Saturday, July 19, 2014

Radio Nights

For the eighth time in my career, I recently took to the airwaves, this time as the special guest on the fantastic Ghostman and Demon Hunter show. Ghostman and Demon Hunter broadcast across a platform that includes 102.7 FM (live) and various venues after the fact.  I went on at just after 8 p.m. EST on Sunday, July 13, a night renown for some fairly bad weather between New York City and New Hampshire.

Ghostman and Demon Hunter (aka the brilliant Shaun Burris and Nathan Drake Schoonover) welcomed me on board to talk about the writing life and my latest literary adventures on a night that grew so humid, it was like walking through neck-deep water.  By afternoon, the sky had darkened to the consistency of dusk, and an apocalyptic rain hammered our fair mountain town.  By eight, I'd closed the windows and turned off the ceiling fan in my Writing Room, so as not to create any noisy feedback when the hosts dialed me in (as stated, I'm old hat at this whole radio coolness!).  Sans fan, the temperature in my home office skyrocketed, and sweat poured. Unseen, mercifully, to listeners, I looked like a refugee from a sauna!

At the other end of the line, massive thunderheads did their best to unleash havoc on the hosts, who put on an impressive weekly broadcast -- my predecessor the previous Sunday was none other than Svengoolie, whose monster movie fest on MeTV is beloved and required Saturday night viewing in our home. With lightning bolts attempting to deafen and frazzle, we discussed the skill of pitching ideas to TV, my work on Star Trek: Voyager, my books like the forthcoming Bugs!The Q Guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse, among others.

(at 94.7 FM's studios in January 2013)
We talked the new feature film I wrote, Brutal Colors (presently in post-production), and my love of creature features -- those wonderful classic monster movies I grew up on, and still often play in the background when I write. And robots, another beloved theme getting plenty of play in my career these past few months. Then, which is always the case when I've taken to the airwaves, I blinked and it was over, the thirty minutes passing with the speed of what felt like seconds. Ghostman and Demon Hunter were gracious hosts and thanked me for my time, promising we'd do it all again somewhere down the road.

When I was a teenager and had freshly discovered this whole writing thing, I listened to the radio at night on a boxy cube console with a record player on top located at the side of my bed. While waiting for my favorite songs to come on, I also looked forward to hearing my favorite radio hosts, who fed my imagination and helped me dream some of the biggest story lines of my life as a result of those nightly soundtracks.  So being on the radio -- three times in 2013 on the stellar 94.7 show hosted by Rob Azevedo, Granite State of Mind, once so far in '14 -- is always a treat, and a reminder of my humble beginnings.  I can't wait for Number Nine!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Freedom!

I've been writing full-time since 1996. Throughout, I've done long stints as feature writer and columnist (fifteen years writing sports/adventure and celebrity articles for the late, great Heartland USA Magazine, among others), notched TV writing gigs, and I've sold novels, short story collections, novellas, and a plethora of short stories, both here and abroad.  After waking up each morning, I quickly mosey to the coffee pot, then vanish into my Writing Room, where I court the Muse.  I live a literary lifestyle that isn't second nature so much as first. Involuntary, like breathing.  I'm prolific. But while deep in a couple of projects that include a new contracted feature film screenplay and a collection of novellas all centered around robots, I started feeling the fatigue that sometimes dogs me.  I needed to catch my breath.

So I woke on a humid June Monday and decided that instead of 'working', I needed to play a little. The previous Sunday, I'd read an enjoyable article on Free Writing, the act of putting pen to page or fingers to keyboard and giving yourself permission to just compose, knowing the results are usually fairly bad and unusable.  The goal is to write without worrying about grammar or making corrections, to get out all the sludge that's in the writer's head so he can move on to the work that matters.  It's a time-honored tradition lauded by such notables as Natalie Goldberg and, after a fashion, Julia Cameron, who extols the writing of 'morning pages'.  The article I'd read suggested a few different approaches to Free Writing, like making word lists and jotting down disparate story prompts, and creating a story from the puzzle pieces.

What I decided to do instead was point my finger at my list of as-yet-unwritten story ideas -- which a few new concepts had been added to, not really fully-formed ideas, not yet -- and dive in, no pressure, no expectations. Within the first two hours, I'd written an entire draft for "Crucifix", based upon one of those concepts without an actual story that had dogged me for months.  After a short break and a walk around our yard, I again put pen to blank page and wrote, in one sitting, "Skylight", another of those concepts, based upon the big skylights in the elegant conference room where my Tuesday Night Writers' group meets.  From the first gathering, I'd wanted to pen a story about the skylight directly over where I sit, and I knew I wanted it to end with the main character gazing up, aware something up there was staring down.  The next day, a Tuesday, I started work on a third quietly creepy concept, and soon had nearly 3,000 words of "Vera's New Teeth".  On Wednesday, the first draft was done.  After that, my science fiction parable "Third World" followed.  A Western, "The Cowboy and the Dandy", was completed by Sunday.  Over the course of six days in June, I penned five short stories, totaling some 11,000 words.  One of the stories has already sold.  The others were read aloud to group in their raw drafts, and garnered plenty of positive feedback and love.  They'll all eventually make their way onto the computer for submission as markets appear and time permits. I'm beyond pleased with the results.

So don't be afraid to give Free Writing a try.  Above all else, my week of Free Writing was fun -- a reminder that sometimes writers need to clock out from a set schedule and just play.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Bold and the Beautiful

I've always been a diehard Alphabet Network soap viewer (until those schmucks went ahead and cancelled All My Children and my favorite, the superb One Life to Live), so forgive the title of this post.  It seemed appropriate for a shout out for the latest release from Firbolg PublishingEnter at Your Own Risk: The End is the Beginning, which contains my short story "Every Seven Years, Give or Take." I was honored to be part of this anthology, which boasts a veritable 'Who's Who' of gothic literature, present and past.  Notable names include the Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, H.P. Lovecraft, M. R. James, K. Trap Jones, B. E. Scully, Sydney Leigh, Norman Partridge and, nestled among the Table of Contents, yours truly.

Publisher Alex Scully has done a fine job assembling a thick and gorgeous book.  Or books, as is the case. I was thrilled when a fat package arrived in the mail on Monday, May 20  It contained my copy of the special edition World Horror Con 2014 hardcover release of the anthology, gorgeously enhanced by four vibrant color interior illustrations. There's something extra-special about reading your work in hardcover. The book (officially considered 'textbook-size') is so big, so beautiful, it doesn't stand upright in any of the glass-front bookcases that contain my archives of published work.

End is filled, cover to cover, with stories of environmental horror in which mankind's hubris comes back to haunt us. My particular contribution to the book owes to a dream I had twenty years ago, in which I was trapped in a house located somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.  Olfactory authorities claim we don't 'smell' in our dreams, but I remember vividly the thick fragrance of sap from the Douglas firs that surrounded the house, as well as the steady drip of rain.  Beyond the house, among those trees, terrible danger lurked.  Within the house, an equally deadly threat brewed.  Both were the result of our disposable society's shortsightedness.  We recycle almost everything here in our fair mountain town, and we compost year-round.  Still, having a tale in this book has made me feel like our small family is making a difference in helping to heal our wounded planet.

And then there's that Table of Contents. Who wouldn't love to have their original short story published alongside a reprint by the author who wrote Frankenstein?  Or the stellar Mister Poe, my favorite wordsmith of all time? The autumn my first book, Ghost Kisses, was released, I spent Thursday afternoons on the college campus where my then-writers' group met, reading his stories and mine and reciting "Lenore" -- that elegant elegy is still tattooed upon my grey matter, able to be invoked start to finish at a moment's notice.  As for Mister Hawthorne...

When I was in grade school, I boarded a bus for a memorable field trip to the House of the Seven Gables. I was blown away at the time to find myself standing in the setting of a book I had read and loved. In the gift shop, I purchased a postcard of the house in a green mat, which hung on my bedroom wall, unframed, from a thumbtack. Somewhere along the way, the postcard got lost.  Last year, my fabulous writing pal Judi Calhoun (a talented name to watch for), upon hearing the story, found the very postcard online -- and framed this one for me as part of my Christmas presents.  It now sits proudly in my Writing Room, atop the archives of my published work.  A week or so after Christmas, I learned that "Every Seven Years, Give or Take" would appear alongside a reprint of Hawthorne's classic, "Rappaccini's Daughter".  Bold stuff.  And quite beautiful.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Interview with STAR BLAZERS' Amy Howard Wilson Part II

(Amy Howard Wilson and new husband David, a
Star Blazers devotee!)
It has been a thrill over the years to interview and meet nearly all of my childhood -- and adulthood -- icons. My favorite actor, Martin Landau, graciously gave me over an hour of his time, one on one, during the summer he was doing press junkets for the first X-Files movie. Kate Mulgrew was always available during my stint writing for the Sci Fi Channel's magazine -- and was even so kind as to pen a stunning blurb for the cover of The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: Twenty-six Tales From the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris two years ago.  The late, great director Robert Wise -- he of such classics as The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and the first big screen Star Trek movie -- shared with me special effect stories about the famous 'breathing door' scene in the classic The Haunting for my article in Cinescape Magazine (the door was made of styrofoam, and all that wonderful crackling of wood the result of a man pushing against it from the other side). While flying from Boston to L.A. and the set of Star Trek: Voyager, I happened to glance over at the man sitting next to me. Who was he? None other than seaQuest DSV star John D'Aquino -- my favorite actor from what was, at that time, one of my favorite TV shows.  I introduced myself, and John and I spent that five-hour flight getting to know one another, mostly via anecdotes about his seaQuest experience. Two days after landing, John and I were enjoying breakfast at the Roosevelt Hotel with my best friend and oft writing partner, Laura A. Van Vleet. After breakfast, he took us for a spin around the Hollywood Hills in his convertible, showing us some of the must-see sights of beauty hidden above Tinseltown.

Imagine my elation when, after the phone call went through, the voice from the other end of a new connection transported me back in time to so many afternoons spent cross-legged on the floor, my focus glued to the TV and the latest Star Blazers episode.  I was speaking with "Nova", one of the most beloved heroines in all of Science Fiction, as voiced by actress Amy Howard Wilson.  Ms. Wilson is not only a delight who instantly made me feel like an honorary member of the Star Force, but earned super-duper extra points among the most celebrated of celebrities for her generosity -- our first chat, taped on the flip-side of the cassette containing the Robert Wise interview, was lost to a series of warps.  She graciously gave me a second interview.  "We'll just refer to the first as a table read," she said.  Truly, a superstar burning brightly among the galaxy it has been my pleasure to meet and write about.

You didn't know if viewers would tune in to Star Blazers?
AHW: It was on for about a year, but they kept switching the air times.  It came on at three in the afternoon, and then 6:30 in the morning.  I didn't even see any of the completed episodes during the production.  What happened was that we came into the studio, we'd do our chunk of dialogue, and once that was done, we'd go on to the next episode.  We might knock out four or five shows in a day. Ken Meseroll, who played "Derek Wildstar" or Tom Tweedy -- "Mark Venture" -- would do their stuff, and then they'd mix it all together.  We didn't see the whole series until it started to air.  And then they changed the air times!

(Argo, make us proud!  Me, with my six original Star Blazers fan fic novels and
ten short stories)
I was out auditioning for other stuff.  That's the nature of the business -- you go on to your next set of auditions.  The only people we really knew were watching the show were mom and dad and our family, our friends, our cousins. We didn't know if it was going to last, to continue in reruns. After a year or so, it was gone.  I couldn't find it anywhere.  At the time, a VCR cost about a thousand dollars.  There were no Blockbuster Video stores, no Suncoast.

Fast forward several years --
In 1995, I got a call from my brother-in-law.  My nieces at that time were huge Pokemon fans, and they'd gotten to talking one day about how their Aunty had done this show called Star Blazers.  They went on line to see what they could find about the show.  He said, 'You're not going to believe what we found!' So I logged on and started looking and found website after website designed by fans who absolutely loved the show.  The one that caught my eye was The Wave Motion Webpage [named after the Argo's engine system and also its mother-of-all-weaponry, the Wave Motion Gun].  I clicked on a link to send an email to the webmaster and introduced myself, telling him how glad I was to find the page.  I got a reply: "Hi, are you SERIOUS?!" He started asking me questions and had forwarded my message on to other people, who started sending me emails -- asking me serious technical questions like how the ship was designed, who drew this specific character. They were diehard fans!  We did the show in 1979, it aired in 1980 through '81.  Fifteen years after, I found the website and then got an email from one of those fans who wanted to put me in touch with a guy named Dave Merrill.  Dave ran a fan convention called Anime Weekend Atlanta.  And then I found myself there, at this convention. The following year at the same con, I met my lovely husband Dave.  So you could say that Star Blazers brought us together.



One clearly senses that you take the excellent work you've done as Nova and, even more, your level of commitment to fans, with a level of seriousness that is, frankly, inspiring. You're never too busy to sign an autograph -- or give a second interview after the first gets planet-bombed!
In this business, you can be forgotten about tomorrow.  I don't want to be forgotten -- and I don't want Nova to be forgotten about, either.  Lucille Ball and Angela Lansbury, their careers spanned fifty and sixty years worth of awesome performances.  They did good, quality work.  Those are the people I have as my role models.  The work could last half an hour or ten years.  You never know.  So when you start getting complacent and arrogant...I've seen that happen and I don't ever, ever want anybody to regard me that way. It touches me when I hear that fans are now watching the show with their grandchildren!  I look back and think...I've been doing conventions for seventeen years now because of this one role.  After all of this time of Star Blazers not being on the air, there's no syndication, no rerunning -- except for the week or two it ran on Toonami or the SyFy Channel -- and fans are still so enthusiastic.  It's a phenomenon.  I'm extremely proud of that.

Heartfelt thanks to Ms. Wilson, who has also agreed to pen a cover blurb for my forthcoming Tales From the Robot Graveyard.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Interview with STAR BLAZERS' Amy Howard Wilson Part I

(An actual cel from one of the Yamato films of "Yuki", aka, "Nova" given to Ms. Wilson
by Meri Davis, chair of A-Kon)
I was fourteen that autumn, flipping channels in the basement TV room. Our set was hooked up to cable -- a new concept for the time. Gone was the static and snow of rabbit ears, and suddenly displayed in vibrant detail across the screen was an amazing image: that of a powerful space battleship as it readied to leave Earth's solar system on an as-yet unknown (to me) mission. Without any other fanfare or preparation, I entered the universe of Star Blazers, a timeless story of love, honor, and sacrifice that unfolds across deep space as the crew of the Earth Defense Force flagship Argo attempts to save the human race and our beloved Mother Earth from mysterious would-be alien destroyers. Over the course of the first twenty-six episodes in which the Star Force's Captain Avatar, Derek Wildstar, Nova, Mark Venture, robot IQ-9, et al battle to reach the planet Iscandar in the distant Magellanic Cloud for a machine capable of removing the deadly radioactivity unleashed by planet bombs fired by the alien Gamilons, I found myself captivated, stirred -- and desperate to know if the crew would succeed in their mission to save our planet and people from extinction.  It was fairly mature territory for an afternoon cartoon to explore (or any medium, for that matter), and I was forever changed as a result. Oh, the misery of Friday afternoons, especially when, upon her approach to Iscandar, the Argo's crew learn they're also traveling to sister world Gamilon and a trap from which no escape seems possible -- with no resolution forthcoming until the following Monday!  I routinely raced home from the bus stop to be sure I was in front of the tube by three in the afternoon.  When the fine folks at WSBK- TV 38 switched broadcast times to 7:30 weekday mornings, I routinely missed the bus.  No more so after the Star Force returned home with the radiation-removing Cosmo DNA device, only to find themselves under attack by the ruthless Prince Zordar and his mighty war machine, the Comet Empire, for the series' next run of twenty-six episodes. The emotion and gravitas of Star Blazers filled my days with thoughts of the world's bigger pictures, and still does.  There are scenes and scores from many of the episodes that conjure tears to this day. I'm listening to one now as I write this.

Star Blazers, adapted from the popular Japanese anime Space Battleship Yamato, remains one of the most powerful influences of my life.  Along with Gerry Anderson's brilliant outer space parable Space:1999 and the original Battlestar Galactica, the three series formed something of a trinity that turned my imagination -- and, soon, my pen -- in the direction of outer space.  I had Star Blazers dreams and wrote original fan fiction as a result, short stories and even novels in the Star Blazers universe, starting with Against the Legions of the Red Sun, a twenty-six chapter novel, my version of a third season, post-Comet Empire.  I eagerly awaited the real third series, which was promised but never delivered to our TV screens.  At my very first con in Boston right before I turned eighteen, I snapped up buttons in the dealer's room and attended a screening of the Arrivaderci Yamato movie in Japanese, up in the Gamilon Headquarters Suite.

I loved Star Blazers.  And I love it still.
(Season One, a beloved permanent addition to my Writing Room)

So imagine my glee when I connected with the brilliant actress Amy Howard Wilson, who provided the voice of Nova, one of the most beloved and heroic icons in all of Science Fiction. Ms. Wilson was kind and gracious enough to share with me her experiences -- and to take me back in time to the studio, on board the very Argo herself.

How did you land the role of "Nova" in Star Blazers?
AHW: In high school, I was bit by the acting bug and went to the American Academy of Arts for two years.  It was a great program.  I learned how to fence, dance, took vocal and voice classes, all that great stuff.  When I graduated, I still didn't have a real good idea of how the business side of everything worked, so I decided rather than to head for auditions off the bat I'd see if I could get work in related aspects of the industry.  I worked as a receptionist for a casting agency, and then as a sales rep for a jingle writer -- he wrote the jingle for 8 O'Clock Coffee.  When Star Blazers came around, I'd taken a clerical job working in the front office of the Weist-Barron School for TV and Commercial Acting.  I was answering phones and taking a voice-over class.  Tom Tweedy, who voiced "Mark Venture", and Eddie Allen, who voiced Gamilon Leader "Desslok", were also taking classes at the school.  A casting director named Kit Carter called the school looking for non-union talent for this new Japanese cartoon.  They didn't even have a working title at the time!  When they asked us if we were interested in auditioning, I shot my hand up. They did two days worth of auditions for the women, and I was the last one to go in. I don't remember much after that apart from a couple of days of anxiously waiting for the phone to ring.  And when it did, I was a very happy girl!  And here we are today.

What was the studio like?
The studio was called Film Sound, and was located between 41st and Lexington in New York City.  It was a tiny, tiny studio.  As I recall, it was only about fifteen by thirty feet.  In the booth, the only things we had room for were a small table and a chair.  The mic was mounted right on the table. There was a huge TV set outside the window so we could watch the time coding, the animation, the cue beats.  It was really, really interesting.  I had never experienced anything like that before.  All that technical stuff was a real learning curve.  We had to watch for the right cue, listen for the beeps in the headphones -- three beeps, and you had to start speaking where the fourth beep would have been.  You had to stay in character.  Our sound engineer, Jim Frederickson -- back then, we didn't have computers and nifty software packages to be able to fix things in post production -- had to rewind the tape every time we screwed up a line.  Jim had a tape of funny sound effects, and after having to rewind the tape thirteen or fourteen times, he'd know we were growing frustrated and would play one of these silly, crazy noises, like a duck quacking or a whistle, to break the tension.  And on the very next take, we'd get it right.  More often than not, each of us would do our section of the script, just our lines, individually.  It was particularly trying, dubbing from English to Japanese, because the two languages didn't always line up -- which made for some funny ad-libbing, depending upon how long the scene ran.  It was the most economical way of doing things.  For a big production house like
(The lovely Amy Howard Wilson, Center, with Kenneth Meseroll, " Derek
Wildstar", L and Eddie Allen,  "Desslok" R)
Disney or Warner Brothers, they can afford to have their entire cast sitting there, animating to the audio track. This was the reverse. There were quite a few rewrites that had to be done on the spot.  You could be speaking, emoting, and the little mouth on the big TV monitor would stop moving while you still had lines to record.  Or you'd finish your lines and the little mouth would still be moving.  Writers would then adjust the dialogue. To have the entire cast sitting around waiting for one of us to have our lines adjusted, they would have gone broke.  It was a very small production.

With far-reaching magic!
We were on the heels of all the big name shows that had been done before, like Speed Racer and Astro Boy.  But this was new, different.  It was a series where rather than being self-contained and episodic, where you could watch the show out of sequence, in the case of Star Blazers you had to watch every episode, which led to the one following it and referred to the one before it.  It was breaking new ground as far as Japanese imported animation.  We didn't know if anybody would be watching.

To Be Continued...

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The End is the Beginning!

Most dreams play out over a matter of seconds. Some nightmares last far longer. So was the case with one I experienced twenty years ago, in which I found myself trapped with other survivors in a house hidden among tall Douglas firs, located somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. We moved around the house quietly, ever mindful of an unidentified danger lurking outside the walls of our fortress and prison. It rained nonstop throughout the nightmare; it was always night beyond the windows.  I only caught glimpses of the faceless horrors lurking on the other side of the door, which was even more effective -- my imagination has always responded to instances when what you don't see is more terrifying than what you do. Before dream's end, the situation inside the house degenerated to a level as dangerous as the one outside, and there was something else I remember quite clearly: the trees, and the rich smell of the needles and pitch.  It burned in my nostrils.

The dream quickly got recorded on a note card and went into my catalog of ideas, but was not so quickly written.  Not until 2010, when the longhand manuscript was dashed off in a matter of days and then went into my file cabinet, part of the 'inventory' I keep of completed first draft manuscripts.  Out it again came in December of 2013, and off it went to Firbolg Publishing's latest anthology call, Enter at Your Own Risk: The End is the Beginning, a collection of environmental-themed horror fiction edited and compiled by the brilliant Dr. Alex Scully. I'd already appeared in their amazing previous release with my story told from the perspective of H.P. Lovecraft's ultimate big bad, C'Thulhu, Dark Muses, Spoken Silences -- and which featured reprints by Poe, Polidori, Lovecraft, and Washington Irving, along with a lineup of some of my favorite contemporaries.  And I was beyond thrilled to learn that my tale, "Every Seven Years, Give or Take", would be part of this important book.  As with the previous release, End features reprints by such notables as Mary Shelley, Lovecraft, M. R. JamesNathaniel Hawthorne, and Mr. Poe, my favorite writer of all time.  And again I share an incredible Table of Contents with many of today's most talented scribes, many of whom shared the back stories behind their stories.

Eric J. Guignard on "She Will Rise Again":  "As a lover of fairy tales and Greek mythology, I delight in the fantasy concepts of invisible gods and elements surrounding us, spirits residing in trees and flowers, animals, and even inanimate objects. Mother Nature, in particular, is a wonderful personification of the life-giving and nurturing aspects of the world we live in. I wanted to explore the idea that if she were a real being, what would be the circumstances or effects of her existence as one of substance but who is hidden from civilization. After a few failed envisionings, she ended up with a C'Thulhu-esque element, as one who slumbers while the planet turns, rising only with sacrifice and when she is needed."

B. E. Scully on "Nothing But Skin and Bones":  "I was living in the eye of the urban hurricane known as Los Angeles when life picked me up and threw me into the whirlwind. When I landed, I was in hill country, West Virginia. Mountaintop removal had been going on for years by then, and right in the middle of lush, blue-green mountains you’d see these flattened, barren stretches, like the surface of the moon. It sometimes happens with mountaintop removal that old family cemeteries get wiped off the mountain along with everything else. The dead get discarded like trash in a landfill. I left West Virginia years ago, but those displaced bones and that dark, disturbed earth stayed with me. When I sat down to write a story for The End Is the Beginning, I went back to those mountains and found a man sitting alone in one of those blasted moonscapes. The rest of the story is what happens when the living and the dead get pushed too far, and start pushing back. As for me, I’m putting my money on the birds, the bees, and the bones."

Tais Teng on "The Art of Losing Wars Gracefully":  "When pigeons awoke me one morning with their insistent and deeply annoying cooing I realized that, though, we built the cities we never really own them. For the pigeons our proudest high-rises are only cliffs, nesting places. Fire ants gnaw the timbers of our homes and have their own highways in our walls. Below us rats rule the sewers and there are urban foxes hunting in our back-gardens. All my life we have been at war with the animal kingdom: mice steal our cheese and nibble our bread no matter how good we hide it. There was a wasp-nest once in our front garden; the exterminator had to come back three times before those insects were gone. ‘You should not plant anything edible there for at least  a year,’ the exterminator told us. ‘The poison I used is rather strong.’ That skirmish with the wasps didn't feel like victory and we knew they would be back. I got it: never try to win a war with animals, a draw, a temporary stalemate is the best you can hope for."

Kenneth W. Cain on "Her Living Corals":  "My story came to me while studying my Nano-reef tank. There are many mysteries in this tank, which make my mind wander.  I’ve always had a fear of the ocean. Not the water itself, but the haunts in its depths. These waters often frequent my stories. Who knows what exists in the deepest recesses of the ocean? What a man or woman is capable of within those areas? With this story I wanted to explore the ongoing ruin of our coral reefs. While keeping and maintaining reef tanks can be a rewarding experience, it can never compare to the real thing. The seas are full of life, brimming with extraordinary creatures, some of which can barely be seen. Besides millions of beautiful fish, there are copepods and amphipods, many varieties of snails, tiny anemones and feather dusters, limpets and chitons, starfish, and so much more that we need to preserve. Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t explored these reefs; check it out before its too late. In the meantime, do your part to help."

K. Trap Jones on "The River":  "The inspiration came from the idea that sometimes we take nature for granted. We look upon her with beauty, but often times ignore the power that she can possess. I wanted to tell a story of how easily something bad can happen. With one slip of a foot, a traditional fishing trip can go horribly wrong. Mother Nature, to me, can be a gentle loving soul, but then unleash rage at any given moment. Through this narrative, I wanted to give both sides of Mother Nature almost like a wonderful woven spider web. From afar, the web is spectacular, but once it has you in her grasp, the situation alters from beauty to dismay. Through the depressive narrative tone and the mental anguish of the narrator, the story comes off as a battle between the will of man and the overall endurance of Mother Nature. One slip was all that it took."

Rose Blackthorn on "Consequences":  "My story is set in a small town on the Oregon coast, not far from where I once lived. I have an abiding love of the ocean and its wildlife, including not just those who live in the water but the myriads of birds and animals who live near the shore. I think people for a long time have thought that the renewability of the ocean was boundless, but it’s becoming clearer now that over-fishing and the indiscriminate dumping of waste is building to a possible point of no return. With the nuclear plant in Japan bleeding toxins into the Pacific, it just adds another layer of worry about what is happening to our natural planet. So, I wrote a story about a woman who is dealing with general life issues -- aging, divorce, trying to make ends meet -- who is lucky enough to live in a beautiful place that she loves. Then I added in one variation of a worst-case scenario to the changes wrought in nature, and the possible consequences. Honestly, the whole idea scares me, too."

Julianne Snow on "There Is No Wind That Always Blows":  “When I saw the call for Enter at Your Own Risk: The End is the Beginning, I was immediately struck with a number of ideas that could work. After discarding all of those I settled on the premise for a wicked little apocalyptic tale that asks what would happen if the winds picked up to the point they wiped most of humanity from the surface? In Chaos Theory there is a statement: It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly's wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world. But what if more than one butterfly flapped their wings in unison? Could a cataclysmic event actually occur? And what would the remnants of humanity do to survive? ‘There Is No Wind That Always Blows…’ explores the physical and emotional strain such an event wreaks and leaves you wondering if the next gust of wind will ever end.”

Mark Patrick Lynch on "The Mourning Worm":  "A pleasure of writing SF is the world building. Creating planets, alien moons, and exotic space stations can be great fun -- but sometimes a little demanding. In 'The Mourning Worm' I went for a real location, a place I’d actually stayed in. Gregory’s cottage is as described (though as yet awaiting the interior refit), surrounded by the dense woods and rolling countryside of Wiltshire. It is enchanting in almost every aspect. But real locations bring with them their own hazards. In this case it was the low beams of the ceilings. I’m 5’11 (and a half). The cottage was built hundreds of years ago, when people were shorter in general... Yeah, you do the math. I didn’t come out of that stay with a concussion, but my head was like Braille for someone who reads the bumps and orbits of skulls. Maybe it was as I was wandering around a wee bit senseless that the notion for 'The Mourning Worm' came to me: holes in the world, absences…like the memories and minutes I seemed to have lost after I forgot to duck while walking from one side of a room to the other."

Sydney Leigh on "Rabenschwarz":  "There’s something about the fact that while intended for children, fairy tales are actually rather terrifying -- their settings, mood, atmosphere, and messages are all fascinatingly macabre. I felt this might make for an interesting backdrop for an environmental horror story, and loosely based ‘Rabenschwarz’ on 'Foundling-Bird', one of the lesser-known tales from the brothers Grimm. The unknown has always been the most frightening possibility for me in terms of natural disasters, ecological horrors, and the infinite list of environmental threats -- and the first thing that comes to mind when I worry about what the future brings is always the extinction of animals. The idea of them being removed from their natural habitats by mankind is the driving force behind this story, which plays on the idea that an unseen presence dwelling in the forest is not taken into account while some fairly grisly events are unfolding and no one quite knows who to blame. I’m afraid the supernatural element in the story allows for a happier ending than I think the animals in our world will have...so the presence of this force, raven-black and understandably sinister in nature, was my way of illuminating that for the reader."

Lawrence Santoro on "So Many Tiny Mouths":  "Someone said horror starts when innocence sets foot in the forest.  Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden for example; the forest primeval. Pennsylvania, 1950-something:  Summers, mom, dad, cousins and I would hop into the old man's Chevy and head toward the Atlantic Ocean.  Three hours later our first half-dozen layers of winter skin would have blistered to a sweat-slick peel and salt-water taffy would have yanked the year's fillings from our heads. Before becoming beach-blanket brisket though we had to cross inland Jersey, eighty-plus non air-conditioned miles, me in back meditating on undertow, riptides, and sand sharks.  Thus occupied, I didn’t notice that most of Jersey was trees.  Those eighty-some miles, the whole of central Jersey, was a geo-political entity: the Pine Barrens. Nighttime, homeward-bound, cousin Fred (who knew about such things) whispered tales about the woods that unspooled by our car in the dark.  They were inhabited by six-fingered folk who lived in caves, who prayed to odd and grubby gods, made their own gas from pig shit and ate lost travelers.  They were "Pineys” and you stayed away from them. Much later, I made a film in the Barrens.  Alas, Pineys turned out to be garden-variety Americans.  I got to know them -- somewhat -- and the Barrens -- a bit -- and have tried I don’t know how many times to get the place down on paper.  I keep trying.  Love, I think.  This is one such effort.  I think I’m closing in, but wouldn’t bet that I’ve got it.  It’s an elusive place.  The forest always is. By the way, Earl Sooey?  He's fiction, a coincidence.  No one I met.  Really."

Saturday, April 5, 2014

TALES FROM THE ROBOT GRAVEYARD

(The Robinson Robot in miniature)
The images were indelibly imprinted upon my brain at an early age. There was Underdog, fighting a hoard of giant robots with raccoon eyes in "March of the Monsters." And both Astro Boy and Gigantor, in glorious black and white. Robot John slogged across a lake of molten lava to save his human companions in Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, a bizarre Frankenstein of a movie cobbled together from spare parts -- about space sirens dressed in scallop shell bikinis that crunch down on raw alien eels come feeding time, the second most memorable element of the film. The first was Robot John's sacrifice, which left me a blubbering mess sitting cross-legged before our big, ugly box of a TV set connected to rabbit ears.  Ditto to Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot, a frequent visitor via Saturday afternoon Creature Double-Features.  The final scene in which the giant Egyptian-looking servo-mechanism flies off to save the Earth became the equivalent of a tearjerker for untold scores of boys my age. I'm sure I'm not the only one who wanted a best friend like Giant Robo. And I'll admit it -- I still get a little bleary- eyed, even at forty-eight, when he and the devious Guillotine collide with that smoking meteor.


I never trusted or even liked Robby the Robot, who I first encountered on the brilliant "War of the Robots" episode of Lost in Space, when he battled -- and lost to -- the Robinson's beloved cybernetic pal, Robot B9.  In 1995, when my writing was first starting to reach a national (and international) readership, I got to stand beside and shake pincers with the original Robinson Robot, an iconic friend from childhood, at a science fiction convention in Boston.  Five years later, while writing a big retrospective on LIS for Cinescape Magazine, I interviewed the great, late Dick Tufeld, voice of B9.  He was kind enough to go into character with his classic, "Danger, Will Robinson!" shtick, and mention me by name.  I have the entire interview on tape.  In fact, that particular soundbite got played last summer during the documentary segment on my writing career and broadcast on TV's New Hampshire Chronicle.  Talk about time travel!

In my teens, there was 7-Zark-7 from Battle of the Planets, IQ-9 from Star Blazers, Doctor Who's faithful companion K-9, and a host of giant robot heroes in Force Five, which brought different adventures from Japan to the shores of New England Monday through Friday.  First up, there was Danguard Ace; Tuesdays, the fantastic Starvengers. Wednesdays was the throw-away Spaceketeers.  On Thursdays, Grandizer battled alien horrors.  Fridays was Gaiking, my favorite, about a powerful robot who launched from a flying fortress-carrier in the shape of a space dragon and defended Earth from invaders from the Zela Star Empire. I got so into the Force Five mythos that I began to have dreams about the giant robots and their sinister foes.  Those dreams made their way through fountain pen and onto paper, and the resulting fan fic stories remain, to this day, archived among my files of first-draft manuscripts.  There's still one from that time in my life remaining to be written.  And write it, I will.

(The 'cover', left, to one of my Gaiking fan fics; a sketch
of a Cylon from 1981; the longhand draft of my newest
robot novella)
And oh, how I hated the Cylons, those robotic baddies in the original Battlestar Galactica that made it their mission to hunt down humanity from one end of the universe to the next.  So much so, in the summer of 1982, between story projects, I opened a blank notebook and began to pen '1001 Ways to Insult a Cylon'. Looking back, I was bored, I think. But to my credit, I made it to Number Fifty.  In my twenties, I was mad about Optimus Prime and The Transformers.

Robots have been a significant part of my life from the beginning.  And they're about to become even more so in the weeks and months ahead. Last Saturday, two friends of mine who own the small press Great Old Ones Publishing paid a visit to our new home North of the Notches.  They took us out to a fantastic lunch at the local Chinese eatery downtown, and then, over coffee and cupcakes. asked me to pitch them on a novel idea as part of their upcoming front list.  I did, and the idea was contracted for.  My Tales From the Robot Graveyard (due out in Third Quarter 2014) is, in actuality, three novellas that will total novel size.  I intend to dedicate it to Mr. Tufeld, and to all those robots I loved from childhood.  And here's a nifty bit of news regarding the book's cover: it is being drawn by the talented Eric Chu, who did all the robotic and spaceship conceptual art on the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.  Yes, the man who re-designed the Cylons will create the cover of my book about giant robots.  More details to follow!