Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Author Interview: Diane Arrelle 2

"To Hell with Dante" is a collection of cynical afterlife stories, ranging from comedic genius to dark surrealism.  To help kick off this fine anthology, I'll be conducting interviews with many of the contributors.  Today I'm interviewing Diane Arrelle, the talented author who contributed the story "Believing for a Reason."  Thank you for being here, Diane.

MTI:  I believe we did an interview before, when you contributed to The Temporal Element.  But for readers who missed that interview, why not start off by telling us a little about yourself.

DA: I have been writing for about 25 years. I worked for a newspaper for 2 years then freelanced for the next 15 years. I wrote a humor/family/opinion column for nine years until the newspaper group went out of business.  I loved the column because as the mother of two children, no one ever seemed to care about my opinion at home.        
As for fiction, I have had about 200 short stories published and I have 29 of them in my book, Just A Drop In The Cup.  I had a second book, Elements Of The Short Story, published in 2007.
Like many writers, I have had a wide variety of jobs including being an elementary school teacher for 10 years and for the last 15 years I have been the director of municipal senior centers. I just retired two months ago.

MTI:  Your story, Believing for a Reason, appears in To Hell with Dante, tell us a little bit about that.  What's the general idea behind it?

DA: I guess the main idea is that you need to believe in something to move on,  even if that belief is a total rejection of everything we have been told to believe.  It is my rejection of dogma.

MTI:  Does your story hold any special significance, perhaps seeking to provoke some thoughts about the afterlife, or was it just a lot of fun fiction?

DA: Although the story was a lot of fun to write, and the main character such a hopeless narcissist, it really stems from the need to question what we have been told to blindly believe in.  

MTI: Okay, on a totally unrelated note, if you could meet and talk with any one deceased person, who would it be?

DA: On a shallow personal note, my Aunt Rose, who passed away at the age of 15 and took some secrets with her.  I think Moses would be a wonderful choice, so much fact and fiction mixed together, I’d love to hear the real version of the Exodus from Egypt.

MTI: Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?

DA:  I wish I were being more ambitious. I retired to write, but I’ve spent most of the time out with my friends and doing yard work. A lesson here, don’t retire in the fall if you live rural, because you spend most of the time raking.  I am working on several things including a book based on my column, I am planning on putting out a book of short stories on Kindle and I am trying to write stories for several anthologies including one for Temporal Elements II

MTI:  Other than your piece appearing in To Hell with Dante, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?

DA:  I have a story coming out in Sha Daa Facets, my story, The Smart Phone will be appearing in K-Zine in 2015 and my story There Will Always Be Hell To Pay will be in the anthology, Paying The Ferryman in 2015 as well.

MTI:  Your story, "Paradox Lost" appears in The Temporal Element, the very first Martinus Publishing anthology every released.  Do you have any thoughts about that particular story to share with our readers?

DA:  I had a great time writing that story. It was totally tongue in cheek in tone but it came from the time travel paradoxes that nag me when I lay awake at night.  What would happen if you went back in time to murder someone but accidently killed yourself?   Although I get good ideas when I’m wide awake in bed, I’d still rather be sleeping and save those ideas for a different time.  

MTI:  On a lighter note, have you watched any good tv lately?

DA:  I love Dr. Who speaking of time travel, I have been watching it since the Tom Baker years. I still watch Saturday Night Live, but mostly out of habit, although I do like the openings and the news.  I watch mostly movies on TV and HBO. Yes, I did watch True Blood, although I usually find trendy horror creatures boring.

MTI:  How about music?

DA:  My taste is eclectic and I like so much on the radio today.  I love the sound track from Pirate Radio when I’m in the 60’s sort of mood and Pitch Perfect for a mix of music. Being that it is November, I am getting ready to listen to the Trans Siberian Orchestra. I an taking a road trip with my husband on Black Friday to see them perform in Pennsylvania.  

MTI:  What are three of your favorite movies?  You know, the ones that never get old.

DA:  Field Of Dreams, that one always makes me cry at the end.  I love Shrek, the original The Producers and Secondhand Lions (ok so I picked 4).

MTI:  Of course, writers are some of the most voracious readers these days.  Tell me, have you run across any great pieces of literature lately?

DA:  Well, I’ve been enjoying Carl Hiaasen, Augusten Burroughs, Davis Sedaris, Janet Evanovich and Bill Bryson

MTI:  You have the attention of potential readers.  Do you have any words of wisdom to share with them, or possibly a sales pitch to encourage them to read more of your writing?

DA:  I write under a pen name, Diane Arrelle, so be sure to look for me under it. I have the upcoming stories  mentioned above and I have a story in State Of Horror New Jersey, a few stories currently in Were Travele, and my story A Woman Sporned in Paranormal Horror II.  I also have a piece in Chicken Soup For The Soul True Love and one in Finding your Happiness, both of those under my real name Dina Leacock.

MTI:  Of course, readers love free samples, so let's give them a taste.  Here are the first few paragraphs of your story, as featured in To Hell with Dante:

            Matilda Davis knew she was going to die.  One minute she was driving too fast on an icy bridge and the next... well, the next was a series of images, crashing through the guardrail, the car landing on its roof with a bone snapping crack, and then the awareness of nothingness.
            Puzzling feeling... nothingness... “Am I dead?”
            Laughter by many and a lone voice saying, “Give the woman a chance to acclimate.”
            “Hello?” Matilda called.
            “Hello,” a voice answered.
            “Are you... are you God?”
            The giggles started again.
            “Cut it out,” the voice called to the unseen crowd and then to Matilda,  ”Do you want me to be your god?”
            Matilda felt a wash of confusion. “My god?  I... I don’t have a personal god. Is this heaven?  Is this some sort of test to get in?  Why are people laughing at me?” Matilda was starting to feel emotions again and annoyance crept into her voice. “And what’s with all this nothing. Why can’t I see anything? Where are you people?”
            The voice asked, “Do you have a god?”
            “Hey, look, whoever you are. I don’t have time for this mystical crap. Just answer my questions.”
            “Ah,” the voice sighed. “An angry soul.”

MTI:  Thanks for another great interview.  Those who want to read the rest of this story and 20 others can pick up To Hell with Dante.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Setbacks and Delays

Martinus Publishing isn't doing well, and neither am I at the moment.  As a quick heads-up, I'd like to inform everyone of the situation.

Sticking just with the publishing side of things, sales are currently awful.  The last two anthologies, Life of the Dead, and To Hell with Dante have both tanked, big time.  We are seeing virtually no sales of these titles, and I've spent more (much more) on advertising than has actually come back.  These titles are essentially dead.  That is very disheartening, and I dread having to send out royalty reports in January to the contributors.  I hate sending out pocket change for the authors who have contributed stories, and I further hate to let them know that nobody's buying their work.  Some will roll with it, some will be understanding, and maybe a few will just be upset and blame me for not being a rich New York City publishing house.

There is a huge pile of slush on my computer, waiting to be read, but due to various reasons I have been unable to focus adequately to get through most of it lately.  If you can imagine a writer with "reader's block" then that's me at the moment.  I cannot stand to look at the raw print some days, and I can't give an adequate assessment of a submission if that is the case.  Most of the open anthologies are closing to submissions by the end of the year, at least, so I might get a breather to catch up in January.  Maybe.

I have quite a few personal things troubling me, but those are my business, and I will not trouble anyone else with them.  Needless to say, I do not ask for your pity or your sympathy.  I only say it so you won't be surprised by any delays that might arise due to my current state of mind.  Don't be surprised if you don't get a timely response to a submission.

A little over 3 months ago, I quipped in a radio interview that I was "too stubborn to quit" when it came to the publishing industry.  That may still be the case, but I can't run myself into the ground for nothing.  When you have 2 flops in a row, and find yourself broke with no means to even run any more online ads, it really isn't much motivation.  Worse still, I don't even have the money to get some other projects I have in the works off the ground.  Damn it, I can't stand the thought of telling people I'm too financially strapped to make their dreams come true.

I realized some years ago that I was not liable to be able to become the successful writer that I always sought to become, but I thought I could help others on their trek toward that goal. Now, I can't even do that, so what good am I?  I'm sorry.

I'm not giving up.  I'm not shutting down.  However, I will say that writing and publishing aren't my most important concerns anymore.  Being a writer is something that has defined me my entire life.  Yet, the greatest success in the world would not grant me what I truly need in life.  No, that is something entirely different, and I have only just begun to understand it.  When that is achieved, perhaps then the writing will matter again. 


Someday...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Author Interview: Francis Gideon

"To Hell with Dante" is a collection of cynical afterlife stories, ranging from comedic genius to dark surrealism.  To help kick off this fine anthology, I'll be conducting interviews with many of the contributors.  Today I'm interviewing Francis Gideon, the talented author who contributed the story "Alone and In Debt."  Thank you for being here, Francis.

FG: Thank you for having me!

MTI:  Starting off, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

FG: Sure! Right now, I’m a horror writer living in Canada. I just moved to a new city to be closer to my university as I start my PhD.

MTI:  Now, getting down to business; what first compelled you to weave fiction, and what's your favorite type of story to write?

FG: When I was young, I read the book “The Outsiders” by S. E. Hinton. I really liked it, but I remembered being even more impressed by the fact that the author wrote and published the book when she was around 16-17 years old. I was about twelve at the time, and decided that if she could do something like that so young, then I could too. So I started writing more seriously then. Most of my “novels” never ended up more than thirty pages on loose leaf paper, but it was a start.

My favourite stories to write are a toss-up between horror and romance, actually. I always figured those genres were the most relatable, since everyone has experienced some type of love before (be it from family, friends, or significant other) and we’ve all been scared, too. I was lucky that “Alone and In Debt” is a little bit of both.

MTI:  Tell me, if you had to pick just one author who has influenced or inspired you, who would it be?

FG: Other than S. E. Hinton, who first got me really interested in doing writing professionally, I would say either Angela Carter or Kurt Vonnegut. Both of them aren’t afraid to be really, really weird in their fiction—and to take risks.

MTI:  Your story, Alone and In Debt, appears in To Hell with Dante, tell us a little bit about that.  What's the general idea behind it?

FG: At the time, I remember reading a lot of stories with demon possessions, or deals with demons/devils. It’s a very common theme—from Faustus to Supernatural now. But I always wondered how people really dealt with the fact that they had been possessed or were now going to hell. I began to wonder what types of emotions that would involve—and how people could comfort one another during that. So, I thought of a therapy group just like Narcotics Anonymous, but for people who had made deals. The rest of the story came easily after I already had a setting.

MTI:  Does your story hold any special significance, perhaps seeking to provoke some thoughts about the afterlife, or was it just a lot of fun fiction?

FG: It was a lot of fun! Most of what I end up doing becomes a thought experiment—a process of asking myself “what if…?” for certain scenarios, and in that way, I suppose I’m trying to get the audience to ask themselves the same types of questions. There is one scene, with Corey and Adam in the diner, where they talk about how “monsters are national creatures.” That, in particular, I find to be a really fascinating thought. A lot of scholarship on horror films echoes this statement, too. Coming from Canada, I see the subtle differences between the horror films I grew up watching—Black Christmas, Ginger Snaps—and the US horror films. Horror is always a shadow of the current time it was made in, and to think of a different monster for each country, is something really captivating and thought provoking for me. I can only hope the audience thinks so as well.

MTI:  Okay, on a totally unrelated note, if you could meet and talk with any one deceased person, who would it be?

FG: Since most of my favourite authors are dead now, I would probably say one of them! Or Robin Williams.

MTI:  Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?

FG: A lot of things, actually! I have a YA zombie novel that I’m putting the finishing touches on right now, in between my PhD work. I know, most people would probably groan hearing about another YA zombie novel, but I’m hoping to approach the contagion aspect of this a little differently, using some outside research. Only time will tell if I’m able to pull it off.

MTI:  Other than your piece appearing in To Hell with Dante, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?

FG: Yes! I just had a Halloween story released with Mocha Memoirs Press called “Surrender to Destiny” about a London detective investigating the bodies of men hollowed out and colonized by insects. I also have a few holidays stories (mostly romance though) coming out with JMS Books, too.

Here are some links:




MTI:  On a lighter note, have you watched any good tv lately?

FG: Yes! The TV show Hannibal (an adaptation of the Thomas Harris universe) continues to impress me more and more each time I watch it. The cinematography is beautiful and their new treatment of the stories really captivates me as an old fan of the books/movies.

MTI:  How about music?

FG: Gerard Way (former front man of the band My Chemical Romance) recently released his solo album Hesitant Alien, which has been getting a lot of plays for me recently. He even has a song about a manga on it! The whole album has a kind of Brit Pop, David Bowie vibe to it. Really nice to listen to as I grade papers.

MTI:  What are three of your favorite movies?  You know, the ones that never get old.

FG: Too hard—but I’ll try. Surprise, they’re mostly horror or comic book related: Silence of the Lambs, The Company of Wolves, and The Dark Knight.

MTI:  You have the attention of potential readers.  Do you have any words of wisdom to share with them, or possibly a sales pitch to encourage them to read more of your writing?

FG: Hmm, Kurt Vonnegut is always so much better at small sound bites for occasions like this. The only thing that springs to mind is “Goddammit, you’ve got to be kind.” Be nice to people. We all need each other in some way and we all have different stuff going on that makes it difficult. It’s far, far better to need people and ask for help every once in a while than to completely shun everyone for the sake of reputation or something else abstract. The older I get, the more I think about being kind and just how important it is.

Thanks again for having me!

Of course, Francis.  It was a Pleasure.  Those who wish to check out Alone and In Debt, along with 20 other cynical afterlife stories, can pick up To Hell with Dante!



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day Poem: Ode to the Absent Fallen

It's Veterans Day again (or Armistice Day, as my Great-Grandfather Ned would insist).  In honor of those who have served, those who have fought, those who have fallen, here is a piece of poetry I was inspired to write while visiting a cemetery not so long ago.

The flags flutter in the breeze,
symbols of memory,
of passed away dreams.
The heroes, the fallen,
those who have gone,
will a final rest ever truly be known?

I sit and I wonder
where have you gone?
Is it a far better meeting
or more a tribulation tone?
Will I know it all soon
or be condemned to ignorance
for the weeping we've sown?

For the days have gone too soon;
as I look at the stones
my mind hearkens back to you,
forever alone.
A day come and gone;
I'll miss you, you know,
but we'll someday find solace
in the truth we have known

I leave you with these words;
come back home.


Do something to honor a Veteran today.  We owe them!



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Author Interview: Karl G. Rich 2

"To Hell with Dante" is a collection of cynical afterlife stories, ranging from comedic genius to dark surrealism.  To help kick off this fine anthology, I'll be conducting interviews with many of the contributors.  Today I'm interviewing Karl G. Rich, the excellent author who contributed the story "Everybody Goes to Heaven, and Then..."  Thank you for being here, Mr. Rich

KARL G. RICH:  Thank you, Martin, it’s a pleasure, but please call me Kregger. Karl Rich is the name I give the barista down at Starbucks since my real name seems both unpronounceable and incapable of being spelled correctly. Karl’s an alter ego I have used since the Stone Age when I worked in the restaurant biz.

MTI:  Of course, Kregger.  We've done this before, but for readers who didn't catch our last interview, why not tell them a little about yourself?

KREGGER:  First and foremost, I am a grandfather of six. Being Papa seems to have swallowed all my other identities. As a young adult, before kids and my current wife--on entering a restaurant, instead of smoking/nonsmoking, I would ask for the “No Kids” section. Children weren’t my favorite people, but now my favorite people call me grandpa.

At work I’m a healthcare professional. I take painstaking care not to talk about work with strangers. This is due to their reactions to the tonnage of blood, gore and pain I deal with on a daily basis. One time my brother-in-law asked me, “What was the worse thing I have ever seen?” I described in detail how a prolapsed rectum nearly ate an intern in an operating room. Thank God, I caught the young doctor by his surgical booties before he disappeared forever. Can anyone imagine that eulogy? Now, my brother-in-law knows better than to ask such silly questions.

MTI:  Your story, "Everybody Goes to Heaven, and Then..." appears in To Hell with Dante.  Tell us a little bit about that.  What's the general idea behind it?

KREGGER:  I spend a lot of time writing about heaven and hell. I don’t believe in either place as popularized in the media or religion, but the perception of both places allow for a variety of stories. Imbedded within most of my stories are retellings of old jokes. In “Everybody Goes to Heaven, and Then…” I used a classic internet joke with some of my recurring characters to illustrate choices people make. In death as in life bad choices and bad decisions lead to bad things. Right now, I’m trying to shoehorn a joke about not stepping on ducks/bunnies in heaven into a story, but I’ve yet to figure it out.

MTI: Does your story hold any special significance, perhaps seeking to provoke some thoughts about the afterlife, or was it just a lot of fun fiction?

KREGGER:  Just plain fun. I’ve given up trying to convince anyone of anything. I write for fun.

MTI:  Okay, on a totally unrelated note, if you could meet and talk with any one deceased person, who would it be?

KREGGER:  Honestly, the first person that came to my mind was Adolph Hitler. Not because I admire or idolize the man, but to ask WTF were you thinking? In what world would a man or group of people think it proper to exterminate any other group? I believe his answer would probably be the world of the 21st Century.

MTI:  Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?

KREGGER:  I have a Sci-fi project that is an extension of my story in the Veterans of the Future Wars anthology called, “I am Drone.” It is a futuristic thriller set in a post-nuclear-war America with human drones used as weapons of mass destruction to safe guard what’s left of America.

MTI:  Oh, I want to read that one!  Keep me apprised of your progress with that project.  Other than your piece appearing in To Hell with Dante, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?

KREGGER:  I’m waiting on a submission to Vineyard Press for the Passions of Man anthology. I have one more submission called, “The Absence of Heat” slated for publication in the We Were Heros anthology by Martinus Publishing. This winter I will start querying for my novel, The Mad King of Beaver Island.

MTI:  Writers are often voracious readers.  Have you run across any good literature lately that you'd like to recommend?  You know, other than your own great work.

KREGGER:  I’m in the process of slogging through a compilation of twelve novels called, Deadly Dozen:12 Mysteries/Thrillers.  It’s something I picked up for learning style and technique of the genre. The stories are interesting, but I’m noticing a staccato style in the writing. Most of the books utilize very short chapters to move the story along. I couldn’t beat the price, and if I hate a story I skip to the next one. I read Timebound by this year’s ABNA winner. Here’s a clue to new writers—women are not male characters with breasts.  So write female characters with female traits. Today’s market, we are selling to, are women. Conversely, I suggest women writers not emasculate their characters as Rysa Walker did in Timebound. I also enjoyed Malone Hero by Edmond Wells, a long time contributor to Martinus Publishing.

MTI:  Other than writing, what would you call your favorite hobby or pastime?

KREGGER:  I always have been and will always be a sailor. It is the one thing that defines me till I die. At which time I will be submerged in Lake Michigan. I do not understand anyone that fears water.

MTI:  Once again, you have the attention of potential readers.  Do you have any words of wisdom to share with them, or possibly a sales pitch to encourage them to read more of your writing?

KREGGER:  I write because I enjoy the process.  I look forward to seclusion with the Margaritaville channel playing in the background. I prefer to sail alone for the same reason. I don’t have an eye for what is marketable. I only write what makes me happy. Happy people are successful by whatever criteria are used.

It is impossible to write every minute of the day, so on those off moments Martinus Publishing has multiple anthologies available as well as Martin Ingham’s newest creation, The Curse of Selwood.

MTI:  Well, thank you for the extra plug there.  Now, readers love free stuff, so here's the start of your story in To Hell with Dante:

Clinton walked down a dirt footpath.  He was surrounded by dense fog and an overlying canopy of trees in dusky twilight. In front of him a white light beaconed through the fog, as if an opening to a tunnel.
            “Where am I?” he muttered as he walked alone, squinting into the brush beside the path.
            He walked for what seemed like an eternity through the impenetrable fog and foliage. He carried a pack and musket, but couldn’t recall camping, sleeping, or hunting. He halted and listened; the forest sounds were muted and soft.  Birds called to one another in the distance and since the wind had died there was silence from the trees above. The fog not only muffled his sight, but dampened his hearing as well. Everything smelled wet and decayed.
            White woolen pants covered his legs down to his knees and wool socks protected his feet from chafing inside tall, black boots. Glancing down at the blouse he wore under his red military coat, he found dark-red blood stains, but no wounds.  For the hundredth time in as many days, he wondered, where had he come from?
            He came to an intersection in the path. The path to the left and right led to a white light-filled tunnel. He spun around to find a similar portal to his rear. The tall man gripped his hands in prayer and fell to his knees. “God help me.” He bowed his head and shuddered.


MTI:  Thank you again, Kregger, for a fantastic interview.  Those who want to read the rest of his story, as well as 20 other cynical afterlife stories, can pick up To Hell with Dante!


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Author Interview: Jeff Provine 2

To Hell with Dante is a collection of cynical afterlife stories, ranging from comedic genius to dark surrealism.  To help kick off this fine anthology, I'll be conducting interviews with many of the contributors.  Today I'm interviewing Jeff Provine, the excellent author who contributed the story "Gravedigger."  Thank you for being here, Jeff

JEFF PROVINE: Always a pleasure!

MTI:  We've done this before, but for readers who didn't catch our last interview, why not tell them a little about yourself?

JP:  I’m an adjunct professor in Oklahoma City teaching Composition, Mythology, and a course called “The History of Comics.” It’s work that gets me pulled in three directions at once, but it does give some time in my schedule for writing projects.

Since it’s the Halloween season: one of my other projects has been creating the OU Ghost Tour, a charity walk around Norman’s campus telling spooky stories from the past. It has been a great time researching and interviewing (I’m not much of an investigator; I just don’t have the patience). Two books collecting local legends have spun off it: Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma and, new for 2014, Haunted Norman, Oklahoma.

MTI:  Your story, “Gravedigger,” appears in To Hell with Dante, tell us a little bit about that.  What's the general idea behind it?

JP:  The idea came out of the many references to those gateways to Hell in places like Turkmenistan, Sicily, and Ireland… what if someone stumbled across a new one?

There’s another story behind the story as well, one that began Halloween night, 2010. The air hung heavy with mist as the warm fall day turned to a chilly night. As I walked along in my mad scientist’s costume to meet some friends for a party, the mists parted, and there came along a pretty young lady dressed in gender-bent Vash the Stampede from Trigun. It was like I dream. I’m sure my mouth was gaping. We passed by each other, traded smiles and quips of “nice coat” for her red trench coat and white lab coat. And then she was gone.

For days, I couldn’t get the image out of my head. I was enamored. Who was this girl?

Then, as I had told the story a time or two, it bounced back through the grapevine that someone had a class with the girl, who had worn her Vash costume to class. I had to make sure, so I staked out the class. While I was waiting, I had a notebook with me and spent some time jotting notes for stories. “Gravedigger” spawned out of that.

It was her class, and we did end up going on a couple of dates, but nothing really took off. It was just as well since, a couple of holidays down the road, I met my future wife at a New Year’s Party.

MTI:  Does your story hold any special significance, perhaps seeking to provoke some thoughts about the afterlife, or was it just a lot of fun fiction?

JP:  The story’s theme is taking the reality of Hell and showing what one might be willing to trade for it. To get the feel, I made lots of references to Revelation, the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch, and modern horror. Even though we know it’s horrible, the gravedigger has the chance to gain so much if he’s willing to sell his soul for just a few days at a time: money, fame, power.

MTI:  Okay, on a totally unrelated note, if you could meet and talk with any one deceased person, who would it be?

JP:  The figures in the story (Vlad, Jack, and the 1980s Business Man) are each fascinating characters. On the one hand, asking someone about their buried treasure would be a good deceased person to meet. On the other, great figures like Theodore Roosevelt or Walt Disney would be interesting. Personally, I would like to have a good talk with my late grandfather, who passed away when I was a teenager. He had a lot of wisdom to share that I was too young to understand.

MTI:  Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?

JP:  I’m looking at creating a loosely connected batch of stories all tied together geographically in the spirit of Arkham, Massachusetts, and Derry, Maine: Chisholm County, Oklahoma. Many of its stories are inspired by actual Oklahoma events that I’ve researched while writing my Campus Ghosts and Haunted Norman creative nonfiction collections of local lore.

MTI:  Other than your piece appearing in To Hell with Dante, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?

JP:  I’ve got a short story in the collection Krampusnacht coming out this Christmas from World Weaver. Bad little boys and girls watch out for the monstrous goatman with a switch!

MTI:  Writers are often voracious readers.  Have you run across any good literature lately that you'd like to recommend?  You know, other than your own great work.

JP:  I read the Mammoth Collection Volume 1 of Elephantmen a short time back. It was classic science fiction in every sense of the word.

MTI:  Other than writing, what would you call your favorite hobby or pastime?

JP:  I’m a big board game enthusiast. We’re living in a golden age of indie board games thanks to technological development in printing and design. It’s exciting to see all the new takes on how tabletop gaming can go.

MTI:  Once again, you have the attention of potential readers.  Do you have any words of wisdom to share with them, or possibly a sales pitch to encourage them to read more of your writing?

JP:  There are stories everywhere; we just have to take a look. I’m bubbling over with ideas, and the trick is to just get some time to put them down on paper.  One my favorite things in all of the world is to talk stories with people, so, if you have a story idea but aren’t sure where to go with it, feel free to chat!

MTI:  And now, to help satisfy our readers, here are the first few paragraphs from your story, Gravedigger!

The old gravedigger put his shovel through the earth and struck empty space. His gnarled hand caught the handle before the weight of the blade pulled it underground. He held it for a moment before he wiggled it back and forth to free it.
            Soil crumbled around the opening. Foul, wet air bubbled up into the grave, leaving a sick fog around his muddy boots. Dull, red light shone up from the crack in the ground.
            “What the hell…?” the gravedigger mumbled.
            He took a step backward. When he had sure footing at the edge of the six-foot grave, he looked back at the eerie hole. It seemed larger.
            The gravedigger licked his lip, tasting sweat and dirt. He’d dug graves for the family mortuary since he could walk. These days his grandson did most of the digging with the backhoe, but he still took his exercise by digging a few by hand. There wasn’t much more relaxing than lovingly crafting a grave in the quiet of the nighttime.
            In all those years of all those shovelfuls of ground, he’d never seen anything like this. He’d hit sinkholes and, once, a nest of badgers, but no red-glowing hole. It stank, and the light cast up horrid bleeding shadows. The shop light hanging over his head seemed drowned out.

MTI:  Thank you again, Jeff, for another great interview. Those who want to read the rest of Gravedigger and 20 other cynical afterlife stories can buy To Hell with Dante!



Sunday, November 2, 2014

Cover Reveal: The Temporal Element II

The Temporal Element II is still accepting submissions until the end of 2014, but I am pleased to reveal the following cover art for this upcoming anthology!  Here is the piece with tentative lettering:




The artwork was done by the very talented Anastasia Karasyova.


The Temporal Element II has a planned release date of February/March 2015.  For those of you who can't wait for this exciting new collection of time travel tales, the first collection, The Temporal Element, is still available!  Pick up a copy while you wait for the second set of stories in the new year!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Author Interview: Erik Storey

"To Hell with Dante" is a collection of cynical afterlife stories, ranging from comedic genius to dark surrealism.  To help kick off this fine anthology, I'll be conducting interviews with many of the contributors.  Today I'm interviewing Erik Storey, the talented author who contributed the story "Tartarus Tavern."  Thank you for being here, Erik.

ERIK STOREY: Anytime. Thanks for having me.

MTI:  Starting off, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

ES:  Well, I've been told that I'm an anachronistic curmudgeon, a Luddistic peasant, and a condescending prick. But I'm here to set the record straight by saying that I'm really a nice guy, once you get to know me. And that the stuff I write is in no way a reflection of who I am as a person in the real world.

MTI:  Now, getting down to business; what first compelled you to weave fiction, and what's your favorite type of story to write?

ES:  I started writing as a kid when I ran out of things to read. It only got worse as an adult. No matter how many books I read—and I've read thousands—there's always something missing. So now I'm attempting, everyday, to fill in those gaps.

My favorite type of story to write, by far, is crime. Stories about criminals and the downcast and detritus of society. If you can't beat them, or join them, might as well write about them.

MTI:  Tell me, if you had to pick just one author who has influenced or inspired you, who would it be?

ES:  Lois L'Amour. The consummate storyteller. He may not have been as literary as some of my other favorites, but he could tell a hell of a yarn. He wrote western, crime, and adventure stories, even one that was pretty much fantasy. Plus over a hundred books, and once you start one, you can't help but finish before going to bed. It's that kind of storytelling power that I hope to have when I grow up.

MTI:  Your story, Tartarus Tavern, appears in To Hell with Dante, tell us a little bit about that.  What's the general idea behind it?

ES:  It's the story of a cynical detective that dies while working a case, and finds himself waiting in line for the afterlife. It seems that everyone else he knows is there, but they are all going somewhere he's not.

MTI:  Does your story hold any special significance, perhaps seeking to provoke some thoughts about the afterlife, or was it just a lot of fun fiction?

ES:  Oh, it's mostly just fun, but there is an underlying concept of choice and self-determination.

MTI:  Okay, on a totally unrelated note, if you could meet and talk with any one deceased person, who would it be?

ES:  Ernest Hemingway. As much as I like his writing, the stories about his life fascinate me more and I'd like to see if he lives up to the hype. A morning of fishing in a cold river, an afternoon hunting elk in the forested hills, and an evening of drinking and fisticuffs.

MTI:  Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?

ES:  My second novel, about a wandering adventurer that finds himself stuck in Idaho with an extorting law enforcer, a murderous biker gang, and a cult of polygamist, anti-technology Mormons. Oh, and a bunch of other people even crazier.

MTI:  Other than your piece appearing in To Hell with Dante, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?

ES:  I do, but I'll wait to talk about it until it's a little closer to release. It's a crime story, and not for the faint of heart, or those with weak stomachs.

MTI:  On a lighter note, have you watched any good tv lately?

ES:  Well, I was. A great show called Longmire that was recently canceled. FOR NO APPARENT REASON. It was honestly one of the best crime dramas on TV. I am also addicted to Justified. Both of these shows are modern westerns, well written, highly entertaining, and are slightly similar to the kinds novels that I write.

MTI:  Yeah, I'm kind of pissed that they dropped Longmire, too.  I'm also sad to hear that this upcoming season of Justified will be the last.  No more after season 6.  Curses!

So, what do you listen to for music?

ES:  A little of everything. Nahko and Medicine for the People, Mike Stinson, Old Crow Medicine Show, J. Roddy Watson and the Business, Shovels and Rope, Vance Joy, Milky Chance, Matt Nathanson, and my old favorites Tom Waits and Steve Earl.

MTI:  What are three of your favorite movies?  You know, the ones that never get old.

ES:  Big Trouble in Little China, Legends of the Fall, Raiders of the Lost Ark. In no particular order.

MTI:  Legends of the Fall is one of my favorites, too, but a lot of people have never even heard of it.

Of course, writers are some of the most voracious readers these days.  Tell me, have you run across any great pieces of literature lately?

ES:  I've been going back in time, and have been rereading all of the Travis McGee novels. Also just reread The Last Good Kiss, by James Crumley, and had forgot how perfect that book is. Some recent novels that I adored were Iron House, by John Hart; Wayfaring Stranger and The Light of the World, by James Lee Burke. All three were brilliant.

MTI:  You have the attention of potential readers.  Do you have any words of wisdom to share with them, or possibly a sales pitch to encourage them to read more of your writing?

ES:  How about just a big Thank You to all of the readers out there. You are a dying breed and your valiant adventures into the literary world of books and stories is well appreciated. Especially from us writers. Please don't stop reading. Ever. Encourage your friends to turn off the tube once in awhile and join in partaking of the word-drugs, the getting high on the imaginary. And if you want something different than the street corner stuff, try reading some more of my stories.

MTI:  Of course, readers love free samples, so let's give them a taste.  Here are the first few paragraphs of your story, as featured in To Hell with Dante:

            My head is pounding. A staccato timpani drum is beating against my temples from the inside. Feels just like any morning after a whiskey night; like the morning after a wedding, a wake, or a day ending in Y. When my vision clears, I expect to see the cracked paint and the dust encrusted fan that adorn the ceiling of my little studio apartment.
            But that isn't what I see. This isn't a normal morning. In fact, I don't see anything that would give me an indication of the time of day.
            I'm standing in line. Maybe a couple hundred people in front of me. I turn my sodden head and see that there are even more people standing behind me, shaking their heads and scratching their asses, all of them as bewildered and confused as me. Then I'm alert enough to start to notice the details. We are all buck-ass naked. Wangs and titties wobble as we shuffle ahead in line.
            All of us are in a hallway. The walls are carpeted brown and black; it's all bristle and sharp points when you touch it. The ceiling is pockmarked Styrofoam, the kind that you could stick a pencil in with a good throw. The hallway stretches ahead and behind so far that it seems to warp into an arch, with me at the high point and the bare skinned people on the horizons like squat insects far below.
            No one is talking. We're all trying to understand, trying to figure out what we are waiting for.

ES:  Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me.

MTI:  Thank you, Erik.  It was my pleasure.  Readers who would like to see more of Erik's story and 20 other cynical afterlife tales can pick up To Hell with Dante.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Author Interview: David Perlmutter

"To Hell with Dante" is a collection of cynical afterlife stories, ranging from comedic genius to dark surrealism.  To help kick off this fine anthology, I'll be conducting interviews with many of the contributors.  Today I'm interviewing David Perlmutter, the prolific author who contributed the story "Fangirl, Rip, and the Devil's Daughter."  Thank you for being here, David.

MTI: Starting off, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

DAVID PERLMUTTER:  -I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1980. I have never lived anywhere else in my life.

-My principle interest in popular culture is animation, particularly of the kind produced for television. This is the subject of my recently published first non-fiction book, “America ‘Toons In”, which is now available from McFarland and Company. Those people who have been following my fiction will know that it has also been strongly influenced by this art form.

-I also have strong affections for African American music and speculative fiction, and plan to pursue historical research in those areas as well.

-I graduated from the University of Winnipeg with a bachelor’s degree in history in 2003, and in 2010 earned a master’s degree in that discipline. Currently, I am studying in the Library/IT program at Red River College, so that I will become more professionally qualified to pursue my desired “day job” of Library Technician.

-I have published close to a hundred short stories, novellas and essays in various magazines and anthologies since 2009.

 -I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as a child, and am actively involved with the community related to this disorder in Winnipeg and Manitoba.

MTI:  Now, getting down to business; what first compelled you to weave fiction, and what's your favorite type of story to write?

DP: -Mostly, it was the usual aspiring writer’s desire to tell stories better than the ones I was being told. Both aspiring and professional writers are better able to see the flaws in the narratives created by other people, and this empowers us to attempt to do better with our stories. I have been doing this privately for most of my life, and discovering that you can get paid to do it convinced me that this was something I could do as a full-time job, if possible.

-I have several different types. A great many of my characters are anthropomorphic animals, for example, which stems from me being exposed to so much of these kinds of narratives as a child and now through animation. This also inspired my interest in superhero narratives, space operas, narratives involving kids and teenagers, and especially in humor. Generally, these kinds of stories all have firm narrative expectations and ideals behind them, and, given that I have versed myself well in all of these areas, they generally come naturally to me when I try to write my own pieces.
  
MTI:  Tell me, if you had to pick just one author who has influenced or inspired you, who would it be?

DP: -Robert Bloch. He was much, much more than just “Psycho”, but people tend to only give him credit for that. Or for being a disciple of H.P. Lovecraft, even though he outgrew that influence quickly. I became an admirer of him through reading reissues of his old pulp fiction stories, which are all very good. He was particularly adept at juxtaposing humor and horror, which most of his contemporaries never bothered to do. You can see his influence over me that way in stories like “Fangirl.” But, above all, he was a principled man who never sold out himself or his work for a quick buck, and he managed to spend most of his working life as a professional writer in various media at a time when it was very, very hard to do that. In all these respects, he’s been a very important role model for me. 

MTI:  Your story, Fangirl, Rip, and the Devil's Daughter, appears in To Hell with Dante.  Tell us a little bit about that.  What's the general idea behind it?

DP:  -This story stems from a few of my interests and concerns. Firstly, it reflects a sort of nostalgia on my part from an older way of storytelling I encountered in reading pulp fiction and watching a lot of old Hollywood movies. Before World War II, a lot of these stories were predicated on having two guys, usually stereotypical soldier-of-fortune types, travelling the world and having adventures, chiefly using only their brains and wits to get out of difficulty, although skill with weaponry and fisticuffs was never ruled out. Sometimes they would get into the situations by accident, other times on purpose. As with my interest in animation (which draws on a lot of this narrative protocol, by the way) and humor, this was a situation I felt I could adapt to my own uses. As I have. My Jefferson Ball series, for example. Basically, the storyline boils down to: put the heroes in the scenario, bring the villain in, and then get the heroes out and the villain punished, one way or another. I can do that, and I have, many times. 

-Another is my general desire to empower marginalized people, which is much more acceptable and commonplace today than it once was. As a person with Asperger’s syndrome, for example, I am dismayed much of the time by how the disorder is portrayed, as it is often confused with Autism although it is nothing at all like it. People with Asperger’s are essentially the same as “neurotypical” people, save for the odd mental tic that is considered “eccentric”, an extreme attention to detail, and a very thorough interest in things that others do not consider very “important’ in the grand scheme of things. We should not be punished for being “different”, because sometimes being “different” helps prevent you from going along with the “program”, and exposing the “program” for being the con game it often is.

   That being said, I was often placed in the position at school of needing extra assistance and training in order to fulfill my academic obligations. In the process, I got to meet a number of peers with far worse physical and mental disabilities than my own, and to admire them for being able to persevere in spite of them.

-So this is where Morgan and Rip come from, respectively. Morgan has Asperger’s, but, with exceptional areas, she doesn’t let it bother or contain her, as I have gradually learned how to do over my life dealing with it. I drew somewhat on my own thought patterns and feelings for her, although some aspects, by necessity, had to be feminized. The same with Rip. She was named in honor of Robert Ripley, the creator of “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not”, whom I learned a great deal about reading Neal Thompson’s excellent biography of him from a couple years back. Ripley had buck teeth just like Rip (in the days before braces, though), and some other physical issues besides, but he managed to become a globe-trotting adventurer, a radio and film personality, a skilled artist, a champion handball player and a womanizing playboy. I imagine that’s how Rip sees herself, potentially, as well, especially the latter category. But there’s also, I think, a great deal of Rocky and Bullwinkle (whom I idolize!) in there as well, as there is with a lot of my series characters.

-One last thing is that we should be free to show kids acting on their own and dealing with things on their own in media directed towards them, especially in this age of helicopter parenting. If you show them that they can do things and give them good, admirable role models by which to do them from, they won’t have any problems doing it for themselves. This is what I keep in mind with my kid and teenage series characters, at all times.           

MTI:  Does your story hold any special significance, perhaps seeking to provoke some thoughts about the afterlife, or was it just a lot of fun fiction?

DP: -It’s not meant to be any sort of serious Dantean speculation on the afterlife- he already did that a long time ago. When I came up with Morgan and Rip, I needed to have them fight somebody (or, more properly, some thing), or the story would have no point. I had written an earlier story about the devil’s daughter coming to Earth, and enjoyed writing it, so I thought, why not use her again?

MTI:  Okay, on a totally unrelated note, if you could meet and talk with any one deceased person, who would it be?

DP:  -Martin Luther King, Jr. I get chills up my spine listening to him talk, which I hardly get from anyone speaking today. Plus, his political philosophy has always been very much in line with mine. I would have gotten a thrill meeting the man behind the iconic image, which, sadly, isn’t possible anymore.

MTI:  Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?

DP:  -I have completed the manuscript of my first novel, “Orthicon; or, the History of a Bad Idea,” and am currently seeking a home for it. It took over ten years to finish, so I hope the waiting will not be in vain. I have also had a publisher interested in a novel with my canine series characters Sticks and Bones, provided I can deliver the manuscript by fall 2015. I continue to develop short stories at a regular pace, especially for all the speculative anthologies listed at Duotrope and Ralan. On the non-fiction side, I have been asked to contribute to an upcoming encyclopedia of animation, and am planning to write other, longer works in that field, including an encyclopedic work of my own.  

MTI:  Other than your piece appearing in To Hell with Dante, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?

DP:  -I am waiting for word from some publishers about upcoming anthology publications. Since so many of my acceptances are for “when filled” anthologies, you can never tell when that is going to be. However, I always make sure to tell my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr followers when that happens, to keep them in the loop. 

MTI:  On a lighter note, have you watched any good tv lately?

DP:  -I haven’t had much time as of late, but I’ve PVRed a ton. I am particularly looking forward to looking at two animated shows, “Wander Over Yonder” and “The 7D”, from Disney, that I’ve already heard good things about.

MTI:  How about music?

DP: -Nothing terribly new. I have stacks of CDs at home, lined up like canned goods in a bomb shelter, and usually the music in them is decades old, because I prefer it that way. However, I will put in a good word for Monkeyjunk, a blues trio from Ottawa whose sound I very much enjoy.

MTI:  What are three of your favorite movies?  You know, the ones that never get old.

DP:  The three that leap to mind immediately are “Blazing Saddles”, “In The Heat Of The Night”, and “The Powerpuff Girls Movie.” The common thread between them is: never judge a book by its cover. The protagonists all have to deal with a lot of crap because they look different than the “white” establishment, or are able to do things “normal” people can’t do, but they more than prove their worth by the last reel. Both Mel Brooks and Craig McCracken are extremely underrated in my worldview, and need to be appreciated much more for what is being said under the surface in their stories than what’s on top. Likewise with Norman Jewison, although the fact that he’s gotten the Irving G. Thalberg Award- given only to a select few producers- says that Hollywood, at least, got what he was trying to do. (And he’s a fellow Canadian, besides!).

MTI:  Of course, writers are some of the most voracious readers these days.  Tell me, have you run across any great pieces of literature lately?

DP:  I read most every new speculative fiction anthology that comes out as soon as I can, especially at the pro level, and I am impressed at the superb level of content in the stories that is always there. I hope the editors of these things will ultimately judge me worthy of being part of the exalted company they always manage to assemble. 

MTI:  You have the attention of potential readers.  Do you have any words of wisdom to share with them, or possibly a sales pitch to encourage them to read more of your writing?

DP:  I cannot really offer words of wisdom, as I am merely a fallible human being. However, I will encourage readers to seek out anything I have written. And not at all simply for the financial benefits that may possibly accrue to me. I don’t write purely for that reason in any form or fashion, for that is simply crass. What I want readers (and especially editors) to view me as is the same way that I view Robert Bloch: as a reliable, trustworthy source of knowledge and/or entertainment whose is always willing and able to give them exactly what they want, and to never disappoint them in any single way.  

Of course, readers love free samples, so let's give them a taste.  Here are the first few paragraphs of your story, as featured in To Hell with Dante:


            They seemed, to the outside viewer’s eyes, to simply be two otherwise normal fourteen year old girls who appeared oddly mismatched, given the great disparity in their physical appearances and sizes. The only thing they really had in common was the fact that they were wearing the same kind of T-shirts, corduroys, and flip-flops favored by most of their peers during summer—which was what season it happened to be at that moment. An outsider might further assume that, given the fact that the smaller one of the pair was falling behind her larger friend like a puppy struggling to keep up with its mother, that their personal relationship was similarly distorted.
            Nothing could be further from the truth. They had been close friends almost from their natal days, and had evolved a close, almost sisterly bond that had endured, in spite of the brickbats that life had thrown them. For both of them, those brickbats were many.
            The taller of the pair, Morgan Robertson, possessed a spindly, gangly form and a height of over six feet, which would have aided her immensely had she been athletically inclined. In terms of her bodily appearance, she was what was known vulgarly among her male peers as a “hottie.” Her head was crowned by a mop of luxurious red hair with a chestnut accent, which she always kept in a precise 1920s style bob to avoid it getting in her face. That face featured electric blue eyes, a snub nose, a cupid’s-bow mouth, and red full lips, which was good for getting boys to notice her—which, given her extreme level of personal shyness, was disconcerting to her. She was “average” only in her breast size. Such objects were not of Jayne Mansfield proportions, but just large enough, along with her face, to prevent her from being mistaken for a boy. Which is how she preferred it.
            However, Morgan was not part of the high school social spectrum you might assume was the case. This was because of two factors. She was challenged with Asperger’s syndrome, which resulted in her frequently thinking and acting “weird” in the eyes of most of her classmates. She would have uncomfortable bouts of rage and/or sadness at inopportune moments, which made her dangerously unpredictable. Whether attributable to her being an “Aspie,” a girl, or both, these extreme displays meant that Morgan spent more than her fair share of time alone, as is the sad fate of most people with this condition.
            Morgan found solace, as many Aspies do, in immersing herself in something to the point of full blown obsession. This particular thing was science fiction and its fantasy and horror brethren, not just the literature but the films and TV shows as well. She obsessed herself to the extent that she became convinced that everything depicted in these works was conceivably real, from the characters to the imaginary worlds in which they existed. Of course, this had expected drawbacks. More than once, anyone she tried to make conversation with about her favorite things would angrily get up and walk away, especially if they were a fellow girl. The particularly insensitive ones of that species went so far as to spread ugly rumors about her sexuality, so that none of their male counterparts would even come close to dating her.
            It was in these, the ugliest moments of her life, and other extracurricular moments, that Morgan found comfort in the company of her best friend, who was even more of a target for the mean girls and bullies than Morgan herself was. For good reason.
            Roberta Ripley, known to her best friend simply as “Rip,” was the polar opposite of her friend physically. Where Morgan was blessed with both beauty and brains, Rip possessed only brains to aid her in life. The rest of her was less prepossessing. Born premature, she was weakened by an uncorrected club foot, which required her to get around on a cane on a full-time basis. Her facial features included a harelip, horrifically crooked teeth no braces could fix, misshapen, multi-jointed arms and legs, a bulbous nose, two differently colored eyes, and a squat but emaciated torso. With the addition of a braying, nearly masculine voice, she was a vision of clock-stopping homeliness. However, Rip made up for her physical shortcomings by being resourceful and intelligent in her words and deeds. In spite of their obvious physical differences, she and Morgan hit it off from kindergarten on, in part because Rip possessed an appetite for speculative media rivaling Morgan’s, and a similar “true believer” faith in the idea that it could be “true.” The relationship between them further developed in elementary and middle school, when Rip defended Morgan verbally against the social fallout caused by Morgan’s Asperger-derived displays of temper and anguish, and Morgan, in turn, used her size and physical strength to defend Rip physically from bullies.
            This “info dump” is necessary, despite being somewhat long winded, in order that you, the reader, may understand the circumstances of this narrative. For Morgan and Rip’s faith in the realistic existence of the supernatural forces of the universe—and each other—would prove to be the one thing able to save the Earth from destruction by the forces of Hell itself.


MTI:  Thank you, David, for that insightful interview.  Those who want to read the rest of his story, and 20 other cynical afterlife tales, can pick up To Hell with Dante.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Author Interview: Colin Fisher

"To Hell with Dante" is a collection of cynical afterlife stories, ranging from comedic genius to dark surrealism.  To help kick off this fine anthology, I'll be conducting interviews with many of the contributors.  Today I'm interviewing Colin Fisher, the talented author who contributed the story "The Early Shift."  Thank you for being here, Colin.

COLIN FISHER:  Thanks for asking me!

MTI:  Starting off, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

CF:  Sure. I live on the outskirts of London, England, and manage finance systems for a living. It isn’t hugely stressful, which is great because I’m a firm believer in keeping the work / life balance tipped in my favour. Before that I managed bookshops, which was a lot more fun but less ideal for keeping the wolf from the door. I’m married to a wonderful wife, and have two fantastic (and grown up) children – and they probably wouldn’t thank me for calling them children! My first love is archaeology, that’s what I’m qualified in, but never made any serious efforts to make a profession out of it.

MTI:  Now, getting down to business; what first compelled you to weave fiction, and what's your favorite type of story to write?

CF:  That’s an interesting question, and strangely not one I’ve ever thought about. I’ve been obsessed with telling stories ever since I was a child. I would make up stories to tell my older brother when I was probably no older than 5 or 6, and as soon as I learned to write I wanted to set them down on paper, or write sequels to my favourite novels. I’ve no idea where that came from. No-one else in my family tried writing, neither my parents nor my brother. My mother is a voracious reader, though, and I certainly picked that up. When I was growing up I would also play long, solitary games in purely imaginary worlds. I liked nothing better to escape into our spare room and create elaborate adventures with whatever toys seemed most suitable. I think storytelling is just an extension of that.

MTI:  Tell me, if you had to pick just one author who has influenced or inspired you, who would it be?

CF:  Well, this is a nightmare question, I can’t possible pick one! I’ll set aside the obvious – Tolkien, who I read obsessively from about the age of nine – and try and pick someone else that filled my childhood with magic, because I’m a firm believer that the books we read when children are the most important of all. So, either Alan Garner for his vision and sense of place, or Susan Cooper, because The Dark is Rising is pretty much my perfect ‘English’ fantasy novel.

MTI:  Your story, The Early Shift, appears in To Hell with Dante, tell us a little bit about that.  What's the general idea behind it?

CF:  I’d previously written a story in which a psychopath uses a magical grimoire to summon a diabolical entity. After I’d written it, I found myself interested in the origin of the creature. Where did it come from? Are all these demons and devils just sitting around, waiting for mortals to undertake a ritual or sell their souls? Don’t they have anything better to do? That’s where the idea for the Exchange came from. They’re a bit like career politicians; juniors, the timeservers, go-getters. Everyone just concerned about their position. That was my starting point, although ultimately I went in a slightly different direction. I did throw in a reference to the grimoire from the first story though, as a sort of cheeky self referential nod!

MTI:  Does your story hold any special significance, perhaps seeking to provoke some thoughts about the afterlife, or was it just a lot of fun fiction?

CF:  Well, it’s mostly a lighthearted and (hopefully) fun story, but there is a serious point behind it about the nature of evil. That oft quoted banality, the tedious and casual  routine of efficient slaughter, and the mindset that creates. Also, the nonsense of viewing people you’re screwing over as ‘customers’ was something I found somewhat relevant as well. There were lots of angles I could have taken, but I didn’t want to labour the point or detract from the humour. It’s not meant to be a horror story, even though it might give you pause for thought.

MTI:  Okay, on a totally unrelated note, if you could meet and talk with any one deceased person, who would it be?

CF:  I’m most fascinated by outsiders, people who live their life completely in the service of their own vision, with little regard to conventional morality, the opinion of society, or the consequences of their actions. I’m not really interested in kings, plenipotentiaries or potentates. So, someone like Shelley for his impractical romanticism, sense of injustice and total disregard for contemporary mores. Or Jack Parsons, for so comprehensively uniting science and magic in his actions and imagination. Or one of the early English Antiquarians, like John Aubrey or William Stukely, for being the first to recognise the value of heritage and ancient sites, and taking the effort to travel the country recording it.

Gosh, I’m really no good at this ‘picking one thing’ lark, am I? One person? Ok, forget the ‘not interested in Kings’ thing. King Arthur, whoever and whatever he was. For being the only legendary figure where we can possibly reach back through the mist to the person behind it. Was he a Romanised Briton holding the fragments of a crumbling province together? A Celtic resistance fighter? A pre-Roman leader? Actually, whatever he was, he probably wasn’t a king, so that still holds.

MTI:  Great answer!  I'd love to know the "true" King Arthur, too.  Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?

CF:  Sure. I’m trying to get my head around a children’s book at the moment. I wanted to attempt something in the vein of the authors mentioned above, sort of ‘rural fantasy’ as opposed to urban fantasy, which is bandwaggoning (NB – possibly not a real word) at such an alarming rate I’m not sure I’d have much to add to it, even though I really enjoy the genre. I have my characters, but they’re currently somewhat directionless, and having just moved house I haven’t had the time over the summer to devote the attention that it will need. I’m also working on an adult story about the theft of a family heirloom which will tie into the children’s book, hopefully. Plus an sf short which I’ve been working on for about eighteen months. Unfortunately, I haven’t done myself any favours with the subject – it’s about a young genius, which means that for every page I write I have to do four hours research to make it sound even vaguely convincing, since I’m neither young nor a genius.

MTI:  Other than your piece appearing in To Hell with Dante, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?

CF:  I have a couple of stories forthcoming from Fringeworks Press here in the UK. A couple of years ago they published a Christmas themed horror collection, ‘Ain’t No Sanity Clause’, that I had a story in. Contributors were invited to a follow up, ‘Sanity Clause is Coming’, which is in layout at the moment and should be out at the beginning of November. My story is called ‘The Escape Goat’, and takes place during a school nativity play. That one’s definitely not light hearted! Further off… Fringeworks are also publishing a set of three books in their Grimm series called Red, Black and White, each themed around a single well known fairy tale (Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Snow White). Mine is ‘Snow White, Throat White’ and will be in volume three. It’s not really about Snow White at all actually, so I’m surprised it was accepted. It was more about trying to devise a realistic (well, as realistic as fantasy gets) canvas for the story – ‘how would this work in reality.’ At one time my notes on the political machinations of the various kingdoms covered more pages than the story itself. I’m looking forward to the Red volume the most, as my daughter has a superb story in it. Finally, although I haven’t contributed a story, I am editing a collection of reimagined fairy tales for the same publisher, which is called Grimm and Grimmer vol 3. We’re trying something a bit different as it will include an academic essay on the Brothers Grimm and their cultural milieu, so we’ll have to see how that goes. That should be out in a month or so.

MTI:  On a lighter note, have you watched any good tv lately?

CF:  It’s such an amazing time for tv, an explosion of talent and creativity. Some of the genre shows I’m watching are Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who (which has always been my favourite), and Once Upon A Time, and I’m looking forward to the new series of American Horror Story. On top of that True Detective was amazing, an astonishing synergy of script and performance. Last year I was gripped by Top of the Lake, a New Zealand set drama by Jane Campion, and I’m also really looking forward to the third series of the Danish / Swedish crime drama The Bridge. There are almost too many to keep up with, so I have to really pick and choose.



MTI:  How about music?

CF:  I guess I’d say I’m a rock fan at heart, but do have fairly eclectic tastes. As a rule, I don’t listen to a lot of blues, but I recently saw the Blues Pills at an instore in London, and they blew me away. Really great. But then, there’s so much great music. I love Porcupine Tree – ‘In Absentia’ was probably the best album of the 2000s for me – but they’re currently on a sabbatical while their leader Steven Wilson develops his solo career with similarly extraordinary albums. Wolf People are great, I love the whole psych rock / folk thing. The last Nightwish album was incredible. I never thought they’d top their work with Tarja Turunen, but Imaginaerum was just superb. Suede’s comeback album Blood Sports was fantastic, I’ve seen them a couple of times since it was released and they’re so cool. If I had to name one highlight of the last few years though, it would be Dead Can Dance. I never thought I’d get the chance to see them – their reunion tour in 2005 sold out in about five minutes, but a couple of years ago they announced a new album and tour, and we finally got to see them. The whole thing was sublime, almost spiritual. The sort of thing that sends shivers down your spine.

MTI:  What are three of your favorite movies?  You know, the ones that never get old.

CF:  If I was stranded somewhere with no hope of rescue and only an HD tv for company I’d go for Alien, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and… something funny. It would be a toss up between Carry On Screaming, Monty Python’s The Holy Grail, or In the Loop. Or maybe Duck Soup. There you go. I can’t even stick to ‘pick three things.’

What I find interesting about all of them, and about every film that withstands multiple viewings, is that the salient element, whether that’s horror, or excitement or humour, or even the setting, just doesn’t – as you say – get old. It’s always there. Every time. Whatever that is, that’s the secret of a great movie. Those books you read again and again have it too.

MTI:  Of course, writers are some of the most voracious readers these days.  Tell me, have you run across any great pieces of literature lately?

CF:  I’m just as likely to be reading non-fiction to be honest – a great piece of history or biography can have all the narrative pull of a compelling story. But if I had to limit myself to fiction… I loved Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, for its unbeatable air of Gothic romance and use of language. Then The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt was pretty much a cover to cover read. Terrific story, atmosphere and characterisation. Anything by Michael Gruber, but particularly Tropic of Night. Terrifying, brutal and evocative. Company of Liars by Karen Maitland. The 14th Century has never been so chillingly portrayed. A modern Chaucer that builds to a doom laden and horrific denoument. I’m currently working my way through the Burton and Swinburne stories by Mark Hodder. So far, I’d put them on the top of the modern Steampunk pack, which is a genre I’ve loved ever since The Anubis Gates. For horror, standouts I’ve read of late would be House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill and The Terror by Dan Simmons. The former manages to combine the creepy olde English ambience of strange pagan ceremonies and crumbling villages with the pure visceral ghastliness of 70s horror films produced by the likes of Amicus and Tigon, whilst the latter – very different - is a fictional reconstruction of the fate of the Franklin Expedition, in which the crews of the two ships meet their fate at the hands of horrors both natural and unnatural. It’s an incredible, sustained assault on the reader’s peace of mind, and the book seems imbued with a palpable air of nightmarish torpor and frigidity from start to finish.

MTI:  You have the attention of potential readers.  Do you have any words of wisdom to share with them, or possibly a sales pitch to encourage them to read more of your writing?

CF:  I try not to offer words of wisdom, it seems to me advice is so often context sensitive and if you don’t know the situation of the person in every particular you probably shouldn’t presume to provide it. Having said that – and I’m sure you could echo this – but since having started editing I’m astonished at the number of submissions I get that are guilty of quite basic mistakes. Things that you could avoid if you made even the most cursory investigation of writers’ blogs or online columns or workshops. So, for writers, alongside the usual ‘read books’ I’d add ‘read articles.’ Because chances are that not only has someone made the same mistakes you’re making, but someone else has provided some good tips for avoiding them. As an example, the Snow White story I mentioned above has a lengthy action sequence. I wasn’t very happy with it – it wasn’t the kind of thing I normally did, and it was unsatisfactory in a way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. So I researched ‘action sequences’, and understood what it was I was getting wrong. I rewrote what I had three or four times, paring it right down to the minimum of what it needed. After that, it might not have been great, but it was at least competent (I hope). So, really, don’t just assume that something you’ve written is ‘good enough.’ Nothing is. A book isn’t a tv, or a pair of shoes. You don’t pay more for higher quality, and you can’t get away with something that ‘will do.’. Fight that prose to a standstill, and then, and only then, put on its hat and coat and usher it out the door.

As for sales pitch... I like to think people get something out of my stories other than the story, if that doesn’t sound counterintuitive. If writing makes people feel a certain way, then it’s great writing. Whatever you conjure, and whatever you conjure with, provides entry to a magical realm of story that we as a species are privileged to be able to experience. I spend a lot of time writing poetry, and I’d hope that whatever poetry is, the elusive, the phantasmagorical – I’d hope that filters through to my stories and their readers, and perhaps punctuates their experience with a tiny bit of magic.

MTI:  Of course, readers love free samples, so let's give them a taste.  Here are the first few paragraphs of your story, as featured in To Hell with Dante:

            Dominic turned the page with a pale, scarred finger and sighed. He couldn’t remember one word he had just read. It was a crushingly dull story in which a witless, pipe smoking detective performed improbable acts of logic in pursuit of tedious and repetitive crimes. The detective—a pompous and clearly insecure individual—only seemed to come alive when crossing wits with a succession of facile villains, after which he felt compelled to explain his native brilliance to his long suffering factotum at excruciating length. Dominic heartily wished something about his job made him feel alive. With a flick he tossed the book into the fire. It would annoy the people upstairs, and that was enough to give him a small sense of satisfaction. Pathetic. He stretched back in his armchair, and stared at the ceiling. Despite himself, he wished the phone would ring.
            The room was empty, as always, and devoid of furnishing other than the worn leather chair that Dominic sat in, the small table to his right, and the telephone that stood on it. The phone was antiquated—one of those bakelite models with a rotary dial—and he was sure he’d been given it as a joke. He hardly ever called out and when he did it went straight through to the switchboard downstairs where he would tell them what number he needed. He felt, however, that something altogether more imposing should sit at his right hand. Something better suited to his own impression of himself. Dynamic, thrusting, on the up. He grimaced. Somewhere, somehow, he’d upset someone, and this was his reward. Not for the first time, he wished he was on the Late Shift.
            He scuffed his foot on the floor. He didn’t even have a carpet, just the bare boards of the old room, and vacant walls whose wallpaper had long since peeled away, leaving grey plaster and holes ridden with wood worm and rats. The Late Shift got smartphones, tablets, and—or so he heard—double glazing. He didn’t need to look behind him at the old sash window to tell it was frosted with rime and weeping trails of ice.

Thanks again, Mr. Fisher, for that great interview.  Those who want to check out the rest of his story, and 20 other cynical afterlife stories, can pick up To Hell with Dante today!