Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Where I Write

To me, my physical work space has always been of equal importance as the cerebral.  When I was fifteen and first starting out, getting my writer legs, I envisioned living in a New York loft with lots of brick; that I'd be bald, fat, wear sweaters with elbow pads, drive a powder-blue Mercedes (in NYC?), and that I would have the most-magnificent dedicated writing room.  Well, I wish the rest of my hair would fall out (I'm part Lebanese, no hope there), and my stomach has plenty of hang.  I don't wear sweaters with elbow pads or drive a Mercedes, powder blue or otherwise, or live in New York City.  I do, however, have a rocking writing room, where my Muse loves to snog me without mercy.  It's a fairly inspired work space, with a few basic rules: there's nothing in there that I don't love (and spillover from other parts of the house is not permitted), I keep it clean and organized, file once a week, and always leave it ready at the end of the day to welcome me in there the following morning.  So far, so good.

My desk is the old kitchen table we dined at growing up.  One morning when I was fifteen, I mentioned to my lovely mother that I needed to have a desk in my room.  When I returned home from school that afternoon, she had set up the table, which had been collecting dust in the cellar, along with a chair and a catch all full of pens.  I still write on this table and hopefully always will.  Its scratched top bears stains from my fountain pens and red ink editing markers, some of them dating back to 1980.  Behind the desk is my Muse Wall -- with autographed photos of the many childhood icons I've had the privilege of interviewing, meeting, and becoming friends with as an adult.  Lovely new rug -- reminds me of van Gough's "The Starry Night" painting.

View of my desk, with the ancient card catalog box containing my as-yet-unwritten ideas on notecards (a brilliant idea from my brilliant grandmother, Rachel, who used to write for Highlights for Children, and who gave up a promising writing career to care for my grandfather, Wallace).  Across is the white shelf unit filled with press kits, press trinkets, office supplies, and my retired fountain pens.

One of this year's many birthday gifts -- an antique Khroener hardwood credenza and shelves.  My new 'archives' contain all of my published work and contributor copies, some 4,000 in all.  The cabinet is filled top to bottom with magazines and newspapers my work has been featured in, as are the three drawers and sliding shelf on the right.  The top drawer contains my two episodes of Star Trek: Voyager and the unsold HGTV pilot I wrote, filmed on the island of Nantucket.  The ancient sailing ship on top was carved by hand from scraps of driftwood by my Grampa Wally's Uncle Angus in Nova Scotia and had run aground on the rocks of my family's laundry room, until I rescued it.  It's had a place of honor in my writing room since.

A view of my filing cabinets, another birthday present, purchased from one of the strangest places I've ever visited - a used office supply store in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.  You take a turn at the birch tree, follow the dirt path over the babbling brook, bank right at the gray squirrel...  Those cabinets contain all of my longhand drafts, my contracts and acceptance letters, notebooks, etc., all of it neatly filed and accessible.  Writing awards I've won and documents-to-be-filed on top.

Another view of the Muse Wall.  Muse lights lit behind my insanely comfortable ergonomic office chair, which is now in its 11th season of providing comfort to my over-inflated backside while I write.

Aaah, Xanadu, the movie that made me realize how much I wanted to be a writer, heart and soul.  In September of 1999, I had the pleasure of seeing Olivia Newton-John perform in Boston.  She opened with the movie's anthem.  I was writing in my seat at the time when she walked onto the stage in a surge of energy and music -- and I didn't sit once for the next two hours.  This is an original movie poster from 1980.  I own one of the film's props, a tiny button worn by one of the dancers in the finale.  Writing in this room feels like being in Xanadu.

The shelves.

Finally, my Waterford lamp, a recent edition -- because you can never have enough decent lighting in your creative space.

I hope you enjoyed this tour of my Writing Room.  May it inspire you to create an uplifting writing environment of your own.  Back to the Muse and, as always, keep creating!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Darker Than Noir Released!

The highly-anticipated detective-horror story anthology by editress Faith Kauwe and the inspired powers-that-be at Grand Mal Press is now pounding the pavement.  Darker Than Noir features tales of gumshoes, MacGuffins, ghosts, and ghouls and is impossible to put down once started -- a bit of Mike Hammer (Darren McGavin, pre-Night Stalker please) meets Kolchak: The Night Stalker (the one and only, not that ridiculous ABC remake).  DTN features nineteen killer tales, including one by Zoot Campbell with perhaps the bawdiest title I've ever read, and mine with perhaps the longest title of anything I've created, "Wine and Spirits:  A Tale of Substance Abuse and the Supernatural."

I wrote the longhand draft of "Wine and Spirits" while seated on a cozy sofa, beneath my headphones, listening to the Twin Peaks soundtrack at one of my writer group weekend retreats to North Conway, New Hampshire, where the Muse was snogged repeatedly, and where many projects were completed and much prime rib and butter-braised asparagus was consumed.  Quite a few of us, eleven in all, will soon depart for our new retreat house (the old keeps getting booked up through the autumn, no wonder there as it's a fabulous place), where I hope many more stories will earn their The Ends -- and more incredible meals with talented fellow writers will be enjoyed.

This is the second GMP release I've been featured in -- my story "The Nest" appeared in their previous page-turner, Alien Aberrations, edited by Stephen R. Pastore.  Recently, the amazing Ryan Thomas, an editor I've had the joy of working with on other projects through other presses who's now part of the Grand Mal team, invited me to write a novella for a forthcoming collection featuring longer stories by five hand-selected authors.  My supernatural offering of revenge and redemption, "The Mushrooms", will appear in that release.  Also, at Ryan's urging, I'm working on a novel for submission to GMP, who are proving themselves a formidable press to be respected.

Check back to read my interview with Ryan Thomas about GMP, his band The Buzzbombs, and what he'll be looking for in both novel and anthology submissions in the near future.  Until next time, keep creating!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

From the Bookshelf: Review of SCARECROW AND THE MADNESS by Craig Saunders and Robert Essig

Ask any number of my creative friends, most recently those fine folk in my Wednesday Night Writers Group, and they'll tell you that I've been known to emote over how much I love discovering exciting new voices in literature.  Toward the end of a ten-year run working for a trio of magazines put out by a now-defunct publishing behemoth that gasped its final breath in 2010, in and amongst writing original short fiction, feature interviews, Web and DVD reports, I was also assigned the occasional book to review.  The best of those books still hold places of honor on the limited shelf space in my beloved Writing Room.

So when out of the blue I was asked to review Scarecrow and the Madness by Craig Saunders and Robert Essig, a forthcoming release from Blood Bound Books, I was more than intrigued.  I'd already become a fan of Essig, a cryptic and ominous presence out there in the realm of such fantastic presses as The Twisted Library and Pill Hill Press, and whose work mine had shared space with between the covers of numerous anthologies, and I seriously liked Saunders from the jaunty everyman vibe he projected from posts in various publisher forums I subscribe to.  Also, Saunders and I are set to appear in the Library's forthcoming Fearology 2: Beware All Creatures Great and Small, me with "The Tora Bora Horror", he with the most intriguing title in the entire ToC, "The Monkey's Sandwich".  So I agreed.  Cross-eyed late one Sunday afternoon after a long day of writing, I opened the .pdf ARC.  An hour later, it struck me that I hadn't been able to put the thing down.  Exciting new voices in literature?  Be careful what you wish for!

Scarecrow and the Madness is a wonderful hybrid approach to publishing, the print version of one of those Creature Double-Features I recall so fondly from my youth: two authors with completely different novellas, the only common threads being an absence of supernatural evil in both story lines (lending an even greater dose of the sinister because the malevolence is human), tales told in brisk day-to-day format, and complimentary muscular writing styles.

In Scarecrow, Saunders' opening salvo, we meet Margaret and Bernard Rochette, your typical older couple living on a remote farm in the marshy lowlands of eastern England known as The Fenlands.  Madge and Bernie have reached the banal stage of their relationship that comes from a long marriage and the understanding couples share after decades of being together.  She keeps their world in orbit and nags Bernie about his health and not drinking in excess when he joins his mates in town at the pub.  Bernie fibs about his drinking, even while sensing it's probably impossible to pull one over on his hawk-eyed wife.  While much of the passion appears to have evaporated from their marriage, it's clear how close the Rochettes still are, linked by structure and a genuine love for one another, even if it's rarely professed.  That structure and love will be sorely tested on the morning a bearded policeman shows up at their front door while Madge fries bacon and Bernie lollygags in the can, warning the couple to keep their doors locked and their eyes open, for a band of itinerant gypsies has just made camp in a neighbor's field.

Saunders' pace -- as both Madge and Bernie run afoul of the malevolent Mulrone Family -- never slows.  Nor does the author's sly ability to do that which is all-important in fiction: making us care about his characters.  What happens to Madge and Bernie is equally shocking in terms of the presentation and how deeply it affects the reader.  I was forty pages in before remembering I had dinner in the oven, or that I was sitting in the big, comfortable blue chair of my home office, not racing in a breathless panic around the Fens or the Rochette's ancient Georgian farmhouse as part of Saunders' engaging nightmare trip.  I rushed back first thing the following morning, desperate to know the ending, which is a bitter though brilliant surprise.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Saunders and discuss his novella and greater body of work.

What's the behind-the-scenes story of SCARECROW?
Scarecrow was based purely on a conversation I had with a friend about gypsies...the police came to her house and warned her to lock up, because thefts increased dramatically when the gypsies were in town.  I thought about how racism is viewed in our little corner of the world...but then I thought, what if there was a reason for this? What if, like any other ethnic group, there were bad elements...downright evil elements...the Mulrone family came from that simple idea.  I will write more Mulrone family stories.  In fact, I'm writing one next!  I find people to be the most frightening of all.  Pirates, in particular.  And clowns, too.  Anyone that dresses funny.

Take us into your writing space.  What's it like?  What's your process?
I write in a tiny shed with slugs in it.  I have my posters on the walls -- one a reprint of the poster for Frankenstein (the original, in German, featuring Boris Karloff), one with a blowup of Heath Ledger's Joker, and a promo poster for Stephen King's mini-series, The Stand.  I write on an old computer on a dressing table that was once my nan's, with a broken office chair that's really uncomfortable.  The tumble dryer is behind me, usually providing white noise.  I listen to loud music on headphones, never write with money in my pocket, and always wear shoes.  Because once you've trodden on a slug barefoot, you never want to do it again.

I don't really have a process.  I'm a little OCD, among many other foibles that I have.  I don't write a plan, which is probably the only hard and fast rule I follow.  I've written long hand, on the computer, only done one draft on some stories, ten or twenty of others.  The longest I spent on a story is two years, but usually I write novels fast.  I don't spend more than one day on the first draft of a short story, and rarely more than a month on the first draft of a novel.  I find that writing fast puts me under much needed pressure, because otherwise I'm ridiculously lazy.  If I take time off, it usually turns into months, but then at the pace I write I find I need a while to recuperate afterward, usually playing a game.  I like Fallout.  A lot.

What truly scares you?  And inspires you?
Like I said before, I find people terrifying.  They have a capacity for evil unknown in nature.  A dog might turn on its owner and bite, but it will never keep someone in captivity for years in a basement, or torture someone, or rob and murder and maim.  People are truly frightening...that's why I live in my shed!

That said, nice people inspire me.  I love nice people.  But with regard to my stories, my county, Norfolk, is often the inspiration.  That, and the places I visit.  I'm usually more inspired by houses, dark cemeteries, abandoned seaside resorts.  Places are generally central to my novels and the Fens, in particular, where Scarecrow is set, is one of my least favourite places.  It has an eerie feel to it.  Flat, unending landscape with few trees....feels like the kind of place where people get lost and go missing forever.  Maybe get eaten by a pumpkin.  That doesn't happen in Scarecrow.  May happen in real life, mind...

Share with us your ten favorite words.  Are there any least favorite?
Offensive words, though I use them all the time in my writing, are my least favourite when applied with malice, though even the harshest words can be funny if they're used in the right way.  I figure if you're going to go for an insult, though, go large.  My ten favourite words, in no particular order, are:

Dickhead.  That one really makes me laugh, for some reason.

You're not a writer but sell insurance.  Then you wake up and realize the actuarial tables were only a bad dream.  Breathe a sigh of relief -- you're a writer again, working with words and mining the vast reaches of your imagination.  What does being a writer mean to Craig Saunders?
It's a good question.  The answer is...I don't know.  The longer answer, perhaps more interesting, is as follows: I think two things saved me from oblivion after a misspent youth and early manhood -- writing, and my wife.  I don't think I could exist without either.  I love writing.  There's no greater feeling than when I write a chapter or a short and sit back at the end of it, having knocked it out of the park.  I get such a buzz when the muse is in the room, whispering in my ear what to write.  Sometimes, it's almost automatic.  I read things back and forget writing them.  If I think, hey, that's good, I keep it.  I've been writing seriously now for about four or five years, and loving every minute of it.  I couldn't do anything else anymore.  Kind of like if you've seen the light and eat smoked bacon after the plain stuff.  I love bacon.  I love writing almost as much.  Oh, and my wife -- nearly forgot!

And now, on to The Madness.

Have you ever sat down with someone and thought...that person seated way too close is stark-raving crazy?  Imagine you're driving home at a desperate clip in the middle of a wicked blizzard, likely facing certain death...until you take a wrong turn, crash your car, and land yourself at the table of a reluctant benefactor, snowed in for the long haul, sitting across from a very tall, very strong, and very dangerous man who isn't quite right in the head.  That's the unsettling premise to Robert Essig's claustrophobic page-turner, which weighs in at three times the length of its predecessor.

The Madness opens with bank manager Tony racing through the snowstorm and looming darkness, desperate to get home.  It soon becomes clear he'll never make it, so Tony opts to crash in (literally!) on the home of the Ritter Family -- wife Sue, son Phillip, and towering, brooding auto mechanic Dan.  Dan makes it clear he's none-too-pleased to have a stranger in the house, especially given that dangerous family affliction known as the 'brain-tickle', which manifests itself whenever Dan drinks.  And it certainly doesn't help that Tony's got a streak of madness in his past...and is hearing voices of his own. As the white-noise whine of insanity builds inside the snowbound house, so does the violence in ever-thickening ripples that left me switching allegiences and waving a finger at Essig for being such a naughty boy -- and skilled storyteller!

It was my delight to also speak with Robert Essig, who shared his insight into the making of The Madness.

What's the back story behind the story?  How did THE MADNESS unfold?
Several years ago I was listening to a talk-radio host who was discussing a terrible storm in Colorado where several small communities were snowed in. The host shared his own story of a similar situation and how unprepared his neighbors were. That was an interesting topic for a guy who has lived his whole life in San Diego and has rarely seen snow. I began wondering what would happen if someone became stranded in a snowstorm and was forced to seek the kindness of strangers in a mountainous region without neighbors and the disastrous consequences of broken trust between both parties.

Your byline is everywhere -- tell us where you've been, and where we can look for you in the future.
I’ve been working my way up the small press ladder, so to speak, by getting my short fiction published in a variety of anthologies and magazines. My first sell was to Tales of the Talisman, and I would have to say that I am most proud of the story I sold to Necrotic Tissue (the magazine is now defunct unfortunately). Not necessarily because of the story itself, but due to how much I liked that particular zine (it is a particularly nasty tale, though). I am also quite proud of the two anthologies I have edited -- Through the Eyes of the Undead and Malicious Deviance.

What lies in the immediate future is the release of my debut novel People of the Ethereal Realm, forthcoming from Twisted Library Press, along with a sprinkling of short stories such as “Skeletons in the Basement” in Dead Souls (Post Mortem Press), and “Contents of a Canvas Bag” in Look What I Found (NorGus Press).

You write primarily Horror. Share with us your history with Horror, what you love about it, what you think needs to be changed, re-imagined, staked.
I’ve been a fan since I was very young. It probably had something to do with Halloween. I was always fascinated with Halloween decorations and the general feeling of October. I think the public was more into that holiday when I was a child than they are now, which is a shame. Eventually I took a liking to horror films, and when I read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in junior high school, I was hooked. 

I think horror needs to step back and take a look at what’s going on. Forget classic monsters for the sake of them being “classic monsters” and focus on what truly horrifies people. I think humanity is far more terrifying than a vampire or a zombie. I get it -- I like vamps and zombies too, but I want to be truly frightened, which is very difficult to achieve. Forget trying to be original, trying to keep up with trends, trying to write the next big thing, and just write what comes naturally. I think the whole genre will be better off for it.

What was your defining moment -- that EUREKA! flash of lightning when you knew you wanted to be a writer.
It was during my freshman year in high school. I had to write about Thanksgiving, and I decided to compose a fictional tale depicting a child who begins to suspect that his family is going to introduce him to cannibalism with a “new” Thanksgiving meal rather than a traditional turkey. My teacher loved it, and I began writing during class everyday. I gave up the craft for about five years or so before becoming serious about publishing my work, and I haven’t stopped since.

You project a fairly gloomy, brooding exterior. Tell me something warm and cuddly about Robert Essig.
That’s because I really am a bit gloomy and brooding. I tend to sit back and watch everything, absorbing society like a sponge -- that’ll cause anyone to become gloomy.  On the warm and cuddly side, I have been married for five years and have a two-year-old son. We have a small dog who has managed to acquire subscriptions to several magazines (this is not a joke -- we get miscellaneous magazines in the mail with my dog’s name, Velvet, on them, and I have no idea why).  I once owned two rabbits -- that’s pretty cuddly, isn’t it?

It was my pleasure to interview both authors -- and to read their fantastic collaboration by Blood Bound Books.  I expect Saunders and Essig will become heavy-hitting names to readers in the near future, and will be on the lookout for more of their work.  If you love reading exciting tales by talented writers, you should check them out, too.

Craig Saunders Official Blog

Robert Essig Official Blog 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jack-o'-Spec -- an early taste of Halloween

Growing up, my favorite time of the year was autumn.  The turning of the leaves (and pressing them between wax paper with an iron), the short, crisp afternoons (dark by four, but seated on sofa to watch reruns of Lost in Space), and the mysterious, building excitement of All Hallows proved to be vivid and life-forming elements.  I have often written about a recurring dream in which I gaze toward the deep woods that brooded across the street from our little cottage in Windham, New Hampshire, and if enough leaves had fallen and the wind was blowing just right, I'd catch glimpses of the castle on the other side of those woods.  Now in all truth, there is a castle in Windham, and I did see it from time to time, but not from our front yard -- usually, you had to be driving back down the twisting snake of Range Road.  The Searles Castle, a famous landmark and former nunnery now turned high-end party destination, is one of the most-haunting motifs from the early years that made me the writer I am today.

I still love Halloween, so I was doubly stoked when my story "The Two Houses," about young and inquisitive brothers living in a haunted castle built directly over the site where another with a dubious past once stood, was accepted into Raven Electick's Jack-o'-Spec: Tales of Halloween and Fantasy.  My story "Creature Double-Feature" had previously appeared in Cinema Spec: Tales of Hollywood and Fantasy, editor Karen A. Romanko's fabulous homage to Tinseltown, and earned several fairly glowing reviews, reason enough to be excited for inclusion in this newest RE anthology.  But autumn, Halloween...there's just something so pleasantly surreal about that time of year here in New England.  It's as wonderful to me now as it was then.

Lisa Morton, who also appeared in Cinema Spec, blurbed the following for this latest release:

"Reading Jack-o'-Spec is like stepping into a Halloween party that's been going on for 2,000 years. There's something delightfully pagan about these stories and poems, something that captures Halloween's dark, autumn atmosphere. Whether it's a mad scientist invoking Halloween ghosts on Mars, boys trapped in not one but two haunted houses, or a rich evocation of poetic seasonal spirits, Jack-o'-Spec has something for all Halloween lovers." -- Lisa Morton, Author, The Halloween Encyclopedia

Why, I do believe she referenced my tale in that glowing endorsement!

So pass the apple cider and candy corn -- and enjoy an early taste of Halloween courtesy of Jack-o'-Spec.

Friday, August 12, 2011

HELP! Wanted: Tales of On-the-Job Horror

I am thrilled to be part of the forthcoming anthology of corporate evil-themed fiction, HELP! Wanted: Tales of On-the-Job Horror with my short story "Carpool".  The Evil Jester Press collection features some of the genre's heaviest hitters, including the brilliant Stephen Volk (screenwriter of Gothic, one of my all-time favorite films), Vince Liaguno, and Gary Brandner of The Howling fame.  Also among the talent, many of my favorite up-and-coming authors like Craig Saunders, Henry Snider, and Matt Kurtz, all of whom I've had the pleasure of sharing space with between the covers of recent book releases.  Here's the official ToC!

HELP! Wanted  is the brainchild of the amazing Charles Day, EJP's founder, and Senior Editor Peter Giglio, truly two of literature's rising stars (and a couple of great guys with some serious vision).  The anthology weighs in at a very respectable 87,000 words and is scheduled for publication in October 2011.

To view Peter's chilling book trailer, click on:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I have been assimilated!

Greetings, lovelies!  For those interested in learning more about me or my work, you have arrived to my official tiny wedge of unreal estate on the World Wide Web.

My name is Gregory L. Norris, and I'm a writer.  I like to think I was born with a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other, and though it took me until I was fifteen to embrace the Muse fully, I have been dreaming up stories and living in my own mind almost from the start.  I wrote feverishly as a teenager and, in my twenties, began submitting my work to various small press collections and magazines -- with some fantastic results.  Today, much older, with nearly 4,000 individual publication credits to my resume (most in national magazines -- I wrote for an L.A.-based publishing empire for a solid ten years), I am experiencing some of my most exciting days as a writer ever. 

Evil Jester Press is releasing my collection of original fiction, stories both short and long, in December 2011, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: A Baker's Dozen From the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris, and I am fast at work on numerous new projects.  And exhuming quite a few old ideas that deserve some of my attention.  I am working on various novels and novellas for my regular publishers, and even the occasional screenplay.

So feel free to check in, leave a comment, and read on...if you dare.