Friday, July 25, 2014

Behold -- ACTIVE DUTY!

My short stories have been appearing in anthologies by editor Neil S. Plakcy for almost a decade now.  Neil constantly comes up with fantastic themes and subjects for his releases for the fine folks at Cleis Press -- surfers, blue collar handymen, and the military among them. His books are thoughtful and literary as well as hot reads, and I'm always inspired when one of his fresh calls for submissions goes out. So was the case when the policy preventing gays from openly serving in the United States Military, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, was repealed and, in early 2013, Neil put forth a call for stories where love between military servicemen was not only no longer forbidden, but celebrated.  I was thrilled and had the perfect story idea floating around unwritten called "Candy Man", and quickly set about penning a first draft.

The idea came to me years before, during the early days of the Iraq War.  A news report about a soldier trying to win hearts by giving out candy to the families he met on the streets of Baghdad while on patrol had imprinted upon my psyche.  It was one of those rare feel-good stories during a very dark time -- you couldn't help but fall in love with the man, and I did.  So I dashed the story's first draft off in short time, about a similar soldier who also wins another's heart through his good actions, and readied to edit it on my laptop.  Only during that same time, I and my small family bought a house.  As we lined up ducks and set about for a monumental move from our apartment to our new home, the folder containing my first draft accidentally got packed up into a box and stacked in a corner of my soon-to-be-former Writing Room, lost until the move was complete.  The deadline passed. We moved in.  My new Writing Room emerged from the mountain range of boxes, and the folder for "Candy Man" went into the file cabinet. I figured I'd be able to place it when another appropriate call for manuscripts presented itself. And then in early June, Neil emailed me -- he needed one more story to round out Active Duty, and did I have anything already written that fit the theme?  Did I ever!

Several of my Active Duty co-contributors were kind enough to share the back-stories behind their wonderful stories.

Neil S. Plakcy on "Marine Guard": "As soon as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, I began to read all kinds of personal stories online -- from soldiers coming out to families to sailors marching in pride parades. I realized, in a way I hadn’t before, how this decision affected so many people on a very individual level. That’s when I decided that I wanted to put together an anthology for Cleis, exploring what it would be like for military members to be open about their sexuality. I know what it’s like to long for someone, and I used that experience in writing my story ‘Marine Guard', which is included in the anthology under my nom-de-porn, Dirk Strong. I wanted a location where a military member and a civilian would come in regular contact, and in my research I discovered that Marines guard our embassies around the world. When Adam Burr, the narrator of the story, shows up for work at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, his first encounter is with Lucas Roemer, the Marine at the gate, and right away there’s sexual tension between them. But they can’t act on that because of DADT. It was a fun story to write, and I hope to read."

Logan Zachary on "Ready Reserve": "My dad was a Marine, and he had saved his pup tent and camping stuff.  In the summer, I loved setting up the tent in the backyard and playing in it, no matter how hot and humid it was.  I’d even sleep in the backyard with my dog, or my best friend.  Dad had two heavy sleeping bags that would zipper together and make one big one and that was perfect to use.  Most nights it was so hot, I’d sleep on top of it, but some nights it would cool off and I’d crawl inside.  Sleeping in my underwear was another rare treat, and I didn’t understand the excitement I got from seeing my friend in his briefs.  Those cold mornings when I awoke, snuggled next to him were magic. As we grew up, the sleepovers became fewer and fewer, and he found beer and girls. I stayed home with my books and my studies.  But now I know why I enjoyed that so much.  That memory inspired me to write ‘Ready Reserve’."

Michael Bracken on "Soaring": "My contribution to Active Duty is the story of an Air Force captain near the end of his career who turns his back on the love of his life rather than risk losing his military pension. Then the repeal of DADT turns his life upside down, and the story begins and ends on the most important day of his life."

Emily Moreton on "So, Then": "‘So, Then’ is actually a sequel to another story, published in the Sexy Sailors anthology (‘Home Is The Sailor’). So, picks up where ‘Home Is The Sailor’ left off, pretty much, and it mostly takes place during a Pride festival, because I love gay pride, even though my city celebrates the same weekend as my sister's birthday, so I never make it these days. In the story, Mike and Danny are old friends who hook up whenever Mike, a navy officer, is in town. This visit, Mike brings his shipmate Freddie along, for more than just a trip to the parade. Sadly, hot women never invite me into their beds at pride (more's the pity, though I'm not a naval officer, so maybe that's why!) -- but I did once get a kiss from a stranger when I was marshalling a parade, so maybe there's still hope for me."

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Radio Nights

For the eighth time in my career, I recently took to the airwaves, this time as the special guest on the fantastic Ghostman and Demon Hunter show. Ghostman and Demon Hunter broadcast across a platform that includes 102.7 FM (live) and various venues after the fact.  I went on at just after 8 p.m. EST on Sunday, July 13, a night renown for some fairly bad weather between New York City and New Hampshire.

Ghostman and Demon Hunter (aka the brilliant Shaun Burris and Nathan Drake Schoonover) welcomed me on board to talk about the writing life and my latest literary adventures on a night that grew so humid, it was like walking through neck-deep water.  By afternoon, the sky had darkened to the consistency of dusk, and an apocalyptic rain hammered our fair mountain town.  By eight, I'd closed the windows and turned off the ceiling fan in my Writing Room, so as not to create any noisy feedback when the hosts dialed me in (as stated, I'm old hat at this whole radio coolness!).  Sans fan, the temperature in my home office skyrocketed, and sweat poured. Unseen, mercifully, to listeners, I looked like a refugee from a sauna!

At the other end of the line, massive thunderheads did their best to unleash havoc on the hosts, who put on an impressive weekly broadcast -- my predecessor the previous Sunday was none other than Svengoolie, whose monster movie fest on MeTV is beloved and required Saturday night viewing in our home. With lightning bolts attempting to deafen and frazzle, we discussed the skill of pitching ideas to TV, my work on Star Trek: Voyager, my books like the forthcoming Bugs!The Q Guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse, among others.

(at 94.7 FM's studios in January 2013)
We talked the new feature film I wrote, Brutal Colors (presently in post-production), and my love of creature features -- those wonderful classic monster movies I grew up on, and still often play in the background when I write. And robots, another beloved theme getting plenty of play in my career these past few months. Then, which is always the case when I've taken to the airwaves, I blinked and it was over, the thirty minutes passing with the speed of what felt like seconds. Ghostman and Demon Hunter were gracious hosts and thanked me for my time, promising we'd do it all again somewhere down the road.

When I was a teenager and had freshly discovered this whole writing thing, I listened to the radio at night on a boxy cube console with a record player on top located at the side of my bed. While waiting for my favorite songs to come on, I also looked forward to hearing my favorite radio hosts, who fed my imagination and helped me dream some of the biggest story lines of my life as a result of those nightly soundtracks.  So being on the radio -- three times in 2013 on the stellar 94.7 show hosted by Rob Azevedo, Granite State of Mind, once so far in '14 -- is always a treat, and a reminder of my humble beginnings.  I can't wait for Number Nine!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


I've been writing full-time since 1996. Throughout, I've done long stints as feature writer and columnist (fifteen years writing sports/adventure and celebrity articles for the late, great Heartland USA Magazine, among others), notched TV writing gigs, and I've sold novels, short story collections, novellas, and a plethora of short stories, both here and abroad.  After waking up each morning, I quickly mosey to the coffee pot, then vanish into my Writing Room, where I court the Muse.  I live a literary lifestyle that isn't second nature so much as first. Involuntary, like breathing.  I'm prolific. But while deep in a couple of projects that include a new contracted feature film screenplay and a collection of novellas all centered around robots, I started feeling the fatigue that sometimes dogs me. I needed to catch my breath.

So I woke on a humid June Monday and decided that instead of 'working', I needed to play a little. The previous Sunday, I'd read an enjoyable article on Free Writing, the act of putting pen to page or fingers to keyboard and giving yourself permission to just compose, knowing the results are usually fairly bad and unusable.  The goal is to write without worrying about grammar or making corrections, to get out all the sludge that's in the writer's head so he can move on to the work that matters.  It's a time-honored tradition lauded by such notables as Natalie Goldberg and, after a fashion, Julia Cameron, who extols the writing of 'morning pages'.  The article I'd read suggested a few different approaches to Free Writing, like making word lists and jotting down disparate story prompts, and creating a story from the puzzle pieces.

What I decided to do instead was point my finger at my list of as-yet-unwritten story ideas -- which a few new concepts had been added to, not really fully-formed ideas, not yet -- and dive in, no pressure, no expectations. Within the first two hours, I'd written an entire draft for "Crucifix", based upon one of those concepts without an actual story that had dogged me for months.  After a short break and a walk around our yard, I again put pen to blank page and wrote, in one sitting, "Skylight", another of those concepts, based upon the big skylights in the elegant conference room where my Tuesday Night Writers' group meets.  From the first gathering, I'd wanted to pen a story about the skylight directly over where I sit, and I knew I wanted it to end with the main character gazing up, aware something up there was staring down.  The next day, a Tuesday, I started work on a third quietly creepy concept, and soon had nearly 3,000 words of "Vera's New Teeth".  On Wednesday, the first draft was done.  After that, my science fiction parable "Third World" followed.  A Western, "The Cowboy and the Dandy", was completed by Sunday.  Over the course of six days in June, I penned five short stories, totaling some 11,000 words.  One of the stories has already sold. The others were read aloud to group in their raw drafts, and garnered plenty of positive feedback and love.  They'll all eventually make their way onto the computer for submission as markets appear and time permits. I'm beyond pleased with the results.

So don't be afraid to give Free Writing a try.  Above all else, my week of Free Writing was fun -- a reminder that sometimes writers need to clock out from a set schedule and just play.