Perhaps inspired by those scenes of gunslingers and cactus, my story "Wild," published today at 50-Word Stories, attempts to capture that feeling - not of an artificially created Wild West, but of the real deal. I hope you enjoy reading it.
My husband and I recently started watching the HBO show Westworld, which is pretty fun. For those of you who don't know what the show's about, it's a science fantasy show. Set in the future, it focuses on a large company that runs an adult amusement park full of robots. The setting of the park is the Wild West. So the show switches back and forth between the high-tech setting of the laboratories where the robots are created and serviced, and the desert towns where the clients of the company strap on their six-shooters and saddle up.
Perhaps inspired by those scenes of gunslingers and cactus, my story "Wild," published today at 50-Word Stories, attempts to capture that feeling - not of an artificially created Wild West, but of the real deal. I hope you enjoy reading it.
I love our local bookstore, the Fairfield University Bookstore. They run fantastic programs, many of which are geared towards kids. For example, this month of July is focused on Where's Waldo? The hunt was on at the beginning of the month, and started at Saugatuck Sweets, an ice cream and candy store. There, the kids picked up their Waldo "passports" and also a free ice cream cone. They were excited to meet Waldo himself, who came out for the event.
The passports have a chart inside, containing the names of the 25 local businesses that are participating. Each store has a Waldo sticker on their door or window to show they're a part of the fun. Inside each store is a six-inch Waldo cardboard cutout hidden somewhere. The kids find the Waldo and get a stamp in their passport. Collect half of the stamps, and your child gets a Waldo pin. Collect at least 20, and your child gets entered in a drawing to win a gift basket full of Waldo books.
My kids, being competitive, got 24/25 (the last store was closed the three times we stopped by, so we ended up just turning in their passports). The fun isn't over yet, though - there's still time to pick up your passport from the bookstore and get hunting. At the end of the month, Saturday, July 29th, there will be a Waldo party and raffle drawing at 1 p.m. in the bookstore.
Good luck and have fun finding Waldo!
In my writing, I've always been excited to explore my Japanese heritage. I think the history and society of Japan are unique, and they deserve more press than they currently get. Although particular aspects of Japanese culture are highlighted globally, such as anime, geisha and samurai, there's a whole world of history and art and culture that often isn't exported to the larger world.
That's one reason I love incorporating elements of Japanese history and mythology into the speculative fiction I write. Today "A Farmer's Good Luck" came out at a really fantastic anthology called Tales of the Sunrise Lands, published by Guardbridge Books. It's a speculative anthology that focuses exclusively on Japanese culture and mythology, and it includes fantastic authors such as Richard Parks, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Douglas Smith and TS Rhodes, among others.
The book is being debuted today at Edge-Lit 6, a speculative fiction convention in the U.K. It will also soon be available on Amazon. I hope you enjoy reading the anthology as much as I enjoyed writing my story in it!
Today, my review of his latest collection, Tremors, is available to read at Bewildering Stories. Gary was kind enough to answer a few questions about his love of literature, his journey to writing, and what informs his process of creativity.
Welcome, Gary, and thank you for joining me to talk about your writing.
I first chatted with you over a year ago when I became the Book Reviews Editor for the online magazine Bewildering Stories. Since then, I’ve read and reviewed a number of your poetry collections for the magazine, and I really enjoy your style and imagery. In my latest review of your recent release Tremors, I don’t think I’m amiss in labeling you as prolific. What got you started writing, and from where do you draw your inspiration?
My pleasure, Alison.
At the age of 16 I fell in love with the British Romantics, Byron, Keats, Shelley and began writing spirited imitations that weren't any good. The American poets were far more meaningful to me and I read lots of them, Whitman, ee cummings, I could go on... I stole from lots of them. I read the French Symbolists in French and was frustrated that I couldn't read Pushkin and Lermontov in the original. I started exploring my own voice and tried various modes of expression, but always passionately.
I started writing short stories, but my work in theater was so time consuming that I wasn't able to start longer forms. I have done many different things and lived in different worlds, but directing was my first love. I got involved with working with troubled youth and my detestation of a system that threw away so many children permeated my poetry. Many editors don't see the craft in my work built over so many years and only see issues that they don't care for. I've been fortunate that a number of editors recognize what I'm trying to accomplish and you're one of them.
Your poetry is rich and layered, and easy to appreciate. I actually feel guilty for asking you the question about inspiration, because it’s a question I have a hard time answering myself. Everything can be inspiration, from other writers to everyday experiences. I sometimes feel I have too many story ideas and not enough hours to write them. How do you find the time to write all that you do? Are you a full time writer now or do you still work in theater, with troubled youth, and follow your Muse after hours?
You can never have too many ideas. Just write them down and possibly you'll get to them.
My theater closed in 1996. I had been working 14 to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week running an ongoing theater company, an arts and education program for youth (for 25 years) in a Bronx public housing development, a prison youth program and an arts and life skills program for homeless families with children that started as an outreach program to welfare hotels, then moved to our theater with a computer learning center and an official social services component for 25 families and another 30 or 40 unofficially. Whew! And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
My commitment was virtually all consuming. I was the artistic director, executive director, translator of the Italian, French and Greek classics we produced, a playwright of social issue dramas, the director of all our productions, an award winning video documentary and short film maker... I could go on, but I think you'll get the picture. I also managed to write poetry.
When my theater closed I had an incredible amount of time to write novels, poetry, short stories, essays, one-act and full length plays and got more and more published. I still mentor two formerly homeless youth who came to me when they were 11 and are now 40. I write every day believing Tolstoy's dicta—I write when the spirit moves me and the spirit moves me every day. I'm old, in poor health, yet I have a lot more work to do as I try to build an audience concerned with the issues of our times.
I’m really sorry to hear about your health issues. But after all you were doing, it’s no wonder that you don’t find writing so tough. What are your favorite genres to write? To read? Are there any genres you feel hesitant about trying your hand at, or is anything fair game?
No need to be sorry. I've had a very full life and try to savor every day. I enjoy all the genres I write in. I am comfortable with any format and well experienced in all of them. Each genre is distinctly different and rewarding and I get satisfaction from all, my favorites, poetry and playwriting. I tend to read a lot of poetry in the magazines that publish me, and there are a lot of them. I'm generally working on a novel and poetry collection at the same time, with excursions into other formats regularly. My reading preferences are for the classics, poetry and drama.
You mentioned you write every day. I tend to squeeze in writing when I can, because of my kids. I know writers who can only write outdoors, in longhand, or at night. Do you have a set schedule/place/mode of writing? What’s a typical writing day look like for you?
I must confess I occasionally miss a day working on the current novel, then I atone for my negligence by writing a short story, essay, or one-act play. My two major commitments are to novels and poetry collections. I've been writing both non-stop for quite a while now. (I do have folders of material that I'll never get to, except for periodic checks when I pull out a few things).
I work on the novels in the morning (two or three mornings a week I play speed chess in Bryant Park, when I'll write there before I play). I work on poetry and other forms late afternoons or early evenings. I am securely rooted in my work process and can write almost anywhere, as long as I'm not being waterboarded.
Ah, that's interesting that you play chess - I don't remember reading any poems relating to the game in your recent collections. Of course, I might be mistaken, since I have a bad memory. I often have to find ways to compensate for my memory by having a pretty detailed organizational system when it comes to my own work. How do you keep yourself organized with so many different magazine submissions/manuscripts/publications? How many publications do you have at this point, or have you lost count?
I wrote a one-act play about chess and a short poem that's in an earlier collection. I'm very fortunate that my brother functions as my literary manager and does a prodigious amount to help with my work and get me published. I keep Manila folders of completed work that hasn't been published and there's a lot, novels, poetry collections, short stories, essays, plays. Published books are on shelves. Future projects and current projects are in folders.
I've had 12 poetry books published, 11 chapbooks, 5 novels, a short story collection, over 2,000 poems, dozens of short stories, essays and one-act plays. A poetry book, Virtual Living, came out last week. A poetry book, short story collection and a novel are scheduled for this year, and so far two poetry collections and a novel for next year.
I'm publishing more and more, but I have many unpublished manuscripts and a desperate need for a bigger readership.
That is an impressive resume. It's wonderful that your brother is able to help you out - I need a brother like that! :) Is there any piece of advice you would give to aspiring writers that you wish someone had told you at the start of your career?
If you can afford it, I'll rent mine to you part-time.
I never got any advice when I was young, and if I did I wouldn't have listened. I was a know-it-all and learned everything the hard way, by frequently reinventing the wheel.
Young writers don't have to make life determining decisions, unless they are burning and possessed beyond redemption. I used to tell young, serious stage actors, find some way to support yourselves, because it'll be a long time, if ever, that you make a living in Theater. If young writers want to write for television, then they have to learn their trade. If they want to write literature, they better prepare for a long grind, except if they network. If they believe in themselves and persevere, they may not get anywhere, but they'll produce the work they aspire to. Despite the proliferation of emags, literature, like all the arts in America is in decline. A handful of commercial fiction writers make money. Most established poets are cloistered in a college or university. We no longer seem to have a climate to produce great writers. As parents used to tell their children once upon a time who wanted to be actors, before college made it a respectable calling, get a good career. Unless you are driven, compelled, consider it a brief adventure, then move on.
I agree that persevering is the key to getting better at the craft. I sometimes shudder at writing that I produced ten, twenty years ago - there was a reason I didn't get many publications until recently. Speaking of recent/new publications, you mentioned earlier you have three more books scheduled to be published this year and two for next year – can you tell me a little bit more about your pending books? I must confess I’ve only read your poetry and not your short stories or novels.
A suggestion. Never judge your work. Many others are all too willing. If you have to write, do it and keep doing it until you're through, whenever or whatever that is. It is effortless to be a self critic, a useless exertion.
The three books coming out this year are Perturbations, a poetry collection from a brief transitional period, when I wrote about diverse topics as well as issues. Perturbations will be published soon by Winter Goose Publishing, an exceptional small press, with a very fine publisher and editor, who,published 8 of my poetry collections. Now I Accuse and other stories (also to be published by Winter Goose) has a selection of stories from the last 10 years about the travails of theater people, comic and tragic encounters of people in all walks of life, using different styles and techniques. State of Rage, a novel about one man’s quest to prevent the mad rampages that attack schools, the workplace and public places, will be published by Rainy Day Reads Publishing.
Two poetry collections are scheduled for 2018 (both by Winter Goose). Rude Awakenings is a little more intimate than usual, with personal feelings about love, struggles to attain goals, the search for understanding and brief portraits of individuals. The Remission of Order takes a world view of war, the nature of democracy, how Americans are betrayed by the system, how so many of us strive for a better life. Another novel, Crumbling Ramparts, a sequel to Call to Valor, published by Gnome on Pig Publishing, will be released by the same Canadian publisher in 2018, or 2019. This follows some dedicated Marines who prevent a nuclear attack on America and go on to better protect the homeland from enemies foreign and domestic.
Gary, I want to thank you so much for chatting with me! It was great to learn more about you and your writing.
The first thing I want to say is that this story isn't true. This story isn't nonfiction. It is 100% fiction.
The second thing I want to say is that this story is completely true.
The story I'm talking about is "Taiki-chū No Chinmoku (The Silence of Waiting)," which was published at Litro on July 6th. It is not a story about my Japanese grandmother at the end of her life, and it does not revolve around her long and complicated journey from being in love to being in hate, from being interned during WWII and overcoming discrimination, from raising a family and the difficulties in doing so, and to the final end of her independence and the facing of death with the same strength as she lived her life. It is none of those things.
Of course, it is all of those things. But it is fiction, for that gives me license to make it a complete story, change the things that needed to be changed, and fill in the untold gaps. To put myself into someone else's shoes and imagine what it would have been like to go through the things that she went through, even though I hadn't been born yet.
This is for my grandmother. It is for all the stories she told me.
Now, I am the one who will tell her story - or, at least, a small, small portion of it.
I love you, grandma.
If you're in the Bridgeport area and would like to experience a little bit of our country's past this 4th of July week, this is a really cool way to dive right in. It's basically a museum of history on a working sailing ship, with crew members available to explain about the materials used to build the ships and what it was like for Columbus's crew five hundred years ago when he sailed across the Atlantic. It is also very interactive, with props for the kids to experience - such as having a jar full of pine tar to smell (which was used to coat the ship to make it waterproof), a climbable poop deck, a display case of different sailor's knots and also souvenirs for purchase. I would have loved to stay longer, but it got close to Aerin's nap time and she went a little nuts, so we had to get going. But I would definitely recommend the experience for anyone interested in our nation's history.
My three girls peering down into the Mackenzie and Sabrina looking at The rudder - the light areas are
hold, where they stored food, a detailed model of the ship. completely open and you can see
supplies, and even livestock. straight through to the sea.
My friend and fellow writer and editor at Bewildering Stories, Edward Ahern, contacted me recently because he was doing a poetry reading at The Norwalk Art Festival and they were still looking for local poets to participate.
For those of you unfamiliar with the festival, it's located in Mathews Park in Norwalk, and it ran from June 24-25. There were over 100 artists, both local and from farther afield. There were kids crafts and all types of art, from photography to sculpture.
The Poet Laureate of Norwalk, Laurel Peterson, also did a reading (although I'm sorry to say I missed it, since I was corralling kids and ended up being a bit later to the reading than I'd hoped to be). The final poet for Saturday afternoon was the very talented Shanna T. Melton.
The event went really well. The weather was perfect, there was a large assortment of local poets who had created a body of work in a wide variety of styles. The audience members were lovely and seemed to enjoy it. It was great to meet so many local poets, and hopefully I'll be seeing them again at more events in the future.
If you missed the festival and are looking to add some art to your summer, don't worry - there are several others coming up in the area. You can find a list here.
Happy reading and happy writing to everyone!
I love the writing of Jonathan Swift, the father of satire. For those of you not familiar with his work, he wrote Gulliver's Travels (incidentally, the e-book is free right now on Amazon), and also A Modest Proposal, . Although the latter was not as famous as Gulliver's Travels, I think it best exemplifies his biting wit. The full title of the Proposal is: A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick. To illustrate just how terribly the poor Irish were regarded at the time (1700s), he suggested that they sell their children to the rich... to be EATEN. He then sarcastically rejected all reasonable measures to take care of the problem, such as focusing the country's wealth on domestic consumption and financially helping out the poor, saying that they were unworkable.
I'm reminded of Swift's work whenever I hear the question, "Well, what can we do?" in regards to any fundamental problem seen as insurmountable. Voicing the absurd is a good place to see where one somewhat reasonable step followed by another and followed by another could eventually lead to said absurdity. Or what doing nothing will accomplish... which is nothing. It calls attention to the extreme result of what might seem like minor transgressions and that, if one thinks about it, aren't so minor.
What does this have to do with my new story at The Airgonaut that came out yesterday? While I don't advise eating children in "God's Pig," it is my attempt at carrying reality to an extreme. I hope you enjoy reading it, and I hope I managed to honor Jonathan Swift's satirical legacy.
There are several measures of success that each writer dreams of happening. One, of course, is to complete writing a manuscript. Then there’s getting an agent, publisher and/or self-publishing. Afterwards is having the book become a bestseller. Following that is having the book made into a movie.
While it’s rare that all these steps happen for most writers, I think it’s interesting to take a peek into the process. That’s why the final panel I attended at BookCon was “Transforming a Bestseller onto the Silver Screen: The Book to Film Experience.”
[When I take notes at an event, I write it out longhand in a notebook, and I must say I'm not always the fastest transcriber around. I paraphrased the questions/answers that I didn’t manage to write down verbatim, but I tried to stick as closely as possible to what was asked/answered. All questions were asked by the moderator, MJ Franklin, with the exception of the audience questions at the end.]
The moderator started out with a question to break the ice.
Question: What is your guilty pleasure movie?
Stephen - The Room.
R.J. – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Nicola – Harold and Kumar.
Lauren – Dazed and Confused, Love Actually and The Princess Bride.
Question: What was your first thought when you heard the news your book was going to be made into a movie?
Lauren – “Online shopping!”
Nicola – She didn’t believe it at first. “Then I bought a bottle of champagne.”
R.J. – “It was like watching your kid take their first step.” It’s not one step, it’s a lot of little steps, in the process from book to movie.
Question: What happens AFTER you hear your book’s going to be made into a movie?
It takes years – one author said 4 years, one said 7+.
Question: What’s happening in that 7 years?
Lauren – “Well, that’s how long it takes people in Hollywood to read a book.” [Big laugh from audience.]
Lauren – “Once it starts going, it can go really, really fast.”
Stephen – “It really is a small miracle [that films get made]. … There really is no rhyme or reason. … It helps to have a fan base.” More books get made into movies than original screenplays.
Nicola – The head of MGM’s daughter loved her book and wanted it to be a movie, so he said, “Okay.”
Question: Stephen, you’ve been on all sides of the table. Do you sleep? What was it like directing Wonder [R.J. Palacio’s book] and working directly with the author?
Stephen – “No” on the sleep question. He has a 2-year-old and 4-year-old, so he doesn’t sleep at all. [Got a laugh from the audience.] As to directing, he worked very closely with Raquel on Wonder. He asked her help and opinion a lot.
Lauren – “So many writers are shut out [by directors]. … Creative writing is like romance. … You’ve got to pick your partner carefully.”
Stephen – “The really smart directors – the best directors – it’s not true.” They don’t shut out the writers.
Question: When changing mediums from book to movie – what new opportunities do you see in it?
R.J. – “I love the idea of telling a story with as many audial and visual senses as possible.”
Question: Does it make you approach writing your next book differently?
Nicola – “The thing about writing your second book when your first book is doing well is that you hear everything that they [the readers] love about it and also everything they hate about it – because they will tell you.”
Question: What do readers need to know about book/screen differences?
Lauren – Scenes are filmed around location, not as a linear story, so filming jumps around in the story.
Stephen – Quoted, “Art is a great lie that tells the truth.”
Question: What about Easter eggs – what secrets do you put in your movies?
Nicola – She and her family have a cameo in her movie. It’s 3 seconds in the movie, but it took 45 minutes to film. It was filmed with a drone and every time, her daughter would point at the drone. She would tell her daughter, “Honey, don’t point.” And then the next time the drone flew by – out went the hand.
R.J. – Her son is in her movie.
Stephen – Lots. For example, his wife is also a writer, and he had the main character reading her book.
Question: Because your story is a personal thing to you, how do you know screenwriters won’t ruin it?
R.J. – “Blind faith.”
Lauren/Nicola – They need to love it as much as you do.
Question: How long do you revise before it’s ready?
Stephen – “My advice to all young writers … you can recognize great writing before you can do it.” He asked the questioner how old he was – the man answered, “19.” Stephen advised that there are 4 steps to being a writer.
Question: Do you ever have to step back and not have as much control over your work?
Lauren – When you get a letter from your editor, you go through it. “You have to learn as a writer how to listen, but only to the right people.” Every time, she goes through the 5 stages of grief. Rage is a long one for her. [Got a laugh from the audience.] It teaches you how to push yourself as a writer because it’s stuff you don’t know how to do.
Question: Does seeing a movie make you reenvision your original vision of the book?
Nicola – “It’s [a movie is] a new piece of art.”
Question: How do you stay objective and how do you stay organized?
Stephen – “There is no organization. It’s just how you apply time.”
Nicola – “Writing is a muscle.” You have to exercise it.
Lauren – “Anything you want to do is just work, plus time.”
And that was everything I saw at BookCon! I learned a lot and was lucky enough to attend some really great panels. Hopefully, some of what these authors have said will be inspiring to others, too.
I am a freelance writer and poet with over sixty short pieces published in magazines and anthologies. When not writing, I review books for the ezine Bewildering Stories. If the Walking Dead isn't on, I draw pictures and do origami meditation in Connecticut, where I live with my husband and three children. If the Walking Dead is on... shhhh! The Walking Dead is on!
© Alison McBain. All rights reserved