Monday, July 30, 2012

Camp NECon 2012 Report: Part Two

(with the Sisters Dent, Karen and Roxanne)
I woke rested on Friday, July 20, the first full day of NECon 2012.  Down to the lounge area, where the mythical sofa from 2008 was sadly missing from the landscape (the matching ottomans remain, set before other less-comfortable sofas).  At just after six in the morning, I uncapped my pen, withdrew a fresh pad of lined paper, and began writing "The Eclipse," one of the short stories for my new collection forthcoming from editor Rob Reaser, 13 Creature Features (deets to follow).  The cafeteria's manager-ess graciously brewed a pot of iced coffee.  Based upon my request (read: groveling), she took pity and the iced coffee flowed 24/7 throughout the rest of the weekend.

It poured for most of our gray Friday in Rhode Island. Karen and Roxanne, Scott Goudsward, and I pulled off our Lovecraft panel at 3 that afternoon.  Though the panel was not what I originally conceived and presented to the NECon committee -- one specifically devoted to The Call of Lovecraft -- the hour went well and my wonderful authors in the anthology were still able to discuss their stories to a decent-sized audience.  The heat in the conference room was borderline volcanic; following the panel's conclusion, I returned to my igloo under the a-c upstairs and wrote for an hour before moseying back downstairs for dinner.  After the meal, sisters Dent, the talented Morven Westfield, and I headed to the farthest corner of the lounge to write.  Rain flowed down the greenhouse-style windows.  It was like writing beneath a waterfall, an experience similar to one I enjoyed at a writer's retreat in North Conway, New Hampshire.

Friday night saw a multitude of events -- movies, social mixers, music.  I retired early, passed out quickly, and woke to a gorgeous and sunny Saturday.  The rain blew the humidity out and after a decent breakfast buffet, I returned to my room and slid open the big window facing down on the central courtyard.  Fresh, sweet air swept through the room.  I wrote "The Eclipse" to conclusion just in time to welcome Evil Jester Press publisher and good pal Charles Day, who drove up from Long Island for his first-ever NECon.

(with Scott T. Goudsward on the Lovecraft Panel)
At dinner, which boasted delicious roasted pork and a variety of cakes, I, Charlie, Sisters Dent, Scott, David Bernstein, Sandy Shelonchik, Morven, and others flocked to the longest table at the back of the cafeteria, jokingly referred to as 'the naughty table.' Conversations about writing flowed until well after dinner service concluded and most of the conference's 140-plus attendees disbanded for the next leg of the Saturday schedule.  This, like writing at the desk in my hotel room beside the open window, became one of those wonderful recollections that will stay with me forever.  I returned upstairs and wrote for an hour or so, promising the others that I would join the gang downstairs for the traditional NECon roast.  The victim/guest was Darrell Schweitzer, the Lovecraft authority who moderated our panel a day before.  In the hellish heat of the main conference room, we were entertained by numerous musical numbers from which the official anthem of NECon was chosen.  At 11:30, I excused myself from the roast and headed back upstairs, barely conscious of my own name when my head hit the pillow.

Up early on Sunday, the conference's final day, I wandered downstairs, guzzled iced coffee, and completed the longhand draft of "Sticks and Stones," my second full story penned while at NECon 2012. Before breakfast service, I also got down another 1,000 words on a new novella aimed as my follow up to "Mason's Murder," available on August 3, my first release from the fine folks at MLR Press.  Another decent lunch and then NECon officially concluded.

(Dinner with the cool kids -- Charlie Day, Karen, Roxanne,
and David Bernstein's elbow)
When all was said and done, I had been invited to submit a short story to an anthology, another to a new graphic novel line, and was given four solid professional market leads.  Agent Lori Perkins asked if I would be interested in penning a pop culture book on the TV series Glee -- having never watched it, I declined; instead, I pitched a similar book on a show that I'm more than conversant with, Project Runway. There was also discussion about other novels, my back list, and new projects at the front.  The level of excitement I returned home with was supernatural in its intensity.  That wonderful energy, I am sure, will sustain me until next year's conference.  NECon 2013, I'm so there!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Camp NECon 2012 Report: Part One

When I think fondly back on my first Camp NECon experience in 2008, it's to the lounge area of the Bayside Conference Center in Portsmouth, Rhode Island I travel.  On a ridiculously large and comfortable sofa decorated in wild colors outfitted with matching ottomans, I and two of my favorite wordsmiths from my first writer's group sat and wrote on a lazy Saturday July afternoon while other attendees played miniature golf, bowled, swam, or hung about in the dealer's room.  I wrote several stories at that year's NECon, on that sofa, and sold all of them upon my return home.  I was courted by the as-yet un-launched Ravenous Romance to be their first signed novelist (and as of this entry have seven novels and numerous short stories in both their back and front lists).  Briefly, I entered into a relationship with a New York agent as a result of the conference.  But it's that afternoon's session under the cool, beautiful a-c on a miserably humid day with Scott T. Goudsward and Tracy L. Carbone, writers whose work I adore and whose friendships I cherish, I remember most.

I missed the intervening years of the Northeastern Writers Conference's summer gatherings between 2008 and 2012 for a number of reasons, so it was with great anticipation that I prepared for this season's event, a late birthday gift. Tracy would be absent for the first time in memory; a regular NECon fixture, Scott would be there.  So, too, would good friends David Bernstein and Sandy Shelonchik, the dynamic duo I'd last seen during my trip to New York City.  Also of paramount excitement, the Sisters Dent, Karen and Roxanne, invited me to carpool to Rhode Island with them. On the Wednesday night before heading out, a silver Volkswagon traveling at Mach 12 ran into a telephone pole down the hill from our home. Lights flashed and flickered.  The power lines waggled as though tightrope walkers were having a conference of their own up there.  But while the rest of the neighborhood went dark on a brutally hot night, we never lost the juice -- we never do at our antique fortress thanks to being on the same circuit as the fire station.  Despite worries of bad omens and portents, I traveled to Wednesday Night Writers Group as roadblocks were raised around us and emergency vehicles took up guard duty.  I returned from writer's group to see the lights on in our home while the rest of the landscape sat dark, packed efficiently in the morning, and headed out for Massachusetts to meet the lovely Dent Sisters.
(Me, with Scott T. Goudsward, Karen Dent, Roxanne Dent)

Despite one or two last-second snags, we hit the road on time amid a flurry of talks on the writing life, our present and future projects, and what to expect when we reached our destination. Honestly, I didn't know apart from my own dated previous experience.  I was wearing one of my three new WRITER T-shirts, the one with the dripping red candle for the "I", and when we stopped for a quick bite and a bathroom break somewhere near the Massachusetts border, two young men working behind the counter jumped upon me with glee, driven into a frenzy by the message.  It turns out, both are writers.  We told them about the conference, I offered them a few leads on where to submit their stories, and off we went, soon there.

Seeing the conference center unleashed the happiest of emotions.  I loved my one previous NECon stay, and I was hopeful the experience would be like the literary equivalent of a palate cleanser following my spring visit to World Horror Con.  From the moment we arrived, my expectations were exceeded!  To start with, I discovered that I had my own private hotel room -- no roommate (not a bad thing, but there was something decadent about knowing the space was mine, all mine!).  Within seconds of checking into the conference, I met up with Scott and was able to hand him a copy of The Call of Lovecraft, which contains his excellent story, "That Place."  Up to my room, a-c cranked, I turned on my new laptop and got onto the WiFi, listened to a little music, found the local ABC affiliate, and enjoyed my afternoon dose of decadence, General Hospital (featuring the return of the fabulous Kassie Wesley-DePaiva in the role of Blair Cramer, her character from my late, lamented One Life to Live). I moseyed downstairs and shook hands, hugged, and enjoyed reuniting with a parade of lovely, literary faces.  Scott, Karen, Roxanne, and I gathered in the central courtyard outside and caught up. It was another of those moments I'll never forget, memorable for all the right reasons.  My biggest 2012 resolution has been to be around healthy, happy folk; to surround myself only with good people away from home, as I am surrounded at home where I spend 99% of my life.  I couldn't have been in the company of better.

Thursday nights at NECon culminate with an annual welcoming event known as the 'Saugie Roast.'  Saugies are the prime rib of hot dogs and are found only in that region of Rhode Island.  The Saugie Roast was scheduled for 10 p.m. -- a notorious early riser, ten is normally well past my bedtime.  But I was hopeful that I'd join the rest of my peers in the central courtyard.  At 8, immersed in the new season of Project Runway up in my icy hotel room, I figured I'd make it, but then the dinner I ordered arrived, and Runway ended with me passed out and sleeping soundly.  I didn't get a single Saugie.  But I left Camp NECon with so much more.  Read Part Two for the deets!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Duke and the Deadbeat: A Rock & Roll Erotic Romance

The premise offered up was fairly simple but provocative -- Lori Perkins, then-Editorial Director at Ravenous Romance, suggested I write a modern, romantic M/M retelling of the classic The Prince and the Pauper.  I liked the notion and the challenge, though at first I didn't have much to go upon other than some very bare bones, one certainty being that the story would take place in the world of music.  But once I put the nib of my fountain pen to paper and began to write what I hoped would be an unforgettable opening chapter, The Duke and the Deadbeat literally dashed to the finish line over the course of three weeks, the characters and the settings so vivid in my imagination that I lived the scenes as they played out for that longhand draft of 51,000 words.

Duke was published last week and has, as of this posting, maintained the top spot on the company's list of best-selling novels.  Credit is also due to Allan Penn for his incredible cover design, which took my suggestions to stratospheric levels.  Allan totally captured Duke Donovan -- the aforementioned rock star "Duke" -- and struggling musician Seamus Whyler, who switch places, each seeking to fix their damaged lives by assuming one another's identities.

"I love making Greg's covers. His characters have so much depth and color that bringing them to life is always an adventure," said Allan when I asked him about this particular project's artwork.  "Can't wait for the next one."

I remain particularly fond of those characters and the situations they ultimately triumph over.  Now, with other stories and situations demanding my attention, I love that Duke, Seamus, Joe-Kev, et al, are having their time in the spotlight, and that readers are getting caught up in the music with them.

From the Ravenous Romance Website:

The Duke and the Deadbeat — Synopsis
Duke Donovan was born into rock royalty. The front man for popular Goth band 3-D, Duke's had everything handed to him his entire life-fame, fortune, flesh. The problem is he wants none of it. After staging an unforgettable concert meant to give him an exit from the spotlight, Duke skyrockets 3-D's rising star past the stratosphere, making the band more popular than ever, and leaving Duke ready to crack from the pressure.
Seamus Whyler: tall, handsome, and passionate about music. Seamus has had none of Duke's lucky breaks, but he dreams of a rock star's life while living out of his car between gigs. Meeting Duke is like looking into a mirror-and long last being given a shot at true stardom when the pop prince offers to switch places with the pauper. But leaving their real identities behind isn't so easy a thing to accomplish, as Duke and Seamus soon discover while dogged by their pasts as well as a ruthless celebrity music blogger who smells a ringer, and when the opportunity for true love forces them both to face the music

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ocean Stories

2010 was a particularly trying year for our little family.  The loss of jobs and income -- and a home -- coupled with an ominous medical crisis put us in serious jeopardy.  It also challenged my Muse and me to fix all that was broken and to regain everything we lost through writing. As a result of the challenge, 2010 was also the year I wrote 100 fiction projects to conclusion -- three novels, six novellas, a short screenplay, and numerous flash and short stories.  The Muse triumphed; in 2011, we turned a corner as a direct result of my self-imposed evolution.  You could say (and often I do) that writing saved us.

During June of 2010, while voraciously reading anything I could get my hands on -- romance novels, literary journals, poetry books, classics -- I opened our then-town library's sole copy of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and devoured it cover to cover for the first time since junior high school.  Inspired, I began work on a longish short story, "The Old Man and the Sea Monster."  Set in the Tsunami-ravaged Pacific, my version took a more horrific spin when an old man and his young charge set forth across part of the ocean whose deep floor has been forced into the light by violent tectonic forces.  Along with the geography, other underwater elements appear, including the sea monster telegraphed in the title.  The story was written longhand on the tear-out sheets of a Moleskin notebook at a garden table on the deck of the home we lost.  From there, the draft went into a designer folder and was filed away until the early spring of 2011, when I read Angela Craig's call for Ocean Stories.  With our family's sea legs just again beneath us, I put "Old Man" on the computer, ran through my edits, and fired it off to Elektrik Milk Bath Press, where it found a beautiful home among an impressive Table of Contents of ocean-themed tales.

It was my pleasure to speak with my fellow Ocean Stories authors about the back-stories behind their wonderful -- and terrifying! -- stories.

Mike Allen and Charles M. Saplak on "Strange Wisdoms of the Dead": "Charlie Saplak and I wrote 'Strange Wisdoms of the Dead' nearly a decade ago, and I remember a lot more about its arduous journey into print than I do about the process of creating it -- I think what I can say with certainty is that the overall idea, the mariner's lingo, the plague-infested setting and the philosophical underpinnings all came from Charlie (a U.S. Navy veteran, by the way,) while the (to say the least) unfortunately-timed romance and the majority of the gruesome flourishes came from me. 

'Strange Wisdoms' took a long time to find a home and an even longer time to appear in print once it found one (in the late lamented H.P. Lovecraft's Magazine of Horror.) Yet its arrival in the harbor of Ocean Stories made for smooth sailing. Charlie sent it in, Angela accepted, there was really nothing for me to do until the proofing stage -- and when that came about I hugely enjoyed reacquainting myself with all these old friends, with their dessicated flesh, their severed heads and broken limbs, their enigmatic banter, their unrequited loves and disturbing lusts."

Christine Rains on "A Ticket on the Train": "Fish are scary things. They've always seemed otherworldly to me. Especially the ones with teeth. I didn't want to write the next Jaws, though. When I wrote this story, I wanted to play with suspense. I want the reader to sit up and grip the book a little harder as their heart pounds in their chest. The mystery starts with the title. Innocuous, and not quite what you think it is. A hook to tug the reader along, building up the tension, until they finally discover what they caught."

Paul L. Bates on "Conquest": "'Conquest' was my first attempt at writing humor, and it got a bit slapstick-- sorry about that.  (I've since written another a tad more refined.) The story of Captain Cook stumbling upon Hawaii only to find the natives on the beach throwing a party for him has always struck me as funny.  While the real event eventually led to the indigenous population being decimated by smallpox, conquered and subjugated by the invaders, I tried to imagine what would have happened if there had been a Pacific Island somewhere in which the natives were not nearly as na├»ve and whose magic was up to the task of dealing with their self-righteous would-be exploiters."

Carla Richards on "Save Pinkeye": "The day I started 'Save Pinkeye' was one of those days when I started to type without any clue of what the story was going to be about. It just seemed to materialize from whatever odd little part of my brain gets to play when the internal editor takes a nap. I have always had both a fear of and fascination for sharks, and maybe writing a sissy shark will in some way counteract the years of childhood trauma caused by watching the movie Jaws. I hope people have as much fun reading the story as I had writing it."

Joshua Wolf on "Sailing the Bones":  "One evening I was practically assaulted by the image of a sailor adrift on a dead whale that was quickly being consumed by sharks. Several drafts later, I came across two remarkable books of Hawaiian folklore that described the Shark God of Molokai, and guardian shark spirits known as aumakua. I had already written mer-people into the story, but I was fascinated by the idea of these Hawaiian shark beings that could be both helpful and deadly, and the story changed drastically under their influence. Anyone interested in the complex Hawaiian relationship with sharks should consult Martha Beckwith’s Hawaiian Mythology and W. D. Westerveldt’s Hawaiian Legends of Ghosts and Ghost-Gods. 
This story is part of a cycle of tales about an utterly doomed crew of pirates. The crew that cast Francis Jansz adrift before the opening of 'Sailing the Bones' find themselves crossing a murderous desert in search of elusive treasure in the story 'Crossing the Line,' which will appear in the Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes sometime this fall. Please drop by my blog, Harpoon Coffee, for more news and information."

David Sklar on "Inheritance": "'Inheritance' began with a question: What happens to something that's an essential part of you, once you're no longer there to use it? Of course, a story is more than a question, or an idea. It needed the characters who brought these questions to life, and it pulled in a number of other situations as well: a friend's grandmother's beach house where my wife and I used to stay when we went to the Long Island Science Fiction Convention (I-Con); an estate sale I once visited where grief hung in the air; and the long, heart-stricken phone calls I overheard after my parents' divorce, before they reunited a year later.

'Inheritance' received a soul-crushing rejection letter from a major magazine, and then sat in a box until a publisher I know was looking for selkie and kelpie stories for the online journal Membra Disjecta. Since then, Membra Disjecta and the journal that rejected "Inheritance" have both gone out of print, and I'm thrilled to have it breathe again in Ocean Stories."

Laura Blackwell on "Triskelion": "'Triskelion' started as an experiment in writing a protagonist I wouldn't like as a real person. As the story formed, I came around and developed sympathy for Jessica. The opening line, 'Lend me your skin,' was the first thing written and one of the only ones that never changed. The albino shape-shifter and his silent wife were constant images as I wrote, and I still feel a chill when I think of them."

Tricia Scott on "Wicked Jenny": "The ocean fascinates me and it frightens me, especially at night. And well, if I’m being entirely truthful, all bodies of water larger than a kiddie pool send chills up my spine. This fear goes way back. I remember as a child watching my cousins damn up the creek near my house with rocks to make what we called 'the swimming hole.' The water, at least in my memory, was rarely anything other than brown and murky, the place of nightmares. Someone would yell 'snake' and they would all jump out. The next day they would do it again. It seemed safer to sit on the banks and read. I’d watch my father pull large snapping turtles from the same creek. There was no way I was getting in the water. Who knew what else was down there. I never learned to swim.

'Wicked Jenny' has its roots in that memory. There’s a creature in the water, a shape-shifter. The main character, Sela, was inspired by an antique photograph I came across while doing a sort of vision board for another story. The girl in the image was standing by the edge of a river and had a scared, haunted look on her face. What she was thinking when the shutter released? At the same time I was playing around with the story I was also jotting down ideas for circus-themed paintings. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that surely must be the reason for the appearance of tightrope walker, Johnnie Temple."

Jennifer Crow on "She Sells Sea Spells": "I love the ocean.  When I was a kid, I used to stand on the rocky beach near my grandmother's house and make offerings to the waves. There's just so much power and mystery, so many secrets and riches the sea holds.  'She Sells Sea Spells' grew out of that childhood love -- and reverence -- for the ocean.  What better way to get a second chance than by having the past washed away by the tides?  And when the sea takes what's most dear to us, we can only hope that we'll have the chance to retrieve it, or at least say goodbye."

Angela Charmaine Craig on the inspiration behind Ocean Stories: "I have always loved the ocean.  I grew up in Corpus Christi and some of my earliest memories are of walking the beach with my mother, looking for jellyfish and driftwood and whatever other mysteries had washed ashore. She worked nights and my father, who loved to fish, would take me and my sister to the pier with him in the evenings.  He liked to go all the way out to the end where the water was deep, and with the sun down it was cold out there, bone-chilling cold—even in summer—and so very dark. I spent many nights staring down into that black water, terrified of what lurked beneath me that I could not see. And no matter what my father said, I never believed it was simply waves that were rocking the pier.  I always felt there was something out there way down beneath the surface—something huge and beautiful and frightening—and I was convinced that, if I wasn’t careful, it might decide to come for me."

Monday, July 2, 2012

June Writer's Party

It was the best of times, it was...truly the best of times.

On June 24, thirteen writers flocked to our sweet little home for our first writer's shebang since Christmas. All-day writer's group parties with tons of food, a themed reading, and lots of discussion on the writing life are a long-running tradition in these parts.  A number of factors contributed to the lapse between events -- I had traveled, taken a few months off to be a bit of a hermit and to write numerous drafts to conclusion, my inventory depleted following the creation of Muse.  But I won't deny that I was in a bit of a funk for several months as a result of numerous factors.  The malaise began with the cancellation of the two soap operas I've followed for most of my life, which probably sounds silly but started the dark cloud's advance in my direction.  A restructuring of my social life regarding the people with whom I share my limited time away from home, both imposed and also voluntary, followed.  An arduous trip to New York City.  A conference out west that I probably should not have attended. Nothing earth-shattering, but when all was told, the reasons added up, and the social zealot that I normally am wasn't much in the mood for a party.  While continuing to write at my usual frenetic pace, specifically on a deadline for a new novel, I reluctantly joined two very dear friends for a Monday 'muse-date' of writing, reading, and eating and, during the noshing portion, they pulled the scales off my eyes.  There was no denying it.  For the first time in a very long time, I had the rare mean blues.

(from left to right: talented film blogger Abe Spinney, John
Mack, Douglas Poirier, Sara Fowles)
I don't get gloomy.  In fact, I wake up chirpy every morning with a song in my thoughts and inspiration guiding my steps -- I'm the least moody Taurus, I'm told (I do make up for it with bullheadedness, however).  I'm a writer who loves to write, and every day is truly an adventure.  As soon as my two wonderful friends, The Sisters Dent, helped me to realize what was really at work, the dark cloud evaporated fully.  I left the nest socially for the first time in nearly two months, and one of the first orders upon my return to normal life was to organize a get-together, complete with the usual elements: food, lots of stories and excerpts on a central theme, and other writers whose company I adore.

The food: among the day's buffet were baby meatballs slathered in fresh mozzarella cheese; jumbo shrimp and cocktail sauce; salad; a homemade punch served in my big drinks dispenser made from cherry juice, raspberry-lime seltzer, sliced lemons, and a ton of ice; an incredible chicken and prosciutto dish brought by Phillip Perron, who runs the Dark Discussions podcast (check it out if you aren't yet familiar -- Phillip does a fantastic job with interviews and news updates!); a luscious pasta and anchovies dish (also brought by Phillip); a variety of baby cupcakes, chips and crackers, soda, a brownie cake, and John Mack's famous 'Mush' -- a mac & cheese and broccoli crockpot dish that is both comforting and wicked.  In good form, we chowed and sipped for the first part of that sunny June day.
(James Keough)

The theme: I asked our group's founder and fearless leader, James Keough, to come up with the topic to which we'd write our offerings for the reading portion of the afternoon, and boy did he deliver!  James's "The Perfect Murder?" (emphasis on the question mark, flash fiction under a thousand words) really challenged us and, as was mentioned following the conclusion of the reading, people brought their A Game.  We went around the room and shared our stories.  Initially, I had nothing when the theme was announced.  Then I had two stories, one of which woke me from a sound sleep, demanding I jot down the idea for fear of losing it in the night (I didn't, and wound up writing most of the story's first draft before returning to bed).  How my fellow scribes interpreted the challenge was nothing short of brilliant -- and completely inspiring.

Six hours after it began, the soiree wrapped, with my colleagues departing and me filled with a kind of energy and happiness I hadn't known for far too many months.  Being around writers I respect and enjoy was and is a gift -- one I intend to give to myself with greater frequency throughout the rest of 2012.  I can't wait for the next party!