Saturday, December 15, 2012

Meet the Talented and Luminous James Ferace

Part bad boy, all bad ass, it was my pleasure recently to discover the words and passion of author James Ferace.  An exciting new voice in dark fiction and poetry, Ferace's work engages from the start, whether in short story format (Imago Mortis: The Stories of James Feraceor verse (Somnambulism: The Poetry of James Ferace, containing eighty-eight original poems).  Blending elements of the Gothic, the Beatnik, the best of Poe and Kerouac alike, Ferace has created a compelling literary style uniquely his own -- and one not to be missed.

The Connecticut-based scribe invited me to his corner of old New England.  Join me for a glimpse into the wonderfully dark imagination of James Ferace.

Tell us about yourself, James.
Well, I've been writing since I was about twelve.  I'd always been plagued with horrible nightmares ever since I was a child and I used writing as a form of therapy.  However, it wasn't until many years later, at the urging of my friend, artist Steven Lapcevic, that I start putting my work out there more.  So around 2009 was when I released my first eBook, Eternamente.  I was very pleased with the response, so I continued releasing eBooks until 2011, which is when Imago Mortis was published in paperback.  I've also written for several magazines (under a pseudonym) and I was also profiled in the October 2010 issue of Pulse Magazine in the article "Inside the Dark Mind of Writer James Ferace."  Poetry had always been my first love when it came to writing, rather than fiction, so it was at the urging of my editor to put together a poetry collection, Somnambulism, which was released much later the same year as Imago.  It didn't have quite the impact, however, as poetry is a bit of a tough sell.

Take us into your home office/work space -- what is it like?
Believe it or not, my work space is usually just me sitting on my bed with my laptop.  Nothing fancy.  I usually dream up most of what I write, so it's appropriate, in my opinion, that I also turn it all into fiction while sitting in the same space where most of it comes to me.  My room is small, but I prefer it that way.  It's cozy and everything is practically within arm's reach.  I'm a big fan of film, so there are several posters adorning the walls, such as ones for David Lynch's Eraserheadmy favorite film, Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, and David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch.  I also have art by Francis Bacon, etc., which inspires me.

What does a typical James Ferace writing session involve? Tell us about your creative process.
Usually, I just sit down with a cup of coffee or tea, take a deep breath, close my eyes for a minute or so, and let the ideas just flow.  Once in a while, I'll put on a film for inspiration -- usually a silent film so that I'm not too distracted.  On a rare occasion, I'll even go to a library and write in longhand in a notebook.  The silence coupled with being surrounded by the works of so many fantastic authors throughout history sometimes breeds creativity in me.  This isn't often, but I'll sometimes even keep my eyes closed as I'm writing.  It sounds strange, but that's when I feel I'm most in tune with my subconscious and I feel that aids in the whole process.

In Imago Mortis, your short story collection, you go to one of my least favorite and creepiest places on the planet: the cellar. Did your nightmares inspire you to write the stories in the collection?
Strangely enough, rather than coming from some deep-seated desire to create it, the collection came from so many people telling me they wanted to read my stuff on paper, rather than in eBook form.  It seemed like a daunting task at first, which it was, but I'm happy I did it now.  As much as I hope people appreciate my odd little creations on their own, I think there's some benefit to absorbing them all together, as well.  Reading it now, in retrospect, I would have removed certain stories and arranged things a little differently, so that the whole thing flowed better and turned out a tad more cohesive, but...I'm still proud of it as a first effort.  I was surprised at the response to it, honestly.  There were things contained within its covers I thought people would have me run out of town for writing, but then I spoke to many individuals who said those were their favorites!  I'm pleased, though.  I'm pleased that my material can affect people the way that it does.  As you mentioned, I tend to go to some pretty dark places and it's always an honor when someone's willing to go along for the ride.
What do you have in process?  New releases?
After Imago and Somnambulism, I returned to writing eBooks.  Somewhere along the way, though, came All the Ills of the Flesh, which was basically Imago and the poetry collection together, with some new material thrown in, but in a hardcover package.  Of the three items I have published in physical form, I'm most proud of that (and I owe a lot of that to my fantastic editor, Amy Wells).  But, right now, in addition to several new eBooks, I'm also working on a brand new softcover collection which is a sort of Imago Mortis, Vol. II, if you will.  I'm hoping to have that done by the new year.  I'm extremely pleased with the way it's turning out and I think it's going to be superior to its predecessor in every shape and form.  Reading through it, I also noticed that I feel I've grown a lot as a writer, something which also pleases me.
What was your EUREKA! moment -- when you knew you were a writer?
I always wrote.  I wasn't aware that I was 'a writer,' however.  I think that moment came when I finally exposed others to my work and saw their reactions to it.  Because anyone can put a bunch of words down on paper and that can mean to them whatever they want it to, but...when people started seeing this stuff and conveying that it actually moved them, disturbed them, sickened them, or made them cry, that's when I knew.  It was literally one of those 'I was born to do this' moments.  So I guess it wasn't really one particular instance, but several which slowly built up over time.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Presented for Your Approval, ANTHOLOGY: YEAR ONE

(photo credit: Henry Snider)
Over the summer, between writing retreats, conferences, and adventures, I submitted two short stories to editor Mark Wholley, who was reading for an anthology open only to writers who had attended the Freshman experience of November 2011's Anthocon.  The anthology, appropriately titled Anthology: Year One, would be launched at this year's multi-genre celebration.

A Saturday night, months later, I paused the Hollywood blockbuster playing on our flat-screen in the living room (Snow White and the Huntsman, I believe) to refresh sodas.  I moseyed into my Writing Room to find an acceptance on one of the two stories, my short and creepy tale, "The Guests."  I was beyond thrilled and struggled to get through the rest of the movie.  I wanted to be in this project.  And I was.

The idea for "The Guests" came to me on a humid June afternoon, a Wednesday, in one of those thunderclaps of inspiration where a story takes shape, fully formed.  I saw, quite clearly, a woman X'ing off days on a calendar in red ink as she and her husband prepared for the arrival of holiday guests.  Only it turned out that though the motions seemed normal, an element of wrongness quickly grew apparent, for these guests were not your average in-laws or siblings.  I sat down a few hours before due to depart for my writer's group's weekly meeting, put pen to paper, and dashed off the first draft in one sitting.  I then read it to my fellow scribes, who dug it.  So did the luminous Mister Wholley, as he chose it to appear in a stellar Table of Contents in the conference's official literary companion.

Many of my fellow authors shared the back stories behind their contributions to the amazing read that is Anthology: Year One.

Marianne Halbert on "When Betsy Whispers": "As part of my day job, I travel to our local prisons from time to time. One snowy day, I left early in case the roads were bad. I arrived early, with time to kill. They were in the process of opening a new museum. There was a wall of shanks, and a letter written by a fourteen-year-old Charles Manson when he'd been at the boys' school. But what drew my attention was the chair. Ancient, yet elegant, untouchable due to the glass that separated us, she sat. Some states refer to their electric chairs as 'Old Sparky'. For some reason, in Indiana, she's 'Old Betsy'. She whispered to me, and planted the idea for my story, 'When Betsy Whispers'."

Stacey Longo on "Cliffhanger": "'Cliffhanger' came about when I was stuck at an employment law seminar all day, listening to two lawyers drone on about Connecticut's paid sick leave law. I was thinking about how nice it would be to push one or both of them into the Grand Canyon. So, while my boss thought I was diligently taking notes, I outlined the story that would become 'Cliffhanger.' And yes, the married couple in the story is named after those two tedious lawyers!"

Timothy P. Flynn on "A Day at the Bookstore": "
Back in 2007, I was in the process of ending a fifteen-year relationship with my wife (together for ten, married for five) because my alcoholism and depression were just out of control. I hit the rock bottom that many talk about but yet never seem to face. My life needed a change or I was going to die. I finally took the plunge into a detox center at Hampstead Hospital. All I knew up until that point was being drunk. I had always loved writing and books, but had no clue how to pursue it. So I became more depressed because I suppressed my passion for writing. I made one promise to myself once I go out and was sober: I would follow my passion and have a dream.

I tried a dating site to look for a possible relationship. My search focused on a woman who enjoyed Horror, books, and movies. Common interests were the most valuable commodity now as my soon to be ex-wife never read a damn book in her life. This is how I met Barbara. We talked online for a few weeks before finally meeting: our first in person date? At the Salem, New Hampshire Barnes and Noble, yes a bookstore! I don’t know about the rest of you, but after being with one woman for such a long time, the first time you meet a new love is very exciting. We talked about books, various authors, movies -- mostly Horror, her college choices, and life stuff. I had such a great time talking about things I cared about; with a coffee in my hand instead of a beer.

The funny story about the poem is that I have no written copy of it anywhere. A few days after meeting Barbara, I opened up my email, and proceeded to write this poem in the space. It was written in a fury, the images just shot from brain to hand, no editing. I hit send and waited to hear a response. A few hours later, she responded with nothing but admiration for what I created for her. I wrote it for her, solely for her and had no intention of anyone ever seeing the poem. I don’t even have the account anymore that I used to write that poem; hence the only copy of its existence was lost to cyber land.  Barbara was so moved by my writing of this poem that the next time I saw her; she presented me with a surprise. The gift was a beautiful framed copy of the poem. She printed it out, blew it up, designed some fancy fonts and border to it and gave it to me. It had to be the nicest thing anyone had done for me in a very long time. To this day, besides this poem being published in Anthology: Year One; the only existence this poem was even written at all resides on my desk in my office."

T. T. Zuma on "The Old Man": "'The Old Man' was inspired by Tom Piccirilli.  I had attempted a few times before to write a noir-influenced story and never had much luck at it.  Everything I wrote seemed to hinge on a cliché, or I wasn’t able to pull off that tough guy attitude in my main character that Tom is so damn good at. Then one day while driving to work, I came to the bridge located in the center of my hometown and I saw an old man fishing off it. My imagination kicked in and later that evening I started the first draft of 'The Old Man.'  Reading it the next day I thought it sucked.  The characters were stereotypes and the plot wasn’t very original.

Pic had told me once that when he wrote a story all he had in his head was maybe the first line or the first paragraph and once those were written, he would then let the story take over and see where it brought him.  I decided to try and do the same thing.  After using the same first paragraph, I rewrote the story letting my characters take me on their journey instead of the other way around.  I hadn’t the slightest idea that my private eye was really a mob enforcer on the run or that the antagonist wasn’t some tough-talking gorilla but a young, scared kid.  As a result of these changes came a new ending which not only took me totally by surprise, but I thought perfect.  When I had finished rewriting the story, it didn’t suck anymore.

Once finished and then vetted by my first readers I had another problem, who publishes noir short stories anymore?   I held onto it for over a year. When Anthology: Year One announced a call for submissions, I thought it the right anthology and I rushed to send it to the editor, Mark Wholley. Thankfully he accepted 'The Old Man' and I am proud that it found a home in this anthology."

K. Allen Wood on "She Cries": "The title 'She Cries' has been with me for a long time. Back in the early ‘90s, as a young teenager, I used it as the title to the following poem:

She came to me in the night.
Her body seemed to move, sinewy, with the mist,
swirling, gathering at my window.
She coursed through my mind, bristled close to my skin,
leaving sweet beads, hope-filled.

Then she was gone.

That night, awake, I spoke a dream aloud:
'There is reason we return from the bitter darkness.'

Ignoring the poetic merit presented above, which should be easy because I’m fairly confident there is none (I don’t even know what that poem is about anymore), that was the first time I used the title. Later, it became a song. More recent, I used it as the name of a music project. You can hear one of those songs, a cover of an old System of a Down demo. And most recent, it was the perfect title for a short story I’d written, so I used it yet again.

Those two words together --'she cries'-- have always resonated with me, for one reason or another. Specific to the short story, however, which now appears in Anthology: Year One, a fine collection of tales from authors who attended the very first Anthology conference in 2011, the idea came to me after a friend broke down one night while drinking. 'I just want you to hold me,' she’d said in part that night. 'I want to feel safe.' The words haunted me for a long time, because she’d peeled back the layers and had given me a glimpse of the dark things that pulled her strings. But she didn’t want to cut those strings; she just wanted to use me. 'She Cries' doesn’t touch upon that moment specifically, but it does explore her psyche a bit, in that it features a haunted woman who isn’t strong enough to let go of the darkness that controls her; and because of that, those unfortunate enough to truly care about her or try to help often find themselves heartbroken -- or worse. The metaphor probably isn’t as clear for the reader because I know the history of and the catalyst for the story, but I’m confident that knowledge isn’t necessary for one’s enjoyment of the tale."

Peter N. Dudar on "The Strange Medicines of Dr. Ling": "My grandfather was the general manager of the Washington County Fairgrounds in upstate New York for many years, and during those hot summer days when the carnival rolled into town my brother and I were allowed to spend the week in his trailer, right inside the fair.  A great portion of my childhood was spent soaking in carnival life -- riding the rides, playing along the midway, breathing in the myths and mysteries of the fair.  There's two faces to a carnival: the fun, vibrant, excitement of a bigger world suddenly appearing in your small town; and the cold, terrible reality of people and animals being exploited to make a quick buck.  You never needed to pay a ticket for the freak show.  You only needed to see those old-time carnies, the ones missing a hand or a leg from some carnival tragedy, to feel that same level of discomfort.

I wanted to write a story that captured these feelings from when I was a kid, the way Bradbury had with Something Wicked This Way Comes, or F. Paul Wilson had with his wonderful anthology Freak Show.  Only, as an adult, I wanted to capture a portion of something almost everyone could empathize with.  In this case, what would you be willing to trade off to be rid of something you could no longer tolerate living with...say, a bad headache?  With a little creative magic, I devised an old-fashion spirit wagon, operated by the strange and sinister Dr. Ling.  And once the bad doctor appeared, the story pretty much told itself.  Even now, long after the story was written, I can almost hear the sound of his flute playing in my head and it takes me right back to my own childhood."

Jennifer Allis Provost on "Stir the Bones": "My story was inspired by several real life events. On June 1, 2011, Western Massachusetts was hit by a tornado; luckily, my home wasn't damaged. But it got me thinking about what it would be like to be trapped in my basement, just me and my husband and the dog...

The supernatural events mentioned are all true, to a point. The woman we'd bought the house from did have eight different men living with her over the course of ten years, and she did raise the basement floor by two feet with concrete. The scissors really did fly across the kitchen to open a bag of pet food, though it was cat food, not dog. And, the kitchen cabinets really did take a flying leap off the walls.

Of course, everything mentioned didn't happen; we weren't trapped in the basement, for one. In reality, if we were trapped I wouldn't just be with my husband and dog, but twin toddlers, two cats, and a parrot as well. If everyone had made an appearance, this short story might well have become a novella. Also, other than my overactive imagination, there is no evidence of bodies under the basement floor. Then again, how would I detect them underneath all that concrete?"

John Grover on "Bog King": "I have to credit the inspiration to my story to my partner. He is a geographer and historian and in his day job he edits world history textbooks.  He sent me an article on the bog kings of the Celtic tribes. Back in those days when the tribe decided the king’s reign was up they would ritually murder him and put his body in the local bog to insure the return of spring after the winter and to be the guide of the moon goddess since the king represented the sun on earth.

The article detailed how archeologists or scientists had exhumed the bodies of Celtic kings from the bog and had discovered the bog had preserved the bodies so well they were able to tell what their last meal was, what oils they’d had in their hair, how old they were, how they were killed and many other things. After reading this, of course, my writer’s imagination took off and I instantly began thinking of 'what if' scenarios and the story was born. I imagined a young king figuring out what his fate was about to be and getting the jump on his own blood-thirsty tribe, but the tale did not end there. I crafted a tale where the king flees into the very bog that was to be his final resting place and the tribe that will not rest until he gives the ultimate sacrifice for them -- his life. They will go to unthinkable lengths to make sure spring returns the following year."

Roxanne Dent on "The Legacy": "I was thrilled to learn my short story about greed and murder with a twist in Victorian times sold to Anthology: Year One.   Knowing my story was accepted into their first print anthology was exciting.  I got to read a section of it at the November conference, which was wonderful with fabulous speakers, the Goth singer Voltaire, and numerous panels and talks.  This year I kept winning books in a raffle and [my sister] Karen won a fabulous painting.  I love Anthocon and the people behind the conference and the book, which I’m sure, will be the first of many."

Scott Christian Carr on "The Jesus Bomb": "I didn’t want to kill Jesus again. I’d already done this once (God forgive me) in Hiram Grange and the Twelve Little Hitlers -- murdered the manic, pizza-munching, razor-clawed conspiracy theorist Ypsilanti Christ (who was hanging out and blogging with Little Hitler #8, until Mr. Grange put a quick and bloody end to them both).
I didn’t want to kill Jesus… again. But even after 12 Lil’ Hitlers had gone to print, I couldn’t shake the idea of another skewed Christ -- couldn’t get Him out of my mind: Googly-eyed, staggering and swaying, all Hippied-out in Birkenstocks and bathrobe, lobotomized and brainwashed, wearing a T-shirt bearing the immortal scripture, I’m With Stupid (complete with an arrow pointing up to the Heavens).  Oh, and a nuclear bomb strapped to His chest.

A character too good to throw away, and too insanely sacrilegious to use almost anywhere else -- it is a true testament to the strength of the series, that Hiram Grange’s universe was the best (if not the only) place that this tragically flawed miracle-bungler could find a home. And so, diving back into Mr. Grange’s world, it not only made sense, but seemed somehow apropos, that there was room enough (God forgive me, again) for more than a few Christ killings.

And just like that, the short story, The Jesus Bomb was birthed.

For any who are interested, I am currently at work on my third Hiram Grange novel (the second, Hiram Grange and The Twelve Steps will hopefully be out in 2013): Hiram Grange and the Twelve Apostles. God forgive me (can I get an Amen?), but as of this writing, I have no plans to murder Christ a third time…"

Andrew Wolter on "The Green Hour": "I've always been intrigued by the stories surrounding the consumption of absinthe. Was there truly a 'green fairy' and did those who partake of the jade-colored liquor hallucinate as if on some bad acid trip? Were such claims mere drunken ramblings or the subject of old wives tales? A year before 'The Green Hour' was published, I attended the very first AnthoCon convention in which Ted Breaux (a renowned expert on the subject) offered a workshop on the preparation and history of absinthe. Immediately after attending Breaux’s informative class, I was instantly inspired to write an absinthe-related tale and already had the title in mind. While I wanted to incorporate the history revolving the liquor, I longed to explore a modernized myth as well. What really occurred in those moments when this mysterious alcohol impaired all judgment? As my goal in writing this tale was for readers to truly experience my main character’s absinthe-induced state, the entire content of 'The Green Hour' was written during several sessions in which I was heavily under the influence of absinthe." 

Kevin Lucia on "Lament at Sundown": "'Lament at Sundown' began, ironically enough, with a good-natured, running gag in one of my high school classes. Several of my honors students had this running joke with one of their mates -- a student of an Arabic/Middle-Eastern background (but fully, whole-heartedly American) -- that she was Native American. This led to random references to hunting buffalo, scalping, pow-wows, and fire-water, whenever the time seemed right: in the middle of conversations, tests, class discussion...pretty much whenever. It became our class's version of the time-honored 'That's what she said' joke.

Now, I know what you're thinking -- how could I allow such cultural insensitivity in the classroom? But, I knew these students well -- had known this one student's family for over ten years -- and it was clear that everything was offered in good fun (and I checked with said student, several times). Sure enough, for Halloween, the student in question came into class dressed in full-tilt Native American garb -- headdress and tomahawk and all -- and proceeded to 'scalp' several of her fellow students for their insolence. 

This, ironically enough, on a slow day, led to a discussion about my writing process. They asked how I came up with new stories, and I told them I tried to draw as much inspiration from life as possible. I then referenced their running gag and said: 'Here's the thing: you guys have all been really kind and laid-back about this, it's obviously a joke between old friends. But what if it WASN'T? What if there was meanness and violence behind it, and what if...what if...the victim, a female, decided she wasn't going to take it anymore? Was going to take matters into her own hands?' 
And thus, this story -- in its earliest form -- was conceived with the help of these ten students. This story deals with other things, also. The helplessness I sometimes feel as a teacher, in trying to touch students' lives...and failing, so often. Also, it's a hard look at how fear and prejudice and even racism start as very small, innocuous seeds, sprout, grow into something dark and deadly...often claiming those most innocent."

Tracy L. Carbone on "The Imaginary Solution": "I wrote 'The Imaginary Solution' several years ago to purge some bad feelings about a painful childhood similar to the one the main character experienced. There were embellishments of course and exagerrations, but the Bialows were real. Their elderly poodles, the constant scent of cleaning solution in the house, and 'The Doctor' always in the other room coughing. As a child, this couple disturbed me. They were the oldest people I had ever seen, so aged that I wondered how they could be alive. The smell of Pine Sol and Mrs. Bialow's hands have stuck with me, just waiting for a spot in the story. 

Until the call for submissions for Anthology was announced, I'd never tried to send this story anywhere, unwilling to expose myself or my life, even if it was cloaked in fantasy. But this seemed the perfect venue for it so I decided to send it along. I am glad it found a home."

David Bernard on "Appledore": "As any Yankee already knows, Appledore is the name of one of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine (although Appledore's neighboring island, Smuttynose, is more fun to say). Of all of the ghost stories along the New England coast, and there is no shortage of them, the one tale that always intrigued me was the ghost of Blackbeard’s bride who walks Appledore, guarding hidden pirate treasure. The deceased Mrs. Blackbeard’s story has not grown over the decades like other stories where details become attached to the story with later retellings. I remedied to fix that oversight.

Here’s a confession, I like writing fiction, but not nearly as much as I enjoy my nonfiction projects. I like researching odd topics and my fiction writing tends to rely on real names, dates and places to guide the story. With that in mind, 'Appledore' relies on historical details from Haverhill, Newburyport and the Isles of Shoals to move the story along, much in the same way local poet and folklorist John Greenleaf Whittier used Hampstead folk figures like Goody Cole to tell his tales. This is not to say I’m in the same league as Whittier, even if I look just as spiffy in a beard as he does."

Trevor Schubert on his internal artwork: "For the image 'Seaweed Inferno" -- this whole thing started (like more than a few images do) drawing with my children. In particular, I remember it was Spaceman/aka astronauts with my six-year-old daughter. I’ve always been fascinated with the similarities between the ocean and space, so much is constantly changing, moving and evolving, so much undiscovered. It might be initially considered a dark or morbid scene, however my intent was to consider the fact that the unfortunate explorer in this scene now has an eternity to watch his surroundings play out. The 'evolution' of space to sea in this drawing was an easy one; convincing my daughter this was acceptable however, that was a different story 

Regarding 'Evil Pumpkin' -- as a child of the 80's, growing up with every possible ghoulish and monstrous movie you could imagine, not that super-duper digital stuff,  the classics born from latex, paint, and maybe a little silicone, however I’m quite sure it was mixed up in a bowl, not a valley. This might sound a little hypocritical of me considering I have in fact been a digital artist for the past decade, however the majority of my images start from a old fashioned paper and pen and are occasionally pulled from a deep-seeded foundation of 'jump out and scare you' horror creatures, thanks to a trusty VCR with a remote that was most likely only an optional feature on our family’s model. Or lost years ago. I just remember that when one of those monsters popped up you had two options: either get up and run out of the room, or shut your eyes and hope for the best, because we all know that physically walking towards the thing to shut it off was never going to happen. I became a pretty good sprinter, my imagination's just gotten better at chasing me." 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Anthocon 2012 Report

Anthocon 2012 loomed large and exciting at the end of a year-long schedule that found me traveling from one end of the country to the other, to conferences, writing retreats, and readings in venues as large as New York City, as intimate as Concord, New Hampshire. The second annual conference for writers in my home state was the culmination of a year's worth of adventures that put me on the road and took me away from home for a grand total of almost three months -- a full season!  I had such a great time at last year's Anthocon, I couldn't wait to reunite with so many of the wonderful writers and readers who made that time unforgettable for all the right reasons.  Though after realizing how long I've been gone from home and family in 2012 and cutting my Sophomore stay from four days down to two, the time was even more wonderful than expected. In addition to the aforementioned reunions with such fantastic folk as one of my favorite publishers, Charles DayJon Michael Emory, David BernsteinMarianne Halbert, and the fabulous Sisters Dent, my good gal-pals Karen and Roxanne, this year's festivities introduced new luminaries to my world and included numerous attendees from my weekly writer's group.  Of added sparkle, my creepy short story, "The Guests," was accepted to appear in the gorgeous conference release set to have its unveiling at a special Saturday night ceremony, the anthology edited by con-guru Mark Wholley, appropriately titled Anthology: Year One.

I planned to ride in with Charlie, who's been my excellent hotel roomie now through four conferences. But an icy gray day punctuated by a Nor'Easter that was more blather than bluster left me craving the warmth of my little home on the hill.  So I instead headed up on Friday with my good pal Philip Perron, who runs the fantastic Dark Discussions podcast.  Philip is effortless to hang with.  We arrived to Portsmouth and the hotel wherein the conference was in full swing to be greeted by dozens of beloved faces -- friends from our writer's group, the Dents, even new chums known formerly only via Facebook, like the inimitable and vibrant Mandy DeGeit.

Friday night with the Sisters Dent
After acquainting and reacquainting, I retired to my room on the fifth floor and put down a few fresh pages on one of my works-in-progress, a memoir about a summer memory from childhood started in June that has mutated and grown monstrous in size -- some 54,000 words at latest count, with at least another 10 k to go.  Up early the next morning, I met the Dents for breakfast at the diner next door for delicious Eggs Benny and iced coffee, and then moseyed into the Dealer's Room, where I promised Charlie I would cover the table while he took story and novel pitches from writers hoping to break in with Evil Jester Press, specifically the new graphic novel project (one of my short stories is being scripted to appear in the first issue, alongside a tale by Jack Ketchum).  It was my absolute pleasure to be seated beside the dealer's table of the fine folk from Firbolg Publishing, helmed by the brilliant Dr. Alex Scully.  Alex and I talked at length, and within minutes of meeting, she offered me a story assignment in an upcoming Lovecraftian project. The press is republishing Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulu" and I'll be writing a story told from a most unexpected perspective.  I was floored, inspired, giddy.  Adding to my excitement was seeing every print copy of my gargantuan collection of stories both short and long, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse, vanish from the table.  I signed autographs on that book and The Call of Lovecraft, rubbed elbows with so many wonderful fellow scribes and fans and, following a light lunch, took in a reading by Alex's talented sister, B. E. Scully, who shared from her incredible short story collection, The Knife and the Wound. B. E. knocked it out of the park -- I left the conference's dedicated reading room with chills!

With Marianne Halbert and our beloved babies
Saturday night's big book party to celebrate the release of the official conference anthology arrived, but as soon as I had my copy in hand, I departed.  I was physically and mentally exhausted, not only from Anthocon but eleven months of adventures to islands, inns, retreat centers, and readings.  I returned home, and the next day began to cook in anticipation of our now-annual post-Anthocon dinner gathering.  The Scullys, my friend Douglas Poirier from writer's group, David and his gorgeous girlfriend Sandy Shelonchik, and Charlie all rendezvoused at our casa for a delicious buffet that included artichoke heart dip, crackers and grapes, roasted chicken and vegetables over broccoli and cheddar rice with a bleu cheese sauce, a romaine, strawberry, and red onion salad with raspberry vinaigrette, frosted brownies, deviled eggs, and cherry-seltzer punch.  It was a fitting follow up to last year's time.  Like so many conferees, I can't wait for Anthocon 2013, one of my few travel plans for next year.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Zombies For A Cure

In 1998, one week after my first newsstand magazine appeared on grocery store shelves less than a mile from her front door, five months before I notched my first episode sale to Paramount's Star Trek: Voyager, my mother, the late, great Diane Elaine Gauthier, passed away from cancer of the bowel.  I was able to pick up a copy of Sci-Fi Universe during daily visits to her hospice room at the top of the stairs of the house she loved, and she was still coherent enough as the malignancy feasted upon her insides to see proof that her faith in me and my love of writing was being rewarded in ever bigger strokes.  My mother was a beautiful woman who died decades too young, at the age of fifty-three.  She never smoked, drank, medicated (prescription-based or illegal; following her second cancer surgery, she refused to take the morphine offered, thinking as I still do that the body heals best through rest and positive emotion), and her loss left a jagged hole in the fabric of the cosmos from which, fourteen years later, I and those who loved her have yet to recover, and likely never will  But I have kept the memory of my mother alive through my writing.  I routinely dedicate new book releases to her, record my dreams of her in short story format, and write down the stories of our too-brief time together, recording some for publication, others so they won't be forgotten.

So when the divine Angela Charmaine Craig from Elektrik Milk Bath Press invited me to submit a short story to her charity anthology, Zombies For A Cure, I was beyond thrilled.  Authors and artists were asked if they would donate their work, as all proceeds from sales are in support of the Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Research Foundation.  In addition to original poetry and fiction from some of today's finest scribes, Zombies contains a moving tribute in honor of those loved ones the authors and artists have lost to cancer.

Angela's submission guidelines were as intriguing as inspiring.  One of the bullet points she sought for the anthology were stories that mixed up formats and genres, as well as efforts with a lighter, even comedic tone.  I had a story in mind but then remembered that, sitting snug in my filing cabinet, was a story even more suited, one that hit all the marks on the wishlist (proof yet again that it never hurts to keep a healthy inventory of completed projects on hand).  A year earlier, I penned a tale called "Deadly Jobs" -- a serio-comic take on what a reality show post Zomb-pocalypse might entail.  Tongue-in-cheek, I wrote it out in a half narrative, half teleplay format.  I'm thrilled to report the story was accepted into Zombies For A Cure -- and that my late mother's name is one of those honored in the anthology's role call.

Angela and many of my fellow contributors graciously shared the back stories behind their wonderful contributions to Zombies For A Cure.

Angela Charmaine Craig on the creation of Zombies For A Cure: "My sister and I liked to stay up nights doing crazy things after everyone else was asleep. We would have these wild conversations, making up lists of unanswerable questions (we loved lists), discussing inventions that never were (but definitely should have been), and planning all the things we should get around to doing, someday. The original idea to do a zombie-themed anthology came from one of these nights. My sister had always had a serious thing for zombies -- even as a kid -- but me, well… not so much. Still, I agreed that at some point we should definitely do a zombie book and it was added to our list of somedays.

'Someday' came a few years later as she was just beginning another experimental round of chemo. Her cancer had been in remission for a year and a half but it had returned -- and it brought friends. At the time, I was planning several new projects and my small 'staff' of volunteers suggested a zombie book to both entertain and honor my sister. From the beginning she wanted to donate the proceeds to charity, and so many generous authors and artists were willing to donate their work to help make this a possibility.

My sister didn’t live to see her book finished but she would have wanted to thank you all. To thank both the contributors for their kindness and generosity, and the readers, whose purchase of this book will allow us to donate to an organization dedicated to fighting a rare and aggressive cancer, the Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Research Foundation.  I thank you, too."  
Gene Stewart on "Zombie Love": "'Zombie Love' came from a particularly wild ride through the deep south, during storms that threatened to flood the roads and knock our car off them.  We were passing through a swamp, driving between Georgia and Texas, probably somewhere in Mississippi or Louisiana, and through the blur of pouring rain I saw a place like the one I describe in the story.  It was settled well back from the road to the left, behind a large expanse of mud and puddles big enough to drown our car.  It looked ramshackle but showed light and a few pickups were parked at odd angles close to the door.  We did not stop, but my imagination did, and I wondered what a long-haul trucker driving that route might find if he pulled off the road in so remote and wild a place.  What kind of folks, what sort of ambiance, and what dark surprises might be encountered there?
I'd read about the origin of the zombie legends and knew they came from very real practices in Haiti. People would be poisoned, it seemed, by zombie powder, a powerful nerve agent that rendered them seemingly dead.  They would be buried, but within hours they would be dug up and revived, to a degree, by the zombie master, who would then use them, sometimes for decades, as slaves in sugar cane fields and on plantations.  It was a way of enslaving people who had, at least officially, passed beyond the reach of law by 'dying'.  So the notion of slaves and zombies, linked in my mind, made the leap to sex slavery.  Eroticizing zombies took them in a direction I had not seen at the time I wrote this story.  It first appeared in an anthology called Cold Flesh, edited by Paul Fry and published in 2005.  

I hope it gives readers a good chill, and remember:  It's all possible.  Nothing supernatural happens in 'Zombie Love'.   When you're driving in the isolated, wilder areas, be careful where you stop and what you let yourself be enticed by." 

Jay Wilburn on "Dead Song”: "'Dead Song' is a very different zombie story. The idea for it came from a few threads. One was thinking about how survivors of a zombie apocalypse would tell their own stories afterward. Another was thinking about what would be a scary story for people who grew up during the zombie apocalypse. What would scare them anymore? The result brought me to a sound booth for a voice over for a documentary about music during the zombie apocalypse. The character is trapped by the story in an unusual way. All readers and writers of zombie stories are trapped by the story in some way. I hope you find 'Dead Song' and Zombies For A Cure entertaining, disturbing, or both. It’s for a great cause!"

Heather Henry on "You Can't Live Forever": "I got the idea for this story as I was trying to imagine what kind of person would not only survive a zombie apocalypse, but actually thrive. Immediately I thought of my great grandmother, Hazel McCormick. She grew up on the Montana frontier when it was still relatively wild and told me and my siblings stories about being attacked by ‘Indians.’ I’m not sure whether the stories were true or not, but I believed them. She told me so many different versions of how her husband died, I thought she’d been married eight times. She was a hard woman and a bit of a misanthrope, but she was a survivor. 

My great grandmother had a stray cat that she fed and allowed in the house. She named him ‘Freeloader.’ I started writing about the central character in my story and Freeloader was there, but I named him for our childhood Siamese, Teddy. Once Teddy became a character in the story, I knew he had to be integral in how the story resolved itself, but working that out took many incarnations. I wanted to build a zombie story around a nontraditional protagonist. As I worked on this story, I came to find the strengths in Hazel’s character, and she became a compelling character for me. I’m pretty sure that my great grandmother would like her, too."
Patrick MacAdoo on "The Sitting Dead": "This may sound cruel. On my route to the library, there's a senior-housing building, in front of which the tenants congregate to smoke. Many in powerchairs or wheelchairs, some with oxygen tanks, all with the distinctive gray, zombie-ish look of the lifelong smoker, I couldn't help but think of them as the risen dead. The presence of those powerchairs inspired the pun, the sitting dead, which of course became the title. 
I walk around with an alternate world in my head. In this world, the Apocalypse is happening slowly, or perhaps not at all -- the Apocalypse is a matter of controversy, as are the zombies themselves. In this world, political rhetoric has clouded all these issues.  Are zombies proof of the Apocalypse, a curse from God, or just a mutant virus? Some zombies get better (smarties), some do not (dummies). But those afflicted by hunger for human flesh, and this is enough for the epithet, Zombies, no matter how politically incorrect, is applied to the diseased."

Gerri Leen on "Run for the Roses": "I really wanted to write a story for this anthology, but zombies are not my thing, so I was having trouble coming up with an idea. While I was watching the 2011 Breeders' Cup and yet another racehorse—can’t  remember at this point which one—was either pulled up or didn't run and was retired early due to injury, this idea came to me. I may not understand the appeal of zombies, but they sure do seem resilient, and we've definitely made our racehorses fragile compared to the iron horses of yesteryear.  It seemed a perfect match up, and I have to admit it was a blast to write.  I hope it's as fun to read."

Sarina Dorie on "Zombie Psychology": "I wrote the story about five years ago, so it is hard for me to remember the exact inspiration.  I think I thought of the title and then wrote a story about that. My brain just asks, 'What if. . . ?' a lot.  For example, 'What if zombies had the same personality they had when they were alive, only they now also want to eat people?' or 'What if you were trying to get rid of an annoying ex-boyfriend who was bad enough when he was alive, but now he wants to eat your brains, too?'

At the time I started submitting this story, I was told by a few fellow writers that zombies were out and this was a dying trend -- no pun intended. As it turns out, zombies are still thriving. Some editors might be tired of them, but readers are not."

Megan Dorei on "Wings": "When I wrote the first paragraph of 'Wings,' I really had no idea what I was doing. I knew the basic skeletal outline for what I wanted but I didn’t know how to get there. I guess you could say I was just fishing in the dark, hoping to catch something remotely usable. But the more I wrote, the more things started to fall into place. And once I started pulling bits and pieces from real life -- a certain camping adventure and a few letters between me and a friend, just to name a few -- the story just seemed to tell itself. I have a passion for living unattainable dreams through my characters. Call it a guilty pleasure, if you prefer, but this became more than I thought it would."

Kathleen Crow on "The Ferry": "When I was younger, my son and I used to discuss how we might go about surviving a zombie apocalypse. However, after a knee replacement and succumbing to a rather nasty strain of arthritis, I realized that surviving might be a little more problematic than I had initially thought. The story bloomed when I wondered how an older person might survive in such a situation." 

Alyn Day on "Seven Eight One Five Four":  "'Seven Eight One Five Four' is the first of my works ever to be published, and one of my favorites among all of the stories I've written. I got the idea when the restrooms at work were fitted with electronic locks complete with keypads. We were told it was for enhanced security, but as an added bonus people from other floors might stop dropping by to avail themselves of our fancy soap. One day while standing at the sink washing my hands, I heard a noise outside the door. I'm sure it was something completely innocent, someone perhaps stubbing their toe on the bench outside, but it started my brain working. From there, the story pretty much wrote itself."

Mark Onspaugh on "The Song of Absent Birds": "Sometimes my stories start out with a single image, and in this case, it was the ‘Forest of Anubis.’ A great herd of zombies frozen in winter, still and ghastly, waiting for the spring thaw.  It was an image I had not seen or read, and I liked the magical yet tragic aspect of it. That got me to thinking about zombies being in a state of delayed decomposition; how one who ‘turned’ many years ago might still look relatively young.  That got me to thinking about tragic time travel stories where one person ages and another doesn’t (like that wonderful Twilight Zone episode from 1964, ‘The Long Morrow,’ -- astronaut Robert Lansing disconnects his suspended animation chamber, not realizing they have placed his true love in one back on Earth.  He returns having aged forty years, she is still young.  So my tale became a search for a lost love, and a chance to finally reunite with that one special person, no matter what they might have become.

I am very honored to be a part of this anthology. I have had three strong women in my life who have battled cancer: my grandmother Helen, my mother-in-law Judith, and my amazing cousin Chan Adams Bell. This story is dedicated to all of them, with tremendous love."
James S. Dorr on "Should Zombies Really Crawl From Their Graves": "My poem had its origins in a challenge to consider the phrase 'Should [blank],' filling in the blank and then using the result as the title for a poem.  I felt the examples suggested, including such things as 'Should I buy this outfit' and 'Should you leave before I buy this outfit,' were, to say the least, unexciting so I decided to write about zombies instead, offering the reader practical advice in the event of a burgeoning zombie apocalypse and even throwing in a hint or two concerning dating.  Useful things like that."
Terrie Leigh Relf on "The Zombie Solution": "When Marge Simon first told me about the anthology call, and that it was intended to benefit Cancer research and to honor those who have passed on (as well as those who continue to valiantly battle this disease), I was immediately inspired. What better way to support The Cure than a zombie-themed anthology? While I had originally intended to write an ode, Shakespeare rose from the dead and whispered in my ear that it was high time I wrote another sonnet. He assured me that were he not reduced to haunting the living, he would most definitely be writing about zombies (and he even intimated there were additional lost manuscripts where he did!). While I am no Shakespeare, and would never claim to channel him, either, he, too, has been a continual inspiration. The result? A spell was cast with the help of a friendly neighborhood witch.

‘The Zombie Solution’ is also about forming an alliance between another greatly misunderstood disease: Vampirism (or Porphyria), and is intended to show support for any undertaking (such as this anthology) that seeks to choose success rather than failure as its guiding operandi.
Humor is an aerator, and given the commingled stench of the zombie hordes, a light breeze is always recommended, don’t you think? Combine that with the fact that those suffering from Cancer are often ignored -- and mistreated -- by the same system that is supposed to be there to support them! We need more funding! We need a cure!"
Brian E. Langston on "necessary items for surviving the zombie apocalypse": "My poem started as an exercise at Zelda's Inferno, a weekly poetry writing workshop I sporadically attended while living in Baltimore, Maryland.  It's not clear to me how the piece came about.  I recall that the group, after having vetoed several more complicated writing prompts for lack of time and attention span, had settled on the old standby of writing a list poem. But 'necessary items' is not the normal list poem, and the prompt most certainly did not include anything about the apocalypse or zombies.  As so often happens with these prompts, however, I went off on a tangent.  Stringing together physical, emotional, and metaphorical items -- the things that I imagine I would find myself needing in order to survive an apocalypse, zombie or otherwise.  No, not just to survive, but to retain some piece of compassion in the darkest of times, some spark of hope, the mystery, perseverance, stubbornness, and strength of Homo sapiens. 
But where did that first word, 'fishhooks' come from?  And what about that arc through a gas mask and Adrienne Rich?  Origins are not always obvious, and the mystery is sometimes necessary, for our minds are not linear machines but make wild leaps connecting tangents.  As for the poem and the zombie apocalypse, I consider these metaphors for the darkest of times, be those on a global or personal scale.  These are the items, physical, emotional, and metaphorical, that I choose to take with me into the abyss in order to ground me to what it means to be human."

Jennifer Clark on "Zombie Mommy": "I almost didn’t write this poem. I wanted to lend my voice to this important project that Elektrik Milk Bath Press was proposing but I wasn’t sure I had anything to add to the zombie dialogue. What is it about our fascination with zombies, I kept asking myself. I wanted to tap into the nugget of zombie truth, whatever that was. Just when I was about to give up, it occurred to me that zombies represent the human condition. Those we love leave us. Despite their best efforts, forces out of their control (and ours) such as illness, addiction, or aging, cause loved ones to leave us behind. Zombies, I decided, represent that slow, little-pieces-at-a-time leaving. So with that all in mind, I wrote 'Zombie Mommy.'"

Monday, October 29, 2012


(Ghostly mist surrounds the retreat house on Saturday, October 27, 2012)
From Sunday, October 21 through the morning of the 28th, I retreated to a lovely little lodge house in North Conway, New Hampshire.  The house sits beneath the bald granite summit of Cathedral Ledge, a celebrated peak in the White Mountains. Standing on the wrap-around deck, one gazes up and there is the mountain.  Beyond that, only sky.  It is a breathtaking spot to sit and ponder, to dream.  I did both quite often during the week, the culmination to an October quite unlike any other during which I traveled, gave readings, and found myself with some brilliant new opportunities. Unexpected adventure was everywhere I turned in this mysterious month, which has always ranked among my favorite times of the year.

October kicked off with an incredible trip to Rochester, Vermont.  I was among a handful of scribes who won a free stay at When Words Count Retreat Center, a new high-end destination designed to pamper writers and help them to achieve their dreams.  As described in previous posts, my stay was above and beyond magnificent.  Truly, my time there will forever rank as one of the most enjoyable of my adult life.  Words flowed, as did a level of creative energy too rare in this era where publishing is being transformed before our eyes.  WWC is a gift I intend to give myself again, and the relationships I established with the retreat center's director and owners, by all outward signs, will lead to several exciting and mutually-beneficial work opportunities in the near future and down the pike.

(A favorite chair -- and pillow -- in the Stein Salon at When
Words Count Retreat Center)
My time at When Words Count came close on the heels of my trip to Star Island, another fantastic and productive adventure in which fresh pages and inspiration were in decent supply. Linking the two retreats together was an opportunity to write for a television series that literally fell out of the sky. Producers seeking to reboot one of the smartest and most thrilling TV shows of all time contacted me based upon work of mine they'd read (including a post on this very blog!), and I was brought on board the new production team.  While my NDA letter prevents me from discussing the project at this stage, I believe the work we are doing has the potential to be huge.  My enthusiasm for this particular gig has been a daily constant since and is responsible for several though hardly all the wide, giddy grins I am guilty of flashing throughout my stay at When Words Count.

Two days after returning from Vermont, I found myself back in the car driving north to give a reading at the Barley House in Concord, New Hampshire.  I and several contributors from the fabulous line of anthologies published by Rick Broussard, New Hampshire Pulp Fiction, entertained a significant crowd of devotees with samples of our stories.  My tale of Combat Science Fiction and sacrifice, "The Moths," is slated to appear in the latest release.  Rick asked me to read from the very first volume, Live Free or Undead, which contains my story "Road Rage."  Quite a few of my Wednesday night writer's group's members showed to support me, and I took to the stage amid thunderous applause.  I dedicated my reading to, "The courageous men and women of Moonbase Alpha" and was then asked to stick around to help judge a flash fiction contest put on by the fine folk at The New Hampshire Writers' Project.

(Reading from "Road Rage" at the Barley House)
I returned home and, seemingly in the blink of an eye, it was time to depart for North Conway, a return exactly one year to the date from a previous visit.  I and two of my pals from the writer's group moseyed north, stopping in Tilton, New Hampshire to shop for groceries and other needed provisions, and arrived early to find the house as lovely and welcoming as I remember. Sunlight rained down and a temperate breeze stirred the last of the colored leaves.  And there was Cathedral Ledge, visible from half the house's windows.  Our first night there, I made prime rib and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  We drank iced coffee, cold sodas, seltzer with wedges of lemon, wrote, and relaxed in front of a roaring log fire.

Beds and accommodations at that house are wonderfully comfortable, the owner, Maureen Parziale, a delight -- hence the annual return.  And my creative output was no less solid than during my two previous retreat stays on Star Island and at When Words Count.  I put the nib of my fountain pen to page and dashed off the last two chapters of my modern Gothic novel full of grand guignol and dark family secrets, Blinders.  On Monday, I had a long and thrilling phone conversation with WWC's Jon Reisfeld regarding one of the possible writing work opportunities looming on the very near horizon, and then received an email from an editor seeking multiple short stories of mine for a new anthology he is putting together for German book publisher Bruno Gemuender.  On Tuesday, I woke from a haunting dream and began to pen a new short story based upon the dream's quite solid bones.  Later that afternoon, I returned to the novel -- close, so very close, to its THE END.

(My novel in its first draft)
On Wednesday, while racing closer to the novel's conclusion, I received an email from Laura Baumbach, my editor at MLR Press, which released my M/M mystery novella, "Mason's Murder," this past August. Laura was contacted by the new director of The Lambda Literary Awards, who is apparently a fan of my work and who asked for me by name -- would I be interested in being a judge on this year's awards panel and chairing the Science Fiction/Horror/Fantasy category?  After the shock wore off I agreed that yes, indeed, I was most interested in the position. The next morning, I wrote the final pages of Blinders and felt like a million bucks.  Despite the novel's dark subject matter, it's a story that has haunted me from the moment the Muse dropped it onto my lap.  I am proud of its 310 pages/77,500 words.  After a spell, I intend to draw it out of the filing cabinet where it now rests and transcribe/edit onto the computer for submission.

On Saturday, I penned the entirety of "Mourning Doves in Limbo," a 2,500-word short story already promised to an editor. Our last night culminated with a reading from our works-in-progress, peanut butter cookies, and a late retiring to bed in preparation for an early start.  By ten on Sunday morning, the 28th, our happy writing retreat lodge sparkled after a solid cleaning, and we were on the road, headed south for home.  But the adventure was hardly ended because, as I type this on Monday, October the 29th, Hurricane Sandy is bearing down on our little Granite State.  The lights are still on, and all is snug and secure, though outside the windows and the happy lights in my office, the world is gray and tremulous.  It's been one hell of an October!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When Words Count Writers Retreat Part Two

Within a minute of my arrival to When Words Count Retreat Center, a new destination for writers nestled in a rambling country hollow between the mountain peaks of Rochester, Vermont, I knew I had found my way to one of the happiest places on the planet. Since the autumn of 1993, I have retreated to write regularly across the New England countryside, from inns to islands and all points in between.  That first retreat to Wentworth Mountain over the Halloween weekend of '93 changed my life forever -- I went there determined to either give up this 'writing thing' or to embrace it like my very life depended upon the outcome.  Circumstances clearly favored the latter; even at its darkest moments since, I have loved my life, lived it with joy and exuberance.  Wandering the happy halls of When Words Count was like stepping back nearly twenty years through time to that very first retreat where I drank copious amounts of Earl Grey tea, luxuriated before a roaring fire, and communed with my muse in an intimate way deeper than marrow or blood; on a soul level.

That Monday night, I and my fellow conferees -- the fabulous Amber Lisa, the inimitable Jan Cannon (who is penning an amazing book), Lisa Cordeiro, and writer singer/songwriter Chrissie Van Wormer -- lounged in the Gertrude Stein Salon for a reading of our works.  I had just the previous night gotten book galleys for my short story "Phantomime" which was selected to appear in the invite-only anthology Blood Rites, a forthcoming release from Blood Bound Books.  I read the story aloud and got some fantastic feedback, and then I was thrilled to hear Jan's pages, followed by Amber's.  Both ladies knocked it out of the park as far as I'm concerned.  I love being read to.  I love it when the writing is stellar, and it sure was.

I enjoyed one of the most rejuvenating night's sleep in recent memory and woke with the opening of a short story that has eluded me since the spring and my trip through America's quite-wild West.  After showering, I wandered downstairs to the Stein Salon and wrote almost the entirety of "Cruciform" before Chef Paul arrived to cook us yet another exquisite breakfast.  I powered through to the end of the short story and returned to my novel Blinders, which got a wonderful jump start at the retreat center following six years of languishing unfinished within fifty pages of its THE END.  The same sense of euphoria I experienced in 1993 on the mountain where I chose to be a writer (or, more to the point, the writing chose me) embraced me, and I caught myself smiling widely while seated in the salon with its bookcases and cozy furniture and views of the rolling hills dressed in vibrant autumn colors, savoring the moment.

As part of our stay, we five were each given one-hour consultations with Jon Reisfeld and Steve Eisner who, along with Eisner's lovely wife Nele, were gracious and delightful hosts. Our conversation, held at one in the afternoon on Tuesday at the J. D. Salinger Cottage (a gorgeous detached bungalow just up the hill from the main house and the barn) was so upbeat, so energetic, it has sustained me well after my return from Vermont.  There are great and exciting plans for professional writers being created at the retreat center.  Based upon what they'd seen -- my usual output of fresh pages, one after another -- and what they'd heard me read, Jon and Steve invited me to be part of the excitement, which will also include a return to the center to lecture and workshop with other writers not far down the road.  I skipped along the trail back to the main house following my consultation.  There, beaming, I indulged in that day's episode of my beloved soap General Hospital on the Stein Salon's flat-screen.

Dinner that night included the most delicious butternut squash soup I've ever had the joy of tasting, with creme fraiche and a toasted crouton. Succulent roasted chicken and cauliflower, leafy salads with heirloom tomato and a sweet balsamic dressing, and perhaps the best chocolate chip cookies in the history of the planet followed.

"With simple yet fine ingredients, you can make lavish meals.  You can create something that people really respond to," says Chef Paul Kremar, the culinary genius behind the retreat center's incredible gourmet fare.  "With a handful of ingredients, you can create food that is as good as anything you've ever put in your mouth."

Chef Paul, whose enthusiasm and aura radiated throughout not only the Julia Child kitchen but the dining room and the Stein Salon, where nightly he served up incredible appetizers, was a visible and welcome presence throughout my stay.

"I don't subscribe to that old school notion that the kitchen is the sole domain of the chef," he says. "People are fascinated with food and want an interactive experience.  I believe in the opposite of the old Gourmet Magazine philosophy, which had a 'don't try this at home!' mentality.  Here, I like to interact with you, maybe inspire you to show that you can try this at home after you leave.  Flavor and texture must always reign supreme, and local food gives you a strong footing in terms of quality.  But it should always be yummy.  My goal is to make it the yummiest for our guests."

On our final night, Lisa read her latest short story, a paranormal mystery, and Chrissie, too, shared from her present work-in-progress, both offerings engaging and a treat for the ear.  I retired to my room exhausted but also energized.  For days, I'd absorbed the details of my surroundings, the trees and flowers outside, the elegant antiques acquired from months of auctions, artwork, and the personalized author-specific touches to the rooms.  I slept well and woke rested on the last day of my stay, a rainy and overcast Wednesday.

Saying goodbyes at a conference or retreat are never easy, but no sense of melancholy hung over my departure from When Words Count.  Bruce arrived in our car on time, and off we drove through the bucolic, rain-lashed countryside, headed for home.  A few stops along the way for provisions, and we enjoyed a happy night snunkered down with the cats while rain hammered the State of New Hampshire. Since that afternoon, the amazing energy that infused the retreat has stayed with me, as have the connections made in that magical place, a gift I gave myself and one all writers should treat themselves to.  I am counting the time until I return to that little slice of literary Heaven-on-Earth!