Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

I always blog on Thursdays. You know what else is always on a Thursday? Thanksgiving. This little known American Holiday falling between Armistice Day and New Year Eve offers a chance for contemplative people to reflect on just how much food they can shovel into their gob while listening to a crazy relative make racist jokes on the couch. It’s a chance to display cooking prowess and cleaning panic. A time to reflect on aggressive colonization and genocide. Disease, famine and fluid injected poultry. It’s a time to wish you’d done a better job raking the leaves in the back yard and remembering that you don’t actually own a gravy boat and will have to use the Pyrex measuring cup. Again.

What am I sitting on?
But let’s take it at face value. Thanksgiving. If we dissect the word, we can discern a deeper meaning in the holiday, one lost on many on the day before Black Friday consumerism. I mean of course “Than Ksiv Ing” the Toltec phrase for plumbing repair. Literally, “there’s a badger in my colon,” the word for pipes never being invented. The holiday reminds us of the convenience of having flushing toilets and hot water on demand.

So, take a moment this holiday and be thankful that there is no badger in your colon.

I’ve had a stellar year! Thanks everyone.

Go read a good book. I write good books :-)

Peace out.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

April Hawks and Short Horror

April Hawks & Short Horror
I’m seriously distracted with November stuff so I had short horror author April Hawks come by the Blog Mansion for a short interview.

Johnny: You were born and live in Maine?

April: Yes. Yes I was.

J: God, how terrible.

A: No, it’s really nice. I love the seasons here.

J: No it it isn’t. It’s horrible.

A: We have a saying, here "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes."

J: It breeds horror writers. The nightmares it must feed you. Isn’t Stephen King up there? You guys pals?

A: His house is about two hours north of my house. I've seen his house before. From the outside. Not in a creepy, stalkerish way.  (nervous laugh) I plan to get my husband and four boys up there some day to see his house. It is amazing.  Mr King and I have never actually met, but I know people that know him. Kind of the story of my life.

J: Maine is the scariest place planet. Good luck with that.

Mr. King and a typical Maine home
A: Just because there are a shit ton of old cemeteries and haunted houses and lots of wooded, unpopulated areas doesn't mean...yeah. I see your point. So far, so good!

J: In honor of having you here, as a short horror writer, I’ve pulled together some short horror to make you feel at home. You remember Chucky?

A: Of course. His wife is great!

J: And the Gremlins. They’re short and horror, though for some reason people think they’re adorable. Can’t figure that. Wait - don’t feed them!

A: Shit! I forgot that with the LAST three mogwai I had, too.

J: Tell me about the story you have out now. What’s it about? Where can we find it?

A: I wrote a story about bugs. Creepy, crawly bugs. And so did several other authors. A whole group of stories about creepy crawlies. It is available on Amazon. At Bugs: Tales that Slither, Creep, and Crawl.

J: How’d you get into writing?

A: I have always written since I learned how to. My first story was "Just me and my mom" in the style of Mercer Mayer. I stopped writing for a VERY long time because an ex had boundary issues and violated my work or made it disappear when he didn't like it. But I was able to participate in a Wounded Warrior caregiver Writing retreat and the flame was rekindled. I was never going to write Horror, though. I never even read it, really. My friend, Peter Dudar was the horror writer and I was going to just leave the genre to him. But then, the horrific happened to me. My son was diagnosed in 2012 with ALL Leukemia. He was three days shy of his third birthday on the day he was diagnosed. When the call came out for Bleed, from which the proceeds benefit the National Children's Cancer Society, I knew I had to try to get something in it. So I submitted Slippery Love, a personal essay about life in the hospital and an autoimmune suppressed child who loves worms, and worked on a short story as well. The story sucked. But it got me hooked on writing and writing in the horror genre specifically. And now, with more experience writing stories, I'll probably go back and look at Dark Fevers again and see what I can do with it.

J: How’d you get picked up for the anthology?

A: I was eavesdropping. (laughs) I was at Anthocon in Portsmouth, NH in 2013 and overheard a couple of people talking about an anthology about bugs that was coming out and I had been trying to find a home for this particular piece. I sent it in and the publisher accepted it. It was actually my first paid publication, and my second publication ever.

Short Horror
J: Short fiction is hard for me. I can barely write my name in under a page. What tricks do you have? Any advice?

A: I used to think that I would never write short stories. Ever. I had novels that I wanted to write and I was going to focus on those. But at the writing retreat I mentioned, I was assigned to write a short story because I had explained that I had a hard time making a short piece. I could never end them. And then they got really, really long. So, I tried. And it sucked. But I was then assigned to write a piece in the style of the Modern Love section of the New York Times. That was the first piece I ever got published. It was rejected by the Times, but published in Bleed edited by Lori Michelle.  And I caught on that it was something I could do and that I got a much more immediate sense of satisfaction from starting and ending a story sooner.  So my advice is, first, don't rule out writing short stories. Second, they, like novels, take work and effort to get them the way you want them. And third, pick a small scenario. The bigger you make the situation, the harder it is to fit into the confines of a short story.

J: What are your plans? Moving to novels or staying short horror?

A: I have several novels in the works (most of them for a few years.) I've not given up on them, at all. But while I write them, I am also working on submitting short stories. I want to get my name out there a bit. So, my plans are chaos.

J: Speaking of short, you were bald last time I saw you. What was that about?

A: (Sighs) my hair is growing back, now. My clippers broke. But I am buying new ones soon. The plan is to stay bald until the end of December. I was lucky enough to be part of the 46 Mommas Shave for the Brave national headshaving event in Boston, Mass in July of this year. There is not enough funding to research pediatric cancer the way it needs to be researched. It is not rare. It is not uncommon. And it is killing children. I am blessed that Spencer is in remission as of October in 2012, one month after his diagnosis. The cure rate for his age range and standard risk level of ALL Leukemia is over 90%. But that is not the only cancer out there in children. And the ALL cure rate got there because of research. We made two friends at the hospital with other types of cancers that had passed away within nine months of Spencer's Diagnosis. They were both two or younger. And so my bald head is support, fundraising, awareness and just a way to gain some bit of control back that Cancer steals away. Hair grows back. Children don't. Sorry, I got all soapbox.

J: Where on the internet can short horror fans find out more about you?
St. Baldrick's Donation page for myself and Spencer


Personal Page
Author's Page
Writing Group
Spencer's Page




J: You’ve been such a doll to come by on such short notice. Here’s a present for you.

A: What is it?

J: It’s a classic.

A: Oh I remember these. It’s the Zuni Fetish Warrior from Trilogy of Terror!

J: The epitome of Short Horror don't you think? The very symbol of it. Plus I’m a big Karen Black fan and that movie scared me half to death. I hope you like it.

A: I love it.

J: Here’s the gold chain that goes with it.

A: You took it off?

J: Just for a second. So I could put the steak knife in.

A: The box is empty.

J: I’ll get you another steak knife.

A: No. The box is empty. No steak knife. No spear. No Zuni Fetish Warrior.

J: Oops.

A: (Screams fading in the background)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thoughts on the 2014 Tony Hillerman Writing Conference

Note: The Tony Hillerman Writing Conference is also called “Wordharvest."

Three years running I’ve climbed into the car over my birthday and driven across the desert to Santa Fe to hang out with authors. It’s an expensive trip but one that I dearly love. Returning now is like a reunion.

For me The Tony Hillerman conference is one my favorite getaways. I love the drive across the desert. I love taking an annual pilgrimage with my wife. I love the desert. I love my wife. I love writing. I love the Tony Hillerman Conference.

Thanking David Morrell
There are always new folks to meet, new classes to take, new info to absorb and always new celebration as the Tony Hillerman Writing Prize is announced and some lucky sucker gets their first book published by St. Martin’s Press. It’s always a soup of envy and pride. There are writers of all levels from Sena, who’s not started (though I don’t believe her), to David Morrell who walks the halls with a veteran confidence of a long esteemed career. You meet and talk to them all. Writers are good people.

Every year I take away new insight into the craft and business of being an author. This year’s primary lesson caught me early and made me smile. It is this: the people who keep coming to these things, who I recognize every year, are really making progress in their careers.

Selfie with Steve Havill
I’m the poster child perhaps. My first Wordharvest saw me arrive hopeful, fall into utter “I’m quitting this stupid writing idea” despair halfway through but then get excited and ultimately returned me home rejuvenated with a plan. Year two, I had a book out, BEATRYSEL. Year three I could call myself a best-selling author thanks to ELEANOR. That’s me. Wordharvest is a lap pole for me, a pit stop to refuel and realign. Good stuff.

But I’m not the only one who has this. Anne Hillerman herself, lovely Anne, was just starting her fiction career when I first met her. Last year she had her launch and this year she has three more signed and one on the way. She’s rocking it.

Goofing with Anne Hillerman
There are dozens of others, Betsy and John, Mike and Steve all great folks working their dreams, sharpening their saws and having drinks and dinner in the desert for art’s sake. Each one is improving and growing. And each one has new achievements each year to share.

Cause and effect. Chicken and egg. Wordharvest and writing success. It’s a loop. Those people who are serious about the craft will have success and attend conferences like Wordharvest. People who come to Wordharvest learn how to be successful and serious about their craft. It’s a wonderful cycle.

I look forward to returning and if you're in the area next November drop by and meet the gang. Big shout out to Jean Schaumberg who I didn't get a picture with this year. She makes the conference great!

Here are some pics from this year's trip.

Betsy Randolph and I

Hugging an agent - Liz Trupin-Pulli

Chillin' with John Sandford

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Best Borsts Best the Beast

Amie and Bethanie Borst are a mother-daughter duo who put fairy tales on their heads in the Scarily Ever Laughter series. You might remember them from their previous visit to the Blog Mansion about a year ago with their debut Cinderskella. Now they’re back with Little Dead Riding Hood.

Johnny: Sorry about the staff. They’re still the denizens of the Dark Portal in the basement. Disregard the screams for help coming from down there too.

Amie: It’s loud enough to make Splinters.

J: Yes, the Carters. You want to visit them?

A: No no.

J: Really? That’s a shame.

B: The staff looks disappointed.

J: Don’t worry. They’re big fans. Today’s lunch will be served by the vampires who’re happy to have you here.

Bethanie: I don’t see them.

J: Take off your mirrored sunglasses.

B: Oh. There they are.

J: Tell me about writing as a duo. This seems to be a thing lately and I can’t wrap my mind around it without thinking I’d need to wrap my hands around a neck.

B: It’s great! When I don’t want to work, I just pass it off on my mom.

Dark Portal in the Basement
Lasting a long time this year
Amie: What she means to say is that we work great as a team. Bethanie is very creative and dedicated. And she’s not afraid to make mistakes. That’s a perfect complement to my perfectionism which makes it difficult to make progress.

J: Speaking of necks, don’t let the staff give you a hickey. Just saying.

A: It looks like you speak from experience.

J: Actually those are from the succubi.

A: Those too?

J: Oh those are from teh tentacle monster in the hall closet.

A: Oh.

J: Scarlet Small now joins the ranks of Claudia (Interview with the Vampire), Abby (Let me In) and Eleanor (Byzantium) as a young female vampire. She seems to have a better sense of humor than these others though. Tell me about her.

B: She’s a forced vegetarian.

A: Kind of like me. Ticks are not your friend. The little vampires!

B: And she wears a fedora.

A: That’s true. It’s a character trait, just like her self-deprecating humor.

J: Werewolves are involved too?

B: Shhhhh…

A: The politically correct term is long-haired dog-people.

B: Mom. *rolls eyes*

J: I like werewolves. They’re excellent cooks. Try the bisque.

A: It’s got hair in it.

B: Lots of it. (whispering) I wouldn’t mention it. They don’t take criticism well. Just taste it and say “Yummy” as loud as you can.

B: Yummy as loud as you can.

A: *coughs* I wonder if Ethan made this. *gags*

J: And then there’s grandma. I love Grandmas. I don’t have any left. Used them all up I guess, but I still like them. Tell me about the one in your book.

B: What do you want to know?

A: Let’s just say, some grannies aren’t everything they’re chalked up to be, if you know what I mean.

J: How is the writing scene in Virginia?

A: Beautiful. Mountainous. Green pastures. Oh wait. That’s probably not what you meant.

J: You know I placed a book there. My next one in fact, THE BRAND DEMAND, is coming from a publisher over there. Maybe we can tag-team. I’ll hound Jolly Fish Press here and you can lean on Cherokee McGhee for me there.

A: Sounds good.

J: Oh, no. that won’t work.

B: Why?

J: Uhm. Yeah… so how is it writing for middle grade?

A: We love writing for the middle-grade audience. It’s an exciting time for this age group. They’re learning who they are and discovering their place in the world, and yet they’re still innocent.

J: Getting much play in schools?

A: We have! We’ve done Skype/virtual visits everywhere from Nebraska to Utah to New Jersey! I did a school visit locally just last week, too.

J: Agnes there used to be a teacher. Now she’s a free-floating apparition and can’t hold chalk. She’s good at clearing pipes though. Cleaned up a bad clog in the kitchen.

B:: Why are you telling me this?

J: Just trying to tell you that there are always new horizons our there.

A: Why do you need to tell us that?

J: Well say, just for example, that the denizens of the Dark Portal in the basement think that funny horror stories based on fairy tales are really cool.

B: They are.

J: Well, just say that down in the trans-dimensional space behind the Dark Portal there’s a dearth of writers of such tales and certain long fanged citizens of said domain were on a secret mission into our world to kidnap writers of such stories and drag them back behind the Dark Portal. Wouldn’t that be fun?
A: Sounds amazing.

J: Where on the internet can people in this dimension find out more about you guys?

J: Well thanks for visiting. The staff will take you down the basement now for the tour.

B: But we don’t want to take the tour.

J: You don't want to see the Dark Portal?

A: We’ve seen it.

J: But not from the other side.

A & B: Actually Johnny, we have. *exposes fangs* That’s why we’re here! *Lunges for Johnny’s neck*