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.