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Jul. 24th, 2016

Revisiting The Summer of Winters

Anyone who knows me knows that I love the coming of age subgenre. And during the summer months, I always have a hankering to read books in that vein. Though not exclusively, summer just seems the domain of coming of age. When young people have adventures and learn universal truths of life and mortality and friendship and strength. Therefore, seems the perfect time to delve into the genre. This summer I've already read two excellent entries--Jedi Summer by John Boden (https://www.amazon.com/JEDI-Summer-Magnetic-John-Boden-ebook/dp/B01I27IOQY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1469368243&sr=8-1&keywords=John+Boden+Jedi+SUmmer#nav-subnav) and Of Foster Homes and Flies by Chad Lutzke (https://www.amazon.com/Foster-Homes-Flies-Chad-Lutzke-ebook/dp/B01IEAN0AO/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1469368311&sr=1-1&keywords=of+foster+homes+and+flies#nav-subnav).

Being such a fan of coming of age, I always wanted to write something along those lines, recreating the world I knew in the 1980s in my hometown of Gaffney. However, I didn't want to write something just to be writing it, I wanted a real story to hang it on. For a while nothing came.

Until something did. I hit on an idea of a horrible crime committed, and a young boy who thought he knew who might have done it. He wasn't sure, and if he was wrong he could ruin someone's life by accusing him. But if he was right and said nothing, even more horrible things could happen. The crux of the story would be about what this boy would do, and how his decisions would effect others. This main plot was fictional, and yet everything else I built up around it came from my own childhood. Names were changes, events altered and placed out of sequences, some things embellished while others omitted, but I used my past as the building blocks to create this world. Capturing like a snapshot a place and time that no longer exists.

This short novel was The Summer of Winters.



I put a lot of myself into this book, possibly more than in any other book I've ever written. I also tried to make an engaging and compelling story that would keep the reader hooked. I wasn't sure if I'd succeeded, especially after two rejections from publishers I respected.

I let the novel sit for a while before polishing it up and trying it again, this time with Evil Jester Press. I was beyond ecstatic when they agreed to publish The Summer of Winters.

I don't know if this is my best work, but it's one of my sentimental favorites. Not just because of how personal the story is in many ways, but because I finally got to be a part of a subgenre I've always loved.

The Summer of Winters can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/Summer-Winters-Mark-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B00AW0MVHS/ref=sr_1_12?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1469369381&sr=1-12&keywords=The+Summer+of+Winters#nav-subnav

Jul. 17th, 2016

Coming of Age with Chad Lutzke

From time to time I like to give over my blog to a fellow writer to promote their work. I got to pre-read Chad Lutzke's lovely and unique coming of age tale, OF FOSTER HOME AND FLIES, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I am happy to have him here to talk about it.



When We’re Reminded of Us: A Love for Coming-of-Age Fiction

Over the past few years or so I’ve discovered something very comforting. An area where I once felt alone is filled with an abundance of like-minded individuals, ones who share my love for coming-of-age literature. Better yet, I’ve found there are many more books available than I thought there were that scratch that particular itch.

For those unfamiliar with the coming-of-age (COA) subgenre (though my bet is most of you don’t need an explanation), coming-of-age is a day, a week, a summer, or even years in the life of a child or children between the age of pre-teen and young adulthood.

To better explain (and by sparing you more description), I’ll give examples. Films like River’s Edge, Stand by Me, Ghost World, Suburbia, The Breakfast Club, Goonies, and The Sandlot all fall under the coming-of-age category. Popular literary examples would be Bradbury’s DANDELION WINE, King’s IT, Dan Simmons’ SUMMER OF NIGHT and of course Robert McCammon’s BOY’S LIFE. The tales can be dark and brooding with underlying themes that strike close to home, or it can be lighthearted, filled with hope and adventure from beginning to end.

Now, I knew I wasn’t completely alone in my love for books like BOY’S LIFE, but I didn’t realize just how many other authors were following the path that McCammon helped pave--telling their own fictional childhoods; authors like James Newman, John Boden, Stephen Graham Jones, and of course Mark Allan Gunnells. Writers who are providing more than adequate material for those on the hunt for digestible COA.

This month I’m releasing my novella OF FOSTER HOMES AND FLIES. It’s the story of a neglected 12-year-old boy who finds his abusive mother dead and decides to carry on with life despite her rotting in the living room. There is both tragedy and hope. Obstacles are faced, self inventory is taken, and discoveries are made. And it’s my hope that readers will find the same kind of magic in it that I’ve found in some of the COA I’ve read.

With many COA pieces, I think there’s a lot to learn from the characters--about love, life, fear, and gratitude. We hear their inner most thoughts. We’re on the outside looking in, a whole other perspective. We’re in their young, worn and dirty shoes. And I think that those of us who appreciate the subgenre tend to easily toss our judgments aside and watch with empathic hearts.

Without doing it on purpose, over the past few years much of what I’ve written has been coming-of-age; be it a young boy taking care of his undead grandfather in the attic, the victim of a rape being saved by an urban legend, a birthday party stayover gone wrong, or two boys desperately trying to prove to loved ones there’s a vampire in their midst. Not until this year did it occur to me just how much of my inner child (or past child) comes out in my work. This came to my attention at the same time I realized my most popular pieces have been the COA; those stories that speak to the inner child of the reader, tapping that part of their brain that takes them back, but with a headful of adult wisdom. This tells me one of two things. Either I write best when doing coming-of-age, or there are far more people who appreciate the subgenre than I thought.

I’m not sure what’s more fun. Reading COA or writing it. When writing, while the characters and situations most definitely can lead to unexpected places, you’re not driving blindly. There’s a map there on your lap you’re following, occasionally taking little detours that lead back to Main Street. But it’s not quite as unpredictable as turning the next page of a brand new read, enjoying a small bit of that excitement the young protagonist feels. Still, with writing you get to deliberately dig up a bit of your own childhood you may consider golden--people from your past, situations, events, maybe even dialogue. Then you get to share that all with the public, with the nail-biting hope that they’ll love it. John Boden’s JEDI SUMMER comes to mind. He bares it all, and fortunately for him, people love it.

There are two reasons I wrote this article; one is the selfish and shameless plugging of my new novella OF FOSTER HOMES AND FLIES, and the other is to invite you, the reader, to cast your own opinion on why we love COA as much as we do. Is it purely nostalgic? Is it because it safely takes us back to carefree days void of the responsibilities that now plague us daily? Bills, extra mouths to feed, work to show up for, and houses/apartments to upkeep. Or is it because as adventurous as we’d like to think our younger years were, we never did get to stumble across a dead body or single-handedly solve a murder or partake in a life-threatening treasure hunt, but at our leisure, in the comfort of our bed or favorite reading chair, we can. And we do.

Whatever the reason we’re drawn to it, I’m glad to see there’s an abundance. But like your favorite genre of music, film, or book, there is always more out there waiting to be discovered. I’d love to hear your favorites. Turn me onto something I haven’t heard of that meets the coming-of-age criteria.



Author Bio: Chad lives in Battle Creek, MI. with his wife and children where he works as a medical language specialist. For over two decades, he has been a contributor to several different outlets in the independent music and film scene including articles, reviews, and artwork. Chad loves music, rain, sarcasm, dry humor, and cheese. He has a strong disdain for dishonesty and hard-boiled eggs. He has written for Famous Monsters of Filmland, Rue Morgue and Scream magazine. He is a regular contributor to Horror Novel Reviews, Halloween Forevermore and Heavy Planet. His fictional work can be found in several magazines and anthologies including, Great British Horror's What Goes Around, Devolution Z Magazine, Straight to Video II: The Sequel, Straight to Video III: Conquest of the Planet of the Tapes, Toys in the Attic: A Collection of Evil Playthings and many more. He has released three Double Feature Collections with books I, II, & III: TWO BEFORE DAWN, LITTLE ONES OF WOOD & HAIR, and DEATH DEALERS: AID FROM THE ELDERLY, as well as his 18-story horror anthology, NIGHT AS A CATALYST. He has written a collaborative effort with horror author Terry M. West, THE HIM DEEP DOWN. And early 2016 he released a book through Black Bed Sheet Books where Chad acted as editor/compiler for the BUMPS IN THE ROAD anthology. Later in 2016, several more releases will be added to Lutzke's body of work, including CAR NEX: FROM HELL THEY CAME, 47-16, A David Bowie Literary Tribute and two secret projects. Stay tuned!

Check out his website here: http://chadlutzke.weebly.com/

Buy his work here: http://www.amazon.com/Chad-Lutzke/e/B00L81FK9Q/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1468784018&sr=8-1

Jul. 11th, 2016

Odd Man Out - An Interview with James Newman

I’ve been friends with James Newman for several years, and I’ve been a fan of his writing for even longer. Not only is he a true gentleman, I believe he is one of the most talented writers working today. His new novella, Odd Man Out, is an incredibly powerful piece of fiction. Beyond mere entertainment, it is an important story that truly grabs the reader by the guts. I was happy James agreed to sit down with me and let me interview him about this new work.



Hi James, thanks for taking the time to talk with me about Odd Man Out. First of all, can you tell me what gave you the initial spark for the idea?

JN: Thank you for having me, Mark. You’ve been one of my biggest supporters since you first discovered my work, and that means the world to me. I’m even more grateful for your friendship.

I’ve always been a huge fan of coming-of-age stories, as you know, as well as Jack Ketchum’s classic novel The Girl Next Door. For a while now I’ve wanted to write something brutal like The Girl Next Door -- something that keeps readers turning the pages fast and furious, but you couldn’t quite call it “enjoyable” because it’s the kind of fiction that doesn’t make you feel very good about the human race. I wanted to shake the reader out of complacency. Honestly, I wanted to HURT him or her just a little bit. This was the hardest thing I ever had to write, man. It’s so bleak and mean. But I felt it was a story that needed to be told. It might sound a little corny, but I believe in order to push away the shadows we have to shine a bright light on them. Bad things happen. Innocent people get hurt just because they are different. The rest of us have to do our part to change that. In many ways, that’s the message of Odd Man Out: if we don’t stand up for what’s right and speak out against hatred, we are complicit in whatever arises from it.


Was the Black Mountain Camp for Boys in the story based on a real location or completely born from your imagination?

JN: There is a town called Black Mountain not far from where I live here in western North Carolina, but to the best of my knowledge the camp doesn’t exist (I hope not, ‘cause I don’t want to get sued!). I’m sure some of my own shitty memories of a summer camp I attended when I was 10 or 11 did have some influence on the story -- I distinctly remember being bullied by a fat guy with curly hair named John – but only subconsciously.

The violence in the piece is pretty unflinching, and I appreciate you not pulling any punches. How difficult was it for you to write the segments toward the end?

JN: It’s interesting that you saw it that way, because I thought I did eventually “move the camera away” when things were at their worst for Wesley. In fact, I was a little worried that readers might think I chickened out during the climax. But I knew all along that I wanted to avoid turning this young man’s ordeal into nothing but gory entertainment. We didn’t need to see every godawful second of the torture inflicted up on him. What we had already witnessed was bad enough.



Wesley comes across as a very sympathetic and authentic character. How did you come up with him?

JN: I approached Wesley’s character in a way I don’t think I’ve ever tried before. I thought it would be fun to flesh him out without ever really knowing a whole lot about him, so the reader is in the same shoes as his fellow campers. I wanted him to be the “new kid in school,” the quiet boy you never get to know because he moves into town halfway through the school year but he’s gone again a few months later. He needed to be an intentional wallflower who socialized only with his closest friends. At the same time, as careful as he was about getting too close to anyone, I’m sure you’ll notice that Wesley had a sarcastic streak a mile wide. If you cornered him, and he knew he was gonna get hurt anyway, he wouldn’t hesitate to lob a clever insult your way. He would go out with a bang, so to speak. I liked that about him.

Your protagonist, Dennis, is also a very complex character. Certainly no saint, too susceptible to peer pressure, but with a core of decency that shines within in him. Was that balance important to you?

JN: Absolutely. Dennis is far from perfect, obviously, and if he had done the right thing this story would have gone a different way. But that’s how life goes, unfortunately – we’re human, and more often than not we drop the ball. Innocent people suffer as a result. We hesitate to “rock the boat,” we worry about fitting in, and – especially when we are young -- we fear the bad guys might turn on us. I thought it was very important to make Dennis’s character a real teenage boy from the ‘80s – he’s guilty of using homophobic slurs, of using the word “gay” to describe something stupid – but when things get serious he doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. This kid used to be his best friend. Then again, if Dennis had suddenly turned into Rambo, kicking the bullies’ asses and saving the day, it would have made this story a lot less real. As much as I wanted that for Wesley, it wouldn’t have worked.

These days, Dennis knows what’s at stake. While the bigotry he witnesses at the beginning of the story might not place anyone’s life in danger, he knows no good can come of it. He knows the nature of evil, knows it starts with turning your back on people just because they are “different.” After what he witnessed at the Black Mountain Camp for Boys, he’s a man who’s quick to say, “Not on my watch.”


I’m going to get a bit personal now, if you don’t mind. The book has such a strong message against homophobia and intolerance that I feel it wouldn’t be out of line for me to cross that line. I know you and your family to be staunch supporters of LGBT rights. As a southern and a Christian, have you experienced much flak for that stance?

JN: Not as much as you’d think. But then, I don’t spend a lot of time with people who have a problem with the kind of progressive Christianity my wife and I practice. Sadly enough, it’s usually members of my extended family who disappoint me the most, spouting some of the most distusting, bigoted vitriole I’ve ever heard. Keep in mind these are people who are quick to claim they “don’t hate anyone, ‘cause we are all God’s children,” but you can throw all the glitter you want on a turd and that don’t make it a gold brick. They might not be demanding that homosexuals be put to death, but from my experience they tend to align themselves with folks who preach something very close to that. No thanks. I’ll surround myself with people who live like Christ taught us to – love one another. There was no fine print on that statement.

I’ve heard that bits of the story are autobiographical , especially the opening. What can you tell me about that?

JN: Yes. I’ll leave it at this, to avoid spoilers -- the stuff that happens in the beginning of the novella between the Boy Scouts and the church? All of that really happened. When Dennis speaks up, that’s almost word-for-word what my grandfather said in protest to what was going down. God bless him, he was one of the most old-fashioned, conservative Christians you could ever meet. And yet . . . he knew what it was all about. I didn’t think it was possible for me to love my grandfather more than I did before that moment. I was wrong. I miss him so.

Again, I’m trying to be mindful of spoilers here, but I have been asked to let everyone know that Glenda did not vote the same way as Dennis’s wife. That part was 100% fiction, make no mistake.


How important is it to you to instill in your children a sense of compassion and acceptance for those that are different?

JN: There are few things that are more important to me. I want my sons to treat everyone equally, and so far I think we’ve done a pretty good job of it. We switched denominations a couple of years ago, and I used to worry a lot about whether or not I had made the right decision. My oldest son, Jamie, was quite active in our former church’s youth group, so I had a lot of doubts about uprooting him from that. But my wife and I decided it had to be done. We weren’t seeing a lot of love coming out of that place, and isn’t that what it’s supposed to be about? I remember Jamie came home from a youth group meeting one night when Amendment One was all over the news. He told us his youth leader talked about it the whole time, and Jamie was bothered by a statement the guy made: “If our congregation stood outside the state capitol holding signs with Bible verses on them and stuff like TURN YOUR BACK ON SIN, we would be ridiculed and asked to leave.” Jamie and I discussed his feelings late into the evening, asking one another, “Why would he choose to do that, though? Why wouldn’t the church hold signs proclaiming GOD IS LOVE or ALL ARE WELCOME IN HIS HOUSE?” Imagine the possibilities.

Ultimately, Jamie helped me find a new church; we visited several over a period of a month or two, making him part of the decision. And we knew we had found the right place when, during one of our first visits to the United Church of Christ, he turned to me and said, “This place is awesome.”

There’s no doubt in my mind now that my family is travelling down the path we were meant to travel. A few months ago Jamie wrote an essay for one of his classes about being a straight ally to LGBT youth, and that’s the topic he’s chosen for his senior project next year. So, yeah . . . I feel like we’re doing this right. I’m so proud of this young man.


Do you believe Christians could do more to reach out to the LGBT community?

JN: No doubt about it. That’s what I love about the UCC. This is one denomination that not only talks the talk, its people walk the walk as well. They’re always involved in advocacy for marginalized members of society, our pastors will gladly officiate over the wedding of two people who love one another no matter their gender. It’s all about acceptance. Because, like my narrator said during the first few pages of Odd Man Out (and in the words of my sweet grandfather), “Christ would never turn anyone away.” More clergy should look toward what the UCC is doing, because this is true Christianity.

Growing up as a straight male in the Bible Belt in a time before the gay rights movement had gained much traction, how were you able to develop your ideals of inclusiveness and equality?

JN: I’m not gonna lie. It wasn’t easy. I grew up in the same era in which Odd Man Out takes place, the ‘80s, and you know what it was like back then (although from a different perspective, obviously). God forbid a guy wore a pink shirt to school, much less was suspected of being “queer.” I remember there was a fellow I went to school with who adored Prince. He wore his bangs long like Wesley in my story, and was more than a tad effeminate. Everybody knew there was something different about him. The last I heard he moved to Atlanta and AIDS took his life a few years after we graduated. I have no idea if there’s any truth to that – maybe there is, or maybe he’s alive and well and making a decent living singing in Prince cover bands -- but I can’t help thinking that rumor was an easy way for old homophobes to explain why we never saw him again. It’s like that spooky house at the end of the block that we avoided when we were kids – we fear what we don’t understand, so that old woman who lives there had to be a witch who gnaws on the bones of children.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not perfect. Far from it. I was a product of that era – a white, cisgender, heterosexual male who used the word “gay” as an adjective to describe something stupid, once upon a time. I was raised in a Southern Baptist household that believed homosexuality was a mortal sin. But people change. We progress. We put ourselves in other people’s shoes, and we realize how it must feel to be treated like second-class citizens. I’d like to think that I’ve made amends for past behavior by teaching my sons the right way to live. As parents, we want our kids to do better than we did. We want them to be better than we were. That’s my goal. I’d like to think my wife and I are doing a pretty good job of it.


Some say that politicians like Trump who feed off fear and ignorance are actually dangerous, inciting their supporters to greater discrimination and in some cases violence. What are your thoughts on this?

JN: I think Trump is a piece of shit, the sight of his face makes me break out in hives, and I think our country is doomed if he makes it to the White House. He’s a serious threat to every step forward our country has made over the last fifty years. I’ll leave it at that.

Well, James, again I want to thank you so much for talking with me. Odd Man Out is truly a masterful work, and I doubt anyone who reads it will come away unmoved.

JN: Thank you so much. I’m really proud of this novella. I hope it makes people think a little. Although Odd Man Out takes place almost thirty years ago, bigotry is still alive and well -- look at what happened to Matthew Shepard in the late ‘90s, or the tragedy in Orlando last month. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Life is short. We’re all in this together. We need to look out for each other.

Odd Man Out can be ordered here: http://thunderstormbooks.com/thunderstorm/tsb_book/odd-man-out/
Check out James Newman's other works on his Amazon site: http://www.amazon.com/James-Newman/e/B0082Z5L18/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1468274155&sr=8-1
And check out his blog: http://southernslick.blogspot.com/

Jul. 3rd, 2016

Interview with author Brandon Massey

Recently I read a collection called Twisted Tales by Brandon Massey. It was my first exposure to the author, but his tales really entertained and thrilled me. So much so, that I sought him out and asked if I could interview him for my blog. Anyone who knows me knows that I love to be a cheerleader for writers I admire. Massey was gracious enough to grant me an interview.



What was the first book you remember reading for pleasure?

BRM: One of the books I most remember from my childhood is Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. Later on, I devoured a children’s book series called, “Choose Your Own Adventure.” I had all of those books and loved them.

At what age did you write your first story?

BRM: The first story I wrote that I actually remember in detail, I wrote when I was fifteen. It was about an angry giant that uses his explosive flatulence to destroy a city. I know, mature stuff, but it was funny enough to get published in my high school’s literary magazine.

When did you realize that you wanted to pursue writing as a career?

BRM: I’d been a lifelong reader of fiction and it was always in the back of my mind that I would someday write my own stories. It crystallized for me as a career path when I was fifteen; the age when people oftentimes ask you what you want to do for a living. Once I declared my ambition, my family immediately advised me to pursue something more conventional—a career in medicine, law, perhaps engineering. Naturally, being a stubborn sort of kid, I ignored their advice.

Can you tell us about your first sale?

BRM: I was twenty-three-years old and wrote a story called “Dead to the World.” I sold it to a spec fiction magazine called Tomorrow Speculative Fiction. I drew from my experience at the time working at an insurance company. I was paid $200. I wish I could say that I framed the check but I cashed it the next day.

You write a lot in the suspense and horror genres. What draws you to that type of fiction?

BRM: I write the kind of stories that I enjoy reading. I love tales that keep me on the edge of my seat, stories that place believable characters in high-pressure, strange situations.

I see you originally self-published your first novel, but it was subsequently picked up by a New York publisher. Can you tell us a little about that journey?

BRM: Self-publishing was one of the channels that writers were using (and are still using today) to get the attention of a large publisher. I had written a novel, Thunderland, and knew it was a good read, but just hadn’t been able to land a deal. After I self-published it and peddled it to readers, mostly online, I managed to sell a few thousand copies and gain the attention of an editor at Kensington, who promptly offered me a deal. It took two days for me to get that offer from the editor, but it required a decade of serious writing for me to reach that point. Nothing worth having comes quickly.



What is your writing regimen like? Do you write a certain hours a day in a specific place, that sort of thing?

BRM: I like to write a couple of hours a day, at least. I write early in the mornings, before anyone else is awake to interrupt me. I write at home in my office.

You have several novels out, but as a short story lover I was particularly taken with your collection Twisted Tales. Do you work much in the short form?

BRM: Usually I will write a short story only when I’m asked to contribute to a collection, and when I can fit it into my schedule. That’s not very often but I do love reading and writing short fiction.



What would you consider to be your career highlight to date?

BRM: It’s always the same: finishing the most recent book. Getting to the end of a long writing project takes so much focus and fortitude that it’s always going to be a highlight worth mentioning.

I see you were born in Illinois but currently live in Georgia. What brought you to the south?

BRM: After twenty-five years of harsh Chicago winters, I was ready for a climate change. Atlanta has mild winters—though the summer heat and humidity can keep you indoors three months out of the year—and while I miss certain things about Illinois, Georgia is home now.

Do you feel living in the south flavors your writing in any particular way?

BRM: Metro Atlanta is home to a tremendous number of transplants—it’s sometimes difficult to meet anyone who was actually born and raised in Georgia. At the same time, once you travel outside of the metro area, you’re smack dab in the middle of the more traditional South, where areas haven’t been touched as much by “outsiders,” for lack of a better term. It’s a curious juxtaposition of cultures and I’ve used a bit of that in some of my stories.

Do you do many book-signings or other promotional events?

BRM: Not as many as I used to do, but when I’m asked to participate in something that sounds interesting, and I have the time to go, I try to attend.

Can you tell us anything about what you are currently working on?

BRM: It’s another horror novel. That’s about all I can say right now without jinxing myself.

When can the public expect your next book to be released?

BRM: Spring 2017.

I certainly want to think Massey for taking the time to entertain these questions. I encourage folks to check out his stuff. You can find his books here: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1?ie=UTF8&text=Brandon+Massey&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=Brandon+Massey&sort=relevancerank and learn more about him here: http://www.brandonmassey.com/

Jun. 24th, 2016

The Evolution of a Writer

I was thinking recently about how my writing process has changed over the years. Not my actual writing style or even the places or times I write...but the method with which I write. I'm old enough that I've gone through several different techniques as technology has changed.

When I first really got serious about writing, I was in junior high school and it was all pen and paper. I still have the majority of these poems, scribbled in notebooks, on loose leaf, sometimes on paper scaps or even the backs of church programs.

My sophomore year in high school I took a typing class. Yes, a typing class with a room full of typewriters and me the only male. But I figured, if I want to be a writer, I must learn to type. Around that same time, I got my first electric typewriter. I remember it was a Brother.



For some reason I was never comfortable composing at the typewriter, so I would actually still write longhand and then type it up later, but whenever I was sitting at that typewriter, banging away at the keys, I really felt like a writer, even more so then when I put pen to paper. At this point I was still doing a lot of poetry but also short stories. Thing was, I couldn't always afford typewriter paper so I have a lot of pieces from that era that are typed on regular loose leaf paper, often with the squiggles on the edge from where I just ripped them out of a spiral notebook.

Shortly after graduation, I got a full-time job and started saving up money. My goal...a word processor. Before the days when everyone had a computer, a word processor was a writer's dream. I remember I got it at Walmart for several hundred dollars. It had a separate monitor, and the keyboard actually just looked like a typewriter. You couldn't just put in a stack of paper but literally had to feed it in one sheet at a time so no starting a print job and walking away. It had a black screen with this yellow text. It too was a Brother, and looked exactly like the machine below.



By today's standards that looks pretty archaic, but at the time I felt very high tech and because of the ease of correcting and editing on the machine, I left pen and paper behind entirely. I actually found the word processor inspiring, and hit an all time high as far as output. I would sit at my desk for hours working on stories and felt so professional. Eventually I went to college, and I used this machine all throughout my 4 years, writing both tons of fiction as well as all my college papers.

Right at the end of my college experience, the word processor gave up the ghost. I won't lie, it was very sad for me, like losing a friend. I actually went to buy a new one and discovered they were obsolete and no longer made. At the time I couldn't afford a computer so I had nothing on which to write.

After college I went through a dark period where I stopped writing, overwhelmed by a stressful job that siphoned away a lot of my joy. However, after 5 years I switched jobs and decided it was time to find myself again through writing.

I needed something to write on, but I still couldn't afford a new computer so I looked through the papers and found a used Texas Instruments laptop for sale at a reasonable price. It did not have a working modem, but I wasn't interested in hooking up to the net at the time so I eagerly bought it.



A very productive and prolific time commenced. I had a 3rd shift job then and I'd sit at work with my laptop on my desk and churn out story after story, sometimes multiple stories a night. Eventually I got a desktop for home, but I still mostly wrote on my laptop and used the desktop to actually submit stories via the net.

I had that laptop for several years before deciding a proper new laptop was called for. I first got a Toshiba and now work on a Gateway that my sweet Craig bought for me.. I love the convenience and portability of working on a laptop, and I like having the web handy because it makes research a snap. Need to know the size of Lake Michigan or the price of bread in 1963, just pop on the net, find the answer, and you're back in your story within a minute.

Looking back on all the methods of writing I've employed over the years, I'm glad that the ease has increased but I have a great deal of nostalgia for every single step in the journey. Each progression carried a little sadness at what I was leaving behind as well as excitement for what the next method would bring to my writing.

May. 30th, 2016

Brainstorming

As a writer, I absolutely love collaborating with other authors. It is a wonderful learning experience and I always feel I walk away from a collaboration a stronger writer. Also, there is a certain magic that happens when two writers come together and create something that neither of them could have created individually. A true collaboration is a co-mingling of the two authors’ literary DNA, producing a child that is a perfect blending of both of them.

And while the actual writing part of a collaboration is an absolute joy, one of my favorite parts of the process is the brainstorming. It’s an explosion of creativity that gets my juices flowing and leaves me feeling a bit exhilarated. Now, when I’m working on a solo project, brainstorming also occurs. Basically the voices in my head get together and start discussing aspects of the story idea, and that is also a lot of fun, but it doesn’t quite match the experience with another writer.

For example, I recently had a brainstorming session with another writer for a story we plan to collaborate on next year. It started out simply. We’ve collaborated in the past, and had said how much we wanted to do it again. One day recently he mentioned that he had the kernel of an idea he thought would be good for our next joint-project. I was, of course, eager to hear.

He told me the gist of the idea, which really appealed to me, and it instantly started inspiring some ideas of my own, so I shared them. And what resulted was a rapid-fire back and forth, each of us building on the other’s ideas, taking that kernel and growing it into a plant with branches and blossoms. We continued throwing out notions, some of them being rejected, some of them being expanded, one idea leading to another in a domino effect of imagination.

I don’t know how to adequately describe just how joyous such an experience is. Brainstorming with another writer that I admire and respect drives me to be better, to be more inventive, to reach for things that I might not have even thought to reach for on my own. And as I mentioned earlier, at the end what we have is something that isn’t his and isn’t mine, but something that is wholly and uniquely ours.

Of course, the brainstorming will lead to the writing, which contains its own set of joys and delights, but the euphoria from the brainstorming really pumps me up for the writing.

Not that I want to give the impression I don’t experience euphoria from my solo writing. The fact of the matter is storytelling brings me a pleasure like little else and I harbor a passion for it that is unparalleled. There’s just a certain special gratification that comes from working with another writer and creating something together.

Apr. 24th, 2016

Highlight from COMPANIONS IN RUIN--"Santa's Little Spy"

In an attempt to promote my newest short story collection, COMPANIONS IN RUIN from Sinister Grin Press, I've decided to highlight select stories from the book and talk about them.



Next up is "Santa's Little Spy," a bit of a Christmas horror tale. The inspiration came from a relatively new holiday tradition that most people find charming and delightful, but because my mind works the way it does, I just saw creepy and menacing.

What tradition am I talking about? The Elf on the Shelf! I have friends with children who have started doing this for their children every December, and all I could think was, "Hmm, a little doll that movies around on its own while you sleep, a little doll that watches your every move...sounds like the perfect set-up for a horror story."

And boom! Inspiration hit. I will admit to kind of liking the demonically animated doll sub-genre of horror but never having worked in it before. This was my opportunity. I instantly had the germ of an idea for it, though it felt a little too obvious. After giving it more thought, however, I thought of a way to possibly subvert expectations and give it a little of a nasty twist.

I started writing it just after Christmas, the first piece of fiction I wrote after finishing my novel OUTCAST (a book I am very proud of but the writing of which was a bit draining), and it was pure joy. I was just having fun and making myself happy with a tale that I thought really summed up what I like to do in horror fiction. Which is namely to work with existing tropes but put my own little spin on them, and above all deliver tales which are entertaining and fun.

After the story was done, I sort of put it aside figuring a Christmas-themed story wouldn't be easy to sell at the beginning of the year. As the year wore on, something unfortunate happened to my good friend James Newman. An accident landed in the hospital and though he recovered, it left him with a lot of hospital bills.

Enter Peter Kahle. He decided to put together and edit a charity anthology for James. WIDOWMAKERS--and I decided to send in "Santa's Little Spy." While there was no actual theme to the anthology, my main character was a widow so I kind of liked the play on the title.



James is by far one of the nicest, most generous folks in the genre, so a lot of people wanted to help, and WIDOWMAKERS became a doorstop of a book, over 700 pages and I think 40 or more stories. I was proud to be in it and do my own little small part to help out a friend.

When I was putting together my collection COMPANIONS IN RUIN for Sinister Grin, I knew I wanted to include a lot of previously published stories that had never been collected, and since "Santa's Little Spy" is one of my favorite pieces, it was a no-brainer to include it.

And that's the story in a nut-shell of "Santa's Little Spy."

You can purchase COMPANIONS IN RUIN here: http://www.amazon.com/Companions-Ruin-Mark-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B01BN7INXE/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461496285&sr=1-5
And WIDOWMAKERS here: http://www.amazon.com/Widowmakers-Benefit-Anthology-Dark-Fiction-ebook/dp/B00NN9G7U2/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461496285&sr=1-6

Mar. 27th, 2016

Praise for the Limestone Theater Department

Typically I reserve this blog for talk of all things horror literature. My own writing, the works of others I admire, that sort of thing. I've decided to do something a little different with this blog, though not that different as I'm still talking about art and storytelling. I want to talk about the theater department at my alma mater Limestone College.

When I was a student there (1995 to 1999), the school had no theater department. My senior year they started putting on productions again, I even had a small part in The Importance of Being Earnest, but there was still no official department and no theater major.

That all changed, apparently very shortly after I graduated from Limestone. In 2000, Tim Baxter-Ferguson came to Limestone. They were interested in him because he held degrees in both English and Theater. He took the position, against the judgement of the committee overseeing his doctorate. According to Baxter-Ferguson, "They very much wanted me to focus on English and give up that theatre foolishness."

His first production at Limestone was You're a Good Man Charlie Brown. "I wanted to do something very small just to get started. Which was a good decision because at the time, Limestone had no theatrical resources at all."

However, he was happy to discover that the Limestone administration was one hundred percent committed to developing the theater department. When he started, they were doing just two productions a year, had no theater majors, and no dedicated space on campus for the theater department.

A few years ago, the school was gifted a building, what was once an elementary school that had been closed down when several schools consolidated. It was decided that at least part of the building would become the theater department, complete with their own performance area.

Baxter-Ferguson says, "I got a call telling me that we had been gifted the building and that I would be overseeing the creation of our theatre space. I actually spent about sight months leading a small crew of workers (under the management of Jimmy Martin!) in restructuring the building. We tore out seats, installed a new stage, new proscenium, brand new lighting system, new wiring, new everything. I love our space, and it’s one of those chances you never expect to get."

I discovered just how good the Limestone theater had become nearly 4 years ago when my fiance Craig and I attended a Christmas production Limestone put on of White Christmas. It was a stunning play with impressive sets and elaborate dance numbers. For Baxter-Ferguson, the play was special for other, more personal reasons. "Our production of White Christmas was an amazing experience. I had the idea to let members of our armed forces and their families come see the production for free, but I wanted to have them stand up near the end of the show. There’s this moment, in the musical (the movie, too) where all of the members of the General’s (played by David Rilling) have come back to show the support of their former leader. Instead of unseen soldiers standing, we had our own men and women who had served our country stand and be recognized. It was one of the most beautiful moments in theatre I have yet to experience."

After getting a taste of what Limestone was offering, Craig and I started going regularly to see their production. Varied in tone and subject matter, comedies and dramas and musicals. One thing that has really struck us is that the plays chosen are often progressive and daring, dealing with adult themes in a frank and open manner. Being a college in a small southern town, that is quite impressive.

When asked about this, Baxter-Ferguson said, "I don’t shy away from controversial work if it serves our community in some way, but I’m just as likely to do a You Can't Take it With You as I am to do Avenue Q. I look for good work that has something to say. Period. But, most contemporary theatre deals with issues that might be uncomfortable to some of our more sensitive viewers. I hope we choose a season that has something for everyone’s tastes. Still, I’m always stunned by the irony that a community member will be much more upset that a play will feature two men kissing than it will be when Shakespeare’s Macbeth brutally murders a child. Still, Limestone College is fortunate to have an administration that supports a diverse season, so I feel very blessed that we have the opportunity to do some challenging work."

Avenue Q was my favorite of all the productions I've seen at Limestone. The play is funny and moving, the set gritty, and the performances top notch. The play incorporates a lot of puppetry, and the students did a fantastic job with this. I found out later that they actually were able to attend a workshop with folks involved with the original Broadway production.

When asked about how this came about, Baxter-Ferguson had this to say: "I graduated from the same theatre program (University of Oregon) as the book writer, Jeff Whitty, so that was part of it. Dr. David Thompson and I attended a workshop with John Tartaglia (the original Princeton/Rod on Broadway) and during the workshop, John mentioned that he did workshops with colleges. When I got back to Gaffney, I contacted his company and he agreed to come teach a weekend-long intensive for our students. He was so gracious, and funny, and had some truly heartwarming stories to tell about his time working on Sesame Street. The next summer I took another workshop with Bobby Lopez (music and lyrics)—so when we finally opened our own production of Avenue Q, we got congratulatory messages from all of the original creative team. John Tartaglia sent cupcakes!"



He also commented that he gets a lot of positive feedback from gay and minority populations that often feel underrepresented in the community, and I personally applaud that myself. While Baxter-Ferguson is interested in finding varied and quality productions for the department, he is more than willing to take on subversive or controversial material.

In the years since I was a student at Limestone, their theater, under the leadership of Tim Baxter-Ferguson with help from other including Dr. David Thompson, has become a thriving and brave department that produces plays of impressive quality that are as good as anything I've seen.

For my local blog readers, I highly recommend seeing one of the productions at Limestone College. They are always memorable and inspirational, as all good art is.

Mar. 6th, 2016

Highlight from COMPANIONS IN RUIN-"Before and Aftermath"

In an attempt to promote my newest short story collection, COMPANIONS IN RUIN from Sinister Grin Press, I've decided to highlight select stories from the book and talk about them.



First up will be "Before and Aftermath", a tale which attempts to take a look at school shootings which sadly have become epidemic in this country. I was thinking about these kind of tragedies, specifically the way the shooters were portrayed as almost inhuman monsters. And of course, what they did was inhuman and monstrous...but were they born monsters? If not, what made them into monsters? These are questions that make us uncomfortable and therefore we shy away from asking them.

So I got this notion to write a story that went back and forth between interviews with people who had survived the shooting and glimpses of the shooter's life leading up to the tragedy. With the intention of exploring what may have led the shooter to do this horrible thing.

I knew there was a chance the story could be misunderstood, that people might think I was trying to make excuses for school shooters or suggest the shootings were justified or blame the victims. That couldn't be further from the truth. There is no justification or excuse for someone who commits such horrible acts of violence and murder.

However, if we truly want to do something to stem such violence I think it's important--even imperative--that we try to understand what leads people to become "inhuman monsters." That was what I was trying to do with "Before and Aftermath".

I hope the story can generate discussion and thought.

COMPANIONS IN RUIN can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Companions-Ruin-Mark-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B01BN7INXE/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1457270785&sr=1-2

Jan. 16th, 2016

Greg Chapman Talks the End of the World

I first discovered author Greg Chapman when I read his Halloween novella THE LAST NIGHT OF OCTOBER a few years back. I instantly knew he was a writer of great talent and vision. His newest book, THE ESCHATOLOGIST, deals with the end of the world. Greg was nice enough to stop by my blog to talk about it. Below is his guest blog.



When I decided my next book was going to be post-apocalyptic horror, one thing my black heart was set on was that my-end-of-the-world was not going to involve zombies.

>Insert gasp of shock<

It’s not that I don’t like zombie apocalypses in fiction, it’s more the fact that so many authors have already touched upon end-of-the-world zombie scenarios and I wanted to do something more, well, human.

To me, the end of the world is going to come about because of us. War, or bioterrorism, or earthquakes or disease are what’s more likely to claim us in the future. Ultimately I didn’t want to explore the cause of my apocalypse in The Eschatologist; instead I wanted to explore how humanity would act if such an event did occur.



Certainly, Richard Matheson’s I am Legend centres on a global outbreak of vampirism and the author uses it masterfully to explore themes of alienation and fear, but in The Eschatologist I wanted to turn faith into the threat, to see what would happen if it were used as a weapon.

I think it’s obvious that if the world does come crashing down, society as a whole is going to shatter right along with it. People will revert back to their basic instincts while others will look to their beliefs.

This is what drives my story in The Eschatologist – that clash between those who believe and those who don’t. There might not be any zombies in this tale, but there are numerous, human monsters, but one in particular is driven by belief – and his name is Amos.

Amos, the primary antagonist in The Eschatologist, is my way of exploring how faith in “God’s will” might turn people into monsters should an apocalypse occur. Throughout the tale you’ll wonder whether this so-called prophet’s wonders are real. For the Brewer family who cross his path, the apocalypse isn’t as “simple” as avoiding flesh-eating zombies. It’s a slow, steady dismantling of the human psyche; the snuffing out of any hope of survival. Something I feel is far more harrowing than a slow (or fast) horde of the undead.

http://youtu.be/xxKuPwiZePE

I want to thank Greg for stopping by and I encourage you all to check out his work here at his Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Greg-Chapman/e/B004Q7PCRE/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

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