Sunday, March 25, 2012

Spring Cleaning

Eight months ago, I set about assembling a sizable collection of original stories, short and long, for my publisher and editor at Evil Jester Press. Early this month, I turned in my final thumbs-up on the manuscript's galleys and the book has since been released in both digital and print versions.  For two fantastic days last week, a special promotion put The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: Twenty-Six Tales from the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris at the #1 spot on Amazon Kindle's Short Story Collections best seller list (it made it to #9 overall in the Horror category), where it leapfrogged over both Kipling's Riki Tiki Tavi and the collected works of Mark Twain.  Muse was with me intimately for a long time in the physical and spiritual senses; I set out to create a 'greatest hits' vibe with it and, so far, the early reader reviews have been stellar.  But while writing the collection, dust and cat hair collected, as did the latest contracts and pay stubs in piles, files of longhand manuscripts, and contributor copies, too.  A wild sense of mayhem cropped up in what I consider the heart of my home in a way that's rarely, if ever, been allowed.

As most of my friends and colleagues know, I love a clean living space -- and a spotless work environment even more.  An uncluttered home in the physical world does benefit the cerebral, making it easier and more enjoyable to put down the beginnings, middles, and ends of work I'm proud to have bear my byline.  That, and I'm a compulsive neat-freak, always have been.  But during the creation of so much fresh material for the collection (and the numerous other projects I worked on in and around Muse), the condition of my writing room suffered. With my baby published, yesterday I poured a tall iced hazelnut coffee, called up a spooky old flick on the computer screen, and set about putting things to rights to a degree my home office hasn't seen since last November.

New storage boxes I fell in love with finally found their correct places, as did new strings of cheery white and blue mini-lights, replacing ones that went supernova in January.  Every surface and object in the room got dusted -- our two wonderful rescue cats spend their days lounging in here while I write and edit, so my Writing Room needed to be 'shaved' as well.  All the latest contributor copies (I had nine anthologies containing my short stories and novellas released from December 2011 into March of 2012) went into the archives, floors got scrubbed, the rug vacuumed.  All of my artwork -- and there is plenty, especially on the 'Muse Wall' of celebrity autographs beside my desk -- got a polish, as did the windows, lamps, and light sculpture.

I filed all of my paperwork, and then spent another half an hour or so filing files containing more than a few months' worth of the latest manuscripts -- some, the original drafts of novellas and short stories penned specifically for Muse.  Indoctrinating them into my lateral filing cabinet drawers, which contain some thirty-three years of manuscripts, felt liberating and uplifting.  While I have yet to hold the print version of my baby (that's still some forty-eight hours from now), it felt like I had completely put the collection to bed -- and done something with this book that would make any writer supremely happy.

Files filed.  Not one stitch of stray paperwork -- or paper -- anywhere to be found.  Dust dusted.  Crystals and lamps and objects d'art sparkly.  Lights lit.  Order and organization reestablished. Spring cleaning done.  I've spent the last several months working on this monstrosity of a collection -- Muse weighs in at a very hefty 170,000-plus words and, as my wonderful senior editor jokes, would be suitable as a weapon of choice should one come up against the living dead and find themselves needing a blunt object with which to bash in skulls.  I've also done plenty of soul searching and reevaluating since the last weeks of 2011, mostly about the kind of writer I wish to be and the literary life I've always wanted to live.  Spring cleaning in the bigger picture this year has been singularly productive and I hope that literary life will continue with a minimum of roadblocks and red tape.

In forty-eight hours, I depart for a week-long adventure, most of which will be spent at World Horror Con with fellow scribes I adore and industry folk I'm eager to meet.  The Muse book party will be held next Friday night in the pair of rooms across from Saturday night's Stoker Awards venue -- pink champagne, sandwiches, and butter cream cake are on the order, along with a reading from the book (I am thinking of sharing the shortest story contained within the covers, "Veneer," which I wrote during my most recent visit to New York City).  I plan to work on several manuscripts while traveling and during down times at the con, including a novel, a novella, and a short story.  And when I come home, it will be to a clean, bright, and welcoming office where I'll pen my latest literary adventures as I wait for the next of 2012's real-time ones.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Evil Jester Digest V. 1

I have three wonderful events to report.  The first is that the digital version of my monstrous collection of stories long and short (blurbed by the magnificent Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek: Voyager fame), The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: Twenty-Six Tales from the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris has been released and is available for purchase.  The second is that this little blog, begun in protest less than seven months ago but a forum that has grown very near to my heart, is a few clicks shy of notching its 10,000th read, for which I am both proud and humbled.  And the third, far from least, is the launch of Evil Jester Digest Volume One, in which editor Peter Giglio has gathered ten tales by the cream of the genre's crop, names that pop with recognition and others that demand to earn the reader's thirst for more.  My original short story, "Lone Wolf," is one of the ten stories contained within the gorgeous covers of EJD V.1, now on sale in e-book format (print book due within the next two weeks).

"Lone Wolf" came to me fairly in the order in which the story is presented, start to finish, in a vivid dream in December of 2010, perhaps the darkest month of my life.  It follows a group of civilian survivors shepharded by a soldier who attempt to survive a brutal new reality.  As horrific as the setting is, the story is really about finding hope and love in a loveless, hopeless time.  The longhand draft was written in a day; the story was accepted first time out at the anthology Zombiality 2, only to become available again after that project was cancelled in October of 2011.  I'm beyond thrilled to have it find such a great forever home!

My EJP Digest fellow scribes were kind enough to share with me the origins and anecdotes behind their brilliant stories.  

Hollie Johani Snider on "Widdershins":  I originally wrote this story several years ago, after trying to get through HP Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness," I still haven't finished reading that one yet, though I keep trying, and decided to try my hand at the Lovecraftian sub-genre.  Instead of the arctic though, I decided to go warmer. I put up a map of South America, pulled out a dart and let Fate hand me a location. Lo and behold, Peru ended up the target, but I knew I had to get the Sumerians and Babylonians in there because I am fascinated with those cultures. Thus, "Widdershins" was born. I'm thrilled it finally found a home too, after being rejected once, then accepted only to have the anthology canceled, then rejected again. I guess, for this orphan story, the fourth time's a charm.

Eric Shapiro on "Look Behind You":  I was playing with pure emotion, trying to go for a legitimate spooked-out feeling. Sometimes we writers get caught up in the language; my story was an attempt to bypass the words and go straight for the nerves.

Aric Sundquist on "The End of Autumn":  "The End of Autumn" was originally written as an exercise in language.  I wanted to write something with bold colors and surreal imagery, similar to the works of Neil Gaiman and Ray Bradbury.  This is what came out.  It is my first dark fantasy piece, and remains one of my personal favorites.

Tracy L. Carbone on "The Girl Who Drowned": About fourteen years ago, a local girl drowned in a pond. She stayed alive, albeit comatose, and her parents brought her home, hooked up to tubes. Suddenly there were reports of statues of Jesus and saints dripping oil. They may have dripped blood; I can't remember. The church was all over it and the parents built a viewing room in their home. A glass partition separated crowds of people who came to pray by this Miracle Girl, from the comatose child in the sterile white hospital bed. I had the fortune/misfortune of seeing her one day, and her image has been in my head ever since. 

Gary Brandner on "Dust Devils":  Driving from Las Vegas to LA, I ran into a dust storm not quite as scary as in the story, but it sandblasted my car and imprinted itself in the Story Idea file of my memory bank.

Dave Dunwoody on "Sharpe is Extraordinary":  "Sharpe is Extraordinary," though a standalone tale, also serves as a follow-up to my novel Unbound and revisits my favorite character, Emil Sharpe. He's an inhuman being of strange origin who seems to be a magnet for other oddball characters - God, in the case of this story. The story's also about writing (sort of) and Slurpees (heavily) and I think it's found a perfect home in EDJ.

John F. D. Taff on "Dust at the Center of All Things"For years, I wanted to do a mummy story, but didn't want to walk down the same path as the standard B-movie Egyptian mummy.  I've always loved the ancient Mayan/Incan/Aztec/Toltec/Olmec cultures, and saw a National Geographic piece on mummified children left as sacrifices high on mountains in South America.  That struck a spark in me, and the story came fairly easily.  Incidentally, I try to spend a lot of time on titles, because I think they're important to a story.  In my estimation, a title should point like an arrow toward the secret heart of the story.  The title of this piece is one of my favorites of all my titles.

Phil Hickes on "A Gentleman's Folly":  I’ve always been drawn to the foggy streets of late Victorian/Edwardian London, where beneath the veneer of gentility, one imagines a tenebrous warren of secret occult societies, obscure bookshops and sinister opium dens. This was my humble attempt at an homage to that era in both style and subject matter! 

Rich Hautala on "GPS":  The genesis of GPS is easy to remember. I had helped a friend drive his household belongings from Maine to Florida ... We were driving using a GPS, driving along some highway in Georgia (or maybe South Carolina). The driver of the car in front of me did something stupid, and I immediately thought: "What if he has a GPS, too, and after he pulled his bonehead move, his GPS said: "You see that truck behind you? The driver thinks you're an asshole." ... It all came together after that.