All The King’s Ploughs

As it’s NaNoWriMo time again, I thought I would share something from the piece I’m working on.  This is a bit of an odd one, as what follows will most likely not make into the final product.  What started out as a lighthearted idea, quickly became something a bit darker, more twisted. It seems no matter how much I try, the horrific elements seem to follow me.

Also of note is none of the following has been edited. This is as crude as a draft can be.  I post it because even though I may not use it, I like the scene quite a bit, and thought it made a good opening.

In the Sewers

 

Kharisi skewered the sewer rat with the tip of his iron sword. He watched with more than a little delight as the vermin wriggled, even as its little rat guts clung to the weapon. Kharisi turned and shook it at his dwarven companion. “Didn’t you mention lunch but a moment ago?’

Slate Fistcrunch glared at his companion, and stroked at a long, luxurious beard that was no longer there. Realizing his old habit, he let out a fart in Kharisi’s direction.

“The most sense you’ve made all day Slate.” Kharisi said with a small edge in his voice. He lowered the sword, and with one foot pushed the dead animal off his sword, and stepped on its head, grinding bone and brain beneath his boot. He walked a few paces ahead of his companion, the sound of dripping water echoing off of moss covered walls. “Well dwarf, which way?” Kharisi didn’t look behind him, but could hear the stocky Slate catching up to him.

Slate stood by the elf’s side and looked around. He held out the burning torch in front of him and squinted. They were at a three way intersection and he immediately dismissed the path in front of them as it was barred by an iron grate. To the left was a nothing but a dark shaft, and to the right, he could sense a slight wind and with it the smell of offal. “This way,” he said.

“Lead the way,” Kharisi said, motioning the dwarf to move ahead of him. AS they started to move to the rightward tunnel, Slate stopped, held up a hand, and drew his axe.

“What is it?” Kharisi asked, and the sound of multiple legs scurrying up behind them answered his question. Kharisi laid a hand on the hilt of his sword and he could feel the hairs from the enormous spider brush the back of his neck. He held his breath, his grip tightening on the sword, as the spider started to raise itself up to strike. Kharisi turned, his motion a blur, sword out and plunging into the largest of the six eyes. The spider let out something like a scream which chilled Kharisi to the marrow. It backed away, blood and gore dripping from the wound. Slate not wanting to miss out on the fun, took a short leap and plunged the fire end of the torch in the ruined orbit.

The now flaming spider moved back even further, hissing and spitting phlegm-like wads of venom that sizzled as they hit the damp floor of the sewers. “Kill it you damned useless dwarf!”

Slate grunted, and muttered curses under his breath. He dislodged the torch which managed to remain lit, and replaced it with his axe, chopping away at the spider, avoiding the venom, and still managing to get his by gouts of blood. Not for the first time he cursed the Bards for making the slaughtering of beasts sound so easy. One quick thrust my ass, he thought. As he hacked away He saw Kharisi move swift as the wind to the backside of the spider and climbing on its back, he shoved his sword into its head.  It gave one final squall and slumped, dead as can be.

Kharisi sheathed his sword, jumped down from the corpse and looked down at the dwarf. “All that hack and mucking about wastes too much energy. A deftly placed sword works every time. Ask the Bards.”

Slate grumbled something impolite and put his axe away. He pushed Kharisi out of the way and stormed ahead. As he set off to follow the dwarf, he noticed something glimmer in the muck, and bent down to pick it up-pocketing it before Slate could see.

He smiled and continued on.

 

“How much more of this place is there?” Slate asked. Kharisi gave a small shrug. “After the Arnisian War decimated the country King Saerus’ grandfather ordered these to be built for any emergency or need to escape. They’ve been built upon since, and seeing as how peace reigns-however fleeting-our good King has seen fit to make it a sewer, fit only for vermin and shit.”

Slate looked up at Kharisi, studied the elf’s emerald green eyes that were almost translucent. The alabaster skin only heightened their deep color. “Are you sure? I’ve never seen anyone working on them, or digging.”

“Mages perhaps.”

Slate let out a laugh that was closer to a bark. “As if a mage would sully their precious feet and robes down here.”

Kharisi pondered this for a moment, wondering if at first it was a jab against elves, as most wielded magic. Kharisi could as well, but it was weak-his strong suit had always been that of a Warrior. In spite of race, Kharisi was a few inches taller than most elves, and possessed a physique befitting the Arnisians from the North. A stocky, fierce nation, all but wiped out after King Haveron destroyed it with the use of a mana bomb. Much as he hated to admit it, Slate was probably right-Elven Mages were a rather prissy group.  He sighed and continued walking. “Be that is it may, it changes not one fact that these sewers do seem to be getting bigger. I remember as a boy, when these were first being built, I would come down and practice my swordplay on the rats. There were very few places to go, or hide for that matter, and the rats then were smaller, weaker and far more frightened of me, than I of them.”

They soon reached a dead end, with the only other option to go back. “Did we miss a turn?” Slate asked. He leaned against the stone wall, and when it gave way , he fell back into the opening it had created. Kharisi grabbed the torch that had tumbled from the dwarf’s grip and held it out after extending his arm into the entry just created.

“My my, you’ve earned your gold piece for today my friend.” He patted the top of Slate’s head, who took a not so serious swipe at the elf’s hand.

“All you’ve earned is an ass kicking, now let’s see where this goes.”

Kharisi had to duck to get into the opening, and what they found themselves in wasn’t another corridor, but a large room. In the center was a fire that threw off no smoke. A cauldron sat on the floor next to it, big enough for someone to sit inside. Slate and Kharisi looked at one another, unease enveloping both of them. “Stay close,” Kharisi said in a hushed tone. “Put the torch out,” he added, we don’t want to be too obvious.”

“Like Elder beasts in the plains,” a voice rang out. It sounded old and haggard as if it took everything the owner had just to say that. Both knew not to let their guard down, as Crones were known to be very tricky. “Come, come, I won’t….bite!” A cackle of laughter and a flash of light blinded them briefly and when they could see again there was a shadowy figure next to the cauldron, hunched, withered, and covered with a cowl that had straggles of straw coarse gray hair.

“I said, come.”

The duo found themselves walking towards the elevated platform where the Crone and her pot waited. Despite the chill from the stone walls and Fall weather outside of the walls, sweat began beading on their foreheads, this despite the fact the fire she had going gave off no heat. Slate was the first to climb up the three shallow steps and stood within striking distance of the Crone, though he gave no appearance he would do so.  The Crone eyed Slate, scanning him with an intensity that Kharisi found frightening.  “I’ve no interest in you dwarf!” She said, and with a small flick of her wrist, Slate flung backwards as an unseen force blew him off the altar.

“You, Elf, give to me what is mine,” flames danced in her white blinded eyes. There was a sliver of saliva dripping from the corner of her toothless mouth. The nostrils on her sharp nose twitched with impatience.

“I have nothing for you hag, not even a stiff wand for you to fondle.”

“Hag?” she cried, her stooped posture stretching itself out until she stood straight and tall. “Watch your tongue Elf! You killed my precious Eolanda, then stole the ring I gave to her. Tread carefully. Hand it to me and you may even live.”

Kharisi had no doubt she was serious, and while Crones weren’t necessarily good, they never went out of their way to harm a stranger. That was until Kharisi met this crone, whose heart was as black as the robes she wore. Must be very important if she’s threatening. Must not let her have it then. “Perhaps in your old age you’ve forgotten things, it happened to my grandmother. Besides, why would you give a ring to a spider?

“That is not yours to know.  Give me the ring.” Her voice was cold and frosty.  Kharisi stood there, unmoving, barely blinking.

“Once more, I know nothing about it.”

“Liar! I saw you pocket it, look into the cauldron as instructed, and saw the fight with the spider on the oily surface. He watched as Slate kept chipping away and Kharisi snuck around to deal the final blow. He saw himself pocket the plain looking ring and catch up to Slate.

Kharisi refused to admit his thievery and remained silent. He put his hand in his pocket and closed his fist around the jewelry. As he pulled his hand out, Kharisi opened his hand, showing the ring on his sweat slick palm. The crone snatched for it but was too slow, as Kharisi moved his hand then unclenched his fist to show the ring had disappeared.

“Enough games,” the crone said with a quiet voice. “That ring is mine and I want to have it.” From within the sleeve of her robe she pulled out a gnarled branch of a wand, and pointed it at Kharisi. A thin blue beam of light pulsed from the stick and sent a wave of cold over Kharisi’s body, he could feel his toes starting to freeze to the point he was unable to wiggle them. His teeth chattered, as his torso shivered. Kharisi’s eyes began to burn as he couldn’t blink, and the tears which tried to fall became little shards of ice. As he tried to close his mouth, his jaw froze in an O position, which he thought would bring no shortage of amusement to anyone who might see.

The Crone moved closer and the cold became stronger. She cackled and was so intent on Kharisi, that she hadn’t noticed Slatesneaking around behind her, axe held high. “That’ll be enough of that!” he said, and swung horizontally, cutting the Crone’s head clean from her body. The head flew through air, as the body crumbled to the floor. Her wand fell to the ground, bounced and hit Kharisi between his now thawing legs. In almost an instant, his bulge grew and distorted the front of his leggings. Slate pretended not to notice and grabbed the wand but it crumbled in his hand leaving nothing but shavings.

You had the ring all this time and said nothing? Slate said, his face turning red as much from anger as embarrassment.

“I had a ring. But it’s so plain I had no idea it was the one we were searching for.” He made no attempt to hide his engorgement, though he was still feeling the effects of the Crone’s freezing spell, he may not have even noticed were it not for the fact Slate kept glancing at his. Kharisi looked down and grinned. “Apparently something is still frozen. Care to warm it up?’

Slate gave him a look of disgust and turned away. “Let’s just get out of here,” he said, walking away. Kharisi remained quiet and followed, kicking the Crone’s bloody head out of the way out of spite.

Phobophobia

 

Several weeks ago my friend Joe made a mock up cover using a photo I had played with on my phone. The title, Phobophobia, was his idea. The only problem was, I didn’t have anything I was writing that might fit the title.  I liked his idea for the cover a lot, and put it on the back burner as I continued working on Lonely Are The Dead.

As it so happens, progress on LATD began to become a fight to get anything written. I sort of know where I want to go, but the ending has been eluding me. Everytime I would open the file, I’d stare, and edit what I’d already written, but couldn’t-and still can’t-figure out the right ending. The one I had in mind would serve its purpose of tying the tale up, but it’s not one I’m happy with.

 

And then last night in a conversation on facebook, Joe asked me if I was working on anything new. I had a couple of ideas for a short story for the next Fossil Lake anthology, but instead I wrote, “I have an idea for my next one, which I kind of got from that phobophobia cover you did. Lots of bugs, boils, and a serial killing priest.” Thus surprised me as I did have an idea involving bugs and boils, but the serial killing priest was a new element. However, it intrigued me, and I started thinking about it. I went to bed, and when I woke up this morning I knew how the first chapter would go. I banged it out in about an hour, and very happy with the results.

As I was writing it, I was struck with another inspiration: I would not only connect it with Barbed Wire Kisses, but also introduce the main character in LATD, psychic detective Napoleon Santierre.  What follows is part of the first chapter from Phobophobia. A one sentence synopsis would be: Father Rossi is a serial killer priest who chooses his victims based on his phobias, and Santierre, with the help of his victims and other ghosts sets out to uncover and stop him.

 

As always this is coprighted by myself and none may be used or excerpted without my express permission. Enjoy.

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Phobophobia

One:

Our Lady of Perpetual Dispensation

 

Father Rossi sat in the confessional, and wiped sweat from his smooth upper lip. He could feel it beading on his hairless scalp, and felt it trickle down his brow. Some errant droplets slid down into his eyes, stinging them. When that happened he would push the frames of his bifocals up and wipe at the tear ducts with a dainty finger. Even with his thin frame, the confessional was cramped, and with the air conditioning on the fritz, and claustrophobia beginning to kick in, hearing the sins of his parishioners seemed unbearable.

Not for the first time, Rossi pictured himself as the Lord wandering through the desert,. Dried, on the verge of bleeding skin buffeted by hot wind. as sand ripped at the flesh and blinding him at the same time. Arizona was no place to be without working air conditioning, particularly in the summer. Rossi sighed and opened the door. It had been almost fifteen minutes since the last sinner had bleated their litany of crimes against God, and he wasn’t surprised to find the church empty. The only noise to pierce the quiet was the repairman on the roof tending to the cooling units.

The priest took his walking stick which was leaning against the flimsy panel that separated him from the confessor and stepped into the oppressive heat of Our Lady of Immaculate Dispensation. He surveyed the small area as he always did when he finished his obligation, and wondered, again, as he always did, what he’d ever done to be placed in such an unremarkable, almost forgotten parish. The wooden pews were ancient, even when he’d arrived almost a decade prior, and almost unbearable to sit on for any length of time. The hymnals, on the rare times they raised their voice in song, were tattered. Pages were missing, and indeed, so were some of the covers. What remained of them had yellowing pages with fading ink. Rossi had continually asked for the funds from the Bishop to renovate or at the very least replace the hymnals but his requests had always been rebuffed. “Tough times, declining numbers, maybe another time…” is all he heard. When Rossi heard the Bishop was driving a new Lincoln town car he stopped asking.

The priest walked up the aisle, eyes focused on the altar and the large crucifix attached to the back wall. The eyes of a Christ in agony seemed to follow him. He knelt before the creaking altar, genuflected, and jumped as the sound of something crashing came from above. Rossi looked up and saw some of the plaster floating down like dirty snow. “What in blazes?” he said under his breath. He turned around, marched down the center of the church and opened the front doors and was accosted by the ruthless heat and blazing sun. Rossi for once ignored the weather, and walked around the wood and stone building to the back. There was a rickety wooden stairwell that led to the roof, as well as the bell tower though there hadn’t been a bell in place since the late 1800’s. Holding his cane in one hand and grabbing the splinter laden banister with the other, Father Rossi climbed up what was essentially a fancy ladder and peered over the Spanish tile roof top.

“Everything okay?”

 

There was no response. Rossi set his cane down on the edge of the roof, careful to not let it fall over. He pulled up the hem of his cassock so as not to trip on it and set a foot on the roof. With great care so he didn’t go falling off either, he pulled his other foot onto the fragile terra cotta shingles and held out his hands to gain his balance. After a moment, he made his way to the middle where the rusty evaporative cooler sat like a malignant growth, and saw the repairman straining to lift it back onto the metallic shelf it had fallen from.

“Need a hand?” he asked.

The repairman looked up, eyes hidden behind a pair of 99 cent store sunglasses. “About six of them.”

Rossi gave a slight smile, and bent down on his haunches, and the repairman waved him away. “No need, this ain’t going anywhere, ‘cept maybe through this roof if we mess with it.” He stood, and offered a hand to help the priest up. Rossi accepted the help, and heard his knees pop as he stood. He reached into the slit in the side of his cassock, and pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket. Rossi wiped the sweat from his face, and ran it around the damp collar.

“I’d give this last rites father. It’s done for.” He then went on to explain everything that was wrong, and how he might be able to get parts, but no guarantees as this model was so old, and should have been replaced years ago. Rossi nodded, a fake smile amidst a darkening face. He would nod, and give an “I see,” once in awhile, but all he could think of was the sweat.

The soiled clothing, the wet skin, and the bacteria that could form in the excretion. While no doctor, he knew that sweat could be cesspools for any kind of bug and cause ringworm, illness, and God knew what else.

No, I’ll have none of that, he thought. Rossi processed all he’d been told and concluded that despite its age, the cooler could be fixed, but the repairman didn’t want to. Already he was gathering up his tools, and placing them in a canvas bag, his work here done. What the priest saw was a lazy sinner only intent on sending Mother Church a hefty bill for doing absolutely nothing except get a tan.

The repairman zipped up the bag, grabbed it by the handle and made his way to the staircase. He noticed the can laying on the roof, and bent to pick it up. He gripped it by the bottom and offered the handle end to the priest. Rossi took it and held firm. Before the repairman could release it, Rossi gave a hard shove, throwing the worker off balance. He yanked his cane away and poked him in the chest sending him back and over the side of the church. Rossi heard the satisfying sound of his skull cracking on an exposed rock.

Rossi climbed down, careful to fall himself, and when he reached the bottom, stood over the repairman. Blood and gore leaked from the open wound, as his eyes fluttered in his sockets and his limbs twitched. He stepped over the soon to be dead man in search of a glass of water.

Then maybe he’d use the phone in his rectory.

Fandom Weirdness by Nickolaus Pacione – A Critique Part 1

I also could have called this “Everything I’ve ignored in Strunk & White is in this bowel movement of a story” and be just as accurate. While the entire piece is 6200 words (but feels a good deal longer), I’m going to concentrate on the first page for now. There’s only so much I can take before I feel my will to live slowly leave.

Karen Hintz was noticed regularly on her blog

well, it’s her blog, I would hope she would be noticed. And yes, that’s how it starts.

        She didn’t know that she was about to step into nightmares imagined by author, Richard Matheson, and they were going to take her into dark emotional places.

She also didn’t know she would be the main character in a story so ineptly written, so devoid of anything resembling coherence, that even Richard Matheson couldn’t save it.

        When she stepped away from the word processor, outside of her door was a stranger with an invitation – it was a strange occurrence

Certainly much preferable to reading this story. I envy her.

.  But the stranger was one who could pass for a character in an Edgar Allan Poe short story.

And famous writer mention 2. When you have so little imagination or talent, you always have to mention far better writers. Then I have to wonder why I’m not reading them instead of this turd blossom.

. While racing her fingers across the keyboard she felt there was a darkness plaguing her, and e-mails from pissed off horror writers because she was doing fucked up things to their characters.

Not as fucked up as this I’m sure. I wonder if fictional characters can sue their creators for torture?

        “You took two of his characters and wrote them into an all male romance plot,”  the person commenting is named Hellen Willow, no relation to the ex-gay that a small press publisher published in the pages of his magazine.

Here begins the authors fascination with homosexuality and his trying to come out of the closet. I think, hard to tell what he means in all of that.

        “No you are dealing with a controversial born again Christian who writes with dark spiritual warfare themes,” Hellen typed to her in an instant message.

Not sure how she went to instant messaging from a comment as Pacione doesn’t say anything about that. As stated earlier, coherence and logic are not strong suit.

It was about an hour later when the door bell rang.
“Just a minute, I am coming down.”

Was she upstairs? Or was she coming off some sort of medication? Perhaps that explains her dark feelings.

“Are you interested in summing something that no one will fathom?” he had asked with some dark curiosity

Then he hands her a copy of this, a story as unfathomable as you can get.

        “Nicholas Kane, the author of the story Spectral Exile – a story about a nightclub that fucked up things happened in there.  It was compared to Hell House,” Michael replied.

Ahh Hell House, a fantastic read, wish I had that instead. Also -100 points Slytherin for gratuitous and subliminal mention of far better work.

        “The blogger lifted this story’s idea and made it sexual,” he added.
“Would you like to come in?”

Is that a pass she’s making? We’ll have to wait until part two!

T.M. Wright Interview

In April of 2009, I conducted an interview with legendary writer T.M. Wright. It appeared on the Apex Online website, and though no longer available there, I’m posting it on my blog, so those who never had a chance to read it are now able to.

When Stephen King calls you a rare and blazing talent, you know you’ve done something right. In a career that spans almost 50 years, T.M. Wright has proven to be one of the most enduring writers of speculative fiction. His work truly defies any easy categorization, yet it’s all easily identifiable as a T.M. Wright novel.

Born in Syracuse, NY in 1947 to a traveling salesman father and a secretary (later a teacher) mother, Terry is one of six children.; his twin brother, T. Lucien Wright, has published six novels in, more or less, the same genre–dark fantasy.

Q: Your first book, was The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Flying Saucers, published back in 1968, what was the impetus for this? And had you done any writing non fiction or otherwise, prior to its release?

T.M. I actually believed–so long ago–that UFOs (aka “Flying Saucers”) were something…real, that intelligent life from some other star system had found its way to our star system.  So, with that…hope in mind, I decided to write a book that dealt with the subject in an “intelligent” way.  Yes, I knew that Asimov had a series of books with the title prefix “The Intelligent Man’s Guide to”… but that didn’t bother me (in fact, he threatened to sue me, after the book was published, but backed off when his lawyers told him that titles couldn’t be copyrighted.)  I made a whopping $300.00 on the book, although it sold about five thousand copies in hardcover, at $5.95.  The publisher, A.S. Barnes, NJ, contracted for another book–“The Complete Photographic History of Flying Saucers,” which, for various sad and laughable reasons, never saw print.

 I’d been writing poetry and short science fiction for years, then: my first publication was, in fact, a poem, in The Newark (NY) Courier Gazette, in 1961, titled “Silver Branches,” about, of course, an ice storm.

Q: Strange Seed came out 10 years after the flying saucer book. It was your first published novel—how was that different for you from having your nonfiction book published?

TMW: Thankfully, it required far less research, though a lot more imagination.  I remember getting positive responses to my queries about the novel (which existed, then, only as a vague idea), and deciding that the response from Doubleday (and editor William G. Thompson, Stephen King’s first editor) was the most promising, and turning to my cat, Oily, and saying, “Now all I’ve got to do is write the damned thing.”  Two and half years later, the book was published by the now-defunct Everest House, which Bill Thompson and a couple of friends had founded after Bill left Doubleday.  The novel has been reprinted several times, by various publishing houses, and (pats himself on the back) you’ll find it on King’s list of the best of the genre in “Danse Macabre.”

Q:  Stephen King referred to you as a rare and blazing talent, in his blurb for one of your early novels, was there any pressure on you to live up to that?

TMW: Not really, because I wasn’t sure what he meant by “a rare and blazing talent”–I had a feeling it was simply filler at the end of his complete blurb, though, as I think about it, and without checking, the quote itself may have been for my second novel, “The Woman Next Door” (Playboy Press, 1981): maybe a reader will check that for us.

Q: A Manhattan Ghost Story is probably one of your best known novels, and has been in and out of development as a movie for years, where does that stand now? And can you talk a bit about the history of it being optioned ?

TMW: The novel, first published in 1984, by TOR Books, was optioned by Robert Lawrence Productions, through my agent at the time, Howard Morhaim, in 1991.  That option was exercised by Lawrence in 1993 and the film was scheduled to begin production that year through Carolco Pictures (same studio that brought you the Terminator series, as well as the really awful pirate movie starring Geena Davis—Cutthroat Island—which, because it lost $100 million, spelled the studio’s doom, and, also, the doom for their plans for “A Manhattan Ghost Story”).  Back then, Julia Roberts and Richard Gere were attached to A Manhattan Ghost Story, though, after the property went to Disney, which bought the rights at the Carolco bankruptcy sale for 1.7 million, Sharon Stone was firmly attached, and a number of directors were tapped, then un-tapped, as the decade progressed.  Ron Bass (Rainman, Sleeping with The Enemy, What Dreams May Come, et cetera, et cetera) was paid what was, at the time, a record amount for adapting a novel to the screen ($2 million), and now, today, you will find, at Hollywood.com, that the movie is “announced,” whatever the hell that means, with Wayne Wang as the director and that it’s with Left Bank Productions, a studio owned by George Clooney.  Several people have made more than a few million on the project, though its “first day of principal photography” has come and gone numerous times.  The tale of the decade and a half I’ve waited for the movie to be made is very sad indeed–and my advice to others whose novels get optioned, and the options get exercised, is simply to enjoy the cash and hope for the best.

Q: Your work, and particularly your later novels have a surreal flavor to them, is that intentional when you start out, or does it sort of develop as you write?

TMW: Because I don’t believe in “evil” as a force in nature, I tend to peer very closely at my characters’ motivations within the context of a surreal universe. And I’m not really sure what I mean by “surreal” other than to say that my characters realize, at one point or another, that the universe, their universe, our universe, isn’t exactly what they thought it was, that it’s not really a predictable, ordered, or orderly place. But they‘ve got to find some comfort level in that whacked-out universe, so they adapt to it in various ways. For instance, Paul Griffin, one of the two main characters in Strange Seed, discovers, many  pages into the story, what he truly is, and it causes him to act in horrifically unpredictable ways.

Then there’s Abner W. Cray, the lead male in “A Manhattan Ghost Story,” who discovers “true love” for the first time in his miserable existence, but then discovers that the object of his love is not one of the living: does he drop the relationship at once?  Of course not, he re-orders his world-view (in a way) and his expectations, too.  He becomes enamored of the idea of being in love, and making love to, a woman who—although, most of the time, she looks quite invitingly alive—is a murder victim.

As one of my characters once said, “Existence is dull without absurdities.”  Maybe that’s precisely what I’ve been writing about these last three decades.

Q: You wrote 2 novels under the pseudonym F.W. Armstrong, was there a specific reason for this?

TMW: Yes. My editor at the time, the mid eighties, wanted me to write a couple of novels that were “more graphic” and “blood curdling” than what I’d written to that point.  And because she didn’t want the novels to effect the way people looked at my TM Wright novels, she asked that I write them under a pseudonym.  Less money was involved, but there was far less time involved as well. Whereas I usually spent three to five months on a TM Wright novel, I only spent three to four weeks on the FW Armstrong’s, but was still paid about 75% of what I got for the TM Wright novels.  FW Armstrong, by the way, is a real person. He lives in Rochester, NY and runs an animation studio called Animatus. He and I have been friends for over forty years and we’re still, after thirty years, looking for someone to bankroll a low-budget film based on “Strange Seed,” for which I’ve completed one screenplay and started another.

Q. You write novel, stories, and poems as well as paint: which gives you the greatest satisfaction?

TMW: I would like to say that writing fiction and poetry, and dabbling in art, all give me equal satisfaction, and that would be true if I were equally successful with each of those disciplines, but I can’t say that because what I do best, and I realize it only too well, is write fiction. If I create a painting that pleases me and pleases the subject of the painting, and a few others, I feel good about it. and that’s fine. But, if I write a novel that gets lots of praise from readers and reviewers, and as well, I think it’s a successful novel, then I feel very good about it.  I’ll tell you a secret though: I’d even more like to be remembered as a poet than as a novelist.  It’s the way I began my writing life—as a poet–nearly fifty years ago.  Somewhere in those decades, I guess I realized that poets had to struggle very, very hard simply to earn somewhere near half of minimum wage.  That didn’t appeal to me.

Q. You said you find yourself more drawn to poetry as you grow older, do you also find the things you want to write about have also changed?

TMW: No, probably not.  My first novel was pretty much concerned with a very troubled being’s internal torment; same with “The Eyes of the Carp” (CD, 2005) and “I Am the Bird” (PS Publishing, 2006), and “Cold House” (Catalyst Press, 2003).  I’m concerned, in my fiction, and, to some extent, in my poetry, with the…nasty stuff that percolates within us, and its effects as time passes.

Q. Who are some of your influences, and who do you enjoy reading?

TMW: Shirley Jackson, C.S. Lewis, Harlan Ellison, H.G. Wells, T.S. Eliot, Stephen King, Albert Camus (I did an essay about Camus’ “The Stranger” for the second edition of HORROR: THE 100 BEST BOOKS), Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Weldon Kees (a now all but forgotten poet and short story writer who took his own life in 1954; if you haven’t read him, you must), Carolyn Chute, for her groundbreaking and oddly lyrical first novel, “The Beans of Egypt, Maine” (1985), Ramsey Campbell, Charles L. Grant (who was, and remains, the king of “Quiet Horror”) and Isaac Asimov, who entertained me through most of my young teenage years.

Who do I read now, primarily?  Weldon Kees, Mary Oliver (poet), Galway Kinnell (poet), Tom Piccirilli (novelist, short story writer, poet, and good friend), Pete Crowther, whose approach to literature is unique and beautiful, Rhys Hughes, and many others, many of then poets: as I…er…age (not very gracefully), I find myself being pulled back to poetry.  I’m not going to go on and on about “why,” but I will say that it (poetry) has more of life in it, for me, now, than fiction.  Which is probably why much of the fiction I read borders on the poetic.

Q. ) What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about writing and being a writer?

TMW: From William G. Thompson, my editor on “Strange Seed”: “Never lie to the reader.”  Also, in general–“Writing is rewriting.”  At least for me.

Q.  Did you grow up wanting to be a writer ?

TMW: Well, let me see, as of this date (April 7, 2009), I’ve been writing for about fifty years.  God I’m a geezer.  And, yes, I’ve known I wanted (needed) to write ever since I was a “pre-teen,” and I was convinced, even then, that I had what it took to publish what I wrote.  My first book was published about 9 or 10 years after the writing bug bit me and the swelling that bug created still hasn’t receded.  ).  My father, whos’s the impetus for the incredibly abusive father in “Cold House,” was, in big ways, responsible for my need to create a universe of my own in the stories I wrote.)

Q.  You were labeled as a horror writer almost from the get go, yet most of your work, while having some horrific elements, doesn’t neatly fit into the “horror” genre. how would you label your work?

TMW: Are you ready for this?  Existential horror, existential dark fantasy.  Stuff that looks inward and tries to figure out what we human beings are really all about.  It’s a futile effort, I know.  Blu Gilliand described my writing just about perfectly when he reviewed my CD collection “Bone Soup” in Dark Scribe Magazine (April, 2009): “rather, these stories are focused examinations of singular, defining moments, decisions and events in the characters’ lives.”

Q. For someone who has never read your work, where would you suggest they start?

TMW: Hard to say.  Maybe “Strange Seed,” my first novel, or, possibly, “Cold House” (a revised edition appears in “Bone Soup”) or, one of my own favorites, “Sleepeasy” (Leisure, 2003).

Q:  What can you tell us about your upcoming novel Blue Canoe? Any word on when your collection, Bone Soup will be released?

“Blue Canoe” (PS Publications, UK, April, 2009) is a short novel written, according to the subtitle (A MEMOIR OF THE NEWLY NON-CORPOREAL), by a man who’s trying to look back and find out just what the hell his life was all about.  He tells us his name is “Happy Farmer” (which may or may not be true), and it’s clear from the beginning that he’s having trouble, of course (a man in his condition and all) recalling the best, and worst, moments of his life correctly: he thinks the love of his life was a woman named Epistobel (he tells us her mother named her “Epistobel” because she—the mother—thought it meant “flowing beauty,” which may or may not be true, as well), and his first-person narration waxes and wanes about Epistobel, about “the dog who would have been Bob had he been Bob” who inhabits the house Happy Farmer inhabits, about his—Happy Farmer’s—very, very strange family, and even stranger relatives, about Detective Fred Spoon, who appears later in the novel, whom Happy Farmer, under an assumed name, hires to find another love of his life who may or may not be Epistobel.  For a short novel (42,000 words), it’s got a hell of a lot going on and most of it is…surreal, at least.  Read Tom Piccirilli’s eye-opening introduction.  I’ll go out on a very long limb and say that, since finishing the novel four years ago, I’ve thought of it as my best, surreal and, so often, confusing though it is—but that’s all right (read below).

“Bone Soup,” a collection of art, poetry, short fiction and a slightly revised version of my 2003 novel “Cold House” (which received very minimal distribution upon its publication but has gotten some of the best reviews of my career), will be published some time this year by Cemetery Dance.

Q. And finally, what do you hope people will bring away with them when they read your work?

TMW: I hope they bring away from their reading of my books what I brought to them—a sense that our universe (small, very small, large, very large, unfathomably large) is actually not the place of order and predictability and sanity that many of us believe and hope it is; because, after all, existence really is dull without absurdities.

The Reaction

I made a post on this over on SL, and thought I’d blog about it as well, for those who don’t frequent Matt’s House of Favoritism. I was telling a coworker today about my poem Forgotten Son, being included in the Death In Common poetry anthology. Their reaction: “Horror? That’s not real writing.”

They walked away before I could reply, but even now, I’m still not sure how to react. I know better. I also know different genres elicit different reactions. But to think something isn’t “real” because of the genre, is a rather harsh statement. What is real? To some it may be Romance, Crime noir for others. Horror for me can encompass all other genres in one form or another, and still stand on it’s own.

Somehow the fact, I choose to write horror (not esclusively, but it’s the most prominent of my current projects), makes my labor meaningless to someone. 

I love horror, always have. before my 20 year absence of writing I had a friend tell me that I’d outgrow it, as if it were a stage of life or something. To me, horror is what I do best. I don’t ignore non horror ideas as they come along (in fact I have a sci fi that came up the other night I’m working on), but it’s what I gravitate towards. 

I’m a storyteller, and while people are under no obligation to read anything I publish, nor are they welcome to denigrate a genre simply because they don’t like it, or think it’s “real” writing.

The Write Stuff

In the two and a half months I’ve had this blog, not once have I mentioned any of the projects I’m working on. As a general rule, I don’t like to talk about them, as I begin to lose the excitement I feel for the projects.

Right now I’m adding onto my zombie story, Killer Weed. It started out as an okay 2500 word story, but has now ballooned into almost 6000 words. I’ve added several scenes to give some background on Johnny boy, one of the main characters, and his relationship to Ed, the narrator. I’m quite happy with how it’s coming along and should have this done by Halloween time.

I’m also working on a trilogy of fantasy novels I’ve had in mind for close to 20 years. I made one attempt at the first book back in  ’89, but didn’t have the ability to do it justice. I was writing plays mostly at that point, and the odd short story, so a full length fiction piece was beyond me. I’ve made brief outlines for each book in the series, and doing research now on the London underground system, as well as some geography in Europe and around Washington DC. Part fantasy, part science fiction and part political thriller, the first book, Castle Blackburn: From the Ashes, intermingles faireies, gnomes, elves, modern politics, and aliens all converging into a cliffhanger ending. Book 2, is somewhat of a prequel, and book 3 picks up immediately after the first one ends. There was no reason behind my plotting it this way, other than it made the most sense to me. 

Once I finish Killer Weed, I’ll be recreating a lost story of mine, that has always been one of my favorites, Heart of Stone. It’s as close to mainstream fiction as I’ve ever gotten, and look forward to bringing it back to life. After Stone is completed I’ll be going into the trilogy and hope to have the first book done by early spring. I’m not a fast writer, by any stretch of the imagination; I believe in taking my time and doing things right. I take pride in my work, and even if nothing ever sees the light of publishing, I’ll know I did the best job I could. 

I’m also making sure I keep my Strunk and white handy.  As much as I’ve learned over the course of my life, there’s much I’ve forgotten, but the S&W always reminds me of those things that seem to fade over time. Nitwits take note of that.