Thursday, May 18, 2017

This, That, and the Other

(writing at the White Mountain Cafe)
My 2017 started on quite shaky ground. I returned from a long hospital stay a mere week before the New Year, barely able to walk following surgery and easily exhausted. But I was also excited by the prospect of what the year would bring, and happier than I thought humanly possible to be home at Xanadu with family and muse. Now nearly six months into 2017, I have plenty to show for the time -- I just wrapped my 1241st work of fiction, a mystery novella, have placed numerous short stories in publications, and will soon depart for my second writing retreat of the year (my fourth if you count two book launches, readings, and signings that took me to Massachusetts), with two more scheduled for June, including my return to the wonderful Writing From Nature, where I plan to complete one of my oldest unwritten tales. As for walking? Just try to hold me back.

Early in the year, I sold a long Science Fiction tale, "South of Human", to the fine publication Perihelion Science Fiction. The story is a free read, and Perihelion is one of those credits writers love to show on their resumes. I'm excited to report that a follow-up sale, "The Goldfish", is scheduled for their June issue.

Often on winter days -- especially when it snowed -- I found myself working in bed, with my right leg elevated and episodes of Stargate Atlantis playing on the TV (during my hospitalization, Bruce dvr'ed most of the series when it ran on Comet TV in December). I worked on short and long projects, a screenplay, and submitted manuscripts to editors for consideration. I read of the new literary magazine Riddled With Arrows edited by Shannon Connor Winward during one of those luxurious snow days, and submitted my short SF meta fiction, "Lessons in the Garden of Lost Language". I soon heard back with a minor rewrite request. I made those few changes days later while traveling home from the book launch and party of Murder Ink 2. The story sold and is presented with some fairly bad-ass writers in Riddled's debut issue.

(reading from Murder Ink 2 in Boston)
Speaking of Murder Ink 2 -- I owe more to publisher George Geers and editor extraordinaire Dan Szczesny than merely including my sports-themed mystery, "Murder at Channel Ten" in the follow up to last year's release; in a very real way, I credit them with my ability to walk again. During my hospital stay, I was bemoaning to one of the fabulous physical therapists, Claire, how I was likely going to miss the book launch in Boston. In her colorful Irish brogue, she said the launch was still two months off, and I'd sure as hell better plan to attend it. Her passion charged me, and I began to take to physical therapy like it was my religion. Not only did that effort lead to my release from the hospital, but two months later I found myself ambling without the aid of a walker or a surgical boot up the two flights of cast iron stairs to the third floor of Boston's famous Chart House restaurant, which was once John Hancock's office space. There, I signed copies of the anthology, read from my tale, and lunched on an incredible lobster roll, thanks to our generous and wonderful publisher. On the drive into Boston, I jokingly said that I'd order the lobster, even though we didn't yet know what our menu options for the luncheon were!

(with Judi Calhoun and others at the
Whittier Farm and Birthplace)
Earlier in February, I enjoyed a fantastic three-day retreat at a writers' group friend's sprawling manor house a few towns over. With his parents' blessing (they were away on a trip), seven of us wrote, dined in decadence, and enjoyed pizza on Superbowl Sunday -- and watched the New England Patriots win in perhaps the most famous comeback in NFL history.

During the first week of May, I again traveled to Massachusetts, this time for the launch, reading, and luncheon to celebrate Murder Among Friends, edited by the stellar Dave Goudsward. Murder contains my cozy mystery "Antiques". All of the stories are inspired by the works of John Greenleaf Whittier, with proceeds going to maintaining the Whittier Farm and Birthplace, where the launch was held. It was my pleasure to again appear alongside the talented Judi Ann Calhoun in the Table of Contents. We stayed with our famous friends, The Sisters Dent, ate well all weekend, and wrote together for much of those four days in the Bay State.

And soon, I depart for my fifth stay at When Words Count, a luxury retreat center for writers in Vermont. This time around, I'm staying in the F. Scott Fitzgerald Suite, the center's finest room. There, I plan to write on several projects, including the editing for submission of the screenplay I powered through during my winter writing sessions in bed. When not writing, reading, or dining on cuisine by the center's celebrated chef, I'm going in the pool -- and walking the vast grounds. Here's to an even better second half of 2017!

Monday, April 10, 2017

BEHOLD: SHATTERED SPACE!

In early September of 2014, I joined many of my wonderful writers' group's members for a long weekend retreat at the Waterfall House. During that time, my pen moved nonstop, and I traveled unthinkable distances through the magic of the fresh page. One of those destinations was deep space, via a story I committed to writing during the retreat called "The Rats in the Bulkheads". That summer, I'd devoured an old beat-up paperback of Lovecraft's stories, and I got the bug to write a version of his "The Rats in the Walls", which had always terrified me as a young reader (and still does as an adult past his fiftieth year), only my version would be set in the dark wasteland of the unexplored galaxy. Early on the Saturday morning of the weekend, I picked a fresh notepad, put pen to page, and started free-writing a story about survivors of a generational exodus ship far from their new home who discover a threat to their existence, creeping closer from a region of the ship long ago sealed off during the catastrophe that diverted them off course.

I wrote the story through morning, paused for lunch, and completed it after preparing our big prime rib for dinner and setting it on a slow simmer. By the time the meal was served, I'd completed the longhand draft -- and was looking over my shoulders, unnerved by what I'd written. The perfect market presented itself in Shattered Space by the fine folks at Tacitus Publishing. It has been my pleasure to appear in Tacitus' two previous anthology releases, and I was thrilled to have "The Rats in the Bulkheads" find such a great home among so many unforgettable tales of outer space terror.

Many of my fellow contributors shared the back-stories behind their wonderful stories.

Daniel Rosen on "Little Deaths": "‘Little Deaths’ is part of a series of stories taking place on driftcolonies (generation ships). Anabaptist', about personal religious faith came out in February 2016, from Apex. In April 2017, ‘The Ship That Forgot Itself’ will be coming out in IGMS. I've always been fascinated by the idea of slow space travel, and the way that cultures change in isolation. ‘Little Deaths’ in particular is an exploration on how taboos related to death might change if death was no longer a permanent obstacle. Anyway, I figured murder would probably become a lot more common, and besides that, how do we form relationships if no one ever dies? Are people really interested in spending more than one lifetime with another person? Americans don't seem interested in that, statistically speaking. Would monogamy be effective if we lived forever? Perhaps. Perhaps not."

Colin Hinckley on "Red Shift": "The idea for ‘Red Shift’ came to me in the form of a night terror. A night terror is different from a nightmare in that while you’re in the midst of a night terror, you can feel yourself in bed and see whatever invading presence is visiting as if it were in the room with you. This one was slightly different in that it wasn’t exactly terrifying. I became aware that I was in bed, swimming out of a deep sleep, and saw a red square floating in the middle of my room. I could sense its sentience, but no malice or ill will. It was just a floating, red square, watching me as I slept. Then it disappeared. This image of a sentient floating shape followed me around for a few weeks before I put it to paper. The scale, as with most things I write, turned out to be much bigger than I anticipated. And I watched with alarm as what started as a red square turned into a giant red space octagon. The piece came out more or less intact over the course of a feverish two-hour writing session and much bleaker than I would have guessed."

David F. Gray on "The Stars Denied": "In 1971, while mucking my way through eighth grade, I ran across a trade paperback entitled The Shadow Over Innsmouth and Other Stories Of Horror, by H.P. Lovecraft.  It was tucked away on a dusty shelf in the back of the school library. I took it home, expecting a collection of run-of-the-mill ghost stories. What I got was an introduction into what is commonly known as The Cthulhu Mythos. My mind was not blown.  It was nuked.  While I can name several authors who have influenced me over the decades, it was Mr. Lovecraft who stoked that initial desire to write. Flash forward to 2015 and the New Horizons flyby of Pluto.  Its stunning pictures, coupled with Lovecraft's story ‘The Whisperer in the Darkness’, collided in my brain and brought about ‘The Stars Denied’.  While not a part of the Cthulhu Mythos, nor in any way a sequel to “The Whisperer in the Darkness’, it's DNA is nevertheless steeped in Lovecraft's hellish visions and the nightmares he gave that middle school kid all those years ago."

(interior illo for "The Rats in the Bulkheads)
James Austin on "Laundry" and "Heat Lightning": "‘Laundry’ was an enjoyable story to write.  The idea started simple enough, someone doing a mundane task in a futuristic setting.  As you can imagine, it came to me while sitting in a laundromat, wait for it… doing laundry.  Please hold in the surprise gasps.  There have been plenty of stories that include aliens, starships, and advanced technology without ever addressing those daily and weekly chores we all dread.  This offered my chance to explore my love of taking a look at the normal elements of life in a setting not typically observed. ‘Heat Lightning’ emerged from a seed planted long ago, and took a few years to develop into something I found edible.  Living in the Tampa Bay Area, you are exposed to plenty of lightning.  But what I always found so curious was ‘heat lightning’.  It would dance around in the sky, seeming to come from nothing, and no rain following the extraordinary display.  You have to understand, Florida storms can be legendary at times.  Running from your front door to your car would leave you drenched, maybe even a little scarred from the traumatic event.  But with heat lightning, what really happens in those peculiar clouds? For this story, I felt that there had to be a number of layers incorporated to tell one particular possibility, while trying to balance simplicity with complex tech jargon.  Also, keeping in mind the first rule of writing Science Fiction, never forget the human condition.  With so many moving parts, writing it was a difficult process and required a number of run-throughs before getting close to completion. The final result was not even close to where I expected it to end and I was enlightened from the experience."

T. S. Kummelman on "The Space of Gods": "When James first told me about the theme of the book, I figured this one would be easy.  Horror and science fiction -- my two favorite genres!  I immediately thought of Lovecraft; so much of his horror has a Science Fiction element to it, the leap to horror in space (opposed to his usual theme of horror from space) was automatic.  The challenge was keeping to the Lovecraftian elements: madness, terrifying oppressiveness, the need for the voice of the story to not necessarily meet a happy end…working these elements in was the challenge.  My original draft was too descriptive -- another Lovecraftian touch which, in this case, did not work so well.  Taking a hint from certain Hollywood storytellers, I opted to keep the horror itself ‘off screen’, as it were.  I gave minimal description of the ‘monster’ itself, which allowed me to keep some of the mystery.  I managed to keep to my original idea, which was basically ‘tentacles in space’ -- most of my stories never turn out the way I originally intended, but ‘Gods’ was (pardon the pun) a beast unto itself."

Brett Parker on "Space Cookies": "I got the idea for this story on a flight into Bangor, Maine.  The plane had descended through a cloud bank, which seemed pretty frigging big to me.  I mean, we entered the dang thing as soon as we started our descent, and it felt like we were flying into Carpenter’s The Fog or King’s ‘The Mist’.  Sure enough, we come out of the clouds and the runway looks to be about a hundred feet below us.  Made me wonder: ‘what business did this cloud have being that close to the damned ground?!’.  So I put a cloud where there shouldn’t be one -- in space.  The rest was balls-to-the-wall sarcasm; if there could be a cloud in space, why not a bunch of smart-asses, too?  The bitch of this story was the ending -- re-wrote it five times before it finally felt right.  That final ending was nothing like the other four, as all the others had a previously unseen character “returning” to the ship.  I had the right idea, just the wrong freaking character… "

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Meet the Talented and Luminous Kyle Rader

Six years ago on one of those scorching August dog day Wednesday nights I remember so fondly, I had the pleasure of meeting a young writer eager to learn the business side of the literary life. I was immediately impressed by both his chops and his passion for the words -- he shared a chapter of his first novel, and was receptive of the feedback provided by the members who make up the divine experience that is the Nashua Writers' Group. As the weeks progressed, I grew more fond of Kyle Rader -- the writer with, I often say, the most action-y/adventure-y byline ever. My new friend listened, worked to improve, shrugged off criticism, and put down the pages. Soon after joining the group, he began to submit his short fiction. Not long after that, Kyle earned the first of numerous acceptance letters.

Before our move north, Kyle started work on a Western/Horror hybrid novel about a triggerman trapped in a dangerous town in a blizzard who finds himself stalked by five of his mortal enemies, and with only four bullets to defend himself. It was my pleasure to hear early chapters during Wednesday writers' group meetings, the occasional Sunday party, or at the Friday night literary salons held at our former apartment with friends and food. Kyle finished Four Bullets after our move (while also penning new novels, novellas, and short stories at an admirable pace), and the novel found a home at Sinister Grin Press. It was my pleasure to sit down and talk with Kyle about Drake Travis, the shadowy lead in Four Bullets, his process, and what he's got in store for the future.

I love your novel. Bold, unapologetic, beautifully written. What’s the genesis behind your original idea for Four Bullets?

Thank you very much! Four Bullets is a source of pride and pain for me. Pride, because, it is my debut novel, obviously. Pain, because it took me so damn long to complete! The seed of the idea that became Four Bullets actually started as a dream, as clichéd as that sounds, it is true. The dream, which I scribbled down on some piece of paper I’d been using to capture story prompts and ideas (I now use my Idea Notebook), was quite removed from the end product of the story. In the dream, it took place in a desert, kind of like any Western town you’ve seen in the countless movies/TV shows that have come before. And, in the dream, the story played out as one long action sequence, so, all I knew was that the protagonist was released from a jail cell, given a gun with four bullets and told to head out into the town square and defeat five people. I thought the idea was cool enough that I decided I would turn that into a short story. This was fairly early on in what I am considering my ‘professional’ writing career, meaning, I was writing with the expressed goal of being published, so I was fairly green. When I sat to write the story, I fully intended to make it as close to that dream as I possibly could. However, when I sat down to outline -- I used to outline ALL my works, not just novels -- I rolled my eyes at how clichéd it was. A Western in the desert? Really original. The hero saving the day? Played out. So, I made the decision to change the setting from the summer and the desert to the dead of winter in the middle of a blizzard. It was that simple really. Coming to create Drake Travis, the Devil’s Claw, Captain Marsden and the rest of the cast, was trickier. I realized that making the protagonist the hero of the story was boring to me. All I could think of was Dudley Do-Right and I nearly abandoned the story altogether. I then remembered, of all things, reading a story arc in Action Comics, where the protagonist was Lex Luthor, and not Superman. He was still the evil guy you’d expect, yet, he was written in such a way where he got to do all the villainous things, and still be the one you were rooting for! I took that principle and decided to apply it to Four Bullets, and, thus, Drake Travis came to be. So, kiddies, if you ever wanted to know how to write a villain as your protagonist, there is your answer. Surround him or her with people that SEEM much worse by comparison. They may NOT be worse, but your audience just needs to think they are, otherwise, they won’t stay onboard with you as you make your character do terrible things. Anyways, it quickly became apparent that a short story wouldn’t be able to cover everything I wanted to say, so Four Bullets became a novella, and was COMPLETED as one, actually, until I went over it again and realized that I STILL had more to say, and had to add more in. The entire process of writing took longer than I feel it should’ve, but it taught me a lot of about writing longer pieces and outlining and editing that I use to this day.

In Drake Travis, you’ve created a hell of a protagonist. Not necessarily a hero. A flawed man with blood on his hands. And you clearly had a great deal of fun writing for him. When Hollywood casts Drake, who do you want in the role?

Ah, the question every writer asks him/herself about their stories! It’s certainly a fun one to ponder, that is for sure. Physically speaking, Drake Travis is rather unassuming. I essentially modeled his physique after my own, in that, he’s your average height and fairly lean. Not exactly the kind of person you think of when it comes to gunfights and action, which was my point. There is an actor, of whom, I actually never considered would make a good Drake until fairly recently and now that he’s in my head, I can see Drake as being anyone but. That guy is named Ben Foster. You’ve most likely seen him in many films, but the one that really, really stands out, at least for me, is 30 Days of Night, based on the graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith. The movie itself, is all right; good, but doesn’t quite reach the heights that the concept allows for. Ben Foster is only in two or three scenes and, in those scenes, completely steals the entire movie. He makes a lot of interesting choices in his acting and I feel he’s got the look, but the depth of his craft to ‘get’ who Drake really is. On paper, Drake Travis is just a psychopathic killer. The ultimate bad guy. In reality, he’s so much more. I don’t consider him to be evil, because I don’t consider him to truly be human. Earlier drafts of Four Bullets had Drake with a lot more humorous things to say, but I cut a bulk of them because I wanted to really strip him down and see how it played, and, I think it played out quite well.

You know I’m a fan of your work. Where can readers read your short fiction?

The easiest place to track down my stuff is to go to my website: www.kylerader.net. I’ve got a section for all my published works there, and, I’ve even got a couple of freebies I created exclusively for the site up as well! So, hit me up over there and leave me some love.

Would you share with readers the story of your Idea Notebook? I’m always so impressed to see you flipping through that monstrosity!

Before I got serious about writing, if I had an idea, I’d scrawl it down (FYI: I have the WORST penmanship. It’s embarrassing!) on any random piece of paper I could find. In fact, I wrote down an idea for a short story two years ago on the back of a receipt from a brewery and I still have it! (story should be coming out soon, too!). As one can imagine, this becomes problematic from an organizational standpoint. While some people enjoy chaos, and even thrive in it, it simply wasn’t cutting it for me. So, I went out and bought a three-subject notebook and began to transfer some of the more prominent ideas into it; I also shoved some of the random scraps inside of the pages as well. I started using this notebook to not only capture new ideas for stories, but to outline them as well. In fact, the first outline of Four Bullets currently exists inside Idea Notebook Number One, I’ve a second one that I’ve been using for the capture of new ideas, a beautiful, one-of-a-kind one made for me by the uber-awesome Judi Calhoun (NAME DROP!!) I’ve toyed with exactly HOW I log things into the notebook over the years, but my main entry is really just to write down a sentence or two that describes the idea I’ve had. Most times, I am lucky enough to even come up with the title of the story along with the idea, so that will go in as well. For example, that story I mentioned that I wrote on the receipt? I came up with the title at the same time as the idea because it was taken directly from something my wife said at the time I wrote it. She was speaking about how, when she was a child, they’d buy honey from this old man who lived at the top of this windy hill down in South Carolina. ‘Let’s go see the honey-man!’, is what she said, and that is what the story is named. FYI, if you’re looking for a quaint story with a happy ending, you won’t find it in that one.

You often juggle numerous novel projects. What are you presently working on, and what are your writing plans for 2017?

Writing hasn’t been coming as easy to your old pal as of late. Been a bit distracted by life, the day job, and all that comes along with it. Lately, it kind of feels like pulling teeth when I sit down to get some of my REAL work in, yet, I press on. Even if its only two hundred words in a couple hours of work, that is still two hundred words down in my story that weren’t there before! I’m planning on an ambitious 2017. I’m currently at work on four novels, and am putting the finishing touches on a fifth, which my goal is to begin submitting for consideration early next year. I have this desire in me to be able to stop the daily grind of corporate work and write for a living, and, because of that, I’m taking on so, so much more than I used to, writing-wise. It’s a double-edged sword, of course, because that very ambition pushes down on me too hard, as it is lately, I think, and then I become far too hard on myself and get in a mind-set where I am counter-productive and am not getting ANYTHING done! I’ve also a novella that I am shopping around, which I hope to land a home for shortly! Fans of Four Bullets may not recognize these stories, as they range from transgressive comedy all the way to crime fiction, but, the same bold, unapologetic style that I have is still present, of that I can guarantee! I’m very punk rock/heavy metal when it comes to my writing, at least, in attitude, anyway.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

BEHOLD: THIS WISH TONIGHT!

This past Christmas was, perhaps, the best of my life. I spent almost the entire month of December hospitalized, struggling to recover from surgery. On December 22, the morning after the shortest day of the year, I pulled up to our home, lovely Xanadu, after twenty-four days away, and stepping into the house was like opening the biggest, most wonderful gift ever. Slowly and unsteadily, I moved from room to room, balanced on a walker (less than two weeks later, I abandoned that extra set of legs completely). During my hospital stay, I thought nonstop of spouse, cats, and Muse (who, I imagined, spent every second with me during my time away from home). Christmas was only three days later. We celebrated it with an amazing dinner, the first movie I'd seen in a month (we watch movies every Saturday night when I'm not traveling), savored the new propane 'wood stove' and its luxurious heat (it had been installed mere days before my hospitalization), and the gift of our small family's reuniting beneath the protective roof of our home. On Christmas morning, I wrote a story -- a long tradition I've maintained since I was fifteen. Yes, the best Christmas ever!

Waiting for me upon my return and adding to the joyousness were my beautiful contributor copies of This Wish Tonight, a holiday-themed anthology by the fine folks at Mischief Corner Books. Wish contains my novelette-length story of M/M love set during one troubled Christmas, in which a glass artist and a fireman meet, fall deeply in love, and ultimately solve a series of hate crimes in their fair New England town. The story came to me back in the summer of 2000, when I saw a neat magazine piece about a glass artist on TV's New Hampshire Chronicle (which would, years later in 2013, run a segment on my writing career.). At the end of last July, during a NaNoWriMo spell in which my pen was on fire, I dashed off the first draft of "Fear of Fire", a story I'd wanted to write for so long. It was accepted and appears with two other holiday-themed tales within the covers of an exceptional book. My fabulously talented co-authors shared the back-stories behind their stories in This Wish Tonight.

Wendy Rathbone on "Eve of the Great Frost": "My stories and novels often start with one image in my mind and go from there. Many of my stories come from phrases in my own poems. For this tale I was inspired by a December poem I wrote with images of a gothic castle made of ice, black carriages delivering party-goers and cloaked kings, and snow all around like rippled white satin. This was a seat-of-my-pants tale, meaning I had no outline, just an idea of a young man who has trained hard to become the perfect erotic holiday gift fit for a king. Because I love science fiction settings, I created a slice of alien culture with a ritual of giving people as holiday gifts to royalty. I set the story in the far distant future where the galaxy is human-colonized, and where starships and faster than light travel are taken for granted. Toss in the gothic images from my poem, mix them up with future technology, a grand party, and a male/male romance and everything started to come together. Many of my novels and poems are set in this future of mine which I call my Starshiptopia universe. It is not all that important to know that, though, when reading this story. It simply stands alone as a tale of a man who has high hopes and a single wish to become the king’s chosen on a perfect night of winter beauty and celebration…and then everything goes wrong. In spite of all that, he perseveres and ends up with a night to remember. A wish fulfilled."

J. Scott Coatsworth on "Wonderland": "I'd wanted to do a holiday story for this anthology since I saw the original call. But I didn't have time. Then the deadline was delayed a couple weeks, and suddenly I had a little space in my writing schedule. I tried (I really did) to make this a standard contemporary story, but it turns out I am just constitutionally incapable of writing a regular romance. So my story morphed into a post zombie apocalypse, midlife crisis, OCD romance. The OCD part necessitated a bit of research, so I ran the story by a few friends with OCD experience -- one therapist and two folks who have dealt with it in their own lives. I did learn an awful lot about it, too, including the fact that OCD can be brought on by a strep infection that goes to the patient's brain, a fact I used in the story. It has a cool name -- PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcus). And of course, i set it in rural Montana, a place I've never been to. So I got to look for a little town that would suit my needs, and to research it down to the last gas station, drug store and (now empty) grocery store. I really enjoyed writing a character with OCD -- it was a stretch for me as a writer. And I also enjoyed writing a love story for characters in their forties. Love shouldn't be limited to twinks."




Sunday, February 19, 2017

BEHOLD: MURDER INK 2!

For fifteen years, I wrote sports/action & adventure/celebrity features for the late, great magazine, Heartland USA. During that time, I covered such diverse topics as the X-Games, building demolition, the Softball World Series, and the Cape Cod Baseball League. I conducted one story from the dugout at Fenway Park, did a ride-along with the U.S. Coast Guard (a float-along?), and interviewed such notables as Keith Olbermann, Guy Fieri (for a special football tailgate grilling story), Dirty Jobs star Mike Rowe, PGA golfer Boo Weekley, and the bad boy of bowling, Pete Weber. I also had the joy of appearing in the second-largest men's general interest magazine after Playboy -- Heartland USA boasted a bi-monthly circulation of 3.5 million issues.

During one of those late nights writing to deadline for the magazine, I fell asleep at my desk with ESPN playing in the background (in 1999, I was invited as part of a select group of reporters to the sports giant's 20th Anniversary party, held at ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut). I jolted awake and immediately reached for pen and a blank note card, upon which I recorded an unforgettable dream about a former Major League pitcher, his career derailed by injury, who is brought aboard at a big sports network to help its media director determine whether a series of seemingly natural deaths are really the work of a murderer. This past June, camped on my sun porch, I long last penned 'Murder at Channel Ten', and fired off the edited draft to Murder Ink 2, edited by Dan Szczesny (my tale of small town crime, "Exhuming Secrets on a Hot August Day', appeared in the first Murder Ink). Submitting a story set in a sports network newsroom was something of a risk -- though 'Murder at Channel Ten' technically adhered to all of the guidelines. The risk paid off, and my story now appears in an impressive Table of Contents.

Many of my fellow Murderers shared the back-stories behind their stories.

Karen Dent and Roxanne Dent on "The Werewolf Murders": "Many of the same characters Karen and Roxanne Dent created in, ‘The Death of Honeysuckle Rose,’ Volume 1, Murder Ink, insisted they be included in Volume II and ‘The Werewolf Murders’ was born. The story takes place three years later, April 1948. The war is over and big changes have occurred in Portsmouth, NH. Peace and prosperity are on the rise, along with a drug trade snaking its way up north. Ruby, promoted to senior crime reporter, is checking out a lead down at the docks, when a particularly savage murder occurs. The howl of a wolf, vicious lacerations, and an eyewitness who swears they saw a werewolf, has all the earmarks of a sensational exclusive. But Ruby doesn’t believe in the supernatural, and follows the twisted trail of clues straight into the jaws of a brutal murderer."

Dan Rothman on "The Devil's Tail": "The first newspaper in the Americas was printed in Boston in 1689. Exactly one issue of ‘Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick’ was published before it was shut down by the government. (The Governor and Council complained of ‘sundry doubtful and uncertain Reports’; i.e., fake news.)

I read all four pages of ‘Publick Occurrences’, curious to see what was of interest to the 17th-century reader. I was not too surprised to find a story which began: ‘A very Tragical Accident happened at Water-Town’ -- a story which ended with an Old Man swinging from a rope in his own cow-house!

Tales of untimely death have sold newspapers for hundreds of years. One such untimely death was that of John McLaughlen, who was found dead in the well of his New Hampshire tavern in 1787. My story ‘The Devil's Tail’ imagines how an early newspaper might handle John’s tragical accident. Warning: the tavern-keeper may not be the only character who shuffles off this mortal coil!"

O. Lucio d'Arc on "Obituary Mambo": "My first story in Murder Ink Vol. 1 was ‘One Way Dead End’ and many of the characters are the same in my second story, ‘Obituary Mambo’ -- the title of a Tom Waits song, by the way -- which is in Murder Ink, Vol. 2. A key line in the story is, ‘Some things are worse than reading your own obituary.’ The main character, the reporter Randy Dixon, is the same but the real star of this story -- which includes murder by cremation -- is a cadaver dog, Boner. A lot of the action takes place on Cape Cod. This story also includes an ‘erotic’ sex scene between the reporter and the female publisher. As far as writing goes, I write when I feel like it, morning, noon or night, with no particular schedule. Every time I work on a story in progress, I start reading it from the beginning, changing phrases or actions or characters as I go, until I get to where I left off the last time and then I continue from there. That eliminates a lot of the bumps in the narrative. For my second story, for the first time I thought a little bit ahead and doped out in my mind where I wanted the story to go. For my third one, ‘Beta Theta Pie Man,’ written but unpublished, I actually made a list of the characters so I could keep track of them. Some of the fiction in my stories is based on real life, because it’s always better when you write what you know. In ‘Obituary Mambo’ I’m actually two people, the reporter and the old guy helping out his son at his breakfast restaurant. The third book in the Randy Dixon trilogy, ‘Beta Theta Pie Man,’ also has a lot of noir and pulp fiction elements: atrocious murders of innocent young people, a women’s rugby team that’s into human sacrifice, a little mutilation, a secret symbol taken from a Kurt Vonnegut book. I am currently working on another work, ‘Kindergarten,’ which is a first-person account of a woman who stumbles into a series of gruesome murders."

Mark Arsenault on 'Hashtag Splat': "I started working on my story idea for ‘Hashtag Splat’ back in the 1990s, when I was working in Lowell, Mass. Driving around the city, you’re always crossing one of the bridges over the Merrimack River. One time I started daydreaming about a scenario in which a man climbs to the top of one of those bridges and demands to talk to a reporter. For seriously the next 20 years or so, I would be reminded of this idea every time I drove over a bridge -- any bridge, anywhere. And I’d slip back into that daydream. What makes this a good idea for a story is that the situation immediately brings up a lot of whys. Why would he climb up there? Why would he want to talk to a reporter? These are the kind of questions that drive a narrative forward, and pull readers along. I dropped my characters from Murder Ink 1 into this situation and let them figure out the whys. Not that I want to make it sound easy. It wasn’t. This story was written by the trial-and-error method, and that’s a grind. Too bad I didn't daydream an ending 20 years ago."

Judith Janoo on "Bitter Pills": "I grew up watching fishing boats come in and out of our small Maine harbor. When the opportunity arose to write a mystery story for possible publication in Murder Ink 2, my mind was already climbing over the rocks to get to the sea. ‘Bitter Pills’ scratches the surface of quirky, gutsy, eccentric characters that inhabit this coastline. It addresses the fact that fishermen, when the fishing grounds are depleted, have no one to bail them out. The ocean belongs to no one, and there’s international competition, too, for its dwindling resources. Ted Holmes, aspiring to be the Michael Moore of the Maine Coast, bought the local weekly newspaper. The news thus far in this fishing town consisting of who launched the longest mid-water trawler, caught the most herring, or took in the most stray beagles. But now, out of the blue, Ted finds himself investigating a disappearance, and uncovering the story behind a murder. This was so much fun to write. There’s something about a dead body that gets the ink flowing."

Stephen R. Wilk on "Unexpected": "There are two roots for my mystery ‘Unexpected’. The setting in a small New England newspaper office derives from my own experiences in small papers and magazines, all of which were pretty grungy and kind of cheap. It was light years removed from the classy, polished world of publishing portrayed in the TV series Name of the Game, with their pristine offices in a mid-town Manhattan high-rise. In particular, I was inspired by a university magazine my mother worked for, which ran out of two old Army Barracks buildings at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, with creaking wooden floors, temperamental heating, and the presence of their mascot, Kelty the Retarded Dog. I thought that title a little un-PC, so I changed it and made him a cat. The other root was a supposedly true story I heard from someone at a research lab I worked at. I’ve since learned that a similar story has been told about other research labs, so this might simply be a science-tinged urban legend. I had actually written it up, but couldn’t figure out where to use it until the call for submissions for Murder Ink 2 came along."

Amy Ray on "Kittery Killer's Club": "This story revisits the characters from ‘A Nose For News’ which was featured in the original Murder Ink anthology. Kay Leavitt works for a small weekly -- much like the newspaper I worked for ten years ago as a reporter covering the ‘exciting’ school board and town meeting beat. Kay prefers mundane news, but murder seems to follow her, as it did the evening of her writers’ group meeting. For many years, I’ve been privileged to be in a group of talented writers who critique my work, including this short story (and my upcoming mystery/thriller Color of Betrayal, due out next year from Barking Rain Press.) Kay’s group, which includes her boss Wayne and his faithful pug companion Poe, are awaiting the arrival of their featured speaker when they learn he has been found dead. Murdered. In a most heinous way. With no shortage of suspects, Kay -- and invariably, Poe -- set out to solve the mystery of who killed their esteemed speaker. The motivating circumstances that precipitated the killing in the story actually happened, but luckily it was not resolved with murder. That end is better left on the pages of a fictional short story."

Robin G. Baskerville on "Obit Desk": "When I was a child I used to watch hard-boiled detective movies in the afternoon with my mother. These black and white beauties were full of hard-boiled dames and equally jaded dicks. When I sat down to write something, anything, for Murder Ink, the phrase ‘ . . . trading on the entrée that my job affords me, not carte blanche, but carte noir, assured access via back entries and alleys, the forgotten ways in that rats, mice and reporters use,’ came to me, and I built my story ‘Obit Desk’ around that. Work with enough people and there’s always that one who is too tightly wound. Work the obit desk and/or letters to the editor beat and you will meet a lot of colorful characters, some whose reality is not shared by the majority of us, or – perhaps -- by any of us. I took these three elements, added some social commentary and wound up with ‘Obit Desk’, a tight little package of a story written in the style of an aspiring (expiring?) ace reporter."

Jeff Deck on "Making the Transition": "Though I’ve held several editing jobs, my experience in actual journalism was brief. I happened into a copy-editing and page layout job at Seacoast Media Group in Portsmouth, N.H., a few years ago, mostly because I needed income but also out of some lingering nostalgia for my college paper days. The work was fast-paced and demanding, the hours were not great (my fiancée was often asleep when I came home; 11 p.m. would be an ‘early’ night), and the pay frankly sucked. But nobody was there to get rich. These were people with a deep commitment to facts and the truth. My comrades on the copy desk were the most delightful group of snarky English-major nerds you could ever meet. Unfortunately, the job didn’t always love them back. As the newspaper group was shuffled from one behemoth corporate owner to the next, freezes on raises and ever-multiplying responsibilities per staffer made it hard to be loyal. Every time a reporter bailed for a saner job with a more livable wage, their replacement got younger and greener. I lucked out with a job offer out of the blue that basically doubled my income. The rest of the copy desk hung in there until several months later, when the latest corporate giant to own SMG decided to consolidate the copy desks at all of its ‘assets’ around the U.S. into one centralized editing and layout center in Austin. Sure, you could keep your job; you just had to move halfway across the country. I was working on a supernatural mystery / urban fantasy series, The Shadow Over Portsmouth, when I saw the call for submissions for Murder Ink Vol. 2. I realized that a side character in my series, a copy editor for the Portsmouth Porthole, would be going through the same type of difficulties as my old colleagues at SMG -- and that corporate downsizing would be only the beginning of her nightmare . . ."

Patrick Sullivan on "The Confession of Mike Reardon": "My editor at The Lakeville Journal, Cynthia Hochswender, met Dan Szczesny at the 2016 New England Newspaper and Press Association conference and informed him I would submit an entry for the second volume of Murder Ink. She promised ‘murder, fly-fishing and nekkidity.’ I have avoided the NENPA event the last few years, mostly because I made a joke about it being ‘the world’s longest funeral’ and nobody laughed. Informed I had months to write something, I naturally put it off until a couple days before the deadline. I made a couple of false starts. They were horrible. I put it out of my mind. Then I had a dream. I woke up and fumbled around for a piece of paper, scrawled a couple lines, and went back to bed. Come morning, there it was, on a Post-It note: ‘Always wanted to be a detective. So when found body hoped for best.’ So my detective, a reporter with a sort of Walter Mitty thing going on with fictional gumshoes, was born. I didn’t fulfill Ye Editor’s promise exactly, but I did provide a corpse, some angling, and partial nekkidity. And I did it in one four-hour sitting."

Donna Catanzaro on the creation of Murder Ink 2's cover: "Like most of my work, creating the cover for Murder Ink 2 is was like writing a story.  I searched old pulp magazine covers for sleazy characters and imagined a who-done-it, complete with noir characters that could be either heroes or villains. Due to the number of bullet holes (they were fun to make!) it’s clear a murder has happened here. The female reporter has crossed the police line. Is she the perpetrator back to scrub her prints, or a faithful reporter back to do her job? Next to her is a dagger, ready for her to defend or attack. But notice that there are two cigarettes in the ash tray. Is there another person in the room with her, sitting to the left out of view? Is the man in the doorway, the villain, her sidekick, or a jealous lover? I leave the rest of the story to your imagination."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

BEHOLD: FINAL MASQUERADE!

A few summers ago, I gave myself permission to spend almost two weeks in June free writing -- the act of putting pen to blank page and just allowing my writer's imagination to wander. From those weeks, a plethora of completed first drafts emerged -- a Western for one of my publishers in Germany, a dystopian tale that sold on its first time out to another, and several flash tales. In and among that wonderful time of creativity, I penned a story about a woman who'd suffered from blood cancer, declared healthy following a radical procedure but with little memory or proof of the actual treatment. At night, she's haunted -- and taunted -- by images of a man in a cage with silver bars. "End of Nights", like the other stories written during that warm, bright spell, jumped from pen to page, and then its first draft went into my filing cabinets for possible future submission.

Two summers later, I pulled out the manuscript and submitted it to Lycan Valley Press's newest anthology, Final Masquerade. The project's wonderful editor, Stacey Turner, accepted "End" with a request for a little tweaking to the ending. That was a gray and humid Sunday. Lightning crackled and thunder boomed, and, rarest of rarities in this part of New Hampshire's North Country, we lost power. And so, by the waning battery charge in my laptop, I tackled that minor rewrite -- and actually scared myself as the storm raged outside!

Several of my talented co-authors shared the back-stories behind their stories in Final Masquerade.

Joshua Chaplinksky on "Mummer's Parade": "I wrote the original version for a different themed anthology, one about clowns. I figured there’d be a lot of Pennywise-inspired killer clown stories and I wanted my piece to stand out. I had the idea of mummers in my head (probably from reading Game of Thrones) and discovered there was an actual thing called the mummer’s parade, so I started doing research into that. That led to the idea of masks and ‘animals with human faces.’ The opening came to me pretty early on -- Triboulet was known throughout the realm for having the King’s ear. He wore it around his neck on a silver chain -- and it just got weirder from there. Ultimately the story was rejected, which was fortuitous, because it was too short and I am much happier with the final product. When I came across the Lycan Valley anthology call, I knew it was a perfect fit. I’m glad they agreed!"

Samantha Lienhard on "The Artist": "When I first wrote ‘The Artist,’ it was a very different story. I’d heard a criticism of someone as not being a ‘real artist,’ and that inspired the initial version of Ian -- a bitter, arrogant man out to ruin the artist whose work got more attention than his. I wrote this story, and while it covered the same basic beats as the version in Final Masquerade, it had one major problem: neither character was likable. I took ‘The Artist’ to a critique session at Seton Hill University, where I was working toward my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. During that critique, I not only realized this flaw, I also saw how Ian could be sympathetic. I altered his past and revised the story through that lens, which led to the version you see today."

Brian C. Baer on "Make Believe": "My girlfriend is a big fan of scary stories. Anytime she is doing homework or housework or just dozing on the couch, she's listening to them. Her phone is constantly playing the spooky, supposedly real life tales read aloud on podcasts like "Creepy Pasta". I decided to write a story for her but quickly ran into trouble. She was only scared by gritty stories of psychological torment and life-or-death panic, and those were well outside of my creative wheelhouse. As I kept hammering away at the various drafts, more and more of my own interests leaked in. I added all-night dive bars, a noir-ish sense of sarcasm and cynicism, and a love of the schlocky slasher films of the 1980s. The disparate elements all merged together in an unexpected way. ‘Make Believe’ became a story of existential horror, of being terrified of the randomness of real life. It explored what bizarre lengths mankind will go through to find some kind of order. I finished the final draft, and I loved it. Then I read it to my girlfriend. She said it wasn't scary enough."

Naching Kassa on "Hero": "‘Hero’ is a story near and dear to my heart. My father was an Army veteran and a dog trainer. When he passed away in 2014, I became involved with a charity called Operation Dog Tag. The purpose of ODT is to provide veterans who suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and other disabilities, with a dog who will assist them in routine activities. Not only is the dog a helper, he is a companion and friend. I wrote ‘Hero’ to honor these service dogs as well as the veterans they love. Sarge, the narrator of the story, is a German Shepherd dog. He’s based on my dad’s dog, Ranger. Ranger was one of the best dogs I have ever known. He was brave, strong, smart, mischievous, and loyal. Sarge is loyal too, loyal to a fault. And, it’s his love for his master and his mistress that leads him into the final masquerade. I hope you enjoy reading this story and that you will take time to honor all veterans, whoever they may be."

D. S. Ullery on "Delivery": "In the grand tradition of EC Comics titles such as The Vault of Horror or Tales from the Crypt, my stories are frequently morality plays disguised as horror. I was wondering what to write about next when I saw a news item about a serial rapist. I got to thinking what sort of Hell would await a man like that. Once I began to apply the notion of ironic justice to the equation, all manner of wonderfully dark things started cooking inside my frankly twisted imagination. I hit upon the notion of having him experience the same degree of torment he exposed women to from their perspective, while feeling helpless the entire time. From that, my little monstrosity was born."

Sheldon Woodbury on "The God of Flesh": "I’ve always been attracted to characters that engage in horrible acts, but do so out of an emotional need we can all relate to. Stories that are just about a mindless monster or a cartoon villain are easy to dismiss. But real horror is when you realize you’re never truly safe, because bad things can happen in the most innocent of places, and the cause might even be you.  I came up with the title first, then the idea of a surgeon as the main character came next. If you want guts and gore, they’re bloody warriors fighting death every day. That takes more than a little arrogance to believe that you have the godlike skill to cheat death. The story began with a simple question. ‘How far would you be willing to go for the person you love?’ ‘The God of Flesh’ is a horror story, but it’s also about the power of love."

Adrian Chamberlin on "Urban Renewal": "The Green Man and its mysteries is a subject that has long fascinated me, as can be seen in my 2011 novel The Caretakers and the short story ‘The Spirit of Summer’ (in the 2013  collection The Dark Side of the Sun). I also love writing post-apocalyptic stories, and exploring how humanity either thrives or destroys itself under such extreme conditions, when new standards of morality have been established. With this story, I wanted to put a new spin on the Green Man mythos and explore what really lurks beneath the mask of civilisation when the bombs have long since dropped and mankind believes itself to be redeemed. ‘Urban Renewal’ takes place in a post- apocalyptic Britain where social divisions are stark, and the few areas that survived have raised barriers -- real and imagined -- between their prosperous lands and the industrial areas blighted by nuclear destruction. The relationship between humanity and the natural world has become perverted, twisted; a promised land for those who believe themselves to be superior, even blessed. This new civilisation is merely a mask that hides the dark nature of humanity, and as is always the case, it is the innocent who suffer -- we see this in the alienation of the orphan boy from the wasted lands who arrives at the new boarding school in this seemingly bucolic paradise; he is alone, alienated and isolated, but has a unique artistic talent that peels back the fake mask of beauty and order to reveal a primal force of nature that too has become corrupted. It is the eve of May Day, and the schoolchildren have been tasked with creating models of the Green Man, an iconic image that appears in churches and cathedrals throughout Britain; it is an archetype of humanity’s connection to the natural world. What the boy creates reverses that. It is a mask of the Green Man in retreat, composed of scrap metal and dangerous materials from the devastated lands of the apocalypse that he once called home, and an act of malice from one of his schoolmates awakens the power within the icon -- and himself."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

BEHOLD: THE PRISON COMPENDIUM!

One glance at the cover of EMP Publishing's newest project, The Prison Compendium, and I knew I wanted in. The only problem was, a run through my lists of written manuscripts and yet-to-be-written titles and ideas didn't match up. I had nothing that fit the guidelines.

Soon after the call was announced, we found ourselves enjoying an old classic during our weekly Saturday night movie date -- 1963's Jason and the Argonauts. I grew up loving Greek mythology (and also the Norse tales), and remembered this movie from the one time I watched it via rabbit ears in my youth. Halfway through -- and in desperate need of a bathroom break -- I paused the movie and hurried downstairs to my Writing Room, where I jotted down notes about one-time deities from dead religions being held for crimes of blasphemy in a big house like no other, one ruled over by heraldic hacks and a warden with an Old Testament temper. The Greek gods would forge an uneasy alliance with the Norse, Egyptian, and other prisoners to stage an escape. My story, "A Farewell to Apotheosis", was born and wrote itself fairly quickly over the following two days. Off it went to editor Jennifer Word, who contracted for "Apotheosis" with a glowing acceptance letter. It now appears among an impressive Table of Contents, in a beautiful volume devoted to an ugly subject.

Many of my wonderful fellow authors shared the back-stories behind their stories in The Prison Compendium.

Paul Stansfield on "A Ray of Hope": "I’m guessing most writers want their stories to stand out in some way, to be different from what’s come before.  In horror tales, the villain, the looming danger, is often a character that’s evil.  So, for my story, ‘A Ray of Hope,’ I wanted to put a twist on this cliché.  Most real life people who do terrible things nonetheless usually believe that what they’re doing is justified, or even moral, in some way.  Therefore, I created a main character who commits what could be considered to be the worst possible crime, but he has a justification which is arguably reasonable, given certain religious beliefs.  His point of view is clearly extremely warped, but he believes in what he’s doing, and is sane.  I think (I hope) this makes for a compelling character, and a thought-provoking story.  And because the main character is more realistic, this helps increase how frightening and disturbing it is, since it’s more likely to happen in real life.  I’m not saying that imaginary monsters can’t be scary, of course -- just that sometimes a cold dose of reality might keep the reader awake more than something that’s safely impossible."

Larry Lefkowitz on "A Rose is a Rose?": "I don’t recall where the idea for my story ‘A Rose is a Rose?’ first germinated. Surely it did not occur at the Parisian salon of Gertrude Stein (I am not quite that aged), where Gertrude tossed out her now famous, ‘A rose is a rose is a rose.’ I hope she will forgive my cutting down the original to two roses instead of three. There are those who prefer Four Roses (the bourbon), including, perhaps, the Rose named Pete.  Pete Rose is supposed to have a good sense of humor, so maybe he will excuse my borrowing him for the story. Most of the stories in The Compendium, I assume, are serious ones -- given the importance of the topic. Mine is humorous, and I am curious whether any prisoner reading it in the prison library would enjoy it or dismiss it. If it provides him or her with a brief escape from the tedium of prison life, I will be pleased."

Adrian Ludens on "Solitary Man": "It's no secret some authors employ ghostwriters to complete their work. I worked several years in a bookstore and noticed two successful western authors kept cranking out books despite the fact that both had died. I later learned that in one case, the publisher was releasing pulp stories the author had written under a pseudonym early in his career, while in the other instance, the publisher had hired other authors to ghost write new novels under the deceased author's name. The idea of a ‘ghostwriter,’ literal or otherwise, must have stuck in my head because years later the last line of the story popped into my head. Once I had that, the rest of the story wrote itself almost immediately. The framework of the story, which involves a man visiting his comatose son, is based on a distant relative of mine. He was hospitalized with a severe illness and his prognosis was very poor. He recovered -- only to be struck by a truck while riding his motorcycle a mere three months later. He remained in a coma for seven years before he died. I can't imagine how hard that was for his mother (a single parent) to endure, but I tried, in some small way, to honor his memory with this story."

Bruce Harris on "In the Jailhouse": "My first submission to The Prison Compendium, a pulpy western story about a small town sheriff and a jail cell was rejected. Undaunted, I conceived of the idea for ‘In the Jailhouse’ after hearing Elvis sing, ‘Jailhouse Rock’ on an oldies radio station."

James Miller on "Smaller": "After I first learned about some of the models of the universe, I became infatuated with the idea of a space that folded back upon itself in a way that made for a volume with no boundaries. Mentally playing with the scale of such a space, it became easy to see how this construct would make for a perfect prison, as there were no edges to pry up, and no place for anyone to work against for escape.  It became apparent the only escape from a prison like this would be psychological and not physical. I combined this concept with the idea that there are some things worth going to prison for and feel pretty good about the outcome. Hopefully it is as enjoyable to read as it was to write."

Bryan Grafton on "Misconceptions": "My story is about my son with the exception of the ending which I have horrible ized. I did so to make the story a complete tragedy. My son is out now, on parole, has a job and appears to be making his way in the world. Nevertheless every day I live in fear of the horrible ized ending becoming true. My wife is adopted too. Through the years raising our son it became the age old question of nature vs. nurture. We have both come to the conclusion that nature wins, that we are programmed a certain way from the moment of conception and there is nothing one can do to change that. We don’t have free choice. The existentialists are wrong. They are wishful thinkers."

Ken Goldman on "Swing a Sparrow on a String": "While a high school English teacher, I had this gorgeous blonde student -- let’s call her Donna. She sat near my desk where I could see her in the corner of my eye, and whatever literary question I asked my 11th graders, Donna’s hand always went up.  She was the brightest student in the room, and (well, okay) she also was the best looking with her golden hair and clear blue eyes. But somehow she seemed apart from the other kids in her class.  Donna asked for some after school tutoring (I’m sure she didn’t need it) and I made sure to meet her in the English office where no eyebrows would be raised. The school term had been into several months, and when Donna sat at the table only then did I notice that her left hand was severely misshapen. ‘Baby hand,’ I believe they call it.  Donna tried to keep it covered, but there it was! Here was this beautiful and gifted student inhibited by this one damned mistake of nature that in some twisted way defined her, and in her mind must have separated her from the other kids. Somehow she managed to muster the courage to say as much at the end of the hour -- and her words aren’t far off from what Angela says towards the end of ‘Swing a Sparrow on a String.’"

Lee Duffy on "Redemption": "This story takes a privileged, wealthy, self-centered, pampered, ivy-league educated young socialite and drops him into a Mississippi prison farm -- as a prisoner. I grew up roaming the deep woods that Steven Darlington finds himself in during his escape. It’s difficult terrain. And if you’ve ever seen a chain gang working along a southern highway, you probably know that a prison farm is no picnic. I wanted to see how someone like Steven would handle prison, and how he would fare alone in a Mississippi forest with bloodhounds on his trail. He surprised me. Still, we have to ask, where does privilege end and justice begin? And what does chicken soup have to do with any of it? Well, you will just have to read it to find out about the soup, but in the grand scheme of things this story is about a clash of cultures. It explores the idea that some among us feel they are above the law. Are they really? Sometimes they are. And does life always come full circle? Often it does."

Layla Cummins on "The Flea Jar": "Reader, I have a dirty secret. Back when I lived in a grotty house with my ex, we had a pet cat named George. He was a tubby little white and tabby-patched feline with a big heart and a flea problem. I was surprised to discover that I was quite adept at picking fleas off him and drowning them in water while he happily snoozed in my lap, and I was even more surprised to find I enjoyed it… Before anyone reports me for animal cruelty, I’ll stop there and tell you that we did treat his flea problem and he remained healthy and happy. I originally wrote ‘The Flea Jar’ after seeing a submission call for the anthology Bugs: Tales That Slither Creep and Crawl. It was probably the first time the advice ‘write what you know’ ever applied to a story I’d attempted, and it was a lot of fun! There’s one part in the tale that, as I wrote it, made me retch as I put myself in the shoes of my main character as he ate and tried to imagine the mouthfeel... I hope you feel the same way."

Travis Richardson on "Finding the Answer": "I originally wrote a 200-word story for a contest with a photo of an abandoned house with a murder of crows on the roof. I wrote about a woman looking at the house and remembering her past. The story didn't win, but it was mentioned as an (unpublished) finalist. I decided to go back to the story a few years ago and dig deeper, discovering more about the woman and her quest to find to find an answer to a question that had been bothering her. This became the story, ‘Finding The Answer.’"

Calvin Demmer on "Prisoner Reincarnated": "I’d seen the birds on The Prison Compendium’s cover and knew immediately I wanted to somehow incorporate at least one of them into my story. At the time, I’d been writing a lot of serious horror stories and felt like trying a different approach. When I began focusing on a dark humor story, something new for me, I was able to play around with different ways to include a bird. One of my ideas was of a prisoner who believed in reincarnation. This idea stuck, and I thought it would be great if he dreamed of coming back as a bird so that he may soar across the skies (a nice contrast to his being behind bars)…except in my tale he doesn’t get quite what he hoped for."

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Numbers Game

Math was my weakest subject in high school. Starting when I was fifteen -- though I'd always been a doodler, a scribbler, a daydreamer -- the right side of my brain got the better of me, and it has, thank the stars, resulted in a happy creative life. Still, I use just enough basic arithmetic to get by.

2016 was one of my most productive years ever -- my second best in term of number of words written, totaling some 478,000 and change. Add to that number at least another 30,000 in the form of a novel started in November, three short stories, and a screenplay all waiting to be completed in 2017. I finished 75 individual fiction projects -- 1 novel in July, 14 novellas, and the rest a mix of short stories and 1 flash weighing in at 100 words ("Catching Snowflakes" is presently on a very short list at a major publication project, waiting to learn if it's going to the dance). Last year, I sold 50 short stories and 4 of those novellas. In early October, on a warm, bright afternoon spent writing on my sun porch, I penned The End on my 1,200th work of fiction. All of my big numbers, dating back to my teen years, have been Space:1999 stories -- 1, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000. 1,200 was no different, thanks to my novella, "The Tomorrows", a powerfully personal, emotional experience that I was fortunate enough to share with the members of my writers' group over several weeks of meetings.

I went on 8 adventures in 2016 to destinations far and wide. Starting last February, I spent a wonderful weekend in Massachusetts, taking in the gala book launch of Murder Ink (which contains my short mystery, "Exhuming Secrets on a Hot August Day") in Boston, where the publisher treated us like royalty during a luncheon, reading, and signing. A month later, I was off to the first of 2 5-day trips to When Words Count, a luxury retreat center for writers in Vermont, where I split time between the Hemingway Room and Mark Twain Suite, and banged out a total of 6 first drafts (and much of that aforementioned screenplay). In May, I jetted off to Hollywood to attend the Roswell Awards, where my short story "Mandered" won Honorable Mention. In June, I enjoyed the wonderful retreat/workshop Writing From Nature. In September, I was off to not 1 but 2 writing adventures -- to the annual Writelines conference and workshop held on Star Island in the Isles of Shoals, and a return to the Waterfall House with members of my stellar writers' group. That same month, on September 18, I also got married to my longtime partner Bruce on the front lawn of our beautiful old house on the hill, Xanadu. The ceremony was attended by 37 friends and family members, who somehow all squeezed into our downstairs for the reception.

(arrival to the Twain Suite in mid-October)
As the autumn progressed, I was writing with a kind of tireless fire, and knew I was in for excellent numbers come the end of the year. But I also sensed a kink in my health, which I noticed (and foolishly ignored) on the first day of my Star Island adventure. The day after a marvelous Thanksgiving, I started to shiver, and over the course of the next two days, it grew worse. I also found myself unable to stand upright for long. On November 28, I went to our local hospital and was admitted. It would be 24 days before I was released to come home to family, Xanadu, and muse. During that time, I had surgery to remove a deep bone infection, suffered a severe allergic reaction to IV antibiotics, and, spurred on by the overwhelming desire to be home (and to attend the second Murder Ink gala launch in Boston at the end of February -- Ink 2 contains my sports-themed mystery "Murder at Channel Ten"), dove into a fierce commitment to physical therapy -- if the wonderful therapists suggested I do 5 minutes of reps on a machine in the gym, I did 8. If they wanted me to do 20 leg lifts, I did 30. During my hospital stay, I wrote 3 short stories based upon hallucinations I suffered the night following surgery. I jotted notes on a 4th (which I wrote upon my return home days before Christmas). Back at Xanadu, I was able to walk again -- for every 1 day spent bedridden in the hospital, according to the nursing staff, it takes 3 to get back on steady legs, a mathematical figure that terrified me...and one I was determined to best.

Healthy (and down some 13 pounds), I found my way back to my desk and loved every second of being in my home once more, my own bed, and, especially, my home office, where I got into my old groove and completed several more stories before 2016 ran out. So many, in fact, that for the first time since I was in my middle-20s, my list of as-yet-unwritten story ideas dropped below 100. January 1, 2017 kicked off with 99!

And I have 1 last number to report about. As I type this post, this small, beloved blog is just 53 reads shy of earning it's 100,000th. Thank you to all the readers from across the globe who've taken time to follow my writing adventures -- here's to a million more!