Sunday, December 25, 2011


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!

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 über-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


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.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


In my bookcase, on the shelf reserved for only the best writing manuals and magazines, lurks a copy of Writer's Digest from a very long time ago--1981.  The first in a gift subscription from my amazing grandmother Rachel Runge (who taught me some of the best lessons of my life, both in writing and in general), it contains an article on creating the ideal home office setting. One of the luminaries interviewed for the article is the brilliant Ray Bradbury.  Mister Bradbury mentions the number of short stories and novels he's published, then says that he easily has three times that number of failed and stalled attempts moldering in piles around his office.  I loved and still love that article, but then and to this day my heart goes out to all those partial, forsaken Works-in-Progress.  I think reading that article at such a formative time affected me to the marrow--for my entire writing life, some thirty-one years now all totaled, I've had this fierce impetus to finish everything I start.

(My card catalog of as-yet unwritten story ideas--some have been lurking in that box patiently awaiting their day in the spotlight for a long time; my lists of completed and as-yet uncompleted tales, a portable idea box--red lines indicate stories written to completion in 2011).

As a teenager just starting to write, I had six distinct unwritten stories, fan fiction and a few original ideas, as I remember.  Smartly listening to the advice of my grandmother, who had written for Highlights For Children, I didn't trust those ideas only to memory and committed them to note cards stored in a card catalog box, as she did with her bare bone concepts.  I also made a portable list that I took with me to school, where I did far more writing and dreaming about writing than focus on curriculum.  Within a few months, all six of those stories, some of them quite long (two topping the hundred-page mark), were completed.  Twelve more rose up to replace them.  The twelve were then written and, as has been my life for the past three-plus decades, new ideas appear when least expected.  I write and complete each as though my life depends upon it, spurred on by the long belief that if my creativity and Muse have given me the idea, I should make the effort to at least write out a first draft.  At present count, I've got 137 as-yet-unfinished short stories, novellas, scripts, and novels in the card file.  I am fast approaching my 1,000th completed fiction project.

(Top Right: present novel, two novellas, and a handful of short stories awaiting finishing in divider atop file cabinet; Lower Left: the 'Drawer of Shame'--shorts, novellas, and novels waiting to be completed, sharing space with old writing journals and notebooks; mercifully, there are far fewer unfinished projects in the drawer than there were two years ago)

I am presently working on one novel's longhand draft, computer edits on The Duke and the Deadbeat, my Rock & Roll romance novel for Ravenous Romance, two novellas and an equal number of short stories to augment the bigger, badder new version of my collection, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse (EJP), and a bunch of edits on other project deadlines.  Tomorrow, a tradition dating back to 1981, I'll write my annual Thanksgiving short story, not judging it as good, bad, mediocre, or brilliant before it is given it's The End.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Steamy Screams

My short story "The Libidonomicon" recently appeared in the decadently wicked release from Blood Bound Books, Steamy Screams.  The fantastic collection also features great stories by the always-engaging Tonia Brown, Eden Royce, and Lawrence Conquest, whose brilliant offering in the press's Night Terrors left me haunted for days.  The Steamy Screams premise is fairly simple -- tales of sweat, lust, and horror; the story behind my tale, not so straightforward.

In "Libidonomicon," a man who buys an old New Englander discovers a collection of rare books in the attic.  The books unleash wanton impulses within him, which get explored when a handsome and mysterious expert on the true nature of the grimoires appears at his front door, just after sunset. Writing the longhand draft of the story on my lap desk in June of 2010, in a different house, on a former sofa, was great fun -- "The Libidonomicon" dashed itself off over the course of one humid, rainy weekday afternoon.  Flashback to 2008, same sofa, when the phone jolted me and my small family up as we were snunkered down watching Thirty Days of Night.  Curiously enough, the phone call was from an actress who'd starred on one of my favorite science fiction series in the 1980s.  Her identity unknown to me at that time, earlier that day I'd blindly answered her ad for a capable screenwriter to do a fierce rewrite on a script that would go into production once its issues -- and there were many -- were ironed out.  I would have to fight for this job, apparently; the things we writers will do to get our work in print, our names on the screen.  After signing a confidentiality promise, I read the script, which was an absolute mess.  I took its good bones, streamlined the train wreck into an actual story with a beginning, middle, end, and actual characters with motives, sent back my notes, and was promptly told thanks, but no thanks -- the original writer was outraged at what I had done to his baby.  Wasn't paid a cent and, to my knowledge, the movie has never gone past that original script.

In late 2009, after many such brushes with near-fame and fortune in Hollywood, I started culling what I thought were ideas too smart for that sector of the writing industry and turning them into finished, completed short and long stories (I had, after all, created an episode pitch for Star Trek: Voyager called "The Sword" -- about the character of Neelix unwittingly using the ship's replicators to reproduce a dangerous 'weapon.'  The weapon was banned literature that led to Neelix going on trial and to a book burning, a direct nod to the concept of censorship.  That idea, when pitched to the producers, was received as a solid gold hit...only to be canned by the Powers-That-Be in favor of the infamous wrestling episode with the Rock.  Still...).  The ideas were mine; it was time to own them and give them a chance to be.

Part of what I brought to the table with the rewritten script was the notion of a cursed book -- cursed, because it contained the skin and bones and residue of a man unwillingly transformed -- and of a lover who'd sought the book for centuries in order to bring back his lost paramour through dark spells.  I loved the image of the book 'breathing' and ultimately putting forth limbs, coming back to life even at the cost of another man's.  "Libidonomicon" utilized the best ideas of the hard work I did that otherwise might have gone nowhere.  Putting the same focus to use, last month I pulled "Grinn" from my folder of Star Trek: Enterprise pitch printouts and began writing a short story based upon the idea, in which alien delegates present the ship's navigator with a ceremonial doll that comes alive and takes on his characteristics (the doll, Grinn, is actually symbiotic and is designed to bond with Travis Mayweather, thus able to access the ship's command codes and other technical information). My short story "Grinn" will appear in my forthcoming short and long story collection by EJP, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse.

Back to Steamy Screams, which is quite steamy...and screamy.  I had the pleasure of speaking with Blood Bound Books' Publisher, the wonderful Marc Ciccarone, about the company's near and future plans.

How did Blood Bound Books become?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved to write. Dark fantasy, mysteries and horror always fascinated me. Even as a child I used to watch Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Twilight Zone reruns. I wrote every day, but I had no idea how to submit anything. I just read and wrote. Finally, after high school, when I started understanding the internet better—my tech knowledge is scarier than any story I could conjure up—I started submitting to small presses. Over the years, I got some good publishing credits, but too many times, the venues—magazines/anthologies— I appeared in featured maybe three or four really good stories and that was it. Or, they would accept the stories I was least proud of. . . they liked the ones that I felt were cliché and not as well written as my other stories. I wanted to be in a collection that was really solid and those were hard to find. Even some of the big name author collections were starting to fall flat. Just because someone is famous, doesn’t make everything they write gold. I decided that I wanted to make a company for readers/writers like me. I wanted intense stories with graphic and edgy ideas, but still well written. After getting the groundwork laid out, I approached Joseph Spagnola, my friend of fourteen years, and of course he was on board. Graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and dear friend as well, Theresa Dillon, agreed to not only help us with the reading and editing aspect, but to teach us how to be better editors. Being good at writing and flow and content editing, does not make you a good copy editor. Karen Fierro, retired English and Math teacher also came on board to help and Blood Bound Books was born.

What does the publisher specialize in -- and do you have a wishlist of books you'd like to see come in, but aren't?
We are primarily a horror publishing company, however we’re looking to break into more than just horror. We want to be a source for all dark and twisted fiction! With our novel submissions, we’re looking at crime fiction and thrillers, science fiction, dark fantasy, erotica, suspense and any other uncategorized genres. Just as long as it’s dark. We want to find some books that explore the horror in everyday situations. We like the extraordinary events, but it’s nice to read about things that could really happen. Those are extra scary and one of the reasons we did Steamy Screams. We were looking for dark fetishes and back alley clubs where anything goes and everything can be bought for a price. We don’t need monsters when Man is the most dangerous beast of all. We also like stories that are a blending of fact and fiction. Stories like the Da Vinci Code; Brown used real places and organizations, but put his own take on them. I won't argue religion with anyone, but I found the book interesting. Work ancient Egyptian beliefs into a story, the mysteries of Machu Picchu, secret experiments of WWII, Nazis and their belief in the occult, whatever. History and your imagination are your only limits. For lots of tips, visit our forum at

Please talk about Steamy Screams--what a great book!  Who came up with the idea?  Did you get a lot of submissions?  What has the response thus far been to the book?
Thank you for the praise! The idea was both Joe’s and mine, but the title was all Joey. As good as sex is, you have to admit, it can be very horrifying. People are at their most vulnerable during sex. You are trusting your life—in a manner of speaking—to the hands of someone else. Especially when it comes to fetishes. I think all our staff is fascinated by the various fetishes out there—one of the reasons we recently published a book called Monster Porn by KJ Moore—and Steamy Screams was a way to shed light on a few of those. Writers explored such themes as voyeurism, erotic asphyxiation, and sub/dom relations. The response has been mixed so far. I think erotica makes a lot of people uncomfortable. They don’t mind people being killed and eaten in gory ways, but throw in some non-traditional sex ideas and people get scared. We’re still looking for some places to read it and give an honest review, but because of the extreme nature of a few stories, some refuse to review it. Same problem we had with D.O.A. I cite "Second Hand Goods" by Natalie Sin and "The Club" by Brad Hunter as two of the stories in particular that turn horror reviewers away. If there is anyone out there who wants to review some horrotica for their website, let me know. I’ll send you a digital copy of Steamy Screams.

What are some of the common mistakes you're seeing in rejections, and what are you seeing done right in the work you're accepting?
The biggest mistake is people just not following guidelines or proper formatting. We’re pretty lenient, but it’s hard to read when the story is single spaced with no indents. When it comes to the actual story though, we’re seeing some great ideas however the common mistake is poor execution. The best ideas seem to becoming from new writers, however, their writing feels very rushed. They just tell about the action that is happening; they fail to paint a vivid picture, or create character development necessary to make the reader interested in the action that’s taking place. On the flip side of that coin, the stories that come in with great writing too often have very generic plots. The ones that are succeeding with us right now have a good blend of action and character development. Those authors are taking the time to craft characters that are believable and the reader will care about, while putting them into suspenseful scenarios so that there isn’t too much boring exposition. Also, the plots are unique. We literally get emails all day about vampire, ghosts and other classic monsters. We usually won’t request those manuscripts unless the query is amazing. My best advice is to really think outside the box.

Please talk about your own writing -- what do you write?  Where have you been published?  What are you working on now?
My own writing, eh? Something I need to get back to more often. I only have one story published under my real name and truthfully, I feel it’s not one of my best. It was sort of an homage to an old Twilight Zone episode I like, but it was fun to write. That one appeared in Macabre Cadaver. As a teacher however, I learned early on that I needed to use pen names when I write the bulk of my stories. As illogical as it sounds, having my name associated with a publishing company, regardless of the books, has been ok. But to have my name as the actual creator of an extreme, taboo story, not okay. So, under my various pseudonyms, I’ve won a monthly contest at SNM Horror Mag, as well as appearing in anthologies by Pill Hill Press, House of Horror, Elements of Horror and various small presses. I had fun with a couple zombie stories that found a home at Living Dead Press. Unfortunately, one of my favorite stories was accepted by an anthology that fell through. Dreams and Screams was supposed to be a collaborative project of three or four different publishers featuring both Sci-fi and Horror stories. The publisher who accepted me ended up having to pull out of the anthology—can’t remember the reason why. So, the book came to be but my story was not in it. Since starting Blood Bound Books, I haven’t been able to submit to other venues. The time just hasn’t been there. I’ve got this crazy idea though, that next year, I’m gonna do Blood Bound Books full time. I think that’s the only way for us to reach our full potential and truly be one of the best sources for all things dark…although I think we’re still pretty damn good now.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Anthocon Report

 (Me, nestled among, from right to left, Hollie Johani Snider, Peter Giglio, and Marianne Halbert)

The first Anthocon has come and gone and, by all signs that count, the event was a smashing success.  The weekend, held in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and celebrating all-things-spec fiction and the related arts, attracted huge crowds comprised of celebrities, readers, writers, and some of the finest folk you could hope to meet.  It was with a great sense of anticipation that I traveled from my home early Saturday morning east to Portsmouth to meet with the finest of those fine individuals. From the instant I moseyed into the diner attached to the con's hotel venue to join Peter Giglio, Charles Day, Henry and Hollie Snider, and Marianne Halbert for iced coffee and eggs benny, I knew I was among the best of friends and some of the most talented writers one could hope to rub elbows with.

(with Peter Giglio, author of Anon and A Spark in the Darkness -- and HELP! Wanted)

Something magical happened at Anthocon, the sense that I was not only among great and talented folk, but that a random convergence in a writing conference setting wasn't so random after all.  I had appeared in print numerous times with Marianne Halbert and had loved reading her ultra-creepy story 'Neath Fallow Ground' in my contrib copy of Back to the Middle of Nowhere; I knew the fantastic Charles Day as both himself -- publisher and Top Honcho at Evil Jester Press, fellow scribe, and all-around great guy -- and as his alter ego, The Evil Little Jester.  I'd been constantly amazed at Ms. Snider's insightful and engaging posts in various forums, and also her fabulous fiction.  And her other half, Henry, for his wonderful IMs on Facebook and through his work, as well.  As for Peter, you can say I've been a rabid fan of both his work and his character from the moment we first spoke on the phone last May, when he called to touch base regarding my submission to HELP! Wanted, the anthology that brought us all to Anthocon in the first place.  From the moment I landed, I was inspired by and fell madly in love with these wonderful writers, all of whom turned out being light years beyond the lofty esteem where I already held them.

(With best selling author Jonathan Maberry -- on three hours of sleep)

Also during the fantastic weekend where I appeared on two panels -- "Selling Short Fiction" (for which my audience received handouts detailing Ten Tips for Successful Fiction Selling) and one devoted to EJP, where I and my fellow panelists discussed our stories in HELP! Wanted -- I met such heavy hitters as the gracious Jonathan Maberry, and some of today's rising stars, like David Bernstein and the talented Jon Michael Emory, whom I have the pleasure of appearing with in the forthcoming release by Wicked East Press, Tales of Terror and Mayhem From Deep Within the Box.  I signed dozens of autographs and was interviewed by Phillip Perron for his Dark Discussions podcast.  There were lunches and dinners, long and engaging discussions on the writing life, scheduled readings and, even better, one held in the Sniders' room where I and my fellow way-cool writer chums read our work well into the night.  And the morning.  At midnight, the hotel kicked us out of the Sniders' venue for being too loud (rebels!), and we concluded in the lobby somewhere around two in the morning.  Three hours later, I was up, showered, and writing the next installment of "The Cycle" (scheduled to appear in the bigger, badder version of my EJP collection of short and long fiction) in the diner.  Later that afternoon, the conference wrapped, and I returned home, where I cooked a vast spread to welcome my lovely fellow EJP luminaries for dinner, dessert, another reading, and that night's episode of The Walking Dead on the flat screen in our living room.

(The Selling Short Fiction Panel: Peter, me, David Bernstein, Henry, Hollie, and Marianne)

The conference was a tremendous opportunity to interact with other industry pros, readers, and to be energized anew by this profession we all love and which should be celebrated.  And it was here, in my very own backyard, for which I am tremendously proud.  I can't wait for next year's gathering and fully expect to enjoy the company of the talented and genuinely wonderful scribes I got to meet in the flesh, each one a gift and source of inspiration.  I am counting the days!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Special Effects

When I was five or six years old, I would lie on my Grandmother Lovey's sofa and get lost in a print hanging on the wall above me.  Not a very good print of the village blacksmith, it nonetheless captivated me -- I would drift from one corner to the other, finding new details in the contrasting light and shadow, inventing stories about the characters, human and animal, who inhabited that wonderfully mysterious world.  It was, I'm convinced, one of my earliest forays into becoming a writer. I loved that print, which an uncle won for being one of the first shoppers at a grocery store's grand opening.  He gave it to my grandmother, who gave it to me in 2000, remembering how much I'd loved it as a boy.  It has hung above the sofa in my living room since, a daily reminder that I have lived through my imagination almost from the start, and that while Lovey left us in 2006, her beauty and brilliance remain in evidence.

On Thursday of last week I turned in the nearly 100,000-word manuscript for my short and long story collection forthcoming from Evil Jester Press, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse -- unaware that by Monday my fantastic editor Peter Giglio would, based upon what he had read thus far, offer me an additional 100,000 words, creating a monster of a collection in terms of size and content.  On Saturday, feeling very proud of what I had done and two days shy of the knowledge that I'd have another 400 pages to fill in quick order, I sat down in my living room to work on my NaNoWriMo novel. I got up to check on something -- the laundry, dinner, any number of the non-glamorous parts of daily life.  When I returned, for a very brief and wonderful moment, the particular bent of the sunset touched upon my grandmother's beautiful print, recreating the contrast of light and shadow within but with a fresh and immediate vibrancy.  A sense of inspiration so powerful as to be unforgettable embraced me and has been with me since as I now begin to pen, format, and edit those additional 100,000 words.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Writers Retreat, Part 2

I love a good writers retreat.  I love a great one even more.  From Saturday, October 22 - the 29th, I was lucky enough to enjoy the latter at an adorable little house straight at the base of Cathedral Ledge, one of the many scenic wonders in the charming vacation destination that is North Conway, New Hampshire.  During my week with gal pal Tammy McCracken, leader of my fabulous Friday night writers group, I put longhand manuscripts on perhaps the smallest laptop on the planet (nicknamed, rightly, "The Baby") -- some 25,000 words worth; edited and submitted many of those stories, long and short; penned a longhand draft of a 7,500-word short story that has eluded me for years with almost-eerie ease; dove into another on one of the most effortless Thursdays in human history; got snuggly (and snoggy) with the Muse; and regrouped after a year that has already seen the completion of sixty-one individual fiction projects.

In addition to plenty of writing, there was plenty of eating.  Our menu included one of the best prime ribs ever devoured, homemade beef stew, homemade chicken cordon bleu, luscious salads, veggies and dips, plenty of coffee, Diet Pepsi and, every night, homemade chocolate chip and snickerdoodle cookies, baked to perfection by my awesome fellow scribe and housemate.

On Tuesday of my week in the mountains, I took a long walk and was stunned to see just how close we were to Cathedral Ledge, which loomed above the trees in our front yard.  We enjoyed a roaring log fire for six of our seven nights.  The cozy cottage on Crossbow Lane was a place to regroup, recenter and, above all, relax.

It didn't strike me until our second day of the retreat how exhausted I've been.  The full weight of our difficult 2010 and working nonstop in 2011 without much of a break (last winter's zombie plague chest cold doesn't count) caught up to me in North Conway, which was the perfect venue to steal a much-needed, deep cleansing breath.  The days passed like a quite wonderful dream, and I can't wait to return to that house, courtesy of our wonderful hostess, Maureen Parziale, who made it clear from the start that we would love our time there, guaranteed.  She did not disappoint.

I am rested, and much writing is down in longhand draft as a result, even more final-drafted -- all good things as, in two days, I plan to dive back into the flurry of fresh pages.  It's almost NaNoWriMo time and there's a novel demanding to be written.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Mushrooms by Gregory L. Norris

I grew up in an enchanted cottage near a big woods in the town of Windham, New Hampshire.  A lot of wonderful circumstances like that house, those woods, contributed to me becoming the writer I am today.  But another factor truly added flavor to the recipe, and its influence still affects me, some 30 years after the fact.

Creature Double-Feature, broadcast every Saturday on WLVI-Channel 56 out of Boston, was a weekly staple of my boyhood life.  One of the event-viewing must-sees tossed into the movie rotation was the ultra-creepy 1963 Japanese import, Matango -- known in these parts as Attack of the Mushroom People. In Attack, doomed party goers on a yacht get stranded on a mysterious island where there is nothing to eat save mushrooms...only the mushrooms, which produce a trilling laugh that still crawls over my flesh when I imagine it all these years later, are quite hungry themselves.  I vividly remember the chill that worked below my skin when the lone escapee, when questioned, turns to his interviewers in those final seconds of the movie, the half of his face being eaten alive by fungus unseen until that moment, and shrieks, "I ate them!"  Also, of playing in the woods in the later afternoon following the double-feature -- but not for long because my barely-contained panic in the living room was running fairly free in the lush green glens just across the road following that terrible Fade Out.

I watched the movie in 2008 for the first time in decades while under a horrific deadline for a novel, and icy fingers tickled my spine as effectively then as when I was a kid.  The same autumn, an ugly encounter with another writer schooled me on the dangers of professional jealousy in any creative field.  The two factors collided, and the idea for "The Mushrooms" was spawned.

"The Mushrooms," my novella of roughly 20,000 words, was released this week in Grand Mal Press's beautiful quadruple-threat collection, Mal Contents.  My contribution follows Sunny Weir, a successful and visible chef-lebrity who is celebrating the latest highlights of her career when she is savagely attacked by a crazed wannabe convinced that Sunny has stolen a cherished family recipe.  The wannabe, who applied to the reality cooking show upon which Sunny serves as judge, will go to any length to finish what she starts on the fateful night when Sunny's chest runs into the wannabe's knife -- even if it means completing the bloodshed from beyond the grave.

GMP showrunner Ryan Thomas approached me in early 2011 to contribute a novella to the then-unnamed project, which was operating loosely under a theme of Revenge and Redemption.  I wrote two for Ryan, unable to put either story down once started (the second, "Nightmare Near Highway 101," will appear in my forthcoming collection by EJP, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse).  But I have quite the fondness for Sunny Weir and sympathy for the predicament she finds herself in after her attacker corners her, forcing Sunny to fight for her life in a kitchen competition unlike any other.  To read "The Mushrooms" as well as the three fantastic novellas penned by Ryan, Randy Chandler, and David T. Wilbanks, be sure to pick up a copy of Mal Contents.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

STAR TREK: VOYAGER -- A Fond Return to the Delta Quadrant

This week, I hopped back onboard the Intrepid-Class Starship U.S.S. Voyager, after a fashion.  For quite a few years, I was associated with the fourth live-action Star Trek series in a professional capacity as both TV journalist and TV screenwriter.  With my good friend Laura A. Van Vleet, I was vetted into the story pitching pool by series creator Jeri Taylor.  Laura and I had written a massive feature article on Ms. Taylor's body of work for the Sci Fi Channel's magazine and, impressed with our knowledge of the franchise and our competence in storytelling, she invited us to show her what we had.  She would also recommend us both for internships on set at the Paramount Studios at 5555 Melrose Avenue.

It took nearly a year of meetings, but we eventually cracked the Powers-That-Be, selling not one but two episodes: "The Hiding" which went through committee to become the fifth-season's unforgettable "Counterpoint," in which Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) outwits a powerful military leader to save survivors of a persecuted race (we had the telepaths hidden in Voyager's ground hover foot pads, not the easy out of the transporters); and "The Well", which went on to become "Gravity," and originally involved Tom Paris (Robert Duncan-McNeill), the Doctor (Robert Picardo), and Neelix (Ethan John Phillips) trapped in a gravity well and staging a daring plan to escape.  That story was committee'ed into the backstory of Vulcan Tactical Officer Tuvok.  For "The Hiding," we had the pleasure of working with staff writer Nick Sagan, Carl Sagan's son and a true gentlemen in the business. 

During that time, Laura and I had numerous opportunities to work with Ms. Mulgrew as well (for the series finale, we were invited back to the set and wrote some thirty-plus feature articles for various national magazines and newspapers).  This week, Kate Mulgrew -- the Trek captain who took down the Borg Collective -- wrote a stunning blurb for my forthcoming collection of original short and long stories, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: A Baker's Dozen From the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris (Evil Jester Press).  The blurb is incredible, generous, powerful, a clear sign that this book has the potential to become one for the history books. Muse is scheduled for release in December 2011.