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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I have on a roughly 12″ by 9″ by 9″ area on my desk probably more computing power than existed in the whole world when I was a child (need to look that up, but I remember when a gigabyte was something possible in theory; the computer on the Lunar Lander had, I think 16 or 15 bits).  And what do I do with this power that had been unthinkable when I was a science-fiction-devouring kid?  Am I planning colonies on Titan? Am I figuring out ways to mine nickel and iron from the Asteroid Belt? No. I’m watching cat videos. Welcome to the Future!!!  Snow Cat

 

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“I’m afraid the truth, to me as I see it, is more important than entertainment for its own sake. The unfortunate thing is, I suppose, I see a certain kind of truth only too clearly.” — Sam Peckinpah, in a letter dated May 13, 1969

 

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Hey, Everyone…

Thought I’d post the week-by-week breakdown of my new class at Grub Street in Boston, REVENGE of the Smart Page-Turner! which will run for 10 weeks at Grub HQ in Boston on Mondays from 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM beginning on January 10, 2013. Here’s the official Grub Street class description:

The newest addition to Grub’s ground-breaking series of classes that combine the best of literary fiction with the punch of popular and genre storytelling. In this course, students will get serious “hands on” instruction that applies the characteristics of three archetypal figures from pop fiction–the Detective, the Outsider, and the Thief–to the actual process of writing fiction. The goal for students is to acquire a practical set of writing tools that can make scenes and narratives dynamic, emotionally involving and intelligent. Special attention will be given to strategies that can rework familiar pop fiction tropes so they can be used in fresh and innovative ways, which will entail a multi-week analysis of Suzanne Collins’ YA bestseller The Hunger Games. There will also be analysis of how the techniques of great screenwriters like Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby), Joseph Stefano (Psycho) and David Mamet can be applied to the “nuts and bolts” of writing popular fiction, be it romance, supernatural, adventure, thriller, crime fiction, science-fiction, erotica, etc. Individual class time will be devoted to the workshopping of portions of novels and/or short fiction. While this class expands upon topics covered in Grub’s “Writing the Smart-Page Turner” and “The Smart Page-Turner Strikes Back!” classes, it is open to all but recommended for those with previous workshop experience. Students should come ready and eager to read a variety of materials across a broad spectrum of taste, from Pulitzer-winning fiction to meat-and-potatoes paperback potboilers. Students should expect to be workshopped 1-2 times over the course of ten weeks, depending on the class size.

Please note that this is not a finalized list of readings and other materials selected for the course.

1. The Skill of Noticing

Ever notice that really good writers… well… notice a lot of things? The layout of a room? Clothing? Character quirks? Things that just ring true? Noticing things like these is a developed skill. We’ll start this course with a close look at how to look at things in ways that strengthen your writing.

Edgar Allen Poe, “Man of the Crowd”; National Book Award Winner Bonnie Jo Campbell, “Boar Taint”; Pulitzer Prize Winner Elizabeth Strout, “Criminal”

2. Positioning Yourself for the Right P.O.V.

Great! We’ve learned how to notice! But is noticing really observing? Contextualizing what you’ve observed is an important writing skill, too. We’ll look at ways to choose the right narrative “vantage point” that will make your writing richer and more resonant. In particular, we’ll look at the ways in which the use of outsiders and thieves as characters in the works we’ll cover gives the authors of those works unique opportunities to dig into human nature.

Christopher Nolan’s film Following [NOTE–This film is available streaming on Netflix and via IFC OnDemand, if not enough students have access to these resources, we may screen it in class]; maybe Jack Schaefer’s Western Classic ShaneRoland Topor, The Tenant; Saul Bellow, To Jerusalem and Back,

3. Polishing the Turd–Practical Approaches to the Rewrite

Legend has it Steinbeck once said, “I’m not a good writer. I’m a good re-writer.” We’ll find ways to add/or subtract the right elements from a work by looking at the different tools that screenwriters and prose writers use to tell the same story. A re-write is basically an adaptation of a first draft, almost in the same way a screenplay can be an adaptation of a prose work and a novelization can be a prose adaptation of a screenplay.

Joseph Stefano’s teleplay “A Feasibility Study”; Michael Marano, “A Feasibility Study”

4. Set Decorating

One of the most common problems with new writers is the so-called “White Room Syndrome”, a failure of imagination on the part of the writer that makes it seem as if the characters are functioning in a vacuum. We’ll take another look at the readings and other materials we’ve gone over so far to pick out the ways that these writers and screenwriters have enriched their settings and characters through the use of specific and carefully chosen details.

5. The Art of the Mash-Up: Plots and Sub-Plots

How do you create sub-plots that work with your main plot, and don’t feel tacked on? How do you resolve your main plot, without leaving your sub-plot dangling? We’ll look at ways to weave your plots and sub-plots together so that that they feel like a unified, integrated whole. In particular, we’ll look at the ways that Oscar winner Paul Haggis could take individual stories by F.X. Toole, each with their own plots and story arcs, and weave them together into one great narrative, his screenplay for Million Dollar Baby.

F.X. Toole, “Frozen Water” and “Million $ Baby”; Paul Haggis‘ screenplay for Million Dollar Baby

6. How to Steal, Part I

There are, after all, only seven plots. How do you tell your story and make it stand on its own? We’ll look in detail at a great recent Smart Page-Turner, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and dissect its component parts so we can see the actual mechanics of how to pinch ideas and reconfigure them in kinda awesome ways.

Robert Sheckley, “The Prize of Peril” and The 10th Victim; Suzanne Collins,The Hunger Games [Note–We’ll be reading this YA book in its entirety, so please purchase a copy or get it out of the library.]

7. How to Steal, Part II

We’ll continue what we started last week, with particular emphasis on using some of the skills we’ve covered in the class so far to craft our own unique takes on the Seven Universal Plots.

Collins, The Hunger Games [con’t]; An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge; Bruce Joel Rubin‘s screenplay Jacob’s Ladder; Sunil Sadanand, “Waiting Period”

8. Watching the Detectives

We all love detective stories, but what does a detective do? A detective connects disparate elements to piece together a description of what has happened. Isn’t that also what a writer does? We’ll look at a great work of detective fiction for ways to piece together killer plots, anecdotes, scenes and character sketches.

James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss; David Seidler’s screenplay for The King’s Speech

9. The Epic Voice in Pop Fiction

So… you’ve got a third-person narrator for your work. How do you give that third-person narrator a voice with a real personality that’s suited to your narrative? We’ll find ways to do just that, plundering tricks that have worked for writers from ancient Greece all the way to the production offices of Mad Men.

William Goldman, Marathon Man; Jack Ketchum, “The Exit at Toledo Blade Boulevard”

10. Creating Tension

Ever read a scene that just sits there, on the page? We’ll find ways to use tension and urgency to hook battery clamps to a dead scene to make the little bugger dance.

Thomas Harris, Hannibal; David Mamet’s first-draft screenplay for the film version of Hannibal; Aaron Sorkin, “Pilot Episode” teleplay for The West Wing.

To enroll, see the listing at Grub Street here. Thanks so much! Post below if you have any questions.

I just found out that Janet Berliner-Gluckman died early this morning, October 24, 2012. If I factor in differences of time zones and what I know about the approximate time of her death, I am nearly certain at the very moment of her last breath, I was doing what she taught me to do: revising a manuscript. If, as she left this earth, she saw me at that moment among all the people whose lives she’d touched, I hope the sight of me doing what she guided through multiple times touched a smile upon her.

It is no exaggeration for me to say that I would not have a career as a fiction writer were it not for Janet Berliner-Gluckman. She was the first professional editor to solicit and to accept anything I’d written for professional rates. The story in question, “Winter Requiem”, was written as a work of mourning begun while my best friend was dying of AIDS. There were a number of issues with the work, and while there was pressure to remove the work from the anthology in which it was eventually published, Janet steadfastly stood up for my inclusion in the anthology and guided me through a series of rewrites that quite frankly I can’t remember the exact number of. She was a remarkable mentor, and what she has taught me about revision I have in turn passed on to people whose work I have edited at ChiZine and I have also in turn passed on what she taught me to my students at Grub Street.

Most of my fiction is about mourning in one way or another. I wrote “Winter Requiem” consciously as an act of mourning. It’s probably right that the work must now retroactively become a work of mourning for Janet. In this light, I hope she takes this as the Kaddish it is meant to be.

Posted: October 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

Another interview this week! Today’s is with Brian James Freeman of Cemetery Dance. Please check it out!

Brian James Freeman

Long time Cemetery Dance contributor Michael Marano took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to discuss ChiZine’s Signed Limited Edition Trade Paperback of his acclaimed collection, Stories from the Plague Years, which will be published in December.  (The preordering deadline is November 1st, so time is running out!)

BJF: Can you tell us a little bit about how you assembled Stories from the Plague Years? Was there a method to your madness when it came to organizing the table of contents?

MM: I assembled the collection in the way I did when I stacked my shorter works together and realized, within the larger theme of the Plague Years that holds the book together (the Plagues being the mental, spiritual, and physical sicknesses killed a lot of my friends in the 1980s and early 1990s, like drugs, urban blight, despair, AIDS), there were sub-themes. The section titled “Days of…

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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!

Doctor Johansson packed his pipe with another bowlful of tobacco as fictional as the dreams I’d used as weapons.

—Would you describe yourself a serial killer if it would help your defense? To cop an insanity plea?

No, I am an avatar.

—I wouldn’t. Besides, I’m not going to see the inside of a courthouse. I’ll see the inside of a cheap coffin, first.

Here is the awesome cover for ChiZine Pub’s cover for the Trade Paperback

Just a teaser from “Displacement”, the opening novella of my collection Stories from the Plague Years, reprinted soon as a limited edition Trade Paperback signed by me and interior illustration artist Gabrielle Faust from ChiZine Publications. To learn more, click here. Hurry, because you can only pre-order the book until November 1, 2012. Here’s what Daniel Kraus at Booklist had to say about “Displacement”, which was nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award: “[A] tale that takes several unexpected and delicious turns, somehow combining a Poe-like belligerence and a Clive Barker–like vividness.”

Thanks!

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!

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.