Sunday, February 19, 2017

BEHOLD: MURDER INK 2!

For fifteen years, I wrote sports/action & adventure/celebrity features for the late, great magazine, Heartland USA. During that time, I covered such diverse topics as the X-Games, building demolition, the Softball World Series, and the Cape Cod Baseball League. I conducted one story from the dugout at Fenway Park, did a ride-along with the U.S. Coast Guard (a float-along?), and interviewed such notables as Keith Olbermann, Guy Fieri (for a special football tailgate grilling story), Dirty Jobs star Mike Rowe, PGA golfer Boo Weekley, and the bad boy of bowling, Pete Weber. I also had the joy of appearing in the second-largest men's general interest magazine after Playboy -- Heartland USA boasted a bi-monthly circulation of 3.5 million issues.

During one of those late nights writing to deadline for the magazine, I fell asleep at my desk with ESPN playing in the background (in 1999, I was invited as part of a select group of reporters to the sports giant's 20th Anniversary party, held at ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut). I jolted awake and immediately reached for pen and a blank note card, upon which I recorded an unforgettable dream about a former Major League pitcher, his career derailed by injury, who is brought aboard at a big sports network to help its media director determine whether a series of seemingly natural deaths are really the work of a murderer. This past June, camped on my sun porch, I long last penned 'Murder at Channel Ten', and fired off the edited draft to Murder Ink 2, edited by Dan Szczesny (my tale of small town crime, "Exhuming Secrets on a Hot August Day', appeared in the first Murder Ink). Submitting a story set in a sports network newsroom was something of a risk -- though 'Murder at Channel Ten' technically adhered to all of the guidelines. The risk paid off, and my story now appears in an impressive Table of Contents.

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

Karen Dent and Roxanne Dent on "The Werewolf Murders": "Many of the same characters Karen and Roxanne Dent created in, ‘The Death of Honeysuckle Rose,’ Volume 1, Murder Ink, insisted they be included in Volume II and ‘The Werewolf Murders’ was born. The story takes place three years later, April 1948. The war is over and big changes have occurred in Portsmouth, NH. Peace and prosperity are on the rise, along with a drug trade snaking its way up north. Ruby, promoted to senior crime reporter, is checking out a lead down at the docks, when a particularly savage murder occurs. The howl of a wolf, vicious lacerations, and an eyewitness who swears they saw a werewolf, has all the earmarks of a sensational exclusive. But Ruby doesn’t believe in the supernatural, and follows the twisted trail of clues straight into the jaws of a brutal murderer."

Dan Rothman on "The Devil's Tail": "The first newspaper in the Americas was printed in Boston in 1689. Exactly one issue of ‘Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick’ was published before it was shut down by the government. (The Governor and Council complained of ‘sundry doubtful and uncertain Reports’; i.e., fake news.)

I read all four pages of ‘Publick Occurrences’, curious to see what was of interest to the 17th-century reader. I was not too surprised to find a story which began: ‘A very Tragical Accident happened at Water-Town’ -- a story which ended with an Old Man swinging from a rope in his own cow-house!

Tales of untimely death have sold newspapers for hundreds of years. One such untimely death was that of John McLaughlen, who was found dead in the well of his New Hampshire tavern in 1787. My story ‘The Devil's Tail’ imagines how an early newspaper might handle John’s tragical accident. Warning: the tavern-keeper may not be the only character who shuffles off this mortal coil!"

O. Lucio d'Arc on "Obituary Mambo": "My first story in Murder Ink Vol. 1 was ‘One Way Dead End’ and many of the characters are the same in my second story, ‘Obituary Mambo’ -- the title of a Tom Waits song, by the way -- which is in Murder Ink, Vol. 2. A key line in the story is, ‘Some things are worse than reading your own obituary.’ The main character, the reporter Randy Dixon, is the same but the real star of this story -- which includes murder by cremation -- is a cadaver dog, Boner. A lot of the action takes place on Cape Cod. This story also includes an ‘erotic’ sex scene between the reporter and the female publisher. As far as writing goes, I write when I feel like it, morning, noon or night, with no particular schedule. Every time I work on a story in progress, I start reading it from the beginning, changing phrases or actions or characters as I go, until I get to where I left off the last time and then I continue from there. That eliminates a lot of the bumps in the narrative. For my second story, for the first time I thought a little bit ahead and doped out in my mind where I wanted the story to go. For my third one, ‘Beta Theta Pie Man,’ written but unpublished, I actually made a list of the characters so I could keep track of them. Some of the fiction in my stories is based on real life, because it’s always better when you write what you know. In ‘Obituary Mambo’ I’m actually two people, the reporter and the old guy helping out his son at his breakfast restaurant. The third book in the Randy Dixon trilogy, ‘Beta Theta Pie Man,’ also has a lot of noir and pulp fiction elements: atrocious murders of innocent young people, a women’s rugby team that’s into human sacrifice, a little mutilation, a secret symbol taken from a Kurt Vonnegut book. I am currently working on another work, ‘Kindergarten,’ which is a first-person account of a woman who stumbles into a series of gruesome murders."

Mark Arsenault on 'Hashtag Splat': "I started working on my story idea for ‘Hashtag Splat’ back in the 1990s, when I was working in Lowell, Mass. Driving around the city, you’re always crossing one of the bridges over the Merrimack River. One time I started daydreaming about a scenario in which a man climbs to the top of one of those bridges and demands to talk to a reporter. For seriously the next 20 years or so, I would be reminded of this idea every time I drove over a bridge -- any bridge, anywhere. And I’d slip back into that daydream. What makes this a good idea for a story is that the situation immediately brings up a lot of whys. Why would he climb up there? Why would he want to talk to a reporter? These are the kind of questions that drive a narrative forward, and pull readers along. I dropped my characters from Murder Ink 1 into this situation and let them figure out the whys. Not that I want to make it sound easy. It wasn’t. This story was written by the trial-and-error method, and that’s a grind. Too bad I didn't daydream an ending 20 years ago."

Judith Janoo on "Bitter Pills": "I grew up watching fishing boats come in and out of our small Maine harbor. When the opportunity arose to write a mystery story for possible publication in Murder Ink 2, my mind was already climbing over the rocks to get to the sea. ‘Bitter Pills’ scratches the surface of quirky, gutsy, eccentric characters that inhabit this coastline. It addresses the fact that fishermen, when the fishing grounds are depleted, have no one to bail them out. The ocean belongs to no one, and there’s international competition, too, for its dwindling resources. Ted Holmes, aspiring to be the Michael Moore of the Maine Coast, bought the local weekly newspaper. The news thus far in this fishing town consisting of who launched the longest mid-water trawler, caught the most herring, or took in the most stray beagles. But now, out of the blue, Ted finds himself investigating a disappearance, and uncovering the story behind a murder. This was so much fun to write. There’s something about a dead body that gets the ink flowing."

Stephen R. Wilk on "Unexpected": "There are two roots for my mystery ‘Unexpected’. The setting in a small New England newspaper office derives from my own experiences in small papers and magazines, all of which were pretty grungy and kind of cheap. It was light years removed from the classy, polished world of publishing portrayed in the TV series Name of the Game, with their pristine offices in a mid-town Manhattan high-rise. In particular, I was inspired by a university magazine my mother worked for, which ran out of two old Army Barracks buildings at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, with creaking wooden floors, temperamental heating, and the presence of their mascot, Kelty the Retarded Dog. I thought that title a little un-PC, so I changed it and made him a cat. The other root was a supposedly true story I heard from someone at a research lab I worked at. I’ve since learned that a similar story has been told about other research labs, so this might simply be a science-tinged urban legend. I had actually written it up, but couldn’t figure out where to use it until the call for submissions for Murder Ink 2 came along."

Amy Ray on "Kittery Killer's Club": "This story revisits the characters from ‘A Nose For News’ which was featured in the original Murder Ink anthology. Kay Leavitt works for a small weekly -- much like the newspaper I worked for ten years ago as a reporter covering the ‘exciting’ school board and town meeting beat. Kay prefers mundane news, but murder seems to follow her, as it did the evening of her writers’ group meeting. For many years, I’ve been privileged to be in a group of talented writers who critique my work, including this short story (and my upcoming mystery/thriller Color of Betrayal, due out next year from Barking Rain Press.) Kay’s group, which includes her boss Wayne and his faithful pug companion Poe, are awaiting the arrival of their featured speaker when they learn he has been found dead. Murdered. In a most heinous way. With no shortage of suspects, Kay -- and invariably, Poe -- set out to solve the mystery of who killed their esteemed speaker. The motivating circumstances that precipitated the killing in the story actually happened, but luckily it was not resolved with murder. That end is better left on the pages of a fictional short story."

Robin G. Baskerville on "Obit Desk": "When I was a child I used to watch hard-boiled detective movies in the afternoon with my mother. These black and white beauties were full of hard-boiled dames and equally jaded dicks. When I sat down to write something, anything, for Murder Ink, the phrase ‘ . . . trading on the entrée that my job affords me, not carte blanche, but carte noir, assured access via back entries and alleys, the forgotten ways in that rats, mice and reporters use,’ came to me, and I built my story ‘Obit Desk’ around that. Work with enough people and there’s always that one who is too tightly wound. Work the obit desk and/or letters to the editor beat and you will meet a lot of colorful characters, some whose reality is not shared by the majority of us, or – perhaps -- by any of us. I took these three elements, added some social commentary and wound up with ‘Obit Desk’, a tight little package of a story written in the style of an aspiring (expiring?) ace reporter."

Jeff Deck on "Making the Transition": "Though I’ve held several editing jobs, my experience in actual journalism was brief. I happened into a copy-editing and page layout job at Seacoast Media Group in Portsmouth, N.H., a few years ago, mostly because I needed income but also out of some lingering nostalgia for my college paper days. The work was fast-paced and demanding, the hours were not great (my fiancée was often asleep when I came home; 11 p.m. would be an ‘early’ night), and the pay frankly sucked. But nobody was there to get rich. These were people with a deep commitment to facts and the truth. My comrades on the copy desk were the most delightful group of snarky English-major nerds you could ever meet. Unfortunately, the job didn’t always love them back. As the newspaper group was shuffled from one behemoth corporate owner to the next, freezes on raises and ever-multiplying responsibilities per staffer made it hard to be loyal. Every time a reporter bailed for a saner job with a more livable wage, their replacement got younger and greener. I lucked out with a job offer out of the blue that basically doubled my income. The rest of the copy desk hung in there until several months later, when the latest corporate giant to own SMG decided to consolidate the copy desks at all of its ‘assets’ around the U.S. into one centralized editing and layout center in Austin. Sure, you could keep your job; you just had to move halfway across the country. I was working on a supernatural mystery / urban fantasy series, The Shadow Over Portsmouth, when I saw the call for submissions for Murder Ink Vol. 2. I realized that a side character in my series, a copy editor for the Portsmouth Porthole, would be going through the same type of difficulties as my old colleagues at SMG -- and that corporate downsizing would be only the beginning of her nightmare . . ."

Patrick Sullivan on "The Confession of Mike Reardon": "My editor at The Lakeville Journal, Cynthia Hochswender, met Dan Szczesny at the 2016 New England Newspaper and Press Association conference and informed him I would submit an entry for the second volume of Murder Ink. She promised ‘murder, fly-fishing and nekkidity.’ I have avoided the NENPA event the last few years, mostly because I made a joke about it being ‘the world’s longest funeral’ and nobody laughed. Informed I had months to write something, I naturally put it off until a couple days before the deadline. I made a couple of false starts. They were horrible. I put it out of my mind. Then I had a dream. I woke up and fumbled around for a piece of paper, scrawled a couple lines, and went back to bed. Come morning, there it was, on a Post-It note: ‘Always wanted to be a detective. So when found body hoped for best.’ So my detective, a reporter with a sort of Walter Mitty thing going on with fictional gumshoes, was born. I didn’t fulfill Ye Editor’s promise exactly, but I did provide a corpse, some angling, and partial nekkidity. And I did it in one four-hour sitting."

Donna Catanzaro on the creation of Murder Ink 2's cover: "Like most of my work, creating the cover for Murder Ink 2 is was like writing a story.  I searched old pulp magazine covers for sleazy characters and imagined a who-done-it, complete with noir characters that could be either heroes or villains. Due to the number of bullet holes (they were fun to make!) it’s clear a murder has happened here. The female reporter has crossed the police line. Is she the perpetrator back to scrub her prints, or a faithful reporter back to do her job? Next to her is a dagger, ready for her to defend or attack. But notice that there are two cigarettes in the ash tray. Is there another person in the room with her, sitting to the left out of view? Is the man in the doorway, the villain, her sidekick, or a jealous lover? I leave the rest of the story to your imagination."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

BEHOLD: FINAL MASQUERADE!

A few summers ago, I gave myself permission to spend almost two weeks in June free writing -- the act of putting pen to blank page and just allowing my writer's imagination to wander. From those weeks, a plethora of completed first drafts emerged -- a Western for one of my publishers in Germany, a dystopian tale that sold on its first time out to another, and several flash tales. In and among that wonderful time of creativity, I penned a story about a woman who'd suffered from blood cancer, declared healthy following a radical procedure but with little memory or proof of the actual treatment. At night, she's haunted -- and taunted -- by images of a man in a cage with silver bars. "End of Nights", like the other stories written during that warm, bright spell, jumped from pen to page, and then its first draft went into my filing cabinets for possible future submission.

Two summers later, I pulled out the manuscript and submitted it to Lycan Valley Press's newest anthology, Final Masquerade. The project's wonderful editor, Stacey Turner, accepted "End" with a request for a little tweaking to the ending. That was a gray and humid Sunday. Lightning crackled and thunder boomed, and, rarest of rarities in this part of New Hampshire's North Country, we lost power. And so, by the waning battery charge in my laptop, I tackled that minor rewrite -- and actually scared myself as the storm raged outside!

Several of my talented co-authors shared the back-stories behind their stories in Final Masquerade.

Joshua Chaplinksky on "Mummer's Parade": "I wrote the original version for a different themed anthology, one about clowns. I figured there’d be a lot of Pennywise-inspired killer clown stories and I wanted my piece to stand out. I had the idea of mummers in my head (probably from reading Game of Thrones) and discovered there was an actual thing called the mummer’s parade, so I started doing research into that. That led to the idea of masks and ‘animals with human faces.’ The opening came to me pretty early on -- Triboulet was known throughout the realm for having the King’s ear. He wore it around his neck on a silver chain -- and it just got weirder from there. Ultimately the story was rejected, which was fortuitous, because it was too short and I am much happier with the final product. When I came across the Lycan Valley anthology call, I knew it was a perfect fit. I’m glad they agreed!"

Samantha Lienhard on "The Artist": "When I first wrote ‘The Artist,’ it was a very different story. I’d heard a criticism of someone as not being a ‘real artist,’ and that inspired the initial version of Ian -- a bitter, arrogant man out to ruin the artist whose work got more attention than his. I wrote this story, and while it covered the same basic beats as the version in Final Masquerade, it had one major problem: neither character was likable. I took ‘The Artist’ to a critique session at Seton Hill University, where I was working toward my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. During that critique, I not only realized this flaw, I also saw how Ian could be sympathetic. I altered his past and revised the story through that lens, which led to the version you see today."

Brian C. Baer on "Make Believe": "My girlfriend is a big fan of scary stories. Anytime she is doing homework or housework or just dozing on the couch, she's listening to them. Her phone is constantly playing the spooky, supposedly real life tales read aloud on podcasts like "Creepy Pasta". I decided to write a story for her but quickly ran into trouble. She was only scared by gritty stories of psychological torment and life-or-death panic, and those were well outside of my creative wheelhouse. As I kept hammering away at the various drafts, more and more of my own interests leaked in. I added all-night dive bars, a noir-ish sense of sarcasm and cynicism, and a love of the schlocky slasher films of the 1980s. The disparate elements all merged together in an unexpected way. ‘Make Believe’ became a story of existential horror, of being terrified of the randomness of real life. It explored what bizarre lengths mankind will go through to find some kind of order. I finished the final draft, and I loved it. Then I read it to my girlfriend. She said it wasn't scary enough."

Naching Kassa on "Hero": "‘Hero’ is a story near and dear to my heart. My father was an Army veteran and a dog trainer. When he passed away in 2014, I became involved with a charity called Operation Dog Tag. The purpose of ODT is to provide veterans who suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and other disabilities, with a dog who will assist them in routine activities. Not only is the dog a helper, he is a companion and friend. I wrote ‘Hero’ to honor these service dogs as well as the veterans they love. Sarge, the narrator of the story, is a German Shepherd dog. He’s based on my dad’s dog, Ranger. Ranger was one of the best dogs I have ever known. He was brave, strong, smart, mischievous, and loyal. Sarge is loyal too, loyal to a fault. And, it’s his love for his master and his mistress that leads him into the final masquerade. I hope you enjoy reading this story and that you will take time to honor all veterans, whoever they may be."

D. S. Ullery on "Delivery": "In the grand tradition of EC Comics titles such as The Vault of Horror or Tales from the Crypt, my stories are frequently morality plays disguised as horror. I was wondering what to write about next when I saw a news item about a serial rapist. I got to thinking what sort of Hell would await a man like that. Once I began to apply the notion of ironic justice to the equation, all manner of wonderfully dark things started cooking inside my frankly twisted imagination. I hit upon the notion of having him experience the same degree of torment he exposed women to from their perspective, while feeling helpless the entire time. From that, my little monstrosity was born."

Sheldon Woodbury on "The God of Flesh": "I’ve always been attracted to characters that engage in horrible acts, but do so out of an emotional need we can all relate to. Stories that are just about a mindless monster or a cartoon villain are easy to dismiss. But real horror is when you realize you’re never truly safe, because bad things can happen in the most innocent of places, and the cause might even be you.  I came up with the title first, then the idea of a surgeon as the main character came next. If you want guts and gore, they’re bloody warriors fighting death every day. That takes more than a little arrogance to believe that you have the godlike skill to cheat death. The story began with a simple question. ‘How far would you be willing to go for the person you love?’ ‘The God of Flesh’ is a horror story, but it’s also about the power of love."

Adrian Chamberlin on "Urban Renewal": "The Green Man and its mysteries is a subject that has long fascinated me, as can be seen in my 2011 novel The Caretakers and the short story ‘The Spirit of Summer’ (in the 2013  collection The Dark Side of the Sun). I also love writing post-apocalyptic stories, and exploring how humanity either thrives or destroys itself under such extreme conditions, when new standards of morality have been established. With this story, I wanted to put a new spin on the Green Man mythos and explore what really lurks beneath the mask of civilisation when the bombs have long since dropped and mankind believes itself to be redeemed. ‘Urban Renewal’ takes place in a post- apocalyptic Britain where social divisions are stark, and the few areas that survived have raised barriers -- real and imagined -- between their prosperous lands and the industrial areas blighted by nuclear destruction. The relationship between humanity and the natural world has become perverted, twisted; a promised land for those who believe themselves to be superior, even blessed. This new civilisation is merely a mask that hides the dark nature of humanity, and as is always the case, it is the innocent who suffer -- we see this in the alienation of the orphan boy from the wasted lands who arrives at the new boarding school in this seemingly bucolic paradise; he is alone, alienated and isolated, but has a unique artistic talent that peels back the fake mask of beauty and order to reveal a primal force of nature that too has become corrupted. It is the eve of May Day, and the schoolchildren have been tasked with creating models of the Green Man, an iconic image that appears in churches and cathedrals throughout Britain; it is an archetype of humanity’s connection to the natural world. What the boy creates reverses that. It is a mask of the Green Man in retreat, composed of scrap metal and dangerous materials from the devastated lands of the apocalypse that he once called home, and an act of malice from one of his schoolmates awakens the power within the icon -- and himself."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

BEHOLD: THE PRISON COMPENDIUM!

One glance at the cover of EMP Publishing's newest project, The Prison Compendium, and I knew I wanted in. The only problem was, a run through my lists of written manuscripts and yet-to-be-written titles and ideas didn't match up. I had nothing that fit the guidelines.

Soon after the call was announced, we found ourselves enjoying an old classic during our weekly Saturday night movie date -- 1963's Jason and the Argonauts. I grew up loving Greek mythology (and also the Norse tales), and remembered this movie from the one time I watched it via rabbit ears in my youth. Halfway through -- and in desperate need of a bathroom break -- I paused the movie and hurried downstairs to my Writing Room, where I jotted down notes about one-time deities from dead religions being held for crimes of blasphemy in a big house like no other, one ruled over by heraldic hacks and a warden with an Old Testament temper. The Greek gods would forge an uneasy alliance with the Norse, Egyptian, and other prisoners to stage an escape. My story, "A Farewell to Apotheosis", was born and wrote itself fairly quickly over the following two days. Off it went to editor Jennifer Word, who contracted for "Apotheosis" with a glowing acceptance letter. It now appears among an impressive Table of Contents, in a beautiful volume devoted to an ugly subject.

Many of my wonderful fellow authors shared the back-stories behind their stories in The Prison Compendium.

Paul Stansfield on "A Ray of Hope": "I’m guessing most writers want their stories to stand out in some way, to be different from what’s come before.  In horror tales, the villain, the looming danger, is often a character that’s evil.  So, for my story, ‘A Ray of Hope,’ I wanted to put a twist on this cliché.  Most real life people who do terrible things nonetheless usually believe that what they’re doing is justified, or even moral, in some way.  Therefore, I created a main character who commits what could be considered to be the worst possible crime, but he has a justification which is arguably reasonable, given certain religious beliefs.  His point of view is clearly extremely warped, but he believes in what he’s doing, and is sane.  I think (I hope) this makes for a compelling character, and a thought-provoking story.  And because the main character is more realistic, this helps increase how frightening and disturbing it is, since it’s more likely to happen in real life.  I’m not saying that imaginary monsters can’t be scary, of course -- just that sometimes a cold dose of reality might keep the reader awake more than something that’s safely impossible."

Larry Lefkowitz on "A Rose is a Rose?": "I don’t recall where the idea for my story ‘A Rose is a Rose?’ first germinated. Surely it did not occur at the Parisian salon of Gertrude Stein (I am not quite that aged), where Gertrude tossed out her now famous, ‘A rose is a rose is a rose.’ I hope she will forgive my cutting down the original to two roses instead of three. There are those who prefer Four Roses (the bourbon), including, perhaps, the Rose named Pete.  Pete Rose is supposed to have a good sense of humor, so maybe he will excuse my borrowing him for the story. Most of the stories in The Compendium, I assume, are serious ones -- given the importance of the topic. Mine is humorous, and I am curious whether any prisoner reading it in the prison library would enjoy it or dismiss it. If it provides him or her with a brief escape from the tedium of prison life, I will be pleased."

Adrian Ludens on "Solitary Man": "It's no secret some authors employ ghostwriters to complete their work. I worked several years in a bookstore and noticed two successful western authors kept cranking out books despite the fact that both had died. I later learned that in one case, the publisher was releasing pulp stories the author had written under a pseudonym early in his career, while in the other instance, the publisher had hired other authors to ghost write new novels under the deceased author's name. The idea of a ‘ghostwriter,’ literal or otherwise, must have stuck in my head because years later the last line of the story popped into my head. Once I had that, the rest of the story wrote itself almost immediately. The framework of the story, which involves a man visiting his comatose son, is based on a distant relative of mine. He was hospitalized with a severe illness and his prognosis was very poor. He recovered -- only to be struck by a truck while riding his motorcycle a mere three months later. He remained in a coma for seven years before he died. I can't imagine how hard that was for his mother (a single parent) to endure, but I tried, in some small way, to honor his memory with this story."

Bruce Harris on "In the Jailhouse": "My first submission to The Prison Compendium, a pulpy western story about a small town sheriff and a jail cell was rejected. Undaunted, I conceived of the idea for ‘In the Jailhouse’ after hearing Elvis sing, ‘Jailhouse Rock’ on an oldies radio station."

James Miller on "Smaller": "After I first learned about some of the models of the universe, I became infatuated with the idea of a space that folded back upon itself in a way that made for a volume with no boundaries. Mentally playing with the scale of such a space, it became easy to see how this construct would make for a perfect prison, as there were no edges to pry up, and no place for anyone to work against for escape.  It became apparent the only escape from a prison like this would be psychological and not physical. I combined this concept with the idea that there are some things worth going to prison for and feel pretty good about the outcome. Hopefully it is as enjoyable to read as it was to write."

Bryan Grafton on "Misconceptions": "My story is about my son with the exception of the ending which I have horrible ized. I did so to make the story a complete tragedy. My son is out now, on parole, has a job and appears to be making his way in the world. Nevertheless every day I live in fear of the horrible ized ending becoming true. My wife is adopted too. Through the years raising our son it became the age old question of nature vs. nurture. We have both come to the conclusion that nature wins, that we are programmed a certain way from the moment of conception and there is nothing one can do to change that. We don’t have free choice. The existentialists are wrong. They are wishful thinkers."

Ken Goldman on "Swing a Sparrow on a String": "While a high school English teacher, I had this gorgeous blonde student -- let’s call her Donna. She sat near my desk where I could see her in the corner of my eye, and whatever literary question I asked my 11th graders, Donna’s hand always went up.  She was the brightest student in the room, and (well, okay) she also was the best looking with her golden hair and clear blue eyes. But somehow she seemed apart from the other kids in her class.  Donna asked for some after school tutoring (I’m sure she didn’t need it) and I made sure to meet her in the English office where no eyebrows would be raised. The school term had been into several months, and when Donna sat at the table only then did I notice that her left hand was severely misshapen. ‘Baby hand,’ I believe they call it.  Donna tried to keep it covered, but there it was! Here was this beautiful and gifted student inhibited by this one damned mistake of nature that in some twisted way defined her, and in her mind must have separated her from the other kids. Somehow she managed to muster the courage to say as much at the end of the hour -- and her words aren’t far off from what Angela says towards the end of ‘Swing a Sparrow on a String.’"

Lee Duffy on "Redemption": "This story takes a privileged, wealthy, self-centered, pampered, ivy-league educated young socialite and drops him into a Mississippi prison farm -- as a prisoner. I grew up roaming the deep woods that Steven Darlington finds himself in during his escape. It’s difficult terrain. And if you’ve ever seen a chain gang working along a southern highway, you probably know that a prison farm is no picnic. I wanted to see how someone like Steven would handle prison, and how he would fare alone in a Mississippi forest with bloodhounds on his trail. He surprised me. Still, we have to ask, where does privilege end and justice begin? And what does chicken soup have to do with any of it? Well, you will just have to read it to find out about the soup, but in the grand scheme of things this story is about a clash of cultures. It explores the idea that some among us feel they are above the law. Are they really? Sometimes they are. And does life always come full circle? Often it does."

Layla Cummins on "The Flea Jar": "Reader, I have a dirty secret. Back when I lived in a grotty house with my ex, we had a pet cat named George. He was a tubby little white and tabby-patched feline with a big heart and a flea problem. I was surprised to discover that I was quite adept at picking fleas off him and drowning them in water while he happily snoozed in my lap, and I was even more surprised to find I enjoyed it… Before anyone reports me for animal cruelty, I’ll stop there and tell you that we did treat his flea problem and he remained healthy and happy. I originally wrote ‘The Flea Jar’ after seeing a submission call for the anthology Bugs: Tales That Slither Creep and Crawl. It was probably the first time the advice ‘write what you know’ ever applied to a story I’d attempted, and it was a lot of fun! There’s one part in the tale that, as I wrote it, made me retch as I put myself in the shoes of my main character as he ate and tried to imagine the mouthfeel... I hope you feel the same way."

Travis Richardson on "Finding the Answer": "I originally wrote a 200-word story for a contest with a photo of an abandoned house with a murder of crows on the roof. I wrote about a woman looking at the house and remembering her past. The story didn't win, but it was mentioned as an (unpublished) finalist. I decided to go back to the story a few years ago and dig deeper, discovering more about the woman and her quest to find to find an answer to a question that had been bothering her. This became the story, ‘Finding The Answer.’"

Calvin Demmer on "Prisoner Reincarnated": "I’d seen the birds on The Prison Compendium’s cover and knew immediately I wanted to somehow incorporate at least one of them into my story. At the time, I’d been writing a lot of serious horror stories and felt like trying a different approach. When I began focusing on a dark humor story, something new for me, I was able to play around with different ways to include a bird. One of my ideas was of a prisoner who believed in reincarnation. This idea stuck, and I thought it would be great if he dreamed of coming back as a bird so that he may soar across the skies (a nice contrast to his being behind bars)…except in my tale he doesn’t get quite what he hoped for."

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Numbers Game

Math was my weakest subject in high school. Starting when I was fifteen -- though I'd always been a doodler, a scribbler, a daydreamer -- the right side of my brain got the better of me, and it has, thank the stars, resulted in a happy creative life. Still, I use just enough basic arithmetic to get by.

2016 was one of my most productive years ever -- my second best in term of number of words written, totaling some 478,000 and change. Add to that number at least another 30,000 in the form of a novel started in November, three short stories, and a screenplay all waiting to be completed in 2017. I finished 75 individual fiction projects -- 1 novel in July, 14 novellas, and the rest a mix of short stories and 1 flash weighing in at 100 words ("Catching Snowflakes" is presently on a very short list at a major publication project, waiting to learn if it's going to the dance). Last year, I sold 50 short stories and 4 of those novellas. In early October, on a warm, bright afternoon spent writing on my sun porch, I penned The End on my 1,200th work of fiction. All of my big numbers, dating back to my teen years, have been Space:1999 stories -- 1, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000. 1,200 was no different, thanks to my novella, "The Tomorrows", a powerfully personal, emotional experience that I was fortunate enough to share with the members of my writers' group over several weeks of meetings.

I went on 8 adventures in 2016 to destinations far and wide. Starting last February, I spent a wonderful weekend in Massachusetts, taking in the gala book launch of Murder Ink (which contains my short mystery, "Exhuming Secrets on a Hot August Day") in Boston, where the publisher treated us like royalty during a luncheon, reading, and signing. A month later, I was off to the first of 2 5-day trips to When Words Count, a luxury retreat center for writers in Vermont, where I split time between the Hemingway Room and Mark Twain Suite, and banged out a total of 6 first drafts (and much of that aforementioned screenplay). In May, I jetted off to Hollywood to attend the Roswell Awards, where my short story "Mandered" won Honorable Mention. In June, I enjoyed the wonderful retreat/workshop Writing From Nature. In September, I was off to not 1 but 2 writing adventures -- to the annual Writelines conference and workshop held on Star Island in the Isles of Shoals, and a return to the Waterfall House with members of my stellar writers' group. That same month, on September 18, I also got married to my longtime partner Bruce on the front lawn of our beautiful old house on the hill, Xanadu. The ceremony was attended by 37 friends and family members, who somehow all squeezed into our downstairs for the reception.

(arrival to the Twain Suite in mid-October)
As the autumn progressed, I was writing with a kind of tireless fire, and knew I was in for excellent numbers come the end of the year. But I also sensed a kink in my health, which I noticed (and foolishly ignored) on the first day of my Star Island adventure. The day after a marvelous Thanksgiving, I started to shiver, and over the course of the next two days, it grew worse. I also found myself unable to stand upright for long. On November 28, I went to our local hospital and was admitted. It would be 24 days before I was released to come home to family, Xanadu, and muse. During that time, I had surgery to remove a deep bone infection, suffered a severe allergic reaction to IV antibiotics, and, spurred on by the overwhelming desire to be home (and to attend the second Murder Ink gala launch in Boston at the end of February -- Ink 2 contains my sports-themed mystery "Murder at Channel Ten"), dove into a fierce commitment to physical therapy -- if the wonderful therapists suggested I do 5 minutes of reps on a machine in the gym, I did 8. If they wanted me to do 20 leg lifts, I did 30. During my hospital stay, I wrote 3 short stories based upon hallucinations I suffered the night following surgery. I jotted notes on a 4th (which I wrote upon my return home days before Christmas). Back at Xanadu, I was able to walk again -- for every 1 day spent bedridden in the hospital, according to the nursing staff, it takes 3 to get back on steady legs, a mathematical figure that terrified me...and one I was determined to best.

Healthy (and down some 13 pounds), I found my way back to my desk and loved every second of being in my home once more, my own bed, and, especially, my home office, where I got into my old groove and completed several more stories before 2016 ran out. So many, in fact, that for the first time since I was in my middle-20s, my list of as-yet-unwritten story ideas dropped below 100. January 1, 2017 kicked off with 99!

And I have 1 last number to report about. As I type this post, this small, beloved blog is just 53 reads shy of earning it's 100,000th. Thank you to all the readers from across the globe who've taken time to follow my writing adventures -- here's to a million more!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

BEHOLD: MISKATONIC DREAMS!

I love it when a personal invitation to submit to a publisher or editor's newest project comes my way. I almost always say yes, even though an invite isn't a guarantee of an acceptance, and do my best to honor the invitation by bringing my A Game to the table. Early in 2016, I received such an invitation from the brilliant H. David Blalock, whom I had the pleasure of publishing when I edited The Call of Lovecraft for EJP in 2011. Last year, Mr. Blalock asked me to submit to The Idolaters of Cthulhu, an anthology he was editing for the fine folks at Alban Lake Publishing. I wrote a story that was almost instantly contracted for, and got to be part of a beautiful release. This year's anthology would focus on the strange goings-on at Lovecraft's school of the mysterious and bizarre, fabled Miskatonic University. I was immediately smitten...if not quite so sure about what to submit. I have hundreds of first-draft manuscripts held in inventory inside my filing cabinets waiting to be trotted out and edited on the computer for future calls-for-submission, but nothing already written or jotted down on a note card in my catalog of unwritten ideas even remotely met the guidelines.

2016 has been one of my most productive years of writing ever, and one I'll remember for a number of adventures -- writing awards, fantastic retreats, my wedding, and book launches among the highlights. But before any of those adventures were enjoyed, the call for Miskatonic Dreams stands out for setting what became a wonderful tone for this year. I had nothing to submit. And then, one dark winter early morning, I woke up with an idea about two students failing class who are given a chance at extra-credit -- if they agree to catalog part of the university's collection of rare oddities housed in the vaults beneath Miskatonic U. Later that same morning, I put pen to blank page, and the following day had a completed rough draft. "Residue" dashed itself off at a fairly quick clip, and was accepted into another stunning volume (in fact, Mr. Blalock received enough quality submissions to justify the publishing of a companion anthology, Miskatonic Nightmares).

It was my pleasure to speak with my fellow authors regarding the back-stories behind their dark Miskatonic dreams.

Aaron Vlek on "The Accursed Lineage": "I have always had a special place in my heart for the batrachians in the Lovecraft mythos. When the call came out for his anthology I loved the idea of mixing my favorite things, libraries, batrachians, and Christmas into a disturbing nog that pushed the questions further. How might these creatures view their human relatives? Why wouldn’t the library at Miskatonic University hold just as much awe, fascination, and possibility, for the batrachians than it does the sometimes too curious human species? I loved getting into the head of this priggish fellow hunkered down at his studies over Christmas break when he has the run of the place to himself. But as the musty tomes and glittering horrors of the library wreck havoc on the human psyche, what lies within those hallowed walls, and below, to test the mettle and fortitude of a proud batrachian researcher shunning both humans, and his own fellows, when his research takes an unexpected turn? What would bring monstrous horror and seductive wonder to the batrachian denizen of the deep black sea? In ‘The Accursed Lineage’, that was a lot of fun to explore!"

Dave Shroeder on "Dear Mother and Father": "Dave Schroeder was inspired to write his story for Miskatonic Dreams when a friend he’d met at LibertyCon invited him to submit a piece for consideration. Dave is known for humor more than horror, so it was a stretch for him write something in Lovecraft’s universe. His only exposure to Lovecraft was through voice acting with the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company, which frequently performs works by the master of the macabre. To find a funny angle on a dark topic, Dave thought the idea of a college student’s letters home to his parents would be an entertaining way to explore both the comic and serious aspects of student life at Miskatonic. For humor without the horror, Dave recommends checking out his Xenotech Support science fiction series from Spiral Arm Press about an entrepreneur doing tech support for alien technology after Earth has joined the Galactic Free Trade Association. To find out how the fun begins, look for Xenotech Rising on Amazon and see why reviewers are comparing Dave to Jim Butcher, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams."

Chad Eagleton on "Your Special Advocate": "There was never any question that I would submit to Miskatonic Dreams. To pay my bills, I work in student affairs at a real-life university. Our purview covers anything that has to do with student health, conduct, and safety -- all issues that would be doubly important to an actual Miskatonic University. While my relationship to Lovecraft’s work has changed drastically over the years and my worldview is certainly nothing like his, what has never waned is my desire to play in his cosmos. To me, the richness, the depth, and the sheer breadth of Lovecraft’s imaginative creations, I think, are far more interesting and engaging than either his style or his nihilism. So I jumped at the chance to tie my real life knowledge in with ‘The Dunwich Horror’ -- the only Lovecraft story where the good guys win -- and create ‘Your Special Advocate,’ a wholly modern and, in some ways, more upbeat mythos tale than you’ll normally find anywhere else."

Jill Hand on "How I Died": "I need you to get me a book.”  The white-haired woman slid into the coffee shop’s black vinyl booth, across from Olivia.  Not ‘I want you to get me a book,’ Olivia noted, but ‘I need you to.’
            Olivia, no stranger when it came to nuance, raised her eyebrows.  This could be interesting.
            “A special order?”
            The woman nodded her head and took a sip of coffee.  Her lips were blood-red but they left no smudge on the cup’s rim.  Not lipstick then, or maybe it was a kind of lipstick that didn’t come off.  Despite her white hair, the woman didn’t look much older than Olivia, who was nineteen and a freshman at Miskatonic University.
            The woman slid a thick envelope across the table.  Olivia looked inside.  Hundred-dollar bills, twenty of them.   This was interesting.
            She asked, “What book do you need?”
            The woman’s red lips curved in a smile.  “The Book of Eibon.  I imagine a smart girl like you can find a way to get it out of the special collections room.  Do it and you’ll be richly rewarded.”
            Olivia put the money in her purse and smiled back at her.

S. L. Edwards on "The Darkness Makes Us Whole": "I wrote ‘The Darkness Makes Us Whole’ shortly after beginning graduate school. Being in grad school allowed me to think of Miskatonic less as a creation of Lovecraft’s and more as an actual university. What would such an esteemed institution, supposedly inspired by Brown and other Ivy League colleges, do after several scandals of faculty in the social and natural sciences losing their minds? What would happen when an expedition returned to Antarctica, finding no temples and plateaus, but only ice? That’s how ‘The Darkness Makes Us Whole’ began, Miskatonic has been disgraced by these scandals, its academic reputation never having fully recovered. Enter a zealous graduate student. Enter Secrets. Enter Madness. But the story took on a life of its own. It became one of the very real curses that weave their way across bloodlines and echo into the blackness of the lonely mind. I began to wonder why only the artists, only the fringe-dwellers of society would be attracted to Lovecraft’s monsters. Was it loss? Was it giving into the idea of insignificance, and somehow making this world more manageable? Enter Loss. Enter Depression.’ The Darkness Makes Us Whole.’ We can only hope."

Eric Tarango on "One Last Death": "I was Facebook surfing and came across the announcement from Alban Lake and read the guidelines and submission subject. I usually zone out when I am thinking and letting images come to mind. I kept imagining what the hallways of an empty university would look like, and who would be wandering the hallways. I saw my character come into mind standing by the corner of a wall and peering around to see if it was safe to travel the hallway. I knew she was dead when I saw her, and that she had died at the university. What I did not know was why she was afraid if she was dead. I put a few sentences down to get the feel of the story and it took on a life of its own from there. I love when that happens with a story. I was writing for about an hour on my couch, I lived alone, recently divorced; a stack of books on my nightstand, been there for days untouched, and suddenly the top one just fell over onto the floor. Scared the crap out of me. I jumped and almost dropped my laptop. That was not cool, but I was wide awake and alert and kept going in and out of the story to check my surroundings. Not the only time it happened to me, too."

DJ Tyrer on "Authorised Librarians Only":  "My story was inspired by thoughts about what Miskatonic University's library would be like in the present age, as obviously, they know exactly what sort of crazy stuff they're sitting on. I suspect Theo may have been born from thoughts for a story for a different anthology, but if that was her genesis, she was very much her own, three-dimensional character by the time she emerged from my subconscious to play her part here. Beyond those details, I can't recall much about the way I arrived at the story - it was one of those that came together without too much conscious thought, as if I was reporting on something that happened rather than inventing it: a wonderful way to write a story, but not one that lends itself to writing a terribly interesting back-story about its creation!"

Lyssa Wilhelm on "Miskatonic University Email Updates": "‘Miskatonic University Email Updates’ was heavily inspired by Nightvale (a show inspired by H.P. Lovecraft). I enjoyed the first-person aspect of the podcast and thought it would be interesting to have something similar to that. I didn't want to do anything too similar to Nightvale, so instead of coming up with weird things on my own, I delved deep into the pit of Lovecraft lore and short stories. Almost every email has a reference to one of H.P's works, if not multiple. My father was a big help with this story, as he is an encyclopedia of Lovecraft stories and helped me with how certain references should be done if I didn't have any ideas. He was a big help. An example of harder to see references would be ‘The Outsider’. Since it was so short, there wasn't an easy way to reference it in the emails. But, I loved the story and wanted to include it. So, I made an anagram of the name Outsider = Stu Dorie, as well as making him the guidance councilor. There are many other references in the story and I hope that people can find them and enjoy how they were done."

Guy Riessen on "The Bridges of Arkham County": "When I read the call for stories for Miskatonic Dreams, ‘what happens in the halls of MU after all the human students are gone,’ I immediately thought ‘professorial love story.’ Of course the irony of a mythos love story was too good to pass up, and it had to be a human professor and a mythos creature. I knew I wanted to write a tale of love-that-couldn't-be -- something like Bridges of Madison County, and the title was born. I don't write an outline for my short stories, so watching them unfold is quite a lot of fun. It's a bit like watching TV only on super slo-mo because I can only type so fast, you know. I wasn't sure how the story would end until I was writing it. Would the professor get eaten at the end? Go insane when he realized the cosmic horror of his ‘girlfriend’? Would the lovers discover they were both different mythos creatures masquerading as human? Just like watching a TV mystery I tried to guess the twist, but it ended up something very different than even I expected!"

James Simpson on "If These Shadows Could Talk": "I think the idea for this story was really meant as a celebration not just of Lovecraft's work, which I make references to, but also several of his own inspirations. There are pieces of Hodgson, Chambers and Machen in there along with a touch of Poe, Shelley and Stoker. It would be fun to expand upon this somewhat. I suppose there's a melancholic edge to it as well. There's this loneliness to evil and these creatures display that even among their kind. There's a tinge of sadness that pervades the whole thing as if these creatures are just stuck in perpetual motion, quietly hoping for release and, perhaps, envying the human race that they supposedly despise so much. There's symbolism to the light and how these beings belong to the darkness. It reminds us that we have never quite mastered the night despite our progression with technology and science. The darkness has always been home to the unknown and we all remember what Lovecraft considered the oldest and strongest fear..."  

Monday, October 31, 2016

Meet the Luminous and Talented Tonya Blue

I first met author Tonya Blue during a spring trip to When Words Count, one of two visits in 2016 to the luxury retreat center for writers in Vermont. I was instantly impressed by both the writer and the writing. Tonya had penned a fantastic book based upon her experience as a teacher in the inner city schools -- frank, unapologetic, gorgeously written. Adding to that late March visit was the added bonus of enjoying Tonya perform the work during the nightly sharing of writing in the center's Gertrude Stein Salon -- Tonya planned to take I am the Children I Teach to the stage in Baltimore in August of 2016, and blew us away with her excerpts, becoming the book's four lead characters -- teachers Ms. Brown, Ms. Wilson, and students The Boy and Red-haired Girl.

It was my pleasure to sit down and talk craft with the fabulous Tonya.

I loved I am the Children I Teach! In Vermont, you told me the back-story as to why you wrote this book, with this focus (partly through the lens of a teacher who doesn’t exactly live for her students). Can you share that story here?
I believe a lot of people think teaching is easy. It’s not. I thought that too, and that was one of the reason I applied for the job.  I thought it was easy enough to teach and go home with summers and weekends off. Snow days -- yes! Holiday breaks -- awesome! Wrong. Teaching is not easy. You are never told the true experiences you may face in a classroom or the challenges our students (mostly inner city youth) encounter. I am the Children I Teach looks at the side of teaching most don’t like to discuss, the issues that can cause a ripple effect in your classroom climate. We educators are given one of the biggest responsibilities and that is to help mold a child so they can become a successful adult. Many of my students don’t get a chance to just be children at home because of other responsibilities, exposure to adult issues, or due to their environment. The last thing I expected was a battle for control or a fight to show a child you care and to get them to believe you or a child who can’t read and doesn’t want to learn how so they refuse to do the work. We as educators have to fight for the trust of our students before we can teach them the content.  It’s a hard battle and you have to be strong to stay the course. 

(Tonya on stage as "Ms. Brown")
I wrote the book after going to a few professional developments that did not reflect my teaching experiences. No one told me about these challenges, they just told me about lesson planning and grading, but not how to build relationships with children, lay aside my own biases, and embrace them anyway. That’s hard when you are taught to respect your elders and everything else falls into place. Our classrooms can be a place of learning and one of a battle for control at the same time. There is no class or course for building a relationship before you teach your content. That is on the job training and it is what makes some leave the profession. You get tired of fighting just to help and to show you care. I wrote about my experience and of those who I know. I wanted to tell the truth of what is behind the eyes of a child and an adult (our own pain, experience and desires) when we enter the classroom. To shine a light on the real experience of teaching in an inner city school, the baggage we all bring into the classroom, and to make educators reflect on our own childhood and how our childhood manifests through our relationships with certain students.

In August, you did a staged performance of the book. Please tell us about that -- the genesis, the challenges, the results!
I had started writing my series Famine and I just couldn’t ‘get into it. I felt like I am the Children I Teach wasn’t done. I had copies in my basement and I kept wondering why. I realized I wasn’t finished with those characters yet. I always loved theater and did a few shows in college and in my 30s. I have even done stand-up comedy a few times. I live for the stage and I knew I wanted to write a script for the book, but I wasn’t sure of how. I sat at my desk and tried to just cut and paste pages from the book, no go! As soon I let go of what I thought it should be, it became what it was meant to be. I thought ok now what. Do auditions and see if I can rent a space, but in reality I wasn’t sure if anyone would know them like me. Who would evoke the emotion that I carried for five years for each character. So, I thought I can do it. I know them, because I am them. I am each character that I wrote about. So it began. I knew of a young lady, Naelis Erving, who produced and directed For Colored Girls and we had a reading at Panera. Her excitement and belief in me was enough for me to go forward. A two-woman team put on a one-woman show in three weeks. I can truly say I am very proud of our work. She pushed me to new levels and this process became therapeutic for me. I told of my own story of abuse and pain and was released from it as soon as I hit the stage. We sold out our first night and were only seven seats away from selling out our second night. I had finally lived a dream, my characters had come to the stage and I haven’t been the same since.

(Tonya as The Boy)
I loved hearing you read from the book in person -- so powerful! How did that translate on stage to a bigger audience?
There are four main characters in the novel, Ms. Brown, The Boy, Redhead Freckle Faced Girl and Ms. Wilson. I played Ms. Brown, The Boy and Redhead and brought Ms. Wilson to life through audio and pictures. My stage was an actual classroom. My audience sat in student’s chairs and they received a waiver for being a part of a classroom discussion/scene. I made the play interactive so the audience felt like students from the time they entered the school. They had to respond to parts of the play and were held accountable for their “homework.” I believe the classroom was the perfect stage, my audience felt included and the smell, set up and decor of the classroom was the icing on the cake.

Tell us about your creative process -- where you write, how you write, and what subjects call to your creativity.
When I write I like it quiet. I sit down at my desk, pray and then there are a few quotes I have hanging from my desk that I read aloud. I am surrounded by things and smells that make me smile. My vision board is in front of me, my grandmother’s teapot, writing utensils I have collected from my travels, a picture or my husband and parents. I burn scented oils and turn on my small desk light and go. Whenever I hit a roadblock, I do the Cupid shuffle (line dance) or play a spiritual/ uplifting song (Jill Scott, Stevie Wonder, India Erie, Marvin Sapp), dance my heart out and get back to it. If I can’t write at home, Barnes and Noble is a wonderful muse for me or just to sit outside and listen to nature.

(Tonya as the Red-haired Girl)
What are you presently working on?
I am working on a few things. Presently I am tweaking the show to go on tour next year hopefully to hit three-four cities next summer. I am working on a devotional for writers and runners, my Famine novel series and a workbook as a supplement for the novel for a series of professional development for new and veteran teachers that I would hope to do for the 2017-18 school year.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

BEHOLD -- IN A CAT'S EYE!

We love our cats. All were rescues from neglect or abuse. All are, we often say, like a million bucks that nobody else wanted, and we were lucky enough to claim as our own. We presently have two cats, Ozzie and Wheezer. Ozzie came to us circuitously eight years ago from a far-away land, a survivor of an infamous cat hoarding case. Wheezer found her way to Xanadu from just down the road -- her elderly human caretaker had passed away, and she'd gone to live with the woman's sons, who didn't exactly care for her. When she showed up three autumns ago, yowling in her cat carrier as she was walked up our driveway, the sound broke our hearts, and we knew we'd offer her the best home possible. It didn't matter that we were told she was three years old and it turned out she was fourteen; she soon took charge of the house as rightful queen (with Ozzie, ever, as pampered princess) and our home was made complete following the loss of our previous female feline monarch, the famous Chicken, who once saved our entire family from obliteration (it's true -- she woke the house when the Mother's Day Nor'Easter of 2007 filled our basement and flooded our furnace while we slept, and the pipes quaked. Had she not roused the house awake, a bomb crater would have been all that was left, according to our gas company. Chicken won the Feline Hero Pet Award from the MSPCA, where we adopted her, later that autumn).

In May on the morning I readied to fly to Hollywood to attend the star-studded The Roswell Awards (my short story "Mandered" won Honorable Mention in this year's contest), I saw that a neighbor's new cat was perched outside our sun porch door, harassing Ozzie. I've traveled far and wide in 2016, to numerous writing retreats located on islands, mountaintops, and waterfalls. Hollywood was my third of eight adventures, and by the time I landed I missed our little family and the Muse had already turned the incident with the neighbors' cat into a new story. In my hotel room, I sat down and began the tale of a neighbor delivered an ominous warning by his crazy neighbors' cat, and had penned half of it by the time I took to the stage to accept my Roswell Award. Soon after completing "The Neigthbors' Cat", I read about Pole to Pole Publishing's new project, In a Cat's Eye, and hastened through edits on the computer. Soon after, I received a rewrite offer, and made my few changes while a new roof was being put on Xanadu. Sparse days later, the official acceptance arrived. I'm proud to be part of this amazing release, which also features a reprint of "The Brazilian Cat" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Many of my talented co-authors shared the back-stories behind their stories in In a Cat's Eye.

Gail Z. Martin on "Catspaw": "When Vonnie and Kelly [the publishers] asked me for a cat story, I knew I wanted to write it in my Deadly Curiosities dark urban fantasy universe, set in Charleston, SC. My main character, Cassidy Kincaide, is a psychometric. Cassidy runs Trifles and Folly, an antique store that is a front for an Alliance of mortals and immortals who get haunted and cursed objects out of the wrong hands and fight supernatural threats. So I had the ‘where’ and the ‘who’, and now I needed the ‘what’. The gist of the story came to me, and that got me started -- a necromancer’s cat. The title sprang to mind from the Star Trek: TOS episode of the same name. The cat had to play an essential role in the story, and since the piece was short, we had to get to the action quickly. I had decisions to make. Was the cat good or evil? Did the cat itself possess supernatural powers or was it a pawn, a victim, a familiar or a co-conspirator? Read ‘Catspaw’ and find out!"

Oliver Smith on "Grimmun": "Most of the characters are thinly veiled Norse gods, except for Sweet who is a bunch of wild herbs and snails. ‘Grimmun’ conflates the metaphor of the clockwork universe with the physical universe and mixes up human custom with natural law. Cutting across this implausible world of authorial confusion and scientific ignorance strides Ratter the Cat, a tribute to every vicious farm kitten ever adopted into my family. How excited I was as small child to wake in the morning and find a new dissection spread across the lawn by our own ‘Ratter’. The cats procured a fantastic variety of wildlife: frogs, toads, rats, mice, birds, slowworms, and even a bat (rescued alive). I blame these daily scenes of slaughter for my abidingly morbid imagination. Without those cats I would probably write uplifting stories of noble heroes doing whatever thing they do. I would dream of pretty flowers, not the horrors presented in ‘Grimmun’. I would be good. I would be happy.  I now own a house cat who will tackle nothing bigger than a woodlouse -- if you care to, you can read about her in ‘The Sulphur Remedy’ in my collection Basilisk Soup."

Steven R. Southard on "The Cats of Nerio-3": "What? A call for submissions for a cat anthology? I’ll pass; I don’t own a cat, or even like them. (Mysterious voice): Hello, Steve. Who’s that? I’m your muse. You will write a cat story, a story about cats in an abandoned space station who’ve mutated into panther-sized monsters, now adapted to weightlessness. Really? I’m going to write that? Well, I’ll help. A little. In fact, I’ve given you the seed of an idea, so my job here is done. Bye. Wait, Muse, is that all I get? Muse? Sheesh. She does this every stinkin’ time. Leaves the hard part to me. Giant mutant cats in space, huh…"


(Queen Wheezer)
K. I Borrowman on "Kings of the Concrete Jungle": "Baker is a domestic shorthair cat from Al Khor, Qatar. One of his distinctive features is his central heterochromatic eyes. He came from a large family and had six brothers and sisters. An avid adventurer, Baker left home at the young age of nine weeks to pursue a life of banditry. Currently, Baker’s favourite hiding places include: under the sofa, his laundry duckie, and any box or bag, no matter the size. Baker came up with the idea for “Kings of the Concrete Jungle” when he demonstrated to his human, K.I. Borrowman, how his unique feline traits would help ensure his survival during any upcoming zombie apocalypses. To learn more about Baker, please visit his website, www.spotthekitty.com. Be sure to check out his advice column for other cats under the ‘Latest Mews” tab and download his game, Spot the Kitty, for your Android or Apple device."

Christine Lucas on "A Pinch of Chaos": "‘A Pinch of Chaos’ was the first story I wrote after a three-year break from writing. It's a story that opens with gut-wrenching loss, much like the loss I felt often throughout these three years. But in its heart it's also a Hero's Journey, mapping in some level my own journey during that time against seemingly impossible obstacles to regain all that I had lost. In this journey, both in the story and in life, the Wise Sage never came. Only cats came, with all the joy and – sometimes -- heartbreak this entails. Perhaps there's no Wise Sage at all in this Journey we call Life, only a crone with a wicked sense of humor, and her head is a cat's head. As one of my characters often says, ‘Cats are Bast's ongoing prank on mankind.’ He should know -- he's a High Priest. As for the Journey, in fiction as in life, it has closure, but no End. Ithaka will always lie beyond the horizon, and Circles have no ends."

Doug C. Souza on "Tenth Life": "Doug C. Souza began his story ‘Tenth Life when the first line, ‘I found Mr. Gary confessing to the cat one evening, popped into his head. It was a random image that seemed to have the makings of a fun story. He had no idea where the characters would end up, but one thing was certain: the cat would be a gray tabby. A couple years earlier, Doug C. Souza had to say goodbye for the final time to the greatest cat that ever walked the face of the Earth. He’s glad his pal Remy found a home in one of his stories. Recently, Doug won first place in the Writers of the Future Contest, and has a story featured in The Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide due out later this year. His story “Mountain Screamers”--a novelette about cougars--appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Doug C. Souza hopes you enjoy ‘Tenth Life, a story where a cat gets into (and out of) trouble the way only a cat can."

A. L. Sirois on "Three Wizards and a Cat": "Regarding Three Wizards and a Cat, I wrote an earlier story with the protagonist, Rali Ribhu, in the same far-future setting, using that same Jack Vance type of sardonic voice. This story is a follow-up to that tale, The Comet Doom, but not a direct sequel. I loved writing this, and people have responded well to it. Perhaps Rali will ride again one of these days. It would be fun to put him into a novel-length story."


(The Princess Ozzie, days before our move to Xanadu)
Joanna Hoyt on "Another Man's Cure": "The submissions call for In A Cat’s Eye gave me an excuse to complete an odd little half-story which had been prowling around the back of my mind for a few years. Dr. Marcus Leeds, the world’s foremost -- indeed, the world’s only -- cryptoethnogastronomist, with his pride in his objectivity, his defensiveness around his unusual discipline, his basic decency and his occasional difficulty in treating his research subjects as people, was already clear in my mind. So was the dangerous sweetness of the kopiat and the dangerous otherness of the wicked little cat known as the stiss. I wasn’t quite sure what they were all going to do together, but I enjoyed finding out. Marcus, of course, bears no resemblance whatsoever to any of the human-studying experts I have encountered. None whatsoever. Well, not very much… I am grateful that the anthology editors liked him well enough to advocate (successfully) for a somewhat happier ending."

A. L. Kaplan on "Mark of the Goddess": "‘Hi, Maya. Tell me about your role in 'Mark of the Goddess'.’

‘Sure, but first, where did you get the idea for this story?’

‘I’ve always been drawn to mythology, and this call for submissions screamed for the Mayan jaguar goddess. Writing a story with no canines was a challenge. I’m a dog person and a major wolf fanatic.’

‘Is that why you made my jungle so dangerous?’

‘Realism is important, especially for fantasy stories. I did a lot of research to create the right kinds of wildlife.’

‘Yeah. Thanks a lot for all the carnivorous plants and animals.’

‘No apologies there. Changing subjects, I love the bright colors in your dress.’

‘My mom is a wiz with dyes. She did all the beadwork with colored seeds. We can’t afford stone beads.’

‘Well, it’s lovely.  Speaking of dyes, what’s with the brown stain in your eyes? Be proud of who you are.’

‘Are you trying to get me killed? No one can know my true eye color. Why are authors so cruel to their characters? I don’t know how I’m going to survive this story.’

‘You’ll have to read it and find out if you do.’"