Archive for the ‘Stuff from Mike’s Life’ Category

 

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I’m an artist who works in a number of fields. I even consider my work as a magazine interviewer an art, because I try, with my interview subjects, to collaborate on the creation of a unified narrative about their work. And as an artist, one of the most rewarding things I’ve experienced has been what I call the “Art of Letting Go.”

What do I mean by that?

When I was very young, one of my first gigs was writing radio plays.

I can’t tell you the joy I felt during the very first read-through of my very first play when one actor in particular who played the heavy portrayed the character in a way I’d have never, ever have imagined that character to be played. I was a twenty-something, inexperienced shithead, and this guy took what I’d handed him and made it into gold. During that read-through, when this guy (whom I can’t name, because he’s SAG, and he was performing under the table with a pseudonym) brought his prodigious talent to my newbie words, my eyes dried out, because I didn’t blink as I read along as he recited what I’d written and completely rewrote it with his own artistry.

That was the first time I’d Let Go as an artist, and trusted my art to another person, and experienced the magic of what they brought.

Letting Go of Your Art is an Art.

And it’s an incredibly rewarding Art.

As an author, I’ve been blessed with never having a shitty book cover or illustration. Something I’ll never forget is when Tor’s Art Director Irene Gallo grabbed me by the hand and yanked me through the Tor offices to show me the glorious cover that Cliff Nielsen created for my first book, Dawn Song. I was stunned at the sight of it. I worked closely with my dear friend Gabrielle Faust to create the cover and interiors art of my collection Stories from the Plague Years, and I got a lot of joy out of that collaboration. (I hope she did, too!) Erik Mohr did gorgeous covers for ChiZine’s reissues of my work.

It’s a beautiful thing to inspire beauty.

And you can only create that beauty by Letting Go of your Art, and let someone else’s Art come to bear upon it.

As a circus aerialist who has worked with partners (both in the aerial apparatus and with coaches and choreographers and teachers on the ground), I can say it’s truly magical to be suspended in the air, to completely trust your partner and create something new.

Which brings me to novella-length scenario I wrote for Evil Overlord GamesSusurrus: Season of Tides, entitled “Angels of Our Better Nature”.

That’s a pretty great title, huh?

“Angels of Our Better Nature”.

I love it.

Guess what?

It’s not mine.

My title was totally lame. It was basically, “The Bad Guys”. On par with calling Dawn of the Dead something like The Mall Zombies.

I don’t know who at Evil Overlord came up with that title, but God bless them. I’ll probably find out tomorrow. Might have to send that person a fruit basket.

And do you see that beautiful illustration at the top of this blog post?

Here, I’m going to post it again.

 

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That illustration is the work of Duncan Eagleson, whom I’m sure most folks know from his incredible work on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

The illustration depicts a character I created for “Angels of Our Better Nature” whom, quite frankly, I’m very proud of and very fond of. I’m very attached to that character, and I let her go, entrusting her to Duncan’s monstrously talented hands.

I just saw the illustration for the first time tonight.

She looks nothing… at all!… like how I envisioned her while writing the scenario.

Yes, Duncan got down the basics of what I described in the character sketch I submitted.

But in terms of essence… no.

That’s not the character I envisioned.

And I absolutely adore this illustration of that character so near and dear to my heart.

Opening the file of the illustration tonight, I had that wonderful, giddy feeling of Letting Go. I tasted the magic of it.

It’s intoxicating.

Just like what happened at that read-through of my play almost 30 years ago, my eyes dried out… experiencing something beautiful that someone crafted from something I’d made.

And that I’d let go.

Look at this illustration.

I truly hope, some day and somehow, you can see the beauty of it in the way that I am privileged to.

 

 

 

 

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Hey, thought I’d drop a note and mention that I’ve done a project that I’m very enthusiastic about for the good folks at Evil Overlord Games for their fascinatingly complex Susurrus: Season of Tides game scenario.  With the really splendid help and guidance of Evil Overlord’s Chief Writer Victoria Root and Game Writer Phoebe Roberts, I created a narrative set within the world of Susurrus that was as challenging to write as any work of long fiction I’ve published.

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As a horror writer, I’ve been really eager to try my hand at a narrative form I’d not tried before. The Interactive Fiction format of Susurrus gave me that opportunity within an Urban Fantasy setting that is fully realized, layered and complex. I was given free reign to create characters and to use existing characters within the world of Susurrus while at the same time exploring the themes and motifs that define much of my fiction: alienation  in the modern city; the enduring legacies of ancient magical practices; redemption; finding grace in the face of adversity.

 

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Another real joy of working on the project was the chance to create story that dovetails with the incredible art that Sandman artist and comic book impresario and all-around brilliant visual artist Duncan Eagleson has created for the world of Susurrus.

 

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My contribution to Susurrus: Season of Tides goes live on Monday, November 20, 2017. A lot of love and sweat went into the creation of this work that is nested within a vast and complex fantasy world that I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to work within. Please check it out, and take the opportunity to explore the world of Susurrus. It’s a dark and lovely place.

 

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Ordinarily when I write longhand, I use a Lamy Extra Fine Point fountain pen or a Shaeffer Extra Fine on old accountant ledgers. (Why old accountant ledgers? See this post: https://michaelmarano.com/category/lovecraft/) Why a fountain pen? I love the feel and flow of a fountain pen and, best of all, I love the scritching sound they make on paper. I use ballpoints all the time for note-taking and regular, everyday writing not related to writing fiction. But the sound ballpoints make on paper isn’t nearly as satisfying as a fountain pen nib’s scritching. I’m old enough to have begun my writing career on a typewriter, and to write in a way that is not associated with some kind of sound feels like a cheat. (For that matter, as a journalist, I’m of the very last generation to have worked in a newsroom with a typewriter and a teletype. All that wonderful noise and clatter helped me to focus and make deadlines. I still have a few sheets of used teletype paper in my files, on the backs of which I scribbled copy.)

Why write longhand at all? Simple. I get really fucking sick of looking at computer screens. Past a certain point, they hurt my eyes, and my hands get all achey from too much typing. Plus, it’s just a good idea to grab a pen, a tablet of paper, plop down in a coffeehouse or a library and just write, without any interfacing digital technology. I think it’s a healthy way to use different parts of your brain, so they don’t get all creaky and gummed up.

Today, though… I wrote with a Cross Medium Point. Why? Because in the novel I’m writing, A Choir of Exiles, I had to kill two sympathetic characters, and the ink had to really flow along with the mayhem. I gotta finish typing it all up before I make dinner.

Maybe I’ll play a sound file of a teletype machine going, so it’ll sound like a race with a real deadline?

 

 

SLUMMIN' IN SOMERVILLE

 

Slummin’ in Somerville–Comedy
Wednesday, 9:30 AM CBS
“The Whirlwind Wednesday”

Wackiness ensues when Mike, kind of behind on the new novel he has under contract and trying to get back into condition for circus training after an injury, has to deal with Jim, his kooky new neighbor (Paul Sand), an aspiring songwriter who belts out love songs every night dedicated to his girlfriend Gladys… whom he’s only “met” over the phone after she dialed Jim’s phone as a wrong number! Tony Randall guest stars as Jim’s agent, and Doris Day has a cameo as the voice of Gladys.

Paul Sand Guest Stars with Mike Marano in SLUMMIN' IN SOMERVILLE

Paul Sand Guest Stars with Mike Marano in SLUMMIN’ IN SOMERVILLE

*Sigh* I mostly write horror and dark fantasy. I want to write science fiction. But I can never _anticipate_ the future as a thing of absurdity or satire or terror. Each time I think of some future scenario, it’s overtaken by real life. A million years ago, I tried writing a political science fiction novel that just *became true* before I got far into it because of the candidacy of Ross Perot.  I tried writing about a near-future Great Lakes reality that just *became true* as Detroit imploded.

As a Science Fiction reader and writer, I can’t make up anything as insane as the Japanese Orgasm Game Show Challenge. And yet, it has happened.

I’ve been stuck in the writing of a dystopian SF novel for a while. I threw in a situation like the one below as an idea to sort of play with and explore as something going on in the background of the main action. I could never have come up with the really brilliant added touch of this craziness going on while the person was a.) fully clothed in a steam bath b.) in Alaska and c.) in January.

Here’s the explanation from Uproxx:

“Meet Kathleen Tonn, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat from Alaska currently held by Democrat Mark Begich. Here she is in a video she uploaded to her Facebook page, one that features her speaking in tongues fully-clothed in a steam room, naturally. She apparently did this to try to convert a non-believer into accepting Jesus Christ as her lord and savior.”

 

Really… how could even Alfred Bester, Robert Sheckley, Alice Sheldon or William Gibson have topped this true event through any imaginative act of extrapolation?

The totally gorgeous new cover for DAWN SONG by Erik Mohr

The totally gorgeous new cover for DAWN SONG by Erik Mohr

Hi, Everybody!

Above, please take a look at the stunning new cover by Erik Mohr for ChiZine Publications’ reprint of my first novel DAWN SONG. I think it’s an absolutely stunning piece of work, and when Brett Savory e-mailed me the cover, I was in a coffee shop in Cambridge, MA, where I kinda embarrassingly expressed my delight almost the same way Jan Brady would, upon receiving a signed 8 X 10 glossy in the mail from her favorite Monkee.

The reprint of DAWN SONG will be coming as a Trade Paperback and an ebook in June 2014; the ChiZine edition will be loaded with a few extra goodies that have not been in any other previous edition of the book. It will be followed by a sequel in 2015 and another sequel in 2016, the titles of which aren’t really finalized yet, though I can assure you that DAWN SONG: BREAKING DAWN has been considered and soundly rejected.

For those of you who don’t know, DAWN SONG was first published in 1998, and went on to garner the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild Awards. According to some metrics, it’s still among one of the 100 most critically lauded genre publications, at # 72. (Hey, man… I’m right between Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and Fredrick Pohl’s Man Plus on that list. That’s pretty goddam good company to be rubbing shoulders with!)

DAWN SONG is set during the first Gulf War build up of 1990, and is part of a mythology I’ve been developing in fiction based on the notion of a War in Hell… in which the struggles of various factions of demons in Hell for supremacy at once create, and are created by, the psychic shockwaves of conflicts on Earth. The book centers on the quest of Lawrence, a young gay bookstore clerk who’s come to Boston to create a new life for himself, and a Succubus who has also come to Boston to further the agenda of her demonic Patron in the War in Hell. I’ll be posting here about DAWN SONG some more in the future. But for now, let me sign off with a very generous quote from a writer who really helped me a lot in the development of my approach to this kind of material. Thanks so much for stopping by!

“‘The falling snow, dropping from the darkened sky, reminded her of the steady rain of souls upon the plains of her homeland. Although, unlike the souls, the snow did not scream.’ When I read those lines (from Michael Marano’s Dawn Song), I got up, turned on all the lights and checked the locks.”

“The author’s talent is unquestionable, his sensitivity and power of expression quite impressive. How rare to find a work of this genre written in so literate a style. It put me in mind of Anne Rice.”

–William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist and Legion

Two years ago today, I wiped out on my mountain bike and broke my left elbow and smashed my right knee. This turned out to be a kind of happy accident on two fronts.

One: My left elbow had already been blown out for months from a weight-lifting injury (which was why I was exercising on my bike and not lifting on that day). Keeping the arm immobilized in a sling for two months actually healed the pre-existing injury.

Two: The elbow and the knee took a long time healing and getting back to 100%. To strengthen the ligaments and the tendons, I decided about a year ago to start going to circus school and taking trapeze, which has become an incredibly important part of my life, has become a new art form I have embraced and which has had the added bonus of helping me get over my heart-punching terror of heights. So, a lot of good ultimately came out the accident. It still HURT LIKE A BITCH. But I’ll take the rough with the smooth. Here’s a pic of the fracture. Enjoy! 🙂

 

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Hey, Everyone!

People have been asking me about the kinds of things I cover in my Grub Street class, Screen and Stage…to the Page! Using the Techniques of Playwrights and Screenwriters to Write Prose Fiction.  Well, without giving away too much, I can tell you that we will be taking apart scenes like this one from FREAKS AND GEEKS by dissecting the teleplay and watching the episode, then we’ll take those awesome nuggets and figure out how to plug them into our novels and stories. This bit from FREAKS AND GEEKS is what we’ll be covering in the section on “How to Tap Real-Life Experiences.”  We’ve all been in situations kind of like what Lindsey faces below. But how do you blow that up into something dramatic and funny and packed full of meaning?

Watch!

For a break-down of all the stuff we’ll be covering, check out the syllabus here!

To enroll, click here: http://tinyurl.com/3ctj92f  E-mail me at profmike AT mindspring DOT com if you have any specific questions or want any further information. Please note that scholarships are available for greatly reduced tuition. For more information on scholarships, please refer to the Grub Street page here.

Hey, Everybody!  Well, I am back from Readercon… had a most awesome time hanging with a bunch of my home-boys and home-girls. Will try to write a more complete report later, if time permits. I do want to follow up and say that I was not awarded the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novella for which I was nominated (for “Displacement”). That award rightly went to Elizabeth Hand (for “Near Zennor”), whom I had the pleasure of finally meeting at the con after years of admiring her work. The mighty cool thing about being a Shirley Jackson Award nominee is that, while other awards give nominees official letters or certificates, The Shirley Jackson Awards give you… a STONE! Yes, a little mineral-based reminder not only of Jackson’s “The Lottery”, but also (to me, any way) of The Haunting of Hill House, and the stones that fell on Eleanor Vance’s home when she was a child. How freakin’ cool is THAT?

Here it is! Pretty cool, huh? It has a place of honor in my living room. I’m gonna name him “Pollock,” ‘cuz I always wanted a Jackson Pollock in my house. (Sorry…)

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.

How?

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!