Friday, September 30, 2011

The Pen and the Sword

Thirty-one years ago today, I walked into the long-since-vanished The Hampshire Room, a mom and pop stationary store on Broadway in Salem, New Hampshire, in search of the perfect pen.  For the first and only time in my life, from 3 p.m. after racing home from the school bus and until 11 p.m.-ish the previous night, I wrote the opening fifty pages of a novella called "The Night...Like Death" unable to put down the felt-tip I thought would be a good, permanent-ink replacement for the banal ballpoints of my then-young writing life.  I woke the following morning crippled and unable to hold a pen.  While I've had plenty of twenty- and even a good many thirty-page days since (my Friday at the recent North Conway retreat among the latter), I've never repeated the fifty-page day mark, and don't want to.  But what I got out of that singular experience (besides a completed manuscript that still lurks in my file cabinet and my very first case of writer's cramp) was the EUREKA! moment of understanding that a good pen is an absolute must for those of us Luddites who still compose initial drafts longhand.  A great pen, even better.  In The Hampshire Room, where I also bought my first copies of Writers Digest and one or two Barbara Cartland novels (loved those Dowager Marchionesses!), I'd spied lovely Shaeffer fountain pens, a bargain at a buck ninety-nine, and purchased my very first, knowing that if I was going to write long, I'd need a great pen that glided across the page to prevent further paralysis.  I bought another soon after.  And another.  Some forty fountain pens later...

Last year in 2010, while trying to keep our small family above water after my partner of nearly ten years was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, I fell into a pattern of producing pages unlike anything I'd previously experienced.  Writing was a lifeline and, in 2010, I completed 100 fiction projects -- four novels, six novellas, one short script, the rest a mix of flash and short stories, a total surpassing a half-million words.  Of those hundred, I sold fifty-two, including two of the novels and most of the novellas.  Writing saved not only me but my family, though there were a pair of necessary sacrifices along the course.

Two of my Shaeffer fountain pens long-last gave up the ghost and no longer work properly, their nibs damaged in that whirlwind of fresh pages.  The pen presently scribbling across my notepad, belting out "The Ferryman" for submission to Neil Plakcy, its shaft a stunning shade of cobalt blue, is doing a fine job.  I bought it in 1998 in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where I also stocked up on replacement ink cartridges, each one a guaranteed twenty pages of creative freedom.  I'm not sure they'd stand up well against the cold steel Devotchka in a sword fight, but my Shaeffers are still fairly mighty.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

My Obituary -- Written My Way

A week ago at the wonderful writing retreat to North Conway, I wrote a longish short story whose subject matter forced me to ponder my own mortality.  After I jotted its - 30 - , I wandered the house in a bit of a daze, thinking rare dark thoughts that normally don't enter my daily schedule which, after much determination and focus, is filled with more inspiration, laughter, happiness, and juvenile buffoonery than red tape, BS, arthritis, or melancholy.  For all the shadowy subject matter I write about, I'm a fairly sunny individual.  I go to bed dreaming about whatever projects await me in my Writing Room the next morning and wake up chirpy with a song on my lips (usually, "Xanadu" or the circa 1985 theme song to One Life to Live, the "Tour of Llanview" montage).

I am forty-six going on fifteen.  Often, I've thought my life actually ended after a fashion when it began in a manner that teenage year, because while I hope my work gets ever more polished with each new season and ring added to my trunk, I still love the things I loved when I was fifteen with a passion that's really not usual.  That's not to say I don't evolve and discover new things to love (as evidenced by the following dream-obituary); I guess I love what I love, always have loved because they were worth loving, and hope that when my heart takes its final gallop and I discover what's on the other side of the veil, I'll savor at that moment of my death all those things I celebrated in life.

When I die, my greatest wish is to be with my lovely little family -- my partner of nearly ten years and our beloved cats Chicken and Ozzie, in our beautiful home, with all the magical relics that belonged to my grandmothers, mother, and grandfather surrounding me, those wonderful talismans I'm lucky enough to have recognized the value in that no one else wanted.  I hope there's fountain pen ink drying on the very last page of the very last manuscript I created on my desk, and that every last single story within me has been completed, not one idea left unfinished, unborn.  I hope I gaze into the light and see my mother Diane, my grandfather Wallace, my grandmother Lovey, my friend Ernest, Scruffy the Dog, and Maya, Tuna, Mesquina, and Veronica, our pride of beloved, late cats.  I hope Barry Morse, Tony Anholt, Fred Freiberger, Lorne Greene, Benny Hill, Gene Kelly, Edgar Allen Poe, and Jude Thaddeus are there to greet me as well.  And then, as I walk into that light, I hope --

--I rocket into Club Xanadu and take a spin across the proscenium while the nine muses dance and Olivia Newton-John croons.  My Muse, the tenth, grabs hold of me, maneuvers me toward the center of the revolving stage and, as lovely Livvy hits that high note, Muse plants one on me and together we surge up into the sky on an effulgence of light, energy, and music.  Higher, past the stratosphere, we head toward the moon, specifically Crater Plato, where a dozen Eagles from Moonbase Alpha rise up and streak across the lunar horizon, a testament to mankind's future among the stars.

From there, it's on past the Oort Cloud, where the Battlestar Galactica (Classic, please) and the Space Battleship Yamato/aka the Argo fire a salute with dozens of laser turrets and shock cannons blazing.

Farther yet, past the speed of light, through the nearest Stargate and on to the Pegasus Galaxy and the City of the Ancients, fabled Atlantis, where we'll meet Doctor Who (in the guise of Tom Baker or David Tennant), who'll then scoop us up in his T.A.R.D.I.S. and ferry us back in time across the River Styx so we can do it all over again.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Arrivaderci, ALL MY CHILDREN

After forty-one years on the air, the once-formidable daytime drama, All My Children, will take a lamentable interlude.  Friday, September 23, marks the end of an era, as Erika Kane, Adam Chandler, Tad Martin, et al, bid farewell to fictional Pine Valley, some perhaps forever.  In March 2011, ABC's shortsighted and murderous head of daytime programming dropped an ax on AMC and sister soap, the always-engaging One Life to Live, both created by legendary scribe Agnes Nixon.  On July 7, clearly listening to the outcries (and the crying from so many loyal viewers whose opinions and passion went otherwise unheard for a medium in jeopardy since a white Bronco sped down a Los Angeles freeway and cheap celeb-u-tard reality programming became the staple of too many TV hours), the fine folk at Prospect Park announced they would launch an entire new network -- online -- and continue both soaps starting in January 2012.  While not all of the familiar faces from Pine Valley and Llanview, PA will make the transition, Prospect Park has promised to keep the quality and majority of casts intact.  Anyone who's seen the prod. co's movie Unstoppable can take heart that they'll deliver!

I grew up with All My Children and One Life to Live, my mother, grandmothers, and aunts addicted to the exploits of then-mercurial Erika (played by the gorgeous Susan Lucci) and the characters in her exciting make-believe world.  Phone lines lit daily to discuss the soap's outrageous and groundbreaking plots.  I knew all about Phoebe Tyler's meddling (the town's blue-blooded busybody, portrayed brilliantly by Citizen Kane's Ruth Warrick), but until 1983, when I began to write for longer and longer spells following my escape from high school, the information and experiences came second-hand.  In the autumn of '83, buoyed by the return of Genie Francis to General Hospital, I started watching the ABC soaps casually while my fountain pen dragged across the pages of a paranormal romance novel begun three months earlier.  Within weeks, I was addicted -- not just to GH but also OLTL, AMC, and the three half-hour soaps preceding: Loving, Ryan's Hope, and The Edge of Night.  I watched.  I wrote.

In 1993, with some serious publication credits now on my resume, through bizarre circumstances I met with an actor hired for under-five lines on Loving.  He invited me to join him in New York City at the ABC daytime studios where Loving was shot, snuggled up against the All My Children studios at 320 West 66th Street.  Within seconds of walking to the studios, I crossed paths on the sidewalk with Walt Willey, long-suffering "Jackson Montgomery" on AMC and, though clearly star struck (this was the first time I'd left my tiny corner of New Hampshire, but also the start of my entrance to a much-larger world and the regular rubbing of elbows with celebrities), I mentioned that I was a writer.  A published one.  I showed Willey the latest issue of Deathrealm Magazine, which bore my byline.  Willey poured through the contrib copies I'd brought along, at one point proclaiming: "I love that vampire sh*t!"  I felt like a million bucks!

(Clockwise: Me with the late, beautiful Nancy Addison (Marissa Rampal); A pre-NCIS Michael Weatherly (Cooper Alden, Loving); Kelly Ripa (Hayley Vaughen); hunk Winsor Harmon (Del Henry), Debbi Morgan (Doctor Angela Hubbard), Cady McClain (Dixie Martin); me outside 320 West 66th Street)

Over the course of numerous return set visits to both Loving and All My Children, I met and interacted with the casts: at the drinks machine in the cafeteria that linked both shows' studios, I encountered a pre-Buffy Sarah Michelle Gellar, starring as Erika Kane's troubled daughter Kendall (the story described in the foreword of my book The Q Guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer); when Ruth Warrick guest-starred on Loving the same day as one of my set visits and tripped over a cable in the pitch-dark cavern of the main studio, I caught her; Debbi Morgan, whose "Angie Hubbard" had been a fixture during my afternoon writing sessions for a decade-plus, was generous with her time, and delightful to meet, as was the late, great "Palmer Cortland", actor James Mitchell.  I had a lovely conversation with a then fresh-faced Kelly Ripa in the AMC hair and makeup room.  On another approach to 320 West 66th during several assignments writing for Soap Opera Update Magazine, I spied a long black limo pulling up to the curb, and a lovely La Lucci hopped out.  Seeing the First Lady of Daytime was, I remember, like the arrival of Halley's Comet.  Rare, elegant, unforgettable.

(Page of script from Jean LeClerc (Jeremy Hunter, both AMC and Loving), with his notes -- featuring the crossover of Ruth Warrick's Phoebe); autograph from the talented William Christian, aka Police Detective Derek Frye)

My favorite memory of that time came in the summer of 1994, when I met Ms. Nixon, that stellar scribe who had created and written AMC, OLTL, and Loving (plus it's short-lived spinoff, The City).  In the hair and makeup room, Ms. Nixon and I talked writing, characters, creativity.  I will never forget the surge of passion and energy I experienced.  The photo of the two of us (with actor Christopher Lawford) sits in the catch-all on my desk, a daily reminder of where I've been and why I write, and a source of continued inspiration.

(Me, center, between Christopher Lawford and Agnes Nixon)

On Monday, September 26, ABC will unveil The Spew -- their cheaper to produce, flaccid food-and-blab replacement for forty-one years of great storytelling.  I won't be watching, and am fairly sure that the record books will view the decision to cancel AMC as one of the greatest screw-ups in the history of television.  I will, however, log on to Prospect Park's new online broadcast channel in January, where the romance and exciting goings-on in Pine Valley will again pick up for a new generation of viewers bored and disgusted with what now passes on the tube for entertainment.  All My Children premiered in 1970 with bold and original storylines, and a fresh take on an established genre, so leaping from the idiot box to the Internet seems only fitting, the next great chapter in a tale that will get its happy-for-now ending in the not-too-distant future.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

This Writer's Retreat -- Home From the Hills

The 2011 autumn Writers-United retreat to beautiful North Conway, New Hampshire has concluded.  Our new retreat house was quite lovely, though not always equipped for the number of us who attended.  But trumping the lack of elbow room at the dinner table, adequate extra seats, and a working can opener were: almost zero sturm and drang, tons of delicious food and an endless fountain of fresh coffee, Muses that played well together and were quite generous to all involved, and a quiet corner beneath the shadow of Mount Cranmore still close enough to walk into town.

The Muse pulled me into a tight embrace almost from the start -- within an hour of arrival and brewing a fresh pot of coffee, I was plunked on a cozy overstuffed chair and writing.  As my wonderful co-writers turned up, pages flowed and then a delicious dinner of homemade meatballs, asparagus-basil soup, salads, and other amazing dishes welcomed us to our new temporary home.  Friday morning, the wealth of fresh pages continued.  Long literary story finished.  Offbeat zombie story begun and finished.  Prime rib dinner (enough to feed all but the vegetarian among us) followed, along with incredible side dishes and salads made from garden produce, blueberry pie and a variety of cheesecakes for dessert.  On Saturday, I began work on a police procedural murder mystery, then moseyed into town and had a wonderful afternoon finishing the 3,000-word story at the MET Cafe, a place I've wanted to visit in the four years I've retreated in North Conway.  The MET serves exquisite coffee and pastry, the walls are covered in for-sale artwork, and among the purple velvet sofas and chairs are tall bistro tables perfect for the dangling of feet.  Walked home, enjoyed my lovely co-writers, and wrote some more.

(Saturday in the early afternoon, September 17, 2011 -- with completed stories, WRITER button, and favorite coffee cup)

There is always a sense of melancholy at leaving a retreat, but also the joy of knowing another will be upon us in due time.  In fact, a month from now, I and one of my favorite writers, also in attendance these past four days, will be departing for a week of quiet writing time, during which I plan to complete the first draft of a novel.  Keep creating!

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 13, 1999 -- Destination: Moonbase Alpha

September 16, 1975.

A Tuesday night in Windham, New Hampshire.  I was ten-years-old, home from school for several days with a bad autumn cold, antsy and electrified in a way I only knew on Christmas Eves.  This night was an event to me bigger than Christmas, bigger than anything, and no miserable cold was going to dampen my elation.  The highly-anticipated outer space adventure, Space:1999, was seconds away from premiering on our ugly, boxy TV with the rabbit ears.  Created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, who'd previously hooked me with their moody parable about a secret alien invasion,  U.F.O., the series followed the brave men and women of Moonbase Alpha, a lunar colony launched into a hostile universe after a massive explosion blasts the moon out of Earth's orbit on that unimaginably distant future date, September the 13th, 1999.  Nothing I saw previous or since has affected me so powerfully, and on so many levels.

Space:1999 boasted a pedigree unlike any other production.  Starring Martin Landau as stalwart Commander John Koenig, Landau's then-wife, the beautiful Barbara Bain as Doctor Helena Russell, and Barry Morse as the wise and kind Professor Victor Bergman (Morse had previously appeared in episodes of The Twilight Zone and as the heavy in The Fugitive) in the lead roles, the supporting cast was no less spectacular.  Nick Tate played Aussie-born pilot Alan Carter; Prentis Hancock as the controller of Moonbase Alpha's nerve center, Main Mission; the lovely Zienia Merton as Data Analyst Sandra Benes; Clifton Jones as computer specialist David Kano, and Anton Phillips as Doctor Bob Mathias.  Incredible special effects came courtesy of Brian Johnson, who would go on to do the FX work on Aliens and Star Wars.  In the second season, former Bond Girl Catherine Schell joined the cast as shape shifting alien Maya.  Also added were Tony Anholt as security chief Tony Verdeschi; Alibe Parsons as communications officer Alibe Kurand; and John Hug as pilot Bill Fraser.  Guest stars during the show's two-year run included Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Ian McShane, Billie Whitelaw, Joan Collins, Leo McKern, former Doctor Who Patrick Troughton, Judy Geeson, David Prowse, Sarah Douglas, Brian Blessed, and a young, pre-General Hospital Stuart Damon.

Several factors, from where I grew up to having two talented grandmothers to regular weekend doses of Creature Double-Features, groomed me for the writing life.  But Space:1999 put the pen in my hand, because it got me to think. Throughout my teens, I wrote numerous Space:1999 short stories and novellas.  By the time I was sixteen, I'd penned my fiftieth completed fiction project, a meaty novella called "Dictator".

(The above photo is a blast from my past -- my 50th story, complete with hand-drawn 'cover'.  It sits beside the longhand first draft of my present and 928th, which is slated to appear with Ramsey Campbell and a reprint by H.P. Lovecraft in early 2012.)

I wanted to live on Moonbase Alpha and, through my fiction, I did.  And then, as an adult, as a professional writer, I got to go there in the flesh through my nonfiction work writing for the Sci Fi Channel's magazine.  In 1998, I was one of a handful of journalists Martin Landau granted interviews to for the X-Files Movie.  In 1999, I boarded a plane and flew out to Los Angeles, where a big convention to celebrate that ominous date was being held over the September 13th weekend.  Within seconds of entering the hotel lobby, I bumped into Zienia Merton.  I just happened to be wearing a button bearing a photograph of her and the late Peter Cushing.  Within hours, I had met the writers of the show, and many of the actors.  I bought Anton Phillips...aka Doctor Mathias!...a margarita during dinner.  I hugged Barry Morse (a year later in 2000 in New York, he remembered our lovely conversations about writing and his portrayal of Professor Bergman and what an impact he'd made on my life).  I stood within mere feet of the gorgeous Barbara Bain, who performed Love Letters with Morse.  I got to hug Nick Tate.  I danced when, as 12:01 dawned on September the 13th, 1999, the theme songs from both seasons of Space were played.

(Clockwise from upper left, me with Zienia Merton; Nick Tate; Prentis Hancock, Ms. Merton, and John Hug, with Anton Phillips).

A year later in New York City, we picked up where we left off.  This time, I got to meet Catherine Schell, whose "Maya" may be the most human alien in all of Science Fiction.  I had worked as a writer on Paramount's Star Trek: Voyager series the year before, and was asked to speak on a panel with the writers of Space:1999.  I don't remember much of what happened during that hour, only that seated beside the late, great Johnny Byrne, Christopher Penfold, and George Bellak, who penned the pilot episode, "Breakaway," I was completely star struck, maintaining quite the happy smile, only one step ahead of the happiest of tears.

(Me with Catherine Schell, and standing with the writers of Space:1999).

I think if I could go back in time and tell that earlier version of myself, that young writer who was ridiculed and bullied for what he loved, that he would one day meet all of his childhood icons, he might not have been able to survive the shock.  But every day, I see proof and am inspired when I enter my Writing Room and glance up, just to my right.  To date, I have written sixty-one short and long Space:1999 fan fiction stories (some, like the eight-part novella and novel series I worked on from 1998-2002, quite long.  Planetkill 1-8, in which the Alphans alone are capable of fending off a sentient black hole hungry for living worlds, totaled some 1,500 pages when the last word was written; parts of it penned in New Hampshire, in Los Angeles, in Boston at the MFA on a bench before original van Gough paintings, and at a favorite coffee bar in the Berkshire Mountains.  This maxi-series took the Alphans from one end of the galaxy to the other and is, perhaps, that one thing I wrote to think back on during the final reflective moment of my life).

(Above: my sixty-one Space:1999 fan fic stories at left, beside the shooting scripts for the two episodes of Star Trek: Voyager I created: "Counterpoint" and "Gravity.").

During their run of forty-eight episodes, Commander Koenig and the Alphans brought life back to numerous lifeless planets, risked their own safety to help those in need, and never wavered when faced with the seemingly insurmountable.  Perhaps anyone who's stood up to the dark forces of the universe, who's made the right choices even if they weren't the easy ones, who's picked up a fountain pen or a paint brush or has sung in the face of shouts is an Alphan of sorts.  I've learned many lessons over this lifetime spent staring up at the moon thanks to those beautifully-drawn characters, who are as real and noble to me now as they were then.  Perhaps even more so because of our intimate times together in the tales I've written them into since I was that boy of ten.  That loyalty is better than logic, hope is better than despair, and creation is better than destruction.  That there is a purpose, whether relative to distant imaginary planets like Golos, Piri, Zenno, Ultima Thule, Psychon, Archanon, or Arkadia, or as close as the reality of one's own backyard.  That we're all aliens until we get to know one another.  And that we should raise our glasses not to everything that might have been, but to everything that was.

Cheers on this September 13, 2011, and keep creating! 

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Writer's Retreat

Next week at this time, I and nine of my favorite writers will depart for our autumn writers retreat.  We do this twice yearly, also in the spring.  The beautiful country house above is our newest venue -- the past two were held at a spa in the Berkshires that served exquisite gourmet food, but which suffered a serious bout of vandalism over the 2011 winter.  At this cozy and spacious new retreat destination, we will dine well, drink copious amounts of coffee, tea, and seltzer with lemon wedges, and be nothing other than writers for what promise to be several lovely and luxurious days.

In the summer of 1993, a young writer enjoying my first taste of publication in various small and semi-pro magazines but knowing I needed to push harder, by coincidence I learned of a local writers group.  Joining that group changed my life, in most ways for the better.  Three months later, I attended my first writing retreat, organized by one of the group's then-members.  I sensed the retreat weekend would be a turning point and turn, I hoped, in the right direction.  It would feature, according to the blue photocopied brochure (still in my filing cabinet), a mostly-vegetarian menu, apart from the shrimp stir fry and organic eggs at breakfast, blueberry pies made from berries picked on the property (a sprawling three-story passive solar log cabin set on 80-plus acres of mountaintop), salads, bagels, juice, coffee, and all the tea one could want.  A new best friend from the writers group, the brilliant Laura A. Van Vleet, joined me.  We drove north to Wentworth, New Hampshire on a brisk and bright October Friday, Halloween weekend.

Just before we set out, the mailman made a rare early afternoon delivery.  At that time, when all correspondence came via Snail, I'd started believing that I was the last person to get their mail in the world, because I waited on the mailman to bring answers from the publishing industry, thus explaining why mine normally arrived around five o'clock.  The mail that day was stacked with an abundance of good news: one letter informing that I had won a prestigious small press award -- the now-defunct SPWAO's "Year's Best New Writer" nod (I didn't kill the Small Press Writers' & Artists' Organization, but that year I beat out some fairly impressive writers for the certificate, which sits framed in a spot of honor in my beloved Writing Room); a request for my first book-length work of fiction (Ghost Kisses -- Winston Leyland, who told me he purchased only one of 500 books submitted his way, would take it the following February); and a first sale to a professional magazine, a nifty check for $100.00 enclosed with an acceptance letter stating that every time the editors of Drummer tried to reject the story, they were unable to, and decided they should just go ahead and buy the damn manuscript.

Leading up to the retreat, I had determined that I was either going to give up on this 'writing thing' or dive in without fear and be a writer and only a writer.  The mail delivery seemed a clear sign of the right path, and that retreat turned out being the last major course correction I made -- and the last time I questioned what I wanted to do with my life.  The writer won out.  I returned home and restructured my world and, despite past threats in those early years by various wolves at the door like famine and homelessness and doubt, I have been writing full-time and publishing regularly since.  That weekend defined my life.  Maybe even saved it.

At that retreat, Laura and I wrote in front of a roaring wood fire, in comfortable Queen Anne chairs arranged before the hearth.  I sipped Earl Grey tea for the first time that weekend and have loved it since.  We ran through new copies of The Writer's Market and LMP (one of my notebooks still bears notes on leads I took from those books).  It snowed that Halloween weekend in the mountains, and we all took a walk after dark to the mountain's edge.  On my first night in a strange bed, I had a horrific dream and wrote it out as a short story, which was later published (in effect paying for part of the retreat...something I've done at the numerous retreats that have since followed: writing stories for various of my regular editors, thus paying for the retreat and then some on top of it).

I returned to Wentworth Mountain two more times; a house in Williamstown, Massachusetts for a dozen weeks all told from 1998 - 2001; and have been a fixture twice a year, autumn and spring, with my new writers group for a few years now.  As we ready to depart for this fresh adventure up north, my eyes keep wandering toward my award, the first of several I've won since, and thoughts of that original time.  In retrospect, that weekend may be the most important time of my life, but the best of all the lessons I learned there was to create a similar environment in my own home, so that every day could be a writers retreat.

Keep creating!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mal Contents Under Pressure!

The always-amazing Powers-That-Be at Grand Mal Press will soon unleash a quartet of fresh voices and four-edged long-form fictional horror upon an unsuspecting reading public.  Mal Contents contains my 20-k novella of professional jealousy set in the culinary world, "The Mushrooms".  Also included in the stellar lineup are David T. Wilbanks, Randy Chandler, and editor Ryan C. Thomas, who collected the tales for GMP in early 2011.  The release, my third so far with this fantastic press, is available for sale in early October -- perfect timing for Halloween.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Mister Thomas, an editor I've previously worked with at GMP as well as on other projects, notably the brilliant Permuted Press homage to all-things-gargantuan, Monstrous: 20 Tales of Giant Creature Terror.  He was kind enough to share his thoughts on submitting to GMP, his own impressive publication resume, his rock band The Buzzbombs, and the current state of print media.

In addition to being a first-rate editor, you're also a widely-published author yourself.  Can you talk about your career on the other side of the editorial pen?
I've written four novels: The Summer I Died and its sequel, Born To Bleed; Ratings Game; and Hissers. I've also written a mashup, The Undead World of Oz, which is being published in Russia this year. And several novellas and short stories and other projects as editor.

You were also featured in Alien Aberrations.  How did you become involved with editing for Grand Mal?
Networking, networking, networking. I've known Stephen [GMP's Publisher] for a little bit. He said he wanted someone more familiar with the genre to take the reins. So I did. I ran a magazine here in San Diego for seven years, and all told I've been in publishing for a decade, having worked for a magazine in New York City before that, so I know the ropes from the publishing side as much as the writing side.

What is GMP doing that's different from other up-and-coming presses?  Other than the size of your books, which are not quite paperback nor trade paperback, but somewhere in between?
We do use the 5x8 format, which is unique. We will be doing some 6x9s now as well. As far as what's different, I'll just say we're completely concerned with quality, both in the production and the writing.  I find we reject a lot more submissions due to poor writing than anything else, even if the ideas are good. We really want to find the diamonds in the rough. Beyond that, we create original covers for each book, and we have two other editors and a handful of proofreaders, so we're doing our best to make sure each book is error free.

What are you looking for in a submission?
What we want in submissions is a good idea executed with excellent writing skills. We really just like to read anything that's unique and fresh. Good dialogue and prose are a must, though. Try to wow us.
What are you currently working on with your own writing?
Hissers just came out in audio book format from Audible Books. The paperback will be out in November from Permuted Press. It's a three-part series, so I'm working on part two right now. I'm also reworking a novel I wrote years ago about an autistic man accused of murder. The man can control insects, and we find out that the murders are part of a larger plan regarding his place in the coming apocalypse. It's a bit of a mythos story, but mostly a detective/horror story.

Please talk about your band, the Buzzbombs.  What kind of music do you play?  How did you come together?
I put an ad in the paper eight years ago and some whackos answered it. We play 3-4 nights a week now around San Diego, all oldies covers like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent. Very fun stuff, and to think I get paid to do it is amazing.  It's my "day" job. I also play bass in a Johnny Cash tribute band that tours the country.  We should be heading out to Aspen and Jackson Hole and such in a few months.

A lot of people have said that print media is dead.  Apparently, they weren't considering independent presses in their obits.  What's your take on the state of publishing?
I don't think print media is dead, but it's dying. E-books are fast outselling hard copy books. I myself read a lot of books on my iPhone. When I'm in the tour bus, it's just easier to have five books on my phone than carry five actual books around. But we just have to learn to adapt. I think there will always remain people who love to actually hold a book in their hands, but it may end up that print books are a bit of a collectors item in the future. Unless you mean that written media is dead, which is BS.

A little added Mal Contents bonus from author Randy Chandler on his novella, "Howler":

Blurb for Howler

From a stormy whorehouse in 1934 Arkansas to a hard-driving Dust Bowl carnival sideshow, a nameless orphan known as Wolf Girl takes life by the throat in a struggle for her humanity.  Part avenging angel, part freak, she takes on all comers.  Fighting all manner of monsters, she must avoid becoming one herself.

Randy is the author of Bad Juju, Hellz Bellz, and of the upcoming novels Daemon of the Dark Wood and Dime Detective.  He is also author of the novella "Dead Juju".  His short horror and dark fantasy fiction appears in various venues, online and in print.  He lives near Atlanta.

Thanks to Ryan and Randy, and enjoy the malevolent contents!