Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A crushing day, and the real reason I do what I do

FAIR WARNING: This blog is not about writing, publishing, or an interview with a literary figure. It is simply something I felt I had to write – it tells you a little about me, hopefully, and a little bit about where all my time has been spent these past three years (instead of writing). It’s long. It’s heartfelt, and if that’s not your cup of tea, feel free to pass right on over. I’ll be back with regular stuff soon.

Saturday was a painful day.

Some of you know I coach a high school ladies varsity basketball team. It's a team of homeschoolers – but let me say up front you probably don't know what homeschool basketball is all about. It is where more of the top high school talent is playing, where more colleges are going to find players, because homeschoolers often play a college-like schedule – 30 to 40 games a season, a fair bit of travel, and national tournaments. Talented players, and their families, are sometimes opting to go the homeschool route for athletics – most notably in basketball.

I began coaching this team nearly three years ago, at the start of my oldest daughter's senior year. A week after practice began the coach quit. At my daughter's cajoling, I offered the athletic director my assistance to whoever might be named coach.

Turns out that was me.

Spending that time with my daughter was a wonderful experience for both of us, and gave me memories I'll cherish always. As a proud father, I have to tell you one of those memories was in the season-ending national tournament we attend each March. We advanced to the final four (in the nation, may I remind you), and, with the final seconds ticking away in that semi-final game, my daughter hit a shot that sent us into overtime!

Here's the thing, though – well, before we get to the thing, let me give an ever-so-brief background on our program.

We work hard on this team at preparing for the season, at doing whatever is necessary to win (within the rules and good sportsmanship, of course). We work and play to win. My first year as coach we were 30-5, won the state title and finished third in that national tournament.

With six seniors graduating, the next season was more challenging, particularly since our team was mostly made up of ninth-graders (and a couple of eighth-graders and a seventh grader thrown in). Our top scorer from the previous year did return, but injured her ACL a week before our first game, so we were behind the eight-ball from the start. Still, finishing 18-17 with one of the youngest varsity teams in the state was quite an accomplishment.

This year, we're still young – a senior, a junior, three sophomores, and the rest freshmen, ninth-graders, and an eight-grader -- so we struggle at times, but our record stands at 22-9. It's that ninth loss which made Saturday so painful.

Sports can be an emotional roller coaster. Little more than a week earlier, we made it to the semi-finals of the regional playoffs, where we squared off with the No. 1 seed in the state. They were on their way to pounding us pretty good, with a 20-point lead in the third quarter, and our prospects were looking bleak. The loser was done for the year, the winner would move on to the regional championship and clinch a spot in the state playoffs.

One thing you need to know about my players – they don't know how to quit. From 20 points down, they stormed back. Fittingly the senior who missed her entire junior year with the ACL injury hit the free throw – with 2 seconds on the clock – that sent the game into overtime, and we went on to win.

I'll never forget at the end of the game seeing her fall to the floor, overcome by emotions, tears of joy rolling down her cheeks.

We continued moving on, winning until Saturday, the day of the state championship, where we faced a team of giants. Our opponent was stacked with seniors, their shortest player is taller than my tallest, and they have three that top out at six-foot or taller. While the game was back and forth for three quarters, we just couldn't hang with them for the entire contest.

Here's where we get to the pain. It wasn't the loss, but afterward, when that same senior came walking off the court. A few steps before reaching the sideline, she went down to one knee and started quietly crying.

What do you do? The other team is lining up to shake our hands, the tournament directors are setting up at midcourt to hand out the trophies, and the two teams preparing to play for the guy's state title are filing from their locker rooms, ready to take over the two team benches. When the game's over, you celebrate quickly, then move on.

This young lady went through hell over the past year. She had two knee operations, months of agonizing physical therapy, and times when she felt she would never make it back.

Yet all season she has been the team's heart and soul, pumping up the others when they felt down, leading by word and deed. She had already tasted success at this level, on that state title-winning team from two years earlier. She put everything she had into leading her team back to the state title game, only to fall short in the end. She was crushed, yet the rest of the world was ready to move on.

What do you do?

As far as I was concerned, that court was going to be ours until my player decided she could stand and walk off. That took a while, but finally, surrounded by her teammates, she stood and we walked off the court.

And that brings me to the “thing” I mentioned earlier.

I love coaching basketball. I love the competitiveness of it, the strategy, the nervousness and energy – particularly when you face a team that outmatches you physically, or when you're going into a major tournament or season-ending championship. I get an even bigger thrill out of watching my players grow up, become more confident on the court, and then carry that confidence into other walks of life.

In the end the wins, the trophies, the championships – we've collected a lot of them over the past three seasons – they mean less and less as time moves on.

But certain events will always be with me – watching my daughter jumping up and down like a kid on Christmas morning, her teammates overwhelmed with joy, when she hit that shot to send us to overtime; then watching those same ladies absolutely crushed when we fell short, losing our long-sought national championship (I spent a lot of time over the next hour with my arm around shoulders, comforting weeping players); watching this year's team – especially that senior I've talked about – be absolutely overcome with joy with that 20-point comeback which propelled us onward in the playoffs, and then consoling her on that court as the bitter realization hit that her dream of another state title was over.

When you share eight months of the year with a group of young people, you grow close, and you feel one another's emotions – joy and pain. That connection, the ability to reach across three decades of age difference, to be a mentor, and a friend – THAT is what coaching is all about.

Several of my former players are playing college ball now, and some on this season's team will no doubt do the same. I keep in touch with quite a few – they drop me e-mails, Facebook messages, show up at some of our games. Whenever we see one another, we strike up a conversation. They keep me up-to-date on how life is going, what their plans are, and I understand them, and they know I do, because of what we've shared.

My youngest – she is 10 – has expressed a bit of interest in playing organized ball next season, and if she does I'll probably help out with the team, but otherwise, this will be my final season on the bench. I love doing it, but coaching at this level is time consuming. I have a demanding full-time job and a family. I've lost family time to coaching, missed out on plenty of sleep (was up until 4 a.m. the night before the state championship, watching video of our opponent) and my writing career has essentially been on hold during this period.

We have the national tournament coming up in March and after that I'll be hanging up my whistle. I'm going to miss it. Already the thought of being away from the game, away from the players, of not being in a gym come August, is depressing. But it's what I need to do, to be with my family more, to resurrect whatever writing career I might have.

Still, I wouldn't trade these past three seasons for anything. The highs and the lows, the emotional connections I've made to these players, knowing I've helped them through those and hopefully taught them a life lesson or two along the way – those are lifelong treasures that nothing could replace, and will be with me long after the wins are forgotten and the trophies are packed away.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Geocaching in the land where horror dwells

I'm really happy to be chatting with Stephen Mark Rainey today, one of the good guys of horror, although an introduction could go on and on, but I'll give you the short version. He has seen nearly 100 of his short stories in print, as well as five novels and three collections of his work. He was editor of the critically acclaimed and award-winning magazine DEATHREALM, has edited three anthologies, and is a confirmed DARK SHADOWS and Godzilla addict.

JOHN: If I recall correctly, your first published short story was “Smiert Galgalith.” That appeared in HAUNTED JOURNAL Magazine in 1987. How long had you pursued writing at that point, and can you describe what it was like to see that first story in print?

STEPHEN MARK RAINEY (SMR): Wow. That one is so old my memory of it is no doubt faulty. Prior to that, I had worked on a series of connected short stories about a giant monster called Pachacutec—which was itself based on a tale titled “Night of the Firebeast,” which I’d written in the mid-1970s, as much for my own amusement as to share with a few other daikaiju fans of my acquaintance. “Smiert Galgalith” was born out of my love for occult-based fiction and was semi-autobiographical, being based on events and the accompanying emotions of my life at the time (I had recently moved to Chicago). Naturally, the plot was driven by my then-favorite motivating premise, “what if supernatural things were real?” I recall being fairly excited when THE HAUNTED JOURNAL published it, though by that time a few other of my stories had seen print.

JOHN: Five years later you wrote your first novel, BALAK. How long before you found a publishing home for that work? Tell me what it was like to hold your first published novel in your hands for the first time.

SMR: BALAK went through at least a couple of drastic revisions before it was published by Wildside in 2000. Better that it did, too, as the original draft was dreadful. In the mid ’90s, a relatively decent draft made the rounds at all the big publishers, of course, and it actually received a lot of positive feedback. One well-known publisher made a tentative offer on the book... and then proceeded to vanish from the face of the earth. That was fairly upsetting. But based on the feedback I’d gotten, I revised it yet again and sent it to Wildside, who picked it up. Of course, it’s a PoD title, but it’s been selling steadily over the years, and I’ve made a reasonable sum from it. It’s just taken a bit longer than if I’d gotten a big advance up front, heh heh. Now, DARK SHADOWS: DREAMS OF THE DARK (HarperCollins, 1999), which I co-wrote with Elizabeth Massie a few years later, actually came out before BALAK. Still, it was all very cool.

JOHN: Can you tell us a little about what moved you to write initially, and how your motivation has changed—if it has changed—over the past 25 to 30 years?

SMR: I’ve loved reading since I was a little kid, and back in those dark ages, everything I read—or watched on television or at the movies—inspired me to write stories of my own, though they were essentially pastiches. Most everything I read or watched was of the scary persuasion, of course, and so I was naturally inclined to move in that direction with my own creative works. I still enjoy the scary stuff, as one might surmise. Of course, as I’ve gotten older, the things that get under my skin have changed, and my writing has evolved to reflect that fact. For instance, it’s harder for me now to focus purely on supernatural themes without giving certain reality-based subjects equal time. To me, the ideal story is one that successfully combines the real with the unreal and you don’t—or barely—notice a transition. I still find it difficult, not to mention undesirable, to abandon supernatural-based fiction altogether. While I have no real belief in the supernatural or trappings of the occult, exploring possibilities within that realm, and doing it convincingly, remains an endless, exciting challenge.

JOHN: In 1987 you began a ten-year effort to edit and publish the award-winning DEATHREALM magazine. I have to say, that was one fine publication—when I first moved to Martinsville, Va., your hometown, I stumbled across the magazine at a book store there and fell in love with it (in fact, I still have two or three editions around the house). Editing and publishing a magazine is such a different skill set than writing, what prompted you to make that leap?

SMR: Lord, I don’t know. Insanity, delusions of grandeur. Something like that. I remember being terribly dissatisfied with so many publications I picked up, be they small or big press. “Jezus, I could do better than this in my sleep!” You know, that kind of thing. I think I decided to put my mettle to the test—to see if I actually could do better in my sleep. Problem was, once I started, sleep became more and more elusive...especially once DEATHREALM got big enough to become more than a one-man job.

JOHN: Not to dredge up any bad memories, but what made you decide to give up the magazine?

SMR: The single most significant factor was Fine Print Distributors going bankrupt. They owed DEATHREALM a substantial amount of money, and even though the magazine kept going for a few issues afterward, it was just too big a bite to shrug off. After a decade of producing the beast, I wasn’t willing to increase my workload to take up the slack, and my publisher, Malicious Press (a partnership consisting of screenwriter Terry Rossio and author Lawrence Watt-Evans), quite understandably, wasn’t interested in spending additional money to keep things going. As it stood, I was already putting in considerably more time, energy, and resources running the business of DEATHREALM than editing and producing it. It was more than a full-time job on top of my full-time job. Something had to give, and DEATHREALM was it.

No, I don’t have any current plans to resurrect it.

JOHN: DARK SHADOWS. You have a well-documented fascination with the old ABC series, and you’ve had the good fortune to be involved in a few DARK SHADOWS projects, including the aforementioned mass market paperback DARK SHADOWS: DREAMS OF THE DARK, which you co-wrote with Elizabeth Massie. Most recently you’ve been doing audio plays set in the world of DARK SHADOWS. Tell us a bit about that process. (How it is different than writing a short story or novel? How did the opportunity to do this present itself?)

SMR: Back in 1998, Beth Massie had learned that HarperCollins’ intended to release a series of DARK SHADOWS novels. Beth had worked with the editor before and was very keen on the project. I happened to be the biggest DARK SHADOWS fan she knew, so she called and asked if I might be interested in collaborating on a novel. When I stopped screaming in excitement, I said, “Sure.” I pretty much had a plot finished by the time I got off the phone with her. It was a long and involved process drafting a story that both HarperCollins and Dan Curtis Productions would approve, but it finally happened. In the end, it’s proven to be a popular novel, and while getting it done was rigorous, to say the least, it was one of my favorite adventures in the land of horror writing.

Writing the audio stories has been enjoyable as well. When I began the process, they gave me a sample script, and I just followed that format when writing my own. The trickiest part was probably getting the scripts wrapped up in X number of pages to fit the prescribed running times. It’s particularly fun to hear the dramas performed by the actual actors from the show. Had I known anything like that was going to happen when I was a kid watching DARK SHADOWS, I would have had a heart attack and died and thus never gotten to write the DARK SHADOWS dramas. That would have been bad, I guess.

JOHN: Where can people find these?

SMR: The easiest way to pick them up is straight from the Big Finish Productions’ website. You can order the dramas on CD or download them. Visit

JOHN: Okay, let’s move away from writing for a bit. I know from your Facebook posts, as well as your blogs, that you are a big geocacher (if that’s a proper term). Can you describe exactly what geocaching is, and its attraction to you?

SMR: Basically, geocaching is a high-tech scavenger hunt. Someone hides a container; anything from a big old ammo can to a magnetic nano (about the size of a pencil eraser). They can be hidden in just about any public area—from hiking trails in the wilderness to urban parking lots—but my favorites are the ones out in the woods. Using a hand-held GPS device, the hider records the latitude/longitude coordinates of the hidden container and then posts those coordinates and a cache description on the geocaching website ( Other geocachers enter those coordinates into their own GPS and go out to hunt the thing. Some are quite easy to find; others present all kinds of mental and physical challenges. I’m especially fond of caches that have me climbing trees, going down in wells, following trails of reflectors through the woods at night, that kind of thing. (There’s plenty of inspiration to be found in this sport for writers of scary stories. Elizabeth Massie has also taken up geocaching, by the way.) It’s been a great thing for me. It got me to quit smoking, lose a bunch of weight, and visit intriguing locations all over the country that I would never have known about otherwise.

JOHN: Favorite vampire not named Barnabas Collins.

SMR: Hmm. At the moment, I’d probably say Damon Salvatore on THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, which, along with TRUE BLOOD, has become my new vampire addiction.

JOHN: Favorite modern television show.

SMR: I’d probably have to say THE VAMPIRE DIARIES because it’s essentially the only broadcast show I turn the TV on for. It’s about the closest thing to DARK SHADOWS since DARK SHADOWS. I’m pretty fond of DEXTER as well.

JOHN: Favorite pre-1990 television show not named DARK SHADOWS.

SMR: THE OUTER LIMITS, I expect. And maybe KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, which I absolutely loved as a young’un. I’ve been watching them all again on DVD in recent days, which has been a treat.

JOHN: Favorite restaurant—you can either give me a specific name, or a favorite type of restaurant.

SMR: Japanese (primarily sushi) and Thai food are at the absolute top of my list. There are quite a few of both in this area that are fabulous. I recently discovered a restaurant called Izakaya Sushi Republic near here, in Greensboro, which had some of the best sushi I’ve ever had.

JOHN: You’re stranded on an island. All you have is a wide screen color television, DVD player, a popcorn popper with plenty of popcorn and butter, and a nearly endless supply of your favorite beverage. Maybe a recliner, too. If you had to choose just one—would you have with you the entire DARK SHADOWS series collection, along with the movies and the 1991 mini-series or a full collection of Godzilla movies (the American and Japanese versions)?

SMR: Wow. Some choice. In some respects I’d prefer the Godzilla movies, but with 1,225 episodes of the original DARK SHADOWS, it would last longer. Not to mention that every second of every Godzilla film is already indelibly imprinted on my brain. If my sequestered existence was going to be a lengthy one, I’d probably go with DARK SHADOWS.

JOHN: Speaking of islands, Ginger or Mary Ann (any readers under age 40 probably have no idea what that’s about)?

SMR: Yes, please.

JOHN: A DARK SHADOWS movie is due out later this year, starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins. Are you thrilled and can’t wait, dreading its release, or something in between?

SMR: I’d like to say I’m thrilled, but at best, I’m merely curious at this point. From the pics I’ve seen of the production—particularly Depp’s make-up—it has all the earmarks of being played for camp. Way back when it was announced, my first impression was that Tim Burton really isn’t the best director for a project like DS. What I’d really love to see is DS made film noir-ish. Or hell, give it to the Coen Brothers! Who knows, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised, but my expectations aren’t all that high.

JOHN: Dream car—what would you be driving if money was no object?

SMR: I think so little about cars beyond my meager means that I’m hard-pressed to come up with anything more intriguing than a sporty BMW, maybe a Z4.

JOHN: Okay, back to writing. If you read some accounts, you’d think it was the end of the traditional publishing world the Mayans had predicted near the end of 2012, at least as far as print is concerned. Have you considered going the e-publish route, specifically self-publishing novels and short story collections?

SMR: I’ve thought about it. So far, not very seriously, although I do have a novella that I may yet consider e-publishing on my own, just to give it a whirl. I’ve gotten into reading a few e-books on the Kindle on my Android phone, which—much to my shock, I confess—is not even slightly uncomfortable. I haven’t broken down and gotten a larger Kindle or other reader because I just don’t want to deal with another freaking device. I suppose I’d like it well enough, but it’s not a high priority for me. Naturally, I still love my paper books. I’m not an avid book collector, but I do like having all those titles on my bookshelves. I like browsing brick-and-mortar stores more than online, at least for reading matter. Granted, there is a lot to be said for the convenience of e-books.

JOHN: What can we expect to see from you over the next year or two? Any projects coming out now?

SMR: The past three years or so have been pretty weird for me. I’ve done some writing, certainly, but life has taken me down roads I never could have begun to foresee. My wife of 23 years and I separated in late 2009, and this past year, the divorce was finalized. Relatively speaking, it was all pretty amiable; still, it’s a traumatic thing, to say the least. We had a lot of years invested in each other. But after the separation, we both got involved in new relationships—which seem to be the ones we’re both -meant- to be in at this point in our lives. I’ve dedicated everything I’ve got to make this one all it can be, and so far, I can’t imagine anything better. Of course, I’ve taken up geocaching, which keeps me physically active. Unfortunately, having a full-time day job at the computer and writing most of the night leads to a hellishly sedentary lifestyle. I couldn’t take it anymore. The down side of my most prolific writing period was that I had gained a lot of pounds, my blood pressure and cholesterol were through the roof, and I was smoking too many cigarettes. I’ve done something about all that. Although my writing output has decreased significantly, sometimes to my chagrin, I’ve never felt more fulfilled. Regardless, over the past couple of years, I’ve had some excellent book releases that I’m very proud of. Dark Regions released my short story collections OTHER GODS and THE GAKI & OTHER HUNGRY SPIRITS. Marietta Books released BLUE DEVIL ISLAND in paperback. Crossroad Press released THE LEBO COVEN and THE NIGHTMARE FRONTIER as e-books, and BALAK and THE NIGHTMARE FRONTIER as audio books. I’ve recently written a couple of Cthulhu Mythos stories for new anthologies edited by Robert M. Price, though I’m not sure of the publication schedule at this point. I’ve just finished a new short story and am plotting another. I’m still around, probably will be for longer than most people care to know about. So there.

JOHN: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us a bit today. If you want to learn more about Stephen Mark Rainey, keep up with his writing, or follow his geocaching adventures, visit him at The Realm of Stephen Mark Raney.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The snow's a fallin'

I’m sitting here watching the snow fall. Some of you know I live in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, and we generally have quite a bit of snow each winter. Up until 15 months ago, we lived in an isolated area, on a gravel road far, far, far off of the highways and it was not uncommon to be snowed in for a few days at a time during the winter. To give you an idea of what the winding, hilly back roads were like, our first winter there, my car slide into a ditch not far from home and I called every tow truck operator in the county. Each said “Oh, I know that road. We’ll come get you when the snow melts.”

In November of 2010 we moved in town (much to my chagrin, it was not by choice we had to leave), but the up side of that is we rarely are snowed in for more than a day. Even with the snow, I’m only a tenth of a mile off of a major road that the highway department keeps fairly clear. This winter we’ve had no significant snowfall – in those past winters, we often had a few 12-inch or greater snows, and three years ago the ground was white from early November until mid-March.
One of my goals is to reach a point where I can write fulltime, from home.  When I get there, snow will be no big deal. Until then, when the white stuff begins falling, my main concern is usually how I’m going to get out for work.
For today, though, I’ll sit and write (well, revise, actually) while the snow falls. I'll concern myself with getting out tomorrow.
On Wednesday of this week I’ll have an interview with author, editor, and geocacher Stephen Mark Rainey. To give you a quick run-down, for ten years Mark edited one of the best small press magazine around, Deathrealm. He’s written a half-dozen novels, including one built on the Dark Shadows mythos, and he’s seen nearly 100 of his short stories in publication. To learn more about his writing career, his favorite restaurant, his preference of Mary Ann or Ginger (for you Gilligan Island fans), and much more about Mr. Rainey, come on back to my blog on Wednesday, Feb. 22.
On the basketball front (remember, I coach a girls high school basketball team), our team went into the playoffs this past weekend. We were shorthanded, with our leading rebounder out sick, and we fell behind the No. 1 seeded team Friday night by 20 points in the third quarter, but my players rallied, sent the game into overtime and won!
Saturday, still short-handed, we gave it a good go, but the team we were playing was huge – two players six-foot or taller, and a couple of others pretty good sized. Again, we fell behind by 18, pulled within six, but fell short. By virtue of finishing in the final two in the regionals, we advance to the final four in the state, where we’ll still have a shot at the state title!
Don’t forget my blog contest this month, giving you the chance to win your choice of a trade paperback copy of the Stoker-nominated Horror Library Vol. 2 (including my story “Extra Innings,”) or a paperback copy of the recently released Night Terrors 2 (including my story “A Mother’s Love.”)
All you have to do to enter is join this blog by listing yourself as someone who is following me, AND leave a comment on this blog at some point during February. Some have joined, some have left a comment, but you must do both!
For those who were already members of my blog before February, all you have to do is leave a comment, here on my blog. At the end of the month, I’ll put all the entries into a hat and draw a winner!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ghosts, goblins and romance: An interview with romance writer Michelle Garren Flye

Michelle Garren Flye is a novelist and short story writing living in coastal North Carolina. While some of her early work dealt with the darker side of life as a horror writer, her novels take a little more sensual, and definitely lighter, tone. Her third novel, Weeds and Flowers, is being re-released today, on Valentine’s Day  
JOHN: I first met you a few years back while hanging out online with a group of horror writers. As I recall, you had a number of short stories published over the years, but you've since moved from writing horror to romance novels. That's quite a change, so the first question that pops in my head is how did that change come about?

MICHELLE: I had a long dry spell in my writing after my second son was born. I'd been slowly moving away from horror, writing more literary (I guess you'd call it) flash fiction. One day I realized I didn't want to write horror anymore, even the pretty gentle ghost stories I'd been writing (and thank you for classifying them as horror). I've always been a romantic, a fan of soap operas and romantic comedies, but more than that I love fairy tales with happy endings. I just decided to go with it and I've never regretted it. I am very glad I spent some time hanging with horror pals, though, and I'm still a big fan!

JOHN: You have three kids, right? They aren't something like a television that you can simply turn off when you need to write. How do you balance meeting their needs with writing?

MICHELLE: I write when I can, where I can. I have an "office", but I tend to write in a big chair in our family room while my four-year-old plays nearby or at a basketball practice or dance class. And I stay up too late way too often when the words are flowing. I almost think the distractions help. I have this fantasy that one day I'll have a whole weekend alone to write. But if I didn't have plenty of distractions, I might just sleep instead.

JOHN: When you're a horror writer, people who read your work sometimes look at you funny, as if they're afraid you're about to whip out the chainsaw and attack. When you're a romance novelist, people sometimes look at you slyly, as if they're trying to figure out if you're writing from experience -- particularly the steamier scenes. You ever get either, or both, of those reactions from people?

MICHELLE: Honestly, I got much weirder reactions from people when I wrote horror. Some people even said, "Wow, where did that come from? You seem like such a nice person." Maybe I don't get any really weird reactions now because what I write now is closer to reality, nobody's questioned me. Or maybe they're just embarrassed to ask!

JOHN: Any particularly funny or embarrassing reactions from others?

MICHELLE: I assume you mean about the sex scenes. I'll have to say no. I've been very upfront about my romance novels. I got kind of uptight about my first one Secrets of the Lotus, so I actually wrote a blog entry about it entitled "28 Days and the Dreaded Subject". I knew a lot of people, including parents, teachers, my family and friends would be reading my novel. I wanted them to know right off the bat that if they read my book, they'd find a sex scene in it and I felt the scene was necessary. (As a sidebar, I'm actually considering inviting some romance and women's writers to my blog to form a sort of panel to address the necessity of sex scenes and how to write a good one on my blog later this month.)
JOHN: There seems to be a hot and ongoing debate between the relative merits of self e-publishing and the traditional route, which includes a pretty rigorous vetting process before a book ever makes it to publication in paperback or hardback. You seem to have bridged that gap - your novels, Winter Solstice and Secrets of the Lotus, represent both. You had to go through the regular submission and editing process common with the so-called legacy publishing industry, yet your publisher is an e-book publisher. Why did you choose this path to publication?

MICHELLE: After I wrote Secrets of the Lotus, I tried the more traditional route of finding a print publisher and/or agent. Many emails and letters later, I felt I had failed. Then I started on small presses and happened across a listing for Lyrical Press. Lyrical Press, at that time, did have a print program but all books went the e-publishing route first. Lyrical has since discontinued the less profitable print program. My next novel will be published in late summer/early fall by Carina Press, the e-publisher for Harlequin, so I guess I'm putting my eggs in the e-publishing basket. I truly believe—now—that almost all genre fiction will be published exclusively electronically within the next decade. I'm sure the bestsellers will continue to have a print market, but with more and more people reading books on e-readers, I think print fiction books will become more and more scarce. Don't get me wrong. I want what all writers want. I dream of having a bestseller, book-signings, a tour, etc. But the print part of that equation is becoming less and less necessary.

JOHN: Your latest novel, Weeds and Flowers is being re-released today. You opted to do the self-publishing thing with this one. Why?

MICHELLE: Weeds and Flowers is very close to my heart. Of my three novels, I actually wrote it first and I feel like it has much more of a story to tell than any of my others. Again, I tried the traditional publishing route, then I even looked for an e-publisher for it. But it's not a traditional novel in a lot of ways. It's written from the point-of-view of a teenage girl, but a lot of the themes in it are too adult to classify it as a young adult novel. It has a mystery in it, but it's not a mystery. It's even got a ghost in it, but it's very far away from horror. And yes, there's a little romance, too. When I failed to find a publisher or an agent for it, I let it sit for literally years on my hard drive. One afternoon I made a decision I didn't want it to sit there any longer, went on Amazon and found out how to self-publish it for the Kindle. I'd never imagined doing that before, but I ended up really enjoying the process. Of course, lacking a professional editor, I found so many mistakes and typos in the released novel, I decided to release a "second edition" (or new and improved version), which is what's coming out today.

JOHN: Okay, some non-writing questions. Mountains or beach for vacation?

MICHELLE: Mountains when I can since I grew up there, but beach when I only have a day or two because it's only about an hour away.

JOHN: For full-time living?

MICHELLE: Beach. No doubt about it, my heart belongs to the coast now.

JOHN: Three favorite movies?

MICHELLE: Batman Begins, The Princess and the Frog, and Pirates of the Caribbean

JOHN: If you could visit any place on earth, money is no object, where would it be and why?

MICHELLE: Bristol, England. I spent a month there with my husband while he was in medical school, but money was definitely a constant worry for us. I'd love to go back and really see it without the limit of that particular worry.

JOHN: Favorite author and why?

MICHELLE: This is a tough one. I admire a lot of authors. Stephen King, for instance, probably knows everything you need to know about writing. Anne McCaffrey has always been a hero of mine. I admire authors like J.K. Rowling, Nicholas Sparks and Nora Roberts for what they've done with their talent. But I guess my favorite writer would be Jane Austen for her amazing understated sense of humor.

JOHN: If you could undo one thing from your past, what would it be?

MICHELLE: Trying to be a sports reporter. I love basketball and baseball and can write competently about them. I faked my way through the soccer season by taking some pretty decent pictures. But when it came time to unravel the mysteries of high school football, I totally embarrassed myself.

JOHN: Favorite restaurant (either by name or by type)?

MICHELLE: Greek. Anything with olives.

JOHN: Okay, back to writing. You started an effort called Helpful Outstanding Novelists, Editors and Others in the Writing Profession, or HONEOWP. Tell us a little about what that is.

MICHELLE: Last year I decided to donate my royalties to charity because I wanted to feel my writing was somehow benefiting the world. Because I don't sell a whole lot of books yet, I decided to set a minimum amount to donate of $25. I also asked my friends to help spread the word, join in, whatever. What I wanted to form was a network of writing professionals working to help each other promote their work and donate to a good cause at the same time. Although I ended up donating several hundred dollars to charity last year and met some pretty great people who tried the HONEOWP thing, it didn't really amount to much. I haven't given up, though. I'm planning to launch another effort later this month, although I haven't totally decided how to do it. If you're interested, stay tuned to my blog.

Incidentally, by asking that question, you qualify to be listed on my blog as a HONEOWP. That's really all it takes.

JOHN: That seems so contrary to what many people dream about when choosing to pursue writing as a vocation, either full-time or part-time. Many have visions of best-seller lists, book signings and fat royalty checks dancing in their head. Your approach seems to be the opposite. Tell us a little about your motivation -- why give away all the money you made on writing over the course of a year?

MICHELLE: I don't write for the money. In fact, unless you're somebody like Stephen King or Nicholas Sparks or J.K. Rowling, you can't afford to write for the money because there's just not that much to be had. I do write in the hopes that some day I will have a best-seller. I want to know enough people have read my books to give some credence to what I do. Otherwise, I might as well stop transcribing the voices in my head and get a real job contributing to society in another way.

That's not to say that the money won't come in as a handy side-effect, though.

JOHN: I know you've focused on novel writing in recent years. Do you still pen the occasional short story?

MICHELLE: Yes, I do. I have three or four novel ideas right now but can't seem to settle down to any of them, so I'm actually working on a short story. A few months ago, I wrote a short story "Life After", which ended up winning third place in a writing contest. You can read it in Hyperink: The Best of All Sins: Stories of Love and Heartbreak, which is available on Amazon in both electronic and print formats.

JOHN: What genre do those tend to fall in?

MICHELLE: Well, "Life After" was pure romance. My current story is a romance with some different elements in it, though. Not sure what it'll end up being at the moment.

QUESTION: Do you intend to continue your focus on novels, or will we eventually see more short stories from you?

MICHELLE: .I love writing novels so much I don't think I'll ever return to writing short stories full time. However, I do still enjoy writing one occasionally and I probably always will.

JOHN: Tell us about your upcoming work.

MICHELLE: My next novel, currently titled The Sixth Fold, will be published by Carina Press this summer/fall, although it may not have that title. It's about the widow of a Marine killed in Afghanistan who moves to her dead husband's hometown to take care of his parents. Here's my unofficial blurb:
Even a broken heart keeps beating.When a soldier dies, his flag is folded exactly thirteen times before it is handed to the next of kin. Each fold represents something, but to one woman, it’s the sixth fold that haunts her, for it represents where the heart lies. Can she be sure her Marine husband’s heart was with her when duty was so important to him? A heartbroken widow and mother of two, Alicia Galloway returns to her husband Ty’s hometown, determined to carry out her Marine’s final wishes. She takes over his ailing father’s business, lives in his childhood home and begins to put her life back together. Ty’s family, neighbors and old friends are ready to help her, giving her the support network she needs. But Alicia soon finds that Ty’s family and friends have secrets, and it’s those secrets that begin to give her some idea of where Ty’s heart was when he died…and where hers is now.

JOHN: Wow, that definitely sounds intriguing. I’ll be looking for that when it’s published. Where can we find your work, both new and old?

MICHELLE: The best answer for this question is to do a Google search. I've still got a lot of short stuff available out there for free (and there's a free fiction page on my blog, too). My romance novels are available at any e-bookstore, including
Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Weeds and Flowers is only available for Kindle on Amazon. If you want one of my better horror stories, try "The Grove" in Horror Library Volume 1, "Squalus" in Tooth Decay, or "Caveat" in Our Shadows Speak
. Those are the ones that really made people look at me funny.

JOHN: Thanks for much for chatting with us today, Michelle. To keep up with her work, visit Michelle's website.

MICHELLE: Thanks for having me here, John!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Say it ain't so: Mr. Techno Phobe now reading a Kindle?

A few years back I came across a few accounts here and there about those little devices called e-readers. Most of you will know them by their brand name, the two most popular of which are the Kindle and the Nook.

I found a few folks online who used them, then I did a bit of research on the new-fangled things. My initial thoughts were that these might be neat little toys for computer-nerds, but they would never really catch on with the general public. Come on, who wants to be reading novels on a little screen? Who wants a supposed book that's nothing more than electrodes on a thin electronic device? Virtually no one is going to give up on the feel of a real book in their hands.

Then I joined the 21st century and got a cell phone. I had it for a couple of years before giving it up this winter for various reasons (cost and simply wanting to be left alone at times chief among those reasons). However, over the time I had the cell phone I found myself using it for more than simple telephone service. I gradually came to rely on the thing for monitoring e-mail. Then I started checking my Facebook account periodically. 

Next thing you know I was using it! Whenever I was stuck somewhere, maybe waiting to pick up one of my kids, or in an office waiting on an appointment, I'd whip it out and check the latest stories on or Fox Sports. If a major news event broke and I wasn't around a computer or television, the old cell phone would do.

So much for not wanting to read on a little screen, huh?

Still, that's a far cry from reading a book on an electronic device, right? Besides, while my family isn't exactly destitute, with five kids in the household we watch our pennies. A Kindle was simply a luxury we couldn't afford.

Just before Christmas I entered a contest being sponsored by writer Michelle Garren Flye and the prize was the winner's choice of a Kindle or Nook. Guess what? I won! I received the Kindle about six weeks ago. In the time since my wife has probably downloaded and read 50 or more novels (she is a voracious reader). My youngest, a 10-year-old, loves downloading and playing games, and she does a bit of reading on the Kindle (there is, however, a dearth of good, modern children's work in e-books.) I've even come to enjoy reading on the Kindle. Since owning it, I've read about four paperback novels, two novels on Kindle, and two non-fiction books on Kindle (I'm a sloooooow reader with a short attention span).

The other night my wife was lying in bed, reading as she normally does before drifting off to sleep. She put down this big old honkin' hardback and picked up the Kindle, then looked at me. “Reading in bed with this is just so much easier,” she said, holding up the Kindle. Then she picked up the hardback. “Reading this big thing is just so awkward.”

So much for the feel of a real book in your hands.

It's no secret, or at least I try not to make it a secret, that I'm now turning my attention from attempting to break into traditional publishing (paperback and hardbacks) to e-publishing. Sure, I'll continue to submit short stories to small press publications, but even many of those have gone to pdf and online formats.

For my novels and other longer works I'm going with e-pub. While I've been kicking around the idea for nearly a year, it wasn't until holding a Kindle in my own little hands, seeing how convenient and easy it is to use, that I've been able to fully grasp onto the idea.

Truth be told, despite my earlier objections (and suffering from a bit of techno-phobia), as a reader I think I now prefer the Kindle to paper.

P.S. Despite my burgeoning love affair with e-readers, I still like paper, so don't forget you can be entered into a drawing for a free trade paperback copy of either the Stoker-nominated Horror Library Vol. 3 anthology by Cutting Block Press or the recently released Night Terrors 2 published by Blood Bound Books. I have a story in each collection, along side some great writers. Remember, in order to enter into the drawing you must join my blog as a follower AND leave a comment on one of my blogs this month. You have to do BOTH. If you've joined the site prior to the start of this contest, simply leaving a comment will enter you.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Show me yours, I'll show you mine

Twitter name that is. What did you think I meant?

Yes, I’m on Twitter now. I’ve resisted for quite some time. No, resisted is the wrong word. Let’s just say I have held no driving interest in pursuing Twitter until now. The first time I heard someone saying they were going to tweet me, I wasn‘t sure if I should be offended or afraid. All sorts of images came to mind, until I learned Twitter was another so-called social medium.

I took a look at it and found a lot of people telling the world what they ate for breakfast, what they decided to wear today, what kind of tooth paste they use, and how often they go to the bathroom every day. There’s enough of that on Facebook, right?

But then I discovered something. There are loads of people using Twitter as a way to keep in touch with family, with friends, and as a means to promote their work. Some come out looking like cookie-cutter tweets auto-generated by some computer, but others really come across as genuine, albeit brief, conversations. I don’t know that you can get to know anyone through Twitter, but keeping track of what they are doing, where they are visiting, what they feel is important, is definitely one step toward learning about them. And for writers (or other business people), there’s nothing like being able to keep your readers (or customers) up to date on your latest work.

And if you follow me, I can keep you updated on some pending publishing news for a couple of my novels, and let you know when some great author interviews pop up right here on ye olde blog!

So now I’m a Twitterer. Are you? My Twitter address is @johnpeterswrite. You can follow me by there by checking out my Twitter feed to the left of this blog.

There, I’ve shown you mine, will you show me yours?

P.S. Don’t forget -- you can enter into a drawing for either a copy of the Stoker-nominated Horror Library 3 anthology or the just-released Night Terrors 2, both of which feature more than two dozen chilling tales (including an offering from me in each collection) for your reading pleasure. Join my blog and leave a comment and you’re entered!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A sweet deal for February

The calendar has rolled around to Cupid's month, and I've got a sweetheart deal for you (yes, that's cheesy, but I just couldn't resist).

I'm going to give away a couple of fine short story collections this month to two lucky readers of this blog.

To qualify, you need to join my blog, and then leave a comment at least once during the month. For those who are already members, just leave a comment on one of my blogs this month and you're entered as well. You don’t have to write a novel, or even a long sentence. I’d like to get your thoughts and reactions to the blogs and interviews, but even a simple “Heya!” will do.

Before we get into the prize, let's take a look at what we have coming up this month -- trust me, it‘ll be worth returning even without the prizes. In addition to my random thoughts on writing, publishing and life (which may or may not be enough of a tease to keep you coming back), I have a few interviews lined up with some folks you're going to want to read.

Among those to be featured are Stephen Mark Rainey (author of nearly a dozen novels and short story collections, nearly 90 published short stories and, more recently, an audio series based on the 1960s era ABC show Dark Shadows); Boyd Harris, owner and publisher of Cutting Block Press, one of the most successful and critically acclaimed specialty presses over the past half decade; romance novelist, mom, and former horror writer (how's that for a combination?) Michelle Garren Flye; and R.J. Cavender, editor of the critically acclaimed Horror Library series and, as of just a couple of days ago, staff editor at Dark Continents Publishing. Folks, that’s a killer line-up, and we might even slip in another surprise or two during the month.

Now for the prize. All those who join the site and leave a comment in February, (or for existing members, just leave a comment), will be tossed (well, their names will be -- it's been some time since I actually tossed a person) into a drawing at the end of the month for your choice of either a trade paperback copy of the Stoker-nominated Horror Library Vol. 3 (follow the link to read some sample pages) from Cutting Block Press or a paperback copy of the just-released Night Terrors 2.

If we get at least 50 qualified entries, I’ll have a second drawing for the anthology not selected by the winner!

The Horror Library 3 features fiction by best-selling novelist Bentley Little, Jeff Strand, Gary Braunbeck, A.J. Brown, yours truly (that‘s me!), Kealan Patrick Burke and two dozen more writers. Night Terrors 2 includes work by Christopher Hawkins, A.J.Brown, David Bischoff, another one of my tales, and two dozen other writers.

If horror is your thing, then you’ll definitely want one (or both) of these. Even if horror is not your thing, you should take a look at these anthologies. They might just redefine what you believe horror is.