Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Writer Wednesday: Jan Kozlowski

My pal and fellow Horror in Film and Literature lister, Jan Kozlowski, first fell in love with the horror genre in 1975 when the single drop of ruby blood on the engraved black cover of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot hypnotized her into buying it. She sold her first story, Psychological Bacchanal to the EWG E-zine in 1997. Her short story, Parts is Parts, won awards in both the International Writing Competition sponsored by DarkEcho’s E-zine and Quoth the Raven’s Bad Stephen King contest. Another short story, Stuff It, was sold to an independent film producer and went into production as a movie short called Sweet Goodbyes. Her short stories have appeared in: Remittance Girl’s A Slip of the Lip Anthology, Lori Perkins’ Hungry for Your Love: An Anthology of Zombie Romance and Fangbangers: An Erotic Anthology of Fangs, Claws, Sex and Love.

She is extremely proud and excited to announce that her first novel, Die, You Bastard! Die! debuted February 7, 2012 as part of Lori Perkins’ new horror line, Ravenous Shadows, edited by the legendary John Skipp.

Q: What do you write on? Computer, pad o' paper, battered Underwood? Give us a vivid picture.

I do the majority of my writing on my cherished MacBookPro laptop. I tend to turn my MacBook on at 6:30am and not shut down until 9pm or later most days [Ed: Hmmm, you can shut them down?]. If I either get stuck or get a jones to feel pen against paper, I’ll pull out my old white L&M Ambulance Company clipboard loaded with scrap paper and start scribbling. The board is a souvenir of my days as an urban EMT in Hartford, CT and I keep it around as a reminder of what I COULD be doing for a living.

Q: Do you listen to music while you write? Does it influence what you write?

I almost always listen to my local Dinosaur (Classic) Rock radio station when I’m working. Since Die, You Bastard! Die! is such an ultra violent story, I tried putting together a play list of heavier metal like Avenged Sevenfold (my granddaughter’s favorite band), Testament, Broken Hope, Disturbed, but I ended up distracted by the unfamiliar songs. Listening to the rock I grew up with in the 70’s like Bob Seger, The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith, with a little Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, Nathan & the Zydeco Cha-Chas, Bon Jovi and Bacon Brothers thrown in via iTunes works best for me.

Q: Do you write in short bursts or carve out long periods of time to work? Is it a habit or a vice?

For me, writing is a business. I’ve been freelancing since I was about 12 and sold articles about raising tropical fish to my hometown newspaper. For the past 15 years or so I’ve run my own freelance writing shop doing all sorts of business and web related writing, editing and research work. Over the past two years, I’ve slowly been moving away from the business projects in order to focus on my horror fiction, but whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction my work style is the same….commit to the project and write until the client, the editor or I’m happy with the finished product.

Q: What writer would you most want to read your work? What would you want to hear them say?

That’s already happened…on one of the drafts of Die, You Bastard! Die! I think I managed to gross out my editor, legendary Splatterpunk King, John Skipp! Now if I can, one day, pay Dean Koontz back for the creeps he gave me with his novel Whispers, I’ll die a happy writer.

Q: On the days where the writing doesn't go so well, what other art or career do you fantasize about pursuing instead?

When I was a little girl my grandfather used to tell me stories about his adventures working for a funeral home during the pre-embalming fluid days. I always thought I would have loved working in mortuary sciences, but when I was going to school women weren’t exactly welcomed into the funeral services industry. Now that times have changed and we have a first class Mortuary Sciences degree program at our local college, I’ve always thought that would make a fabulous Plan B, even now at age 50+.

Q: What do you read? What do you re-read?

I try to read a little bit of everything. I get some great ideas from newspapers and magazines. I just discovered and am now devouring Mad Money Wall Street guru, Jim Cramer’s books. I try and read as much classic horror like Robert Bloch, M.R. James, Fritz Leiber, H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, Edgar Allan Poe and J.N. Williamson as possible. I also try to keep up with who’s publishing today beyond Bestsellersaurus Rexes Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I’m a huge fan of Edward Lee, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Joe R. Landsdale, Jonathan Maberry, Elizabeth Massie, Yvonne Navarro, Weston Ochse, Monica O’Rourke, John Skipp and Andrew Vachss.

I rarely find time to re-read anything unless I’m researching a specific writing technique, like how Jonathan Maberry handled the fight scenes in his Pine Deep trilogy or how Dean Koontz ramped up to the reveal of the cockroaches in Whispers.

Q: Where did the idea for  Die, You Bastard! Die! come from? Do you have a surefire way of sparking inspiration? And is that an awesome title or what?!

The idea for Die, You Bastard! Die! came out of a lovely dinner Ravenous Shadows publisher Lori Perkins and I had during the 2011 Northeast Writer’s Conference, known as NECON. Lori mentioned she was looking for a story about an adult child coming home to take care of her abusive parent and it matched up with a story I had been kicking around for years about a survivor of childhood sexual abuse coming home to deal with her past. After the conference I got home, wrote up the proposal, Skipp green-lighted it and we took off from there. I realize that’s not the way most writers get a book deal but it goes to prove that if you consistently put the hard work in, you WILL find yourself at the right place, at the right time with the right story. 

Writing inspiration and story/character/plot ideas are everywhere if you’re open to them…and my motivation for being open to them usually is based on my memories of being paid $5 an hour to be projectile vomited on as an EMT or waitressing at Friendly’s for .60 below minimum wage. 

John Skipp raves about this book:

Die, You Bastard! Die! is one hard-as-nails crime story indeed, with a crime at its core so heinous it boggles both mind and soul. That said, it is also a horror story, a mystery, and an insanely taut suspense thriller. Categories are funny like that. 

But human monsters don’t get more humanly monstrous than Big Daddy. And it don’t get much rougher and tougher than Jan Kozlowski’s violently matter-of-fact, emotionally ass-kicking, downright incendiary son of a bitch. 

I love this book, and stand behind it 100%. Hope it blows you away, as it did me. And has you coming back for more. 

Drop by Jan's blog or website and follow her on Twitter. Find her on Facebook and check out her Amazon author page. Thanks, Jan!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked A/V: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

This blog takes its name from my first film, Un Amor Peligroso or The Wombat's World. I joked about my anticipating the success of The Artist by making a silent film back in 1978, but then there was also Mel Brooks' Silent Movie about then, so I can't take much credit. There may be something in the air at present that provokes a longing for wordless -- or at least speechless -- entertainment. Maybe it's the 24/7 shouty news cycle. Maybe it's social media and the endless blaring of words, words, words (and pictures, pictures, LOLcat pictures). Perhaps it's simply the awfulness of movie dialogue created by a "creative" process that really means each producer who passes through has to change something just to be able to point to it and say, "That's mine." A process that has contempt for its audience, so it spells out every action with words and makes good actors speak horrible lines.

So here's the Academy Award winning animated short, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. It's got plenty of words, but they're mostly flying away. It nods to Buster Keaton in its main character and to The Wizard of Oz and takes place (at least initially) in lovely New Orleans. It will make any book lover cry and sigh. And it's only 15 minutes long. You've got time for that in your busy schedule. Take a break and be delighted.

And in a bizarre and completely unrelated space in Glasgow, a most unusual performance takes place. Dare you attend An Appointment with the Wicker Man?

As usual, see the round up of fine recommendations over at Sweet Freedom (I forgot to add that earlier, D'oh!).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday: The Mangrove Legacy

I nearly forgot about the Six Sentence Sunday meme: perish the thought. I have since discovered that there is also a Tuesday Serial meme, so  I have to also remember to add Airships & Alchemy  to that. As usual, be sure to drop by and see all the other six sentences -- it's a great way to discover new writers. So here's something from my comic Gothic novel The Mangrove Legacy. I will say once again how much pleasure writing this surprisingly chunky novel gave me over time. It's such a joy to write very silly things. In this chapter, Alice Mangrove and her new-found friend, Constance Forward (o_O) meet a man to whom they have not been introduced. Shocking events are just around the corner!

Just then the two young women heard a voice echo tentatively across the sands. "I beg your pardon…"

They looked up and saw a very nice looking young man. Perfectly respectable, Alice thought, despite his ungentlemanly willingness to be helpful. Although he appeared to be French (his clothes were far too stylish for him to be a English tourist), his manner seemed admirably proper.

"I could not help but to notice that you were in search of a corkscrew. I can call my manservant at once and give you use of mine." He nodded slightly as if to acknowledge their predicament.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Idling around Town

The mobile uploads are crap: see the nice pictures at the Picasa album. And many more!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Writer Wednesday: Graham Smith

Graham Smith is married with a young son. A time served joiner he has built bridges, houses, dug drains and slated roofs to make ends meet. For the last eleven years he has been manager of a busy hotel and wedding venue near Gretna Green, Scotland. An avid fan of crime fiction since being given one of Enid Blyton's Famous Five books at the age of eight, he has also been a regular reviewer for the well respected review site for over two years. As well as reviewing for Graham has also interviewed such stellar names as David Baldacci, Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, Matt Hilton, current CWA Chair Peter James, Mark Billingham and many others. When not working, his time is spent reading, writing and playing games with his son. He enjoys socialising and spending time with friends and family.

Q: What do you write on? Computer, pad o' paper, battered Underwood? Give us a vivid picture.

I write on a laptop while sitting on the couch in our living room. There’s usually a dog at my feet and the TV or radio playing quietly in the background. There’s nothing exciting or sexy about my writing space. It’s just normal.

Q: Do you listen to music while you write? Does it influence what you write?

As the first question I have the radio on through the day and the TV at night. I get bashed on better with background noise although when I get going it just become white noise for me. My musical tastes are rock and heavy metal so if I wrote while listening to that all I would write would be car chases, explosions and gunfights with perhaps a spot of unrequited love if a ballad came on.

Q: Do you write in short bursts or carve out long periods of time to work? Is it a habit or a vice?

Writing comes in bursts for me and I’ve not written much lately as I’ve been very busy promoting my two E-books. I work full time in a very demanding job and with the reviewing and family life I find that most of my writing is done late at night or when I’m off work and my son is at school.

Q: What writer would you most want to read your work? What would you want to hear them say?

As I love a good twist in a book and love to include twists in my own tales I would have to choose the modern master of twists Jeffrey Deaver. I’ve met him and interviewed him for and he is a very nice guy. For him to say “cool twist” would be fantastic for me. I actually had this comment from Joseph Finder on a short piece I wrote in a writing class he conducted at Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement.

Q: On the days where the writing doesn't go so well, what other art or career do you fantasize about pursuing instead?

Rock god, professional footballer or stuntman. All very predictable really.

Q: What do you read? What do you re-read?

I read crime fiction and I currently have a to read pile that is threatening to engulf a whole room. My reviewing keeps me furnished with a constant stream of great books and I have at the last time of counting fifteen books specifically awaiting my humble opinion. I don’t get to re-read these days but I have re-read all the Alistair Maclean, Ian Fleming, Dick Francis and of course Lord of the Rings books many times.

Q: Where did the idea for Harry Charters come from? Do you have a surefire way of sparking inspiration?

I was invited by Kate Pilarcik to write a noir piece and that’s where Harry Charters came from. I take my inspiration from all kinds of places but especially jokes as I like to dismantle the punchline before rebuilding it as a twist. Once I know the twist at the end then the rest of the story tends to fall into place. How I get there is a surprise for me as well as my readers.


Join gumshoe detective Harry Charters as he tries to escape his demons with a shot of bourbon and a mystery chaser. His investigations include a rigged poker game, a missing teenager and tales of domestic strife. He also gets himself into the middle of gangland power struggles and comes head to head with a crime family who run an entire town.

Harry Charters is not the kinda guy who calls the cops. Instead he dispenses his own brutal justice as he rights wrongs and settles balances. Will he come out on top or will the bottle get the better of him? Read Harry Charters Chronicles to find out. 

 Find Graham on Facebook and Twitter, as well as on Goodreads and Amazon.Be sure to check his reviews on CrimeSquad. Harry Charters' Chronicles and Eleven the Hardest Way both available on Amazon now!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked A/V: Thirst & Linear Obsessional Recordings

A bit of news first: my story that asks the question "what if Christopher Marlowe wrote like an Elizabethan Hunter S. Thompson?"AKA "Fear and Loathing in Deptford," is featured at the World SF Blog. World SF is dedicated to posting links, news and original content related to science fiction, fantasy, horror and comics from around the world, so check them out for a wide variety of tales you won't see elsewhere.

THIRST: I'm slowly catching up on my Korean horror films. I am fond of Park's films and glad to have finally seen this one. It was part of the vampire run on Film 4 this past week. I'd seen just about everything else, so this was a nice surprise. In Thirst Kang-ho Song plays a priest who inadvertently becomes a vampire in his attempt to try to heal. He's driven to try to rescue the beaten-down Tae-ju, but saving the damsel in distress turns out to be a lot more complicated than he anticipates. Ok-bin Kim gives the orphaned outsider bride a mercurial character that reflects the deprivations of her marginalised life and her greed for excess that cannot be quenched. A very entertaining take on the vampire mythos.

LINEAR OBSESSIONAL RECORDINGS: Social networking brings you into contact with unexpected delights. Facebook connections brought me to Linear Obsessional Recordings and their coalition of experimental musicians. You'll find everything from a deconstruction of J. G Ballard's "The Atrocity Exhibit" to music for barges to found sounds as well as collages of loops and various improvisations. If you enjoy experimental work and ambient sounds, you'll find plenty to interest you there. You can stream all the music and download many for free (donations also accepted) -- some you can even remix as they're under a Creative Commons license. I spent all day yesterday listening to their recordings while writing. Good stuff. A lot to enjoy here.

Support indie music!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Howling Back into View

You can't keep a good series down! Back on the prowl with another wild howl, it's Drunk on the Moon -- bigger, badder and better! Coming soon from Dark Valentine Press, home of the original Roman Dalton story by Mr B, the dark vision that kicked off the series. In addition to yours truly, the contributors include Julia Madeleine, Frank Duffy, Alan Leverone, BR Statham, and more -- including a prequel from Paul that fills in a bit more of the back story for Dalton's best mate. Get ready to run with the pack, because your favourite werewolf detective will be back!

More wandering around and some faboo pictures: how lucky I am, indeed indeed. Click to see the bigger versions or head over to the photo album for even more.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday: Pelzmantel

As always, drop by Six Sentence Sunday to browse through the offerings and discover new writers.

Once upon a time, there was a queen. She had hair of brilliant gold. It would shine like burnished metal in the sunlight, dance in moonlight spears. Her face had the radiant glow of genuine happiness, for she loved the land in which she dwelled, and she had found her own true love... 

This is the end of one story that I know: a happy ending. But it is the beginning of this story, so of course something terrible is going to happen.
Get the ebook!

Friday, February 17, 2012

AudioBoo: Moths

One touch easy recording, that's what an Audio Boo claims to be. So I had to try it out on my new shiny toy. This is a poem that's supposed to be appearing in a magazine at some point but that was about a year ago that they said so, thus I wonder if it will ever come to be (impatient? I don't know what you mean!). So here's a lovely Atlas Moth photographed by my pal Ayub at the Butterfly World Project (which I'll be seeing this spring!).

Moths: a poem of dissatisfac (mp3)

Alert readers may recognise the opening line swiped from a news story headline (thanks again, Mark H-J, for bringing it to my attention) that also appeared in another, somewhat more serious, poem "Lullaby" that appeared in Chronogram last summer:

Moths drink the tears of sleeping birds;
Mothers hear the sound of unspoken words;

Fathers know the wishes in your heart;
The magic of love is the only true art.

Massively busy this week: and Bertie's coming to visit next week. Much to be done, yet there is still time for the idle creation of memes:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Writer Wednesday: John Claude Smith

John Claude Smith is a writer of dark speculative fiction, music journalism, and poetry. Most of the short fiction veers into horror, while the novels tend to meander into a weird mix of magic realism, psychological and supernatural nuances, and, again, horror. Late 2011 saw the publication of his first book, The Dark is Light Enough for Me, a collection of short stories. He presently exists in the SF Bay Area, though soon he will be in Rome again, where he truly lives.

Q: What do you write on? Computer, pad o' paper, battered Underwood? Give us a vivid picture.

A: Usually on a computer, though many tales and, in particular, poems, start by putting pen to paper.

Q: Do you listen to music while you write? Does it influence what you write?

A: I can and often plan specific music for a mood I want to incorporate into a story, but ultimately, when locked in with the writing, it doesn’t matter. I hear the voices and motivations of the characters and the music is nothing more than white noise whispering for attention in the background.

Q: Do you write in short bursts or carve out long periods of time to work? Is it a habit or a vice?

A: When I’m deep into a project, specifically a novel, I write for specific periods of time on a daily basis. In between the novels, of which there are two down, with the third novel in the second draft, while I align research for the fourth, I will allow for a less regimented process. It’s a part of me as even when not writing, I’m thinking writing. The brain is quite cluttered with stories, stories and, yes, stories.

Q: What writer would you most want to read your work? What would you want to hear them say?

A: There are too many to consider, but the “pop-up” in my brain keeps registering Harlan Ellison as the one, and I would simply like him to enjoy the work…but express his enjoyment in traditionally effusive Ellison manner, perhaps.

Q: On the days where the writing doesn't go so well, what other art or career do you fantasize about pursuing instead?

A: A musician for a post-punk band cut out of the mold of all the bands from England circa 1978-1982 or so, though I have horrible tendencies when playing guitar to turn into a thousand-notes-a-second speed-freak wanker, which derails my fantasy and sends me back to words.

Q: What do you read? What do you re-read?

A wide variety of everything, though for re-reading pleasure, I tend to lean toward a lot of writers whose work stretches even the genres they are slotted in, like Lucius Shepard, Laird Barron, etc. Actually, last summer I did an in-depth reading and re-reading session with those two and a handful of other writers whose work sets the highest standard for what I enjoy, both stylistically and imaginatively, real quality and potency. It was a form of research. I plan to dig into a lot of Weird Fiction writers soon, to research much of what they do, dig into the heart of the weird.

Q: Where did the idea for your latest collection come from? Do you have a surefire way of sparking inspiration?

The idea was there for quite some time as I have about 3-4 books worth of short stories. It just took my agent to say, hey, how about an ebook, and me responding, why not? I think of it as a good introduction to my work. Inspiration comes to me by simply listening to the world around me, reading widely, living without restrictions. Paying attention. The littlest odd notion can lead to something huge.

Here's a little taste of The Dark: The excerpt is from the story “The Sunglasses Girl.” After an evening of sex in his car with what he thought was a prostitute, our main character, Trane, learns his assumptions were wrong:

She smiled, all teeth, vicious, gleaming with disgust, and took off her sunglasses.

“Remember, you made this choice,” she seethed.

The moment was brief. Description was useless, but Trane’s mind flashed with unexpected images: vast gulfs of infinite, starless space; yawning abysses where the lost tumbled for eternity; black scars that oozed blindness. He felt an oppression begin to suffocate him. She had no eyes, per se, just the empty sockets where they should be, empty sockets that defined the word “empty” in new, disturbing ways: fathomless wells in which the echoed response of the dropped stone would never speak. They epitomized nothingness, a vast, turbulent nothingness that indicated there was no soul within her, no self, nothing of substance—nothing!—but something of unspecified definition that roiled like a cavern of agitated bats. The nothingness started to leak like viscous black rivers from a whirlpool of resentment and hatred and loathing and spite and so much more negativity—negativity, that was what he witnessed; the whirlpool writhed with an omniscient negativity—Trane’s head pulsated with the pummeling weight of her wrath. He gasped, his erection went south, and she put the sunglasses back on.

It was only one moment. 

You can find John on Facebook and Twitter as well as at his blog. Find out more about The Dark is Light Enough For Me and read reviews at Amazon and Goodreads. I just got started reading the collection while traveling back from Scotland and can recommend it for anyone who likes dark horrors with an almost Lovecraftian sense of unease. Thanks for being my guest today!

Tuesday's Overlooked A/V: Pop Hive & Galway Races

Happy Valentine's Day to my sweetie xxx Glad I could spend at least part of the day with you :-)

Good news from Mr B, who shared the link from Dark Valentine Press who now lists the Drunk on the Moon collection as forthcoming this spring (so just around the corner). Also my Fall-inspired noir story "Bill is Dead" will also be appearing soon. Linkage when it's available...


My BitchBuzz editor Cate Sevilla has started up a new pop culture-themed web tv series. Drop by and experience the bright bubble of fun. Episodes on Vimeo.

Pop Hive: Episode 2
from Pop Hive on Vimeo.


When we visited TG4 the station director told us about the second series of the Irish language soap "Galway Races" so I figured it would be fun. It's a hoot - distinctly odd and I can already see the very local touches. You can watch it and all the Irish-language programming for free anywhere in the world. Next episode is tomorrow night. I'll be watching! Let's make it an international phenomenon. Besides, you get to visit all the familiar sights around Galway. Imagine "Dynasty" in a fairly small town. There's a crashed and burned politician, a tough police chief trying to reform a laughable force when her ne'er-do-well hippie brother shows up and an assortment of hustling would be entrepreneurs all around.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday: Palakainen

A simple concept: six sentences to win you over. Here's mine, from "Palakainen," one of the stories from Unikirja. As a special treat, you can read the entire story at Mythic Journeys. See the rest of the titbits at Six Sentence Sunday. And think about buying the ebook version of Unikirja. Kiitos.

 Swanlike she was born, swanlike did she grow, with white hands and a graceful neck and eyes that looked unblinking at you. The servants, who all grumbled day and night about their work, would give her the best of the cream, the finest weaving, the sweetest olut brewed for her. Her brothers and sisters too, who should be jealous of the attention our little star received, instead protected her, coddled her. Her sisters did the mending rather than let her prick her fingers. Her brothers gathered kindling, which should be her job, carried hay to the cows in winter, rather than let her chap her hands. Swanlike they stayed, white.

Palakainen she was named, our little tidbit, our little treat...

Thursday, February 09, 2012

BitchBuzz: The Digital Revolution Will be Gendered

I should start this post with a shout out to the fabulous Maura McHugh, a new friend who shared a fabulous, nigh on four hour lunch with me on Tuesday. Obviously we found a lot to talk about. Those of you who tend to think of me as taciturn would have been surprised. Of course we are now plotting world domination -- that's just how we roll.

I'm off to Scotland today: big smiles all around.

My column today brings together a number of things that have happened lately. If it's less light-hearted than most of my columns, it's because I'm fed up. Again. As I say at the end, I have been fighting the same fights since childhood. World, you're on notice.

The [Digital] Revolution Will Be Gendered

By K.A. Laity

Someone on Facebook shared a link to a film that looked like it hit directly at the conundrum of the digital age: suddenly the world has opened up to a lot more people who can share their creations with a much wider audience than ever before. A film no longer requires a torturous studio system of development hell and artistic interference; just kickstart and go.

On the other hand, the burgeoning cacophony of the digital explosion gets harder and harder to wade through. As the traditional gatekeepers disappear, how do audiences find the good stuff—and how do artists find their audiences?

The film is PressPausePlay. Created by a Swedish "creative agency" (which seems to be the new name for "advertising agency") it has a description that seems full of potential and a screen capture of Moby:
The digital revolution of the last decade has unleashed creativity and talent in an unprecedented way, with unlimited opportunities. But does democratized culture mean better art or is true talent instead drowned out? This is the question addressed by PressPausePlay, a documentary film containing interviews with some of the world's most influential creators of the digital era.
I should say I did enjoy a lot of the film and there are many interesting points made in it (as well as a lot of blather that could have been cut) but as I watched I began to experience a familiar sinking feeling: about twenty minutes or so went by before they spoke to someone who was not male. Another fifteen minutes before they spoke with someone who wasn't obviously Caucasian.

Is it really that difficult?...

Read the rest over at BBHQ. And think about your privilege before you ask for that cookie.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Writer Wednesday: Joshua J. Mark

Joshua J. Mark is a freelance writer with over twenty years experience who has lived in Greece and Germany, traveled through Egypt and Scotland, and, presently, lives in upstate New York, USA with his family. His published works include `To Memory’ through Edge Piece Magazine, `Civil Serpents' through Open Heart Publishing, `After the Funeral’ through Five Stop Stories, and `When There Were Trees' through Writes For All Magazine, as well as other stories through print and on-line. Mark is also a site moderator for and has been published in Ancient History Encyclopedia, where he writes primarily on Mesopotamia, Greece and Egypt. He is a part-time teacher of philosophy and writing at Marist College where he is a recipient of the Faculty of the Year Award. He is looking for a publisher for his Paranormal Young Adult novel, The Girl from Yesterday (it's in the hands of an agent right now).

Q: What do you write on? Computer, pad o' paper, battered Underwood? Give us a vivid picture.

I write on anything, as my too-patient wife will tell you, from napkins to scraps of paper and even, one time, on the wall of the back porch when a story came to me and I didn't have any paper at hand. Usually, though, I write on the computer, hunched over the keyboard in the foyer.

Q: Do you listen to music while you write? Does it influence what you write?

I never listen to music when I write a first draft because I know whatever I'm listening to will change the direction and tone of the story. When I write a first draft I don't need complete silence or solitude and I'm glad of it - most of the time my house is full of teenagers hanging out and making plenty of noise - but I can't have music playing. I do, however, sometimes play music intentionally when working the second draft re-write if I want a certain tone/flavor to the piece. I played the CD `The Black Parade' from the band My Chemical Romance to get a certain feeling in a story I just recently finished on the afterlife and, before that, played Breaking Benjamin's tune `Here We Are' to infuse the tone/imagery of another piece. I don't often do that but, when I do, I choose the music carefully and only on second draft re-writes. Berlioz's `Requiem', for example, can spin a piece completely around and off into the ether and should be used only if a piece seems to really call for it.

Q: Do you write in short bursts or carve out long periods of time to work? Is it a habit or a vice?

I write all the time. I write in short bursts and I also carve out large chunks of time. When I'm writing a long work nothing else in my life matters but finishing that piece and, then, I carve out pretty much the totality of my life until I reach the end. It's both a habit and a vice. I'm eternally grateful to my wife, Betsy, for not only understanding my insanity but actually encouraging it. If it were not for Betsy I wouldn't have written any of the work I've produced. I simply wouldn't have had the opportunity or encouragement to do so.

Q: What writer would you most want to read your work? What would you want to hear them say?

Well, as far as writers living today, I'd say it'd be Tom Robbins and I'd want to hear him say, simply, "Nice work. I really liked the piece." He wouldn't have to say another thing. I'd also appreciate hearing Kurt Vonnegut speaking from `the other side’saying something about the work like, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

Q: On the days where the writing doesn't go so well, what other art or career do you fantasize about pursuing instead?

On those days I think I should have been a plumber. First of all, it's an ancient profession going back to Rome and, secondly, it's an essential occupation. Humans will always need plumbers. Even so, no one would want me as their plumber. I don't know the difference between a wrench and pliers and I've absolutely no skill with any kind of tool. It's just my great good fortune that colleges exist which pay people to stand in front of an audience and talk about books.

Q: What do you read? What do you re-read?

I can't read fiction when I'm writing fiction so I usually read history. I've read and re-read Will Durant's `The Story of Civilization' countless times. I also re-read Shakespeare and Plato when I'm writing because I find their style doesn't bleed itself into my own but their ideas strike sparks in my mind and sometimes lend themselves to the piece. I've read Hemingway many times (his work was my Master's thesis in English long ago) but I can't read him when I'm writing. I think Hemingway can be very dangerous for a writer because his style is so distinctive and so seductive. One can easily find oneself writing `bad Hemingway' instead of finding one's own voice.

Q: Where did the idea for The Girl from Yesterday come from? Do you have a surefire way of sparking inspiration?

I do not have any surefire way of sparking inspiration. When asked a similar question about inspiration, Faulkner once said something like, "I'm inspired every morning when I sit down at the typewriter." I feel pretty much that same way. I consider writing both a joy and work. When I sit down at the keyboard, if the energy of the day is in my favor, I'm always inspired. When I'm not `feeling it' I go out and roam in the woods with my dog Sophie and that usually sparks plenty of inspiration. The idea for The Girl from Yesterday came from this abandoned mansion near where I live. When my daughter Emily was younger I'd walk her out to the bus and, on the way, I'd ask her if there was any story she'd like me to write for her which I would then read to her as a bedtime story. One morning she said something like, 'A ghost story about the old house in the woods' and so I wrote it that day and read it to her that night. That story lay around in first draft form from 2005 until 2011 when I took it out and turned it into a novel. Emily is also responsible for the name of my protagonist. She had a little stuffed animal named `Pender' back then and suggested I use that name for Rebecca Pender. `Rebecca' is Emily's middle name so she gave me the totality of that character right down to Rebecca's habit of talking in long, twining, twists of words. Emily is, for the most part, Rebecca Pender. She's a very interesting person to have around.

An excerpt from The Girl from Yesterday:

All through the night my dreams fell in whispers, soft whispers, behind my eyes. I was with my mom in the silver Subaru wagon driving down from Maine in the darkness and the fog was thick and the trees ran toward us from the sides of the road. We were leaving something behind us. Long, slender reeds of rain twisted down from the night sky into the headlights and vanished and I felt so sad at whatever it was we had lost and left back behind us at the old house on the familiar road.

Inside the car, by the dim light of the dashboard, I looked over at mom and then the whole thing slowly dissolved, piece by piece, like watching a puzzle come apart, and I was below deck on a ship sitting up quickly in bed. There was water at my feet and I screamed and ran toward the door, yelling someone's name, someone who was behind me. The water was rising quickly, ice cold, up my legs, and then I had the door open and in the corridor there were many other figures in the darkness hurrying through the water and some crying and others screaming. I remembered where the stairs were from my room but I could not find them in the darkness and then, just as quickly, I was again sitting back in the car on the long, long ride down from my home, passing by tall houses which seemed to flinch and hunch under the down pouring rain...

Thanks, Josh! Follow him on Twitter or find him on Facebook and Goodreads.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked A/V: Red Cliff

O for a muse of fire that would ascend / the highest brightest heaven of invention / a kingdom for a stage, princes to act / and monarchs to behold the swelling scene...

There aren't many pieces I can quote from memory (I gave the habit of misremembering every quote to my main character Ro in Owl Stetching; trust nothing she says!), but this is one. Yes, I just double-checked it. Okay, one word off. That's rather good for me.

Anyway, surely this is the emotion swelling in John Woo's bosom that urged him to make this epic battle film. Or this half of it, anyway. The three hour film I saw, Cultural Gutter tells me, is only the condensed version of the complete five hour movei. Wow. Epic indeed.

The narrative follows an historical battle, no surprise. For the man made famous by a film with the tag line, "Two men. Ten Thousand Bullets." Woo has stepped up the munitions even more here: let's say a million billion arrows, lances and swords. And that's not even mentioning the fire bombs.

I had my doubts when the film began with an awful American voice over: fortunately it disappears too quickly. Once again Hollywood assumes people are too stupid to just pick things up from the narrative. Woo actually does the zoom-in and highlight with title card when we first meet the key players.

At the center, the always patient world-weariness of Tony Leung as Zhou Yu, who would rather there were no more wars, an opinion shared by his impossibly radiant and artistic wife, Xiao Ciao (Lin Chi-ling) but they're both mindful of the greater good. Zhang Fengyi gives the power-hungry Cao Cao a realism despite his embodiment of the arrogant man of power. Zhao Wei gives a plucky performance as the cross-dressing Sun Shangxiang -- they actually make her look androgynous enough in costume to be somewhat believable. You never for a minute believe anyone could mistake Brigitte Lin for a man ("But she's wearing a man's hat!"). The young but clever strategist Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) comes up with some of the most bizarre and yet effective plans that often seem divinely inspired -- or at least inventively creative.

There's a great cast and all kinds of pyrotechnics, flying arrows and spurting blood. There's nothing you haven't seen before if you've watched a lot of wu xia, but it's an enjoyable epic that hits all the high points and feels satisfying if you've got nowhere to go for a few hours. Here's the trailer, so you can see it is chock full of stunning visuals (and yes, a patented Woo dove -- and yes (>_<) Don LaFontaine doing the voiceover).

Monday, February 06, 2012


I met up with the Fulbrighters in Ireland, new and old, for a trip out to Connemara. Here are some lovely photos! We had music and Irish language (including a visit to TG4, the Irish language television station) for our visit to the Gaeltacht, the remaining areas where Irish remains a primary language.

Working on a couple of things before I head off to Scotland later this week, so must dash!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

SA4QE Tenth Anniversary

"Everything is real, Angelica. Reality is a house of many rooms, and sometimes we can enter more than one."
Angelica Lost and Found

RIP Russell Conwell Hoban
4 February 1925 - 13 December 2011

SA4QE: spreading the words 
The Kraken: sharing the dreams

UPDATE: in situ, James Hardiman Library, NUIG (nestled next to Chandler; no Hoban in the library's holdings! Such a sad miscarriage.)


Friday, February 03, 2012

Love and Theft

"I'm not quite as cool or forgiving as I sound..."

 "Floater" by Bob Dylan

I'll have some lovely photos from the trip to Connemara up soon, but there's something else I need to deal with first. This week has been a head shaking one in several ways that's ended up leaving me with a couple fewer publications than I had before.

However, before I get to that, a digression. Those of you who have experienced me teaching know my proclivity for doing that. I blame Beowulf: chock full of digressions. Like that great poem, however, my digressions have a point. Think of it as a parable and then a lesson if you like.

The other day on Facebook I shared Jim Jarmusch's quote that I love and have used before. It came in a nice graphic form, so I'll share it here, too.

I always say that becoming a medievalist saved me from the terror of "originality" -- because there's nothing like studying a thousand years of literature to show you without a doubt that every story has been told before. My creative writing students who find this revelation deflating I give the reassurance, "But no one has told your version." If I'd been paying more attention, I would have learned the lesson from Shakespeare. The bard's stories are not "original" -- looted from various sources from Ovid to histories to contemporary events. Yet no one told the tales as he did; that's why we still read him with such pleasure.

We need to recognize that we stand on the shoulders of giants; pretending that you have no influences is simply ignorance. The arrogance of believing that you can create anything without those myriad voices in your head, sights in your eyes, sounds in your ears, shapes in your hands is an illusion. The "stealing" Jarmusch refers to here is not a mindless copying of another's work but an appropriation of elements that resonate through your soul. Because once you've placed your stolen object in a new location, it transforms.

Bob Dylan is a master of this. Love and Theft offers a lot of "thefts" -- something Dylan's always been conscious of doing. His title comes from Eric Lott's book Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. The album features what Greg Kot in the Chicago Tribune described as:

"The kind of twisted, instantly memorable characters one meets in John Ford's westerns, Jack Kerouac's road novels, but, most of all, in the blues and country songs of the 1920s, '30s and '40s. This is a tour of American music—jump blues, slow blues, rockabilly, Tin Pan Alley ballads, country swing—that evokes the sprawl, fatalism and subversive humor of Dylan's sacred text, Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, the pre-rock voicings of Hank Williams, Charley Patton and Johnnie Ray, among others, and the ultradry humor of Groucho Marx."

A fine list of looted treasures. What makes his work a success is not who he steals from, but what he does with the stolen goods. In my own small way, I've stolen from Dylan, too. My story "Tangled Up in Some Sort of Cerulean Hue" took Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue" and mashed it up with Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus and then just played around. My forthcoming novel Owl Stretching stole  its sadly funny tone from Kurt Vonnegut and stole as well as from William Blake (for all the quotes Ro gets wrong)  and The Descent of Inanna. I steal from everywhere; things collide in my head that would not collide the same way in anyone else's head. I run with those collisions and make something the original creators never intended and would not recognise. That's what Jarmusch means.

Witless theft, on the other hand, stealing without respect or transformation, is a crime not only in the legal sense, but to the spirit of creativity as well. Stealing someone else's work and passing it off as your own, you commit a shabby crime and a lazy one as well. In the digital realm, it's also easy to uncover. I've removed my two stories from Trestle Press for this kind of theft: cover art images, not words this time. I first got a tip off from Mr B and he has already found a new home for the Drunk on the Moon stories (well done!). I don't know what I'll do with "Mandrake and Magpies" yet. I'll think of something.

You can read other authors' (more timely) accounts of the revelations and fallout like Julia Madeleine's, Luca Veste's and BR Statetham's and they'll lead you to many more. I feel bad for the first time writers who received a painful lesson in the crazy world of publishing. After you've been through the folding magazine phenomenon and fly-by-night publishers you find it easier to shrug off the inevitable Dickensian Grubb Street betrayal. Swearing a lot helps at first, but then you just get back to writing -- it's what you need to do.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Out of Touch

Alas, no WiFi it seems in the hotel in Connemara. But what a view, eh? Regular service will resume soon.