The Epitaph, Issue #14 (November 2011)

Issue #14 (November 2011)

The Epitaph
Journal of the New England Horror Writers (NEHW)

The NEHW Board of Directors:

Tracy L. Carbone – Co-Chair
Stacey Longo – Co-Chair
Dan Keohane – Treasurer
Jason Harris – Director of Publicity/Webmaster
Tim Deal – Director of Publications
T.J. May – Co-Director of Events
Scott Goudsward – Co-Director of Events
Danny Evarts – Art Director

NEHW HOLIDAY PARTY:

Only 11 Days ‘til the NEHW Holiday Party and YOU are invited!

The NEHW Holiday Party will be on December 10 from 1:00—8:00 p.m. at John McIlveen’s apartment complex (we have a whole party facility at our disposal!)  The address is 40 Locke St., Haverhill, MA, and you can always call Mac at (603) 930-8679 if you get lost. Break out your cauldrons and whip up something ghoulish—it’s pot luck! It’s also BYOB, so bring your own poison.  RSVP by emailing Scott Goudsward at screaming602@gmail.com or contacting him via Facebook – we need a headcount and a dish list, so please RSVP ASAP!

NEHW SIGNINGS AND READINGS:

Authors Tracy L. Carbone, Scott Goudsward, Karen Dent, and Roxanne Dent will be appearing at the first Pear Tree Publishing/Haverhill Country Club Christmas Book Sale being held at the Haverhill Country Club on Wednesday, Dec. 7 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. The country club is located at 58 Brickett Lane, Haverhill, MA 01830-8703. Doors open to HCC members at 5 p.m. and to the public at 6 p.m.

NEHW PROMOTIONAL OPPORTUNITIES:

Hi! I would like to take a moment to introduce myself and our group. I am The Dome from Sci Fi Saturday Night. We are a podcast and website devoted to Fantasy and Science Fiction in its myriad forms. We are the Official podcast of Boston ComicCon and over the years we have met many artists and writers and had them and their works on our website and in our podcasts. Some of the people on our website and podcasts are: Ben Bova, Harlan Ellison, Spider Robinson, H.P. Mallory, S.J. Wright and Resa Nelson.

One of our ongoing columns is called “Fiction Friday,” which gives our readers the chance to sample work by authors they may not have yet read. It usually works out that if a short story is appearing on the net by you, we put a sample of it on the website with a link directing our readers to the full text of that story. If this is something you might be interested in, please contact us at the_dome@comcast.net.

NEHW member Kristi Petersen Schoonover is scheduled to appear on the podcast on Dec. 17.

NEHW WRITING OPPORTUNITIES:

From David Price:

The Mystery Writers of America are now accepting submissions for an anthology tentatively titled What Lies Inside, edited by Brad Meltzer. This should be a story about something that is hidden, whether it is a real object hidden in a vault somewhere or a secret buried deep down in someone’s subconscious. Stories should be between 3,500 and 7,000 words. Deadline is February 1, 2012. Full guidelines can be found at: http://hosted-p0.vresp.com/208752/42a6e17ebb/ARCHIVE

NEHW MEMBER NEWS:

From Daniel Pearlman:

Pearlman did an interview for the Italian e-book company, 40K Books, which has already published some of his stories in both English and Italian. Here is the link to the interview about short fiction, http://www.40kbooks.com/?p=12453. 40K specializes in genre fiction.

From Charles Day:

Day has two novels coming out in 2012. The first is Legend of the Pumpkin Thief, a YA horror novel with Noble YA Publishers, which will be released on Jan 9.

An adult horror novel, Deep Within, will be published by Twisted Library Press with a release sometime in the Spring of 2012.

From Steven Withrow:

Withrow has founded Poetry Advocates for Children & Young Adults (http://poetryadvocates.wordpress.com/), a nonprofit, grassroots, and global organization dedicated to promoting poetry for young people.

From K. A. Laity:

Laity is on a Fulbright at the National University of Ireland Galway, working on digital humanities at the Moore Institute. She has a survey for writers that she would love folks to take about what it means to be a writer in the digital age.

Here is the link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dG1GaGNkQmJ5cFRKS1RaNFN5aW5TeUE6MQ

Recent and Upcoming Publications (none have been listed yet, she believes):

It’s a Curse: Drunk on the Moon, Book VII. Trestle Press (http://www.trestlepresspublishing.com/ (Nov. 2011).

“Mandrake and Magpies.” Dark Pages: International Noir, Vol 1. Ed. Giovanni

“Gelati.” Dark Pages/Trestle Press, http://www.trestlepresspublishing.com/

(Nov 2011)

“And It Felt Like a Kiss.” Blink|Ink, http://www.blink-ink.com/ (Sept.

2011)

“Dracula X.” Defenestration Magazine,

http://www.defenestrationmag.net/2011/07/%E2%80%9Creview-dracula-x%E2%80%9D-by-k-a-laity/  (July 2011)

“The Wyandotte Haunting” in the anthology, There Was a Crooked House.

http://www.pillhillpress.com/crooked-house.html. Ed. Jessy Marie Roberts.

Pill Hill Press (June 2011)

From David L Tamarin:

Tamarin’s story “Melting” has been accepted into the second issue of Grave Demand magazine.

The new issue of Girls and Corpses comes out today. The issue has his interview with the godfather of gore, H.G. Lewis, along with an article about him.

The issue also contains a second article by Tamarin, on winter horror films, featuring discussions about The Thing, The Shining, Dead Snow, Frozen, and more. The issue is available at many bookstores and online at www.girlsandcorpses.com.

The magazine used to be available at Barnes and Noble, but they stopped carrying it because they were offended by the religious issue.

Tamarin appears in the new iParty Christmas commercial which will be airing throughout New England until Christmas.

From J.P. Freeman:

Freeman turned one of his stories into a short-run comic book series, “Suicide Man,” and the first issue is to be released in January. A professional artist did the artwork for the eight-part series. Once every issue is release, they will be compiled into a graphic novel. He will have the exact release date along with a short teaser for the comic for the newsletter next month. He really hopes any horror comic book fans will stop by his website and “like” his Facebook page so they can check this out.

(Editor’s note: his website is listed on the NEHW website under “NEHW Members’ Websites.”)

From Kristi Petersen Schoonover:

Schoonover talked about the real ghost stories which may have inspired vignettes in Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction, on Dave’s Disney View, and read her out-of-print ghost story, “House Sitter,” on Canada’s Paranormal, Eh? Radio. You can listen to both shows at Kristi’s website here:

http://kristipetersenschoonover.com/about/radio-interviews/

Schoonover’s flash piece, “Slow Grill,” was runner-up in Culture magazine’s annual Scary Dairy Contest (fellow NEHW member Dave Goudsward took first place for “Michael, Is That You?”). NEHW member Stacey Longo also entered (her story’s untitled), and you can read all three stories here: http://www.culturecheesemag.com/blog/wfertman_scary_dairy_contest_2011

Schoonover’s book, Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—Tales from Haunted Disney World, is now available in both the Endicott College (Beverly, MA) and Pinellas Park (FL) libraries.

An interview with her Read Short Fiction co-editor Robert Mayette is now available on Duotrope.com, the online writing market directory: http://www.duotrope.com/Interview.aspx?id=4000.

She and NEHW member and editor of Shroud magazine Tim Deal were interviewed for last month’s Reuters article “Halloween Horror Trend: Less Gore is More.” You can read that here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/27/us-halloween-haunted-idUSTRE79Q4V020111027

Her short story, “Under the Kudzu” was accepted for Wicked East Press’ upcoming anthology, Behind Locked Doors.

Paranormal Researchers of Fredericton (Canada) interviewed her for a feature on their website. You can read that here: http://paranormal-researchers.com/?p=453

From Andrea Perron:

Perron’s recent trip back to New England was busy and productive. She made an appearance at The Assembly Theater in Harrisville, R.I for a lecture, “The Biggest Chill.” Keith Johnson of NEAR Paranormal provided the introduction to the lecture, which was filmed and will be released soon.

She filmed an episode of The NEST Files (New England Spiritual Team) in Groton, CT. Johnson accompanied her, as well as her father.

She also had a “memorable appearance” at the public library in Uxbridge, MA, where she gave a speech and had a book signing. She was also interviewed for a local newspaper.

A review of her book was published in Retro Rhode Island Magazine (http://www.retrori.com/ri-places/a-haunting-read-%e2%80%9chouse-of-darkness-house-of-light%e2%80%9d). She also gave several interviews while in the area.

Since her return to Georgia, she has done a few radio broadcasts and booked several more. She met with Brandon Kreitzer and he has arranged to promote her book on Past TV Network, along with a variety of videos too long for her YouTube channels. All the links will be published on her Google profile and elsewhere on the web.

In the last week, she has published articles on Newsvine and Ezine and a new blogspot called “Conjuring the Spirits” is being released.

From Scott Goudsward:

Goudsward’s novel, Fountain of the Dead, has been accepted for publication by Twisted Library Press.

From Dale Phillips:

Phillips was interviewed and featured in a talk on writing on the Brazilian Book Worm blog: http://brazilianbookworm.blogspot.com/

From Patrick Rahall:

Rahall will have two pieces of flash fiction in the upcoming anthology, Daily Frights 2012: 366 Days of Frightening Flash Fiction, from Pill Hill Press. His stories are titled “Pot Roast” and “Stop, Drop and Roll.”

WELCOME NEW MEMBERS:

Brian Dixon (CT)
Matthew Acheson (ME)
Charles Day (NY)
Richard Steeves (CT)
Paula Roswell (CT)
Joseph Sherry (MA)

– Jason Harris, Editor, the Epitaph: Journal of NEHW
– Stacey Longo, Assistant Editor, the Epitaph: Journal of NEHW

The Indie Bookstore in the Amazon Age

This blog post, “The Indie Bookstore in the Amazon Age,” originally appeared on the An American Editor website.

All the news that is fit to print about indie bookstores can generally be summarized this way: they are closing faster than a shark feeding frenzy. Perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but the demise of the indie bookstore is on everyone’s lips.

The questions are why are they dying out and what can be done to halt their death march? As to why, I don’t think we need spend much time on the question. Fewer Americans want to either pay more for local availability or want to patronize a local bookstore. What they are becoming accustomed to is huge selection and lower pricing without leaving home — the online bookseller. Another problem for indies is the trend toward ebooks. Their online competitors have them and they do not, or if they do have them, they are not as cheaply priced as their online competitors. It is just a matter of economics.

I grant, however, that the loss of indie bookstores is another nail in the coffin of Americana. It is pretty difficult to call Amazon on the telephone and discuss the merits/demerits of a book selection with a knowledgeable bookseller. But Amazon is doing to the indie bookstores what Walmart did to mom-and-pop Main Street, and while many of us lament the demise of mom-and-pop Main Street, we are also the first to shop online and the last to buy on Main Street.

Yet indie bookstores can and should fight back. Although books are entertainment — few people would call a Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh book an educational bromide — they are also the source of knowledge and we continue to need help in picking through the detritus for the gem.

I have been thinking about what indie bookstores can do to fight back. I’m not sure they can ever compete on price unless book publishers, especially the Agency 6, are willing to give special help, but there are things that they can do.

First, if your local pizzeria can offer free delivery, why can’t your local indie store — or if there is more than one local indie store, why can’t they band together to offer free local delivery? Amazon’s delivery is quick but indie delivery could be quicker, and we all know how unwilling we are to wait. This seems a minor customer service that could quickly and inexpensively be implemented.

Second, consider making the local populace a partner in the store. If the store is not already a corporation, make it one. Then create a nonvoting class of stock, a preferred stock, that entitle the owner to share in dividends on a preferential basis. Give 1 share of stock for every $250 in purchases (the dollar amount could be higher or lower). Give the local book-buying public a direct stake in your success. Think about parents who would see this as a good way to introduce their children to capitalism and stock ownership.

Third, create a special members-only club. Amazon tries to do this with its Prime and Barnes & Noble with its membership, and even some indies have their clubs — but none of them are really special. What is so special about Amazon’s Prime? Nothing. Make this club special. Club members with young children can use the premises for birthday party with the bookstore staff doing the work; major holidays have special get-togethers; have a biweekly restaurant-of-the-month get-together for adult members where they come to the store and for a steep discount are cooked a special meal by a local restaurant and get to learn how to make the dishes as well as eat them; have audience participation mystery plays bimonthly. The ideas are almost endless. The point is, make the membership more than a discount membership; make it something to look forward to and you can even theme the parties around certain books.

Fourth, come to an arrangement with other local indies whereby if someone is looking for a particular book and you do not have it in stock but your competitor does, your competitor will give you the book so you can make the sale subject to a small fee and your ordering a replacement. This will expand your inventory.

Fifth, make it a point for you and your staff to comb places like Smashwords for indie authors who are self-publishing. When you find a good one, contact the author and see if you can’t cut a deal with the author to write a book that will only be available to indie bookstores, that you can use to draw people in. This is more difficult to do than the other ideas but if you can create a catalog of indie books that are available only through indie stores, you are at least fighting back against Amazon exclusivity.

Sixth, as part of finding indie authors, you need to figure out a way to offer ebooks and print-on-demand pbooks for those who only buy one or the other format. The Espresso machine is expensive, but why not join with several other indies to buy one that you can share? Or why not talk to a local print shop and see if you can work something out with them.

Seventh, create an Indie Book Mall where several indie bookstores can share the space. This type of arrangement is often done by antiques and collectibles dealers and I see no reason why it couldn’t be done by indie bookstores. It would create a shopping “destination,” which seems to be something consumers like. Some of the advantages to doing this include the ability to share fixed expenses (e.g., rent, heat, electric) and it would allow each indie to have an area of concentration rather than be required to have such a general focus that each is a full replica of any other. It would also facilitate some of the earler suggestions. Additionally, this is the kind of project that would fit right in with Main Street renewal projects and could enable a group purchase of the real estate or low rent from cities trying to draw busiensses and people back to the Main Street. Something like this could also be done in conjunction with a struggling local library system, something I proposed nearly 2 years ago in A Modest Proposal V: Libraries & Indies in the eBook Age.

I’m sure that others can add to this list, but it is clear to me that indie bookstores can fight back. Imagination and effort are the keys. The Internet Age has isolated more of us; we tend to do less socialization because we are working by ourselves. The indie bookstore could become our new socialization venue with some effort.

At least it is something to think about.

Owen Jones on writing about protests

This article originally appeared on the Guardian website.

‘The sympathetic writer is there to take a step back and put unrest in a broader context’

Owen Jones: 'The power of any writer is limited' (photo courtesy of the Guardian website)

This year has been a blur of angry, determined crowds on the move: chanting, barricading and occupying. Each protest movement has differed in scale and ambition. When hundreds of thousands of Egyptians thronged into Tahrir Square in February, they were battling a thuggish dictatorship with few qualms about killing to stay in power. There has certainly been brutality in the west: this month, peacefully protesting students at University of California, Davis were pepper-sprayed in the face at close range. But, while thousands of Arabs struggling for democracy have been butchered by senile tyrannies, there have been few fatalities and far weaker repression against the anti-cuts protests sweeping western cities.

That does not mean links cannot be made between the upheavals and struggles of 2011. Each time I’ve visited the Occupy London Stock Exchange camp around the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, I’ve been struck by how conscious the protesters are of being a small part of a worldwide phenomenon. It is as though someone has thrown seeds of dissent across the globe: here is just one patch where roots of rebellion have poked through. Occupy is, in part, the culmination of a decade of global struggles and experiences. Tahrir Square inspired, in May, the Spanish indignados of Madrid, who occupied the city square in disgust at the political elite; in turn, this action helped to inspire Americans to erect tents on Wall Street in October, which proved the detonator for a global Occupy movement.

But there are also echoes of the global anti-capitalist movement that rose to prominence at the turn of the century, and of the millions who marched for peace across the world in 2003 as the Pentagon aimed fire at Iraq. As the New York Times put it at the time: “There may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.” But after Shock and Awe slammed into Baghdad, faith in the power of marching diminished among many of the discontented. Protest had to be made impossible to ignore, or so went the thinking. The drive to occupy and hold public space for political purposes was born out of that.

Occupy has proved such a contagious idea because it sums up popular resentment at being made to pay for a crisis caused by a wealthy, unaccountable elite. Its signature slogan, after all, is “We are the 99%“. The figure doesn’t have to be accurate: it simply appeals to the sense that the overwhelming majority have divergent interests from those at the top. As the Resolution Foundation thinktank has highlighted, even if Britain were to return to a similar level of economic growth as it experienced between 2002 and 2008 (which is optimistic to say the least), average wages would be no higher in 2020 than they were in 2001. It’s a different story on planet 1%: the wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain leapt by a fifth between 2010 and 2011. Recession for the majority, boomtime for the top. Perhaps the real surprise about Occupy is that there aren’t more angry people erecting tents.

London’s Occupiers don’t owe their existence simply to foreign influences. Last May, all three main parties lost the general election. The Conservatives lost least badly, but they amassed only 36% of the vote, despite the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s and an almost farcically unpopular Labour prime minister. The Tories managed to form a majority government only because the Liberal Democrats junked their key election promises. Since then, the government has used its questionable mandate to reshape society with the biggest cuts since the 1920s, driving through a de facto dismantling of the NHS, stripping workers’ rights, slashing benefits, marketising education and so on.

And yet the emergence of mass protest came as a surprise to commentators and demonstrators alike. When 52,000 students marched in November 2010 – culminating in the storming of Millbank – they ushered in a new age of rebellion: it gave others the confidence that it was possible to resist. Waves of student protests and occupations followed; and, on 26 March, the long marginalised trade union movement showed its continuing relevance by mobilising one of the biggest workers’ demonstrations in history. The hundreds of thousands of public sector workers – ranging from lollipop ladies to teachers – who have voted for strike action this month are part of the same movement. Conservative politicians and commentators question the legitimacy of the coming 30 November strikes on grounds of turnout – even as a party that won the support of less than a quarter of eligible voters imposes one of the most radical programmes of postwar Britain.

Before last November, the consensus on both left and right seemed to be that the supposedly moderate Brits aren’t like the excitable French and Greeks. How quickly it is forgotten that – just over three decades ago – Britain was routinely described as “ungovernable”. Rebellion is part of the fabric of this country, however much British exceptionalism attempts to erase it. It can be traced all the way back to the Peasants’ Revolt of the 14th century, when the priest John Ball assailed the class system to the assembled crowds: “When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman?” It’s an unanswered question worth repeating today on the steps of St Paul’s.

As protest movements have gathered place, I have wondered what role the relatively small number of sympathetic writers should play. It is not to pose as a voice for a movement, because writers are not accountable to those they would supposedly speak for, though they can provide a platform for the otherwise ignored. Neither is it to be uncritical. Out-and-out propagandists may cheer the already convinced, but they generally grate as far as everyone else is concerned. And the power of any writer is limited: progressive change is driven by collective action, not by individuals who write about it.

The sympathetic writer is certainly there to provide counterbalance to a media and political establishment that – on the whole – is inherently hostile to those who mobilise against the status quo. But above all it’s to take a step back and put unrest in a broader context: to have a go at making sense of it from a historical point of view, and to at least help explain where it’s all heading. The new age of rebellion has only just begun. There will be a lot to write about.

What made you a better writer?

This article originally appeared on the Washington Post website.

What made you a better writer?

By Jay Mathews

My favorite Christmas vacation was in 1962, during my senior year of high school, when my family went to my grandmother’s house in Long Beach, Calif., and I worked on a paper about Russian novels. I was in love with Fyodor Dostoevsky, particularly the Grand Inquisitor’s encounter with Jesus in “The Brothers Karamazov.”

With Thanksgiving here and Christmas coming soon, I have been thinking about what I wrote by hand on the dining room table between long runs on the beach. It fits with last week’s column suggesting that schools junk the standard approaches to writing instruction.

My Dostoevsky paper was the best thing I wrote in high school. My English teacher that year, the tall, bespectacled Michael Callahan, didn’t drill us on the five-paragraph essay, as many schools do today. Instead he exposed us to great writers as though they were secrets he was sharing only with us and let their rhythms and vocabulary affect what we wrote.

Many of us have had such experiences. I want to write about that. Tell me what worked best for you. Send it to mathewsj@washpost.com, or post it as a comment at the end of the online version of this column.

I realize that learning to write takes time. My wife, the best writer I know, had parents who did not go to college but filled the house with books. Her seventh-grade teacher Lucille Neiter required sentence diagramming and the memorization of poetry. In high school, my wife spent three years in a small, accelerated English-humanities class whose teacher, William Goodfellow, demanded almost constant writing, including several research papers a year, and use of “The Elements of Style,” the best and shortest book I know about how to write.

In college, her writing skill was evident to her professors and readers of the daily college newspaper where she was managing editor. But she learned the most about writing, she says, in law school, when a professor challenged her arguments and ripped apart early drafts of legal briefs for a moot court competition.

That’s just one story. What’s yours? The methods of the best writing teachers vary. Phil Restaino spent years at Mamaroneck High School in the suburbs of New York City turning ordinary students into essayists. He had them read magazine stories about sports figures and then moved them into literature. They wrote journals about their daily routines, from football games to hanging out at the Nautilus Diner, then composed short essays about what they were reading.

A few years ago, Emmet Rosenfeld, an Alexandria educator and occasional contributor to The Post, showed me his methods at Mount Vernon High School in Fairfax County. He taught what he called pre-writing techniques, such as gathering so much raw material that it was hard not to produce an interesting paper. He passed student drafts around the class for proofreading and the detection of flaws, a technique recommended by the National Writing Project.

Such peer editing was also praised on my blog by a writing teacher signing on as LindaLovesFilm: Students “learned how various readers responded to what they were trying to say, and they learned respect for a variety of approaches and points of view,” she said. Another teacher, signing on as drlindaellis, extolled the writing workshop approach. Students “learn writing skills through mini-lessons and one-on-one conferences as they write,” she said.

Tell me about your teachers, and other influences on your writing. Families are important. I grew up in a home full of words. My father was an editor. My mother taught school. They both read and encouraged my brother and me to do the same, although my mother suggested occasionally that I step outside and rediscover such intriguing phenomena as sunlight and fresh air.

I got the mix right that holiday I explored the brilliance of Karamazov. Tell me how all of our students might become better writers in the new year.

Nora Roberts: The woman who rewrote the rules of romantic fiction

This article originally appeared on the Guardian news website.

Nora Roberts: The woman who rewrote the rules of romantic fiction by Carole Cadwalladr

Nora Roberts is one of the world’s bestselling authors, yet she still lives in the same house she moved to as a newly wed teenager. Carole Cadwalladr travels to Maryland to meet her

Nora Roberts photographed at her Boonsboro B&B in Maryland. Photograph by Evelyn Hockstein/Polaris

Nora Roberts is probably the most successful novelist you’ve never heard of. She sells books like, well, they’re going out of fashion. Which of course they are, just not in Noraland. There are more than 400m Nora Roberts novels in print. Last year alone she shifted 10m books. Thirty-four Nora Roberts titles are sold every minute.

The Next Always: The Inn at Boonsboro Trilogy Volume 1

And it’s not just her sales that are mindboggling, it’s also her output. She’s prodigious. A publishing sensation. By her own estimate, it takes her around 45 days to write a novel. And then she starts the next one. “Sometimes the house has to be shovelled out so I sometimes have a day before I start the next one,” she says. “But not usually longer than that.”

The reason you probably haven’t heard of her is that Roberts writes what she refers to cryptically as “the big R”. Romance. All genres are scorned by literary types, but none more so than romance. In lit-land, it’s lower than crime, lower than horror, lower, even, than sci-fi. But then, it’s a genre written by women for women. Unless “a guy writes one and they call it something else. And it gets reviewed and made into a movie,” says Roberts. She doesn’t actually say the words “David Nicholls” or “One Day“, but they hover in the air. One Day was a breakthrough romantic novel, taken seriously by publishers, given a non-chick-lit cover, and treated as a worthy subject for reviews in broadsheet newspapers. “A woman writes it and it’s just one of those,” she says. “I mean, how long are you going to fight that battle?”

Quite a while would seem to be the short answer. But then Roberts is not one to mince her words. Talking about one of her recent books, Chasing Fire, she points out that it doesn’t have “a nursing mother cover”. A what? “You know, where she’s falling out of her dress and he has his mouth on her tit.” Later, at the bookshop in Boonsboro, the small town in rural Maryland where she lives, she’s doing a signing and answering questions and is equally phlegmatic. What does she find helps keep her going when she’s writing? “Alcoholic beverages.” Does she tweet? “I’d rather stab myself in the eye with a flaming stick.” What does she think of the recent news story claiming that romantic fiction gives women unrealistic expectations? “Because women aren’t supposed to have expectations, right? We’re pretty smart. I think we know the difference between reality and fiction. I don’t think that people read Agatha Christie, and then think: I know, I’ll go and murder someone.”

It would be hard to find a writer as unprecious as Roberts. She’s 61, of Irish-American stock, and still lives in the same house she moved in to as a newly wed teenager, aged 19. This despite her considerable wealth (she earns an estimated $60m a year) and her phenomenal success: in 2007, Time magazine chose her as one of only two writers in its 100 most influential people in the world (the other was Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell); she has won 19 Rita awards from the Romance Writers of America, the association’s highest accolade, as well as being inducted into its hall of fame; and she’s spent more than 893 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list – roughly 16 years.

One of the few writers to come close to her for sales is JD Robb, the author of futuristic police procedurals. Except that JD Robb is Nora Roberts (her publishers, unable to keep up with her frenetic output, invented JD Robb to take up the slack). And in January this year she became the third author to sell more than 1m books on Kindle (after Stieg Larsson and James Patterson).

At a time when publishers are struggling to sell books, Roberts is a rare runaway success story. And yet she’s barely known in literary circles. Despite her New York Times stats, she has been reviewed in the paper exactly once. (Though one of its journalists did once come round to her house to interview her, and then wrote of her decor: “Inside, the furnishings are grandmotherly, not in the sense of a grandmother who once half owned half of Maine, but rather in the vein of one inclined to shop for things on television.”)

Roberts, however, is used to doing things her own way. She lives in the middle of nowhere and she couldn’t care less what the world thinks of her. There is, she says, “more than a streak of misogyny” in the way romance is viewed. “All some people see is the big R and dismiss it. But I’ve made my career on my own terms and that doesn’t necessarily suit the likes of the New York Times book review.

“They don’t see that as legitimate. But it’s just so insulting towards millions of people. Why would you apologise for what you read for pleasure? Just think of the illiteracy rate. Every book read for pleasure should be celebrated. And novels that celebrate love, commitment, relationships, making relationships work, why isn’t that something to be respected?”

But romance fiction has changed – and Roberts is one of the reasons why. In Chasing Fire (one of five novels she’s published this year), the heroine is a typical Roberts character: a gung-ho female forest firefighter from Montana called Rowan Tripp. If you’ve not had much contact with romance novels lately, you might not even immediately guess that Chasing Fire even is one. Its cover depicts a small aeroplane flying over a forest lit up by fire, and has the words “international bestseller” emblazoned across the top. And Rowan Tripp doesn’t do much simpering. She jumps out of aeroplanes and spend her days risking life and limb on distant mountain tops, and first attracts the interest of the male love interest, Gull Curry, when she beats up a drunk who’s trying to harass her in a bar. (“Before Gull was halfway across the room she slammed her boot on the man’s instep, her other one into the crotch he’d been so proud of, then knocked him on his ass with an uppercut as fine as Gull had ever seen.”)

Back in the 1980s, when Roberts started writing, the Mills & Boon model still dominated the market. It was a world in which the drinks were strong and the men stronger. Or as she tells it: “He was often a Greek tycoon; she was often orphaned and raised by an aunt. She’s on her way to a new job, working for the richest man in the free world. In the airport, she’s rushing through with her battered suitcase. She runs into this man and the suitcase falls open, revealing a pitiful wardrobe – it’s all neat and well-mended but sad. And he calls her a clumsy fool and helps her stuff her clothes back in the suitcase and storms off, and the next day she goes into the offices of the richest man in the free world and who should be there but the man she ran into in the airport?”

Roberts started out writing “category romances”, short novels featuring formulaic plots, but over time she stretched and expanded the genre, Americanised it (when she started writing, most romance novels sold in America were by British authors), and ended up changing it beyond all recognition. Her heroines are unrecognisable from the old Mills & Boon doormats. They have jobs, often quirky, interesting ones. They’re not that bothered about getting married.

And it’s this that fellow romance author Meg Cabot, the author of the Princess Diaries novels, says is the cornerstone of her success. “Her heroes and heroines are so strong yet so flawed. They have these personal handicaps, and that’s something that’s made Nora’s books so different to many written in the past, because the characters are so relatable.”

Roberts was one of the writers who changed the genre, she says. “Her heroines all had jobs. She doesn’t write historicals. They’re searching for themselves, not someone else. These aren’t women obsessed with getting married. They’re totally kick ass.”

Judy Piatkus, the founder of Piatkus Books, which started publishing Roberts in the UK and abroad in 1997, says that although Roberts is writing for the mass market, as soon as you start one of her novels, “you know you are in the hands of a master craftsman”.

There’s a touch of the romantic novel to Roberts’s life, too. The daughter of an electrician father and a housewife mother, she grew up with four older brothers and got married straight out of school to her childhood sweetheart. (“My mother should have locked me up. But there was no telling me.”)

She settled in Keedysville, a tiny town that makes Boonsboro, a couple of miles away, look like a throbbing cosmopolitan metropolis, and had two sons almost immediately. She was never ambitious, and had no desire to have a career and never any inkling that she would one day be a writer. “Although there was obviously something trying to get out,” she says. “Before I started writing, you name the craft, I did it. I made my own bread. I made my own jam. I needlepointed. I crocheted. I sewed all my boys’ clothes. I sewed my own clothes. I was looking for something. And it was writing. That’s what it was. It fed something in me.”

It wasn’t until she was trapped in the house for a week during a snowstorm with two toddlers that she picked up a writing pad and wrote her first novel: a way, she says, of preserving her sanity. She sent it to the romance publishers Silhouette, which turned it down, but a year later she wrote her second, Irish Thoroughbred, which was accepted. The timing was fortuitous. Shortly afterwards, she divorced and became a single mother, and like JK Rowling, writing was her salvation. It enabled her to stay at home and look after her children, and still be able to support them.

Creating feisty heroines was something that came naturally to her. “I was like, I don’t want to be the secretary, I want to be the boss. I didn’t want to write the kind of story where the man treats the woman like shit for the entire book and in the last chapter he tells her, ‘I treated you like shit because I love you.’ That won’t do for me. Or for a lot of other writers. I started to write the kind of stories that I wanted to read. It was very instinctive. You just wanted the heroines to be a bit feisty.”

It’s the feistiness that her readers love. I chat to Cheryl Hudson, a 27-year-old corporate assistant, outside the bookstore as she waits in line to get her new Nora Roberts book signed. “They just kick ass! They’re so strong. And independent. I love the men, too, but it’s the women I like the best. She never casts them in typical roles.” The signing at the Turn the Page bookshop is an annual event, now in its 16th year, with readers coming from all over the country to line up patiently outside.

There’s a big crowd of them from adwoff.com, the Nora Roberts internet message board. Roberts was an early adopter when it came to the internet, and the homepage of adwoff.com bears the quote that was the inspiration for the site’s name, “A day without French fries”. A reader had asked her for her views on French fries, and Nora replied: “Barb, how can one live without French fries? Not well, I say. In fact, I’ve been known to say a day without French fries is like a day without an orgasm.”

The site now has 8,000 registered users, and the core members have become friends not just with one another, but also with Roberts. On the day after the signing, a crowd of 30 or so (including one man) have brunch with her; it’s not unlike a family reunion. Sue Noyes, who created the site, tells me the story of how it came about. “I was on an AOL board and I said that I needed a new author. And I said, ‘convince me what I should read next’. And Nora came on and wrote, ‘go and find a used book store, and buy one of my novels, and see if you like it. And if you don’t, you won’t have wasted a lot of money.’ And that impressed me. She’s just an everyday sort of lady. She doesn’t talk down to us. She’s consoled us at times, and we’ve consoled her. There’s a genuine give and take.”

She is an everyday sort of lady. It seems remarkable that she still lives in the same house as she always has (though it’s been extended over the years). In her books, community and relationships are central, and that’s true in her life, too. The Turn the Page bookshop is run by her second husband, Bruce. (He’s a carpenter – they met when he came to put up some shelves for her.) Her son, Dan, runs the Vesta pizzeria a couple of doors down. She’s also opened a craft shop to support local artists, and a bakery, and recently renovated an old building across the street and made it into an upmarket B&B (which now features in a series of its own, the Inn at Boonsboro trilogy. The first title, The Next Always, was published earlier this month, and is already a bestseller).

She’s the undisputed queen of Boonsboro, but she’s nothing if not loyal. She’s still with the same agent she had at the beginning of her career; she’s known her publicist, Laura, for 30 years; and Suzanne, her innkeeper, was a reader she met on the message board.

It’s her work ethic that really defines Roberts. “Whatever I’m doing, I get very guilty if I don’t put a good day’s work in. I’m not one for making excuses. I had this Catholic upbringing. I was taught to finish what you start.” She writes pretty much all day every day.

“I had the blood and fire rule when my boys were young,” she says. “You know, unless it’s blood or fire, don’t bother me.”

Most importantly, she writes what she likes to read. And what’s so bad about a happy ending, she asks?

“Romance gets disparaged for the happy endings. But all genres have expectations and all genres require narrative resolution. But it’s disparaged because it’s happy. And if it was important, it would be tragic. Which is bullshit! Look at Much Ado About Nothing – everybody is happy!”

You prefer Shakespeare’s comedies?

“Yes! And it’s a brilliant romantic comedy. It’s one of my favourites. And that’s not crap. A Midsummer Night’s Dream isn’t crap. There’s nothing wrong with being happy.”

There isn’t. Whatever the New York Times book review happens to think.

‘Shawshank’ Prison Becomes Wedding Hot Spot

This article originally appeared on the www.wlwt.com website.

Former Ohio State Reformatory Now Hosts ‘Glamour In The Slammer’

MANSFIELD, Ohio — The old, imposing prison in  Ohio where the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” was filmed has become a hot spot  for weddings and hosts an annual bridal show.

What was once known as the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield is all  booked up for weddings through the end of 2012 and has begun taking reservations  for 2013.

The bridal show is called “Glamour in the Slammer” and is in its fifth  year. The Mansfield News Journal reports the event recently drew nearly 40  vendors and 500 spectators to the reformatory.

The prison closed in 1990 after playing host to more than 155,000 inmates  over 94 years.

Operations Manager Susan Nirode of the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation  Society says it’s nice that something that once seemed dark has become bright.

Writing Through Tragedy and Despair by Darlene Panzera

This article originally appeared in the Seattle Writing Careers Examiner website and was written by Jennifer Conner.

I have to write the ending of this article before the beginning this time.

Since a week ago when Darlene Panzera, a local Seattle area author, wrote this article about ‘writing through despair’ great things have happened for her. She just won the Make Your Dreams Come True contest sponsored by Debbie Macomber & Avon Books, with her novella titled: The Bet.  Darlene is one of my critique partners, so I know how hard she has worked on this story. We are sooooo happy for her.  A lot of life’s crummy things have happened to her the past few years. But, the moral of this story is: Keep your head up and keep your dreams in your grasp. They DO come true.

With that pre-happy ending to her article her it is!:

Have you ever felt like life was slamming you over the head more times than you could handle? Like a series of never-ending waves too big to duck under? How can a writer meet their deadlines or find the strength to write at all during times of extreme duress?

Sometimes you can’t. As much as you would love to plow through and stay on track, sometimes what you really need to do is just rest, take some time off. Forcing yourself to push forward can lead to further stress.

–          Try changing genre’s. Sometimes after the death of a loved one, you may not want to write comedy or fluffy romances anymore. That doesn’t mean writing isn’t still in your blood. Maybe what you need to do is switch to women’s fiction, paranormal, or suspense. You may even want to try your hand at non-fiction. Writers who already write non-fiction may want to escape into fiction for a while.

–          In time a writer’s inspiration, energy, and enthusiasm will return. Until that happens, a writer under duress may need to cut down on their commitments, and take time to reorganize, re-prioritize, and set new goals.

–          What if you are the friend of a writer in an emotional slump? Try to be understanding.  Don’t exclude that writer from your critique group because she has stopped producing pages. Be a friend. Even if they can’t write, sometimes just being around other writers talking about writing is a help. Watch your ‘well-meaning’ suggestions. No one else can tell you how long it should take for you to heal. The healing process is different for everyone.

I believe our mental well-being is as important as our physical well-being. When we are sick we need time to heal, whether that sickness is the flu or a broken heart. I urge everyone to be compassionate and understanding to those who are hurting inside and out. I urge you to be an encouraging writer. I believe each and every one of us could use a bit more encouragement in our lives.”

You can read Darlene’s great romances she has out now A Perfect Opportunity and A Look of Love available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Books to Go Now.

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Writing Through Tragedy and Despair by Darlene Panzera

Book Review: The Christian Zombie Killers Handbook By Jeff Kinley

This book review originally appeared on the Confessions of a Psychotic Housewife website.

I recently received a copy of the new book The Christian Zombie Killers Handbook: Slaying The Living Dead Within by Jeff Kinley to review.
Ben Forman was your every day average young guy, starting his first job, and falling in love with his girlfriend. He didn’t think that the zombie activity so common in the big cities would happen where he lived. As the epidemic spreads, will he find himself surviving, or becoming one of the undead? While the story itself is fictional, the author uses it to teach about sin, grace, and salvation in a way that appeals to the young adult set.
If I ever needed any further proof that everyone is marketing using zombies these days, The Christian Zombie Killers Handbook is it. Then again, take a trip to your local big box store on Black Friday, and you’ll see them shuffling through the store: zombies. They really are amongst us – folks so glued into the day to day consumerism life that they have become essentially what a zombie is when you break it down: barely functioning shells of bodies. (George A. Romero was right!)
The end of the book has a discussion guide for groups to use.
For parents, the book does have a warning on the back that it’s not suitable for younger audiences, so take that into consideration if you are purchasing this as a gift for ‘tween or teen this holiday season. (Really, you should use that warning for nearly all zombie related books and movies, but I do realize I am a bit stricter than many parents).

photo courtesy of the website, Confessions of a Psychotic Housewife.

The author, Jeff Kinley, did attend ZomBcon this past year, and we headed over to his booth:
The Christian Zombie Killers Handbook: Slaying The Living Dead Within by Jeff Kinley is a paperback religious and spiritual growth book published by Thomas Nelson. It is 272 pages long. The suggested cover price is $15.99, but Amazon has it available for $10.98 as of this posting. It is also available as an e-book for the Kindle and other e-readers.

Black Friday Deals at Borderlands Press

Borderlands Press Black Friday Deals.

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The Mothers and Fathers Italian Association
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The most irreverent, entertaining, and longest-running column in the history of horror and dark fantasy, dealing with all things publishing – Monteleone has written about breaking in, breaking out, being successful, and being a failure. He tells it like it is in the book biz, television, film, and popular culture. If you want the inside scoop on the genres you love, this is the book for you!
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Fears Unnamed:
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by Tim Lebbon
Nominated for the 2004 Stoker Best Collection Award
– this volume contains four novellas written over the space of four years. Three of them are reprints – the award-winning White and Naming of Parts, and The Unfortunate – and Remnants is a brand new novella, exploring the City of the Dead and what happens when two friends find it in the Ethopian desert.”
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