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So, I’m not really big on blogging all the time. I’ll Tweet and post on Facebook pretty often (maybe too often for the good of my productivity). But now, I kinda felt the need to write about  something that turned out to be a pretty interesting moment.

I’ve been taking trapeze classes at Esh Aerial Arts in Cambridge, MA for a while, now. There are a lot of reasons why I, at 47, took up the trapeze. I won’t go into them all, but I will say that two of the main reasons are that I wanted something new with which to strengthen parts of my body that have been weakened by injuries over the years (I’ve been lifting weights all my life, and hefting barbells just wasn’t fixing what had been smashed up, ripped, torn and broken) and I wanted to confront a fear of heights that I can trace back to when I fell out of a tree as a kid, crunching into every branch at contortionist angles on the way down and smacking onto concrete with a sound like that of an Atlantic sturgeon being euthanized with a cricket bat.

Me in the middle of a Straddle Up move onto the lyra. I think my feet are in the wrong position. Oh, well....

The recent incident I’m writing about now isn’t really about me. It really says a lot more about my amazing trapeze instructor Rachel Stewart and the talent of my friend RiN Waigand, a brilliant photographer who was in town visiting last week.

I'm doing the Arabesque on the trapeze here, in which you have to pull away one of the ropes around your head as you brace against it. By the way, Esh isn't this dark. RiN used a nifty exposure to cast a lot of cool shadow.

RiN came with me to Rachel’s trapeze class, and it really is a confluence of good fortune that she was in town, that she came to this particular class, and that she he had her camera with her.

Balancing on the trapeze in a standing position.

Up to this point, I’ve been doing trapeze as something physical. Something to fix and strengthen my body in addition to weightlifting, riding my mountain bike, and all the other jock stuff I do. As I gained more confidence on the trapeze and the lyra (a big metal hoop hung from the ceiling on which aerialists perform), I beat down my fear of heights. I love the circus skills I’ve been gaining. Love the discipline and the focus. Rachel’s a great teacher, and so are the other people at Esh who have coached me, given me pointers and encouragement. I love the art form of trapeze. But I never considered the art form to be mine.

But last week…

…RiN managed to capture a turning point.

Rachel had just taught me a  move called the Iron Cross, which is done on the lyra by wrapping your arms around the canvas-covered chains supporting the lyra from the ceiling and extending your lower body out at an angle, with your feet off the lyra, so that you are holding yourself off the ground using only your arm strength and core strength. Your body from the shoulders down feels free from gravity, and you can move along all these amazing axes in space and for the first time, in that very moment, I felt… “Holy shit! I can actually express myself with trapeze!” This was the very moment that I realized maybe, just maybe, trapeze can some day be an art form I can use.

Here are the pics that RiN snapped of that moment.

I think I've just gone airborne off the lyra.

There was this sudden sense that I could have a new relationship with gravity, and with how I could locate my body in space.

I've turned a few degrees here.

Rachel says that the Iron Cross is the move that is the most like flying. And yes, as a lifelong comic book geek, there was this weird, goofy exhilaration I felt for a second or two that I was doing something kinda superhero-ish.

Me learning how to move along new axes while doing the Iron Cross. I'm trying to control my breathing, hence the look on my face.

I’ve done the Iron Cross a few more times on the lyra since this moment. And it’s been pretty great each time since. But this was… y’know… the moment. Just felt a need to share it. Thanks for sharing it with me. And thanks go out to Rachel for being such a great teacher and to RiN for letting me post these pics.

Hi, Everyone!

Below is a tentative list of topics and readings for my upcoming Master Class in Popular Fiction at Boston’s Grub Street, which will meet for 10 Mondays at Grub Street HQ in downtown Boston from 6:30 to 9:30 starting on September 19.

There’s a lot more here than will be assigned, but these are the things I’m thinking about. I’ll be making final decisions over the next few weeks. Some works will make the final cut. Some won’t. But here’s the lay of land as it exists right now. For the most part, we’ll be reading the first few opening chapters (or scenes, in the case of plays and screenplays) of longer, full-length works.

Having said that though, we’ll be reading two novels in their entirety. One will definitely be Daphne du Maurier‘s  classic Rebecca. Then we’ll either read Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs (if not in its entirety, then a good chunk of it; if you’re squeamish, you can skip the scary parts!) or Michael Crichton‘s Jurassic Park (if not in its entirety, then a good chunk of it) or one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels (if not in its entirety, then a good chunk of it).

1. Writing with Purpose

Ever find yourself reading something written by an author who just doesn’t feel involved or invested in his or her work? We’ll look at writers who really know how to sink their teeth into their material, and find ways to emulate their focus and intent.

A short story by Robert E. Howard (don’t know which one, yet!); Rex Miller, Slob; Daphne du Maurier Rebecca

2.Suspense and Tension

What the hell is suspense? What the hell is tension? We’re told they’re important to maintain. But what are they made of? What are their components? We’ll take a look.

Daphne du Maurier Rebecca (con’t); Tracy Letts‘ play BUG; one of Lee Child‘s Reacher novels; Mark Boal‘s screenplay for The Hurt Locker.

3. What’s NOT Said

Since this is an advanced class, we’ll assume you have some of the basics of dialogue down. What we’re going to look at here is how some writers are really good at communicating dumptrucks full of emotional information by what is not said, through their ability to decide what their characters are holding back or are saying ambiguously.

Daphne du Maurier Rebecca (con’t); David Mamet‘s play, Oleanna; John Patrick Shanley’s play and screenplay Doubt; Judith Guest, Ordinary People and Alvin Sargent & Nancy Dowd‘s screenplay for the film, Ordinary People.

4. Satire and Hyperbole

When you take something emotionally real and blow it up, you’re using the same tool that humorists use, even when you’re not writing about something particularly funny. We’ll look at the ways that satire and hyperbole can be used to be funny and tragic.

Evelyn Waugh, The Loved One; a short story by P. G. Wodehouse; John Le Carre, maybe Absolute Friends  or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Russell Braddon, The Year of the Angry Rabbit.

5. Pacing

What?! There’s a freakin’ asteroid heading to downtown Los Angeles, and this author decides to hobble the flow by throwing in a love scene? NO! We’ll look at ways to keep the action and the narrative moving.

David Morrell, First Blood or The Totem; Ian Fleming, Casino Royale, or From Russia, with Love or Live and Let Die.

6. Using Stanislavsky

Actors have a whole bunch of great tools to get into character’s heads. So… why can’t authors use those tools, too?

Kazuo Ishiguro, Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go; Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs.

7. The Unreal City

To really use an urban setting, even to use it in a work of realism, you have to tap a really unique sense of the unreal. Poets like Baudelaire and TS Eliot figured this out. And so have a few really great prose authors.

Peter Straub, “A Short Guide to the City”; Hubert Selby, Last Exit to Brooklyn or The Demon; Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs (con’t).

8. The Wilderness

When you have characters in the wilderness, the real struggle isn’t always with the external wilderness, but the inner one. We’ll look at ways to tap that struggle.

Robert B. Parker, Wilderness; Michael Chricton, Jurassic Park; Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs (con’t).

9. Come to Your Senses!

We live in a media environment that’s defined by sound and images coming out of screens and speakers. A lot of writers have let their other sense atrophy, so that it feels like they’re just writing screenplays in prose form. We’ll look at ways to use the other senses we have to punch up our storytelling.

Patrick Süskind, Perfume; Elizabeth Kata, A Patch of Blue.

10. Negative Space

“Negative space” is a technique filmmakers use to define something important by surrounding it with emptiness, by letting the void around the important thing in a shot give it defining shape. We’ll look at ways to use this concept in writing, to make things that are not there in the prose more important, and meaningful, than the things that are there.

Bonnie Jo Campbell, a story from her collection American Salvage; Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man.

To get more information about enrollment, you can check out the Grub Street page dedicated to the class here.  If you want to know about some of my teaching strategies, click here. To find out a bit more about me, click here. If you have any specific questions about the class, e-mail me directly at profmike  AT  mindspring DOT  com

Just wanted to to announce my NEW class at Boston’s Grub Street, one of the largest independent centers for creative writing in the United States. This will be officially published on the Grub Street website soon. But here’s a preview! I’ll also be publishing a more detailed overview here, soon.

Master Class in Popular Fiction

10 Mondays from 6:30-9:30pm at Grub Street headquarters in Downtown Boston, near the Park Street Subway Stop. Begins September 19th.


This class will give serious writers of short and novel-length popular fiction a versatile, practical tool-kit for adding literary dimensions to their work–be it SF, Romance, Mystery, Thriller, Satire, etc. Intended for students who are preparing or ready to submit their work professionally, the emphasis of this class, taught by an experienced editor, award-winning author and critic, will be on peer workshopping, creating viable strategies for submitting your work to the right venues, lectures and in-class exercises. Issues such as pacing and structuring of scenes will be covered. Works of smart, novel-length popular fiction will be closely examined in whole or in part in order to demonstrate ways in which specific tools taught in class can be applied. Some works of pop fiction will be examined as demonstrations of what not to do. There will also be lessons on re-purposing the story-telling techniques of playwrights, screen and television writers to prose fiction. Participation in this class is by submission only. To apply, please submit a 10-15 page novel excerpt or sample of short fiction to by 12:00pm on Wednesday, August 31st.

It’s creepy when someone with your name turns out to be… well… creepy. For the record, I am not the guy who was just arrested on suspicion of being the “Drifter Bandit” of Southern California.

As a long-time Doctor Who dork, I have to honor the passing of Elisabeth Sladen by posting her first farewell (as Sarah Jane Smith) from the serial “The Hand of Fear”. When she left, it felt like the end of an era. Now, it feels so much more so….

Yeah… there was a loss of air pressure on my flight this morning from Charleston, SC to Atlanta. I was working, and didn’t hear the announcement that the pressure had dropped nor seen the oxygen masks drop. Not a big deal, no hole in the fuselage. Just really… uhhmmmm… interesting!

The Irwin Allen-y view inside the cabin of the plane I took.

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”

Just wanted to let everyone know that I’ll be teaching my “Writing the Smart Page-Turner” class at Grub Street this fall, beginning on September 16th at Grub Street Headquarters in downtown Boston. Classes will meet for 10 Thursday nights from 7 PM to 10 PM. Click here for the official Grub Street listing.

So… what’s a “Smart Page-Turner?” It’s a work of popular fiction that has literary value and punch, and it’s a literary novel with popular appeal. Think about it. We’re living an era when Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union can be nominated for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award and win science fiction’s Nebula and Hugo awards, and it’s also an era when Junot Diaz and Cormac McCarthy can both win Pulitzers for their respective genre-themed novels The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Road. The borders between genre and literary fiction are blurrier than ever, and this class is designed to help you take advantage of that. Whether you’re writing romance, mystery, thrillers, science fiction, erotica, satire, supernatural or suspense, the principles of writing popular fiction – clear prose, characters we can empathize with, and a story that really moves – are key. In this course, I’ll teach you ways to help you get a grip on those principles while helping you develop your owm distinct literary voice. We’ll also be covering practical, “hands-on” considerations–like coming up with strategies to market your fiction, and ways to work with editors and agents.

And what makes me qualified to teach this class? Well, I’m a well-respected author who’s spent his career writing literary genre with two major literary awards to his credit. I’m Fiction Editor at the award-winning magazine Chiaroscuro, where I’ve worked closely with authors honing and streamlining their stories, and it’s this editor’s eye that I’ll bring to the critiquing of your manuscripts. And I’m a nationally syndicated critic for venues like the Syfy Channel’s site and the Public Radio Satellite System show Movie Magazine International. It’s my job to take apart stories and plots and figure out how they do and don’t work.

I’ll be posting more about the class soon, with detailed breakdowns of what I’ll be covering each week and what readings I’ll be assigning.

In the meantime, for more information or for enrollment, you can call Grub Street at 617-695-0075 or *click here to register online *. Registration deadline is Thursday, September 09, 2010. Tuition is $430 for Grub members and $455 for non-members, but scholarships are available for substantially reduced tuition for the next two weeks or so.

To learn more about Grub Street:

And if you have specific questions, you can contact me directly at profmike AT mindspring DOT com

Hot damn! Just saw this cool write up at Fangoria about the November release from Cemetery Dance of my upcoming horror and dark SF collection Stories from the Plague Years. You know, any time you’re mentioned in the same breath as Stephen King and Christopher Golden in a major horror publication is pretty damned righteous. I’ll be posting more about Stories from the Plague Years here as the release date approaches– not just about the book itself, but about the “plague” themes that the book tackles.

Scott Edelman and I have been working together for about 10 or 12 years, now. He’s been my editor at the print magazines Sci-Fi Universe and Science Fiction Age. It is in this capacity that Scott and I have helped to kill two major publications. And by that, I mean that under his editorship I have had features in the very last, final-nail-in-the-coffin issues of both Sci-Fi Universe and Science Fiction Age.

As I’ve mentioned here, last week SCI FI Wire breathed its last and became Blastr. SCI FI Wire has had thousands of posts over the course of its existence. Thousands. And of those thousands of posts, made under Scott’s editorship, who should have the very last byline that ever went out under the SCI FI Wire banner? Look at the screencap below.

That would be me.

Yes, I had a piece, a feature, the very next day posted within the very first hours of Blastr’s existence. But I just hope that with this track record, Scot and I don’t get gigs at Newsweek any time soon….