Monday, September 29, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

One of my favorite emerging writers, Laura J. Bear, asked me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour.  Laura authored the novel Where the Heart Lands, a must-read about family, love, and a magical old house of secrets nestled in the remote heartland, forthcoming from publisher Unsolicited Press.  I first had the joy of meeting Laura and hearing her read from her debut novel during my sophomore stay at When Words Count, a writers' retreat center in Vermont.  Laura's work is powerful, attaining that perfect balance of witty and heartbreaking.  Deep into her second novel and a handful of new short stories, she is definitely a literary voice to be on the lookout for!

Now, on to the tour.

What are you working on?
As of this morning, there are 142 as-yet-unwritten stories short and long screaming at me to finish them from within the metal confines of the recipe box that is my idea catalog.  Closer at hand, I am presently putting the finishing touches on a collection of three novellas, what I hope are literary modern fables each dealing with the subject matter of robots and humanity.  Tales From the Robot Graveyard is forthcoming from the fine folks at Great Old Ones Publishing.  I am also, in addition to various short stories, gearing up to work on a new novel called Different.  It's a paranormal YA and I'm challenging myself to write a first draft during November for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Even closer at hand, I depart on this coming Thursday for a four-day writing retreat to Maine with friends and members of my Southern New Hampshire writers' group.  There, I plan to complete a futuristic romance novella called "Narcissus", and wrap two short story drafts -- "Saturday Morning Cartoons" and "American Grotesque".

How does your work differ from others' work in the same genre?
I have my own voice, my own way of approach to telling the story.  We host three writers' group parties a year in our home -- May, September, and December, the Christmas party.  We've done this for years. And there is always a theme for the reading portion, which follows after we've stuffed ourselves into comas as a result of the buffet.  Past themes have included such nifty gems as "Coffee", "Down the Up Staircase", and, recently as homage to my new book, "Robots".  You can take any of those themes, which are only basic starting points, put a dozen writers in the room (or two, as was the case for our massive May 2014 salon), and none of the stories are going to be anything like the others.  For our upcoming Christmas 2014 party, everybody selected a different prompt.  I got "You're digging in the garden when you find..."  I'm thrilled.  I have no idea what I'm going to write for the party, but it will be mine when I unleash it upon the party guests.

Why do you write what you do?
I guess, because it's there.  No wait, that's climbing mountains...though some story projects feel like scaling Everest!  I write what I love to write, and don't allow myself to be pigeonholed by the business side of writing.  This past summer, I wrote westerns, horror, mainstream stories, gothics, and a detective story.  As in evidence in the 142 ideas on note cards that howl -- oh, how they howl at me! -- I'm a bad judge at separating the good ideas from the weak until the story is completed.  To me, they're all my babies, all part of the litter, and I can't love one more than another or discard it from my protection.  An idea pounced upon me in early August -- what if you woke up and the man who claimed to be your husband was a stranger?  That story ("The Husbands") charmed me from the moment I put pen to blank page, and wrote its 5,000-word first draft in two days.  When I was a teenager and just starting out, I read an interview with a famous and beloved Science Fiction author, who stated that he easily had three times the number of his 300-plus published short stories 'moldering' away unfinished elsewhere in his office.  I found the notion of all those half-birthed babies really sad, and vowed on the spot to finish everything I start.  Not that all of those ideas are gold; in fact, my filing cabinets are filled with plenty of completed manuscripts that will never go out for consideration into the world.  But writing even the lowliest of my creations to THE END has taught me valuable lessons. And I love, really love, the process.  All of it.  From creation to execution.

How does your writing process work?
I have a fairly comfortable process (for me) -- I wake up, make my coffee (usually iced), and settle into my Writing Room with set priorities in mind.  I have a wonderful, big room in the downstairs of Xanadu, our old house on the hill in New Hampshire's North Country -- and, after checking morning emails, I pick up my pen and write.  I try to put down 2,500 fresh words per day, with anything above that count bonus.  Sometimes what I'm working on is assigned by editors I've written for previously who ask me to write specifically for their latest projects.  Other times, I'm creating new work to hopefully match up to calls for submissions I've read about and would like to be part of.  I compose all of my first drafts longhand and then edit onto the laptop.  The only exception is when I write in screenplay format -- I wrote two feature film scripts in 2014, for the movies Brutal Colors (presently being color corrected in Los Angeles) and the forthcoming The Devil of Lakeford County, planned to go before the cameras in winter of 2015.  And over this past summer, much of my editing was done on the wonky, wonderful old sofa left behind by previous tenants of the house on our sun porch.  The sun porch became a second, al fresco writing space during a summer that was too brief.  The last part of my process is supremely important, at least for me, which is to remind myself why I write. Often, I envision the fifteen-year-old version of me who knew nothing, had nothing, but then found everything when he first experienced that Eureka! moment, and knew he wanted to be a writer, only a writer, with all of his heart.  From time to time, when I hold a contributor's copy in hand or I've just had an exchange with a celebrity -- one of those blazing superstars from my youth -- I try to honor that young me by taking the time to feel humbled and happy.  Writing still is and has been for most of my life the heart within my heart.

Thank you for reading about my process.  I now pass the blog tour baton to the Sisters Dent, my luminous friends and colleagues Roxanne and Karen.  Karen, I always note, appeared during the golden age of soap operas on my late, beloved One Life to Live, among others, as an actress.  She's since parlayed her talents to the writing life, and her engaging short fiction can be found in numerous venues, including Canopic Jars: Tales of Mummies and Mummification.  Roxanne's newest novel, the brilliant The Janus Demon, has just been released by Great Old Ones Publishing.

Friday, September 12, 2014

"Princess and the Bee" published in LOVECRAFT eZINE

On a brisk October day in 2012, I found myself racing around our then-apartment.  My bags were packed and I was due to head north to Vermont, to a weekend stay I'd won at When Words Count Writers' Retreat.  The retreat wasn't the reason for the madness -- an editor had requested a short story from me mashing up Lovecraftian lore and classic fairy tales.  Earlier in the summer, I'd dreamed up such an odd hybrid, mixing "The Princess and the Pea" into the dark, terrifying abyss that Howard Philip Lovecraft so often gazed into (and, it can be believed, found himself being gazed back from).  The story sat mostly composed in longhand draft on my desk and was also put up to a point on my laptop.  Said editor needed the story that day, retreat or not.

We jumped in the car and drove steadily north, stopping in the town of Lebanon, New Hampshire for lunch and to restock engine coolant.  By then, my longhand draft was completed in the car.  After a harrowing circle around a steep Vermont mountain (not the first time online directions have attempted to kill us in our car), I landed at the retreat center, edited the rest of my draft on my laptop up in my room, and hit 'send.'  After two rewrites, the editor ultimately rejected the story.  It sat in my inventory while I bought a house, moved, and worked on numerous other deadlines, and then went out again to the fine folks at Lovecraft eZine, who sent along a fantastic acceptance.  "Princess and the Bee" has just been published in Issue #32, and can be read here.  My short story about a young girl forced to battle bullies and worse within the unsympathetic walls of Arkham Orphanage as the world spirals toward its end shares space with several other notable authors (including the inimitable W. H. Pugmire), and has since garnered impressive reader feedback.

I look fondly back on that frenetic October Sunday, and an adventure built around the completion and editing of a story that was a good deal of fun to write.  And I'm beyond thrilled to have seen the story published in such a fantastic -- and humbling -- venue.  It's a credit I'm proud to claim as my own, with a weird little story about a heroic girl that has boosted my readership.

The story's appearance has also sent me back to those wonderful old dog-eared paperbacks to enjoy Lovecraft's work, at the perfect time of the year.  And I've already penned a new submission, which I'll be sending to the editing team at Lovecraft eZine to consider.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Autumn 2014 Writers' Retreat to the Waterfall House

(First morning, on the deck beside Crystal Falls)
In 2012, I traveled far and wide to conferences, readings, and retreats -- one of the latter set at the grand hotel on Star Island in the Isles of Shoals among that year's adventures.  Since buying our house in 2013, my retreats have been fewer and closer to home. Last spring, the members of my fantastic writers' group posed the notion of doing a weekend getaway to a house in nearby Stark, New Hampshire -- to a destination we've since come to refer to as the Waterfall House. As the name suggests, the house sits braced right up against Crystal Falls, a lovely local landmark.  The deck and one of the bedrooms gaze over the cascade, whose roar was ever present in the background. Four of us arrived early Thursday afternoon before the official start of the retreat, got eating, and then quickly got writing.

With the help of good pal, the talented Judi Calhoun, we shopped for eleven attendees (one of our literary colleagues was forced to cancel travel plans at the 11th hour).  We hit two of the three local grocery stores, and picked up a sheet cake at one made for the occasion.  En route to the house on a gorgeous, sunny day, we stopped at the famed local butcher for an enormous prime rib, bone in. From there, we landed at the Waterfall House, I kicked off my sneakers, and dove in.

After our easy meal of pizza and White Castle burgers, I sat in one of the house's two rockers

and lost myself in "Sound Effects", a short story I had started but never completed.  The rest of the story wrote itself over the next two hours, my pen gliding over the page, my hands cramping as a result of its speed.  I was beyond thrilled with the results, and went to bed in my room overlooking the falls excited to see what the next morning would bring.

At 5:30, before the sun had yet to rise, I woke and grabbed notes for one of my oldest unwritten stories, my robo-centric "The Long Frost" novella.  Serenaded by the constant rush of the falls, I put down the first ten pages before 7, showered, and sipped coffee while French toast and fruit were served up. By noon, I had started work on the most experimental of my retreat goals -- the screenplay for my short film script, "Voice Over".  I got down the first eight pages on my laptop before moseying back out into the kitchen, where I made homemade meatballs for that night's anticipated pasta dinner. In ones and twos, the rest of our group members arrived to claim rooms.  A luscious fruit salad crafted from fresh watermelon, cantaloupe, red and green grapes, local apples, and strawberries was made, fresh bread was buttered, and angel hair pasta and the aforementioned meatballs were served for a casual welcome meal.  I finished my movie script (at 17 pages/minutes), and we held the first of two group readings, in which I shared the opening of "The Long Frost".  I went to bed reading an ancient H.P. Lovecraft paperback in readiness for the following morning's project.

(In my room beside the falls)
That project was a long-ish story paying homage to Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls".  Judi had graciously provided us with story prompts to get the creative ink flowing -- and flow it did for all of us.  One prompt about planting seeds and the results inspired me to get going on "The Rats in the Bulkheads", my version set in deep space.  My pen, sensing the fatigue from my previous two days of nonstop writing, went at a slower than expected pace, but by lunch, I had the first 2,000 words.  I put our monstrous prime rib into the oven to slow roast for the rest of the afternoon, and boosted my story another thousand by the time it came out to rest.  I mashed potatoes, a second option (slow-roasted boneless pork roast with homemade apple sauce) joined the first, and a magnificent salad -- which I devoured with tangy bacon salad dressing -- completed the meal.  We ate, and then I returned to my room beside the falls, where I dashed off the remaining pages.  I shared the opening to "Rats" during that evening's reading, which ran late into the night.

I slept like granite, and woke on the final morning aware that my creative batteries had drained down to the barest sparks. I packed, enjoyed the homemade blueberry and caramel cakes made for our last retreat breakfast, and the flurry of departure began.  Once home, after enjoying time with husband and cats, I edited the movie script and printed up a hard copy, and unpacked all of my bags. The final tally: nearly 12,000 words between four projects (three of which were written to completion). A wonderful retreat with fantastic colleagues.  Now, it's time to put all I experienced at the Waterfall House into the next of my literary adventures!