Sunday, October 30, 2011
I love a good writers retreat. I love a great one even more. From Saturday, October 22 - the 29th, I was lucky enough to enjoy the latter at an adorable little house straight at the base of Cathedral Ledge, one of the many scenic wonders in the charming vacation destination that is North Conway, New Hampshire. During my week with gal pal Tammy McCracken, leader of my fabulous Friday night writers group, I put longhand manuscripts on perhaps the smallest laptop on the planet (nicknamed, rightly, "The Baby") -- some 25,000 words worth; edited and submitted many of those stories, long and short; penned a longhand draft of a 7,500-word short story that has eluded me for years with almost-eerie ease; dove into another on one of the most effortless Thursdays in human history; got snuggly (and snoggy) with the Muse; and regrouped after a year that has already seen the completion of sixty-one individual fiction projects.
In addition to plenty of writing, there was plenty of eating. Our menu included one of the best prime ribs ever devoured, homemade beef stew, homemade chicken cordon bleu, luscious salads, veggies and dips, plenty of coffee, Diet Pepsi and, every night, homemade chocolate chip and snickerdoodle cookies, baked to perfection by my awesome fellow scribe and housemate.
On Tuesday of my week in the mountains, I took a long walk and was stunned to see just how close we were to Cathedral Ledge, which loomed above the trees in our front yard. We enjoyed a roaring log fire for six of our seven nights. The cozy cottage on Crossbow Lane was a place to regroup, recenter and, above all, relax.
It didn't strike me until our second day of the retreat how exhausted I've been. The full weight of our difficult 2010 and working nonstop in 2011 without much of a break (last winter's zombie plague chest cold doesn't count) caught up to me in North Conway, which was the perfect venue to steal a much-needed, deep cleansing breath. The days passed like a quite wonderful dream, and I can't wait to return to that house, courtesy of our wonderful hostess, Maureen Parziale, who made it clear from the start that we would love our time there, guaranteed. She did not disappoint.
I am rested, and much writing is down in longhand draft as a result, even more final-drafted -- all good things as, in two days, I plan to dive back into the flurry of fresh pages. It's almost NaNoWriMo time and there's a novel demanding to be written.
Friday, October 21, 2011
I grew up in an enchanted cottage near a big woods in the town of Windham, New Hampshire. A lot of wonderful circumstances like that house, those woods, contributed to me becoming the writer I am today. But another factor truly added flavor to the recipe, and its influence still affects me, some 30 years after the fact.
Creature Double-Feature, broadcast every Saturday on WLVI-Channel 56 out of Boston, was a weekly staple of my boyhood life. One of the event-viewing must-sees tossed into the movie rotation was the ultra-creepy 1963 Japanese import, Matango -- known in these parts as Attack of the Mushroom People. In Attack, doomed party goers on a yacht get stranded on a mysterious island where there is nothing to eat save mushrooms...only the mushrooms, which produce a trilling laugh that still crawls over my flesh when I imagine it all these years later, are quite hungry themselves. I vividly remember the chill that worked below my skin when the lone escapee, when questioned, turns to his interviewers in those final seconds of the movie, the half of his face being eaten alive by fungus unseen until that moment, and shrieks, "I ate them!" Also, of playing in the woods in the later afternoon following the double-feature -- but not for long because my barely-contained panic in the living room was running fairly free in the lush green glens just across the road following that terrible Fade Out.
I watched the movie in 2008 for the first time in decades while under a horrific deadline for a novel, and icy fingers tickled my spine as effectively then as when I was a kid. The same autumn, an ugly encounter with another writer schooled me on the dangers of professional jealousy in any creative field. The two factors collided, and the idea for "The Mushrooms" was spawned.
"The Mushrooms," my novella of roughly 20,000 words, was released this week in Grand Mal Press's beautiful quadruple-threat collection, Mal Contents. My contribution follows Sunny Weir, a successful and visible chef-lebrity who is celebrating the latest highlights of her career when she is savagely attacked by a crazed wannabe convinced that Sunny has stolen a cherished family recipe. The wannabe, who applied to the reality cooking show upon which Sunny serves as judge, will go to any length to finish what she starts on the fateful night when Sunny's chest runs into the wannabe's knife -- even if it means completing the bloodshed from beyond the grave.
GMP showrunner Ryan Thomas approached me in early 2011 to contribute a novella to the then-unnamed project, which was operating loosely under a theme of Revenge and Redemption. I wrote two for Ryan, unable to put either story down once started (the second, "Nightmare Near Highway 101," will appear in my forthcoming collection by EJP, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse). But I have quite the fondness for Sunny Weir and sympathy for the predicament she finds herself in after her attacker corners her, forcing Sunny to fight for her life in a kitchen competition unlike any other. To read "The Mushrooms" as well as the three fantastic novellas penned by Ryan, Randy Chandler, and David T. Wilbanks, be sure to pick up a copy of Mal Contents.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
This week, I hopped back onboard the Intrepid-Class Starship U.S.S. Voyager, after a fashion. For quite a few years, I was associated with the fourth live-action Star Trek series in a professional capacity as both TV journalist and TV screenwriter. With my good friend Laura A. Van Vleet, I was vetted into the story pitching pool by series creator Jeri Taylor. Laura and I had written a massive feature article on Ms. Taylor's body of work for the Sci Fi Channel's magazine and, impressed with our knowledge of the franchise and our competence in storytelling, she invited us to show her what we had. She would also recommend us both for internships on set at the Paramount Studios at 5555 Melrose Avenue.
It took nearly a year of meetings, but we eventually cracked the Powers-That-Be, selling not one but two episodes: "The Hiding" which went through committee to become the fifth-season's unforgettable "Counterpoint," in which Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) outwits a powerful military leader to save survivors of a persecuted race (we had the telepaths hidden in Voyager's ground hover foot pads, not the easy out of the transporters); and "The Well", which went on to become "Gravity," and originally involved Tom Paris (Robert Duncan-McNeill), the Doctor (Robert Picardo), and Neelix (Ethan John Phillips) trapped in a gravity well and staging a daring plan to escape. That story was committee'ed into the backstory of Vulcan Tactical Officer Tuvok. For "The Hiding," we had the pleasure of working with staff writer Nick Sagan, Carl Sagan's son and a true gentlemen in the business.
During that time, Laura and I had numerous opportunities to work with Ms. Mulgrew as well (for the series finale, we were invited back to the set and wrote some thirty-plus feature articles for various national magazines and newspapers). This week, Kate Mulgrew -- the Trek captain who took down the Borg Collective -- wrote a stunning blurb for my forthcoming collection of original short and long stories, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: A Baker's Dozen From the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris (Evil Jester Press). The blurb is incredible, generous, powerful, a clear sign that this book has the potential to become one for the history books. Muse is scheduled for release in December 2011.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Not long ago, it was my pleasure to meet Dale Eldon and also to discover his fiction. Dale lives and writes in Illinois, where he works not one but multiple jobs, returning daily from a grueling third-shift gig that pays the bills to hone his craft doing what he really loves: creating stories, both short and longform. Charged with a kind of passion that's downright inspiring, Dale's is defintely a byline to look for in the near future.
I asked Dale to contribute one of his wonderful original tales to my blog as a literary Halloween reward, something to toss into my readers' big plastic pumpkins and pillow cases for trick-or-treat. And we're not talking any of those ridiculous microscopic candy bars, folks. Enjoy a big juicy bite of "Trixie Gone Crazy"—and be sure to stick around for the Dale Eldon interview that follows the fun!
TRIXIE GONE CRAZY by Dale Eldon
Jason Proulx led Nikki blindfolded through trees to the remote house. In the darkness, his fiance's long black hair blended into the wool collar of her coat.
“Now darling, there is no need to bitch. I wouldn't have tied your hands behind your back if you did what you were told.” Jason said, slapping her on the ass. “And I can see that gagging your mouth didn't quiet you down. Maybe I should have used chloroform.” Jason could hear with almost complete clarity a couple of Nikki’s curse words. “You'll just have to wait. I am not taking the gag out until I'm ready.”
Nikki kicked at him. Jason grabbed a hold of her thick thigh and scooted her forward.
“Settle down, Princess, you will see soon enough all that I have done for you.”
After trekking up a steep grassy hill, they made it to the front porch. Another muffled moan from under the gag, this one more annoyed than the last, sounded as Jason undid the restraints. Nikki smacked his shoulder and removed the blindfold and gag herself.
“Jason, you prick!”
“You say that now, but what do you think of this?”
He pointed a remote control towards the silhouetted house and clicked. An effulgence of white Christmas lights erupted to life along the wrap-around porch.
“Oh. my!” Nikki said, now breathless for a different reason, her anger evaporating.
“And this...” He pressed another button.
More lights switched on from inside the house. Jason extended his hand. Nikki accepted. He led her through the front door.
“Wow, you actually did it! Jason, I love you!” She squeezed him with a crushing hug and kissed him hard, full on the lips. Releasing him so Jason could breathe, she punched his shoulder again, this time harder. “Doesn't excuse you for being a jerk.” She said with playful grin.
“Damn, girl. I know it needs a lot of work, but since you are leaving me soon I plan to spend my extra time fixing the place up. In between writing the book. ”
“You sure you'll get your new book done on time?”
“Don't use me as an excuse to procrastinate.”
“I promise to have both finished by the time you get back.”
“I'm going to miss you.”
“I know, baby. It's going to be a long two years.”
“That's the Army. But this is my last two years. Then I'll be in the reserves—and mostly all yours.”
Jason smiled. “By the time you get back, I'll have this place looking brand new.”
“I can't wait.” She leaned close. Voice lowering almost to a whisper, she asked. “So, is there a bed somewhere in here?”
Five days after Nikki left, Jason felt the sting of being alone. Time dragged at a maddening slow pace in front of his laptop.
Hello blank screen of death... how am I going to finish a novel if I never start it? He leaned back in his cushioned rocking chair, propped his feet on the desk, again aware of his surroundings. Jason's eyes wondered over the walls. I need to get to work on this heap. I haven't done shit since I started in the attic. Get off my ass, and start working on the drywall.
An idea flashed through his thoughts. Fingers came to life and began tapping. Jason hadn't been typing long when a scrabble sounded from over his head. Jason glanced at the ceiling. The attic. He crooked his ear, froze. Tiny little feet had run a marathon across the attic floorboards. Rats? He hoped not. But this was the third time in as many days he'd heard the little fuckers racing around up there.
A jarring thud shocked Jason out of his paralysis. He jumped out of his chair and charged down the hallway to the attic’s folding staircase, stopping only long enough to grab a flashlight from his toolbox. Heart hammering in his chest, he climbed up, aimed the beam into the dusty darkness.
The flashlight's beam touched upon the big plastic dollhouse sitting on a dusty table.
“What the fuck?” Jason growled beneath his breath, certain he'd left the thing under a sheet following his previous visit to clean out the untold decades of clutter. The dollhouse had escaped going into the pile for the dumpster, as did the box of dolls and doll accessories. Nikki would be back, and they planned to have a family. Maybe a daughter. Shining the flashlight lower revealed a chair tipped onto its back and the sheet, pooling on the floor.
As Jason bent over to pick up the chair, lights inside the dollhouse switched on. Standing, he caught a flash of motion from one of the small windows. Fear slithered over Jason's flesh. What met his eyes wasn't possible. A doll leaned into the window and greeted him with a painted smile.
Jason stumbled back into the box of Trixie dolls and doll clothes, dropping the flashlight as he fell. The light showed the box was empty, the dolls gone—because they were running around the attic, screamed the voice in his head.
Horror engulfed him. Maybe he’d finally snapped after days of living alone, staring at the screen. Or maybe a section of his novel had jumped out of his imagination, engulfing him whole. He heard multiple giggles emanating from the doll house and knew the explanation wouldn’t be so easy.
Jason spotted the old wooden baseball bat sticking out of the attic’s contents, grabbed it, and swung. The first blow sent the dollhouse crashing to the floor. A trio of Trixie dolls scurried out, angry expressions on their molded plastic faces. The dolls stood. Jason swung again. Limbs and heads rained across the floorboards.
Jason’s gaze darted to the dollhouse. Movement, only he couldn’t be sure if it was fresh or from his home run swing. He tapped the house with the tip of the bat. It rocked back and fourth but nothing came out. Breaths still refused to come easily. The full weight of what he’d just seen sank in. Jason backed toward the stairs.
Halfway to escape, another of the Trixie dolls grabbed hold of his leg.
“Get the fuck off me,” he shrieked. He kicked and the doll flew through the air.
Jason readied to swing, but exquisite pain flared at his left ankle. The baseball bat spilled out of his hand. He glanced down to see his white sock turning red. A rusty nail stuck out of his foot. One of the Trixies giggled and skittered away, into the shadows., where its voice joined numerous others.
Jason scrambled for the attic stairs—he had to get out, get away. He bent over, reached for the top step.
The last thing he saw was the head of the baseball bat, right bebore it struck him in the face.
His emails, infrequent as they were, had sustained her and, after two years in Afghanistan, Nikki returned home. The white cab pulled up to the house, but her euphoria evaporated at the sight of the wrap-around porch, its condition worse than when she’d left.
What the hell? I thought he said he would have it finished by the time I got back. Typical Jason.
She got out and paid the driver. With her military duffel slung over the shoulder, Nikki walked up the porch steps. She found the door unlocked—not even Jason was that lazy, she thought, the first real sense that something was wrong working its way under her skin. She pushed open the door and entered a house that looked worse off than when she first saw it.
She walked over to Jason's computer. It was on and hummed, but covered in a thick layer of dust. Tiny prints left on the keys made her wonder if mice had been running back and fourth across them. A plastic doll sat in the chair, male, about eight inches she guessed. Its eyes were closed. The temperature in the house plummeted. From its clothes to its face, the doll looked like Jason.
Nikki reached for the doll. Its eyes flew open. A grin formed on the doll’s plastic mouth.
“I missed you, Princess,” the doll said in Jason’s voice.
A joke. A stupid, sick joke—that’s what this was. Nikki remained composed; after all, she’d seen plenty of fucked-up shit overseas. “Jason, where are you?” she called to the empty house.
The doll jumped down from the chair and ran toward her, its arms extended for a hug. “I’m right here, silly.”
The scream bottled inside Nikki leapt out of her throat. “Jason, this isn’t funny!”
“Yes it is!” The doll pursued, its stiff legs keeping up. “I just want a hug and a kiss... c'mere sweetheart!”
Nikki turned and ran up the stairs.
“That's not fair!” the Jason doll said as it labored up the steps. “And I wouldn't go up there if I was you.”
Nikki raced down the hallway, calling his name. The attic stairs slammed down, catching her head. Nikki crashed to the floor. A sinister female voice giggled from above. Holding her forehead, Nikki looked up. Beyond the filter of pain, numerous plastic dolls gazed down from the attic, each clutching an instrument of pain.
“Wait until you see what I did with our house,” Jason said, right before the dolls fell upon her, stabbing and drawing blood. “In the attic, just like I promised. Our dream house.”
AN INTERVIEW WITH DALE ELDON
You write because...
I write because if I didn't my muse would grind me up, vacuum seal me in plastic, then shove me in the freezer next to the ground up coffee. Not to mention this said muse is an adult version of Jessica (also the same name of my current girlfriend, go figure) Rabbit. So when the lady in red speaks, I listen. And it was either writing, or juggling flaming geese, so I went with the safer option.
This is your first published short fiction. Give us a sense of your background—what you've written in the past, what inspires you, what you are presently working on.
My background itself isn't the most interesting, but I will give the short version. Since I was young I wanted to be a writer. My father went through this phase in school, and even some when he married my mother. He spent money (that we couldn't afford) on a writing course which he never finished. Though the writer in him didn't take for very long, I thought about how cool it would be to be an author. Which is funny since I hated to read at the time. One thing my dad was able to teach me, was to focus on character development. Though his knowledge was kinda limited.
Then as the years went by, I would try to write stories. And to say they were God awful would be an understatement. Though like my father, I went through many phases as to what I wanted to be, a writer was the only thing I could achieve, even if at the point I did suck.
I wanted to be a homicide detective, a forensic scientist, private eye, or a private business owner. None of which really suited my skills. Or lack-there-of. Since May 28th of 1999, I have been working fast food. Four different jobs in the field. From day one till now, I have hated every second of it. For the longest time I procrastinated on my writing. For many reasons. One, I sucked. Two, I just didn't know enough about writing to finish a story. Three, I was trying to write as novel instead of working my way through short stories. I was trying to go from Jedi apprentice to Jedi master, and it didn't work. In the last few years I have been forcing myself to write more, but still had some of the same problems. I continued to try to push on one novel. Or I would try on a different novel in the same series. Which isn't best choice since publishers don't go with a series unless they know it will be a hit. They still want to sell enough copies of Book One first. Wasn't until a few months ago that I decided short stories would be the best venue to write for at this time.
So, here we are almost in the present. My friend Rebecca Besser, who is a mutual friend of a couple of my other awesome writer friends, one day posted a link to a site called Evil Jester Press. At this point I just started writing a short story on zombies and was thinking about going back to the novel gig. But I decided to join the cool new site. In doing so, I met several amazing writers who would later become my friends. Peter Giglio (head editor of EJP, and amazing author) and Charles Day (founder of EJP), hosted an anthology for a wonderful collection of stories. I entered.
At this point I am still trying to become a better writer and get my name out there. And deal with my daily stress with the job, get my daily dose of ridicule from coworkers and management. And during this time I was getting closer to the deadline. I finally came up with a decent plot, but had little time to write it. So I wrote my butt off trying to nail it. And on the final night before the deadline, I finished and submitted. Of course I didn't get accepted, as I knew I probably wouldn't. The old me would have said forget it before submitting. I put the old me duct taped in a trunk and wrote it and submitted it. In doing so not only have I learned a lot about my craft, but I have a new outline for a future novel. One that I am not going to rush on. I will write on it between short stories.
Now, I am currently writing a short story for Knight Watch Press for their horror Civil War anthology, though I don't know if I will be accepted, but I am trying again. This time with better editing skills. It is called, "Place of Refuge," and it is about a woman and her child who are left home alone when the husband is called to duty to fight for the South. During his leave, as they survive on their own, praying that gunfire, or canon balls don't come crashing through their home, there is a monster being driven out from its swamp home. The beast makes a run for the closest house, the house of the woman and child.
As the beast tries to make their home its place of refuge, and use the inhabitants as a food source, the mother fights to protect her child, and kill the beast.
Also I am working on a vampire story for SMN Magazine called, "By Invitation Only." It is about a young vampire hunter who has never fought a vampire before set to slay the vamp who killed his mentor. The man who taught him everything he knows was retired from the job of hunting vampires, and with the belief of killing the last one, is murdered by a vampire. The boy takes up the role, but does so with only half the training. In his pursuit for the vampire, he teams up with another vampire with a grudge against the one who killed the ex- vampire hunter. There is an important lesson in this story though, there is no such thing as a good vampire.
Then, I have a zombie short for my friend Draven Ames, he plans on posting for Halloween. It will center around a child protagonist fighting for survival.
I have to say what inspires me, is family, and the urge to be the best writer that I am capable of becoming, even if it kills me.
Your grandmother was a positive influence on you. Tell us about her, please.
One of the kindest souls even to walk this planet, Joan (pronounced Jo-Ann) Ford, left this world only a month ago. After a lifetime of horrible marriage (my grandfather, a pedophile which was found out later), the loss of a daughter to a murderous husband (my awesome aunt Kim), and a multitude of health problems that lead her into a nursing home; she always continued to be a kind and sincere human being.
For those in the family who loved her and respected her, she adored. She loved her family more than anything else. Especially all the new great grandchildren as of late. And she had a respect for me that I have never deserved. While I have a lot of good things going for me, she saw only the best.
When she passed it left a huge hole not only in my life, but my family's. But there was one thing she managed to pass on to me, and that was the image she had of me. Not only do I now have to strive to be that grandson, but she also had so much faith in my writing. She honestly believed I would become a success.
In the end, she held on long enough to talk and to see as much of her living family as she could. From those of us in the same town, to others out of state. She held on until she not only said what needed to be said, but long enough to see pictures of my cousin's new baby, via cellphone camera.
Though she is gone, and to a better place, her influence lives on in me, and others who cared about her. She has left an imprint that can never fade.
Favorite authors, books?
Authors: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Patricia Cornwell, to name a few.
Books: The Shining, Watchers, The Bourne Identity, Stephen King's short story collections, also, to name a few.
What would your dream day be like?
Just for the day? I would have to say, 100% awake, no stress, mother feeling better from her health issues, my daughter coming down for a visit, writing a few thousand words for a story, while checking up on my sales of current novels and anthologies with my stories. That would nail it!