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Thursday, October 29, 2015

I'm in Ecstasy!


Today was the official publication date of Winds: A Novel, and I’m ecstatic.

I began writing Winds (working titles “Whispers on the Wind” and “Written on the Wind”) in 1979. The first draft featured Philip Ashur, the main protagonist of a planned series of supernatural fantasies I tentatively titled “Cast Away Stones”. Over the next 35 years, Philip Ashur evolved into the villainous behind-the-scenes manipulator you’ll meet in Winds.

Ashur could astral travel. He learned the precious secret more than 8,000 years ago in the Indus Valley. Philip Ashur wasn’t originally a bad man. In his own way, he was quite heroic. Like all mortals, however, Ashur wanted a way to not only prolong his life but to accumulate incredible knowledge and wealth he could take with into his next lives. Ashur’s fatal flaw was he didn’t care what he had to do nor whom he had to hurt to accomplish his goal. I sought to follow Ashur’s quest for immortality, omniscience, and omnipotence through multiple reincarnations. I think I have done that in Winds. Spoiler alert: Ashur will return next year in Stones.

I pitched the idea to my agent Barbara Puechner in 1989. Barb said she thought Stones and Winds would be my break-out novels. She encouraged me to continue developing those stories. But, she said, editors wanted me to also produce the kind of horror and police procedurals I was already known for, and that’s what I did.

I worked on Winds and wrote a few short stories for anthologies and magazines while Barb took time out to deal with family and personal health issues. Gretta, my wife, also had family and personal health issues in the early to mid 1990s, and I experienced my own health crisis and close brush with death in 1996 and 1997. I didn’t try to find another agent nor attempt to market any of my novels on my own when Barbara Puechner died. I had nearly fifty novels—science fiction, fantasy, horror, westerns, and mysteries—in various stages of completion when Gretta died in January of 2012. If I wanted to see any of those novels in print before I also died, I needed to get busy. I completed twenty 100,000 word novels and began work on several more between January 2012 and November 2015.

4 agents and six respected editors expressed interest in my work, but none wanted to tackle the Winds series. David Niall Wilson at Crossroad Press agreed to reprint my previously published horror novels and short story collections, and David said he also wanted to publish all of my original horror and police procedural novels. I revised those manuscripts and Crossroad Press has been successfully publishing them as e-books for the last two years.

Eldritch Press published Abandoned, the first novel in the Winds-series, in March 2015. I pitched Abandoned as a stand-alone novel to several small presses, and Eldritch was the first to offer me a contract. I wanted to see how Eldritch marketed the book before I offered them the rest of the Winds novels. I’m glad I waited.

Because Eldritch Press did little or no marketing, I revived the 2AM Publications imprint Gretta and I had founded back in 1985. 2AM published Darkness in June, Light in September, and Winds in October. Winds was still in the hands of a traditional publisher in May 2015. The editor loved the novel but the publisher saw no place in their list for a novel with a reincarnation theme. When I received their rejection, I was thrilled. 2AM would publish the novel. If Eldritch Press does not renew their contract for Abandoned, 2AM will publish a new edition of Abandoned late next year.

Likewise, the editors who have considered Spilled Milk for nearly two years without offering me a contract, are out of luck. 2AM Publications will publish Spilled Milk in November 2015.

Some people have cautioned me against publishing too many titles in a single year. When you’re 71 years old and have been writing novels for fifty years and few of your titles are in currently print, you don’t want to wait. And you sure as hell don’t want to use pseudonyms. Been there, done that. I want all of my new books to be published with my byline.

I write every day from 9 AM until 2 PM, and again from 10 PM until 2 AM. I produce at least a thousand words a day of fresh fiction. I write four novels a year with time to do revisions and minimal marketing. Writing has taken over my life.

Although I have had ten new novels appear in 2015, those novels were written long ago and recently revised. I have another forty novels—some in first drafts, many in second and third drafts, and a few in partials with detailed outlines and synopses—in progress. And I have one or two brand new novels on the drawing boards.

I also have a couple of hundred trunk stories I’ll get around to revising for magazines or short story collections.

I have no idea when Damnation Books will publish Deviants. That novel has been under contract for more than a year and no publication date has yet been set.

I have news for all the agents and publishers who said reincarnation doesn’t sell: Reincarnation is the next big thing, bigger even than zombies. During the twenty-plus years that I was a professional hypnotist and past-life regression therapist, I regressed thousands of people who discovered their own past lives. I was completely booked up at conferences, and even today I get people requesting past life sessions every week (I tell them to buy my books instead). True, there are many people who are turned off at the thought that their karma will follow them even after death. The main selling point of Christianity is forgiveness for one’s sins. The fact that one is responsible for one’s actions and must suffer the consequences for everything one does is reprehensible to those people. They’re entitled to their beliefs. I pity them when they stand before their God and must account for what they have done with their talents. They’ll be up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Crying “Forgive me for I have sinned” just ain’t gonna cut it.

Winds is fiction. It’s a suspense thriller. You can read Winds as a stand-alone novel or as part of a series. The same is true of Abandoned, Darkness, Light, Time, and Stones.

I did something completely different with Spilled Milk. Part of that forthcoming novel is written in first person from a female’s POV. Part of Spilled Milk is written in third person from male POVs. Like the rest of my novels, Spilled Milk is not for everyone. It’s filled with graphic depictions of rape, murder, and mutilation and is meant as a cautionary tale. If you’re offended by graphic violence, please do not read Spilled Milk.

Read Winds instead. Then read Darkness, Light, and Abandoned. You’ll be glad you did.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Writer's Heaven


Rockford isn’t known for much that’s good. It’s called “Screw City” for a reason.

 

The Stockholm Inn is very good, and Maria’s Restaurant used to be good. The Ratskeller used to be good, too, and so was the Sweden House. The Stockholm Inn is still in business. The others aren’t.

 

Rockford is known for having an exceptionally high crime rate. It’s also known for having an exceptionally low literacy rate. Anyone see a connection?

 

Rockford used to be known as the “Second City”, second only to Chicago in size, culture, and amenities. Now Rockford has diminished to the fifth or sixth largest city in Illinois. Intelligent people abandoned the town in droves, and more leave every day. Rockford is going downhill rapidly, and no one knows how to apply the brakes.

.

 

Rockford used to support a viable community of writers, poets, artists, and musicians. Most have gone elsewhere, although Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick and poet Christine Swanberg still remain in town and only God knows why. New American Theater closed. The only live theater in town is at the local community college during summer months and at the restored Coronado Performing Arts Center when roadshows come to town. The big box Metro Center—excuse me, the renamed BMO Harris Bank Center—has become a venue for ice hockey and religious festivals and no longer includes a regular schedule of musical performance by big name artists.

 

The annual 3-day and 3 raucous night Labor Day “On the Waterfront” music extravaganza fizzled out and exists only in memory.

 

Rockford used to have one of the finest public libraries in the state. Instead of investing in maintaining the library and increasing its collections, the city chose to build golf courses and sports complexes. Soon the main public library building will be torn down while a new indoor mega-sports center appears on the opposite bank of the Rock River.

 

 

Rockford has no new bookstores other than a few Christian booksellers and one pint-sized children’s bookstore. Borders closed and Barnes and Noble moved out of town to nearby Cherry Valley. Toad Hall, one of the best record and book memorabilia shops in the country, is still on Broadway, but it has deteriorated into a ghost of what it once was. Tomorrow is Yesterday has become more of a gaming haven than a comic book emporium and changed its name to Top Cut Comics and then to Top Cut Central. There is a Half-Price Books discount outlet that opened a few years ago. But they carry only remainders and inventory acquired from bankrupted bookstores.

 

 

I left Rockford and I came back. I left the first time when I went away to the University, but I came back to attend Rockford College when John Bennett and Mary Dearing Lewis and Donald Walhout were teaching there. I left the second time to enter the army and complete my formal education. But, eventually, I came back.

 

Declining home values makes Rockford affordable for low-lifes like me. Rockford’s escalating crime rate provides daily inspiration for crime writers like me. Paranoia and superstition and religious fanaticism fuel the fires of horror fiction. Rockford, Illinois, is a wonderful place to observe entropy in action. In short, Rockford is the perfect place to write.

 

Although I miss brick-and-mortal bookstores, Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com make it easy to buy new and used books from the same computer I use to craft my own fiction. Facebook and Skype allow me to stay in touch with other writers throughout the world without leaving my computer. I can easily access library databases and do research on the internet from the comfort of my own home.

 

Because “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household,” I do leave Rockford to make personal appearances and do book signings all over the world. My novels and stories sell well in England and in Europe and Japan and China. I can hop a commuter bus or airline in Rockford and make connections to anyplace I want to travel. Or I can drive to Chicago’s O’Hare and be there in less than two hours.

 

But I return to Rockford to write. No one here knows or cares that I’m a writer. There are too few venues here to bother about doing local autographings, and the local newspaper and radio and television stations prefer to report on true crime and not the imaginings of home-town boys and girls.

 

Crime runs rampant in Rockford. Gunshots are a daily occurrence. No one here pays any attention to the voice of one person crying in the wilderness.

 

Rockford is known as one of the ten worst places to live in the nation. For a crime writer, it’s one of the best.

 

 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Sandman:Overture is a Must-Have for Comics Collectors


The Sandman: Overture Deluxe Special Edition by Neil Gaiman and JH Williams III (Vertigo, ISBN 978-1401248693, November 2015, $24.99). The working title was Sandman: Zero. Those who remember the grand and glorious days of print publications recall that the first issue of a magazine or newspaper was unnumbered and published only in order to register the copyright or trademark. Such ashcan versions were called Issue Zero.

 

Has it already been 25 years since Gaiman’s The Sandman first appeared in print? Yes, it has. And now Morpheus, The Dream Lord in all his many and varied forms, is back where it all began.

 

Each illustrated page exists as a splash page of color and form, a montage of time and space. Williams’ art is a masterful rendering of Gaiman’s story, heavily influenced by Jim Steranko and Jack Kirby, with a little Peter Max and Andy Warhol thrown in for effect.

 

As the Dream Lord journeys to his destiny, his cat-self follows. On the way they meet a girl-child named Hope who rides upon the dream-cat, symbolizing that hope rides upon The Sandman. The Sandman is both the cure and the cause of the end of everything and he has been since the beginning.

 

There is a little of Doctor Who in The Dream Lord, in his long dark coat and know-it-all demeanor, and the ruby amulet he wears is reminiscent of the All-Seeing Eye of Agamoto in Stan Lee’s and Steve Ditko’s Doctor Strange.

 

Can the Sandman learn to kill? Must he kill to protect the dreaming? If not him, then who?

 

In the beginning was the dream. And the dream became flesh.

 

Dream’s family isn’t much different than most typical modern families. It is dysfunctional and frightening. Father Time. Mother Night. Brother Destiny and Sister Desire. Brother Destruction. Sister Delirium. We all know people like that.

 

Much of Gaiman’s work—Neverwhere, Coraline, American Gods—is surreal, and The Sandman stories are no exception. Time and space are different in Gaiman’s imagination than in reality, though reality and dream often intersect. Gaiman’s storyline twists and turns and so do the illustrations and the words themselves. JH Williams III perfectly captures Gaiman’s vision in these pages. The book is a visual artist’s dream come true, and a must-have for any comics collector.

 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Review of Light by Paul Dale Anderson


TITLE INFORMATION

 

LIGHT

Paul Dale Anderson

2AM Publications (530 pp.)

$19.95 paperback

ISBN: 978-0-937491-15-7; September 11, 2015

 

BOOK REVIEW

 

The ghost of a murdered U.S. Army Ranger plans to thwart a plot to assassinate world leaders in Anderson’s (Pinking Shears, 2015, etc.) supernatural thriller.

 

Maj. Bill Ramsey is dead, but he won’t go into the light until he completes his mission. He’d been in Pakistan to infiltrate a secret base for training American mercenaries. His spirit guide, Vajrapani, a bodhisattva (enlightened being) tells him how to share a body. Ramsey enters the momentarily unprotected (and orgasmically distracted) body of

ex-Marine Randy Edwards, who’s already being wooed by the Worldwide Logistical Security Consultants and Transportation Corporation. WLSCTC is gathering former military personnel and plotting “something big,” which Ramsey hopes to stop. Fortunately, he has plenty of people and entities to help, including Vajrapani and intelligence analyst Deb Johnson of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command. There’s a lot to ponder in Anderson’s novel, which blends abstract notions (like the astral plane) with palpable action sequences, but the author manages not to lose the reader. When Ramsey speaks to Deb, for example, it’s perfectly clear that he’s using Randy’s physical body. In the same vein, many characters are, for various reasons, familiar with bodhisattvas and the spiritual realm, making it easier for readers to accept that Deb and boyfriend Bill Porter can spiritually traverse the astral plane and physically teleport. Reincarnation, too, plays an essential part to the tale and explains why 12-year-old sex slave Anong becomes an efficient ally for the good guys. The story is sometimes a little too conceptual, like the description of spirits who’ve learned “how to manipulate the subtle energies from which was woven the very fabric of the universe.” But Anderson adds rousing elements such as gunfights, the suggestion of a mole inside INSCOM, and surprising connections (i.e., Ramsey knows the man whose body is occupied by Vajrapani). There’s also a bit of suspense; Earl Wright is an unmistakable villain recruiting mercenaries for WLSCTC, but the one(s) actually behind the plan for world domination may be something much more than human—and much worse.

 

Renders spirits and the preternatural realm as tangible scenes of action and intensity.

 --Kirkus Reviews

 

New First Novel from a Writer to Watch


“If I was gonna kill someone, I’d probably read everything I could find on forensics,” says Ben, Sheriff Niko Quintano’s deputy, and that is so very true, not only about psychopathic serial killers but about crime writers worth their salt.

Crime writers need to read everything they can find about forensics, and it’s evident Sue Coletta has. Marred is the first published novel by Sue Coletta, a writer to watch. Sue Coletta includes lessons in forensics in every novel. She also includes keen insights on the failure of human communication gleaned from closely observing human interactions.

Sage Quintano, Niko’s wife and chief protagonist, is not only a best-selling crime writer but Sage is also a crime victim. Sage was brutally raped and nearly killed when Niko and Sage lived in Boston. Niko had arrived home in time to save Sage’s life but not the life of their unborn child. Even after moving from Boston to New Hampshire, Sage carries the scars of the killer’s intrusion on her body and in her mind. Niko thought taking a job as sheriff in a rural area of another state would keep Sage safe and help her to heal. But it seems the killer has followed Sage and Niko and now holds Sage’s twin sister hostage.

Sage’s fatal flaw is the unrelenting shame she feels from allowing herself to be raped. To save her own life—and the life of the fetus growing within her—she complied with the rapist’s demands. She should have fought. She should have screamed. But she didn’t. Sage’s shame prevents her from telling Niko the truth and keeps her from having a sexual assault examination performed that might have identified the killer through DNA; destroys the relationship she once had with her twin sister, Chloe; nearly ruins her marriage; and causes her to drive away her literary agent at a time she needs Jess’ help most. Shame and fear make Sage vulnerable. Vulnerable people tend to compound mistakes.

Niko’s fatal flaw is his failure to protect his wife. He has other shortcomings, too, and his failure to communicate—as does Sage’s failure to communicate—only compounds the situation. Niko doesn’t listen to others the way a good cop should. He seems insensitive to the feelings of others. He refuses to understand the needs of others and thinks only of himself. He needs to change if he wants to save his wife, save his job, and keep his marriage. But can he?

When they were first married, Niko and Sage made a deal. Only one of them would come unglued at the same time. Of course, that didn’t apply when both were under attack and neither could think straight. Niko and Sage both come unglued and, if the serial killer doesn’t kill them first, stress will.

Frankie Capanelli is Niko’s partner. By right of seniority, Frankie should be chief deputy and Niko’s choice to succeed him as sheriff. But Frankie is a bit too informal and unconventional in both her dress and demeanor for Niko’s tastes, and Niko decides to groom Ben to become the next sheriff instead. Ben is the perfect candidate from a male chauvinistic perspective: he wears the uniform correctly, has former military experience, follows orders, and is polite and respectful. But is Ben really what he seems?

Marred is a roller-coaster thrill ride that alternates points of view between Sages’ first person and Niko and Frankie’s third person. Human beings make mistakes, and sometimes they hurt the people they love most. Sage, Niko, Frankie, and Chloe feel hurt, so they hurt others in return.

Marred leaves open the possibility of a sequel. I can’t wait to read what happens next.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Meet a Few Vampires You Never Knew Existed

Seize the Night, edited by Christopher Golden (Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster, October, 2015, ISBN 978-1-4767-8309-3, $18.00, 544 pages) is a horror anthology about vampires. Golden wanted to put the terror back into vampire legends, and he succeeded.

He collected 21 original stories from some of the best horror writers around. Two common themes connect the stories: surprise twists and good writing. You may also be surprised to discover Tony Orlando described as a real dog in several of the tales. Dawn is nowhere to be found.

Scott Smith’s “Up in Old Vermont” is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in its tone. This is unstated horror at its best.

“Something Lost, Something Gained” by Seanan McGuire is beautifully written and comes close to being a true masterpiece. The pacing, the imagery, and the right words in the right place make the story’s opening a joy. Louise—a thirteen year old caught out in a summer storm when her evil step-father had warned her she was getting too old to hunt fireflies—fears the lecherous creep will beat both her and her mother when Lou returns home soaked to the bone and carrying a jar full of fireflies. But Lou rushes home anyway because it’s still her home—the home her real father had left her—and her mother is waiting. The story takes a much darker turn when Lou falls into a rabbit hole, breaks her leg, breaks the jar filled with fireflies, and the broken glass slices her chest and carotid. When Lou dies out in the storm, POV shifts to Mary, Lou’s mother. I only wish McGuire had made the story longer, taken the time and space to more-fully develop the supernatural elements. McGuire does little more than hint that lightning and fireflies, also called “lightning bugs,” have more than a name in common. “Something Lost, Something Gained” is one of the four best stories in this anthology.

“On the Dark Side of Sunlight Basin” by Michael Koryta turns indian legends and an evil man named Medoc into a night terror for a girl who wont say die. “The Neighbors” by Sherrilyn Kenyon is very short with a weird twist at the end. “Paper Cuts” by Gary A. Braunbeck presents a different perspective of history and gives new meaning to the term “Banned Books.”

Charlaine Harris contributes “Miss Fondevant,” a chilling tale about a girl who suspects her teacher of being an energy vampire. Is Miss Fondevant really a vampire? Or is Susan delusional? What will happen when Susan tries to kill Miss Fondevant?

“In a Cavern, In a Canyon” by Laird Barron illustrates why Good Samaritans finish last and also asks the vital question, “What Would Clint Eastwood do?”

“Whiskey and Light” by Dana Cameron is another Shirley Jackson-type/Hunger Games tribute tale. Farmington, a farming community near Stone Harbor, is haunted. Every fall, Farmington residents leave tattooed sacrifices at a mound to placate the resident demon. Animal sacrifice plus ritual blessings from the local priest prevent the demon from devouring the town. This year, however, the priest has died and there is no time to fetch another. To placate the demon, Marr’s sister Jenn is offered. But without the priest’s blessing to confine the demon, the entire town is decimated and only Marr is left alive to kill the demon.

“We Are All Monsters Here” by Kelley Armstrong is the tightest tale in the book, a brilliant rendition of what a vampire story should be. This story alone is worth the price of the book. But there isn’t a single lemon in the entire anthology, and they are all worth a read.

“May the End Be Good” by Tim Lebbon features Winfred, a Roman Catholic monk during the 11th century siege of William the Conqueror. With French troops rampaging through the English countryside, rape and cannibalism have become common. In the midst of so much evil, what can a good man do besides pray?

“Mrs. Popkin” by Dan Chaon and Lynda Barry is just plain weird. But it’s weird in a fantastical way that draws you in before it spits you out. It’s about mothers and children and rabbits. More than that, I won’t reveal. You need to read the story to discover on your own all the horrors hidden beneath a coat of fresh paint.

“Direct Report” by Leigh Perry is a twisted tale about an out-of-work woman executive who finds upward mobility in a new job can be a real pain. “Shadow and Thirst” by John Langan tries to pack too much into a short story, and I got lost several times before reaching the end. Time and space shifts in a maze-like tunnel, plus multiple Tonys, made the tale a bit too complicated for my tastes.

Joe McKinney is the consummate craftsman, and his finely-wrought stories are always a treasure. McKinney’s “Mother” ties together Aztec legends with a sound scientific explanation for a different kind of vampire. When five children are murdered in a small town in south Texas, paranormal investigator Dr. Ed Drinker wants to learn the truth almost as much as he wants to beat arch-rival Charles Marsh to the story. Drinker does learn the truth, but at what cost?

“Blood” by Robert Shearman is a strange tale about a teacher and an underage student on holiday in Paris. He knows it’s wrong, but he’s compelled to do it anyway and compulsion can be dangerous. “The Yellow Death” by Lucy A. Snyder is half-vampire lore, half mythos. It’s about a woman’s strength as she wanders through hell on earth. “The Last Supper” by Brian Keene is a grim tale about loneliness. For so it is written, What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?

“Separator” by Rio Youers takes place in the Philippines after a typhoon and tsunami kill thousands. David Payne, a Canadian real estate developer, believes in the reality of money, not the superstitious nonsense of the local populace. David pays dearly for his irreverence and his sins, of course. But will the sins of the father die with the man? This is another of the top four.

“What Kept You So Long?” by John Advide Lindqvist is an exquisitely devised tale of longing. Longing for blood. Longing for redemption. Longing for another person like you who feels the same longings. The tight writing and final twist make this another contender for my top four picks.

In “Blue Hell” by David Wellington, a young girl is tossed down a well as a sacrifice to the rain god. She had gone willingly to insure rain for the crops her people planted. But she does not drop all the way to the bottom where the gods await. She lands on a ledge that shatters one leg and shakes up her beliefs. At first she is ashamed that she failed to be the sacrifice her people wanted and needed. But when a skeletal creature emerges from the depths to suck her blood, she decides she wants to live. She intends to somehow get out of the cenote and inform her people about the monsters in the well, and to tell them their beliefs are only a bunch of lies. There are no gods in the well to accept the blood sacrifices. There are only monsters and the bones of countless sacrificial victims. The story, told from the sacrificial victim’s POV, is nicely done.

All 21 tales are worth reading. There are all kinds of vampires in the world, and Seize the Night will introduce you to a few you never knew existed before. Definitely worth the read.