Sunday, November 25, 2012

Anthocon 2012 Report

Anthocon 2012 loomed large and exciting at the end of a year-long schedule that found me traveling from one end of the country to the other, to conferences, writing retreats, and readings in venues as large as New York City, as intimate as Concord, New Hampshire. The second annual conference for writers in my home state was the culmination of a year's worth of adventures that put me on the road and took me away from home for a grand total of almost three months -- a full season!  I had such a great time at last year's Anthocon, I couldn't wait to reunite with so many of the wonderful writers and readers who made that time unforgettable for all the right reasons.  Though after realizing how long I've been gone from home and family in 2012 and cutting my Sophomore stay from four days down to two, the time was even more wonderful than expected. In addition to the aforementioned reunions with such fantastic folk as one of my favorite publishers, Charles DayJon Michael Emory, David BernsteinMarianne Halbert, and the fabulous Sisters Dent, my good gal-pals Karen and Roxanne, this year's festivities introduced new luminaries to my world and included numerous attendees from my weekly writer's group.  Of added sparkle, my creepy short story, "The Guests," was accepted to appear in the gorgeous conference release set to have its unveiling at a special Saturday night ceremony, the anthology edited by con-guru Mark Wholley, appropriately titled Anthology: Year One.

I planned to ride in with Charlie, who's been my excellent hotel roomie now through four conferences. But an icy gray day punctuated by a Nor'Easter that was more blather than bluster left me craving the warmth of my little home on the hill.  So I instead headed up on Friday with my good pal Philip Perron, who runs the fantastic Dark Discussions podcast.  Philip is effortless to hang with.  We arrived to Portsmouth and the hotel wherein the conference was in full swing to be greeted by dozens of beloved faces -- friends from our writer's group, the Dents, even new chums known formerly only via Facebook, like the inimitable and vibrant Mandy DeGeit.

Friday night with the Sisters Dent
After acquainting and reacquainting, I retired to my room on the fifth floor and put down a few fresh pages on one of my works-in-progress, a memoir about a summer memory from childhood started in June that has mutated and grown monstrous in size -- some 54,000 words at latest count, with at least another 10 k to go.  Up early the next morning, I met the Dents for breakfast at the diner next door for delicious Eggs Benny and iced coffee, and then moseyed into the Dealer's Room, where I promised Charlie I would cover the table while he took story and novel pitches from writers hoping to break in with Evil Jester Press, specifically the new graphic novel project (one of my short stories is being scripted to appear in the first issue, alongside a tale by Jack Ketchum).  It was my absolute pleasure to be seated beside the dealer's table of the fine folk from Firbolg Publishing, helmed by the brilliant Dr. Alex Scully.  Alex and I talked at length, and within minutes of meeting, she offered me a story assignment in an upcoming Lovecraftian project. The press is republishing Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulu" and I'll be writing a story told from a most unexpected perspective.  I was floored, inspired, giddy.  Adding to my excitement was seeing every print copy of my gargantuan collection of stories both short and long, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse, vanish from the table.  I signed autographs on that book and The Call of Lovecraft, rubbed elbows with so many wonderful fellow scribes and fans and, following a light lunch, took in a reading by Alex's talented sister, B. E. Scully, who shared from her incredible short story collection, The Knife and the Wound. B. E. knocked it out of the park -- I left the conference's dedicated reading room with chills!

With Marianne Halbert and our beloved babies
Saturday night's big book party to celebrate the release of the official conference anthology arrived, but as soon as I had my copy in hand, I departed.  I was physically and mentally exhausted, not only from Anthocon but eleven months of adventures to islands, inns, retreat centers, and readings.  I returned home, and the next day began to cook in anticipation of our now-annual post-Anthocon dinner gathering.  The Scullys, my friend Douglas Poirier from writer's group, David and his gorgeous girlfriend Sandy Shelonchik, and Charlie all rendezvoused at our casa for a delicious buffet that included artichoke heart dip, crackers and grapes, roasted chicken and vegetables over broccoli and cheddar rice with a bleu cheese sauce, a romaine, strawberry, and red onion salad with raspberry vinaigrette, frosted brownies, deviled eggs, and cherry-seltzer punch.  It was a fitting follow up to last year's time.  Like so many conferees, I can't wait for Anthocon 2013, one of my few travel plans for next year.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Zombies For A Cure

In 1998, one week after my first newsstand magazine appeared on grocery store shelves less than a mile from her front door, five months before I notched my first episode sale to Paramount's Star Trek: Voyager, my mother, the late, great Diane Elaine Gauthier, passed away from cancer of the bowel.  I was able to pick up a copy of Sci-Fi Universe during daily visits to her hospice room at the top of the stairs of the house she loved, and she was still coherent enough as the malignancy feasted upon her insides to see proof that her faith in me and my love of writing was being rewarded in ever bigger strokes.  My mother was a beautiful woman who died decades too young, at the age of fifty-three.  She never smoked, drank, medicated (prescription-based or illegal; following her second cancer surgery, she refused to take the morphine offered, thinking as I still do that the body heals best through rest and positive emotion), and her loss left a jagged hole in the fabric of the cosmos from which, fourteen years later, I and those who loved her have yet to recover, and likely never will  But I have kept the memory of my mother alive through my writing.  I routinely dedicate new book releases to her, record my dreams of her in short story format, and write down the stories of our too-brief time together, recording some for publication, others so they won't be forgotten.

So when the divine Angela Charmaine Craig from Elektrik Milk Bath Press invited me to submit a short story to her charity anthology, Zombies For A Cure, I was beyond thrilled.  Authors and artists were asked if they would donate their work, as all proceeds from sales are in support of the Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Research Foundation.  In addition to original poetry and fiction from some of today's finest scribes, Zombies contains a moving tribute in honor of those loved ones the authors and artists have lost to cancer.

Angela's submission guidelines were as intriguing as inspiring.  One of the bullet points she sought for the anthology were stories that mixed up formats and genres, as well as efforts with a lighter, even comedic tone.  I had a story in mind but then remembered that, sitting snug in my filing cabinet, was a story even more suited, one that hit all the marks on the wishlist (proof yet again that it never hurts to keep a healthy inventory of completed projects on hand).  A year earlier, I penned a tale called "Deadly Jobs" -- a serio-comic take on what a reality show post Zomb-pocalypse might entail.  Tongue-in-cheek, I wrote it out in a half narrative, half teleplay format.  I'm thrilled to report the story was accepted into Zombies For A Cure -- and that my late mother's name is one of those honored in the anthology's role call.

Angela and many of my fellow contributors graciously shared the back stories behind their wonderful contributions to Zombies For A Cure.

Angela Charmaine Craig on the creation of Zombies For A Cure: "My sister and I liked to stay up nights doing crazy things after everyone else was asleep. We would have these wild conversations, making up lists of unanswerable questions (we loved lists), discussing inventions that never were (but definitely should have been), and planning all the things we should get around to doing, someday. The original idea to do a zombie-themed anthology came from one of these nights. My sister had always had a serious thing for zombies -- even as a kid -- but me, well… not so much. Still, I agreed that at some point we should definitely do a zombie book and it was added to our list of somedays.

'Someday' came a few years later as she was just beginning another experimental round of chemo. Her cancer had been in remission for a year and a half but it had returned -- and it brought friends. At the time, I was planning several new projects and my small 'staff' of volunteers suggested a zombie book to both entertain and honor my sister. From the beginning she wanted to donate the proceeds to charity, and so many generous authors and artists were willing to donate their work to help make this a possibility.

My sister didn’t live to see her book finished but she would have wanted to thank you all. To thank both the contributors for their kindness and generosity, and the readers, whose purchase of this book will allow us to donate to an organization dedicated to fighting a rare and aggressive cancer, the Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Research Foundation.  I thank you, too."  
Gene Stewart on "Zombie Love": "'Zombie Love' came from a particularly wild ride through the deep south, during storms that threatened to flood the roads and knock our car off them.  We were passing through a swamp, driving between Georgia and Texas, probably somewhere in Mississippi or Louisiana, and through the blur of pouring rain I saw a place like the one I describe in the story.  It was settled well back from the road to the left, behind a large expanse of mud and puddles big enough to drown our car.  It looked ramshackle but showed light and a few pickups were parked at odd angles close to the door.  We did not stop, but my imagination did, and I wondered what a long-haul trucker driving that route might find if he pulled off the road in so remote and wild a place.  What kind of folks, what sort of ambiance, and what dark surprises might be encountered there?
I'd read about the origin of the zombie legends and knew they came from very real practices in Haiti. People would be poisoned, it seemed, by zombie powder, a powerful nerve agent that rendered them seemingly dead.  They would be buried, but within hours they would be dug up and revived, to a degree, by the zombie master, who would then use them, sometimes for decades, as slaves in sugar cane fields and on plantations.  It was a way of enslaving people who had, at least officially, passed beyond the reach of law by 'dying'.  So the notion of slaves and zombies, linked in my mind, made the leap to sex slavery.  Eroticizing zombies took them in a direction I had not seen at the time I wrote this story.  It first appeared in an anthology called Cold Flesh, edited by Paul Fry and published in 2005.  

I hope it gives readers a good chill, and remember:  It's all possible.  Nothing supernatural happens in 'Zombie Love'.   When you're driving in the isolated, wilder areas, be careful where you stop and what you let yourself be enticed by." 

Jay Wilburn on "Dead Song”: "'Dead Song' is a very different zombie story. The idea for it came from a few threads. One was thinking about how survivors of a zombie apocalypse would tell their own stories afterward. Another was thinking about what would be a scary story for people who grew up during the zombie apocalypse. What would scare them anymore? The result brought me to a sound booth for a voice over for a documentary about music during the zombie apocalypse. The character is trapped by the story in an unusual way. All readers and writers of zombie stories are trapped by the story in some way. I hope you find 'Dead Song' and Zombies For A Cure entertaining, disturbing, or both. It’s for a great cause!"

Heather Henry on "You Can't Live Forever": "I got the idea for this story as I was trying to imagine what kind of person would not only survive a zombie apocalypse, but actually thrive. Immediately I thought of my great grandmother, Hazel McCormick. She grew up on the Montana frontier when it was still relatively wild and told me and my siblings stories about being attacked by ‘Indians.’ I’m not sure whether the stories were true or not, but I believed them. She told me so many different versions of how her husband died, I thought she’d been married eight times. She was a hard woman and a bit of a misanthrope, but she was a survivor. 

My great grandmother had a stray cat that she fed and allowed in the house. She named him ‘Freeloader.’ I started writing about the central character in my story and Freeloader was there, but I named him for our childhood Siamese, Teddy. Once Teddy became a character in the story, I knew he had to be integral in how the story resolved itself, but working that out took many incarnations. I wanted to build a zombie story around a nontraditional protagonist. As I worked on this story, I came to find the strengths in Hazel’s character, and she became a compelling character for me. I’m pretty sure that my great grandmother would like her, too."
Patrick MacAdoo on "The Sitting Dead": "This may sound cruel. On my route to the library, there's a senior-housing building, in front of which the tenants congregate to smoke. Many in powerchairs or wheelchairs, some with oxygen tanks, all with the distinctive gray, zombie-ish look of the lifelong smoker, I couldn't help but think of them as the risen dead. The presence of those powerchairs inspired the pun, the sitting dead, which of course became the title. 
I walk around with an alternate world in my head. In this world, the Apocalypse is happening slowly, or perhaps not at all -- the Apocalypse is a matter of controversy, as are the zombies themselves. In this world, political rhetoric has clouded all these issues.  Are zombies proof of the Apocalypse, a curse from God, or just a mutant virus? Some zombies get better (smarties), some do not (dummies). But those afflicted by hunger for human flesh, and this is enough for the epithet, Zombies, no matter how politically incorrect, is applied to the diseased."

Gerri Leen on "Run for the Roses": "I really wanted to write a story for this anthology, but zombies are not my thing, so I was having trouble coming up with an idea. While I was watching the 2011 Breeders' Cup and yet another racehorse—can’t  remember at this point which one—was either pulled up or didn't run and was retired early due to injury, this idea came to me. I may not understand the appeal of zombies, but they sure do seem resilient, and we've definitely made our racehorses fragile compared to the iron horses of yesteryear.  It seemed a perfect match up, and I have to admit it was a blast to write.  I hope it's as fun to read."

Sarina Dorie on "Zombie Psychology": "I wrote the story about five years ago, so it is hard for me to remember the exact inspiration.  I think I thought of the title and then wrote a story about that. My brain just asks, 'What if. . . ?' a lot.  For example, 'What if zombies had the same personality they had when they were alive, only they now also want to eat people?' or 'What if you were trying to get rid of an annoying ex-boyfriend who was bad enough when he was alive, but now he wants to eat your brains, too?'

At the time I started submitting this story, I was told by a few fellow writers that zombies were out and this was a dying trend -- no pun intended. As it turns out, zombies are still thriving. Some editors might be tired of them, but readers are not."

Megan Dorei on "Wings": "When I wrote the first paragraph of 'Wings,' I really had no idea what I was doing. I knew the basic skeletal outline for what I wanted but I didn’t know how to get there. I guess you could say I was just fishing in the dark, hoping to catch something remotely usable. But the more I wrote, the more things started to fall into place. And once I started pulling bits and pieces from real life -- a certain camping adventure and a few letters between me and a friend, just to name a few -- the story just seemed to tell itself. I have a passion for living unattainable dreams through my characters. Call it a guilty pleasure, if you prefer, but this became more than I thought it would."

Kathleen Crow on "The Ferry": "When I was younger, my son and I used to discuss how we might go about surviving a zombie apocalypse. However, after a knee replacement and succumbing to a rather nasty strain of arthritis, I realized that surviving might be a little more problematic than I had initially thought. The story bloomed when I wondered how an older person might survive in such a situation." 

Alyn Day on "Seven Eight One Five Four":  "'Seven Eight One Five Four' is the first of my works ever to be published, and one of my favorites among all of the stories I've written. I got the idea when the restrooms at work were fitted with electronic locks complete with keypads. We were told it was for enhanced security, but as an added bonus people from other floors might stop dropping by to avail themselves of our fancy soap. One day while standing at the sink washing my hands, I heard a noise outside the door. I'm sure it was something completely innocent, someone perhaps stubbing their toe on the bench outside, but it started my brain working. From there, the story pretty much wrote itself."

Mark Onspaugh on "The Song of Absent Birds": "Sometimes my stories start out with a single image, and in this case, it was the ‘Forest of Anubis.’ A great herd of zombies frozen in winter, still and ghastly, waiting for the spring thaw.  It was an image I had not seen or read, and I liked the magical yet tragic aspect of it. That got me to thinking about zombies being in a state of delayed decomposition; how one who ‘turned’ many years ago might still look relatively young.  That got me to thinking about tragic time travel stories where one person ages and another doesn’t (like that wonderful Twilight Zone episode from 1964, ‘The Long Morrow,’ -- astronaut Robert Lansing disconnects his suspended animation chamber, not realizing they have placed his true love in one back on Earth.  He returns having aged forty years, she is still young.  So my tale became a search for a lost love, and a chance to finally reunite with that one special person, no matter what they might have become.

I am very honored to be a part of this anthology. I have had three strong women in my life who have battled cancer: my grandmother Helen, my mother-in-law Judith, and my amazing cousin Chan Adams Bell. This story is dedicated to all of them, with tremendous love."
James S. Dorr on "Should Zombies Really Crawl From Their Graves": "My poem had its origins in a challenge to consider the phrase 'Should [blank],' filling in the blank and then using the result as the title for a poem.  I felt the examples suggested, including such things as 'Should I buy this outfit' and 'Should you leave before I buy this outfit,' were, to say the least, unexciting so I decided to write about zombies instead, offering the reader practical advice in the event of a burgeoning zombie apocalypse and even throwing in a hint or two concerning dating.  Useful things like that."
Terrie Leigh Relf on "The Zombie Solution": "When Marge Simon first told me about the anthology call, and that it was intended to benefit Cancer research and to honor those who have passed on (as well as those who continue to valiantly battle this disease), I was immediately inspired. What better way to support The Cure than a zombie-themed anthology? While I had originally intended to write an ode, Shakespeare rose from the dead and whispered in my ear that it was high time I wrote another sonnet. He assured me that were he not reduced to haunting the living, he would most definitely be writing about zombies (and he even intimated there were additional lost manuscripts where he did!). While I am no Shakespeare, and would never claim to channel him, either, he, too, has been a continual inspiration. The result? A spell was cast with the help of a friendly neighborhood witch.

‘The Zombie Solution’ is also about forming an alliance between another greatly misunderstood disease: Vampirism (or Porphyria), and is intended to show support for any undertaking (such as this anthology) that seeks to choose success rather than failure as its guiding operandi.
Humor is an aerator, and given the commingled stench of the zombie hordes, a light breeze is always recommended, don’t you think? Combine that with the fact that those suffering from Cancer are often ignored -- and mistreated -- by the same system that is supposed to be there to support them! We need more funding! We need a cure!"
Brian E. Langston on "necessary items for surviving the zombie apocalypse": "My poem started as an exercise at Zelda's Inferno, a weekly poetry writing workshop I sporadically attended while living in Baltimore, Maryland.  It's not clear to me how the piece came about.  I recall that the group, after having vetoed several more complicated writing prompts for lack of time and attention span, had settled on the old standby of writing a list poem. But 'necessary items' is not the normal list poem, and the prompt most certainly did not include anything about the apocalypse or zombies.  As so often happens with these prompts, however, I went off on a tangent.  Stringing together physical, emotional, and metaphorical items -- the things that I imagine I would find myself needing in order to survive an apocalypse, zombie or otherwise.  No, not just to survive, but to retain some piece of compassion in the darkest of times, some spark of hope, the mystery, perseverance, stubbornness, and strength of Homo sapiens. 
But where did that first word, 'fishhooks' come from?  And what about that arc through a gas mask and Adrienne Rich?  Origins are not always obvious, and the mystery is sometimes necessary, for our minds are not linear machines but make wild leaps connecting tangents.  As for the poem and the zombie apocalypse, I consider these metaphors for the darkest of times, be those on a global or personal scale.  These are the items, physical, emotional, and metaphorical, that I choose to take with me into the abyss in order to ground me to what it means to be human."

Jennifer Clark on "Zombie Mommy": "I almost didn’t write this poem. I wanted to lend my voice to this important project that Elektrik Milk Bath Press was proposing but I wasn’t sure I had anything to add to the zombie dialogue. What is it about our fascination with zombies, I kept asking myself. I wanted to tap into the nugget of zombie truth, whatever that was. Just when I was about to give up, it occurred to me that zombies represent the human condition. Those we love leave us. Despite their best efforts, forces out of their control (and ours) such as illness, addiction, or aging, cause loved ones to leave us behind. Zombies, I decided, represent that slow, little-pieces-at-a-time leaving. So with that all in mind, I wrote 'Zombie Mommy.'"