February 28, 2013

Soapbox - transgender students and our schools

Oh man. Here I go.

*steps onto soapbox*

*clears throat*

There's a story making the rounds on news networks right now (CNN is where I found it) about a six-year-old girl named Coy, who's being told she has to use the boys' bathroom at school.

Crazy, right?

It becomes less-so to some people when they learn the little girl was, in fact, born a boy, with boy parts, but who identifies so much as a girl her family is raising her as one.

Then people say, "Oh, well, of course they're making him use the boys' room. He's a boy."

Here's a hint - don't say that to me.

I make no secret of the fact that someone very close to me is transgendered, just like Coy. I keep that person's identity secret, for his own privacy, but that person is close. Like, I witnessed his transformation. I watched him endure harsh drug treatments and painful surgeries. It's not an easy road to travel, nor did he have a choice. He had to become himself.

I also make no secret of that fact that the person in question is a HIM, regardless of the body into which he was born. That doesn't matter. 

I don't know what people think this little girl is going to do in the privacy of a stall in the girls' restroom, but I do know if she has to go in with the boys she'll face bullying and scorn. She won't even be able to pretend to fit in there - she'll stick out like a sore thumb. She'll face derision from bigger boys, teasing and invasive questions from smaller ones. 

It would, in short, be disastrous for her, and I don't blame her parents for pulling her out and homeschooling her.

I'd do the same thing.

I consider myself lucky that my child identifies as the gender to which she was born. She won't have to face any of these difficult choices (suppression of self vs. acceptance into mainstream society) that transgender people are faced with daily.

But if she were to come home tomorrow and say, "Mommy, I think I'm a boy," I'd support her. I'd take her to a child psychiatrist to make sure it was a for-real thing, and not just a phase she'd outgrow, but I'd support her. I'd fight tooth and nail for her acceptance into world as a he and not a she. I'd do everything in my power to help her.

Just like the parents of little Coy.

Too many people in our country are still severely homophobic. To add transgender people into the mix makes even more people severely uncomfortable. Just today, news broke that the first openly gay man to run for a mayoral seat in Mississippi was found dead. Do I think everyone in our country is ready to accept that we are all equal in the eyes of the law, and also in the eyes of God? No.

But I don't care. They should be forced to accept it.

Because we are equal. All of us.

And shame on this school for being close-minded and unfair. Shame on them for not being willing to wait and see what happens before closing the door in this child's face. Coy's path will be hard enough moving forward. Shame on her school for making it harder.

February 26, 2013

Undead America: It's All Happening, Part 2

Soooooo....I get asked almost daily when Book 2 of Undead America is coming.

Well, today I have an answer!

I'm excited to say Undead America, Book 2 (tentatively titled No Angels) is now under contract with MuseItUp Publishing, the brave little publisher that could, and it will release in October 2013, almost a year to the date after the release of Book 1!

Just as exciting? Along with Book 2 (in e-book form again), we'll be releasing the print version of Undead America, Book 1: Zombie Days, Campfire Nights!

So...this time....it's really all happening.

It's funny to me. A little less than a year ago, I announced that I was under contract for Book 1. I knew nothing of what that meant.

Now, I have an idea of the workload ahead of me...the stress...the fear...but I also know how great it feels to get an email from a reader telling me they love something I wrote. I am so much better prepared this time around!

And to think I'll actually get to HOLD a copy of Book 1...in my hands...and smell the paper and ink...it's really, truly, exactly going to be a dream come true.

So thanks everyone for your continued support - without you, none of this would be happening!

February 22, 2013

Author Interview: Richard Thomas

I love meeting new people.

And when the new people are writers with short story collections about to come out, well, all the better, right?

I first met Richard Thomas on LitReactor, when the great WAR competition was just getting started. He was sort of like...the dad, it seemed. I heard Richard was a great writer, with all kinds of publications under his belt. He knows his shit, people said. He gives great advice.

They weren't wrong. He alone is the reason I know how to properly indent a Word document, and for that I'll always be in his debt.

But that's not all. 

Richard is a great writer. His stories have been among my favorites of the competition. When I invited him to come hang out on the blog, he sent me a copy of his upcoming collection, Staring Into the Abyss (March, 2013, via Kraken Press). I've been reading it near-nonstop since yesterday and let me tell you...it's awesome. Creepy at times, sad at others, it feels very honest, very open, like a good friend telling you all his deepest and darkest secrets.


Read on to learn more about the collection, horror-writers-as-Eagle Scouts, and why Richard knows his work will survive on bookshelves for years to come.

****

LR: I feel like I’ve gotten to know you a bit over the past few months, mostly via your short stories at LitReactor and now via Staring Into the Abyss. And…they’re often quite dark. I have this impression, therefore, that you’re a dark kind of guy. That said, I know how misleading stories can be—people may think the same of me, all dark and brooding, but in real life I’m more Amy Adams than Winona Ryder. So, introduce me to you, please. Richard the person, not Richard the writer. What are you like, day-to-day? 


RT: It’s kind of funny, I think Stephen King or Peter Straub, one of them said that horror writers are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. One theory is that by getting all of our angst and vengeance and frustration out on the page, we release that tension in the real world. So we don’t let it build up. I think that makes sense. 

I’m a husband and a father of twins, and I work in advertising where I’ve been a graphic designer and art director for almost 20 years (yes, I’m old). I do spend a lot of time on the computer, writing and editing and submitting. But I do get out of the house. You’d probably be surprised that I’m an Eagle Scout (the highest rank in Boy Scouts) and that I am also a classically trained singer (tenor). I love to play golf, tennis and softball. And of course I love to read, see films, and I’m a bit of a foodie. 

I’m most intrigued by sub-genres like neo-noir, transgressive, and grotesque fiction. I like those moments where we get to see what people are really made of, those tipping points, crossroads, where there are no more secrets and we reveal our inner sinners and saints. There is something cathartic about watching a person struggle through a conflict. 


LR: I love that some of your stories focus on real-life monsters, or people driven to do monstrous things, rather than the fantastical creatures of many other dark writers. To that end, are you often inspired by real-life events? 


RT:  I do pull as much as I can from the real world. One of the stories in Staring Into the Abyss, “Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave” at Metazen (which was nominated for a Pushcart prize) was inspired by a photo of a woman with her breasts bared, holding a porcelain doll. It must have been in the 1920s or so, it was very creepy and strange. I also use my real life for settings—you may or may not notice that there is a certain apartment I’ve used over and over again in my short stories, and it’s also the focus of my second novel, Disintegration. Sometimes I’ll reach into my memory and use toys that my kids had, or moments from my own past, I love putting those little details in a story because I know they were real. It might be a Matchbox car (blue 1967 Camaro), some advice my father gave me as a child (“As far as sex, Dickie, be like the trains and pull out on time.”), or the way a person looks, dresses or acts. But I try not to cling to anything that might detract from the story. 


LR: Your story, “Stillness,” first appeared in a collection (Shivers VI, Cemetery Dance) with Stephen King, my literary hero, along with many other horror heavyweights. Therefore, you are also now my literary hero and a horror heavyweight. How did it feel, the first time you saw the table of contents, with your name and the master’s? 


RT: I was floored. I seriously almost started crying. King is one of my idols as well, and I can’t think of anybody I’d love to publish alongside more than him. But Peter Straub was a close second. And I was lucky enough to publish with Jack Ketchum in Slices of Flesh, a collection of flash fiction from Dark Moon Books. I waited a long time to see that TOC from Cemetery Dance. They kept telling me it was going to be huge, and they didn’t disappoint me. I really am honored to be in that collection. It was a story that Craig Clevenger really encouraged me to send out into the world, one of my first big breaks. I know that if ANY of my work is ever going to survive, be kept on a bookshelf someplace, it’s in the signed/limited copies of Shivers VI, because of King and Straub and the rest of the talented authors who are in there with me. I’ve gotten to know a lot of those guys over the years, and in fact, Kealan Patrick Burke just blurbed Staring Into the Abyss, along with Lisa Morton, two Bram Stoker Award-winning authors. So very cool. 


LR: Ok, hold up a second. Is that a choose-your-own-adventure short story? “Splintered?” Really? I love that. I also love stories that play with form and structure. What made you decide to tell a story in that format? 


RT: Yeah, it IS a choose-your-own-adventure story. I remember reading those as a kid, and thought they were so much fun. I was so excited to have PANK take that story. They do such great work, and Roxane Gay (one of the editors there) is so amazing, she just got a story in Best American Short Stories 2012. 


I was writing some different formats at that point in my life, just playing around. I know I’d just read a series of list stories by Blake Butler. I wrote another story called “Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave” that was essentially a person responding 20 times to the questions he kept hearing, after the accidental death of his son: “Why are you still with her?” and “Why do you stay?” and “Why don’t you leave.” 

I thought “Splintered” would be fun, a bit of a departure, and I wanted to push it a little bit beyond the traditional structure, so it’s not just “Go to page 4” but, if you choose this direction, “You remain a doormat.” I don’t write much meta-fiction, but I guess this as close as I get. 


LR: I see that you’re teaching an upcoming class over on LitReactor, all about trimming the fat from your stories and killing your darlings. Is this your first time teaching? How many words would you cut from my goofy, conversational interview questions?


RT: First, I wouldn’t cut a single word! 


Second, yeah, I’m excited to teach over at LitReactor.com. I’ve been a long time member of The Cult, and when the workshop moved to LR, and that site evolved, I went with it. I write a column there as well, called “Storyville” which is all about the craft and process of writing. I’ve covered everything from sex and narrative hooks to dialogue and breaking your reader’s hearts to horror and submissions. The class will be a lot of fun, because I love the idea of helping authors make their work better, learning to recognize mistakes, what isn’t working, and giving them the tools to evolve as artists. You know, the whole, “Give a man a fish he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime” thing. These tools will equip my students with the knowledge and insight to cut and trim, restructure, and evaluate their own work, so they can send their stories out into the world with confidence. 

I’ve done a little bit of teaching. I did a continuing adult education class on writing over at the Libertyville High School, as well as a class called “ Dark Fiction: Horror Writing” at Story Studio Chicago. I just got my MFA last year, so I’ve been looking for a teaching gig ever since. It’s a lot of fun, something I really enjoy doing. 


LR: The interior design of Staring Into the Abyss is lovely, with some pages white-on-black text, and others the more standard black-on-white. Did you have input into that design? What did you think the first time you saw it? 


RT: Kraken Press is a really unique company. The main reason I took a chance on them was to work with George Cotronis, a global artist that has created stunning surreal art for many top-notch magazines, journals, websites, and video games—you name it. I absolutely love his style. His cover, as well as the art for the FREE eSingle of “Transmogrify” that we’re going to give away in a few weeks, are just amazing. They are dark, but vulnerable—sexy and yet disturbing. He’s really amazing. We talked a lot about the design and layout, lots of back and forth, and I’m really happy with the finished products. 


LR: Are you an outliner, or a seat-of-your-pants kind of writer? 


RT: I’m definitely a seat-of-my-pants kind of writer. I love exploring a theme, writing the scenes that come to me, exploring a philosophy or emotion or situation. My second novel Disintegration (which my agent, Paula Munier at Talcott Notch and I are currently shopping) is all based on that one word—the idea of falling apart, losing the ones you love, fracturing and fragmenting until you don’t know who or what you are any more. I get bored if I force a story in a certain direction. I need to be surprised like the readers are surprised. 


For example, there is a scene in Disintegration, a rape scene, that I knew was coming. My unnamed protagonist is tracking down a woman that tasered and robbed him. I knew it was going to be violent, but the whole time I was very aware of the consequences of writing that scene, what it might do to my audience, how it might alienate people, and the fact that it might define me, be the only thing people talked about, when it came to this book. In the end, I just followed my instincts, and we both found out where our bottom was—my protagonist, as far as what he was capable of, and myself, as a writer, what I’m willing to risk, and put out into the world. And the ending of Disintegration was a surprise for me as well. 


LR: Favorites time!  Favorite character from a book you read as a child? 


RT: That’s a tough one, maybe Gandalf? 


LR: Favorite book? 


RT: I’m going to cheat and name a few that were very influential to me as a writer: The Stand by Stephen King, Kiss Me Judas by Will Christopher Baer (really, the whole trilogy), Survivor and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, and American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis. Each one of these authors, and these books, really taught me something different—storytelling, atmosphere, emotion, tension, and so much more. 


LR: Favorite movie? 


RT: Yeah, I have to cheat here too. If I had to name one, it’d be Blade Runner, but I’ll also add in here Seven, Fight Club, Memento, Mulholland Drive, Amelie, and American Beauty. 


LR: Favorite band/album? 


RT: Three bands have really stuck with me over the years: The Smiths, The Cure and Radiohead. When in doubt, it’s one of these three that I listen to. 


LR: Last question, I promise. Is there any question you’ve never been asked in an interview, but have been dying to answer? If so, go ahead and answer it here. 


RT: Can I hug you? 


Sure. Bring it in. I won’t bite.


****

Thanks, Richard, for stopping by! I had a great time!

February 14, 2013

When life happens...

When I imagined staying home to write, my vision looked like this:

Wake up
Have coffee
Send Charles and Zoe off to school
Exercise
Write
Write
Write
Write
Write
Write
Clean a little
Write
Write
Write
Welcome my family home
Relax

*record screeches to a halt*

Because yeah. When does life EVER mirror our daydreams?

The reality is, life happens. This week I had one goal: finish my edits on Undead America 2: No Angels.

Standing in my way were dozens of errands, two stories I need to finish for various competitions, and a house that is chronically infiltrated by Evil Pets. Also, it rained all week, which meant Evil Pets tracked in muck and debris and wanted to go in and out and in and out and in and out and on and on and on.

By yesterday afternoon, I still had over a hundred pages of edits left to enter into my document. Errands had taken longer than anticipated. Anticipated work-time kept getting interrupted. And then, this morning I wound up having to go to the county tax office, the treasurer, and finally, the DMV.

Yes. The DMV.

I figured there was no way on this earth that I would ever finish. Ever. 

The happy news is that the DMV actually went pretty smooth, and then I tied myself to the couch this afternoon and finished my edits.

The sad news is I spent much of the week being ridiculously stressed out, all based on my own stupid expectations. I almost forgot to let myself live.

Luckily, my life doesn't give me a choice. It intervenes.

****

And when life intervenes....sometimes cool things happen...

Like Monday. I had to take the new car to the dealership for a routine checkup. I was going to have around an hour to sit in the waiting room, so I took my laptop and my edits. Because of course I took my laptop and my edits.

I sat down on a leather couch and pulled out my computer. I started typing away.

"Excuse me...ma'am..."

The voice was gravely, grainy. I looked up. An elderly woman sat in a small chair at the other end of the couch. She was elegant in a camel coat and matching hat, with stockings, kitten-heeled pumps and a bright green skirt. Her hair was perfectly bobbed beneath her hat.

Beside her sat a man, older than she, stopped, wearing a veteran cap and a windbreaker. 

She was talking to me. Staring at me. 

I jumped. "Yes?"

"What is that...that...apple thing you're holding? And what are you doing with that stack of paper?"

I explained I was a writer, and that I was editing my book. That it was a fiction novel (her phrase, not mine), and that I have a book released for e-readers.

"Oh, you mean like my husband...he has a thing...honey, what is that, that thing you read on at night? For your books?"

It was a Kindle. Of course it was a Kindle. But they both like non-fiction, not my crazy fiction-novels. She's reading a book about Coco Chanel and it is fascinating.

But still...

At first I regretted the loss of work-time. 

But then I began to listen. To really listen.

I learned she had more books in her house than food. "More books than food...more books than food...that's how much I love to read." She has a college professor daughter. She has volunteered with schools her whole life. 

She loves knowledge, and learning.

Her husband was in the war, in the Navy. He was stationed on an aircraft carrier, and that's why he can't hear. You know, the airplane engines...they're loud.

During the war, she had to find work. She lived in New York, where she worked as a model. Not for the runways, or the pictures, of course. Just for the department stores. She was only 93 pounds, you know, back then, and she modeled the clothes for the fancy women who wanted to buy them. You had to take off the jacket, just so, to show if it was lined or not. She only did it because she got to keep the clothes.

But the secret to life is to read, to love books. Our schools will fail if we don't pay our teachers more, and if we don't all love reading. 

Because books are everything.

****

Can you imagine having missed that conversation? It was one of the best hours of my week, hands down. She was so beautiful, so elegant, so full of life.

****

I can't write in a vacuum. I have a life. I'm still a mom and a wife, and I have a house and a menagerie of animals. 

And if I don't have a life, even a life outside this house, and my husband, and my child and my animals, I'll never have anything good to write about anyway.

February 13, 2013

Book Review: No One Is Here Except All of Us

I...like books about the Holocaust.

Ok, that's an instance in which "like" is absolutely the wrong word.

I...read books about the Holocaust. Always have, always will. I feel like it's my job to learn as much as possible so I can continue to share its stories. It's a way of preserving history, and my own cultural heritage.

No One is Here Except All Of Us
Riverhead Hardcover
February 2, 2012
336 pages
Typically, I only read non-fiction, with the notable exception of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel Everything Is Illuminated. That's one of my favorite books.

But when I heard of a book that told the tale of a tiny Jewish village that decides to recreate their world to attempt to escape Hitler's Nazis, well, I had to have it.

****

No One Is Here Except All of Us, by Ramona Ausubel, is that book. And it is gorgeous. Rich. Lyrical and heartbreaking and magical. 

So much so it sometimes hurt to read.

Set in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania in the late 1930s, it's narrated by Lena, an eleven year old daughter of a cabbage picker. She lives with her family in a remote village that sits on a piece of land around which a river swirls.

When the people of the village pluck a stranger from the river one fateful night, they learn for the first time of Hitler's war, and of the utter and absolute destruction rained down by his soldiers over Jewish settlements throughout eastern Europe. The stranger has lost everything: her husband, her children, her parents, her home. She is embryonic, literally pulled naked from the rushing waters to begin anew.

And so the villagers decide to start their world anew, too, all in the name of saving the stranger, and themselves. They recreate everything...and nothing. Because it doesn't work. In the end, they are still a Jewish village facing Hitler's armies.

But they try, and we get to watch.

We meet nameless characters defined by their roles in life - the baker, the barber, the banker, the cabbage picker.  Their roles are timeless, unchanging, even in their new world.

We see the first birth in the village, and the first death. We taste the impossible choices faced by people living in an impossible time. 

We see the end come once, and then again, and then again.

We see terrifying journeys into the unknown. 

We see the power of nature, but also its weakness. Rain can wash away blood, a river can wash away pieces of a village, but none of it can erase the history, the pain.

We see the absurdity of life, but also its continuity.

We see happiness. We see devastation.

And through it all, we see hope.

The Holocaust is unfathomable. I've read dozens of books about it, and I still can't wrap my head around its enormity.

No One Is Here Except All of Us paints a small enough picture that the devastation feels close, intimate, and that, alone, makes it heartbreaking.

****

I used to want to write a Holocaust novel, back before I found my home writing horror and sci-fi. I wanted to write a story of a girl, and the choices she made to survive, how it almost killed her, but how she prevailed.

I entertained plans of writing that story as recently as last month, when I revisited some of my old notes.

I no longer need to write that book. Ramona Ausubel has done it for me, and the results are better than I ever could have imagined.

That's how good this book is.

February 11, 2013

Author Interview: Jim Festante


Once upon a time, I was a college student who loved improv shows. My campus had only one troupe, then-called Possible Side Effects, and I went to every show they put on my freshman year. The team was made up of great people, many of whom I'm happy to still call friends.

Last month I heard: one of the sweetest, funniest Possible Side Effects guys, Jim Festante, was releasing his first book - a comic through the ever-impressive Image Comics.

It came out last month. Called The End Times of Bram and Ben, it is a hilarious take on life post-Rapture.

So then of course we had a moment. It went something like this:

Me (dorkishly): OMG you're a writer? Because OMG I'M A WRITER TOO!
Jim (much less dorkishly): Yes! Cool!
Me (stil a total dork): You wanna come on my blog?

Luckily Jim said yes, and gave a great interview about the Rapture, guns and ammo, and pre-school superheroes. Read on for more fun!


****

LR: First and foremost, where the hell did Bram and Ben come from? What’s the history behind the initial idea?

JF: My co-writer James Asmus and I love End Times material: namely, the awful(ly wonderful?) Left Behind series. They’re so ridiculous. Either the characters are super good and have thus been swept up into God’s bosom during the Rapture, they have a teensy, minor character flaw that is eventually overcome so they can join the rest of the good people in Heaven, or they’re demon-loving Satanists waiting for the Antichrist to give them their marching orders! There’s no in-between. We wanted to approach it from the point-of-view of, OK, if this really happened, let’s be honest – not a lot of people would be “good” enough to be taken. Certainly not any of our friends! But we do consider ourselves (flawed but) essentially moral, good people.

LR: Why a comic? Why not a novel or a series of short stories? What made you choose that particular medium?

JF: I come from a performance background, so most of my writing is either sketch, TV, or movie-based. I’m good with dialogue but too impatient for all those in-between words. We originally intended to do the story as a webseries, but found ourselves drawn to the more supernatural aspects including angels, demons, the Antichrist, etc. Stuff we’d need a budget for. We didn’t have a budget. So instead James, who is an accomplished comics writer, suggested we try to go that route with it instead. It’s a new medium for me and I had a lot of learning to do, but it’s such a fun and engaging way to tell stories.

LR: Tell me a little about the process of scripting, then getting artwork, then eventually publication? What did you think when you started seeing the artwork and the whole thing coming together?

JF: We’d get together a couple of times a week and write for 3 or 4 hours. We’d figure out what the arc would be for each book (there are 4 in the mini-series) and the overall story, then get to the dialogue. Anything that made the other person laugh was a good indicator we were going in the right direction. We’d pass the scripts off to our consulting editor, Sebastian Girner, an ex-Marvel editor who made sure our story made sense – he was invaluable. Our artist, Rem Broo, is a Romanian living in Berlin and English is his second language, so I was a little nervous about that at first but he’s amazing! You get it into your head that “I’m the writer, I’m the funny,” but the artwork Rem sent back to us was filled with so much of his own humor, it’s made for an even better collaboration. Coming from an improv background, I’m all about collaboration.


LR: I love that Bram goes to heaven based on a clerical error – that made me laugh. So tell me…if the Rapture happened today, would you be here on Earth tomorrow, barring clerical errors?

JF: This alone keeps me earthbound (shows Leah his tattoo through the computer screen… somehow). The “rules” you can’t break are numerous and damn near impossible to follow. But as I said, I consider myself a good person. I’d like to think god (if there is one) would give me the thumbs up after I kick it. There’s an interesting discussion that’s been going on in our mostly religious society about whether we need religion to give us morals. I’m firmly on the side of “no.” I do think we can be compassionate, forgiving, good people without the threat of Hell/damnation/punishment (beyond, you know, laws) hanging over our heads.

LR: Any concerns, with the debate over gun control raging right now, about the scenes depicting a roomful of guns?

JF: I think it’s important to show. We have a huge section of the population stockpiling weapons specifically for some kind of apocalyptic scenario. Tipul (said stockpiler in our comic) is that point-of-view for us. He’s pretty unstable and has some far-out ideas, he’s definitely not a character that makes you think, “Hm, I should be more like Tipul!”


LR: The tone of the comic is more than a little irreverent (which I LOVE, by the way). Any interesting…um…feedback from any readers yet?

JF: Surprisingly, it’s been widely accepted! We were expecting some sort of backlash and outside of a couple reviews saying, “Well, it’s not for everyone…” we’ve not heard much along those lines. I think it’s because we approached it with the intention not to bash religion but explore what it would mean for people if the Rapture actually came to pass. It’s more of an “OK, this is what some people believe, so let’s explore what that really means beyond Left Behind’s obvious stereotypes.” If anything, it’s more about our titular characters Bram and Ben dealing with the fallout, finding themselves rejected by God and wondering what their next course of action should be.
LR: What was it like, sitting on a panel at ComicCon? I know lots of people for whom that’s a dream, and you’ve already done it!

JF: So cool. You’re sitting up there with people whose work you really admire, representing a publisher who’s on fire with some of the most interesting, creative, and daring books out there… it was an honor. I felt like I got to sneak over and sit at the grownups’ table so I mostly kept my mouth shut and let the big kids talk about their processes. James and I are going to a couple of other conventions this year, including Emerald City, Wondercon, and SDCC, and I can’t wait, especially if NYCC was any indication of the kind of creatives and fans I’ll get to meet and interact with.

LR: OK, favorites time! Favorite book? 

JF: Oof. Gun (with sandalwood grips) to my head, Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series. I read them all every couple of years. Although this past year I did them as audio books (technology!). I’m a sucker for heroics. Plus, Arthurian legends in a Wild West setting? I can’t get enough of them and was surprised and thrilled that King released a new one last year. Those books are so influential for me; they make me want to be a better storyteller. More recently, though (and for a lot of the same reasons), I love Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles. It’s fantasy without a lot of the tropes – solid writing, engaging characters, and lots of adventure.

LR: Favorite comics?

JF: I love Hellboy. I’m a huge fan of Lovecraft (and the types of stories within that mythos) and Mike Mignola blends his books with the occult, humor, and action masterfully. And the guy is an amazing artist – what an asshole, you’re not allowed to be that talented! I’m also really loving Fatale, Saga, Gambit (go, James!) and Adventure Time. God, I love Adventure Time – he doesn’t write the comics (which are still really great) but Pendleton Ward is an insane genius.

LR: Favorite movie?

JF: Harder question! I’ll go with a movie that, like Dark Tower, I return to every couple of years – Groundhog Day. When a movie is funny, thoughtful, and reminds you to be a better human being, we all win.

LR: Favorite band/album?

JF: I’m so white. Radiohead. But Kid A/Amnesiac are two of the most beautiful albums to me. I’m also a big Pink Floyd fan – growing up in theater, I was super into musicals… and Pink Floyd. That’s the only “cool” thing I can point to when examining my adolescence. Otherwise it was all computer games and jazz hands. Now there’s a title for an autobiography…

LR: And finally….tell me something about you or the book that I didn’t think to ask. It can be anything.

JF: I once helped foil a bank robbery as a preschooler. There’s my next comic book – Super Preschooler! His only weakness is bedtime! And everything else (preschoolers are notoriously weak)!


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To learn more about Jim or the End TImes, check out the web site or follow him on Twitter. The next book is out on February 13 and will make a GREAT Valentine's Day gift for the nerd in your life! 

February 8, 2013

Book Review: The Slither Sisters (Lovecraft Middle School)

If you're like me, you probably remember fondly visits to the library and the local bookstore when you were a child. You probably remember picking out a book, and not being able to wait to get home to start reading it. You probably remember cracking it open, right there in the bookstore/library aisles, to consume those first words.

I love those memories. Back then I was reading anything by R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike, and also my favorite A Wrinkle in Time.

The Slither Sisters
Lovecraft Middle School
Quirk Books
Released January 15, 2013
160 pages
The thing is, I still love those books. I still love the stories they tell, about life and monsters and amazingly imagined creatures. About children stepping up to do battle with evil forces from other realms. About children seeing what the adults around them could not, and doing something about it.

That's why I'm madly in love with Lovecraft Middle School, a middle grade (young reader) series from Quirk Books.

And that's why, when I received the second installment (The Slither Sisters) in the mail late last week, I got that feeling I remember with such happiness. I couldn't wait to crack it open and start reading.

Since I was reading something else, I forced myself to wait...but I only lasted two nights.

I had to read it.

Back in the first installment, Professor Gargoyle, we're introduced to Robert Arthur, a middle school misfit at fancy new school. Only problem? He learns pretty quickly the fancy new school is a portal to another dimension, with gateways leading into the Tillinghast Manor, a house run by a mad scientist and home to a world full of monstrous creatures. They want to take over the students at Lovecraft Middle School, and ultimately Robert and his small crew of equally-misfit friends are able to stop them.

In The Slither Sisters, the story follows Robert as he attempts to foil the latest plan for student domination. This plan is from within. Twin sisters Sylvia and Sarah Price have been possessed by the bad guys. They're snake-like demons with a big plan: Sarah will become Student Council President, and as the student body leader will one by one lead all the students to their doom.

Now, the lack of actual power held by any student council president I ever knew notwithstanding, this is another fun read. The monsters are particularly monstrous (snake-girls with Medusa hair), the danger is ever-present (the girls are pretty much stalking Robert by the end), and it ends with a lovely little twist that I'll admit: I didn't quite see coming. There are new allies (including a fella in scuba-gear), new bad guys (little monsters that wash up on shore at a nearby beach), and a particular disgusting swim through a slimy, icky pond.

In short: this is another fun book, and I can't wait for my 4 year old to be able to read it someday.

And I, in turn, am already looking forward to the next one. And toward reliving my childhood by reading another fun, creepy little book.

February 7, 2013

A Happy Review, and a Dance of Joy

It's always fun to know someone is reading my book.

When they then post a nice review of it (very kind, very positive), then it's SUPER-fun.

And when that review says things like this? When it totally gets where I was going with my story?
The book has deathsquads, concentration camps, medical experiments on prisoners, genetical selections, dictators and what not. At some points the book isn’t as much about zombies, but much more about characters and a reference to worse times. That all covered in a very relevant theme, zombies. 
Well, then, my friends, we do the Dance of Joy.


Special thanks to my new friends over at Zombie Guide for the kind words and support!

February 6, 2013

If wishes were flowers...

It's official. I'm a full-time writer and mom.

Weird.

The first couple days were a little bizarre, though. Last Friday (officially my first day), Charles tweaked something in his back, and I was too lazy to drive the 30 minutes each way (TWICE) to take Zoe to school, so they were both home with me. And Monday, Zoe had a terrible cough, so I kept her home again. 

And let me tell you: family time does not equal work time for me.

But that's ok. One of my major goals for this year (and this writing experiment) is to increase my own patience, so I'm working hard on that. On not getting frustrated when things don't immediately go my way. On not fussing at Zoe for stalling (which she does ALL THE TIME and for EVERYTHING).

I think that's important for this stay-home thing. I finally have the time to do things RIGHT instead of just FAST. That's huge for me. Yesterday, the first day I was alone, I found myself rushing around, trying to do ALL THE THINGS in a single day. If I want to sustain any amount of work over a long period of time, that is not the way to do it. 

So I'm working on it.

It's maybe already starting to pay off.

On Monday, Zoe was feeling much better by the afternoon (Those coughs? They're the worst at night and early in the morning....), and I was feeling edgy, so we decided to go for a bike ride/walk (she rides, I walk).

Used to be I'd poke and prod at her to keep her moving forward the whole time so I get the optimum benefits from the walk. Right? Because it was probably my only time to exercise for a span of days, so I wanted the most out of it.

But on Monday I held onto the thought: Tuesday I'd have time. Tuesday I'd be on my own. Tuesday I could do all the things I needed to do. 

So when, five minutes into our walk, Zoe stopped and squealed, instead of fussing at her I asked what was up.

"A wish flower!"

(Most people call them dandelions, gone to seed. My child calls them wish flowers.)

She hopped off her bike, and picked up the wish flower.

"I wish to go to the park." 
She blew, and the fluff flew away on the breeze.

We continued on our way.  

"Mommy," she said, after a few minutes without dandelions. "If you see a wish flower, will you tell me? I'm looking but I don't see any."

I rolled my eyes. I did. That's the old Leah.

So I fussed at myself instead of Zoe, and forced a smile. "Of course, Sweetie," I said. But I didn't mean it...yet.

We kept going, for a long time without wishes.

Then, I saw one. And another. Five, actually, in a little clump.

"Wish flowers!" I squealed. Not sure when something changed, but it did. I was happy to see the potential for wishes.

Zoe hopped off her bike and ran to the patch of wishes, waiting to be made. She picked the first one.

"I wish for ice cream!"

Then a second. "I wish for a jar of mustard." (Not making that up...she really said that.)

I giggled, and walked to her. "May I have a wish?"

"Of course, Mommy!" She handed me a flower.

"I wish for...." I thought for a minute, then went for broke. "I wish for world peace."

Zoe giggled. "Me, too." She blew the fluff from the next flower.

"Let's find some more."

I said that. I did. And I meant it.

It took us almost an hour and a half to walk and ride two miles that afternoon. But that was fine. We made so many more wishes.

Zoe: I wish for ketchup.
Me: I wish to be able to support us, at least a little, with my writing.
Zoe: I wish for Mommy to sell lots of books.
Me: I wish for all Zoe's dreams to come true.
Zoe: I wish for cake!

Some of our wishes may come true. Others may not. But that's ok. We had a lot of fun making them.

February 1, 2013

Author Interview: Meredith Short

When I signed Zoe up for gymnastics classes a little over a year ago, I expected her to make some new friends, have a great time, and learn to cartwheel. (She did.)

What I didn't expect was to find some great new friends myself.

Meredith Short was one of the amazing people I met at The Little Gym. We hit it off immediately, and along with our other friends the Thiels (ya know, the artistic couple responsible for my book trailer??), we created a bit of a Saturday Morning Gymnastics Gang. It was fabulous.


Since then, Mere has become a writing partner, a cheerleader for my own fledgling career, and most importantly, a really great friend.

After months of her supporting me and my zombies, I'm super-excited to host Meredith here today with some VERY exciting news!

It's her Official Book Birthday! Her first comic releases TODAY via Stan Lee's new Kids Universe. Her book's called Rock Star Super Diva and let me tell you - it's a TON of fun.

Read on to meet Meredith, and please leave a comment to say hi!

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LR: Ok, first…what was your inspiration or rock star Roxy Rhymes? Where’d she come from? Because she’s sort of fabulous!

MS: I wish I could take credit for it. I do some editing for Viper Comics and the owner and publisher, Jessie Garza, came up with the idea. Roxy Rhymes is based on his daughter, a totally cool kid, who I kept in my head while I wrote. They gave me the character and concept and let me audition for the book. They liked my pitch and let me at it!

LR: You’re my first graphic novelist/comic writer. Tell us a little about the process of scripting, submitting, and working with an artist to come up with the finished product.


MS: This was my first comic too so there was definitely a learning curve. I have a bit of a screenwriting background so writing visually (showing and not telling, as we’ve all been taught!) wasn’t totally foreign to me, but I still had a lot to learn. Brevity is key. I tend to be a little long-winded and my fiction is dialogue-heavy, so stripping everything down into a few bubbles a page is challenging. And an excellent exercise for writers looking to trim some fat from their work. 

Precise language, too, is important. To get someone else to understand you and draw exactly what your mind’s eye sees depends way more on how you, the writer, express yourself and way less on how the artist interprets your directions. That being said, sometimes how Ivan saw things was different and better than I intended. The last thing I learned is that it’s a super collaborative process. Besides working with my artist, I had the pleasure and honor of being mentored by Howard Mackie (of GHOST RIDER fame) throughout the process as well as being tweaked, cheered on, and reined in by my good friend and editor, Dale Mettam. It takes a village and the work is better for all those creative fingerprints all over it.

LR: And really, the artwork is fab. What were your first thoughts when you started seeing it all come together?

MS: I was amazed. Ivan Escalante is a tremendous talent but I still have to say I was surprised and delighted as I started to get the proofs. First a little sketch to make sure he understood me, then ink, then pages in full bloom. It really is a fun process to watch. I am possibly the world’s worst artist so seeing someone draw the same person so consistently while also doing crazy things with color and perspective dazzled me no end.

LR: I do happen to know you have two awesome daughters. Have you read it to them yet? Or when do you plan to introduce them to Super Diva?

MS: Well, I would be impressed beyond words if my 18 month old “got it” already, but my 4 year old digs it. Mostly, she likes the outfits—spandex is evergreen—but she also likes the funny voices I read it in. Oh, and when the villain’s robot body falls away and his little pink piggy toes regrow… her curly head almost popped right off her shoulders. One thing I love about the concept and the storyline, though, is it really should appeal to any age group. Parents will get the silly 80s references and kids will see, I hope, a little bit of themselves in Roxy, her genius brother, or the super tiny superhero girl at the end.

LR: What’s next on your writing agenda?

MS: Well, my day job is writing technical manuals for the government. Who could want more than that? Besides that? I have a couple novel ideas I’m trying to flesh out but I feel like that commands a lot more diligence and time than I have right now. I have joined a writers’ group that has been great for me, though. We write 3-5 page shorts and share them with the group. It helps me get the juices flowing and helps me deal constructively with criticism. No one likes second drafts or getting blasted by editors, so this is a good exercise in toughening up the skin a little!

LR: When you write a script or a story, are you an outliner, or a seat-of-your-pantser?

MS: Oh, of COURSE I use an outline. Every time. I also drive the speed limit and eat my vegetables first. I totally see the value of outlines (especially for non-fiction writers) but I am very bad at it. Typically, I have either a character or a scene in mind and everything else builds from there. If there was a viable market for vignettes out there, I would be a prolific millionaire writer. The “novellita.” That’s what I’d like to write. 

Having spent time with screenplays, I have learned to at least write a treatment before launching headlong into something new and that helps me organize a little. So yes, more of a seat-of-my-pantser.

LR: As a kid, who was your favorite literary crush?

MS: You mean author? I am a Mark Twain lover from way back. But I also fell pretty hard for Stephen (the) King after he kept me up all night with PET CEMETERY. Or did you mean characters? Funnily enough, I loved Heathcliff from WUTHERING HEIGHTS. I know he was a total douchebag in the book but I saw the movie first and Lawrence Olivier was so hot that when I finally read the book (alas, after the exam), I was so brainwashed by his delicious 3D character that I’d convinced myself he was just as sweet and lovable in the book.

LR: Favorites time! Favorite movie?

MS: Too many… Skyfall, Empire Strikes Back, The Usual Suspects, Up, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, Shawshank Redemption, and for pure laugh out loud girl power/craziness Bridesmaids.

LR: Favorite book?

MS: Wicked, Kavalier and Clay, On Writing, The Carnal Prayermat, Blood Sucking Fiends: A Love Story, Portrait of the Artist, The Poisonwood Bible, Letters From Earth, A Hundred Years of Solitude, A Brief History of Time, A Wrinkle in Time, The Autobiography of Helen Keller

LR: Favorite band/album?

MS: Oh man, I am so out of touch with what the kids are listening to these days. I admit to succumbing to the addiction that is country music. Love folksy stuff like Eddie from Ohio and Indigo Girls. Josh Radin, Regina Spektor, funkier stuff like Macy Gray and Morcheeba. Both my kids love old school rap so there always seems to be a dance party on. I’m sure that’s bad parenting, but I’m sure headspins and The Robot will prove to be more important life skills in the future than, say, picking Puccini out of a line-up.

Thanks, friend. This has been fun!

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No, Mere. Thank YOU for a fantastic interview and for a super-fun new book!! I still need you to sign mine, by the way!