Guest Post with M. E. Parker: “Secondhand Steam”

At odds with my environmentalist leanings, I admit that I have a soft spot for road trips and driving cars, preferably a five-speed junker from another era, a car with stories to tell. My favorite of these was a Volkswagen camper van I purchased in 1990 from its ninth owner that had already clocked over three hundred thousand miles and chewed up two engines, all under one coat of paint. By the time I got the van, the factory sunflower yellow had baked into Melba Toast umber, and the “Volkswagen smell” (anyone who has ever owned an old Beetle will know this right away) had ripened into a new odor, a mashup of a Rif Valley hashish lab masking a whiff of pine needles and vodka.  The van also came with a spectrum of stains on the carpet, rips in the seat, and, of course, a collage of stickers so thick on the back windows that I was positive people followed me just to finish reading them. They were a patchwork life story of the van in countless languages: stickers from camping sites, cities, beaches, almost everywhere it had been in twenty-plus years. I had some memorable times camping in orange groves, creek beds and beaches, cruising through Madrid, Lisbon, and St. Tropez, but I have always been drawn to the stories of the van before I got it, the ones I don’t know, yet the van produced them in my mind.

Books are the same for me, where the story takes me once my eyes trail off the edge of the page. What world has the composition and the color conjured in my imagination? What stories spin out from its orbit. How the town down the road that is never mentioned celebrates the onset of spring, or what sort of treasures I could find in the basement of the house next door to where the main character lives.

Jonesbridge was written under a layer of existing dust, within the relics of memories from childhood and dreams. I invite you to remove the cushions from that twenty-year-old sofa in the basement. See the crumbs and detritus, three generations of ink pens and fast food toys, wrappers, the unidentifiable snack remains, dried and petrified, some still moist, and coins of all denominations. Throw the cushions aside and curl up in the debris with a copy of Jonesbridge.

Guest Post with Carolyn Ives Gilman: “Writing the Book That Wants to be Written”

How many times can a book be given up for dead, and still survive? If my book Dark Orbit were a person, it would be interviewed on TV for having survived so many near-death experiences. I first started it over 20 years ago. When it didn’t gel, I cannibalized it, and used the viewpoint character in a different book. In the late 1990s I started over, writing an entire new first draft, then threw it all out. The feeling that there was something worth saving kept nagging at me. Then, a few years ago, my thoughts started coalescing around a new set of ideas related to cognition and the brain, and I realized that Dark Orbit would be the perfect story for exploring them. At a writers’ retreat in Madison, after attending Wiscon, I spread out all my notes in a bed and breakfast, and re-plotted the entire novel. I had to take my main character and lop her apart into two different people, and invent a civilization of the blind—not because I wanted to, but because that was the logic of the story. I have always felt that, however hard it is, an author is obliged to take the story where it wants to go, not where it is convenient or easy to go.

Maybe the hardest thing I had to do was to reject the conventional wisdom that you can’t fit too many ideas into one story. This book has always been dense with ideas. Editors and agents over the years have told me that the proportion of sex and violence to ideas has to be pretty high to succeed. I always suspected they were underestimating the science fiction audience, but I tried to follow their advice. It killed the story. In the end, the only thing that made it possible for me to finish was deciding to forget commercial motives, and simply follow the story in the most interesting directions. Strangely, once I let myself write the book that wanted to be written, it turned out to have quite a high proportion of adventure to idea. It even had some sex and violence.

Because Dark Orbit has survived so many resurrections, it is impossible for me to answer the question everyone asks—what inspired it. It is partly an exploration adventure inspired by all the classic science fiction of my childhood. It is also inspired by cutting-edge science on the nature of space and dimensionality, by research into how sight works, and by the intersection between quantum physics and mysticism. Even my colleagues at work inspired it with their quirky personalities and obsessions. It never wanted to be quite like any other book, and I am happy that I let it be itself.

CAROLYN IVES GILMAN is a Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated writer of science fiction and fantasy. Her novels include Halfway Human and the two-volume novel Isles of the Forsaken and Ison of the Isles. Her short fiction appears in many Best of the Year collections and has been translated into seven languages. She lives in Washington, D.C., and works for the National Museum of the American Indian.

Guest Post with B. D. Bruns: “How to Make a Monster”

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I have been repeatedly asked how I come up with my stories. I don’t have a particularly twisted imagination or way of looking at things. It’s just that if I do get a passing thought I blow on it until it catches fire. And besides, there’s no new stories out there: only new ways of presenting age-old ideas. But one thing I’m known for is my unique creatures, especially the Finger People. So how does one make a monster?
According to rock musician Rob Zombie, making a monster likely involves a teenage werewolf and a possessed cheerleader making out in the back of a car. My process isn’t nearly that exciting, but certainly more plausible. In the aforementioned example of the Finger People, I started with a subject that fascinated me. This is important because passion comes through. I focused on a specific moment in the Civil War, all the better to reveal the grisly details without overwhelming the reader with too much history. My initial thought was to have ghouls gathering up the fallen soldiers. Ghouls, while not generally the fodder of mainstream horror, are well known to us horror fans. Certainly I didn’t want any ghosts of fallen soldiers—that had been done to death (please pardon the pun). So what kind of monster could ‘realistically’ come about during a Civil War battle? It would have to be something we haven’t heard of yet.
What evolved from this exercise was a new type of fully developed beastie, the Finger People. They act like ghouls, sure, but why? What motivates them? Do they collect the dead bodies to eat them like scavengers or for some other, more sinister reason? The latter would be far scarier. And how do they interact with their environment? And there’s a war going on—how do they handle that strain? In short, how can I skip the magic and apply evolution? Applying deep reasoning and logic to monsters is what separates them from the fantasies of childhood.
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I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like the Finger People. Maybe they are why The Gothic Shift—my book containing their novella The Swamp Hive—won the 2014 International Book Awards’ Best Short Story Collection.

“I wouldn’t think that any author could come up with anything more brutal and scary than the Civil War, but this he did and he did it well. I will be dreaming of The Finger People for a while to come. *shudder*” – Horror After Dark

Guest Post: A Timeline of the Great Undead War

After a surprise attack on London and New York, the Germans introduced a new type of gas—corpse gas—a revolutionary weapon that resurrected the bodies of the dead.

For those who survived the killing fields of France, the danger has only just begun. Veteran Major Michael “Madman” Burke and his company have just been assigned a daring new mission by the president himself: rescue the members of the British royal family. But Manfred von Richthofen, the undead Red Baron and newly self-appointed leader of Germany, is also determined to find the family.

In the devastated, zombie-infested city of London, Burke and his men will face off in an unholy battle with their most formidable opponent yet: a team of infected super soldiers—shredders—who have greater speed and strength than their shambler predecessors. If they don’t succeed, all of Britain will fall into undead enemy hands.

A TIMELINE OF THE GREAT UNDEAD WAR

 

 June 1914

Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria at the hands of a Serbian national.

 

July 1914

Austria declares war on Serbia.

 

August 1914

Germany declares war on Russia, then France. German troops pour into Belgium. Britain declares war on Germany. Russians defeated at Tannenburg.

 

October 1914

Turkey declares neutrality and refuses to enter the war while Japan enters the war on the side of its British allies.

 

November 1914

Germans stopped at the Marne. Stalemate settles into the Western Front. Hopes that the war will be over by Christmas quickly fade.

 

December 1914

Germans use zeppelins to begin bombing Great Britain.

 

April 1915

Second battle of Ypres. Poison gas used for the first time in the war.

 

May 1915

Lusitania sunk. America contemplates joining the war.

 

June 1916

First large–scale naval engagement at Jutland. British losses are heavy, but Germany withdraws.

 

February – November 1916

Battle of Verdun. Inconclusive result after nine months of fighting and nearly 1 million casualties.

 

July – November 1916

Battle of the Somme. Allies win thin stretch of ground (25 miles) at a cost of 920,000 casualties.

 

April 1917

America declares war on Germany. American Expeditionary Force sent to Europe to stop the German advance.

 

 

July – November 1917

Third Battle of Ypres. Germans deploy T-Lieche – corpse gas – for the first time.

 

January 1918

Allied forces face shambler brigades for the first time at the Second Battle of the Marne. Allies quickly routed as corpse gas bombardment brings their own casualties back to life to fight against them.

 

March 1918

First American aero squadron, the 94th, activated at Villeneuve. Eddie Rickenbacker in command.

 

April 1918

Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, shot down by Allied forces but rises anew as a revenant. Takes command of the Flying Circus.

 

May 1918 – November 1919

Allied forces lose ground in the face of repeated German assaults. Retreat to within a few dozen miles of Paris.

 

December 1919

President Harper gives his now–famous “World Belongs to the Living” speech. Allies rally in Europe while the Kaiser is occupied with the East.

 

April 1920

First use of tanks in support of infantry at the Battle of Cambrai. British troops roll over German machine gun positions.

 

June 1920

Champagne Offensive begins. Allies push Germans back to the Somme, but just barely. Richthofen shot down for a second time, walks away from the wreckage unscathed.

 

October 1920

Under Richthofen’s orders, Dr. Eisenberg begins the Geheime Volks project, attempting to create a legion of undead supersoldiers with a unique blend of alchemy, science, and occult arts.

 

March 1921

American ace Jack Freeman – illegitimate son of President Harper – shot down and captured by the enemy. Captain Michael “Madman” Burke and his Marauders ordered to rescue him from behind enemy lines.

Geheime Volks put into mass production.

 

April 1921

London and New York rendered uninhabitable when the Germans successfully release a new strain of corpse gas over each city, turning the living into zombie-like creatures with a taste for human flesh. These new creatures are quickly nicknamed Shredders for the speed and savagery of their attacks.

On Her Majesty’s Behalf begins…

 

Joseph Nassise is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty novels, including the internationally bestselling Templar Chronicles series, the Jeremiah Hunt series, and several books in the Rogue Angel action/adventure series from Gold Eagle. He’s a former president of the Horror Writers Association, the world’s largest organization of professional horror writers, and a multiple Bram Stoker Award and International Horror Guild Award nominee.

Guest Post: Top 5 Ray Bradbury Books

One of the most enduring aspects of science fiction author Ray Bradbury’s legacy is his ability to humanize something as cold and alien as the future and leave readers examining their own relationships to the worlds and societies they live in. He was a prolific writer who had completed three novels and over 600 short stories at the time of his passing in 2012, but five of his works stand as the greatest testaments to his genre-transcendent ability to tell stories.

  1. The Halloween Tree

Bradbury’s 1972 novel The Halloween Tree combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and historical fiction to tell the story of nine friends’ journey through time. Throughout their jaunts across time and space, the friends learn about the origins of Halloween, from ancient pagan practices and Druid priests to the Mexican Dias de Muertos celebrations. The novel was originally written as a script for an animated film that was supposed to be directed by Chuck Jones. Even though the collaboration with Jones never fully materialized, an Emmy-winning animated adaptation premiered on television in 1993. Disneyland displays a Bradbury-inspired Halloween tree every year with their Halloween decorations.

 

  1. The Illustrated Man

Although The Illustrated Man was mostly composed to versions of stories Bradbury had already previously published, it is considered one of his most significant collections. The entire work is framed around a transient man who is covered from head to toe in vibrant and constantly shifting tattoos that each tell a story. Most of the stories have strikingly philosophical focuses that utilize the future and its imagined technologies to ask questions about human nature. For example, the story The Other Foot touches on the deep wounds created by racism while Kaleidoscope has deeply introspective and existentialist themes.

 

  1. The Martian Chronicles

Throughout this collection course of nearly thirty short stories, readers are given an image of a devastated Earth and a Mars colonization mission are painted, leading to genocide of the native Martians that parallels the devastation of Native Americans following European colonization. Bradbury poignantly reflects on humanities capacity for destruction and environmental concerns through a character in the story “And the Moon Be Still As Bright” when he states “We’ll rip it up, rip the skin off, and change it to fit ourselves…We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things.” Bradbury always insisted the wasn’t as interested in “predicting” the future as much as preventing it, and he clearly anticipated modern concerns about the environment, and thankfully people are generally looking to reduce their carbon footprint (more details here). Another story that feels eerily relevant is “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” which details a fully-automated house which self destructs in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust — and the story is all the more chilling nowadays, in the age of home automation systems.

  1. Something Wicked This Way Comes

In Something Wicked, Bradbury departs somewhat dramatically from his normal futuristic setting and instead writes about a supernatural carnival that has settled down in an anonymous Midwestern American town. Rather than using humanity’s relationship to technology to ask the important questions, Bradbury utilizes more mystical plot devices such as a carousel that increases or reverses a rider’s age depending on which direction it is spinning and a blind fortune teller with telepathic powers. Ultimately, the novel is about good and evil and a few deeper themes like eternal youth and hubris and its relevance has not faded in the fifty years it has been in print.

 

  1. Fahrenheit 451

To put it simply, Fahrenheit 451 is considered Bradbury’s masterpiece and a starkly unsettling view of the near future. The novel is told through the perspective of a “fireman”, who is tasked with finding and burning hidden caches of books which are now illegal in a world saturated by the media and a mindless public. The book was formulated during the harrowing McCarthy trials in which Senator Joe McCarthy was leading so-called “witch hunts” against suspected Communists in the United States, which lead to the destruction of many persons’ lives. Fahrenheit 451 encapsulates the ultimate fear of every thinking human being: a world where free thought and discussion have given way to mass media and groupthink. Bradbury also put his uncanny knack for accurately predicting the future when he described tiny electronic radios that fit into people’s ears a la Bluetooth headsets, giant flatscreen TV’s that would dominate people’s free time, social media and its resulting isolation, shortening attention spans and even ATMs.

Kate Voss
@kateevoss

You might also like these other guest posts from Kate Voss:

Wizard of Oz Spinoffs

Movies for Bookworms

Top Five Novels That Make Great Holiday Gifts

Guest Post: The Ultra Long Journey of “The Ultra Thing Man” by Patrick Swenson

The Ultra Thin Man’s road to publication survived a long and strange journey to say the least, even though I wrote the first draft in four months. Well . . . actually, I wrote the first draft in four months and twenty years.

The first words hit paper in the early 1990s. My brother Paul left Washington State for California, and we thought it might be fun to collaborate on a novel. My brother led off, sending me the title, a prologue, and a first chapter. “Here you go, bro,” he wrote. “I look forward to your chapter.”

We had no outline, and no idea what the other was thinking. We wanted it that way. I sent him chapter two. He sent chapter three, with tweaks of his previous prologue and chapter based on what I’d written, and I did the same for chapter four. All the while, we were both trying to figure out the mystery and think ahead. I’d throw a twist in there and shout, “Ah ha!”  He’d write the next and answer, “Oh yeah?” – and my earlier thoughts and theories would crumble.

Mind you, it took years to do all this. Sometimes, several years would pass before the next chapter showed up. We’d dive into our lives and forget about the book. But always, I went back to it, thinking: This isn’t bad. I really would like to find out what happens. At some point, about five years had gone by without a new chapter. We had written about 12,000 words each, roughly. I searched my computer recently and the oldest file of the novel was dated 2002. This file had the last chapter I’d written, chapter 12 (now chapter 13 in the final novel), and that was as far as the story had progressed. I read it again, thinking: there’s something here.

I don’t remember when I asked Paul if I could write the book on my own. He gave me his blessing and said I should definitely go ahead. Burdened with his own photography business, he couldn’t see himself putting in any more time on it. Even then, I dabbled. In the intervening years, I’d made my life even busier.

I started Talebones magazine in 1995, and the book line, Fairwood Press, rolled out in 2000. Whenever I returned to the The Ultra Thin Man, I had to make sense of everything the two of us had contributed, and a lot of tweaking and reimagining ensued. Cut here. Add there. Drop the prologue. Switch this, switch that. I updated the science and tech. (So much time had passed that I had to reconsider what life would be like a hundred plus years out for the inhabitants of the Union of Worlds.) When I sat down to work on it, the words never seemed quite right, and I’d end up just rewriting the opening over and over. I wasn’t getting very far putting down new words.

In the middle of 2009, I closed down Talebones to spend more time writing. I teach high school English, and that September, as the new school year got under way, I decided I would plan my classes before school, after school, evenings, weekends. I reserved my scheduled planning period to write. From September until January 1st, I wrote every day at school for at least 45 minutes. I still didn’t have an outline, but the book had bounced around for so long in my head that the rest of it came easily. Before heading back to school in January, I’d completed a 96,000 word first draft of The Ultra Thin Man. More drafts came after that. First readers looked at it and I edited some more. Then I sent it to Tor.

The rest of the novel’s journey is pretty standard for debut authors, and I was lucky enough to have a major publisher take it on after the first try. Still, a lot of waiting went on. My editor made his offer for it June 2012. A lot of work went into the book between then and now.

The journey is almost complete. In a handful of days, The Ultra Thin Man reaches its destination. After that, it’s in the hands of its readers.

In early 2012, I started a new journey for a proposed sequel, and I’m closing in on the ending. I couldn’t  afford the longer, arduous journey of the first novel, so this one kicked along at a faster pace. Call it a week-long vacation rather than an all-inclusive world tour. If I get a chance to write a 3rd novel in the series, the journey will be more like a day trip.

It will, however, be just as satisfying.

 

Guest Post: “The God Hunter” by Tim Lees

Registry field op Chris Copeland arrives in Hungary on a routine mission: find a sacred spot, lay down a wire grid, and capture a full flask of a god’s energy. But when his arrogant new partner, Shailer, sabotages the wires, things go very, very wrong: the god manifests as a mirror image of Chris himself. Chris quickly destroys the god, and, for the good of the company and his own career, buries the evidence.

Six years later, Shailer is a rising star among the energy industry’s corporate elite, while Chris has taken a break from operations. But when a mysterious serial killer begins stalking Budapest-a psychopath who bears an eerie resemblance to Chris-the operative is forced back into the field.

With the help of Anna Ganz, a brusque, chain-smoking Hungarian detective, Chris tracks the monster across the globe. Only the real danger isn’t a killer on the outside . . . it’s Chris’s treacherous colleagues at the Registry who refuse to acknowledge the terrifying forces they’ve unleashed in the name of profit-forces whose origins lead back to the dawn of man . . . and beyond.

Tim Lees is a British author living in Chicago. His short fiction has appeared in Postscripts, Black Static and Interzone, among many other publications. He is author of the collection, The Life to Come, nominated for a British Fantasy Award, and the novel Frankenstein’s Prescription, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “a philosophically insightful and literary tale of terror.” When not writing, he has held a variety of jobs, including teacher, conference organiser, film extra, and worker in a psychiatric hospital. His blog is www.timlees.wordpress.com.

 

The God Hunter by Tim Lees – **EXCERPT**

Chapter 1: Field Ops

 

            I was laying cable on the south side of the altar, working by instinct now, rather than planning. There is a point the brain goes quiet and the hands take over. That’s the point I like. I felt the wires grow warm under my fingertips. They pulsed and trembled; once or twice they caught a gleam of color from the windows high above, and then a spark would seem to flash along their length. I’d move them, one way or the other, depending which felt right.

The tools of my profession can be beautiful, seen from a certain angle, in a certain frame of mind.

So when Shailer called, “Watch this!” I didn’t look up straight away. I swung the second braid of wire off to the left, put a loop into the third, then took the fourth and held it for a moment, seeking my next move. I sucked my lower lip. I could have made a guess, and probably have even got it right. But the rhythm had been lost now, and the sense of things was gone.

I turned round slowly, pretty sure I wasn’t going to like what happened next.

Shailer was standing in the aisle. He wore baggy shorts and a long, sloppy T-shirt, which may have been the fashion back at home, but left him with the look of a collapsing tent. He’d put a chalice upside down on his head. It pushed his hair into his face. He grinned at me, waved, and started goose-stepping back and forth for all that he was worth. He raised his right arm. He sieg-heiled gleefully and bellowed in a dreadful German accent:

            “Lebensraum! Lebensraum!

I told him, “Cut it out.”

Lebensraum, mein Führer!”

“Cut it out!”

            But it was my fault, I suppose, regardless of how inadvertently. Last night I’d tried preparing him. I’d had him watch the newsreels, the old stuff, to get him in the mood, get him acclimatized – given the place we were, the history; a quick reminder of the power of thought en masse. What my old mentor Fredericks, in his pompous way, would no doubt call an Invocation of the Deity, for what that’s worth. Still, I’d been hoping it might resonate, set a few thoughts spinning where there’d probably been precious few before.

Shailer hadn’t seen it that way. No, to Shailer, it had all meant something very different: a bunch of funny-looking guys in funny-looking uniforms doing funny-looking marches, much too long ago, and much too far from home to be of any interest now.

Especially to him.

            He put his fingers up under his nose, the other arm still raised in a salute. It was more John Cleese than Hitler, to be honest, and perhaps not even that; more somebody impersonating Cleese, reality a dozen times removed.

            I stood up, crossed to him in six quick steps, and slapped him hard across the face.

            That got his interest, anyway.

            The chalice toppled from his head and clanged onto the floor. The echoes shivered; it was as if the whole church suddenly breathed in, scenting something was amiss within it. The hairs upon my neck began to prickle. I recognized that moment, knew it instantly. I glanced around.

The going can get sensitive at this stage. Things get raw.

Shailer stared at me, shock and disbelief caught in the slack O of his mouth, the water welling in his eyes. Then his shoulders tensed, his fists came up, his eyes went thin and hard. I waited for the rush of anger to die down. I told him, “Be professional.”

His eyes stayed hard.

I said, “You fool around on one of these, then we could both die. You, I don’t much care about. Me, I do.”

His mouth squeezed tight. A muscle flickered in his jaw. I turned my back and walked slowly to the altar, giving him lots of time to jump me if he’d wanted to.

He wanted to, all right.

He didn’t try it.

“Fetch the flask,” I said. I said it in a neutral tone. Business-like. I kept my head down, bending to the work. Footsteps on the stone floor. I heard him coming, closer, closer. He set the flask beside me. It’s a thick metal container, like a strongbox with a socket in the top.

“OK,” I said. “That’s our receptor. Once we’re done, we double seal it, just for luck, and walk away. I’m hoping that it won’t take long.”

He didn’t answer. I was talking to myself. I linked the last few cables, showed him a third time how to do it, carefully explained it all, reciting from the manual. My heart-rate was up. Breathing too. The talking helped to calm me, normalize me once again. I like to stay cool when I’m working; no stray emotions, nothing to latch onto. It’s like a meditative process. I tried to focus on the task, to let that side of my brain come to the fore. Signs were, we’d got a pre-incarnate here. Tricky. Or worse. And Shailer was the last person I wanted with me. All right – to be fair, perhaps it wasn’t his fault he was such an idiot. But if it wasn’t his, I’d really no idea who else to blame.