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.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mini-Interview With Author Michelle Scalise

Michelle Scalise is a wonderful writer of horror and dark fiction. I just finished reading her collection of short stories called Collective Suicide 
and was amazed. Her storytelling power is heartfelt and wrenching, her characters tragically sympathetic. Her use of language is wonderfully poetic, so it's no surprise she also just had a new collection of poetry come out from Eldritch Press, The Manufacturer of Sorrow. I had the great fortune to read this collection, too, and am very impressed. Both her books are available as ebooks. The Manufacturer of Sorrow is also available in paperback form.

Here is my mini-interview with her.

What are you currently working on? I just finished my poetry collection MANUFACTURER OF SORROW for Eldritch Press. I am now working on new poetry and reading some nonfiction books on WWI possibly for research purposes. I have written one story about that war and I may do another. 
How does your work differ from other writers in the genre(s)? When it comes to my short stories I would say my voice. I write fiction as a poet. I love the sound of words and the emotions they can create. I work on the rhythm of a sentence as if it were a poem while trying to tell an interesting story. My poems more than my fiction are based in my reality. I use horror images to cover up the truth in both but I feel more comfortable looking back at my past in poems. 
Why do you write what you write? I started writing poetry when I was 14. I didn't choose to write in a certain genre. I just write and it comes out very dark. My poetry becomes horror because I go back to unhappy moments in my life. My fiction is quite often ghost stories because that is what I love to read. Ghost are interesting vehicles to use because they may not represent actual spirits of the dead. Sometimes they are moments of regret from our past. Many of my stories can be read either way. As far as my poetry, I don't mind what images the reader takes away from them. I think that is what I love about reading poems. I may write about something in my childhood that no one besides a couple of people in my life would understand but if someone reads it and it holds meaning for them or touches them in any way, I have done my job.
How does your writing process work? I am an irresponsible poet and writer. I know this because my husband writes every day. I have to be moved by something. It can be a word I read or heard in a song for poems. When that happens I have to write the word or sentence down quickly. I have had a line of poetry come to me in the car while I'm alone driving quite often. I have to pull over and copy down the words because I go into a panic and fear I will forget them. As far as fiction, I am inspired by nonfiction books, biographies, documentaries. I wrote a WWI story while watching a documentary about it (something I would normally never be interested in is war). I saw how excited all these British boys were as they went off to war and the reality of what they encountered was so disturbing (I know this happens in all wars). I began to think about artists and how much more sensitive they are. Then I wondered what would happen to a poet if he went off to war. From there I discovered the poetry of Wilfred Owen. All of that combined to influence me. 

       I have to have complete silence when I write and I am more inspired in the fall and winter than in the summer. If there are any changes in my life I can't write. If I buy a new desk, I won't be able to write for weeks. I know that probably sounds nuts but there you go.

Author Michelle Scalise with her husband Tom Piccirilli
Bio:  Since 1994 Michelle Scalise's work has appeared in such anthologies as UNSPEAKABLE HORROR, DARKER SIDE, MORTIS OPERENDI, DARK ARTS, THE BIG BOOK OF EROTIC GHOST STORIES and such magazines as Cemetery Dance, Crimewave and Dark Discoveries. She was nominated for the 2010 Spectrum Award which honors outstanding works of fantasy and horror that include positive gay characters and the 2000 Rhysling Award for poetry. Her fiction has received honorable mention in YEARS BEST FANTASY AND HORROR. Her latest poetry has been chosen by the Horror Writers Association for their anthology HORROR POETRY SHOWCASE:VOLUME I. She has fiction and poetry appearing soon in the best of Dark Discoveries anthology DISCOVERIES: BEST OF HORROR AND DARK FANTASY and the anthology OUR WORLD OF HORROR. Contributing Editor and Senior Reviewer for SFSite chose her first collection, INTERVALS OF HORRIBLE SANITY, as one of the top ten books of 2003. Her fiction collection , COLLECTIVE SUICIDE, was published by Crossroad Press in 2012. Eldritch Press just published a collection of her poetry, THE MANUFACTURER OF SORROW in paperback and ebook in early September 2014. Michelle is married to bestselling author Tom Piccirilli. Visit her online at 


Thank you for reading all about Michelle and her work! Next up is a mini-interview with bestselling horror and crime novelist, and poet Tom Piccirilli.


Wendy Rathbone
author of "Letters to an Android" and more.