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May. 24th, 2015

World Horror Convention

It's been a few weeks since my experience at the World Horror Convention in Atlanta, time for everything to settle and for me to really reflect on the experience, so I figure I should write about it now.

The first thing you should understand is that I have dreamed about going to a World Horror Convention for a couple of decades at least. And since joining Facebook a handful of years ago, that desire has grown. Every year when the convention rolls around, I see all the posts from those attending, the pictures, I watch the streaming of the Stoker awards...and I'm happy for all my friends having a great time there, and also so envious that it almost makes me ashamed.

And then I found out that for 2015 the Convention was going to be held in Atlanta, Georgia. Only a few short hours from me. I knew this was my shot, perhaps my one shot, and I was determined not to let it slip away. I knew I couldn't do the full con, work and finances wouldn't allow, but even one day would make me happy. So the question became, would I be able to buy a one-day pass? The answer was yes, and my dream was on the way to coming true.

I must admit something silly, but as the date got closer, I kept worrying that something would happen. I would get sick, I'd end up having to fill in for someone at work, all those worst-case-scenario type things. But none of those happened.

This time when friends started posting pictures and updates that Thursday about being there, I got a thrill because I knew I would soon be there myself. And not just as a fan.

To be clear, when I set about arranging this one day at the con, I only expected to be there as a fan, to sit in the audience at panels and interviews and readings, get autographs, just basically geek out. When I was asked if I wanted to participate in any panels, I was flabbergasted. I mean, yes, I've been publishing in the small press for a few years and am proud of what I've accomplished, but I never think of myself as sitting at the table with the Big Boys (and Gals).

I was nervous and excited, but the panel I was on--regarding zombie fiction--was truly one of the highlights. I got to sit at the table with Jonathan Maberry, Joe McKinney, John Palisano, and Dana Fredsti, with Rachel Aukes moderating. Everyone was so kind to me, made me feel like I really belonged, and I think our panel was fun and lively and entertaining. For a moment, I felt like a REAL AUTHOR!

But everything about the day was wonderful. I attended several other great and informative panels, sat through a fascinating interview with legend William Nolan, got to see Aaron Dries deliver one of the most engaging readings I've ever seen.

And I got to meet SO MANY COOL PEOPLE! I got autographs from people I've long admired--John Skipp, Jeff Strand, Jack Ketchum, Jonathan Maberry, just to name a few. I got to see old friends like James Newman and Donn Gash, got to meet cool folks that before then I'd only had the pleasure of interacting with online, like John Boden and Kelly Laymon. And I got to connect with Aaron Dries, a hell of a talented writer whose work I think is outstanding.

Best of all, my Craig was right next to me, enriching the experience and helping make it a day I'll never forget.

It truly was a dream come true, and it lived up to all my expectations. I only wish I could have stayed longer and connected with more people, but even if I never get to attend another one, I know that I'll take the memories of my time at the 2015 WHC with me all through the rest of my life.

Apr. 27th, 2015

My Home Away from Home

For some reason lately I've been thinking about libraries. Particularly the library in my hometown, where I spent a great deal of time growing up. This was back in the day before the internet, before people used the library as a source of free web surfing, back when the card catalog was still a primarily feature.

I grew up in a family with little money, and this combined with the fact that my hometown had no bookstores meant that I had to get my book fix from the public library. I can remember going down there and just wandering the aisles, getting drunk almost on all the possibilities, all the fictional worlds waiting to be explored.

Many of the early Stephen King books I read I got from the library, and that's where I discovered Thomas Harris. Also, anytime I enjoyed a movie and discovered it was based on a book, I immediately went to the library to check out the source material.

I could never count the number of books I checked out over the years, but to say it was in the triple digits I don't think would be out of the realm of possibility. As I've gotten older, my book obsession leads me to buy the books I am interested in, but I will always harbor a deep love of libraries and the service they provide.

I like to think there are still kids out there like me, hungering for books but without the funds to buy, who go to the library and have new worlds opened up to them. I sometimes think we take libraries for granted and don't support them nearly enough.

They are magical places, and I always feel at home in them.

Apr. 4th, 2015

Nothing New Under the Sun

You've all heard the expression, "There's nothing new under the sun." As a writer, I've heard it and said it many times. Meaning that there are few ideas out there that haven't already been explored. You can be bold and original in how you approach that idea, that is true, but it's not uncommon to write a story and then find others that have a similar premise.

I've had a couple of memorable instances of this. Many years ago I wrote a short story called "Jumping" about a young man who can teleport. I had been submitting around for a while when a movie called Jumper was released...about a young man who can teleport. The way this premise was handled in the movie was vastly different from my story, but the surface similarities (not to mention similarities of title) were enough that I immediately stopped submitting it.

Also a few years ago I wrote a novel entitled The Exchange Student. The story involved time travel as well as a plot to stop the Kennedy assassination. I sent it to a few publishers who rejected it, then set it aside for a while. And then King's 11/22/63 came out, a novel that involves time travel as well as a plot to stop the Kennedy assassination. I thought all dreams of publishing my novel were over. The stories are actually nothing alike, mine was primarily a gay love story, but I felt any publisher who looked at it would immediately think of the King novel. Eventually I did find a home for it though, and I'm very grateful.

And I just had another experience, this time again with King. Probably five or so years ago I had an idea for a story about a college student who writes obituaries for the local paper as a part-time job, and he discovers that if he writes an obit for a living person, that person will die. I even wrote about five pages of it, calling it "The Obit Writer." I put it aside for other projects and never got back to it, but I always liked the idea and planned to finish it someday. And then I was reading up on King's upcoming collection and some of the stories included, one of which is called "Obits" and is about a columnist that kills people by writing obits for them.

I know now I will never finish "The Obit Writer." I'm sure I would handle it very differently than King, but the premise is specific enough that the similarities are insurmountable. It's disappointing, but it also just sort of goes with the territory. But in order to give life to some of these unusable and aborted projects, I'm posting here the short "Jumping" as well as what I had written on "The Obit Writer."

JUMPING

Age ten
Jon Humphries first manifested his unique ability at the age of ten, although he had no idea what was happening at the time.

He had asked his mother if he could ride his bike down to the park to meet his friend, Samantha, from down the block. “Have you cleaned your room like I told you to?” his mother asked.

“Not yet, but I’ll clean it when I get back.”

“I’ve heard that one before.”

“Please, Mom. I promise I’ll clean my room later.”

“I’m sorry, Jon, but the answer is no. I’ve been telling you to clean up that pigsty for a week now. You’re not leaving this house until your room is in order.”

“But that’s not fair!”

“Up to your room, young man. March.”

His lip stuck out in an exaggerated pout, Jon whirled around and bounded up the stairs, making as much noise as possible. His mother turned back to the table she was dusting, and behind her she heard Jon say, “I shouldn’t even have asked. I wish I’d just gone to the park.”

His mother turned to scold him, but Jon was gone.

At first she thought he was playing a game, hiding from her to teach her a lesson, but when she still hadn’t found him forty-five minutes later, she began to worry. She called her husband at his office, frantic, and he left early to look for his son. He drove around the neighborhood, finally locating Jon at the park, climbing the monkey bars with Samantha.

His father gave him a spanking, and his mother yelled at him while crying. Jon maintained that he didn’t know what happened. One second he was walking up the stairs to his room, the next he was standing in the park by the slide with no idea how he’d gotten there.

That story earned him another spanking.

Age seventeen
The next time Jon used his power, he was seventeen. The incident when he was ten had faded from his memory completely.

He and Samantha, still his best friend all these years later, had paid the janitor at their school to make them a couple of fake licenses, identifying them as twenty-one. They went to a local gay club and used the licenses to try to get in. The bouncer at the door wasn’t fooled and turned them away, confiscating the IDs.

“Damn it, I thought that was going to work,” Samantha said, her hair teased and her eyes caked with frosted blue eye shadow.

“Fifty bucks down the drain,” Jon said. He was wearing a pair of leather pants and one of Samantha’s sheer blouses.

“Wanna go back to my place and get wasted?” Samantha asked. “My old man’s probably passed out on the couch by now. We can finish off his booze, and in the morning he’ll think he drank it all himself.”

“I guess, there’s nothing better to do.”

“Come on,” Samantha said, turning her back on Jon and heading down the street.

“I really wanted to go to the club, though,” Jon said from behind her. “I wish I could get in there.”

Samantha turned back to her friend, but Jon was gone.

The next day, when she called him up to yell at him for ditching her, he told her a wild tale. He claimed he had gotten in the club after all, although he had no idea how. One second he was walking down the street behind her, the next he was standing in a bathroom stall inside the club.

Samantha hung up on him and didn’t speak to him for two weeks.

Age twenty
By the time Jon turned twenty, he had spent three years experimenting with his power—which he had come to call “jumping”—testing its scope, its limitations. Just by stating the destination aloud, he could instantaneously transport himself anywhere he desired. He always ended up in some secluded spot, somewhere his sudden appearance would go undetected. Jon had a lot of fun in those three years, jumping to locations all around the world, exotic vacations that required no bankroll. He kept his ability to himself, not even discussing it with Samantha. He feared being thought crazy, but also the notion that, if believed, he could end up in some government facility, being tested and prodded like a lab rat.

He had recently begun dating a young man named Bill, whom he’d met in his college Intro to Psych class. One night they went to see a movie they’d both been dying to see, but when they got to the theater, they discovered the film was sold-out.

“Too bad,” Bill said as they walked back to the car. “I’ve heard some really great things about the film. I was looking forward to seeing it.”

“Yeah, me too. Maybe we can get tickets tomorrow.”

“Maybe. I really had my heart set on seeing it.”

Jon stopped a few feet from the car, a strange smile curling his lips. “I’ve got an idea,” he said.

“What?”

“Give me your hand.”

“Why?”

“Just do it.”

“Okay,” Bill said, laughing. “I didn’t know you were so big on public displays of affection.”

Once Bill had clasped his hand, Jon said, “I wish we were in the theater.”

“Yeah, well, if wishes were horses and all that,” Bill said. “But we’re just out of luck, I guess.”

Jon looked around the parking lot, the cars, the lamps, the people walking by. “Hmm,” he said, “I guess I can’t take anyone with me.”

“What are you talking about?” Bill said with a frown.

“Nothing,” Jon said, shrugging. “Let’s go grab a bite to eat.”

Age twenty-nine
By the age of twenty-nine, Jon’s ability to jump had become such a part of him that he rarely thought of it as special anymore. He used it for mundane things, like if he was running late for work or locked himself out of the house. Once he’d used his power to take a tour of the White House after hours, but he’d nearly been caught and hadn’t risked anything like that since.

On Christmas Eve, he and Bill—whom he’d been living with for the past six years—were driving to Bill’s parents for dinner. Bill was behind the wheel.

“I dread this,” Jon said irritably. “I hope you know that.”

“Of course I know that,” Bill said slowly, spitting the words out like chunks of glass. “You tell me every five minutes, so it would be hard for me to miss.”

“We could have accepted Samantha’s invitation to dinner, you know.”

“Jon, we haven’t been to see my parents since March.”

“I don’t even know why I’m going. Your mother hates me, she doesn’t even make an effort to hide it.”

“I think you give as good as you get. Need I remind you, last time you called her a shriveled-up old crone.”

“Hey, I was merely standing up for myself. God knows you don’t stand up for me.”

“She’s my mother, Jon. What do you expect me to do?”

“Nothing, I don’t expect anything from you.” And then, without thinking about the consequences, Jon said, “I wish I’d just stayed at home.”

After the funeral, Jon and Samantha stayed at the graveside long after everyone else had gone. Jon stood by the casket, crying silently.

“It’s all my fault,” Jon said, swallowing a sob. “I did this, I killed him.”

“Jon, don’t say that,” Samantha said, placing a hand on her friend’s arm. “You can’t blame yourself. It was an accident; you weren’t even in the car at the time.”

“I didn’t mean to do it,” Jon said softly, as if talking to himself. “It must have startled the hell out of him when I jumped, I bet that’s why he lost control of the car.”

“Jon, you’re not making any sense. Come on, let’s go.”

“Oh God, I’m sorry,” Jon moaned, leaning over and pressing his cheek against the coffin lid. “I’m sorry, Bill, please forgive me.”

Samantha turned away, giving her friend privacy for his grief. Behind her, she heard him murmur, “I wish I was where you are.”

And when she turned around, Jon was gone.
THE END

THE OBIT WRITER

Kenny took the job because he thought it would be easy money. He’d been fired from his job bagging groceries at the supermarket when he’d gotten mad at his boss and called him a limp-dick fuck, and since then things had been tight. His folks sent him a monthly allowance, but that was hardly enough to keep him in booze. He’d been checking the want ads daily, but it was hard to find a part-time job that fit into his schedule with school and would still leave him time to party with his friends.

But this job was perfect. The local paper was looking for someone to write obituaries. He could work from his dorm room, no boss breathing down his neck, and the money wasn’t too bad. No experience was required, and the ad concluded with, “A great opportunity for students.” So Kenny had sent in an application, as well as an issue of the school’s literary magazine that featured some essays he’d written for English Comp. Two days later he got the call; he was hired.

“Sounds kind of morbid to me,” Kenny’s roommate, Evan, said one night while they were getting stoned.

“What’s so morbid about it? I mean, it’s not like I’m performing autopsies or something. I’m just writing up obits.”

“What do you say about the people? I mean, you don’t even know them.”

“The paper will send me some information given by the families of the deceased, and I’ll just write it all up with some snappy prose and a few standard phrases like, ‘Gone home to be with Jesus,’ and they’ll send me a check.”

Evan took a long toke on the fat joint they were sharing and said, “Man, what if one of ‘em doesn’t like what you say and comes back to haunt your ass.”

Kenny laughed so hard the joint slipped for his fingers, and he fumbled for it before it burned the carpet. “Dude, you’ve been watching too much Tales from the Crypt.”

“I’m just saying, it’s a lot of responsibility. You’re basically making the final statement for these people, summing up their lives in a few short lines, a memorial to who they were, setting the tone for how they’ll be remembered.”

“Jesus, Evan, how many joints did you smoke before I came in?”

“None. But I did have a couple of my special brownies.”

The two stared at one another for a moment then broke into high-pitched giggles. They finished the joint and then watched the musical version of Reefer Madness on cable.

* * *

Kenny’s first obit turned out to be harder than he was expecting. He had all the information he needed: date of birth, date of death, names of spouse and children, job, hobbies, even favorite song, but Kenny found it hard to put it all together in a way that was coherent and respectful. He’d figured he could bang the thing out in ten minutes or less, but it ended up taking him the better part of three hours to get the thing written. And that was after he’d looked up some obituaries online and used them as models.

When he was done, he emailed the finished obit to his contact at the paper and turned his attention to his World Civ book. His midterm was first thing in the morning, and he hadn’t done much studying at all. Okay, he hadn’t done any studying. He glanced at the clock and saw that it was approaching midnight. Evan was sleeping across the room, mouth wide open as snores burst from him like machine gun fire.

Kenny sat at his tiny desk in the corner, his book open in the circle of light thrown by the lamp, and tried to concentrate on the Fall of the Roman Empire. The names and dates were just a jumble of confusion to him, and he found it almost impossible to keep his eyes open. At quarter past one, he finally gave up and threw himself into bed fully clothed.

* * *

26.

It was Kenny’s Junior year of college, and this was the worst grade he’d ever made. He’d made some bad grades, sure, but a 26. That was just pathetic. The red F mocked him from the front page of the test. F, for “Fucking Imbecile.”

After the class was dismissed for the day, Kenny stayed behind and approached Professor Wyndam. The old man’s glasses were perched on the tip of his nose, and he glanced up at Kenny as if the student were something unpleasant he’d stepped in.

“Uh, Mr. Wyndam,” Kenny started.

“That’s Dr. Wyndam, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh yeah, sorry. Well, Dr. Wyndam, the thing is…I was just wondering, is there any way I can maybe do some extra credit to bring my grade up?”

The left corner of Wyndam’s mouth rose in a smirk. “What do you think this is, Junior High? This is university, you either do the work or you don’t. You obviously haven’t been doing the work, and your grade reflects that.”

“Yeah, but—“

“Enough,” Wyndam said, rising and heading for the door. “I told you at the beginning of the semester that I don’t do extra credit. I don’t grade on a curve. You make the grade you earn, end of discussion.”

“But if I flunk this class, I’ll lose my scholarship.”

Wyndam stopped and turned back. “And how is that my problem?”

Kenny floundered for a moment, not sure what to say. “If I lose my scholarship I won’t be able to finish school,” he said, his voice a pleading whine that drilled into his own brain.

“Then I guess you should have worked harder,” Wyndam said then walked out of the classroom, leaving Kenny alone with his F.

* * *

When Kenny sat down in front of his computer that evening, he was still fuming. Evan had gone out with Kyra, the chick he was dating, and Kenny had the dorm room to himself for a few hours. Which usually meant he’d be breaking out the magazines and Vaseline and giving himself a little happy, but he wasn’t in the mood tonight. He couldn’t stop thinking of that asshole Wyndam.

Wasn’t it the professor’s job to help his students learn all they could? Okay, yeah, Kenny had flunked the midterm, but shouldn’t Wyndam be encouraging him to improve his score? Shouldn’t the professor be doing everything in his power to make sure Kenny left the class with more knowledge than when he’d arrived? Hell, if Wyndam really cared about his job, he’d have offered to let Kenny retake the exam.

Wyndam stared down at the information he’d been given for his latest obit. One Mrs. Beulah Myers, an eighty-three year old retired schoolteacher who had died from an aneurysm. Kenny tried to get to work, but he just couldn’t concentrate. His mind kept returning to the big fat F, to Wyndam’s smug dismissive attitude, to the possibility of losing his scholarship and having to leave school. Wouldn’t that just thrill Kenny’s father? The old man had always said his son was a good for nothing, and getting kicked out of school would sure prove him right.

If only Wyndam wasn’t such a prick. Kenny wished like hell he had taken World Civ last year when it was offered by Dr. Phelps, who everyone said was a piece of cake. But no, instead he’d taken Abnormal Psych during the time World Civ was offered, and only because he’d known Amanda Vine was taking Abnormal Psych and he’d been trying his damndest to get into her panties. Amanda had resolutely ignored him, he’d barely squeaked by Abnormal Psych with a C, and he’d gotten stuck with Wyndam this semester.

Kenny tried to push all that out of his mind and get back to Beulah’s obituary, but his heart just wasn’t in it. Now maybe if he was writing an obit for that bastard Wyndam…maybe then he could be loquacious and inspiring. Maybe that was the motivation he needed.

With a twisted smile, he deleted the few lines he’d written for Beulah and started anew.

Mar. 29th, 2015

An Ending...and A Beginning

Just this past Friday I wrote "The End" at the bottom of my first draft for THE CULT OF OCASTA, my latest novel. As I neared the end of it, I realized this wasn't just going to be the end of the novel, which effectively closes out the story started in my earlier novel THE QUARRY, but this was also going to be my last Limestone story.

Limestone College is a real place, my alma mater, and over the years I've written numerous stories set there. THE QUARRY, WHISONANT, OCTOBER ROSES, FORT, THE CULT OF OCASTA, as well as numerous short stories like "The Ghost of Winnie Davis Hall" and "Big Dog." I sometimes joke that Limestone is my own personal Castle Rock.

But OCASTA seemed like a good place to end it. I referenced several of these other stories in this novel, in fact I think I referenced ALL of them, and insinuated without coming right out and saying that the reason so many weird happenings take place on campus is directly related to the events of THE QUARRY/THE CULT OF OCASTA. So as I bring that saga to a close, it just seems appropriate to let the college rest in peace.

I still have a few things still to come out that feature the school. FORT, a zombie novella about a group of college kids trapped in a dorm by the undead, and my Halloween collection HALLOWEEN HOUSE OF HORRORS will contain "Spook House" and "Tricks", both of which take place at the school. Then will come OCASTA, and that chapter will be closed.

But there are new and exciting stories yet to come. My mind is brimming with ideas. And my next novel is already in the works, 432 ABERCORN, about a writer who buys a reputedly haunted house in Savannah,GA, reputedly one of the most haunted houses in the world, not believing a word of the stories. Then strange things start to happen, but is it a real haunting or is something even more sinister going on? I'm excited about this one, it's a chance to explore a lot of the familiar tropes of the haunted house subgenre while hopefully giving it my own unique spin. Plus I adore Savannah. In fact, tomorrow we head off for an annual vacation there, and I plan to walk around taking notes like a doofus.

I also have many new short stories in the offing, and a project with a fellow writer that I think could be something very special.

So fare thee well to Limestone, but hello to all the new worlds I've yet to explore.

Mar. 17th, 2015

Cameos

I set a lot of my stories in real places, typically the areas around which I live. I know the geography well, and I like exploring familiar settings in my fictional situations.

And another perk of doing this is that I get to pop people I actually know into some of my stories. Not just using certain traits as inspiration for characters, which I've done plenty, but putting the actual people in the stories, names and descriptions and personalities and all.

Typically these aren't main characters. Though I've done that a couple of times. My short story "The Hunt" was actually the product of a contest, the winner of which had an original story built around him. Steven Souza was nice enough to answer a full questionnaire about his life and starred in the short. Another short story, "Table of Contents", saw me actually putting in several real writers I know and actually having them killed off. I got their permission to use them, and the portrayals were exaggerations of their personalities.

But what I love to do is pop people I know into stories in cameo roles. The novel I'm just finishing up now, THE CULT OF OCASTA, is a prime example. A couple I know, Charles and Dawn Wyatt, got to attend a dinner party in the novel, and two local news anchors who have been nice enough to interview me a few times also show up in a scene. For my next novel, I'm already planning cameos for a writer couple I know.

Recently I also wrote a short that takes place at a local theater, and I had great fun inserting the Educational Director from the theater. I always try to treat these real people making cameos in my fictional works as respectfully as possible, and it helps that I tend to choose people I really respect and admire.

I just have a lot of fun doing this sort of thing, and I like to think that those that make these cameos get a kick out it as well.

Feb. 11th, 2015

The Power of Fiction

Recently I saw a post that gave me pause. An author of inspirational nonfiction making a post about how important reading is, but she made a point of saying she didn't mean "fantasy and fiction." Not that she was dissing fiction per se, but she thought that "escapist" reading couldn't really help you grow as a person and determine what kind of person you want to be.

I understand what she's saying...but I don't agree. Fiction and fantasy can be escapist, but that doesn't mean there's not transformative power there at the same time. I do believe that fiction and fantasy can help shape a person's world view, help them establish who they are and who they want to be.

I think back to me as a child. I grew up dirt poor and was a social outcast, and my home life was not the best, so I did need some escape. And I found it at the local public library in a variety of fiction and fantasy books. Books that did in face provide me with escape...but also provided so much more.

These books helped open my eyes and my mind, revealing to me that there was a whole wide diverse world other than just the one that I knew. This gave me both comfort and hope. These books also helped me imagine another life, other ways of living, other ways of thinking. They encouraged me to dream, planting the seeds of future ambition and determination. In short, these books were my salvation.

So fiction and fantasy I think can be quite powerful tools to help people discover deeper truths about the world and themselves. Fiction can change people's lives, change their perspective, and at times even be the catalyst for saving someone from depression and hopelessness.

All while being damn entertaining.

Jan. 22nd, 2015

The Scene of the Crime

I'm currently writing a novel called THE CULT OF OCASTA, which is a sequel to my earlier novel THE QUARRY, published by Evil Jester Press in 2012. This marks the first time I've ever written a direct sequel to one of my novels. Several of my tales, especially the ones that take place at Limestone college as QUARRY and OCASTA do, are "linked" in that they take place in the same fictional universe and characters from one may be referenced in another. In fact, the main character from THE QUARRY appears in a small role in my novella OCTOBER ROSES, and a few of the characters from that novella are also in THE CULT OF OCASTA.

But like I said, this is the first direct sequel I've written. To be quite honest, I had never really thought of doing a sequel for THE QUARRY. The idea was actually born from my editor of the novel, Peter Giglio. He said he thought it was just asking for a follow-up. I did start thinking that way, and a suggestion he made actually kick-started some ideas and next thing I knew, I thought I could do it.

I actually planned to do THE CULT OF OCASTA as my major project in 2013, and even started it, writing several chapters. Then I unexpectedly got a deal with JournalStone for a novel that had to be delivered by the year's end. I actually struggled with that one, and it took me pretty much the entire year.

Then in 2014 I collaborated on a short novella with a good friend of mine, and a hell of a talented author, James Newman, then did a solo zombie novella. Then I felt ready to start my next novel, and went back and looked at what I had written on THE CULT OF OCASTA and actually really liked it, and some new ideas came to me, and I was suddenly quite excited about the project again.

I wrote on the novel for the entire later half of 2014, and am in the home stretch of it now. I have no idea if it will be published. Evil Jester has said they want to read it when I'm done but there's no guarantee they'll take it, and if they don't, I'm not sure another publisher would be interested in releasing a sequel to a book that they didn't produce. And while I really want to see it published, I'm writing it just because the idea excites me and I'm enjoying the journey.

Writing a sequel to a book isn't vastly different from writing something original...and yet in some ways it is. It comes with its own set of limitations, in that I have to be sure I don't contradict anything established in the first book. Especially at the beginning of my writing of THE CULT OF OCASTA, I was constantly checking back to THE QUARRY for character names and dates and locations of certain events, so that it all tracked.

But it's also rather exhilarating to slip back into an already established world, returning to the scene of the crime as it were. The sense of familiarity is comforting, and it's great to take characters I've already established and loved into new places, watching them grow.

It's also nice to take what I did in the first book and up the ante, build on it to make something even more complex and I hope exciting. There is a particular singular joy I'm experiencing at writing this sequel.

Not to say that I'm now going to go back and write sequels to all my other novels, but I am really enjoying myself with this one. Just goes to show, sometimes you can dip twice at the same inspiration well.

And now for the obligatory self-promotion moment, THE QUARRY can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Quarry-Mark-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B0073PMCY2/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1421972795&sr=1-6 If enough of you buy it, maybe it'll help me sell the sequel. ;)

Dec. 28th, 2014

2014 Wrap Up

Okay, so I know it isn't exactly an original idea to make a blog post as the year winds down to talk about what the year has brought, but I want to do it all the same. 2014 has been a wonderful and special year and it seems right to reflect back on it as it draws to a close.

So many great things happened for me this year, but first and foremost was that I got to spend another twelve months living and loving and sharing with my best friend, Craig. A year of trips, adventures, plays, movies, hikes, charity work, participating in social protests for gay rights, and just laughing and enjoying one another. And in July, on the second anniversary, Craig surprised and delighted me by having me meet him at Barnes & Noble where we met for our first date, brought me roses, and got down on one knee and presented a ring. A touchingly traditional marriage proposal, and I enthusiastically said yes. I am very grateful to have found my soulmate and each moment I spend with him is something to celebrate.

It has also been a wonderful year for me as a writer. The year started with me self-publishing two digital books for Kindle. One is a two novella collection, WHISONANT/CREATURES OF THE LIGHT, which was previously published as a paperback and limited hardcover by Sideshow Press. The other is an original collection called LIGHTS OUT, which is a series of urban legend type horror stories. Late spring, early summer saw the release from Gallow's Press of the novella LOCKED ROOM MISERY, a piece I co-authored with the immensely talented Benjamin Kane Etheridge. I felt very lucky to have been able to work with him, and I was happy to see our baby available.

During the summer, JournalStone released my novel OUTCAST as part of their DoubleDown series, pairing it with John Little's excellent novella SECRETS as a flipbook. I remain so thankful John recommended me for this project, and I am proud of the book that I wrote. I was a bit surprised when reviews labeled it as Young Adult, but that doesn't really bother me. A good story is a good story, and that's what I always set out to write. I was even able to go on the local NBC affiliate for an interview to promote the book.

And in the autumn, Evil Jester Press released my short story collection WELCOME TO THE GRAVEYARD. Short stories are my passion and I was really anticipating the release of this one, as I feel it is strong.

I appeared on the news twice more during the year. Once in early October to promote my appearance on a discussion panel at the Warehouse Theatre about the popularity of zombies in popular culture. I was very nervous but managed to get passed that and ended up really enjoying myself. Then in late October I was on the news again to pimp my first book signing at the charming bookshop Joe's Place. That was a fun experience, and I am appreciative to the folks that run the store for letting me do that.

I also did a lot of writing this year. I started the year by collaborating on a short novel called DOG DAYS O' SUMMER with James Newman, a writer I greatly admire and had wanted to work with for a long time. We had a lot of fun working together on the project and I can't wait until people get to read this one. Once that was done, I wrote a new zombie novella entitled FORT, which is a semi-sequel to ASYLUM, at least set in the same universe. The latter part of the year I've been working on a new novel, THE CULT OF OCASTA, a sequel to my earlier novel THE QUARRY. I had hoped to finish this by the end of the year but it will carry on at least through January. And I've written a great many short stories this year. This has been one of the most productive years I've had in years as far as writing goes.

I'm anticipating more joy in 2015. Not that there aren't ups and downs as in every life, but I do believe attitude plays a great part in it. And I have much be to thankful for. So I wish everyone out there a wonderful new year!

Dec. 20th, 2014

A Moment to Be Giddy

Back in October on the deviantart site, a writing contest was announced. A painting by THE Clive Barker was the prompt, and writers had until the end of the month to come up with a story or poem based on that painting. The entries were to be read and the winner picked by Barker himself. Almost right away I had an idea, but I had a lot of projects on the go. A novel, and three different short stories I wanted to get done.

But just a couple of days before the end of the month I found the time to sit down and write my tale, "The Support Group." I really liked the concept but wasn't sure how well I handled the execution of it. But I did my best, and submitted it.

Around 200 or so stories were entered, so I wasn't overly confident about my chances, but I was happy that I participated. Win or lose, one of my stories would be read by Clive Barker.

I've been a fan of Barker's for many years. There is much I admire about the man. For starters, he is a writer that ultimately attained success and recognition with a series of short story collections. This was huge to me, because as a writer short stories are my passion but I'm always hearing how publishers don't want collections, especially from unknowns, that collections just don't sell. Yet here was a man who burst onto the scene with no previous titles with his Books of Blood and set the literary world ablaze.

And of course, the main reason for this was that his stories were kick-ass. Startling, bold, original, and strong. His talent was undeniable, and he wrote tales that stay with you.

Also, as a gay man who loves the horror genre, it was great to see an openly gay man really excelling in the genre.

So for all these reasons and many more, I was thrilled by the idea that he'd read one of my stories. Of course, he may read it and hate it, but I hoped for the best.

And earlier this month he announced a winner and two runner-ups, and I actually placed as 1st runner up. I have to say, I was floored when I saw my story listed there. I mean, just knowing that Barker read and enjoyed my story...and then he even included a short blurb on each story that placed.

I didn't get money or a trophy, but I consider it a great prize indeed.

You can see his painting and all the entries that placed here: http://techgnotic.deviantart.com/journal/Clive-Barker-Has-Chosen-499188454

Dec. 16th, 2014

LIGHTS OUT-Illustration for "Naughty List"

This is the illustration for December in the 2010 Sideshow Press calendar. Tom Moran is the artist. This one inspired a nasty little Christmas tale entitled "Naughty List."

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My collection LIGHTS OUT can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Lights-Out-Mark-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B00I17EBE0/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_28?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1418726543&sr=1-28

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