Saturday, December 15, 2012

Meet the Talented and Luminous James Ferace

Part bad boy, all bad ass, it was my pleasure recently to discover the words and passion of author James Ferace.  An exciting new voice in dark fiction and poetry, Ferace's work engages from the start, whether in short story format (Imago Mortis: The Stories of James Feraceor verse (Somnambulism: The Poetry of James Ferace, containing eighty-eight original poems).  Blending elements of the Gothic, the Beatnik, the best of Poe and Kerouac alike, Ferace has created a compelling literary style uniquely his own -- and one not to be missed.

The Connecticut-based scribe invited me to his corner of old New England.  Join me for a glimpse into the wonderfully dark imagination of James Ferace.

Tell us about yourself, James.
Well, I've been writing since I was about twelve.  I'd always been plagued with horrible nightmares ever since I was a child and I used writing as a form of therapy.  However, it wasn't until many years later, at the urging of my friend, artist Steven Lapcevic, that I start putting my work out there more.  So around 2009 was when I released my first eBook, Eternamente.  I was very pleased with the response, so I continued releasing eBooks until 2011, which is when Imago Mortis was published in paperback.  I've also written for several magazines (under a pseudonym) and I was also profiled in the October 2010 issue of Pulse Magazine in the article "Inside the Dark Mind of Writer James Ferace."  Poetry had always been my first love when it came to writing, rather than fiction, so it was at the urging of my editor to put together a poetry collection, Somnambulism, which was released much later the same year as Imago.  It didn't have quite the impact, however, as poetry is a bit of a tough sell.

Take us into your home office/work space -- what is it like?
Believe it or not, my work space is usually just me sitting on my bed with my laptop.  Nothing fancy.  I usually dream up most of what I write, so it's appropriate, in my opinion, that I also turn it all into fiction while sitting in the same space where most of it comes to me.  My room is small, but I prefer it that way.  It's cozy and everything is practically within arm's reach.  I'm a big fan of film, so there are several posters adorning the walls, such as ones for David Lynch's Eraserheadmy favorite film, Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, and David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch.  I also have art by Francis Bacon, etc., which inspires me.

What does a typical James Ferace writing session involve? Tell us about your creative process.
Usually, I just sit down with a cup of coffee or tea, take a deep breath, close my eyes for a minute or so, and let the ideas just flow.  Once in a while, I'll put on a film for inspiration -- usually a silent film so that I'm not too distracted.  On a rare occasion, I'll even go to a library and write in longhand in a notebook.  The silence coupled with being surrounded by the works of so many fantastic authors throughout history sometimes breeds creativity in me.  This isn't often, but I'll sometimes even keep my eyes closed as I'm writing.  It sounds strange, but that's when I feel I'm most in tune with my subconscious and I feel that aids in the whole process.

In Imago Mortis, your short story collection, you go to one of my least favorite and creepiest places on the planet: the cellar. Did your nightmares inspire you to write the stories in the collection?
Strangely enough, rather than coming from some deep-seated desire to create it, the collection came from so many people telling me they wanted to read my stuff on paper, rather than in eBook form.  It seemed like a daunting task at first, which it was, but I'm happy I did it now.  As much as I hope people appreciate my odd little creations on their own, I think there's some benefit to absorbing them all together, as well.  Reading it now, in retrospect, I would have removed certain stories and arranged things a little differently, so that the whole thing flowed better and turned out a tad more cohesive, but...I'm still proud of it as a first effort.  I was surprised at the response to it, honestly.  There were things contained within its covers I thought people would have me run out of town for writing, but then I spoke to many individuals who said those were their favorites!  I'm pleased, though.  I'm pleased that my material can affect people the way that it does.  As you mentioned, I tend to go to some pretty dark places and it's always an honor when someone's willing to go along for the ride.
What do you have in process?  New releases?
After Imago and Somnambulism, I returned to writing eBooks.  Somewhere along the way, though, came All the Ills of the Flesh, which was basically Imago and the poetry collection together, with some new material thrown in, but in a hardcover package.  Of the three items I have published in physical form, I'm most proud of that (and I owe a lot of that to my fantastic editor, Amy Wells).  But, right now, in addition to several new eBooks, I'm also working on a brand new softcover collection which is a sort of Imago Mortis, Vol. II, if you will.  I'm hoping to have that done by the new year.  I'm extremely pleased with the way it's turning out and I think it's going to be superior to its predecessor in every shape and form.  Reading through it, I also noticed that I feel I've grown a lot as a writer, something which also pleases me.
What was your EUREKA! moment -- when you knew you were a writer?
I always wrote.  I wasn't aware that I was 'a writer,' however.  I think that moment came when I finally exposed others to my work and saw their reactions to it.  Because anyone can put a bunch of words down on paper and that can mean to them whatever they want it to, but...when people started seeing this stuff and conveying that it actually moved them, disturbed them, sickened them, or made them cry, that's when I knew.  It was literally one of those 'I was born to do this' moments.  So I guess it wasn't really one particular instance, but several which slowly built up over time.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Presented for Your Approval, ANTHOLOGY: YEAR ONE

(photo credit: Henry Snider)
Over the summer, between writing retreats, conferences, and adventures, I submitted two short stories to editor Mark Wholley, who was reading for an anthology open only to writers who had attended the Freshman experience of November 2011's Anthocon.  The anthology, appropriately titled Anthology: Year One, would be launched at this year's multi-genre celebration.

A Saturday night, months later, I paused the Hollywood blockbuster playing on our flat-screen in the living room (Snow White and the Huntsman, I believe) to refresh sodas.  I moseyed into my Writing Room to find an acceptance on one of the two stories, my short and creepy tale, "The Guests."  I was beyond thrilled and struggled to get through the rest of the movie.  I wanted to be in this project.  And I was.

The idea for "The Guests" came to me on a humid June afternoon, a Wednesday, in one of those thunderclaps of inspiration where a story takes shape, fully formed.  I saw, quite clearly, a woman X'ing off days on a calendar in red ink as she and her husband prepared for the arrival of holiday guests.  Only it turned out that though the motions seemed normal, an element of wrongness quickly grew apparent, for these guests were not your average in-laws or siblings.  I sat down a few hours before due to depart for my writer's group's weekly meeting, put pen to paper, and dashed off the first draft in one sitting.  I then read it to my fellow scribes, who dug it.  So did the luminous Mister Wholley, as he chose it to appear in a stellar Table of Contents in the conference's official literary companion.

Many of my fellow authors shared the back stories behind their contributions to the amazing read that is Anthology: Year One.

Marianne Halbert on "When Betsy Whispers": "As part of my day job, I travel to our local prisons from time to time. One snowy day, I left early in case the roads were bad. I arrived early, with time to kill. They were in the process of opening a new museum. There was a wall of shanks, and a letter written by a fourteen-year-old Charles Manson when he'd been at the boys' school. But what drew my attention was the chair. Ancient, yet elegant, untouchable due to the glass that separated us, she sat. Some states refer to their electric chairs as 'Old Sparky'. For some reason, in Indiana, she's 'Old Betsy'. She whispered to me, and planted the idea for my story, 'When Betsy Whispers'."

Stacey Longo on "Cliffhanger": "'Cliffhanger' came about when I was stuck at an employment law seminar all day, listening to two lawyers drone on about Connecticut's paid sick leave law. I was thinking about how nice it would be to push one or both of them into the Grand Canyon. So, while my boss thought I was diligently taking notes, I outlined the story that would become 'Cliffhanger.' And yes, the married couple in the story is named after those two tedious lawyers!"

Timothy P. Flynn on "A Day at the Bookstore": "
Back in 2007, I was in the process of ending a fifteen-year relationship with my wife (together for ten, married for five) because my alcoholism and depression were just out of control. I hit the rock bottom that many talk about but yet never seem to face. My life needed a change or I was going to die. I finally took the plunge into a detox center at Hampstead Hospital. All I knew up until that point was being drunk. I had always loved writing and books, but had no clue how to pursue it. So I became more depressed because I suppressed my passion for writing. I made one promise to myself once I go out and was sober: I would follow my passion and have a dream.

I tried a dating site to look for a possible relationship. My search focused on a woman who enjoyed Horror, books, and movies. Common interests were the most valuable commodity now as my soon to be ex-wife never read a damn book in her life. This is how I met Barbara. We talked online for a few weeks before finally meeting: our first in person date? At the Salem, New Hampshire Barnes and Noble, yes a bookstore! I don’t know about the rest of you, but after being with one woman for such a long time, the first time you meet a new love is very exciting. We talked about books, various authors, movies -- mostly Horror, her college choices, and life stuff. I had such a great time talking about things I cared about; with a coffee in my hand instead of a beer.

The funny story about the poem is that I have no written copy of it anywhere. A few days after meeting Barbara, I opened up my email, and proceeded to write this poem in the space. It was written in a fury, the images just shot from brain to hand, no editing. I hit send and waited to hear a response. A few hours later, she responded with nothing but admiration for what I created for her. I wrote it for her, solely for her and had no intention of anyone ever seeing the poem. I don’t even have the account anymore that I used to write that poem; hence the only copy of its existence was lost to cyber land.  Barbara was so moved by my writing of this poem that the next time I saw her; she presented me with a surprise. The gift was a beautiful framed copy of the poem. She printed it out, blew it up, designed some fancy fonts and border to it and gave it to me. It had to be the nicest thing anyone had done for me in a very long time. To this day, besides this poem being published in Anthology: Year One; the only existence this poem was even written at all resides on my desk in my office."

T. T. Zuma on "The Old Man": "'The Old Man' was inspired by Tom Piccirilli.  I had attempted a few times before to write a noir-influenced story and never had much luck at it.  Everything I wrote seemed to hinge on a cliché, or I wasn’t able to pull off that tough guy attitude in my main character that Tom is so damn good at. Then one day while driving to work, I came to the bridge located in the center of my hometown and I saw an old man fishing off it. My imagination kicked in and later that evening I started the first draft of 'The Old Man.'  Reading it the next day I thought it sucked.  The characters were stereotypes and the plot wasn’t very original.

Pic had told me once that when he wrote a story all he had in his head was maybe the first line or the first paragraph and once those were written, he would then let the story take over and see where it brought him.  I decided to try and do the same thing.  After using the same first paragraph, I rewrote the story letting my characters take me on their journey instead of the other way around.  I hadn’t the slightest idea that my private eye was really a mob enforcer on the run or that the antagonist wasn’t some tough-talking gorilla but a young, scared kid.  As a result of these changes came a new ending which not only took me totally by surprise, but I thought perfect.  When I had finished rewriting the story, it didn’t suck anymore.

Once finished and then vetted by my first readers I had another problem, who publishes noir short stories anymore?   I held onto it for over a year. When Anthology: Year One announced a call for submissions, I thought it the right anthology and I rushed to send it to the editor, Mark Wholley. Thankfully he accepted 'The Old Man' and I am proud that it found a home in this anthology."

K. Allen Wood on "She Cries": "The title 'She Cries' has been with me for a long time. Back in the early ‘90s, as a young teenager, I used it as the title to the following poem:

She came to me in the night.
Her body seemed to move, sinewy, with the mist,
swirling, gathering at my window.
She coursed through my mind, bristled close to my skin,
leaving sweet beads, hope-filled.

Then she was gone.

That night, awake, I spoke a dream aloud:
'There is reason we return from the bitter darkness.'

Ignoring the poetic merit presented above, which should be easy because I’m fairly confident there is none (I don’t even know what that poem is about anymore), that was the first time I used the title. Later, it became a song. More recent, I used it as the name of a music project. You can hear one of those songs, a cover of an old System of a Down demo. And most recent, it was the perfect title for a short story I’d written, so I used it yet again.

Those two words together --'she cries'-- have always resonated with me, for one reason or another. Specific to the short story, however, which now appears in Anthology: Year One, a fine collection of tales from authors who attended the very first Anthology conference in 2011, the idea came to me after a friend broke down one night while drinking. 'I just want you to hold me,' she’d said in part that night. 'I want to feel safe.' The words haunted me for a long time, because she’d peeled back the layers and had given me a glimpse of the dark things that pulled her strings. But she didn’t want to cut those strings; she just wanted to use me. 'She Cries' doesn’t touch upon that moment specifically, but it does explore her psyche a bit, in that it features a haunted woman who isn’t strong enough to let go of the darkness that controls her; and because of that, those unfortunate enough to truly care about her or try to help often find themselves heartbroken -- or worse. The metaphor probably isn’t as clear for the reader because I know the history of and the catalyst for the story, but I’m confident that knowledge isn’t necessary for one’s enjoyment of the tale."

Peter N. Dudar on "The Strange Medicines of Dr. Ling": "My grandfather was the general manager of the Washington County Fairgrounds in upstate New York for many years, and during those hot summer days when the carnival rolled into town my brother and I were allowed to spend the week in his trailer, right inside the fair.  A great portion of my childhood was spent soaking in carnival life -- riding the rides, playing along the midway, breathing in the myths and mysteries of the fair.  There's two faces to a carnival: the fun, vibrant, excitement of a bigger world suddenly appearing in your small town; and the cold, terrible reality of people and animals being exploited to make a quick buck.  You never needed to pay a ticket for the freak show.  You only needed to see those old-time carnies, the ones missing a hand or a leg from some carnival tragedy, to feel that same level of discomfort.

I wanted to write a story that captured these feelings from when I was a kid, the way Bradbury had with Something Wicked This Way Comes, or F. Paul Wilson had with his wonderful anthology Freak Show.  Only, as an adult, I wanted to capture a portion of something almost everyone could empathize with.  In this case, what would you be willing to trade off to be rid of something you could no longer tolerate living with...say, a bad headache?  With a little creative magic, I devised an old-fashion spirit wagon, operated by the strange and sinister Dr. Ling.  And once the bad doctor appeared, the story pretty much told itself.  Even now, long after the story was written, I can almost hear the sound of his flute playing in my head and it takes me right back to my own childhood."

Jennifer Allis Provost on "Stir the Bones": "My story was inspired by several real life events. On June 1, 2011, Western Massachusetts was hit by a tornado; luckily, my home wasn't damaged. But it got me thinking about what it would be like to be trapped in my basement, just me and my husband and the dog...

The supernatural events mentioned are all true, to a point. The woman we'd bought the house from did have eight different men living with her over the course of ten years, and she did raise the basement floor by two feet with concrete. The scissors really did fly across the kitchen to open a bag of pet food, though it was cat food, not dog. And, the kitchen cabinets really did take a flying leap off the walls.

Of course, everything mentioned didn't happen; we weren't trapped in the basement, for one. In reality, if we were trapped I wouldn't just be with my husband and dog, but twin toddlers, two cats, and a parrot as well. If everyone had made an appearance, this short story might well have become a novella. Also, other than my overactive imagination, there is no evidence of bodies under the basement floor. Then again, how would I detect them underneath all that concrete?"

John Grover on "Bog King": "I have to credit the inspiration to my story to my partner. He is a geographer and historian and in his day job he edits world history textbooks.  He sent me an article on the bog kings of the Celtic tribes. Back in those days when the tribe decided the king’s reign was up they would ritually murder him and put his body in the local bog to insure the return of spring after the winter and to be the guide of the moon goddess since the king represented the sun on earth.

The article detailed how archeologists or scientists had exhumed the bodies of Celtic kings from the bog and had discovered the bog had preserved the bodies so well they were able to tell what their last meal was, what oils they’d had in their hair, how old they were, how they were killed and many other things. After reading this, of course, my writer’s imagination took off and I instantly began thinking of 'what if' scenarios and the story was born. I imagined a young king figuring out what his fate was about to be and getting the jump on his own blood-thirsty tribe, but the tale did not end there. I crafted a tale where the king flees into the very bog that was to be his final resting place and the tribe that will not rest until he gives the ultimate sacrifice for them -- his life. They will go to unthinkable lengths to make sure spring returns the following year."

Roxanne Dent on "The Legacy": "I was thrilled to learn my short story about greed and murder with a twist in Victorian times sold to Anthology: Year One.   Knowing my story was accepted into their first print anthology was exciting.  I got to read a section of it at the November conference, which was wonderful with fabulous speakers, the Goth singer Voltaire, and numerous panels and talks.  This year I kept winning books in a raffle and [my sister] Karen won a fabulous painting.  I love Anthocon and the people behind the conference and the book, which I’m sure, will be the first of many."

Scott Christian Carr on "The Jesus Bomb": "I didn’t want to kill Jesus again. I’d already done this once (God forgive me) in Hiram Grange and the Twelve Little Hitlers -- murdered the manic, pizza-munching, razor-clawed conspiracy theorist Ypsilanti Christ (who was hanging out and blogging with Little Hitler #8, until Mr. Grange put a quick and bloody end to them both).
I didn’t want to kill Jesus… again. But even after 12 Lil’ Hitlers had gone to print, I couldn’t shake the idea of another skewed Christ -- couldn’t get Him out of my mind: Googly-eyed, staggering and swaying, all Hippied-out in Birkenstocks and bathrobe, lobotomized and brainwashed, wearing a T-shirt bearing the immortal scripture, I’m With Stupid (complete with an arrow pointing up to the Heavens).  Oh, and a nuclear bomb strapped to His chest.

A character too good to throw away, and too insanely sacrilegious to use almost anywhere else -- it is a true testament to the strength of the series, that Hiram Grange’s universe was the best (if not the only) place that this tragically flawed miracle-bungler could find a home. And so, diving back into Mr. Grange’s world, it not only made sense, but seemed somehow apropos, that there was room enough (God forgive me, again) for more than a few Christ killings.

And just like that, the short story, The Jesus Bomb was birthed.

For any who are interested, I am currently at work on my third Hiram Grange novel (the second, Hiram Grange and The Twelve Steps will hopefully be out in 2013): Hiram Grange and the Twelve Apostles. God forgive me (can I get an Amen?), but as of this writing, I have no plans to murder Christ a third time…"

Andrew Wolter on "The Green Hour": "I've always been intrigued by the stories surrounding the consumption of absinthe. Was there truly a 'green fairy' and did those who partake of the jade-colored liquor hallucinate as if on some bad acid trip? Were such claims mere drunken ramblings or the subject of old wives tales? A year before 'The Green Hour' was published, I attended the very first AnthoCon convention in which Ted Breaux (a renowned expert on the subject) offered a workshop on the preparation and history of absinthe. Immediately after attending Breaux’s informative class, I was instantly inspired to write an absinthe-related tale and already had the title in mind. While I wanted to incorporate the history revolving the liquor, I longed to explore a modernized myth as well. What really occurred in those moments when this mysterious alcohol impaired all judgment? As my goal in writing this tale was for readers to truly experience my main character’s absinthe-induced state, the entire content of 'The Green Hour' was written during several sessions in which I was heavily under the influence of absinthe." 

Kevin Lucia on "Lament at Sundown": "'Lament at Sundown' began, ironically enough, with a good-natured, running gag in one of my high school classes. Several of my honors students had this running joke with one of their mates -- a student of an Arabic/Middle-Eastern background (but fully, whole-heartedly American) -- that she was Native American. This led to random references to hunting buffalo, scalping, pow-wows, and fire-water, whenever the time seemed right: in the middle of conversations, tests, class discussion...pretty much whenever. It became our class's version of the time-honored 'That's what she said' joke.

Now, I know what you're thinking -- how could I allow such cultural insensitivity in the classroom? But, I knew these students well -- had known this one student's family for over ten years -- and it was clear that everything was offered in good fun (and I checked with said student, several times). Sure enough, for Halloween, the student in question came into class dressed in full-tilt Native American garb -- headdress and tomahawk and all -- and proceeded to 'scalp' several of her fellow students for their insolence. 

This, ironically enough, on a slow day, led to a discussion about my writing process. They asked how I came up with new stories, and I told them I tried to draw as much inspiration from life as possible. I then referenced their running gag and said: 'Here's the thing: you guys have all been really kind and laid-back about this, it's obviously a joke between old friends. But what if it WASN'T? What if there was meanness and violence behind it, and what if...what if...the victim, a female, decided she wasn't going to take it anymore? Was going to take matters into her own hands?' 
And thus, this story -- in its earliest form -- was conceived with the help of these ten students. This story deals with other things, also. The helplessness I sometimes feel as a teacher, in trying to touch students' lives...and failing, so often. Also, it's a hard look at how fear and prejudice and even racism start as very small, innocuous seeds, sprout, grow into something dark and deadly...often claiming those most innocent."

Tracy L. Carbone on "The Imaginary Solution": "I wrote 'The Imaginary Solution' several years ago to purge some bad feelings about a painful childhood similar to the one the main character experienced. There were embellishments of course and exagerrations, but the Bialows were real. Their elderly poodles, the constant scent of cleaning solution in the house, and 'The Doctor' always in the other room coughing. As a child, this couple disturbed me. They were the oldest people I had ever seen, so aged that I wondered how they could be alive. The smell of Pine Sol and Mrs. Bialow's hands have stuck with me, just waiting for a spot in the story. 

Until the call for submissions for Anthology was announced, I'd never tried to send this story anywhere, unwilling to expose myself or my life, even if it was cloaked in fantasy. But this seemed the perfect venue for it so I decided to send it along. I am glad it found a home."

David Bernard on "Appledore": "As any Yankee already knows, Appledore is the name of one of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine (although Appledore's neighboring island, Smuttynose, is more fun to say). Of all of the ghost stories along the New England coast, and there is no shortage of them, the one tale that always intrigued me was the ghost of Blackbeard’s bride who walks Appledore, guarding hidden pirate treasure. The deceased Mrs. Blackbeard’s story has not grown over the decades like other stories where details become attached to the story with later retellings. I remedied to fix that oversight.

Here’s a confession, I like writing fiction, but not nearly as much as I enjoy my nonfiction projects. I like researching odd topics and my fiction writing tends to rely on real names, dates and places to guide the story. With that in mind, 'Appledore' relies on historical details from Haverhill, Newburyport and the Isles of Shoals to move the story along, much in the same way local poet and folklorist John Greenleaf Whittier used Hampstead folk figures like Goody Cole to tell his tales. This is not to say I’m in the same league as Whittier, even if I look just as spiffy in a beard as he does."

Trevor Schubert on his internal artwork: "For the image 'Seaweed Inferno" -- this whole thing started (like more than a few images do) drawing with my children. In particular, I remember it was Spaceman/aka astronauts with my six-year-old daughter. I’ve always been fascinated with the similarities between the ocean and space, so much is constantly changing, moving and evolving, so much undiscovered. It might be initially considered a dark or morbid scene, however my intent was to consider the fact that the unfortunate explorer in this scene now has an eternity to watch his surroundings play out. The 'evolution' of space to sea in this drawing was an easy one; convincing my daughter this was acceptable however, that was a different story 

Regarding 'Evil Pumpkin' -- as a child of the 80's, growing up with every possible ghoulish and monstrous movie you could imagine, not that super-duper digital stuff,  the classics born from latex, paint, and maybe a little silicone, however I’m quite sure it was mixed up in a bowl, not a valley. This might sound a little hypocritical of me considering I have in fact been a digital artist for the past decade, however the majority of my images start from a old fashioned paper and pen and are occasionally pulled from a deep-seeded foundation of 'jump out and scare you' horror creatures, thanks to a trusty VCR with a remote that was most likely only an optional feature on our family’s model. Or lost years ago. I just remember that when one of those monsters popped up you had two options: either get up and run out of the room, or shut your eyes and hope for the best, because we all know that physically walking towards the thing to shut it off was never going to happen. I became a pretty good sprinter, my imagination's just gotten better at chasing me."