Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Roswell Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 26, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Adventure: 2016

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

BEHOLD -- UNDERWATER!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 18, 2016

BEHOLD -- MURDER INK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Fond Farewell to 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 24, 2015

2015 Writers' Group Christmas Party

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

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

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

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