Sunday, September 20, 2015

September 2015 Writers' Group Party at Xanadu

For ten years now, between our first house, our celebrated former apartment, and our new house, Xanadu, we've hosted an annual September party for friends and members of my writers' group. This year's event, in addition to marking a decade of great memories (and, often, some great writing prompts for the reading portion of the fun, which have resulted in numerous story sales), was particularly special: it signaled the end of the mortgage on our sweet old home, which has become quite the literary destination in New Hampshire's North Country. In addition to the usual fun (read: spectacular food and first-rate readings), I planned to do a ceremonial burning of the mortgage papers (photocopies, of course), and to share our once-in-a-lifetime fortune with our friends.

The brilliant writer Grace Paley once quipped that in order to be a writer, "keep a low overhead". I never forgot that spark of genius and have, for twenty-five years, done just that, striving to live a happy life, within my means and the means of a working writer. After a wonderful writing retreat with friends from my Southern New Hampshire writers' group in October of 2012 to the northern part of the state, I found this house.  When the price dropped 10 K overnight, we held a family meeting -- if we loved the house, we'd make an offer, relocate 150 miles from one front door to another, and begin a new life, with a low overhead.  Thirty months after closing, we made the final payment. The house became ours. A house that writing built. Thanks, Grace, for the inspiration and impetus!

Back at the May party, I handed out fortune cookies from our local buffet to all guests -- the reading prompt for September's gathering. Writers were urged to use the fortunes inside to craft their stories, poems, and novel chapters. I cracked open my fortune cookie and, wonder of wonders, the fortune read: "You will be recognized and honored as a community leader". The back, prompting me to learn Chinese, read: kan bing (phonetic) -- "to see a doctor."  In May, I had just begun penning my Space:1999 fan fiction novel, Metamorphosis and figured I'd found the impetus to speed along -- 'leader' translating perfectly into 'commander', aka John Koenig, Commander of Moonbase Alpha, with a liberal dose of Doctor Helena Russell mixed in. I worked on the novel in the background throughout the course of the summer while writing to other deadlines, and read Chapter 11 when my turn in the rotation arose.

Eighteen guests arrived on a gloomy, rainy Sunday, September the 13th (coincidentally, a significant day in the Space:1999 universe -- the date Earth's moon is blasted out of orbit, kicking off the lunar odyssey for the 311 courageous men and women of Moonbase Alpha). It had poured the previous Saturday night. The house sparkled, and my office was immaculate following my end-of-summer cleaning/organizing/filing marathon.  My backup plan for the ceremonial mortgage burning was to hold it on our sun porch. But the sun broke through right when we planned to light the matches, and sunlight rained down. We held the burning on our front lawn, with its million-dollar view of the Androscoggin River and surrounding mountains (a friend videoed the ceremony, which included a reading of Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan by our group's famous poet, Esther M. Lieper-Estabrooks, but the video got corrupted). Despite a stiff breeze, the matches lit, and the mortgage papers went up in smoke.

The readings were, as always, spectacular -- I love the idea of fortune cookies as source material for inspiration and writing prompts! The food, equally stunning. Among the buffet offerings, which stretched around the kitchen as is always the case, were: baby meatballs, chicken and dumplings, homemade potato salad, veggie platters and dip, baked crab dip and crackers, a luscious Jello salad, homemade soup, chips, cole slaw, pumpkin tarts, donuts, cherry pie, soda/coffee/tea, candies, and the luscious cake made for the occasion by Cote's Cakes and Cupcake Bar, one of the best cakes I've ever tasted. We'll definitely be using them again -- our annual Christmas party, theme as yet undetermined, to be held on December the 12th, in the not-too-distant future.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Growing up as an imaginative boy in then-rural Windham, New Hampshire, my youth was haunted by grainy photographic images of the Loch Ness Monster and the famous Patterson-Gimlin film, reportedly capturing a female Sasquatch in motion. I've often emoted that a love for creature double-features and the classic SF TV shows of the time inspired me to become a writer, but Nessie and other lore like Greek mythology are to be thanked -- or blamed -- as well.  From the beginning, I've been lured toward the fringes of the modern world, captivated by the one only able to be glimpsed from the corner of the eye.

On a balmy summer weekend in 2014, my good friend Douglas, one of the mission controllers in charge at Great Old Ones Publishing, drove up to our home for a weekend of writing, reading, and dining. During that time, I mentioned that I thought I knew the subject for his company's next big anthology project: Cryptids -- those life forms real or only dreamed up that inhabit the shadowy outer limits of our modern, clinical world. The project was saluted and made manifest in the gorgeous, beastly form of From the Corner of Your Eye: A Cryptids Anthology, and I put pen to paper to write my first draft of a submission based upon Iceland's celebrated giant ice worm, Lagarflj√≥tsormur. I'd been fascinated with this particular cryptid after video surfaced in 2012, possibly confirming the creature's existence. I dashed off my story, edited it, and submitted. "Visibility" was accepted, and appears alongside a fantastic carnival of tales selected and edited by the stellar David F. Kramer. Many of my co-authors shared the back-stories behind their excellent stories.

Pedro Iniguez on "The Night Has Teeth": "Ferocious, cold, unforgiving, dangerous: these aren’t just words that describe the dreaded Akhlut; these are words that describe Barrow, Alaska. In my story, an ancient wolf creature the Inuit people called the Akhlut, terrorizes the unfortunate jailed occupants of a Barrow correctional facility. Claustrophobic much? Barrow, Alaska, the northern-most city in the United States, is a secluded, freezing, and unforgiving place just as dangerous as any creature that could have been imagined. It’s reachable only by airplane. There’s nowhere to hide, nowhere to run. That’s the kind of confining, suffocating setting I wanted to place this story; a place where the land is as likely to kill you as its deadly creatures of myth and superstition. Toss those elements in with incarceration and you get our protagonist who finds himself in a very unfavorable position. As the story says, it’s like being stuck in ‘a prison within a prison.’"

Sam Knight on "Running From Thunder": "Growing up, I watched any and everything I could about cryptids. It was rare to see much other than the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, and when there was something else it was often so hokey even a little kid like me knew it was bunk. But one story stuck out. In the 1970s a boy who claimed (and supposedly had witnesses and injuries to support the claim) to have been picked up by a giant bird and carried until he fought his way free. When I heard about the incident, I was about the same age as the boy and shocked at the thought of being carried off by a bird! An attack from above truly was indefensible. And the idea, when compared to things like lizard men and aliens, seemed plausible. Then I found out the American Indians had legends about them, calling them Thunder Birds. If a cryptid could be real, it was this one! To this day, I find myself watching the sky. When the opportunity to write about a cryptid came up, there was only one choice for me! In fact, I recently did it again."

Jon Carroll Thomas on "Follow the Mothman": "My family is rooted in West Virginia, not far from where the Mothman was originally sighted. I have long been aware of the creature even if I was not entirely familiar with the legend. Then I read John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies. It was an odd book and raised more questions for me than it answered. But it did get my imagination going. The main character of my story evolved from Keel’s descriptions of Indrid Cold, a cryptid in his own rite and arguably the basis for the ‘Men In Black.’ I began to imagine the Mothman from his perspective and a quirky and dark mystery took shape. Around the same time, I also began reading the ‘Silver John’ stories of Manly Wade Wellman and I think a little of that came through as well. Though there is no firm resolution to my story, I like thinking that my character is still out there and having strange adventures."

Eric Nash on "Poseidon's Standing Stones": "Holidays to the coast as a kid had me searching the flat-line horizon for sea-monsters. I found none, so I imagined them. Years later, I imagined one again. I then gave her a place to live, a modest social life including friends from English legend, and of course, a leisure interest. Every monster needs a hobby. All this, I thought, ought not to stretch one’s imagination too far since individuality is embraced by the society I live in and neighbourhoods have become extremely transient. Maybe she would live unnoticed in a town, possibly making weekly trips to the Benefits Office. Maybe she would be saddened by the lament of the gull or be comforted by the gentle shush of the sea. Maybe she would find love. Or maybe not. And here we are. How was I to know things were going to happen as they did?  After all, she is a cryptid and they’re supposed to stay hidden, aren’t they? Something about the corner of one’s eye, or is that just myth?"

T. Fox Dunham on "Dark Waters": "Futility is 'Dark Waters', my story in Cryptids: From the Corner of Your Eye. I selected the Kraken to champion this nihilistic vision, my paralyzing fear materialized through cancer. I dread that no matter what stones I throw into the ocean that the ripples will always be drowned out by lunar-cast tides. Humans can work with the sea, but they can never tame it, and this symbolizes the cosmic chaos that controls our lives. I wrote it in October sitting at Starbucks in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. It stormed all day -- the first real cold rain as summer truly cooled into the barren and freezing season. It was a one-day write -- an obsession that forced me to compose from early morning to late evening, finishing each draft, editing then getting it out before my fianc√©e picked me up. We planned to be joined in marriage the next summer, and I struggled to get comfortable with the idea that lymphoma would allow me a normal life. The cancer rages with tentacles -- an overwhelming force that cannot be conquered or really influenced. Control over our lives is an illusion. This is why I made my character’s uncle a defrocked priest after he faced the apathy of his god. And he has to see it -- the divinity in all its fury and rage, destroying islands in the body of a terrible beast. We were married in Scotland in May -- a dream. My cancer has returned as I feared. I was just diagnosed, though not with lymphoma. It could become blood cancer. We don’t know. We swim in these Dark Waters now."

David Smith on "The Beast of London": "Every few years there is a story in the news of big cats being sighted in England. These carnivores are not native to our shores, and we’re certainly not comfortable with their presence. It sounds fantastical, like Nessie or Bigfoot, but in fact some of these animals have been real. I was intrigued by how a modern city like London would respond to such an animal. I knew for certain, we could never co-exist with it…Shortly after the story was published, an American dentist slaughtered a big cat purely for pleasure, and was subsequently vilified around the world. Most of the horror was expressed by people who live in cities, in which almost every aspect of nature has been obliterated; so I guess it’s much easier to hate an individual than it is to accept responsibility for our collective impact. You don’t need a gun to be responsible for the death of the natural world. So I hope this story briefly makes you step back and wonder: just how close will you allow the Lions to get to your front door?"

(Editor Kramer, left; Cover artist and contributor E.G. Smith, right)
Ken Hueler on "River Twice": I’ve never been to Japan, so immediately I decided to move the kappa to U.S. Previously I had seen an episode of River Monsters where the host, Jeremy Wade, examined the kappa myth (probably giant salamanders -- and those suckers are HUGE), so I snuck his name into the story.

Kristi Petersen Schoonover on "Stones": "One of my favorite themes to work with is loss, and the profound and sometimes maddening sadness which accompanies it; I’m always looking for fresh ways to explore the impact of tragedy on an individual. The Pope Lick Monster, who convinces his victims to leap from a railroad trestle to their deaths, is the embodiment of the broken heart; he either drives us to destruction, or he simply leeches our will to live. His legend -- with a few twists of my own, such as the crying of barred owls I visited at an animal rescue center in winter and the odd piles of stones that as a kid I used to find in the woods of upstate New York -- gave me the opportunity to pen a unique take on what happens when we cannot overcome that monster known as grief."

B. David Spicer on "Rougarou": "When deciding which cryptid to write a story about, I decided early on that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, which has almost certainly been extinct in the United States since the 1930s, had to be in the story. Like Bigfoot, people claim to see the Ivory-billed Woodpecker all the time, but it can’t ever be verified. So I decided that my story would involve a group of people looking for it, but finding something else... But what else? Knowing the bird’s historic range, I figured that any relict population would have to be in some remote area, like the bayou country of Louisiana. I dug into the folklore of that region and found the Rougarou, a werewolf-like creature based on the French legends of the loup-garou. So I had a monster and a reason for a bunch of hapless city-folk to be isolated in an unfamiliar place, both classic elements of horror stories. I added a Cajun guide with a past connection to the Rougarou, which tied the two parts of the story together. My path to ‘Rougarou’ was convoluted, but I liked the results when I finally got the idea settled."