Friday, July 22, 2016

BEHOLD: BEHIND THE UNIFORM!

On the night before I departed Camp Necon in July of 2012, I experienced a gritty, intensely romantic dream that left me reaching for a blank note card about a sex worker in a near futuristic war who learns he holds the key to stopping a ruthless alien invasion. That knowledge is delivered by a handsome colonel, who visits the camp where he works. As the dream played out, the colonel took on the face of my beloved muse, and I became Milo Hanover, the seemingly average, unremarkable older man who discovers he's anything but. I even dreamed the opening few lines, along with the title of the tale -- "The Head Shed", which was the nickname for Milo's place of employment and the service both he and it provided to humanity's war-weary defenders. I showered, hastened downstairs to the cafeteria for iced coffee before it was open to serve the wonderful writing conference's attendees, and began work on the story. I gutted out the first thousand or so words longhand, shocked at how formed the world Milo and the colonel inhabited was, and would have continued but then breakfast service started, and soon after I departed Rhode Island for my home in New Hampshire. "The Head Shed" went into a file folder, which then went into my works-in-progress filing cabinet drawer, and its note card found its way into my catalog of unwritten ideas. We bought a house and moved. Other projects and deadlines took front and center -- until this past March when I read about Mischief Corner Books' new submission call for Behind the Uniform, a M/M romance anthology. "The Head Shed" again jumped to the head of the line, and I soon dashed the remainder of what I thought would be a long short story as novella, loving every moment of my time together with Milo, Colonel Joe Dunnegin, their unconventional love, and their desperate plan to drive out the Grunk menace. Following my usual stringent edits, I sent "The Head Shed" off to MCB, who accepted it a few weeks later as one of three novellas for Behind the Uniform. This July, BTU has been published to some incredible kudos -- even before its launch, it became an All-Romance e-Book best seller, and continues to sell mightily post-release (print is due to be available shortly). It was my pleasure to speak to my two BTU co-authors regarding their contributions to this wonderful anthology.

Jon Keys on "It's the Hat": "The anthology subject grabbed my attention and didn't relent. Since I was young I've had a fascination with men in uniforms and their behind the scenes lives. But I already wrote a short story several years ago focused on two married police officers, so I wanted to go beyond the expected and find another field that met my needs. In my research I discovered forest rangers have the highest mortality rate of any of my guys in uniform. So I found my hero. Add to that a recent art school graduate working as a waiter who has a weakness for bad boys, and I was happy with the mix of characters. From there the setting flowed. I've visited Michigan's west coast on numerous occasions, and several items caught my eye. The area's beauty struck me first: Lovely blue waters and wide sandy beaches. The scenery is breathtaking. More notable traits, most of the towns survive from the tourist trade and a lot of those visitors eventually buy a cabin. This was more striking to me because it's so different from the southwest where I lived most of my life. Between all of these, I had the components from which the story grew."

Toni Griffin on "A Wolf in Cop's Clothing": "My short story is actually Book 7 in one of my most popular series. I'm constantly being asked by my readers for more from the Holland Brothers. After I finished book 4, the last in the main series, I said that was it, there wasn't going to be any more. However, the boys just never stop talking to me. As soon as I give them even the start of an idea in my head they take it and run. This is exactly what happened this time. I was sitting at my desk at work one day, checking messages from my author friends in the US. When the subject of the Behind the Uniform anthology was brought up. Men in uniform got my brain thinking about one of the Holland brothers, Marcus, who's a cop. It had been about 14 months since I'd allowed the boys to visit me and as soon as my mind even thought about them they took over. I had a furious messaging session with my friend, and within a half hour the entire story line had come to me and was just begging to be written. I was then stuck at work with this story busting to get out. When I got home that night the laptop was opened and the story flowed. It was written in less than 3 days. I hope you enjoy!"




Saturday, July 16, 2016

BEHOLD: PENTAGONAL SEXTET!

At the end of March, as I readied to depart for a four-day stay at the luxury retreat center When Words Count, I received one of those rare and wonderful invitations asking me to submit not one but five short stories for a project by the fine folks at Great Old Ones Publishing. GOOP have been wonderful to write and edit for -- I've been involved with numerous of their quality publications, including their Mummy anthologyBugs: Tales That Creep, Slither, and Crawl, and my beloved Tales From the Robot Graveyard. And what writer would say no to such a fabulous invitation -- to be part of a release meant to showcase some of the publisher's most celebrated writers? I wouldn't have long to be part of Pentagonal Sextet, about one month to gather up and submit my five tales. On my way out the door to Vermont and WWC, I stuffed two additional note cards with new story ideas jotted on them in with fresh folders and blank lined paper, and figured I'd heap them onto the pile of what I already planned to write while camped out in the Gertrude Stein Salon and my accommodations up in the Hemingway Suite.

My first afternoon at WWC, one of my proposed stories, "The Right to Drive" (about a near-future society where motorists no longer drive alone within the confines of their vehicles) got dashed off in longhand draft almost to completion before our chef appeared in the salon with appetizers. The story seemed perfect for what I was hoping to accomplish -- a sort of mini-collection, a kind of greatest hits, in which none of the stories were remotely like their siblings in terms of theme, sub-genre, or characters. By the end of the retreat (in addition to completing a murder mystery geared toward the annual Al Blanchard contest -- I didn't win, but placed in the top five on two of the judges' finalist's lists!), I had my second story drafted. Pentagonal Sextet contains the aforementioned techno-horror tale, one about giant monsters straight out of a nightmare, one about ancient evils and the monster hunters who pursue them, one about a haunted house, and, finally, 'Fiddleheads', about malevolent horrors from the deep woods. Pentagonal, featuring five stories each by six Great Old Ones writers, boasts one of the sharpest, most unforgettable covers ever. Many of my talented fellow authors shared the back-story behind their contributions to the project.

Sara Fowles: "I spend my days, as most writers do, taking ordinary moments and asking myself 'what if?' in order to transform them into something more fitting to an alternate reality. All of my narratives come directly from imagining these alternative scenarios. What if, for instance, demons were interested in stealing faces, not souls, and what if they shopped for them in the grocery store? What if I took a nap at work and when I woke up, the office had been transformed into a giant, bizarre corn maze from which I couldn’t escape? These are the two specific thoughts that ultimately became the stories 'Banana Man' and 'Corn Maze,' respectively. They occurred to me within the most banal of settings, yet the posited fictional realities presented provided me with endless entertainment and a few bouts of insomnia, as I found myself caught somewhere between the realms of dreams and reality. I have tried my best to replicate this effect via the stories I penned."

Eric S. Brown: "It was an honor to be asked to be a part of this anthology. I had been longing for a chance to write some short fiction again and this was the perfect chance to do so. My time had been being spent mostly with giant monster fiction (aka- my newer books: Kraken, Kraken Island, and Kraken vs. Megalodon). The tales in the book from me are all wildly random horror scenarios that came to me after I got invited to be in the book. They range from an end of the world Kaiju story to straight up ‘military horror’. I had a great deal of fun writing them."

Philip C. Perron: "Pentagonal Sextet is just a splendid book.  For my part, I love writing about the brooding and the melancholy and so, not too oddly, four of my five tales are like that. But also I noticed something else, that two of them became something different.  The story ‘The Fields of Salvation’ is about an Asian woman who has the genetic difference of albinism.  I thought about what would make someone stand out and therefore attract unnecessary attention.  As Asian folk go, hair and eye diversity is completely different than Caucasians.  So being an individual with albinism would most certainly look exotic, and in some cases would bring unwanted attention.  For the tale ‘Dolly, Do I Have a Soul?’, I chose to base the tale in the not so distant future where the lead woman is actually a clone of her own mother.  But more interestingly, its a world where cloning, at least in the states, is frowned upon.  So unfortunately for her, she has become a target of both progressives and conservatives since one side is against science gone amuck while the other may hold more traditional religious beliefs.  Honestly, there was no intention, but both tales when I re-read them for inclusion in this collection, surprised me in how they were both in ways an allegory for the LGBT community and how being a bit different can sometimes bring unwanted attention.  And both tales show two sides of a coin: the struggle of not hiding one’s identity while in the other, hiding one’s identity.  ‘The Fields of Salvation’ is about a young recently married woman who just happens to have the condition of albinism that she can't hide from, while in ‘Dolly, Do I Have a Soul?’, the woman is intentionally hiding from her own identity (that of a clone) so she can just live a normal life away from being judged.  I hope folks who read my stories take something with them after they put the book down, even if my intentions were only to just write five fabulous little tales of the weird."

E.G. Smith: "With ‘The Stick Devils’, I set out to write a story both longer and more action-packed than my previous work, with multiple frantic action scenes separated by reflective lulls . The Pacific Northwest setting is common in my writing, as is the man-against-nature theme and the eager toady versus know-it-all leader character conflict. The greatest challenge of this story was researching illicit pot growing to ensure that the dialog was accurate and the plot plausible. (And like any horror writer, I hope that the FBI, DEA or any other three letters don't look into my browser history. ‘I was just doing research for a story, officer.’)  It turns out that marijuana plants are oily and highly flammable, which helped drive the story's fiery climax. While I must give a nod to Joe Lansdale's Bubba Ho-Tep for the improvised flame thrower idea, I think that my story might be the first one with a hero running around with a stick through his neck while high on smoke from a burning pot farm."

Friday, July 8, 2016

Writing From Nature

(Early Sunday morning, writing at dawn)
For the first thirteen years of my life, nature and the natural world were constant companions. Apart from Saturday afternoon creature double-features, I spent most of my days outside, exploring and dreaming among the acres of dark pine forest and overgrown fields that surrounded the enchanted cottage where I grew up. I remember the panic when dump trucks and earth movers entered the woods the summer I turned five -- horrified and thinking they were there to bulldoze down the woods, I frantically raced about, digging up pine saplings and transplanting them into our backyard so they would be safe. Once, I watched through a back window in both terror and amazement as a bobcat streaked up one of our trees (it was a sabertooth in my young imagination). The brook that ran through our yard, the lake, and eldritch corners of those woods still haunt my dreams and manifest in my stories.It was this writer's beginning point, and a good one to claim, I think.

This past winter, I read about Writing From Nature, a workshop held at a country house in the wilds near Mount Monadnock, facilitated by editor and powerhouse writer Chris Woodside. 2016 has been a year of wonderful literary adventures -- big book launches, writing awards, and retreats to familiar destinations. It's been a long while since I've hung out in the woods, despite a hilly backyard whose wilderness is home to black bear, raccoon, and silver foxes, who occasionally make visitations. Perhaps it was nostalgia and a nod to those long lost years in Windham, New Hampshire, and equal parts joie de vivre for the Here and Now. I signed up and, on a balmy June Friday, departed for the southern reaches of our fair state.

(Standing outside the retreat house)
I arrived at 3 p.m. -- a bit early, and our wonderful hostess was still in the process of getting ready for the rest of the weekend retreaters. I busied myself reading a copy of Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write, which was given to us as part of our welcome packet, and absorbing my amazing surroundings. The country retreat house was a wonderland of bookcases crammed to capacity, artwork, and comfortable furniture, presided over by a towering field stone fireplace. Wild tangles of fresh herbs (which found their way into the exquisite cuisine served up by Chef Mac) surrounded the front patio. My imagination prospered as my fellow scribes arrived alone and in twos. Among them, a romance novelist, an airline/former fighter jet pilot, an environmental sciences student, and a passionate writer working on her second novel, all of them quite wonderful and gifted. We enjoyed a welcome meal of cranberry and fresh sage risotto served inside baked acorn squash (unbelievably delicious!), homemade pesto, sauteed Swiss chard, and heritage tomato salad. It was the finest of dining!

On Friday night, forest ecologist Peter A. Palmiotto treated us to a presentation about nearby Mount Monadnock, and why the summit is 2/3rds bare rock. Chris hosted a night hike down to Stone Pond, but I opted out and instead hunkered down in my private room with the Muse and my short story, "The Shut-in". Slept beautifully, and, at sunrise on Saturday morning, I moved into the great room, uncapped my fountain pen, and began work on my second project for that weekend, "The Tree Surgeon." The sun rose higher, and fresh pages flew from my fingertips. Then Chris sent us out on timed hikes, sans notebooks and pens (the horror!). I moseyed down to the little chapel on the lake and dreamed more about my story, "The Shut-In". Upon return, we began a series of timed writing exercises which coincided perfectly with the direction of "The Shut-in".

Saturday afternoon was devoted to another presentation and exercises by famed nature writer Elizabeth Rush, who inspired with tales of her journeys. As Chef Mac worked on an amazing dinner (swordfish, cauliflower crusted in espresso, decadence had in every bite), I wrote some more on my stories, read from the book, and soaked up the creativity. That night, as a homemade apple pie baked, Chris gave a keynote speech on her journey as a writer (she edits Appalachia Journal, which has published since 1876).

(Listening to Elizabeth Rush)
After another fantastic night's sleep, I woke and resumed writing "The Tree Surgeon," opting out of a morning hike up the mountain. Breakfast was bountiful, as was our departure lunch, which included homemade Caprese pizza and rhubarb mint iced tea. The mostly vegetarian-friendly menu was beyond exquisite, and the company first rate. Chris put on a wonderful event, which invigorated body and soul. Throughout, I kept thinking back to my boyhood days, reminded of my many blessings now that I'm navigating my fifty-first year on Spaceship Earth. Chris's weekend retreat and workshop ranks among the best of the many I've attended, and I can't wait to return next year. So much so, in fact, that I've added one more adventure to 2016's calendar: in September, I'm returning to Star Island in the Isles of Shoals for a five-day retreat and workshop, which I attended four years ago. Excelsior!


Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Roswell Awards

(Me with Fringe star Jasika Nicole at the Roswell
Awards)
Last September, during a rare afternoon nap, I dreamed about a planet in the late stages of terraformation. Most of Hawthorne's Planet belonged to its human colonists -- all save a lush area, the Valley of the Falls, where indigenous giants drowsed. These gentle salamander-like behemoths, seven in all, had been sedentary for so long that forests had grown upon their spines, and the courses of certain waterfalls diverted around them. In the dream, school children in a nearby colony had named the giants after the dwarfs in a classic cartoon.

At center stage in this odd dream was a military man tasked with carrying out the destruction of the giants, so that human interests in the valley could attend to claiming that last vestige of territory. I sensed the war being waged within this man -- what he and his forces were about to carry out was wrong. Just how wrong soon revealed itself as soon as the first shot was fired, with devastating results. Then I roused from sleep, the story but not the ending clear. I ambled down to my writing room and jotted down the bones of the idea, along with its title -- "Mandered", which had also come to me in the dream. I wasn't even sure 'mandered' was a word (turns out, it is -- an old world term meaning to command or summon). As 2015 ran into the fall and then late fall and I went on an end-of-the-year tear, writing twelve short stories over the course of fourteen days, I pulled out the note card for "Mandered" and wrote it fairly as the dream played out, hitting what seemed the perfect note for the ending -- after destroying the world, the military man would have to dream and help fix it. Once done, I judged this story as good, put the next draft onto the computer, edited it through three more drafts, and happily submitted it to the Roswell Awards in Short SF Writing. On April 7, five days after returning from my writing retreat to When Words Count in Vermont, I woke to learn that "Mandered" had won Honorable Mention in the prestigious award for excellence in short Science Fiction writing.

(With Dee Wallace)
Please understand that this was, to me, like winning the Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe all wrapped up in one, and I had to reread the wonderful email from award organizer Rosalind Helfand numerous times. In fact, as I recall, I spent that entire Thursday levitating above the floor! I'd been saying since hitting the 'send' button last December that if one of the four stories I submitted placed, I would recant my stand on flying and travel back to Tinseltown to attend the awards. The universe listened, and some six weeks later, I was on my way west. I booked a flight from Manchester, New Hampshire to LAX, via a long layover in Charlotte, North Carolina. How long wouldn't manifest until a pop-up thunderstorm with spectacular lightning shut down flights, and backed everything up by hours. After eleven p.m. EST, I finally boarded my flight to Los Angeles. I'd packed ridiculously light -- my Italian leather valise with stories to work on (which got me through the bulk of my layover), a tote with clothes and my toiletry bag, which made boarding and deplaning far easier. Almost six hours later, I stepped off the plane and into the first taxi waiting in line outside the famous airport. My driver, a delightful Russian chap named Yuri, asked me which route I wanted to take to my hotel in Hollywood. Following my long day of travel, I answered, "Whichever's fastest." At one point, my bleary eyes glanced at the speedometer to see we were traveling at 92 miles-per-hour down the freeway.

I arrived in Hollywood super early and checked into the same hotel where I stayed during an eleven-day visit to the set covering the finale of Star Trek: Voyager for numerous national publications. The place was as decent as I recalled, the room beyond clean and inviting (if a tad outdated -- I thought I'd stepped into the funkadelic 1970s, given all the burnt orange and somber brown). Despite my exhaustion, I woke at six, L.A. time, showered, and spent a few hours writing on the oddly fabulous desk and bench in a corner of my room. Brunch with a writer friend at a Grub Restaurant, a visit to Xanadu, and then I returned to get ready for the event.

(On stage at the awards ceremony, with a shining constellation of stars)
The Roswells, an extension of Sci-Fest L.A., in which plays by such greats as Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker, and Neil Gaiman are staged, is doubly amazing in that classic SF actors perform the winning entries. I was beyond blown away by this year's luminaries, which included Dee Wallace who, in addition to her celebrated film career, had performed last summer as "Pat Spencer" -- Luke's sister -- on my beloved, sole remaining soap, General Hospital. At the pre-ceremony mixer held at Amalfi's Restaurant next door to the Acme Theater, venue of the awards, we were introduced. "It's Pat Spencer!" I exclaimed. A fan boy? Guilty. And speaking of which, my husband-to-be and I were huge fans of Fringe and never missed an episode, so when I met the lovely Jasika Nichole, "Astrid" on the series, I forgot that I no longer get star struck after having interviewed, met, and interacted with so many of my favorite actors. On stage, we hugged and kissed -- and after telling her about Bruce's and my fondness for the show, she sent me home with a hug and a kiss for him as well. The ceremony was incredible, with brilliant performances (Dee Wallace, the epitome of class, nearly pushed me to tears). After, the winner was announced and all of the recipients present were welcomed onto the stage for photographs and to mingle with the stars.

When I began making my plans for a West Coast trip, I invited my dear friend (and celebrity!), Marianna Cooper to join me as my plus-one at the ceremony. I met Mari in 2013 at When Words Count and wanted to see her following her move to the land of sunshine. Bumper to bumper traffic made our reunion before the show brief, but we caught up on the cab ride to Amalfi's, and it is to my dear friend that I owe all of these wonderful photographs. We enjoyed the ceremony, and then Mari joined me on stage with the actors, and I remember thinking, exhausted and excited as I was, that every writer should know this level of recognition for their work. One of the judges told me that they were inundated with submissions, and that it truly was a job of separating wheat from chafe. "Thank you for being wheat," she said. I loved that.

I bid Mari goodnight, returned to my room, and crawled into bed. A few hours later, worried over missing my early flight home, I tore back the covers and gathered my few things.

(The odd bench and desk in my hotel room -- I loved it!)
LAX before sunrise. Chicago in the afternoon. By dinner time, EST, I was back in New Hampshire, and traveling the three hours north by car toward home. I returned exhausted -- while traveling to Hollywood and back, I managed some six hours of sleep in my hotel, spread over two nights. Somewhere over the contiguous United States, my tailbone evaporated, and it took me the better part of a week's worth of naps to catch up so that I no longer felt like a zombie. But I reminded myself what that nap in September of 2015 earned me, and any time I found myself feeling depleted, I only needed to mosey into my Writing Room to see the beautiful new writing award in its silver frame to re-energize. I am so proud of what my little cautionary short story has accomplished! This was an adventure of a lifetime!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Xanadu...Xanadu...Now We Are Here!

(Me, at 7600 Beverly Boulevard, before the famous
art deco spire)
In the summer of 1980, perhaps when I needed some sort of divine intervention most, my life turned in the best direction possible thanks to a song, a soundtrack, and a movie that not only opened a door on a far vaster universe than the one I knew, but emboldened me to enter it. Because of Xanadu, I have gotten to live my fondest dreams, and continue to.

My name is Gregory L. Norris, and I am a writer. I take that sobriquet quite seriously, and with the perfect balance of pride and humility, I hope. I grew up without a lot on the surface. I didn't have many friends and wore my father's ill-fitting hand-me-downs until I was eighteen. I was likely the least popular kid in school. I didn't have the looks or, at first, much in terms of savvy. But I had an imagination that didn't understand it was supposed to have limitations and so, in a way, I had everything. You see, I grew up on a healthy diet of creature double features and classic Science Fiction TV, in a small, enchanted cottage on Cobbett's Pond in the then-mystical town of Windham, New Hampshire, surrounded by deep, dark pine woods that still haunt my dreams and inspire my pen. By the summer I was fifteen, we had moved out of Windham for one town over, to a house that haunts my dreams for other reasons. I was bullied at school (who wasn't in those days?), not making the smartest choices, tortured over the truth about my sexuality, and feeling lost, truly lost. What I remember most about those days was the vibrancy in which my imagination flourished. I'd dabbled in writing short stories, had even started a novel. But the Eureka! moment in which lightning flashed, unable to be ignored, didn't happen until a humid July night on a sleepover at a friend's house, in which I took a first nervous step into that breathtaking universe.

(me, below the spire)
That summer, I began writing a short novel that featured my small circle of friends as the main characters. As the summer progressed, said friends grew anxious to read the pages as I put them down, and even began work on their own stories. Most abandoned their efforts after a couple of paragraphs, while my tale surged past Page 100 (it would conclude somewhere in the neighborhood of 200). On that July night, as my cramping fingers wrote toward THE END, my entire body filled with a sensation that still strikes me as resembling eight-pointed tiny stars. It was a surge of sunlight, like every cell inside me was smiling. Inspiration, yes. And more. The cosmic light of creation. At the sleepover, I pulled out a fresh stack of lined paper and began to work on another story, not an hour later. I had tasted a kind of euphoria and was addicted. My good friend slept with the radio playing, and as I pondered what I had experienced and its farther-reaching possibilities, the anthem Xanadu by Olivia Newton-John and ELO came on. The emotion surged back as I listened to the words about destiny and a place where dreams come true.

Earlier that spring, I'd been smitten with ONJ's dreamy release, "Magic", also from the same movie, though I didn't know that at the time -- this was 1980, long before the Information Superhighway. So I kept writing, and waiting on the radio to play both songs.

In August, the weekend the movie premiered at our town's local cinema, I hosted a back-to-school/end of summer party for my friends at my family's house. We cooked out on the grill, swam in the pool, and then packed up for the movie in numerous parental-driven cars. From the instant the movie started, with failed artist Michael Beck tearing up his dreams and tossing the pieces out the window, only to awaken the Nine Muses of Greek Mythology, my body crackled with energy, and my spirit seemed to glow. Xanadu, with its roller disco vibe and dance routines, is often criticized, but I've never been one to pay much heed to critics and like to form my own opinions about people, life, and pop culture. I fell madly in love with the message -- that we should pursue our dreams despite the world's many challenges -- and in the film's climax, when Olivia and the other muses soar up from the stage in an effulgence of light, I had an image to attach to that feeling of divine euphoria and inspiration I experienced on the sleepover. Every day of my life since, I've equated writing and completing projects and reading acceptance letters and winning awards to that moment -- extending my arms and soaring aloft into the heavens on a surge of light and cosmic energy. I walked out of that cinema with my friends into a glorious summer night set beneath a massive full moon and, on our mosey around the building and toward the parking lot, said aloud that I would be a published writer. Some 4,000 credits in short fiction, nonfiction articles, novellas, novels, a smattering of TV episodes, and one feature film later...

In April, I learned that my short story "Mandered" won Honorable Mention in the prestigious Roswell Awards in Short Science Fiction Writing. The Roswells are doubly fabulous in that winners get to enjoy their stories read aloud by classic SF TV and Film actors on stage at the award ceremony, held in Hollywood. I planned to take in the ceremony, pick up my HM certificate -- me, a writer from a small town in New Hampshire, headed to TinselTown to collect my writing award! While there, I decided to visit 7600 Beverly Boulevard, where Xanadu's exteriors were filmed. The original venue burned down in a spectacular fire in 1989 but was rebuilt in 2002 to feature one of those beautiful art deco spires so identifiable with the film. Six hours before the award ceremony commenced, I walked onto Xanadu, where Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, and the rest of the cast once stood, once upon a time.

I love my muse. Writing has made all of my dreams come true, and that movie not only saved my life, but gave me the best life possible. May you embrace your dreams and never allow them to die.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Adventure: 2016

You might have noticed the decline in frequency of my blog updates in 2016. When the year began, my list of upcoming events seemed perfect for new postings -- I haven't traveled or planned this many literary adventures since 2012, before we bought Xanadu, when I spent a grand total of three-plus months attending retreats, conferences, and readings coast to coast. 2016 has been a whirlwind. It's also been filled with a rapid-fire succession of fresh pages and completed projects and, as such, my days have been devoted to putting down the words, hitting deadlines, and carpe diem-ing. But I love keeping this blog active (I often used to wonder about why bloggers abandon their blogs, even wrote a story about it that's gotten plenty of love for the brilliant Suzanne Robb's Read the End First, 'The Midnight Moon'.). So, without further delay, a report from my 2016 adventures thus far.

In late February, I enjoyed the year's first big highlight -- the official launch of the anthology of New England newsroom-based mysteries containing my tale, 'Exhuming Secrets on a Hot August Day', Murder Ink. What was so fantastic about this particular book party was the grandeur in which it was celebrated -- a lunch hosted by the publisher at M. J. O'Connor's, an upscale restaurant beside Boston's famous Park Plaza Hotel. Along with dear friends Judi Calhoun and Sisters Dent, also fellow co-authors, we drove into the city and were treated like royalty at the venue, our luncheon capped off by tray passes of delicious pastries. The day before, Judi and I traveled three hours south to luxuriate at Karen Dent's wonderful and inviting home, and were welcomed by the most fantastic greeting (as seen in the photograph above), courtesy of Karen's husband. Over the course of that weekend, we dined, wrote, and read together. At the signing, I autographed copies of Ink and got to enjoy the company of the anthology's amazing editor, Dan Szcezesny, who brought me up to the microphone with one of the best intros ever. Later while seated at Karen's big dinner table, I flew through fresh pages of a zombie-themed romance that had me writing like a dervish.

(Reading from Murder Ink in Boston)
I've signed up for three writing retreats in 2016 -- a second trip to The Waterfall House in late September following my wedding, a nature writing-themed retreat to Mount Monadnock in June, and a return visit to When Words Count in Vermont. My time at WWC, March 30 - April 2, couldn't have been more enjoyable or productive. On a bright Wednesday morning, I set out for Vermont with a handful of projects to work on and was borderline giddy when the familiar main house appeared at the left of the road. This time, I stayed in the Hemingway Room (both times before, I was in Arthur Miller -- all the rooms at WWC are named after famous writers). Framed photos of Pappa stared down from three walls, The Hemingway Room desk boasts a glass revolver as part of the decor -- fitting! During that time, I worked on a screenplay, completed three short stories, wrote part of a fourth, and outlined a story assignment (which I later wrote upon my return). My laptop chose to not connect with the center's wifi, so for most of my visit I wrote off the grid. On that Friday, I checked emails on WWC's system and discovered I'd been invited to write for an editor's new project -- horror stories set along desolate highway stretches, had been shortlisted for an anthology I very much wanted to be part of (the story, 'The Night Stalker', has since been contracted for at Blood, Sweat, and Fears: Horror Inspired by the 1970s), and I was invited to write a SF novel for a new imprint out of San Francisco. The food, as expected, was beyond fabulous and included homemade sorbet palate cleansers between courses (coconut one night, lemon rosemary another, orange basil the last night), mussel stew, Cornish game hen, and one of the best cheeseburgers on the planet, the meat, cheese, and bacon all locally sourced. On Friday, I savored homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese with avocado sandwiches for lunch.

(With Pappa in the Hemingway Room at When Words Count)
This coming Saturday, May 21, I depart on the next adventure, one I hadn't anticipated. Last month, I learned that my short story, 'Mandered', won Honorable Mention in the Roswell Awards in Short SF. I'm flying out to Hollywood to attend the ceremony. The Roswells are particularly prestigious -- and doubly cool -- in that winners get to see their stories read/performed on stage by a number of classic TV and film Science Fiction actors. This year's roster includes Dee Wallace (E.T.) and Jasika Nicole (Fringe). At the ceremony on the 22nd, I'll receive my HM certificate, get to rub elbows with some pretty big names, and celebrate another career milestone. Earlier that same day, I'm planning to make a pilgrimage to 7800 Beverly Boulevard in Hollywood, where my beloved movie Xanadu was filmed. And the year isn't even half done yet. To be continued...

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

BEHOLD -- UNDERWATER!

I grew up in an enchanted cottage, nestled between a stretch of vast pine woods and Cobbett's Pond, a deep, cold lake in southern New Hampshire. During boyhood summers, my family spent whole weeks at rented seaside houses over the border in Massachusetts, at Salisbury Beach. I've always had an affinity for the water, and often my most unforgettable dreams have wandered past shore, out into the depths.

Three years ago almost to this very day, I, my small family, and Muse packed up everything we owned and moved 150-plus miles north to the new/old home we purchased, Xanadu. Soon after landing and closing on our house, I began to feel off. The malaise manifested itself one month later in mid-April of 2013, during a retreat with friends from my southern state writers' group to Maine. I was feverish, and in serious pain from a lump that had started to form on the top of my head. I left the retreat early and, soon after, found myself in the hospital for a four and a half day stay, with a cyst that resulted in me being carved open and fed massive doses of antibiotics. I hadn't spent time in a hospital since I was a boy, and desperately wanted to be home. What got me through that time, apart from visits from family and friends, was my Muse, who I imagined being in the room with me, keeping vigil. I put pen to page and wrote when I wasn't being poked and prodded, and put down the first 3,000 words of a new story that came to me in one of those lightning strikes of inspiration, "Happiness Shoal", about a handsome man lost at sea who makes a miraculous reappearance back on shore and then sets out to solve the mystery of his missing days. I like to think the Muse and that story were what really healed me. But those pages sat unfinished in my works-in-progress drawer of files, until I read about a call for water-based romance stories, Underwater by the fine folks at Transmundane Press. I pulled out the partial, and dashed off the rest of the story's first draft over two days late last spring spent on my sun porch with a bottomless supply of iced coffee and cats holding vigil at my side. I'm beyond proud to have "Happiness Shoal" appear in the anthology, edited by the spectacular team of Anthony S. Buoni & Alisha Costanzo.

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

Alisha Costanzo on "The Rainbow Sprite": "Vincent and Nani’s storyline began in the depths of Facebook roleplaying. Honestly, I don’t think many saw it before Nani’s profile was reported and deleted, and it’s still a sore subject between my roleplaying partner and me. We lost a lot of good material. But now, I’ve given her new life, and the story will likely improve as I move beyond our original tale, which focused more on their attraction to each other than any actual plot. Though I’m still amazed by the practice of taking on someone else’s character as my own, I hope I do Nani justice. And I’m excited about how this short fits in within my Broken World series with brief references to Phea, the queen, and Ria, my renegade. Vincent, my rough Commander, is cheekier than I imagined the first time around, but certainly not any less deadly. Or sexy. These two affect each other so greatly in the brief time they spend together that I can’t wait to see what they have planned for me."

Jean Roberta on "The Water-Harp": "Virginity. Chastity. Faithfulness. Honour. These words, and the concepts they represent, governed the lives of women in Western culture for centuries before the rights of adult citizenship were extended to women. This statement is not a feminist rant; it’s historical reality. In some cultures today, men still have the recognized right to kill their wives, daughters or sisters to restore family ‘honour’ when those women are suspected of being sexually ‘impure.’ My own experience as the Canadian wife of an African man in the 1970s showed me what could have been done to me if I hadn’t been able to escape from his accusations -- and of course, my escape intensified his belief that I had never been a loyal wife, especially since I hadn’t been a virgin when we met. Gothic plots about hidden bodies and murder within the ‘intimacy’ of marriage merely hint at a long history that is only half-submerged. Hiding a body in water is easier than digging a grave, and who knows what old, monstrous evidence of women’s slippery status may be lying at the bottom of a deceptively tranquil lake or a fresh, fast-moving river?"

R. Judas Brown on "Baiting the Hook": "I was working on a prompt for a writing contest and I was stuck.  They wanted a micro-sized story about sirens.  At the time, the largest body of water I had personally been on was a mid-sized inland lake.  The sheer expanse of a sea or ocean was completely foreign to me.  I could write about that kind of body of water from what I had read or seen on TV, but it wouldn't be real because I had never experienced it.  Then I thought about wolves.  Bears. Coyotes. Due to encroachment and a changing climate, more and more these wild creatures are seen on street corners and city alleys. Why not the predators from mythology?  While I can't speak from experience for large bodies of water, creeks and rivers are another matter.  That is how, in my mind, a mythological predator ended up in an environment modeled on the waterways I knew from Texas and Oklahoma."

Adrik Kemp on "Mischa and the Mermaid": "As a child, I spent a great deal of time ‘rock walking’ from beach to beach with my family. I’ve always been fascinated by the beauty of rock pools and the sheer scale of the diversity of marine life, so it was enjoyable to create some of my own in my story, ‘Mischa and the Mermaid.’ I find there are usually two types of mermaid -- the Disney variety and the horror variety. Mine are most definitely on the horror side of things. I’m a little obsessed with the sea, and I think that if mer-people do exist, they would have to do so in the deep. And to do that, I imagine they would have the nightmarish characteristics of deep-sea creatures. I took elements from these creatures and fashioned them into a society I thought might come of it if they were mixed with humans. That said, the story is really about a collision of this culture and that of the kids of an Australian holiday town, in particular Mischa, who, like me has a fascination with fantasizing about the deep."

Melinda Adams on "Land Shark Lover": "So I wrote 'Land Shark Lover' and the back-story... Well, I shouldn't talk about this... But I already have, in a play called 'The Sex Diaries' at the Dark Room Theater in San Francisco. My first childhood discovery into my own body and sex was when I was about six while I was in bed holding onto a large stuffed shark named 'Sharkey'. In my little imagination back then, Sharkey was a bad ass prince on a steel horse. I was six and already had a shark and a biker fetish. And it was all downhill from there."

Val Prozarova on "Ferryman": "The idea for 'Ferryman' came about when I was reminiscing with a friend about how I did not and never would ever miss sea kayaking in New Zealand. When asked why, I relived my terrible experience in finding myself underwater and trapped by the boat that was meant to hold me up. Long story short, I gave my avatar a much happier ending than mine was, trying the sport. He may have good memories of it, but I haven't been near a kayak since."

Diana Hauer on "Going Deep": "You know how every class had the geeky girl with braces and glasses who sat in the back with her nose buried in books? That was me. Mythology, ghost stories, science fiction, and fantasy kept me company growing up.  My imagination showed me the stories, playing them in vivid color upon my mind’s eye. Gods and goddesses, angels and demons, danced and fought for my entertainment. When I looked out the window, I imagined slyphs smiling back at me and green men peering through the leaves. When the thunder cracked, I closed my eyes and saw Zeus arguing with Hera about whose fault the latest human idiocy was. I started thinking about what might have happened to inspire the myths and stories surrounding Echidna and Typhon. If there were beings who had inspired our ancestors to weave such stories, what would they be like now, and what if modern humans encountered them? My contribution to the Underwater anthology is a small slice of possibility, of what could be waiting for us to discover out in the wild, amazing world. For a few moments, I hope that readers can imagine that it could be true. The swimmer in the cave could be you, it could be me. We are only ever seconds away from touching the unknowable, if we but open our eyes and allow them to look upon the world with a sense of wonder."