Saturday, May 16, 2015

SLAVE STATE OF MIND: Interview with Chris Kelso and Kate Jonez

I woke up this morning to a warmish day, gloriously green outside all of Xanadu's windows. But six months ago, the view beyond the panes looked suspiciously like I imagine the Slave State appearing: cold, colorless, the trees bare, an unforgiving, inhospitable landscape I've come to think of as kin to the winters up here in the north country. A gray place and time.  Late in November of 2014, while the snow was already piling up outside our home, I received an instant message on Facebook from a young, talented rising star, Chris Kelso, inviting me to contribute to an anthology he was putting together.  The project would mine the depths of the sinister world he'd built, the Slave State -- a fourth-dimensional realm of pain, where humans are forced to live out hard time mining metals and other essentials under alien dictatorship.  Chris was aware of my byline, stating he wanted me to be part of the madness. I was both touched and humbled, agreed to write for the project, and quickly immersed myself in his world of pain and horror. The Slave State is populated by individuals living in hopelessness and nihilism. Within hours of reading up on the Slave State primer, I had a title involving my main character, a man-for-hire -- "The Coin-Operated Man" -- and a road map into Moosejaw, one of those places you never want to wake up in (but are great fun to visit!).  I dashed my story's longhand draft off in two days, and it was quickly accepted into the project, where it shares space with a stellar galaxy of talented scribes. SLAVE STORIES: Scenes from the Slave State has just been released by the fine folks at Omnium Gatherum Books.  It was my joy to speak with Chris, Editor and World-Builder, and the fabulous Kate Jonez, publisher and multi-award nominated author, about the journey forth -- or fourth -- into the Slave State.

Chris, the Slave State originated in your wonderfully wicked psyche, and you've shared with me that it has a clear connection to the surrounding lay of your home in the UK.  You've built a pretty bleak world in the Fourth Dimension -- tell us about the Slave State.
The Slave State is the worst place in all the universes, worse even than contemporary Ayrshire. It’s where hope goes to die. It’s the spider that eats you when you get to Hell. But the all ensconcing misery of slavery and subjugation at the hands of our alien overlords is just the beginning, Gregory. There is much more. There is constant violence around you, every face you meet will return a glance full of unwavering apathy and there’s a pesky little depression virus assuming the form of a black dog patrolling your streets in search of hearts and minds. Think of the Slave State in the same way you’d regard the allegory of the cave. There are three stages; imprisonment in one world, freedom from it, and then further imprisonment in a new world, and there can be absolutely no escape from that world. The Slave State isn’t so far removed from this reality. It gets as dark as charcoal the deeper you delve into it, it just depends how far you’re willing to go really. Which is exactly what you’ll have to do. People should enjoy these tales of humanities enslavement though. There’s a lot of truth and pathos in there that can provide you with a unique perspective on life. More often than not, things only get light again when circumstances are seemingly at their darkest.

(Editor Chris Kelso)
Kate, what was it about Chris's concept that intrigued you so the project was green-lit by Ominium Gatherum?
I first encountered the idea of Slave State in Chris' The Black Dog Eats the City and when he told me he invited other writers to explore the world he'd created I was excited to see how the world would expand. I wasn't disappointed. Wire City, Spittle, Ersatz and the rest are even more vivid than before. I feel like I could hop on a plane and visit. Although maybe it's a place I should just read about...

Chris, you built the world and then invited others to share in your lunatic vision.  This must have been an eye-opening experience, seeing other writers interpreting that vision, right?
It was truly wonderful. I didn’t expect to get so many submissions. I actually predicted that no one would have a bloody clue about the books or their history and I figured that the writers I sought out for solicited submissions would give me a polite refusal. Neither of these things happened. The first timers in the book wrote with frustration and bite, like pissed off teenagers seeking to foment revolution. I could feel them eagerly articulating and projecting their own personal Slave State fables. It was even more wonderful when writers I admired sent in stories rooted in my creation. Everyone really seemed to get what the Slave State books were all about and took the mythos to places I could never have reached alone. The entire legacy of the Slave State has been strengthened tenfold because of these writers’ contributions. 

(Publisher Kate Jonez)
Kate, in addition to being the anthology's publisher, you're also a successful writer.  You know story.  What are some of the surprises you enjoyed from helming this project in terms of the submissions?
 I was impressed by how well this anthology brings together such a diversity of stories and illustrations while still adhering to the Slave State theme. The quality of the writing from story to story is exceptional. The emotional tone varies from horror, to abject misery, to melancholy and, surprisingly, even hopefulness. Each story can stand alone, but also does its part to add another piece to the whole. 

Chris, you hand-selected the authors who appear in the Table of Contents.  How and why did you approach the scribes that you did?
Well, you know, I selected some of the writers. There are a few people in there who merely responded to the sub call on my website -- stories from Shane Swank, James Sposato, Love Kolle, Roger Lovelace, Mitchel Rose, Ian Welke and Clive Tern were unexpected blessings, all talented writers who have gained a new admirer (Shane Swank also happens to be an amazing artist and supplied some beautiful interior art for the anthology). The writers I handpicked were chosen purely because I loved their stuff. There are some incredible pros in the table of contents, it’s still a bit surreal to scan the final line-up. I’ve appreciated people like John Langan, Gary Shipley, Andrew Hook and Kris Saknussemm from afar for a while. It took guts to approach them and ask for fiction donations. I got some great verse from Seb Doubinsky, who I was initially just a fan-boy for, but who has since become a valued friend. As for the others, well…. Much like yourself Greg, Andrew Coulthard, Richard Thomas and Rhys Hughes -- all fine examples of those seasoned genre authors who are just fucking addicted to writing, so I figured you guys would definitely be up for sending something in and I knew the standard would be really high. You were my safest bets, the willing and profoundly gifted.  Mary Turzillo’s short fiction has always impressed me and, I mean, getting a submission from a Nebula winner is always a boon, isn’t it? I felt like she was one of the marquee signings. She didn’t disappoint! Laura Lee Bahr, Spike Marlowe and Violet LeVoit are my three favourite bizarro writers -- PERIOD. I had to get them in there. I’ve worked with writers and artists like Hal, Terence, Preston, Gio and Michael Faun on a few occasions now and am always keen to get them involved in projects because they’re so talented and versatile. Same goes for big John Palisano. In fact, he gave me my first break by publishing ‘A Message from the Slave State’ through Western Legends, and apart from being a multi-award nominated author and screenwriter, I felt John was as important a part of the mythos as anyone. I guess he’s to blame….I always considered Simon Marshall-Jones’s Spectral Press to be one of the best horror imprints out there. He’d expressed his fiction writing desires on Facebook a few times and I thought it might be interesting to test the water there, fortunately his fiction is also brilliant. When it came to finding home-grown flair I didn’t have to look much further than the Slave State template of Glasgow for writers. Sometimes I help out with a local event there called the Speculative Bookshop, which is where I met Mick Clocherty, Phil Differ and Dale McMullen (and subsequently became acquainted with artist Dario D’Alatri and collaborators Tony Yannick and Warren Beckett). I know most of those guys personally and we’re all pretty like-minded. I consider them gifted artists in their own right too. I was always going to seek subs from my Speculative Bookshop buddies. Finally, I wanted this book to be fully illustrated and Soussherpa Art (Robert Baumer) really caught my eye on Facebook. His depiction of the miners toiling in their enclaves was absolutely perfect. I was lucky to get so much talent involved, yourself included. 

Kate, there's talk of a potential follow-up to the anthology. What's next for the Slave State -- and for Omnium Gatherum? 
I'm looking forward to publishing more tales from the Slave State. This summer Omnium Gatherum will be publishing Wire and Spittle by Chris Kelso. This is a companion novella to Slave Stories about inner city anarcho punks and their last gig before the eventual annihilation of the state. I hear Chris has plans for other works set in the Slave State. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next. As for Omnium Gatherum, we are growing fast. This year we'll be publishing 14 books from fabulously talented authors. I'd love to invite your readers to sign up for our readers club. http://www.omniumgatherumbooks.com/club/  We're about to unveil a preferred reader program that will give people an opportunity to receive books in advance of publication. Even greater things are coming in 2016 as we add new employees and explore opportunities opening up for innovation in small press publishing.

Friday, May 8, 2015

BEHOLD: SCI PHI JOURNAL #5

Last summer, I woke from one of those haunting dreams that left invisible ice over my flesh, and an ache in my heart.  In the dream, I learned that a friend of mine who died in a terrible car accident soon after the summer I turned eighteen had been brought back -- his parents had won the right in a government-sponsored lottery years earlier, but had kept their second chance on the q-t.  By the time I met this incarnation of my friend in the dream, he was a teenager, pretty much the age I last knew him in the real world leading up to the accident.  I woke up the next morning to welcome our wonderful weekend house guests, those fabulous Sisters Dent (both are world-published authors, great friends, and forces to be reckoned with; Karen, as I often like to point out, was once a successful actor who appeared on my late, beloved soap, One Life to Live).  As is usual for one of those weekends spent with two of my favorite friends and writers, we ate a spectacular lunch, filled our coffee cups, and settled in the living room to write and read from our latest projects. From the moment I put pen to page, the story based upon that eerie, bittersweet dream dashed itself off, pretty much in the order I experienced it.  The story went out to Jason Rennie, publisher of the spectacular magazine Sci Phi Journal.  Late on a Saturday night, during a break from whatever movie we were watching on the living room flat-screen, I sauntered into the Writing Room to check emails and found that 'George the Second' had been accepted into Issue #5.  The issue was just released, and contains work by amazing writers and artists, many of whom were kind enough to share the back-stories behind their contributions.

Roy Gray on "Why We Are Here" (Article): "New Scientist, 20 April 2006 issue contained Amanda Gefter’s piece 'Exploring Stephen Hawking's Flexiverse'.  Quoting from that, ‘The real lesson of these so-called singularity theorems is that the origin of the universe is a quantum event.’ My article started there.  It set me thinking that assuming the act of observation is crucial to quantum phenomena we, humanity, could be the observers. But we are here and now and the singularity that birthed our universe was then. I likened that moment as a version of Schrodinger's cat (a cat isolated in a box lives or dies by a quantum event) and our stargazing as opening the 'box or boxes' and so slowly closing in on the singularity. That led me to wonder if our future activities, using more advanced technology, have opened boxes. This suggested a variety of possibilities so I wrote the article but had no idea what to do with it. I even turned the result into poem but, as I’m a less than competent poet, no one was interested. I have read it out at a few SF conventions but probably bemused my audience."

Jeffrey A. Corkern on "On Emotion Drugs" (Article): "Is it possible to prove the existence of the soul using purely scientific methods, cold, objective logic and reason? Yes. Quite easily. In Sci Phi Journal #4, Jeffrey A. Corkern, in ‘On the Sentient Constraints of a Sentient-Containing Universe,’ explained why the existence of sentients in a Universe must be eternal, asked if analysis of human behavior would show at its rock-bottom the assumption of eternal existence, and urged the immediate commencement of a scientific effort to build a soul-detector. In Sci Phi Journal #5, in ‘On Emotion Drugs’, he shows this assumption clearly exists at the societal level, how the universal societal prohibition against emotion drugs has as its founding assumption the idea our existence is permanent and eternal. As a matter of logic, the entire problem turns out to be completely trivial. So completely trivial, in fact, any reader will be able to follow the logic for himself or herself and decide whether or not Mr. Corkern is right in urging the immediate commencement of a scientific effort to build a soul-detector -- or not. He guarantees you an interesting read."


(Artist Cat Leonard's beautiful artwork for 'George the
Second')
L. Jagi Lamplighter on "HMS Mangled Treasure: The Rescue of Mister Spaghetti" (Fiction): "My story takes place in the background of my Prospero’s Daughter series. (Mab, the supernatural detective, is a character in that series.) I originally wrote it for a Bad Ass Faeries Anthology.  When the time came to contribute, I didn't really feel like writing anything, but I sat down and prayed about it. The idea for this story came to me, and it made me cry. I figured any story that made me cry, I should probably write. It was hard to write, in a way, because it posited things that made me uncomfortable. I thought someone was going to complain fiercely about what the story says about autistic children...but to date, no one has. Sammy, the main character’s son, is based in a large part on a friend of my son. But the incident where Sammy peed on the neighbor’s doorstep was taken from the annals of actual family events -- though I am happy to say that, in my case, the neighbor forgave us."

Scott Chaddon on "The Great Teacher" (Fiction): "Years ago I spent a lot of time contemplating God's purpose for this world. In college I majored in art and minored in theater and learned that perfection of form never happened in a first attempt. I applied this understanding in forming one potential explanation as to why this world was so messed up. In all honesty the planet itself was perfect and it was mankind that was so terribly flawed. Humanity has a disturbing tendency to destroy everything it touches, including itself. Along this line of thinking I derived the theory that our world was a sketch, a rehearsal if you will, for God to realize every possible flaw and error in it's design so that it could use this experience to create a perfect people for a world. A world where the people lived, loved, created and did not destroy. It was from contemplation of this idea that my story was created."

Anthony Marchetta on "The Philosophy of Serenity" (Article): "‘The Philosophy of Serenity’ was originally an article I wrote pretty much for my own amusement called ‘Serenity: A Philosophical Review’. I wrote it right after I finished the movie Serenity for the third time (since then I’ve seen it at least once, maybe twice, more). I am a huge, slobbering C.S. Lewis fan, and when I watched the movie it struck me that Whedon, virulent atheist that he is, was making a pretty massive concession to the theistic side of the Great Debate.  Essentially, through the characters of Mal and Book, Whedon was admitting that, taken to its logical conclusion, atheism leads to complete despair. He even goes as far to say that it’s better to believe in literally ANYTHING than nothing at all. And C.S. Lewis said much the same thing in the climax of his novel The Silver Chair. Think about how blasphemous of an idea it is, in the modern world, to admit that it’s better to believe in a lie than to believe in nothing. It’s remarkable Whedon managed to get away with it without being publicly drawn and quartered."

Ben Zwycky on "Beyond the Mist" (Serialized Fiction): "Beyond the Mist -- a serial that began in Issue 2 and is still ongoing -- is a story of a man beginning with absolutely nothing: no possessions, no memories of who he is or how he came to be here, no reference point to be able to tell where he is or what is happening, no knowledge of the wider world, and not even solid ground to stand on; he is falling (or is it flying?) through an endless mist. One voice informs him that the mist is the last refuge of freedom from a world full of suffering and slavery; another that it is a self-imposed prison in a world full of beauty and adventure. Which should he believe? He makes his choice, and then things get interesting."

Patrick Baker on "Civic Militarism and Heinlein's Starship Troopers" (Article): "I am a part-time military historian, and I was working on an article on the history of civic militarism in the West.  Civic militarism is the idea that active citizenship is a transactional relationship between the nation and citizen.  In short, the concept is that a free citizen joins in the military forces of their country to fight and defend it; in return the citizen is recognized as a fully participating member of the body politic.  The thought occurred to me that the so-called 'Heinlein Rule' from Starship Troopers, where only military veterans are allowed to vote and  hold office, was the logical extension of civic militarism.  At the same time, I had to address the various objections to the idea, such as that it is fascist, racist, sexist, and so on. The article also gave me the chance to write about my favorite book, Starship Troopers.  So win-win."

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Death's Realm Blog Tour: On Death and Dying

When the fine folks at Grey Matter Press asked me to hop on the tour hearse to help promote the spectacular anthology Death's Realm containing my short historical tale set on the Titanic"Drowning", I paid for my ticket and grabbed my seat before realizing all this would entail: the introspection of envisioning and facing my own death.  There's a great chestnut about not pulling too hard on one thread, for fear of the rest of the tapestry unraveling.  But the concepts of death and dying are subjects I've covered in my writing career from the very beginning, and lately they've closely dogged me from over my shoulder, like Edgar Allen Poe's chatty raven. You see, in twenty-one days worth of time, a smattering of hours, a handful of minutes, I will have reached my fiftieth year on Spaceship Earth. Writing has always kept me feeling young, upbeat, and alive, my version of Dorian Gray's portrait or Ponce de Leon's fountain of youth.  But I'll admit it: even my inner child, who picked up the pen one overcast, muggy July night in 1980 and was forever changed by the possibilities contained within a magical potion of ink and imagination, is now grown aware of his mortality.  I am closer to the end of my life than its beginning, despite feeling (and often acting) like a kid.

If I could somehow communicate with the me that used to be, that fifteen-year-old who was lost and miserable, who started living inside himself (like in the great old Gino Vannelli classic from that long lost era), and tell him of the many joys and accomplishments he would know as a result of his writing, it might unleash a paradox -- and cause him to faint dead away of a heart attack.  That he would stand beside the Bridge set of the Starship Voyager (not on it -- signs were posted to keep out when the cameras weren't filming, because the producers didn't want soles tracking in muck across the pristine carpeting), or take to the dance floor in Los Angeles on the all-important night of September the 13th, 1999, with the cast of his beloved Space:1999, the show that first inspired him to take a stab at writing through original fan fiction, those ancient longhand drafts penned on lined school paper still archived in his future self's file cabinets alongside shooting scripts and over 1100 original fiction manuscripts. Not one but two cabinets containing his archives of published work. So many other instances.  All as a result of finding the one thing, the only thing, he ever wanted to do with his life. And doing it. There's no way that version of me could survive the shock of such knowledge, of knowing how happy and fulfilled his life would be.

It's been better than a good life.  It's been great, and I don't want to die.  Despite losing my grandfather, both grandmothers, a friend in high school who was the victim of an automobile accident, my mother from cancer at an age far too young (any age is the wrong number when your mom was as cool as mine), one great dog, five beloved cats, and various celebrity icons from my boyhood over the course of my near-fifty years, I want to live at least for another hundred -- albeit with new teeth and considerably less arthritis, especially in my right hip.  I know it sounds impossibly greedy, especially when you factor in the temporary nature of life and the randomness of living it to potential. There's a reason we age and pass beyond the pale.  But that's no comfort, not when I have so many stories within me left to write, like Scheherazade seeking to keep head attached to shoulder by telling tales in the face of death.

When asked to blog about about this subject nature, I was inspired to opt for a direct, personal approach: how I imagined my own end as playing out.  In my twenties, I joked about choking on a boneless spare rib after stuffing my face full of Chinese food between sweaty adventures with a dozen Major League Baseball jocks (this, long before I settled down with my partner of now-thirteen years, and landed my butt in this very seat in our happy home on the hill).  A decade ago, I remarked after attending a writers' group that I'd likely buy it from a shiv in the parking lot following the meeting, thanks to some disgruntled fellow scribe who didn't approve of what I wrote (today, I moderate one of the most amazing writing groups on the planet, and am more likely to code as a result of an overdose of laughter and enlightenment in the company of my many talented writer friends).  In the final reckoning however -- whether it's a hundred years away or creeping down from the woods in my backyard even as I type these words -- I hope the script reads something like this:

FADE IN:

EXT. OLD NEW ENGLANDER – NIGHT

A house on a bluff, illuminated by a lone streetlamp outside and lights inside the house, including a necklace of blue and white Christmas strands strung around the two windows of a home office.  NOTE: Houses can be forlorn or happy places.  This old soul seems happy, judging by its appearance.

INT. OLD NEW ENGLANDER – NIGHT

A foyer, painted indigo-blue.  To the right is a living room with a pomegranate accent wall.  To the left, the office room glimpsed from outside: painted beach-blue and filled with books, artwork and family photos, a desk.  Seated at the desk is an OLD MAN (THE WRITER) who feverishly runs a fountain pen across a notepad.

                         THE WRITER (VOICE OVER)
                 Ancient hands, so weak and old,
               hasten to the task.  Tell the
               tale that must be told, this is
               all I ask…

The Writer writes with haste.  He tears off a page, fills another, and another after that.  All of the pages form a neat stack on the desk.

The Writer’s pen stills.  We look down to see he has written THE END at the bottom.  Silence as he ponders the finished draft of the manuscript.  Then, he tears the last page from the notepad and assembles the sheets in proper order.  The manuscript goes into a decorative file folder labeled: THE FINAL STORY.

The Writer stands, gives one last bittersweet look around the room, and shuts off the lights.

EXT. OLD NEW ENGLANDER – NIGHT

The blue and white Christmas lights go dark.  As they do, a SHADOWY FIGURE approaches the front door. 

INT. OLD NEW ENGLANDER – NIGHT

The Writer crosses the foyer and climbs the stairs, which CREAK beneath his steps.  The Shadowy Figure follows him up and around the banister, making no noise, to a bedroom with crimson curtains and a big bed.

The Writer prepares to close the door.  As the door shuts, we see the Shadowy Figure in the room, standing behind him.

The door SHUTS.

                         THE WRITER
                    (through door)
               Now I’m ready.


                                                  FADE OUT.


My dear friend and colleague, Martin Rose, whose brilliant story ‘Mirrorworld’ shares space between the covers in Death’s Realm, was bold enough to also share his thoughts on the moment of his final heartbeat:  “I've had my future predicted for me, which is another story for a dark and stormy night, but I've got reason to believe I'm going to live to be very old, and then I'll probably pass away from the usual ailments of old age. Hardening heart, pneumonia, infection. Not very spectacular, is it? We'll die, and it won't be noteworthy, or excite interest, and we'll be missed for all of five seconds, and then easily forgotten. That's a component of Jude in ‘Mirrorworld,’ to show life can be disappointing, we aren't guaranteed happy endings. Working, getting through life, suffering. Then it's over. There's no bright lights, no manual for the deceased, no great epiphany, no illusion of endless love. All you have is everything within your mind, and if you believe in reincarnation, you can't even take the memories with you. But you'll do it, over and over again. Go into the gentle night angry, you'll come back angry. Go into it a trivial fool, you'll come back out a fool. Letting go of regrets and discrimination is the best advice I can give anyone before they go to meet their final appointment. It is how I will meet mine.”

Monday, April 6, 2015

Meet the Luminous and Talented Dan Szczesny

Many blessings of the very cool variety resulted from my July 2013 appearance on New Hampshire Chronicle, not the least of which being that my writing career was documented by the big lifestyle TV show and broadcast across the entire state and well past its borders. A filmmaker tuning in hired me to write the screenplay to a feature film that now inches ever closer to release, and I made many excellent friends thanks to my brief time in the spotlight. Among those amazing friends is Dan Szczesny, a talented and committed writer from my old home region in the southern part of New Hampshire who saw the episode and then sought me out.  Dan made the effort to join us and writers' group friends for dinner on a blustery, brisk January Sunday two winters past -- and when his car was unable to scale the snowy hill where our house is located, he simply put the considerable hiking skills to use that once led him all the way up to the base camp on Mount Everest.  He's since become a vital, energetic, and welcome figure among our writers' group and its extended family, and one of my favorite authors.

Dan's new collection of short fiction, Sing, and Other Short Stories, was just released by Hobblebush Books.  It was my pleasure to sit down and speak with Dan about his amazing writing career.

Dan, share with us your literary background.
Believe it or not, my first full time job in writing was building obituaries for a local newspaper in Washington, Pennsylvania. I say building because the way it worked was as more of an assembly line. I'd get a sheet of information from the family -- name, age, work, survivors -- and have to put together the obit out of that. And sometimes the information was so horrible, or boring, that I'd try to dress it up with clearly inappropriate adjectives: John Smith was an ‘excruciatingly detailed’ mathematician, that sort of thing. I didn't last long at that job. But before that, my career started in Buffalo with a degree in English Literature. The first short story I ever had published appeared in 1991 in The Buffalo Spree. I'm proud to say that the story, ‘Blue Lady’ has been reprinted in my newest book, Sing and Other Short Stories. Like all writers, I had to pay the bills, so I started off on a career as a reporter, then editor, then publisher. I've written for newspapers and magazines around the country in Buffalo, Philadelphia, New Jersey and all over New England. Some that your readers might be familiar with include Pennsylvania Magazine, The National Catholic Register, Huffington Post, Good Men Project, Yahoo Parenting, and closer to home, the Union Leader where I was a reporter for two years. Since 2001, I've been Associate Publisher of The Hippo, now New Hampshire's largest newspaper. About three years ago I took a six- month sabbatical from The Hippo to write my first book, The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie. The book details my one-year hiking journey with my foster daughter bonding in the White Mountains. But when the time came to go back, I decided to set off on a life of book writing instead and I haven't looked back!

Please talk about Sing -- share with us the destinations readers will travel to and the people they’ll meet between the story collection’s covers.
I'm so excited about this new book! First, it's my first full-length volume of fiction. My first two books are narrative non-fiction. Second, the ten stories included in the book span my entire career, from 1991 to 2014 so it really gives the reader a peek at the full development of my life and interests as a writer.  Some of the stories were updated slightly for the new collection.  I'm a child of a blue collar family and grew up in a little town just outside Buffalo. My interests then and now have revolved around the choices made by or sometimes for ordinary people and how they respond to what I call their moment of epic choice. If you're affluent or poor, life choices are often givens. But for those of us in the middle, I've been fascinated by the single instance in someone's life where they can excel and better their lives, or fail and destroy it.  Survival after a plane crash. Appearing on national television. Choosing career over relationship. Recommitting to an estranged parent. Taking an incredible risk for love. All these potential outcomes are explored in the ten stories, and the stories themselves take place over time and space -- from 1930s South Dakota to 1980s Manchester to present day Alaska. Readers will meet a rancher desperate to hold back modern life, a plucky teenager given the chance to prove her worth to a national audience, a woman desperate to find her way back to her father's good graces, and a young man so in love with the girl of his dreams that he's willing to risk his life and face his greatest fear.

You not only participate in but also run multiple writing groups. Please talk about that.
What can I say, I'm a glutton for pain and frustration! I've been a member off and on of writing groups my whole life and often times, they can turn into social clubs. Nothing wrong with that, but not for me. I don't care what your ideology is, how old or experienced you are or what you write. All I want out of a writing group is that you produce and that you work hard to publish. Which is why I've been so thrilled by the groups I'm honored to be in now. Or at least in the case of The Berlin Writers’ Group, I love being an honorary member. I'm also a member of an occasional group out of Derry called Spaghetti and Writers. Both groups are filled with prolific creatives that work their butts off to produce, improve and publish and I love that!  I am also the moderator of The Blank Page, the writing group of the Goffstown Public Library. The librarian there asked me to take over after the last couple moderators fell through and I was happy to step in. My role there is basically to keep them focused and writing and set meeting times. But I try to be proactive by setting an example and by being encouraging. And that leads us to the next question!

You were one of my 2014 National Novel Writing Month buddies, and I had the pleasure of joining you for a write-in at our local library. What was that experience like for you, and do you plan to repeat it in November of 2015?
That was my first shot at NaNo and I'm proud to say I won! Haha! I finished a 50,000-word mystery novel called The Ballad of the Lost River Hog. To be honest, I have always dismissed NaNo as little more than a publicity stunt, but I wanted to use the challenge as a way to inspire my Blank Page comrades, to show them that it's possible to write every day. And I surprised myself by getting it done. Further, the challenge jump-started my own writing and pushed me to a new level.  Look, that whole myth about getting up every day and writing that the good people at NaNo push is, to go blue on you for a moment, bullshit. No other industry demands and pushes the idea of working EVERY SINGLE DAY! That's nonsense. Doctors don't perform surgery every day. Garbage men don't collect garbage every day. Where the heck has this idea come from that in order to be successful writers we have to force words out of our brain seven days a week? So screw that. That said, some writers enjoy that sort of schedule. I would go insane. But NaNo showed me that I can produce at a higher level then I had thought possible and that's been so important ever since! And I loved doing the write-in with you. In fact, I was so inspired, I took it to my Blank Page group and we had two write-ins at Goffstown. Then I sat down with my foster daughter for a write-in at our house. I love the idea of just sitting across from another writer and shutting out the world and getting down to the business of writing together. So, you bet I'll give it another go this November!

Can you talk about the course you’ll be teaching in June?
So, this workshop I have in mind is not scheduled yet. I'll let you know when it is. But basically, I want to call it “It's not magic, it's a job.”  Have you ever heard these things about writers; they hear voices in their heads, they are flighty and everything is a story, a muse speaks to them, they wake up in the middle of the night with ideas that must be written down. None of this happens to me. Ever, literally, ever. I don't sit at my computer and wait for my muse to alight on my shoulder and whisper the proper plot twist into my ear. Writing to me is a brutal grind, a sort of deep psychic punishment that involves slow, meticulous effort and practice and dedication. It's a job. It's a job that has been crafted and molded in my brain over the course of two decades. When an idea comes to me, it doesn't arrive via winged messenger. It arrives because I've been doing this all my life and I know what plot structure, and dialogue, and red herrings, and character development actually means. And I don't say that to brag, but rather as an illustration of the fact that writers draw on education and learning and experience, just like any crafts-person would. Listen, I don't mean to crush any romantic images -- oh, heck, yes I do. Wait for the muse at your own peril. Instead, sit down and fucking write.  And another thing, writers as a collective community suffer badly from a problem of image and perception. Stop reading this right now and Google ‘writer.’ Go ahead I'll wait. Now look at the images. Typewriter, ink well, pad of paper, another typewriter, typewriter key, picture of some 16th Century fop day-dreaming with his quill. Now Google ‘doctor.’ Yeah, see the difference? No pictures of 18th Century medicine men about to apply leeches are there?  Our profession is stopped in time, someplace about 1950. In order to be taken seriously, in order for people to understand what we do in terms of a professional industry, we need to break out of the mythology of the romantic writer, holed up in earthy writing room, banging away at a typewriter, drinking bourbon. Because you know what else goes along with those archaic images? Being poor. Do you think any of those doctors you just looked up are going to work for free, or for a positive Tweet? Nope. And either should we. But to do that, we need to at least pretend to stop acting like starving artists. Then maybe the compensation will follow.

(Dan's snapshot that inspired "Little Warrior", the collection's
opening short story)
What adventures in literature and in life are next for you?
So much! First, I've been tapped by Plaidswede Books as the editor of their newest short story collection, Murder in the New England Newsroom. That will be a crime noir collection of fiction revolving around the theme of the newsroom. The deadline for stories is June 1 and anyone looking for more information can email me. Second, I've gotten a couple agent bites to look at Ballad of the Lost River Hog. I'm developing that as a series and I'm currently editing furiously to get it ready for agencies.  Third, I've been given the green light on a new book, tentatively titled Pass the Corn Pudding, which will be a non-fiction narrative history of the Northern New England Pot Luck. Finally, I'm touring all this year in support of all three of my books. You can find a full schedule of where I'll be at my website.   All that said, the greatest adventure, by far, of my life began on December 30, 2014 when my baby girl, Uma, was born. And her presence in my life has driven me to nearly obsessive heights of inspiration and determination in my craft. I write now always with her in my mind. I have found ways to streamline my day-to-day writing process, to be more efficient with time and resources. There are so many books I want to read to her. There are so many books I want to write for her. I won't have time for them all, but I'm going to try!

Friday, March 27, 2015

BEHOLD: IT'S A GRIMM LIFE

At the end of summer in 2013, I took a long weekend to nest, write, and recover -- I'd had surgery, uprooted my family after buying a house far from all that was familiar, and we'd lost one of our clan, the famous rescue cat Chicken, whose passing left us all feeling as though our hearts had been ripped out of our chests.  During those Three Days of Heaven in Xanadu, I sipped coffee, took walks, read books, and wrote like a dervish. One of the stories completed during the surge was a modern, creepy retelling of the classic Grimm's fable, "Thumbling".  The gist of that particular tale involves a childless couple who wish themselves into having a baby -- a tiny child that rides around in the ear of their horse, among its other adventures.  I'd always found this fable unnerving, and already had put down a page or so about a woman who is part of a circle of social knitters who finds herself mired in shadows after one of the group announces that she and her husband are expecting a baby. The first draft of "Thumbling" dashed itself off over the course of the weekend, completed on my sun porch, a place that has become my al fresco office during the five months of the year when our new town isn't frozen solid and a vast, white wasteland. This past summer, the story's longhand draft came out of the file cabinet and was edited on my laptop during a spectacular August weekend visit from my good friends, those literary geniuses, the Sisters Dent -- I'd read a call for spooky, modern takes on the classics by the fine folks at Tacitus Publishing. I sent off "Thumbling" and, on its first time out, Editor James S. Austin (who also created the amazing cover and interior art) accepted it into the project, the wonderful It's a Grimm Life.

"As a small publisher looking for the proper start, I felt the need to launch a project that embodies Tacitus Publishing's desire to promote writing and writers.  Anthologies are one of the best opportunities for writers, both practiced and new, to get a piece published.  They give a writer the chance to explore new concepts and experiment with a different voice while not having to feel the pressure of writing a story that must appeal to a broad audience," says Austin.  "I have always been fascinated by the assorted stories from past cultures, especially the Grimms’ collection of fairy tales.  It was during my college studies in anthropology, which included an examination of folklore and oral traditions, when I came to appreciate their influence on the literary world.  Their simple but moralistic plot-threads are still alive in popular film and television today.  It’s a Grimm Life offers the reader a chance to once again enter these past fables but through a new perspective and in a modern setting."

Many of my fellow It's A Grimm Life authors shared the back-stories behind their stories.

E.M. Eastick on "Fiddler's Green":  "My house is full of musical instruments: a piano; a guitar; an accordion and clarinet, neither of which I can play with any elegance; a variety of whistles, and a funny-looking mini-violin made from chunky wood and screechy strings, which I purchased on the streets of Katmandu just to stop the guy from playing it in my ear (an effective marketing strategy, it would seem). It's not surprising, then, that I should choose the Grimms' fairy tale about a singing bone for my modern-day retelling. The character of Stephen and his tragic pursuit of greatness were inspired by my mother: whenever I got to thinking I was the universal champion of [fill in the activity], my mother would gently remind me, 'No matter how good you are at something, there will always be someone in the world who's better.' Tough love, perhaps, but, so far, it's managed to keep me grounded and out of prison."

Jessamy Corob Cook on "The Wicked Stepmother":  "When the Disney film Tangled came out my roommate at the time admitted she didn't know the Grimm's version of ‘Rapunzel.’ Shocking! I set out to do my bit for humanity -- I found the story online and read it aloud to her. As I read I realized that what made this such a dark and unsettling story was not the prince getting his eyes scratched out (though Disney did leave that out of Tangled) but the fact that all the witch's evil deeds have love at their core. She can't bear to see Rapunzel grow up and become a woman, and will do anything to keep that from happening. She wants Rapunzel all to herself -- even though Rapunzel was not her daughter to begin with. Part of why I love fairy tales is because they are able to pierce the darkest depths of human experiences, including the dark side of love, and specifically, in this case, motherly love. For the record I think Tangled is great, but it's only one of infinite possible retellings of this story: as is the Grimm's story; as is mine."

(James Austin's original artwork for my story, "Thumbling")
Richard Tasonmart on "Where the Damned Go":  "I had the pleasure of working in a bookshop once.  It was a nice job, until the man with the French horn started coming along every lunch time and made three hours of every working day a living, brassy hell. He started to gather small crowds, this man. Most of them weren't loving his take on 'Wonderwall' and "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain' -- they were just amazed by his nerve. Some workers in an office above where French Horn Man liked to play complained to the local press about his music disturbing their work.  A legend was born.  Soon his crowds were huge.  Everyone wanted to come and see this nuisance in the flesh.  I watched from a window of the bookshop.  Being the horror-loving man that I am, I imagined the whole town coming to see him, jeering and telling him to shut up.  Only then he'd turn into a dragon, and incinerate them with his breath, or take them all into his giant jaws and gulp them down before moving on to the next miserable place.  Of course, in this scenario I was immune, and watched the whole thing from inside the bookshop, horrified.  The reason I was immune was because I wouldn't be able to hear the horn for some reason.  This was the first spark of 'Where the Damned Go'.  Afterwards, it was simply a matter of determining where my Hamelin was, and what debt had to be paid.  As a writer who always follows his sparks, I find myself more often than not contemplating my Hamelins and my debts.  Work these out, and I usually have a story."

Adrean Messmer on "Waxwing":  "I’ve always loved the Juniper Tree. It was the first of the Grimm stories to make me realize that fairy tales were not exactly intended for children. From the stepmother trying to pin the death on her daughter, to feeding the murdered child to his own father for dinner, there was some twisted stuff going on. It’s such an overlooked story and super creepy. I’d been playing around with the retelling for a while. I wanted to keep it just as disturbing without rehashing the same plot elements. And I wanted to focus on some of the issues that people face today. Self-mutilation, suicide, child abuse, and zombie birds. You know, just every day kind of stuff."

Zoe McAuley on "Fairy Tale Endings":  "For me, putting things in a modern setting implies facing up to the real consequences of the events in the story, rather than glossing over them. With fairy tales, it's not really necessary to put a dark spin on them -- they're pretty damned dark already if you take a clear look at them. I got thinking about how fairy tales would play out in the real world and quickly concluded that they'd result in some pretty messed-up kids. I wanted to showcase how these kids might end up, the damage done to them -- the trouble was in cutting the number of examples down to a snappy story! But three is always a good fairy tale number. I didn't have the ending when I started; that just clicked partway through writing. It was irresistibly circular."

Victor Hyde on "Kurt & Wolfgang's Final Show":  "I grew up in a small town where people who were nobodies took on quasi-celebrity status: an estate agent, a butcher, a hairdresser that worked in Johannesburg for a month.  One such person was an old man with a hand puppet. He made the rounds at most birthday parties and functions for children with an old hand puppet of a dead-faced boy with wide eyes and a nutcracker’s mouth. Everyone knew of him but nobody really knew him.  His audience was limited to children younger than six. From the faded clothes and rusted car it was clear that these gigs barely paid enough to keep him alive. One day he did not pitch up for a children’s party and a few days later he was found dead in his flat. The flat was home to two hundred hand puppets, some brand new, others ancient, that the old man had surrounded himself with. Yet he only ever used the one puppet. To me there is something of a sad insanity to the story. When It’s a Grimm Life came along, the memory jumped the queue and demanded attention. Kurt and Wolfgang’s Final Show is my answer."

(Tacitus Publisher James. S. Austin)
Carmen Tudor on "Cast Me Adrift on Birdsong and Ash":  "As an Aussie, it can be difficult to sell a non-American setting to an American publisher, and yet those are my favorites; endless Californian or Texan settings don’t really do it for me. My story ‘Cast Me Adrift on Birdsong and Ash’ is set in a small fishing village on the Kent coast. It’s not Dickens’s marshes of Great Expectations, or even anywhere near Australia, but that novel definitely pushed my story in a particular direction. Adding my love of Grimm’s fairytales was an easy addition and the tale of ‘The Fisherman and His Wife’ slotted in alongside the gray skies and smoky chimneys quite nicely. As with most Grimm tales, the endings don’t always inspire happy thoughts. I’m quite fond of letting the reader decide if a story is meant to be as macabre as it seems on first reading, and ‘Cast Me Adrift on Birdsong and Ash’ is no different. Have a read. Let your imagination take you away from California and the American Dream. Bundle up against the cold, salty sea air and take a ride with a talking fish. And if Grimms-style endings don’t work for you, feel free to use your imagination. The fish won’t mind."

Charie D. La Marr on "Snaps":  "‘Snaps’ is a story that is very close to my heart. I started it twenty-eight years ago when I was the new mom of a son named Travis -- on a very boring extended maternity leave. (It was a planned pregnancy!) I had just gotten my first computer, a state-of-the-art Leading Edge and I was using it to write newsletters for my mother’s travel agency. I have been writing stories since I was about six and I decided it was time to learn how to really use the computer to start writing fiction. Somewhere in my former office in the basement in my huge Steelcase desk is the original story on one of those 5-inch floppy discs. Of course I have no way to read that disc so I had to start over. It kind of sat in the back of my head for about twenty-seven years before I finally wrote it again. Yes, I actually counted snaps on more than one occasion. I have a little OCD in me. Okay, a lot. And the numbers in the story were the result of my research. It’s probably a lot different now with onesies and Velcro and stuff like that. But I was a ‘green’ mother who raised my son in cloth diapers and that meant old-fashioned rubber pants. More snaps.  I call this story a dark cyberpunk fairy tale because of the computer connection. Oddly, or maybe not, Travis grew up to be a computer genius before he was seven. When I originally sent the story to James, he suggested I increase the age of the computer genius upstairs. I did, but it gave me a chuckle. Because the original fifth grade genius and hacker actually lives with me. I guess it’s unusual, but in our house it was just normal. Add to that my love of offbeat fairy tales. Growing up, there was only one cartoon show I would watch and that was Rocky and Bullwinkle. And ‘Fractured Fairy Tales’ always cracked me up. I still have a stuffed Fractured Fairy on my bed. The original versions of the Grimm’s tales are just so bad-ass that it is fun to mix them up. And I just loved writing about that little twerp with the bad wardrobe. To me he is pure fairy tale."

Liz Crossland on "Black Rock":  "‘What if’ scenarios can lead to interesting stories. ‘Black Rock’ came out of an MA writing assignment where we were challenged to think of a modern twist on a fairy tale. The character of Rapunzel, hair tumbling down from the highest tower, was worthy of subversion: what if Rapunzel was not so innocent? What if she metaphorically let down her hair?  What if her hair was a weapon, as well as a means of liberation? I set the story in northern England where schoolgirl ‘Rapunzel’ is trapped in a damaging relationship. A strict word limit led to my idea of Rapunzel tweeting for help. So when I heard Tacitus Publishing was commissioning a Grimm anthology, I returned to my manuscript, eager to expand on the plot.  If you’ve ever visited the North Yorkshire moors, you may recognise the isolated setting of the story. Wander the Victorian streets of Whitby and you’ll see shop windows full of jet-black jewellery. The semi-precious stone Whitby Jet is a recurring image in ‘Black Rock’ and, for me, this symbolises the dark heart of the story: the flaws in the disfigured ‘Prince’, the elusive heroine and the obsession she has with her dark motorbike-riding knight."

Monday, March 23, 2015

Scarlet Galleon's Beautiful Monster, DEAD HARVEST

(Bigger than a T-Rex!  Bigger than a Rocket Ship of the XM Variety!)
What's bigger than a breadbasket, as that old saying goes?  Well, okay, Dead Harvest, the gargantuan first-born spawn of Scarlet Galleon Publications, isn't big enough to house a family of four or drive to the supermarket in, but I'd wager you could use it to conk one of the living dead over the head -- though that would require having enough muscle mass to heft it up that high. Dead Harvest weighs in at a quite-monstrous and lovely near-700 pages, and its covers are crammed full of enough amazing stories by many of today's most exciting voices in the Horror genre to last a voracious reader until the next harvest.  My gothic short story, "Uncle Sharlevoix's Epidermis", is one of 50 tales in all, by such horrific household names as James A. Moore, Richard Chizmar, Lori R. Lopez, and Tim Lebbon. Up-and-comers like the brilliant Aaron GudmunsonE. G. Smith, and Patrick Lacey -- writers and friends alike, and some of the most exciting new voices out there -- round out this Who's-who beast of a read.

It was my pleasure to speak with Scarlet Galleon head honcho Mark Parker, the man behind the monster.

Mark, Dead Harvest is a colossus!  Why did you decide to super-size?
A lot of folks have commented on the size of DH, suggesting it could double as a doorstop, free weight, or lethal weapon. In truth, it was never my intention to do such a large anthology. I had the idea for a collection of about two-dozen stories or so. But what came as a surprise to me, was the sheer number of submissions Scarlet Galleon Publications received when the open call went out. I received nearly two hundred stories! Which, of course, made the process of reading them all quite arduous -- but very fulfilling. There was only one story in the bunch I simply would not consider, due to the subject matter. Culling through the stories was somewhat difficult, because I left the anthology un-themed, which is to say, when I titled the book, I was thinking more a harvest of stories, rather than stories with a harvest theme. That being said, it was challenging to put together a nice compliment of stories that would have a true kind of darkness to each of them. But in the end I think we achieved that balance. Readers have embraced the book and have loved the diversity of the stories. In terms of the large number, I found it nearly unbearable to pass on really cool stories simply for the sake of economy. I have learned my lesson, though. I doubt I would ever do such a large anthology in the future. I’m still not rested up from the first one. It was an audaciously daunting task for a first time publisher, to be sure.  

The book contains 50 stories by some pretty big heavy hitters in the modern horror scene.  When you were reading, what were you seeking, and what were some of the pleasant surprises that were accepted from the slush pile?
As a reader, I tend to enjoy stories that are atmospheric in nature. So I suppose that’s what I was looking for when I read through the submissions for DH. Because the book was subtitled, A Collection of Dark Tales, it left the un-themed theme almost too broad. I tend to prefer stories that haunt rather than shock. I’m of the school of Shirley Jackson, who Stephen King himself spoke of as a “woman who never felt the need to raise her voice.” For me that’s what I love in a well-written story. A story-line that sneaks up on you and leaves you with a kind of chill you simply can’t shake. In the stories that were finally selected for the book, I think each one imbues a kind of lingering chill, which was what I was looking for. In terms of what some of the ‘pleasant surprises’ were along the way, what surprised me most I suppose, was the affinity folks felt for the project from the start. The fact that DH attracted some of the biggest names in horror, still causes me to stop and pinch myself from time to time. That the book was graciously featured in the pages of Cemetery Dance magazine -- and is still selling in a limited number of signed copies by Richard Chizmar (Cemetery Dance’s founder) and his son, Billy, who both have stories in the book -- continues to make my head swim with disbelief. I’ve been reading the pages of Cemetery Dance since I was teen. To think that some of the industry’s largest, most well-respected writers are involved in SGP’s inaugural publication, is one of the greatest joys of my life, both personally and professionally. 

(Publisher Mark Parker)
In addition to running Scarlet Galleon Publications, which debuted with an amazing first book in DH, you’re also a writer with a pretty decent resume.  What are you presently writing?
Regarding my own writing, I currently have seven short stories to my credit. Biology of Blood, Lucky You, Way of the Witch, Halloween Night, and Banshee’s Cry. My first professional sale was a story titled The Scarlet Galleon, included in the anthology Wrapped in Red -- Thirteen Tales of Vampiric Horror by Sekhmet Press. And this year I wrote a longish story Killing Christmas that was published in the anthology for charity Return to Deathlehem through Grinning Skull Press. At present I’m finishing up a ‘50’s inspired B-Movie-style alien encounter story titled Eye in the Sky. Then I will dive into writing my full-length horror novel The Glowing. And then perhaps a collection of stories titled Dining with the Devil. I’m also planning to expand and republish some of the earlier stories that readers have all stated they’d wished were longer.  

What’s next for Scarlet Galleon Publications?
The next project planned for SGP will be Fearful Fathoms – Collected Tales of Aquatic Terror. Then the second volume in the Dead Harvest series.  

Friday, March 20, 2015

North Meets South Part II

(With, from left to right, writers Esther M. Leiper-Estabrooks, Karen Dent,
and Dan Szczesny)
Last March, members of my brilliant Berlin Writers' Group, which gathers every Tuesday night in this frozen, remote corner of the planet, traveled down state to meet with members of my equally-brilliant Southern New Hampshire writers' group, which I left when we bought our house 150-plus miles away. The event known as North Meets South was a smashing success, held at a restaurant located at the halfway point between both groups, whose members started to interact and form friendships through the Sunday salons and parties held up here following our big move.  This time around, BWG agreed that it was only fair to honor the effort routinely put forth by the southern gang, who always travel up here to hang out, write, dine, and celebrate the literary life, so we traveled to Milford, New Hampshire, where my small family used to live and where so many gatherings were held in our former apartment. And I knew the exact, perfect place where twenty or more scribes could spend an afternoon dining and sharing pages for the read-aloud portion of the fun.

In early 2012, the Saki House Restaurant opened in Milford.  We received a menu in the mail that winter, right before my adventure to New York City.  I moseyed over the following Tuesday afternoon for the buffet, which is unique in that it's different from your typical set up of steam tables, where you help yourself.  At Saki, you order off the menu -- four selections from an extensive list of offerings, plus soup -- and the food is brought out fresh from the kitchen.  After the first pass, you can order two more selections from the menu, and two more after that, and two more ad infinitum.  My kid sister and I, who made Fridays at Saki House a weekly highlight, never got higher than the 4th Round.

(Writers from North, South, and all points on the map)
I have great memories of Tuesdays at the restaurant, on my own and armed with pen and whatever latest story was presently getting its time front and center, and Fridays with my awesome sister.  I have also commented extensively about the hostile stares cast my way whenever the pen got uncapped and the pages put down -- the food was amazing and ridiculously reasonable, but the waiter always wanted me gone the moment I finished, not lingering around and writing down fresh pages of stories, novellas, and novels.  In my defense, always before I left a very generous tip.  And I never forgot how wonderful it was to have General Tso chicken, dumplings (fried, not steamed), boneless spare ribs, egg rolls, lo mein, hot and sour soup, and other menu choices come out sizzling hot and made to order.

When the notion of repeating last year's fun surfaced in January, I called around to various restaurants.  One famous New Hampshire diner's manager rushed me rudely off the phone, telling me to call back (I didn't).  Another didn't understand what I was inquiring about -- space enough to host a meeting of writers.  One call to Saki House, and the big table at the back of the restaurant was ours.

(With the talented, gorgeous Sisters Dent, Roxanne, l, and Karen, r)
Of course, it had been over two years since I'd set foot in the place, and I only hoped the food was as wonderful as my last visit (it was). Early on Saturday, March 14, a gloomy gray day that threatened to have rotten wintery-mix weather, I rode with three other BWG members down to Milford, through a steady rain.  We drove past our old apartment, source of so many adventures, the real and the imaginary. Curiously, I felt little of the nostalgia I expected -- life at Xanadu is my reality now, and it has been a rich time filled with creativity and joy. From there, it was on to the restaurant where, as soon as we entered, half an hour early, we were joined by Danny Sheehan, one of our poets from up north, and Karen and Roxanne Dent, the brilliant sisters who both write and are widely published (Karen also holds the distinction of appearing on my late, beloved soap, One Life to Live during her acting years in New York City).  Soon, writers began to arrive -- twenty-three party goers total when you add in my friend Doug's daughters.  We ordered meals, and food came out of the kitchen, as luscious and fresh as I recalled.  The hostility from the waitstaff was still there, though meted out in short doses.  And then, one at a time, writers stood up and read from their latest works.  More than once, other diners at tables waved us over, asking who we were and complimenting us on the quality of the unexpected lunchtime entertainment.

North Meets South Part II was another smashing success.  Seventeen of us read. I shared the opening pages of a new short story, "Winterization", which I am writing for consideration in Dan Szczesny's anthology of newsroom noir crime stories, Murder in the Newsroom, and got to enjoy poetry, mysteries, science fiction, gothic horror, a narrative, and work from some of my favorite writers and people.  After saying farewells-for-now, we packed back into the car and drove north, through the rain and into that promised mix of ice and snow.  On the return trip, the going got hairy halfway up the state, near the exit to New Hampshire's lakes region. But once we were in the state's chimney again, the roads were clear, and the adventure concluded. There's been some discussion about doing this again in six months -- up here this time, and down there six months later. And one member was so impressed with the concept and turn out that he's thinking about organizing a statewide day salon for several writing groups, which would be an amazing and fun event, I think. North Meets South II was a delight, and I can't wait for the next opportunity to break bread with members of my two writers' groups:  May 17, at the big birthday bash here at Xanadu to celebrate my 50th year on Spaceship Earth.