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!"

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