Friday, October 17, 2014

Get WRAPPED IN BLACK!

Several years ago, I woke gasping for breaths that refused to come easily from a dream in which I, my late mother Diane, and my kid sister Lauren were cloistered inside my Grandmother Rachel's farmhouse on Foster's Pond, a magical, mysterious destination from my childhood that no longer exists in the real world.  In the dream, my grandmother was upstairs, trapped in a state between life and afterlife.  Outside, ominous storm clouds swirled directly over the house, and from those clouds a malevolent force descended, seeking to do my family harm.  We waited, eyes wide, as shadows passed by windows.  There was something dark and evil lurking just beyond the farmhouse's walls, and only my grandmother could stop it.

It was a vivid dream, complete with color and emotion, especially for my grandmother who once wrote for Highlights for Children and who has taught me some of the best lessons of my life as both a human being (my grandmother doesn't medicate, treats people with respect, wakes every morning with a smile) and a writer (she kept her ideas in a note card catalog that now sits in a place of honor in my Writing Room, didn't trust the human brain to remember everything, especially when the writer had multiple stories in progress). I wrote the story based upon the dream -- "Comes the Rain" -- and filed its longhand draft away, until I read the call for Sekhmet Press's latest call for manuscripts, Wrapped in Black: Thirteen Tales of Witches and the Occult.  I pulled the draft out, edited it, and fired "Comes the Rain" off quickly (the deadline was fast approaching), and then on a memorable Tuesday night following my weekly writers' group meeting, I came home to a wonderful acceptance by editor Jennifer L. Greene. For a multitude of reasons, there's a special place in my heart for the story -- and also the anthology in which it is set to appear.

Many of my talented fellow authors shared the back-stories behind their Wrapped in Black stories.

Shenoa Carroll-Bradd on "She Makes My Skin Crawl": "My story started as an idle thought about the many forms domestic abuse can take, and how most people think they know what signs and behaviors to watch out for. That sparked some brainstorming on how a magic-user might take advantage of the general populaces' disbelief in the supernatural. Threatening to kill someone if they leave would certainly earn you a restraining order and police attention, but what if you could physically punish your partner in ways that left no mark, and would never be believed if reported? Luckily, I already had 'She Makes My Skin Crawl' on file in my folder of random titles, and the accidental pun fit too well to be ignored.  As much as I enjoyed writing this story, I know many people who have fallen into toxic relationships, and happily escaped one myself. There were a couple points where I had to step away from the keyboard, but I'm ultimately glad I powered through, and I hope readers enjoy my tale."

Eric Nash on "Pigeon":  "Social media: isn’t it great? Especially how it force-feeds our desire for attention. I’ve wanted to explore this idea for a year but hadn’t had the opportunity. Then Sekhmet Press sent out a call for witchcraft stories. Of course the words didn’t come immediately and for many an evening I sat in front of an idle cursor that flashed the hours away.  It wasn’t until a pigeon landed on the digital page and flapped its wings in a post-flight fidget that the creative cauldron started to brew. I should mention that it was simply a memory of a pigeon that had been inside my head since my school days and not a real one that would peck and splat all over my laptop. Nevertheless, the sweep of air its feathers produced disturbed Maddie, a frustrated and embittered young woman and the un-harnessed impetus of my story."

Allison M. Dickson on "Number One Angel":  "Lasso and Cappuccino. Those were the two words picked for a casual writing challenge between two friends. We were to write a short story that somehow incorporated those words, and then share the results. Each of us wrote vastly different stories, ranging from pulpy mystery to dark suspense. After going for broke, this is more or less what I came up with. I wrote it in about a half hour, fueled by little more than my desire to use 'lasso' as a verb, and after some fleshing out I had something slightly resembling what you see here. I eventually expanded it more over time, and have plans to include the events of this story, as well as my short stories 'Devil Riders' and 'The Last Wedding in the Midnight Chapel' in an overarching opus of sorts that has the tentative title Saints & Sinners. I look forward to meeting up with Phelan again, and I hope you do as well."

Aaron Gudmunson on "Pig Roast":  "While shopping at an old-school food market in another town, I rounded the corner and discovered a wall of mustard. Literally half an aisle had been devoted to the spicy golden condiment. Until that day, I had no idea so many varieties existed and realized at once I had the ingredients for a story. During my perusal of the vast selection, the tale took shape: I saw a boorish man who loved mustard-slathered meat more than anything—including his family—and asked myself what would happen if he was invited to dinner by a gourmet chef whose specialty happened to be homemade mustard…and witchcraft? When I finished, I had a story with a bit of acerbic bite. Not unlike, say, a nice Dijon."

Gordon White on "Hair Shirt Drag":  "Stories come to me like knots.  At a glance, I can see the general shape and guess at the size, texture, consistency—even a potential beginning and/or an end.  But to untangle that into an actual narrative requires pulling at one loop or whorl to see what comes next and what comes off.  Here, I started with the idea that hair, especially pelts and scalps, is a common (magical) fetish.  In knot-form, I thought this story involved a sect of rural witches using a totemic Bigfoot costume for their magical rituals, cloaked under an assimilationist guise of Christianity (Biblical references to sasquatch are…debatable).  Worrying those filaments, I pulled out the first sentence and the general setting, but Bigfoot and overt religion were dead ends.  So I cut them, and instead started unraveling the main character.  After pages and pages of non-canonical first-person musings and ranting, I finally heard the narrator’s cadence and digressive storytelling.  However, I couldn’t completely untangle that wounded outsider’s obsession with words vs. meaning.  Until, that is, I found a place where hair and fetishes and costumes and wounded outsiders thrive.  So, in RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season Six…"

Rose Blackthorn on "Beautiful, Broken Things":  "The initial idea for this story was not a particular character, or even a simple plot. It was a place. I saw a street at night, lit by arc sodium lamps and neon. The pavement was dirty, the sidewalks crowded with people. But this wasn’t a fun, bright scene. There was darkness everywhere, people trying to hide their pain, people lost with no idea of how to find their way. Across the street, an expanse of curtained window with oddities displayed. No garish advertising here, no way really to even tell what the shop inside sold. Just a hand-painted sign above the mirrored-glass door—a large black crow holding a human eyeball in one clawed foot. From that strange street-view, and an atmosphere of frenetically hidden despair, came ‘Beautiful, Broken Things’. Even in this spare and unforgiving future world there is magic to be found, although it might be dark."

James Glass on "The Rising Son":  "When kicking around the idea for ‘Rising Son’, one thing was certain: motivation. I already knew how the story ended up, but I never quite knew why it ended up there in the first place. Much like Cal, I have known heartache and jealousy—I think everyone knows those emotions and everyone has acted in a desperate way at least once as a result of those feelings. In ‘Rising Son’, I took it a step further and then leaped into one hell of a chasm. By taking that leap, I stared into Cal’s eyes and understood the last facets of his personality, which had not been present in later stories wherein he is featured. Here he was, this desperate and jealous man who sought absolute power not to subjugate the masses, but to win the heart of a hooker, and possibly impress his father in the process. He was suddenly so human and flawed that I felt for him for the first time, realizing his efforts were focused and with the intent to impress me."

Michael G. Williams on "Stories I Tell to Girls":  "I wrote this story to make a trilogy out of my entry in this anthology and my pieces in Wrapped in Red and Wrapped in White. I also really wanted to visit again with the character of Auntie Ann, who first appeared in a couple of scenes of my novel Tooth & Nail. She is based on a real aunt with whom I spent time as a child. Aunt Mary told amazing stories of growing up in the remotest parts of the Appalachian Mountains and of the pervasive belief in and practice of magic she saw in her childhood. She told me about real witches and about the time the Devil got under the church her father built, describing a setting in which magic was right there for the taking, and I sopped all that stuff up over a small number of long visits. I was raised in the Appalachians, too, just a little ways down the mountain and with a bunch more now around. Some of what Aunt Mary told me about magic was news, but I’ll say this: not all of it."

Mike Lester on "Not This Time":  "I have no memory of how this story came to be. I was sitting in a coffee shop, alone at a table. All around me people were buzzing on their phones and laptops. I had a yellow legal pad and a pen. Soon my hand was moving across the paper and approximately one hour later I had thirteen furiously scribbled pages. This is all I know, all I can remember. I don’t try to dig any deeper. The muses would not be happy."

Patrick C. Greene on "Unto the Earth":  "In the U.S, most of the magical traditions have borne the burden of misinformation, and outright slander, since the settlers. But while Native American and European disciplines are beginning to gain some grudging tolerance, Voodoo remains mysterious and largely taboo. I wanted to explore this fascinating system of belief from the viewpoint of the average American who is still immersed in the concept that it's a quaint, even comical superstition that no self-respecting educated person could take seriously. It's this arrogant assumption that so often causes our suffering, isn't it?"

Thursday, October 9, 2014

October 2014 Writing Retreat to Maine

(Writing on the big porch)
It was the writing getaway that almost wasn't.  Four days before I was set to depart for the autumn retreat to my Southern New Hampshire group's venue, a friend's wonderful and welcoming house in the town of Rangeley, Maine, I got socked by a miserable illness.  As Thursday approached, it became clear I wouldn't be able to attend.  I was beyond disappointed.  My good pal Douglas Poirier -- one of those upcoming names in literature to keep watching -- called and said he wouldn't be heading up until Friday, and if I felt better, he'd be driving right past my house.  I don't medicate apart from aspirin and melatonin, but I choked down copious amounts of the over-the-counter pink stuff, and on that bright October Friday morning, I woke feeling infinitely better. I was a day late, but I ultimately made it to the retreat.

Normally, I'm meticulous about these grand events.  I have my bags packed well in advance, have mapped out the projects I want to work on, and leave nothing to chance.  But this time, with my attendance pushed back to the Eleventh Hour, clothes got tossed into my overnight bag at the last second, and I decided I would write whatever called to me once we landed, no preconceived expectations.  After paying the mortgage and shopping locally for Friday night dinner (I was asked to cook the Thursday night welcome meal but was, on Thursday night, in bed feeling lousy), I hopped in Doug's car, and we drove steadily north through the mountain landscape.  The foliage was stunning, and our conversations on the writing life beyond inspiring.

We arrived and, after greeting my fellow scribes, I camped on a rocker and began work on "Hibernation", a novella that has haunted me since the previous winter.  The fresh pages flowed fairly quickly, and I stopped only to make a luscious dip for chips and vegetables.  Then I capped my pen and cooked dinner for the gang -- a massive boneless pork roast, mashed potatoes, salad, and apple sauce.  While dinner simmered, I snuck in a few more pages, sipped raspberry-lime seltzer, brewed a pot of coffee, and luxuriated in that rocker beneath a maple tree dressed in a cloak of bright pumpkin-orange leaves.

(Group photo, minus Doug)
Our hostess, the wonderful Melissa Gates (another of those exciting new voices to be on the lookout for -- Melissa's just had a publisher request her first novel), has graciously opened her home to members of the Southern N. H. group as well as those in our group up here in the Great North Country now three times over the past eighteen months.  We've seen all manner of the wild and unexpected, including a violent microburst (a kind of localized tornado) that knocked all the rockers off the porch and blew a massive barbecue grill across the yard during the first retreat.  This trip had its plot twists, too -- not limited to my medical travails, which appeared to clear up right in time for the bulk of the weekend stay.  But as I settled down for that first night's dinner with my fellow scribes, a sense of happiness embraced me and I caught myself smiling on numerous occasions.  I slept like a corpse in one of the bedrooms upstairs, and got writing again the next morning after a big breakfast.

For lunch, it was suggested we take a walk to the local barbecue restaurant down the road.  My lunch consisted of an amazing apple cider-brined brisket, fries, and a kale/Brussels sprout slaw.  After we stuffed ourselves, we moseyed down to Rangeley Lake.  A moody gray mist hung over the surrounding mountains, and the foliage seemed to glow against the gloom.  We returned to the retreat house, wrote, and I grabbed a quick afternoon nap while the night's dinner slow-cooked: boneless lamb and vegetables.  Now, I'm not the biggest fan of lamb, but it was beyond delicious and added that proper decadent note to our last big meal of the weekend.

(Saturday afternoon on the lake)
Dessert was a giant German chocolate cake from the famous bakery near where we used to live before we bought Xanadu and moved so far north.  A chocolate disk at the center of the cake bore a single word in German: Schriftsteller -- 'Writer'.  The cake was beyond delicious.  We enjoyed our second reading of the weekend (during which, Melissa gave me a manicure; sadly, no photographs exist of that hilarious and decadent moment).  I returned to my room and again slept soundly. Sunday morning broke gray and melancholy, because it meant the weekend had ended. After breakfast at a restaurant in the downtown, we took our big group photo and began to depart for home. Still, as I returned to family and Writing Room (and some nifty snail mail, including a contributor copy containing my story "Calliope") my inner voice reminded me how grateful I was to have made it to Maine.  I can't wait to be back within that house's inspiring geometry again!  Possibly in April, we've been told.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

One of my favorite emerging writers, Laura J. Bear, asked me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour.  Laura authored the novel Where the Heart Lands, a must-read about family, love, and a magical old house of secrets nestled in the remote heartland, forthcoming from publisher Unsolicited Press.  I first had the joy of meeting Laura and hearing her read from her debut novel during my sophomore stay at When Words Count, a writers' retreat center in Vermont.  Laura's work is powerful, attaining that perfect balance of witty and heartbreaking.  Deep into her second novel and a handful of new short stories, she is definitely a literary voice to be on the lookout for!

Now, on to the tour.

What are you working on?
As of this morning, there are 142 as-yet-unwritten stories short and long screaming at me to finish them from within the metal confines of the recipe box that is my idea catalog.  Closer at hand, I am presently putting the finishing touches on a collection of three novellas, what I hope are literary modern fables each dealing with the subject matter of robots and humanity.  Tales From the Robot Graveyard is forthcoming from the fine folks at Great Old Ones Publishing.  I am also, in addition to various short stories, gearing up to work on a new novel called Different.  It's a paranormal YA and I'm challenging myself to write a first draft during November for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Even closer at hand, I depart on this coming Thursday for a four-day writing retreat to Maine with friends and members of my Southern New Hampshire writers' group.  There, I plan to complete a futuristic romance novella called "Narcissus", and wrap two short story drafts -- "Saturday Morning Cartoons" and "American Grotesque".

How does your work differ from others' work in the same genre?
I have my own voice, my own way of approach to telling the story.  We host three writers' group parties a year in our home -- May, September, and December, the Christmas party.  We've done this for years. And there is always a theme for the reading portion, which follows after we've stuffed ourselves into comas as a result of the buffet.  Past themes have included such nifty gems as "Coffee", "Down the Up Staircase", and, recently as homage to my new book, "Robots".  You can take any of those themes, which are only basic starting points, put a dozen writers in the room (or two, as was the case for our massive May 2014 salon), and none of the stories are going to be anything like the others.  For our upcoming Christmas 2014 party, everybody selected a different prompt.  I got "You're digging in the garden when you find..."  I'm thrilled.  I have no idea what I'm going to write for the party, but it will be mine when I unleash it upon the party guests.

Why do you write what you do?
I guess, because it's there.  No wait, that's climbing mountains...though some story projects feel like scaling Everest!  I write what I love to write, and don't allow myself to be pigeonholed by the business side of writing.  This past summer, I wrote westerns, horror, mainstream stories, gothics, and a detective story.  As in evidence in the 142 ideas on note cards that howl -- oh, how they howl at me! -- I'm a bad judge at separating the good ideas from the weak until the story is completed.  To me, they're all my babies, all part of the litter, and I can't love one more than another or discard it from my protection.  An idea pounced upon me in early August -- what if you woke up and the man who claimed to be your husband was a stranger?  That story ("The Husbands") charmed me from the moment I put pen to blank page, and wrote its 5,000-word first draft in two days.  When I was a teenager and just starting out, I read an interview with a famous and beloved Science Fiction author, who stated that he easily had three times the number of his 300-plus published short stories 'moldering' away unfinished elsewhere in his office.  I found the notion of all those half-birthed babies really sad, and vowed on the spot to finish everything I start.  Not that all of those ideas are gold; in fact, my filing cabinets are filled with plenty of completed manuscripts that will never go out for consideration into the world.  But writing even the lowliest of my creations to THE END has taught me valuable lessons. And I love, really love, the process.  All of it.  From creation to execution.

How does your writing process work?
I have a fairly comfortable process (for me) -- I wake up, make my coffee (usually iced), and settle into my Writing Room with set priorities in mind.  I have a wonderful, big room in the downstairs of Xanadu, our old house on the hill in New Hampshire's North Country -- and, after checking morning emails, I pick up my pen and write.  I try to put down 2,500 fresh words per day, with anything above that count bonus.  Sometimes what I'm working on is assigned by editors I've written for previously who ask me to write specifically for their latest projects.  Other times, I'm creating new work to hopefully match up to calls for submissions I've read about and would like to be part of.  I compose all of my first drafts longhand and then edit onto the laptop.  The only exception is when I write in screenplay format -- I wrote two feature film scripts in 2014, for the movies Brutal Colors (presently being color corrected in Los Angeles) and the forthcoming The Devil of Lakeford County, planned to go before the cameras in winter of 2015.  And over this past summer, much of my editing was done on the wonky, wonderful old sofa left behind by previous tenants of the house on our sun porch.  The sun porch became a second, al fresco writing space during a summer that was too brief.  The last part of my process is supremely important, at least for me, which is to remind myself why I write.  Often, I envision the fifteen-year-old version of me who knew nothing, had nothing, but then found everything when he first experienced that Eureka! moment, and knew he wanted to be a writer, only a writer, with all of his heart.  From time to time, when I hold a contributor's copy in hand or I've just had an exchange with a celebrity -- one of those blazing superstars from my youth -- I try to honor that young me by taking the time to feel humbled and happy.  Writing still is and has been for most of my life the heart within my heart.

Thank you for reading about my process.  I now pass the blog tour baton to the Sisters Dent, my luminous friends and colleagues Roxanne and Karen.  Karen, I always note, appeared during the golden age of soap operas on my late, beloved One Life to Live, among others, as an actress.  She's since parlayed her talents to the writing life, and her engaging short fiction can be found in numerous venues, including Canopic Jars: Tales of Mummies and Mummification.  Roxanne's newest novel, the brilliant The Janus Demon, has just been released by Great Old Ones Publishing.

Friday, September 12, 2014

"Princess and the Bee" published in LOVECRAFT eZINE

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 8, 2014

Autumn 2014 Writers' Retreat to the Waterfall House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 31, 2014

How I Spent My Summer Stay-cation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 25, 2014

Behold -- ACTIVE DUTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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