Sunday, September 20, 2015

September 2015 Writers' Group Party at Xanadu

For ten years now, between our first house, our celebrated former apartment, and our new house, Xanadu, we've hosted an annual September party for friends and members of my writers' group. This year's event, in addition to marking a decade of great memories (and, often, some great writing prompts for the reading portion of the fun, which have resulted in numerous story sales), was particularly special: it signaled the end of the mortgage on our sweet old home, which has become quite the literary destination in New Hampshire's North Country. In addition to the usual fun (read: spectacular food and first-rate readings), I planned to do a ceremonial burning of the mortgage papers (photocopies, of course), and to share our once-in-a-lifetime fortune with our friends.

The brilliant writer Grace Paley once quipped that in order to be a writer, "keep a low overhead". I never forgot that spark of genius and have, for twenty-five years, done just that, striving to live a happy life, within my means and the means of a working writer. After a wonderful writing retreat with friends from my Southern New Hampshire writers' group in October of 2012 to the northern part of the state, I found this house.  When the price dropped 10 K overnight, we held a family meeting -- if we loved the house, we'd make an offer, relocate 150 miles from one front door to another, and begin a new life, with a low overhead.  Thirty months after closing, we made the final payment. The house became ours. A house that writing built. Thanks, Grace, for the inspiration and impetus!

Back at the May party, I handed out fortune cookies from our local buffet to all guests -- the reading prompt for September's gathering. Writers were urged to use the fortunes inside to craft their stories, poems, and novel chapters. I cracked open my fortune cookie and, wonder of wonders, the fortune read: "You will be recognized and honored as a community leader". The back, prompting me to learn Chinese, read: kan bing (phonetic) -- "to see a doctor."  In May, I had just begun penning my Space:1999 fan fiction novel, Metamorphosis and figured I'd found the impetus to speed along -- 'leader' translating perfectly into 'commander', aka John Koenig, Commander of Moonbase Alpha, with a liberal dose of Doctor Helena Russell mixed in. I worked on the novel in the background throughout the course of the summer while writing to other deadlines, and read Chapter 11 when my turn in the rotation arose.

Eighteen guests arrived on a gloomy, rainy Sunday, September the 13th (coincidentally, a significant day in the Space:1999 universe -- the date Earth's moon is blasted out of orbit, kicking off the lunar odyssey for the 311 courageous men and women of Moonbase Alpha). It had poured the previous Saturday night. The house sparkled, and my office was immaculate following my end-of-summer cleaning/organizing/filing marathon.  My backup plan for the ceremonial mortgage burning was to hold it on our sun porch. But the sun broke through right when we planned to light the matches, and sunlight rained down. We held the burning on our front lawn, with its million-dollar view of the Androscoggin River and surrounding mountains (a friend videoed the ceremony, which included a reading of Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan by our group's famous poet, Esther M. Lieper-Estabrooks, but the video got corrupted). Despite a stiff breeze, the matches lit, and the mortgage papers went up in smoke.

The readings were, as always, spectacular -- I love the idea of fortune cookies as source material for inspiration and writing prompts! The food, equally stunning. Among the buffet offerings, which stretched around the kitchen as is always the case, were: baby meatballs, chicken and dumplings, homemade potato salad, veggie platters and dip, baked crab dip and crackers, a luscious Jello salad, homemade soup, chips, cole slaw, pumpkin tarts, donuts, cherry pie, soda/coffee/tea, candies, and the luscious cake made for the occasion by Cote's Cakes and Cupcake Bar, one of the best cakes I've ever tasted. We'll definitely be using them again -- our annual Christmas party, theme as yet undetermined, to be held on December the 12th, in the not-too-distant future.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Growing up as an imaginative boy in then-rural Windham, New Hampshire, my youth was haunted by grainy photographic images of the Loch Ness Monster and the famous Patterson-Gimlin film, reportedly capturing a female Sasquatch in motion. I've often emoted that a love for creature double-features and the classic SF TV shows of the time inspired me to become a writer, but Nessie and other lore like Greek mythology are to be thanked -- or blamed -- as well.  From the beginning, I've been lured toward the fringes of the modern world, captivated by the one only able to be glimpsed from the corner of the eye.

On a balmy summer weekend in 2014, my good friend Douglas, one of the mission controllers in charge at Great Old Ones Publishing, drove up to our home for a weekend of writing, reading, and dining. During that time, I mentioned that I thought I knew the subject for his company's next big anthology project: Cryptids -- those life forms real or only dreamed up that inhabit the shadowy outer limits of our modern, clinical world. The project was saluted and made manifest in the gorgeous, beastly form of From the Corner of Your Eye: A Cryptids Anthology, and I put pen to paper to write my first draft of a submission based upon Iceland's celebrated giant ice worm, Lagarfljótsormur. I'd been fascinated with this particular cryptid after video surfaced in 2012, possibly confirming the creature's existence. I dashed off my story, edited it, and submitted. "Visibility" was accepted, and appears alongside a fantastic carnival of tales selected and edited by the stellar David F. Kramer. Many of my co-authors shared the back-stories behind their excellent stories.

Pedro Iniguez on "The Night Has Teeth": "Ferocious, cold, unforgiving, dangerous: these aren’t just words that describe the dreaded Akhlut; these are words that describe Barrow, Alaska. In my story, an ancient wolf creature the Inuit people called the Akhlut, terrorizes the unfortunate jailed occupants of a Barrow correctional facility. Claustrophobic much? Barrow, Alaska, the northern-most city in the United States, is a secluded, freezing, and unforgiving place just as dangerous as any creature that could have been imagined. It’s reachable only by airplane. There’s nowhere to hide, nowhere to run. That’s the kind of confining, suffocating setting I wanted to place this story; a place where the land is as likely to kill you as its deadly creatures of myth and superstition. Toss those elements in with incarceration and you get our protagonist who finds himself in a very unfavorable position. As the story says, it’s like being stuck in ‘a prison within a prison.’"

Sam Knight on "Running From Thunder": "Growing up, I watched any and everything I could about cryptids. It was rare to see much other than the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, and when there was something else it was often so hokey even a little kid like me knew it was bunk. But one story stuck out. In the 1970s a boy who claimed (and supposedly had witnesses and injuries to support the claim) to have been picked up by a giant bird and carried until he fought his way free. When I heard about the incident, I was about the same age as the boy and shocked at the thought of being carried off by a bird! An attack from above truly was indefensible. And the idea, when compared to things like lizard men and aliens, seemed plausible. Then I found out the American Indians had legends about them, calling them Thunder Birds. If a cryptid could be real, it was this one! To this day, I find myself watching the sky. When the opportunity to write about a cryptid came up, there was only one choice for me! In fact, I recently did it again."

Jon Carroll Thomas on "Follow the Mothman": "My family is rooted in West Virginia, not far from where the Mothman was originally sighted. I have long been aware of the creature even if I was not entirely familiar with the legend. Then I read John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies. It was an odd book and raised more questions for me than it answered. But it did get my imagination going. The main character of my story evolved from Keel’s descriptions of Indrid Cold, a cryptid in his own rite and arguably the basis for the ‘Men In Black.’ I began to imagine the Mothman from his perspective and a quirky and dark mystery took shape. Around the same time, I also began reading the ‘Silver John’ stories of Manly Wade Wellman and I think a little of that came through as well. Though there is no firm resolution to my story, I like thinking that my character is still out there and having strange adventures."

Eric Nash on "Poseidon's Standing Stones": "Holidays to the coast as a kid had me searching the flat-line horizon for sea-monsters. I found none, so I imagined them. Years later, I imagined one again. I then gave her a place to live, a modest social life including friends from English legend, and of course, a leisure interest. Every monster needs a hobby. All this, I thought, ought not to stretch one’s imagination too far since individuality is embraced by the society I live in and neighbourhoods have become extremely transient. Maybe she would live unnoticed in a town, possibly making weekly trips to the Benefits Office. Maybe she would be saddened by the lament of the gull or be comforted by the gentle shush of the sea. Maybe she would find love. Or maybe not. And here we are. How was I to know things were going to happen as they did?  After all, she is a cryptid and they’re supposed to stay hidden, aren’t they? Something about the corner of one’s eye, or is that just myth?"

T. Fox Dunham on "Dark Waters": "Futility is 'Dark Waters', my story in Cryptids: From the Corner of Your Eye. I selected the Kraken to champion this nihilistic vision, my paralyzing fear materialized through cancer. I dread that no matter what stones I throw into the ocean that the ripples will always be drowned out by lunar-cast tides. Humans can work with the sea, but they can never tame it, and this symbolizes the cosmic chaos that controls our lives. I wrote it in October sitting at Starbucks in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. It stormed all day -- the first real cold rain as summer truly cooled into the barren and freezing season. It was a one-day write -- an obsession that forced me to compose from early morning to late evening, finishing each draft, editing then getting it out before my fiancée picked me up. We planned to be joined in marriage the next summer, and I struggled to get comfortable with the idea that lymphoma would allow me a normal life. The cancer rages with tentacles -- an overwhelming force that cannot be conquered or really influenced. Control over our lives is an illusion. This is why I made my character’s uncle a defrocked priest after he faced the apathy of his god. And he has to see it -- the divinity in all its fury and rage, destroying islands in the body of a terrible beast. We were married in Scotland in May -- a dream. My cancer has returned as I feared. I was just diagnosed, though not with lymphoma. It could become blood cancer. We don’t know. We swim in these Dark Waters now."

David Smith on "The Beast of London": "Every few years there is a story in the news of big cats being sighted in England. These carnivores are not native to our shores, and we’re certainly not comfortable with their presence. It sounds fantastical, like Nessie or Bigfoot, but in fact some of these animals have been real. I was intrigued by how a modern city like London would respond to such an animal. I knew for certain, we could never co-exist with it…Shortly after the story was published, an American dentist slaughtered a big cat purely for pleasure, and was subsequently vilified around the world. Most of the horror was expressed by people who live in cities, in which almost every aspect of nature has been obliterated; so I guess it’s much easier to hate an individual than it is to accept responsibility for our collective impact. You don’t need a gun to be responsible for the death of the natural world. So I hope this story briefly makes you step back and wonder: just how close will you allow the Lions to get to your front door?"

(Editor Kramer, left; Cover artist and contributor E.G. Smith, right)
Ken Hueler on "River Twice": I’ve never been to Japan, so immediately I decided to move the kappa to U.S. Previously I had seen an episode of River Monsters where the host, Jeremy Wade, examined the kappa myth (probably giant salamanders -- and those suckers are HUGE), so I snuck his name into the story.

Kristi Petersen Schoonover on "Stones": "One of my favorite themes to work with is loss, and the profound and sometimes maddening sadness which accompanies it; I’m always looking for fresh ways to explore the impact of tragedy on an individual. The Pope Lick Monster, who convinces his victims to leap from a railroad trestle to their deaths, is the embodiment of the broken heart; he either drives us to destruction, or he simply leeches our will to live. His legend -- with a few twists of my own, such as the crying of barred owls I visited at an animal rescue center in winter and the odd piles of stones that as a kid I used to find in the woods of upstate New York -- gave me the opportunity to pen a unique take on what happens when we cannot overcome that monster known as grief."

B. David Spicer on "Rougarou": "When deciding which cryptid to write a story about, I decided early on that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, which has almost certainly been extinct in the United States since the 1930s, had to be in the story. Like Bigfoot, people claim to see the Ivory-billed Woodpecker all the time, but it can’t ever be verified. So I decided that my story would involve a group of people looking for it, but finding something else... But what else? Knowing the bird’s historic range, I figured that any relict population would have to be in some remote area, like the bayou country of Louisiana. I dug into the folklore of that region and found the Rougarou, a werewolf-like creature based on the French legends of the loup-garou. So I had a monster and a reason for a bunch of hapless city-folk to be isolated in an unfamiliar place, both classic elements of horror stories. I added a Cajun guide with a past connection to the Rougarou, which tied the two parts of the story together. My path to ‘Rougarou’ was convoluted, but I liked the results when I finally got the idea settled."

Friday, August 28, 2015

From the Bookshelf: ACADIA EVENT by Mj Preston

Artist Marty Croft discovers that escaping his criminal past isn’t possible when crime boss Gordon Shamus forces him into one last mission.  Said mission is a run along dangerous ice roads in Canada’s frigid northern clime to collect diamonds from Acadia Mine where, unknown to Marty and Shamus alike, a discovery has been made: alien corpses and technology in the very heart of the richest of the diamond deposits.  Scientists brought in to examine the long dead ETs awaken the alien menace, reactivating the plans of the Skentophyte Collective, who take over the mine and open a gateway to their home planet.  Hundreds of Skent swarm through and begin to harvest the bones of humans and animals alike -- their food source and the imperative for a full-scale Skent invasion of the Earth.  Unless Marty and a core group of misfit heroes can stop alien and human enemies alike.

Author Mj Preston creates an epic page-turner in his newest release, Acadia Event, with Canada’s frozen north as the setting and the Earth as the ultimate prize for whichever side wins the war.  I first had the pleasure of reading Preston's work when I accepted his submission into Canopic Jars: Tales of Mummies and Mummification, which I edited for the fine folks at Great Old Ones Publishing (Preston also did fine cover art for the anthology).  As with his Mummies submission, I found myself drawn into the story from the first page, seduced by Preston’s muscular writing and knack for telling a vast tale involving a large and memorable cast of characters.  Fans of classic King should read Acadia Event -- as should anyone interested in a great novel.  Preston is an author with a bright future, and it was my pleasure to speak with him about his adventures, both in his real and literary lives.

Takes us into those arctic days -- as a real life ice road driver, just how cold did it really get up there?
Temperatures vary. I now work and live in Alberta, which in itself is a cold prairie climate, but up there the cold is extremely dangerous and unforgiving. I’ve seen temperatures dip to -70 Celcius. Metal, plastic, even exposed human skin, becomes brittle in those temperatures. Machinery has to be left running and can only be shut off for short periods, or it runs the risk of not starting.  As portrayed in the book, there is a ‘no man left behind policy’, because doing otherwise could impose an unintended death sentence on the individual. You have to understand all of these things before operating in an environment like this and you have to have the gear to survive. I had a basic understanding of operating in cold climates, because I was a soldier for 12 years and did annual winter warfare training.  As Big Garney Wilson says to Marty, ‘There is no hunkering down and waiting for the mechanics.’ North of the 60th Parallel and just below the Arctic Circle there are no mechanics, just seasoned drivers who know how to switch out an alternator or how to use a torch to heat up a frozen airline or switch out a clogged fuel filter. I was in awe of these ‘Men of the North’ and how they treated such extreme conditions as just another day on the road. These guys are a breed all on their own, some are outright misfits, poetically spewing expletives and sharpshooting each other with sarcasm, but when you are in trouble they don’t hesitate to gear up and get into the cold. In one instant during my second season on the ice we had a guy spin out on a portage at night and he asked for help. A driver named Vladimir suited up and set out to help him before the warning of skulking wolves went out over the radio. This was a 1000 meter jaunt. Before Vlad knew it, he was surrounded by a pack of wolves and had to face down the alpha of that pack. All he had was a flashlight and his wits. What Vlad did was keep the Alpha in his sights and kept yelling at it until he reached the other driver’s truck. When he climbed inside, the other driver said something like, ‘Vlad, what the hell are you doing out there? Don’t you know there’s a pack of wolves running around?’ Vlad related this to me through a hoarse voice up at the Ekati Diamond Mine. I was transfixed as he acted out the event, but I was also inspired by the story. What a cool Ice Road Story he had.

Your novel is fantastic.  Please share with us your process as a writer.  What’s a typical Mj Preston day like?
Thank you, feedback on Acadia Event has been very humbling. Process? Hmmm… I approach writing without much forethought. I don’t do outlines or strategize, I just sit down, touch my fingers to the keyboard and with a little luck I end up going down the rabbit hole. I don’t go in completely blind, but usually I find that where I intend to go and where I end up in a story are two completely different places. That in itself is great byproduct of this craft. In a way, as I am sure you will agree, it’s like being the first eyewitness on the scene. Typically, my day involves a lot of driving in every imaginable climate. Summers are wonderful, no black ice, no fog and no whiteout. Driving, although time consuming, offers up a long periods to think. Many of the action scenes in Acadia were played out in my minds-eye as drove to and from the Northwest Territories and by the time I got those scenes down into print I had a wide screen movie playing out in my head. Most of my writing happens between 7:00 and 11:00 a.m. in the morning. A lot of Acadia Event was written over the steering wheel of a Kenworth, sometimes in the most unusual places. I had another driver ask me where I found the time to write this book and I replied, ‘When you saw me with my laptop open, I wasn’t surfing porn or playing on Facebook, I was writing.’

(Preston reading at 2015's Anthocon Conference)
Share with us some of the back-story to Acadia Event.  How did the novel develop? 
Back in 2012, I was promoting my debut novel, The Equinox and rethinking my career options. In fact my whole life was in turmoil, I’d been laid off, I had family issues and I was pretty disillusioned. A friend of mine, who has a cameo in the book told me I needed to come out and run the ice. That even if this was my swan song for trucking, I needed to do this one last hurrah. I felt akin to Marty Croft, because I really didn’t want to be there and in essence I was escaping my troubles when I set out for the NWT. My savior was my pal Brad Hardy, who like ‘Big Garney Wilson’ got me up that Ingraham Trail to the ice road. Marty’s terror as he races with the devil up the Ingraham and the Inuksuk trails really is my story. I was terrified, felt every pull and turn, climbing those icy grades like a roller coaster and being shoved down the other side toward impossible curves. I did twenty-one trips up the Ingraham that first season, it took me about seventeen trips to stop being terrified and the whole season to get comfortable. Aside from being scared to death, I was inspired by the north and as we beat it up and down that ice road, while Brad flogged my first novel, I began to feel the tug of my muse. By the time the season was over, I had a rough idea of where I wanted to go with the story and having actually been up there it was a lot easier to formulate.

Is there another ice road tour of duty planned?  In other words, do you have any future plans to continue the story of Marty, et al, and the Skent invasion?
I don’t know if there is a sequel anywhere in the future. I was asked about that with my first book as well. As it stands now, I have no intentions of writing a sequel, but reserve the right to change my mind. I may revisit Acadia in a short story or a novella, but who knows?  We may not have seen the last of the Skentophyte Collective. It certainly is an inviting universe and they are now permanently embedded into my psyche. If James Cameron stops ignoring my messages and makes a blockbuster out of Acadia Event, I’ll be happy to write a couple more books about the invading Skent.

(Mj and Mummies)
What are you presently working on?
I’m just putting the finishing touches on a psychological horror novella called Highwayman.  It is the story of a serial killer with ambitions of infamy, but it is also a lead in to my next novel tentatively called 4. The new book 4 is a police procedural horror, with no extraterrestrial or paranormal elements, but I still consider it a horror novel.  As much as I hate comparisons, I would say it is in the vein of Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs. I hope to have it out sometime in early 2016, but every time I set a deadline I end up revising that date. So, with in mind, I’ll say, ‘Coming Soon.’  

Friday, August 7, 2015


In 2011, it was my absolute pleasure to edit the anthology, The Call of Lovecraft, which contained an exceptional story by author H. David Blalock, "The Shed".  On a gray, cold Friday earlier this past March, I received an IM from Mr. Blalock, inviting me to submit to his new project for the fine folks at Alban Lake Publishing, Lovecraftiana with a unique theme.  For his The Idolaters of Cthulhu, stories would be told from the perspective of the heavies, those villainous humans and anti-heroes who stand vigilant for the return of ancient cosmic evils, aiding their cause.  In fairly short time (the very day, as I recall), I had the concept of my story: a young girl wandering a stretch of stormy New England beach collecting shells who discovers a jeweled relic straight out of Innsmouth -- a crown meant only for her head. But as I wrote the first draft of "Breakwater", the story became so much more than I expected, a tale of survival and the ends a person or species is willing to go in order to prevail in the face of extinction.

I submitted "Breakwater" and soon heard back from H. David -- the story was accepted into the anthology, which would feature a cover by the brilliant artist Michael Bielaczyc and a reprint by the master himself, "Beyond the Wall of Sleep", one of my all time Lovecraft favorites.  Idolaters recently arrived in my mailbox, looking as beautiful if not more so than imagined.  It was my pleasure to speak to many of my fellow authors in the Table of Contents, who shared the back-stories behind their stories.

Harding McFadden on "Casual Blasphemies": "Of all the various critters that Lovecraft littered his stories with, I suppose that my favorite have always been the inhabitants of Innsmouth.  When I stumbled across the guidelines for this anthology, it seemed an obvious choice to try to write about them, and their forms of worship, as, to be quite honest, trying to wrap my mind around many of the other followers seemed to be quite beyond me.  In a great old movie, a character says, ‘A man’s got to know his limitations.’  I try to stay humble by knowing mine.  As for the rest, you can blame an introduction that Robert W. Price wrote a decade ago for an Innsmouth collection.  In it he states his belief that old Marsh might not have been a villain, but rather someone trying to make the best of an impossible situation.  Coming at it from an atheist point of view, he saw the interbreeding of Innsmouthers with  Deep Ones as a way to postpone, or even eliminate, the coming destruction of his people.  From that beginning, I tried to imagine what a worship would look like then.  It wouldn’t be something drastically different from any random church gathering, though with a different sort of gospel than we would use.  To that, add in a bit of religious fanaticism, and eventual patricide, and there you have it.  In truth, I forgot all about writing this story until a few hours before the deadline, so I started pounding my head against a wall while knocking it out with all haste.  That it was purchased at all was an astounding thing to me.  I hope that you all enjoy it."

DJ Tyrer on "Fane of the Faceless God": "Generally, cultists in mythos stories are portrayed as evil and crazed, which is fair enough, given that most such stories are told from the point of view of (relatively) sane humanity, and, indeed, it stands to reason that some such people will literally have had their minds broken by what they have learnt. But, just as not every terrorist or serial killer is some froth-mouthed loony, I am fascinated by the idea of cultists who are rational. Such people, like Celia in my story, would be perfectly capable of functioning within human society to further their plans. But, in addition, they do not see themselves as evil or insane, even though their actions and motivations might seem so to others. Just as the Great Old Ones are incomprehensible to mere humanity, functioning as they do on an entirely different scale, so the rational cultist functions on a different level to normal humans, making a meeting of minds all but impossible, yet tantalisingly close. Entities like the Great Old Ones produce a frisson of fear because they remind us of the limits of our knowledge and power. In contrast, those cultists who are a step beyond the human remind us that our humanity may be little more than a veneer and make us question just what makes us human."

Robert Krog on "The Ones Who Remember": "H. David Blalock told me about the Lovecraft homage anthology sometime back, probably in 2014 at one convention or another, I'm not sure which one.  I told him I wasn't really a big fan of Lovecraft and that I wasn't all that familiar with his works.  David is persistent though and asked me more than once to write a story for it.  Since I'm a big fan of David and his work, I gave in sometime earlier this year.  I'm not sure when or from whence the idea for the story came to me, but come it did.  The villain of the piece was inspired by some of the lifeless partners for whom I worked back when I had an office job.  I am sure that many of them were sociopaths or psychopaths that would have welcomed the coming of a Great Old One to destroy the world, aiding and abetting it in all ways that they could. There's something soul deadening about the pursuit of money and power and something maddening about the meticulous routine one must endure at times to pursue such.  Thus the villain, Mr. Rains was born for my story.  The heroine, Jessica, could be one of any number of lovely fangirls I've seen wandering conventions dressed in costume, combined with one of any number of competent office workers I've known.  The rest was research.  Lovecraft's work was equally inspiring.  Challenged by my wife, I did personally test the bit about the duct tape.  It works." 

Brian Fatah Steele on "A Better View": "I love themed mythos anthologies. I love how there’s this scaffolding in place that allows the author to build completely unique stories around them, exploring whatever themes and concepts fit in. Lovecraft purposely created in a vague manner, and that all allows us these decades later to continue on his legacy.  Anyone who is steeped in the mythos has a favorite Great Old One, and mine has always been Nyarlathotep. I gravitate towards The Crawling Chaos for a number of reasons, but mostly because this entity has no set form and is often portrayed as an emissary that interacts with humans. Of all in the ‘pantheon,’ this creature seems to have the most complicated agenda. Here to kill us, enslave us, enlighten us? Ultimately, for we feeble humans, it doesn’t matter. Sure, there’s going to be those worshippers up until The Stars Align, but what about after? The planet has been ravaged by the return of the Great Old Ones, and any survivors would be shaken to the core by such sights. These broken, battered people would need a sign, something to give them hope. But what is ‘hope’ to an ancient alien deity from the other side of the universe? They are now free to wander the earth, playing with us as they see fit. We could now be anything to soldiers, to slaves, to toys, to food, to fuel. We are so far below them, we couldn’t try to hope to understand. But we would try anyhow."

Jonathan Dubey on "Arms of the Gods": "I'm not going to lie and say I've read everything H.P. Lovecraft has ever written, though I know a lot of people have. I can with a clear conscience say that I've enjoyed what I've read. I've noticed patterns in his short stories; he almost always writes from first person point of view, almost always male, and almost never gives a character description or name of his protagonist. I believe that he did this in a way to make the reader feel like they were in the story, like, this guy could be me. I like the idea of making a reader feel like they're part of the action. In Idolaters of Cthulhu, we were asked to submit stories from the perspective of a villain -- someone wanting to bring about the evil from beyond. I wanted to do justice to Lovecraft's style, and still give you a story that you would care about and hopefully scare you a little. I chose to make the protagonist a woman, but keep the rest of the pattern. All that was left was motive. Why would someone choose to do these horrible things? In my mind there is only one true reason, one excuse: Love."

Amanda Hard on "Fatwa": "‘Somebody will always be incensed’ was the prompt one of my writing teachers sent out last spring. From that, I built a short tale of a writer who accidentally damned himself to Hell by channeling the lyric poetry of fallen angels. I worked on the seed idea for a few months, but I couldn’t resolve what seemed to be the injustice of the poet’s fate. I found my solution when I considered what might happen if Lovecraft’s Starry Wisdom cult survived into today; if its followers accepted predestined paths determined by a significantly ‘higher’ power. A fatwa, in Islam, is a legal ruling for a specific case, similar to a Supreme Court decision, but not actually legally binding. The ruling is left up to the individual to accept or dismiss, based on his or her faith and moral compulsions. In this story I wanted to question both destiny and faith, to swap them around and investigate whether either one is behind the actual mechanism of art-making. While I think it’s something of a cheat to have one’s protagonist ‘accidentally’ call up the Great Old Ones (almost always through his or her incredibly irresponsible decisions and general negligence) I do sympathize with my character’s obsession with notating the music of the cosmic spheres and  anticipating the terrible promise of a future of his own making."

E. Dane Anderson on "The Meat Junkies": "The original idea for ‘The Meat Junkies’ came about one late night while driving a friend home. Elliot Avenue in Seattle is an odd mix of light industrial, fast food places and a lot of other assorted businesses, almost none of which are open at night.  The near quarter-mile stretch of street can be quite deserted after dark. At the south end of the road is an oddly placed ice cream shop, situated nowhere near decent parking, and like the rest of the area totally deserted at night. My friend and I asked each other if either of us had ever seen the shop open. We hadn’t. I quickly joked that it must be a front for something. My friend immediately said ‘aliens!’ And taking a cue from the old Peter Jackson film, Bad Taste I upped the ante and said that it was a secret way station for aliens who were trading in human meat. After I had dropped her off, the story started to form in my head. The aliens became Shoggoths with all their human loathing characteristics. The setting changed slightly to a much bleaker type of urban decay landscape. And in the forty minutes it took me to drive home, I had the rest of the story outline worked out. Originally, it would have ended with a black-ops team showing up and using a spray chemical to disintegrate the Shoggoths. But in keeping with the Lovecraftian tradition, I thought it best that the humans lose."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

From the Bookshelf: THE JANUS DEMON by Roxanne Dent

Forget rainy days -- Roxanne Dent's The Janus Demon is the perfect read for any day or night, regardless of the weather.  The author’s paranormal dark fantasy, which travels a gritty roadmap from New York City all the way to Fey-ville and back, tells the tale of detective Mick Grimaldi, a private eye dogged by more than one dark secret.  Grimaldi’s world is populated by demons and a vengeful vampire crime boss, Kryak, responsible for murdering Mick’s parents.  From the moment readers enter the detective’s office – finding it overturned by a third-rate demon thug in search of information – they are treated to a nonstop thrill ride.  Soon on, Grimaldi crosses paths with his first love, Jasmine, who leads him deeper into a myriad of dangers.  Gorgeously written, even at its bloodiest (ie, the roasted white elves and theater scene battle between shape shifters), Dent's latest novel, released by the fine folks at Great Old Ones Publishing, is a must-have for any bookshelf!

I first met Roxanne seven summers ago, almost to the day, and was instantly smitten with both the author and her flare for telling stories.  It was my pleasure to sit down with the brilliant scribe and genuinely lovely lady to discuss Mick Grimaldi, his world, and hers.

Mick Grimaldi and his world are spectacular! Take us into the genesis of your novel, The Janus Demon.
I have a great many favorite authors in different genres, but the ones who influenced me to write The Janus Demon, are Jim Butcher, George Martin, Charlene Harris, Ann Rice, Robert Jordan, J.R.R. Tolkien and Ann McCaffrey.  As a child and teen, I also read fairy tales. Once I started reading adult paranormal novels, I couldn’t stop, often reading until the wee hours of the morning I liked them so much, I decided to write one myself, and began collecting information on myths and legends of ancient Ireland, Celtic names (I’m a quarter Irish), elves, the Fey, demons, witches, Griffins, shape shifters and all things magical.

You’re what I’d call a born writer. Share with us the Roxanne Dent story.
Although English was always my favorite subject in school, I didn’t start writing creatively until I was in my teens. Instead, I created stories in my head. When I’d see a movie or television show I loved, I’d act out the different parts with me in the starring role. If I didn’t like the ending, I’d change it. This might have something to do with my early upbringing by two actors. My mother would act out dramatic roles, usually Shakespearian tragedies in order to entertain me. As a child, I loved adventure stories, which included westerns, pirate movies and mysteries, although Peter Pan left an indelible impression on me that lasted for years. Later on, I became addicted to shows like Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock, Star Trek and Outer Limits. Growing up, I avidly read National Geographic magazines and watched shows dealing with foreign cultures or ancient civilizations. They fascinated me. When I began writing, my love of foreign and dead cultures led me to place many of my stories in other time periods.

In High School, I began writing poetry. For the most part it was sad, tragic and full of teenage angst. However, I wrote a poem “The Devil’s Disciple,” which tackled racism in and around New York City. I entered it in a statewide competition. When it was accepted, I began to think for the first time about the possibility of becoming an author. I wrote my first story, “Karine”, a Regency novella for my sister Karen who was a teen and addicted to Georgette Heyer Regencies. A year later, I sold my first two novels, Island of Fear, a Gothic mystery and The White Fog, a Gothic paranormal to Avon Paperbacks.

What’s your process? How do you work?
Since I’m an early riser, I get up every day by 6 or 7 a.m., make a pot of French Roast, check out my e-mails and Facebook for about forty-five minutes, walk with my sister for about three miles before I start writing. I always have several projects in the works or a new idea to work on. I never lack for ideas. If I don’t have one, don’t wake up with one and am not inspired by something on the news, I will troll the internet to see what contests are out there and appeal to me. I keep a deck of playing cards by my side to shuffle when I’m stuck or just looking for the right word. If my sister, Karen, also a very talented writer, who has recently completed her first novel, A Case to Kill For, a paranormal Noire, is not on her way to work in Boston, we head out to Panera’s or Starbucks to write. I love this as I often get a lot more accomplished than at home. There’s something about smelling the food and coffee, the murmuring of the people around us, while free of guilt over chores not done that spurs me on to write. If Karen’s at work, I’ll sometimes grab my laptop and walk around the corner to the awesome café, “Wicked Big,” and write there.

You are prolific and juggle multiple projects, in multiple lengths and genres. How do you manage to maintain your consistent level of quality?
Perhaps it’s because I’m a Gemini, but ever since I first started writing and selling, I’ve always written in different genres, including Regencies, mysteries, westerns, fantasies, sci-fi, horror and YA, short stories and novels. I’ve also written screenplays, one of which The Pied Piper, won first prize in Fade-in Magazine. Karen and I also collaborated on plays together, which were put on at the Firehouse Theater in Newburyport, Massachusetts and collaborated on short stories. When we lived in NYC, we belonged to “The Sunday Club,” a group of independent filmmakers who gathered together to write and direct short movies made in one day. Out of this came Valentine’s Day, a three-minute thriller which won the Audience Choice Awards at the Bare Bones International Film Festival. Whenever I begin to write in a new genre or form, I find it exciting and inspiring and sometimes nerve wracking but always interesting and a great learning experience.  My father once said if you’re a writer – write. I’ve taken classes, workshops, attended conferences and belonged to critique groups and support groups. They are all helpful and enriching, but I also believe if you keep writing, you will get better and better. It’s the nature of the beast.

Is there a sequel to the novel in the works?
Beyond the Iberian Sea, Book Two of The Janus Demon, is in the works. It shifts between Mick Grimaldi, the lonely, sardonic, shape shifting NYC detective and Bronagh, the bitter, vengeful daughter of a Volk King. In addition to Beyond the Iberian Sea, I’m nearing the end of a Steampunk novella. My short horror, “The Haunting of Jemima Nash,” based on a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, was accepted into an anthology for the Whittier Museum. It’s debut is September  26th at the Whittier Museum. I’m proud to say my story “Heart of Stone,” was in the fabulous horror anthology, Enter At Your Own Risk: Dreamscapes Into Darkness by Firblog Publishing, which was recently released.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


According to the original note card upon which the story idea was jotted, I dreamed up "One More" in 1992 -- not long after sending my first stories out into the publishing universe.  To quote, "I'm at the ocean-side home of an austere man with silver hair..."  It wasn't until the summer of Y2K that I penned the actual first draft, which went into my archive of completed manuscripts.  For years, that dream haunted me, in which I found myself homeless and living on meager pickings from trashcans along a stretch of rainy beach.  My dream-character then found further horror in the ocean-side house of said silver-haired man, who had constructed a bizarre version of a roller coaster inside his lair.

When the fine folks at Firbolg Publishing put forth an open call for Dreamscapes into Darkness, an anthology that came with a warning to be careful for what you wish for, I cycled back to that story, and the main character -- a hungry, homeless boy desperate for his next meal.  The hunt for sustenance leads him past the trashcans and promise of returnables, to a house among the dunes he's been warned to avoid.  I dusted off that first draft manuscript, fired it off to Firbolg's leading lady, Doctor Alex Scully, for review, and was thrilled to receive an acceptance to the fine anthology, which also contains reprints by the likes of such literary superstars as Mary Shelley, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and H.P. Lovecraft.  "One More" is, in fact, nestled beside a reprint of "The Rocking Horse Winner" by none other than the brilliant D.H. Lawrence.

Several of my talented contemporaries in the table of contents were kind enough to share the back stories behind their stories in Dreamscapes into Darkness.

Patrick Lacey on "That Other Place": "I wish I could tell you a mind-blowing, earth-crashing story about where I got the idea for my Dreamscapes piece, but, like many of my other story ideas, this one came out of the ether. I was walking past a tree one day and imagined, for no reason I could pinpoint, that there was a window embedded in the wood. Not a decoration or a piece of junk but an actual window. It was stupid, I thought. You couldn’t make something so random into something scary. But the idea stayed with me. I’d already written about everyday objects/occurrences that become evil (see: video games, a dumpster, a cuckoo clock, and even junk mail), so why not this? I got thinking about what I’d do if I could see through the window, about what would be on the other side. Would it be a world similar to ours or entirely foreign? And if something lived in said world, would it be friendly? I assumed not if I was writing about it. Combine all this with my fascination with alternate dimensions and you have the boring but lucrative story behind ‘That Other Place.’"

Roxanne Dent on "Heart of Stone": "Initially, I received the idea as a writing prompt from a Sunday writers' group soiree. The word was ‘Stone.’ But the story itself developed after I attached the two words, ‘Heart of.’  I thought about the romantic relationships I’d had when I was young. I was often attracted to ‘Bad Boys,’ or those who had issues and couldn’t or wouldn’t commit. I was left in the dust, hurt and depressed.  It finally occurred to me I wanted to be the one who healed them of their pain and live happily ever after. It was unrealistic, arrogant and doomed to failure. The idea of creating a character with those exaggerated traits falling in love with the epitome of evil, unconscious of her motivation, caught my imagination.  Setting the tale in a church like the one mentioned in The Da Vinci Code, with the statue of a demon coming alive, came to me when I woke up one morning. It also tied in to my love of history and the supernatural.

K. Trap Jones on "The Weathermaker": "The inspiration came from a question lingering within my mind, ‘What if controlling the weathering elements were a job?’ The task has to be stressful with the way the atmosphere functions and the different environments requiring unique weathering patterns. The character of the Weathermaker needed to be unstable and I wrote the tone for him built around an elderly philosopher with severe anger issues. I imagined him being alone within a remote cabin and constantly having to monitor weathering patterns in order to avoid catastrophes. One slip could cause a typhoon or hurricane; one spike of anger could spark horrendous tornadoes. Although he is not a violent man, I wanted to create a personality built on frustration and resentment for the task he is burdened with and the lack of respect he feels civilization grants the weather. The combination of anger and resentment towards people surfaces when the Weathermaker has to sometimes deal with the occasional rogue death hiccup in the system.  When an adrenaline junkie crosses the threshold of purgatory and washes upon the shores of the Weathermaker’s land, he must not only deal with the anger of the old man, but also the reality that he alone has to continue upon the path of death in order to continue towards the afterlife."

(Promotional artwork for "One More")
Rob Smales on "First Horse": "When I write, I either write a flash fiction (something extremely short), or I run a bit long -- and these days, my tendency is toward the long. Sometimes…okay, often, I have trouble coming in under the maximum word count publishers are looking for. When the idea for First Horse occurred to me, I realized I would need an explanation of spirit guides, for readers who were unfamiliar with the concept. I did some research (the internet being a wonderful thing), and came up with plenty of Native American legends that mentioned spirit guides, but none that explained them, or gave their origins. So I wrote one. I enjoyed writing the tale that opens the story, the legend of Warrior and Dog, that Grandfather Whitefeather tells to Jimmy Tsosi. I’ve read Native American myths, and was trying to mimic the voice you hear in them -- a voice distinctly not my own. It was fun. But there was a problem: by the time I was done, I’d taken up over a quarter of the word allotment given by Firbolg Publishing, and I hadn’t even started the story I wanted to tell. *sigh* I picked up my editing pen…

B. E. Scully on "The Son Who Shattered His Father's Dream": "Parents always want the best for their children. But what if ‘the best’ ends up being the absolute worst thing any parent could imagine?  My short story “The Son Who Shattered His Father’s Dream” was inspired by an article in The New Yorker magazine titled ‘The Empire of Edge,’ by Patrick Radden Keefe. It chronicled the rise and fall of a young trader who got caught participating in a huge financial scandal, and focused especially on the trader’s childhood -- both the unconditional support and the crushing expectations of the man’s formative years. In fact, I took the title of my story and the anecdote behind it directly from an actual incident in this family’s life. The story was fascinating and, even though the trader certainly did have his fall coming, it was heartbreaking, too, particularly for his family. It got me thinking about the tricky territory parents navigate between pushing their children and perhaps pushing them too hard and way too far -- sometimes even straight off of a cliff. So I took all of this and turned it into my own more dark, much more sinister tale."

(The note card for "One More")
Nancy Hayden on "No Man's Land": "A few years ago, my husband and I visited the Western Front in France. I was interested in the Argonne Forest as this was where millions of U.S. soldiers fought at the end of the war, including my great uncle. Thousands were killed. We walked along a logging road in the re-grown Argonne Forest, past partially filled in shell holes, and found an old WWI trench that cut back into the woods. We decided to explore the trench. We hadn’t gone very far when my husband became uneasy. That wasn’t like him. A little further along, he said he had to get out of there, and before waiting for me to answer, he hurried back the way we’d come. When we were back on the logging road, he confessed to feeling anxious, like something was pulling him down, each step harder than the last. I don’t know what it was, but something was going on in that trench. And that’s where my story begins -- a husband and wife exploring France’s abandoned WWI trenches. Only for them, it wasn’t as easy to get out."

Kurt Fawver on "An Interview With Samuel X. Slayden": "If you've read my story, you'll know that it involves the torture (or perhaps terrible enlightenment?) of a group of writers who are well-known and well-regarded in the world of the story. However, when I initially wrote the tale, I used caricatures of authors from ‘real life’ as the bases for my fictional authors. As I edited, I decided that approach was too fraught with problems to be sustainable. One, I didn't want to represent any real author negatively for fear of offending and two, I didn't feel I ‘knew’ the famous authors I was using in any personal sense, so that the caricatures were too thin, too one-dimensional. So, I took my authors back to the drawing board and rewrote them all. I think the result was better, more realistic characters that had no cognate in reality. That said, even in rewriting, I did leave a few ‘trademark’ qualities stuck to several of my ill-fated authors. So it might be an interesting exercise for a reader to try to figure out what ‘real’ author was originally the foundation for each of my tormented scribes."

Joe Powers on "Lead Us Not Into Temptation": " This story, about a reformed child predator who finds himself back on the hunt, was based on a random guy I saw in the bank parking lot one morning. Something about the way he looked and carried himself made me wonder what he was up to, and I created this monster in my head based on that quick observation. I’d started dating someone new around the time I completed the first draft. She’d been very enthusiastic and supportive of the stuff I’d shown her to that point. Horror writers are a strange lot that are, at best, often viewed with wary skepticism, but she didn’t seem fazed by my chosen genre. Without really thinking it all the way through I sent a copy of the draft to her and eagerly awaited her adulation. It occurred to me not long after this might not be the best way to impress the mother of a young daughter. Luckily for me this wonderful woman -- now my fiancée -- drew no conclusions about my character from my questionable subject matter. We laugh about it now, but looking back it could have gone south in a hurry."    

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Number 50

(The Birthday Babes)
Five years ago, the Big 4-5 consisted of a day spent in my pjs enjoying the quiet of our old apartment.  Bruce went out for the day, and the cats honored my wish for time with the Muse by napping (or so I like to think; it's possible napping was their plan all along).  I plucked at an old idea (1982, according to the time stamp on the note card) -- a Lost in Space fan fiction called "Lost and Found" that soon found its legs.  It was only to be written for fun -- and what fun it served up! Over the course of several weeks, I read my beloved birthday novella to my then-writers' group members.  When all was done, various members told me they were sad it had to end.  That birthday memory -- complete with Chinese takeout later that night when husband returned from his errands -- may be one of my all time favorites.  There's another from a long time ago: a chocolate cake with coconut and cherries.  It was served in my beloved boyhood home on the lake, a house that no longer exists. Every birthday since coming north to Xanadu, I've made a version of that cake, and this year, the Big 5-0, was no different.

I've anticipated this year, my fiftieth on Spaceship Earth, for a while.  Back in my teens, I posited reaching Year: 50 with a kind of foresight that I think is unusual for the young.  I knew I wanted to be living in my own home by then, and living the life of a published and happy writer -- mission accomplished on both counts, whether by destiny or design.  Of course, I pondered the loss of loved ones (despite my wanting some people and things to last forever, many of the best haven't).  But as 50 crept closer, I decided to celebrate it instead of mourning what I've lost over the years.

(My favorite birthday cake)
This year's May writers' group party served a two-fold purpose -- to gather for a day of celebrating the muses, and also to celebrate not one but two birthdays, mine plus my fab friend and fellow group moderator Irene (about to enjoy her 29th-and-holding).  On a gorgeously sunny and balmy Sunday, guests began to arrive -- 21 in all -- and food appeared on the big kitchen table. So much of the latter, that we were forced to pull out our Thanksgiving folding table to accommodate.  Among the offerings were baby meatballs, two sandwich platters covered with baby sandwiches in a wide variety of types, fried fish kabobs with sweet & sour dipping sauce and sriracha (my newest obsession!), homemade potato salad, veggies and dip, and desserts stretching around the room -- the aforementioned birthday cake, hot pink diva cupcakes, lazy blueberry pie, rum cake, and fresh fruit platters.  I made my trusty fruit punch in the big drinks dispenser, and the birthday gifts stacked up. One was a new coffee mug bearing my Muse's handsome face.

(A living room full of writer friends)
The house filled with its second-largest guest list since becoming a destination for friends and writers in early 2013 -- twenty-one crammed into the living room and spilling out into the foyer. The readings were up to their usual brilliance, most centered around the themes of "The Number 50" and "The Number 60", in honor of the birthday babes.  I had written a chapter of my Space:1999 novel, METAMORPHOSIS (one of only two unwritten fan fiction ideas left in my catalog of ideas, and Number 50 on the list), but decided to hold off reading until the following Tuesday night's writers' group meeting because of the party's huge turnout.  Instead, I read the opening page of my sixtieth completed work of fiction, a short story penned in my Junior year of high school, "The Beckoning Sphere" (based on a surreal dream, as I recall).  To my surprise, the story's folder contained only a typewritten copy of the first draft manuscript.  That would have been the time I owned my first typewriter, which I'd spent the entire previous summer earning.  Apparently, I'd forgotten that I had, indeed, at least once in my life composed a first draft of something other than a screenplay on a machine.

The day was energetic and energized, and stretched on well past sunset.  Then, our overnight guests, the fabulous Sisters Dent, and I did two hours of writing following clean up duties.  We spent the next day enjoying more of the same -- writing fresh copy, with breaks to refill coffee and to read aloud stories and novel chapters.  I was fifty, and still going about my days as I pretty much have from the time I turned fifteen and was shown a glimpse into this wondrous and fulfilling literary life I've embraced.

Next up, it's the big 6-0.  So long as I meet the decade to come with the same verve as my fiftieth, putting down fresh pages, seeing my work in print and on the screen, and harming none, I'm looking forward to what those ten years will bring!