Thursday, November 17, 2016

BEHOLD: MISKATONIC DREAMS!

I love it when a personal invitation to submit to a publisher or editor's newest project comes my way. I almost always say yes, even though an invite isn't a guarantee of an acceptance, and do my best to honor the invitation by bringing my A Game to the table. Early in 2016, I received such an invitation from the brilliant H. David Blalock, whom I had the pleasure of publishing when I edited The Call of Lovecraft for EJP in 2011. Last year, Mr. Blalock asked me to submit to The Idolaters of Cthulhu, an anthology he was editing for the fine folks at Alban Lake Publishing. I wrote a story that was almost instantly contracted for, and got to be part of a beautiful release. This year's anthology would focus on the strange goings-on at Lovecraft's school of the mysterious and bizarre, fabled Miskatonic University. I was immediately smitten...if not quite so sure about what to submit. I have hundreds of first-draft manuscripts held in inventory inside my filing cabinets waiting to be trotted out and edited on the computer for future calls-for-submission, but nothing already written or jotted down on a note card in my catalog of unwritten ideas even remotely met the guidelines.

2016 has been one of my most productive years of writing ever, and one I'll remember for a number of adventures -- writing awards, fantastic retreats, my wedding, and book launches among the highlights. But before any of those adventures were enjoyed, the call for Miskatonic Dreams stands out for setting what became a wonderful tone for this year. I had nothing to submit. And then, one dark winter early morning, I woke up with an idea about two students failing class who are given a chance at extra-credit -- if they agree to catalog part of the university's collection of rare oddities housed in the vaults beneath Miskatonic U. Later that same morning, I put pen to blank page, and the following day had a completed rough draft. "Residue" dashed itself off at a fairly quick clip, and was accepted into another stunning volume (in fact, Mr. Blalock received enough quality submissions to justify the publishing of a companion anthology, Miskatonic Nightmares).

It was my pleasure to speak with my fellow authors regarding the back-stories behind their dark Miskatonic dreams.

Aaron Vlek on "The Accursed Lineage": "I have always had a special place in my heart for the batrachians in the Lovecraft mythos. When the call came out for his anthology I loved the idea of mixing my favorite things, libraries, batrachians, and Christmas into a disturbing nog that pushed the questions further. How might these creatures view their human relatives? Why wouldn’t the library at Miskatonic University hold just as much awe, fascination, and possibility, for the batrachians than it does the sometimes too curious human species? I loved getting into the head of this priggish fellow hunkered down at his studies over Christmas break when he has the run of the place to himself. But as the musty tomes and glittering horrors of the library wreck havoc on the human psyche, what lies within those hallowed walls, and below, to test the mettle and fortitude of a proud batrachian researcher shunning both humans, and his own fellows, when his research takes an unexpected turn? What would bring monstrous horror and seductive wonder to the batrachian denizen of the deep black sea? In ‘The Accursed Lineage’, that was a lot of fun to explore!"

Dave Shroeder on "Dear Mother and Father": "Dave Schroeder was inspired to write his story for Miskatonic Dreams when a friend he’d met at LibertyCon invited him to submit a piece for consideration. Dave is known for humor more than horror, so it was a stretch for him write something in Lovecraft’s universe. His only exposure to Lovecraft was through voice acting with the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company, which frequently performs works by the master of the macabre. To find a funny angle on a dark topic, Dave thought the idea of a college student’s letters home to his parents would be an entertaining way to explore both the comic and serious aspects of student life at Miskatonic. For humor without the horror, Dave recommends checking out his Xenotech Support science fiction series from Spiral Arm Press about an entrepreneur doing tech support for alien technology after Earth has joined the Galactic Free Trade Association. To find out how the fun begins, look for Xenotech Rising on Amazon and see why reviewers are comparing Dave to Jim Butcher, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams."

Chad Eagleton on "Your Special Advocate": "There was never any question that I would submit to Miskatonic Dreams. To pay my bills, I work in student affairs at a real-life university. Our purview covers anything that has to do with student health, conduct, and safety -- all issues that would be doubly important to an actual Miskatonic University. While my relationship to Lovecraft’s work has changed drastically over the years and my worldview is certainly nothing like his, what has never waned is my desire to play in his cosmos. To me, the richness, the depth, and the sheer breadth of Lovecraft’s imaginative creations, I think, are far more interesting and engaging than either his style or his nihilism. So I jumped at the chance to tie my real life knowledge in with ‘The Dunwich Horror’ -- the only Lovecraft story where the good guys win -- and create ‘Your Special Advocate,’ a wholly modern and, in some ways, more upbeat mythos tale than you’ll normally find anywhere else."

Jill Hand on "How I Died": "I need you to get me a book.”  The white-haired woman slid into the coffee shop’s black vinyl booth, across from Olivia.  Not ‘I want you to get me a book,’ Olivia noted, but ‘I need you to.’
            Olivia, no stranger when it came to nuance, raised her eyebrows.  This could be interesting.
            “A special order?”
            The woman nodded her head and took a sip of coffee.  Her lips were blood-red but they left no smudge on the cup’s rim.  Not lipstick then, or maybe it was a kind of lipstick that didn’t come off.  Despite her white hair, the woman didn’t look much older than Olivia, who was nineteen and a freshman at Miskatonic University.
            The woman slid a thick envelope across the table.  Olivia looked inside.  Hundred-dollar bills, twenty of them.   This was interesting.
            She asked, “What book do you need?”
            The woman’s red lips curved in a smile.  “The Book of Eibon.  I imagine a smart girl like you can find a way to get it out of the special collections room.  Do it and you’ll be richly rewarded.”
            Olivia put the money in her purse and smiled back at her.

S. L. Edwards on "The Darkness Makes Us Whole": "I wrote ‘The Darkness Makes Us Whole’ shortly after beginning graduate school. Being in grad school allowed me to think of Miskatonic less as a creation of Lovecraft’s and more as an actual university. What would such an esteemed institution, supposedly inspired by Brown and other Ivy League colleges, do after several scandals of faculty in the social and natural sciences losing their minds? What would happen when an expedition returned to Antarctica, finding no temples and plateaus, but only ice? That’s how ‘The Darkness Makes Us Whole’ began, Miskatonic has been disgraced by these scandals, its academic reputation never having fully recovered. Enter a zealous graduate student. Enter Secrets. Enter Madness. But the story took on a life of its own. It became one of the very real curses that weave their way across bloodlines and echo into the blackness of the lonely mind. I began to wonder why only the artists, only the fringe-dwellers of society would be attracted to Lovecraft’s monsters. Was it loss? Was it giving into the idea of insignificance, and somehow making this world more manageable? Enter Loss. Enter Depression.’ The Darkness Makes Us Whole.’ We can only hope."

Eric Tarango on "One Last Death": "I was Facebook surfing and came across the announcement from Alban Lake and read the guidelines and submission subject. I usually zone out when I am thinking and letting images come to mind. I kept imagining what the hallways of an empty university would look like, and who would be wandering the hallways. I saw my character come into mind standing by the corner of a wall and peering around to see if it was safe to travel the hallway. I knew she was dead when I saw her, and that she had died at the university. What I did not know was why she was afraid if she was dead. I put a few sentences down to get the feel of the story and it took on a life of its own from there. I love when that happens with a story. I was writing for about an hour on my couch, I lived alone, recently divorced; a stack of books on my nightstand, been there for days untouched, and suddenly the top one just fell over onto the floor. Scared the crap out of me. I jumped and almost dropped my laptop. That was not cool, but I was wide awake and alert and kept going in and out of the story to check my surroundings. Not the only time it happened to me, too."

DJ Tyrer on "Authorised Librarians Only":  "My story was inspired by thoughts about what Miskatonic University's library would be like in the present age, as obviously, they know exactly what sort of crazy stuff they're sitting on. I suspect Theo may have been born from thoughts for a story for a different anthology, but if that was her genesis, she was very much her own, three-dimensional character by the time she emerged from my subconscious to play her part here. Beyond those details, I can't recall much about the way I arrived at the story - it was one of those that came together without too much conscious thought, as if I was reporting on something that happened rather than inventing it: a wonderful way to write a story, but not one that lends itself to writing a terribly interesting back-story about its creation!"

Lyssa Wilhelm on "Miskatonic University Email Updates": "‘Miskatonic University Email Updates’ was heavily inspired by Nightvale (a show inspired by H.P. Lovecraft). I enjoyed the first-person aspect of the podcast and thought it would be interesting to have something similar to that. I didn't want to do anything too similar to Nightvale, so instead of coming up with weird things on my own, I delved deep into the pit of Lovecraft lore and short stories. Almost every email has a reference to one of H.P's works, if not multiple. My father was a big help with this story, as he is an encyclopedia of Lovecraft stories and helped me with how certain references should be done if I didn't have any ideas. He was a big help. An example of harder to see references would be ‘The Outsider’. Since it was so short, there wasn't an easy way to reference it in the emails. But, I loved the story and wanted to include it. So, I made an anagram of the name Outsider = Stu Dorie, as well as making him the guidance councilor. There are many other references in the story and I hope that people can find them and enjoy how they were done."

Guy Riessen on "The Bridges of Arkham County": "When I read the call for stories for Miskatonic Dreams, ‘what happens in the halls of MU after all the human students are gone,’ I immediately thought ‘professorial love story.’ Of course the irony of a mythos love story was too good to pass up, and it had to be a human professor and a mythos creature. I knew I wanted to write a tale of love-that-couldn't-be -- something like Bridges of Madison County, and the title was born. I don't write an outline for my short stories, so watching them unfold is quite a lot of fun. It's a bit like watching TV only on super slo-mo because I can only type so fast, you know. I wasn't sure how the story would end until I was writing it. Would the professor get eaten at the end? Go insane when he realized the cosmic horror of his ‘girlfriend’? Would the lovers discover they were both different mythos creatures masquerading as human? Just like watching a TV mystery I tried to guess the twist, but it ended up something very different than even I expected!"

James Simpson on "If These Shadows Could Talk": "I think the idea for this story was really meant as a celebration not just of Lovecraft's work, which I make references to, but also several of his own inspirations. There are pieces of Hodgson, Chambers and Machen in there along with a touch of Poe, Shelley and Stoker. It would be fun to expand upon this somewhat. I suppose there's a melancholic edge to it as well. There's this loneliness to evil and these creatures display that even among their kind. There's a tinge of sadness that pervades the whole thing as if these creatures are just stuck in perpetual motion, quietly hoping for release and, perhaps, envying the human race that they supposedly despise so much. There's symbolism to the light and how these beings belong to the darkness. It reminds us that we have never quite mastered the night despite our progression with technology and science. The darkness has always been home to the unknown and we all remember what Lovecraft considered the oldest and strongest fear..."  

Monday, October 31, 2016

Meet the Luminous and Talented Tonya Blue

I first met author Tonya Blue during a spring trip to When Words Count, one of two visits in 2016 to the luxury retreat center for writers in Vermont. I was instantly impressed by both the writer and the writing. Tonya had penned a fantastic book based upon her experience as a teacher in the inner city schools -- frank, unapologetic, gorgeously written. Adding to that late March visit was the added bonus of enjoying Tonya perform the work during the nightly sharing of writing in the center's Gertrude Stein Salon -- Tonya planned to take I am the Children I Teach to the stage in Baltimore in August of 2016, and blew us away with her excerpts, becoming the book's four lead characters -- teachers Ms. Brown, Ms. Wilson, and students The Boy and Red-haired Girl.

It was my pleasure to sit down and talk craft with the fabulous Tonya.

I loved I am the Children I Teach! In Vermont, you told me the back-story as to why you wrote this book, with this focus (partly through the lens of a teacher who doesn’t exactly live for her students). Can you share that story here?
I believe a lot of people think teaching is easy. It’s not. I thought that too, and that was one of the reason I applied for the job.  I thought it was easy enough to teach and go home with summers and weekends off. Snow days -- yes! Holiday breaks -- awesome! Wrong. Teaching is not easy. You are never told the true experiences you may face in a classroom or the challenges our students (mostly inner city youth) encounter. I am the Children I Teach looks at the side of teaching most don’t like to discuss, the issues that can cause a ripple effect in your classroom climate. We educators are given one of the biggest responsibilities and that is to help mold a child so they can become a successful adult. Many of my students don’t get a chance to just be children at home because of other responsibilities, exposure to adult issues, or due to their environment. The last thing I expected was a battle for control or a fight to show a child you care and to get them to believe you or a child who can’t read and doesn’t want to learn how so they refuse to do the work. We as educators have to fight for the trust of our students before we can teach them the content.  It’s a hard battle and you have to be strong to stay the course. 

(Tonya on stage as "Ms. Brown")
I wrote the book after going to a few professional developments that did not reflect my teaching experiences. No one told me about these challenges, they just told me about lesson planning and grading, but not how to build relationships with children, lay aside my own biases, and embrace them anyway. That’s hard when you are taught to respect your elders and everything else falls into place. Our classrooms can be a place of learning and one of a battle for control at the same time. There is no class or course for building a relationship before you teach your content. That is on the job training and it is what makes some leave the profession. You get tired of fighting just to help and to show you care. I wrote about my experience and of those who I know. I wanted to tell the truth of what is behind the eyes of a child and an adult (our own pain, experience and desires) when we enter the classroom. To shine a light on the real experience of teaching in an inner city school, the baggage we all bring into the classroom, and to make educators reflect on our own childhood and how our childhood manifests through our relationships with certain students.

In August, you did a staged performance of the book. Please tell us about that -- the genesis, the challenges, the results!
I had started writing my series Famine and I just couldn’t ‘get into it. I felt like I am the Children I Teach wasn’t done. I had copies in my basement and I kept wondering why. I realized I wasn’t finished with those characters yet. I always loved theater and did a few shows in college and in my 30s. I have even done stand-up comedy a few times. I live for the stage and I knew I wanted to write a script for the book, but I wasn’t sure of how. I sat at my desk and tried to just cut and paste pages from the book, no go! As soon I let go of what I thought it should be, it became what it was meant to be. I thought ok now what. Do auditions and see if I can rent a space, but in reality I wasn’t sure if anyone would know them like me. Who would evoke the emotion that I carried for five years for each character. So, I thought I can do it. I know them, because I am them. I am each character that I wrote about. So it began. I knew of a young lady, Naelis Erving, who produced and directed For Colored Girls and we had a reading at Panera. Her excitement and belief in me was enough for me to go forward. A two-woman team put on a one-woman show in three weeks. I can truly say I am very proud of our work. She pushed me to new levels and this process became therapeutic for me. I told of my own story of abuse and pain and was released from it as soon as I hit the stage. We sold out our first night and were only seven seats away from selling out our second night. I had finally lived a dream, my characters had come to the stage and I haven’t been the same since.

(Tonya as The Boy)
I loved hearing you read from the book in person -- so powerful! How did that translate on stage to a bigger audience?
There are four main characters in the novel, Ms. Brown, The Boy, Redhead Freckle Faced Girl and Ms. Wilson. I played Ms. Brown, The Boy and Redhead and brought Ms. Wilson to life through audio and pictures. My stage was an actual classroom. My audience sat in student’s chairs and they received a waiver for being a part of a classroom discussion/scene. I made the play interactive so the audience felt like students from the time they entered the school. They had to respond to parts of the play and were held accountable for their “homework.” I believe the classroom was the perfect stage, my audience felt included and the smell, set up and decor of the classroom was the icing on the cake.

Tell us about your creative process -- where you write, how you write, and what subjects call to your creativity.
When I write I like it quiet. I sit down at my desk, pray and then there are a few quotes I have hanging from my desk that I read aloud. I am surrounded by things and smells that make me smile. My vision board is in front of me, my grandmother’s teapot, writing utensils I have collected from my travels, a picture or my husband and parents. I burn scented oils and turn on my small desk light and go. Whenever I hit a roadblock, I do the Cupid shuffle (line dance) or play a spiritual/ uplifting song (Jill Scott, Stevie Wonder, India Erie, Marvin Sapp), dance my heart out and get back to it. If I can’t write at home, Barnes and Noble is a wonderful muse for me or just to sit outside and listen to nature.

(Tonya as the Red-haired Girl)
What are you presently working on?
I am working on a few things. Presently I am tweaking the show to go on tour next year hopefully to hit three-four cities next summer. I am working on a devotional for writers and runners, my Famine novel series and a workbook as a supplement for the novel for a series of professional development for new and veteran teachers that I would hope to do for the 2017-18 school year.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

BEHOLD -- IN A CAT'S EYE!

We love our cats. All were rescues from neglect or abuse. All are, we often say, like a million bucks that nobody else wanted, and we were lucky enough to claim as our own. We presently have two cats, Ozzie and Wheezer. Ozzie came to us circuitously eight years ago from a far-away land, a survivor of an infamous cat hoarding case. Wheezer found her way to Xanadu from just down the road -- her elderly human caretaker had passed away, and she'd gone to live with the woman's sons, who didn't exactly care for her. When she showed up three autumns ago, yowling in her cat carrier as she was walked up our driveway, the sound broke our hearts, and we knew we'd offer her the best home possible. It didn't matter that we were told she was three years old and it turned out she was fourteen; she soon took charge of the house as rightful queen (with Ozzie, ever, as pampered princess) and our home was made complete following the loss of our previous female feline monarch, the famous Chicken, who once saved our entire family from obliteration (it's true -- she woke the house when the Mother's Day Nor'Easter of 2007 filled our basement and flooded our furnace while we slept, and the pipes quaked. Had she not roused the house awake, a bomb crater would have been all that was left, according to our gas company. Chicken won the Feline Hero Pet Award from the MSPCA, where we adopted her, later that autumn).

In May on the morning I readied to fly to Hollywood to attend the star-studded The Roswell Awards (my short story "Mandered" won Honorable Mention in this year's contest), I saw that a neighbor's new cat was perched outside our sun porch door, harassing Ozzie. I've traveled far and wide in 2016, to numerous writing retreats located on islands, mountaintops, and waterfalls. Hollywood was my third of eight adventures, and by the time I landed I missed our little family and the Muse had already turned the incident with the neighbors' cat into a new story. In my hotel room, I sat down and began the tale of a neighbor delivered an ominous warning by his crazy neighbors' cat, and had penned half of it by the time I took to the stage to accept my Roswell Award. Soon after completing "The Neigthbors' Cat", I read about Pole to Pole Publishing's new project, In a Cat's Eye, and hastened through edits on the computer. Soon after, I received a rewrite offer, and made my few changes while a new roof was being put on Xanadu. Sparse days later, the official acceptance arrived. I'm proud to be part of this amazing release, which also features a reprint of "The Brazilian Cat" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Many of my talented co-authors shared the back-stories behind their stories in In a Cat's Eye.

Gail Z. Martin on "Catspaw": "When Vonnie and Kelly [the publishers] asked me for a cat story, I knew I wanted to write it in my Deadly Curiosities dark urban fantasy universe, set in Charleston, SC. My main character, Cassidy Kincaide, is a psychometric. Cassidy runs Trifles and Folly, an antique store that is a front for an Alliance of mortals and immortals who get haunted and cursed objects out of the wrong hands and fight supernatural threats. So I had the ‘where’ and the ‘who’, and now I needed the ‘what’. The gist of the story came to me, and that got me started -- a necromancer’s cat. The title sprang to mind from the Star Trek: TOS episode of the same name. The cat had to play an essential role in the story, and since the piece was short, we had to get to the action quickly. I had decisions to make. Was the cat good or evil? Did the cat itself possess supernatural powers or was it a pawn, a victim, a familiar or a co-conspirator? Read ‘Catspaw’ and find out!"

Oliver Smith on "Grimmun": "Most of the characters are thinly veiled Norse gods, except for Sweet who is a bunch of wild herbs and snails. ‘Grimmun’ conflates the metaphor of the clockwork universe with the physical universe and mixes up human custom with natural law. Cutting across this implausible world of authorial confusion and scientific ignorance strides Ratter the Cat, a tribute to every vicious farm kitten ever adopted into my family. How excited I was as small child to wake in the morning and find a new dissection spread across the lawn by our own ‘Ratter’. The cats procured a fantastic variety of wildlife: frogs, toads, rats, mice, birds, slowworms, and even a bat (rescued alive). I blame these daily scenes of slaughter for my abidingly morbid imagination. Without those cats I would probably write uplifting stories of noble heroes doing whatever thing they do. I would dream of pretty flowers, not the horrors presented in ‘Grimmun’. I would be good. I would be happy.  I now own a house cat who will tackle nothing bigger than a woodlouse -- if you care to, you can read about her in ‘The Sulphur Remedy’ in my collection Basilisk Soup."

Steven R. Southard on "The Cats of Nerio-3": "What? A call for submissions for a cat anthology? I’ll pass; I don’t own a cat, or even like them. (Mysterious voice): Hello, Steve. Who’s that? I’m your muse. You will write a cat story, a story about cats in an abandoned space station who’ve mutated into panther-sized monsters, now adapted to weightlessness. Really? I’m going to write that? Well, I’ll help. A little. In fact, I’ve given you the seed of an idea, so my job here is done. Bye. Wait, Muse, is that all I get? Muse? Sheesh. She does this every stinkin’ time. Leaves the hard part to me. Giant mutant cats in space, huh…"


(Queen Wheezer)
K. I Borrowman on "Kings of the Concrete Jungle": "Baker is a domestic shorthair cat from Al Khor, Qatar. One of his distinctive features is his central heterochromatic eyes. He came from a large family and had six brothers and sisters. An avid adventurer, Baker left home at the young age of nine weeks to pursue a life of banditry. Currently, Baker’s favourite hiding places include: under the sofa, his laundry duckie, and any box or bag, no matter the size. Baker came up with the idea for “Kings of the Concrete Jungle” when he demonstrated to his human, K.I. Borrowman, how his unique feline traits would help ensure his survival during any upcoming zombie apocalypses. To learn more about Baker, please visit his website, www.spotthekitty.com. Be sure to check out his advice column for other cats under the ‘Latest Mews” tab and download his game, Spot the Kitty, for your Android or Apple device."

Christine Lucas on "A Pinch of Chaos": "‘A Pinch of Chaos’ was the first story I wrote after a three-year break from writing. It's a story that opens with gut-wrenching loss, much like the loss I felt often throughout these three years. But in its heart it's also a Hero's Journey, mapping in some level my own journey during that time against seemingly impossible obstacles to regain all that I had lost. In this journey, both in the story and in life, the Wise Sage never came. Only cats came, with all the joy and – sometimes -- heartbreak this entails. Perhaps there's no Wise Sage at all in this Journey we call Life, only a crone with a wicked sense of humor, and her head is a cat's head. As one of my characters often says, ‘Cats are Bast's ongoing prank on mankind.’ He should know -- he's a High Priest. As for the Journey, in fiction as in life, it has closure, but no End. Ithaka will always lie beyond the horizon, and Circles have no ends."

Doug C. Souza on "Tenth Life": "Doug C. Souza began his story ‘Tenth Life when the first line, ‘I found Mr. Gary confessing to the cat one evening, popped into his head. It was a random image that seemed to have the makings of a fun story. He had no idea where the characters would end up, but one thing was certain: the cat would be a gray tabby. A couple years earlier, Doug C. Souza had to say goodbye for the final time to the greatest cat that ever walked the face of the Earth. He’s glad his pal Remy found a home in one of his stories. Recently, Doug won first place in the Writers of the Future Contest, and has a story featured in The Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide due out later this year. His story “Mountain Screamers”--a novelette about cougars--appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Doug C. Souza hopes you enjoy ‘Tenth Life, a story where a cat gets into (and out of) trouble the way only a cat can."

A. L. Sirois on "Three Wizards and a Cat": "Regarding Three Wizards and a Cat, I wrote an earlier story with the protagonist, Rali Ribhu, in the same far-future setting, using that same Jack Vance type of sardonic voice. This story is a follow-up to that tale, The Comet Doom, but not a direct sequel. I loved writing this, and people have responded well to it. Perhaps Rali will ride again one of these days. It would be fun to put him into a novel-length story."


(The Princess Ozzie, days before our move to Xanadu)
Joanna Hoyt on "Another Man's Cure": "The submissions call for In A Cat’s Eye gave me an excuse to complete an odd little half-story which had been prowling around the back of my mind for a few years. Dr. Marcus Leeds, the world’s foremost -- indeed, the world’s only -- cryptoethnogastronomist, with his pride in his objectivity, his defensiveness around his unusual discipline, his basic decency and his occasional difficulty in treating his research subjects as people, was already clear in my mind. So was the dangerous sweetness of the kopiat and the dangerous otherness of the wicked little cat known as the stiss. I wasn’t quite sure what they were all going to do together, but I enjoyed finding out. Marcus, of course, bears no resemblance whatsoever to any of the human-studying experts I have encountered. None whatsoever. Well, not very much… I am grateful that the anthology editors liked him well enough to advocate (successfully) for a somewhat happier ending."

A. L. Kaplan on "Mark of the Goddess": "‘Hi, Maya. Tell me about your role in 'Mark of the Goddess'.’

‘Sure, but first, where did you get the idea for this story?’

‘I’ve always been drawn to mythology, and this call for submissions screamed for the Mayan jaguar goddess. Writing a story with no canines was a challenge. I’m a dog person and a major wolf fanatic.’

‘Is that why you made my jungle so dangerous?’

‘Realism is important, especially for fantasy stories. I did a lot of research to create the right kinds of wildlife.’

‘Yeah. Thanks a lot for all the carnivorous plants and animals.’

‘No apologies there. Changing subjects, I love the bright colors in your dress.’

‘My mom is a wiz with dyes. She did all the beadwork with colored seeds. We can’t afford stone beads.’

‘Well, it’s lovely.  Speaking of dyes, what’s with the brown stain in your eyes? Be proud of who you are.’

‘Are you trying to get me killed? No one can know my true eye color. Why are authors so cruel to their characters? I don’t know how I’m going to survive this story.’

‘You’ll have to read it and find out if you do.’"

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Two September Writing Adventures

(aboard the ferry, passing the Portsmouth Harbor lighthouse)
This has been an amazing, adventurous 2016! As of this morning, I've completed 52 individual fiction projects (one novel, a dozen novellas among them), and have traveled far and wide (including to Hollywood, where I attended and received Honorable Mention for my short story "Mandered" in The Roswell Awards). In September -- in addition to getting married -- I enjoyed not one but two productive writing retreats. Both featured returns to destinations I've visited and loved before.

The first took me across the Atlantic to the Isles of Shoals. I enjoyed Dale Finley Slongwhite's wonderful Writelines conference to Star Island once before, in 2012. This time around, Hurricane Hermine had different plans for us, and made the sea so choppy that the Coast Guard grounded ferry service for the first two days of our visit. Hermine be damned, Dale had us gather in a hotel nearby the ferry's launch, and, while we labored over daily updates, we kicked off the workshop in the hotel's meeting room. I loved my last time in Dale's classroom, which was and is filled with fantastic writing exercises designed to challenge and inspire (they did!). I completed a short Viking-themed speculative story our second morning in the hotel and began work on a mystery feature film screenplay (by the end of the island adventure, I had the first full third down). We dined at local restaurants and waited. Early Wednesday morning, we got the news that, long last, we'd be on our way to the island. The voyage across the ocean was exhilarating, inspiring. At one point, the islands surfaced from the endless expanse of gray, and we were there. My room this time around was in the actual hotel and not the outbuildings, and came with the rarest of rare: two plugs. They'd added WiFi since my previous visit and, while checking emails during breaks from the writing workshop, I learned I'd been invited to submit a mystery and a western to two different editors.

The food was great, the company stellar. I dig Dale's boot camp-style approach and left the island two days later with plenty of fresh material -- and two new stories, the first of which I penned the very next morning following my return home to Xanadu.

Two autumns ago, our writers' group attended a long weekend retreat to the Waterfall House, a beautiful antique mansard colonial perched atop roaring falls in Stark, New Hampshire. We returned at the end of this September to the house, which was as charming as I recalled. Our first night there, five of us enjoyed an incredible feast of homemade dips, sauces, and jams with cheese and crackers, coconut macaroons, and bakery brownies. For our second night, I slow-roasted a ten and a half pound prime rib from the local butcher shop, and it was incredible! On our third night at the Waterfall House, we enjoyed homemade spinach lasagna and meatballs, salad, and a variety of desserts.

From the moment we landed, I uncapped my pen, poured hazelnut coffee or raspberry seltzer, and wrote. My intention for the weekend was to return home with a briefcase filled with completed manuscripts, and I did -- some 15,000 words between four projects, along with busy work on others. I penned my oldest incomplete project, the novella "Destiny", to THE END, along with two shorts and a longer mystery story, "The Eleven O'Clock Ice Kill." Our weather, though mostly overcast, didn't stop retreaters from taking walks or working outside on the deck overlooking the falls, and, though I left creatively depleted, I accomplished all I hoped for.

In three days I depart for my sixth and final road trip adventure of 2016 -- to When Words Count in Vermont for four days and three nights. I'm bringing a novel, the mystery screenplay, and a handful of short stories to work on. It's been a fantastic year! And 2017 seems poised to begin on a similar high note: while luxuriating last weekend at the Waterfall House, I was approached to pen a novelization of a made-for-TV movie from its screenplay. I've said yes!

Monday, August 22, 2016

BEHOLD: BLOOD, SWEAT, AND FEARS -- Horror Inspired by the 1970s!

Last November, I woke in the darkness from a dream whose intensity had me grabbing for the small notebook and pen I keep in the top drawer of my nightstand. In it, I was a kid again, growing up in the wilds of then-rural Windham, New Hampshire during the 1970s. In this version, a sort of parallel universe, we were living through the second big energy crisis. Lack of gasoline meant we were on our own, an island from the rest of the world that summer. During one dark, eclipsed night, a Russian fighter jet tore across our small house and exploded over the lake. While all of our neighbors scrambled to find the pilot, I alone, sitting in the dark staring out, heard the approach of footsteps. Two, I was sure. Only then an enormous dog plodded in from the direction of the lake, through the brook in our backyard, walking on four. This beast of a dog fooled everyone around me, but not me -- I knew that it wasn't really a dog, but the Russian pilot, because I'd heard it walking on two legs. The dog was an experiment in genetic manipulation and shape-shifting; and hadn't the Russians sent up a dog in Sputnik II? All of this played out in the dream, along with the title: "The Night Stalker," an intentional nod to one of my favorite TV shows from that long lost time.

The very next morning, I put pen to paper, and had half of my story written down. I read it at writers' group and got great reactions from my fellow scribes, and soon dashed off a finished first draft. I believe I was channeling the whole 70s vibe, because I'd recently read about a call for Blood, Sweat. and Fears: Horror Inspired by the 1970s by the fine folks at Nosetouch Press. I did my edits, liking what I had -- the whole 'devil dog/hound from Hell' motif was rampant during that period (even Carl Kolchak faced off against one, in the guise of Tom Skerritt of Alien fame) -- and sent it in. Publishers and editors David T. Neal and Christine M. Scott accepted "The Night Stalker" on its first foray into the world, and it now appears within the covers of an amazingly groovy anthology unlike any other.

Many of my talented co-authors and the editorial team shared the back-stories behind their stories in Blood, Sweat, and Fears, along with the project's unique genesis and design.

Daniel S. Duvall on "Vivid Vinyl Visions": "My short story would not exist if not for Blood, Sweat, and Fears.  After I read the Nosetouch Press call for submissions for this anthology, I knew I wanted to be a part of what promised to be a hip, groovy book, so I spent a couple of days brainstorming potential concepts.  I kept circling back to the notion of a magic record album that induces visions of the past or future depending on which side one plays.  I visualized the protagonist, who is a much better bassist than I will ever be, receiving this LP from someone who appears to be a homeless fiddler, and then I asked myself who the vagrant really was.  The structure of the plot evolved naturally once I figured out the bum's true nature. I won't go into spoilers except to reveal that ‘Vivid Vinyl Visions’ begins on the 10th of April in 1978, a day which in reality was indeed unseasonably hot in my native Northeast Ohio.  I wrote the story in December of 2015, and I'm eager for this particular tale to find an audience.  I encourage you to read it by the light of a Lava Lamp."

Eric Turowski on "Sacred Death": "CONFIDENTIAL: For use by Northern California Law Enforcement Agencies only. B.O.L.O. for Theodore Irons, AKA Tire Iron, former president, Visigoths OMC. FBI TEN MOST WANTED FUGITIVE: Unlawful flight to avoid prosecution-- multiple ritual homicides, ADW (motorcycle drive chain) on law enforcement officials, conspiracy to transport Class A substances, racketeering, subversion. LAST SEEN: San Francisco, Calif., Haight-Ashbury District Oct. 28, 1973. CAUTION: Irons is sought in connection with occult crimes, consider armed and extremely dangerous.

There isn’t enough energetic low fantasy available these days. So, consider: an urban barbarian, a feud between latter day sorcerers, the saint of death, a plot to disguise and distribute marijuana, brutal brawls with modern monsters, beautiful babes in mini-dresses, demonic possession, drug possession --‘Sacred Death’ could only happen in the ‘70s, man."

David J. Fielding on "The Bar Guest": "I wrote my story after reading the story call and mulling over ideas and ways to tell a spooky story in a 70’s setting. Having grown up as a young teen/teenager in the time period, I have vivid memories of what the time period was like and I tried to incorporate those memories and that 70’s vibe -- leather jackets, the ever present cigarette smoke, brick buildings, etc. -- into the story. I wanted to convey the gritty modern street level version of police detectives I remember from film and TV of the time. I also wanted to try and capture the supernatural tone that permeated the 70’s as well, that feeling that the shadows were filled with dark and devilish things."

Tiffany Morris on "Day of Ascension": "My story was drawn from numerous sources of inspiration and areas of personal morbid fascination. These include the spine-chilling recording of the Jonestown massacre (which I’ve consequently listened to more often than is recommendable), old episodes of Coast to Coast AM, and an off-putting religious program my husband regularly picks up on his shortwave radio (we’ve nicknamed the host ‘Crazy Uncle Police State’). Some aspects of the story also adhere more closely to reality than others; pilot Jeffrey Collis’ experience in “Day of Ascension” is directly inspired by UFO sightings that have been reported by pilots. These elements factored into my desire to play with form and to experiment with writing a horror story in radio transcript format. As for the 1970s: I’d heard a lot about life growing up in the ‘70s from my mother, but came to know that behind her own nostalgic stories were things like the prevalence of cults and serial killers, oil shortages, and a renaissance in horror cinema. The twin forces of hope and dread are prevalent in any era of human history, but a setting like the 1970s allows for a lot of room to explore how it can all go awry."

Trent Roman on "Decrepitude": "I missed the 70s by a few years. The media from the 70s I was exposed to growing up, the music and the movies, had given me the impression that it was a carefree, party-on decade; imagine my surprise when, a little older now, I read the actual history of this turbulent time: the crime and the corruption, the gas lines and the economy grinding down. So it seemed like a perfect fit for a story like ‘Decrepitude.’ Years of the daily commute started me thinking about the concept of a cursed subway station -- an unusually modern and public location for a haunting. In turn, the setting seemed to demand a story about the decay that lies underneath the surface-- of our cities, of a decade, of ourselves. The 70s, with its sense of things running out, running down, the entropic decline of civilization, was the ideal context for the story."

John Linwood Grant on "A Stranger Passing Through": "I had the dubious pleasure of being there in the seventies, and also have two series of tales which pass through that period -- The Last Edwardian and Revenant. It struck me that the measured disquiet of my Last Edwardian supernatural tales would be less fun than the Revenant, so I went with the latter. It could have been a much longer story -- the city of New York back then was bright and dark at the same time, with hard-edged politics and massive corruption. It seemed only natural that as my contemplative hero (or anti-hero) wandered America, avoiding what he had left behind him in the UK, he would pass through the Big Apple. But I wanted an extra twist, and so for once he forgets himself and does something a little different. I only regret that I couldn't have made more of the music and fashions of the period, which I still remember as having a horror all of their own. The Returned Man does himself return in other tales, before and after A Stranger Passing Through, but in the meantime my Last Edwardian beckons, with a very different set of protagonists."

John McCallum Swain on "The Sweet Dark": "'The Sweet Dark’ is set in a fictional town inspired by my years growing up in Petawawa, 100 miles north of Ottawa, Canada. My Kitchissippi Tales are what I like to think of as homespun darkness, stories that invoke the wonders and horrors that life presented to a kid in a small town, before the world was connected by the internet. The 70s was a magical time, a time of change and wonder, a time of suspicion and fear, a time that fostered paranoia and hope. As I said in another Kitchissippi Tale set in that time, ‘We didn’t have the entire world at our fingertips. What we had was reruns, the public library and endless woods; the truths and the lies our parents told us to enlighten and protect us; the utter bullshit our older siblings fed us just to screw with our heads; and the grapevine of communal childhood information that was part mythology and part hearsay, all of it distorted by the lenses of wonder, inexperience, fantasy and fear.’ Stories like ‘The Sweet Dark’ come from that time and place, and I have many more tales to tell."

Christine M. Scott on Blood, Sweat, and Fears' design: "There were many directions I could have gone while designing the 70s-inspired cover for Blood, Sweat, and Fears. I wanted to project the feelings of dread and menace, without using cliché and sensationalized imagery. The best design route led me ‘home.’ The quiet aftermath of a murderous home intrusion taps into most everyone’s psyche. 70s interiors were dreadful to begin with, and with the addition of the intruder’s shadow, I achieved the sense of lurking fear that I was going for. The rest of the book, as well as the marketing materials, were designed to closely replicate 70s advertising. Graphic design was a different animal back then. Everything was typesetting machines, Rubylith, stat cameras, and paste-up. I studied design at the dawn of the Mac age, but I was still taught the traditional methods. I used that knowledge combined with modern methods to capture the vibe of the 70s in tangible form. It sets the mood for the reader, and subtly reinforces the impact of the stories Blood, Sweat, and Fears contains. As a lover of history and culture, I had a groovy time designing this book. I hope readers dig it -- the stories, the style -- the whole far-out package!"

David T. Neal on why the 1970s: "The anthology idea came to me out of my memories of growing up in the 1970s, just how creepy everything seemed, that 70s vibe. There was always a prevailing sense of dread that hung like smog over that decade, and I wanted to capture that spirit in this anthology, while resisting the temptation of overt hack-and-slash. We chose very carefully among a ton of great contributions, wanting to harness various aspects of 70s-style horror themes in stories that were strong on their own merits. We went with 10 stories as an informal nod to the decade, itself (although these stories aren’t tied to a particular year, conceptually, we ran with that). For so many born after the 1970s, that decade boils down to a few ideas-- terrorism, environmental issues, serial killers, cults, disco, funk, feminism, Watergate, punk, paranoia, polyester -- and we wanted to distill that down to a pure, powerful essence. We couldn’t cover all of the bases in only ten stories, but we were very particular about what we wanted to include: it wasn’t going to be chainsaws and ice picks, but a subtler, groovier, more dreadful horror lurking in the corner of one’s eye, which always feels scarier, anyway."

Thursday, August 11, 2016

FORCE FIVE: A Return to Boyhood -- Complete with Giant Robots!

On a Monday afternoon in the autumn of 1980, my best friend Tina and I were huddled in front of her living room TV set, watching the 3:00 showing of our beloved anime series, Star Blazers. Tina and I had bonded not only over a love of that exceptional show (starring my dear friend, THE Amy Howard Wilson), but also our shared revelations that we were both writers. Tina wrote poetry, and remains one of my two favorite poets of all time, sharing top billing with Edgar Allen Poe. While supposed to be doing homework, we wrote and watched Star Blazers after school. At 3:30, a second episode was scheduled to follow. But, to our shock, a different show had usurped its spot. What we saw unfold was the first episode of something called Danguard Ace, the opening salvo of a series referred to as Force Five. Force Five brought together five separate Japanese animated adventures, most involving giant robots -- a different adventure each weekday. Mondays featured the aforementioned Danguard Ace, Tuesdays was Starvengers, Thursday was Grandizer, Friday the magnificent Gaiking. On Wednesdays, the focus shifted from giant robots to The Spaceketeers, about three cyborg warriors defending a princess on her quest to save the galaxy from a mysterious and deadly force.

Our initial reaction to Force Five was one of resentment -- as much as I'd always loved giant robots, the show cost us that second half-hour of Star Blazers. It also seemed somewhat lowbrow, even to my fifteen-year-old mentality, with robot pilots shouting out whatever action they were about to initiate -- "Dizer kick!" for instance, whenever Grandizer's Orion Quest planned to, you guessed it, kick at one of Vega the Strong's Saucer Animal enemy super robots. But as the weeks transitioned from autumn to winter, we got hooked. In April, I wrote a Gaiking fan fiction. Soon after, following a terrifying dream, I penned another. In October of 1981, I wrote "Promete Achieved", a Danguard Ace tale about the Danguard team long-last making its objective: reaching the Planet Promete, a satisfying conclusion denied us by the TV show. Over the course of my lifetime, I would pen six Force Five fan fics in all -- three Gaiking, two Danguard Ace, and one Starvengers. In the summer of 1982, at the age of seventeen, while bored and sweltering in the merciless heat, I moseyed into the garage and dreamed up a massive Force Five storyline that would unite all five universes. Its note card went into my catalog of unwritten ideas under the title "Endangered Mankind", and there it remained until May 9th of 2016.

Armed with a fresh pad of lined paper, a fountain pen with a full cartridge of ink, and a massive binder from the late 1990s, when I printed up all the technical specs and character write-ups on the show from a fan site no longer in existence, I started with Chapter One: "Monday" -- in which the Danguard Ace team faces their enemy, the malevolent Krell Corps, who are determined to reach Promete first. Then, I transitioned to Chapter Two: "Tuesday", giving the Starvengers their due against sworn enemies, the Pandemonium Empire. At the conclusion of both chapters, the super robots have mysteriously vanished, along with an equal number of their robotic foes. "Wednesday" shifted focus to the universe of Princess Aurora and her Spaceketeers, who have been dispatched to locate and stop emanations from the mysterious Dekos System that are causing mutations to animal and vegetable lifeforms. As they near, the energy waves prove too strong even for Aurora's cyborg defenders, hence the need to bring in allies able to survive Dekos. The four giant robots, each endowed with a temporary intelligence made possible by interactions with their human pilots, champion the cause, taking the fight to Dekos, where the sinister mastermind behind the mutations has been collecting a giant robot army of his own.


There was something supremely satisfying about returning to that wacky universe -- a story from so long ago, long last given its time to be written. But it was also beyond fun. I found myself eager to return to that world to play, and remembered as the heroes approached Dekos and the dark forces waiting for them there why I'd fallen so in love with the franchise back in the day. For the very first time, I wrote about Grandizer and The Spaceketeers -- the latter my least favorite of the five, though in this tale Aurora and company became the central crux behind the other four's mission. Writing "Endangered Mankind" in the background while working to other deadlines for paying and professional markets was a return to my youth. The story swelled to something epic, as I'd always known it would, even back in my seventeenth summer. By early July and the start of summer NaNoWriMo, I saw its long-dreamed conclusion, finally within sight as the robots stopped the broadcast of the mutation energy and returned from Dekos victorious.

On the first Sunday NaNo write-in, when members of our writers' group gathered in our living room to work on their July projects, I began the final chapter: "Saturday", which seemed an appropriate sendoff, and a fitting nod to all those Friday Gaiking cliffhangers from the day. I completed "Endangered Mankind" in a blur as my pen raced toward the ending, and fresh sheets flew off the notepad. Ninety-two pages long, my return to the Force Five universe for one final adventure was like a trip through time to the best days of my boyhood, and a great deal of fun to experience as I write on through my fifty-first year!

Friday, July 22, 2016

BEHOLD: BEHIND THE UNIFORM!

On the night before I departed Camp Necon in July of 2012, I experienced a gritty, intensely romantic dream that left me reaching for a blank note card about a sex worker in a near futuristic war who learns he holds the key to stopping a ruthless alien invasion. That knowledge is delivered by a handsome colonel, who visits the camp where he works. As the dream played out, the colonel took on the face of my beloved muse, and I became Milo Hanover, the seemingly average, unremarkable older man who discovers he's anything but. I even dreamed the opening few lines, along with the title of the tale -- "The Head Shed", which was the nickname for Milo's place of employment and the service both he and it provided to humanity's war-weary defenders. I showered, hastened downstairs to the cafeteria for iced coffee before it was open to serve the wonderful writing conference's attendees, and began work on the story. I gutted out the first thousand or so words longhand, shocked at how formed the world Milo and the colonel inhabited was, and would have continued but then breakfast service started, and soon after I departed Rhode Island for my home in New Hampshire. "The Head Shed" went into a file folder, which then went into my works-in-progress filing cabinet drawer, and its note card found its way into my catalog of unwritten ideas. We bought a house and moved. Other projects and deadlines took front and center -- until this past March when I read about Mischief Corner Books' new submission call for Behind the Uniform, a M/M romance anthology. "The Head Shed" again jumped to the head of the line, and I soon dashed the remainder of what I thought would be a long short story as novella, loving every moment of my time together with Milo, Colonel Joe Dunnegin, their unconventional love, and their desperate plan to drive out the Grunk menace. Following my usual stringent edits, I sent "The Head Shed" off to MCB, who accepted it a few weeks later as one of three novellas for Behind the Uniform. This July, BTU has been published to some incredible kudos -- even before its launch, it became an All-Romance e-Book best seller, and continues to sell mightily post-release (print is due to be available shortly). It was my pleasure to speak to my two BTU co-authors regarding their contributions to this wonderful anthology.

Jon Keys on "It's the Hat": "The anthology subject grabbed my attention and didn't relent. Since I was young I've had a fascination with men in uniforms and their behind the scenes lives. But I already wrote a short story several years ago focused on two married police officers, so I wanted to go beyond the expected and find another field that met my needs. In my research I discovered forest rangers have the highest mortality rate of any of my guys in uniform. So I found my hero. Add to that a recent art school graduate working as a waiter who has a weakness for bad boys, and I was happy with the mix of characters. From there the setting flowed. I've visited Michigan's west coast on numerous occasions, and several items caught my eye. The area's beauty struck me first: Lovely blue waters and wide sandy beaches. The scenery is breathtaking. More notable traits, most of the towns survive from the tourist trade and a lot of those visitors eventually buy a cabin. This was more striking to me because it's so different from the southwest where I lived most of my life. Between all of these, I had the components from which the story grew."

Toni Griffin on "A Wolf in Cop's Clothing": "My short story is actually Book 7 in one of my most popular series. I'm constantly being asked by my readers for more from the Holland Brothers. After I finished book 4, the last in the main series, I said that was it, there wasn't going to be any more. However, the boys just never stop talking to me. As soon as I give them even the start of an idea in my head they take it and run. This is exactly what happened this time. I was sitting at my desk at work one day, checking messages from my author friends in the US. When the subject of the Behind the Uniform anthology was brought up. Men in uniform got my brain thinking about one of the Holland brothers, Marcus, who's a cop. It had been about 14 months since I'd allowed the boys to visit me and as soon as my mind even thought about them they took over. I had a furious messaging session with my friend, and within a half hour the entire story line had come to me and was just begging to be written. I was then stuck at work with this story busting to get out. When I got home that night the laptop was opened and the story flowed. It was written in less than 3 days. I hope you enjoy!"