Sunday, December 23, 2012


Sunday, December 23:

It's Christmas.
But these are not the best of times.
Children are killing children at the same time they all should be standing wide-eyed with wonder and amazement at the glittering lights. And yet as I sit here at my keyboard I am wondering where a fluffy ball of yellow fur is tonight. Is he warm? Is he hungry? Has he gathered the wild cats of our neighborhood into a feisty gang?

His name is Milo, and he's our grandcat. He's lived with us for seven years now, but somehow he managed to slip out the front door the night before last and is gone. We miss him. We've searched for him, waited for him, left out food for him. And one of his toys. Tacked up posters.

But he's only a cat, and as much as I miss him, as much as my worries about his fate niggle me, distracting me from writing/baking/wrapping gifts, I am reminded/hoping/praying he may be alive somewhere.

Twenty-six innocent people are not.

Children and teachers who were simply going about their lives this time two weeks ago are dead. Their loved ones are in a hell I cannot image. I am simply yearning for the return of my grandcat, Milo. And yet I've found myself searching for some words to console me, to give me strength, to make me not doubt the world we live in, to make me want to be strong and to be part of the solution instead apathetic/indifferent/uncaring. Scared.

It's Christmas, you see. A time of hope. Not a game of thrones where winter is coming, but, yes, a game of thrones where spring could unfold/burst/emerge. Usually I look to poetry, snaggles of words I must consider/ponder/parse carefully like algebra.

And I found this: a poem of hope/inspiration/truth, written by a ten-year-old boy for a Florida grade school competition in 2001.

I hold in my hand
All the answers to all the questions
In the world.

The secrets of science,
Cures for diseases.
Even recipes for wonderful meals.

I hold the basis for languages, codes,
And all forms of communication.

In my hand I hold poetry, novels,
The potential for awesome plays,
And the script of a blockbuster movie.
In my hand is the very key to civilization,
The instrument that has built the world.
In my hand, I hold . . . a pen.

I have lifted this poem without permission from "Heroic Teaching in Troubled Times" by Les Standiford. Standiford's message was directed to educators following 9-11. I strongly suggest clicking on the link and reading the entire piece. It's uplifting, and we need that right now. I need that right now. National tragedies. Personal tragedies. Those of us left behind have to forge ahead and yet not forget

Standiford knows this all too well. That masterfully written poem was penned by his son, Alexander, who died in 2009. So young. What additional words/thoughts/truths he may have gifted us all with.

But it's Christmas. Peace on Earth. Goodwill to men. And women. And lost cats. 

And words yet to be written.

UPDATE on December 24: When I opened the front door at the same time of the morning I usually feed Milo on weekdays, there he stood, just off the porch where we had left an opened can of tuna. Milo is home!

Merry Christmas indeed!

Monday, October 15, 2012

All-American Horror!

A week or so ago, I posted that All-American Horror was set to be released. And while both Barnes & Noble and Amazon list the date as October 31, 2012, it is possible there may be a slight delay. But it is coming, and editor Mort Castle has finally ripped the sheet off, unveiling the TOC (Table of Contents).

So . . .
Drum roll, please . . .

1. The Station by Bentley Little
2. Sonny Wilson’s Last Show and Tell by Jeff Jacobson
3. Under The Skin by Nicholas Kaufmann
4. Mr. Handlebars by Mark Powers
5. The Pumpkin Man by John Everson
6. Wasted On The Young by Cody Goodfellow
7. Big Rock Candy Mountain by Weston Ochse
8. Driving The Last Spike by Brian Hodge
9. The Albright Sextuplets by Norman Prentiss
10. How Sweet It Was by Thomas F. Monteleone
11. Steagal’s Barber Shoppe and Smoke Emporium by Jay Bonansinga
12. Still Crazy After All These Years by Judi Rohrig
13. Night Dive by F. Paul Wilson
14. High Moon by Wayne Allen Sallee
15. Honor System by Jack Ketchum
16. The Secrets of the Living by Sarah Langan
17. Live Forever! by Sam Weller
18. The Bees by Dan Chaon
19. Rhymes With Jew by Paul G. Tremblay
20. Tracks Of a Hellhound by Tina L. Jens
21. Provenance by Andy Duncan
22. Recess by Darren O. Godfrey
23. A Circle of Friends by R. B. Payne
24. Turbulence by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
25. The Tree Mumblers by Pete Mesling
26. The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft by Tim Pratt and Nick Mamatas
27. Smoke In A Bottle by Steve Rasnic Tem
28. The Engine Of Desire by Livia Llewellyn
29. Moths In Damp Grass by Tracy Knight
30. They by David Morrell

I hope you took note of #12. Honored, I am. Honored and thrilled and delighted.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Digging In for the Long, Cold Winter!

Temperatures have dipped a bit, momentarily dashing my fears of global warming, but making me tingle in anticipation of several books I've been anxious to read. So, while I may not have a fireplace to stoke, I do have a comfortable place to cuddle up with a book. And tea. And hot water. And a soft throw for my lap since Milo, the grandcat, likes his own places to curl up.

Anyway . . .

Hitting the bookstore shelves officially today is Mary Sharratt's Illuminations.

Newly canonized (May 2012) and honored as one of the Doctors of the Church (October 1012) by the Catholic Church, Hildegard von Bingen was much more than a mere 12th Century nun. She was a composer, playwright, writer, visionary, and theologian. Mary Sharratt, a fine teller of historical tales, offers her story in Illuminations.

Also high on my list is Mike Mullin's Ashen Winter, a follow-up to last year's fine, fine book, Ashfall.

Following a supervolcano at Yellowstone National Park which devastates a good part of America as well as Alex Halprin's home, Alex and his friend Darla, who finally make it to Alex's uncle's place in Ashfall, decide to go back to search for Alex's parents. I'm looking for Mullin to once again weave a tale chocked full of action and adventure.

I'll share more later. The teapot is whistling!

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Not winter, which is, of course, coming, but something else, something exciting. At least for me.

Meanwhile, here's a look inside creating a book cover by Dave Wittekind.

And the final cover!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Welcome to Octobrrrrr . . .

(C) Art by Keith Minnion
Why, yes, it is Octoberrrrr . . .

Get out the decorations: bats and pumpkins, spider webs and bloody hands. It's time to celebrate!

All month long, the Horror Writers Association will be offering essays, excerpts, and giveaways from some of its members, and I know you'll want to be a part of all that. Kicking off the whole shebang is an essay from James Chambers, a friend of mine and the chairman of the membership committee (AKA my boss!). He's had the honor of actually facing chainsaw-wielding crazies and writes about how he handled the situation.

I hope you'll follow the HWA blog all month (I'll post reminders here), but I'll also be posting here some of my own feelings about ghosts and the differences in the sub-genres of horror. 

And I won't forget the candy. Trust me.

Heh heh.

Yeah, trust me!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Shelly Thacker: Forever . . . Writing!

Last year I began concentrating on reading fellow women writers. Truly I have been an unthinking snob with my sticking to reading the classics, Science Fiction and Fantasy, mysteries, and thrillers. And, of course, horror.

Mary Shelley and Margaret Atwood, forgive me, but I peeked into Romance, and my eyes are now open to some . . . finely written books. Stories by Pam Rosenthal, Barbara Samuel, Patricia Ryan, Miranda Neville, Marsha Canham, and  . . . Shelly Thacker.

Thacker's a two-time finalist for the Romance Writers of America's Rita Award for her historical and paranormal romance novels which have also been published internationally. Besides writing fiction, Shelly has had articles published in Country Living, Entrepreneur, AAA Living, and Writers Digest magazines, and also leads writers' workshops in the U.S. and Canada.

She wrote an historical-romance time-traveling novel before the slot of "Paranormal" romance was . . . well, normal. My two favorite time-traveling books have been Ken Grimwood's Replay and Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife. Thacker's Forever His can stand tall next to those. It's a great story! 

Currently, her Stolen Brides series has been made available again electronically. I'm an unabashed Nook e-reader user which allows me to tackle books a little longer than agents and publishers "suppose" I am willing to read. Frankly, it's stories like Thacker's for which ebook readers were made.
Book #2 in the series, His Forbidden Touch, pits two contrary travelers together in impossible circumstances.

Timeless: The Asgard Warriors (Stolen Brides #3) and Falcon on the Wind (a prequel to the series) are two yet to be released.

But what truly sets Thacker's foray into electronic publishing apart from some of the others are her extras. I'm a junky for reading introductions, acknowledgements, and author's notes. Thacker offers a rich and thick section called "The Making of . . . " at the end. It's just like those bonuses added to DVDs. While she isn't shy on sharing what inspired a particular book, she also offers a peek into what music she used while writing, and struggles with editors and publishers on book covers, titles, and story length.

The number one question posed to most writers is "Where do you get your story ideas?" And while Thacker may feed the non-writer generously with her answer, her extras offer a wealth to fellow-writers as well.

Since every writer is first a reader first, I feel fortunate to have been whisked away into Shelly Thacker's worlds. She is one hell of a Storyteller, and I thank her for the gift of her words.

Thacker's on Facebook and would love to have you sign up for her newsletter and enter her "Fan of the Month Contest." (September's winner may be familiar to you, in fact!)


I am currently reading: The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields and The Rosetta Key (Ethan Gage #2) by William Dietrich. (And, yes, I can read two novels at the same time. I can also walk and chew gum at the same time, too. Well, most days.)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Basking on the Beach #6: Marsha Canham

In the past year, I've made the effort to read more female authors and in doing so I decided to also open the door to exploring Romance novels. That's how I stumbled on the works of award-winning Canadian writer Marsha Canham.

What a find!

Marsha writes some of the most adventurous, edge-of-your-seat, heartrending, and entertaining novels I've had the pleasure of... consuming. Truthfully I don't know a better word to use. And... she writes sea adventures! Did I mention that? Thrilling and accurately described sea adventures.

After having gotten frustrated with the games involved in the publishing biz, Marsha took a bit of a writing break (eight years!) before jumping back in. Once she was able to secure the rights to her backlist, she was ready to go with e-publishing. In some cases, she has rewritten the stories because she's that kind of writer: a good one.

Her newest release, The Dragon Tree, which was released in 2004 as My Forever Love, is an example. You might want to read Marsha's take on her process at her blog.

While I have thoroughly enjoyed all the books I've read by Marsha, I must confess her fresh take on the Robin Hood legend is a favorite. The story unfolds in three books: Through a Dark Mist, In the Shadow of Midnight, and The Last Arrow, and it's way more authentic and plausible.

Then again, I really enjoyed the books detailing the adventures of the Dante seafaring family.

And the stand alone Swept Away (a book I read twice because the character of Aunt Flo simply rocks!).

You had to get me started!

Like most of us, Marsha wants to read when she basks on the beach, and here are her suggestions:

Basking on the Beach with Marsha Canham

My reading choices might be a little scattered. Five of my must reads would have to include

Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis. It's hysterically funny and a great break from stress.

Next up would be the series by Philippa Gregory: The RedQueen, The Other Boleyn Girl, etc. An amazing series about the Tudor dynasty.

Heavier fare would include another fav, Mila 18 by Leon Uris. It gives a shocking and tragic view from inside the Warsaw Ghetto in WWII.

None of my lists would be complete without Wilbur Smith's River God and the sequel The Seventh Scroll. Ancient Egypt at it's best with a zoom forward in the sequel to an Indiana Jones type adventure.

Finally, for crime buffs, start out with Michael Connolly's The Black Ice. That should get anyone hooked on his Harry Bosch series.

And that would sum up my favs!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Basking on the Beach #5: Gene Wolfe

Gene and Rosemary Wolfe
Dear Reader,

I am here today to tell you about Science Fiction and Fantasy writer Gene Wolfe and to bring you his list of books to read as you bask on the beach, so listen up.

Gene Wolfe is a... He's a... Let's see...

Okay, Gene Wolfe is one of the most celebrated writers of our time.

Well, yes, he is.

But Gene Wolfe's stories are not easy-reads. They are challenging. Demanding. Neil Gaiman has described him as "...the most dangerous writer alive today." And he is. Actually, I would aptly describe Gene Wolfe as a throat-grabbing-swashbuckler. From Word One, his wolf's paw very gently snags your collar, and you think with that kindly grin peeking out from under his bushy mustache that he's only going to pop you under the chin and chuckle "Gotcha!" And you, dear reader, will only begin to gasp for air once you're about a third of the way into his story. Then again, you may find breathing annoying if it interrupts your reading.

When I finished reading Wolfe's Pirate Freedom, I flopped the pages back and began reading it again at once. I had to. The same with Homes Fires. Because once he has you by the throat, you don't want him to let you go. You are part of whatever world he has created. Why leave?

But that's what pirates do: Purloin your treasure and leave you grateful they spared your life. (So you can read more!) The Land Across is Wolfe's expected next novel, and 2013 will see a tribute anthology, Shadows of the New Sun, edited by Jean Rabe, coming from Tor.

But here's Wolfe's own recommendations for Basking on the Beach (along with his comments):

You can't really understand a great many books until you read this one.

2. The Napoleon of Notting Hill, by G.K. Chesterton  
GKC's best fiction.

3. The Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust  
Everybody ought to read at least one truly great novel. There are two translations -- one by Scott Moncrieff, the other by Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin -- both are good.

4. The Annotated Alice in Wonderland, by Louis Carroll, annotated by Martin Gardner.

5. Idylls of the King, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson  
I was terribly tempted to put Alexander Pope's translation of The Iliad here; if you have trouble with Idylls of the King, you might try that.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Semper Fi Break!

The people pictured here will not be offering their lists of what to read while "Basking on the Beach," though I do hope that tall, handsome, intense-looking guy in the uniform does some genuine relaxing for the next week or so.

You may have already guessed he's a Marine, a new one. PFC. Derek R. Statz just finished 13 weeks of basic training at Parris Island, SC. He wasn't alone. Alpha Company, First Recruiting Training Battalion, saw six platoons complete their rigorous training this past week. Derek was in Platoon 1052, which named honor platoon. (And, yes, he is a Private First Class!)

It was terrifically hot last Friday morning when the six platoons of fine young Marines marched across the field for one last time, but none of them looked sweaty a bit. Even the Marine Band looked unfazed by the cooking sun. Marine cool, I figure.

Just being at the training facility was purely uplifting. It made me proud to be an American. It made me doubly proud to see our younger generation taking on the yoke of responsibility to safeguard our freedom.

Thank you, Derek!

By the way, that short redhead with the cat-ate-the-canary look on her face is my younger daughter, Rebekah. She and Derek marked four years together while he was away. You can see just how proud she is of her Marine.


(We'll be back to Basking on the Beach this week, so stay tuned!)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Basking on the Beach #4: Wendy Webb

When I asked Minnesota-based author Wendy Webb to suggest a few reading items to drag to the beach this summer, I had no idea what canvas bag of goodies she would bring. Of course, that's what you might expect from a fiction writer whose day job is editor-in-chief of Duluth-Superior magazine.But really I asked her because I loved her first book, The Tale of Halcyon Crane. It's all about Hallie James's discovering the truths of her life is a delicious dark corner setting of an island in the midst of the Great Lakes. (Pssst... it's a ghost story!) Wendy's next book, The Fate of Mercy Alban, is set for a 2013 release.

Five Summer Reads by Wendy Webb

All of these books are captivating page-turners that won’t let you go until you reach the end.

1. The Haunting of Maddie Clare by Simone St. James

I was sent the manuscript of this book by its editor and asked to write a blurb for the book cover. I sat down with it not knowing quite what to expect and found myself so caught up that I read this old-fashioned, Gothic ghost story in one sitting. It’s the story of Sarah, a temp worker who is sent to assist a ghost hunter investigate reports that the spirit of 19-year-old Maddie Clare is haunting a barn in the dark and foreboding English countryside. It seems the only way to stop the increasingly violent hauntings is to find out how Maddie died and bring her murderer to justice, so her spirit can rest.

I love M.J Rose, who writes suspense thrillers with a paranormal twist. This one is the story of Jac L’Etoile, who returns to her Paris home when her brother, who runs the family perfume business, goes missing. While there, she becomes haunted by an old family legend that there is an ancient perfume with magical properties that has been lost for 2,000 years. The story moves from Cleopatra’s Egypt to revolutionary France to modern-day Paris, taking readers on a thrill ride of adventure and intrigue.

3. Secret of the White Rose by Stephanie Pintoff

This is the third in a series of murder mysteries set in New York in the early 1900s featuring detective Simon Ziele, Professor Allistair Sinclair and Sinclair’s widowed daughter-in-law, Isabella, one of the most engaging cast of characters I’ve come across in a long time. This story involves a series of murders befalling people who are connected to a notorious trial, and not only am I captivated by the mystery, I also love her descriptions of New York around the turn of the century.

4. Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

This is one of my favorite books of the past year. It’s so suspenseful and tense that you’ll want to scream aloud before you get to the end and find out exactly what’s going on. It’s the story of Christine, who suffers memory loss after an accident. Her memories are erased each night as she’s sleeping, so each morning she wakes up not knowing where she is, who her husband Ben is, or anything about her life. Ben patiently has to explain it all to her before he leaves for work. On the advice of her doctor, she starts keeping a journal of things she learns during the day that she doesn’t want to lose track of in sleep. It’s all going well until one terrifying day, she reads in her journal: “Don’t trust Ben.” This sends her into a frenzy of doubt, wondering why she wrote that, what it means, and how she can find out if it’s true.

This book, by the author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, is a captivating mix of the paranormal, mystery and a little romance thrown in for good measure. It’s the story of Sibyl, whose mother and sister perished on the Titanic. She finds herself drawn into a rather otherworldly situation when she attends a séance, and begins seeing images in a scrying glass, images she believes to be from the Titanic. She returns again and again to get more information, but the experience turns terrifying when she begins seeing images of her brother, who is very much alive, and according to the images, is in danger. Should she trust her visions?

  Thanks, Wendy!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Basking on the Beach #3: Joe R. Lansdale

Joe R. Lansdale is one dangerous writer. If you don't buy his books, he'll find you and beat the tar out of you. And, yes, he can do that because he's well-versed in various methods of tar-beating. Not only does he have his own martial arts school, he developed his own discipline.

Or he'll shoot you. He can do that, too. (Above he is on a shooting range somewhere outside Tulsa, OK. Look closely and you'll see the spatter of blood on his chin from a nasty little derringer that nicked his hand.) But don't worry, he won't fire until after he's totally disarmed you with his incredible storytelling abilities, either verbal or within the written word.

He's won a ton of awards for his writing (Edgar, Bram Stoker, British Fantasy), but he's never been one to be satisfied with keeping his writing habits to himself. Along with his Texas yellow rose -- his wife Karen -- Joe worked to create the Horror Writers Association (along with Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, Mort Castle, and some others) and was recognized for his efforts earlier this year when the HWA honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award (and Karen with the Richard Laymon/President's Award for her help).

His latest book is Edge of Dark Water wherein Joe employs his Texas Twain tongue, telling the story of East Texas teens setting off to Hollywood with the ashes of one of their friends. A murdered friend.

Frankly, nobody handles tension and feisty females like Joe. But this is only one of the many ways he writes. I'm a big fan of his Hap Collins and Leonard Pine mystery adventures as well as his bizarre short stories. And his westerns. Period pieces. Oh, heck, my rule of thumb with Joe's books is simply to pick them up and read them. I've never seen him miss.

And what are the books Joe recommends as you head to the beach this summer? Let's see:

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

2. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

3. Little Big Man by Thomas Berger

4. True Grit by Charles Portis

5. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Shoot, Joe, that's a terrific list!


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Basking on the Beach #2 with Ed Gorman

I'm pleased to welcome Ed Gorman to my bend in the river. Ed writes. That's my best description of what Ed does. He writes mystery and thriller and political intrigue and horror and westerns and. . . Oh, my, his westerns! Though I have truly enjoyed his Sam McCain series and his Jack Dwyer series and his Robert Payne series (and now his Dev Conrad series!), his western character, Leo Guild, owns a piece of my heart. I'm hardly alone in my respect for Ed's storytelling. He's won a number of awards including the Spur, the Shamus, and... well, Ed doesn't usually like to dwell on awards. His focus is on writing and editing. His latest book, Blindside, features political consultant Dev Conrad. Then later this year, his Sam McCain returns in Bad Moon Rising.

Allow me to let Ed advise you on what you might consider a good summer's read:

Basking On The Beach with the non-amphibious Ed Gorman

I'll stick with some Golden Oldies.

I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson. Still THE vampire novel. None better.

HOW LIKE AN ANGEL by Margaret Millar. The finest Mystery Novel I've ever read. No better stylist has ever graced the genre and this sad, sorrowful, wan book that is horrific in places (and also strangely comic) has the true redemptive power of Graham Greene. This was first published in 1962 and anticipates the communal aspects of hippie communes and cults with chilling accuracy. 

THE CHILL by Ross Macdonald. Ken Millar (Macdonald's real name) was Margaret's husband. How's that for a married couple? This is his most salient journey through this vale of tears and proof positive that in the right hands the private eye form can be true literature.

THE LONELY SILVER RAIN by John D. MacDonald. For me the best of all the Travis McGee novels because it's the least like the others. Not much macho here. Just an intense wary journey into the heart of darkness.

THE MURDER OF MIRANDA by Margaret MIllar. One of the snarkiest, bitchiest, most hilarious mysteries of all time wherein Millar takes her great social eye and even greater skill at fashioning a spellbinding mystery (she was Agatha Christie's fave if that tells you anything) to an upscale Southern California country club and in the midst of all the high jinks still finds a way to comment seriously (and sympathetically) on the decline of a vastly beautiful woman who has relied on her looks her entire life.

The one thing all these books have in common? 
I know this sounds impossible, given the way I've described them, but trust they are just as much pure reads they are dazzlers. If I had any money, I'd offer you a money back guarantee. :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Basking on the Beach #1 with Alafair Burke

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... Well, it seems like a long time ago since I edited and published a weekly electronic and print newsletter called Hellnotes. I won't go into its long and notable history except to mention that under the reign of David B. Silva and Paul Olson, it won an International Horror Guild Award and during my stint it was honored with the Bram Stoker Award.

One of the summer segments I loved was called "Hell on the Beach" where a few horror and mystery writers offered suggestions for which books to drag along while on vacation.

This time, in honor of the global-warming summer we've been experiencing, I've asked a few writers (because who reads more than writers?) to toss out their suggestions while "Basking on the Beach!"

First up is crime novelist Alafair Burke. By day a professor of law and a former deputy DA herself, Burke has created two main series protagonists including Oregon Deputy DA Samantha Kinkaid and NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher. Her latest book, Never Tell, is the fourth book in the Hatcher series.

Here's Alafair's list:

1. Dare Me by Megan Abbott
"Dare Me is going to earn Megan the recognition she deserves. It's the story of two cheerleaders and a new coach who disrupts the accepted pack order."

2. Heartbroken by Lisa Unger
"Lisa Unger and I met about four years ago. She was such a cheerful, happy person, I wondered what kind of crime fiction she would be writing. Turns out she's carrying around some pretty dark thoughts... This might be my favorite. She builds tremendous suspense in telling the four generations of a family drawn over and over again to an island." 

3. Criminal by Karin Slaughter
"Any book by Karin Slaughter is a treat, but this one is earning the reviews of a lifetime. I'm looking forward to cracking this one open next!"

4. Precious Blood by Jonathan Hayes
"Hayes has an amazing gift for writing beautifully about violence. As a senior medical pathologist in Manhattan, he writes with utter confidence and authority."

5. The Drop by Michael Connelly
"If anyone who likes procedurals isn't reading the Harry Bosch series, it's time to dig in! I love the way The Drop features two cases that pull at different parts of Bosch's personality. What a great character!"

Thanks so much, Alafair, and by the way, 212, Hatcher novel #3, is currently available for the BN Nook e-reader for a mere 99 cents!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

There's Just Something About a Cemetery...

I heard about a seminary professor of homiletics who told his class that if they had nothing to say about the cemeteries sprawled outside some of their rural churches, they had nothing to say. There's a lot to ponder in that statement and not just for future preachers.

My mother was a rebel. She defied her Irish family, running off to marry not only a non-fellow clan member, but a Protestant of German-English linage. From that time on, her family kept her at a distance. But there were no conflicts for Christmas or Easter festivities. No summer family reunions. Visits from any of her siblings were sparse and often happened when my brother and sister and I were in school and my Father at work. She did maintain a somewhat close contact with two of her sisters, but they had violated the family "traditions" as well.

It wasn't until I was older that I attended any funerals of her family, but on our journey to Cincinnati (where it seems most of her family is buried), she finally opened up about how when she was growing her family visited this very cemetery several times during the summer, not only to lay flowers on the graves, but to spend the entire day, picnicking, praying, and singing songs. While the older ones walked among the gravestones, reliving cherished times their loved ones, the children would frolic about and play games. Special attention would be paid to cleaning and maintaining the markers and areas around them, but mostly it was a time for the dead to be with the living again.

My own attraction to cemeteries came most probably because we wound up living so near to several. Then later, they seemed such quiet reflective spots. Finally, I began dragging my camera along because there were such amazing pieces of sculpture marking so many of the graves.

And yet as I clicked away, I became oddly driven to create motion in the very stone where there most definitely was none.

A twist, a turn...

Playing God, was I? In creating motion was I giving life? Breathing into the stone.

As a writer, that's precisely what is required. I toss out characters onto the mat and puff into them my own experiences/dreams/passions/imagination/senses/and... learning which comes from what I have gleaned from the writers I have allowed to teach me. A clever twist of phrase. The precise word. An unexpected jolt.

Just as the homiletics professor advised, if as a writer you have nothing to say about the books already written (because you have read a goodly number of them), you have nothing to say.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The End... No, The End... No, This is the End. Really?

“That is all there is to the story. Catherine died and you will die and I will die and that is all I can promise you.” One of Ernest Hemingway's endings to A Farewell to Arms.

According to a story, a new edition of Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms has been released which includes a variety of endings he grappled with. The proposed parting shots, along with early drafts of other passages, have been dug out of the Ernest Hemingway Collection, housed at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, MA.

Since Hemingway wrote pre-computer, he has left an amazing paper-trail of his creative process, and this volume should offer quite an interesting look inside his genius. (And make a lot of other writers feel better about their own revisions.)

Also included will be the other titles Hemingway considered using. Love in War? Nope. He even crossed out The Enchantment. (Thank God!)

Personally, I can't wait to read this. A Farewell to Arms was my very favorite Hemingway book when I was younger.

I'm certain I wrote that in the diary I kept back then. Wonder where I put it?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day!

Whether you're picnicking with the family, trundling everybody off to an air-conditioned movie theater, or splashing happily in some barely cool pool, please have a happy Fourth of July!

What I'm reading...

Pulpy: In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick which tells the story of the tragic sinking of the whaleboat Essex in 1819. Though the crew drifted for 90 days after their tangle with a nasty sperm whale, only two lived to tell the tale.

Nook e-reader: Just finished the Pirate Wolfe trilogy by Marsha Canham which follows the Simon Dante/Isabeau Spence family of privateers. The individual books include Across a Moonlit Sea, The Iron Rose, and The Following Sea.

I know... me and the sea.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tell Brave Deeds...

There was a man who lived a life of fire.
Even upon a fabric of time,
Where purple becomes orange
and orange purple,
This life glowed,
A dire red stain, indelible,
Yet when he was dead,
He saw that he had not lived.

Stephen Crane

Independence Day. A time set aside to celebrate our freedom and the struggles men (and women) make to earn that freedom. What better way than diving inside a book? And, yes, I have suggestions.

I was introduced to Stephen Crane in high school. No, he didn't ask me to the prom, but we dated. Well, since he died exactly forty-nine years (to the day) before I was born, it proved a curious relationship. It began with Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and spred to his other stories and poems. Crane's style was easy and familiar. His most famous work, The Red Badge of Courage, was one of those stories that snagged me fully and didn't let go until Henry Fleming "had rid himself of the red sickness of battle."

But Crane's The Open Boat had plunked my tush on the vast ocean and somehow I fell in love with the sea. What a convenience when the next required book just happened to be Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim

Jim, along with the other crew members, abandons the sinking Patna, only to find the ship doesn't sink. But it's Jim who faces the music, standing trial and being sentenced to be land-bound. But he does it with grace and bravery. Jim, like Fleming, bears his own personal trials, only this time instead of a red badge, we find Jim in white. And the meaning? Well, I want you to read the story yourself to find out.

Which brings me to one of my favorite books of all: Billy Budd: Foretopman by Herman Melville.

I used to faithfully read this book every summer. Billy Budd. Innocent, pure Billy Budd comes up and against a true baddie in literature, Master-at-Arms John Claggert. Melville unstoppered the barrel and let the brew flow. Of course Moby-Dick had been Melville's most noted novel, but I believe Billy Budd, like The Red Badge of Courage and Lord Jim, offers out the striving of true courage which is what we Americans are celebrating on this Independence Day. And to never give up, despite the ultimate cost. Lives unwasted.

But I think Crane might have gotten it wrong in his poem. In the end the man does live. Every time one of us opens his book.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Thank you, Dean Koontz, for John D. MacDonald!

"He hung around quite a while, entertained the folk, and was stopped quick and clean when the right time came." John D. MacDonald's proposed own epitaph

I imagine a lot of us play the three-degree game in some form or another. Personally, I'm not interested in discovering how far apart I am from Kevin Bacon. It's only been in the past couple of years that I stumbled onto just how close I have come to my very favorite author, John D. MacDonald.

Sadly, too many younger writers may not have read John D.'s twenty-one book Travis McGee series or what I lovingly call his "little books," those awesome Gold Medal paperbacks with the titillating covers, or any of his later and fatter books. And I may have missed them as well if it hadn't been for writer Dean Koontz.

Which brings me to my other favorite game: How did I get here from there?

While researching a story I was working on, I found a fictional book through my local library that included my subject. Curious as to how one Dean Koontz handled it, I checked out the book.

Of course,  B I N G O! I fell madly in love with Koontz's writings which means I also had to read Katherine Ramsland's Dean Koontz: A Writer's Biography which led me to The Dean Koontz Companion, edited by Ed Gorman. And Koontz said this about one John D. MacDonald:

"He was a brilliant writer. The McGee series is terrific, but about forty of the earlier books are so stunning, they eclipse the McGee series. When I read something like Slam the Big Door, Cry Hard, Cry Fast, The Damned, or The End of the Night, I usually turn the last page, thinking, "Okay, Koontz, you don't belong in the same craft as this man; go learn plumbing, Koontz, get yourself an honest trade."

Okay, you guessed it. I had to read this MacDonald guy, and where better to begin than at the beginning. Well, almost the beginning. I started with The Deep Blue Goodbye, the first book in the Travis McGee series. I have now read all the Trav books at least three times, but not just for entertainment. There's a lot to be learned about writing from John D.

He was a Storyteller with a big "S," capturing the period he wrote in with honesty and without apology. He's still being criticized for his treatment of women, but really he reflected the times, but I found him to be so totally taken with the fairer sex. He bravely took on the challenge of allowing his main character, Trav, to be be utterly unleashed in The Green Ripper, only to be honored with the National Book Award the following year for his effort.

Stephen King has argued that John D.'s The End of the Night "is one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century." I say it's the story Truman Capote yearned to tell.

I've found mentioning MacDonald's name to writers I have come to respect usually nets a knowing grin. Yup, Koontz and Gorman are not alone in their appreciation for the mystery master. Count Stephen King, Joseph Finder, James W. Hall, Tim Dorsey, Joe R. Lansdale, Ace Adkins, Michael Slade, Jack Ketchum, Les Standiford, Jonathan Maberry, Tom Piccirilli, and Bill Crider among the writers who have lavished praise on John D. MacDonald's writing.

Which brings me back to my original degrees' game. Joe Hensley, who wrote a number of novels and short stories including the Robak novels, served in his day-job as an attorney and judge in Jefferson County, Indiana. A Democrat, Joe also wore the cap as the Chairman of the Madison, IN, city campaign many moons ago. And under that same moon, I served as the city campaign treasurer. I knew Joe well. What I didn't know was that he and his wife knew John and Dorothy MacDonald well enough to take cruises together. Heck, I didn't even know was a writer then, and he had already penned two short stories with Harlan Ellison.

But thank you, Dean Koontz, for turning me onto John D. MacDonald. But, oh, my, what that's led to: Discovering the real Florida (including that sugar-sand beach at Siesta Key); the George Smathers Library at the University of Florida in Gainesville; a wealth of stories I have not yet plumbed; fellow JDM-lovers; and my own word-wrestling.

[Cal Branche has a wonderful site dedicated to John D., why not take a peek.]

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Something Awesome This Way Comes: Shadow Show

"There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." Ray Bradbury

I don't remember the first story I read by Ray Bradbury, but I do remember he was the first writer to grab me by the neck and yank me into one of his worlds. It was as though he'd taken this huge bottle opener and uncorked my senses.

From Dandelion Wine: "Dad stood comfortably saying this and that, the words words easy in his mouth. He made it easier by laughing at his own declarations just so often. He liked to listen to the silence, he said, if silence could be listened to, for, he went on, in that silence you could hear wildflower pollen sifting down the bee-fried air, by God, the bee-fried air! Listen! the waterfall of birdsong beyond the trees!"

Though on June 6, 2012, a terrible silence fell when Bradbury died, we can still hear that "bee-fried air" and "waterfall of birdsong." All we have to do is pick up one of his books and immerse ourselves in his stories.

And be inspired by his generous gifts.

"Love is the answer to everything," he once said. "It's the only reason to do anything. If you don't write stories you love, you'll never make it. If you don't write stories people love, you'll never make it."

Obviously, quite a few writers listened, especially these: Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Harlan Ellison, Audrey Niffennegger, Joe Hill, Mort Castle, Sam Weller, Alice Hoffman, David Morrell, Kelly Link, Thomas F. Monteleone, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Don Chaon, Jay Bonansinga, Robert McCammon, Ramsey Campbell, Bayo Ojikutu, Julia Keller, Gary A. Braunbeck, John Maclay, Charles Yu, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Dave Eggers, Lee Martin, Joe Meno, and John McNalley.

These fine writers contributed stories to Shadow Show, a tribute anthology, edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle. Set to be released on July 10, Shadow Show also includes an introduction written by Bradbury.

And to whet your appetite, here's a sneak peek at Margaret Atwood's story "Headlife."

The book will be available from the usual suspects like Barnes & Noble and Amazon. And your local independent bookseller.But why not go order Shadow Show now?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

No Man (or Woman) is an Island

"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival."  C.S. Lewis

In my last post I indicated that writing is something I do alone. It is. Though I have tried collaborating with another writer, it wound up not working because he was a headstrong, inflexible knothead. And so was I.

Does that mean I'd rather go it alone? Nope.

Does that mean I don't play well with others? Again, nope.

Nobody can go it alone, and especially not in publishing. Ah, ha! But that move the peg a bit, doesn't it? Maybe.

I count myself lucky to have quite a few friends. Some are writers, some editors, some readers, some just plain people. That those "plain people" consider me -- a person who makes excuses to write rather than participate and even if I do show up is sometimes mentally adrift while working out some scene in my head -- also a friend makes me feel extremely lucky.

As for "playing well with others," I find myself not only a joiner, but a person who is unable to not volunteer. I've been a member of the Horror Writers Association since late 1999. In that time I've served as VP, secretary, trustee, Internet Mailer editor, postmistress, and convention hostess. Currently I serve on the membership committee.

I've proofed and edited a number of anthologies and novels and even short stories for friends. All without pay.

In my private life, I've served in a number of volunteer positions where I've cooked in community kitchens and at Sunday dinners, funeral luncheons, and Fish Frys, chaired committees, babysat, washed dishes, set up for weddings, sang at special events, and baked a ton of cookies and cakes and pies. (Though, honestly, my cakes are awful!)

But when it comes to my writing, I trust very few people. The reason is everybody wants to be a writer. Or more correctly, everybody wants to have written. It's the work part, the hours and hours of rubbing two words together and making a story make sense that too few can endure.

Writing is hard work. Besides the initial storytelling, there's the revision process which for me calls for running my stories through my wringers. I have several: 1) Strunk and White; 2) Jean Rabe; 3) John Dufresne; 4) misc. (a hodgepodge of various suggestions I've latched onto over the years).

[Strunk and White: The Elements of Style

Jean Rabe: a list of standard things she looks for as an editor and writer

John Dufresne: The Lie That Tells the Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction]

Then my work is off to my first readers. These are people I have come to trust over the years for their sound "suggestions." They don't pull punches or pander. They also never try to insinuate themselves into my writing process. I am the storyteller and they respect that.

I have had a few reviews written about my stories, and I have appreciated the kind nice words as well as the constructive criticisms. But I have a rule: Since there is no way I can explain anything about any of my writings to the individual reader, I won't explain myself to a reviewer either. Preferences differ. Vary.And some of them are just plain wrong. Some of them want to have written. Sorry. They need to sit down and put in all those hours, read all those books, hunt for the absolutely right word for two weeks, wrestle with a computer who loses files, and then get back to me.

In the end writing is hardly different from any other creative process. Some parts the artist does alone, some with others.

Besides, having a drink in the bar at a convention is so much more fun with another idiot who hears voices in his/her head.

Books I've enjoyed recently:

Karen Harper's Mistress Shakespeare

Kimberley Cutter's The Maid: A Novel of Joan of Arc

Sarah Dunant's The Birth of Venus

James W. Hall's Hit List

Okay, back to the story I'm working on . . .

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Qualifications, Lists, and Rules. Oh, my!

In Terence Blacker's latest column, he asks "Are you really, truly an author?" And like all those nifty question and answer things I remember from college classes and slumber parties, his "indicators" were much too tempting and juicy for me not to participate.

Since Blacker drags along his experiences as a reviewer, publisher, and published author to his Endpaper columns, I can both trust those scars and savor his outside-the-box style and dark wit.

Most of his "indicators" are pretty standard, but the one that made me pause longest was this:

"You are alone. When you started out, you might have gone on a creative writing course which peddled the myth of teamwork, consultation and 'feedback.' You have discovered, as you grow as a writer, what nonsense that is. Yours is a private project. If anything, sailing your rackety little boat as part of a flotilla actually increases the chance of it sinking."

I have attended two writers' conferences. One had me sailing out the door by the end of the week ready to tackle the publishing world. The workshops pumped me up and my new writing friends padded my writerly muscles. And good, bad, or ugly, I came home and wrote like a madwoman, feeling for the first time in my life that I was truly a writer.

The second conference offered the wisdom of some of the finest bestselling authors out there. Again, I left with a number of writerly friends, but no wind beneath my sails. If anything, I left feeling numb.

Terence Blacker's column finally helped me understand why.

In those years between conferences, I had written a number of short stories and had seen them published. I'd written reviews and news and worked conventions and websites and written, written, written. I've even finished a novel. My personal story as a writer is no longer a right-of-passage experience.Yet, while I've grown up, I'm convinced my best work is still ahead of me.

But it's me in my little boat. Alone.

While I've found I require writerly friends, I know what I'm doing now. I see the devil for who she is.

Yes, I am really, truly an author.

Which means I need to hoist the sails of my current story and catch the wind...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Not Tossin' Baby Out with the Bathwater...

I allow myself twenty-four hours to sulk. To rub my soul raw. To question. To doubt. To throw up my hands in resignation. To stare at myself in the bathroom mirror and say "Damn."

(Actually, I say the F-word.)

Then... Then after sighing a final "Oh, well," I shut it down. Time to move on.

r e j e c t i o n

Really, so I have to explain it? No, I don't think so. If you're a writer and you've never known rejection... well, when did Stephen King begin reading my blog? LOL. (Really, I think even he's been rejected.)

Rejection is merely part of the writing process, and actually I've had some nice turnarounds on rejected stories. Trish Cacek rejected my submission for Bell, Book, and Beyond. She did it with a green letter with a frog. In her notes, she said she liked the story, but it wasn't "witchy" enough. She made some suggestions about it and recommended I sub it to Cemetery Dance magazine. I considered her thoughtful words on the story, but laughed out loud at imaging selling the story to Rich Chizmar at CD.

But thinking I really had nothing to lose, I sent it.

He bought it. It was my first professional sale.

A couple of years later, I subbed a story to Jean Rabe for one of her anthologies. She liked my writing and the story, but already had accepted one that included elements of my story. She asked for some changes. As I considered how to rework the story, the friend who asked to see what I'd subbed advised me he had shown it to a friend of his who just happened to be putting together an anthology of his own. The friend of my friend wanted the story, so I explained my dilemma to Jean, and she said go for it!

Two things came from that rejection: Jean remembered me for her next anthology. And "A Thousand Words" shared the TOC (Table of Contents) with some very fine writers including Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, and my friend, Mort Castle, in Masques V, edited by J.N. Williamson and Gary A. Braunbeck.

Of course, not all my rejections have worked out so well, but then a number of my sales haven't either. A book gets cancelled, a publishing house goes belly-up, or someone changes his/her mind. Things happen.

What is not to be forgotten is rejection, like A C C E P T A N C E, is all part of the game.

Of course, when I make a sale, I give myself far more than twenty-four hours to celebrate. Though I think I still use that same F-word. Just a few more times. It sounds totally different when I'm grinning.

"Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way to do something good." William Faulkner

Monday, June 25, 2012

Read My Lips...

"I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read."
                                                                                                        Samuel Johnson

During the World Horror Convention in Seattle in 2001, I had the honor of serving as the official hostess for the Horror Writers Association's hospitality suite. Thanks to the kind assistance of my friend Monica O'Rourke, we managed to pack in a whole lot of fun in the few days we occupied the host hotel. From the yummy breakfast fare we offered just after 8 a.m. to the overnight Speakeasy (sponsored by San Francisco's Borderlands Books owner Alan Beatts), the flow of convention-goers stayed brisk, and the HWA snagged quite a fair number of new members.

One highlight was the giveaway of new books by Cemetery Dance Publications which included copies of Richard Laymon's The Traveling Vampire Show which won a Bram Stoker Award at that very convention. (Sadly, Laymon, who had been President of the HWA, died of a heart attack a few months before.)

As the convention wound down and most all the books had been given away, I managed to catch a few minutes relaxation in the sunny atrium and share some laughs with friends Brian A. Hopkins and Gene O'Neill. Several anxious attendees drew our attention as they made a beeline out of the suite to our little group.

"Is it okay if we have the rest of the books on the table?"

Since I'd left them there with a huge sign indicating they were free, I merely nodded.

A few minutes later, one of the happy campers barreled back out with Dick's book in his hand. "Is he here? Is the author here?" he asked. "I'd like him to sign it."

I was stunned. Laymon's death had been big news, especially among the fans of horror. You know, people who would be attending this convention. Plus, he'd been one of the Guests of Honor and his picture was plastered everywhere.

When I broke the news to the poor guy, he merely shrugged it off. "Well, I guess I didn't know. I write horror. I don't actually read it."

It's been eleven years now, but his statement has haunted me more than zombies or ghosts (and I could fill your ears with my St. Augustine experiences!).

But this guy isn't alone. Just last year I met a writer who boasts that he doesn't read Science Fiction even though he has published at least one book and is working on another.

How in the world do they know? That's the question that niggles at me. How do they know the definitive works in their genres? How could they possibly appreciate the roads they travel when they haven't taken the time or energy to read the works of not only of the masters, but their supposed colleagues?

How do they grow as writers?

And how do they stay away from the hum and trill, the feather and dance of words conveying some fanciful tale.

I confess I can't imagine life without words. To me, that would not be life at all.

I've thumbed through the notebook where I carefully pencil in words and thoughts and quotes, searching for one I recall where a writer should read four books for every book written. Maybe I can't find it because my honest reaction was "only four?"

Here are some recommendations of books I've read in the past few months:

Roger Rosenblatt's Unless it Moves the Human Heart (a fine, fine book on writing)
Mike Mullen's Ashfall (A super volcano erupts at Yellowstone)
Moira Young's Blood Red Road (a young girl searches for her brother)
James W. Hall's Dead Last (his latest Thorn adventure)
Sarah Dunant's Sacred Hearts (Two nuns: one younger; one older. Each with a secret.)

That's more than four to one. Let's see, do I owe you a book or do you owe me one?

Keep reading...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Times Flies... ZOOM!

Ah, yes, my poor, ignored blog.

I am sorry, blog, but I have been "wasting" my time in other pursuits. Writing. Reading. Writing. Reading. Uhm, writing and reading. Also, Life! I have one which helps me to write more about people, places, and things rather then about a lonely writer who spends her days reading and writing. Or some voracious reader who yens to be a writer. Or...

Wait, I think I do have one of those stories in my incomplete file. Gee, wonder why I haven't finished it yet?

Because, because, because...

Before I share any substantial updates in the life and times of Judi Rohrig, Ace Writer, let me share what I've been reading: a lot! As I indicated in previous posts, Hank Phillippi Ryan opened my eyes to my lack of reading novels written by women. Then I discovered while I had early on tackled and devoured works by mystery and thriller writers, I had never read anything in the Romance genre. Well, one: Indy Man by Janet Dailey, but a loooong time ago.

No, I am not about to confess reading 50 Shades of Grey. If I do, I will have to approach that one slowly. Friends of mine do not share kind words. Snob, am I? Maybe.

My friend, Kealan Patrick Burke, contends there are way too many books to be read for books to be reread. But if I like a book, I often do just that: reread it. Immediately or whenever I decide. My mother taught me I can think anything I want (though I cannot say anything I want!). I simply carried that over to: I can read whatever I want.Even if that means re reading!

So here's my short list of books I have reread in the past few months:

Gene Wolfe's Home Fires and Pirate Freedom (No, he's not a woman writer. Like Gene, I sometimes cannot be trusted.)
James W. Hall's Under Cover of Daylight (Again, a guy!)
John D. MacDonald's A Deadly Shade of Gold (Yup, guy.)
Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms (The guy!)
Pam Rosenthal's The Bookseller's Daughter
Miranda Neville's Burgundy Club series (all four of them!)
Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale
Barbara Samuel's The Black Angel 

Those are merely the books I was driven to read more than once. And you?

Coming up: But what have I been writing? And what is Life anyway? (The latter for my writerly friends)

And my quote? There was none at the beginning. Here it is at the end.

"A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it." Samuel Johnson