Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Meet an Uncanny Writer! Gregory Miller!


I have known Greg Miller for at least a decade. We may have first met when I worked at a music store and through conversation we discovered that we had a bunch of people in common, who are all fabulous and we both appreciate. Sharing such good taste in people, of course we became friends. Another thing we have in common is our passion for writing.

Mr. Miller is also a super-smart teacher-man who I know to be witty, sweet and quirky. I mean all of those things in the best possible ways.

He has authored several collections of short stories that take place somewhere called "Uncanny Valley." They are loosely connected and provide a rich, textured tapestry of an odd little town, indeed. I would describe Greg Miller's stories as deceptively simple and utterly elegant. Just be careful when reading that you do not get lost... the valley swallows people...

The Interview

Q) What’s the best/worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

A) Best: Don't listen to anyone who says it can't be done. Worst: You'll
never make it.

Q) Favorite punctuation?

A) The question mark.

 Q) Towns or cities? Why?

A) Towns. More intimate, better mysteries.

Q) Writing wardrobe?

A) Everything from anything to nothing.

Q) What were you doing right before I started asking you a bunch of inane

A) Watching "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."

Q) What’s on your desk right now?

A) Pens, photos of my boys, cough drops, an "Empire Strikes Back" DVD, a
Ray Bradbury book (of course), a printoff of my new novel, an owl
feather (long story), and a half-empty root beer.

Q) Favorite food thing of the moment?

A) Indian food. Always Indian food.

Q) Favorite form of writing to do? Short story, novel, etc..

A) Short story. As Ray Bradbury said, "I'm a sprinter!"

Q) Baseball cap or top hat? Why?
A) Top hat. You can keep more stuff in there.
Q) I you could collaborate on a project with anyone living, dead or
 imaginary, who would you pick?

A) Ray Bradbury. And amazingly enough, we actually did do a
collaboration on a small project. The dream came true.

Q) Tell us about your current creative project/s.

A) I'm looking for a new publisher to reprint my two collections of short
stories and my framework novel-collection "The Uncanny Valley: Tales
from a Lost Town." I'm also hoping that publisher will be interested
in the prequel to "The Uncanny Valley," "Darkness in the Valley: An
Uncanny Dossier," my first full-blown novel.
*Follow Greg Miller on Twitter  @greggymiller
*Check out his amazon author page here http://www.amazon.com/Gregory-Miller/e/B002RH1R8I/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1361887840&sr=1-2-ent

*Books will be available from the original publisher http://www.stonegarden.net for a month.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Meet A Rocker of the Written Word: Dario Ciriello: Author, Editor and Indie Publisher

You know what's awesomesauce? I'll tell you. Dario Ciriello is awesomesauce. Not just because he published my novella Fork You in Panverse One. (http://panversepublishing.com/ ) but because he's doing some pretty brave and amazing things.

One of the brave and amazing things that he does is guide the helm of a ship called Panverse Publishing. He's making a go of being an independent publisher at a time when the publishing world is in constant flux and its future uncertain. Well, at least the future of publishing in its current, mainstream form is uncertain. In my (humble, very far away from the center of things so take this for what its worth, opinion) independant publishers like Panverse Publishing represent the future of the publishing industry.

These are risky times, but they are also wildly hopeful times. From chaos comes order, change, new beginnings and that is the bet Dario is brave and amazing enough to make with Panverse. As an author who has been published by Panverse I am excited for my editor, publisher and friend. The story-loving world needs folks like Dario who has an eye for fresh, unique storytelling that is also high in quality. I've been blown away by what I've seen in Panverse and I'm honored that my name gets to be included on the list of folks who've had their work published there.

Okay, so enough Squee-fest from me. Meet Dario and squee for yourself. (Yes, I know. Shut up.)

The Interview

Q) When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

A) I was a late developer. I didn’t really feel the call until the mid-90s, in my early 40s. I’d written a few things before that, particularly a dark one-page piece written when I was eight or nine which could have been penned by a young Poe or Lovecraft. In my teens I discovered the Conan the Barbarian books and tried to channel Robert E. Howard. The results were predictably awful. But in the mid-90s something finally clicked, and I began, slowly, hesitantly to succumb to my Muse’s call.

Q) How did your love of the written word expand into the desire to become an editor and publisher?

A) I always loved novellas—a format particularly suited to SFF stories—and was disgusted at the dearth of venues among the SFF magazines. This led me to start Panverse Publishing, which originally only published SFF novella anthologies. (And of course you and I met when you sent me your own hilarious novella, delightful “Fork You”, for “Panverse One”).

Q) Best/worst piece of writing advice you've ever received?

A) The best may have been Gardner Dozois’s advice to, “be audacious.” The worst may be “show, don’t tell”—not because it’s wrong, but because the distinction and definitions between the two are very, very relative, a minefield of qualifiers and exceptions.

Q) What's on your desk right now?

A) I’m working on copyediting the upcoming Panverse novel, “Divinity and the Python” by Bonnie Randall, an extraordinary and powerful supernatural quasi-romance where the chief characters are an old morgue and a night club.

At the same time, I’ve just started outlining and character work on my own second novel, which is going to be dark and scary and (I hope) quite unusual.

Q) What has surprised you about publishing?

A) How extraordinarily hard it is to sell books.

Q) Sentence fragments or semi-colons?

A) Yeah, both; love ’em. Colons too: they rock.

Q) What were you doing before I started pelting you with questions?

A) Smoking, drinking, and cussing.

Q) Snowballs or mud pies?

A) Snowballs, every time.

Q) What does Panverse offer readers and writers that can't be found anywhere else? (Aside from awesome you, and my novella “Fork You” in “Panverse One”, I mean.)

A) I’d like to think that Panverse stands out for stories that are about something, that take risks, that aren’t formulaic. I also believe we have some of the flat-out best cover art in the business, indie or traditional.

Q) What principle guides you the most strongly as an editor?

A) At the risk of sounding pretentious, Truth. Both in my own writing and in selecting a manuscript, I want a story that feels true to life, that isn’t breathed on and crafted to the kind of cookie-cutter conformity found in so much genre fiction. A story with quirks, with theme, with characters that feel like real people.

Q) Bunk beds or water bed?

 A) Bunk beds! I love bunk beds!! Especially when they’re in a Wagon-Lits first-class sleeper compartment rumbling through snow-covered Alpine passes in the small hours of a freezing December night.

Q) What can you tell us about your community of support?

A) I’m very fortunate to have an incredibly supportive wife and some terrific friends. Without those, I’d have given up long ago.

Q) What are your thoughts on social media as it pertains to writing and publishing?

A) It’s a necessary evil.

Q) Favorite monster?

A) (laughs). That’s a great question! It would have to be the traditional Dracula, accompanied of course by a cohort of sexy, voluptuous, and very hungry lady vampires.

Q) You've written both fiction and non-fiction (I am referring of course to the newly released “Sutherland's Rules” and “Aegean Dream”). What are some of the key differences you've experienced in the process (aside from the obvious)?

A) Aside from the obvious, actually, not much. (Laughs). The upside of fiction is that you can tweak and change it to your will. The downside is the need to invent everything from (more or less) whole cloth. In my nonfiction book, “Aegean Dream,” a true memoir of our year on the tiny Greek island of Sk√≥pelos (the actual “Mamma Mia!” island), I was very fortunate to have a true story which already contained all the elements of a novel. If it hadn’t, or the subject matter had been drier, it would probably have been much harder to write.

Q) Favorite flavors of the moment? (Here, I am referring to food.)

A) I’ve been cooking a lot with chorizo lately. It’s especially awesome (teamed with rice and onions and small cubes of good cheddar) in roasted stuffed red peppers.

Q) Team sports or exercise?

A) I hate team sports—actually, sports, period. I do exercise, and like to walk and hike.

Q) If you could collaborate on a project with anyone living, dead or imaginary, who would you pick?

A) A writing project? It would have to be Mark Twain. He’d be impossible and wouldn’t want me near him, but I think we might have some synergy. But if you mean any project, I think I’d like to work with Queen Victoria and Benjamin D’Israeli on World domination.

Q) Grill or campfire?

 A) Ooh, both. I love grilling, but I’m serious wilderness backpacker, too. Most years I take a 4 or 5 day solo trip up into the High Sierras, where I stagger about at 10,000 feet and clear my head and heart from the dross of what we laughably call civilization.

Q) Tell us about your current and upcoming creative projects.

A) Right now all my energy is devoted to promoting Panverse Publishing and our authors. As well as “Divinity and the Python” (mentioned above), there’s “Channel Zilch,” a wild SF caper; “The Bone Flower Throne,” an Aztec Fantasy novel; “The Sparrow in Winter,” a Dark Ages Romance; and a nonfiction/self-help book titled, “No Wonder You Feel Like Crap!”.

 As if that weren’t enough, there’s my own work. “Sutherland’s Rules,” a caper-thriller about two old friends in their sixties risking life and liberty on an insane and highly illegal adventure, came out a couple of weeks ago and is starting to get a lot of great reviews. It takes a lot of work to get a book noticed, so I’m going to take this opportunity to ask your readers to go check it out and read the free excerpt as soon as you leave the Spotty Blog!


 Upcoming also is my own WIP, which I work on first thing every morning for a couple of hours, is that it features parallel storylines—one starting in the 1920s and a contemporary one—ritual magic of the nastiest sort, and a long-dead and very disturbed Nazi colonel who’d once been given a sinecure command on a small Greek island just to keep him out of the way.

Somewhere in between all this, I find time to eat, sleep, work out, and have a life.

*You can also check out Panverse Publishing's facebook page here:

*You can follow them on Twitter as @Panverse

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

So I wasn't going to do this today, make mention of Valentine's day in the Spotty Blog. Today was for rewrites on Road to Nowhere, reading Patton Oswalt's Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, and business as usual. But then the interwebs hove into view and reminded me that it is, indeed, February 14th and that today is a day about love.

It is easy to be snarky and cynical about Valentine's Day. Is it about the vapid marketing of cards and chocolates and an idealised version of romance? Sure. If that's what you choose to see. I would like to argue that it is possible to reclaim it, re-envision it and talk about love differently.

In the interests of full disclosure, I love the fun, rebellious notion of anti-Valentine's Day celebrations. Dr. Ham's Big Stinking Anti-Valentine's Day Show absolutely delighted me. (Of course, Dr. Ham managed to find a guy who does the most spot on Christopher Walken impersonation I have ever heard anywhere and had that guy address me on the air guaranteeing that I would be delighted. I still have no idea who this person is, and Dr. Ham will not budge. Damn it!)

But there can be more to it.

Love exists in myriad forms, not just the sparkly, gooey confectionery kind. Love of family, friends and pets. Love of art, film, books. Love of people. Love of abstract ideas. Love of food. Love of indoor plumbing. I'm pretty sure my dog has an intense love of all things that smell of meat. So why not celebrate that? Appreciate that which you love, that you are loved, or maybe if you don't feel so loved, appreciate that you have the capacity to love.

Go forth and love.

Sounds obvious, and possibly trite, but there it is. Love is important.

If there was one thing from the interwebs that made me want to make mention of the day in a non-snarky way it was a gentle reminder in my facebook feed from poet and activist Dora McQuaid about the One Billion Rising event meant to raise awareness in order to stop and prevent violence against women.

Saying no to violence seems to me a pretty awesome way to express love.

You can read the reminder I read here: http://strategicstiletto.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/rise-my-love-and-be-my-valentine/

And you can find out more about Dora here: http://www.doramcquaid.com/

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In Praise of the Beta Reader

In a recent conversation it was mentioned that writing can be lonely work. I would argue that writing is not necessarily lonely work, but it IS of necessity solitary work. I know. Semantics. But what can I say? This is an important distinction to a person like me, who loves solitude as much as she loves a good party. I don't feel particularly lonely when in the process of writing.

There is a point in the process when interactions with other humanoid-type creatures are required. No creative project comes to fruition and gains an audience (no matter what size) in a vacuum. I'm talking about the point when I am done with that first draft (and the obligatory first round of self-edits so as not to completely embarrass myself with the next part). I refer, of course, to the point where a manuscript must be presented to the Almighty Beta Reader.

I am strongly indebted to my Beta Readers. That first set of eyes to view a nascent piece of work will catch mistakes that as the author I can't see because I'm too close to the piece. This is true for things like grammar and typos (typing yams instead of yawns, for example) as well as content, consistency, structure and plot holes. A fresh set of eyes on the work at the right stage of the process can be the difference between a story that works and a story that fails. Ultimately, the beta reader tells the author what is not on the page but that should be. (Sometimes, it turns out to be the reverse of that statement, but you get the point.) The main thrust of this is that birthing a story requires help. A writer's community has an importance that is often overlooked. Okay, so that community isn't awake at 3am writhing in sweat-soaked dreams about whether or not you have made the right word choice, but the community will offer you a towel with which to wipe your sweaty forehead, and possibly a glass of water with which to replenish your fluids.

For a first draft, I can't let anyone have input until it is finished. It's just the way it seems to work for me, personally. If you are a writer who is a planner that might not be the case. You already have your story and all of its components firmed up, so that if a comment wants to derail your plot, you have no worries and it may provide food for thought rather than set your story spinning in directions it never wanted to go.

I'm more of an exploratory writer when it comes to a first draft. I have to know what the story is about and where I'm headed with a piece but I count on the writing to reveal the details as I go, which is why I'm so protective of the first draft process. Until I am certain of the fictional landscape and its characters feedback can actually hurt the process of creation. So, know what kind of writer you are and where in the process it is safe to show the invaluable beta reader.  But we all need those readers.

For those of you who've helped me along the way, I would like to say thank you, and please enjoy a river of chocolate and waterfall of wine from me to you.

One thing I'd like to mention when it comes to presenting work to your beta-reader is that it can be highly beneficial to you and the saint who has offered to spend time looking at your Not-Ready-For-Public-Eyeballs work to let that person know what your questions are regarding that work. I don't always know where a story is lacking, but usually there are a few areas I have concern about. I like to let my beta-reader(s) know about those areas of concern. Help the beta-reader help you, I say. (Okay, so really that's the first time I have said that, but you get the point.)

So, who else out there has praise for beta-readers, or has been a beta-reader and wants some praise? Or has a few thoughts they'd like to share on the topic? Talk to me. I'll be lurking.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Categories Player Interview the Twelfth: Dr. Ham


Dr. Ham is a man of many medicinal machinations regarding ham. (Or I could be making that up.) A radio rapscallion, a man of varied interests, a lover of music, sci-fi, horror, comics and beads, Dr. Ham invented the ritual of the Punishment Song, which is a song played to torture anyone who makes a request during his radio show who is not paying attention to the theme or format of the show. The show and the Punishment Songs happen on Friday night at WRKC during Dr. Ham's Dance Party. ( http://wrkc.kings.edu/ ) I suspect that folks request things that are out of format on purpose because the Punishment Songs are hilari-awesome. (I know that I do.)

People of the interwebs! I present to you Dr. Ham.


Q. How do you use awesome sauce?

A. I use awesomesauce as lubricant on my evil scientific devices.

Q. Winter or Summer? Why?

A. Winter, because the snow brings the wolves, and I could use some watchdogs here at Castle Ham.

Q. Favorite clothing item?

A. My top hat.

Q. What were you doing right before I started asking you a bunch of inane questions?

A. Feeding the zombies some macaroni and spleen. They love it!

Q. What started your interest in radio?

A. It gave me something to distract me when I went through a dark period (DARK PERIOD!!!) where none of my inventions and evil schemes were working. Plus, I hear it's a good way to meet the chicks.

Q. Favorite thing about Dr. Ham's Dance party?

A. That I can play different formats of music, the station powers-that-be don't bother me about it, and some people actually like it. Which is good, because most of the music people listen to is crap. Hopefully, Dr. Ham can change that.

Q. Favorite beverage of the moment?

A. Grape soda mixed with milk. I'm also very fond of Yoo-Hoo.

Q. What is your current favorite escapist pleasure?

A. Building giant robots and then letting them run amok on some poor unsuspecting city. Oh, yes, I also enjoy collecting weird old movies.

Q. Favorite musical moment?

A. That's a tough one. There's probably a couple -a)meeting Robyn Hitchcock at the Scranton Cultural Center, b) Seeing and meeting 3/4 of Talking Heads at Webster Hall, c)Seeing Faith No More with a then unknown Helmet at the F.M. Kirby center, d)Seeing and meeting Eilen Jewell at the Mauch Cunk Opera House, e) Seeing the Cramps in concert, f)getting dragged onto stage by Mike Ford of Moxy Fruvous during a performance of "Spiderman" at the Wetlands.

Q. Favorite source of protein?

A. Gyros!

Q. Tell us about your current creative project/s.

A. Building an army of zombies and giant robots to take over the world (if those two lab mice don't beat me to it first!), doing my anti-valentine's show (Feb. and continuing February's music format of goth, industrial, and new age, followed by folk-rock in March. I'd also like to set up a FB page for the show at some point soon.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Categories Player Interview The Eleventh: Jen Violi


Jen Violi is a Portlandadian. Oregonista. I met her cyberspace via a person I know from the long and distant past (the 90s times radio-land) Mr. Jeff Blasinski. He said Jen reminded him of me, was also a writer, and pretty kick-ass.

He said, "You guys should be friends."


Then I realized that I can't actually stray that far away from the coffee maker because it physically hurts. So Jen and I shall have to wait patiently while we gather minions...

It is with great pride and evil, world dominating laughter that I bring you Jen Violi.


Q. What’s the best/worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

A. The worst came recently from a bizarre commenter on a blog post I wrote—he suggested that I pander to the leanings of my audience. Terrible advice. I’m all for revising to make something readable, to make it the best of what it is, to make it as much of a gift as I can for readers, but not for squelching my true writing voice and beliefs. The best I think came from reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones—in the late ‘90s, when I first took her suggestion to get into the practice of writing without stopping or editing myself, it was a revelation. And it still is. There’s so much good stuff and icky stuff and fascinating stuff below the surface chatter.

Q. Ampersands or hashtags?

A. Ampersands. They’re so lovely and swirly. Hashtags sounds like something you need a cream for.

Q. Turducken or stuffed squash?

A. Stuffed squash, clearly. And so it has been written, “one meat shall not be stuffed within another.” Oh wait, maybe I take that back. As with all religious proclamations, there are always exceptions. And I should not scoff at the turducken until someone makes me one. Any takers?

Q. Writing wardrobe?

A. Often, long hippie skirt or purple PJ pants. The most essential ingredient is elastic.

Q. What were you doing right before I started asking you a bunch of inane questions?

A. Although it seemed easier to just drink my coffee, forcing myself to eat breakfast because I know I’ll feel better for it later.

Q. What’s on your desk right now?

A. Oh, so much delight! Let’s go left to right, and I’ll stick to the highlights:
• stone turtle Buddha
• red metallic goose neck desk lamp
• the remains of my breakfast (apple, challah toast—why is that bread so GOOD, by the way? Do they put crack in it? Yam salve?)
• paperweight with a real scorpion preserved in glass
• vintage cardboard fan with a wooden handle from an Ohio funeral home. The fan features Jesus on the front and on the back, the name of the funeral home, the two digit phone number, and one of my favorite punctuation issues—bizarre/inappropriate usage of quotation marks. In this case: “Air Conditioned” (which I’m assuming didn’t work so well since they had these fans made) and “WHERE PARKING IS NO PROBLEM.”
• Dried lavender I picked in Hood River, OR
• A three-legged clay pig
• My coffee

Q. Favorite mythical creature?

A. Picking just one seems sick and wrong, but since you’ve pushed me into this corner, I’ll just keep shouting “Sasquatch!” until you bring me one to talk (grunt?) me down and carry me home in his big furry arms.

Q. Basement or Attic? Why?

A. Attic for sure. Basements are creeptastic. Attics are where you can have skylights or alcoves or sweet writing desks. Or Greg Brady’s groovy bedroom.

Q. Boots, Sneakers, or Stilettos?

A. Booooooots. Because it’s the most fun to say. Also, neither my skeletal system nor my lack of grace allow me to wear anything with a heel.

Q. If you could collaborate on a project with anyone living, dead or imaginary, who would you pick?

A. Hands down, Freddie Mercury. He and I would write the BEST MUSICAL EVER.

Q. Tell us about your current creative project/s.

A. I’m working on the eighth draft of a new novel, while still spreading the word about novel # 1 (Putting Makeup on Dead People), blogging here and there and everywhere, slathering as much awesomesauce as I can onto my monthly email newsletter for my bizness (you can sign up at www.jenvioli.com!), continuing to grow my work as writing coach and developmental editor, and last but not least, exploring the staggering realm of possibility that is making puddings out of coconut milk.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Happy Don't Pirate My Book Day! Or...um... Something like that

Yesterday over at www.terribleminds.com Chuck Wendig shared his thoughts on book piracy, its problems and its positive potential. (If you aren't reading Chuck Wendig's blog, get over there now. Seriously. He has awesomesauce and unicorns. If you are a writer, you REALLY need to be reading his blog. He has awesomesauce and unicorns with saddlebags full of booky goodness.)

So, piracy and how it is an issue for me personally... well, let's see. I am relatively unknown in the world of publishing, so this has not affected my personal revenue to the best of my knowledge. Most of my published work has appeared in anthologies, online, or in magazines.

Here's the thing. Those independent presses that believe in my work, what the work has to say, who believe in art so much that they go through the hassle of producing bound copies of stories, distributing and then promoting those copies ... I want them to stick around.

I might not be a writer who benefits from royalties or direct sales of e-books (yet) but I'd like my heroes and friends to keep getting paid so they don't have to give up the dream that they are living to join me at the fish counter at the grocery store. (Although, that could be really fun. I'm seeing puppet shows with the dead clams which have the potential to both disgust and amaze. Seriously. I can't think of anything more disgusting than dead clams, or more potentially hilarious than a dead clam puppet show.) Keeping those friends and heroes getting paid gives struggling writers like me hope for the future. Otherwise, I might have to join the Borg. (Damn it, Locutus, get off of me!)

So yeah, visit terribleminds.com and read Mr. Wendig's thoughts on the subject.

This chick right here needs to go do some voice work.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Literary Influences

Very recently, in the land of facebook I was tagged in a note which requested that I name 15 authors who have influenced me and will always stick with me. This was sent by the fabulous Paul Winarski, who is producing my play, Road to Nowhere. I planned on responding to that when I had some time but then I thought it would make a great blog post, particularly since I sometimes struggle with ideas for Ye Olde Spotty Blog. It also made sense since the topic brought on a whole whirlwind of thoughts on the subject of literary influences.

Answering the question of who influences my work is not as simple as listing fifteen writers, although I can certainly do that. The first fifteen that pop into my head are as follows,
Lewis Carroll, Tom Robbins, David Foster Wallace, James Morrow, Angela Carter, Francesca Lia Block, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Christopher Moore, Charles de Lint, Oscar Wilde, George Saunders,
Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket), Allen Ginsberg, Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler.

It's a good thing that there is a limit to the number of authors required, because otherwise you would be subjected to a massive wall of text containing a huge number of names. But here's the thing about those names. Each one of them is storied, in its own way. How and where I discovered their works has much to do with people in my life who introduced the work to me. Tom Robbins was suggested to me by Paul Shapera (yes, THAT Paul Shapera, of Steampunk Opera fame). Charles de Lint is a favorite of my brother's. Christopher Moore's work was beloved of my friend and co-author Kathy Morrow-Swartz. I read James Morrow's work for a class and was later lucky enough to meet him and his family. I'm also blessed enough to be able to call the Morrows my friends, which leads my to my next point about influences. My work is influenced as much by community as it is by the work that I have read. Conversations with the Morrow family have probably held as much sway as the fiction I've read by Jim, or Kathy's amazing poetry.

My work has been influenced strongly by the critique group I was in with Rune Skelley. Rune Skelley's writing prompts in particular are kind of like a magical key that unlocks the wine-barrel of creative juices. (There is probably a dirty joke in that statement somewhere, but I will leave that for you guys to parse.) Recently Juliette Wade (Analog) and I have been each other's writing cheerleaders. Dario Ciriello is another big positive influence. (check him out at www.panversepublishing.com )There are days when you stare at that page and can't seem to make it work, and the influence of someone in the writing trenches with you can make all the difference between a story that works and a story that's meh.

The writing is influenced by ideas or events (both large and small) from daily life. That's not to suggest I write fiction based on people I know, I don't. But a conversation about generational differences that I've had with a parent or grandparent will provide a new perspective with which to tackle characters, world-building or language. That extremely odd-looking statue of a leprechaun I saw at the dollar store while shopping with a friend might be the visual cornerstone of a character's apartment. The way the light falls on the bird-feeder in the backyard could provide clarity for a descriptive passage. Images or emotional states evoked by different types of music can also generate ideas. That dropped bit of subtext from a film might be something I want to explore further. So I submit that the question of what influences the work of a writer is infinitely more complex than what they have read.

Life influences the work of a writer. I remember going to a reading and Q&A given by Samuel Delaney at PSU. Heart pounding, crazy nervous, I raised my hand and asked a question about a particularly delicate passage he'd read from Dark Reflections. To me, it seemed a gorgeous, fearless piece of prose about sex, or the possibility of sex, and I asked him something like, "How do you do that?" I recall an emphatic response that one must "Pay attention." Good advice for life as well as art. That, for me, was a profound moment, as an aspiring writer and as a human being.

So, yes, pay attention to everything that you can. You can learn from everything if your eyes are open. (By the way, I'm still working on this. I will probably always be working on this, like I will always be working on that stack of books piling up near the bed.)

So, how about you guys? What are your thoughts on influences?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Interview: Jill Gleeson


I met Jill Gleeson during my misadventures in Radio-land when she was our program director for a short time. She has been an actress, journalist and world traveller. If I had to choose one word to describe this vivacious lady, it would be adventurous. Unconventional as she is, it makes perfect sense that she's the first non-categories player interview presented in this blog! I bring you the charismatic Jill Gleeson.


Q. Toaster or toaster oven?

A. Toaster. I lust after, yet am somewhat suspicious of, toaster ovens.

Q. What is your favorite item from a toolbox?

A. Hammer. BAM BAM BAM. But I always use my high heeled shoes to hammer in nails.

Q. Chaps or chapstick?

A. Chapstick on me, chaps on him.

Q. Have you been properly indoctrinated by the High Priestess to the Yam Salve cult?

A.  No and the question sorta scares me.

Q. What were you doing right before I started asking you a bunch of inane questions?

A. Texting but doing it in the company of two powerful witches.

Q. Hey baby, what’s your sign?

A. Leo all the way

Q. Favorite Categories thing?

A. I dunno know what that means?

Q. In a world without beer, what would you do?

A. No problemo. I drink vodka and champagne, although not together.

Q. Indoor plumbing?

A. Yes, please.

Q. Tell us about your current creative project/s.

A. Trying to get a reality show off the ground; various travel articles; my go pink boots column and website. Sure would love to write a book but I'm lazy, unfocused and easily distracted.

(Find out more at http://www.gopinkboots.com/ )

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Categories Player Interview the Tenth: Sue Babcock


I met Sue Babcock several years ago online through a network of fiction writers. We've critiqued each others work and found a home for it with the online magazine Liquid Imagination, a publication for which Sue is now the managing editor and publisher. She writes and generally rocks whatever she is doing. I was really excited when she said she was game for a Categories Interview because we get to visit The Realm of Writerly Awesomesauce.


Q. What’s the best/worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

A. The best advice was to write ever day. My creative writing teacher emphasized this, which was the first time I heard it. Since then, just about ever craft book or blog I've read includes this advice, and I do find that if I am not writing every day, even for a few minutes, three things happen. First - no writing gets done (duh!). Second - the creative side of my brain atrophies. Third - my pet dragon that lives under my desk gets hungry and starts gnawing on my toes if I don't write.

The worst piece of advice - hmmm - write only what you know. If I stuck to that model, I'd never write anything (who wants to hear about concrete, for pete's sake), and my dragon would go hungry.

Most people don't believe me when I talk about my dragon, but I assure you he is as real as my writing. He's aqua blue with cobalt blue points that run all the way down his back to the tip of his tail. Last night, as he frolicked in the cavernous space under my desk, he poked his nose out and scared the heck out of my cat. Now my cat won't sit on my lap anymore, so I make Leumas (that's Samuel spelled backwards) keep my lap warm while I'm working at my computer. I do have to make him turn away from the desk when he sneezes. The flames are hard on my monitor and computer.

Q. Alliteration or onomatopoeia?

A. Definitely alliteration - in moderation! I tend to get taken out of a story with a "Grunt" or "Bang." Even more so with "she sells sea shells by the seashore."

Q. Fork, spoon or spork?

A. Fingers... Oh, wait. That wasn't one of the choices. But everything you can eat with a fork, you can eat with your fingers, and everything you can eat with a spoon, you can drink. So who needs utensils?

Q. Writing wardrobe?

A. I definitely have to have shoes on when I write so my dragon, Leumas, doesn't eat my toes. Beyond that, anything goes. Right now I have on military-style cargo pants and a warm fuzzy jacket.

Q. What were you doing right before I started asking you a bunch of inane questions?

A. Asking you a bunch of not so inane questions. I'm looking forward to hearing your narration of a story in Liquid Imagination. (www.liquid-imagination.com)

Q. What’s on your desk right now?

A. EVERYTHING, including my dragon. He came out from under my desk to see what the heck I was working on. It's not often that he sees me actually typing something, rather than staring at a blank piece of paper on my screen. His blue points shimmer in the light from my window, and his fiery breath just charred one of the stacks of stories submission I wanted to read.

Q. Favorite food thing of the moment?

A. Something fattening - hmmmm, like homemade gingerbread. I decided to lose a few pounds and am getting really tired of all those salads and chicken dinners. I made a luscious soft gingerbread cookie, redolent with molasses, ginger and cinnamon.

Q. Indoors or outdoors? Why?

A. Outdoors. If you've ever owned a pet dragon, you'd know why. Plus, the sun, the grass, the sky, the trees, the rain, the snow, the ice, the garden, the park... Who could not love being outdoors?

Q. Argyle or plain white socks?

A. Argyle, for both me and my dragon. My argyle socks keep my dragon from eating my toes, especially if they are argyle socks with blue dragons embroidered on them; then he thinks he's looking in a mirror. And when I put them on my dragon, he immediately settles down and goes to sleep - almost like magic.

Q. If you could collaborate on a project with anyone living, dead or imaginary, who would you pick?

A. Thomas Jefferson. He was a brilliant inventor, writer, and creative thinker.

Q. Tell us about your current creative project/s.

A. My biggest project right now is the development of the Silver Pen website (silverpen.org). The Silver Pen Writers' Association is a non-profit organization with the mission to assist writers of all ages in poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction to produce quality work and to help them develop successful writing careers. The website is still fairly new, and we continue to iron out the bugs as we expand its functionality.

I'm also the publisher of one of the Silver Pen magazines. Liquid Imagination (www.liquid-imagination.com) was started by John Miller, but when he became overwhelmed by life, I took it over and moved it under the auspices of Silver Pen. The staff on this magazine is great, and we continue to publish sci-fi, modern fantasy and dark stories, poems and flash about life.

Finally, I'm working on a novel. I'm hoping it will be a YA novel, but sometimes I wander into darkness where kids should not follow, so I'll have to wait and see how it comes out. It is set in the Middle Ages, in Europe, and follows the path of a peasant boy who is the keeper of an abusive lord's pigeons, as the boy grows to be a man who must be reckoned with.







Friday, February 1, 2013

Random Thoughts: Social Media/Generational Drift

So, obviously, I am a fan of social media. It helps me stay connected to the larger world. I live in a small town very far away from most of the folks I have come to know and love in my mumblesomething years on this planet so in this way it is a gift. I'm far away from metropolitan areas so it is also a way for me to find out whats happening re: arts, which is kind of my thing. Even better is that I get to know what creative things my friends are up to and if I'm lucky I might even get to see what they are doing. Hooray for all of that! I remember life before the internet and while some of the cool stuff about an analog life has diminished, change is inevitable and I try not to shed too many tears over the past. (The past hasn't gone anywhere, after all, as someone wiser than I once said.)

I spend a lot of time thinking about social media as a result of it being my window into corners of the world other than mine. (This blog was almost going be called "Unpacking the Funny" about the categories thing on facebook, but then I decided that actually trying to unpack the funny would ruin the fun in the funny. So that won't be happening anytime soon.) Anyway, all of this thinking about social media + remembering Ye Olde Analog life + a concentrated effort to remember localized culture of the 90s times (for a project) made me curious about how adolescence may have been impacted by web-chatter, cell-phones and the ability to make every triumph and foible public.

I feel pretty lucky to have grown up during a time when the danger of seeing video of yourself doing something stupid in a classroom or at a party go viral was pretty much non-existent. The same is true for any sort of photographic, textual or video evidence of life experiences you'd rather forget. When I was a teenager (and yes, I am doing the elderly person cartoon voice thing, here) your community might hear about something you did and judge you for it, but beyond that you were pretty much able to do the normal teenage thing of screwing up without the possibility of the ENTIRE FRIGGIN WORLD watching you puke on that front lawn.

There's a line from my favorite movie of all time, Harold and Maude that I will quote now, "Everyone has the right to make an ass of themselves."

Yes, they do. I cling to that right with ever fiber of my being. But I wonder if I would feel that way today if the instant upload of me making an ass of myself at 15,16, or 17 would have been possible. Or would it have had the opposite effect and contributed to exhibitionism and/or narcissism? I also wonder if you have to be narcisstic to cope with this kind of stuff. I don't know, being from the olden times of the cassingle and all that, I really am just curious.

I am also curious as to how this will play out in kid's lives as they enter the workforce. That classic party picture of someone table top dancing with no pants could circulate on the internet forever. What happens when it shows up on an a search about you for an office job? What will the consequences be? Sure, I'm concerned about the individual, but I'm also thinking of the cultural implications.

I imagine something about this will change in the future. I'm thinking it can go two ways. Either there will be a sort of collective pressure to police ourselves more stringently, or we will all have to relax our judgments about the things that can happen in a moment of whimsy from people's private lives. 

Obviously, there is more to it than that. I'm hoping you guys will weigh in with your thoughts on this, down yonder in the comments. There is more about this circulating in my brain but the "time for blogging is over" alarm just went off. Lunch and fiction call...