Thursday, May 26, 2016

Xanadu...Xanadu...Now We Are Here!

(Me, at 7600 Beverly Boulevard, before the famous
art deco spire)
In the summer of 1980, perhaps when I needed some sort of divine intervention most, my life turned in the best direction possible thanks to a song, a soundtrack, and a movie that not only opened a door on a far vaster universe than the one I knew, but emboldened me to enter it. Because of Xanadu, I have gotten to live my fondest dreams, and continue to.

My name is Gregory L. Norris, and I am a writer. I take that sobriquet quite seriously, and with the perfect balance of pride and humility, I hope. I grew up without a lot on the surface. I didn't have many friends and wore my father's ill-fitting hand-me-downs until I was eighteen. I was likely the least popular kid in school. I didn't have the looks or, at first, much in terms of savvy. But I had an imagination that didn't understand it was supposed to have limitations and so, in a way, I had everything. You see, I grew up on a healthy diet of creature double features and classic Science Fiction TV, in a small, enchanted cottage on Cobbett's Pond in the then-mystical town of Windham, New Hampshire, surrounded by deep, dark pine woods that still haunt my dreams and inspire my pen. By the summer I was fifteen, we had moved out of Windham for one town over, to a house that haunts my dreams for other reasons. I was bullied at school (who wasn't in those days?), not making the smartest choices, tortured over the truth about my sexuality, and feeling lost, truly lost. What I remember most about those days was the vibrancy in which my imagination flourished. I'd dabbled in writing short stories, had even started a novel. But the Eureka! moment in which lightning flashed, unable to be ignored, didn't happen until a humid July night on a sleepover at a friend's house, in which I took a first nervous step into that breathtaking universe.

(me, below the spire)
That summer, I began writing a short novel that featured my small circle of friends as the main characters. As the summer progressed, said friends grew anxious to read the pages as I put them down, and even began work on their own stories. Most abandoned their efforts after a couple of paragraphs, while my tale surged past Page 100 (it would conclude somewhere in the neighborhood of 200). On that July night, as my cramping fingers wrote toward THE END, my entire body filled with a sensation that still strikes me as resembling eight-pointed tiny stars. It was a surge of sunlight, like every cell inside me was smiling. Inspiration, yes. And more. The cosmic light of creation. At the sleepover, I pulled out a fresh stack of lined paper and began to work on another story, not an hour later. I had tasted a kind of euphoria and was addicted. My good friend slept with the radio playing, and as I pondered what I had experienced and its farther-reaching possibilities, the anthem Xanadu by Olivia Newton-John and ELO came on. The emotion surged back as I listened to the words about destiny and a place where dreams come true.

Earlier that spring, I'd been smitten with ONJ's dreamy release, "Magic", also from the same movie, though I didn't know that at the time -- this was 1980, long before the Information Superhighway. So I kept writing, and waiting on the radio to play both songs.

In August, the weekend the movie premiered at our town's local cinema, I hosted a back-to-school/end of summer party for my friends at my family's house. We cooked out on the grill, swam in the pool, and then packed up for the movie in numerous parental-driven cars. From the instant the movie started, with failed artist Michael Beck tearing up his dreams and tossing the pieces out the window, only to awaken the Nine Muses of Greek Mythology, my body crackled with energy, and my spirit seemed to glow. Xanadu, with its roller disco vibe and dance routines, is often criticized, but I've never been one to pay much heed to critics and like to form my own opinions about people, life, and pop culture. I fell madly in love with the message -- that we should pursue our dreams despite the world's many challenges -- and in the film's climax, when Olivia and the other muses soar up from the stage in an effulgence of light, I had an image to attach to that feeling of divine euphoria and inspiration I experienced on the sleepover. Every day of my life since, I've equated writing and completing projects and reading acceptance letters and winning awards to that moment -- extending my arms and soaring aloft into the heavens on a surge of light and cosmic energy. I walked out of that cinema with my friends into a glorious summer night set beneath a massive full moon and, on our mosey around the building and toward the parking lot, said aloud that I would be a published writer. Some 4,000 credits in short fiction, nonfiction articles, novellas, novels, a smattering of TV episodes, and one feature film later...

In April, I learned that my short story "Mandered" won Honorable Mention in the prestigious Roswell Awards in Short Science Fiction Writing. The Roswells are doubly fabulous in that winners get to enjoy their stories read aloud by classic SF TV and Film actors on stage at the award ceremony, held in Hollywood. I planned to take in the ceremony, pick up my HM certificate -- me, a writer from a small town in New Hampshire, headed to TinselTown to collect my writing award! While there, I decided to visit 7600 Beverly Boulevard, where Xanadu's exteriors were filmed. The original venue burned down in a spectacular fire in 1989 but was rebuilt in 2002 to feature one of those beautiful art deco spires so identifiable with the film. Six hours before the award ceremony commenced, I walked onto Xanadu, where Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, and the rest of the cast once stood, once upon a time.

I love my muse. Writing has made all of my dreams come true, and that movie not only saved my life, but gave me the best life possible. May you embrace your dreams and never allow them to die.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Adventure: 2016

You might have noticed the decline in frequency of my blog updates in 2016. When the year began, my list of upcoming events seemed perfect for new postings -- I haven't traveled or planned this many literary adventures since 2012, before we bought Xanadu, when I spent a grand total of three-plus months attending retreats, conferences, and readings coast to coast. 2016 has been a whirlwind. It's also been filled with a rapid-fire succession of fresh pages and completed projects and, as such, my days have been devoted to putting down the words, hitting deadlines, and carpe diem-ing. But I love keeping this blog active (I often used to wonder about why bloggers abandon their blogs, even wrote a story about it that's gotten plenty of love for the brilliant Suzanne Robb's Read the End First, 'The Midnight Moon'.). So, without further delay, a report from my 2016 adventures thus far.

In late February, I enjoyed the year's first big highlight -- the official launch of the anthology of New England newsroom-based mysteries containing my tale, 'Exhuming Secrets on a Hot August Day', Murder Ink. What was so fantastic about this particular book party was the grandeur in which it was celebrated -- a lunch hosted by the publisher at M. J. O'Connor's, an upscale restaurant beside Boston's famous Park Plaza Hotel. Along with dear friends Judi Calhoun and Sisters Dent, also fellow co-authors, we drove into the city and were treated like royalty at the venue, our luncheon capped off by tray passes of delicious pastries. The day before, Judi and I traveled three hours south to luxuriate at Karen Dent's wonderful and inviting home, and were welcomed by the most fantastic greeting (as seen in the photograph above), courtesy of Karen's husband. Over the course of that weekend, we dined, wrote, and read together. At the signing, I autographed copies of Ink and got to enjoy the company of the anthology's amazing editor, Dan Szcezesny, who brought me up to the microphone with one of the best intros ever. Later while seated at Karen's big dinner table, I flew through fresh pages of a zombie-themed romance that had me writing like a dervish.

(Reading from Murder Ink in Boston)
I've signed up for three writing retreats in 2016 -- a second trip to The Waterfall House in late September following my wedding, a nature writing-themed retreat to Mount Monadnock in June, and a return visit to When Words Count in Vermont. My time at WWC, March 30 - April 2, couldn't have been more enjoyable or productive. On a bright Wednesday morning, I set out for Vermont with a handful of projects to work on and was borderline giddy when the familiar main house appeared at the left of the road. This time, I stayed in the Hemingway Room (both times before, I was in Arthur Miller -- all the rooms at WWC are named after famous writers). Framed photos of Pappa stared down from three walls, The Hemingway Room desk boasts a glass revolver as part of the decor -- fitting! During that time, I worked on a screenplay, completed three short stories, wrote part of a fourth, and outlined a story assignment (which I later wrote upon my return). My laptop chose to not connect with the center's wifi, so for most of my visit I wrote off the grid. On that Friday, I checked emails on WWC's system and discovered I'd been invited to write for an editor's new project -- horror stories set along desolate highway stretches, had been shortlisted for an anthology I very much wanted to be part of (the story, 'The Night Stalker', has since been contracted for at Blood, Sweat, and Fears: Horror Inspired by the 1970s), and I was invited to write a SF novel for a new imprint out of San Francisco. The food, as expected, was beyond fabulous and included homemade sorbet palate cleansers between courses (coconut one night, lemon rosemary another, orange basil the last night), mussel stew, Cornish game hen, and one of the best cheeseburgers on the planet, the meat, cheese, and bacon all locally sourced. On Friday, I savored homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese with avocado sandwiches for lunch.

(With Pappa in the Hemingway Room at When Words Count)
This coming Saturday, May 21, I depart on the next adventure, one I hadn't anticipated. Last month, I learned that my short story, 'Mandered', won Honorable Mention in the Roswell Awards in Short SF. I'm flying out to Hollywood to attend the ceremony. The Roswells are particularly prestigious -- and doubly cool -- in that winners get to see their stories read/performed on stage by a number of classic TV and film Science Fiction actors. This year's roster includes Dee Wallace (E.T.) and Jasika Nicole (Fringe). At the ceremony on the 22nd, I'll receive my HM certificate, get to rub elbows with some pretty big names, and celebrate another career milestone. Earlier that same day, I'm planning to make a pilgrimage to 7800 Beverly Boulevard in Hollywood, where my beloved movie Xanadu was filmed. And the year isn't even half done yet. To be continued...