Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Retrospective: Rearview, dashboard, headlights, and everything in between

2011 has been a good year. Wait, did I say good? Strike that. What I meant to say was 2011 has been an excellent year. I remember very clearly how it began. I had just gotten home from work, New Year's Eve 2010. I was not at all sad to see that old year go... truth be told, it had been an utter bitch. Quite possibly the worst 12 month span of my entire life. But that's neither here nor there. At any rate... I trudged up the stairs after making the two plus mile hike home from work, as after the second car accident in as many months, I was once again without a vehicle. I was cold. Neigh, freezing. It was frigid out, snowing in fact. As usual, I wasn't wearing anything more substantial than a hoodie (A purple one with a lovely zombie on the back of it, if you must know). I slung my laptop bag from my shoulder, flounced down on the couch and watched my cat chasing big fluffy snowflakes from her window perch. Where was I going? What direction should I head in? Did I even know what I wanted out of life? I felt spent. Aimless. I sighed and got up. I was hungry, so I should probably make some dinner, or at the very least feed the cat. I went to the kitchen and hung the new Whole Foods calendar I'd gotten from work that day up on the side of the fridge, flipping through the pages and wondering what the new year would bring. Could I really make it here all on my own? Here it was, New Year's Eve and I was all by my lonesome, cold and tired and truth be told, a little scared. So much of what lie just around the corner was unfathomable to me at that point. I had yet to attempt my first zombie makeup. I hadn't written a single word in ages. I hadn't really done much of anything other than buy a plane ticket on impulse on Expedia's Black Friday sale. I chewed my lower lip, pausing over the sink while rinsing out the empty cat food can before tossing it in with the rest of the recycling. I probably should've been paying more attention to what I was doing. I was startled out of my reverie by a jolt of pain. I had cut my finger on the lip of the Fancy Feast® and the cut was actually pretty deep. It might even need stitches. I swallowed, hard, and ran my hand under the cold water running from the tap, watching as the reddish orangey swirls of my blood danced down the drain. I didn't really know anyone here. My landlords were still on vacation. I didn't have a car, let alone know where the nearest hospital was. I pulled my finger out of the flow of the faucet and stuck it in my mouth, tears running down my cheeks. What the hell was I thinking? I couldn't do this. How could I survive with no one? No friends, no family, just me and a vaguely evil cat against a world that seemed cold and dark and cruel, full of ghosts and regret. All at once it just built to a crescendo and I yanked my bleeding finger free of my mouth and slammed my fist into the cabinet over the sink, splattering a big arc of bright blood, which dripped and dropped its way back down into the metal basin. I wailed, knowing no one was around to hear me, and sobbed my loneliness and frustration and bitter despair into the dim light of my darkening kitchen. My hand hurt. The bleeding hadn't stopped or even slowed. What if I was anemic again? What if it wouldn't stop all on its own? I stood there, crying and bleeding and wishing things could be different... and then I picked my head up. I was being ridiculous. Selfish and stupid and ineffectual at best. If I wanted a life, friends, someone to come home to who didn't walk on all fours and steal all my lip balm, it was up to ME to make it happen. I may have lost almost everything, but I had gained something as well, something I'd never really had before - My freedom. The freedom to do what I wanted, say what I wanted, BE what I wanted. There was nothing there to stop me from reaching for my dreams, becoming someone I could be proud of, making my life into whatever I wanted it to be. So I calmed the fuck down, smeared some aquaphor on my cut and wrapped it in an old pink dishtowel and set to work deciding exactly what it was I wanted for myself. I ordered some chinese (rangoons are one of my weaknesses) and began to plot out a course for my destiny. The fortune contained in the cookie that came along with my meal read "All the water in the world cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside." I liked that. I found it appropriate. I saved that fortune and it sits on the upper edge of my keyboard at work to this very day. That night, sitting in my living room, hand all wrapped up like a pretty pink mummy, I made one of the most positive, impactful decisions I've ever made - I decided to live my life for me, no more compromising, no more settling, no more doing what I thought other people wanted me to do, I was in it for myself. I curled up on the brown rug with my chinese food and had a good long talk with myself. I was yet weeks away from *thunder* *lightening* THE WORST AFTERNOON EVER! *glass breaking* *baby crying* , yet another formative event in the Year Of The Zombie, but I was off to a good start. I finally had my feet underneath me, my head on straight, and my eyes opened wide. I was ready to greet whatever was going to come my way in 2011 with open arms... and perhaps concealed weapons, if the case warranted. But whatever I was to face, I wasn't going to do it passively. I was going to fight. I was going to claw, tooth, and nail, and by gosh and by golly, I was going to win.

2011 brought so much into my life. In January I used that plane ticket I mentioned earlier and took a trip to Seattle, my first ever solo vacation. In early February there was that afore mentioned WORST AFTERNOON EVER, an afternoon that found me locked out of both my apartment and my car, digging my car out of almost a foot of snow coated in a half inch layer of ice like an evil insectoid exoskeleton, and finally getting so cold, frustrated, and frostbitten that I sat my ass down right there on the driveway and signed up for Twitter on my new Droid Smart Phone just so I could have someone to rant to... That Twitter account (Which is quite possibly how you yourself stumbled onto this very blogpost, dear reader) ended up being an incredibly positive thing for me. I made many new friends via twitter. I learned a lot about the world around me and the people that populated it. I tweeted pictures of my food, my many injuries, and eventually my zombie make up, sharing them with the world. Also in February, I decided to get back into the dating world, though it would be six months of bad dates, horror stories, and awkward conversations before I'd find someone fantastic. In March I did my first ever zombie make up, which you can see pictures of on my flickr. 
In April I met Chris Hardwick at his Boston show, and as a result met several awesome new friends including Kristin and Heather (We are the Three Musketeers, but with nerdiness and boobs). In May I participated in my first ever zombie walk and had a blast, lurching and staggering down Boston's Newbury Street with thousands of other undead. In June I began to write again in earnest and, in fact, I started this blog. In July I met some of my idols, my very favorite authors, Brian Keene and JF Gonzalez among them. In August I met my boyfriend, who not only makes me ridiculously happy, but he also edits, proof reads, and critiques my work, which is invaluable, really. In September I received my very first acceptance letter, as well as meeting Ken Foree and Tom Monteleone at Horrorfind Weekend (during which I also got to hang out with some of my awesome PA Friends and get complimented on my costumes by none other than Bill Freaking Mosely). In October I turned 28, the absolute hands down best birthday I have ever had. In November I got another acceptance letter. In December I held copies of my very first printed work in my hands and celebrated my first Christmas with my boyfriend. So, yes, it has been a busy, awesome, crazy, fantastic, wonderful year. As many fantastic and awesome people as I met, the most important one I got to know was myself, and I do kind of rock, if I may say so myself. I am looking forward to 2012, eager to see what it will bring, what surprises, smiles, challenges, triumphs, goals, and accomplishments it has in store. What did 2011 bring you?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas 2011 - Ornamentation

Jim Holiday sat in a shabby brown recliner in his living room. His sweat (and otherwise) stained wife beater clung to his sallow skin like a lizard’s exodus, peeling away from the flabby flesh underneath like a scab. The garment had seen better days, much like Jim himself. Also like its wearer, the garment was tired, worn out, and disused. It had grown too small to hold Jim’s burgeoning frame within its cotton cage, so much like a prison, and odd protuberances of hairy lard poked out of wear worn holes at random intervals. Jim opened his mouth and let out a low groan, drool which reeked of morning breath, nicotine, and old liquor ran over his lip and down his chin like a filthy river. It meandered through the mangy forest that was his 3, perhaps even 4 week old beard growth. Although in all honesty, it was far too scraggly and sparse to be referred to as a “beard” and yet too wild and overgrown to be considered stubble.

Jim sat up, adjusting his position as one of his feet had fallen asleep sometime during the previous night. Beer bottles and empty fifths of Jack and Johnnie clattered to the floor in a derelict melody before rolling under the chair and across the carpet in the direction of the Christmas tree.

Jim’s eyes shifted as he yawned, yellowed teeth like uneven tombstones pushing up through the pink, fleshy graveyard of his gums. The tree stood about ten feet away from where he sat, an ancient monument to a preexisting version of the grotesquery he had become. It had been up for a year, or somewhere thereabouts. He couldn’t be sure exactly what day it was, or really what month, though judging by the Christmas music filtering through the walls from the next apartment over, he supposed that it was probably sometime in December. Either that, or they were just plain mad.

The tree had long since gone brown, dried up and desiccated.  It had lost the greater majority of its needles, needles which lay undisturbed where they had landed like an ashy brown halo around the weary old symbol of Christmas past and the unopened presents beneath it. Ornaments sparkled from its branches through a thin haze of dust and dirt and spider webs, which had been woven throughout the limbs like intricate little garlands. They had become sort of a decoration themselves. Atop the skeletal remains of last year’s happiness perched a little golden angel like a silent specter. Her tiny blue eyes beat down on Jim as if in accusation or contempt.

Jim barely regarded the tree any longer. It had become just another shadow in what remained of his pitiful life. He hadn’t been out of his recliner in days. He was beginning to worry that perhaps he couldn’t move if he tried. He struggled to sit up, placing both of his hands with their bloated sausage fingers on the arms of the chair and pulling himself forward, the massive hulk of his gut obstructing his view of the ratty brown carpet in front of him. One of his feet, clothed in what remained of a grimy red slipper slid to the left, knocking over a beer bottle he had been using as a urine receptacle. The foul yellow liquid splashed onto his leg, running down the grungy mat of hair and spilling into that unfortunate slipper.

“Ahhhh.” Jim creaked, the crackley, course tone of his voice sounding alien to his own ears. How long had it been since he’d last spoken? Weeks? Months maybe? When had he last heard another human voice, he wondered? He couldn’t recall.  Jim’s annoyance at the wet mess on his leg, slipper, chair and floor fueled him into action. He stood up abruptly, grabbing the bottle and throwing it against the wall beside the doorway where it shattered into a plethora of sparkling shards. They rained onto the carpet as the remnants of the bottle’s liquid contents dripped down the wall. The shape the mess made was almost festive. It could’ve been a Christmas tree in the right light, with enough imagination. Jim was turning towards the kitchen when a sharp, melodious voice stopped him in his tracks.

“Jim”, it sing songed, “Jim Darling, won’t you be a dear and bring me something to eat?” Jim stood stock still for a moment, unsure of what to do. It was the voice of the Angel alright, but he hadn’t heard it in, well, nearly a year. He thought perhaps he was imagining things in his deep seated loneliness, in his longing, but the voice continued.

“I’m so very hungry, my darling. So very, very hungry.” Jim swallowed. He had missed that voice. Missed his angel lo these long months, but now that she was back, he wasn’t sure he wanted her. He didn’t know what to do, and so he remained stone still for a few lingering minutes, listening to her pleas. He remembered her hunger, remembered feeding her, watching her eat. He remembered the touch of her skin with a shudder that was so close to revulsion and yet so close to elation at the same time.

Jim faltered for a moment before racing down the hall and opening the door to his bedroom, a door he hadn’t opened in almost a year. The air inside smelled ancient, reticent with mildew, dust and decay. Cobwebs clung to everything. The petals of the rose in the little glass bud vase on the night table had long since fallen. That rose had been fresh and dewy when he’d last seen it, and as pink as a newborn’s bottom. Pink had been her favorite color, after all.

Jim opened the white accordion doors that lead to his closet. He knelt on the floor, dust and dirt clinging to the sores on the sides of his legs, sores caused by his lack of motion and his near permanent position seated in his old brown recliner.

There she was, folded in the back of the tiny space, still wearing her costume. Her white gown had been discolored by time, as well as by mold and rot, but in Jim’s eyes, she was still beautiful. The sequins lining the gown had long since lost their luster, but that was OK.

“Why’d you have to leave me, Baby?” he whined, voice cracking with disuse, “Why’d you have to go and do a thing like that on Christmas?” Jim straightened out the tinsel halo that still clung to the pale blonde wig she had worn that day. The wig had fallen over her face sometime during the 12 months she had been inside the closet. Beneath it, her dried up flesh had pulled her once full, pink lips into a gruesome smile.

“Merry Christmas, Angie.”  He said in a whisper as he leaned forward and kissed her.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: The Neighborhood by Kelli Owen

The Neighborhood by Kelli Owen
105 Pages
Release Date: 9/2/2011
Official Launch at Horrorfind Weekend
Available from Thunderstorm Books

What can I say about Kelli Owen? She's a short, spunky thriller/horror author with opinions, according to her Twitter account, but she's more than that. She's also a cute, quirky, amazingly intuitive gypsy with the heart of a 12 year old girl... and I don't just mean in a jar on her desk! Kelli is a phenomenal writer, with years of experience that show through with crystal clarity in the way she weaves her tales. She has said herself that she's not a horror writer, but a writer who employs horrific elements in her work. I've read some of her other stuff including her debut novel, Six Days, Waiting Out Winter (Also available in ebook format), which was my first exposure to her work, as well as pieces of hers in Shroud and Dark Faith. One of Kelli's greatest skills as a writer is setting the scene - breathing life into an atmosphere so deep and all encompassing that you can smell the dirt, feel the breeze, and hear the whispers all around you. The Neighborhood is certainly no exception. In it, Kelli Owen imagines a world in small town Neillsville - a town that's striking in its familiarity and haunting in its subtle brutality. It is a town like many others, filled with the sort of characters one would expect - The bus driver, the busybody neighbors, the kindly old lady, mothers and fathers and teens and children, all of whom are seemlessly woven together in the fabric of an altogether captivating - and absolutely horrifying - story. The Neighborhood is a bit of a departure for Kelli - it is a lot scarier and in a sense more terrifying because it hits so close to home. Who among us hasn't experienced the overactive imagination of a child in one way or another and wondered, even if just for a moment, if maybe it weren't just imagination?

     My strongest criticism of The Neighborhood is that there simply wasn't enough of it. I kept feeling like the characters weren't done telling their story and that the 105 pages in which it was told just didn't do them justice. It definitely left me craving more... and wondering where John got the fingertip...

In short, The Neighborhood is a great, if quick, read. I'd highly reccomend to anyone who likes things dark, unsettling, and maybe just a little too close to home for comfort to pick up a copy. And while you're at it, check out Kelli's other works. She's sure to become one of your favorites. Mark my words, kiddos - Kelli Owen is going places.

I give The Neighborhood 3.5 sparkly purple severed fingers out of 5.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Seasons: In response to Brian Keene

Yesterday I read Brian Keene's latest blog post entitled The Apathy Of Autumn. As many of you know, Mr. Keene has been one of my idols for several years now. This post of his in particular touched me on a few levels. So much so that was compelled to type out a response.

Most of us may never know the ways in which we've touched someone, inspired them, helped them become the person they were meant to be. I hope that isn't the case in regards to my particular situation, especially when it comes to Brian Keene. He has played more of a role in my life than he knows, I am sure, but I'd like to take a few of your precious minutes, dear readers, and elaborate on that role for my own benefit, and perhaps in the hope that Mr. Keene may one day read this posting and know how grateful I am to him.

Where to begin? Well, at the beginning, of course. Unfortunately for all of you, I'm not as skilled with openers as the man in question, though it was interesting to learn just how much time and thought go into those killer first lines. I suppose the place to start is the onset of my addiction - the sort of sappy tale of my first experience with Brian Keene's work.

Once upon a time... What? I told you I sucked at openers! Anyway... Once upon somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 years ago, I was deep in one of the suckiest parts of my life. I was working a LOT to support my (now) ex (while he remained unemployed and not really looking for a job) and I really didn't like either of the jobs I was dragging myself to. In fact, I downright hated them. I dealt with them because they paid me well enough, and frankly, I had bills to pay. But both involved a long commute (in opposite directions, no less), even longer hours, and being ass kissy to the general public. Oh, and if you've never had the pleasure of working at a bank... there's more horror there than you'll find in any number of Mr. Keene's novels.

But at any rate, where was I? Oh yes. Hell. Right. How could I have forgotten? So there I was: 2006. I was 23 years old. At an age when you're supposed to be having the time of your life and raising hell, right? Instead I was stuck wearing business suits and handling irate customers at a bank by day and unloading trucks full of produce by night. Glamorous, right? I was living the dream, let me tell you. (Hey, is my bitterness showing? Sorry about that. The sweet part's coming up, I promise. Stick with me, kiddos.) As I am sure you can imagine, I didn't have much time to myself. What time I DID have was usually taken up by the aforementioned ex. Cause, you know, I didn't spend enough time with him... due to working... because he didn't have a job... due to the fact that he "couldn't deal with people".... Yeah. Right. So I'd work, make dinner, handle whatever chores I could manage, work, sleep, work some more... rinse, repeat. To be fair, I did put up with it. When you're young and delusional, it's easy to fall into that kind of a trap, as I am sure many of you know from experience. Thankfully, I am older and at least a little bit wiser now, if not more educated.

So at any rate, back to our regularly scheduled programming, already in progress. Near job A was a tiny little library. It was located in a rich-ish area, populated mostly by people over the age of 65. Thus the horror section was about a 2' long shelf squished in between Mystery and Sci Fi. It consisted of a few token Stephen King novels, some Poe, Koontz, and as I recall a Lovecraft or two. Great books, all, but mind you I had read them many, many times before. Still, that didn't stop me. Whenever I could steal a few minutes, the library was where you'd most likely find me. That, or the sushi bar down the street... but that's another subject entirely. On this particular day, however, I came around the corner, inhaling that rich, wonderful smell of paper, ink and binding... you know the one. If they could put that stuff in a bottle I'd wear it every day. (Hear that, Demeter?) And lo and behold... there in the distance at the back of the aisle I spotted something... something magical. A book with a bright purple "NEW!" sticker on the spine, wedged into the horror section! How could this be? Surely, one of the librarians or patrons must have misplaced it. I held my breath, preparing for disappointment as I approached, inwardly preparing my poker face lest I be confronted with some tawdry romance novel or - worse - TWILIGHT! (shudder with me now, kiddies) But instead, I was greeted by something new... something I'd never seen before by a writer I'd never even heard of. It was The Conqueror Worms by the great Brian Keene. The cover made me drool. I mean, click the link, people! Take a look! It's GIGANTIC FREAKING WORMS! What is not awesome about that, I ask you? I eagerly flipped it over and read the back... and before I'd read the first word of the novel itself, I knew I was in love. Giant worms taking over the earth?! It sounded like one of the B Horror movies I'd grown up on - but in literary form. Unable to tear my eyes from the treasure in my hands, I made my way over to the Children's section (where the comfy beanbag chairs where... besides, it was a deserted, desolate wasteland by that time of the evening anyway, unlike the adult reading areas which were usually busy with the after work and/or retirement crowd). It's a good thing I didn't walk into anyone on my way (As those of you who follow me know, I am *a bit* of a klutz). And so, savoring my joyous new discovery, I flopped down on a big comfy beanbag chair and began to read... and before I knew it I'd finished the entire thing cover to cover... and I was a few hours late to work as a result. (First, last, and only time, BTW.) All that night visions of colossal megadriles, evil sirens, and ancient leviathans danced in my head. Upon my return home, even before taking off my shoes (this I distinctly recall) I hopped online and looked Mr. Keene up on Amazon. I ordered a copy of The Rising straight away... and thus began my first step into the modern horror movement. Keene lead to others... The fabulous J.F. Gonzalez (whom I myself interviewed on this very blog!), Tim Lebbon, James A. Moore and Tom Piccirilli among them...

I've had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Keene in person twice. The first time was at an event called Horrible Saturday. (And yes, that's ME. On BRIAN KEENE'S OFFICIAL WEBSITE! Excuse me while I squeal like a Twilight fan in Forks AGAIN...) If you've never met one of your idols face to face before, let me tell you... it's an experience. I was nervous. REALLY nervous. Right now, those of you that know me in person are asking what planet I'm from because you likely know that I don't *get* nervous. I've stood on stage in a bathing suit in front of a crowd of hundreds, being judged on my appearance alone. I've sung my heart out in high school gyms, dive bars, and charity events. I even auditioned for CSI Miami once upon a time... and yet, being in the same room with someone I had such admiration for filled my guts with butterflies and my knees with wobbly, woozy jelly. Would I say something stupid and embarrass myself horribly? Would I come off as a psycho stalker fan girl and get his autograph only on a restraining order? Would he even acknowledge my presence?
In case you didn't read my posting on it, I'm pleased to tell you that Horrible Saturday went fantastically well. In fact, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life thus far. Brian Keene is friendly, approachable, and ultimately incredibly cool in person. He smiled and posed for pictures with me. He joked around with this odd chick he only knew via Twitter. He even paid me a HUGE compliment - He said I was awesome and that more people my age should be like me in regards to my quoting of Robert Bloch. Getting a compliment like that from someone you hold in such high regard can definitely make your millennium. It was worth the drive and then some.
Besides meeting Keene, I also met some other amazing authors - J.F. Gonzalez, whom I mentioned above, Kelli Owen, Bob Ford, and Mary SanGiovanni as well as two up-and-comers, Nikki McKenzie and Wes Southard. Being around other people like me (and yes, I did hesitate a bit before I went with that phrase, as everyone I've mentioned is wickedly talented) people who walk around every day with demons in their heads pounding to be set free, was in and of itself a fantastic experience, one that set me even more solidly on the path I'm on today - the path of establishing myself as a writer. I've already made some headway in the process. I have 3 pieces of flash appearing in Pill Hill Press's Daily Frights 2012, due out this November and a zombie story appearing in So Long And Thanks For All The Brains  coming out mid December.

The second time I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Keene was at Horrorfind Weekend this past September in Gettysburg Pennsylvania. Once again I made the trek down to PA to see amazing, like minded people and also some good friends who just so happened to be in attendance. Horrorfind was a fantastic experience. I met the one and only Ken Foree (who really liked my famed bacon brittle!) and Bill Mosely (Who liked my zombie costume) I danced with the dead at Scaryoke, Attended readings by Tom Monteleone of Borderlands Press whom I have idolized since I was but a wee monster, Bob Ford, he of the amazing transformational voice, Mary Sangiovanni, who gives all us female horror writers a level of hotness to aspire to, Wes Southard, who gives me hope for the future, and many others. Readings are great, they connect the writer with their audience in an incredibly intimate and personal way. I can't wait for my own, which will be happening at Anthocon in just a few weeks.

Brian Keene will also be in attendance at Anthocon. He has announced that he'll be participating in far fewer signings next year, so it may be one of the last opportunities I have to see him in person and get him to sign stuff for me. There was a tragedy that befell some of my Horrorfind purchases - Several of my newly acquired books became damaged by some sort of rusty looking gunk that leaked through the ceiling in the lair where I keep my books. Several of them were freshly signed by Mr. Keene - signatures which were utterly destroyed by whatever icky gunk that was. I'm hoping to replace those at Anthocon this year, and the tiny hopeful little girl in me dreams about the possibility of Keene actually listening to (and perhaps even liking - dare I hope?)  my reading. I hope to see some of you, those I like to call my "early fans", there as well. It looks doubtful that I'll have anything in print to sell/sign for anyone, but I'd love to say Hi to any and all who want to attend - and I just might be bringing some bacon candy with me.

I know this post is a little rambly, perhaps even a little bit ass kissy, but I felt the need to write it. You see, one of the things that really struck a cord with me from Mr. Keene's post was his discussion of his own mortality. As I am sure most of you know, he suffered a heart attack in September. I didn't find out about it right away. I was dealing with some things in my own life and had taken a rare break from Twitter that weekend, but when I did find out it hit me rather hard... Perhaps harder than it should have. We as human beings often ignore our own delicate, impermanent natures. It's an easy thing to do. But when you read that someone you've admired and looked up to like that has been impacted by such a scary and traumatic event, it's not an easy thing to deal with. In a sense, it's humanizing, but in another sense, it's tragic. It's like that moment in all of our lives when we stopped seeing our parents as invincible and godlike and saw them for what they were, people. Simple, mortal, imperfect, human beings. It makes us feel really lucky for the things we have in life, the things that we perhaps have taken for granted.

One thing I've gained this year, one big, incredible, amazing thing actually - friends. Real, actual friends. I've been incredibly lucky in meeting a phenomenal group of people who more or less accepted me into the fold as one of their own. (You know who you are. Thank you for everything - Proof reading, encouragement, hugs, chats, and most of all for being my friends. I'm a lucky, lucky girl to have all of you in my life.)

I read avidly, I always have. Books have served as friends, companions, entertainers, and at times, even escape for me ever since I can recall. The written word occupies a place in my heart that nothing else could or will ever be able to fill. The very thought of seeing my name in print (Which will happen later on this year! Twice, in fact! More on that in a future post.) sends a thrill up my spine much like the horror movies I watched as a tot. I owe a lot to the writers I grew up with, the ones that molded and shaped me into the writer I am today. And you know what? I've never stopped growing. I hope I never do.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Play

So, feeling the need to sharpen my claws a bit, I put out a request for random topics to write about. My friend and fellow nerdgirl, Alison Baziak aka CranialSpasm, answered the call by suggesting Little League... I took the topic and ran with it. Below you have the result. A gruesome little tale I call "The Play".

Jefferey Seeter hunkered down low over the plate, trying to look as mean and menacing as possible. His cheeks felt warm due to the eyeblack he had smeared on them before donning his blue and crimson helmet. None of the other boys used it, but Jefferey felt like it gave him an edge. He was the oldest boy on the team, but also the smallest, dwarfed by even Kevin Carlyle, 2 years his junior and nearly a head taller. Jefferey stepped to the side, one foot off the plate. He ground his cleat into the dirt and spat a wad of purplish goo out onto the red clay. He chewed the big, grape flavored gumballs from the gigantic gumball machine at Reed's Corner Drugs. He hated the taste of the things, and he often wasted three or four quarters on red, pink, white, yellow, or orange gumballs that went right into the trash bin, but the color was the closest thing he could find to chaw spit, and something about that made him feel tougher.
Jefferey wasn't often bullied due to his size, and when he was, it usually originated from a visiting rival team, rather than his own peers. The boys were a close knit group, most of whom had grown up together, playing with Tonka toys in the sandboxes at one another's houses before they could fully stand on their own. Boys will tease and taunt, as boys do, but there was no malice directed at Jefferey, or anyone else in their group, and for that Jeffery should've been grateful.
Instead, he spent most of his life living inside his own head, the one place where he could be the biggest, strongest, most coordinated of the team. When reality interceded and forced him to look at the world for what it was, little Jefferey looked with longing, envious eyes at Jason Reeves, the team's resident Golden Boy. Jason was always the MVP. Even when the coach picked some other boy to hold the title and have Gatorade splashed all over him, everyone knew that it was Jason whose luck, talent, and skill had carried the team. Jefferey watched Jason with venom in his heart, wishing that it were he who lead the team to victory, he who scored the winning run, he whose good looks and easy charm enchanted everyone he met. And so, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Jefferey, upon coming across a book of ancient rituals in his older sister's bedroom, began to pursue by way of mystical means what he had been unable to achieve by natural ones.
The book was bound in rough, thick leather and was much heavier than it ought to have been for its relative size. It was black, almost unnaturally so, and on its cover was emblazoned a symbol in red, raised from its surface like a scar - a star over which was imposed the face of a goat like creature with eyes that seemed to burn like cold, twin stars. The book felt warm, warmer than it should have, like it was a living thing and not an object made of leather and paper and glue and ink. Jefferey's hands shook as he picked up the book, that eerie warmth seeping into his skin, invading his body like an unwelcome presence, but before long, all of the unease and trepidation was forgotten, replaced by anticipation at the promises scrawled out in brownish ink on yellowed pages. The young boy scampered off to his room and hid the book in his sock drawer, waiting until it was safe to remove it from its hiding place.
Late that night, hidden under his covers, Jefferey poured through the pages of the ancient tome by the light of a flashlight. Normally he read comics or adventure stories this way, so his mother or father peering in to check on him wouldn't notice anything amiss, or so he hoped. His sister had made an awful fuss at dinner, but she was quick to change the subject when their parents asked for details on the book itself, he noticed.
Jefferey struggled through page after page of words he couldn't make out, symbols he didn't recognize, and pictures he tried to pretend didn't terrify him, before he finally came upon something that sounded truly promising - A page headed with the words "The Rite Of Ultimate Power". That was just what Jefferey desired - the power to make his dreams into reality, to hit the ball so that it soared over the heads of the spectators, to steal bases as if he were out for a casual stroll, and to run like the wind and leave everyone in his wake.

The small boy read what he could, and did his best to sound out the words that were beyond his limited vocabulary. After some hours, he fell asleep with his pale, innocent cheek laying on the open book, an ideogram of a gigantic beast emerging from what looked like a well pressed up against his face.
Jefferey was awakened late the next morning by the sound of his father mowing the lawn. Wisps of nightmare, barely tangible yet hauntingly powerful vaporized as he opened his eyes and sat up, knocking his red, fire truck shaped flashlight to the floor. He didn't remember much of what he'd read, or what he'd dreamed, but he had in his mind a clear and startlingly focused plan of action, one from which his little mind dared not deviate. He threw on some clothes, pulled a baseball cap over his messy hair, and grabbed his baseball bat, along with the book, which he jammed under his shirt, before leaving his room and racing down the stairs and out the back door.

It was several hours before Jefferey's mother came looking for him to call him in for dinner. He sat in a corner near the edge of the family's huge backyard, his back to the house. "Jefferey," said his mother, hand shielding her eyes from the harsh light of the early evening summer sun, "What are you doing?" Jefferey looked up, startled. "Nothing, mom!" he said, Standing up and turning around. The mangled, bloodied corpse of a chickadee rolled slowly down the steep little embankment near the edge of the yard, coming to a stop at the chain link fence separating the Seeters' yard from the forest beyond. Beady little eyes peered out from the shadows.
Jefferey had spent much of the afternoon carving the symbol from the book onto the bottom of his bat, near the handle. He had used the pocket knife he'd been given when he was in Cub scouts. A part of him felt a pang of guilt, or maybe regret, at using something so innocent and pure for such a dark purpose, but he had shrugged it off. The book had called for a blood sacrifice, and after staring for hours at the family cat, Jefferey had given up that idea and gone in search of smaller prey. He'd spied a chickadee bathing in an overturned frisbee which had collected a fair amount of rainwater. Using his baseball bat and the one skill he possessed, he had knocked the small feathered thing out of the air with a surprisingly soft "Thwack!" and gathered up the twitching form. It was bleeding a little, but Jefferey didn't really mind much after what he'd done to cause it. He wiped his hands off on his jeans before finding the corner of the yard furthest from his mother's field of vision and getting to work with his pocket knife, splitting the creature's tiny ribs and prying its still warm heart from its fragile little body.

The coppery, slick smell of the blood still hung heavy in Jefferey's nose as he swung the bat experimentally. It didn't feel any different. He didn't know what he had expected, but this certainly wasn't it. He sighed. He supposed the magic words might have some effect, but he was too afraid to use them just yet. Instead, he stood in line with the other boys in the dugout, eagerly awaiting his turn at bat. This could be his moment! This could be the day when everything changed, when tiny Jefferey Seeter became Camden County's biggest hero. He drifted off into a day dream, one in which he had just scored the winning run and the team surrounded him, cheering. Jason Reeves stood off on the sidelines, looking bewildered and a little jealous. In Jefferey's hands, the bat began to emit a dull, radiant heat.
Coach Clark prodded Jefferey out of his fantasy. "Hey, Seeter, get your head outta the clouds! You're up!" Jefferey was embarrassed, but he refused to let it show, not when so much was riding on this one play. It was the bottom of the seventh, bases were loaded, two outs. This really could change things for little Jefferey Seeter, he thought. He dug his heels into the soft clay in front of the catcher, positioning himself where he thought the ball was most likely to fly. Focusing all of his energy on the symbol now carved on his bat, a symbol he could see floating in his field of vision like it had been burned into his retinas, he began to chant, slowly under his breath. Timidly at first, then gaining in strength.
"Ragaar, raggar, FORTISIMIO ROA!" he finished just as the ball whizzed towards him, crashing through the air like a great big bullet. He swung the bat and felt it connect, before the world became a dizzying blur, a dark and menacing place where the only victors were them that survived.

Blood. He saw blood. Lots of it. He sort of stepped back into his body as a collective scream went up from the stands. He looked first at his hands, which were larger than they should've been. He felt... different somehow. He barely had time to register the fact that he was several inches higher off the ground than he should've been before he looked up and caught sight of the pitcher. Blood was everywhere, and the kid was on his back over the mound, one foot twitching. The coaches from both teams, as well as the umpire and several parents were already forming a circle around the boy. Someone yelled "Call 911!". Someone else cried out that their mother had fainted. Jefferey was shaking. He dropped the bat at his feet, noticing the smoke curling from the carved end. He looked up again in time to see a policeman rushing towards him. "Hey, you! Number 7! Come over here!" he cried. Jefferey wasn't number 7. He was number 13. Unlucky 13. He looked around, confused, and that's when he saw the other boy. The boy that looked just like him, the number 13 standing out on his uniform. The boy caught his eye and smiled, tossing and catching a baseball. His eyes glowed red for the briefest of moments. "Reeves! The officer needs a word with you." Coach Clark put an arm around his shoulders. Jefferey felt numb as he was led away. He looked back towards the dugout, at the pale faces of the other boys. Jefferey Seeter waved at him and smiled...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Let's do the Time Warp ... Again!

            I've had a lot going on lately... If this is your only access to the goings on in my life, or if you'd just like to see it all consolidated in one handy dandy place, here's a bit of what I've been up to:
  • I'm seeing someone. Things have been going really, really well. We've been seeing a lot of each other. He's funny and interesting, smart, creative, fun to be around, and basically just about everything I've spent undisclosed periods of time searching for and never really thought I'd find. He makes me happy. He makes me feel safe and comfortable and cared for like no one ever really has before. So yes, evil little horror writer is happy and mushy and silly and obnoxious. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably want to vomit. That's OK, you're not the only one...

  • I'm going to see my name in print! Why did this not make the first little blurb? I don't know! It just didn't, ok? The point is... 2 of my stories are going to be published in a collection entitled "Daily Frights 2012: 366 Days of Frightening Flash Fiction" available from Pill Hill Press sometime this November. I do sincerely hope that everyone reading this blog will pick up a copy and enjoy what they read.

  • I'm going to have a reading! I'll be attending Anthocon November 12th in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and I'll be reading a short story for any and all who'd care to listen. This is majorly exciting news for me, and I'm already shaking with anticipation. I'm not sure what I'll read, or even if it's been written yet, but I hope that anyone who shows up and listens to me being an overly dramatic attention hog will enjoy themselves.

        So that's it, in a nutshell. I'm still writing, don't you worry your pretty little heads about that one... And I'm still hard at work trying to come up with something phenomenal for Borderlands. As always, thank you all for reading, for listening, and most of all, for being my friends, commiserators, well wishers, fans, followers, and critics. Without all of you, I wouldn't be the me I am today... and I really like me.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Review: Samson and Denial by Robert Ford

Samson And Denial by Robert Ford

Samson and Denial by Robert Ford
128 Pages
Release Date: 9/2/2011
Official Launch at Horrorfind Weekend
Available from Thunderstorm Books

If you're not familiar with the great Robert Ford, you'd best get to reading! While not nearly prolific enough, though that's hopefully soon to start changing, Bob Ford has captured my interest with his flowing narratives, immersive settings, and raw, gritty characters that seem to come to life, springing from the page and taking on lives of their own.

I was lucky enough to be given an advanced view of Bob's latest, Samson And Denial, in exchange for this review, although I would have jumped at the chance to share it with all of you regardless. I read through it in one sitting, it was impossible to turn away from. I actually found myself staring at my empty coffee mug and deciding I could wait until I'd finished the next section before going for more... And I ended up repeating that until I'd gotten all the way to the end.

Samson And Denial is a beautiful, gritty amalgamation of brutal mobsters, strung out junkies, supernatural remains, murderous cultists, and one hell of a protagonist. Samson is exceedingly well written as a character. We learn about his past and his relationship with his brother and his wife through bits and pieces, little recollections and memories that have been seamlessly interwoven throughout this unique and visceral tale. Within a few pages you start to feel like you know Samson, and by the end you feel for him like a friend. The pacing of this story is one that I think makes it especially unique, there's a lot of action going on, and yet at no point did I feel lost or overwhelmed, or feel like I needed a breather. It flowed very well, one scene to the next, leading all over the streets of Philadelphia before smashing into a fantastic ending, with just enough of a twist to make you wonder how you hadn't seen it coming.

As a writer, one of Bob Ford's greatest strengths is his characters. He has a unique ability to bring the people who populate his stories to screaming, throbbing, pulsing, breathing life in a way that few authors can, and this story is no exception. From the antagonist, whose presence is only felt in a very brief part of the actual story, right down to the bit players, each and every one of them comes striding off the page, ready to rock and roll, ready for action. And action is something this tale has in spades.

Just in case it wasn't evident, I absolutely loved this read. If you can get your grubby little paws on a copy, I highly advise you to do so. And pick up Bob's other works, while you're at it! You won't be sorry.

5 dessicated mummy heads out of 5!

Post script: Samson And Denial will be launched at HorrorFind Weekend, which anyone who's anyone (Including yours truly!) will be attending! See you there!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Let's twist again...

As a fledgling writer, something I've been struggling with is how to handle criticism. My lovely readers may recall a post about that a little while ago on my reflections on Horrible Saturday. As a person, I admittedly don't respond very well to "feedback" in general. I try to justify things, make excuses, rationalize. I tend to get defensive and hurt, and take things way too personally. I know this. It's something I've always dealt with. It's tough, because I really do want to improve as a writer, and I know that means identifying my weaknesses so that I can better address them. Generally, feedback falls into one of two categories. Praise and "constructive". But what to do when confronted with something that doesn't clearly fit into either box?
Some time ago, I posted the first (very rough) draft of a story called The Lesser. I got a fair amount of feedback on it, which I loved. Feedback means people actually read it, and to have people reading my stuff is a huge boost for me. Most of it was positive. Some was constructive, and I've taken it all to heart. Then there was one little comment, left by "Anonymous" of course, so I can't ask for any follow up.

"Love your stuff! great work! Your too gimmicky tho. Focus on the writing."

Blink, blink. Gimmicky? What? I'm not quite sure I understand. I sat there for a minute, staring at the screen, unsure of what to say or how to react. Gimmicky? Me? What could that possibly mean? I took some time to think about it, as well as speaking with some friends on the subject, and what I came up with is this: As a writer, part of my style has always been a tendency to rely on twist endings. Long winded literary puns, as one cohort said. Could it be that I am the M. Night Shayamalan of amateur horror writing? Maybe. But why? I thought about my literary influences. Shirley Jackson was one that immediately sprang to mind. The Lottery and We Have Always Lived In The Castle are famous for their remarkable twist endings. I thought about L. Ron Hubbard's Fear and the way that it leads up slowly, building suspense, pulling the reader into the antagonist's growing hysteria before POW!, that sock-you-in-the-face ending. I thought about Thomas Tyron's Harvest Home and the way that story evolves, hiding it's dark secret behind a cozy little home town facade. Then, I thought about my own work. Insofar as I can recall, The Lesser is the only thing I've ever written without a twist ending, therefor it just may be the exception that proves the rule. And you know what? I'm OK with that. I think it's part of my literary identity and who I am becoming as a writer. At the end of the day, I like my twists. I like my endings. I like the idea of keeping my readers guessing, even if they think they already know what they're in for. And after all, without a twist at the end, how do you know the story's really over?

Friday, July 29, 2011

On the Border

As some of you may know, I am hard at work on a very important project. One very near and dear to my heart. Borderlands is currently accepting submissions for their sixth anthology. What does this mean to me, exactly? Well it all started nearly 20 years ago, back when I was a whelp of a horrorfiend who hung out at the local library the way some kids will hang out at an arcade, and with equal ardor for the institution's stock in trade. Mostly, I was left on my own, widely regarded as "That scary kid" by the library regulars. Being 8 years old, a precocious little thing in pigtails and MoonDreamers T-Shirts, who lugged around Stephen King novels in a purple Tweetybird backpack and lingered in the horror and science fiction sections while most children were on the other side of the library, reading The Cat In The Hat and playing on the big wooden tug boat, most adults didn't know quite what to make of me. The exception to the rule was one of the junior librarians, Miss May. I do not know if that was her first or last name, I only wish I did so that I could thank her. Many an afternoon was spent in the staff break room behind the check out desk at the library with Miss May, a mug of coco for me, coffee for her while we discussed various literary topics. I always felt special, being allowed in that secretive area where others were not, like I belonged to some sort of exclusive club. I don't remember much about my dear friend, other than her brown eyes and hair and that she was a student at the local community college, but she meant a lot to me in the time that I knew her. She showed me that it was OK for girls to like horror, she treated me with respect and camaraderie, she never once talked down to me or acted like I was a freak, but most important of all was a gift she gave me, one I still have to this day and is counted among my most precious possessions. A copy of the first Borderlands anthology. It wouldn't fetch much on amazon, given that it's a little dog eared because I've read it so many times over the years that I could probably recite it from memory, my name is scrawled on the inside cover in big blue crayon letters (Actually, cerulean. What? It's my favorite color!)  and there are various stickers from Jem and The Holograms to Popples and generic Halloween ooglies all over it, but it means the world to me. It was my introduction to the rabidly amazing Poppy Z Brite whose work I would come to love, and who would become a role model for me in the coming years. Stories like John Shirley's "Delia and the Dinner Party" and Francis J. Matozzo's "On the Nightmare Express" have stuck in my brain, embedded there like little shards of glass, but above all what meant worlds to me, what I spent countless hours on, was reading Thomas F. Monteleone's introductions to each of the stories. The love he felt for pouring over submissions and discovering gold was evident, his pride glowed through his words. Many a youthful daydream was spent on imagining that one day he'd be glowing over having discovered me, my work, my stories. It was with that thought in mind that I wrote my very first horror story at age 9. It's been many years since then, and many, many more stories have been written, most of them better... I hope... but it's only been within the past few months that I've really begun to believe that I might have a shot at really for real getting published... and it's with that hope in my heart, and a fluttering in my chest that I cast aside all trepidation and fear and self doubt. I'm really going to go for this. All in. I've got to come up with something amazing, something perfect, something that will make Thomas Monteleone stand up from his desk and announce that he's found something new and wonderful, and something that will make Miss May, wherever she is, proud of the monster she played a role in creating.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Horrible Saturday Reflections/ Alyn Day on Writing

It's not often in our lives when we experience something truly impactful, something that picks us up, shakes off the dust, and allows the sharper lines of the framework underneath to come into view, but when we do have those experiences, we should appreciate them to their fullest extent. As you've probably guessed, I had a pretty significant experience recently, one that both inspired me and that helped reinforce the fact that this - writing - is something I was born to do.

This past weekend, I made the journey from Boston down to York, PA to attend a little something called Horrible Saturday at an amazing book store called The York Emporium. Now, as a lover of horror first, and a writer second, there are few things that can get my blood pumping like a good book store, especially a good used book store. Immediately upon entering, I was overcome. There were So. Many. Books. I could've spent days in that place, running my fingers over the spines of book after book after book, reading synopsis after synopsis, reveling in the smell of paper, ink and binding, the essence of the printed word itself. But that wasn't what I was there for. I was there to meet some utterly awesome, fantastic authors, hopefully get them to sign some of their terrific work for me, and gain some insight via the scheduled panel/Q & A session.

                                                    Brian Keene and I show some love! Photo by Susan Scofield.

The Q&A session was all that I had hoped and more. Listening to the quotable quintet of Brian Keene, J.F. Gonzalez, Kelli Owen, Bob Ford and Mary SanGiovanni, all of whom I've read and loved, and J.F., whom I interviewed on this very blog, was an experience that was well worth the trip on it's own. At one point, I of course posed a question to the panel. I asked them about memorable criticism they had received, in light of receiving some rather unpleasant feedback on my story The Lesser just prior and not really knowing how to deal with it. Mary SanGiovanni's answer will always stick with me - she compared writing a story to building a pretty car (leave it to the lovely Mary to describe a car as "pretty":)) and went on to say that criticism was like mechanics finding problems with the inner workings of the car, and that ignoring them wouldn't help the car's performance in the long run. I thought this was a very fitting analogy, and I've given it a good deal of thought over the past few days, on the drive home especially (and not just because I was *IN* a car). Changes are coming, my friends... And I am in search of some new mechanics.

One of the more impactful things that occurred over the weekend was a conversation with the incomparable Kelli Owen. If you aren't familiar with her work, you're missing out. Kelli is a fantastic writer with an amazing style that makes you wonder how it's possible that with a talent like hers, she's not more famous...yet. I'd offer to let you borrow my copy of her first novel, Six Days, but then you might damage or lose it and as it's not easy to come by, I'd have to eviscerate you and strangle you to death with your own intestines... but I digress. Kelli is as amazing in person as she is on paper, if not moreso. She's funny, engaging, amazingly insightful, and somehow manages to put everyone around her instantly at ease... but let's get back to that insightful part, shall we? I mentioned to Kelli, rather offhandedly, that I had never really felt like I fit in anywhere. Without missing a beat, Kelli responds with "Yeah, you're a writer." I opened my mouth to respond, but then I stopped. Just like that, she had cut to the quick. It was the sort of no nonsense, how-did-I-never-think-of-that answer that made absolutely perfect, concrete sense in my mind at once. It was like something that had always been just slightly out of place was clicked into where it belonged. All the little pieces just sort of seemed to make sense. Also, I was feeling all glowy over the fact that Kelli Owen called me a writer!

Over the coming weeks, you're going to notice some changes around here, if you're keeping up with the blog, that is. The stories I have posted will remain up just as they are now, but I won't be making any more of my work publicly available. This wasn't a decision I came to easily, after all, I don't write for the idea of earning money, I write for the joy of exorcising the demons in my head and pinning down a little piece of infinity that's all my own, and the most motivating thing for me is, has always been, and always will be an admiring reader, but I don't just want to wallow in unpublished obscurity my whole life, that's not a writing career, and not what I'm after. I want to be published someday. I want to walk into a book store or a library somewhere, maybe both, and see my name on something on one of those hallowed shelves. I want to sit in a dusty little bookstore somewhere, or maybe a convention, a line of people in front of me gushing about my latest work and asking for more as they give me their names and ask me to sign the things I've written for them. This is my dream, and with luck, dedication, and maybe a pinch of destiny, it will become a reality. Wish me all of these, my friends, and please don't stop reading.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Exclusive Interview with J.F. Gonzalez

As part of my great big eyes closed, all out plunge into the murky depths of the world of horror, I've been doing some networking, talking to fans of the genre as well as other writers. One of the greats with whom I've spoken a bit is the utterly fantastic J.F. Gonzalez, of Clickers and Clickers II Fame. J.F. was born and raised in California and has had a long career in the industry, on both the writer's and editor's sides of the pen.

Alyn Day: What inspired you to become a writer?

J.F. Gonzalez: I was destined to become a writer, I guess. As a child, I entertained myself by making up stories constantly. I wrote for my own amusement off and on throughout high school. I suppose I made a conscious decision to be a writer when I was a high school senior when I scored incredibly high in English Composition, and various career guidance tests suggested journalism or some other similar career was more to my general making. Of course, it took much longer to finally getting around to actually *doing* the work, which can become a whole 'nother topic.

A.D.: What are some of your favorite books?

J.F.: Favorites change all the time, but a few that remain at the top: Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Bradbury's The October Country, and King's The Stand. There are others that float in and out for various reasons, but these are the ones I re-read constantly.

A.D.: What are some of your inspirations?

J.F.: Being around other writers can be inspiring. I'm lucky enough to have a lot of talented friends in this business, some of very long standing. Sometimes when I'm feeling particularly down on myself and my career, talking to one of them will do a lot to lift me up and motivate me.

A.D.: What is your favorite food?

J.F.: I love all kinds of food, to be honest. I try to avoid chain restaurants. I tend to enjoy various Asian cuisine and I love Mexican food.

A.D.: What is your favorite movie?

J.F.: This changes all the time. One of my all time favorite movies is the 1954 film Them! Saw that when I was five years old and have seen it eighty thousand times. Even have it on DVD now. As for recent stuff, I loved the Spanish film [REC]. For TV, I like Dexter and Criminal Minds.

A.D.: Do you listen to music while you write? If so, any favorites?

J.F.: I listen to all kinds of music when I work, mostly when working on rewrites or when I polish my work. I can no longer write first drafts with music playing in the background anymore. It distracts from the muse. When I do listen to music, it depends on what my mood is. It can be anything from Kate Bush to Johnny Cash to Beethoven to Megadeth and Metallica. I have a very eclectic taste in music.

A.D.: How long have you been writing?

J.F.: As previously mentioned, I wrote off and on throughout high school, and that was thirty years ago. I suppose I've been writing *seriously*, as in professionally, for about twenty years or so. Before that, I was an editor/publisher, which a lot of people don't realize. I edited two pro horror magazines in the 1990's - Iniquities and Phantasm. I was a good at, too. Iniquities was nominated for a British Fantasy Award, and stories I published were reprinted in various Year's Best anthologies. It was fun. If the conditions become favorable, I'd do it again.

A.D.: What can you tell me about your current projects?

J.F.: I can tell you that I'm currently collaborating with Brian Keene on Clickers IV, provisionally titled Clickers vs. Zombies. This is the only novel I am contracted for at the moment. My next solo novel, They, is being published as a limited edition from Thunderstorm Books later this year. Deadite Press has reprinted Clickers and Clickers II in trade paperback and ebook, and we're planning an ambitious undertaking of bringing out a good portion of my backlist in affordable trade paperback and digital editions, starting with The Corporation (which previously only saw print as a beautiful limited edition from Morningstar Press). Wrath James White and I are planning a collaboration on a short novel. I am also working on three other projects, one a novel, the other two screenplay projects, all on spec. I anticipate the novel will sell when it's ready, since it's the beginning of an open-ended series of which future books will have ties to my other work. The screenplays I won't talk about since I've learned in film that once you mentioning details like what producer you're writing it for, or what stage of development it's in, the project is then doomed to failure. So I won't say anything more about the film stuff.

A.D.: How do you feel about the trend of writers self-publishing their work?

J.F.: I'm of two minds about it. I think for most neophytes, it's a bad decision. Beginning writers need the guidance of an editor and, like it or not, material that winds up in magazines (and web publications) has been vetted by somebody who is impartial and, if they're good, has a set of standards of what constitutes good fiction. If you're a beginner and you're good, an editor can work with the raw talent and help shape it into something even better. However, if you're a beginner and you're really bad at the craft and you forgo the vetting process, self-publishing won't do any good for you. If anything, it'll convince people to never buy anything with your by-line again.

That said, there comes a time in every writer's career where self-publishing can be very beneficial. For a long time, my peers and I had opposite views on this. Most of my colleagues were of the opinion that self-publishing was wrong, period. I am of the exact opposite. It can be extremely beneficial for writers who have a verifiable publishing track record to get work published that otherwise may not be of favor with editors for whatever reason. One of the myths perpetuated by pros is that if a piece is rejected, it isn't good. This is clearly not true. Some of the most popular and successful novels in my own backlist were rejected by publishers numerous times before they found homes, for reasons that had nothing to do about the merit of the work itself. In one instance, the publisher wasn't looking for supernatural horror novels; in another case, while the editor absolutely loved the novel in question, they felt I wasn't enough of a *name* writer they could get behind. If you're a beginning writer and you begin hearing this kind of feedback from editors on your rejected work, that is when you should self-publish. I *almost* self-published my first novel Clickers myself for this very reason.

In today's publishing climate, it makes better sense for a writer with a previous track record in publishing (whether with a small press or a larger NY house) to try self-publishing. Some may say any writer should forgo selling their work to a traditional publisher, but I cautiously advise against that for the reasons previously mentioned. Sure, there have been cases where previously unpublished writers have made millions selling Kindle editions of their work through Amazon, but that doesn't happen to everybody. And you still have to be able to write. That woman who made a million bucks last year through her self-published Kindle titles might have had her work rejected by every NY publishing house, but at least she had the writing chops and the editorial and marketing savvy to do it correctly.

A.D.: Any words of advice for authors who are just starting out?

J.F.: Be aware of your history. Too many would-be writers grow up reading nothing but Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and little else. Some are weaned on nothing but writers who used to write for Leisure Books - Brian Keene, Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum. They're good writers, and I consider some of them my friends, but they're woefully ignorant of those who came before them. Worse yet, sometimes they're ignorant in works outside of the small pond of horror fiction. My advice? Read everything and anything, and write as much as you can, and most important: live life! Experience things! All that feeds the muse. Rinse and repeat as often as possible. Submit your material to the best paying markets first and work your way down. And avoid genre related message boards! They're a waste of time. You're better of using that energy writing fiction.

A HUGE thank you to J.F.Gonzalez for being my very first interviewee!

You can find out more about the very talented Mr. Gonzalez at his personal website.Many of his works are available for purchase through

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Symbiosis - Short Story (Written when I was approx. 14)

Please read this with a grain of salt… or 7. It’s completely unedited and was written when I was a tender young zombling.

She sat, her hands neatly folded in her lap, on the back of the monstrosity Caleb had brought. Her pale hair sparkled under the light of the synthesized sun which floated lazily above us, Caleb, admiral Tarrksis, and I.
”Who do you think she is?” I asked, lost for a moment in her beauty.
”No idea.” Caleb allowed his eyes to linger on her flowing gown before turning their attention towards me, “But the carbon tests I preformed don’t even measure.”
”That must mean she’s over one hundred thousand years old.” the admiral looked towards the creature, a quadraped with scraggly patches of both fur and scales, and weepy eyes. I gaped incredulously.
”But she doesn’t look a day over 18.” I said, knowing that my remark would be ignored.
”It’s the creature.” Caleb said, “It’s some sort of symbiot. I think it keeps her alive.”
”Impossible” the admiral said, “Naturally the human body would begin to desintigrate after time, especailly as much time as you are suggesting.” I allowed myself a prolonged look at the pair of foreigners.
”Beauty and the beast,” I mused.

I stood, after retreating from the hall, in my quarters, gazing out at the sun, a distant speck of whitish light surrounded by a ceaseless pool of inky black void. I was contemplating the girl - Caleb’s discovery. He acted as if he owned her, gloating as specialists of all sorts looked her over in amazement, keeping a watch at night, as if he were afraid someone would touch her, and acting with a chill sense of paranoia towards everyone, even me, formerly his best friend. I took a deep breath and wondered about life, in all it’s aspects, even the shadowy side of death.

Admiral Tarrksis stood with Caleb at the farpoint of my vison, on the navigational bridge of this, our wonderful ship. Caleb, looking tired and disheveled, the obvious product of one of his night watches, was running his hands through his greasy hair. His gaze shifted towards me as my heavy footfalls on the metal catwalk signaled my approach.
” ‘Morning, Caleb, Admiral.” I said, nodding.
”Oh, and I suppose you have very deffinate opinions on the matter as well, Cretious.” Caleb snapped at me.
”What matter?” I inquired, “I was simply being polite.”
”Yeah, polite, polite, polite, then I get a knife in my back!” Taken aback by his remarks, I stared open-mouthed at Caleb.
”Yeah, that’s right, I had you pegged quite a while ago, Cretious! I know your plans! I will not allow you to take her from me!” There was an almost audible snap of realization in my mind as I realized what all of this was about. Caleb stormed off, towards the observation deck, leaving the Admiral and I to look shockedly at one another.
Caleb and I had been heading up the research team onboard the S.S. Datastar since her maiden voyage. We had always treated eachother with the utmost respect and courtesy while on a mission. We had attended sixteen years of school together, and were considered, in most respects, to be equals. It came as a tremendous shock to me when Caleb practiacally accused me of trying to steal his discovery away from him. The very idea of such a thing is unthinkable to me. And yet, I do not see the girl as “his discovery”. She is a person, albeit a very extrodinary one, but a person none the less. I look at her each and every day now, even under Caleb’s constant, scrutinizing watch. She has an ethereal quality, something about her makes her almost godlike. She is peaceful and serene, as innocent as a newborn, as insightful and wise as anyone I had ever known. Caleb sat, jittery and paranoid like a junkie awaiting a fix, in a small straight-backed chair outside the entranceport to the girl’s containment unit. I watched him for a while. He didn’t seem to notice.
The animal was almost as interesting as the girl herself. It was large, I would estimate it’s weight at 300 pounds or so, but it was very low to the ground. It had course skin, which ranged in color from salmon pink to aqua, hunter, and brown in various patches all over it’s body. Clumps of hair and clusters of scales covered it in no apparent pattern. It had large eyes and yellowed tusks, which, for some reason, didn’t look unfreindly at all, but rather gave the being the appearance of a kindly, comical walrus. It had a large, thick tail, rather like that of a rat, with narrow multi-colored bands and rows of short, stiff bristles. Short, stocky legs, ending in claws like those of a mole or shrew supported it’s flat, low body. It had an appendage like that of an aardvark, and this too was covered in bristles. I wondered how so delicate a creature such as the girl could sit on the beast and not die of discomfort.
The girl was very small, thin and fragile like a dove. She was very pale, but not at all unhealthy looking. She had large, clear, ice-blue eyes and perfect coral lips. Her hair was long and silky, almost white. It fell past her waist and rested on the creature on which she sat. Her skin was flawless. Perfect, like porcelain. I wondered if she was as fragile as she looked. Caleb interrupted my thoughts.
”Get outta here, Cretious, and don’t think you can find some way to get her out of here past me. I can see the whole room from here. ” I left. Not out of respect for Caleb’s wishes, but out of disgust at his suggestion of my intentions.
”Like it or not,” I muttered as I passed him, “She is a discovery, and as such, Mission control will expect a full report on her, and you can’t conduct any of the required tests without me.” He seemed flustered for a second, then he looked as if I had just given him confirmation of his suspicions.
”We shall see,” he chuckled, “we shall see.”

It was many hours later before I dared to venture again into the mukry depths of the ship’s underbelly to the observatioin sector.
Caleb looked drunk and sick. Packets of superconcentrated caffiene subsitute littered the floor around his feet. I don’t think he had eaten in days. He needed a shower as well, but I decided right off that I was not going to be the one to tell him that.
He surprised me by speaking aloud, although his eyes remained closed.
”Ah, Crete,” he said, using his old nickname for me, “how long has it been? A day? A week? A month?” I looked at my holowatch.
”It’s only been a few hours since I was last here.” I said, questions of his sanity prodding at my subconcious. He didn’t seem to hear me, instead, he continued on as if I had never existed.
”Crete, my friend,” his drunken slurred words were enveloped in a shortness of breath apparent from a distance, “How is Agamantha these days?” Then I knew something was very, very wrong. My wife, Agamantha, had been dead for nearly 4 years. I rushed forward, to the aid of my ailing freind. Putting my palm to his forhead, I recoiled from the intense heat concentrated there.
”Caleb!” I exclaimed, “You’re burning up!” I lifted my compatch, still fastened securely to my lapel, to my mouth and called for a medic.

The medideck was clean and homey, with softly hued tracklighting and tasteful decor. I stood in the waiting hall, anxious for news of Caleb’s condition. It had been nearly 2 days since he had slipped from conciousness before me, in the observation sector.
I had, of course, been keeping watch on the girl and her slovenly companion. She never spoke, and it caused me to wonder if she even knew how, I had never seen her standing, only seated on that oafish creature, nor had I ever seen her eat, I only knew that she was eating because the dishes of food I placed before her upon my exits were always empty upon my return. She seemed not to mind captivity, or even to notice, she always had the same blissfully serene expression on her devine face.
A nurse stepped into the hall, prying me from my reverie.
”How is he?” I inquired, scanning her face for truth before she answered. She looked towards me, her small, spectacled Votteranian eyes showing sympathy.
”I’m sorry.” she said, her voice painfully quiet, “But the doctors don’t expect him to make it through the night.”
I felt as though I had been electrocuted. I stood there, my heart, a thick mushy paste clogging up my airways. I stumbled back a few steps, terribly afraid I would faint. The nurse looked alarmed.
”Sir,” she helped to steady me, “Sir, should I call you a doctor?”
”No, no” I said, steadying myself against a wall, “I’ll be okay.”

It was 2 days later, almost to the minute, when I stood beside Caleb’s casket. His disheveled hair had been straightened out, color added to his pale, lifeless features, he almost looked himself again. His last words to me echoed in my mind.
”….they…want to take her,….examine her….Don’t let them…I know the truth….she is….” and then, with a weezing, sighing last breath, Caleb released his grasp on my collar and expired.
Admiral Tarrksis stood, in full dress, at the head of the chamber, reading a eulogy I myself had written. Scores of crewmen and women filled the room. I hadn’t even known that there were this many people onboard. Caleb would’ve enjoyed seeing the turnout, I mused sadly. Caleb. The realization of his passing hadn’t hit me full-force until the morning after his death. He was really gone. Forever. Death was like that - irreversable. Permanent.
I sighed and collected my thoughts, judging by the words the admiral read how much time I had before it was my turn to stand at that sterile grey podium. I had stood at that podium only once before, at a ceremony quite like this, for my beatiful wife.
Agamantha had been a laborer, a very skilled laborer. She worked with a team of seven men and four other women to keep the ship in tiptop shape. One day, due to a slight miscalculation (just whose it was was never detrmined) My darling Agamantha was too close to the ship’s reactor core when it switched to full power. She and seven other crewmembers were quite litterally vaporized.
The admiral read the last few words of my hastily composed eulogy, and I stepped forward, trying to keep my composure. As I approached the front of the great gathering, an overwhelming sadness came over me, and a tear slid down my cheek. The admiral looked at me in passing, stopped, and placed his comforting hand on my arm. I could hold back no longer, and I sobbed. The admiral stood before me, quite unsure of a course of action. I wailed on, remembering the final days of Caleb’s life. How I had treated him. I felt so ashamed. The admiral put his arm around me, half freindly embrace, half support pillar, and led me to the stand.
I wiped my eyes on my sleeve, quite innapropriate of me, and began my speech.
”Caleb was a bright man, ” I said, smiling ruefully at the crowd, “He was as strong a man as any I have ever known. He was not a proud man, not well liked, but he was a hard worker, and he served this ship, and the Fleet, well. He shall be missed.” I sniffled, and looked towards Caleb’s casket, already entering the jettison pod.
”Farewell, my freind, ” I said quietly, “I hope you can forgive me.”

I sobbed openly in the observation sector. Sitting on Caleb’s straighbacked chair, I felt dismally alone. I hungered for an answer, some mystical insight delivered via one of the million tiny stars in my view, but none came. My head in my hands, I sobbed on, hoping to lose my sense of reality, and to wake up in a world where my freind wasn’t dead.
”I’m sorry,” her voice was so small and so impossibly delicate that I hardly noticed, “From what I knew of him, your friend was a great man. I, too, mourn his loss.” I looked towards the great glass bubble housing the girl. She stood quite close to me, one hand on the three inch glass wall was all that separated us. She was away from her creature.
”He’s gone, ” I wailed, “and I am lost without him.” Her face took on a look of ancient wisdom that looked almost out of place on one so young. Almost.
”He, true, is gone from this plain of reality, but that does not mean that a shadow of his essence does not remain here, with you.” She said. I, foolishly, almost believed her. Taking on an air of the proffesional scientist I once thought myself to be, I looked towards her.
”Why have you not spoken before now, damsel?” I raised an eyebrow, and turned in my chair. A simple grin lit up her small face.
”Why, none gave me reason before.” I pondered this, looking to the stars for an answer. I recieved only mockingly radiant luminescence. I stood.
”How old are you, if I may suitably make such an inquiry?” At this, she looked wistful, gazing up to the transparent steel skylight above us.
”My age does not matter,” she said, “for I am here, forever a cycle, and I shall remain as such, from the ending of time until the dawn of eternity.” I watched her, perplexed. She had answered nothing of my question, and yet I didn’t feel the need to know any longer. My curiosity spanned in other directions.
”Your animal, what is it?” I asked, gesturing at the beast. It was then I noticed the thin trickle of brightest crimson edging it’s way around the opening of her sleeve. My eyebrows rose. “What is that? Are you bleeding? Do you want a medic?” She paused in her speaking, and lifted up her delicate arm, inspecting it and seeing the blood. She acted as if it weren’t there, putting her arm to rest at the side furthest from me.
”What it is is not important, but it is how it is that matters.” I wondered briefly if I should, infact, call the medideck, but I decided not to, it was her choice, and she had all but vocally declined my offer. I, instead, pondered her latest pearl of wisdom.
”And how, praytell, is it?” She began to walk around her confines, and I noticed how very graceful she was, almost as if she weren’t walking at all, but levitating.
”It is balanced, ” she said, “It takes no more than it gives, it is not overwhelimingly good, nor is it bad, it is what it is, accepting, calm, and tranquil. It serves a purpose, ” she paused, and looked up at me. I was taken aback by the pure intensity of her crytsaline gaze, “As, too, do you.”
”What purpose?” I inquired, stepping up to the glass.
”A purpose deeper than any you can possibly comprehend.” Her deep blue eyes lit with the glow of a thousand era, and I, again, found myself mesmerized.
I hungered for more of her wisdom, a hunger so deep that I momentarily forgot my grieving heart and felt only the extreme thirst for knowledge the girl had instilled within me.
”Are you saying that the concept of destiny my ancestors toyed with is real?” I asked, the impact of such a thing sending my head reeling in a complex array of twisted patterns of thought, “Are you saying that my life has been planned out for me? That I have no will of my own? That my fate has been decided?” My voice rose with anticipation and, maybe a little more so, with fear. I waited for an answer, and upon hearing none looked to the girl. I realized that my tone had frightened so delicate a creaature. I quited myself, forcing patience into my tone, and returned to my chair, ashamed and unable to look at her. “What is my life, if it is already set in stone how it will end?” I asked quietly.
The girl was silent for a moment. “There are things you are not meant to understand at this point in your evolution, things that will become clearer to you once you reach the next plain of your existance. You will see yhen what it is I am trying to tell you.”
It was then I realized that she wasn’t speaking basic. Infact, she wasn’t speaking at all. I heard her words, yet her pristine mouth remained a thin, fragile line of gossamer pink. The pure absurdity of that notion struck me, and I struggled to maintain an air of normality as I further queried the girl, careful to watch her lips for movement.
”Is that where Caleb is?” I asked, “In a higher plain?” She spoke. Her mouth, perfect as always, remained motionless.
”The essence you refer to as Caleb hhas ascended to a higher plain, yes.” I stood, and placed my hands on the glass, peering at the girl with intense curiosity.
”How do you do that?” I asked, “How did you… speak inside my head…How…” I stopped, mid-sentence.
The girl was shivering, her eyes were wide. She looked to be in pain. The little trickle of blood I had noticed before had widened, over time, into a vast river of deepest red. It drained down the circular vent in the center of the floor. I was mortified beyond belief, and I stood there, like an imbecile, wondering blankly what to do. I noticed something else - the creature’s long probiscus-like appendage was wrapped around her arm, as if in an attempt to cut off her circulation. Her blood squeezed out between the bands of the appendage. I was horrified. I raced to the entrance port, threw open the hatch, and pulled my work knife from it’s holster at my hip. Hastily, I severed the creatures appendage. I caught the girl as she fell, unconcious, heedless of the green ooze flowing from the creatures wounds, or its agonized wails.
I was in the medideck yet again. I stood in that placid waiting hall for the second time in less then a week. I looked to the track lights, then at the floor. I stood, then sat, I paced around the room, waiting. For what, I am unsure.
It happened. A team of three nurses raced down the corridor as the PA system blared “Med Alert! Med Alert! All on-staff physicians to Mediport Md9220.” I looked to the glowing numerals above the door in which the girl lay. Md9220.
I ran into the room, preparing to see the girl as I had left hher, bleeding to death.
Instead, I was shocked to behold an ancient woman, wrapped in a death-shroud of her own sickly skin. Her eyes were the same pure, crystal blue as before, but were now forshadowed with a haze of disease and pain. Her skin was so thin it was almost translucent, and it was stretched so tightly over her small face that she appeared as little more than a cadaverous skeleton. I was shocked, my mouth hung open as doctors and nurses of many races rushed around me. I moved, as if in some sort of stasis, slowly towards her. I knelt next to her and placed my hand on her small, whithered one.
”Wha - what happened to you?” I asked, then a moore important thought overcame the prior, “What can I do?”
She moved her mouth with effort, I was too traumatized to notice that she needed to physically move her lips to speak, “Ba - Bakiral…” she weezed hoarsely, “I must be with… Bakiral” I was perplexed for an instant.
”Your creature?” I asked. She nodded with great effort. I stood, almost without thought and plucked her from the bed. I carried her out into the hall, ignoring the surprised cries of the medicrew.
When I reached the observation deck, I was further horrified to find the creature in almost as bad condition as the girl. It lay on the floor, tongue lolling, eyes rolled back, thick green fluid seeping from the wound I myself had inflicted. I lay the girl next to it, and knelt beside her. The creature placed the severed end of its appendage on the girl, and wailed. I was in tears. What had I done? How could I have been so blind? So ignorant? Caleb had said that he suspected it was a symbiot, and I knoew, from my own research as well as Caleb’s, that if a host and symbiot reach a certain point of dependency on one another separation may be fatal to both.
What had I done? I looked across the floor, tears marring my vision, and saw the tip of the creature’s appendage some feet away, limp, and quite dead. I had killed them both in my stupidity. I wailed, then I noticed that the creature was wailing again, louder this time. I looked towards it, and the girl. I picked her small, delicate head up off the cold, sterile floor and held it in my lap, what remained of the creature’s appendage rested on her frail arm. Her breathing grew weaker and weaker. Her lips trembled.
”Balance…” She said weakly as she expired, and went completely limp in my arms. I wailed mournfully, then noticed movement beside me. My last thoughts were of my beloved wife as the creature, purely evil without the innocence of the girl for balance, ripped me to shreds.

Cold, frozen, unmanned, The S.S. Datastar floats adrift in a sea of stars and planets. Sheets of acidic ice cover it’s corroded hull. Somewhere in it’s depths, a terrifying, primal growl issues forth. Unfortunatly, it cannot be heard through the inky vacuum of deepspace.
”Datastar, come in, Datastar. This is the rescue vessel S.S. Norou, preparing to dock…