Friday, September 12, 2014

"Princess and the Bee" published in LOVECRAFT eZINE

On a brisk October day in 2012, I found myself racing around our then-apartment.  My bags were packed and I was due to head north to Vermont, to a weekend stay I'd won at When Words Count Writers' Retreat.  The retreat wasn't the reason for the madness -- an editor had requested a short story from me mashing up Lovecraftian lore and classic fairy tales.  Earlier in the summer, I'd dreamed up such an odd hybrid, mixing "The Princess and the Pea" into the dark, terrifying abyss that Howard Philip Lovecraft so often gazed into (and, it can be believed, found himself being gazed back from).  The story sat mostly composed in longhand draft on my desk and was also put up to a point on my laptop.  Said editor needed the story that day, retreat or not.

We jumped in the car and drove steadily north, stopping in the town of Lebanon, New Hampshire for lunch and to restock engine coolant.  By then, my longhand draft was completed in the car.  After a harrowing circle around a steep Vermont mountain (not the first time online directions have attempted to kill us in our car), I landed at the retreat center, edited the rest of my draft on my laptop up in my room, and hit 'send.'  After two rewrites, the editor ultimately rejected the story.  It sat in my inventory while I bought a house, moved, and worked on numerous other deadlines, and then went out again to the fine folks at Lovecraft eZine, who sent along a fantastic acceptance.  "Princess and the Bee" has just been published in Issue #32, and can be read here.  My short story about a young girl forced to battle bullies and worse within the unsympathetic walls of Arkham Orphanage as the world spirals toward its end shares space with several other notable authors (including the inimitable W. H. Pugmire), and has since garnered impressive reader feedback.

I look fondly back on that frenetic October Sunday, and an adventure built around the completion and editing of a story that was a good deal of fun to write.  And I'm beyond thrilled to have seen the story published in such a fantastic -- and humbling -- venue.  It's a credit I'm proud to claim as my own, with a weird little story about a heroic girl that has boosted my readership.

The story's appearance has also sent me back to those wonderful old dog-eared paperbacks to enjoy Lovecraft's work, at the perfect time of the year.  And I've already penned a new submission, which I'll be sending to the editing team at Lovecraft eZine to consider.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Autumn 2014 Writers' Retreat to the Waterfall House

(First morning, on the deck beside Crystal Falls)
In 2012, I traveled far and wide to conferences, readings, and retreats -- one of the latter set at the grand hotel on Star Island in the Isles of Shoals among that year's adventures.  Since buying our house in 2013, my retreats have been fewer and closer to home. Last spring, the members of my fantastic writers' group posed the notion of doing a weekend getaway to a house in nearby Stark, New Hampshire -- to a destination we've since come to refer to as the Waterfall House. As the name suggests, the house sits braced right up against Crystal Falls, a lovely local landmark.  The deck and one of the bedrooms gaze over the cascade, whose roar was ever present in the background. Four of us arrived early Thursday afternoon before the official start of the retreat, got eating, and then quickly got writing.

With the help of good pal, the talented Judi Calhoun, we shopped for eleven attendees (one of our literary colleagues was forced to cancel travel plans at the 11th hour).  We hit two of the three local grocery stores, and picked up a sheet cake at one made for the occasion.  En route to the house on a gorgeous, sunny day, we stopped at the famed local butcher for an enormous prime rib, bone in. From there, we landed at the Waterfall House, I kicked off my sneakers, and dove in.

After our easy meal of pizza and White Castle burgers, I sat in one of the house's two rockers

and lost myself in "Sound Effects", a short story I had started but never completed.  The rest of the story wrote itself over the next two hours, my pen gliding over the page, my hands cramping as a result of its speed.  I was beyond thrilled with the results, and went to bed in my room overlooking the falls excited to see what the next morning would bring.

At 5:30, before the sun had yet to rise, I woke and grabbed notes for one of my oldest unwritten stories, my robo-centric "The Long Frost" novella.  Serenaded by the constant rush of the falls, I put down the first ten pages before 7, showered, and sipped coffee while French toast and fruit were served up. By noon, I had started work on the most experimental of my retreat goals -- the screenplay for my short film script, "Voice Over".  I got down the first eight pages on my laptop before moseying back out into the kitchen, where I made homemade meatballs for that night's anticipated pasta dinner. In ones and twos, the rest of our group members arrived to claim rooms.  A luscious fruit salad crafted from fresh watermelon, cantaloupe, red and green grapes, local apples, and strawberries was made, fresh bread was buttered, and angel hair pasta and the aforementioned meatballs were served for a casual welcome meal.  I finished my movie script (at 17 pages/minutes), and we held the first of two group readings, in which I shared the opening of "The Long Frost".  I went to bed reading an ancient H.P. Lovecraft paperback in readiness for the following morning's project.

(In my room beside the falls)
That project was a long-ish story paying homage to Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls".  Judi had graciously provided us with story prompts to get the creative ink flowing -- and flow it did for all of us.  One prompt about planting seeds and the results inspired me to get going on "The Rats in the Bulkheads", my version set in deep space.  My pen, sensing the fatigue from my previous two days of nonstop writing, went at a slower than expected pace, but by lunch, I had the first 2,000 words.  I put our monstrous prime rib into the oven to slow roast for the rest of the afternoon, and boosted my story another thousand by the time it came out to rest.  I mashed potatoes, a second option (slow-roasted boneless pork roast with homemade apple sauce) joined the first, and a magnificent salad -- which I devoured with tangy bacon salad dressing -- completed the meal.  We ate, and then I returned to my room beside the falls, where I dashed off the remaining pages.  I shared the opening to "Rats" during that evening's reading, which ran late into the night.

I slept like granite, and woke on the final morning aware that my creative batteries had drained down to the barest sparks. I packed, enjoyed the homemade blueberry and caramel cakes made for our last retreat breakfast, and the flurry of departure began.  Once home, after enjoying time with husband and cats, I edited the movie script and printed up a hard copy, and unpacked all of my bags.  The final tally: nearly 12,000 words between four projects (three of which were written to completion).  A wonderful retreat with fantastic colleagues.  Now, it's time to put all I experienced at the Waterfall House into the next of my literary adventures!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

How I Spent My Summer Stay-cation

(A typical day writing on the sun porch)
I've learned that in this part of the globe, summer usually means three short, hot months bookended by two warmish months, while the rest of the year belongs to winter.  It seems to me that we just came out of a very long, very cold winter when -30 degrees wasn't uncommon, and most of the time the thermometer hovered close to 0, and that the lovely, lush green realm that surrounds our house only just arrived. But the truth according to the calendar is that today is the last day of August. I blinked, and summer was gone.

The one big thing I have to show for the time is a lot of completed writing.  Finished first drafts in desperate need of filing have piled up atop one of my two big lateral drawer cabinets, and with summer unofficially over in a few short hours, my plan for the first week of unofficial autumn is to get those stories filed.  Back in June (was it really that long ago?), on the first hot day I remember, I started a wonderful week of free writing, something I've done too little of, and the results were tremendous.  Several of the stories I produced during that time have since found homes.  The same week, an interview I gave to the fine folks at Grey Matter Press came out -- it can be read in its entirely here.  I also learned that my ghostly historical short story "Drowning" is set to appear in their forthcoming anthology Death's Realm, one of only seventeen accepted from over 2,000 submissions!

Many of my summer days started in my Writing Room, a place I love, and ended on the old sofa on our sun porch, with its beautiful views out six tall windows.  I am seated there as I write this, looking out two at the fiery red maple leaves of a tree in the neighbor's backyard, already showing the first color before September's arrival.  Out here, while penning westerns, mysteries, a long detective story, M/M romance, writing about robots and things that go bump in the night, I sipped copious amounts of iced coffee from tall, sweating plastic cups, as well as a brand of blueberry bubble water I discovered at the local grocery store in July.  I submitted to numerous markets, and a lot of my babies came home with contracts in hand.  In the thick of so many completed projects, I also wrote a screenplay, my second for the indie Hollywood filmmaker who filmed the first bearing my byline in June.  That first feature film is presently being color-corrected and edited for sound out in Tinseltown, and there are rumors of an autumn screening in the not-too-distant future.

As stated, Robots were a big part of my summer.  They have, in fact, been a prevalent theme since my boyhood, when iconic mechanical men like the Robinson Robot from Lost in Space and other
favorite TV shows forever influenced both my life and my pen. The release of my collection of three novellas, Tales From the Robot Graveyard, is another event I look forward to in the fall.  In my book, which boasts an amazing cover by Eric Chu, conceptual artist on the new Battlestar Galactica:
               
·                Two brothers—one human, the other manufactured—test the limits of family loyalty in a dead city that harbors diabolical secrets in “Ghosts and Robots”.
·                 Mad technology decimated the Earth.  Could an even madder one save it when mechanical emissaries arrive bearing gifts in “Robot Kind”?
·                 And in “The Long Frost”, on a planet of ice, somewhere between man and machine, lies one last desperate hope for survival.

In addition to the bling from Eric Chu, the book will feature a blurb from Amy Howard Wilson of Star Blazers fame, and an inaugural poem from my good friend, poet Esther M. Leiper-Estabrooks.  I'm beyond excited to see the book's release and have had so much fun writing the tales, one of which ("The Long Frost") dates back almost to the beginning of my writing dreams.

August was a delightful month, with not one but two Sunday writers' group parties/cookouts, and numerous weekend guests (in part to enjoy Yard Sale, the newest play written, directed, and produced by my friend and fellow writers' group member, Jonathan Dubey).  On the 1st, we spent a day beyond the notches in the town of North Conway, eating Chinese buffet for lunch, shopping for office supplies -- I picked up some great composition notebooks, which I've since used voraciously for my summer literary adventures -- and taking in the first showing of Guardians of the Galaxy, which we all loved.  

(Summer drafts done, edited, and submitted to be filed)
For the second summer in a row, we made due without the need for air conditioning.  Our house boasts lots of windows and four ceiling fans (one in my Writing Room), and the two box fans more than made up for days and nights when the temperature soared into the upper 80s (not once did we pass into the 90s). The smells of summer -- roses from the giant Lovecraftian menace in the backyard, newly mowed lawn, the green veldt that surrounds Xanadu, our home on the hill -- were welcome, and in abundance. There was even a bear sighting in late June, when a curious hulkster moseyed down from the woods behind our home in search of picnic baskets and, sensing we keep our garbage in the small shed attached to the back of the house, just beyond the far wall of my Writing Room,  employed brutish strength to snap off the latch.  It was all very exciting and, no doubt, fodder for my future stories.

(Our very own black bear, seen crossing the neighbor's yard)
I'm sad to see the summer end. Forget the insane cost of heating oil that looms not far down the road, the oppressive cold that is surely coming, the short, gray days that define winters in the North Country.  I'm going to miss sitting out in the cozy, sunlit warmth of my other office, where so many of the season's stories were composed -- the short, long, and screenplay alike.  I loved the heat, what there was of it, and the green, and the occasional Sunday afternoon writing with the Red Sox game playing on the flat-screen. But winter has its own charm, too, and I look forward to the work I'll be doing nestled in my beautiful Writing Room with the cube heater on.  And first, there's autumn to enjoy, brief as it surely will be, with all those crisp days, falling leaves, and the mysteries of Halloween to enjoy and write about!                 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Behold -- ACTIVE DUTY!

My short stories have been appearing in anthologies by editor Neil S. Plakcy for almost a decade now.  Neil constantly comes up with fantastic themes and subjects for his releases for the fine folks at Cleis Press -- surfers, blue collar handymen, and the military among them. His books are thoughtful and literary as well as hot reads, and I'm always inspired when one of his fresh calls for submissions goes out. So was the case when the policy preventing gays from openly serving in the United States Military, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, was repealed and, in early 2013, Neil put forth a call for stories where love between military servicemen was not only no longer forbidden, but celebrated.  I was thrilled and had the perfect story idea floating around unwritten called "Candy Man", and quickly set about penning a first draft.

The idea came to me years before, during the early days of the Iraq War.  A news report about a soldier trying to win hearts by giving out candy to the families he met on the streets of Baghdad while on patrol had imprinted upon my psyche.  It was one of those rare feel-good stories during a very dark time -- you couldn't help but fall in love with the man, and I did.  So I dashed the story's first draft off in short time, about a similar soldier who also wins another's heart through his good actions, and readied to edit it on my laptop.  Only during that same time, I and my small family bought a house.  As we lined up ducks and set about for a monumental move from our apartment to our new home, the folder containing my first draft accidentally got packed up into a box and stacked in a corner of my soon-to-be-former Writing Room, lost until the move was complete.  The deadline passed. We moved in.  My new Writing Room emerged from the mountain range of boxes, and the folder for "Candy Man" went into the file cabinet. I figured I'd be able to place it when another appropriate call for manuscripts presented itself. And then in early June, Neil emailed me -- he needed one more story to round out Active Duty, and did I have anything already written that fit the theme?  Did I ever!

Several of my Active Duty co-contributors were kind enough to share the back-stories behind their wonderful stories.

Neil S. Plakcy on "Marine Guard": "As soon as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, I began to read all kinds of personal stories online -- from soldiers coming out to families to sailors marching in pride parades. I realized, in a way I hadn’t before, how this decision affected so many people on a very individual level. That’s when I decided that I wanted to put together an anthology for Cleis, exploring what it would be like for military members to be open about their sexuality. I know what it’s like to long for someone, and I used that experience in writing my story ‘Marine Guard', which is included in the anthology under my nom-de-porn, Dirk Strong. I wanted a location where a military member and a civilian would come in regular contact, and in my research I discovered that Marines guard our embassies around the world. When Adam Burr, the narrator of the story, shows up for work at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, his first encounter is with Lucas Roemer, the Marine at the gate, and right away there’s sexual tension between them. But they can’t act on that because of DADT. It was a fun story to write, and I hope to read."

Logan Zachary on "Ready Reserve": "My dad was a Marine, and he had saved his pup tent and camping stuff.  In the summer, I loved setting up the tent in the backyard and playing in it, no matter how hot and humid it was.  I’d even sleep in the backyard with my dog, or my best friend.  Dad had two heavy sleeping bags that would zipper together and make one big one and that was perfect to use.  Most nights it was so hot, I’d sleep on top of it, but some nights it would cool off and I’d crawl inside.  Sleeping in my underwear was another rare treat, and I didn’t understand the excitement I got from seeing my friend in his briefs.  Those cold mornings when I awoke, snuggled next to him were magic. As we grew up, the sleepovers became fewer and fewer, and he found beer and girls. I stayed home with my books and my studies.  But now I know why I enjoyed that so much.  That memory inspired me to write ‘Ready Reserve’."

Michael Bracken on "Soaring": "My contribution to Active Duty is the story of an Air Force captain near the end of his career who turns his back on the love of his life rather than risk losing his military pension. Then the repeal of DADT turns his life upside down, and the story begins and ends on the most important day of his life."

Emily Moreton on "So, Then": "‘So, Then’ is actually a sequel to another story, published in the Sexy Sailors anthology (‘Home Is The Sailor’). So, picks up where ‘Home Is The Sailor’ left off, pretty much, and it mostly takes place during a Pride festival, because I love gay pride, even though my city celebrates the same weekend as my sister's birthday, so I never make it these days. In the story, Mike and Danny are old friends who hook up whenever Mike, a navy officer, is in town. This visit, Mike brings his shipmate Freddie along, for more than just a trip to the parade. Sadly, hot women never invite me into their beds at pride (more's the pity, though I'm not a naval officer, so maybe that's why!) -- but I did once get a kiss from a stranger when I was marshalling a parade, so maybe there's still hope for me."

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Radio Nights

For the eighth time in my career, I recently took to the airwaves, this time as the special guest on the fantastic Ghostman and Demon Hunter show. Ghostman and Demon Hunter broadcast across a platform that includes 102.7 FM (live) and various venues after the fact.  I went on at just after 8 p.m. EST on Sunday, July 13, a night renown for some fairly bad weather between New York City and New Hampshire.

Ghostman and Demon Hunter (aka the brilliant Shaun Burris and Nathan Drake Schoonover) welcomed me on board to talk about the writing life and my latest literary adventures on a night that grew so humid, it was like walking through neck-deep water.  By afternoon, the sky had darkened to the consistency of dusk, and an apocalyptic rain hammered our fair mountain town.  By eight, I'd closed the windows and turned off the ceiling fan in my Writing Room, so as not to create any noisy feedback when the hosts dialed me in (as stated, I'm old hat at this whole radio coolness!).  Sans fan, the temperature in my home office skyrocketed, and sweat poured. Unseen, mercifully, to listeners, I looked like a refugee from a sauna!

At the other end of the line, massive thunderheads did their best to unleash havoc on the hosts, who put on an impressive weekly broadcast -- my predecessor the previous Sunday was none other than Svengoolie, whose monster movie fest on MeTV is beloved and required Saturday night viewing in our home. With lightning bolts attempting to deafen and frazzle, we discussed the skill of pitching ideas to TV, my work on Star Trek: Voyager, my books like the forthcoming Bugs!The Q Guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse, among others.

(at 94.7 FM's studios in January 2013)
We talked the new feature film I wrote, Brutal Colors (presently in post-production), and my love of creature features -- those wonderful classic monster movies I grew up on, and still often play in the background when I write. And robots, another beloved theme getting plenty of play in my career these past few months. Then, which is always the case when I've taken to the airwaves, I blinked and it was over, the thirty minutes passing with the speed of what felt like seconds. Ghostman and Demon Hunter were gracious hosts and thanked me for my time, promising we'd do it all again somewhere down the road.

When I was a teenager and had freshly discovered this whole writing thing, I listened to the radio at night on a boxy cube console with a record player on top located at the side of my bed. While waiting for my favorite songs to come on, I also looked forward to hearing my favorite radio hosts, who fed my imagination and helped me dream some of the biggest story lines of my life as a result of those nightly soundtracks.  So being on the radio -- three times in 2013 on the stellar 94.7 show hosted by Rob Azevedo, Granite State of Mind, once so far in '14 -- is always a treat, and a reminder of my humble beginnings.  I can't wait for Number Nine!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Freedom!

I've been writing full-time since 1996. Throughout, I've done long stints as feature writer and columnist (fifteen years writing sports/adventure and celebrity articles for the late, great Heartland USA Magazine, among others), notched TV writing gigs, and I've sold novels, short story collections, novellas, and a plethora of short stories, both here and abroad.  After waking up each morning, I quickly mosey to the coffee pot, then vanish into my Writing Room, where I court the Muse.  I live a literary lifestyle that isn't second nature so much as first. Involuntary, like breathing.  I'm prolific. But while deep in a couple of projects that include a new contracted feature film screenplay and a collection of novellas all centered around robots, I started feeling the fatigue that sometimes dogs me. I needed to catch my breath.

So I woke on a humid June Monday and decided that instead of 'working', I needed to play a little. The previous Sunday, I'd read an enjoyable article on Free Writing, the act of putting pen to page or fingers to keyboard and giving yourself permission to just compose, knowing the results are usually fairly bad and unusable.  The goal is to write without worrying about grammar or making corrections, to get out all the sludge that's in the writer's head so he can move on to the work that matters.  It's a time-honored tradition lauded by such notables as Natalie Goldberg and, after a fashion, Julia Cameron, who extols the writing of 'morning pages'.  The article I'd read suggested a few different approaches to Free Writing, like making word lists and jotting down disparate story prompts, and creating a story from the puzzle pieces.

What I decided to do instead was point my finger at my list of as-yet-unwritten story ideas -- which a few new concepts had been added to, not really fully-formed ideas, not yet -- and dive in, no pressure, no expectations. Within the first two hours, I'd written an entire draft for "Crucifix", based upon one of those concepts without an actual story that had dogged me for months.  After a short break and a walk around our yard, I again put pen to blank page and wrote, in one sitting, "Skylight", another of those concepts, based upon the big skylights in the elegant conference room where my Tuesday Night Writers' group meets.  From the first gathering, I'd wanted to pen a story about the skylight directly over where I sit, and I knew I wanted it to end with the main character gazing up, aware something up there was staring down.  The next day, a Tuesday, I started work on a third quietly creepy concept, and soon had nearly 3,000 words of "Vera's New Teeth".  On Wednesday, the first draft was done.  After that, my science fiction parable "Third World" followed.  A Western, "The Cowboy and the Dandy", was completed by Sunday.  Over the course of six days in June, I penned five short stories, totaling some 11,000 words.  One of the stories has already sold. The others were read aloud to group in their raw drafts, and garnered plenty of positive feedback and love.  They'll all eventually make their way onto the computer for submission as markets appear and time permits. I'm beyond pleased with the results.

So don't be afraid to give Free Writing a try.  Above all else, my week of Free Writing was fun -- a reminder that sometimes writers need to clock out from a set schedule and just play.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Bold and the Beautiful

I've always been a diehard Alphabet Network soap viewer (until those schmucks went ahead and cancelled All My Children and my favorite, the superb One Life to Live), so forgive the title of this post.  It seemed appropriate for a shout out for the latest release from Firbolg PublishingEnter at Your Own Risk: The End is the Beginning, which contains my short story "Every Seven Years, Give or Take." I was honored to be part of this anthology, which boasts a veritable 'Who's Who' of gothic literature, present and past.  Notable names include the Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, H.P. Lovecraft, M. R. James, K. Trap Jones, B. E. Scully, Sydney Leigh, Norman Partridge and, nestled among the Table of Contents, yours truly.

Publisher Alex Scully has done a fine job assembling a thick and gorgeous book.  Or books, as is the case. I was thrilled when a fat package arrived in the mail on Monday, May 20  It contained my copy of the special edition World Horror Con 2014 hardcover release of the anthology, gorgeously enhanced by four vibrant color interior illustrations. There's something extra-special about reading your work in hardcover. The book (officially considered 'textbook-size') is so big, so beautiful, it doesn't stand upright in any of the glass-front bookcases that contain my archives of published work.

End is filled, cover to cover, with stories of environmental horror in which mankind's hubris comes back to haunt us. My particular contribution to the book owes to a dream I had twenty years ago, in which I was trapped in a house located somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.  Olfactory authorities claim we don't 'smell' in our dreams, but I remember vividly the thick fragrance of sap from the Douglas firs that surrounded the house, as well as the steady drip of rain.  Beyond the house, among those trees, terrible danger lurked.  Within the house, an equally deadly threat brewed.  Both were the result of our disposable society's shortsightedness.  We recycle almost everything here in our fair mountain town, and we compost year-round.  Still, having a tale in this book has made me feel like our small family is making a difference in helping to heal our wounded planet.

And then there's that Table of Contents. Who wouldn't love to have their original short story published alongside a reprint by the author who wrote Frankenstein?  Or the stellar Mister Poe, my favorite wordsmith of all time? The autumn my first book, Ghost Kisses, was released, I spent Thursday afternoons on the college campus where my then-writers' group met, reading his stories and mine and reciting "Lenore" -- that elegant elegy is still tattooed upon my grey matter, able to be invoked start to finish at a moment's notice.  As for Mister Hawthorne...

When I was in grade school, I boarded a bus for a memorable field trip to the House of the Seven Gables. I was blown away at the time to find myself standing in the setting of a book I had read and loved. In the gift shop, I purchased a postcard of the house in a green mat, which hung on my bedroom wall, unframed, from a thumbtack. Somewhere along the way, the postcard got lost.  Last year, my fabulous writing pal Judi Calhoun (a talented name to watch for), upon hearing the story, found the very postcard online -- and framed this one for me as part of my Christmas presents.  It now sits proudly in my Writing Room, atop the archives of my published work.  A week or so after Christmas, I learned that "Every Seven Years, Give or Take" would appear alongside a reprint of Hawthorne's classic, "Rappaccini's Daughter".  Bold stuff.  And quite beautiful.