Sunday, December 25, 2011

Presents


Today, it's all about what was given to me, not taken away (i.e., the Grinch that stole One Life to Live and All My Children).  Santa brought me the above T-shirt, dark gray with white writing.  It's the most expensive T-shirt I've ever owned, but it sure makes me happy to wear my 'Type Writer' tee. Also given by St. Nick (or his helper) -- fine-point red sharpies for editing, two exquisite Oleg Cassini crystal candlesticks, various designer folders (a dozen in a deep shade of plum with hounds tooth pattern, another dozen in deep primary colors...file folders are my big writerly office supply fetish), and a copy of Sol Stein's fantastic book, Stein on Writing.

The lovely authoress Lee-Ann Vincent gave me a wonderful Christmas Day interview at her blogsite, Writing Commando.

A reviewer at Asylum Windows gave my novella "The Mushrooms" in MalContents by the fine folk at Grand Mal Press a fantastic review.  I quote:

Next up is The Mushrooms by Gregory L. Norris. When a crazed woman attacks a celebrity chef over claims of plagiarism, the TV host retreats to an isolated cottage in order to recuperate, only to discover it isn’t the safe haven she thought it was.
This is a very well written story and Norris does a fine job of creating an atmosphere of claustrophobic terror within the cottage. He also displays considerable skill in handling a bizarre concept that could have easily come off as b-grade in lesser hands.

Myself: Last night I gave myself a long-overdue gift.  I grew up in a tiny enchanted cottage in Windham, New Hampshire, set before a vast, mysterious wood where, I believe, my imagination was given free reign to explore and grow.  In that house on Christmas Eves, my mother routinely set out bowls of mixed nuts (in the shell), grapes and fruit, homemade brownies, and Lebanese meat pies, the triangular kind.  With the leftover dough from the meat pies, she made Crispellies -- little fried dough balls with anchovy at the center.  The tree would be lit, and our little house would resonate with Christmas music and a sense of wonder.  It's been thirty-six years since one of those magical Christmas Eves...last night, I made Lebanese meat pies, Crispellies, homemade brownies, laid out a bowl of mixed nuts and a platter of grapes and fruit and, from the first bite until the last, it was like being a kid again in that house.

From the Muse: For all of 2011, my Muse has been a constant companion -- equal parts taskmaster, lover, brute, and soul mate.  In the early part of the year, while battling a bout of creative exhaustion worsened by not one but two visits by a cold-plague that refused to be easily vanquished, the Muse routinely took me to lunch at a local Chinese buffet, where we would sit and write for hours, enjoying a delightful spread with some of the best hot and sour soup on the planet, first-class lo mein and appetizers, and a placid, cozy setting two blocks from my front door. In May, to commemorate my 900th completed work of fiction (short story, novella, novel, screen- or teleplay), the Muse whisked me back through time to my childhood, forward into the future to the wacky world of Lost in Space. My hundred-mark stories have always been fan fiction-based; I put fountain pen to paper and belted out a 12,000-word novella, "Lost and Found," that's been sitting in my card catalog of unwritten ideas since 1982, when a dream about the Robinson clan trapped on an icy, dark planet populated by gargoyle-like creatures found its way onto one of those story note cards.  It was my pleasure -- and my audience's, apparently, given their reaction -- to read the effort aloud on Friday nights for the month and a half that followed.


Muse also romanced me (and kicked my butt) during the writing of, appropriately, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse, my forthcoming monster-sized collection from Evil Jester Press.  As of this entry, together we have completed seventy fiction projects, the short and the long.  There's a good bet the number will rise somewhat in the next week.  And then it's on to the adventures of 2012!

Today, the family is together in our lovely home, the Christmas tree lit, an exquisite feast planned for later this afternoon that includes prime rib, scallops, and mashed potatoes with spinach and garlic.  We're also headed to the movies to see The Darkest Hour.  Between now and then, Muse and I are having some quiet time with coffee and our annual Christmas Day date, when I pen a full story to completion.  We first hung out together and accomplished this in 1980 with "Under the Streetlight," a paranormal tale whose ancient first draft still lurks in the big gray lateral-drawer filing cabinet in my Writing Room.

Happiest of Holidays, all -- and may your presents be as wonderful!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

MUSE Status Report


So it's been some five months since I was first approached about writing a collection of original short (and long) fiction for Evil Jester Press.  During the first three months following the offer, my fountain pen traveled to Ancient Abydos, London and its surrounding turf in the 1960s, New Hampshire of the 1970s, and a terrifying future scenario, specifically in a flooded part of the world known as the New Ganges.  I packaged up a tidy manuscript that weighed in at a hefty 100k, kicked off by a brief but telling author's foreword, and breathed a very happy sigh of relief that I had done the job.

Or so I thought.

Less than a week after hitting the 'send' button, I was on the phone with Senior Editor Extraordinaire, Peter Giglio, who, like I, was shocked at the sheer volume of cancelled anthologies dropped by a certain publisher that was holding onto some two dozen short stories and novellas of mine.  Peter suggested I take the most appropriate of that number, go back to the desk, and expand The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse to a bigger, badder 200k, making sure a good portion of those jilted stories found a decent home.  So through November and into December, I've been working to augment Muse, carefully selecting the right complimentary pieces, bulking up the word count, and utilizing the extra space to add pieces to round things out mightily.  I believe I've done that and am closing in on hitting the 'send' button once more.

In addition to eight stories pulled from the cancelled anthology pile, I've written five brandy-new tales, each of them quite massive alone...more than half the new word count.  The new stories takes us to Rwanda in 1994, to Tora Bora in Afghanistan in 2001, to a loft apartment in New York City, and the Carpathians at the end of World War II -- or, as our young, lost Russian soldiers refer to it, the Great Patriotic War.  One tale takes readers thirty miles off the coast of Massachusetts, after a high-speed ferry collides with a sea monster.  Another follows three women in three different times, their lives linked by a haunted apartment.  Another, "Brood Swamp," unfolds in 1947, in the Florida Everglades.

I am monstrously proud (he said intentionally) with this collection of original stories.  It was a writer's dream to be given such freedom, to be asked to deliver so massive a manuscript.  Look for The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: Twenty-Six Tales From the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris in the not-too-distant future.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Writers Christmas Party 2011


On Saturday the 10th of December, 2011, our little family opened our home to writers from two weekly writing groups and beloved friends alike, some of the later dating back decades.  We chose the date for its practicality -- as the holiday draws near, life for most goes from hectic to frenetic, so we figured an earlier time would work best.  We decorated our home with great joy, like a couple of kids -- our Christmas tree is covered in vintage hand-blown glass bulbs from Germany, tied to the boughs with silk ribbon.  The puzzle table with antique nativity and other decorations would serve to hold presents for our big Yankee Swap.


The kitchen table - Before.  The paper I purchased to wrap my Yankee Swap gift was so beautiful, at the 11th Hour I decided it would also make a great tablecloth.  My two new Oleg Cassini crystal candlesticks, an early Christmas present, made the perfect centerpiece.  When the light hits them...wow!


Another look -- Before.


The living room - Before.


A different view.  To the right of our flat screen are the gorgeous purple and gold Christmas boxes that our gourmet candy delivery came in, a gift from our lovely friends from England, Craig and Sim Saunders.  Craig Saunders is a brilliant fellow author and has numerous novels out and due, including Rain and the fantastic Scarecrow and the Madness.


Our antique tiger maple server -- the marble top is about to be transformed into a 'candy bar.'

Guests began to arrive, and food came out of the oven, cherry-seltzer punch with lemon slices was made, and voila -- a Christmas buffet unlike any other!


Among the spread were: slow-cooked ham (a giant...that got devoured down to the bone), twice-baked potatoes, jumbo shrimp and cocktail sauce, three types of pasta (including a vegetarian-friendly version with capers that was out of this world!), veggies and dip, cheese and crackers, salads, baby rolls and butter, a wonderful sweet cardamom bread, apple and butternut soup, chips, sides, and desserts that stretched from one end of the counter to the next!


The candy bar idea came to me with the theme.  Holidays, Willie Wonka, candy canes -- and it turned out being lovely.




Our wonderful guests arrived, some 17 in all.  We dined, drank punch, sodas, and fresh coffee, ate some more, and then opened presents during our Yankee Swap.


Nom-nom-nom say Rebecca Pope (r), Anthony Catino (r), Abe Drayton (l), and Lorrie Lee O'Neill (l), award-winning and uber-published modern phenom.


Writers attacking the spread like zombies on Sunday nights on the AMC network.


Douglas Poirier, whose fantastic short story "Peng" is set to appear in Wicked East Press's homage to all-things-dragon, Here There Be Dragons, wrangles with choosing one of the more femininely-designed gift wrappings.


Scribe Delia Moran decides she'd rather swipe the Sol Stein writing book I snagged than get Gone With the Wind and do calligraphy.  I wound up with a most-excellent copy of Strunk & White's The Elements of Style (ironic, as I'm always telling new writers to commit that book to memory!). And then thirteen of us read our stories and novel chapters on the theme of 'Candy' -- a great and varied entertainment portion of the party, as always.


The party went well into the evening, becoming a soiree.  And when our last guest left and I cleaned up, put away food, and returned the house to its usual sparkly nature, I had a bit of help -- from our oldest helper, Ms. Chicken.


As things wrapped, I sneaked into my Writing Room to check emails and saw that my story "Foodie" -- written last Christmas -- had been accepted into M. Christian's anthology, A Lover's Feast: Sensual Food Tales.  The perfect end to a wonderful Christmas party, perhaps one of the best group gatherings ever!

Friday, December 9, 2011

From the Bookshelf: Age of Giants - awakening by Rob Reaser


The angels have descended--sing Hallelujah, right?  Not so fast.  In Rob Reaser's chilling debut novel, Age of Giants - awakening, the Nephilim (half-angel, half-human hybrids) aren't here to be our guardians or our friends.  In fact, four generations have passed since they wiped out most of humanity and staked their claim to our world.  The Earth as we know it is gone; what remains is a desolate and dangerous battlefield in which bullets fly and blood flows.

Age, the first installment in a series of future-warfare adventure novels, follows Nora, a skilled soldier trained out of necessity as her nomadic clan resists the Nephilim and human traitors working with the invaders.  In the opening salvo, Nora and a small team of raiders travel to the outskirts of the Kralen Dominion in old New Mexico, hoping to take out a Nephilim radio transmission station and procure supplies and ammunition.  The plan quickly goes awry, and following a bloody firefight, Nora finds herself up close with one of humanity's merciless enemies.

"He looked to be well over seven feet tall. Probably more like eight, Nora guessed. Long, dark coarse hair covered his head. A short-cropped beard, riding high on his cheeks, hid much of his face. His broad nose, heavy eyebrows and wide mouth combined with a light brown complexion to complete the horrible visage.
Horrible. That was the word she’d often heard used to describe the Nephilim. She could see now that it suited them perfectly.
He wore dark blue pants that fit snugly around his legs. His thighs were massive, each nearly as wide around as Nora’s torso. Fine, tanned leather boots were laced high over his calves. He wore a loose, dark brown tunic—made even darker by the enormous amount of blood pumping from his multiple chest wounds. The garment fell well below his waist and was cinched with a broad leather belt and an ornate gold buckle.
Nora stared at the man in a sort of primal shock. It was several moments before she realized she had stopped breathing, and a few more before noticing that the Nephilim hadn’t. She watched, stunned, as his huge barrel chest slowly heaved like a pulsing mound of earth.
They said the Nephilim were impossible to kill. Nora wasn’t sure she had ever believed that, although she was now certain that they could be seriously hurt. But she understood how such crazy talk could become legend. No human could ever have survived that many shots to the chest. Nora tried to understand what she saw before her. Assuming their anatomy was the same as a human, this Nephilim had to have at least one shot to the heart, one or two to the spine and the rest penetrating the lungs. And yet he lived, breathing laboriously, but with a steady rhythm.
Nora felt a most unusual fear, one she had never experienced before. She had been in plenty of firefights. Killed men. She was always anxious and tense going into battle, senses heightened, pulse rate elevated. That was normal. But she had never truly been afraid. Now she was. The living nightmare of her childhood lay before her. It left a hollow feeling in her legs. Her head buzzed and her ears felt as if they were filled with water. Her vision dimmed at the edges until all she could see was the blood-soaked Nephilim on the ground.
She settled her eyes on his, and saw that he was looking straight at her."

On the heels of the engagement, Nora meets Stu, a captured resistance fighter with knowledge of communications technology who reveals a looming new threat not only to her clan but to all raiders.  After the Nef's capture Nora's father and most of her people, she finds herself among a greater resistance than she ever imagined possible -- and at the terrifying very epicenter of the war.

Reaser tells an excellent tale, his style muscular, his world building instantly believable and engaging.  In Age, human resistance fighters learn to hunt, gather, and engage the enemy in a dusty landscape filled with the remains and reminders of today's world.  The Nephilim's disposable human labor force construct huge stone palaces to their ruthless masters, whose feudal, fraternal society is well thought out and believable.  Not once does the pacing slow -- Age of Giants is the definition of a page-turner.  I found myself cheering on Nora and company --  and dying to read the sequel!

It was my honor to work as a feature writer for Rob Reaser for several years when he edited the late, great Heartland USA Magazine -- the second largest men's general interest publication in terms of circulation after Playboy (some three million issues bi-monthly).  During my stint, Rob assigned me plum adventure stories on such topics as the U.S. Coast Guard and Goodyear Blimp fleet, and celebrity interviews with Dirty Jobs dude Mike Rowe, Animal Planet's Jeff Corwin, and Weather Channel storm chaser Jim Cantore, among others.  After Phillip-Morris killed the venerable magazine, Rob tried mightily to resurrect it with a new publisher.  And he wrote one hell of a novel in the interim.  I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Rob about Age of Giants and its forthcoming sequel.


Tell us about your writing history -- where you've been, where you're going.
Funny thing about this journey called life...there are always surprises, twists and turns. I never envisioned myself becoming a writer when I was younger. Sure, I was an avid sci-fi and fantasy reader, but a writer? Heck, I was a B, C and sometimes D English student in high school. Of course, that can mostly be attributed to the fact that I didn’t want to be in a classroom. What I wanted to be was a photographer. I taught myself the craft during my Junior and Senior years, and the summer I graduated I was hell-bent on becoming the next Ansel Adams. I tried to sell some of my work (looking back at that effort now, I laugh!), but quickly discovered that in order to sell images to publications, I needed words to go with them. I bought a copy of Writer’s Market and tried to find some magazines that might offer an entry opportunity. By the end of the summer I had sold two article/photo packages to national publications. That caused me to reassess my future. Writing, as it turned out, was fun, and if financial reward was any indication, there was a chance that I might have some measure of talent for it.

Flash forward a few short years later. I was living in Florida and had just completed my Associate in Arts degree. I had been accepted to the University of South Florida’s journalism program when I took what was meant to be a summer job as a darkroom technician for an automotive publishing company. Wow! I had taken my first step into the publishing world. As it turned out, I decided to bail on getting the sheepskin. After all, I was already where I wanted to be, even if it was standing in a darkroom eight hours a day burning 5x7 prints (this, of course, was before the glorious days of digital photography).

Then one day one of the company editors, Tom Corcoran, asked if I would be interested in stepping out of the cave and working with him as managing editor of Mustang Monthly magazine. Tom knew of my interest in writing, and I guess he saw something in me that held promise. Anyway, I accepted and was thrilled beyond belief.

Tom turned out to be the ├╝ber-mentor. He was, and still is, an exceptional writer (he’s the author of the Alex Rutledge mystery series set in Key West). Tom was Key West buddies with Jimmy Buffet (and collaborated on some of Buffet’s songs), hung out with the infamous Hunter S. Thompson, and counts poet Jim Harrison, Winston Groom (Forrest Gump) and PJ O’Rourke (a college buddy) among his many well-known friends. Tom had street cred, and I was fortunate that he took me under his wings. He taught me more about writing and editing than I could have ever learned in a classroom.
Over the next decade I worked as an editor for several automotive magazines, became a full-time freelancer and columnist, then bookended my magazine career when I became editor of Heartland USA (where, of course, I became friends with an astounding writer by the name of Gregory L. Norris!).

During all of those years, however, the urge to become a novelist (which first took root in my scrambled brain about the same time I got into the magazine industry) kept gnawing at me. Unfortunately, the work-a-day tasks of editing and non-fiction writing never left much creative space for me to start to work on that dream. When Heartland USA folded, however, I knew it was time to either get to it or get off the pot. I chose the former.

That’s where I’ve been. As to where I’m going, I suppose the fates will decide that. In the interim, I’ve decided to go back to school. Last fall I re-enrolled (after a 25-year hiatus) at Alderson-Broaddus College, where I attended right after high school, and am looking forward to completing my bachelor’s degree in creative writing.

What's the backstory behind Age of Giants?  Where did the idea originate and how long did it take you to write the novel?
Interestingly, Age of Giants - awakening began as a writing prompt assignment for my creative writing practicum class last fall. It was a short 300-word ditty with a post-apocalyptic setting in which some unnamed aliens had ravaged Earth and the remnant humans were left to survive like rats in a sewer. Over Christmas break I kept thinking about that piece, and in short order I sketched out a rough story arc. By the end of the spring semester I’d penned the first three chapters. I started writing hot and heavy near the end of May (in between client work for my business, Reaser Brand Communications), and on July 15 the book was completed.

As for the story itself, I simply wrote the kind of novel that I like to read, the key ingredients being dark realism, a post-apocalyptic setting, ancient mystery come to life and a strong, unconventional yet realistic heroine. I also am enamored with the hero journey in literature—the benchmark being The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

When I say I developed a rough story arc before writing AoG, I do mean it was rough. I already had the beginning, and I knew where it was going to end. As for the eighty-percent in the middle, I had no idea where I was going. And that was what made writing this book so much fun. It was a discovery for me at every step. Often I would finish a chapter and have absolutely no idea what was coming next. I guess I was lucky in a way, because I never painted myself into a corner.

I had tried mapping out story ideas before, often in great detail. It never worked. I suppose my creative process just doesn’t allow me to do that.

A year or so ago I read Stephen King’s book On Writing. In it he likened novel writing to digging up a fossil. You dig and scrape away and eventually, if you keep at it, a whole emerges and you finally see what it was you were working so hard to uncover. That was exactly how this process went for me. It was thrilling, and when I had finished I was surprised that I had actually done it. (To that, my wife just rolled her eyes. She always had faith and confidence in me when I found so little in myself.)

How do you compose?  On the computer?  Longhand?  How many drafts, etc.  What's your creative space like?
I’m totally enslaved to the keyboard. I’d say this comes from years of writing articles on deadline. No time to write longhand, then type it in, then edit. I’ve become used to editing as I go. I know a lot of creative writers believe that method stifles the process, but for me, it works. It also means I don’t require multiple drafts and major surgery after the first draft is completed. With luck, all I need is the usual copy editing plus some massaging here and there.

My creative writing space must be absolutely sterile in terms of visual and aural distractions. I have to be totally immersed in my bubble and can’t have anything be able to grab my attention—no TV or radio on, no dogs wanting to be let out, no telephone or email...nothing. We have a detached two-story garage/storage building next to the house. The building has no insulation, and is full of boxes and stacks of stuff. I made a small oasis in the middle of the “stuff,” plugged in my laptop and wrote AoG in total isolation, usually from 4pm until 8pm each day. It was a real hoot when the temperatures hit the upper 80s, but since AoG is set in old New Mexico, perhaps the stifling heat helped me get into the proper frame of mind.

Who--writers or otherwise--inspires you?
I’ve been reading sci-fi and fantasy, with some horror thrown in, for as long as I can remember. Tolkien has probably been my greatest influence, but such heavy hitters as Asimov, Heinlein, Anthony, Hubbard, Bear, Le Guin, Clark and Poe have played their parts.

On the writing business side, I find encouragement from those writers with the big success stories. Say what you like about J.K. Rowling or Amanda Hocking’s work, for example, but any author who manages to go from lint-in-pocket to mansion-of-the-month is a hero and an inspiration in my book. Folks don’t write to get rich, they write because they have to, so I heartily cheer anyone who finds their fortune along the way.

Rumor is there's a sequel to AoG in the works.  Anything you can share?
The story of Nora and her friends, and their struggle against the Nephilim monsters, does, indeed, continue in the sequel to Age of Giants - awakening. I’m finishing chapter four this week, and am looking forward to a strong writing spurt during the holiday break.

The first book sets the stage for a world in which the sons of the fallen angels have returned and enslaved what’s left of the human race. It also leaves the reader with a lot of tantalizing questions—particularly how these giants have reemerged from their quasi-mythical past, and how the story’s protagonist, the young and beautiful Nora, may hold the key to their final destruction. Can a ragtag tribe of raiders succeed against giants who, four generations earlier, managed to brutally smash human civilization at its peak of technological sophistication? All of these and other burning questions will be answered in Age of Giants, Volume II.

And while I’m following Nora and her team across the desert southwest over the next couple of months, I’d like to see if I can snoop out a production company that might find AoG to be an intriguing premise for a feature film. I know...every novelist thinks that about their baby. But really, with all the unoriginal, uninspired and remade or rehashed drivel that keeps coming out of Hollywood, you’d think they’d be starving for a somewhat fresh and original idea. I mean, jeez, have you watched the SyFy channel lately? With the entire 20th century of classic and cult sci-fi gems to choose from, they have the balls to come out with Mega Python vs Gatoroid starring Debbie Gibson and Tiffany

SERIOUSLY?

I dunno. Perhaps I can persuade a certain hyper-productive and brilliant author/screenwriter I know from New Hampshire to partner with for such an endeavor.  :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Call of Lovecraft


The long-anticipated homage to all-things-Lovecraft has been put to bed and sent off to the publisher. I first became associated with The Call of Lovecraft as a contributor when the book was set to be published by a different press.  A year later, so much has changed -- after Call's resurrection from the dusty vaults of dead projects by the fine folk at Evil Jester Press, I was brought on to edit and collect the original Table of Contents (all but one tale and author are back and on board), my own story accepted by the then-editor, "The Green Dream," had since sold elsewhere, leading me to replace it with "The Mercy of Madness," an even more appropriate 6,000 words (details to follow), and for logistical reasons, the original H.P. Lovecraft reprint that would have been included, "Pickman's Model," was dropped in favor of "The Tomb," first published in 1922 (copyright issues post-1923 are a very gray area in regards to the celebrated American author's work).  Artist Billy Tacket's amazing original cover was contracted for, the brilliant Ramsey Campbell agreed to reprint his chilling "Cold Print," and I chose six authors to round out the anthology, which weighs in at a very respectable 76,000 words, all told.

Table of Contents:


Editor's Foreword
Cold Print by Ramsey Campbell
Izothaugnol Ascending by Lee Clark Zumpe
Legend by Jacqueline Seewald
The Colour of the Deep by William Meikle
The Winds of Gobekli Tepe by James Ravan
Blood Pine by Carol McAllister
The Vessel by Geoffrey James
Magnus the Magnificent by Roxanne Dent
The Tentacle by John F.D. Taff
The Clearing by Derek Neville
I LUV RT by John B. Rosenman
And in the Darkness I Waited by Scott Lefebvre
Endless Hunger by Karen Dent
The Shed by H. David Blalock
That Place by Scott T. Goudsward
The Mercy of Madness by Gregory L. Norris
The Tomb by H.P. Lovecraft




(Me -- and about a hundred extra pounds of me since shed -- at Lovecraft's grave in July 2008)

From my editorial foreword:

In December of 1993, I woke screaming early one Saturday morning from perhaps the most terrifying nightmare of my life—and I’ve had many dark dreams since my youth growing up near the big woods in Windham, New Hampshire. I wrote a draft of the dream’s linear storyline, which culminated with a man hunched down beneath a window in an abandoned factory hemmed in by trees, staring out through a brittle shade made opaque by a full moon, when something gargantuan on the other side passes by, pauses, and turns toward him. I read part of “The Mercy of Madness” to the group that following Thursday. At the same meeting, Scott T. Goudsward shared an installment of his latest story, which also paid homage to Lovecraft, a chilling early version of “That Place.” For the next two weeks, we read our work to a captive audience, our fellow scribes held paralyzed in breathless anticipation of what would happen next. Though I’ve left the group, years later friends still mention our two stories and wonder where those tales were published.
            The answer is here, in The Call of Lovecraft.

So listen for the Call -- the book is scheduled for release next summer and will make the perfect read, whether on the beach or in bed at night, with the lights still on.