Sunday, November 12, 2017


My 2017 began in a challenging manner. Newly returned from a long hospital stay and working on a novelization of the classic made-for-TV movie I'd been hired to write, The Day After Tomorrow: Into Infinity, my creative batteries were somewhat depleted. Editor H. David Blalock had rolled out his usual wonderful welcome for me to submit to his third Lovecraftian anthology for the fine folks at Alban Lake Publishing -- I'd been accepted into the first two, and this year's focused around the mysteries and horrors concerning the fictional "Mad Arab", Abdul Al-Hazred. But ideas for the submission call eluded me, which I found fairly maddening.

Until I departed on a brisk Friday morning for Massachussetts with good friend and fellow writers' group moderator, Jonathan Dubey. Jonathan had also been featured in the previous two years' releases, and had his Al-Hazred story ready for submission. We were headed south to stay with friends for the weekend, and from there were off to Boston to enjoy the launch party of Murder Ink 2, a mystery anthology we'd both been accepted into. On the long ride, I mentioned the germ of an idea I had concerning a memorial time capsule being opened, the most I'd managed to come up with before setting out for our big literary weekend. By the time we arrived some three hours later, I had the entire story outlined in my mind. Before Boston and the book party and luncheon, I'd also recorded the rough outline of "For Sale by Owner" on a note card. I dashed off a draft, polished, and made Mr. Blalock's deadline, and my story joins others in Alban Lake's new release, The Mad Visions of Al-Hazred.

Many of my fellow authors shared the back-stories behind their stories.

Jordan King-Lacroix on "My Eyes Were Set Aflame": "The back-story to my work might seem a bit banal, but really once I read the prompt, the idea just kind of came. I have always been fascinated by madness in fiction, and unreliable narrators in general. My favourite novel is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, so that probably has something to do with it. The complete freedom I had to express al-Hazred's harrowing experiences was a big draw as well: with Lovecraftian horror, it's kind of a wonderful 'anything goes' territory."

Paul StJohn Mackintosh on "The Howling in the Sands": "I wanted to use Abdul Al-Hazred’s fictional history to dig deeper into historic Islam, especially Sufi mysticism. The Jinn have always appealed to me as entirely credible beings of pure force that could have easily come to Earth on an iron meteorite. What better source for the mad Arab’s visions? The faux etymology of the ‘Al-Azif’ gave me all I needed to connect all of these. I had Muslim friends look the draft over, and they liked it. Islamic culture has a bad and bigoted press currently, and I wanted to help redress the balance on behalf of one of humanity’s great traditions. Plus, I have a Miyazakiesque love of weird flying machines of all kinds. When I unearthed the Imperial Airship Scheme, and the plans to fly the R101 over Arabia, that pulled the whole story together."

Bryan Dyke on "The Andalusian": "I penned a massive term paper in high school on ‘Al-Andalus: the Tragedy of Moslem Spain’, it was a grand, sprawling forty-page treatise and one of the biggest papers I had ever written at the time. I remember buying yellow parchment paper to print it on, so it was a pretty big deal. I think since then I’ve always been fascinated by that period. For this anthology, I wanted to also dive into what could drive Al-Hazred insane and push him to write down such a maligned book. Enter the Yith; who, despite their oft-benign status, were always one of Lovecraft’s most terrifying beasts. The Yith represent a sort of twist on the ‘Body Snatcher’ concept and their entire relationship with their rivals, the awkwardly named ‘Flying Polyps’, was vintage Lovecraftian brilliance.That set the stage for me to write a sort of two-fisted tale from a villain’s perspective in and around ancient Damascus in Syria. I wanted the lead character to be somewhat evil. If not a true villain than a character with obtuse motivations and morals, that is, ‘mostly’ beyond our understanding, but not entirely. Thus, ‘The Andalusian’ was born."

Allen Mackey on "The Buzzing": "Pssst, hey you, come here.  I have a juicy secret to tell you...Okay, here's the story behind the story, or as I like to call it:  Behind-the-Scenes of ‘The Buzzing’. One Wednesday morning in late June 2017 I was looking online for for Lovecraftian fiction markets and found a listing for an original anthology based on the Mad Arab!  The deadline was the next day.  I wrote ‘The Buzzing’ right then and there in one draft, sent it off and it was accepted.  Thank you David and everyone at Alban Lake Publishing.  See you next time."

Jonathan Dubey on "The Horrid Fate of Professor Merchant": "So I was at a garage sale with my mom, don't judge me, and I came across some old books. I opened one up because it was so old I couldn't read the spine and I could smell this musty, dusty, odor.  For a minute I wondered what I'd just taken into my lungs, then something else distracted me, so I moved on. Some time later, I read the submission guidelines for The Mad Visions of Al-Hazred and that afternoon came back to me. That was the start of ‘The Horrid Fate of Professor Merchant’. When I noticed the story becoming too dialog heavy, I chose to try something different; I cut out everything else. Why not tell a story with dialog and nothing else? People including the publisher and editor seemed to think it worked and so it was. Being entirely dialog lent itself well to being an old-fashioned horror radio show, so I did that too. Listen to it here:"

Aaron Vlek on "The Prophet of the Black Hajj": "When I saw the anthology call for works exploring possible origin stories of the Mad Arab Abdul Al-Hazred, to say I was excited is an understatement of epic proportions. Beyond a few thin references that could be gleaned from bad Hollywood movies, I had never seen the character of Abdul Al-Hazred placed firmly within his Islamic cultural tableau. My own lifelong study of Islam, including a degree, and my personal closeness to many elements of Muslim practice, as well as being a lifelong lover of all things Lovecraft, gave me just the opportunity I needed to rectify this and to offer what I believe is a unique look at what a Muslim mystic who is lured to the proverbial Dark Side might actually look like in a historic context."

 DJ Tyrer on "The Coils of Apedemak": "I wrote ‘The Coils of Apedemak’ because I wanted to look at Al-Hazred in the early days of his career, when he was still more knowledgeable than most, yet some distance from becoming the author of the Al-Azif, and I wanted to take him somewhere beyond his more usual Arabian haunts. So, I took out an Atlas of Islamic History and began looking at places he could visit and decided to take down the Nile to the kingdom of Makurria, or Al-Muqurra. As I researched the region, I discovered the existence of Apedemak, a god of pre-Christian Meroe and the story coalesced from the wonderful images of the deity."

Morgan Griffith on "Withered Moon Obsidian Black": "I first discovered Lovecraft tales in a used bookstore back in the ‘70’s. The place was a maze of shadowy aisles where silverfish darted across walls and soft, degrading cardboard boxes were stacked high with books at the end of each aisle. It was an incredible, and sometimes disturbing, treasure hunt. It’s been a while since I’ve read HPL, but the manuscript call for Mad Visions was intriguing. Research to refresh my memory of Al-Hazred sparked images of insects and moonlight; a creature in yellow, and the discovery of his cryptic manuscript. It’s an honor to be included in this collection."

Saturday, November 4, 2017


I have a certain fondness for my dark SF short story, "Alchemy." On December 22, 2016 I returned from a long hospital stay during which I dreamed daily of coming home to family and muse. It wasn't that the latter was acting scarce as 2017 began -- in fact, my constant hospital companion helped me dive almost directly into a big project, the novelization of the classic made-for-TV movie I'd been hired to write the previous October, The Day After Tomorrow: Into Infinity (I escaped from Room 384 with a tiny scrap of paper covered in notes for the novel and one short story that I penned in first draft on Christmas Day, a long and beloved tradition). But as 2017 unfolded and the weeks progressed, something seemed to be missing.

My imagination is a new idea factory. Among the results are wonderful ideas and quite a few not-so-pretty ones. I write across a broad spectrum of genres, unable or unwilling to judge the good from the bad from the ugly. They're all my babies, I love each and every one, and I've learned more about writing from difficult efforts than pretty, shiny tales that wrote and sold themselves with ease. No, the problem was that for the first time in a very long time, new ideas eluded me. I thought about writing a story concerning my hospital bed, which tortured me for twenty-three nights, destroyed my spine, and made sleep impossible. I grasped at invisible story threads while translating the movie script into novel format. Nothing. It's not that I didn't have enough banked material to work on once the novelization was done -- I kicked off 2017 with ninety-nine unwritten ideas on note cards. But the new births had waned to nothing following my hospital stay, and a voice inside my skull wondered if the well had dried up. Not so, it turned out. A story about an alien planet and technology discovered in caves and beneath the soil crept upon me one winter day while seated at my desk, and the idea blossomed. I took a two-day break from the novelization to pen a first draft and, upon conclusion, was exhausted -- and unsure if what I had was even of quality. But I let the longhand draft sit, polished it up, and sent it off on its maiden voyage to the fine folks at Pole to Pole Publishing, the wonderful team responsible for last year's magnificent release, In A Cat's Eye, who were reading for a new project, Dark Luminous Wings. Within two days, the verdict came back, "Alchemy" was accepted. And as for that drought? As of November 2017, I've been deluged by thirty-eight new ideas, all but four of which (including a short novel and a screenplay) have already been written in first draft.

Why this theme?

“[Fellow Pole to Pole publisher] Vonnie Winslow Crist and I like to read fantasy, science fiction and horror. So, we're always looking for a theme which allows us to collect stories that will work with any of those genres. And when we put together a collection, we like to narrow the focus so that the stories we choose will blend together to form one cohesive collection. We usually start with a poem -- or an adage -- to give us the flavor of the anthology. We make a point to include the inspiration when we make our call for submissions so that authors can keep it in mind when they write their stories,” says publisher Kelly A. Harmon. "This worked extraordinarily well for Hides the Dark Tower and In a Cat’s Eye. Dark Luminous Wings was inspired by the second stanza of the poem Mors et Vita by Richard Henry Stoddard:

‘Under the awful wings
  Which brood over land and sea,
  And whose shadows nor lift nor flee –
This is the order of things,
And hath been from of old:
    First production,
    And last destruction;
So the pendulum swings,
While cradles are rocked and bells are tolled.’

What we were expecting was an influx of dragon stories -- and what we got was altogether different -- which we were ecstatic about. Dark Luminous Wings does include one dragon story, but it’s not what you’d expect, we guarantee it. And there are a host of other stories that are equally fabulous and different -- each including wings."

Many of my fellow authors shared the back-stories behind their stories in Dark Luminous Wings.

Nancy Springer on "the Raptor": "My good friend and neighbor, a remarkable woman raised in a circus family, suffered and struggled with cancer for five years before she died.  Her death was recent when I received the invitation to write a story for Dark Luminous Wings, and it was an event in my life that required exorcism via words.  Around the same time I saw a swallowtail kite swoop low over my car.  These are magnificent birds. Looking up at its white breast, I nearly drove off the road.  In some mysterious and symbolic way guided by the unconscious mind, the two events mixed to set off my story.  I had to change the bird's markings, but only a little.  The swallowtail kites visit my area once a year, in May, and they do indeed soar at treetop level hunting for snakes."

Todd Sullivan on "Wheels and Deals": "I came up with the idea for my story, ‘Wheels and Deals’, years ago while attending university. The idea was supposed to be for a novel, and I actually wrote twenty or thirty pages before putting it down. In 2015, I finished my most recent novel, NATURAL POLICE. When I began to work on its sequel, GWI’SHIN, I decided to explore some of the less developed subplots of the narrative. One of the minor characters in NATURAL POLICE is possessed by a darkness that only he sees and interacts with, and I wanted to give a back-story to the darkness. I thought back to the idea I had conceived years ago in university and decided to recycle many of its narrative components to flesh out the history of the dark entity. ‘Wheels and Deals’ is a short story meant to develop the character of the dark force that will play a major role in the sequel to NATURAL POLICE. Readers have not seen the end of the fallen angel from ‘Wheels and Deals’. When the angel appears in GWI’SHIN, it will be significantly more malignant as it strives for individuality."

Rebecca Gomez Farrell on "Treasure": "‘Treasure’ is one of the first short stories I wrote after deciding to pursue writing as a career. It was initially titled ‘Black and White’ as it was an exercise in exploring how someone with a harsh worldview might react to encountering people very different from themselves, people who prize taking care of each other and the greater good over personal enrichment. The ultimate test in this fantasy fable is Enkid’s, the protagonist. She must decide what’s most worth treasuring -- the peacefulness and love of the community she’s discovered or the tangible wealth that could set her for life back home. Can she overcome the avarice she’s cultivated to survive? Enkid is quite similar to one of the three main characters in my first fantasy novel, Wing Unseen, that came out this summer from Meerkat Press. But their ultimate ends are very different, although both stories feature a flying menace."

Jason J. McCuiston on "The Wyvern": "When my wife and I first moved to our new town, I was blessed with the opportunity to write almost full-time, but also cut off from everyone and everything I’d ever known. To battle the creeping funk of this new isolation, and to improve my craft, I decided to create a world to use as my sandbox for writing. Inspired by my love of the Fallout 3 video game and the horror movie, The Atticus Institute, I came up with a post-apocalyptic world devastated by magic and monsters, where I could write in pretty much any genre I like. To date, I’ve done a high-fantasy story, a western, a military adventure, a sci-fi tale, a neo-noir detective yarn, and of course the story in question, which is a blend of steampunk and horror, set in the skies above the Mojave Desert. Like in Stephen King’s “The Mist,” the real horror is not the supernatural threat encountered by the protagonist, but rather his ongoing series of bad decisions, which only makes matters worse. For me, that’s where real fear lives; in the place where we can no longer trust ourselves to do what is right in a crisis."

D.H. Aire on "Knight of the Broken Table": "I first wrote ‘Knight of the Broken Table’ six years ago. A couple of months later I received my first book contract. I believe there’s a lesson in perseverance here somewhere. You see, when I wrote ‘Knight’ I had just gotten divorced. Looking to find myself again, I’d turned to writing and seeking to getting published. That first published novel I’d actually copyrighted over twenty-five years before. After a number of rejections, I’d stopped sending anything out. I decided to just write for myself and as I re-wrote draft after draft, my writing got better and better -- I just didn’t realize it until my life went into the toilet, as it were. I then began entering my stories in contests, getting a few Honorable Mentions in Writers of the Future, and ‘Knight’ came this close to getting published early on through another contest. The editor wrote me his reason for rejecting the story, which got a thumbs-up from all the judging readers but him. It came down to his not liking the tone. So, I took that to heart and believing in the tale kept honing it. Definitely a lesson in perseverance and learning to believe in yourself."

(the fabulous Ms. Harmon)
Nemma Wollenfang on "The Devil You Know": "I’ve always been fascinated by the way one culture can invade another and, in some cases, obliterate it, leaving only tantalizing traces of what once was. You see it throughout history -- when the Romans invaded Britain, when the Old World colonized the New. Pagan religions are particularly obscure, as most existed pre-record. Very little is known about them and what is has often been vilified and altered by the new order. With ‘The Devil You Know’, I explored this concept a little -- in my own darkly speculative way -- how one religion takes over another, how aspects of the former become twisted into a more abominable light. In this case, my focus lay particularly on dying paganism in Celtic Britannia. I read somewhere that the Devil wasn’t always depicted as a cloven-footed, horn-headed, half-beast man. That, however, was how pagan gods such as Pan and Cernunnos were depicted -- this overlap was supposedly created by early Christians in an effort to throw the old pagan gods out of favor and push conversion. While I don’t know how true this is, the idea is what gave birth to this dark little number."

Steven R. Southard on "Instability": "Seeking inspiration for a ‘wings’ story, I came across an account of a medieval monk in England who supposedly flew from the abbey’s tower on a pair of homemade wings. I’d written plenty of historical stories, but none from the Middle Ages, mainly because I focus on my characters’ reaction to new technology. I couldn’t resist the idea of a Benedictine monk attempting to fly. Why would he do that? What did his fellow brothers and the abbot think of him? The resulting story has its dark elements in keeping with the anthology’s theme, but also humorous ones. Some readers will laugh at my unimaginative and skeptical monks. Other readers will wonder whether today’s society treats its more innovative thinkers any better in our more enlightened age, as they invent their own metaphorical wings and attempt to fly."

Kelly A. Harmon on what's next for Pole to Pole Publishing: "You’re hearing this first:  As an experiment, P2P is going to publish two reprint anthologies in 2018. One will be dark science fiction, the other will be dark fantasy and horror. P2P is still firming up details, but look for that announcement soon! And, of course, P2P will be publishing their annual new-fiction anthology in October next year. Vonnie and I have been looking at artwork and dreaming of themes. We’ll make our pitch to the folks a P2P in a few weeks to see what they think. P2P will open that call for submissions some time in February. Finally, P2P will be publishing a short book that Vonnie and I have written about writing for anthologies. (In it, we divulge the secrets of how to get your work looked at more seriously by editors!) It’s in the final editing stages now. Look for it in a few months!"