Monday, December 22, 2014

New Blog Face, New Poem

I just finished re-designing this blog to make it easier for readers to see at a glance my books (with links on the book covers along the right side) and other wonderful features. Hope you like it! One thing I want people to be able to do is contact me. So that also is an added feature.

On the writing news front: I've finished writing a new novel. The Lostling: Alec's Story will be the third book in my Foundling universe. The first two are The Foundling and None Can Hold the Dark. They are novels set in the male/male romance genre. The Lostling will be out very soon and I'll post here when it's available.

In the science fiction genre, My short story collection Moltenrose is just out. It contains two poems and two stories set in my Pale Zenith novel universe.

I'm thrilled that I have, so far, all 5-star reviews for my science fiction novel Letters to an Android. The private messages I'm getting on this book by readers who don't do reviews are all positive as well. So if you're new to this blog and you're looking for a book by me to try out I recommend this one. If you have a Kindle or a Kindle app (they are free for any tablet or reader) it's only $2.99. Not too much to spend to take a chance on me. All my books are also available in trade paper.

On the poetry news front: I have just sold a new poem to Snakeskin magazine. This one is for their special "monsters" issue so would probably be classified as horror. Upcoming poems will be in the new issues of Apex and Mythic Delirium and Dreams and Nightmares, as well as Asimov's SF in 2015.

My new poetry collection Turn Left at November from Eldritch Press will be out soon. I'll keep updating here as I know more.

I am half-way through a new novel. This one is a vampire novel. Technically, my vampires are vampire-faeries. How to classify? Hmmm. Well, it has elements of fantasy, thriller, horror and romance. So I just don't know. The working title is: Lace. I actually have plans to make this a series of books if all works out.

And now, free for your reading pleasure, a brand new still untitled poem by me.

this December world:
where the moon burns holes in
the setting night
taloned, wild
its scooped face pressed against
the winter window
I am sleeping in a hearth of
blankets while
trees scrape along the lunar edge
sparks and snow and ash

Thanks for reading! Please consider following this blog.

Wendy Rathbone

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Mini-Interview with Author Shannon Connor Winward

I'm thrilled to be presenting another mini-interview on my blog, this time with poet and fiction writer Shannon Connor Winward. Her first chapbook of poetry is out, Undoing Winter, and it's a treasure. (There is a link below to the publisher's site.) She's had short stories and poetry published in various magazines (check out her bio.) I've read her new chapbook and it's just beautiful, with phrases I found myself lingering on. I've also read two of her short stories and I loved them. Her ideas and themes tend toward genre but not always, and I like writers who write outside forms and labels and not just to genre. Ray Bradbury comes to mind when I think of that kind of writer, and though he was lumped into "genre," some of my favorites by him are literary mainstream. Those are my favorite authors to follow because I always know they are delivering works from the heart, the moment, the true inspiration.

And on that note, without further delay, I give you Shannon Connor Winward.

Why do you write what you do?
I'm trying to answer this question without falling down a rabbit hole of self-analysis.  How and what we write is a reflection of our psychology, don't you think?  It reveals our obsessions, what we've been through or where we want to go, our unique languages and landscapes.  So. 

If you were to survey my stuff, you could make some educated guesses about my personal neuroses.  UNDOING WINTER []is pretty representative.  My inner world is a broody, sensual place.  It's Jungian and witchy.  I'm preoccupied with spiritual questions, mythology, symbols.  Womanhood, family, love and loss.  The mind. Oh, and I'm a sucker for ghosts.  I write in poetry and metaphors, even in my prose, because I honestly think that way.  I like to provoke an emotional response.  I worry the flow of language. 
How does your writing process work?
Sometimes the creative spark catches just right and the piece seems to birth itself.  My short story, "Ghost-Writer", recently published in Scigentasy: Gender Stories in Science Fiction [], was one of those.  I started the idea as a mini NANOWRIMO project and wrote it in a day and a half with very little later editing.  The characters sprang like Athena, fully formed from my brain.  Gotta love that.

But that's rare for me.  I call myself a Turtle writer in a world of Bunnies.  That is to say, a lot of my colleagues are rich with ideas and they write all.the.time.  But that's not me.  I can only write when something moves me to.   I try to set aside time to write regularly, give myself goals and prompts - I try to hide from my husband and kids in a dark cave somewhere - but if I'm not feeling it, then I can't force it.  I physically can't write unless I'm emotionally engaged.  So I might nurture a single idea for months, even years. 

My first novel took eight years before I was satisfied.   I've got pieces even older that I tweak now and then, or plan to someday come back to when I've gained some distance or when the idea has had a chance to fully mature.  Slow and steady is maybe not the best business model, but since so much spit and polish goes into my writing, when I'm finally finished with a project, I feel like it's in pretty good shape.

What are you working on now?
Well, I just had a baby this summer – the release date for UNDOING WINTER and my due date were a week apart - so I haven't been as productive as I'd like.  Been, you know, otherwise occupied. That said, I have a lot of work coming out in various journals – fiction in Stupefying Stories and Spinetingler Magazine, poetry in Scheherazade’s Bequest and Kaleidoscope Magazine (a journal put out by United Disability Services that explores the experiences of disability through the arts).  Locally I've been promoting the chapbook as well as an anthology that I'm close to, SOMEONE WICKED: A WRITTEN REMAINS ANTHOLOGY []. And I'm shopping around a novel [].

But as for new work, I'm enjoying a sense of newness, reading a lot, and experimenting.  I just got back from a writing retreat sponsored by the Delaware Division of the Arts.  I went with nothing in my creative queue and came back with a few pieces and renewed motivation.  Somewhere in between washing cloth diapers and attending IEP meetings, I'll get right on that!
How does your work differ from others in the genre?
I call myself a lit-spec writer because my work straddles both realms but doesn't fit squarely in either.  My writing is broody and character-centric, which is a hard sell in genre circles, but in the genre tropes that traditional lit journals tend to be wary of. 
I also favor less overtly-genre themes; I play more with folklore, mythpunk, weird fiction-ish stuff than with straight-up sci-fi or fantasy (though I write that, too). 

What's most distinctive, though, is that I'm compulsive about holding things back (which is funny, because in person I'm pretty straight-forward; especially if you get some rum in me).  I hate literature that over-tells; as a reader I like to think and dig and chew and make discoveries, so I tend to write that way.  There are a lot of layers in what I do.  Symbolism, unreliable narrators, subtlety to the point of opaqueness.  I absolutely require beta readers to tell me what just isn't making sense, where I need to expound.  My most common response is "yeah, I'm not really… sure… what's going on here?"  In an era when quick is king, my kind of writing can challenging to place, but I'm okay with that.  I write what I love, and I know there are people out there who love the same things.  Eventually my work finds good homes, and that makes me very happy.
My bio:
Shannon Connor Winward is an American author of literary and speculative writing. Her stories have been published or are forthcoming in Stupefying Stories, Spinetingler Magazine, Scigentasy, Flash Fiction Online, Plasma Frequency Magazine, PANK, and The Vestal Review, as well as in genre anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic. Her poetry appears widely in such venues as Pedestal Magazine, Strange Horizons, Fairy Tale Magazine, Literary Mama, Hip Mama, Star*Line, Illumen, Ideomancer, and Dreamstreets, and in the SFPA’s 2012 Rhysling Anthology of Rhysling Award nominees.

Shannon recently earned Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest for short fiction, and as an emerging artist in literature by the Delaware Division of the Arts. Her debut poetry chapbook, UNDOING WINTER (Finishing Line Press), was released in 2014.  Shannon is a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and the Written Remains Writers Guild.  She lives and writes in Newark, Delaware.


From Wendy:
I would like to add that I really enjoyed doing this interview from Shannon. Her use of the term "unreliable narrator" most especially hit home with me. I realize not only do I love that kind of story/novel, it is a recurring theme in my own writing: the amnesia victim, the stranger, the alien, etc. And the fact that she went out of her way to say she writes "character-centric" means I will be peering at her now and again through the future to see what new and wonderful things she's doing.

Thank you, Shannon, for this wonderful interview!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Moltenrose is Done...and Other News!

I finally finished the corrections on my companion book to my science fiction novel Pale Zenith. The book is called Moltenrose and contains one novella, one story and two poems set in the Pale Zenith universe. I'm so happy with the result. I think the cover looks great. Click on the title above and it will take you to the Kindle page. It's also available in paperback.

On the sales front, I just sold two poems to Mythic Delirium and one poem to Apex.

Last Thursday, November 6, 2014, I attended a book signing event for the anthology A Darke Phantastique, edited by Jason V. Brock. I have a story in this anthology called "I Keep the Dark that is Your Pain" and so I was invited as an author. It was a great honor to be there and I had a great time.

Other authors in attendance for the signing included: William F. Nolan, Joe R. Lansdale, Dennis Etchison, Nancy Kilpatrick, Gini Koch, E.E. King, Cody Goodfellow, me, and of course Jason Brock and Sunni Brock. George Clayton Johnson also made an appearance, and although he is not in the book he is talked about in the introduction. For the uninitiated, Nolan and Johnson are best known as the author duo who wrote Logan's Run. George Clayton Johnson also wrote tons of the best loved episodes of Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Star Trek, and more .

The attendance for the signing was impressive. There was standing room only. Possibly 40 - 50 in attendance over a period of two hours. There was a wonderful cake with the cover of the book on it, and wine!

My friends Kelly Dunn and Stephen Woodworth showed up and it was wonderful to see them.

Most people may not realize that book signings do not often generate much hoopla unless one is pretty damn famous and/or a bestseller. The fact that many people showed up for this was a treat for me, and I do credit it to Nolan and Johnson (though very frail now) showing up. Also, Joe Lansdale has a pretty big rep. So it helped that some "bigger" authors are in the anthology.

Right now the anthology is available in a limited edition hardcover. Only 350 copies were printed by Cycatrix Press. Later it will come out in paperback from Hippocampus Press. As an ebook enthusiast, I hope it eventually comes out in that form as well.

Also, this anthology is HUGE. It's over 700 pages. (When the paperback comes out it may end up being two editions, part one and part two.) I have started reading the stories in it and I am loving it.

My story in the anthology is about Love and Chaos personified, commitment, betrayal, and all that good stuff.

My next projects include: More poetry (always!) A collection of some of my vampire short stories which I have re-titled Bitters. I am also in-progress on a new novel called Lace.

If you are reading all this and not bored yet, you can always find more info. about me, all my books, and updates on my blog at my Amazon author page.

And as a treat for getting this far...I offer a new poem.

Post Dusk

fleeting light…
new night hunches with its
burden of stars
its recipes for moon-curved clouds
rejecting all mortal shape
all its winds crying
up into the voids
to lash themselves
to galaxies storming
in their dazzles of dream

Friday, November 7, 2014

Mini-Interview with David Lee Summers

About two or three times a month I do mini-interviews of authors who have crossed my path. It's a lot of fun and I enjoy hearing other author's views about their books, why they write, what it is that sparks their creative passions.

Today I give the page over to David Lee Summers who has an impressive list of novels he's written, as well as short stories and poems. He has also edited several anthologies. I'm honored to interview him on this blog. He has a lot of interesting books so please check out his author page on Amazon.

Here are David's answers to the four questions I always ask:

Why do you write what you do?

In short, I write the stories that I'd like to read but don't find often enough to satisfy me.  For example, I loved both The Wild Wild West and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. when they were on television, but I didn't find many other westerns with that kind of retro-futuristic vibe.  So, I set out to write my Clockwork Legion novels Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves.  They tell how Russia's airship fleet invaded America in the wake of the Civil War and how a healer woman and a former sheriff formed a resistance against them. What's more, I have a real affinity to both the west and the technology of the nineteenth century.  Pat Garrett, the man who shot Billy the Kid, is buried a quarter mile behind my back door and I pass the turnoff for Tombstone, Arizona every week on my commute to work.  In addition to writing, I'm an astronomer working at Kitt Peak National Observatory.  My first job in the field was at an observatory on Nantucket Island, observing variable stars with a nineteenth century telescope that tracked the sky with windup clockworks.  I published two research papers in the 1980s from data obtained on that equipment.  In a very real way, writing western steampunk is writing what I know.

How does your writing process work?

My process is very much like the ones storytellers use.  Before I sit down at the keyboard, I visualize the story and get to know it almost as though it's a series of events that actually happened.  That way, when I type, it's like I'm relating a series of events and I'm not worried about basic plot.  I'm free to embellish details as I need and try to figure out why someone took an action.  As it turns out, I have a five-hour drive to work.  Fortunately, I only have to make that drive once a week, but this process of visualizing stories is a way that I can put that time to good use!

What are you working on now?

I'm working on the third book in the Clockwork Legion series, The Brazen Shark.  The healer and the sheriff are swept away by pirates and learn that Japan is pretty worried abut Russia's imperial ambitions.  Did I say I write what I like?  I'm also a big fan of Akira Kurosawa and anime.  I'm sure you'll see plenty of those influences in this new book.

How does your work differ from others in the genre?

I think there are two things that set my Clockwork Legion novels apart from other steampunk novels.  First, I want even the most outrageous gadgets to feel like they could have been built.  This gives my books a more retro science fictional tone than some steampunk, which feels like Victorian fantasy.

Second, my books reflect the multiculturalism of the southwest.  Historically, Billy the Kid spoke Spanish and Japanese farmers helped to cultivate New Mexico green chile.  Latino, European, Asian, and Native populations often competed, but sometimes cooperated.  I wanted to write steampunk where being a white male wasn't a prerequisite for being a dashing hero, a mad scientist, a bounty hunter, or an airship pirate.

 A list of my novels is at:
Info about my short stories and poetry is at:
Thank you, David, for this wonderful interview!

David Lee Summers is the author of eight novels along with numerous short stories and poems.  His writing spans a wide range of the imaginative from science fiction to fantasy to horror.  David’s novels include The Solar Sea, which was selected as a Flamingnet Young Adult Top Choice, Vampires of the Scarlet Order, which tells the story of a band of vampire mercenaries who fight evil, and Owl Dance, which is a wild west steampunk adventure.  His short stories and poems have appeared in such magazines and anthologies as Realms of Fantasy, Cemetery Dance, and Apocalypse 13.  In 2010, he was nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling Award.  In addition to writing, David edits the quarterly science fiction and fantasy magazine Tales of the Talisman and has edited three science fiction anthologies: A Kepler’s Dozen, Space Pirates and Space Horrors.  When not working with the written word, David operates telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory.  Learn more about David at
Thank you to David for taking the time to share his thoughts! Look for more interviews later this month.

Wendy Rathbone

Friday, October 31, 2014

Autumn Poetry -- Happy Halloween!

In the newest issue of Star*Line, the poetry magazine of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, contributing columnist Denise Dumars writes at the end of her piece: Write a formalist poem 
about autumn that does NOT mention falling leaves, bones, October/November holidays, Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino, or similar tropes. Oh, and it has to contain the color blue.

I do not use any of the list of words she has forbidden. And I succeeded in putting the color blue into it. But she did say no to "similar" autumn tropes. Well, I used the words: skeleton, moonlight, be it. And I don't write formal verse except for haiku and very very rare moments of rhyme so this is not a "formalist poem." But anyway, not one to pass up an autumn poetry challenge, here is what I came up with.

Happy Halloween!


I write to you
so many pages of mist
of winter suns
of sea foam

in this poem
are jars of dusk
and smoke
icicles in moonlight
shimmering skeletons

trees spill coins
at this edge of the year
this poem
alights in your eyes
all the silver days

I write to you of an older season
breathing its iron river-scent
of rain and lichen and chrome-blue stars
drunk on toadstool wine

this poem conjures
sweet long nights
phantoms of alabaster and lamplight
floating by
competing with the fog

of all the wind-dreamt evenings
I write to you
where the fields snap with frost
and the air’s voice
the coldest secrets of the dead

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mini-Interview With Author/Poet David C. Kopaska-Merkel

Welcome to yet another author mini-interview for my blog. And welcome David C. Kopaska-Merkel.

David and I have known each other through mail and the Internet since the 1980s. He has also been kind to publish a lot of my poetry in his wonderful poetry magazine Dreams and Nightmares. That magazine's 100th issue is coming out soon, complete with color cover, and I am honored to have a poem within it. I'll announce here and on Facebook when it is out. In the past, David and I have also collaborated on poems together. That was a great experience.
Last year I read (and reviewed for Star*Line) his collection Luminous Worlds from Dark Regions
Press. Because David has written so many books, I heartily recommend this one as a good sampling, a great place to start if you have not had the privilege of reading him before.

And now, on to the interview!

David C. Kopaska-Merkel

Why do you write what you do?

I don't usually plan ahead. I write what comes into my head. I have ideas that knock hard to be let out. I like science fiction and fantasy, so that's what I write. I made up stories and poems for my children when they were small, so I write those things too. One thing I set out to write, deliberately, is the daily poem. These are usually haiku and they are usually about something that is in my presence. That is how haiku are supposed to be written, at least traditionally. I do try to write for themed issues and such, but sometimes everything I come up with just doesn't fit.

How does your writing process work?

I sit down to write, and sometimes something intelligible comes out. If I think I might be able to improve it, then I fiddle with it, adding commas and taking them out, wholesale reorganization, that sort of thing. Quite often, I decide the avenue I'm following is unfruitful. At that point I either start over with a piece of what I've got in front of me or abandon it altogether.

I have an online writing group. Each week we propose words and then the idea is that each of us will write a poem using some or all of the words. I find this is a good way to get started writing. Also, if you really try to use all the words, the challenge encourages creative thinking.

 What are you working on now?

I am working on a second book of children's poems. The Edible Zoo was written for my children, nieces, and nephews when the oldest ones were only a couple of years old. They really liked the funny poems about people and animals trying to eat each other, and over the years when more nieces and nephews were born, and another daughter, I added poems. Eventually it was published and a couple of them bought copies for their own children. So recently I wrote a silly children's poem about an animal (it wasn't being eaten). I read this poem to my other writing group (this one is local). Several members are pretty serious and accomplished writers. Anyway, everybody liked the poem, so that's my new project: write some more.

How does your work differ from others in the genre?

I don't know how to answer this question. I am one of several science-fiction poets who includes a fair amount of science in some of their poems, and I am the only one of these who is a geologist (as far as I know.) In many of my poems a viewpoint character struggles against a hostile or uncaring universe. Sometimes I feel sorry for this person. But does this set me apart from most other speculative poets? I don't think so.

Bio: David C. Kopaska-Merkel

When not writing poetry, David Kopaska-Merkel studies the varied and strange part of the Earth called Alabama. Kopaska-Merkel has written myriads of poems, stories, and essays since the 70s. He won the Rhysling award (Science Fiction Poetry Association) for best long poem in 2006 for a collaboration with Kendall Evans. He has written 23 books, of which the latest is Luminous Worlds, a collection of dark poetry from Dark Regions ( Kopaska-Merkel has edited Dreams & Nightmares magazine since 1986. DN website @DavidKM on twitter.


Thank you so much, David, for taking the time to answer my questions. Look for future interviews with more authors on this blog.

Wendy Rathbone

P.S. Below is David's complete bibliography! Check it out.

Poetry and fiction books by David C. Kopaska Merkel

Contact information: 1300 Kicker Rd, Tuscaloosa, AL 35404 205-553-2284

1.      underfoot, the runaway spoon press, 1991, ISBN 0-926935-60-7, 2nd printing ($6)
2.      a round white hole, dbqp press, 1993, a few left, available from author ($5)
3.      The Conspiracy Unmasked, Dark Regions Press, 1994, out-of-print
4.      hunger, Preternatural press, 1996, out-of-print
5.      Results of a preliminary investigation of the electrochemical properties of some organic matrices , Eraserhead Press, 1999, out-of-print
6.      Y2K survival kit, smoldering banyan press 1999, out-of-print
7.      The Ruined City, gnarled totem press, 2003, out-of-print
8.      Shoggoths, Sam's Dot publishing, 2003, out-of-print
9.      The Deadbolt Casebook, Sam's Dot publishing (fiction), 2004, out of print
10. the egg show, speakeasy press, 2005, ISBN 0-9762962-0-9 ($40, entirely handmade including the paper)
11. I don't know what you're having, Sam's Dot publishing, 2005, out-of-print
12. Separate Destinations (with Kendall Evans), D66 Press, 2005, ISBN 1-892958-02-3, a few left, available from author ($7)
13. Hasp Deadbolt, Private Eye, Sam's Dot publishing (fiction), 2007, out-of-print
14. Drowning Atlantis, (flash fiction), 2007, out-of-print
15. The memory of persistence, Naked snake press, 2007, out of print
16. Nursery Rhyme Noir, Sam's Dot publishing, 978-09821068-3-9  (fiction; incorporates 9 and 13), 2008, 2nd printing, available from author ($14)
17. Night Ship to Never (with Kendall Evans), diminuendo press, 978-0-9821352-3-5, 2009, out-of-print
18. The simian transcript,  Banana Oil books, flash fiction, 2010, a few left, available from author ($8)
19. Brushfires, Sam's Dot publishing, poetry, 2010 ($9)
20.  The Tin Men (with Kendall Evans), Sam's Dot, poetry, 2011 ($9)
21.  The Edible Zoo, Sam's Dot, children's poetry, 2012, available from author ($10)
22.  Luminous Worlds, Dark Regions Press, 2013, ISBN 978-1-937128-92-0

Available from the author (except 10 & 22); prices include shipping. Make checks out to author.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Beneath the Blue Dusk and the Sea

Lots of new stuff going for me and I'm enjoying every bit of it.

First I have a new book out, a collection of short stories, half new, half previously published in various anthologies. The collection is called Beneath the Blue Dusk and the Sea and was great fun to put together.

The collection contains 8 stories and 8 poems.
All the poems except one are brand new, never before published.

Next, I have designed a new cover for my science fiction novel, Pale Zenith. I'm quite happy with it. Much better than the first.

New cover for Pale Zenith
And speaking of Pale Zenith, I have one short story and one novella, both set in that universe, that I am now re-editing. They will soon be put out in a book which will be a companion book to Pale Zenith. The book will be called Moltenrose, and I am finalizing the book format now.

Another project I am working on is a collection of some of my previously published vampire short stories. The book will be called Bitters and I plan to have it out before the end of the year with a nice, enticing cover!

And not to be forgotten, my new poetry book, Turn Left at November, will be coming out from Eldritch Press in November of this year. I'm very excited and as soon as I have a cover to show I will post it here.

I have plans to begin a new novel. Nothing specific yet because, well, I'm a seat of the pants kind of writer. I write "into the dark" and that is why I enjoy it so much. I have found, after much trial and error (and some success) for decades that giving myself permission to just play on the page (and never to someone else's expectations or specifications) has produced some of my best work.

You know, people have accused me of "having stars in my eyes" because I say I enjoy writing. Some people don't even "trust" writers who say that. But I've worked long and hard at my craft, more than 30 years of practice, millions of words. I'm no newbie. I have created an environment both physical and mental that is like a writer's toybox wherein I lift things out and play all day (when my travel-for-work season is over,) losing all sense of time. If I'm doing it all wrong, so be it, I don't care. I've spent years unlearning so many writer-myths that I could write books just about that. As a result of all that, no more blocks, self-censorship, self-criticizing. This is for me. I work at the craft I love stress-free. Any sales to magazines, anthologies and publishers I've made is, really, just the extra cherry.

If you have read this blog before, you know I write poetry ALL THE TIME. So here is the first part of a four part poem about rain I wrote last night. (I mostly write just before I go to sleep...sometimes I fall asleep with my journal pen in my hand.)

I Am Rain

haunting the window
wanting into
my mind
to slide its cold-moss thoughts
helm my dreams
liquid and alive
letting clouds walk into me
for awhile
I’m a shattered lake
drifting on
mouths of air
I contain
shimmering mirrors
pools where the moon laps me
briefly unfolding its wide circle
to let me see inside
I hear
the lone weeping of stars
as I fall

More free stuff: For today only (Oct. 27, 2014) my erotic romance The Foundling is free on Kindle until midnight. Enjoy!

Upcoming: I will be at Mystery and Imagination Bookshop in Glendale, CA for a book signing at 6 P.M. November 6, 2014. The signing is for the long-awaited iconic anthology A Darke Phantastique edited by Jason V. Brock. My short story "I Keep the Dark that is Your Pain" appears within.

My next blog will be an interview with the wonderful poet David C. Kopaska-Merkel.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mini-Interview With Maria Alexander

In continuing my series of mini-interviews with fellow authors, today's focus is on Maria Alexander. Maria and I share room in the anthology Mutation Nation, where her horror story, "Nickelback Ned," is collected. You can also find this story in her collection, By the Pricking. We actually met at a book signing for Mutation Nation. She is a quick-witted, enthusiastic, sparkling personality.

She is also a wonderful poet and screenwriter.

Her first novel, Mr. Wicker, was just released in September from Raw Dog Screaming Press.

Here are her answers to my questions.

Maria Alexander

1. Why do you write what you do?

Writing is like possession. I let a story ride me like the loa until the spirit is done with me. But why did a particular story take over my life? And why did it have such deep emotional resonance that I can't let go of it? I can't say. I suppose darker stories inhabit me because I am pretty spooky in general. Do I sometimes make choices about projects? Of course. But when Papa Ghede wants to get hitched, that cigar smoke is the sweetest perfume on earth. I can't resist it. Mr. Wicker was born from a specific incident in my life that was quite bizarre yet powerful — so powerful, in fact, that I've carried it with me all these years. But I'm not telling that origin story in interviews or on my blog. Rather, there's a puzzle at the end of the book trailer:

If you solve it, you will embark on a journey that reveals the story as you go.

2. How does your writing process work?

Normally, an idea strikes and I can't stop thinking about it. If I'm in the middle of another project, I finish that project before moving onto the new idea. (Often, the new idea needs time to "bake," anyway.) Soon, the skeleton of the story lies before me, including and especially the ending. There's usually something cathartic about that ending, which I think is why it's so important for me to write the story (getting back to the first question). I start with 3 x 5 cards if it's a book — which it is almost always these days — and I look for structure first. Are my opening, midpoint and climax in place? I used to be a screenwriter, so I'm very conscious about structure. I usually have a firm idea about my main character, but the others are more fluid. I start writing, trusting that, even if I initially don't like what I put on the page, I'll eventually come up with something much better.

3. What are you working on now?

I just finished writing Snowed, a YA novel in a dark trilogy. I'm currently researching and outlining the second book, Inversion, as well as querying agents. The first book has gotten such a wildly enthusiastic response from my beta readers — almost all teenagers and their mothers who couldn't put it down — that I feel confident it'll soon find its way into readers' hands.

4. How does your work differ from others in the genre?

I cannot for my life come up with a story about zombies, werewolves, vampires, witches or any other popular trope. I suspect that, if I could write about zombies in particular, I would have had a much bigger career by now. I've thought about this quite a bit, but it's just not in my creative DNA. I do have one published vampire story ("Veil of Skin"), but the original version had no real vampires at all. For years, I couldn't sell the story until I turned this one character into a real vampire rather than a person in a costume. I have written about ghosts, but most of those tales are based on my real-life personal experiences, of which I've had many; that might be different from most authors who write ghost stories.

For me, I tend either to twist existing myths or come up with my own creatures and mythologies. If there is a trope that I've embraced at all, it's the psychopomp. An example of that is "The Dark River of His Flesh," a story that first appeared in Paradox: The Magazine of Historical and Speculative Fiction. Set at the dawn of Queen Victoria's reign, it's about a man grief-stricken by the suicide of his illicit lover. One night, a mysterious link boy leads him to an absinthe bar that magically changes location every time he visits. The absinthe drinks allow him to see his dead lover, but they're also leading him somewhere increasingly hellish with each visit.

So, that's how my stories might be different. I just hope people enjoy them. Thanks, Wendy!


Maria Alexander is a produced screenwriter, games writer, acclaimed short story writer, virtual world designer, award-winning copywriter, interactive theatre designer and Bram Stoker Award-nominated poet. Her debut novel, Mr. Wicker, is now available from Raw Dog Screaming Press. Library Journal gave it a Starred Review. Publishers Weekly calls it "...(a) splendid, bittersweet ode to the ghosts of childhood."

When she's not wielding a katana at her shinkendo dojo, she's being outrageously spooky or writing Doctor Who filk. She lives in Los Angeles with two ungrateful cats and a purse called Trog.


Thank you to Maria for doing this interview!

Next week I will interview the poet David C. Kopaska-Merkel.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Old Moons Bespectacled from My Childhood

I’m going to talk a bit about poetry.

Okay, okay, don’t shrink back in horror; don’t fake a fever. It’s a total myth that poetry is hard and boring and uppity.

Here’s proof that you encounter it every day and ENJOY it.

The obvious one is in music. Lyrics (even bad ones) are poetry. People have favorite songs they sing in the car, in the shower, to their puppies. Guess what you’re doing when you do that? You’re belting out poetry!

You see it everywhere. Greeting cards. License plates. Advertisements employ it. It may not be great poetry but it’s accessible and memorable (and who’s to say not great?) Sample of one of the best: Raid kills bugs dead. It’s got it all, a strong action verb, horror and a great end delivery.

Poetry gets harder when it employs too many words that confine it and distract from the point, when it uses difficult words (who wants to go to the dictionary every three seconds?) and when it rambles self-indulgently, with too much self-consciousness and without a sense of self control. Mostly this stuff is avoided by the masses. Even the classics. And what about classics? Just because it’s labeled as one does not necessarily make it something you must like or define as good. That’s up to each individual. You don’t have to be a Shakespearean scholar if you don’t want to be. You don’t have to snobbily say you love Spencer’s “The Fairy Queene” or Milton’s “Paradise Lost” if you really can’t relate or understand. If you truly like them, that’s fine. If you don’t, you don’t. You can still love poetry. There are no rules. Simply, if you don’t like it, change the channel. Screw what the critics say. Thinking you must like something because critics or teachers say it’s good or else something is wrong with you is...well, wrong.

I’ve been writing poetry since age 12. I’ve been reading it, too, everything I can get my hands on especially when I was younger. Confession: I only really love about 10 percent of everything I’ve read. I’ve read a lot. I majored in Lit./Writing at UCSD. Believe me. I’ve been exposed to tons of it. And I'm grateful for that background because education is about discovering what you love and don't love.  But loving only 10 percent of poetry means that I am “meh” about 90 percent of it. That’s a huge lot of poetry! And yet, I am a poetry lover. I love it, I write it, I sing it, I read it. When I find the good stuff that makes my heart grow three sizes in one day (yes, even Dr. Suess was a poet,) I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

My brain is trained to think in the language of poetry. I trained it that way. I think maybe I was born that way but I forget. My mom is credited here with helping me 'think' maybe I had it all along because she read to me and my brother when we were little. Some of what she read to us was children’s poetry from “gardens of verses” and “treasuries of poems.” Even at age four they filled me with so many feelings. My mother reading to us ignited the poet in me even at that age. I never forgot that. Later I exercised that poetry muscle by training. I did it on purpose because that was how I wanted to be and think. The best training was when I discovered translations of ancient Japanese and Chinese poetry. Those poets really knew how to write a poem, a real poem about heart, feeling, longing, life, the Earth, the skies, love…but without being super obvious about it. Their poems truly stand the test of time. They taught me that instead of saying “I cried piteously” to look for an image that might 'show' that instead of telling. Like: “my sleeve is wet with tears.” Those poets, and their more natural styles, taught me about complexities in simplicity and I read them over and over again.

After college I started over in my poetry writing, banning rhyme and form (my choice; form is not for me except haiku, but others make different choices and love form and that’s okay!) I realized I am more moved, shattered, amazed by little events, personal and seasonal, than I am by world events. So my poems are not about anything so grand as politics and world order. I am a dreamer and my dream worlds are odd and alien and escapist. And that’s okay, too. I have feelings inside for which there are no proper English words. So I think of images to convey them. Put all that together and I end up filling my journals with lines like these which I posted to a friend’s Facebook page today:
leaves fidget in the sunset streets
pressure of gold winds
I wade
deep cool trails of ghosts
no one can see the thousand distances
that inhabit my October veins

Sometimes I might throw in a starship or robot or vampire (instead of the ghost) because, well, I truly never grew up. Weird? No. Remember: no rules. Everyone is free in poetry to do their own thing. It’s not about being published or acclaimed, it’s just about opening up to an authentic self and true wonder unencumbered (as much as possible) by the outside programs and expectations of others that can ruin everything. You like leather and lace, toss some into your poems. You like bluebells, sprinkle in those, too. You like zombies, same thing. Snails, leaves, porn, picket fences or pickles.

Whatever you love, that's what you should write. Maybe I keep writing the same poems over and over again; maybe my stuff is truly self-indulgent. But I don’t care. It’s like the best drug.

I’ll end with a poem I wrote talking about what I write. I’ve written tons of poems like this. But this one gets to be here today because it is most recent…like five days old.

Interviewer: Describe Your Poetry

My answer:

I have written of
the old moons
   bespectacled from my childhood
drifts of meteor ash
all the gold and crackling grasses of Earth
bodies of light
empyrean seas
crests of star-waves
stygian mermen with tongues of salt
all the relic Decembers
all the tomorrow worlds
   airless and so silent they roar
the owl determining night’s depths
glazed-green lightning
the sorrow of storms
strange and ridiculous voids
ghost winds crying
ghost moons trailing frail light
the dreams of star-riders
spinning torn from the sun

Wendy Rathbone, author of the poetry collection, Unearthly,  as well as the novels Letters to an Android, Pale Zenith and more.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mini-Interview with Tom Piccirilli

Tom Piccirilli is a writer of horror, thrillers and crime novels.

Back in the 1990s, Tom and I used to correspond a lot. His enthusiasm for writing is contagious. He is a true writer, dedicated and always learning, a real craftsman. He is one of those rarer writers who understands that stories are about people first and foremost. His characters are interesting, different, tragic and sympathetic. He lets them tell their story and the reader is pulled in.

I just finished reading A Choir of Ill Children, one of my favorites, filled with interesting characters and poetic writing. With 25 novels and uncounted short stories sold, I believe he has mastered, and continues to master, the art of the written word.

He is also a poet with a brand new poetry collection just out, Forgiving Judas, from Crossroad Press.
 I just read it and highly recommend it.

Here are his answers, brief but eminently wise, to the four writerly questions I always ask.

1. What are you currently working on?
A novel that's as much a family drama as a murder mystery or a revenge story.
2. How does your work differ from other writers in the genre(s)?
Hopefully they'll dig my characterization and voice more.
3Why do you write what you write?
Crime fiction is an older man's game. Horror and fantasy are a young man's bag. You create a world instead of working in the real one.
4. How does your writing process work?
I write until I find myself a quivering mass of jelly.

Bio: Tom Piccirilli is the author of more than twenty-five novels including A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN, SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, and THE LAST KIND WORDS.
He's a four-time winner of the Stoker Award, two-time winner of the International Thriller Award, and has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award, and twice for the Edgar Award. Marilyn Stasio of The New York Tims Book Review called THE LAST KIND WORDS, "A caustic thriller...the characters have strong voices and bristle with funny quirks." New York Times bestselling thriller writer Lee Child said of Tom's work, "Perfect crime fiction...a convincing world, a cast of compelling characters, and above all a great story" And Publishers Weekly extols, "Piccirilli's mastery of the hard-boiled idiom is pitch perfect, particularly in the repartee between his characters, while the picture he paints of the criminal corruption conjoining the innocent and guilty in a small Long Island community is as persuasive as it is seamy. Readers who like a bleak streak in their crime fiction will enjoy this well-wrought novel." Keir Graff of Booklist wrote, "There's more life in Piccirilli's THE LAST KIND WORDS (and more heartache, action, and deliverance) than any other novel I've read in the past couple of years." And Kirkus states, "Consigning most of the violence to the past allows Piccirilli (The Fever Kill, 2007, etc.) to dial down the gore while imparting a soulful, shivery edge to this tale of an unhappy family that's assuredly unhappy in its own special way."
Tom Piccirilli and his wife Michelle Scalise

Much thanks to Tom for doing this interview for my blog!

Wendy Rathbone, author of Letters to an Android, Pale Zenith, and more.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Writing Updates and Other FUN Stuff!

Lots of writing stuff going on for me quite suddenly.

Turn Left at November

Last week I posted on Facebook that I sold a book of poems (54 poems) to Eldritch Press, entitled Turn Left at November. I'm very excited about this. While I have sold/published hundreds of poems since my very first sales all at once to Aboriginal SF, Star*Line and Dreams and Nightmares in my mid-20s, I mostly still write them only for myself. For years I actually stopped marketing them. This year I stepped up to the plate again. It's been very rewarding. Here's a link to Eldritch Press.

Nice site! While it looks very horror oriented, in truth my poems in the collection cross all genres from soft horror, soft sf, seasonal, emotional-driven and mainstream. I don't write to genre. I write what I feel like writing in the moment and I am inspired by all different genres. The poetry editor at Eldritch was not put off (and I feared he would be.) Instead, he thought my cross-genre tastes would mean my book would appeal to a wider readership. Consider me flattered.

I always thought not "writing to genre" hurt me as a writer. I think in the traditional pro publishing venues (like the big NYC publishing houses) it did because despite the "myth" that they are gatekeepers of great literature, really they mostly looked at books as widgets and how to market them. If your book was hard to categorize they did not know what to do with you no matter how good the writing was. It also meant I couldn't even get agents who actually liked my work to bother with me because they already knew in advance that the marketers at publishing houses wouldn't know what to do with me.

Take my science fiction novel Pale Zenith as an example. Years ago, respected agent (and former editor of Asimov's SF) Shawna McCarthy actually loved the first draft of that novel. But she did not represent it because, she told me, publishers were looking for more traditional sf, and not the "type" of book I had written. I don't know what "type" of book I actually wrote. It takes place in two alternate universes. It has inter-dimensional travel, psychic warfare, and machine thingamabops that travel through time and dimension called spychiatrists. Definitely sf. But it also is a character-driven novel BIG TIME and it has violence and some explicit sex. Well, so does every other Hollywood blockbuster. But the characters are first and foremost my focus. Everything else is background. The writing is lush...but definitely not over-written. Shawna suggested I do a prologue to orient readers into the book. I did it. But it's my least favorite part of the book and I've considered in future printings to edit that part out altogether. It tries to make the book more traditional but you know what? 'Traditional' is not always such a great word.

My point: A darn good, well-written novel got shelved (after making the rounds to two more agents, both male, both of whom insulted me) and would still be there if not for this new world of publishing and unique encouragement to break old traditions by small press and indie publishers (Pale Zenith is published, by the way, by Eye Scry Publications.)

So back to the original topic, Turn Left at November: I want to thank Eldritch Press for taking me on with my cross-genre poetry, for being able to "see" more in depth, that there are varying shades to 'the dark', and being open to that.

Letters to an Android

My newest book, Letters to an Android, is really getting some nice comments from readers. Some are posting reviews, but most are just letting me know privately...they can't put this poetic, soft sf, character-oriented book down! I have also gotten compliments on the world-building, the likable characters, the writing...pretty much everything about it. It's hard for me to "toot my own horn" so to speak, but this really makes my year!

But the problem remains: finding readers. Finding those who will take a chance on someone they don't really know. I've been around for years, publishing a lot in genre magazines in the late '80s and all thru the '90s before I took a long break. Some people remember. Most don't. But I'm not whining. I'm thrilled to have any readers. Just sayin': marketing is a tough, tough job.

So I'm going to put it out here on my blog with no deadline in place and no date that this offer expires: If you wish to review Letters to an Android for any website, blog, magazine, newspaper, or other venue, just pop me an email ( telling me where you'll review it and when and I'll send you a pdf. At this time, I can't send paperbacks. It's too expensive.

However, if you just want to read for pleasure, for yourself, and have a good time, the ebook is real cheap on Amazon. It really isn't much to gamble to try it out, plus if you're not sure, the look-inside is free. If it doesn't hook bad.

Here is some artwork I found that captures the essence of my main human character in the novel, Liyan (I pronounce it 'lion') at age 20, just before he goes off to travel the stars at the book's beginning. Except for the uniform, which is white in my novel, this artist captures the eccentric scenario, mood and emotional foundation I was going for throughout the book. (Alas, I've tried to contact this artist many times to see if she does commission book covers but she does not answer.)

More writing news abounds, but it will have to wait for another post.