Friday, July 22, 2016


On the night before I departed Camp Necon in July of 2012, I experienced a gritty, intensely romantic dream that left me reaching for a blank note card about a sex worker in a near futuristic war who learns he holds the key to stopping a ruthless alien invasion. That knowledge is delivered by a handsome colonel, who visits the camp where he works. As the dream played out, the colonel took on the face of my beloved muse, and I became Milo Hanover, the seemingly average, unremarkable older man who discovers he's anything but. I even dreamed the opening few lines, along with the title of the tale -- "The Head Shed", which was the nickname for Milo's place of employment and the service both he and it provided to humanity's war-weary defenders. I showered, hastened downstairs to the cafeteria for iced coffee before it was open to serve the wonderful writing conference's attendees, and began work on the story. I gutted out the first thousand or so words longhand, shocked at how formed the world Milo and the colonel inhabited was, and would have continued but then breakfast service started, and soon after I departed Rhode Island for my home in New Hampshire. "The Head Shed" went into a file folder, which then went into my works-in-progress filing cabinet drawer, and its note card found its way into my catalog of unwritten ideas. We bought a house and moved. Other projects and deadlines took front and center -- until this past March when I read about Mischief Corner Books' new submission call for Behind the Uniform, a M/M romance anthology. "The Head Shed" again jumped to the head of the line, and I soon dashed the remainder of what I thought would be a long short story as novella, loving every moment of my time together with Milo, Colonel Joe Dunnegin, their unconventional love, and their desperate plan to drive out the Grunk menace. Following my usual stringent edits, I sent "The Head Shed" off to MCB, who accepted it a few weeks later as one of three novellas for Behind the Uniform. This July, BTU has been published to some incredible kudos -- even before its launch, it became an All-Romance e-Book best seller, and continues to sell mightily post-release (print is due to be available shortly). It was my pleasure to speak to my two BTU co-authors regarding their contributions to this wonderful anthology.

Jon Keys on "It's the Hat": "The anthology subject grabbed my attention and didn't relent. Since I was young I've had a fascination with men in uniforms and their behind the scenes lives. But I already wrote a short story several years ago focused on two married police officers, so I wanted to go beyond the expected and find another field that met my needs. In my research I discovered forest rangers have the highest mortality rate of any of my guys in uniform. So I found my hero. Add to that a recent art school graduate working as a waiter who has a weakness for bad boys, and I was happy with the mix of characters. From there the setting flowed. I've visited Michigan's west coast on numerous occasions, and several items caught my eye. The area's beauty struck me first: Lovely blue waters and wide sandy beaches. The scenery is breathtaking. More notable traits, most of the towns survive from the tourist trade and a lot of those visitors eventually buy a cabin. This was more striking to me because it's so different from the southwest where I lived most of my life. Between all of these, I had the components from which the story grew."

Toni Griffin on "A Wolf in Cop's Clothing": "My short story is actually Book 7 in one of my most popular series. I'm constantly being asked by my readers for more from the Holland Brothers. After I finished book 4, the last in the main series, I said that was it, there wasn't going to be any more. However, the boys just never stop talking to me. As soon as I give them even the start of an idea in my head they take it and run. This is exactly what happened this time. I was sitting at my desk at work one day, checking messages from my author friends in the US. When the subject of the Behind the Uniform anthology was brought up. Men in uniform got my brain thinking about one of the Holland brothers, Marcus, who's a cop. It had been about 14 months since I'd allowed the boys to visit me and as soon as my mind even thought about them they took over. I had a furious messaging session with my friend, and within a half hour the entire story line had come to me and was just begging to be written. I was then stuck at work with this story busting to get out. When I got home that night the laptop was opened and the story flowed. It was written in less than 3 days. I hope you enjoy!"

Saturday, July 16, 2016


At the end of March, as I readied to depart for a four-day stay at the luxury retreat center When Words Count, I received one of those rare and wonderful invitations asking me to submit not one but five short stories for a project by the fine folks at Great Old Ones Publishing. GOOP have been wonderful to write and edit for -- I've been involved with numerous of their quality publications, including their Mummy anthologyBugs: Tales That Creep, Slither, and Crawl, and my beloved Tales From the Robot Graveyard. And what writer would say no to such a fabulous invitation -- to be part of a release meant to showcase some of the publisher's most celebrated writers? I wouldn't have long to be part of Pentagonal Sextet, about one month to gather up and submit my five tales. On my way out the door to Vermont and WWC, I stuffed two additional note cards with new story ideas jotted on them in with fresh folders and blank lined paper, and figured I'd heap them onto the pile of what I already planned to write while camped out in the Gertrude Stein Salon and my accommodations up in the Hemingway Suite.

My first afternoon at WWC, one of my proposed stories, "The Right to Drive" (about a near-future society where motorists no longer drive alone within the confines of their vehicles) got dashed off in longhand draft almost to completion before our chef appeared in the salon with appetizers. The story seemed perfect for what I was hoping to accomplish -- a sort of mini-collection, a kind of greatest hits, in which none of the stories were remotely like their siblings in terms of theme, sub-genre, or characters. By the end of the retreat (in addition to completing a murder mystery geared toward the annual Al Blanchard contest -- I didn't win, but placed in the top five on two of the judges' finalist's lists!), I had my second story drafted. Pentagonal Sextet contains the aforementioned techno-horror tale, one about giant monsters straight out of a nightmare, one about ancient evils and the monster hunters who pursue them, one about a haunted house, and, finally, 'Fiddleheads', about malevolent horrors from the deep woods. Pentagonal, featuring five stories each by six Great Old Ones writers, boasts one of the sharpest, most unforgettable covers ever. Many of my talented fellow authors shared the back-story behind their contributions to the project.

Sara Fowles: "I spend my days, as most writers do, taking ordinary moments and asking myself 'what if?' in order to transform them into something more fitting to an alternate reality. All of my narratives come directly from imagining these alternative scenarios. What if, for instance, demons were interested in stealing faces, not souls, and what if they shopped for them in the grocery store? What if I took a nap at work and when I woke up, the office had been transformed into a giant, bizarre corn maze from which I couldn’t escape? These are the two specific thoughts that ultimately became the stories 'Banana Man' and 'Corn Maze,' respectively. They occurred to me within the most banal of settings, yet the posited fictional realities presented provided me with endless entertainment and a few bouts of insomnia, as I found myself caught somewhere between the realms of dreams and reality. I have tried my best to replicate this effect via the stories I penned."

Eric S. Brown: "It was an honor to be asked to be a part of this anthology. I had been longing for a chance to write some short fiction again and this was the perfect chance to do so. My time had been being spent mostly with giant monster fiction (aka- my newer books: Kraken, Kraken Island, and Kraken vs. Megalodon). The tales in the book from me are all wildly random horror scenarios that came to me after I got invited to be in the book. They range from an end of the world Kaiju story to straight up ‘military horror’. I had a great deal of fun writing them."

Philip C. Perron: "Pentagonal Sextet is just a splendid book.  For my part, I love writing about the brooding and the melancholy and so, not too oddly, four of my five tales are like that. But also I noticed something else, that two of them became something different.  The story ‘The Fields of Salvation’ is about an Asian woman who has the genetic difference of albinism.  I thought about what would make someone stand out and therefore attract unnecessary attention.  As Asian folk go, hair and eye diversity is completely different than Caucasians.  So being an individual with albinism would most certainly look exotic, and in some cases would bring unwanted attention.  For the tale ‘Dolly, Do I Have a Soul?’, I chose to base the tale in the not so distant future where the lead woman is actually a clone of her own mother.  But more interestingly, its a world where cloning, at least in the states, is frowned upon.  So unfortunately for her, she has become a target of both progressives and conservatives since one side is against science gone amuck while the other may hold more traditional religious beliefs.  Honestly, there was no intention, but both tales when I re-read them for inclusion in this collection, surprised me in how they were both in ways an allegory for the LGBT community and how being a bit different can sometimes bring unwanted attention.  And both tales show two sides of a coin: the struggle of not hiding one’s identity while in the other, hiding one’s identity.  ‘The Fields of Salvation’ is about a young recently married woman who just happens to have the condition of albinism that she can't hide from, while in ‘Dolly, Do I Have a Soul?’, the woman is intentionally hiding from her own identity (that of a clone) so she can just live a normal life away from being judged.  I hope folks who read my stories take something with them after they put the book down, even if my intentions were only to just write five fabulous little tales of the weird."

E.G. Smith: "With ‘The Stick Devils’, I set out to write a story both longer and more action-packed than my previous work, with multiple frantic action scenes separated by reflective lulls . The Pacific Northwest setting is common in my writing, as is the man-against-nature theme and the eager toady versus know-it-all leader character conflict. The greatest challenge of this story was researching illicit pot growing to ensure that the dialog was accurate and the plot plausible. (And like any horror writer, I hope that the FBI, DEA or any other three letters don't look into my browser history. ‘I was just doing research for a story, officer.’)  It turns out that marijuana plants are oily and highly flammable, which helped drive the story's fiery climax. While I must give a nod to Joe Lansdale's Bubba Ho-Tep for the improvised flame thrower idea, I think that my story might be the first one with a hero running around with a stick through his neck while high on smoke from a burning pot farm."

Friday, July 8, 2016

Writing From Nature

(Early Sunday morning, writing at dawn)
For the first thirteen years of my life, nature and the natural world were constant companions. Apart from Saturday afternoon creature double-features, I spent most of my days outside, exploring and dreaming among the acres of dark pine forest and overgrown fields that surrounded the enchanted cottage where I grew up. I remember the panic when dump trucks and earth movers entered the woods the summer I turned five -- horrified and thinking they were there to bulldoze down the woods, I frantically raced about, digging up pine saplings and transplanting them into our backyard so they would be safe. Once, I watched through a back window in both terror and amazement as a bobcat streaked up one of our trees (it was a sabertooth in my young imagination). The brook that ran through our yard, the lake, and eldritch corners of those woods still haunt my dreams and manifest in my stories.It was this writer's beginning point, and a good one to claim, I think.

This past winter, I read about Writing From Nature, a workshop held at a country house in the wilds near Mount Monadnock, facilitated by editor and powerhouse writer Chris Woodside. 2016 has been a year of wonderful literary adventures -- big book launches, writing awards, and retreats to familiar destinations. It's been a long while since I've hung out in the woods, despite a hilly backyard whose wilderness is home to black bear, raccoon, and silver foxes, who occasionally make visitations. Perhaps it was nostalgia and a nod to those long lost years in Windham, New Hampshire, and equal parts joie de vivre for the Here and Now. I signed up and, on a balmy June Friday, departed for the southern reaches of our fair state.

(Standing outside the retreat house)
I arrived at 3 p.m. -- a bit early, and our wonderful hostess was still in the process of getting ready for the rest of the weekend retreaters. I busied myself reading a copy of Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write, which was given to us as part of our welcome packet, and absorbing my amazing surroundings. The country retreat house was a wonderland of bookcases crammed to capacity, artwork, and comfortable furniture, presided over by a towering field stone fireplace. Wild tangles of fresh herbs (which found their way into the exquisite cuisine served up by Chef Mac) surrounded the front patio. My imagination prospered as my fellow scribes arrived alone and in twos. Among them, a romance novelist, an airline/former fighter jet pilot, an environmental sciences student, and a passionate writer working on her second novel, all of them quite wonderful and gifted. We enjoyed a welcome meal of cranberry and fresh sage risotto served inside baked acorn squash (unbelievably delicious!), homemade pesto, sauteed Swiss chard, and heritage tomato salad. It was the finest of dining!

On Friday night, forest ecologist Peter A. Palmiotto treated us to a presentation about nearby Mount Monadnock, and why the summit is 2/3rds bare rock. Chris hosted a night hike down to Stone Pond, but I opted out and instead hunkered down in my private room with the Muse and my short story, "The Shut-in". Slept beautifully, and, at sunrise on Saturday morning, I moved into the great room, uncapped my fountain pen, and began work on my second project for that weekend, "The Tree Surgeon." The sun rose higher, and fresh pages flew from my fingertips. Then Chris sent us out on timed hikes, sans notebooks and pens (the horror!). I moseyed down to the little chapel on the lake and dreamed more about my story, "The Shut-In". Upon return, we began a series of timed writing exercises which coincided perfectly with the direction of "The Shut-in".

Saturday afternoon was devoted to another presentation and exercises by famed nature writer Elizabeth Rush, who inspired with tales of her journeys. As Chef Mac worked on an amazing dinner (swordfish, cauliflower crusted in espresso, decadence had in every bite), I wrote some more on my stories, read from the book, and soaked up the creativity. That night, as a homemade apple pie baked, Chris gave a keynote speech on her journey as a writer (she edits Appalachia Journal, which has published since 1876).

(Listening to Elizabeth Rush)
After another fantastic night's sleep, I woke and resumed writing "The Tree Surgeon," opting out of a morning hike up the mountain. Breakfast was bountiful, as was our departure lunch, which included homemade Caprese pizza and rhubarb mint iced tea. The mostly vegetarian-friendly menu was beyond exquisite, and the company first rate. Chris put on a wonderful event, which invigorated body and soul. Throughout, I kept thinking back to my boyhood days, reminded of my many blessings now that I'm navigating my fifty-first year on Spaceship Earth. Chris's weekend retreat and workshop ranks among the best of the many I've attended, and I can't wait to return next year. So much so, in fact, that I've added one more adventure to 2016's calendar: in September, I'm returning to Star Island in the Isles of Shoals for a five-day retreat and workshop, which I attended four years ago. Excelsior!