Friday, August 7, 2015

BEHOLD: THE IDOLATERS OF CTHULHU!

In 2011, it was my absolute pleasure to edit the anthology, The Call of Lovecraft, which contained an exceptional story by author H. David Blalock, "The Shed".  On a gray, cold Friday earlier this past March, I received an IM from Mr. Blalock, inviting me to submit to his new project for the fine folks at Alban Lake Publishing, Lovecraftiana with a unique theme.  For his The Idolaters of Cthulhu, stories would be told from the perspective of the heavies, those villainous humans and anti-heroes who stand vigilant for the return of ancient cosmic evils, aiding their cause.  In fairly short time (the very day, as I recall), I had the concept of my story: a young girl wandering a stretch of stormy New England beach collecting shells who discovers a jeweled relic straight out of Innsmouth -- a crown meant only for her head. But as I wrote the first draft of "Breakwater", the story became so much more than I expected, a tale of survival and the ends a person or species is willing to go in order to prevail in the face of extinction.

I submitted "Breakwater" and soon heard back from H. David -- the story was accepted into the anthology, which would feature a cover by the brilliant artist Michael Bielaczyc and a reprint by the master himself, "Beyond the Wall of Sleep", one of my all time Lovecraft favorites.  Idolaters recently arrived in my mailbox, looking as beautiful if not more so than imagined.  It was my pleasure to speak to many of my fellow authors in the Table of Contents, who shared the back-stories behind their stories.

Harding McFadden on "Casual Blasphemies": "Of all the various critters that Lovecraft littered his stories with, I suppose that my favorite have always been the inhabitants of Innsmouth.  When I stumbled across the guidelines for this anthology, it seemed an obvious choice to try to write about them, and their forms of worship, as, to be quite honest, trying to wrap my mind around many of the other followers seemed to be quite beyond me.  In a great old movie, a character says, ‘A man’s got to know his limitations.’  I try to stay humble by knowing mine.  As for the rest, you can blame an introduction that Robert W. Price wrote a decade ago for an Innsmouth collection.  In it he states his belief that old Marsh might not have been a villain, but rather someone trying to make the best of an impossible situation.  Coming at it from an atheist point of view, he saw the interbreeding of Innsmouthers with  Deep Ones as a way to postpone, or even eliminate, the coming destruction of his people.  From that beginning, I tried to imagine what a worship would look like then.  It wouldn’t be something drastically different from any random church gathering, though with a different sort of gospel than we would use.  To that, add in a bit of religious fanaticism, and eventual patricide, and there you have it.  In truth, I forgot all about writing this story until a few hours before the deadline, so I started pounding my head against a wall while knocking it out with all haste.  That it was purchased at all was an astounding thing to me.  I hope that you all enjoy it."

DJ Tyrer on "Fane of the Faceless God": "Generally, cultists in mythos stories are portrayed as evil and crazed, which is fair enough, given that most such stories are told from the point of view of (relatively) sane humanity, and, indeed, it stands to reason that some such people will literally have had their minds broken by what they have learnt. But, just as not every terrorist or serial killer is some froth-mouthed loony, I am fascinated by the idea of cultists who are rational. Such people, like Celia in my story, would be perfectly capable of functioning within human society to further their plans. But, in addition, they do not see themselves as evil or insane, even though their actions and motivations might seem so to others. Just as the Great Old Ones are incomprehensible to mere humanity, functioning as they do on an entirely different scale, so the rational cultist functions on a different level to normal humans, making a meeting of minds all but impossible, yet tantalisingly close. Entities like the Great Old Ones produce a frisson of fear because they remind us of the limits of our knowledge and power. In contrast, those cultists who are a step beyond the human remind us that our humanity may be little more than a veneer and make us question just what makes us human."

Robert Krog on "The Ones Who Remember": "H. David Blalock told me about the Lovecraft homage anthology sometime back, probably in 2014 at one convention or another, I'm not sure which one.  I told him I wasn't really a big fan of Lovecraft and that I wasn't all that familiar with his works.  David is persistent though and asked me more than once to write a story for it.  Since I'm a big fan of David and his work, I gave in sometime earlier this year.  I'm not sure when or from whence the idea for the story came to me, but come it did.  The villain of the piece was inspired by some of the lifeless partners for whom I worked back when I had an office job.  I am sure that many of them were sociopaths or psychopaths that would have welcomed the coming of a Great Old One to destroy the world, aiding and abetting it in all ways that they could. There's something soul deadening about the pursuit of money and power and something maddening about the meticulous routine one must endure at times to pursue such.  Thus the villain, Mr. Rains was born for my story.  The heroine, Jessica, could be one of any number of lovely fangirls I've seen wandering conventions dressed in costume, combined with one of any number of competent office workers I've known.  The rest was research.  Lovecraft's work was equally inspiring.  Challenged by my wife, I did personally test the bit about the duct tape.  It works." 


         
Brian Fatah Steele on "A Better View": "I love themed mythos anthologies. I love how there’s this scaffolding in place that allows the author to build completely unique stories around them, exploring whatever themes and concepts fit in. Lovecraft purposely created in a vague manner, and that all allows us these decades later to continue on his legacy.  Anyone who is steeped in the mythos has a favorite Great Old One, and mine has always been Nyarlathotep. I gravitate towards The Crawling Chaos for a number of reasons, but mostly because this entity has no set form and is often portrayed as an emissary that interacts with humans. Of all in the ‘pantheon,’ this creature seems to have the most complicated agenda. Here to kill us, enslave us, enlighten us? Ultimately, for we feeble humans, it doesn’t matter. Sure, there’s going to be those worshippers up until The Stars Align, but what about after? The planet has been ravaged by the return of the Great Old Ones, and any survivors would be shaken to the core by such sights. These broken, battered people would need a sign, something to give them hope. But what is ‘hope’ to an ancient alien deity from the other side of the universe? They are now free to wander the earth, playing with us as they see fit. We could now be anything to soldiers, to slaves, to toys, to food, to fuel. We are so far below them, we couldn’t try to hope to understand. But we would try anyhow."

Jonathan Dubey on "Arms of the Gods": "I'm not going to lie and say I've read everything H.P. Lovecraft has ever written, though I know a lot of people have. I can with a clear conscience say that I've enjoyed what I've read. I've noticed patterns in his short stories; he almost always writes from first person point of view, almost always male, and almost never gives a character description or name of his protagonist. I believe that he did this in a way to make the reader feel like they were in the story, like, this guy could be me. I like the idea of making a reader feel like they're part of the action. In Idolaters of Cthulhu, we were asked to submit stories from the perspective of a villain -- someone wanting to bring about the evil from beyond. I wanted to do justice to Lovecraft's style, and still give you a story that you would care about and hopefully scare you a little. I chose to make the protagonist a woman, but keep the rest of the pattern. All that was left was motive. Why would someone choose to do these horrible things? In my mind there is only one true reason, one excuse: Love."

Amanda Hard on "Fatwa": "‘Somebody will always be incensed’ was the prompt one of my writing teachers sent out last spring. From that, I built a short tale of a writer who accidentally damned himself to Hell by channeling the lyric poetry of fallen angels. I worked on the seed idea for a few months, but I couldn’t resolve what seemed to be the injustice of the poet’s fate. I found my solution when I considered what might happen if Lovecraft’s Starry Wisdom cult survived into today; if its followers accepted predestined paths determined by a significantly ‘higher’ power. A fatwa, in Islam, is a legal ruling for a specific case, similar to a Supreme Court decision, but not actually legally binding. The ruling is left up to the individual to accept or dismiss, based on his or her faith and moral compulsions. In this story I wanted to question both destiny and faith, to swap them around and investigate whether either one is behind the actual mechanism of art-making. While I think it’s something of a cheat to have one’s protagonist ‘accidentally’ call up the Great Old Ones (almost always through his or her incredibly irresponsible decisions and general negligence) I do sympathize with my character’s obsession with notating the music of the cosmic spheres and  anticipating the terrible promise of a future of his own making."

E. Dane Anderson on "The Meat Junkies": "The original idea for ‘The Meat Junkies’ came about one late night while driving a friend home. Elliot Avenue in Seattle is an odd mix of light industrial, fast food places and a lot of other assorted businesses, almost none of which are open at night.  The near quarter-mile stretch of street can be quite deserted after dark. At the south end of the road is an oddly placed ice cream shop, situated nowhere near decent parking, and like the rest of the area totally deserted at night. My friend and I asked each other if either of us had ever seen the shop open. We hadn’t. I quickly joked that it must be a front for something. My friend immediately said ‘aliens!’ And taking a cue from the old Peter Jackson film, Bad Taste I upped the ante and said that it was a secret way station for aliens who were trading in human meat. After I had dropped her off, the story started to form in my head. The aliens became Shoggoths with all their human loathing characteristics. The setting changed slightly to a much bleaker type of urban decay landscape. And in the forty minutes it took me to drive home, I had the rest of the story outline worked out. Originally, it would have ended with a black-ops team showing up and using a spray chemical to disintegrate the Shoggoths. But in keeping with the Lovecraftian tradition, I thought it best that the humans lose."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

From the Bookshelf: THE JANUS DEMON by Roxanne Dent

Forget rainy days -- Roxanne Dent's The Janus Demon is the perfect read for any day or night, regardless of the weather.  The author’s paranormal dark fantasy, which travels a gritty roadmap from New York City all the way to Fey-ville and back, tells the tale of detective Mick Grimaldi, a private eye dogged by more than one dark secret.  Grimaldi’s world is populated by demons and a vengeful vampire crime boss, Kryak, responsible for murdering Mick’s parents.  From the moment readers enter the detective’s office – finding it overturned by a third-rate demon thug in search of information – they are treated to a nonstop thrill ride.  Soon on, Grimaldi crosses paths with his first love, Jasmine, who leads him deeper into a myriad of dangers.  Gorgeously written, even at its bloodiest (ie, the roasted white elves and theater scene battle between shape shifters), Dent's latest novel, released by the fine folks at Great Old Ones Publishing, is a must-have for any bookshelf!

I first met Roxanne seven summers ago, almost to the day, and was instantly smitten with both the author and her flare for telling stories.  It was my pleasure to sit down with the brilliant scribe and genuinely lovely lady to discuss Mick Grimaldi, his world, and hers.

Mick Grimaldi and his world are spectacular! Take us into the genesis of your novel, The Janus Demon.
I have a great many favorite authors in different genres, but the ones who influenced me to write The Janus Demon, are Jim Butcher, George Martin, Charlene Harris, Ann Rice, Robert Jordan, J.R.R. Tolkien and Ann McCaffrey.  As a child and teen, I also read fairy tales. Once I started reading adult paranormal novels, I couldn’t stop, often reading until the wee hours of the morning I liked them so much, I decided to write one myself, and began collecting information on myths and legends of ancient Ireland, Celtic names (I’m a quarter Irish), elves, the Fey, demons, witches, Griffins, shape shifters and all things magical.

You’re what I’d call a born writer. Share with us the Roxanne Dent story.
Although English was always my favorite subject in school, I didn’t start writing creatively until I was in my teens. Instead, I created stories in my head. When I’d see a movie or television show I loved, I’d act out the different parts with me in the starring role. If I didn’t like the ending, I’d change it. This might have something to do with my early upbringing by two actors. My mother would act out dramatic roles, usually Shakespearian tragedies in order to entertain me. As a child, I loved adventure stories, which included westerns, pirate movies and mysteries, although Peter Pan left an indelible impression on me that lasted for years. Later on, I became addicted to shows like Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock, Star Trek and Outer Limits. Growing up, I avidly read National Geographic magazines and watched shows dealing with foreign cultures or ancient civilizations. They fascinated me. When I began writing, my love of foreign and dead cultures led me to place many of my stories in other time periods.

In High School, I began writing poetry. For the most part it was sad, tragic and full of teenage angst. However, I wrote a poem “The Devil’s Disciple,” which tackled racism in and around New York City. I entered it in a statewide competition. When it was accepted, I began to think for the first time about the possibility of becoming an author. I wrote my first story, “Karine”, a Regency novella for my sister Karen who was a teen and addicted to Georgette Heyer Regencies. A year later, I sold my first two novels, Island of Fear, a Gothic mystery and The White Fog, a Gothic paranormal to Avon Paperbacks.

What’s your process? How do you work?
Since I’m an early riser, I get up every day by 6 or 7 a.m., make a pot of French Roast, check out my e-mails and Facebook for about forty-five minutes, walk with my sister for about three miles before I start writing. I always have several projects in the works or a new idea to work on. I never lack for ideas. If I don’t have one, don’t wake up with one and am not inspired by something on the news, I will troll the internet to see what contests are out there and appeal to me. I keep a deck of playing cards by my side to shuffle when I’m stuck or just looking for the right word. If my sister, Karen, also a very talented writer, who has recently completed her first novel, A Case to Kill For, a paranormal Noire, is not on her way to work in Boston, we head out to Panera’s or Starbucks to write. I love this as I often get a lot more accomplished than at home. There’s something about smelling the food and coffee, the murmuring of the people around us, while free of guilt over chores not done that spurs me on to write. If Karen’s at work, I’ll sometimes grab my laptop and walk around the corner to the awesome café, “Wicked Big,” and write there.

You are prolific and juggle multiple projects, in multiple lengths and genres. How do you manage to maintain your consistent level of quality?
Perhaps it’s because I’m a Gemini, but ever since I first started writing and selling, I’ve always written in different genres, including Regencies, mysteries, westerns, fantasies, sci-fi, horror and YA, short stories and novels. I’ve also written screenplays, one of which The Pied Piper, won first prize in Fade-in Magazine. Karen and I also collaborated on plays together, which were put on at the Firehouse Theater in Newburyport, Massachusetts and collaborated on short stories. When we lived in NYC, we belonged to “The Sunday Club,” a group of independent filmmakers who gathered together to write and direct short movies made in one day. Out of this came Valentine’s Day, a three-minute thriller which won the Audience Choice Awards at the Bare Bones International Film Festival. Whenever I begin to write in a new genre or form, I find it exciting and inspiring and sometimes nerve wracking but always interesting and a great learning experience.  My father once said if you’re a writer – write. I’ve taken classes, workshops, attended conferences and belonged to critique groups and support groups. They are all helpful and enriching, but I also believe if you keep writing, you will get better and better. It’s the nature of the beast.

Is there a sequel to the novel in the works?
Beyond the Iberian Sea, Book Two of The Janus Demon, is in the works. It shifts between Mick Grimaldi, the lonely, sardonic, shape shifting NYC detective and Bronagh, the bitter, vengeful daughter of a Volk King. In addition to Beyond the Iberian Sea, I’m nearing the end of a Steampunk novella. My short horror, “The Haunting of Jemima Nash,” based on a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, was accepted into an anthology for the Whittier Museum. It’s debut is September  26th at the Whittier Museum. I’m proud to say my story “Heart of Stone,” was in the fabulous horror anthology, Enter At Your Own Risk: Dreamscapes Into Darkness by Firblog Publishing, which was recently released.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

BEHOLD: DREAMSCAPES INTO DARKNESS

According to the original note card upon which the story idea was jotted, I dreamed up "One More" in 1992 -- not long after sending my first stories out into the publishing universe.  To quote, "I'm at the ocean-side home of an austere man with silver hair..."  It wasn't until the summer of Y2K that I penned the actual first draft, which went into my archive of completed manuscripts.  For years, that dream haunted me, in which I found myself homeless and living on meager pickings from trashcans along a stretch of rainy beach.  My dream-character then found further horror in the ocean-side house of said silver-haired man, who had constructed a bizarre version of a roller coaster inside his lair.

When the fine folks at Firbolg Publishing put forth an open call for Dreamscapes into Darkness, an anthology that came with a warning to be careful for what you wish for, I cycled back to that story, and the main character -- a hungry, homeless boy desperate for his next meal.  The hunt for sustenance leads him past the trashcans and promise of returnables, to a house among the dunes he's been warned to avoid.  I dusted off that first draft manuscript, fired it off to Firbolg's leading lady, Doctor Alex Scully, for review, and was thrilled to receive an acceptance to the fine anthology, which also contains reprints by the likes of such literary superstars as Mary Shelley, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and H.P. Lovecraft.  "One More" is, in fact, nestled beside a reprint of "The Rocking Horse Winner" by none other than the brilliant D.H. Lawrence.

Several of my talented contemporaries in the table of contents were kind enough to share the back stories behind their stories in Dreamscapes into Darkness.

Patrick Lacey on "That Other Place": "I wish I could tell you a mind-blowing, earth-crashing story about where I got the idea for my Dreamscapes piece, but, like many of my other story ideas, this one came out of the ether. I was walking past a tree one day and imagined, for no reason I could pinpoint, that there was a window embedded in the wood. Not a decoration or a piece of junk but an actual window. It was stupid, I thought. You couldn’t make something so random into something scary. But the idea stayed with me. I’d already written about everyday objects/occurrences that become evil (see: video games, a dumpster, a cuckoo clock, and even junk mail), so why not this? I got thinking about what I’d do if I could see through the window, about what would be on the other side. Would it be a world similar to ours or entirely foreign? And if something lived in said world, would it be friendly? I assumed not if I was writing about it. Combine all this with my fascination with alternate dimensions and you have the boring but lucrative story behind ‘That Other Place.’"

Roxanne Dent on "Heart of Stone": "Initially, I received the idea as a writing prompt from a Sunday writers' group soiree. The word was ‘Stone.’ But the story itself developed after I attached the two words, ‘Heart of.’  I thought about the romantic relationships I’d had when I was young. I was often attracted to ‘Bad Boys,’ or those who had issues and couldn’t or wouldn’t commit. I was left in the dust, hurt and depressed.  It finally occurred to me I wanted to be the one who healed them of their pain and live happily ever after. It was unrealistic, arrogant and doomed to failure. The idea of creating a character with those exaggerated traits falling in love with the epitome of evil, unconscious of her motivation, caught my imagination.  Setting the tale in a church like the one mentioned in The Da Vinci Code, with the statue of a demon coming alive, came to me when I woke up one morning. It also tied in to my love of history and the supernatural.

K. Trap Jones on "The Weathermaker": "The inspiration came from a question lingering within my mind, ‘What if controlling the weathering elements were a job?’ The task has to be stressful with the way the atmosphere functions and the different environments requiring unique weathering patterns. The character of the Weathermaker needed to be unstable and I wrote the tone for him built around an elderly philosopher with severe anger issues. I imagined him being alone within a remote cabin and constantly having to monitor weathering patterns in order to avoid catastrophes. One slip could cause a typhoon or hurricane; one spike of anger could spark horrendous tornadoes. Although he is not a violent man, I wanted to create a personality built on frustration and resentment for the task he is burdened with and the lack of respect he feels civilization grants the weather. The combination of anger and resentment towards people surfaces when the Weathermaker has to sometimes deal with the occasional rogue death hiccup in the system.  When an adrenaline junkie crosses the threshold of purgatory and washes upon the shores of the Weathermaker’s land, he must not only deal with the anger of the old man, but also the reality that he alone has to continue upon the path of death in order to continue towards the afterlife."

(Promotional artwork for "One More")
Rob Smales on "First Horse": "When I write, I either write a flash fiction (something extremely short), or I run a bit long -- and these days, my tendency is toward the long. Sometimes…okay, often, I have trouble coming in under the maximum word count publishers are looking for. When the idea for First Horse occurred to me, I realized I would need an explanation of spirit guides, for readers who were unfamiliar with the concept. I did some research (the internet being a wonderful thing), and came up with plenty of Native American legends that mentioned spirit guides, but none that explained them, or gave their origins. So I wrote one. I enjoyed writing the tale that opens the story, the legend of Warrior and Dog, that Grandfather Whitefeather tells to Jimmy Tsosi. I’ve read Native American myths, and was trying to mimic the voice you hear in them -- a voice distinctly not my own. It was fun. But there was a problem: by the time I was done, I’d taken up over a quarter of the word allotment given by Firbolg Publishing, and I hadn’t even started the story I wanted to tell. *sigh* I picked up my editing pen…

B. E. Scully on "The Son Who Shattered His Father's Dream": "Parents always want the best for their children. But what if ‘the best’ ends up being the absolute worst thing any parent could imagine?  My short story “The Son Who Shattered His Father’s Dream” was inspired by an article in The New Yorker magazine titled ‘The Empire of Edge,’ by Patrick Radden Keefe. It chronicled the rise and fall of a young trader who got caught participating in a huge financial scandal, and focused especially on the trader’s childhood -- both the unconditional support and the crushing expectations of the man’s formative years. In fact, I took the title of my story and the anecdote behind it directly from an actual incident in this family’s life. The story was fascinating and, even though the trader certainly did have his fall coming, it was heartbreaking, too, particularly for his family. It got me thinking about the tricky territory parents navigate between pushing their children and perhaps pushing them too hard and way too far -- sometimes even straight off of a cliff. So I took all of this and turned it into my own more dark, much more sinister tale."

(The note card for "One More")
Nancy Hayden on "No Man's Land": "A few years ago, my husband and I visited the Western Front in France. I was interested in the Argonne Forest as this was where millions of U.S. soldiers fought at the end of the war, including my great uncle. Thousands were killed. We walked along a logging road in the re-grown Argonne Forest, past partially filled in shell holes, and found an old WWI trench that cut back into the woods. We decided to explore the trench. We hadn’t gone very far when my husband became uneasy. That wasn’t like him. A little further along, he said he had to get out of there, and before waiting for me to answer, he hurried back the way we’d come. When we were back on the logging road, he confessed to feeling anxious, like something was pulling him down, each step harder than the last. I don’t know what it was, but something was going on in that trench. And that’s where my story begins -- a husband and wife exploring France’s abandoned WWI trenches. Only for them, it wasn’t as easy to get out."

Kurt Fawver on "An Interview With Samuel X. Slayden": "If you've read my story, you'll know that it involves the torture (or perhaps terrible enlightenment?) of a group of writers who are well-known and well-regarded in the world of the story. However, when I initially wrote the tale, I used caricatures of authors from ‘real life’ as the bases for my fictional authors. As I edited, I decided that approach was too fraught with problems to be sustainable. One, I didn't want to represent any real author negatively for fear of offending and two, I didn't feel I ‘knew’ the famous authors I was using in any personal sense, so that the caricatures were too thin, too one-dimensional. So, I took my authors back to the drawing board and rewrote them all. I think the result was better, more realistic characters that had no cognate in reality. That said, even in rewriting, I did leave a few ‘trademark’ qualities stuck to several of my ill-fated authors. So it might be an interesting exercise for a reader to try to figure out what ‘real’ author was originally the foundation for each of my tormented scribes."

Joe Powers on "Lead Us Not Into Temptation": " This story, about a reformed child predator who finds himself back on the hunt, was based on a random guy I saw in the bank parking lot one morning. Something about the way he looked and carried himself made me wonder what he was up to, and I created this monster in my head based on that quick observation. I’d started dating someone new around the time I completed the first draft. She’d been very enthusiastic and supportive of the stuff I’d shown her to that point. Horror writers are a strange lot that are, at best, often viewed with wary skepticism, but she didn’t seem fazed by my chosen genre. Without really thinking it all the way through I sent a copy of the draft to her and eagerly awaited her adulation. It occurred to me not long after this might not be the best way to impress the mother of a young daughter. Luckily for me this wonderful woman -- now my fiancée -- drew no conclusions about my character from my questionable subject matter. We laugh about it now, but looking back it could have gone south in a hurry."    

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Number 50

(The Birthday Babes)
Five years ago, the Big 4-5 consisted of a day spent in my pjs enjoying the quiet of our old apartment.  Bruce went out for the day, and the cats honored my wish for time with the Muse by napping (or so I like to think; it's possible napping was their plan all along).  I plucked at an old idea (1982, according to the time stamp on the note card) -- a Lost in Space fan fiction called "Lost and Found" that soon found its legs.  It was only to be written for fun -- and what fun it served up! Over the course of several weeks, I read my beloved birthday novella to my then-writers' group members.  When all was done, various members told me they were sad it had to end.  That birthday memory -- complete with Chinese takeout later that night when husband returned from his errands -- may be one of my all time favorites.  There's another from a long time ago: a chocolate cake with coconut and cherries.  It was served in my beloved boyhood home on the lake, a house that no longer exists. Every birthday since coming north to Xanadu, I've made a version of that cake, and this year, the Big 5-0, was no different.

I've anticipated this year, my fiftieth on Spaceship Earth, for a while.  Back in my teens, I posited reaching Year: 50 with a kind of foresight that I think is unusual for the young.  I knew I wanted to be living in my own home by then, and living the life of a published and happy writer -- mission accomplished on both counts, whether by destiny or design.  Of course, I pondered the loss of loved ones (despite my wanting some people and things to last forever, many of the best haven't).  But as 50 crept closer, I decided to celebrate it instead of mourning what I've lost over the years.

(My favorite birthday cake)
This year's May writers' group party served a two-fold purpose -- to gather for a day of celebrating the muses, and also to celebrate not one but two birthdays, mine plus my fab friend and fellow group moderator Irene (about to enjoy her 29th-and-holding).  On a gorgeously sunny and balmy Sunday, guests began to arrive -- 21 in all -- and food appeared on the big kitchen table. So much of the latter, that we were forced to pull out our Thanksgiving folding table to accommodate.  Among the offerings were baby meatballs, two sandwich platters covered with baby sandwiches in a wide variety of types, fried fish kabobs with sweet & sour dipping sauce and sriracha (my newest obsession!), homemade potato salad, veggies and dip, and desserts stretching around the room -- the aforementioned birthday cake, hot pink diva cupcakes, lazy blueberry pie, rum cake, and fresh fruit platters.  I made my trusty fruit punch in the big drinks dispenser, and the birthday gifts stacked up. One was a new coffee mug bearing my Muse's handsome face.

(A living room full of writer friends)
The house filled with its second-largest guest list since becoming a destination for friends and writers in early 2013 -- twenty-one crammed into the living room and spilling out into the foyer. The readings were up to their usual brilliance, most centered around the themes of "The Number 50" and "The Number 60", in honor of the birthday babes.  I had written a chapter of my Space:1999 novel, METAMORPHOSIS (one of only two unwritten fan fiction ideas left in my catalog of ideas, and Number 50 on the list), but decided to hold off reading until the following Tuesday night's writers' group meeting because of the party's huge turnout.  Instead, I read the opening page of my sixtieth completed work of fiction, a short story penned in my Junior year of high school, "The Beckoning Sphere" (based on a surreal dream, as I recall).  To my surprise, the story's folder contained only a typewritten copy of the first draft manuscript.  That would have been the time I owned my first typewriter, which I'd spent the entire previous summer earning.  Apparently, I'd forgotten that I had, indeed, at least once in my life composed a first draft of something other than a screenplay on a machine.

(Cheeky!)
The day was energetic and energized, and stretched on well past sunset.  Then, our overnight guests, the fabulous Sisters Dent, and I did two hours of writing following clean up duties.  We spent the next day enjoying more of the same -- writing fresh copy, with breaks to refill coffee and to read aloud stories and novel chapters.  I was fifty, and still going about my days as I pretty much have from the time I turned fifteen and was shown a glimpse into this wondrous and fulfilling literary life I've embraced.

Next up, it's the big 6-0.  So long as I meet the decade to come with the same verve as my fiftieth, putting down fresh pages, seeing my work in print and on the screen, and harming none, I'm looking forward to what those ten years will bring!

Friday, June 19, 2015

All My Children

(Doing my thing at 2 p.m. EST, with my TV family on General Hospital,
the Quartermaines)
Last summer, I started doing this thing. Unconsciously at first, but as the weeks wore on, it became second nature, like breathing. During my one hour of TV time in the afternoon, my soap opera break for General Hospital, I started standing up instead of sitting.  My friend Irene does this at the weekly meetings of our Berlin Writers' Group (BWG is the Cadillac of writers' groups; I'm always learning something and leaving there inspired). Irene stands because of comfort issues. I figured I sit enough throughout my days, so why not do something other than plunk my butt on the sofa when I take sixty in the living room.  But then something else started developing, and I'm so happy it has.  During that hour and other fun, mostly mindless breaks for TV (I'm talking about you, Guy's Grocery Games and the occasional Red Sox outing), what I've done is spend that time attending to the needs of my other family: my writing.

My flash fictions, short stories, novellas, novelettes, novels, teleplays, and screenplays are my babies. I never had the desire or instinct to want human children (feline, absolutely!), so my babies, my legacy, are my stories.  And like any healthy familial relationship, it requires maintenance.  So, during these little weekly sips of family time with my writing, I spread out my list of as-yet unwritten tales, make sure that new ideas find their way onto note cards, and review the stories that require my immediate and near-future attention.

(A novella that wants to be a novel, a novel presently in the works, and
some insanely gorgeous new designer file folders)
Right now, there are over a hundred and fifty babies in my card catalog of unwritten story ideas -- call me the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe of Writing (emphasis on 'old' following my recent 50th birthday bash, a subject for an upcoming blog story). Like any good parent, I don't discriminate between them. When an idea hits, I jot it down. Are some of my babies better, prettier, smarter than others? Probably, but I've been writing for a long time, and trying to write all of my ideas to completion since I was a teen, after I read an article in an old Writer's Digest about a Science Fiction legend who had abandoned two out of every three of his story ideas, and left the stalled drafts moldering around his office.  To this day, all of my efforts are neatly filed away in designer folders (not manila; how bland and colorless!), even my stalled drafts.  Some of the completed never leave home for publication. Many others have brought home contracts, awards, and have helped to put food on the table and pay the mortgage over the years.  Still others, the ones requiring a little extra attention, howl at me in the night, telling me they require more of my time.  I'm trying to be the best 'parent' possible for all my children, focusing on their needs, and feel fairly confident that I'm doing a fine job, with a long way yet to go.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

BEHOLD! SLAVE STORIES: Scenes From the Slave State

We're all slaves to something -- loves, lusts, chemicals, memories, obligations, history.  For a long while, I've jokingly said that I'm a slave to my Muse, that rugged, unshaven taskmaster who, for a decade now, has resembled a certain lieutenant colonel from the lost city of the Ancients but in recent weeks has taken on the guise of a former Deputy Sheriff tasked with the unenviable responsibility of saving the world.  I love my Muse, though I am, to use the lingo of this era, his bitch.  I'm lucky that I get to pour my coffee in the morning before I hear his fingers snapping, motioning me toward the lined page and pen or laptop for whatever deadlines and adventures await. I'm also lucky in that my Muse and I play extremely well together, that we have since our introduction on a muggy, stormy July night in the summer of my fifteenth year on Spaceship Earth when I figured out what I wanted to do with my life in one of those Eureka! moments that forever changed my world and, yeah, saved me.  I love to write.  I am a slave to my muse.  I am among the luckiest human beings who've ever walked the planet.

Not so the slaves who inhabit such fourth-dimensional shadow realms like Moosejaw, Wire City, and the other hopeless landscapes where humans are forced into hard labor in alien mining enclaves explored in author Chris Kelso's grimdark universe, Slave Stories: Scenes From the Slave State, published by the fine folks at Omnium Gatherum.  I was one of several scribes who received a personal invitation from Kelso, a young writer from the UK whose brilliant star is on the rise, to contribute to his shared-world experience. After reading up on the Slave State Primer, I had the opening for my story, "The Coin-Operated Man" -- about a hired gun who shepherds two refugees deep into Moosejaw territory, where a particularly valuable substance is being extracted as part of the mining operation. My foray into Kelso's sandbox left me immersed in a world of nihilism, betrayal, sweat, and pain.  And I had more fun in his fourth-dimensional world of horrors than I initially thought possible.

The book is stunning, with cover design by Terence-Jaiden Wray and gorgeous interior illustrations by Robert Thomas Baumer (Soussherpa Art).  Many of my fellow authors who also played in Kelso's world were kind enough to share the back-stories behind their stories.

Simon Marshall-Jones on "Shatterdemalion": "I suppose, like most creative people (and writers and artists in particular), the inspiration for stories or images can be found anywhere. In this instance, the springboard for my Slave State story is two-fold, a concatenation (or, perhaps, a collision) of two influences -- the very human need for spiritual salvation, and the darker end of the mystical pool from which ‘saviours’ appear to surface on a regular basis. Desperate people are malleable; provide them with promises of an end to their existential sufferings and a reward for their endurance, and they will gather. The aromatic honey of that desperation will often bring the worst type of the charlatan to it: unscrupulous monsters willing to denude those who have already suffered enough for their own personal gain, and in the process subverting the definition of what it means to be human itself. The saviour here is a cipher of that erosion of the soul such charlatans enact. The title came to me whilst travelling on a bus -- a combination of tatterdemalion (a person wearing ragged or tattered clothing) and people whose lives have been unknowingly shattered. Hope you enjoy it!"

Roger Lovelace on "Wax Worx": "I’ve always wanted to write a story with the idea of setting it in a wax museum. This goes back to my love for old horror movies. The vintage Universal logo with the plane circling the globe was my late night North Star. When my good friend, fellow writer and sometimes co-conspirator Gio Clairval suggested I submit a piece for consideration, I immediately dropped what I was doing and churned out a story. I was familiar with Chris Kelso’s work and wanted a chance at being a part of this project. Chris’s response was positive, but he was looking for something different. I picked back up the as yet untitled wax museum story and molded it into something that I hoped would fit into this exotic, dark world he had created. I saw the Wax Worx as a pit inside an already stygian world. It is a place entered through a fractured revolving door. A haven revealed to be worse than the polluted city surrounding it. Marie Antoinette is a stained adult toy and Marco a misshapen Caligula of a moldy kingdom of ages. Did I have fun writing about masochistic pimps, cardboard torture and ‘happy’ trash? You bet."

Violet LeVoit on "To Imagine Disaster is to Invoke the Same":  "Despite all my efforts to the contrary, I am irrevocably American in character, and the way that most often manifests in my behavior is a slavish desire to believe in contemporary mythologies. We Americans enjoy self-delusions about clean slates and new frontiers: California dreaming, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, the synthetic rebirth of Times Square as a corporate-funded simulacra of itself. But despite all the churches in the Bible Belt promising a fresh start after being born again, the South is still where the bodies are buried, literally and figuratively. The tumult rises to the surface every now and again, as it just did, messily, in my hometown of Baltimore a few weeks ago, and sinks back down into the sweetly perfumed mire. I wanted a story that could span those two polar truths about the American South while addressing the Disneyland impulse for newer and better ersatz experiences, while also still staying humble in light of how the contrast between antebellum gentility and bloody secrets isn't new territory for writers. To that end, I paid homage to those who had gone before me with a title that sounded like it could have come out of Flannery O'Connor."

Love Kolle on "Doctor Sector and the Song of the Artificial Transmatizer": "When I was first approached by Chris Kelso about writing a piece set in the slave state literary universe, I immediately jumped at the chance. I had admired his writing for quite some time before the offer, and as Kelso and I have similar influences -- I am referring to Burroughs and Dick in particular -- I felt right at home in his Slave State setting (both as a reader and a writer). The very first artistic decision I took had nothing to do with plot or characters, but style. There is this experimental, daring side to Kelso's work that I find really inspiring, so that I had to try to honour. The idea for the actual story -- a piece called ‘Doctor Sector and the Song of the Artificial Transmatizer’ -- came as I read ‘Transmatic’ as preparation. One particular scene featuring a rather eccentric supporting character named Dr. Sector struck a chord that resonated with me on a subconscious level, and made me ponder the metaphysical constitution of Kelso's literary universe. Then, a few days later, during a sudden flash of inspiration that came out of nowhere like a burst of spontaneous transmatica, I wrote it all down in one sitting."

Seb Doubinsky on "Ruins": "Chris Kelso had asked me to write something for an upcoming anthology set in his Slave States universe. I had said, ‘yes, of course’ and immediately forgot about it, as I was fairly busy with different projects. A few months later, Chris asked me if I had written that something for him. Of course, I hadn’t and I felt really bad about it, as I am a great admirer of Chris’s work and grateful of his unflinching support. What’s more, I was stuck in a crazy schedule that completely prevented me from sitting down and writing a story. Fortunately Chris had eyed some of my recent poems, which dealt with the desperation and angst of youth. He asked me if he could use those, and I realized that, indeed, they would fit well. After all, isn’t adolescence all about living in a permanent Slave State we call ‘society’?"


Richard Thomas on "From Within": "With my story, I tried to use the new voice I'm working on where I replace death at the center of my fiction with love. I have a habit of killing off a lot of people, using it as a bit of a crutch, so I wanted to make sure that neither of my main characters died. But that doesn't mean there isn't a threat. And world domination, slavery, at the hands of these beasts, well, it's kind of a fate worse than death, right? I thought about what the father's greatest fear might be in this new world, something I've been doing ever since I took a class with Jack Ketchum, and the obvious thing to me was that his boy would be taken from him. It's bad enough they have to work in the mines, but to have him taken away, never to be seen again? That seemed like the worst thing that could happen. I also wanted to give the boy a chance to be the hero, and if you pay close attention early on in the story, you'll see that I plant a seed toward the front, the old Chekov concept that, ‘One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off.’ Can you spot the gun?"

John Palisano on "Dodge and Midge Escape the Silo": "It’s been a long, crying time since I met Midge, deep in the Slave State -- hopeless purgatory fuck-all. I swung an electro-hammer beside him, smashing stacks of dried shit bricks of the Drivers. We reeked of burnt cherries and milk-bone. There was one decent Driver. Chris Kelso. Instead of fetid bricks, he fed us wildberry pies laced with Scorpion powder. Stuff makes two rocks about the same size look like the sexiest thing you ever saw. Those rocks’ll turn into planets and you’ll be in outer space. That’s where Dodge bonked me upside the head. I was busy tripping my balls off when this spritely wad of energy found me. ‘You? Yes! You’re good and ripe, and ready to hear how me and Midge rode the floods and took down the Silo?’ A frowning oaf of a man stood nearby. Dodge giggled like a nervous schoolboy. ‘I don’t think he’ll have any problem taking this in and spewing it out later, will he?’ ‘Don’t think so,’ Midge said. He was right. I was open . . . on a plain they say . . . when Dodge sat, cleared his throat, and didn’t shut up for twenty minutes."

Laura Lee Bahr on "Black Out in Upper Moosejaw": "Once Upon a Time I worked corporate. I had good and bad masters.  My last corporate master almost broke me.  I kept my heart alive by writing emails to myself of story fragments, thinking up rap lyrics, and fantasizing about different relationships with co-workers beyond the mechanistic robotic roles we enacted daily. There is power in what we tell ourselves that we love, even if we know it can never love us back. Acting upon that love can be an act of sabotage.  It can destroy you, the other, or even the hive itself."

Gio Clairval on "Escape From the Slave State": "The idea of my story came from my pyromaniac tendencies. I already blew up an anthology when I was invited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer to contribute to The Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, a gathering or weird objects. In that story, the protagonist went and burned down the good doctor's cabinet, along with the stuffed dodos and an entire box of ampersands, which is why my story was the last on the Table of Contents. So, when Chris Kelso elbowed me in the ribs about The Slave State (I was already going to accept because he's the haws, but I let him try to convince me anyway -- I'm bad like that), I started to plot the new bonfire. It's all set now. Ignore the billowing smoke. Keep turning the pages. You'll find my story at the end, and it will scorch your eyes."

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.