Random Thoughts of Randomness

I’m currently in the middle of setting up a series of social media posts. Nothing super complicated, just a daily post on Facebook and Twitter with a hook on a particular story in the fall anthology, and some information on where readers can go find and follow that author. This is the first stage of promoting the anthology, to be followed by another announcement about an upcoming project, and then following straight into the pre-order sales push. Getting this set up right now will pay dividends, as I and the family are heading into a month of movement and upheaval and all kinds of craziness.

What’s kind of hurting my brain is trying to FIND those hooks. Trying to write interesting copy when everything that’s going on is… well, going on. When I put the submissions guidelines out, I asked that if people were going to send a query, for them to include a logline. Some people did, some didn’t, and some included loglines that I didn’t find very hook-y, but still opened and read and accepted the story because it was good. Which, my point is, other than always follow submission guidelines, I’m super happy that some of the authors sent me good loglines, because that makes this part of the job easier.

On the writing front, most of my creative energy this week has been focused on promo and marketing for the next anthology, Stories We Tell After Midnight 2. But I’ve got several folders of notes for my urban fantasy series finish/rewrite/relaunch (The Rick Keller Project), a bunch of notes for my revision of Steel-Toed Blues, and MORE notes for my romance series. After setting up the next CGP projects, I should be back to full-speed ahead on my word count.

Up for some horror poetry? This magnetic set from Raw Dog Screaming Press has been hanging out on the safe in my office. Writing is writing, hey?

I didn’t do an On The Shelf blog this week, although I’m hoping to do one next week. I’ve got a couple of excellent books I’ve been reading on Kindle, and I’m hoping to have some time to sit down and do a quick round-up type review of each next Wednesday. I hope I don’t disappoint any of my fifteen or sixteen regular readers…

In the meantime, I’ve started querying again! I dusted off a couple of old stories, tweaked, revised, polished, and shined, and sent them out. And then remembered how much I hate querying, but whatever. It’s got to be done. Two of the stories are reprints, (and part of the third one), and in searching for markets for horror reprints that actually pay, I’m starting to understand exactly why the Crone Girls Press submissions were flooded.

Anyway, those are the random things going on with me right now. If you’re interested in the play-by-play, come drop me a follow on Twitter, or check out what’s going on over at Facebook.

In the meantime, here is Schnapps. She wants you to stay well and be excellent to each other. Or maybe she wants breakfast. It could go either way…
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On the Shelf: Russian Speculative Fiction

There I was, sitting outside, watching my oldest daughter show me how she can ride a bike without training wheels, feeling quite accomplished. I’d sent off about two dozen packages in the mail of handmade cloth masks and hand-knitted dishcloths that sported this year’s slogan. I then hand-sanitized up and headed to Target for my first mom-shopping in a little over four months, in order to stock up on some things for our upcoming move. I have a few more contracts to take care, but I was feeling pretty smug that I was on top of my to-do list… and then realized that it was officially Wednesday evening, and I’d forgotten to post the OTS blog. Oy.

So, I wandered over to the shelves and decided that it might be time to share my love of Russian speculative fiction literature with the world. First, I love Russian literature. I am not as learned as others, but I did once almost miss my bus stop because I was deeply enthralled in the pages of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Then, one evening, when I was on my second deployment, I wandered over to the MWR building to see what was playing on the big screen. They had a movie I hadn’t heard about, Night Watch, directed by Timur Bekmambetov–a Russian urban fantasy with fantastic, artistic subtitles. I sat, enthralled, and went back and watched it a few more times when I had the evening free. That movie was my intro to the world of Russian speculative fiction, a world I’m just beginning to explore. My Russian language skills are super basic and pretty rusty, but my goal is to get good enough to read books by Russian authors in the original language.

Anyway, I have a small selection, as most of the RSF books on my shelf are in the To-Be-Read section, but here are some fun ones to get you started.

Day Watch
Lukyanenko, Sergei. Day Watch, Trans. Andrew Bromfield, Hyperion Books, NY, 2006.

Night Watch (the movie I saw) was the first in this series. As of now, the book series concludes with Book 6, Sixth Watch, which I didn’t realize existed until I went to look up the link for Day Watch, and now I have another book on my TBR shelf. The movie trilogy ends with Day Watch, although there are rumors out there that Timur Bekmambetov will finish out the trilogy. (Universe, you listening?) Anyway… the premise of the books is that there are supernatural creatures who are divided into the forces of good, or Light, and evil, or Darkness, and they have a treaty that is enforced by members of the Night Watch (Light, because they’re keeping their eyes on the Dark) and the Day Watch (Darkness). There are vampires, magic-workers, shapeshifters, and all manner of beings struggling back and forth in the setting of modern-day Moscow. It is a setting and plot familiar to fans of urban or contemporary fantasy, but with a unique Russian flavor. I definitely recommend starting with Night Watch, and then hitting up Day Watch, as noted above, but the entire series is worth a good read (and the movies are terrific, too!)

Hard to Be a God
Strugatsky, Arkady and Strugatsky, Boris. Hard to Be a God, trans. Olena Bormashenko, Chicago Review Press, original copyright 1964, reprint 2014.

As I was flipping through this book, I realized it might be about time for a re-read. This is a book that is eminently entertaining and readable, and that has a depth that rewards repeat perusal. The book follows Rumata/Anton, who is sent from an ostensibly Communist utopian future to a dark, medieval society, there to observe while playing the part of an arrogant nobleman. That’s the surface of it. In addition to the plot and swashbuckling, this story takes on added context, being written during a time when certain art and writing could have significant negative consequences for the writer/artist operating in Soviet Russia. And yet, even under those circumstances, related in this edition with an afterword penned by Boris Strugatsky, there appears this work, which has outlasted the regime under which it was written. I highly recommend this, both for the excellent story, and for an appreciation of its place in the historical SF canon.

The Winter Men/Зимние Мужчины
Lewis, Brett & Leon, John Paul. The Winter Men, Wildstorm Productions, 2009.

Yeah, I cheated on this one. But what are going to do, call the blog police? Anyway, this is a graphic novel set in Moscow and Brooklyn, and a bunch of other places, with themes of what makes a superman, and what governments will do to… well… make a superman. It’s a violent, gritty comic, and I really enjoyed it, although I almost didn’t pick it up (the guy trying to sell it to me at a ComicCon was a condescending a-hole, who tried to explain modern Russia to me and looked blank when I mentioned Masha Gessen, so whatever…) The pace moves super fast, and I sometimes felt as if the authors were writing this as a plan to be adapted into a television show or movie instead of taking their time, but on the other hand, it’s a graphic novel, and the visuals tell a lot of the story. If you like stories about crime, corruption, loyalty, and government experiments to create super soldiers, this one should be on your list.

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On the Shelf: Let’s Talk Anthologies!

One of my favorite things to read is a good anthology. An entire book full of short, self-contained works, anthologies fit really well in a busy reading schedule, and they are a terrific way, in my opinion, to find new writers to fall in love with. Also, as someone who counts a number of authors among my circle of friends, I find that many of them place their short fiction in these volumes, and so it’s a win-win to support their work.

My favorite genres of anthology tend to be genres and sub-genres that I normally wouldn’t read an entire book in. I love horror short stories–short form fiction is my absolutely most favorite way to consume the genre. But then, I also dig steampunk and mysteries and science fiction, and I’ll happily sit down and read a whole bunch of novels and anthologies that fall in those categories.

There’s just something that’s so elegant about a well-crafted short story. The ability to gather up a reader within a few paragraphs and carry them along to the end is a skill and talent that must be honed and refined. (I remark this as both a reader and as an editor who has read soooo… many… short story submissions.) And the end of a short story–to write one that is powerful, impactful, and that wraps up just enough to satisfy the reader and not too much to become pedantic, well, those are the sorts of stories that I return to again and again.

For this week, I have chosen a couple of anthologies almost at random. If I tried to fit my entire shelf into this post, it would be too long and I’d never finish writing it, let alone get around to publishing it. Instead, I picked up a couple of volumes that reached out to me when I was perusing the shelves. Perhaps one of them will speak to you!

Transgressions
Editor: Ed McBain. Transgressions, A Forge Book, NY, 2005.

I can’t quite remember when I picked up this collection of ten novellas for four bucks at the Barnes & Noble bargain bin. I thought I remembered reading this much earlier in the decade than 2005, perhaps because a number of the stories were set in a world immediately after the events of 9/11. This might be because, while all the novellas in the anthology are terrific, from a bunch of top-notch authors such as Joyce Carol Oates and Lawrence Block, the story that stayed with me all this time was “The Things They Left Behind,” by Stephen King. I’ve always enjoyed King’s short stories the most of all his work, and in this story, he is at the top of his writing game. I don’t want to say too much about it, but this story rips my heart out and kicks me in the soul every time I read it. I highly recommend the experience.

Shadow Show
Editors: Sam Weller and Mort Castle. Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury, William Morrow, NY, 2012.

Ray Bradbury is one of my most favorite authors of all time, and so I decided to give this anthology a shot, see what authors such as Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood and Joe Hill could come up with. Turns out, they came up with some pretty solid tales. I read this book cover to cover when I first purchased it, and now that I’m flipping through it to write this blog post, I kind of want to read them all over again. Not every story in here hits up that Bradbury blend of humanity and fear and sadness and hope, but a great many do, and they are all entertaining in their own way. I’m going to go put this one back on my to-read shelf, because I think I need some of this right now.

Shadows
Editor: Charles L. Grant. Shadows Volume 1, Playboy Books, NY, 1978.

Given that this anthology was published the year I was born, I did not happen by it on a shelf in a bookstore as I did the previous two titles. Rather, I found this series of anthologies mentioned in the survey of horror literature Paperbacks from Hell, and decided to take a chance. This was the first volume of a series of horror anthologies with stories that epitomized what Grant referred to as “quiet horror.” The horror in the stories comes from human actions and emotions, and the terrible capacity we as a species have for committing evil on each other. When I was preparing to start up Crone Girls Press, I read through this volume–and plan to pick up and read the entire series–finding in its pages a model of the horror and dark fiction I would like to publish.

Black Magic Women
Editor: Sumiko Saulson. Black Magic Women: Terrifying Tales by Scary Sisters, Mocha Memoirs Press, Winston-Salem, NC, 2018.

I buy a lot of anthologies at conventions. I’ll be frank–I buy a lot of books at conventions. And I usually go for the anthologies, because they always contain at least one or two gems that make discovering that new author worth the cost of the book. And THIS anthology was worth the cost of several new books, because the stories, mostly by authors whose work I hadn’t encountered before, kept me rapt from page one to the end. Some of my particular faves include “Dark Moon’s Curse” by Delizhia Jenkins, and “Labor Pains” by Kenya Moss-Dyme. The stories in this volume delve into themes of love, loss, terror, revenge, and the implicit context of experiencing these things as a person of color. As the blurb states: “Imagine horror where black characters aren’t all tropes and the first to die; imagine a world written by black sisters where black women and femmes are in the starring roles.” That world is deep and rich and intense, and it’s right here in this book. Do yourself a favor, and pick up a copy.

What We’ve Unlearned
Editor-in-Chief: Carol Gyzander. What We’ve Unlearned: English Class Goes Punk, Writerpunk Press, 2017.

Okay, full disclosure–this one is a little self-promoting, because I helped out as an assistant editor, and this volume contains my dieselpunk take on Beowulf. But bear with me… Writerpunk Press is a slightly anarchic collective that began as a Facebook group of writers who really enjoyed punk in all its literary incarnations: steampunk, dieselpunk, cyberpunk, atompunk, etc. (Ah, who am I kidding, slightly anarchic–ha!) Anyway, several years ago, we all got together and said: Hey, let’s do an anthology where we take classic works of literature, namely Shakespeare, and punk ’em out? Oh, and in the process, send money to the PAWS charity? Several volumes later, here we are, punking English class. This volume, dedicated to the memory of Robin Williams, contains stories like Michelle Cornwell-Jordan’s mythpunk take on “The Little Mermaid,” entitled “Muddy Water Promises,” or Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins’s “Consolidated Scrooge,” a steam-,tesla-, and cyberpunk riff on Dickens’s famous Christmas tale… Check out these stories, and then check out some of the other categories we’ve punked: Edgar Allan Poe, horror, more Shakespeare, and the upcoming myth volume. They are an entertaining read, if I may be forgiven for saying so myself.

Coppice & Brake
Editor: Rachel A. Brune. Coppice & Brake: A Dark Fiction Anthology, Crone Girls Press, Seaside, CA, 2020.

Yeah … I went full-out promotions in this one. On the other hand, I figured if you made it this far, you’re probable the sort who would indulge a moment of self-promotion or two. And honestly, the fact that I love this book so much is not because I really did anything other than find the authors–it’s that the caliber of authors who entrusted me with their works was kind of astounding. There are stories in here that will punch you in the soul and leave you processing all sorts of emotions you didn’t know you had. There were stories in here I had to re-read four or five times just to dull the senses so I could give them a good edit. As I mentioned above, I am an avid reader of anthologies, and I wanted to create a volume of the sort that I would pick off the shelf and read, cover to cover, and then think about for several weeks after. I won’t be so immodest as to claim that’s what this will be for you… but I am proud of what we put together, and so figured it wouldn’t hurt to share this in a post about the anthologies on my bookshelf. Enjoy!

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On the Shelf: Read About the American Constitution

As you can see from the title, I am running out of witty things to name these columns. In this case, if I think of something after this post goes live, I’ll come back and edit it, but in the meantime, here is the blunt, yet descriptive, indication of what this week’s list of books-I-pulled-from-my-bookshelf-concerning-a-specific-topic is all about.

A couple of years ago (oh, okay, more than a couple, but less than a decade), I was teaching a 101-level course to students in the criminal justice program at the local college branch on an Army base in Kuwait. The course dealt with the legal aspects of policing, and in one class, I mentioned to the students (all members of the US military), that my dad has July 4th tradition that I have adopted of reading in their entirety the texts of the American Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. One of the students looked at me and said: “For real? … You read the whole thing?” The question, “Why?” was very much implicit in their tone.

My reply touched mainly on the fact that, as uniformed servicemembers, we swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, and that, in my opinion, made it worth a re-read from time to time. I still hold this opinion. I mean, neither document is all that long, and some of it’s kind of boring, but the Constitution will never not be one of the most important documents to me. As US citizens, we are the government – and my ideal view of a country is one in which every citizen is enabled and enfranchised when it comes to participation, whatever participation looks like. (Maybe that’s an idea for a future On the Shelf – dust off all those political participation texts from my Masters degree in political communication…) Did I also mention that I think VOTING is super important? Yes. Yes, I do.

Anyway, if you’re reading this and thinking, huh, it has been quite a while since I read the US Constitution in its entirety, then don’t worry! Just go here and you can read the whole Constitution, including the Bill of Rights and all Amendments. When you’re done checking it out, come on back, because I have a list of three books that may be of help in understanding the Constitution, as well as the context against which it was developed and signed.

America’s Constitution: A Biography
Amar, Akhil Reed. America’s Constitution: A Biography, Random House, NY, 2006.

This book is the most powerful, thorough, and accessible exegesis of the Constitution that I have found. The subtitle describes it as a “biography,” and that is exactly what it is–a document that leads the reader through each portion of the document, from conception to inception to current interpretation. Along the way, Amar discusses the conversations and debates that occurred at and around the Continental Congresses and the newspapers and pamphlets, the final wording, and then how that section has come to be interpreted through case law up to the modern-day. There is a meticulously referenced copy of the Constitution in its entirety, with page numbers in the margins at each section for easy reference as one reads through. The endnotes and index are fantastic, and there is a short section of frequently cited works, although not as extensive a bibliography as one might expect. To be fair, however, this is a lengthy tome, and the notes include a number of references for future reading. If you are going to pick one book to do a deep dive into the document that is the foundation of the USA, this is the book you want to pick up.

The Bill of Rights
Amar, Akhil Reed. The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1998.

I have a terrible confession to make. This book is on my shelf. My to-be-read (TBR) shelf. As such, I’m not necessarily going to speak of the experience reading it, but rather, why it’s on there. As you can see from the description of the previous book, Akhil Reed Amar knows his constitutional scholarship. After finishing America’s Constitution: A Biography, I wanted to keep reading. Although Amar does include the entire Constitution in the latter volume, this book offers the opportunity to do a deep dive into the Amendments making up the Bill of Rights. As in the previous volume, he lays out the methodology he used to explore the topic, and examines the Bill from the context of its writing and its place in the Constitution and subsequent case law. I recently picked it up off my TBR shelf and started reading it (which spurred the selection for this week’s OTS), and it’s a fascinating book.

Infamous Scribblers
Burns, Eric. Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism, PublicAffairs, New York, 2006.

This may seem like an odd book to add to this list. And indeed, it maybe pop up later should I decide to do an On the Shelf of First Amendment reading, or early American history reading. (For this selection, I recommend Part III: The Tumult of Peace, Chapters Thirteen to Sixteen.) And yet, this book tells of an aspect of history that maintains its relevance until today–that of the relationship of the press to the government and to the people who make up the citizens of that government. There is a lot of telling and relevant history, all conveyed in fine, narrative nonfiction style, that does not refrain from spilling all the tea on the cast of founding characters. This section describes the public debate surrounding the Constitutional Conventions and how it played out in the essays and articles published by the men involved in its creation. That this book is first and foremost a history of journalism, and yet should provide so keen a perspective on the history of the founding of the Republic, should perhaps provide the modern reader some reflection on the importance of the press, and what our current times may look like to future historians as they peruse the articles and Op-Eds written today.

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On the Shelf: Write Your Story

Good morning, and welcome to Wednesday! Last week I talked about setting up this On the Shelf feature, and in keeping with my long history of trying to remember to blog regularly, completely forgot about it when next week rolled around. So, by the time I post this, it may actually be afternoon.

I was staring at my shelves this week, trying to find books that would seem relevant to current events. Should I share books by authors who are people of color? Should I share nonfiction works on civil disturbances and social justice? Should I go for escapist fare? If you’ve never seen an author and blogger overthink something, please, let’s video chat, because I’m really good at it.

In the end, I decided to pick out four books that might seem unrelated at first, but, and bear with me here, I think are good to visit today. Let me explain. I am a big advocate of making space for people to tell their story, and for encouraging them to do so. My goal is to find ways to publish, promote, and signal boost the greatest variety of experiences and lived narratives. I’ve been able to do some of this with Crone Girls Press, and I’ve been lucky to have the privilege of listening to and reading stories as people share them with me.

When I joined the military, I came from a pretty standard middle class background in upper northwest New Jersey. It was a great experience, but it wasn’t really one that exposed me to the great breadth and depth of the experiences of other Americans. Joining the Army gave me the opportunity to meet people, to move to other places and meet more people, and to listen when they talked about their lives and how they grew up. My eyes were very slowly opened to the realization that I had a lot to learn (and still do) about the experiences of people of color.

So, in the spirit of thanks to people who HAVE shared their stories with me, I wanted to highlight four books that center around ways to write down and amplify a story, in particular, a nonfiction story. I offer this with no expectation that the onus is on people of color to do the emotional and physical labor of pulling together and writing it down. I recognize that there are many books and resources out there that already exist for people like myself to do the work of self-education. I offer these merely in case you or someone you know has a story to tell and is looking for someplace to start.

And one quick offer that I was going to put at the end but wasn’t even sure you made it this far. I bill myself as an author and writing coach. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not as well-established as some others who have hung up their shingle. But, I’ve had good feedback and word-of-mouth support from those I have worked with. So I will make this offer. If you are a person of color looking to tell your story, I would like to offer you my help. If you would like to take advantage of that, I am open to doing a couple (1-2 one-hour segments) of coaching sessions to get you started, or to take a quick editorial look at your drafted proposal (first 1-3 chapters and outline.) I think my blog has about ten regular readers, so I don’t anticipate I’ll be overwhelmed–if for some reason I experience a flood of request, I’ll cap it off before I can’t meet my other obligations. Shoot me a line if you’re interested: unfamousscribbler at Gmail.

The Weekend Book Proposal
Van Cleave, Ryan G. The Weekend Book Proposal: How to Write a Winning Proposal in 48 Hours and Sell Your Book, Writer’s Digest Books, Cinncinnati, OH, 2014.

So, say you have an idea of a nonfiction book you want to write. Maybe it’s a memoir. Maybe it’s a book on how to community organize. Whatever it is, you have the idea and are looking for a way to pull it all together. You may want to shop the proposal to an agency or editor. Or, you may intend on indie publishing it. Whatever your intended direction or eventual goal, this book is an excellent primer. The author leads you through the nuts and bolts process of not just writing the actual proposal, but for packaging it–and yourself as the author. The angle here is that he wants to show you how to put it all together in a timely fashion, and so there are “Hit the Gas” features to motivate you to get cracking on a particular section, as well as insider tips, lists of resources for further information, and info on the overall publication process. As I mentioned, even if your goal is to indie publish, this book addresses all of the important areas you will need to consider as you outline, draft, revise, and finally, promote and publish your book.

How to Write a Book Proposal
Larsen, Michael. How to Write a Book Proposal: The Insider’s Step-By-Step Guide to Proposals That Get You Published, Writer’s Digest Books, Cinncinnati, OH, 2017.

One quick note–I’m writing this summary from the 2003 3rd edition of this book. I’ve included a URL to the most recent addition above; just be aware there may be new features in the latest edition. So, how is this book different from the first book listed? If you think of the first book as the racecar version of Ted Talk (how’s that for imagery?), this book is the staid syllabus of the class you’re taking to cover the nonfiction credit for you MFA. The information is organized a bit differently, but still covers all the basics – from the hook to the length and organization to the promotion and marketing, etc. This book, along with the first one, have had a place on my bookshelf for a long time (as have my dusty, long-neglected book proposal drafts … sigh …) and if you are going to pick up one or two books on how to get started on writing this sort of project, I highly recommend you start here.

Bang the Keys
Dearman, Jill. Bang the Keys: Four Steps to a Lifelong Writing Practice, Alpha Books, NY, 2009.

This is one of those books that I recommend for people who are looking to find a place to start writing … and that I return to when I haven’t been in the habit of writing for a while and need to motivate/spur/flog myself to get my butt back in my seat and words on the paper. There are four sections to this book: Begin, Arrange, Nurture, and Go, and they each address a different part of the process. Some areas are kind of pep-talk-y, other areas give you some tips to try things to break out of your own head or habits. There are a good number of writing exercises, as well an index and an appendix that consists of a chapter-by-chapter list of further resources for writers. This is a handy book to have in your writing toolkit, and can be read through, or dipped into from time to time to re-light the spark of your writing habit. (And I think that, from what I’ve been reading from my fellow authors, many of us are facing that challenge right now.)

Build Your Author Platform
Jelen, Carole, & McCallister, Michael. Build Your Author Platform: A Literary Agent’s Guide to Growing Your Audience in 14 Steps, BenBella Books, Dallas, TX, 2014.

Whether you intend to submit your proposal to an agent or editor, or publish yourself as an independent author, or even if you just want to put together a book to publish through one of the many digital platforms out there with the expectation that maybe some friends and family might pick up a copy, it’s still a good idea to begin developing your author platform. This book is solid gold when it comes to finding ideas to do that. It’s one of the books on my shelf that has dozens of different-colored sticky bookmarks poking out of it, denoting all of the ideas that popped up as I was reading. The authors address promotion and marketing tactics that are applicable for authors large and small, and even if you have a robust presence online, you will likely find something of use in this book. There is an index and a list of further resources organized by topic, as well as–and this is super useful especially if you’re starting from scratch–a tear out sheet with a step-by-step author platform publicity plan. If you’re looking to start writing and build a presence from which to launch your finished manuscript, or if you already have an online presence and are looking to shape it to support promoting your message and creative content, I highly recommend checking this book out for ideas and inspiration.

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On the Shelf: Women at War

It’s been radio silence since January, not necessarily because I haven’t been active online, but because I’ve been spending the majority of my time over at Crone Girls Press, doing editor- and publisher-type activities. And then, let’s face, the world tipped head over heels into crazy-town, and wham-bam-without-a-thank-you-ma’am, we ended up wherever this is.

Case in point–this year I applied to be and was accepted as a guest at ConCarolinas. Woohoo! Cue the big rejoicing! And then, everything got dumped in the turdbucket along with my powers of concentration and ability to follow a to-do list. So now, the next best thing. I’m still a guest and panelist at … ConCarolinas — the Virtual Con! (If you read that in Yogurt’s voice, we can be best friends.) My panel, which will be live and virtual, is called Herstorically Speaking: Meet the Women of War, and will be online Friday, May 29 from 7pm to 9pm EST. Yes, I realize this conflicts with the big Dropkick Murphys streaming concert. Believe me, that will be on in the background … Anyway, if you’re interested in more Con content, check out their virtual schedule for the next few days.

Anyway, one of the things I’ve been meaning to do is set up a regular blog feature about books. My reading tends to include huge chunks of fiction, and then clusters of nonfiction books around topics I find myself wanting to deep-dive into. Sometimes I’ll read two or three and move on, sometimes I’ll continue to return to the topic. My idea for this feature came about because first, I needed an idea for a recurring blog post topic, and second, I firmly believe that reading can make you a better writer. So, here is my new blog feature: On the Shelf.

On the Shelf will be an annotated bibliography introducing three to five books on a particular topic that I think might be helpful as well as some thoughts on why I’ve picked them, and what I think you might get out of them. In this case, I’ve chosen a few books from my shelf that relate to the topic of Women in War. Think of this as an annotated reading list that I’m putting together to inform my participation on the ConCarolinas panel on Friday. If you have any questions, or want to talk books, drop me a line!

Uppity Women of Medieval Times
Leon, Vicki. Uppity Women of Medieval Times, MJF Books, NY, 1997.

I picked up this book at Barnes & Noble way back when I was first getting into the SCA. It was one of the books you’d find in the bargain section (which is, indeed, where I found it.) Inside, you’ll find a quick, snappy introduction and then ten sections of short, snarky profiles of women who lived and made waves in the medieval period. Some of these women even picked up a sword or two (see Aethelfled, pp 30-31, Ng Mui and Yim Wing Chun p 31, or Caterina Sforza pp 38-39.) If you are looking for depth, this is not the right book for you, nor is it if you only want tales of women wielding swords (check out the poet Walladah al-Mustakfi pp 94-95.) However, this is a great reference book to start with, especially because the short profiles allow the author to pull from a variety of geographic areas and professions. And, bonus, there is a pretty solid bibliography and index to help guide your future studies.

They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War
Blanton, DeAnne & Cook, Lauren M. They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War, Vintage Books, NY, 2002.

One of the few times I’ve read a book because the author contacted me through Goodreads, and this time the gamble paid off. This is a well-researched, in-depth work of history with an extensive bibliography, notes section, and index. In it, the authors use historical primary sources to tell the stories of women who dressed as men to go to war. They lead the reader through the reasons why women enlisted, how they pulled it off, and their actions once they found themselves living in uniform. Along the way, they address such issues as hygiene and bathroom issues, training, the attitudes towards the women who were discovered, and the fact that there even were so many women who dressed as men to fight that it necessitated a full-length history book to relate. This is a terrific book, well-written and informative, on its own. If you are writing a war and want women characters in there (or even if you don’t, by the way, because these women weren’t really supposed to be found in the ranks either), then this is a book you want to crack.

Women Heroes of World War II
Atwood, Kathryn J. Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue, Chicago Review Press, 2011.

I can’t remember exactly where I picked up this book, but when I sat down to write my werewolf urban fantasy, I cracked it open. Why? Because I was writing a character whose grandmother was a member of the OSS during World War II, and I wanted to get a feel for what it was like for the women who were fighting on behalf of the allies during that time. This book contains profiles of women who fought in one capacity or another, from resistance fighters to spy/singers (hello, Josephine Baker!) to agents who infiltrated the enemy lines. Not all of the stories have happy endings. The profiles are organized by country, and introduced with a short two to three page blurb about the efforts of women in that country. Each profile is bookended with a “Learn More” section that points the interested reader in the direction of more books and articles about that particular woman. The book contains an excellent bibliography and thorough notes section. This is one of those books that is super helpful on a writer’s bookshelf–a collection of profiles to read through and get inspired by, and the list of further reading just in case you want to take off down a rabbit hole.
(Note: After going to get the URL, I realized there is a newer edition with six more profiles; I have linked to that in the title above.)

Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War
Brown, Randy & Leonard Steve, eds. Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War, Middle West Press, LLC, Johnston, Iowa, 2019.

This is a bit of a different choice, as the essays in this nonfiction work are, for the most part, personal narrative, not all of them are written by soldiers, and not all of them are penned by women. However, everyone in this volume has experienced what it’s like to serve during wartime, whether as a soldier or journalist or teacher, and their words can open a window in that world. Many of the authors in this lightly-edited volume can be found participating in online conversations. Many have longer works available for the curious reader. I think this book is an important project, and if you are writing modern military or military-affiliated characters living and working and acting in modern military settings, you should grab a copy of this book, and let it set you up to look over the field before you find the right rabbit hole down which to dive.

Like what you see? Come on over and find me on Facebook and Twitter. I’m a touch more active over there … for the most part. Got some thoughts? Drop me a comment.

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Finding the Flow

Looking back, most of my first posts of the New Year have basically turned into a laundry list of what I’m planning to do, which usually turns into a list of what doesn’t get done because I’m a chronic overscheduler. So, I’m not going to do that.

Instead, I’m going to focus on what I’m doing today, which is sitting in the office I’ve taken over from my spouse now that his graduate degree coursework has concluded. I have a chair that is the right height, space for my work tablet and my writing laptop to spread out, a nice hot cup of tea, my large, laminated visual reminder of what each day should bring (blog posts, Patreon posts, 5 Promotion Actions, my to-do list), and my email open to the submissions that made it to the second round of the Crone Girls Press 2020 anthologies. I’ll be making a lot of hard choices soon, because we have received so many high-quality stories that honestly I wish I could publish everything (but won’t because that’s sooooo not in our budget.)

Even this post is trying to turn into a “But Here Are All the Things I’m Really Going to Do In the Near Future” type of situation. Ha! What does this say about me? (No, really don’t answer that question…) I’m going to shy away from a “to-do” and instead, post a link to the CGP Advance Reader Copy crew. This is a task I’ve actually done — set up an opportunity for horror readers to check out our new releases before they’re even published, in exchange for an honest review on Goodreads or Amazon. If horror is your thing, check us out!

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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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