Sunday, October 20, 2019

From the Bookshelf: LIFEFORCE by Annie Rodriguez

In early 2016, I returned to When Words Count Retreat Center for Writers and it was my absolute pleasure to meet talented novelist Annie Rodriguez. Annie's positive vibe and enthusiasm for writing was delightful. So, too were the pages of her novel-in-progress, a Young Adult Paranormal involving three medical professionals, each linked together through supernatural secrets. That novel, Lifeforce, instantly captivated me with its beautifully drawn characters, elegant prose, and engaging story line, mostly centered around young Gillian Cassidy whose mother, a powerful witch, died under mysterious circumstances. Gillian has been on the run from an abusive boyfriend with a dark secret of his own  and harbors a burning attraction to Doctor Forrest Wolfe, a shapeshifter and one of the young witch's two guardians. The other, trauma surgeon Addie Brystol, was transformed into a vampire during overseas. So it was no surprise to me when Annie announced the book had been accepted for publication.

It was my pleasure to speak with the author about her excellent novel and future plans.

I adore your novel, your characters, and their plight. Where did the idea for Lifeforce originate?
First of all, thank you, I hold your opinion in very high regard.  I have always wanted to write a novel, ever since I was in fifth grade. I always thought of having some fantastical element in it (a princess in distress was the first character I developed at ten-years-old, inspired by the Disney version of fairytales like Sleeping Beauty).  To me, reality has always been a little too harsh, and I long to escape from it during my writing time. First as a teacher’s pet and general school nerd (and proud!) and now because of the fields I work in-I find myself that after the events I have witnessed as an anthropologist, public  health professional, and a now a law student, I need a breather, and I find that in my writing, and fantasy characters are a great part of that world.  I also long for my readers to experience a similar breather in my works.  But I also want to inject a real-life spin into it.  It seems counterintuitive but I hear people all the time wishing that they had one thing or another, thoroughly convinced that if they had that one thing, it would solve all their problems.  Those things frequently will take the form of a superpower (ie: Flash’s speed or the ability to transport themselves by appearing in and out of a stall, etc.) I have been guilty of that too.  Many times, I have wished to travel back to the past and do something I wish I had done or stop myself from doing something I wish I had not done. And this theme is very prevalent in my novel, with its main character, Gillian, fighting with the past and the future constantly.   Yet, our mistakes and actions are what help define us and I wish for people to see, through my novel, that even if you had something that is supposed to give you some kind of advantage over everyone else that does not have it (ie: magic in Gillian’s case and immortality on the other two cases), it still has to be nurtured, looked after, and it is a big responsibility.  What I want them to come out of the novel with is that maybe grass is greener on the other side because you water and fertilize it. 

If you could cast Gillian, Forrest, et al for the movie, who would play your leads?
Amanda Seyfried as Gillian Cassidy, Jesse Spencer as Forrest Wolfe, Kate Beckinsale as Addie Brystol, William Estes as Sean Kennard, Josh Harnett as Josh Ambrose, and Hillary Swank as Bridget Martin Cassidy.

Is there a sequel in the works?
Yes…and that’s all you’ll get for now.  Oh, I’m very pleased with how it’s taking form…but no more!!

 Talk about your writing process – schedule, organization, anything that gives us insight into Annie Rodriguez.
I used to be a morning person mostly, until law school started.  I loved to write from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. my first summer of grad school. But school and work plus caring for house, mother, and cats make that almost impossible.  I find myself more productive taking breaks in between reading cases or waiting in class or court-I always carry a notebook with me and make the most of the time I can take.  I think also once you’ve penned your first story, you’re more comfortable with yourself and your characters.  I just let them speak through my hands.  All I have to do is put pen to paper or hands to keyboard, and it is almost an autopilot process, one that makes me feel mentally clearheaded and relaxed. My supervising attorney this summer was aware of my breaks and has already said to me in the two months we’ve worked together “You stop writing, I’ll start worrying.” So it’s a great stress reliever.  I cannot specifically schedule a break with my current workload, and probably will always be difficult given my career choices, but it makes the break that much more fun when it does happen. And I always manage to make my deadlines…so it’s working!

What are you presently writing?
The sequel! Tentatively called Immortality’s Peril.  Plus I am attempting two other stories that talk about channeling magical powers through objects.  Who knows - I may have three completely new novels here. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Drawer of Shame

Unfinished manuscripts (on right) in my Drawer of Shame
The summer I turned 15, I took my first glimpse into a much vaster universe than the hum-drum world I knew. I decided I was a writer and only wanted to be a writer. Nearly four decades and thousands of published works later, I've stuck to that pledge. I've lived a literary life and loved the process of living for literature. I love this writing life.

Early on -- within a year of that summer -- I read my first issue of Writer's Digest, a gift from my late, great Grandmother Rachel, herself a writer published in the classic Highlights For Children. That issue contained an article about famous writers and their writing spaces. One legendary scribe remarked in that article -- the ancient issue still on a bookshelf in my writing room -- that he'd published some 300 stories but that he easily had three times that number 'moldering away unfinished' in his home office. That math has horrified me since.

From the time I started, I've been what a member of my writers' group refers to as an 'Idea Hoarder'. I've had it in my mind that I should finish all that I start, including the good, the bad, and especially the ugly. Every December on a brisk Sunday afternoon while the elegant propane stove in our living room flickers, I routinely run through all of my old notebooks and notes to see if I've missed anything, if, somehow, a stray story idea has somehow fallen through the cracks. My stories, short and long, are my babies. Last year, I discovered three 'straybies' by performing my annual forensic search.

Ten years ago, that part of my writing space devoted to storing unfinished manuscripts -- the infamous Drawer of Shame -- sat 77 corpses deep. Also at that time, my list of unfinished ideas was a bloated, strangulating 268 titles and concepts long. For a decade now I've been writing like a dervish and bringing characters off ledges they've been left stranded on. I've reached hundreds of THE ENDs and winnowed down that unwritten list to 48 to-be-completed ideas. The Drawer of Shame now holds a paltry 23 started but stalled works-in-progress, and I hope to cut that number in half before the end of 2019.

My unwritten ideas list, all that red indication a project
completed in 2019
Why finish a story I'll never put on the computer following its longhand draft or submit? Because I loved that story enough to envision it and start it, and, yes, bring it to its conclusion. Because of that covenant I made with the Muse when I dared go by the noble sobriquet of 'Writer'. And because that's just how I'm wired.

By year's end, I hope to have my unwritten list down to a svelte 36 ideas, the lowest that number's been since I started this writing adventure in my teen years when I would extend my arms and welcome new ideas en masse into my embrace. As for the Drawer of Shame, it isn't a drawer anymore so much as a tiny plot of real estate, a way station for old friends to congregate for just a little while longer. Next year at this time, my hope is that not a single of my stories will be on that side of the drawer. They'll all have gotten their happy endings.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

An Amazing April Writing Symposium

Me teaching a packed room on living a literary lifestyle
Over the winter, I was asked to teach at what was presented to me as a unique opportunity. A literary event was being organized and it would be held at Coppertoppe Retreat Center, where my writers' group spent an unforgettable Halloween weekend in 2015. Caring for a disabled spouse makes travel now both rare and difficult, but I committed to the weekend while snow was piling up and the subzero winds howled around Xanadu. I knew I couldn't say no.

Over the next few months, I made arrangements for round-the-clock nursing care, formulated the workshops I would lead, and also set goals, professional and personal, for the weekend. One of the workshops needed to be on a subject close to my heart -- "Living a Literary Lifestyle", something I both preach and practice. I was also requested to hold a lecture on writing Mysteries, as I've had some wonderful successes in recent months in that particular genre. As winter waned, the towering walls of snow around our home melted, and the date arrived, I grew anxious and excited -- the latter because of the opportunity presented, the former because I would be leaving the house, loved one, and cats for the first time in nearly two years. It turned out they were in the best of hands.

I packed lightly, as I always did when traveling, and departed a full day before the symposium was scheduled to begin with good pals Edwin Berne and Judi Calhoun. We traveled down to beautiful Newfound Lake and the retreat center, the first arrivals. Our hosts, Sheila and Bill, were as gracious and pampering as always. An incredible dinner (pork roast wrapped in bacon) greeted us, and we three hung out in the big bedroom upstairs and talked the writing life. After dinner, we gathered downstairs among the cafe tables overlooking the lake and wrote. I began a terrifying ghost story called "The Woman in the Wallpaper", one of three projects I brought to work on between sessions.

The following morning found me again downstairs by 5 a.m., belting out fresh pages at a dizzying speed. Over that first early cup of coffee, our dear friends and fellow conferees The Sisters Dent motored up the long, winding drive and joined us for a scumptious breakfast. I finished the first draft of my story, and soon the masses descended. The symposium kicked off with spirited conversations and my first workshop as, outside, the sky opened up and rain hammered our surroundings.

Among the other esteemed teachers that weekend were Tor Books senior SF editor Mosche Feder and agent Beth Marshea of Ladderbird Literary Agency. Beth held an insightful open discussion on the writer-agent relationship, and on Saturday Moshe led a Milford method-style consultation with six of us novelists on our current projects. My novel-in-progress, Grave Space, earned high marks from he and Beth, and I am presently tearing through the remainder of the novel for submission.

With Edwin Berne, Beath Marshea, Clarence Young, Roxanne Dent, and Judi
Other wonderful workshops were held formally and informally around the enormous table-for-twenty at the heart of Coppertoppe, where a gourmet feast was offered throughout the weekend. Of particular note was a roundtable held by the amazing Clarence Zig Zag Young, a writer based in Detroit. His workshop on the joy of writing filled me with inspiration, and his body of work is superb. Following the completion of my ghost story, in and amongst I also wrapped a draft of "Absolutely Murderous", a murder mystery set at a drag review. That third project brought along for the weekend didn't get touched because, simply, we ran out of time. There was no lack of passion, which infused the atmosphere. Our final treat before departing for home was a workshop led by Dan Szczesny. Following yet another gourmet lunch, we headed for home, all of us committed to writing to the next level. It was a one-of-a-kind experience, and one I'm so grateful to have experienced as part of my literary life.

Monday, February 11, 2019


Some of my earliest memories involve Dan Curtis's dreamy soap opera set in coastal Maine, Dark Shadows. Often as a boy, I would wander the deep woods across the road from the enchanted cottage where I grew up, imagining myself as a character in that haunted world. In a recurring dream, if the wind was blowing just right, I could see Collinwood, the sprawling manor house in the soap, through the trees. On many autumn days in my boyhood, riding the school bus along Range Road, I spied the old Searles Castle on the hill. It was Collinwood.

From an early age, the ABC soaps influenced my imagination and my life. Years later, it was shows like Loving, All My Children, One Life to Live, and General Hospital. In 1993, I found myself in New York City on the set of Loving, the guest of a friend who was hired for day player work. I wrote about the soaps for Topia and Soap Opera Update. When I began writing full-time, I'd camp in front of the TV with the daytime lineup playing, working on numerous projects. And when the majority of those classic soaps were cancelled, they haunted my dreams. In one such dream, I found myself on the set of a soap not unlike Loving in which the characters were protecting me from an evil that threatened the entire planet. The soap and my love for it held the key to stopping the evil. On a blustery October night in 2017, one of the gigantic pines that line my road crashed down, taking out the power. We were in the dark for four long, chilly days. During that time, I put pen to paper and belted out the completed first draft of "Hibernation", my novella based upon the dream. And I'm thrilled to report that it appears in the newest issue of Black Infinity, sharing space alongside work by such amazing writers as Lester Del Rey, Jack Williamson, John W. Campbell, and none other than Philip K. Dick.

It was my pleasure to talk soaps with publisher Tom English.

I grew up on soaps, first with Dark Shadows. I learned the importance of storytelling, cliffhangers, and characterization from the medium, which seems to be dead or at the least hooked up to life support. Do you think the daytime serial is still a valid form of storytelling, and why?
Well, your familiarity with soaps certainly does shine through, in the depth and richness of your writing, particularly in your story “Hibernation.” I think, like you, some of today’s best writers learned their story-telling techniques from the daytime-drama format. And those techniques are being greatly used in most prime-time TV dramas. The pacing is faster, of course, but the shows are more character driven. Savvy showrunners are now using continuing story threads, which often stretch across entire seasons, and weekly episodes tend to leave off on some startling new development or revelation—a cliffhanger. The CW’s Arrow and ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are two good examples. My wife and I love both of these shows. We get wrapped up in them—and we never miss an episode. But prime-time shows weren’t always like this. Go back a few years and you’ll see that most shows did these little self-contained stories each week. You could easily miss several episodes, tune in weeks later, and never feel like you missed anything. But is the soap itself still a valid format? I don’t think they’re as marketable today. There’s only a few still running now. A big contrast to the 1960s and 70s when soaps ruled the afternoon airwaves. Viewers were extremely devoted to these shows—some of which ran for decades. But soaps moved at a much more leisurely pace. Not a bad thing, at the time, because there was more dialogue, more conflict, more suspense and more character development. Because of budget restraints, the stories had to focus less on plot and more on characterization. But this gave viewers time to get to know the characters almost as well as their own family members; to ponder their problems, their struggles, their emotional ups and downs. Plus, these viewers could tune in every weekday to visit with these familiar people. Which is why, for some viewers, the characters and situations in their favorite soaps took on a degree of reality. Not unlike what you depict in “Hibernation.”

Were you a Dark Shadows fan? If so, elaborate.
I was too young to appreciate the show when it first aired. Yeah, it was just too spooky for me. Bob Colbert’s opening theme alone was enough to send me fleeing to my room and the sanctuary of my comic books! I’ve since watched and come to appreciate the show—and its role in the evolution of the horror genre in print and on TV. Artistically, the show succeeds at conjuring an eerie, gothic atmosphere few horror movies manage. And there are some truly memorable scenes and performances. There’s some occasional scenery chewing, of course, but I think John Karlen’s performance as Willie Loomis was always top notch. Loomis was “Renfield” to Barnabas’ “Dracula.” And you can actually see the fear and trembling in Karlen’s characterization. And of course, in the character of Barnabas Collins, Jonathan Frid probably did more to popularize the notion of the sympathetic vampire, the cursed creature trying to fit into society, than anything else previously. Anne Rice was in her mid-twenties when the show aired, and I sometimes wonder if she was watching. If her 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire might owe something to Barnabas Collins. I do know this, though: the success of Dark Shadows paved the way for creator and producer Dan Curtis to do several made-for-TV horror films in the early 70s, including The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler. This in turn led to the weekly series Kolchak the Night Stalker. And that show helped inspire Chris Carter’s The X-Files. So Dark Shadows had a significant ripple effect on the dark waters of fantasy.

(With Loving and Buck Rogers star Thom Christopher)

There are some amazing reads in BLACK INFINITY 3 -- in fact, it's almost overwhelming the pedigree you've assembled. How did you select the stories in this issue?
I have good connections, I guess. I’m blessed to know some great writers. And I’ve read a lot, which helps in choosing the classic tales included in each issue. I’m picky about choosing stuff. Each story has to meet my narrow-minded criteria—it’s gotta be entertaining! I’m not looking for deep, hidden messages or grand literary allusions or innovative departures from traditional narrative style. I’m just looking for good, honest, old-fashioned storytelling.

What's next for BLACK INFINITY 4?
The theme is Strange Dimensions, with stories and comics centered around dimensional doorways, bizarre realities, warped space, etc. I’m still finalizing the TOC but we can say that your eerie, Twilight Zone-ish story “The Sacred Spring” will be a highlight of the issue. I’m excited about the future of the magazine, and I have some really cool themes and covers planned for issues 5 through 7. I don’t want to say too much about these yet. I just hope the magazine lives long and prospers so we can fulfill these grand designs.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Escape from the Holidays with Mischief Corner Books

There were days following the divorce of my parents when I would have done anything to escape the holidays. Once, before moving into my first apartment and starting new traditions, a middle sister invited a house full of smokers over for Christmas Day and, hiding in my room, I thought I'd been transported to a dump fire. For years at Xanadu, our home in New Hampshire's North Country, we've enjoyed Halloweens with our writers' group friends and an annual party with a story theme, our Thanksgiving open house and sit down dinner, and quiet Christmases, just us, the cats, a big dinner, and a movie.

When I read the call for Mischief Corner Books' new holiday line, "Escape from the Holidays", I wanted in. I'd published with this excellent company before -- first in Behind the Uniform and then in This Wish Tonight. I had one idea I felt would work, a contemporary M/M romance idea that first came to me in 1997 in a dream called Burning Down the House that had sat on a note card for decades and now screamed at me to long last write it. Seated on my sun porch, I put pen to paper and the pages flowed with shocking speed, the characters finally given their time. I dashed off the first draft (some 12,000 words) in four days and turned in my story. I'm thrilled to report that Burning Down the House, which aims to rewrite the definition of a family while keeping its bonds intact during one stressful holiday season, releases on December 1, 2018, as part of MCB's "Escape from the Holidays" line.

Starting on 11/28 with Kassandra Lea's Stay Awhile and wrapping on December 29 with Freddy MacKay's Waiting on the Rain, MCB is offering ten tales of holiday-themed escapist reading. Many of my fellow Escape artists shared the back-stories behind their wonderful. tales.

Kassandra Lea on "Stay Awhile": "In my short story, you meet Anson, who is asexual, and Daly, the man who stole his heart. It's closing in on Thanksgiving, but instead of the joyous holiday Anson is planning on, he's depressed about where his relationship stands with Daly. A few weeks previous at a Halloween party, Anson blurted out the fact that he's asexual. Will Daly be okay with this? The story came about for a few reasons. One, I'm a little burned out on writing Christmas stories and feel like Thanksgiving always gets overlooked. Two, there aren't enough romance stories out there with asexual characters and I want to help see that change. And finally, being gray-ace myself, I wanted to put into words some of my own fears and doubts that come along with relationships and acceptance. You could say that I'm basically Anson, in a way. While my relationship status remains a rocky road, I am fortunate beyond belief that my family and friends understand that my view of love is fluid. Now, if only I could manage to find someone like Daly!"

Evelyn Benvie on "Something to Celebrate": "This novella started in a lot of places, with a lot of things, before coming together into something cohesive. But if I had to pick one place in particular, I would say it started while working in retail over the holidays. There is nothing that has made me want to Escape from the Holidays more than having to work through them in close contact with the public every year. I knew I had to incorporate that perspective into my writing and it ended up becoming the basis for my first main character, an overworked and stressed-out grocery clerk in need of a bit of holiday magic. And that’s where the rest of the novella started: in the bits of random winter myths that have been knocking around my head for years. The Japanese Yuki-onna, the German Schneekind, the Russian Snegurochka, all these related/unrelated stories were the basis and inspiration for my second main character, a lost winter spirit looking for somewhere to call home. Add some misunderstandings, a prying best friend who may or may not be human herself, demi representation, and a lot of parks (I’m not kidding) and that is how Something to Celebrate came to be."

Lou Sylvre on "The Holiday Home Hotel": "Magical realism. That’s one way to describe The Holiday Home Hotel. It’s romance, it’s contemporary, and it’s also magical, but I honestly didn’t mean for it to be so. Magic is a stubborn little idea. Nearly every story I write, long or short, light-hearted or dark, pulls in the idea of magic until I can’t help but let it live there. Even my Vasquez and James series—contemporary romantic suspense—has a secret bit of magic in it, though only one reader ever told me they spotted it. But for today’s purposes, that’s really beside the point. The magic in The Holiday Home Hotel isn’t secret—not at all. Slavic goddess Lelia and forest spirit Leshy (who’s playing at being a brown-furred black bear) start their mischief right on page one. Lelia is Daren Slovak’s canine companion, a fluffy white Belgian shepherd, and when Daren plays fetch with her, he has no idea how very much more she truly is. And when I first started writing the tale, neither did I! She was simply going to be a dog named after a minor goddess of luck and springtime. I started thinking some of the things she did—like leading Gunny Schiller out of the wintry woods and into the Holiday Home—could be magic. And then I thought, what if…. A story transformed! Delightfully magical divine intervention, the promise of luck in love, and a sexy springtime romp in the cold middle of winter. See why I love magic?"

Mere Rain on "Celebrations in the Season of Long Nights": "It is set at Yalda, the Persian holiday of the winter solstice. Threatening supernatural forces are at their strongest on this longest night of the year, and it is traditional to keep the fires burning, the music playing, and the food and drink plentiful. Stay up all night celebrating with those you love. Unless you don’t have anyone to go home to. Or you’ve been tasked with fighting evil more directly. Yima is a demon-hunter, a duty passed down through his family. He doesn’t resent it, but it does get lonely, especially since his work is at its most difficult and dangerous when everyone else is celebrating with loved ones. After he rescues Shahin from a demon attack and finds that he has nowhere safe to stay, he takes him back to his flat. Yima has just arrived in town and doesn’t even have electricity yet, leaving the two men with little to do but talk. It isn’t a surprise when they end up in bed, though what at first feels like a temporary comfort grows over days spent together into a deeper bond. Can nomadic Yima find a way to stay without demons coming after his lover? And does Shahin want to risk his heart loving a man who constantly puts his life in danger? I will also be blogging about how to cook for Yalda for the blog tour organized by Other Worlds Ink, running from 12/3 through 12/15."

Angel Martinez on "Yule Planet": "The winter holidays are time for traditions -- lots of them. My holiday story from last year (Safety Protocols for Human Holidays) was a humorous lesbian space opera, so I thought I'd start a new tradition, too, this year being the Second Annual Angel Martinez Humorous Lesbian Space Opera, Yule Planet. I had so much fun with last year's that I toyed with returning to that universe and ship, but really I'd said what I'd wanted to say there. Instead, this year's story stems from something I've found equal parts fascinating and horrifying, and was reminded of again during a visit to Disneyworld the past September. Theme parks. In particular, immersive resort types of theme parks -- how they operate, how they keep guests trapped in a dependent experience, how they treat, portray and sometimes exploit employees. Naturally, since this is science fiction, I decided to take the theming to a planetary scale and the Yule Planet Resort Corporation was born. Happy holidays to you and I hope you enjoy this tale of a resort vacation gone terribly wrong."

J. Scott Coatsworth on "Slow Thaw": "Javier stood on the ice, staring up at the night sky. Behind him, the lights of Bettancourt Station lit the snow in a thirty foot radius. But out where he stood, absolute darkness ruled.
The stars above were brilliant sparks of light, far brighter than they ever were back home, especially on a moonless night like this. He wondered, not for the first time, if somewhere out there on another planet spinning around one of those stars. If someone else was looking up and wondering if there was inteligent life somewhere out there.
It was brutally cold out--negative sixty degrees celsius--but it suited him. It was the anniversary of Terry's death, and he needed the cold. Needed it to numb his soul.
Plus he needed a little space from Astrid. She'd been at the station for almost half of her rotation, and already he wanted to be rid of her.
He closed his eyes. They said the ice sang, that wind blowing over the ice shelf made a haunting, beautiful music too low for the human ear to hear. He imagined its strains, part of the great cosmic opera. The song that would continue long after humankind was gone.
Javier opened his eyes and returned his gaze to the ice.
Somewhere out there, someone new was waiting for him. Terry would send him someone to love, wherever he was. Somewhere past the ice.
He took one last look at the stars, and turned to trudge back to the station, now suitably numb."

Tuesday, August 21, 2018


In a summer long gone, in a house named Blueberry Corners that no longer exists, I lounged in bed and dreamed up a light, romantic tale about a small town fashion designer and her hip, sharp-witted assistant empowering the local ladies against oppressive male town fathers. That story, "Amaryllis and New Lace", sat for over a decade in my card catalog of unwritten story ideas. This past winter, it was nudged to the front of the line by an invitation to submit to Summer Fair, a fun project organized by a collaborative of writers it has been my absolute pleasure to be part of. Like its predecessor Haunt, sales of the book would benefit various charities. I was thrilled for the invitation, but also at the time in the thick of penning a novel sequel to last year's The Day After Tomorrow: Into Infinity, an epic new adventure for the crew of the lightship Altares called The Day After Tomorrow: Planetfall (due in November 2018 by the fine folks at Anderson Entertainment). I wrote the first draft in a kind of fugue over the course of one month. The next few weeks were spent doing edits for submission to meet my deadline to turn in the book. By the time all was done, my creative batteries were depleted, and "Amaryllis" was due. Luckily by then the long chill of North Country winters was fading, and I took to writing on my sun porch as the outside greened and my creativity built with the spring. Over the course of three days, I penned a 7,500 word first draft of "Amaryllis and New Lace", injecting it with as much sweet romance and sass as possible. Today, it appears in a gorgeous anthology filled with an amazing cast of writers.

Many of my fellow Fairgoers shared the backstories behind their stories in Summer Fair.

R.L. Merrill on "Salty and Sweet": "'Salty and Sweet' is an homage to the summer I spent in a theater program back in 1996. It was early in my teaching career, I was still trying to earn units to clear my California credential, and so I thought why not? It was a blast. I danced and sang in my very first musical theater production, Kiss Me Kate, and learned that I better stick to dancing, which I’d done most of my life up until that point. The character of Naomi was inspired by an instructor I had in that program, plus a police officer I worked with a few years later. Both women were brilliant, powerful, and sexy. They challenged me, made me laugh, and inspired me to quit downplaying my talents. In 'Salty and Sweet', Heather is tired of being put down and is on the cusp of accepting her big size and bigger attitude. I loved her free spirit and wanted to pair her with a woman who would appreciate her. There have been many women who have encouraged that shift in me, and I wanted to write this story for them."

Marie Piper on "All the World": "To tell you the truth, I almost forgot about the Columbian Exposition. I’d been knee-deep in writing a western historical romance project, so when I saw the Summer Fair announcement my brain immediately went to a small county fair and truly -- I was planning to write about a pie-eating contest. But it didn’t take long for me to realize the wealth of opportunity the Columbian Exposition carried -- this incredible spectacle that happened right in Chicago, where I live, in an area I visit frequently. The 1893 Expo is the perfect setting for a romance. People came from all over the world -- mortgaging their homes in some cases to be able to attend. My story is about a girl from across Lake Michigan who comes to the Expo dreaming of being a reporter, and the pickpocket who nearly steals her purse and instead winds up her tour guide for the day. They visit the Palace of Fine Arts, the Midway Plaisance, take a ride in the Ferris Wheel, and take in a show by ‘the soul of the exotic’ herself, Little Egypt.  As they see brand new things, they feel brand new things as well -- and All the World opens to them."

CM Peters on "Dewberry Kisses": "From the start, I knew I wanted a fruit/pie festival. For some reason, I kept thinking of the movie To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar and its strawberry festival in a small hick town. Although my town is not that ‘hicksie’, it’s southern and charming, filled with hardworking and kindhearted people.. Also, I was inspired by a certain actor strutting around in cowboy boots and a cowboy hat in a social media post. He needed to be written into a cute romantic story.. So, I mixed everything up with two single souls needing love in their lives again and voilĂ , you have ‘Dewberry Kisses’!Also, ‘Dewberry Kisses’ was my reconciliation with writing this past winter. It made me look forward to summer, to getting back into writing romance, though I’m editing a completely different novel at the moment. I’d had a serious writer’s block after finishing a novel, so something lighter and romantic was all I needed. And dewberry pie. Cause you know, pie. #deanwinchester #doyougetthereference. I hope you enjoy it!"

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

From the Bookshelf: The White Mountain by Dan Szczesny

Turn right at my driveway, travel to the end of our country road, and turn right again. Half the length of a football field later, there it is: Mount Washington, looming large over our small northern town. The image is stunning, regardless of the season -- white in winter months and most of the spring, green through abbreviated summers, color-stroked in autumn. Five years after moving to Xanadu, our home in the hills, that view hasn't grown any less majestic.

It was soon after relocating here that I had the pleasure of meeting writer Dan Szczesny. He'd reached out to me following my appearance on the TV show New Hampshire Chronicle, which had done a feature on my writing career. On a snowy January Sunday afternoon, Dan joined us for dinner and conversation, and we became instant friends and colleagues. I was honored to appear in all three Murder Ink New England newsroom mystery anthologies selected and edited by Dan, and I and others consider him an integral member of our Tuesday night writers' group.

A widely published and celebrated author, Dan's latest book release pays tribute to New England's tallest mountain -- and that view, both awe-inspiring and humbling. It was my pleasure to sit down with him and discuss The White Mountain.

What was it about the subject that inspired you to write The White Mountain?
The basic conceit for the book, a year in the life of Mount Washington, had been kicking around in my head for a long time, but I never had the resources, time and support to be able to pull it off. I spent years creating the personal capital in terms of trust and ability before I felt I could reach out to the organizations I needed to make the project work. The Auto Road, Cog Railway, AMC and Mount Washington Observatory had to be fully on board and give me full access for this to happen, so it took me a while to build that trust before pursuing the book. But once they all said yes and I was off and running, the idea changed and became more about connection. Mount Washington has sat in the collective imagination of Europeans for 400 years and that's a lot of time to build a mystique, culture and legend all its own. Once I started pulling on the story threads of the mountain, there was really no end to the characters and legends that began to unravel.

After climbing to the base camp on Mt. Everest, how daunting were your Mount Washington adventures?
Well, physically, getting to Everest Base Camp was harder. But The White Mountain was a far more daunting writing challenge than The Nepal Chronicles my book about the Everest trip. Primarily, because there was so much material -- so many people the mountain has touched in some way -- it required far more organizational efforts. In Nepal, you'd get up each morning, walk for a bit, take notes and pictures and then assemble the journey chronologically. Here, though, I'd take part in an event, discovered a dozen contacts, people or archival threads to follow, and then have to assemble all the disparate information into a readable chapter. 

What were the most difficult aspects of penning the book?
Well, like I mentioned above, once I had books and books, and notebooks and notebooks full of interviews, archival history, facts and stories, the heavy lifting came in attempting to draw connections between the past, the stories of the interviewees and my own experiences in a way that provided a narrative for the reader. I had no interest in the book becoming a guidebook, nor did I want it to be simple memoir. Plus, I worked hard to find a present tense narrative style that combined both my own adventures with that of my varying subject matter. For example, how do I run up the mountain in June and then visit the home of one of the runners in December and build a present tense narrative out of that time line? I think I pulled it off, at least I hope so!

The author and daughter Uma
You spent some time at the weather station—did you get any ghostly vibes, as that place is famously considered to be haunted?
Oh yes! The observers have all sorts of stories they tell around the kitchen table about ghosts and goblins, as the wind rattles the tower and ice creaks and groans. It's the perfect setting for spooky tale telling. In the book, I do write a bit about Lizzie Bourne, the first woman to perish at the summit when she was only a teenager, and she died only a few hundred feet from the safety of the top. There's an amazing portrait of her that normally hangs in the visitor center, but during the summer tourist season it's easy to miss in all the chaos of the crowds. But in the winter, when that place is empty and your footsteps echo in the hall while a storm rages outside, the eyes of Lizzie seem to follow you as you walk through the unlit atrium! That's spooky! I also write about my own ‘encounter’ with Lizzie in the book.

What’s next up for you writing-wise?
First up, the tour for The White Mountain, which will start in earnest on July 16, will cover six states and nearly 60 presentations, meet and greets and talks, so a lot of my time and energy the next six months will be on making sure that's successful and the book gets into as many hands as possible! Then, this year I have a handful of short stories I'm writing for some upcoming anthologies. I continue to write for AMC Outdoors and Appalachia Journal, two amazing publications that are a joy to work for. I have a kids' picture book that I'll start shopping around in the fall, and I think I'll begin looking for an agent as well at some point. Long term, I've begun research on my next big project, a non-fiction book about New Hampshire's local connection to the Death with Dignity debate. I can't go into too much detail yet, but I happened upon some amazing source material from an early court case that will anchor the story. I'm just chomping at the bit to dive in, stay tuned!