Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pick a Card, Any Card

Growing up, our family routinely spent days and sometimes whole weeks at Salisbury Beach in Massachusetts.  In the area of the beach with rides, concession stands, and skee ball known as the Center, the one feature of the arcades that imprinted itself upon my imagination more than any other were those creepy fortune telling machines presided over by the top halves of turbaned mystics with names like Zoltan and Zoltar.

On Friday, the mailman delivered quite the lovely surprise -- a box of promotional postcards for my upcoming monstrous collection of original fiction both short and long, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: Twenty-Six Tales from the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris, complete with Star Trek: Voyager Captain Kate Mulgrew's wonderful cover blurb.  Muse contains stories of haunted swamps and Egyptian crypts, devil dolls and giant monsters, spiders and snakes and the deepest rooted of human fears -- past, present and future.  The book is getting its official release in late March and is being launched at World Horror Con in Salt Lake City, Utah, where I plan to be in attendance.  To get there, I have decided to take the train from Boston to Lincoln, Nebraska and enjoy a leisurely ride, writing the entire trip (it sounds so Alfred Hitchock and film noir!).  In Lincoln, I'll connect with good pal Peter Giglio, relax, dine, write, and then we'll head together to Utah for three days with fellow great writer friends and a celebration of my book's release and others (my short story "Lone Wolf" will also be getting its Red Carpet moment at WHC when Evil Jester Digest V. 1 is unleashed upon the public that weekend).

Before my big adventure at WHC, I'll be enjoying another, no less exciting few days in New York City in February.  As one of the authors invited to read at the annual Valentine's event held at Bluestockings Bookstore in the East Village, after committing I decided to make the most of my visit so that adventure also includes a trip to Parsons the New School for Design and Mood Fabrics -- home venues of one of my favorite obsessions, Project Runway.  In addition, I'm taking in the Broadway show Love, Loss, and What I Wore, playing at the Westside Theatre.  The reason?  This particular run with the revolving cast boasts none other than the stunning and fabulous Robin Strasser, "Dorian Lord" from my beloved, late One Life to Live.  The show's publicist graciously comped me a free pair of tickets (some $160.00 at the box office) following my offer of a review on this here bloggy.  Icing on the cake?  I get to interview Ms. Strasser to accompany.  Further icing?  I'll have some great writing friends in the audience at the Bluestockings reading, like Charles Day, David Bernstein, and his lovely girlfriend Sandy Shelonchik.

In July, I plan to enjoy Camp NECon in Rhode Island, a low-key conference for writers, pro and beginners, that I attended in 2008.  Of course in November I'll be back at Anthocon, which was spectacular that first time around.  And in between?

In September, I hope to realize another of those big goals I've been dreaming about for most of my life (like writing 100 fiction projects to completion over the course of one year, which I accomplished in 2010): putting "The End" to my 1,000th short story, novel, novella, or script.  That project, a Space:1999 novel called Metamorphosis, has sat half-completed in the filing cabinet drawer containing all my partial manuscripts (aka 'The Drawer of Shame") for far too long, and is the final 1999 original fan fiction I plan to write.  Number 1 was all about the courageous men and women of Moonbase Alpha; so, too, have I always dreamed Number 1,000 as being.  To see that it happens, I'm staying for five days at a retreat on Star Island off the New Hampshire coast where I'll be well fed, inspired by my surroundings, and kissed by the Muse.  One week later, I'm jetting to Los Angeles to attend the 2012 Space:1999 Convention, and where I plan to write the final pages of that book and celebrate a moment I've anticipated for more than three decades.

So far, 2012 has opened with a lot of hope, promise, and adventure.  And I didn't need Zoltan or Zoltar or a fortune cookie slip to motivate me, just my Muse and imagination.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

MUSE Status Report -- Kate Mulgrew's Fabulous Book Cover Blurb

Long before interviewing the courageous leading lady of the Intrepid-class Starship U.S.S. Voyager some several dozen times over the course of the fourth live-action Star Trek series' seven-year run; well before creating two episodes of the show with my talented best friend and writing partner Laura A. Van Vleet -- the first, "Counterpoint," the ultimate "Captain Janeway" episode and one beloved by the actress herself; Kate Mulgrew was already one of the galaxy's brightest stars in my eyes. I'd loved her as a young adult in the Remo Williams flick and before that as a youngster when she played Mrs. Columbo, and especially for her role in the soap Ryan's Hope, which most of my family was hooked on.  I thought she was beyond cool during my stint with Laura writing features for the Sci Fi Channel's Magazine, on the Voyager set, at the famed Copacabana Club in New York City where we once attended a charity event put on by Ms. Mulgrew to raise funds for the Incarnation Children's Center, a pediatric A.I.D.S. home (Laura and I donated our very first Kate Mulgrew interview paychecks to the ICC in honor of the actress's work, something she never forgot and, as a result, she was always available to us for a chat, an interview, a hug when our paths met in the real world).

But talk about coolness elevated to new galactic heights!  Early this past autumn, I approached Ms. Mulgrew regarding a blurb for my forthcoming monstrosity of a collection, stories short and long, which is being launched at World Horror Con in Salt Lake City in March, and she offered her support without hesitation.  This is what the actress, whose character took down the entire Borg Collective; who safely returned her ship and her crew through 75,000 light years of hostile, unexplored space, and who created one of the most memorable heroes in Science Fiction history, has to say regarding Muse:

"In my experience of seven years on Voyager, I do not believe I have encountered a writer for whom I have greater respect in terms of intelligence, understanding, and talent.  There is no one more capable to pen such a volume as Muse and, also, to do it so beautifully."
-- Kate Mulgrew, Star Trek: Voyager        

Writing Muse, which contains twenty-six original short stories and novellas (twice the original total, as first envisioned by the publisher when I was asked to pen the collection), has been a great adventure.  I can't thank Kate Mulgrew enough for sharing it with me.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Fond Farewell to ONE LIFE TO LIVE, Part Two

Summer of 1993, the last time clock job I slaved at before quitting to write full-time, I stood through a laborious staff meeting of about forty lost souls, listening to the supervisor blather on.  When the meeting concluded, she asked, "Any questions?"

"Yes," I said.  "Did anybody see yesterday's episode of One Life to Live?"

To this day, a friend who was present at that meeting remembers how the entire place broke up laughing, bosses included.

So here it is.  The Friday of the end.  Mathematically, dating back to November of 1983, I figure I've watched some 7,542 episodes of my favorite afternoon soap opera. Since OLTL's rumored then confirmed cancellation was announced last spring, I've noticed something about my expression. The smile that's almost always there hasn't been in evidence so often. I still wake up with music in my head, but it hasn't found its way to my lips as it regularly used to. People who know me also know how I have a tendency to wake up chirpy -- something that can grate on the nerves of non-morning people.  I sympathize, because I was never a morning sort until the Muse and I went into business together. For the longest time, the wonderful "Tour of Llanview" montage theme song from circa 1985 - 1991, sung for most of that time brilliantly by Peabo Bryson, was one of my favorite ways of greeting the dawn.  The theme that directly preceded it -- the "Sunrise" theme from my introduction to OLTL in 1983 -- haunts my sleep from time to time.  It did in late 2009 when, following an unforgettable dream, I wrote a short story about a man who dreams himself into the golden days of his favorite soap opera (not unlike Roxanne Balsom's recent visit to Fraternity Row). The story, "One Life Unlived," sold on its first visit out to Michael Lea's speculative fiction anthology, Luminosity: Tales From the Edge.  Sadly, the anthology, which was to be published by Twisted Library Press, was also cancelled, a running theme in 2011.  Still, that somber melody often meanders through my dreams and follows me awake. Not as often anymore, the same holds true with the elegant "Champagne" opening that ran from 1991 until 1994, the music I wrote my first published book to and often listen to on a scratchy old cassette tape from that time when I write paranormal romance.  In 2007, during a brief correspondence, Lee Holdridge -- the talented composer behind most of OLTL's music over the past two decades -- sent me a clean MP3 copy of the "Champagne" theme.  Simply breathtaking, but that was then-guru Michael Malone's mandate, that the music should be cinematic.  It sure was!

(From the "Fireplace" to the final Holdridge opening, all of One Life to Live's theme songs)

Snow globes from an OLTL charity breakfast I covered

Over the years, the influence of OLTL on my writing has been tremendous.  As someone who likes to cast his characters, I've often found myself seated at my desk or on the living room sofa, the nib of my fountain pen racing across a fresh page, only to stop as some new character demanded I give them a heartbeat as well as a name. In the winter of 1994, a nightclub songbird called Poor Lara ("Lara? Couldn't your parents afford a 'u'?") took on the guise of the gorgeous Kassie Welsey-DePaiva, who had only just assumed the role of "Blair" from Mia Korf. Some time in the late 1990s, I had a terrifying dream about a woman named Victoria who had one eye in a shockingly vibrant shade of purple-blue.  I wrote the story, "The Indigo Eye," in 2003; the "Victoria" in my dream had been none other than Victoria Lord Gordon Riley Burke Buchanan Carpenter Davidson Banks, as played so beautifully over the years by the show's leading lady, Erika Slezak.  Perhaps no OLTL character has affected me so personally and profoundly as that of Fiona Hutchison in the role of Gabrielle Medina. In 1990, following a five-year hiatus from writing that I blamed on work, the aforementioned tragedy of a lost friend, and my own ridiculous belief in the Writer's Block (I've since turned from believing in the Block to the Muse -- a far healthier approach, one that's led to numerous published novels, hundreds of short stories, thousands of feature articles, and one or two TV episode assignments), I woke from an afternoon nap and an intense dream about a young woman who joined the men and women of Moonbase Alpha, home setting to Gerry Anderson's brilliant deep space parable, Space:1999, territory I had mined often and with great love through my writing (and will one final time in September when I join the cast in Los Angeles). I instantly jotted down the dream on a note card, rightly thinking it too good to risk losing.  That autumn, writing a series of fan fiction stories that would, through building upon my strengths, lead to me selling my first short story to a magazine, I penned that story, "Fiona." The young woman became one of my favorite characters to write about for years after; every time I watched the lovely Fiona Hutchison's portrayal of Gabrielle until the character's death in 2003 -- and during her one-day return from the grave this past Monday -- my breath routinely hitched.  OLTL has given me so much more than an hour of television, five days a week.

(Tom Christopher as the wicked Carlo Hesser, top, and, beneath, as "Hawk" from Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century, as envisioned by a fan.  I had the great pleasure of interviewing Mister Christopher for an article in 2001 and he graciously sent along the two head shots, with his autograph).

In five hours, the last twenty-nine years will wrap, take a final bow, and fade out.  People who don't understand the sense of loss being felt by devoted fans of a soap opera may proclaim it silly to mourn for such a thing; after all, most TV shows last far shorter than forty-three years and so many thousands of episodes.  But clearly, my loyalty as a decades-long viewer didn't matter to the ABC network, any more than the millions of OLTL fans who called, wrote, demonstrated, and pleaded with the murderous head of daytime programming to reconsider his decision; the same soap-hating soap killer who'd not only slain All My Children but also the General Hospital spin-off Port Charles (as well as other soaps on other networks years earlier).  It's not that my life is going to come to a halt, that I'll be prowling the house at 2 p.m. every afternoon wondering what to do with myself.  It's the method and manner in which this all played out, from the reasons behind the cancellation (soaps ARE relevant today -- perhaps more than ever in the mean, ugly, and loud wasteland that television has degenerated into) to the utterly painful broken promise that OLTL would transition to the internet and continue decades of great storytelling online.  OLTL was a bright respite from a world that has lost so much of its joy; fictional Llanview was a place I visited not because I didn't have other, better ones to go to, but because I had so much fun when I was there. The Kramers, Lords, Buchanans, and Balsoms were people I genuinely loved, like family.  And as for stories, well, there were some great ones.  The wild and the wonderful -- from the Lost City of Eterna to Vickie's trips to Heaven to Billy Douglas's coming out to last spring's bullying arc, which was absolutely brilliant.  Me, I'm all about the story.  In fact, I plan to devote that extra hour in the afternoon come this Monday to several exciting romance-themed projects.  I sure won't be tuning in to the ridiculous garbage that replaces One Life to Live.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Fond Farewell to ONE LIFE TO LIVE, Part One

Like such destinations as Collinsport and Corinth, Monticello and Riverside, the Loft at 212 Greene Street in SoHo, sections of Port Charles and, most recently, all of Pine Valley, soon it will be lights out in the fictional town of Llanview, Pennsylvania, a place I have visited week-daily since the late autumn of 1983.  After forty-three years on the air, the regularly brilliant, sometimes wacky, but always entertaining and engaging daytime drama One Life to Live will soon end, leaving millions of broken hearts behind, mine being one of them.  From that autumn when I was eighteen, so impressionable and suffering through the loss of a good friend killed in a car accident, my one-hour escape into the travails of the Lord, Wolek, and larger-than-life Buchanan families has been a gift I've given myself for working hard as a writer, and for trying to live my life to its fullest potential.

OLTL began in 1968, the brainchild of the amazing Agnes Nixon, who I was so lucky to meet one day on the set of All My Children in the summer of 1994 when, as a professional writer, I had begun to interact with cast members and other creative forces associated with the ABC television family. My mother and grandmother had followed OLTL intently over the years, especially during the riveting 1979 arc that revealed that average everyday housewife Karen Wolek (played by Judith Light) was, secretly, a prostitute -- fairly bold subject matter for two o'clock in the afternoon in a programming landscape as-yet untainted by hair pulling and the use of the bleep button every few syllables.  My first introduction came in November of 1983, a few weeks after a tragic accident claimed the life of a high school friend. Such intense grief is difficult to digest at any age, but then it seemed insurmountable. There was only escaping it for brief interludes and, having been seduced into watching the return of Genie Francis to General Hospital, I found myself seated earlier and earlier in front of the tube. I was, after all, a young writer eager to understand plot, dialogue, and cliffhanger-based storytelling, and I could have done far worse than to embrace the art from an Agnes Nixon creation.  I was also in desperate need of forgetting my own troubles, and the citizens of Llanview helped me get through them.  I distinctly remember the inimitable Robin Strasser, chewing up scenery as the elegant and fiery Dorian Lord-Callison, dressed in black gown with bronze sequins, all bitch and zero apology as she enjoyed a torrid affair with hunky spy David Renaldi (the late, great Michael Zaslow).  For some reason, I also remember a vase of vibrant anemone flowers on a table.  I can't tell you why that image stays with me, only that in several of my published stories and novels, anemones appear. Until Strasser's final exit from OLTL over the summer of 2011, Dorian Kramer/Lord/Callison/Vickers was one of many reasons to tune in at two in the afternoon.

In 1985, Andrea Evans, "Tina Clayton" (only by then, she was revealed to be Tina Lord, the love child of villainous Victor Lord, half-sister to long-suffering heroine Victoria) visited my very cloistered corner of the world to sign autographs.  It was as though I'd been given a glimpse that said world wasn't so flat as I'd been led to believe.  By 1989, after six years of split personalities, returns from the dead, time travel, and global adventures (one of the most memorable resulting in Tina going over the Iguazu Falls in South America), then-executive producer Paul Rauch took viewers on one of the wildest daytime rides ever: beneath Llantano Mountain, to the lost city of Eterna, built by Victor Lord. For days, I was riveted, couldn't wait to tune in, and devoured that hour like an addict.  Several of the series regulars found themselves trapped in Eterna -- Tina, Vicki, Gabrielle (the gorgeous Fiona Hutchison), and handsome cad Michael Grande, played by the charismatic Dennis Parlato.  Four years later, when my writing was starting to be published in national magazines, through odd circumstances I found myself standing in the dark cavern of sister soap Loving's ABC studios at West 66th Street in New York City, talking with Parlato about the character of Michael Grande, who made it out of the city and off the mountain only to be murdered a year later.  Not surprising, Loving brought the actor in to play dastardly Clay Alden on the little soap that could (and did until its cancellation in 1995). Grande, he told me, had been a delight to portray.  He'd also loved that storyline, which wasn't a huge hit overall with viewers.  It was to us.  That afternoon at ABC, I saw how big the world truly was, and I set forth to explore it.

(Left, me with the lovely Hillary B. Smith, aka Nora Hannon Gannon Buchanan, and the talented Nathan Purdee, former Llanview Chief of Police Hank Gannon, Summer 2000 at their charity breakfast to benefit the Lupus Foundation.  The lovely lady to the right of Mr. Purdee is my best friend and oft-writing partner Laura A. Van Vleet, who I had the pleasure of working with as freelance writers on Star Trek: Voyager and reporters for the Sci Fi Channel, Cinescape Magazine, and Soap Opera Update, among others; my first brush with celebrity -- my autographed photo of Andrea Evans)

In 1992, unemployed and suffering for my art -- in other words, living off savings and small paychecks from my writing -- OLTL's dynamic head writer, the novelist Michael Malone, unveiled a storyline that dealt with homophobia and culminated with characters from the show visiting the A.I.D.S. memorial quilt.  During that time, eagerly awaiting each new episode and aching for the weekends to pass, so completely inspired, I wrote a series of modern gothic paranormal gay love stories, Ghost Kisses -- it would become my first published book and an effort I'm proud of, these many years later.  I may not have written the collection during any other time, with such intense passion, if not for the atmosphere OLTL helped to create that summer.

(Me with the fabulously glamorous Catherine Hickland -- the faceted villainess Lindsay Rappaport -- and with, clockwise, Tom Christopher as perhaps the most evil heavy in daytime history, Carlo Hesser, and Dennis Parlato.  In autumn of 1981, a young writer first starting to put pen to paper and dreaming big dreams, I watched Mister Christopher on the second season of Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century while sprawled across my bed or seated cross-legged on the floor, fresh pages routinely flying from my fingertips. Standing with Tom Christopher, who I would interview some years later for a feature on Buck Rogers, stole my breath, truly)

I have quite a bit left to say about One Life to Live -- and I will, on Friday morning, before the final episode airs and TV officially stops being fun to me.  But I feel compelled to mention actress Catherine Hickland especially, who was a regular part of the show's canvas for so many wonderful years.  I first had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Hickland in 1993 when she starred on Loving.  We hit it off instantly, bonded by our mutual love of and the need to advocate welfare for companion animals. Flash forward to the summer of 2001, when I was writing semi-regularly for the ASPCA's official national publication, Animal Watch.  I was assigned to provide a celebrity story on a notable animal rights advocate, and pursued Olivia Newton-John, even came very close to delivering the story. Because of Newton-John's touring conflicts and my looming deadline, I contacted Ms. Hickland, who made herself instantly available, and who had not only founded a cruelty-free cosmetics brand, Cat Cosmetics (used by the show's makeup department), but had also been instrumental in securing a mobile veterinary van for one of the city's shelters, completely outfitted, even with veterinarian.  To me, she was the perfect choice for such a story, a celebrity who was more about actions than words, and a humanitarian who delivered the goods.

My editor at the magazine was incensed.  "A soap opera actress," she barked over the speaker phone at me, one memorable Monday morning.  To this day, my blood boils whenever I remember that shameful remark.  The story was published.  Ms. Hickland told me she carried a copy of it to auditions and other professional engagements before her move from New York to Las Vegas following the end of her OLTL run in 2009.  For a long while, I got great feedback about that story, from unexpected places.  There are more than a few fan letters in my filing cabinet as a result. Catherine Hickland epitomized the depth of heart and charity in the fine cast that was One Life to Live, but she is hardly alone in her example.  I doubt such graciousness is going to be shown by the current crop of banshee housewives, Jersey Shore rejects, crap-dashians, or other talking heads glutting the wasteland that television has become, and being passed off as today's celebrities.

One Life to Live was more than just a TV show.  It was the finest, written by talented writers whose lines were performed by the best actors.  It was also a lifelong friend, and one I'll miss terribly once the final fade out takes place some forty-eight hours from now.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Roaming Numerals

I've never been good at math.  I clearly remember that white-hot rush of panic in Third Grade Math Class when my homeroom teacher, Mister Hunt, called upon me to answer what 6 x 6 was. Somehow, I pulled '36' out of thin air, but for long moments after escaping public humiliation, my pulse galloped and cold sweat dripped and, I imagine, the smile on my young face was quite insane.

Still, some numbers matter to me, far more than royalty statements and contract minutia.  2011 ended on interesting and quite high notes, given the many outside factors that tried to distract me this past year.  In 2011, I wrote 72 individual fiction projects to completion -- a novel, numerous novellas, one screenplay, and quite a few short stories.  Those 72 added up to 278,820 words all totaled according to the tally in my organizer, where I keep track of my finished work.  I estimate another 50k easily in projects I started during the course of the last year but have yet to complete (a far shorter number, perhaps a dozen ideas throughout the past twelve months; since 2010, I've been writing to completion more times than not, taking far fewer interludes).

(My 2012 list of unwritten ideas, showing its first streak of editorial red signifying an as-yet-unwritten idea is now a drafted, completed story)

Going into 2012, the sheet I use to keep track of my ideas -- my portable idea box or manifest, if you will -- boasts a total of 134 individual novel ideas, novellas, short fiction, scripts and teleplay pilots.  My goal in 2012 is to put at least 54 of them to bed; I closed 2011 having written a grand total of 946 overall and 54 will bring me to a number that has loomed large since I was a teenager: 1,000 completed fiction projects.  This number manifested itself when I read about the amazing work done by one of my idols, Rod Serling.  Mister Serling penned some thousand short stories, film scripts, and teleplays, I remember reading, and that figure stuck with me.  So as I begin my 2012 adventures, it is with great anticipation that I hit that highest of high bullet points.  To celebrate, I have signed up to take a retreat on an island in September, when I plan on reaching that goal, which I have dreamed of for almost as long as I have been dreaming awake.

(Quite a few of the completed short stories, scripts, and novels that have built toward my Big 1,000)

Finally, a few numbers that I've also embraced in this early New Year:

On February 9, I will be reading at Bluestockings, a progressive bookstore and coffee bar in New York City's East Village as part of a Valentine's celebration.  From March 29-April 1, I'm off to Utah to enjoy the company of fellow writers and publishers at World Horror Con and to celebrate the launch of my enormo book of short and long fiction, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse.  In July, I'm planning to head to Rhode Island to meet up with Peter Giglio and a bunch of awesome writers for Camp Necon -- the Northeast Writers Conference and, of course, Anthocon here in New Hampshire next November.

Back to that retreat I'm headed to in September and the Number 1,000.  My 100-mark stories have always been fan fiction, and for the 1,000th I plan to return one final time to a number that means more to me than any other: 1999.  Long last, while on the island for five days, I'm going to finish Metamorphosis, my half-completed Space:1999 novel, and get blissfully, happily lost in my final visit to Moonbase Alpha via my fountain pen.

Wishing great numbers for all in 2012!