the screenplay I powered through during my winter writing sessions in bed. When not writing, reading, or dining on cuisine by the center's celebrated chef, I'm going in the pool -- and walking the vast grounds. Here's to an even better second half of 2017!

Monday, April 10, 2017

BEHOLD: SHATTERED SPACE!

In early September of 2014, I joined many of my wonderful writers' group's members for a long weekend retreat at the Waterfall House. During that time, my pen moved nonstop, and I traveled unthinkable distances through the magic of the fresh page. One of those destinations was deep space, via a story I committed to writing during the retreat called "The Rats in the Bulkheads". That summer, I'd devoured an old beat-up paperback of Lovecraft's stories, and I got the bug to write a version of his "The Rats in the Walls", which had always terrified me as a young reader (and still does as an adult past his fiftieth year), only my version would be set in the dark wasteland of the unexplored galaxy. Early on the Saturday morning of the weekend, I picked a fresh notepad, put pen to page, and started free-writing a story about survivors of a generational exodus ship far from their new home who discover a threat to their existence, creeping closer from a region of the ship long ago sealed off during the catastrophe that diverted them off course.

I wrote the story through morning, paused for lunch, and completed it after preparing our big prime rib for dinner and setting it on a slow simmer. By the time the meal was served, I'd completed the longhand draft -- and was looking over my shoulders, unnerved by what I'd written. The perfect market presented itself in Shattered Space by the fine folks at Tacitus Publishing. It has been my pleasure to appear in Tacitus' two previous anthology releases, and I was thrilled to have "The Rats in the Bulkheads" find such a great home among so many unforgettable tales of outer space terror.

Many of my fellow contributors shared the back-stories behind their wonderful stories.

Daniel Rosen on "Little Deaths": "‘Little Deaths’ is part of a series of stories taking place on driftcolonies (generation ships). Anabaptist', about personal religious faith came out in February 2016, from Apex. In April 2017, ‘The Ship That Forgot Itself’ will be coming out in IGMS. I've always been fascinated by the idea of slow space travel, and the way that cultures change in isolation. ‘Little Deaths’ in particular is an exploration on how taboos related to death might change if death was no longer a permanent obstacle. Anyway, I figured murder would probably become a lot more common, and besides that, how do we form relationships if no one ever dies? Are people really interested in spending more than one lifetime with another person? Americans don't seem interested in that, statistically speaking. Would monogamy be effective if we lived forever? Perhaps. Perhaps not."

Colin Hinckley on "Red Shift": "The idea for ‘Red Shift’ came to me in the form of a night terror. A night terror is different from a nightmare in that while you’re in the midst of a night terror, you can feel yourself in bed and see whatever invading presence is visiting as if it were in the room with you. This one was slightly different in that it wasn’t exactly terrifying. I became aware that I was in bed, swimming out of a deep sleep, and saw a red square floating in the middle of my room. I could sense its sentience, but no malice or ill will. It was just a floating, red square, watching me as I slept. Then it disappeared. This image of a sentient floating shape followed me around for a few weeks before I put it to paper. The scale, as with most things I write, turned out to be much bigger than I anticipated. And I watched with alarm as what started as a red square turned into a giant red space octagon. The piece came out more or less intact over the course of a feverish two-hour writing session and much bleaker than I would have guessed."

David F. Gray on "The Stars Denied": "In 1971, while mucking my way through eighth grade, I ran across a trade paperback entitled The Shadow Over Innsmouth and Other Stories Of Horror, by H.P. Lovecraft.  It was tucked away on a dusty shelf in the back of the school library. I took it home, expecting a collection of run-of-the-mill ghost stories. What I got was an introduction into what is commonly known as The Cthulhu Mythos. My mind was not blown.  It was nuked.  While I can name several authors who have influenced me over the decades, it was Mr. Lovecraft who stoked that initial desire to write. Flash forward to 2015 and the New Horizons flyby of Pluto.  Its stunning pictures, coupled with Lovecraft's story ‘The Whisperer in the Darkness’, collided in my brain and brought about ‘The Stars Denied’.  While not a part of the Cthulhu Mythos, nor in any way a sequel to “The Whisperer in the Darkness’, it's DNA is nevertheless steeped in Lovecraft's hellish visions and the nightmares he gave that middle school kid all those years ago."

(interior illo for "The Rats in the Bulkheads)
James Austin on "Laundry" and "Heat Lightning": "‘Laundry’ was an enjoyable story to write.  The idea started simple enough, someone doing a mundane task in a futuristic setting.  As you can imagine, it came to me while sitting in a laundromat, wait for it… doing laundry.  Please hold in the surprise gasps.  There have been plenty of stories that include aliens, starships, and advanced technology without ever addressing those daily and weekly chores we all dread.  This offered my chance to explore my love of taking a look at the normal elements of life in a setting not typically observed. ‘Heat Lightning’ emerged from a seed planted long ago, and took a few years to develop into something I found edible.  Living in the Tampa Bay Area, you are exposed to plenty of lightning.  But what I always found so curious was ‘heat lightning’.  It would dance around in the sky, seeming to come from nothing, and no rain following the extraordinary display.  You have to understand, Florida storms can be legendary at times.  Running from your front door to your car would leave you drenched, maybe even a little scarred from the traumatic event.  But with heat lightning, what really happens in those peculiar clouds? For this story, I felt that there had to be a number of layers incorporated to tell one particular possibility, while trying to balance simplicity with complex tech jargon.  Also, keeping in mind the first rule of writing Science Fiction, never forget the human condition.  With so many moving parts, writing it was a difficult process and required a number of run-throughs before getting close to completion. The final result was not even close to where I expected it to end and I was enlightened from the experience."

T. S. Kummelman on "The Space of Gods": "When James first told me about the theme of the book, I figured this one would be easy.  Horror and science fiction -- my two favorite genres!  I immediately thought of Lovecraft; so much of his horror has a Science Fiction element to it, the leap to horror in space (opposed to his usual theme of horror from space) was automatic.  The challenge was keeping to the Lovecraftian elements: madness, terrifying oppressiveness, the need for the voice of the story to not necessarily meet a happy end…working these elements in was the challenge.  My original draft was too descriptive -- another Lovecraftian touch which, in this case, did not work so well.  Taking a hint from certain Hollywood storytellers, I opted to keep the horror itself ‘off screen’, as it were.  I gave minimal description of the ‘monster’ itself, which allowed me to keep some of the mystery.  I managed to keep to my original idea, which was basically ‘tentacles in space’ -- most of my stories never turn out the way I originally intended, but ‘Gods’ was (pardon the pun) a beast unto itself."

Brett Parker on "Space Cookies": "I got the idea for this story on a flight into Bangor, Maine.  The plane had descended through a cloud bank, which seemed pretty frigging big to me.  I mean, we entered the dang thing as soon as we started our descent, and it felt like we were flying into Carpenter’s The Fog or King’s ‘The Mist’.  Sure enough, we come out of the clouds and the runway looks to be about a hundred feet below us.  Made me wonder: ‘what business did this cloud have being that close to the damned ground?!’.  So I put a cloud where there shouldn’t be one -- in space.  The rest was balls-to-the-wall sarcasm; if there could be a cloud in space, why not a bunch of smart-asses, too?  The bitch of this story was the ending -- re-wrote it five times before it finally felt right.  That final ending was nothing like the other four, as all the others had a previously unseen character “returning” to the ship.  I had the right idea, just the wrong freaking character… "