Wednesday, June 27, 2012


The book that would not die lives!  Long last, The Call of Lovecraft is available in both e- and print formats. It's been a circuitous route -- TCoL was staked, eulogized, and nearly forgotten...until the fine folk at Evil Jester Press asked me to take the reigns of a personal project, anything I wanted within reason, and I exhumed the collection from the dead.  I was one of the first authors accepted when TCoL was envisioned by another editor, a different press.  I brought back our celebrated cover artist, Billy Tackett, the uber-awesome Ramsey Campbell, and 99.9% of the original Table of Contents from Year:2010, which includes so many talented authors.  I even bulked up the page count by adding six hand-chosen authors whose work routinely ranks among my favorite.

Like TCoL, my original short story offering, "The Green Dream," experienced a whirlwind journey en route to publication -- it was accepted in June 2010 for this collection, which then folded when the book company dissolved; was accepted for another to be published by The Twisted Library, which was also cancelled in October 2011.  By that point, I had written "The Mercy of Madness" to replace it within TCoL.  "The Green Dream" found a home in my enormous collection of original short and long stories, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: Twenty-Six Tales from the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris (EJP).  "Mercy" is an updated, rewritten version based upon the most horrific dream of my life, which involved a forced march to an abandoned factory deep in the woods during an icy rainstorm.  The original story was read during the early days of my first writer's group, late 1993. During that same time, Scott Goudsward read his Lovecraftian tale "That Place" to an audience looking over its shoulder while navigating the brooding autumn darkness on the way to their vehicles post-meeting.  That both stories are contained within the covers of TCoL seems not only fitting to me, but supremely cool.

It was my pleasure to ask my fellow contributors to share a bit of back-story behind their stories in The Call of Lovecraft.

Ramsey Campbell on "Cold Print": "My short story 'Cold Print' began life as 'The Successor'. It was one product of my struggle to sound like myself. I wrote a bunch of these after delivering The Inhabitant of the Lake and 'The Stone on the Island' to August Derleth in March 1963. A couple saw limited circulation, but nearly all of them were rewritten from scratch to their considerable benefit. I mentioned having finished 'The Successor' to Derleth in June 1964, but subsequently did nothing with it until he asked me (in late1967, I think it would have been) to come up with a new Lovecraftian tale for his next anthology. If I looked at 'The Successor', I imagine it was askance.

Parts of it do survive in 'Cold Print': many of the urban descriptions, and except for changing 'moist' to 'wet', the final image. The main changes were to the characters. The protagonist Derek Sheridan collects banned books, and that’s pretty well all the reader learns about him, because I’d simply put myself into the story. Sheridan meets his unnamed contact at a film society based on the Merseyside Film Institute and has to suffer the other’s enthusiasm for bad thirties Hollywood movies. In those days I was given to inserting observations into the story whether or not they were relevant to the theme. I needed Sam Strutt to let the telling become more controlled, and I borrowed details of him from a gym master at my old school and a colleague in the Civil Service who would ask me to lend him exciting books. 'The Successor' will be included as an extra in the forthcoming follow-up from PS Publishing to their definitive edition of The Inhabitant of the Lake – the second volume will collect the rest of my Lovecraftian short stories. Meanwhile, here’s 'Cold Print', risen from the dust." 

Scott T. Goudsward on "That Place": "The original version of 'That Place' was written way back circa 1993/1994 and, after several failed attempts at placing it, the story was re-written and re-named.  It was one fated night at my writer's group that Gregory Norris heard it, and it stuck in his craw as did the story he was reading at the same time.  Through the years, I'd re-written it a few times to try to make it 'fit' and always thought it was going to end up a trunk story until the invite went out for The Call of Lovecraft.

What made the story what it is, the thing was based on a gaming session of the RPG The Call of Cthulhu from Chaosium.  My brother was running it and I can't tell you who else was at the table.  The undead ghoul rats (as I call them) from the session ended up being the creatures beneath the grates in the story.  The tunnels as well as some of the characters are long imagined speculation between friends and I..."

William Meikle on "The Colour of the Deep": "I don't like caves; dark passageways filled with creeping shadows, slimy moss and big beasties just waiting to jump. It's something that's been with me since my childhood when three of us ventured into one and, as a joke, I was left alone in the dark. That experience led directly to my story 'The Colour of the Deep.'  My friends came back for me, and we're still friends to this day, so the story isn't autobiographical beyond the first couple of paragraphs. But I really don't like caves."

Carol MacAllister on "Blood Pine": "In some pagan beliefs, the pine tree is considered to be 'alive.'  If you touch one you just might feel the pulsing life within it, particularly, if you are within a remote stand. Kirlian photography shows plants that have been trimmed back or cut still hold phantom energy shapes of lost limbs. Sick plants are said to be helped if surrounded by well ones – a communication of sorts takes place and many sick plants recover. So, if vegetation does have a unique mind of its own what would happen if human blood got into the mix?   I saw this when traveling through Kentucky years ago where wide open spans of Civil War battlefields lay before me, dotted with tall dark spruce. How interesting, I thought, they scattered the landscape like they’d sprouted from the dead who had lain there after the battles. And with a little tap on the shoulder from Lovecraft and fostering from otherworldliness, a stand of pine, as in 'Blood Pine,' might easily mutate and interact with humans, perhaps like Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows."

John F. D. Taff on "The Tentacle": "'The Tentacle' began life when my friend, J. Travis Grundon, wanted a story for a Lovecraft anthology he was putting together—which ultimately became Gregory’s The Call of Lovecraft. Now, I’ve read Lovecraft and enjoyed some of his stories, but he’s not exactly my cup of tea.  I think this is because his writing style has been pastiched to death, like Chandler.   And because his style has a kind of humorless aridness to it that’s a bit too pompous for my taste.  Probably shouldn’t be knocking Lovecraft in an anthology dedicated to him, but there are some pieces by good ole H.P. that I do like.  At the Mountains of Madness is a particularly effective story.  Anyway, what I wanted to do with 'The Tentacle' was pastiche the old guy and add a little humor to the mix.  The result is a story that has a lot of Lovecraftian elements in it, plus (hopefully) the humor I was aiming for; but also, at the end, a poignant and cosmic twist that lends a more serious air to the story’s conclusion.

Roxanne Dent on "Magnus the Magnificent": "As a lover of the sea and paranormal magicians who do more than parlor tricks, I was intrigued by the combination. When I lived in New York I taught remedial reading to prisoners in a prison and later joined an organization that helped them to adjust to life on the outside.  One thing I discovered was that it was extremely rare for an ex-prisoner to remain out of jail.  There were many reasons for this, including family dynamics, drugs and poverty, but one thing stood out.  It had a lot to do with 'hubris,' or pride that made him overestimate his criminal creativity, causing him to think he could execute the big score and get away with it.  I used all of these elements in my story, 'Magnus the Magnificent.'"

Geoffrey James on "The Vessel": "My exposure to Lovecraft goes back to the 1960s when I discovered a box of Weird Tales magazines in a drawer at my grandmother's house.  Later, my father (who'd collected the volumes) gave me a copy of Lovecraft's Best Supernatural Stories, which at the time contained his membership card in the "Weird Tales Club," which, alas, is now lost, although I still do have the book. When Gregory asked me to write a story for this volume, I turned to 'The Dunwich Horror' because, before my father died, he and I drove into central Massachusetts and, based upon internal references in Lovecraft story, discovered that Dunwich was, in fact, the town of Shutesbury.  Sentinel Hill is still there (there's a retreat center atop it!) as are numerous (apparently) pre-Columbian stone ruins. In my view, the most original aspect of Lovecraft's writing is his rejection of the dichotomy between good and evil. All horror written before Lovecraft assumes a world where Good and Evil are in equilibrium, with Evil able to (temporarily) overcome Good, but where Good will eventually triumph. As such, horror existed in an essentially Christian context.

Lovecraft completely scraps that dialectic. Lovecraft separates religion into two general categories: traditional religions which are based upon human imagination and therefore impotent and (for want of a better term) eldritch religions, which are based on actual (albeit alternate) reality and therefore powerful. Put another way, trying to scare away Cthulhu with a crucifix will get your crushed or eaten. As such, in Lovecraft's world, it makes a certain amount of sense for those who are religiously minded to worship the elder gods, since they 1) actually exist and 2) actually have an impact on the mortal world. Unfortunately, Lovecraft never pursues this angle, instead attributing such worship to either cultural or racial degeneracy or a combination of both. In other words, to Lovecraft, those who worship the Elder Gods are simply sub-human.

When writing 'The Vessel' I decided instead to take my cue from my father's observations and treat such worship not as a manifestation of inferiority, but rather an understandable reaction to the intrusion of an alternate reality into the mortal world. While Lavinia's family background and albinism have certainly influenced her life, what's far more important to her is an ecstatic religious experience that makes her feel cherished in a way that she'd been unable to experience before. In doing so, I tried to raise her from the subhuman caricature that she is in the original story into more of a human being, with understandable motivations and desires.

H. David Blalock on "The Shed": "As a long-time Lovecraft fan, I often find interesting ideas surrounding ordinary objects, usually at the most unexpected times. In the case of The Shed’, I was mowing my lawn when I noticed the door to the shed in my yard was slightly ajar and didn't remember leaving it open. One thing led to another, and soon that shed had become something much more sinister than a simple wood and metal structure. The story, once the idea was developed, took just a short time to write. I was delighted to find that it met the requirements of TCoL."

Karen Dent on "Endless Hunger": "As a child, I loved the old movie The Crawling Eye The mists, the mountain, the psychic woman connected to the monster are all rolled up with my first introduction to Lovecraft.  I’d always wanted to create a story that would affect others as those images had me.  I hadn’t read any of Lovecraft’s works in years so I downloaded every story I could -- and scared the crap out of myself all over again.  He was a painter of words, teleporting you from a soft, cushy couch to getting dragged into the deep recesses of an agonizing forever. 
The idea of endless suffering, the inability to escape and the slow torture of continued cognitive thought horrifies me.  I hope you like ‘Endless Hunger’ -- however I think placing it in New Hampshire, at Lake Winnipesaukee might have been a mistake.  I no longer feel safe walking the black road alone in the dark of night, especially when I pass the D.H. [Divided Highway]."

John B. Rosenman on "I Luv RT": "Sometimes stories come from nowhere, an empty void.  Or a faint wind on your face.  Or from a word, a book cover, a sublimely beautiful sunrise—or sunset. In the case of ‘I LUV RT,’ the kick-starter was very definite.  I was driving down the street, minding my own darn business, when a pretty girl cut in front of me, giving me the finger as she sped on.  I recall that her license plate contained the letters ‘RT.’

I sped up, ran the girl off the road, and killed her.

No, I didn’t.  I was pissed for a few seconds and then forgot it.  Or rather, I went home and wrote a story called ‘I LUV RT,’ which is about a nerdy loser with self-esteem issues who has a young girl cut in front of him on the road . . .

Well, you get the idea.  And I swear on my psychiatrist’s couch the character in the story has nothing in common with me.  Honest!  I’m absolutely comfortable with my rugged masculinity.

At the time I wrote the story, I was reading the works of H.P. Lovecraft.  At the Mountains of Madness, “The Colour Out of Space,” “The Rats in the Walls,” and so on.  What impressed me the most was the creepy, Medusa-like nature of supernatural horror.  Imagine the sinister and seductive possibilities of ultimate evil! There are not only cosmic forces that don’t care a rat’s ass about us, but to most of us, they are ineffable, indescribable, and unimaginable. You not only can’t capture their good side in a photograph, they don’t have a good side.  And if your mind is strong and resilient enough to view them directly for a whole second, in the next second, it will probably snap like a dry pretzel and crumble completely.  Unless you are one of the few who find them beautiful.

Look out!  These banished Old Ones want to return and take over Main Street again.  Are you going to stand in their way?

So an impatient female driver and Lovecraft’s view of supernatural evil and horror were two main influences on the story.  I’ll mention one more: the possibility that we’re ultimately all alone and don’t even begin to understand each other as well as we think.  In my case, was that female driver really disgusted with my slow driving, or was there another reason she cast driver etiquette to the winds and blew me off?  I hope you read my story and find out, then realize it’s unwise to make assumptions about anybody.  Who knows?  Even your sweet old granny may have a body or two stashed in the cellar.

There’s a lot more I could tell you about ‘I LUV RT,’ but then I’d spoil the surprise. So—enough said!"

James Ravan on "The Winds of Gobekli Tepe": "I prefer fiction that is rooted in truth and 'The Winds of Gobekli Tepe' is such a story. The setting, a hilltop expanse called Gobekli Tepe, does exist and is a thriving archaeological site today. What happened there? Why was the site buried? Who buried it? What rituals were performed by these prehistoric peoples millennia before writing was invented? To what Gods? And to what intent? Gregor Engel, a field archaeologist, his wife Ingrid, Aya and her mother Kek, explore these questions."

Jacqueline Seewald on "Legend": "As the educational media specialist/librarian for a large regional high school in Central New Jersey, I did all the book ordering. High school students love horror fiction. So it's important to provide a quality collection. One of the books I ordered was Tales of H.P. Lovecraft, ten stories by the master edited and introduced by Joyce Carol Oates. As I examined the book, making certain it was appropriately cataloged, I became intrigued. I knew I wanted to be the first to read this particular volume. So I checked it out and took it home with me that day. Oates, a prolific mainstream literary author, wrote what I consider to be a brilliant essay on Lovecraft. After reading that as well as the short stories in the collection, I was inspired to write my own short story, a tribute to the father of modern horror fiction. I hope readers will enjoy ‘Legend.’"

Derek Neville on "The Clearing": "The original germ for the idea for 'The Clearing' actually started in a dream I had. The fragments I remember from it were that I had a bird's eye view of a man wandering into, of all things, a clearing and finding an abandoned train there. It should be noted, I have very odd dreams pretty much every night, but regardless it was a visual that stuck in my head. With most of my story ideas I tend to latch onto a moment that just gives me a feeling in my gut, something that no matter how many times I think about it, I get that same excitement to start filling in all the blanks. I have a lot of ideas, as I'm sure most of my fellow writers do, and a lot of them exist in this form of smalls scenes and moments, just waiting for their time in the sun to be fully explored. When Greg first approached me about contributing to The Call of Lovecraft it was like he opened up a door and gave me carte blanche to figure out why this man and this train were in a clearing to begin with. It was a chance to play in a sandbox I'm most comfortable in. 

For me, 'The Clearing' was about exploring a lot of different themes, and I won't explain them all here as the reader's interpretation of the story is far greater than my intention. I'll tell you that one of the bigger ideas that the story is picking at is the eternal battle between free will versus fate. If you knew that someone was pulling the strings would that impact the choices that you made? Also, I've always been a big fan of ensemble pieces and there's nothing more fun for me as a reader and as a writer than to watch a group of people who hate each other have to band together to survive. I hope 'The Clearing' makes the reader ask a lot of questions. I'm sorry to report that the answer's are not all there on the page, but I think I gave you enough to draw your own conclusions on what things meant. The story is very similar in that way. It asks questions, big questions, like are we ultimately judged for the wrong we do? I'll be honest with you, I had a blast writing this story and I hope that enthusiasm comes through on the page." 

and artist Billy Tackett on his beautiful cover: "I've always been a Lovecraft fan and doing this cover was a treat. For some reason I had never considered doing any Lovecraftian pictures but while doing the research for The Call of Lovecraft I was bitten by the bug! I'm currently working on a series of pictures featuring the indescribable horrors featured in Lovecraft's works."

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Office Supply Surplus

(the spoils of art)
Since 1980, that same storied year when I became, in my heart, a writer, I've had this thing about office supplies.  My German teacher, Frau Macintyre, labeled me her "kleinen Papier Dieb" -- her 'little paper thief' -- because I was always asking for sheets of lined paper upon which to compose my stories.  I discovered my beloved Sheaffer fountain pens that same year and, until this past March during a big trip out west to attend an event that required flying, used them exclusively (fountain pens are not only frowned upon by the TSA but have a tendency to regurgitate all their ink due to cabin pressure, a messy situation regardless).  I found a great and inexpensive brand of pens that offer all the beautiful results of the Sheaffers at a fraction of the cost and, earlier this month, I stocked up.  Each of my new pens gets a hundred pages down before they start to fade.  I'm hopeful that between these new instruments and the classic ones whose replacement cartridges I bought en masse in 2011, going forward I will never run out of ink.

Three weeks ago, our local big box office supply store did a number on this little paper thief by putting several cases of lined white paper on sale at a ridiculous discount.  When all was said and done, I lugged home some ninety pads of the stuff, fifty sheets per pad.  Factoring in the blank paper already on hand, I've got more than enough to satisfy the creation of every first draft of all the as yet unwritten stories, long and short, hanging around in the ether (and archived inside my catalog box of ideas).

I discovered I wasn't a manila folder type over a decade ago and have since filled my lateral-drawer file cabinets with colored and designer folders.  Like Stanley Kubrick and his boxes, my office supply obsession for decorative file folders has grown and shows no sign of ending.  Some of my newest and favorite designer folders are "Neon Stripes" and "Schooner," both recent birthday gifts. There's something exciting about opening up a drawer and not going snow blind; instead seeing what amounts to the literary equivalent of a big jewelry box filled with gemstones and treasure. And I like assigning each completed first draft of a story, novella, or novel a method of storage appropriate with its personality -- Romance in bold red, Horror dressed in basic black.  A summer story in "Schooner."  A tale of modern Internet warfare in "Neon Stripes."

I find great joy in the simplest of things, like writing in our lovely living room with a tall iced coffee and our cats, one seated on either side, being read to by my fellow writers, listening to an old episode of a beloved television show that I taped off the TV on a cassette thirty-five years ago.  And my favorite office supplies, lots of them.  Enough to satisfy the needs of a lifetime's creativity.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dark Shadows is a Dan Curtis Production

The new Dark Shadows flick has come and mercifully gone, and I am able to clearly understand now why I hated it.  That parody lacked most of what made the original so wonderful: elegance, class, romance, and a surreal quality that will endure long past the tragic 2012 footnote of the same name.

I was little more than a year old when the Gothic daytime drama premiered in 1966, and would have been six when it ended its original run on the Alphabet Network.  But from a very early age, Dark Shadows was an indelible part of my youth. I watched the show routinely in the afternoon with aunts, uncles, and my wonderful grandmother, the late, great Bernice Norris -- and just as often suffered nightmares as a result.  One recurring bad dream found me hiding beneath a table in the front parlor as my relatives, all turned into vampires, marched past, searching for me. The dreams grew so bad that at one point, my mother forbade me watching the show. Not that I obeyed.  Not that she had room to make such demands on my babysitters, for on Halloween nights, she put the Dark Shadows soundtrack on the record player and Robert Cobert's haunting score was broadcast down our rural country road, terrifying trick-or-treaters and further imprinting that magical and mysterious world created by Dan Curtis upon my psyche.

The older sister of my best friend growing up in the big woods of Windham, New Hampshire (a realm very much like Curtis's remote Collinsport, Maine) would wander the meadows and forests calling out to Barnabus Collins, the cursed vampire played with such panache by Jonathan Frid.  Like her, Barnabus became my first crush; in the summer of 1978, when local ABC affiliate Channel 9 out of Manchester, NH began broadcasting repeats of Dark Shadows every afternoon at 4:30 following The Edge of Night, I whispered his name, too, and got swept up into the first time travel storyline, which found Victoria Winters traveling back to witness the original events in 1795 that led to Barnabus's curse at the hands of jealous witch Angelique and the loss of his one true love, Josette DuPres (played by the inimitable Kathryn Leigh Scott).  The show's impact upon me deepened when, that same summer, an uncle gave me his complete collection of Dark Shadows paperbacks, penned by Marilyn Ross, those wonderful books (which still occupy a place of honor on the shelves in my Writing Room) filled with Gothic elegance, subtle erotic passion, and melancholy for the past.

A brooding manor with a circle tower and rooms and wings sealed off, filled with heirlooms draped in cobwebs and family secrets.  Another, abandoned deep in the woods -- "The Old House," as it came to be known.  Ancient crypts, unrequited desire, and handsome, tragic anti-heroes, one a vampire, another doomed to transform into a werewolf when the moon rose full, became the territory my young imagination wandered daily.  And also where my pen went when, at fifteen, I discovered a much bigger world through writing.

I loved the 1991 NBC remake starring Ben Cross in the role of Barnabus, with Joanna Going as both Victoria Winters and Josette, but alas that series was not to stay around past an abbreviated season. And so, in the summer of 1992, spurred on by a jealous, fellow writer who delighted in trying to squelch my creativity (until I put an end to both his efforts and our relationship), I penned my own tribute to that dreamlike world, a collection of Gothic romance stories and one novella for gay male readers, Ghost Kisses.  My first book, it sold on its initial attempt to a storied company that had also published works by such greats
as Tennessee Williams and Allen Ginsberg. For several weeks that next winter, publisher Winston Leyland phoned me to say that my small book was vastly different from the 500 other manuscripts submitted to him over the course of every year and that he was thrilled to offer me a contract. Following its release, a regular reader of Leyland Publication books would tell Winston that he and his lover took turns reading the stories to one another at night in bed, which I found wonderfully uplifting then and still do nearly twenty years later.

And I still love Dark Shadows, and likely always shall.  But the real deal, not Johnny Depp's version, which didn't utilize a single marvelous trill from the Robert Cobert soundtrack beyond a bit of rattling bones, and either forgot or intentionally overlooked all that made the original so unforgettable: that flicker of light, love, and hope within the gloom.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My Island Writing Getaway

(The Oceanic Hotel)
In three short months, I'll be headed across the Atlantic.  Not that far, in all truth -- ten miles east.  But the trip to Star Island, second largest in the Isles of Shoals, will be the farthest I've ever traveled in that direction.  I, my new laptop, plenty of fresh pads of paper, new pens, and my idea catalog will arrive by ferry on board the Thomas Laighton to the Oceanic, a grand old hotel rising up at the heart of Star Island where, for five days, I plan to work tirelessly upon and hopefully complete my 1,000th work of fiction, my Space:1999 novel, Metamorphosis.

I first learned of Dale Slongwhite's retreats in 2009, after leaving a writers group I was part of for sixteen years (and an integral presence in their twice-yearly weekend writing retreats).  I love to go away for a few days to someplace fresh, different, to court the Muse; have since 1993 when I attended my very first writing retreat.  But hitting the millennium mark, a goal I've dreamed of since high school, deserved a bit of the extra-special and so, in addition to spending several days in Los Angeles at the 2012 1999 convention with actors and others from the beloved 1975-77 series, I have treated myself to Star Island -- and a setting quite unlike any other!

It was my pleasure to speak with Dale regarding the writing life and what it shall be like to write while located so far out at sea.

(Dale Slongwhite on Star Island)

Please tell us about yourself, Dale.
I married young -- I earned an associates degree, got married, and worked full-time as a clerk in an insurance agency for two years while my husband finished his bachelor degree. It took me twenty-three more years to finish mine. I took a course here, a course there at eight different colleges. My goal was to finish college before our daughters. I'm proud to say I accomplished that goal in 1994 by earning a B.A. in Communications through a low-residency program at a Massachusetts liberal arts college. I took advantage of my "student" status (I was over forty at the time) by procuring interviews with four New England writers -- Elizabeth Searle (she won the Iowa short fiction award that year); Susan Dodd (she wrote the novel Mamaw, the fictionalized life story of Jesse James' mother); Mary McGarry Morris (whose book was an Oprah pick and later made into a move directed by Steven Spielberg) and Donald Hall (poet laureat of New Hampshire and later of the U.S.).

I grew up in Connecticut, moved to Massachusetts after marriage, and relocated to Florida five years ago. For the record, I am still married to the same man I put through college. We have just celebrated our forty-first anniversary.

What do you write?  How do you write?  
I write nonfiction, although I have been playing with a novel for two decades and am in the throes of publishing it. I co-authored a book Gathering with my sister. It is a collection of thirty essays about the intangible things we have gathered over the years. I wrote fifty stories for the 100th anniversary book for Florida Hospital. I have a July 15 deadline with the University of Florida Press for a book on farmworkers in Central Florida. As for writing, I use a LOT of paper. I am an environmentalist until it comes to my writing. I may write longhand, but in recent years, it's been more the laptop. But I always print out fresh material, make lots of longhand edits, and re-print it fresh.

(Recent attendees focused on fresh pages)
What are the origins of the writing retreats you offer in New Hampshire and Florida?
In 1993, I was laid off from a job I loved due to an acquisition. I had never collected unemployment before and did not know if I would earn my severance at the same time as unemployment. Within a week of the lay-off, I learned about Amherst Writers an Artists, a certification program in conducting writing retreats. I decided not to do the safe thing with my severance money. I spent nearly $2,000 and learned how to conduct workshops -- intended to be two and a half hours, once a week. Instead, I rented a Bed and Breakfast in Rockport, Massachusetts, and planned a Friday night - Sunday afternoon retreat.

A year later, I remembered taking a boat trip that stopped at Star Island, a Unitarian Retreat Center. I called and asked if they allowed non-Unitarians to hold retreats there. They said yes, but only during the first two weeks of September (rules may have changed), and if it was educational or spiritual. This September will be my eighth workshop on Star Island.

How many writers attend your retreats annually?  Do writers return year to year?
Eight to ten writers. One writer has attended all eight and will be returning. Another has attended four and will be returning. Others have attended two. The rest often write at this time of year, lamenting they will not be able to join us but hope to in the future.

What are the island and facility like?
Star Island is the second largest of the group of nine rocky islands named The Isles of Shoals. Although it is "the largest," it is still quite small. One could walk the perimeter in fifteen minutes. It is located nearly ten miles off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In the center is a huge old-fashioned "hotel" called The Oceanic. It has a wrap-around porch with dozens of rattan rocking chairs where conferees gather each evening to watch the sunset as though they were about to attend opening night of the year's blockbuster movie hit. The facilities are rustic, but no one seems to mind since the environment is magical.

What format does the retreat follow -- is it structured or relaxed?
Both. We gather around a large oak table in the Writing Room of the Oceanic Hotel. I provide carefully-chosen writing prompts. We write for a specified amount of time then share our work, if we so choose. (Almost everyone does, even if they are shy at first). We comment on what stays with us, what we think is good, what the writer did right. Critique is not allowed. We meet for two+ hours, three times a day. By the end of the four days, we have the beginning of fourteen or so pieces. Some have less beginnings if they choose to continue writing on the same piece.

I come with a schedule that accounts for every minute of every day, but I'm tuned in to the needs of the conferees and I'm not afraid to change it.
(Star Island's chapel)

What accomplishments have come out of the Star Island retreat?
You probably mean publications, and there have been many. But the more important accomplishment to me is how a Star Island Writing Retreat changes the life of an individual. I have seen many an attendee arrive head down, mumbling they thought they'd give it a try but they can't really write but they want to and I'm sorry I'm not as good as everyone else, no I won't read. By the second day, that person is smiling, reading wonderful pieces, and proudly proclaiming, "I am a writer."

I have seen an eighty-year-old man write a letter to his long-deceased father, finally coming to terms with their differences. I have seen a woman who never wrote before write amazing essays about unexpectedly losing her husband only six months before. "This was better than therapy," she said. I have seen lifelong friendships formed. I have been hugged tightly and told, "I couldn't have done it without you." I have seen newbies cheered on by veterans. I have seen writers emulate the techniques of others. 

That's why I travel 1,333 miles (according to Google maps) every September to conduct the Star Island Writing Retreat.

Finally, and this is the most important question of all, is there coffee on Star Island? Preferably iced?
Coffee is provided on the wrap-around porch each morning and at each meal. You can purchase it in between at the tiny snack bar during the posted hours. Wouldn't know about iced.   

Friday, June 8, 2012

Dark Shadows...with an Edge

On a brisk Sunday morning in the winter of 2007 (March 11, according to the note card in that year's organizer), I woke startled from a dream in which my grandfather had been the creator of a famous daytime drama called Twilight's Edge, a soap opera not unlike my beloved Dark Shadows, that had ended its run under sinister circumstances, leading fans and former cast members alike to believe the show was cursed. In the family's home, a great estate similar to that in the soap, props and wardrobe from TE were housed.  My character in the dream would go to that house, access his birthright, and relaunch the show as a Web-based drama.

My first activity of that morning as I recall (after brewing coffee and feeding the cats) was to jot down all the information from the dream on the aforementioned note card. Like so many ideas during that time in which I supported the family through my nonfiction writing, TE got filed in my idea box.  Later that autumn, however, after finishing work on my Buffy book for Alyson, The Q Guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I set about writing Twilight's Edge. Three months after I started, my 90-k monster was done.  Less than a month after that, I crossed paths with an editor at the new Ravenous Romance imprint, and TE was contracted for based solely on its story line, the debut novel of my Rom-de-plume, Ms. Jo Atkinson.

From the Ravenous Romance listing:

Twilight's Edge: Act 1 — Synopsis
Winning the lead role in a Web-based remake of Twilight’s Edge, daytime TV’s classic gothic soap opera from the’70s, was a dream come true for struggling actress Veronica Evans. Falling in love with sexy costar Ryan Flanigan – son of the original’s show’s celebrated vampire, and the driving force behind the re-imagined Edge – was an added bonus she hadn’t expected.
Roni is instantly drawn into the pomp and pageantry of the set and her surroundings, a grand estate located in a remote mountain town, and the presence of her fellow actors, many of whom hail from the original production. Even more so, her passionate new relationship with Ryan…
But there’s a mystery brewing on the set of the re-imagined Twilight’s Edge – unexplained circumstances that mirror events that took place on the old series, and ghostly visitations from Rex Flanigan, Ryan’s late father, leading them to believe that there’s either a murderer loose at the great house, or there truly is a curse hanging over Twilight’s Edge and all associated with it.

Based upon its size (nearly twice that of Ravenous's standard 50,000-word novel model), I was asked to split TE into two books.  Both were merged together once more in the autumn of 2009, when my beloved modern Gothic world starring Roni, Ryan Flanigan, Rex, and all the rest was reissued in print as a special edition by Home Shopping Network, one of eight Ravenous titles (my The Wolfpact also among that group of novels), the first time HSN has offered fiction releases to their customers.  During the May premiere of the new Tim Burton take on Dark Shadows, TE was again featured two days running as Ravenous's Book of the Day, four years (and quite a few novels) after its original release. My soapy tale of TV vampires, ghosts, and Gothic romance hasn't gotten the big screen treatment yet, but it sure is classier and more romantic than Depp and Burton's re-imagined take on a timeless classic.

From Twilight's Edge: Act 2:

Twilight's Edge Act II — Synopsis
Actress Veronica Evans won the role of a lifetime as heroine Daphne St. Claire in a web-based remake of Twilight's Edge, daytime TV's celebrated gothic soap from the ‘70s - only to lose her life when the murderer who's been sabotaging the production strikes again.

Roni, who has fallen in love with handsome leading man Ryan Flanigan, wakes in the New York City of the past on the set of the original production and, at first, thinks she's seeing double when she encounters Ryan's dad, the late, lamented Rex Flanigan, whose ghost in the present warned her about the curse hanging over both versions of the supernatural soap. It's 1977 and, like her TV counterpart Daphne, Roni finds herself in a terrifying time and setting, surrounded by strangers. Faces, the familiar and the infamous, parade past as the events following Twilight's Edge's cancellation play out precisely as expected. If she's ever to make it back to the man she loves and her own time, Roni must gain the brooding star's trust - and unmask the identity of a killer poised to claim its next victim as the stage lights go dark, and Twilight's sinister shadows engulf her.