Category Archives: The Arcana Chronicles

Five Days in Wicker Park (The Conclusion)

So, where was I?

Yes. Thursday Evening.

Thursday (con’t)

After the afternoon critique sessions, we had another amazing dinner–this time at Piece, a Chicago high-end pizza joint.

At this point, once fed and watered (and by “water” I mean “Jack Daniels”), it was time for us to take a tour of locales used in Richard’s novel Disintegration. While warm in Chicago for October, rains occasionally dampened the mood (so to speak).

However, the rain gods hit the pause button long enough for our tour. It was fantastic seeing the places from the book–the changes in the neighborhood as well.

Let’s go to THAT bar…

The evening wasn’t done yet.

There is a little pub featured in a pivotal (and by “pivotal” I’m mean a “sex in the bathroom”) scene in Disintegration. It was based on a real bar called the Inner Town Pub. This is where the tour ended–because Richard was going to read from a bit of the novel tonight.

Awesome.

Let me set the stage. The ITP is a hole-in-the-wall bar, it has a dozen or so stools, a pool table, some neat stained glass and a couple of tables.

It also has a small stage in the back.

I’ve been in so many places like this in so many different countries, that I think these types of places are a universal constant.

These places all smell the same, by the way. Ireland, Germany, Korea, South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Morocco, Turkey, Russia, Brazil, and Uruguay.

They smell of desperation, beer, and decades-old cigarette smoke.

Anyway, we settled into a couple of tables. There were a few regulars (and by “regulars” I mean “30-something drunk boys and girls”) playing pool and we asked if they would mind if there was a reading.

It’s at this point in the story that I need to pause and tell you how drunk and “uninterested in the arts” I expected these folks were. I was right about the first bit–they were amazingly wasted. But when Richard began to read…the bar fell silent.

Even with a Chicago Cubs play-off game in the background.

It was one of those unexpected moments that you figure would probably suck, but didn’t.

I’d missed the part of the sign that said “Home to the Arts.”

And then, on the way back to the inn, the rain gods opened up the taps and pissed on us…

Trains and rains in Wicker Park

Friday

Poetry day.

I’m about a lyrical as the Donald while he is 3AM tweeting-on-the-toilet. #Covfefe

But we were going to meet Jan Bottiglieri and the topic was connecting cross-genre writing, so I was intrigued.

Poetry, I discovered, is more like computer coding–at least coding back when I was trained for it. It is, according to Jan, “a story told with an efficiency of space.” I never thought about it that way before.

Word count is pretty far down on the worry  list for us prose authors. In Poetry, space concerns are near the top. Since this session I’ve gone back to some of my old poetry books and have looked at them anew. Tennyson, Frost, Eliot, Longfellow.

There is an elegance in the pages I never noticed before.

I read a poem a day now. Because I have some make-up work to do.

That afternoon, we reviewed another two stories, then off for a third brilliant dinner at Lillie’s Q. I’m not usually a BBQ fan, but this place was AMAZING.

It’s the “almost all of us” group shot time:

We did look in on a few bookstores after dinner and, with our wallets significantly lighter, made our way through the rain back to the inn.

All us introverts are beginning to tire out from the amount of social interactions in the last few days…so I’ll wrap up the weekend fairly quickly.

Saturday

The rather fantastic Joe Meno discussed and workshopped with us on the craft and creative processes around speculative fiction. The reason I’m not going into further detail on this session is what I wrote here was the genesis of something…that could be interesting.

Let’s just say I revised and added another 20,000 words to that workshopped piece since that session.

We had one last story to critiques for the week, and people began to go their own ways soon after. Dinner (and Richard was four for four with his foodie-place selections) was at the Publican Anker and was, in many was, the epilogue to a story that started only a few days earlier. I had to leave for the airport very early the next day, and needed to pack and finish up school work. We broke early–none of us that comfortable with the goodbyes that would ensue.

*Sigh* Goodbyes are hard after spending a week in basic isolation pouring your heart out via the written word.

It was an amazing experience. I learned a lot. Made new friends.

And I miss them, to be honest.

Every day, when I head down to the Lair to write and work on my MFA assignments, see a few pictures from this trip.

 

 

 

I smile, then get to work.

This whole thing is about making my writing better. I had no idea that the journey would introduce me to some warm, genuine, talented, and brilliant people. Lucky me.

Yeah. Good times.

Peace

Read Part One Here

Read Part Two Here

Five Days in Wicker Park (Part Two)

It’s really interesting what happens when a group of introverts get together. Through out the week, whenever a break occurred, we all scattered like rabbits to our perspective safe spaces.

It’s interesting and strange for two reasons. The first is that I was always an extrovert, pre-strokes. Post-stroke Rich’s personality is entirely different. The second reason is how close introverts with common interests can become in such a short amount of time.

Speaking for my own thoughts here–I was terrified at the though of traveling and meeting a bunch of people I’d never met. Yes, the “want” to meet Richard and Mercedes over-road that terror, but I felt it none-the-less.

My wife had said “you’ll be fine.”

She was right.

So before we get to Wednesday’s notes, allow me to introduce you to my fellow inmates:

Pamela Durgin  is a new writer from the west coast. Her story we workshopped —Fires 1976–was a real dark fantasy coming of age story. Obviously I don’t want to say more about these as I hope this 9and all the stories) get published some day. She is a delightful person, smart and talented. It’s interesting that Pam and I are the more…”age-seasoned”… of the writers in attendance, yet we are the newest to the craft.

Alec Ivan Fugate is a “new weird,” bizarro, dark writer with an amazing amount of talent. his story The Egg did something I’ve been trying to do for a while now–made the premise of an old (really good) episode of The Twilight Zone fresh and new. I don’t think he set out to do that–which speaks to the talent of the piece. He attended with his delightful partner and both of them made an amazing couple!

Ashleigh “Allie” Gauch is a brilliant human being. I know I’ve been (and will continue) typing that phrase, but part of the magic of this workshop is the intelligence and passion of it’s peeps. Her story, Camasado is a different perspective on a popular fairy tale/novel that I won’t divulge hear–especially since the story will be expanding to a much larger work. I don’t have an Allie pic, so here is a picture of Lair Kitty.

Rena Mason is a writer, screen writer, fellow member of the HWA, certified RN, brilliant, and funny as hell. That first night in the “Dirty, sexy Taco Place,” she made margarita’s come out of my nose. Her story, Macular Degeneration was a delightful ghost story with chills and murders galore. I don’t have a Rena picture either (photography fail, apparently), but since she adores pugs, here is a picture of a pug in a cat costume.

Sarah Read is a writer and editor-in-chief for Pantheon Magazine. A brilliant (there is that word again) storyteller, her piece, Crosswind, was a storm chaser story with a brilliant twisty plot. No more shall be said! Accept…I don’t have a picture of Sarah either, so here is a wind-swept cat…

Now that you know the players along with our Gamut hosts, let’s talk about day two.

Thursday

Right then. Spent the early morning working on MFA stuff and finishing Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (no wonder he took the 2017 Nobel prize in literature). I’m nervous–and not just because I’m staying in “murder central.” Today, we are workshopping Sex in Literature with Lindsay Hunter. And then my piece for the workshop get’s decimated in group critique.

First, the sex.

Lindsay is delightful. Go read her stuff. All of it. Then follow her on twitter. Stop short of stalking, m’kay?

I’d honestly never really wrote a sex scene I’ve been happy with–they all feel like Penthouse forum letters that are trying to be clever.

Fifteen minutes into the lecture on Sex in Literature….I understood why. I was looking at sex scenes as scenes about sex.

Real literature-sex isn’t about sex at all. It’s about character and story. It’s not 50 Shades of Porn Grey. It’s about being intimate with your characters and showing that intimacy  on the page.

Now I will do all you budding writers a favor. I received a piece of advice that changed everything I thought I knew about “sex on the page.”

Ready?

Even if you don’t use it, write a sex scene with your main character. Want to understand them on an intimate level (the answer, BTW is YES. YES YOU DO)–then write that scene.

It will change your relationship with your character(s).

Lindsay had us write a sex scene in fifteen minutes. During that time, she  threw in three curveballs (a phone keeps ringing, a loud noise is heard, and someone interrupts) to be incorporated into the story.

The FOURTH curve ball was thrown when we had to read our scenes out loud.

It was an amazing learning experience.

We were all spent (pun intended) at the end of the morning session, but they day had so much more planed. Next up would be the evisceration of a very personal short piece I wrote called Dear Dad.

How to make authors cry in three easy steps.

Dear Dad was a short story I wrote originally for one of Richard’s classes. I had two other dark fantasy stories that would have fit the Gamut mold a bit better–so why did I pick this piece? Especially knowing how difficult an epistolary piece is to pull off by experienced writers?

Because 90% of the story was true.

When my dad had a kidney removed due to cancer back in 2013, I started writing him letters. As I was in Boston and he in New York, I couldn’t get to see him as much as I would have liked–work and family.–“life stuff” got in the way. I wrote hundreds of letters over the years…they were every day musings with a bit of humor tossed in. He enjoyed them, and that made me happy.

When he passed away from cancer in 2016, it was on the same day my own cancer diagnosis was confirmed.

How about that for a kick in the goolies?

Part of my personal grieving process included sifting through the letters I wrote to him. I don’t remember when i decided to use a few of them to wrap a story around, but picked a handful of the letters, and began to write.

This is what became Dear Dad.

The problem with the story is that it’s not clicking as an actual story, and I was too close to it to see why.

So I swallowed my pride as well as my loathing of sharing deeply personal details with strangers, and submitted Dear Dad to be scrutinized and picked apart by my new colleagues and my mentors at Gamut.

The group got me past why I was stuck with the story. They made some amazing suggestions. That was what I was hoping for.

What I didn’t expect was how my story–as rough and crappy as it was–impacted a lot of people in that room. There were tears. There were moments of silence because people became too choked up to continue. Even in its current form, that’s the flood of emotions  Dear Dad brought to the surface.

Hell, my story even became the reason that Casey Frechette and I got to know each other. He and I spent until the wee hours of Friday morning talking about our fathers.

Now I know how to fix the story itself. Will it work? Will it pull the same amount of emotion while becoming a cohesive story? I’ll let you know if it is ever published.

Thursday dinner and the Disintegration walking tour, however, would happen before Casey and I bonded as brothers. More on that in tomorrow’s conclusion.

Read Part One

Read Part 3 (The Conclusion) Here

 

Five Days in Wicker Park (Part One)

Earlier in October, I had an…experience.

Many of you know the significant health impacts that air travel has on me. There is a different cocktail of meds I have to take to fly that make me rather sick—so why go to a writer’s workshop in Chicago when I’m doing something similar with my online MFA?

Why? Because it mattered.

My wife, God bless her, understood my desire to go, and fully supported my decision.

And the trip was far more impactful and meaningful than even I imagined it would be. Totally worth it.

I know…I see you rolling your eyes. Follow me a little longer here.

I’ve been struggling with how to quantify and document my time with the wonderful folks of Gamut Magazine spent in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. I think the best way to start is to set the “Wayback Machine” to February, 2016.

When I was recovering from surgery, I had a Skype call (post successful Kickstarter) with two of the people behind the newly funded Gamut Magazine:

Mercedes M. Yardley, who wrote one of the first reviews of The Prodigal’s Foole back in 2011 when she was with Shock Totem, was on the call. She has been an “online friend” for nearly a decade, and is one of the fiction editors over at Gamut (oh and a Bram Stoker award-winning writer of beautiful, whimsical, horror).

Mercedes is also an inspiration to me to for her strength. She will laugh at this, of course. But it’s true.

The second person on the call was Richard Thomas, Editor-In-Chief of Gamut and someone I’d never interacted with before.

We spoke about the craft, and we spoke about a direction for me as a writer in a post-stroke world.

Richard suggested, “maybe taking an online course.” But stopped short of recommending any other sort of education.

I liked what he and Mercedes (who I hadn’t spoken with since I interviewed her) had to say throughout the call. I was recovering, but determined. I read Richard’s Disintegration novel. Then a few of the collections he edited. And more of his short stories.

Now I liked what he wrote too.

After that, I ended up taking one of Richard’s courses through LitReactor. Then a second. Then his 16-week Contemporary Dark Fiction course.

I could do this. I couldn’t be who I was before the “series of unfortunate events,” but I was beginning to see a possible new direction for my life.

I threw caution to the wind and applied to the creative writing online MFA program at Emerson College. Richard provided one of my references.

I was told it was a long shot. I was also told it would take a month or two to process my application and read over my materials (all of which were writings I had done for Richard’s classes).

Four days after submitting my full application and required writings, I was accepted to Emerson.

The point of this preamble is to explain to you how important it was to me to meet this man.

And to meet, finally, Miss Murder herself.

I hope you have a sense now as to how important this trip was. It was a personal pilgrimage, an educational field trip. Even a bit of an American Walkabout.

My five days in Wicker Park were all of these things and so much more. I’ll share some of my journal entries.

Wednesday

Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck.

My favorite start to a movie, and the perfect summation for the start of this trip. Sick, cranky, and damp from a torrential downpour, I dump my bags in the room (which is completely separate from the rest of the Wicker Park Inn, down a dark foreboding alley and where Miss Murder would declare, with glee, “Ha! This is where you’re gonna die!”) after checking in and go in search of food.

Umami Burgers aren’t, but they are tasty.

I stop into a fancy burger joint with a promising name. It isn’t long before I’m chatting to a bunch of younger people—all actors—for a local company. I dry off, the burger settles my nausea, and I teach them how to make proper espresso martinis.

Laughing and with renewed excitement for this workshop, I head back to the Wicker Park Inn and spend the evening working on my MFA (reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go) and rereading workshop submissions.

Wednesday

Delight and Despair

I met Mercedes and Richard today. Mercedes eyes light up when she sees me and she gives me a huge hug of welcome—it’s obvious we both were looking forward to our “in real life” friendship encounter. This woman, by the way, is a saint (and she proves that over and over through-out the trip, as you will come to see). Why is it all the sweetest writers I met are dark fiction writers? It must be because they get the darkness out on the page, right?

Then Richard walked in. With a big smile, I stuck out my hand to finally shake his.

I got a bear hug instead.

Yeah. That was fucking cool. It was genuine, and heart-felt.

 

 

 

I’d met two people I’d been looking forward to meeting for a while now and that was pretty sweet.

What I didn’t expect was to meet new people that, by the end of this gig, I would feel just as strongly about.

We start off with some introductions and a lecture on the “horror of the unreliable narrator” by the amazing Jac Jemc which was followed by a panel discussion and talk with the team from Gamut (Richard, and Mercedes, of course, and Casey Frechette—a fiction editor at the magazine and someone I connected with on quite a few levels after we workshopped my “Dear Dad” story.

This is where the despair part of the section title comes in. One of the attendees took a dixie on the last step leading down from the Inn’s meeting place. She ended up with one sprained angle, and one that was fractured. An ambulance was called and Mercedes went with her to the hospital.

And no, I’m not telling you who fell. That’s up to her to tell.

As you can imagine, that episode put a damper on things for the rest of the day (and, indeed, tempered our activities for the rest of the retreat).

We reviewed one of the short stories for the workshop, then had dinner and drinks at Takito Kitchen–hereafter known as the “dirty-sexy taco place.” The Margarita’s were awesome, by the way…as was the tapas-style food.

 

 

 

 

Read Part 2 Here

Read Part 3 (The Conclusion) Here

Submissions now OPEN for the SEVENTH Halloween Special!

There will be money involved. Bet you’re reading NOW, huh?

This will be the seventh Halloween Creep-tacular Special.

And boy to I have a story for you guys.

When I was younger and living on Long Island, there was this place. A scary-as-shit place we all knew about, and few dared to tread.

Call it Pilgrim State Hospital, or the Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center. We called it creepy as f%^k.

It’s hey-day was in the 50’s, but through the decades, many of the buildings were abandoned. Land has since been sold off, but there are still a few of the old crumbling structures left.

Despite the fact that a much smaller psychiatric center is on the site and it is well guarded, you still can explore the grounds and the remaining dilapidated campus without too much hassle.

If you dare.

So for this, the #WordCountPodcast‘s SEVENTH Halloween Special, I want you to cook up a story about the insane, the abandoned, or the haunted.

Make it scary.

We have a Facebook Page that we have a goal of reaching a thousand likes this year. So give it a like or share it with your friends. The more listeners and contributors we have, the better the shows will be.

There are  over 400 original stories at this point—all free for your listening pleasure, all we ask is for people to help get the word out. Click the link:

The Word Count Podcast Facebook Page

If you want to listen to past (free) shows, the links below will take you to them:

LIBSYN

or

iTUNES

There are seventy shows available right now!

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

THE WORD COUNT PODCAST – EPISODE 71 “Insane, Abandoned,  Haunted.”

GENRE: Any.

DEADLINE: I must receive your submission by Friday 20 October 2017 by MIDNIGHT Eastern time.

THE DETAILS: The work must be an original story based on the picture above and Halloween.

Do NOT exceed SEVEN minutes.

As this is a podcast, I need to receive a file of YOU, a friend or multiple friends reading (singing or otherwise performing) your work. MP3 FORMAT ONLY, and please attach your MP3 file to an e-mail or contact me for a Dropbox link.

Your submission MUST also contain the following:

• Your pen name
• Your latest bio (DO NOT ASSUME I HAVE YOUR LATEST)
• Links to your website(s) – Include your personal site, Facebook Fanpage etc.
• Your Twitter handle (if you have one)
• A photo of you I can use for the show notes
• At the end of your recording, please add “This is author of and you’re listening to The Word Count Podcast.”
• Permission to use your recording in the podcast.
• PLEASE Make sure you have included ALL ARTIFACTS I have asked for. Do not assume I can “Get your picture from the internet” or can “Pull your bio from your web page.”

Send your file to me@rbwood.com (or via the dropbox link I can provide) by 20 October 2017. You can also e-mail me with questions beforehand. I do reserve the right NOT to post your submission, but will communicate that to you should it be the case. I add the ‘Explicit’ tag to the ‘cast, so if your story uses adult themes or language that’s ok—but it should be necessary for the story.


NOW THE MONEY PART.

I will pay $25.00 USD via PayPal for each accepted story up to TEN original stories in total.

One Submission per person. NO Reprints and NO multiple submissions. It MUST be an original story you have written and have rights to. If you DO NOT follow the guidelines, your story will be rejected out of hand. Acceptance criteria is up to me, and I’ve had strokes, so it might change day to day. You must have a PayPal account.

Payment will be made upon e-mail acceptance of your story and the offer of payment is only valid until 25 October, 2017.

 


***NOTE: I will NOT accept stories that are discriminatory in ANY WAY (whether it be by race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, etc.) or that include rape. ***

Peace

 

 

REVIEW: Ugly Little Things: Collected Horrors

4.5 stars out of 5

Reviewer’s Note: I was provided with an Advance Release Copy (ARC) of “Ugly Little Things” by Crystal Lake Publishing in return for a fair and honest review.

The Basics:

Todd Keisling is a nice, unassuming, generous, funny, and talented author. He is a delight to interact with and—as forward writer Mercedes M. Yardley says—“He’s somehow privy to more than we are.”

He is younger than I, yet so much wiser.

This collection is delightfully evil. I enjoyed each story between the covers, and have noted my favorites below. These characters creations of Keisling’s are amazingly real. As real as you, me, your coworkers…

Or your grandmother.

You will fear for them, cheer them on…wish them well or ill. And that is all by the author’s grand design. Pick this one up and enjoy the nightmares from the mind of an author who knows how to send old-fashioned chills rocketing up and down your spine.

The Details:

“A Man In Your Garden” is the perfect overture piece for this anthology. Keisling, in one brush stroke, shows us to expect the unexpected and reminds us that we can be our own worst enemy.

“Show Me Where the Waters Fill Your Grave” both surprised and horrified me. I’ve seen those videos of caskets floating down streets after Katrina. This was one of my favorites from this collection.

“Radio Free Nowhere” preys on your worst fears if you’ve ever traveled lonely roads without radio reception. Imagine: no cell signal, your ipod is out of juice and Sirius isn’t syncing up. It’s just you, the road, and a haunting tune sung by an unseen “woman…”

Next is “The Otherland Express,” about a teenager caught between unrequited love and an abusive father. The seventeen-year-old is met on the bus by one of many nobodies in the world and a choice is made. This one will leave your skin crawling.

“Saving Granny From The Devil” is a modern take on the Devil and Daniel Webster. Keisling’s delightful character development in the exploration of an age-old trope makes this one fresh and unexpected. Decisions made for the right reasons sometimes have unintended and horrific consequences.

Next was my least favorite story—“The Darkness Between Dead Stars.” Told in a “This is really what happened” style from the viewpoint of an engineer for a doomed Mars mission, I really didn’t sympathize with either the narrator or the “MVP.”

“Human Resources” made me laugh out loud, and I so do enjoy Keisling’s dry sense of humor. In the form of an e-mail resignation letter from a newly converted Human Resource Manager, this Lovecraftian note brings back for an encore performance Charles Boid (Praise His Glory).

Still chuckling over the last story, the horrific college boy/lust piece, “House of Nettle and Thorn,” is disturbing for many reasons, not the least of which is the depiction of the main character’s roommate: “Nick Edgleman’s contribution to the great human identity would be equal to a crusted stain on a pair of boxer shorts with the reek of Axe body spray.” We ALL knew somebody like him…

My second of three favorites was “When Karen Met Her Mountain.” Once again, Keisling’s deep character work creates a believable protagonist, whose own past horrors are reignited and amplified when a cult kidnaps her husband.

“The Final Reconciliation,” a novella I’d just recently read, completes the Ugly Little Things collection. It is the story of The Yellow Kings (delicious Lovecraft and “True Detective” reference), a heavy-metal band of four youngsters from Kentucky who set out on their first tour–told historically through an interview with the metal band’s now aged guitarist, Aiden Cross.

Keisling’s knowledge of Heavy Metal and his meticulous description of “band life” makes this piece my top pick of my favorite three.

Beware the groupies and preorder a copy today!

REVIEW: BEHOLD! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonder

Step right up, if you dare…

I was provided an Advanced Release Copy (ARC) in return for an unbiased review.

I have a secret obsession with dark, disturbing, weird, and well-written anthologies. Crystal Lake Publishing has come out with a few of my favorites over the past few years, and BEHOLD! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders is the latest favorite, following on from last year’s Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories and their annual Tales from the Lake collections.

The Short Review:

Buy it. It’s amazing and editor Doug Murano did a marvelous job putting together the collection–which features amazing wordsmiths such as Clive Barker, Lucy A. Snyder, Neil Gaiman, Stephanie M. Wytovich, John Langan, Lisa Morton, Richard Thomas and many others. Oh, and a wonderful foreword from Josh Malerman that you really shouldn’t skip over. Five Stars.

The Longer Review:

Right from the gorgeous cover by artist John Coulthart, the reader is invited between the pages into a literary carnival of wonders and the grotesque.

Behold! is divided into three sections – Oddities, Curiosities, and Undefinable Wonders (as the title suggests). The choice of Lisa Morton’s LaRue’s Dime Museum kicks off the Oddities section. It is a delightfully different and weird “freak show” type tale that is both unexpected and fresh. Brian Kirk‘s Wildflower, Cactus, Rose was a tough story to read based on the subject matter—but was beautiful and spine-tingling at the same time. The Baker of Millepoix by Hal Bodner is the story that most resembles a painting—beautiful, colorful. Picturesque, even. Finally, Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament is a marvelously disturbing tales of guilt and horror intertwined with desire and love.

I was delighted at this point to discover that each section was separated by poetry by Stephanie M. Wytovich. An Exhibition of Mother and Monsters is between ‘Oddities’ and ‘Curiosities’ and As a Guest at the Telekinetic Tea Party dove tails into Lucy A Snyder’s Hazelnuts and Yummy Mummies close out ‘Curiosities’ and kicks off ‘Undefinable Wonders’

Curiosities begins with John Langan‘s Madame Painte: For Sale–a buyer beware story of sorts with a delicious ending. Chivalry by Neil Gaiman is next and is a feel good story….of a sort. Gaiman always draws me into his world-creations. Fully Boarded by Ramsey Campbell is a story that will give even the most stalwart traveller pause. Amelia’s Wake by Erinn L Kemper is a dark story of grief and sadness. Her story really resonated with me after the death of my dad last year.

A Ware That Will Not Keep, is an anecdotal story told by a grandfather about the atrocities of WW II and John F.D. Taft tells a sympathetic tale that is both sympathetic and horrific.

Horror to me is taking the everyday and turning it onto itself. Was the creaking floorboard REALLY just the house settling? Ed Pruitt’s Smoker by Patrick Freivald takes bee keeping to a very different place and works so very well.

Hazelnuts and Yummy Mummies by Lucy A. Snyder had me laughing to myself (as it was 3AM at the time, my wife found this disconcerting). If you have a unique take on humor, you will adore this one.

Undefinable Wonders begins with The Shiny Fruit of Our Tomorrows was such a real-world story, that I think you might have to read this one for yourself to process it. A nice one by Brian Hodge.

The Wakeful is another one of those ‘every day’ stories that make horror so disturbing. I’m just glad I was inside when I read it. Kristi DeMeester is now on my ‘to read’ list.

Christopher Coake‘s strange story Knitter , while clever was so different from The Wakeful that it shocked me into a different place. It is very well written and presented—I may just have not switched gears fast enough.

I adore subtle anti-religion tales, and that’s what Sarah Read gives us with Through Gravel. Deliciously executed.

The collection ends with one of my favorite authors, Richard Thomas and his short entitled Hiraeth. Yes, I had to look it up, and I’m glad I did before reading. Hiraeth, loosely translated, means homesick—but so much more. There is a passion and a sorrow in the Welsh word that no English translation can capture. This story was beautiful and deep—and is perfectly named. There is hope here. Beauty and wonder as well. And there is the knowledge that our world is unknowable in its complexity.

BEHOLD! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonder is a collection that you will read over and over. Pay the entry fee and discover the worlds within for yourself.

But take heed. Some of these stories may change you.

ReaderCON 28

This is my Readercon 28 (2017) Conference update.  The latest posts are at the top, so start at the bottom to get the full picture. 

No. I don’t know why I do it that way. 

Sunday, July 16th 11:05 PM

Final thoughts-Readercon was the first writing conference I ever attended, starting 8 years ago. I have met so many inspirational people, made so many friends. The Con is changing–and that is a good thing. There were many more younger writers in attendance this year than I remember from years past. There were a few more panels on horror this year–a testament to the resurgence of that genre.  Multiple writing groups were reciting their art (and I want to join them all), and overall there is a greater sense of inclusiveness.  It’s not perfect, but it is better.

I think the management team has done wonders with their code of conduct and safety regs. in the years since the “troubles” and I hope Readercon will continue to enforce its stated safety policies.

Above all, continuing the thought-provoking conversations and ideas brought up in literature is the fundamental joy of this conference for me. In the nearly ten years I’ve been attending, I feel personally that I’ve grown and learned…and continue to ask questions.

My late father used to say “every day you learn something is a good day.”

Before I close the post for 2017, I wanted to say a special thanks to a couple people who make Readercon amazing for me every year. My Guinness pal, Glenn Skinner, along with Melissa Burkart and Deanna Rice. The most wonderful James & Kathy Morrow, who have been mentors and an inspiration for some time, and Scott Edelman who is charming, funny and full of energy.

This year especially I loved chatting with Liz Hand, Paul Tremblay, Peter Straub, John Langan, Eric Mulder, Cam Roberson, The Boston Speculative Fiction Writers and the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers…

So many others.

I missed a few people who couldn’t make it this year–namely Peter Dube, Yves Meynard and Allen Steele specifically.

I know I’m waxing on ad infinitum, but when I finally hit “post,” it means the end of ReaderCon 28.

“All Good Things,” I guess…

Bring on Readercon 29. See you at Boskone 55 and StokerCon2018…

Peace,

RBWood

Sunday, July 16th 11:05 PM

7:35 PM Munching on the traditional post-ReaderCON Chinese takeaway, my lovely wife by my side, it’s time for the final notes for The last day of Readercon…

Grimlight: Life after Grimdark Martin Cahill (leader), John Kessel, Alena McNamara, Nnedi Okorafor, Wes RistGrimdark stories in fantasy and science fiction openly deal with themes of abuse, war, pain, and death. These themes can be used to revitalize one-dimensional genres in which heroes have unrealistically easy adventures, but over time, readers may nd that all the destruction and misery becomes debilitating or boring. Grimlight fiction, a term coined by Emily Wagner in late 2016, strikes a balance between acknowledging life’s sorrows and finding sources of optimism. Guest of Honor Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death and Max Gladstone’s Craft sequence certainly don’t shy away from the bleakness and tragedy of life, but the characters and readers can stare into the heart of the bleakness and still come out with hope. This panel will examine stories that balance pain with cheer and perhaps take a stab at constructing a first draft of a grimlight canon.

An interesting panel discussion that–instead of drafting a definition of “Grimlight”–came up with a total of five nuanced genre’s within the Grimdark umbrella. I still feel that these genre definitions are applied “after the fact” by some marketing dude somewhere…I think writing is a product of the times. Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, for example, was a direct result of the fear felt during the “Great Recession” of the last decade.

Shirley Jackson Awards

(From the SJA Website): In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, The Shirley Jackson Awards, Inc. has been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.

The Shirley Jackson Awards are voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors. The awards are given for the best work published in the preceding calendar year in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.

NOVEL

Winner: The Girls, Emma Cline (Random House)

Finalists

  • Foxlowe, Eleanor Wasserberg (Fourth Estate-UK/Penguin Books-US)
  • I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Iain Reid (Gallery/Scout)
  • Lily, Michael Thomas Ford (Lethe)
  • Mongrels, Stephen Graham Jones (William Morrow)
  • The Wonder, Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown)

NOVELLA

Winner: The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (Tor.com)

Finalists:

  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (Tor.com)
  • Maggots,” Nina Allan (Five Stories High)
  • Muscadines, S.P. Miskowski (Dunhams Manor)
  • The Sadist’s Bible, Nicole Cushing (01 Publishing)
  • The Warren, Brian Evenson (Tor.com)

NOVELETTE

Winner: “Waxy,” Camilla Grudova (Granta))

Finalists:

  • “Andy Kaufman Creeping Through the Trees,” Laird Barron (Autumn Cthulhu)
  • “Angel, Monster, Man,” Sam J. Miller (Nightmare Magazine)
  • “Breaking Water,” Indrapramit Das (Tor.com)
  • “The Night Cyclist,” Stephen Graham Jones (Tor.com)
  • “Presence,” Helen Oyeyemi (What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours)

SHORT FICTION

Winner: “Postcards from Natalie,” Carrie Laben (The Dark)

Finalists:

  • “Animal Parts,” Irenosen Okojie (Speak, Gigantular)
  • “The Apartments,” Karen Heuler (Other Places)
  • “Postcards from Natalie,” Carrie Laben (The Dark)
  • “Red,” Katie Knoll (Masters Review)
  • “Things With Beards,” Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld)

SINGLE-AUTHOR COLLECTION

Winner: A Natural History of Hell, Jeffrey Ford (Small Beer Press)

Finalists:

  • Almost Insentient, Almost Divine, D.P. Watt (Undertow)
  • Furnace, Livia Llewellyn (Word Horde)
  • Greener Pastures, Michael Wehunt (Shock Totem)
  • We Show What We Have Learned, Clare Beams (Lookout)

EDITED ANTHOLOGY

Winner: The Starlit Wood, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Saga Press)

Finalists:

  • Autumn Cthulhu, edited by Mike Davis (Lovecraft eZine Press)
  • The Madness of Dr. Caligari, edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (Fedogan and Bremer )
  • Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories, edited by Kelsi Morris and Kaitlin Tremblay (Exile Editions)
  • An Unreliable Guide to London, edited by Kit Caless and Gary Budden (Influx Press)

BOARD OF DIRECTORS AWARD to Ruth Franklin in recognition of the biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life.

Congrats to all the winners & finalists!

Sororal Friendships in Fantasy Greer Gilman, Naomi Novik, Julia Rios (leader), Tui Sutherland, Fran Wilde.

One of the central relationships in Guest of Honor Naomi Novik’s novel Uprooted is between the heroine and her best friend. Agnieszka and Kasia were raised together and have a deep bond that is explored throughout the novel. This depiction of female friendship is unusual in fantasy fiction and gave rise to much discussion (and no small amount of fan c from fans who either wanted to see more of the friendship or felt it ought to have been a romance). This panel explores sororal friendships in fantasy and the ways they can alter or comment on familiar tropes such as the maiden in the tower and the questing band of brothers.

Kaffeeklatsch – James Morrow & Steve Berman

It’s always good to see Jim and to hear about his latest and greatest works in progress (he had read from Lazarus is Waiting just the other day). However, the ‘klatsch became a serious discussion of gender tropes and marginalized people (with via skin color, sexual orientation, what have you)in the industry. This stemmed from the announcement of the “13th Doctor” to be played by Jodie Whittaker and the subtle inference of lesbianism in the recent “Wonder Woman” movie. Passions blossomed in this discussion. As a Heterosexual white middle-aged male, it was inferred that I could not understand nor celebrate the diversity in both the BBC choice of Doctor nor the lake of a sexualized Wonder Woman. However, as neurologically challenged, handicapped person, I certainly have experienced significant bias and marginalization first hand in the past two years. No, I’ll never know what it’s like to be a gay man nor a woman in a society that seems to negate both, but as a writer, I feel I have to at least try and understand these feelings and my friend’s perspectives.

Needless to say…it was a lively discussion. And I never got my Jim Morrow books signed.

Saturday, July 15th 10:40 PM (Saturday Part 2)

10:40ish PM The evening is done as is day 3. I can not believe the con is almost over at this point. A couple panels and a marvelous group reading to report on, so let’s get to it!

A Technology Not Traveled Inanna Arthen, John Chu, Chris Gerwel, Jeff Hecht, Sioban Krywicki

Alternate history and historical fantasy often engage with technologies that once seemed like the way of the future: airships, clockwork, mechanical computing. There’s a certain dreamy wonder around many modern depictions of early industrial inventions. Why are we fascinated with what became technological dead ends? There are many magical fantasies where wizards can’t use computers; is this a different expression of the same anxieties about modern gadgets? Is there really a possible timeline where clockwork became ascendant while electronics never took off, or is it all just an excuse for some gorgeous cosplay?

Deep Time Glenn Grant, Jeff Hecht, Sioban Krzywicki (leader), Tom Purdom, Vandana Singh, Ian Strock

With so many planets discovered in “habitable zones” around other stars, why haven’t we encountered evidence of other civilizations? Could it just be a matter of scale? Civilization is short, while space and time are vast, so perhaps we simply haven’t overlapped with alien civilizations yet? The universe is vastly old and we’ve only been able to detect some possible forms of transmissions from other civilizations for less than a century? Alistair Reynolds has explored the idea that the slowing of time at relativistic speeds could enable civilizations to meet one another. Panelists will discuss this enticing possibility and what we might find in the far, far future.

REALLY interesting discussions around time travel, relativistic speeds, impact on societies and the definition of ‘civilization.’

Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers Group Reading

Marcy Arlin, Adanze Asante, S.A. Chakraborty, Teri Clarke, Randee Dawn, Elliotte Harold, Puloma Mukherjee, Bradley Robert Parks, J.M. Plumbley, Cameron Roberson, Sam Schreiber, Essowe Tchalim, Marcus Tsong

 

 

 

 

12 snippets in an hour. An incredibly wide range of story beginnings, and I wanted to hear how they all ended! A very active group that makes me miss New York. They are also the producers of the most marvelous Kaleidocast which they are running a kickstarter for their second season

 

Saturday, July 15th 1:55 PM (Saturday Part 1)

1:55 PM Going to try and breakup the notes for day into a couple of parts so it makes it a bit easier and (quite frankly) I’ve been invited to have a few adult bevies with a couple horror writers whose work I enjoy.  It’s always nice to find folks with the same irreverent sense of humor you employ on a daily basis!

But that’s pretty much true of all the people I hang out with at ReaderCON…and my wife’s wit and jokes fit right into that mold as well.

But I digress.  Here’s a bit about the morning:

The Life-Changing Magic of Outlining Your Novel. Daryl Gregory, Elaine Isaak (leader), Yoon Lee, Mark Oshiro, Terence Taylor

Developing a novel outline can be nearly as complex a process as writing the novel itself. Our panel of plotters will discuss the many techniques they’ve used for developing the skeletons of books, and consider which outline creation skills and tools lend themselves to particular genres and styles of writing. Hybrid methods of outlining and making decisions on the y will also be discussed.

This was an amazingly fun panel, for a) a dry subject and b) 10:00 AM. And it wasn’t all “Scrivener is great go buy it!”

One of my difficulties post-strokes has been the organization and mapping out of complex plotting. Short stories up to 6 or 7k words is one thing. Whereas I used to be able to keep all the elements of a 100k novel in my head, my brain just doesn’t work that way anymore. So I’m finding whatever workarounds I can to makeup for the damaged noggin.

I wasn’t disappointed. Yes, Scrivener was discussed. So was the use of MS Word (with macros) and MS Excel. But Mind-mapping, the “Snowflake method” and even the old fashioned use of index cards to create pert diagrams were discussed. I have a lot of notes and things to try once I’m back home.

Reading – Scott Edelman

I’ve enjoyed Scott’s work since I was old enough to really pay attention to the writing credits on Marvel comics. His writing is descriptive and fun, and his storylines are very interesting and many times surprising. He read (and then signed a copy for me) from his latest zombie collection of novellas called Liars, Fakers, and the Dead Who Eat Them. He read from the first story in the collection (Only Humans can Lie) which is the story of Tim, owner of a vegan restaurant in a small southern town during the beginnings of the zombie apocalypse.

It’s always good to see Scott, and I know he recorded a few episodes of his podcast Eating the Fantastic (no, it’s not a zombie podcast) while at ReaderCON. He interviews various writer’s during lunch, breakfast or other meal. I know he was chatting with James Patrick Kelly…and another show with George RR Martin is around the corner as well.

Kaffeeklatsch – Paul Tremblay

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was the closet I’ve ever been to a hangout-klatsch. Paul was relaxed, despite and evening of hoops and chats that ended around 3:00 AM. We discussed his upcoming book The Four which he read from yesterday, some of the thoughts and insight from bothHead Full of Ghosts and Devil’s Rock and Vampires with fangs coming out of their eyes (in fairness to Paul, that last bit was John Langan’s fault).

 


 

Friday, July 14th 11:50 PM

Wow. It’ll be past midnight when I finally get to bed. Eighteen hours of personal ReaderCON goodness to report on so let’s get to it:

6:00 AM Dear Alarm Clock: Suck it.

5:50 AM The Caffeine is racing through the system. Showered. checked into social media and will write for a couple hours. Finalizing my selectionsfor the panels, readings and kaffeeklatsches  I will be attending. Thinking about a few people I won’t see at the con this year for various reasons–miss them (Peter Due, Yves Maynard, Allen Steele, Mike & Anita Allen, Shira & Adam Lipkin).

But there will be others to see…and new friendships to make. The Thursday night program is the free portion of the convention. Friday morning is when things really get moving in earnest.

One more sip of coffee, double-check to see if I’m wearing pants…ready!

1:55 PM Holy time warp Batman! That went fast. A bit of what the morning events were:

The Politics of Villains. Maria Dahvana Headley (leader), Darcie Little Badger, Hillary Monahan, Naomi Novik, Cameron Roberson, Gregory Wilson.The villains of speculative fiction (and fiction in general) often reflect the biases of their times. Race, sexuality, disability, and gender have all been and continue to be used as shorthand for evil; some supposedly villainous physical traits, such as hooked noses on witches, have been around for so long that many modern authors don’t even realize they’re rooted in bigoted stereotypes. In response, some authors have deliberately created villains who stand in for oppressive power structures. This panel will dig into the concept of a villain, a person who embodies evil or wrongness, and discuss whether it can ever really be separated from the writer’s culture-infuenced understanding of which categories of people are most likely to be villainous.

As you can imagine, the talk of this panel (and of the con so far) surrounded our current political environment. Really interesting discussions of “Rich White Guys” (who are the current favorite villains) verses the signifiers and stereotypes of the past.

Reading – Paul Tremblay

I like Paul very much. He’s a native to the Boston area, an educator and a connoisseur of fine beers. And he writes scary shit. What more could one ask? He read from his upcoming book The Four. I finished Devil’s Rock about a month ago…He has a way to build a “subsonic” type of tension into his books that grows into terror slowly…inevitably. From the snippet we heard, sounds like The Four will be a wonderful read!

Reading – Gregory Wilson

Was really excited to see Greg. He has the second book of his Gray Assassin Trilogy coming out (The first of which was Grayshade), and I was hoping he would read a bit of book two. I was delighted when he read from the first bit of Renegade! He and I chatted a bit about academia and he wished me well with the MFA starting in the fall. He–like many others I met through out the day–had asked hoe my health was doing. It’s always amazing to me how writers of any level and notoriety seem to be genuinely good people. Greg also has a podcast called Speculate! The Podcast for Writers, Readers and Fans, which I highly recommend you check out.

Our DystopiaSusan Bigelow (leader), Cameron Roberson, Tui Sutherland, Gordan Van Gelder, Sabrina Vourvoulias.

Since the election, many on the left have been calling attention to George Orwell’s 1984 as a missed warning. Guest of Honor Nnedi Okorafor said in a radio interview that she believes Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower is a more appropriate dystopia for our current climate. Orwell’s Animal Farm, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and other books have also warned of surreal authoritarianism. Do they map to our current world or are we projecting? What other books have warnings for us that we might heed?

I’ll be that many of you can guess the main topic here…but I wanted to attend specifically because I’m taking a course this fall in Dystopian literature and i wanted to hear the recommended works that the panelists would have. I wasn’t disappointed as I’m now armed with a few more gems to add to my studies beyond what’s mentioned in the course description. The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Uglies by Scott Westerfield and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We were discussed as well.

7:05 PM Writing this at the start of my 7:00 panel…so I’ll be quick.  A Kaffeeklatsche, more readings and a meeting with a few of the Boston Speculative fiction writers is next…

Kaffeeklatsch – Elizabeth Hand

It’s no secret that adore the writings and the humor of Elizabeth Hand. Liz is one of the reasons I chose to go for my MFA, as she works with the MFA program for  Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. We and a few others sat down for a chat and discussed, among other popular concerns, the environmental impacts and her with with the US Government on the story and planing for megafires of the future. Google it. It’s terrifying.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, this would lead to the piece Liz would use for her reading later. We discussed the “hinted at supernatural” in her Case Neary series and upcoming works.

Reading – James Morrow

Like Liz, Jim has been a major influence for me over the years. He agreed to be one of my references for my MFA application (something I found out just this weekend from his wife Kathy that he almost never does) and has kicked me in the backside when I needed it. He is one of my favorite literary writers and Shambling Towards Hiroshima is still one of my books I love to reread every few years. I thought he might read from The Asylum of Dr. Caligari this year as it was just released, but I was in for a different treat when he pulled a few pages from his upcoming Timetraveling story Lazurus is Waiting. Filled with his normal wit and satire, for 30 minutes Jim delivered his patently dry, sophisticated wit to the audience.

One note…I went up and spoke to him afterwards, thanking him again for his reference, when he asked me to sign a copy of Offbeat: Nine Spins on Song. He new it was the first story I had published after my strokes.

Having one of your heroes ask you for an autograph is kind of amazing…and incredibly humbling.

Reading – Elizabeth Hand

Liz read to us a captivating short story called “Fire,” from a recent collection of short stories and essays of the same name. Based on Liz’s real-life experience as a participant in a governmental climate change think tank, it follows a ragtag cadre of scientists and artists racing to save both civilization and themselves from fast-moving global fires.

Reading – Boston Speculative Fiction Writing Group Andrea Corbin, Gillian Daniels, Eric Mulder, Emily Strong, Rachel Zakuta

Five members of this local writing group read stories in progress (or about to be published). An eclectic range of tales entertained the audience–from a necromancer trying to us her magic to get the NYC subway system up and running in a post Cthulhu world, to an alien world birthday trip and a purple “muppet-like” alien. Good, crazy group and I was delighted to speak with a few of them, including the president of BSFWG Lyndsay Ely. The seem funny, smart and very nice and I might have the opportunity to join this group in the future, so stay tuned.

Also, they provided snacks.

The Commonalities of Magic and Science. Erik Amundsen, David Bowles, Rosemary Kirstein, Naomi Novik (leader), Nnedi Okorafor

Specialized and secret fields of knowledge create barriers to understanding and can become mechanisms of cultural control. They can also be foundations for resistance. They can support or destroy communities and instill gratitude or resentment. All these things could be said of both magic and science, and the wielders thereof. The tradition of pitting magic and science against each other goes back to Tolkien’s anxieties about industrialization, but today’s speculative works have moved beyond it to recognize that the two can coexist and are often used similarly as metaphors. We’ll examine Guest of Honor Naomi Novik’s mix of historical technology and dragons, Guest of Honor Nnedi Okorafor’s mix of futuristic technology and sorcery, and other successful amalgamations and integrations.

It was wonderful to finally have the opportunity to see and hear this year’s GoH Need Okorafor speak! I lively discussion of fantastical magic and sciences and how they could be used in various societal situations for good or ill.

11:55 PM That’s it..I’m done for the day. Haven’t checked this portion of the post for typos etc., but maybe tomorrow.  It’s been amazing so far…tomorrow should be even better!

 

 


Thursday, July 13th 10:30 PM

This is the second year I’m actually staying at the conference. I spent two days packing and unpack then repacking. See, this year I brought some books I want to get signed.

Along with a dozen copies of Off Beat: Nine Spins on Song to dole out. If you want one, give a shout out in the comments or find me during the Con.

The ex-Marine Uber driver with the semi-automatic strapped to his waist very kindly helped me load and unload his Infinity. And he didn’t shoot me, so the day started pretty well.

Pictured: My Gear and Books. Not Pictured: “Jorge” and his Beretta.

Got settled in, had dinner with Glenn Skinner, and am typing up some notes from  the two free panels I attended this evening before bed.

No, I do not believe any of the panelists were armed.

Footsteps in the Dark: The Sensory Range of Horror. F. Brett Cox (leader), John Langan, Darcie Little Badger, Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, Paul Tremblay.

 

Horror is frequently thought of as a visual medium, and is often adapted for film and television. However, other senses are vitally important to the development of horror stories, and the experience of fear for the reader. Consider Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, which erased sight for the main characters, or the pounding in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Consider also the recent uptick in films with disabled characters, such as the Deaf writer in Hush and the blind antagonist in Don’t Breathe. This panel will explore these and other works of multisensory horror, and address how writers can create vivid horror experiences for readers.

This was a lively panel discussion about sensory range in horror–Josh Malerman’s Birdbox (the story of supernatural entities driving people mad and to suicide if they see them–the reader follows survivors who wear blindfolds) was discussed briefly with more emphasis on Shirley Jackson’s most marvelous The Haunting of Hill House. The point was made that only two senses can bee utilized in movies (sight and sound) while all five can be used in the written narrative. Patrick Susskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murder  and The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (Up for a 2017 Shirley Jackson award for best novella) were also referenced.

Highway to the Weirder Zone. Samuel R. Delany, Max Gladstone, Maria Dahvana Headley (leader), Chandler Klang Smith, Marissa Lingen.

Surrealism, magical realism, paranormal romance, and other genres of the weird have different methods for getting the reader to suspend disbelief and acclimate as the roses rain down and the protagonist turns into a cockroach. Can authors of less-weird science fiction and fantasy borrow those tricks to ease reader’s dislocation, or is dislocated exactly what a reader should be? Are there different approaches that work for a phantasmagoria of ideas or a phantasmagoria of sensory impressions? And what problems arise from applying the assumptions and techniques of one genre or subgenre to another?

This intro evening to ReaderCON was a marvelous starter and tiny taste of what is to come. Back up in the room now after saying hello to some old acquaintances, eating a meal, and enjoying time at the bar with an old friend…Let’s see what tomorrow brings!

 


 

Reflecting the week before ReaderCON 28

Next week is ReaderCON 28.

It’s amazing how quickly a year goes by.

In the picture above, there are seven badges–seven years since I started on this writing journey. First as a hobbyist, more recently taking the curveball life gave me and turning it into something new and marvelous.

My first ReaderCON (Readercon 21) is sort of my starting point for my writing exploits. I had no idea what I was doing back then. Still don’t, but I’m learning all the time.

So before the conference each year, I like to take stock of where I am as a writer, refresh the short & long term goals and reflect on the generally positive things that have happened since last year’s (and my first) ReaderCON.

First, I’ve published six short stories since last year’s conference. Ink Washed Cat as a part of the Once Upon a Cursed Time anthology, Poison Pen in The Unforgiven Anthology, The Glass Bauble in Christmas Nightmares, Thanksgiving in the Park as a part of Off Beat: Nine Spins on Song, and Fine Print–a story I wrote for Richard Thomas’ Contemporary Dark Fiction class was picked up by Sick Lit Magazine a couple months ago.

I currently have nine stories out for submission…wait. Eight. Just got a rejection from Apex. I’ll put it in the file with the other 2 dozen.

Second, I’ve been accepted by Emerson College into their MFA program for Popular Fiction…and they threw a lot of money at me to attend. The online program is for three years, but I’m going to finish it in two.

2014-07-11_10.04.52Third, while I’m only up to short stories at this point…I have ideas for full-length novels.  Continuations of my series (I plan on revisiting the first book as a task for my MFA and using that as a stepping stone to seek out the right agent), and a couple new ideas rattling around. More on those at a later date.

2012-07-15_11.41.08Fourth, I continue to meet some amazing, talented writers in the past year who are more than willing to not only read/critique my stuff, but help with general writing craft tips and shoulders to lean on occasionally. Specifically I’m talking about Richard Thomas, Becca Borawski Jenkins, S. L. Coney, Dona Fox, Matthew Munson, Emmett Spain, Maria Haskins, Eden Baylee and Bill Kirton among many, many others.

Most importantly, the limitless support of my partner and best friend, Tina Lampropoulos.

IMG_1754I think that is a lot of wonderful things to focus on, don’t you? Writing continues my rehabilitation post strokes…and I’m learning work-arounds for this cognitive functions that have been permanently lost.

It has been a hard few years–but I am blessed. Something I’ve very recently come to understand and embrace.

Which brings me full circle to ReaderCON.

meandjimI will be seeing and catching up with friends I’ve made through the years at the con. There are amazing panels that I’m planning on digging into. There is a stack of books I want to get signed.

There is fiction to read.

My normal daily updates will be posted as usually. Look for them to start next Thursday (July 13th).

Until then,

Peace, love and hair grease.

RB


Past ReaderCON Posts:

ReaderCON 27

 ReaderCON 26

ReaderCON 25

ReaderCON 24

ReaderCON 23

ReaderCON 22


 

Life Finds a Way

It has taken me nearly 18 months to make peace with the fact that my brain has permanently, and irreversibly changed.

It has also taken me 18 months to realize how truly blessed I am because of the changes.

Weird. I feel blessed because of  30 strokes.

Well, I’m still around. And I have most of my physical abilities. My cognition when it comes to things like strategy, numbers and logic has been annihilated, however. And I gave up my car and driving for the time being.

Blessed. Truly.

I can no longer do the work I’ve been doing for thirty-two years. That career has been shattered. I won’t lie to you, I was in a pretty bad funk about that fact. But life finds a way.

I started writing again in rehab back in November 2015 at the insistence of one of my therapists.  I could barely walk or speak, let alone hold a pencil.

I hated her for making me write, back then. My first journal entry was three words, scrawled almost illegibly:

“Fuck this shit.”

Now? Eighteen months later? Well, let me quote Stephen King:

 “Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.”

And so it goes.

Last Friday, I was surprised and shocked to receive an acceptance letter to Emerson College–to their MFA program in Popular Fiction writing. They also threw a massive scholarship at me, to which I am eternally grateful.

The application was a bit of a lark–and like everything else lately, I had a load of help with the admission process. My wife, who is the most exquisite human to ever walk this earth, has been at my side–always encouraging, always helping.

I received four brilliant references from wonderful authors who I both respect and admire ( Matthew Munson and Dr. Bill Kirton from my show The Word Count Podcast, my friend, instructor and mentor, Richard Thomas, and World Fantasy and Nebula award-winning author, James Morrow). I submitted samples of my published work and an essay (the story of my writing rebirth after surviving trauma).

Four days after submitting my application, I was accepted.

This has been the culmination of recovery, acceptance, and a desire to take this “new cognitive me” out for a spin.

For all those who have helped me, I am forever in your debt. Know that I will do you proud during this next adventure.

Welcome to the class of ’19, you brain-damaged old man. You are truly blessed.

 

OFF BEAT: Nine Spins on Song

Inspired by favorite songs, nine fantasy and science fiction authors spin tales of adventure, intrigue, mystery, and horror.

I love release days!

And I adore the authors at Wicked Ink Books.

Last year, after WIB’s award-winning anthology TICK TOCK was released, the seven authors opened up submissions for their next anthology. I submitted my story, Thanksgiving in the Park inspired by the Guns ‘n’ Roses song November Rain.

Months of edits, proofing and communications later, you can now read what we have all been working toward.

I hope you will pick up a copy–and look into other works by these talent folks.

A little blurb about each story

  • A boy follows his girlfriend’s suicide note to its disturbing conclusion.
  • A man must pass on an ancient curse of immortality before his time finally runs out.
  • Two lost beings fight for life, for each other, and to find a way home.
  • A serial killer from the future, banished to present day, must control her homicidal urges in order to survive.
  • A thief and a sex worker find their paths unexpectedly entwined in ways that threaten both of their lives.
  • For a caged girl, one hand gives, but the other takes away all she’s ever known.
  • To gain their freedom, quarreling townsfolk must find a way to cross a bottomless ravine.
  • A man interrupts a monster at work and is determined to entertain the creature long enough to stay alive.
  • When his father’s ghost appears, a businessman is forced to reflect on his life.

The eBook is available right now at AMAZON, and the paperback will be available shortly.

In the meantime, here is a bit about my 8 compatriots:

Calypso Kane

Calypso Kane lives in the cooking heart of Texas. She writes fantastical fictions about the fey, the fanciful, and the fiendish. Her short stories have been published in anthologies such as The Odd and the Bizarre, Strange Little Girls, and Her Dark Voice 2. Between submissions she enjoys picking absently at her own stories, hibernating, and telling herself she’ll get around to her growing tower of unread new books eventually.

 

Corinne O’Flynn

I am a native New Yorker living in Colorado, and wouldn’t trade life in the Rockies for anything. I love writing fantasy and mystery, and experimenting with short fiction. I am a self-proclaimed scone aficionado, a professional napper, and I have an entire section of my kitchen devoted to tea. When I’m not writing, I can be found hanging with my husband and our kids, playing board games, knitting, reading, or binge watching some fabulous shows (while sipping tea).

A.G. Henley

A.G. Henley is a contributor to Wicked Ink Books’ anthologies, OFF BEAT: Nine Spins on Song and TICK TOCK: Seven Tales of Time, and the author of the Brilliant Darkness series. The first book in the series, THE SCOURGE, was a Library Journal Self-e Selection and a finalist for the Next Generation Indie Book Award. A.G. is also a clinical psychologist in Denver, Colorado. She promises not to analyze you… much.

Sue Duff

Sue Duff was born in Chicago, IL but grew up in Phoenix, AZ. She dreamed of dragons and spaceships before she could read and combines Fantasy and SciFi in her breakout series, The Weir Chronicles. When she’s not saving the world, one page at a time, she’s walking her Great Dane, getting her hands dirty in the garden or cooking up something delicious in her kitchen.

Wendy Terrien

Wendy Terrien received her first library card at age two, and a few years later started writing her own stories. Her debut novel, The Rampart Guards (February 2016), earned a Kirkus starred review and was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2016. The novel is a #1 regional bestseller, and is the first in her intriguing urban fantasy series.

Wendy graduated from the University of Utah (go Utes!) and transplanted to Colorado where she completed her MBA at the University of Denver. She focused her marketing expertise on the financial and technology industries until a career coach stepped in and reminded Wendy of her passion for writing. Wendy began attending writers conferences, workshops, and retreats.

She regularly participates in two critique groups and is the Secretary of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and a member of Pikes Peak Writers. In 2014, Wendy was a finalist in the San Francisco Writer’s Contest.

Wendy lives in the Denver area with her husband, Kevin, and their three dogs: Maggie, Shea, and Boon. All of her dogs are rescues, and Wendy is passionate about promoting shelter adoptions. If you’re in Colorado, you may even be able to spot her by her “Adopt a Shelter Pet” license plates.

Kristi Helvig

Kristi Helvig is a Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist turned sci-fi/fantasy writer. You can find her musing about space monkeys, Star Trek, and other random topics on her blog. Kristi resides in sunny Colorado with her hubby, kids, and behaviorally-challenged dogs.

Rebecca Taylor

Rebecca Taylor is the indie author of ASCENDANT, winner of the 2014 Colorado Book Award and a Library Journal National Self-e Select title; MIDHEAVEN; THE EXQUISITE AND IMMACULATE GRACE OF CARMEN ESPINOZA, and her latest release, and RWA RITA Finalist, AFFECTIVE NEEDS.

She obtained her BA in psychology and sociology from the University of Colorado, Denver, and her Ed.S in school psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. In addition to writing, she works as a school psychologist and teaches at Regis University in their MFA program.

She lives with her husband, two children, three dogs, and two tortoises in Denver, Colorado. She loves to travel and spends probably too much time on the interwebs planning trips. When she’s not planted in front of her keyboard, she likes to watch movies on Netflix, camp, read, do jigsaw puzzles, hike, drink tea, snow ski, swim in the ocean, watch people, eat peanut butter, run miles to nowhere on a treadmill, troll bookstores, stare into the abyss, and worry that she should probably be writing instead.

Shawn McGuire

Colorado-based author Shawn McGuire started writing after seeing the first Star Wars movie (that’s episode IV) as a kid. She couldn’t wait for the next installment to come out so wrote her own. Sadly, those notebooks are long lost, but her desire to write is as strong now as it was then. Her young adult novels deal with harder issues—dating violence, death of a family member, bullying, and teen suicide. Since those topics can be hard to handle, she infuses a good bit of humor as well because she believes that laughter can help you get through just about anything.