Tuesday, February 28, 2012

From the Bookshelf: A New World: Chaos by John O'Brien

I love discovering work by an author that resonates fully, deeply, engaging all six senses and making me want to read everything else they've written and will write.  So I was thrilled to pick up John O'Brien's A New World: Chaos, the first in a series of three novels (with a fourth being written as we speak) about a frighteningly believable near future apocalypse scenario.  Not surprisingly, O'Brien is developing quite the loyal following. Count me among them.  With his classic good looks and All-American vibe, the former Air Force pilot could and should be modeling for the covers of books. Turns out, the man is perfectly at home writing them.  And boy, can he write.

The first novel in the series, Chaos, finds O'Brien calling upon material he is more than conversant with -- the military -- as former pilot Jack, a divorced dad, attempts to keep his family safe after a deadly flu pandemic sweeps around the globe, killing much of humanity but also genetically transforming many of the survivors into crazed, vicious mutations.  Chaos opens in a world eerily quiet one moment that gradually builds towards screams as Jack struggles to reach seventeen-year-old son Robert and younger daughters Brianna and Nicole, trapped in the basement of their family home in Washington State while persons (or things) unknown prowl about in the upstairs.  Told through Jack's POV, the tension steadily grows suffocating, forcing the reader to turn the page.  I was some two chapters in before extricating myself out of O'Brien's new world -- a place that is as engaging to visit as it is terrifying.

As the story unfolds, never slowing down (kudos to O'Brien, a self-confessed former adrenaline fiend), the family's mission of survival expands to include rescuing Jack's estranged ex-wife, Lynn, a service woman stationed overseas in Kuwait.  Utilizing his -- and the author's -- exceptional piloting skills, Jack commandeers the controls of an HC-130 military cargo plane, which leads to some of the bloodiest sequences in the second half of the series' opening salvo:

"We draw to the end once more turning around. Our lights illuminate the ramp and taxiway showing the asphalt littered with scraps and chunks of clothing, body parts, and bits of flesh and bone. An absolutely disgusting sight that makes me want to flick the lights off but I need them. The things hovering at a distance, milling about, and some lean towards us with their mouths open, obviously emitting those loud shrieks. The only sound coming to us is the continuous droning of engines and heavy breathing in our helmet speakers.
     “What the hell is that!?” I say into the microphone.
     “What?” Michelle asks.
     “Listen,” I say and then hear another faint thump; more felt than heard. “There, that.”
     “It sounds like it’s coming from behind us,” Robert says."

It was my pleasure to speak with O'Brien, relatively new to the business of writing -- though you wouldn't know it.  A natural storyteller, he was kind enough to also share with me the back-story of his terrifying brave new world.

So who is John O'Brien?
That is both a simple and complex question and answer.  I’m not really much to be honest.  I have a zest to experience life and, in that zest, have had the privilege and luck of being able to pack a lot of experiences into the short time I’ve been walking on this rock hurtling through space.  There is both a linear side and a spiritual side.  Of course sometimes those sides clash and the end result isn’t pretty.  I like to push myself and am constantly learning.  That drive and zest has led to many great experiences and some not so great ones.  For now, I enjoy introspection in the country of the Northwest; the quietness being amongst the firs and cedars that it affords.  I have always enjoyed sports and so love to take my road and mountain bikes out exploring the area, throwing my kayak in Puget Sound and paddling along the many islands that dot the southern area.

As an ex-adrenaline junkie, I enjoyed experiences that pushed the limit of both mind and body.  I still do but to a much more limited extent.  The years tend to do that.  I like to think that I’ve changed and grown through those years but there is still a boy inside who smiles at the thought of a new adventure.

Tell us about your military career.
I was a fighter instructor pilot in the Air Force transitioning to special ops and the HC-130 for the latter part of my career.  I have flown a myriad of aircraft from the T-37, T-38 to the HC-130.  I enjoyed each for different reasons but it was all about the flying.  I covered a few of my experiences in the first book.  Some terrifying, some exhilarating, and some breath-taking.  Seeing the ground below you covered in darkness with the headlights of cars miles below while still being bathed in sunlight was an amazing experience.  Another is seeing the stars glisten above against a dark blue sky in the middle of the day was quite amazing.  Terrifying experiences always seem to include thunderstorms.  Yeah, those aren’t very fun to penetrate and I wouldn’t recommend the experience to anyone.  I detail an experience of recovering from an unrecoverable spin in one section of the book; one moment out of control in an accelerated spin, pinned to the top of the canopy unable to punch out and the next moment flying straight and level with flyable airspeed.  There was definitely something watching out for me and it just wasn’t my time to go.  Oh, and there was flying up the canyons of northwest Texas.  That was a blast although I probably shouldn’t be mentioning those little jaunts.  I could go on and on but that would be a book unto itself as each flight was an experience unto itself.

(John O'Brien in action)
Have you always wanted to be a writer, or did you have one of those Eureka! moments?
Yeah, a writer.  Me?!  I have always thought about and daydreamed about the ultimate survival situation.  A post-apocalyptic world seemed to fit the bill nicely.  I read a few zombie stories after being introduced to the genre from my son.  There are some great stories out there by the way.  I was reading through several and it was one of those Eureka/revelation moments.  I realized these authors were getting paid for their stories. Well, I started putting the story that had been running in my head down.  Actually, several stories but I condensed them into one.  I have other scenarios running through my head and will put them down after I finish this current series.

How do you view the planet differently from being up there, so high above it?  What's the highest you've attained, and do you still fly recreationally?
I cannot even begin to describe the feeling and pleasure of flying.  It’s a freedom.  Any worries and stresses I had on the ground melted away when my wheels left the runway.  I was in a different world.  Sometimes the mission took away from being able to just enjoy the flying but that aspect always came back.  Sometimes it just became a job like any other.  But the takeoff was always an exhilaration no matter what.

One aspect flying so high gives you is that the world we live on is very small.  We look outside our windows during the day and it seems so big.  Thinking about an hour or two drive gives that illusion.  Being aloft and at altitude gives you notice that the earth is really a small place; just a small bit of rock and water speeding through space.  The highest I’ve ever been is 54,000 feet.  Truly an amazing sight if you’ve ever been that high.

I don’t currently fly but will as I get this story finished.  Flying is in my blood and I will definitely be taking that up again later in life.  I can’t imagine not doing it.

I love your A New World series.  You recently wrapped the third novel -- will there be a fourth?
The story is far from over and I’m currently a little over half of the way through the draft of the fourth book.  Depending on where I decide to take the story – I do have the whole aspect of it in mind but there are times when it takes off on its own – I envision up to nine or ten books.  I have an idea for another series which unfortunately keeps me up at night.  I just can’t seem to get my mind to shut up.

Do you write short fiction?  During Chaos, I also kept thinking your novel would make a great film.
I haven’t written any shorter fiction.  The New World series is my first venture out into the world of writing.  I would really enjoy seeing the story make its way into a movie or series.  It’s funny the way energy works.  I thought about that very thought not long ago and now I am getting a few emails and such that say the very same thing.  I do have to tell you that I am deeply humbled by the people writing me and from the reviews of all of the books.  I have such great fans and, again, find myself humbled by the fact that I can even say I have a fan base.  It’s mind-boggling at times.  This series is way more than I expected and I am very appreciative of the readers.  I can’t say enough – thank you!

What's a typical John O'Brien day like?  Do you stick to a writing schedule?
I’m not sure there is a typical day to be honest.  I don’t set any alarms but wake up fairly early.  Well, what I consider pretty early.  Making my espresso is the first order of business.  With my cup in hand, the day can then begin.  I look through my messages while enjoying my caffeinated milk shake – I don’t really like the taste of coffee so it’s white chocolate powder and plenty of syrup – answering the folks that write both via emails and online reviews.  I like to stay in contact with folks that have read through the books and have taken their valuable time to write and share their thoughts.  It’s really for the readers that I write.

My writing schedule really depends on how much sunshine is out.  Okay, kidding just a little there.  I am usually at my keyboard most of the day.  I do take breaks and perhaps test out the comforts of the couch while pondering plot lines or sequences.  I even have a pad and pen on the bed in case I wake up with ideas.  That actually happens quite a bit – light bulbs go off and I have to get those ideas down before they fade.  If I happen to have one or both of my kids around, then we are off doing something else though so most weekends are taken up with them.  My son is actually in the midst of writing several books and he’ll grab his laptop out at times and we’ll both write.  So, the short answer is that I’m usually writing for most of the day with breaks thrown in throughout.

When not writing, you...
I have a wide variety of activities from running, cycling, and kayaking depending on the weather.  When summer rolls around, there are road trips in the Jeep with the top down and the radio up.  Evenings with my son will involve the Xbox and/or a movie.  I have to say that I enjoy the Call of Duty games but haven’t played them much lately.  I was really a fan of COD4 and Black Ops.  I’ll jump on MW3 here after the book is finished but I’ll be such a Noob first off.  I really enjoy reading but I’ve found that has slacked off to a great degree when I’m writing.  My mind is too fried at the end of the day to really take too much more in.

Any chance your readers will get to meet you at any upcoming conventions or conferences?
Well, I haven’t been invited to any but would enjoy getting out and meeting people.  My son and I did go to ZomBCon this year up in Seattle and had a great time.

What would your ideal world be like?  A New World: Order?
Wow!  That’s a tough question.  Maybe not a tough one to visualize but more of putting it into words.  My ideal world wouldn’t have night runners that’s for sure.  I would have to say an ideal world would be more of a harmonious one with nature and each other.  Less materialism.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy nice things like anyone else but there’s a difference with needs and wants.  Helping others would be at the forefront and my ideal world.  Peace, understanding, and spiritual introspection.

Look for more from John O'Brien in future posts on this blog.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse

Once upon a time I, like many other writers, believed in the Big Bad Block.  Then, somewhere around May of 2006, into that very wonderful summer -- my first in eleven years in which I returned to my roots and wrote more fiction than nonfiction -- I realized that to believe in such a thing was to give it strength.  I turned my belief system toward the Muse, that mythical, wonderful taskmaster from Greek Mythology who inspires writers with a kiss.  Mine's more of a grabber, granted, and can be quite demanding, but since 2006, I've written to completion some 400 of my fictional efforts and sold quite a few of them.  Twenty-six never before published stories, short and long, will soon be available in The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: Twenty-Six Tales from the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris, blurbed by the fabulous Kate Mulgrew, aka "Captain Janeway" from Star Trek: Voyager.

In Muse, readers will visit Ancient Abydos, Egypt and modern Midtown Manhattan; Rwanda in 1994 and London, England in the 1960s, where giant horrors prowl the back alleys, mostly unseen; Tora Bora, Afghanistan in 2001 following the height of American bombing and the Florida Everglades, just after World War II; the Carpathians during the Soviet push east to Berlin, and Boston in the not-too-distant-future after a global pandemic.  True terror is timeless.

Muse was assigned to me by Senior Editor Peter Giglio on a bright, humid late June Monday afternoon in 2011.  The original manuscript, then weighing a hefty and respectable 100,000 words, was turned in on November 3.  Within days, Mister Giglio suggested I go double, incorporating another thirteen tales.  The fiercer, final Muse is some 180,000-words thick.  My only editorial direction from the starting line to the finish was to make this collection a page-turner and to keep it terrifying.  I leave it in my readers' very capable hands to decide whether or not I have succeeded. Muse is available in late March and will get its debut at World Horror Con in Salt Lake City, where I and several luminous writers and readers will toast its arrival.

The Table of Contents:

  1. Storage
  1. Dust to Dust
  1. Nightmare Near Highway 101
  1. The Enclave
  1. Norman
  1. That Dead Car Smell
  1. Grand Theater
  1. The Evil One
  1. Unreal Estate
  1. The Menagerie
  1. Jumping Beans
  1. Hollyhocks in a Vacant Lot
  1. The Pandemned
  1. The Cycle
  1. The Tora Bora Horror
  1. Grinn
  1. Cry in the Night
  1. The Laying-On of Hands
  1. The Ape God
  1. Alms for the Dead
  1. The Green Dream
  1. Jason and the Zombonauts
  1. Satyre
  1. Clowniwowns
  1. Veneer
  1. Brood Swamp
From the Muse Foreword:

I grew up on a diet of creature double features and television science fiction, and some of my favorite afternoon matinees were chasing my blossoming imagination into the room at the back of the house after the lights were turned off. As a young boy camped in front of our big, boxy TV with its antennae of rabbit ears, I watched in both amazement and horror as denizens of the planet Luminos scooped up a sleeping neighborhood of unsuspecting everyday folk, transporting them for slave labor halfway across the cosmos in “A Feasibility Study,” an episode of the original The Outer Limits. I was terrified when the giant monster in the elegant black and white Godzilla strode out of the ocean and leveled the city of Tokyo, and when a shocked little girl wandering the White Sands desert screamed, “Them…Them!” And when Florence Tanner rolled back a length of cellar wall and discovered what she believed was the desiccated corpse of Daniel Belasco in The Legend of Hell House...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

NYC Adventure -- Part Three: My Reading at Bluestockings Bookstore

All Photos by Sandy Shelonchik
The morning after the play -- the day of my big reading at Bluestockings Bookstore (I hoped it would be big!) -- dawned bright and brisk.  Dressing in a variation of the comfortable new designer threads I'd brought with me (jeans, Hilfiger shirt, Champion sneakers, which turned out being more comfortable then I'd imagined once they were walked in), I wandered to an all-night eatery next door to my hotel called Danny's and took an enormous breakfast and iced coffee to go. Following the difficult trip into the city and the debacle at the reception desk, I was somewhat exhausted and opted to dine in my room, once more in my very comfortable Perry Ellis blue flannel checked jammies.  After breakfast, I uncapped my fountain pen, opened to a fresh page in the full notebook of tear-out sheets I'd brought with me as a backup, and began to write the short ten-minute play "Chat" that's been haunting my card catalog of unwritten story ideas since Y2K.  "Chat" is set in that same year, and explores the politics of an old-school chat room where few, if any, of the attendees are really what they claim or who they appear to be.  I figured the timing to long last complete #62 from my list of unwritten ideas was perfect; though the play format isn't one I'm entirely comfortable with, I found the pages flying past and finished the longhand draft while seated in the hotel's lobby, waiting for my two fantastic New York City pals to arrive for dinner prior to the reading.

David Bernstein and I
You couldn't hope to meet nicer -- or read better -- than David Bernstein.  I'd appeared with David in numerous short fiction anthologies previous to our first meeting in the flesh at November 2011's wonderful conference, Anthocon.  A few weeks prior, I'd enjoyed his unnerving lead story "From Under the Bed" in Blood Bound Books' Night Terrors collection. Since the conference, David has notched five book deals with such great presses as Samhain, Severed, and EJP.  So it was a real treat when he and his gorgeous gal-friend Sandy Shelonchik suggested we meet up for a nibble before the reading, which they planned to take in. 

There's a loft over at Danny's, very comfortable seating, great food, so that's where we went.  While talking the writing life and enjoying our fare, numerous cartoon characters sauntered in, led by Smurfette.  Among the parade: Puss-in-Boots, Minnie Mouse, Hello Kitty, and Elmo from Sesame Street.  Seriously, you can't make this stuff up...nor did I when I tell you that Smurfette removed her white apron, flashing us her blue ta-tas.  She then also removed her head and she, it turns out, was really a he.  As our unintentional dinner theater commenced with even more cartoon guests arriving in ones and twos, it dawned on me that we weren't far from the flagship Toys-R-Us store in Times Square.  Mystery solved.  Retinal damage done, perhaps permanently.  Blue, I tell you.  They were blue.

We jumped into their car and David drove us into the East Village.  He found the best parking spot right across from the bookstore, and there we were.  Bluestockings is a fantastic venue, bright and energetic, perfumed by the delicious fair-trade coffee they serve, the sort of place I'd want to write and sip my Joe daily by the gallon if I lived in the neighborhood. There, I met our hostess, the formidable Kathleen Warnock, who edits for both John Wiley & Sons and Cleis Press and organizes many of the fine and fun readings around the city, including this annual event.  The place was already frenetic and filled with what I hoped would be the audience when we arrived -- they were, and continued to grow as chairs were set out and ever more floor space vanished.  By the time the first reader, the divine Sinclair Sexsmith took to the mic, there wasn't an empty seat in the bookstore.  Nor was there much room to navigate the aisles, which was just too cool.  Richard Labonte, one of my favorite editors and the man who had invited me to read at the event, would have been proud.  The place was packed!

Going in alphabetical order according to author's last name, the crowd enjoyed the elegant, unapologetic offerings of seven breathtakingly brilliant authors.  When my turn came, my bio was read and one audience member remarked, "My God, we have a celebrity reader among us tonight!"

Dressed in my new favorite shirt, the one bearing an image of a typewriter that may be the best Christmas gift ever, I handed out the stunning promotional cards for Muse, opened my brandy-new copy of Best Gay Romance 2012, and read from my longish short story, "The Bachelors."  The response to my work was so positive, the applause that followed, too kind. I signed autographs, mingled with the audience, noticed a few Muse cards left behind on seats, and told myself they would make great free swag for the bookstore to insert in customers' bags the following day.  I and my two lovely pals sauntered out and returned to the heart of the city for dessert and coffee.  Later the night, I reluctantly bid them goodbye and walked back to the hotel, eager to put down more pages.  The reading inspired me to the Nth!

The gorgeous Sandy, beneath a sign that made us chortle!
Friday morning, I was up super early, grabbed more breakfast and iced coffee from the all-nighter, ate it in my room, and worked on a novel chapter and a short story, eager to pack up and return home as soon as possible. While seated at the desk, I heard the doorknob tested not once but several times.  Finally, I got up and peered through the peephole at the very narrow corridor outside my hotel room, where, a cleaning woman in a pink and white housekeeping uniform moved up and down the hallway, waving her hands and chanting.  I had left the 'Do Not Disturb' tag on my door and gathered she was testing the lock, for whatever reason.  I also realized she was doing some sort of religious blessing, which struck me as so odd, so askew, that I knew it would appear in a story.  I didn't expect the story to materialize so quickly. Packed up, I checked out of the hotel, returned to the Port Authority, and waited for the first in a long string of buses to ferry me home to New Hampshire.  At the terminal and then on the ride back, I wrote most of "Veneer," a short story about that odd encounter (I would finish it the following day, camped out in my living room).  The ride north was arduous and unpleasant, but by 6:40 PM it was over, and I returned home, my series of adventures and misadventures to New York City concluded.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

NYC Adventure -- Part Two: Love, Loss, and What I Wore

Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg
My favorite cobalt blue polo shirt. Black Perry Ellis slacks and winter pullover. Black Champion sneakers with cobalt blue treads and laces.  The button that says, simply and not-so-simply, "Writer" -- a beloved birthday gift from last May.  That's what I wore to Love, Loss, and What I Wore at the Westside Theatre, a beautifully-acted play I attended on my first night in New York City.

Following a bumpy start, my Big Apple adventure took a turn for the better at 43rd Street, where it was my pleasure to meet Ms. Robin Strasser, one of the luminous stars of the production's revolving cast and the inimitable Doctor Dorian Cramer (Lord/Callison/Santi/Vickers) from my late, beloved soap, One Life to Live.  Also headlining February 2012's cast is Dawn Wells -- "Mary Ann" from Gilligan's Island, a nifty fact not lost on that part of me who remembers sitting cross-legged on the floor of my boyhood home, enjoying summer reruns in a tiny town that seemed a million light years from Hollywood.

LLWIW, written by Nora and Delia Ephram and based upon the book by Ilene Beckerman, follows five actresses seated in a line across the front center of the stage, four in numerous roles as women who recall the highs and lows of their lives as related to and remembered through what they were wearing at the time.  Ms. Wells plays the character of "Gingy," who opens the dialogue -- often hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking -- by relaying a story from her early childhood concerning a Brownie uniform.  Original illustrations created by Ms. Beckerman enhance Gingy's arc through a tragic young adulthood, marriage, divorce, the birth of children and one's death.  Along the journey, other characters chime in on such subjects as the bra, the "Madonna Phase," bridal dresses, shoes, the Betsey Johnson paper dress, the Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress, and what to wear to a same-sex wedding.

Ms. Wells delivered a brilliant performance.  So did Ms. Strasser, who took to the stage looking stunning in glittering diamonds and black velvet, and who portrayed Gingy's mother early on, followed by a state senator and a woman who searches for the perfect tote in the segment of the play called "Purse."  Seated in my excellent Orchestra aisle seat, I remembered some of my favorite Strasser-centric OLTL storylines -- the mysterious goings-on in the secret room beneath Llanfair, Dorian's liaison with super spy David Renaldi (the late, great Michael Zaslow), her torrid affair with a then-unknown Nathan Fillion as arch-rival Victoria Lord-Buchanan's son Joe among them.  I've known for some time what a great actress she is, but the range she showed in LLWIW was above and beyond.

The play ended and, standing to applaud, Ms. Strasser blew me a kiss.  I exited into the snowstorm, grabbed a bite to eat, and moseyed back to my hotel at the heart of the city.  There, I snuggled up in my rented bed, uncapped my fountain pen, and wrote well into the night, excited to read to what I hoped would be a crowded house in less than twenty-four hours.

To Be Continued...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

My New York City (Mis)Adventure -- Part One

I grew up in a tiny enchanted cottage, 780-square feet according to the Zillow report (they have the date of construction wrong by seven years). The house was located deep in the dark woods of then-remote Windham, New Hampshire.  Though I was routinely forced to eat liver for dinner and a horrific concoction referred to as 'hot dog stew' (with carrots, potatoes, and too much paprika) and always showered standing up because the house wasn't equipped with a bathtub, I never thought of myself as poor or some kind of second-class passenger through life until a well-to-do princess cousin from the sprawling town of Salem told me I was.  The princess lived in a big cape that always left me feeling illish when forced to visit.  There was no lake in her backyard, far fewer cool green shade trees, and an air of pretentiousness permeated the place, recognizable even then. When I was thirteen, my parents sold the enchanted cottage and forced me to live in that same town, where the elitist atmosphere was inescapable, as was the dividing line between the Haves and Have-Nots. Quite a few of the locals made my teenage life miserable, my cousin the princess among them.  But I discovered writing and I began to write with a seriousness of purpose and, despite numerous obstacles, transcended what they and I thought myself capable of becoming.

I haven't eaten liver or hot dog stew in a very long time.  Though I still live, by choice, in a small New Hampshire town, as an adult and a professional writer I have traveled the country, often visiting America's biggest destinations because of my writing.  I've been on the sets of various television shows, watching as they were filmed or taped.  I've interviewed some of the most talented celebrities in TV, Film, and Music; have been interviewed; have pitched and sold TV episodes; signed books; written books from rooms in New York City to Los Angeles.  I prefer the peace and solitude of my home and home office, but function well in big crowds, whether working them to get a story (my visit to cover the X-Games in '96 comes to mind) or at a podium, reading my work.

Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg
So when I was personally invited to New York City to read from the 2012 edition of Best Gay Romance by the fine folk at Cleis Press, edited by the stellar Richard Labonte, I was thrilled (BGR 2012 contains my long short story, "The Bachelors").  I also decided that if I was going to venture out of my comfort zone, I'd make a real adventure of the trip.  In addition to the reading, I was comped tickets to review the Broadway show Love, Loss, and What I Wore, written by Nora Ephron and starring a massive revolving cast of well-known women actors, five at a time, that has boasted in productions past such luminaries as Barbara Feldon ("Agent 99" from Get Smart); "Frenchy" from Grease, Didi Conn; Knots Landing alum Michelle Lee; Susan Sullivan of Falcon Crest and Castle fame; Two and a Half Men's Conchetta Ferrell; and the incomparable Kate Mulgrew, "Captain Janeway" from Star Trek: Voyager, who penned the fabulous book blurb for my forthcoming collection, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: Twenty-Six Tales from the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris (Evil Jester Press, March 2012). What made this particular cast run so fantastic, in addition to the delightful Dawn Wells, aka "Mary Ann" from Gilligan's Island, was that it would also feature none other than the Robin Strasser, "Dorian Lord" from my late, beloved soap, One Life to Live.  The opportunity to rub elbows with La Strasser, whose riveting performance as the regal spitfire of fictional Llanview, PA one afternoon in 1983 would lead to twenty-nine years of devoted afternoon viewing, was more of a highlight to me than the reading.  After so many years of interviewing celebrities for numerous magazines, rarely any more do I get starstruck.

New York: a city I've visited dozens of times.  A city I've said that I love for almost two decades, because I always have such great literary adventures there.  Oh Giant Red Macintosh, how you tested my love during this most recent voyage to your avenues and event centers.

I should have known the day would challenge me when, at four on this brisk past Wednesday morning, I woke to find a rejection letter on a story and project I'd been told I was most-likely a shoe-in for. No sweat; after some 4,000 acceptances, I handle rejection well. It was the timing of the thing. Got dressed.  Met my ride. Picked up the bus a few towns over.  I told myself the foul odor of ammonia on said bus was likely some cleaning fluid.  It worked enough to get me through to the next connection, which smelled much better.  One bus later, I was finally en route to New York City, with this month's issue of The Writer opened, a wide smile on my face.  We entered the city.  At West 66th Street, the bus passed the ABC TV studios where, until December, OLTL had been filmed dating back to the late 1960s.  My breath hitched.  My smile evaporated.  Another bad omen, surely. But I soldiered on, through the Port Authority, onto Broadway, and from there to 47th Street and my hotel, the Edison.

I won't even begin to relate the ridiculous nightmare that happened after I found I would not be allowed into my room due to a snafu regarding my reservation.  There I stood at the reception desk, surrounded by original Diego Rivera murals and acres of black and serpentine marble, in my new designer sneakers, jeans, T-shirt, and winter pullover, looking every bit the upscale traveler, only suddenly I broke in an icy sweat, dealing with a frigid manager and his unsympathetic (read: downright rude) cadre who had zero interest in ironing out the issue -- the adult versions of all those popular kids in high school who delighted in making my life miserable.  Luckily, as a citizen of the Granite State, I am rock-solid in a crisis.  It took four hours, but I resolved the issue and moseyed up to my room on the ninth floor, forced once again to remember that just because someone lives in a cosmopolitan mecca doesn't automatically make them more sophisticated or better than I; nor does living in an expensive zip code entitle an individual to class.

My room in one of the city's finest hotels greeted me cold, and the water never ran more than lukewarm at best.  Still, I unpacked, decompressed, called home, and decided it was best to move past the afternoon's aggravating chain of events.  I had a night at the theater to look forward to.  I showered, dressed well, and headed out into the icy snow falling over the city, my destination the Westside Theatre at 407 West 43rd Street.

The snow fell.  I stopped and bought a dozen long-stemmed coral-colored roses for Ms. Strasser, inserted one of the promotional cards from Muse, arrived an hour early.  A gorgeous, intimate theater with elegant acanthus leaf lamps and sconces (originally built as a German Baptist church), the Westside was like a sauna, so I stepped back outside into the snow, feeling bedraggled and beaten down, more than exhausted by my trip and the travails upon arriving to the city.

And then, as I shook my head, chuckling humorlessly at the image of myself, a small town hick in designer threads wondering what the hell business he had standing in the heart of New York City, the Universe smiled down upon me with a glimpse at an event as rare and elegant as the arrival of Haley's Comet. Gliding down 43rd, looking as gorgeous in person as she always did on the small screen, came Robin Strasser, the one and only -- a clear reminder that I had earned my right to stand right where I was standing.

As stated, I'm rarely starstruck anymore.  But Robin Strasser is a super-star and long ago earned a rare place of magnitude among the best and brightest.  She stole my breath, truly.

To Be Continued...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

At Second Glance

In late 2010, during a particularly trying time for me and my small family, I woke from a haunting dream about a persecuted population relocated to a hostile and barren island; that events following the Stonewall Riots had turned in a different direction, and one of the many ugly results was a political landscape known as the Anarchic States.  Some of the country's brightest minds had been forced into a desolate existence on that island which, in the dream, was referred to as Lost Hope. Knowing it was only a matter of time before their persecutors from the Anarchic States returned, the citizens of Lost Hope set about creating a spectacular winter carnival, seemingly having accepted their fate.  But the society was planning for the end, and had secretly staged a desperate plan to fight back when the time came.  The events of my steampunk short story, "The End of an Era," written a week or so after the dream during a month-long period of hell on Earth when our small family, too, was forcibly relocated from our home and placed in a supremely hostile environment as we worked to fix financial and medical issues, is fairly accurate to its original unconscious creation. Its characters, from the frightened to the heroic, resonated clearly and haunt me to this day.  Over the summer, I submitted a hard copy via snail to editors Eric Andrews-Katz and Vincent Kovar, who were reading for the fourth volume of the popular Gay City series.  This latest, At Second Glance, would explore the what ifs of established historical events by showing them from a different angle.  A month later, I received my first paper acceptance letter in years and was thrilled last month to hold my contributor copies of the realized project in hand.  Not only does At Second Glance contain an unexpected mix of wonderful stories and styles -- with my little steampunk tale about beautiful souls triumphing over a ruthless military's iron fist sandwiched between some truly great writers like the brilliant Felice Picano -- but it has also contributed to making our world a better, brighter place though literature.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mister Kovar and Mister Andrews-Katz about At Second Glance and what they have planned next up for readers of the Gay City line.

The luminous Vincent Kovar
Vincent, this is the fourth Gay City volume -- can you discuss what's come before, and how you got involved with publishing the series?
Gay City Anthologies has been such an interesting journey. About five years ago, I approached Gay City Health Project with the idea of launching a literary journal. My initial proposal was inspired by the New York-based magazine Christopher Street and I had grand dreams of founding a quarterly periodical. However, after digging into the logistics, I switched gears and decided to create a multidisciplinary anthology instead. Maybe it was a burst of hubris but I sub-titled that first effort, "Volume One" in anticipation of making a series.

The books support a Seattle-based charity, the Gay City Health Project.  Can you tell us more about the symbiosis?
Why Gay City Health Project? Well, in my opinion, they're really the most active community resource we have. I remember back in the 1990s when they used to host a writing group I was active in (they have another one now) and since then, I've watched as again and again, they put up plays, games, movie nights, book groups, spiritual study groups, day trips, art shows, hikes and other events. I can't think of another organization that's done as much, for as long, as Gay City Health Project. That's a long answer to a short question but they really are the only support system of their kind. I also wanted to do something to help support the HIV/STD testing clinic. I think having anonymous, supportive, trained testing within our community is essential. LGBT people desperately need safe places to be educated, tested and supported. Not very many communities have that and even in those that do, the quality of care is often not what we would hope to see in 2012.

As for the anthology project, so many people helped make it a reality. People from other art groups came forward with advice and our sponsors nurtured the idea of gay arts with that most precious artistic fuel: cash. Really, the entire series would have remained an idle daydream of mine if it weren't for their faith and enthusiasm. A lot of people say, "Yes, that's a great idea," but too few participate and invest. It's worth taking a glance at our sponsors page. I think you'll see that the leaders in our community are stepping up. For instance, Jonathan Bowman (former pres. of the GSBA) has been a consistent supporter as has King County. Without people like them, our pages would be blank.

Then there are the artists, writers, photographers and poets that fill those pages. Over the series I've included a variety of disciplines and I think it's their vision that has really made the series such a success. We often hear gay people saying that there are no gay arts anymore or that there isn't any "good" work being done. I think this series shows that's just not true. There's tons of great, gay work being done; it just needs a home. Build it and they will come. Put a bird on it. The first three volumes were such an amazing learning experience. Basically, I had to learn about the publishing industry from the ground up, something I think every writer should do. There was far more business to the art and, in a way, a lot more art to the business than I ever thought. After three volumes, the most important thing for Volume 4 was to collaborate. My good fortune there was getting Eric Andrews-Katz to agree to come on board. Without him there would be no volume 4. This book is really based on his vision. The theme of second glances was his brain-child and I think that worked out fantastically. He also did an excellent job of selecting a coherent, symbiotic set of contributions. He really has a sharp editorial eye and, along with being a talented writer in his own right, is a gifted anthologist. 

Eric also recruited our graphic designer, Garth Meske of Meske Associates who put together the cover. I did the previous three covers myself and pretty much learned two things: (1) graphic design is hard and (2) smart publishers hire professional graphic designers. Garth was such a gift to us.

That cover is stunning!  Will there be a Gay City Volume 5 and, if so, what will its theme be?
We hope so. There are so many changes, happening so quickly in the publishing industry right now that we're just trying to find our bearings. We've talked about moving the pieces online to gaycity.org or making the final product a Kindle/Nook/Android/iPad ebook. We've looked at integrating short video and the audio arts. Art has to adapt and change to stay current. We've also been reviewing our funding model as some sources of grants run dry (or at least scarce) and fewer people are able to support such a project. What's most important to me is to get the artists paid. These are not amateurs; they need to be recognized. It's equally important to keep access to art affordable. So, we're weighing the associated cost models of each modality.

The talented Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric, in addition to short fiction, there are comics and a stage play published within the covers of At Second Glance.  What other unexpected treasures will readers discover?
There are a wide variety of subjects found in the stories selected for At Second Glance. Readers can find stories from their youths but are told by and for adults. There are historical and religious pieces and re-envisioning of more modern tales from television and pop-culture.

Did you and Vincent come up with the concept of parallel realities (such a great theme!) together?
Vincent and I discussed several ideas and themes for the anthology, but he was gracious enough to let me have the final call. At our initial meeting we had agreed on a different subject (one that I can’t recall right now) for the book. I thought about it that night and called him with the new idea of “familiar tales from different perspectives”. He really liked the idea so that is what we finally decided to use.

At Second Glance contains your powerful short story, "Betrayed With a Kiss."  Please talk some about your own writing -- what do you have forthcoming for readers to check out?
My big news is that my first novel, The Jesus Injection is being released (through Bold Strokes Books) November 13, 2012. It’s a gay spy parody, very tongue in cheek. I’m also writing my second book about two very different funerals from two very different perspectives. All updates can be found on my website, http://www.EricAndrewsKatz.com. I always keep my eye open for short story submission calls as well. Aside from that, my work can usually be found in the Seattle Gay News – especially during theater season – with a theater personality interview and a review for one of the theaters. Occasionally, I’ll write another type of article because I believe that, when it comes to writing, you should never limit yourself. Give it a shot even if it's not your style -- who knows? If it didn’t work out, then it was a valuable writing exercise.