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Sep. 18th, 2016

Origin Stories: WHISONANT/CREATURES OF THE LIGHT

I continue my new blog series in which I discuss the road I traveled to get each of my books published with my two novella collection WHISONANT/CREATURES OF THE LIGHT.



After Sideshow Press published my chapbook A LAYMON KIND OF NIGHT, they told me they wanted to put out some longer works by me. I decided to send them some novellas I had written. They were instantly taken with CREATURES OF THE LIGHT, and suggested that we could pair two novellas together into one book. My first choice for the second novella was ASYLUM, but for a few reasons detailed in my last blog they were not keen on that one. However, I sent them a strange ghost story set at Limestone College, my alma mater, entitled WHISONANT.

Tom at Sideshow responded very positively to this story, though he said the ending didn't work for him. He asked if I would consider coming up with an entirely new ending. I was open for that because, truth be told, the ending never worked for me either. It felt too cartoonish and tonally too different from what had come before it.

So I set about trying to figure out what the new ending would be, and once I hit on the right idea, I went about crafting the new ending which necessitated some changes throughout and the addition of several flashbacks interspersed throughout the story.

It was actually the first time I made that an extensive of a revision to a piece for publication, and I actually enjoyed the process very much. I definitely ended up with a story that was stronger than the original version. And I was excited to be publishing a story set at Limestone, a place I love so very much. Anyone who follows my work (all 2 of you) knows that Limestone became a frequent setting for my tales.

Tom came up with the great design idea of doing a "flip book." Each novella would have its own cover, and you would hold the book in your hand and have one cover and the novella then flip the book over and turn it upside down and have another cover and the other novella. I loved that idea and was very happy with the two covers.

Michael Moran did the classically gothic cover for WHISONANT.


Tom Moran himself did the vibrant, colorful cover for CREATURES OF THE LIGHT.


I absolutely loved the juxtaposition of the two very different covers, and just loved the flip book design.

The book was released in paperback and limited hardcover editions. Eventually I self-published a digital edition that is still available. I am disappointed that these two novellas haven't garnered as much attention as I would have liked. I'm a writer who lives and breaths for feedback.

The digital edition is still available here: https://www.amazon.com/WHISONANT-CREATURES-LIGHT-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B00I0JRXVW/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_32?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1474222466&sr=1-32&refinements=p_82%3AB005C18L7Q#nav-subnav

Sep. 6th, 2016

Origin Stories: ASYLUM

I continue my series of origin story blogs, detailing how each of my books came to be published, with my second book, Asylum.



After Sideshow Press released A Laymon Kind of Night, they were interested in publishing some of my longer works. They suggested a two-novella collection and had already chosen a novella of mine entitled Creatures of the Light, they just needed another to pair with it.

I had recently finished Asylum, a zombie tale about a group of characters trapped inside a gay nightclub when the dead arise. I was very proud of it, and sent it to them right away.

Sideshow rejected the novella for a couple of reasons. One, it had a post-apocalyptic feel as did Creatures of the Light and they wanted something with a different vibe. Two, they felt the setup for the story was too traditional. Ultimately they went with another story for the novella collection.

But that left me with Asylum which I very much wanted to publish. I started looking for another publisher that would be willing to take a chance on it. The length was a little too short for most publishers. The ones I did submit to rejected it for one reason or another. I was at told by at least one that the primarily gay characters and gay subject matter would not be of interest to the fan base of horror and that I should look at finding a publisher that focused on exclusively gay fiction. Nothing against those publishers but I felt strongly that this was a horror story and I wanted to go with a horror publisher.

I started to think seriously about self-publishing the novella when I randomly found online a call for zombie novellas from Apex Publishing. They were starting an imprint called Zombie Feed that would focus on zombie tales. I wasted no time submitting Asylum to them.

I would say it took less than a month to hear back from Jason Sizemore, letting me know they Apex would be publishing Asylum. I was over the moon, and things moved very quickly from there. Jason sent me his editorial notes, I did a revision and polish, and it was only a matter of months before the book was released with the very cool cover.

I have to say, Apex went above and beyond in the promotions department. They secured a lot of interviews, sent out ample review copies that resulted in a great deal of reviews, most of them positive. They even created a book trailer for it.



I was gratified at the response, especially from heterosexual male readers, proving that a book with gay characters and some gay themes could appeal to the horror audience.

The book has been good to me, I even managed to get on a couple of panels on zombie literature because of it, including one at the World Horror Convention. Tony Karnes was nice enough to create some promotional art for it as well.



So that my friends is the story of how Asylum came to be published. If you want to check it out, you can order it here: https://www.amazon.com/Asylum-Mark-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B004GEAMOA/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_15?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1473196713&sr=1-15&refinements=p_82%3AB005C18L7Q#nav-subnav

Aug. 25th, 2016

Two Tales from the Lake

I'm beyond ecstatic to have a story in the new Crystal Lake anthology TALES FROM THE LAKE VOL. 3.



One reason is that I love Crystal Lake, and was so pleased to be working with them again. Another reason is that I finally get to share a TOC with my friend Harper Hull, a very talented writer I admire a lot. And a writer that also inspired my story in the anthology. I'm going to talk about my tale, and then turn it over to Harper to talk about his.

Harper Hull is the first person to turn me on to this phenomenon where people believe that the children books THE BERENSTAIN BEARS used be spelled BERENSTEIN, though there is no record anywhere that this was the case. Many have posited that it suggests the existence of parallel worlds and alternate realities. It's rather fascinating, and got me to thinking that I could do something with it.

So I started a tale entitled "The Pigmalion Pigs", very excited about the idea. I had gotten about halfway through it when Crystal Lake posted the guidelines for TALES FROM THE LAKE VOL. 3. The loose theme was urban legends, and while this wasn't a traditional urban legend, I thought it could be interpreted as a modern one. I mentioned this to the editor, Monique Snyman, and she seemed excited.

Then I hit a roadblock in that the story ended up being longer than I anticipated, and it exceeded the word limit for the anthology. I contacted Monique again, and she gave me permission to submit anyway. I wasn't sure how much the length would count against me, but I was just happy to be considered.

And even happier when I got that acceptance letter! The same day Harper emailed to tell me he got in as well with his excellent "The Cruel." I was just so thrilled, and can't for people to read my story, as well as Harper's.

Speaking of Harper, let's here from him:



Firstly, let me thank Mark for letting me ride sidecar on his blog this week. We're good friends and talk about writing all the time so it was a genuine delight to share a TOC with him in TALES FROM THE LAKE VOL. 3. The first but hopefully not the last.

The idea for my story 'The Cruel' came about in the same way as most ideas for stories seem to - a moment of "ooh, that could be interesting" during a completely normal conversation. I was discussing stupid trends and ideas we fell for back in high school with some friends - I grew up in England so these probably won't resonate with you foreign types, fair warning. We used to tuck our school ties inside our shirts to look like Duran Duran in their 'Is There Something I Should Know?' video. Some of us would wear the intricate bottle-tops from Grolsch beer bottles in the tops of our shoes like the pop band Bros. We discussed the best ways to make conkers battle-worthy. (If you don't know what conkers is, basically you have a horse chestnut seed on a piece of string and take it in turns bashing your opponent's conker until one smashes apart. Every time your conker wins it gets a number, so if you have smashed 5 other conkers yours is now a 'fiver.' Simpler times!) It was a split decision between baking them on a low heat and soaking them in vinegar. (As an aside, I was once photographed for the local paper as a wee lad for losing my King of the Conkers title to a good friend of mine named David. It was a complete fabrication; the journo turned up and the teachers picked out two kids to take part in this charade of a story, if I remember correctly David and I were picked because we had done the best in French class that week. And were extremely cute, of course.)

One of the lads in this conversation then said "do you lot remember the sound?" None of us had a clue what he was on about. The only sound that has stuck with me from high school was the nuclear attack sirens at the RAF base down the road going off at regular intervals for test purposes. Back then it was the height of the cold war and the idea of nuclear armageddon was very, very real - TV shows like 'Threads' didn't help which showed in graphic detail what would happen if the city of Sheffield was struck by bombs. Anyway, he explained to us about this sound thing. Apparently some lads started making this awful whining sound at the school he went to over a period of weeks and soon almost every kid in the school was imitating it at inconvenient moments (mid-class, morning assembly, lunch hour.) It got so bad the headmaster had to send a letter home to the parents banning it and threatening expulsion to anyone who kept it up. It stopped after that letter, surprisingly. It resonated with me, that anecdote, and the idea for 'The Cruel' was born.

I actually set the story in my old high school - the village is the exact village the school was located in, the teachers are loosely based on actual teachers I had - I find it far easier to track locations in my mind when it's somewhere I know like the back of my hand, of course. It's probably one of my favourite stories because of that intimacy, and I am ecstatic that it made the cut for this book. Go pick it up! Also, Mark's story 'Pigmalion Pigs' is one of the best I've read by him, it's a fascinating subject and will probably send you tumbling down a very, very deep rabbit hole after you have read it.

You guys can check out TALES FROM THE LAKE VOL. 3 here: https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Lake-Vol-3-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B01KBTEKKA/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1472163257&sr=8-3-fkmr0&keywords=tales+from+the+lake+vol.+3#nav-subnav

Aug. 21st, 2016

Origin Stories: A LAYMON KIND OF NIGHT

I've decided to start a series of blogs in which I talk about the origins of my books. Not the ideas behind them, but how they came to be published. Thought it might be interesting for the twos of threes of you that read this (and I'm being optimistic here). ha ha

I'm going to go in order of publication so we'll start with my first published book, the chapbook A LAYMON KIND OF NIGHT, published by Sideshow Press.



The path to my first published book started a year and a half earlier when I published a short story, "God Doesn't Follow You into the Bathroom", in a magazine called Black Ink Horror. Tom Moran, who published the magazine, also did original artwork to go along with the story.



Shortly after that story appeared in Black Ink, I submitted another story to them entitled "The Snoop." Tom kept the story for a while before ultimately passing on it. He said he liked it, but it just didn't quite fit. I was disappointed, but I understood and moved on.

Maybe a year passed, and I had joined an online message board called The Haunt. One day I started chatting with another poster about, of all things, the 80s horror film FINAL EXAM. We were both using online handles at the time, so neither of us really knew who the other was. I mentioned I had written a short story where that movie featured as a plot device, and he asked if he could read it. I sent it to him, and that was when he realized who I was. He revealed himself as Tom Moran, who had published "God Doesn't Follow You..."

He specifically asked about my story "The Snoop", saying that even though he didn't publish it, the story still resonated with him and he hadn't forgotten it. He asked if I had sold it elsewhere. I told him I had not and he expressed interest in publishing it.

I was very excited, even more so when he asked me to send him a sampling of stories because he might like to pick another. I sent him five or six stories, thinking I might get a couple of magazine appearances out of this.

I was flabbergasted when he responded that he was starting his own publishing company, Sideshow Press, and to start they were rolling out four chapbooks by four different authors that could be bought separately or as a set. They had already signed Brian Knight, Kurt Newton, and Edward Lee. He offered me the chance to be the fourth author.



I had been publishing short fiction and essays in magazines and ezines for several years by that point, and I had been trying to get an actual book out there with no success. And here was an offer to publish my first book just falling into my lap. Talk about right place at the right time.

The other three authors were doing novellas, but since I'm such a short story lover, my chapbook was to be a short collection. Ultimately Tom picked three stories ("Van People", "The Snoop", and "A Laymon Kind of Night") to appear in the paperback edition, with a fourth story ("Out of Print") appearing in the hardcover as a bonus tale. For the title, Tom picked A LAYMON KIND OF NIGHT because that story, an homage to the late Richard Laymon, he felt encapsulated the feel of the tales within the chapbook.

Even after I signed the contract, part of me was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I'd been trying so hard to get a book published with my name on the cover with no luck, I just couldn't believe it was about to finally happen. When it really started to feel real was when Tom sent me the signature sheets and I was signing my name about a hundred times.

One of the greatest joys of my writing career came the day my author copies arrived in the mail and I got a look at my very first book and held it in my hands. The cover art by Tom was wonderful, as were the interior illustrations from Tony Karnes. And that was my name, right up there on the cover.

The book sold well, actually sold out. I didn't kid myself that I was suddenly the next Stephen King, I kept things in perspective, but it was an accomplishment and I embraced it and enjoyed it. Though the Sideshow edition is long out of print, I put out a digital version just to keep it out there.

A LAYMON KIND OF NIGHT will always have a very special place in my heart. It was my first baby, my first experience of having a book all my own with my name on the cover. When I look back at the stories now, they are a little rough around the edges but they were true to the writer I was then. I'm proud of the book.

The digital edition is available here: https://www.amazon.com/Laymon-Kind-Night-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B005C1NQV2/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_18?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471788857&sr=1-18&refinements=p_82%3AB005C18L7Q#nav-subnav

Aug. 10th, 2016

What's In a Name?

Today I was pondering titles. I think titles are a very important part of a story. It sets the tone, is one of the first thing to capture the readers interest or not. As a reader, I have sometimes read a novel and at the end sat staring at the cover, thinking, "What the hell does this title have to do with the story I just read?" I wouldn't say a title is a make or break type of thing, but it can enhance a story.

I tend to like titles with personality. Nothing wrong with a simple straight-forward title (such as almost any title by John Grisham), but I like titles that grab your attention and make you curious. An example, several years ago F. Paul Wilson announced a novel he was calling WELCOME TO NEW YORK, NOW GO HOME. I thought that was a great and attention-grabbing title. The publisher wanted something more generic, and it became COLD CITY. I don't know, to each his own, but the original title would have made me stop at the bookstore and pick up that book. The second one I would have walked right past.

So for the titles of my own stories, I try to pick titles that are reflective of the story but also interesting. I will say, my favorite titles I've come up with are often the ones that have come to me rather spontaneously, as opposed to a lot of thought.

I have some that are very simple and straightforward--THE QUARRY, SEQUEL, OUTCAST--but sometimes I like to take these simple straightforward titles and give them dual meanings. My zombie novellas ASYLUM and FORT are perfect examples of this.

My favorite of my titles, however, I feel are more evocative and atmospheric. If I had to pick my all-time favorite titles of mine they would be THE SUMMER OF WINTERS, OCTOBER ROSES, WELCOME TO THE GRAVEYARD, FLOWERS IN A DUMPSTER and COMPANIONS IN RUIN.

I would love to hear from you guys, what are your favorite titles? Of mine or other authors?

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.

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