Archive for the ‘Shibboleth’ Category

Hey, Everyone! Please check out Jaym Gates‘s interview with me at SFSignal about the upcoming reprint from ChiZine Publications of my collection STORIES FROM THE PLAGUE YEARS. Chizine’s Brett Savory weighs in on the reprint, and you can preview some of the gorgeous interior illustrations by Gabrielle Faust, as well as the bitchin’ new cover by Erik Mohr. Please check it out and RT, if you get the chance! Thanks! Click here to read!

I love this quote…

“Few horror authors are better equipped to write about madness than Marano.”
–– Daniel Kraus, Booklist

Hey, Everybody!

I’d like to make a special announcement. My good friends at ChiZine Publications are putting together a really beautiful signed, limited, and I do mean limited, edition of  my recent collection of horror fiction Stories from the Plague Years, coming in December 2012. The bitchin’ new cover is by Erik Mohr. Check it out!

I dig the new cover a lot… we’re making the blood on the hands kinda ambiguous. Blood on a murderer’s hands? Or is it from Scarlet Fever? Or both? The concept nicely blends the theme of violence as plague that I explore in the book.

The new edition will still have the same Introduction by cyber punk godfather and Dark Fantasy legend John Shirley and the same gloriously gorgeous interior illustrations by Gabrielle Faust as appeared in the out-of-print hardback edition. Here’s one of Gabrielle’s beautiful illustrations…

This is a scan of Gabrielle’s illustration for one of the sections of the book, “Days of Rage”, which explores the idea of Violence as Plague that I talk about above. The mask on the table to the lower right is a Shakimi mask from Japanese Noh theater. It’s a traditional representation of… demonic rage.

The limited edition Trade Paperback will be signed by both Gabrielle and me. We’re really excited to to be putting this new edition together and making the book available to a wider audience, because the original edition from Cemetery Dance sold out in just nine days. It was kind of frustrating, to get really nice notices on the book–like being named one of the Top Ten Horror Publications of the Year by Booklist, the original novella “Displacement” getting nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award and the original novella “Shibboleth” getting an Honorable Mention from Ellen Datlow— and not have  any copies available anywhere to share with anybody.

Also, I am pretty psyched that this text of the book will be corrected. These will be the preferred versions of all the stories, both original and reprinted.

Now, when I say that this signed limited edition trade paperback will be coming out in December, that doesn’t mean you can just pick it up in December. You need to pre-order a copy from Cemetery Dance or ChiZine by November 1st, 2012! We’re only gonna print as many as we get orders for, so this really is a one-time offer, folks!

So, please place your orders soon, and if you know anybody who might be interested, please let them know!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

So… I guess I can write about this, now that Lois herself has blogged about it. I recently placed a short story titled “Reign” in an anthology edited by Lois Gresh and coming from PS Publishing called Dark Fusions: Where Monsters Lurk. I’m really proud of the work, and the story kinda represents me coming out of a period of semi-retirement. (Aside from “Shibboleth” and “Displacement”, the two original stories in my 2011 collection Stories from the Plague Years, I haven’t placed a piece of new fiction since 2005 or so. And the fact of the matter is, these works aren’t too “original.” I wrote “Displacement” 20 years ago. And “Shibboleth” is, in fact, a chapter of a sprawling science fiction novel I’ve been unable to sell for about a decade.) I think more writers “retire” for periods of time than people really acknowledge. I remember when Arthur C. Clarke “retired” for a while in the late 1970s. Clarke, an avid SCUBA diver, claimed to have celebrated his retirement by photographing his electric typewriter resting submerged atop a corral reef. Alfred Betser, I think in an interview in Omni, laughed and said something like, “Oh, please! Arthur! No one retires from writing. Shut up and get back to work.” Soon thereafter, Clarke sold The Fountains of Paradise for beaucoup bucks (I seem to recall it was the highest advance yet paid for an SF novel). Bester, who was married to an advertising executive (what an episode of Mad Men that would make!), I think knew the workings of people’s minds pretty well.

But to the actual point of this blog post. Originally, Dark Fusions was to be published by Arkham House and would be called Arkham Nightmares. The guidelines stipulated, “The emphasis is on stories that capture the mood, atmosphere, and creative strangeness of Lovecraftian cosmic horror.” So, I wrote a story that I felt did just that. It became, as I chewed over premises, an homage  not just to Lovecraft, but maybe even more so to Harlan Ellison. (I’ll talk about the overt Ellison elements once the story comes out.) As a tribute to Lovecraft’s cosmic horror, “Reign” represents a kind of coming full circle for me.


Y’see… I wrote a good chunk of “Reign” longhand on a very specific kind of paper that I once used as a dumbfuck teenager, who at the age of 15 in the era of Punk Rock and Toe Socks was writing gawdawful Lovecraft pastiches worse than you could possibly imagine. Unless, of course, you were yourself a dumbfuck teenager writing Lovecraft pastiches back in the days when a nickel bag of pot cost a good and proper “nickel.”

Portrait of a teenage Lovecraft wannabe. I’m 15 or 16, here… with a head packed full of Star Trek, Doctor Who, Tolkien and Yog-Sothothery. Make your saving throw against awkwardness!

(I even sent one of these abominations to Ed Ferman at Fantasy & Science Fiction. At the time, I was crushed to get the form rejection. Now, even more than 30 years after the fact, I hope no one in the F&SF offices actually read the damned thing that I so lovingly bashed out on a manual typewriter… that my cover letter was enough for them to just open up the SASE and send it back.)

The paper in question was something I got tablets of from my dad, who had originally gotten them for his home office that he maintained in the basement of our house. Check out the picture here, with pen and ruler added for scale. [Click on images to enlarge]

A blast from my creative past.

Whippersnappers might not know this, but… back in the days when writing actually involved paper, and not pixels, paper was an expense. Consequently, if you were a dumbfuck teenager writing Lovecraft pastiches, you had to use whatever paper was available. Which is why my monumentally clever opening for a story satirizing 1950s monster movies that I wrote during the summer of 1979 (the summer that ALIEN came out and that has since been semi-immortalized in JJ Abrams’ Super 8) was typed on the back of a blank billing statement from the nursing home my parents used to administrate.

Behold! “The Creature that Was Marxist”. BTW, you may ask, “Michael Linwood Marano?!” Well, I don’t have a middle name. And at 15, I thought all writers should have middle names. “Linwood” was the name of a street in my neighborhood. Thought it sounded good. And “Linwood” was also a tribute to Lin Carter, whose Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series paperbacks defined what I thought Fantasy should and could be.

Behold! The other side of my literary endeavor.

These tablets of paper were kind of funky. The pads were 9″ x 8.5″ and there were  little notations in the lower right corner that said “4049G Rev 2-78” on some pages and “Form 4046-G” on others. I Googled those, and got nothing. According to my friend Lisa Morton, they’re accountant’s ledgers, like the ones her mom used when she ran a college bookstore. OK… that might be what they’re manufactured for and meant to be. But to me, they are specifically and uniquely suited for writing Lovecraft knock offs. Why? You see those columns on the left by the binder holes? Well as you were feverishly scribbling dumbfuck teenager Lovecraft pastiches, you could write little marginalia notes to yourself, so you can keep track of not only elements of your own story, but of other Mythos goodies that might be relevant. Things like “USE ELDER SIGN LATER!” and  “REF TSATHOGGUA FOR SCENE AT LIBRARY!” and “MAKE SURE COPY OF BOOK AT MISKATONIC LIB IS MISSING!” The odd marginalia of “DEVO RULES!” might also have been jotted down, but I decline to confirm or deny that rumor.

(Hey, I just noticed that on some sheets of these pads, those left-hand columns are bisected, and on others, they’re not. I wonder if the pads were defective, and that’s why my dad unloaded them on me. Or if he got ’em cheap because they were defective.)

Only one sheet of my dumbfuck teenager Lovecraft pastiches that I’d written on those pads survives. (A few pages of a dumbfuck teenager Ramsey Campbell pastiche do survive to my chagrin, as do a few Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu scenarios I cooked up.) I found it buried deep in my files in a folder marked “Teenage Epics” (a riff on the Undertones song “Teenage Kicks”; the folder in question originally housed the presskit for Child’s Play 3). And that lone surviving sheet’s not even a bit of proper manuscript, but a chunk of outline for the second part of a story that I think was going to be called “Legacy of the Lich”, or something appalling like that, the climax of which featured our hero using an electric grinder to grind a set of sterling silver dinnerware into filings that he packed into shotgun shells that he used to blast the undead, druid-y minions of an even MORE undead priest of Shub-Nigurath.

The one surviving bit of my teenage Lovecraft pastiche-i-ness. The image is blurry to lessen my shame as to how crappy it is.

Christ, what a piece of shit that thing was (though the setting was pretty cool as I recall, and I did come up with a phrase I kinda like: “The Sojourner of the Oaks”). Maybe it’s for the best only one sheet of outline remains. But that story was MILES… no… LIGHT YEARS better than another that I wrote about a Miskatonic University professor who goes some place where there’s an archeological dig and comes back the host of some evil thing or another and only his academic rival knows what’s going on and there’s a confrontation at midnight in the deserted university hallways and….

You get the idea.

(For the record, the opening line of THAT story was “Empty halls, dark and mysterious.” So, y’know… the reader would hafta FEEL how empty and mysterious those halls of the “Humanities Department” at Miskatonic U were.)

Shitty as those pastiches were, I still have fond memories of the frenzied altered states of conscious I’d go into hunched over those pads with a ballpoint or a Faber Mongol #2 pencil in hand, feeling the heat unique to the summer vacations I spent assuring the world of my legacy as the guy who would single-handedly bring Cthulhu into the 21st Century. Hey! According to Starlog and Heavy Metal, IRREFUTABLE journalistic sources, Paramount was making that awesome Cry of Cthulhu movie that was gonna come out in the summer of 1981. Cthulhu was gonna be HUGE! And Ridley Scott’s ALIEN had shown that there was a market for Lovecraft-y horror. I was gonna ride that wave to the BIG time!

But I digress.

Flash forward a few decades. Right before I started writing “Reign,” I found one, precious pad of that paper in a box of things I’d had in storage at my parents’ house. I thought back to the zit-faced troglodyte I used to be, and the fever that used to take me while I wrote Lovecraftian fiction on those funkily lines sheets of paper. I couldn’t resist. I wrote big chunk of “Reign” on that pad. It was a joy, especially because the original Arkham Nightmares anthology was going to be published by Arkham House. I thought back to how my dumbfuck teenage self would have swooned at the thought of that. And those left-hand columns? Jotting plot notes and thematic ideas in them as I scribbled was as natural and as comfortable as slipping on a favorite old leather jacket. It was me and my muse getting a little drunk and talking about the way we were. Crazy kids in love. Kind of a second honeymoon.

So… here’s my plea.

A bit of “Reign” as written longhand on that 34 year-old paper. This is blurry, as I don’t want any of the story legible until it comes out, of course.

If anybody knows how I can get my hands on more tablets of that funky paper that as far as I know hasn’t been in production since the Carter administration, please let me know. I’m working on some projects now, and I would love to crank them out longhand on those sheets. I have less than one full tablet left. I promise nothing I write will be as bad as “Legacy of the Lich.” For old time’s sake, I’d really, really appreciate it. Try me through Facebook, or e-mail me at dawnsong AT  mindspring  DOT com  Thanks!

Well, after a withering review in Publisher’s Weekly:

And the exhilaration of the book selling out in nine days:

I just found out that my collection Stories from the Plague Years has been named one of Booklist’s Top Ten Horror Publications of the Year!

It’s always kinda nice to be on a list that includes Stephen King, if you’re in my line of work!

Twenty-five years ago tonight, in 1986, I saw the infamous Butthole Surfers‘ “Rock Against Romance”/Valentine’s Day show at The Rat in Boston. It damaged me. Mentally. Spiritually. Emotionally. Loved it. The volume was so loud, my teeth literally shook and a friend of mine had a spontaneous acid flashback. Doors were opened that could never be shut, especially when lead singer Gibby disemboweled a giant teddy bear and wore its hollowed-out head as a mask.

I’m not kidding. That show really informed me as a writer. Here I was in a familiar place, in a club I hung out in a lot, surrounded by familiar faces I knew from the music scene back then… and reality just broke. I’ve used that sense of reality breaking in my fiction, most recently in “Shibboleth”, the dark science-fiction piece that finishes out my collection Stories from the Plague Years.

A glimpse of the psychosis induced–courtesy of video taken of that tour… “Whirling Hall of Knives”

I’ve been writing professionally since about 1992. And I have to tell you, I NEVER get sick of this–the first moment you hold something you’ve written as a physical artifact. It’s always a rush. It’s always a thrill. Brian Freeman at Cemetery Dance Publications just sent along one of two existing advance copies of my collection Stories from the Plague Years. It’s gorgeous. Yeah, I’m saying that as a proud papa. But beyond that, the binding, the paper,  Bob Morrish’s layout and Gabrielle Faust’s beautiful cover and interior illustrations are sublime. My crappy camera phone doesn’t do it justice, but here’s a pic.

(UPDATED August 1, 2016)

Hey, Everyone! Just posting  for my students the topics I’ll be covering and the possible readings I’ll be assigning in my upcoming Grub Street class “The Smart Page-Turner Strikes Back!” The first class session will be on Wednesday, September 14, 2016 from 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM at Grub Street HQ in downtown Boston. The class will run at that time for ten weeks, with the final class taking place on Nov. 16, 2016. 

(If this seems like a lot of readings, keep in mind the lists below are tentative. I’m not going to assign them all!)

Grub Street is a non-profit creative writing center dedicated to nurturing writers and connecting readers with the wealth of writing talent in the Boston area. For more information on Grub Street, click here.

1. Creating Strong Imagery

How do you create effective imagery? How do you make imagery that’s truly yours? How do you find the right way to express a specific idea? We’ll take a look at different techniques for creating imagery that suits your plot, your characters, and your premise in ways that will make your writing strong and vibrant.

Tentative readings: Robert Leslie Bellum, “Dan Turner: Hollywood Detective”; Ray Bradbury, “Long After Midnight”; Joyce Carol Oates, “Did You Ever Slip on Red Blood?”; Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; Junot Diaz, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men.

2. Tracking Plot(s)

There’s more than one kind of plot. There’s the narrative plot, and that can include multiple threads. But there can also be also the symbolic plot, the thematic plot, the emotional plot…  how do you develop and co-ordinate them all? We’ll come up with different ways to stay on top of your plot(s) so that none of them get away from you.

Tentative readings: Daphne Du Maurier “Don’t Look Now”; John Gardner Freddy’s Book (1980) or Nickel Mountain (1973), and a short story submitted to the magazine I edit that illustrates through the editorial process it went through how there are several _kinds_ of plot.

3. Tracking Themes

Just as plots can have a lot of threads, so can themes. How do you weave several ideas into a whole? How do you keep track of all your ideas and incorporate them into your work without having the seams show? Or, worse yet, seem like you’re getting on a soapbox? We’ll look at ways to cook ideas so that they’re integrated into your story and don’t clutter your plotting.

Tentative readings: Mickey Spillane, My Gun is Quick; Shirley Jackson, TBD; Annie Proulx, Close Range: Wyoming Stories .

4. Harnessing the Weird

How do you use the unreal, the bizarre, in ways that are intriguing, but that won’t alienate the reader? How do you ground the bizarre in the real so you can use it in your fiction? We’ll figure out how to balance the everyday with the off-kilter so that they play off of and compliment each other.

Tentative readings: Justin Haythe, The Honeymoon; Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye; Hubert Selby, The Room, or Requiem for a Dream, or The Demon (1976);  Rosellen Brown, “The Only Way to Make It in New York” (1974).

5. Incorporating the Real

How do make everyday things dynamic? How do you add your own personal spin to the mundane in a way that makes for compelling as fiction? We’ll take a look at how two views of the same world (1950s suburbia) can create two wildly different fictional realities.

Tentative readings: Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road; Philip K. Dick, “The Father-Thing”.

6. Happy Endings?

How do you finish a story, rather than just have it just… stop? What makes an ending a real ending, and not just a narrative running out of steam? We’ll look at ways to keep your eyes on the prize of a memorable resolution while dealing with those pesky beginnings and middles.

Tentative readings: John Cheever, “The Five Forty-Eight”; Rod Serling Twilight Zone episodes; Harper Lee, the last chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960); Richard Matheson, “Night Call” short story and teleplay.

7. Starting a Story

How do you make the beginning of a story a real grabber of a beginning, and not an incident that just happens to be front-loaded in your narrative? We’ll figure out ways to make the kick-off of your story the first of a sequence of incidents that that hook the reader.

Tentative readings: John Le Carre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Jack Ketchum, The Lost (2001); Ian Fleming, From Russia, with Love; Douglas Fairbairn, SHOOT (1973); JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; the opening 26 Minutes of The Godfather screenplay; Don Stuart “Who Goes There?” compared to its screenplay adaptation.

8. Violence and Action Scenes

How do you write action scenes and violence without just re-hashing, in prose form, things we see in the movies? How do you make action and violence seem real? We’ll take close looks at the ways writers make action and violence immediate and visceral.

Tentative readings: Jon F. Merz, “Prisoner 392”; Conrad, “Youth”;  David Morrell ,First Blood or The Totem; Richard Matheson’s short story “Duel” compared to Matheson’s teleplay adaptation of same.

9. Generating Conflict and Creating Good Villains

Plots need conflict. But how do you put characters into conflict in ways that are natural, and not forced? We’ll figure out methods to get the various characters in your work to lock horns, and go over ways to make your villains worthy of your protagonists (and vice versa).

Tentative readings: Gerald Walker, Cruising; Alan Moore, Watchmen; Raymond Chandler short stories; Elfriede Jelinek, TBD; Star Trek: Countdown graphic novel; William Faulkner, Sanctuary.

10. Research Techniques

How do you hunt down facts that enrich the story you’re trying to tell? Do you hunt down facts to buttress your plot? Or do hunt down facts to help you come up with plot points? Do you do both? We’ll come up with ways to put facts in your fiction so that they enrich what you write, and not read the copy from a Discovery Channel special jammed into your story.

Tentative readings: Marano, “Shibboleth”; Patrick Susskind, Perfume; Cori Crooks , Sweet Charlotte’s Seventh Mistake.