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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."

KIMG0201

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

Nov. 23rd, 2014

FOR THE LOVE

I was recently talking with a writer friend of mine who said he hadn't been writing much lately, mostly because poor sales had gotten him down a bit. I know another writer who often gets discouraged because she isn't as successful as she'd like to be. I understand their feelings, I really do. I would love to be able to make a living at writing, I'd love to have my books appear on the best seller's list, but the question becomes, is that why I do it?

And the answer, honestly, is no. I do it because I love storytelling, I have a passion for creating these fictional worlds and people and exploring them. I love indulging my imagination and flexing my creativity. I love that feeling when the story really takes over and takes me in unexpected directions, that's when I know it's really working. When I feel like it's coming not so much from me as through me. I know that sounds hokey, but it's also true.

Don't get me wrong, I want to sell books, I like making money, but to me all that's just gravy. The real reward, the real payment, is the joy and satisfaction I get from the act of writing itself. That is something that I experience whether the story is published or not, no matter how well or poorly it sells.

Now I will promote my books with every fiber of my being, I crave feedback from readers, and I want to entertain those that read my work.

But ultimately I tell stories for myself, because I love it, because it's just so much damn fun! I think that's what keeps me sane and doesn't bog me down when I have trouble placing a story or one of my books isn't selling well. Sure, I wish it were different and I work to get the word out.

But I don't let it dampen my spirit or my passion. Because honestly if I never published another story and never made another cent, I'd still be telling stories.

But it's what I love!

Nov. 11th, 2014

LIGHTS OUT-Illustration for "The Appointed Time"

This is the illustration for November in the 2010 Sideshow Press calendar. Tony Karnes is the artist. This one inspired a comedic apocalypse tale entitled "The Appointed Time."

November

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=1415705750&sr=1-28

Oct. 19th, 2014

That Time of Year Again!

October...my favorite time of year! Autumn just seems to have a special magic in the air that all other seasons lack. The crispness in the air, the blazing leaves that rain down to blanket the ground, the crackling sound of those leaves as feet shuffle through them or the wind sends them scuttling along pavement. It's just a beautiful time of year.

And then of course there's HALLOWEEN! For a horror writer, I of course love the dark spooky pleasures of the holiday, but my love of All Hallow's Eve dates back to well before I was ever writing. I was one of those kids that grew up on horror movies, and I loved seeing all the decorations and the costumes come Halloween. The candy was just a bonus, the eerie atmosphere and the way the public embraced all things horror for at least one night were the real draw for me.

And I've never lost that love of Halloween. In some ways I feel the public has fallen out of love with the holiday. I see less decorations each year, not as many trick-or-treaters, churches trying to divert attention away from the more horror-oriented elements of the night. And this makes me sad...but does not dampen my enjoyment of the time of year.

And I still celebrate the holiday in my own way. Each October there are certain horror films I must watch--Halloween (original only baby!), Halloween II, H20, Trick r Treat, Pumpkinhead, The Blair Witch Project, Sleepyhollow. I try to read Halloween-themed fiction during the month.

And every year I write Halloween-themed stories. Some years it's only one or two, other years as many as five or six. This year I hope to get four Halloween-themed tales completed before Halloween night. I just find it so much fun, and it delights me in a way that touches that child that still exists in me.

As a published author, it also delights me that I've managed to put out a handful of Halloween-themed books. There is DARK TREATS, from Gallow's Press, that collects 5 of my Halloween short stories. They vary in tone and plot, one of them not even being horror in the strictest sense, but they all revolve around Halloween and celebrate the holiday.

Dark Treats

I also have OCTOBER ROSES, from Bad Moon Books, which is a novella set at a college campus around Halloween, about a student who starts to fear she has been possessed by the spirit of a deceased serial killer who is taking control of her body while she sleeps. I have an affinity for college campus horrors, so getting to combine that with my love of Halloween was a joy.

October Roses

In some ways I'm still a kid and hope I always will be. Halloween, I think, will continue to be my favorite time of year, and I will probably continue to write Halloween tales every October. Who knows, another collection could be in the works.

http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Treats-Mark-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B00EUIFBM0/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_19?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1413734700&sr=1-19

http://www.amazon.com/October-Roses-Mark-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B00A2ET2N0/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1413734755&sr=1-8

Oct. 7th, 2014

LIGHTS OUT-Illustration for "The Trick-or-Treaters"

This is the illustration for October in the 2010 Sideshow Press calendar. Tom Moran is the artist. This one inspired a Halloween piece entitled "The Trick-or-Treaters."

October

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=1412721371&sr=1-28

Sep. 28th, 2014

And That's Just the Way it Goes

This little blog entry is going to be about endings.

I have one particular book (I'm not going to name names, and try to be vague, as I don't want to ruin the ending of any particular book for future potential readers) where I've had a lot of criticism of the ending. Most of these people say they enjoyed the book and that they understand why it had to end the way it did...but they still don't like it. Because it's not the happily ever after they were hoping for.

Thing is, I don't think it's an UNhappy ending at all. In fact, I consider it a happy ending...it just isn't the perfect ending where the music swells and the couple rides off into the sunset to live together in bliss forever and ever.

Oddly, when I originally conceived of that story, I was planning a more traditional happily ever after, but once I got into the writing of the tale, it just became obvious that wouldn't work, that the story was taking me in a different direction. Now I could have went ahead and forced in that happily ever after...but it would have felt like exactly that. Forced. False.

I am a big believer that the story dictates its direction, not the author. The author that ignores the demands of the story does so at his or her own peril. All other considerations are of lesser importance. That's why when I write I try to be very attentive to the story, listening to it.

Now that might sound crazy, and it's hard to explain because I honestly don't fully understand it myself. But while I go in with a plan, a blueprint, I always leave myself open to change that blueprint when the story starts revealing itself to me, perhaps showing me vistas I hadn't imagined at the onset.

And that includes the ending. Sometimes a story ends exactly as I had thought it would when I started it, but sometimes the story takes me some place I had never conceived, and my job isn't trying to steer it back the way I originally thought it should go, but instead to follow the new path.

And sometimes that isn't what the readers were expecting, and sometimes this could upset them. I understand and respect that, but ultimately I am a slave to the story, not the reader. After all, if all stories ended the way readers expected, there would almost be no reason to read them.

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