A Conversation With Michael Houtchen…

Today’s guest on the ol’ blog is a gentleman whose cover sports the eye-catching mushroom cloud of an H-Bomb. Michael Houtchen’s debut thriller, Tybee Island H-Bomb, is now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I invited him to talk a bit about his process and his new book. Check it out!

Q (Infamous Scribbler): First, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing? What do you write, how long have you been at it, what are some of your published works, preferred genres, etc.?

A (Michael Houtchen): I don’t consider myself a writer.  I’m more of a storyteller. I have a friend who was working on his first novel back in 2012.  I told him I had stories in my head, and he said I should put them on paper. I said, “I’m not a writer.”  He said, “If you put it on paper, you are.” That’s when it started. I self-published a four volume fantasy series: 
Marco Talmai – Saving Heaven (Takes place in Hell)
Angelo Talmai – The First Werewolf
The Talmai Saga – Armageddon
Sophie Talmai – The Saga Ends (Takes place in Hell)

A friend asked me to write a story about him where he is the hero.  So, the thriller Operation: Lady-Hawk was written.  The Plot: The First Lady and daughter are kidnapped, and it’s up to an old, worn out sheriff to save them.  My friend is the sheriff.

All five books are standalone novels available on Amazon.

Q: What do you find most challenging about the writing process, and how do you meet that challenge?

A: Finding the time to write is a challenge.  Since I retired back in 2014, I’ve been busier than ever.  How do I meet the challenge? I find myself staying up later.

Q: What was the worst writing advice you ever received? The best writing advice? And why?

A: I’m not sure about the worst.  I would say the best advice I received would be, if you have an idea, write it down.  If you wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, get up and write it down. You will forget about it if you don’t.  That’s so true. I’ve gotten up in the morning knowing I thought about something during the night, but I couldn’t remember what it was.  Keep a notepad on your nightstand.

Q: Of the work you’ve done, who is your favorite character you’ve created, and why?

A: Volos, the Nuisance, a small green dragon about the size of a house cat.  He appears in Sophie Talmai – The Saga Ends.  He’s small but he’s full of spunk.  

Q: What’s next in your writing journey?

A: I’m working on a new manuscript, working title: I Wish I Could Cry.  

People diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are born without emotions and feelings.  They’re a bit like Spock from Star Trek ̶ analytical and logical. They care for no one. People with ASD make the best assassins. 

Carolyn Johnston, the ten year old daughter of the recently deceased prostitute Freda Johnston, finds herself a captive of the men who killed her mother.  As fate would have it, her life now depends on an assassin with ASD.

~ ~ ~

Synopsis

The government lost a hydrogen bomb around Tybee Island, Georgia, in 1958, or is that an old wives’ tale?

If it is only a tale, then why are three young men trying to find it, in hopes of selling it to make a dirty bomb?

Before the week is out, six friends from Kentucky will get caught up in kidnapping, murder, and treason, while trying to save one of their own and perhaps the citizens of Tybee Island and Savannah, Georgia.

Pick up a copy on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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It’s Monday, isn’t it?

Every Monday, I have the same intentions: start the week off right with a ton of words in the bank. And, every Monday, like clockwork, I end up spending most of my time like today–catching up on emails, setting up appointments, posting content to my Patreon and this blog, calling the vet to make an appointment for our pet vaccinations and that weird lump on our Basset hounds backside, heading to the post office to drop off mail (author copies and knitting commissions), cleaning the kitchen and putting soup ingredients in the slow cooker, submitting Stories We Tell After Midnight to the Horror Writers Association for their new releases list, and a bunch of other promo tasks to keep this career of mine, such as it is, chugging always forward.

This Monday, in particular, has been goob-tastic. I started coming down with some sort of ailment that plugged my nose, settled in my chest, gave me the chills and aches, and basically is making me miserable and throwing a giant monkey wrench in all my plans to be super productive and get in some last-minute training for my triathlon this weekend.

I’ve got a good deal of words still to go through today. But I also need to do some outline organization. So, it’s probably a good idea to get off the Internet, slam some Vitamin C and cold medicine, and get back to work! In the meantime, if you’ve picked up a copy of the anthology, I’d love it if you would leave us a review on Amazon or Goodreads … Heh. Thanks!

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Why does horror compel us so?

The other day, I posted a little game in the Crone Girls Press Facebook group. Those who answered a question would be eligible for a paperback copy of our anthology. I invited our FB members to share their favorite character from a horror novel or movie, and why. Then, using a super secret and completely arbitrary algorithm*, I would pick my favorite answer and award the prize.

I got two answers, the first of which referenced the Phantom of the Opera. While I, too, harbor an affection for the Ghost of the Paris Opera House, it was the second answer that caught my eye and made me think more deeply about the horror genre in general. This respondent shared that as a child she read a story in which a guard (or concentration camp attendant, etc.) went home after a day of committing his duties. There, he found his son abusing a cat. With an earnest look, he told the youth, “Son, it is wrong to be cruel to animals.”

For me, this speaks to a lot of why the horror genre is compelling and fascinating for me. While I love a good creature feature, for me, the best horror are those stories that confront the banality of evil, that show that it’s not the monster under the bed that we have to fear, but the weakness inside ourselves that says, Don’t take me, take him! Or that falls sway to those influences who would set us on a path of being cruel to our fellow human beings by whispering that they are less than human, that they deserve the treatment they receive–whether those forces dress us in a uniform on the way or not.

I do believe that evil exists in the world, and the worst sort is the evil that dresses up in nice clothes and sees itself as righteous and moral. That relies on the banality of the slow-creeping transgression of virtue to get us from being persons who know what is right and think of ourselves as righteous, to those who would deny shelter or human rights or just the basic respect due another human being, simply because they have been labeled as “other” or “unworthy.”

This is why horror, for me, is compelling. Because the best horror shows us the worst that can happen, flashing its Cassandra warning over and over, trying to pull us back from the brink and, as we head blink in the light, trying to get our bearings, turns us toward the better path.

Today, I’m participating in an online party, hosted by Christy Mann, whose flash fiction story “Uncle Charlie” appears in the Crone Girls Press anthology, Stories We Tell After Midnight. I encourage y’all to come on over and hang out with some horror authors, artists, and readers. Should be a lot of fun, good discussions, BYOB, and you don’t even need to put on pants. See you there!

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Thoughts on writing the military experience…

At the risk of opening a giant can of worms, dumping it out on my desk, and then accomplishing today’s writing while trying to type around a bunch of the wriggling bastards, I thought I’d dump out a bunch of incoherent thoughts and see if I could wrangle them into some sort of semblance of a blog post.

A couple of days ago, I had a series of moments that came together to provide the impetus to start writing this stuff. First, Charlie Sherpa of The Aiming Circle featured the Crone Girls Press anthology and call for submissions on his page. It got shared among some milwriting sites, and during our conversation about the promotion, Sherpa asked something along the lines if I minded that he emphasized the fact that I was a veteran, or that milwriters should apply. My short answer? Basically, no. I welcome submissions as diverse and unique as I can get them.

Later on, as I was reading through submissions, I was struck by how few stories I received that were written by veterans (or by people who included their service in their biography.) I was also struck by how rare it was to find military characters and situations in the stories I was getting. The one that I had the most hope for, I had to turn down because the inconsistencies and inaccuracies were too pervasive for me to be comfortable with taking the chance on the editing process during our short production schedule. This led me to post on my social media page about really wishing that writers who attempted to write military characters and situations would reach out for beta readers or editors (not submissions editors) who actually had military experience and could let them know beforehand what in their writing did not pass the sniff test. (That’s a technical term.) I’m happy to do this–but not as a submissions editor.

And finally, the Military Writers Guild posted a membership call on Twitter. I reached out to one of their members to get his take on whether it would be worth it, as a genre writer and publisher who doesn’t hang around the typical mil-sci-fi crowd or, as he put it, “earnest O-4’s writing about Clausewitz.” I’ve never read On War, at this point in my career I’m probably a permanent senior O-3, and I love to read military science fiction but I’m more of an urban fantasy and dark speculative fiction writer and likely always will be. HOWEVER. One of my underlying goals in life dates back from when I was a baby specialist sitting in class at the Defense Information School, learning that the job of the military journalist was to “tell the Army story.” I internalized that so hard that one of my abiding goals as a writer and publisher is to take the military experience, filter it through the lens of entertainment fiction, and send it out to a wider civilian audience so as to increase the amount of authentic, lived military experiences available for the casual audience to sample.

This is why, when Sherpa asked if I minded that he promoted the submissions link in the veteran and milwriters community, my answer was a resounding, “No.” In fact, I was glad he did so, and hope that it results in getting more horror from veterans and servicemembers. Even if their stories don’t directly deal with military experiences and settings, I want them. I can only write my own experience (although as a military journalist, I got to observe and share in a number of other people’s experiences), and therefore the more stories I can foster and publish and promote, the better chance I have that those stories will entertain and, perhaps, inform. Especially, and this is key, if those stories can provide a window into narratives that are not already prevalent in the current news and entertainment media frames.

I’m trying to remember as a blogger to include a call to action with every post. So here’s my call: If you are a military writer, or a veteran who writes, and you have a dark fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, grimdark, or whatever tale to tell, check out our submissions page. Check out our Facebook group. Write, edit, and polish your story and send it by January, 6 2020. I look forward to reading it.

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Imposing Structures

I am one of those people who really love the allure of those X-day programs. You know the ones–30 Days of Yoga! 20-week Triathlon Training Program! National Poetry Writing Month (April), where you write a poem a day! My friend and fellow author Jennifer Nestojko is writing a sonnet a day throughout the month of October, which is pretty badass, and leaves me envious of her steadfast dedication.

So much ambition stuffed into one title. The promise of having one thing to do each day, step by step, yoga pose by yoga pose, until you end up at the end with an accumulated body of work, the ability to stretch farther than you could at the beginning, or some other concrete sense of accomplishment.

I love them … I’m terrible at them. I think I once (ONCE) in my life was able to write a poem a day for all 30 days of April, or maybe it was October, I forget. That’s one year out of 41, and it was a fun experience, but I’m unlikely to repeat it.

In Chris Baty’s book, No Plot, No Problem, he leads the writer through the 30 days of writing a 50,000-word novel (also known as NaNoWriMo.) In the book, he gives a week-by-week explanation of what it’s like to write 1,667 words a day and end up with a novel at the end of the month. The first week is, as one might expect, full of eagerness and motivation and sitting down every day to hammer out those words! Then, by the second week, that joyful sprint becomes a down-to-earth slog, and the work becomes much harder than it was in those first, happy days.

Yeah. That’s basically the story of every novel I write, and every habit-forming multi-day plan of ambition that I’ve come across. Sometimes, I succeed in making it through to the end with the requisite number of whatevers I’m trying to create. But even if I do, it’s never because I was able to hit that daily to-do list.

Instead, during the month of NaNoWriMo, or that 30 Days of Yoga, or that triathlon training plan, I’ll find myself veering off schedule, wandering down rabbit holes, relaxing at the end of the day and choosing a beer over a bike ride, the sorts of things undedicated, unmotivated people do. And sometimes–many times–I face the choice of completely giving up.

Or, the next day, opening my to-do list and starting again from the top. It often helps to start with the thing I didn’t accomplish the other day. Or a series of short, easy tasks. Or get my spouse to help me with the day’s schedule so I can’t use cleaning the dishes as an excuse to procrastinate.

As we head through PrepTober and into NaNoWriMo, I find myself once again wondering if I’ll be able to win this year. I also wonder how I’ll do on my triathlon on November 3rd, and if I should try writing a month of poetry. (NO, YOU MAY NOT WRITE A MONTH OF POETRY YOU HAVE A NOVEL TO COMPLETE.) But, I also recognize the importance of daily list tracking and, every once in a while, giving myself a break to have a beer.

Hope you do, too.

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Thoughts About NaNoWriMo…

I don’t think I’m going to be attempting NaNoWriMo this year … although every year I say that, and then every year I end up at least going to the website and starting a project. Some years I actually finish that project.

When I look back, I realize that most of my finished manuscripts came from projects I started or finished during the month of December. Some of them have been published. Some I may publish myself. But there’s something about the process of getting together with other writers and sprinting through the shortening days as we race against time to get those fifty thousand words.

And yes, I know that professional writers put that many words on paper every month anyway. (Or, in my case, SHOULD be putting that many words on paper every month. Heh.) But for me, NaNo is a chance to renew my commitment to the page, to get out of the house and into the company of my fellow keyboard-pounders, and enjoy the community atmosphere. And, when I win, treat myself to a new T-shirt or mug.

So yeah, I probably will commit to a project this NaNo. Feel free to send me a buddy request (username: siegerat). I’ll also be offering some tips and columns and resources over on my Patreon page. And once the month is over, I’ll be offering some discounts on my editing rates, so check back then!

Okay, back to this final proof edit of the anthology, Stories We Tell After Midnight. Gotta get ‘er done! Happy Monday, and happy prepping to all my fellow Wrimos!

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Meet the Author: Christy Mann

Up next in my series of interviews with authors from Stories We Tell After Midnight – Christy Mann. When I mentioned I was looking for flash fiction for the anthology, she sat down and write a short, punchy piece that contained my favorite phobia. (No spoilers–you’ll have to read to find out!) A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet her in person when the family traveled out to Utah. She is just as fun in person, and I hope you get a chance to read “Uncle Charlie” when the anthology drops on October 21!

Q (Infamous Scribbler): Why horror? Why do you write it? What about the genre appeals to you as an author?

A (Christy Mann): Life has been pretty dark and ugly.  I try not to focus on that, but it’s there and it tries to come out sometimes.  Going to prison scares the hell out of me, but bottling up thoughts and emotions causes a lot of pain.  I used to journal, but then I shifted to writing stories where I could process the thoughts and feelings without holding anything back and create the outcomes I look for, good, bad, and ugly without prison. Turns out, it makes for really good stories. 

Q: What do you find most challenging about the writing process, and how do you meet that challenge?

A: Everything but the writing, honestly. The writing comes easy, especially when there is a good story to be told.  I rarely have to force the words to come. I struggle with the frustrations that come with editing, publishing, and marketing the work once it’s written. I remind myself that it is all part of the process and I can’t just pick and do the parts that I like if I want to get anywhere. 

Q: What do you find most challenging/rewarding about writing in the short fiction format?

A: I get to write “The End” or “to be continued” a lot more often.  I struggle keeping up with long stories where I have to keep track of who is wearing what, what they said previously, and where they are from scene to scene.  I can do it, but I don’t enjoy it as much and sometimes I think the story and I suffer needlessly because of it. I can twist and turn a reader inside out easier with what isn’t said. 

About the Author

Christy Mann is a psychological horror and thriller writer who lives in Utah. She has worked hard and provided editing and ghost-writing services for over four years. She especially enjoys writing flash fiction pieces to scare the soul. You can find more information about Christy Mann and her books on her website at: ChristyMannAuthor.com.

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Meet the Author: J. Summerset

I first met our next anthology author through my local writing group back in North Carolina. The first story I read by J. Summerset stayed with me, even after I moved away. When I decided to put together an anthology of creepy, fantastical tales, I knew I wanted one of their stories in the mix. They did not disappoint! Their story, “Mirrors,” contains changelings and Fae, but also–real monsters.

Q (Infamous Scribbler): First, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing? What do you write, how long have you been at it, what are some of your published works, preferred genres, etc?

A (J. Summerset): When people ask me what I write, my answer is always, “Whatever I feel like at the time.” I started writing when I was eleven, and it was a ghost of an RL Stine Fear Street book. This was before I learned the joy that was Fanfiction. My favorite genres (sounds better than preferred for me) are horror, fantasy, and sci-fi. Or any combination of the three. One of my other published works was a short story called “Pins and Needles” in a horror anthology called Steamy Screams.

Q: What inspired your story in this anthology? Tell us the “story behind the story.”

A: I was playing with a story about a changeling for the longest time, and this gave me the perfect reason to get the lead out. I’ve never read a fairy tale or folk tale that wasn’t the perfect combination of Horror and Fantasy. 

Q: Why horror? Why do you write it? What about the genre appeals to you as an author?

A: Horror is amazing. I feel like it has way more sub-genres to play in than other genres. Also the worst horror story/movie/show can turn out to be hilarious, while the worst comedy is just the worst. That’s fascinating.

Q: What’s next in your writing journey?

A: Next in my writing journey is an anthology introducing a group of folks trained to trace and analyze supernatural phenomenon, answering questions that people can’t, while trying to solve the things that haunt their own lives.

J. Summerset is an American writer and artist. They love horror, bad sci-fi, myth-touched fantasy, and horrible entities buried beneath the earth. They write bad things very well and good things passably. J. Summerset makes their home in Fayetteville, NC, and spends their time dreaming up impossible situations and how they think they’ll survive them. Occasionally, they consume vast quantities of rum and will watch monster movies. You can reach them on Facebook and @Gen_Rev1 on Twitter.

Stories We Tell After Midnight, the Crone Girls Press inaugural anthology, is currently available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at a promotional price until October 20. Check it out!

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Meet the Author: Jane Hawley

Our next anthology author, Jane Hawley, penned the French Gothic tale that opens Stories We Tell After Midnight. She has a way with words that leave you entranced and disturbed, moved and recoiling at the same time. As an editor, I found myself less “editing” and more simply getting out of the way for her to share her prose. In her story, a beautiful, ancient Duchess leads a young man on a tour of her … orangerie

Q (Infamous Scribbler): What inspired your story in this anthology? Tell us the “story behind the story.”

A (Jane Hawley): “The Orangery” is inspired by a confluence of a few different interests that I had at the time of conceiving the story. I was reading Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, an excellent book of extremely dark, feminist fairy tales, and a biography of Marie Antoinette at the same time. I began to dream up the character of an aristocratic lady who was jealous of Marie Antoinette, but I wanted the story to have a kind of fantastic, fairy tale feel. I sometimes teach Robert Browning’s dramatic monologues to my high school students, specifically “My Last Duchess” and “Porphyria’s Lover,” which are also about twisted, toxic love. My choice to frame the story as a monologue in which the duchess is speaking to her victim was influenced by the structure of Browning’s poems.

Q: Why horror? Why do you write it? What about the genre appeals to you as an author?

A: I’ve always been drawn to the darker parts of life–the villains or ambiguous characters in novels and movies are often my favorite! Heroes can be so stereotypical in comparison. Writing and consuming horror is a safe way to experience the extreme emotions that are within all of us. You start to find your limits. What twisted things can you think up to do to your character? What really bothers you? Why would someone be driven to do certain things? I believe that terror and excitement can be bedfellows so writing horror is a particular challenge because you want to write something that draws a physiological response out of your readers. Their breath stops for a moment, the hair on their arms stands up, they feel a slight chill on the back of their neck…

Q: Who are some of your favorite horror authors, and why?

A: I love Mary Shelley. It’s said that she lost her virginity near her mother’s grave and kept her husband’s desiccated heart in the drawer of her writing desk after he died. Can you get any more goth than that?

JANE HAWLEYis a writer from San Luis Obispo, California. She earned her MFA in Fiction from Texas State University where she served as the Managing Editor of Front Porch Journal. Her work has most recently appeared in The Pinch, Memoir Journal, Day One, The Eastern Iowa Review, Southwestern American Literature, and Because I Was A Girl: True Stories for Girls of All Ages.

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Meet the Author: Tina Riddle

The Crone Girls Press inaugural anthology is a go! Currently available for pre-order from Amazon, I am hosting the authors here at my blog for a series of interviews about their work, why they enjoy the horror genre, and the “story behind the story” of their works in the anthology. Today, my guest is Tina Riddle. Check out what she has to say, and then go check out the anthology, which will be available for $0.99 until it launches October 21!

Q (Infamous Scribbler): What inspired your story in Stories We Tell After Midnight?

A (Tina Riddle): There are so many stories of children who enter wardrobes or fall down holes or some such thing. The things and places that they meet are wonderful, so it occurred to me, what if the thing you find is not so wonderful and friendly? Alice treats it with kindness and that is why the story has the ending that it has.

Q: Who are some of your favorite horror authors, and why?

A: I think almost everyone who grew up in the 70’s and the 80’s has to admit that they were massively influenced by Stephen King. Also the lushness of Anne Rice’s writing. They both place the horrific/supernatural in the ordinary which I try to do. Rice’s The Witching Hour and the Tale of the Body Thief are just perfection. These days I’m tending towards Shirley Jackson, Jessica McHugh, and Meg Hafdahl.  They all have unique voices and an ability to paint with words. I hope someday I will be as fearless as they are in their fictions.

Q: What’s next?

A: Hopefully publishing more fiction for Crone Girls. Also, I am polishing a few novellas and connected short stories that will see the light of day soon. Eventually I hope that one of my tales will end up on The Wicked Library podcast.

TINA RIDDLE is a fifth generation native Floridian who has been writing fiction since the fourth grade. When not stocking in hurricane supplies, she spends her time developing what she likes to think of as Sunshine Gothic. She also spends time with her husband of thirty years and an overly fluffy shelter cat, the Marquis de Carabas.

Tina Riddle’s short story, “Have You Come to Let Me Out?” debuts in Stories We Tell After Midnight, the inaugural horror anthology from Crone Girls Press. The book is currently available for pre-order at a special promotional price from Amazon, and will be released October 21.

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