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."

Thursday, February 18, 2016

BEHOLD -- MURDER INK!

During the summer months at Xanadu, my mornings begin in my spectacular Writing Room and quickly transition to the sofa on our sun porch, where I spend my days writing. On one balmy late May morning, with iced coffee and blueberry seltzer sweating within reach, lap desk on lap, and pen racing across the page, I happened to look up and noticed something out of place in the view beyond the windows. That part of our home faces the bend in the road, and the brooding gray house that has sat empty for over a decade. A black Mercedes Benz was parked at the curb in front of the house. My pen skidded to a stop. I sipped from my iced coffee, got up, grabbed another notepad from my Writing Room, settled back on the sofa between our two rescue cats, and wrote these words: Stare out the same window long enough and you're destined to see something.

In one of those Eureka! moments, an entire new story was born. I put pen to the fresh notepad and began writing "Exhuming Secrets on a Hot August Day", a tale about a reporter obsessed with a crime that took place at his best friend and confident's house a decade earlier. Like me that same month, the reporter had lost his estranged father, and was, in fact, writing the obituary when he noticed a car parked in front of the house, scene of the unsolved crime. That first longhand draft of "Exhuming" dashed itself off over the next two days and was accepted into Murder Ink, an anthology of mystery and crime fiction set in New England newsrooms edited by Dan Szczesny. This weekend, Murder Ink will be given a spectacular launch at The New England Newspaper and Press Association Conference held in Boston at the Park Plaza Hotel, complete with luncheon and author reading. I'll be sharing the opening to "Exhuming" (and long last holding my beautiful contributor copies, which feature stunning cover art by Donna Catanzaro), and there's confirmation that a Murder Ink 2 is in the works. In fact, I've been invited to feature my character from the first round in a sequel for this next installment.

Many of my fellow authors in Murder Ink's stellar Table of Contents shared the back-stories behind their stories.

Judi Calhoun on "Murder at the Monitor": "I was observing city workers out the window as they were cutting down trees -- not just any trees, but the birch, New Hampshire’s state tree. Having traveled across the USA many times, I pondered the idea that in some places in US cities, certain official trees are protected. But the birch, not so much in our state, perhaps because they are so plentiful. I was thinking about the nature of my character, detective Rick Knightly. As I was looking at those tall white trees, I saw him interrupt the workers and irreverently unzip his fly.  The moment I pictured this, Rick Knightly began to unfold in my head. I wanted to know more about him. So, I began to do a voice journal and I interviewed my character. I discovered he really was an exceptionally brilliant detective who could easily solve crimes, but he wasn’t happy because he couldn’t make his wife happy, and this was a very big puzzle to Rick. I thought maybe his wife Wanda was a sort of a demanding woman who really wanted to have some birch trees planted in the yard. Rick told me that after their breakup, he sort of fell apart and began to drink a little heavier, pissing Wanda off even more and without even realizing it he was sabotaging their relationship. Other than his wife, his other love was his job. That’s what kept Rick going: the love of the game…detective work, interrogating suspects, and quickly solving crimes. And at the end of his interview he told me he realized the one thing he wanted most of all is his wife back, but he really doesn’t know how to be that man."

Tom Sheehan on "Grave Robber Extraordinary": "The basis of the story, theft of cemented coins, is true. We were kids loving the Saturday movies which, at that time, included an A picture, a B picture, the news, the coming attractions, a comic or cartoon session in a series, such as The Three Stooges or Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy, and Bluto. Oftentimes there was no promise of a few pennies for the theater. That's when we struck on the idea of doing a little hammer and chisel work. But all those players are gone now, my theater pals, the coin man who decorated his steps, and the theater itself, twisted apart thirty years ago. I am the lone survivor of our group and, as I have captured many other childhood incidents, I thought it best to bring this one to paper. That's how this story started ... and my often going past Mr. Zinias's house on the side of the hill, as close as a house can be to Route 1 heading north, our busiest road. I pass it often. I look up at it often. I remember my pals often, and brought them close once again in this story."

Dan Rothman on "Nothing Nasty on Page One": "In search of a setting for a Murder in a Newsroom, I thought first of Manchester, New Hampshire – thirty-five square miles of mean streets and dark alleys. There’s probably a murder there every fifteen minutes. And a famous (or infamous?) statewide newspaper once had its newsroom just a couple of blocks off Elm Street. However, I’m not a city boy. I live fifteen miles west of the Queen City, in a small town whose hills are patterned with stonewalls and fields and forests. This is a different world. I’ve had moose in my backyard, and the pileated woodpeckers which hammer on my beech trees remind me of prehistoric pterodactyls.  It’s quiet here, except for the woodpeckers; my town recently appeared on a list of New Hampshire’s ten safest. Even so… I’ve got a file of Untimely Deaths in my town’s history that goes back 250 years. Under the cotton-puff clouds which float lazily in the blue sky over my village, who knows what unspeakable deeds might be happening at this very minute? What if I wrote a story of a murder -- or murders -- in a small town? A small town with its own newspaper? Let me hasten to add that my short story ‘Nothing Nasty on Page One’ is not necessarily based on my town nor the local newspaper which appears in my mailbox the first week of every month."

Roxanne Dent and Karen Dent on "The Death of Honeysuckle Rose": "When editor Dan Szczesny and Plaidswede Books put out the call for Murder Ink, a collection of crime fiction based in New England, three words, Noir, Mystery and Newsroom Crime immediately inspired us to write a story. The images they conveyed pulled us back to the 1940s and ‘50s, when the gritty, dark and cynical world of Film Noir and the popularity of newspapers were all the rage. We thought of films like The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity and tough detectives like Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum, but decided to turn the genre on its head and focus on an equally tough and cynical female reporter. When we started looking for a New England setting, we were blown away by what we discovered about Portsmouth’s involvement in World War II and a little known story by today’s generation."

O. Lucio D'Arc on "One Way Dead End": "I had been working for several months on a novelette loosely titled, "Pine Street Blues," and was up to about 22,000 words when this anthology opportunity came along. Was there any way I could reduce my work to the 8,000-word limit required for the book? Sure, I told myself. I've been editing for four decades in the newspaper business in one way or the other. So I did. It's probably a better tale now. I tell everybody I whittled it down by deleting all the sex scenes, which is only partially true. When I first started writing I just had in my mind a scene in a ratty bar, where the finished story, ‘One Way Dead End,’ begins, and I had no idea where it was going, how many murders there would be along the way or who-dun-it. It all came out of my head. I've never had so much fun."

Mark Arsenault on "Murder by the Letter": "A reporting colleague of mine came across the call for stories for the Murder Ink anthology a few days before the last call for submissions, and referred it to me. So ‘Murder by the Letter’, a crime story about newspaper reporters, is itself a piece of deadline writing. I’m normally pretty slow with fiction, but in this case I managed to get it done because I was so painfully familiar with the larger setting of the story, which formed the atmosphere and guided the tone of the writing. It is a crime story set within the slow-motion murder of the newspaper industry, which I have watched for twenty years. Most people understand how and why the industry has suffered. Publishers, facing falling revenue, cut back on their newsrooms and weaken their product. Readers aren’t fooled; they understand when they’re getting less, and some won’t stand for it. So revenues drop some more, and the cycle repeats like a mindless snake eating its own tail. So when I dropped a smart-mouthed protagonist into this setting, the writing went unusually fast. I got the tone I wanted on the first try. With a little sleepless, hysterical, forget-to-eat effort, I made deadline."

Victor D. Infante on the “The Death of a Copy Editor: “I have a confession to make. I began writing the first draft of this short story at 6 a.m. the day it was due, and I finished it by noon. What can I say? I’m a journalist. I thrive on deadlines. But I had wanted for a while to capture that frustration of that vanishing aspect of journalism, the despair and anger that came when a job that’s already implicitly invisible disappears even more.” 

Amy Ray on "A Nose For News": "As any New Englander will remember, we were slammed with snow last winter (Boston hit a record 108.6 inches!) While digging out my walk, hoisting the shovel high enough to clear the snow bank that towered over my head, a crime started to form in my imagination. What if a murder occurred just before one of these killer snowstorms hit, covering the victim under an icy mound until the spring thaw? Drawing on my prior freelance experience, my protagonist was naturally a female reporter for a small weekly newspaper. I wanted to make my story different from what I imagined the other submissions would be like -- gritty, hard-boiled, noir -- so I wrote a cozy mystery, complete with animal sidekick. The canine hero, named Poe after the newspaper owner’s favorite author, was inspired by my friend’s adorable pug, Peter. I enjoyed writing in the cozy genre so much that I’ve since e-published the first of my Antiques Alley Short Mysteries. Even though I grumbled my way through last winter’s succession of storms, the endless shoveling let my mind wander and unearth ideas as fresh as the snow falling around me."

Donna Catanzaro on creating Murder Ink's killer cover: "When George Geers, the publisher, asked me to create a collage for the cover of a pulp fiction newsroom collection I immediately imagined the scene. It would be a smoky, dirty room, cluttered with files and old crime photos, placed in the past, back in the heyday of pulp fiction. I hadn’t read any of the stories that would be included in the book -- in fact I don’t think the stories had been chosen at that point. But as George informed me, pulp fiction covers rarely ever related to the contents of the books. As I worked on the piece a story developed. I placed a man’s body under the desk with an empty bottle of alcohol. Is he dead or passed out? A beautiful but tough newswoman, smoking a cigarette, is holding an old Graflex camera. She’s worked extra hard to get this position, so of course, she has arrived earlier than her male co-worker. Or maybe she’s been there all night. Has she photographed a crime? Or did she photograph the man under the desk for blackmail? The newsman clutches the phone. He just walked in. But who is he going to call: the police, the man’s wife, or his boss? He hesitates. Around the office are possible weapons: a gun and a letter opener -- but have they been used? Like most of my work, I imagine it to be a scene from a movie, or in this case, a short story. I invite a writer to finish this story if they find it inspiring, for the next Murder Ink!"

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Fond Farewell to 2015

Normally, at the end of each year I like to get my house and office in order to ring in the new -- files filed, everything printed up that needs printing, fresh lists made of the ever-expanding roster of fiction projects I've completed and the shrinking list of those yet to achieve their first drafts. As 2015 waned, I did all these things, only to fall more than three weeks behind on updating this blog with the first of 2016's posts.

Without adieu, I hope to fix that one shortcoming. Know that the weeks between Now and Before have been busy ones, devoted to writing. In fact, the first two weeks of 2016 saw me completing the two of my oldest as-yet unwritten ideas (unwritten no more!), which hail from the long ago. 1984, in fact!

Back to 2015. The year kicked off with promise, despite a winter so brutal and long that I wondered if it would ever end. We suffered frozen pipes, both in our basement and elsewhere in town, ice dam damage to the roof, and what seemed an endless supply of snow and icicles, which transformed the sun porch of our home into a jagged dragon's mouth filled with transparent teeth. In 2015, I lost three relatives, including my beloved and brilliant Grandmother Rachel, who once wrote for Highlights For Children. Grammy Rachel was a great friend, and one of the two best grandmothers in the history of the universe (I'm looking at you, Grammy Lovey!).

In April, a week of sunny spring weather had me and the cats out on the sun porch writing, where I finished a first draft of my novel Kingdoms Be Damned in seven days. The sun porch throughout the summer was like my own private, comfortable, and efficient Command Center -- out there in my al fresco-style office, with its stunning views of the woods and mountains, I penned the longhand draft of a novella, Sweat Punk: A Love Story that kept me walking around in a daze for two months while I worked on numerous other projects. I was so wrapped up in the love story between two characters separated by walls both physical and cerebral that when the last page was put down, I mourned. On my birthday, I started my Space:1999 fan fiction novel, Metamorphosis, and found myself writing back and forth between both projects, and inspired to a height I haven't known before. I completed Metamorphosis in early October and shared the final chapter at one memorable meeting of my beloved Tuesday night writers' group, where I forgot I was German and blubbered nonstop throughout the reading. For the first time in my life -- my fiftieth on Planet Earth -- a new year began without a single Space:1999 story on the unwritten story idea list.

My collection of three novellas, Tales From the Robot Graveyard, was launched at Anthocon, an annual gem of the conference circuit held in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. During that fantastic weekend, it was my honor to see three other anthologies debut containing my stories, including Anthology: Year Three - Distant, Dying Ember, which features my long epic SF tale, "The Sun Struck". On Christmas Eve, I learned that 2015's conference would be the last, and wish to extend my profound thanks to Anthocon's organizers. I attended every one. It was a pleasure, truly.

(Reading from ROBOTS at Anthocon, photo courtesy of Tony Tremblay)
I kept some pretty spectacular company in 2015. Within the covers of Firbolg Publishing's spectacular anthology, Enter at Your Own Risk: Dreamscapes Into Darkness, my short story "One More" shared space with reprints by none other than the D.H. Lawrence, Mary Shelley, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Earlier in the spring, editor Dave Goudsward sought me out with a personal invitation to write a story for his charity anthology to benefit the John Greenleaf Whittier farm and museum -- my gothic ghost tale "The Coldest Room in the House" was selected to be the anchor story in Snowbound With Zombies and is nuzzled up against a reprint by Mister Whittier himself. And in May, H. David Blalock solicited an original short story from me -- "Breakwater" -- to appear alongside a reprint of "Beyond the Wall of Sleep" by the master himself, H.P. Lovecraft, in his anthology devoted to the lesser written of human villains in Lovecraftiana, The Idolaters of Cthulhu.

I traveled to an event at the Whittier Farm to read and autograph Snowbound, and spent three luxurious days at The Coppertoppe Inn for a Halloween writing retreat with my writers' group. Joining us at the retreat were my good friends Laura Bear from New York State, and Tina McCollum, my best friend from my teen years -- Tina and I used to hang out and write together weekdays following our release from the humorless prison of Salem High School, and did so again for a full week between my home and the top-shelf accommodations at Coppertoppe.

(With the talented and lovely Judi Ann Calhoun at the
Whittier reading event from SNOWBOUND)
As the year's final days ran out, I tallied up my totals from 2015, as I always do: two completed novels, four novellas, a feature film screenplay, and fifty-six short stories adding up to nearly 380,000 fresh words over the course of my fiftieth year. I published one book, saw my fiction appear or get accepted in numerous anthologies, and, above all, lived my life here in the mountains of my home state being happy while harming none.

2016 will hopefully continue the trend, and seems to be headed in the right -- and write -- direction as of this early juncture. In addition to those two ancient stories finally having their THE ENDs (I was both shocked and pleased to witness their characters coming alive from the dead and really running with the fresh pulses of ink, across pages that flew off notepads!), I have booked three writing retreats, a return visit to my beloved Wednesday night writers' group in the southern part of the state, and a trip into Boston, where I'll be reading from my short mystery, "Exhuming Secrets on a Hot August Day", which is set to appear in the anthology Murder Ink. And, after thirteen years together, my wonderful partner and I are going to tie the knot officially, which will make 2016 one for the history books.  Carpe diem!


Thursday, December 24, 2015

2015 Writers' Group Christmas Party

On Saturday, December 12 our little family hosted fifteen of our favorite friends and writers for our annual Christmas Party -- our third since moving north to Xanadu. A brisk, gray morning unfolded the day of the party, though it was considerably less frigid than in previous years. Normally by December, the Russian Winter of New Hampshire's North Country is already here to stay. In 2015, the Polar Vortex seems to be taking its time. There wasn't a single flake of snow to be found anywhere except on the horizon, where the ominous summit of Mount Washington rises.

The house sparkled and was ready by 11 a.m. to receive the first guests. I made the decision not to put up a Christmas tree in 2015. Last year's tree and 2013's were stunners, and I admit I loved decorating with family heirloom ornaments. This year with time and energy focused on so many writing projects, we instead trotted out the funky Goth snowman given to us last year by our awesome neighbor Anne (his hat was filled with treats) as the table centerpiece, and created an 'invisible tree' in the living room to put gifts on and around for the Yankee swap portion of the fun. All morning long, a massive boneless pork roast slow-cooked in the oven. I had whipped potatoes to accompany the roast, jumbo shrimp and cocktail sauce chilling in the fridge, my awesome fruit punch in the big crystal drinks dispenser, and had ordered another wonderful cake from Cote's Cakes and Cupcake Bar, our go-to dessert destination for all writers' group parties and events.

In addition, an incredible buffet materialized, spreading around the kitchen, as is always the way at one of our writers' group parties. We enjoyed: spinach, red pepper, and mozzarella calzone, homemade rolls, a hunter's pie (ala shepherd's, only made with ground venison -- which I normally avoid; this was divine!), Portuguese bread, fresh fruit salad, layered salsa dip with chips, vegan mac & cheese, apple bread pudding, brownies, a gourmet cookie platter, and an assortment of homemade breads -- blueberry, cherry, and fig among them, served on a gorgeous glass platter that we were given following the party. Everything tasted magnificent!

The Yankee Swap kicked off at 1, right as the last of our fellow partygoers arrived. For the first time ever, I drew a number high in the rotation, and wound up snagging a gift basket filled with candy, cocoa, a new coffee mug, pens, paper, and other neat contents. Seeing the paper was what won me over on resisting the temptation to swap -- I've written so much this year that my supply of notepads and notebooks has dwindled to a not-quite-but-getting-close point of anemia. During the reading portion that followed, I shared the opening half of my Viking-themed story, "The Hungriest Month", and got to enjoy some fantastic offerings from my fellow creatives -- what more than one attendee agreed was the best reading at one of our parties ever. By 6:30, the last of our guests departed, and our 2015 party schedule came to its end. Next up: May 2016 -- theme as yet to be determined, followed by September 18, 2016, whose theme will be "Marriage" to celebrate Bruce's and my nuptials, which will occur before the start of the party.  Huzzah!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Meet the Talented and Luminous Clark Chamberlain

I'm convinced that books are filled with powerful magic. Some terrify. Others inspire with romance, introspection, courage. The most magical have the ability to transport us back through time from adulthood to the days when we were children and the world was a vast, wondrous place fraught with mystery, danger, and adventure. One such book is Clark Chamberlain's newest page-turner, Hank Hudson, the story of a young boy growing up in Depression-era America who accidentally gets left behind when his family moves cross country to California. On his long journey to reunite with them, Hank and his loyal companion Dog encounter oddities, get involved in a treasure hunt, and face off against a dark power eager to possess the boy.

I first met the man behind the magic of Hank Hudson after my short story submission to his publishing company's dystopian anthology, A Bleak New World, was accepted. Since becoming one of Raven International Publishing's authors, it has been my pleasure to get to know Clark and his work. Clark wears many hats ("Writer, Illustrator, Publisher, Father, and part-time Good Guy," according to his upbeat daily podcast, a must-listen to for any writer seeking inspiration) -- he helms the excellent The Book Editor Show with fellow scribe Peter Turley, and teaches a course with perhaps the best title in the history of writing seminars: Punch Them in the Gut: Writing Fiction With Emotional Impact. Meet one of my favorite writers and friends, Clark Chamberlain.

I’m always fascinated over where a writer’s ideas originate. What sparked Hank Hudson?
Hank Hudson really came from three things. First, my childhood was anything but normal. Often times I’d find myself living with relatives while my parents were between houses. And of course when you’re a kid being exposed to different and even odd families it shapes you. So I had always thought of a story about a boy living like a gypsy, traveling from town to town always getting into new adventures. Second, I have a brother-in-law, Cameron (the book is dedicated to him), and in all the home movies of him as a kid he’s often in the background, sometimes people telling him to get out of the way so they can record the cute kids. I thought wouldn’t that be interesting that if middle children weren’t just forgotten about because of the number of kids but if a middle child actually turned invisible on accident.Third, I like that spark of excitement that comes from the unknown. That feeling there really is this secret history and that the life we find so normal is just a shell concealing the real world in the background.

(Clark Chamberlain putting down the words)
You’re working on a sequel, correct? Please share with us the broader Hank Hudson mythos.
As Hank sets off to catch up with his parents in the first book, he has no idea he’s part of a bigger world. A secret world. So in the second book we get to explore that deeper and he gets to learn what this world is really about. We have the ley line energy that grants certain powers and Hank can absorb those powers for limited amount of time. He needs to learn how to use them if he has any chance of standing up to the dark monster, the Apep, which wants to use Hank as a vessel so it can have a physical body again. In Hank Hudson and the Anubis, we get more secret history. Why did Roosevelt create the New Deal? In order to hide away the fact that the US is trying to control this energy and the Apeps that were released in the Great War. It really is so much fun to build a world like this. And the farther along the path Hank walks the more questions come along. Like how can he talk with dogs. Why his friend Stin doesn’t seem to age, sweat, and always can produce things from his pockets. At the center of this story it’s about friendship, family and the desire we all have to be accepted and loved.

Talk about your previous writing work -- Another Day Another Name, for instance.
Another Day Another Name was an exercise in understanding more about myself. I wrote it while in Iraq, serving with the US army. It was my go to place to unwind and put down the questions I had, that I really didn’t feel I could talk about with others. It was also a fun place to play what-if. When I first arrived at the US base in Baghdad, I thought there would only be US soldiers. There weren’t. In fact we were outnumbered by contracted security five to one. So that question came to my mind what if the government privatized security in the US? It made a great backdrop for greed and corruption to tell the story of four very different people. Each one of them, Henry, Mabel, Mateo and Steven are neither right nor wrong. The world they live in and what they do is very grey, like the real world. I liked that. The sequel to that, Another Day Another Deception, has been put on hold while I was writing the Hank Hudson books, but I promise that I’ll get back to it soon! And if you thought the first book was intense, you ain’t seen yet. I also enjoy writing comics and telling stories visually. I like playing in the world of Smugglers Inc, my sci-fi comic, and in my son Jonah’s Monster Prison (which we hope to have a few issues out in the first quarter of 2016). I love storytelling. The power it has to shape lives and the way it can connect us together. I’ve seen some bad things in the world and a lot of it comes from seeing “others.” We see the differences and make choices out of fear. Good story can show us the other side. It can help us to understand that we are the same.

(Clark helming the bridge at Raven International)
You knew you were a writer when…
A year after coming back from Iraq. I understood that this was my calling, the place I fit into the world. It let me use my best talents to the fullest of my ability. When I felt that connection to writing and storytelling things started to click in my life.

What's up next for Raven International Publishing?
There are four big projects in the works, Peter and I are building an editing course. Moving forward on a marketing program for authors. And I'll be announcing an open submission for a middle grade book. We've got a superhero anthology due out next year. I need to have better infrastructure before moving into another anthology. I'll be bringing on a couple of interns as well and hope to find someone to move into a full time position.  

Finally, Clark's son Jonah has a chance to go on the American Heritage Tour. To help raise funds, for a $15.00 donation, Clark will send you a copy of Hank Hudson. The link is posted below: https://www.youcaring.com/jonah-clark-454829/update/385334


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

BEHOLD! BLURRING THE LINE

Winter of 2012-13. We still lived in our old apartment (and were awaiting a closing date on this house). For a few frigid weeks, my little sister, who worked the third shift, found herself without a car and in need of a lift to her job. And so, during that time, we drove her to the outer limits of our then-town, to a factory located at the distant top of a winding drive. At that hour, nobody was on the road. Still, the traffic light standing guard at the base of the hill seemed to taunt us, staying red no matter what side we approached from. While waiting for it to change, my imagination translated the red light into a giant, unblinking Cyclops eye. The kernel of a short story idea germinated on one of those late nights. It was cemented on another when, after turning up the drive, we very nearly collided with the biggest buck I've ever seen, who casually tromped across the road after Bruce slammed on the brakes. The buck regarded us with contempt, I swear, before continuing on his way into the dense pine woods. A snow storm thickened around us. The traffic light watched. The story idea was fully formed by the time we returned home, mercifully in one piece.

The following day, I began to pen "1-2-3 Red Light", a story about a notorious traffic light in a remote part of town with a tragic history -- and a thirst for blood. The story's longhand draft dashed itself off fairly quickly, only to soon go into a cardboard box with the rest of my files for our big move north to Xanadu. When I read the guidelines for Blurring the Line, a forthcoming anthology by the fine folks at Cohesion Press, I pulled the longhand draft from my file cabinet for editing on the computer. Blurring the Line would feature a unique take on the horror genre by offering up stories that straddled the boundaries of the fantastic, making the reader question fiction from fact. The whole 'ghost in the machine' approach seemed to make "1-2-3 Red Light" a decent fit for the call. It was. Soon after submitting, Editor Marty Young wrote back to say he dug the story. Today, it appears in the new release alongside a stellar list of authors, many of whom shared the back stories behind their stories in Blurring the Line.

Alan Baxter on "How Father Bryant Saw the Light": "For a long time I've been wanting to write a story that was in some way paying homage to that great horror novel, The Exorcist. But I also wanted to interrupt, to subvert, the strong Judeo-Christian framework of that book, and so much other western horror. I love the cosmic horror of people like Ligotti and Lovecraft, and the non-western horror from Asia and elsewhere, so I tried to meld all those styles a little. 'How Father Bryant Saw The Light' is the product of that desire. Hopefully I at least partly achieved what I set out to do."

Annie Neugebauer on "Honey": "In the nonfiction book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach mentions human mummy confection, a purportedly true practice in ancient Arabia. Elderly people sacrificed themselves by consuming only honey until death so their bodies could be turned into a medicinal concoction.The claim was bizarre enough to catch my fancy, and off I ran. I ended up with a short, strange, epistolary story in a voice reminiscent of Poe and one of the more outrageous concepts I’ve ever played with. So in short: just another Thursday. I took it to my critique group without giving it another thought. Their response was not what I expected. People made noises during silent reading, and when the timer went off there was an outburst. Loud, excited voices. Arguments, jokes, ideas, praise. It was crazy. Honestly, I was embarrassed by their extreme responses. I decided I would only ever publish this story if it got accepted by a bomb-proof market (i.e., You haven’t jumped ship validation). Well, Cohesion picked it up for Blurring the Line. I’m so excited to be a part of this bomb-proof anthology, even if that does mean my crazy-ass story is out. I hope you’ll read it."

Lia Swope Mitchell on "Empty Cars": "My dad and his wife spend a good bit of time in New York, and they’ve told me about this thing that apparently everyone learns if they ride the subway a lot: if it’s rush hour and every car on the train is packed except for one… don’t get on the empty car. There’s a reason it’s empty. And the reason is probably someone who’s having one of the worse days of their life. ‘We can pray for him,’ one woman said about an especially pungent man who was peeling the skin off his feet, ‘but we don’t have to smell him.’ That phrase -- don’t get on the empty car -- got me thinking about how people often try to close off and isolate things that disturb us. Maybe because they smell bad, but also because they’re sad and difficult and we don’t know what, if anything, we can do about them. So the story ‘Empty Cars’ is about someone who’s trying to close off one particular thing, something difficult and sad that she wants very much to ignore, and the result is that it ends up invading her daily life in all these comically grotesque ways."

Lisa Morton on "Woolen Shirts and Gum Boots": "My story for Blurring the Line, ‘Woolen Shirts and Gum Boots’, was taken from a nineteenth-century newspaper article found in a creepy scrapbook my bookstore once acquired. The scrapbook, entitled ‘Sweet Death,’ was a collection of nineteenth-century articles about strange happenings and horrible deaths. Although many of the stories in the book seemed to be more ideally suited to serving as the basis of a horror story -- for example, I almost considered doing one based on a piece about a new preacher who inexplicably went mad during his first sermon before a large crowd -- this story of two teenage girls dressed as men trying to flee abusive families really captured my imagination. I thought about how different things were then, about how the girls must have been both very courageous and maybe a little crazy to think they could do this. I ended up using as many details from the original article in my story as I could, and I hope I’ve captured some of what those two girls likely endured."

Patricia J. Esposito on "Distorted and Holy Desire": "It was my idea to go see the local band. A winter night of soft snowfall. He stood outside the venue, under the spray of streetlight. Black curls warmed his face, snow flakes drawing down his eyes. A small smile lifted. No one could imagine what was in store. A man, a body. Voice and guitar. I thought about slipping on the icy walkway. Instead, we slipped inside, unprepared. “That was him,” I whispered to my husband, and there he was skirting through the crowd, removing his scarf, winding in with his unwinding. None of us, propped on barstools and benches, could really be prepared for the splendor that was to come. But he began to strum, he began to reach; the room evaporated, and our bodies became the fallout of his nuclear emotion. Shattered and yet transcending. I wondered then if death could be this good. And I wrote the story of my fallout."-- On seeing Adrian Perez of Beautiful Collision at Kiss the Sky, Batavia, IL

Rena Mason on "Nita Kula": "I’d always wanted to do a version of a zombie story that had a scientific, fact-based, historical origin, and I’d always loved the premise behind The Serpent and the Rainbow and knew that if the opportunity arose I’d use something similar for what would probably be the closest thing I’d ever write to an actual zombie story. Being an R.N, I often found myself working side by side with traveling nurses from abroad. It takes a strong personality type to come from another country and be able to provide a vast range of care in a foreign land. Growing up somewhat sheltered, I envied this kind of adventurous personality, so I decided to use a traveler I’d met from New Zealand who had a very take-charge, shut up-and-just-get-the-job-done, no-bullshit attitude as my main character. She also probably pissed me off at some point, so in my story I made her vulnerable by using cultural differences in a densely populated, diverse city that’s an external visual paradise in order to push her over the edge into discovering the horrific possibilities that might lie within."

James Dorr on "The Good Work": "Let’s do it then,” Wendy said.  She led Coz and me out of the alley, around to the front door, where we started singing -- Coz just pretending, because of his froggy voice.  We started out with “God rest ye merry,” and then did some “Greensleeves,” and Wendy was real good like she’d practiced singing, or else had a real knack.   
(from “The Good Work”)
But how accurate is the Dickensian image of jolly underage carolers spreading Christmas joy from house to house in Victorian London?  I have read that in actuality it could be more like a shake down operation; the picturesque urchins would deliberately sing out of key, continuing until they were given bribes to go away.  Except that some children may have had a bigger, more serious game in mind -- one in which they must sing well enough to be asked inside."

Steven Lloyd Wilson on "Misktatonic Schrödinger": "I've had stirring down in the depths of my mind this idea of a Lovecraftian story set at the South Pole during a whiteout ever since, well, I read several of Lovecraft's novels on a trip to Alaska. I know, Lovecraft himself has several such stories, there's The Thing, and a dozen others. So, real original, but I had this feeling about it. And then there was that XKCD strip (https://xkcd.com/1235/) pointing out that sightings of UFOs and other such phenomena have plummeted since the ubiquity of cell phone cameras. But what if shining the light into the darkness doesn't show that nothing was ever there, but simply that the room is empty when you're looking."

Peter Hagelslag on "Fearful Asymmetries": "‘Fearful Asymmetries’ basically began—I wrote this two years ago—from a typical ‘what if’ premise, but then threefold: What if current trends of random killing sprees and terrorist attacks not only continue, but increase, and we decide to tackle this by extremely increased surveillance? What if we decide to guard the guardians through electronic and biometric means? What if that very system then gets hacked(*)? I personally do not believe we should use an army of genetically engineered, bio-modified, highly paranoid cyborg cops on every spot where we can expect danger (which actually means all public spaces). ‘Fearful Asymmetries’ tries to show why that’s probably a very bad idea. However, I am dismayed at how certain parts of this made-up story hold up. It seems things are indeed moving in that direction, which scares the shit out of me. To wit, a recent article in the Verge (Who controls the cop cam?): http://www.theverge.com/2015/11/16/9724644/police-tech-body-cams-transparency-violence-taser . This story is indeed meant as a dystopia that should not come to pass, not as an accurate prediction of the future. So I do certainly hope it is wrong in its extrapolations. (*) = spoiler alert..."

Friday, November 13, 2015

Halloween 2015 Retreat to the Coppertoppe Inn

(me, looking loopy after a luxurious one-hour soak in my suite's
gargantuan whirlpool tub)
From Friday, October 30 through the First of November, ten members of my Berlin Writers' Group and its extended family retreated to what must be one of our fair state's best-kept secrets, the Coppertoppe Inn and Retreat Center. I discovered Coppertoppe last March after several in BWG mentioned doing another autumn retreat -- perhaps to one of our local high-end hotels here in New Hampshire's North Country. It turned out that the hotel of choice had closed down, leading me on a web search in between the penning of fresh pages to find other possible venues. And, as was often said and emoted during our weekend stay, we made the correct choice in our commitment to this wonderful literary destination. Hosts Sheila and Bill took great care of us -- me, almost from the moment I landed at the gorgeous B & B located on a rise overlooking Newfound Lake.

The retreat actually started for me several days before heading south from my front door to Coppertoppe. In the spring, I invited my dear friend Tina to join BWG for the retreat. Tina and I were thick as thieves in high school, a difficult but supremely formative era in my life. During that time, as I embraced my individuality, creativity, identity, and, yes, weirdness, Tina was the best friend I could have asked for. At the onset of sophomore year, I confessed to her that I wanted to be a writer. We instantly bonded -- I didn't know until then that she wrote poetry. For the entire year and the next one that followed, we were inseparable, often times riding the bus back to her house where we worked on our creative writing endeavors instead of homework, watched episodes of our beloved Star Blazers, which ran at 3:00 in the afternoon, and Force Five, another Japanese anime import about giant robots defending the Earth, that followed. Flash forward thirty-five years, and the star of Star Blazers, the fabulous Amy Howard Wilson ("Nova") has blurbed my book about giant robots, Tales From the Robot Graveyard, and my great friend traveled far north to stay at our home, where we would write and laugh and travel through time before departing for the retreat together.

(Tina on the famous Coppertoppe glider)
The ride south through Franconia Notch to the town of Hebron was smooth and delightful, the fun enhanced by the addition of mystery writer and fellow group moderator Irene Gallant, whom we collected en route. As soon as we landed to a house filled with writers, most already composing new work, I was inspired by the view and venue. I learned that I would be staying in the Garnet Suite, which boasts a bed that would impress Louis the XIV, complete with a gargantuan bathroom covered in about an acre of serpentine marble tile and boasting one of those showers that makes a person recently turned fifty feel like pampered royalty. I carried up my few bags (I've learned to pack smartly and travel lightly after so many literary adventures) and then headed downstairs to the B & B's vast library to begin writing. It turned out that I hadn't packed as smartly but definitely lighter than I'd thought, when my computer shut itself down in power-saving mode, and I realized I hadn't brought the power cord with me.

No worries, however. Bill, a tech wizard, produced the perfect temporary loan, one of several Coppertoppe keeps on hand for those just-in-case emergencies. Soon, I was up and running, surrounded by books and other respected writers, and I quickly belted out the last 2,500 words of a first draft of "Vampire", a Halloween story moved to the front of a very long line of works in progress thanks to a writing prompt given out by the fabulous Judi Calhoun. The following morning, freshly showered (and feeling a lot younger than my years), I sat at the incredible writing desk in the Garnet Suite and began working on a fantasy short story that has lingered in my idea catalog for twenty-two years. After a struggle to find the groove, I decided to take a nap in my enormous bed. I passed out, unaware of how depleted my creative batteries have been, and slept like a baby.

(Me reading on Halloween Night)
After waking, I decided to indulge in a long, lazy soak in the suite's whirlpool tub. When I emerged, feeling like my body had transformed to the weight of granite, I flopped back in bed under the fan and, an hour later, had all the energy in the world. I powered through the struggle with the fantasy story, wrote almost to the end (some 5,000 words in all), and joined my fellow creatives downstairs in the library for our planned Halloween night reading. Irene had given us a prompt of her own for that night's event -- a Halloween-themed story, told in under 1,000 words. I shared "6 x 3", which weighed in at roughly 800. We went around the room, and I got to hear some amazing drafts, including a completed short story by my dear friend Tina, which inspired applause.  Another brilliant writer, Laura Bear (who traveled from New York State to join us), wrote a fantastic story on the spot, one set at the retreat involving the members of the group facing mortal jeopardy. The readings concluded with bags of candy and an abundance of inspiration.

Fittingly, November 1 dawned overcast and moody, with fog obscuring the lake, a preview of the gray time that starts in this month and dominates our part of the world until March. I packed my bags after another of those luxurious, long showers, ate a spectacular breakfast, and headed down to the library, for the very first of National Novel Writing Month's write-ins. I penned an additional chapter of my novel, bringing my total word count to just shy of the 9,000-k mark. By 1:00, the car was packed, the last of us departed, and the retreat came to its official conclusion. A fantastic and productive time, we're already planning our next visit to Coppertoppe!