Read Eyes or No Eyes at Heroic Quarterly

“Are your eyes not a pittance for the sake of your kingdom?”

I wrote a fantasy piece that would make my knighted ancestors proud — a misanthropic old wizard nurses a brave knight back to health after she is wounded in a joust. The shattering of a lance is the fulcrum upon which the fates of a kingdom turn in “Eyes or No Eyes” and all will be tested. Except for the wizard. He hates that kind of thing.

Kat Deggans is the artist who contributes an illustration to the tale; it’s always a pleasure to have a story illustrated by an artist and I’ve been fortunate in having several stories graced by the talents of my fellow creatives. We need art in this world, and I thank Kat Deggans for being able to give this story more impact with the visual element than it would otherwise have.

Adrian Simmons is the editor and he was great to work with on this one; there’s no doubt he loves what he does, and authors can’t ask for much more than that kind of respect for the creative work we all toil at.

Give Heroic Fantasy Quarterly some love, their whole issue 30 for November is online and I’m looking forward to giving the issue a read between researching the Yakuza. While primarily I’m known for horror and the dark, my first love was fantasy when I found “The Book of Three” by Lloyd Alexander, when I was young. Every now and again, I return to it, and it nourishes in turn like mother’s milk.

Enjoy.

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Read Eyes or No Eyes at Heroic Quarterly

Cover Reveal: My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart

Here it is, folks — the cover for My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart. Covers bring that magical element to the process as it becomes apparent that yes, this is indeed really happening. I’m pleased with the result, especially considering the subject matter of the story itself. My wonderful editor and the folks at Talos are looking at  November release this year for this one. Brace yourselves — promotions are coming!
myloadedgunHere’s the summary from the Amazon page:

“If you don’t know by now, we don’t deal in happy endings here . . .”

Vitus Adamson has a second chance at life now that he’s no longer a zombie, but after killing his brother Jamie, Vitus lands in prison on murder charges. Jamie’s death exposes secret government projects so deep in the black they cannot be seen—without Vitus, that is.

Sprung from jail, the government hires Vitus to clean up Jamie’s mess, but tracking down his brother’s homemade monsters gone rogue is easier said than done. A convicted killer safely behind bars may not be so safe after all when it appears he is still committing murder through his victim’s dreams. High on Atroxipine (the drug that once kept him functioning among the living) and lapsing into addiction, Vitus’s grip on reality takes a nasty turn when his own dreams start slipping sideways.

His problems multiply as he deals with his failed friendship with wheelchair-bound officer Geoff Lafferty, his wrecked romance with the town mortician Niko, government agents working for his father, sinister figures lurking in the shadows, and least of all, the complications of learning how to be human again.

Secret agents, conspiracy theories, broken hearts and lonely souls, the siren song of prescription drugs . . . In My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart, readers are invited to discover life after undeath, where there are no happy endings.

Cover Reveal: My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart

Writer, Unwritten, Dyslexic

If you achieve any measure of success in the fiction writing field, measured here by if you manage to be published and be paid for what you wrote, it becomes common to hear the words “talent” applied. People assume you were born with a pen in your hand, you have something other within you that allows you to fashion words in a way that other people are simply lacking. You possess a knack for wordsmithing intrinsic to your internal self.

I can’t speak for the legion of writers who argue the talent versus persistence argument or derivations thereof; what I know is that I was not born with it. Gasp! I know. Blasphemer that I am, I wanted to confess.

I was not born with a muse astride my shoulder, I was not born with a pen in hand. If anything, I had the opposite experience.

Hard to say what happened to the wiring in my brain. I was a bright, laughing child thrown into odd circumstances with numerous challenges. But all in all, I was given the tools to explore, to learn, and to engage with my environment in every way possible before I even set foot into grade school. However, as the deadline neared, it became apparent something was off, something was different.

When they sat me down with pen and paper in an effort to teach me to write my name, the elements of writing could never coalesce. It wasn’t merely that I was learning something new — I could not make sense of the cyphers and figures. Words bent and mirror scripted. Walked backwards and crawled up the walls and off the paper. These sessions ended with hair raising screams and running away. I was not a loud or noisy or greedy or disruptive child. From the start, I presented as introspective, analytical, and weirdly older than my age. For me to throw pen and paper to the ground was unusual.

I was diagnosed with the learning disability of dyslexia. I laugh with the common jokes that come with the territory, but it doesn’t describe the shape and form of what happens inside my skull — things turn backwards and inside out. I would go to the wrong side of doors and cars, put on clothes backwards, shoes on the wrong foot, and time itself was illusory, difficult to wrangle and catch hold of. Buildings did not seem correctly built for my needs and shifted their exteriors, doorknobs slippery and turning in the wrong direction. A switch tripped between what I saw and what the reality was.

Words, nor numbers, then, were not my forte. Instead, teachers and parents forced me to learn the language of the masses, not the language of my native senses. From the start, I was constrained and frustrated; at the time, it was miserable. I had to restart the school year from scratch. They put me into the “slow classes” where I stayed until they advanced me in middle school. There, I did not fit in with either those children, nor the ones in the regular classes. From the beginning and ever after, I would always be fringe, liminal, and between worlds, belonging to none, in the world but not of it. Uncanny, by my very nature.

It was a miserable son of a bitch teaching fifth grade classes who inadvertently forced my thinking into another direction. When the time came to sort students out into different groups of readers, with assignments of varying difficulty, I was relegated to the bottom level. I became incensed. After all this time finally mastering writing and reading along with my peers, I saw no reason why I should not have a say in my own education. My anti-authoritarian identity became restless; I took matters into my own hands. Though I could not promote myself in the class, I swiped a copy of the book the advanced readers were assigned, and read it on my own, without help. The book was Watership Down by Richard Adams.

This was but the beginning. Many encounters with written works, words, and writers, would slowly take part in my formation as a writer. I wrote in earnest, awful, limping stories that barely made it over the finish line. Novellas of the worst nature, fit for firewood and not much else. Yet, they were the beginning, and I sent the first of my god-awful stories out when I was thirteen or fourteen, in 1994, when print markets had to be submitted to by mail, and earned my first rejection slips.

Today, I’m actively submitting stories to pro venues and sometimes, they publish me and pay me enough money to keep the electric on. Better yet, Skyhorse Publishing has taken me onto their roster and published Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell, my debut last year, and this year, My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart.

The assumption becomes that I must be really good at this writing thing. Kinda, sorta, maybe. I don’t know. What I do know is that I still reverse my words from time to time and reading words inverted is effortless. My co-workers in my graphics department have a laugh about how I’m the only one who works on advertisements upside down and sideways without changing the layout to suit myself. I don’t see why I should — the words are still the same no matter which direction they go in. It has become the strength through which I solve problems, to look at the world from a dynamic perspective, and perceive totalities and patterns others miss by inverting the way we define things. And this often bleeds into the stories themselves — characters whose viewpoints are challenged, their fundamental understandings shaken, and unable to take the most commonplace ideas for granted.

The point is, I started out with strikes against me. I started out with a learning disability and through sheer stubbornness and contrariness, learned the craft and will always be learning it. Mistakes will be made. Tears will be shed and blood and sweat spilled. I compete against people far more intelligent and competent than I and I expect, nay, demand, no quarter be given. If writing is something you want to do, pursue it. Don’t hold back because you think, not me, I’m not good enough, I wasn’t born with the right talent, the right skills, the right abilities. I sure as hell wasn’t. By no right or stroke of fortune should I even be here, doing what I do.

In some cases, resistance is not the thing that prevents one’s success, but the very force that propels it.

Writer, Unwritten, Dyslexic

Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire

A think it was perhaps five years ago, a had a handful of credits to my name when Vince Liaguno let me know he wanted to publish my short story “Twilighters” in his next anthology. For the most part, I forgot about it entirely, and I’m thrilled to hear that Evil Jester Press will be publishing Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire this October.

I consider myself a writer in infancy, though I keep conquering the various hurdles in my way; as such, the TOC is humbling, and I really don’t know how I’m sandwiched between so many incredible names. I spend so much of my time pushing my ego beneath my heel, it’s hard to recognize when I’ve accomplished something; it ensures that my gratitude is never half-hearted, and I take nothing for granted.

I hope you all will enjoy my twist on what horrors the term “twilight” implies, when wielded by a sadistic hand in “Twilighter.”

Seventeen original stories to the collection, with several reprints. Cover designed by the talented Deena Warner of Deena Warner Design. 11159518_10153238116824268_8559416497401158057_n Table of Contents: Introduction:

Deconstructing Desire/Vince A. Liaguno

Unspeakable Desire/ Chad Helder

Fugitive Colours / Erastes

Underground / Marshall Moore

Ofrenda / Lisa Morton

Clearing Clutter / Michael Hacker

The Grief Season / Lee Thomas

Investment Opportunity / Evan J Peterson

A Soldier’s Mercy / Martel Sardina

Twilighter / Martin Rose

Tabula Rasa / Brad C. Hodson

Caldera / Helen Marshall

Bent on Midnight Frolic / Tom Cardamone

Murder on the Prurient Express / David Nickle

Rougarou / Greg Herren

Bargain Books / Vince A. Liaguno and Chad Helder

The Sisterhood / RB Payne

Kissyface / Stephen Graham Jones

The Shell / Norman Prentiss

Lagan / Gemma Files

a strange form of life / Laird Barron

Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire

Interview with Jamie Mason, author of Kezzie of Babylon

I connected with Jamie Mason through Facebook last year, and he held my attention through his interesting viewpoints and unique perspective on the world. After awhile, I ended up exposed to his short work, which led me to his new release, Kezzie of Babylon, a rip-roaring zombie apocalypse adventure. I invited  him to virtually sit down with me, if you will, to discuss his fiction, his process, and the tumult that is life; welcome Jamie Mason to the blog.

Let’s give readers a little background on you. What should we know about Jamie Mason?

In broad strokes, the picture is pretty conventional. Born in Montreal, went to college in the States, returned to Canada 22 years later. It’s only in the details that a life becomes interesting. Such as, for instance, the fact that I grew up in a series of cult- and cult-like environments. Also, that my life became abruptly derailed when my parents went to prison and I lost more or less everything and was forced to start from scratch earning $4.75 per hour doing sales cold calls. I’ve been a professional musician, a self-defense instructor, a teacher, a security guard, a clerk/typist (I’m currently employed as a PI).

Throughout all of this, writing has been the one thread that’s tied everything together. It’s kept me sane. Without it, I’d probably have been one of those guys you read about in the news who walks into a shopping mall and starts gunning people down.

You’ve accumulated a large body of work in a few years time, consisting of two novels and forty plus stories. I want to talk to you about Kezzie of Babylon, but let’s rewind first. How’d you get started writing? How did you start as a writer seeking professional status?

The writing began sIMG_0380pontaneously at age 7. Whatever else my mother did wrong, she gave me a love of books. We had an electric typewriter at our house and I became fascinated by the challenge of creating things on it that resembled the pages in books I read (this was before I knew about typesetting). I wrote my first novel in seventh grade, handwritten in notebooks during math class. It was an espionage novel.

I don’t believe in “professional” writers. What the fuck is that, anyway? If you mean some guy who makes a living writing, you can count them on the fingers of one hand. Anyway, the term “literature” has been rendered more or less meaningless in the age of self-pubbing and Amazon direct-to-market vanity projects. What do you call someone who’s conscientiously devoted the past 25 years of his life to learning to write well (apart from “misguided”)? A writer. There are writers and non-writers. And wannabes. I suppose I’m a writer.

You’ve got a first novel, Echo, first published in 2011 from Drollerie Press, and more recently, about to be reissued by Permuted Press. A first novel marks an important stage in an author’s career. What did you learn? What would you have done different?

Echo was reviewed and accepted for publication fairly quickly by a publisher called Drollerie Press. Selena Green, their marketing VP, was very enthusiastic about the project. We had an uphill battle pushing the novel through the editorial process because, unbeknownst to us, the owner was planning to shut the press down. We pushed out an e-edition which reached an Amazon sales ranking of 14,000 or so before Drollerie’s owner vanished. I never saw a royalty check, although Selena and I remain friends. We collaborated on bringing out the current (second) edition and I still involve her in projects from time to time. I recommend her as a freelance editor and typesetter.

What would I do different? Nothing, really. There was no way to predict what happened. It just happened. It sucked, but I adapted. Like Master Kan counseled Grasshopper in Kung-Fu when asked whether or not to trust people: “Trust! But expect surprises.”

I read a synopsis of Echo, which is sci-fi, and you followed up with Kezzie, which is firmly in the zombie/horror camp. What inspired the transition, and do you prefer a particular genre?

It was a surprisingly easy transition. I’ve always straddled the sci-fi/fantasy fence quite comfortably, so writing a zombie story for Exile Edition’s Dead North zombie antho back in 2013 seemed like an easy way to make some bread. Well, I made more than that — I made an invaluable friend in the person of Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a very fine Mexican-Canadian writer who edited the project. I’m very proud of our professional association. Have you read her new novel, Signal To Noise? You should …

For me, genre is a vehicle to convey stories I have experienced that would be otherwise impossible to share with people. For example, how do you explain what it’s like to be manipulated by a cult leader to someone whose entire experience of religion consists exclusively of Sunday trips to church? Or what it’s like to watch your parents dragged into a court-room handcuffed to prison trustees to someone who grew up in a conventional family environment? You can’t. But horror (and, to a lesser extent, sci-fi/fantasy) allows me to share my subjective experience of the world in a way that’s understandable to people with more conventional backgrounds. When Permuted Press bought my novel The Book of Ashes in May of last year, they asked if I had any other novels. I told them about my short story “Kezzie of Babylon” and said I could develop it into a zombie novel because Permuted likes those. And now here we are.

IMG_0380Zombie fiction has had quite a lot of staying power in the past ten years; even when a lot of people were saying the trend was dead, true to its spirit, it continues to shamble on good naturedly, from The Walking Dead to World War Z, from Jonathon Maberry to Joe McKinney and many more. Where do you see this trend/genre in ten years?

That’s hard to say, Martin. Honestly, I never expected the zombie craze to outlast one season of The Walking Dead. No here we are – what? Five? Six seasons in? There’s a whole raft of spin-offs TV, games, stories, novels, comics, the cultural phenomenon of zombie “walks” … Who could have predicted that surge in popularity? Not I.

For what it’s worth, my prediction. Ten years from now, the hot topic for PC/social justice warrior types will be zombie rights. The fact that zombies don’t exist won’t bother them. After all, neither does social justice. It’s a myth, like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Ivory tower stuff. Like Dylan said: “This world is ruled by violence / but I guess that’s better left unsaid.”

Kezzie Of Babylon is a zombie, apocalyptic, horror novel, featuring a cast of characters with interesting histories, such as Zack, who ends up picking up a mysterious package for the local drug kingpin. Meanwhile, he tracks the footsteps of a girl he’s never met, but whose diary he’s been reading for years. This leads him to a ragtag fringe group living in a woodland, when all hell breaks loose. There, we meet Kezzie herself. At first glance, she’s a religious psychopath, but is also something much more than what she appears.

Can you share with us how the idea for Kezzie Of Babylon came about?

To return to what I said earlier: horror allows me to share my subjective experience of the world in a way that’s understandable to people from more mainstream backgrounds. Both as a young adult and middle-aged PI, I’ve come into a LOT of contact with the criminal element. Writing about druggies and assorted low-lifes is absurdly easy for me. The “Kezzie” short story was intended to be a romp, nothing more — a zombie shoot-em-up on a grow-op with an interesting character in Kezzie. With the novel, I went deeper, trying to offer an interesting REASON for the zombie outbreak (an influx of bad street drugs) and an answer as to how bikers and other marginal types might cope during a zombie apocalypse. Better than most, I suspect, simply because they’re accustomed to living high-risk lifestyles.

Kezzie herself is my first stab at writing a true “cult” leader and I modeled her on David Koresh. The cult experience is something I first addressed in ECHO and will continue to address going forward. It’s fundamental to my life. I’m good friends with Gina Catena, who works with cult survivors and writes about cult recovery issues. We’re both involved in the life-long process of PTSD and cult recovery. So writing this kind of stuff is therapeutic for me.

Did you do any research, any prep work for Kezzie Of Babylon that might be of interest?

Living it. I only write about things I’ve experienced personally. The old Chinese curse applies here: “May you live in interesting times”. My life has certainly been interesting. And quite often upsetting. I’m turning that to my advantage and putting all those bad experiences to work for me. It’s only in the past 3 years or so that I’ve moved beyond the very real consequences of things “people did to me” and began “doing unto others”. Like it says in the book: “Do unto others before they can do unto you”. I choose to inflict my stories on the world.

Scenes in Kezzie Of Babylon often reminded me of certain characters I’d run into in real life. Are you willing to talk about how observation informs your work, or the juxtaposition of reality in a fictional work?

I’m a total outsider. I’m one of those guys who won’t accept your invitation for drinks or dinner, doesn’t attend parties or social events like weddings or baptisms, doesn’t participate in group activities of any kind anymore (I trained in judo and BJJ for years but cut that cord in 2013). I live alone, I work more or less alone in my day-job and spend my days off at home with the door locked and the curtains drawn, hip-deep in my latest WIP. What does this leave?

Observation. I’m fascinated by the behavior of the human animal. One of my heroes is Dr. Jane Goodall, whose work I first encountered via National Geographic as a child. I take the same approach to human society she did with her chimps: approach stealthily, sit quietly and observe. Remember: I’m a trained investigator. I can size you up in three seconds flat — how you dress and cut your hair, whether you’re right or left handed, the way you walk, a smoker or non-smoker, the condition of your shoes … all these things tell a story. In my daily life, I’m constantly snapping pictures of people and engaging in analysis. It’s a habit I cultivated as a child in abusive family and cult environments. It was a prerequisite for survival. It kept me alive — literally. It’s a compulsive, learned behavior that I’ll never stop engaging in.

So. I observe. I extrapolate. I write.

Do you feel you learned anything about publishing your second novel you didn’t learn with your first?

Mostly, I learned what it was like to have a supportive publisher for a change. Permuted has taken a pounding in the public eye of late, but they’re a great environment. Very innovative and forward-thinking. And I have a great family of writers around me, many of whom are as deeply disturbed as myself. It’s such a relief to be able to shoot an e-mail off to a guy like Jeremiah Israel or Bill Vitka and say something like: “Hey guys! Break out the box-cutters and the chloroform! Time to find some some organ donors!” I love those guys. They get me.

Are you working on another project we can expect to see in the near future, or something you’re excited about?

Permuted is scheduled to publish my next novel in December of this year. The Book of Ashes takes place after a plague has more or less destroyed civilization, turning Vancouver Island into a feudal wasteland ruled by the Hell’s Angels. Cory O’Neal is a retired school-teacher who spends his days in a trailer on the edge of the forest, scavenging firewood, hunting for food and ducking attacks by gangs of marauding cannibals. In the evenings he composes a history of the plague. But what begins as a history soon begins to resemble a confession. His sole indiscretion as a teacher, forming a special bond with a troubled female student, ended his career. It may also end Mankind.

My ongoing major project is the republication of Echo and, afterwards, its four sequels: Echo Tribe, Echo Quest, Echo War and Echo Lord. This quintet is my life’ s work — a sci-fi epic that examines the religious experience from the point-of-view of the five principle figures of any faith: the prophet, the leader, the visionary, the warrior and the heretic. Permuted will republish Echo in 2016.

How can we keep up with you?

Catch me online at www.jamiescribbles.com

We thank Jamie Mason for taking the time to answer our questions, and Kezzie of Babylon is available from Permuted Press and Amazon.

Jamie Mason is a Canadian writer of dark fiction whose stories have appeared in On Spec, Abyss & Apex, White Cat and the Canadian Science Fiction Review. His zombie novel KEZZIE OF BABYLON was published by Permuted Press in March of this year. He lives on Vancouver Island. Learn more at www.jamiescribbles.com

Interview with Jamie Mason, author of Kezzie of Babylon

Interview with Maggie Slater

IMG_0380Maggie Slater is many things: accomplished writer, an experienced slusher, a parent. Today, she shares with us her take on the writing life and its many facets.

Do tell us your genesis as a writer. How did you become the writer you are now?

Although it probably sounds a bit cliche, I’ve been interested in telling stories since before I could write. In fact, my mother—saint that she was—used to write down stories I dictated to her when I was really little. I also told atrocious jokes that made no sense.

I started getting serious about writing—and by serious, I mean completing short stories and submitting them—my freshman year of college. I sent out my first short story to the Fantastical Visions new-writer contest, and wouldn’t you know it? The story was accepted! First thing I ever submitted! Wow, I thought, this is it! This is the start!

And then, although I did continue to write short stories and even submit some of them, I pretty much sat on my butt and waited for that story to come out in print. Fast forward five years later, after many delays, it finally did, but I’d been so hung up on that one publication, I hadn’t done much during the waiting time. I’d had one other short story published for no pay, but otherwise, I wasn’t much further than where I’d started.

But I’d done a lot of writing, so I had improved a lot. During that time, I’d completed what my mother and I call “The Chekhov Year” in which we both tried to write one short story a week for a year. In the end, I wound up with forty-two rough drafts, most of them crud on a stick, but I’d learned how to cull my ideas down to short story size. Since then, I’ve even sold a couple of those Chekhov Year stories, after some decent editing!

By that time, I was married, had a full-time job, and had started working for Apex (the anniversaries for both my marriage and Apex fall within a two-week period, actually). I wrote extensively during my hour lunch breaks, slushed for Apex in the evenings, and reviewed fiction for Tangent Online on the weekends. I even sold a couple other stories to Jason Sizemore on a pair of independent projects he was doing. Then I retreated into longer-form fiction for a while, and am just now—on the heels of Zombies: More Recent Dead reprinting my short story “A Shepherd of the Valley”—emerging back to short fiction again, and collecting those rejection slips!

Do you have any particular influences, or books that stand out?

Hmm, tough question. I am completely enamored with Edith Wharton’s ghost stories (and all her work, if I’m honest), and Roald Dahl’s adult dark fiction. Haruki Murakami has been a huge influence recently. Asimov’s short fiction was really what got me into the short-form, and Octavia Butler’s longer SF—it’s dedication and approachability—really rocks my socks.  Maureen McHugh is a huge favorite in the SF field, also, and I recently discovered Shirley Jackson’s longer fiction, particularly We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Jack London has always been a favorite, too. I read Martin Eden not that long ago, and honestly, it’s a book I think almost any aspiring writer ought to read. That, Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, and Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham (which has one of the best sequences discussing artistic talent I’ve ever read).

I think it takes a special kind of writer that wades into the slush pile. Is there anything you can share with us about the experience? Did the slush pile teach you anything about writing you wouldn’t have learned otherwise?

It was a wonderful learning experience. It’s one thing to read a market’s guidelines and guess at what they want. It’s another thing entirely to see the inner workings, how editors choose what stories to publish—and why or why not! I saw some really great stories get passed on because they just didn’t quite fit what we needed or wanted at the time; I’ve seen how badly authors can respond when given even a pleasant rejection. It taught me why most markets don’t offer feedback with rejections (in terms of time, author response, and clarity—sometimes a story just “doesn’t work” for you, and it may hit another editor at a different market just right). It also taught me how hard editors and slushers work behind the scenes, often just for the love of fiction. And it taught me how tough the competition for publishing slots really is: as a new author you’ve got to bring your A-game, because the other authors getting to the editor-in-chief’s desk are pros and you’ve got to be that much better to knock them out. It’s mortal combat!

Perhaps most importantly, slushing taught me why reading a market before submitting to them is important. When I was just starting out, I used to balk at a market suggesting that I buy a copy of their magazine to see what they publish. It struck me as a cheap way to make money off desperate writers. But the truth is, most submissions are rejected because they just don’t fit what the market publishes. A familiarity with a market guarantees you’ll be sending them stuff that at least generally fits the mood and tone of what they publish, and that’s bound to get you into the top 20-30% of submissions. Whether that helps you sell your story to them is another challenge entirely, but knowledge of the market will at least give you an edge-up on a vast majority of other submissions.

Slushing is an absolutely amazing way to learn about the industry and about writing short fiction. I’d recommend it to any aspiring author if they can make the time for it.

I admire that you’ve taken a leap into another arena involving a lot of hard work: motherhood. Is there anything you’d like to share about learning to balance the creative life alongside parenting responsibilities? Any advice for the many mothers and fathers who wear these different hats?

This is actually something I blog about quite a lot these days, maybe more for myself to keep track of the ebbs and flows of my current creative process. When I was pregnant, I looked around for information about how people dealt with babies and writing, and didn’t find a huge amount. Maybe I looked in the wrong places. But I wanted to be honest on my blog about how challenging this chunk of life can be, balancing kids and writing.

Having the Little Man around has certainly changed a lot in my writing life, mostly in terms of time and being able to sit down when I want to and write. When I worked full-time, I could brainstorm during the day and then come right home and write. Or I could write on the weekends. Now, there’s no guarantee I’ll get any time at all during the day to write, or in any of the days to follow. My husband is finishing med school, and for the last year has been rotating at a hospital a state away, so I’m pretty much on my own with the Little Man. No breaks for this lady! It’s made me much less of a procrastinator, because when I’ve got something I want to work on, when the Little Man’s eyes close, I’m writing! Now if only he’d nap more regularly…

I’ve also got some great friends and family who are willing to watch the Little Man for a half hour to two hours (if he lets them! Lately, we’ve been hitting a separation-anxiety wall, and a half-hour with someone else in a home not his own is about his limit). That’s been immensely helpful. Oddly, I’ve gotten a lot more fiction out in the eight months since he’s been born than I have ever previously. I think that comes from the perpetual distraction: I’m finding it much easier to edit than to compose new work, so I’ve been on an editing binge, getting things fixed and submitted. It’s been a nice change!

The main thing I would advise is something I’m still working on myself: cut yourself some slack and enjoy this time. Don’t guilt yourself. You’ve got enough on your plate. Babies disrupt everything, and if holding yourself to too-strict goals or timelines just makes you miserable, let the goals go for now. If you get time to read, read. If you have an idea you really want to work on that is burning a hole in your brain, see if there’s a family member or friend who can give you a little time to focus on that. But most importantly: just relax. You’re sleep-deprived, you’re worn out, you’re on this huge learning curve as a new parent (or new parent of two or more—gosh, they especially need to cut themselves some slack!): it’s okay to not write everyday if you can’t. Or write one sentence. There was a time even before the Little Man when I couldn’t get ten minutes to myself. I used the “write one sentence” goal to get a tiny bit of something done every day, and that assuaged a lot of guilt. And someday, the kiddo will nap again, or play at other kids’ houses, or go to school, and you’ll have a lot more time to get things done then.

Could you tell us about your short story appearing in the recent anthology edited by Paula Guran, Zombie: More Recent Dead?

Sure! “A Shepherd of the Valley” is a story about a man left completely alone after the zombie apocalypse, who is struggling to find meaning in a seemingly meaningless world. He’s lost and lonely, searching for a faith that left him long before the zombie uprising, something that can justify his existence and forgive his past. When an injured girl who reminds him of his long-lost teenage daughter enters his life, he comes face-to-face with the man he’s become, and reevaluate his new life’s ministry. Is it worth trying to save the souls of the already walking-dead?

I wanted to write a story that examined what happened after the apocalypse, after almost everyone was gone. What kind of life can one have in such isolation, when the only others around would be more than happy to chomp on your brains? What does that do to one’s faith in a higher power, or lack thereof? It’s a ships-in-the-night kind of story about two lost souls coping with a ruined world in very different ways.

Do you have anything you’re working on at the moment that you’re excited about?
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Actually, with all that “free time” I have, I’ve recently started an Etsy shop selling “snake-oil” designed bottles for writerly ailments. I usually put Tic-Tacs in mine, and use them to “cure” writer’s block, the blues of rejection, and to spur productivity.

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Obviously, as placebos, the Tic-Tacs themselves don’t actually *do* anything, but it makes me laugh and they’re still tasty. They’re quite fun to design, and it’s a wonderful creative outlet for my graphic art interests.

DrE_RutRemedy_FrontI’m somewhat slow to get them listed, but I’ve got a whole line-up of them coming soon. You can see the current postings listed here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ThePlaceboEmporium .

 We thank Maggie Slater for taking the time to share her insights and experience with us. She has a blog where you can keep up with the latest in Slater’s writing life.

Interview with Maggie Slater

Death’s Realm Mini-Interview: Jay Caselberg

Everyone, welcome Jay Caselberg to the blog. I’m featuring fellow contributors to Death’s Realm, of Grey Matter Press, with a short mini-interview to learn more about the talent involved, a preview of what we can expect from their story, and speculate on what lies ahead in the great beyond.

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Tell us about your background, who you are, and how you came to the writing life.

Me, I’m Australian, though I have lived in Europe for a number of years now, traveling around for day job related stuff. I spent time growing up in various countries as well. Despite all that, I still retain an essential component of the Australian psyche, or so I believe, and it tends to seep through into the fiction. Embedded in the Australian subconscious is the sense of removal, of separation from the rest of the world, because, you know, from most places, it is a long long way away. Anyway, I always thought I’d turn out to be a scribbler and I read and wrote as I was growing up. Then, at an impressionable age, I stumbled across a book on how to write a novel. Within those pages was a piece of the worst advice I have ever heard: you cannot write a book till you are over forty because you don’t have the life experience to make it real. What rubbish. Anyway, taking that to heart, it caused me to stumble. Much later, I happened across on online forum that acted as a kind of virtual critique group and suddenly, it was as if the world had opened up. I’d had no dealings with other aspirants until that stage and about then, I realised that I was probably good enough. I wrote a few stories, sent them out and the first one I sent out, a little science fiction tale with a pretty dark edge sold within a couple of months.

Although I write and have written novels, science fiction, horror, literary and even YA fantasy most of my work is short fiction and generally, it tends to be what I would characterise as soft horror, more the psychological, but none the less dark for that. Literature, ultimately, is about the human condition, and the inside of people’s heads is often a dark and squirmy place. I like playing with that.

Gray Matter Press has released an anthology, Death’s Realm, featuring your work, “Penumbra.” Give us a preview of your short story without giving away too much.

The concept for “Penumbra” is what happens to someone who is deeply, madly in love, and they die. What efforts would one go to to keep that bond alive even though you may not be.

The premise behind Death’s Realm is what happens after death. If there is a great beyond, what do you imagine it to be?

I’m not a great believer in a great beyond per se. I have no vision of heaven or hell. I do believe that there is something there. I have seen and experienced too many things to accept that there is simply nothing, things that defy normal everyday explanation. Despite that, I am not going to sign up to any orthodox set of rationalisations that make the less certain feel more certain. For me, it’s not about faith or anything else. Sure, there’s something going on there. You just need to be able to live with it.

We thank Jay Caselberg for coming by to share his thoughts. He’s got a web page here, and twitter account you can stalk him at here.

Death’s Realm Mini-Interview: Jay Caselberg

Interview: Ben Eads of Cracked Sky

Everyone, welcome Ben Eads to the blog. His novella Cracked Sky launches this month. From the synopsis:

Reeling from the loss of their only child, Stephen and Shelley Morrison learn that her killer has been found dead. What they don’t know is that his agenda goes far deeper than the grave. Beyond the storm, beyond the crack in the sky—where their daughter lies trapped with The Lost Ones—something is using Stephen and Shelley’s agony to fulfill its goals: Terrorize. Consume. Destroy.

I’ve known Ben awhile through the horror community, and when I heard he was venturing into publication with a novella, Cracked Sky, I couldn’t resist reading the story and then finding out more about Ben and his writing process.

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Omnium Gatherum is releasing your novella, Cracked Sky. Congratulations! Tell us a little about the story without giving too much away.

BE: Thanks! I’m really excited about the release, and working with Kate Jonez was an absolute blast. Cracked Sky is a horror novella about a couple trying to cope with the loss of their only child, Allyson. Once they learn her murderer has been found dead, and that Allyson’s in a very bad place, they have to summon the courage, the hope, to heal themselves, as well as save their daughter from a nightmare-world, birthed from somewhere between the stars.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, either about writing in general or what’s involved in submitting to a publisher and making a sale?

BE: I’ll just say what other writers like Joe R. Lansdale, Stephen King, etc… have said: Read a lot and write a lot. It’s always worked for me. You have to be well read so that you can develop something unique. After all, it’s all about the story. Find beta-readers that are capable of constructive criticism. They’re worth their weight in gold. Trust that. It took me a few years to find only three individuals who are absolutely indispensable. Never stop growing; take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously. Inspiration is bullshit—it’s everywhere and around you, always.

I’ve helped a few presses with submissions—still am!—and I find it always comes down to the story itself. What happens? What does it accomplish? Unless your work re-kindles the magic you felt from other magicians, then step it up! Use those as litmus tests. Oh! And emotions…especially horror. King advised in his book On Writing, you shouldn’t come to the blank page lightly. Submit your A+ work. Be professional. Be patient. Know the press you’re submitting to. Do they publish the kind of fiction you’ve written? You wouldn’t believe how many times I would read a story from the queue only to find another with the exact same premise. Be fast! If something news-worthy occurs that you could mine something from, write it as soon as possible and be the first to submit it. You must keep your finger on the pulse. Despite the hits the publishing industry has taken due to economic woes—turn a negative into a positive.

How did the idea for Cracked Sky come to you?

BE: I’m still trying to figure that one out. Ha! I noticed that the theme of loss kept cropping up in my short fiction. And when the concept, the “movie-trailer” of Cracked Sky played in my mind, I realized I needed a bigger canvas. That’s how it began. And, my oh, my, was it big!

One of the things that struck me, as a reader, was the realism of your characters. I wasn’t left with the impression they were cardboard cutouts, and I thought your handling of Stephen and Shelley’s troubled marriage was very genuine. Was that something you intended to come across for your characters or just a natural by-product of the story?

BE: Thanks for the kind words! I’m happy to say the advance praise and support has reflected this. It was both, actually. The strength these characters had in my imagination were easy to draw from, and take over the story. They really started writing themselves and showing me where they were going. However, it was very depressing getting into Stephen, Shelley and, especially Darrell’s head-space. So I developed a routine to keep a balance. Making each one’s speech unique, real. I recommend that aspiring writers read their character’s dialogue aloud.

The foundations of Stephen and Shelley’s relationship came about through trusting my characters. What’s their body language say? These were “tells” to me. I was still refining their relationship during the final edits, just to make sure the perfectionist inside me covered every base.

How long have you been writing, to get to this stage in your writing path?

BE: I wrote my first short story when I was ten. I wrote through high-school, and would write short fiction from time to time. I even submitted work I felt was great, at the time. Ha! But I wasn’t taking it seriously. In 2008, after I was laid off due to the economic disaster, I took it seriously. By seriously, I mean actually submitting my work and seeking help from others who could tear my work to shreds, so I could grow. So…about 6 years.

Do you draw from your experiences in real life at all?

BE: Sure. I think everyone does, to a certain extent. At this stage in my life, I don’t have any children. However, the loss of my career, my house, loved ones, etc… were anchors. There were a lot of emotions to pull from. Millions of Americans were affected by this crisis they had no part in. Many of whom are still affected, sadly. It was palpable. I recall neighbors trading services to fix their homes. One family needed a new tile floor, another needed a roof, so they bartered. It truly was inspiring to see everyone come together and find hope amidst great adversity. I also lost a dear friend due to suicide.

Are there writers who inspire you?

Oh, yeah! Too many to list, but I’ll indulge myself: Karen Russell—especially her novel, Swamplandia!—Lovecraft, Maugham, Barker, Kealan Patrick Burke, Gene O’Neill, Rena Mason, Fran Friel, Lucy Snyder, Lansdale, Philip K. Dick, Bradbury, Maupassant, Machen, Trumbo, Jorge Luis Borges, Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Charles L. Grant, Theodore Sturgeon, O’Henry, etc…

How can interested readers connect and keep up with you?

BE: Thanks for asking! The Cracked Sky Newsletter is your one-stop-shop for everything Cracked Sky and, well, me. You can subscribe by going to my website www.beneadsfiction.com and entering your email address. I’m also heavily active on Facebook and Twitter. And you can always drop me a line: ben@beneadsfiction.com

Ben Eads has also recently become the marketing consultant at Crystal Lake Publishing, and we wish him success in this as well as his new novella.

You can find Cracked Sky through Amazon.

Interview: Ben Eads of Cracked Sky

On Failure, On Rejection, On This Miraculous Life

Recently, “failure” seems to be a recurring subject. Maggie Slater turned my mind in the direction of failure after reading her blog post this morning, “Thoughts On Failure.” Which quickly brought to mind Nick Mamatas, who wrote “Of Success and Failure,” regarding his difficulty in whipping up writers to speak on a panel about, you guessed it, failure.

Talos recently published my first novel, Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell. How it got from pen to shelf is a head trip, but ironically, Maggie Slater was a part of that trip — the failing part. And that’s not in a negative sense of the word in any wise. That is, she was one of the first to reject the manuscript. Being professionals, we were cordial and I thanked her for her time. I was happy to find her blog a few years later as Bring Me Flesh was going to press, and leading us, inexorably, to this odd point in time — to a blog on failure.

I have, roughly counting, about 300 rejections. I know this because I keep a spreadsheet, but the spreadsheet is missing maybe two years worth of rejections, and the spreadsheet doesn’t keep track of the rejections accumulated by various trunk novels, submissions to agents and editors. It could be more than 300. I’ve had published/slated for publication 21 short stories out of those 300 rejections, and one novel. I have a heartbreaking list of held submissions at coveted venues that came to naught, because in the end, “almost” only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. And in all that time, while I knew I was striving for some kind of goal, I was so busy just trying to survive my life, ideas of “failure” and “success” never really entered my head in the same fashion as others.

I meet rejection with stoic placidity. Ah, they didn’t like it, they hated it, they don’t have room enough for it, my name doesn’t sound like money enough for it, I don’t go square dancing with pink elephants every second Wednesday of the month, whatever the reasons are, they are legion, and that is what the writing life tends to be about. A wall of rejections. When my then agent offered to let me pass on seeing the editorial rejections, I was confused. “So you don’t get depressed,” she explained. I think I might have put the phone down and looked around for someone to explain to me what she was talking about before it occurred to me that wow, people take rejections personally. People cry when they get rejected, people get upset and never write again when they get rejected.

I honestly had no idea. I still have my first rejection slip from when I was 13. Since the moment I had the audacity to be yanked out of the womb, rejection has been the order of the day. I didn’t walk right — they slapped leg braces on me. I couldn’t write — they diagnosed me with dyslexia and held me back a year. One of my earliest childhood memories was winning a contest in school and having the teacher promptly forget I existed and hand the prize to a different person. My unfortunate tendency to be invisible makes this phenomena a repeat event. I remember being told a neighbor strangled our rooster to death and that, apparently, was that. My favorite dog, a bear-sized Newfoundland, died in the cornfield of congestive heart failure and it was the first time I remember crying over something that couldn’t just get better. Broken stalks of corn, and that huddled mass of black fur out in the field. And those are just a collection of small experiences. They would be dwarfed in size by greater heart breaks to come, by astounding reversals of fortune ahead, by the tumult one can only experience when the wheel of fate turns, crushes you, and then turns to do it again until you have the sense enough to grab the spokes and pull out of the rut. Some never realize there are spokes in that wheel. Some never get out.

What does all that have to do with writing? By comparison, rejections, the failings of writing and publishing — are diminished before the more terrible rejections life can offer you. I have no idea if Bring Me Flesh is selling well or selling poorly. I give it what promotion I can without being overbearing, I support it as much as I am able. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the book is a runaway success or it stays weighted to the shelves like a grand piano — I still have to get up in the morning and face the blank page. I still have responsibilities to people in my life who matter to me. I still have to pay the bills, and look myself in eye and ask if I’ve done the best I can in the time I’m given.

There is a lot of truth to the idea that one can’t become a success without failing first — the idea of somehow lessening the sting of our relative failures by suggesting it’s just a stepping stone to greatness — but I’m not going to tell you that.

There is an implied value judgment behind terms like “failure” and “success” — as though to be anything other than successful, is not to matter at all, and you cease to exist. Some people never “succeed”. Some people fail, and fail hard, and never have this elusive success. Failure and success are poor rubrics by which to measure life, and no way to measure our human existence. Van Gogh did not cease to be brilliant or have value simply because he was not successful in his lifetime. And those who count themselves as the most successful, often do not perceive that they’ve accomplished much. I’ve not even talking about a “happiness” quotient as a measure of success; when Julius Caesar turned thirty, he felt himself a total failure because he had not lived up to the standard Alexander the Great set, and had failed to conquer the world.

Got a pulse? In relative good health? Is there food available to you? Do you have shelter? You live in a first world? You have internet access? Running water? Indoor plumbing? Do you have a some what intact nuclear family? At least one other person in the universe who would miss you if you were gone? A community that accepts you?

Do you have the strength of your imagination? Talent? Wit? And the will to learn? An open mind — a communicative heart? Your relative freedom?

You’re the success.

Perhaps that answer disappoints you; you were hoping for more. But there’s people in the world who don’t have the baseline for existence. What some dismiss as a basic foundation for life is unreachable for a great number of people. And that is not a function of their failure so much as it is circumstance beyond one’s ability to control. Without basic conditions such as those, you could have all the best sellers in the world under your belt, it’s never gonna make you healthy if you are sick, it’s not going to provide you beloved relatives who aren’t there, and maybe you can buy friends with the money, but you’re still gonna be alone, and all the healthcare in the world can’t cure mortality. If this wasn’t the pep talk you were looking for, welcome to your next rejection: this post.

Don’t set your values of life on failure and success alone, and most of all, don’t set your life and your identity on your chosen career — which is often what we really mean when we say “failure” and “success”. We’re talking about our jobs. We’re talking about the money we make at those jobs. But your career has more potential to end before your life does. Where will you be then, if you’ve set all your identity and value on something that isn’t there for you any longer? Put these rejections and successes in their context, and think critically about what defines them. Are rejections truly painful enough to stop you in your tracks? How badly do you want success? Do you want it at any price? Is it really worth it?

After awhile, I fail to perceive the demarcation between what counts as a failure and what counts as a success. You come to realize, there’s merely events and experiences, some mystifying, some disappointing, and some astonishing, that happens along the way of this miraculous life.

Awaken to it; know yourself as if for the very first time, and If you are reading this, you may be more successful than you know.

On Failure, On Rejection, On This Miraculous Life