Seeing It a New Way

In my teen writing class at the Mount Horeb Public Library last week, we segued into discussing Catcher in the Rye, and one of my students made the following observation (which I'm paraphrasing): Some of my friends have said that, since the characters in the book were rich, Holden's problems weren't that significant. But in so many other books I've read, Read more

A True Story of Frog-Gigging and Disappointment

I wrote the following piece for a memoir class taught by Michelle Wildgen, best-selling author of Bread and Butter and You're Not You (soon to be a movie starring Hilary Swank). When I was a kid growing up in rural Tennessee, my dad determined that I would follow in his footsteps and leave a trail of dead small animals behind Read more

For Halloween, Try EXORCISMUS

Every year around Halloween I try to recommend a horror movie you might not have seen, something off the beaten path and all the better for it. You can read previous recommendations here and here. This year, I worried that I wouldn't find anything. Then I discovered the 2010 film, Exorcismus. No, I can't explain the title, either. Yes, it's an exorcism movie, Read more

The Great Rock and Roll Secret

Suppose the great rock single had flickered over the airways just once, on the night you had passed out in the back seat?  Probably not, but still...rock and roll has always had this sense of possibility.  --Dave Marsh, Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, page 93 I originally read the above quote in the 1980s, when the first edition of Read more

Review: The Making of Day of the Dead

When I heard there would be a book entirely about the making of George A. Romero's third zombie movie, Day of the Dead, I was surprised. The movie had not been a financial or critical success at the time, and while its reputation has risen since its 1985 release, it's still nowhere near as well-known as its predecessors, Night Read more

Writing on demand for MY BLOODY VALENTINE

Posted on by Alex in anthology, eBook sale, Firefly Witch, short stories, writers, writing | 2 Comments

Every writer has at least one weakness, something they don’t do as well as they’d like. They know it, and their readers know it. Raymond Chandler knew he didn’t do plots well, which is why the structures of his novels a) don’t bear up to scrutiny, and b) are often cribbed from his previous short stories. Of course, what he did do well, he did so well that no one minded what he couldn’t do. As critic Robin Wood famously said, “who cares who killed Owen Taylor?”*

My problem has always been writing on demand.

By that, I mean responding when someone says, “Write a story about dogs,” or, “Write a story set in Montana.” My own skills don’t work that way; I need time to puzzle over ideas and let them develop organically. I have no problem writing about dogs, or Montana, or even dogs in Montana. But I need time to work my way into it on my own.

Which is why, whenever I get asked to contribute to an anthology, I try to do it. Because the only way over these sticking points is through them.

My Bloody Valentine - Box Set -500 pixels

When the editors of My Bloody Valentine said they needed a story a) of about 15,000 words, b) about love, and c) with the opening words, “Love hurts,” I was intrigued, and a little intimidated. When they told me how quickly they needed it, I was a lot intimidated.

Beyond the problems I mentioned above, there was a third issue: I’d never written anything that clocked in at 15,000 words. My short stories average between 3-7K words, and my novels at around 90K. 50K is novella territory, new ground for me. As Stephen King says, the novella is “an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic.”

But the folks doing the anthology were the same one who publish my “Firefly Witch” stories, so I felt I owed them an honest shot. And I decided that I’d make this a Firefly Witch story as well, so that at least I’d be working with characters I knew.

I thought about the stories I’d written about these characters, and what aspects of them I hadn’t explored so far. I realized I’d often mentioned that Tanna taught college, but hadn’t really shown her functioning as a teacher. With that as a starting point, I wrote about an investigation into a haunting that doesn’t go as planned, and as I wrote, the rest of the characters filled out the plot and gave me plenty of material to work with. It was a near thing–I think I hit the deadline on the day, and my word count was just…barely…15K, but it worked. The editors liked it and picked it for the anthology.

And you can read that story, “Tantrabobus,” along with seven other stories from a variety of writers and genres, in the ebook anthology My Bloody Valentine, available now from Story Vault. You can get it from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. for only $2.99 for a limited time. And if you do pick it up, please leave an honest review at the site of your choice!

*for the record, it’s a plot point from The Big Sleep, and it’s never really clear.  The only explanation that even works is that Taylor committed suicide, which makes about as much sense in context as it does right here.

New Anthology: FLYING HIGHER

Posted on by Alex in anthology, heroes, poetry, pop culture, writers, writing | Leave a comment

I’m not a poet. I feel I should say that at the outset.

But I have written a poem, “O Captain! America’s Captain.” It’s now part of this anthology:

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It’s a labor of love, as they say. Editors Michael Damien Thomas and Shira Lipkin loved the idea, and they approached me and the other authors, asking us to channel our love for superheroes into poetry. Some, like mine, are less than serious; some are quite touching.

But all of them are FREE.

That’s right, the whole collection is available for just about every ebook platform, FREE.

Visit this link to download your copy.  And if you like a particular poem, please let the author know.

Available now: Hurricane Sandy benefit anthology

Posted on by Alex in anthology, short stories, writing | Leave a comment

 

The Hurricane Sandy benefit anthology Triumph Over Tragedy is now available.  It includes 41 stories for $6.99  (one of which, “Wrap,” is by me), so it’s basically only 18 cents a story.  And all the proceeds go to the Red Cross for Hurricane Sandy relief.

It’s available for the Kindle here, and the Nook here.

The Blurring of Lines

Posted on by Alex in anthology, biography, children, family, gender roles, Parenting, politics, writers, writing | 1 Comment

Recently, while reading the Janet Sternburg-edited collection The Writer on Her Work, I had an unexpected epiphany (I know, epiphanies are always unexpected, but work with me). It was the realization that my life in 2012 is almost exactly Anne Tyler’s in 1980.

 

Tyler, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Breathing Lessons and The Accidental Tourist, contributed the book’s first essay, “Still Just Writing.” It begins with a list of all the real-world mundane events and responsibilities that keep her from writing when she wants to.  The parallels with my own life right now–I’m the stay-at-home parent (or is the term “primary caregiver”? I can never remember) for two small children, and I write between events such as school, martial arts practice, acting class, various playdates and so forth–are pretty strong.* And I’m not the only one of my male writer friends in this situation.

The C-in-C back when we were full-time co-workers.

In all the essays in the book, the role of women in society forms a strong undercurrent. Comments from famous male authors explaining why women can’t be great writers (imagine hearing that in a college classroom now) are related, and examples from the past (Honor Moore’s tale of her grandmother who gave up painting because it was “too intense” is really fascinating) show how creative women struggled against both society and their own sense of isolation. In 1980 these struggles continued, but all the writers in the book have reached a point where they understand their desire to write is both irresistible and entirely acceptable, society be damned.

Now, the big difference with the life Tyler describes is crucial: thirty years ago, her life was the norm. It was what society expected women to do. It’s neither normal now, nor unheard-of, for the man to be the primary caregiver while the woman works out of the home.  It is, in fact, a time when all the old roles described in Sternburg’s book are starting to twist and mutate.  And sadly but perhaps inevitably, it’s being driven by economics, not social justice.

In fact, particularly within the so-called “creative community” of contemporary (and internet-linked) writers, artists and musicians, the traditional roles that Sternburg’s book discusses have certainly lost their edges, if not broken down entirely. Men can no longer find jobs lucrative enough to support their families; two incomes are the standard. In my case, my last full-time non-writing job did not pay enough to cover putting my youngest son in day care when he was a newborn. So I gratefully took the chance to become a full-time stay-at-home father, as well as a full-time writer. Both, for me at least, have paid off more than ever anticipated.

But are these changes permanent? Unless there’s a total collapse, eventually the economic system will recover, and jobs will become both better and easier to get. What happens to all these nontraditional families then? When the soldiers came back from World War II, women didn’t necessarily want to leave the work force to give the men back their jobs. And from that, eventually (it’s a hugely simplified explanation, I know) came the first modern feminist movement. So when jobs are again available, will men want to give up raising their kids to return to the traditional workplace?

I don’t know. We’ll see. But in the meantime, The Writer on Her Work has me looking at myself and my family with a whole new appreciation.

*Of course I don’t have her talent. That’s not what I’m saying at all.

Interview: Andrew Brasfield, songwriter of Cold Wind

Posted on by Alex in anthology, cover art, creativity, eBook sale, faeries, folk music, interview, music, short stories, tennessee, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

When I began planning Time of the Season, my holiday-themed e-book chapbook, I already had two of the stories. Both the title story and “A Ghost, and a Chance” had been around for a while. But I wanted to write something new, and I’d gotten such a good response from my novel, The Hum and the Shiver, that I decided to write a holiday story set in the that world. The Tufa stories all revolve around music, so I needed a song to form the center of this new one. So I asked around: did anyone know of an original winter or holiday song, one by an indie artist who could grant permission for me to use the lyrics in a story?

Dale Short, host of the roots-music radio show “Music from Home” in Jasper, Alabama, suggested I check out this:


 

The first time I heard it, I knew it was the right song.

I contacted Andrew Brasfield, and happily, he agreed to let me quote from the lyrics in the story.  This is a trickier proposition than it sounds, because a lot of musicians, particularly the ones played on mainstream radio, don’t actually own the rights to their own songs. Music publishers, record labels and other for-profit intermediaries have to also grant permission, and usually require payment to do so. Happily, there’s a whole world of great music being done by people like Andrew (and Jennifer Goree, and Laura Powers, and Jen Cass, and Kate Campbell) who not only own all their own rights, they’re delighted to have them included in a story or used in a book trailer.

Andrew also recorded a new version of the song at AudioCzar Productions, and played all the instruments himself (except for percussion). That version is available as a free download when you buy Time of the Season.

Andrew was also kind enough to answer a couple of questions about the song.

1) What inspired “Cold Wind”?

I used to work in television and was sent out west to Lander, Wyoming for a documentary shoot a few times over the course of 2010. On one of the final trips we set out early in the morning to catch some college students who were waking up for the last of their 21 day trip in the Wind River Range. It was really early in the morning and beautiful and I had some time to think while we were hiking. The wind was very cold and cut through me and I thought, the cold wind is an interesting image. So I came up with the first line then thought of other natural elements. Fire and water were classic images so and made verses to go with all of them. Somehow I remembered those lyrics and committed them to a small Holiday Inn Express notepad as soon as I got back to my room late that evening.

Side note: The cover photo for the song is actually a public domain photo of the Wind River Range that I manipulated a bit.

2) Your cousin Dale Short first told me about “Cold Wind,” and directed me toward the video. I had that same thing happen with the characters in the story: they learned the song from that same video. What’s the story behind the video?

There is no real story to be honest. I knew I wanted folks to hear some of my songs and while they can get a glimpse from the three songs I wrote on the first Motel Ice Machine CD, those aren’t the only songs I have in me and some of those are arranged differently from the way I usually do them. Also, I don’t have the cash to get into a studio whenever I write a new song so YouTube seemed like a more accessible medium. I’ll be certainly be adding more videos soon.

Dale still hasn’t given me all the details on how we are kin, but he is a good guy nonetheless and I appreciate what he does for local musicians through his radio show.

3) What did you think of the story that incorporates your song?

I really dug the way you wove it all together. I actually got chills when I read my lyrics in the story. I’m a big Tufa fan and having the Hyatt’s play my song in their living room is sort of surreal. I read The Hum and the Shiver shortly after it came out and was hooked. I’m (im)patiently waiting for Wisp of a Thing.

 

 

Andrew Brasfield is from a small town in Alabama where he lives with his wife and two daughters. His main axe is harmonica, which he wields in a few different bands including Motel Ice Machine and The Lefty Collins Band. He also plays a bit of guitar, bass and ukulele. He knows a handful of mandolin chords and has a few piano tricks. You can find out more about him here.

Announcing Time of the Season

Posted on by Alex in anthology, Blood Groove, cover art, eBook sale, fantasy literature, Firefly Witch, folk music, Free Download, Hum and the Shiver, music, Pagan, short stories, tennessee, Tufa, witchcraft | 2 Comments

So this year I’m trying something new: through the good folks at Story Vault, I’m releasing a three-story ebook chapbook for the holidays.

It includes:

“Cold Wind,” a Tufa story that updates us on Bronwyn and Craig from The Hum and the Shiver.

“A Ghost, and a Chance,” in which Sir Francis Colby from Blood Groove crosses paths with the most famous Christmas ghosts of all.

“Time of the Season,” a New Year’s story about a very special visitor to the home of Firefly Witch Tanna Tully.

There’s also a special gift: a free download of the song “Cold Wind” by Andrew Brasfield.

I’ll let you know when it’s available, but in the meantime, here’s the cover:

Announcing Haunted: 11 Tales of ghostly horror

Posted on by Alex in anthology, writing | Leave a comment

"Haunted" anthology–just in time for Halloween!

A few weeks ago I promised an announcement for fans of Blood Groove, my first novel about vampires in Memphis in the Seventies.  Here it is.

Sir Francis Colby, the Victorian spiritualist and the only man to ever defeat vampire Baron Rudolfo Zginski, returns in a new adventure, “What’s the Frequency, Francis?” as part of the anthology Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror, now available from Flames Rising Press.

The other contributors include my friends Alana Joli Abbott, Bill Bodden, Georgia Beaverson and Jason Blair.  The book also features an introduction from actual ghost hunter Jaeson K. Jrakman.

Interview: author Deborah Blake

Posted on by Alex in anthology, Deborah Blake, fiction, Pagan | 1 Comment

I was lucky enough to read “Dead and (Mostly) Gone” before its publication in The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction. Deborah Blake, author of two non-fiction Pagan themed titles (Everyday Witch A-Z and Circle, Coven and Grove), created a compelling heroine and told a brilliant story in her first published fiction, which also won second prize in the Llewellyn/PanGaia Pagan fiction contest. I was honored to both read her story and have mine included along with it in the collection.

I asked Deborah some questions about “Dead and (Mostly) Gone”:

Alex: How does it feel to have the lead-off story in the anthology?

Deborah: Actually, it was a wonderful surprise. I had no idea until the book landed on my doorstep that my story was first. To be honest, I did a little “dance of joy” around the living room. I know it shouldn’t matter, but who am I kidding: I love it! Of course, this entire project has been a joy to work on–this is just the icing on the cake.

Your story takes place in the future, and verges on science fiction. What made you choose that setting?

I didn’t choose it, exactly. In fact, the entire story came to me in a dream. I woke up one morning a couple of years ago with Donata’s story in my head, threw food at the cats and sat down at the computer. Five hours later, I hadn’t eaten or gotten dressed, but the story was written. (Interestingly enough, while I have dreamed parts or beginnings of story ideas before, this was the one and only time the whole thing ever came to me in such a way. I guess it was just meant to be.)

Beyond Donata’s powers and career, what pagan precepts and ideals did you deliberately seek to portray?

That having gifts and abilities beyond the norm can be cool, but also a burden that carries with it the responsibility to use them wisely and for the greater good. That these abilities, whatever they might be, can be strengthened by using them in a ritual setting and by asking the gods (however you view them) for assistance. And maybe the need for wider understanding and acceptance from the public at large.

Donata isn’t respected or trusted by her peers, but is treated as mostly a necessary evil. Do you think that’s the best pagans can ever hope for?

Not at all. In fact, in my own life I have been reasonably well accepted despite being quite obviously out of the broom closet. This story was much darker than my usual writing. If I were ever going to write a follow-up, my guess is that Donata would finally have an office upstairs, out of the basement:)

You can read both Deborah Blake’s story (“Dead and [Mostly] Gone”) and mine (“Draw Down”) in The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction, available now at all major outlets.

Book release: The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction

Posted on by Alex in anthology, Diana Paxson, Draw Down, fiction, Pagan | 1 Comment


My short story “Draw Down” is one of 13 included in The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction, available now from Llewellyn Books. The introduction is by noted author Diana L. Paxson.