December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!!


We don't do a family newsletter thing with our holiday cards...do you? But the end of 2012 has me thinking about everything that's gone on here in the last twelve months, so I thought I could do one here.


So this is a purely personal post. If you're a friend of family member, enjoy. If you'd like to know more about my family, enjoy. If you have no interest in us, well, come back next week for more book reviews, author interviews, and more on this writing life.



****

As the year ends, Zoe is sitting beside me on the couch, watching The Aristocats on Netflix. It's amazing to me, how quickly she is growing up. 



She's four-and-a-half now, and if you try to tell her she's four, she will glare at you and pointedly remind you of the "and-a-half" part. 

Zoe started last year in the three-year-old room at her preschool; now she's finishing up the four-year-old room. She has three regular boyfriends, a range of best-girlfriends, and comes home every day telling us stories of games played, books read, and projects worked on.

Speaking of projects, our "art cabinet" is, by now, rather full. She LOVES drawing and creating "art" and "origami," so much that my brother sent her his old origami book for Christmas. The book is old, and falling apart, but it's the book Daniel learned from, and I hope Zoe will love it as much as he did.

She's reading on a very basic level (sounding out words, and starting to recognize some by sight), which is exciting for her reading/writing parents. We have flashcards and things, but we're trying not to push her too much. I would rather it feel very natural to her. 

She still loves to be read to, loves hearing stories, and loves telling them now, too. 


She also loves Legos. For Christmas I gave Charles and Zoe a Lego Millenium Falcon kit - it was super-complex and crazy, and they put it together (together) in three days. 


Zoe has also discovered math. It's her current passion. She's doing basic addition worksheets for fun right now, which is crazy to me (I hate math), but I'm so happy she loves it. 

And finally....she has her first loose tooth!! That is freaking me out, as I learned loose teeth gross me out, but I guess the Tooth Fairy will come for a visit pretty soon.

****

Charles is having fun doing Charles-things these days. Legos, puttering about with our cars and our yard, learning new things on his computer. He's reading a lot of great books (I'm guessing Cloud Atlas was his favorite of 2012, but I can't say for sure), and we've been trying to get out to more movies and such lately.


He's doing great at work, managing a team of Quality Assurance Analysts who test more products on any given day than I care to count. (Me? I test one product...all the time. It's a lot less to juggle.) His employees are all fabulous, and they do things like post silly pictures of him around his office - that's the best form of flattery, right? 


He's taken Zoe and me on a number of awesome hikes, both locally and when we went to Asheville this past summer, and he's taken a ton of beautiful photos of our family.

****


Me? I'm just writing, and editing, and doing all sorts of writer-y things. 


This year I released a book - talk about crazy. I still don't believe it's out there, for strangers to read! I love hearing that people are enjoying this crazy tale I wove, you know?


We filmed the super-cool book trailer this fall, and my dad and I got to fulfill a lifelong dream of acting in a mini-zombie movie together. 



I've made some amazing new friends this year, friends I can't imagine life without. Some are here, in Charleston...others are online, which surely makes the world feel a LOT smaller these days.

I had a great experience participating in a writing event this summer at LitReactor.com, which culminated in me receiving some incredibly kind story feedback from Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club). I still can't believe THAT happened.

And then in December, after months of training and a week of really terrible bronchitis immediately preceding it, I ran a half-marathon on Kiawah Island, and beat my prior personal record by eight minutes.

Not too shabby, right?

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Our dogs and cats are all still hanging in, though they're getting older. Molly (a Dalmatian) still acts like a puppy sometimes, and Quentin (my hound mutt) loves playing fetch despite his arthritis. The cats are evil, like all cats are, but we love them anyway.

****

So there you have it. Our family newsletter for the year. I think this has been a great year for us, and I can't wait to see what 2013 holds!

December 26, 2012

Book review: The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

When I pick up a book from Angry Robot Books, publisher of such titles as vN and Blackbirds, I expect action. I expect suspense. I expect monsters and magic and to be scared out of my wits.

Which is why The Mad Scientist's Daughter, by Cassandra Rose Clarke, was such a surprise to me.

And a super-pleasant one at that.

The Madd Scientist's Daughter
By Cassandra Rose Clarke
Angry Robot Books
Release date: January 29, 2013
The Mad Scientist's Daughter is, according to its cover, a "tale of love, loss and robots." And that's just what it delivers. A little romance (the non-schmoopy kind), a lot of heartbreak, and one totally amazing robot. 

Seriously...the robot's stellar.

So. The Mad Scientist's Daughter is the story of a girl, Caterina (Cat) Novak, who lives in a non-specified future time, after non-specified disasters have rocked the Earth. Robots are prevalent, in the service industry mostly, but elsewhere as well. Artificial intelligence and sentience are explored by some of the best brains in the nation, including Cat's father.

When we first meet Cat, she's just a little girl, living with her parents, both scientists, deep in the country. When she first meets Finn, who looks like a man but is obviously something different, she thinks he's a ghost. The writing on those first pages is as magical and beautiful as childhood itself. It's full of wonder and curiosity, two of my favorite things.

Later Cat learns Finn is a robot, not a ghost...but it takes her the whole book to learn he's also something more.

Finn becomes Cat's tutor, her friend. And then, much later, her lover, too.

The ethical and moral questions here are endless...humans using machines, humans using other humans, the rights of those sentient robots who know enough to question their own servitude. They're all explored through Cat's eyes as she comes of age in the robot-world and embarks upon college, adult-life, an ultimately doomed marriage, and eventually motherhood.

Cat is flawed, deeply flawed. She uses Finn for sex, to make herself feel better, and ignores all signs that point to the fact that her actions have actually hurt him. Then she marries a man because he's rich, because he can provide the secure life to which she is accostomed.

Through Cat's eyes we also see a somewhat bleak vision of the future. Global warming (perhaps?) has raised temperatures to the point where the heat is as much a character as Cat and Finn. It's brutal, the heat. It colors everything, and it speaks volume that a lone cold snap brings about the biggest change in Cat's life.

I read this book with a constant sense of impending doom...I expected disaster and drama around ever corner. But this isn't one of those books. This book is more subtle, a much more realistic picture of an imagined world, and I loved it.

The scenes of Cat interacting with her husband, a workaholoic who wants nothing more than an obedient trophy-wife, made me uncomfortable. I couldn't read them at night, they were so full of tension. They kept me awake, worrying about Cat.

That's how real these characters felt.

And I love Finn. There's no way to not love Finn, the robot who is something more. Something beautiful and amazing, and I was sad when the story ended. I wanted to keep reading about him.

And isn't that the best thing you can say for a book? That when it ended, you wanted more?

Well, that's the truth for me about The Mad Scientist's Daughter. I wanted more, and I hope Clarke gives us more from this world soon.

December 24, 2012

Happy holidays, from my house to yours!

By this time last year I'd done a Hanukkah post, a Christmas post, and many other posts in between. 

Lately, though, it seems like for each year older Zoe is, my life gets exponentially busier. 

Because, holy COW life's been busy these past couple months!

I've learned lots of lessons recently, though, and in celebration of the holidays, I figured I could share the with you.

Lesson #1: Jews should NOT attempt to see Santa on the first night of Hanukkah

Ok, ok, I use the term "Jew" loosely here. I am Jewish by heritage, and I embrace the culture if not all the religious aspects. I celebrate the fun Jewish holidays (Hanukkah, Passover) and quietly respect-from-afar the less-fun ones (translation: there is no fasting for me on Yom Kippur). 

The first night of Hanukkah fell on a Saturday this year. It seemed like a good idea to go to our local light/holiday show that night. I'd run a half-marathon that morning, and could happily still walk. And since Santa stops by to see children at the light show, and  Zoe was SUPER-PUMPED to see him this year, it felt like the right time. And then, I figured, we could light our candles and say our prayers after we got home that evening.

Happy belated Hanukkah!
We left the house early, before dark. We knew it would be crowded, but thought we could beat the worst of it. 

Not so much.

A mile out from the park, traffic stopped dead. DEAD. We didn't move an inch in 15 minutes.

I took it as a sign. We did a U-turn, went to dinner, and headed home to celebrate Hanukkah properly....without Santa.

Lesson #2: If you have a cat who likes to destroy Christmas tree skirts, HAVE A BACKUP HANDY!

This past Thursday was my Christmas prep day. I had dozens of presents to wrap, lots of cleaning to do, and stocking stuffers to buy. No biggie, though - I had the day off, and Zoe went to school.

Evil Cat looks Evil
So...I spent two hours wrapping gifts that morning while watching Singin' in the Rain because...why not?

We always keep stuff under the tree, even before we have presents ready, because one of our cats (Doozer - the Evil One) likes to destroy Christmas tree skirts. 

Seriously. We usually average a new one each year. It doesn't sound terrible, I guess, but I was very happy last year when we bought a new on at the start of the season, and it made it through the year, and was ready and waiting for us when we opened our Christmas boxes this year.

So. 

I finished wrapping presents, then pulled all the stuff out from under the tree to make room for the gifts. I saw some cat-hairballs beneath the stuff, so I left the room for THIRTY SECONDS to get the sticky-roller-thing. 

By the time I got back, that tree skirt was toast. Smelling of ammonia, if you know what I mean.

AWFUL. 

It went in the trash.
I think it came out OK

Well, I had to run out for stocking stuffers anyway, right? I'd just grab a new tree skirt and still be home in time to get all the other things done. So no biggie.

Wrong. It was a biggie.

Because do you know that by the Thursday before Christmas, there are NO CHRISTMAS TREE SKIRTS LEFT ANYWHERE IN THE CHARLESTON SUBURBS??????

Seriously.

World Market? Nope.

Bed Bath & Beyond? Nope.

Wal-Mart? Definitely not, although they did have really strange felt bags that are used for large presents that I considered buying as a back-up. I didn't.

Lowe's? Nothing. Sold out.

So then I wound up at Target. Which wouldn't have been a big deal, but for the fact that I'd just driven probably thirty miles, back and forth and back again, to points less than five miles from my house. My thirty minute planned shopping trip was now approaching two hours!

So. Target. Oy.

They had one. One. The last available Christmas tree skirt in the whole of the Charleston suburbs.

It was furry. And bright-ass kelly-green. And the ugliest thing I've ever seen.

I bought it.

And you know? With presents on it, it's really not terrible.

But between you and me, and the rest of the Internet world, I sort of hope the cat destroys this one too...

Lesson #3: Don't let your husband near the scissors

Last one, I promise.

Charles has been growing his hair a bit, letting it get a bit shaggier than he'd normally allow. We were hoping to sell enough books in December for him to have to shave his head, and he wanted the effect of the before and after pictures to be impressive.

But alas, we won't hit our goal. His hair is safe, and we'll still donate to St. Judes because we love them. 

That said, his hair was looking pretty rough, and we had plans to hang out with his sister and her family for the evening this past Friday. We see them only a couple times a year, so he didn't want to be too shaggy.

Well, Zoe and I were out doing some last-minute shopping, and when we got home, Charles was wearing a hat. He looked...a little different.

"Look!" he said. "I trimmed the sides of my hair."

Sure enough...he had. But just the sides. He'd left the top and back shaggy.

When he took off his hat...the boy had a mullett.

Sigh.

One emergency haircut (given by me - YIKES!!) later, we were thirty minutes late meeting his sister, and my blood pressure was through the roof. 

But now he's handsome and non-shaggy, so maybe this is a non-lesson....but still. Holy stressballs, Batman!

****

So now it's your turn. If you've read this far tell me: what have you learned this holiday season???

And really: happy holidays, y'all! We're ready for our annual neighbor Christmas Eve event, sausage balls are cooking, and cookies are made. I hope you are having a lovely day yourself.

December 21, 2012

Book Review: Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

I've been reading a lot of straight up horror/sci-fi/action lately. I'm used to being assaulted by rough language, dark images, murders, ghosts.

Diving into Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi, a dense, rich collection of short stories that intertwine to create an exquisitely crafted novel, was like reading-therapy for me. Gone was the fear, the crude, replaced by language dripping with beauty, with elegance, with grace.

This is not my normal kind of book.

But it came at a time when I needed it, and I enjoyed it very much.

Mr. Fox
By Helen Oyeyemi
Riverhead Trade Paperbacks
November 16, 2012
So. Imagine this. You're a writer, and a long time ago you created a "muse" for yourself, a gorgeous woman who poses as your imaginary spouse when you're alone, and you love her with your whole being. Because, well, you created her, and as such you made her perfect.

Do you follow?

Now imagine that you've grown. You've married. You love your wife, but not like you love your muse, since now matter how great your wife is, she can't stand up to the perfection of your own creation. You're still writing, and your stories invariably include tales of beautiful women meeting terrible, violent deaths.

It sort of makes people edgy, these deaths, and maybe it should stop...but you don't know how to write anything else.

And then your muse comes to life, and tells you stories of powerful women not meeting these terrible ends. Of alternate realities in which you can be with her if only you are different. If only you are better. 

Incidentally, she also points out how sort of fabulous your flesh-and-blood wife actually is...no matter how much she drives you mad.

And you listen and learn, while outside your office door your real-life wife grows ever more suspicious of the voices she hears within.

If you're still with me, if you're still along for this wild, luxorious ride, then you have the basic idea behind Mr. Fox.

Each chapter is its own short story. Sometimes the characters are obviously related to the over-arching storyline; sometimes they are not. Sometimes I scratched my head in confusion, wondering how it was all connected, but I was always able to lose myself in the individual stories long enough to get back to find out how the puzzle piece fits the bigger image.

It's a rangey book plot, rambling and wandering, but I like that. I've heard this book compared to the writings of David Mitchell, which I haven't read myself...but hearing my husband talk about Cloud, Atlas and its loosely linked stories as I was reading Mr. Fox....I get the connection.

The book is complex, dense with talk of violence against women, and women overcoming. Thriving. It's incredibly powerful. The stories range around the world, including my favorite: a tale of a woman in an American-occupied Islamic country whose daughter befriends a young American soldier. They learn from each other, enough to understand each other, but the village intervenes, threatening violence agains the woman and her daughter if she doesn't chase the soldier away.

She chases the soldier away.

Sometimes you have to do things you're ashamed of in order to keep your child safe.

It's a sad lesson, but an interesting one.

And did I mention the language? The writing? Gah! It's gorgeous!! Oyeyemi writes paragraphs like this, my favorite: 

And, laughing a little, he kissed me back. He kissed me like ice cream, like a jazz waltz, the rough, gentle way the sea washed sand off my skin on the hottest day of the year. And the whole time there was that little laugh between us, sweet and silly.

Don't you want to be kissed like that?

I do. And were I to read that paragraph everyday for the rest of my life, and I would be a satisfied reader.

Well done, Ms. Oyeyemi. It's a beautiful world you've created, and I enjoyed inhabiting it for a little while.

December 19, 2012

Interview with Laramore Black Part 2

I think we can all agree, Part 1 of the Laramore Black interview here on my blog was honest, insightful, and engrossing. (At least it was for me!!)

So now we're back with Part 2. Read on to learn more about Laramore, his favorite books and music, and various other points of fun.

And hey - if you have any questions, leave him a comment and I'm sure he'd be happy to respond!

****

LR: Ok, back to you – what got you into writing? Have you always written, or is it something you discovered once you reached adulthood-ish-ness?

LB: I still have a long way until I’m an adult, I’d say. I am after all only twenty-one years old. But to be honest, I started writing poem-like stuff in the fourth grade because I wanted to be a rock star. It’s unfortunate I now have stage fright and never learned a single instrument. 


Being even more honest, I didn’t start taking it seriously until about two years ago to impress a girl. Not like people reading are thinking that though, I’m sure. I’ve always kind of liked reading since I was a young boy; I remember reading the entire Necroscope series by Brian Lumley in the 5th grade and even before then, having an obsession with those Goosebumps stories. 


But my life really changed at eighteen when a girl gave me a copy of The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger to read. I felt there were words in the literature speaking out to me and to this very day, I still go back and reread bits of it. I read it during a time of my life where I had everything set up to go to college, but everything else in my life was pulling me down into my old punky ways. Some of the words in that novel are the only thing that made up my mind.


I cut my ridiculous Mohawk off, I threw out my stupid band patch covered clothes, I stopped drinking every night, and I moved into the local college’s dormitory. Not long after that, I proposed to that girl. Life brought me my first long-term menial job, a car, and a nice apartment as well.

That was it, my fairy-tale happy ending. 

But after the boredom of married life began to set in, she drifted away from me. 


I scrambled for a way to bring her back, but always came up short. Mostly I became a good liar, always trying to find something clinically wrong with myself that could be fixed, like some non-existent thing is to blame. It worked for a short while, but the novelty of that faded for her, too.


So I began to think if I could resemble any of her heroes she could love me more. Maybe it could fix this divide, but it turns out writing takes much longer than I thought; and the good writing, even longer.

Time tore that dream away, but by the time I came to my senses of how stupidly love-drunk I was behaving – I was hooked! I looked around and I had two novel drafts, a few short stories, and many ideas for more from an entire year of brooding with a pen. So, I guess what I’m saying is I became who I am today for the wrong reasons, but I stayed this way for the right ones. Someday something better will come my way and if not, the least I can do, is make you, the reader, love her too.

LR: Most writers I know consume books….and movies…and music.  So with that in mind:
What books make your head spin and your heart bleed?


LB: Obviously after my last answer, The Catcher in the Rye has a sentimental value. I also like Salinger’s Franny & Zooey story because I feel like what happened to Franny in the story correlates with my life while in college. I feel the campus lifestyle is set up to make outcasts and the intelligent feel unwelcome. Most colleges breed average and seek nothing but average, so that is just the way it is now and much like Franny, I grew to hate everything about it. All while I was reading more from these writers and philosophers who invaded my psyche, much like Franny was reading her brother, Seymour’s books of philosophy. 

I guess you could say Salinger and Hemingway were becoming my big brothers in a literal sense. I was relating characters to everyone in my life. I wanted to do everything they did in their lives, but I wanted to do it better. Books like The Catcher and the Rye, Franny & Zooey, The Old Man and the Sea, and A Farewell to Arms were not entertainment to me – they were maps and guidelines.


Those were the big two for me. They changed everything for me and I always recommend them first.

After their bibliography was thumbed through, I moved on to the beatnik generation. I learned experimentation and rebellion in writing from William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch), Charles Bukowski (Women), Allen Ginsberg (Howl), and Jack Kerouac (On the Road). 

It was when I went looking for ways to begin improving myself as a writer I came across more modern authors, like David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest), Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club), Etgar Keret (Kneller’s Happy Campers), Will Christopher Baer (Kiss Me, Judas), and Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho).


It was finding the modern authors that led me to find other people, who just like me, have or want to make an imprint in the world of literature. People like Richard Thomas (Transubstantiate), Phil Jourdan (Praise of Motherhood), Caleb J. Ross (I Didn’t Mean To be Kevin), Jonny Gibbings (Malice in Blunderland), Janden Daniel Hale (The Everwind series), and Bradley Sands (TV Snorted My Brain) have become my mentors, helped me on my way and some of them I would even call my friends.

LR: How about movies? Name a movie that changed your life.

LB: I can’t say I’ve ever had a movie change my life in the same way fiction has, but I do have a favorite. It’s called Wristcutters: A Love Story and it is based off Etgar Keret’s Kneller’s Happy Campers. It’s a movie without laughter that can make you smile every time you watch it and is filled with prizes of its own. Both the cast and soundtrack are filled with things everyone should know about.

LR: What’s one moment in music that you think changed the world?

LB: If the kids are united, they will never be divided.

I believe the introduction of punk began changing the face of the planet. It was a conduit for the youth of the world to be heard by all those people in charge and if anyone else out there is like me, it plants the seed of progressive thinking faster than education does. I think you can see an example of this in the United States, I’m not saying it is all due to punk, but the progress in evolutionary thoughts along the coasts definitely outnumber the amount in the Midwest. I’m sure this is due to more sociological factors, such as there simply being more youth in the area.


Punk did teach me things. Everything from learning the cultures of the countries some people are more than happy to be invading. The degradation of nutrition in the food industries. The pharmaceutical companies throwing out probable treatments for profits.  Those bits of fine print bills hide that our government seems hell bent on passing in the pursuit of more power. The rising pollution and how it is in every country’s capability to switch to cleaner energy, just simply not the corporations who profit from fossil fuel. All this knowledge began for me in punk lyrics and it’s stuff everyone should know. 


You want to know how as a species we should change the world? Go to Youtube and watch everything with the name Jaques Fresco attached to it. That is the world I believe in and it is what punk stands for
.

LR: Alright – tell me one more thing. It can be about anything. Just something you’d like to share with readers, something you wish I’d asked but didn’t, whatever. This is your free time.

LB: Usually this is where I would ramble about my other projects, but nothing is quite set in stone with any of them yet.  So, I have to leave you all, hopefully wanting more. 


I’ve enjoyed this interview and really like having the opportunity to let random people get to know me. I’d like to remind people to pick up Shock & Appall when it releases and if they haven’t seen it yet, to check out SYW Magazine. It’s not going anywhere and we’d love anyone’s help to make it grow.


You can also find me on Facebook if you’d like. 

*****

Thanks for coming by, Laramore Black, and sharing your stories with us!!

December 17, 2012

Interview with Laramore Black Part 1

Since I began writing two years ago (and I mean really writing, not the basic essaying I used to do on occasion), I've met a lot of very interesting people. Writers, editors, agents...this is a microcosm of the intrigue of modern society.

None so much as a new friend, writing under the name Laramore Black.

I first met him on my favorite writerly-site, LitReactor.com (I know, I know, I talk about it all the time). We've both been participating in a multi-week short/flash fiction head-to-head competition called WAR, and through it I've met a bunch of really cool people.

A few of them write for and edit with Laramore Black and his ezine, the cheerfully named Slit Your Wrists Magazine. While poking around on the site the other day, I ran into this: The SYW Shock & Appall Charity Anthology.

Cleary, that got me interested in helping.

So without much more ado, let me introduce you to Laramore Black, the brain behind the operation, and let him tell you a little about himself, his projects, and why he's donating the proceeds to WorldVision to to help save the children of the world.

We're going to break the interview into two parts, so you can read and digest all of it. Welcome to Part One.

****

LR: So, first things first….tell me something about yourself that I can’t read on your Bio page. Funny, juicy, gory, happy – just tell me something different.

LB: Hm. I’d be surprised if you could find a good biography about me anywhere. It’s never been something I’ve ever liked writing and no one else has been possessed to do it for me yet. Anyways, there are probably a lot of things, but I don’t know if they are interview material. (haha)


It’s an interesting way to open an interview for sure. This is usually where writers get to babble about nonsense like their MFA’s and vanity press published manuscripts, so I guess if I had to say anything I’d be sure to set myself apart from those types.


Something people close to me and similar people I network with seem to enjoy is I live in the real world. I have no impressing badges to show, to say the least. Although to some people these are probably accomplishments all on their own…


I recently spent 4 months living as a homeless person. Not exactly the bearded drunk with cardboard that says will work for alcohol type, but rather the kind who still has a few friends left. It was a lot of 1-8 mile walks between couches I could stay on and a big inconvenience to other people. 


Most people sitting in a decent home at this moment are either developing sympathy for that statement or shutting themselves down to not think about it. I understand, I’ve been there to. I was brought up in a lower income home along with a brother and three sisters, but there was also a small period of my life spend in a middle class suburban home with a set of people I will refer to as a foster family. At another point I was a happily married guy with a nice job, a nice car, one year finished of college, and could do practically anything I wanted. In a way I guess you can say I’ve lived many different lives and I’ve seen just how feeble everyone’s foundations truly are.


Everyone is really only a few choices or a death in the family away from poverty. It’s time people realize it instead of categorizing themselves among separate classes. I’ve survived poverty so far and even found a roof to have over my head, maybe even some people who could grow to be some of my greatest friends, along with others who would help if my world ever fell to pieces again. I’m thankful for that and hope I can someday pay it back.


This experience changed me as a person though, it really did. I don’t look at a lot of people in the innocent way I once did. When someone you looked up to like a mother would rather save $80 a month, keep your dog and all your stuff while you are walking the streets with nothing but two outfits and an almost broken netbook, it tends to change your perspective on everything quite a bit.


But it made me much stronger, so thanks to my foster mom for that, I guess.


LR: Slit Your Wrists Magazine was your brainchild, right? It’s a brilliant site publishing awesome fiction, poetry, and showcasing other amazing artists. Where’d the idea come from, why such a depressing name, and what pulled you and all the other editors together?

LB: Yes, I created the site all on my own. It came about from a lot of things, really. Originally I had a personal website that I posted first drafts of poetry and stories on. Then one day I had a friend who was having a photographer cover a couple shows he was having in one day, the same friend came to me asking if I could write about it and I did. That’s the first feature of the site, the article MIDWEST NOISE: Jordan Martyr. I soon started doing similar things, like interviewing one of my favorite bands, Harley Poe. It made me decide I couldn’t let the site be all about me anymore, so it was called Laurance Kitts & The Slit Your Wrists! eZine.


When the traffic of my site began to swell, it was also around the time I began to network with other writers. Around the same time, two of them I was getting to know approached me to see if I’d be interested in publishing their stories on my website. They were pretty good stories, one of which came from my co-editor of today. After that I decided I needed to do something different.


I separated the sites and bought a new url: slityourwristsmagazine.com. As far as the name goes, it seems to get many different reactions out of people. I’ve had more close-minded writers actually write me just to tell me how sick the name of the site is, which for people who claim creativity as their career support it must be fairly detrimental to give such power to a few words. Many times over now people have requested I change the name, funny though how they’ve always been the ones uninvolved in it.


The truth is the site name didn’t form from depressing or malicious ideas. All of my old essays, stories, and poetry revolved around the idea of committing suicide. Around the time I began to feel better, I wrote an article on the site titled How To kill Yourself and tagged it with many dumb things I had Googled over the last year. Examples: How to cut your wrists, how much aspirin does it take to acidify your blood, painless ways to die, etc. The article was an anti-suicide letter to any random person out there up late, plotting their way out of the world just like I had done for so long.


That article is no longer on the site, but the tags are still in the database and the site url obviously pulls similar things in. Everyday there is at least a few hits of people searching the internet for related information, except now instead of getting pleas from the close-minded branch of Christians telling them they will burn in hell for committing suicide or step by step instructions of how to do it right, they are beginning to get a site that supports the very thing they’ve probably never had and the one thing that saved my life, self-expression.


Needless to say, when that hate mail comes I just laugh because it’s always creative people giving the wrong kind of power to a few words, not even realizing they are in place for a secret cause. I guess maybe I should tell them hating the name is just another way of them saying they love teenage suicide, but I have better things to do most of the time.


On another note, something I’ve come to love about the name I never realized until after a year of running the site and watching other publications come and go, is when you give your website a very family friendly name and then publish a graphic story, it’s going to have mixed reviews. It boils down to people who seek the tame will be sickened by the graphic, meanwhile people who are open to messier stories are always fine with something tame. The prejudice is always one-sided and if there’s one thing I’d like to get across by the end of this interview, it is that good can come from very dark places.


LR: And now, what made you decide to do a charity anthology like Shock & Appall? What’s the backstory here?

LB: Shock & Appall was originally an idea I came up with on some forums I frequent called LitReactor. When that site first opened, there was a good 30-40 new and seasoned writers wanting to do a project together. I collected some really good stories there, but there were never quite enough people on board to make a finished project.


That was before SYW even existed.


I always told myself I would make this anthology ever since then. One of the ways I plan to fund SYW and help other writers at the same time in the future is through anthologies. The reason behind Shock & Appall is simply that I want to bring people together to change a person’s life. So many publications or literary sites make these things for charity, and then pick something that is a never-ending cause to support. They work hard for months on a design, the interior, editing, and reading submissions only to watch $500-$1k in profits disappear and nobody ever sees a significant change in the world.


Do you know what $500 is to a child in a 3rd world country? It’s an entire year of food, medicine, and education. I like to think change comes at an individual level and not at the hands of many, popular opinion in the United States constantly fluctuating seems to prove that. I also think it means more to the world to change a life than to help fund a random charity corporation because half the money donated is going into their staff’s salaries.


SYW has never made a cent so far and currently I don’t even have a dollar to my name, still. If this new website and my broke self can change something in the world for good, I’d really like for the more fortunate people to step back and ask themselves what the hell they are doing for anyone.


LR: Along those lines, why such a dark theme for such a lovely cause? Shouldn’t anthologies supporting children be all warm and fuzzy, about bunnies and rainbows and shit?

LB: I’m sure the children would have a laugh with us here at that idea. I guarantee there is no piece of fiction you will find in this anthology that is scarier than some 3rd world children’s lives. Here in America, most people fear a strange man picking their lock and hurting them or their family. Horrible still, but it’s just a single family…


In the 3rd world more people are dying of incurable diseases than any other population in the world. Imagine it, a killer you can’t see, but can slowly feel creeping up to take your life. Not to mention the killer is being helped by the rest of the world taking all the food and abilities to clean water. Meanwhile some power hungry machine gun toting men look to take everything in your village, recruit you or kill you, to turn your sisters, mother, and lovers into their playthings or servants. Nothing is scarier than that, I’m afraid. And it’s a very true story for real people in this world.


I dare to say you will find the same darkness in minds of most fiction writers that you will find in the men carrying the machine guns or picking the lock to your home. The difference is simply the choice of whether you want to build a world or destroy it. This anthology is an example of that darkness controlled and used for something good.


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Stay tuned until Wednesday for more to come from Laramore Black!

December 16, 2012

Who knew?

As a blogger, I walk a fine line between hiding my head in the sand and leaving major events unacknowledged, and having absolutely nothing profound or helpful to say because there's just...nothing profound or helpful that anyone can say.

This is one of those times.

I feel like we've all spent a lot of time this year crying about things that happen to people we've never met.

The Batman Massacre. The Sikh temple shooting. A shooting at a Pathmark less than four miles from my childhood home in NJ.

Now Newtown.

I can't make sense of it. No one can. All those babies.

My child starts kindergarten in the fall, but she's been going to school since she was four months old. Last night at a holiday party organized by the mom of one of Zoe's classmates, I realized something: those kids in Zoe's class? I love them to pieces.  Really love them. 

Their parents? They've become my friends. I love them too.  

The teachers who've cared for my child over the past four and a half years? Yeah. Love.

I looked around this party, and I couldn't help imagining....what if?

And I had to shake the thought away, and instead focus on them screaming and shouting as they ran and played and rode bikes and visited with Santa.

Because while we mourn the loss of all those innocent babies and heroic teachers, we can't live our lives expecting the worst for our own. That'll just make us all insane, and that won't help anyone.

So we have to hope for the best, while we work ensure that things like this can't keep happening. Because something has to be done, or else these shootings will never stop.

Anyway, later in the night Charles and I got caught up watching Pink on VH1 Storytellers. I had no idea how much I like Pink until I saw her...and when she sang this song? Well, it seemed apropos for this weekend. 


This year has taught me to hug my family tight because you just...never know.

December 14, 2012

The Last Safe Place by Rob W. Hart

Alright, zombie fans. If you follow this blog, by now you've maybe read my zombie-tale, and you're maybe looking for more zombies.

Right? 

Right.

Well, I have something fun for you today.

Introducing (thought it's been out for a while already)...The Last Safe Place: A Zombie Novella by Rob W. Hart.

I bought this novella for my Kindle a few weeks ago because the author is a senior editor at LitReactor, an amazing writer-site on which I've been spending altogether too much time lately (because I love it). I figured, since he works for a site I love, and since he wrote a book about zombies, which I also love, it would clearly be a good fit.

And it was!!

I started reading The Last Safe Place the other night when a realistically-depressing book had me on edge, and I was looking for something fun in which to lose myself (and my holiday-stress) for a little while.  Zombies seemed like the proper place to go.

This book is something more than your standard zombie-fare, though, at least in my opinion. Stylistically, it's almost...noir-ish. Noir-zombies? Sure! It follows a hardened cop, the people he protects, and his deathly-ill wife, all dark images and long-shot descriptions of the battered Manhattan skyline.

The cop and his people live on Governor's Island in the Upper New York Bay. Cut off from the rest of the world, they're surviving on homegrown crops and whatever they can salvage from the zombie-infested world around them.

Now, you know I love a good zombie story, and you know I love New York, so this was a ton of fun for me to read. But...the writing's really good, too. Tight. I'd almost call it sparse, if only that didn't imply "not enough."There's enough going on - sights, sounds, smells that make you want to hurl - but he doesn't waste words.

It's a style I shoot for in my own writing, but haven't quite figured out how to achieve. Hart, on the other hand, does it really well.

He takes us back and forth between the present, in which a mutated zombie appears on the island's shore, and the past, when the zombie apocalypse first began.  There's action, blood, and gore...and there's enough human drama and crime to make the story pop.

You care about the nameless Sarge, trying to take care of his people. You care about June, his wife, dying from pneumonia in a really unfair twist of fates. You care about the nameless rookie cop, dragged along for the ride.

It's impossible not to. Really. I dare you to try.

My only complaint: at a novella length (shorter than a book, longer than a short story), it left me wanting more.

So definitely - buy this book for your Kindle or your Nook or your iPhone or whatever you own. Especially if you love zombies. You won't regret it.

December 10, 2012

Blog Meme Participation: The Next Big Thing

Ok, you should probably know by now that I'm not much of a joiner (which always makes me think of the annoying sister on Dirty Dancing, mocking Baby by saying, "Oh, you're quite the little joiner, aren't you?"...but I digress...). I don't do a lot of writerly things that I probably should be doing. But now TWO people (Adriana Ryan and Lauren Spieller) have tagged me in this lovely blog meme: The Next Big Thing.

So I figure I should participate, right?

Right.

So without further ado...here's me talking about one of the projects on which I'm currently working by answering a per-determined set of questions. I'd love to hear what you think!

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1. What's the working title of your book?

Jo

(No, really, that's it.  Just a name.)

2. Where did the idea for your book come from?

I have an honest-to-God true answer for this one! I had a dream one night, very vivid, very eerie, in which I sat on the bed in my college dorm room (the one I shared with a girl named Grace, not the one in which I lived alone).  In the dream, there's a knock on the door, and I answer it.  There stands a (completely unidentified - seriously no idea who this was) friend, and she walks into my room and says, "I'm dead. I just thought you should know that. I may not look it, but you can smell it, right? Can you smell me?"

Boom. The idea for Jo, a modern-day Frankenstein tale, was born.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

I'd call this one sci-fi, but an agent I admire and respect called it "zombie chick lit." Jo may not *actually* be a zombie, but I dig it...zombie chick lit. :)

The age-grouping would probably fall into this whole New Adult thing that's popping up all over the place...but as I haven't yet seen or heard of a New Adult Sci-Fi, I'll go ahead and say it's a normal adult book.

4. What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Huh. That's a fun question. 

Jo is quirky, she's stubborn, and she's really pretty before she gets partially-embalmed by a terrorist organization....she's also in college, so I need someone young-looking. Maybe Ellen Page? She'd be cute, and I bet she'd fun getting all monstered-out as the movie progresses. 

For Jo's best friend Lucy, I need someone strong, powerful, fun...definitely Emma Watson.

And for Eli, the boyfriend who stands by Jo through it all, even though the sight/smell of her forces him to barf his brains out?  Hmmmm...Joseph Gordon-Levitt all the way please.  He has fully won me over, and now I love him.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of your manuscript?

Jolene Hall might be a walking-corpse, but that won't stop her from trying to save her friends, her family, and the world from the mad scientists who created her. 

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I haven't the foggiest....my husband/editor wants one stab at line edits before I really start submitting it anywhere....after that we'll just see where it finds a home!

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

This took me about a month and a half, start to finish. It was short, though - only, like, 65,000 words when I originally typed The End. On two rounds of revisions, I've added over 15,000 words...and then I deleted some of them, too.

8. What other books would you compare your book to in this genre?
It's a modern-day Frankenstein tale - not to compare myself with Mary Shelley, mind you.  Just...content-wise. Living, breathing monster-girl, created by some mad scientists....yeah.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Mary Shelley? My dream? A love of monsters? All of the above.

10. What else about the book might pique a reader's interest?

Well, there's a little bit of lovey stuff (the boyfriend, Eli, really is sweet, once he stops being a total jerk)...lots of goo and gore...and a plot to take over the world with femme-bots...what more can I tell without posting the book here??

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Well, so that was super-fun, and I think I pretty much just interviewed myself.  If you have any questions, or would like to know more about my Jo, just leave a comment, drop me an email, tweet at me, Facebook me...whatever! All lines of communication are permanently open, so far as I'm concerned.

And I'm supposed to "tag" another writer, but since most writers who I'd tag have already done this, I'll just open it up. Are you a writer? Are you working on a cool project? Blog it and leave a link in the comments here. Hope to see you there, and thanks for reading!

December 6, 2012

Guest Post: Jason Halstead - Vengeance, Vegas Style

Have I mentioned how much I love getting to know other writers? It's really the best part of my other career (you know, the one I can only do at night...). There are such good people out there, and sharing their stories is almost as much fun as sharing my own.

So when I get a message from a friend, and it starts, "Hey, zombie girl..." I always know it's going to be a good time.

I'm pleased to welcome back my friend Jason Halstead, who began a message today with just those words, as he introduces us to his latest novel, Bounty.

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Sin City has a history of organized crime and preying on the weak and innocent. Bounty, the third book in the Wanted trilogy, lives up to that legacy.


Writing Wanted was a strike of luck for me. It seemed like a great idea but I found myself hung up from time to time figuring out what came next. It deviated drastically from my original plans but thanks to a moment of inspiration I was able to turn that deviation into a great book. I didn't realize how great a book it was until it became a bestseller and topped multiple Amazon charts.


My readers called for a sequel, they weren't happy with the story of Carl, Jessie, and Tanya ending so soon. That allowed me to write Ice Princess, but it was even more of a trial than the first one was. I was very happy with the finished product, thanks to a few more random bubbles of creativity along the way. As a matter of fact, with the end of Ice Princess I felt myself getting choked up as I identified with a couple of the characters personally. In particular Jiri Kurkova, the father of Tanya, Miss Ice Princess herself.

After Ice Princess I was spent. There was nothing more I could do with these characters. They'd done it all. They'd been dragged through the mud. They'd been shot, beaten, stabbed and worse. What more pain could I inflict? Well that's a stupid thing to ask a writer, especially one with an occasionally macabre sense of humor! The concept came to me out of nowhere one day on my way into to work at 6:30 in the morning. What concept? I won't spoil it, but I will say it involves an incredible fear of loss that all of us experience at one point or another. Here's one of the tweets I'm using to promote it as well: "My new release, Bounty, focuses on family values and why you shouldn't try to kidnap Carl Water's family."

Check out Wanted, it's a free ebook, and then once you're hooked look up Ice Princess and then Bounty, the incredible conclusion to the trilogy.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

December 4, 2012

A Very Zombie Fundraiser

I have a little bit of an announcement - I need your help with it, though.

Not long ago, Charles decided he wanted to do something to raise some money for one of our favorite charities...as I had just donated my hair to Locks of Love, he came up with the idea of shaving his head. He just wasn't sure....how to raise money by shaving his head.

So we put our heads together (ha!) and decided....

...If I sell 100 copies of Zombie Days, Campfire Nights in the month of December, we will donate our proceeds (I say "our" because...one household, one bank account - it's ours) to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital...and as an extra incentive...Charles will shave his head!

This is us....my hair's super-short now...don't you want to see Charles bald?
I will post before and after pictures here. He's growing it out now - it should be NICE and long by the time we hopefully hit our mark!

I'm sure you have questions.

Like why St. Jude's? 

I mean, do I really need to even answer that? 

I do. 

They're amazing. The work they do with cancer research, finding new and improved treatments for children with cancer, caring for families of children with cancer. It's worthy. It's valuable. It's needed.

If you follow this blog, you've possibly heard that I know way too many people affected by cancer. My mom fought breast cancer three years ago. I have a friend who's son going through three years of chemotherapy for leukemia (for more on his story, and a short I wrote for him, go here). Another friend just lost someone close to her thanks to complications from two bouts of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant...also leukemia.

The fact that I even know how to spell leukemia without looking it up...it's too much.

So. St. Jude's. They're my cause-of-choice this year, and it's to them my December proceeds will go. I hope we reach our goal. I really do.

And...why not just solicit donations?

Well, you could give me money, and I'd donate it on your behalf, but then you get nothing other than my undying devotion. This way, your gift is minimal, a drop in the bucket. $5.95, in fact. And you get a super-fun zombie book to read on your Kindle, Kindle App, or on your computer. And when your drop is added to 99 other drops, that makes a nice little sum for St. Jude's, don't you think?

And to be fair, as a writer one of my main goals is to be read. I want people reading my book. I love it - and I hope you will, too! So for a relatively small commitment, you get a new book, I get a new reader, and a part of your funds will be going to a fantabulous cause. It's a win-win-win.

Are you in? Can I count on you for help? Here's how you can - help me spread the word. Are you on Twitter? Tweet this page. On Facebook? Share a link. Have a blog? Post something about it, or host me and I'll talk about it.

I want to raise money, to do my part to help find a cure for cancer. Will you help me? Can I count on you?